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Will Pakistan listen to USA and Stop Harboring Taliban and other terrorist groups?

Pakistan said that Afghan Terror groups don't need hideouts or sanctuaries in Pakistan

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A Pakistani border security guard stands alert at Pakistan-Afghanistan border post
A Pakistani border security guard stands alert at Pakistan-Afghanistan border post. VOA
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  • America have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time Pakistan is housing the very terrorists they are fighting
  • Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye on the issue of safe havens to Afghan Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network
  • Top leaders of both groups-Taliban and the Haqqani network enjoy the ability to live freely in certain parts of Pakistan

Washington, USA, September 2, 2017: In his South Asia strategy speech last week, President Donald Trump publicly puts Pakistan on notice that it must stop providing sanctuaries to armed groups that are fighting in Afghanistan.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” said Trump, laying out his “condition-based approach” to defeating terrorism in Afghanistan.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting. But that will have to change and that will change immediately,” he vowed.

Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye on the issue of safe havens to Afghan Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Analysts charge that sanctuaries in Pakistan have helped the militants sustain a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan against the Western-backed Afghan government.

“Top leaders of both groups [Taliban and the Haqqani network] enjoy the ability to live freely in certain parts of Pakistan — mainly Baluchistan province, but also some of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” Michel Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told VOA.

“It is not just the leaderships of these groups that enjoy Pakistani largesse; it’s the fighters, too,” he added.

Also Read: The US Designates Hizbul Mujahideen as Foreign Terrorist Organization

Where are the sanctuaries?

Afghan Taliban’s leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, is reportedly based in the Pakistani southwestern city of Quetta, which shares a border with Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, the traditional stronghold of the Afghan Taliban.

The Haqqani network, one of the most notorious terror groups in the region, is reportedly based in Miram Shah, a town in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northern Pakistan. The group, which has been blamed for numerous deadly attacks inside Afghanistan against U.S.-led NATO forces and the Afghan government, is reportedly operating with impunity from across the border.

The Afghan government charges that militant sanctuaries are the main reason behind the country’s instability.

“Neighbor countries have been a major part of the problem in Afghanistan. Terrorists’ safe havens and sanctuaries are out of Afghanistan, where they get support, training, and equipment,” Ahmad Shah Katawazai, a defense liaison at the Afghan embassy in Washington, told VOA.

Pakistan’s response

Pakistan maintains that the Afghan Taliban controls large swaths of territory inside Afghanistan and does not need to have sanctuaries inside Pakistan.

“They don’t need hideouts or sanctuaries in Pakistan. They have vast territory [under their control], which is beyond Kabul’s writ, at their disposal. Why would they come to Pakistan for sanctuaries?” Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said over the weekend.

Following Trump’s speech, Pakistan denied the allegations that it harbors militants and cited its sacrifices in the ongoing war against terror as an example of how the country itself has been a victim of terrorism.

In an effort to illustrate its displeasure at the U.S president’s speech, Pakistan postponed Asif’s planned trip to Washington and also delayed a planned visit to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells to Islamabad.

Could the U.S. take unilateral action?

As the administration is weighing its options to deal with the issue of sanctuaries in Pakistan, some analysts doubt Pakistan will take action against militants operating from its soil unless more rigorous pressure is applied on the country.

“The Trump administration will need to deploy new forms of pressure. Previous forms of pressure — threats, aid conditionalities and aid cuts — have not worked. The administration will need to step up its actions and make them much more draconian — and this is clearly already under consideration,” Kugelman, of the Woodrow Wilson Center, told VOA.

Meanwhile, David Des Roches, an associate professor at the National Defense University in Washington, believes that while it is unlikely that the Pakistanis would back down publicly, it “is quite possible that they will facilitate enhanced American action against militants in Pakistan.”

What seems unclear so far is to what lengths the U.S. is willing to go as far as tackling the issue of safe havens in Pakistan.

While talking to reporters at the State Department last week, U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted that the U.S. would target terrorists “wherever they live” without elaborating further.

“There’s been an erosion of trust because we have witnessed terrorist organizations being given safe haven inside of Pakistan to plan and carry out attacks against U.S. servicemen, U.S. officials, disrupting peace efforts inside of Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.

Also Read: ‘Blood Stained Hands’ Plan to Take Over Pakistan’s Political Reigns as Terrorist Organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Prepares to Enter Politics

Sanctions

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, told VOA that the U.S. should target Taliban and Haqqani network sanctuaries inside Pakistan and push Islamabad “out of its comfort zone.”

“Pakistan has become comfortable with its dual policy; receives U.S. assistance and works to defeat the U.S. in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.

He advocated for sanctions against senior military and intelligence officers who support extremist groups.

“Take Pakistan off the list of the major non-NATO ally, which provides the opportunity to receive significant security assistance; suspend assistance program; push IMF, World Bank, and Asian and European allies to suspend assistance programs,” Khalilzad added.

“If America imposes sanctions, Pakistan will probably be unable to receive assistance from IMF and the World Bank, and international companies will not be willing to invest in Pakistan,” Saad Mohammad Khan, a retired Pakistani military leader, told VOA. (VOA)

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Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project With China

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns.

