Did Hafiz Saeed Just Overtake Gen Raheel’s Throne?

_56949135_jex_1246109_de27-1The country’s most recent Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar recently gave a controversial interview to Geo News in which she declared that Pakistan cannot win Kashmir through war. According to the former FM, making progress on Kashmir will actually require improving relations with India so that a productive dialogue can be held.

The interview was published shortly after jihadis supported by Jamaat-ud-Dawa carried out fedayeen attack killing 8 police in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The attack was widely celebrated by official JuD accounts.

Pampore attack was also done three days after Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel declared that Pakistan is against all proxy wars, leaving him humiliated in the eyes of the world as it appears obvious that the Army Chief has either given a bald faced lie or Army has completely lost control of its Frankenstein Monster.

Analysts have debated whether military and civilians are actually on the same page. Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s latest attack has shown that it may be neither civilians or officers who are driving the national agenda.

Finally, some sense on drones

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani KharEarlier this year, an American think tank published a study claiming that no civilians have been killed by drone strikes in 2012. Considering the difficulty in collecting information in areas affected by drone strikes and the tendency of militants to live among civilians, callously putting them in the direct line of fire, basic common sense says that claiming that absolutely no civilians have been killed is a hard claim to accept.

Another American study, published more recently, claims that drones are terrorising civilians. While it is certainly more believable that drones are terrifying for those living in affected areas, this report is also riddled with problems. Even though media claims that the report was written by ‘experts’, it was actually written by students. Most importantly, though, it was funded by an anti-drone organisation in the UK. This is rather like asking the CIA to fund a study on the effectiveness of drones – the conclusion is bought and paid for.

Obviously, that does not mean that people living in areas affected by militants and drone strikes are not terrorised. Actually, it would be surprising if they were not. They’re living in a war zone, and, while I’ve never personally found a headless body on the side of the road, I can imagine that it must be severely traumatising. That’s what is left out of the equation by those who seized on the latest ‘study’ to condemn drone strikes as ineffective – the responsibility of militant groups for causing the trauma in the first place, both by terrorising locals and by putting them in danger by hiding in their villages.

This has been the status of the drone debate since the past few years – you are expected to either wholly embrace drones and ignore any problems with them, or ignore reality and condemn them as weapons that only kill women and children.

Thankfully, a sensible position has finally been taken and, hopefully, an honest discussion can now be held about the controversial issue.

Speaking in New York, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that “Pakistan does not disagree with what drones are trying to achieve by targeting terrorists but they remain unlawful”. This statement importantly acknowledges what the military has said in the past – most of those killed in drone attacks were militants.

General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

Importantly, however, the Foreign Minister’s statement also acknowledges that it is not realistic for one country to carry out unilateral attacks inside another country without creating resentment and possibly undermining the actual goal of the strikes.

While drones have killed a lot of militants, they have also given those same militants an effective propaganda tool not only against the US, but against our own government who gets accused of selling the nation’s sovereignty. This may be an unfair accusation, it is one that is too easy for militants to use and therefore cannot be ignored.

By cutting through the single-mindedness that dominates both sides of the drone debate, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has created an opening for solving the issue in a way that could maximise the effectiveness of the fight against militants while respecting what are real issues regarding sovereignty (as opposed to the phoney ghairat brigade kind). The details, wether they include technology transfers, PAF pilots, or some other cooperative measures are for officials of both nations to work out between themselves. For now, though, it’s good to know that at least there’s finally someone willing to have a rational conversation about a complex issue.

Foreign Ministers and Change

Imran Khan has been making quite a splash in the headlines lately as ‘electables’ pour into PTI. This has caused some smirking as people ask if these ex-officials are so ‘electable’ how come none of them are actually elected to anything? But one of the more interesting traits of this group of recruits is what many of these ex-officials did when they were actually in power.

Immy’s biggest catch of all, of course, was Shah Mehmood Qureshi who served as FM under President Zardari until February of this year. As Foreign Minister from 2008 to February 2011, Shah Mehmood Qureshi was high-ranking members of Zardari’s inner circle.

