A virulently anti-Shiite, Saudi-backed candidate for parliament in Pakistan’s July 25 election symbolizes the country’s effort to reconcile contradictory policy objectives in an all but impossible attempt to keep domestic forces and foreign allies happy.
Ramzan Mengal’s candidacy highlights Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to Islamic militants at a time that the country risks being blacklisted by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.
It also spotlights Pakistan’s tightrope act in balancing relations with Middle Eastern arch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran while trying to ensure security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), at US$50 billion plus the crown jewel of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and its single largest investment.
Finally, it puts on display risks involved in China’s backing of Pakistan’s selective support of militants as well as the Pakistani military’s strategy of trying to counter militancy by allowing some militants to enter the country’s mainstream politics.
An Islamic scholar, Mr. Mengal heads the Balochistan chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), a banned successor to Sipah-e-Sahaba, an earlier outlawed group responsible for the death of a large number of Shiites in the past three decades.
Pakistan last month removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Pakistani terrorism list, at the very moment that it was agreeing with the Financial Action Task Fore (FATF) on a plan to strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime that would keep it off the groups blacklist.
Military support for the participation of militants in elections 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.
Critics charge that integration is likely to fail. “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.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mr. Mengal was uninhibited about his relationship with Pakistan’s security forces. “No restrictions at all. I have police security during the election campaign. When I take out a rally in my area, I telephone the police and am given guards for it.,” he said. Mr. Mengal said of the 100 ASWJ operatives arrested in the last two years only five or six remained behind bars.
A frequent suspect in the killings of Hazara Shiites in Balochistan, Mr. Mengal led crowds in chanting “Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (Infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels),” but is now more cautious not to violate Pakistani laws on hate speech.
Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights reported in May that 509 Hazaras had been killed since 2013.
Many of those killings are laid at the doorstep of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violent group that split from Sipah/ASWJ but, according to a founding member of Sipah still has close ties to the mother organization. ASWJ denies that it is still linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
Suicide bombers killed 129 people this month in an attack on a rally of the newly founded Balochistan Awami Party, widely seen as a military-backed group seeking to counter Baloch nationalists. The Islamic State as well as the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Mr Mengal was the alleged conduit in the past two years for large amounts of Saudi money that poured into militant madrassas or religious seminaries that dot Balochistan, the Pakistani province of Balochistan.
The funds, despite the fact that it was not clear whether they were government or private monies, and if they were private whether the donations had been tacitly authorized, were widely seen as creating building blocks for a possible Saudi effort to destabilize Iran by fomenting ethnic unrest among the Baloch on the Iranian side of the Pakistani border.
A potential Saudi effort, possibly backed by the United States, would complicate an already difficult security situation in Balochistan, home to the port of Gwadar, which is a key node in China’s massive investment in Pakistan and has witnessed attacks on Chinese targets.
It would risk putting Saudi and Chinese interests at odds and upset Pakistan’s applecart, built on efforts to pacify Balochistan while not allowing its longstanding, close ties to the kingdom to strain relations with its Iranian neighbour.
The Pakistani military’s strategy of easing militants into the country’s mainstream politics is also not without risks for China that in contrast to its South Asian ally has adopted an iron fist in dealing with dissent of its own, particularly in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang where China has implemented extreme measures to counter Uyghur nationalism and militant Islam.
If successful, it would create an alternative approach to counterterrorism. If not, it would reflect poorly on China’s selective shielding from United Nations designation as a global terrorist of a prominent Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.
Pakistan’s Increasing Tilt towards China
In a recent interview with the Washington Post; Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked what kind of relationship he wanted from the US. He responded by pointing out Pakistan’s long and storied relationship with China as an example of a successful and mutually beneficial relationship. He explained how Pakistan’s relationship with China, unlike the US was not one-dimensional and built more on trade, respect and mutual cooperation. In doing so he in effect presented the underlying reasons why China is often termed as Pakistan’s ‘All-Weather’ friend.
In fact, the very notion of China being an ‘All-Weather’ friend is borne in contrast out of the US’s more fair-weather and sporadic approach to Pakistan. This approach has been evident in Pakistan’s long-standing complaints of how after helping the US repel the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces as the US unilaterally withdrew from the region, leaving behind a devastating humanitarian and political crisis. The last two decades’ war on terror for which Pakistan once again allied with the US is also following a similar blue-print, which the Prime Minister made clear was an example of history repeating itself. In defining his country’s most recent reservations against the US, he made it clear that Pakistan would no longer serve as a hired gun for the US, and desired a more equitable relationship based on mutual respect.
Considering how Pak-US relations have deteriorated over the last few years, the Prime Minister’s remarks come as little surprise to observers who have witnessed this uneasy partnership throughout its peaks and troughs. Yet, what’s striking is the fact that this is perhaps the first time that a Pakistani head of state has directly presented its relations with China as the ideal blue-print for which to measure the long and troubled history of Pak-US relations.
