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Un-shrouding the Pashtun tahaffuz (protection) movement (PTM)

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The PTM emerged on Pakistan’s public scene as a non-violent rights movement. It, initially, just wanted that `extrajudicial’ killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a Pusthun be probed. With invisible funds and support, internal and external, it began to hold rallies, contact senators, and academia, including elite Lahore University of Management. Indian media is in the forefront, highlighting `plight’ of the hapless Pushtuns and predatory Pakistan army.

Look at the PTM’s demands, as published by Indian magazine The Quint dated June 28, 2018 (What does Pushtun Tahafuz Movement in Pakistan want?):

– Judicial enquiry to set up for [Naqeebullah] Mehsud’s killing, allegedly in an extrajudicial police encounter.

-Stop racial profiling of the Pushtuns in the country, like humiliating them at checkpoints or harassing them in the name of search operations.

-To release the missing persons or produce them before court of law, if they have allegedly committed a crime.

-The Army must not abduct or open fire on innocents in the tribal areas, or use violence or collective punishments against entire villages and tribes.

-Removal of the entire landmine in the tribal areas, that the protesters claimed have killed 35 people including many children since 2009.” (mark the undertone of highlighted words).

Government’s view: According to media reports, the government agrees to most of the PTM’s demands. But, it can’t provide an opportunity to terrorists who fled to Afghanistan to walk back. Pakistan Army took a number of steps to meet the PTMs demands (like reduction of check posts).

 Senior military officers took off veneer of rank to talk to PTM leaders, eye-ball-to-eye-ball.  The PTM demands were well reflected in media, including Herald.

Off-course over-ebullient behavior: The PTM is more fond of talking to international media, particularly Afghan diaspora, than Pakistan’s `toothless’ governments. During the PTM’s meetings abroad, they proudly hoist Afghan national flag. It erupted in ruckus during a London meeting.  

A solidarity event (June 23, 2018), held in Britain, was attended by  Mr. Falak Naz Khan Yousafzai, Mr Yousaf Ali Khan, Mr. Zahid Mohmand (aka Faiq Khan), besides Ziauddin Yousafzai (father of  Malala Yousafzai)), Ziauddin Yousafzai.  Regrettably, this event focused less on PTM’s demands and more on `Pakistan’s complicity with Taliban’. Malala’s father alleged, “Pakistan army and intelligence agencies knew that Fazalullah was a terrorist who continued to operate radio station in Swat’.

We respect Malala’s courage. But, his father’s tirade against Pakistan army is not understood.  Maybe, it would be better if the PTM remains focused on its demands.

Anti-Pak Army/ISI sentiments: In its muffled resentment, the PTM even accused Pak army of harassing women, and even of even rapes (. Investigations by women rights bodies did not coirm the allegation. The PTM got away by pleading that honour code restraints the Pashtun women from speaking out (Taha Siddiqui,  Pakistan’s Pashtun Women Are Breaking Silence On Army’s Abuse, The Quint January 30, 2019).

Michael Kugelman, Woodrow Wilson Centre notes ‘the movement’s rhetoric, particularly in more recent weeks, has been unabashedly hostile toward the military. At one rally, the PTM’s top leader, Manzoor Pashteen, identified “GHQ”—a reference to the military’s general headquarters—as “the place that destroyed us.” Protesters also chant about the “uniform” backing terrorism. At the April 22 protest, Pashteen referred to military generals as “traitors.” And according to one of the few Pakistani media accounts of the April 22 protest, at least one speaker alleged that the military was complicit in a horrific terrorist attack, claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, on an Army-run school, which was populated with the children of soldiers, in Peshawar back in December 2014. Such witheringly anti-military rhetoric, according to the PTM’s harshest critics, exemplifies how the movement has lost its appeal and descended into ethnic-power politics while becoming “a political party in all but name.” More broadly, it angers many others in Pakistan who venerate the military and regard such vociferous criticism as wholly unjustifiable.

