Feb 3

Modi’s desperation

Posted on Friday, February 3, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Modi’s desperation

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, claims that the rivers of the Indus Basin belong to India and Pakistan has no rights over these resources. He says he will repeal the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan so that water can be diverted upstream from flowing into Pakistan in order to fulfill the requirements of agriculture in India’s states of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. He says Pakistan “must pay for its wrong doing” because “terrorism will not be tolerated by India any more”.

Pakistan has declared that any attempt to do so will cause an unprecedented humanitarian disaster and will be construed as an “act of war”. Pakistan’s Indus Water Basin underwater aquifer is the second most “water-stressed” in the world because its economy is the most water intensive in the world.

The Indus Water Treaty was signed in 1960 by PM Jawaharlal Nehru and President General Ayub Khan under the aegis of the World Bank. It has survived three wars between the two countries and equitably distributed water to 300 million people over 26 million acres in the Indus Water Basin. It allocates nearly 20 percent of the Indus water to India mainly through the three eastern rivers and about 60 per cent to Pakistan through the western rivers.

The need for such a treaty arose after partition when the “standstill agreement” between the two countries on water sharing expired in 1948, and India cut off the water in the Central Bari Doab Canals. India also took the Kashmir dispute to the UN following a short war in the disputed territory. It took ten years of haggling before the two countries agreed to sign the treaty and that is one reason why it has withstood the test of time. In recent years, however, tensions have arisen following Indian designs to build big and small dams and reservoirs upstream on the Indus that seem to violate certain provisions of the Treaty regarding the waters of the three western rivers allotted to Pakistan. After bilateral efforts failed to resolve these issues, Pakistan approached the World Bank to facilitate arbitration as allowed in the rules and practised earlier but India continues to resist third party arbitration. This Indian obduracy has led to bitter recriminations in Pakistan. Under the circumstances, Mr Modi’s latest threat following renewed hostilities along the LoC and international border in which about 100 soldiers and civilians have died on both sides is raising hackles in Pakistan.

Mr Modi’s anti-Pakistan agenda is basically aimed at winning votes in elections and diverting international attention from his government’s continuing human rights atrocities and violent repression in Indian Kashmir. His focus is on sanctioning Pakistan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and isolating it. How effective is he likely to prove?

Mr Modi’s election tactics may not work in the Punjab and UP, both of which are poised to ditch the BJP. The new Trump administration is not likely to back his aggressive designs vis a vis Pakistan until it has had a chance to try and “incentivise” Islamabad to play ball in Afghanistan. Nor is India likely to succeed at sanctioning Pakistan at the UN. The Chinese are likely to continue using their veto power to protect Pakistan in which their stakes have grown exponentially following proposed investments in CPEC. This is aimed at securing an alternative route for their trade and commerce, reducing their dependence on the sea route that is increasingly being threatened by the US in tandem with India, Australia and Japan. The military options of cold start and hot pursuit across the border to intimidate Pakistan are also non-starters because Pakistan has fashioned appropriate defensive military strategies to counter such adventurism. Finally, there are some very good reasons why India dare not abrogate the Indus Water Treaty unilaterally without seriously adverse consequences for itself.

First, it would bring global condemnation, India would lose the high moral ground in the post-Uri period and attention would switch back to the Kashmir imbroglio that is the root cause of Indo-Pak hostilities. Second, Any attempt to bottle up the water in the upper Indus without first building dams and reservoirs – long term projects — would lead to massive flooding in major cities in Indian Kashmir and Punjab. Third, by setting an outrageous precedent, Pakistan would be provoked to pressurise China – with which India has no such treaty — to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra river and erode the agricultural economy of Assam on which India is dependent. Fourth, if India closes the water tap Pakistan is most certainly going to respond by opening the jihad tap to engulf north India in flames. This would push the two countries into an outright war situation in which neither can be a winner because of their nuclear arsenals.

Narendra Modi’s warlike rhetoric and desperate actions are jeopardising India’s economic growth and the secular democracy that underpins it. Pakistan’s patience and restraint is laudable. It must not be provoked into any precipitous action.

