Sunday, May 21, 2017

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Perspective: CPEC marks the end of free speech in Pakistan

Haroon Riaz

The latest provocative Dawn story about the CPEC might as well be a pack of lies, but what about things unfolding right in front of our eyes? It is very hard, and almost feels immoral, to remain silent at the Interior Minister’s crusade against dissenting bloggers and social media activists. Since Zia’s period, we have not seen the Pakistani state practice such blunt and open crackdown against free speech and dissent in the countries. What are you to say of authorities who treat their own citizens, whose taxes pay for their livelihood, like the enemy? It is deeply disappointing.

There is a reason why people are skeptical of China. The Chinese Road and Belt initiative does sound very good to the ears and who in their right mind would oppose economic cooperation beyond borders? But the reason why people find it hard to trust them is because of the political culture and ideology they practice in their country. They do not practice the freedom they have preached in this initiative. There are no Google and Facebook in China and that is precisely why I am not too excited about the cross border optic fiber cable network from China border to Rawalpindi. The Chinese ideals are not shared by the Pakistani youth struggling for freedom of expression.

The Chinese cultural push in Pakistan also sounds more than just a rumor, with their political culture seeming to be creeping into the country. You see, in Pakistan people like to dissent, even when it comes to the blasphemy law. They like to vote for other parties, speak ill of the people of other sects and ethnicities. And considering the totalitarian trends that are also creeping into Pakistani politics with unanimously passed constitutional amendments, it is important to remind that we are not a one party country and would never be no matter what happens. It is only sad to see that these values of the Pakistani people are not being shared by those cracking down on dissenters.

We can only beg our higher authorities to please think about the people of Pakistan above everything else and stop crackdown on dissenters.

Ever since the CPEC has started, the government has been responding very aggressively and reactively to any criticism, without trying to understand what the concerns might be. In good conscience, you cannot possibly support that, especially when the democratically elected officials stand behind such policies. China may genuinely have a very encouraging vision of the regional economy but the questions that the local Pakistani businessmen and cultural critics have are worth listening to.

The Pakistani dissenting bloggers may criticize or insult the Pakistani armed forces all they want, at least we knew that their higher echelons appreciated finer things in life. At least they valued some freedom for themselves, some of which trickled down to us mortals. But with an authoritarian influencer in the picture, are we even going to have the little freedom that we used to enjoy? The future looks uncertain and scary.

Also, please do not mistake these lines to be a contradiction to the title of this piece. The more frightening aspect is that now the Pakistani authorities do not even fear if their reputation gets affected by openly targeting dissent. And that is precisely the effect of the CPEC.

Consider this and all the pieces to come from hereon to be heavily self-censored.

Long live Pakistan.

