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Pakistan India peace process at its lowest ebb

Though the Foreign Secretaries of Pakistan and India met for more than an hour on sidelines of Heart of Asia conference, in New Delhi on April 26 , there is no visible forward movement.  Earlier this month, Ambassador Gopalapuram Parthasarthy, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan (1998-2000) and a former spokesperson of Prime Minister’s office had written a belittling article about Pakistan-India relations: “The general, the ‘spy’ and no talks with India”. Interestingly trash has come from a person who once had the responsibility to ensure that this bilateral relationship does not go astray. Pakistan India peace process are  at its lowest ebb, poor Pakistan-India bilateral relationship owes a lot to Parthasarathy syndrome.

Capstone phrases read “Nawaz Sharif may have permitted the trial of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists for the Pathankot attack. But this fell apart because of General Raheel Shareef’s keenness to make Kulbhushan Jadhav the centrepiece of global attention… The worst kept secret today in Pakistan is that the country’s elected prime minister and its overbearing army chief loathe each other. This is more so, after the army unilaterally commenced operations across the Punjab province — the heartland of Nawaz Sharif’s political power — without bothering to take the prime minister’s approval”.

Writer appears to be out his head because Pathankot incident is still under investigation and Indian investigators are still to visit Pakistan. And Question of trial would only arise after the investigation into Pathankot attack complete. Also there has be no comment form Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office that operations in Punjab commenced without his approval.

Theme is not new, India has since long been trying to project Pakistan’s military leadership in poor standing— always obstructive to civilian government who is dying for good relations with India but is helpless, as military leadership just does not let it move in that direction. Having done Raheel bashing, Parthasarathy does not spare Nawaz Sharif either: “Nawaz Sharif himself has a record of links with organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba” and tends to conclude that: “It is not surprising that these developments have inevitably cast a shadow on the already strained and complex relations with India”.

Moreover, instead of offering an apology on Jadhav episode, former ambassador resorts to give it a spin on technical grounds: “Pakistan’s de facto ruler, General Raheel Shareef, chose not to be present when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He separately met President Rouhani, swagger stick in hand, the next day. The obedient army spokesman dutifully tweeted that his exalted boss had given evidence to the Iranian president about the evil Indians using Iranian soil to destabilise the exalted Islamic Republic of Pakistan. An obviously irritated President Rouhani bristled with anger, when he was asked about this, noting that India, like Pakistan, was regarded as a friendly country, by Iran”. If the writer was honest in his intent, he should have mentioned that this is usual practice in Pakistan that visiting heads of state/government meet the political and military leadership separately.

Indian effort to pressurise Iran to take a stance that Jadhav was picked up by Pakistani intelligence agencies from Iranian soil has also failed. Arrestors of Kulbhushan have recovered the travel documents and multiple fake identities of spy-cum-terrorist, establishing him as an Indian Navy officer who had entered into Balochistan through Iran — having a valid Iranian visa.Parthasarathy indulges into wishful thinking that “Pakistan now faces a dilemma. Anything Jadhav says while in Pakistani custody will be brushed aside as being made under coercion. If the Pakistan military releases him, he could well point out some unpleasant truths about Pakistan”. Pakistan has already handed over three dossiers to the UNSG on the eve of last ministerial session of UNGA documenting India’s systematic use of terrorism as an instrument of statecraft while dealing with Pakistan. Arrest of Jadhav and his confessions certainly substantiates the information documented in those three dossiers.

Ambassador continues with his puerile argument: “Finally, if indeed he is a RAW agent (he still attaches “if” to it), he would not have been so dumb as to enter Pakistani territory, and more so it’s volatile Balochistan province, when he could operate comfortably from Iran, or elsewhere”. Keeping in view the political process initiated in the province, a large number of militants have surrendered before the security agencies. Province went through peaceful elections for national and provincial assemblies as well as local governments. Moreover, mid-term change of government in Balochistan has taken place smoothly in line with previously agreed terms.

