Friday, May 25, 2018

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Capricious Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade: Who Wins?


Ultimately, Pakistan loses from its stifling policies as Afghanistan seeks out other partners.
Economics literature insists that trade among nations is beneficial for job creation and fueling economic growth. Trade helps improve living standards and promote better quality products and services at competitive prices. Thus trade remains at the top of agendas when it comes to bilateral relations among countries. However, these benefits aside, trade relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered considerably under turbulent bilateral political ties.
As a landlocked country, Afghanistan has remained dependent on Pakistan for its transit trade while both countries are also immediate markets for each other. Unfortunately, trade relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have remained capricious, following the trajectory of turbulent political relations since the 1947 partition brought independent Pakistan into existence.
Trade restrictions had almost paralyzed the Afghan economy in the 1950s. Afghanistan, along with other landlocked nations like Bolivia and Czechoslovakia, urged the United Nations to ensure that their disadvantaged geographical position was not exploited for political gain. The UN addressed the request through the “UN Convention on Transit Trade of Land-Locked Countries” in 1965 which held that coastal neighbors would not discriminate in transporting goods for the landlocked. The convention was passed despite Pakistan’s stiff opposition at UN where its representative termed it paradoxical, nebulous and tragic to provide free access to a neighboring landlocked country.
In the light of international conventions, arrangements like the Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) 1965 and Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) 2010 did provide legal frameworks for bilateral trade and transit relations but reality has never matched the paperwork. Even, major changes like the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and later the onset of a new Afghan regime in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks could not influence the bumpy trade relations.
In spite of such major changes in the regional political economy, Pakistan still maintains its 1950s attitude. The sudden closure of border crossing points, superfluous documentation at Pakistani ports, agonies in the name of security checks, and barriers on trade with India have continued to exert serious pressure on the Afghan economy. This strategy has been aimed at slowing down economic growth in Afghanistan to reinforce political pressure exerted through other channels. Pakistani authorities have also assumed that discouraging Afghan transit trade would force Afghan traders to opt for Pakistani products rather than importing them from other countries, like India. Under the same assumption, they proposed a target of $5 billion in bilateral trade. However, this approach has backfired.  
These circumstances forced Afghanistan to explore alternative avenues. This shifted Afghanistan’s transit and trade pendulum towards Iran’s Bandar-e-Abbas and Chabahar port. As a result, the volume of trade and transit between Afghanistan and Pakistan has shrunk significantly. The trade volume, which used to stand at $2.7 billion few years back, has now dropped to meager $500 million in the current fiscal year. In the same way, Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan equalled $1.43 billion in FY16, dropped to $1.27 billion in FY17 and will likely significantly drop in FY 2018 given the dwindling figures in first half of the year. By another measure, the transit trade situation can be assessed from the fact that the number of containers that used to pass into Afghanistan has reduced to 7,000 from a peak of 70,000.
On the other hand, trade figures are on the rise in terms of trade with and via Iran. In the current fiscal year, Iran’s exports to Afghanistan increased by 13.57 percent to reach $2.79 billion. Eighty percent of Afghanistan’s cargo traffic has shifted to Chabahar and Bandar-e-Abbas in Iran. The value of transit goods to Afghanistan via these two ports is anticipated to reach $5 billion in the near future. Bilateral trade with Pakistan has been further dented as Afghan preference India products. Pakistan has reportedly lost its 50 percent share of the Kabul market to India. In June 2017, India and Afghanistan opened an air corridor to link Kabul with Delhi and later with Mumbai. In the first six months, goods worth more than $20 million were exported to India. Apart from this, the hospitals of Peshawar that thousands of Afghan patients visited for treatment are said to be almost empty after Pakistan introduced strict travel measures which forced medical tourism to divert towards Delhi given the ease of travel provided by Indian government.
Pakistan’s policies have not only cost it a sizable share of trade, but also kept it away from potential economic opportunities in the region. Today, Afghanistan is located at the crossroads of major international corridors and in a strategic position to connect the Central Asian republics with rest of the world. India is competing with China for political economic influence in Central Asia via Afghanistan. The Central Asian republics are planning energy, rail and other regional connectivity projects via Afghanistan.  
Now Pakistan wants to reach the lucrative markets of Central Asia via Afghanistan. However, as a reaction to restrictions on trade between India and Afghanistan, the Afghan government has said it would deny it access to Central Asia. Hence, while India would be able to effectively reach Central Asia via Chabahar and Afghanistan, Pakistan would continue to miss out. In the same way, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, which connects Afghanistan with Europe via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey has been dubbed as a shortest, most cost effective and reliable route to Europe for both countries. Pakistan’s prime minister has already expressed interest to join the initiative.
Pakistan’s restrictions on trade have forced Afghanistan to consider alternative options while hampering the potential gains from trade for the region. In spite of options available to Afghanistan, uninterrupted trade and transit relations between the two countries would enable both to facilitate bilateral as well as regional trade and reap immense economic gains. This would ensure shared prosperity among countries in the region.

