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South Asia

Raymond Davis Saga and Bold Judgment

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Raymond Davis has been acquitted by a lower court in Pakistan from the alleged charges of committing a felony in broad day light on a busy road in the provincial metropolis, Lahore. The shock decision has left the nation floundering in the deep sea of turmoil and anguish.

The frenzy of debate about pros and cons has touched a new crescendo but is destined to die off. The tragic murders of Faheem, Faizan and Ebad were also ominous that swept our foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, off his portfolio for his reticence in not yielding to the official stance and later lobbing a leading statement that Raymond  did not enjoy diplomatic immunity. The statement was embarrassment for the U.S. as well as Pakistan. His post resignation discrete bitterness was palpable as he embarked on yet another imprudent phase of public discourse. Foreign policy is not a mob politics, a fact he utterly failed to reckon. The visiting U.S. emissaries paid him visits too to afford him a chance of rescuing his image and heal the dent caused to his vanity. However the damage had been done.

Within hours, we stood thoroughly polarized as a nation when government lost entire maneuver space for public diplomacy though it made several overtures that Raymond case was within the ambit of mutual diplomatic protocols. By implication, Pakistan pursued double track diplomacy. On one hand, it assured U.S. that the margin for return of the accused could be explored, even after allowing the law of the country to take its course. On the other hand, our Prime Minister led the campaign to dampen public angst, assuring that we would behave like a proud sovereign state and stand by the grieved families. It was a statement of several dimensions. Concept of sovereignty in globalized politics has under gone a tremendous adjustment but our masses were never educated about it at any stage.

The way Raymond gunned down the victims, was a clear illustration of his hubris. To top it all, U.S. Consulate rescue vehicle crushed Ebad to death in an attempt to reach beleaguered Raymond, adding fury to the fire. Public resentment further inflated to become a tsunami of hate, particularly after U.S. insisted upon release of the accused, flaunting his disputed diplomatic immunity card, when deceaseds’ blood had yet not dried up.

Pakistan government at provincial and federal levels took a marvelous stand at such a crucial juncture and let the legal formalities proceed by detaining Raymond in the jail who did not expect detention for a moment but had to face incarceration for several weeks. Yet under the barrage of media hype and threats from some intolerant segments of civil society, dispassionate opinion never surfaced that would have informed the masses that dispensation of ‘justice’ also needs conducive environments and restraining of emotions at least until the court’s verdict. Media failed to project a point that courts are not the bodies, which go by the public agitation to execute the accused summarily. Universal hallmark of the justice remains that a criminal be let off the hook for want of evidence once a while but never ever an innocent be dispatched to gallows.

On certain scores, we as a civilized nation have been out rightly the losers. The moment news flashed on the electronic media about acquittal of Raymond, reactionary sentiments swelled up to match Himalayan peak. In the wake of carefully orchestrated ‘threaten and scare’ campaign by some non-integral parties to the episode but with vested interests, no one was prepared to believe the impartiality of the judicial organ that goes by the norms of justice and not by the nefarious agenda or shenanigan. The fact is the victims’ dependents/heirs have accepted ‘diyat’ (compensation/blood money) while dropping murder prosecution and forgave him. Their act bears legitimacy from all angles and leaves no space whatsoever for protests from any quarter because the heirs availed their right the same way as they did while opting to lodge murder cases against Raymond. Unfortunately, in this land of pure, a draconian trend has sprung like a monster that any trigger happy person, disregard to his credentials has the authority to bring forth the charges and summarily execute the ‘sinner’ at his will. The silent majority is aghast and watches from the periphery. The other day, a woman who opted to seek her marriage dissolution from her husband was slaughtered within the courts premise in full public as well as police view because her husband thought that she was ‘wasting’ his/her time and he had expeditious ‘mode’ of justice to administer.

No one ever brought forth in the media the incidence of several deaths of the foreign dignitaries in alien lands including Pakistan when the norms of courtesy and diplomatic manners were never sacrificed. It was a harsher case in contrast but the way out has absolute backing of law. It would be ridiculous if one fumes from the den over government, Raymond, victims’ heirs or for that matter even over U.S. who secured his release after satisfying all legal and religious impediments. Not being content here, reportedly prosecution proceedings against Raymond have already commenced. In other words, U.S. has been truthful to its earlier pledge when it promised to conduct Raymond’s trial and sure, it is being done though after forgiveness by the victims’ heirs and payment of blood money, they have the margin to omit penalizing him. U.S. Ambassador in Pakistan, Cameron Munter did not celebrate Raymond’s acquittal but sought an opportunity to reach for soothing of the victims’ heirs’ ire instead. So did Senator John Kerry though none of them was obliged to do so at this stage.

