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CHALLENGES BEFORE PAKISTAN
From containing Trump to building trust

Javed Jabbar

One way to treat the speech on 21st August 2017 by President Trump that ups the ante against Pakistan is to add it to the long list of falsehoods and half-truths which he produces at high frequency. The Washington Post has identified, as of 5th August 2017, over 1057 false or misleading statements in the first 200 days, and their repetitions by the American Head of State. That is a new world record of ignominy.  This appalling disregard for facts, combined with wilfull ignorance and bias pose new dangers for Pakistan.

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Javed Jabbar

One way to treat the speech on 21st August 2017 by President Trump that ups the ante against Pakistan is to add it to the long list of falsehoods and half-truths which he produces at high frequency. The Washington Post has identified, as of 5th August 2017, over 1057 false or misleading statements in the first 200 days, and their repetitions by the American Head of State. That is a new world record of ignominy.  This appalling disregard for facts, combined with wilfull ignorance and bias pose new dangers for Pakistan.

The recent BRICS statement —- to which our ever-lasting, truthful friend China is also a signatory —- includes a reference to three violent extremist organizations alleged to have bases in this country.  It comes shortly after the American President’s fulminations. So new doubts and unease follow fast behind the new dangers.

Downward spiral traps all
The Pakistani Foreign Minister’s visit to Beijing and the reiteration by his Chinese counter-part of his country’s steadfast appreciation and support for us only partly assuage the disquiet. Despite rightly feeling wronged and let down, the speech and the statement should become catalysts for invigoration and affirmation of a new dynamism in both internal and external policies.
Prospects of dangers are not because what Trump said is truthful. But precisely because it is not truthful. For when Governments, particularly American, say things and take actions on the basis of falsehoods and ignorance, the fall-out from such aberrations is worse than what it would be if the presumptions proved to be wholly correct.
A downward spiral traps all—the accuser, the aggressor and the aggrieved. The falsehoods proclaimed by the USA about the alleged, non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq directly led to the black hole of the American invasion in which un-counted Iraqis are still dying in 2017. Pakistan will not become a new option for the devastating expressions of America’s periodic inability to comprehend reality.
Pakistan has a fundamental national interest in facing the facts and acknowledging them frankly, unflinchingly. We need to do this not because others, or Trump or BRICS ask us to do so. We owe this to ourselves, to our people, to our country’s vital security interests.  After we shift away the half-truths and whole lies propounded by Trump, and the mis-perceptions in BRIC, we are still left with some irreducible truths.
First, the good facts. The Pakistani state and people continue to confront extremism and terrorism by paying a high price, paralleled wholly or partially only by Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia.
So tough is the core of our people and our  state and so strong-willed are our Armed Forces that, unlike each of the above other countries, Pakistan’s territory is not occupied and split into different sovereignties.

Focusing on mixed signals
There is insurgency in some southern parts of Balochistan and in some border areas in KP. There is bad governance aplenty. But the Pakistani state remains singular and solidly in place. Nuclear weapon capacity is an indirect deterrent against the disintegration which others are suffering. But that is not the direct source of our strength. The people, the state, the Armed Forces and our blind faith in the future of Pakistan cement the stability of our territorial entity.
Yet it is also true that religious extremism is permitted to flourish. Armed with brazenly displayed weapons, and marked by their tragic use against unarmed persons such as the four Hazara Shias gunned down in Quetta on 10th September 2017, both publicly known elements and covert operatives are able to implement their banal agendas of violence.
Though the intelligence agencies of India and Afghanistan may well be provoking such actions by their own considerable activities on our soil, and some extremists may be wreaking simple retaliation, the hard fact is that such elements have enormously damaged Pakistan’s national interests. They have deeply worsened perceptions about Pakistan around the world. Rather than continue asking for the world’s sympathy about our numerous sacrifices, we need to invest far greater resources, energy and time to target and diminish internal extremism, verbal as well as violent, explicit as well as that which masquerades under new names and causes.
Psy-war: To raise misgivings and distrust about Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and our Army’s role is a primary aim of the psychological warfare strategy of hostile forces, specially our Indian and Afghan neighbours, and whenever it suits them, our American distant-neighbours as well.
So one should tread carefully in this minefield planted with unprovable inflexions and presumptive insinuations. One thing is clear: in some aspects of our reality, there are enough mixed signals, thick smoke and noise which makes the world at large focus mostly on the visibility and consequences of violent extremism and its tendency to transcend state frontiers.

