Wednesday, December 6, 2017
By Asad Hashim
A Pakistani peace activist has been abducted in the eastern city of Lahore, prompting fears for his safety, his family and fellow activists confirmed on Wednesday.
Raza Mahmood Khan, 40, was a member of the Aghaz-e-Dosti (Initiation of Friendship) organisation, and was known for his grassroots activism around the issue of India-Pakistan friendship, said Saeeda Diep, a prominent social activist in Lahore.
Khan went missing on Saturday, his brother Hamid Nasir told Al Jazeera, after attending an open discussion event on the topic of extremism.
"We plan to hold a protest later in the week," said Diep. "We are also going to file a habeus corpus writ in the Lahore High Court. We think that those lucky few who get released after abductions such as these usually come through the action of the courts."
On Twitter, users shared news of Khan's disappearance using the #FindRaza hashtag.
Earlier this week, Pakistan's Supreme Court took the country's security apparatus to task for the hundreds of missing persons cases that remained unresolved in the country, casting doubt over the government's defence that those reported missing had disappeared of their own accord.
At least 1,498 cases of enforced disappearances remain pending with a government investigative commission on such cases, according to a report submitted to the top court.
The report said that more than 2,257 cases had been marked as resolved after the whereabouts of those reported missing had been traced. Hundreds of those people are being held in military-operated internment camps – where Pakistani law allows authorities to hold suspects without charge indefinitely – across the country's northwest.
Several social media activists who have been critical of the country's powerful military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 70-year-history – have gone missing in recent months. Others have had cases lodged against them under the country's cybercrime laws. In January, four activists were released three weeks after being abducted from Lahore, the capital Islamabad and the central Punjab town of Nankana Sahib. Two of them – Aasim Saeed and Ahmad Waqass Goraya – later alleged to Al Jazeera and in social media posts that they had been abducted, tortured and interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agents.
Pakistan's military and intelligence services deny any connection to the disappearances.
In a move that was uncharacteristic of him, Khan had shared several posts that were overtly critical of or poking fun at the military in the days before his disappearance, said Diep, who described Khan as being "like a son to me".
"He was so low-profile, he never came forward that much," she said. "He worked in a small capacity to discuss things related to India-Pakistan friendship."
The event in Lahore where Khan was last seen was organised to discuss a 20-day sit-in by protesters that had blocked a major highway into the Pakistani capital over alleged blasphemy.
Khan expressed views that were "very critical" of the sit-in, the Reuters news agency reported, citing the event's host. After nearly three weeks, the Islamabad protest ended when organisers won almost all of their demands, including the resignation of the law minister they accused of committing blasphemy, in an agreement brokered by the military.
"He had never received any kind of warning or threat, from the intelligence agencies or others," said Diep. "He was not someone who was very influential or from the elite, he did not have a lot of Twitter followers. He belonged to a very humble background."
Nasir, Khan's brother, said that when police searched the activist's home it did not appear to have been ransacked. The central processing unit for Khan's desktop computer was the only thing missing from the apartment, he said.
The police case had registered a kidnapping against unidentified suspects and were cooperating fully with the family, he said.
"The police has to tell us who would have a motive to take him. They need to go through his call records and the CCTV footage, only then will we know what happened," said Nasir.
YAQOOB KHAN BANGASH
Some describe Pakistan’s relationship with the United States in marital terms. Pakistan is the faithful, devoted first wife while the United States is the playboy husband whose strategic affections shift from time to time, most recently to India. According to this narrative Pakistan often responds irrationally to these shifts, going so far as to accuse the United States of abandonment.
In fact, rather than behaving like a jilted lover, Pakistan has, in the past, shown deftness in managing its U.S.-ties and pragmatism in coping with geopolitical change. In the 1960s, Pakistan strategically improved relations with Communist China, much to the initial chagrin of the United States. Similarly, in 1979, when it formally joined the Non-Aligned Movement, Pakistan showed its willingness to explore options beyond the Western camp. Pakistan showed an ability to adapt to emerging geopolitics, sometimes at the expense of its ties with the United States. U.S.-Pakistani ties have never been as simple as it is often believed.
