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Dangerous Liaisons

The Soviet invasion in 1979 precipitated a large influx of Afghans into Pakistan, mainly from the Kabul elite, the affluent bought up residential homes and even small businesses, mainly in transportation. As the war reached the countryside the not so affluent started to cross over to escape being caught in the crossfire. The (mostly Pashtuns) Afghans owned residences in Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad serving as “Rest and Recreation” (R & R) facilities for whatever Afghan faction were the rebels at that time. Hayatabad and New University Town in Peshawar is full of rich Afghans.  Some of Karzai’s family still lives in Quetta, one of Rashid Dostum’s wives is said to be still living in Islamabad. A few bureaucrats and Kabul elite sought refuge in the Soviet Union when the Talibaan wrested Kabul from Ahmed Shah Masood’s Northern Alliance in the early 90s.

Host to all Afghan factions the refugee camps provided the cannon fodder for whoever the “rebels” were in Afghanistan at any given time.  Over three million Afghan refugees have alternated living in Pakistan for nearly four decades, please do forgive us for being somewhat upset that our long-term “guests” are rather ungrateful despite the fact that it is only over the past two years we have been seeking their repatriation.

We were shooting ourselves in the foot benignly ignoring the embarrassing presence of friends and foes alike in a bid to keep the relationship with our neighbor going, unintentionally supports the adverse propaganda that we actively support the Taliban in Afghanistan.  With the “rebel” leaders visiting their families, the US perception about a “Quetta Shura” operating a “command and control” center against them has hardened.  A public database of Afghans in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi, D.I. Khan, etc including their (1) place of origin (with address) in Afghanistan (2) names of relatives living in Afghanistan and/or abroad. With US satellites capable of reading number plates of vehicles, making public the so-called “safe havens” will act as a deterrent for any cross border activities? On the question of sovereignty, while drone attacks on militant commanders hiding in Pakistan cannot be condoned, should we shed any tears for those who have been killing our soldiers and civilians for over a decade plus?

To rebuild the trust between the US and Pakistan, it is important to re-establish the “military-to-military” (mil-mil) contact. This distrust is doubly tragic because in accomplishing the mutual aim of eradicating the militants  the Pakistan Army has done a magnificent job in the mountains and plains of FATA and SWAT.  After Sir Gerald Templar’s successful Malayan campaign in the 1950s, ours is the only Army in the world to have run a successful counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign. Even though politically it may be an unpopular measure, we should periodically (and only periodically) embed US military observers during military operations in FATA and SWAT. The political divide will protest the encroaching on our sovereignty, when the extenuating circumstances are extraordinary one needs to take unpopular measures far beyond the ordinary to safeguard the national integrity of the country.

Given constant Indian propaganda labelling “freedom fighters” as terrorists in  Kashmir and cleverly inventing their “connection” to the Talibaan in Afghanistan, a whole lot of US civilian and military leaders have been turned off by what they perceive to be rank perfidy on the part of Pakistan. This has been force-multiplied by the Tajik majority serving in the Afghan Army hating us. To counter or contain this, a comprehensive exchange program should facilitate US “leaders” in media persons, politicians, public servants, etc to meet our decision-makers in govt, politicians, academics, media persons, etc across the board to ascertain a first-hand public opinion in Pakistan across the entire spectrum. Conversely knowledgeable Pakistanis must visit the  US and interact with US think tanks, congressional members, general public, Pakistanis living in the US, etc.  Ambassador Aizaz is genuinely struggling to counter anti-Pakistani propaganda, did anyone from the Pakistan Embassy turn up for any of my well-publicized events in Wash DC? Taking timeout from their personal interests they must engage with their official responsibilities.

The relationship between India and the US should normally not concern Pakistan. If the buildup is done at our cost, than we have a legitimate grouse. How can we allow the Indians to use Afghanistan as a base for a “second front” against us? A lot of US sarcasm is directed against the fictional “Indian Consulates” Pakistan keeps drawing US attention to. One may well ask, what do you call these locations staffed by India’s RAW?  And why are these locations primarily guarded by the Afghan NDSI? They exist only to create mischief and mayhem in Balochistan and KPK Provinces! Indian PM Narendra Modi, former Defence Minister Parikar, NSA Ajit Duval, etc are all on record that they aim to destabilize Pakistan and separate Balochistan from Pakistan. India’s concerted hate propaganda against Pakistan among the Afghan military trainees in Indian military training-institutions is not a secret. While India should enhance its economic support for the Afghan economy, does the US want a military role for India in Afghanistan?

Our legitimate concerns stem from India concentrating almost 80% of their Armed Forces, land, sea and air, deployed against Pakistan’s eastern borders, outnumbering Pakistan 4 to 1 and even 5 to 1 at places, not along their long border with China. The US national interest to wean India away from the communist camp during the Cold War exists for 50 years, India’s China border War of 1962 gave them an opportunity.  Ambassador Chester Bowles’ May 1965 Memo to the State Department to contain China is quite explicit and more relevant today given that China has become a superpower and is perceived  as a threat to US national interests in the region. However the Memo also warned against marginalizing Pakistan. The US national security imperative of building up India to contain China is far removed from the US trying to expand India’s role in Afghanistan.

An intelligent discourse with those with good judgement is not possible when they firmly believe out of good faith their perceptions to be true.  However one must keep one’s cool and not react in a manner that would be counter-productive. On the other hand for Pakistan the India factor in Afghanistan is a national security imperative red flag that the US must take note of.  Is India’s presence in Afghanistan so vital for the US that they put their entire national interest in the region at risk?

(Fifth of a series of articles about the deteriorating Pakistan-US relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst).

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PACIFIC, INDIAN OCEAN AND ASIA

Pakistan was founded in 1947 at a time when nobody was thinking about globalization even though the just finished WW II suggested that. History of the opposing military alliances had important lessons to teach; not only Pakistanis but others keep forgetting that political and economic alliances follow the military ones. Pakistan missed learning important political, economic and military lessons both out of 1965 and 1971.

Creating and sustaining a country like Pakistan compounded by the fact that the two wings of the country were separated by 1000 miles of hostile territory with East Pakistan almost entirely surrounded by our ill-disposed neighbor was always going to be a major challenge. While having complementary economies both logic and reason dictated that each of the “wings” should have been able to “stand alone” militarily.  Unfortunately the leadership in West Pakistan put self-interest above the national interest. More than 12 Infantry Divisions and 2 Armoured Divisions, alongwith some independent brigades, nearly 95% of our military power was deployed in Pakistan’s western wing.  East Pakistan had only one reinforced infantry division (with an additional brigade), one squadron of fighter aircraft and some Navy gunboats.  Even though belatedly reinforced by two lightly equipped infantry divisions flown in (plus another ad hoc division created locally), the moronic bankrupt “strategy” that the “Defence of the East lies in the West” was fully exposed in the break-up of Pakistan in 1971.  Since 1979 we have self-created another such ridiculous proposition “Afghanistan gives us strategic depth”. The only thing Afghanistan gives us is a “strategic headache”.