Re-setting foreign policy
Self-critique: Candid internal self-criticism is an essential part of formulating a purposeful policy. We must recognize that there is limited space for us to make radical re-alignments. There is no scope for clean breaks or even for only grievance-based complaints. The next phase of our relations with the USA and BRICS in particular should be duly cognizant of our geo-strategic location, our phenomenal potential in natural and in human resources, our significant national strengths, our obvious weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The last of these have to be addressed, to fulfill the desire of the vast majority of our people’s to shape a better, more peaceful world.
The Trump speech of August 2017 and the BRICS statement have to be viewed in relation to several speeches, statements and actions by others. The immediate outrage in Pakistan. Debates and condemnatory resolutions in Pakistan’s Parliament. The convening of a consultation with Pakistan’s overseas envoys in major countries. The call for a “re-set” in our foreign policy. The fortunately measured official responses.
Pakistan’s postponements of pre-scheduled visits by US delegations. Clarifications by the US Ambassador to Pakistan during meetings with the political and military leaderships in Pakistan.  Prime Minister Abbasi’s meetings with Vice President Pence and the fleeting exchange with President Trump at a reception. The Pakistani PM’s balanced speech at the UN General Assembly. The vicious speeches by the Indian Foreign Minister and an official at the UNGA. Pakistan’s UN envoy Maleeha Laodhi’s strong rebuttal. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s meeting with Trump—but not with Abbasi.

Effectively countering hostility
Quadrilateral hostility: This larger, later context should not blur the hard fact that Pakistan faces quadrilateral hostility. The USA, India and Afghanistan represent the first three of the quadrant. The fourth element is not a single country. It is the extremely negative global image of Pakistan. In news media, academia, civil society, political spheres and in general public opinion, particularly in the USA and in NATO member-countries, only our warts and our flaws shape perceptions about our identity. Cumulatively, whether in one sector in one country, or in all sectors in most countries, the association of the name of Pakistan with the evils of terrorism, extremism and violence become a source of passive but powerful influences on the policies and actions vis a vis Pakistan conducted by the three hostile countries in particular.
Five-fold implications: The implications for Pakistan are potentially, though not inevitably, five-fold. Economic, diplomatic, military, perceptual, and internal stability. The response by Pakistan has to be comprehensive and multi-dimensional, and not just confined to the Foreign Office or the military. There has to be an across-the-board ownership within the Federal Government and all of its 59 Cabinet Members of the significance of this alignment. In a bitterly polarized political sphere, there has to be a consensus on solidarity, not point-scoring and petty partisanship. All four Provinces, legislatures and Governments, the business sector, civil society, media, academia : an authentic consensus on acknowledging the reality of this threat and the need for an effective response in all five respects.
And to do so while continuing with respective positions on dissent with official policies and actions. With the icing on the cake being the friction and tension generated by the ruling party at the centre against judicial verdicts —- with the law amended to enable a disqualified individual to re-enter the political domain at the highest level. But even the sour icing has yet another layer: the preparatory humphing and hawing for the next elections set for May-June 2018 with all the related uncertainties and the schismatic pursuit of votes.

