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India’s Pathankot Blues!

A recent Times of India report indicates that India plans to cover more than 40 vulnerable unfenced riverine stretches located in Punjab, along the Pakistan border, by laser walls to prevent any infiltration. The suspected infiltration point of Ujj river in Bamiyal, the report said, that was used by six Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) operatives who allegedly stormed the Pathankot airbase was not covered by laser. Camera installed to keep watch over the 130-metre-wide river bed was found to be not recording the footage. Reportedly, Indian border force had started putting up the wall on riverine stretches last year in Jammu sector, which were more prone to intrusions till an attack in Gurdaspur in Punjab in July 2015.

In the latest twist, India defence minister has announced that Pakistani investigators won’t be allowed inside Pathankot; many believe this statement to be a hoax ant that it would be retraced in due course. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continues to follow a single track approach towards India. This is raising many raising many eye brows as to whether he is confronting failure of Indian approach towards Pakistan or reinforcing failure of his own approach towards Indian leadership.

Diplomatic channels have collapsed and both Pakistan and India have lost the capacity to hold scheduled and structured dialogue due to foolishly accumulated domestic political baggage by successive Indian governments. Now Indian and Pakistanis officials meet in third countries to spring up surprises. Despite Pakistan meeting Indian precondition of initiating action against India nominated entity Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) for allegedly attacking Indian air force facility, foreign secretary level talks have melted away. Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries have jointly agreed to reschedule the talks to hold them in “very near future”. India has welcomed the arrest of several members of the JeM. Indian has also arrested some activists who attacked the PIA office.

Are both the countries on their way their way to depart from traditional pattern of crisis handling to professional crisis management procedures? We’ll have to wait for a while and see. Pakistan has tried it earlier for a number of times but India has not reciprocated. For example, Pakistani foreign minister was in India when Mumbai attack took place and he immediately offered to engage in crisis management but Indians declined to engage him. Even, now best things would have been that the foreign secretaries should have met, it’s natural that once there is a problem we start talking to fix the problem, here India stops talking to aggravate the problem. Even though necessary measures had been taken, and further investigation are under way, there should have been no further complaints from India and talks should have proceeded. Though National Security Advisers of Pakistan and India are busy devising modalities of exchanging high-powered teams to investigate attack on Indian Air Force Station Pathankot, deciding on the terms of reference for these team would be an uphill task. Moreover, killing of all attackers would restrict the job of investigators to circumstantial evidence and, hence more sticky.

Back home governments of Pakistan and Punjab also face a double edged questions whether outlawed outfit JeM continued to retain the capacity and capability to launch such autonomous tactical attacks on a military facility in a neighbouring country at its own, and if so then how to take official tall claims about success of counter terrorism effort under the exalted National Action Plan; has it all been a politically motivated application of force?. And despite voices from saner corners, was the presence of terrorist elements in parts of Punjab being ignored as a political expediency? Or, is the federal government caving in under Indian pressure to frame a dormant entity for the acts it did not commit? Answers to these questions either way are not likely to provide an enviable face saving for the federal and Punjab governments.

In Pakistan there has been a strong pro-peace constituency towards India—mainly people based, same line has been towed by the leadership across the party divide. Hardliners in India, both extremist political and social elements have been systematically working to weaken this constituency. Chunk of electoral activity in India comprises of anti-Pakistan sloganeering and anti-Muslim sentiment. People to people exchanges are obstructed, sporting and cultural events are becoming hard to schedule and harder to execute. Attack on PIA’s Delhi office was another such effort to reinforce the impact of attack on Pathankot. It will take a long time to ascertain who attacked Pathankot and why; and by the time such information is known with a fair degree of accuracy, it would be of little relevance as were those of Ganges plane hijacking in 1971 and some other subsequent high profile false flag operations by India. Such operations are important with respect to immediate gains; later nobody bothers about them.

As of now, Pakistan should scan the horizon for the immediate strategic objectives for which India wants to render Pakistan a non-factor in 2016-2017 time frame, through a combination of carrot and stick, two such objectives are: India is being considered for its NSG membership in June 2016; and voting on UNSC expansion in UNGA may take place in October-November 2016. Indian wants to keep Pakistan under pressure till a certain point then release pressure offer few concessions, then ask America to apply pressure, neutralize Pakistan’s opposition and subsequently withdraw its own concessions—leaving Pakistan high and dry similar patterns it followed for cowing in Pakistan for voting at IAEA before NSG Waiver in 2008 and the promises about playing domestic series with Pakistan before strategic cricketing decision at the ICC.

Pakistani policymakers need to realize is that they can’t continue to wait for Indian initiatives and form reactive responses on the Indian projections; instead we need to reduce the space acquired by India for distorting Pakistan’s image amongst comity of nations and need to take our own proactive initiatives. At the same time, Pakistan should strengthen its relations with other neighbouring countries and form strong alliances with other regional structures—SAARC, GCC, ARF, SCO, CICA etc. This will help Pakistan in stop negotiating from a position of weakness when dealing with India.

Since Prime Minster Narendra Modi came to power, India has pursued a deliberate policy aimed at sabotaging bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. India has a evolved a tendency to treat even cultural and sports exchanges as a concession to Pakistan for which Pakistan must cede some strategic space; the fate of ICCI underwritten cricket series and the way India manoeuvred to scuttle it is reflective of prevailing Indian mind-set. Pattern has it that through diplomatic gimmicks Indian projects its peace gestures towards Pakistan with great fanfare to attract international focus—thus painting Indian as lovely guy— then quietly undoes it through professional intrigue—projecting Pakistan as problem Child. Even though Pakistan is sincere in having good relations with India. However, Pakistan can’t do it all alone at the cost of its core interests, especially when the other side is resorting to intrigue to undo Pakistan’s good work.

This time, so far, both sides appear to have used the Pathankot attack as an opportunity. Pakistan has taken a step forward towards demonstrating to the world, and in the current context most notably to India, that it is determined to wage a battle against terrorism and ensure that militancy does not wreck the region. Will Indian leadership demonstrate the political will to take up issues like water sharing, Siachen and Kashmir with the same determination to resolve them? And on international forum will India give up its approach of maligning Pakistan for anything that has and could go wrong in this imperfect universe? The future of peace process depends on answers to these questions.

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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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