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From terror to trade: Eight reasons Pakistanis now want a peace process from Modi and Sharif

The carefully staged “surprise diplomacy” by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his warm reception by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif break a logjam in bilateral relations.

Modi’s short visit to Lahore on Dec. 25 was welcomed by almost all the mainstream political parties in Pakistan. That betrays a consensus within the political elites there, unlike in India where the opposition parties are playing politics over bilateral diplomacy. The truth is that it was Modi who took the initiative, even if driven by the need for good optics. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, for all his goodwill, could not take the decision to visit Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign policy, however, is not the sole domain of its civilian governments. They have to take the security establishment on board. No one knows this better than Sharif. Given this home truth, the diplomatic efforts are not likely to proceed without a nod from the powerful military. The key to this is largely related to Afghanistan.

In sync with the US and other Western powers as well as China, Pakistan is engaged in a tough effort to help facilitate a settlement between the Afghan Taliban and the Ashraf Ghani administration. The process has been far from smooth. It broke down many times. Infighting within the Afghan Taliban also impinges upon the peace efforts.


Global terrorism — myth and reality

A new report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an international think tank based in Australia, brings to light some hard data on global terrorism. During November 2015, a series of terror attacks in Beirut, Paris, Nigeria and Mali reignited the debate on the global ‘challenge’ of terrorism. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, another coalition is being gathered to bomb Syria to eradicate the Daesh or Islamic State (IS). It is unclear if a militaristic response would yield results in Syria, given the complexity and competing interests of Middle Eastern actors, Russia and the West. In fact, the lack of a multilateral approach has only served to benefit the IS in the recent past.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report confirms that terrorism, globally, is on the rise. Since 2001, there has been a five-fold rise in terrorism. The year 2014 was deadliest with 14,000 terrorist attacks in 93 countries, leaving 32,000 dead. The number of terror victims was 80 per cent more than in 2013. At the same time, countries that battled 500 or more terrorist attacks have seen a staggering increase by 120 per cent since 2013.

The other startling fact, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, is that Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant group, was the biggest killer in 2014, and not the IS. During the last year, 6,644 deaths attributed to Boko Haram signified an increase of over 300 per cent compared to the deaths occurring in 2013. The IS was the second-most lethal group as it killed 6,073 people. Tactics used by Boko Haram are deadlier as it indiscriminately targets private citizens in its attacks. […]

Be mature guys; there’s a lot at stake in India, Pak

nawaz modi

The much-hyped talks between the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan have been called off.

It is clear that the recent thaw in bilateral relations was illusionary as the hardened positions of the respective states remain unchanged and a greater level of distrust was reflected in the recent days.

The major roadblock came in the wake of Pakistan’s desire to engage with Kashmiri separatist leaders in New Delhi. This was unacceptable to India, that wanted the talks to be terrorism-centric.

Issues on the table

The Ufa declaration did not preclude Kashmir, but did highlight that the talks will focus on “all issues connected with terrorism.”

Exactly a year ago the Indian government called off its Foreign Secretary’s visit to Islamabad when Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi met a group of Kashmiri separatists.

This is a pattern set by the Modi administration: Look tough, act tough when it comes to Pakistan.

The Indian position on Pakistanis talking to Hurriyat and other Kashmiri representatives is intriguing as it was a routine in the past.

Even during the time of the previous BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, General Musharraf met them during his 2001 India visit. […]

Chronicles of our recent past

FS Aijazuddin’s new book is an erudite and introspective account of a turbulent decade


The past decade in Pakistan has been cataclysmic. Political upheavals and assassinations, the menace of terrorism that cost us more than 80,000 lives and over $100 billion; and a time warped foreign policy kept pushing the country into a vortex. All of this reproduced the curse of endemic political instability that has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s trajectory. Much has been written on this decade especially by foreign commentators given our global relevance as an American ally in the War on Terror. Within Pakistan, a handful of commentators and analysts have articulated more grounded, organic narratives; and FS Aijazuddin is one of the chosen few. His new book The Morning After is a collection of articles, essays and speeches he delivered in various capacities during the years 2006 and 2014. As the author tells us, the book is a fourth in the series of such compilations. The last one – When Bush Comes to Shove and other writings – was published in 2006.

Such compilations can be tricky for a reader as often the contents respond to time-bound events and explore topics that run the risk of losing relevance overtime. Given the structural constraints of Pakistani state and society, the issues covered in The Morning After appear relevant even in 2015. Take the case of a column entitled ‘Making Cartoons of Ourselves’ on the global outrage against Danish Cartoons. It is hauntingly familiar and newsy. In 2012, there were countrywide protests against a film made on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and last year 14 staffers of a French magazine – Charlie Hebdo – were killed by fanatics in Paris. Aijazuddin’s conclusion is spot-on: “We are not the caricatures stencilled by the western press, nor the cartoons extremists make of themselves and of us by their aberrant behaviour.” […]

Pakistan silently watches the rise of Narendra Modi

My analysis – Pakistan: Cautiously pessimistic about Modi’s expected rise to power – first published here:

A decade of UPA-Congress rule in India ends with limited progress on the Indo-Pak relations.The fact that outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite his good intentions, could not visit the country of his birth even once sums up the structural constraints of this troubled relationship.

