COVID-19 outbreak, terrorism and regional peace – Farooq Yousaf

Within a matter of weeks, the novel coronavirus – which came in the global limelight after spreading in China’s Hubei province and resulted in lockdowns in the country – has created major risks for global economy and public health.

On December 31, 2019, China had alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of “several flu-like cases” in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Patients had then been quarantined and health authorities commenced work on tracing the source of the “flu”. Soon after, on January 1, 2020, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention identified a seafood market in Wuhan as the “suspected hub of the outbreak”. Since then, at the time of writing this piece, the COVID-19 strain of the Coronavirus has caused a global pandemic, affecting over 150 countries, infecting nearly 200,000 and killing nearly 8000 people (More details and live tracking of the coronavirus data can be found here).

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus went as far as claiming that “a virus is more powerful in creating political, economic and social upheaval than any terrorist attack”. Hence, pandemics like these also raise concerns over the possible use of a deadly virus as a “bioterrorism” tool by terrorist groups around the world.

In 2015, it was reported that scientists at a top-secret facility in the UK were assessing the “potential use of Ebola as a bioterrorism weapon”. The unit was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organisations like Al Qaida and the Islamic State could use the virus to attack targets in the west[i]. Moreover, Stephen Strauss also argues that much of the research on Ebola was funded due to the growing fears of the virus turning into a bio-weapon by terrorist organisations.[ii] In addition to that, outbreaks have also been used in the past to influence political outcomes. According to The Lancet, ‘on Dec 26, 2018, DR Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) invoked concerns about the Ebola outbreak and terrorism to postpone the elections in three areas in North Kivu (Beni, Beni Ville, and Butembo) until March 2019.’[iii] This move invited strong criticism as many of 1.2 million people in these three areas were likely to vote for the opposition leader, Martin Fayulu.

These precedents make the coronavirus epidemic a point of concern for state officials, policymakers and counter-terrorism experts around the world. Opinion pieces have already started showing up in major news outlets, especially in the US, particularly on the lines of mild “conspiracy theories” and orientalist discourses, on how the coronavirus can be used as a major bioterrorism weapon by non-state and ‘hidden’ state actors, especially in the “desert caves of Middle East”.

In this regard, Grady Means, in The Hill, writes:

Regardless of the source of the coronavirus, it is now a roadmap for future bioterrorism. The damage has been quick and enormous — much greater than 9/11 — and worldwide. The responses have been predictable and ineffective. And the cost of a potential weapon such as this is close to zero. It represents the perfect asymmetric warfare strategy, and there should be little doubt these lessons are being studied carefully by military planners in North Korea, Tehran, Moscow, Beijing and desert caves throughout the Middle East [iv].

However, along with raising “bio-terrorism” concerns, the coronavirus outbreak is also impacting (and somewhat hampering) the everyday operations of various terrorist and militant groups around the world. Moreover, due to the urgency and importance of covering the outbreak in the mainstream and alternate media, incidents around the world involving terrorist attacks are also going unnoticed.

COVID-19, Terrorism and Peace

The Islamic State recently included a full-page infographic on coronavirus prevention in the new issue of its official weekly “al-Naba newsletter”, the Homeland Security reported. The group also asked its followers to “stay away from countries affected by the outbreak”. The group has been constantly “reporting” on the Coronavirus in its newsletter since last month, with one of its February issues noting that even though the epidemic was a punishment from God for China’s rights abuses against the Uighur Muslims, the interconnectedness of this world would facilitate the transfer of epidemics. Therefore, “Muslims should seek help from God Almighty to avoid illness and keep it away from their countries”. These updates from the group suggest that the outbreak has, in some way, affected the Islamic State, at least for the time being.

US, Taliban and Peace in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has remained a point of concern for many, as not only is the country battling through a major presidential crisis, between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, but a possible spread of coronavirus is also threatening to endanger the recently signed ceasefire agreement between the United States and the Taliban. Locals also fear that lack of supplies and facilities could be detrimental to the Afghan population, especially if the number of cases exponentially rises in the country.

“A doctor or a nurse may be able to buy some hand sanitiser and gloves for their homes, but we have hospitals in Kabul that don’t have clean water for doctors to wash their hands,” Najmusama Shefajo, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, told Al Jazeera news. She also said that if doctors lack the supplies to guarantee their own hygiene, it will then be hard for the patients to trust the doctors.

Therefore, political instability amid growing coronavirus concerns have caught the attention of foreign and senior officials overseeing security matters in Afghanistan.

Nick Kay – a senior representative of NATO – in a video message on Saturday called on the Afghan leaders find to an amicable solution the political instability in the country. “As the coronavirus sweeps the world causing public health crisis and potential economic crisis…it is strange that the political leadership cannot find a way to resolve their differences and unite the country both in the interests of public health but also peace,” Kay said.

Ironically, the Taliban have also raised concerns on the spread of coronavirus in government prisons.  “About 40,000 people are living in prisons run by the Kabul administration where there are no hygiene or healthcare facilities, making it a serious threat. This virus can spread very easily in such conditions. If something goes wrong, it will be the responsibility of the Kabul government.”, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said on Sunday.

On the other hand, US expert and scholar Dr Barnett Rubin succinctly summarises the threat coronavirus poses to peace and stability in the region. In this regard, he writes:

The pandemic seems likely to spread quickly from both Iran and Pakistan into Afghanistan. All of the known cases are related to Iran—with which Afghanistan has a 572-mile largely unmonitored border, and where more than 10,000 coronavirus cases have been recorded and over 300 have died, making it the fourth-most-affected country after China, South Korea, and Italy  …… Afghanistan also has a 1,510 mile long border with Pakistan, which is at risk because of the weakness of its public health system, its 596-mile-long border with Iran, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which has brought tens of thousands of Chinese citizens into Pakistan…. The pandemic makes it even more important to end the war. The virus makes no political, national, religious, or sectarian distinctions. [v].

