By Muhammad Suleman  

Dec 31, 2013


24th November 2013 was a historic day in Middle Eastern politics as well as in world politics; it was the day when the P-5+1 countries and Iran finally struck a deal on the Iranian nuclear program that Iran would not enrich uranium from more than 5% and use it only for peaceful purposes. Dispute over this issue has now lasted about just over a decade between Iran and various major powers of the world. World thinkers and strategists have termed this deal a ‘win-win’ for both parties.

The six month ‘interim’ deal was agreed upon after detailed discussions, and Iran and the USA, who have respectively titled each other the “Great Satan” and “Axis of Evil” for a long time now, appear to be adopting the normalization route. The deal comes as a surprise for many, and has jolted Saudi Arabia and Israel – the traditional rivals of Iran. Many others have welcomed the deal, including Pakistan. A spokesperson from Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the deal was “an important development which should augur well for peace and security in our region and the world at large”.

The Iranian nuclear deal represents a change in regional politico-security dynamics, and has various implications for Pakistan. If successful, then its many pros and cons will have both long and short term impact on Pakistan, depending on how the scenario develops. Pakistan already has a nuclear rival in its neighborhood in the form of India, and having another nuclear neighbor may prove very difficult for Pakistan in the long term. From a security point of view, if the interim deal develops into a permanent agreement and Iran gets ready to surrender its nuclear program for weapons purposes, would Pakistan feel at ease.

The interim deal has also brought Pakistan back into standoff situation where should Iran continue work on its nuclear program, the USA and its allies – especially Saudi Arabia – (both countries with strong relations and military ties with Pakistan), may want to attack Iranian nuclear installations, in which situation the friendship between Pakistan, the USA and Saudi Arabia may aggravate Iran vis-à-vis its relations with Pakistan. Such a scenario would place Pakistan in a complicated and uncomfortable situation.

Following the deal, the environment has become conducive for the Pak-Iran gas pipeline. Pakistan was undertaking negotiations for gas pipeline with Iran in order to overcome its energy crisis. Pakistan can also take this opportunity to enhance its trade with Iran, boosting the economy of both countries.

Where this deal has its positive aspects, it may also have negative implications for Pakistan. NATO is going to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 2014. NATO supplies are mostly transferred via passages through Pakistan. Pakistan receives payment from the USA for use of these routes. However, there is increasing divergence between the two allies on issues relating to drones and terrorism (including allegations of Pakistan ‘sponsored’ terrorism by the US); they mistrust each other, resulting in a distancing process and misperceptions are growing within this gap. Recently, some political parties have also taken to blocking NATO supply routes, which is not a first as Pakistan has halted NATO supply in the past. Secondly, Pakistani routes are now also being deemed insecure for reliable supply transfers due to the presence of Taliban inside Pakistan. The US perceived this threat a long time ago and has been taking relevant measures to develop alternatives by making roads inside Afghanistan from their bases all the way to the Iranian border. The majority of the world, including Pakistan, perceived this development as part of an American plan to attack Iran, but this perception was proven incorrect when the USA and Iran struck a deal on November 24. The news of this deal was a complete surprise for the Pakistani establishment and strategists. It is now strongly believed that USA and NATO will withdraw their forces using the Iranian routes and Chabahar port. Iranian routes are better, more secure and travel duration is shorter from Afghanistan to Chabahar port, rather than using Pakistani routes.

With NATO supply routes passing through Pakistan, USA and NATO were perceived to be dependent on Pakistan; now if Iran provides a viable alternative route to the USA and NATO forces for withdrawal, they are likely to be far less dependent on Pakistan. Due to the severance of the dependency of USA and NATO countries from Pakistan, the country will have less space for maneuver in the international fore, and may face increasing pressure on terrorism and relevant issues.

Iran and Afghanistan are more influenced by India than Pakistan. Heavy Indian investment in construction, road building and military cooperation with these countries has kept Pakistan at a distance from its fellow Muslim neighborhood countries. Many roads leading from Chabahar port to central Afghanistan have been built by India. Following the deal, India has sent its team to complete work on the Chabahar port so that it may be used for transportation as soon as possible. As for the US regional policy towards South Asia, the USA gives greater preference to India over Pakistan, due primarily to the huge Indian economic market. Iran and Afghanistan do not have good relations with Pakistan due to the alleged terrorist camps operating from inside Pakistan against both Iran and Afghanistan. The arising nexuses amongst Pakistan’s oldest ‘enemy’ India, followed by the ‘rival’ Afghanistan and now another possible emerging ‘adversary’ in Iran – (India-Afghanistan-Iran or IAI) -and the strategic alliance between IAI may well be the next threat for Pakistan’s security.

The geo political and strategic value of Iran is significant for both USA and China. The US is interested in the containment of China, and Iran was the one country in the region where its boots were not present. After this deal however, the USA may now easily fill this gap and will be working actively to shrink Chinese influence in Iran. While the USA already has significant military influence in Pakistan, in the future the possible simultaneous presence of USA in Iran may create confusion for Pakistan in terms of who to support—its biggest friend and emerging world power China or the sole super power of the world, USA.

In the context of regional and world politics, the coming days are hard for Pakistan. Iran and USA are improving their relations and going forward for the development of a bilateral Chamber Of Commerce Agreement. Meanwhile, the new political and military leadership of Pakistan will have to face the above challenges due to this deal, along with many other international and domestic challenges like extremism and terrorism.



By Seyed Mostafa Mousavipour
Dec 30, 2013

Obama-and-Syria-II[1]Violence flared in Syria almost three years ago when the first small-scale anti-government protest was nipped in the bud by the government forces in Daraa – a city in southwestern Syria. As an initially-soft uprising, the protest has morphed into a large-scale civil war that is increasingly pulling the country down the abyss of bloodshed polarizing the Middle East along multiple lines of sectarian violence, regional proxy wars and age-old rivalries. To date, many have rapped Assad’s regime across the knuckles on grounds of human rights violation; but despite mounting international pressures, including military strike threats from the U.S. and its allies, the Syrian government has not shown any compliance so far. Given the bitter jockeying between the U.S. and Russia, each taking a different side in the Syrian conflict – a tense rivalry reminiscent of the Cold War dynamics – many see it as an American weakness, doubting whether the U.S. is giving up so easily on a rogue regime! Many have already pointed an accusing finger at the Obama administration for letting the conflict grow out of control by blowing hot and cold about the fate of Assad’s regime.

The violence in Syria has ever since the beginning of the uprising in March, 2011 been on the rise until it reached a crescendo on August 21, 2013, when the Assad government killed more than 1400 people in a large-scale systematic sarin gas attack in the Damascus area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented about 126,000 casualties [[1]]. Besides this horrendous toll, the number of Syrian refugees in dire need of international humanitarian assistance, over 2.14 million, is another appalling fact of the crisis in the country. Reportedly, these refugees have taken refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa [[2]].

