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Pakistan Press On Roots Of Extremism, Israeli Land Grab And Gilgit-Baltistan: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 January 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

23 January 2021

•  Roots Of Extremism

By Anjum Altaf

• Israeli Land Grab

The Dawn Editorial

• Gilgit-Baltistan: After The Elections

By Amir Hussain

• How Can Afghanistan Be Peaceful In 2021?

Dr Moonis Ahmar

• America — A Warning

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi


Roots Of Extremism

By Anjum Altaf

January 21, 2021

DOES the left hand know what the right one is doing? I was forced to ask this question on being updated on recent measures to counter terrorism in the country.

I learnt that the government has set up a commission “for implementation of national narrative and development of structures against violent extremism and radicalisation” one of whose objectives is “establishing a centre of excellence to conduct degree and diploma courses in CVE [countering violent extremism] and CT [countering terrorism]”. Another objective is “promoting awareness [of extremism and terrorism] through print and electronic media, publications, seminars, conferences, etc”.

This reminded me of the bizarre state of modern medicine. If you go to a doctor with a general malaise he/she would, if you are lucky, have your blood pressure measured and, if it turns out high, would prescribe you a pill to take every day to keep it under control. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the physician would not bother to discover why your blood pressure is raised and so you will be on a lifelong medication whose dosage would be progressively increased as you grow older. Ditto for cholesterol, uric acid or anything else that might be above the prescribed range. You will never be cured and meanwhile the drugs would wreak all sorts of unknown damage on your body.

Now we will be establishing centres of excellence to conduct degree and diploma courses in CVE and CT which will be progressively upgraded to HEC-approved universities with their own vice chancellors, provosts, registrars, etc all of whom would have official residences, vehicles, POL and telephone allowances. Meanwhile, friends and relatives would be wined and dined at international conferences and study tours would be arranged to countries that have successfully done what we have now so admirably set out to do.

Also, there will not be a single word in the print and electronic media, publications, seminars, conferences, etc about how we got saddled with the extremism and terrorism that we have now set out to eradicate. Did they just drop out of the sky? Or were they always with us ever since Aug 14, 1947? Or are they a test that some divine power has devised for its followers who have to pass it by fire to prove their worthiness?

As long as there is no honest discussion of how we got this sickness, there will be little hope for a cure. We won’t even know if we are serious in undoing the causes of extremism and terrorism or if we are just going through the motions to tick off a box on some checklist that has been handed down to us to regain good standing in the international financial system of banking transactions.

I also learnt that Nacta (National Counter Terrorism Authority) had drafted detailed CVE policy guidelines in 2018 in which extremism was broadly defined as “having absolute belief in one’s truth with an ingrained sense of self-righteousness” which mindset was “likely to be accompanied with violence” to impose one’s belief system.

Given this definition of extremism, how do we square the setting up of a centre of excellence to conduct degree and diploma courses in CVE and CT with the curriculum that is intended at the school level to inject an absolute belief in one’s truth with an ingrained sense of self-righteousness which, to repeat the Nacta prognosis, is likely to be accompanied with violence to impose one’s belief system?

To go back to when and how extremism and then violence entered our society, can we not discern a connection to the parallel attempt to impose a uniformity in our thinking from early childhood with a heavy dose of an absolute belief in one’s truth with an ingrained sense of self-righteousness — in other words to the cradle-to-grave imposition of Pakistan Studies and some other subjects in our educational institutions? And can we not put two and two together to see that this was done to create the national narrative that would endorse and support the conscious nurturing of extremism for equally admirable geopolitical objectives?

The objective conditions in Pakistan today are giving rise to broad trends of conformity, rigid thinking, and loss of imagination that incline societies towards extremism and violence. Everyone being made to learn and think the same truth on pain of being declared anti-national can only yield an unreflecting mass and a submissive society which is what authoritarian rulers drool over in their dreams.

Thus we see the paradox of a centre of excellence at the tertiary level to undo the damage inflicted at the elementary level. The only question of interest is whether the left hand knows what the right one is doing or whether both are clapping to the same tune?


Anjum Altaf is a former dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lums.


Israeli Land Grab

The Dawn Editorial

January 23, 2021

WITH the chapter now closed on the Trump presidency, the eyes of many in the international community — particularly the Palestinians and all those who wish to see a just settlement for them — will be on Washington to see if Joe Biden can bring a semblance of neutrality to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The Trump era was of course one where Israel was given royal treatment by America, while the Palestinians were treated with disdain. The so-called deal of the century, a failed Trumpian solution to the dispute, was roundly rejected by the Palestinians as it sought to reward Israel for its decades of land grabbing and violence, and limit the Arabs to ‘reservations’ on their ancestral land. However, with Mr Biden in the driving seat, there may be a change in tone, if not substance, from Washington.

