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Is Afghan statesmanship retuning to Karzai era?

Afghan cross-border fire on July 01 injured 6 Pakistan troops. As Afghan peace process is learning the ropes, attendant issues keep surfacing time and again. However, despite fragility, process is poised to move forward, albeit in inches. Those who have stakes in keeping the country unstable are working overtime to impede the peace process. As a starting point, effort is on to undo the thaw in Pak-Afghan relations. President Ashraf Ghani is doing well by not subscribing to the disrupters of peace efforts; he is indeed emerging as a statesman par excellence. If he is able to hold to present course, he will be able to make significant contributions in intra-Afghan reconciliation and peace making. Time has come for a paradigm shift in the stated position by the Afghan government as well as Taliban, and in this context, the Afghan government owes unleashing of the proverbial first drop of the rain—political concessions for the resistance groups.
As the fighting season peaks in Afghanistan, relics from Karzai era have stepped up their effort to create disjunction in Pak-Afghan joint counter terrorism effort. One rudimentary way is to blame anything that goes wrong in Afghanistan on Pakistan. This strategy has many pluses for its proponents: it reduces public confidence in intra-Afghan reconciliation process; covers own inefficiency in terms of intelligence gathering and preemptive operations; pleases the pay masters; and reverse paddles ongoing efforts for peace process.
Going by its track record, Afghanistan’s intelligence outfit National Directorate of Security (NDS) has once again stated that recent terrorist attack on the parliament in Kabul was carried out by Haqqani Network in line with a plan finalized by an officer of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. NDS spokesman Abdul Haseeb Siddiqui told the Pajhwok Afghan News agency that 7.5 million Pakistani rupees had been set aside for the attack. And that the NDS had dispatched prior information to the ministries of defence and interior about the possibility of such an attack, Siddiqui added.
Here a few interesting questions arise: whom would the derailing of ongoing up-trajectory of Pak-Afghan relations benefit?; which are the elements from within Afghanistan who are fearful of success of intra Afghan peace process; who benefits the most from a peaceful Afghanistan?; and in whose interest it is to keep the Afghanistan pot boiling?
Derailing of thaw in Pak-Afghan relations suits those elements in Afghanistan who are beneficiary of politico-economic system that has evolved as a result of excluding Taliban, and as a corollary, single ethnic majority— Pushtuns— from the current political arrangement. These are non-Pushtun ethnic groups which enjoy a larger share of pie and any settlement with Taliban would mean sharing the political power with them too. And in the regional context, India would be the major beneficiary of any fresh rupture in Pak-Afghan relations, as it would help it regain Karzai era strategic foothold in Afghanistan and improve its regional standing viz-a-viz Pakistan. Afghan parliament building was raised through Indian financial help, hence anti-India elements in Afghanistan may have a symbolic grudge against the monument.
Apart from Afghanistan, it is Pakistan that stands to benefit from a peaceful Afghanistan. Those who want Pakistan to remain in the grips of militancy and violence know it well that such a scenario shall remain self-sustaining only as long as Afghanistan keeps boiling. Moreover, those international players who want to prevent the flow of Central Asian energy towards South Asia would play their part, albeit through Afghan front men, to prevent the return of sustained calm to Afghanistan.
While NDS was keen to blame Pakistan and claim: we told you this would happen; it were Afghan Taliban who claimed the responsibility for the attack. Taliban’s abhorrence for the pro status quo symbols and structures is too well known. And in all probability, such attacks are likely to continue until all prominent political resistance groups, led by the Taliban, are streamlined through a compatible political process and the existing political power distribution system is adequately altered to reach a power sharing arrangement with them. Until then, NDS and its likes would continue Pakistan bashing to evade their own accountability with regard to preventing such attacks.
It is of interest to probe as to what constitutes NDS? It is an intelligence outfit that was jointly raised and trained by the CIA and RAW. It is a core of RAW trained operatives who have maneuvered to grab policy making slots in the Afghan security establishment. It’s sitting Director had refused to sign the intelligence sharing agreement between the NDS and the ISI. And now to prove his point, he has a stake is discrediting ISI. So no wonders if NDS shares the dictum and methodology of RAW—blame Pakistan for all that happens or is likely to happen in Afghanistan.