Our sovereignty is too fragile and threatened even when a straw moves. Sovereignty is a term easy to use because it fills the mouth and sounds scholarly but scantly understood. Certainly, it endows tremendous status on a state but also encumbers it to measure up for several responsibilities to qualify for the ‘sovereign’ title. On the internal scene, persistent efforts to create a cobweb of intrigues and obfuscations certainly hindered the justice that our brilliant judiciary managed to obviate. A plethora of conspiracy theories, our visionary private TV channel anchors conceived while putting answers in others mouths through leading questions were deplorable. Media is obliged to expose the opposing opinions and views in tandem and helps intelligentsia to make the just choices. Unfortunately, it acted as a big stoker of public frenzy. An anchor also probed the myth of absence of Mian Nawaz Sharif, a prominent opposition leader and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister, on Raymond’s departure day to give it a mysterious twist. Perhaps at that very moment, Mian Nawaz Sharif was battling for his life under the surgeons’ care in London.

What forced the family to flee the country? Obviously, the incentives may have been U.S. visas, green cards and securing the huge trove of money, they received. However, extensive intimidation and incessant life-threatening bully by their so-called sympathizers have been the actual cause of their fleeing. The bereaved families’ dilemma was rubbished under the malignant cries of nationalism and false ego. No one made any effort to pry into the victim families’ miseries. They obviously exercised their religious as well as legal right to accept blood money but who would call it a justice when Damocles sword was hung on them not to patch up. It was sheer wrongful coercion. Only a handful of true sympathizers and the court rescued them from the dilemma. Talk of the town is that ISI; our supreme intelligence agency played its role. If that were valid, it did wonderful job. For the security fear and any possible backlash, the acquittal and whisking away Raymond and heirs of victims by a USAF plane was a very well synchronized event. Raymond has benefited in the process that he owes it to the magnanimity of the victims’ heirs. No one has any business to resent.

Good news is that we have seen yet another feather added to the pinnacle of our judiciary’s glory and there is glimmering hope of emancipation ahead. Bad news is that our print and electronic media are misusing freedom of speech card. The most powerful group among them, instead of cementing national harmony, tolerance and international consensus, works as an arrogant cartel to agitate the masses further and sponsors opinion blitz, which is dangerously schismatic.

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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South Asia

Taliban and the crisis in Afghanistan

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Source: Twitter

In 2021, the Afghan Taliban took back control of Afghanistan after fighting a rebellion for twenty years. The Taliban reformed and began regaining territory less than 10 years after the American-led invasion that overthrew the previous regime in 2001. In line with a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, they staged a swift assault as the US started to evacuate its last forces from Afghanistan.

Even though they promised to preserve the rights of women and communities of religious and racial minorities, the Taliban have enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Taliban have failed to provide Afghans with sufficient food supplies and economic possibilities as they have evolved from an insurgent organization to a functioning administration.

Numerous instances of human rights violations have been documented by the UN mission in Afghanistan. Because the Taliban scared off journalists and put limits on press freedom, more than 200 news outlets had to close. Activists and protesters have been tracked and forcefully disappeared, and their government has ruthlessly suppressed protests. They also reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which was previously in place, and enforced laws against actions judged to be contrary to Islam. They instructed judges to apply their version of sharia in November 2022; in the following weeks, authorities resumed public hangings and floggings.

Women’s rights have been undermined. Due to restrictions put in place by the Taliban, girls are not allowed to go to high school, and women are not allowed to go to college or teach there. The group banned women from working for local and international voluntary groups in December 2022. According to estimates from the UN Development Program (UNDP), limiting women’s employment might cost Afghanistan’s GDP up to 5%. Amnesty International reports a substantial increase in the number of women jailed for defying discriminatory rules, such as those requiring women to cover their whole bodies while in public and to only appear with male chaperones. In addition, there are now more child marriages.

The UNDP says that the Taliban’s rule has also taken away the gains that Afghans made in their living conditions in the 20 years after the US invasion. In a study from October 2022, the organization claimed that practically all Afghans were living in poverty. Since the takeover, the economy has contracted by up to 30%, and there have been an estimated 700,000 job losses. More than 90% of individuals are impacted by food insecurity. The problem is getting worse because several countries and international groups have stopped giving aid, which is vital to the economy and public health.

International observers are nonetheless worried that the Taliban pose a danger to national and international security through their funding of terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda. Taliban leadership might convert Afghanistan into a haven for terrorists who could launch attacks against the US and its allies, despite Taliban pledges that the country’s territory wouldn’t be used against the security of any other country. The violence has also increased along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which has always supported the Taliban. Tehrik-e-Taliban, a terrorist organization commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, has gained strength due to the Taliban’s ascent to power. The organization broke off a cease-fire with the Pakistani government in 2022 and began carrying out assaults throughout the nation. Officials from Pakistan have charged the Afghan Taliban with giving the extremists a safe harbor in their country.