Given American long record in dealing with tensions like this which had previously jeopardized American strategic imperatives in the region (Ryan, 2010) – rising to power of some regional hegemons like Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi – many expected the Obama administration to come down hard on Assad’s regime likewise. In spite of the fact that U.S. senior officials have publicly and vociferously reiterated that Syrian government had crossed the red lines drawn by the U.S., their diplomacy toward Syria has fallen short of bearing the desired fruits; namely, the ouster of Assad and an end to the conflict, something which was within the interest of the U.S. allies too. The disillusionment with American barren approach to tackling Syrian crisis came to head in the wake of Syrian government’s outrageous violation of international norms in August 2013, when Barack Obama decided to consult the Congress before launching any military strikes on Syria. This stance came as a surprise to friends and foes alike as the American discontented partners – the Gulf States as well as Israel – saw it as an unbecoming volte-face. Their dissatisfaction with the new course of events transpiring in the region reached breaking point particularly after the interim agreement clinched between Iran and P5+1 over the former nuclear program in November 2013, which partly froze Iran’s nuclear activities in return for partial relief of sanctions.

This soul-searching on the part of the Obama administration can have certain implications for the region and for the American credibility and power there, not to mention the global repercussions. The reluctance shown by the U.S. in dealing with the Syrian upheaval would send a message to the other countries with ambitious agendas in the region like Iran with its nuclear issue. There are also far-reaching implications for American regional allies, particularly Israel, which is absolutely dismayed by American lackadaisical approach to Iran calling the temporary peace in Geneva “a historic mistake” that, according to Netanyahu, would “make the world a much more dangerous place” [[3]]. In view of Obama’s diplomatic solutions to both Syrian conflict and Iranian nuclear issue, some critics believe “Obama has ignored his own “red line,” and in the process, has hurt his own credibility as “a presidential threat-maker”; he has also “signaled to Iran that it can safely ignore his warnings against developing a nuclear weapon” [[4]]. According to them, this vacillation not only will undermine American credibility and power, but will embolden other undemocratic regimes that their acts of violence would also go unchecked.

U.S.-Russian long-standing rivalry for supremacy in the region has also added a new dimension to the Syrian equation. Advocating opposing sides in the conflict – the U.S. backing the opposition and Russia backing the government – the rivals are actively seeking to stand their ground and carry the day. This age-old rivalry, a staple of the Cold War, was embodied in the context of Geneva talks between America and Russia on the future of Syria, which called upon the U.N. to intervene by adopting September’s unanimous Security Council resolution endorsing the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. The outcome turned out to be in favor of Russia’s overtures demanding that a deadline be given to the Syrian government to hand-over its chemical stockpile to be dismantled. In this light, it could be interpreted as an American foreign policy fiasco in countering its old rival.

As for the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which fear the spillover of insurgency into their own territories, they would not countenance this shift of American foreign policy orientation in the region claiming that the foreign policy choices being made by the West particularly the U.S. “risk the stability of the region and, potentially, the security of the whole Arab world” [[5]]. As a potent gesture of disappointment that resulted in Saudi Arabia’s rejection of U.N. seat in October 2013, the Saudi Foreign Ministry denounced the Security Council due to its “inability to resolve the Syrian civil war and Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to convene a conference on creating a Mideast zone free of weapons of mass destruction” [[6]]. Saudi Arabia also saw the warming US-Iran relationship as a major threat to its position in the region.

The rich tiny Gulf state, Qatar, is also playing a fundamental role in the regional crisis by overtly supporting the rebel factions in a push to turn the tide of the conflict in favor of the majority Sunni rebels fighting Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam “providing them with military and financial support and calling for an Arab force to end bloodshed if international diplomatic efforts fail” [[7]].

The intensely chaotic situation in Syria is complicating the matters even further. The opposition is not a united front in Syria and it is divided along multiple lines including sectarian and political. They are deeply fractious, so much so that “the wide variety of political groups exiled dissidents, grassroots activists and armed militants have been unable to agree on how to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad” [[8]]. So far the National Coalition in Syria comprised of many factions has been unable to rein in the Syrian rebel forces including the militant jihadists. Two main branches of the armed militants in the opposition are the radical Islamists, the Nusrat Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who are affiliated to al-Qaeda. “Syrian opposition leaders report an alarming growth within their ranks of fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, an extremist group linked to al-Qaeda” [[9]].The Jabhat group now has somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters, according to officials of an non-governmental organization that represents the more moderate wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). They say that the al-Qaeda affiliate now accounts for 7.5 percent to 9 percent of the Free Syrian Army’s total fighters” [[10]].

There are, however, reasons why the Obama administration has to tackle the crisis cautiously. Statesmanship and hindsight ordain soft power and/or diplomacy as a more congruous alternative to hard power or ‘boots on the ground’ in order to stem the rise of this regional tension. The U.S. administration has good reasons not to deal with it militarily; namely:

1) An American military strike would probably drag Russia and Iran – the major backers of the Assad’s regime – into the brawl. This direct confrontation would ignite the flames of regional wars that would further transform into a large-scale crisis destabilizing the region and putting the western strategic imperatives at stake.

2) The opposition is rent asunder and there is no single authority to hold away over their camp. In this regard, the future of the civil-war-torn country is murky as the leader of al-Nusra declared in an interview in December 2013 that they would not accept the outcome of the upcoming Geneva II scheduled for 22nd January as Assad is not a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. There is a strong likelihood therefore that the power vacuum left after Assad’s fall will be filled by extreme elements within the opposition. In this view, the U.S. and the West misgivings about the fate of Syria after Assad, and their deep anxieties over the recipient of the arms and money are sufficiently grounded in facts.

3) The future of a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear program would have been in the balance had the U.S. adopted a military solution to resolve the Syrian crisis. Being Iran’s primary Middle Eastern ally, Syria’s future will be of great significance to the country, and a military strike against Syria would unleash Iran’s retaliatory force to respond in kind and strike Israel through its military arm in Lebanon as the country’s top officials’ repeated waves of saber-rattling against Israel had shown.

4) Last but not least, the Obama’s thrust without an international consensus would leave a unilateralist image. Ever since their assumption of power in the U.S. the Obama administration has endeavored to distance itself from the unilateralist and unipolar cloak cast upon America as a staple of George W. Bush’s legacy (Feste, 2011). By overlooking the absence of international consensus over the Syrian conflict – particularly the existing strong support of Assad’s regime by Russia, China and Iran – and launching strikes on Syria before authorization of the UN Security Council, the Obama administration would probably be accused of the same follies of his predecessor.

Consequently, in view of the above-mentioned reasons it is important to note that although America may come across weak in tackling the Syrian conflict by showing reluctance and hesitation – a weakness which could be compounded in the context of a Russian victory – the Obama administration’s stance is justified considering the intense ramifications of an American unilateral strike against Syria. In fact, Obama has opted for the lesser of two evils; that is, by comparing the costs and benefits of two alternatives – soft power and hard power – he could not afford destabilizing the strategic region by leaving Syria in the hands of radical Islamists after Assad; sabotaging the chances of a diplomatic agreement with Iran which could impinge upon the future of Syrian conflict; and tarnishing his own administration by the same faults connected to George Bush.


