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Pakistan Focus Analysis

Evolving dynamics of Afghan conflict

Last week Afghan forces pulled out of bases in Musa Qala, a strategic district of the southern province of Helmand. The commander of the Afghan army’s 215th Corps, Mohammad Moeen Faqir, said troops had been ordered to pull back from Roshan Tower, their main base in Musa Qala, as well as other checkpoints to reinforce Gereshk, straddling the main highway, one which links Kabul with the south and west. “Now that the government has withdrawn its forces from this district, we will see Kajaki, Gereshk and Sangin collapsing very soon,” said deputy provincial council member Abdul Majid Akhundzada.The outgoing commander of Operation Resolute Support and American troops in Afghanistan, General John F Campbell, paid a farewell call on Army Chief General Raheel Sharif on February 18. Campbell paid rich tributes to the professionalism and phenomenal achievements of Pakistan Army in Operation Zarb-e-Azb. He also acknowledged Pakistan Army’s efforts towards regional stability. General Raheel thanked Campbell in particular for his efforts to bring about stability in Afghanistan! Two generals reviewed the ongoing reconciliation process in Afghanistan and discussed the way forward. Though generals may think that worst of the Afghan conflict is far behind them, from a commoner’s perspectives, Afghanistan faces numerous daunting challenges.

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CPEC: JIGSAW takes shapes in Balochistan

Balochistan would remain the soft belly of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for a decade or two. And in this context, the current security sate in Balochistan is likely to stay by and large the same. Internal disturbance and foreign interference are likely to continue. Direct and indirect foreign interference is likely to remain a potent facto. Therefore, security of the infrastructure has to be planned and executed in a comprehensive way, not only in terms of gun and bullet but also in terms of community participation. Security of personnel working on the CPEC related projects could only be achieved by making the local population stakeholders in these projects through Corporate Social Responsibility offset projects. From political perspective, the things are moving in the right direction. Mid-term political transition has been smooth and without any blame game. Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri has once again extended an invitation to self-exiled Baloch leaders to the negotiating table for resolving political issues and building on the reconciliatory approach of the government. This process needs to be accelerated to build on past breakthroughs. Narratives that engage the stakeholders rather than isolate them are key to stability. Politics of violence have hurt Balochistan, and the use of force brings nothing but destruction. Time is ripe for a new beginning, while at the same time window of opportunity may not be unlimited.Implementation of CPEC can also help overcome a number of problems of Balochistan and therefore, it is incumbent upon the political parties not to create hurdles in the way of execution of various projects under its umbrella. If socio-economic environment of the province is changed, then there would also be no no-go area there and this would, in return, help promote national unity and harmony. Balochistan, despite being the largest, remains the least developed, least secure of Pakistan’s provinces; with poorest Human Resource Development Indicators in the world. CPEC has the potential of reversing all these miseries. In the broader context, it is a century long project that would eventually inter-connect Asia-Europe-Africa under the broader umbrella of One Belt One Road (OBOR). Finances are readily available through Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank that has a projected equity of US$ 200; other major financial institutions have also shown interest in investing in CPEC projects.

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Pakistan’s peace wish list

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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 …

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India’s Pathankot Blues!

