New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 September 2017
Trump’s Attack on Pak and Its
By T C A Raghavan
‘Terroristan’: Living In Denial
Editorial Asian Age
Suu Kyi’s Crown of Thorns: the Future
of the Rohingyas and Myanmar Are Both at Stake
By Sanjoy Hazarika
German Elections: Polls Indicate
Merkel’s Open Door To Refugees Worked Politically
By David Devadas
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Trump’s Attack on Pak and Its Aftermath
Sep 23, 2017
President Trump’s strong words against
Pakistan while announcing his new Pak-Afghanistan policy late last month have
drawn opposite reactions in both countries. In Afghanistan, the relief that no
immediate US disengagement was contemplated was further enhanced by the sense
of being vindicated that the source of their problems had been so bluntly
identified. In Pakistan, the predictability of the response was denial and a
sense of being victimised and was matched by deep dismay at the tone and
content of the US President’s message. As the President put it, “We can no
longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations.” The
earlier decisions of the US designating the Hizbul Mujahideen and Syed
Salahuddin as terrorists are all seen as the general trend that the US is now
firmly aligned to India. That within a few days the US statement would be
followed by a statement from the BRICS Summit in Xiamem in China with
references to terror groups in Pakistan added to and perhaps multiplied these
concerns. In both cases what was new was not so much what was stated as the
level at which the statements came.
With regard to China, the Government of
Pakistan has been at pains to emphasise that the BRICS statement used language
which had earlier been employed and as such no change of substance in China’s
position had taken place and the fact that since the groups mentioned were in
fact banned by it also meant that the statement was not directed at Pakistan. A
visit by the new Pakistan Foreign Minister to Beijing soon thereafter, his
first foreign tour after being appointed Foreign Minister, and supportive
statements from his Chinese counterpart have provided additional reassurance.
That Chinese stakes in Pakistan are too deep and vital to be really affected by
the odd multilateral communique strengthens the assessment that the China axis
Unrelated developments, such as a slight
diminution in Pakistan’ s cricket isolation – an international cricket team has
visited Pakistan this month and will be followed by the Sri Lankan team- also
help in shielding domestic public opinion from the extent of Pakistan’s poor
external image. Certainly, only the most committed Chinese supporter in
Pakistan believes the Chinese government has total equanimity with regard to
extremist groups in Pakistan- the Xiamem
BRICS statement suggests a greater convergence of China with US and
other assessments. The difference
however is that China for the time being is concentrating on other aspects of
its relations with Pakistan. In particular China will also try to see if it can
reduce the huge friction in the Pakistan- Afghan interface. This is a task
which the US has failed to do.
From the United States there is less joy as
far as Pakistan is concerned. A visit by the Pakistan FM to Washington was
postponed in the immediate aftermath of the U S Presidential statement as were
some incoming visits by US officials. It would be a fair assessment that US
postures have added to the sense of isolation and anxiety many Pakistanis feel
about their country’s external standing and image. This state of siege,
especially among Pakistan’s elite, was further enhanced by measures announced
by the New York State’s Department of Financial Services against the Habib Bank
– Pakistan’s largest bank- for its failure to comply with regulatory regimes
directed against money laundering, terrorist financing and other illicit
The Habib Bank announced consequently at
the end of August that it was closing down its New York Branch. It also reached
an out of court settlement to pay a fine of $225 million. This is the largest
fine ever imposed on a Pakistani bank. In financial and banking circles in
Pakistan the impression certainly is that the action against the Bank was not unrelated to President Trump’s new
policy approach. Many felt that this was the clearest possible sign that the lessons
gained by the US in the past decade from the financial squeeze on Iran would
now be applied to Pakistan. With signs looming for the Pakistan economy that
seeking IMF assistance may be, after a four-year gap, around the corner again
and with hefty doses of fiscal populism expected with the elections due next
year, the tough US postures at this juncture add to the sense of pressure and
isolation in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s anxieties are fueled further by
speculation over the US moving beyond measures similar to those taken in the
past – withholding payments of either aid or repayments for facilities provided
by Pakistan for access to its troops and bases in Afghanistan.
Steps beyond this are being speculated or
leaked to the media – these include sanctions on Pakistani Intelligence
officers who are handlers of extremist outfits or withdrawal of the major
non-NATO ally (MNNA) status which Pakistan has had since 2004. Measures like the withdrawal of MNNA would
certainly put additional pressure but also enhance Pakistan’s all-pervasive
mood of defensiveness. These steps may also see Pakistan responding in two key
areas where US requirements, if not dependence on Pakistan, are considerable –
sharing of intelligence about extremist
groups active in Europe and US and minimum logistics support with regard to
The Trump broadside and related
developments have left many in Pakistan shaken but such pressures are
intrinsically not new. It is evident that after some initially strong
statements in response from the National Assembly and the National Security
Council, Pakistan has chosen to try and deal and engage with the US rather than
only condemn it.
