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Pakistan’s peace wish list

I tend to begin by quoting from Mohammed Hanif’s recent heart rending column “Pakistan’s needless martyrs” carried by “International New York Times” on January 22: “Last week Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief were seen huddled together in a plane on their way to Saudi Arabia and then Iran. As the rulers of the sole Muslim nuclear power in the world, they were on a mission to bring peace to the region. Maybe they should lower their expectations at home. Maybe they should try to ensure that when children go to school and university they don’t become martyrs. The political and military elites of Pakistan are fond of reminding everyone at every opportunity that the country’s nuclear assets are safe. Could they one day make the same claim about our schoolchildren?”

Pakistan is undertaking a difficult mission to diffuse tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a natural inkling for this sort of enterprise—indeed a romance. Theoretically it seem all too simple, however, practically it touches the boundary of Mission Impossible. Saudi arrogance and Iranian shrewdness both are equally unsurmountable and impenetrable, presenting may be only a shade of difference as far as their handling difficulty is concerned. Prime Minister’s recent visit to these two countries may only be a beginning of an arduous diplomatic undertaking.

iran's president and coas of pakistanNevertheless, credit goes to Pakistani leadership for taking timely initiative that bore fruit as both Riyadh and Tehran were simultaneously receptive to the reconciliation efforts. Pakistan enjoys close and multi-dimensional relations with both Saudi Arabia, and Iran and therefore, its anguish over the brewing tension between the two Muslim countries is understandable. It is also a fact that despite their mutual differences on various issues, both of them strongly support cause of Pakistan’s various core national interests at regional and international forums; and therefore; text book neutrality is not a practical option whenever there is a tension between these two brotherly countries.

During the visit to Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif met King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, who assured that if Tehran shows positive signs, diplomatic ties may be restored. A list of points given to the Pakistani leadership for discussion with Iran’s leadership has been handed over to Iran, the response was positive. Iran has publically indicated a stand down from previously maintained higher pedestal, the crisis stands averted—at least for the time being.

Pakistan’s Options

Some analysts hold opinion that Pakistani mediation efforts were an initiative from Islamabad; while others say it was requested by Saudi Arabia.
There are reasons to support both these notions. Pakistan has a history of undertaking such missions and that Saudis did not expect such a high profile reaction by Tehran over killing of a Saudi cleric of Shia orientation. Tehran had also cumulated quite a frustration about Saudis over various reasons—especially 34-nation military alliance of Muslim countries—ostensibly against terrorism—which did not include Iran, thus leaving it ponder that it could be employed against Tehran on one pretext or the other. Thus Tehran had a reason to be on a tenterhook to vent its feeling for which Saudis provided a good reason and occasion. Tehran added escalation when it failed to protect Saudi diplomatic missions from rioting mobs. This led to Riyadh quickly severing diplomatic ties with Tehran.
This said and done, though both had over reacted, they were equally inclined to ease the escalation and were looking for a reason for a climb down; and Pakistan’s initiative provided good excuse for both to do that; it became a good starting point for Iran. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly condemned the January 2 attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran as “a very bad and wrong incident”. “Like the British embassy attack before it, this was against the country (Iran) and Islam, and I didn’t like it,” he added. “There is no threat coming from Iran to any of its neighbours…and are prepared to engage with confidence-building measures with our neighbours.” Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif said while speaking at a panel on Iran’s future at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Will there be a war? “No. I think our Saudi neighbours need to realize that confrontation is in the interest of no body,” he added.

“I believe Sharif’s efforts are of his own,” Saudi analyst Khalid Al Maeena told Gulf News. “Because Pakistan is very close to Saudi Arabia, and has historically had friendly relations with Iran,” he added. Other Saudi political scientists expressed a similar view. “Turkey has offered its mediation and so have Russia and Pakistan… but Saudi Arabia has not announced any position on any of these offers,” said academic and writer Khalid Al Dakheel. “You know that Russia has Germany wants to work with Iran to help calm regional conflicts now that the Islamic Republic is emerging from international isolation and also prevent tension escalating with Saudi Arabia, Germany’s foreign minister said.

Now, after visit of the Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia and Iran, a decision has been taken that Pakistan would appoint a focal person to carry forward the reconciliation process and Saudi Arabia and Iran would also be doing the same. Hopefully, this would be done without losing any time so that an amicable solution is found to defuse the tension between two influential members of the Islamic world. As per declaration of the Prime Minister, the two countries have welcomed Pakistan’s peace efforts and have assured Nawaz Sharif that they harbour no animosity against each other. This means that they are willing to sort out their differences and this is what people of Pakistan and the Islamic Ummah expect from them.

Preliminary breakthrough of the Pakistani mission proves that given goodwill and determination, nothing is impossible. Earlier too, on several occasions, Pakistan has made similar efforts to sort out things in the Islamic world and has succeeded. The role being played by Pakistan is commensurate with its stature and position in the comity of the world and it should continue to use its influence for greater harmony and good of the Ummah. This role is also in line with constitutional guidelines for the foreign policy.

There are multiple ongoing attempts to redraw the map of the Middle East, Arab Spring was believed to be part of that sinister design that destabilized several Arab and African countries, most of these attempts were capped half way as undesired results outweighed the desired dividends. Certainly, due to proximity factor, Pakistan cannot remain oblivious to the fallout and spill over of the effects of happenings in the Middle East.


External threats and internal political conflicts confronting Muslims are being compounded by design while others confronting non-Muslims are being sorted out at the level of the UN or through combination of good offices of the UN and positive engagement by the powerful countries. Whenever there is an effort to resolve the ongoing conflicts of Muslim countries these are settled in a way to sow the seed of permanent instability—Iraq and now Syria. Several ungovernable principalities are being encouraged to pop-up, out of the existing Muslim states with an objective to later-on legitimize these as states. Conspiracies are being hatched to destabilize others by frequent mention of their ethno-sectarian fault-lines. Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan are in turmoil and there are reasons to believe that Turkey is being pushed towards instability. Reducing Saudi Arabia and Iran to Middle Eastern pygmies is also one of many propositions of how the greater Middle East is envisaged to look like somewhere in the middle of current century.

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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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