Sunday, July 28, 2019

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#Siri ‘regularly’ records sex encounters, sends ‘countless’ private moments to Apple contractors

Apple’s Siri AI assistant sends audio of sexual encounters, embarrassing medical information, drug deals, and other private moments recorded without users’ knowledge to human ‘graders’ for evaluation, a whistleblower has revealed.Recordings from Apple’s Siri voice assistant are fed to human contractors around the world, who grade the AI based on the quality of its response and whether its activation was deliberate, according to an anonymous contractor who spoke to the Guardian. They claimed accidental activations are much more frequent than Apple lets on, especially with Apple Watch users – and wants the company to own up to the problem.
“There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on. These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data,” the whistleblower revealed.

Apple is subcontracting out, there’s a high turnover. It’s not like people are being encouraged to have consideration for people’s privacy, or even consider it,” the whistleblower said, explaining that they are concerned these recordings, produced when Siri thinks it hears its “wake word,” could be used against the people who (accidentally) made them – especially given the “broad” amount of user data they claim contractors are “free to look through.” In what sounds like a sick joke on the part of some programmer, the sound of a zipper unzipping often triggers Siri to wake up.
If there were someone with nefarious intentions, it wouldn’t be hard to identify [people on the recordings].
While Apple does not explicitly mention any human involvement in Siri’s training in the AI’s documentation, it acknowledged when asked about its practices that “a small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation.” The company insisted that this amounted to less than one percent of all daily activations of the AI and that the recordings were “typically only a few seconds long.”

While Apple emphasized that a user’s Apple ID and name are not attached to clips reviewed by contractors, it also took pains to explain that recordings are “analyzed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements” – suggesting the company is aware of how easily even a recording stripped of its user ID can be connected to the user who made it.
Siri isn’t the only voice assistant that transmits users’ private moments back to the mothership, of course – Amazon’s Alexa infamously has entire chat rooms for its human trainers to discuss difficult-to-understand audio clips (or mock funny recordings) and Google Home uses a similar system of outsourced “language experts” that allows the company to claim that no one at Google has access to the recordings its devices make.

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#Pakistan - Lessons from how women voted in 2018