Despite the strategic way Pakistan has managed its relationship with the United States in the past, the future might see a different trajectory. Over the past five years, three dramatic shifts in Pakistan’s regional relationships — with China, India, and the United States — afford new opportunities. It is time that Pakistan move beyond a foreign policy that revolves around relations with these three countries, and instead diversify its interests and opportunities. For example, Pakistan can expand its relations with the Central Asian republics and become a trade and energy route for these countries, especially through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Similarly, Pakistan can enhance its role in the Middle East by tactfully participating in the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance, which its former Army chief heads, and by playing a constructive role in the Saudi-Iranian conflict. If Pakistan can deftly maneuver a pragmatic course through these shifting currents, it can position itself to compete effectively and advance its foreign policy interests beyond the narrow prism of India, China, and the United States.
The Changing Strategic Landscape
In the past few years, the geopolitical reality of Southern Asia has changed dramatically, leading to three major reconfigurations: 1) the intensification of the China-Pakistan nexus, 2) the emergence of India as a global power, and 3) the decline of the United States as an influential player.
First, the “flagship” China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has brought the two countries’ relationship to a new level. Even though Pakistan and China have been close for decades, the relationship has been primarily one of military and diplomatic engagement. China has had little influence in Pakistan’s internal matters, very few Pakistanis have made China their home, and the non-trade traffic between the two countries is also very limited. China’s actual footprint in Pakistan to date has been quite light.
All of this is poised to change with China’s burgeoning investments in its South Asian neighbor. While the details are still shrouded in secrecy, it is believed that several thousand Chinese personnel will come to Pakistan to implement projects to these investments. It is already estimated that upwards of 30,000 Chinese nationals reside in Pakistan, while over 71,000 visas were issued to Chinese individuals in 2016 alone. How China will engage with the various stakeholders in Pakistani politics remains to be seen, but a larger footprint will certainly engender greater Chinese interest and more interference in domestic affairs. Already, China has voiced concerns about terrorism in Pakistan, most recently through the BRCIS declaration, which for the first time named Pakistan-based groups as concerns. As Chinese presence and investment increases in Pakistan, concern about the security and safety of those interests will naturally also increase. But several critical questions remain: Will the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan try to fit into the role of the U.S. ambassador in terms of local influence? How will the Pakistani military react to direct Chinese contacts with actors in Pakistan? And to what extent will China’s presence lead it to dictate certain policy decisions in Islamabad? Second, after decades of Pakistan being India’s primary strategic concern, India is finally emerging as a world power. For years, the tensions between India and Pakistan equated the two countries to a certain extent, much to the chagrin of New Delhi, and showed India’s inability to move beyond a regional posture, let alone become a world power. However, India has been changing its foreign policy. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has considerably expanded its relationship with the United States, which has further strengthened under President Donald Trump. India is fast becoming a counterweight to China, and has also rebranded its old “Look East” policy as a more proactive “Act East” policy that envisions deeper partnerships with Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Most significantly, India has decided on an “Ignore Pakistan” or “de-hyphenation” policy. India now only refers to Pakistan in the context of world terrorism and shows no signs of being amenable to talks with its neighbor. India recently recalled its high commissioner to Pakistan mid-term and sent him to Beijing, prompting one high-ranking Indian diplomat to quip wryly that India didn’t want to “waste talent in Pakistan.”
Pakistan should view this Indian disengagement in two ways. On the one hand, it should use this opportunity to also de-hyphenate its worldview and avoid seeing it exclusively through the prism of India. On the other, Pakistan should emphasize that it is always open to talks and cooperation with India, and make clear that it is India that always spurns such overtures. Such an approach will open new opportunities and build a positive and cooperative foreign policy outlook for Pakistan.
