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Pakistani politics risk aggravating problems and heightening regional tension

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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.

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

Prime Minister Imran Khan & President Trump

Naseem Javed

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Pakistan is under an amazing political leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his PTI Party working hard on a new vision for Pakistan with friendlier dialogue and fair trading. Now visiting Whitehouse, President Trump is holding face to face talks on the future and IMF and OBOR may create interesting outcomes. Nevertheless, hardcore realities of the grassroots economic will steal the day. Pakistan will have to bite the bullet on the transformation of its citizenry to stand-up to global age demands. There is just no other way to quadruple exports; free-technology allows these advancements, mobilization of entrepreneurialism provides the platforms and digitization of midsize economy creates the pathways. Without massive transformation of the top percentile Public and Private Enterprise to achieve innovative excellence many other efforts will be stifled. Here are some facts…

Pakistan has unique advantages; gifted with a special land, rich resources, from record breaking mountain peaks to seashores, Pakistan has a unique position; already nurtured with a bright youthful nation, vibrant culture buzzes with small and large enterprises, plus the strategic geographic location with China and CPEC are all hidden competitive advantages. Pakistan is being watched: as the world is harshly critical because it already have 200 plus other nations in its pocket to judge and compare. Other nations have difficulties too. This adverse global opinion directly impacts foreign investments and export opportunities. After all, Pakistan does have serious economic issues, on exportability and grassroots corporate performance, all due to critical lack of global age skills from factory floors to Corporate Boardrooms all the way to Public Sector echelons; it’s the parochial business mindedness and antiquated bureaucracies that are real strangulations.

Winning Cricket World Cup: For example; winning Cricket World Cup is always about the players, the teams and their skills to win; as no amount of money and no promotion can buy such victory, as it’s all about the craft, craftsmen and craftsmanship. For Pakistan to blame rest of the world while ignoring lifelong learning and global-age skills at core is totally wrong.  Self-discovery, self-optimization and national mobilization of entrepreneurialism are the pillars where the real victory is hidden. Unfathomed by previous regimes the time to face the music has arrived.

Pakistan’s Branding: Pakistan is the 6th largest population nation but 66th on the list of global exports. This fact on low performance in global exports proves why outside of a few small ethnic brands, Pakistan has no single global name identity on the world’s trading stage. In textiles alone, during last decade, Pakistan could have developed One Hundred specialty-textile-brands each with USD one billion dollar export potential. Today the visible absence of high-caliber skills across the nation to invent, design and create world-class, branded, premium priced, goods and services, capable for global exportability, simply prolongs the agony.

Pakistan’s Skills Gaps: Pakistan is also listed at 147th on the Human Development Index. This fact basically disqualifies Pakistan as a serious exporter and almost declares a skills-less-nation on global stage; a decade ago this ranking should have been a wake-up call if further neglected it’s going to become a zombie-walk. There is no excuse. Take the bull by the horn or get ready to be kicked in the behind. Declaration of a national emergency and mobilization of corrective measures is what armies do. Most such issues are not funding but rather global age skills and execution dependent in the first place. Transformation is no secret, other nations have done this in open daylight.

Pakistan’s Transformation: Although, appears impossible, Pakistan can also change overnight. For a start, some million plus businesses owners of big and small enterprises must be retrained on fast track basis in simultaneous synchronization, with maximum force of free technologies, new tools new ideas, altering their thinking that their unlimited wealth may not continue for next generation. Simple, the next generation may not survive operationally, unless deeply re-trained and armed with special skills for very different and open global markets. The business community should no longer be content with low level quality production promoted by low level marketing strategies creating local Real-Estate-Rich-Rupee-Billionaire-Kings. Such kings are almost invisible on any throne on the world stage. The NextGen players of Family Businesses must takeover with powerful new global age skills and armed with new transformational thinking to quadruple economy. Furthermore, all the top national trade associations and chamber of commerce must be digitally streamlined to become global-friendly-platforms for global-exportability-options. Currently these advanced topics are extremely foreign to their leadership. Although keeping fears and trepidations aside, easily adaptable and all within reach of national mobilization programs can bring significant change across the nation within first year.

Billion Dollars Exports per Day: Pakistan can become a one billion dollar exports per day nation; but such revolutionary concepts can only become reality with revolutionary thoughts and real time actions.  Pakistan is a military nation and it is easy to mobilize the entire business population. Massive repeated global age strategies, formal tactical trainings and regimented drills and unlimited use of technology will make this uplift happen. Here are the key facts applicable today.

