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Pakistan Press ( 27 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press on Khadim Rizvi, Indian Judiciary and Afghan Peace: New Age Islam's Selection, 27 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

27 November 2020

•  The Rise And Rise Of Khadim Rizvi

By Shahrukh Nawaz Raja

•While Khadim Rizvi Lived, It Looked Highly Unlikely That He Required Inspiration

By Asha’ar Rehman

• Please Remind Indian Judiciary About Its ‘Independence’

By Chanchal Manohar Singh

• Who Will Be The Beneficiary Of Afghan Peace?

By Dr Moonis Ahmar


The Rise And Rise Of Khadim Rizvi

By Shahrukh Nawaz Raja

November 27, 2020



By most accounts, the gathering of mourners at Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s funeral was one of the biggest in Lahore’s history. The liberal commentariat was aghast that the historic venue of Iqbal Park, which eighty years ago had heralded a future full of hope, tolerance, progress and inclusivity, ended up being swarmed by devotees of a man who preached hate, bigotry and violence.

Moderate voices were shocked to witness the magnitude of people they considered existed only on the fringes of society. Turns out such extreme beliefs are very much a dominant force in this country and have been for a very long time now. Those who thought otherwise were living in a fool’s paradise.

Khadim Rizvi was not the first and will certainly not be the last religious leader to exploit people’s sentiments in the name of religion. What made him unique was his particular brand of influence. The invective-laden speeches may have been a source of amusement in the form of memes and WhatsApp stickers for smartphone owners. But for the majority, Rizvi’s profanities and dangerous oratory struck a chord and built an immediate connection. Similar to the cult of personality shaped around most populist authoritarianism in the world today, Rizvi’s vitriol resonated with the people, catapulting him overnight into the national limelight.

Perceived linkages with powerful stakeholders in the country certainly aided his rise to prominence. Back in November 2017, for those familiar with the machinations of Pakistan’s politics, it was not difficult to conclude how a previously unknown former auqaf official in the Punjab government could come to command the attention of all mainstream news channels for weeks on end, with a steady stream of abuse flowing towards leading members of the then PML-N government in the centre. The latter’s efforts at dispersing the sit-in resulted in violence and mayhem, with the attendees proving to be remarkably well-equipped and prepared to deal with a portion of the state’s might.

The showdown was effectively brought to an end when the army chief asked ‘both sides’ to show restraint, despite the fact that it was the law-enforcement agencies that suffered major losses, including the death of one police officer.

The protesters eventually left, but not without extracting their pound of flesh; the resignation of the religious affairs minister. An agreement ensuring that no change would be brought in the penal code regarding blasphemy against the Prophet (pbuh) was signed between the government and Rizvi’s TLP, in which the DG ISI was a guarantor. The triumphant troopers were then warmly escorted out of Islamabad, each carrying a thank-you-for-coming-and-sorry-for-your-troubles envelope of cash.

In a historic 2019 ruling, one judge questioned the exact machinations of what has come to be known as the Faizabad sit-in. Never known for its introspection, the state responded by making the judge a target of its ire. Thus, also sending a message to all critical voices to continue toeing the line.

By then, Rizvi’s status as a formidable force had been cemented. His transformation from a prayer leader at a Multan Road mosque to a disruptive influencer and leader of the Barelvi sect stood complete. And the state had successfully managed to unleash its latest poster-boy for mainstream jihadis, with little regard for the repercussions.

In November 2018, when the TLP was back on the streets to protest the release of Aasia Bibi, it went a step too far by inciting violence against the army chief and the three Supreme Court justices who authored the judgment. The state’s swift reprisal on this occasion provided yet another indication that when it comes to maintaining the dignity and honour of the state, some pillars are more equal than others.

Even though Rizvi is dead, his legacy will live on. His son has already been anointed the torch-bearer of the TLP, and the founder’s message will continue to manifest itself. To expect the PTI government to crack down on this kind of extremism would be extreme optimism.

Meanwhile, the country continues to see murders in the name of religion, as the authorities continue to look the other way. A radicalised and conservative polity watches on, its silence betraying its acquiescence.

Years of indoctrination and radicalism have brought us to this point. Along the way, almost every government has deferred and submitted to extremists, made convoluted excuses to justify their actions and in some cases even adopting their rhetoric for politically expedient purposes. It’s a long road back to forbearance – if we ever intend to take it.


Shahrukh Nawaz Raja works as a development practitioner for a local consultancy.


