A New Pakistan?

It has been a month since former cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan, was sworn into office to become Pakistan’s  22nd prime minister. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) emerged as the single-largest party in parliament for the first time in their history.

During his victory speech, Imran Khan outlined his dream for a ‘Naya Pakistan’ – a new Pakistan that would be formed as a humanitarian state; a state that takes responsibility for the weaker classes, focusing on the downtrodden of society. Khan also promised to root out corruption in all its forms and tackle the economic and security challenges facing the country’s.

But now that the dust has settled on Khan’s victory and fervour has subsided, many are eagerly waiting to see how Khan will fulfill his lofty promises. But the question arises as to how realistic does Imran Khan’s dream of a Naya Pakistan seem?

Despite his popularity and his position as prime minister, the real power in the country lies with the country’s powerful military. Pakistan has been ruled by the military for more than half of its 71 years of existence, with the army holding considerable power and influence in the country’s politics. In order for Khan’s dream of a Naya Pakistan to become a reality, he needs to break away from the security establishment. This is no easy task.

The military is widely seen by many as having helped Khan win the election, which would make Imran Khan’s job as prime minister that much more difficult. Maintaining a warm relationship with influential generals is key to Khan’s tenure as prime minister.

The military has long been accused of removing those people from power who were not compliant with their ‘requests’, with none of the 17 prime ministers of Pakistan managing to serve a full term. It has been suggested that even the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from office on corruption charges, was at the same time selectively targeted by the military due to his attempt to reduce the army’s role in the political sphere. The military’s apparent support for Khan and his party could have been more about keeping Sharif and his party out of power and capitalising on Khan’ s popularity; rather than any particular support for Khan and his policies.

The implication of Khan’s victory, if the military did indeed help him assume office, is that a deal was struck. Khan would have to toe the line, if he were to continue in the role of prime minister. Of course, this would also mean that Khan would have to compromise on many of the populist stances he holds. For many in Pakistan, Imran Khan is seen as a breath of fresh air, with ideals that gave the people hope. However, it may be that the dream of Naya Pakistan will remain but a dream.

Advertisements

Pakistan: March of the Pashtuns

In recent months, a new movement has emerged on Pakistan’s political stage. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or the Pashtun Protection Movement, rose to prominence following the extrajudicial killing of a Pashtun shopkeeper, Naqeebullah Mehsud by Karachi police in January 2018.

The Pashtuns are the second-largest ethnic group in the country, mostly living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in the western part of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the war on terror began, the dangerous FATA landscape has been a hotbed for militancy and insurgency, with Pakistan’s Armed Forces conducting various military operations to rid these areas from terrorists.

Unfortunately, as a consequence, the Pashtun community has bore the brunt of Pakistan’s military operations. The Pashtun population suffered the most as a result of the war on terror in Pakistan, with thousands killed over the years in terror attacks, military operations and American drone strikes in the tribal region. This has rendered a large population of Pashtuns disaffected and displaced.

Tensions have long been simmering in the Pashtun community. Tired of being subject to discriminatory policies, marginalisation and decades of state oppression, on April 8, the PTM held their largest mass demonstration to date. Despite a media blackout on the movement’s activities, the PTM is gaining attention and popular support amongst young Pashtuns. More than 60,000 protesters rallied in the city of Peshawar, challenging the Punjabi-dominated state and the military, peacefully calling for the protected rights of Pashtuns as citizens of Pakistan.

Whilst their grievances are many, their main demands call for the release of missing persons and political prisoners, an end to extrajudicial killings and the humiliating treatment and harassment at security checkpoints under the pretext of search operations, and the removal landmines in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Moving forward, the government of Pakistan and by extension, the army should constructively engage with the leaders of the PTM and seek to address their concerns. Pakistan can only move forward as a nation if all ethnic groups are afforded fair and equal treatment. To achieve this, Pakistan must address the legitimate concerns raised by the Pashtun community. Pakistan is no stranger to a disgruntled ethnic minority and should be all too aware of what could transpire if these concerns are dismissed, having previously parted with East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. Pakistan should, therefore, be extremely careful in how they handle this situation lest history repeats itself, with the country witnessing another partition, but this time with a Pashtun majority calling for a separate nation of their own.

Untangling Afghanistan: Proxy wars and geopolitical rivalries

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently spoke in an interview of Afghanistan’s need for Russian support. Decrying the US for ‘killing us for 17 years’, he claimed that Russian support was the only means with which peace could be achieved in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is desperately trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The belief of some in Kabul is that the Taliban’s strength is reliant upon Pakistan and, with enough international pressure, Pakistan will withdraw its support. The US was originally supposed to provide this pressure. However, Karzai’s desire for non-US international support, born out of the US’ ruined reputation in the region, is well documented. Russia was not the first country he turned to. In 2017, Karzai attempted to reach out to India for support, suggesting that they replace the US as the military force upholding the Afghan government. He suggested that such action would be in India’s national interest, as it would damage Pakistan. Pakistan’s apparent support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is a permanent stumbling block when it comes to bettering Afghan-Pakistan relations. However, India’s military strength pales in comparison to that of the US. India does not have the means to replace the USA, and many in Afghanistan would regard any Indian intervention as suspect, India being regarded as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Indeed the core of the Afghan problem is regarded by many as the Indo-Pakistan proxy war being fought out on the streets of Kabul.

