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Tackling Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism: A Pakistani-US collision in the making

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A recent government surrender to militant demands for stricter adherence to Islam mediated by the military coupled with the release from house arrest of a militant leader designated by the United Nations and the United States as a terrorist sets the stage for a confrontation between Pakistan and the Trump administration.

The two incidents also point to the fact that decades of Saudi backing and Pakistani indulgence has embedded Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in key branches of the state and among significant segments of society, including ones long considered to be less conservative. They raise the question whether further punitive cutbacks in US aid and other potential retaliatory measures will exacerbate the problem rather than persuade authorities to tackle it.

Finally, the incidents suggest that the fallout of decades of Saudi support globally for ultra-conservatism to the tune of $100 billion is unlikely to be reversed overnight by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent pledge to return the kingdom to an undefined form of moderate Islam.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis became last week the latest in a succession of US officials representing a succession of US administrations to unsuccessfully complain on a visit to Islamabad about aspects of the fallout in Pakistan such as the country’s half-hearted crackdown on militants and continued support for radical groups that serve its geopolitical purposes vis a vis Afghanistan and India.

Days before Mr. Mattis winged his way to the Pakistani capital, CIA director Michael Pompeo warned that if Pakistan failed to act decisively against groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, the United States would. That would likely involve an expanded drone war against militants in the troubled provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as possible sanctions that go beyond existing cutbacks in aid.

Mr. Mattis visited Islamabad at a moment that ultra-conservatism’s sway was manifesting itself with the emergence of hard-line political parties that look set to do well in elections expected next year.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who was designated a terrorist by the United Nations and the US Justice Department that put a $10 million bounty on his head, announced that his recently formed party, Milli Muslim League (MML), would contest the election.

Running as an independent in September in a Punjabi by-election, MML candidate Yaqoob Sheikh came in fourth. Sheikh Azhar Hussain Rizvi, a candidate for Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TPL), a political front for Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLR), which glorifies Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed for killing Punjab governor Salman Taseer because of his opposition to Pakistan’s draconic blasphemy law, came in third. Together, the two garnered 11 percent of the vote.

Mr. Saeed, the leader of Jamaat ud-Dawa, widely seen as a front for Lashkar-e-Taibe, one of the largest and most violent groups in South Asia, which he founded, has longstanding ties to Saudi Arabia as well as to Ahl-e-Hadith, an ultra-conservative, Saudi-backed religious group.

Mr. Saeed stands accused of having masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attacks during which 164 people were killed. He was last month released from ten months of house arrest by a Pakistani court. Graffiti on the walls in the corridors of the court building demand that blasphemers be beheaded.

The TPL’s electoral success; its recent, weeks-long blockade of a main artery leading into Islamabad to protest a perceived softening of the government’s adherence to Islam in a proposed piece of legislation that forced the justice minister to resign; and the military’s intervention to resolve the crisis, indicate not only the popular appeal of ultra-conservatism but also the state’s use of it as a political tool.

The TPL is a political expression of the Barelvi strand of Sunni Islam that throughout the decades was long viewed as more moderate than the other dominant strand in Pakistan, the Saudi-supported Deobandis, whose militancy dates to the US-Saudi-backed Islamist insurgency in the 1980s that forced Soviet troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Suggestions that the protesters were supported by the military for ideological reasons as well to undermine the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) of disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif were reinforced by a video circulating on social media. The origin of the video was unclear.

The director-general of the Punjab Rangers, Major-General Azhar Navid Hayat, is seen in the video passing out envelopes containing 1,000-rupee ($9.50) notes to protesters.

“This is a gift from us to you,” the general tells a bearded man. “Aren’t we with you too?” Patting another protester on the cheek, Major-General Hayat says: “God willing, we’ll get all of them released,” in a seeming reference to arrested protesters. “This is all we had in one bag. There’s some more (money) in the other,” the officer added.

Pakistani Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa recently expressed support for religious seminaries or madrassas, many of which are run by militants, but insisted that they expand their curriculum to ensure that graduates become more productive.

With millions attending seminaries General Bajwa asked: “So what will they become: will they become Maulvis (clerics) or they will become terrorists?” He noted that Pakistan could not build enough mosques to employ the huge number of madrassas students.