With globalization picking up speed, power centres are moving. Concerned about China’s rising power, hardliners in the West led by the US have over the past few decades sought various permutations and combinations in fresh alignments to contain this expansion. The strategic premise of the west is to build partnerships to dominate the land mass of Asia.

US economic ‘pivot’ of Asia under President Barak Obama has not delivered politically or economically. Japan has come out of its non-military policy adopted after WW II. Known for its antipathy to China extending over centuries, its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are now flexing their military muscles in the Pacific. Strategically located by dominating the Indian Ocean India comes across in the western mind as a credible counter to China in any land conflict in Asia.

The new buzzword being bandied among military experts to contain and/or confront China in Asia Pacific is “military-military” alignment. “Mil-mil” cooperation encompasses Japan, India and the US. While Israel’s enormous military capacity is left unspoken, others in the alignment include Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.  The  Houthis have kept the latter two at bay for nearly a year in Yemen, Egypt’s ability to project power beyond its border is doubtful. However for Japan to build their capacity for undertaking a land war in Asia will take decades. Given their WW II experience, will Japan have the stomach for such a war?

The US and Japan can dominate China in the Pacific (specifically the South China Sea) while the US and India do the same in the Indian Ocean. Does it really matter that the Chinese cannot match these alignments in dominating the oceans? As early as in the 13th century. Genghis Khan emphasized keeping open the land routes for merchants, he frequently stated that the Mongols would never dominate the seas.  HJ Mackinder, a British geographer published his idea in 1904 about the “geographical pivot of history” predicting that the future center of power lies in the Eurasian landmass. It has taken more than a hundred years to prove him right. The US has come to grief in land wars in Asia (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan) and with Japanese footprint on the Asian mainland unlikely, this navy-heavy axis supposes that India will be able (or be enabled) to take on China in a land war. This premise reminds us of the ridiculous Pakistani strategy pre and post 1971, given the current developing power constellation in Asia it is not realistic.

Nixon was able to contain Soviet Union in the 1970s by exploiting its differences with China and giving Chinese an opening to the west.  Times have changed.  Is it possible for the emerging “mil-mil” alignments to counter close friends and strategic partners Russia and China in a land war in Asia?   The powerful US fleets with their aircraft carrier strength projecting airpower can influence the land battle but only peripherally, can such an alignment at sea dominate in the land mass of Asia? Air power alone cannot win any wars, one must have boots on the ground. The ships out at sea might as well be on a luxury cruise.

The center towards which all power is gravitating is the Eurasian landmass. China and Russia are certainly the largest powers therein but even they alone cannot dominate the huge territory containing such a variety of people, cultures, traditions and problems without having effective partnership to go with the network of road and rail routes.  This makes the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) concept, of which CPEC is a part, very important. In order to create a ‘new world order’ that will be centred in Eurasia a much larger alliance of countries and powers has to be formed; Pakistan is one of those. An important crossway from west to east and from the shores of the Arabian Sea to Central Asia, Russia and China, without Pakistan there is no peace in Afghanistan. Our strategists have to shift their focus from being fixed on India, Kashmir and Afghanistan and look at the larger picture. In that we have to play a positive role of connecting countries, powers and economies. That should prevent us to take part in one-sided alliances like with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates or even the Iran-Turkey connection. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have military connections with either of the country groupings but that should not be to the exclusion of others. The same way we kept our China opening for 60 years while being part of a US-led military alliance, we must keep our US opening.

Not sending our soldiers into the war in Yemen is a realization of this new responsibility of ours. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could well be the platform on which many of the security related questions – together with the economic and political ones- can be discussed and hopefully solved.

(This is the FOURTH in a series about US-Pakistan relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst).

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THE GAME-CHANGERS

With US President Trump scrapping the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions, the possibility of conflict in the region has increased dramatically. From being the US “policeman” in the Gulf, Iran has become the acknowledged target of the US and Israel, egged on by the so-called “Sunni Coalition”. Iran’s ally Hezbollah having won the elections in Lebanon, and the Shia-leaning parties likely to do well in Iraq, the question is not will Israel act but when? For the record Trump’s NATO allies do not agree with him, the EU was quite emphatic!  Indeed, given this distinct possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran’s suspected nuclear sites, will India take advantage for an adventure against us in coordination with its new military ally?

Turkey’s relations with the US has cooled considerably, the latest being US military hardware being possibly denied to a NATO ally.  The Pakistan Armed Forces has outfought and uprooted the militants from their safe havens in the only successful counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign in the world at this time. Losing over 6000 dead and 25000 soldiers injured, Pakistan is still vilified for not doing enough to counter terrorism.

Memories are selective when it comes to national interests. Despite massive US military aid to shore up India after it was humiliated by China in 1962, India remained firmly in the Soviet Camp during the entire cold war. After the Soviet Union’s break-up, India continues its “strategic relationship” with Russia, in a virtual “Houdini act” as a possible replacement for the “Shah of Iran” in the region?   CENTO was a shield for the oil-rich Arab monarchies, now flexing their armed muscle UAE and Saudi Arabia have been actively supporting the “Hadi regime” in the civil war in Yemen fighting the “Houthi” rebels being materially supported by Iran.

While Pakistan will certainly not countenance Iran’s extra-curricular activities, can we afford to support armed hostility against our neighbor? During the EastWest Institute (EW) 2018 Spring Board Meeting in Amman this week, I remembered our soldiers dying in bloody battles fighting alongside the Jordanian Arab Legion protecting King Hussain (and Jordan) in 1970 from being overthrown by the PLO, which incidentally had its HQs in the Hotel Intercontinental Amman. Our soldiers’ sacrifice was in vain, very few Jordanians remember our soldiers being the only ones to die for their country, we do not even figure in their list of “close friends”. Our emotions should not dictate our decision-making. Committing to the Arab monarchies that we would send our soldiers to Yemen, former PM Nawaz Sharif had to renege on his promise. The adverse public reaction in Pakistan forced his own dominated National Assembly (NA) to pass a binding resolution against it. Not committing our ground troops in Yemen angered the Saudis and UAE. With their casualties in Yemen multiplying, the UAE particularly would rather have Pakistani troops as “cannon fodder”!

