The Unnecessary Spat & the Usual Embarrassment that Followed

Following up on our story ‘Does Khan & his FM Know How US now Sees Pakistan’, we all now know the United States has shared the transcript of the telephone conversation between Imran Khan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Pakistan’s Foreign Office. The Foreign Office has backed away from accusing the U.S. of lying, which implicitly means that it was Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the FO Spokesman who lied.   

 So much for the FM Qureshi’s bombast about the U.S. readout being ‘contrary to facts.’ Now he is talking about trying to use the opportunity of talking to Secretary Pompeo to ‘steer US-Pakistan relations towards betterment.’ 

 According to a report in The Nation “the transcript had ‘embarrassed’ the government who had challenged the contents released by the US State Department. The US, however, sent the transcript to Pakistan to ‘satisfy’ Islamabad that the State department’s release was not ‘incorrect’, the sources said. The US has not sent any comment with the transcript, the sources added. Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry told The Nation that Islamabad had decided not to take the issue further and bury it ahead of Pompeo’s September 5 visit.”

Why did we have to get into this unnecessary spat and cause undue embarrassment to ourselves. Do our leaders and their advisers not realize: one, that all such conversations are recorded and even if we don’t release our transcript the other side can do so? Second, we already have a trust deficit with the US, why do we want to increase it further over a non-issue? And finally, why engage in bombast and rhetoric to gain support at home at the expense of relations abroad?

‘Does Khan & his FM Know How US now Sees Pakistan’

On August 23, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Prime Minister Imran Khan. Soon after the Department of State released this statement: “Secretary Michael R. Pompeo spoke today with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and wished him success. Secretary Pompeo expressed his willingness to work with the new government towards a productive bilateral relationship. Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process.”

Immediately Pakistan pushed back against the statement through a tweet by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “”factually incorrect statement issued by the US State Department” regarding the discussion during the phone call, saying there was “no mention at all in the conversation about terrorists operating in Pakistan”.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also insisted at a press conference ““The impression that has been given in their press release, in which they are mentioning “terrorists operating in Pakistan,” is contrary to the facts with reality. And I am saying this with full confidence.”

The US Department of State stuck to its statement. “When asked again by a reporter if the US government continues to stand by the readout, she [State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert] said: “We stand by our readout.”

It is one thing to keep repeating how Pakistanis resent the US and keep playing to the gallery at home. It is also important to understand the other side’s perspective. If Pakistan wants the international community especially the United States to understand Pakistan’s challenges, it will need be less confrontational and more accommodating on various issues including taking action against terrorism.

In a recent piece titled ‘Crunch time in Pakistan’ professor and author James Dorsey discusses in details Pakistan’s economic crises and that this time round drumming up support for an IMF loan will require Pakistan to do more and will Imran Khan be able to deliver on the counter terrorism front. “Securing international support for inevitable structural reform of the Pakistani economy will have to involve breaking with militancy, implementing international standards in anti-money laundering and terrorism finance, and pushing concepts of pluralism and tolerance that are anathema to the religious hard-right. For Mr. Khan to succeed, that seemingly will amount to having to square a circle.”

Further, “To secure IMF support, Mr. Khan will have to avoid blacklisting by an international watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and ensure removal from the group’s grey list by not only reinforcing anti-money laundering and terrorism finance measures but also rigorously implementing them. That would require both the acquiescence of Pakistan’s powerful military and a reversal of Mr. Khan’s publicly espoused positions. In many ways, Mr. Khan’s positions have been more in line with those of the military, including his assertion that militancy in Pakistan was the result of the United States’ ill-conceived war on terror rather than a history of support of militant proxies that goes back to Pakistan’s earliest days, than he has often been willing to acknowledge.”

Referring to the elections Dorsey notes, “the significance of the militants capturing almost ten percent of the vote and helping deprive Mr. Khan’s main rival, ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), of votes in crucial electoral districts, according to an analysis of the Pakistan Election Commission’s results by constituency as well as a Gallup Pakistan survey.