On the other hand, U.S. Peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who was primarily responsible for giving final touches to the Afghan peace plan, has repeatedly met both the presidential claimants, Ghani and Abdullah, however, there is no end in sight for the political turmoil. Moreover, even after the signing of the deal with the US, violence has continued in the country as a recent “insider attack” killed seven Afghan security officials.

In these testing times, and with a near-global lockdown, regional actors like China, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can do little in terms of mediating between the Afghan government, the US and the Taliban. Hence, Barnett Rubin asks a pertinent question:

Will Qatar still welcome a delegation from Afghanistan, plus hundreds of journalists, under these circumstances?

Probably not!

The latest data (see graph below) on coronavirus infections from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering indicates two positive trends; one, the “infections curve” (orange) in China is flattening, and two, the patient recovery rates (green) are getting higher.  

Source: CSSE

However, in terms of its impact on terrorism and terrorist activities, even though little could be said with certainty whether coronavirus outbreak will hamper terrorist attacks from groups like Islamic State and the Taliban, concerns expressed by both these groups over the pandemic suggest that it may affect them in “some” way; probably in terms of movement and operations. The Taliban, even though seemingly concerned about the pandemic, has carried on with it its attacks on the Afghan security forces. The Islamic State, on the other hand, is also fighting for its survival and relevance in Afghanistan. Only time will tell whether COVID-19 outbreak will negatively affect the Afghan peace deal and the frequency of terrorist attacks around the world. However, this also leaves a gap for future research projects on global pandemics and their impact on the frequency of terrorist attacks.


[i] The Guardian (2015), URL:

[ii] Strauss, Stephen. “Ebola research fueled by bioterrorism threat.” Canadian Medical Association. Journal 186.16 (2014): 1206.

[iii] The Lancet, URL:

[iv] Means, Grady, The Hill, URL:

[v] Rubin, Barnett, The Coronavirus Risk to the Afghan Peace Process, CIC-NYU, URL:

Tips and links for PhD and Masters Scholarships (Social Sciences and Humanities)

I have been receiving a number of messages from friends and colleagues on procedures and tips regarding scholarships abroad (especially in Western universities). So, I decided to write a note on the steps and the resources that I have come across over the years. You have to keep in mind that I am a Public Policy and Politics graduate, so my tips are mostly confined to Social Sciences and Humanities disciplines. Hence, don’t take it as the final word on scholarships. Finally, I’ve heard many friends and peers argue that it is “impossible to get PhD funding”. I, respectfully, disagree! It all depends on how you approach the whole process in terms of applying to the right place at the right time, while contacting the right supervisor. There are hundreds of scholarships in dozens of countries. So, you just need to persist and be patient. However, the process also requires you to anticipate and accept rejections. I applied for 9 scholarships in different countries and was rejected by 7.

For a PhD, the first and the most important step is to stay in touch with various databases (mentioned below). But if you want to take initiative on your own or apply to Universities directly, then visit University websites in Australia, USA or Europe. Almost all of them have a scholarship section for various disciplines.

For both Masters (by research) and PhD positions, the application matters and for that you need to contact the Professors who are teaching the courses of your choice in your preferred university. The MOST Important factor is the potential “Supervisor”. If they like your topic and encourage you to apply for a scholarship, then a good part of your job is done, the rest will depend on your academic/professional background, evaluation committee and the selection criteria. However, the supervisor loving your topic does not ensure a scholarship. It will only help you clear the first stage of your application process.

Important Note: While selecting or short listing potential supervisors, make sure their methodological approach is similar to yours. If your proposal is qualitative and your potential supervisor has worked on quantitative methods, there is very little chance that the supervisor will entertain your proposal. There remains “some” divide and friction between qual and quant academics. Even if they do entertain your proposal, they might try to change your methodological approach. If you are happy with that, then no harm in contacting a supervsior with a different methodological experience. Also, don’t get angry or irritated if you don’t get a response from a supervisor. Don’t email them more than twice. If they don’t respond after your second email, it might mean they are busy and might not be interested. Move on to another supervisor. While going through my emails from 2014, I saw that I emailed over 70 academics for PhD supervision and received around 20 responses. Out of those 20, around 8 or 9 expressed interest in supervising me. So, be prepared for lack of responses.

You always need to make sure that the professor you contact has somewhat a broader idea on the broad nature of the topic.

Many students think that a PhD proposal is something novel, or that you have to come up with a totally new idea. I think it is a misconception. You just need to develop a “new angle” to a common or a broader concept.

For example, if you think you wish to work on “Democratic decline in the Global South”, on paper, it may seem “novel”, but someone in some corner of the world would have worked on it in some way. They might have written a newspaper article, a paper or a book chapter. What matters in such cases is how can you make the broader idea “specific and different”. However, you also need to make sure that you have the capacity, access and permissions to get your desired data for analysis, either primary or secondary. That is where you need to make sure that during your literature search, or review, you establish the fact that further down the line you have enough data to work with and mention it in your proposal.

Your proposal length should depend on the application criteria. But whatever the length or the case, you need to make sure that you present a clear and concise picture of what you need to do as part of your research. The proposal reflects your capacity to conduct research on the topic of your interest, and that is why, you need to make sure that your capacity is clearly reflected in the proposal.

Important Note on the Proposals: If your primary aim – like me – is to learn and explore new and different avenues of knowledge, don’t be too rigid with your proposal. I have no shame in admitting that I had four different proposals for three different disciplines. Maybe my Masters in Public Policy helped me be eligible for different disciplines for a PhD position. However, I would have been equally happy if my other proposals were accepted and had I not conducted my PhD on the topic that I ultimately did. When I contacted my potential PhD supervisors, I mostly sent them two proposals at the same time, and gave them the option, rather than forcing them to accept one. It worked for me, however, I cannot say it will work for others as well.

