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Showing posts from 2017

US-Pak Relations - Skewed Perspectives, Misplaced Priorities, Shared Objectives

Published in Global Affairs / Nov 2017

Pakistan once allied with the U.S. against the Soviet bloc and hailed as a strategic asset may be tempted to rehash the past to underscore the importance of an alliance forged decades ago – one that continues to be in play. It may still recall how they stood as a bulwark against communism, built robust civil-military partnerships and a solid cooperation platform. A mutually beneficial relationship that strengthened Pakistan’s defense, and reinforced America’s might delivered results.

Pages of history can be illuminating but in order to battle hostile agendas and navigate complex terrains, to comprehend changing realities and devise realistic strategies, expectations must be tempered. While the immense toll it took to achieve the hard fought domestic stability speaks volumes about Pakistan’s track record in counter-terror, it is not what concerns superpowers desperate for dignified exit strategies, and dealing with a rag tag army of Afghans vs. o…

OPED: Extremism by any other name….

Published by Global Affairs / Nov 2017

A few years ago a gathering of Pakistani intellectuals tried to sound the alarm over India’s creeping radicalization and obvious leanings towards militant mindsets. Barkha Dutt – a prominent Indian journalist who was present as a guest speaker pooh-poohed the fears – proudly pointing to a vibrant civil society able to stave off the coming storm. Her Pakistani hosts were unconvinced. Having witnessed first-hand the rise and fall of extremism – they recognized the symptoms and could testify to its pervasive hold on an otherwise liberal society and the challenges of clearing leftover toxic waste.

Pakistan’s concern was not tinged with condescension - it was well meaning. Despite its many imperfections – it had already begun mapping a way out and wondered if the region could survive the fallout of harboring an extremist outlook in the neighborhood.
Hindutva – Hindu nationalism, an ideology that apparently seeks to remake Indian society and instil…

OpEd: Religious Fault-lines in Pakistan

Published in Global Village Space under the title : Fixing Religious Fault lines in the age of ISIS / 23rd Oct 2017

A few days before Muharram, grand proclamations advocating peace and calm that suggested people shun their religious, sectarian and ethnic biases “to promote the great characteristics of sacrifice, unity and discipline” served as a prologue to bridging the ultimate divide. Then came the promises. The clergy reconstituted the ‘National Reconciliatory Council' in a bid to propel the vision of a united front. An awakening followed.

Terrorism must go. And there were reality checks.

How does Pakistan overcome decades of dissension to realize its dreams of interfaith harmony? Such sentiments while admirable face roadblocks.

But then there was a declaration – that religion is a matter between a person and his creator.
That no one has to prove they are Muslims. It was a surprisingly candid admission – one that perhaps did not need to be spelled out yet the statement co…

OPED: Why a Lunch Date with a Congressman has Citizens Spooked?

Published in Global Affairs? / Oct 2017

When someone like Altaf Hussain – the one of body bags, bhatta fame meets someone like US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher known for being rabidly anti Pakistan, it sets the room a buzzing. The founding father of MQM who lives in exile in London and under whose reign Karachi was reduced to a hulk, now wanders the halls with a human rights violation pitch that always tests well with Western audiences as he leads an anti Pakistan lobby in his spare time. It could be nothing. Or it could mean everything.

The Coming Storm or a Storm in a Tea Cup?

Dana Rohrabacher who went on to meet WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – the fugitive, had once drafted a bill with Senator Ted Poe to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terror making him the perfect candidate for such a rendezvous.
Altaf Hussain was also seen hobnobbing with the exiled Khan of Kalat, a Baloch dissident strongly opposed to CPEC and soft towards Modi. Altaf’s closest aide has expressed similar …

Analysis: Fallout from BRICS

Published by Global Affairs? / Oct 2017

Written Early Sept 2017

Admittedly, it is an unusual sight - China scrambling to issue clarifications and placate its closest ally in the aftermath of the BRICS Summit. China does not make foreign policy blunders, dictate strategy or put its stamp on statements without reading the fine print. Neither does it subscribe to the cowboy style - public shaming, threats, excessive use of carrots / sticks, blackmail – bluster. Yet the declaration issued at the BRICS annual summit held at Xiamen that singled out Pakistan based terror groups led to an ‘et tu China’ moment and saw Beijing in ‘damage control mode’.