Third, the lack of a comprehensive U.S. policy towards Southern Asia, which deals with each state both separately and collectively, may soon prevent it from exerting any meaningful influence in Pakistan. Recent U.S. engagement with Pakistan has focused on two related fronts: Afghanistan and terrorism. In terms of Afghanistan, the United States wants Pakistan to help end cross-border terrorism, rein in the Haqqani Network, and avoid destabilizing the government in Kabul. Similarly, Washington demands full Pakistani cooperation against terrorism within and outside the region. However, this means that the United States lacks a specific “Pakistan” policy that provides tangible benefits to Islamabad. Such a policy has perhaps never actually been developed – hence the persistent historical ups and downs in the relationship. The development projects that the United States has initiated, especially under the so-called Kerry-Lugar bill, have been primarily driven by concerns related to Afghanistan and terrorism. As a result, these projects left no lasting impact on Pakistan, as most either did not last long enough or were not followed up with the necessary measures. As U.S. projects in Pakistan wind down, the little leverage the United States had in the country is on the wane. To make matters worse, by suggesting India assume a larger role in Afghanistan, Trump has confirmed Pakistan’s worst suspicions about U.S. policy towards the region.
Moreover, the promise of Chinese loans has meant Pakistan has stopped caring about the United States to the extent it used to. One senior government official noted privately that the American ambassador is no longer invited to high-profile events, exhibiting the widening gap between the two countries just as the snub of Tillerson did. Significantly, the Pakistani establishment also seems to have moved on from endlessly complaining about the United States to engaging with its near-peer competitors. In addition to the Chinese, Pakistan has made attempts to improve its relations with Russia. The recent joint military exercises between the two countries are signs of a developing relationship. That Russo-Pakistan relations are improving despite Moscow’s closeness to New Delhi is further evidence that Pakistan is embarking on a more pragmatic course in foreign policy and that diversification of partners is reaping dividends.
Coping with Uncertainty
How should Pakistan navigate these uncharted geopolitical waters?
First, Pakistan needs to dispassionately manage its relationship with China. The relationship might be “higher than the Himalayas” and “sweeter than honey,” but it is now entering a new phase. Pakistan must avoid assessing everything through the lens of Chinese investments, as some have been wont to do. Several government officials and policymakers have termed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor a “game changer” without even knowing its details. While the investment of over $62 billion is significant, the modalities and effects are still not clear. Since most of the Chinese investment is a loan, the terms of the mark-up are not clear, nor is it obvious that Pakistan would be able to afford such high interest payments. Furthermore, mere construction of infrastructure does not automatically mean progress. The Lahore-Islamabad motorway, completed 20 years ago, passes through a region that is home to nearly 60 million people. Yet traffic on the road has not dramatically increased, nor has economic development either along the motorway or in areas adjoining it. What happens after infrastructure projects are completed is far more critical than their construction.
Second, the Pakistani strategic establishment should abandon its obsession with India, which, despite posing some real challenges, does not warrant the attention it receives. Being “not India” is how Pakistan sees itself. Under this logic, anyone who is a “friend” of India is an “enemy” of Pakistan. This zero-sum view of world politics has often left Pakistan with few options, and is poised to lead to further complications. For example, the deepening relationship between India and Iran is already viewed suspiciously in Pakistan. With regards to Afghanistan, the sensitivity is such that newly elected Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi, during his recent visit to the United States, suggested India should have no role in Afghanistan at all. Pakistan’s India-centric approach prevents it from seeing the region as a series of different players who act on multiple levels. If Pakistan is to achieve its national self-interest, it must drop its historical baggage and not see everything through an India-specific lens. For example, Pakistan can further develop its relations with Iran independent of India’s involvement in the country. Similarly, as mentioned earlier, Pakistan’s relations with Russia should not be seen through the prism of the Russo-Indian friendship and should instead be developed separately. Development of relations based on rational self-interests, rather than historical and entrenched rivalries, is critical for Pakistan in the modern world.
Third, Pakistan will have to rebalance its relationship with the United States to a point where both sides recognize one another’s interests and work together to promote them, and agree to go their separate ways where they do not align. This will enable both sides to engage with each other in a more normal state-to-state relationship. Privately, senior civil and military officials in Pakistan agree that they do not want a dramatic break between Washington and Islamabad, yet have done little publicly to counter the deeply entrenched anti-Americanism in the country. The attempt to “mainstream” terrorist and extremist groups through political parties will only strengthen anti-Americanism in Pakistan, and fuel the narrative of global jihad.
