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Old Monday, January 12, 2015
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Default The Friday Times (Articles, Analysis & Editorials)

Political Forecast 2015

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/po...forecast-2015/

If 2014 was a bad year for Pakistan because of terrorism, political instability and civil-military tensions, the outlook for 2015 is cautiously positive on some targets and negative on others.

(1) The trial of General Pervez Musharraf for treason is likely to drone on without any significant hiccups in civil-military relations. The special trial court has allowed General Musharraf to rope in ex-prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, ex-law minister Zahid Hamid and ex-CJP AH Dogar as co-conspirators, in effect diluting the focus on General Musharraf and ensuring unending delays in processing appeals and counter-appeals by the various accused and the government. This suits the government and the military — the former can claim to be pursuing the case vigorously while the latter can remain sanguine that no harm shall befall its ex-chief and “humiliate” the institution. During 2015, General Musharraf’s efforts will be twofold: to maintain a high public profile as “a national leader” by creating waves via media interviews while striving to retain the military’s protection, and strengthening his case for permission to leave the country on medical or family reasons. His efforts to form a potent political party will fail.

(2) Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will not be able to be reduce the fiscal deficit to 4.5% of GNP for FY 2014-15 because of tax revenue shortfalls mainly from reduced import duties from the reduced oil import bill, despite the recent imposition of an extra 5% GST on petroleum sales. In turn, the IMF will quibble about missed targets and delay releasing new instalments in the second half of the year, which will bring the rupee under pressure again. The government’s ability to privatise top state enterprises and inject additional funds into the next budget will depend on the graph of both terrorism and political stability in the country. The multi-billion investment MOUs signed with Chinese companies will not begin to flow for many months. Inflation will remain below double digits. But the energy situation will not improve significantly until 2016-17 when the various furnace oil, hydel, coal, wind, solar and gas projects and pipelines are functional.

(3) The National Action Plan to combat terrorism will be fleshed out in 2015 by the 15 sub-committees set up by the prime minister. But the government’s ability to practice what it preaches will be tested at the altar of good relations with the military and a political settlement with Imran Khan over the issue of electoral rigging so that the PTI doesn’t return to the politics of destabilising dharnas all over again with a wink from the military. Likewise, swift military justice in the form of military courts and executions and a rapid deployment anti-terrorist force will not be a sufficiently strong deterrence to terrorism, let alone uproot it, because the government will not make much headway in curbing the underground activities of non-state radical Islamic actors like Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or their various front organisations, or plug their sources of funding. The fate of these groups rests in the hands of the ISI which manages them in line with the military’s regional security policy vis a vis India and Afghanistan and this is not likely to change significantly in the short term.

(4) An agreement between the PTI and PMLN on a judicial commission to probe charges of rigging in the 2013 elections seems unlikely to get much mileage. Imran Khan now wants the judiciary to investigate general allegations of rigging while the PMLN insists the commission should focus on Khan’s original charge that there was a conspiracy involving ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, Nawaz Sharif, the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker governments to hand-pick Returning Officers from the lower judiciary in order to change the election results after balloting. Since such a conspiracy is impossible to determine in the short period of six weeks demanded by Imran Khan, the talks are likely to be abandoned and Khan will again announce a PTI strategy to whip up the public against the Sharif government, thereby creating another wave of instability. However, in view of the national commitment to wage war against terrorism, the military is not likely to back Imran Khan’s bid to oust Nawaz Sharif and compel another round of general elections in 2015.

(5) India-Pakistan relations will remain difficult because of the hardline “defensive-offence” strategy adopted by the Narendra Modi government. Therefore no concrete normalisation process is forecast. Meanwhile, US-Pak relations will depend on Pak-Afghanistan relations, which in turn will depend on the ability and willingness of the Afghan-ISAF forces to help eliminate Pak Taliban groups operating against Pakistan from bases in north-east Afghanistan and reciprocal action by Pakistan to bring the rebel Afghan Taliban safe-havened in Pakistan’s borderlands to the negotiating table with the new Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. If any party is unable to deliver on its pledge, relations will deteriorate and proxy wars will intensify.
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Old Sunday, November 15, 2015
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It's about Afghanistan

Source: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/it...t-afghanistan/


High level exchanges between Pakistan and the United States – the two countries that claim that their relationship is “integral to regional stability” have always been keenly followed, and when it comes to the visit of Pakistan’s army chief to Washington, this interest is more pronounced because of the widely held perception that the army directs the country’s security and foreign policy.

General Raheel Sharif would be in the United States for a full working week from November 15 to November 20, meeting the top brass of both Pentagon and the State Department.

The general’s visit comes on the heels of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s trip to Washington, during which he held wide ranging discussions with President Obama, on regional security, counter-terrorism, defense cooperation, and strategic stability (nuclear issues), among other things.

