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Full transcript of the Taliban’s speech at the Moscow conference:

Transcript of speech delivered by delegation of Islamic Emirate at Moscow Conference
Image result for Picture of Taliban Moscow Conference
In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Merciful
Praise be to Allah, and may peace and blessings of Allah be upon his messenger, his family and all his companions. And thereafter:
First of all, I thank all participants, the ladies and gentlemen, who have gathered here for discussing and sharing their views regarding the solution of the problems of our beloved country, Afghanistan, and oppressed Afghan nation. I especially thank the Russian Federation for facilitating this important meeting in the country.
Now I would like to share information and position of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, with the participants, regarding the current situation of my beloved country.
The causes of the ongoing miseries and conflicts in Afghanistan in the past four decades:
Our beloved country, Muslim and Mujahid nation have been burning in the flames of fire for the past four decades. Their spiritual and material assets have been robbed and looted; they have been prevented from progress and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Poverty and destitution are another main misfortune that the Afghan people are faced with due to war. The fundamental cause of all these disasters is interferences and invasions of foreigners.
It is worth mentioning that throughout the history Afghan Mujahid Nation has resorted to its legitimate right of defense against each invasion, which is still going on under the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan against the current invasion for the last 17 years.
Unfortunately, when the United States of America invaded the Afghan oppressed nation by lame excuses to topple an Islamic system, this turned the peaceful life and security of the Afghans into disorder; occupied the country; martyred hundreds of thousands of Afghans; displaced similar number and destroyed their villages and houses. They fomented geographical, ethnical, racial, religious and linguistic prejudices among the nation.
By eliminating Islamic and National values, they paved the way for corruption of morality and other administrative, social and intellectual corruption. By using prohibited chemical weapons, they not only threatened the life of humans, but by polluting the environment they threatened the life of animals as well. They polluted the country’s clean air and made its fertile land barren. They, once again, turned the country into the drug center, which unfortunately left more than 10 % of the population addicted to it, while the number of addicts during the reign of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was only few thousands country wide.
Not only this, rather they changed the country into the nest of international intelligence agencies. They created mistrust and unreliability among the people. These are just a few examples, otherwise the problems and miseries that have resulted from the invasion which the Afghan nation is facing are many more.
Now we would come to see how to take out the oppressed people of Afghanistan from this disaster.
Peace:
• Need for Peace:
Peace is the first need of every society; especially it is the most important demand of all oppressed Afghans. Without peace, restful life, economical, educational, cultural, social and political progress is impossible. Only in peace, countries and nations have developed. However, peace comes not only by words and slogans, as in the past 15 years it has been used as a project; rather it needs strong will and clear action. Wherever the right to freedom is taken from nations, it is obvious that peace will be eliminated there and replaced by conflicts and wars.
War has been imposed on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the Afghan nation, because their country has been occupied and the occupiers have removed an independent Islamic System. Thus, before everything, all those factors should be removed that have caused elimination of peace and continuation of war.
• Preliminary steps for Peace:
Before the beginning of the peace talks, some preliminary steps must be taken that are essential for peace and are parts of confidence building measures. Such as:
1 – Removal of Sanctions List:
Peace negotiations and sanctions list are two contradictory concepts and can’t go side by side. It is therefore required that these baseless sanctions and reward lists, that are used as a pressure tool for their interests, should be finished; so that representatives of the Islamic Emirate are able to participate in peace talks in different places without any hurdle.
It is also necessary that both sides should, as is their natural right, and without any pressure and in free atmosphere take forward the peace process. Not that one side is in the sanctions list and other side has freedom. This imbalanced process can neither go forward nor can give desired outcome.
2 – Release of Detainees:
Arrest and detention of Mujahidin and innocent Afghans are actions that are against peace. America and its protectorate regime have detained tens of thousands of Afghans and Mujahidin in their secret and open prisons and are ill treating them against all the laws. How is it possible that from one side one raises slogans of peace and from other side commits these malicious and illegal actions? This in itself is an obstacle to peace. For bringing real peace and reducing distance, other side must release all Mujahidin and ordinary innocent Afghans who are in prisons on mere accusations of having links with Mujahidin.
3 – Formally opening of the Office:
Venue for negotiations and a communication site in the shape of an office is necessary for peace. At present, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no open and formal address as a venue for negotiations which is a preliminary requirement. It may be said that regular peace meetings could only be held in a state of availability of an office. The office is also required to issue peace related press releases, respond to questions of people as a responsible entity and remove national and international concerns. Likewise, anti peace elements could not use this pretext that the official address of the Islamic Emirate is not known.
4 – Stopping poisonous propaganda against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan:
It is clear to all that with the support of the occupiers, wide poisonous propaganda is carried out against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Utterly unfounded accusations are leveled against Islamic Emirate which in itself becomes hurdle towards progress for peace. Some intelligence circles resort to some terrible incidents, such as: blowing bridges, spraying acid on school students, making explosions on road side civilian vehicles, abducting people and committing other crimes and then blindly use these incidents against the Islamic Emirate as raw material for propaganda, and then when investigated, the results of those investigations are also not disclosed. This proves that these abuses are not work of the Mujahidin of the Islamic Emirate but rather of intelligence circles. It is because they think that by doing this, they would isolate the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from its nation and the world. Thus, for the sake of peace, this poisonous and baseless propaganda should be stopped, because truth and peace both are sacrificed at the altar of this negative propaganda.