Also, don’t take your proposal as something final, as it is bound to change. It only helps the evaluation committee to decide whether you have an idea (and capacity) of the topic you wish to do your research on. I finalised my proposal and outline in the 10th month of starting my PhD.

Also make sure that you have some sort of publications (whether academic or semi-academic) before applying for a PhD. Even if you don’t that is fine, but having some publications in your bag helps you application and selection a lot. It proves to the selection committee that you have the ability to conduct research.

Additionally, IELTS or TOEFL are also an important component and you need to make sure that you get ATLEAST 6.5 in all modules (but it also depends on the university criteria, a safe bet is 7.0 in all modules).

P.S. I originally wrote this note on Facebook a few years ago, therefore, adding this part after completing my PhD. THINK HARD before pursuing a PhD. It can both be easy and hard. It can be fun as well as boring. If you are someone who can, on and off, lock themselves off in a room and consistently read and write, then a PhD might be an ideal fit for you. But if you don’t like writing (and reading), then you would make your life miserable. I personally enjoyed my journey a lot. I learnt probably more than what I learnt throughout my college and university (Bachelors and Masters) days. But even for someone like myself (who loves writing), there were days where I just wished I could escape the stress of this journey.

You can check the following web links for scholarships all over the world. I will keep updating the list below:

(Cover Image Source: )

Pakistan’s counter-extremism narrative called into question – Farooq Yousaf

Originally Published at East Asia Forum

At the conclusion of the recent BRICS summit, observers were surprised to see the BRICS nations issue a unanimous declaration indirectly chiding Pakistan and asking Islamabad to take concerted action against militant and extremist groups.

This move came as a surprise following the recent alignment of China and Russia with Pakistan on domestic and international issues. Even though China was quick in dismissing any ill-will towards Pakistan regarding the joint declaration, there was still a hidden message for Islamabad — Pakistan has to ‘do more’ to sell its counter-terrorism narrative abroad and to convince the international community of its efforts.

The ruling elite in Islamabad has time and again tried to convince the international community not only that has it done enough to curb terrorism and extremism but also that it has suffered great loss, including more than 60,000 lives and over US$100 billion financially.

Yet recently concluded by-elections in Lahore present a different picture and somewhat contradict Pakistan’s narrative of going all-out against terrorism and extremist groups.

The by-elections in Lahore’s NA-120 constituency saw Kulsoom Nawaz — the wife of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif — claim victory over her main rival with 61,000 votes to 47,000 votes respectively. With the focus on these two major party candidates, what went unnoticed was independent candidate Azhar Hussain Rizvi from the ultra-right Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party finishing third with 7130 votes, while Hafiz Saeed-backed Sheikh Yaqub came fourth with 5822 votes. The TLP and Yaqub combined secured almost 13,000 votes from an urban constituency, which presents a worrying challenge for next year’s general elections.

Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) — formulated after the Peshawar school attack in December 2014 — called for a ban on groups spreading hate speech and not allowing banned outfits to operate under different names. The rise of TLP and MML poses a challenge to the NAP objectives.

The TLP is headed by Khadim Hussian Rizvi, a firebrand cleric and orator who is also an active supporter of Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri was a security guard who was hanged after murdering the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer for alleged blasphemy — Taseer called the Blasphemy law a ‘black law’ arguing that it had nothing to do with Islam. Rizvi belongs to the Barelvi sect of Islam and has openly called for the execution of all blasphemers. Much of the TLP’s campaign revolved around an ‘Islamic form of governance’ and Mumtaz Qadri’s sacrifice. The number of votes bagged by its candidate has consequently raised many eyebrows in the country. The TLP now gears for the 2018 general elections and plans to field candidates throughout the country.

On the other hand, Hafiz Saeed — head of the notorious terrorist organisation Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) (also known as Lashkar-e-Taiba) — fielded a candidate of his own in the by-elections. Saeed, who has been sanctioned by the UN for his involvement with terrorist groups and activities, had announced the establishment of the MML in August this year, inviting critique from both home and abroad. Despite the Election Commission of Pakistan refusing to register his Milli Muslim League (MML) party, Saeed fielded Sheik Yaqub as a quasi-independent candidate endorsed by the MML.

Saeed’s entry into the political mainstream presents larger challenges for the civil–military establishment and ruling elite in the country. He has remained one of the major points of contention in attempts to revive India–Pakistan ties, with New Delhi always demanding the trial of Saeed and the bringing of him to justice. India alleges Saeed is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks along with militant and terror activities in Indian Kashmir.

Much of Saeed’s narrative is based on the ‘freedom’ of Kashmir and support of its indigenous movement against the Indian armed forces. Election campaign videos of the MML used India as an electioneering tool, calling on constituents to be loyal to Pakistan and become enemies of Modi. In another video, an MML/JuD member is seen asking people to vote for ‘Saeed and his mission’.

Ironically, Saeed’s candidate Yaqub was invited on mainstream news networks and given airtime to tell his side of the story in post-election analyses. Yaqub refused to admit that he was an MML candidate and stated he was only previously affiliated with the JuD, clearly seeking to maintain his ‘independent’ status. Little action has been brought against Yaqub and the political activities of MML, again placing question marks over Pakistan’s commitment to countering extremism.

The JuD has enjoyed a positive image among the poor rural class, especially in Punjab, mainly due its social work and charity conducted through Falah e Insaniat Foundation (FIF). The FIF is known for its prompt relief responses in remote areas that the civil administration find difficult to reach, along with collecting donations for charity. But allegations have surfaced these charity appeals are also being used to fund ‘Jihad in Kashmir’.

Saeed has also been previously accused of promoting extremism in poor rural pockets by opening religious seminaries, though he has rejected such allegations. For many in Pakistan, Saeed is a ‘messiah’ or the ‘only saviour’ for the Indian Kashmiris and their ‘struggle for freedom’.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Khwaja Asif recently argued that ‘Saeed was now a liability’, suggesting that in the past, Saeed and his LeT/JuD have enjoyed state and military support. Due to these facets of Saeed’s image and public life, successive governments in power have found it difficult to either arrest or convict Saeed in any of the alleged cases taken up by India or the United States.

