Is Pakistan being circled by India?

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

India has officially taken over the operations of Chabahar port in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province. The official handing over of terminal areas, building and cargo handling took place on December 29th 2018. During 2014 MOU between both nations was signed for development of the port. In 2016 when Modi visited Iran the MOU was converted into a 10 year contract to Equip and Operate the Chabahar Port.

According to a report, Afghanistan shifted give or take 80% of its cargo traffic from Pakistan to Chabahar ports and Iran’s Bandar Abbas soon after the former was inaugurated. The move over was partially due to the new tariff imposed by Islamabad.

With the official opening of Chahbahar more business is expected to shift. Expectations and analysis is of a mammoth US$5 billion worth of Afghan trade to go through Chahbahar.

Interestingly on January 7th 2019, news broke of India to deliver Mi-25 gunship helicopters to the Afghan Air Force procured from Belarus. Two will be delivered in March, with others following in latter consignments.

Both India and Iran are driven by economic interests. Iran is interested in a free trade zone near Gwadar – to accelerate its economic development that had been held back by many years of sanctions it was blanketed under. Further, Saudi Arabia and Iran are rivals in the market of energy products. Interestingly, the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Saudi Arabia supply a good percentage of Oil India imports while Qatar is their biggest importer of natural gas.

India on the other hand is rearing its head vying to be a regional leader and without doubt, the development of Chabahar will lead to a boost in her regional status. Lindsay Hughes, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme writes, “India, however, does not appear to seek to only import Iranian oil; it wishes to invest in Iranian oil and gas fields, thus further securing its energy from that country.”(April 26, 2016) Chabahar, once it takes off, will offer better ingress to India into Afghanistan and Afghani markets, this will in turn lead to a stronger say with the Afghan government. This will also improve India’s chances to angle for Turkmenistan gas.

One needs to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Focusing on Tajikistan; a gas-rich country, India already has its Ayni Air Base also known as the ‘Gissar Air Base’, located 10km west of the capital of Tajikistan-Dushanbe. “Between years 2002-2010, India invested approximately $70 million in renovations, installing state-of-the-art air defense navigational facilities. The runway was further extended. This access offers immediate strategic depth in the region to India. The second place of Indian foothold is the Farkhor Air Base; a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan, 130 kilometers southeast of the capital Dushanbe. In 1996-97, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) started negotiations with Tajikistan to use the Farkhor Airbase to transport high-altitude military supplies to the Afghan Northern Alliance, service their helicopters and gather intelligence.” (My Op-Ed Pakistan Today: September 24, 2013)

Are targeted attacks on Baluchistan expected to increase to sabotage Gwadar? Probably yes. In 2016, Kulbhushan Yadav, a RAW agent caught in Baluchistan, and later interrogated, “revealed he had been imparting Naval fighting training to Baloch separatists in an attempt to target Pakistani ports.”(Dawn March 27, 2016) Not to forget that according to The News, “An initial budget of $300 million has been earmarked by RAW for subverting the economic corridor.” (May 11, 2015)  

The net result of the developments is a scenario with only Pakistan having a weaker influence with Afghanistan. Theoretically, though one would support a ‘hands off policy’ by Pakistan so far as Afghanistan is concerned, practically to have it replaced by Indian increased influence in light of the porous border shared by Pakistan and Afghanistan, Zarb-e-Azab afoot and Indian involvement in Baluchistan poses a dangerous situation for Pakistan. It puts Pakistan’s policy to severe test.

Without becoming India-centric, Pakistan needs to devise its policies in light of the new ground realities. This means ensuring security and curbing a lawlessness situation, fencing the Gwadar area, providing all facilities to investors in Gwadar project at any cost. Sweeping tax concessions for Gwadar is a wonderful step. It needs however to be implemented in letter and spirit.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.comand tweets at @yasmeen_9

This article appeared as cross post in International Herald Tribune Australia



The 18th Amendment debate in Pakistan – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Both posts are from CRSS(Original links given)


The 18th Amendment debate in Pakistan – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The 18th Amendment debate in Pakistan – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

5 hours ago

When it comes to Pakistan’s constitutional history, the “core” of all our constitutions can be found in the Act of India 1935. This was a document “by aliens to rule aliens on the fault lines of ethnic divide”. However, the basic fault lines were never corrected in the later constitutions. Then, the “18th Amendment” ushered in major constitutional changes; including taking away of the right of the President of Pakistan to dissolve the parliament. Even though well-intended, but when translated into law, the Amendment might go down in history as one of the most devastating pieces of legislation enacted in the country.

18th Amendment – A Background

Passed on April 8, 2010, the 18th Amendment aimed at taking away the powers of the President to dissolve the Parliament. A brief introduction to the Constitutional history is needed to comprehend the change. The Act of India 1935 served as the first constituent document of Pakistan, dividing Pakistan on ethnic grounds thereby creating the fault lines that have somewhat existed to date.

The Constitutions of both 1956 and 1962 were abrogated. In October 1958, President Iskandar Mirza abrogated the Constitution. Then, the Constitution of Pakistan 1962 had a very short life and was abrogated in 1969 and the power passed on to General Yahya Khan. Yahya abolished the one-unit system opting for holding general elections on one-man one-vote basis.

It was under General Zia-ul-Haq that the right of the President to dissolve the President by enacting the 8th Amendment was inserted in the Constitution. Removed by Nawaz Sharif during his second stint as the Prime Minister, the right found its way back during the reign of General Pervez Musharraf.

The 18th Amendment brought about major changes in the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, including taking away the right of President of Pakistan to dissolve the Parliament. However, the 18th Amendment was much more expansive in nature, changing the very face of the governance structures.

The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 was created in a backdrop of bloodshed and the country splitting into two in 1971. The atmosphere was one of despair. Essentially, the Constitution laid emphasis on being based on Islamic principles. It laid emphasis on being a Federal Parliamentary based instrument. It laid emphasis on provincial autonomy. It laid emphasis on supremacy of Judiciary. It also laid emphasis on Fundamental Rights. Unfortunately, it continued to flirt with the fault lines laid down in The Government of India Act 1935.

The Constitution of 1973 changed face when 8th and 17th Constitutional Amendments found a way in. The changes inflicted havoc upon the democratic structure of the document centralizing power at the expense of provincial autonomy.

The nation then saw the birth of the Charter of Democracy in 2006 – a document signed by late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in year 2006 followed by an All Parties Conference where members pledged struggle against Musharraf to establish a democratic order in the country.

Movement to implement ‘Rule of Law’ gained momentum, leading to ouster of General Musharraf from power. The then President Asif Ali Zardari constituted a Special Committee of Parliament to suggest Constitutional amendments not only to stop abrogation of the Constitution but also to create laws so that different provinces may be free to manage the issues and needs unique to their province with greater freedom to undertake decisions.

The changes, however, were not well analysed. The short-sighted formation of the Amendment is briefly but succinctly touched upon in a Dawn Editorial:

“Oddly, our parliamentarians didn’t see it fit to address even those of Gen Zia’s clauses that directly impact them: the qualification and disqualification criteria in articles 62 and 63 that have been infused with an ‘Islamic’ spirit. And stranger yet for a federal government formed by a coalition of the country’s most secular parties, the clause dealing with the prime minister’s election has been amended to make only Muslim members of the National Assembly eligible as candidates. True, the oath of office that the prime minister has to take (set out in the third schedule of the constitution) has always made clear that he/she has to be a Muslim and, realistically speaking, there is a remote chance of a non-Muslim candidate emerging for the prime minister’s slot. But it is an odd message to reinforce: don’t bother applying, you are second-class citizens. That is what the government seems to have told the country’s religious minorities.