Fact: The world can easily absorb unlimited exportable ideas in unlimited vertical markets.
Fact: The well-designed innovative ideas are worthy of such quadrupled volumes.
Fact: The entrepreneurial and dormant talents of a nation are capable of such tasks.
Fact: The new global age skills, knowledge and execution are now the missing links

The Revolutionary Debates: Just silence on such topic is not good enough; now, only “revolutionary debates” on revolutionary thought leadership and methodologies will guarantee turnaround benefits. Firstly, apart from authoritative knowledge on global-age, the gatekeepers and national leadership must get acquainted as most of the above transformations are not “funding dependent” but rather “execution hungry” and secondly “National Mobilization of Entrepreneurialism” umbrella brings out the national hidden talent. Only senior level discussions and cross examinations will fix the issues and not the useless feasibility studies. The world is not stopping for any single nation. What a difference a year makes?

Exportability Options: The advanced level global-age digitization is a MUST and for bodies like major Chambers of Commerce across the nation plus top trade associations like PAMA, PPMA, PAAPAM, PRGMEA, SIMAP, REAP, PSGMEA, APTMA, APBUMA, PLGMEA must join the Think tank. Not to be confused with current outdated and disconnected websites, these programs and like the flying carpets for global trading. The FPPCI type formats are essential but good for last decade; today it’s all about either become a shiny magnet for global exports attracting investments or just remain as a rusty dull metal. Simple

The IMF Alliance: American help and the IMF alliances will help, very short while, and while some of these topics have been discussed casually all across the nation but now is the time for national leadership to engage with new blueprints and national mobilization of entrepreneurialism protocols. Pakistan is in a unique position and will remains as such for sure. But what’s needed is the mobilized deployment of national business community with regimented training and tactical battlefield practices on global age business models, all nicely marching towards prosperity. This is less about funding and all about execution.

FACT: The time to change has already passed, and the time to mobilize and revolutionize has started.

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Aftermath of US-Afghan Peace Talks

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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In Doha, the Capital of Qatar, an unprecedented meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement. This meeting has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

The Taliban, which has repeatedly refused to negotiate with the West-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, agreed to join the Peace Talks meeting on the condition that the attendees will do so in a personal capacity. For the first time since the United States started negotiating with the Taliban last year, two Afghan government officials were face-to-face with Taliban representatives at US-Afghan Peace Talks. The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

The peace talks represents huge success keeping in view the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth. Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. Thus, it was a momentous development for Afghans as the Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. This indicated a remarkable shift in Taliban’s perspective towards women as they said that women would protect their rights within an Islamic framework. This change in perception had promoted a democratic framework in Afghanistan which resulted in a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Moreover, the participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another notable step. It was exceptional to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the threat of war and feared violence by the Taliban, discussed and consequently asked them for the violence to end and hope for a peaceful Afghan future. The Doha framework was conducive to discuss concerns that both sides felt comfortable to share and presented a satisfactory and excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could clearly raise their thoughts patiently and in a friendly manner.

With productive peace talks between Taliban and Afghan representatives, a remarkable conclusion was reached after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centres, schools, hospitals, educational centres, commercial markets, water dams, and workstations. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan. The recent non-binding agreement and continued peace talks with the Taliban are suggestive of a few points.

First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire as they stated that they also feel guilty for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans but they also said that they simply might not have an alternative strategy. Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan signify the group’s desire to build a new positive image. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was tumbled by the U.S. government for sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists.

To portray their positive image, the Taliban are currently involved in a public relations campaign to demonstrate they are not as unfathomable as the international media has represented them. Sitting openly with Muslims, non-Muslims, and female journalists, as well as dining with them, paints a convincing picture. This could be another tactic to have an influence on Afghans in order to achieve their goals, such as US NATO troop’s withdrawal and establishment of an Islamic State also. The Taliban will not easily abandon their goal of establishing an Islamic Emirate despite continued diplomatic efforts. But in case of a cease-fire, they will certainly function as a political party that might hold major offices in the Afghan government, will also mould the current criminal code of Afghanistan because they consider it as mixture of Roman-Germanic and Islamic sources which is not acceptable to them at all, hence they will work towards adamantly implementing what they view as Islamic Shariah law.

Keeping in view the above mentioned discussion, some hope of peace has been achieved despite corruption, poor internal situation and after 18 years of chaos and instability in Afghanistan. But a country which has undergone four decades of war needs time and space to restructure and overcome such differences. The present version of Afghanistan is altogether different from the pre-9/11 Afghanistan. From women empowerment and youth participating in different fields to technology in villages by which people share their concerns and happiness, via social media, the ideological transition in Afghanistan is incredible. Somehow violence has been switched by better systems through discussions and a positive comprehensive political approach. In an ideological governed nation like Afghanistan, which is predominately tribal, it is fundamental that its own people bring change through talks that concrete the path towards peace and prosperity. The peace in Afghanistan holds significant importance for the neighbouring countries also, but the path toward sustainable peace can be laid only once a cease-fire is agreed and adhered to by all the parties.