While Khadim Rizvi Lived, It Looked Highly Unlikely That He Required Inspiration

By Asha’ar Rehman

27 Nov 2020



LAHORE is still struggling to understand the phenomenal rise in its midst of a man named Khadim Husain Rizvi. To a majority of the people in the city he came from nowhere. Unlike, of course, his son who has succeeded him upon his death.

As local honours go, Khadim Rizvi was a hurricane who played out his brief, successful action-packed turn against and in aid of well-established Lahore actors. Though his campaign had religion at its base as he came out in defence of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of governor Salmaan Taseer, his speech increasingly took on a political colour.

In time, as governments changed, the target became the PML-N. Even though Khadim Rizvi’s cause may have been different from that of the PTI, he did create a parallel plank that ultimately favoured Imran Khan against the Sharifs at a crucial time.

The thousands who had gathered around Khadim Rizvi’s flag complemented anyone who was after the Sharif government. And indeed when the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) decided to contest the general election of 2018 on a countrywide level, one argument made was that for a sizeable portion of votes of angry, disenchanted Pakistanis that Khadim Rizvi’s candidates would be drawing from the same anti-status quo support pool as the PTI nominees.

The thousands who had gathered around the TLP chief’s flag complemented anyone who was after the Sharif government.

At over two million, the TLP’s vote tally in its debut general poll was stunning. It served as a dire warning for all political parties in the country much beyond the Lahore and Faizabad venues where Khadim Rizvi had brandished his power. It also vindicated his position as a Sunni aspirant who did not know what tone and tenor was required to catapult his madressah-based group to the level of a popular political party, but who was ready to enact the role of that leader down at the square.

The ambition was there for long. Those in charge of TLP cadres did not press the case persistently enough. Khadim Rizvi’s rivals in the TLP group, led by Ashraf Asif Jalali, had shown an inclination to claim political space by participating in elections in the past but without luck.

Most famous of them all is the case involving Ashraf Jalali’s brother, Abid Jalali, who passed away in July 2020. You may find the name Abid Jalali among the minor candidates with a handful of votes for the 2013 general election from the Lahore constituency in which Shehbaz Sharif had won. But over a decade earlier, the same Abid Jalali had almost scored an upset victory against a political heavyweight with as much publicity as that surrounding the development of Khadim Rizvi during the period 2015-20.

The story has been recounted more than once in these columns. It was a lesson in how to sabotage unwanted partnerships among big power groups. Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, who fought that election in 2002 as Benazir Bhutto’s nominee and Mian Nawaz Sharif’s ally by virtue of being his lawyer barely survived a dark, underground challenge from Abid Jalali, a Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal candidate in the contest no one had accorded any importance. In the end, it was Aitzaz’s 27,000-odd votes against Jalali’s 24,000 or so.

Abid Jalali was a young man when he put up that unlikely fight. There is little evidence the Jalali faction showed any inclination to use that spark to ignite a career in politics. They waited until Khadim Rizvi, perhaps his passion intensified and his determination reinforced by a road accident that paralysed his legs and forced him through a phase of depression, rose from within their own ranks to make them irrelevant in the eyes of the more action-inclined.

The old guard in the Labbaik did make an effort to recapture territory from Khadim Rizvi, but even though they were loud in their appeals to public sentiment, they couldn’t quite match the oratorical formula that the Rs20,000-a-month cleric from a mosque near Data’s shrine had perfected.

Khadim Rizvi reverently addressed Iqbal as Qalandar Lahori and the great poet repaid his passionate follower by allowing him constant company that helped raise the cleric’s stock exponentially. The Qalandar didn’t leave him even when he was up against it in the most sensitive periods of his campaigns, and the TLP head fiercely resisted any attempts by rival camps to claim and promote Iqbal as their own.

In time, these opponents and rivals included a certain Imran Khan who was now in power and had to deal with all those who challenged his writ, allamas among them. Khadim Rizvi roared in anger in reaction to what the new prime minister had to say about religion, advising him curtly to go through the teachings of Imam Ahmed Raza Khan and other greats first. And he was agitated to find the prime minister advising people to follow Iqbal. Of course, he knew that the prime minister was copying him.

While he lived, it looked highly unlikely that he required inspiration or lessons from anyone from the old guard to polish his persona. He was more a reaction to than a culmination of the happenings in his own camp over the last couple of decades — a point reflected in his angry falling out with the Jalalis who belong to the robust Sunni mainstream and who might be looking to reassert now that Rizvi is gone. Other factions are also shaping up with a claim to set the TLP’s priorities right — just as political veterans such as Shehbaz Sharif would be wanting to quickly use this period to open an account with the new TLP chief, Khadim Rizvi’s son, Saad Husain Rizvi. A PML-N delegation led by Khawaja Saad Rafique has already called on the 26-year-old successor, with the young man alternatively trying to very tentatively invoke Qalandar Lahori to his defence in his first television interviews.