While the vestiges of the “Islamic State” (IS) have been up-rooted in Pakistan and to an extent from Iraq and Syria, “Daesh” is now real in Afghanistan. Militarily the Afghans cannot sustain whatever gains US and NATO troops make on the ground with great sacrifice, their battlefield performance has been pathetic.  The Afghan rank and file being mainly Tajik blame Pakistan for the assassination of their leader Ahmad Shah Masood just before 9/11, they target Pakistan to hide their own abysmal failure. There is a sharp decline of about 35000 military personnel out of about 330000 in one year alone. The growth of insurgency is influencing many Afghan soldiers to leave the service. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that since 2005 the US has spent US$72.85 billion on the Afghan Armed Forces. SIGAR’s Head John F. Sopko told CNN, “The Taliban knows what is going on. The Afghan govt knows what is going on, the only people who do not know what’s going on are the people who pay for it, the American taxpayers”. The Afghans will probably blame this also on Pakistan! Realizing the Daesh threat both the Afghan govt and the Talibaan could even be edging towards a political negotiation to end the armed conflict.  A political and economic interdiction is the answer instead of a military solution.

The prime game-changer in the region is economic, it is neither political nor military as being propagated.  To keep its trade routes open, China formalized the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) concept, this initiative is annunciated by President Xi. While important for China’s own national security imperatives, for Pakistan the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a national security game-changer viz (1) building up its transportation and power sectors with its resultant economic fallout (2) the foreign direct investment (FDI) will have a force-multiplier effect on employment and (3) development of many poverty-stricken areas. Having the potentially to change the face of this region the way the oil did for the oil-rich countries in the 70s and 80s India should not oppose this but be part of this game-changer for the whole of South Asia. For mineral-rich landlocked Afghanistan Gwadar gives tremendous access.

With Russia and China supporting a possible Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani bloc the danger is that potentially a “Baghdad Pact” in reverse can happen. The three countries have the largest non-Arab Armed forces battle-hardened and intact, does it make sense to push nuclear Pakistan into such an alignment?  Pakistan could be put into a situation where it certainly does not want to be, would we be comfortable with Chinese economic hegemony if it happens?

Those targetting Pakistan at India’s behest should ask themselves why has a non-Arab general, former Pakistani COAS Raheel Sharif, been chosen to head the “Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition” (IMCTC) forged by the galvanizing Saudi leader Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS)?  Everyone and his uncle knows the Army Chief in Pakistan controls the ISI, the “villain” supposedly “supporting terrorism”, could MBS have selected Raheel to be Islam’s pointman in countering terrorism if he did not admire and trust the professionalism and performance of the Pakistan Army fighting terrorism? Would he do that if we were supporting terrorism as alleged by Modi, his family and friends, both within and outside Pakistan?

While Pakistan can never be part of any bloc that threatens another Islamic country, can we continue our “Mr In Between” role and not be pushed at India’s behest into the other camp?  Pakistan has unfortunately a very ambiguous role. If push comes to shove, that could happen!

(This is the third in a series about US-Pakistan relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst).

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OUR “ON-OFF” RELATIONSHIP

It is easy now to criticize Pakistan’s leaders of the 50s for becoming a member of the Baghdad Pact in 1954, could our armed forces have repelled any concerted attack without being equipped in the 50s and 60s with US arms and equipment, particularly with India having weapons assiduously supplied by the Soviet Union?

We fought the Indians to a standstill in 1965 because of the three “As”, Air Force, Armour and Artillery”. Though vastly outnumbered our magnificent pilots flying American-made F86s (Sabres) ensured air superiority. The US-made Patton tanks outfought a much larger Indian armour concentration near Sialkot in one of  the biggest tank battles after World War 2. With American-made heavy and medium artillery our gunners precision stopped the Indians’ two-pronged attacks on Lahore and Sialkot dead in their tracks. An “A” should have acknowledged “Allah” and an “I” for “Infantry”. Implementing a most confused higher operational plan, starting with the ill-conceived total disaster “Operation Gibraltar”, we can only thank God that the Indian High Command plan failed because of the raw courage of our Young Officers'(YOs) and soldiers’.  Badly outnumbered the poor forgotten foot-sloggers took the brunt of the casualties in pitched battles. India did not dismember Pakistan in 1971, this happened mainly because of rank stupidity across our political, economic, civil and military divide.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto saved us from Indian-imposed hegemony in South Asia like far Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives by ensuring a “Mutually Assured Deterrence” (MAD) acquiring the nuclear potential “even if we had to eat grass”.  The US-Pakistan relationship was rapidly cooling despite our membership of SEATO and CENTO because of our opening to China (the 1963 Border Treaty). The US imposed an arms embargo because of the 1965 Indo-Pak war. While India kept being supplied by the Soviet Union, for Pakistan almost entirely dependent on the US for arms supplier, this was a catastrophe. Friends like China on one side and Turkey, Iran and Jordan on the other, ensured we kept being supplied. Diversification and self-reliance on indigenous production was a by-product. Our nuclear ambitions further put us in the US doghouse in the 70s. Things changed drastically with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. For hanging Bhutto, from being a “pariah” Gen Ziaul Haq instantly became the free world’s great bulwark against communism. Because Zia sold us cheap we are still paying the price today, three million refugees, a drugs/Kalashnikov culture, daily reprobation by the Afghan Govt, etc. Once the Afghan War was done and we were not needed any more, the “Pressler Amendment” was invoked in the early 90s, even theF-16s paid for by us were denied delivery. Shunned by the west like Zia for having ousted “democracy” in 1999, Musharraf similarly revelled in becoming after 9/11 the darling of the west, selling our services and facilities even more cheaply than Zia on the strength of one telephone call by the US Secretary of State Gen Colin Powell. Suffering huge casualties engaging the Talibaan and as a transit for US military goods to fight the Afghan war resulting in total degrading of our transportation infra-structure, we got a pittance.

The US “strategic relationship” with India aims to not only contain China but exploit the economic opportunities made possible because of1.2 billion population. After 9/11 things fell apart, the American groom left the Indian bride at the altar for Pakistan. After the “Arab Spring” stability in the entire Middle East region came undone and Israel, the corner-stone of US policy in the region, really became vulnerable, as also the major sources of world oil, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, etc.  The US marriage with India was finally been consummated 15 years later. The second Iraq war successfully rid Iraq of Saddam but the peace complicated the sectarian divide, almost destroying Iraq and starting the destruction of Syria. In a disparate changing scenario Libya remains in turmoil, the Moslem Brotherhood” revolution in Egypt has been reversed. Turkey escaped a devastating civil war only because of Erdogan’s courage and his popularity in the streets. Iran continues to stoke trouble abroad, not only in Syria and Lebanon but for the past year or so in Yemen. Not to be outdone in spreading carnage, the Arab monarchies have struck back in a proxy war against Iran, supporting the rebellion against Assad in Syria and against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Israeli-India nexus having the tacit support of the Arab monarchies is worrying for Pakistan.

