How to deal with the terrorists

July 6, 2015

Governments’ refusals to entertain the possibility of dialogue with groups such as al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State is ahistorical and causes needless deaths, argues Jonathan Powell, who served as the British government’s chief negotiator in the Northern Ireland peace process. In Terrorists at the Table, Powell writes that governments can only resolve conflicts with nonstate armed groups that have significant bases through negotiations, but they are often resistant at the outset and so are late to come around to them. But once talks get underway, “it is remarkable how quickly the shift can be from a conflict being ‘insoluble’ to its solution being described as ‘inevitable,'” writes Powell, who now runs Inter Mediate, an NGO that facilitates negotiations.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lead negotiator Ivan Marquez (C) talks to Colombia's lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle (R) as FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo listens during a meeting in Havana August 21, 2014. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lead negotiator Ivan Marquez talks to Colombia’s lead government negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, during negotiations in Havana seeking to end a nearly fifty-year-old conflict. (Photo: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

You begin Terrorists at the Table by advocating dialogue with the Islamic State, arguing “We are unlikely to destroy them by bombing alone.” But most of the cases you examine involve groups with well-defined national or subnational aspirations, so compromises like power-sharing or devolution of power are plausible, whereas the Islamic State strikes many as uniquely apocalyptic. Why should policymakers not consider the Islamic State beyond the pale?

We’ve had four waves of terrorism: anarchist, nationalist, new left, and now, religious. Every time we meet a new terrorist group, we argue they are utterly different and we can learn nothing from the last time. Of course they are different, but some lessons on how we deal with them seem to apply in all cases. If the IRA [Irish Republican Army] and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] were not beyond the pale, why should ISIL [the Islamic State] be beyond the pale?

The arguments put forward for it are, first, that they are religious. In the words of a former Israeli cabinet minister, “God doesn’t compromise.” But we’ve made peace with the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] in the Philippines and the GAM [Free Aceh Movement] in Indonesia, both of which were explicitly Islamist movements. The second argument is that they are irrational or nihilistic, doing violence for violence’s sake. That is untrue in the case of ISIL. It uses violence to frighten its enemies so they run away, so that they can attack with fewer fighters. They use it specifically on the West because they know executing one aid worker or one journalist in a horrific way will have a huge impact. The third argument is that they don’t respect national borders, but actually they do: They set up a caliphate that has specific borders. It may not be our borders, but they are borders.

President Obama announced reforms of U.S. hostage policy last week: The United States will keep its “no concessions” policy in place but streamline coordination among federal agencies and with the families of U.S. captives. What do you make of the announcement?

The president’s announcement makes no change in terms of ransom. Private families are allowed to pay ransoms, and no one has been prosecuted for doing so, but the state won’t pay. The change is that he’s authorized federal officials to negotiate with terrorist groups. Previous presidents, including [Ronald] Reagan and George H. W. Bush, have negotiated with terrorists, so it’s not completely new.

The thing that’s weird in my mind is to draw a distinction, negotiating about hostages but not talking to them about anything else, when we could save hundreds, thousands of lives if we talked about politics more generally. Where does the moral distinction come between talking to ISIL about a hostage and talking about ending the conflict altogether?

One objection is that the United States has invested much—in terms of lives and money—in Iraq, and negotiating with the Islamic State could be construed as recognition of their proto-state and the dismemberment of Iraq. 

“In democracies it’s incredibly hard to explain to the public why we are talking to people that are killing our people.”

It’s a fallacy that it is such a big deal to offer recognition to these groups by talking to them. Armed groups are desperate for recognition. They seek legitimization more than anything else, the ability to tell their story. But legitimization is a temporary phenomenon. In Colombia, the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] went into talks with President [Andres] Pastrana in 1999. They were legitimized. They sat at the table with him on camera, but they behaved ridiculously and made it clear they weren’t serious about a peace process. Their legitimization went out the window. When they walked away from the talks, they were dismissed as narcoterrorists.

What sort of issues could you foresee on the table?

The distinction I draw in the book is between talking and negotiating. People say, “Well if you talk to ISIL, you’re going to agree to a caliphate.” Of course you’re not. I don’t think they’re in any mood to negotiate at the moment, but if and when we do come to negotiations there is one serious issue: the alienation of the Sunni population of Iraq and Syria by sectarian governments in Damascus and Baghdad. Unless we bridge that gap, the problem is going to fester.

What you want to do is open up a channel, usually a secret channel. These people live in a ghetto; they only talk to each other. You need to broaden their horizons about how the world sees them, and we need to understand better what they do. With the IRA, we opened a channel in 1972 but didn’t begin negotiations until 1994. These channels take a long time to develop.

It may be that ISIL will disappear as a result of bombings, but it seems unlikely. Without a channel, it will take much longer to open a negotiation, and many more people will die unnecessarily.

In Afghanistan, President Ashfraf Ghani has urged Pakistan, which had been a spoiler in the past, to push the Taliban to the negotiating table, and China, which holds sway with Pakistan, appears eager to facilitate talks. But theTaliban is waging an intense insurgency; this fighting season has reportedly been the most violent since 2001. How do you evaluate the prospect of a negotiated settlement there?

The United States missed an opportunity. One mistake was thinking that the surge would put the Taliban on the back foot and make negotiation possible. The surge may have made progress militarily in Afghanistan, but the Taliban could stand back and say, “Well, you guys are going, so we can hunker down for this bit and then we’ll be back.” The United States should have opened a channel to the Taliban much earlier, because it takes a long time to get these people to open their minds and understand what’s possible and what’s not.

We’re now in a different phase. This is about Afghan negotiations. President Ghani has made it clear that he wants such negotiations. He’s tried to work through Pakistan, but the Taliban are apparently reluctant to engage.

