New Age Islam Edit Bureau
20 November 2015
Afghan refugees: the humiliated and insulted
By Dr Mohammad Taqi
Who runs Pakistan?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Rejuvenate NATO now
By Harlan Ullman
The Paris attack raises questions
By Ali Malik
Afghan refugees: the humiliated and insulted
Dr Mohammad Taqi
November 19, 2015
The Paris massacre perpetrated by a jihadist band has the whole world grieving alongside the French. In tandem with the condemnations of the jihadist terror have been voices calling for a rethink of European and North American policies dealing with the refugees leaving Syria. While a Syrian passport found near the Stade de France attack site has not been conclusively linked to the attackers, it already fed the frenzy over tightening screws on the refugee influx into Europe. The knee-jerk response impugning the bona fides of over a million refugees making their way to Europe is reminiscent of the crackdown against Afghan refugees in Pakistan after the December 16, 2014 attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar. The Pakistani authorities have not put forth to date any evidence whatsoever tying any Afghan refugee to that heinous attack but the clampdown against the registered and unregistered Afghans in Pakistan has been relentless. In fact, no Afghan refugee — documented or undocumented — has ever been linked to any major terrorist attack in Pakistan. As the west ponders how to handle the refugee crisis amidst a rising chorus for harsh measures in Europe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released on November 18, 2015 a comprehensive report on the plight of Afghan refugees, titled ‘What are you doing here? Police abuses against Afghans in Pakistan’.
The HRW report, written by Patricia Gossman and the lawyer-writer Saroop Ijaz, is an exhaustive but grim document that deals with the excesses and abuses against Afghans in Pakistan, especially in the aftermath of the APS attack. The HRW research was conducted from April to October 2015 and is based on interviews with the Afghan refugees living in and around Peshawar, and also the ones who had returned to Afghanistan. The latter group was interviewed in Kabul. The interviewees were randomly selected and were given no compensation of any kind. The Pakistani, Afghan and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials were also interviewed. The HRW report’s sample size might be small but the realities it highlights are stark and have consequences for yet another generation of Afghans living in camps and cities in Pakistan.
According to UNHCR, Afghans remained the world’s largest refugee and displaced population group for 32 consecutive years until 2014, when the Syria and Iraq crises displaced a larger number of people. Over five million Afghans have returned home from around the world since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001-2002 but an estimated 3.7 million still remain displaced, of which 1.5 million documented and a million undocumented remain in Pakistan. The HRW report tells the story of these 2.5 million, many of whom have been humiliated and insulted, deprived of shelter, livelihood and, at times, forced to return to a perilous future in their war-ravaged homeland.
The Afghan refugees arrived in Pakistan in four waves: after the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, after the toppling of Dr Mohammad Najibullah’s government in 1992, after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996 and, finally, after the Taliban oustre in 2001-2002. From being the darlings of the west –whose dignitaries used to visit them in tent villages — and Pakistan’s military regime under General Ziaul Haq, to getting marginalised and ignored in subsequent years, to being actively maligned and harassed for nearly a year now, politics around the Afghan refugees have mirrored where the Pakistani state’s priorities vis-à-vis the Kabul government of the time lie. A senior Afghan official expressed concern that (in the wake of the APS attack) “Pakistan would use the refugee card as a political stick with us whenever there is a downturn in the relationship.” The concern is legitimate as, despite being rather gracious in hosting the Afghan refugees for over three decades, Pakistan has not been shy of using them as a trope in the anti-Soviet narrative and a convenient piñata that is blamed — without any proof whatsoever — for terror.
HRW draws attention to how increasing hostility towards the Afghans after the APS attack has translated into an extremely callous attitude by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and downright brutality by its police department. The report notes that so heartless was the provincial government’s attitude that the federal authorities had to intercede with it to scale back. The report cites a refugee on how “The police did not use to beat us much before December 16, 2014. Now they beat us for no reason. I am afraid that one day when I have no bribe money, they will kill me.” Testimony after testimony from Afghan street vendors, students and common folk speaks of police highhandedness, extortion and blatant cruelty against a people who have little or no legal recourse. According to HRW, even Afghan refugee women are being subjected to scrutiny and the children face difficulty in going to schools. Apparently, access to healthcare has become an ordeal for Afghan families. The torment has been so persistent that many Afghans opted to go back to their native land despite imminent danger to life. HRW details the systematic intimidation and abuse of both the Afghans living in deep fear in Pakistan and those who found it unbearable enough to take their chances in their volatile country.