While we have assiduously pushed the Palestinian cause, Yasser Arafat and his successors have only given lip-service to supporting Pakistan on Kashmir. To quote an extract from my article, “Visiting the Forbidden Land” of 2003, “The raging debate in Pakistan over Israel ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Why Jews are bad-mouthed in the country is a mystery. On coming into contact with Jews I found them to be as good (and as bad), human beings as anyone else. Why have we been demonizing an entire race on the basis of religion? I certainly condemn the Israeli brutality against the Palestinians and have full sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. I also condemn ‘suicide bombings’ and the loss of innocent Israeli lives. Every action has a reaction and this deadly cycle must stop. I strongly feel that dialogue with Israel will bring them in from the cold and help in making a permanent peace based on co-existence with the Palestinians possible. Recognition of Israel must not be weighed in terms of pluses and minuses of which one can enumerate many, but on the need to bring all human beings into the world’s melting pot, irrespective of race, religion or creed. We must convince Israelis about our sincerity of purpose by reaching out to them. For that, we must recognize Israel’s right to exist as a nation. If the cost of a permanent peace is to ensure an honourable place under the sun for Israel, that is a very small price to pay”, unquote

While Turkey’s relations with Israel have cooled, Egypt has again become like Qatar and Morocco very close.  The surprise development, of which my good friend Frank Neuman has been telling me for four years, has been Saudi Arabia tacitly accepting Israel. Why not be pragmatic like the young Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman? Frank Neuman told me years ago about Pakistani troops maintaining the peace in the Arab part of Jerusalem, is that a fantasy to dream of? (Second in a series of articles on US-Pakistan relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst).

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PAKISTAN “FATIGUE”

The periodic ups and downs in US-Pakistan relationship, alternating approximately in 10 years cycles since 1971, has had us going from being the “cornerstone” of US foreign policy to being its “gravestone”. Do the decision makers at our highest levels at various institutions of state have a coherent strategy in place that they do not want to share with us or are they being simply complacent?

Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, who now heads the EastWest Institute (EWI), with Ross Perot Jr as its Chairman, hosted a dinner at the Harvard Club in New York. The guests’ frustration about Pakistan’s policies concerning the Haqqanis was quite apparent, repeated assurances that they or the so-called “Quetta Shura” did not have a safe haven in Pakistan cut no ice with them. This pervasive skepticism by those genuinely favourable to Pakistan underscoring conviction rather than doubt about Pakistan’s eroding credibility seems to have taken traction in the US among friend and foe alike.

During a rather intense week in the US capital one had candid exchanges over breakfast, lunch and dinner sessions with participants at forums organised by various prestigious think tanks, among them the “America Foreign Policy Council (AFPC)”, the “Stimson Center” and the “Wilson Center”. At the dinner session with 35 members of the newly formed Pakistan American Press Association (PAPA), one learnt at first hand the problems of Pakistanis living at ground zero of the “trust deficit”.

Courtesy my friend, mentor and teacher, Eurasian and Russian expert Dr Frederick Starr,  Distinguished Fellow at the AFPC, the AFPC Session’s senior Congressional aides  from  both the Senate and the House as well as distinguished academics. Excellently moderated by Hannah Haegeland, the “Stimson Center” breakfast discussion included former US Ambassadors to Pakistan Robin Raphael and Rick Olson, Courtney Cooper of the Council of Foreign Relations, former Ambassadors Teresita Schaffer, Tom Lynch from the NDU, etc.  Both Ambassadors Robin Raphael and Teresita Schaffer also came to the Wilson Center Session professionally conducted by Michael Kugelman, DC’s concern about Pakistan’s eroded standing was openly commented upon by the participants, not with hostility but rather with anguish.

The positive rhetoric during the US-Pakistan love-fest years notwithstanding, this “trust deficit” came to a head in Sep 2011 because of the Haqqanis.  Occupying the whole of North Waziristan till December 2013 without any interference and/or intervention from Pakistan, the Haqqanis were neither aided and/or abetted by the ISI or the Army but some of their guerilla attacks within Afghanistan must have emanated on instructions of their leadership from Pakistani territory. To maintain the momentum of their successes in Swat and South Waziristan, even Kayani’s battlefield commanders were urging urgent action in North Waziristan, why did Kayani hesitate? Was it because we lacked men and material resources or was he simply apprehensive at the possible “blowback” from the militants in the Pakistani heartland.

After the Haqqani assault on the US Embassy in Kabul Adm Mike Mullen, then US Chairman Joint Chiefs and a true friend of Pakistan cried “foul”, venting his anger and frustration, first in a Press Conference and then before the US Senate, “Pakistan is espousing violent extremism a Afghanistan by allowing the Haqqani network to act  as an arm of the ISI, in choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy the govt of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani Army and ISI, are jeopardizing not only the prospect  of our strategic relationship but also Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence”, unquote. The full force of Mullen’s anger became a watershed event marking the rapid decline of US-Pakistan relationship.  That Gen Petraeus, both as Commanding General in Afghanistan and then as CIA Chief, observed that he never got any “direct evidence” about Pakistan supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and that most “evidence” was taken from newspaper reports, was brushed off without comment.

By no mean coincidence former Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani fabricating the infamous “Memo” “to save the Zardari regime”, also surfaced during 2011. An Ambassador meant to primarily safeguard Pakistani’s interests was busy exacerbating all the worst US suspicions about Pakistan. The US is not forgiving when American lives are lost or at risk. When we crossed that fail-safe line we went in short order from being “tolerated friend” to a “possible foe”. Openly aided and abetted by Husain Haqqani, India went into overdrive embellishing the making up of facts defaming Pakistan with outright lies.

In December 2013 militants viciously assaulted the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar leaving over 149 dead including 139 children. For the record, not a single attacker was Pakistani, they included one Chechen, three Arabs and two Afghanis, evidence suggested that they had originated from Afghanistan with Afghan NDSI support.  Similarly Mullah Fazlullah who gave the orders to kill Malala has been given refuge in Afghanistan by Afghan govt elements. The Haqqanis ultimately lost their North Waziristan sanctuary when in retaliation to the APS massacre the new COAS Gen Raheel Sharif launched Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” on June 15, 2014, an all-out air and ground assault in North Waziristan.

Till 2011 the US Department of Defence (DOD) had avidly supported Pakistan over the years while the State Department generally was far less tolerant of Pakistan, today 7 years later it is the other way around.  The US failure to build and consolidate their battlefield successes has been because of the inadequacy of the Afghan Army to sustain it. The Afghans find it convenient to consistently blame Pakistan for their own abysmal performance. With US troops fighting alongside the Afghan Army (consisting a majority of Tajiks, mainly in the officer corps), a whole generation of American soldiers in battlefield camaraderie are subjected to anti-Pakistan propaganda day in and day out. The Tajik animosity towards Pakistan stems from Ahmad Shah Masood’s Northern Alliance being ousted by the Taliban from Kabul.

