On the detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman

On the 12th of March, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, a media mogul, businessman, and journalist from Pakistan was detained and arrested ostensibly on the basis of having broken property law back in 1986. 

Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau, an anti-corruption watchdog, alleges that Mr. Rehmen illegally leased government land 34 years ago and then managed to have the ownership rights transferred to him permanently in 2016 when ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in power. 

These charges being levied against a less prominent member of Pakistan’s society would be cause for less concern, but in view of two notable trends, the apprehension of Mir Shakhil-ur-Rehman takes on a more sinister light.

The first is that since 2018, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the public face and owner of the country’s largest media group, has found himself in the bad books of Prime Minister Imran Khan. In that year, Mr. Khan defeated incumbent Nawaz Sharif in a general election, but accused Mr. Rehman’s Jang Media Group of having backed Sharif. In the years since, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman’s Geo TV channel has also drawn Khan’s ire for refusing censorship, giving a platform to members of the opposition, and criticizing the government’s policies, especially the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

So while certainly the most audacious, the arrest of Mr. Shakil-ur-Rehman is not the first time PM Imran Khan has attempted to frighten or otherwise silence the voice of the Jang Group. The Government has pulled advertisements in order to cut off a valuable source of revenue and sent Geo TV reporters, producers, and editors threats of shutdown in response to efforts of investigative journalism. It has both shut off Jang Group Media channels completely, or forced cable operators to alter and demote their channel listings so as to make ‘tuning in’ a more difficult task. 

And while this first trend is troubling, it is in light of the second trend — the extension of such hostile treatment to other occupants of the media space — that it becomes more necessary to call into into question the political integrity of Prime Minister Imran. 

Crucially, the Government demonstrates antagonism and aggression towards forms of media that host figures or politicians from the political and ideological opposition. In 2019, three other Pakistan TV news channels, AbbTakk TV, 24 News, and Capital TV, were taken off  the air for days following live interviews with Maryam Sharif, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. After a May 2018 interview (also) with Nawaz Sharif in the run up to elections, the distribution of the leading daily newspaper, Dawn, was stifled both legally, through an injunction from the Press Council of Pakistan, and on the ground, physically, as vans and hawkers distributing its copies were denied entry to a number of cities and towns by Government and military officials. The same technique of cutting advertising in order to stop up a financial life-flow was also extended to Dawn, especially in July of 2019, after the paper published remarks made by Prime Minister Imran Khan in which he admitted the usage of Pakistan’s soil by terrorists to launch attacks into Iran, a claim that Pakistan’s military had vehemently denied.

It bears mentioning that the concern expressed on this forum at the plight of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman is by no means unique or singular. In fact it is at the root of the statements of more than seventy-four media and human rights organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the World Editors Forum, who have all written to PM Imran Khan to ask for the journalist’s release. 

When members of the media are unfairly forced to bear the burden of partisanship and are made suffer for doing no more than their job, it is worth speaking out against. The voices of journalists oftentimes convey no more than the feelings, anxieties, and emotions of their readers, of a given country’s citizens. It may be easy for the Government of Imran Khan to try to silence those who most vocally give voice to his nation’s simmering discontent, but it is not right. For that reason we earnestly call on Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to release Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, so that his life may not suffer for the sake of the nation’s politics.

 

The Kashmir Question: India, Pakistan, China?

Since the signing of the Simla Agreement in 1972, the Kashmir conflict has largely been viewed as the kernel in historically fraught Indo-Pak relations – a repository of long-standing ethno-religious divisions, opposing nationalist ideologies, and cross-territorial violence. In the wake of the UNHRC’s landmark 2018 report on the region, it has only recently been recognised that effective reconciliation in Kashmir is wholly dependent upon India and Pakistan taking joint responsibility for the endemic human rights abuses committed on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) i.e. the de facto boundary between India and Pakistan within Kashmir. Nevertheless, in framing the conflict in Kashmir as a wholly bilateral issue, such scrutiny has failed to properly account for China’s emerging role as a hitherto under-discussed third-party in the conflict. In light of China’s previous investments in other conflict zones, and its own history of human rights abuses, The Next Century Foundation’s researcher, Udit Mahalingam, examines how escalating tensions in current Sino-Indo relations can be situated against broader, multilateral disputes occurring at both the LoC and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) i.e. the de facto boundary between India and China within Kashmir. 