Seyed Mostafa Mousavipour holds a postgraduate degree in British Studies from the Faculty of World Studies (FWS), University of Tehran, Iran.

Works Cited

Feste, K. A. (2011). America responds to terrorism : conflict resolution strategies of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN®.

Ryan, M. (2010). Neoconservatism and the New American Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


[1] For an update on the number of casualties see

[2] For details see

[3] Harriet Sherwood, “Israel condemns Iran nuclear deal as ‘historic mistake'” The Guardian, (accessed December 28, 2013)

[4] Max Fisher, “Yes, Iran is watching Obama’s handling of Syria closely. Why that’s great news.” The Washington Post, (accessed September 19, 2013)

[5] MOHAMMED BIN NAWAF BIN ABDULAZIZ AL SAUD, “Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone” The New York Times, (accessed December 27, 2013)

[6]  Aljazeera, ” Jordan takes UN seat rejected by Saudi Arabia” Aljazeera, (accessed December 26, 2013)


[7]  Reuters, “New Qatar ruler will keep backing Syria opposition: rebel envoy” Reuters, (accessed December 20, 2013)

[8]  BBC, “Syria crisis: Guide to armed and political opposition” BBC, (accessed December 24, 2013)

[9] David Ignatius, “Al-Qaeda affiliate playing larger role in Syria rebellion” The Washington Post, (accessed September 15, 2013)

[10] Ibid.

By Ikram Ullah Khan
Dec 19, 2013

Ikram Ullah Khan

Pakistan is a nuclear power and has one of the world’s largest armies. It spends a vast amount of money and effort in maintaining its conventional and un-conventional military capabilities, and the sole purpose behind this approach is to ensure its national security and sovereignty. However, despite Pakistan’s continual policy of credible deterrence, the violation of its territorial borders and sovereignty has become a recurring tendency.

Why are these violations occurring so often and how can Pakistan deal with this critical issue?

There can be three possible reasons behind these violations: the presence of terrorist groups inside Pakistan and their trans-border activities; states with malicious agenda against Pakistan and their coercive policies; and thirdly, the issue of Afghanistan. Other possible contributing factors could include Pakistan’s geographic location, dispute legacy with neighboring states as well as the great game being played by major powers in this region.

These violations have occasionally been incurred by extra regional and regional powers as well. The situation has become extremely sensitive for Pakistan, as almost all of its borders are now either being violated, or are in danger of being violated.

The US has been violating Pakistan’s sovereignty through drone strikes and through ‘Abbottabad’-like operations since 2004, despite the fact that Pakistan has been a front-line, non-NATO US ally the entire time, as is often declared by the US itself. Pakistan has categorically raised the issue of drone strike with US several times, but there has been no change. In fact the greatest blow to Pakistan security and sovereignty, and the event that set a precedent for other extra-territorial actors, was ‘Operation Geronimo’ that killed Osama-bin-Laden. Not only was Pakistani sovereignty overtly violated through this US covert operation, but the government and state machinery was humiliated internationally.

India has always had provocative military doctrines towards Pakistan.  When terrorists attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001, India was quick to jump the gun and accuse Pakistan as the sole actor responsible for the attack. Furthermore, it has formulated a ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ as well as several other provocative military doctrines aimed at destroying ‘terrorist camps’ allegedly located inside Pakistan, irrespective of the implications this has in terms of the violation of Pakistani borders.

Furthermore, the country’s third neighbor – Iran – now also has adopted the same practice, as since October 2012 it has violated Pakistani territorial borders four times. This reportedly included a rocket attack launched inside Pakistan’s territory on November 26th, 2013 by Iranian border forces that killed a three year old girl, her parents and injured several others.  It was an open act of violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Now, the core question that arises is how is it that the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty has become a matter of ‘routine’, so much so that nothing the state says or does appears to have any impact in preventing such violations; and secondly, what are the motives behind these continuous violations? After careful analysis even a common man can answer of this question that apparently it seems that the sovereignty of Pakistan is on stake and the motive of these aggressor countries is to not only target the terrorists those are harming the national interests of these countries but violators also want to keep Pakistan politically and economically a destabilize country. And for some reasons Indo-US nexus is also aimed to desterilize Pakistan to neutralize its nuclear weapons program.

Pakistan’s relevant authorities are not oblivious to the situation but they have been remained unable to deal domestic and foreign audience in an effective manner. Politicians only issue public statements to cool down both, the domestic and foreign audience. The confusion and fog has prevailed on all these happenings and the situation is complex. The allegation exist that Pakistani leaders publically condemns the US drone strikes but secretly endorse these strikes.

Islamabad denies over its secret understanding with US regarding drone strikes.  It officially against these drone strikes and it vigorously react on every single drone strike inside Pakistan. It considers the drone strikes counterproductive, illegitimate and foreign aggression inside Pakistani jurisdiction. It wants to deal the extremists accordingly to local culture and foreign

In the post 9/11 environment, Pakistan has made tremendous efforts for global peace as it joined Global War on Terror to fight against extremists. It changed its age-old pro-Taliban policy and helped US to target, kill or capture Taliban and other associated organizations including Al-Qaeda.

It has also strengthened the mechanisms already placed to ensure that no organization or non-state actors make use of its territory to launch attacks elsewhere. Pakistan has officially banned almost all extremist organizations inside Pakistan, strictly restricted illegal trans-borders movement and initiated small and large scale operations to kill and capture extremists.

Pakistan claims that it is strongly determined to deal with all terrorist organizations attempting to make use of its territory. However, it seems that the international community is not satisfied with Pakistan’s claims as they continue to observe terrorists conveniently launching attacks from Pakistani territory and harming foreign assets. This dissatisfaction on Pakistan’s method for dealing with terrorists and extremists encourages violators to further target suspected terrorists inside Pakistani territory, without fear of international disapproval or a national backlash.

This process of indigenously launched terrorist attacks and the resultant violation of Pakistani sovereignty is not only proving a major obstacle in designing a local, Pakistani counter-terrorism strategy, also harming regional peace and stability. Arguably, if Iranian border forces consciously remain involved in targeting suspected terrorists inside Pakistani territory, the actions could spark open hostilities between Pakistan and Iran.

Therefore, given the presence of the Indian threat on its Eastern border, Afghanistan (US/ NATO attacks) on its West and now an additional developing Iranian threat on the South-West, the security of Pakistani borders and its national assets has become the biggest challenge for the country.

Islamabad should deal with these existing and emerging challenges to its national security and sovereignty in a more vigilant manner. Islamabad’s current policy on such violations can be described in a few words – “there should be no physical retaliation to such violations”.

What this effectively means is that currently Pakistan is utilizing only soft power through diplomatic means when, according to John Mearsheimer, “soft power is power only when it rests on a foundation of hard power”. This analysis of soft power appears true in Pakistani case as it is continuously primarily reacting through its soft power.

In the future if this situation continues thus, Pakistan’s retaliation to any of such violation of its borders may become a possibility in the form of a skirmish, limited or even an all-out war? The likelihood of a nuclear war in this region is extremely unwanted for Pakistan, so it is focusing on dealing with this critical issue.