Describing the adverse mood in Wash DC as Pakistan “Fatigue” is a gross understatement.  One has never before witnessed such intense hostility before.  The public in Pakistan reciprocates this animosity but they cannot imagine the consequences if this is not only contained but reversed, at least to some extent.  Containing further deterioration in the US-Pakistan relationship must be given priority. To quote Dr Starr, “the scar tissue one has to deal with is far thicker than assumed, rendering it relatively far more difficult.” Unfortunately we have too much to lose by doing nothing or too little too late (first of a series of THREE articles about the deteriorating Pakistan-US relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst).

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COMEY’S BOOK AND PAKISTAN’S LEADERS

James Brien Comey Jr served as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for four years till fired by President Donald Trump on May 9, 2017. Trump initially claimed this was because of Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into the private email of Hillary Clinton. The overriding perception prevailing is that the real reason was Special Counsel (and former FBI Chief) Robert Muller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” reached bestseller status even prior to its publication on April 17. In retaliation, the US President let loose scathing tweets about “lying James Comey” and “sanctimonious James Comey”. While repeatedly calling Comey  “a slimeball” hardly becomes the august office of the US President, on his part Comey’s calling Trump “morally unfit to be President” compromises not only the privileged access he had as FBI Chief to the President and his association with an ongoing FBI investigation but the sanctity of confidentiality and neutrality  inherent to his office. CNN’s senior media correspondent, commented that, “Trump’s anti-Comey tweets gave a huge boost to Comey’s book”. Sacked as FBI Chief Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the President had demanded his “loyalty”, pressed him to drop an enquiry into ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and repeatedly pressured him to publicly declare that he was not under investigation.

A career prosecutor, Comey helped dismantle the Gambino crime family before heading the FBI – his Book draws a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses and President Trump. Comey could well be writing about Pakistani politicians, particularly PML (N) and  PPP running the govt for the past decade.  In June last year  the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan had compared the PML(N)-led federal govt to the “Sicilian Mafia” after a party leader had openly hurled vile threats to the judges, their children and members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the Sharif family’s business dealings abroad. Consider the recent firing incidents in Lahore at the house of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the Judge monitoring the PanamaGate trial?  Comey writes, “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us versus them worldview. In service to some code of loyalty that puts the organisation above morality and above the truth”.

Comey charges “this President is unethical, and untethered to the truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego-driven and about personal loyalty”. Eerie how these words and “Trump’s rule is a “forest fire” which is doing great damage to America”  also hold good in Pakistan. Threatening, intimidating and obstructing the rule of law while occupying the seat of power, Nawaz and his party stalwarts have excelled in telling lies and half-truths, not disclosing complete facts, submitting forged documents, engaging others to give false testimony and prompting people to falsify documents. Using extremely objectionable language against the superior judiciary and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on numerous occasions, their targeting of the Army has been by inference only and not directly, discretion being the better part of valour,.

Bizarre as it may be, Comey’s description,  “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalised and unethical behaviour is ignored, excused or rewarded,” appears Pakistan-specific. Nawaz Sharif also believes Trump-like he has the mandate of everyone in Pakistan, surrounding himself by ‘Yes Men’ ever ready to endorse or support their chief’s every opinion or proposal without criticism. Many making up his inner circle act like darbaris (courtiers) carrying out their master’s bidding without question, excelling in filling his ears in instigating him past the political fail-safe line.

DNI Director James Clapper was present during Comey’s first meeting with the President soon after his election when Trump launched into a strategy session about how to “spin for the public what we’d just told them” about Russia’s election interference. Compare the Trump and Putin relationship with Nawaz and Modi, Maryam’s uncle Modi openly pursues a hard-line policy towards Pakistan, using both state and non-state actors to harm Pakistan. Keeping alive their “friendship” with Modi, Nawaz Sharif and his family have no qualms about keeping mum over the killings of innocent civilians and other atrocities committed in Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK).  While recently ordering dozens of Russian diplomats out of the US because of the Skripal poisoning and ordering an air offensive against Russian-supported Syria because of alleged chemical attacks against civilians, while Trump’s personal friendship with Putin reportedly persists, national interest prevails over personal and/or commercial interests.

Comey explores the toxic consequences of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. With dishonesty, bullying, peer pressure and groupthink central “to the entire enterprise of organized crime,” he says these repellent traits were shared by Trump and company.  Loyalty to an individual being more important than the truth and the State is also pervasive in our political culture. Party faithful fall over each other in decrying the SC and NAB almost on a daily basis, flouting the rule of law, spouting venom against anyone and everyone deemed anti-Sharif, twisting facts and giving spin to facts in order to appear truthful. The lies and fabrication that Nawaz, his sons, daughter and cronies disseminate are endless, these can be heard almost every day on television talk shows, they seem to really believe whatever they say.

Five judges of the SC unanimously ruled on April 13 that former PM Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in July 2017 under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution was for life. With judgment of PanamaGate case to be announced and with many cases being opened by accountability courts against the former PM, Capt Safdar, Maryam, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, the worst is yet to come Trump’s recent pardoning of Scooter Libby, former VP Cheney’s aide envisages a parallel to Mamnoom Hussain’s possibly granting a Presidential pardon to Nawaz and family once they are convicted. This is dangling a possible Presidential pardon for other aides because they could well otherwise serve time in prison.  With a Caretaker govt due soon, Mamnoon can  possibly run out of time?  Consider a telling quote from Comey’s book, “it is wrong to stay idly by, or worse stay silent when you know better, while a President brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement agencies that were established to keep our leaders in check.” Unquote. Can we keep the excesses of our leaders in check, let alone hold them accountable?

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HOLDING KARACHI’S CITIZENS HOSTAGE

With supply of gas from Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGC) to the metropolis’ power utility, K-Electric (KE) far below that is required to run the KE’s gas-fired power plants, consumers across Karachi city are suffering from additional load-shedding. The SSGC and KE stalemate has resulted in a power shortfall of around 500MW which started 10 days ago and continues without any sign of solution.

SSGC initially denied that there had been any reduction in the gas supply to KE. Reports were then circulated that facing a shortage of gas supply from different fields SSGC was unable to meet the demands of existing customers. In reality SSGC has a different problem with KE, claiming that KE was not making payments for the gas being supplied. On the other hand KE gave proof of making regular payments of its monthly gas bills, the capital amount being payable was not in dispute, the interest amounting of Rs 60bn was.  In a letter to the Commissioner Karachi, SSGC made a conditional offer to increase the gas supply if KE agreed (1) to settle its arr­ears (2) sign a Gas Supply Agreement (GSA) and (3) pay a security deposit. For its part KE claimed that the amount payable to SSGC was only Rs 13.7bn whereas the rest of the amount was disputed, Rs 60bn arrears as interest and late payment surcharge both sub-judice without KE’s having the requisite gas to run its gas-based power stations, the shortfall of about 500MW will continue.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Karachi, SSGC has chosen the hot weather crisis to push through its own selfish agenda with KE.  Possibly Shanghai Electric Power (SEP) proposed taking over KE was another consideration. No thought was given as to the ramifications of load shed for the city’s industrial capacity causing losses amounting to billions, obviously the resulting unemployment does not concern SSGC.  Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Bin Qasim Association of Trade and Industry (BQATI), etc have raised the alarm. Industry analysts suggest the revisiting of the “Gas Load Management Policy” by working out a solution to allocate gas supply from least priority sectors such as CNG sector to Power sector which comes second on the priority list.