The PTM does not espouse or engage in violence; Pashteen has specifically advised protesters to clasp their hands behind their backs if subjected to violent reprisals. Still, its heated rhetoric against the military, rooted in deep-seated, long-standing grievances, enables critics to brand it with the anti-state label, which decreases the likelihood that the security establishment will be receptive to its demands.

While addressing a rally at Orakzai (April 20, 2019), Pakistan’s prime minister expressed sympathy with Pashtun Tahafuzz Movement demands. But he expressed ennui at anti-army slogans. Earlier, our senate’s special committee had patiently heard their demands.

Of course, the PTM has several demands most of which have been admitted by the government, even by ISPR. But, the organisation sometimes voices concerns that are exterior to Pashtoon welfare. For instance, Pashteen, at times, regurgitates allegations spoon fed by Western media. Here I quote his remarks from his Herald May 2018 interview (The Pashteen Question: The Making of a New Nationalist Movement, p. 48).  Manzoor Pashteen `rejected ISI’s official claim that army had brought peace to the tribal area’. `The army did not eliminate even a single Taliban leader.  All the 87 Taliban commanders were killed in the last 18 years were eliminated in drone strikes ’_Except Abdullah Mehsud, who exploded himself to death after he was besieged by the army’. 

He berates Pak army operations and extols drone strikes. For one thing drone strikes amount to aggression. In an article, David Swanson pointed out that any use of military force, be it a drone attack, amounts to a war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact made war a crime in 1928 and various atrocities became criminal acts at Nuremberg and Tokyo.

The UN charter maintained war as a crime, but limited it to an ‘aggressive’ war, and gave immunity to any wars launched with the UN approval. If that is indeed the case, did the UN allow drone attacks on Pakistan? Drone attacks on our territory are a clear violation of our sovereignty as an independent state

Pashteen did not mention that drone attacks are a sacrilege of Pakistan’s sovereignty. He did not mention `collateral damage’ in terms of innocent women, children, and adults killed. 

Like Pashteen, C. Christine Fair, and a host of other like-minded writers are skeptical of Pakistan army’s role in the so-called war on terror. She  in his article `Pakistan: Perfidious ally in the war on terror’  says `Pakistan at increasing odds with international community which has come to see Pakistan  as both the fire-fighter and the arsonist…Even the Pakistan army is deeply anti-American…the US-Pakistan relationship is uncertain,…whether their counterpart is a treacherous friend or an outright foe’. The article is included in Mohammad Ayoob and Etga Ulgar (eds.) book `Assessing the War on Terror’.

The PTM is against fencing of Pak-Afghan border. They threaten to pull it down. To appease Ashraf Ghani government it occasionally agitates the Durand Line issue. They threaten to approach the United Nations for acceptance of their demands. An unsuccessful anti-army demonstration was held outside UN office. PTM alleges that Pak army is hands in glove with Taliban. Army wants to settle Taliban in depopulated areas.

Backlash: Michael Kugelman says `Pashtuns in Pakistan are “frequently labeled as terrorists or drug dealers” (“Why Pakistan’s Pashtuns Are Pushing Back”, National Interest April 29, 2018). He adds, “Last year, police in Punjab province were ordered to pay special attention to Pashtuns and to treat them as potential terror suspects (Most members of the Pakistani Taliban, the deadliest terrorist organization in Pakistan over the last decade, are Pashtuns.) He observes, `The tribal areas, buffeted by conflict for many years, are returning to a state of normalcy, thanks to a robust counterterrorism offensive in North Waziristan that has degraded anti-state militants and resulted in a relative respite in terrorist attacks across the country. Last November, I visited Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan. Pakistani military officials there declared that terrorism had been eliminated; they claimed that there were no more no-go areas; and they showcased new roads, markets, and hospitals. While the military speaks of peace and development in the tribal belt, the PTM speaks of indignity and injustice. In a country where street protests are often led by religious hardliners and internationally designated terrorists, the emergence of a peaceful rights movement calling for more dignity and justice is a heartening development. However, its confrontational rhetoric has rubbed many Pakistanis the wrong way. Ultimately, the strong resistance PTM has encountered could limit its prospects for success. And a lack of success could have a significant cost’.