Obstacles to Peace:
• Occupation:
For real peace, the will of the people should be adhered to; occupation should be ended, because history has proved that Afghan nation has never surrendered to occupation. Occupation is mother of all the miseries. Peace in Afghanistan and withdrawal of foreign troops are tied with each other, because withdrawal of foreign troops practically paves the way for peace. But unfortunately, until now, peace has been used as a tactic in Afghanistan, and this is tantamount to throwing dust in the eyes of the people.
We see that the United States and some of its friends, instead of real peace, try to compel the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to surrender. They think that at first they would weaken the Islamic Emirate in the battle field and then will compel them to peace by having upper hand. But this is self-deception which is not in conformity with ground realities. Afghan Mujahid nation firmly stand behind the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The invaders and their friends should know that no aggressive power of the world can eliminate national power. Likewise, the problem could not be solved by irresponsible actions and unrealistic strategies. The main thing is that strong intention and strategy based on realities are needed for peace in which end of occupation is a crucial part.
• Lack of an independent Islamic System:
For peace and stability in Afghanistan, there should be agreement on the establishment of an Afghan inclusive independent Islamic System that is acceptable to Afghans and reflects Islamic and Afghan values, as Islam is the religion of the Afghan people and guarantor of the country’s economic prosperity, social justice and national unity.
• Lack of guarantee for peace agreements:
Peace process needs guarantees, as without this, the provisions of the peace agreements could not be properly implemented. Therefore, the United Nations, major powers, members of the Islamic Conference and facilitating countries must guarantee implementations of the agreements.
• The Current Constitution:
Constitution is a dire need for every state; since development of the country and the nation without it faces many problems and disorders. Through the constitution, personnel, civil, and political rights of every citizen of Afghanistan is organized. It explains the relationship between the government and the people; puts light on checks and balances among the three branches of the government; structures and determines the power and generally determines the strategy regarding Afghanistan’s domestic and foreign politics.
The current constitution of Kabul Administration is not reliable, because it has been copied from the West and has been imposed on Afghanistan’s Muslim society under the shadow of occupation. It can neither respond to the desires of the Afghans nor can be implemented, as its provisions are vague and contradictory with each other. It is constantly being violated by the high ranking officials of the Kabul Administration; rather the current administration itself is contrary to the constitution. So, the current constitution in its present version is a major obstacle to peace.
Therefore, for the development of the beloved country and honor-loving people, their prosperous life and welfare, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers it necessary that constitution must be based on principles of Islamic religion, national interests, historical achievements and social justice. It should be committed to human dignity, national values and human rights, and could guarantee territorial integrity of the country and all rights of all the citizens. The draft of such constitution should be prepared by Afghan scholars and intellectuals in an atmosphere of freedom.
• Continuation of War policy instead of Peace from the American side:
Peace talks and peace are those words that are repeated often by the occupiers. But practically, and constantly instead of peace negotiations hundreds of aerial and ground attacks are carried out. And for this, the latest policy of Americans is good and clear evidence. Instead of taking practical steps for peace, submitting to the will of the Afghan nation and ending the occupation, contrarily, they deployed more soldiers and gave them unrestricted abusive power of all kind of harassments and killings of the Afghan people. They resumed night raids on the houses of the people and increased airstrikes which resulted in the augmentation of civilian casualties. By creating and implementing other new projects, they further made the situation of Afghanistan and the region deteriorating and heightened the worries and concerns of regional and world countries. It all shows that they do not have intention for peace; rather they seek their interests in killing the Afghan people and destroying the country. Unfortunately, they do all these with the support of the Kabul Administration.
It is in a time that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has quite explicitly stated from time to time that the problem of Afghanistan could not be solved with wars, conflicts, force and money; the only way that could overcome the problems is ending the occupation and letting the Afghan people to determine their fate.
It is worth mentioning that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has said it before and now once again explicitly announces to the entire world that in order to end the occupation, we are ready for face to face negotiations with the Americans and to discuss relevant issues with them. We want them that instead of conflicts and use of force they should turn to wisdom and logic and refrain from further destroying our country, killing our citizens, and likewise from meaninglessly killing their own sons. They should respect the will of the Afghan people and allow them to determine their fate.
The Islamic Emirate has left the doors of understanding and negotiations open. the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the only venue of the Emirate to reach peaceful settlement of the issue of Afghanistan.
Status of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan regarding some key issues:
• Three days Ceasefire on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr of this year:
The three days ceasefire by the Islamic Emirate on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr revealed that there is a unified power in the shape of the Islamic Emirate against the invasion across Afghanistan, and there is complete discipline in its military and civil ranks. They are all under one command and strongly obey orders of their leaders. Existence of 20 groups in Afghanistan was a mere propaganda.
