Pakistan’s flimsy claims at UNGA and conflicting actions back home
The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, addressed the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 29 September 2018, during its 73rd Session. In addition, Qureshi met with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and spoke at some events hosted by think tanks. In his speech at the UNGA, the Foreign Minister stated that, “…The Pakistani government is keen to pursue a policy of partnerships for peace, security and prosperity in our immediate neighborhood and beyond. We seek a peaceful environment to promote our development agenda both at the national level and in our region”.
Qureshi’s speech at the UNGA proved to be a glaring exercise of diplomatic rhetoric when during his talk at the United States Institute for Peace, he was asked to explain why on 1 October 2018, a Federal Minister from his Cabinet, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri - Minister of Religious Affairs - appeared side-by-side with Hafiz Saeed, Chief of the banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) at a public conference in Islamabad. Rather than outwardly condemning Qadri’s decision to share stage with an internationally designated terrorist, and contrary to Qureshi’s proclaimed agenda of ‘anti-terrorism, peace and stability’ at the UNGA, the Foreign Minister trivialized his colleague’s impudent action by calling it mere, “insensitive”.
Hafiz Saeed is a Pakistani national and an internationally designated terrorist carrying a $10 million bounty on his head. His group, the LeT, is a UN and US-designated terrorist organization and widely recognized of fomenting terrorism in India and Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir. Despite global sanctions, Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 164 people were killed and 308 wounded, still roams around in Pakistan as a free man.
The Conference in which Hafiz Saeed and Noor-ul-Haq Qadri were seen sharing stage, was organized by Difa-e-Pakistan, an umbrella organization consisting of more than 40 Islamist and right-wing parties and groups, many of which are banned. Led by Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front group for LeT and with Hafiz Saeed as its central Leader, the amalgam’s stated objective is to prevent Pakistan from strengthening ties with United States (US) and India. Allegedly, it enjoys the support of the Pakistani military establishment as explained by Myra MacDonalds, author and former Reuters journalist who has worked in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, “….Given widespread suspicion that the alliance enjoys the tacit backing of the Pakistan Army – few believe it could operate so openly without the approval of the Generals in Rawalpindi – it also provides an (albeit distorted) window into the thinking of the country’s powerful security establishment”.
The leading organization of Difa-e-Pakistan, JuD along with its sister organization, Falahi Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), are self-described charities, known to be front organizations for LeT. In 2014, the US State Department named JuD a "foreign terrorist organization", and froze any assets it had under US jurisdiction. The previous administration in Pakistan headed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had banned both organizations in January 2018, only to see the ban getting revoked last month in September by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, under cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s new administration. A bench of Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood allowed JuD and FIF “to continue assistance (welfare) and charity work in the country”.
Bizarrely, while LeT’s disguised charity works are permitted to work, last week without any official reason given, 18 foreign NGOs were notified to shut down and given two months to leave Pakistan. These include NGOs and humanitarian organizations from the US, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom (UK) and Denmark. Among the organizations are ActionAid - headquartered in Johannesburg and focusing on education, poverty alleviation and human rights, Plan International - headquartered in the UK and working on the advancement of children's rights and equality for girls, and Marie Stopes - also headquartered in the UK, providing contraception and safe abortion in countries around the world while trying to empower women and girls to take control of their futures.
In an apparent reference to India, during his address at the UNGA, Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that “…Pakistan continues to face terrorism that is financed, facilitated and orchestrated by our eastern neighbor...”. He further stated that “…Peshawar School, Mastung attack and many others have links with terrorists supported by India”.
Peculiarly, as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan accused India of supporting terrorism, he called Burhan Wani a Kashmiri ‘activist’ and on the same day that Qureshi was addressing the UNGA, Pakistan Post issued special commemorative postage stamps portraying Wani as a ‘Freedom Icon’. Pertinent to mention that Burhan Wani, killed in 2016 in a gunfight with Indian Security Forces, was the Chief Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) - a designated terrorist organization by the European Union (EU) and the US.
Claims of the Foreign Minister were punctured, and Pakistan’s duplicitous policy vis-à-vis terrorism further exposed on Pakistani national television by none other than a retired Pakistani General. Broadcasted 1 October 2018, on the ‘Hamid Mir Show’ and anchored by the reputed Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, Lt. General Amjad Shoaib stated, “…The Kashmiri youth should carry out suicide attacks in the Kashmir Valley (Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir) to teach India a lesson”. He continued his preposterous remarks by adding that, “…Now the time has come for bloodshed of Indians. The process of suicide bombings has not yet taken off in the Kashmir Valley, but surely will start soon”. Besides the Pakistani military, the retired General has also served in different positions of power within the Pakistani Army’s business enterprises in Pakistan, such as The Fauji Foundation, King Crete Associates and the Army Welfare Trust.
Pakistani military establishment’s well-established and documented sustenance, refuge, decades-long patronage and shelter to terrorist organizations, which it considers ‘good’ terrorist outfits that it itself has created and treats as its ‘strategic assets’ against its eastern and western neighbor, has proven to be the main stumbling block for normalization of relations between India and Pakistan as well as between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and for stability in the wider region of South Asia.
Until and unless Pakistan sheds its deceptive policies and does not synchronize its actions at home and in the region with its propagated high claims of peace at international fora, the country will see, the little credibility it has left as a State, further diminishing.
Pakistan has found itself increasingly suffering from an environment of fear where terrorist outfits are threatening democracy while acting under the aegis of the military establishment. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan needs to comprehend that accusations, diplomatic rhetoric and stubbornness will not only isolate the country further, but first and foremost, add to the miseries of the common people of Pakistan who are bereft of democracy, rule of law and economic progress while finding themselves clogged between terrorist organizations and extremists who want to impose strict Islamic law and a military establishment which keeps patronizing these elements as acting against them would be detrimental to the Army’s institutional interests.
That this foolhardy mindset and ill-advised policy could possibly coextend the delicate prospects of peace and stability in Pakistan and in the region, remains an inconceivable anticipation.