New Age Islam Edit Bureau
16 May 2018
Pakistan Appears To Be Marching
Towards an Uncertain Political Future
By Amir Hussain
The Crumbling Empire
By Mubarak Ali
Who Betrayed Whom
By Kuldip Nayar
Trump Stampedes Global
By Iqbal Khan
By Mahir Ali
Carnage In Gaza
By Zahid Hussain
NSC Convened After Sharif Stirs New
By Kamran Yousaf
New Envoy In US?
By Moeed Yusuf
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Pakistan Appears To Be Marching Towards
an Uncertain Political Future
May 16, 2018
I have always cherished the discussions
that my classmates and I had during our university days on politics being an
art of statecraft. The idealism of our student days was a blessing indeed and
all we did was discuss world politics at length.
Deeply engrossed in political debates, we
used to think that the world was too small to accommodate our wisdom and
knowledge. This is, perhaps, how a young person with aspirations thinks in
his/her heydays of knowledge acquisition.
Our discussions dealt with the art of statecraft
adopted by rulers ranging from Chandragupta Maurya to Otto Von Bismarck, with
intermittent references to Machiavelli. We assessed Ibn-e- Khaldun, Karl Marx
and even Abu A’la Maududi with a critical eye. Our discussions knew no bounds,
representing a diversity of thoughts without venturing into an all-out
Of course, it wasn’t all hunky-dory. But
there was space for discussion. Those were the initial days of Pervez
Musharraf’s military coup. We were astonished by how an elected prime minister could
be sacked without even a modicum of public outrage. It was the beginning of
another dictatorial regime in Pakistan that did not attract much hue and cry
and all of us had an axe to grind in this new setup. Our liberals threw their
weight behind Musharraf because of his one memorable picture with a German
shepherd on the front page of an English language daily.
Our liberal ideals proved to be ephemeral –
as always – and they got carried away by this symbolism more than the essence
of the political rule. The failure of democratic transition in Pakistan is not
only about what religious zealots have done with this country. It is also about
the short-lived political ideals of our liberals. The disdain among liberals
for the ‘rustic’ ways of Nawaz Sharif and their affection for an urbane party
pal and a Westernised dictator said it all.
Despite all its liberal leanings, the
university campus had few students who supported this coup because many of us
looked for a deeper debate on statecraft. Not contaminated by the compromises
involved in practical life, and the fear of the unknown, we spoke our hearts
out to condemn the coup.
We started to explore why our democracy had
been so fragile that it took only two hours for parliament to be stormed and a
sitting prime minister to be arrested. We had also witnessed the dissolution of
consecutive parliamentary democracies in Pakistan without the fear of popular
uprisings. The judicial murder of Z A Bhutto – one of the most popular
political leaders in the history of Pakistan – didn’t shake the country with
The people of Pakistan possibly didn’t see
any tangible dividends of democracy then. All they saw was an era of prosperity
under dictatorial regimes. A growing economy, the rapid pace of industrialisation
in the 1960s, and the painful experience of 1971 in a political battle of two
elected civilian rulers couldn’t be erased from public memory till the rise of
General Zia in 1977.
Supported by the Western powers as a
typical cold-war proxy, Pakistan was bombarded with dollars. The flow of free
money benefited all those power aspirants – whose children were to have access
to this new money – rather than a tumultuous struggle for democracy. Those
civilians who could matter politically were cajoled into the world of
dollar-backed prosperity. This was a time when a brand of pliable political
leaders was created to provide public legitimacy to military rule.
That was perhaps the best era of political
consciousness for liberals who were threatened by the rising wave of extremism
in Pakistan. Liberals and progressive political forces joined hands in the
Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in the country. For
progressives, it was the beginning of a long struggle, not only for the
restoration of democracy but also for the institutionalisation of democratic
processes. For liberals, it was a battle for the restoration of a particular
lifestyle, irrespective of who guaranteed it.
Liberals despised religious parties for
their anachronism and outmoded social outlooks. Most of these liberals were
also fond of the Westernised lifestyle under the dictatorial regime of General
Ayub Khan and the early days of Z A Bhutto’s civilian rule. In this part of the
world, liberalism has been more of a lifestyle than a political, cultural and
economic movement. Unlike liberals, progressive and socialist groups faced
state oppression and incarcerations in Pakistan for their anti-dictatorial,
long-term and institutional approach towards an inclusive democracy.
In Pakistan, liberals and socialists are
lumped together as one ideological group. But in reality, they have always held
two distinct political thoughts. They converged only during political struggles
for democracy with varying political objectives – as they did during the MRD in
the 1980s. During the regime of General Musharraf, liberals stood by a
dictatorship while socialists continued their struggle for democracy.