Active political campaigning from the MML, JuD and TLP raises major question marks over Pakistan’s seriousness in countering extremism and implementing its much-hyped National Action Plan. If the likes of Saeed are allowed to operate in the country and carry out socio-political activities — even when the state claims to have him under house arrest — it surely weakens Pakistan’s counter-terror case in the global arena.

Farooq Yousaf is a doctoral candidate at the University of Newcastle.

An effective CVE policy needed for Pakistan – Farooq Yousaf

Image Source: The Nation

The major focus of the policy against extremism ought to be on structural causes like lack of religious tolerance, government failures and political, economic, and social marginalisation

By Farooq Yousaf

Counter-terror and military operations have remained a major part of Pakistan’s security policy since 2004. Yet, even with such a heavy-handed focus on security, Pakistan still lacks a comprehensive policy on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE); with only a generic National Action Plan (with 20 broad points) as the only referred document on such matters.

Even though the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), under its Directorate of Countering Violent Extremism, has formulated a National Counter Extremism Policy (NECP), very little information is available on it for the general public. Ironically, NACTA’s national international security policy (NISP) only gives a passing reference to violent extremism a couple of time in its 94 page document, along with a clichéd overemphasis on madaris as a source of radicalisation and terror recruitment.

Countering Violent Extremism — also referred to as Preventing Violent Extremism — has remained a major topic of focus among policy makers since the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks in USA and the UK respectively. It was in 2015 that the concept took the centre-stage in global counter-terror policymaking with a three day conference in the White House, chaired by President Obama and attended by ministers from almost 70 countries, followed by a side-line session at the United Nations General Assembly. This also led to a major CVE policy announced by the Obama administration focusing on early signs and intervention of extremism.

One of the major focuses of any CVE is its focus on structural causes of extremism such as lack of religious tolerance, government/administrative failure, and political, economic, and social marginalisation. By focusing on such factors, policy makers aimed at prevention and early intervention in conjunction with traditional measures. CVE, thus, helps prevent potentially extremist individuals from a crossing a line and becoming terrorists.

Since its inception and focus, most governments in the West — even with a lower security threat compared to Pakistan — have taken major initiatives towards CVE. The Australian government has spent over $50 million on various CVE initiatives that were aimed at focusing on various aspects of radicalisation that made the youth vulnerable to violent extremism, along with promoting social cohesion.

The United Kingdom, following the 7/7 London attacks, also introduced the much debated and infamous PREVENT (Preventing Violent Extremism programme) model. The programme, with more than 40 million GBP of annual allocation is a part of Britain’s four pronged CONTEST counter terror strategy. Even though the British government initially had high hopes from the programme, PREVENT’s major loophole was the stigmatising of the Muslim community making wary of the home ministry and the British government, thus leading to certain failures in the policy’s implementation.

It is also worth noting that dynamics of extremism/counter-extremism have changed in the past few years. We have come a long way from the times of signature operations/policies — where a certain attire and look was attributed to a militant or an extremist (such as beards and turbans). Ideologies are not expressed through physical attributes anymore. Profiles of a number of terrorists — including recent London attacker holding a Business diploma, terrorist involved in 7/7 attacks having formal education, and a Pakistani terror suspect studying at an elite business school in Karachi — suggests that modern education institutes have also presented with a new dilemma for policy makers. Such complications have also resulted in the need for redefining the area of CVE and creating policies based on specificity and contextual analyses.

These complications, thus, warrant a number of considerations and recommendations;

Fighting thoughts is a bigger challenge than fighting actions. Filtering and surveillance of social media activity can though be a good measure, it still presents limitations. It can sometimes take a short video or a propaganda documentary, a ‘western invasion on Muslim countries’ video on YouTube, or a completely rational talk criticising western interventions, to radicalise someone. Therefore, any policy made should be enforced beyond the stereotyped notion of the ‘threat only coming from devout Muslims’.

The government should also ensure that policymaking circles are diverse, without stressing on inclusion on experts from a certain class/profession of intelligentsia. It goes without saying that academics can contribute towards formulating effective frameworks, yet lack of inclusion of practitioners on ground and community leaders would always undermine an effective policy.

Also, there is a major difference between a terrorist and a radical. A terrorist is already radicalised and thus resorts to using violence, whereas a radical might only be ‘thinking’ of using violence in the future. Policies should be targeted towards preventing (or converting) radicals, and educate them on integration, rule of law and peaceful way of life.

In terms of financial resources, there is a huge disparity between fund allocation for traditional counter-terror and security initiatives and CVE initiatives. Formulation of effective security policies could only be achieved if this gap is bridged and CVE is taken as seriously as traditional security measures.

Finally, the current socio-political climate in the country, coupled with rise of ultra-right groups (such as Milli Muslim League and Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan) in the political mainstreams, an effective CVE policy, its implementation and exposure to the general public requires urgent attention.

The writer is a PhD (Politics) Candidate studying at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. He also consults Islamabad based Center for Research and Security Studies. He tweets @faruqyusaf

Why Israel still remains a ‘tricky’ subject in Pakistan

Pakistani PM Imran Khan, while speaking an at Asia Society event, was unequivocal in his stance when asked about Pakistan possibly establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.  Responding to a question whether Pakistan was shifting its foreign policy towards Israel, the Pakistani PM said:

Pakistan has a very straightforward position. It was our founder of Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was very clear that there has to be just settlement, a homeland for Palestinians before Pakistan can recognise Israel.

Israel is a very tricky subject when it comes to Pakistan. However, unlike Pakistan, many Muslim and Gulf states apparently ‘close’ to Pakistan, have established some sort of a “working relationship” with Israel.

