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Is Nawaz Government Changing Gears Towards India?

Maria Amjad

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] P [/yt_dropcap]akistan and India relations have always been termed as the roller coaster ride, with fledgling democracy, imperious military dominion and uncanny mistrust decelerating its velocity. During the season of peace, the governments of both countries confabulates the campy slogans and glib promises of never-ending friendship between both nations, which turns into irksome babbling in times of political tension.

The masses of both sides have also started to question the tendency of recidivism of ties after a peaceful tenure. Uri-attack is the latest in the series of the events that have resulted in political impasse between both the nuclear armed states. The attack, which was made on rear administrative base of Indian army at Uri, Kashmir by group of heavily armed terrorist, jeopardized the subtle relations between the two arch-rivals, where one alleged the other for the deadly attack, and the other ranted about its own innocence on different international platforms. This has led to series of minatory finger-wagging in cross-talks between both countries’ army chiefs and lethal cross-fire on Line of Control (LOC) between both the armies. These clashes not only infuriated the masses against each other, but also desiccated the relations between the two countries on level of: diplomacy, trade and culture exchanges. Even though after five months of Uri-attack, the relations between both the countries have remained brim, however, it has been observed that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has taken some diplomatic measures to reach out India.

Nawaz government’s change of gears towards India has been comprehensibly reflected in some of the steps it has taken in past four or five months. Just three months after the attack, Nawaz government released 220 Indian fishermen on the occasion of Christmas as a “Goodwill Gesture”. Moreover, government also released an Indian soldier in January 2017 who claimed to inadvertently strayed across LOC on the day Indian claimed surgical strike was held. Previously, the Indian soldier was being alleged as a spy who was imprisoned and was being investigated and elicited. His unexpected release by Pakistani authorities has been taken as a first signal of thaw in India-Pakistan ties.

In the same month of January, Nawaz approved the resumption of screening of Indian movies in Pakistani cinemas. Following Uri-attack, Pakistani cinema owners boycotted Indian movies by implementing self-imposed ban to not show Indian movies in their cinemas. The idea was to register their vastitude of hatred towards India and its culture. Their decision was later backed by Nawaz government as well. Indian Bollywood movies and dramas have always acted as a channel to promote Indian culture, tradition and language to Pakistan. While every deadlock with India has witnessed the ban on Indian movies and dramas in Pakistan, the resumption of their screening in Pakistani cinemas and on televisions have always been used as a symbol to escalate tensions between both the neighbors.

With CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) widening its extent by garnering more supporters from around the region, a lot has been said and written about India’s objections over the project and building of Chahbahar port with Iran and Afghanistan as rival of Gwadar port, the baseline of CPEC. In the past, the impact of these two projects on regional and extra-regional actors has always been used as a source of power struggle in the region, but the recent flexibility of attitude shown by both sides have been commendable. On one hand, Iran and India have indicated that they will not use their project to counter the CPEC, on the other hand, Minister of Planning and Development of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal have invited India to join the CPEC, something which have been called as an unexpected move by the current Pakistani government. The Minister also seeks to pursue peace-talks with India which have been adjourned after the Uri-attack. At least one of them should realize the importance of getting out of the vicious circle of eternal issues by condoning them for a while and collaborating with the other. If the intention for building these two projects will be to reap economic benefits rather than to indulge in inept power competition, then these projects will bring prosperity to the region in the “Asian Century”.

The recent of all these steps taken by Nawaz government is the detainment of Hafiz Saeed at the end of month of January. Following his detainment, he was also listed under anti-terrorist attack and in Exit Control List. Furthermore, recently government has also canceled license of 44 weapons issued to Saeed and his aid. Although many experts contend that these bold measures are taken by Nawaz government in part by President Donald Trump’s arrival on the world stage as well as pressure from China, however, the factor to use Saeed’s detention to please India cannot be ignored. Saeed, mastermind of Mumbai attacks, is virulently anti-India and have always stood against Indian government’s occupation of the disputed territory of Kashmir. So, his detention will make India to persuade Pakistan on one lesser factor in order to make peace-talks effectual. While the majority of analysts state that the action has been done to placate Trump, but taking it as killing two birds with one stone, Pakistan has also used this opportunity to ameliorate India government as well. US, India and China have repeatedly asked the detainment of Jamaatud Dawa leader as his unrestricted campaigns have been a continuous threat to stability and peace of these countries.