An analysis of gender voting patterns shows that neglecting women’s electoral agency is a direct and consequential disadvantage for political parties.
In last year’s general elections the Election Commission of Pakistan collected gender disaggregated data for the first time. The effort, mandated under the Elections Act, 2017, allows for an analysis of differences in voting choices of men and women.
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) followed a multi-phased methodology that involved analysis of ECP-furnished data from35,988 male-and female-specific polling stations across 246 NA constituencies (88 percent) and generated some ground-breaking findings. These identify multifarious issues that impede women’s participation in elections and politics and also provide evidence to guide future strategies to improve women’s political autonomy in mainstream politics.
Some of these are presented here. The analysis is based on data from across 52,565 (32 percent) census blocks for which the results from both the male and female polling stations were collated and analysed. While some of the gender-related findings have been reported earlier, the trend of women’s choices deviating from those of men’s in the same area is an important indicator of increased political agency and exercise of autonomy.
Missing women
Women constitute 49 percent (101.314 million) of Pakistan’s population. Despite a high-paced citizen registration process prior to the 2018 elections, the number of registered women voters last year was 46.731 million, which constituted 44 percent of the electoral rolls.
The gap between the number of men and women registered as voters has been growing. The primary cause for this gender imbalance is believed to be that many eligible women do not possess CNICs which is a legal requirement for voting. Despite concerted policy, campaigns and technological and pragmatic efforts to close this gap, the gender electoral roll imbalance actually increased from 10.97 percent in the 2013 elections to 12.49 percent in 2018 elections. This gender gap is the largest in Balochistan (15.65 percent), followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) (13.65), Sindh (11.02) and Punjab (11.095).
The 10 percent women
FAFEN’s collation reveals that around 65 percent National Assembly constituencies (173 out of 272) had a gender gap of more than 10 percent. Specific to provinces, 83 constituencies in the Punjab, 47 in the KP, 28 in Sindh and 15 in Balochistan have more than 10 percent women missing from their rolls. A similar pattern is observed in the Provincial Assemblies where 381 out of 577 constituencies have a gender gap of above 10 percent.
While the overall gender gap of enrolled voters remains under 20 percent, the troubling aspect is that women’s absence from electoral rolls has steadily increased by 10 percent (or more) in 80 out of 127 districts across the country (63 percent). Very few districts (just 17) have managed to be shielded from a large increase in the widening gap between registered men and women voters.
Contesting women
The Elections Act, 2017, introduced a requirement for allotting 5 percent of party tickets for general seats to women, albeit without legal consequence for its non-compliance. The benefit of this provision remains unclear since no significant improvement in the number of women candidates was seen. Just 463 women ran for national and provincial assemblies in GE-2018 which is only 18 more candidates compared to general elections 2013 (though a marked growth over 192 candidates in general elections 2008). Women winning on general seats in 2018 remained at 16 as in 2013 and down from 26 in 2008.
The ‘deviancy’ patterns in KP and Sindh are more vibrant than for the Punjab where women’s autonomous voting agency is flatter and less variable.
No zero turnout
Of the registered women, 21.746 million cast their votes in 2018 for the National Assembly. This made up 40 percent of the 54.657 million votes cast. In general elections 2013 there were 13 polling stations where no woman had turned out to vote on polling day but none such in 2018. Credit for this is attributed to the ECP’s Gender Affairs wing and collaborative efforts civil society drives to increase women’s participation.
Women voter’s turnout was 47 percent of the registered voters, with Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan showing an average voter turnout gap of about 8 percent between men and women while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had a turnout gap of almost 19 percent. Several metropolitan cities in each province showed a larger gender gap in turn out compared to other parts of the provinces – Peshawar 25 percent; Karachi West 14 percent; Lahore 13 percent; Quetta 13 percent.
According to the FAFEN analysed data, female polling stations generally showed a lower turnout with 73 percent of the polling stations hosting less than 20 percent turnout (mostly KP).This raises serious questions of efficacy at the expense of making ‘cultural concessions’ or overestimating mobility issues for women voters. A more extensive study of all polling stations will allow for more accurate policy on this matter.
Over-and-underestimat-ing women’s agency
A gender analysis of electoral choices exercised at the 2018 polls challenges misconceptions about lack of autonomy amongst women voters and the myth that they always vote for the same political party as male family members. Men and women’s voting choices were found to be similar in 82 percent of the electoral areas analysed by FAFEN(that is, 43,178 out of 52,565 in number) but the ‘deviancy’ of women’s voting from men was found in 18 percent – up from 11 percent in 2013.
Clearly, women voters are ‘deviating’ considerably and parties stand to gain by directly engaging and being responsive to the demands of women voters.
‘Deviant’ women
The voting choices of men and women were more homogenous in ICT than any other area (86 percent voted for the same winning party but in 14 percent of electoral areas women deviated). Balochistan has two districts where there is no difference between the electoral choices of men and women in any of electoral areas studied, whereas five provincial districts had 31 to 40 percent electoral areas where men and women voted differently.
The difference in voting choices was starker in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, where men and women voted for the same winning party (77 percent and 79 percent respectively, of the electoral areas) but women deviated in around a quarter (23 percent and 21 percent) of the electoral areas and voted for a different winning candidate/party.