As of now, Pakistan should scan the horizon for the immediate strategic objectives for which India wants to render Pakistan a non-factor in 2016-2017 time frame, through a combination of carrot and stick, two such objectives are: India is being considered for its NSG membership in June 2016; and voting on UNSC expansion in UNGA may take place in October-November 2016. Indian wants to keep Pakistan under pressure till a certain point then release pressure offer few concessions, then ask America to apply pressure, neutralize Pakistan’s opposition and subsequently withdraw its own concessions—leaving Pakistan high and dry similar patterns it followed for cowing in Pakistan for voting at IAEA before NSG Waiver in 2008 and the promises about playing domestic series with Pakistan before strategic cricketing decision at the ICC. Pakistani policymakers need to realize is that they can’t continue to wait for Indian initiatives and form reactive responses on the Indian projections; instead we need to reduce the space acquired by India for distorting Pakistan’s image amongst comity of nations and need to take our own proactive initiatives. At the same time, Pakistan should strengthen its relations with other neighbouring countries and form strong alliances with other regional structures—SAARC, GCC, ARF, SCO, CICA etc. This will help Pakistan in stop negotiating from a position of weakness when dealing with India. Since Prime Minster Narendra Modi came to power, India has pursued a deliberate policy aimed at sabotaging bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. India has a evolved a tendency to treat even cultural and sports exchanges as a concession to Pakistan for which Pakistan must cede some strategic space; the fate of ICCI underwritten cricket series and the way India manoeuvred to scuttle it is reflective of prevailing Indian mind-set. Pattern has it that through diplomatic gimmicks Indian projects its peace gestures towards Pakistan with great fanfare to attract international focus—thus painting Indian as lovely guy— then quietly undoes it through professional intrigue—projecting Pakistan as problem Child. Even though Pakistan is sincere in having good relations with India. However, Pakistan can’t do it all alone at the cost of its core interests, especially when the other side is resorting to intrigue to undo Pakistan’s good work. This time, so far, both sides appear to have used the Pathankot attack as an opportunity. Pakistan has taken a step forward towards demonstrating to the world, and in the current context most notably to India, that it is determined to wage a battle against terrorism and ensure that militancy does not wreck the region. Will Indian leadership demonstrate the political will to take up issues like water sharing, Siachen and Kashmir with the same determination to resolve them? And on international forum will India give up its approach of maligning Pakistan for anything that has and could go wrong in this imperfect universe? The future of peace process depends on answers to these questions.

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Pakistan in the crossfire of Iran Saudi Sea-Saw

While in Pakistan, over the weekend, Saudi deputy crown prince and defence minister Prince Muhammad Bin Salman was emphasizing the counter terrorism aspect of upcoming 34-country military alliance, and simultaneously elsewhere, Saudi foreign minister was cautioning Iran that Saudi measures could go well beyond severance of diplomatic relations and trade embargoes should Tehran continue supporting terrorist elements. Pakistan’s assurances to visiting Saudi minster during last week remained measured, unflinching support for territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and well short of any military commitment against any third country—more specifically Iran without naming it.Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have locked themselves in a race for influence within the Islamic world, involving: alliance building, sectarian focused influence paddling, social well-being projects, disaster mitigation programmes, conflict resolution strategies, religious education etc. Resulting into both desired and undesired fallouts. Most negative impact has been sectarian polarization amongst Muslim societies, hence weakening the Muslim State structures, be they Shiite or Sunni majority countries. Such state-society polarizations were hardly known before mid-1970s when Islam was taken as a single identity and a unifying rallying force—say against Israel. Iran has intensely focused on sectarian element and has mobilized significant non-government influence in contiguous Shiites belts running through the Sunni-majority countries of Asia through enabling and empowering of Shiite groups and have brought them up to the level of sustainable and resilient political pressure groups. Contours of this influence enhancement are clearly discernable in the Middle Eastern Shiite population belt. Likewise, since Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, Saudis have also invested heavily amongst their school of thought through seminaries spread in the Sunni areas of influence. Moreover, they focused on alliance building amongst the Gulf monarchies with anti-Iran bias. The difference in the strategies has been that while Iran focused on Shiite communities which were not already politically empowered, Saudis were investing in the societies and governments where Sunni regimes were already in power. Now while those communities which received Iranian support are bursting at seams for political empowerment, at the cost of Sunni status quo political order, while those supported by Saudi Arabia—sub sects of Sunni school of thought— are either struggling to retain the Sunni status quo political order or claim their pound of flesh out of the same pie—hence becoming pariah like al-Qaida or Daish. Some Sunni regimes have already lost power to Shiite dispensations—say Iraq—others managed to survive from the brink—say Bahrain. Frustrated by the Iran-P+5 nuclear deal brightening the prospects of mainstreaming of Iran and likely reversion of America to early 1970s two pillars (Saudi Arabia and Iran) Gulf policy, Saudis may be mixing up chaff with grain. They need to reconcile that now for quite some time worst is behind Iran. For over a quarter of century, Saudis were in a diplomatic slumber while American and Iranian diplomats were busy hobnobbing in low profile meeting in un-important capitals around the world charting the parameters of neo-Gulf and neo-Middle East that would evolve through 2050.Even though all indicators point that ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have peaked off; both sides are poised to continue struggling with the debris of over-reaction, however. Fault lines continue to haunt the two sides and relationship is likely to remain on tenterhooks, ready for fresh estrangement bouts on trivialities. The silver lining is that, at strategic level, good sense prevails, there is firm understanding that if conflict draws beyond certain redlines, only third parties would benefit, to the peril of both. Saudi’s need to guard against their new fond liking for interventionist war fighting through coalition making, recent American experiences are quite instructive. And Iranians need to understand that tactical gains through sub-state level interventions do not necessarily add-up linearly or exponentially to the strategic gains of the states pulling the strings of their proxies abroad.