SMQ with his best friend Hillary ClintonBack in February, I wrote a controversial post criticising SMQ’s tenure. As I’ve written since, I do believe there’s a lot to admire about Qureshi’s record, but we shouldn’t pretend that his record is something other than it was – a mixed bag.

During his tenure as Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi was soft on America and unsuccessful with India. He oversaw the growth of drone strikes and American incursions into Pakistan while also being unable to bring India to the table. America and India are probably the two most important nations to deal with, and his record on both was less than stellar.

Of course, he did a better job than the most recent ex-Foreign Minster to jump on the PTI bandwagon. Imran Khan’s embracing Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri is in some ways even stranger than his embracing SMQ. At least SMQ managed to get elected last time. Khurshid Kasuri, on the other hand, lost to Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali (PPP).

As Foreign Minister during the dictatorship of Gen Musharraf, Khurshid Kasuri was also the man in charge when the Americans really put together their whole “AFPAK” strategy, setting up CIA cells and taking over air bases for drone strikes. Pretty much everything that Imran Khan has built his popularity opposing was carried out under the leadership of people who are now part of his own political party.

Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri with Donald Rumsfeld

Khurshid Kasuri laughing with Donald Rumsfeld

So that’s the ‘untested change’ that PTI is offering. If you liked Pakistan’s foreign policy from 2002–2010, you’ll love PTI. In comparison, take a look at what the current Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has managed to accomplish since only nine months.

After a decade of hearing the ‘do more’ mantra, it was Hina Rabbani Khar who finally took a firm stand with the Americans and said ‘enough is enough’. Who could watch her speech before the UN General Assembly and not be reminded of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto demanding respect for the country also?

After years of escalating drone strikes, it was Hina Rabbani Khar who finally sent notice to US to vacate Shamsi airbase withing 15 days. And for perhaps the first time, the Americans listened and vacated the airbase within the given time limit – an event that even rightist newspaper The Nation termed as ‘steps towards repairing damages to our sovereignty’.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar addressing the UN

FM Hina Rabbani Khar standing up for Pakistan at the UN

And it’s not just relations with American that are becoming more balanced. With India, too, we are finally seeing a change for the better.

On her first trip to India, the media there reported that she ‘won a flurry of fans’. In an interview with Reuters last month, Foreign Minister Khar noted that relations with India are improving and that expanded trade is helping move towards progress on critical issues including Kashmir.

Additionally, the proposed MFN status for India promises great economic benefits for Pakistan that have been missing for decades. Already we have seen an increase in cross-border visits of businessmen, and the door to greater economic opportunity could be opened even wider as our two nations discuss liberalising visa policy for businessmen which can further help increase two-way trade by billions.

When the government appointed Hina Rabbani Khar as the new Foreign Minister, many people mocked the decision and belittled Khar as too young and too inexperienced. But what they were seeing was the face of a new Pakistan that has dignity without being defiant, and improvement without isolation. As Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar has accomplished in nine months what Khurshid Kasuri and Shah Mehmood Qureshi failed to do for years. Is this not the ‘change’ that we are looking for?

Year of the Woman

Women demand end to domestic violenceWhile foreign issues continue to dominate the headlines, progress is being seen on the home front. Cases such as Mukhtar Mai and her mistreatment by some in the media have put the plight of women in the spot light, and the government has responded positively by taking up the important issues of women’s rights. It may be too much to term this as ‘Year of the Woman’, but the many gains in women’s rights brought by this government should not go ignored or forgotten.

It was March 2010 that saw President Zardari signing the historic Protection Against Harrassment of Women at Workplace Bill ensuring equal rights for men and women in accordance with the Constitution. At the time, many doubted whether this was simply a political move or if the government would continue to make women’s rights a priority.