To review what led to this dramatic break from tradition means that China’s perspective be considered and Pakistan’s attempts at extricating itself from a tangled web of proxies be factored in the narrative alongside its successes and failures, to balance the scales.

It may also be a good time to commence image / nation building efforts with ma…

Rebuttal: ‘Finding a Safe Place for Pakistani Christians’

Published in Global Village Space under the title: Is Pakistan as extremist as portrayed by the Western media?/ Sept 2017

‘Finding a Safe Place for Pakistani Christians’ by Marijana PETIR, Member of the European Parliament – finds systemic persecution in Pakistan’s backyard, implying a clear and present danger to minority groups while bypassing an inclusive society that honors and respects the contributions of its minority communities or a nation that deems the eradication of discriminatory laws and radical ideology an essential pillar of its counter-terrorism policy.

An impartial review must also consider the state funeral given to a German nun, the national flag flown at half mast as a mark of respect and the military men who carried her casket; remark on the monuments named after Christian martyrs who served their country, meet Roman Catholic Bishops or Franciscan nuns awarded highest honors and note Christian war heroes who are the pride of the nation. The civil society that forme…

OPED: The Sense of an Ending – Afghan War Chapter

Published Sep 2017/ Global Affairs
Written a few weeks before the new Afghan Policy was rolled out

‘The road to Afghanistan peace does not lie in Kabul’ by Rahmatullah Nabil and Melissa Skorka (Reuters – 12 July 2017) considers the political side of the equation, to bring stability to the region. That part makes some sense given the fact that boots on the ground have failed to deliver results and a lack of consensus has taken a serious toll on Pak-US relations. It also fixates on Islamabad as the root cause of all their earthly woes and considers taking a tougher stand towards their ‘reluctant ally’ in the hopes of turning the tide in this protracted war. That part makes less sense.

The change in policy direction is predicated upon assumptions that Haqqani's still use Pakistan as their base of operations. Islamabad’s reputation of using proxies continues to dictate U.S based policy-makers actions despite the changing security paradigm and emergence of a new pecking order.


OPED: Democracy at Stake in Pakistan?

Published Sep 2017 / Global Affairs
Written early Aug when the NS story was relevant

The Course of True Justice Never did Run Smooth

As the country completes its 70th year, yet another democratically elected leader gets the boot. He has also been disqualified from contesting in the future thereby ending his run as candidate for the coveted PM slot. From afar the negative holding pattern appears to be intact. Whispers of coups fly by from authors affiliated with foreign publications, a good many with South Asian handles and murky agendas.

Though it was blowback from Panama Papers responsible for Mr. Sharif’s undoing, the perception that democracy has taken a hit abounds. It is based on speculations that this was a military backed offensive under the guise of a judge’s gavel. They in turn prompt sensational headlines like ‘Pakistan's Prospects for Democracy Weaken as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Is Disqualified.’ And when former ambassadors like Hussain Haqqani proclaim that “Pakis…

OPED: The Afghan Policy in Perspective

Published in Global Village Space / Aug 2017

True to its reality show inspired template, the Afghan strategy was rolled out after months of speculations, suspense and dithering. It used memorable taglines and inflated figures. ‘Agents of chaos’, sunk costs described as ‘billions and billions’ and going all in seeking victory against all odds. It offered to be tough on Pakistan, even as it was vague on the outlines and predictable in its deployment.

Reading between the Lines

This is essentially the new, improvised policy meant not just for Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India. With it the U.S. administration appears to have heeded the advice of keeping the enemy in the dark. They have also dismissed the necessity of keeping their allies close and have instead embarked upon a strategic vision that aims to expand the theatre adding India to the volatile mix and potentially widen the gulf between allies.

