New Age Islam Edit Bureau
13 February 2018
More and More Muslims
By Kamal Siddiqi
#MaiBhi Could Be Pakistan’s Turning Point
By Aisha Sarwari
Taking Pakistan For Granted
By Kamran Yousaf
The Pakhtun March And A New Deal
By Mosharraf Zaidi
Endless War In Middle East
By Rashid A Mughal
Reality Of Perception
By Fahd Husain
A Vacuum: Russia Finds Hard To Fill
By Baber Ali Bhatti
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
February 12, 2018
Every year, hundreds of Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam after being kidnapped by unidentified persons usually with the connivance of the local police. With growing radicalisation in Sindh – once the land of Sufis and tolerance, many outsiders are now bringing their brand of faith to the province.
A trip last week to Ranikot, the famous fort located near the town of Sann, once again illustrated how the province is changing. There is a distinct air of change in the socio-political set-up of the province – not just in terms of the mosques and madrassas that one sees along the highway but the graffiti on the walls and the appearance of the locals.
Possibly one of the biggest victims of the new brand of Islam are Sindh’s religious minority communities. It is estimated that Hindus comprise 6 per cent of the total population of the province, a figure that cannot be independently verified given that the census data does not tell us about the various religious communities in the country.
Over the years, the Hindus have been marginalised as their role in Pakistan is questioned despite the fact that they are the original inhabitants of this land.
I was saddened when I read a column by my friend Kapil Dev, who once wrote that during the cricket World Cup in 2011, “many who knew that I am a Hindu, including some of my colleagues, asked me who I would support India or Pakistan.”
“I didn’t understand why on earth they would ask me such a stupid question – just because I’m Hindu. Why isn’t the same question asked of a Christian when Pakistan plays against Australia, England or New Zealand,” he asks.
But the problems don’t end there. When it comes to cases of forced conversion, these are mostly reported from Sindh. Although Pakistan became a Muslim-majority state post-partition — with Muslims dominating politics, the economy, and society — Hindus managed to retain a degree of social influence in the Sindh province, where they are seen as successful merchants. But that seems to be changing now.
At the same time a number of lower-caste and low-income Hindus in Sindh continued to toil on farmlands for powerful, rich landowners, many of them in some sort of bonded labour arrangement. They face social discrimination and are often cut off from the Hindu community at large.
A 2015 report by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan argued that social, cultural, economic, and religious factors have combined with feudal power structures in rural areas to enable forcible conversions. A whole system is in place to ensure this practice – from the connivance of the police to the no-questions-asked policy of some custodians of religious shrines where this is done. By the time the girl is produced in court, it is already too late.
In November 2016, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a bill against forced conversion of religion in the province. The private bill, Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities), was tabled by Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) lawmaker Nand Kumar in 2015. It was referred to the standing committee on minority and human rights for feedback and then returned to the assembly.
But one month later, the Sindh government decided to review the bill after religious scholars objected to some of its clauses. The decision was indicated in a policy statement issued by Senior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Nisar Ahmad Khuhro. Muslim religious scholars believed some of its clauses were against the teachings of Islam and contrary to the Constitution.
The state’s attitude, as well as that of many eminent Muslims, is that conversions are actually a form of earning blessings. Needless to say that the conversions are often backed by powerful shrines, seminaries, and clerics, as well as local politicians. Seminaries and shrines protect the couple and say the girl willingly eloped, converted, and married.
This poses a challenge for lawyers and activists, who have to figure out if these marriages are born of free will or are marked by threats and violence. And almost invariably, the girl’s testimony that she exercised her right as an adult to marry settles the case, while her parents continue to insist she is being pressured by the influential followers of the shrine where she converted to Islam.
How long can this go on? Pakistani Hindus are calling for help. We cannot continue to look the other way.
Someone asked feminist icon Gloria Steinem what she would say to the concerns that the #MeToo is worrying men that women have too much power that they are now abusing. Her response was the proverbial middle finger — which is befitting. For the longest time no one believed women when they were abused or were victims of unwanted sexual advances. Now with #MeToo and particularly another website led by Mona Eltahawy, there is a realisation that women from the Muslim world carry a voice too. Women are now not just believed but they also have got the power to dismantle the power equation.