The problem with Afghanistan now turning to Russia is Russia’s apparent desire to improve relations with Pakistan. Relations between Russia and India have become strained recently due to burgeoning tensions between India and China. India’s response to these tensions has been to improve relations with the US, who are hoping India will effectively curb China’s influence. Russia has recognised that improved relations with Pakistan will, therefore, put pressure on India, improve relations with China and further antagonise the USA.

This leaves Afghanistan at a disadvantage. Officials in Kabul were celebrating news of Trump’s removal of two billion dollars in security aid to Pakistan, believing this would weaken the Afghanistan Taliban. A minority within Pakistan have blamed the Pakistan military for this, claiming that their tacit support for extremist groups has brought about this decision. Inevitably, Trump’s actions have increased street-level anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. It is therefore unlikely that such action will cause a change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. There is a tremendous fear within Pakistan of a ‘pincer’ move by Afghanistan and India. As a consequence, Pakistan’s actions regarding Afghanistan will always be motivated by the desire to ensure Pakistan’s security. Unfortunately, an unstable Afghanistan is more beneficial to Pakistan than a stabilised administration that is allied with India.

China has moved to improve Afghan-Pakistan relations by including Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is part of the Belt and Road initiative, China’s attempt to recreate the Silk Road. However, CPEC is already controversial due to its being built through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India and Pakistan have constantly fought over the sovereignty of Kashmir, and India does not recognise Pakistan’s control of the Northern half of the state. By extending the offer to Afghanistan, China has faced India with the prospect of losing a regional ally to its economic rival.

Untangling all of these geopolitical relationships is an almost impossible task. If Afghanistan is to have any hope of achieving peace with the Taliban, then their relationship with Pakistan has to improve.  The level of mistrust between the two countries is a major hindrance to the process. As long as it continues, the Taliban will always have a potential ally in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, the mistrust is founded on the conflict between Pakistan and India.  Afghanistan plays a vital geopolitical role for both of these countries. Both are experiencing significant political tensions, not only with each other but with China and the USA as well. Until these issues are resolved, international support for a stable Afghanistan will continue to be deprioritised due to security concerns.

Reflections on Punjab: Seventy Years on from Partition

August 1947 marked the end of India as a single state and saw the emergence of today’s Pakistan and India. Partition caused unprecedented communal conflict, bloodshed and the mass movement of peoples across the border as Sikhs and Hindus became concentrated in India, whilst Muslims crossed over into new Pakistan. The hastily established border split existing communities, villages and homes in the northern state of Punjab. The state is the birthplace and homeland of Sikhism as well as being home to a Muslim majority and a number of special Islamic sites. Today, Punjab continues to experience tension and trouble as a direct result of partition whether that be in violent clashes at the India-Pakistan Punjab border, disagreements between different communal factions and government, or the involvement of the Indian or Pakistan diaspora in Punjab affairs.

The border itself is a particular focus for violence. In 2014 a suicide bomber killed some sixty people at the border and in 2016 a military confrontation at the border resulted in further casualties. This violence keeps negative feelings surrounding partition very much alive across the Punjab. The mistrust between the nations is highlighted by the difficulties that a Pakistan or Indian national may face when trying to get a visa for the neighbouring state. There are many hoops to jump through. The process itself takes at least 35 days and requires a multitude of letters, documents and the appropriate signature. Even upon arrival, there is the potential for further checks that are neither uniform nor predictable. This mistrust is a shame, for many people in Punjab have memories, friends, belongings or even ancestral homes on the other side of the border. They are denied the ability to travel back and to visit and as a result are denied the opportunity to grieve the trauma of partition.

Seventy years on from the violence of 1947, there are a some Sikh activist groups that persist in calls for ‘Khalistan’ – an independent, Sikh majority state. Their reasons are born out of the insecurity they feel as a religious minority in a Hindu nationalist nation, insecurities that have also of course been echoed by other minorities. In 1984, Sikhs were the subject of pogroms in so much as many were massacred in retaliation for Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Even the diaspora overseas that hail from Punjab remain invested in their state of origin and the issues of the past. In late September 2017, Times Square in New York City saw protests from thousands of Sikhs and their supporters expressing their hope for Khalistan and dissatisfaction with Modi’s oppressive India. Those calling for Khalistan may lack strength in numbers but the very existence of these secessionist claims represent the wound of communal difference that partition opened. The collective memories of events such as these ensures that the relationship between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims remains scarred post-partition.

