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The threat to national security: Emergency clamped in Maldives

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The president of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen’s has declared a state of emergency, citing a threat to citizens’ safety and national security, following widespread international condemnation and concerns about its impact on the country’s crucial tourism industry, the government said. Maldives has declared State of Emergency for 30 days as per Article 253 of the Constitution citing threat to national security. The government said a curfew would not be imposed.

The state of emergency was limited to 30 days only and Abdulla Yameen’s decree, which came into effect at midday local time (0700 GMT), suspends all basic rights and gives the security forces sweeping powers to arrest suspects before a major anti-government rally planned later this week. Seven articles of the constitution have been suspended, including those guaranteeing citizens of the Indian Ocean island nation the rights of assembly, free expression, freedom from arbitrary detention and freedom of movement.

Under the emergency regulations, police are allowed to enter and search homes without a warrant, and the rights to assemble peacefully and travel between the many islands of the archipelago nation were suspended. Soldiers in riot gear surrounded the parliament building in the capital Male on Sunday soon after the opposition petitioned parliament to remove the South Asian island’s attorney-general and its chief prosecutor.

The Maldives has suffered acute political instability for several years, but a new cycle of chaos and unrest appears to be intensifying.  “President Yameen has declared state of emergency to ensure the safety and security of every citizen,” his spokesman Muaz Ali tweeted. In a statement to the nation, Yameen, who took power in a contested election in 2013, said there were groups planning to use weapons and explosives.  “My beloved citizens, I assure you, that in enforcing this decree, the rights and freedoms stated in the constitution will only be restricted within the limits of … the constitution, and only to the extent strictly required by the situation,” Yameen said.

The move comes at a time of heightened tensions following an explosion on Yameen’s speedboat on 28 September that wounded his wife and two others. Yameen was unharmed in the blast, and the FBI has said there is no evidence it was caused by a bomb. But the authorities say it was an attempt on his life. Yameen arrested the vice-president, Ahmed Adeeb, on 24 October after accusing him of “high treason” and linking him to the boat blast.

Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor made the emergency announcement on Monday on state television, and a statement attributed to President Abdulla Yameen was posted on the ministry of foreign affairs website. “The government of Maldives wishes to also assure all Maldivians and the international community that the safety of all Maldivians and foreigners living in and visiting the Maldives will be ensured,” the statement said.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said it had found a remote-controlled bomb near the president’s official residence and safely defused it. Officials on Wednesday said several discoveries of arms and explosives had been made, though the whereabouts of other weapons and ammunition missing from state armouries remained unknown.

Further searches were under way on Wednesday evening, with local media reporting that at least one suspected explosive device had been found. “The purpose of today’s announcement is to send a clear message. Those who seek to cause harm and unrest through violence – whether their aims are political, religious or otherwise – have no place in our country. We are a young, vibrant democracy and will do all we can to uphold those values,” said Maumoon.

The Maldives plunged into political turmoil last week after the country’s top court threw out a “terrorism” conviction against its former president Mohamed Nasheed, and ordered the release of other jailed opposition politicians. The ruling dealt a blow to Yameen with critics accusing him of corruption, misrule, and rights abuses. He denies the allegations. The government does not believe that the Supreme Court ruling to release the political prisoners can be enforced

The government declared the state emergency after refusing on Monday to implement a ruling that has led to a wave of protests in the capital, Malé, with angry clashes between police and demonstrators. The president, Abdulla Yameen, has responded by dispatching soldiers to surround the parliament building, preventing MPs from meeting. He also called a noisy rally of his supporters.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said declaring the state of emergency in the first place was political, designed to stop a rally planned for last Friday demanding the release of the party’s leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed. “It appears that Yameen is willing to make up threats about the nation’s security in order to settle political scores,” the party said in a statement, referring to the president. “Yameen’s increasingly erratic, paranoid and dangerous behavior is damaging the country and proves he is unfit to be president. He has failed and should step down.”

The Supreme Court ordered Yameen on Thursday to free nine dissidents, ruling that their trials were politically motivated and flawed. The court also called on the president to reinstate opposition MPs. But the government refused to implement it and declared the emergency.

The Maldives Supreme Court has hit back at President Abdulla Yameen’s refusal to free his jailed opponents amid an escalating crisis that saw security forces seal off the country’s parliament and arrest two opposition lawmakers on Sunday.   Judges of the top court said there should be “no legal barrier” to releasing the nine people, including the island nation’s exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed, whose terrorism and corruption convictions it overturned last week.