The government of Balochistan had already announced a reconciliation policy a few months back to pave the way for the resolution of issues relating to the province which had been under the grip of India sponsored violence for over a decade. As a result, some high profile militant leaders have already been eliminated or are reconsidering their position; now a sense of security prevails among the people. As a result of political parleys Khan of Qallat has agreed to return to Balochistan in due course. And to India’s disappointment, work on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is proceeding smoothly. This has led to frustration in Indian intelligence circles that could have panicked Jadhav into “let me go and fix it” mode.

In his disjointed composition, writer is foolhardy enough to assume that Pakistan is fast losing influence in the Arab World. And quotes Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia to support his analysis. He conveniently ignore the snub Modi got from the Saudi King when he tried to lure away GCC countries from Pakistan in exchange for help in situations/contingencies like Yemen war during his UAE visit last year.

The ambassador then resorts to shear black mail: “He [Nawaz Sharif] will have to host a very sparsely attended SAARC Summit in Islamabad later this year if the Indian prime minister acts difficult and makes his displeasure and grievances evident at the summit, especially if Pakistan is seen to be not acting reasonably on the Pathankot attack”. He also tries to scuttle whatever is left of the prospects of Pakistan-India bilateral talks by predicting that General Raheel Sharif will have the assets of [Hafiz] Muhammed Saeed and Masood Azhar ready for crossing the LoC when the Himalayan snows melt in July [2016]!

Pakistan bashing by an Indian zealot is not complete unless China and America are also roped in. Writer is of the view that the Obama administration is not likely to do anything substantial to put the squeeze on Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack to book. And then remark sarcastically: “Can New Delhi change these dynamics of American and Chinese policies anytime soon?” He suggests that New Delhi would do well to counter efforts by Pakistan and China to contain them, by more proactive military cooperation with neighbours on the land and maritime borders of both these countries.

Any independent analyst worth his salt will be quite sceptical on G Parthasarathy’s narrative. Likelihood of attack on Indian Air Force Station Pathankot turning out as a false flag operation orchestrated by Indian intelligence agencies under the able tutelage of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the Kulbhushan Jadhav saga will continue to haunt the Indian intelligence establishment for a long time.

The world is now better aware about employment of terrorism as state policy by India, especially when it comes to its relationship with Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already over expended political capital in attempting to improve Pakistan-India relations, all his initiatives have been scuttled by Narendra Modi, who wears the mask of a charming guy while effectively ensuring that dialogue does not even begin. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India has rightly commented that as India is not yet ready the peace process stands “suspended”. Workable option for Pakistan is to wait for the time when people of India throw up a sensible Prime Minister.

 