General Bajwa went on to say that more religious seminaries than mainstream schools had been established in Balochistan in the past four decades. “Only religious education is being imparted to the students at all these seminaries and thus the students are left behind in the race for development,” the general cautioned.

Saudi-funded ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim madrassas operated by anti-Shiite militants dominate Balochistan’s educational landscape, according to Pakistani militants.

“A majority of Baloch schoolchildren go to madrassas. They are in better condition than other schools in Balochistan. Most madrassas are operated by Deobandis and Ahl-i-Hadith,” said the co-founder of a virulently anti-Shiite group that is believed to enjoy Saudi and Pakistani support.

Saudi-backed Maulana Ali Muhammad Abu Turab, a militant Pakistani Islamic scholar of Afghan origin, who was earlier this year named a named a specially designated terrorist by the US Treasury while he was on a fund-raising tour of the Gulf, illustrates the degree to which ultra-conservatism permeates Pakistan and is linked to the state.

Mr. Abu Turab is a leader of Ahl-e-Hadith that operates a string of religious seminaries in Balochistan along the Pakistan-Afghan border, a region heavily controlled by the military. He is also a board member of Pakistan’s Saudi-backed Paigham TV and heads the Saudi-funded Movement for the Protection of the Two Holy Cities (Tehrike Tahafaz Haramain Sharifain), whose secretary general Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil too has been designated by the Treasury. Mr. Abu Turab serves on Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology, a government-appointed advisory body of scholars and laymen established to assist in bringing laws in line with the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Mohammed.

Against this backdrop, a probable US-Pakistani collision at best would lead to temporarily reduced Pakistani support for geopolitically convenient militants. Tackling Pakistan’s far more fundamental problem, resulting from a build-up of ultra-conservatism over decades, would require long-term engagement rather than confrontation – a policy prescription that likely runs counter to the Trump administration’s worldview.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

Of Article 35-A and looming crisis in Kashmir

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India is the confluence of 29 states and 7 Union territories, with a distinct demography, language, culture, lifestyle, etc. Jammu and Kashmir forms the part of the northern portion of the country with the privilege of the special status state among the whole gamut of states. Constitution as the basic guide of principles gives rights to all the people of the country, common and special.

Indian constitution is the sum total of articles, schedules, rights, duties, etc. Article 35A of the Indian Constitution is an article and provision that empowers the legislature of J&K state to define permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir state and provides special rights and privileges to them in public sector jobs, property acquisition in the State and other aid and welfare.

Article 35-A was added to the Constitution via a Presidential Order, i.e., The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, issued by the President of India on 14 May 1954 with the concurrence of the Jammu and Kashmir government. The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954 was issued by President Rajendra Prasad under Article 370, with the advice of the central Government. Article 35 A protects the demographic status of the Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35(A) of the Constitution of India, which was applied to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, not only recognizes but explains the constitutional and legal position of the state and does not provide something novice to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2014, an NGO, We the Citizens, challenged the validity of the article 35A in Supreme Court of India. This year again the provisions of Article 35-A were challenged in the same manner, which invited ire of all the mainstream and separatist leaders of the valley.

Even an MLA of BJP at the state level came in support of the article 35-A.Subsequently,on the day of hearing, the valley came to a standstill amid hartals and bandhs called by the Joint Resistance Leadership in valley(JRL). Down the passing phases of time in Kashmir, all the mainstream political parties of the state except BJP have always defended the Article 370 and Article 35A. The former Chief Minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti once reiterated that fiddling with Article 370 & Article 35 A will hurt the soul of Kashmir.

According to renowned columnist A G Noorani, all the arguments against the Article 35-A are groundless, and are raised with “communal-minded majoritarian” intentions. The scrapping of Article 35A will manifest into the erosion of the states autonomy.

If Article 35A is scrapped, the extension of the Fundamental Rights and every other provision to J&K through Presidential Orders will stop to apply. This will manifest into the only application of Article 1 and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Article 35A is not only a constitutional or legal issue, but it is a socioeconomic and political issue. The major task for the ruling dispensation at the centre is to protect the special rights of the masses of the state. Being an issue of enormous sensitivity, the Supreme court of the country should dismiss the petition seeking to scrapping the Article 35-A.