Pakistan - Our Middle East predicament

Dr Imran Iqbal

Pakistan’s entanglement in regional power politics has resulted from the accumulative effects of its economic dependence and the geopolitical legacy of General Ziaul Haq’s regime.
Pakistan, it seems, has permanently entangled itself into the regional power politics between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is not just because Iran and Saudi Arabia are, historically and intrinsically, associated with the cultural and religious outlook of Pakistan’s two sizable minority sects, namely Shiite and Ahle-Hadis. The later enjoys strong sympathisers in the Deoband sect as well.
Instead, Pakistan’s entanglement has resulted mainly from the accumulative effects of its economic dependence and the geopolitical legacy of General Ziaul Haq’s regime. Especially, Zia’s decision to renounce Z.A Bhutto’s policy of ‘bilateralism’ that had enabled Pakistan to establish normal diplomatic and economic relationships with rival Cold-War camps and, most importantly, the Arab and the non-Arab Muslim states or kingdoms, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Although, Iran, unlike Saudi Arabia, enjoys strategically indispensable position for Pakistan and the entire Southwest Asian region, yet under the dogmatic regime of General Zia, Riyadh was able to weave itself — with the help of oil’s money and the CIA — into the geopolitical dynamics of South and Southwest Asian region. This was particularly the case after the Kingdom became a major financier of America’s sponsored ‘Jihad’ against the then Soviet forces in Afghanistan — its role and influence in Pakistan’s or South Asian geopolitics, at large, became too consequential to be ignored.
As Pakistan tried to steer an independent foreign policy, the Saudis, mainly through the UAE, hit it where it hurts the most — sending thousands of Pakistani workers back to their homes while shamelessly courting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi At General Zia’s pleasure (the author of the ‘puritanical-mission’ in Pakistan), the Saudis, under the guise of Jihad against the so-called godless Soviets, launched their own ideologically driven power-struggle to counterbalance the Shiite-Revolutionary Iran of Khamenei that had pledged to export its ideology and revolutionary-zeal to the Muslim-World — especially the Middle Eastern Kingdoms to, apparently, dislodge pro-US monarchs and dictators from the region.
Since General Zia’s regime had already undertook to Islamise Pakistan’s polity and radicalise its geopolitics, the Americans and the Saudis found in him a willing and needy ‘frontline ally’ to contain both the Soviet’s and Iranian growing influence in the Middle East or the Southwest Asian region. Ironically, the Americans, Zia and Saudis felt no qualms in sharing the same bed with the godless Chinese against the godless Soviets. This shows how ideologies are manufactured and deployed as ‘smoke-screen’ to hide selfish interests and pernicious attributes of power politics.
In the name of his so-called ‘puritanical-mission’ or the ideology of Islamisation, General Zia’s regime justified Pakistan’s role as ‘frontline proxy state’ of Saudis and Americans against the Soviet Union and Iran. More so, Zia, tacitly allowed the Saudis to spread their Salafi-Ideology both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, countries that share border with Iran (Afghanistan on the north and Pakistan on the far south). To counter Saudi moves, Tehran responded with its own proxy war inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, a prelude to sectarian terrorism in the two countries. The decades of 1980s and 1990s witnessed one of the worst spate of sectarian terrorism in Pakistan and flames of sectarian hatred continued to engulf the entire country through 2000s. In addition, under General Zia, heroin-addicts and Kalashnikov-wielders in Pakistan reached to an alarming number, while his parasite regime continued to inject Dollars and Riyals into the social fabric of Pakistan, diminishing its ‘will and capacity’ to become self-reliant and economically independent.
Zia’s corrosive and divisive geopolitics became handy for New Delhi to carve a closer economic and strategic relationship with Tehran. He, in fact handed Iran (Pakistan’s oldest regional ally and strategically the most important country in the region) to India on a silver plate, for he and his successors failed to detoxify themselves from the chronic addiction of Dollars and Riyals.
Today, Pakistan, perhaps, can no longer steer an independent foreign policy, especially after Saudis and their vessel state UAE badly exposed Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel(economic dependence)when our ruling elite refused to play Saudi Arabia’s proxy in Yemen — gathering enough courage to bail Pakistan out of hellish geopolitics of the Kingdoms of Heaven, the Salafi-Saudi-Arabia and the Shiite Iran. However, as the ruling elite of Pakistan tried to steer an independent foreign policy, the Saudis, mainly through UAE hit Pakistan where it hurts the most, sending thousands of Pakistani workers or poor job seekers back to their homes while shamelessly courting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the butcher of Gujrat’s Muslims. Against this backdrop, our immune system collapsed, forcing us to return to the Kingdom of Heaven with our finest ex-Army Chief.
It is true that there is no quick remedy for our addiction to Riyals and Dollars, neither can we undo General Zia’s legacy in months. Down the road, we must however ensure that Pakistan — if it must steer an independent foreign policy and live with dignity among international community — acquires multiple and multidimensional deterrence capability. This would mean acquiring an independent and strong economy that can deter arm-twisters and blackmailers. For only a prosperous, democratic and united nation that can deter aggressors and exploiters.