“When a group makes the transition from force to politics, you’ve really cracked the problem.”

At some stage the parties will reach a perceived mutually hurting stalemate. A lot of the Taliban are tired and ready to talk. None of them want to be the ones offering talks, because hardliners may take it out on them. But at some stage they will want to talk because they understand that they can’t take over the country militarily. They may want another try, but they’re not going to succeed. Then you won’t be talking about a theocratic government; you will be talking about specific issues like power sharing, changing the constitution, and education.

The Taliban were excluded from the Bonn Conference negotiations that shaped Afghanistan’s post-2001 political order. Their exclusion is often cited as a catalyst for the subsequent insurgency. What makes governments resist engaging with armed groups like that? 

I was in government at the time and I wasn’t arguing for the Taliban to be at the table, and yet in retrospect, that was clearly the right thing to have done. At the time I didn’t have a broad-enough vision to see that. It would be nice if policymakers were challenged more, opened their minds to these things, and learned from the lessons of the past.

It was General [David] Petraeus who said that in Iraq, we left it until much too late to talk to people “with American blood on their hands,” but we seem to do that again and again. There seems to be a sort of collective amnesia. In democracies it’s incredibly hard to explain to the public why we are talking to people that are killing our people. That’s why nearly all talks start in secret and are often denied by the government.

Israel and Hamas are reportedly in talks over a long-term truce in exchange for Israel loosening restrictions on the Gaza Strip. That would ease conditions for Gazans, but also undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which Israel had recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. As a mediator, how do you weigh those competing interests?

It’s better to try and do a peace deal with a united group, to make peace once rather than many times. In this way, dealing with Hamas strikes me as a sensible move: The interest of Israel isn’t in the stability of the PLO; it’s in having a lasting peace.

The security establishment, interestingly, seems to take the long-term view. In nearly all of these conflicts it’s the army or the security sector that first see the need to negotiate, and the politicians come later. The Israeli people are skeptical about the chances of a long-term peace, but if they saw it, they’d grab it. Any Israeli government that wants to be reelected should be interested in a lasting peace.

I want to pivot to Colombia, whose government and the FARC are negotiating a settlement to their long-running conflict. But while talks are proceeding in Havana, there has been an upswing in attacks on Colombian infrastructure. What are the politics of negotiating with your enemy amid ongoing violence?

President [Juan Manuel] Santos took time before he started the negotiations to learn from previous attempts at negotiating with the FARC. One of the mistakes he [saw in] the previous process was this sort of semi-cease-fire the FARC were given. They were allowed to take over an area the size of Switzerland as a demilitarized zone, and they used that for training and carrying on their activities, so when they ended the peace talks, the government was in a worse position than before and the FARC were stronger. Santos was determined not to offer a cease-fire because he feared there would be no pressure on the FARC to negotiate.

The president has said that he’s not going to allow the violence to knock him off course for the talks. That’s the right decision. Historically you get spikes of violence late in the process—spoilers on both sides. And they’ve never made this kind of progress before. They’ve agreed to three of the five chapters. The two most difficult remain: transitional justice and [the] disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration [of combatants].

In democracies, governments come and go, transparency is valued, and officials must be responsive to their publics, who are often aggrieved by the traumas they have endured. Are democracies particularly ill-suited to carry out these sorts of negotiations?

Terrorism seems to be the ugly twin of democracy. We need to learn to live with it because we are vulnerable to it. I’m talking about non-state armed groups who enjoy real political support. Groups like this don’t take up terror because they’re innately evil. They do it because they feel—often wrongly—that the political way forward for them is blocked.

Democracies can resolve these things in a way dictatorships can’t. As long as you’re prepared to use absolute force, you can just suppress it, at least temporarily. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin could take extreme measures in Chechnya. Democracies can’t do that. [The British government] couldn’t flatten West Belfast. The heart of these are political grievances, and in the end you have to solve the problem politically. When a group makes the transition from force to politics, you’ve really cracked the problem. They start getting political power. Once it’s made that transition, it’s hard to go back to violence, because then they’d lose the political strand altogether.


India’s failed controversial AFSPA

July 6, 2015

The Army claims the AFSPA is needed to handle insurgencies. Critics cite many abuses.

Recent events in India’s restive Northeast have turned the spotlight yet again on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), a controversial piece of legislation that confers vast powers on the armed forces deployed in “disturbed areas” of the country.

On March 27, the Indian government declared as “disturbed areas” 12 districts in Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam and imposed the AFSPA on them, only to revoke it in early May. Then in late May, the government of Tripura revoked AFSPA, 18 years after it was first imposed in this state. A few days later, on June 4, militants ambushed a convoy of the Indian Army’s 6 Dogra Regiment in Manipur. The attack, which left 18 soldiers dead and eleven injured, is among the deadliest militant strikes on the Army in over three decades in this troubled state.

Heated debate on AFSPA has been raging since. What has it achieved in “disturbed areas,” where it is in effect? Should it remain in force, be revoked, or at least revised?

AFSPA’s imposition in Arunachal was bitterly criticized as the federal government had not consulted the state government before declaring it a “disturbed area.” It drew attention to the lack of clarity as to what constitutes a “disturbed area” and the rather arbitrary manner in which AFSPA is being imposed in the country.

AFSPA’s subsequent revocation here and in Tripura raised hopes of its withdrawal from other “disturbed areas” too. Those hopes were quickly dashed following the ambush in Manipur. As an official in India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told The Diplomat, “The situation in the Northeast remains turbulent and merits AFSPA being kept in place there.”

According to Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of Imphal Free Press and Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla,the ambush “will feed official paranoia and prolong” AFSPA’s enforcement in the Northeast and Kashmir.