However, the situation in Punjab is not wholly negative. The Punjab border stands not just as a symbol of hostility and tension, it also highlights the sense of camaraderie that is felt by Punjab and the two nations. Every day, at sundown, the two nations unite in an elaborate and long-standing ceremony in Wagah, Punjab where there is dancing and hand-shakes as the border is closed for the night. It echoes the reality of a shared history, collective memories and an intertwined present and future. Punjab’s future is one that is still hopeful as the state, the country and the diaspora reflect on the past and move into the future. A series of events, radio and television shows, literature and stories emerged in 2017, the 70th anniversary of independence, as younger generations began a dialogue concerning partition. Many of those who had lived in Punjab at that time came forward and shared their experiences; and in Amritsar, Punjab, the Partition Museum was founded by the Punjab government, inaugurated as a memorial to those who had experienced partition.

Unsocial Media: How Twitter Diplomacy Is Undermining US-Pakistan Relations

Twitter diplomacy has become a defining feature of Donald Trump’s administration. In the past two months alone he has tweeted about Iran, North Korea, Israel and Palestine. More recently, he used his first tweet of 2018 to accuse Pakistan of “lies and deceit” and called past US presidents “fools” for handing over $33 billion in aid to the country over the past 15 years. In yet another example of the Trump administration turning tweets into policies, US officials then announced a decision to suspend $2 billion in military assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad took decisive action against terrorist groups that have found safe haven in the region. This has fueled anger and resentment in an already uneasy ally that is gradually pivoting towards China and has led to anti-US protests and flag burning in the streets of Karachi and Lahore.

Needless to say, this is perhaps one of the lowest points in the relationship between the two countries.

But US-Pakistan relations have always been uncomfortable. Although it was one of the first countries to establish ties with a newly formed Pakistani state, the US has always harbored mistrust and suspicion towards Pakistan’s military, particularly in view of its bitter relationship with India. It goes without saying then that Trump’s tweets were a cause of celebration in India.

The new policy feeds into the existing narrative in Pakistan that the US simply uses Pakistan for its own convenience and abandons it at will. History has proven this to be true. In the 1980s, Pakistan proved a pivotal ally against the Soviets in the Afghanistan war and was funded by the US to train the Mujahideen that fought Soviet forces. Once the war ended however, the US withdrew from the region. The Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, has long been regarded as funding terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Haqqani network and was itself likened to a terrorist group by US authorities in Wikileaks documents in 2011. In that same year, the Obama administration similarly withheld aid, accusing Islamabad of harbouring terrorist organizations; and subsequently conducted a raid on Pakistani soil where Osama Bin Laden had been hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, raising concerns about violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

Throughout all this however Pakistan has remained a key ally in the region and holds access to the main routes for US military aid and assistance to Afghanistan, without which the US military mission there could not be sustained. More importantly, Pakistan is a geopolitically significant country sharing borders with Iran and Afghanistan and acting as a bridge between the Middle East and Asia. So while Trump’s tweet is nothing new in terms of the direction of US foreign policy, it has provided Pakistanis with a fresh reason to be angry at the US.

So what is the future of US-Pakistan relations? The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been gaining significant traction in recent years and antagonism with the US could drive the two countries closer together. While the US has been a fair-weather friend to the region, Beijing has proven to be an all-weather friend to Islamabad. If the US wants to foster closer ties with Pakistan and maintain a strategic ally in Asia and the Middle East, twitter diplomacy will, as Trump’s twitter sagas have shown, do more damage than good. It is clear that now more than ever, good old-fashioned diplomacy matters.

Love

God made this universe from love,
For Him to be the father of,
What duty more exquisite is,
Than loving with a love like His?
A better task no one can ever ask.

Rahman Baba, Peshawar

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

Jinnah’s Vision 70 Years On

15050685188_bb3b0d50d0_h

This month Pakistan celebrated the 70th anniversary of its independence from British colonial rule. Since the foundation of Pakistan, the state has been ruled by various military dictatorships and corrupt ruling elites, a vision far from the ideals of its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

The latest celebrations take place amidst yet another political change – the removal of Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Following the Panama Papers case, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that Nawaz Sharif should be disqualified from his position on the grounds of dishonesty and corruption, and ordered a criminal probe into his family’s wealth. Sharif resigned shortly after.

The current interim prime minister is Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a known Nawaz Sharif loyalist. Since his disqualification, Nawaz Sharif has filed three appeals in the Supreme Court to review its Panama Papers verdict.

The cycle of corruption will continue. The only way for Pakistan to move forward is to look back at Jinnah’s vision of a democratic state – one that is free from the corruption that he described as ‘poison’. Prime Minister Abbasi alluded to the difficulty of this in his Independence Day address, saying that, while Jinnah had envisioned Pakistan as a modern democratic entity, “This dream faces myriad of challenges.”