For many years, the Afghan government relied on help from a number of countries; according to 2019 World Bank research, contributions from foreign partners funded 75% of the government’s public expenditures. Many of these countries stopped off aid when the Taliban took control, fueling concerns about potential future economic turmoil. Nevertheless, aid rose in 2022 as donors sent more than $2.6 billion. The US has donated more than $1.1 billion in help since the coup. However, according to UN authorities, the pledges fell short of the nation’s humanitarian requirements.

Many Western countries, most notably the US, shut down their diplomatic posts in Afghanistan when the Taliban took power. Diplomatic relations and recognition have been withheld from the Taliban regime, which refers to Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The UN General Assembly has also postponed a decision on who would indefinitely represent Afghanistan at the UN. The Taliban are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for suspected atrocities, including crimes against humanity, committed against Afghans.

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South Asia

Decoding Donald Lu’s Visit: A Positive Upward in US-Bangladesh Relations?

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The U.S Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Donald Lu paid a visit from January 12 to 15. During his brief but swarming itinerary the two parties discussed various issues ranging from diplomatic to political. Interestingly, this is the 11th visit of any U.S high-official in the past two years. The frequent swapping of delegations from the both sides pose a critical juncture between the U.S-Bangladesh relationship. Experts believe that recurrent visits from US high-ups are definitely an auspicious sign between the relationship of the two nations. Therefore, the visit of Donald Lu is an offshoot of the “growing reciprocity and renewed engagement” between Dhaka and Washington.

Needless to say, Bangladesh has a long standing and steady relationship with the US since the latter recognized the former shortly after independence on April 04, 1972. Recently the US-Bangladesh celebrated the completion of 50 years of bilateral relationship and US President Joe Biden termed this as “robust partnership”. Amid such backdrop, it goes without saying that the recent visits signal to a significant positive tie-up between the two parties and the visit can be interpreted in the context of international and domestic backdrop of international politics.

The US is the largest market for Bangladesh’s RMG export. Naturally, the issue of GSP reinstatement plays a key role in bilateral camaraderie. Under such circumstances, Lu’s visit is important to hold talks of economic in the context of Bangladesh’s growing needs, especially after the LDC graduation. Moreover, in the annual Global Firepower 2023 Military Strength Ranking, Bangladesh is placed 40th out of 145 nations. On the other hand, Bangladesh came in 12th place on the GFP review’s list of ‘Strengths on the Rise,’ which emphasizes national military powers based on strong growth patterns until 2023. In this context, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA) agreement indicates to a deeper and strategic engagement from the US rationale.

Bangladesh’s stands at the heart of a strategic position of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to counter the increasing footprint of China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Bangladesh maintains a neutral position in terms of its foreign relations and has been carefully helming without taking any side of any major powers. Washington’s focus on free and fair election is important to maintain a stability in the greater Bay of Bengal neighborhood- an important feat in it’s IPS. Conversely, Bangladesh values economic partnership to sustain her ongoing upward trend. However, at the same time Bangladesh should be careful not to succumb to any pressure, a case in point when the Foreign Minister announced that the US proposed strategy is being vetted under the lens of economic opportunity.

On the domestic fore, arguably, the U.S has been advocating for a free and fair election, upholding democratic values, and condemning extra judicial excesses. However, continuous engagement between the two parties resulted helping to mitigate tensions and create a more positive atmosphere. The crux of Donald Lu’s visit is to reaffirm democratic ideals in state mechanism, rule based international system and Bangladesh to be part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Accordingly, Bangladesh has committed to hold a fair election and the recent decline of the controversial RAB’s extrajudicial excesses reported by Human Rights Watch as well as peaceful demonstrations of the opposition have been markedly praised by Donald Lu. From Bangladesh’s perspective rescinding of sanctions, reinstatement of GSP, and more support for Rohingya Refugees were reiterated. More importantly, Dhaka’s impartial foreign policy goals align with Washington’s interest in the South Asian region and it will be of American interest to consider Bangladesh as an important ally in the geopolitical chessboard of the Indo-Pacific region.  

However, the visit is also crucial for Donald Lu who is accused of meddling with the internal affairs of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. But, Donald Lu manifested his diplomatic acumen to “manage the fissures of the diplomatic ties’ and “highlight on the areas of convergence” in the recent visit. Evidently, the past year has been tumultuous for South Asian nations, following the collapse of Colombo, the Pakistani Economic Crisis and the revolving debt crisis around the region. Amongst her neighbors, Bangladesh has endured relatively steady political and economic pursuit. Therefore, US needs to formulate a comprehensive South Asian policy to accommodate the interests of the respective nations on its own merit.

Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S is vital in both economic and political stance. Continued engagement and partnership between the two states is critical for the security of South Asia as well as Bangladesh’s ongoing economic prosperity. On a pragmatic tone, it would take more than just this one visit for Bangladesh to solve these complex geopolitical issues. For now, the visit has symbolized strengthening of U.S-Bangladesh relationship going forward by exonerating the mutual interests to diplomatically resolve pressing bilateral issues and elevation of continuous engagement.

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South Asia

Praiseworthy Development of RAB in the Last Year

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Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) image source: benarnews.org

On December 10th 2021, the United States of America (USA) announced sanctions against Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its seven current and former officials on allegations of Human Rights violation. Such unilateral decisions of the US on the elite force surprised many. But Bangladesh chose to respond maturely through diplomatic communication. Since then, Bangladesh increased diplomatic engagement with the US, a method lauded by many as ‘prudent’ also.

Since the sanction, Bangladesh enhanced its effort to uphold the Human Rights situation in Bangladesh. RAB as an elite force also acknowledged the sanction and behaved in a more professional way. And it seems after one year, there are significant developments regarding both RAB and government policy. Foreign dignitaries and organizations are also lauding these developments.

Efforts from Bangladesh

After the announcement of the sanctions, Bangladesh immediately contacted the US diplomatic institutions to understand and assess the situation. As a part of the efforts, Bangladesh established Human Rights Cell in the Foreign Ministry under its United Nations wing.

Bangladesh also increased its diplomatic communications with the US, not necessarily because of the sanctions, but also due to growing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific region, and commitment to deepen bilateral relations with the US. In the last two years, both countries undertook 18 bilateral visits of mid and high-level. Bangladesh sent 7 delegations to the US while the US sent 11 delegations including Donald Lu’s latest.

Both countries also hold the bilateral Partnership Dialogue and Security Dialogue in March and April of 2022. In the same year, they also celebrated 50 years of their anniversary. Bangladesh’s foreign minister also met his counterpart in April 2022.

While many rogue states such as North Korea, react to the US sanctions by projecting hard power or test-launching missile, Bangladesh resorted to diplomatic means to raise and provide an update about the agenda to its counterpart. Almost in all diplomatic meetings, Bangladesh raised its concern about the sanction. Bangladesh even gave a ‘non-paper’ dossier to Under-Secretary Victoria Nuland, when Nuland came to Bangladesh in March 2022.

Significant Developments

Since the US sanctions on 10th December 2021, the allegations of extrajudicial killings have gone down in Bangladesh. It has reached zero after one year. There were no new allegations of extrajudicial killing by RAB for the last 13 months. RAB’s name was not also mentioned in any other allegations or negative deeds. Therefore, RAB is maintaining a ‘clean record’ at least for last 13 months or so.

Apart from that, the Human Rights situation also improved in Bangladesh in the meantime as the government gave extra effort to project the situation to the international community. During Under Secretary Nuland’s visit in March, she also acknowledged that the situation has improved.

The US Assistant Secretary Donald Lu also acknowledged the further development regarding the allegations against RAB. Secretary Lu visited Bangladesh on January 14th and 15th. He also acknowledged the falling extrajudicial killing in Bangladesh. He also said that there was ‘tremendous progress’ in reducing extrajudicial killings after the US sanctions.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal also told the media that the US delegation is satisfied with RAB’s current activities. In another expert talk with The Business Standard, the Home Minister further said that the US also praised the actions of Bangladesh in combating militancy, terrorism, arson, and radicalism.

Apart from the US, global watchdogs are also acknowledging the fact. Human Rights Watch World Human Rights Report 2023 mentioned that there is a ‘drop-in abuse’ in Bangladesh (See Page 68).

Such transformation in the US perspective within only 13 months regarding a sanction is very unique considering the history of sanctions. Bangladesh’s diplomatic efforts and commitment to upholding Human Rights deserve praise in this regard. Till now Bangladesh is dealing with the issue prudently.

Lifting the sanctions in a diplomatic manner will require making it a national security interest for the USA. An elite force with a ‘clean record’ and its die-hard effort in curbing terrorism and militancy, fighting drug and human trafficking, and anti-piracy drive can easily draw US national security interest in this region. And RAB has the ability to become so. Considering the historic relations between the US and Bangladesh, the Sanctions are the only ‘strain’ in this bilateral relationship. Lastly, as there are praiseworthy developments, both countries are likely to pass beyond this issue in the near future if Bangladesh continues to maintain the positive trend.

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