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Nawaz-Obama: Shall the twine meet!

1213Before leaving for the US, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif had said that he would remind US President Barack Obama of former President Bill Clinton’s promise to play an active role for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Nawaz Sharif also said that he “wants to bring the Taliban back to the negotiation table.” These two issue are likely to top the agenda in Nawaz-Obama summit. Though laundry list could and would include everything under the sun. Obama’s political muscle would specially come under stress on the issue of Kashmir; it will be interesting to see how he restores a balance in America’s Kashmir policy. As for Afghanistan he has already  ensured that it continues to rot at least until 2017 and may be beyond; till then poor Nawaz is destined to stay embroiled in what may turn out to be a shaky negotiation process between the the two problem children, Afghan government and Afghan political resistant groups led by Taliban. With this year’s fighting seasons coming to close, Taliban will have ample time to negotiate till launch of next spring offensive  in April 2016.

Afghanistan has hailed the remarks made by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would exert efforts in bringing back the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Afghanistan’s CEO Dr Abdullah also wanted Islamabad’s help in ending the “capability” of the Taliban in launching major attacks.

In a historic judgement, high court of IHK has declared that Jammu and Kashmir continue to retain limited sovereignty and it did not merge with the Dominion of India after partition in 1947. The court has ruled that the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is “a permanent provision” and “cannot be abrogated, repealed or even amended”. The IHK court’s judgement has shaken the very foundation on which Indians try to justify the forcible occupation of the state. While Hindu mobs are busy killing beef eaters in India, ostensibly with the connivance of law enforcing agencies, Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar of BJP has come up with a funny solution. He has asked people—read Muslims— “stop eating beef to avid mob attacks”! Recently a scuffle also broke out in IHK assembly on the issue of beef eating.

The Taliban insurgents, no longer called as terrorists by Americans, are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the recent United Nations estimates. During previous weeks, the Taliban scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks. Incidents of breaking Ghazni Jail, freeing hundreds of militant inmates and later threatening posture toward this urban centre speak for themselves. Earlier unrelenting attacks in and around Kabul had amply demonstrated the expanse of Taliban’s combat activities.

And to offset the embarrassment of hitting a hospital in Kunduz, CIA has had an afterthought to implicate their “on call scapegoat”—Pakistan. Associated Press (AP) has carried a story that American special operations analysts believed that the hospital was being used by a Pakistani intelligence operative to coordinate Taliban activity. “Doctors Without Borders” a humanitarian outfit that was running the hospital has denied this. Spokesperson of Pakistan’s foreign office has termed the story by the AP as baseless and unwarranted. Even if the allegations are true, the billion dollars question is: Was bombing the hospital—in a typical cowboy style— the only available option?

Moreover, in a long anticipated move, President Barack Obama has extended the stay of current level of American forces— 9,800 US troops through most of 2016. Now this contingent shall be available to help or say rescue the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) when Taliban launch their next “Spring Offensive” in April 2016. Obama has set aside his promise to end the war during his presidency; now he will hand over the longest conflict to his successor; he has also abandoned his plans to leave just a small, embassy based force of around 1,000 personnel in Kabul beyond 2016. Now, nearly 5,500 soldiers would still be lingering in Afghanistan when Obama leaves Presidency. Citing an Afghan force which is “still not as strong as they need to be”, Obama said that the level of 9,800 troops will be maintained through most of 2016. “I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases.” These forces will be based in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, as well as bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar; and will be able to operate quickly when needed. Obama said that while Afghan forces have made progress, the security situation in the country remains fragile: “I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president”.

President Obama has acknowledged efforts of Pakistan and its ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. “Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan.” Obama has said that he would meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 22 to discuss his plan for peace in the Pak-Afghan region. “I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve,” Obama said. “By now it should be clear to the Taliban, and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress, the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.”

As Obama announced to extend stay of US troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban responded: “The Islamic Emirate believes that military solution is not a way out of the Afghan issue. We believe that when Afghans are convinced, regarding the end of occupation and withdrawal of foreign troops, then all problems could be easily solved through intra-Afghan understanding and dialogue”. And, “To end fighting, we are ready to initiate meaningful negotiations with all concerned sides”, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement.
President Obama conceded that his decision followed months of deliberations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Pentagon officials, field commanders and White House advisers about how best to support Afghan forces. Proposal has been under consideration sine visit of President Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah to the US in March this year. The US troops will continue in their role of training and advising Afghan forces, they will not be engaged in combat missions, Obama said.

Obama’s foreign policy has become an issue among candidates running for the White House in the November 2016 election. Jeb Bush, one of Republican candidates, welcomed the move: “While I am glad President Obama has dropped his plan to abandon the region entirely, if he is truly committed to fighting terrorism and securing a stable Afghanistan, he shouldn’t short change what our military commanders have said they need to complete the mission”. The foreign ministry of Russia, remarked that it doubted the US decision would ease the situation in the country, RIA news agency reported.

State Department has issued a fact sheet on its ties with Pakistan, a week before Nawaz-Obama summit, which highlights co-operation between the two countries in various fields. “Pakistan has generally co-operated with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts and since 2001, has captured more than 600 Al Qaeda members and their allies,” says the statement. And that security assistance to Pakistan is focused on “strengthening the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities of the Pakistan security forces”.

Through perseverance, Pakistan is bravely charting its way forward through vortices thrown up by assortment of fictions and myths. It wishes to continue its contributions for making South Asia a peaceful and stable region, and it certainly needs a break from an unrelenting fiction based bashing spree. While nothing dramatic is expected out of the summit, there may be substantive decisions on some of the issues. Hopefully, Prime Minister would put forward his point of view firmly when he meets Obama, and would shed his typical apologetic approach while discussing issues related to Afghanistan and India, especially border violations by these two countries and the core issue of Kashmir.

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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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