Perhaps the government was afraid that visiting the Islamic clauses issue in this round of constitutional change would have made the whole package controversial and jeopardize the repeal of the 17th Amendment and the enhancement of provincial autonomy — the key demands as we speak. Going forward though this should be less of a concern. If it means taking on the fringe, ultra-conservative elements in politics and society, then so be it. There is something terribly peculiar about the argument that a military general who toppled a government and executed a prime minister before disfiguring the constitution drawn up by the country’s elected representatives could be introducing ‘God’s laws’ which by definition are sacrosanct and untouchable. Gen Zia exploited religion in the most cynical and destructive way possible to prolong his hold on power. Parliament must undo the legacy of Gen Zia, and to do so it must re-examine the Hudood and blasphemy laws too” (April 10, 2014).

Whereas there were many changes made in form of the 18th Amendment, the basic structures of Article 62 and 63 was left untouched.

Out of 342 Members of National Assembly, 292 voted in favour of the 18th Amendment. The Amendment brought about major structural changes in the Constitution:

a.               It conferred powers upon the Prime Minister that he did not have making him a powerful Head.

b.               It turned the President into a toothless tiger.

c.               It allowed the Prime Minister to hold the seat more than two times largely seen as facilitation for Nawaz Sharif to become Prime Minister a third time.

d.               It took away right from the courts to endorse Constitution being suspended (as happened when Musharraf taking power where few judges opposed, and many took oath under the PCO)

e.               It took away right of the President to impose emergency rule in any province or dissolve Parliament until with the concurrence of the Prime Minister.

f.                Appointments of Chiefs of Army, Navy, Air force, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Governor to be appointed upon advice of PM. (Quoted)

Impact of 18th Amendment

Removing bar on PM’s two terms

The powers of the Prime Minister have significantly grown under the 18th Amendment. But the biggest boost was removing the two-time bar to hold the position. This is not the case in the leading western powers – and for a good reason. The reason, as explained by President Harry S Truman, proposed to the Hoover Commission was that having Presidents for unlimited terms will create a kind of monarchy that will be self-defeating after the sacrifices made in the Revolutionary War known better as the American Revolution.

Pakistan, from having a progressive law of a two-term limit for a Prime Minister, moved to a retrogressive law of allowing more than two stints at premiership times largely seen as facilitation for Nawaz Sharif to become Prime Minister a third time. In Pakistan the turn of democratic norms in-party and nationally to a dynastic springboard allowing appointment of favoured people at crucial spots to serve vested interests has destroyed institutions at the expense of strengthening individuals.

Abolition of Concurrent List

The reason promoted to abolish the Concurrent List under the 18th Amendment was to promote provincial autonomy. However, we need to look at this claim a little more closely. Being a Federation, Pakistan has based its administration on many levels including the Central government or Federal government and the provinces being units connected to the Centre.

Certain entries stand removed from Federal Legislative List I and have effectively been shifted to provinces. Others have been shifted to Federal Legislative List II thereby bringing it under joint supervision of Federation & Provinces. The Concurrent List stood abolished completely. In this regard, the Dawn Newspaper argues:

“The question that should have been addressed prior to passing of the 18th Amendment is if passing on responsibilities of the federation to the provinces will actually a) enhance provincial autonomy b) result in better managing of the responsibilities at the provincial level c) will effectively maintain consistency of policy on issues requiring a national direction”. (Dawn April 8, 2010)

None of the above three basic criteria were met by the 18th Amendment.

Instead of focusing on making Pakistan into an effective federal state with a balanced approach towards its provinces, the 18th Amendment worked towards devolution of powers without too much effort going into analysing the impact the Amendment would have upon the legal structure of the country. Moreover, there was also a lavk of setting up infrastructures for good governance to trickle down to grassroots levels and thereby the common man prior to introduction of the law.

Education & 18th Amendment

Education was one subject devolved at the provincial level. This was done without thinking through that

a) whether the provinces are equipped in terms of teachers, infra structures and educationalists to develop courses and other related necessary base needed to take advantage & implement this devolution, and

b) whether ALL provinces equally have the aforementioned basic variables in place failing which this inclusion would inevitably lead to unequal standard of education in different provinces leading to disadvantage of those provinces lagging behind in many fields; Civil Services being only one of them.

The Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) existence was also challenged, however, on April 12, 2011, the Supreme Court allowed it to discharge its duties & perform functions under HEC Ordinance 2002.

Moreover, under the Amendment, not only are the provincial governments responsible for paying all education-related costs including stationery, schoolbags and transport for children aged 5 to 16 age, they are also obligated to provide education.  Moreover, the governments are also responsible for monitoring private sector education as well. However, there remain complications as well. Dr Syed Manzar Abbas Zaidi, in his paper for SISA in 2013, argues:

“Another interesting question raises its head. War on terror is being conducted on Pakistan soil. There has been a lot of talk on media about taking on board and regulating education imparted in madrassahs seen as breeding ground of religious extremism. Steps taken by the civil government at different levels support and compliment military actions against extremism. Each madrassah has its own curriculum, its own method of education and awarding of certificates etc”.

In this regard, not only is there division between Sunni & Shia Madrassahs, there are sects within. The question that poses itself is; will the provinces monitor, check and oversee what is taught in these nurseries even if content is determined by the federation? Do they have the apparatus & the ability to do so?

A lot of foreign funding flows into education in Pakistan. With the 18th Amendment, the funding institutions logically are talking to the provinces. In this situation, what monitoring rights do the federation has to ensure that the funds are properly not only channelized but also that the national and sectarian harmony is not compromised?

Health & 18th Amendment

Another negative resulting from the 18th Amendment was the devolution of health services to provinces, with no central checking authority. The provinces are/were ill equipped to handle this critical area of social wellbeing and service to people. In this regard, Ayyaz Kiyyani argues, “While the idea of moving power bases nearer the people is generally welcomed by most, provincial governments at the moment are still at an early stage of preparation to assume the new responsibilities.” (Dawn July 10, 2011). Where the world is moving towards regulation of drugs, Pakistan has moved towards the deregulation of the same.

Another issue coming out of this has been that of counterfeit drugs. The Pakistan Manual of Drug Laws, defines a counterfeit drug as “a drug, the label or outer packing of which is an imitation of, resembles or so resembles as to be calculated to deceive the label or outer packing of a drug manufacturer”. When teams of Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) conducted a joint raid at a factory in Kahuta Industrial Area, it was discovered that counterfeit medicine was being manufactured at the facility.

It was found out in the raid that one of the major drugs being produced at this factory was Sofosbuvir, which was sold under the brand name Sovaldi. It is worth noting that this drug is used to treat hepatitis C, which costs a patient Rs55000 for one month of treatment, with treatments lasting up to six months of treatment. Another drug Everlong, the registration for which was cancelled by the DRAP, was also being manufactured unlawfully at the factory. There are just a few examples of how the health sector might have further deteriorated with the devolution of powers to provinces.

The World Health Organisation had also expressed its reservations over the state of Health sector after the 18th Amendment. In 2011, in a letter to the then PM Gillani, the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed concerns over the devolution of the Ministry of Health to the provinces. The concern of the WHO was that the provinces did not have enough resources, infrastructure and medical staff and if the provinces were given the responsibility of health sector in such circumstances, it would wreak havoc”, a source, quoted in the Pakistan Today, said.