In our contemporary political landscape,
liberals supported the PTI for its lifestyle promises rather than its
commitment to a democratic transition of Pakistan. Public concerts, a frivolous
party culture and the bashing of Nawaz and his coterie attracted the transient
political ideals of our liberals. Socialists opposed the PTI ideology as an
anti-democratic political vanguard of the status quo and a political impediment
to a democratic transition in Pakistan. Liberals found the PTI to be the
political saviour of a lifestyle, irrespective of its right-wing political
tendencies and inclination towards religious groups.
Some socialist groups even contested the
elections of 2013 under the banner of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), and are
aspiring to participate in the general elections of 2018 as well. Divided
between the AWP and the PPP, socialist tendencies in Pakistan are driven by a
social democratic tradition.
There is also a marked difference in
attitudes between liberals and socialists about emerging movements from Fata or
previous ones from places like Okara. Socialists have supported movements for
political right of expression and to challenge oppression. Liberals, on the
contrary, have shown a disdain for such sporadic movements as they do not share
the values of elitist liberals.
This pseudo-liberalism in Pakistan has been
an elitist way of life that doesn’t find resonance with popular movements of
the working and lower middle classes. Civil society movements in Pakistan have
been influenced by this pseudo-liberal ideology, which is at peace with the
status quo. For these liberals, radical socio-political transformation is an
unsettling and obscure idea that is too dangerous to their lifestyle.
What we used to discuss at our university
campus was idealistic, but it seems to work in Pakistan till today. Therefore,
universities are special zones that face the wrath of power today. Two examples
– among many students and teachers – that highlight the situation today are
those of Professor Ammar Ali Jan at Punjab University and Dr Riaz Ahmed at
Karachi University who have faced this wrath as proponents of an inclusive and
In the current transition to democracy, we
can see at least one deviation in the traditional picture. Nawaz Sharif is now
one of the strongest dissenting voices in the country. Imran Khan, on the
contrary, seems to rely on the establishment more than the popular support for
an electoral victory. Bilawal Bhutto, strewn between popular aspirations and
his father’s opportunistic and status-quo pragmatism is incapable of making any
convincing political pronouncements. In a nutshell, we appear to be marching
towards a wishy-washy political future. It will be a test of nerves for those
who continue to speak for a democratic Pakistan.
The history of the Roman Empire tends to
fascinate European nations. They highly admire emperors and generals, who
defeated the so-called barbarian tribes, slaughtered and enslaved them, and
plundered their wealth to built large palaces, temples, and mausoleums.
The irony of the history is that the tribes
that were living peacefully on the basis of their customs and traditions were
referred to as barbarians – ie, uncivilised and uncultured – while those Romans
who invaded their territories without any provocation are billed as civilised
people even though they were aggressors.
Most European nations were so deeply
inspired by the Roman Empire that they borrowed some of its political
institutions and practices. These structures and institutions include the
senate, assemblies, laws, voting systems and the power of veto. To keep the
memory of the Roman Empire alive, they screened thousands of films on various
aspects of Roman society and culture. A diverse range of books has been
published that are based on archaeological evidence. Fictionalised history was
popularised among the people. A large number of plays were staged about the
Roman Empire and several paintings and sculptures were made to immortalise its
In the year 800, when Charlemagne became
the emperor of the Carolingian Dynasty, he was crowned by the Pope as the Holy
Roman Emperor. This was an attempt to restore the memories of the Roman Empire.
The title of the Holy Roman Emperor continued throughout European history and
retained its original significance despite political weaknesses. The title was
satirised by Voltaire, who believed that it was neither holy nor Roman in
nature. This title was finally abolished in 1806 by Napoleon.
The people of Europe were so impressed by
the power and glory of the Roman Empire that they found it difficult to believe
how such a great power was defeated by the so-called barbarian tribes and
divided into the eastern and western empires. The western part was ruled by the
Pope and the Catholic religion while the eastern part became Byzantinian and
observed Orthodox Christianity.
After discussing the rise of the Roman
Empire, historians have automatically turned their attention towards analysing
the reasons for its decline. The first historian who discussed the breakdown of
the Roman Empire was Montesquieu. He attributed the decline of the Roman Empire
to political instability and the emergence of feudal states that caused social
and economic crises. The second historian was Edward Gibbon who was inspired by
the ruins of Rome and decided to write about the decline and fall of the Roman
Empire. He did not discuss the earlier period when the Roman Empire was at its
glorious heights. Instead, he tried to trace its evolutionary decay.
