May 31

Aapas Ki Baat – 31 May 2017

Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo


May 30

Aapas Ki Baat – 30 May 2017

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

May 29

Aapas Ki Baat – 29 May 2017

Posted on Monday, May 29, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

May 26

Mundane national interest

Posted on Friday, May 26, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Mundane national interest

The PMLN government is being dragged over the coals by the opposition for not protesting the “shabby” treatment meted out to the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, at the 39 nation US-Arab Islamic Summit in Riyadh. US President Donald Trump barely shook hands with Mr Sharif, let alone said anything meaningful to him in the context of US-Pak relations. Mr Sharif was also “snubbed” by the Saudis when they didn’t give him an opportunity to speak at the forum even though he had prepared a speech dilating on the sacrifices that Pakistan had made in the “war against terror”. Adding insult to injury, Mr Trump’s speech didn’t even mention Pakistan among a long list of countries that have suffered the scourge of terrorism. To top it all, India was portrayed as a victim of terrorism even though Pakistan has cried itself hoarse pointing to the Indian hand in aiding and abetting Taliban terrorism and Baloch separatism in the country. Under the circumstances, critics are asking why the Saudis invited Mr Sharif in the first place and why he agreed to attend the summit if there was nothing in it except “humiliation” for Pakistan.

?Let us be clear. The predominantly conservative Sunni Arab nations under the leadership of Saudi Arabia have banded together to thwart a perceived threat from revolutionary Shia Iran and its allies in the Middle-East. The civil wars in Iraq and Syria and Yemen are heavily overladen with Islamist sectarian colours, with both Iran and Saudi Arabia warring through Islamist proxies. To complicate matters, the US and Russia are taking opposing sides in the conflict. In this situation, Pakistan is caught in no-man’s land. It is predominantly Sunni but with a significant Shia population, which makes the spectre of serious Shia-Sunni conflict in the country a veritable nightmare. It is already fighting on various fronts – putting down Sunni Taliban extremists, stamping on Baloch separatists supported by Kabul and New Delhi, and fending off hostile armies on its eastern and western borders with India and Afghanistan – and cannot risk jumping into the Middle East cauldron without facing a horrible backlash at home. And, for whatever it’s worth, Pakistan is a parliamentary constitutional democracy with a strong opposition and periodic general elections for popular accountability. That is why, when the Saudis and other Arab leaders pleaded with Pakistan to join their holy alliance and lend their fighting force, our government politely declined, citing popular opposition in the national interest. By and large, Pakistanis are anti-US and anti-Saudi Arabia because both are pro-Israel and not anti-India.

It was a hard decision to make for Mr Sharif. The Saudis have been his personal saviours and hosts in difficult times. They have also been Pakistan’s historical “friend”. Over a couple of million Pakistani workers remit billions of dollars annually to shore up the country’s forex reserves and stabilize its currency, apart from the Saudis providing oil on favourable terms. From time to time they also pitch in with balance of payments support. The US, too, has been a benefactor for decades, supplying Pakistan with top-notch military hardware and tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid. Not to scratch their backs now after they have been scratching Pakistan’s for decades couldn’t have endeared us to them in their moment of need. So if they weren’t exactly gushing over Mr Sharif, why hold him culpable? In fact, it is a success of Pakistan’s foreign policy that it has finally woken up to its own long term national interest vis a vis both Saudi Arabia and the US and refrained from selling itself cheap in the short term. If Mr Sharif cannot be their ally in this conflict, he can scarcely afford to alienate the US and the Saudis by spurning their invitation.

The government has also been slated for “mishandling” the Khulbushan Yadav affair with India at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Critics claim it lost in the first round when the ICJ stayed the execution of Yadav. But the fact is that India did not win and Pakistan did not lose the case. Since Pakistan wasn’t prepared to guarantee it wouldn’t execute Yadav before the case was concluded on merits regarding matters of jurisdiction and consular access to spies, it was only natural for the ICJ not to prejudice the matter by not staying the execution provisionally. That is why Pakistan has now applied for a speedy resolution of the matter of jurisdiction in the first place. It is interesting too that Indian critics have been no less sparing of their own government for going to a third party for mediation when its historical stance on conflict resolution with Pakistan has been pegged to bilateralsm so that it can resist pro-Pakistan Kashmir Resolutions in the UN.

Pakistanis are wont to be fiercely “nationalistic” even when such sentiment is misplaced or counterproductive. In such situations, blind passion about friendship and betrayal must give way to sober calculations of mundane national interest.

May 24

Aapas Ki Baat – 24 May 2017

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo