Self-serving Pakistani politics threaten to aggravate the country’s myriad problems that have strained its relations with the United States and could heighten tension in the restless, key geo-strategic region of Balochistan, a vital node bordering Iran in China’s Belt and Road initiative and the earmarked home for the People’s Republic’s second foreign military base.
Pakistan’s short-sighted political battles are being fought at a time of worsening relations with the United States over alleged Pakistani support of militants and concern that the United States may withdraw from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran. They potentially create a dilemma for China which is heavily invested in Pakistan with its more than $50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Keen to prevent ousted former Prime Minister Nawal Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – PML-N from winning a majority in elections scheduled for July, the Pakistani military, in the latest incident, appears to be backing efforts to force Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, the PML-N Chief Minister of Balochistan, to resign.
The stage to remove Mr. Zehri was set last week when the province’s interior minister, Sarfaraz Bugti, known for his close ties to the armed forces, stepped down after co-sponsoring a motion of no-confidence in the chief minister in the provincial assembly.
The targeting of Mr. Zehri, signalled the closing of the door on already failed efforts to drive a wedge between various nationalist Baloch insurgent groups and weaken Islamic militants that have wreaked havoc in Balochistan with attacks on Chinese, Pakistani military, and Shiite targets.
Closing the door amounted to kicking a dead body. Informal contacts between the Baloch provincial government, the federal government when Mr. Sharif was still in office, and Brahmdagh Bugti, a Baloch nationalist living in exile in Switzerland, who heads the Baloch Republican Party, fizzled out when Mr. Zehri came to office in late 2015. Nonetheless, Mr. Zehri refrained from slamming the door shut.
By the same token, Mr. Bugti’s demand that Pakistan end its military and paramilitary operations against nationalist forces in Balochistan, a resource-rich, population-poor region the size of France that straddles the border with the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan, as a pre-condition for formal talks was likely one reason that the contacts failed.
More militant nationalists refused to endorse Mr. Bugti’s position, but quietly watched whether he would make headway. Even so, there was no guarantee that the militants would have accepted a deal negotiated by Mr, Bugti, whose grandfather, Nawab Bugti, was killed by the military in 2006, a year after he had presented a plan for greater Baloch autonomy that stopped short of demanding independence.
The timing of the effort to topple Mr. Zehri and foreclose renewed contacts with Baloch nationalist factions could not be more sensitive. It comes, against the backdrop of a long history of military support for militant religious groups to counter the nationalists in Balochistan, and at a moment that the armed forces have used militants elsewhere to weaken the PMN-L while at the same time refute US allegations that it backs extremists in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.
The Trump administration said last week that it was cutting almost all security aid to Pakistan believed to total more than $1 billion until it deals with militant networks operating on its soil. Pakistan, in response and in advance of a visit this month by a United Nations Security Council team to evaluate Pakistani compliance with its resolutions, has sought to crack down on the fundraising and political activities of Hafez Saeed, an internationally designated terrorist accused of having masterminded the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
The crackdown constitutes a double-edged sword. Pakistan and its military needs to be seen to be acting against internationally designated terrorist groups, yet Mr. Saeed has been treated over the years with kid gloves. His organization was allowed to continue operations under multiple guises and although he was put under house arrest several times, he was not remanded behind bars. It wasn’t clear whether the crackdown by the PMN-L-led federal government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has the backing of the military.
Mr. Saeed has recently attempted to move into mainstream politics with the backing of the military. Military support was “a combination of keeping control over important national matters like security, defense and foreign policy, but also giving these former militant groups that have served the state a route into the mainstream where their energies can be utilized,” a senior military official said. Mr. Saeed, who headed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), widely viewed as one of South Asia’s most violent groups, was a military proxy in confronting India in Kashmir.
Associates of Mr. Saeed said that their participation in this summer’s election was in part designed to prevent the PMN-L from returning to office. “There is little else more patriotic than ensuring the ouster of the Sharifs. Pakistan needs a government that serves Pakistani, not Indian interests”, said Nadeem Awan, a spokesman for Jamat u-Dawa, widely seen as a LeT front headed by Mr. Saeed.