He examined the the general causes of the
Roman Empire’s decline such as the army’s rule; the assassination of emperors;
the ever-increasing number of slaves; the destruction of agriculture; and the
failure to defend its borders against the so-called barbarians. Gibbon also shifted
his focus to the internal factors within the empire that led to its downfall.
These included urbanisation and the migration of peasants from villages to
cities; the differences of class division; the management of sanitation in the
cities; and attempts to cure of diseases and control of mob riots. In addition
to these causes, Gibbon heavily criticised the Christianisation of the Roman
When the pagan culture was prevalent, the
Romans had the spirit to fight and its army displayed valour in the battlefield.
Owing to the Christianisation of the empire, the spirit of war diminished
because religious precepts highlighted the importance of peace. This weakened
the Roman Army and strengthened the pagan barbarian tribes, who invaded and
defeated the once-mighty Romans.
Gibbon also drew attention to the fact that
monasteries were established throughout the Roman Empire. These monasteries
encouraged young people to become monks and devote their lives to serve their
religion. This posed a financial burden for the state.
Rome had once produced philosophy,
literature and art that enlightened society. However, the Christian Roman
society banned philosophy, art and literature. It persecuted philosophers and
closed down institutions that were centres of liberal art. Consequently,
society became intellectually barren and bankrupt. It lost, on the one hand,
its pagan heritage and, on the other, its military no longer remained in a
position to defend itself against the Sassanids of the Persian Empire and the
emerging Arab powers. The city of Rome was conquered by the Visigoths in 410.
Meanwhile, the eastern part of the Roman Empire continued until 1453, when it
finally surrendered to the Ottomans. This marked the complete breakdown of the
Roman Empire. The downfall of the Roman Empire afforded a number of lessons to
imperial powers that occupied the Asian and African countries in the name of
We must change our concept of history. We
must realise that those who attacked the Asian and African countries committed
a series of war crimes while those who were persecuted were, in fact, champions
of peace and only endured discrimination because of their military weakness.
Therefore, invaders should be condemned and their crime ought to be exposed to
the world. This will ensure that people are aware of their brutality.
INDIA’S first Prime Minister Jawaharlal
Nehru proudly supported Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai. He had emerged
after defeating the First Front Army commander, Chiang Kai Shek. The Chinese
Premier had supported India’s Movement for Independence when British Prime
Minister Winston Churchill said that the freedom of India was not dependent on
the victory of Allies in the Second World War, which was a foregone conclusion
when America declared support to Britain and such other democratic forces.
Still Nehru was able to get the backing of the Congress. It made the
declaration even though Mahatma Gandhi believed that Adolf Hitler, leading the
fascist forces, would emerge victorious. That Chou En-Lai had betrayed Nehru by
launching the attack in 1962 was a severe blow that Nehru could not survive.
After that the non-aligned countries
together had amended the Colombo proposals and retrieved partially the prestige
of Nehru. The proposals recognized the new border where China had delineated
through its forces. New Delhi showed annoyance by calling back its ambassador
in Beijing. Relations between the two countries had remained sour since. It
appears Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accepted China-dictated border. The
ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) can argue that it has accepted what was de
jure. What is hailed as a historic moment is abject surrender to Beijing. It is
practically a defeat. Had the Congress Party done so, it would have been
paraded as a force which had sold India. Modi, with his flowery speeches in
Hindi, may go down well with the people who cannot understand the intricacies
of the border problem. But surprisingly, the party has the support from the
Nagpur headquarters from where the RSS high command operates. China and India
have seldom agreed on where the actual border line is. Nehru said that he had
asked the Indian army to oust the infiltrators and clear its territory. Since
then the relations between the two had more or less hostile. Some time ago,
India showed its muscles with the stand-off at Doklam. China had to withdraw
its forces behind the present border. Prime Minister Modi’s trip last Sept for
BRICS did reduce tension. The positive side of Modi’s trip then was the
reiteration by two countries to fight against terrorists. But here too Beijing
elucidated its own theory. Yet, friendship of China and Pakistan is only
getting stronger to concern of New Delhi. Not long ago, Beijing had begun
stapling visas of Indians visiting China from Arunachal. China wanted to
indicate that it was a “separate territory” and not part of India.
