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Pakistan Press On Islamophobia, UNHRC, Gender-Based Victimization And FATF: New Age Islam's Selection, 7 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

7 November 2020

• Islamophobia Is Now A Real Problem In The West

By M Zeb Khan

• Re-Election To UNHRC

By Irshad Ahmad

• The Past, Present And Future Of Gender-Based Victimization (Part III)

By Dr Izza Aftab And Noor Ul Islam

• The Quagmire Of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Part II

By M Alam Brohi

• Afghanistan: A Peace Deal

By Sultan Barakat

• How To Engage Post-Election US

By Fahd Humayun


Islamophobia Is Now A Real Problem In The West

By M Zeb Khan

November 7, 2020

Islamophobia is now a real problem in the West and it has far-reaching consequences for the global order and peace.

The West, comprising predominantly the Anglo-Saxon countries, feels threatened by the growing visibility of Muslims there. To try to snatch away the Muslims’ occupied ‘space’ and to send them back into obscurity, some leaders in Europe and elsewhere have been employing tactics that undermine the very foundations of Western civilization characterized by pluralism and liberalism.

For centuries, countries like France and the US boasted of preserving and promoting values such as liberty, equality, and human dignity as the basis of social harmony and economic prosperity. Racial, religious and gender discrimination in the public sphere continued to recede over time, until 9/11 when religious identity and race resurfaced as vital issues in politics and in the public discourse. Focus shifted subtly from ‘what you do and how you behave’ to ‘who you are and how you look’ and created a phenomenon of ‘us versus them’ within communities that had lived together for quite some time celebrating diversity.

The events of 9/11 and subsequent developments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria changed the course of history in profound ways. A new world order emerged with new friends and foes under a new theme of “the West and the rest”. Instead of fighting individual terrorists or groups using violent means for political change, the West (led by the US) projected Islam as posing a bigger threat than communism did.

And the biased media played a key role in demonising Islam and Muslims in the West so much so that common people started believing in the most absurd and crazy stories about an entire civilization. Headscarves, beards, mosques, holy scripture, and other sacred symbols/practices were associated with obscurantism and terrorism.

But there is a method to this madness! The sudden influx of Muslim immigrants in European countries (thanks to external interference in Syria, Libya, and Iraq) was viewed as an economic and cultural threat. Populist leaders have found a very attractive market niche in a largely xenophobic social environment. The loss of jobs, which in reality is the outcome of globalization, automation, and outsourcing, is attributed to immigration. Brexit was one manifestation of how populism can fuel economic anger as a means of political change.

The scapegoating of Muslims, however, will prove to be counter-productive in the long run. Communal tensions and polarization provide the seedbed for radicalization and other social/political problems. Muslims, who constitute a sizable minority across Europe and the US, cannot be wished or forced away by insulting their religion or instituting discriminating laws in the name of social integration. Continued surveillance of emails and phone calls in the garb of security has already alienated the Muslim community.

How Muslims can and should respond to Islamophobia and growing hatred is to learn from the way the Jews behaved during and after the Holocaust. Instead of resorting to violence, they not only used all communication channels to convey their sufferings to friends and foes alike but also converted their pain into strength by forging unity and winning politicians, intellectuals, and leaders of other faiths.

Today, Holocaust denial is a punishable offence throughout Europe and no one can write or speak against it under any pretext including freedom of speech. Muslims can protect their identity and faith more effectively by using non-violent means.


M Zeb Khan teaches at SZABIST, Islamabad.


Re-Election To UNHRC

By Irshad Ahmad

November 7, 2020

In the middle of October this year, Pakistan was re-elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which works globally for the promotion and protection of human rights and also to address human rights violations around the world.

Pakistan was elected for the fifth time since the establishment of the 47-member UNHRC in 2006, winning a seat after receiving 163 votes in the 193-member General Assembly of the UN.

Pakistan’s victory was not only cheered by the government including the Prime Minister but most importantly by the civil society as well as leading human rights organizations. At this juncture, the civil society organizations while congratulating Pakistan for this victory, asked the government to recall its responsibilities under international human rights law, and the promises accepted and supported on the floor of the UNHRC.