In contrast, the official narrative ascribed to the Pak-China bilateral framework, has stood out amongst diplomatic and policy-making circles due to the broad poetic license that has more recently been attributed to it. The oft-quoted phrase of how Pak-China Friendship is ‘higher than mountains, deeper than the ocean, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey’, has been repeatedly used by officials representing the highest levels of government, from both countries to emphasize the far-reaching significance of their bilateral relations.
This includes their significance both within a more localized context, as well as a broader more regional context as evident in the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor which promises an end to Pakistan’s development woes focuses instead on fostering peace and stability through economic growth and development. This is as opposed to the more security and strategically driven approach of the US, which has seen the region become increasingly violent and militarized. It is based on this difference that CPEC has been widely hailed as a viable solution to the relative instability and insecurity that has for years characterized the South Asian region.
However, over the past few months, Pak-China relations have themselves undergone an uncharacteristic period of friction and uncertainty. Interestingly, one of the major reasons behind this friction has been none other than the newly elected Prime Minister himself. As part of his anti-corruption campaign rhetoric leading up to the elections, he had promised greater over-sight and transparency with regard to Chinese investments under CPEC. This came at a time where growing trade and economic tensions between the US and China, had led to greater scrutiny and broad reservations against China’s rising influence the world over. Calls to re-evaluate China’s investments were echoed across countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kenya; with allusions to unsustainable loans and China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ doing the rounds amidst key influencers and policy-makers across the globe. Pakistan’s rising debt too was linked to CPEC projects by none other than the US secretary of State, who had ruled out the possibility of US loans being used to bail out Chinese bond-holders in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has since gone to great lengths to dispel such sentiments, as was evident in his official visit to Beijing last month. In all his statements, he has been careful in acknowledging the benefits of China’s strategic partnership with Pakistan, and has lauded China’s tremendous achievements in eradicating poverty; something that he wants to emulate as part of his own government’s policies. His recent statements in the above-mentioned interview too, are based in part on these same reasons.
Taken together, the PM’s statements thus present a clear and very public declaration that the Pakistani government is quite willingly choosing to side with China in the ongoing US-China economic rivalry. Unlike before where Pakistan had to carefully balance its strategic relationships between China and the US, China’s grand overtures and the US’s more inward focus on ‘America First’ have accelerated Pakistan’s gradual tilt towards China. With the US-China rivalry currently seeming far from any sort of resolution, Pakistan’s need to pick a side in favor of the other represents a clear indication of which side the government believes its long-terms interests lie with.
Sirimavo of Sri Lanka: Refocusing on World’s first Women Prime Minister
Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh*
In 1970s, there was a time when Sirimavo Bandaranaike caught the global attention and her premiership was one of the most momentous times in Sri Lanka’s political history. On 21 July, 1960, she became the first ever woman Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (formally known as Ceylon) and the world. Even today nearly half a century later, Sirimavo’s name is remembered among the thousands of Sri Lankans and among the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) supporters. Thus the Sri Lankan voters expectations about Sirimavo rose within no time after the unfortunate assassination of her husband S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1959.
In the summer of 1970, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) , the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and also the Communist Party (CP) was sweeping electorates in a general election by winning 115 seats out of 151. In essence, Sirimavo’s administration presented far-reaching constitutional and socio-economic reforms that were suitable for a small island nation. In fact Mrs. Bandaranaike handled the transfer of island nation becoming a republic under a new constitution tactfully. In this context, Dr. N.M. Perera, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Philip Gunawardena was some of the primary shapers of her administration. At that time, unlike her predecessors, the former premier showed great interest in developing cement, paper, steel and chemical industries. Despite promising signs under her leadership, uneven inequalities from 1948 to 1970 and economic stagnation created tensions within rural masses. Surprisingly, a coup in 1971 by the southern insurgents headed by Rohana Wijeweera, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) shattered the hopes of Bandaranaike government for a short time. Although coup was unsuccessful because of Sri Lanka’s military support to premier’s rule.
It is noteworthy to mention Sirimavo era solidified Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in the coming decades, which set the stage for the island to increase bilateral ties with India and China. In fact, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a trustworthy friend of Mrs. Bandaranaike. This period also saw the closest bilateral relations between the neighbouring countries. Especially, Mrs. Bandaranaike was a giant among Non-Alignment leaders. In the summer of 1976 at the fifth Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall(BMICH) in Colombo, Mrs. Bandaranaike stated, “The non-aligned countries should fight against injustice, intolerance, inequality, old concept of empire and intervention.”
