Thursday, September 28, 2017
Pakistani: Mystery clouds govt’s silence on registration of political party formed by a Killer's supporters
While the interior ministry has objected to the registration of Milli Muslim League (MML) for being a political face of banned Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), it has maintained a mysterious silence about Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – a party raised from the ashes of the self-confessed killer of the former Punjab governor.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has questioned the registration application of the MML for being an extension of Hafiz Saeed’s JuD – which is facing UN and government’s sanctions for suspected militant activities, but it silently registered the TLP as a political party in July this year without questioning its credentials.
The TLP is in the limelight since last year as it glorifies Mumtaz Qadri, the murder of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. The self-confessed convict was hanged after being condemned to death by a trial court and upholding of the sentence by the higher courts.
Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi heads the TLP as well as the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLR), a religious pressure group whose political ambitions have given birth to the TLP. Rizvi is known for his strong views against the state for hanging Qadri and suspected blasphemers.
The TLR was founded on March 1, 2016 — only a day after the hanging of Qadri when a large number of his supporters and sympathisers gathered in Rawalpindi’s famous Liaquat Bagh to attend his funeral, according to TLP secretary-general Waheed Noor.
He said that the TLP is the political wing of the TLR and it was registered on July 26 this year by the Election Commission. “We had applied around three to four months before the registration,” he added.
Asif’s remarks were only aimed at satisfying a world community angered by what it sees as Pakistan’s questionable and duplicitous role in countering terrorists.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif did what appeared to be some plain talking when he told an audience at the Asia Society in New York that Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and others of their ilk had become liabilities for his country. This was not the first time the suave banker-turned-politician has spoken of Pakistan’s need to do more to rein in jihadi groups, including those which mainly target India. Days after the Brics grouping bracketed the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, Asif had acknowledged the need to restrict the activities of these terror groups and hinted that Pakistan could no longer test its friends like China on the issue of counterterrorism. But the question that continues to linger is whether Asif’s remarks were only aimed at satisfying a world community angered by what it sees as Pakistan’s questionable and duplicitous role in countering terrorists.
Asif also trotted out Pakistan’s well-honed arguments that these groups had become so powerful largely because of the US patronage of the mujahideen that battled the Soviet occupation forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. These were the same forces, he said, who were the “darlings” of the US, that were “wined and dined” in the White House three decades ago. But as former envoy Husain Haqqani, an astute observer of the links between Pakistan’s military and terror groups, pointed out on Twitter, 28 years should be enough to change the country’s policies and deal with the jihadis helped by the US to take on the Soviets.
It is now evident that no amount of pressure from the US and Western powers, who are largely acting with an eye on Afghanistan, can make the Pakistani military establishment give up its dangerous policy of using terror groups as proxies. A change can only come from within but even that seems unlikely when the latest reports from across the border suggest that Hafiz Saeed is well on course with his plans to make his Milli Muslim League the political face of his extensive jihadi network to give a modicum of respectability, if one can call it that, to his activities. These reports also suggest the “mainstreaming” of forces such as Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah is proceeding under plans drawn up by the all-powerful intelligence set-up. More evidence, if ever it was needed, that it will be extremely difficult for Khawaja Asif to walk the talk about reining in the jihadis.
B Y - DANIEL MARKEY
Last May, Chinese President Xi Jinping described the Belt and Road Initiative as the “project of the century.” Premier Li Keqiang has identified the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as the initiative’s “flagship project.” Marked by the fanfare of high-flying rhetoric and backed by billions of dollars in new investments, China has undeniably taken on a new and more active role in Southern Asia.
In the years since CPEC was announced, analysis of the geopolitical implications of these developments has also gotten more sophisticated. For the most part, this has led to gloomier prognostications about the geopolitical implications of China’s involvement in the region. This installment of the Southern (Dis)Comfort series aims to take yet another step into the gloom by showing how China’s grand schemes, Pakistan’s agenda, and India’s threat perceptions are, in combination, more likely to feed a spiral of suspicion and hostility than to encourage increased regional cooperation.