Besides other key initiatives, Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is the most tremendous and pragmatic process which the UNHRC is conducting for the promotion, protection and strengthening of human rights across the world. Throughout the UPR process governments, NHRIs and civil society organizations are provided with a platform to advocate for the promotion and protection of human rights, while interacting with the respective member-state.

Lastly, Pakistan's third UPR was conducted by the UNHRC’s Working Group in November 2017, during which Pakistan received a total of 289 recommendations. Among those Pakistan supported 168 while noting 121 recommendations.

If we evaluate the supported recommendations, they include a recommendation from Portugal asking Pakistan to “take all the necessary measures to ensure that the National Commission for Human Rights is in line with the Paris Principles”.

Disappointedly, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government passed the KP Promotion, Protection and Enforcement of Human Rights (Amendment)Act 2019 which repealed and took away the powers of the KP-Human Rights Directorate to appoint and constitute its regional offices.

Contrarily to the Paris Principles, under the Amended Section 4 of the above law, the regional office has been redefined wherein the respective deputy commissioners have been designated the head of regional office, who shall report to the KP Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Human Rights Department, instead of the Human Rights Directorate. The above-mentioned department has now notified the regional offices, bypassing the KP Directorate of Human Rights and curtailing its mandate and powers for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Similarly, since June 2019, the National Commission for Human Rights has been looking forward to the government for the appointment of its commissioners. And for this reason, since then the NCHR has been practically dysfunctional. Unfortunately, both cases replicate the government primacies for strengthening the human rights institutions.

Likewise, during the third UPR, another recommendation was also supported, requesting “to protect independent journalists and the media against any intimidation or violence, including enforced disappearance”.

In recent days, though, there have been numerous attempts to intimidate and silence independent journalists and media persons; sadly, these incidents are alarmingly increasing and perpetrators are roaming with impunity. The daylight disappearance of Matiullah Jan in Islamabad and the abduction of Imran Ali Syed from Karachi are among those cases where the perpetrators have not been made accountable yet. In addition to these, there have been instances where journalists received life threats or were attacked physically.

There is also a recommendation from Switzerland, demanding Pakistan to “Make enforced disappearance a criminal offence and ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions are thoroughly investigated and those responsible brought to justice”.

Regrettably, Pakistan hasn’t yet criminalized enforced disappearances and torture as a distinct crime. Still, cases of enforced disappearances and torture have been reported. At the end of October, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CoIoED) received a total of 6831 complaints of enforced disappearances. Among these, 2083 cases are still under investigation. Although the CoIoED has been able to trace 3761 persons by disposing of 4748 complaints, still the perpetrators’ accountability remains unresolved and their identity stayed as “undisclosed”.

Leading human rights organizations report that custodial torture is still widely practised in the country. We remember the very unfortunate death of Salahuddin in police custody. In another incident, a very disturbing video went viral on social media showing some police officials of the KP Police torturing a young man, forcing him to parade naked and filming his private parts. There have been also reports of torture and excessive use of force against peaceful students protesting for their rights.

Conceptually, the perpetrators of human rights violations are state functionaries or representatives of the state, therefore, to curtail the perpetrators’ impunity, the need for independent and impartial human rights institutions become “imperative”.

In November 2022, the UNHRC will be reviewing the state of human rights in Pakistan in the fourth UPR. It will then be a challenge for the Pakistani government to face the review while carrying contemporary credentials.

Pakistan’s re-election to the UNHRC is important and must be cheered but the real victory would be if the human rights of the people of Pakistan were protected as per the mandate and recommendations of the UNHRC.


Irshad Ahmad is a Peshawar-based lawyer.


