Jinnah’s Vision 70 Years On

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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.”

Charles Bennett on the Indo-Pakistani Nuclear War, Somaliland and Yemen.

Charles Bennett, Director of the European Atlantic Group, argues that there is a serious risk of nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. He also believes that the absence of recognition of Somaliland exasperates the situation and its relationships, especially with Britain. Finally, Mr Bennett urges the international community to focus its attention on Yemen, what appears to be the world’s forgotten war.

Afghanistan: the good war or the lost war?

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Almost exactly a year after the ISAF mission ended, British troops were redeployed to Sangin, bringing the continuing war in Afghanistan back into the spotlight. The war in Afghanistan is slowly slipping in importance in the news cycle. Attention given to Afghanistan in the last year has been predominantly in relation to ISIS, when headlines touted the creation of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). ISKP are a growing problem, but ISKP face the same problems that Al Qaeda faced in gaining large numbers of ideological recruits. This is because Afghanistan and the Pashtun population follows an ideologically different branch of Sunni Islam to that of ISIS. The threat of ISIS expansion has helped the President of Afghanistan’s appeal for extra support, and therefore Obama’s justification of the continued presence of US troops; but it has changed little on the ground.

So what is happening in Afghanistan? There are two different narratives that present different pictures of the state of the country. The first is a continuation of the idea of the “good war:” in short, that the war in Afghanistan has gone well. As evidence, the “good war” narrative points to the democratic transition of power in 2014, the improvement in human rights and women’s rights, and in standards of education. It also emphasises the fact that the Taliban have not taken any urban centres. In contrast to the “good war” narrative, there are pessimists who point to the total cost of the war in achieving limited success. The democratic transition of power was beset with problems: accusations of fraud, Abdullah Abdullah’s establishment of a parallel administration, and the ensuing negotiated settlement; it took seven months to appoint a cabinet, and Hamid Karzai has far from yielded all his influence on Afghan politics. While human rights and women’s rights have improved, corruption is still rampant; Ashraf Ghani was elected on a promise to resolve this issue, but has been handicapped by the deals he has had to make with ex-warlords to secure his power. While no urban center has fallen fully to the Taliban, the majority of Kunduz did briefly fall to the Taliban before they were pushed back. The Taliban have taken large swathes of the countryside, and are increasingly breaching the security cordon around cities. This threatens the advancements in civil rights and security. The Afghan Security Forces have also taken large casualties and suffered increased desertions, with some estimates suggesting that a third of their forces need replacing this year.

Ashraf Ghani has been less successful than many hoped in his first year, but it has not been a disaster. Just as Afghan National Forces are hurting, so are the Taliban. The Taliban’s leadership has gone through a painful transition after the passing of Mullah Omar. Mullah Mansour has taken on the leadership, but his right is contested within the Taliban, resulting in open conflict. Jalaluddin Haqqani also passed away; although the transition of power to his son Sirajuddin has been smoother, Sirajuddin lacks some of the prowess and unifying features of his “fountain of jihad” father. This suggests that 2016 may be the year of the Zartman’s Mutually Hurting Stalemate, and the beginning of a peace process.

Something Ashraf Ghani certainly achieved was vastly improving relations with Pakistan, widely acknowledged as key to the peace process. There has been discussion over the TAPI natural gas pipeline, and there are currently trilateral talks between China, Afghanistan and Pakistan attempting to bring the Taliban to a negotiated settlement. Pakistan has always been a difficult partner, with many within its security establishment viewing the Taliban as more natural allies than a government with a large Northern Alliance/Tajik presence supported by India and the West. If, and it is a big if, Pakistan can be persuaded to endorse and actively pursue a settlement, there is still the problem of getting the Taliban to accept it. The power structure of the Taliban and control the current leadership has over the insurgency in Afghanistan is not clear. Mullah Mansour may not be able to force the Taliban to accept a peace agreement, which risks undermining his leadership. This increases the likelihood that, with momentum in the Taliban’s favour, the insurgency’s leadership will continue to resist a peace process.

With a peace-process that appears unlikely to succeed – even if it does, it would likely take a long time to negotiate and implement – the situation looks likely to deteriorate in 2016. The government will struggle to maintain security and will likely lose more ground to the Taliban. A complete collapse is unlikely, since foreign powers prop up the government just as they did Najibullah’s from 1989-92; but the government may be forced to rely on private militias that are rumoured to be reconstituting already. (This presents a possible nightmare scenario of the civil war of 1992-96, where Najibullah’s forces and supporting militia fractured and splintered into smaller groups along with the Mujahidden, causing crippling conflict that allowed the Taliban to sweep to power). The reconstitution of private militias will mean the creation of more armed groups outside the government’s chain of command, risking further lawlessness. Afghanistan needs continued help and attention from the West, not abandonment in its hour of need.

India and Pakistan on the road to peace at last?

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Afghan National Army soldiers graduating whilst Afghanistan slides into civil war. Photo: Xinhua Press/Corbis

Maybe it’s too much to hope for. Maybe we read too much into this. But there are new moves towards peace between India and Pakistan which are, in their little way, quite astounding. And who will reap the benefit? Afghanistan of course where these two countries have been stoking their own vicious and nasty proxy war for decades. Poor Afghanistan has many issues to contend with but if India and Pakistan at least begin to stop playing the nasty little game they have been indulging in this wretched country there will be a chance, however slim, of a better future for the Afghans.

See this article by Umair Jamal in the Diplomat which is on the button