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A man passes through a railing while others board a train as they make their way home at the Cantonment railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan ’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects because of debt concerns.

The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms.

Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently.

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Visitors read instruction material about land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for the Colombo Port City project, on the Galle Face sea promenade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2, 2018. The Port City project was initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA

Unease elsewhere

The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors.

Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China.

But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a statement in response to questions faxed by Reuters, that both sides were committed to pressing forward with BRI projects, “to ensure those projects that are already built operate as normal, and those which are being built proceed smoothly.”

Pakistani officials say they remain committed to Chinese investment but want to push harder on price and affordability, while re-orientating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in infrastructure funds, to focus on projects that deliver social development in line with Khan’s election platform.

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China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, Islamabad. VOA

‘Mutual consultation’

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told Reuters that Beijing was open to changes proposed by the new government and “we will definitely follow their agenda” to work out a roadmap for BRI projects based on “mutual consultation.”

“It constitutes a process of discussion with each other about this kind of model, about this kind of roadmap for the future,” Yao said.

Beijing would only proceed with projects that Pakistan wanted, he added.

“This is Pakistan’s economy, this is their society,” Yao said.

IMF bailout likely

Islamabad’s efforts to recalibrate CPEC are made trickier by its dependence on Chinese loans to prop up its vulnerable economy.

Growing fissures in relations with the United States, Pakistan’s historic ally, have also weakened the country’s negotiating hand, as has a current account crisis likely to lead to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which may demand spending cuts.

“We have reservations, but no other country is investing in Pakistan. What can we do?” one Pakistani minister told Reuters.

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Laborers dig the ground before replacing concrete sleepers along railway tracks in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Crumbling railways

The ML-1 rail line is the spine of country’s dilapidated rail network, which has in recent years been edging toward collapse as passenger numbers plunge, train lines close and the vital freight business nosedives.

Khan’s government has vowed to make the 1,872 km (1,163 mile) line a priority CPEC project, saying it will help the poor travel across the vast South Asian nation.

But Islamabad is exploring funding options for CPEC projects that depart from the traditional BRI lending model, whereby host nations take on Chinese debt to finance construction of infrastructure, and has invited Saudi Arabia and other countries to invest.

One option for ML-1, according to Pakistani officials, is the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, which would see investors or companies finance and build the project and recoup their investment from cash flows generated mainly by the rail freight business, before returning it to Pakistan in a few decades time.

Yao, the Chinese envoy, said Beijing was open to BOT and would “encourage” its companies to invest.

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A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Large rail projects, problems

Rail mega-projects under China’s BRI umbrella have run into problems elsewhere in Asia. A line linking Thailand and Laos has been beset by delays over financing, while Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outright canceled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

Beijing is happy to offer loans, but reticent to invest in the Pakistan venture as such projects are seldom profitable, according to Andrew Small, author of a book on China-Pakistan relations.

“The problem is that the Chinese don’t think they can make money on this project and are not keen on BOT,” Small said.

Off-books debt

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the ML-1 line was placed among a list of “early harvest” CPEC projects that would be prioritized, along with power plants urgently needed to end crippling electricity shortages.

But while many other projects from that list have now been completed, the rail scheme has been stuck.

Pakistan
. The difference between the two validate the investments made on the road, and give a hopeful image for the future.

Pakistani officials say they became wary of how early BRI contracts were awarded to Chinese firms, and are pushing for a public tender for ML-1.

Partly to help with price discovery, Pakistan asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a chunk of the rail project through tendering. The ADB began discussions on a $1.5-$2 billion loan, but China insisted the project was “too strategic,” and Islamabad kicked out the ADB under pressure from Beijing in early 2017, according to Pakistani and ADB officials.

“If it’s such a strategic project then it should be a viable project for them to finance on very concessional terms or invest in?” said one senior Pakistani official familiar with the project, referring to the BOT model.

China’s foreign ministry said Beijing was engaged in “friendly consultations” with Pakistan on the rail project.

Chinese companies participated in BRI projects in an open and transparent way, “pooling benefits and sharing risks,” it said.

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In this file photo taken Oct. 10, 2015, a bus moves past by solar power and wind power farms in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui region.

Chinese debt or no project

Analysts say Pakistan will struggle to attract non-Chinese investors into the project, which may force it to choose between piling on Chinese debt or walking away from the project.

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns and worries Beijing could end up owning a vital national asset if Pakistan could not repay loans, as occurred with a Sri Lankan port.

Khan’s government chafes at several Chinese intercity mass transport projects in Punjab, the voter heartland of the previous government, which now need hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year.

Also Read: Creating a New Silk Road: China’s Billion Dollar Investments to Expand Its Transportation Network

They also fume about the risk of accumulating off-books sovereign debt through power contracts, where annual profits of above 20 percent, in dollar terms, were guaranteed by the previous administration.

With the ML-1 line, there are also those who harbor doubts closer to home, including the previous government’s finance minister, Miftah Ismail, who said his ministry had always had concerns about its viability.

“When people say it’s a project of national importance, that usually means it makes no sense financially,” he said. (VOA)