Questions raised by the 18th Amendment

The discussion on the 18th Amendment also raises several important questions:

Should the Federation absolve itself of its overall check and balance authority upon the provinces?

Should the federal structure allow a variety of policies on same issue by different provinces?

What if there is conflict between the Provincial and Federal Government in how the approach each subject?

Does the current arrangement make the Federal structures less effective?

Though supporters of the 18th Amendments say strong provinces ensure strong centre….. has this happened on ground?

Were and are the provinces strong enough to rise to the challenge and take advantage of this huge change in shape of 18th Amendment?

These are the questions that need to be answered by the Parliament while deciding on how to govern the country in the near future.


The 18th Amendment has created a governance gap; where it has removed the Federal umbrella, funnelling finances to provinces without checks and accountability. The recent revelations in the “Fake Accounts Case” in Sindh, if proved, will reflect the weakness of the federation, but not necessarily at the cost of strengthening of the provinces. The 18th Amendment has so far not offered much to the common man and has neither managed to lead to a smoother interaction between the federal and provincial levels.

Unfortunately, should PTI wish to put the house in order on this front, it is faced with a strong opposition, having weak numbers but in the National Assembly and Senate. It is, therefore, all a game of numbers. Even if a revisit is sought, one doubts much will come out of it. Which pretty much leaves us with a constitution based on the Act of India 1935, the Articles included and changed by Gen Zia and the 18th Amendment all joining together to create a recipe for disastrous governance.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.comand tweets at @yasmeen_9

18th Amendment – What Pakistan’s Intelligentsia says!

1 hour ago

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

After writing a piece on the 18thAmendment Debate, for this blog two days ago, I was pleasantly surprised that it had generated a constructive debate among Pakistan’s intelligentsia. Notable members of Pakistan’s civil society and intellectual circles gave the following opinions on the 18th Amendment after reading it:

S M Zafar (Renowned lawyer): Two different issues are involved here. Devolving or sharing power with local government. Other, 18 Amendment weakened Federation. Amendment is brief and short and useful transfer of some subjects to Federation or to concurrent list, so that both Federation Provinces can pass law on them. Local Government Issue needs change of mind set of provincial leaders not Amendment of 18th.

Saqlain (Journalist):If the present regime wants to empower local governments across the country, then it should ask the Supreme Court of Pakistan for this purpose. Legislation in provinces on local governments are inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution, democracy, fundamental rights as well as with the modern day’s systems of LG in other countries. If you see Justice Cornelius Report, you would come to realize the hollowness of the concept of “merit-based bureaucracy”. However, we can suggest a judiciary-supervised governance at LG level. Bureaucracy is an organ of the executive. In the present, LG system, in which the office of Deputy Commissioner has been restored, has compromised the concept of separation of judiciary from executive. Moreover, its restoration is a hugely regressive step. One may criticize Gen Pervaiz Musharraf, but his LG system was the most advanced one in this region. Unfortunately, family-centric political system destroyed it at the cost of an empowered grassroots governance system.

Adnan Adil (Veteran Journalist):At this stage of our social and political development, devolution of power to elected local bodies will result in widespread loot and plunder of state resources and the empowerment of criminals in the society. We should have decentralization of power but to the merit-based bureaucracy. Pakistan is largely tribal, feudal society with pockets of urban centers. Separation of judiciary from executive in this society is recipe for disaster and anarchy. Despite all its shortcomings, a government run by executive-dominated, merit-based bureaucracy is still the best form of government for Pakistan.

Brig Rashid Janjua (Op Ed Columnist Daily Times):The 18th amendment devolves powers to provinces but the provinces refuse to devolve the same to the local governments. 18th amendment has weakened the federation, hence needs to be revisited

Gen. Abdul Qayyum:Firstly Government has international obligations for SDGs but has absolutely no control for their domestic implementation because education and health besides many other subjects are devolved. Secondly, I, as a parliamentarian, cannot vote according to my conscience on any constitutional amendment. All parliamentarians have to vote according to the desire of the leader otherwise you will lose your membership. This surely is against the democratic norms. Also remember 18th amendment is in fact a cluster of about 95 amendments in roughly 85 articles which is one third of 1973 constitution; total articles are about 285. Barrister Kamal Azfar ex PPP Governor Sind regarded this as amputation of the original constitution. Undoubtedly the spirit of empowering the provinces is praiseworthy and some amendments about judiciary and election Commission are good. But total removal of concurrent list at once was counterproductive. This needs to be done gradually. Restriction that share of the provinces in the NFC can be increased but not reduced is extremely unrealistic. What do you do if there is an emergency, war situation, calamity or more need for development in a particular area like ex-FATA?

Wajid Shamsul Hasan (Former Ambassador Pakistan to UK): My submission was that a debate on 18th Amendment now when Army Chief has passed his institutional verdict would be an exercise in futility. His institution has been pursuing its agenda of a strong Centre from the time of Ayub Khan. It would have succeeded had there been no fall of Dhaka. Pakistan was saved of subsequent dismemberment by 1973 constitution and later after BIBI’s murder by 18th Amendment. Any way please continue the debate.

Ahmed Qureshi (Analyst & Anchorperson):Excellent key point against 18th amendment. The spirit of Constitution rests on two key principles: strengthening the State and serving the people. The 18th amendment fails in both because political parties in the provinces won’t devolve power. Hence, the state is being weakened and citizens are not getting their rights in services. In the current circumstances, 18th amendment becomes a problem, not a solution.

Brig Kamran Zia (NDU): I wonder isn’t the 18th amendment a concurrence of Mujeeb’s 6 points? Barring separate currency and military (province specific paramilitaries already there), it’s practically an acceptance of Mujeeb’s stance. And if we had to introduce all that, why dismemberment then?  

Masood Aslam:It’s an excellent expose on where we have landed because of the 18th amendment. Insincerity and greed doesn’t let our politicians behave and think like a Statesman. Over exposure of military in statecraft has weakened its standing among the public specially the vocal educated elite. Building bridges for the collective good is not our strength. A big challenge is to really bring a consensus on amending some of the clauses.

Atiq Baluch (a private entrepreneur):I will just add the agriculture part, which is a provincial subject now. Let’s take example of one Federal govt. department, Pakistan Oil Seed development Board. The department had regional offices throughout Pakistan for propagation of oil seed crops. However, after the 18th amendment, since its a provincial subject, all field staff have been transferred to Islamabad and its jurisdiction is ICT now, office salaries , vehicles all are there but sitting in Islamabad where not a single acre of oil seed is grown. Even Before 18th amendment, agriculture was a confused subject, with duplication of jobs between federal govt. and provinces (same true for health and education). Another example is of PARC – Pakistan agriculture research council. This federal department was developed with a purpose of coordinating research between provinces and international bodies but since they wanted big budgets, they developed another department under PARC by the name of NARC, national agriculture research council and have got a huge piece of land in Islamabad for research and started research.  Agriculture research is site specific because it is linked with nature. So, if a variety is researched and developed in the climate of Islamabad, it is of no use for rest of the country (Pakistan has 9 ecological zones so all total 9 research station can serve the purpose). When they were criticized, they also started putting field research stations across the country. Duplicating the job of provincial agriculture research institutes. Scientist were sitting in cushy offices and residences of Islamabad and used to tour across Pakistan, spending millions.


