Thursday January 17, 2019
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Pak safe haven for different terrorist power centres

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The terrorist attack in Pathankot was all over the Indian media. There were many talks about it but the one which went overboard was the “news” of the detention of Masood Azhar, Chief of Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, suspected by Indian media to be the mastermind behind the attack.

Masood Azhar is said to share very close ties with the Pakistani military and civil administration. It was later clarified that he was only taken under “protective custody”. It was however openly clarified by the Pakistani establishment that Masood Azhar was not arrested. And this is enough to quiver the foundation of Pakistan’s state. It finally establishes Pakistan’s image of a territorial conglomeration of different terrorist power centres.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is not fully controlled by Islamabad’s writ now. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is supreme. Despite the fact that only PTI’s provincial government runs in the area, it holds a chance to win the election due to TTP’s tacit support.

Different terrorist organizations have in fact divided Sindh among themselves and have carved out their own territorial jurisdictions. In Punjab four terrorist organizations – Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Sahaba – are really powerful. Of late the TTP has also penetrated deep inside the province.

Especially after US President Barack Obama’s comments that Pakistan could become a safe haven for terrorists and that the country would continue to face instability for decades to come, Pakistan holds the burden to prove to the world that it is not a terrorist state.

However, a significant change can be witnessed in the equation between Pakistani Army and administration, and the terror groups associated with it since the aftermath of the Pathankot incident differentiates to a great extent from the Mumbai attack of 2008. Pakistan had denied any connection with the terrorists and washed its hands off the charge during Mumbai attack. This time, the response, as well as cooperation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was prompt.

This change is, however, half-hearted and, therefore, Pakistan is now saying that it would take action against Masood Azhar if his culpability is proved “beyond doubt”. There is no need to wait for the completion of the probe as there is plenty of evidence against the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and his organization. After it was banned in 2002, Jaish-e-Mohammed split into several cells which were linked to the Al-Qaeda. Masood Azhar coordinated the activities of these splinter groups from his underground shelter and launched two successive attempts to eliminate then President Pervez Musharraf. Azhar was also the principal brain behind the building up of Islamic fundamentalist insurgency around Islamabad’s Lal Masjid.

The Pathankot terrorist strike affects Pakistan very seriously since it disrobed the extreme vulnerability of the country’s security and stability by a single stroke. Both India and Pakistan have exhibited prudence by only deferring the foreign secretary-level talks and rescheduling it in the “very near future”. But saner voices in Pakistan are now questioning the policy of the state in giving a long rope to some non-state actors who are creating havoc with impunity.

But Pakistan needs to undertake some surgical operations into its polity if it really wants to come out of the quagmire and stave off destruction. There is a limit to which it can go so far as operations in the FATA area are concerned. Moreover, the Pashtun community lives on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the agreement creating the Durand Line expired long ago and if the Pashtuns living on the Pakistan side and facing military action now want to join Afghanistan, it will mean the dismemberment of Pakistan.

Patronization of the Deobandi school of thought has now become the bane of Pakistan. Fundamentalism has now struck so deep a root that even the Election Commission has not been left untouched. During the last election, the commission had invoked articles 62 and 63 of the constitution which forbade anybody who was not a practicing Muslim from contesting. Even the candidature of a renowned journalist like Ayaz Amir was rejected on the charge that he drank.

The Pakistan Army must immediately dismantle the unholy alliance between a section of it and the fundamentalist outfits. Unfortunately, no such serious attempt is in sight. On the contrary, quite a few Army and naval officers, many of them being Shias, have been murdered after they protested against inaction on the part of their superiors against organizations like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. (picture courtesy: huffingtonpost.in) (IANS)

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Pakistan Increases Efforts To Save The U.S.-Afghanistan Peace Talks

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Imran going around world begging for funds: Sindh CM, VOA

Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track, but official sources in Islamabad maintain the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides.

The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.

Prior to his departure Wednesday from Kabul, Khalilzad told reporters that talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon. That’s what we’re working toward.” He did not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, in a significant move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and discussed the efforts being made for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua led their respective delegations in talks in Islamabad, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khan’s office said in a statement that Ghani expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s “sincere facilitation” for Afghan peace and reconciliation.

It said the prime minister “assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan through an inclusive peace process, as part of shared responsibility.”

Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” over the next two days but they would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they insisted.

Pakistani officials maintain in background interviews with VOA that the U.S.-Taliban talks are being facilitated in the hope that they would ultimately lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. All sides in the peace process will share “the credit and benefits of a success,” they insisted.

“Similarly, given sincere desire and efforts of everyone, no one should be exclusively blamed if the main interlocutors fail to agree due to own lack of flexibility that is very much required from both the U.S. and the Taliban at this stage,” a senior official privy to the Pakistani peace diplomacy told VOA.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan where he briefed Ghani and other top officials of Afghan government on the U.S.-led peace initiative.

The Taliban has held several meetings with Khalilzad’s team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the insurgents have persistently refused to engage directly with the sitting administration in Kabul. Their refusal is blamed for a lack of progress in negotiations that started last summer, after American diplomats gave in to a major Taliban demand and met them directly.

Khalilzad, however, made it clear on Wednesday the insurgent group would have to engage with the Afghan government for the process to move forward.

“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy told reporters in Kabul.

He went on to warn that if the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government.

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A general view of the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, May 2, 2015, site of several past negotioations with the Taliban. VOA

The Taliban threatened earlier in the week to pull out of all negotiations if the United States backed away from discussing the key insurgent demand for a troop withdrawal plan and pressured the insurgents into speaking to the Afghan government.

Diplomats privy to the peace process support the U.S. effort for the Taliban to speak directly to the current administration in Kabul to resolve internal Afghan matters. They see the Ghani-led National Unity government as a “legitimate” entity possessing official representation at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic missions in world capitals.

The last substantial talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials took place in Abu Dhabi about a month ago and Pakistan took credit for arranging it and bringing an authoritative team of insurgent negotiators to the table.

Officials in Islamabad say that Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has “broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.”

Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly stated that finding a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is a top foreign policy priority for his government. While speaking to Khan on Thursday, Ghani invited him to visit Kabul at his earliest convenience and the Pakistani leader reciprocated by inviting the Afghan president to visit Islamabad.

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U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Pakistan has long been accused of sheltering Taliban leaders and covertly helping them orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.

U.S. officials, however, acknowledge the “positive role” Pakistan has played in the current Afghan peace effort. The thaw in traditionally mistrusted bilateral ties was visible earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he intended to maintain a “great relationship” with Pakistan.

Also Read: Peace Talks With The U.S. Stalled: Taliban

“So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said Trump.

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington, though the Trump administration has so far given no such indication. (VOA)