There has been a lot of speculation about the agenda of the Army Chief’s trip, which is taking place on his own initiative. The army corps commanders, who met on Tuesday, have clarified that the upcoming trip is about regional issues. “The forum (corps commanders’ conference) discussed the upcoming visit of COAS to USA, where he will clearly highlight Pakistan’s perspective of new emerging regional realities,” the ISPR said in a statement following the meeting.

It is therefore undoubtedly about Afghanistan.

Gen Raheel, along with President Ashraf Ghani, made an attempt to repair the fractured Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship last year and facilitated the start of the now-stalled reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Is he carrying a new proposal for fixing the problems caused by renewed mutual mistrust due to breakdown of peace talks with Taliban and the accompanying increase in violence in the war torn country?

If one were to go by the whispers in Islamabad, Pakistan and Afghanistan have already held secret contacts for normalizing their relations. A high level visit from Pakistan to Kabul has already been planned, according to a source, for formalizing the renewal of ties. But Gen Sharif, in view of his not-so-good experience of working with the Afghan establishment, needs the US to act as an underwriter.


Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Janan Mosazai, speaking at a conference in Islamabad, said he was confident that Islamabad and Kabul would be able to salvage their relationship.

When the two countries have “frank and candid and open conversation, we can find solutions”, he said.

British High Commissioner Philip Barton, meanwhile, says: “Healthy relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are vital for stability, security and prosperity of the two countries, the region and the world. Peace processes are never easy, but in the end, dialogue is the only route to peace.”

The resumption of the reconciliation process is the next step in the scheme of things, a source explained, adding getting Pakistan-Afghanistan ties back on track is the priority.

President Obama’s advisor on South Asia Dr Peter Lavoy, who was in Islamabad apparently to prepare for General Sharif’s visit, conveyed the Afghan government’s willingness to resume the reconciliation process, during his meetings with his interlocutors. He also communicated Kabul’s concerns.


An official, who attended a meeting with Dr Lavoy, said the Americans also need to understand Pakistan’s concerns and worries.

The Americans take the army chief seriously and hold him in high esteem. Therefore, any proposal that Gen Raheel carries with him would be considered seriously by Washington.

But at the same time, the US looks more appreciative of Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism and is also less concerned about the Haqqani Network, although they the issue is still not off their list of concerns relating to Pakistan.

Other issues, including the ongoing negotiations for Pakistan’s nuclear mainstreaming, tensions with India, and defense cooperation, are also on the agenda, but are not the focus of the trip, according to a senior military source.

Like Prime Minister Sharif’s trip, the army chief’s visit has also been preceded by a renewed debate about Pakistan’s nuclear program and the ways for the country’s mainstreaming into the nuclear world.

As the White House statement noted, ongoing negotiations would continue to build on the discussions that have already taken place, and the Americans would be sounding out the general on his ideas in this regard.

Think tanks close to the military here have already rejected the proposals floated by their Western counterparts. The position taken by Pakistani think tanks is a good indicator of how the military is thinking about the mainstreaming issue. Pakistan, which had been enthusiastically pushing its case for entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group, is not very keen about the terms being suggested for its admission.

Military officials say Gen Raheel would also reiterate Pakistan’s position on its strained ties with India and would urge US to play its role for defusing the situation.

The two sides would also talk about the ongoing counter-militancy operation Zarb-e-Azb during which the US would like to determine if Pakistan needs any assistance.



Author: Syeda Mamoona Rubab
TFT Issue: 13th Nov 2015
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Old Sunday, November 15, 2015
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Sharif vs Sharif

Source:http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/sharif-vs-sharif/


General Raheel Sharif remains the focus of attention. He has had an important meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top team members, where various dimensions and failings of the civilian input into NAP were discussed. He followed up by chairing a Corps Commanders meeting after which ISPR issued a statement highlighting civilian “governance” problems relating to proper NAP implementation. Gen Sharif is now going to Washington to discuss crucial issues regarding Afghanistan and India in the context of US-Pak national security concerns in the region.

Apparently six broad areas were identified in the meeting in which NAP’s implementation by civilian counterpart agencies and administrations is “sluggish”. These are: action against terror financing (primarily obstacles created by the Sindh government in the way of the military), foreign funding of seminaries (lack of will and expertise in the federal Ministries of Interior and Finance), banned non-state actor-groups and sectarian organizations (provincial police reluctance in eliminating these threats), hate speeches (police and judicial lethargy in Punjab and Sindh), madrassah reforms (federal government foot dragging) and a provincial mechanism for civil-military cooperation and coordination (especially in Sindh). Significantly, at least three additional agenda items were highlighted by an ISPR press statement subsequently: FATA reforms (no political will to pursue administratively, the PMLN government having just withdrawn a bill for FATA reforms submitted by FATA parliamentarians because the PM has formed yet another commission to examine the issue again), completion of Joint Investigation Reports (dubious civilian input in Sindh), IDP rehabilitation issues (insufficient funds and poor administrative effort). The ISPR pointedly “acknowledged the full support of the nation” in the army’s pursuit of terrorists but “underlined the need for matching/complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of the National Action Plan”.