Moreover, in the first week of February it has been signaled that Abdul Basit, the Pakistani envoy to India, will be replaced soon as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle to be carried out by Pakistan’s new foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua. Basit, who was posted to India in March 2015, is believed to have shaggy tenure as High commissioner to India, because of prickly relations between the both countries following Uri-attack. There was also news of Basit being the strongest contender for the post of foreign secretary before Tehmina Janjua’s appointment, however, he was not been chosen by Nawaz because of his recent cold relations with India being Pakistani envoy. Therefore, the wider reshuffle in Foreign Office of Pakistan and Basit’s end of tenure as High Commissioner to India next month has been considered as an explicit indication by Nawaz government to reset India-Pakistan ties.

The question arises that what engendered Nawaz government to take all these measures now?

Many analysts relate Nawaz current policies towards India with the retirement Pakistan’s 15th Army Chief’s Raheel Shareef, on 29th November 2016, as he was perceived to be hostile against India. This factor cannot be ignored but Raheel’s retirement will have minute implications over the policies of Nawaz government as the new army chief Qamar Jawed Bajwa is considered to be as hostile against India as Raheel was. Bajwa is believed to be well-versed with the complexities, nature of operations and terrain along the LOC. Although the news of his acclamation of Indian mature democracy while addressing a gathering of senior army officers at the General Headquarters in December 2016 got Indian and Pakistani media into tizzy, but his recent anti-India stance and open admonishment to Indian army has restored his status as a quintessential Pakistan’s army chief. Therefore, to argue that Nawaz government will face lesser resistance from new army chief will not be a fair argument to make.

The discreet behavior shown by Nawaz government towards India by the above mentioned factors can act as foundational step towards the new phase of healthy and friendly ties between both the countries, however, a lot need to be done to take relations forward from here. Pakistan and India should recommence the stalled peace-talks after six months impasse. Both countries’ Foreign Offices should realize the dire need of multi-faceted dialogues which could build long-term cooperation in energy, strategic stability and nonproliferation, counterterrorism, economics and education. Specifically they should resume their trade relations which have been on low following Uri-attack. Recently it has been in news that Indian Punjab have asked their government to negotiate with Islamabad to boost exports to Pakistan through the land route, keeping aside the ongoing diplomatic stand-off following the Uri attack and the surgical strike. This can be used as an opportunity to reinstate the trade relations between the two countries which are vital for the economic uplifts of both the states. However, despite a more peaceful LOC and stable situation in Kashmir, Indian Foreign Office has categorically rebuffed any possibility of peace-talks with Pakistan. Therefore, Indian government also needs to show flexibility in mending the old scars as one hand cannot clap alone. There is a dire need to rebuild the transactional relationship between the two countries which later need to be transformed into strategic one with deeply rooted trust and interest. The measures taken by Nawaz government in this aspect are appreciable however there is a need to put further efforts to persuade India for another episode of dialogue with firm belief to not let it file under the saga of ineffectual outcome this time.

Maria Amjad has graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan, with a Political Science degree. Her interests include the history and politics of the South Asian region with a particular interest in India-Pakistan relations. The writer can be reached at mariaamjad309[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

US geopolitical interests offer Iran sanctions loophole amid mounting tension

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar has emerged as a major loophole in a tightening military and economic noose and ever harsher US sanctions that President Donald J. Trump, reluctant to be sucked into yet another war, sees as the best way to either force Tehran to its knees or achieve regime change.

Alice Wells, the State Department’s assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, said during a meeting with Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani that Chabahar had been exempted at Afghanistan’s request.

The State Department said earlier that the exemption was granted because it was related to “reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan, which includes the development and operation of Chabahar Port.”

US officials said privately that the exemption was also a nod to India that sees Chabahar as vital for the expansion of its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian republics.

They said it was moreover an anti-dote to the Chinese backed port of Gwadar just 70 kilometres down the Arabian Sea coast in the troubled neighbouring Pakistani province of Balochistan.