The ‘deviancy’ patterns in KP and Sindh are more vibrant than for the Punjab where women’s autonomous voting agency is flatter and less variable (85 percent voted for the same winner and in 15 percent electoral areas women chose a different one). In Dadu and Badin in Sindh, the differential in women’s choices from men’s for winning parties were recorded in 41 percent and 35 percent of electoral areas respectively, whereas in the Punjab, higher women’s voting ‘deviancy’ was noted in Muzafargarh (26 percent), Khushab (25 percent) and Nankana Sahib (22 percent).
Findings on gender-based comparative voting for specific parties may be summarised as follows with some broadly derived observations;
ICT: The PTI and the PPPP won more men’s votes in the capital than from women in the analysed electoral areas. However, for PML-N’s wins in the ICT, women’s votes were found have deviated three-fold over that of men’s choice.
It was predominantly men who voted for the PTI and the PPPP and more women for the PML-N in the ICT.
Punjab: More men voted for the PTI in the areas where the party won in the Punjab while women’s ‘deviant’ votes were found to be higher where the PML-N and PPPP won.
More men voted for the PTI while women preferred to vote for PML-N and PPPP in Punjab.
KP: More men voted for the PTI and the MMAP wins in the electoral areas while more women’s ‘deviant’ votes were found for PPPP and PML-N where these parties were successful.
The highest rate of deviancy of women’s voting overall was observed in KP (80 percent) in favour of the PPPP wherever the party won in the electoral areas.
Sindh: An overwhelming 83 percent of the PPPP’s victory was from Sindh province. In almost every district of Sindh, the choice of women voters for this party dominated that of male voters.
Without women voters the PPPP would struggle to win its majority in Sindh. Women’s deviancy votes were three times higher in urban Sindh for the ANP wins.
Balochistan: Independence or deviancy in electoral choice by women for the PTI was highest in Balochistan’s electoral areas.
Balochistan is the only province (other than some electoral areas in rural Sindh) where women’s voting deviancy went in favour of the PTI, although the party that won most support from women’s ‘deviant’ voting overall in the province was the ANP followed by the PKMAP (although the figures for PPPP are still being analysed).
(Another set of raw figures awaiting cross-checking is women’s (fairly substantial) deviancy vote in KP (urban), Sindh (rural) that suggests these favoured the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Party). 
Inter-provincial deviation
Another interesting point of ‘deviation’ was that smaller parties won in electoral areas according to a similar gender pattern as seen with the PTI, that is, with men’s votes and not from women deviating their votes for them. However, for other bigger parties’ wins (PML-N, PPPP, and ANP) the trend was found to be reverse (that is, more women ‘deviant’ votes).
This provincial level data is being further refined. A detailed analysis will be cross-checked and released soon. However, the main point is that it’s erroneous to think women’s deviations would not impact the electoral results; the overall share of victory for political parties was such that the PML-N, the PPPP and the ANP were victorious at 54 percent, 57 percent and 61 percent of electoral areas respectively, where women’s votes deviated from men’s. 
Cross-provincial deviation
There are other interesting cross-provincial variables; comparatively, more of women’s ‘deviant’ votes were cast in those electoral areas that converted into a win for the success of the PPPP in KP (79.4 percent electoral areas) and the Punjab (61.3 percent electoral areas) than in the party’s own province of Sindh (55.5 percent electoral areas) which enjoys base support.
A full 100 percent of women’s ‘deviant’ votes that led to a win for the ANP were those in Punjab, followed by in Sindh (76.9 percent), Balochistan, and the party’s own province, KP, had the least amount of women’s ‘deviant’ votes for winning parties (60 percent electoral areas) where it enjoy base support.
The PML-N received the most number of ‘deviant’ votes (by women in 172 electoral areas compared to that of men in 52) to win in the ICT (76.8 percent) followed by in KP (54.1 percent) and in Punjab (54 percent) – enjoying base support in the latter. 
Rural-urban results
These results challenge traditional estimates about rural-urban voting behaviour. Cumulatively, the PTI’s wins based on women’s deviant votes amounted to under 50 percent electoral areas in urban and rural areas in the KP, the ICT, and the Punjab, and in 51 percent electoral areas from rural Sindh, and 53 percent urban and 50 percent rural in Balochistan.
With much more variation, the PML-N wins achieved the highest number of female deviant votes from the ICT electoral areas (rural 82 percent and urban 66 percent), followed by those in the KP (65 percent urban and 52 percent rural). In Punjab, the PML-N gained wins where women’s deviant votes amounted to 54 percent in urban and 53 percent rural electoral areas and in under 50 percent of electoral areas in Balochistan.
The most notable pattern of women’s ‘deviant’ voting was observed in the PPPP wins in the KP as found in 79 percent of urban electoral areas and even higher at 80 percent of rural electoral areas. This is followed by women’s votes for the party’s wins in Punjab (60 percent urban and 62 percent rural electoral areas) and less in its wins in the home-base of Sindh where a more balanced division of women’s ‘deviant’ votes were cast in 58 percent of urban and 54 percent rural electoral areas. In Balochistan, the PPPP’s wins showed women’s ‘deviant’ voting in 63 percent of urban electoral areas and 41 percent rural.
Deeper gender analysis is needed since there is rich empirical data available now but clearly, the evidence shows that neglecting women’s electoral agency is a direct and consequential disadvantage for political parties. It also suggests that undervaluing rather than expanding women’s electoral concerns is a losing strategy. More qualitative studies will support and enable a better grasp of the evolving nature of electoral behaviour in Pakistan.
*This does not mean these necessarily translated into overall wins – just the electoral areas based on the polling stations analysed.