Likewise, it was also proved, against the claim of the enemies of peace, that the ongoing war is not a war between Afghans but is military resistance of Afghan nation against the invasion. Afghans do not have problem among themselves. Foreign occupation is the main problem. This war will continue until and unless foreign soldiers exist in Afghanistan. Hence, withdrawal of foreign soldiers is necessary for peace in Afghanistan.
• No interference in the internal affairs of other countries:
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan makes legitimate efforts for independence of its country which is natural and human right of Afghan Muslim nation. Seeking independence of one’s country and establishing an Islamic system in conformity with the faith of its people cannot be considered terrorism. We would like to say that we don’t have agenda of destructive actions in other countries. In the past 17 years we have practically proved that we have not interfered in any way in other countries. Similarly, we do not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries including neighboring countries. Our priority is to resolve the issue of Afghanistan through peaceful means. The United States must end the occupation and submit to the legitimate rights of the Afghans, including forming their government in conformity with their faith. After independence, we want to have positive and constructive relations with other countries including neighbors, and we welcome their assistance in reconstruction and development of the country. Similarly, we want to have positive role in peace and stability of the region and the world.
• Prevention of drug trafficking and cultivation:
During the overt reign of the Islamic Emirate, poppy cultivation had been reduced to zero and the number of heroin addicts among the Afghans was absolutely equal to none. However, after the US invasion in Afghanistan, poppy cultivated land area has reached 328 thousand hectares, and now under the shadow of 17 years of the occupation, the number of addicts has increased to three million people.
According to the UN Counter-Narcotics Organization report, the production of narcotics has increased by 87% and its cultivation by 63% in 2017, by which the scale of produced narcotics has reached 9000 metric tons. The policy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is to prevent poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. If the war ends in Afghanistan, then the Islamic Emirate is determined to reduce poppy cultivation and drug trafficking to zero throughout the country, and in this regard it is ready to provide support and to coordinate with the neighboring countries and international organizations.
• Prevention of Civilian Casualties:
We see that the scale of civilian casualties is increasing lately due to the ongoing imposed war. This state of our people not only hurts us but every Afghan with free conscious feels the pain. Afghan nation is our own soul and body and by its damage our own self is harmed.
Even our Esteemed leader, Amir-ul-Momineen Sheikh Hibatullah Akhondzada (May Allah protect him) has made strong instructions in his Eid messages to the Mujahidin to refrain from operations in places where there is risk of civilian casualties. Moreover, the Islamic Emirate has embedded an independent Commission in its structure by the name of prevention of civilian casualties that works for the prevention of civilian casualties and has representatives in every province who closely and precisely investigates incidents. It publishes credible reports about civilian casualties several times throughout the year.
Often, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has postponed its military operations due to the risk of civilian causalities, but the Americans and their friends carry out night raids on civilian houses, make blind bombardments and use heavy weapons in civilian places, even they arrest people from cities on the basis of suspicion and then kill them under punishment and torture. Now, with the new American policy, bombardment and night raids have further increased which in turn has increased the graph of civilian casualties as well; albeit most of the media do not publish these reports and these incidents remain nonregistered. Some media outlets and some directions attempt to hide the original perpetrators of civilian casualties which further embolden the perpetrators to continue their crimes.
The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction or SIGAR says that their investigations have found that in 2018, American forces’ bombardments in Afghanistan have exceptionally increased, and they have dropped 1200 bombs only in the first three months of this year. On the second day of April 2018, as a result of a brutal aerial attack on a Madrasa in Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz province, they martyred 100 young memorizers of the Holy Quran and injured another 100. It is an iceberg of gruesome incidents. During the past 17 years, hundreds of similar incidents have taken place in which houses and educational institutions have been targeted.
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has taken the following practical measures for the prevention of civilian casualties:
1. In order to prevent civilian casualties, Mujahidin are provided with guidelines by scholars on regular basis and independent seminars are held in this regard.
2. Delegations pay visit to Mujahidin circles from time to time in order to investigate incidents of civilian casualties and prosecute the perpetrators.
It must also be said that for the sake of the country and prosperous life of our people, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers building and maintaining of places of public utility as a dire need. It considers bridges, tunnels, dams, electric power stations, electric supply centers, mineral extraction and oil refining centers and its equipments, educational institutions, Madrasas, mosques, schools, universities, health centers, clinics, hospitals, and other public utility places as national asset and public property of the Afghan nation and considers their safety its responsibility. We consider religious and modern education necessary for the success of all Afghans and Afghan society.
Humanitarian Assistance:
On one hand, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is engaged in fighting for the independence of the country; on the other hand has taken drastic steps for the security, safety and prosperity of the citizens in the areas under its control.
With a view to the current situation, Afghan nation is in need of humanitarian assistance more than ever. For completing this need, the Islamic Emirate not only considers itself committed to the security of entities from humanitarian assistance providing countries, the United Nations, International Organizations, national businessmen and other humanitarian NGOs to deliver humanitarian assistance, meanwhile calls on them to provide, on the basis of humanitarian sympathy, humanitarian assistance to those needy people living in areas under the control of the Islamic Emirate.