Their statement came after Attorney-General Mohamed Anil raised concerns about freeing people convicted of “terrorism, bomb attacks, corruption, embezzlement and fraud”.

The top court’s ruling last week has plunged the Maldives into political turmoil and dealt a major blow to Yameen, who critics accuse of corruption, misrule and rights abuses.

Yameen denies the allegations.

The sudden about face by the Supreme Court, which sided with Yameen in the past, and the widespread international support for its verdict puts unprecedented pressure on the president to free his opponents ahead of a presidential election later this year.

The government accused the Supreme Court of trying to oust the president, a claim judges did not respond to in their statement late on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the attorney general, in a televised appearance flanked by the chiefs of the army and the police, said the government has received news of an imminent order by the Supreme Court to impeach Yameen. “I have informed all law enforcement agencies they must not obey such an illegal order,” Mohamed Anil said.  Ahmed Shiyam, the army chief, said the security forces would follow the attorney-general’s advice and “will not wait and watch as the Maldives descends into crisis”.

The opposition called Anil’s order to the security forces “unconstitutional, highly illegal, and dangerous” and petitioned parliament to oust Anil, as well as the country’s chief prosecutor. Shortly afterwards, soldiers surrounded the parliament building and sealed it off.

The island nation emerged a decade ago from a long spell of 30 years of authoritarian rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His successor Mohamed Nasheed, elected in 2008, presided over a brief flourishing of multiparty democracy before being controversially ousted five years later.

Since then Yameen has stifled dissent and imprisoned members of the opposition. Rights groups have accused Yameen of using new laws and criminal cases to silence critics and to neutralise his opponents.  On Monday the government made clear it had no intention of respecting the supreme court’s decision. The legal affairs minister, Azima Shakoor, said the ruling was not enforceable, adding that there were numerous challenges to freeing prisoners.

Yameen’s main rival, Nasheed, described events taking place in the country as “tantamount to a coup”. He tweeted that Yameen should resign and said the security services “must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people”.

Nasheed is in Sri Lanka. He has been living in the UK since 2016 after being given asylum when he travelled there on medical leave from prison.

In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the Supreme Court also reinstated 12 MPs who switched allegiance to the opposition. When they return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which could result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president. On Friday Nasheed said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency this year. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted under Maldives’ anti-terror laws. The trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups

Dunya Maumoon, the foreign minister, described the measures as “precautionary action by the government in light of several security threats that have emerged in the last week”. “As a government we have a responsibility to our citizens to ensure they can go about their daily lives in peace and security. We are determined to root out a small minority who seem intent on causing damage to people and property,” she said. On Wednesday the streets of Malé, the capital, were quiet, but soldiers had cordoned off water and power plants. Residents said raids were continuing.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), whose leader Mohamed Nasheed is in jail following his conviction earlier this year under anti-terror laws, has organised the protest. Nasheed left power in 2012 amid protests, forced out by what his supporters claim was a coup. Nasheed called on the international community to consider introducing sanctions against the current government. He also appealed to tourists travelling to the Maldives to reconsider their views on the popular holiday destination. “It is good and necessary to have a relaxing holiday but important they understand what is happening here too,” he said.

The incarceration of Nasheed, who was convicted on charges of using the military to arrest a senior judge when in office, has been severely criticised by the UN and international rights groups.

The British high commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, James Dauris, said he was “most concerned by restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms in the Maldives from today”. Thoriq Hamid, from the NGO Transparency Maldives, said his organisation was “extremely … concerned that the situation has escalated to this point”. The Australian government last week told its citizens to exercise a “high degree of caution” while travelling to Malé, “due to the possibility of civil unrest and the threat of terrorist attacks”.

The MDP rally was aimed at pressuring Yameen to release Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the country and an internationally recognised climate change campaigner. Eva Abdulla, an MDP member of parliament, said the rally would proceed as planned. “We saw this coming. Everything has been leading up to this. This is the last straw – the only straw – left for Yameen. He has totally lost grip on governance. He doesn’t have the public with him and any control is based on fear and intimidation,” she said.

There are growing fears of Islamic extremism in the Maldives, fuelled in part by the political instability since the departure from power of autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008.The government has put him under house arrest. The government has warned media outlets their licences will be suspended “if broadcasts threaten national security”.