India may move terror funding watchdog over Imran Khan remark on militants in Pakistan

Suhasini Haidar, Vijaita Singh
“30,000 to 40,000” militants — trained in Afghanistan and Kashmir — are still operating in Pakistan, Mr. Khan has admitted. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s dramatic admission that “30,000 to 40,000” militants — trained in Afghanistan and Kashmir — are still operating in Pakistan, may become a serious issue for Islamabad with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), government sources in New Delhi said.
They indicated that India was considering making the remarks a part of its submission ahead of the next meeting in October of the international terror financing watchdog.
Speaking at a think-tank in Washington on Tuesday, Mr. Khan said though Pakistan’s government had launched a “National Action Plan” against terrorism after the Peshawar school attack in December 2015, implementation began only after his government came to power last year.
“Until we came into power, the governments did not have the will to [implement the National Action Plan], because if you talk of militant groups, they still have about 30,000-40,000 people who are armed and who have been trained in some sort of a theatre, who fought either in Afghanistan or maybe in Kashmir,” Mr. Khan said at the United States Institute of Peace, in the first clear admission by Pakistan that thousands of terrorists and training camps which have been active in Kashmir, still operate in Pakistan. Later in the day, Mr. Khan also pointed to the existence of at least “40 militant groups” in the period after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
‘Owning up’
In New Delhi, government sources said they were “glad” the Pakistani Prime Minister was “owning up” to the existence of these groups.
“It is, however, equally important for the Pakistani leadership to act on this knowledge by destroying the breeding ground of terrorists in areas under the control of Pakistan by taking credible and irreversible action,” an official told The Hindu.Mr. Khan’s remarks contradict the Pakistan Army’s position on the existence of terror groups. In April this year, after FATF strictures spurred a crackdown on religious extremist institutions, the Pakistan army spokesperson had said there were “no terrorist organisations” in the country.“We are the first government who has now started disarming the militant groups; this is the first time it is happening. We have taken over their institutes, their seminaries and we have now got administrators there,” Mr. Khan had added during his comments in Washington, where he accused previous Pakistani governments of withholding “the truth on the ground” from the United States.
FATF fodder
Government sources pointed out that the numbers given by Mr. Khan were considerably higher than those submitted by Pakistan at the FATF. Pakistan could face a “blacklisting” in October if it fails to comply with commitments on ending terrorism according to its action plan. In Schedule-4 of Pakistan’s “Anti-Terrorism Act”, which details banned organisations, the government has listed only 8,000 active militants.
“[Mr. Khan’s statement] has opened up the question of effectiveness in Pakistan's much publicised compliance of the FATF Action Plan, and would allow countries like India to raise the issue at FATF,” a source added.
This is not the first time Mr. Khan has sparked a controversy by speaking plainly about terrorism. In April this year, he was criticised in parliament for declaring that anti-Iran terror groups operated from Pakistani soil, during a meeting with Iranian President Rouhani in Tehran.