The recent June 15th clash between Sino-Indo security forces in the Galwan Valley (along the LAC between Ladakh and Aksai Chin) provides the ideal starting point for this discussion. The most significant escalation in over four decades of relations between India and China, the skirmish is emblematic of savage warfare at its worst, despite the enforcement of a 1996 border agreement, which prevents either side from “open[ing] fire […] within two kilometres of the Line of Actual Control”. At least twenty Indian soldiers, and an unknown number of Chinese security officials died in the conflict, perishing at the hands of “stones, iron rods and bamboo poles wrapped in barbed wire laced with nails”. With both nations accusing the other of territorial infringement and unilateral aggression, the question remains as to when the process of disengagement will resume, especially considering that Sino-Indo tensions were already simmering in the wake of the 2017 Doklam standoff.

Propelled by far right Hindu nationalism on one side and quasi-hegemonic expansionism on the other, the Galwan Valley conflict is the perfect example of how geopolitical gridlock is often maintained at the expense of ordinary lives, on both sides of the divide. As such, the ramifications that this clash has on the adjacent conflict in Kashmir cannot be understated. To begin with, it situates India’s current infrastructural investments on its side of the LAC within its wider unilateral interventions across the LoC, evidenced most prominently in the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019, as well as the subsequent security lockdown and communications blackout enforced within the region. Moreover, given the strategic importance of Ladakh as the point of intersection between the Indo-Pak and Sino-Indo border, the recent skirmish draws further attention to the importance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (C-PEK) in relation to the conflicts at both the LoC and LAC. 

At first glance, the C-PEK, a flagship for China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative, (BRI), seems to serve as just one of the many signifiers for China and Pakistan’s self-described ‘iron brotherhood’. Nevertheless, given China’s history of engaging in debt-trap diplomacy with other conflict zones in South Asia, it would be unwise to avoid scrutinising the superpower’s strategic investments in transport infrastructure (road-building, rail-line building, etc…) within Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In consolidating its control over the aforementioned region, China has represented itself as a seemingly sympathetic ally to the cause of self-determination amongst the Kashmiri population. Despite China’s well-documented persecution of its own minority Uighur Muslim population, the Galwan Valley conflict has only helped engender such a representation, setting the stage for potential third-party escalations within the region. To quote a recent report from the Observer Research Foundation, “the [Kashmiri] people are seeing China’s aggression as a lesser evil simply because it doesn’t affect their lives and livelihood directly”. Given the intensification of Indo-Pak and Sino-Indo relations, a three-way conflict fought on two fronts would not only shatter the existing bilateral agreement on the Kashmir issue, but would aggravate the humanitarian crisis at both sides of the LoC. The devastation left in the wake of such a conflict will serve as an additional setback to the wider process of reconciliation within the region. 

In view of the tensions between India, Pakistan and China, it is imperative that the international community recognise the multilateral dimensions of the conflict in Kashmir.  Given the rampant spread of ethno-religious nationalism on both sides of the LoC, a two-state solution may be near-impossible to negotiate, let alone implement. Nevertheless, despite the recent internationalisation of the region’s humanitarian crisis, third-party mediation via the United Nations would fail to account for the intensely tribalized nature of the conflict. This would only help stagnate progress towards long-term regional peacebuilding and reconciliation. In the Next Century Foundation’s view, a syncretist approach would be the most effective long-term solution to the conflict. Such an approach could potentially involve bilateral recognition of the LoC and LaC as official borders rather than loose demarcation lines, as well as a multilateral response to the associated humanitarian crisis (via international judicial institutions, such as the International Court of Justice). In light of the current stasis in Indo-Pak and Sino-Indo relations, it remains to be seen as to whether such a solution could ever be implemented.