Drawing from a draconian ordinance the British colonial rulers used during the Quit India Movement of 1942, the Indian Parliament enacted AFSPA in September 1958 in the context of the nascent Naga insurgency.

AFSPA grants the army, central police forces, and state police personnel in “disturbed areas” “certain special powers,” including the right to shoot to kill, to raid houses, and destroy any property that is “likely” to be used by insurgents, and “to arrest without warrant” even on “reasonable suspicion” a person who has committed or even “about to commit a cognizable offence.”

Besides conferring extensive powers on the armed forces, AFSPA provides them immunity from prosecution. “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted except with the previous sanction of the Central government against any person” who has acted under this legislation, it says.

Imposed first on the Naga Hills in 1958, AFSPA, an emergency law, was to be in force for a year. Almost six decades thereon, it remains in effect not just in these hills but in “disturbed areas” across all seven northeastern states. Since July 1990, it has been in force in the Kashmir Valley too.


If the aim of AFSPA was to restore normalcy in disturbed areas, it has failed, say its critics. Despite the extraordinary powers vested in their hands by AFSPA, the armed forces have not been able to quell India’s insurgencies, a human rights activist based in Imphal in Manipur told The Diplomat. The area over which its writ runs has expanded significantly and armed struggles and insurgent groups have proliferated in the Northeast.

This is a “facetious” argument, Lt Gen (retd) Raj Kadyan, a former vice-chief of army staff, told The Diplomat, pointing out that in a democracy, “solving an insurgency” is not the task of the army. What and army can do and has done in the Indian context, he said, is “to keep the insurgency down to a level where the civil administration can carry out its functions. And “for that to be achieved AFSPA is essential,” he stressed.

Drawing attention to AFSPA’s successful role in Nagaland, for instance, Kadyan, who saw the Naga insurgency through its various stages, recalled that without the “protective umbrella of AFSPA” the ceasefire which came into effect on August 1, 1997 would not have been possible. It was only after the armed forces had “captured six rebel ‘Ministers’ that they were brought to their knees.” This paved the way for the truce, which has survived to date.

AFSPA’s critics view the legislation differently and hold it responsible for the spiraling violence in areas it is in force. The “sweeping powers” it vests in the hands of the armed forces and especially the protection it gives them from prosecution “encourages soldiers to kill, raid and rape,” the Manipuri activist argued, drawing attention to “grave human rights violations” that AFSPA has “enabled.”

In an insurgency situation it is difficult for soldiers to differentiate between sympathizer and insurgent. Hence, “aberrations do occur,” Kadyan said. But 98 per cent of the allegations are false, he maintained, adding that if soldiers are to face the civilian courts for every allegation, they will be preoccupied with running to the courts rather than fighting insurgents.

While admitting that some instances of civilian deaths at the hands of the security forces are the result of “genuine mistakes” by soldiers “in the heat of an operation,” the Manipuri activist pointed out that this does not apply to rapes. “How can rapes fall under the category of acts done in the line of duty, requiring legal protection of the state?” she asked.

Dismissing criticism that AFSPA protects offenders, the MHA official pointed out that legal proceedings are possible if the central government sanctions it.

But such sanction has never come. Of the 38 requests to sanction a prosecution under AFSPA that the Ministry of Defense received between 1991 and 2015, permission was denied in 30 cases and the decision is pending in eight, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar informed Parliament recently.

Naked Protest

Over the years, demands for justice in extra-judicial killings and rapes – such as the torture, rape, and murder in 2004 of 34-year-old Thangjam Manorama by soldiers of the Assam Rifles – have triggered dramatic protests and snowballed into mass campaigns. Irom Sharmila, for instance, has been on a hunger strike since 2000 to press for AFSPA’s repeal. On July 14, 2004 a dozen naked women protested in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters at Kangla Fort, Imphal, daring the soldiers to come out and rape them.

The wave of protests in 2004 forced the then United Progressive Alliance government to set up the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee in 2005 to review AFSPA and make recommendations. Describing AFSPA as “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness,” the Reddy Committee suggested it be repealed.

However, no steps were taken  to repeal or reform AFSPA.

The military is opposed to AFSPA’s withdrawal. Explaining its position, Kadyan pointed out that the Army gets called in to support the civil administration “only when the situation is not normal” and “in such abnormal circumstances, abnormal provisions have to be made.” “Soldiers need legal cover [that AFSPA provides] to operate in these circumstances,” he argued.

While the army has been vocal in its opposition to AFSPA’s lifting in the Northeast and Kashmir, sections of the political establishment too are keen to keep it in place and blame the armed forces for opposing AFSPA’s repeal. With AFSPA in force, state governments can avoid taking responsibility for their own administrative failures. Besides, “disturbed areas” are eligible for more funds from the central government.

While activists want AFSPA to be repealed in toto, there is a section of informed opinion that is calling for revising it at least, especially the clause that extends immunity to the armed forces.  Phanjoubam, for instance, says that “AFSPA can be clubbed with the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a civil law, so that the Army can function but without the AFSPA’s impunity clause,” a suggestion made by the Jeevan Reddy Committee.

Political commentator Siddharth Varadarajan writes that instead of criminal proceedings against soldiers requiring official permission, blocking of prosecution could be made possible only on official action. He suggests that Section 6 of AFSPA could be amended to read: “No prosecution … shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act where the Central government provides reasons in writing and the competent court upholds the legal validity of these reasons.” “Such a provision” he argues, “would prevent good officers from being prosecuted for killings which result from acts of good faith while allowing the bad apples to be prosecuted for their crimes. The government would still have the right to intervene on behalf of a soldier who has committed an illegal act. But this would require a Minister to take personal responsibility for a decision….

The possibility of AFSPA being even reformed seems bleak at the moment. The present Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is stridently opposed to any dilution in the law.