In terms of Afghanistan, too, there is no way to resolve the country’s internal issues without bringing the United States on board. More specifically, Pakistan’s internal terrorism problem will not end as long as safe havens for terrorists who are anti-Pakistan remain in Afghanistan and vice versa. Therefore, it is in Pakistan’s self-interest to work jointly with both Afghanistan and the United States to root out terrorism, which affects both countries. Furthermore, Pakistan has long been hoping to become a hub of transit trade to and through Afghanistan. Only by working with both Kabul and Washington can this dream come true. The United States will not disappear from Afghanistan, so Pakistan must really engage with the United States on its Afghan policy, as well as with Kabul itself.
Finally, if Pakistan is to gain from the changing geopolitical situation in the region, it must develop a multi-pronged approach. Improved relations with Russia have been a step in the right direction, but further steps need to be taken to maximize Pakistan’s interests. Just as India manages to have good relations with archenemies Iran and Israel, and Saudi Arabia is close to both India and Pakistan, Pakistan needs to develop strategic partnerships in the region and beyond independent of its rivalry with India. Similarly, Pakistan’s role in the Islamic world, where once it was a significant player, can only be revived if it escapes its own foreign policy quagmire. With the upcoming general election in 2018 (the third consecutive election without interruption), a dramatic decrease in terrorism, and a burgeoning middle class, Pakistan now has opportunities it cannot afford to miss.
By Marvi Sirmed
In one word the massive and charged crowd at the gathering can be described as diverse, and truly reflective of the Pakistani social fabric. There were children, youngsters, middle- and old-aged women and men from different religious and class backgrounds as well as a critical number of people with special physical needs.
Holding the gathering in the federal capital where all the coalescing units of the state of Pakistan converge amounted to a symbolic statement that the party was undergoing a revival. The location of the gathering also showed that the party aspired to regain its original status of the ‘party of the federation’, as opposed to the now commonly-held impression of the PPP as a battered party confined to the province of Sindh and limited to the Sindhi ethnic identity.
Rallies poured in from the twin cities, different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Punjab’s central districts as well as Siraiki belt, Sindh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan. A small contingent also arrived from Balochistan.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto took to the roster amid loud cheers of ‘Chaaron Soobon ki Zanjeer hay Bilawal Bhutto’ and ‘Jiye Bhutto Benazir’. In what turned out to be a surprise act, Bilawal delivered a speech that was exceptionally light on the expected and the usual vitriol against political opponents. Bilawal managed to bring back ideology to his party’s political discourse.
The narration of Pakistan’s checkered political history and his party’s struggle for democracy alongside the mention of sacrifices of party leaders including his mother and grandfather and workers sounded different this time. He was not ‘selling the dead’ as his detractors have been criticizing him for. Instead, his speech was a sober reminder of what his party has stood for in the past. Another way of saying what the PPP would not stand with in days to come.
Bilawal’s taunts on uncles and aunties of politics were missing, thankfully, from the half-an-hour-long speech. The scorn and sneer for political opponents that has unfortunately become an essential part of political discourse – especially since 2011 – was replaced with the PPP chairman’s elegantly spelled out ideological and foundational differences that, in his view, differentiated the PPP from the rest of the parties. A departure, again, from his father’s half-baked and superficially conceived ‘politics of reconciliation’ that had cost PPP its distinguishing identity, at least for the workers passionately attached to the history of Bhuttos sacrifices.
Most importantly, Bilawal Bhutto went back to the PPP’s founding ideology of social democracy while shying away from naming it explicitly as he mentioned the basic postulates of PPP’s original vision, i.e., ‘Islam is our religion, socialism is our economy and democracy is our politics, while the people are the source of all power’. Bilawal replaced ‘socialism’ with ‘equality’ and added a fourth postulate: ‘martyrdom is our act’. While explaining the PPP’s future vision and priorities, he sounded more categorical in owning the revolutionary struggle against the exploitative forces and for class consciousness through social democratic ideology, while declaring the party’s vision of a society based on equality, just distribution of resources, separation of religion and politics, and democracy – social democracy – as the only option to take Pakistan forward.