This has made men uncomfortable and frankly they should be because they have been beneficiaries of a system that has devalued women’s voices. Hollywood’s launching of the #TimesUp movement that calls out sexism in Hollywood has been largely successful in women taking centre stage. What we saw in this year’s Golden Globe awards was a few good men wearing the #TimesUp pin showing solidarity and giving women the limelight they deserve. It is indeed time for them to wear the pin in silence and mute themselves.
The Pakistani Lux Style awards are now reemerging with a feminist theme, a localised version of #MeToo called #MaiBhi. The event will have special performances and speeches of women in the Pakistani entertainment industry with stories to tell of abuse and survival. A positive impact of such a move is that women who are silenced elsewhere, villages and small towns, will have the inspiration to speak up. Designers, artists and actresses have come out and spoken about the abuse they faced. This lets women across Pakistan understand that owning the label of a survivor is important, but so is embracing the label of a victim.
The shame is not of these celebrities who have been abused, the shame is of the perpetrators’. When we successfully establish this, we will begin to change the tide. My biggest concern when the Zainab rape and murder case happened was that the backlash demanded that girls are protected from men’s monstrous lust. This perpetuates rape culture further. Several of our talk shows, the morning talk shows particularly, took on a misogynist tone, asking parents to protect girls more, asking people to turn towards a more religious outlook, asking girls to be sexualised by cloaking them — all except the important message that this violence happens because there is no equality of sexes, there is segregation, there is discrimination and because of patriarchy.
What remains to be seen at the awards is if the messaging is nuanced enough to turn away from victim blaming and demands that women have their power back. What also remains to be seen is if the fashion and entertainment industry owns up to the issues that are intrinsic to it — body shaming, the perpetuation of archaic gender roles and the reinforcement of the beauty myth, that women have to be beautiful to be desirable. Above all, they need to take on the issue of colourism. The notion that fair-skinned women are better in value than bronze-skinned ones. These are all problems that this industry has done next to nothing to fix. So it remains to be seen if women, in addition to calling out the abuses of men, also understand that they need to stop twirling around to what is a male-defined culture of what it means to be a worthy woman.
This is a huge opportunity that the women of this industry can redefine once and for all, enter 2018 with the momentum of their #MeToo sisters world over.
It starts with dictating to the corporates. Commercialism is blind to the perils of women. It will reinforce patriarchy, it will make the women in advertisements cook and clean and obsess about homemaking. Pakistan’s corporates are sinister and have pushed back the women’s movement by mass advertising the traditional roles of women. The awards therefore can be a turning point in handing the agenda setting to feminist women themselves.
#MaiBhi needs to grow. Kudos to these women’s efforts and here’s to more truth telling, to making more men uncomfortable, Gloria Steinem style.
Two weeks had passed since his family last spoke to him. His loved ones had no clue whether he was alive or dead. The government expressed their inability to trace him. But his family refused to give up. Their frantic efforts finally led them to a person who had the firsthand account of what exactly happened to 39-year-old Chaudhry Imran.
Hailing from Gujranwala, Imran was part of a group willing to risk their lives for greener pastures. Like others, Imran wanted to explore better opportunities in Europe. He travelled on a valid visa from Pakistan to Iran. The group spent around a week in Iran where they were introduced to an agent, whose main task was to help them cross the Iran-Turkey border illegally. They were waiting for the right moment for the treacherous journey. After walking on foot for an entire day, they finally entered Turkey. The journey hadn’t finished yet though as they had to walk many miles before their final destination. Imran was diabetic and also had heart disease. The difficult itinerary now started taking its toll on him. He suddenly stopped and asked his agent and other people in the group that he couldn’t walk further. Initially, they tried to convince him to keep going but he was unmoved. When the group realised that Imran couldn’t be taken along, he was left behind.
Back home, his family was increasingly concerned since they could not establish any contact with him for many days now. After exhausting all options, Imran’s brother-in-law then travelled to Turkey in the hope of finding some leads. After going many places in an unknown territory, he eventually found Imran but unfortunately in a Turkish hospital mortuary. The journey he began for a brighter future ended in tragedy. The irony was that Imran had a well-settled life in Pakistan, running his own small business. He also inherited agricultural land. But like many other young Pakistanis, he had this misperception that his fortune would take a dramatic turnaround the moment he landed in Europe.