The 18th Constitutional Amendment, considered by many as an “untouchable” amendment, was recently brought under discussion by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, on Thursday, who observed that the Upper and Lower House of Parliament did not hold any debate before passing the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

“We were handicapped when we were discussing the vires of 18th Amendment as we did not know as to whether the parliament had debated it before passing it,” the chief justice remarked while hearing a case concerning devolution of powers under the Amendment.  The chief justice also said a debate is essential for the interpretation of the Constitution. PPP’s Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, the former chairman Senate, also admitted that although the parliament did not debate the amendment bill, it took nine months to prepare the draft.

These comments and developments suggest that even though the 18th Amendment has been so far subject to limit debate, there still remain certain issues that need to be brought under discussion both in the Parliament as well as in the media.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.comand tweets at @yasmeen_9

Reducing American troops in Afghanistan

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Trump’s decision to withdraw around 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, roughly half of American troops stationed there, has created shock waves around the world. Most deem it as a step that weakens Allied position in Afghanistan to reach a negotiated peace settlement while giving a leverage to the Taliban. According to most analysts, ‘security situation in Afghanistan is likely to be exacerbated by a U.S. troop reduction.’

But will it?

One needs a closer look at the facts on ground.

Report card by Al Jazeera states, “According to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), as of January 31, 2018, 229 districts were under Afghan government control which is about 56.3 percent of total Afghan districts. Fifty-nine districts, approximately 14.5 percent, were under rebel control. The remaining 119 districts, about 29.2 percent, are contested – controlled by neither the Afghan government nor the rebellion.” (2018)

The Pentagon also has 25,239 private security contractors deployed in Afghanistan. (Radio Free Europe December 21, 2018)An additional force to support the Allies on ground in Afghanistan.

Over 111,000 Afghans, including militants, soldiers as well as civilians are estimated to have died since 2001 (Crawford, Neta (August 2016). “Update on the Human Costs of War for Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001 to mid-2016” (PDF).  Nicolas J S Davies writing for Consortium News (April 25, 2018) “For Afghanistan, I estimated that about 875,000 Afghans have been killed.  I explained that the annual reports on civilian casualties by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) are based only on investigations completed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), and that they knowingly exclude large numbers of reports of civilian deaths that the AIHRC has not yet investigated or for which it has not completed its investigations.  UNAMA’s reports also lack any reporting at all from many areas of the country where the Taliban and other Afghan resistance forces are active, and where many or most U.S. air strikes and night raids therefore take place.”

The picture is not pretty. The gains by Taliban over territorial control have increased, there has been no improvement in institutional and structural reforms in Afghanistan, the present government; a puppet of US remains and shall continue to remain reliant on the US for functioning.

What the US has tried over years, is to do more of the same. No approach, different from those being followed for years have been tried. Military confrontation has not worked. Talks have not worked. The second mainly because of extremely different viewpoints of stakeholders involved. Only a miracle can lead to one tangent of agreement between all.

So the choice is to either continue with more of the same or try an out-of-box solution. The world is comfortable with more of the same, mainly because of fear of what the outcome of an out-of-box solution may lead to. If it backfires can then it be ‘fixed’?

Trump had departed from his original stance to bring an end to conflict in Afghanistan which was not only draining resources but also costing lives with increasing forces in Afghanistan. Unlike other US Presidents, Trump being a businessman cuts losses and seeks alternate remedies to correct a bad situation. All may not agree with a particular strategy in the given case but ‘more of the same’ is just not working.

Fazel Fazly, Chief advisor to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on Dec 20, 2018 tweeted, “If the few thousand foreign troops that advise, train & assist, leave it will not affect our security, in the past four & half years our security is completely in the hands of Afghans and the final goal is that ANDSF will stand on their feet to protect & defend soil on their own.” This may or may not be a good prediction however, it does reflect a mood of the political dispensation.

Taliban have repeatedly demanded exit of US and NATO troops before peace talks can be constructive. The withdrawal of partial troops by US sends the message to them that the forces are serious about a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan. It will lead to reduction in confrontational tactics from both sides and a better chance for a workable exit strategy.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.




President Trump’s letter and USA’s double standards on Pakistan

My blog: President Trump’s letter and USA’s double standards on Pakistan

President Trump’s letter and USA’s double standards on Pakistan

Given USA’s disastrous report card in Afghanistan and Washington running out of all options for a face saving exit strategy, President Trump recently reached out to PM Imran Khan via a letter. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan stated that Trump had expressed the desire to achieve a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan seeking Pakistan’s help in achieving the goal.

The US Special Envoy for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan soon after, only to be assured by the PM Khan of Pakistan’s interest in abiding peace in Afghanistan. Khalilzad is openly known to be anti-Pakistan. In his book “The Envoy”, he blames Pakistan for providing space to Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders. He also, at one point, stated his advice to Bush that was ignored to place more pressure on Pakistan to ‘do more’.

Following these developments, the US also added Pakistan to the religious freedom watch list. However, the American list mostly included countries that currently have tense ties with Washington in different arenas. It has conveniently overlooked nations it sees as ‘allies’, India being one. Hence, adding Pakistan to this list seemed more of a pressure tactic b the Trump administration. Moreover, ignoring India and not adding it in the list also highlighted the US bias towards the list.

According to the “World Report” by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Mob attacks by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the attackers, police frequently filed complaints against the victims under laws banning cow slaughter. As of November, there had been 38 such attacks, and 10 people killed during the year.”  A series of killings and heinous crimes against religious minorities are duly reported in this comprehensive HRW report.

On the other hand, the US failure in Afghanistan has also become a glaring reality. Casualties both civilians and military crossed 20,000 in 2018 as per report by Danny Sjursen for The American Conservative, “The death rates are staggering, numbering 5,500 fatalities in 2015, 6,700 in 2016, and an estimate (the number is newly classified) of “about 10,000” in 2017. Well, some might ask, what about American airpower—can’t that help stem the Taliban tide? Hardly. In 2018, as security deteriorated and the Taliban made substantial gains, the U.S. actually dropped more bombs than in any other year of the war. It appears that nothing stands in the way of impending military defeat.” (Nov 30. 2018)

Irrespective of the letter-writing exercise conducted by the US President and his communication with the Pakistan PM, the fact remains that there are different stakeholders involved with different approaches towards Afghan peace. Succinctly summed up by Zafar Hilaly, diplomat and political analyst, “Gen Dunford, the US CJSC, says if the US withdraws from Afghanistan then he fears another 9/11 could happen; whereas our own Maj. Gen ISPR fears that if the US does so we may face another 1989. Both, therefore, think a US withdrawal is disastrous for their respective countries. Whereas most others, including the Taliban, believe that unless the US does so there can be no peace. Incidentally, even if an agreement is reached between the Taliban and the US for a conditions based US withdrawal, who would enforce the agreement, if breached.  Actually, unless someone does a huge U-turn, no agreement to the satisfaction of the two, or is it three, sides is possible. For peace, Afghanistan must revert to Afghan control and if that means the Taliban, so be it.”

The US has been known for lashing out at Pakistan and then offering sugar coated pills. The policy of USA towards Pakistan has been clear, even before Trump became President. Making too much out of a letter full of verbosity is no more than making a mountain out of a mole hill. Before his letter, both Trump and PM Khan exchanged heated tweets after the former told Fox News that his decision to cut off Pakistan’s aid was simply because Islamabad used to “take our (USA’s) money and do nothing for us.”