The HRW report includes a practical and comprehensive set of recommendations for the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the UNHCR and their international partners. Citing the relevant international humanitarian law, HRW has urged Pakistan to ratify the Refugee Convention, adopt a national refugee law and fulfil its international humanitarian obligations. The single most important and time sensitive HRW recommendation is for Pakistan to renew, through December 2017, the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards for Afghan refugees, which are set to lapse next month. It has also asked for a written government directive to “cease unlawful surveillance, harassment, intimidation and violence against Afghans living in Pakistan”. HRW has urged the Afghan government to “ensure that the returnees have access to government health, education and land allocation regardless of their status in Pakistan”. Equally important is HRW’s call to the UNHCR to work with Pakistan to “ensure that undocumented Afghans seeking protection in Pakistan are referred to the UNHCR”.
In a recent address the ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan, His Excellency Mr Janan Mosazai noted: “The presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is a humanitarian issue and we are thankful to the government of Pakistan, especially Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and his government, particularly leaders such as General Qadir Baloch, for their kind and generous attention to Afghan refugees in Pakistan and making sure their presence continues to be treated in a purely humanitarian context.” It is a heartening sign as Pakistani officials are expected to meet soon to adjudicate the extension of the Afghan refugee registration. The HRW report goes a long way to highlight the infinite human cost of the protracted conflict in Afghanistan. HRW’s thoughtful and thorough effort should be a reminder to the Afghan and Pakistani governments and the UNHCR that those humiliated and insulted daily are humans, not mere numbers.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com and he tweets @mazdaki
Who runs Pakistan?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
IT is hard not to sit up and take notice of the chief of army staff’s current preoccupations in America. This is not the first time over the past year that Gen Raheel Sharif has travelled to a foreign capital as Pakistan’s de facto head of state, but the trip to Washington confirms what was till now a badly kept secret.
Following on the heels of the Paris attacks, the visit will consolidate the heavily securitised relationship between Pakistan and the US, even though the Paris carnage has once again made clear that the strengthening of the coercive apparatus of the state has not helped curb terrorism anywhere. But then, states manipulate public opinion so completely that all manifestations of terrorism (excepting those perpetrated by the state itself) serve only to provide a justification for the security apparatus to be given more power.
International support only buttresses the already impressive domestic position of the guardians of our physical and ideological frontiers. It was even reported recently that the latest accountability law drafted by NAB has explicitly excluded generals (and judges) from its purview.
Many actors are part of our political economy story.
In short, the military is (still) entrenched as arbiter in Pakistan’s political economy story. But this story includes many other actors without mention of whom it is not possible to understand how a system that appears so dysfunctional actually exhibits a remarkable degree of stability.
Augmenting the military’s sacred cow position is a religious establishment that has well-developed economic stakes. It is fair to suggest that the religious right has made a strategic retreat of sorts in the wake of the military-led ‘consensus’ on terrorism which is why, for instance, the Supreme Court was able to raise critical questions about the blasphemy law recently without precipitating an uproar. Yet religious functionaries and institutions continue to exercise considerable influence at the level of everyday life, economically and culturally.
Then there are burgeoning commercial lobbies whose interests in both traditional and newer economic sectors also ensure their commitment to the status quo. On the one hand are the older propertied classes, including rural elites that have been at the forefront of formal politics for decades going back to the British period. On the other hand are newer protagonists of the Malik Riaz variety that are both products of urbanisation (and attendant social changes) and self-proclaimed vanguards of a new era of professionalism and quality in a market-driven society.
Whichever the variety, the propertied classes have no interest in rocking a boat that has either served them very well till now or has immense potential to be a very profitable cash cow in the years to come.
These propertied classes, along with those who seek to move up the social ladder from more humble origins, have two possible sources of political engagement with the military (and, to a lesser extent, civil) arbiters at the top of the political food chain. They can either lobby them directly, providing them opportunities for capital accumulation through ‘joint ventures’ — eg real estate schemes — or they can acquire more relatively autonomous political influence by seeking electoral office (I should note that the religious right has historically exercised the latter option as well).
It is in the electoral arena that the contradictions of the military-dominated system become apparent, both in terms of the competition for scarce political resources between contenders for office and also the tensions between those who become part of the political elite and their military overlords.
But, as noted, this is a remarkably resilient system, precisely because all actors in the game do have stakes in what remains an exclusionary social order and agree that the working people without influence and money who make the system tick remain only pawns on the political chessboard.
The ongoing local government elections across the country are an apt illustration of this basic structural fact. The exercise remains dominated by money and established networks of political influence. Yes, there are untried contenders outside the mainstream that seek a say but they are few and far between, and the overall tone and tenor of the electoral exercise is clearly oriented towards the status quo.
