Friday, December 30, 2011

Nuclear Iran is not in Pakistan's interest

By Shahzeb Shaikha

Since the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its latest findings on Iran’s nuclear program and activities, policy-makers in the West and the United States in particular are weighing their options on how to respond to Iran’s continued defiance of its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.

The Islamic Republic’s nuclear program has possible military dimensions and its stated “peacefulness” lacks credibility. Alarm bells in Israel have been ringing for a long time and a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites seems imminent. Not much is being discussed in Pakistan about the implications of a nuclear Iran, precisely due to Pakistan being consumed by its own problems with the on-going political turmoil and its relations with the United States.

This is an alarming development not only for the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, but also for South Asia. A nuclear Iran is not in Pakistan’s interests. Considering that Iran’s regional interests do not align with those of Pakistan, a nuclear Iran has serious implications of greater belligerent behaviour, regional hegemony and bullying. Even though Pakistan is a nuclear state and any nuclear aggression towards us will be deterred, it would immensely reduce our leverage in relations with Iran—if any.

Being the only Muslim nuclear country, a nuclear Pakistan still has some symbolic value in the eyes of the Muslim world. Even though we are economically weak and, at the behest of foreign financial institutions and governments, our national defence posture will take a deep slide with a nuclear armed state on our western border.

The interests of Pakistan and Iran clash in Afghanistan, and Iran’s relations with our key ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, remain rocky. In the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the West, Pakistan and an unstable Iraq would be the most effected countries due to the spill-over from a potential war. At this time and most likely in the near future, at least Pakistan cannot further bear the burden of a refugee influx. In addition, India’s improving relations with Iran is also mind-boggling for our India-centric attitude and policy. Not that I am justifying this historic posture of ours, this attitude is still wide-spread in the security establishment. We must take that into account.

An ideologically inclined state, Iran’s sectarian outlook and ambitions of regional hegemony will create further divides in the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular. One should also not forget that Iran has played a role in inciting sectarian violence in Pakistan, supporting various Shia factions against their Sunni counterparts. Attaining nuclear status would strengthen Iran’s position and possibly its belligerence in fuelling the sectarian strife.

Iran’s offensive, nonsensical and aggravating statements and position only furthers the prospect of more wars in this region. Just recently, Saudi Arabia Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the former chief of Saudi Intelligence, expressed the Kingdom’s desire to develop nuclear weapons to counter a future Iranian threat. “It is our duty toward our nation and people to consider all options” he was quoted as saying.

This is a serious development that could spark a potential arms race in the Middle East. We could engage in an intellectual debate about the rationality of these state actors and their willingness to use nuclear weapons—if they attain the capability—but the thought of them going nuclear sends a chill through the rational mind. Many in the West also fear that a nuclear Iran will become bolder in the use of its proxies, namely Hamas and Hezbollah.

It is imperative that Pakistan convene a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to pressure Iran into abandoning its continued defiance of its international obligations – the NPT and the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Pakistan, along with its allies in the Middle East, should pressure Iran to come to the negotiation table and respect its UN obligations. To avoid a potential arms race in the Middle East and a dooms-day scenario where there may be a nuclear exchange – either by states or through non-state actors – Pakistan should jump on the bandwagon into pressurizing Iran.

Pakistan could not care less about addressing the fears of the West. I suggest this because this is in Pakistan’s vital national security interests and everything should be done to avoid being sandwiched between two nuclear states. We also need to look out for our regional interests in the Middle East. A nuclearised region could have devastating human and economic implications for the region and the world. Pakistan cannot afford either in its current state of weakness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spotlight on Afghan refugees in Pakistan

By Karin Brulliard

NOWSHERA, Pakistan — A few hundred men took to the streets in a suburb of this city early this month, furiously chanting for the expulsion of neighbors they described as interlopers.

The objects of their ire were Afghan refugees, millions of whom reside here in Pakistan. They are hardly newcomers — many fled war, Russian occupation or Taliban rule years or even decades ago. Many were born in Pakistan.

But the recent demonstration was a sign of bubbling discontent about Afghans in Pakistan, who comprise the world’s largest refugee population. While their presence has long been a source of tension, Pakistani politicians and the media are increasingly exaggerating their numbers and identifying them as a problem that must be solved as the neighboring nations eye the finale of the U.S.-led Afghan war, remote as that seems for now.

On an official visit to Australia last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called on the international community to help repatriate Afghans, who he said were “causing numerous difficulties” and spreading polio. In a recent interview, Interior Minister Rehman Malik accused the refugees of being “involved in criminal activities,” and said sending Afghans home was among Pakistan’s priorities.

The spotlight on Afghan refugees comes as the ever-wary neighbors trade barbs about cross-border violence and a potential negotiated settlement to the war in Afghanistan. Afghan officials, like their U.S. counterparts, have blamed Pakistan for fueling the Taliban insurgency, a claim Pakistan denies. But Pakistan wants a key role in reconciliation, and the refugees — who by most accounts Pakistan has hosted fairly graciously — could provide leverage.