An effort seems to have been made to
contain domestic rhetoric. Public opinion is being reassured that a regional
consensus on terrorism and Afghanistan is being evolved with the Foreign
Minister’s visits to Turkey and Iran apart from China. The China visit is to be
followed later in the year by a Trilateral Foreign Ministers Meeting with
China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These regional efforts will enable the
Pakistan FM to make his postponed visit to the US and help him explain
Pakistan’s difficulties and challenges both internal and with Afghanistan and
India, and reiterate his country’s commitment to fight terrorism. The kind of
response he gets from the US remains to be seen.
Sep 23, 2017
Pakistan’s accidental Prime Minister,
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, will doubtless cause mirth in international circles with
his recent claim that his country — justly perceived as “Terroristan” — was a
“responsible global citizen”. The burden of Mr Abbasi’s song at the Council on
Foreign Relations in New York Thursday was that his country’s rapidly
proliferating short-range nuclear arms —
meant to counter India’s “cold start” doctrine — were completely safe from
terrorists, and that Pakistan’s system was indeed as safe as any in the world
and had “complete civilian oversight through the Nuclear Command Authority”.
This would raise guffaws. It is well known
that top guns from Khan Laboratories, founded by metallurgist A.Q. Khan, the
so-called “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, were in touch with Osama bin
Laden, Al Qaeda’s chief and founder, who was shot dead by the Americans while
hiding at a Pakistani cantonment town near Islamabad.
As for “civilian oversight”, let Mr Abbasi
be reminded that not so long back even the country’s PM couldn’t sit in on the
Defence Committee of the Cabinet.
Mr Abbasi wants us to believe that
Pakistan’s nuclear programme goes back to the 1960s. Not true. It got off the
ground much later after the notorious metallurgist stole crucial components
from the Dutch company where he worked (with America, that lectures the world
on non-proliferation, winking at the theft), and gathered steam with China
surreptitiously supplying critical help.
For all its civilian trappings, Pakistan is
a military state. Mr Abbasi will be tolerated only as long as he toes the
Suu Kyi’s Crown of Thorns: the Future of
the Rohingyas and Myanmar Are Both at Stake
Sep 22, 2017
If anything, Aung San Suu Kyi’s 29-minute
State of the Union address underlined the crown of thorns that she wears.
When Myanmar’s State Counsellor and
non-official head of government, broke her resolute silence today on the
Rohingya crisis, having held out for weeks against international appeals on the
military crackdown in the Muslim-dominated parts of Rakhine state, she still
avoided addressing the critical issue of oppressive State violence.
The broadcast was dominated by the Rohingya
crisis though she referred to the community only once by name and that too when
she spoke of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which has been
designated as a terrorist group by her government. Suu Kyi acknowledged that
thousands of Muslims had fled into Bangladesh and assured of the upholding of
human rights and promised action against those regardless of religion,
ethnicity or political connections. To many, it did not go far enough. But
For it is not just the Rohingyas, the
immediate tragedy, which is the core issue – it is securing and stabilising the
very future of Myanmar’s democracy based on its multi-ethnic structure, a point
she returned to time and again.
When Suu Kyi’s National League for
Democracy won an overwhelming majority in national elections two years back
ending decades of military rule, expectations were sky-high in the world, not
just her homeland. It has not been easy. Efforts to broker peace with Myanmar’s
many warring ethnic groups have been shaky, the economy is in poor shape and
it’s been a delicate tango with the generals who hold four key Cabinet posts
and 25% of the Parliament’s MPs.
Suu Kyi held out hope for the return and
repatriation of the Rohingyas – but it was conditional: if they agreed to abide
by a process of verification. She acknowledged that there were many charges of
human rights abuse but made no mention of the fact that it was the military
which was largely accused of this violence. The predicament in which the Nobel
Peace Prize winner finds herself is seen in her guarded references to the
military, that they had been told to abide by the law, respect human rights and
that no security operations had taken place recently.
Suu Kyi, who has been criticised by several
fellow Nobel Laureates, spoke glowingly of how many Muslims continued to live
in their villages. “More than 50% Muslim villages” were unaffected by the
violence, she said.
But that immediately asked a simple
counter-question: what happened to the other 50% and why?
In fact, in just over a month, close to
400,000 had left their homes and flowed into Bangladesh, propelled by fear and
the impact of violence and security campaigns. There are 300,000 Rohingyas who
had left in earlier years and are too scared to return. The army went on
offensive following coordinated attacks by ARSA on 30 military camps, timed to
devastate the sliver of hope which had appeared when former UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan’s report on the situation was released. Suu Kyi’s government
responded positively to the call for dialogue – but it was not to be.
As a result of successive government
policies, largely that of strong-arm army regimes which ruled with an iron fist
despite internal schisms and changes, the Rohingyas, who happen to be Muslim
with a history of living in the western part of the country over centuries,
have been converted into stateless, non-citizens of Myanmar for nearly 60
Suu Kyi sought to deflect widespread
criticism, by inviting diplomats “and friends” to visit the affected areas, and
declaring that the Rohingya crisis was but one of many challenges.