This is not the story of Imran alone but many others who are willing to put their lives on the line. Only recently, 32 Pakistanis in their futile attempt to enter Europe illegally from Libya perished when their boat capsized. Among them was a family of four comprising the husband, wife and two children — one aged four years and the other two months only. Ideally, these tragic stories should serve as warning and deterrence to those who are planning to enter Europe illegally.
But sadly that is not the case. People are undeterred and still willing to take the risk.
Often the thriving business of illegal immigration is attributed to abject poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunities in Pakistan. Yes, successive governments indeed made little efforts to create a conducive economic environment where young people especially from rural areas have the chance to chase their dreams. But that’s not the only problem. The actual root cause is our overall behaviour where we look for short cuts. Unfortunately that short-cut approach has penetrated so deep in our national psyche that many of us forget that success comes only after years of hard work and perseverance.
We often quote bad examples to show how life is difficult for a common man in this country. But rarely do we talk about success stories where many in this country have started their journey from scratch and gone on to achieve something big. Accept it or not, given the current global security environment where Western countries have stringent immigration laws in place, those aspiring to go abroad illegally need to rethink their strategy and perhaps stop taking their homeland for granted! Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2018.
The Pakhtun March and A New Deal
February 13, 2018
Let’s bust the most obvious myth first. The myth goes: the tribal Pakhtuns are the ones that let in Al-Qaeda and the Taliban gave their sons over to them to fight first Nato/Isaf and later the Pakistani Army, so they shouldn’t really be blaming the Pakistani state for the ordeal of living through war.
This is nonsense for several reasons, but the most important is not because of the facts of how and why terrorist groups found safe haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the first place. The most important is demographics. Take the average twenty-year-old Bajaur tribesman, or resident of Khyber, or a Mehsud from Waziristan. He was born some time in 1998. In 2011, when Osama bin Laden’s life ended in Abbottabad, today’s twenty-year-old was twelve or thirteen years old. How much control over your tribe or clan or family does your two-year-old or six-year-old or eight-year-old or thirteen-year-old boy or girl have?
Even if we are to assume that all agency or authority for who came to the tribal areas and what they did there was up to the tribes themselves, the decisions that produced war in Fata were not made by the young men and women that have trended the hashtag #PashtunLongMarch over the last two weeks. The young men and women that have trended this hashtag are victims of those decisions. It is obviously and patently nonsensical for anyone to ask why the Mehsuds don’t protest against themselves for being vulnerable to, first, the penetration of the alphabet soup of terrorist groups that made their homes in Waziristan, and then to the military operations that have cleared those groups out of the territory that is supposed to be sovereign to Pakistan.
The fact that Mehsuds have initiated a protest against the Pakistani state is a confirmation of their citizenship, an affirmation of their patriotism, and a dire wake-up call for the elite in Pakistan, both non-Pakthun and Pakhtun. It is also a reminder to ordinary Pakistanis who have remained ignorant of the trials and tribulations of Pakhtuns living in the tribal areas as well as those living elsewhere, all around the country. It is time for us to take stock of what being Pakhtun has meant, means today and should mean in the future.
For over five decades Pakistan’s elite had a very sweet deal: “you control your hordes, we will control ours; we will split the gains, put on a lot of vacation weight and live happily ever after”. This deal was the defining state of play within communities, between communities, within the country and beyond it. For the deal to work, the elite needed to ensure that ordinary people were either so content that they would never question the social contract or so distracted with other, more urgent, affairs that they would never have the time to. In the cities, if the deal did not work for someone, they could use their education to move up or move out and migrate, or they could adopt affiliations that would help protect them. The MQM’s Tanzeemi structure, Sipah-e-Sahaba’s rank and file, and the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student permutations via the IJT and Pasbaan all represent examples of such affiliations.