Why does India say no to Kashmir mediation?

Suhasini Haidar

What are the historical reasons why third party mediation is avoided by the government? Will the status quo on India’s Kashmir policy remain?

The story so far: On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought mediation in Kashmir when they met during the G-20 summit in Osaka. In Parliament, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar categorically said that Mr. Modi did not request Mr. Trump to “mediate or arbitrate” on the Kashmir issue. He said India remains committed to discussing all issues with Pakistan bilaterally.

In 1993, the new administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton decided to wade into the Kashmir issue, indicating repeatedly that it wished to mediate between India and Pakistan. At the U.N. General Assembly in September, Mr. Clinton referred to resolving “civil wars from Angola to the Caucasus to Kashmir,” and a month later, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel questioned the validity of Kashmir’s ‘Instrument of Accession’ during a press briefing. At a recent event, the Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Civil Aviation (and Minister of State, Commerce and Industry), Hardeep Puri, recounted how India issued a strong protest. Mr. Puri was then the Joint Secretary (Americas), and made the call to an official in Washington with a carefully but strongly worded message cleared by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Mr. Puri said, “We read the riot act to the U.S. administration that time, and succeeded remarkably in drawing a red line on the issue [of mediation].”
In fact, until Mr. Trump dropped a bombshell during his joint press appearance with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday, where he claimed that Mr. Modi had asked him to “mediate or arbitrate” on Kashmir, no U.S. leader has publicly crossed that line in 25 years. Responding to a swift and angry denial from the Ministry of External Affairs, the U.S. State Department seemed to backtrack from the allegation by saying that Kashmir remains a “bilateral issue”, but maintained that the U.S. “stands ready to assist” any India-Pakistan talks.
Why does India refrain from taking help?
India’s firm position against mediation on Kashmir or any other issue stems from several reasons, most notably a historical suspicion, since the 1950s and 1960s, as mediated talks by the United Nations and World Bank, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia have been unsuccessful in resolving the issues between India and Pakistan. At best, the attempts have worked for diffusing tensions, or calling off hostilities at the Line of Control and the International Border, but not in terms of their rival claims over Jammu and Kashmir. Another reason is that India sees itself as a regional leader, and does not require any assistance in sorting out its issues with other regional countries. In addition, the widespread belief is that mediation favours the weaker party by levelling the playing field, and with its stronger conventional and non-conventional military prowess, India has seen no significant gain from bringing a third-party into its 70-year-old conflict with Pakistan.
When did the UN try to mediate?
The early attempts at mediation by the UN were made after India took its complaint against Pakistan’s forced occupation of parts of Kashmir (PoK) to the UN Security Council on January 1, 1948. The UN then set up the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) which proposed mediating a resolution along a three-point action plan: Pakistani demilitarisation of the Kashmir region, followed by Indian reduction in military presence, and a proposed final resolution by an impartial U.N. administered plebiscite to “determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people”. The deal never got off the ground as Pakistan never agreed to demilitarise, and India under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made it clear that a plebiscite would never be accepted. Where the UNCIP was successful was in mediating a ceasefire in 1949, and negotiating the geographical location of the cease-fire line which would be monitored by the United Nations Military Observer Group In India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Individual U.N. representatives continued to visit both sides from 1949 to 1953 but failed to improve the atmosphere for a resolution, or to convince either side to demilitarise the two sides of the LoC. The first United Nations Representative for India and Pakistan (UNRIP) appointed to mediate the dispute was Sir Owen Dixon, an Australian jurist, who was followed by Frank Graham, an American diplomat, who gave up after his proposal was rejected by New Delhi and Karachi (then the capital of Pakistan) in April, 1953. The only exceptions to this dismal record were the 1960 World Bank guaranteed Indus Water Treaty, and a territorial agreement on the Rann of Kutch, mediated successfully by the British government in 1965. Soviet Premier Kosygin also moderated between Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani President Ayub Khan to broker the 1965 Tashkent peace agreement, but the treaty has always been marked by suspicion and doubts, tainted by Shastri’s sudden death at Tashkent.
What about the U.S.?
A particularly bitter episode for India came from mediation attempts by the U.S. and the U.K. after the 1962 Sino-Indian war. The U.S. had provided India with planes and military hardware worth about $60 million during the war, and the price, said American officials, was that India should agree to mediated talks with Pakistan on Kashmir.
Says Ashoka University Professor Rudra Chaudhuri (author of Forged in Crisis: India and the United States since 1947, and also the director of Carnegie India), “The mediation was accepted because Nehru was in shock after the defeat to China, and the U.S. made it clear that any further military assistance was contingent on India’s cooperation on Kashmir talks.”On November 21, 1962, the day the war ended, a team of 24 American negotiators headed to India, led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Averell Harriman. They worked, along with U.S. Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith and British High Commissioner Paul Gore-Booth to bring India to the table for six rounds of talks between Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and Pakistan Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Eventually, however as India regained its confidence, the talks floundered, and ended in 1963 after Nehru made it clear that India would never give up the Kashmir Valley.
Will India remain opposed to mediation?
After winning the war with Pakistan that saw the creation of Bangladesh, India, in 1972, negotiated the Simla Agreement, which did away with any idea of future mediation between the two countries. According to the Agreement signed on July 2, 1972 by Indira Gandhi and by then President Bhutto, the two countries “resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them”.
In February 1999, the Lahore declaration signed by Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee also affirmed the bilateral nature of issues and their resolution. Thus, even when Mr. Trump spoke this week, India’s response, in Parliament, was to invoke the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration saying that they “provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally”. These bilateral efforts are at an end at present, and little has moved since the last negotiations on Kashmir in 2003-2008, when Indian and Pakistani negotiators discussed the four-step formula.
India has maintained its opposition to third-party mediation, however, and despite offers from several leaders including South African President Nelson Mandela, UN Chief António Guterres, and more recently, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, has said, “thanks, but no thanks”.