China’s Vague Grand Ambitions
In the initial phase of work on the CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative, the primary questions for observers and commentators were “What is China actually doing?” and “What is Beijing ultimately trying to accomplish?” Answers were mixed. At one end of the spectrum were the rosy-eyed optimists and more than a few propagandists who presented China’s actions as driven purely by the desire for economic integration that would present “win-win” opportunities for China as well as the other regional players. The corridor, by this logic, was primarily a massive development scheme by which China could simultaneously serve its own economic agenda as well as that of Pakistan, all without undermining the interests of other states in the region.
At the other end of the spectrum were those inclined to see every Chinese initiative as a carefully crafted strategic move to advance its own power projection capabilities, build regional geopolitical influence, and, ultimately, further its aim of challenging the United States in Asia and on the world stage. By this logic, China’s main aim in Pakistan was undoubtedly Gwadar port, from which the Chinese navy would gain a valuable foothold in the Arabian Sea. Connecting roads, railways, and even pipelines would enable China to escape its “Malacca Dilemma” by providing a new overland route from the energy-rich Persian Gulf directly to China’s western provinces.
But neither of these extreme explanations quite held up to scrutiny. Yes, some projects could well make money, and others will at least provide work for Chinese firms that are having trouble competing at home, where infrastructure supply now too often outstrips demand. Yet the economics-only interpretation could not explain China’s apparent willingness to dump considerable sums of money into projects with questionable prospects for repayment. And the security-only interpretation was flawed in two ways: First, because the Pakistanis seemed a great deal more eager to get the Chinese into Gwadar than the Chinese were to deploy naval assets to the region, and second, because the forbidding geography between Pakistan and western China is hardly conducive to massive commercial flows.
As a consequence, the debate has effectively matured to recognize that China’s motivations in supporting the corridor are mixed. Potential economic gains are real but insufficient; China’s economic investments are too often only justifiable by strategic rationales or, it seems, by the fact that CPEC enjoys the personal and political backing of Xi himself. Individually, China’s strategic moves in Southern Asia are opportunistic works-in-progress, but collectively they reflect deeper and longer-term aspirations for regional hegemony and global preeminence. China, at least for the moment, has bold but still somewhat vague ambitions for Southern Asia and will likely cross this river by “feeling the stones,” as Deng Xiaoping famously said in the context of his own reform efforts. Still at issue is whether the complexities of the region, and especially the longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan, will lead Beijing to slip and fall.
Pakistan Plays CPEC
Understanding how China’s actions will play into existing regional realities begins with Pakistan, the locus for most of Beijing’s new initiatives. A second major debate has centered on the question, “What is Pakistan attempting to achieve through CPEC?” Once again, the poles of the debate can be identified as, on the one hand, an optimistic economic agenda of promoting growth and opportunity sparked by Chinese capital, and, on the other, a strategically-oriented agenda, seeking to use China as an external balancer in Pakistan’s core strategic aim of resisting Indian domination. A corollary to this strategic argument is the observation that Pakistan faces a particular need for additional external assistance because its ties with the once-generous United States are fraying.
Here, too, there is ample evidence to suggest that neither of these poles captures the whole story. If Pakistan had primarily been interested in using investment from China to spur additional investment from domestic and other international sources, Islamabad would have embarked on a broader scheme of economic reform, opening its economy and revising its regulatory procedures in ways that would have provided a level playing field to all investors, with the Chinese leading the way. Instead, Islamabad has conducted its negotiations with Beijing almost entirely behind closed doors, suggesting other motives beyond simple economic development, both political and strategic. And framing the corridor as merely an anti-Indian balancing strategy cannot explain at least the initial allocation of Chinese investment, since the lion’s share of funds are directed to Pakistan’s civilian energy sector.
A more sophisticated read of Pakistan’s intentions would see both logics at work, with Islamabad seizing a last, best opportunity to advance its economic and security agendas with Chinese assistance, but without submitting to the politically wrenching path of sweeping economic reforms or acquiescing to the even more painful reality of India’s regional supremacy. In other words, whatever China’s broader intentions might be, its involvement in Pakistan is reinforcing some of the least healthy aspects of Pakistan’s political culture at home and its relationship with neighboring India.