The ISPR statement has triggered a controversy in the media about the significance and legitimacy of the army’s comments. Some people think it to be an ill-advised and unnecessary irritant in the developing civil-military equation. They argue that such issues should be discussed behind “closed doors” rather than in public where they end up embarrassing the elected government of the day. Others say that there is nothing new or novel about the army’s preferred method of sending direct public signals to the government on its issues of concern. Every army chief has used the ISPR to publicly signal his displeasure with the government of the day on various issues. In the current case, however, the ISPR statement has been followed by a PMLN government statement that seemingly objects to the implicit criticism of government in it and points to the “shared responsibility” for success of the government (in cobbling a national consensus for NAP), the army (for its sacrifices in men and materials), the coordinated effort of provincial governments and their organs of administration, the judiciary (for accepting military courts and reduction of their writ jurisdictions in case of terrorism), and above all the people for standing behind the government and state.

But there are sources of tension in both official statements that have disturbed the civil-military balance. The ISPR should not have talked of “governance” issues or tried to take exclusive credit for the success of NAP, regardless of internal pressures to put the government on the spot for failing to do its bit. The opposition parties have exploited the ISPR statement to open their guns on the government for not providing “good governance”. However, despite this misplaced provocation, the government should not have reminded the military of “remaining within the ambit of the constitution” because the military under Gen Sharif has not demonstrated any political ambitions. Both sides should not tread over each other’s sensitivities.

General Sharif’s trip to Washington is critical in many ways. The US and its allies want to do business with him because they perceive him to be the man in charge of Pakistan. At stake are Pakistan’s relations with Kabul, New Delhi and Washington. Terrorism is the one factor that links all together. All three countries accuse Pakistan of sheltering various shades of terrorists who are creating massive problems for them. Pakistan, in turn, accuses India of actively proxy-warring in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. It accuses Afghanistan of unfairly blaming Pakistan for all its troubles despite mounting evidence of its own failings. And it wants the US to “do more” to shore up the Ghani regime in Kabul, help Pakistan’s anti-terrorism drive with money and materials, as well as restrain the RAW hand in Pakistan.

This is a tall order even for General Sharif. It means getting the PMLN government to shake a leg and shore up NAP, getting the US government to persuade Modi’s India to smoke the peace pipe with Pakistan and stop it from pressurizing Kabul to take an anti-Pakistan stance. More critically, it means bringing the various factions of the Taliban to the negotiating table with Kabul and hammering out an enduring peace process that allows American troops to go back home in 2018 on the basis of constitutional rule in Afghanistan.

Author: Najam Sethi
TFT Issue: 13th Nov 2015
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Old Saturday, November 21, 2015
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Our man in DC

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/our-man-in-dc/


Gen Raheel Sharif is in DC, talking to the top civil-military leaders of America about Pakistan’s national security in the context of this region’s stability. The Americans have vital stakes in Afghanistan and have a vested interest in speaking to him directly rather than through the civilian government in Pakistan because they know the military calls the shots on such issues and the COAS calls the shots in the military.

This isn’t a new development because the US-Pak relationship has always had a compelling military dimension. In the 1950s and 60s, this was reflected in various defense pacts like CENTO and SEATO (Gen Ayub Khan and President Eisenhower were best friends). In recent decades the jihad against the Soviets (Gen Zia ul Haq and President Reagan) and Al-Qaeda/Taliban terrorism (Gen Pervez Musharraf and President Bush followed by Gen Ashfaq Kayani and CJCSC Admiral Mike Mullen) in Afghanistan have figured prominently. The difference between then and now, however, is that Pakistan’s national interests currently do not exactly coincide with those of America in the region. And this is the source of distrust and tension.

The issues for discussion in DC are three fold: Pak-US relations, Pak-India relations and Pak-Afghan relations. All are interlinked in critical ways. The US and Pakistan both want a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Both want the Ghani government and the Taliban to smoke the peace pipe. But Pakistan’s efforts to initiate an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process have foundered on the rock of two hostile elements: the non-Pakhtun Afghans in the Ghani government and India. Both were singly and jointly responsible for sabotaging the second round of inter-Afghan talks some months ago by announcing the death of Mullah Umar and compelling the Taliban faction leading the talks to pull out, acquire a hard line posture and deal with the struggle for succession that ensued. The Afghan Army and Intel are also sheltering Pak Taliban in the North-East of Afghanistan while the Indians have been sponsoring terrorism in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan. Talk of any quid pro-quo with either Kabul (we’ll reign in the Haqqani network and you coral the Mullah Fazlullah Taliban) or New Delhi (we won’t sponsor jihad in Kashmir and you stop RAW from destabilizing us) has not progressed because of mutual distrust and hostility. Surely, the Americans can play a significant role in addressing such concerns by acting as interlocutors and facilitators between Pakistan and India and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Surely, it is time for the Americans to “do more” instead of spending over $ 10 billion a year in Afghanistan without achieving any worthwhile results. Surely, they can shore up Pakistan’s anti-Taliban operations by coughing up at least a billion a year!