 

Kashmir comes to Birmingham

A meeting convened jointly by the Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation on the Kashmir issue was put together by NCF intern Maariyah Rashid. The Chair was Reverend Larry Wright of Kings Norton Birmingham, Convenor, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council and the speakers were: Dr Kurshid Ahmad, The Association of British Muslims; Dr William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation; Mr Michael Macy of the Next Century Foundation, formerly US State Department. The Next Century Foundation is in Consultative Status with the United Nations and their current submission to the UN Human Rights Council, was to raise awareness on Kashmir.

The meeting discussed the lack of international engagement on the Kashmir issue, the question as to whether a three way referendum on the status of Kashmir was credible, the possibility of the demarcation of the line of control as the international border, and the acute need to encourage Kashmiris to stand in local elections in Indian controlled Kashmir, because the current boycott was (in the view of two of the speakers) severely counterproductive in so much as it was dissempowering the local community.

The following notes on feedback from the floor are from William Morris LLD and are his personal record and possibly may not be endorsed by all present, let alone by the ABM or NCF as a whole:

  • Concern was expressed about the loss of contact with families. The comment made was that, “The onus is on India to be peaceful”. It was and is the view of the Next Century Foundation that the use of violence in response to violence has been counterproductive throughout the modern history of Kashmir and has exacerbated the misery endured by the people of the valley.
  • The suggestion was made that, “The elections are corrupt”. This, felt the NCF, may be true but policy of non participation adopted by the politicians of the valley (many of the seats were not contested and a very substantial number had no candidate at all) has severely failed the people of Kashmir.
  • The question was raised as to why Kashmiris were not listened to. The response from Michael Macy being that the international community was not interested and the response from William Morris being that the expatriate Kashmiri community were ineffective in their approach, often failing to engage effectively with the key forums available to them such as the British Conservative Party and the United Nations in Geneva.
  • The Good Friday Agreement was put forward as a model for reconciliation. The NCF acknowledged the fact that there was something to be learnt from the Good Friday Agreement, though the circumstances were different. None the less if the objective were independence for Kashmir, that was and is unattainable at this time in history given the stubborn resolve  of the Governments of Pakistan and India to oppose any such outcome.
  • The comment was made that there was no clear demarcation for the line of control. Most attending were very strongly opposed to the demarcation of the line of control as the international boundary as such a move would severely hamper the aspiration for independence. The NCF felt that the aspiration for independence was  impractical despite being the avowed objective of most of those present. However in view of the opposition to the demarcation of the line of control as the border, the NCF will try and help look at alternative ways forward.
  • A call was made for a “space for dialogue”.  The Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation both said that was at least one aspiration that they could help fulfill.
  • One speaker from the floor said that in view of the opposition to making the line of control the border, and the perennially unfulfilled nature of the aspiration for independence, there was a need to think outside the box. He said that in view of the framing of this problem in religious terms, nationalism does not work. He said, “I say no to nationalism”. He said a fresh look at the situation was needed to provide a solution that was both viable and acceptable.
  • Another speaker suggested passionately, to the disquiet of many present, that a bloody struggle was inevitable. On the other hand a speaker from India stated that the situation was not as bad as many present perceived it to be, that life in Azad Kashmir was far from perfect, that there were other groups such as the Kashmiri Pandits, who were also having a hard time, that the people of the valley were desperately concerned about the absence of tourism, and that he was concerned that violence might come home from Kashmir to the streets of Birmingham. The NCF for its part acknowledges that there is anger at the lack of a UK response to the Kashmir issue but does not feel that is likely to result in greater extremism in Britain – thank heavens.
  • One speaker asked how best to mobilise the world to take a greater interest in Kashmir. Both the ABM and NCF said that a series of working group meetings to develop an acceptable objective for the status of Kashmir and a strategy to attain that objective might be a solid initial step that could be undertaken.

Moving things forward on Kashmir

The following is a written statement on Kashmir to the Human Rights Council Forty-second session 9–27 September 2019 Agenda item 3 submitted by The Next Century Foundation, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status:

The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.
[22 August 2019]

The Next Century Foundation notes that the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy, asks, in his report before the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council, that the Secretary-General appoint a special representative on unilateral coercive measures with a remit that would be broader than that of the Special Rapporteur and that would include facilitating a dialogue to solve the underlying causes of such measures.