The news about established orders and dynasties eats up all our time. Much else that’s brewing deep inside will remain concealed, harbouring God knows how many Khadim Rizvis wanting to smash the idols. We need to listen more intently to the sermons.


Asha’ar Rehman is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.


Please Remind Indian Judiciary About Its ‘Independence’

By Chanchal Manohar Singh

November 27, 2020

Article 14 of the Indian constitution states that: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” However, the Supreme Court (SC) of India granted bail to Arnab Goswami, an anchor and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, a media group perceived to be supportive of the ruling party, much sooner than it was expected and thought to be, but remained tight lipped for other journalists. No time was lost. Goswami was arrested by the Mumbai Police on November 4, 2020 on a charge of abetting the suicide of a 53-year-old interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother. As per the FIR, Goswami had not paid his dues amounting to Rs 5.40 crore to Naik’s company, whch had provided the services. The accused was sent to judicial, not police, custody. He moved an unusual writ petition of habeas corpus before the Bombay High Court.

The High Court heard his case for five hours on a holiday, and said exactly this on November 9. Goswami did file such a petition. Strangely, he also moved the Supreme Court, wherein his case was listed on November 11. It took the whole day, and that evening he was set free, and emerged from jail raising his hands in the air, much like a celebratory public hero.

The role of the judiciary in deciding the case of Arnab on an urgent basis raised questions about the equality of law for all, as enumerated in the holy constitution of this democratic nation. The marathon hearing of his (Goswami) case in the High court and then in Supreme Court, despite pendency of a huge number of much important and grave cases, shows that powerful and influenced people are privileged and probably above the law. If we remember, the same treatment was given to bollywood star Salman Khan. Anyways, it is understood that media persons are powerful in the country like India, but what is more raucous is that the judiciary is still oblivious to the journalists who had been booked by the current dispensation only because they were executing their duties.

Before further discussing the various aspects of the role of judiciary, let us first have a look at the chronology of an alleged criminal case registered against Arnab Goswami and three others in 2018 for abetment of suicide committed by an architect Anvay Naik and his mother, Kumud Naik on 5th May 2018, following non-payment of Rs 5.40 crore by Arnab’s TV company for interior decoration work provided at the republic TV studio and Arnab’s office.

It was Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government in Maharashtra at that time. The case was closed on the ground that it was not supported by enough evidence to pursue the case. The case was reopened following a representation for justice made by Anvay Naik’s wife Akshata and his daughter Adnya Naik to the Home Minister of Maharashtra. Now Maharashtra has an alliance government, led by Shiv Sena and Congress (Sonia Gandhi) and National Congress (NC).

Coming back to his bail petition in SC, while granting interim bail within a day to Arnab Goswami, Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud described the responsibility of the apex court and said, “Forget Arnab Goswami for a moment, we are a constitutional court… If we as a constitutional court do not lay down law and protect personal liberty, then who will?”

The High Court heard his case for five hours on a holiday, and said exactly this on November 9. Mr. Goswami did file such a petition. Strangely, he also moved the Supreme Court. The Court spent full day judicial working time on hearing his case, and that in the evening he was set free. Two whole days of judicial time of top constitutional courts (SC/HC) had been spent in deciding whether this one man should get bail or not, when his case for precisely this relief was coming before the sessions judge the very next day. As regards the release itself, suffice it to say that once a court thinks there is no tenable case for continued detention, no man should be held imprisoned.

It is being felt that Arnab has been granted preference over hundreds of detention cases, who were waiting to get a chance of hearing. In Uttar Pradesh journalists Siddique Kappan, the journalist from Kerala and two others were detained on their way to Hathras in October 2020. They were detained at Mathura. They were proceeding to the village of 19-year-old Dalit girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered. They had been detained on trump-up charges of sedition, or other similar nature of charges. Same is the case in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) where half a dozen journalists and hundreds of political activists of various democratic parties, are languishing in various jails since the nullification of Article 370 on 5th August 2019. Over hundred hebas corpse pattitions are pending for over 16 months in the Jammu and Kashmir High court waiting for the day to be heard by the honourable court. Many columnists have made fervent appeals to India’s superior court to provide the grace of early hearing to Varavara Rao, poet, aged 80, suffering from neurological and urological health issues. To Sudha Bharadwaj, aged 59, civil liberties defender, suffering hypertension, heart disease, diabetes. Many of them are languishing in various jails since 2018.

