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ABRAAJ FIGHTS BACK

The allegations of mishandling investors’ funds against Abraaj, a firm that has grown to become one of the most trusted private equity names and one of the developing world’s most influential investors, shocked investors and financial institutions triggering distress signals. Hue and cry raised complaints by some investors having ulterior motivation that the Dubai-based Abraaj Group had mishandled their money. The forced firm to file for provisional liquidation in the Cayman Islands. Such a court-supervised provisional liquidation would allow Abraaj to restructure debt, negotiate with creditors and sell assets if needed. It would also allow a moratorium on the holding company’s unsecured claims. The filing would also enable Abraaj to continue talks with possible equity partners for a deal to acquire its fund management operations ie excluding the $1 billion healthcare fund which was the subject of allegations.  This application had the full support of the Company’s secured creditors who reiterated their desire for provisional liquidators to be appointed to formulate and implement a restructuring of the Company’s liabilities which would be in the best interests of all concerned.

It will be pertinent to note that after the allegations were made public Abraaj promptly hired the internationally renowned auditors KPMG to verify all receipts and payments in the healthcare fund. Abraaj has said that KPMG found no misuse of money and insists that all capital drawn from the fund was for “approved investments” and that unused capital from its health fund was returned to investors.

When the application for provisional liquidation was filed by Abraaj,  Sean M. Cleary, Chairman of the Board of Abraaj Holdings said, “This is a defining moment for everyone associated with Abraaj. I want to thank all those who have contributed to building this remarkable firm, and especially the teams that have worked extraordinary hours in dealing with painful challenges over the past five months. Under the auspices of the Court, the situation has now been stabilized, and we can move forward to meet the firm’s commitments and restore confidence in the platform.”

On June 18, 2018 the Cayman Court issued an Order appointing Simon Conway of PwC Corporate Finance and Recovery (Cayman) Limited and Michael Jervis and Mohammed Farzadi of PricewaterhouseCoopers as joint provisional liquidators (JPLs) of Abraaj Holdings. Subject to the final sealed order of the Cayman Court, this will ensure that the rights of all stakeholders can be protected while the Company and the JPLs promote a consensual restructuring of the Company’s obligations. This is quite a success for the Abraaj Group as filling of the voluntary application for provisional liquidation in the Grand Court of Cayman Islands protects stakeholders creditor action against defaults.

An application by Abraaj Investment Management Limited to appoint David Soden and Stuart Sybersma of Deloitte as Joint Provincial liquidators (JPLs) of the fund management business was also duly approved by the Court. These will now enable Abraaj Holdings Limited and Abraaj Investment Management Limited to independently pursue court-supervised restructuring plans in an methodical and orderly manner and for the benefit of their respective creditors. Importantly, the court-supervised restructuring of Abraaj Holdings will have very little impact on the day-to-day operations of the management of the Funds and their portfolio companies.

Expressed satisfaction Arun Reddy, Managing Director of Houlihan Lokey, financial and restructuring advisors to Abraaj Holdings, said “We are pleased to have arrived at this outcome thanks to the strong collaboration and support of key stakeholders. A court-supervised restructuring process will enable the Company to meet its obligations in an orderly fashion and facilitate an efficient and satisfactory sale process of its investments, including Abraaj Investment Management Limited. The Company’s priority has always been, and remains, to ensure the stability of its teams and portfolio, with the intent to maximize value for all parties.”

The JPLs have also been authorised by the Court to take all necessary steps to develop and propose, in consultation with Abraaj Holdings Limited and its advisors, a restructuring of the Company’s obligations. The Court Order granted extensive powers to the JPLs for the protection and management of all assets of Abraaj Holdings. The JPLs also been empowered by the Order to maintain oversight of board and management activities to ensure that the returns to the stakeholders of the Company are maximised. Abraaj Holdings Limited’s secured creditors have assured providing their full support for the joint provisional liquidators to work alongside the Company to formulate and implement a restructuring of the Company’s liabilities as this is in the best interest of all the creditors.

Michael Jervis, Partner Restructuring and Insolvency at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who is one of the Joint Provisional liquidators appointed in the case of Abraaj Holdings had this to say about his appointment, “Our role as Joint Provisional Liquidators is to manage the restructuring of Abraaj Holdings in an orderly fashion, safeguard the assets of the Company, and ensure that the interests of creditors, employees and broader stakeholders are fully served. The Order by the Court enables the Company to swiftly move into a stable phase of operations whereby restructuring plans and asset disposals can be executed upon in a protected and controlled environment. Given our longstanding experience in global restructuring for financial and corporate institutions, PwC is extremely well placed to deliver a satisfactory outcome for the Company’s constituents and is commencing on this process with immediate effect”.