Israel, in the meantime, seems committed to illegally devouring more and more Arab land and creating ‘facts on the ground’. As reported by Israeli NGO Peace Now, Tel Aviv has issued tenders for 2,500 settler homes in the occupied territories, a move that is considered illegal under international law. The development is apparently aimed at the Israeli election, due in March, as Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to cling to power and fend off challenges to the premiership from right-wing challengers by appeasing hard-line voters.

While on the record Mr Biden has condemned Israeli settlements, members of his administration have said there is no plan to reverse Donald Trump’s move to recognise the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It would be naive to hope for a complete turnaround in US policy in favour of the Palestinians as Mr Biden as well as his vice president are committed Israel supporters, as are most members of the American political establishment. However, it is hoped that the new US leader will at least temper some of the more overtly pro-Israel policies of his predecessor. Specifically, the expansion of illegal settlements must end, while Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians, particularly its frequent savage forays into Gaza, cannot continue.

The two-state solution is indeed on life support, thanks largely to Israeli impunity and America’s indulgence of its favourite Middle Eastern client. Yet if the peace process is to be revived, then the Palestinians must get a fair deal which promises them a viable state safe from the predatory attacks of Israel. If this formula is ignored, more turbulence is in store for the region.


Gilgit-Baltistan: After The Elections

By Amir Hussain

January 22, 2021

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Amidst claims and counter-claims of transparency and rigging, the general elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) took place in a relatively peaceful environment in all 24 constituencies of its legislative assembly.

It was for the first time in the political history of GB that all the major political parties of the country took part in a frantic election campaign run by their top leadership. A month-long election campaign orchestrated by the PPP under the leadership of Bilawal Bhutto set the political tone, which was then followed by the PTI and PML-N both.

‘Following the political euphoria of granting provincial status and determining the political future for more internal autonomy, the people of GB once again proved to be pragmatic in their political choice to go with the ruling party in the federation’. This is the most frequently stated argument about the outcome of GB general elections. Even the PTI leadership was quick to announce its victory with this note of ‘conventional political pragmatism of the people of GB’ as a key factor to win the elections.

The political rationale of the victory thus articulated by the PTI leadership was challenged by the PPP and PML-N on the ground of lack of transparency and what they termed as ‘pre-poll rigging’ by the federal government. From the perspective of ‘conventional political pragmatism’ the outcome of general elections in GB has always been predictable and anyone with a modicum of political sense could see the PTI as victorious.

However, the inexorable political campaign by Bilawal Bhutto in the elections was seen by many political pundits as an X factor to dislodge this conventional pragmatism. It was believed that the PPP would bag at least 8 seats out of 24 because of the overwhelming response by people in political rallies. In the longest ever election campaign of his political career, Bilawal Bhutto too looked optimistic to form the government in GB. With his untiring journey on the rough and bumpy roads far and wide in GB, Bilawal was not only able to reconnect with the old disgruntled party workers (the jiyalas) but also mobilized new support amongst the youth. Beyond the media images of big rallies, there were also some widespread rumors of a possible deal between PPP and the power corridors to form a government in GB.

However, the situation started to gravitate more towards the ruling PTI with the prime minister’s visit to GB on Nov 01, 2020 and his subsequent accouchement to make GB the fifth province of Pakistan – though the statement of the prime minister was seen by many as a political stunt to influence the outcome of the elections because of the legal and political impediments and Pakistan’s official stance on the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. But Ali Amin Gandapur and Murad Saeed did the trick through incentives and deals to garner the support of influential locals and the people. This was termed as ‘pre-poll rigging’ by the opposition and was challenged in the local courts by the PPP and the PML-N.

Protests were also staged in front of the offices of the election commission and local administration to dissuade the PTI from announcing economic and political packages to influence election outcomes. None of these moves helped prevent the PTI’s violation of the Election Act 2017, which restricts a ruling party and its ministers from launching campaigns after the announcement of the election schedule.

The PPP and the PML-N claimed that the PTI’s continued violation of the Election Act 2017 and what they termed ‘visible rigging of election results in GBLA 2’ led to some violent protests in Gilgit town and recounting of votes was deliberately delayed. The defiance of PPP and PML-N workers against these irregularities continued for many days which led to incidents of arson and the death of a citizen during a mob frenzy.

