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Odd trio: Pakistan-US-Afghanistan

Relationship between Pakistan-US-Afghanistan is of an odd trio. During the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 09, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused Pakistan of continuing to distinguish between ‘good and bad terrorists’. “Our regional initiatives with our neighbours are beginning to yield significant cooperative dividends … with the exception of Pakistan,” Ghani said. “Pakistan’s dangerous distinction between good and bad terrorists is being maintained in practice,” he claimed. Elaborating the nature of afghan conflict, he said: “it is multi-dimensional, ranging from al Qaeda and Da’ish to terrorist groups with Central Asian, Chinese, and Russian origins, to Pakistani groups classified as terrorists by Pakistan and Afghan Taliban groups.”  Pakistan has expressed disappointment over these remarks. “It is unfortunate that Afghan leaders continue to make hostile statements and blame Pakistan… However, since we have a genuine interest in seeing peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan will continue to make every effort to help…We also expect cooperation of the Afghan government in our fight against terrorism through effective border management and denying sanctuaries to anti-Pakistan terrorists from TTP”, a foreign office statement said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that allies have promised to contribute around $1 billion a year over the next three years in partial funding to Afghan military. “… that’s the reason we are ready to stay beyond 2016,” Stoltenberg said NATO’s mission will continue [training] into 2017 with 12,000 NATO and US troops.

US mission commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has acknowledged that Afghan forces were suffering rising levels of battlefield casualties this year.  “This year, we’re seeing more tactical success (by the Afghans) on the battlefield but more casualties as well,” Nicholson said. Over 5,000 forces in Afghanistan were killed and more than 14,000 were wounded in 2015. Nicholson praised Afghan forces for being able to recruit new fighters and carry on, despite the casualty rates. President Barack Obama has scrapped plans to slash the number of US forces to 5,500 troops from 9,800 before he leaves office, citing precarious security in Afghanistan. Obama now plans to leave around 8,400 US troops.

Eid message and a formal statement attributed to Taliban leader has reiterated that the deaths of Mullah Omar and Mullah Mansoor had not weakened the insurgency; implying that neither his nor his successor(s) death would weaken it. He urged the US to end Afghan ‘occupation’. “We condemn this effort of prolonging this war and occupation and remind the Americans that the Afghan nation has bravely faced all your might over the past 15 years,” Haibatullah said. “You are not going to be the winner,” he added. “If you [Americans] begin to see Afghanistan as an equal country and recognise the Islamic Emirate as a military, political and peaceful force demanding its legitimate rights and also take into consideration the demands of this valiant nation, you shall be saved from a lot of expenditure and losses,” he stated. Taliban have “kept political doors open to the world”, he added. Haibatullah is incrementally consolidating his position and these articulations indicate that there would be no change in Taliban’s tactical policy under the new leader.

Attempt by the Afghan government to veer away Hizb-e-Islami (HI) has entered an interesting phase. HI has pledged not to attack Afghan soldiers except in self-defence. However, as under the new arrangement, American and Afghan troops are likely to carry out more and more joint operations, offer by HI may not result in significant reduction in violence.

Pervious weeks have witnessed some unilateral American actions which poured chilled water on the Pakistan-US relations. Droning of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in an otherwise no go area for drones; scuttling of sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan under Indian pressure; conditioning the inflow of US$ 300 with action against Haqqanis; and audacious effort to make India an NSG member while out rightly blocking Pakistan’s entry had sufficient cumulative impact to make some analysts jump to conclusion that Pakistan-US relationship were in for a replication of 1990s era. Pakistan’s resistance and reaction to these American actions to contain Pakistan successfully sent back the message that Pakistan could revert back to alternative options.

Delegation level visit of US Senators Lindsey Graham, Benjamin Sasse, Joe Donnelly and John McCain, Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee to Pakistan was a fence-mending effort. Delegation visited Afghanistan as well. Gaps between John McCain’s articulation in Islamabad and Kabul were interesting.  After “excellent meeting” with Pakistani foreign ministry officials, he  told the Afghan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on July 04 that he had pushed the Pakistani leaders to take practical steps against Haqqani Network. “The US forces and the country will continue to support the Afghans until the end of war,” senator McCain said.

While in Pakistan, Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had briefed the US delegation about faltering peace talks to end the civil war in Afghanistan. “No country had as much vital stakes in the success of these joint efforts, as Pakistan”. Adviser recounted Pakistan’s earnest efforts, particularly during the past few months, to keep the Pakistan-US partnership on track. Delegation was also on briefed the vital issues of: Pak-Afghan border management; repatriation of Afghan refugees; and Afghan peace and reconciliation process. It was reiterated that Pakistan remains committed to the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) process.

McCain is known for keeping his feet in both boats when it comes to Pakistan-India relations. Earlier in a reaction to the US government’s approval of sale of eight F-16 to Pakistan McCain had urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on February 26, to hold a hearing on this sale. He opined that a hearing would help senators decide what to do about the proposed sale, noting that he was himself very “conflicted.” McCain was concerned about the timing of the Obama administration’s decision to approve the sale and potential consequences for US relations with India! “I would rather have seen it kicked over into the next administration,” McCain said.