That may be a long shot, certainly as long as India like much of the rest of the world is restricted by the US sanctions in its economic and commercial dealings with Iran.

The exemption comes however as Chinese security concerns in Balochistan as well as Pakistan at large are mounting.

China’s massive US$45 billion plus Belt and Road-related infrastructure investment in Pakistan with Gwadar and Balochistan at its core has become a prime target for nationalist insurgents that has officials in Beijing worried. It has also reinforced long-standing doubts in some circles in Beijing about the viability of the project.

Dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, China sees the project, involving a network of roads, railways and pipelines that would link Gwadar to China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang as a key economic component of its brutal effort to Sincize the strategic region’s Turkic Muslim population.

“China, you came here (Balochistan) without our consent, supported our enemies, helped the Pakistani military in wiping our villages. But now it’s our time… Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) guarantees you that CPEC will fail miserably on the Baloch land. Balochistan will be a graveyard for your expansionist motives,” a commander of the BLA’s Majeed Brigade said in a video message released a week after militants stormed a hilltop, highly secured luxury hotel in Gwadar, killing five people.

The BLA claimed a month earlier responsibility for an attack on a convoy on a highway leading out of Gwadar in which 14 Pakistani military personnel died and an assault last year on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

The attacks and threats have prompted Chinese sceptics of China’s massive investment in Pakistan to express their doubts more publicly.

“Gwadar wants to be in the shipping business, but it has failed to do so. Pakistan’s economy is not very good, and this port has become very wasteful … under these circumstances, including with the hotel attack, how can China conduct its business? The roads and traffic cannot even be maintained,” said Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming.

While many in Pakistan believe that the BLA enjoys Iranian support and Iranians are convinced that Pakistan enables shadowy Islamic militants who have claimed responsibility for a rare suicide bombing in December in Chabahar and attacks on Revolutionary Guards elsewhere in the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan, fact of the matter is that both countries are vulnerable to Baloch insurgents.

The situation on both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border is complicated by suspicions that the violence also has links to the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that the Baloch provinces of Pakistan and Iran could become a stage for a proxy war.

Amid reports that China has reached out to Baloch nationalist leaders in exile, Pakistani security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana cautioned that the exiles may no longer be in control.

“The new leadership of the Baloch insurgency largely hails from the educated middle class with urban backgrounds and is not hiding in Europe; therefore, it does not face the sort of constraints that exiled Baloch leaders do vis-à-vis Iran,” Mr. Rana said.

Mr. Rana noted that Iran’s influence in Pakistani Balochistan was visible in oil smuggled across the border, Iranian products in grocery shops and the supply of electricity to the coastal strip of Makran that includes Gwadar.

“For Pakistan, the security cost of CPEC is increasing which could frustrate the Chinese as well as foreign and local investors,” Mr. Rana warned.

For now, China confronts a more serious challenge in Gwadar, Balochistan as well as other parts of Pakistan that are struggling with un-related incidents of political violence compared to India and Chabahar.

That could change if the Saudi Iranian component of the low level Baloch insurgency spins out of control with the escalating stand-off between the United States and Iran.

Iran appears to have pinned its hopes that Chabahar will be shielded from the impact of regional tensions on the perceived US geopolitical need to protect India’s interest in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Said Pir Mohammad Mollazeh, an Iranian Afghanistan and Central Asia scholar: “US long-term geopolitical interests, due to the lack of relations with Iran, require India to maintain its position in the region and protect India as a partner in Central Asia… Chabahar port is considered to be a very important and strategic which is an opportunity for our country to enable Iran to reduce its sanctions by means of economic exchanges in Chabahar.”

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Pointless Colonial Massacres and Post-Colonial Wars and Killings on the Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Two colonial mass killings from the twentieth century are always remembered:  The Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre on April 23, 1930 in Peshawar (then India, now in Pakistan) was the result of peaceful demonstrations protesting the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who had called for a nonviolent movement of ‘patience and righteousness.’  Authorities nervous at the size of the crowds called in the military.  The local Garhwal Rifles refused an order to fire.  A special city disturbance column and four armored cars were sent for;  they did not.  The number of dead vary with the source ranging from 20 to 400.  Whatever the figures, the incident legitimized the protest movement and creating a new Gandhi of the northwest in Ghaffar Khan. 