Trump’s Three Missteps on Pakistan

By Daniel Markey

Pakistan’s prime minister, army chief and other top national security officials arrived in Washington, D.C., on July 20 for a working meeting at the White House and cabinet-level talks at the State Department and Pentagon. In briefings ahead of the visit, senior U.S. officials stressed their desire to use the visit as a means to encourage Pakistan to further facilitate ongoing negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, while Pakistani officials proclaimed their own more expansive desire to “reset” relations with Washington.
The Pakistani delegation likely left town more satisfied than their American hosts. President Trump’s remarks to the press included at least three dangerous missteps (not including his inexcusable comments on Hong Kong). His comments sent mixed messages to U.S. partners in India and Afghanistan, inflated Pakistan’s role in regional diplomacy, and signaled a strong U.S. endorsement of the Pakistani prime minister when Washington should still be working to enhance its leverage with Islamabad.
Two of the three failures have already received a fair amount of public attention. First, President Trump fabricated a conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Unbidden, he claimed that Modi asked him to mediate Indo-Pakistani talks on Kashmir. Within hours, Indian officials set that record straight; New Delhi has never had any interest in U.S. mediation, preferring instead to conduct talks with Pakistan over Kashmir and other issues bilaterally. Trump’s comment is unlikely to create a lasting rift with New Delhi, but it demonstrated his untrustworthiness as a diplomat-in-chief in ways that India’s leaders will not soon forget and contributes to an already growing set of frictions in the relationship.
That said, although it was almost certainly unpremeditated, Trump’s comments could conceivably have a small silver lining. The threat of his personal intercession in the Indo-Pakistani relationship could, in itself, motivate India’s top diplomats to find their way back to a bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. Even if such a move proves purely tactical on India’s part, with little prospect for yielding any breakthrough agreements, it could be a marginal improvement over the diplomatic silence that now prevails. At the very least, a resumed dialogue would give Prime Minister Modi something to suspend the next time he needs to publicly display his frustration with Pakistan—a diplomatic “safety valve,” of sorts. It would also strengthen New Delhi’s argument that India is not the main obstacle to peace in South Asia.
For his part, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, calmly played Trump’s comments to his advantage. Pakistan has aimed to leverage American influence in its dealings with India for decades. Pakistani leaders tend to favor the idea of a three-sided negotiating table over Kashmir in the (perhaps fanciful) hope that they stand a better chance of influencing Washington than of achieving their aims in one-on-one talks with New Delhi. More immediately, Khan recognized the tactical benefit that Trump’s words would sour U.S. relations with New Delhi and place the onus for restarting any Kashmir dialogue on India.
Trump’s second misstep came in his commentary on Afghanistan, in which he stated that the main U.S. alternative to a negotiated settlement with the Taliban would be to drop GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bombs (as U.S. forces used in April 2017 against an ISIS tunnel complex in Nangarhar) and wipe Afghanistan “off the face of the earth.” But because those plans would kill “10 million people,” Trump said that he would prefer a negotiated settlement in which “Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves.”
Many other American leaders have argued that the war in Afghanistan can only be ended through negotiations, but none has spoken so recklessly about the U.S. use of force or so callously about killing Afghans. It was no surprise that the Afghan government immediately called for a “clarification” of Trump’s comments, and U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad received an earful from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in their subsequent meeting.
This second error also works to Pakistan’s benefit. Trump’s assertion that the United States faces a stark decision in Afghanistan—either kill millions or work with Pakistan toward a peaceful solution—put Khan in the role of indispensable American partner. Given Trump’s January 2018 tweet that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies & deceit,” this was a remarkable and welcome turnaround for the prime minister.
Trump’s third misstep may have been his worst. To be fair, the president needed to pull off a difficult balancing act, deftly encouraging aspects of Pakistan’s current policy on Afghanistan and counterterrorism while stressing that a huge amount of difficult work remains to be done. Over the past two decades, Washington has always had trouble delivering a calibrated message to Pakistan that navigates between an overly generous “good job” and the patronizing demand to “do more.”
But rather than try to find that balance, Trump skipped subtlety altogether. He repeatedly showered Khan with praise, noting for instance that “[w]e’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks, and Pakistan has helped us with that progress.” He then added, “a lot of great things are happening. A lot of things are happening for the United States, and I think a lot of great things are going to be happening for Pakistan too, under your leadership. I really feel that.” The president went on to stress the “tremendous upside” potential of increased U.S.-Pakistan trade, observing that “I see great trade with Pakistan. And I’m not—I’m not talking about a little bit more. I’m talking about—we could go 10 and even 20 times what we’re doing right now.”
Trump clearly believes that flattery and bold promises can be powerful tools for dealing with leaders like Khan. And, to be sure, other senior U.S. officials (reportedly including Ambassador Khalilzad) also believe that Pakistan has taken important steps to facilitate dialogue with the Taliban and will be critically important to achieving a “permanent cease fire” there. The entire Pakistani visit, the first by any Pakistani prime minister since 2015, was intended to serve as a marker of forward progress and an incentive to continue along similar lines.
Taking a more critical perspective, however, there are good reasons to doubt the value of Khalilzad’s negotiations and, by extension, to perceive that the United States gains rather little from Pakistan’s assistance. To some observers, the entire negotiating process looks more like a face-saving way for the United States to abandon Afghanistan again. By this logic, Pakistan’s “help” in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table represents little more than a roundabout means for Islamabad to assert influence over the war’s outcome in ways it has wanted from the start.