Committed to resolve this ongoing row so that the people of the city do not continue suffering because of the sweltering weather, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah summoned officials from both KE and SSGC over the weekend, categorically stating that he would not allow them to punish the people of the city due to their disputes. In a bold and welcome move CM Murad not only gave both sides an ultimatum to find a solution but also sought immediate intervention of PM Khaqan Abbasi to resolve issues between SSGC and KE to provide some relief to citizens and businesses in Karachi.  A second letter from the CM to the PM within 10 days highlighted the urgency of providing relief to the city’s people from load-shedding.

According to the CM, SSGC has offered “in the public interest” to increase the volume of gas supply to the KE through the gas management plan, provided the electric supply company pays security deposit, resolves outstanding payment issue and signs a GSA (gas supply agreement). KE on the other hand has committed to providing security deposit and showed readiness to sign the GSA on mutually agreed terms. In an emergency board meeting on Sunday the SSGC reportedly approved supply of 120mmcfd (million cubic feet per day) gas to the KE upon furnishing Rs6 billion security deposit, equivalent to three-month average bill of 150mmcfd gas supply and signing of mutually agreed terms of reference for the appointment of an independent chartered accountant firm. On its part KE maintains that payment of mark-up/late payment surcharge to the SSGC is a complex matter and in turn, involves recovery of outstanding electricity dues from the Federal Government (tariff differential subsidy) and other strategic bulk consumers. According to the CM’s letter, a Committee has been recommended to be constituted comprising representatives of the Federal and Provincial governments, SSGC and KE to sort out the outstanding issues.

SSGC refusing to increase the gas supply to KE given the rising power generation requirements over the matter of dues sets an alarming and dangerous precedent – having graver implication that is simply not acceptable. This mode for recovering among public sector/semi-public sector entities has not only many ramifications but complications in the future for both all stakeholders involved and the public at large.  This precedent might see PSO cutting the fuel supply of PIA on account of PKR 26 billion dues or ceasing supplies to Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL), the main supplier of re-gasified liquefied natural gas in the country which owes PSO at least Rs 28 billion or allow KE to disconnect the power supply of KWSB due to PKR 32 billion dues going forward. For its part SSGC owes PPL and OGDCL amounts to the tune of PKR 112 Billion. Should these companies also curb gas supplies to SSGC, we will then have city (and a country) without gas, power and water.  Does the management of SSGC want to hold Karachi’s citizens to ransom?

Who can forget the many deaths in Karachi and Sindh due to heatstroke in the past two years? Silence or indifference on the subject by the country’s leadership consisting political representatives, government and administration will exacerbate the sufferings of the citizens who are already in misery the economic activity which is being disrupted has its own cyclical impact.  Limited production by industrial units of Karachi will affect the overall economic performance of the country by further plunging the exports and trimming supplies in the local markets, this will raise the levels of poverty and unemployment.

Better sense must prevail and the power supply to Karachi city must be restored. Companies in the public domain must ethically never be allowed to use “dues and receivables” as an excuse to hamper the provision of essential services and utilities to the citizens. At the moment SSGC is holding the citizens of Karachi hostage to pursue its own selfish objectives. Militants of the MQM were holding Karachi to ransom, after the militants is this a new way to blackmail Karachi citizens? To drag us back to the dark 2000-2010 years full of turmoil for old times’ sake, on what motivation?  For humanitarian considerations if nothing else, some gas supply must be restored immediately while an empowered Committee must resolve this dispute without further delay.

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LEST WE FORGET

The pulsating cheering crowd in the National Stadium Karachi for the PSL Final, and subsequently for the three international T20s, underscored the return of peace to a city (and country) torn by internal strife.  Bereft of any sports spectacle and living in cold fear for life and limb of their (and their families) because of open-ended threats from terrorists, political, religious and the criminal kind, the people of Karachi had very good reason to celebrate, both their “freedom” and Pakistan’s return from sports “exile”. When the speakers playing the National Anthem failed during its rendition before the start of the match, the entire audience spontaneously started singing the anthem, could anyone have stage-managed patriotism better?

The gains made in 1994-1995 by the decimation of MQM’s militants by Gen Babar and the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) was reversed by Gen Musharraf because of the military dictator’s personal ambitions. The Rangers were ordered to stand helplessly by as the MQM ran riot. One expected the PPP to crack down after Musharraf’s rule ended in 2008 but Zardari needed the MQM politically to stay in power far more than Musharraf did, Rahman Malik the bagman facilitating Altaf Hussain’s drugs, drinks, gambling and (various other) addictions in London.  Without the special powers to arrest the miscreants affiliated with political parties who did their dirty work with complete impunity, with the Sindh Police compromised by vested personal/political interest and without coordinated intelligence gathering, the Rangers remained in “forced stupor” as mere spectators. Even when arrested the militants were treated as royalty in the police stations, being garlanded on being set free. The para-military force’s discipline and motivation suffered grievously during this decade of inaction, their capacity and potential deteriorating and diminishing considerably from 2000 to 2010, a sorry reflection on successive two stars in command during this time.

Militant political activists and armed criminal gangs took over entire localities in Karachi, MQM’s sector offices acting as enforcement arms for Altaf’s whims and caprices. With militants being now “legal” as part of the Sindh ruling coalition Karachi’s citizens started screaming and Kayani finally lost his patience.  He moved Maj Gen Ijaz Chaudhry post-haste started from his Division conducting counter-insurgency operations in South Waziristan  as DG Rangers in April 2010.  Re-organising his command Ijaz weeded out undesirable elements and re-trained them for their mission statement.  The first “acid test” was a major operation against the Kallu gang in Dalmia, thereafter with Gen Kayani’s support Ijaz persisted with low-key operations. In September 2011 when the Supreme Court (SC) summoned him, he handed over a sealed list of criminals from the political parties constituting the Sindh Coalition to Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry. Stunned by this stark description of “democracy’s” governance mode in the Province, the SC gave DG Rangers the go-ahead to continue with his mission, monitoring the Rangers activity on weekly reports. The by-product was smooth conduct of 2013 elections, at least in the urban areas of Sindh. Promoted in Oct 2011 Ijaz stayed as DG Rangers as a Lt Gen for six months till taking over as Comd 5 Corps in March 2012 and persisting with anti-militant operations. Only two weeks before Kayani retired, he replaced Ijaz with a bizarre posting, a quite awful favourite who was to retire after only 9 months. Sajjad Akram was succeeded by Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar as Commander 5 Corps. Once Gen Raheel Shareef took over as COAS, the pace of this operation quickened considerably. After the Peshawar APS incident and the subsequent launch of “Operation Zarb-i-Azb”, the Karachi operation went into overdrive!