Arif Naqvi was satisfied that his voluntary application was accepted by the Court, saying, “We are pleased with this outcome and grateful to the Court for its careful consideration of the issues and positive judgment. This Order validates the position consistently maintained by Abraaj that an orderly restructuring, under the guidance of a highly experienced team of Joint Provisional Liquidators, can ensure the outcomes we seek for the Company and its creditors. We are wholly committed to supporting the JPLs through this process and ensuring stability and value maximization for all parties”.

The process of court supervised restructuring is likely to take a few months. Arif Naqvi has pledged to continue supporting this orderly process to ensure that the best possible outcome is possible for all stakeholders. Reflecting on the 16 years since Abraaj Group became reality, one is extremely proud of the positive impact Abraaj has made on the markets and the communities it serves.  It is a matter of the greatest satisfaction that instead of going down like BCCI did, Abraaj is fighting back.  Perhaps if Agha Hasan Abedi was much younger like Arif Naqvi, BCCI would be the par excellence bank it once was.

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JUSTICE DELAYED, JUSTICE DENIED

When former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced July 25 as the Election Day 2018, the mystery was why (1) he gave only 60 days instead of the 90 days that he could and (2) why he did not pay heed to the extremely hot weather of June and July which would not only make campaigning almost impossible but deter voters from coming out to vote?  The third part of the puzzle fell into place when Khawaja Haris, legal counsel of Mian Nawaz Sharif, withdrew from representing his client in the corruption references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). That effectively threw a legal spanner in continuing the trial process of conviction of the Sharif family in three corruption references in the accountability court, accused of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets. Add to that perjury, forgery, falsifying information, intimidating judges and investigating staff, etc.

Al Capone laughed his way out of dozens of his murder trials with witnesses not ready to testify against him.  Ultimately when they got him on tax evasion, given the evidence his legal counsel tried delaying tactics warding off the inevitable. Being an hounourable man therefore Khawaja Haris’ pretexts for quitting being (1) Supreme Court’s (SC) rejection of his plea for an indefinite extension and (2) their directive to hold court proceedings on Saturdays and Sundays, is quite untenable at this late stage when he has only to make the closing arguments.  In any case the SC left holding hearings on Saturdays to the accountability court’s discretion.  The real reason is that the defence wants to avoid the SC court deadline of July 10 being too close to the Elections 2018 scheduled for July 25.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif has kept on doing what he has been doing best since his disqualification from holding public office, criticize, rebuke and castigate the SC. Accusing the Chief Justice of rushing through the hearings in the three corruption cases filed against him, he termed it an “extremely unfortunate” example of “oppression and injustice”.  Even calling it “election rigging” he claimed in a press conference on July 10 that his fundamental rights were being violated “as no lawyer will take up a case where he is not even allowed time to prepare and is asked to appear even on the weekends.” Sharif opined it would not be easy to engage another lawyer at this stage, his contention that “such an environment is being created that I am deprived of a legal counsel as well” is quite ludicrous because it was his legal counsel who quit suddenly, the courts had nothing to do with this.

Politics in Pakistan is a family business with the top leadership usually hereditary and with questionable means to gain power by any and every means possible, this dirty game jeopardizes democracy. Anything goes is the name of the game, the Constitution is violated at the whims of individuals, the rule of law is trampled without batting an eyelid, institutions are ridiculed and not given their due respect, etc, etc. The sacrifices to be made or compromises thereof do not matter, in the end the road taken must either lead to absolute power or be instrumental in getting close to those wielding such power. On Pakistan’s independence we had leaders of the stature of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan and many others at the helm with exceptional qualities like honesty, integrity, sincerity and truthfulness. Barring honourable exceptions, today’s politicians care two hoots about the nation or national interests, their primary objective being to loot the nation and fill their own coffers. Hundreds of NAB cases of corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion, etc worth billions being looted involving politicians, govt servants and businessmen, etc prove this point.