As Sanjoy Hazarika, a member of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, wrote: “how many more deaths, how many more naked protests, how many more hunger strikes, how many more committees, how many more editorials and articles and broadcasts before AFSPA goes?”

Morgan Stanley’s positive outlook on Pakistan

July 3, 2015

Pakistan is located in a region that will bring major changes in the world economy in coming decades primarily due to its demographics.

With over 100 million people below the age of 30 aspiring to change their lives, the rise of Pakistan is just a matter of time, Morgan Stanley Chief Investment Strategist David M Darst said on Tuesday. Darst, however, was speaking in his personal capacity and not representing Morgan Stanley at the lecture.

“Demographics will play a major role in coming decades. Pakistan is among those nine countries in Asia that will add another China in the next 35 years and the impact of this change will be phenomenal on the world economy,” he said while giving a lecture on “The World Economic Environment: Where’s the Global Capital Going”.

It was part of a special series of lectures that was organised by The Aga Khan University here at its auditorium.

With a young population of an average age of 22 years, “I believe the opportunities that the young entrepreneurs from Pakistan have are going to make an exceptional contribution to the economy of the region,” he added.

Darst, who is the author of 11 books and has a PhD in economics from Yale, said it is wrong to believe that Pakistan is lagging behind due to its proximity with Afghanistan, Iran and India. “In fact, I believe Pakistan is in the centre of Asian countries like Iran, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia that will significantly contribute in the world economy in coming decades.”

Speaking about the strong fundamentals of Pakistan’s stocks, he said, with 31% returns in dollar terms Pakistan led the world markets in 2014. “What is important is that the stocks in Pakistan are still very cheap compared to the markets in the industrialised world and they are performing better than many markets in terms of returns,” he added.

“I am surprised to see low number of investors in the bourses of Pakistan. This must change considering the strong fundamentals of Pakistani stocks.”

Darst said women in the world are playing an important role in today’s world economy. The rise of the entrepreneurs from the developing world, especially women entrepreneurs, will also bring significant positive changes in this century.

Listing down the challenges to the global economy, he said though Pakistan and India have benefitted from the current sharp decline in oil prices, sudden fall in oil prices has rejuvenated fears of deflation in many countries.

He said Europe is redefining itself and the sharp changes in Europe can surprise the world at large.

Speaking on the challenges facing Europe in relation to Greece, he said the new elected prime minister of Greece could take decisions that may not go well with the euro and the overall economy of the continent.

For Pakistan

Harsh sentence passed by Saudi Arabia on Zaid Hamid: A sign of fear?

July 3, 2015


Controversial analyst and commentator Zaid Hamid aka ‘Lal Topi Wala’ has been sentenced for eight years in jail and 1,000 lashes by a Saudi court under new stringent laws which had been promulgated last year by the Kingdom to broaden the definition of terrorism to include any act which is intended to insult the reputation of the state, harm public order or destabilise the security of the society.

Although, the Foreign Office circles in Islamabad have little information about the nature of the sentence handed down to Zaid Hamid, well-informed diplomatic circles say he has been convicted for his outburst against the Saudi government after being declared an enemy of the Kingdom. “As per the Saudi law, Zaid is set to be publicly lashed 50 times a week for 20 weeks”. Zaid was arrested from Makkah in June during a private visit to the Kingdom with his second wife. His arrest was confirmed by the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah at a press briefing in Islamabad on June 26, saying that the embassy was working with the local authorities to get consular access. He was nabbed after a Saudi citizen reported his controversial speeches with regard to the Saudi-Yemen conflict to the authorities. Zaid allegedly lambasted the Kingdom over the ongoing conflict with Yemen besides accusing the Saudi rulers of giving financial support to al-Qaeda and ISIS in the region.

After a speedy trial under the new Saudi legislation that was introduced in April 2014 in the Basic Law of Governance by the Kingdom, a Saudi court sentenced Zaid for eight years in jail and 1,000 lashes.

The new set of laws expanded the definition of terrorism to include any act that is intended to insult the reputation of the state, harm public order or destabilise the security of the Saudi society. These laws were introduced by the former Saudi King Abdullah in a bid to come down hard on all forms of dissent and protests that could harm public order. But the Saudi authorities were of the view that the new laws were brought in to combat the growing number of Saudis travelling to take part in the war in Syria, who have previously returned with newfound training and ideas about overthrowing the monarchy.

To that end, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud [who passed away in January 2015] had issued Royal Decree A/44 which criminalised participating in hostilities outside the kingdom with prison sentences. The Saudi citizens were ordered to return home from fighting in the Syrian conflict within 15 days or face jail time from three to 20 years.

The new legislation identified a broad list of groups, which the government considered to be terrorist organisations — including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Hezbollah in the Saudi Kingdom, Yemen’s Houthi Movement, and all branches of Al-Qaeda, including the Al-Nusra Front. The new legislation specifically defined who is and is not a terrorist or terroristorganisation in the eyes of the law. And Zaid Hamid has been arrested and convicted by the Saudi authorities under the same legislation. To be specific, informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad say, Zaid has been charged under Article 2, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 11 of the new Saudi laws promulgated in April 2014.

According to Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organisation, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside the Kingdom.”

Article 4 states: “Anyone who aids terrorist groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form.”

According to the article of the Saudi laws: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.” Article 8 states: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”

According to Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside the Kingdom targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.” And last but not the least, Article 11 states: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organisations antagonistic to the kingdom.”