Karachi city remained on another plane of criminality with the Rangers battling both criminals and terrorists in the field, while facing die-hard opposition from their mentors in the govt in Sindh. To top it all the Sindh Assembly adopted a Resolution in 2015 asking for checks and conditions on Rangers’ special powers to raid and arrest suspects. Calling for the break-up of Pakistan on August 22, 2016 Altaf Hussain’s hatred filled speech had a far more sinister purpose, he predicted that the country would cease to exist soon. The speed of the mob’s reaction to Altaf’s speech suggested that this was neither spur-of-the-moment nor spontaneous, there was method in his madness. Armed to the teeth MQM activists had taken up ambush positions in and around Zainab Market. Had the Rangers not been delayed by traffic, hundreds of innocent civilians would have been murdered in cold blood and blamed on the Rangers. The MQM gameplan engineered by India’s RAW was to defame the Army by default.

With full backing from Gen Raheel Sharif, Naveed Mukhtar took immediate and decisive action on Aug 23. All 122 MQM unit/sector offices meant to maintain control by use of terror in these localities were demolished in two days.  The tacit political and administrative support of the Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah notwithstanding, this decision to eradicate MQM’s terror complexes is a watershed in Karachi’s history. Comd 5 Corps delivered the maximum impact by applying quantum of force at the right timing and the right place. With MQM disintegrating into small factions, the back of this once powerful political party was broken and Karachi got its freedom!

From being 6th most dangerous city out of 300 cities in 2014, Karachi dropped in rank to 50th in 2016, amply demonstrating the wonderful work done by the Rangers (read the Army). The touchstone of the continuing success of Comd 5 Corps. Lt Gen Shahid Baig Mirza, who succeeded Naveed and Maj Gen Mohammad Saeed replacing Maj Gen (now Lt Gen) Bilal Akbar as DG Rangers, lies in their firm but quiet enforcing of writ of law like Ijaz, Naveed and Bilal Akbar did before them, this notwithstanding the many political hurdles placed before them by the Sindh Govt. With those criminals and terrorists not apprehended going into hiding, what will happen to the city if Army backs off? There is no “Doctrine of Necessity” derailing democracy as alleged by the politicians and their paid media hacks, it is being derailed by the penchant of our politicians to corrupt the prime institutions of governance for their own vested interest.

Hogging all the credit for cricket’s return to Pakistan, PSL grudgingly mentioned the role of security agencies but did not give even passing mention to the tremendous ultimate sacrifice rendered by our soldiers over the years to make Pakistan safe. Lest we forget, it is their sacrifice which made cricket a domestic happening instead of PSL remaining a “Yatra” filling Dubai’s coffers.

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“JUDICIAL” MARTIAL LAW

Our Republic Day being an appropriate occasion to reflect on the meaning of the day, most thought provoking comments were made by the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) in Lahore on March 23. Referring to remarks made by the Awami Muslim League Chief Sheikh Rasheed urging a 90-day ‘judicial martial law’ in the run-up to the upcoming general elections,  ruled out any such possibility. Terming the supremacy of law, the independence of the judiciary and the impartial provision of justice “most important aspects for a country to progress”, he stressed that the country needed being run in accordance with its supreme law – the Constitution.

Unfortunately the imposition of martial law by the military and approval thereof by the judiciary represents a certain sorry tradition in Pakistan. Instead of carrying out their task to uphold, interpret and apply the Constitution our superior judiciary effectively abrogated the authority vested in the SC by the Constitution by saying “martial Law was right”. They even gave powers to military dictator Gen Musharraf to “amend” the Constitution as he saw fit! Neither Pakistani society nor its civilian, military and judicial institutions have understood the essence of the state, a democracy must be run based on the rule of law and the pre-condition is that all Pakistanis understand and accept that the Constitution being the supreme law of the land, to be respected and implemented first and foremost.

The German philosopher Hegel explained two hundred years ago that freedom means to understand and accept necessity – the necessity to make laws and keep to the rule of law in order to build a peaceful progressive society. In our case the necessity is to obey the law and to defend it out of our free will because we understand that without law and order we will not be able to progress. All our smaller private, political and even economic endeavours have to be subjugated to the rule of law, the judiciary is there to make sure that this happens.  The problem arises in strictly adhering to the wording of the law instead of abiding by the spirit of it.

The movers of the Lahore Resolution on March 23, 1940 asked not only for freedom from the British but for the freedom for Muslims to render their lives according to the tenets of Islam based on the British political majority system. Freedom from British rule and India came  true on 14 August 1947, Pakistan is struggling today to understand and accept the second part – the supremacy of the Constitution in a “British-style” democracy. This freedom acknowledges the necessity of rule of law – not accepted by a large part of our society and political leaders. Our feudal background makes us think that a selected few are so special, so important and so wonderful that laws apply only to the others but not to them. Motivated interest rather than the national compulsion goes with the feudal mentality of our elite.   Imagine the incongruity of having someone who renounced his Pakistani citizenship as far back as 2008 being named on the elite panel announced by the Chief Justice to recover illegal wealth?  For years this scoundrel faked his “Pakistani” presence to get access to Boards of sensitive public sector entities, those “elite club” friends are using the SC to rehabilitate him.

The former PM,  family and close aides think that they are above the law. Getting 15 million votes out of a population of 190 million (at that time), “industrial feudal” Mian Nawaz Sharif fuels the perception that the verdict of the SC disqualifying him is false by holding massive public rallies.  Does getting slightly more than 20% votes cast of the actual 2013 electoral turnout represent the “mandate” of the entire population of Pakistan?  This exposes how ridiculous and bankrupt our British-adopted “first past the post” system is. Not once in the last 9 months has Nawaz Sharif given credible counter-arguments about his enormous wealth and assets abroad, “Panama Gate” represents only a tip of the “illegal” iceberg. Nawaz Sharif’s public stance and rhetoric negates the necessity to accept the supremacy of the law and the Constitution and the role of the judiciary to uphold it by telling lies blatantly and constantly. Those supporting him demonstrate graphically that they also do not accept the necessity of the rule of law. Our dominant feudal mentality does not need a judiciary at all, we might as well have a King like in the Middle Ages who is the maker, sole interpreter and applier of the law all-in-one.