The elections, which otherwise remained peaceful for the most part, ended up getting violent because of the controversial recounting of postal ballots. Despite a prolonged public campaign, the PPP and PML-N could only win five seats together (PPP three and PML-N two) against the 16 seats of the PTI to the chagrin of those who hoped that the ‘ conventional pragmatism of GB’ , would not be the norm this time.

Many political analysts, nonetheless, missed out on an important dimension during the GB elections’ debate – the institutional and structural relationship of the federal government and GB, which is governed by financial dependence and resource centralism. GB neither has the financial revenues nor the political capacity to enter into a partnership deal with the federal government or demand some sort of reciprocity under its current mode of governance. However, it is important to note that this mountainous region of the country is full of resources which can be harnessed to generate immense revenues in particular from hydropower generation, mining and tourism – to mention a few.

There are studies which say that GB has the hydropower potential of some 50,000 megawatts which can resolve Pakistan’s chronic energy crisis and can save billions of dollars currently spent on oil import for power generation. In 2020, some 1.5 million domestic and foreign tourists visited GB despite the poor communication and accommodation infrastructure. The actual tourism potential of GB is much higher, and it could become one of the most lucrative revenue generation industries if the government invests to improve tourism infrastructure.

The geology of GB contains large deposits of minerals including metallic, non-metallic, energy minerals, precious and dimension stones, and rocks of varying industrial value. The mining industry can bring billions of dollars to the national exchequer if high-value Topaz, Peridot, Emerald, Morganite, and Tourmaline are extracted from the mountains of GB. In addition to this, surveys also suggest that there is a variety of rock formations in GB which contain a large amount of precious metals like Gold, Gypsum, Chalcopyrite and Uranium.

GB’s perennial issue of economic dependence and its corollary – political subordination – can be overcome only through long-term investments in these key sectors of economic growth. The current peripheral political relationship and financial dependence on the central government can be reversed if the local leadership starts taking the onus of policy formulation for inclusive development. The GB government must engage sector specialists and policy experts to devise a roadmap of 30 years for socioeconomic transformation and inclusive growth from indigenous resources.

Many political experts believe that the Lilliputian politics of the PTI’s national leadership has been counterproductive for the development of the country but one hopes that the newly formed government in GB starts thinking big. The chief minister of GB and his team has to go a long way to address the longstanding issues of unemployment, malnourishment, poor rural connectivity, energy crisis and climate change.

There is no magic bullet or fanciful shortcut to overcome the mounting problems of GB but the region needs policies to start moving in the right direction. The key sectors of economic growth and development must be governed by legal and policy instruments rather than the ad-hoc arrangements of short-term economic and political gains.


How Can Afghanistan Be Peaceful In 2021?

By Dr Moonis Ahmar

January 22, 2021

If the year 2020 marked a breakthrough in US-Taliban negotiations leading to the signing of the Doha Accord on February 27, and the unleashing of intra-Afghan dialogue, the year 2021 will be quite challenging if during the first 100 days of the Biden-Kamala administration, American forces remain in Afghanistan and there is no positive development in talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Since September 2020, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, has been regularly visiting Islamabad, Kabul and Delhi in order to give an impetus to the Afghan peace process. During his visit to Islamabad in early January 2021, he met the Chief of Army Staff and other high-ranking Pakistani officials while expecting Islamabad to play a significant role in persuading the Taliban to help form an interim government which can pave the way for the ownership of the Afghan peace process and total withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Why is Khalilzad — who was also the US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, and as an Afghan-origin American official is an old guard ensuring US interests in the war-torn country — frequently visiting Pakistan? What are his intensions for the periodic meetings with high-ranking Pakistani officials? Will the Biden-Kamala administration retain him as a top negotiator for Afghanistan or will he be replaced?

Khalilzad, who had his schooling in Kabul, left Afghanistan for the US in 1970s and after studying in various American universities joined the State Department during mid-1980s. Fluent in Pashto and Dari, he has played a pivotal role in convincing the Taliban leadership during negotiations in Doha to reach an agreement with the US to not attack American forces in Afghanistan and not allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorism against America; and in return he gained consent from the Trump administration for the total withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Even then, violence has continued in Afghanistan and there is a question mark about the durability of the US-Taliban Doha Accord in the Biden-Kamala administration because of two main reasons.

First, the Doha agreement was reached after bypassing the Kabul regime and second, because of the reservations held by NATO allies and the Pentagon about the total withdrawal of American/foreign forces from Afghanistan out of fear that the vacuum will lead to a fresh outbreak of violence and another of civil war.

