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Intricacies of spying via third country

Use of neighbouring soils as launching pad for hostile intelligence agencies for disruptive and subversive purposes is not uncommon. The cardinal question is whether it is in the know of the government of the neighbouring country. In Pakistan’s setting India has been using Iranian and Afghan territories for such purposes. Successive Afghan governments have been in the know of this activity, and at times, active partner in some activities of Indian intelligence outfits. While in case of Iran, in all probability, Indian intelligence agencies have been operating without the knowledge of Iranian government. In this context the message by Pakistan’s Army Chief to visiting Iranian President: “Sometimes [RAW] also uses the soil of our brother country, Iran. I request they should be told to stop these activities and allow Pakistan to achieve stability,” was appropriate.

However, this message should have originated from the foreign office in the form of an ambassador level Demarche. It could have either been made public or handled discreetly. In case it was necessary to originate such signalling from Army Chief’s office, then confidentiality should have been discreetly guarded. A step back was in order after denial of discussion on this point by Iranian President. Judging by diplomatic norms, the message was strongly worded. And the standard diplomatic practice is that the text of any press statement meant to be released after such meetings is usually agreed to by both sides and then made public. Sometimes, the issues discussed are not made public due to the sensitivities involved. It was quite embarrassing for the government of Pakistan, it further strengthened the notion of much talked about parallel centre of power in Pakistan.

The militarised version of diplomacy was indeed a faux pas, giving God sent opportunity to vested interests to unleash a spree of comments maligning Iran and its leadership. The issue of detained Indian spy-cum-terrorist operative Commander Kulbhushan Yadav is not linked with Iran. It has to do with India. It however does not mean that Pakistan-Iran relations are free of fault lines—mainly ethno-sectarian— that provoke violence at societal level. However, both countries have a history of prudently managing the trouble spots. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran, Pakistan is in the cross fire of sectarian based global cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Notwithstanding, whenever Saudi-Iran tensions spike, Pakistan takes upon itself to cool the tempers. Pakistan resisted from being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian conflict in Yemen, earlier sectarian crisis in Bahrain and recent crisis after the execution of a Saudi Shia religious scholar by Saudi Arabia. Pakistan as a nation does not believe in sectarianism. All the proxies against Pakistan aimed at creating sectarian divide have failed. Pakistan’s effort to settle crises in Yemen and Syria is testimony of its stance on such issues which has been appreciated by international community. However, Pakistan’s joining of 34 country Saudi led alliance has not gone down well with Iran. Pakistan will have to watch out its steps with regard to role and task of this alliance, especially in the context of Iran.

Kulbhushan Yadav, was arrested in a raid near the Pak-Afghan border town of Chaman, in Balochistan. He was in contact with Baloch separatists and terrorists fuelling sectarian violence and subversion. Yadav was deployed in Iran’s Chabahar port before crossing into Balochistan. Indian has invested heavily in the development of this port and is also investing billions of rupees in the Special Economic Zone in Chabahar. Chabahar port gives India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Though the two ports are not substitute for each other, as each belongs to different category, both Iran and India view Gawadar as rival port of Chabahar. However, recently an MOU has been signed between Iran and Pakistan declaring these as sister ports.

Notwithstanding the spy issue, Iran has always proved itself as a confident partner and neighbour for Pakistan and the western borders of Pakistan have never been militarised. Iran considers its borders with Pakistan as borders of peace and friendship. “Security of Iran is security of Pakistan and security of Pakistan is security of Iran,” Iranian President said during his visit.

Iran has conveyed to Pakistan that it is investigating whether an Indian spy arrested last month in Balochistan crossed the border illegally or was picked up from its soil. India has already claimed that Yadav was picked up from the Iranian soil. India putting pressure on Iran to register a case against Pakistani agencies. India is also seeking to enlist support of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to convince Iran to go by its claim that Yadav was kidnapped from the Iranian soil. New Delhi has even threatened Tehran to choose between Pakistan and India, leaving Iran in a quandary.

Pakistan has irrefutable evidence of Yadav crossing over into Balochistan from Iran. Pakistan would present the evidence to the world, if Iran decided to follow the Indian version. Pakistan has already handed over evidence regarding Yadav’s arrest to key world powers, including the US and UK, they have not yet responded; these powers had quickly responded when India approached them over the January 2 attack on Pathankot airbase, which in all probability was a false flag operation by Indian intelligence agencies.

Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan after its independence. The two countries were members of Cento. Along with Turkey, the trio formed the RCD, which later evolved into ECO. The warmth and depth of ties between the two countries can be judged by the fact that during the 1965 war with India, Iran sided with Pakistan. It also helped quash the insurgency in Balochistan. During 2010 floods in Pakistan while appealing to Iranian public for helping flood effected people, Supreme leader broke-down into tears. Over the years Iran’s stance on Kashmir has become more favourable to Pakistan. Visit by Iranian President was very significant because of the emerging geopolitical situation in the region.

Imposition of sanctions on Iran because of the nuclear issue had limited the scope of trade between the two countries. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline also became a casualty of tensions between the US and Iran, and India withdrew from the project. Pakistan could not construct the much-needed portion of the pipeline on its side due to the UN sanctions. Pakistan kept the project alive under difficult circumstances. Iran has urged Pakistan to build the IP gas pipeline section on its side as soon as possible. Pakistan needs gas from Iran and the lifting of the sanctions on Iran by the UN has also removed the hurdles in its way. China has also indicated its willingness to contribute to the construction of the pipeline. Pakistan should avail the opportunity.

In the backdrop of lifting of sanctions against Iran, the visit of the Iranian president provided a unique opportunity to transform relations between the two countries into a partnership of business and trade. The two countries signed six MoUs, which would boost their bilateral trade to $5billion within the next five years, from the current $1 billion mark. Iran must look forward to the removal of non-tariff barriers and Pakistan must set mechanism to purchase oil from Iran as well.

Both countries must understand each other’s importance. Pakistan and Iran are both intertwined and interdependent, sharing common grounds with similar strategic prospects and challenges. There are amazing opportunities existing between Pakistan and Iran, need is to exploit them for common good. Pakistan Iran relations are certainly not hinged on Yadav issue. As investigations by Pakistan and Iran conclude, both countries would soon come to a close on this matter. They would obviously put this behind and move forward on a path of enduring partnership.

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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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