There are voices in support of Stan Swamy, activist, aged 83, suffering abdominal pain and had multiple falls in jail; he is unable to hold a glass because of Parkinson’s disease, his plea for a small facility asked for an old sick person to use a sipper/straw in jail has also been adjourned by three weeks to November 26. This facility is needed as he is unable to hold a glass/plate or tea cup in his hands. The plea is that let their cases too be posted on an urgent basis, looking at the poor health conditions of detainees before the same Bench — which so instantly gave relief of personal liberty to Arnab Goswami — and let them be judged according to law.

Majority among the journalist community and a large number of political leaders feel in India that the type of journalism Arnab Goswami indulges in does not come under the definition of journalism. More or less it has been characterized as a public relation job of the ruling party-BJP. He appears to be acting as spokesperson of the BJP government. That is why the day he was arrested a stream of BJP ministers including the country’s Home Minister Amit Shah demanded his release and cried for freedom of press. Although they did not speak for freedom and liberty of all those detained in other BJP ruled states.

None of the BJP’s shouting brigade has ever uttered a single word of sympathy for other intellectuals, journalists and political leaders/activists languishing in various jails all over the country. Decorated retired DGP Julio Ribeiro, who is from Maharashtra lives in Mumbai has said in his column (The Tribune) that Goswami can hardly be called a journalist. Before I competed in the Civil Services examinations, I worked for two years as a Sub-Editor in the National Standard, now renamed The Indian Express. My immediate superior was Sharada Prasad, who later became press adviser to the then PM Indira Gandhi. The first lesson I learnt from him was that the core responsibility of a true journalist was to keep the government of the day in check, lest it abuse the vast power it enjoys. Goswami does not fit into this definition. He is just a paid spokesman for the government.

Please note that Goswami has not been arrested for his comments against Sonia Gandhi or Aaditya Thackeray. He’s not being arrested for anything he said on his channel about the Palghar incident of the murder of sadhus, which he needlessly tried to communalise. He’s not been arrested for his ‘witch-hunt’ against Bollywood actors. If he was arrested for any of these, you could have said it’s an assault on free speech. He’s been arrested for alleged abetment of suicide.

Certainly, the freedom of the press must be defended strongly by journalists, citizens and anyone who cares about a fair democracy. That must come from principled commitment to the profession, not the impulse for self-protection. Is Goswami a journalist at all, or is he a partisan provocateur, engaged in slanging matches with those who oppose his patrons, using his platform for a narrow political purpose? Of course, even as a citizen Arnab is entitled to civil liberties and protection from state arbitrariness. But those lines have also been blurred for many citizens in the crosshairs of the state, targeted by the instrumental use of the NIA, CBI, ED and police, sometimes Arnab egging them on.

Also, over two dozen petitions seeking reversion of nullification of Article 370 are also pending before the Supreme Court for over 18 months. If the SC continues to keep silence for a long period over cases of individual freedom and human rights and some other cases, it is feared that one may attract the notion that it has abandoned its role of judicial review over acts of government, reducing itself to an arbiter of private disputes?


Chanchal Manohar Singh is a senior journalist and Indo-Pak peace activist.


Who Will Be The Beneficiary Of Afghan Peace?

By Dr Moonis Ahmar

November 26, 2020

Afghanistan is again at the crossroads. Outgoing US President Donald Trump has directed withdrawal of the remaining forces from Afghanistan, while retaining 2,500, which according to critics is highly insufficient to meet the grave security challenges in the war-ravaged country. In the meantime, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first-ever visit to Kabul on November 19, and his joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reflected consensus between the two countries to help establish peace in Afghanistan against all odds.

In 2020, two major developments which can help unleash the process of peace in beleaguered Afghanistan relate to the February Doha Agreement between the US and the Taliban for the former’s withdrawal of forces and the latter’s readiness to not resort to violence and attacks on American troops. Subsequently, the Doha talks also paved the way for the holding of intra-Afghan peace dialogue involving the Afghan government, the Taliban, civil society groups and other political figures of Afghanistan to agree on a mechanism for a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

One wonders if it is that easy to transform Afghanistan from a conflict and violent-ridden to a peaceful country. Who will be the beneficiary if peace is established in Afghanistan? Why do Afghans remain divided in order to put their own house in order? Since July 1973, when monarchy was abolished in Afghanistan and power was seized by Sardar Daud, the first cousin of emperor Zahir Shah, the country has been in turmoil which reached its peak in April 1978, when Daud was assassinated in a coup on April 27, 1978, which brought the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in power and culminated into the Soviet military intervention on December 27, 1979. The rest is history.