Working as Sharif’s lawyer in all three cases filed against him and his family on September 8 following the former PM’s disqualification as the PM on July 28. Khawaja Haris is an experienced and competent advocate having a good reputation, dumping his client is rather unprofessional, not expected from a person of his stature. This of course unless it is callously deliberate, the calculated move being orchestrated out of ulterior motive, how can any advocate leave his client high and dry at this stage? All witnesses have recorded their statements and only the closing arguments are left. Other than the duty to his client, as an advocate Khawaja Haris is considered to be an officer of justice, an integral part of the court machinery for the administration of justice.  If in case any advocate resorts to unfair or unreasonable means in a deliberate ploy to delay the process of justice, than he is not fulfilling his moral duty and obligations to his country. The legal code forbids any advocate from representing any client who might insist on using unfair or improper means, this could also include having to lie under oath, a punishable crime in most countries. He must also not deceive or knowingly or recklessly mislead the court.

The inevitable is being deliberately delayed so that the adverse verdict expected by the Sharifs in the face of tier guilt comes after Election Day.  Nawaz Sharif maligns judges of the superior judiciary as being “hand in glove with dictators over the last 70 years”, but does not once answer to the corruption charges against him despite his repeated tall claims on many forums, including the floor of the National Assembly, about possessing documentary evidence proving his innocence.  His family members and party leaders have been publicly characterising the SC as being unfair, partisan, vindictive and revengeful. Not once during these public tirades mentioning the many counts of corruption against Nawaz, do they have any credible satisfactory explanation why the SC would be revengeful towards the Sharifs? The Khawaja Haris’ withdrawal ploy is simply an attempt as a means of last resort.

While Nawaz Sharif’s camp is insisting that “justice rushed is justice denied”, attributed to both Gladstone and William Penn the real maxim is that “justice delayed is justice denied”.  When legal remedy is not available in timely fashion, it is effectively denied.  With more delaying tactics likely, will Pakistan again be denied justice against such outright crooks?  One can hardly equate the Honourable Khawaja Haris with Al Capone’s legal counsel Edward O’Hare (Easy Eddie) who gave up when he realized he could not save his criminal client from being put behind bars.  For the record ten days before Al Capone, ill in prison, was released, “Easy Eddie” was shot to death in Chicago.

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UNDOING A GANGSTER HEAVEN

Consensus on matters ensuring security and welfare of the common man is rarely achieved by our Parliament. Such unanimity is only displayed when their own self-interest is at stake, like approving increments in their salary, added perks and privileges, etc. In October last year all the parliamentary parties banded together to delete as many as 19 declarations from the nomination papers to be submitted by candidates for the upcoming general elections, effectively eliminating key information about their education, close relatives, occupation, finances, net assets and liabilities, loan default, taxation returns and evasion thereof, criminal proceedings and business interests, etc.  Unless they have something to hide what earthly reason can anyone have for not declaring truthful details about himself and his family?

In November last year journalist Habib Akram challenged these amendments before the Lahore High Court (LHC). On June 1, 2018, Justice Ayesha Malik ruled that since the nomination forms did not include mandatory information and declarations required from lawmakers as per the Constitution and law, the ECP was ordered to ensure this information is included in the revised Form A ─ for election to the NA or Senate ─ and Form B ─ a statement of assets and liabilities.  To her undying credit Justice Ayesha Malik wrote that the lack of disclosure and information through declarations made would essentially mean that a voter will not have the required information on the basis of which an informed decision can be made.

Motivated and vested interest saw appeals being immediately filed against the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court (SC) by the ECP and former National Assembly (NA) speaker Ayaz Sadiq on grounds that this would delay the elections. Reiterating that  the elections would be held in time on July 25th, on June 3 a two-judge Supreme Court (SC) bench headed by Chief Justice (CJ), Mian Saqib Nisar, suspended LHC’s verdict, pending hearing by a larger SC Bench The ECP then ‘partially modified’ its earlier notification regarding the election schedule. Very surprisingly Caretaker Prime Minister (PM) Justice (Retd) Nasirul Mulk also jumped in on the side of the politicians, directing the Attorney General’s Office to file an appeal against the LHC decision. Why was our Caretaker PM enthusiastic about showing accountability the door and facilitating the return of criminals and the corrupt to the corridors of power?

