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.

Government’s Mixed Messages Are Helping Daesh

DaeshIs Daesh in Pakistan? Answering such a question should be easy, but instead many remain unsure due to contradictory reports from government and military leaders. In few short weeks of this year alone, so many different statements have been given that the public has been left confused and unable to know how to respond. Below is a timeline of official reports that show how

29th December: Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) reports arrest of six Daesh militants in Punjab.

2nd January: Interior Ministry reports that Daesh is recruiting youngsters from Pakistan and training them at camps in Afghanistan.

3rd January: Intelligence agencies report that no evidence of Daesh in Pakistan.

4th January: Punjab Law Minister says ‘not more than 100 Pakistanis‘ have joined Daesh.

That was last month, though. Have things changed?

10th February: DG-IB says Daesh presence in Pakistan is growing.

11th February: Foreign Ministry categorically denies Daesh presence in Pakistan.

Both statements cannot be true. Is Intelligence Bureau or Foreign Ministry misleading? Either way, it gives a terrible image for Pakistan. Some will agree and argue that this is why all agencies must follow the official line, but this too is incorrect. What should be followed is the truth. It is precisely the attempts to cover up the truth that creates confusion and damages the national image.

Speaking of damaging the national image, any post about statements on Daesh must include the top prize for insanity which goes to Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri who claimed that government is importing Daesh militants to undermine success of Army operations. As crazy as this obviously sounds, this is the perfect example of trying to use Daesh issue to score political points at the risk of undermining stability.

This is the point. The problem is not only damaging the national image, it is that Daesh and other extremists use confusion as a cloak to camouflage their presence and their evil intentions. How can someone report suspicious activities if they are told that there is nothing to be suspicious about? What reason will law enforcement agencies go after extremists if officials call them liars when they bust a terrorist cell?

Pakistan faces an existential threat from extremism. We will never defeat the extremists as long as we continue to pretend that they do not exist.

Islamic State is expanding to Islamic Republic of Pakistan

ISIS wall chalking in Quetta

Recent articles published in the US media are giving the impression that Islamic State, with a global Jihadi appeal, is struggling hard to get a foothold in Pakistan but the authors of these articles are either downplaying the tell tale signs or the articles lack the necessary framework in which emerging terror organizations flourish.

As the Taliban lose steam as a result of the death of their supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and splintering and internal fighting, stage is set for a new group to take over. A cursory look at the metamorphosis of Jihadi organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past two decades indicate that they are getting deadlier, sophisticated and high tech savvy with every passing year; from Mujahideen groups willing to negotiate to Taliban willing to blow up and finally to Islamic State willing to behead innocent people. This is a worrying development not only for the South Asian region but for the entire world as well.

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Divide and Conquer: Why harsh visa policies are a bad idea

Passport inspection

US officials gave no reason for denying entry to a British Muslim family who wanted to visit Disneyland. It was the nightmare situation that everyone secretly fears as they prepare to travel: The family was stopped from boarding the plane at the airport, even though their trip had been previously approved. They were left holding their bags and forced to turn home. It was embarrassment for the parents, but heartbreak for the children denied the chance to fulfill their dream vacation.

The US is not the only country that is restricting travel, though. The UK has reportedly been denying visas to Pakistanis by the thousands, and in a truly heartbreaking story, the family of a Pakistani man was denied visa to Australia to visit their dying son. In this case, at least a reason was given. Officials said they were not convinced the family would return to Pakistan.

This may offer some hint as to why Pakistanis are being refused visas to Western countries. Think about the timing compared to recent statements by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declaring Pakistan will not allow migrants to return. There is also the recent case of Tashfeen Malik who entered US on a K1 visa also known as “fiance visa” and concerns that Western authorities were not giving visa applications a hard enough review. The discovery of a large group of women supporters of Daesh in Karachi will only add to the suspicion.

The same cannot be said for Westerners who want to visit Pakistan. Last year Interior Ministry adopted a new policy that all Westerners must submit to clearance by intelligence agencies. Short of denying all visa requests, this is surely the strictest way to limit visitors. We should ask ourselves if we would be happy to submit to investigations by CIA or MI5 agents before being allowed to New York or London.

All of this is backwards. We complain that Westerners think of Pakistan and Muslims as extremist and violent and that they do not know how we really are, but we make it almost impossible for any Westerners to come here. If we want easier entry to Western countries, we should give Westerners easier entry to Muslim countries. Instead of submitting Western tourists to intelligence agencies, we should be promoting tourism that would showcase the real Pakistan, not the terrible ‘Homeland’ version that most Westerners only know. Then regular Americans and Britons and Pakistanis and everyone else would know that they had nothing to fear from each other, and the extremists would not be able to easily divide good people.