New reports from Afghanistan give false hopes for peace


As US, European, and Afghan officials cling to the idea that the Taliban will negotiate a peace settlement to end the war in Afghanistan, a recent string of news articles would lead you to believe that the Taliban is actually willing to reach a compromise. However, these stories are highly misleading and give false hope that an end to this 17-year conflict is in sight.
The Taliban’s leadership isn’t at all interested in making peace with – let alone sharing power with – an Afghan government that it considers to be an un-Islamic stooge of Western powers. The Taliban has repeatedly ignored and rebuffed the Afghan government’s peace offers, as it considers the Afghan government a pawn of the West. The Taliban has stated time and time again that it is its religious obligation to wage jihad, or holy war, in order to eject the occupying forces and re-establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name of the Taliban’s government.
When the Taliban has previously discussed negotiations, it always has two preconditions to talks: the withdrawal of foreign forces and the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
To put it more simply, the Taliban’s negotiating position is: first the West and the Afghan government surrender, then we’ll talk.
Despite these facts, Western and Afghan officials believe that the Taliban can either be convinced or coerced, via force, to the negotiating table. That notion discards 17 years of history, which has shown that the Taliban is a patient and committed enemy that has survived several setbacks, including the Obama administration surge that drove the group from key areas in the south.
Western and Afghan officials are often duped by press reporting, which would lead you to believe the Taliban is exhausted from fighting or just needs a little more convincing from external actors, such as Pakistani clerics – who are really just agents of the Taliban.
Take this article, from Voice of America News, which was published on May 8. The original version hailed a letter, purported to have been written by Mawlawi Abdul Hokom, the Taliban’s top Sharia official, that claimed the Taliban want to make peace with the Afghan government. The letter was released by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense. Hokom says that “the [Taliban]” leadership should consider the public peace demand provide a convincing response to the Afghan people after consulting with all the leaders.” Note that Hokom doesn’t demand peace, he merely states it should be considered.
VOA then goes on to note that Hokom “once again called the Afghan government a ‘puppet’ and its peace offer ‘unreal.’ He also called the U.S.-led International forces ‘occupiers.'” This is a clear indication that Hokom is not serious about the peace process, and is actually in line with the Taliban’s views on the occupation and legitimacy of the Afghan government.
Regardless, VOA later updated the article to note that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the document provided by the Ministry of Defense “is a fake letter created by the enemy’s intelligence. They had also posted copies of this fake document on social media few months ago and this letter has nothing to do with the Islamic Emirate.”
Another report, which stemmed from a meeting of religious scholars from Afghanistan and Pakistan in Indonesia, would have given you the impression that Pakistani jihadists were pressuring the Afghan Taliban to halt its attacks and conduct peace talks. On May 11, Pajwhok Afghan News reported that top cleric Maulana Anwar ul Haq said just that:
Top cleric at Jamia Haqqania religious school of Pakistan, Mualana Anwarul Haq, has called upon the Taliban and the Afghan government to stop fighting and initiate talks for ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
Speaking at the Ulema conference in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia on peace in Afghanistan, Haq said Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line were being killed in the war. He called the war in Afghanistan as anti-Pashtun, saying the genocide had been ongoing in Pakistan’s neighbor over the past 30 years.
Scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia took part in the daylong event organized by the scholars of Indonesia.
The chief cleric at the Jamia Haqqania in Akora Khattak area of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhunkhwa province said his country was ready to support the Afghan peace process.
He urged the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban to enter a ceasefire and arrive at the negotiating table. “We the ulema are ready to mediate between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” he said.
Now, this would be interesting news, if true. Maulana Anwar ul Haq is the brother of Maulana Sami ul Haq, the director of the radical Darul Uloom Jamia Haqqania madrassa. This madrassa, which is known as the University of Jihad, feeds thousands of new recruits to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban on a regular basis. Sami is one of several Pakistanis who have been given the title of “father of the Taliban” for his support for the Afghan jihad.
Soon after the Pajhwok report emerged, the spokesman for Darul Uloom Jamia Haqqania “rejected the reports suggesting that the deputy chief of the religious seminary Maulana Anwarul Haq has called on Taliban group to join intra-Afghan peace process,” Khaama Press reported. “Maulana Anwaru Haq has not made such a call as he rejected the reports attributed to him as false.”
And just to put a fine point on it, Anwar ul Haq made it clear that not only did he and others prevent representatives at the Indonesia conference from holding the Taliban accountable for its role in the Afghan war, he was there actually “representing” the Taliban. From TOLONews:
“In the entire meeting, there was no discussion on ceasefire or taking any decision. We did not let them to mention Taliban. The people (participants of the meeting) had added Taliban’s name in the declaration, but we removed it. Don’t think about it. We were representing you. Everything went well.”
Finally, this May 19 article from Al Jazeera News initially made the claim that the Taliban said it would conduct an unconditional ceasefire and halt attacks on all Afghan security personnel. After mentioning this on Twitter, noting that this was a complete misrepresentation of the Taliban statement – which instead offered amnesty for Afghan security personnel who quit fighting – the article was updated and the following correction was issued:
Correction: 19/05/2018: An earlier version of this article stated that the Taliban had offered a general amnesty to police and army in Afghanistan. This was incorrect. The amnesty was only offered to those who would leave what it called “enemy ranks”, as is now reflected below.