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Is the new push for Afghan peace genuine?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on July 09 that there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a press conference. “Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy… Make no mistake, there’s still a great deal of work to do”, he added. However, recent BBC study reveals that Taliban are openly active in 70 per cent of Afghanistan; Afghan government controls 122 districts, or about 30 per cent of the country. Yet, it does not mean that government controlled territories are free from Taliban attacks. “Kabul and other major cities, for example, suffered major attacks – launched from adjacent areas, or by sleeper cells,” the report said. When asked about the BBC’s study, the Pentagon did not comment directly, but pointed to the latest figures by the NATO-led coalition, asserting that about 56 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence. The study quoted a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani playing down the findings. The BBC study also said Islamic State had a presence in 30 districts, but noted it did not fully control any of them. Earlier Taliban had refused the government’s request to extend their three-day Eid ceasefire, launching fresh attacks that have seen scores killed or injured. Resurgence of insider attacks after almost a year’s gap also belies Pompeo’s claims. President Ashraf Ghani thanked Pompeo for US support, hailing Trump’s strategy as a “game changer” in the conflict. Pompeo said while the United States would have an “important” role in peace talks, the process must be Afghan-led. Taliban’s key demands for engaging in talks has been the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but observers say they now appear amenable to a timetable for their pull-out. However, Taliban have rejected the latest peace talks offer. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban “are not interested in talks while foreign troops are still on Afghan soil.” Mujahid also repeated long-standing Taliban claims that Afghan government officials are “puppets. Renewed violence and the Taliban’s recent vow to continue their fight has dampened hopes that the truce would provide a clear path to peace talks. Ambassador Alice G Wells, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, visits Islamabad [and Kabul] so frequently that Pakistan’s foreign office might be thinking of offering her complimentary accommodation for setting up Islamabad camp office! Beyond routines Wells has a special assignment: to hold Taliban by their throat and present them to President Ashraf Ghani, as soon as possible. Ghani already has an America dictated power sharing draft agreement in his pocket. And American support for granting him blanket clearance for rigging his second term election is contingent upon making reasonable performance on this track. Both Afghanistan and the US want to reach some kind of deal with the Taliban before the parliamentary elections due later this year. Hence Wells’ urgency! Arduous challenge for Alice is that Taliban insist on talking directly to the US, as they think that present status of Afghanistan is of a country under American occupation. So they want to engage with the power that be—ostensibly, logical thinking. With focus on Taliban, Wells is putting in strenuous effort to steer the Pak-US relationship clear of mines laid by President Donal Trump. During her latest visit, she reiterated that Pak-US relationship is important and the US would like to carry it forward. Despite Trump sown hiccups, these bilateral relations are still presenting a functional façade. Pakistan is confident that Taliban could be brought to the negotiating table after the success of recent short ceasefire on Eid. However, it feels that bringing Taliban to negotiating point is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan, but is a shared errand. In a parallel development, during several rounds of discussions between Pakistani and Afghan officials, both sides have worked out a roadmap on how to invite Taliban to join the political process. Afghan President has confirmed that Pakistan and Afghanistan have made considerable progress on how to achieve peace in Afghanistan. This however does not match ground realities. Against this backdrop, Wells’ recent visit to Kabul and Islamabad was significant. While in Kabul, she stated that American leadership desires decisive moves in the peace talks. Wells said there was widespread support for peace, underlined by scenes of unarmed fighters mingling with government troops and civilians on the streets of Afghan cities during Eid festival. Wells said that Taliban’s failure to engage in talks to end Afghanistan’s nearly 17-year old conflict was ‘unacceptable’: “I think it creates this impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated political solution. “Increasingly I think it’s becoming simply unacceptable for the Taliban not to negotiate”— a wishful assumption. Taliban soon responded by multiple attacks killing scores of people in Jalalabad and elsewhere. Wells also called on Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Views were exchanged on issues of mutual interest, regional security and cooperation between both the countries, the Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement. She “commended the sacrifices and resilience of the people and armed forces of Pakistan and appreciated the role Pakistan Army has played in battling the scourge of terrorism”. Both agreed on continued engagement at multiple levels. Trump has suspended military and civil sector aid to Pakistan since the beginning of this year alongside holding back the already paid for military hardware. America is also defaulting on arears of Coalition Support Fund, amount that America owes to Pakistan that latter has already spent on account of logistical services provided to the US. Finance Minister, Dr Shamshad Akhtar also held a meeting with Wells. They discussed the current state of Pak-US relations with particular focus on economic cooperation. Finance Minister said that such bilateral visits enhance understanding of each other’s point of view on important issues. The Minister also briefed Alice Wells about Pakistan’s participation in the recently concluded FATF meeting. America had gone out of the way to have Pakistan placed on FATF grey list to the extent of circumventing the FTAF operating procedures. Wells said that since the Afghan government and United States were willing to start talking without preconditions, the onus was now on the Taliban to respond— once again logic stands on its head. “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders… who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” Wells said. She forgot to account for those Taliban controlling over 70 percent of Afghan territories. Previous meaningful peace initiatives were deliberately scuttled by the US, one has to see how the current one proceeds! Only the forward movement of peace process will reflect on America’s sincerity of purpose, which is hard to discern—at least for now.

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