In conversation with Senator Farhatullah Babar: Revisit Afghan Policy | Pakistan Today

In conversation with Senator Farhatullah Babar: Revisit Afghan Policy

Burying our head in sand is no longer an option

Last week jolted Pakistan in a number of ways. After Donald Trump’s policy on South Asia, which called on Pakistan to address Afghanistan’ concerns, the BRICS declaration was another big blow to the security establishment. The declaration named some Pakistan-based outfits and called them a threat to regional peace. This development carried serious implications for the government, implying that our all-weather friend, China, might also be lending credence to predominantly Indian concerns.

Another equally important issue is the outcome of the 10-year long trial of the Benazir Bhutto murder case. Ms Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007 during an election rally. Since that day, the people of Pakistan, in general, and PPP workers, in particular, have been demanding justice for their leader, popularly known as Daughter of the East. The verdict was announced on 31 August 2017.

Does the verdict serve justice to the PPP workers, people of Pakistan and the Bhutto family?

To make sense of these, and other, thorny issues, DNA talked exclusively to PPP Senator and veteran leader Farhatullah Babar

Question: How do you see the BRICS statement asking Pakistan to rein in militant groups? How should Pakistan respond? Do you think the civil and the military quarters will be on the same page on this statement?

Farhatullah Babar: The BRICS declaration specifically naming militant groups based in Pakistan should be a matter of serious concern for the government, the parliament and the security establishment — indeed for Pakistan.

China is a member of BRICS, the summit was held in China and it was guided and moderated by the Chinese President himself. For the first time China has named some terror organisations allegedly based in Pakistan, calling them dangerous for peace in the region and putting on notice those allegedly harbouring them. Isn’t it something that needs to be looked at closely and with some measure of introspection also?

Until recently China used to block moves in the UN to sanction Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Moulana Masood Azhar. In sharp contrast to this policy, at the BRICS summit China also named Jaish, along with other militant outfits, as terror organisation destabilising the region. Isn’t it a call to wake up from the slumber?

The BRICS declaration raises the international chorus against Pakistan to a new pitch. It shows that both China and Russia are increasingly becoming wary of Pakistan. It will further increase our isolation on this issue.

In a knee jerk response and too often we have been rejecting instantly international criticism without any reexamination of our anti-terror policies. BRICS declaration should be seen as putting Pakistan on notice that closing eyes any longer could be costly.

Imagine the distance traversed when the previous BRICS moot was held in Goa last year. The differences in two BRICS declarations, less than one year apart, is disturbing for us. Remember how we celebrated when PM Modi’s bid to malign Pakistan was then thwarted by both China and Russia at the BRICS moot in Goa last year. We hailed it as a snub to Prime Minister Modi and a huge foreign policy triumph for Pakistan. Now the same group of countries including China and Russia seem to think otherwise about Pakistan. From celebration at one BRICS conference to shock at the other, in less than one year.

Last year the BRICS declaration expressed concern at the security challenges in Afghanistan in these words. “We express deep concern at the persisting security challenges in Afghanistan and significant increase in terrorist activities in Afghanistan. We affirm support to the efforts of the Afghan Government to achieve Afghan-led and Afghan-owned national reconciliation and combat terrorism, and readiness for constructive cooperation in order to facilitate security in Afghanistan, promote its independent political and economic course, becoming free from terrorism and drug trafficking. The Leaders expressed the view that capable and effective Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) should be the key to the stabilisation of Afghanistan. In this regard, the Leaders emphasised the need for continued commitment of regional countries and wider international community, including the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, which as the ISAF’s heir has a key role in the ANSF capacity-building. The Leaders stressed the importance of multilateral region-led interaction on Afghan issues, primarily by those organisations, which consist of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries and other regional states, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and the Heart of Asia Conference.”

The last year’s declaration called upon nations to take action, but look how. It said “We call upon all nations to adopt a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, which should include countering violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism, radicalisation, recruitment, movement of terrorists including Foreign Terrorist Fighters, blocking sources of financing terrorism, including through organised crime by means of money-laundering, drug trafficking, criminal activities, dismantling terrorist bases, and countering misuse of the Internet including social media by terror entities through misuse of the latest Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).Successfully combating terrorism requires a holistic approach. All counter-terrorism measures should uphold international law and respect human rights”

Notice, there was no mention of the terror outfits in any country and how they destabilised regional peace. And now?

As for the civil-military being on the same page let us be clear. Unfortunately, I cannot say that they are or have been on the same page, our loud protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. In a country ruled directly by the security establishment for half of its independent existence and calling shots from behind the scenes, exercising power without accountability for the other half, it is unrealistic to assert that two are on the same page. Just look at the questions asked in parliament relating to the security establishment and how they have been treated and you will get a fair idea of the ‘same page’ mantra.

