Category Archives: Foreign Policy of Pakistan

Pompeo’s Five Hours in Islamabad

By Zubeida Mustafa

He came, he talked briefly and he left. All in one afternoon. That sums up U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fleeting visit to Islamabad on Sept 5. Since expectations were not high, both sides opted to be discreet about disclosing what they had discussed. No doubt they were courteous and conciliatory. That would have helped to create the atmosphere needed to “reset” relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, the main purpose of this exercise in diplomacy.

Continue reading Pompeo’s Five Hours in Islamabad

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Pakistan’s elections bring hope and uncertainty

By Zubeida Mustafa

Last week’s elections in Pakistan yielded predictable outcomes, which could take the country in an unanticipated direction. Preliminary results announced Friday by the Election Commission of Pakistan give the victory to Tehreek-e-Insaf (also known as the PTI, or Justice Party) of the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. Although his party missed a clear majority in the National Assembly, it should be able to easily woo a few independents to its side to form a stable government.

If there is an unpredictable factor, it is the reaction of the major mainstream parties after their emergence as the losers, especially the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his daughter are now in prison after being found guilty of graft in a property case. A multiparty conference of the main losers (in which the Pakistan Peoples Party did not participate) has rejected the results of Wednesday’s voting and demanded new, transparent elections. Will they pay the PTI in its own coin by staging sit-ins to disrupt life in the country, as Imran Khan did in the years following the 2013 elections?

Even prior to last week’s elections, it was widely alleged that the “Miltablishment”—-the country’s military leadership—was creating conditions that improved the prospects of the PTI. Khan is viewed as the darling of the generals. The military establishment’s move to selectively push graft cases against his rivals on the pretext of accountability while turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Khan’s cronies was seen as a one-sided attack on the corruption pervasive in Pakistan’s politics.

In the weeks preceding the elections, there were protests from the media as well as from some members of the judiciary against interference from “hidden hands.” What seems to give credence to these charges now is the preliminary statement issued Friday by the EU Election Observation Mission. While praising the Election Commission’s role in the conduct of the polling, the statement categorically said that the “electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.” It spoke of the playing field not being level and of “lack of equality of opportunity” for all contestants.

The U.S. State Department shared the EU observers’ concerns and questioned the fairness of the voting. Pointing out flaws in the elections, the State Department spoke of constraints placed on freedom of expression and on association during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Khan has promised the people a naya (new) Pakistan. His victory speech, delivered even before the results were officially confirmed, was widely hailed as a statesmanlike and conciliatory piece of oratory.

The 65-year-old prime-minister-to-be said all the right things in a calculatedly correct tone. This was refreshing after the vitriolic outbursts from all sides during the election campaign. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to corruption and the collapse of governance, Khan promised to rebuild all national institutions and root out graft. He assured the nation that he would create a welfare state to lift up the poor and the underprivileged. He promised to try corrupt officials and apply accountability across the board.

This was music to the ears of the people of this country of 208 million, ruled for decades by status-quo forces that have failed to pull most of them out of poverty. But such promises have been made before. The only difference is that the PTI is at the helm for the first time.

What is significant is the refrain one hears from political observers and analysts: We must wait and see whether the promised reform will actually happen. Skeptics are abundant, but the young, savvy and educated who hold privileged positions are euphoric and say the new leadership should be given a chance.

Many people are tired of the turbulence and violence that often occur when political parties stage protests and rallies. Near the end of the campaign for this month’s elections, three suicide bombings killed three candidates and 180 people. Then came another bomb attack on election day, killing 31 people in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

What should interest foreign powers is the line the prime minister-elect will take on foreign policy. In his victory speech, Khan spoke about that policy ambiguously. He didn’t mention his views on defense and security, which could have stirred controversy. He was vocal about bringing peace to the region—without saying how he will treat militant elements, some of which he has expressed admiration for in the past.

Khan mentioned his goals regarding six other countries, but he adopted such an unspecific, broad stance that he succeeded in not stepping on any toes, including those of Pakistan’s defense establishment, which is firmly in control of foreign policy. He said he would seek to:

• Strengthen relations with China
• Bring peace in Afghanistan (to help bring peace in Pakistan) and have open borders between the two countries
• Develop mutually beneficial relations with the United States
• Build stronger ties with Iran
• Help Saudi Arabia resolve its internal tensions
• Improve relations with India, if its leadership agrees; end the blame game between Pakistan and India; stop human rights violations in Kashmir.