The Past, Present And Future Of Gender-Based Victimization (Partii)

By Dr Izza Aftab And Noor Ul Islam

November 7, 2020

Similarly, target 5.b seeks to ‘enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women’. In this regard, the Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurement Survey (2018-19) reported that in juxtaposition to the 65 percent of the male population that owns a mobile phone – only 26 percent of the female population has access to this necessary technology. The mobile money initiatives such as JazzCash, EasyPaisa, etc. in Pakistan have facilitated financial transactions. Many women can get help from such measures in developing a sound business. Other than this – according to the Payoneer’s Global Gig-Economy Index report for Q2 2019 – for the case of year over year revenue growth, Pakistan has the fourth rank among the top ten countries, with the United States holding the first rank. Although gig economy jobs do not provide insurance and permanency, they are a good substitute for restricted work conditions for women. Another hopeful aspect in this regard is that, according to the results by a global survey by Payonner, in the case of freelancing – Pakistani women earn 10 percent more (per hour rate) than men. More so, there are many more examples where technology has facilitated women such as the telemedicine portal, DoctHERS – which has helped connect female doctors to patients in rural areas.

In light of the aforesaid statistics, it is safe to say that the target of gender equality in Pakistan largely remains an illusion. However, it is also necessary to acknowledge the following measures. Establishment of Gender Based Violence courts is another notable achievement. The establishment of National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), and the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment (FOSPAH) are also good initiatives in this regard. At a provincial level, Punjab Women Development Policy aims to eradicate gender discrimination across all spheres of society. Similarly, Day Care Centers and Working Women Hostels in Punjab have been established. In 2013, the Sindh government passed the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, which bans the marriage of any child under the age of 18 years of age. However, this legal restraint is yet to be enacted in other provinces, and at a national level.

One line of attack should be focused on eradicating widespread stigmas around women seeking family planning services – so that women get the sense of independence for their life choices, they majorly need. Mental health services should also be facilitated, and made easily accessible

Cosmetic changes, alone, are not sufficient to bring the change we largely need. Article 34 of the Constitution of Pakistan states that ‘Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life’. We need to scale up our efforts to provide justice to women who have suffered, and help them continue their lives after providing them due relief. One line of attack should be focused on eradicating widespread stigmas around women seeking family planning services – so that women get the sense of independence for their life choices, they majorly need. Mental health services should also be facilitated, and made easily accessible. Women-owned businesses should be strengthened and incentivized. Small and medium enterprises owned by women should be facilitated in terms of credit and insurance schemes. Women need to be equipped with the skills needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s job market, yet, even the basic statistics for education are not at par with what can be deemed reasonable. For instance, the PDHS (2017-18) results show that in Pakistan, out of a sample of de facto household population aged 6 and older – the median number of years of schooling among women is 0.1 year and for men, the same number accounts to 4 years. Additionally and most significantly, violence against women should be eradicated in all spheres. As UN’s former Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon said that ‘There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.’ Amidst the second wave of Covid-19 and the chances of lockdown, major efforts need to be made towards ensuring that predicted violence cases for women should be avoided by maximum possible interventions. Moreover, young girls missing out on school education and do not have the means of continuing it through technological modes – should be facilitated – because the already wide literacy divide should be narrowed, rather than to augment it. As these girls are at a greater chance of dropping out permanently because of our socio-economic fabric.

It is important to add towards the end, that this piece has primarily dealt with the conventional binaries of gender. However, full-scale gender equality cannot be achieved without granting other genders their due rights as well. Pakistan passed the Transgender Persons Act in 2018. According to a recent paper published in the LUMS Law Journal, ‘this legislative enactment aimed at enforcing the constitutional rights of the transgender community in Pakistan. However, the Act falls short at several fronts, and fails to acknowledge the structural violence and prejudices faced by the community, and without such a realization, it is hard to ensure the provisions of fundamental rights to the transgender persons in Pakistan’ (Islam, 2020).


Dr. Izza Aftab is the chairperson of the Economics Department at Information Technology University, Lahore. She is also the Director of the SDG Tech Lab and the Program Director of Safer Society for Children. She has a PhD in Economics from The New School University (NY, USA) and is a Fulbrighter. She tweets @izzaaftab.

Noor Ul Islam is currently working as a Research Associate at the SDG Tech Lab established in collaboration with Information Technology University, Lahore, UNDP and UNFPA. She is a post-graduate in Economics from Lahore University of Management Sciences. She tweets @Noor_Ul_Islam20.