The justification for the state of emergency on the basis of a security threat could be dangerous, Abdulla, the MDP parliamentarian, said. “My worry is we are a hotbed for jihadi recruitment at the moment so to use this to get at political opponents is irresponsible in the extreme. They could be turning a blind eye to the real problem and endangering us all as a result.”

Junayd Mohamed, a journalist with the Maldives Independent, told Al Jazeera he also heard reports that riot police and military officials were inside the court. He said they set up barricades to block off the area, but protesters were rallying outside.  “Hundreds of people [are] gathered outside who are calling on the security forces to arrest President Yameen and protect the Supreme Court,” Mohamed said.

Opposition members of parliament urged foreign intervention after the government ignored the Supreme Court ruling. The opposition now has a majority in the 85-member house as the court ruling also reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year. But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after spending months in exile.

In a resolution signed in the capital Male on Sunday, opposition MPs called on the international community “to impress upon the government of Maldives the need to respect the rule of law, and implement last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that ordered the release of political leaders and the reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs”.  They also called for “all necessary measures … to hold government officials accountable for violations of national and international law”.  Tensions “could escalate to civil unrest and incite violence across the country”, they warned.

The United Nations, European Union, and several foreign governments – including India, the USA and UK – have urged Yameen to comply with the Supreme Court’s order.   The government has accused the court of trying to oust the president, a claim judges have not responded to. The United States urged government restraint on Monday. “The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching,” the White House National Security Council said in a Twitter post.

Rights group Amnesty International denounced the government’s “appalling track-record of suppressing freedom of expression and any form of opposition”. “This emergency cannot become a licence for further repression,” Omar Waraich, the group’s deputy South Asia director, said on Twitter.

The opposition now has a majority in the 85-member house as the Supreme Court ruling also reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year. But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after spending months in exile. Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were detained on charges of bribery, a police spokesman told Al Jazeera.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an opposition parliamentarian, condemned their arrest in a statement.  “We call on the police to release the MPs immediately, and to stop following unlawful orders, to stop obstructing the lawful mandate of parliamentarians,” Solih said.  “In a desperate attempt to cling onto power, President Yameen has illegally overrun the state. His attorney-general has illegally assumed the powers of the apex court, while the military has overrun the legislature,” he added.

On Sunday night, hundreds of flag-waving opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital Male calling on the government to abide by the court ruling.

Meanwhile, the official who heads the parliament’s secretariat resigned after the speaker, a Yameen ally, cancelled the opening of the parliament, scheduled for Tuesday, over unspecified “security concerns”.  “I have stepped down,” Ahmed Mohamed told Al Jazeera on Sunday, without offering further details. The heads of the Maldives’ main high-security prison and the elections commission have also quit in recent days.

Nasheed, speaking to a private television channel from neighbouring Sri Lanka on Sunday, called for protests and urged rank-and-file members of the security forces to arrest the attorney-general as well as the chiefs of the army and police.

Observation

Maldives is a tourist’s paradise. It is not clear how much of an impact the state of emergency has had on the tourism industry in the Maldives, which is best known for its luxury tourist resorts.

The US State Department on Tuesday also welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency. Washington had been critical of its imposition, and has called for an end to politically motivated prosecutions and detentions.

Known for its luxury tourist resorts, Maldives has suffered from weak government institutions and a divided political system dominated. Yameen is the half-brother of Gayoom. The former president is now a vocal critic of Yameen. Over the weekend, Gayoom tweeted: “A band of thugs armed with knives drove by my residence several times after midnight last night shouting abuse at the top of their voice.” He added: “I wonder who would have sent these unruly thugs?”

The Maldives has had a difficult transition to democracy since holding its first multiparty election in 2008. The state of emergency has been declared in Maldives amid a deepening political crisis sparked by a Supreme Court ruling that called for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians.

President Yameen has been in office since 2013. He had been set to run for re-election this year almost unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled. Lawmakers voted Vice President Ahmed Adeeb out of office using the regulations. Authorities suspect that Adeeb was behind the alleged attempts on Gayoom’s life, and he has been arrested and detained. Gayoom was not hurt in the September 28 blast aboard his boat, but his wife, an aide and a bodyguard was injured.

The Maldives’ economy has faltered in recent years and the country suffers from overcrowding, high unemployment rates and substance abuse. The declaration of a state of emergency comes amid a bitter power struggle between the president and Adeeb, with factions within the police and army supporting different political players. The dispute has weakened the government at a time of growing popular anger over the continuing detention of Nasheed and economic problems.