Pakistan - Daesh is here


The Islamic State is successfully carrying out and claiming deadly strikes in Balochistan since August 8 last year. What is the extent of its presence in Pakistan?
On May 12, Balochistan was rocked with a powerful bang one more time in the area of Mastung when the deputy chairman senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidery was targeted. He was lucky to have survived the attack but 25 other people lost their lives. The Islamic State (IS) claimed the deadly attack and released its statement in three different languages including Urdu.
On the same day, a trilateral meeting among the delegates of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan was held at the General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi. The delegates underlined the need to defeat Daesh (Islamic State) through complementary efforts in respective areas of operations.
Despite the military offensive on both sides of the frontier — Pakistan and Afghanistan — data shows that Daesh is successfully carrying out deadly strikes in Balochistan since August 8 last year when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Civil Hospital Quetta killing at least 70 people. On October 24, three suicide attackers stormed the Police Training Centre Quetta and gunned down 62 cadets. After a few weeks, a suicide bomber detonated his vest at the Sufi shrine of Shah Noorani in the district of Khuzdar, at least 52 devotees were killed.
The target of the last attack was Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidery, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F). Attack on a right wing religious party leader may have been surprising for many; however, the head of the JUI-F, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, too, had escaped unhurt in three different suicide attacks in 2011 and 2014.
The last assassination attempt on Rehman was made on October 23, 2014 in Quetta when a suicide bomber exploded himself outside the rally of JUI-F. The banned outfit, Jundullah Pakistan, had claimed the responsibility of the attack. It was among the few groups who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State back in November 2014.
Militant circles have for long been criticising the JUI-F for showing an undeterred support for the democratic form of government in the country. The extremist organisations that claim to struggle for the revival of Khilafat have no place for democracy in a country. Likewise, in its recently celebrated 100th anniversary, the JUI-F had invited representatives of various faiths — something that was condemned by extremists.
Following the Balochistan Police Training College Quetta attack, spoke to Ali Bin Sufyan, LeJA’s spokesperson and he conceded that “it was a joint venture of LeJA and Islamic State, the suicide bombers were provided by Daesh”.
On October 31, 2014 the Home & Tribal Affairs Department of Balochistan issued a letter alerting about Islamic State activities: “It is reliably learnt that Daesh has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat to join hands with it in Pakistan”.
A high ranking intelligence official on condition of anonymity told The News on Sunday that Daesh is more like an umbrella organisation now, trying to attract international attention and getting projection by extending its area of influence. This will catapult it as a formidable terrorist organisation, thereby attracting more hardcore elements.
“IS does not have any militants on ground. Violent organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or Jaish-ul-Islam have subscribed to their ideology or some converts from these and other militant outfits like TTP have joined them, in return for funding and provision of suicide bombers,” he added.
On December 5 last year, an intelligence agency along with the police conducted an operation in Pishin district. During an encounter Jahangir Badeni, the mastermind of the civil hospital blast, along with four others was said to have been killed. After investigation, it was revealed that those killed were affiliated with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi (LeJA) and Jaish-e-Islam.
A source who was privy to this operation disclosed that the head of the gang was Jahangir Badeni and all the affiliates had pledged allegiance to Islamic State before the execution of the hospital attack.
Following the PTC Quetta attack, spoke to Ali Bin Sufyan, LeJA’s spokesperson and he conceded that “it was a joint venture of LeJA and Islamic State, the suicide bombers were provided by Daesh”.
During early February in an interview to the United States Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC), Commander US Forces in Afghanistan, General John W. Nicholson said, “The Islamic State, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have also formed a loose configuration. So we see these alliances of convenience or coming together where they have complementary goals, and this is one of our big concerns.”
Former IG Balochistan Javed Ali Bukhari who has a sound counter terrorism background said, “Daesh in Pakistan is an extension of Middle East based ISIS. It is a brand and a saleable item these days, that’s why everyone wants to associate himself with it but on ground it is the LeJ that is still active”.
February this year, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Sindh prepared a report titled “Pakistan as a fertile growth area for the Islamic State”. The report says: “Despite the support for the Islamic State among tribal leaders, the group has garnered more support among the general population in Pakistan’s settled areas. Islamic State recruitment appears to be high in Pakistan’s well-off Punjab province as well as in Karachi”. The Counter Terrorism Department’s report further points out, “the focus now is on tribal areas as a likely theatre for IS expansion, but the real threat may come from IS luring individuals to its ideology in urban areas.”
The CTD report further notes the rise in hard-line schools of thought, both within Pakistan and among Pakistanis who work in Gulf countries — a trend that can make individuals more susceptible to Islamic State influence.
The Islamic State’s virulent hatred of Shiism has also contributed to its growth in Pakistan, as the country’s fault lines have allowed militant groups like the now-defunct sectarian terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) to operate. The top anti-Pakistan militant outfit, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is also a deeply sectarian outfit. Some of the TTP’s sub-groups based in different tribal agencies are headed by individuals who were once affiliated with LeJ.
The Pakistani authorities believe that Pakistan is not as easy a target as Afghanistan for the IS. State institutions like Army, Law Enforcement Agencies and intelligence agencies are far more in control and a wave of IS-dominated militancy that would disturb the everyday life of citizens is far-fetched. Isolated incidents might continue to happen though.
“It is the ideology of religious organisations that trickles down to their ranks and file creating sympathies for the IS and other militant organisations,” says Bukhari.
The ultimate objective of Daesh is to attain enough political clout to declare a pan Islamic (sunni) Khilafat. It is a dream of establishing an overarching state all over the Muslim world, removing all disparity, promulgating a system of justice based on Sharia and social welfare. Fueling this ideology are factors like injustice, poverty, unemployment, and lack of response from State. The absence of Madrassa reforms and poor governance in militant infested areas are further exacerbating the mindset of the indoctrinated individuals.
The journey of radicalising youth and women in settled areas of mega cities is another potent threat as there is no major obstacle in its way.

Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns target-killings of police personnel in Kohat and Karachi

Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned target-killings of police personnel in Kohat and Karachi and urged for stern response to the terrorists targeting police, law enforcing agencies and other citizens.
In a press statement issued here, the PPP Chairman said that terrorist elements cannot impose themselves on the people of Pakistan adding that every Pakistan is up against the menace of terrorism.
He said PPP would not sit silent until complete elimination of terrorism.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari saluted the martyred policemen and expressed sympathy and solidarity with the victims’ families.

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When in Riyadh: Trump & Tillerson awkwardly join in Saudi sword dance

US President Donald Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, attempted to get their groove on with Saudi saber bearers during a traditional welcoming sword dance, seemingly celebrating the multibillion arms deal signed earlier.
Footage from the welcome ceremony shows Trump and Tillerson dancing awkwardly in the large crowd that also included Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon and First Lady Melania Trump.
The “Ardha” performance was hosted by King Salman on Saturday to mark President Trump’s first overseas visit to Riyadh.
On Saturday, the two leaders signed a series of agreements aimed at boosting their countries’ military and economic partnerships, including an arms deal worth a cool $350 billion over 10 years, with a payment of almost $100 billion to be made immediately.
Trump is the first US president to make a Muslim-majority country his first overseas visit as president. The nine-day trip will also include Israel, the Palestinian territories, Brussels, the Vatican and Sicily.
This isn’t the first time the president got hold of a saber this week. Following Trump’s speech to US Coast Guard Academy graduates on Wednesday, after which the commander-in-chief was presented with a ceremonial saber, a hot mic caught the DHS Chief John Kelly telling the president he should use the sword “on the press.”

Saudi women are disappointed with Trump on human rights

Donald Trump arrived Saturday in a country where women must secure a male guardian’s permission to get a passport, go to college and travel, and are forbidden from driving and can’t eat in certain restaurants.
But the new U.S. president, unlike his predecessors, was not expected to push the issue of human rights on his visit to Saudi Arabia despite the urging of some in the country.
“If he’s OK with human rights abuses, with the fact that women can’t drive, with the male guardianship system, with all the issues that we have in Saudi Arabia then that really shows the type of leadership that he represents,” said Eman al Hafjan, a Riyadh resident who helped organize a demonstration of women driving cars in 2013.
As a candidate, Trump frequently criticized Saudi Arabia for its treatment of women and gays, but in recent months he has praised Saudi leaders and other regimes around the world with poor human rights records — the Philippines, China, Turkey and Egypt.
Saudi leaders know that Trump is unlikely to press them about how they run their countries. Off the table are topics such as democracy, political reform and gender equality.
Trump arrived in Riyadh on Saturday, the first stop of his first foreign trip as president.
In Saudi Arabia, where women must cover themselves from head to toe in public, there are no federal elections, no protests and no political parties or trade unions. The media are controlled by the government. People can worship only Islam in public.
The latest State Department Human Rights Report listed the official U.S. view of the kingdom’s human rights problems: “citizens’ lack of the ability and legal means to choose their government; restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and the freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and pervasive gender discrimination and lack of equal rights that affected most aspects of women’s lives.”