Talks with the Taliban could prove fatally flawed. They are, at the very least, highly uncertain. Yet at this point, the same could be said of all other U.S. policy options. The battlefield stalemate is unlikely to be broken by any realistic U.S. military escalation, and a U.S. military withdrawal without a political settlement would be far worse. If played out over time, negotiations at least offer some potential for the United States to achieve its core security goal of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for the reemergence of al-Qaeda or other similar international terrorist groups, for cease-fires to take hold, and for an extended period of intra-Afghan politicking to settle national differences that have not been resolved on the battlefield even after decades of war.
The bigger problem with Trump’s effusive praise is that it exposes the narrowness of the administration’s agenda with Pakistan. Khan could now easily believe that if Pakistan delivers on Afghanistan, the Trump administration will forgive (or forget) its other differences with Pakistan and get back to business as usual, possibly even including a return to sales and transfers of U.S. military equipment.
Those problems persist, though, even if the Trump administration prefers to ignore them. The way Trump downplayed Pakistan’s recent backsliding on democracy and human rights was troubling, if not surprising. The president and prime minister jocularly compared their contentious relationships with journalists and the media, at a time when the Pakistani state has jailed opposition parliamentarians and clamped down on press freedoms. For the many Americans who actually care about liberal democratic values, Khan’s poor record in these areas would be reason enough to question a return to business as usual with Pakistan.
Trump also avoided Pakistan’s persistent ties to regional terrorist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). To its credit, prior to the visit the Trump administration repeatedly and publicly called on Pakistan to take “irreversible action” against all armed militants on its soil, and to “to shut down all groups once and for all.” In addition, the Trump administration has worked through various diplomatic means, including threatening sanctions through the Financial Action Task Force, to place targeted pressure on Pakistan in ways that generate meaningful pain and embarrassment for the state. But no one would know that from Trump’s comments alongside the prime minister.
Khan and other Pakistani leaders claim they are already doing more than ever to rid their territory of terrorists. At one level, their claims hold merit. Pakistan’s army has, especially after the 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, taken ever more energetic steps to disband and destroy anti-state militant groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or Pakistani Taliban). As a result, many Pakistanis now enjoy a sense of personal security that five years ago would have seemed a matter of wishful thinking. This increased domestic security in a nuclear-armed country also benefits the security of the United States. Whereas in 2009 Secretary of State Clinton warned of a Taliban threat to Pakistan that “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world,” similar fears no longer haunt most American policymakers.
Of course, Pakistan has always prioritized its counterterrorism efforts against threats to internal security. Anti-Indian groups like LeT and anti-Afghan groups like the Haqqani Network continued to enjoy Pakistani state support, both passive and active, even as the government targeted the TTP. From the perspective of generations of Pakistan’s army and intelligence officers, these proxy groups offered a means to destabilize a hostile but powerful India and project influence into a weak and war-torn Afghanistan. Now, however, Khan is claiming a full-scale, comprehensive crackdown on “all militant groups,” including the arrest of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed.
In background briefings, U.S. officials have expressed skepticism about whether Pakistan is serious about its latest crackdown. Rather than dismissing Pakistan’s moves out of hand, however, they are likely engaging in the tricky business of trying to discern “irreversible” progress from tactical maneuvers intended to placate Washington and other international partners (including China).
Such irreversible progress would presumably include incarcerating terrorists; confiscating their assets; shuttering their facilities; and limiting their access to the media, politics and society. Some recent actions along these lines, including the state’s closure of 182 religious seminaries and LeT offices, as well as an asset freeze of the groups’ “charitable” arms, have been touted by Pakistani leaders as evidence of their intentions.
But similar steps have been taken before. Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani helpfully notes that this is Saeed’s seventh arrest since 2001. And when Khan was asked at a public forum hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peacewhether Saeed would once again be set free, he demurred, citing the need to abide by Pakistan’s system of justice.
Irreversible progress would also mean forsaking further support to armed militants from the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which includes training, equipping, and logistical and intelligence cooperation. This would mean, in effect, that Pakistan would drop one of the core politico-military tools it has used for decades, potentially at the cost of domestic political cohesion and security. It would require Pakistan’s government to pick a sustained fight against powerful nonstate institutions that enjoy deep and long-standing ties of interest and sympathy with military and intelligence officers, as well as other powerful and prominent figures throughout Pakistani society.
To really take Pakistan seriously, the United States—through its eyes and ears on the ground in Pakistan and throughout the neighborhood—would need to see long-term evidence of these shifts, as well as their painful consequences. Like the TTP, Pakistan’s other terrorist groups will not go down without a fight; analysts should watch carefully for signs of a backlash and decisive break. Given the stakes, it will pay to be skeptical until the evidence is irrefutable.
The facts line up with a different story: Pakistan, facing external military and economic pressures and with a fresh face at the helm of its ship of state, is once again finding a way to make itself minimally useful to Washington without permanently abandoning its dangerous Islamists, implementing deeper structural economic and political reforms, or building a healthy foundation for relations with India or Afghanistan.
Under such conditions, it may still make sense for Khalilzad and his negotiating team to use its narrow convergence of interest with Pakistan to press ahead with Taliban talks. It also makes sense for the U.S. diplomatic and intelligence communities to keep an extremely close eye on how Pakistan is actually dealing with its homegrown terrorists.
But to deliver more to Pakistan at this stage would be to vastly oversell the nature of its progress so far, reward Islamabad (prematurely) for partial progress, and send yet another confusing message to America’s friends in Afghanistan and India. The United States should not take its foot off the coercive pedal before we cross any relevant finish lines. Unfortunately, that is precisely the direction President Trump signaled he would take during his meeting with Prime Minister Khan last Monday.