Pakistan should take concrete measures and make effective use of its hard and soft power to convince all violators of its territorial jurisdiction and sovereignty that this practice must come to an end.

Pakistan should review its current policy for safeguarding its national sovereignty which has been proven ineffective. The possible solution of this problem could be that it merge its hard power (nuclear deterrence, conventional force) with its soft power and convince relevant actors that they are playing with fire and should not attempt to corner Pakistan to a point where it finally feels it has no option but to attack its opponents with all available force in order to safeguard its sovereignty and borders.

By Manzar Zaidi
Dec 17, 2013


What do terrorists hope to gain by targeting civilian targets? As a layman one would presume that there must be some sort of logic, no matter how perverse, behind such attacks. However, this is one of the dilemmas behind the phenomenon of terrorism that it sometimes flies in the face of facts, which makes it even more dangerous. This can be understood by referring to some of the more authoritative studies on terrorism. If terrorism is understood to be politically motivated violence, then in a rationally operative strategic model, people should participate in terrorist organizations because of their commitment to some political goals.  The commonly accepted strategic model of terrorism accepted by experts worldwide explicitly requires that no matter what trajectories of terrorism an organization takes, it cannot be said to succeed unless it attains some of its stated political goals. Any sort of terrorism which just perpetuates itself without any consideration of logic of consequence would thus be irrational. Any activities undertaken in pursuance of such political goals like attacking civilian targets would also be irrational, unless the entity in questions could attain at least some of its political goals by attacking civilian targets. To add to this , it has been documented by research that even though attacks on civilians generate a high shock value, terrorists have almost never attained  their policy demands by targeting soft civilian targets. A study by The Rand Corporation  in the 1980s reported that “terrorists have been unable to translate the consequences of terrorism into concrete political gains. . . .In that sense terrorism has failed. It is a fundamental failure.” Martha Crenshaw, a renowned scholar on terrorism and political violence remarked at the time that terrorists tended not to obtain “the long-term ideological objectives they claim to seek, and therefore one must conclude that terrorism is objectively a failure.” Thomas Schelling, another prominent scholar of the phenomenon later validated this hypothesis by noting that terrorist attacks “never appear to accomplish anything politically significant”. In a recent research involving twenty-eight well-known terrorist campaigns, the researcher Max Abrahms discovered that terrorist organizations did not accomplish their stated goals even once through civilian attacks.  Even though many social and political scientists try to justify terrorism through hypothetical theoretical models on the premise that terrorizing civilians is an effective way to gain political goals, their findings reveal exactly the opposite; there has never ever been a modern terrorist organization which gained its political goals by attacking civilian targets. In fact, considering the results of such civilian directed campaigns, such strategies have hurt the terrorist organizations by turning public opinion against them. Such case studies are rife; Walter Laqueur , widely considered as one of the founders  of counter terrorism studies concludes that targeting civilian targets has always hurt the terrorist organizations more than it has helped them”.  Opinion Polls undertaken  after the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) attack on  the British public revealed that the British as a nation became averse to withdrawal from  Northern Ireland, a trend exactly opposite to what the IRA terrorists had hoped for .The same ‘opposite to expected result’ was elicited after terrorist attacks on civilians in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, the Philippines, and Russia, amongst many others.

It’s a similar picture in Pakistan. Many surveys have indicated that in the timelines when terrorist attacks, mainly suicide bombings increased, the opinion of the populace turned against the perpetrators.  Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Centre at the time revealed that a progressively increasing number of   Pakistani public had started turning against the suicide bombing tactic and Osama bin Laden, considered as separate variables.  In 2004, 41% of Pakistanis had endorsed suicide bombing and terrorism as a means to protect religion. This proved to be a knee jerk reaction to what may very well have been just another expression of anti Americanism due to Pakistan’s support for the GWOT. When terrorism came home so to speak, and suicide bombings started in earnest on public, terrorism was endorsed by only about   5% of the respondents in 2008. Simultaneously, support for Bin Laden also plummeted from 51% positive opinion in 2005 to 34% in 2008. This may also partly account for the facts that after Osama’s recent death, except for some religious elements, there have not been any mass scale public agitations to specifically lament his death.

 Pakistanis have become very averse to extremism, ostensibly because they have stared into its face for a long time. This aversion is very marked, with 72% of polled Pakistanis shunning extremism in a survey in 2008. Not coincidentally, this was the highest level of response measurable in a cluster of eight Muslim countries surveyed simultaneously. The other countries were Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Turkey. These findings corroborate an earlier Pew survey, which revealed that 74% Pakistani respondents were anxious about extremism in 2006. This survey also measured concerns with other Muslim countries, and again the percentage of Pakistani concern was higher. Jordanians expressed 69% concern, Egyptians 68%, Turkish 46%, and 43% of surveyed Indonesians were concerned about extremism at the time. Thus, it seems that the Pakistani civilian has turned against the terrorist tactics which he has been witnessing in Pakistan for a long time. Thus, it seems illogical on part of the terrorists to continue targeting civilians even when they would obviously need a continuing supply of manpower for indoctrination, operations and sanctuary. This is a loss of opportunity for terrorists in the sense that it alienates population clusters, who deny recruitment, operations and sanctuary to terrorists. This translates into an ‘opportunity cost’ for terrorists who target civilians despite growing resentment against such attacks. This also clashes with the commonly accepted strategic models of terrorism, which assume that rational people are involved in decision making in terrorist organizations to achieve a certain set of political goals. However, in case of Pakistan and practically every other country affected by terrorism, terrorists do not consider the opportunity cost which is denied them by targeting civilians. Even if this cost of attacking civilians was offset by the attainment of political goals by some other means, it would be a fair bargain. For instance, if a state could be coerced by the terrorizing of its civilians into making compensations to terrorists, it would at least make sense for terrorists to kill innocent civilians. However, this is not the case; nowhere in the world has any terrorist organization achieved its goals solely by coercion of a state through killing its citizens. Thus, killing civilians does not accomplish political goals and also denies opportunity to terrorists, but terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere still do it. That is why many observers of the phenomenon of terrorism and its political utility question its rationality and efficacy of motives.

By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
Dec 12, 2013

Dr. Muhammad Khan

Extremism and terrorism are the biggest threats to the state of Pakistan. These threats have grown, both internally and externally, over the years and now a stage has been reached where this menace is challenging the national integrity and social harmony of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have spent decades in a state of restlessness, in the hope that someday they will see the back of these un-Islamic and inhuman practices. Unfortunately however, every new day brings yet another security challenge to the state as well as the people of Pakistan. Apart from the terrorist activities of TTP, a growing trend of sectarian divisions has emerged as the most pronounced and significant challenge for the state and society of Pakistan. It would appear that the possibility of a safer, secure and stable future environment is rapidly eroding for the people of this God-gifted state.