Former Pakistani strongman General Pervez Musharraf, said last month that he was discussing an alliance with Milli Muslim League (MML), the political party Mr. Saeed is trying to register. Speaking on Pakistani television, Mr. Musharraf pronounced himself “the greatest supporter of LeT.”
The military, also last month, displayed its political influence and inclination by mediating an end to a 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.
The resolution was seen as favouring Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TPL), the organizer of the protest. TPL is 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.
All in all, the Pakistani military appears to be embroiled in battles on multiple fronts in a Herculean effort to satisfy target audiences with contradictory demands. Countering the PML-N by supporting religious forces complicates refuting US allegations of support for militants.
It also risks escalating violence in Balochistan and enhancing opportunity for external players like the United States and Saudi Arabia to use the province as a launching pad for efforts to destabilize Iran should they opt to travel down that road.
President Donald J. Trump has to decide this month whether to certify Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement and waive US sanctions. A failure to do so could lead to a US withdrawal from the agreement.
China, by the same token, sees Pakistan’s use of proxies against India as useful, yet needs stability in Balochistan to secure its massive investment.
Pakistan could well be the ultimate loser in battles between its various institutions that appear focused more on vested interests than on resolving issues that have long held the country back such as extremism, intolerance, and ensuring fundamental rights. In pursuit of their own interests, neither the United States nor China appear willing to help their Pakistani allies look beyond their narrow and most immediate concerns towards the development of policies that would launch the country on a path of security, stability and economic prosperity.
Bulldozing Dissent in India
State brutality and hostility have emerged as the defining factors in BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) policy toward Indian Muslims. From mob lynching and punishment on beef consumption to imposing a ban on the ‘hijab’ in universities, BJP continues to find novel ways and means to target Muslim society and enforce the concept of Hindu supremacy in India. While deliberate marginalisation of Indian Muslims is not new and remains an important part of India’s policy towards its minorities, the intensity of this campaign is soaring with every passing day.
Recently, two senior BJP members made disparaging remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), brushing aside the sentiments of the state’s largest minority. The comments drew criticism from around the world, creating a diplomatic row for India.While PM Modi decided to remain silent on the issue, the concerned BJP members had to be suspended from the party given the intense backlash from several countries, especially the Gulf states.
On the other hand, the remarks also sparked a wave of anger in the Indian Muslim communities, who registered their grievances by holding protests on the streets in various parts of the state. However, to deal with its own citizens, India resorted to using force and refused to let the Muslims protest peacefully, depriving them of their fundamental democratic rights. Amidst the demonstrations after Friday prayers, clashes between protesters and police broke out in several parts, the most notable one occurred in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Two teenagers lost their lives, and several were injured. The Indian police also arrested approximately 300 individuals taking part in the protests.
The most concerning event that followed afterwards was bulldozing the houses of Muslim activists who were either present at the demonstrations or were apparently the organisers. The demolitions were justified on the pretext that they were illegal establishments. In reality, these criminal activities were done on the behest of the Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, who is an ardent RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) follower – the most projected political figure in BJP (after Narendra Modi) and a torchbearer of Hindutva politics.
It has been observed that the frequency of the use of bulldozers to demolish personal property is increasing in Muslim-majority areas in India. CM Adityanath himself is considered the pioneer and advocate of this ‘bulldozer strategy’, which is now frequently being executed throughout India by other BJP leaders. His ardency with the idea of demolishing Muslim houses can be sensed from the fact that bulldozers are displayed at BJP rallies to demonstrate them as a symbol of state power. Mrityunjay Kumar, Adityanath’s media advisor later tweeted a photo of a bulldozer with the caption, ‘Remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday,’ which conveys the government’s unapologetic stance on its actions and the intent to use such equipment without hesitation.