According to Michael Bender, “Pakistan Is Taking a Dark Turn. It’s Time for a New US Policy.” Bender asserts that Washington needs to reassess its relationship with Islamabad. “For several years now, well-founded accusations of complicity in incubating and supporting terrorism have existed against the Pakistani government by the United States, India, Afghanistan, and even certain domestic constituencies within the country itself. At the beginning of this year, the State Department immediately suspended more than $250 million worth of security aid to Pakistan. The State Department cited the South Asian nation’s “failure to take decisive action” against various regional terrorist organizations, including the Haqqani Network and Tehreek-e-Taliban and its material support for such groups. Those accusations were further vindicated in June when Pakistan was placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s “gray” monitoring list owing to concerns over terrorist financing.”

Further, “The action was taken by Pakistan only after the U.S. included the Milli Muslim League as a part of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s designation as a Foreign Terror Organization, while several of the Milli Muslim League’s candidates merely switched parties or ran independently as a means of circumventing the ban, moves that the Pakistani government did not act against. The Pakistani government not only fails to take decisive action against domestic terrorist entities, it routinely engages in the opposite through implicit—as well as explicit—overtures of tolerance toward such entities. In June, the Pakistani government lifted a ban on Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, unfreezing the movement’s financial assets and allowing its leader to purchase firearms and travel abroad.”

Finally, “Islamist radicals openly running for office, the military’s strongarm influence and actions, and the fact that the big winner of this election is a military-approved terrorist apologist who supports extreme blasphemy laws all demonstrate a cause for serious concern over a country that is currently a major U.S. ally in the region. The “Islamist radical” aspect of this reality in Pakistan presents a significant physical threat to U.S. personnel and allied Afghan forces in the region, given that these radicals are the same terrorist entities that the U.S. has fought against since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001.”

Will Pakistan Choose Saudi over Iran, Send Troops to Yemen?

Every Pakistani Prime Minister’s first trips signify which countries they are trying to woo. During the Cold War, the country of choice was the United States. For the last two decades Saudi Arabia and China have been the countries of choice. After what have been viewed as the ‘establishment’s elections’ it is only to be expected that the army chief, not the selected Prime Minister, was the first to visit Saudi Arabia.

Just a few days after Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman congratulated Prime Minister Imran Khan on his party’s victory in last month’s general elections, chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa went on a three-day trip to the Middle East in which he went to Saudi Arabia and UAE.

During his trip to Saudi Arabia, the General met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. According to tweets by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, “Both discussed wide-ranging issues of mutual interest including regional security,” Prince Salman expressed “strong optimism about Pakistan’s ability to defeat the challenges at hand” and “[The] Crown prince also expressed his best wishes & support to the newly elected government.”

There are those who argue that Pakistan must maintain equidistance between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the former a close ally, the latter a neighbor.

There are others who say Pakistan needs to choose between one of these two countries. A recent piece by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel argued that “Imran must choose between Saudi Arabia and Iran.” According to Al-Rashed, “both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan share a special relationship with the US; while the relationship with Iran is no longer an option, because the PM cannot override US sanctions.” Further, “it is hoped that the relationship with Pakistan will be further developed, and given a greater role in resolving regional issues, such as Afghanistan, and putting pressure to bear on Iran to stop its interference in Pakistan itself, as well as in the region.”

Pakistan has always looked upon Saudi Arabia as one of its oldest and closest allies. Saudi governments have time and again helped bail out Pakistan by offering loans, hiring Pakistani labor and even helping Pakistan purchase military equipment. In recent years, however, the conflicts in Syria and Yemen have led to frictions with Pakistan being reluctant to send troops for either conflict. Pakistan has its own concerns about entering into Yemen war but we cannot blame our Saudi brothers either as they have been so generous to us over the years.

Before Imran Khan took over there were news stories about how the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank had been asked to provide Pakistan with over USD 4 billion in loans to aid with the dangerously low stocks of foreign currency. During the recent spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sided with Saudi Arabia.