Today, when J&K is passing through the phases of political uncertainty post-coalition demise and caught in the whirlpool of political waywardness, the major task for the government of India is to build a consensus to protect the scrapping of Article 35-A and restore the faith of the people in the good governance systems.

The land of the state is getting fragmented as the population of the state is increasing and cultivable lands are turned into residential plots. Settling outsiders in the state will not be a good and mature idea.

The valley is already heading for two day shutdown on 26th and 27th of this month as the next hearing of Article 35-A in the Supreme Court takes place. The political party National Conference has already deputed its members to New Delhi to defend the Article 35-A,but the major task for the political parties of the state in the current times is to work in unison for defending the special status and privilege of the state.

Has Government of India not learnt any lesson from the 2008 Amarnath land transfer agreement which kept valley on boil for various months and consumed the precious lives of the citizens. Fiddling with Article 35-A is tantamount to playing with fire which for God sake and engulf the whole peace and stability of the politically fragile state as the last nail in the coffin is assimilated. God save Jammu and Kashmir.

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Pakistan at a crossroads as Imran Khan is sworn in

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Criticism of Pakistan’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) is likely to complicate incoming Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s efforts to tackle his country’s financial crisis.

Addressing the criticism of the 41-nation APG, which reports to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism watchdog that earlier this year put Pakistan on a grey list with the prospect of blacklisting it is key to a possible Pakistani request for a US$ 12 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.

A US demand that any IMF package exclude funding for paying off Chinese loans coupled with the APG/FATF criticism, against a backdrop of the Pakistani military’s efforts to nudge militants into the mainstream of Pakistani politics and the incoming prime minister’s mixed statements on extremism, could push Mr. Khan to turn to China and Saudi Arabia for rescue, a move that would likely not put Pakistan in the kind of straightjacket it needs to reform and restructure its troubled economy.

The APG criticism followed Pakistani efforts to demonstrate its sincerity by passing in February the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance of 2018, which gave groups and individuals designated by the UN as international terrorists the same status in Pakistan for the first time.

Pakistan, however, has yet to implement the ordinance by for example acting against Hafez Saeed, a leader of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the alleged mastermind of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, who despite having been designated a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council and having a US$ 10 million US Treasury bounty on his head, fielded candidates in last month’s election.

The APG, which just ended talks with Pakistani officials, has scheduled follow-up visits to Pakistan in September and October to monitor Pakistani progress in addressing its concerns, which focus on legal provisions governing non-profit and charitable organisations, transparency in the country’s beneficial ownership regime and the handling of reports on suspicious financial transactions.

Those concerns go to the heart of the effort by the Pakistani military and intelligence to mainstream militants who garnered just under ten percent of the vote in last month’s election but have a far greater impact on Pakistani politics. The military and intelligence have in the past encouraged militants to form political organizations with which mainstream political parties have been willing to cooperate and establish charity operations that have had a substantial social impact.

Similarly, Mr. Khan, who earned the nickname Taliban Khan, is likely to have to counter his past record of allowing government funds to go to militant madrassas, his advocacy for the opening in Pakistan of an official Taliban Pakistan office, and his support of the Afghan Taliban. His Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-headed government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, gave in February US$2.5 million to Darul Aloom Haqqania, a militant religious seminary.

Dubbed a “jihad university,” Darul Aloom Haqqania, headed by Sami ul-Haq, a hard-line Islamist politician known as the father of the Taliban, counts among its alumni, Mullah Omar, the deceased leader of the Taliban, Jalaluddin Haqqani, the head of the Haqqani Network. Asim Umar, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, and Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, Mullah Omar’s successor who was killed in a 2016 US drone strike.

Those may be policies that, at least initially, may be less of an obstacle in assistance on offer from China and Saudi Arabia to replenish Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves that have plummeted over the past year to US$ 10.4 billion, enough to cover two months of imports at best. Pakistan’s currency, the rupee, has been devalued four times since December and lost almost a quarter of its value.

