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Complexities of Afghan conflict

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Mr Nicholas Haysom, has emphasised that the Afghan Government must manage its difficult transition, as the Security Council extended the UN mission there for another year, on March 18, 2016. He highlighted five major hurdles including a contracting economy, an intensifying insurgency, an increasingly divided political environment, significant medium-term financial demand, and the need to achieve progress towards a sustainable peace. “For 2016, survival will be an achievement” for the Government, he said. “Some may criticize this benchmark as being low, but survival does not mean inaction, or merely ‘treading water,’ but it means active engagement in confronting the five challenges,” he added.

On the economic front, there had been an assumption in 2012 that the economy will continue eight per cent annual growth and the exploitation of Afghanistan’s abundant mineral resources would drive economic development. “It is now clear however that neither would occur,” Mr. Haysom said. The World Bank now expects low economic growth, off a low base, which in turn has resulted in high unemployment, with hundreds of thousands of young people entering the work force each year finding no jobs.

Taliban’s growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama: Either Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington’s combat role in Afghanistan; and as a result, further diminish the chances of any progress in the evasive peace process.

On domestic side, leading problem is that diverse non-state security providers – warlords, tribal leaders and local strongmen – diminish the state authority in Afghanistan. The support of international actors has allowed non-state security actors to operate without the consent of communities, and radiate a sense of impunity. This has increasingly made the Afghan central government irrelevant in country’s peripheries.

On political side, President Ashraf Ghani is not taking any bold initiative, his outreach to Taliban factions is limited to small entities having little military capacity. Militarily significant Taliban outfits continue to reject calls for any possible end to the war. Peace is preconditioned by them with full withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Taliban are able to carry out high-profile attacks in all parts of the country, more than ever before; such ground realities make it hard for the Afghan people to swallow the idea that US troops are present to continue the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Growing strength of the Taliban and the failure of US military strategies to counter their attacks supports the notion that there could be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years. No lessons have been learnt by the Afghan- US side; and there is insistence on repeating the mistakes.

Positive momentum was generated by the successful meeting of the Heart of Asia process hosted by Islamabad and jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani. This led to the decision by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China to create a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to provide decisive impetus to Afghanistan’s peace efforts. Success of this new mechanism was predicated on the shared commitment and shared responsibility of each of its four members.

Task ahead for QCG is complex and arduous and prudence demands that expectations be kept realistic and strategic patience should be exercised. It is essential now to create an enabling environment to operationalize and sustain a peace process that is, at least notionally, Afghan-led. A number of factors are critical to establishing such an environment. There should be consistent and unified positions and declarations from the Afghan government affirming its commitment to work for a negotiated peace. In this regard recent statements by the Afghan leadership and the revamping of the High Peace Council are steps in the right direction. Also, there must be a demonstrated capacity by the Afghan security forces to hold territory on their own. This would help create conditions for the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.
Pakistan is playing its due part by offering to host direct talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. Limitation of Pakistan’s influence got exposed recently. Reportedly, Pakistani officials threatened to expel Afghanistan’s Taliban from bases in Pakistan if they did not join peace talks, but the militants rebuffed the notion. Taliban have won new zones of influence and control from Afghan security forces. They no longer need their Pakistan bases in the same way as they did in 2014 and before, so if Pakistan threatens to expel them, it does not have the same effect. Taliban’s Supreme Council has voted to reject the talks scheduled for March. Taliban are now pouring into potential combat zones for what they say will be a fierce spring offensive to be launched soon.

Earlier on March 07, The United States renewed its appeal to the Taliban to join peace talks and said Afghan and the US forces would have to prepare themselves for the prospect of increased violence in the spring and summer if the insurgent group did not agree to negotiations. Taliban leadership responded by asking its fighters to hide in the mountains to avoid any losses due to stepped-up American bombing.

State Department spokesman John Kirby has said that the United States backed a call by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the Taliban to join talks with the Kabul government. “They have a choice. Rather than continuing to fight their fellow Afghans and destabilizing their country, they should engage in a peace process and ultimately become a legitimate part of the political system of a sovereign united Afghanistan… There is and should be a sense of urgency around getting these talks up and running,” he added.

Heavy fighting has continued over the winter from Helmand in the south to Jowzjan province in the north, while suicide attacks have been launched in the capital and other urban centres. In a rare exception this time Taliban continued their tactical attacks even during harsh winters; earlier, each year they used to take a break from fighting from November to March. Taliban’s recent success on the battlefield inside Afghanistan has changed the equation. They have little incentive to step off the battlefield now, given recent gains and those likely to come in the next few months.

A member of the Taliban’s leadership council, recently said that rebel representatives met in Islamabad with Pakistani officials a little more than two weeks ago. “They have asked our representatives to bring more decision-making people to the next meeting … to the meeting with US and Afghan officials. This is their dream, but they will not be able to see our senior commanders,” the Taliban council member said. A senior Pakistani security official with knowledge of the talks said: “I don’t think the talks are dead, but they are definitely plagued by a serious illness…The ones who are in Pakistan…We have told them repeatedly that they will have to leave if they don’t participate in the process…We have done what we can … but influence does not mean control. Those days are long gone.”

War in Afghanistan was a willful creation, albeit a wrong one. Afghans are urging an end to this needless war. For the well-being of future afghan generations, comity of nations owes to Afghans a responsible end to this war.

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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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