Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Oct 31, 2017

India steals a march The Senate has emerged head and shoulders above the National Assembly as the house where serious debate on burning issues takes place. Living up to this reputation, the upper house witnessed discussions on October 30, 2017 regarding India stealing a march on us vis-a-vis providing an alternate trade route to landlocked Afghanistan, the phenomenon of missing persons, the role of the Electronic Crimes Act and attacks on journalists. Regarding the first item, Senators expressed alarm at India’s maiden shipment of wheat to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar. They argued this must be countered as it was a major push for India’s outreach to Afghanistan while bypassing Pakistan. The house heard from PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar on a deferred motion by PML-N Senator Chaudhry Tanveer Khan on the issue of border management with Iran and Afghanistan. Senator Babar argued that border management with Afghanistan was necessary but it had to be with mutual consultation and in any case should not obstruct trade between the two countries. In the context of the Chabahar route now becoming available to Afghanistan, he said those wanting to use transit trade as leverage should take note of the new development. Further, he revealed that a train link between Uzbekistan and Mazar Sharif had been completed. Emboldened by these new options, President Ashraf Ghani had banned Pakistani trucks from entering Afghanistan and was now demanding transit trade with India through Pakistan as a quid pro quo for Pakistan’s trade access through Afghanistan with the Central Asian states. Senator Usman Khan Kakar of PkMAP said Pakistan’s economic boycott of Afghanistan had failed. The closure of the transit trade had in fact paved the way for India-Afghanistan trade through Chabahar. He underlined the need to review our Afghan policy or India will emerge as the sole beneficiary of our shortsightedness. While some Senators emphasised that border management with Iran and Afghanistan was aimed vat curbing terrorist infiltration into the country, others countered with the argument that laying barbed wire and fencing was not the solution and would inevitably affect trade. They might as well have added that such steps are bound to widen the gulf between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the Durand Line controversy. While the Senate took notice of these developments, albeit belatedly, the alternative route for India-Afghanistan trade via Chabahar has been many years in gestation. This is one more example of our inability to take timely notice of and attempt to head off negative developments from our point of view. It could also be considered a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face since, in pursuit of strategic depth or whatever in Afghanistan through our Taliban proxies, we seem to be losing out in the regional and international strategic race to the new emerging alignment of India-Iran-Afghanistan, with the US’s pursuit of a strategic relationship with India thrown into the mix for good measure. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to the region may not have yielded much in the Washington-Islamabad relationship, but if the press conference of Tillerson and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is anything to go by, New Delhi seems to be outflanking Islamabad regionally as well as far as the latter’s traditional alliance with the US is concerned. We cannot simply lull ourselves into complacency with hopes that we can exchange the US as ally with a combination of China, Russia and Turkey, given the still considerable clout (albeit diminished under Trump) of the US. Senator Babar also enlightened the house on the common thread amongst the issues of missing persons, the use of the Electronic Crimes Act and attacks on journalists. He described it as an escalating use of repressive tactics against any and all dissident opinion that did not buy in into the establishment’s narrative. The modus operandi, as explicated by Senator Babar, appears to be that those who cannot be easily disappeared are charged under the Electronic Crimes Act and those who cannot be charged under it easily are beaten black and blue by ‘invisible’ elements (a reference to what befell Ahmed Noorani of The News the other day). In the case of the Turkish nationals deported to Turkey, the first tactic was employed. Of course the interior ministry denied all responsibility, but that was hardly unexpected. The question remains, how determined are the perpetrators of disappearances to prove that we are a banana republic that dances to the tune of external benefactors to the extent of violating our own as well as international law?

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