To quote my article of Dec 30, 2016 “Wishes for 2017”, “The calibre and integrity of the incoming Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Mian Saqib Nisar, does not merit the insidious slander campaign on the social media. His predecessor said a lot of good things in public forums but did little about it in the Court. History does not forgive those who favour expediency and personalities over principles. One of our outstanding jurists, Justice Munir, is remembered in posterity only for authoring the infamous “Doctrine of Necessity”. Justice is represented by a blindfolded Greek god favouring neither friend nor foe, imparting justice equally for the rich and the poor. The poor can hardly afford rich lawyers who play with words to circumvent the spirit of the law. Given his track record, one knows that the incoming Chief Justice will not be selective in being deaf, dumb and blind. Mian Saqib Nisar is literally Pakistan’s last hope, he must remain true to his integrity and character, and to his calling”, unquote. With the experience of dealing with thousands of manpower, it is satisfying to get one’s assessment of a person right.

CJ Saqib Nisar promises that monarchy-based democracy will not be allowed to happen, hopefully he and his fellow justices will insist on the correct interpretation and implementation of the laws of the land. The current COAS (and his two predecessors) have ruled out any military rule. Without this ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over our heads we could go straight ahead to improve our political set-up. Whether the forthcoming elections are conducted without rigging will be the “acid test” for democracy.  Can (and will) the ECP bar those who do not qualify paras 62 and 63 of the Constitution?

The CJ has been reinforcing his words with deeds, this has given strength and determination to Chairman NAB Justice Javaid Iqbal for NAB not to remain a silent spectator to nepotism and corruption but to prosecute whoever it may be. (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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NO MORE PSLs ABROAD

Rameez Raja recently made some suggestions how to attract good quality players for the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and to resolve the problem of low spectator turnout in the UAE cricket stadiums.  His contention is that in PSL “each team has to stay under a predetermined salary cap set and cannot go over the budget – a restriction that keeps the absolute cream of world cricket away from the league”. The open auction system instead of the present draft system for player recruitment does have some merit. Teams pay a fixed price for each player purchase in the draft system i.e. with fixed wages instead of the preferred method of open bidding as done in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the other Twenty20 leagues. Attracting some of the best international cricketers, an auction will encourage each team to make an extra effort to get the best players. Big names in the teams will give cricket lovers that much more incentive to go to stadiums and see their favourite stars in action.

Rameez Raja’s other suggestion on how to fill up the near empty stadiums in Dubai and Sharjah by “hiring international tour operators to take fans from Pakistan to the UAE” is not only shocking, it is sheer and utter nonsense.  As one of the handful of Pakistanis “acceptable” to the IPL, was Rameez campaigning on someone else’s behalf to keep the PSL from ever being staged in Pakistan? Can foreign exchange-strapped Pakistan (US$ “spiking” from Rs 110 to 115 only yesterday) afford such luxury as their cricket-starved citizens spending hard earned foreign exchange on hotels, meals and taxis in cash-rich Dubai for nearly one month long tournaments or even only the few days when their favourite teams are on display with only about stadiums less than 10% full, even on Thursday nights and Fridays. Flying Emirates, Etihad or Fly Dubai, would 15000 from Pakistan fill even half the capacity of the UAE stadiums? Can Dubai and Sharjah Stadiums financially survive without the PSL funding them for 31 out of 34 PSL matches? Given the Pakistanis’ love and passion for cricket, one can safely guarantee that stadiums in Pakistan will be 100% full. Just look at the crowds for the “Eliminators” in Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium, someone please get me some tickets in “black” for the Karachi Final! The huge rentals for UAE Stadiums should be diverted to improving stadiums in Pakistan.

Even the 3 out of the 34 matches in the HBL PSL’s 3rd editions played in Pakistan provided some solace to our cricket hungry fans. Earning substantial revenues from the PSL, PCB spends a huge amount on travel, boarding and lodging plus other administrative expenses in the UAE for players (local and international), team officials, contingent of PCB officials and staff members, etc, etc. Add the expenses of the players, team officials, team owners, their families/friends, sponsor’s officials, staff members, TV engineers, crew, helpers, etc. Add also the Pakistanis travelling to Dubai for the PSL on their own. Rameez Raja could well be UAE’s Roving Ambassador, trying to augment the oil-rich, tourist-rich Gulf economies at the cost of Pakistan.

PCB direct expenses in UAE notwithstanding, count the direct and indirect expenditures and huge savings in foreign exchange. The amount that PCB spends hosting the event in the UAE would be at least ten times more than what the tournament would cost in Pakistan and would directly and indirectly economically boost local economy. With capacity crowds cheering the players for every match, PCB will earn more revenues than what it does in the UAE, this enables them to possibly double or even triple the amount of money and provide more incentives to foreign players to play in Pakistan. Moreover PCB’s overall profit of $2.6 million from the first Twenty20 League and around $6 million earned from television rights and gate money would increase significantly if the PSL is played in Pakistan.

To Najam Sethi’s credit, other than staging the PSL extravaganza, it would be fair to say that the PSL really has produced a good amount of talent in just 3 years. This can be force-multiplied many times over like the IPL has done for the Indian cricket team. There is wealth of untapped talent waiting to be discovered. With people coming to see their stars in action, if the tournament is held in Pakistan, the Sponsors’ message will also get increased exposure. A PSL on Pakistani soil will prove to be a huge boost in helping revive international cricket in Pakistan, a win-win situation for everyone involved.

More than any other sport cricket arouses widespread emotion.   The frenzy and enthusiasm of the Lahore crowd on Mar 20 and 21 said it all, it was stupendous.   Sports capture the dormant patriotism and evokes it to cement the unity of the nation.   Would this fervour be any less in Quetta, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Multan, Islamabad, Hyderabad, etc? For a country scarred by long years of terrorism, the collective activity of cheering for one’s teams and favorites will both heal and bind the nation.

More importantly despite Pakistan paying a heavy price in the “war against terrorism”, what is the perception the world gets by not holding the PSL in Pakistan? Despite all the heroics and ultimate sacrifice of our brave soldiers this graphically suggests that our security establishment is not confident about preserving the peace in Pakistan.  In effect PSL being staged outside Pakistan is an adverse propaganda against Pakistan’s national security, the irony is that PCB is inadvertently funding anti-Pakistan campaign to the world that Pakistan is still not safe for sports. No wonder this provides international cricketers with a tailor-made reason for not coming to Pakistan.

A team of global security experts had reviewed the security preparations for the Final to be held in Karachi. With thousands of troops, military helicopters, armed police and guards earmarked to ensure the safety of foreign players, they had expressed complete satisfaction that the arrangements met with international standards required for foreign teams to visit Pakistan.  Considering this green light once PCB makes the PSL lucrative for foreign players, they will come to Pakistan.  Najam Sethi has done a tremendous job providing Pakistani cricket with a world class stage to showcase its talent. Being on record that he hoped the entire 2019 tournament would be played in Pakistan, Najam must oversee the transition for the tournament to be played in Pakistan. No more PSL’s abroad please!

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