General Sharif will also try and convince the Americans that it is India and not Pakistan that is keeping the border hot and forestalling confidence building talks. The Pakistani army has its hands full dealing with internal terrorism. It has put a lid on the lashkars and jihadis and stopped them from fomenting trouble in Kashmir. It doesn’t serve their interests to keep a significant chunk of the army on border duty. It is India under PM Modi that wants to sow distrust between Islamabad and President Ghani in Afghanistan so that Kabul is once again nudged in the direction of New Delhi and becomes dependent on it as it was in the time of President Karzai who remains a staunch Indian ally.

The Americans will also be keenly interested to determine if General Sharif has any domestic political ambitions that could destabilize Pakistan and derail their common objectives in the region. Surely they are updated on civil-military tensions and the national media’s elevation of General Sharif as a national hero of sorts as a counter-weight to the lumbering prime minister. Of late, there has been much idle speculation on this count, especially since the fateful ISPR statement that provoked the government to issue a counter statement of its own. Washington will also be interested to know if General Sharif is interested in an extension in tenure and whether the US can play any role in stressing continuity of strategic policy.

Is the PMLN government wary of General Sharif’s attempts to chart a direct hot line with both America and Saudi Arabia? Admittedly, there are some voices in the PM’s secretariat that are raising concerns. But they shouldn’t. The PM and COAS have a fairly good working relationship. The COAS could have fished in troubled waters last year during Imran Khan’s “dharna” but he didn’t. The PM could have stopped him from cleaning up Karachi because of political compulsions, but he didn’t. The COAS took the load off the PM when he went into FATA all guns blazing and gave a shut-up call to Doubting-Thomases like Imran Khan and the Islamists. This helped the PM forge a national consensus behind the war against the Taliban.

Still, it would help if the ISPR could learn a bit about the theory of diminishing returns and act accordingly.


Author: Najam Sethi
TFT Issue: 20th Nov 2015
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Old Saturday, November 21, 2015
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Turning point


http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/turning-point/



Except for the migrant crisis in Europe – in part an unintended consequence of US and Western mistakes in the Middle East – I have avoided writing about the horrendously complicated crisis in that region, as it is often beyond my comprehension. But I don’t see how I can avoid writing about the tragic ISIS massacre in Paris on Friday evening. It strikes me as a game changer in the West and in the region. I think it possible that ISIS has emulated the Taliban in pre-9/11 Afghanistan and hastened its own demise with this brutal and savage act. Why, we should all ask, does it take tragedies like the Paris massacre (or for that matter that of 9/11 itself) to recognize the full extent of evil and take action to defeat it.

The Taliban in those days blithely ignored US warnings that if Al Qaeda (AQ) were to direct an attack on the United States from Afghanistan, there would be hell to pay. I delivered some of these messages myself and reported their insouciant reaction. Obviously they didn’t believe us. Some might argue that the fact that the Taliban have come back in the last few years to control about 20 percent of Afghan territory and be a serious threat to the current government is just compensation. But just think: giving AQ carte blanche, when they were establishing their governance (no matter what you think of it) and were within a whisker of controlling all of Afghanistan, has cost them many years and lives and, even now, there is no certainty of what role, if any, they will play in the Afghan future.

The Taliban had blithely ignored US warnings about Al Qaeda
The general analytic consensus, at least in the US, seemed to be that ISIS would, sooner or later, self-destruct, and that the challenges and dangers it posed were in the region. Some analysts believe that ISIS got lucky as the intractable Syrian civil war gave it the opportunity to seize large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria, and this territorial windfall allowed it to establish of the so-called “caliphate.” ISIS initial strategy was believed to view the expansion of the “caliphate” to be a very long-term objective – over many years (at least as long as the first Islamic Caliphate) which would encompass ultimately an area between Spain and the Philippines. But its short term aim, many analysts believed, was to control the territory it took military possession of in 2014, and defend it against a push back from the neighbors and hostile countries in the region. President Obama has reflected this analysis, earlier calling ISIS the JV (junior varsity) jihadi squad and speaking of it recently as being “contained.”