In this context, I thought it would be interesting to share one of my blogs from 2013 that I wrote on Pakistan-Israel ties.

Is Israel really Pakistan’s enemy?
By Farooq Yousaf 

(Published: April 27, 2013 – Express Tribune)

Growing up in Peshawar, a slightly conservative city of Pakistan, my sentiments as a “Sunni” kid were not very different to other kids in the country.

I had a slight disliking for India and sheer ‘hatred’ for Israel.

Words such as ‘Jewish lobby’, ‘Zionists’, ‘Freemasons’, and many others – whose meanings were unknown to many of us – kept ringing in our ears through religious scholars, teachers, friends and peers; where we used to associate all such terms directly to Jews, especially Jews of Israel and those having major ‘control over US corporations’.

The Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad were always being linked to any terrorist incidents in Pakistani.

A few years ago, this very thought came to my mind as to why we (Pakistan) don’t have any diplomatic ties with Israel?

Other than the Palestine issue, I could not think of other ‘rational’ reasons.

Even the Pakistani passport, explicitly barring us from entering Israel, is a forced decision imposed on Pakistanis, especially for those who would like to visit Palestine or Israel for religious, academic or economic purposes.

I think there are two primary reasons for our hatred for Israel: One, the dominance of religion in Pakistan’s state affairs, and two, the curriculum taught in our schools and colleges.

It’s a bit naive to think now that till my late teens, I was busy hating India and Israel without any historical background or logical reasoning.

I remember attending Friday sermons which would end in curses on India and Israel. Apparently, it was a “positive note”. If those sermons were directed towards policymakers or governments, maybe in some sense, they would have sounded logical.

However, praying for deaths of innocent people – all the Jews- was nothing but making scapegoats for religious sympathies.

The situation concerning India, luckily, has settled to some extent with increasing awareness and education among Pakistanis, however, Israel still holds the top spot when it comes to ‘enemies of Islam’, for a lay Pakistani.

True, there are violations going on in Palestine; true, that Israel has fought multiple wars with Arab states, and true that Israel is a strong ally of India and the USA.

But does it provide any rationale for us to not have any sort of relationship with Israel?

If foreign interventions or occupations are to be used as a criterion, then first and foremost Pakistan should cut off its ties with of the Western states on whose aid the country is relying.

The point I try to make here is that never in our academic or religious institutions have we been explained why Israel should be cursed. Never have we been told why people should believe that Israel is the root cause of most evils in Pakistan.

Even if we try proving Israel’s hostility towards Pakistan, except one theory of Israel’s plan of attacking Pakistan’s nuclear set-up in Kahuta, nothing comes to the fore.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has many times volunteered for Arab wars against Israel – wars that were never directly related to Pakistan. The same countries Pakistani soldiers were fighting for against Israel never came for any help during the wars of 1965 and 1971.

In terms of strategic cooperation, when it came to Pakistan’s gain and interest, general Ziaul Haq was not shy of establishing intelligence cooperation networks with Israeli intelligence against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but when it came recognition and bilateral ties, Zia was hesitant, like all other leaders of the country.

Without going into historical narratives of to whom true ownership of the Israel-Palestine land belongs, it is ironic to see that many of the Muslim states Pakistan considers ‘brothers’ have somewhat recognised Israel and have maintained cordial ties with it.

If we wish to see an independent state of Palestine, it is important to have some sort of ties with Israel, as having no relations would only limit us to statements and rhetoric in support of Palestine.

We, as a nation, are already suffering from the setbacks of hate-filled curriculum and society that seeped into our values allowing no space for minorities. It is time we start giving space to everyone and work towards inter-faith and inter-ethnic harmony and collaboration.

If we can have friends in India and the USA, why can’t we have friends in Israel? Why not pave a way for initiation of relations, primarily with the people, and not initially the government that may create opportunities for peace and a better future for the coming generations?

P.S. I don’t intend to hurt anyone’s religious or emotional attachment with Palestine, or to enter into the right-wrong debate of the Palestinian crisis. The only purpose of this blog is finding answers to questions that constantly encounter us, the Pakistanis while interacting with foreigners abroad.

Need for better Australia Pakistan ties – Farooq Yousaf

Source: DailyTimes

‘CHOGM chance to push India as counter to China in the Pacific’, was the headline of an opinion piece published in The Australian — one of the most read newspapers in Australia — on 18 April 2018. This headline suggested the duality of the current policy shift within Australia, which is warming up to New Delhi and getting more and more sceptical of Beijing. On the other hand, there is also recent chatter of a possible US-Japan-India-Australia quadrilateral counterweight to China, suggesting why China-Australia ties could feel the further strain in the future.

Even though Pakistan does not come into the equation, at least for now, the current policy tilt within Canberra can become a bone of contention for fruitful Australia-Pakistan ties in the future. This is purely because Pakistan’s supposedly strongest ally — China — is somewhat currently despised, whereas its arch-rival India is seen as a potential partner in Australia. Hence, Australia, at some point in future, might turn out to be a difficult balancing act for Pakistan. But amidst shifting geostrategic alliances, Australia is still one of the most important international partners for Pakistan.

As Margaret Adamson — the Australian High Commissioner in Islamabad — recently pointed out at the 70-year celebration of Aus-Pak ties that there exists a close connection between both the countries. This ‘close connection’ is mainly due to several reasons and initiatives.

First, Australia, one of the first countries to recognise Pakistan as an independent state establishing its diplomatic mission in 1948, enjoys strong political, security, development and democratic cooperation with Pakistan. In terms of democratic cooperation, Australia’s interest in a democratic Pakistan was expressed when Bob Carr — the then Minister of Foreign Affairs — published an open letter in The Express Tribune in 2013, soon after Pakistan’s elections and the democratic transition took place. Carr congratulated Pakistani people ‘for defeating terrorism and standing up for democracy’, hence showing why a democratic Pakistan was, and is, important for Australia.