This takes us to the third debate, centered on the question of how India will respond to CPEC. Thus far, India’s official reaction to the corridor has been negative in a narrowly diplomatic sense, with New Delhi’s criticism focused on Beijing’s direct involvement in the disputed territories of Gilgit-Baltistan. More broadly, however, India sees the tightening China-Pakistan axis as a twofold problem: First, the threat of Chinese encroachment in what New Delhi considers its traditional sphere of influence, and second, the threat that a China-backed Pakistan could be emboldened to pursue even more aggressive anti-Indian tactics, both by cross-border attacks by militant proxies and by ratcheting up tensions in the heat of a crisis. Combine these threat perceptions with the Indian government’s increasingly muscular approach to international politics under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and you have a recipe for heightened regional competition and a greater chance of violent conflict.
The Sino-Indian competition, including its maritime dimension and recent territorial spats, has been well-covered by other essays in this series. Whatever worries India has about China’s new naval base in Djibouti are likely to be mirrored in its concerns over Gwadar, assuming the port will welcome Chinese warships even if it doesn’t become a full-fledged Chinese base. Overall, India is showing every sign that it will aim to balance against these moves, by improving its own military capabilities, cultivating powerful new friends (like the United States and Japan) and pursuing tactics to deny Chinese territorial gains in ways that aim to throw China off its standard game plan for coercing less powerful states in Asia.
As for the second threat — that of an emboldened Pakistan — it is at least conceivable that China’s tighter embrace of Pakistan would help to resolve Islamabad’s fundamental insecurity from facing a larger Indian neighbor. With that insecurity addressed, Pakistan would no longer feel the need to deploy risky asymmetric tools for balancing, namely a large and growing nuclear arsenal (informed by an inherently risky first-use doctrine) and militant proxy forces like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which routinely launch terrorist strikes inside India that threaten to set off another war. Instead, this thinking suggests, Pakistan could sit back and get its own house in order, confident that China would have its back in the event of Indian hostility or bullying. Moreover, to the extent that China’s CPEC investments in Pakistan are aimed at promoting economic stability, they would pose no serious threat to India. To the contrary, most Indian policymakers would likely cheer an economic stabilization package for Pakistan if it promised a more prosperous, peaceful, and secure neighbor.
By most Indian estimates, however, China’s backing is more likely to embolden Pakistan than to restrain it. This conclusion is based on the widely held Indian assumption that Pakistan is a revisionist state, not a pure security seeker. Because Pakistan aims to alter the status quo, both in a territorial sense (e.g. Kashmir) and in terms of an overall power balance that increasingly favors India, it will attempt to deploy Chinese power to that end. Put crudely, Pakistan could continue to jab India with proxy forces while collecting potent Chinese military technologies and sheltering behind Chinese defensive security guarantees. Chinese-assisted enhancements to Pakistan’s economic or security condition at home would, from this perspective, only free up resources for a more vigorous competition with India.
CPEC or no, India is already in the process of attempting to establish a more effective deterrent against Pakistani adventurism and Chinese coercion. Accordingly, we see the standoff at Doklam and the “surgical strikes” at Uri. In both instances, Modi’s government managed a feat that eluded its recent predecessors: quick escalations that demonstrate commitment and place adversaries in an uncomfortable tactical position. On the diplomatic stage, we have seen some evidence that India is willing to take a similarly provocative stance, for instance by skipping China’s Belt and Road Forum last May and releasing its own set of guidelines for international investment. Similarly, in early September, Indian diplomats made clever use of the BRICS summit to take a swipe at Pakistan-based terrorist groups.
India’s new and apparently effective tactics may add up to a broader strategy for countering the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Sino-Pakistani cooperation writ large. At the very least, India has shown that it will up the ante with both Pakistan and China. Precisely how far New Delhi is prepared to go in response to the emergent China-Pakistan axis is not clear. Pakistanis already claim — on rather flimsy evidence — that India is engaged in covert operations to undermine CPEC. These claims are easily brushed aside, but it would hardly be surprising if New Delhi were to explore all options, from covert tactics to conventional military and diplomatic initiatives, in response to what it interprets as a defining — and expanding — strategic threat. In short, as in the case of Pakistan, we reach the gloomy prognosis that China’s deeper involvement in Southern Asia is stirring competitive Indian tendencies rather than cooperative ones.