A cursory reading of the Taliban’s statement showed that the Taliban only offered amnesty to those who would lay down their arms. Yet Al Jazeera News published the original version, giving false hope to those who seek the illusion of peace with an enemy who does not want it.

What the Long, Corruption-Enabling, Mostly Failed Afghanistan-Stabilization Effort Tells Us


 A damning report on the United States’ attempts to stabilize Afghanistan has two lessons that resonate in the nearly-post-ISISlandscape of Syria and Iraq: Arrogant reconstruction timelines will doom the effort from the start, and meeting the local populations’ expectations about governance and services is key.

More than 17 years into America’s war in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, released its fourth lessons-learned report, this one on stabilization.
The conclusions are grim: “Despite some very heroic efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2017, the program was mostly a failure,” SIGAR chief John F. Sopko said Thursday at the Brookings Institution while debuting the report.
The U.S. poured nearly $5 billion into stabilizing Afghanistan, intending to clear territory, hold it, and then build institutions. But by the time President Barack Obama’s administration completed the drawdown in 2014, Afghan forces and civil servants couldn’t compete with “the threats of a resurgent Taliban as the insurgents filled the void in newly vacated territory,” the SIGAR report says.
As America stares at an even more complex stabilization situation in post-ISIS Syria, lessons from its failure in Afghanistan can be of some use, analysts said at the event. Here are two:
Strap in; it’s going to be a long ride.
“Let’s be realists about this,” Sopko said. When the U.S.government is looking at its roles in Syria and Iraq — or any other stabilization effort — they should be looking at it on a long timeline.
Asked what he’d tell a president contemplating another hypothetical intervention overseas, Sopko offered Afghanistan as a warning.
“Despite your inclination to do it quickly, announce a success, and declare victory, sue for peace, go home, it’s going to take a long time,” he said. “Let’s be honest to the American people and to Congress that none of these things can be done quickly and successfully.”
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants to bring U.S. troops home soon. His administration reportedly asked the Pentagon to draft up plans to withdraw from Syria in the next six months, though military officials say there is no plan to do so. “The establishment of a set of unrealistic expectations about what we could do and what would be achieved in just a few years’ time,” doomed America’s efforts in Afghanistan, Sopko said. Aggressive timelines meant agencies “spent far too much money, far too quickly,” and the very programs meant to stabilize the country “often exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption and boosted support for insurgents,” the report states. The Pentagon has said any withdrawal from Syria would be conditions-based, not tied to a timeline like the one President Barack Obama instituted to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014.
It’s about managing expectations
As the international community works to clear explosives from Raqqa and return basic services like running water to communities freed from ISIS, those efforts must meet residents’ expectations. “Winning hearts and minds requires a close examination of what has won and lost the hearts and minds of that particular population in the recent past,” the report says. That can mean avoiding “unnecessarily ambitious” services that aren’t tailored to the local community’s needs and are beyond the government’s ability to provide, as Sopko said was the case in Afghanistan: “I think in Afghanistan, we decided to duplicate Norway in each one of these districts,” Sopko said. “We tried to provide schools, highways, etc. What we should have looked at is what are the services the Taliban was providing that made people relatively happy? You don’t have to give them everything at the start.”
But it also means being clear about the services promised and not leaving a vacuum that an extremist group can fill, cautioned Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. ISIS, for all its barbarity, provided governance and services that some communities are now having to do without.
“Local people often have far greater expectations of what a government should provide than what an insurgent group should provide,” Felbab-Brown said. “My view is not that we gave [the Afghan people] too much. We gave them actually far less than they got under the Taliban, but we promised them far more.”