This week, parliament has passed multiple bills to protect the rights of women. On Tuesday, Senate passed another pro-women bill, Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Bill 2011, to provide financial and legal assistance to distressed women languishing in jails of the country. Passage of the bill drew praise from Concerned Citizens of Pakistan (CCP) who urged the president to speedily sign the bill so that it can become part of the law books before year’s end.

Passage of this bill came soon after the Senate unanimously passed two other pro-woman bills, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill and Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill.

The Senate on Monday unanimously passed two private member bills which prohibit forced marriage, marriage with Quran, restricting women to get their rightful share in inheritance and giving women in exchange for settlement of disputes and severe punishment to criminals hurting women caused by corrosive substances.

These bills include punishments of over 10 years imprisonment and fines up to Rs1 million which serves as a stern warning against such acts.

But it is not only these important acts of the parliament that have shown signs of progress for women. Earlier this year we saw the appointment of the first woman Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar who despite being initially mocked for her fashion sense – ridicule that was never suffered by her well-dressed male predecessor – has proven to be a shrewd negotiator and a strong voice for Pakistan.

More recently, MNA Sherry Rehman was appointed as the new Ambassador to the United States, the world’s greatest power. Though Sherry Rehman is not the first woman Ambassador to the US, she is known to be a strong advocate of women and minority rights and her appointment has brought more attention to these important issues.

Obviously, the issue of women’s rights is one that needs continued attention and the progress that has been made this year has not been enough. But it has been progress, and in Pakistan, we must take care not to ignore progress where we can find it. Today, our mother, sisters and daughters have greater respect and protection than they did since even one week ago. As we continue with this progress, we prove wrong our detractors and those who claim that Islam is anti-woman. Actually, by protecting the rights of women we are updating our laws and our society to make them better conform to the requirements of Islam and the example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who respect for the rights and dignity of all women.

Who gains from SMQ’s flip flop?

Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood QureshiRumours that SMQ is preparing to jump on the PTI bandwagon have been circulating for weeks. Last week, those rumours looked like they were moving a little closer to actual facts when The Express Tribune reported that the former FM will announce his decision to join PTI on 27th November and no denial was issued. Today, it looks more and more like SMQ will indeed be taking the stage with Immy as part of the latest class of converts to PTI’s ideology. But even for a man of Qureshi’s political stature, who does his flip-flopping help? Not PTI.

First of all, let’s state the obvious. Doesn’t it strike anyone as a bit odd that PTI would even want the guy who was Foreign Minister during the Kerry-Lugar bill, Aafia Siddiqui trial and increased drone strikes? I’m not saying that Imran Khan or SMQ are right or wrong on any of these issues, but it’s certainly hard to believe that they agree. For the past three years, SMQ has been Hillary’s chamcha. Now he’s Immy’s chamcha? Even for the world of Pakistani politics where last year’s enemy is this year’s ally (in Karachi, last hour’s…), this seems a bit hard to believe. It’s obvious why Qureshi would want to jump on the PTI bandwagon – the same reason all the other has-beens are: one last attempt to stay politically relevant. But it’s hard to understand why Imran would want him.

That brings me to the second point. When Imran Khan said he was bringing ‘change’, nobody thought he meant ‘paisa’, but that seems to be what is swelling the ranks of PTI these days – leftovers from the bigger parties. SMQ certainly stands head and shoulders above the likes of Tahir Rasheed, but his statements reek of personal bitterness with Asif Zardari and not a new-found affinity for Imran Khan’s brand of politics. In this sense, it’s classic political maneuvering. SMQ felt humiliated when Zardari offered him Water & Power portfolio during the cabinet shakeup in February. Qureshi’s response was first to say, “I am not interested in water and power ministry in place of foreign affairs”, and then to launch a PR campagin saying that he was resigning in protest of the foreign policy that he had been in charge of since the past two years.

So, come 27th November, Imran Khan will have Hillary’s chamcha and Asif Zardari will have Hina Rabbani Khar – the FM that boldly stood up to the Americans instead of bowing to every one of their demands. If this is PTI’s plan to change the direction of Pakistan, it certainly is a strange way going about it.