Stop Sawing Dust

Written by Anees Jillani  •  June 2013   

Soon after winning the 2013 general elections, Nawaz Sharif expressed his desire for the Indian Premier to attend the inauguration ceremony. His wish was reciprocated by the beating up of Pakistan’s First Secretary Trade at the High Commission in New Delhi. The Indian Government immediately denied its involvement attributing it to a scuffle between the diplomat and his driver with a couple on the bike that their car had hit. The only positive side is that Pakistan, unlike the past, did not retaliate by beating up an Indian diplomat in Islamabad. I am not in a position to say as to whether the diplomat was beaten up by the Indian intelligence agencies or it was a genuine consequence of a road accident. In the case of the latter, what actions have the Indian Government taken so far against the couple who had beaten up the diplomat?

As if the above was not enough, on the morning of June 11, two Indian Air Force aircrafts violated Pakistan’s airspace for about two minutes, which an Indian statement later called a technical violation. If such a violation had been committed by PAF planes, some of the Indian politicians and a section of the Indian media by now would have been asking the government in New Delhi to attack Pakistan with nuclear missiles.

Luckily, we can now claim Pakistan to be a democracy, even a nascent one, while India is proud of being the largest democracy in the world. India is also a huge country with much more established and advanced institutions than Pakistan. One thus expects the country and its citizenry, particularly the educated and intellectual lot, to show a higher degree of maturity in its attitude towards Pakistan. However, it is sad to say that India has repeatedly failed to show such an attitude.

Pakistan came into existence as a result of India’s breakup and the Indian bitterness towards this newly formed Muslim state is understandable just as some of us may feel towards Bangladesh. However, this hostility would have receded if India had not usurped Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh. The other disputes like distribution of assets were minor as compared to the status of these three states. Pakistan did not handle it appropriately at its inception and lost all three states. India then referred the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations but now refuses to implement the resolutions passed by that very organization.

Resultantly, the resentment and enmity shifted to Pakistan and led to unprecedented strengthening of the country’s security apparatus, including its intelligence agencies, particularly the ISI. Pakistan cannot militarily defeat India due to the difference in sizes of the armed forces. It accordingly decided to wage a clandestine war of attrition by infiltrating commandoes into Kashmir in the sixties; by supporting the Sikh militants in the Indian Punjab during the eighties; and the Kashmiri militants in the nineties. These moves definitely bled India but Pakistan has also paid a heavy price, most prominently in the shape of the military repeatedly taking over the reins of power.

After six decades of acrimony, the people of Pakistan have realized the futility of this whole rigmarole and Nawaz Sharif’s public peace overtures to placate India proves it. It is now for the people of India to realize this golden opportunity and to avail it to achieve peace. Failure to reciprocate and continuing to take a hard-line will not serve the interests of either country. Both have made mistakes in the past. Statesmanship demands to not dwell on the past, sawing saw dust, but to move forward with a vision to achieve something positive. 


Perils of Good Diplomacy

Written by Taha Kehar  •  June 2013   

Political reforms have come at the cost of severe human rights violations in Myanmar. How long can the international community ignore such atrocities in the favor of engaged diplomatic ties?

Diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the U.S. were established in 1947. Despite an initial eagerness to maintain strong bilateral ties, both countries have failed to demonstrate a consistent focus on international diplomacy. Attempts to consolidate political relations have been exacerbated by General Ne Win’s coup that was geared toward a socialist agenda and economic isolation. However, over the last two years, a grave lacuna in foreign policy has been filled through commendable political and economic reforms. The release of political prisoners such as Aung Sun Suu Kyi is a glaring testament of the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

Recognizing these efforts to improve relations, President Obama welcomed former military commander and President Thein Sein to the White House for bilateral talks on May 20, 2013. Thein Sein is the first Burmese politician to visit the White House since 1966. The growing improvement in political leadership in Myanmar was the key talking point in favor of strengthening ties between the two countries. President Obama commended the Burmese President for a commitment towards democracy. However, he expressed concerns about the ethnic tensions and discrimination against Muslims in the region. What is particularly interesting to note is Obama’s decision to refer to the country as Myanmar - the name adopted by its military rulers in 1989 - rather than Burma. While this move stands the risk of condoning the long-standing wave of militancy and ethnic strife, it also serves as recognition of the country’s turbulent political history.

