Author Archives: pakpotpourri2

Pakpotpourri2 supports no political party or institution. Pakpotpourri2 only supports a strong, prosperous,independent Pakistan.The views expressed on the blog do not represent the views of the blogs and are the sole intellectual property of the writer(s).

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

The Chinese balloon

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Banana Cart Chronicles

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Pakistan, sugar daddies & Israel

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Why the trip to Saudi Arab by Imran Khan?

 

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Pakistan’s external debt in the second quarter of 2018 spiked from 91761 USD Million to 95097 USD Million reportedly. In light of Khashoggi’s brutal murder, many sections of the Pakistani society were of the view that the Prime Minister should have refused to attend the Future Investment Initiative Conference in Riyadh.

There are two sides to the question of his attending the said event. The first is moral. There is no question that the murder taking place at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul defies all human values. On a question of principles a lot is at stake. The other side is the economic crisis being faced by Pakistan; a legacy inherited by PTI government from PML N years of governance. Undermining human values and sacrificing them at the altar of economic gains is not a good choice. However, independent decisions based on moral high grounds can be only taken by nations which are economically independent. Nations with economy in a bad state have to swallow their pride. A bitter pill to swallow but the reality cannot be ignored.

Whether or not IMF comes to Pakistan’s rescue is debatable. If it does, to what degree is another question. Pakistan was allowed a bailout package by IMF of $6.2-billion in 2013. This is roughly 425% of the total quota allocated to Pakistan.  Pakistan at this point in time still owes $6 billion to the IMF. This means exactly that Pakistan has drawn 214% of its quota. So even if IMF allows the balance quota of package to Pakistan after excluding funds owed, it will diminish the quantum of funds released.

The Khan’s visit to the sugar daddy paid off. A sum of $6 billion has been promised to Pakistan as assistance in cash and oil for a period of one year as deferred payments. This allows space to Pakistan to resolve issues of finances required to pull the beleaguered economy on its feet. This could still make it inevitable for Pakistan to accept stringent rules by IMF if it wants yet another bailout. There is after all nothing as a free lunch!

The important point that will need the attention of Khan’s government is what Saudi Arab will expect from Pakistan in lieu of their help. Notwithstanding the fact that they had in 2014 awarded a grant of $1.5 billion to Pakistan, one must not forget that there are no “friends” in international relations. There are only interests. This and relationships between nations can change over time with changing geo-political circumstances. “Saudi Arabia is also unwilling to continue giving cash first and making requests later – something it has done as a friend of Pakistan in the past. Its current leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud, wants Pakistan to shed ambiguity and stand by the Kingdom against Iran, in addition to providing troops or other material support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen,” writes Hussain Haqqani in his piece in The Print. (11th October 2018)

In a news piece by Asia Times, quoting diplomatic sources, it stated that Riyadh desired Khan to support the Saudi-led Islamic-led Counter- Terrorism Coalition. (August 24, 2018)

Pakistan cannot afford to march with the Summer Soldiers. Beware dear ‘sunshine patriots’, of opening a pit full of worms. Pakistan has its plate full of its share of problems. Homegrown terrorism, sponsored terrorism, an untenable border between her and Afghanistan, a hostile neighbor, and its army engaged in a war within its borders that needs to be fought with single minded focus. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Khan’s government will have to keep the diplomatic balls juggling in the air to buy time. After that, to juggle them more and buy more time. It will require great statesmanship to steer Pakistan through dangerous waters.

Op-Ed Columnist and defense analyst Brigadier ® Imran Malik says, “PM Imran had a four pronged strategy to deal with the economic situation. He planned to get help from the KSA, the UAE, PRC and then approach the IMF for the remainder of the monetary space he required to turn Pakistan’s economy around.