Second, Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to Pakistan stands at $47 million for the year 2017-2018, making it the sixth largest donor to Pakistan.

Third, thousands of Pakistani students visit Australia on student visas every year. Additionally, many Pakistani academics are teaching in Australian universities, hence contributing towards the country’s education sector.

Fourth, a major initiative, in partnership and funding of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), will allow the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to train around 200,000 Pakistani farmers to adopt better crop production and labour practices while improving the social and economic benefits that flow back to them.

Finally, Australia nominating a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan also shows Canberra’s desire for long-term and sustainable peace and development in the region. And with Australia spending over $8 billion for its civil-military engagement in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s inclusion — and a possible mediation role — in the equation for sustainable peace and resolution of the Afghan conflict also becomes important for Australia.

Both the countries have witnessed an upward trend in bilateral ties since Pervez Musharraf visited Australia in 2005. Soon after, not only were defence and security pacts signed, but Australia regularly provided humanitarian aid for victims of natural and security disasters.

On the security-cooperation front, both the countries launched a Track 1.5 security dialogue in 2010, with experts sharing their mutual experiences on security and conflict. Then in 2011, the second round of these talks was held in Rawalpindi, when the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General David Hurley, co-chaired the dialogue with Pakistan’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Khalid Shameem Wayne. These dialogues also focused on how Australia could help Pakistan in countering violent extremism (CVE) — an area given a lot of focus and financial support in Australia.

These facts and figures not only suggest Australia’s current and future importance to Pakistan but also depict the need for further consolidation of these ties. With China-Australia ties currently feeling some strain, Pakistan needs to ensure that it stays neutral in case tensions between both its partners escalate.

However, just like Pakistan, Australia too is economically integrated with China, and therefore, chances of China-Australia ties completely breaking down — in near or distant future — are somewhat slim. Finally — and most importantly — Pakistan’s foreign policy approach towards Australia must also remain mutually exclusive of Canberra’s ties with New Delhi; as Australia’s political and economic partnership with India far outweighs its partnership with Pakistan.

The writer is a PhD Candidate at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He tweets @faruqyusaf

Published in Daily Times, April 26th 2018.


The democratic ramifications of Nawaz Sharif’s ousting


By: Farooq Yousaf, University of Newcastle

On 28 July, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified the now former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from public office. Sharif and his family have been embroiled in a legal battle since their names appeared in the infamous Panama Papers in April 2016. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — also a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party — has now been elected as Sharif’s successor.

Sharif was convicted for non-declaration of assets, which, according to the court’s verdict, were receivables from a Dubai-based offshore company owned by his son. Sharif had not declared these receivables in his nomination papers for the general elections in 2013.

The judges invoked Article 99 of the Representation of People’s Act and Article 62 of the constitution, which requires members of parliament to be ‘sadiq and ameen’ — truthful and trustworthy. The court also ordered four criminal investigations into the more than a dozen offshore companies and four London flats owned by Sharif’s three children. Under the Supreme Court’s instructions, the National Accountability Bureau — the country’s anti-corruption watchdog — has also begun preparing cases against the Sharif family based on the missing money trail they used for buying their London flats.

Sharif’s ousting has revived controversy around the constitutional requirements for members of parliament. Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution were amended by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1985 and have been a point of contention since due to their enormous scope. This scope, for instance, under the Article 62 1(F) of the constitution requires a member of the Parliament to be ‘sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen’.

Subsequent Pakistani administrations have amended the articles. Yet two years ago, Supreme Court Justice Khosa labelled these articles ‘obscure’ and ‘impractical’ to interpret, even after all the attention they have been given. Political expedience prevented most of the right wing parties, including Sharif’s PML-N party, from further amending these controversial laws.

Sharif’s disqualification drew a multitude of conflicting reactions from all sides of politics. Opposition parties, including the ex-cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, called the judgement the ‘beginning of a new era of accountability’. But the PML-N ridiculed and effectively rejected the ruling as unjust and biased against Sharif, ending his third term prematurely.

Sharif’s cohorts attacked the court’s ruling as a ‘very narrow interpretation of the law’. They also alluded to the ruling being the result of collusion between the judiciary and the country’s military establishment, which has a history of interference in the country’s politics. Being the most organised institution, the military wields considerable influence over domestic and foreign affairs.

Advocates of democracy and civilian supremacy argue that this verdict has set a bad precedent because it could open the floodgates to pursuing disqualification of rival candidates as well as further reinforcing the army’s role in national politics. Critics and political parties say that the three military coups that lasted over three decades cumulatively have stunted Pakistan’s political growthpolarised political forces and ensured that no democratically elected government can challenge its supremacy.

Hopeful politicians like Imran Khan believe that civilian supremacy can be achieved through clean, accountable governance. For him, the current elitist model of governance favours the rich and subjects millions of ordinary Pakistanis to their rule. He wants to break the status quo by ruthlessly holding the super-rich politicians accountable, in a country where 22 million children are not in school and nearly 90 per cent of the over 200 million population have no access to clean drinking water.

On the other hand, Sharif and his supporters contend that only across-the-board accountability, including that of judges, bureaucrats and current and retired military generals, could convince the country of the courts’ impartiality and commitment to accountability.

Scepticism of the Supreme Court’s verdict is rooted in history; namely, in 1958, 1977 and 1999 the court legitimised military coups under the notorious ‘doctrine of necessity’. Yet there is marked difference between the coups and Sharif’s disqualification. Historically, the court has sanctified military take-overs under the pretext of political corruption. In contrast, the most recent charges against Sharif were a result of rigorous, independent investigation by the court, which did not hesitate to invoke laws that Sharif’s own party favoured.

Time will reveal the outcome of related cases in Pakistani courts, and the results of the 2018 general election will also speak volumes for how this sentence has impacted the course of Pakistan’s democratic future. What this latest example in Pakistani politics highlights now is that a functional democracy requires constant maintenance and every institution must be subject to checks and balances.