In the villages, when the deal would not work for someone, one of two things would happen. Either they would either get crushed by the bulldozer of the various tools at the disposal of the elite – money, the police, dirty judges, dirtier MNAs and MPAs, and straight up gangsters. Or they would be co-opted by the local elite’s vast structure of acquiring, sustaining and deepening power. At a minimum it would put the vocal village aspirant in contention for any number of benefits that accrue to the affiliation with that structure. This could lead to a public-sector job, as a constable in the police, or a primary school teacher, or if slightly more educated and presentable, at PIA. It could also lead to prominence in political hierarchies – and each of the three main parties in the country have a rank and file that offer some measure of testament to the efficacy of the model.
All the while, the deal’s principal benefit is to the elite at the top. With very little effort, and a lot of lip service to the many ideals (justice, Pakhtunwali, mard-e-momin etc) that ordinary people hold dear and scared, this edifice could be sustained. In the small village in Sindh, there is the vadera. In Punjab, it has evolved from the landed Chaudhry to the industrial or contractor kingpin, in Balochistan it was the sardars, and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, it has been the Khans and the Maliks. These guardians of local fairy tales have all operated within a wider canopy of an amalgam of national fairy tales, the guardians of which are our armed forces. Things were just fine, until they weren’t anymore.
Every fairy tale has a twist, and the twist that has disrupted the sweet deal in Pakistan has been the same one that has disrupted it everywhere else over the last two decades. It has come courtesy of Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. The information asymmetry that has helped fuel the disequilibrium between the elite and the not so much has been demolished by the digital age.
The elite now? Well, they can’t walk so proud, and they can’t talk so proud. They are still firmly entrenched, still locked in with the decades of profits that the sweet deal has helped accrue for them. But there aren’t enough public sector jobs for everyone. There aren’t enough visas abroad for everyone. There aren’t enough bulldozers to drive over everyone. Dissent isn’t as risky today as it was when the late Asma Jahangir started doing it. And all this applies to the parts of the country that have not been in the thick of an actual war.
To understand the anger of the Pakhtun youth that assembled in Islamabad for ten days, we have to combine two distinct macro-level phenomena simultaneously. The disruption to the ‘lowering of the gaze’ culture that protects the elite from questions about fairy tales caused by the digital age. And the disruption to the safety, security, and livelihoods of ordinary people in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as the wider culture in the country, caused by the post-9/11 war that has been waged in Afghanistan, in Fata and across Pakistan.
We have a dated and dangerous understanding of what a ‘tribesman’ is. Thousands of tribesmen are educated, sophisticated and homeless. Unlike the homeless in Lahore and Gujranwala, these men’s homes were flattened either by terrorists, or during the military operations conducted to clear out the terrorists.
We can ask them to be respectful of the fairy tales that we hold in great esteem. Or we can try to hear their voices. Understand their anguish. Recognise their anger. Pakistani insecurity about international Pakhtun solidarity will not deter Pakhtuns from all around the world to profess their sincere affection and sympathy for their brethren. But it will drive away the angry young Pakistani tribesman with an MPhil who cannot go home to the land he owes to his unborn grandchildren. There is no quantum of over-the-top films, and poorly worded tweets that ISPR can generate to assuage that anguish.
The old sweet deal is dying everywhere, but it is dying faster in war zones. Pakistan’s war zones have been ignored, and the people living through war have been misrepresented. The next time we boast about what Pakistan has sacrificed during this war, we should take a moment and ask those that have been the sacrificial lambs: how did you like it?
The message from the #PashtunLongMarch is loud and clear for anyone wanting to hear the truth: “We didn’t. We don’t. And we’re done”.
TOWARDS the end of 2017 when ISIS was on the run and Muslims in general and neighbouring countries in particular were just preparing to have a sigh of relief, the Trump Administration, feeling defeated and humiliated(remember ISIS was created by them, as Hillary herself admitted),announced to keep a strong military force of 30,000 in Syria. The move is to topple Assad regime and counter the Russian presence in the area. When the Islamic State (IS) was in its best shape, the international efforts were focused on the battles to defeat the terror-designated group. But following the defeat of the IS in Syria late last year, the international players in the Syrian conflict have put their differences on the table in northern Syria.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, declared their victory on the IS in its de facto capital of Raqqa late last year, while the Russian-baked Syrian army was declaring the defeat of the terror group in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. At the time, all players in the Syrian conflict were rejoicing their victory in the battles against the IS, but now their differences lay bare in northern Syria. The US hopes to consolidate its foot-hold in Syria by throwing extra support behind Kurdish-led groups such as the SDF and its primary component the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which emerged as a reliable ally to Washington in Syria’s nearly seven-year war.