Around one million Afghans have been killed in foreign military interventions of Soviet Union (1979-89) and the US-led coalition forces from October 2001 till today. Millions of Afghans are rendered homeless and ended up as refugees in Pakistan, Iran and other countries. Three generations of Afghans have been destroyed in civil war and foreign intervention in their country and still there is no letup as far as violence and terrorism is concerned. What is the future of 40 million Afghans because unless the country is stable and peaceful it will continue to destabilise its neighbours particularly Pakistan.

Based on the ground realities, one can figure out three reasons to prove that peace will not return to Afghanistan so soon. First, the culture of Afghanistan militates against hope and efforts for peace in the turbulent country. Still categorised as tribal and ultra-conservative, with no hope of enlightenment, tolerance and harmony at the societal level, whether it is the Afghan government, the Taliban, warlords or political parties, there is marginal ownership among Afghans as far as the peace process, political pluralism and democracy is concerned. Periodic suicide and rocket attacks and numerous acts of violence claimed by Daesh, the Taliban and other militant groups is sufficient to prove how difficult it is to establish the rule of law. Absence of awareness for peace and security in their country is a major reason for violence and armed conflicts in Afghanistan.

When there is a meagre support and political will among local stakeholders for the people of Afghanistan to be a major beneficiary of peace, how can one expect a breakthrough as far as a meaningful agreement to end decades of armed conflict is concerned? For the elites of Afghanistan, who are the beneficiaries of this conflict, the ordeals and sufferings of the common people do not matter. Second, it is not only the people of Afghanistan who are to be the real beneficiary of longlasting peace in their war-torn country. There are to be other benefactors, including Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours. As rightly said by PM Imran Khan that after Afghans, Pakistanis would be the real beneficiaries of peace in Afghanistan. Yet, while Pakistan and other Afghan neighbours can benefit from peace, they can certainly not do much to stabilise things because of internal dynamics. Knowing that they will be the major beneficiary of peace, why have the Afghan people failed? Why have they transformed Afghanistan of 1973 which was stable and peaceful into a failed state? Blaming external powers and neighbours for playing havoc with Afghanistan will not help because at the end of the day only those who wield power are responsible for perpetual violence and bloodshed in the country.

Yet there are those who have enormously benefited from decades of wars and violence in Afghanistan. There are those who made a lot of money in the name of Afghan jihad and also those who earned millions of dollars after the dismantling of the Taliban regime and foreign intervention. During Musharraf’s regime hundreds of wanted Al Qaeda and Taliban members were handed over to the US after taking enormous amounts of money. The mafias in Pakistan and Afghanistan along with military contractors of the US are also the beneficiaries of wars in Afghanistan. Furthermore, a major beneficiary of killing fields in Afghanistan are the warlords who after the US-led military intervention and the overthrow of the Taliban regime emerged as real estate tycoons and investors. Nowhere are the Afghan people the beneficiaries as they are the ones who have suffered endlessly.

Third, political wisdom and prudence of the Afghan people and of the political parties will go a long way in transforming Afghanistan from a conflict to a zone of peace and tranquility. But, such wishful thinking militates against ground realities of the unfortunate country. Billions of dollars of foreign aid and investment after 9/11 poured into Afghanistan to rebuild and reconstruct the country by restructuring its justice system, armed forces, police and bureaucracy but no qualitative change took place in terms of rule of law, justice system and good governance. The US spent around $1 trillion in Afghanistan in its longest war but has almost withdrawn without achieving the desired results. Afghanistan is as violent and insecure as it was two decades ago because its leadership neither has ownership nor political will and determination to put their own house in order.

The way out from the prevailing predicament of Afghanistan is unity and determination of the people of Afghanistan and their leadership to sort out issues themselves which are of a domestic nature instead of being dependent on external powers. About 80% of Afghan budget is financed from external sources and neither the human nor enormous natural/mineral resources are utilised by those in power in Afghanistan. One can only hope that sanity will prevail in Afghanistan and its people will get a break from decades of violence and bloodshed. With around 99% population composed of Muslims, it is ironical how Muslims can kill Muslims without regret of causing loss of innocent lives. Afghans must be innovative in how to establish peace in their own country.


Ethiopia — The Complexities For Abiy

By Aneela Shahzad

November 26, 2020

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is from the same Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party that was established by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and came in power in 1991. Now after 29 years, the Tigray is at odds with the EPRDF. What factors have led to this confrontation?

If you look at the map of Ethiopia, you see an enormous country that has deliberately been made landlocked because Italy had to carve out its long coastal strip as a separate country, when it colonised it in the 1880s, naming the new state Eritrea.