What the American President simply fails to understand is without giving other stakeholders concerns a serious ear and trying to take steps to address the issues involved, trying to “push” its way for peace in Afghanistan will not help. Pakistanis have been insulted on different levels by the US, so much that the US pressures have lost their effectiveness. The only thing these pressures and demands of “do more” has achieved is making Pakistan more determined not to compromise any more on her own interests. There is a famous Urdu proverb that, when translated, says, “The fear of an event happening is greater than the happening of the event.” The proverb seems to be written keeping in mind the Pakistani psyche. Whoever advised the US on pressuring Pakistan is truly divorced from how a Pakistani mind works.

Genuine respect, treating Pakistan as an equal, restoring trust by refraining from the carrot and stick policy, and addressing Pakistan’s concerns is the only way it will work. Otherwise, even a hundred letters will deliver nothing!

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

The blog was carried as a cross post on:


Attacking Chahbahar


Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Four died and many others were wounded in an attack on a police station in the southeastern Iran port city recently. Javed Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister on December 6, 2018 tweeted, “Foreign-backed terrorists kill & wound innocents in Chabahar. As we’ve made clear in the past, such crimes won’t go unpunished: In 2010, our security services intercepted & captured extremists en route from UAE. Mark my words: Iran WILL bring terrorists & their masters to justice.”

Later, a group called Ansar al-Fuqran that was created in 2013 with the merger of Hizb-ul-Furqan and Harkat-ul-Ansar Iran accepted the responsibility. It issued a statement claiming the successful attack to be, “a severe blow to the regime’s security forces”. One of the groups merging; the Harkat-ul-Ansar, “is inclined to define its ideology within the sphere of a global Jihad. A HAI spokesperson has called on Balochis to rise up against the Iranian regime with the support of their “Sunni and Wahhabi friends,” which has increasingly become its priority since merging with Hizbul-Furqan to become Ansar Al-Furqan in 2013.”

Ansar al-Fuqran is a designated terrorist organization by Iran. As per Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (28 March 2014) the banned outfit as links with Jeish Muhammad, Katibat al Asad Al ‘Islamia, Jaish ul-Adl and Al-Nusra Front.

The Ansar-ul-Furqan members mostly hail from Baluchi Salafist militants opposed to the Iranian regime.

Is Ansar-al-Furqan part of proxy war against Iran?

Ansar-al-Furqan had claimed terror attack against Iranian government previously as well. This includes IED attack on a freight train belonging to government forces in May 2014. The message is clear: creating upheaval in Iran, toppling the Iran government and to achieve that end; the organization and their sponsors will do anything.

If one looks at the pattern and objectives of these groups certain similarities emerge; first is all these groups are Sunni extremists with an objective to destroy Shi’ite standing and second they must not be viewed independent of war on Iraq and Syria. Together they form a complete circle.

 Jundallah the terrorist organization headed by the Rigi family cannot be overlooked in this ugly scenario. The connections of this organization with US and Israel are well established.

“The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah — a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. governmentand published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children. But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel’s Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel’s recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel’s ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials. Israel’s relationship with Jundallah continued to roil the Bush administration until the day it left office, this same intelligence officer noted. Israel’s activities jeopardized the administration’s fragile relationship with Pakistan, which was coming under intense pressure from Iran to crack down on Jundallah. It also undermined U.S. claims that it would never fight terror with terror, and invited attacks in kind on U.S. personnel.” (Mark Perry, Foreign Policy Magazine Jan. 13, 2012)

Bottom Line

If we want world peace before we destroy each other, these games of regional hegemony, hatred, global dominance must stop. These proxy wars must stop!

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

The bombing at the Chinese Consulate

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi that left four dead, was owned by the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BBC News 23, November, 2018). Pakistan declared BLA a terrorist organisation in 2006. Other attacks, of lesser profile have been carried out by BLA in the past as well. The important question is who is sponsoring/funding the organisation?

One belief is that India is directly involved in funding the Baluch insurgency with Afghanistan’s connivance to be able to exert pressure on Pakistan vis a vis the Kashmir dispute. Whether or not India is supporting BLA for Kashmir’s counter pressure is another matter, However there seem to be strong indications that India is financially supporting BLA. India reportedly spent Rs 7 billion to run a campaign against Pakistan in Geneva, Canada as well as Switzerland. Posters of “Free Baluchistan” appeared seemingly out of nowhere. A letter was put up to the Permanent Representative of the Swiss government by Pakistan’s Farukh Amil , envoy to Switzerland.

In December 2010, the then director general of military operations, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in a briefing to parliamentarians had stated that India is involved in supporting the BLA. He shared information about the nine camps for training established on Afghan border set up to train Baluchistan Liberation Army members. He also claimed “India and the UAE (reportedly due to opposition to construction of the Gwadar port) were funding and arming the Baloch. Pasha also claimed that the Russian government was directly involved in funding/training/supporting the insurgency.” (Express Tribune December 2010)

According to another report, India established a forum under the name of Hind-Baloch Forum with with Pawan Sinha as the President and Swami Jitendranad Sarswati  the General Secretary. The first gathering was held at Agra. The seminar was attended with known names like former RAW director Col RSN Singh, Maj Gen (retd) G 0 Balohi, Govind Sharma, Gen Secretary, Ganga Mahasabha, and others. Topic of the seminar was  : “How Indians can play a role in the freedom struggle of  Balochistan.” The geopolitical situation with high stakes in the region compelled US to collaborate with elements anti-Pakistan living abroad. One example was the then Congressman Dana Rohrabacher meeting with MQM leader in UK. The dissident Baluch leader the Khan of Kalat met up with the Congressman for a photoshoot. The Indo-US has a joint interest to stop China rise and to scuttle CPEC. Baluchistan is strategically placed between South Asia and Middle East-making the province vulnerable to intrigues, power politics and deviousness.

Jadhav’s arrest in Pakistan offers indisputable evidence to India’s meddling in Pakistan.

One cannot but relate the developing and present scenario to the famous Kao Plan. “The Kao Plan, which is described as a three-pronged strategy by the Indian officials, had three different operations to eliminate Pakistan. The first, known as Kao‟s Bangla Plan(KBP) was chalked out to start an insurgency movement in East Pakistan and transform the Eastern part of Pakistan into a new State. The 2nd plan, known as Kao‟s Balochistan Plan (KBP-II) was architected to create a similar scenario in Pakistan‟s Balochistan province, while the 3 rd one was relating to organize a separation movement in the then North Western Frontier Province(NWFP) and now Khyber Pakhtun Khowah to establish an independent State there and this one is known as the Kao‟s Pakhtoonistan Plan (KPP).”

IF BLA is responsible for the attack on the Chinese Embassy in Karachi….. it is going to raise tensions between Pakistan and the separatist organisation supporters and/or funders.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

Can there be peace in Afghanistan?

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The Taliban evolved from the Mujahdeen whom US helped fund way back in 1979 after the Soviet invasion in 1973. It was the era of cold war. The United States with an objective to counter power of USSR, justified the move to break the Russian hold over Afghanistan. The Mujahidin were armed and supported by US to counter the Russian troops. Under Reagan’s watch, US decided to fund Pakistan with the militancy drive in Afghanistan. Russia was driven out of Afghanistan in 1989. Hillary Clinton is on record for admitting US involvement in creation and funding of the militant force.