It was thought that ISIS, unlike its main jihadi rival, AQ, was not intent on “far enemies,” but on those near at hand. For AQ the objective is to drive the West out of Muslim lands by attacking them in Muslim lands where they intervene, or in their own homelands, viz 9/11, the attacks in Madrid, in London, and elsewhere. ISIS in its previous forms as well as until now, appeared to reject that objective, preferring to go after perceived “near enemies” and “apostates” (like Shias) close at hand.

Even though attacks it has directed (or at least taken credit for) over the past few weeks, and may have seemed to go beyond this (perhaps warning signals to the West) – the attacks on Hezbollah Shias in Lebanon and on Russian tourists in Egypt – were explained wishfully away as within the purview of near enemies. But the trend was unsettling, and the Paris attack shows that ISIS strategy was drifting towards this much more dangerous new mode.



Is it overconfidence and lack of understanding of the possible consequences that caused this radical shift into a strategy that could lead to a more rapid defeat? The almost-immediate claim of responsibility bespeaks of overconfidence. But this is tempered by the fact that ISIS is under some duress, has just lost territory in the north of its so-called “caliphate” – as Kurdish and Yazidi forces assisted by US air strikes have taken Sinjar – and is suffering economic reverses as its oil windfalls dry up, or are taken out by coalition air strikes. And it seems that the Iraqi army, greatly helped if not led by the Kurds – and again with US assistance – is beginning to close in on Mosul, where the population is suffering under ISIS control. It is likely that this is the major motivation of the change in strategy.

A second factor is that ISIS clearly has lost its recruiting edge following months of stasis with no territorial gains — in fact some losses — and not much else to brag about, and is probably seeing the number of its fighters dropping. It needed something to burnish anew its image among those susceptible to its recruiting propaganda. Perverse as it may seem, the brutish Paris attack may enhance its appeal among that lot of alienated and twisted individuals.

Also, it is likely that there is now a mindset of making the far enemies, primarily the West, pay for the battering that the “caliphate” has taken in the past 6 to 9 months. Hence the killing of the Russian tourists, the killing of Shias in Lebanon to get back at Iran – an avowed enemy of ISIS – and now the killing in France – a major player in the Western alliance, and of course, through the Sykes-Picot agreement, one of the progenitors of the division of Mesopotamia which is at the heart of the problem. Also, many of the Western fighters that have been attracted to ISIS have come from France, and there is a disaffected element of the Muslim population in France, primarily of Algerian origin, that buys into ISIS propaganda. So finding willing young radicalized Muslims, possibly trained by ISIS, to do its dirty work in France would not be difficult.


A final factor is possibly to sew more discord and confusion among ISIS’ Western opponents. If, for example, Western nations fall out over the migrant problem – which may get worse now that security concerns about migrants are rising – that will enhance ISIS’ “Islam vs the West” narrative. This could worsen if Europe handles the migrant problem in ways that lend credence to the right-wing, nativist European political parties that are already salivating over the gains they see possible by playing the anti-immigrant fear card after the Paris attack.

The response must be an escalation of the effort to defeat ISIS and undo their “caliphate”. Its ability to strike the West has been demonstrated, and it is now — and has been for two years — the largest source of the disorder and chaos in the Middle East. I understand that there is still a view among Western leaders that the Syria civil war has to be dealt with first. While the negotiations for a Syrian cease fire should go on, I note that the first meeting would not take place until January. We should not wait until then to up the ante. A revised and reinvigorated anti-ISIS effort should be international in character, not be led by the US or NATO.

The Paris attack will test Western political leaders severely and in ways they have not been tested in many years. Whether they are up to it in this era of partisanship that pervades Western politics is a question I prefer not to try to answer.



Author: William Milam
TFT Issue: 20th Nov 2015
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Old Monday, November 30, 2015
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Liberal Pakistan?

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/liberal-pakistan/


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told an international conference in Islamabad recently that “the nation’s future lay in a democratic and liberal Pakistan” which is “educated, progressive, forward-looking and enterprising”. Truer words could not have been spoken.

But his statement has stirred a hornets’ nest of self-appointed “guardians” of the “ideology of Pakistan” comprising mullahs, revisionist state historians and reactionary intellectuals. The same howls of protest were heard fifteen years ago when a self-avowed “liberal” like General Pervez Musharraf made a tentative bid to promote his philosophy of “enlightened moderation” in the face of rising extremism.

Over the decades, these people have painted liberalism as anathema for state and society by propagating it to mean secularism, which in turn has been deliberately misinterpreted to denote atheist or impious or irreligious conduct. Misguided or opportunist politicians have gone a step further by condemning “liberal fascists” – a contradiction in terms because liberalism abhors fascism – for demanding resolute action against religious extremists like the Taliban, jihadis and sectarian terrorists who don’t recognize, let alone protect, the nation state because they stand for Khilafat or global political “Islam”.