Whats worse, the state machinery deliberately orchestrates the scenes of Muslim houses being turned to rubble to instil a fearful impact. Its purpose is to deter the Muslim communities from protesting against the ‘saffronized’ state. Such images are meant to signal that the state will not tolerate such kind of opposition in the BJP-led India and will not hesitate to exercise the use of force against such segments. The prime objective is to bulldoze their courage to stand against oppression in the future.
Another way to look at this violence is the long-term dynamics of Indian politics. While it is apparent that Narendra Modi will contest the next Indian elections for BJP, it is fairly evident that an alternative leadership is preparing to succeed him in the future. The potential candidates are replicating his past machinations to strengthen their personal and political statures. Akin to Modi’s Gujarat massacre, his party members are recreating events that can bear similar impacts in order to emerge as radical leaders in accordance with BJP’s vision. This includes intense and targeted verbal and physical attacks on Muslims. Hence, the use of force against Muslims will likely be a prominent factor for capitalising on the majoritarian Hindu vote bank.
Lack of accountability, persistent silence of key leadership and the embedded political objectives are fanning dangerous flames in an already fraught environment for Muslims in India. The repressive attitude toward Indian Muslims has now been institutionalised at the state level and suggests that life will only worsen for them. India’s belligerent policy and confrontational actions will fuel further divisions in a society that has become extremely polarised along religious lines. Political interests are overshadowing national interests and the trend is likely to continue.
This week’s deadly earthquake is a reminder of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan
Afghanistan can’t catch a break. This week’s deadly earthquake is the latest chapter in a worsening humanitarian crisis. It has also shone a light on the shortcomings of the Taliban’s ability to deal with the myriad of problems in the poverty stricken country. This represents an opportunity for the international community to play a larger role in helping Afghanistan to recover and rebuild.
This comes as a magnitude six earthquake hit Afghanistan’s remote Paktika province on Wednesday. The Taliban have claimed that at least 1,000 people have died, with over 1,500 injured. The number of casualties is expected to rise over the coming days. The remoteness of the province and heavy rain has hampered rescue efforts in what is the deadliest earthquake in two decades.
For Afghans this is the latest in a line of tragic events that are causing untold suffering. Since the Taliban takeover in August last year, Afghanistan has endured a worsening humanitarian crisis. Decades of conflict, natural disasters, poverty, drought and the coronavirus pandemic have meant that most Afghans are now facing a rapidly deteriorating situation under the Taliban.
The United Nations Development Program has stated that Afghanistan is facing ‘universal poverty’, with 97 per cent of Afghans living below the international poverty line. Acute malnutrition has risen dramatically across the country, with 95 per cent of Afghans now experiencing food insecurity. Well over 80 per cent of families are facing high unemployment, creating a situation where they cannot feed their children and where those children are either sold for money to buy food or forced to work or beg for pitiful sums. The healthcare system has also collapsed, with doctors and nurses not being paid and with medicine in short supply.
The Taliban rightly deserves criticism for this situation through poor governance and the mismanagement of what government funds are available. It has become quickly apparent that the Taliban are incapable of dealing with either the humanitarian crisis or effectively responding to the earthquake in Paktika. The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah has pleaded with the international community to “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort”.
The situation in Afghanistan also raises uncomfortable questions about the role of the international community in causing the current crisis. The country has long been heavily reliant on foreign aid, and this was no different under the NATO-led occupation. The chaotic withdrawal of both international forces and humanitarian aid agencies resulted in much needed funds leaving with them.
Additionally, the implementation of harsh sanctions and the freezing of remaining Afghan assets by the United States has effectively hamstrung the Taliban’s ability to help those most affected by the crisis and to respond to disasters such as the recent earthquake. For these reasons, the Taliban’s claim that international sanctions and the freezing of Afghan assets is acting as a collective punishment on all Afghans has some merit.
In a positive development, the United Nations and aid agencies are on the ground providing support to those affected by the earthquake and have been undertaking operations to tackle the humanitarian crisis for some time. This includes providing tonnes of medical supplies and teams of medical professionals, and the roll out of food and tents for starving and displaced Afghans.