The Next Century Foundation supports this request. We think this would be of particular importance in regard to the Kashmir issue. We especially note the concerns expressed in the report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, raising serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in the parts of Kashmir administered respectively by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of India. We would add our own concern about the persistent failure of local politicians in Indian administered Kashmir to engage adequately in the forums already open to them at local level.

We would further state that now is the very best time to start taking measures to facilitate an amelioration of the longstanding misery of the people of Kashmir and would suggest that the very best first step to be taken at this point in time would be to appeal to both India and Pakistan to make the line of control the international border.
Once the international border is in place perhaps India might be in a better position to withdraw India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1990 which effectively stops all permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

Also, as highlighted by the OHCHR, we would hope that India would amend its Public Safety Act of 1978, the administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years.

However, the Next Century Foundation also shares the concern of the OHCHR that Pakistan address its strategic deficiencies in so much as Pakistan has a history of providing arms and training to militant groups.

The Next Century Foundation is also deeply concerned at human rights violations in Pakistan-held Kashmir most particularly the threats against journalists for doing their work. We also share the UN human rights office’s concern over the enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-held Kashmir.

We also note with considerable concern Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions on August 5 of this year over Jammu and Kashmir. Some argue that he was prompted to take the action he did in response to the offer by the President of the United States of America to intercede on the Kashmir issue. If so that is doubly saddening. We understand how frustrating outside interference can seem if it is unasked for. But we would point to the experience of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which was, in the end, grateful for US intervention in the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, a contributing factor in regard to the Good Friday agreement which is so sadly under pressure at present because of the unforeseen factor known as Brexit. However, the point is that outside actors can be helpful, especially in longstanding issues like those of the disputes in regard to the future of Northern Ireland or Kashmir.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had of course effectively given semi-autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of India’s partition in 1947. Premier Modi’s abrogation of this essential constitutional principle is distressing.

Premier Modi’s actions may be partly due to frustrations over a lack of leadership in Kashmir, and that frustration we understand. The people of Kashmir must engage better in the forums available to them. Policies involving the boycott of political forums are almost always, in the view of the Next Century Foundation, self-defeating.

That said, these measures, notably the removal of article 370 of India’s constitution, have been greeted by an absence of concern from people other than Kashmiris themselves.

Where is the strong concern that should be expressed on the part of the British government, the former colonial power? Britain has the largest number of expatriate Kashmiris (as British citizens of Kashmiri origin) in the world and yet has utterly failed to take a strong stand in regard to recent events. Perhaps that is in part a shortcoming on the part of Britain’s citizens of Kashmiri origin who are good at crying crocodile tears but seem unwilling or unable to garner action from their own political representatives.

The United States of America has been equally unforthcoming despite the fact that it is a nation perceived by some as having acted as a catalyst in fomenting recent events.

Similarly, the People’s Republic of China, though arguably a nation with a considerable interest in the region, has remained silent.

So too Europe and indeed the entire international community, much of which seems uninterested in the issue despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.

Article 51 of India’s constitution commits the Government of India to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations and, encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration. Hopefully Indian will revise its current position in due course.

Pakistan for its part has actually called for UN intervention. If Pakistan is genuine about finding a resolution through the UN, it should show meaningful progress toward effectively dealing with the problem of that part of the militancy in Kashmir that is generated within its own borders.

United Nations Resolution 39 (1948) gives the UN authority to investigate any dispute or any situation which might, by its continuance, endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.

UN Resolution 38 (1948) calls on both India and Pakistan to refrain from doing or permitting any acts which might aggravate the situation.

The UN can and should play a role as mediator. Furthermore, the Next Century Foundation would also like to see the facilitation by the UN of dialogue between Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control, supported by both India and Pakistan.

And we should all, all of us concerned about the future of Kashmir, help identify an effective leadership among Kashmiris, both within the region and among the diaspora. An empowered Kashmiri leadership that is taken seriously by the international community would encourage all parties to this dispute to behave differently.

We therefore endorse the Special Rapporteur’s request that the Secretary-General should indeed appoint a special representative on unilateral coercive measures with a remit that would be broader than that of the Special Rapporteur and that would include facilitating a dialogue to solve the underlying causes of such measures. And the Next Century Foundation further ask that one of the first issues to be addressed by the new special representative, if indeed such a representative is appointed, be that of Kashmir.