New Delhi has borne the humiliation
quietly. China had accepted without demur the maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as
India’s territory. To recall the dispute over a small territory lying between
Arunachal and China’s border, the status of Arunachal Pradesh has been seldom
questioned. Tibet for China is like India’s Kashmir which too has raised the
standard of independence. There is, however, one difference: the Dalai Lama is
willing to accept an autonomous status within China. Kashmir today wants
independence. Maybe, the Kashmiris will come round to accept a similar status
one day. The problem is so complicated that a minor change can lead to a major
catastrophe. It is not worth risking. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal
Pradesh last year had brought back the memories of the days before the Chinese
annexed Tibet. Nehru did not raise any objection at that time because he was on
personal terms with Chinese Premier Chu-En Lai. Dalai Lama’s visit did not
raise doubts about Tibet but it renewed the debate of its annexation by Beijing
once again. China called his visit a “provocation.” It had warned India that
the Dalai Lama’s visit would affect the normal relations between the two
countries. Indeed, it intensified with Doklam. Yet, India managed to hold its
own. In fact, China’s problems with India have roots in British demarcation of
India-China border. China refuses to acknowledge McMahon Line that demarcates
Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of India. Any activity that takes place in this
area is viewed by China skeptically.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit
to the “disputed’’ territory despite Chinese protest showed that New Delhi was
prepared for hostilities if it came to that pass. Then the Indian soldiers did
not have shoes for a mountain combat. India is now a power to reckon with. It
looks as if China would go on provoking India to exhaust patience. When war is
ruled out this is the only option China has. How to retaliate, without
resorting to hostilities is the situation India faces. Beijing is trying to
revive the India-China Bhai Bhai scenario. Soon after days after Prime Minister
Narendra Modi’s first visit to China after the Doklam standoff between the two
countries, a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that both
sides possessed the “maturity and wisdom” to handle their differences through
peaceful discussion and by respecting each other’s “concerns and aspirations.”
They also agreed to use the Special
Representatives’ Meeting on the boundary question to seek a fair, reasonable and
mutually acceptable settlement. The two militaries will strengthen
confidence-building measures and enhance communication and cooperation to
uphold border peace and tranquility, said the statement. Meanwhile, China and
India have agreed to build a high-level cultural and people-to-people exchange
mechanism between the two nations. The informal summit meeting between Prime
Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping also stressed on the need to
strengthen the China-India Closer Developmental Partnership so that the two
will always keep to the right direction. The latest move is aimed at further
strengthening the bilateral ties between the two nations. On the last leg of
his two-day visit, the Indian Prime Minister and Chinese President walked along
a sidewalk on the shores of the Wuhan’s East Lake and later sailed in the same
boat for “peace, prosperity and development” in a relaxed and friendly
atmosphere. This augurs well.
Trump Stampedes Global Non-Proliferation
OBSESSED with undoing the legacies of his
predecessor, President Donald Trump is ending up in eroding American
credibility beyond redemption. With yet another rash treaty reneging
announcement, Trump has imperilled peace and shown the rest of the world that
his country cannot be counted on to abide by international agreements. He is in
such an indecent hurry that he does not care about the crippling voids he is
leaving behind. His latest action of shredding the Iran nuclear deal has not
only isolated the US but has also marginalised his own persona amongst his
Trump’s announcement did not come as a
surprise. Worrisome is the evidence put forward by him. It is based on the
documents recently released by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showing that
Iran had attempted to develop a nuclear bomb in the previous decade, especially
before 2003. Trump could not put forward any stunning evidence that Iran
violated the 2015 deal. He only emphasised that Iran had lied in the past and
could not be trusted. Such over simplifications could undo any international
deal. Trump’s Defence Secretary and the UN mandated nuclear regulator
International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) are of the view that Iran has not
violated the 2015 deal. Leading officials of American military establishment
think of the deal as “pretty robust.”. Even Israeli military thinks that the
agreement was a fair bargain.
Iran’s reaction to the US move has largely
been measured, barring burning of the US flag in Parliament. Rouhani has said,
“his country will continue to honour the deal”, while the EU nations have
stated the same. Trump’s impetuous decision has overwhelmingly been condemned
by the world community. However, this has no worth, as Trump heads a team of
warmongering pro-Israel hawks. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s initial
reaction was: “This decision was an act of psychological warfare against Iran…I
have instructed the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation to take the necessary
measures for future actions so that, if necessary, we can resume industrial
enrichment without limit.” Fair enough; now ball is in the court of other
signatories of the deal, all of whom have pledged to continue with the deal.
However, the question arises: if the US sanctions everyone doing business with
Iran, how will the deal survive? From here, the issue takes an uncharted
voyage. There aren’t many countries which could bear the brunt of comprehensive
Dissent and condemnation has poured in from
all over the world except Israel and Saudi Aribia—the two strange bedfellows in
their anti-Iran pursuits. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres commented: “I
call on other JCPOA participants to abide fully by their respective commitments
under the JCPOA and on all other [UN] member-states to support this agreement.”