Yes, it is now time that all power brokers got together and addressed the issues collectively; burying our head in sand is no longer an option. Policies must be made by elected government and parliament of course with inputs from the security establishment and they should then also be accountable for those policies. The duality that policies are made by someone else and required to be executed by civilian governments who are also held responsible for failure of policies must come to an end. As long as there will be duality, the two cannot be said to be on the same page.

Q: What is PPP policy on Benazir’s murder case verdict? Don’t you think PPP government showed no interest in resolving the BB murder case from 2008-2013?

FB: PPP was not allowed to become a party in the SMBB murder case. The FIR was registered by the Punjab police without consulting the PPP. Our then Secretary General Senator Latif Khosa filed a petition to become a party to it but it was not allowed. The Party held a high level meeting today in Karachi and deliberated on the issue. It decided that former President Asif Ali Zardari will become a party and file appeal against the verdict. Under the law Asif Zardari as aggrieved person against the verdict of ATC can file appeal against it. Meanwhile the Party has also asked the government to appeal the verdict. But regardless of what the government does, Mr Zardari will file appeals before a division bench of LHC, Rawalpindi bench. In fact he also signed thevakalat nama today allowing Latif Khosa to pursue it in the court. It was decided to file three appeals; one against segregating the case of Musharraf, two against  the total acquittal of al Qaeda/Taliban militants and three to seek enhancement in punishment of the two police officers.

It is an exaggeration to say that PPP showed no interest in the case. It was the PPP government which got the investigations transferred from Punjab police to the FIA. It was the PPP which asked for UN investigations. The PPP sent its lawyer Farooq H. Naek to US for the video recording of evidence by Mark Seigel. We believe that the masterminds behind the assassination and the plotters all will be exposed and punished. Nothing remains secret in the final analysis and the plotters and killers will not escape retribution.

Q: Do you think that PML-N led government weakened the parliament?

FB: It was Nawaz Sharif who rejected a bid to amend Articles 62 and 63. It was Nawaz Sharif who sought disqualification of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani through courts. It was Nawaz Sharif who joined hands with agencies against three PPP governments. It was Nawaz Sharif who took part in the agencies’ rigging of the 1990 elections. Parliament should rise above partisan politics.

Q: A meeting was held on Friday in the PM House on FATA Reforms and some decisions also made. What is your take and are you satisfied?

FB: I learnt about the meeting in PM House from the official press release issued later that evening. There are some serious questions raised by the press statement to say the least.

The press release is scanty, with no details and I can offer only tentative comments.

According to the press release the PM directed the lLaw Minister to “fast track the legislative and administrative measures for the mainstreaming of FATA” but does not specify what are those legislative measures proposed to be fast tracked. Does it include legislation to extend the jurisdiction of High Court and Supreme Court to tribal areas as was promised in the now aborted reforms package? Does it include legislation to set up of local governments in all tribal agencies? Does it include abolition of FCR or it brings back the notorious FCR under the so called Riwaj Regulation? There is no mention of merger with KPK. Instead it talks of mainstreaming.– a mysterious climb down.

But the most worrying thing is the provision of a new administrative structure with a new position, the so called Chief Operating Officer for FATA.

Who will be the so called COO and who will appoint him? Last time the government mooted to post Chief Executive (CE) for FATA who was supposed to be a grade 22 civil or military officer. It was vehemently opposed on the ground that it was designed to post a Lt General (grade 22) to the position of CE. A serving general as CE FATA is sure to displace the governor, the chief secretary and even the presidency in matters relating to FATA. It will irrevocably militarise the tribal areas. Is the proposed COO a reincarnation of the old proposal to post a CE?

We need to de-militarise FATA and NOT further militarise it. I am reminded of Pervez Musharraf who sneaked as Chief Executive and played havoc. I am wary of the title CE and I am no less wary of the title Chief Operating Officer (COO) as well. We will wait for the details to emerge but I have serious apprehensions. It will be a disaster to further militarise the tribal areas and totally displace the civilian authority. It will be an unacceptable throw back.

Q: How do you see US President Donald Trump’s one-sided tirade against Pakistan?

FB: I strongly condemn President Trump’s one-sided tirade against Pakistan, but it should not prevent us from some soul-searching.

We must condemn and denounce Trump for blaming Pakistan for the US failures in Afghanistan. But let us also look inwardly. We must develop a mutually agreed mechanism for verification of cross-border allegations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Osama was found hiding in Abbottabad. Pakistani passport and identity card were recovered from Mullah Mansoor Akhtar. Not long ago the then Advisor Sartaj Aziz publicly admitted that Taliban leaders were residing in Pakistan and receiving medical treatment, etc. Brandishing nuclear weapons and protecting some specific non state actors to advance security and foreign policy objectives is a disaster in the making. Revisit Afghanistan policy.

Hassan Naqvi

The writer is an Islamabad-based senior investigative journalist who covers politics, economy and militancy. He can be reached at: [email protected]; and on Twitter @hassannaqvi5.