The Quagmire Of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Part II

By M Alam Brohi

November 7, 2020

After the 9/11, the terrorism, the terrorist organizations, their sources of finance, assets, supporters, sustainers, financial transactions particularly Anti Money Laundering (AML) and Counter Terrorist Financing (CFT)measures in countries caught in cross hair of global terrorism came under international microscopic scrutiny. Unfortunately, Pakistan was one of the countries where the militant organizations found fertile grounds due mainly to its support to the US-led Western world in the guerrilla war against the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Later, the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq pushed Pakistan deeper in this quagmire.

The Western world activated the 41-member Financial Action Task Force to control the financial flow to terrorist organizations. Pakistan, being in the cross hair of terrorism, was identified as one of the countries where strict anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing measures were to be revamped based on the FATF recommendations of 2012. Therefore, in October 2018, the world financial watchdog put in place a formidable group of financial, legal and law enforcement experts from nine countries and IMF to evaluate Pakistan’s case. The document came to be known as the Mutual Evaluation Report (MER).

As put it by a columnist, ‘the Report was a gigantic graphic indictment of the failed Pakistan system, its broken laws, lack of commitment and coordination. It was largely divided into two parts – Terror Financing and Money Laundering. The MER is so detailed and goes into every small and miniscule aspect of money laundering, as if the experts had put Pakistan under a super powerful microscope and found each and every fault, crack, cleavage and hole in its legal, administrative, judicial, security and political infrastructure’. The Report actually was a charge sheet against the corrupt and selfish leaders, Law enforcement agencies (LEAs), State Bank and public and private sectors financial operators.

To comply with 21 recommendations within this short period from June 2018 to October 2020 was no mean achievement and the government can rightly claim plaudits for this stellar performance

There commendations of the FATF were lying unattended with the previous two democratic regimes since 2012. No anti money laundering or counter terrorist financing legislation was passed. The Hawala or Hundi system was going in full swing. The ill-gotten wealth, accumulated by corruption, drug trafficking, fraud, tax evasion, smuggling, human trafficking and organized crime, was laundered through extra banking channels and personal couriers (Ayan and Qatari letter-like) inflating bank accounts and financing purchase of properties abroad. The MER discloses that from 2013-2018, a total of 2,420 cases of money laundering were investigated by concerned agencies. Out of which 354 were prosecuted. Only one case, investigated and prosecuted by NAB, resulted in a conviction.

The MER, while making 40 recommendations, elaborately concluded whether Pakistan had complied, not complied, or partially complied with the recommendations. The verdict of the FATF experts was simply awful. The security forces had taken care of the terrorism and terror financing through two elaborate operations which came to be known as Zarb-e-Azab and Radd ul Fasad which went a long way to break the back of terrorism and destroyed its sleep cells in mega urban centers including Karachi. Unfortunately, this was not proportionately supported by foolproof measures by the civilian rulers.

Thus, the PTI regime inherited a formidable challenge from its predecessors. The Damocles sword of FATF was hanging over the head of the country which had every possibility of being placed on the black list. The PTI regime had to comply with over 27 recommendations within a short span of time as the deadlines for compliance in all respects had already expired. It took the matter seriously. However, it needed cooperation of the opposition in the Parliament particularly in the Senate to pass legislation to comply with the recommendations of the FATF. The opposition was not cooperating with the regime – allegedly seeking some reprieve in the money laundering cases notwithstanding the crucial meeting of the FATF from 21-24 October in Paris.

The global financial watchdog after its three day huddle in Paris came out with its verdict on Pakistan which was both disappointing and gratifying at the same time. Though the country has been retained on the Grey List, Pakistan was found to have complied with 21 recommendations of FATF. Dr. Marcus Pleyer, President of the Financial Watchdog, while praising the country for progress, categorically declared it safe giving us time up to 21 February 2021 to comply with the remaining recommendations which most significantly relate to Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terror Financing and the improvement of its strategic plans for the implementations of there gimes on these counts.

To comply with 21 recommendations within this short period from June 2018 to October 2020 was no mean achievement and the government can rightly claim plaudits for this stellar performance. However, with this comes the most difficult part of the FATF recommendations. The regime has to show an equally high level of commitment – going to be judged by the concerted measures it takes to implement the four crucial and strategic tasks specified by the FATF. These tasks relate to revamping of LEAs for identifying, investigating and successfully prosecuting terror financing activities targeting persons and entities designated by the UNSC, addressing strategic deficiencies and ensuring that prosecution of TF including Non Profit Organizations and NGOs result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.