Jan 27

Sauce for the goose

Posted on Friday, January 27, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Sauce for the goose

The military establishment continues to hog the news, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. True, it is a central actor in the unfolding script of a newly democratic nation state and must have a place at the table. But no less true is the requirement for a discreet and noncontroversial role to anchor the country rather than a bristling, self-righteous and destabilizing one. Consider the record of the last decade or so.

Shortly after the PPP regime came into office in 2008, the US government passed the Kerry Lugar bill to assist Pakistan financially on the condition that it remained firmly on the democratic path without undue military interference. Within no time, however, the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmud Qureshi, was lambasted for enabling such conditions and packed off to Washington to dilute the clause in an appropriate addendum. Shortly thereafter, President Asif Zardari tried to mend fences with India by offering to sign a no-first strike treaty, only to be rebuffed dramatically by a terrorist strike in Mumbai whose footprints were traced back to Pakistan. The Mumbai terror attack put paid to any talk of peace. Memogate followed when Mr Zardari’s confidante and Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, was hounded out of office for allegedly endangering “national security”. Mr Zardari became a nervous wreck and was hospitalized in the UAE. If the Raymond Davis affair of 2011 estranged the US administration from the Zardari government, the Salala-provoked blockade of NATO transit facilities ruptured it altogether. The PPP government bought a reprieve by extending the term of the ISI chief, Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and gave a full second term to the army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Despite these sacrificial offerings, however, the PPP lost one prime minister, Yusaf Raza Gilani, and the second, Raja Ashraf Pervez, was barely saved by the bell tolling new elections.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has fared no better. His vision to build peace in the region in order to focus on economic development and public welfare has been thwarted from Day One. A dubious policy of good Taliban/bad Taliban viz Kabul and proxy warring with India has kept both neighbours alienated and hostile. Meanwhile, any hope that the arrival of General Raheel Sharif, ostensibly an apolitical officer, in 2013, would usher in a period of relative calm was quickly dissipated by the “third-umpire” instigated dharnas of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri. The price for denying an extension in service to General Sharif was high – Dawnleaks was billed as treasonable and cost the PMLN Information Minister, Pervez Rashid, his job.

The PM’s selection of General Qamar Bajwa as COAS has not been without its hiccups, even though it is in line with past practice. First, an unsavoury campaign was launched alleging that he had Ahmedi links or leanings. This was done in order to dissuade the PM from selecting him. Then, when the deed was done, and the COAS indicated a reluctance to follow the interventionist policies of his predecessors, a report was leaked to The Times of London alleging junior officer pressure on him not to tow the elected government’s line. No one cared to remind anyone that if Dawnleaks was a blot on the civilians that entailed an inquiry and censure for undermining national security, TheTimesleak was no less an attempt to undermine the authority of the army chief by sowing discord in the ranks. But, clearly, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander and the conspirators behind the Ahmedi campaign and TheTimesleak against the army chief go scot free, suggesting that the remnants of the ancien regimes are alive and kicking even in retirement or on transfer.

Now we hear that General Raheel Sharif has landed himself a highly lucrative job with the Saudis, heading an alliance of sectarian Sunni states aligned against Shia Iran and Iraq and Houthi-Yemen and Alawi-Syria. Given Pakistan’s national security interests, this is as objectionable as the practice of a couple of ex-DGs-ISI securing themselves similarly profitable jobs as advisers to the UAE government or a couple of ex-army chiefs enjoying financial benefits from the Saudis. The point is that when civilian leaders seek help in London, the UAE or Jeddah, they are berated and hounded, but when their military counterparts do the same they are not even mentioned.

General Bajwa is now in the spotlight because half a dozen web-bloggers have “disappeared” on his watch and the common perception is that secret agencies under his command have something to do with it because the bloggers were indulging in some rhetorical criticism of the military’s political role in Pakistan. The civilian government is seemingly helpless in this matter because irresponsible criticism or abuse of the armed forces is constitutionally banned. But so is hate speech and incitement to violence against them by supporters of those who have “disappeared” them.

Surely, what is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander too.