According to a survey on sectarian violence in Pakistan, from 1989 to 2013 a total of 2847 incidents have occurred in which 4652 people have been killed and 9030 people wounded. In 2013 alone, over 106 incidents of sectarian violence have taken place in various parts of Pakistan, which has resulted in the death of 467 people and injuring a further 753 people. During the first quarter of year, the Hazara community of Quetta remained atop the hit-list of opponent extremist groups, and most certainly on the basis of sectarian differences. Furthermore, there have also been sporadic incidents of sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan and other parts of Pakistan. These have included bomb blasts and suicide attacks on places of worship, mosques, Imam Bargahs and processions/religious gatherings.

A recent incident of sectarian violence also took place in Raja Bazar Rawalpindi. This incident was ‘exceptional’, in the sense that it provoked and charged the participants of a Shiite procession, who in turn attacked the Mosque and adjacent Madrassa, killing over a dozen people and wounding about fifty. They also put the adjoining market on fire, resulting in the destruction of goods worth billions of rupees and the infliction of costly damage to public and private property. Dozens of copies of the Holy Quran were also burnt. As a judicial investigation of the incident is currently underway, however, it would be premature to say whether the incident was a planned violent activity or an instinctive mob reaction.

This sort of an incident, however, is undoubtedly a new addition to the sequence of sectarian violence in Pakistan. It is indicative of a ‘new pattern’ and a very dangerous one at that. Furthermore, all evidence thus far designates the local administration as directly responsible for not ensuring the security of the procession and the route, especially in critical areas such as the neighbourhood around this mosque, which has always needed additional security placements. Why police showed laxity at such a sensitive part of the route is really a point of concern and a fact to be ascertained by the judicial inquiry and thereafter the Government.

The unfortunate incident that took place in Rawalpindi on the 10th of Muharram was just a signal of the divide within the society in Pakistan. The real issue however is the increasing strength of the menace of sectarian violence, and its rapid growth rate, fast swallowing the traditional peace and harmony within Pakistani society where Shia and Sunni schools of thought have always lived with great concord and respect for each other, at times going as far as intermarriages. Why was that social connection allowed to erode and subsequently degraded to the current level of antagonism? How is it that a class of so-called ‘clerics’ (that have created various divisions and ‘schools of thought’ to serve personal motives) is busy in propagating and projecting a biased, volatile form of Islam without any check by successive governments, who have allowed these elements to grow to an intolerable and unconquerable level?

In order to cover for our internal weaknesses and errors, we have been blaming external factors for far too long. We cannot prevent external forces from funding and supporting these extremist elements for their own vested interests, but it remains a harsh reality that it is not foreigners who are physically carrying out these bomb-blasts, suicide attacks or any other terrorist activities inside Pakistan; it is the locals, carrying out violent activities for the mutual destruction of each other, in stark contradiction of basic Islamic teachings.

There is an urgent need for re-evaluating our strategy in this regard, so that rather than washing our hands of all responsibility and blaming external forces of causing sectarian divides, there is introspection into the root causes of the problem, and the attraction towards violent activities for local populations. At the Governmental level, we can learn from our brother Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, where sectarian violence is simply not tolerated. Anyone found involved in even a minor anti-state crime, let alone instigating sectarian divides or drug smuggling, are given exemplary punishments – the death penalty in most of the cases – which acts as a very effective deterrent. It is high time Pakistan took a leaf from their book and reduced its capacity for accepting and absorbing sectarian violence.

It is also a reality that many political parties have linkages with hard-line religious organizations, which in turn act as the vote bank for them. These parties, for their part, fund such organisations and maintain a sympathetic approach for their disreputable and extremist activities. Even if this is not directly sponsoring extremism, it indirectly supports militant groups of a particular school of thought, which are busy in creating divides among the people along artificial fault lines. These outfits are rapidly widening the cracks in Pakistani society, through coercive manipulation or by making use of force. No rational state can accept such linkages and neither should we. Any religious outfits in Pakistan that are found involved in undesired activities should be disallowed.

For Muslims, there is but one God, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is one, the Holy Quran is one; why then should we stand divided in various religious groupings? In the Holy Quran, (3:103), Allah Almighty has clearly ordained Muslims to “hold tight to the Rope of Allah (His covenant that is our allegiance to “La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad ar-Rasulullah”) all together, and be not disunited among yourselves.” Elaboration of this directive is found in the Hadith of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who said, “Shall not I inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another; enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots”. With such a clear directive from Allah Almighty and his last Prophet (PBUH), there should not be any ambiguity as to how Muslims should spend their lives. There is no basis for division or difference on the basic teachings and beliefs in Islam.

In one of his Hadith the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices one to another; do not hate one another; do not turn away from one another; and do not undercut one another, but be you, O servants of Allah, brothers. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim: he neither oppresses him nor does he fail him, he neither lies to him nor does he hold him in contempt. Piety is right here-and he pointed to his breast three times. It is evil enough for a man to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. The whole of a Muslim for another Muslim is inviolable: his blood, his property, and his honour.”

These religious parties do not serve any purpose for Pakistan and the Muslim community within it. Religious divides and the role of religious parties in propagating them has always been a source of pessimism in Pakistan. It is high time that the Government puts a ban on activities that create religious divides and churn out hate-speeches.

If the Government is sincere in its efforts to eradicate sectarianism in Pakistan, it should ban all violent religious outfits without discrimination. Even at this belated stage of our history, where much has already been lost, let us take the initiative to make the right choices correct for attaining a secure, peaceful, socially well-knitted, economically prosperous and politically stable Pakistan. This can be done by sincere, selfless, devoted and dedicated leadership, capable of standing on its own feet; without the help of misled, extremist religious forces and without foreign sponsorship. Anything short of this will allow the current state of affairs to continue unabated, risking the very survival of the state.

The Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah has also given us a very clear motto of ‘unity, faith and discipline’. As a nation, we have to understand that “United we stand, divided we fall.” The basic philosophy of this phrase is that, we can only succeed, if we are united in all respects, and this is particularly applicable to the sectarian account. It is very easy for our rivals to destroy us, if there is a split among us. Since sectarian divide is the worst and most dangerous of all forms of extremism, therefore let us immediately dispel this menace at all costs, for a united and strong Pakistan.

By Muhammad Suleman
Dec 2, 2013

796877-MullahFazlullah-1416915303-971-640x480[1]The newly selected chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Mullah Fazlullah is more ‘lethal’ than his predecessors, and his selection as a chief of TTP shows that the TTP don’t want to continue the dialogue process with Pakistan. TTP can, on the other hand, now openly carry out multiple attacks in Pakistan to ‘avenge’ the death of their slain chief Hakeem Ullah Mehsood and in retaliation to the continuous drone strikes in the tribal areas.  The TTP attacks can compel the government of Pakistan to carry out military operations against TTP and once again the dialogue process would fail as it has happened in past.

When Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif took oath of office as the prime minster of Pakistan, he promised the nation that he would find a solution to terrorism and eradicate this menace via peaceful ways. Following this, he called an All Parties Conference (APC) in order to take on board advice from other parties for how to eliminate terrorism from country. All Parties agreed on a dialogue process to begin with, suggesting that this issue required sensitivity on part of the government, and must be resolved through dialogue. For this purpose, the government had given a green signal to the Taliban for negotiation, and in response some factions of Taliban also showed some interest, despite setting various tough conditions.

