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Promising trajectory in Pakistan-US relations

Nothing dramatic was expected to happen, nor did it happen; yet Pak-US relationship has got a fresh impetus—courtesy Nawaz-Obama summit. It has come out of a vicious cycle of blame game and attendant negativities. The continuing volatility in the security situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s battles with the terrorists, and its relations with India were broadly the three topics that dominated the discussions. Disruptive speculation triggered by American media about a nuclear deal with the US, in exchange for Pakistan limiting its nuclear weapons programme died its own death.
Pakistan and the US are old and indispensable allies, and this summit has led to renewal of this spirit. Unless something unusually abnormal happens, one could assume the Pak-US relation are, once again back on track. Both leaders have committed to further build on the ongoing Strategic Dialogue, and emphasized the need to maintain the positive momentum in promoting the relationship.
Though one is never sure about the mood at Capitol Hill; yet one could safely assume the smooth flow of aid which is already in the pipeline. Also many sticky issues pertaining to foreign military sales, like eight F-16 aeroplanes stand resolved. Kashmiri leadership has welcomed the joint statement emphasizing resolution of core issue of Kashmir. In a follow-up, US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said, US wants to see Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism expand; stressed the need for dialogue between Pakistan and India to strengthen regional security saying, US will persuade India to re-engage with Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif has effectively raised the issue of Indian involvement in FATA, Balochistan and Karachi terrorism during his US visit.
In return for a commitment that Pakistan would double its education budget in three years, America has pledged a $70 million contribution towards the goal of educating adolescent girls in Pakistan. Both sides expressed their desire to expand the bilateral relationship in areas outside the traditional security realm, including: trade and investment; education, science and technology; clean, efficient and affordable energy; efforts to counter climate change; economic growth; regional integration; rule of law; parliamentary exchanges, people-to-people contacts and cultural ties; and support for democratic principles.
On another encouraging note, American side underscored the importance of Pakistan’s role in using its influence in support of peace, security, development and human rights around the world. Two sides indicated their intent to continue robust macroeconomic cooperation through the Economic and Finance Working Group of the Strategic Dialogue, and creating enabling conditions through programmes like reauthorization of the General System of Preferences (GSP) programme and US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) process.
American side has reaffirmed support for the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, the Central Asia South Asia Project (CASA-1000), the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline project, and other measures to enhance regional economic connectivity and growth.
Having done miserably poor in the achievement of erstwhile Millennium Development Goals, Pakistan is yearning to take a good start for recently launched Sustainable Development Goals. In this context, summit emphasized the value of investing in higher and basic education. To further this end a Working Group for Education, Science and Technology has been re-instituted under the Strategic Dialogue. Two governments intend to double the joint funding for a new round of research grants.
Formation of a new Clean Energy Partnership, based on the initial work under the Strategic Dialogue is an important step forward, it could lead, in due course, towards a Pakistan specific Agreement 123. However, as of now energy partnership aims to facilitate private sector investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, including generation, transmission, and distribution. America has also expressed support for securing funding for the Diamer­Bhasha and Dasu dams.
Climate change is another area of common interest. As a country particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Pakistan has suffered major floods, heat waves, and droughts in recent years. The US has offered continued support to Pakistan to build infrastructure and organizational capacity to counter natural disasters and provide relief to the affected populations.
Undue criticism of Pakistan in the context of Taliban is a buzz word for the Western media. However, the leaders dispassionately discussed the importance of continued cooperation against terrorists and violent extremist groups. President Obama affirmed Pakistan’s role as a key counter-terrorism partner and recognized the sacrifices that Pakistani civilians, military, and law enforcement personnel have made over the years as they confront terrorism and militant groups.
The United States commended Pakistan for hosting and facilitating the first public talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban; and underscored the necessity of coordinated management of the Pak-Afghan border and orderly return of Afghan refugees. There are two paths to peace in Afghanistan – a military victory over the insurgents or a negotiated peace and national reconciliation. Over the past 14 years, a military solution has been elusive. Pakistan believes that it is unlikely to be achieved in the future as well; thus, achieving peace through negotiations is the best option.
Ongoing unease in Pakistan-India bilateral relations is also a common concern. Nawaz Sharif expressed unease over violence along the Line of Control, both sides indicated their support for confidence-building measures and a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbours aimed at resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir. Clearly, there is a real and present threat to peace and security in South Asia. The international community can no longer pretend that it does not exist. It must play a role to stop the slide towards a dangerous Pakistan-India crisis by preventing India’s belligerent actions.
Pakistan has demonstrated its resolve in countering terrorism. It has been working together, with international community, to address common concerns. Pakistan is committed to take effective actions against UN-designated terrorist individuals and entities as per its international commitments and obligations under UNSC resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force. United States and Pakistan are working closely to counter emerging terrorist groups such as Da’esh in South Asia. Time and again Pakistan has stated that it will not to allow any Da’esh footprint in Pakistan, and to combat the extremist ideology that propels such groups.
Threat of nuclear terrorism is another important domain. The United States and Pakistan are committed to work together to bring the Nuclear Security Summit process to a meaningful conclusion. Pakistan has all along been constructively engaged with the Nuclear Security Summit process, the International Atomic Energy Agency and scores of other international forums. Pakistan has made strenuous efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export control regimes; it is also an active participant in global efforts to prevent and combat proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It seeks to be a member of the four strategic trade regimes on the basis of its track record.
During the last 2-3 years, Pakistan has witnessed several positive developments domestically, democracy has strengthened; terrorism is being combated; the economy has stabilized and is poised for rapid growth. Yet, it still faces external challenges: to pacify Afghanistan and normalize relations with India. Pakistan has made a strategic choice to eliminate all terrorist groups through a comprehensive strategy, involving forceful law enforcement actions and targeted military operations. Military operation, Zarb-e-Azb, launched in June 2014, the largest anywhere in the world, has produced remarkable results. The past year has seen the lowest number of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings since 2007. These indicators enabled the PM to play a comparatively firm hand. Pakistan-US Joint Statement is reflective of a higher degree of US sensitivity to Pakistani concerns, setting direction for the coming years. It also indicates a broad continuity in the US policy in South Asia.


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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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