This well entrenched mindset is working overtime to sabotage the initiatives taken by the political and military leadership of Pakistan and Afghanistan to get out of the morass in which these two countries find themselves; it is not of either’s making; yet none of the two can get out of if singly. And who is striving the most for this objective?—it is Pakistan. The outburst of the Afghan Intelligence spokesman is ridiculous in the perspective of current understanding between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is reflective of penetration of Indian influence in many key Afghan Institutions, including the NDS.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has strongly rejected the claims by Afghan intelligence official. “We reject these allegations. Such allegations have been levelled against ISI and its officials in the past as well. Pakistan is a well-wisher of Afghanistan. We are committed to our relations with Afghanistan. Both sides have been interacting at the highest level,” spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah stated in the weekly press briefing on June 25.
In the context of Taliban-Afghan government talks, Pakistani PM’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has stated that Pakistan had facilitated the first meeting. And the details of the second meeting are being discussed by the Afghans themselves. However, Taliban gave a grim interpretation: Personal interest or initiative might have led some to travel to Xinjiang, they clarified, but they were definitely not green lighted by the ‘Emirate’. Despite this strategy of denial by both sides, presumably, sufficient space has been covered during these the contacts.
President Obama’s ambassadorial nominee for Pakistan, David Hale, told lawmakers, during his confirmation hearing, on June 25: “Given the drawdown in US forces in Afghanistan, it is all the more critical that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan be strong and cooperative, and that Pakistan continue to put pressure on the Taliban to join an Afghan-led peace process.” Hale also said that relations with its neighbours play an important part in Pakistan’s security and prosperity; and Pakistan has undertaken important outreach to Afghanistan, following the Afghan election.
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad recently told Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs that Pakistan’s role will be of a facilitator in Afghan dialogue; he hoped that Afghan government would act against Mullah Fazlullah and other elements working against Pakistan; he urged Afghan Taliban to recognize Ashraf Ghani’s government, renounce violence and join the national mainstream.
While Pakistan is making an all-out effort to stabilize Afghanistan and its effort is being duly recognized by the world, the NDS continues to live in the past. It would serve the Afghan national interest in a much better way if it focuses on improving its professional competence and neutralize such attacks before they take place instead of resorting to post attack “I told you” mantra.

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Blasphemy issue needs a permanent solution

The good sense has prevailed, an imminent catastrophe has receded. In a written statement issued on August 30, Geert Wilders announced "not to let the cartoon contest go ahead.” The contest was to be held at the tightly guarded offices of his Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament building. Meanwhile, the Netherlands government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest. Prime Minister Mark Rutte questioned Wilders' motive for organising the contest. Pakistan’s foreign minister congratulated the nation and Muslim Ummah on their moral victory and termed the cancellation of the contest a victory for Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Cancellation announcement came within days after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement saying the act was hurting the sentiments of Muslims living all around the world. Condemning the blasphemous cartoon competition in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Imran Khan had blamed the recurrence of such incidents a collective failure of the Muslim world, saying he would take up the matter at the United Nations General Assembly’s upcoming session. After the publication of Salman Rushdi’s blasphemous book ‘Satanic Verses’, it has become very easy to malign Muslims in the West, the prime minister said. “And they have been successfully doing it.” If they [Western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the West how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)?” Pakistan’s foreign office is undertaking a hectic diplomatic campaign to avert the exhibition of profane cartoons in November. Hopefully the good sense would prevail. Time and again, Western Christian countries purposefully hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims through public display of profane audio-visual and print material about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), under the pretext of their so called doctrine of freedom of expression. In a stark contradiction, same very European States immediately imprison anyone questioning the veracity of ‘Holocaust’, while Muslims and their religion don’t get the similar preferential treatment. While earlier such incidents in Netherlands were an act of non-state actors, this time parliamentary permission to hold the forthcoming exhibition inside parliament premises had made the government