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Pak-US Relations: The Way Forward

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Cooperation and Trust is the only way forward for Pakistan –US relations. Both countries have wasted a huge time experienced severe challenges since the relations become soars. Both nations have learned bitter lesson s during recent history and realized that both have suffered a lot due to the coldness of relations between the two countries. I believe it is never too late, always “There is a way if there is a will”. I think the time has reached to restore traditional trust and cooperation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to travel to the USA on 20 July. He will meet President Trump and senior administration during his stay in the USA. He is also accompanied by a powerful high-level delegation to make the decision at the spot instantly. However, Foreign Offices at Islamabad and State Department in Washington are working day and night to make this visit a turning point and historic success.  Expectations are high from both sides. The whole world has focused on this important visit and make their own opinion. Some of them are discussing the challenges, and others are focused on positive outcomes. I myself am very much optimistic.

It has been realized by the US administration that they cannot achieve strategic goals in this region without the instrumental role of Pakistan. And Pakistan has also suffered a lot, especially on the economic front without US support. It is in the best interests of the two nations to respect each other and cooperate with each other. The way out is trust and dialogue, but not the coercion and isolation.

Background

During the Cold War, Pakistan was a big supporter of the US and protected American interests in the region, including during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan was also a close ally in the “war on terror” after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Our history is full of success stories and excellent cooperation.

However, although Pakistan extends a cordial hand of friendship to the US whenever it needs support, the US always steps back when it no longer needs a Pakistani role on an issue, and relations decline. Pakistan has faced some of the toughest and strictest US-sanctions in history.

The two countries have always cooperated with each other on their common goals and interests, though the US has failed to value Pakistan’s interests and has kept on making demands. “Do more” has been the message of the US leadership in recent years, without understanding Pakistan’s capacity to comply, or its own interests. Our relations were transactional in nature and limited to assignment based. Once the project was completed, the relations were cooled down.

During the past few years, the US has blamed, coerced and threatened Pakistan. The US used all international forums to pressurize Pakistan like FATF, IMF, UNSC, etc. Extended hands of extreme friendship toward India, without considering the impact on Pakistan. The sacrifices of Pakistan being the ally of the US, especially casualties of 8000 Pakistani nations during the Afghan war and an estimated economic loss of US$ 250 billion, along with a gift of extremism, terrorism, gun culture, corruption, misgovernance, ethnic violence, and religious divide, etc. Of course, there exist some concerns on both sides, and some of these may be genuine, but some are based on misunderstandings only.

Afghan Situation

Currently, the major part of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Americans cannot walk freely and fearlessly in the streets of Kabul or any other big city. They are not safe except inside military camps. In practical terms, it is the Taliban who rule most of Afghanistan, not the US-supported government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The US is the superpower, spent US$ trillions and used all possible lethal weapons along with best-trained troops, could not win the Afghan War. The US was fully supported by NATO and its allies, utilized their resources and involved India, but still failed to achieve any success.

A situation has been reached where the US administration has decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Whether they can withdraw easily? A big question mark? Afghanis bordered with China, Iran, Central Asia, and Pakistan. I think only Pakistan can help peaceful and honored the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

There is a convergence of interests in resolving the Afghan issue. Pakistan and the US may cooperate with each other in a very positive way. But, after the assignment is over, what will be the behavior of the US with Pakistan, past experience was never satisfactory.

But we are optimistic that the Visits of Imran Khan may bring a different outcome. We may cooperate on the Afghan issue and hope the US will respect Pakistan’s strategic interests with China, Russia and in the region. The US may not create hurdles in smooth execution of CPEC and acquisition of defense needs from any country including China and Russia. The US may not allow India to use American support against Pakistan, American weapons and technologies against Pakistan, American intelligence against Pakistan.

The way forward

However, Pakistan is a peace-loving country and our record in the UN peacekeeping force is admirable. Our sacrifices during the “war on terror” go beyond any other country.

We promote peace, stability, and prosperity all around the globe. Our role in this region is vital. Pakistan’s geostrategic importance is well known to the US. Think-tanks, civil and military leaders in the US also understand Pakistan’s importance.

Pakistan wants good relations with all countries and would like to extend all possible support and cooperation for achieving the common goal of “Peace, Stability, and Prosperity” throughout the world. We desire to work closely with all countries – including the US.

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