Is miracle possible?
Given the above requirements and conditions, will it be possible, or is it reasonable to expect a coherent, dynamic, co-ordinated response by Pakistan to the challenges posed by the new animus against Pakistan from 21st August 2017 to date in end-September 2017? Even countries with less issues than our own would see the quadrilateral alignment as a formidable, almost insurmountable task. But Pakistan has curious, mysterious, unexplainable capacities to produce the unexpected and the extraordinary.
If the people at large, the country’s citizens transmit their collective determination to defend national stability and security, if they are willing to make the necessary sacrifices of life and limb (which they have done for so long ), as also sacrifice of material needs and comforts, if they transmit this signal of energy to both the political and military leaderships, which, while maintaining their respective divergent or shared viewpoints, can together act as a singular truly conjoined force, then Pakistan can face down imminent dangers. Pakistan can begin the long-haul work to transform our relationships with the four quadrilateral elements from hostility to an incremental building of mutual respect and trust. It is going to be long, tough and difficult. But it can be done!

The writer is a former Senator and Federal Minister. Member, Senate
Forum for Policy Research .www.javedjabbar.com


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Will India protect most persecuted ethnic minority–the Rohingya?

Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’souza

As India aggressively positions itself in a new global order, expecting a seat at the table in places of influence, like permanent membership of the UN Security Council, it must be cautioned that this prominence brings with it, increased international moral and political obligations. India has recently gained spotlight, in the midst of an international outcry on the brutal crackdown by the Myanmar armed forces, on the Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group, in Western Rakhine province of Myanmar.

Full Story

Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’souza

As India aggressively positions itself in a new global order, expecting a seat at the table in places of influence, like permanent membership of the UN Security Council, it must be cautioned that this prominence brings with it, increased international moral and political obligations. India has recently gained spotlight, in the midst of an international outcry on the brutal crackdown by the Myanmar armed forces, on the Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group, in Western Rakhine province of Myanmar.

The Indian government issued a circular in early August, directing all state governments to identify and take steps to expeditiously deport illegal immigrants such as the Rohingya. The announcement came at a time when the violence in Myanmar was only deepening, with tragic stories of widespread human suffering.

India faces litmus test
This decision reflected a deeper malaise, pointing towards a governmental aversion in receiving these suffering Rohingya refugees –a striking contrast to India’s benevolent tradition of being a host state for centuries, to persecuted refugee populations from war torn neighbouring countries and beyond. With the Rohingya refugee influx, India faces a litmus test on its commitment to International law in its domestic refugee policy implementation.
The Rohingya have fled the neighbouring countries in waves over the past many years, escaping what has been described as “ethnic cleansing” at the hands of the armed forces. Successive special rapporteurs have reported patterns of serious human rights violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of the Rohingya, by the state security forces and other officials. Denied citizenship, Rohingya are stateless and excluded from positions of authority, facing restrictions in movement, education, marriage, occupation and religious freedoms, at the mercy of an ultra nationalist Buddhist government. The systematic human rights violations and lack of opportunities have triggered irregular migration flows of Rohingya from Rakhine state to neighbouring countries, including India, where an estimated 40,000 refugees currently reside, in make shift refugee camps.
Two Rohingya refugees in India moved the Indian Supreme Court seeking refugee protection for the Rohingyas settled in India. They replied on several landmark cases where the courts have upheld the rights of refugees against deportation in like circumstances, holding that, “the state is bound to protect the life and liberty of every human being, be he a citizen or otherwise”.  In reply to this petition, the government says that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants and enjoy no fundamental rights under the constitution and that the court has no authority to entertain a petition on their behalf.

