A few days ago, the London Metropolitan Police informed Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain that given insufficient evidence to criminally charge him in an ongoing money laundering probe, his bail conditions had been removed. The MQM leader was first arrested in London on June 3, 2014 on suspicion of money laundering after the police found hundreds of thousands of undocumented cash in two separate raids at his residence and London’s MQM office while investigating the murder of Dr. Imran Farooq. The presence of so much unreported cash was certainly suspicious, as Altaf Hussain does not have a source of income in the UK. In all likelihood, the source of the money would have been fundraisers conducted by passionate supporters of MQM. Nonetheless, undocumented cash is used when people are wary of having their transactions traced, and having so much of it lying around raised suspicions that it was being used to support suspicious activities. But with this admission of the Metropolitan police, it appears that the investigation has hit a brick wall even though the case is still formally open. Now with the suspension of his bail conditions, Altaf Hussain is free to travel and is no longer required to be interviewed by investigators unless they have fresh evidence. Commenting on this latest development while speaking at a seminar in Islamabad, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Philip Barton has claimed that the British government has nothing to do with the case against Altaf Hussain. Instead, Barton emphasised, the case rested only with the London Metropolitan Police.
The statement by the High Commissioner belies belief as it flies in the face of logic. The British government, which Barton is keen to exonerate from the proceedings, has had a very evident role in the direction of Altaf Hussain’s life ever since the MQM leader went into self-imposed exile. Facing criminal charges in his native country, Altaf Hussain fled to the UK and applied for political asylum in late 1991. The British government accepted his application for asylum, gave him protection and, eventually, citizenship. In return, it is alleged in some quarters, he is a key source of intelligence for the British state. Given this background and the level of interest displayed in the livelihood of Altaf Hussain by successive British governments, the claims made by Philip Barton simply do not stand up to scrutiny. If, for the sake of argument, the roles were reversed and a major UK-based political figure fled to Pakistan while facing a vast array of criminal charges, which include charges of spreading militancy, and was wholeheartedly given asylum and citizenship by the Pakistani state, the only logical conclusion would be a breakdown of ties between the two countries and the possibility of international sanctions for Pakistan. Such blatant lack of parity is unacceptable.
A high level interaction between top intelligence officials of Afghanistan and Pakistan is a welcome move towards bridging the trust deficit between the two neighbouring countries. Masoud Andrabi, the head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), met his counterpart Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt-General Rizwan Akhtar in Islamabad for the first time in a bid to build trust and boost intelligence sharing to combat cross-border terrorism amid efforts to revive the stalled peace process with the Taliban. Reportedly, the two-hour-long meeting was facilitated by the US, while Chinese officials attended as observers. Separately, Afghan Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Major General Habib Hisari met his Pakistani counterpart Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza to discuss security and border management issues. These meetings are welcome as this is a long overdue cooperation process that should have been initiated much earlier keeping in view the common threat of militancy faced by both states. Unlike his predecessor former president Hamid Karzai, President Ashraf Ghani has made it a point since coming to office to reach out to Pakistan and China in an effort to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan’s long running conflict. He believes that Pakistan’s help is necessary to persuade the Afghan Taliban to give up their armed struggle. On its part, Pakistan has made a commitment to do whatever it can to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Due to their own interests, the US and China too have offered their support to the peace process. It is the result of these efforts that Pakistan will host a second quadrilateral meeting on February 6 to find a roadmap to bring normalcy to Afghanistan. Earlier, the Afghan reconciliation process was suspended after the disclosure about the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar last summer.
The formal talks between the top intelligence officials of Pakistan and Afghanistan revolved around a set of allegations and counter-allegations. Pakistan is concerned at the activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who have taken refuge in Afghanistan with the Haqqani Network while Afghanistan blames Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to the Afghan Taliban, who are posing a threat to the Kabul government. Pakistan has launched a serious offensive against the militants. Through Operation Zarb-e-Azb, it has cleansed North Waziristan of the terrorists but they have not been completely eliminated. Rather the TTP militants have fled into Afghanistan and are carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan from there. These are the circumstances that have made Pakistan and Afghanistan interdependent. The recent meetings of the DGMOs and spy chiefs of both countries show that the level of trust is improving due to the mutual convergence of interests. It is hoped that the process will go ahead and a solution might be found to end this years-long bloodshed in Afghanistan that has also endangered regional peace.
On February 5, as every year, the entire nation came together to observe Kashmir Solidarity Day, as it has since 1990 when the day was adopted to support the movement of the people of Kashmir for their right to self-determination, and to pay homage to the lives lost in this struggle. The day saw speeches and statements from political leaders across the spectrum. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif addressed a session of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Assembly in which he re-emphasised the importance of dialogue as the key to resolution of all enduring issues between India and Pakistan, most significantly that of Kashmir. Separately, President Mamnoon Hussain met a delegation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference at the Aiwan-e-Sadr a day before. The delegation included prominent officials and Hurriyat leaders. The president underlined Pakistan’s traditional stance that a resolution of Kashmir is only possible in accordance with the UN resolutions, which envisage a plebiscite to determine the Kashmiri people’s will. In his regular press conference, the foreign office spokesman reiterated the demand for the UN Security Council to take due notice of the long standing issue. On being enquired regarding the foreign secretary-level talks, which were a long awaited step towards dialogue between the historically antithetical neighbours, he responded that while currently no date had been arranged, diplomats from both sides remained in contact. Civil society also demonstrated its solidarity with the people of Kashmir with a multitude of events, seminars and special programmes highlighting the plight of the people under the cruel heel of the Indian army. In AJK too, several day-long protest rallies and demonstrations were held and a human chain was formed at different entry points of AJK as a symbolic display of unity.
The many symbolic and literal expressions of solidarity, despite their empathic value, have over the years been reduced to mere rituals. While carried out with the same ceremony, they fail to have any impact on the ground realities. The political statements from the PM, president and the foreign office that reiterate the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir that was ordained decades ago by the UN, unfortunately also keep our collective understanding of the issue years behind. The UN decision was taken then in the context of partition, which is also why it was to only give the Kashmiri people a choice between India and Pakistan. In addition, the UN resolutions do not hold the same value today, and especially since the Simla Accord in 1972, when owing to its disadvantaged position in the aftermath of the 1971 war, Pakistan had to concede its traditional position on Kashmir, agree not to pursue the issue on international forums and settle it bilaterally. Since then India has persistently avoided dialogue on the matter, and subsequent attempts by Pakistan to raise the issue in international forums have faltered because of the resistance from India and its allies, and also due to loss of international backing for Pakistan’s case over the years. However, all the wars and insurgency have demonstrated that neither side can overcome the other by force. Today, with both states known to be nuclearised, the only thing military action offers is Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), proving the incontrovertible fact that war is no longer an option. Nevertheless, from the internationalisation of this issue by Nehru to the bilateralisation conceded by Bhutto, the deadlock has continued. There, is however, one hope demonstrated by the track record. It appears that it is only when the dialogue breaks down or is interrupted, as is the case currently, that both sides appear to revert back to their age-old positions, but when facing each other in diplomatic engagement, it is rationality that guides the process as apparent in the flexibility and more obliging demeanour that is recently becoming apparent. For a historic compromise, where without a change of borders there is a normalisation of relations, with both countries adopting a dignified stance to give the Kashmiris their due rights, what is needed is a mutual cognizance that no one party can impose its will on the other and sooner or later both have to converge on common ground.