She is clearly at a perilous point of her
political journey, when she needs to reach out to the majority Burman community
and calm the fears of both sides, opening a transparent dialogue that enables
the Rohingyas to return to their homeland in peace and dignity. She knows, as
much as anyone else, especially the generals, that her elected government
represents a truly critical transition period that stands between a democratic
Myanmar and returning to an unenviable past.
We note that the Government of India has
asserted in the Supreme Court that there are security issues in the presence of
40,000 Rohingyas here. But there cannot be a blanket blacklist of tens of
thousands of poor and vulnerable people who have sought refuge here. After all,
Suu Kyi’s offer of taking back refugees from Bangladesh is conditional. And can
India carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they
risk torture or other serious violations?
New Delhi has to instruct its agencies to
adhere to the law. Article 21 of the Constitution lays an obligation on the
Government to ensure the life and liberty of all living in the country, without
distinction of nationality or otherwise.
German Elections: Polls Indicate
Merkel’s Open Door to Refugees Worked Politically
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s politically
bold refugee policy in 2015 appears to be paying off two years on. If the
opinion polls are right, Merkel is heading for a fourth term in office after
Germany’s federal elections next Sunday. My take is that, if she does win, it
won’t be despite that risky refugee policy but rather—in part—because of it.
Many analysts had predicted that her
open-door policy for refugees for a few months from the late summer of 2015
could cause a backlash by the time elections were held. This view was
strengthened after the sexual abuse that occurred in Koln and other cities
during street celebrations at the end of that year.
However, Merkel’s move was actually a bold
and calculated move on the chess board of national politics. She is an
uncommonly insightful and shrewd politician with a firm grip on the political
By allowing more than a million Syrian and
other refugees into Germany in 2015, Merkel not only won brownie points among
liberals at large, but also cornered her main political opponent, the centre-left
Social Democratic Party (SDP), on an issue that dominated the headlines for a
very long time.
The SDP’s political manoeuvrability was
already squeezed since it was a coalition partner of Merkel’s centre-right
Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Given its long-established Left-liberal
positions, the SDP would surely have asked for openness to refugees, and
criticised her if she had shut the door. But by announcing the open-door
policy, and taking responsibility and credit, she left the SDP no option but to
back her — and lose marginal voters to her.
Merkel’s real gamble was not with regard to
her party’s traditional opponent but the xenophobic party, Alternative for
Germany (AfD), which has gained ground over the past few years. The open-door
refugee policy handed the AfD a major issue to oppose her, which it used with
great gusto. Yet, if recent opinion polls are right, Merkel’s bet has paid off.
The AfD has apparently not gained enough ground to be a real contender for
Polls say that the AfD has not even become
Merkel’s chief challenger. The SDP remains the number two party. In fact, some
polls say the Green Party or the Liberal Party could still emerge as the third
largest in the new house, rather than the AfD.
This would be a contrast to France, where
National Front leader Marine Le Pen came close to winning the presidential
elections in May. Similar ultra-right parties have performed strongly in
countries like Hungary and Poland, even Holland, and xenophobic sentiment led
to the success of the June 2016 ‘Brexit’ referendum for the UK to leave the EU.
Merkel’s bet essentially boiled down to the
legacy of the Holocaust. The majority of Germans still have a horror and deep
sense of shame about what happened under Hitler’s genocidal National Socialist
party from 1933 to 1945. In fact, many Germans refer to AfD supporters as
Of course, Merkel’s bet would have hinged
on a more basic bet: the continued bouyancy of the German economy. The
open-door refugee policy could only work as long as economic sentiments
remained strong. As things stand, Germany’s is one of the very few confidently
buoyant economies in a general global scenario of gloom and doom.
Her deft foreign policy has also won
approval. She has moved closer to Russia since Donald Trump won the US
elections, but kept the NATO alliance in place. And she is strengthening the
European Union, of which Germany is the strongest bulwark.
If Merkel did bet that Germany’s post-Nazi
dread of racist xenophobia would prevent AfD from overwhelming her centrism,
she must also have astutely realised that the trend of the times would not
favour the traditional socialist party, the SDP.
The 1970s was the time of socialism in the
West. The SDP’s legendary Willy Brandt was German chancellor from 1969 to 1975.
Some left-of-centre parties reinvented themselves as broadly centrist under
leaders such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990s.
However, Hillary Clinton’s loss in the US
elections last November indicates that even centrist politics are hard pressed
now. France’s socialist party came to the presidential elections as the
incumbent, but got just six per cent of the popular vote earlier this year. The
debacle prompted BBC News to ask in a headline: “Is France’s Socialist Party
If Germany’s pollsters are right, this
wider context – losing Left and hardening right – would make Merkel’s success,
after she let in a million-plus refugees, extraordinarily remarkable.