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Daily Times Editorials – 21st May 2016

To do or not to do

The US Senate has unanimously passed the legislation that would allow victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, despite veto threats from the White House. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, if passed byCongress and signed by the President, which seems highly unlikely, will allow US nationals to sue the nation-states whose citizens were involved in criminal activities against them. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation even if it passes through Congress. The White House believes that it would badly impact the relations with the Kingdom and cannot afford to antagonise an ally in its war on terror, especially in the current situation of the Middle East.

In the recent past, theSaudi government had threatened to sell 750-billion dollars worth USTreasury securities and other assets to prevent the US courts from freezing them, in case the bill was passed by the US government. The matter also came under discussion during the recent trip of President Obama to the Kingdom. In case the bill is vetoed and sent back to Congress, it can override the presidential veto with two-third majority in both the House and the Senate. In such a case, it would be a significant departure from the current foreign policy of the US government. Another major problem for Obama administration is the support for the bill among the Democrats. Many senators from the Democratic aisle have lent support to the controversial bill.

In light of these developments, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir has warned that the legislation would harm bilateral ties and would forces them to withdraw their investments in the US.

The problem does not lie with whether the Saudi authorities were involved in the 9/11 attacks or not; it lies with the fact that the bill would allow suing government of any country for the actions of its citizens. This could harm US diplomatic relations with many countries, and in thecurrent scenario in the Middle East, the US cannot afford to lose an ally. With the rise of the IS and instability in the region, the US needs support from the regional powers. Furthermore, in the current economic glitch Saudi Arabia finds itself in, it cannot afford to sell off the securities and assets in the US. The oil glut has severely hit oil-reliant Saudi economy in recent past, and it could face massive financial lossesin case it decides to disinvest in the US. The US lawmakers would need to amend the bill to a certain extent so that it does not harm the diplomatic relations between the concerned countries. With the presidential elections approaching, it wouldbecome a major issue in the foreign policy manifestos of the candidates.

Afghanistan, Hezb-e-Islami and QCG

The Afghan government has recently signed a draft pact with the Afghan Taliban allied militant group called Hezb-e-Islami for long-term political stability in the country. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who briefly served as the prime minister of Afghanistan during the mid-1990s, leads this group that fought against the International Security Assistance Force since the Afghan War began in 2001.President Ashraf Ghani had long sought for political inclusion of warlords and anti-government forces through the ongoing peace process. Hence, the purpose of such kind of draft pacts is tointegrate like-minded militant groups such as the Hezb-e-Islami into Afghanistan’s political spectrum in order to promote long-term economic and political stability in the region.

Hekmatyar’s group has long been accused of orchestrating attacks in Afghan territories with vital support from the Afghan Taliban leadership, and it was also designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States in the early 2000s. Moreover, the United Nations Security Council also blacklisted it. However, the Afghan peace process has entered a crucial stage in which further instability cannot be afforded at any cost. Hence, there is a need for reconciliation with certain stakeholders such as the Hezb-e-Islami.

The draft pact shall eventually lead to a permanent peace between the Afghan government and the Hezb-e-Islami whose demands are similar to the ones agreed upon with some warlords back in 2007. This also includes a general amnesty and names being removed from the UN blacklist. In addition, the recently formed Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) that comprises of Afghan, Pakistani, American and Chinese officials is also pushing hard for a successful peace process for Afghanistan by holding regular meetings in Islamabad. Its role is similar to a peacemaking body and the political inclusion of militant groups is a core agenda for the involved states.

Nevertheless, there are some major roadblocks to the smooth handling of the peace process due to internal bickering in Afghanistan over Pakistan’s central role. Kabul’s political and bureaucratic machinery largely mistrusts Pakistan’s intelligence and defence circles due to past grievances regarding the alleged state-backing for the Afghan Taliban. Likewise, Pakistan too has legitimate concerns over Kabul being influenced by the Indian state machinery, including its intelligence agencies, which allegedly played a pivotal role in orchestrating major terrorist attacks in Pakistan through proxy groups such as the Pakistani Taliban.

The deep mistrust between the two countries hovers over the reconciliatory role played by the QCG and the recent blame-game is also a matter of grave concern for the future of Afghanistan. The war-torn country, bordering the Central Asian Republics, never saw peace ever since the Saur Revolution occurred in April 1978. However, the relentless efforts being done for the political inclusion of the Afghan Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami brings some positive hope for a brighter future of the people of Afghanistan. Should the peace process remain smooth under the patronage of the QCG sans any major hindrance then the democratic norms in the region have the potential to be strengthened by many folds. This shall pave way for a new prosperous era for Afghanistan that shall see return of stability after a period of some almost 40 years.

No sanctuary for militants

Either it was a slip of the tongue or reporting without proper context, Punjab Law Minister RanaSanaullah’s statement has created confusion about state’s policy regarding the treatment of banned outfits in the country. While giving an interview to the BBC Urdu, Sanaullah allegedly acknowledged that legal action against proscribed organisations like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Jaish-i-Mohammed (JeM) is not possible since “state itself has remained a part of [that].” He also refuted the claim that south Punjab was the hub of militancy. Although government claims that a crackdown is going on against JeM and JuD and other extremist elements in Punjab, yet it has failed to completely dismantle these organisations that continue to operate openly in various districts. Pakistan needs to understand that it has to take serious measures to eradicate homegrown militancy. Instead of remaining in a state of denial, government needs to adopt a clear policy towards its treatment of militants and their safe havens. South Punjab, which has been notorious for sanctuaries of militant organisations, needs to be purged of all these elements. Although the scope of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been extended to Punjab, there is a need of consistency in policies. A review of state policy is necessary to keep Pakistan among responsible nations and against all forms of state collaborated terror outfits.

It is a failure of the Punjab government that it has been unable to check activities of militants in the province who have been indulging in anti-state activities at will for decades. The law minister has revealed the establishment’s covert practice of using militants as strategic assets, and which in turn hindered any action against these extremist elements in the past. Besides, these groups have been used for the purpose of maintaining political and military hegemony, as well as to keep people divided and brainwash the youth to achieve their nefarious designs. However, now the time has come for all ifs and buts to be laid to rest, and government needs to adopt a straightforward policy regarding all types of terrorists, who can no longer be considered strategic assets — if they ever were. By now it has been proved that they have become a serious threat to the state. We need to understand that state interests remain dynamic and changeable. But proxies continue working on their out-of-date agenda, and thus come into conflict with the state when the latter’s policy priorities change.

South Punjab is notorious for housing thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades. Government needs to continue the ongoing operation with full force and eliminate all dens of militants who indulge in anti-state activities as well as spread terrorism in neighbouring states while using Pakistani soil. Government needs not only to disassociate itself from these militant groups but also shut all their sanctuaries in various parts of the country. It is high time that government took this menace of extremism in the guise of religion and national interest seriously and eradicated it for good from all over Pakistan.

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