First stop KSA: the Saudis have really been more than benevolent this time around by placing US$3Billion as BOP support with Pakistan and allowing deferred payments for oil for upto US$3 Billion per year for 3 years. It is like a gust of badly needed oxygen for a near comatose patient/economy. This will mean availability of US $ 6 Billion for the first year and at least a cushion of US $3 billion for the next 2 years. This nullifies to some considerable extent the leverage that the IMF and the US would have held over Pakistan. It is the first major success for PM Imran to at least create workable circumstances for his economic team to turn Pakistan’s economy around. The icing on the cake is KSA’s willingness to establish an oil refinery in Pakistan, invest in mineral development and invest in other fields as well. As a coopted third member of the CPEC, KSA can really give a boost to Pakistan’s development and economy.

Next stop, the UAE: The UAE has been rather reticent and laid back and not so forthcoming in bailing Pakistan out, this time around. Apart from the strides and inroads made by the Indians there, our Gwadar Port as an alternative to Dubai is perhaps playing a very major role in its refusal to come forth. Trans- shipment operations at Gwadar may take away a lot of business from Dubai. With the CPEC and BRI acquiring physical dimensions Dubai is likely to lose out on a lot of trade and thus importance.

Next stop China: For China the success of the CPEC is vital. Not only is it the flagship project of the BRI but also a test case for its attempt to engage the world in an economic partnership/web. The success of the CPEC acquires even further importance with the background of what transpired in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Therefore, China will not allow Pakistan to slide into an economic quagmire which directly affects the liability if the CPEC and thus the BRI. So once IK visits China they will probably agree to some of the areas of emphasis [agriculture, socio economic sectors, SEZs etc.] that he points out, might also provide some economic relief in terms of bilateral trade, loans etc.

Last stop IMF: Khan’s approach to the IMF will thus hopefully become less stressful. With the amount required reduced, the conditions of the IMF as well as the US will water down. The balance required may be asked from the IMF which may be anywhere up to US $ 6 Billion. Pakistan will recover and with good prudent economic management will prosper for sure.”

At the end of the day, it will depend upon the mix of astute handling of different players and subsequent implementation of positive actions needed by the Khan government to turn around the economy.

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 aftermath of Kashoggie’s murder

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Jamal Kashoggie, a vocal critic of the Kingdom’s policies and in particular of Crown Prince Mohammed is likely dead. He was seen to be entering into the Saudi Consulate in Turkey never to be seen again. A resident of US, Kashoggie wrote for the Washington Post. Last September he wrote a piece that angered Riyadh, he stated that “MBS had “promised an embrace of social and economic reform but instead pursued a crackdown on dissent.”

According to CNN, Turkish sources have revealed Kashoggi’s body was dismembered after being murdered. “Several officials CNN has spoken with say the suspected killing could not have happened without the direct knowledge of the 33-year-old crown prince, who is known by his initials “MBS.” (CNN, October 18, 2018)

Economics drives politics- this sounds truer than ever in the ensuing reactions of nations and organizations to this gruesome murder. Secretary of State Pompeo made a flying visit to Saudi Arabia, and met also Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, where President Trump joined them telephonically. His tweet that followed states:

‘Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…’

11:40 AM – 16 Oct 2018

Increasing international clamor has forced President Trump to state that ‘the US would only do something if it was found that a top royal family member was directly involved.’ (Jason Ditz) There are many arms deals currently with the Kingdom. If they fall through, it can badly hurt the American economy. According to a report, in the past 5 years or so, 100 nations have purchased armored vehicles, aircrafts and missiles from the US. Among the thirteen countries that add up to roughly 70% of arms sales, Saudi Arabia happens to be one. In 2016, Saudi Arabia purchased 20% of the total arms sale. The buyers are nations based in regions politically or otherwise unstable, requiring state-of-the-arms-technology or those involved in a military conflict.  “If you’re a country like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates, you don’t have national production capacity, or very little, so you’re going to turn to suppliers like the U.S,” says Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

These arms and ammunition have been used against Yemenis, killing thousands of civilians, leading to a situation of famine killing many more. Will Trump’s hand be forced against Saudi Arabia? At this point in time it seems unlikely. Trump, instead of taking a moral ground and supporting the values US has stood for has turned to support his compromised position by justifying the moves. Interpretation of ‘America First’ at the cost of everything America believed in, will come to haunt Americans sooner than later. Where does US stands on the Human Rights issue is the question staring in the faces of Americans at the gruesome murder of Jamal Kashoggi. Will economics drive the decision? US has supported Saudi Arabia’s drive against Iran in Middle East. The interests at different levels are converging and include besides military; energy intelligence and many other spheres.