Eritrea was formalised as an Italian possession in the Treaty of Wuchale with Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia after Italy’s defeat in the Battle of Adua (1913). Later, Menelik claimed that he had been tricked by the translators on the contents of the treaty. This has been the root of the long war between Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1961 to 1991, wherein Eritrea was fighting for its independence and Ethiopia for its right to touch the coast.

Ethiopia is the same Abyssinia, ruled by the Christian King Ashama ibn Abjar (Al Negashi) of the Axumite Empire, who had given safe refuge to the contingent of the Sahabah (RA) of the First Hijra. Because of this Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had instructed his followers to remain in peace with Axum. And because of this, there had been no Muslim military expeditions towards Abyssinia and the Horn of Africa and Islam came to these lands only by way of preaching.

Taking Eritrea away from Ethiopia was not the only sin of colonial map-drawing, they also drew the lines in ways that many ethnic polities were divided across borders. So, the Somali province of Ethiopia, inhabited by ethnic Somali people, was taken away from Somalia and given to Ethiopia. This again has been the reason for much warfare between the two states and also the reason for the establishment of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) that continuously makes trouble for the Ethiopian authorities.

Ethiopia’s relation with its northern neighbours, Egypt and Sudan have also been at odds over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) over the Nile River. Egypt and Sudan have launched joint military exercises this month, dubbed the Nile’s Eagles-1, and Addis Ababa sees these exercises as a threat.

Moreover, the increasing number of military bases of foreign countries in Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia also raises concerns for Ethiopia’s national and regional security interests. Many times, opposing forces are being stationed in the same areas and their mere presence creates tensions and influences.

Like most African countries, Ethiopia also has porous borders and because many African states are rife with internal conflicts, these borders often become safe havens for refugees fleeing violence. Ethiopian border lands have also harboured a mounting refugee influx from South Sudan and Eritrea. The refugee camps in turn become safe havens for militia activities and proliferation of arms, which then plays a role in strengthening militias inside the country. In fact, the 2019 Organized Crime Index recognised arms trafficking as the most significant in Ethiopia, “mainly due to the trafficking of arms across the border with Sudan”; and because “Ethiopia has armed forces in Somalia outside the control of the federal government”.

This is one of the reasons why the Tigray’s TPLF has the resources and strength to act in defiance of the central government in Addis Ababa — because outside actors are always there to help aggravate the situation. Like in most African states, there are many international forces who have stakes in keeping African countries destabilised, some for controlling their mineral wealth, and some for controlling their strategic value. Ethiopia can also not be an exception.

At the moment it may not be assessable but it is probable that the TPLF may have the backing and support of Sudan and Egypt who are both skeptic of Ethiopia’s GERD project, and while the United States is standing with the Abiy government, it also has a stake in pleasing Sudan that has agreed to normalise relations with Israel last month.

As the conflict becomes protracted, the TPLF forces have also bombed the airport in neighbouring Eritrea’s capital. Tigray’s self-assumed President Debretsion Gebremichael has claimed that his troops are fighting “16 divisions” of the Eritrean army, which would mean that Eritrea is actively involved in the conflict.

The Tigray region holds only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, yet the TPLF has dominated the country’s politics for three decades. Now, post 2015 nationwide resistance, TPLF’s influence has weakened, a position they are not ready to accept. Abiy’s bid to merge the ethnic and region-based parties of the EPRDF into a nationwide ‘Prosperity Party’ has further threatened the power of the TPLF. So, when Abiy announced the postponement of national elections due in August because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Tigray decided to hold their own elections, forming their own regional government in September. Abiy dismissed the Tigray polls as illegal. On November 4, TPLF attacked an Ethiopian National Defense Force headquarter, starting the present conflict.

Since his appointment in 2018, PM Abiy has initiated several reforms, like releasing political prisoners, allowing exiled opposition leaders to come home and by mending Ethiopia’s relations with its long-time enemy, Eritrea — a move that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize. The people of Ethiopia see in him a hope of uniting the ethnicities and bringing economic progress yet the wavering law and order situation amid militia violence and now this civil war are creating doubts.

Meanwhile, stakeholders are not sitting idle. Minister for Foreign Affairs Redwan Hussein has recently accused director-general of WHO Tedros Ghebreyesus of being “fully engaged in soliciting diplomatic and military support” for TPLF in many parts of the world. Tedros was previously a TPLF leader.

The EU has also hinted their support for Tigray, when it said that “the situation in Tigray region, the ethnic-targeted violence, the allegations of atrocities and the human rights abuses are of deep concern.”