Jan 24

Aapas Ki Baat – 24 January 2017

Posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)


Jan 20

Opportunity knocks

Posted on Friday, January 20, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Opportunity knocks

Pakistan COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani have exchanged messages following a spate of vicious Taliban attacks in Kabul, Kandahar and other Afghan cities. General Bajwa has condemned the attacks and assured President Ghani that Islamabad wants to work with Kabul to uproot the menace of the Taliban without indulging in the “blame game” going forward.

President Ghani has welcomed Gen Bajwa’s “concern” even if he has minced no words in pinpointing safe havens for the Haqqani network in Pakistan’s borderlands as the root cause of his troubles. But he has also reciprocated General Bajwa’s overture by expressing readiness to walk the talk with Pakistan once again. This is a significant gesture, considering that only recently President Ghani was castigating Pakistan for Afghanistan’s worsening fate and bending over backwards to “befriend”, and ally with, India like his predecessor Hamid Karzai.

The irony should not be missed. Much the same sort of mutual eagerness to come to grips with the problem of Taliban terrorism that has afflicted both countries for many years was in evidence when General Raheel Sharif became COAS three years ago and President Ashraf Ghani flew to Islamabad to parley with him while distancing himself from India as a measure of trusting and putting his faith in the Pakistani leadership. So what happened in the last three years to compel President Ghani to lose trust with Pakistan and put his faith in India? Indeed, why has he now decided to backtrack and have another shot at talking to Pakistan?

In December 2013 President Ghani concluded a state visit to Islamabad during which he had a heart-to-heart chat with General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Both Pakistani leaders assured him that they would use their leverage with the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Umar to facilitate a serious dialogue with Kabul aimed at negotiating a ceasefire followed by a power sharing agreement that would bring the bloody civil war to an end. The Pakistanis tried to do their bit but their efforts were thwarted by anti-Ghani elements in Afghanistan and India hostile to Pakistan who leaked news of the passing of Mullah Umar much earlier, thereby triggering an internal power struggle within the Afghan Taliban leadership with each faction decrying peace with Kabul by trying to prove its hardline ideological credentials. The proposed reconciliation talks collapsed and Kabul and Islamabad went back to square one by blaming each other for the derailment. Mullah Mansoor succeeded Mullah Umar with the support of Pakistan but soon charted his own anti-Kabul hardline posture in order to consolidate his leadership, thereby putting paid to any leverage Pakistan may have legitimately expected. A measure of Pakistan’s disappointment, possibly even anger, with Mullah Mansoor can be gauged from the fact that he was eliminated on Pakistan territory by an American drone while returning from a trip to Iran using a Pakistani a passport – a feat that could not have been accomplished without close sharing of critical information between the secret intelligence agencies of Pakistan and America.

In consequence, the Afghan Taliban went through an internal metamorphosis. The more the new leadership warmed to Pakistani overtures for reconciliation talks with Kabul, the greater the rate of desertion of hardline Taliban factions from the mainstream and their transformation into offshoots of Islamic State or Daish that began to pose an existential threat also to Pakistan. This compelled a rethink of tactical policy in Islamabad, with consequential frustration and estrangement in Kabul, eventually enabling India to lure President Ghani into its lap again.

Now President Ghani and Pakistan’s military leaders have come full circle. First, President Ghani has realized that, like America, India can’t help him negotiate peace with the Taliban or crush them, regardless of its economic and military clout. Second, the emergence of IS/Daish on both sides of the border puts Islamabad and Kabul in the same boat in which they will have to sink or swim together. General Raheel Sharif’s war on the Pakistani Taliban points the way forward. Third, they realize that providing safe havens to the enemies of the other is a negative sum game for both. Fourth, the Americans and NATO are not pulling out of Afghanistan any time soon, so Kabul is not at the mercy of the Taliban or a pushover for Pakistan. Fifth, US President Donald Trump means to renew serious engagement with Pakistan by “incentivizing” it (money and weapons) no less than the Kabul regime (money and weapons) to help build the framework for reconciliation not just between the Taliban and Kabul but also between Kabul and Islamabad and Islamabad and India.

Going forward, this is a good moment to redress the problems of the region. If it is missed, both Pakistan and Afghanistan will come to suffer even more from terrorism than before. But Pakistan and India will also have to start talking seriously and sincerely so that their proxy wars across the eastern border don’t prick this balloon of opportunity along the western border.