Democratic principles can only be fostered if a progressive attitude is adopted and a coherent framework of political and social reforms is introduced. Thein Sein acknowledged the numerous challenges faced by the administration to facilitate a smooth transition towards democracy. Changes to any democratic systems involve risk-taking and a constant process of trial and error.

Although the Burmese administration can be given the benefit of the doubt, this is a carefully disguised excuse for discrepancies in maintaining good governance. The lengthy process of democratic change cannot justify the human rights violations triggered by an unpredictable and volatile political climate. Prolonged ceasefires with the Karen ethnic minority and the liberty given to the army to attack ethnic rebels in Kachin demonstrate the reluctance of the current administration to induce positive change. The road towards democracy is the cornerstone for strengthening foreign relations between the U.S. and Myanmar. If the Burmese administration were to compromise on this fundamental political principle, no amount of good diplomacy will succeed in restoring bilateral ties.

President Thein Sein’s visit to the U.S. serves as a beacon of hope in the South Asian context. Public opinion in the West deems South Asia to be a volatile region. A commitment to engender democratic values into a region dominated by ethnic violence will encourage peace-making initiatives and put an end to political uncertainty.

President Obama’s decision to rehabilitate Myanmar has, however, been criticized as a reckless step. The country has witnessed several decades of military rule and will need time to climb out of its predicament. International groups and human rights activists have voiced reservations about the extent to which ethnic cleansing against Muslims in Myanmar will come to a halt. Over 40 Muslims were killed in central Myanmar, only in the last month. Political upheavals between Buddhists and Muslims in the Rakhine state have resulted in the displacement of countless Rohingya Muslims. Republicans have been skeptical of President Obama’s decision as rewards cannot be given to the Burmese administration if it cannot bring progress to mitigate the risks of bad governance.

The U.S. administration has failed to account for various aspects of its bilateral relations with Myanmar. Describing the region as a success story that requires careful attention, President Obama has adopted a narrow approach to the issue. While the Burmese administration’s decision to release political prisoners and curb restrictions on media censorship are positive steps, it would be risky to justify U.S. foreign policy changes on such pretexts.

Ethnic violence in Myanmar has resulted in political instability. On March 22, 2013, a state of emergency was imposed in Meiktila, a small town in central ‘Myanmar’, following a spate of anti-Muslim riots. Armed Buddhist nationalist demonstrators drove the Muslim community out of Meiktila. Anti-Muslim agitation in the region can be likened to the ethnic cleansing against Muslims in Bosnia during the early 1990s. They stand the risk of undermining the scope for development in Myanmar as most deepwater ports and energy projects funded by India and China are concentrated in cities where anarchy prevails.

India has funded development projects in Sittwe, a deepwater port located north of the offshore natural gas fields, as a part of its ‘Look East’ strategy. These initiatives are geared towards improving accessibility between East India and Myanmar through the construction of sea, river and road routes. However, Sittwe is billed as a dangerous city where ethnic violence against Muslims has been increasingly difficult to manage. Economic development in the port city will be severely compromised if Muslims seek the assistance of jihadist groups to combat militancy. In a similar vein, China’s strategic investments in the region are at a greater risk. China has been developing a land accessible port to rival India’s deepwater port in Sittwe. It has constructed oil and gas pipelines to transport energy from Kyaukphyu to the Yunnan province to provide an alternative route to transport oil to China. Since the incidence of ethnic violence in Kyaukphyu is also particularly high, the fate of this project remains uncertain.

Foreign direct investment from India and China has enabled Myanmar to ignore protests from ASEAN and the United Nations about the ongoing violence. But if jihadist militancy is allowed to infiltrate the political sphere, India and China’s strategic interests would be threatened.

President Obama’s decision to provide pre-mature support to Myanmar could potentially be a means of thwarting these interests. It is an obvious attempt to promote the sectional goals of the U.S. under the guise of improving diplomacy and democracy. 


Tsunami of Hatred

Written by Anees Jillani  •  May 2013   

Ajmal Kasab was hanged in November 2012 and Afzal Guru in February 2013. India in a civilized manner offered the remains of Kasab to Pakistan that it, for reasons known to it, declined. As opposed to this civilized behavior, Afzal Guru’s family, despite its interest in his body, has been declined the privilege and Guru has been buried within the Tihar jail.