Pakistan’s response was mature and pertinent: “Pakistan believes that the JCPOA
represents a very good example of a negotiated settlement of complex issues,
through dialogue and diplomacy. Arbitrarily rescinding such agreements will
undermine confidence in the value of dialogue and diplomacy in the conduct of
Interestingly Europe whom the US has been
taking as “granted for” ally is standing far apart on this issue: “Stay true to
your commitments as we will stay true to ours and together with the rest of the
international community, we will preserve this nuclear deal”, European Union
diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini commented. Individually, France, Germany
and the UK have castigated the US decision and have pledged to “work
collectively on a broader framework, covering nuclear activity, the post-2025
period, ballistic activity and stability in the Middle East…”, French President
twittered. Russia indicated that it is “deeply disappointed”. Spokesman for
President Erdogan commented: “The unilateral withdrawal of the United States
from the nuclear deal is a decision that will cause instability and new
conflicts.” Syria stated that it “strongly condemns US President’s decision to withdraw
from the nuclear deal with Iran, which shows once again that the United States
is not honouring its commitments and international agreements.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
said: “Israel fully supports President Trump’s bold decision today to reject
the disastrous nuclear deal with the terrorist regime in Tehran.” And Saudi
Arabia’s Foreign Ministry quickly echoed the Israeli sentiment: “The Kingdom
supports and welcomes the steps announced by the US President toward
withdrawing from the nuclear deal … and reinstating economic sanctions against
Iran.” Architect of the deal, former US President Barack Obama, assumed
ownership and commented: “The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working … that is
a view shared by our European allies, independent experts… JCPOA has
significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. “Indeed, at a time when we
are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from
the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes — with Iran — the very outcome
that we are pursuing with the North Koreans,” Obama added.
Trashing of deal would bring significant
losses to the Iranian economy and once again expose its people to financial
hardship. And there is a real chance that Iran and Israel’s ongoing
confrontation in Syria may transform into war. Decision was timed to impact
Iranian elections. Nuclear deal had eased out ruinous international sanctions
in return for an Iranian promise to limit its nuclear activities and allow
inspections by international inspectors. Should dejection arising out of
American betrayal lead the Iranian response to resumption of its nuclear
programme, it could trigger a chain of events in the Middle East. Overall,
international nuclear non-proliferation regime is certainly in for an enduring
beating. The Associated Press has aptly analysed “Just as Donald Trump reached
one hand out to North Korea, he yanked the other back from Iran”.
IT has been quite a week for Benjamin
Netanyahu, bookended by a pair of personal triumphs for the man who will become
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister if he manages to hang in there for
another year or so: US president Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the
Iran nuclear deal last week and the unveiling on Monday of the American embassy
One could add to that Israel’s largest
military strikes in Syria, ostensibly targeting strategic Iranian sites, and,
shortly before that, Netanyahu’s presence as the guest of honour at the annual
Victory Day parade in Moscow, where he is assumed to have consulted — or at
least warned — Vladimir Putin about the Syrian attacks.
The embassy inauguration ceremony coincided
with a starkly contrasting scenario some 90 kilometres away, where more than 50
Palestinians were massacred, and over 1,000 injured, on the periphery of the
fenced-in Gaza Strip. Besieged residents of that forsaken territory have been
staging protests for several weeks, and paying for it with their lives.
Monday’s bout of brutality doubled the death toll, and there were fears of
worse to come yesterday, the final day of the planned demonstrations, marking
the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence and Palestinian dispossession.
The symbolism inherent in shifting the US
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem cannot seriously be categorised as a blow to
the peace process, given that any such process perished quite a while ago.
Another nail in its coffin may be a more accurate description. But there are
far broader risks on the near horizon as the Likudites in Israel take advantage
of the friendliest and most gullible US administration they have ever
Trump, like Netanyahu — but unlike several
senior Israeli military and intelligence personnel, past and present — has been
a consistent critic of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded
less than three years ago between Iran and the five permanent members of the
United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Some say his primary problem with
it is the fact it was considered a foreign policy success for his predecessor.
There clearly is a pattern of viscerally rejecting virtually anything Barack
Obama achieved, initiated or favoured, from the Paris climate agreement and the
first steps towards normalising relations with Cuba to domestic health
What also matters is what Trump hears from
some of his advisers, his favourite news outlet and his biggest donors. Among
the donors, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who was present at the opening of the
embassy in Jerusalem, is known to have expressed the view that rather than any
sort of diplomacy, the ideal means of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear
weapon would be a nuclear strike against Tehran. Among Trump’s latest line-up
of close aides, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are dedicated Iranophobes.