of Netherlands a party to this nefarious act of religious extremism. Opposition leader Greet Wilders has a track history of airing anti-Muslim sentiment. In December 2017, he proposed that European countries should adopt Donald Trump-style travel bans to counter a wave of Islamisation, according to him, sweeping the continent. Wilders also urged Europe to adopt Australia’s tactics in turning back migrant boats and to build new border walls, as Trump had vowed to do along the US frontier with Mexico. Wilders is the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives. During his election campaign, Wilders had published a one-page election manifesto calling for a ban on all asylum seekers and migrants from Islamic nations, and urged his country to leave the European Union. Wilders also stands for banning the Quran and closing all mosques and Islamic schools. Political environment in Netherlands is quite murky and thoroughly mired in populist rhetoric, where both the government and the opposition are, more often than not, competing to appear more racist and exclusionist. Wilders was defeated in March 2017 elections by Mark Rutte. According to Guardian “cost of latter’s victory against Geert Wilders’ anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom PVV party was a pyrrhic victory”. Mark Rutte’s VVD party had adopted the very rhetoric of Wilders to beat him. Rutte had said: “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Close to end of his previous tenure as Prime Minster, Rutte thought that being tough on Turkey would fetch him more votes, therefore he “happily sparked a mini-international crisis for the sake of votes”. While during the electoral campaign, Rutte said stopping Wilders was about stopping the “wrong sort of populism”. Situation is akin to India where both BJP and Congress compete to articulate more pro Hindu rhetoric to encash Hindu vote bank. Pakistan had approached Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to lodge a protest against this planned cartoon competition in Netherlands. Former caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Haroon had set the dice rolling by writing a letter to the OIC Secretary General seeking his leadership for a collective action to register a protest of OIC countries with the Dutch authorities, who in turn had written to the Dutch foreign minister, on behalf of 57 Muslim countries, protesting against this abominable event. It is not the first time that the Netherlands is holding such competition. In the past also such acts have frequently been committed by this country with a malicious intent to target the noblest personality of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Pakistan has called upon the Dutch Ambassador to Pakistan and the EU Ambassador, who represents 28 European countries, to register the protest. “We have conveyed our condemnation of this deliberate attempt to vilify Islam. Such incidents should not go unpunished,” Foreign office spokesperson said. Pakistan’s new government had taken forth the process. During its first meeting, cabinet decided to take up the matter at bilateral level. Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands over an announcement of holding a competition of blasphemous caricatures. “The charge d’affaires of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was summoned to the Foreign Office on August 13, and a strong protest was lodged”, Foreign office stated. Deep concern was conveyed at this deliberate and malicious attempt to defame Islam. “Pakistan’s ambassador in Hague has been instructed to forcefully raise the issue with the Dutch government along with ambassadors of OIC member states,” the Foreign Office went on to add. Foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi also spoke to his Dutch counterpart. Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva were directed to take up the matter with the UN Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies and procedures. The issue would also be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled to be held on the side-lines of forthcoming 73rd ministerial session of the UNGA. Though the triggering issue is behind us, OIC should not lower its guards, it should firm up an action plan if any individual or government attempts such a misadventure in future. During this meeting the Muslim countries should send a loud and clear message that the despoliation of Muslim holy personalities is not acceptable to them. The silver lining is that there have been saner voices from within Dutch civil society. Demonstrations were held by Dutch nationals to show solidarity with Muslims. During March 2017, Dutch citizens gathered at a mosque in Amsterdam, to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim population. People representing a broad coalition against racism gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque to show opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. “We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society,” said Najem Ouladali while addressing the gathering. “We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society,” Ouladali added. Najem was one of the organizers of the gathering. Pakistan should continue to work closely with all the OIC member states to find a permanent solution to this recurring issue. Matter should be persistently raised at the relevant international fora until a sustainable way is found by the international community for preventing such abhorrent acts.

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