Chinese loans have so far kept Pakistan afloat with state-owned banks extending more than US$5 billion in loans in the past year. PTI officials said this week that China has promised the incoming government further loans to keep Pakistan afloat and enable it to avoid reverting to the IMF, which would demand transparency in the funding of projects related to China’s US$50 billion plus investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel of its Belt and Road initiative.

And that is where the rub is. Despite Chinese officials reportedly urging Pakistan to reduce its deficit, neither China nor Saudi Arabia, which has offered to lend Pakistan US$4 billion are likely to impose the kind of regime that would put the country, which has turned to the IMF 12 times already for help, on a sustainable financial path.

Relying on China and Saudi Arabia would likely buy Pakistan time but ultimately not enable it to avoid the consequences of blacklisting by FATF, which would severely limit its access to financial markets, if it fails to put in place and implement a credible anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime

Moreover, relying on China and Saudi Arabia, two of Pakistan’s closest allies could prove risky. Neither country shielded Pakistan from FATF grey listing in February. A Chinese official said at the time that China had not stood up for Pakistan because it did not want to “lose face by supporting a move that’s doomed to fail.”

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The problem of pellet guns in Kashmir

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Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of the Indian union dogged with an overridden unhealthy political atmosphere. The valley of Kashmir is beset with a major governance deficit which has given renewed impetus to the dissenting voices of the masses day in and day out. Dissent is the hallmark of a democracy which acts as a medium for the expression of the masses against the system. There are certain rights and duties guaranteed by the Indian constitution for the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and right to life. Caught in the quagmire of a political crisis that has deeply permeated the society, the people in Kashmir from time to time vent up their dissent. Hartals are the tools for the masses through which they ventilate their pent up emotions. Kashmir is not a different case. It is also amuck with crisis and caught in a looming distress day in and day out. Kashmir is the most sensitive zone of the whole Asian sub-continent, where situations turn awry with the passage of time, like the seasons of the year and is the only state of the Indian Union where there has been a reckless use of the pellet guns without any regard for the precious life of the common man. This is a sort of dichotomy.

The use of pellet guns is a major problem which has not only maimed, blinded and killed the masses, but also shaken the collective conscience of the people, who have fallen prey to a different approach of dichotomy of the government. The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 brought about a volcanic eruption in valley which not only deteriorated the situation in Kashmir, but also increased the massive alienation of the masses. The waves of grief and anger against the day-to-day killings and maims that the people felt increased with each passing day. In order to control the crisis, the security agencies used the deadly pellets which caused heavy damage to the sufferers. More than 1200 people lost their vision in 2016. According to a report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), more than 75% people suffered injuries due to pellet guns, ranging from minor to major in 2016.There was a heavy loss of life.

Although small in size, these black metallic balls have deteriorated our young generation. The use of pellet guns has wreaked crisis in Kashmir. For the security agencies, it is meant to disperse the crowds, but, for the common masses, it is a problematic affair. Pellet guns are pump-action shotguns which fire a cluster of small, round, metal pellets with high velocity over a broad range.

Recently, after the killing of a militant from Pahalgam area during the anti-establishment protests, a number of people were injured due to pellet A nurse working in the same area personally told me that we healed at least 100 plus pellet injured victims. The bloody Sunday of this year’s April and the subsequent clashes of the protestors with the security agencies left many injured, with multiple cases of pellet injuries to the eyes of the protestors.

Naseer Ahmad Bhat of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was killed by the security forces during the post-Burhan phase of 2016 protests in Kashmir. He was an able worker and a good cricketer who fell silent to the pellets. Not only the collective conscience of the people was shaken, but also a state of disparity ensued. These deadly pellets have not even spared the school going children and snatched the power of seeing of the victims. Insha, a pellet victim who passed her matriculation examination last year despite odds is an inspiring hope for the likewise victims.

Pellets cause a number of biological ramifications in the victim, like the loss of vision, the state of paralysis, in case, the damage is caused to the spinal cord, defacements, and death in case of damage to the vital organs of the body, like, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, etc. Moreover, the pangs of guilt that a victim suffers in silence dishearten one and all. The use of pellet guns as a crowd-control method during protests, whether in case of cordon and search operations (CASO) or common protests has added a volley of questions to the psyche of the common man? Being a part of the Indian union, that two acing the crown, Kashmir has been treated otherwise all through the passing times. People have got million queries, but, there are no solid answers to their problems and subsequent tactful solutions.