Police has started investigations into Supreme Court judges and officials since the ruling, and have said that they now plan to question Gayoom in a separate case. On Monday, the health minister, Hussain Rasheed Ahmed, quit in protest against the government’s attitude towards its highest court.

The continuing political instability in the Maldives is likely to damage its vital tourist trade, a key employer and earner of foreign exchange. Every year more than a million tourists visit the Maldives, an almost exclusively Sunni Muslim nation composed of 1,192 small coral islands, with a population of 340,000.

White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, shallow lagoons and secluded islets draw holidaymakers from all over the developed world as well as celebrities seeking privacy. Officials said there was no threat to resort security and the Maldives remained a safe destination for international visitors.

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South Asia

What to do with Pakistani militant Hafez Saeed? Pakistan and China grope for ambiguity

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Recent remarks by several senior Pakistani officials suggest that Pakistan and China are groping with how to deal with globally designated Pakistani militant Hafez Saeed as the South Asian nation gears up for elections expected in July and risks being next month put on an international terrorism finance and money laundering watchlist.

The Pakistani-Chinese dilemma stems from a China-backed Pakistani refusal to fully implement designations of Hafez Saeed by the United Nations Security Council and the US Treasury.

The United States has put a $10 million bounty on the head of Mr. Saeed, who is believed to lead the outlawed militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as well as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an alleged LeT front, and is suspected of being the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed.

Pakistan has repeatedly put Mr. Saaed under house arrest, only to release him on court orders that asserted that there was insufficient evidence against him. The government has half-heartedly sought to seize Jamaat-ud-Dawa assets and prevent it from collecting donations through its charity arm, Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation.

Pakistan’s election commission has so far refused to register a political party established by Jamaat-ud-Dawa in advance of the elections. The refusal would not prevent party members from running as independents.

To reduce focus on Mr. Saaed, a senior aide to Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had asked Mr. Abbasi during a meeting on the side lines of last month’s Boao Forum to explore relocating Mr. Saaed to a Middle Eastern country.

“At a 35-minute meeting, at least 10 minutes of the discussion dealt with Saeed. The Chinese President was keen on pressing the Prime Minister to find an early solution to keep Saeed away from the limelight,” The Hindu quoted the aide as saying.

In separate remarks, Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for Pakistan’s intelligence service, Inter Services Intelligence, told Indian Express that “anything (Mr. Saeed) does, other than violence, is good. There is a process in Pakistan for anyone to participate in politics. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has its rules and laws. If he (Mr. Saeed) fulfils all those requirements that is for the ECP to decide.”

The divergent proposals to either remove Mr. Saeed from the limelight or mainstream him by integrating him into the political process are unlikely to satisfy either the United Nations or the United States.

They are also unlikely to prevent the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog that monitors the funding of political violence and money laundering, from next month putting Pakistan on its watchlist.

The FATF action could negatively affect the Pakistan economy. Pakistan risks downgrading by multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as well as by international credit rating agencies Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch.

Mr. Xi’s suggestion to Mr. Abbasi reflects Chinese ambivalence towards those Pakistani militants that both Islamabad and Beijing see as useful tools to keep India off balance. China protected Mr. Saeed from UN designation prior to the Mumbai attacks and has since prevented another Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, from being designated by the Security Council.

At the same time, China refrained in February from shielding Pakistan from censorship by FATF.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson nonetheless argued at the time that “in recent years, Pakistan has made important progress in actively strengthening financial regulations to combat terror financing… China highly recognises that and hopes all relevant parties of the international community could arrive at an objective and fair conclusion on that.”

Implementing Mr. Xi’s proposal to remove Mr. Saeed from the limelight is easier said than done. Its hard to see what Middle Eastern nation would risk international criticism by granting Mr. Saeed asylum without tacit approval by the United States and/or the United Nations. By the same token, its unlikely that either would agree to the scheme.

Similarly, neither the UN nor the United States are likely to be persuaded by a belief within the Pakistani military that the best way of blunting militancy that has over the decades been woven into the fabric of significant segments of the armed forces, intelligence and society is by mainstreaming militants and integrating them into the political process.

Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked up a storm when he earlier this month appeared to confirm the pervasiveness of militancy by suggesting that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks had been supported by Pakistan.