Then there’s Netanyahu plus the effective
rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed,
none of whom would be averse to a war against Iran, provided someone else were
willing to take the lead. One must hope Trump will disappoint them in this
particular regard, given that his rants as a candidate included fairly
clear-cut denunciations of US involvement in Middle Eastern wars, and in a
recent missive he berated the Gulf monarchies for not doing enough in return
for the trillions America has poured into the region. On the other hand, the
president is impulsive, impressionable, and convinced he can be more effective
than his predecessors.
Although Iran and its European partners
have expressed a desire to keep the JCPOA alive, Hassan Rouhani’s government is
under considerable pressure from the hardliners who have always resented the
nuclear deal, and it is unlikely to survive if Europe proves unable to offer
any further economic incentives as a consequence of the American threat of
secondary sanctions against companies doing business with Tehran.
In pulling out of the agreement Trump noted
that it had done nothing to constrain Iran’s ballistic missile programme or its
regional interventions. That may be so, but the JCPOA wasn’t intended to
achieve either of those goals. There is every indication Iran has strictly
adhered to the letter of the deal, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s much derided
attempt to ‘prove’ there had been violations, his theatrical presentation
rendered all the more absurd in view of the fact that Israel has never
willingly revealed anything about its own formidable nuclear arsenal.
Israel’s serial military provocations in
Syria have not elicited much of an Iranian response beyond a pointless missile
attack on the occupied Golan Heights, which preceded last week’s Israeli
incursion. An escalation could turn into a conflagration that leaves no nation
in the region unscathed. Hopefully such a disaster will not ensue, but the
Middle East is a place where worst-case scenarios do routinely materialise.
Carnage in Gaza
IT was the massacre of unarmed
Palestinians, and not the celebrations of the relocation of the US embassy to
Jerusalem, that stood out this week. Over 60 Palestinians have been killed and
2,700 injured in Gaza as Israeli forces fired on protesters, killing mostly
In fact, the Israelis not only used live
bullets but also fighter jets and a tank to prevent protesters from breaking
the barricade. According to one report quoting doctors, some of the exit wounds
caused by Israeli ammunition were ‘fist-size’. This kind of brutality has not
been seen since the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict.
It all happened a mere 90 to 100 kilometres
from the site of celebrations at the newly built American embassy in the
occupied land. The bloodbath continued as participants from both Israel and the
United States sang ‘Hallelujah’ and the Israeli prime minister declared it a
May 14 was also the 70th anniversary of the
foundation of the state of Israel. Palestinians refer to the day after as
Nakba, or the catastrophe, when, in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians
were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes and became refugees.
Donald Trump’s decision to shift the US
embassy to Jerusalem has given a bloodier turn to the Palestinian issue and has
led to diminishing hopes of any solution to the conflict. The move is a
manifestation of the close alliance between President Trump and Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The use of brute force has failed to deter
the Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.
Despite the US support to Israel, the
previous administrations in Washington had refrained from taking the
controversial step. There had been some effort to understand and respond to the
Palestinian narrative. But Trump’s blatant support for Israeli expansionism has
made the peace negotiations more difficult.
In his recorded message at the Jerusalem
ceremony, Trump declared that his greatest hope is to achieve peace. Amusingly,
he has also claimed that he has an interest in solving the “toughest deal of
all”. While condoning the carnage of unarmed Palestinians, Trump says he still
intends to present a detailed peace initiative.
His move has plunged the region into
greater turmoil and effectively brought to an end any arbitration role for the
US in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While
fully endorsing the Israeli narrative, the Trump administration has crossed a
As one analyst put it, “it is an
unravelling of the peace process framework which for the past 25 years has led
to neither peace nor all-out war”. Not surprisingly, the Israeli prime minister
sounded more triumphant and defiant in his celebratory speech. “We are in
Jerusalem and we are here to stay,” he declared.
Most shamefully, the American and Israeli
officials put the blame for the violence on the protesters. The use of brute
force, however, has failed to deter the Palestinian resistance against Israeli
occupation. Hundreds of casualties in Gaza are likely to trigger an uprising or
intifada spreading to the West Bank.
It is evident that the Trump administration
is complicit in the Israeli violence against the hapless Palestinian
population. Washington has also blocked the call for a UN investigation into
the incident. The move has further emboldened Israeli expansionism and rendered
the Middle East situation more explosive.
While the US moves and the carnage in Gaza
have evoked strong condemnation by the international community, there is no
effective voice for the support of the Palestinians’ right to their homeland
despite several UN resolutions. The silence of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab
countries over the plight of the Palestinian people is particularly disturbing.
It reflects the realignment of forces in
the Middle East. It is true that key Arab countries seem more willing to
sanction a settlement less favourable to the Palestinians than before because
they want Israel as an ally against Iran.