The Next Debate
Armed with this (perhaps tentative) resolution to the third debate, we should now open the door to a fourth: How are Beijing and Islamabad likely to respond to a more pugnacious India? The answer will depend in part on how Beijing and Islamabad interpret India’s actions, and their interpretations may differ. At issue is whether India’s tactics of escalation are interpreted mainly as efforts to deter and de-escalate, or if they are instead perceived as signs of fundamental Indian hostility and increasing regional, if not global, ambition.
The first interpretation could lead China and Pakistan to adopt a more restrained approach, both in terms of how they manage a potential crisis with India and in the way they frame their emerging cooperative ties. This impulse toward restraint seemed at the core of a May 2017 statement in which China’s ambassador to India downplayed the exclusive character of CPEC and promoted India’s cooperation. Of course, that statement was subsequently retracted, almost certainly due to Pakistani protests, but also because of China’s own frustration with India’s refusal to attend the Belt and Road summit meeting. This suggests that the second interpretation of Indian actions will dominate in Islamabad and perhaps in Beijing as well.
If China and Pakistan both perceive the need to check Indian tactics by escalating their own competitive initiatives, the scene is undoubtedly set for an increasingly dangerous spiral of moves and counter-moves. In short, the further we press our analysis, the gloomier the conclusions we reach.
By Talimand Khan
The participation of Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP)’s candidates in the by election of NA-120 indicates our security establishment is going to add another feather to its history of shortsightedness so that the latter comes full circle in the form of Frankenstein. Both the candidates contested the by-election as independents because they were not yet registered as political parties with the Election Commission of Pakistan. However, apparently they belonged to the prohibited organisations and used its slogans. More importantly, the pictures of Hafiz Muhammad Said and Mumtaz Qadri adorned their election banners and posters. The US had announced a bounty of $10 million against Hafiz Said in 2012 while Qadri had been hanged by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the murder case of Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer.
The aftermath of the United States new strategy for AF-Pak announced by President Trump on August 21, 2017, during his twenty six minutes speech indicates the seriousness of the US regarding our security and foreign policies. Yet such moves can be translated by the international community, particularly by America and its allies as outright defiance which may produce dire consequences for the country as well as for the region.
Although, our security establishment formulated polices in the past with double edge use like the Afghan jihad policy requiring religious extremism as a tool to be a front-line state against the evil empire, those policy measures were also used as an edge in the regional power game as well as for domestic political control which resulted in constant political instability and social — religious polarisation.
If we could not achieve our maximalist objectives in Afghanistan and South Asia in the 1990s, when the West was dazzled by the aura of defeating the evil empire, how is it possible today in such a hostile international and regional environment? Alas, policy audits, introspection and accountability in the case of policy failures never crossed the mind of overzealous patriots whose mantra of accountability began and ended with selective financial accountability of civilians.
We expect that the world to recognise our strategic fantasies as legitimate policy concerns. Our declared policy in the 1980s was to help the free world in defeating the Communist empire in the form of the Soviet Union that not only posed, according to our narrative, a threat to the free world, but also a dire existential threat to the Muslim Ummah. However, after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, we expected that the western world, particularly the US, would acknowledge our right to use the residue of the Afghan jihad as policy tools.
Is this only a psychological problem preventing our policy makers to come out from the decade of 1990s? Why have we put all our eggs of regional policy in one basket making it a do or die mission? Foreign policy is the most intricate business wherein the state not only deals with its own citizens but with other states and adversaries within it. And therefore, the states are employing more than one option and alternatives to avoid ending up in an impasse.
If we could not achieve our maximalist objectives in Afghanistan and South Asia in the 1990s, when the West was dazzled by the aura of defeating the evil empire, how is it possible today in such a hostile international and regional environment?
Instead of changing our policy tools, realigning policy options and objectives, the policy makers seem to crawl in the same rut that leads them nowhere.
Currently, if the radicals of a certain hue have been provided political legitimacy in the mainstream media, how can the state deny it to other groups tomorrow?
What would be the long term domestic and institutional consequences of a policy that only focusses on short terms domestic political objectives to truncate assertive political forces?