It is to be seen if the world will stand behind Abiy to strengthen the democratic process or fall for selective interests.


Joe Biden, South Asia and Pak-US ties

By Inam Ul Haque

November 26, 2020

The previous two columns on the foreign policy of the Joe Biden-Kamala Devi team were a precursor to the subject of this opinion piece i.e. the United States’ policy in South Asia with special focus on Pak-US ties.

While discussing the entire gambit of Pak-US relations, three factors external to the scope of this write-up would continue to cast shadow, as discussed last week. First being the Biden administration’s future ties with China as our principal in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); its approach towards resuscitating the Iran nuclear deal (2015); and its outlook towards UAE-Saudi Arabia combine, as Pakistan’s discreet interlocutors in Washington.

Democrats traditionally view China as a ‘competitor’ and not as an adversary. Experts hope Biden taking a more conciliatory approach towards China and America to end its criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)/CPEC, that the Trump administration considered a predatory trap for developing countries on China’s periphery. This will reduce pressure on Pakistan. Pakistan will also benefit from the likely US-China cooperation to control the coronavirus pandemic. However, if the trade war persists, and in the event that Pakistan has to pick sides, we need to meander a steady course in keeping with our selfish national interests.

As far as South Asia is concerned. As member and then twice chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Committee (1997-2003), Biden knows the region and the stakes of good relations with Pakistan well. An irate Biden had bluntly told president Hamid Karzai that Pakistan was 50 times more important to the US regional interests, when Karzai tried lecturing him.

Democrats are traditionally strong advocates of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression, hence these issues would remain on the forefront of his presidency. His vice-president-elect Kamala Harris had spoken against the Modi government’s anti-Muslim policies and human rights violations in Kashmir. So with the State Department back in the saddle, some heat on India for the Kashmir situation is expected. But no significant deviation of the US South Asia policy is expected. For Pakistan, it is likely to be more of the same.

This October, the US and India signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which grants India real-time access to American geospatial intelligence. This improves accuracy of Indian missiles, armed drones and automated systems, enhancing America’s continued pro-India articulation. The Biden administration would endure supporting India against China.

The president-elect as part of a three-senator delegation visited Pakistan to observe the 2008 parliamentary elections; and being satisfied called for an expanded US economic aid package for Pakistan. The government of Pakistan awarded then senators Joe Biden and Lugar the Hilal-i-Pakistan (Crescent of Pakistan) for their consistent support to Pakistan, being the co-authors of the Kerry-Lugar Bill (2009); a bipartisan US aid plan to provide $1.5 billion yearly in non-military aid to support Pakistan’s economic development.

The US incursion in Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011 also happened during the Biden vice-presidency. President Obama’s latest memoir, A Promised Land (2020), discusses some interesting details of the incident.

During Imran Khan’s US visit in 2019, intermediaries like Senator Lindsay Graham played a key role in arranging his meetings with Trump. President-elect Biden is likely to follow the traditional reliance on the State Department and Pentagon. This would usher in a degree of certainty and stability in Pak-US ties that mercurial tweets by Trump had evaded.

PM Imran enunciated the tone with Team Biden in his congratulatory tweet… “Congratulations @JoeBiden & @KamalaHarris. Look forward to President-Elect Biden’s Global Summit on Democracy & working with him to end illegal tax havens & stealth of the nation’s wealth by corrupt leaders. We will also continue to work with the US for peace in Afghanistan & the region.”

Joe Biden has supported and opposed US military interventions abroad. He backs narrow objectives in force employment and remains skeptical about US ability to reshape foreign societies. Opposing unilateral efforts, he prefers working through diplomacy, alliances and global institutions. During interventions, he has advocated a “counterterrorism plus” strategy; entailing fighting terrorists abroad using small special force teams alongside aggressive air power, rather than large troop-deployments.

Mr Biden was overruled by President Obama in 2009 on Afghanistan, when he advocated deploying a minimal force, mainly for counterterrorism, opposing a ‘surge’, thinking the Afghan war was politically unsustainable. Biden might move towards that goal by converting the in-country US military presence after whatever is left in January 21, when 2,000 troops pull out of Afghanistan as ordered last week by Trump. The residual contingent is likely to comprise a joint command center and five targeting teams to keep Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in check. Biden too supports a light US military footprint of up to 2,000 troops. NATO member nations meanwhile want an earlier reversion of 7,000 or so NATO/allied troops still in Afghanistan.