Farooq Yousaf is a PhD candidate in politics at the University of Newcastle. You can follow him on Twitter at @faruqyusaf.

Originally Published at: East Asia Forum

Parachinar cries, yet no one listens – Farooq Yousaf

Source: Daily Times

Pakistan yesterday marked a grim start to Eid, mainly due to a deadly inferno killing more than 150 people in Bahawalpur. It was hard to ignore and also digest images of charred bodies of poor people merely hoping to collect a litre or two of free fuel. It was equally sad to learn that many people lost their lives due to lack of facilities in the largest province, by population, of the country.

This incident followed the callous sectarian terror attack in Parachinar a few days back, killing more than 60 — along with another attack in Quetta — further paling the festivities of Eid in the country.

But such was the magnanimity of the Bahawalpur inferno that the Prime Minister had to cut short his Eid vacation in the UK, presumably for his grandson’s graduation, and join the mourners in the city. Whereas on the other hand, there was a complete blackout on Parachinar.

The loss in all three incidents was equally devastating, yet people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA, were visibly angry at how these tragedies were prioritised by the government and political parties. This anger also led to a number of questions being asked of the political elite in the country.

Some wondered why the Prime Minister returned only after a major incident occurred in the Punjab province, ignoring those in FATA and Balochistan. Others asked why no political party or leader even tried to condole with Parachinar and Quetta’s affectees. And finally, many also wondered why — unlike two million rupees each for Bahawalpur affectees — was there no compensation for the victims of Parachinar.

Adding to their misery, the mainstream media has also failed Parachinar by prioritising ‘Eid shopping’ and ‘moon sighting’, rather than the loss of lives, with their major sit-in going unnoticed.

People in Parachinar are still persisting with their sit-in against injustice and lack of security. For them, this Eid brought nothing but sorrow, tears and devastation.

It is rightly argued that in Pakistan that the key to the Prime Minister house lies in Punjab, and thus most political parties focus on the province.

What saddened many was the fact that PTI – a party aspiring to rule the country – even though ruling the FATA’s neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also showed little regard for Parachinar. Yet, a number of its senior leaders were seen condoling with victims of Bahawalpur. Even if the party is not directly responsible for FATA, Imran Khan still claims to be a ‘national’ leader, and yet he failed the tribal Pashtuns once again.

What further angered many was the fact that many supporters of the ruling PML-N party on social media, defending the PM, were laying the blame and responsibility to the PTI-led KP government.

Ironically, a number of Pakistanis living outside KP and FATA don’t realise that Parachinar is in Kurram Agency of Tribal Areas (FATA), which comes under direct control of President and the Provincial governor, both of whom answer to the PM. This equation is too simple for anyone to understand the onus of responsibility in the tribal areas.

For our major political parties, this was an ideal opportunity to prove that they were offering ‘national’ leadership for the future. Yet, all of them miserably failed.

In terms of security and the National Action Plan (NAP), even after claiming that Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad succeeded in eliminating terrorism from the tribal areas, why, then, did terrorists succeed in targeting Parachinar three times this year?

Why is the agency still a hotbed for sectarian tensions and violence?

Then, aren’t tribal Pashtuns right in asking whether their blood is cheaper than ‘mainstream’ Pakistanis?

Now, even if after pressure from the civil society the government has announced a meagre Rs. 300,000 for the victims of Parachinar, along with a token condemnation, would that be enough to address grievances of Pashtuns in general and tribal Pashtuns in specific? And more importantly, wouldn’t this difference in the compensation send a wrong message of difference in worth of lives?

FATA has suffered enough. It’s a now or never moment for the ruling government. If the PM is even fractionally concerned about loss of lives in the tribal areas, he needs to take concrete steps to bring the tribal areas in Pakistan’s mainstream.

Pakistan: an ‘overdeveloped’ post-colonial state – Farooq Yousaf

Source: Daily Times

When it comes to political debates and discourse, Pakistanis, like many other nations, believe that they know just about everything regarding the state of affairs and politics in their country. Very little, or no, attention is given to the pre-partition political past, and how the country ended up with weak democratic structures. Also, our oversimplification of major politics dilemmas and state crises also help little in our understanding of the larger picture.

This larger picture might point towards our colonial past and its present traces in the state machinery. A further analysis might also bring us to the conclusion that Pakistan’s problems might have started as a consequence of our colonial legacies. Such thoughts might attract theoretical and academic interests, but would repel common citizens, relying merely on sensationalised news stories for their ‘political knowledge’. Hence, it should come as no surprise that very few in the country might have heard, or read, about Hamza Alavi – an internationally acclaimedMarxian academic, activist and scholar.

Alavi propagated the notion of Pakistan’s Postcolonial symptoms in the early 70’s when limited scholarship on the topic was taking place in the country. He believed that Pakistan’s inheritance of overdeveloped colonial machinery, in form of the military and bureaucracy, and its cooperation with three major elites – landed-feudal, indigenous bourgeoisie and metropolitan bourgeoisie – resulted in what became a complexpostcolonial state. His thesis also explained why cracks still exist in Pakistan’s civil-military ties. Where developed countries of today progressed from having a strong nation transitioning into a strong state, the process in Pakistan was somewhat in reverse. Our independence from the British Raj gave us a weak nation – Vis a Vis East and West Pakistan – and a strong state – the military and bureaucracy.

Postcolonialism does not suggest a period ‘after-independence’ or after ‘colonialism’, rather, signifies an ongoing process, where the state and its machinery still reflects certain features of the colonial era. These reflections are often visible when a majority of the country believes that the only institution capable of leading Pakistan is the military. Further reflections could be seen when peripheries like tribal Pashtuns in FATA are still governed under special administrative regimes. The Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) is one such regime, which, even with its human rights shortcomings, is still actively in place. Hence, the concept of the ‘superior us’ vs the ‘inferior others’ is still put to practice.

