Thursday, January 2, 2020

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#Pakistan - Diplomatic debacle

Zahid Hussain
THE latest foreign policy debacle in the shape of Pakistan’s last-minute decision to pull out of the Kuala Lumpur Summit illustrates Imran Khan’s Trumpian-style of dealing with highly sensitive policy issues. It is decision-making driven by whims rather than reason. While it was unwise to take the decision to attend the summit without deliberating the pros and cons, even worse was backing out of the commitment under pressure from another county. The entire episode reflects a new low in our diplomacy. It happens when institutional processes are set aside to accommodate the quirks of an individual. It is a voodoo foreign policy that has caused us loss of credibility among friendly countries. Yet we are blind to this.
Notwithstanding the Foreign Office claiming otherwise, there is a ring of truth to what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said about Saudi pressure being the reason for Pakistan’s abrupt withdrawal. The prime minister’s sudden dash to Riyadh, followed by the announcement of the cancellation of his visit leaves nothing to conjecture. What could be more humiliating for a sovereign nation than to accept the dictates of another country? It has been a loss of face from all sides.
No precedent in recent history comes to mind where Pakistan has allowed some other country to take a decision on its foreign policy imperatives and how to conduct its relations with other states. Despite the pressure, Pakistan had previously maintained a balance in its relations with countries hostile to one another. We have kept ourselves out of the civil war in the Middle East and declined to send troops to help Saudi forces in Yemen while withstanding intense pressure from Riyadh. So what has happened now?

A major problem with the PTI government is its non-serious approach to critical foreign policy issues.

Saudi Arabia may have its own reasons to oppose the KL Summit but it could not prevent other countries from participating. Surely, the Saudis have strong leverage over Pakistan because of our increasing financial reliance on the kingdom, and yet we have weathered similar pressure in the past and managed to pursue an independent policy. In fact, Imran Khan should have thought through all aspects before committing himself to attending the conference in the first place.
Interestingly, the agenda of the conference was discussed in the prime minister’s meeting with the Turkish president and the Malaysian prime minister on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. The main objective was to evolve a joint strategy to counter Islamophobia. The prime minister had sounded very enthusiastic about the project.
It was not the first time the KL Summit was held. It was the fifth, and larger, edition of the forum. Apart from the leaders of Turkey, Iran and Qatar, delegates from some 20 Muslim countries participated, including Islamic scholars. Indian action in India-held Kashmir was also part of the agenda.
While the Saudi objection that the forum was meant to undermine the OIC was not legitimate, the Saudi opposition did expose the rivalries among Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries see the emerging alliance of Turkey, Iran, and Qatar as detrimental to their interests. The presence of the leaders of these three countries was the main reason for the Saudi opposition to the summit. Surely, Pakistan should not be a party to such rivalries, but the conference was not in any way an anti-Saudi forum.
Succumbing to Saudi pressure has called into question Imran Khan’s talk of mediating between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is apparent that Pakistan has no clout over these two countries and it is not in any position to make them talk to each other. In fact, the latest episode raises questions about our independence and neutrality in a regional power struggle.
While Saudi support for Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is important, the latest event underscores the risk of the country being pushed into a regional power game. True, Pakistan had done well by balancing its relations with Iran and Qatar despite its closeness with the kingdom but the latest diplomatic blunder has shaken this balance.
The complex external circumstances surrounding the country demand prudent management of foreign relations. But a major problem with the PTI government is its non-serious approach while dealing with extremely critical foreign policy issues. Imran Khan is in the habit of not engaging in serious discussion with senior officials and other stakeholders before making policy announcements.
Some of his comments during his visit to New York in September this year indicate his limited understanding of complex foreign policy issues. For example, at the Council of Foreign Relations, he reportedly said that the Pakistani intelligence had trained Al Qaeda. He also claimed that it was his idea for the US to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban for ending the Afghan conflict, forgetting that this was Pakistan’s consistent position since the beginning of the US-led war.
Similarly, during one of his visits to Tehran, he reportedly stated that Pakistani soil was used for militant attacks in Iran. It has taken a lot of effort to do damage control. The irresponsible statements of some federal ministers also affected our relations with China at one point. A major problem is the gradual decay in the ability and capacity of institutions to evolve a clear policy direction. The decline is much more rapid under the PTI government.
Pakistan’s diplomatic clout has eroded over the years because of political instability and economic insecurity. The government has failed even to build a national narrative on this critical issue. Imran Khan has been warning the world of catastrophe if the Kashmir problem is not resolved. But he has failed to come out with a clear policy direction on the issue.
Meanwhile, internal political strife in Pakistan and its economic dependency on other countries have raised questions about our ability to effectively fight our case in international forums. The latest foreign policy debacle speaks volumes for the government’s inability to deal with fast-changing regional geopolitics. Unfortunately, we are miserably lacking in skills that require maturity.