The Islamic Emirate has provided ground for their humanitarian activities in the areas under its control. The best proof in this regard is that the esteemed leader of the Islamic Emirate urged the NGO’s in its last year’s Eid message to come to areas under the control of the Emirate, and we guarantee your security.
Women Rights:
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers woman as the builders of a Muslim society and is committed to all rights of women that have been given to them by the sacred religion of Islam.
Islam has given women all fundamental rights, such as business and ownership, inheritance, education, work, choosing one’s husband, security, health, and right to good life. Likewise, the Holy prophet (peace be upon him) advised good attitude with women in the last moment of his life. These are all those instances that took the woman out of the horrific pits of traditions of ignorance to the highest levels of knowledge, morality and dignity.
There is no doubt that in Afghanistan, due to occupation, there are many challenges against women rights. Women are faced with a lot of disasters. The so called women rights activists stayed in Afghanistan for 17 years, in this period billions of dollars came to Afghanistan, but still Afghanistan is at the top of the countries where many women die during delivery due to lack of health facilities. Still deformed and disabled children are begotten in our country more than any other place (in the world) due to the use of chemical weapons. Afghanistan is still among the top countries of the world where the average life expectancy rate of women is only 45. It is among the top countries of the world where there are more than one million widows. Due to corruption, the expenses brought and spent under the title of women rights have gone to the pockets of those who raise slogans of women rights.
Under the name of women rights, there has been work for immorality, indecency and circulation of non-Islamic cultures. Dissemination of western and non-Afghan and non-Islamic drama serials, paving way for immoral crimes, and encouraging women for violating Afghan customs are other instances that have been imposed on Afghan society under the name of women rights.
From the beginning, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has a very comprehensive and clear approach towards the rights of women. As Islam and then Afghan tradition is two major values of the Afghan Mujahid nation, so Islamic Emirate is also committed to all rights of women within this framework. The policy of the Islamic Emirate is to protect the rights of women in a way that neither their legitimate rights are violated nor their human dignity and Afghan values are threatened. Similarly, the Islamic Emirate is committed to eliminate all those evil customs and traditions that violate women rights and do not comply with Islamic principles, and provide them safe environment.
• Health:
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has a distinctive health commission functioning all over the country. This commission has its representatives in every province and every district, who from one side conduct internal health affairs of the Emirate and on the other side cooperate with and provide security to healthcare-providing associations and organizations.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has conveyed this message to the world during face to face meetings and through media outlets that it considers health personnel as being neutral. Injured persons of the parties to the conflict as well as injured civilians should be brought to hospitals and treated without any discrimination. In this regard the Islamic Emirate has agreements with international health organizations, such as ICRC, Emergency and Doctors without Borders. The Islamic Emirate Afghanistan has always urged the humanitarian assistance organizations and human rights organizations to make Kabul Administration and foreign forces to treat the wounded and detainees in the same way as the Islamic Emirate does.
The Islamic Emirate has made vast efforts to build clinics and hospitals in its areas and prepare and train health personnel for it, but unfortunately the occupiers consider it a legitimate target for themselves and always resort to bombing it. Due to this, several times our hospitals have been raided and bombed, even the clinics and hospitals that were running by the support of other NGOs in our areas have also been bombed. The bombing carried out against the hospital of Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz and the raid on a hospital in Wardak province are clear examples.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has published statements regarding security of health and education personnel of all sides and has advised Mujahidin not to target these people, but ensure their security so that they could do their work in the best way they can.
Unfortunately, the occupiers target our hospitals and ambulances; take out our wounded persons being transported in ambulances of other health organizations, arrest those wounded persons who are under treatment in hospitals and despite applying different methods of torture on our members, they do not even treat their common diseases.
The Islamic Emirate, once again, announce from this forum that in health sector the Emirate always considers itself committed to all the rights of the citizens and tries its best to deliver them all health services in the best way it can. It calls on human rights organizations to urge Kabul Administration and occupiers to respect human rights and not target hospitals that are in areas under the control of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. We expect foreign organizations to consider all Afghans as equal and as such deliver their services, particularly we expect them to pay attention to the areas that are under the control of the Islamic Emirate, because compared to urban areas, needs of people in rural areas are dire and greater.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has full cooperation with the United Nations, World Health Organization and other health organizations and this cooperation has provided ground for them to carry on their works in the best way in all parts of Afghanistan. In this regard, Polio and other vaccinations programs in many parts of the country that are carried out by relevant organizations by direct support of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are worth mentioning.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, once again, fully assures health related organizations about its cooperation.
Thanks to all participants for listening attentively to our position and views regarding the current miseries of Afghanistan. Thank you.
Please do take time out to at least glance through this speech. I am impressed with the concept and approach of Taliban usually not given due credit for their political astuteness.