In actual fact, liberalism is a 19th century philosophy of enlightened political economy that defends universal human rights like freedom of speech, artistic expression, religious worship, private property and the welfare and liberty of the individual in a representative system of democratic government. Its economic tenets are based on notions of relatively free markets and income redistribution through a progressive system of taxes and welfare payments for poverty alleviation.

Secularism, in turn, denotes a separation of religion from the politics of the modern democratic nation-state. In the mind of the Quaid-e-Azam, it implied a country in which all Pakistanis were equal in the eyes of the state, regardless of their caste, creed, religion or class: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

The tragedy is that the opportunistic civil-military-mullah alliance has made religion the bedrock of the ideological state of Pakistan. This misplaced concreteness has cost us dearly in our quest for nationhood.

This realization first dawned on General Musharraf in 2000 and compelled him to clutch at the notion of “enlightened moderation”. Then General Ashfaq Kayani woke up to the “existential threat” from religious extremism in 2011. Finally, in 2014, General Raheel Sharif rolled up his sleeves and went into action against the Taliban. Indeed, that is exactly what the civil-military framers of the National Action Plan against terrorism had in mind when they criminalized sectarian hate speech and terrorism and demanded madrassah reform. In fact, Mr Sharif was flogging the same idea when he attended a Diwali function two weeks ago in Karachi and said the government would defend and promote the “human rights of each and every citizen of the state, regardless of their religion and beliefs”. He said: “you are residents of Pakistan. Every resident of Pakistan, no matter who it is, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Parsi, no matter who it is, belongs to me, and I belong to them”.

It is remarkable that the very civil-military institutions that are responsible for making political Islam the business of the state over the last six decades are now implicitly acknowledging the dangerous consequences of institutionalizing such a falsehood, and desperately searching for ways and means to reverse it. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwar Jamali, recently talked of the failure of Pakistan as a “qaum” or nation. The truth is that Pakistan’s quest for nationhood has been thwarted by sectarian, tribal and ethnic impulses in the face of an unduly centralized, authoritarian and heavily ideologised state apparatus.

The Pakistan Peoples Party was always critical of this state of affairs. But it was constantly thwarted from correcting course by the military and its civilian adjunct, the Pakistan Muslim League. Now, thankfully, positive change is in the air. Nawaz Sharif was handpicked and nurtured by the military three decades ago to do its bidding. He duly became the nemesis of the PPP, in the bargain getting into bed with the religious parties, passing Islamic laws and promoting jihad against India. Now he is all for peace with India, wants to stop all jihad across borders, is waking up to action against sectarian parties and religious terrorists and is embarrassed and hampered by the Islamic laws passed on his watch. The military, no less, sees the primary and immediate national security threat as emanating from internal religious extremism and not externally from archenemy India. Unfortunately, however, Imran Khan’s PTI is still muddying the waters by continuing to resist the development of a new national narrative of state and society based on modern notions of liberal and secular democracy.

Such an awakening, however partial and belated, should be welcomed. The rise of Al-Qaeda, followed by the Taliban and now ISIS, is a dangerous reminder of how nation-states can be undone by religious fanaticism and violent extremism.

Author: Najam Sethi
TFT Issue: 27th Nov 2015
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Default The first article of a two-part series on the Paris terrorist attacks and the refugee

Dance of death

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/dance-of-death/

Once again, the dance of death was played out before our eyes on international television networks. On 13 November 2015, some seven to eight terrorists struck Paris different targets and killed 130 people enjoying their Friday evening. They were either gunned down in a hail of automatic gunfire or blown up by suicide bombers in seven coordinated terrorist attacks. Some 350 were injured, of which nearly 100 were wounded critically. The next day, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. It threatened more such attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe, including Russia, and as far as Washington DC and New York.

The attack in Paris comes in the wake of a number of recent outrages carried out by ISIS operatives outside Syria and Iraq – suicide bombers in Beirut killed 41 people in areas controlled by the pro-Iran Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, a bomb planted on a Russian aircraft flying out of Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, killed 224 holidaymakers returning home and the crew, and in Ankara 102 people in a peaceful demonstration were blown up by suicide bombers. While the Ankara attack was not owned by ISIS, Turkish authorities have arrested suspects who they believe are ISIS operatives.


In the recent past, ISIS has distinguished itself as a terrorist scourge that made the crimes committed by Al Qaeda and Taliban appear to be modest exercises in the debasement of humanity. Destruction of historical monuments, beheadings of captured men and women, raping and selling of captured Yazidi and other minority women, and the special targeting of Shias – the list is long as it is gory. I checked newspapers and the Internet to find out if one could call this Sunni terrorism against all others. There is enough data that shows that ISIS has not spared the Sunnis who do not fall in line with its ideology and political objectives. Consequently, such Sunni clans of Iraq and Syria have been slain by ISIS with characteristic savagery.