The main hurdle in implementing the above strategic tasks as I can foresee would be the infamous lethargy, inertia and endemic corruption of our Law enforcement agencies and the traditional laxity of our administrative and financial institutions at the federal and provincial levels and the concomitant halfhearted attempts at implementation of Antimoney laundering laws. We should also revamp our strategic policy on the persons and entities operating from – or remaining inactive in – our land who/which have been already on the proscribed list of the United Nations Security Council. The Hawala/Hundi system is operating clandestinely in some areas of our mega cities with the connivance of the LEAs. This is dangerous and would not remain hidden from the super microscopic scrutiny of the FATF experts. The Government should also revamp the powers of the National Accountability to implement anti money laundering laws.


M Alam Brohiwas a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two books


Afghanistan: A Peace Deal

By Sultan Barakat

November 7, 2020

While the international community’s attention is focused on the landmark intra-Afghan peace talks currently taking place in the Qatari capital Doha, a new report detailing the staggering amounts of money lost to ‘corruption, abuse and waste’ in Afghanistan in the last two decades highlighted the many challenges the country will continue to face even after the signing of a long-awaited peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Since the toppling of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the US Congress has appropriated nearly $134bn for Afghan reconstruction programmes. This is almost equivalent to the amount the United States spent on rebuilding Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II, which cost approximately $135bn in today’s money and constituted about 4.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the US.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) – the US government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction – recently released a report containing a forensic audit of $63bn of the money the US has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002. The report, published on October 20, concluded that “a total of approximately $19 billion, or 30% of the amount reviewed, was lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.” In 2018-2019 alone, the report said, approximately $1.8bn was lost to corruption.

The SIGAR report clearly demonstrates that endemic corruption, widespread insecurity, and lack of accountability continue to make investing in Afghanistan highly risky. This exposes the failure of the Afghan government’s efforts to prevent the proliferation of corruption and casts serious doubts over its ability to successfully oversee the reconstruction of the war-torn country after reaching a settlement with the Taliban.

Afghanistan has come a long way in the last two decades. Millions of girls are now in school, infrastructure has been built across the country, and through a nation-wide community development scheme, local communities now have the ability to control their affairs at the village level. Yet considering the huge sums spent on nation-building initiatives and the persistence of problems like widespread poverty, insecurity, and institutional fragility, it is clear the right formula for ensuring the sustainable reconstruction of Afghanistan is yet to emerge. In fact, almost no progress has been made on this front since I led a major study on the reconstruction of Afghanistan on behalf of the UK government more than a decade ago, in 2008.

It is important for those negotiating in Doha to understand that, whatever the outcome of their talks may be, Afghanistan will remain highly dependent on foreign aid for the foreseeable future. By some conservative estimates, it needs $5bn in foreign aid annually merely to prevent the collapse of its core institutions. As donor fatigue sets in after 20 years of inefficient reconstruction spending, combined with the added pressures on foreign aid budgets exerted by populist nationalism and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for a clear plan to address systemic problems that undermine reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan. It is vital that those seeking to gain authority in a post-settlement Afghanistan see that the country’s myriad problems cannot be resolved simply by agreeing on an end to violence.

Whatever the shape or form the settlement reached between the Taliban and the Afghan government takes, those in the driving seat of the country will assume a huge financial responsibility. To ensure investments made in post-settlement Afghanistan are not lost to waste, corruption and abuse like before, they will need to renew citizens’ as well as donors’ trust in state institutions.

The enormity of the challenge ahead and the need for a strong central state for a successful political transition was recently acknowledged by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani in his lecture at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies. While Afghanistan’s institutional architecture is definitely not perfect and it may prove impossible for the Afghan government to distance themselves totally from the findings in the SIGAR report, with talks ongoing, there is an opportunity for a new start – an opportunity for the government to lay out a new vision for the country that can assure donors and the international community at large that things are going to be different in the post-settlement era.