Is the US finally leaving Afghanistan?

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The recent continuation of the Afghan peace talks between the US and Taliban, aimed at US/coalition forces’ withdrawal from the war-torn country, came as welcome news. For many, the peace talks have brought hope that decades of chaos in Afghanistan might finally end, however, for a select few, this development is also rife with skepticism.

The US and its allied forces have finally realised that they cannot continue in Afghanistan ad-infinitum. However, the fear that a civil war will erupt between different groups in Afghanistan ,upon the exit of the coalition forces, will probably happen irrespective of when the US withdrawal takes place. The reason is simple.

There has been little, if any, institution-building in the last 17 years of US “boots on ground” in Afghanistan. Weak institutions create governance vacuum, which ultimately gives space to different miscreant elements to fill that vacuum.

Added to this is another fact. The fact of the “weak legs” Ashraf Ghani’s government is currently standing on. Taliban view the current Afghan political setup as a “US puppet”. Upon departure of the US forces, it will not be long that the entire structure will come crashing down.

Therefore, current situation needs a closer examination for a number of reasons:

One, the Taliban are dealing from a “position of strength”, and both the US and the Taliban know that. Moreover, President Ghani and the world also know that.

Hence, not many expect that the US can broker a power-sharing deal between the Taliban and Ghani post US exit. Even if the Taliban agree, there is nothing to bind them to deliver on their word.

Two, there are roughly 14000 American troops in Afghanistan, out of which President Trump wants half of them back home, with  the other half leaving in case of a negotiated settled. Interestingly, so far, the presence of American bases in Afghanistan and their working [or not] post-exit has not been touched upon. These bases include the Shindand Airbase, FOB Delaram, Bagram Air Base, Camp Dwyer, Camp Leatherneck and the Kandahar International Airport. These bases have played a major role in the US War on Terror in Afghanistan, and therefore very little is known of their future when the US and coalition troops leave the country.