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Back to Talkshawk

For the past one-and-a-half years, India had pursued a deliberate policy aimed at sabotaging bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. India has a tendency to treat even cultural and sports exchanges as a concession to Pakistan for which Pakistan must cede some strategic space; the fate of ICCI underwritten cricket series and the way India manoeuvred to scuttle it is reflective of prevailing Indian mind-set.Apparently the scheme of Pakistan-India dialogue has undergone a structural change. National Security Advisers (NSA) shall handle terrorism related matters and erstwhile ‘Composite Dialogue’ under the new brand name of ‘Comprehensive Dialogue’ shall continue to be the responsibility of two foreign offices. Now Pakistan has a fulltime NSA, may be in due course he would have his independent secretariat as well. Earlier, Pakistan had handed over three dossiers to the United Nations Secretary General in October outlining Indian pursuits of financing and facilitating terrorist activities in Pakistan. Hopefully Pakistan’s NSA would make that as a reference document while dealing with his Indian counterpart, both NSA are ex-generals one of army and the other of police. Their background knowledge and expertise pertaining to handling of counter terrorism activities should come handy while tackling the sticky assignment.

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Axis of Fragility!

[Featured Picture: Courtesy Pakistan Today]Pakistan’s troubled neighbourhood—both in the east and west present a treacherous playground in terms of diplomacy and peace process. Fist immediate causality was resignation of pro-India head of Afghanistan’s Directorate of National Security— Rahmatullah Nabi— who does not want his country to engage with Pakistan for joint and cooperative effort for solving the problems these two countries face, despite the fact that none of the countries could resolve these issues without the help of other. Likewise, Modi has a compulsion to please his hardline power base—terrorist outfit Shiv Sena—through Pakistan bashing. His anti-Pakistan rhetoric of electoral campaign has turned out as a bone in the throat which is neither easy to swallow nor viable to vomit. Pakistan is poised to tread a difficult path with both these neighbours. Pakistan and India have agreed to restart the dialogue process, Sushma Swaraj disclosed at a joint press conference with Sartaj Aziz: “Instead of composite dialogues now comprehensive dialogues will be held in which all outstanding issues will be discussed”. All eight sectors of the composite dialogue would be part of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue and more things could be added to it. Comprehensive dialogue will include discussions on peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, confidence building measures, the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counterterrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues. It will also address people to people exchanges and religious tourism. Shushma confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Pakistan next year for the SAARC summit expected to be held in coming September. Shushma set out India’s desire for a new trade corridor to be opened into Central Asia through Afghanistan. Indian agreement of a new dialogue with Pakistan reflected an acceptance that Indian ambition of regional trade will never be realized without its better relationship with Pakistan. The new engagement between the two countries has raised hopes of a broader reconciliation.Though substantial gains were made during the event— both in Pakistan-Afghanistan and Pakistan-India context, track record indicates these are not without the likelihood of their quick meltdown on slightest pretext.

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NSG Membership: Will the nuclear apartheid continue?