Jan 13

Army matters

Posted on Friday, January 13, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Army matters

The appointment of Gen Qamar Bajwa as COAS seems to have stabilized polity, for the time being at least. He has swiftly moved to stamp his authority on the army by a string of promotions, transfers and postings in the high command. Three decisions, in particular, are noteworthy because they suggest a recalibration of certain policies.

The Karachi Corps commander, Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, has been nominated DGISI and the Sindh DG Rangers, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar, has been promoted to Lt Gen and installed in GHQ as Chief of General Staff. The ISPR will henceforth be managed by a Maj Gen, Asif Ghafoor, unlike in the immediate past when a Lt Gen, Asim Bajwa, was running the show.

The nomination of DGISI, like that of the army chief himself, is in the domain of the prime minister. So we can assume a degree of concurrence in this appointment. But it is significant that the outgoing ISI chief, Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, has been shunted to the National Defence University instead of being given command of a corps which would have entitled him to sit in the corps commanders meeting and weigh in with his opinion and experience, first as DG Rangers Sindh and then as DGISI. It may be recalled that Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, like his predecessor Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, presided over a turbulent period in civil-military relations, even though no intrusive charges were ever laid at his door by the civilians like they were at that of his predecessor. Clearly, General Qamar Bajwa means to give a freer hand to the new appointees in both these positions to recalibrate respective policies in light of his own perspective.

The promotion and appointment of Lt Gen Bilal Akbar is equally significant. Normally this position of CGS is reserved for the senior most general after the army chief and almost as a stepping-stone for the slot of army chief itself. But in this case a relatively junior general has been put in charge. This means that Gen Qamar Bajwa intends to keep a direct and firm grip on internal army matters, especially promotions and postings. He will also draw comfort from the fact that an expert on the situation in volatile Karachi is always at hand for sensitive input.

The most significant change is in the status of the ISPR. Under COAS General Raheel Sharif, the post was first upgraded from Maj Gen to Lt Gen and then DGISPR Lt Gen Asim Bajwa was given a free hand to manipulate public opinion, often at the expense of the elected government and prime minister, especially when elevating the army chief to rather heroic proportions. This became a source of great tension in civil-military relations. But in the new dispensation, the ISPR will likely revert to a lower profile role under Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, which is the need of the hour. The shunting of Lt Gen Asim Bajwa to the relatively obscure post of Inspector-General Arms at GHQ implies Lt Gen Asim Bajwa won’t be stirring up any further misunderstandings with the government.

All this is for the good. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for the controversy that has arisen following reports that Gen Raheel Sharif has accepted a high profile, highly remunerative position as Commander-in-Chief of the 39-country coalition force against Syria, Iran and Iraq cobbled by Saudi Arabia. If true, this is an ill-advised move. Pakistan’s parliament and government have clearly shown their intent to stay clear of any such organization. It also does not behove a newly retiring Pakistan army chief to parachute into such an organization that could create a fierce conflict of national interest. But the government’s handling of this affair hasn’t been too comforting either. At first, Khwaja Asif, the Defense Minister, indicated that the prime minister was in the loop. Then he told the Senate that General Raheel had not obtained an NOC from GHQ or the PMO. Gen Raheel also seemed to backtrack in the face of a public backlash: he has let it be known that he won’t accept the position unless three preconditions are met, one of which is to include Iran into the organization (verily a no no for the Saudis) so that it doesn’t smack of sectarianism. Significantly, this episode has unwittingly drawn attention to the unsavoury practise among retiring generals to clutch at remunerative and sensitive posts with foreign governments. An ex-CJCSC, who also served as DGISI, and another ex-DGISI have been guilty of lining their pecuniary and mundane interests in this manner without any accountability. Two ex-army chiefs, General Pervez Musharraf and General Aslam Beg, have also admitted being beneficiaries of Saudi largesse.

While Gen Qamar Bajwa mulls this backlash, he should also take stock of the social media activists who have “disappeared” on his watch. It doesn’t require rocket science to figure who “disappeared” them. The sooner they are released, unharmed, the better. This is not the way for the new chief to open an innings.