Once the process started to get developed, several analysts highlighted the concern that some stakeholders may intentionally attempt to create mistrust and misperception between the government and Taliban, in order to derail the dialogue process. And what was feared then occurred. One of the Taliban factions, Mullah Fazalullah group, killed a top brass commander, Major General Sana Ullah and his aides. This step created disappointed in government sector, but the government decided to push on and continued to emphasize on dialogue. Drones continuously violated Pakistan’s sovereignty, despite Pakistan’s protests. The twist in the story came when the TTP chief Hakeem Ullah Mehsood was killed in a drone strike. This act resulted in a very strong Taliban reaction, who flared up and stopped all developments related to negotiations with government representatives and also announced that this offer was no longer on the table.

Soon after the death of Hakeem Ullah Mehsood, the TTP Shura unexpectedly chose the name of Molvi Fazlullah, a notorious hardliner. Mullah Fazlullah is a far more dangerous man than the other Taliban leaders. In Swat, he had made two agreements with government – the first in 2008 and a second in 2009 – and both times he challenged the government writ and reneged on his commitment. He burnt hundred of girls’ schools. When he took control of Swat, he converted the “Green Square” of Mingora into “Bloody Square”. He and his colleagues personally slaughtered many soldiers as well as innocent people in Swat. Bullet-ridden bodies were hung almost every day on Bloody Square. He burned televisions, CDs and other entertainment equipment shops, worth over 20 million rupees, as all these are ‘sources of sin’. Furthermore in 2012, he beheaded seven soldiers of the Pakistan army. His colleagues attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai and he was also responsible for the death of a Major General of Pakistan Army along with one lieutenant colonel in a roadside bomb blast. Following this incident, his faction launched a video on social media in which he claimed that his next target would be Chief of Army Staff General Kiyani. He is known to have said, “We will remove any hurdle to enforcing Sharia, our goal is very clear, we want law of Allah in Allah’s land.”

The motives of the TTP Shura in selecting such a ruthless man as the TTP chief is a clear indication of the direction in which the group wants to move. It enables the Pakistani leadership to predict future development of their relationship with the TTP.

The majority of the TTP leadership doesn’t want to continue the dialogue process with Pakistan, as Fazlullah is against dialogue, because TTP understands that Pakistan had been betraying with them on the name of dialogue process. Similar thinking resulted in the failure of his agreements with government in 2008 and 2009, and now he is unequivocally against dialogue. The selection of such a ruthless person as the TTP Chief also indicates that the TTP wants to avenge the killing of their chief, and teach Pakistan a lesson in the process. The TTP wants to create more panic in society in order to achieve their political ends, using Fazlullah’s violent background as their tool.

It is also possible that once again the Taliban plan to expand their guerilla-war theater to the administrative areas outside of Wazirstan, as Mullah Fazlullah belongs to Swat—an administrative area of Pakistan. Some elements of Mullah Fazal Ullah’s faction still exist in Swat and other parts of the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. They can create trouble in Swat and outskirt areas under the command of the newly selected chief of their own faction and TTP.

The ruling government belongs to Punjab, and the TTP considers the Pakistan government to be an American ally in the War on Terror, so it may be possible that they would hit Punjab with suicide bombers.

The Taliban may carry out attacks against the ‘Shia’ sect, fuelling sectarian violence in the country, as Fazlullah’s vision is that of a Sunni state.

The selection of Molvi Fazlullah – a non Waziri, also indicates that there are some internal conflicts among Taliban leadership on the selection of a new leader; before this, all TTP chiefs have belonged to the Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan.

No doubt from a security point of view, the coming days are critical for Pakistan. Realistically, Pakistan has to take defensive measures to counter any upcoming threat from the TTP as well as taking offensive measures to counter these threats at their root. Afghanistan is providing shelter to the TTP leadership on Afghan soil, which is where Mullah Fazlullah is hiding, with full security of Afghan intelligence agencies. The TTP Shura also held their meeting in Afghanistan, during which they selected Mullah Fazlullah and Khalid Haqani as their chief and deputy chief respectively. The capture of the TTP commander Latif Ullah Mehsood from the Afghan intelligence by American forces and the confession of Afghan intelligence that they want to ‘use TTP against Pakistan’ strengthens the belief that Afghanistan is fully supporting the TTP. In this regard, the Afghan factor is very important and Pakistan should seriously hold talks with Afghanistan to close down TTP activities from Afghanistan.

If the government decides to renew its attempts to dialogue with TTP, it will be sending the message that they want to resolve this issue through dialogue despite the killing of an Army General and a TTP chief. There will once again be threats and increased chances that some stakeholders will derail this process again. Secondly, the new leadership of the TTP has no flexibility towards the government and they would not agree on dialogue, and even if they did, the terms and conditions would be so steep as to be unacceptable for the state. If the new leadership of TTP tries to expand the guerrilla war up to administrative areas of Khyber Pakhtukhwa and carry out suicide attacks in other parts of the country, then the government of Pakistan will have no option but to launch a military operation against the TTP. At the end, a military operation appears to be the sole viable option rather than dialogue, but the outcomes of such an operation and its implications remain shrouded in a mist.

By Saqib Mehmood

Nov 28, 2013

Understanding the Iranian Nuclear Deal

After all-nights talks, Iran and the six major powers have finally come up with an interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. According to the concluded agreement, Iran will roll back some key elements of its nuclear program against limited relief in sanctions. Iran will not add or install new centrifuges at its nuclear facilities and the enrichment process at Arak nuclear reactor will be stopped. However, the overall sanction architecture will remain in place, until a final comprehensive agreement is inked between both parties. In the meantime, no new sanctions will be imposed by the six major powers and Iran will give access to UN inspectors to inspect its nuclear facilities.

The nature of concluded agreement is interim and extends over a period of six months, during which both parties will negotiate and try to agree upon a more comprehensive and long-term agreement. Though the key players in the negotiations were Iran, US, Russia, UK, China, France and Germany, Iran and the US maintained centre stage and played a pivotal role.

The major goals of Iran in these negotiations were regime preservation, securing its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and to soften international sanctions. On the other hand, the objectives of the P5+1 included preventing Iran from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons, and to encourage it to uphold its international obligations under the international nuclear non-proliferation regime through diplomacy, harsh or soft. Soon after this provisional deal was concluded, President Obama stated that “we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.” Of course there are weaknesses in this provisional agreement that render Israel and some other states dubious of the credibility of the agreement’s capacity to constrain Iranian moves towards the development of nuclear weapon capability. For example, the agreement confines itself to Uranium enrichment and stockpiles, while not taking into account some of the secret Iranian military nuclear facilities like Parchin Military base, where Iran has been accused of testing nuclear-related explosions.

As the deal surfaces it is met with warm international appreciation, except for the usual few concerned and suspicious voices. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for one, termed it a ‘historic mistake’ that US has made in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. He said that this agreement will not ‘make the World a safer place; rather it has made the World a much more dangerous place in the universe’. According to Netanyahu, the Iranian regime is only buying time through ‘cosmetic steps which it can reverse within weeks’ and Israel is ‘not bound to this agreement.’ Saudi Arabia ‘cautiously welcomed’ the agreement and called it first step towards a final and comprehensive agreement.