So far, our state and its institutions were trying hard to persuade the world that extremism and radicalisation were not a societal issue but a peripheral ripple effect, along with other social and political costs of our efforts for Afghan Jihad, the majority of Pakistan’s population was moderate. Their voting for mainstream secular political parties has been presented as evidence of moderation. In case the MML takes electoral roots, like the MMA benefiting from the expertise of election engineering of our institutions, with their political outlook and slogans, what is the guarantee that mainstream politics would not get radicalised and what would be our explanation to the world? How, can the state prevent the MML not to become a political umbrella for other radicals like Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesperson for the Taliban?
On the other hand, we are working hard to remind the world to acknowledge our sacrifices, though why and how the sacrifices were made had never been debated either in the parliament or media. But how can we expect the world to listen to us any more on the subject if we mainstream the elements and ideology against whom we portrayed as an existential threat and fight them? Such schemes of mainstreaming political inclusion and exclusion can promote sectional interests and certain institutional control over the polity but at a huge cost to the state in the long run.
Ten years after the military raid on his mosque made international headlines and shocked his country, Abdul Aziz remains influential, overseeing a network of seminaries as he calls for a "caliphate" to be established in Pakistan.
During his time at the helm of the Red Mosque, Aziz shot to prominence for his inflammatory sermons, advocating jihad against the West and a hardline interpretation of Islam.
He spread this message among his thousands of students, mostly poor children from rural areas who are educated for free at madrassas affiliated with the mosque, sparking accusations of brainwashing from critics.
By 2007 things had reached a tipping point.
His armed followers had begun taking his message to the streets of the capital, vandalising CD and DVD stalls and kidnapping Chinese masseuses, with tensions quickly degenerating into murderous clashes.
When the regime of then-President Pervez Musharraf launched an assault on the mosque on July 10, 2007, the army found itself facing heavily armed jihadists.
The controversial operation was followed minute-by-minute on live television, with more than 100 people killed in the week-long effort to pacify the mosque and arrest its leaders.
The attack on the religious site sparked ferocious blowback from extremists across the country, marking the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) - an umbrella organisation for homegrown militant groups targeting the Pakistani state.
In the following years Islamist violence increased dramatically, with thousands of Pakistanis killed, maimed, or forced to flee their homes as security deteriorated.
Aziz himself was arrested as he tried to flee the besieged mosque in a burqa, taken straight to a television studio and paraded in the garment - earning the nickname "Mullah Burqa".
- Never convicted -
He faced two dozen indictments, including incitement to hatred, murder and kidnapping. But Aziz was released on bail in 2009.
"He was acquitted in all these cases, and the government has chosen not to file appeals," said lawyer and civil rights activist Jibran Nasir.
"There is no willingness for prosecution against him."
Despite brief stints under house arrest, Aziz now appears to be galvanising the next generation with his fiery preaching -- apparently without fear of repercussions.
"The curious thing is that the army has gone after the TTP but not Aziz," said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading anti-extremist activist.
"There's sympathy for his cause that's greater than the fear of being attacked again."
Aziz is known to boast of his relations with well known jihadists like Osama Bin Laden and has spoken sympathetically about the Islamic State group. He has also condoned high-profile extremist attacks, like the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.
"The impunity enjoyed by Abdul Aziz and other radical clerics raises fear of the capital returning to a 2007-like situation," said political commentator Zahid Hussain.
In 2014, a video of students from his madrassa voicing their support for IS did not earn him any condemnation. "There should be a caliphate in the world including in Pakistan," said Aziz in a televised interview around that time.
- Kicking the 'hornet's nest' -
Aziz "is tolerated... because it would be like touching a hornet's nest", explains former general Talat Masood.
Given the sensitivity of the population to religious questions, intervening "would risk attracting sympathies".
Authorities, however, appear to be keeping him on a tight leash for now.
Aziz is no longer welcome at the Red Mosque, which theoretically belongs to the state, and he has been placed on the Pakistan's anti-terrorist list.
A rally planned by his supporters to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Red Mosque siege was banned by the courts.
In recent months, the authorities have blocked roads surrounding the mosque to prevent Aziz from holding rallies and have taken measures to stop him from preaching on Friday, even remotely by phone.
The Red Mosque's new imam Maulana Aamir Sadeeq, an affable 30-year-old, said it was time to "forget the past" and "the extreme positions" of a decade ago. "We must put a distance between terrorism and us," said Sadeeq -- who happens to be Aziz's nephew.