Pending of the LHC judgment caused widespread unrest within civil society because it effectively allowed criminals to take part using money and strongarm tactics to buy votes. To quote a self-explanatory message immediately circulated on social media, “We concerned and affected citizens and voters would like to file a constitutional petition before the Supreme Court to protect our fundamental rights to a free and fair election by requiring all candidates to file full information and disclosure as required in the 2013 elections rules and enumerated in the LHC judgement of Justice Ayesha Malik in the nomination forms of candidates. Her ruling reflects our concerns because in a self-serving legislation, parliament had recently mutilated the information and declaratory requirements of aspiring candidates to protect and promote their self-serving interests, thereby denying us basic information about their incomes and assets and those of their immediate family members. We regard the transparent availability of this information our fundamental right to enable us to make an informed assessment of the credibility and integrity of those soliciting our vote, to help achieve the overarching objective of a free and fair election. The LHC ruling that gave us back this right should not be overturned.  We believe that the LHC ruling should be upheld. This correction should not become a pretext for delaying the polls. The forms need immediate rectification, an action that should not in any way encumber the timely accomplishment of the election process. The revised forms can be uploaded on the ECP website in no time and candidates can download them, which should not lead to any delay in the timetable. The frenzy being created by some political parties about a possible delay is a bogus smokescreen to protect some of their candidates with potentially dubious credentials,” unquote.

Earning the gratitude of the masses by being most active in attempting to solve some of Pakistan’s adverse and damaging issues and holding powerful politicians accountable, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has upheld the judicial system’s integrity in more ways than one.  In our 70 year judicial history he is singlehandedly responsible for ushering in a unique era of justice, fairness and equality, in effect he has given Chairman NAB Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal ample space to go after wrongdoers.   A constitutional Pakistan was not required, what happened next was worse for our aspiring candidates, a nightmare. Within 5 days the SC effectively closed the legal loophole which would have helped tax evaders, criminals, loan defaulters, those with dual nationality, etc be he or she a murderer, an extortionist, smuggler or even a rapist, etc to enter Parliament.

The rather Solomonic judgement by the SC ruled that the new forms mandated by Parliament would still be used but all the omitted details would be included in an “Affidavit” on stamped paper to be submitted by every candidate.  Non-submission would mean automatic rejection of the nomination papers, any incorrect information submitted or information not included would be treated as perjury.  The “Declaration” has become far more potent than in its original form. Will Asif Ali Zardari (and friends and associates across the political divide) still submit his nomination forms for elections?   Would he have the courage to risk open disclosure of his vast illegally acquired wealth? Because of time constraints please do consider my “60 plus 90 formula” where after elections in 60 days a 90 day period after the elections must complete accountability of all elected candidates.

Our Parliamentarians without due diligence want to contest the elections without fear of exposure like has happened to Nawaz Sharif. We are indeed blessed that our Chief Justice alongwith his fellow justices believes in not only the rule of law but the spirit driving the logic behind the law. PanamaGate exposed financial corrupt practices of our politicians, we are looking forward to the day Zardari is fingered by Uzair Baloch, Rao Anwar, etc to expose the murderous potential of our feudals who not only operate outside the law but have the money to be so.  Without due diligence criminals were given free rein without scrutiny to legally enter Parliament in what had become somewhat of a “Gangster Haven”, the SC stopped us from becoming a “Gangster Heaven”.

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PAKISTAN’S PLACE IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD

In an increasingly globalised world, we are geographically very beneficially at the crossroads separating South Asia with Central Asia and the Middle East, this must be converted to our geo-political advantage.   The new nation state of Pakistan felt quite vulnerable because of Indian hostility on its eastern borders and by Afghanistan’s obstinate refusal on the western borders to recognize the newly formed state. The early compulsions formulating Pakistan’s foreign policy was that we had no choice but to find strong support in the world to help guard its very existence.  There is no certainty as to what would have happened if Pakistan had opted for Soviet Union’s support instead of choosing US as an ally. Given the social and mental setting of our early leaders, the evolving global cold war scenario found Pakistan aligned with the US as a natural choice, the Pakistan Army relying fully on American weaponry and equipment for its defensive needs. Our membership in SEATO and CENTO severely limited our foreign policy options.