The first few years of Congress rule witnessed major developments in back-channel diplomacy and, if Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri is to believed, a major breakthrough on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir was on the anvil before domestic political crisis led to the weakening and eventual ouster of General Musharraf in 2007-2008. In the later phases of bilateral diplomacy, modest achievements on trade and visa liberalization were realized. But the legacy of the 2008 Mumbai attack continued to haunt the trajectory of the bilateral relations for the past six years. Terrorism and rise of non-state actors in Pakistan shaped the public opinion and it seemed that political initiative of the Singh administration was almost always hostage to the power of corporate media that did not allow the evolution of a well-calibrated Pakistan policy in India.

This is a tough legacy for the incoming government in India. And even more so for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is expected to emerge as the single largest party in the Indian lower house of parliament. Though it is far from clear whether the BJP will form the next government, pundits in New Delhi and the doyens of Indian media have already garlanded Narendra Modi a few times over.

Narendra Modi – a controversial figure

In Pakistan the reputation of Mr Narendra Modi precedes him. He is viewed as a controversial figure specifically as a right-wing hardliner who espouses the Hindutva ideology and someone who advanced his political career on the rhetoric of hating the Muslims and their place in India’s past and present. Seen as an architect of the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of 2002, his persona justifies the creation of Pakistan. Modi is an archetype that informs the Pakistani mind about the evil design of Hindus. Many Pakistanis believe his current political standing on the other side of the border is a reward for his anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan ‘ideology’. […]

May 12th, 2014|India, Indo Pak peace|3 Comments

Mullahs, mullahs everywhere

Raza Rumi

It is a test for the state and the political parties of Pakistan as to how they can deal with a narrative that is fast capturing political space as well as prime time on TV.


Mullahs, mullahs everywhere

Last week on a television show I had a chance to interact with Maulana Sami ul Haq while he was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was the day when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had announced a month-long ceasefire (March 1). Maulana was ecstatic about the news and offered a bagful of platitudes on how important was the so-called ‘peace process’ and negotiating with the terrorists. When I asked him that despite the peace talks, outfits close to TTP had carried out dozens of attacks killing soldiers and civilians the Maulana’s mood changed. In a fit of anger he accused me of ‘sabotaging’ the process and before he could take the argument forward by calling me an agent of Hanood-Yahood, my guest – another Maulana – Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi intervened and rescued me from a live declaration of being an enemy of the peace.

The false and utterly bizarre packaging of accepting terrorists within our fold as ‘peace-agents’ has assumed a life of its own. Appeasement or terrorist outfits is turning into a mainstream political ideology. The right wing parties – bearded and non-bearded – are busy selling the merchandise that Pakistani state had earlier branded as means to bolster ‘national security’. Militant groups aiming to liberate Kashmir are legitimate, those planning to fight the imperial US and NATO are ‘good’ and the foreigners operating from Pakistani soil are ‘guests’ of proud Pakhtuns, we are told. Any divergence from these labels is akin to being unpatriotic, parroting the United States and feeding on dollars as the charismatic Imran Khan has said time and again. […]

March 14th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|2 Comments

How the Future of South Asia Can Change!

By Raza Rumi

Since Pakistan’s inception, its relationship with India has been mired by insecurity, hostility, suspicion and mistrust. Independence in 1947 was followed by conflict over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute eventually led to the 1965 war, and that episode was subsequently followed by the Tashkent Declaration. Yet, the Tashkent Declaration was a short-lived attempt at forging amiable ties between both States as six years later, amid political and ethnic turmoil in Pakistan, in 1971 a second war took place.  East Pakistan had declared independence, and West Pakistan lost its Eastern arm, partly due to Indian intervention in what was largely seen as an internal matter, in Pakistan. Pakistan blamed India for facilitating Bangladeshi nationalists and their quest for independence after being politically and ethnically discriminated. Despite Bangladesh gaining independence, enmity between the two States ratcheted up further, as India flexed its muscles and tested its nuclear weapons capability in 1974, and again in 1998. In response, Pakistan conducted its own nuclear weapons tests in 1998, which subsequently heightened tensions in the already volatile relationship between both countries.

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan have largely been viewed through a contextual global prism since the country’s inception in 1947. The US was one of the first countries to set up diplomatic ties with Pakistan, yet relations soured with the advent of the Cold War which shaped the former to pursue a relationship with Pakistan, as a balancing power against China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Economic aid provided to Pakistan has been largely, military in nature and Pakistan continues to remain as an important Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally today.

After 1970, with the election of the leftist Pakistan People’s Party government, the already transactional relationship found itself in troubled waters, due to outright condemna-tion of war atrocities committed by the Pakistan military during the Bangladesh Liberation War. The relationship took another turn in the 1980s, after the Soviet coup in Afghanistan, and saw the US, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Zia-ul Haq-led government cooperate to curb the Soviet expansion in Afghanistan, a view to helping Afghan insurgents stave off the USSR.

Yet in the 1990s, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons led to economic and military sanctions from the US, which were later lifted, after the US-led war on terror in 9/11, as the US sought the country as a vital ally in the War on Terror, given its geographical proximity to the restive country. Unlike Pakistan, whose military and economic security concerns necessitated and alignment with Russia or China, India sought no such alliance, and was in fact one of the pioneers of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, India’s implementation of socialist policies led it to form a cooperative relationship with the USSR, which frayed its relations with the US. […]

November 6th, 2013|SouthAsia|3 Comments