In a country like Afghanistan which is 200 years older than Pakistan and has not been able to settle down as a nation state, the root cause of unabated violence is the fragmented state and society of that country. Lack of common ground to pull Afghanistan from decades of instability and armed conflicts is because of the divisive culture and mindset which promotes disunity instead of cohesiveness and coexistence. Had this not been the case, the Taliban and other Afghan groups representing various interests would have agreed to resolve issues peacefully instead of trying to impose their will and ideology on others. It is this internal discord and polarisation in Afghanistan which has promoted foreign intervention and occupation. There is no other country in the modern era which has experienced attack and occupation by three major powers: Britain, the Soviet Union and the US. The feudal, tribal, ultra-conservative, sectarian and ethnic cleavages in Afghanistan along with its failure to establish a central control over the countryside transformed the country into a fragile, failing and failed state.

After 9/11 and the disbanding of the Taliban regime by the US-led attack, thousands of Afghans who had left the country and settled in the West because of war, returned in order to contribute to the rebuilding of their destroyed homeland. Prosperous overseas Afghans thought that with the strong backing of the West and other friendly countries they could transform Afghanistan into a stable and thriving country. But soon they realised that they were wrong as due to failed governance, rampant corruption and insecurity, it was not possible for them to help change the destiny of Afghanistan.

Because of three main reasons, Afghanistan in unlikely to be peaceful and stable in 2021.

First, there is no indication on the part of the Taliban that they have renounced violence against the Afghan security forces. On January 15, a Taliban attack killed several Afghan soldiers. It is not possible for the Taliban to continue their attacks and target Afghan security forces and for intra-Afghan talks to also go on. Unless the Taliban amend their intransigent position, agree to become part of the political process, form a political party and participate in elections, one cannot expect peace in Afghanistan. If the Taliban leadership blames hardline field commanders for violence because of their rejection of the Afghan government, how can then intra-Afghan talks continue? The problem is that the Taliban still demand that the government should be handed over to them so that they can re-establish the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. Their assertion to capture power by force will be counter-productive because of the predictable resistance from their opponents.

Second, it is yet to be seen whether the Biden-Kamala administration will own the Doha Accord which lacked the involvement of the Afghan government. Will the US now agree for a total withdrawal of its forces because both NATO and Pentagon have expressed their reservations about the exit strategy as the vacuum created will be dangerous and force Afghanistan into a fresh civil war?

Afghan critics of the Doha agreement argue that it was like making a deal with Al Qaeda. There is no indication that the Taliban have delinked themselves from their former erstwhile ally Al Qaeda, and deep down the nexus between the two will become obvious once foreign forces leave Afghanistan and the Kabul regime faces a collapse. The nightmare of the Taliban again seizing power and imposing their own brand of Shariah is not a myth but a reality because on numerous occasions the Taliban have made it clear that if they gain power again they will practise the same policies they were following from 1996-2001.

Third, Pakistan’s predicament is of the devil and deep blue sea: if foreign forces leave Afghanistan, the country will be plunged into a new phase of civil war resulting in a fresh influx of refugees dismantling the barbed fence along the Pak-Afghan border. And, if the foreign forces remain in Afghanistan, it would mean sustained violence and terrorism, thus deepening chaos, disorder and instability in Pakistan’s western neighbour.

Pakistan’s past patronage of the Taliban and its ‘interventionist’ policy in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of Soviet forces in February 1989 still haunts Islamabad because it led to deep scars and resentment in Afghan society about the manner in which Islamabad tried to impose its supported regime in Kabul.

The way out of violence and instability in Afghanistan is to hold a referendum about whether the Afghan Taliban join the political process and follow a democratic path through elections. A referendum, if held in an impartial and peaceful manner, will help decide the future role of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


America — A Warning

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

January 23, 2021

Joseph Biden is now the 46th president of the United States. As he said in his inaugural address, democracy has prevailed. The assault on democracy failed and the Trump era has ended. But the next time you may not be as lucky. The underlying disease that caused the threat to US integrity only grows every single day. They have found a vaccine for Covid, but there is no vaccine for this one — intolerance.

Hypothetically speaking this is how this could have gone down even this time. During the attack on the Capitol building, when all lawmakers were assembled there, a few moles among the Capitol police and secret service could have handed over then vice-president Pence, then vice-president-elect Harris, Congressional leaders and many lawmakers to the mob. I do not want to disturb you with vivid imagery. Suffice it to say those nooses, weapons and pipe bombs were not just there for optics. Among the assailants there were men and women who had vowed to kill somebody important in the session. A shock of this magnitude would have plunged the US into a constitutional crisis, bringing a premature end to the transition process. This would have given the then incumbent an opportunity to declare emergency, impose martial law and postpone the transition or further elections indefinitely. Or then would have taken him out too in an apparent counter action.

What would have followed is not easy to guess. Bringing Trump back to power is an excuse. Whosoever was plotting this had another purpose in mind. To ignite a race war in the US. If you have not been paying attention you need to recall the right-wing media narrative about a probable civil war in case Trump lost the election. Well, civil war is shorthand for a race war. Not convinced? Let us go back to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in 2017. What slogans do you hear? Jews will not replace us. And blood and soil. Or as Nazis used to put it — Blut und Boden — the idea that race and settlement area ought to define nationhood. What Nazi Germany did to its minorities is known to all. Already widely prevalent among the Western far-right is this conspiracy theory called the great replacement which claims that the white population of the West is being systematically replaced by people of other colours and races. All this talk of illegal immigrants, birthright citizenship, American carnage, disempowerment of the working class is a cleverly constructed pyramid which invariably culminates into the demand for racial purity and ethnic purges.

In the likely scenario, judging by the mood at the time, one could say at least one state (most likely Texas) would have announced secession. This would have led to mass defections in the armed forces based either openly on race or then thinly disguised as on the basis of state(s) of origin (Texas or the entire South). A civil war would have ensued coupled with the mass expulsion of minorities from the new territories. Nuclear weapons would have been seized and used on old territories plunging America into dark ages. And that is not all. This civil war would have spilled over into Europe and other countries like Russia, Australia, China, Israel and Japan dragged into the mix by random attacks. The entire world’s power structure would have crumbled giving birth to a new Aryan world order. The source of extrapolation: the neo-Nazi Bible.

Fortunately, this did not happen. The secret service and the Capitol police (basically your average parliamentary guards) did their job. The attempts of the mob to slay the executive and the Congressional leaders were frustrated. The armed forces leadership then came up with that unusual letter calling all servicemen to obey the Constitution. And the former vice-president and Congressional leadership stood its ground. So many moving parts. Anything could have gone wrong. It did not. But even then, it took a Washington DC lockdown and some 25,000 National Guardsmen for the inauguration to be made possible. The threat of domestic terrorism has not subsided and the FBI is still struggling to identify the January 6 pipe bomber who was covered from head to toe and appears to be a professional saboteur.

Here’s the question of logistics. If you look at the underlying QAnon conspiracy theory and groups like Proud Boys and Boogaloo Bois, you already see the trappings of a massive psy-op organised on the pattern of a live action role playing game. But when you look at the financial part of the equation, this whole thing appears to be a logistical nightmare. Fortunately, thanks to some ace investigative reporting by Yahoo News and equally laudable research by a cryptocurrency expert software house Chainalysis, we know that only a month before the Capitol attack a substantial (though not dramatically large) sum was paid to several far-right elements by one now-deceased French blogger through Bitcoins, the alt-right’s preferred form of currency. But the story takes many strange twists. The said blogger was rich enough, and heartbroken enough by the decline of the West or the white people to not only part with a sizeable sum but to take his life and purely coincidentally just a month before the attack on the US Capitol. What are the odds? If you ask me this looks like an intelligence cover up. One man, probably someone hired to reroute foreign funds, killed to cover tracks and then presented as a suicide.

But who could be the financier then? Two very obvious suspects could be malcontents within America’s own intelligence community and Russia. America’s own because they would have the wherewithal. Russia because, as has been repeatedly pointed out, it has the motive. If it were elements within the US security establishment either they would have been exposed or become successful by now. Given that Russia has been flagged so often, if it were involved the story would have been much different today. It also knows any such civil war would spill into its territories as well and its own history of fighting fascism cannot be ignored. The same set of arguments can be used for China. Wherever fascism and racism have not lost their appeal and such elements are in power could be the source. This is only one money trail. There must be many others.

The Biden administration has tapped Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall (an expert on nuclear issues and Russia) as the White House Homeland Security Adviser and Russ Travers (a terror expert) as her deputy. Travers was fired by the Trump administration as the head of the National Counterterrorism Center when he tried to reposition it to focus on domestic terrorism. Retaining Christopher Wray as the FBI director may also come handy.

But here is the problem. A lot of brain power seems to go into co-opting and weaponising the outrage against the alleged micro-transgressions. The new administration will need as much if not more brainpower to combat the threat and disarm it with an effective counter narrative. Without it, one way or the other we are living in a world that is a re-imagined reboot of The Turner Diaries. Also the US will have to have a zero-tolerance policy for fascism around the world.



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