Such a support, which helped Kurdish groups expand in northern. Syria near the Turkish border has raised the ire of Turkey, which vowed to dampen the Kurdish sway near its border as it fears the separatist sentiment of Syria’s Kurds could inspire Turkey’s 14 million Kurds. Despite being long-time allies, the tension between Turkey and the US has grown bigger recently with Washington declaring its willingness to form a 30,000 strong border force from the SDF and other Kurdish groups in northern Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stressed that Moscow will not back US attempts to change the 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries.“We will not support what the United States is trying to do, changing the wording of the agreement, incorporating things that will be absolutely unacceptable for Iran”, Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow, last week.. His remarks come a few days after US President Donald Trump extended sanctions waivers on Iran to give Washington and its European allies a chance to what he calls to “fix the terrible flaws” of the nuclear agreement.
Russia’s top diplomat also warned that the breakdown of the deal could be detrimental to dialogue with North Korea. ”If the deal is put aside and Iran is told, ‘you keep up with your obligations or we will impose sanctions again’, then you have to put North Korea in its place too”, Lavrov said. Syria says it is determined to end US military presence after Washington declared plans to build a 30,000-member “border force” in the Arab country that Russia says could lead to Syria’s partition, Syria’s Foreign Ministry has slammed the plan as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty.
The US, purportedly fighting the Daesh terrorist group, is planning to build the so-called “Border Security Force” on the Syrian territory held by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is dominated by Kurdish militants. The US, he said, is helping those who are seeking to topple the government of Syria rather than trying to resolve the Syrian crisis. “We don’t see the efforts to help resolve the conflict as soon as possible, but rather to help those who would like to make practical steps to change the government in Syrian Arab Republic,” Lavrov added.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country. The US move has also angered Ankara with Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag stating last week that Washington is “playing with fire”. Turkey is already angry over strong US support for Kurdish forces in Syria. Ankara views SDF and its affiliates as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting Turkey since 1984.
The US launched its military campaign in Syria in 2014 under the pretext of fighting Daesh terrorists. Syria and Russia as well as other regional countries have cast doubt on the United States’ intentions, saying American troops have mostly tried to hamper government operations against Takfiri terrorists and harmed the country’s infrastructure. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov last month said that the presence of American troops in Syria was unlawful, urging them to completely leave the Syrian soil. The US action comes in the framework of its destructive policy in the region to fragment the countries and spur tension to hinder any solution to the crisis.
Russia has slammed US actions in Syria that encourage separatist sentiments among Kurds as either a provocation or ill-informed, after Turkey launched a major operation against US-backed militants in the troubled area. Washington has actively encouraged and continues to encourage separatist sentiments among Kurds, “Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said. “This is either a lack of understanding of the situation or an absolutely conscious provocation,” he added. Turkey has launched the so-called Operation Olive Branch recently in a bid to eliminating the US-backed YPG which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). The latter has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
So the situation in Syria still continues to be uncertain. The Muslim world in particular is still hoping for peace to return to the area and an end to the miseries of innocent people who have been witnessing the unwanted killing for the last seven years. It is a pity that a Muslim is killing another Muslim just for the sake of their different political agendas and falling in the trap of elements whose main purpose is to weaken Muslims and further their nefarious designs against Islam.
February 11, 2018
I think, therefore I am,’ said the French philosopher Rene Descartes in 1637. If this be true, what is the Pakistani voter thinking in this election year? And more importantly, who is shaping this thought process?
There is the media of course. It blares non-stop across the length and breadth of this electoral land. A river of information, images and opinion gushes out from screens and floods the minds of citizens on an hourly basis. But does the media have the capability to sway an election?