Zaid has been often criticised for his controversial views, which have been slammed as conspiracy theories. He has been accused by his detractors of promoting hate speech. He had established himself as a contentious commentator when he started taking part in a Pakistani TV show — Brasstacks. His father Lt Col. Zaman Hamid (retd) had served in the Pakistan Army while Zaid had received a Bachelor of Engineering degree in computer systems engineering from the NED University, Karachi. Zaid is no stranger to controversy, with his comments on social media platforms and TV talk shows often inviting the ire of Pakistani liberals and the civil society, whom he dismisses as “agents” of the enemy state. Zaid is well known for his anti-India tirade. Shortly before his arrest in Saudi Arabia, he had endorsed the alleged policy of the Pakistani intelligence establishment to use spy pigeons against India in response to the Cold Start Doctrine of the Indian Army. He had made this statement after the Indian police arrested a pigeon, which it alleged was a Pakistani spy. Although the Pakistani authorities had refuted the allegation, Zaid said that due to its resemblance with Allama Iqbal’s Shaheen, the pigeon has symbolic importance in neutralising the effects of the cultural war being waged by India against Pakistan. He added that pigeons would play a central role in Ghazva-e-Hind. He used to bring himself into the limelight by using conspiracy as a tool, which has eventually landed him in a Saudi prison.

A resident of the Chaklala Scheme-3 in the Cantt area of Rawalpindi, Zaid Hamid was equally critical of the Sharif government and had been demanding of the establishment to overthrow the civilian set-up. At a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on November 20, 2013, a former follower and employee of Zaid Hamid [Immad Khalid] had accused him of plotting to assassinate the then army chief General Kayani and instigating a revolt in the armed forces through emails he sent to thousands of officers. He said his former boss had compiled a ‘hit list’, including the names of the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others from the media and the judiciary. But Zaid had strongly refuted the allegation.

No such thing as ISIS, ISIL or IS

July 2, 2015

The shocking attack last week at a peaceful Tunisian tourist resorthas shown us once again that terror continues to be a threat. There is no question that the group behind this attack, which refers to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) or as “Islamic State” is an evil terror organisation. But I believe that for too long we have allowed them to define themselves as something which they are not, and now we need to change how we label them. This is why I have started a campaign to get the government, the BBC, and other organisations to alter the title that they use.

In the wake of the horrific Tunisian attacks, our resolve to fight terrorism at home and abroad means we should not give credence to the propaganda which is being used to suck more vulnerable, disillusioned and some clearly dangerous individuals to their cause.

You may wonder – what’s so important about a name? But names have a significance because their impact, as Professor James Bruning has said, “comes from how people expect to see you.” By referring to them as the ‘Islamic State’ they gain legitimacy where none should exist.

The atrocities they have committed in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere clearly demonstrate that they have no right to be called a state. We all know what a state looks like – it is internationally and legally recognised as one, has a defined sovereign territory and ordered institutions. This group has none of these things, and ignores international law and norms.

Nor are they Islamic. This criminal gang is distorting a peaceful religion for its own violent ends, which the vast majority of Muslims, here in the UK and around the world, find despicable and insulting. I have spent time travelling the country, speaking with communities and holding meetings in mosques, and I have found that people from far and wide are deeply upset that their faith is being linked with these terrorists and their monstrous acts.

My campaign to get the Government and the BBC to call these criminals by their true identity  – ‘Daesh’ – has now secured the backing of over 125 MPs from across the political spectrum, and earlier, on the BBC Today Programme, the Prime Minister joined us. As he said: “It’s not an Islamic State; what it is, is an appalling, barbarous regime.”  I applaud this statement by the Prime Minister, and call for the next step: to stop calling them Isis or Isil all together.

So what is an alternative name for them? There is one title that has gained traction across the Middle East, which is an Arabic acronym for the group’s name. The word they use is “Daesh” which also holds negative connotations. It is similar to the word “Daes” meaning “one who crushes something underfoot” and “Dahes” meaning “one who sows discord”.

In September last year, France officially adopted this title. The French Foreign Minister urged media outlets to refer to the group as Daesh because, as he said, the Islamic State “blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists.”

We need to change the way we speak about this organisation and decouple it from religion, which for too long has been hijacked to justify terrorist acts. Joining our international partners and uniting around one name – Daesh, would certainly help.

For Pakistan

The self created water problems

July 1, 2015

If the water management issue is not addressed on an urgent basis, the day is not far when water would be as scarce as electricity and gas are today in Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan had been warned of this crisis for decades, but in vain. Experts repeatedly state that Pakistan is a water scarce country and the situation is going from bad to worse. To be honest, my fear is not ‘scarcity’, but the overall mismanagement of this asset. As someone once said, “There is enough for every man’s need, but not for greed.”

Whether scarce or abundant, there has to be an equitable distribution system for water. In fact, equitable water management becomes all the more important when there is the issue of scarcity. Simply put, it is an alarming sign when a person has the resources and ability to extract large amounts of water from the ground and waste it while others have to travel hours to get a bucketful – this situation needs to be managed. This is one of the primary responsibilities of all governments.

This problem is more severe in cities. We have seen Karachi this summer. We all know that this was not just associated with ‘shortage’ but with greed and mismanagement. In other cities, the media is quiet about this issue since it affects the middle class and the poor only and these groups have accepted their situation as bad fate.

In a recent study conducted by the Urban Unit in Faisalabad, it was discovered that the WASA (Water and Sanitation Agency of the Government of Punjab) provides piped water to less than 50 per cent of the city population. What do the rest of the citizens do, since there is no potable ground water which can be pumped out?

So, the people have to depend upon private water operators that sell water in blue polypropylene cans and drums (a proven health hazard) on donkey carts. This leads an average household to pay approximately PKR 1,200 per month just for kitchen water. In most cases, they have to dig a pump and motor for the washing and cleaning and spend PKR 800 to 1,000 on electricity, totalling up to PKR 2,000 per month. On the other hand, households connected with the WASA system pay less than PKR 300 per month for non-metered supply of water. Isn’t this mismanagement? Are we not responsible for all citizens? The current situation presents us with a very bleak future of cities.