However, Najib ullah’s government backed by Russia did not fall immediately after Russian exit. It took three years for this to happen. “I feel a certain sense of personal responsibility,” [Gates] testified before the House Armed Services Committee in December 2007.

“I was deputy director of CIA and then deputy national security advisor during the period when the Soviets did withdraw from Afghanistan, and the United States essentially turned its back on Afghanistan,” Gates said. “And five years later came the first attack on the World Trade Center.  And so, you know, one of the lessons that I think we have is that if we abandon these countries, once we are in there and engaged, there is a very real possibility that we will pay a higher price in the end.” (Extract from ‘The Atlantic’, Dec 17, 2009)

Post Russian exit Pakistan was adrift, without US support to face the negative fallout of the aftermath of the war. Then came 9/11. On September 11, 2001 when reportedly, more than 3000 died in attacks on the Trade Centre. Everyone has their favorite story and why it happened. “In his influential 2005 book Dying to Win, political scientist Robert Pape examined a series of modern suicide campaigns and concluded that they are driven not by religious zeal but by foreign occupations (see review by Peter Nolan and Patrick Belton). Pape pointed out that the secular Tamil Tigers have engaged in one of the most protracted and bloody campaigns of suicide terrorism of the modern era. Pape’s theory might explain why 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, as there was a substantial US presence in the Saudi kingdom around that time, but it does not explain the other four hijackers, who were Lebanese, Egyptian and Emirati, none of those countries were occupied by the US.” (The Prospect, September 2006)

Present position in Afghanistan

After 16 years of boots on ground, it is a fact that the American led initiative in Afghanistan has failed. Major sectors of Afghanistan are controlled by the Taliban. “The overall security situation has deteriorated over the past few years, as the Taliban have been able to influence and, to some extent, control ever larger parts of the country.” (UNGA, 10 August 2017, p. 4) Increased number of armed forces to combat the Taliban by Trump has turned out to be a failed strategy. The numbers in any case were too punitive to make a difference. In fact Trump’s military strategy of more troops, counter terror operations and use of  ‘quick-fire air strike missiles’ has all back fired with more attacks by Taliban.

The efforts over years by US forces, has led to greater fragmentation of Afghanistan state. There seems to be a contradiction within the objective of bringing peace to Afghanistan. This is a combination of flawed policies by the US as well as the conflicting interests of the stake holders.

Many elements in the given landscape are what may be deemed as ‘consistent’ whereas others are variable. Yet both must balance each other to achieve the desired goal.

Stakeholders in Afghanistan

In 2013 China launched the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) a project that aims to build physical infrastructures across roughly 65 countries including Africa, Asia and Europe. Pledging $900 billion in the project, China is poised to pump in $150 billion in these projects every year. The project includes ports, bridges, railways, and a sea route aimed to link the Mediterranean and East Africa with the Chinese southern coast. The initiative has two levels: one is called the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ (the road) whereas the other is ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (the belt). The latter is a number of overland corridors that aimed at connecting China with Europe through the Middle East as well as via Central Asia. The project is a huge outreach by China to the world, seeking international markets for export of goods and technology to boost their economy at the same time offering benefits to linking nations as well.

The ambitious posture of China raises the fundamental question as to whether China or the United States will ultimately determine the rules for trade and investment. Economics drives politics.

George W. Bush had supported the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and Obama had given final touches to the plan to lay out rules for doing trade and investing in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, Trump pulled out of TPP on his very first day in office. By staying in TPP, the US would have been in a position to help countries wanting to be a part of BRI while minimizing economic risks. Another advantage the US lost is the leverage to offer good terms of trade with the US market to countries where China is the main exporter. It can no longer offer a competitive investment plan to nations as opposed to BRI or TPP.

In a speech Tillerson stated that “the Indo-Pacific – including the entire Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific, and the nations that surround them – will be the most consequential part of the globe in the 21st century” and that “the greatest challenge to a stable, rules-based Indo-Pacific is a China that has taken to reworking the international system to its own benefit.” (Oct 21, 2017). If China cannot make this project a success, BRI will suffer a severe setback.

It is not in US interest to see a China challenging US world leadership.

Afghanistan today is messed up because of overlapping foreign polices of many nations. US not being the only one.

Pakistan is a major stakeholder in Afghanistan. Sharing a porous border with Afghanistan, Pakistan has most to lose and win in a scenario of turmoil and peace respectively in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s territory has been the main route used to supply goods to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also been accused by Afghanistan and US officials of supplying goods to Haqqani network by the same route. An accusation refuted by Pakistan. According to a report of Rand Corporation, “Pakistan has long considered India to be an aggressive state that poses a fundamental threat to its territorial integrity. Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are mainly India-centric and focus primarily on undermining Delhi’s influence in Afghanistan while promoting its own. Islamabad thus seeks to maximize Taliban influence in a weak Kabul government, maintain “strategic depth” against an Indian invasion, and facilitate training and operations by Pakistani-backed extremist groups. However, these are not Pakistan’s only concerns. Other important priorities include marginalizing historical Afghan claims on Pakistani territory and (just as India desires) developing trade with the CARs.”

However, the perception of Pakistan being the villain between a relationship born out of blood and hate with India in 1947 is not exactly true. It downplays the Indian interests and negative policy against Pakistan. Pakistan has valid reasons for the fear.

India has made her moves intelligently and like an excellent chess player has positioned herself in a strategically strong position in anticipation of changing geopolitical situation and regional interests by other players. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan lie in the north of Afghanistan, Iran to the West, Pakistan to the South-East and China to the remote East. A narrow stretch of Afghan territory separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The importance of this region for India’s security is huge. Tajikistan is in Central Asia, a gas-rich region in which India has developed growing interests. Tajikstan also happens to be extremely anti-Taliban. India, in order to gain strategic depth, focused on the Ayni Air Base, also called as ‘Gissar Air Base’ located 10km west of the capital of Tajikistan-Dushanbe. In the post 1979 era of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan it had served as the key air base for Soviet military air transportation of its troops to Afghanistan. It fell into disuse and neglect later. Between years 2002-2010, India invested approximately $70 million in renovations, installing state-of-the-art air defense navigational facilities. The runway was further extended. This access offers immediate strategic depth in the region to India.

The second place of Indian foothold is the Farkhor Air Base; a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan, 130 kilometers south east of the capital Dushanbe. In 1996-97, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) started negotiations with Tajikistan to use the Farkhor Airbase to transport high-altitude military supplies to the Afghan Northern Alliance, service their helicopters and gather intelligence. At that time, India operated a military hospital in the Farkhor region. Since Pakistan does not allow India overland access to Afghanistan, India has had to channel its goods to Afghanistan through Farkhor. The IAF airlifts supplies to Ayni, which are then transported to Farkhor and onward to Afghanistan by road. More important, aircrafts taking off from Farkhor could be over the Pakistani skies within minutes.

Rand Corporation report notes, “A related fear among some Indian thinkers is that once U.S. troops withdraw, Islamabad will move to dominate Afghanistan’s political landscape, which will enable Pakistan to use the country as a safe haven and training ground for anti-Indian extremists. As the editorial page of the Indian newspaper Mint observed, Once Islamabad is assured of a friendly government in Kabul, it will unleash all the terrorists at its disposal on India. This will only mean more trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, and it will embolden terrorist groups to attack our cities with greater frequency.”

