Will Pakistan be staging ground for War Against Iran?

Pakistan’s establishment and the elite that supports it have long had a history of short-sighted action.

During the Cold War, Pakistan chose not to be nonaligned and instead provided an intelligence base to the United States for spying on the Soviet Union. So instead of building our economy and educating our people and staying out of wars and conflicts we preferred to rent our geo-strategic location and use that money to keep fighting against India.

Then the powers that be decided that they should involve themselves in the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad and in return obtain money and equipment from the Western bloc. Military dictator General Zia ul Haq thought this would help solve Pakistan’s Pashtun problem. Instead it created a refugee crisis, radicalized our society and built this hydra headed jihadi monster that we have been unable to get rid of. We have also not been able to educate our people or build an economy.

Now it seems that there is a similar short sightedness where people believe that Pakistan can obtain money from Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration by playing a role in Iran similar to what Pakistan did against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

As the former editor of Dawn Abbas Nasir wrote, ‘Sanity demands neutrality.’ Nasir argues that for its own sake Pakistan should remain neutral. “On more occasions than one, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been absolutely unambiguous in saying that Pakistan will not take sides in any Saudi-Iran tension and, if at all, it has a role to play that would be mediatory in nature. This situation places huge challenges on the civil-military leadership of Pakistan as it will have to steer a clear path away from trouble, while also not rubbing up the wrong way its old allies, and generous current funders, Saudi Arabia and UAE, both of whom are close to the US-Israeli position on the matter.”

Nasir notes, “existence in a region which more often than not resembles a tinderbox is fraught with perils and there can never be a justification for taking on more.” Thus Pakistan “will have to chart an independent course and ensure that as possibilities, no matter how remote, are now emerging of a possible peace deal in Afghanistan, some foreign powers’ desire to play games in Iran does not destabilise us again. This is easier said than done, but not impossible. Our policy needs to be informed by the huge price we have paid in blood for not pondering over the repercussions of some of our decisions in the past and making sure that we are not repeating our follies.”

This is a dangerous game and it will only cause us more harm.

We hope this is not happening.

Pakistan must eliminate Terrorism for its own sake, starting with Jaish e Muhammad

We at New Pakistan have always stood for a stable and peaceful Pakistan at peace with its neighbors. We have always believed that Pakistan needs to eliminate terrorism, the ideology, the individuals and the groups responsible for it, from within its borders.

The recent terrorist attack at Pulwama when an Indian paramilitary force convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber belonging to the Pakistan-based jihadi group Jaish e Muhammad does not augur well for Pakistan. Every time a terror incident occurs in our neighborhood – Afghanistan, India, Iran – it always ends up being traced back to Pakistan.

According to BBC News “Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based group, has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on 14 February in Indian-administered Kashmir. At least 46 soldiers died, making it the deadliest single attack against Indian forces in the region since 1989. JeM spokesman Muhammad Hassan spoke of “dozens of [Indian] forces’ vehicles” destroyed in the attack, when the bomber rammed a convoy in a vehicle filled with explosives.”

Jaish e Muhammad (Army of Mohammad) was founded by Pakistan-based Muslim cleric Maulana Masood Azhar in 1999 soon after he and two other terrorists were set free in exchange for the crew and passengers of an Indian Airlines plane hijacked and flown to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. JeM has been responsible for many attacks in the recent past including the October 2001attack on the state assembly in Srinagar in Indian administered Kashmir, theDecember 2001 attack on the Indian parliament (along with the other Kashmiri jihadi group Lashkar e Taiba), and the 2016 attack on an airbase in Pathankot in Indian Punjab.

Pakistan may officially deny that it has anything to do with the terror attack but the fact that terror groups based inside Pakistan are able to carry out such attacks and still continue to have safe havens within Pakistan is something that it cannot escape responsibility from. As former U.S. Secretary of StateHilary Clinton stated ““You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”

The global condemnation of the terror attack inside Indian administered Kashmir including from countries that are our allies – Saudi Arabia, UAE, China- should send a message to Pakistan. As long as Pakistan allows Jaish e Muhammad to exist, Pakistan will remain a target for abuse and be increasingly isolated globally.

Reality Check: Why Bangladesh is doing better then Pakistan?

As Pakistanis it is rare for us to admit that we need a reality check. How many of us pause to think that the country that Pakistan came out of – India – and the country that came out of Pakistan – Bangladesh – are both democracies but we are not. As Pakistanis we hate comparisons with India but maybe it is time for a comparison with Bangladesh.

In his latest piece, Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy, author and analyst undertakes such an analysis.  According to Hoodbhoy, “Bangladesh’s economic growth rate is 7.8 % compared to 5.8% for Pakistan, its debt per capita ($434) is less than half that for Pakistan ($974), and its foreign exchange reserves ($32 billion) are four times Pakistan’s ($8bn).”

Why is that?

Hoodbhoy argues “much of this growth owes to exports which zoomed from zero in 1971 to $35.8bn in 2018 (Pakistan’s is $24.8bn). Bangladesh produces no cotton but, to the chagrin of Pakistan’s pampered textile industry, it has eaten savagely into its market share. The IMF calculates Bangladesh’s economy growing from $180bn presently to $322bn by 2021. This means that the average Bangladeshi today is almost as wealthy as the average Pakistani and, if the rupee depreciates further, will be technically wealthier by 2020.”