The substitution of pellet guns with PAVA shells can in no way control the crisis. The way people of other parts of the country are treated should form a close semblance in case of protests in Kashmir. Why the security forces are using pellets and bullets against the people whom the system claims with a sense of belonging. There can be other alternatives, like the use of water cannons without any damage and subsequent ensuing crisis that engulfs the society and creeps the psyche of the common men. If this is the notion of the system to punish dissent, then dissent itself takes a u-turn of additions and alterations with the passage of time. The bleeding valley is giving a close call for one and all to unite and ensue a state of peace and order. There is an urgent requirement of the administrative and political will to stop the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

Whatever is happening to the people of Kashmir has not been experienced by the other people of the country. After all, it is a question of humanity. People suffer out of the ways as circumstances decide or may be destined otherwise. But to expect a peaceful valley without the intervention of a political will would be an underestimation of statements. There is a dual intolerance in Kashmir, one from the people and next from the system. The systematic targeting of the protestors from a point blank range irrespective of regard for the human life has shattered several families in Kashmir

Kashmir is passing through the phases of testing times with each passing day. The ugly turn of the situations and recurring events and the amateur dealing of the same has created an unhealthy atmosphere everywhere, where people have lost faith in the governance systems. The safety and security of every Tom, Dick and Harry is the looming question of the hour. Exits from dwellings and adieus from home don’t guarantee the safe return of the leavers. The interlocutor of the centre in vale, Mr. Dineshwar Sharma once reiterated that, ‘the priority is to prevent Kashmir turning into Syria’. The imbroglio has crippled the educational scenario, down slowed the economy, increased the unemployment, but, above all, the ultimate question is the redressal of the problem at stake, which for God sake can erupt into a lava-laden volcano one day and engulf the whole peace, stability and order of the South Asia, if not tactfully handled in the current times by the government.

The victory of BJP at the centre with the thumping majority after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ falls short of words and has partially failed in the state of J&K.The killings of the common masses are in no way remedies to the political ailments. There should be the ultimate regard for the human lives. Why has the blood of the people become so cheap .When will peace return to the valley of Kashmir? The government of India had constituted an expert committee in July 2016 to explore other possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons. Although, the committee submitted its report and the recommendations were taken into account by the government for implementation. But, what happened afterwards lies in the public domain for discussion. The use of pellet guns is tantamount to the violation of rights of the people.

In order to direct the valley towards the state of peace and development, the role of multiple players of India, Pakistan and Valley is necessary. This way the government can make a significant contribution in the restoration of normalcy. The need of the hour is the unity of all the stakeholders of the society, like government, non-governmental parties, NGO’s, etc. to help these pellet victims via financial or other means.

Although, there has been a strong criticism of the use of pellet guns not only at the local level ,but also at the international level, but the main part of the problem resolution lies with the government of India and the state. Although, much has been said and written about the people of Kashmir with the flow of waters of the river Jhelum, but the stability of the region is a farfetched dream. Here, comes the role of the government into play. The use of pellet guns against the dissenting masses has wreaked havoc and wounded the collective psyche of the people, particularly those who have lost their near and dear ones due to the deadly metallic balls. Those who have fully or partially lost the vision and are living in dark suffer in silence. The government should review the situation and put a full stop for the future use of pellet guns. Those who have lost their dear ones should be financially compensated or by provision of bread and butter. However, the clarion call of the people is the complete ban and stoppage of these pellet guns in order to prevent the further damage and restore the faith of the people in the system. The government of India should pass a resolution to put a terminal pause to the use of pellet guns in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The vital task for the current times is to build a consensus for the total pellet ban. The use of non-lethal methods by the security agencies like water cannons could be the best alternatives. This will not only restore the faith of the people in governance, but also generate a feeling of belongingness among the masses. The bruised scars of the pellets have defaulted the trust of the people in the political system. Although, the situation is worrisome for one and all, but, in which direction the boat sails lies with the future course of action. After all action speaks louder than the words.

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