Indeed, the military and its power, the capitalist system more generally and many other such matters are barely spoken of during electoral contests in Pakistan even though the localised concerns of voters — health, education, employment, sewerage and so on — are not at all disconnected from macro political economy issues.
And herein lies the rub: there can be no people-oriented structural transformation here until and unless its people are mobilised to break with the status quo. Electoral contests represent the only institutionalised opportunity for the masses to at least think about real change. Unfortunately, the incumbents in this game are more often than not defenders rather than opponents of the status quo, lofty claims aside.
The writer teachers at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Rejuvenate NATO now
November 19, 2015
Since the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949, the alliance has often been riven with dire predictions about its future viability. That NATO survived the demise of the military threat for which it was established to contain — the Soviet Union — reflected reasons behind why global stability and security needed such an organisation as a foundation for protecting and defending against the forces of disruption and violence. With a recrudescent Russia challenging the old order in Europe and non-traditional dangers in the form of Islamic State (IS) and other jihadi-inspired terror groups posing existential threats to the Middle East and disrupting Europe through the forced migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the chaos in the region, a revitalised NATO would seem self-evident.
It is not. Despite the actions taken at last year’s NATO summit held in Wales to bolster defences against potential Russian encroachment into western Europe, many of NATO’s members seem ambivalent or indifferent to the potential dangers emanating from the east and the south. While NATO maintains a small training mission in Iraq, the alliance is doing very little in containing and ultimately defeating IS. And the once powerful NATO contribution to the International Security and Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan has, along with the US’ withdrawal of the bulk of its troops, become token.
With Russia’s aggressive intervention into Ukraine and now into Syria, and the establishment of a caliphate by IS in Syria and Iraq, and the Paris bombings driving this home, where is the leadership in NATO advocating and calling for appropriate responses? Barack Obama preferred a “strategic pivot” to Asia and while his administration threatened to intercede in Syria if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his countrymen and then demanded Assad must go, that belligerent rhetoric was empty. And “leading from behind” in the air campaign that would force Libya’s Gaddafi from office and lead to his death ultimately provoked a civil war in that country with no end in sight.
These facts raise the question of whether NATO is relevant to the 21st century or is really a relic from the past. To be sure, the Rapid Action Plan, new exercises and deployments to show resolve in the face of Putin’s Ukrainian gambit and other steps were taken at Wales. However, virtually all these responses are tactical and not strategic or political actions to reset the alliance on a new course to deal with the issues, threats, dangers and uncertainties of the 21st century. Because it has been the senior military that has largely proposed these changes to counter and deter Russia, obviously approved by political authorities, where and who are the political leaders arguing and pleading to adapt NATO to what a former supreme allied commander termed this “new, new world?”
The answer is that these leaders so far are missing in action. It is easier to spend rhetoric and words in response than to attempt to change the alliance’s actual course. However, unless leadership emerges, NATO runs the real risk of becoming moribund. Failure to act after the Paris horrors further erodes NATO and the perception of a strong, functioning military alliance. What should be done? Next year’s heads of government NATO summit to be held in Warsaw provides perhaps a last opportunity to rejuvenate the alliance. A new overarching concept is not needed but a change in strategy is.
To counter and deter Russia, bigger, more expensive weapons’ systems are not the answer. Instead, in the regions most vulnerable to Russian intimidation — the Baltic and Black Sea states — there should be a shift to what has been called a “porcupine” or hedgehog defence. This defence should be based on so bloodying any potential Russian incursion west to make such an undertaking too expensive. Armed with literally thousands of ground to air missiles such as Stinger and anti-armour weapons such as Javelin along with sea mines and other capacities to blunt an attack, this defence would be formidable. The other alliance members would provide supporting capability against Russian cyber propaganda and economic tools, and indeed could deploy even small numbers of forces to demonstrate commitment. Such a strategy would not incur huge costs and indeed might actually prove to be less expensive. However, work needs to start now.
Regarding IS and threats from the south, NATO could be used to promote a NATO-like alliance in those regions through expanding the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC). Not to provoke Iran, as the NATO-Russia Council was originally created, a similar arrangement with Tehran should be pursued. NATO is at a, and perhaps the most, critical juncture in its history. Will it be a relic? Or will NATO remain relevant? Only NATO can make that choice.