Pakistan has greater relevance in Afghanistan than India has. Therefore, the observation by Washington Post that Trump’s singling out India to do more in Afghanistan can easily backfire is correct. “India does not have the strategic tools — or the geography — to alter the strategic course of Afghanistan.” (Washington Post August 24, 2017)

Russia, in spite of suffering a defeat in Afghanistan fears a regional instability in the region. Though no report has supported accusations of Russia arming Taliban in Afghanistan, Russia’s interest lies in bringing about a political settlement between Taliban and the government of Kabul. Russia has been making efforts to develop relationship with Taliban aimed at gaining clout to achieve a negotiated settlement. The conference held in Moscow to agree upon a settlement between US, Kabul and the Taliban in November 2018 was a step to achieve this end. , Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized upon the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Afghanistan, saying that it has relied on foreign sponsors in a bid to “turn Afghanistan into a springboard for its expansion in Central Asia”. (Al Jazeera 9th Nov. 2018)

China is another stakeholder in Afghanistan. Increased involvement of India will lead to spiking of tension in the region. China’s aid to Afghanistan had gone up since the launch of OBOR. The aid to Afghanistan has been roughly $240 million from 2001 to 2013 alone. “China’s ambitious project of regional connectivity through Central Asia is conditioned on sustained stability in Afghanistan.” (Carnegie May 17, 2017)

Pakistan’s sustained security is important for China with CPEC being a showcase project of BRI.

Iran is reported by to have used Taliban against the American forces in Afghanistan by supporting them with training, weapons and money reports New York Times. The adage, enemy of my enemy is a friend fits well here. U.S and Iran however have a history of cooperating against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  One reason is the fear of flooding of refugees. The other of increasing narcotics trade. Tehran is also working with India on Chahbahar port to counter Pakistan’s Gawadar. Afghanistan has a population with 20% being Shias over which Iran holds influence. Trump’s imposing sanctions on Tehran was not a smart move given this backdrop.

The Mid East Institute reports, “Since the 2001 US military intervention in Afghanistan, Tehran has provided measured support to Taliban groups to achieve several key objectives: to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from its eastern border; to use its ties with the Taliban for its geopolitical agenda in South and Central Asia as well as in the Middle East; to pressure the Afghan government for political concessions; and lately to establish a buffer zone in western Afghanistan against a potential threat of Islamic State. While the IRGC may see the Taliban’s growing influence in western Afghanistan serving Tehran’s interest, the growing instability in western Afghanistan will have adverse consequences for Iran’s security in the long term.” (March 14, 2018)


Can there be peace in Afghanistan?

Many questions need address to achieve a negotiated political settlement with military options failing.

Withdrawal of foreign powers itself is no gurantee for peace. Brookings Institute raises a fundamental question: “As scholars such as George Washington University’s Joanna Spear have shown, disarmament is often not essential for ending internal conflicts. But the approach begs the question of how to handle possible demobilization of larger and more powerful groups of resistance fighters—something that is generally critical to resolution of such wars. The answer has to involve a combination of registering, regulating and monitoring the forces. But it must also feature a fairly rapid effort to demobilize them. Some fighters can be allowed to join the Afghan army or police, though the bulk of them should be dispersed to other locations in the country to reduce the latent threat they might pose.” The fact overlooked here is that Taliban is dealing from a position of strength and cannot be ordered to do as told.

A settlement with representatives by stakeholders taking onboard the Taliban should be a starter. Forming a Committee to help coordinate peace in Afghanistan with the Taliban post withdrawal of forces can work only if there is honesty of purpose and long term commitment by stakeholders to get Afghanistan back on her feet. Convincing Taliban the benefit of this strategy is a key.

“Two conditions are necessary for any agenda: ending the fighting and rebuilding the state, if only incrementally. Peace and governance would reinforce one another, creating space for other goals like rooting out terrorists or halting the exodus of refugees.” (New York Times: August 24, 2017)

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

The Chinese balloon

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

No tangible guarantees were offered to Prime Minister Imran during his first visit to China to seek funds for his cash-strapped country. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou reaffirmed more assistance to Pakistan but that “more talks are needed.”

To reduce Pakistan’s trade deficit, Pakistan seeks unilateral concessions on 313 items from China. If agreed upon, this can lead to t $ 2-3 billion worth trade by gaining access to Chinese market with the zero rate exports. However, final decision has not yet been taken and more meetings are on table.

Pakistan seeks economic assistance from China aimed at seeking lesser loan facility from the IMF and being therefore in a favorable position to enter into a deal.

However, Gareth Leather a senior economist, says, “The IMF is going to be quite tough, and I suspect … it’s going to demand a lot more transparency on these Chinese investment projects. For the moment, nobody really knows where the money is coming from … They will want a lot more transparency, and that’s going to upset the Chinese who like the fact that nobody knows exactly how much they are making from these projects.” (Courtesy Aljazeera)

After US having imposed stricter conditions on Pakistan and suspended security assistance to Pakistan roughly around $900 million also stating that it will see the stance of Pakistan in doing more in terms of curbing terrorism {particularly with Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban} to determine its support in an IMF bailout package on Pakistan, the reliance of Pakistan on China has increased.

To what extent will China help Pakistan at the cost of annoying U.S is debatable. Many corridors passing under OBOR through European countries can be influenced by U.S. With U.S presence in Afghanistan, and Central Asia States route passing through Afghanistan, this can be a major issue for China with CAS energy reservoirs.

International relations today is a complex phenomenon. Pakistan’s approach of dismissing American concerns will not pay. The world has shifted from being a bipolar world to a multipolar one. Whereas a multipolar world distributes power to different centers, it has a major drawback. The economic, security, regional and global interests are so intertwined that it is a fine art to balance these interests. On many occasions lesser nations’ interests may be compromised on the international chess board. Flexibility in decision making can be severely restrained in a multipolar world. This is a reality.

According to Kenneth Waltz1979“Alliances are made by states that have some but not all of their interests in common. The common interest is ordinarily a negative one, fear of other states” (p. 166) (Extract: Understanding Paradigms and Polarity in International Relations: Paul Horness)

Pakistan traditionally has never developed its policies on a broad based level. Both regional and global. First she put all her eggs in the American basket-but rather than learn a lesson from this experience post fallout with U.S recently-we have put our eggs in the Chinese basket. Though China has been a friend to Pakistan, to expect China to jeopardize her interests for Pakistan is an unreasonable expectation. China did not stand with Pakistan at FATF withdrawing her objections to the nomination. Reportedly India offered China a greater role FATF to move past the mandatory rule that needs three members to oppose the move.

What Pakistan needs to do is to take a hard look at what it needs to do. Clear out the cobwebs from the closet and get her act together.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

The Banana Cart Chronicles

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Aasia Bibi after eight years in jail, facing death penalty, was finally released by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  

“Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of appellant’s religion & religious sensibilities by complainant party & then mixing truth with falsehood in name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was also not short of being blasphemous.” – Justice Khosa.

The mother of all judgments unleashed a protest across the landscape spearheaded by the new religious right, the Labbaik party headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi. A party that catapulted in prominence in the recent elections.

In the meanwhile, as call to bring the country to a grinding halt went out, markets closed down, anger was unleashed upon public and private property, and offices were deserted as few ventured out of the security of their homes, schools and colleges closed down, exams were postponed. There were reports of dacoits breaking in closed shops and looting goods and cash.