Three, the US wants a firm commitment from the Taliban that in return for the exit, the militant group will not allow terrorist groups like Al Qaeda to use the Afghan soil to attack the West, including the USA. The Taliban have been quick to give their word on this. However, there is no clue as to how exactly will the Taliban achieve this. Interestingly, a story in Politico stated, “While most senior al-Qaeda personnel “are trying to hide,” General John Nicholson, the outgoing top commander in Kabul, said last year, the subgroup members are “more active” but are focused on training Taliban members who are fighting the Afghan government.”  The official assessment of the intelligence committee thinks the core objective of Al-Qaeda and their affiliates has not changed- though most [as per a UN report] have migrated to Syria.

Four, the withdrawal, hurried and unceremonious without putting in place a workable settlement, will close doors to a joint expedition with the allies in future if faced with a similar threat.

Five, the impression created is to simply get the American troops out and let “Rome burn”. Without effectively negotiating a lasting peace settlement and focusing on an exit alone, will the US not be doing exactly what it has done in the past; moving in and out of the region, without taking any further responsibility, as once famously admitted by Hillary Clinton in her congressional address?

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Six, at this point in time, the Taliban are not in a political driving seat; which they want to be in by any means. Allied forces’ exit means an inevitable struggle for power; wrenching it away from Ghani. This will lead to bloodshed, civil war and an Afghanistan more vulnerable to be used by extremist elements.

Seven, how exactly will Pakistan handle the negative cascading effect owing to the porous border situation? Pakistan is already fencing the 2,430-kilometre international border with Afghanistan, which seems to be a top priority for both the civil military leadership. However, little progress has been made on clearing the landmines or increasing the patrolling of the border. Pakistan must not be passive on this score. It needs to stop behaving like an ostrich and deal with the Afghan Refugee situation. With the US exit next door, the Afghan debris in Pakistan would likely lead to misuse of home soil by extremists. This must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, Pakistan must develop strategies that are in place to deal with multifaceted situations when the time comes. Knee-jerk reactions do not deliver.

Trump is currently on the right track in terms of planning an exit of his troops from Afghanistan. That is laudable. However, only time will tell “how” he succeeds in implementing this plan effectively. This implementation will determine how history remembers him.

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.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9

CROSS POST: https://crssblog.com/is-the-us-finally-leaving-afghanistan/

Who is responsible for Pakistan’s current economic mess?

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Pakistan is currently faced with multidimensional economic issues. These issues have also started affecting the public perception of the ruling PTI government. However, what PTI promised in its election campaign and what it can deliver in long term and short term in power are two different things.

Pakistan’s current economic woes stretch over a long period of time. The country did not get into this dismal position overnight. Here is a brief overview:

When former President Zardari’s PPP government took over the reigns from General Musharraf in 2008, it gave the nation a growth rate of 4% compared to 6 to 8% under Musharraf. Economic growth was tepid. High rate of unemployment was also the hallmark of the Zardari government. The cost of consumer goods spiraled up to 80%. With low incomes and high living costs, the salaried class and those forming lower and middle class income groups continued to live under miserable conditions.

According to a report, foreign debt rose from $45 billion in 2008 to over $65 billion by year 2012. Moreover, the situation regarding poverty and hunger was also bad. A story published by Dawn News on May 9, 2012, reported, “Pakistan National Nutrition Survey for 2011, which was sponsored by UNICEF and conducted by the Agha Khan University, reveals that Pakistan’s state and society has failed miserably to even feed the children. The survey revealed that because of prevalent malnutrition, 44 per cent children under five years old in Pakistan are stunted. These children in the future are unlikely to attain the same height as of the non-stunted children. Thus, fifteen years down the road, almost half of Pakistan’s youth will not even be as tall as youth in other countries.” (Dawn, May 09, 2012)

The report further brought out the unevenness of hunger base in different provinces of the country. With Sindh facing the worst situation, where three out of four houses faced food insecurity, Balochistan was second in line with a 64% ratio. The average GDP growth between 2008 and 2012 was 2.9%, which was the lowest in the country’s history.

Leaving all else aside, in a country where the government cannot feed its population, what development – economic or otherwise – can one talk about?