The speech was a safe statement of intent; it called for no specific commitments that might be controversial. But a closer look at some of Khan’s previous statements shows him to be anti-U.S., to have reservations about China’s economic practices, to be more pro-Saudi Arabia than many Pakistanis would prefer, to be a hard-liner on India, and to have a soft spot for militants—be they in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir. Weave into this narrative the military’s own concealed agenda and you will be left guessing as to what the future might hold.

Pakistan, especially its army, has had close ties with China since the 1950s. Islamabad and Beijing have provided each other with unequivocal support—military, diplomatic, economic and political. Sino-Pakistan friendship, said to be as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Indian Ocean, has benefited both nations in their conflicts with India. Pakistan has used its relationship with China to neutralize the U.S. when the need arose. Today, a time when Pakistan is in deep economic crisis, China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, with its promise of $900 billion infrastructure aid for 65 nations, is a boon for Pakistan, which has yet to become self-reliant.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have seen ups and downs since the war in Afghanistan began, but they have never before reached the current low, demonstrated by President Trump’s 2017 announcement of his “fight to win” policy in Afghanistan, a declaration in which he accused Pakistan of providing havens for terrorists. Then, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “had given it [Pakistan] more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

Trump also strengthened the hawks in the Pakistan army when he invited Pakistan’s historical enemy India to “help us more with Afghanistan.”

Islamabad’s relations with India have worsened since 2008 when terrorists suspected of coming from Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The previously intermittent dialogue between the two countries remains suspended.

Many believe that in the coming months the new government will make compromises to get everyone on the same page. Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan, a television presenter, said in an interview that Khan was known for his “U-turns.” Others—with less of a personal history—agree. Najam Sethi, the editor of The Friday Times, a political weekly published from Lahore, wrote, “Imran Khan … is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.”

The only conclusively reassuring feature of these elections is the failure of the numerous candidates from terrorist groups. Not one of them won. That was the people’s verdict.

Source: Truthdig

 

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Love thy neighbour

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE disputes between India and Pakistan have cast a long and dark shadow over their relationship since the two countries stepped out of colonial bondage in 1947. The circumstances surrounding their birth made it inevitable that ill feelings would mar ties and make coexistence difficult.

But did it have to be so forever? This question is now being asked by sane and rational people on both sides of the border. Even after seven decades that saw a major reconfiguration of the map of South Asia through three wars and the breakup of Pakistan, this question has a strange urgency to it. Continue reading Love thy neighbour

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Integrity above all

ZM with renowne playwright Haseena Moin

By Beena Sarwar

When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”

The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading Integrity above all

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Politics of oration

Senator Mushahid Hussain gave the keynote lecture

By Zubeida Mustafa

Pakistan was 70 in 2017, and there were many, apart from the midnight’s children, who also celebrated their seventieth anniversary. One of the outstanding institutions was the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) which was set up in Delhi in 1936 and was moved to Pakistan in 1947.

The PIIA is an autonomous body which describes itself as an independent think tank. Its quarterly journal, Pakistan Horizon, has an uninterrupted publication record of seven decades, though delays at times kept readers waiting impatiently. Its history has also witnessed ups and downs – there being a period when the government took it over and installed a retired army general with a not too savoury record in East Pakistan to act as the administrator. It goes to the credit of what we call ‘civil society’ in retrieving the institution after a court case.

Wth the PIIA’s record of reasonably independent research, quite unlike the Islamabad think tanks which serve as institutions to reinforce the government’s policies, I expected a healthy discourse on our foreign policy at the conference on peace in South Asia organised on this occasion. However, I returned home with a strong sense of let-down   after listening to the keynote address by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, formerly my co-professional. By simply reiterating “the Establishment’s” point of view, as the first questioner from the audience put it, the senator tried to convince us that all was well with Pakistan. According to him, it had emerged as the pivot on which world geopolitics revolved, as the founding father had predicted in 1947.

The senator forgot to mention that the pivot has to be strong if it is to take the load successfully and not collapse under the stress it is inevitably required to take. Rahimullah Yusufzai, who mercifully continues to be a journalist and benefits us with his insightful analysis, put it very succinctly when he asked his former editor from his days at The Muslim, why he didn’t touch upon the foreign policy mistakes Pakistan had made so that they are not repeated. Having become a politician, Mushahid deflected the very valid point made by Mr. Yusufzai by sidetracking it.