Pakistan denies minorities their individual rights: US Lawmaker

A United States-based advocacy group representing various ethnic minorities of Pakistan has formed a joint platform ‘South Asian Minorities Alliance Foundation’ against what they alleged as the massive human rights violation by security forces and ruling establishment of the country.
Two Republican Congressmen Thomas Garrett from Virginia and Scott Perry from Pennsylvania extended their support to the newly formed group and expressed concerns about Pakistan’s oppressed ethnic and religious communities.
“If you look at the constitution what some might say is controlled by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), it’s the leadership of the nation that denies individuals the rights that they are entitled to,” Congressman Thomas Garrett told ANI.
“You don’t take American money and oppress your people with our money. That’s not good,” Congressman Perry told the gathering of people representing various ethnic groups of Pakistan Mohajirs, Baloch, Gilgit and Hazara. Perry has voted in House of Representative against funding for Pakistan.
“We should be sure that the people with whom the United States is engaging with are in favor of relations, and we must ensure that the citiizen’s of the state (Pakistan) have basic rights. We can choose whom to do business or not to do business, or have relations or not have relations to encourage bad behavior,” Garrett said.
Nadeem Nusrat, Chairman of the Voice of Karachi, told the US legislators that Pakistan’s oppressed ethnic and religious communities were looking towards the US and the international community to play their role in stopping state atrocities being committed by the Pakistani security forces, ISI in particular.
He emphasized that the world needs to act to stop human rights abuses in Karachi, Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in order to save innocent human lives.

#Pakistani mob attack against #Ahmadi Mosque prompts global condemnation

Widespread condemnation followed the mob attack against an Ahmadiyya Mosque in the Pakistani city of Sialkot. U.S. joined lawmakers from Canada and UK to condemn the attack which resulted in the destruction of a historic 100-year-old Mosque.
The attack which was led by Hafiz Hamid Raza, a member of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf happened between the night of May 23rd and early morning of the May 24th. During the attack, a mob of around 500 Muslims chanted slogans against the minority Ahmadiyya Muslims as they destroyed the Mosque structure and an adjoining building.
The attack drew worldwide condemnation and shocked the already persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Pakistan.
U.S. Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, Knox Thames condemned the attack saying:
The U.S. strongly condemns the destruction of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque in Sialkot Pakistan. We urge authorities to hold all perpetrators accountable and ensure the mosque is restored.
The U.S. strongly condemns the destruction of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque in . We urge authorities to hold all perpetrators accountable and ensure the mosque is restored. 
Similarly, UK Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson also denounced the attack saying:
I condemn this attack and urge Pakistan to protect all its communities, including Ahmadi Muslims.
View image on TwitterView image on Twitter
UK @foreignoffice @ukinpakistan has repeatedly called for Pakistan @CMShehbaz to protect all communities & faiths -yet last night we again see a frenzied mob destroy a beautiful&historic mosque in -the tragedy of the continued persecution of @alislam
Terrible to hear reports of the attack on an Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot, Pakistan, last night. Will be addressing the issue when I speak in @HouseofCommons this afternoon on persecution of Ahmadiyya community.
Condemnations also came from Canadian Members of Parliament, including Jagmeet Singh, leader of NDP, Kamal Khera, Judy Srgo, Omar Al-Ghabra, Garnett Genuis, Deb Schulte and Ruby Sahota.
I strongly condemn the violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan

The recent destruction of a 100 yr old mosque by a mob is just one example of the continuous persecution faced by Ahmadi Muslims

The Pakistani Govt must seek justice & protect freedom of religion
Extremely disappointed to hear about the destruction of Ahmadi Mosque in Sailkot, Pakistan, specially during the month of Ramadan. All those responsible should be held accountabe. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right that be respected and afforded to all! 
Shocking! I am very saddened & concerned to learn of the news of the demolished Ahmadiyya mosque in Sialkot city in Pakistan. Especially considering this occurrence has taken place during the holy month of Ramadan. @ahmadiyyacanada @FdAffan @PFA_Ahmadiyya
I’m appalled by the destruction of an historic Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot, Pakistan. Perpetrators should be held accountable. Religious freedom is a fundamental human rights that should be afforded to all
Another horrific attack in Pakistan, this time targeting Ahmadiyyas. Last night, personnel from the municipal committee in Sialkot City and an accompanying mob attacked important Ahmadiyya buildings while police looked on. Pakistan must do more to protect minorities.
Last night in Pakistan a mob of over 600 destroyed an historical property of significance to the Ahmadiyya community and damaged the adjacent Mosque in Sialkot City. Pakistan must do more to protect minorities and uphold the rule of law. @ahmadiyyacanada
I’m profoundly disappointed by the destruction of an historic Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot, Pakistan. All those involved should be held accountable. Religious freedom is a fundamental human rights that should be afforded to all.

Pakistani politicians who are normally wary of commenting on the Ahmadiyya persecution also followed suit.
However, at the same time, Irum Azeem Farooque, member of Sindh Provincial Assembly was barred from submitting a resolution condemning the attack. In a tweet Farooque said:
I wasn’t allowed to submit my condemnation Resolution in Sindh Assembly, Even though most of the members agreed with me that every sect has the right to their religious belief but still no one wanted to sign&condemn the attack on the praying site of Ahmedis.