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial? It’s unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it. We could have already been at seven per cent growth (in GDP), but we are not,” Mr. Sharif said.

The remarks by the Pakistani officials suggest that both Pakistan and China are attempting to square circles.

Pakistan needs to be seen as cracking down on militancy while considering the domestic influence of ultra-conservative religious groups as well as seemingly misguided beliefs that support for anti-Indian militants serves its purpose.

For its part, China’s justification of its hardhanded crackdown in the north-western province of Xinjiang as a bid to counter jihadism and nationalism among, Uighurs, a Turkic people, is weakened by its reluctance to be equally firm in countering militants in Pakistan.

The problem for both countries is that 1 + 1 = 2, whichever way one looks at it.

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How the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal affects India

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini & Sandeep Sachdeva*

While India was guarded in it’s response to the withdrawal of US from the Iran Nuclear Deal, it surely realizes the implications of the US withdrawal. Iran is India’s third largest source of crude oil (after Iraq and Saudi Arabia) . Between April 2017 and January 2018, New Delhi imported well over 18 million tonnes of crude oil.

New Delhi has also invested in the development of the Chabahar Port Project, which will provide India, access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This project is extremely important for India, since it will help in bypassing Pakistan, which has continuously kept India out of the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). During Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Iran visit in May 2016, India had signed an agreement, committing 500 Million USD for the development of Chabahar. During Modi’s visit,  a trilateral transport and transit partnership was also signed between India, Afghanistan and Iran.

In February 2018, during Iranian President Rouhani’s visit  to India, a lease agreement was signed between India and Iran. The lease agreement gave operational control of Phase 1 of Chabahar Port (Shahid Beheshti port) to India. The Modi, Hassan Rouhani Joint statement mentioned the need for making Chabahar part of INSTC project and PM Modi further emphasised that “We will support the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link, so that Chabahar gateway’s potential could be fully utilised.”

Here it would be pertinent to point out, that to enhance connectivity with Afghanistan, India has also set up an India Afghan Air Corridor, two flights are currently operational; one connecting Mumbai with Kabul, and another which connects Delhi with Kabul.

Indian hopes

For the time being, New Delhi has rested its hopes on the fact, that European countries are trying to keep the deal intact, and US will also not impose sanctions on allies, including India, for engaging with Iran. Defence Secretary James Mattis in a Congressional hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had categorically stated,  that the US should be careful with regard to imposing sanctions against allies, under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Mattis said, that allies like India should be provided a national security waiver, against imposition of sanctions for the purchase of S-400 air defence missile system from Russia.

A number of US Congressmen and Senators too have echoed Mattis’ views saying that India is valuable ally and should be exempted from sanctions

What India needs to be cautious about

While India does have time to react to the sanctions re-imposed, and the fact that European countries are keen to keep the deal alive are important. Recent statements by the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton saying that Europe will not be immune from sanctions, and would ultimately fall in line needs to be closely watched.

Said Bolton in an interview with ABC’sThis Week:“Europeans are going to face the effective US sanctions — already are, really — because much of what they would like to sell to Iran involves US technology, for which the licenses will not be available.”

Bolton also stated, that these countries will ultimately realise that it is in their interest to go along with the US.

Earlier US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell advised Germany to re-consider business ties with Iran:‘German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately”.

New Delhi needs to strike a balancing act between Iran and US, but it also needs to have a clear plan of action to deal with US sanctions against Iran. In the past few years, India has successfully managed to balance relations between Iran and US, and Iran and Israel. Given the recent sanctions and the hawkish approach of the Trump Administration, it may be tough.

China factor

In the meanwhile, New Delhi would be well advised to follow closely China’s reaction to the withdrawal of US from JCPOA. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited three important countries Russia, China and Europe to save the JCPOA. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “it was hard-earned  deal, and China will take an objective, fair and responsible attitude, keep communication and cooperation with all parties concerned, and continue to work to maintain the deal”.

The China factor doesn’t end here for India. Off late, ties between India and China have witnessed an improvement, during PM Modi’s recent China visit, it was decided. that both countries will undertake a joint project in Afghanistan. In recent months, there seem to be some indicators of lowering of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad as well.  Could, Beijing get New Delhi and Islamabad to discuss the issue of  transit trade to Afghanistan?  An opinion piece, ‘Pakistan’s military reaches out to India’, published in RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) discusses the willingness of Pakistan to discuss this issue, but India had turned down the offer in October 2017. Maybe New Delhi, could explore this option, and Beijing could support such an effort.