Bilawal’s speech was that of a statesman determined to lead his people out of turmoil and anarchy while following a pro-people and progressive agenda. The subtext was not only the rejection of prevalent spiteful and acerbic discourse while embracing a more mature tone, but also signaling to party’s progressive, left-of-the-centre support base that he was in no mood to appease any power centre other than the people.
As far as the chairman’s speech goes, Tuesday’s gathering has ushered in the beginning of Pakistan People’s Party Version 3.0.
The PPP supporters started reaching the ground in morning in forms of groups and packed the venue before the sun set. The PPP anthems and famous slogan ‘Jiye Bhutto’ (Long Live Bhutto) was being enchanted by the party workers in every corner on the venue. The participants waved the party flags while responding to the speeches of prominent leaders.
The local PPP leadership decorated Islamabad Expressway with huge banners and posters of the PPP to welcome their chairman Bilwal Bhutto Zardari.
However, only few posters were seen carrying the picture of PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari.
A security official informed The Nation that more than 6,000 chairs had been placed in the parade ground for the participants.
The number is expected to cross twenty thousands, he said.
Majority of the people travelled from Sindh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Central and South Punjab. However, relatively low numbers of the participants were from the Rawalpindi division.
The PPP workers , exhibiting their traditional attachment with the party and chanting the particular slogans, were dancing to songs and anthems of the party. “There is only one political party in the country, rest of all are ant-PPP,” said Afzal, an old man on clutches, wearing the party cap. He said that he along with the procession of hundreds of people travelled from Shikarpur as it was the call from Bilawal Bhutto.
The old man inspired from the politics of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto said that the worker had attached great hopes with Bilawal.
Leaders of PPP from the provinces were motivating the crowd before arrival of Bilawal; the workers from lower and middle class sections of the society were getting more attention than the leaders.
Chaudhry Bashir, from a religious minority community, carrying the cross, participated in the rally along with dozen of his fellows to express solidarity with the PPP . “We all contributed the amount and hired a vehicle and sound system to attend the sit-in from Taxila,” he said. He said that PPP was the party that always ensured protection of minorities and cared about the party workers .
Meanwhile, PPP senior leader Akhunzada Chittan said that though worker was the strength of the PPP but during the last few years, the party lost the trust of its workers . “It is unfortunate that the worker always stood with the party in difficult times, but when the party was in power, its leadership forgot their sacrifices,” he said.
He said that the party had more vehicles and fewer workers now, but still its strength was ‘jiyalas’. A large number of female PPP supporters also participated in the gathering, but Sindhi culture dominated the women enclave. Murad Bibi from Liyari while talking to The Nation said that they had reached with more than one hundred other persons to attend the rally. “Liyari always responds to the PPP whenever it is called,” she said.
The middle aged women still attaching hopes with the PPP said that the real worker could not leave the party as it had brought the hope to the poor people of Liyari. “Benzair loved Liyari people and Liyari cannot forget it,” she said.
Nasira Shafqat, Coordinator PPP Punjab women wing, said that the party did not perform well in the recent by-election held in NA120, but still it could not be eliminated from Punjab.
She said that the PPP disgruntled voter could isolate itself from the polling but it could not support any other party. “The PPP manifesto of addressing basic necessities of life is the backbone and a bridge between the poor and the leadership,” she added.
Noor Jehan from Umer Kot said that dozens of women from Thar had reached the federal capital to pledge their loyalty with Bilwal Bhutto and the PPP . Benazir Bhutto was said to be chain of four provinces and here we are witnessing people from all the regions, she said. “BB sacrificed her life for people and we will continue supporting her party and son”, she said.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari vowed on Tuesday that his party would restore the state’s writ, adding that the way it was eroded in the recent events seemed alarming.