New York Times in its editorial writes, “Turkey appears to have solid evidence that Mr. Khashoggi was killed by thugs flown in from Saudi Arabia — so the word in Washington is that the Saudis will try to claim an attempted kidnapping or interrogation gone bad.” (Oct. 16, 2018)

Many countries have withdrawn from attending the economic forum in Riyadh. Ian Bremmer, senior journalist President and Founder of Eurasia Group tweeted:

Lesson to Saudis: Don’t organize your most important international event one week after murdering your most famous journalist.”

6:33 PM – 18 Oct 2018

So far as Pakistan is concerned and her stance on this issue, Zafar Hilaly, former diplomat states, “There is hope that the Saudis may actually help bail us out of our self-created misery when the Kapitaan next visits Saudia, begging bowl in hand. Our hopes are grounded in the Kingdom’s looming isolation. At such trying times the moral support of any friend, albeit, poor and without much standing or influence to speak off, is welcome. China too, which is his next stop, is now America’s leading adversary in the new Cold War and for that reason and, of course, the manifest economic and strategic advantages CPEC has to offer is already on board. Luck, therefore, rather than any astute diplomacy favors the Kapitaan, much as it has done all his life. Indeed, he may actually return from his foreign forays with his bowl brimming with lucre. Let’s pray so. It will be an achievement on a par with his World Cup performance.”

 

The question to the civilized nations is: is this action and verbal condemnation of violation of all human code of conduct enough? Can values be compromised to a degree that we are ashamed to look each other in the eye?

 

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 US influence IMF bailout package to Pakistan?

ArticleYAA

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

One point needs to be clarified at the onset. Ability of US to influence IMF decision in awarding a bailout package to Pakistan. IMF is an institution based on quota system. The quotas awarded to different nations are a reflection upon its standing in the international comity of nations. US quota is 17.46 as opposed to Pakistan with a 0.43. US can influence the final analysis with her allies against Pakistan if Pakistan fails to meet the bars set to qualify. US is the largest contributor in IMF and holds sway over the decision. Therefore, the Finance Minister Asad Umar’s statement that “United States does not hold the power to veto decisions by the Fund” is not only ill timed it is also an uneducated one.

Whereas some reservations by US in awarding Pakistan a bailout package are ill founded others have a legitimate basis.

The first is the reservation expressed by US of examining Chinese debts before making a decision. This is a fair demand and one to which Pakistan has agreed. The facts however as they stand are:

‘Three projects are costing US $6bn; Orange Line, M-5, and KKH phase 2. The Chinese government has not given Pakistan a commercial loan for these investments. This is a government to government soft loan at 2% interest rate. A soft loan offers lenient terms than otherwise available, longer repayment time duration and lower interest rates. The debt Pakistan has is US $6bn and not US $19bn as claimed. For the next five to seven years, Pakistan only needs to pay 2% interest. After this time period, Pakistan will have to repay the principal amount with interest of 2% spread over 13 to 15 years. So in lieu of loan of US $6bn after 20 years, Pakistan pays, give or take, US $7.4bn with interest.’ Excerpt from my blog for CRSS. Link: https://crssblog.com/2018/08/06/mike-pompeos-misguided-views-on-imf-bailout-for-pakistan/

China has rejected the claim by US that she is pushing Pakistan in a ‘debt trap.’ Out of the projects launched under the flagship of Belt and Road Initiative of which CPEC has been made a part, 18 are financed through direct Chinese investment or with the Chinese assistance. “Only four [projects] have been using concessional loans [of roughly $6 billion] from the Chinese side to make sure that CPEC has not inflicted a debt burden on Pakistan, rather when these projects get completed and enter into operation, they will unleash huge economic benefits … and these will bring considerable returns to the Pakistani economy,” states Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This aggressive posturing by the US is being viewed as an effort to curtail China in expanding her global influence at all costs.