The Jerusalem ceremony took place days
after Trump announced the US would unilaterally pull out from the Iranian
nuclear deal. Not surprisingly, the controversial decision to reimpose US
sanctions on Tehran has been welcomed by Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Both countries have been opposed to the
treaty signed by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China besides the United
States. Opposition to Iran has brought the two countries on the same side of
the Middle East civil war. That has also led to Saudi Arabia’s increasing tilt
towards Israel on the Palestinian issue.
The comments made by the Saudi crown
prince, Mohammad bin Salman, during his recent visit to the United States
illustrate the shift in the kingdom’s position on the Palestinian issue. He
reportedly scolded the Palestinian leadership for what he described as a
decades-long history of “rejecting peace with Israel”, adding they should
either begin to accept peace proposals or “shut up”.
A leaked Israeli foreign ministry cable
sent by a diplomat from the Israeli consulate in New York said that the crown
prince’s comments, made during the closed meetings, apparently caused people to
“literally fall off their chairs”.
He made it clear that the Palestinian cause
was not a priority for the makers of foreign policy in Riyadh and that the
kingdom has to face much wider threats in the region, such as Iran. Although the
king tried to exercise damage control because of his son’s outrageous remarks,
it does not signify very much as the crown prince is effectively in charge.
Not surprisingly, the US move to shift its
embassy to Jerusalem did not evoke much opposition from the kingdom and other
Gulf countries. It has indeed emboldened Israel. There is a clear indication
that the cooperation between Riyadh and Israel could further increase with the
rising tensions in the Middle East following the US withdrawal from the Iranian
That may also allow Israel to continue
using brute force to suppress the Palestinian resistance movement. Undoubtedly,
there have been mass protests in some Muslim countries, but is this enough to
draw the attention of the international community to Israel’s expansionist
objectives under the patronage of the United States?
NSC Convened After Sharif Stirs New Row
May 13, 2018
Three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif has been in the limelight for months, but for all the wrong reasons. On
Sunday, he was once again making the headlines, and this time for stirring a
new controversy on Pakistan’s role in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“Militant organisations are active. Call
them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150
people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” Sharif
asked in an interview to Dawn.
“We have isolated ourselves. Despite giving
sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is
being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it,” he added.
Nawaz chided by Imran, Nisar for statement
on Mumbai attacks
His remarks were immediately picked up by
Indian media, which termed the former prime minister’s statement as a
confession of Pakistan’s role in the Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.
Back home, opposition parties including the
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) launched a
broadside against Sharif, calling him a security threat.
Even PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali
Khan, the former interior minister, did not endorse Sharif’s statement. He held
India responsible for the delay in the trial of the Mumbai attack suspects.
The news also went viral on social media
with Sharif’s critics coming down hard on the former prime minister, while his
supporters put up a strong defence for him.
But the discussion did not remain confined
to social media and his political opponents; Sharif’s statement also shook the
army as well.
Late in the evening, the chief military
spokesperson announced through his official Twitter handle that the National
Security Committee (NSC) ?— the highest forum on issues of national security —
would meet today (Monday) to discuss the Sharif’s “misleading statement”.
The meeting was being convened on the
suggestion of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said Inter-Services Public
Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major-General Asif Ghafoor.
The PM Office usually issues statements on
the NSC. However, it remained tight-lipped on the issue.
Although Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan
Abbasi and his cabinet members did not offer any statement, the ruling party
did issue a statement clarifying that Sharif’s statement was misquoted and
blown out of proportion by Indian channels and a section of the Pakistani
NAB allegations a grave issue, says Nawaz
Defending the former prime minister, the
PML-N insisted that its supreme leader “need no certificate from anybody on
their commitment and capacity to preserve, protect and promote Pakistan’s
It went on to add that the statement of the
former prime minister had been “grossly misinterpreted by the Indian media”.
“Unfortunately, a section of Pakistani
electronic and social media has intentionally or unintentionally not only
validated but has lent credence to the malicious propaganda of Indian media
without going through the full facts of the statement,” the statement further
While many on the social media called
Sharif a security risk and some even demanded that he be tried for treason
under Article 6 of the Constitution, the PML-N reminded such people that it was
Sharif, who “resisted all pressures and took the most important and most
difficult decision on national security in Pakistan’s history by making the
country a nuclear power in May 1998”.
Some PML-N leaders insisted that Sharif did
not say anything new. “If militants from Pakistan were not involved in the
Mumbai attacks, then why did the country initiate the trial of seven Pakistani
suspects in the first place?” they asked.