Constitution guarantees protection
However, the Indian constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights to all persons residing in the country irrespective of nationality.  These rights to equality and the right to life, protect the Rohingya refugees in India from arbitrary deportation, since they have fled their home country due to untold violence and bloodshed. Further the constitution of India under Article 51©, a Directive Principle of State Policy also requires fostering respect for international law and treaty obligations.
Though India has not signed the Refugee Convention it has ratified and is a signatory to various international declarations and conventions that recognise the principle of non refoulement, that prohibits the deportation of refugees to a country where they face a fear of persecution. Recognised as a principle of customary international law its application protects life and liberty of a human being irrespective of nationality.  The prohibition of refoulement to a danger of persecution under international refugee law is applicable to any form of forcible removal, including deportation and would hence apply squarely to the deportation that is being proposed by the Indian government. Despite these constitutional and international obligations, the government’s threat to identify and deport the Rohingya refugees is untenable and deeply disconcerting.
India’s refugee protection guidelines from 2011 stipulates the standard operating procedure for issuing long term visas to those refugees who are fleeing persecution on account of race, religion, sex, nationality, ethnic identity, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The government in response to questions on refugee policy has reiterated this stand in statements made in the house of parliament, as the procedure for dealing with refugees fleeing persecution. This has been India’s stand in granting special status to refugees as distinct from its treatment of illegal immigrants. India has a strong track record of hosting refugees of different profiles and has the experience in extending humanitarian protection while balancing national security interests and the concerns of its citizens.

Trumped up partisan charges
In 2014 however, the BJP government led by Narendra Modi came to power in India. Since then the BJP and various organisations associated with it loosely called the Sangh Parivar, started asserting that India must be a Hindu state and began a strident campaign against Muslims in particular. In keeping with its anti-Muslim stance, the present government issued a notification in 2015, providing an exemption to minority communities without valid travel documents, from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, from the provision of the Passport (entry into India) Rules 1950 and the Foreigners Order 1948. The absence of the Muslim community from the list of those communities exempted by this notification is conspicuous. Such a biased and discriminatory stand would close the door to the Rohingya who are largely a Muslim minority community even though they may be regarded as the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority.
Instead of choosing to fulfil its international humanitarian obligations, the Hindu fundamentalist political establishment has chosen to play to its base by vilifying this persecuted community, reinforcing their Muslim identity and with a broad stroke and little evidence paining them all terrorists and a threat to national security? Can they be ejected arbitrarily from the country, for being Muslim, with total disregard for the life threatening persecution they have fled, undertaking arduous journeys, losing family members on the way, malnourished, widowed, orphaned and destitute? Yet the government stresses a potential threat from this community when there is no evidence to show any sign of readicalisation or terror links. An orchestrated social media campaign led by the right wing organisations is creating a communally charged rhetoric to exclude the Rohingya from refugee protection measures in India. Simultaneously the government is translating this false narrative into incoherent arguments and seeks to expel the Rohingya refugees on trumped up charges of terrorism.

Striking dichotomy
In all this, it is interesting to note the striking dichotomy in India’s stand vis a vis refugee protection at international platforms especially at the United Nations and India’s domestic policy implementation. As a member of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR since 1995, India has reiterated its commitment to work with the UNHCR and the international community to address the international protection challenges of refugees. Indian ambassadors have made forceful submissions at general debates of the UNHCR Executive Committee, on “India’s assimilative civilisational heritage and inherent capabilities as a state with a good record of non refoulement, hosting and assimilating refugees”. India has a tradition of welcoming refugees and migrants from conflict countries, by extending a cooperative engagement. Indian representatives have even stressed India’s commitment to host refugees entirely using existing resources.
The Rohingya refugees being largely Muslim, fleeing a genocide like situation at the hands of a Buddhist majoritarian regime, taking refuge in India since 2011-2012, receive no acceptance from a right wing fundamentalist government. The present government’s policy towards these refugees has been to whip up a communal frenzy by branding the Rohingya as Muslim refugees who pose a threat to law and order and national security. Whether the government’s stated policy aims at refoulement of the Rohingya refugees in actual practice, is still uncertain. What is certain is the government’s domestic political agenda of communal polarisation for political gains. A sad retreat for a country with a golden tradition of refugee and migrant protection, blown away for political vantage.

Prashant Bhushan is senior public interest advocate at the Supreme Court of India. Cheryl D’souza is an advocate and they are the Counsels for the petitioners in the case against the government of India’s proposed deportation of Rohingya Refugees. [The Wire]


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