Pakistan since independence has had insurgencies — in the Northwest where Peshawar is located,in Baluchistan (ongoing) and, the worst of all in  its eastern half in 1971 that led to the birth of Bangladesh.  Estimates of casualties range from 300,000 to 3 million. 

This year is the centenary of the notorious Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar.  April 13, 1919 was the day of Baisakhi, a major Sikh festival, so people had come to the holy city from surrounding Punjab villages and gathered to listen to speakers.  They were also unhappy with the deportation of independence leaders Dr. Saifuddinn Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal out of state to Dharamsala.  The protesters were mostly Sikh, the leaders being deported a Muslim and a Hindu, and India then secular in the minds of the people. 

Brig-General Reginald Dyer the local commander had banned all meetings.  To him the crowd gathering in the Bagh was a challenge to authority.  He took a contingent of Gurkha troops and proceeded forthwith to disperse what to him was an illegal assembly.  It is worth noting that Nepali Gurkhas are alien to the area, speak a different language, and look more like Tibetans.  The force took up positions on a raised bank at the main entrance and were ordered to fire on the unarmed crowd.  People tried to flee toward the other exits and in the stampede some were trampled.  Yet the firing continued for an incomprehensible ten whole minutes using up 1650 rounds and leaving hundreds dead and over a thousand wounded.

No respite for the Sikhs despite their anti-Muslim stance during the 1947 partition.  In 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by a Sikh bodyguard — itself a result of her military response killing Sikh religious zealots occupying the Amritsar Golden Temple — riots broke out.  An estimated 8000-17,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and Haryana.  The connivance of the Delhi police and the Congress party has long been suspected, and Human Rights Watch has complained of no prosecution for the killings.  Ditto for the perpetrators of the Muslim pogrom in Gujarat during Narendra Modi’s rule.

While the callousness of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar and Jallianwalla Bagh incidents horrifies, the number killed pales in comparison to what has happened since independence.  Within months of freedom, India invaded the independent principality of Hyderabad, allied to the British since the 18th century.  An estimated 200,000 people were killed and many fled to Pakistan.

It also invaded, occupied (1973) and then annexed Sikkim in 1975, a Himalayan foothill monarchy since 1642.  The suppressed independence movement in neighboring Assam and the Northeast and other ongoing insurgencies across at least a quarter of India continue. 

In Kashmir, a decades long struggle for some kind of autonomy has cost tens of thousands of lives.  Estimates vary from 40 to 80 thousand.  Some Indians have a conscience:  Long critical of India’s stance, the Booker Prize winning novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy has called the Modi government ‘reckless’ in its policy there.

The Muslim minority in India appears to be intimidated and abused.  A recent feature story on Chamanganj, a Muslim neighborhood in Kanpur, illuminates the distress and discrimination experienced by Muslims.  The Congress candidate never visits; the BJP candidate shows up hoping to capture some votes but his party’s policy is notoriously anti-Muslim.

The violence against Christians is also on the rise.  Opendoorsusa.org reports over 12,000 incidents last year, while the number of churches attacked rose dramatically from 34 to 98.  It has now become the 10th most dangerous country in the world for Christians on the 2019 World Watch List.

A secular India, the pride of Indian independence leader and its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is under threat.  In its place, a muscular Hindu nationalist agenda enforced by goons from nationalist organizations has been labeled “saffron terror”.  The Hudson Institute called these attacks “not inchoate mob violence, triggered by … insult; rather they involved careful planning by organized Hindu extremists …”

The record is surprising yet evident:  Independent India has killed hundreds of times more people than the Dyer atrocity, and the present-day Indian subcontinent is becoming a noticeable contrast to the relatively secular country of 1919.  In India itself, the Modi government and its affiliates by encouraging Hindu nationalism must shoulder the blame. 

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South Asia

The Durand Line Issue

Hareem Aqdas

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The Durand Line is a 2,200-kilometre debated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was set up in 1893 between Sir Mortimer Durand, a British negotiator and respectful hireling of the British Raj, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Afghan Amir, to settle the constrain of their individual circles of impact and make stride discretionary relations and exchange between the two nations. Afghanistan was considered by the British as a free state at the time, in spite of the fact that the British controlled its remote issues and discretionary relations. The single-page assertion, dated 12 November 1893, contains seven brief articles, counting a commitment not to work out obstructions past the Durand Line.