It would also be prudent for the Taliban to dedicate some thought into how they would address this issue should the agreement incorporate them into state institutions. There is now a clear opportunity, and expectation, for the Taliban to take some firm positions and communicate to the Afghan people how they can be a partner in addressing poverty, the marginalisation of women, and fostering responsive and accountable institutions in the post-settlement era.

If Afghans wait until a political settlement is reached in Doha to discuss these issues, then it will be too late. Both sides need to engage all sectors of the Afghan society in a wide-ranging dialogue on these core issues and deliberate over alternative routes towards sustainable, long-term reconstruction.

As such, the forthcoming donor pledging conference for Afghanistan’s future, which will be co-hosted by Finland, Afghanistan, and the United Nations in Geneva on November 23 and 24, must be used as an opportunity to focus the involved parties’ minds on these developmental challenges and what role they can play in advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

A key aspect of this should be encouraging the Afghan government to come up with and present to donors local development plans, including for areas that are currently ruled by the Taliban and that have long been neglected. This may push policymakers to engage with local communities in those areas, identify their needs. This could also help all involved parties to incorporate the positions of the Taliban into the agenda of the conference, even if the group would not have a seat at the table.


Excerpted: ‘A peace deal alone cannot solve Afghanistan’s myriad problems’


How To Engage Post-Election US

By Fahd Humayun

November 7, 2020

As the dust settles on a closely contested presidential election in Washington, many Pakistanis are wondering what kind of engagement they can expect over the next four years from the world’s only unipolar power.

Indeed, how does the outcome, consequential as it undeniably will be for American democracy, practically translate into the new administration’s foreign policy objectives in South Asia.

History might serve as a useful guide. Since 2001, geopolitical constraints have limited the scope for renewal in the Pak-US relationship, domestic turning points in the US notwithstanding. As the curtain closes on perhaps the most bitterly fought US election in recent memory, two such structural constraints stand out among the determinants behind the new administration’s engagement with Pakistan and South Asia over the next four years.

The first is tactical: the US may well be exiting Afghanistan after 19 years, but a peaceful, stable and solvent country at peace with itself and its neighbours is not one of the legacies it is leaving behind. Pakistan is hugely apprehensive about the threat of an aborted peace plan hanging over the region. It is also cognizant of Washington’s vastly diminished appetite for a continued presence in the country, both as a means to getting the Taliban and the Kabul government to agree to a peace deal, and as a security end in itself.

The risks to hard-won regional equity from an unfinished Afghan endgame will very likely be compounded by the tone the new administration chooses to take with Iran and China. Should the peace process next-door collapse, or Kabul find itself in a perpetual conflict trap, expect more mistrust between Afghan, American and Pakistani officials.

The next constraint is strategic. Washington’s pivot to Asia, now written into multiple national security documents, means that the containment of China will continue to colour South Asia’s relevance to audiences on and around Capitol Hill. Ergo, a new administration will continue past practice of viewing South Asia as a surrogate theater in the emerging Sino-US cold war. Pompeo’s visit to a gamut of littoral states stretching from India to Vietnam and announcement of a US embassy in the Maldives, a week before the election, signals the strategic continuity observers can expect on this front.

Where does this leave Pakistan? This is a difficult question. Despite a history of ups and downs, the US today is Pakistan’s biggest trading partner. Pakistan also now needs the IMF loan program to resume to deliver stability to Pakistan’s external account.

But while Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Trump struck a convivial if not necessarily unlikely acquaintanceship in the former’s first visit to the White House, the constraints cited earlier need to be surmounted. And should a Biden administration bring back technical specialists to rehabilitate US foreign policy as is widely expected, there will likely be greater nuance in how America reads Pakistan.

This means that executive spontaneity or bonhomie will continue to be counterbalanced by a less-than-sanguine US bureaucracy predisposed to viewing Pakistan in transactional and utilitarian terms. This, together with the lack of substantive content in the Pak-US relationship these past four years, may discourage recipients in Islamabad from expecting a major departure during the next four.