Yet it is not the public performance of the commander-in-chief that catches the e…

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

Why it would be a mistake to call Pakistan’s Bluff

Some Flaws in the Master Plan

Published in Global Village Space - 27 Jul 2017

The master plan chalked out in a piece, ‘Calling Pakistan’s Bluff’ by Whitney Kassel and Philip Reiner in Foreign Affairs (14 July, 2017) came laden with glaring flaws. And not just because it decided to present some decidedly soggy looking carrots paired with far too many sticks that threatened to expand U.S. boots on the grounds while pacifying Pak leadership with a limited supply of shiny new military hardware. The pros and cons of such an approach have also been explored by the writers but the overarching theme appeared to support such a move. The piece can now be seen in tandem with recent attempts to strong arm Pakistan by the U.S. Congress that call for curbs on military aid among other things. Some of it has already come to pass with 50 million dollars reimbursement held back from the Coalition Support Fund because Pentagon doesn’t feel enough has been done to justify the hefty price tag.

No to B…

The Importance of Being Pakistan

Published in Global Village Space / July 2017

Implications of a Modi – Trump style ‘meet and greet’

As Mr. Modi descended upon Washington, armed with Kashmiri shawls, tea, honey, and personalized invites for the first family to visit India, the U.S. media hastened to find parallels between the two nations. Democracies both (biggest / oldest), led by men with a degree of social-media savvy, men indifferent to public opinion and sporting unique greeting styles - hugs from Modi, handshakes from Trump.

Seen from afar, the show stopping performance yielded significant results, strengthened defense cooperation and secured 22 shiny new Guardian drones. Commentators noted that contentious issues like H1-B work visas and climate change etc were reportedly left out in the cold while detractors brooded over the symbolism that signaled the arrival of a new world order. As with all these visits, Pakistan wasn’t far from India’s thoughts and opinion makers now wonder at the extent Modi can shape…

What Pakistan Wants from Afghanistan...?

Published by Global Affairs / July 2017

In the aftermath of the deadly attacks in a diplomatic enclave and a funeral, Afghanistan’s fate now hangs in the balance, while experts mull over the merits of potential troop surges and worry about the endemic corruption, plummeting morale and ensuing chaos. Afghan President Ghani’s statement that his nation suffers from an ‘undeclared war of aggression from Pakistan’ delivered at Kabul Process meeting sums up the problem.

Interestingly, a week before, he expressed the exact same sentiment – only the words were ‘undeclared war of aggression from non-state actors.’ Later his Twitter feed regurgitated the passive aggressive plea from the speech that by turns call for dialogue and apportions blame to its neighbors.

What is it that Pakistan wants is the question foremost in his mind. He also wonders what the Taliban want.

The first question is easily answered. The Pak Army COAS wants Afghanistan to look inwards. Probably at the safe havens …

Pakistan’s Neutral Stance on Qatar

Written right after the Qatar embargo

Published Global Affairs Jul 2017

Qatar recently found itself in hot water based on comments attributed to its leadership – comments that had been categorized as fake news. As a pretext it served its purpose. The oil-gas rich nation has been placed in a diplomatic stranglehold though it renounced charges of funding terrorism and being a destabilizing influence the region. These may be pressure tactics meant to put Qatar in its place, cut it down to size, make it tow the GCC line whatever that might be at the moment. The definition of terror in this case is open to interpretation. Qatar fights ISIL alongside coalition partners. But its support for proscribed groups like Muslim Brotherhood for instance and relationship with Tehran keeps it in the doghouse.

Washington remains ambivalent. The American President endorsed the move. The Secretary of State cautioned against boycotts. But GCC nations seem clear-sighted. The small state houses US CENTCOM, t…

OPED: Why the World needs to see Pakistan’s Dark Side

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017

Because the dark side does not get enough exposure. Though this is where all the good Samaritans, the creative giants, crusading angels and intellectual powerhouses reside. It is where genius flourishes hoping to break free of type casting. It is where Oscar winners and Nobel laureates go once they have scaled the summit and conquered cultural biases and social disparity.

A vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans?

But their victories are somehow viewed in isolation. They are seen as outliers - their great accomplishments relegated to the shadows in favor of unflattering headlines beamed across the globe that slyly remove the context and reduce the country to one giant misogynistic, intolerant, vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans. While the worst of humanity hogs the limelight – our most prized assets go unheralded. And tragedies like Mashal Khan and mafias in religious guise along with shady men with offshore acc…