Conclusion

In conclusion, New Delhi will need to handle the current situation with great dexterity, while US is an important strategic partner, India has also got an opportunity to send an unequivocal message to Washington, that its own interests are paramount, and it will not blindly follow any one camp. In spite of all the challenges and upheavals likely to result from Trump’s decision, this also provides a golden opportunity for re-shaping the narrative within South Asia.

*Sandeep Sachdeva, Independent Foreign Policy Analyst

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Ex-Pakistani Prime Minister puts Pakistani military and China on the spot

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked up a storm when he earlier this month seemingly admitted that Pakistan had supported militants who attacked multiple targets in Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

Mr. Sharif’s admission, which he has since tried to walk back, put a finger on Pakistan’s controversial policy of selective support of militant groups at a sensitive time. Pakistan is gearing up for elections that would secure its third consecutive handover of civilian political power.

Mr. Sharif’s remarks, moreover, stirred up a hornet’s nest because Pakistan is likely to next month be put on a watch list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog that monitors the funding of political violence and money laundering worldwide.

The remarks also put China in a difficult position. China has been pressuring Pakistan to crack down on militants, particularly in the troubled province of Balochistan, the crown jewel in its Belt and Road-related $50 billion plus infrastructure investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Yet, at the same time, China has at Pakistan’s behest prevented the United Nations Security Council from declaring Masood Azhar, believed to have been responsible for an attack in 2016 on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station, as a globally designated terrorist.

The militants, dressed in Indian military uniforms fought a 14-hour battle against Indian security forces that only ended when the last attacker was killed. Mr. Azhar was briefly detained after the attack and has since gone underground.

Mr. Sharif’s made his remarks as China was building up its military infrastructure in Pakistan. The build-up is occurring against the backdrop of Pakistan risking being involuntarily sucked into potential attempts to destabilize Iran if Saudi Arabia/and or the United States were to use Balochistan as a staging ground.

In line with a standard practice in Pakistan that has repeatedly seen groups that are outlawed resurrecting themselves under new names, Lashkar-e-Taibe (LeT), the banned group believed to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be an LeT front, are  rebranding under a new name and as a political party, Milli Muslim League, that would compete in the forthcoming election.

The League is headed by Hafez Saaed, a former LeT leader, who was last year released from house arrest despite having been declared a designated global terrorist by the Security Council and the US Treasury, which put a $10 billion bounty on his head. China vetoed Mr. Saeed’s designation by the UN prior to the Mumbai attacks.

Activists, even though the party was last month designated by the US Treasury, are likely to run as independents in the election if the government maintains its rejection of the party’s registration.

So are operatives of Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, a front for Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a banned, virulently anti-Shiite group that long enjoyed support from Saudi Arabia and operates multiple militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that have witnessed an injection of funds from the kingdom in the last two years.

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial? It’s absolutely unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it. We could have already been at seven per cent growth (in GDP), but we are not,” Mr. Sharif said, referring to stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.

Taking Mr. Sharif’s comments a step further, prominent journalist and author Ahmed Rashid asserted that “the deep state of Pakistan is supporting the banned outfits as it has done in the past. This game should be stopped, and the government should show its commitment and sincerity in disarming these groups and not to allow them to enter into politics.”

Former Pakistani strongman General Pervez Musharraf, in an apparent manifestation of links between the circles close to the military and hardliners, said prior to the designation by the US announced that he was discussing an alliance with Mr. Saeed’s league.

Speaking on Pakistani television, Mr. Musharraf pronounced himself “the greatest supporter of LeT… Because I have always been in favour of action in Kashmir and I have always been in favour of pressuring the Indian army in Kashmir,” Mr. Musharraf said.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence service are believed to favour integration of militants into the political process as a way of reducing violence and militancy in a country in which religious ultra-conservatism and intolerance has been woven into the fabric of branches of the state and significant segments of society.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail in Pakistan. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Chinese ambiguity about Pakistani policy goes beyond shielding Mr. Azhar from being designated. A Chinese-Pakistani draft plan last year identified as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

Security has since improved substantially in significant parts of Pakistan. The question, however, is whether integration of militants into the political process would stabilize Pakistani politics in the absence of a concerted effort to counter mounting ultra-conservative religious fervour in the country. It may be too early to judge, but so far the answer has to be no.

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