Full US compliance of the US-Taliban peace deal remains another area to be watched. The Taliban have emphasised that the deal implementation remains “the most reasonable and effective tool” to end the conflict. Biden will continue to follow the Obama administration’s approach of asking Pakistan to “do more”. However, the new administration’s touted emphasis on pressing Pakistan to nudge the Taliban towards a ceasefire and human rights protection etc, irrespective of an orderly withdrawal, might not yield. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad may keep his job.

US intelligence and logistic collaboration with the future Taliban regime is also likely. Biden would be more amenable to keep the future Afghan government on life support irrespective of the reparation for war — that the Taliban may demand — or otherwise. For which, Australia has set the tone last week by offering apology for the crimes of its Special Air Service (SAS) teams against Afghan civilians.

Pakistan may see marginal US military or economic aid given our Afghanistan relevance; however, there seems no likelihood of full-scale resumption of the coalition support fund (CSF) etc. Pakistan on its part has to bring ‘positive relevance’ to the bilateral ties, frozen in security and Afghan peace process. Diversifying ties would be challenging.

Pakistan from its standpoint would continue to press Washington about India’s unhelpful role in Afghanistan. The US would revert to institutional control of Pakistan through economic coercion, arms twisting and proxies like elite or ashhrafiyya, as needed.

In sum, under Biden, given his past amity, there is a likelihood of marginal improvement of Pak-US relations, which essentially would continue to be transactional and issue-specific but stable. Septuagenarians have never brought revolutions, yet Biden promises his will not be a third Obama presidency.


Biden’s Team Is No Different: The Smiling Warriors Are Back

By Imran Jan

November 26, 2020

I remember a TV ad where a man looks through a vodka bottle. The otherwise smiling and classy-looking people appeared wild and ugly when their true colours were revealed through the bottle.

Biden’s team is no different. We are heading toward the traditional White House where the men in charge ensure America flexes its muscles abroad. No more late night tweets at the domestic media but trouble in the far-flung corners of the world, which the American people would probably never know about. Trump disturbed people inside America and Biden will do that globally, with a smile instead of the accordion playing hand gestures of Trump. If Biden’s team is viewed through that vodka bottle, instead of seeing the suit wearing smiling Ivy League educated leaders, we’d rather see ancient hunter gatherers who roamed the planet, not settling in one place, always on the hunt.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for the secretary of state, has been described as a man having interventionist tendencies. Raised by a stepfather who was a Holocaust survivor, Blinken wanted to become a journalist or a film producer. While he didn’t become either, his spin ability was well manifested in foreign policy speeches of president Bill Clinton, which Blinken had written. Those talents would come handy when waging wars in the name of Responsibility to Protect, self-defence, and other such fictions. When president Obama labeled Syria’s use of chemical weapons as his “red line” and never followed up with an attack, Blinken had said, “superpowers don’t bluff.” Taking a further jibe at Obama, Blinken had also said then, “it’s neither [Obama’s] desire nor intention” to wage war against Syria and the US doesn’t do “pinprick” attacks.

Afghanistan is very likely going to suffer from that hunter gatherer class that will soon be in charge of the most lethal military in mankind’s history. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is going to horrible lengths to avoid concluding the peace deal with the Taliban. He and his cronies are faithfully embracing the aphorism ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’. Last week, hours before Secretary Pompeo visited Doha to meet with Afghan and Taliban leaders in hopes of keeping the peace deal intact, there was an ISIS attack in Kabul. IS-K shows vivid signs of Indian and Kabul support.

Even The New York Times was not in its reflexively easy reporting mode. In an article last week it said, “Although Afghanistan’s senior vice president, Amrullah Saleh, is spearheading a crackdown on crime in Kabul, it remains unclear how a vehicle loaded with rockets managed to enter the city and fire its arsenal in broad daylight.” In other words, IS-K is in bed with the Kabul establishment. And yesterday, another bomb attack in Bamiyan (a predominantly Shia area, whom the IS-K has declared a war against) killed 14.

In an interesting intersection, Ghani not yielding to peace in Afghanistan is linked to Trump not yielding to a peaceful transition of power in America. Ghani is delaying peace because he knows full well that once Biden is in charge, peace would be asphyxiated because Biden belongs to the class of presidents that wages wars instead of ending them. When Biden talks about restoring America’s credibility, it means restoring it at the receiving end. Credibility is the code word for keeping America’s belligerent creed alive. Blinken said, “As the President-elect said, we can’t solve all the world’s problems alone”, meaning America will get back to interventionism in cahoots with ‘allies’.

That is the most dangerous statement from the Biden team yet because whenever America needs allies for dirty work abroad, those allies do very dirty things too. Brace for foreign wars!



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