“The US objectives in this region now are: the strategic containment of China and Russia, an India-dominated South Asia and the reversal of Iranian power. Pompeo’s position on the IMF package reflects a US attempt to exploit Pakistan’s financial vulnerability to retard the execution of CPEC and damage China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative objectives,” writes Munir Akram, former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Then there are other issues that do bring a furrow to the brow being a matter of deep concern.

The quota awarded by IMF is based on the size of the economy of loaning country and the voting power it exercises. Pakistan was allowed a bailout package of $6.2-billion in 2013. This is roughly 425% of the total quota allocated to Pakistan.  Pakistan at this point in time still owes $6 billion to the IMF. This means exactly that Pakistan has drawn 214% of its quota. So even if IMF allows the balance quota of package to Pakistan after excluding funds owed, it will diminish the quantum of funds released.

The core issue is that in spite of the many IMF bailouts, the funds have not been sagaciously utilized leading to projects benefits of which have not trickled down to the common man, ballooned costs of these projects that owes to corruption and weak institutions owing to appointments of favorites that not allowed Pakistan to rise above her problems.

Two issues need to be viewed by the prospective loaning authority. First, will the diminished loan be adequate to bail out Pakistan? Second, if IMF denies the relief to Pakistan, it will be pushing her deeper in China’s arms. For US this may be the opportunity to ‘unofficially’ pressurize Pakistan in Afghanistan. An ugly thought but who says politics is beautiful?

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

Exit of Nikki Haley : another one bites the dust

 

         Yasmeen Aftab Ali
 
Haley’s exit from the post of ambassador to the United Nations caught the world by surprise. On one hand this move coincides with a number of changes within those closely surrounding President Trump who now, more than before, support Trump on his approach of “America First” which can be inclusive of others as a support to achieving this end, has unfortunately turned into “America First” to the exclusion of supporting nations. On the other hand, this change in the close clamp had pushed out Haley to the outer fringes of the camp diminishing also her influence within the circle.
 
Her departure is significant as it sends out the signal that those supporting Trump in his myopic view and less inclined to take a different course in issues allowing more space to Trump to follow his path are those that hold the American destiny in their hands.
 
The point is brought home strongly that the entire gamut of foreign policies hinges on the whims of one man who has undone more than most achieved in their tenures.
 
In her time at the UN, Haley mostly played the part of the good soldier: attack the integrity of the UN by taking steps to undermine it, like pulling the US out of the UN human rights council; claim to stand up for Israel by cutting off funding to the Palestinians; condemn Iran regularly as often as possible. But sometimes, Haley’s actions at the UN – such as her harsh words for Russia over its role in Syria – made it seem as if Haley was conducting her own, more traditionally conservative, foreign policy at Turtle Bay.”
(The Guardian Oct 19, 2018)
 
In particular her loss will be felt in Latin America where she is held in respect. Trump’s unilateral moves have created waves already. Juan Cruz, the National Security Council adviser for Latin America was removed and Mauricio Claver-Carone replaced him without any formal announcement by the White House a month ago.
 
CNBC quoting sources state that Dina Powell , current executive at Goldman Sachs and former  deputy national security adviser has been approached to replace outgoing Haley. “One of these sources says Powell has become a favorite among people close to Trump to lead the U.S. delegation.” (CNBC ,9 Oct 2018)
 
Haley’s exit is an example of a lot of ways the American policy is going without any strategic direction. This does not auger well for the present of America. It certainly does not auger well for her future. 
 
If nominated, Dina Powell needs to be confirmed by the Senate if nominated by Trump. She has been a ‘power player’ within Trump’s inner circle in her first stint. 
 
To stay in Trump’s good books, Powell will have to go with the tide. Barring Haley, making a graceful exit from the post-none other has had this good fortune. They have been booted out.
 
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