Obama-Nawaz summit of October 2015 survived a derailing attempt by America media that aired reports that an1213 agreement was near completion for constraining Pakistan’s “fast growing nuclear programme. And in-return, the US would press the NSG to issue a waiver to Pakistan. While following this approach, America was capitalizing on the desperation of Nawaz government to drastically make a visible cut in loads-shedding before 2018 elections. American gamble failed. Because any Pakistani government would rather reconcile with an electoral setback than to compromise on Pakistan’s nuclear capability. America, known for its cherry pick approach on nuclear affairs, circulated a paper to NSG members in 2012 suggesting that instead of granting membership on the basis of already laid down criteria by the NSG, India’s actual nuclear profile should become the criteria for its membership. This is a clear example of going much beyond proverbial shifting of goalposts; it amounts to altogether dismantling the goal posts.There are striking similarities in the nuclear profile of the two countries; hence if criteria based approach is followed then either both would qualify or none would qualify. The US had a lot of difficulty in getting the waiver for its nuclear protégé. India gave a number of assurances to NSG in an effort to bolster its non-proliferation credentials. These included reference to its “No First Use” doctrine, Indian participation in FMCT negotiations and its unilateral test ban. Continuation of Waiver would be in serious jeopardy if India reneges from any of these commitments. Ever since, Indian strategic community is uneasy with No First Use and scientific community is uncomfortable with a ban on further nuclear tests. Thus India is desperate to get a membership of the NSG, because once a member, it will not be bound by these restrictions; rest is a fiction built around it. Major driver for America to sign Indo-US Agreement 123 was sale of its nuclear power reactors. For India’s part, even at the time of signing Agreement 123, it was quite close to fabricating its own nuclear power plants. However, shortage of Uranium had emerged as centre of gravity for its nuclear programme. Hence, for India major driver for Agreement 123 was to have openings for Uranium supply. So for no American nuclear power plant has been bought by India. And Indian Agreements with Australia, Canada and some other countries focus on purchase of Uranium. These countries have chosen to ignore the fact that projected quantities of Uranium that India wishes to buy is much more that its genuine electricity requirement, and it could be used to develop nuclear weapons. International community is wilfully violating, the little known [Senator] Barak Obama amendment to Indo-US Agreement 123 that stated that nuclear fuel provided to India should be proportionate to its requirement for production of electricity.There is a need for the international community to ponder over the results of the nuclear apartheid; it has certainly not been helpful in achieving the objective of universal non-proliferation. All countries which felt the need to acquire nuclear weapon capability, and had the requisite political will, have been able to acquire nuclear weapons. A reappraisal in this context is long overdue.

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Paradoxes of countering terror!

The evolving impasse on shooting down of a Russian military aircraft by Turkey indicates that international effort to counter terrorism is indeed a fractured. President Barack Obama vowed on November 22 that the United States and its allies would not relent in fight to combat Daesh extremists and would hunt down their leaders and cut off the group’s financing. “Destroying (Daesh) is not only a realistic goal, we are going to get it done…We will destroy them. We will take back land they are currently in, take out their financing, hunt down leadership, dismantle their networks, supply lines and we will destroy them.” he told a news conference in Malaysia. Rhetoric resembles that by George W Bush in the wake of 9/11. There is necessity and urgency for reappraisal of international counter terrorism effort since 9/11. As of now, international effort to overpower terror is showing clear signs of fatigue, whereas terrorism may itself be only at the formative stages. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, calling it a “blessed foray” in response to France’s involvement in the “Crusade Campaign”. Paris terror attacks on November 13 is one of those exceptional events which are poised to have a deep and lasting impact on international counter terrorism effort—it is necessary to monitor and ensure that such effort is not headed in the wrong direction. Political violence or terrorism has been shifting venues in the face of pressures generated by application of military instrument in countering terrorist entities. Quick ability of these outfits to morph from one politico-military brand to another indicates their better understanding of opponents alongside ability to adapt, improvise and innovate. Apparently little intellectual work has gone into devising the matching ways and means by those responsible to counter extremist violence at international level.

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Saffron arrogance

India’s new found frenzy of extreme right nationalism is radiating signals of intolerance amongst various segments of Indian society as well as erratic behaviour towards neighbours. Past year or so has seen a number of setbacks for India-Pakistan relations. It still remains to be seen whether New Delhi has a clear policy on Pakistan. In contrast, political parties across the political divide in Pakistan are on the same page when it comes to making peace with India. BJP government in India has already wasted too much time, and it should now seriously move forward on all bilateral issues with Pakistan. Modi is still learning to be a statesman; whether Modi shapes India or India shapes Modi is an interesting catch 22 projection! There are as many roads to peace and stability as there are to crisis and conflict in South Asia. Modi‘s government has been anti-Pakistan from day one. It wishes to unilaterally design a bilateral framework, dictating what qualifies for dialogue, and what does not. It wants Pakistan to forget about Kashmir, water, Siachen and other important issues, and only stand accountable to India for terrorism, and that too as interpreted by India. While on the other hand, Pakistan is ready to resume a dialogue process with India simultaneously on all contentious issues. The entire world has endorsed Pakistan’s stance.Strong public consensus in Pakistan for improved relations with India is breaking down due to conditionality and stark messaging by Modi. Trade between the two sides would be favourable for both sides, but it is an unfortunate reality that economic and regional connectivity in South Asia continues to be hostage to political stalemate, largely sustained by Modi’s erratic signalling.

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