At the same time, persistent violence has led to a decrease in refugee returns to Afghanistan, and there is scant sign that those remaining will soon leave. Amid a failing economy and political jockeying ahead of 2013 elections in Pakistan, analysts say Afghans are convenient targets. Indeed, the argument here echoes the U.S. immigration debate, with concerns about foreigners who commit crimes, steal jobs and fail to assimilate.

“We have been treating them as our brothers,” said Sher Bahadur, 64, one Nowshera resident who joined the recent demonstration, which took place after a fight between Pakistanis and Afghans. “Now the situation is so bad that we fear they have the might, power and resources to displace us.”

The complaints are not new, but the tenor has alarmed Afghan officials. One senior Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Pakistan is showing “early signs of new pressure” over refugees. The official said it was unclear whether the motivation is a desire to see Afghans leave, win additional refugee aid or blame Afghans for Taliban activity inside Pakistan.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees live in Pakistan; the government says the figure is around 2 million. Another 1 million are believed to be in Pakistan illegally, said Habibullah Khan, secretary of the government’s States and Frontiers Regions Division. In the first 10 months of 2011, 43,000 Afghan refugees returned home, a figure that was 59 percent lower than the same period last year, the UNHCR said.

Myth and reality of war crimes in 1971 war

By Alam Rind

Fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971 left a deep scar on the souls of Pakistanis that probably won’t fill up in centuries. It is not so because the people of formal East Pakistan got separated and Bangladesh came into being; it was the manner in which all this took place. This episode can only be attributed to the failure of the leadership and their inaptness as statesmen. Economic fragmentation that took roots in Ayub era had its toll. Wide spread poverty, unemployment and lack of industrialization and development provided ideal environment for the hostile powers to sow the seeds of secessionism among the people of then East Pakistan.

It is a historic fact that Shaikh Mujibur Rahman had sought help from Indian Government to effect secession. He publicly conceded this fact in front of a huge gathering in his address on 7th June, 1972 at Ramna Race Course now Suhrawardy Udyan of Dhaka. Naeem Hasan in Mujib’s Bangladesh in the Eyes of Foreign Journalist (London 1977) had quoted the daughter of Shaikh Mujibur Rahman, Shaikh Hasina Wajid (present Prime Minister of Bangladesh) that Mujib had visited Agartala in 1962 to organize help from India for secession of East Pakistan. Similar facts were also reported by an ex-MP Abdul Razzak in an interview given to weekly Meghna in September 1995. That establishes Agartala conspiracy as a fact.

It is the same venom against Pakistan that Prime Minister of Bangladesh Shaikh Hasina Wajid has ordered constitution of an International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) to try those Bangladeshis accused of collaboration with Pakistani forces in committing atrocities. It kills two birds with one stone. The ploy has provided her with an opportunity to take vengeance from political opponents while defaming and maligning Pakistan Armed Forces of carnage during 1971 war. Reportedly, so far only seven individuals have been arrested, two from the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party and five from Jamaat-e-Islami. Though there are serious reservations regarding capacity and impartiality of the judicial tribunal, yet, it will serve the purpose of Awami League government.

Along with Indians they have been harping for last over thirty years that more than three million people were killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands of women were raped by Pakistani soldiers. Most of the people in Bangladesh and other parts of the world may believe this but the facts are quite contrary.

A recent book written by Sarmila Bose an Indian research scholar dubs this notion as a “narrative of the victorious side.” It was part of propaganda that suited Awami League as well as Indians. The carnage was unleashed by Indian trained Mukti Bahinis. They initially operated along the border with India and gradually penetrated deep into then East Pakistan. They brutally massacred Bayharies and other Bangalis those who were supporting united Pakistan. These illegitimate sons of the soil continued to perpetrate crimes against their own kinsmen with the brutality that matches that of terrorists, while Indian and global media continued to apportion blame on to Pakistan Army.

It is tragic that we often forget the valiance and courage with which Pakistani solders fought in East Pakistan. They were confronted with insurmountable odds while being highly diluted and resource constrained. In those difficult conditions they had almost defeated Mukti Bahinis. Indian intervention came once Indians realized that Mukti Bahinis will not be able to achieve the objective of separation of East Pakistan. Pakistani troops deployed for internal security duties were degraded to the extent that they could not change their posture with the required swiftness to check Indian onslaught. General Niazi was confronted with a difficult decision. Reinforcement was not insight and continuation of war would have meant inhalation of men under his command. His decision to surrender under no circumstances denudes Pakistani men in uniform of their high morale ascendancy and valour. Indian duplicity and propaganda has been aptly exposed by Sarmila Bose where she maintains that empirical evidence doesn’t support the claims of excesses by Pakistani troops as harped by the propagandists.