This pessimism is not entirely unjustified; diplomats in both countries have worked hard to unlearn their pathological tendency to blame and shame the other since the ill-fated events of 2011; but America’s ambivalence to the Kashmir dispute and its geostrategic alignment with New Delhi still signals to Islamabad US self-interest and the primacy the latter places on hard realpolitik.

President Trump may have offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute, but in the long run America’s retreat from multilateralism only dilutes the global currency afforded to international problem solving. This is a predicament for Islamabad whose compass on Kashmir derives from rules-based legality and UNSC resolutions. Finally, in moments of crisis in South Asia, decision-makers in Islamabad worry that the US will condition its own behaviour on the utility it gets from building India up as a longer-term strategic counterweight to China.

But despite these limitations, the aftermath of the US election offers Pakistani policymakers at least four opportunities that they should cash in on.

First, the PTI-led government should reach out to congratulate the new administration and signal at the earliest the mutual imperative of staying the course on Afghanistan. Islamabad has been committed to ensuring political stability in Afghanistan, but absent American support and cooperation lies a real danger that the peace process and the fragile gains of the past decade, including on women’s rights will buckle under the weight of contingencies and stakeholder fatigue. This is not something that any Pakistani wishes to see, even if an Afghan reconciliation that brings the Taliban to the table happens to be viewed sub optimally elsewhere in South Asia.

Two, while the US has long-sought to cast its relationship with India and the convergence therein on the basis of shared democratic culture, there is also a recognition that this culture is fast eroding. For all its weaknesses, Pakistan now has an opportunity to emphasize an avatar defined by a decade of democratic consolidation and, should sobriety and pluralism in Islamabad prevail, journalistic freedoms, human rights and environmental protections.

These are important hallmarks that Congressional lawmakers will find difficult to ignore, especially in the face of creeping authoritarianism to Pakistan’s east. Democratic pluralism in Pakistan similarly strengthens Islamabad’s international position on Kashmir, where voices across the aisle in the US note in private, if not yet in public, New Delhi’s bulldozing of individual freedoms and constitutional guarantees.

Three: because relationships rarely survive on the endorphins of feel-good photo-ops alone, Pakistan should purposefully press ahead on the Strategic Dialogue that expanded the Pak-US relationship beyond strategic issues. This will service an agenda concomitant with economic stability in Pakistan, which in the face of new geopolitical pressures is really the only bankable denominator that can help critical relationships evolve beyond a language of expediency. Pakistan needs to cash in on the fact that there are fewer strategic gaps in the Pak-US relationship than there were a decade ago. This stability in turn should give way to a serious conversation about fostering economic growth, and how Pakistan’s young, democratically minded 220 million-strong market could become a key node of bilateral convergence, especially for U.S. businesses and companies looking to invest in the country.

Four: discreetly, Pakistan needs to explain to Washington why attempts to forcibly overlay Indo-Pacific binaries into South Asia (or neutralize Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China) are in fact inimical to America’s long-term interests. Even as the US arms India with the latest weapons and technologies, the China-Pakistan relationship is in contrast geared at shoring up economic and energy connectivity that could benefit the entire region, including Afghanistan whose solvency presents the West with a compelling reason to ease up on anti-CPEC propaganda. Furthermore, even rational voices in India (or what’s left of them) recognize today that despite the BJP’s political bluster, New Delhi cannot afford to be hemmed into an open-ended military tussle with China. This is reason enough for the US to not force Pakistan into making a choice between strategic camps; this in turn can provide Pakistan the space to signal to the US the unhelpfulness of India’s politicization of the Financial Action Task Force, and objections by the US to the terms of Pakistan’s relationship with China.

The Pak-US relationship has rarely been an easy ride, even at the best of times. And a deeply polarizing election in Washington is hardly the most opportune window for a comprehensive reset. As both countries navigate the uncertainties of a post-pandemic future, we should anticipate the baseline relationship to be punctuated by structural irritants. But this anticipation should also breed creativity; Islamabad can and ought to demonstrate some deftness in how it chooses to approach the new administration. This should start with informal and formal invitations to the administration and its teams to visit Islamabad, while folks behind the scenes get to work.


Fahd Humayun is a PhD candidate at Yale.



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