Incidentally, both the above hangings, despite being linked to Pakistan in one way or other did not attract any attention, whether at the government or public level. Even the attack on the Pakistani prisoner, Sanaullah in the Jammu jail was hardly taken notice of. This was in sharp contrast to the reaction in India where many political party workers were shown thrusting sweets into each others’ mouths; the less said the better as far as the Indian electronic media is concerned.

Now Sarabjit Singh has been killed by his inmates who, like him, are on a death row and thus hardly have any worries being brought to justice. There is no excuse for any prisoner being killed in a prison anywhere in the world and the prison authorities are responsible for this negligence, just like the ones in Jammu are for Sanaullah.

I can understand and appreciate the reaction of Sarabjit’s family. It is also the job of the Government of India to protest as an Indian inmate has been killed in jail in cold-blood. However, what is the media getting so excited about?

Sarabjit was convicted for being involved in terrorism, just like Kasab. His case was reviewed twice by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a brave lawyer was following his case till the day he died. I wonder if any lawyer in India would be this bold to represent Kasab. What to talk of him, even Afzal Guru was mainly convicted due to bad legal representation as he was not directly involved in the attack and thus could and should not have been hanged.

The people who are regarding Sarabjit as a hero fail to see the dichotomy. He was an Indian but involved in terrorism in Pakistan. I thus do not see any difference between him and Kasab. One was killed officially and the other unofficially and this is where the dissimilarity ends.

India is, rightly, angry with the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. The Indian government acted with maturity after the attacks unlike the reaction of its predecessor following the December 2001 Parliament attack which lined up hundreds of thousands of troops on the border, which were unilaterally and unconditionally withdrawn. This was not a mature reaction as it would not be in anybody’s interest if the two countries had gone to war over the issue.

In February 2007, the Samjauta Express was bombed by Hindu fundamentalists near Panipat and 68 Pakistanis were roasted inside. The culprits have yet to be convicted despite the passage of six years. Pakistan did not line up troops on the border despite a military General at the helm of affairs and neither the media nor the public went berserk talking about teaching India a lesson. Terrorism is a universal problem and Pakistan is one of the worst sufferers in the world.

We are neighboring countries and there is no reason we should not communicate about these issues. The sane voices should stand up against this `Tsunami of Hatred’ to plead peace, sanity and maturity. It is difficult if not impossible for Pakistan and India to go to war after becoming nuclear powers and this constant itching to teach Pakistan a lesson is not going to get us anywhere, except perhaps better TRPs. 


Leaving the Volatility Behind

Written by Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq  •  May 2013   

Foreign presence in Afghanistan has dealt a severe blow to development, stability and peace in the country. Where has U.S. funding really been utilized?

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta and Joint Chief of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 7 February 2013, demanded that “the State Department and Intelligence community must be provided with the resources they need to execute the mission we expect of them.” On 30 April 2013, many leading newspapers exposed how funds provided over the last decade, in the name of fighting the ‘war on terror’, were abused. The Guardian, in a report published on 30 April 2013, made the startling revelation that “the CIA and MI6 have regularly given large cash payments to Hamid Karzai’s office with the aim of maintaining access to the Afghan leader and his top allies and officials, but the attempt to buy influence has largely failed and may have backfired.”

On various levels, the war in Afghanistan (2001-present) is proving to be a failure. The payments by British intelligence on a smaller scale compared to CIA’s handouts, reported in the New York Times to the tune of tens of millions, have failed to finance peace initiatives, which have so far proved abortive. “The U.S. is quitting Afghanistan, and the morning after it does, the Taliban will begin the reconquest of that tragic land,” says Ms. Fawzia Koofi, noted lawmaker and human-rights activist of Afghanistan.

Talibanisation in tandem with terrorism is a real threat to the global community. The U.S. and NATO forces initially arrived in Afghanistan to eliminate Al-Qaeda and strengthen democracy as an alternative to Talibanisation. After 11 years of war, spending $600 billion, a toll of over 2,000 Americans dead and 18,000 wounded, the prime danger still lurks, even if weakened.