‘Who’ pays for water is another issue. Studies show that not more than 50 per cent of the consumer households pay their water bills and this reflects on institutional inefficiency. In almost all the cities — be it Karachi, Lahore or Peshawar — more than ninety per cent of the municipal water connections are unmetered, so you may use or waste as much water as you like. If everyone was made to pay for using water, all households would have access to clean, potable drinking water. This is not an issue of scarcity but of mismanagement. Management can only be done by efficient institutions.

What is institutional efficiency? In governance, the starting point is a legal framework. We don’t have a municipal water act, unlike most civilised countries. We prefer to run the cities on whims, wishes and desires of a few, rather than a sound legal framework of local governance. The water law should define the ownership and regulation of ground water, as currently it’s free for all, including the multinationals and national corporations which are free to draw as much as they want, and package and sell what essentially is a national asset that requires equitable distribution.

In addition to a legal framework that defines the roles, responsibilities and rights, we need a comprehensive institutional design and capitated institutions to regulate the right to provide the services and collect user charges — all basic components of good governance. What ails our water utilities across Pakistan is a set of archaic and useless rules, manned by poorly qualified and inexperienced officers, mostly without any merit or incentives to perform.

A water utility should be a sustainable business entity. Water produced should be sold and money should be recovered for asset maintenance. If the political masters desire to provide subsidised water, there should be an institutional mechanism for the subsidy or else they would economise on asset maintenance and in the medium term, this would lead to rundown infrastructure. And this has happened over the last few decades.

Today, the number of citizens living without piped water and sewerage is higher than what it was 30 years ago. So, where are we heading?

In the rural areas, the establishment is just building assets for rural water supply through PHED model across Pakistan. The government envisaged itself as a performing body, built water supply assets and then handed these over to the rural community/villagers. This scheme was terribly organised and lacked overall management. Consequently, rural water management of the schemes failed due to poverty, non-mobilisation and inadequate support from government; women and girls continue to walk miles to fetch water instead of going to school. The PHED model also disregards what will happen where there is no surface water and ground water is available for drinking purpose; this needs special intervention.

A study conducted by the Urban Unit revealed that only five WASAs in Punjab utilise up to 132 MW of electricity. Through efficient water conservation, energy efficiency and water management up to 20 per cent of the energy can be saved to improve efficiency. This saving can be used for enhancing the service delivery but do we have a policy or the institutional capacity to take this approach?

In Karachi, water supplied in tankers is essentially water that should be in the pipes. There are hundreds of illegal connections that serve agriculture in the outskirts. Improving the public sector water utilities has other vested commercial angles as well. If the WASAs and KWSB start providing quality drinking water, who will buy bottled water and tanker water? We are well-aware of these powerful lobbies, but does the state have the will and muscle to take on this challenge?

The message is loud and clear: If we don’t address the water governance issue today, the day when water would be as scarce as electricity and gas are today is not far. People would be standing in queues for hours to get a bucketful of drinking water, and that is a scary vision of the future.

Afghanistan – The return of the Dostum

July 1, 2015

The reports from northern Afghanistan suggest that the two most prominent anti-Taliban commanders belonging to the erstwhile Northern Alliance – Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor – have decided to come together to counter the emergent security threat posed to their region by various militant groups.

This is an extraordinary development with potentially far-reaching impact on the balance of forces and the course of the war in Afghanistan.

Dostum and Atta are battle-hardened veterans of the civil war and their respective Uzbek and Tajik militia carry much clout in the Amu Darya region. The United States had depended on these commanders, especially Dostum, to “liberate” the northern provinces from the Taliban in October 2001.

Without doubt, the entry of these two militia forces will boost the capability of the Afghan army, which has been hard-pressed to counter the assorted forces of foreign fighters who operate under the rubric of “Taliban” in the highly strategic Kunduz region. Kunduz has a mixed population of Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks.

However, there remains the “known unknown” – how effective could be this newfound unity between Dostum and Atta, who are sworn enemies at a personal level. (In the 2014 presidential election, Dostum was aligned with the present president Ashraf Ghani while Atta was one of the key power brokers backing Abdullah Abdullah.)

Will a Dostun-Atta alliance last? How long will it last? These are highly relevant questions. Even in the halcyon days of the Northern Alliance, strong external pressure was needed to keep the anti-Taliban resistance going.

The Iranians had burnt midnight oil literally to see that the prickliness between the Northern Alliance leaders didn’t get out of control. The then Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ala’eddin Broujerdi (presently the chairman of the foreign and security policy commission of the Majlis) often undertook mediatory missions.

The big question today is which regional power will feel inspired to take on the responsibility of such a thankless, despairing role today.

That brings us to a tantalizing question as to any “foreign hand” that might have persuaded Dostum and Atta to come together at all in the first instance. Indeed, many regional states have everything to lose if the foreign fighters  – Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Uighurs, Pakistanis, Arabs, etc. – who are gaining ground in the ongoing fighting in the Kunduz province manage to create a base for themselves to launch future operations in the Ferghana Valley.

Dostum who was trained in the Soviet academies, has enjoyed backing from Uzbekistan and Turkey. Tashkent regarded him as a bulwark against the Taliban – that is, until he unceremoniously fled Amu Darya in 1998 for Turkey when Mazar-i-Sharif fell into Taliban hands. It must be a worrying thing for Tashkent that a strong contingent from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is present in Kunduz in the ongoing fighting there.

Meanwhile, the regional powers also have suspicions of their own as regards any foreign intelligence working behind the Islamic State in Afghanistan. There are signs that the US may be shifting gear to push its democracy/human rights project in Central Asia.

