Dark clouds gathering on the horizon of our ‘all weather’ friendship

Abdullah Monsour

By appearances, Pakistan China relations have always been beyond any doubt. When Chinese dignitaries have visited Pakistan, they have been welcomed like brothers returning home. China too has always supported Pakistan whether by supporting our interests in international forums like the UN, giving stern reminders to neighboring countries not to overstep boundaries, or the $50 billion investment in Pakistan’s economy. However same as brothers can have some buried issues between them, there has been a cloud hovering over our relations with China. At most times it is so small it can be missed as simply shade, but now and again it shows itself as a gathering storm. This storm has always broken before it hit, but once again the clouds are gathering and we should take note.

It will be no surprise that the darkness hanging over us is the cloud of militancy. China has given subtle warnings before that the menace of extremism must be cleaned up, and agencies have even put on a show of taking action against their most favoured militants. While there is no sign that China is displeased with our efforts till date, we could soon find ourselves in a familiar situation due to increasing threats of militants against China. According to reports, militants in Xinjiang have threatened to unleash ‘rivers of blood‘ in the country.

In the past, China has placed the blame for militancy on our doorstep and demanded that we take action against militant camps. In response, some actions have been taken, but the threat still remains. Statements by state officials including PM’s Advisor on National Security Sartaj Aziz suggest that certain militant groups have been spared if they did not pose a direct threat to Pakistan. Such sentiments were confirmed when DG ISPR admitted that agencies had been showing ‘restraint‘ for certain militant groups.

Now we once again find ourselves in a familiar place. Our greatest allies are facing threats from militants who get training and support from inside Pakistan. We can say that these groups do not threaten our interests, but we should have a better understanding of what our interests are. Already we are on the edge of losing America as an ally, if we have not already lost them. Our back up plan was China, but now they are facing the same threats also. Will we tell the Chinese, like we told the Americans, that these groups are not our enemies and taking action against all militants is against our national security? No. Our national security has been weakened and nearly destroyed by this backwards thinking. If we are to avoid total isolation in the world and becoming next North Korea, we need to give up the failed policies of the past and clear the dark clouds before we are hit with a storm we are unprepared to weather.

Bullies and Buffoons: Washington Embassy’s Embarrassing Behaviour

Col Fawad Butt Pakistan Embassy

Think tanks and academic conferences are ordinarily rather dull affairs. Analysts present their latest research and answer questions from journalists and other scholars. It is not uncommon to see someone gently nodding asleep near the back rows, so tea and coffee is often provided to help keep the audience awake. These events are typically gatherings of highly-educated people having a discussion about new research. Often there is some disagreement, but it is usually made respectfully with the point being to add to the discussion or correct some error. Last week, however, Washington Think Tank Hudson Institute held an event that was anything but ordinary moderated by Pakistan’s former Ambassador Husain Haqqani to present a new report on Pakistan-US ties.

Watching a full, unedited video of the event online, one will immediately be surprised by the tone and tenor of the discussion. With our expectations of anything in Washington to be a Pakistan-bashing affair, it is disarming to see that it is actually a polite and civil discussion of serious issues. Yes there are some points to disagree with, but in the era of internet trolls and hypernationalist fake news sites, this event seems like a refreshingly dull affair….for a while.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, once Haqqani opens the discussion to members of the audience to take their questions and comments. There are those who agree and those who disagree, and then at about 58 minutes into the affair it happens. Some unseen person begins shouting from the back of the room while an elderly journalist is politely trying to ask a question. Haqqani calmly asks the shouting man to please compose himself and stop interrupting. At this point, it all comes crashing down. The man, off camera, completely loses it and begins uncontrollably screeching at the top of his lungs.

“YOU ARE A RAW AGENT!!!”

As the man is finally escorted out of the room by security agents, his tirade of senseless screaming is difficult to understand. He appears to be a crazy person who has somehow wandered in to the event from the street, and one can see the analysts and other guests laughing as they are embarrassed for him. Yes, it was embarrassing, but what is one person? Everywhere there are crazy people and certainly this man does not represent Pakistanis.

The discussion continues, but things continue down this embarrassing path. The screaming lunatic may be gone, but the commenters continue to be a steady stream of people planted by Pakistan Embassy in Washington. This is not an assumption – when they are handed the microphone, each person is asked to identify themselves. Two identify themselves, saying, “I am from Pakistan Embassy…” Others claim they are Pakistani-Americans but insisted on pronouncing Pakistan as ‘Pack-is-tan’.

Who were these people? It is normal and appropriate for the Embassy to send a representative to any event where Pakistan is discussed, but this quickly became comedic. Multiple military officers from Pakistan embassy’s military wing reportedly attended including Group Captain Ali Naeem Zahoor, air attache; Group Captain Rashid Siddiqui, Attache Defense Procurement (ADP Navy/Air) and Colonel Fawad Furrukh Butt. It has even been reported that alleged undercover ISI officer Colonel Muhammad Ishtiaq arrived with a van full of civilians recruited to harass the speakers and disrupt the event.

However, the speakers and the rest of the audience seemed to find these agents funny, not intimidating. Col Fawad Butt caused the entire room to roar with laughter when he took the mic and announced, “Thank you very much. As the mic is with me, so now I have the control,” as if he had staged some sort of brilliant coup! His attempted coup was quickly put down, though, when Haqqani jokingly reminded him that things do not work this way as microphones can actually be turned off and then allowed him to carry on with his comment.