Inference: Doubtless `patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. India is overplaying PTM to tarnish Pakistan’s image. The PTM should make public its funding sources. Lest the PTM is dubbed unpatriotic, it should stick on course. And confine itself to its demands. Yet, they should be allowed to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly unfettered. 

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad

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The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.

Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.

The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.

India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.

India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.

Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.

New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.

Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.

The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.

The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.

With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.

The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.

Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.

The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.

All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.

The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.

With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.

Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.

The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.

Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.

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The Dysfunctional Pakistan’s Legislature

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The legislature of Pakistan has several problems and because of this very reason governments are unable to make any landmark laws for the state that can prove to be effective in resulting some socio-political or economic changes in the society. The noncooperation among the parties in the house is the major problem that leads no healthy debate. People have never seen the political parties having a healthy debate among the political parties on some key matters that need to address. Political parties prefer crosstalk on each other that mostly ends up on the dismal of legislature. Mostly in the house the opposition and the party in power never each on consensus on anything that shows their no seriousness towards the legislation.

 In my opinion the opposition of Pakistan perceives its role to be negative always. The opposition perceives as their duty to walk out from the house, make fun of their fellow colleagues, bringing our historical facts to propagate negativity about the agenda. This attitude results in no fruitful law-making.

The scenario of national assembly of Pakistan is that if the ruling party does not has two-third majority in the house they will be paralyzed as the opposition has imagines role of not supporting the government to pass laws and bills that can benefit their reputation among the public. In this game of interest the parties forget the importance of legislation and national interest rather they are more focused on protecting their own interests and interests of their political parties.

The tussle between the government and the opposition is endless that is negatively impacting the legislative system of Pakistan.

Another factor that weakens the legislative process of Pakistan is the issues within the upper house. This plays a vital role in enacting the laws without senate’s cooperation legislation cannot improve and strength.

 The sustained bitterness and confrontation with the government and opposition leads to no progress in the making of legislation and strengthening the rule of law. For example the PTI coalition passed the bills and introduced 8 ordinances in its first year of government.

The ten bills passed by national assembly faced a new challenge which was the Senate of Pakistan where PTI also does not hold the majority. Ten out of 4 bills sailed through Senate whereas 3 remained pending in Senate. Only 7 bills turned into acts in the first year of PTI government.

The lack of coordination and seriousness in the parliament is affecting the progress of Pakistan. Without rules and making of new legislation how can the country progress? In a democratic system the rule of law is one of the pillars for true democratic practices but unfortunately in Pakistan we only see leg-pulling and blame game between the institutions.  The lack of political consensus among the parties is another problem. On the other hand the formation of Standing Committees of national assembly is important for the functioning of the system. According to the Rules of Procedure of national assembly the members of Standing Committees has to be elected within 30 days after the elections of the leader of house but according to the data of PILDAT previous assembly managed to form these in 3 months instead of 30 days. This indicated lack of seriousness of the members.

The current government has only got the executive authority and not the legislative competence that makes them dysfunctional as they are dependent on the opposition and then Senate for passing of the legislation and making it a law.

Another factor that weakens the legislative system of Pakistan is the overactive judiciary and the intervention of the military in law making. Through this intervention the legacy of the military rule is still being kept alive. Most of the time the Supreme Court and the judiciary intervene in the legislation to serve their interest and weaken their opponents sitting in the government. The overactive judiciary encroaches the governance agenda, legislative advice etc. the legislative procedure in Pakistan is still developing its institutional identity.

The duty of the legislature is to respond to its public needs and also exercise oversight of the executive, but there is not engagement in the civil society and no research is being conducted on the public policy for better and effective policy making.

In the end it can be concluded that the system is also faulty but the attitude of the parliamentarians is more disappointing and discouraging. The whole system is unsuitable for a less educated population of Pakistan as most of the parliamentarians are unaware of policy-making and its importance for the state. The process is also complex and complicated as it has to go through several steps for making a bill a law.