US-Pakistan relations have been a roller-coaster ride from the outset. Not many remember American Gary Powers piloting US spy plane U-2 from Badaber air base near Peshawar before being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Our precarious situation was highlighted by Khrushchev publicly putting us in the Soviet nuclear crosshairs. Though for decades Pakistan continued solidly siding and furthering US national security interests in the region and the world, the 1963 border agreement with China went against the grain. Similarly our interests were always not identical as the 80s Afghan War of the eighties and the one since 2001 has shown. Issues Pakistan considered dear to our national interest like the Kashmir and the crisis in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) never got more than verbal support. The Nixon-Kissinger “tilt” towards Pakistan involved only a symbolic show of force in the Indian Ocean by the US Sixth Fleet.  The US has always come to our rescue with massive aid during national disasters like floods, cyclones, earthquakes etc, otherwise millions of lives would have been lost.  For this we must remain ever grateful.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the bipolar world which came into existence after World War 2 came to an end. The so-called ‘non-aligned’ bloc of which India was a driving force lost its importance even before the demise of the Soviet Union. This was capitalism’s final victory over all alternative ways of life and development, the US war machine seen as vitally contributing to this victory. For a couple of decades, the world became unipolar, the US being the only superpower standing after almost five decades’ of competition for global supremacy.  Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ perceived Islam and the Muslim world that owned a large part of the oil and gas reserves of the planet as their new enemy.  For a couple of years Russia, the defeated giant, was graciously given the role of a junior partner in the global game.

The happenings of 9/11 triggered a new wave of global polarization and warfare kept the world occupied while quite unnoticed the collapse of the Soviet Union saw a China-Russia rapprochement begin to take place. Declaring in 1992 that they were pursuing a “constructive partnership”; in 1996, they progressed toward a “strategic partnership”; and in 2001 signed a treaty of “friendship and cooperation” that led to the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Eurasian in its design this new organisation reminds one of the European Union (EU) in its principles of association. Drawing new members it has developed into a new political, economic and security-related focal point that has quietly changed the relations in Asia.  India and Pakistan together have becoming new members since 2017 but that has not automatically solved our problems.  As the sudden thaw in cross-border firing across the LOC has shown, could this be changing?  This new SCO platform promises stability and options for negotiated resolution of crises. While the Arab Middle East is up in flames and destabilized for the time, the Asian mainland has generally avoided such turmoil. Without much fanfare the economic counterpart of Baghdad Pact and the CENTO, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), has been replaced by the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Compared to three countries forming the RCD, ECO has more than a dozen countries of the region as members. Could this be the harbinger of a Baghdad Pact “in reverse”, with Russia and China the new sponsors for Iran, Turkey and Pakistan instead of the US and UK?

Despite coming in for constant criticism, Pakistan’s foreign policy has nicely availed of the new opportunities. Diversifying our security-related cooperation towards China and Russia, we have taken a hands-on attitude in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan.  The Army has succeeded in stabilizing the tribal areas by clearing the Haqqanis and other militant bases in Swat and FATA as well as fencing the vulnerable border to avoid illegal border crossing of militants. The legal foundation for a full-fledged integration of the tribal areas into Pakistan to bring them at par with the rest of the country has been laid. Despite the anti-Pakistani attitude and consequent rhetoric among certain circles of the Afghan civil and military, the US must take cognisance of our vital role in any initiative to achieve their goals in Afghanistan.

We are the crossroads bridge between the different regions of South Asia, Central Asia and Pakistan the Middle East. Our foreign policy commitments have to mirror our special responsibility to keep the region stable. Pakistan needs to work hard to improve relations with our immediate neighbours, this forbids our joining any bloc or having relationships with one country to the exclusion of others.  The decision not to join the war in Yemen but to join the Saudi-initiated military alliance against counter-terrorism is an example of how to keep a balance between our next-door neighbour Iran and an old friend Saudi Arabia. Similarly we must maintain the balance between an old ally US, our deep friendship with China and the newly developing relations with Russia. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a great economic force-multiplier for us, it is fortunately for us a Chinese economic strategic compulsion. We need to work hard to revive our relationship with the US to an even keel. Pakistan’s national interest lies in being a member of no bloc but to be friends with all the blocs.

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

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THE CARETAKER REGIME

Headed by former Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, the Caretaker Regime taking office today includes in its mission statement (1) running the affairs of the govt according to the Constitution and (2) administrative and operational back-up to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for conducting of free and fair Parliamentary elections on July 25, 2018, or whenever they are held.  One is hoping that the Caretaker Regime must not only be neutral and impartial manner but be seen to be so.

