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Old Friday, December 02, 2016
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Default December 2nd, 2016.

Date: Friday,December 2nd, 2016.

A Trump solution

Pakistan has any number of problems great and small, with the rift created at Independence being the greatest and the most impervious to solution. Over the decades there have been many attempts to broker peace. All have failed. The two countries have gone to war thrice. Currently there is an elevated — and escalating — level of tension revolving around the core dispute of Kashmir. The Kashmir issue is a colonial legacy that has proved poisonous in the extreme and continues to do so, but a new player has come to the stage and from an unexpected direction. Donald Trump, President Elect of the United States said on Wednesday November 30 that he is ‘willing to play any role that Pakistan wants…to find solutions to outstanding problems.’ The remark was made in a ‘phone conversation with PM Nawaz Sharif occasioned by the PM calling Mr Trump to congratulate him on his recent victory in the Presidential race. The President-elect went on to say that it would be an honour for him to be thus engaged and that he personally would do what is needed.

Perhaps we should not be surprised as Mr Trump is after all a man of surprises. During the campaign he had referred to a desire to mediate between India and Pakistan saying that the unresolved dispute was ‘a tinderbox’ — in which he is correct, but as ever there are caveats. Thus far none of the Trump team at cabinet level has much — or any — regional diplomatic experience and as far as is known Mr Trump himself has none. Paradoxically this may be no bad thing. No backstory, no taint of colonialism could play well for Mr Trump and his team. Conversely a failure to understand the heavily nuanced relationship could be disastrous, and anyway India would have to be a willing party to any new attempts to resolve the issues as would the people of Kashmir, and there is no suggestion that either has been consulted prior to Mr Trump making his offer. At first sight the Trump offer is outrageous, almost ridiculous, at second look perhaps not much of either after all.

Hopes at the Heart of Asia

The flame of hope in terms of peace talks between Pakistan and India is these days more sustained this side of the border than the other. The decision that the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to attend the Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar may in the end prove to be fruitless; which does not mean it should not have been made — indeed quite the converse. Pakistan is demonstrating once again that it is willing to come to the table, to avail any opportunity no matter how slender or unlikely, to advance the cause of peace. The Heart of Asia conference is primarily to discuss the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, with the India-Pakistan dispute not on any formal agenda. The main business will be around improvements in the connectivity between regional states and tackling the many security threats faced by the Afghan government — but bringing key players together in the same place at the same time creates opportunities to meet informally. The meeting comes in the wake of the failure of SAARC, a grouping that foundered on the rocks of the intractability of the Pakistan-India dispute, and HoAC may be the basis on which a SAARC successor is built.

As yet there is no indication from the Indian side that they have the slightest interest in crafting a meeting on the margins, and the ball is in the Indian court. There was agreement at the last ministerial meeting of HoAC that the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue would be resumed, a decision killed by the Pathankot attack in January this year as well as other subsequent attacks the responsibility for which India placed on the shoulders of Pakistan. There have been repeated and deadly violations by firing over the Line of Control by India and matters spiral downwards. It was India that torpedoed SAARC and Pakistan is not about to do the same to HoAC. The Indian Minister for External Affairs is not going to be attending having delegated a minion, which leads one to wonder just how sincere India is about any part of the peace process. Keep trying Pakistan, you just never know.

Return of Davis Cup tennis tie

Deprived of quality international sports for the best part of the last decade, Pakistan sport fans have some good news coming their way as the Pakistan Tennis Federation have succeeded in convincing the International Tennis Federation and team Iran that security is conducive to hold their Davis Cup tie in Islamabad next February.

Pakistan last hosted a Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in 2004 and since then have been forced to play their home games in their opponent’s backyard or on neutral venues. With the security situation improving in the country, sporting action is gradually returning. Islamabad hosted three small-scale squash events recently which attracted players from different countries. Ever since the harrowing attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore seven-and-a-half years ago, Pakistan has become a pariah for sporting action, however some events have been held in major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Pakistan hosted amateur Snooker team and tournaments in Karachi in the recent past and now Tennis is also in the fray. The need of the hour is to make the visitors comfortable besides ensuring provision of security. Pakistan sporting bodies need to formulate a cohesive plan and ensure that they make collective effort to convince their international counterparts about the improving security situation. By being on the same page these bodies can ensure the return of top-flight sporting action including multi-nation events and world championships which used to be a regular occurrence in the 1980s and 1990s. Federal and provincial governments have an important role to play and need to have the sporting bodies onboard as the nation puts to bed the nightmares of recent years. Pakistan sport fans must also support the initiative to bring back top-class sporting competition, it is a collective effort indeed and all of us need to play our part.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2016.
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