Having said this, I should point out that Mushahid Hussain made an excellent analysis of the international situation in South Asia, which has created a new dynamic in the region that has spawned the “opportunities and challenges for peace” that were under discussion at the conference. He was spot-on when he pointed out the changes that have come about in world politics which have placed Pakistan at the centre-stage of present-day developments. Thus there is the shift in the centre of global power from the West to the East, as the US is on the decline while China is emerging as the new force for which the One Belt One Road (OBOR) will play a key role. There is the evolution of a new South Asia extending from Kazakhstan to Myanmar and held together by regionalism created by geopolitics, the drive for economic cooperation and the compulsion to solve their problems, especially those posed by climate change and the population explosion, collectively.

There have been complicating factors too that have hindered the peacemaking process in the region. Take for instance the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan and the intensification of the cold war between them. As for human development, even if others in the region do not join hands for a collective effort, Pakistan has lagged behind in improving the life of its people. Poverty is today a major issue in the region.

These are some of the challenges that have to be faced if peace has to come to South Asia. But it was the Establishment’s voice that found expression when Senator Mushahid spoke approvingly of our nuclear bomb which, according to him, has infused confidence in us. He appeared to uphold our role in the Afghan war that we fought on behalf of the US – and as a consequence of which Pakistan played host to three million Afghan refugees. Mushahid Hussain also described our media as free – an exaggeration – because we now have over 100 independent privately owned channels. But the numbers don’t guarantee them their freedom.

Who doesn’t know about the dangers we now face on account of our nuclear bomb and the morass we have plunged ourselves into by getting involved in Afghanistan, especially when it was the US which started the war by infiltrating guerrillas across the Durand line at least six months before the Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul in December 1979.

It is strange that Senator Mushahid failed to acknowledge that a country should be economically powerful, politically stable and socially integrated if it really wants to be a force to be reckoned with in the region, Focusing too much on being a security state is not really helping.

Mr Yusufzai was right when he suggested to his former boss that the people should be told about the mistakes we have made if we want to learn from history. Unfortunately we shy away from that and insist on sticking to some of our irrational policies, especially vis-à-vis India. True, Narendra Modi’s government in Delhi has not been too helpful. But what about us? Haven’t our self-created “strategic assets” robbed us of our initiative in the peace process with India? It takes two to tango.

Some of the speakers who followed in the next sessions were the redeeming features of the conference. Theirs was not just a pep talk to please the audience, but contained serious warnings about the dangers that lie ahead.

Source: Newsline Dec 2017

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It wasn’t English

President Mamnoon Hussain in a Group Photo during the Inaugural Session of Conference on South Asia arranged Pakistan Institute of International Affair at PC Hotel Karachi on 15-11-2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT the inaugural session of its 70th anniversary conference, the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi, did us proud when the proceedings were conducted in Urdu. It was a pleasure to hear chaste Urdu perfectly articulated at an occasion not dominated by our Urdu litterateurs.

I was told that this was at the suggestion of President Mamnoon Hussain who was the chief guest. Masuma Hasan, the chairperson of the institute, confirmed it, adding that it was her idea as well. Urdu is Pakistan’s national language, so no one should challenge Masuma’s decision. However, the smooth sailing at the PIIA function made me wonder why the demand for other provincial languages being given the same constitutional status cannot be considered favourably. Continue reading It wasn’t English

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Misuse of faith

By Zubeida Mustafa

A RECENTLY launched collection of Hamza Alavi’s papers and speeches should be a timely reminder to us about the role that faith has come to play in Pakistan’s politics. Translated into Urdu by Dr Riaz Ahmad Shaikh (dean of Social Sciences, Szabist), Tashkeel-i-Pakistan: Mazhab aur Secularism leaves no one in doubt about the misuse of religion by our leaders to gain advantages in public life at the expense of the people’s well-being and the national interest.

Hamza Alavi, who was a Marxist scholar recognised in world academia, firmly believed that the founder of this country never sought to set up a theocratic state. Yet that is the direction in which Pakistan appears to be heading. Continue reading Misuse of faith

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New American Strategy in South Asia Targets Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s return to Washington after a hectic week in South Asia and the Middle East leaves us speculating on the purpose and result of his mission.

World attention was focused on his exercise in diplomacy for no other reason than that his trip was a follow-up on President Donald Trump’s announcement in August of a new South Asia strategy. Continue reading New American Strategy in South Asia Targets Pakistan

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Running where?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN the introduction to Pakistan at the Crossroad, Christophe Jaffrelot labels Pakistan as a “client state” and a “pivotal state”. For long, we had been dubbed an ideological state and a security state.

None of these titles are too flattering, but they are not inaccurate. The status of being a client and a pivot stems from Jaffrelot’s observation about Pakistan’s “ability to navigate at the interface of domestic and external dynamics”. Continue reading Running where?

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