Pakistan censorship: 'Hovering above the mute button'

By Secunder Kermani
 The interview, between one of Pakistan's best-known TV news anchors, Hamid Mir, and leading opposition politician Asif Ali Zardari, was only a few minutes into its transmission when it was suddenly interrupted by an unscheduled ad break and news bulletin.
Mr Mir vented his frustration on Twitter, blaming unnamed censors. "We are not living in a free country," he said.
Just over a week later, another TV interview, of another opposition politician, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, cut to an unexpected ad break midway. When the break ended, instead of Ms Sharif, viewers were presented with an old interview of a leading figure from the ruling party.
The journalist conducting the interview, however, continued with his questions, broadcasting instead online via a video streaming app.
These are two of the most prominent examples of what has been termed "unannounced censorship" in Pakistan. Last week journalists held protests outside press clubs in major cities across the country demanding an end to restrictions on what they publish and broadcast.
Supporters of the government claim the complaints are made by biased journalists. During a visit to Washington this week Prime Minister Imran Khan dismissed allegations of censorship, telling reporters: "To say there are curbs on [the] Pakistani press is a joke."
However, there appears to be clear evidence of attempts to prevent criticism of Mr Khan's government and the Pakistani military, as well as to suppress claims by his political opponents that they are being unfairly accused in corruption cases.Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2019 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.
The Pakistani Army denies having any role in media censorship.
The clampdown on press freedom inside the country contrasts with attempts by the Pakistani authorities to improve their foreign relations, notably with the US, Afghanistan and India. President Trump has praised Pakistan for its role in facilitating peace talks with the Taliban.
One of the main targets of the current censorship blitz is Maryam Nawaz Sharif, whose father, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is serving a jail sentence on corruption charges.
Earlier this month Ms Sharif released a secretly recorded video of one of the judges who had convicted her father, apparently admitting he had been blackmailed into finding him guilty. The judge subsequently denied the claims, saying the video had been "edited", but a number of channels who broadcast Ms Sharif's news conference were later taken off air for several days. At other times, parts of speeches from Ms Sharif's rallies broadcast on television have been muted.
One journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for his own safety, told the BBC how censorship worked. He explained that TV channels broadcast live programmes with a delay of at least about 10 seconds, with "an employee hovering over the mute button".
He said topics that would require muting - or if a whole segment was too controversial, a quick cut to adverts - included criticism of the government or Pakistan's powerful security establishment, which is supportive of Imran Khan's administration.
Failure to comply, the journalist told me, would result in angry phone calls or visits from members of the Pakistani army or intelligence services. Instead of threats directed at media workers, pressure tactics would be applied to the channel itself. "Advertising agencies get told, 'Don't them give ads.' Cable operators get told to change the number the channel appears on, or just to shut them down completely," he said. "They've got their hands around our throats."
However, it would be wrong to suggest there's a complete blackout on all political criticism on the airwaves. Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed he has faced "unprecedented" personal attacks in the press. Meanwhile opposition politicians, other than Maryam Nawaz Sharif, do still regularly appear on talk shows.
"We are a democracy on paper… you can't do an Egypt here by imposing a blanket ban," said media analyst Adnan Rehmat.
Censorship in Pakistan, he said, was aimed at restricting interviews of "the top leadership" of opposition parties and coverage of their rallies. But "second- or third-tier" figures were allowed to take part in TV programmes as they are "not newsmakers". The application of censorship varies in intensity, Mr Rehmat added. Sometimes it is "heavy-handed" and at times more subtle.

In the lead-up to last year's general elections in Pakistan, journalists faced similar pressures from the intelligence services, again in an often haphazard fashion. A leading TV channel was taken off air in large parts of the country for a number of weeks, while the best-known English language newspaper had its circulation severely curtailed.
At the time, the censorship seemed designed to prevent discussion of allegations that Imran Khan was being helped into power by the security establishment. Now that he's prime minister, many observers have suggested press freedom has further deteriorated.
Speaking to the BBC, TV anchor Hamid Mir, who was shot and injured in 2014, labelled Imran Khan's government "a civilian dictatorship" alleging "censorship is increasing day by day".
But he was also critical of opposition political parties for their attitudes towards journalists while they were in power. "They always played double games, and now they are paying the price," he said.
Mr Mir knows firsthand how dangerous life can be for a journalist in Pakistan. He survived an attack by the Taliban in 2012 and in 2014 was shot six times in the abdomen and legs by unknown gunmen.
Imran Khan has flatly denied that censorship exists in Pakistan. He has suggested that certain media outlets have a vested interest in undermining his government and supporting claims from opposition politicians that corruption charges against them are politically motivated. While in Washington he accused one unnamed channel of doing everything it could to "protect" former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while he faced trial.
A series of tweets from his party's official account earlier this month acknowledged that press freedom was "a building block of democratic society". However it added that "regurgitating propaganda to serve vested interests, running character-assassination campaigns… undermine freedom of press."
Reports in Pakistani newspapers have suggested the government wants to place a ban on attempts by the media to "promote the narrative of convicted persons". Former President Asif Ali Zardari, whose interview with Hamid Mir was taken off air, is currently facing trial on corruption charges, while Maryam Nawaz Sharif is on bail pending an appeal against a conviction in an unrelated corruption case.
After Mr Zardari's interview was cut short, the government's Special Adviser for Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters it had happened because Mr Zardari was in jail pending his trial and is only supposed to be allowed out to attend parliament.
However, officials from Pakistan's broadcasting regulator told the BBC they had not ordered the interview be taken off air, and said no decree banning "convicted persons" had yet been issued.
Mr Mir said he held both the security establishment and Imran Khan's government responsible for the clampdown on press freedom, as they have acknowledged they are "on the same page" on all issues.
The Pakistani army denies interfering in politics, but many journalists believe it remains the driving force behind the censorship, describing criticism of the army as a "red line".
Broadcast of the TV bulletins of the US government-funded Voice of America has been indefinitely stopped in Pakistan, a move many believe is linked to coverage of a protest movement alleging human rights abuses by the security forces. Rallies by the Pashtun Protection Movement group receive almost no coverage at all, despite attracting significant support in the districts bordering Afghanistan.
The journalist who spoke anonymously to the BBC about the censorship at his channel said the military was influencing both what isn't said on air, and what is said. "Things are so minutely monitored… forget Imran Khan, forget the army chief, if they even see a statement by the information minister they like, they'll send you a screenshot and tell you to run it as breaking news.
"I often say, the only thing that's left is for them to send a brigadier to anchor the news."