Some of them also referred to a statement
given by the then-National Security Adviser Maj-Gen (retd) Muhammad Ali
Durrani, who admitted that Ajmal Kasab was indeed a Pakistani. That was the
first time any Pakistani official had confirmed Kasab’s nationality after the
2008 Mumbai attacks.
Plans in progress to put me behind bars,
claims Nawaz Sharif
“Did anyone question Durrani for his
statement,” one PML-N leader asked before noting that Sharif merely repeated
Official sources predicted a tense NSC
huddle that would be presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and
attended by the three services chiefs as well as then head of the ISI.
Sources said the prime minister is expected
to defend Sharif and reiterate that his statement on the Mumbai attacks was
misinterpreted and taken out of context.
The military leadership, however, may
persuade the prime minister to issue a strong rebuttal as they believe that
Sharif’s remarks caused great harm to Pakistan’s narrative against terrorism.
May 15, 2018
IT seems that Pakistan will have a new
ambassador in Washington after all. Press reports indicate that
ambassador-designate Ali Jehangir Siddiqui may take over before the PML-N
government leaves office. Siddiqui’s nomination has intrigued watchers of the
Pakistan-US relationship. Recently, some of my colleagues in Washington’s
policy community sat down to make sense of it. Parts of our conversation bear
Let me be clear that none of this
discussion was pointed at Siddiqui. I, for one, have never met him. Nor is it
my place to pass judgement on his fate as an ambassador should he make the
coveted post. He has an impressive resumé otherwise and I wish him well.
The concerns raised by the policy analysts
I huddled with were institutional in nature. They were about the conduct of
Pakistan — the state. First, they wondered how Pakistan could realistically
expect the world to take its international engagements seriously when its
leaders continue to disempower the custodians of diplomacy.
Here is a classic example of individual
whims trumping institutions.
Siddiqui’s nomination was a classic example
of individual whims trumping institutions. The decision to nominate him was
made in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat with no real buy-in from the Foreign
Office. The signal for the institution was a demoralising one. Even some of the
finest in the diplomatic corps feel irrelevant in such moments — and the
feeling will continue to spread as long as leaders keep circumventing them.
Second, they doubted if those who picked
Siddiqui grasped how the nomination may be seen in Washington. In their view,
the choice may reflect a lack of appreciation of what the job of a Pakistani
ambassador in the US entails.
Pointing to Siddiqui’s business background,
one of my colleagues who seemed to have an inside scoop suggested that Prime
Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s intent may have been to signal his desire to
focus on non-security aspects of the bilateral relationship. I tend to agree.
In the past, I have heard from (then minister) Abbasi his fairly negative view
of Pakistani diplomacy. He perceives the country’s diplomatic orientation to be
heavily security centric and behind the times.
On this, the prime minister is spot on.
Pakistan’s India-fixated security outlook runs deep within the Foreign Office
and much of Pakistan’s diplomatic approach and lingo harken back to the Cold
What he may have overlooked, however, is
that the present tenor of the Pakistan-US relationship is singularly focused on
security — specifically with regard to Afghanistan — and there are no prospects
for a return to a broader dialogue. The majority of the engagements of the new
ambassador are certain to be about hard security issues bedeviling the
Precisely because of the relative lack of
regard for the Foreign Office and the security bias in bilateral ties,
Pakistani ambassadors who are perceived to have some cache on both the civilian
and military sides of the aisle have had more to offer in Washington. I am not
sure where Siddiqui stands on this count but the perception in Washington is
that his appointment may not have had the blessings of the security
Some of these policy analysts wondered if
the real implication of his appointment was that the civilian government would
be willing to let the military directly engage Washington on the security
aspects of the ties while the new ambassador focuses on whatever little he can
do in the economic sphere.
Third, no one can make head or tail of the
timing of Siddiqui’s appointment. Ironically, his nomination in early March
forced the current Pakistani ambassador into lame-duck mode while the timing of
his arrival means he too will be firmly in this category from the get go.
Realistically, I doubt he’ll be able to gain any traction in Washington till
after the elections — and that too if the PML-N returns to power. Otherwise,
you’d have wasted four precious months at a time when the fast-deteriorating
relationship requires daily attention and engagement in Washington.
Finally, going beyond this case, my
colleagues delivered the punch line for Pakistani officials by explaining
where Pakistan falters in comparison to its peers. Comparing India and
Pakistan, they perceived both as having equally good human capacity but argued
that one derived strength from an elite consensus on priorities for the
country’s foreign policy and clarity on roles of the various institutions
executing it while the other’s hand was weakened by its inability to engage as
a coherent unitary actor.
Based on their prior interactions with
Pakistani officials, they noted internal bickering and a defensive attitude
towards policies they articulate as being typical of Pakistan’s way of doing
Dare I say that these observations are
quite widely shared among Pakistan watchers in the Western world. They need not
be taken at face value. Still, they demand serious introspection by Pakistan.