Also, colonial narratives of the past, especially against the tribal Pashtuns, have resurfaced since the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror in 2001. The Pashtuns were again branded as ‘savage’, ‘violent’ and ‘barbaric individuals’, similar to what the colonial military writers had portrayed them in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even today, the ‘metropolitan’ province believes that the individuals belonging to the ‘periphery’ should be profiled in their own country, due to their ‘propensity towards violence’. Additionally, Alavi’s argument of the ‘salariat class working for the British Raj with diminished job quota’ playing a major role in Pakistan’s independence, also explains why bureaucracy still holds more power compared to elected representatives. It was Alavi who, in 2001, warned us about the rise of religious fundamentalism, and how religious groups, who strongly opposed Pakistan’s creation and PML’s secular leadership, were wrongly claiming that they struggled for a theocratic Pakistan.

Many believe that Pakistan may have transitioned from a Postcolonial to a Praetorian state. A praetorian state, or democracy, is where the military plays the key role in the political sphere, ranging from the exercise of a veto over decisions of a civilian government to the replacement of a civilian government with one that was completely or substantially military in character. Pakistan’s praetorian state has recently included a key section of the religious right in the power nexus. This also explains why major hurdles still exist for Pakistan to accomplish a full western democracy model. Alavi’s ideas, therefore, even in current discourse help us understand and analyse Pakistan’s political and administrative problems, coupled with the growing influence of the religious right.

It’s a pity when the country’s academia is busy churning out papers after papers in local journals on eye-catching topics like ‘CPEC’, ‘Indian involvement in Pakistan’, and ‘Pashtun terrorists in FATA’, very little attention is, and would be, given to scholar’s like Alavi. He aimed to inspire a generation of young thinkers who could understand Pakistan’s problems through critically analysing the country’s colonial past, and initiating constructive debates on how to make things better. The current progressive-intellectual decline of the left in Pakistan is a point of concern. This concern is aggravated with the fact that progressive scholars and activists rather than teaching the future generations are ending up in prisons. Thus, Pakistan, more than ever, needs an academic revival of Alavi’s works and his social thought which could help students, activists and academics in correcting the wrongs of Pakistani political narratives.

Pakistan and Nuclear Suppliers Group – Farooq Yousaf

Source: Daily Times

Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, on March 14, reaffirmed his country’s responsibility to prevent its nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of non-state actors. Aziz made this commitment in a keynote address at a seminar organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), in partnership with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA). The event brought together countries from South and Central Asia along with Russia, China and representatives from the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) 1540 Committee, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and Interpol.

The context of his reassurance was the UNSC’s Resolution 1540, adopted on April 28, 2004, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This resolution obliges all states to ensure non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Aziz reiterated to work with the international community ato ensure that the nuclear weapons don’t get in the wrong hands of hostile non-state actors.

The current 1540 meeting could also pave way for Pakistan’s long road ahead for an entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Yet, Pakistan’s refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is currently the biggest roadblock for its membership. India, though non-signatory of the NPT, seems to be on the cusp of joining the NSG. To India’s advantage, its civil nuclear agreement with the United States in 2008 has helped it gain a strong supporter in Washington for NSG membership.

Unfortunately, the US does not back Islamabad for NSG membership. The 48-member Arms Control Association (ACA), submitted a draft proposal, last year in December, for inclusion of non-NPT signatory states into the NSG. Even though the draft should have opened doors for Pakistan, many believed that the draft, with US support, was allegedly prepared for solely India’s inclusion.

Yet, China’s opposition, along with half a dozen other vital states, puts India’s inclusion on hold. Pakistan’s frustration with non-inclusion in the NSG is understandable vis-à-vis India and support from the Obama and Trump administrations, yet global scepticism regarding the safety of its nuclear arsenal is also a reality. Islamabad’s priority, thus, should be aiming for international treaties and alliances, and not the NSG.

But not all is lost for Pakistan. It can still create considerable international goodwill and support for itself if it joins treaties such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC), along with undertaking additional obligations for the IAEA. Such a move would considerably strengthen its reputation as a responsible nuclear state. The international community would certainly welcome such steps, having increased confidence in Pakistan’s efforts. Furthermore, the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is also a big vehicle for Islamabad to improve its regional position and garner closeties with other member states.

Such steps would help Islamabad in not letting India get the upper hand. Additionally, it could also help Pakistan fend off challenges from an active Indo-Afghan alliance aimed at isolating Pakistan in the global arena. Beijing and Moscow already enjoy close ties with Islamabad and this would be of great advantage to tackle India and perhaps even help lobby for NSG membership soon. However,Pakistan might also need to change its position on the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty if it wishes to join the ‘elite nuclear club’.

Working on prestigious international non-proliferation mechanisms would make Pakistan’s status equal to India’s. Diplomatic measures would also help sabotage Indian attempts to isolate Islamabad on international and regional platforms (with Narendra Modi already failing in such attempts).

The idea for Pakistan is to reinforce national economy and improve its image by working side by side with major regional powers such as China, Russia, Turkey and Iran. By doing so, Pakistan could possibly find good advice on dealing with security, extremism and economic matters.

Western media and military strategists have criticised Pakistan for its nuclear policy’s correlation with Indian aspirations. As per reports, Pakistan might achieve the third largest stockpile of nuclear arms within a decade with reports of non-state actors such ad Al-Qaeda trying to gain access to the country’s nuclear weapons in the past. Such concerns put a serious dent to Pakistan’s potential entry into the NSG.

For starters, Islamabad needs to formulate a nuclear policy that reassures the international community of the safeguards the state has in place for non-proliferation of nuclear technology. Secondly, if Pakistan is seriously contemplating for civilian use of its nuclear technology, it needs to change the global perception that its nuclear plans are linked to perceived threats from India.