The sustainability of interim agreement greatly depends on the Iranian compliance with what it has agreed on during the talks and in the document, as well as its willingness and efforts to find common grounds on which a comprehensive and final agreement could be secured at the end of these six months. If it is, however, an Iranian ploy to buy time to develop a weapon and test it, the result will most probably be greater regional chaos, instability and an international crisis. That, however, does not appear to be the intention at this time, and it seems likely that Iran will uphold its commitments, because technically Iran apparently lacks the capability to test a weapon design with a reliable missile and a launching pad without being detected by the surveillance satellites and the CIA, National Security Agency, Mossad, MI6 and other intelligence agencies.

Secondly, the viability of this interim agreement and unhindered progression towards a final long-term solution greatly depends on how far the US administration is manipulated by the Israeli lobby in the United States. From the Israeli point of view, the Iranian nuclear program, whether civilian or military, is a serious threat to its security. Soon after the deal, Israeli Prime Minister asserted that “for many years Israel and World community has demanded that Iran cease all Uranium enrichment, now for the first time international community has formally consented that Iran continue to enrichment of Uranium.” It was clear in statement that Israel will never accept an agreement that stipulates anything less than the complete cessation of the Iranian nuclear program, including the civil nuclear program. This fear stems from the belief that if Iran has the capacity and capability to enrich Uranium, even if it is restricted to a low 5-percent grade, it can produce a nuclear weapon at will. Moreover the Iranian support to Hizbullah, Hammas and other organizations in the region exacerbates the Israeli sensitivity and fear of transfer of nuclear weapons or ‘dirty bombs’ to these non-state actors, and its implications for Israeli security. So it can be expected that Israel will try hard to convince the US administration in the coming days to make tougher demands during the negotiation in the next six months, even as it remains unclear how Iran will respond to such demands.

Hopefully the Americans will retain the lessons learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan, where the wars highlighted the fact that a military approach to resolve such issues can be counterproductive and result in unmanageable resistance. It seems probable that the US will adhere to its current policy and try its best to find a reasonable balance between the Israeli push for tougher demands and the Iranian capacity to yield to them.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the foreign office has, in a recent statement, welcomed the development. Nonetheless, as an immediate neighbor to Iran and given the history between the two countries, there are three key questions which Pakistani policy makers should focus. For almost 35 years, Iran has called the US ‘the Greatest Satan’ and the US has termed Iran ‘an evil state’. But in international politics, there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies; the only permanent feature in state relations are national interests. The mere thought of a US Secretary of State openly meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago, and simply unthinkable at the beginning of the revolutionized, ‘Islamic’ Iran. And yet, such is case today. Furthermore, there are indications that both states will come close in the coming days. In this background, Pakistani policymakers should consider whether during this brief period of calm, when the stranglehold of international sanctions will be lowered, Pakistan can revitalize its dormant gas pipeline deal with Iran? Secondly, given the prospects of closer Iran and US ties in the coming days, will Pakistan be left with a narrower space to bargain with the US on certain strategic issues, knowing that the US may also have the possibility of an alternative supply route through Iran? The third and perhaps most important question relates to the likely impact on the future of regional security? Will Iran support the security and stability framework in Afghanistan beyond the NATO drawdown in 2014, given its ideological and political support to northern alliance against the Pushtuns?

In this era of complex interdependence, small states like Pakistan with fewer options and rare opportunities must be vigilant in formulating and exercising foreign policy. At this juncture of history Pakistan urgently needs to review its policy and relations, especially with the US, and other regional players. The focus of policy makers during such a review should be the implications of the shirking space to employ active diplomacy at regional and international planes, and how Pakistan can continue to guard its national interests.

By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Nov 12, 2013


As the time approaches for the upcoming session of Conference on Disarmament (CD), the nuclear comedy circus is back in business. Having failed to stick the nasty narratives about security of Pakistani nukes and their falling into the hands of terrorists, this time an interesting fictional twist has been added regarding interstate transfer of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. To add colours, a close friend and brotherly country Saudi Arabia has been roped in. Pakistan has taken a principled stance at the CD about negotiations on a Fissile Material Treaty. Pakistan is of the view that any treaty aimed at mere production cut-off would perpetuate the prevalent strategic asymmetry; hence any meaningful treaty should take care of existing stocks as well,  and should cater for their time bound and verifiable destruction.

This time BBC Newsnight has taken the lead. Mark Urban under the bizarre title “Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan” argues that Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs form Pakistan at will— at the time of its choosing. Reacting to the story, the spokesperson of Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs has characterized the story as “entirely baseless and mischievous”.

Pakistan is a responsible nuclear weapons state with robust command and control structure and comprehensive export controls. Pakistan supports objectives of non-proliferation as well as nuclear safety and security. Pakistan is fully aware of its responsibilities. Pakistan’s nuclear programme is purely for its own legitimate self defence. Pakistan does not subscribe to nuclear arms race or trade and adheres to its oft reiterated position about maintenance of a limited arsenal compatible with its compulsions of minimum credible deterrence. After the recent Nawaz-Obama summit, Prime Minister Sharif reaffirmed Pakistan’s support for the universal objectives of non-proliferation and disarmament. President Obama reiterated his confidence in Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security and acknowledged that Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues. Post summit joint statement, issued on 24 October 2013, referred to President Obama’s appreciation of Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums. At the same time, President Obama also accredited Pakistan’s efforts to improve its strategic trade controls and enhance its engagement with multilateral export regimes.

Saudi Arabia’s quest for nuclear weapons has often been projected in the backdrop of countering Iran’s atomic programme, the BBC story tries to portray that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Iran. While attributing a piece of information to an unnamed senior NATO decision maker,  the story teller says that the official had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery. He goes on to bring-in evidence from Israelis sources to carry forth the story: “Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, ‘the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.’ Since 2009, when King Abdullah warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons”, the kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions.

Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s counter-proliferation adviser until March 2013, told Newsnight: “I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan.”

Story’s construct is based on another flawed assumption that as for many years Saudi Arabia has given generous financial assistance to Pakistan’s defence sector, including to its missile and nuclear labs, so the supply of nuclear weapons must be as a result of some quid pro quo. Visits by the then Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud to the Pakistani nuclear research centre in 1999 and 2002 have been used as circumstantial evidence to underline the closeness of the defence relationship. Reportedly in 2007, the US mission in Riyadh noted that they were being asked questions by Pakistani diplomats about US knowledge of “Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation”. By the end of that decade Saudi princes and officials were giving explicit warnings of their intention to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran did. Having warned the Americans in private for years, last year Saudi officials in Riyadh escalated it to a public warning, telling a journalist from the Times “it would be completely unacceptable to have Iran with a nuclear capability and not the kingdom”.