The Eighteenth Amendment abolished the Concurrent List. 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 of an effort going into analyzing the impact the Amendment. Moreover, there was also a lack of setting up of infrastructures for good governance to trickle down to grassroots levels – and thereby the common man – prior to the introduction of the law.

The 18th Amendment has created a governance gap. It has removed the Federal umbrella funneling finances to provinces without checks and accountability.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the “fake accounts” case will be sent to a review committee working under the Interior Ministry once the JIT on fake accounts submits its report.

The JIT report reveals that those involved were making around Rs. 40mn per month. These amounts were transferred out of the country through 120 front-men – give or take – using illegal methods such as hundi and hawala system. The report names the KAM Crown International Company responsible for collecting these ill-gotten funds. The JIT report also reveals roughly 25 properties were owned/acquired by the then President Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in New York, Dubai, Paris and London (Further details can be foundhere).

This is not where the country’s misery ends.

After the PPP government left in 2013, the Nawaz Sharif and PML N government acquired $35 billion in new loans and artificially controlled the currency to convey a false impression of security to the investors and to repay the debt that was maturing. Half of the aggregate loan was used to pay existing debts (From July 2013 to June 2017). According to the IMF, for this time period, Pakistan’s total external debt jumped from 30% and ballooned to $79.2 billion.

As Nero fiddled while Rome burned, the Red Metro project was launched as was the Orange Train project. Though one can appreciate the convenience to the common man, the business model of the Red Metro bus service left much to be desired. According to official numbers, the average operating cost for a bus trip comes out to be around Rs 9,100. The average revenue for the same trip earned by the Authority is Rs. 2,600, recording a loss of Rs. 6,500 on every trip (as reported by The Express Tribune on June 29, 2015)

The costs of the Orange Line in terms of mechanical and electrical works, track and rolling stock are double the costs of any civil structure. The government reportedly acquired 135 coaches along with mechanical, electrical, and tracks’ works from China for around $1,000 million, which was equal to 60% of total project cost. A senior official working on the project highlighted that the average price of a similar specification train coach is around $1.6-1.7 million in the international market and the total invoice for 135 coaches should not exceed $220-230 million.” (The Express Tribune, August 26, 2018). All this, at the cost of ignoring other necessities, such as water reservoirs, indicates wrong priorities for our ruling elite.

As Nawaz Sharif and his coterie continued to lead the country into greater economic abyss…the Panama case blew into their cumulative faces. The case, its background, findings and ultimately the judgment gives some insight into how our ruling elite has “toyed” with the country’s resources that were supposed to be spent on the citizens.

The Panama case judgment starts with a reference to The Godfather, a renowned novel by Mario Puzo:

(The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out because it was properly executed)

It is ironical and a sheer coincidence that the present case revolves around that very sentence attributed to Balzac…”

Justice Khosa later added:

“I may, therefore, be justified in raising an adverse inference in the matter. The fortune amassed by respondent No. 1 is indeed huge and no plausible or satisfactory explanation has been advanced in that regard. Honoré de Balzac may, after all, be right when he had said that behind every great fortune for which one is at a loss to account, there is a crime.”

“In the above mentioned sorry and unfortunate state of affairs, a conclusion has appeared to me to be unavoidable and inescapable that in the matter of explaining the wealth and assets respondent No. 1 has not been honest to the nation, to the nation’s representatives in the National Assembly and even to this Court.”

The creators of the economic mess, Pakistan finds itself in, may not be at the helm of affairs, but they continue standing on the sidelines, screaming hoarse and pelting stones at those who may want to fix this mess. If they still have not learnt a lesson from their misdeeds- one can only be sorry. Sorry, not for them but the nation that chose them many times over to lead them out of their miseries!

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.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9

Cross Post https://crssblog.com/who-is-responsible-for-pakistans-current-economic-mess/

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

http://tribune-intl.com/is-pakistan-being-circled-by-india/

 

 

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 https://crssblog.com/2019/01/02/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.

Conclusion

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

https://crssblog.com/2019/01/05/18th-amendment-what-pakistans-intelligentsia-says/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

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). watson.brown.edu.)  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: yasmeenali62@gmail.com 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: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9

The blog was carried as a cross post on:

http://tribune-intl.com/president-trumps-double-standards-on-pakistan/

and

http://www.albiladdailyeng.com/president-trumps-letter-usas-double-standards-pakistan/

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: yasmeenali62@gmail.com 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: yasmeenali62@gmail.com 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.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2CE0fyz4ys

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: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9