There is the establishment of course. It does not speak directly to the voters. It does not declare its political preferences. It does not anoint anyone through any overt action or gesture. And yet it influences thoughts by subtle use of less subtle proxies in constituencies and newsrooms. But does the establishment have the capability to sway an election?
There is the political leadership of course. It speaks non-stop across the length and breadth of this electoral land. It peddles its partisan narrative with all the force at its command — on the ground and on the air. But does the political leadership have the capability to sway an election based solely on its words and deeds?
The hard reality of issues, it seems, can withstand the gentle breeze of perception. Or can it?
The making of the mega-narrative in an election year is a complex process. Reverse engineer the phenomenon and it will break down into dozens of components each bearing the cross of its own complexity. Assemble it back into a whole and it snarls up like a fire-breathing dragon ready to devour the doubts of a doubting electorate.
And yet what is this mega-narrative but perception. It is a perception formed by stitching together a series of selective realities in a certain order. The reality of perception then can often overpower reality itself.
Like the resurgence of Nawaz Sharif.
Is he really rising like a phoenix after having been declared politically dead as a result of judicial decapitation six months ago or is it a mere perception growing larger by the day? There are no scientific surveys, there are no professional polls and there are no other certifiable methods to verify whether Sharif is actually gaining or losing in numbers. We don’t even know if a majority of the electorate feels that he clawing his way out of the political and legal pit he found himself on the day of his disqualification. And yet a perception is being built over some fragments of reality.
What Are These Fragments?
It is a fact that he is drawing crowds in rallies. But this fact is a result of smart politicking. He is holding Jalsas in locations carefully selected for their political relevance. He is holding them regularly which means he is retaining high visibility on television, which in turn means he continues to generate a steady buzz among the electorate. This barrage of televised Jalsas is also keeping his MNAs on their toes. Many of them are key electables. To arrange a successful Jalsa for Nawaz Sharif requires them to use all the resources at their disposal. This means they have to galvanise their local network, charge up their councillors, coordinate with the local police and administration, call in overdue favours and plough in lots of cold cash in logistics, etc. All this is done to please the boss in order to get his approval (and development funds) for the coming elections. The sum total of the exercise is that electables and their constituencies are charged up and the Sharif brand gains traction on the ground.
A perception begins to shape up. The electable MNA perceives that Nawaz Sharif is confident and battle-ready so he will think twice before switching to another party. The voter at the jalsa site sees the big crowd, feels the big crowd, hears the belligerent Sharif and his combative daughter and perceives the PML-N still commands a serious presence in this constituency. The viewer on TV across Pakistan sees the blanket coverage of the charged-up jalsa peppered with crowd shots through multiple cameras and drones and perceives that Sharif must still be quite popular with the voters.
Once the initial perception has raised its head, it begins to draw attention to itself. Someone writes on it thereby making it part of the mainstream discourse. Then someone else picks it up as a topic for a show. Even if there is an opposing opinion being presented by the Opposition people, the fact that it is a topic by itself means that it has found traction and hence germinates a new twist in the conversations that happen every day across the country. In a subtle way, the question: “Is Sharif finished?” is replaced with: “Is Sharif making a comeback?”
Perception Is Now Influencing Reality.
The reality is also that Sharif is lashing away at the judiciary without any serious cost to himself. He chose a soft target. What else can the judges do except throw him in jail for contempt. That would in fact turbo-charge his politics. So oblivious of any retaliation he hammers away at the judges day in and day out — and a perception begins to shape up again: If he can get away with bludgeoning one part of the Establishment, then the other part might not be out to get him. Does this mean, people wonder, if he is still ‘kosher’ from the perspective of the establishment? And if that be so the ‘cards’ cannot be loaded against him to an extent that he becomes a losing option for his party, his fence-sitting candidates and their voters. The perception builds that he is still in the game and still very much in control.
What fragments of reality could conjure up a counter-perception? 1) Key electables break away from PML-N and join the PTI; 2) Sharif is convicted and the party fragments between Nawaz and Shehbaz camps; 3) Some new Panama-type scandal erupts and engulfs Sharif.