Several other Pakistanis, some possibly working under direction of Col Ishtiaq, stood and recited the same points over and over again, usually trying to change attention to India and Kashmir. After one example, Haqqani remarked: “So it comes down to the talking points that everyone was given” and once again the room burst into laughter. However this is not a laughing matter and the Embassy’s antics caused prestigious American analyst Dr Marvin Weinbaum – who had earlier stated that he was an ‘outlier’ in wanting to not reprimand Pakistan publicly – to warn that, ‘Pakistanis must take this report seriously and realise the mood of Washington’.

Watching the entire video, it stands out that it is the former Ambassador Haqqani who allows a constant stream of critical comments while it is the current Embassy staff and its not-so-educated ‘proxies’ who appear dedicated to silencing any criticism. Ironically, one of the well-spoken Embassy officials at the event noted that “there is a need for skilled diplomacy” in Pakistan-US relations. He couldn’t have been more correct. Unfortunately, what took place at The Hudson Institute was the exact opposite of skilled diplomacy. It was bullying buffoonery, and it was a national embarrassment.

Arrest of Hafiz Saeed tests state’s credibility

Hafiz Saeed

The surprise arrest of Jamaatud Dawah Amir Hafiz Saeed sent a clear message that military and civilian leaders were serious when they said that extremist groups would be handled with no preferences given. However, as they saying goes, the proof of pudding is in the eating. Having taken the decision to arrest Hafiz Saeed, the state’s credibility is now at stake in how the case is handled.

China, who according to military insiders is the one who pressured for the arrest, will surely be watching how the case is handled. If it is another example of saying one thing while doing another, or if the state has actually turned a corner from differentiating between ‘Good Taliban’ and ‘Bad Taliban’.

Already there are signs that the JUD chief is being given special treatment. Who can forget the infamous raid of Nine-Zero and the treatment of MQM workers by agencies?

Pakistan Rangers raid nine zeroCompare to case of Hafiz Saeed who day after his arrest was releasing videos on social media.

When agencies raided MQM HQ, leaders were taken into custody and remanded for months on end where they were even tortured to death. When Hafiz Saeed was arrested, his own house was declared sub-jail so that he does not face any inconvenience.

Most importantly to note is that JuD has already pulled the same trick that it has always used by getting ‘banned’ to appease some foreign ally and immediately reemerging under a new name while continuing exactly the same activities. Does GHQ believe Beijing is as stupid and blind as America to fall for this trick also?

DG-ISPR officially stated that the arrest was ‘in the national interest.’ This is important because what happens next will speak volumes about how seriously institutions are taking ‘the national interest’ or whether it is nothing but another code word for telling everyone to shut up. So far, there is not much to be hopeful about.

 

Masters, Not Friends: Saudi Attack on Pakistani Sailors Shows Limits of Sovereignty

SaudiFive years ago, American forces carried out an airstrike targeting Pakistani soldiers at Salala. The response was swift. Foreign Office immediately summoned the American Ambassador and delivered a strong protest, and American forces were forced to vacate airbases in Pakistan. ISPR released strongly worded condemnation of the attack, and some retired officers were advising the government to shoot down American planes. Media was completely dominated by responses to the attack, with many calling it an act of war. Five years later, the memory of Salala is still bitter and painful.

Tragically, another foreign airstrike has martyred Pakistanis this week. The targeted airstrike attacked a ship killing at least six Pakistani sailors. The response from the Foreign Office and Army has been silence, though. This time the attack was not carried out by Americans. It was carried out by Saudi fighter jets.

Not only have government and military officials been silent on the targeted attack that killed Pakistani sailors, media too has shown no interest in the story. The names and photos of the martyred sailors are not being displayed on TV, they are not being memorialised in the newspapers, and no one is calling for a strong response. No one is calling for any response at all. It is like they never existed.

Would we rather forget our own people than say any word against Saudi Arabia? This seems to be the case. It is no surprise. Saudis have been told not to marry Pakistani women and Saudis treat Pakistani workers like slaves. Every time we are insulted and spit on, we smile and say thank you. When it comes to sovereignty and self respect, our limit is clearly drawn at the border of Saudi Arabia.

The greatest challenge for the new Army Chief

General Qamar Javed BajwaThe wait is over, and Pakistan has a new Chief of Army Staff as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appointed Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new COAS. The incoming Army chief faces a number of challenges, as were enumerated by Abbas Nasir in his excellent column for Dawn. These challenges include dealing with a belligerent Modi-Doval regime in India and continuing Army’s successful operations against domestic terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There is another challenge that the Gen Bajwa will face, though.

Taking over as head of Army from Gen Raheel, Gen Bajwa inherits many successes. One of these successes, though, will actually be a challenge for him. It is the successful PR operation that has elevated Gen Raheel into almost super human status.

By attributing all of Army’s successes to the genius of Gen Raheel, they have built a reputation that will be nearly impossible to live up to. More than ever before, the new COAS will always live under the shadow of his predecessor and will find himself compared to the one who has been made larger than life. If there is an uptick in violence, will it be blamed on the new COAS? Will the people say he is not as good as the previous Army chief? If relations with India continue to deteriorate, will Gen Bajwa be questioned about why tensions have grown worse under him than under Gen Raheel?

During previous transitions, incoming Army chiefs were seen as restoring hope and the possibility of improved relations. This can’t happen for Gen Bajwa without tearing down the impossibly high expectations that were built around Gen Raheel. For Gen Bajwa, the greatest challenge will not be to overcome sectarian militant groups, Indian belligerence, and international pressures, but to overcome the reputation of his predecessor.