A US state department official last week openly questioned the legitimacy of the re-election of the presidents of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and called for “religious freedom” in the Central Asian states.

Suffice it to say, it is only natural that there would be heightened sensitivity in the countries bordering Afghanistan to the north over the intensifying militant-Islamist presence in the Amu Darya region and along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Nonetheless, a resuscitation of the Northern Alliance as such seems improbable as of now. But what can happen is that the northern groups belonging to the NA could organize themselves as a “mini-front” to counter the foreign fighters who have poured into the region in their hundreds or thousands lately.

But then, these NA groups will still need weapons, money, logistics and intelligence back-up, etc. to get their act together after nearly a decade-and-a-half of forced retirement, which can only come from outside.

Equally, where exactly President Ghani stands remains unclear. It is inconceivable that Dostum, who is the first vice-president, acted independently to forge an alliance with Atta (who is identified with Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah in the national unity government).

All in all, the Afghan war is transforming once again and taking Protean shapes – in the Amu Darya region that is the gateway to Central Asia, at least. No doubt, the Dostum-Atta alliance gives some degree of credibility to the anti-Taliban resistance.

Clearly, Taliban’s attempt to force its will on the other (ethnic) groups will meet with resistance. It is a signal that cannot be lost on the Pakistani military.

And it probably justifies Interior Minister Gen, Noorulhaq Olomi’s guarded optimism that Kabul government will have acquitted itself creditably when the current fighting season ends. Of course, Gen. Olomi has seen darker days while serving in the Soviet-trained Afghan army under Najibullah’s communist regime, and is fully competent to give such a hopeful prognosis.

Militant activities in Pakistan being funded by India, MQM exposed

June 25, 2015

Officials in Pakistan’s MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds, the BBC learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source.

UK authorities investigating the MQM for alleged money laundering also found a list of weapons in an MQM property.

A Pakistani official has told the BBC that India has trained hundreds of MQM militants over the past 10 years.

The Indian authorities described the claims as “completely baseless”. The MQM also strongly denied the claims.

Party spokesman Saif Muhammad Ali told BBC Urdu that the MQM had never received any funding or training from India. He said authorities in Pakistan were running a campaign against the party.

With 24 members in the National Assembly, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) has long been a dominant force in the politics of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.

Media captionIndia denied the allegation telling the BBC the charges were completely baseless

British authorities held formal recorded interviews with senior MQM officials who told them the party was receiving Indian funding, the BBC was told.

Meanwhile a Pakistani official has told the BBC that India has trained hundreds of MQM militants in explosives, weapons and sabotage over the past 10 years in camps in north and north-east India.

Before 2005-2006 the training was given to a small number of mid-ranking members of the MQM, the official said.

More recently, greater numbers of more junior party members have been trained.

The arrest of Altaf Hussain prompted unrest in Karachi

The claims follow the statement of a senior Karachi police officer that two arrested MQM militants said they had been trained in India. In April, Rao Anwar gave details of how the two men went to India via Thailand to be trained by the Indian intelligence agency RAW.

In response, MQM leader Altaf Hussain issued a tirade of abuse at Rao Anwar.

Asked about the claims of Indian funding and training of the MQM, the Indian High Commission in London said: “Shortcomings of governance cannot be rationalised by blaming neighbours.”

The UK authorities started investigating the MQM in 2010 when a senior party leader, Imran Farooq, was stabbed to death outside his home in north London.

In the course of those inquiries the police found around £500,000 ($787,350) in the MQM’s London offices and in the home of MQM leader Altaf Hussain. That prompted a second investigation into possible money laundering.


Who is Altaf Hussain?

  • Born in Karachi in 1953 to a middle-class family; studied pharmacy at university.
  • Formed MQM party in 1984 to represent Mohajirs – descendants of Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated from India to Pakistan.
  • Requested political asylum in UK in 1992, later gained British citizenship; continues to run MQM from north London.

Pakistan’s powerful but absent politician


In the course of the inquiries the UK authorities found a list itemising weapons, including mortars, grenades and bomb-making equipment in an MQM property, according to Pakistani media reports that the BBC believes to be credible. The list included prices for the weapons. Asked about the list, the MQM made no response.

As the UK police investigations have progressed, the British judiciary has been taking an increasingly tough line on the MQM. Back in 2011 a British judge adjudicating an asylum appeal case found that “the MQM has killed over 200 police officers who have stood up against them in Karachi”.

Last year another British judge hearing another such case found: “There is overwhelming objective evidence that the MQM for decades had been using violence.”

The MQM is also under pressure in Pakistan. In March the country’s security forces raided the party’s Karachi headquarters. They claimed to have found a significant number of weapons there. The MQM said they were planted.

The MQM has the ability to put thousands of protesters on the streets of Karachi

The party has a solid support base made up of the Mohajirs, or refugees who left India at the time of partition so that they could settle in Pakistan.

The Mohajirs complain that they have been the subject of sustained discrimination in Pakistan. The MQM insists it is a peaceful, secular party representing the interests of the middle classes in Pakistan.

As well as its electoral base, the MQM has formidable street power. When it orders a strike the streets empty and the whole of Karachi grinds to a halt.

Altaf Husain has lived in self-imposed exile in the UK for more than 20 years. He was given a British passport in 2002. For many years the party has been accused of using violence to impose its will in Karachi.

A number of MQM officials, including Altaf Hussain, have been arrested in relation to the money-laundering case but no-one has been charged. The party insists that all its funds are legitimate and that most of them come from donors in the business community in Karachi.

India has long accused Pakistani officials of involvement in sponsoring militant attacks in India. Delhi, for example, has demanded that Pakistan take firmer action against those suspected of plotting and managing the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

The latest developments in the MQM case suggest that Pakistan will now counter such complaints with demands that India stop sponsoring violent forces in Karachi.