The writer is chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and senior advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council. His latest book, due out this fall, is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of an Archduke a Century Ago Still Menaces Peace Today
The Paris attack raises questions
A bunch of terrorists who belonged to the organisation that one’s own security and intelligence service helped raise held a city hostage killing hundreds of innocent people, and terrorised the whole world. That was 9/11 and this is Paris. And just when what happened in Paris should not be deemed unexpected, it opens a window to ask ourselves the right questions to understand and deal with the menace(s) we face. I intend to raise many questions here whose answers I believe all of us should seek through reflection, investigation and civic action. And just when I may have an opinion on quite a few of them, my opinion does not matter. For, like all truth, we should find it ourselves.
First and foremost are questions for and regarding the US. Will it ever come out of its conundrum of whether it wants to engage with the world or wants to be isolationist? If it wants to engage will the overarching guiding principle be American ideals or American self-interest? And if it will be self-interest, will it have the magnanimity to stop blowing the trumpet of ideals? Has it come out of confusion over whether we are living in an American world or a post-American world? Does it realise that the half-baked invasion of Iraq was a grave mistake but even graver was cutting and running, and in the process intensifying sectarian rifts by using Shia militias to counter a Sunni-insurgency against ‘occupation’? And if it is an American century and the US intends to engage, what is the rulebook to ensure the transparent and harmonic American era? And, above all, is the US ready to ask the question that its lobby-driven governance system has not only made the world a more dangerous place but has also crippled and paralysed the US?
Then come questions for and regarding Europe itself. Does Europe consider that the European Union may have turned into a fortification endeavour right after a plundering colonisation legacy of all of old Europe’s powers except Germany, and this combination of resource exploitation and fortification while trumpeting free trade may have contributed to the menace stemming out of most of the European colonies? Why had the old European powers of France and the UK been eager to jump for regime change in Libya and Syria when it was evident that there is no succession plan in place and the outcome would be chaos, a power vacuum and bloodshed? And why did this happen after the European regimes of Sarkozy, Blair, Berlusconi, etc, were going head over heels to woo Gaddafi and company not so long ago? Is it mere opportunism, bad judgment, malice or the indication of ever-decaying statecraft and policy-making framework in Europe? And why do most old European regimes sound more accommodating towards non-westerners in public while seeking a tougher approach to them in their private conversations with Americans? What if the fortification of Europe in a geographic continuation that is a Eurasian island is not a sustainable strategy?
And then come even more critical questions for the Muslim world. The question is not whether Facebook, a for-profit corporation, feels for Paris and not for Beirut, Peshawar or Syria. The real question is why anyone who is blowing himself up from Paris to Beirut to Peshawar to Syria is a Muslim. What is inherently wrong with Muslim societies that make violence acceptable and makes people justify it based on their sectarian or religious affiliations? How can Muslims object to the French regulation of mosques when Ahmedis praying are suppressed by state and society alike in Pakistan and Sunni rituals in Iran and Shia rituals in Saudi Arabia face oppression and scrutiny? Do Muslims even realise the double standards they live by? And what is it that makes them indulge deeper in this victim mindset when they claim to have a massive representation of 1.5 billion people on the planet? Why is it so that almost all Muslim societies have political alternatives between a hegemonic autocrat and a theocratic mass movement (the exceptions may be a handful)? Do they realise that modernity is a take all or leave all package and so the decision they face is of either to take it or leave it? Do they realise that either at the behest of the clergy or for lack of reform, their religion has reached a point where it has become a tool to incite violence across the globe? Do they even realise that such an ideology may not be sustainable in the long-term?
And then comes the most pressing question: what to do of the entities known as secret services? Here is what I posted on Twitter after the Paris attack and I think it is relevant to understand the question: the CIA, MI6 and ISI created the mujahideen that led to the Taliban and al Qaeda wreaking havoc in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the west. Mossad is linked to nurturing Hamas in its early days to counter the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). MI6, the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE) of France and CIA armed and funded elements in Syria, Iraq and Libya that then became Islamic State (IS) and al Nusra. The DGSE and MI6 boosted the ayatollahs from the 1950s till the late 1970s to counter leftist movements in Iran. There is something seriously wrong with intelligence agencies and their tactical warfare. Not that any of these agencies desired these splinters to go the way they did but they could not foresee where it would lead. And this inability itself merits reigning in the secret services and making them more accountable. It is some men’s overconfidence to indulge in social and political engineering experiments that has caused more havoc than anyone could have imagined. And for peace in the world this needs to be addressed first up. Without addressing it, what if we end up creating a monster more lethal than IS while eradicating IS?
With all these questions I wonder whether the best solution to sort out the Middle East is to leave it on its own. And whether with an Iran run by ayatollahs, a sectarian IS and autocratic crony-capitalist regimes, this really is workable.