#Pakistan - A new social contract

Saleem Safi
We are told that Pakistan is facing serious threats at its eastern and western borders – and indeed it is a reality that the situation on both fronts is serious.
We are told that nuclear Pakistan is a thorn in the eyes of external powers like the US, which has joined hands with India to destabilize Pakistan. And we start believing this too.
We are told that Pakistan faces the fifth generation or hybrid war and our enemies are trying to destabilize us internally by exploiting citizens’ distrust against the state and its institutions. We accept that too.
We are also told that wars are now not only fought with weapons, but also via the economy. If Pakistan is economically weak then we would not be able to counter our enemies. For a stable and growing economy, political stability is a prerequisite. Since it is convincing logic, we buy this argument as well.
Now the question is: who is destabilizing Pakistan internally? Why are citizens distrustful and suspicious of the state and its institutions and whose behaviour causes such distrust and apprehension? Who is behind the political instability and who is causing distrust among politicians, intellectual, scholars and media persons by pushing them to the wall on account of not supporting a specific narrative?
In the past, we were told to call Wali Khan, Attaullah Mengal, GM Syed, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai and Bhutto traitors – and we complied. We were told that the Afghan Jihad was obligatory and our duty – and we accepted it. Then we were told that the Taliban were fighting a holy war in Afghanistan for the sake of Islam and Pakistan – and we started to prove them holy warriors. Then 9/11 changed the whole scenario and we were asked to prove the Taliban as enemies of Islam and Pakistan – and we whole heartedly did that, and paid a huge cost.
We were also asked to prove Benazir Bhutto as an agent of India and Mian Nawaz Sharif as a great patriot. We did that too. Then we were told to call Zardari a thief – and we did it. Then we were directed to call Nawaz Sharif India’s friend (Modi Ka Yaar) and a thief – and we ensured we did that.
Then we were told to accept Imran Khan as our messiah – and we accepted him as that. Then we were told to call the arm-twisting of the opposition ‘accountability’ – and of course we did that.
Then we were told to do ‘positive journalism’ about the government for six months – and we did that not only for six but for fifteen months.
Despite it all, there was no positive outcome of the incumbent government; the situation further deteriorated and is getting worse with each passing day. The sinking economy is shrinking investor confidence and leading to brain drain as well as capital flight. The distrust and apprehension of the people is increasing. Huge blunders in foreign policy are being committed which have even caused cracks to appear in our ties with the few friends we had. The most alarming among all is the fact that, while earlier only common citizens felt a sense of insecurity, now that insecurity can be felt in state institutions and other segments of society as well.
The judiciary considers itself under attack. Politicians too think they are being coerced, suppressed and maligned. Similarly, the media feels itself under attack. Now we have reached a point where even state security institutions feel that they are under internal and external attacks. This shows that every institution feels threatened and every institution seems to be engaged in a war for survival.
Some institutions even consider an attack on any individual within them as an attack on the whole institution. But the story of politicians and the media is quite different. Besides external attacks, they are fighting with each other as well. The religious community is also anxious and thinks that they and their religion are under attack. The liberal and secular community too feels it is being pressurized and silenced.
The state is like a family and each and every institution and class of society is like a member of the bigger family. Ideally, an attack on one institution should be considered an attack on all institutions of the state. But the tragedy in Pakistan is that every institution is only conscious about its own position, interests and individuals. This self-obsession has brought us to the point that if one institution is under attack and is being weakened, the rest rejoice.Now, the question is: if every individual and institution of the state faces internal threats, how can we handle the external threats that Pakistan is exposed to? To counter the external threat, we must stand united internally. The only way for internal stability is a meaningful and open dialogue between all state institutions in which they may sit together, share with each other their concerns and grievances and find a way forward.Such dialogue will be helpful to figure out which institution is crossing its limits and interfering in the work of others. It will also provide an opportunity to initiate a system in which all institutions cooperate and help address each other’s shortcomings instead of exploiting each other’s weaknesses. Through open dialogue and mutual consultation, we would be able to bring a new social contract in light of the 1973 constitution.
Moreover, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be constituted to identify past blunders and give a future course of action. This is a now or never stage; we need a new social contract for the sake of a stable and prosperous Pakistan. If we fail this time, we can easily face a Rwanda-like situation.

#Pakistan - Rape in Mansehra seminary

Within two weeks of an anti-terrorism court pronouncing the death sentence on three counts to the rapist and killer of the Chunian children, another horrific incident of child rape has surfaced in Mansehra, where the police have sealed a seminary in Thakra Parhana area and arrested four people. Of them, the main accused, stated to be a seminary teacher, is at large. The victim, an eight-year-old boy, is fighting for his life in Ayub Medical Complex in Abbotabad. The gory details of the rape have triggered a wave of shock and anger among the people, especially the parents of small children, across the country. 

The Mansehra incident points to the prevalence of heinous crimes against minor children. Despite handing down death sentences to the convict of first Zainab Ansari case, and now the Chunian case, there has been no letup in such crimes against children. After the massive coverage of such incidents, parents stop children from playing on streets. Recently, the Peshawar police took a measure to make the credentials of convicts of sex crimes public so they remain socially isolated once out of jail. The police were forced to take the step after a hike in crime against children across the province. In many cases, pedophiles were rearrested and convicted within months of their release. The Chunian case convict was first arrested and convicted of child molestation back in 2011.