Those violating the Constitution, being blatantly corrupt and indulging in perjury and forgeries, etc must be held accountable. At the very least they (and their close aide collaborators) must not be allowed to take part in the coming elections. Given the example of Ishaq Dar, declared elected as “Senator” even while absconding in London, this cannot be left to the ECP only. Supported by the Caretaker Regime, NAB must play its part.  Democracy in Pakistan cannot afford the selective interpretation of the rule of law while ignoring the spirit of the law by its political leaders, aided and abetted by unscrupulous pubic officials.  The first order of business is to remove forthwith those politicized bureaucrats actively contributing to the rapacious conduct of their political masters and instigating them to erode the norms of national security.  Quoting my article of May 5, 1995 titled, “Direct Vote and Democracy”, “other than bad advice our political leadership depends upon ‘special interest groups’ (and individuals) for survival once they are in office rather than on the electorate that voted them into office.”

The second order of business is to reverse some of the last minute extraordinary decisions made by the outgoing govt, e.g. 3 months salary bonus to Federal employees. If that is not outright bribery meant to influence elections, what is? As much as I personally like Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, sending him out to be our Ambassador to the US, given his legal circumstances and the likely short duration of his tenure, is way out of line.  Consider the recent attempted strike by DMG officers in the Punjab protesting the arrest by NAB of their efficient but highly corrupt colleague Shahbaz Sharif’s blue eyed bureaucrat, Ahad Cheema. His Prado was found parked in a vehicle showroom with Rs 14.5 million hidden in cash. What has been done to the principal actors behind the “pen down” strike threatening the entire governance mode in Punjab? The administrative breakdown could have led to anarchy and degenerate into an internecine civil war, a la Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc. Should these bureaucrats be left in place to manipulate the elections so that the “business” of the next “elected” govt can go on as usual? Accountability being the touchstone of democracy, too much is at stake to quibble about purely legal ramifications. Even with prima facie evidence the person/s must be suspended till cleared of wrongdoing.

Joining our elected representatives an increasingly corrupted media takes vicarious pleasure in subjecting the superior judiciary and the armed forces to muckraking. The moral authority of the government having been virtually destroyed, the credibility of democracy is in tatters.  National security does not comprise guarding our territorial boundaries against external aggression and/or fighting internal strife only, what about the massive erosion of societal security? An obnoxious and shameful harangue has poured contempt on the rule of law and targetted the respected superior judiciary who have to interpret it.  Such gross disrespect by Mian Nawaz Sharif and his aides seeks to convert the rule of law into the law of the jungle. In baiting the Armed Forces why are they adopting a deliberate policy of confrontation?  While Maryam Nawaz Goebbels-like keeps on repeating her lies about the forgery exposed by the “Calibri Font”, she perhaps has now begin to believe it.  The confrontational stance that she and her father have adopted publicly is alarming, “those whom the gods want to destroy, they first make them mad”.

The Caretaker Regime needs to support NAB, too much is at stake for the poor people of this country for them to act legally squeamish in trying to recover ill-gotten wealth, besides everything money-laundering goes into the financing of murder and terror through organized crime. Having suffered in some great measure over the past two decades nearly, there is mass anxiety and apprehension that unless the fabulous wealth acquired by these criminals is traced out and recovered, it will facilitate their return to the corridors of power is a certainty. However in attempting to bring to justice those who have violated the due process of law at will, should we also ourselves short-circuit the due process of law? Going the wrong route, and that also when in haste to correct a wrong, will only compound the situation.

With the elections to be held 60 days hence on July 25, 2018, consider the suggestion made nearly a quarter century ago in my article, “The 90 Plus 90 Formula” of Dec 5, 1996. “This would really mean that the Assemblies not being called into session for another 90 days in order that the accountability process for at least a majority of the elected representatives is complete. Either the President can make a Reference to the Supreme Court for adjudicating a time frame of 90 days post-election or the Caretaker Government can approach the Court for the relief, with the proviso that ordinances enacted by the President during this period will not lapse till 30 days after the Assemblies come into session. There is a temptation to give more than 90 days for accountability, it must be for a very limited period so that the Caretakers do not get used to it and try and make it more permanent due to “the doctrine of necessity “as per” the will of the people” a la late Gen Zia. The headiness of being in power has its own dynamics evoking latent ambition. Luckily for us, the broad mass of the people want elections and accountability, both within a limited time frame,” unquote.

The accountability process being necessarily a long drawn out affair, and with the treasury looted and the country beggared, the intelligentsia is riven with debate as to whether elections or accountability should come first. However there is nothing more important for this country than to revive the democratic process as given in the Constitution. While the time and space can be adjusted because of the extraordinary circumstances, the electoral process has to take precedence in order to ensure the credibility of constitutional authority and continuity thereof.

(The writer is a defence and security analyst).

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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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