Reports on media were blacked out. A good step that denied gossip, rumors, half-baked analysis by self-styled analysts and most anchors projecting themselves as ‘all knowing.’ Finally on the 2nd of November, mobiles across the country were closed down. Late evening Molana Sami ul Haq of JUI was found murdered in his Rawalpindi residence. Copy of agreement between the Labbaik Party and government was floating on social media based on five points: 1) Any proceeding for review against Aasia Bibi in a court of law is a right and government will not object to it 2) Legal steps to be taken immediately to place her name on ECL 3) All evidences against Aasia Bibi to be scrutinized closely 4) All arrested after 30th October in protests against her to be released immediately and 4) If during protests anyone’s heart if hurt, may kindly forgive them. 

In an address, they had called the Prime Minister a “Jew child”, demanded immediate removal of General Bajwa and all Qadianis from the Army further stating that the three judges delivering the verdict should be murdered.

This is not the first time Labbaik has shown street power at the cost of hurt to the economy and complete disregard to Pakistan’s standing internationally.

Former governor Punjab Salman Taseer was killed by his own body guard for visiting Aasia Bibi in jail, vowing to help pave way for presidential pardon. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian Minister and a vociferous critic of the blasphemy law had his car sprayed with gunfire as he left his home in Islamabad, losing his life. “This law is being misused,” Bhatti told Open magazine at the time. “Many people are facing death threats and problems. They’re in prison and are being killed extra-judicially.” (The Guardian March 2, 2011)

What is the way forward? Are deals with these miscreants the answer? There is wide spread disgust among the educated class of Pakistan directed at the state that is failing to surrender the country to them. The labor class is disgusted as they have not been able to move outside homes to earn daily wages to keep their stove burning.

“It is the government’s responsibility to first evolve a political consensus against such behavior. Then separate the trash and genuine religious parties by holding parleys and ask them depict Islam in its real spirit. And then go all out for incorrigibles. If this sequence is not followed, there can be a huge blowback,” says General ® Naeem Khalid Lodhi.

The PTI government and Army must be on the same page. Allowing space to such miscreants will lead to forcing their hand for yet more space. Whereas reacting physically to a huge crowd out may not be good tactic-going after the key leaders after the sit-in fizzles out certainly is. This country cannot be held hostage to hoodlums bent on interpreting their version of Islam that overrides the decision of the Supreme Court.

A most frightening aspect of this case is when Baluchistan unanimously adopted a resolution for the Supreme Court to review their decision that led to the release of Aasia Bibi. Unanimously! The spreading mindset of not understanding the spirit of Islam and relying on the interpretation of uneducated moulvis is frightening.

The people of Pakistan demand their country back. It is the responsibility of the government and the state to deliver. This is not about the liberal and conservative divide. This is about people across board who understand that this scenario will be repeated as the viper is being fed.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.




Pakistan, sugar daddies & Israel

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The one thing consistent between nations of the world is an inconsistency in their relationships over time. This has to do with change of policies, changing economic needs and goals, changing regional hegemony and players involved, to name a few.

US policies under Trump send out mixed signals to the world, U turns, changes in stance towards issues rule the roost. In spite of Trump taking a hard line with Iran, he is not viewed as a man with clear policy directions. This includes misgivings by Arab nations. This changing environment is leading   nations who were viewed as allies of US scrambling in an effort to build bridges with EU, China and Russia. The unpredictability that rules American politics under Trump has upset the entire spectrum of political arena.

“Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Arab world today is how relatively uncontroversial Israel has become. This is a dramatic shift from decades during which hostility to Israel served as perhaps the most important unifier of often fractious Arab governments,” write Shai Feldman and Tamara Cofman Wittes. 

There appears to be waning of interest in Palestinian issue. Seventy years of supporting Palestinian issue has precious little to show for it. This does not mean the cause should be given up. What it does mean is that by striking a balance with Israel, entering into trade agreements and treaties with Israel, these nations are in a better position to talk about the Palestinian issue sitting across the table.

Over the past few decades Israel has been transformed into a technological economy that is extremely innovative and forward looking. Their advanced surveillance technology that has been extended to the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Israel, over all this time nations have spent their energy in hating them, focused on their energy sector becoming an energy exporter. Shai Feldman and Tamara Cofman Wittes state, “The recent 10-year, $15 billion agreement signed between Israeli and Egyptian companies for the sale of natural gas is a game-changer in Arab-Israeli politics. This agreement will allow Egypt to profit from liquefying and re-exporting the purchased gas to Europe and Africa, boosting its prospects as a regional energy hub and creating economic interdependence between two former enemies.” (Brookings: March 26, 2018)

In October 2018, Pakistan’s sugar daddy China’s Vice President Wang Qishan visited Israel for three days seeking Israeli support with their Belt and Road Initiative. On one hand China wants access to Israeli technology while on the other hand China is trying to broaden the base for her future strategies in the Middle East where an understanding with Israel can reap dividends. This is without question, smart strategy.

Pakistan’s other sugar daddy Saudi Arab has shown a public acceptance of Israel’s right to exist in an area associated by ancient Jewish history. The views came via Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in The Atlantic (BBC News: 3 April 2018) Ending February 2018, senior Saudi Arab and Israeli officials met in Cairo aimed at “warming ties” between both nations, reports The Times of Israel.  Also, Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung revealed the fact that there exists a “secret alliance” between Saudi Arabia and Israel, intended “to restrain Iran’s expansion in the region, despite the absence of any official relations between the two countries.” (Middle East Monitor January 8, 2018)

In this changing global environment comes our President Arif Alvi’s comment that Pakistan will not establish ties with Israel due to her support with Palestine as the Gaza Strip which has suffered “unprecedented atrocities” like Kashmir. This is very true however, the unprecedented atrocities suffered by people of Occupied Indian Kashmir never stopped Pakistan from establishing and maintaining contacts with India. Supporting Palestine is a just cause. One Pakistan is rightfully pursuing.  It’s not the strategy that is questionable but how Pakistan goes about to support the issue is.

Revisiting the Pakistani policy towards Israel is just not done. It’s an extremely sensitive topic. In spite of the fact the geopolitical environment has changed over years.

However, even if PTI government wishes to improve relationship with Israel, it does not seem on the cards in near future. First, Imran Khan knows that the Islamist based groups’ garnered 5 million votes in the elections. Any effort to change policy towards Israel can create an internal turmoil. Second, his political opponents can also use this against him undermining his standing as his first wife Jemima Goldsmith had ethnic Jewish roots and whipping up a religious frenzy connecting ‘the dots’. Third and maybe the most important is that in his effort to step back from his western leaning of hey days, Imran Khan has developed rightist leanings. He may not favor a changed pro-Israeli policy himself.

Wajid Shamsul Hassan, former Pakistan’s commissioner to UK states, “Should Pakistan give diplomatic recognition to Israel or not is a crucial question. I feel that Pakistan should act pragmatically instead of emotionally. Rhetorical condemnation of Israel by PTI leaders to the suggestion for diplomatic recognition of Israel is understandable as a populist ploy to placate the anti- Israeli sentiments of Islamists in Pakistan. To me issue of recognition is merely a formality especially when accepting Saudi billions is much more or less like accepting Israeli or American money. President Trump being a very candid leader, made it clear that Crown Prince Salman Bin Muhammad cannot last in power for more than two weeks without American support. Indeed, Saudis must have sought Washington’s approval directly and Tel Aviv’s indirectly before doling out the breather billions to Imran Khan.” A biting comment by any standards. But realistic.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9