While Prime Minister Imran Khan may have offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia must be taken with a pinch of salt — like Pakistan’s offers to mediate between Israel and Palestine — what needs to be seen is will Pakistan continue its policy of balancing between Tehran and Riyadh or will economic and security compulsions force Islamabad-Rawalpindi to send troops for Yemen?

Is Naya Pakistan a house built on lies?

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his supporters’ claims that they are not wasting any government money and that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are proving to be false.

 

Imran announced that he would be the first Premier to not stay in the officially designated PM house and thus reduce the expenses. However, reports have emerged that former PMLN Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi “stayed in his own house in Islamabad and never moved to the 11,000-kanal official residence, which has 524 employees. Similarly, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah is also known to have stayed at his personal residence in Karachi and only using the CM House for official meetings.”

Further, even the criticism of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “for having an extravagant lifestyle” has turned out to be untrue as Sharif “paid all the expenses on his family at the PM House from his own pocket.” According to a report in The News “‘PM Khan asked the PM Office staff about expenditures incurred by Nawaz Sharif in his tenure as PM. The officials told the new PM that Sharif did all the expenditures from his pocket and never used taxpayers’ money, the anchorperson told Geo News. ‘He (Imran Khan) didn’t believe till he was shown invoices confirming the PML-N supremo never used public money as PM.’ Later, Senator Musadik Malik confirmed that the former premier handed cheques amounting millions or rupees when he vacated the PM House. He said that government pays for salaries of Prime Minister House staff. “If government auctions all PM House vehicles, who will arrange transport for foreign dignitaries?” he questioned.”

Similarly, there has been a lot of talk of “billions of dollars” belonging to Pakistanis that are allegedly stored in foreign accounts. However, as former editor of Dawn, Abbas Nasir noted “If the $200bn actually existed anywhere apart from the fertile imagination of so-called journalists with expertise in financial affairs — in print and on TV — then not only would the external debt of the country be wiped out, the country would also have substantial forex reserves left over.” And as economist and Dawn columnist Khurram Hussain asserted in 2014: “An absurdity is doing the rounds, saying there are $200 billion of ill-gotten gains stashed by Pakistanis in Swiss bank accounts.”

Instead of false allegations and wild assertions maybe it is time to look at the hard realities of Pakistan, a country that is increasingly isolated because of its failure to tackle the issue of terrorism, has been referred to as a failing state for over two decades, and will need to go before the IMF for a 13th bailout!

More Criminals, Billionaires in ‘Naya Pakistan’ Parliament

Naya Pakistan, Purane Loag! Almost three dozen newly elected Members of Pakistan’s National Assembly (MNAs) face criminal charges. 34 of them belong to five major parties along with one independent MNA.

 

According to a new report titled “Parliament Monitor” released by Free & Fair Election Network (FAFEN) Parliament Monitor, 18 of them belong to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), while Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is in second position with nine MNAs and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) occupies third spot. One each belong to Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P).

Also, “Around one-third (112) legislators have declared their assets worth between Rs11 million and Rs50 million while 58 had the assets worth one to 10 million rupees. As many as 12 legislators have assets having worth ranging between Rs501 million and Rs1 billion while five legislators have the assets less than one million rupees. Furthermore, the lower house of the parliament has eight billionaires with PTI’s Noor Alam Khan being the wealthiest legislator. His net worth, as declared on Form B of nomination papers, is more than Rs3.2 billion. Among eight billionaires, four belong to PTI, two to PML-N and one each to PPP and Awami National Party (ANP). These include PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, PML-N’s Ehsanul Haq Bajwa and Noorul Hassan Tanvir, PTI’s Muhammad Najeeb Haroon, Sher Akbar Khan and Muhammad Yaqoob Shaikh as well as ANP’s Amir Haider Azam Khan. Five legislators, on the other hand, have less than one million worth of assets. As many as two of these legislators belong to PTI, and one each to PML-N, MQM and PPP.”

These facts “are based on information contained in Form B and affidavits as annexed to the nomination papers submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by the candidates ahead of July 25 polls.”