On the domestic political scenario, the opposition leader J.R. Jayewardene and his deputy Ranasinghe Premadasa had been outspoken critics of Sirimavo Bandaranaike policies. When she lost 1977 general elections, it was extremely a difficult situation for Mrs. Bandaranaike and for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) coalition partners who had developed a remarkable sense for socialist political culture within the multicultural society in Sri Lanka. Seven years later Mrs. Bandaranaike had lost her civic rights, the party hierarchy nominated veteran SLFP stalwart Hector Kobbekaduwa for the forthcoming referendum. The Referendum results did not reflect the true situation. Then while the atmosphere began to change in the island country after the eruption of ethnic conflict and signing of the Indo-Lanka accord. This scenario caused strong anti-United National Party (UNP) regime change feeling. In a closely fought presidential election in 1988, the SLFP leader Mrs. Bandaranaike lost to UNP presidential candidate Mr. Premadasa. There were no immediate solutions to the crisis in Sri Lanka under Premadasa’s presidency. Hence in the South, due to the JVP uprising and the Tamil tiger (LTTE) attacks in Northern and Eastern provinces, conditions inside the Island nation was going from bad to worse.
At the same time, the crisis in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to surface and the party was divided into several wings. Thus, the time had come for SLFP party unity for doing away with the seventeen years United National Party (UNP) rule. Mrs. Bandaranaike was convinced that it was time for a new generation of party leadership. She opened the corridors of political power to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Maithripala Sirisena who later became presidents of Sri Lanka. In late years, Mrs. Bandaranaike was a prime minister for a short time from when her daughter Mrs. Kumaratunga was president. On the Foreign Policy front she reworked strong bilateral ties with India and China and her policies remained important for Non Aligned Movement (NAM) nations and for India and China ties with Sri Lanka. After more than fifty years of service to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), to the nation many of the Sri Lankan’s were finding it hard to come to terms with Sirimavo’s sudden death on 10th October, 2000.Late premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s pragmatic policies mattered very much for the South Asian island nation, the region and to the world at large.
* Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.
Indian Human Rights violation in Kashmir
In International conflict management, the models and approaches to solve the deep-rooted issue are vital and applicable but these models became fragile if any one of the belligerent states lacks the intent to solve any tangible solution. India rigid stance of avoiding any Peace Talks on Kashmir issue is the main irritant between rivalries which derails the conflict resolution. It is far important for rivalries to elucidate the dispute to move ahead. Because it is ultimate truth that all the conflict and crises have an alternate way of tenacity.
In South Asian framework, Indian strategic ambitions are the main stumbling block in the way of Kashmir Resolution. While in the Global framework, major powers like Russia and USA military and then ideological interests compels states not to play any significant role for the resolution of Kashmir conflict.
Kashmiri Freedom Movement started from 1931 and still in 2018 it is constantly being exploited in the hands of Indian aggressive leaders. From 87 years, Indian barbarism is not a top-secret. Indian wanted to sideline and suppress the Kashmir issue in the prism of their national interests but the issue will remain alive with determined efforts of the Kashmiri and Pakistani people, human right activists, political and military leaders. The issue of Jammu and Kashmir must be resolved as per aspirations of Kashmiris.
Pakistanis and Kashmiris across the world chronicled their protest against Indian brutality and illegitimate occupation in Kashmir. Struggle for freedom of Kashmiri people will one day succeed by the grace of Almighty Allah. Each day is like a black day until the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir with the consent of Kashmiri people.
There are many pragmatic choices for the resolution of Kashmir issue but the real dilemma is that India is not ready to come on Table for Peace talks due to their hegemonic ambitions. Recent Talks at UNGA 73rd session was also negated by Indian. As a rational nuclear state, they should realize that Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint. Both the nuclear states should talk constructively and negotiations are the only way forward in which mutual national interests must be considered.
In 1948, it was India who went to United Nations and then it was decided unanimously a plebiscite in Kashmir. It is the right of every Kashmiri to decide his destiny indigenously. As there are no law enforcement agencies of international organizations to implement its resolution but the role of P-5 states can facilitate for resolution. Till now no such role is played by them but the importance of UN forum cannot be negated as states like Pakistan can raise their voices at international level against Human Rights violations.
The Indian occupational forces under the cover of Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) and other black laws frequently involve in religious cleansing of Muslims. After the martyrdom of Burhan Wani in 2016 Indian forces started using most dangerous weapons of pellet firing shotgun. Where are Human Rights Law against the killing of innocent Kashmiris? The lives of Kashmiris are as important the people killed in 9/11, London attacks, in Mumbai attack or a single Indian soldier. The US fought the war on terror and still engage in most complex war but What about Terror of India in Kashmir. Kashmir needs not to be forgotten at all. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo asked Pakistan to abandon terrorist attacks into India but from Where Kashmiri demand Freedom. The US needs to let her interest go, at least for once, to settle the Kashmir issue. For Pakistan, it is not just a matter of territorial importance but relates to the lives of Kashmiri people who are suffering at the hands of India’s state terrorism.
Modi government is supporting to have Direct Talks with the Taliban, but when it is about Kashmir, they became silent. There is a dire need for the Indian government to review their mindless Kashmir policy. Kashmiri people must be given the right of plebiscite to decide them their destiny. Pakistan’s foreign policy is on right direction that the tools of diplomacy need to be improved for better results and peace process is the only way forward.
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