 A joint British-Afghan boundary overview took put beginning from 1894, covering a few 1,300 km of the border. Built up towards the near of the British-Russian “Great Game”, the coming about line set up Afghanistan as a buffer zone between British and Russian interface within the locale.

The line, as somewhat adjusted by the Anglo-Afghan Settlement of 1919, was acquired by Pakistan in 1947, taking after its independence. The forced Durand Line cuts through the Pashtun tribal ranges and assist south through the Balochistan locale, politically partitioning ethnic Pashtuns, as well as the Baloch and other ethnic bunches, who live on both sides of the border. It demarcates Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan of northern and western Pakistan from the northeastern and southern areas of Afghanistan.

From a geopolitical and geostrategic viewpoint, it has been depicted as one of the foremost unsafe borders within the world. Although Pakistan recognized the Durand Line as an international border, it remains to a great extent unrecognized by Afghanistan. In 2017, in the midst of cross-border pressures, previous Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan will “never perceive” the Durand Line as the international border between the two countries.

The Durand line remains a bone of contention between the two nations and a primary reason why Afghanistan and Pakistan have yet failed to establish cordial relations. Afghanistan claims a chunk of the KPK and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan on the basis that it was acceded to Pakistan, though it was originally a part of Afghanistan, with people dwelling on each sides having the same culture, language and way of life etc.

What is very clear is that relations between the two states have been tinged with hostility ever since Pakistan became an independent state in 1947. There are mainly two interrelated, historical reasons for this: the problem of the “Durand Line” — the shared but disputed border of the two countries; and Afghan support for the “Pakhtoonistan” movement in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP)

The questions is answered by both nations with a bias towards their respective national interest in mind, both Pakistan and Afghanistan claiming areas divided by the Durand line as their legitimate part.

Major accusations of Afghanistan over the Durand line are: its legitimacy period has terminated; it was in the original agreement between the British and the Afghans claimed its validity only for 100 years, which has expired. Nevertheless, neither Afghan government, nor the foremost dynamic advocates of this see have ever displayed any plain instrument demonstrating their claim. Nor do we discover, upon looking at the pertinent archives, i.e. the Durand Line assertion and the rest of the records confirmed until 1896 by the individual committees for assurance and boundary of the British-Afghan border, any arrangement confining the term of the understanding to 100 year time. It is undoubtedly a riddle how this supposition might spread over the nation without being addressed at all.

Another claim of Afghanistan in the de-legitimizing the boarded is that the assertions relating to it collapsed when the British exchanged powers to Pakistan. The agreement was done with British India and not with Pakistan. This was a main reason that Afghanistan was one of the very few countries that opposed the addition of Pakistan in the UN- since it alleged it of illegally annexing Afghanistan’s territory.

One more accusation to not accept the boarder comes as the understandings were persuasively forced upon Afghanistan-it is ethically unmerited- is certainly an issue worth encourage talk and contention. In any case, whereas one may concede the dispute to be fair and genuine, it remains deficiently to refute the status of the Durand Line as an international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Durand Line understanding of 1893 isn’t the sole point of reference in border assessment. At slightest other four assertions (of 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930), which had the assent of both sides, must be counseled. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot claim that all of the afterward four assertions were concluded in a coercive environment, particularly the Kabul 1921 understanding for foundation of neighborly commercial relations, which not as it were marked but approved in 1922, and beneath which disobedience was traded by the agents of both states in Kabul.

The boarder is not rejected by any other party of the world except Afghanistan itself, making the Afghan case further weakened.

No matter how much Afghanistan retaliates over this matter, the Durand line is widely accepted as an international boarder and the afghan claim will likely not bear fruit. The Afghans should rather hold the British accountable for the “so said” unfair distribution and not Pakistan, since Pakistan did not decide into this matter at all but was a decision purely made between the Afghans and the British- rather battle the British towards their claim and not make this a political issue more than a legitimate claim.

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