For Pakistan

MQM militants have Indian backing

June 25, 2015

Leaders of Pakistan’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party have reportedly told UK investigating authorities that they have received funding from the Indian government, a claim the Indian government has outrightly denied.

The news comes from a BBC report which quoted “a Pakistani official” who claims that India has trained hundreds of MQM militants in explosives, weapons and sabotage over the last 10 years in camps in north and north-east India, over the last ten years. This Pakistani official also appears to be the source of information on what MQM leaders allegedly told the UK authorities.

A poster of Altaf Hussain, leader of the MQM. AP

When asked about the claims, the Indian embassy in London told the BBC: “Shortcomings of governance cannot be rationalised by blaming neighbours.”

The BBC report focuses on the investigation by UK authorities into the murder of MQM leader Imran Farooq as well as the unearthing of large sums of money in the UK office of the party as well as the residence of Farooq.

In its report, the BBC claims that the latest revelations confirms charges levelled in April this year by Karachi police official, SSP Malir Rao Anwar. He claimed that two MQM militants arrested in Pakistan were backed by the Indian government and RAW to destabilise Pakistan.

The BBC, however, fails to mention that the Pakistan government acted swiftly and dismissed the police official from his post, asking him to report to the Central Police Office following his terrorism remarks. The MQM, too, threatened to take the matter to court, Geo TV reported.

Further, while the BBC claims that “UK authorities investigating the MQM for alleged money laundering also found a list of weapons in an MQM property,” it’s sourcing is problematic. The report does not have a single quote from any UK official or investigative source, entirely relying on Pakistan politicians and officials who offer no basis for their supposed knowledge of the UK investigation and its findings.

There is also a strange ambiguity about the source of information in places such as: “British authorities held formal recorded interviews with senior MQM officials who told them the party was receiving Indian funding, the BBC was told.”

That certain political outfits in Pakistan have often alleged that India’s R&AW is behind terror attacks is not new and such claims have repeatedly been dismissed for lack of evidence. One such claim was that India was behind the Peshawar school attack, a charge that was soon dismissed when the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility.

The ambiguous sourcing in the BBC report has come under fire from a variety of quarters.

Meanwhile, British police are expected to arrive in Pakistan later this week to interrogate the two suspects in the London murder of Imran Farooq, a founding member of the MQM party. He was stabbed and beaten to death in Edgware in northwest London as he returned home from work in September 2010. The suspects were in Britain in the period leading up to his murder, and left hours afterwards.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Pakistan would help the British police in a transparent investigation. “We will ensure proper investigation without any prejudice, without any favour,” he told reporters.

Critics of the MQM, the most powerful political force in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi, have claimed that the killing of Farooq was linked to an internal dispute in the party, which has been run from London by exiled leader Altaf Hussain for over two decades. The MQM has strongly denied the claims.

Farooq claimed asylum in Britain in 1999. He was wanted in Pakistan on scores of charges including torture and murder related to the MQM’s activities, but always claimed the accusations were politically motivated.

He was twice elected an MP in Pakistan, but went into hiding in 1992 when the government ordered a military crackdown against party activists in Karachi.

The mystery of his killing remains thus far unsolved. For now, the BBC report seems to have raised bigger questions about its journalism than offered any answers about his death.

Maleeha Lodhi gives a stern warning at UN – Any threat against Pakistan will be dealt with forcefully

June 23, 2015

Pakistan clarified in the United Nations on Tuesday that any attempt to destabilise the country or to violate its territorial integrity will be dealt with ‘forcefully’ and befittingly.

“Let me be clear, we will be relentless in rooting out terrorism, whosoever its sponsors, external or internal,” Lodhi told the UN Security Council.

“Any effort to destabilise parts of our country or to attack its territorial integrity will be responded to forcefully,” the Pakistan envoy said, while addressing a debate on the situation in Afghanistan.

Terming terrorism a common challenge that the world faced, Lodhi reiterated Pakistan’s stance of denouncing the recent rise in violence in Afghanistan, particularly the vicious attack on the parliament.

Read: No military solution to conflict, Maliha Lodhi tells Afghan Taliban

Lodhi further said Pakistan remained committed to cooperate with Afghanistan in eradicating the menace of terrorism.

Concluding, the ambassador said the country would continue to play a positive role in ensuring lasting peace and security in the neighbouring country.

On March 17, the ambassador had expressed hope that Afghan Taliban will join the peace process, stressing there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict.

Read: Maleeha Lodhi takes charge as permanent representative to UN

Her remarks came amid reports that the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government had been set to start peace talks.

According to Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai, Kabul had been in the process of forming a negotiation team for the process.

“We welcome the first, tentative steps taken in recent months to advance the reconciliation process. We hope these steps will lead soon to direct talks as well as de-escalation of violence.”

She maintained, “Pakistan will do everything possible to encourage this process. Success will require reciprocal accommodation and above all, strategic patience.”

Earlier, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Nicholas Haysom urged the international community establish peace and work for reconciliation by mediate and facilitate direct talks between the government and armed groups.

“The country continued to need the support of the international community and the sustained attention of the Council,” he stressed.

Outlining activities related to the Heart of Asia process that Pakistan co-chaired, she stated that sustainable peace in Afghanistan would lead to regional stability.  She also welcomed Afghan government’s commitment to the return and reintegration of the large population of refugees hosted by Pakistan and hoped for continued UNAMA assistance in that respect.

Ambassador Lodhi called for more focused action with international support to stem the illicit drug trade.  The destinies of Afghanistan and Pakistan were intertwined, and her country would help the Afghan people in whatever way it could to reach the goal of lasting peace.


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