But more needs to be done. The international community, particularly countries who withdrew from Afghanistan last year, can provide much needed equipment and supplies so recovery operations can continue in Paktika. If these country’s still do not wish to recognise the Taliban, then these funds can be provided to UN aid agencies at ground-level.
Furthermore, the international community needs to play a larger role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis. This can be achieved by unfreezing frozen government assets, which belongs to Afghans, so development projects can continue, and civil servants, teachers and healthcare workers can be paid.
Through this funding, the international community can attempt to leverage the Taliban to adequately fund the education, financial and health sectors so people are paid and so these sectors can strengthen to reliably assist those in need. This leverage can also convince the Taliban to allow women to re-enter the workforce and participate in social life, something that will go a long way to ensuring that families earn enough to feed themselves.
The recent earthquake has highlighted the dire humanitarian and economic situation Afghanistan is in and it is up to both the Taliban and the international community to fix it.
While the international community doesn’t have to recognise the Taliban, it is equally responsible in ensuring that the crisis ends so innocent Afghans can rebuild their lives with dignity.
Pakistan: World Refugee Day
World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations to honor refugees around the globe. It falls each year on June 20 and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. World Refugee Day is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives.
Taking refuge is an old phenomenon, and even during WWI and WWII, the refugee crisis became very serious. In the last few decades, the geopolitics has deteriorated, and once again the people were forced to take refuge in the safer part of the world. Unfortunately, the Muslim world was the victim and most of the refugees were Muslims. However, the Ukraine war is the first-ever war in Europe after several decades, and the refugee crisis in Europe seems a new one. There are around 6 million Ukrainian refugees, and there are 44 European countries, or 27 EU member countries, sharing this burden collectively. Whereas, Pakistan hosted up to 5 million (at peak) Afghan refugees alone.
Pakistan joins the international community in commemorating World Refugee Day. While observing this Day, we express our solidarity with refugees all around the world. This Day behaves us to reflect on the drivers of forced displacements and to reaffirm our commitment to finding sustainable solutions for refugee situations, including through conflict prevention and resolution. This Day is also an occasion to reiterate our collective resolve for refugee protection under the principle of international burden- and responsibility-sharing.
Pakistan has shouldered the responsibility of one of the largest and most protracted refugee situations in the world for over four decades. Pakistan continues to host more than 3 million Afghans. Another 0.4 million Rohingyas have also found refuge in Pakistan. There are refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and etc. The people of Pakistan have demonstrated exemplary generosity, hospitality, and compassion towards the refugees in the country, showcased in Pakistan’s inclusive policies on health, education, and livelihoods, including during the COVID-19 response.
As new situations emerge around the globe, the long-standing Afghan refugee situation must not be forgotten by the international community. There is a need for renewed international commitment, especially in the context of COVID-compounded socio-economic and health challenges, through regular, predictable, and adequate financing for Afghan refugees including their safe and dignified return. It is equally important to undertake necessary measures for the stability and sustainable socio-economic development of Afghanistan, in order to avert the possibility of any future refugee exodus from the country.
On this Day, Pakistan pays special tribute to UNHCR – the United Nations refugee agency – for its commendable work in support of refugees and host communities throughout the world. Pakistan looks forward to further strengthening its valuable partnership with UNHCR. We call on the international community to support the Organization in its efforts toward durable solutions for refugees worldwide.
Genetically, Pakistan is an open-minded society and due to its own diversity, can accommodate all races, cultures, and religions, and can be integrated with others conveniently. Pakistan has been hosting refugees from various parts of the world and has integrated them perfectly. Pakistan hosts the world’s second-largest number of refugees in its territory. However, the economic burden is beyond Pakistan’s capacity, the international community is urged to generously extend a helping hand in sharing the burdens with Pakistan. Instability in the region imposed wars, and natural disasters are growing in this part of the world, which may cause more unrest in the neighboring countries and force more people to take refuge in Pakistan. Europe and America have strict policies, but, Pakistan is still a more flexible and convenient destination for international refugees. The constitution of Pakistan is more friendly and accommodative. The visa regime and border controls are also rather flexible and friendly.
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