According to Reuters, the Afghan Taliban vowed to start a new campaign of mass suicide attacks on foreign military bases and diplomatic areas, as well as damaging “insider attacks,” as part of a new spring offensive this year. The announcement comes at a time when the NATO-led military coalition is in the final stages of its fight against the Taliban-led insurgency that began in late 2001. After announcing their spring offensive last year, the Taliban launched a big attack in Kabul involving suicide bombers and an 18-hour firefight, targeting Western embassies, ISAF headquarters and the Afghan parliament. These events prove the failure of the U.S. and its allies both on military and political fronts. Tragically, as the long U.S. war in Afghanistan winds down, it poses more uncertainties and greater ramifications to world peace and stability.

The failure, diplomatic circles claim, has raised questions among “some British officials over whether eagerness to promote a political settlement may have been exploited by Afghan officials and self-styled intermediaries for the Taliban.” The U.S. is, however, not ready to admit it was backing corrupt circles in Afghanistan and elsewhere rather than adopting pro-people policies. It is thus not surprising that anti-American sentiment is so high in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Political parties in Pakistan that support U.S. policies continue to suffer heavily during the election campaign with their rallies and congregations regularly targeted by extremist groups. In a post-election scenario, Pakistan is likely to live under a constant shadow of onslaught of Talibanisation -- a fact that has serious repercussions for all South Asian states as well. The U.S. and its allies have created a legacy that is bound to haunt this region for many years to come.

War-ravaged Afghanistan has not been reconstructed in the last 11 years to counter the Taliban threat. Instead, the payments, referred to in a New York Times report as “ghost money”, helped prop up warlords and corrupt officials, deepening Afghan popular mistrust of the Kabul government and its foreign backers, thereby helping drive the insurgency. This truth cannot be denied by the U.S., its allies and those who were supporting their policies in Pakistan and elsewhere. One American official even told the New York Times: “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.”

Taliban intermediaries were the main beneficiary of the funds secretly provided by the MI6 and the CIA. With the Afghan people suffering innumerable injustices, many questioned why they should support the U.S. The naivety of the so-called champions of peace was exposed in 2010 when the MI6 discovered that a would-be Taliban leader, in talks with Karzai, was actually an impostor from the Pakistani city of Quetta. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of the common people, policy makers in the U.S. were preoccupied with promoting the Taliban’s cause and wasting billions of dollars in secret funding. More than often, money audits are usually weak thus facilitating intelligence officers to make personal fortunes by not transferring the entire funds to the beneficiaries.

Vali Nasr, a former U.S. government adviser on Afghanistan, aptly noted, “Karzai has been lashing out against American officials and generals, so if indeed there has been funding by the CIA, you have to ask to what effect has that money been paid. It hasn’t clearly brought the sort of influence it was meant to.” In The Dispensable Nation, criticizing U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Nasr further adds, “If the terms of such payments are not clear, the question is how well do they tag with U.S. policy … The CIA has a narrow, counter-terrorism purview that involved working with warlords, but that is quite a different agenda, on how we conduct the war or how we build a government.”

Kate Clark, an analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a think-tank in Kabul, recently commented, “It is one thing to conduct covert operations in a hostile country. I’m flabbergasted that the CIA is running these kinds of covert operations in a friendly country. It runs counter to accountability, democracy and the rule of law, and is damaging what the U.S. is trying to do.” Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, observed that in November 2011, Karzai gave the quintessential Afghan statement about the place of the Americans and their coalition partners in his homeland saying, “The lion doesn’t like it if a foreigner intrudes into his house. The lion doesn’t like it if a stranger enters his house. The lion doesn’t want his children to be taken away by someone else in the night, the lion won’t let it happen. All the lion would tolerate is for the outsiders to “just guard the four sides of the forest.”

If Afghanistan is left to the Taliban and warlords, the situation within the country will undoubtedly have devastating effects on Pakistan and other South Asian states. It is imperative for all regional states to work out a solution and ask Western powers to completely disengage from conflict in Afghanistan. According to a recent statement issued by President Karzai, “The coalition forces were predators inflicting pain and ruin on the Afghans. At times, the foreign protectors ranked lower in esteem than the Taliban.” It seems then that foreign presence and engagement is counterproductive to any peace initiative in Afghanistan. 

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