As always, some Muslims have put forth conspiracy theories about a grand US-Israeli hand behind the Paris outrage. Those peddling them assert typically that Muslims do not commit such crimes, and if they do, they do not represent Islam – even when they do it in the name of Allah and invoke Quranic verses which they say sanction violence against the enemies of Islam. Some suggest that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is actually an Israeli masquerading as the pretender caliph of Islam. All this echoes the type of denial and cognitive dissonance which cropped up when the 9/11 attacks took place in the United States.

From the opposite direction, there is no dearth of objectification of terrorism with Islam. Such detractors allege that violent Muslim behaviour is derivative directly of Islamic scriptures and pristine Muslim history, and Muslims are therefore intrinsically violence prone. The Paris attacks have greatly strengthened the hands of those who would like to believe that all Muslims are living explosives ready to go off anytime and anywhere. Thus for example, several state governments in the United States have said they will not accept Syrian refugees. Republican presidential candidates, such as Jeb Bush, have said that the US should accept only Christian refugees. The maverick Donald Trump has promised to ban mosques in the United States and to invade the Middle East with a view to capturing the oil fields. President Barrack Obama, who does not take such a callous position, enjoys support among Democrats, albeit a split one.

President Obama has admitted that the current situation in the Middle East is the unintended consequence of President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003. President Bush Sr has recently deplored that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defence Ronald Rumsfeld manipulated his son into adopting policies which were flawed and myopic and which have created the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has also admitted that invading Iraq in 2003 was a mistake. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan is on the record declaring the invasion of Iraq as unlawful. There is therefore a strong case for Bush and Blair being tried by an international tribunal for war crimes, but it would be difficult to prove that they intended to plunge the Arab world into a crisis of the sort which now exists.

In any event, George W Bush, his neo-conservative clique and Blair were hell-bent on removing Saddam Hussein. That he was a tyrant who had gassed some Kurdish villages was highlighted in the propaganda blitz that preceded the invasion. It was conveniently forgotten that Saddam had been armed by the West during the eight-year-long war with Iran. The immediate excuse for invading Iraq was that the Saddam regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, which threatened US and Israeli security. Such humbug did not convince the world. I remember the French and German foreign ministers objected to imposing a war on Iraq. On the popular level, protests and demonstrations took place in the weeks preceding the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In Washington DC and in London, massive demonstrations took place. It was a cold February morning when I was among the more than 50,000 people in Stockholm who took part in a demonstration against starting another war in the Middle East. The 2003 protests against imperialism were the biggest such demonstrations since the Vietnam War protest marches. But all the efforts of peace-loving people went in vain.



Meanwhile, before the invasion of Iraq, American-led sanctions had already claimed the lives of more than half a million Iraqis, of which a majority were children. Saddam Hussein was defeated, captured and hanged, and that humiliation was displayed all over the world. The American and British forces occupied Iraq, during which considerable force was used against all resistance, Shia and Sunni. A constitution was adopted which retained the existing borders of the state, but the Kurds in the north were granted substantial self-rule, almost bordering on quasi-independence. The government too faced Al Qaeda terrorism. In 2011 all foreign troops left Iraq and in the elections held in 2011 a highly partisan Shia government headed by Nouri Al-Maliki came to power. For the first time since Iraq became independent, a government headed by Shia majority politicians was in power.

The Iraqi state emerged in 1932 under British tutelage, who favoured Sunni Arabs who constituted only 18 to 20 per cent of the Iraqi population. The 20 per cent Kurds and 55-60 per cent Shias had many complaints about the minority control of the state. It is to be noted that until the 19th century, Iraq had a Sunni majority, but then the marsh Arabs and other poor clans in the south were converted to Shi’ism as a result of the efforts largely of the Shia princely state of Oudh (Lucknow) in North India. Small Christian, Yazidi and Sabean communities were also to be found in Iraq.

Prime Minister Al-Maliki exploited state power to settle old scores with pro-Saddam elements and adopted patently hostile approach towards the Sunni Arabs. Sunni persecution became proverbial with the Maliki regime. Iran, which the United States had hitherto considered its main enemy in that region after Khomeini came to power, benefited most from the change in the balance of power. Not surprisingly, Al Qaeda and its affiliates carried out terrorist attacks in Iraq, but the systematic persecution of Sunnis in Iraq figured only casually. The most reactionary state in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, promoted its rabidly sectarian ideology and bolstered Sunni resistance against the Al-Maliki regime.

In 2011, the so-called Arab Spring irrupted in North Africa where dictatorships of different hues had been in power since freedom from colonial rule. An uprising against Colonel Qaddafi took place, which he crushed with a heavy hand. With the connivance of Arab leaders who found Qaddafi too erratic and radical, the West again stepped in to bring about another regime change. It was France which played the leading role in that external intervention. Russia and China were on board as well as a UN Security Council resolution that permitted military action against Qaddafi. The colonel was captured and brutally murdered and the whole world saw it on television.