The government approval of deal drew immediate criticism from India; and Pentagon aptly responded: “F-16 sale to Pakistan should not be of concern to India”. However, the spoiler action followed soon after. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker allowed the Obama administration to proceed with the deal, but said he would not approve using US funds to pay for the planes through the foreign military financing programme. Corker told Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter that he was concerned about Pakistan’s ties to the Haqqani network. Crocker did it, apparently single handily and the deal was scuttled. He had exploited Pakistan’s economic vulnerability of being unable to pay the full cost. It is hard to digest that one odd cranky senator could halt the mighty wheels of the Pentagon and State Department. There must be more to it.

Senators visited Pakistan in the backdrop of scepticism in certain US quarters that Islamabad was reluctant to go after all militant groups, particularly the Haqqani network, which is blamed for most deadliest attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. To dispel this impression Pakistan, for the first time, took these visitors to North Waziristan to get a first-hand account of its efforts. “I was very impressed with the progress,” said McCain. “I see us working together in confronting a common challenge and these kinds of meetings are very helpful”, McCain added.

Senators recognized the need for greater contact between Pakistan and the US and to work together to address the challenges. Common problem with such delegations is that they come with a fixated mind-set, do a good talk, disregard what Pakistani side tells them and go back with the same mind-set they came with. The relationship between the trio is complex, fast- moving, fragile and gains made during one day often go down the drain the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Selective Assessments of Human Rights Status

These times are witnessing increasingly selective assessments regarding Human Rights status across the World. And slogan of Human Rights has become a tool for furthering hidden strategic objectives. In response to the letter, written by HRW Asia Director Brad Adams to Prime Minster Imran Khan, on August 24, Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari responded: “I hope that you would also raise your voice against a massive human rights violations, carried out in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, Palestine and in some European States against Muslims citizens.” Minister also urged HRW to take up the issue of the violation of human rights by some European states against their Muslim citizens in the form of curtailing their right to practice their religion freely and in the form of abuse of Islam and its Prophet (PBUH), in direct contravention of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. “Since HRW claims to monitor human rights across the world, I would like to be informed on how you are ensuring the rights of Muslim citizens to have their mosques and be able to dress and practice their religion freely and without ridicule in European states,” she added. She went on to ask that since the HRW claims to monitor human rights violations in over 90 countries, “I hope that would include the massive human rights violations being carried out as a matter of state policy by India in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Minister also said that she would like to be informed on how the NGO is “ensuring the rights of Muslim citizens to have their mosques and be able to dress and practice their religion freely and without ridicule in European states”, which have seen an upsurge of xenophobia in recent years. Pakistan government would always welcome positive suggestions, but “an NGO’s institutional credibility will rest on its commitment to ensure human rights across the globe and not just in selective states.” She added. In a blatant violation freedom of information norms, India’s home ministry abruptly withdrew the security clearance granted to Qatar’s Al Jazeera network after a documentary on Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) was aired by the channel. Now, matter is under consideration at appellate level. According to Times of India, the report leading to this action had highlighted the protests after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016 and the brutal use of pellet guns against protesters amongst other Human Rights violations in IoK. Report was deemed by Indian government as biased. The Economic Times has added that “the television channel will be taken off air if the Home Ministry strikes down the review petition filed by Al Jazeera”. Moreover, Indian government has also rejected recent reports by Amnesty International and Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) on atrocities being committed by the Indian security forces in IoK. “Once again we find out that Kashmiris are the ones having to pay the price for the political battle”. In a related development, Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), has “urged the Indian leadership to admit that human rights violations are taking place on their side of the Line of Control (LoC), and they must work with Pakistan to find a solution that puts the interests of Kashmiris first”. She said it is about time leaders in both India and Pakistan realized that Kashmiris are living in a conflict zone and suffering human rights violations. “They must understand and acknowledge this and ensure that human rights of these people are not violated anymore. It needs to happen right now… this should be about Kashmiris who are suffering.” When asked to comment on misuse of special powers given to the Indian military, Ganguly said that not only the UN but also other groups and commissions, including those, formed under the Indian government have also appealed to the government to repeal such laws. Commenting on the role rights groups like Amnesty and OHCHR could play to make India more accountable over Kashmir issue, especially when Modi government is targeting almost all minority ethnicities in the country, she commented that the voice of dissent should not become the political tool. “Unfortunately this is what happens way too often”. Commenting on increasing communal violence by pro-BJP vigilantes against religious minorities in the country, Ganguly said the environment of an extreme form of nationalism violates religious freedom. Prime Minster Imran Khan has recently said that little noteworthy progress has been made in the past to find a solution for the Kashmir issue. He said so while meeting Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi before assuming office, adding that through the UN resolutions on Kashmir a solution must be found for this intractable issue. Now an extraordinary situation is developing in IoK in the wake of BJP government’s attempts to abrogate Article 35-A of the constitution that grants special status to the occupied territory and its citizens. India is using all cheap tactics from brute use of force to political and constitutional aggression for forcing the occupied territory completely to its fold. The Kashmiri leadership has made it clear that they will fight with full resilience to foil the nefarious designs of India. Pakistan government must approach not only the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but also the United Nations Security Council and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to prevent the Indian government from going ahead with its plans of changing demographic nature of Jammu and Kashmir.

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