Further, “East Pakistan’s population in the 1951 census was 42 million, while West Pakistan’s was 33.7m. But today Bangladesh has far fewer people than Pakistan — 165m versus 200m. A sustained population planning campaign helped reduce fertility in Bangladesh. No such campaign — or even its beginnings — is visible today in Pakistan.”

And, “The health sector is no less impressive — far fewer babies die at birth in Bangladesh than in Pakistan. Immunisation is common and no one gets shot dead for administering polio drops. Life expectancy (72.5 years) is higher than Pakistan’s (66.5 years). According to the ILO, females are well ahead in employment (33.2pc) as compared to Pakistan (25.1pc).”

So what happened to Pakistan? And Why did Bangladesh do ahead?

According to Hoodbhoy, “Bangladesh and Pakistan are different countries today because they perceive their national interest very differently. Bangladesh sees its future in human development and economic growth. Goal posts are set at increasing exports, reducing unemployment, improving health, reducing dependence upon loans and aid, and further extending micro credit. Water and boundary disputes with India are serious and Bangladesh suffers bullying by its bigger neighbour on matters of illegal immigration, drugs, etc. But its basic priorities have not wavered. For Pakistan, human development comes a distant second. The bulk of national energies remain focused upon check-mating India. Relations with Afghanistan and Iran are therefore troubled; Pakistan accuses both of being excessively close to India. But the most expensive consequence of the security state mindset was the nurturing of extra state actors in the 1990s. Ultimately they had to be crushed after the APS massacre of Dec 16, 2014. This, coincidentally, was the day Dhaka had fallen 43 years earlier.”

Hoodbhoy ends by stating perceptively: “CPEC or no CPEC, it’s impossible to match India tank for tank or missile by missile. Surely it is time to get realistic. Shouting ‘Pakistan zindabad’ from the rooftops while obsequiously taking dictation from the Americans, Chinese, and Saudis has taken us nowhere. Announcing that we have become targets of a fifth-generation hi-tech secret subversion inflames national paranoia but is otherwise pointless. Instead, to move forward, Pakistan must transform its war economy into ultimately becoming a peace economy.”

Pakistan’s Security Agencies use Rape Threats for Intimidation

The Pakistani Deep state has been accused of using the iron fist and suppressing any form of dissent or criticism. The latest accusation, however, crosses all bounds.

Just last week a Pashtun woman from the village of Khaisor in North Waziristan, whose husband and older son had been arrested by security forces, released a video statement on social media, alleging that security forces had repeatedly threatened her with rape.

Amidst widespread condemnation on the social media, a strong statement was issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) against what appeared to be several incidents in the last few days in which state and law enforcement agencies appear to have acted with impunity.

The HRCP stated that “there can be no justification for state agency officials to enter a private home and threaten to rape a woman whose husband and elder son were arrested reportedly in an earlier security operation. While her husband has now been released, this in no way ‘cancels out’ the harassment and rape threats she says she has faced. HRCP is also perturbed to learn from other sources, including an independent team of human rights activists who visited Hayat Khan’s mother immediately after the video was released, that this was not an isolated incident. That rape, or the threat of rape, should be used to force citizens to remain silent in the face of state agency excesses, is deplorable. HRCP strongly urges the government to conduct an independent, transparent inquiry into this incident and make the details public – to put across the message that threats of rape, whether made by state agencies or individuals, and when made under any circumstances, are unacceptable.”

Pakistan’s Military Courts for Civilians are Unacceptable

We at New Pakistan have consistently spoken in favor of civilian supremacy, democracy and against military courts. We agree with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that military courts are undemocratic.

In the aftermath of the horrific terror attack on APS Peshawar in December 2014, the civilian and military leadership believed that the “extraordinary situation” they were confronted with demanded “special measures.” This led to the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) unanimously approved by Parliament on 24 December 2014 which among other measures approved the formation of military trial courts to deal with terrorism related cases and lifting of the ban on death penalty in such cases.

In the last four years, “military courts have convicted at least 641 people. Some 345 people have been sentenced to death, at least 56 of whom have been hanged, and 296 people given prison sentences. Only five accused people have been acquitted. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has rejected challenges to the expanded role of military courts, as well as its extension in 2017, while clarifying that decisions of military courts remain subject to judicial review on certain grounds.”

The term of the military tribunals was first extended in 2017 and, because of a two-year sunset clause, must now lapse or be renewed. The Imran Khan government would like to extend these courts but it does not have the numbers in parliament to do so. Opposition parties like the PPP and Pakistan’s leading human rights organization Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have expressed “grave concerns over the planned extension and called the idea of military courts undemocratic. It also warned that extending the life of military courts comes at the cost of reforming the criminal justice system in Pakistan.” The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) too “has criticized the military trial of civilians as a ‘disaster for human rights’ in Pakistan. The ICJ expressed concern that further extension to military courts would make the practice effectively permanent.”