Promoted by the popular sentiment against dictatorship a Sunni opposition rose up against the government of Bashar al-Asad. It is important to put the Syrian situation in perspective. Syria and Lebanon were placed under French mandate after the defeat of the ruling Ottoman Empire. French policy favoured the Alawite (which during the Ottoman era comprised of an impoverished minority of peasants) and Christian minorities. Lebanon was separated to create a distinct state in 1941, in which the Christians were favoured at the expense of the Sunni and Shia Muslims. Nevertheless, the power-sharing model of consociationalism gave all communities a share in the power structure.

Syria came into being as an independent state in 1946. In contrast to Iraq, the majority sect in Syria was Sunni, which constituted some 71-80 per cent of the population. However, historically it was the 11 per cent Alawi sect (a Shia sect different from the mainstream Twelvers or Ithana Asharis) which flocked into the army while the Sunnis shunned it and were mainly to be found in the nationalist movement led by the Ba’ath Party. Small Druze and Kurdish communities were also part of the Syrian population. From 1970 onwards, when Hafez Al-Asad became president, the Alawites consolidated their control further over the state, especially the military and intelligence apparatuses. Hafez Al-Asad ruled with an iron hand. In 1970, he crushed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. More than 20,000 people were killed – more than Israel had killed since the wars started in 1948.

In any event, Syrian Sunni Arabs started agitating for regime change. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states began to support the opposition, which lacked central leadership from the beginning, however. Different groupings emerged in different areas. Whereas France took the lead in the case of Libya and the US and Britain in the case of Iraq, Western involvement in the Syrian situation remained lukewarm, confused and limited. Moreover, Russia and China were no longer on board anymore. The destruction of Libya had unleased tribal wars and Islamic extremism instead of democracy. Moreover, since Khomeini had come to power, a Shia global strategy had been pursued by the Iranian state all over the world. It included attempts to proselytize Sunnis in the Muslim world, while it crushed any Sunni activism within its own territories. In the Middle East particularly, Iranian ambitions resulted in Hezbollah emerging as a powerful movement, which challenged both Israel and the status quo favouring Christians and Sunnis.

With Iran, Hezbollah and Russia now supporting Al-Asad militarily, it became clear that the so-called Syrian Free Army supported by the West was no match to the killing machine Al-Asad had at his disposal. The BBC, CNN and international channels covering the Syrian civil war began reporting war crimes committed by all parties, but it was crystal clear that the death and destruction caused by government troops far exceeded those committed by the opposition. The truth is that now when ISIS’s terrorism is sending shockwaves all over the world, 90 per cent of the casualties taking place are the result of the Al-Asad’s forces, backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. Syrian planes and helicopters lavishly drop barrel bombs on the cities and villages where the Sunni majority lives. Use of poison gas has also been reported, even in UN reports. There is ample evidence incriminating the Syrian regime. Some 12 million Syrians have been displaced and more than three million are living in neighbouring countries, while about one million are trying to get into the European Union.


Sweden, Germany and Austria have been the most generous in accepting the refugees of which the bulk are from Syria but also from other war zones such as Libya, Mali and Afghanistan. Human smuggling networks stepped in immediately to profit from such unprecedented movement of people into Europe, and economic migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh are also to be found taking a chance.

In mid-October I and my wife, Meliha, were on the Greek Island of Lesbos, which is only one and a half hour by boat from the Turkish mainland town of Ayvalik. Thousands of refugees were arriving by boat from the Turkish mainland, and they were to be found wherever we went. Since Meliha’s maternal and paternal grandparents had themselves left Lesbos in 1923 when the Turkish and Greek governments exchanged their populations – the Greeks from the mainland going to the islands and the Turks of the islands moving to the mainland – for both of us, the presence of those thousands of asylum seekers evoked deep concern. My research on the partition of the Punjab had made me acutely sensitive to the suffering of refugees, and for Meliha it was like returning to a lost homeland, but where another terrible human catastrophe was unfolding. I must say that Lesbos, which had several municipalities ruled by leftist and Communist parties, was doing all it could to cope with a population swelling by the hour.

It later turned out that among those who had joined the asylum seekers heading to Europe were ISIS cadres, and at least one of them was involved in the Paris terrorist attacks. The Swedish government had gone out of their way to accept refugees and the Swedish public joined the relief effort donating clothes, shoes, blankets. Some even opened their homes to take in Syrian families. The government panicked and said its capacity to take in more refugees had exhausted, while the people quietly shut their doors. For a long time, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim parties had been warning of the dangers of accepting Muslims. Now, their warnings seemed to have been vindicated. Voices were raised not to overreact or to treat all refugees with suspicion and fear. However, the damage has been done.

To be continued…


Author: Ishtiaque Amed
TFT Issue: 27th Nov 2015
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