The key failing for the opposition — and especially the PTI — since the ouster of Sharif has been the inability to create a perception that Sharifs are finished and the Establishment will never let them return. The reality was the same: Sharif had been ousted. Khan could have built a perception around this reality to favour him. He did not. Sharif did.
Perceptions will not by themselves help Sharif or Imran win the elections, But perceptions directly influence reality-based factors that have a bearing on the elections. It is a widely accepted fact that every constituency has its own dynamics and the nucleus of these dynamics is the candidate. The strength of the candidate is overridden only when a leader or the party he leads can trigger a wave that can sweep away local factors in favour of the party vote. If such a ‘wave’ or a ‘tsunami’ sweeps across the land in this year’s elections then all bets and calculations are off. But if it does not, and the battle is fought constituency by constituency, then the power of perception will play a key role in defining the reality of the result.
IN the wake of Trump’s ceaseless tirade against Pakistan, Russia provided explicit gestures in favour of Pakistan. In August 2017, Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov censured Trump’s South Asia strategy and insisted that Islamabad is “a key regional player to negotiate with. Putting pressure (on Pakistan) may seriously destabilise the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan”.
US strategy against Pakistan has created an opportune vacuum for Russia to reshuffle the positions of its strategic allies in its favour. The growing fissures between the US and Pakistan provides Russia with a golden opportunity to strengthen its multifarious ties with Pakistan and thereby to further expand its influence in the region and beyond. History is testament to the fact that such opportunities become available to states once in a decade or perhaps centuries and those nations which only focus on immediate needs at the cost of geostrategic and long term objectives miss such opportunities.
In this respect, Pakistan figures as a key regional player that can be detected on Russia’s radar for regional alliances. Donald Trump stated that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”. After Trump’s unabated anti-Pakistan policy statements, Pakistan axiomatically finds itself in the unquestioning need of alternative and virtually equal powerful ally. The situation potentially brings a series of opportunities for Russia: to enhance its regional influence, to get active engagement in South Asia, to expand and consolidate its alliance and to gain economic benefits by the substantial symbiosis with Pakistan.
However, there are concerns that these opportunities will only bring short-term gains with no long-term strategic outcomes for both Russia and Pakistan. There are multiple factors which support the fact that both countries will have to put serious efforts for long-term strategic outcomes. Russia seems unclear and reluctant to fill the vacuum. There could be various reasons and concerns that Russia is not filling the vacuum. Due to uneasy economic situations in both countries, they have limited resources for mutual investments and joint business projects. The second reason for concern is Russia’s virtually non-transparent and unpredictable moves towards Pakistan. Under the third president Dmitry Medvedev (2008-2012), Russia’s policy toward Islamabad was more transparent. In 2008, Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept declared Pakistan as one of the key regional powers that Russia intended to develop relations with on bilateral and multilateral levels.
Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012 led to changes in Russia’s policy in South Asia. It seemed to be less clear and predictable. The first indication of this was a short notice cancellation of the Dushanbe Four summit in Islamabad in 2012 due to President Putin’s inability to visit Pakistan. Shortly after that this platform ceased to exist. Thereafter, mutual military exercises of Russia and Pakistan in 2016 sparked the existence of healthy cooperation. Helicopter deals and second friendship military exercise in 2017 seems considerable addition to mutual cooperation. However, these developments do not appear enough to detect the exact or explicit position of Pakistan in Russia’s foreign policy framework.
While Russia-Pakistan full-scale military cooperation gives the appearance of close and solid relations between the two, on the contrary, it camouflaged poor economic interdependence and lack of strategy for bilateral cooperation. These ambiguous developments and lack of clear policy towards Pakistan indicates that vacuum is complex that seems hard to be filled by Russia. There is hardly any mention of current policy. Please base your claims on the current policy of Russia vis-à-vis Pakistan.
Russia and Pakistan should focus on less visible, but more important fields of partnership to start with formulating the roadmap for bilateral relations and facilitating trade between them. A trusted partnership with both India and Pakistan is possible only if Russia realizes and articulates their independent value for itself, makes its policy South Asia-oriented, protects its ties with India and Pakistan from the third countries’ influence, and avoids U-turns and any kind of unpredictability in its regional strategy.