In a recent article Prof Muhammad Zubair analyzes the record of ‘military justice.’  “The proceedings of military courts have been kept secret. Until recently, there was not sufficient information in the public domain about their procedures and workings. The only source of information has been media statements of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the media wing of the military – announcing the award of capital punishments by military courts and containing vague references to the alleged involvement of the convicts in militancy without specifying the nature or extent of the convicts’ purported role in the acts of terrorism ascribed to them. However, on 18 October 2018, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) in a single judgement overturned some 70 convictions (mostly death sentences) awarded by three military courts in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on 10 October 2018 for lack of credible evidence and that convictions suffered from ‘malice’ of law and facts. The decision of the PHC for the first time provides an authoritative insight into the working of military courts. The PHC concluded that the military courts were operating with a ‘clear mindset’. For example, the court observed that all convictions in those cases were based only on confessions, without independent and unimpeachable evidence to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Prosecution witnesses in all those cases were informants and none had directly witnessed the presence of any convict on the scene of occurrence. Confessional statements and statements of prosecution witnesses in all cases were similar in all details except changes of dates, places and names of individuals. All confessions in three different military courts were written in the same handwriting, language, text, tone and tenor. The court also observed that quite surprisingly in all cases the convicts refused to engage private defense counsels of their choice and instead agreed to be defended by a ‘private’ counsel selected by the prosecution at state expense. Only one defense counsel with five years’ experience from another province was engaged who could not speak the language of those he supposedly defended. The defense counsel declined in all cases to cross-examine prosecution witnesses testifying about the character of the accused. None of the accused deviated from the principal stand of the prosecution and none answered the prosecution questions differently. All convicts were kept outside the court while proceedings went on behind their back.”

Further, “The court made a startling revelation that for relatives almost all convicts were ‘missing persons’ for a long time – ranging from six months to eight years! After years of detention, the convicts were suddenly produced before military courts where they ‘confessed’ to terrorism related crimes. Relatives of most the convicts were never informed at any stage that they were alive and facing trial proceedings before the military courts. In 45 cases, the relatives came to know about the convictions through newspaper reports.   The dangers of the military administering justice should serve as a wakeup call to parliamentarians not to extend the mandate of military courts. The court concluded that all three military courts ‘had a clear mindset’ that trials by these courts were ‘planned proceedings’ and ‘a complete prosecution show’; that the ‘private counsel was just a dummy’; that none of the accused was mentioned by name in any police report prior to their arrest; and that in all cases, ‘after each arrest, each and every accused was kept and framed in a particular case’. The decision of PHC demonstrates the dangers of the military administering justice and should serve as a wakeup call to parliamentarians not to extend the mandate of military courts.”

Finally, “The ruling of PHC proves beyond any doubt that the idea of military justice is inherently in conflict with the idea of a democratic order based on the rule of law, and in violation of fundamental rights under the constitution of Pakistan and international human rights instruments. Pakistan must abide by its international obligations and put an end to military courts. The military is part of the problem and for that reason cannot be a part of the solution. The elephant in the room, which hardly gets mentioned in the debate, is the fact that military is part of the problem and for that reason cannot be a part of the solution. The rise of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan is mainly due to the military’s control over foreign policy towards its neighbors, especially India and Afghanistan. The policy relies heavily on the use of what is commonly known as the ‘good militants’ that attack and destabilize the said countries, as opposed to the ‘bad militants’ that attack the army and mainland Pakistan. It is the ‘bad’ militants that have become the target of military operations and stand trials, if at all, before military courts. While approving the formation of military courts for the first time, many parliamentarians, without naming but in clear reference to the Pakistan army, urged the military to abandon the policy of making distinctions between good and bad militants if the country is to get rid of the scourge of terrorism. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in that regard. One of the greatest problems the country has been facing is the issue of missing persons or enforced disappearances. The military intelligence agencies have been accused of disappearing many Pashtun residents from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PATA and the erstwhile FATA. This has given birth to the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), a new movement that is demanding the security of Pashtuns from the military. It has jolted the hitherto unchallenged military establishment and called for rolling back the latter’s destructive policies. The massive public demonstrations of PTM always reverberate with the slogans ye jo dehshat gardi hai, iske peeche wardi hai, which literally means ‘the army is behind terrorism’. Under pressure from PTM, the military has reportedly released almost a thousand missing persons from the internment centers maintained by the security agencies where they were kept and tortured for years. One of the main PTM demands has been for the military to produce the missing persons before the regular courts of law to stand trial. If the military is accused of being ultimately responsible for promoting extremism and terrorism, it cannot and must not be allowed to become a judge in its own cause, selectively going after some and simultaneously supporting other militants or militant groups. The civilian political leadership has to gather courage, stand up to the army and assert its control over domestic and foreign policy. It must draw strength from and support popular movements such as PTM that stand for the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law. It has to address the root cause of terrorism and at the same time bring reforms in the criminal justice system. As DAWN, a prominent newspaper, has rightly noted in its recent editorial, ‘The fight against militancy, terrorism and violent extremism will of necessity be long. But the country must not lose its constitutional, democratic and fundamental-rights moorings in the process’.”