How to control home grown terrorism

British-men-appear-in-jihadi-recruitment-video

The terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday of November 13th,2015 have revived the debate about the root causes of terrorism and what the world must do to deal with the threat. Some young people are voicing their rage through social media against Islam, western policy, refugees or whomsoever they might find objectionable. Politicians and world leaders are issuing statements depending on their political or community needs and obligations. The variety of arguments notwithstanding, one thing is clear. ISIS will not be deterred by air strikes inside Syria alone.

The devastating attack on the city of lights that killed 130 people, involved European citizens, including Frenchmen. Even if ISIS is deprived of its base in Syria and Iraq, its affiliates are now in the heart of Europe.  The battle for Syria may be important but the battle for Europe might not necessarily end with the end of the war in Syria. Moreover, homegrown European terrorists will continue to threaten Europe with arguments about a clash between Islamic and western civilizations. Barring immigrants trying to escape brutality in the Middle East will only strengthen the hatred that Jihadis thrive on.

France responded the attack by an air strike on Islamic State’s (ISIS) command and control system on the city of Raqqa. But what measures can a state take to control the rising home grown terrorism. From air strikes, to war, from destabilizing dictators to rebuilding nations; we have seen all the measures taken by the United States and its western allies.

Still, western citizens — our own citizens – continue to be used by terrorists to destroy our peace and freedom. After spending trillions of dollars and using most sophisticated weapons and surveillance technology, we are forced to think that the terrorists, whether Taliban, Al-Qaida or ISIS, have clearer plans than our leaders’ strategy.

 President Obama offered US assistance to France, while condemning the Paris attack. But after few days, ISIS threatened to attack Washington D.C.

The question is that, are these air strikes that we seeing for two decades enough to secure the homeland? Haven’t we seen this menace grown bigger and bigger every day?

In recent target, the places ISIS chose are mostly crowded by young people, and so were the attackers. If we do a little research on the assailants of Paris like attacks, they were mostly young men, which show that young people are highly vulnerable to fall for such ideology.  And sometimes, the constant media rhetoric against one community or religion also upraises the hatred in young minds against the system.

 In June 2015, Ali Shikri, a 17-year old young man, from Manassas Virginia was pleaded guilty for helping another 18-year old man, Reza Niknejad, who traveled to Syria to join ISIS.  Shikri would be graduated from high school but instead pleaded guilty for providing assistance to a terrorist. During investigation Shikri admitted of encouraging ISIS and its supporters on social media. He was managing a twitter account for this purpose.

No one can be radicalized over night by reading online material or seeing pictures of war torn cities or dead bodies. I personally know that a large number of Muslims take their children to either religious schools or religious groups, both held in their local mosques on Sundays. Usually, many Islamic countries offer mosques for fund and in return ask the mosques to spread their way of Islam (radicalized), and bring the preachers (Imams) of their choice.

Recently, Egypt Ministry has confiscated more than 7000 books written on Salafism from mosques and libraries due to immense threat of home grown terrorism spread through hate material.  Homeland security should do close monitoring on what material mosques are teaching to these young children in religious schools. Local representatives should do monthly questioning sessions with mosques administration to find out what activities are they holding recently.

Religious education is not harmful as long as the students are learning religion as a way of living a life of a civilized citizen. I send my children to a Sunday school, and feel that it’s my duty to closely watch their syllabus and lectures. Keeping eyes on religious school library’s books, available for children, can be a good step from parents. These are simplest roles we can play to save the future.  In past we had seen mosque like Dar al-HIjrah of Virginia’s involvement in terrorist activities. 

Therefore, close monitoring is important but closing down the mosques, as Donald Trump suggested in presidential debate, will create more polarization in the society. A community will go in isolation, which can result in backlash. The isolated, young men are vulnerable to get recruited by groups like ISIS. They easily get brainwashed against their own country and society due to unjustified measures.  The U.S and allies should share the information about the local terrorists of which mosques they visited daily? What books are being used in those mosques?  The reason is that, not all sects of Islam preach such hatred and promote killing of innocent people. In fact, with non-Muslims, many different sects of Islam have been targeted by terrorist groups like ISIS.

Now is the time to fight this war at home by respecting the citizens’ rights. The measures like monitoring the mosques and ideology they spread, engaging the administration in dialogues and doing background check of Imams of the mosques can become useful. We also need to bring the real face of Muslims (those who are against terrorism) forward, where they can preach a peaceful message among other sects (who have been misled) and other communities.