The Colonised become the Colonisers

“Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians” – Muhammad Iqbal.

India was once a country at the mercy of British rule, a profitable part of the British Empire and subject to Britain’s colonizing tactics. India like a good student absorbed these tactics and added them to their playbook, later to implement their own version of settler-colonialism. In 1947, the dissolution of the British Raj happened and with it twelve million people were displaced as abstract lines were drawn creating the self-governing countries of Pakistan and India. However, the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was also born and still remains part of the political landscape. The fraught battle between the two nations over who should assert authority in the region created tensions which reached boiling point as India removed J&K’s special status last Monday. The issue of India taking control of Kashmir sits in a nexus of state power, nationalism, and colonialism and should be analysed as such.

The crisis unfolded last week when Article 370 was withdrawn from the constitution by the Indian government. Article 370 was integral to keeping some kind of peace in the region. It allowed J&K to have special status within India. Provisions such as outsiders not being able to buy land or property were in the agreement meaning a certain level of autonomy was afforded to J&K.  Article 370 was viewed as an important tenant in maintaining stability and was entrenched in the constitution and thus theoretically could not be removed. The Narendra Modi government itself said in 2018 in a written reply in Parliament that there was no proposal to remove Article 370. Furthermore, the Supreme Court refused to accept that Article 370 was temporary in nature as sometimes argued by politicians. The importance and permanence of Article 370 is clear. On removal of the article, the BJP announced a ‘reorganization bill’ which bolsters the ideological nationalist belief that India should be a unitary and centralized nation-state. India is what the political theorist Hannah Arendt terms ‘seeing like a state’; specifically a hyper-nationalistic state.

When we allow fascism and hatred to take root in a political system in such a way, terror unleashed onto those most vulnerable in the guise of ‘democracy’ is inevitable. This issue of taking control of J&K is intricately interlinked with Modi’s campaign of hyper-nationalism.  As Hannah Arendt, who herself experienced fascist terror, theorised, to establish a totalitarian regime, terror must be presented as an instrument for carrying out a specific ideology. The ideology must win the hearts of many and even gain a majority and then terror can be used to stabilize the totalitarian state.  In India, terror imposed on J&K has become the vehicle to carry out Modi’s ideology of hyper-nationalism and the masses have come on board in the hopes of creating a greater India. The first step in justifying this terror is to rectify what Modi views as the wrong of the ‘Muslim-appeasement bill’ which is Article 370.  This move shows India is happy to rule in an authoritarian fashion to expand its power and territory whilst ignoring international law and its own constitution.

India having learnt from its previous masters set out a carefully designed plan to dish out imperialism. Kashmir was already described as ‘the most militarised region on earth’ with 700,000 soldiers, paramilitary and police patrolling it. The Indian military are the architects of this prison. As Hafsa Kanjwal reports for Al Jazeera, “In the days leading up to the announcement, the government inflicted a series of psychological trauma on the local population”. Leaders of Kashmir were put under house arrest. Communication was cut off, with phone signals and internet blocked, thus worried people could r not each family or friends, this coupled with the increased deployment of troops. It could well be there may be some people of Kashmir who may not even know of the change in legislation. Journalists in Kashmir are reporting and printing newspapers by hand in order to keep the people somewhat informed.

As India took control by isolating Kashmir from the world they added more brute force to the picture. They took their next steps and began to shape the narrative, another trick learnt from the British as they try to abandon their image as colonial masters and rebrand themselves as a soft power. The state in India has ironically been the one to do outsourcing – they lent on the Bollywood industry to sell a happy go-lucky narrative of the events in Kashmir. As Bollywood buys titles, ‘Kashmir humura hai’ which translates to Kashmir is ours, now we face the future of state propaganda being outsourced to the clutches of capitalism with a catchy ‘item song’ playing in the backdrop.

Where do we go from here? – As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The lack of an international response is deafening yet predictable. However, if we do not speak of these events they will go down in history as a victory for fascism and we become the supporters of the oppressors.

NCF researcher Maariyah Rashid

 

 

 

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.

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