Through this process, law-making on controversial issues is nearly impossible because in Pakistan people protect their interest instead of their state. Even if the government is serious for law-making the judiciary, military and bureaucracy will not allow the government to do its job. This is high time to adopt a new system in this country and draw lines for every institutions particularly judiciary that is the most rigid institutions and creates hurdles for every government by interrupting them.

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Reinforcing the Role of the International Community in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis

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A young Rohingya girl holds her brother outside a youth club in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. The United Nations defined Myanmar’s August 2017 atrocities to the Rohingyas as “Textbook case of ethnic cleansing”. On July 02, 2018, during his visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General noted that “I have no doubt that the Rohingya people have always been one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world, without any recognition of the most basic rights starting by the recognition of the right of citizenship by their own country – Myanmar”. Thus, the severity of the Rohingya crisis is well-recognized by the international community. This article focuses on the necessity of the international community’s role in facilitating a safe and sustainable Rohingya crisis solution.

The ironic story is that though it is already three years passed, no concrete action is manifested to facilitate the Rohingya refugee repatriation. In the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China applied veto power in the case of Rohingya refugee resolution, which made strong impediments to the repatriation process. Russia and China did this calculating their narrowly defined interest rather than humanity which is in fact, ironic for the world. Thus, the United Nations could not play a crucial role in facilitating the Rohingya refugee repatriation.

Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world. Though Bangladesh is a rising economic power, feeding more than 170 million people is not an easy task. Also, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees have added extra socio-economic pressures in the country. For Bangladesh’s continued growth, prosperity, and stability, there is no alternative to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar as early as possible. Since Myanmar committed ethnic cleansing to the Rohingyas, and the country is not interested in taking back the Rohingyas, only the international community including the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can pressurize Myanmar to ensure a safe and sustainable repatriation.

Bangladesh strongly believes that the international community can play an essential role in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis permanently. For instance, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, offered five points proposal including the full implementation of recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission, and the establishment of civilian monitored safe zone in the Rakhine State to the international community to resolve the issue. Similarly, at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina offered a four points-proposal to resolve the Rohingya crisis highlighting the role of the international community. Sheikh Hasina emphasized that the international community must ensure that the root causes of the Rohingya problem area addressed and the violation of human rights and other atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingyas are accounted for.

The good news is that the on November 19, 2020, the United Nations has adopted a resolution on “The Situation of Human Rights of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” while Bangladesh seeks a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Resolution called for taking concrete actions by Myanmar to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis, i.e. granting them citizenship, ensuring the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their homes by creating a conducive environment. Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Rabab Fatima notes that “As a country that hosts over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas, Bangladesh continues to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis, which lies in their safe and dignified return to Myanmar”.

Notably, Germany on behalf of the European Union and Saudi Arabia on behalf of the OIC co-tabled the Resolution which was sponsored by the 104 member states including the USA, Canada, and Australia. It is also a positive development that a total of 132 countries voted in favour of the Resolution while nine countries voted against and 31 countries abstained. It demonstrates that most of the countries in the world want a permanent, sustainable and peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. It also signifies that these countries care for the humanity while the nine countries who voted against the Resolution only care for their narrowly defined interest. The future generations will undoubtedly read and know the actions of those nine countries who do not care for humanity. Those nine countries need to know that despite several domestic challenges, Sheikh Hasina has shown kindness, humanitarian gesture and thus protected and sheltered those Rohingyas from killing by the Myanmar armies.

Notably, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of hosting refugees. This will remain as a humanitarian example in the world. One also needs to keep in mind that the socio-economic realities of Turkey (who is the top in hosting refugees), and Bangladesh is not the same. While the GDP (per capita) of Turkey is US$ 9043, Bangladesh’s GDP (per capita) is US$ 1856, the population density of Turkey is 108 per square kilometres, and Bangladesh’s population density is 1116 per square kilometres. Thus, considering the contexts, and socio-economic realities of Bangladesh, the international community needs to reinforce the Rohingya refugee repatriation process. Most importantly, the international community needs to execute the adopted Resolution as early as possible for the sake of humanity, for the sake of a just cause. The future world will certainly note the noble actions taken by the international community for such a just, and reasonable cause.

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