No nuclear maligning story is complete without reference to the so called ‘Khan Network’. So how could Mark Urban miss that piece from his nuclear nonsense?  He says; “The Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was accused by western intelligence agencies of selling atomic know-how and uranium enrichment centrifuges to Libya and North Korea. AQ Khan is also believed to have passed the Chinese nuclear weapon design to those countries. This blueprint was for a device engineered to fit on the CSS-2 missile, i.e. the type sold to Saudi Arabia”. Dead horse of ‘Khan Network’ is used as a magic wand to make all sorts of fictional narratives stick. Some of the points that need scrutiny are: If there was any such global network, then has any other member of this network, from any other country, been brought to justice and meaningfully punished? North Korea’s nuclear programme is Plutonium based, whereas that of Pakistan is Uranium based, so where is the common ground? Was North Korea trying to produce a Plutonium weapon by employing Uranium reprocessing technology? Did Libya end up in making a weapon out of what presumably Dr Khan had provided to it?

Allegations of a Saudi-Pakistani nuclear deal started to circulate as early as the 1990s, but have repeatedly been denied by Saudi officials as well. Saudi Arabia has time and again reiterated that their country had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and called for a nuclear-free Middle East, pointing to Israel’s possession of such weapons. To give credence to the story, Mark quotes from “Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb”, by Feroze Hassan Khan that Prince Sultan’s visits to Pakistan’s atomic labs were not proof of an agreement between the two countries. But he acknowledged, “Saudi Arabia provided generous financial support to Pakistan that enabled the nuclear program to continue.”

Mark goes on to quote Gary Samore that Whatever understandings did or did not exist between the two countries in the 1990s, it was around 2003 that the kingdom started serious strategic thinking about its changing security environment and the prospect of nuclear proliferation, a paper leaked that year by senior Saudi officials mapped out three possible responses – to acquire their own nuclear weapons, to enter into an arrangement with another nuclear power to protect the kingdom, or to rely on the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Of late Saudi Arabia has started taking independent position on various important international issues. Recently, Saudi Arabia has publically shown its disappointment on the way Syrian crisis and Egyptian coup were handled by the US. In a bold step, it has also declined to accept the rotary membership of UNSC, declaring the forum as undemocratic and non-productive. While Iran is constructively engaged in serious negotiations to resolve the nuclear impasse, and Pakistan is striving to mobilise financial support from the IMF and World Bank for its budgetary support and development projects, story appears well timed to create unnecessary pressures for the three Islamic countries. No wonders the Geneva talks have stalled for the time being.

The United States is “not blind, and I don’t think we’re stupid” in nuclear talks with Iran, Secretary of state John Kerry said. He insisted that there is “zero gap” between the Obama administration and its commitment to Israel. Kerry made his remarks in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” program after talks in Geneva failed to produce a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. “Some of the most serious and capable, expert people in our government, who have spent a lifetime dealing both with Iran as well as with nuclear weapon and nuclear armament and proliferation, are engaged in our negotiation…I think we have a pretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we are acting in the interests of our country and of the globe, and particularly of our allies like Israel and Gulf states and others in the region.” Kerry added. “We’re talking about stopping their program where it is, with enough guarantees to know that it is in fact stopped where it is, while we then negotiate the full measure of the deal with our allies, with our friends, with all of the interested parties, advising at the table, consulting, and their interests well represented,” the US secretary of state said.

Now talks between Iran and the P+1 would resume on November 20, it is expected to be a complex and long drawn-out affair. So churning out of more speculative stories on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, aimed at pointing fingers towards friendly countries while at the same time arousing non-proliferation and security concerns of the international community, cannot be ruled out; so keep your fingers crossed.

By Saqib Mehmood
Nov 7, 2013
Delegates sit for a Security Council meeting to discuss Peace and Security in the Middle East during the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford/Files

The US Secretary of State John Kerry, in his recent visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, praised the Kingdom as ‘senior player’ in the Middle Eastern Affairs. The visit was aimed at performing cosmetic surgery with a diplomatic knife to mend the bruised relationship between the United States and the Kingdom. Kerry’s trip to Riyadh was the first by a top administration official since Saudi Arabia abruptly renounced a seat on the U.N. Security Council last month, in what it said was a protest against international inaction on the Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

Middle East is a land of misty politics. The complex interplay of competing interests of regional powers for geopolitical influence, ideological domination, preservation of regimes, and of international powers for energy, influence, and hegemony welcome one to a land of miasma and what Karl Ernest Meyer has rightly termed as the ‘Tournament of Shadows’. While apparently mutual understanding does exist between regional and extra-regional players, interests often collide and result in disharmony, mistrust, and suspicious behavior. The best example which can be quoted here with content is that of United States and Saudi Arabia.

Last month, in a rare move, Saudi Arabia rejected UNSC seat by showing its discontent over the double standards of international system and its inability to manage the regional and global instabilities. The move was praised and well-received in the Muslim World, where Saudi Arabia enjoys clear spiritual, ideological, and political supremacy. However, in the Western World, the gesture caused much displeasure and distress. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said to the best of his knowledge, no country had ever been elected onto the Security Council and then not taken up the seat. The Russian Foreign Ministry, in its statement expressed deep dissatisfaction over the decision, saying that “with its decision, Saudi Arabia has removed itself from the collective work of the U.N. Security Council to support international peace and security”. France, another permanent member of UNSC, showed some distress but also asserted that “we think that Saudi Arabia would have brought a very positive contribution to the Security Council, but we also understand the frustration of Saudi Arabia”. The US however, did not comment on the Saudi move but praised the ‘vital work’ of the Council.

Though Saudi Arabia directed its displeasure on UNSC, however, many in the west and east are of the view that the gesture was meant to caution America over its inaction in managing Middle Eastern affairs. American dubious and ambiguous foreign policy in the Middle East, especially under the Obama Administration has resulted in the calcification of concerns within the ranks of American allies in the region. The interim and shortsighted policies of the US in managing the recent political instability in the Arab world have especially made apprehensive her long-term allies in the region.

Historically, from the end of WWII to 9/11, both the Kingdom and USA have been enjoyed friendly and close relations, due to common interests in Arab world. After 9/11, relations between both states have gradually become strained due to increasing mistrust and suspicions on both sides. Despite having a successful counter-terrorism program in the Kingdom and immense collaboration with the US in combating global terrorism, the US Congress and media’s allegations over the Saudi hand in harboring and financing terrorist organizations brought down the level of trust which both sides had enjoyed for over six decades. On the other side, US policies in the Middle East, which directly or indirectly impinge upon the Saudi interests, have caused much displeasure and increased distrust in the Kingdom.

The story of this downward spiral starts from the Kingdom’s displeasure on the US rationale for invading Iraq. US policy was especially seen as hypocritical in its emphasis on enforcement of UN resolutions vis-à-vis Iraq, but not those relevant to Israel. Moreover, US policy towards the leadership change in Egypt, political instability in Yemen and Bahrain, collapse of Al-Hariri’s government in Lebanon and mass civilian causalities in the Syrian crisis and a nuclear Iran are not in line with Kingdom’s position, hence causing mistrust and suspicions.

Many international commentators attributed the Saudi move to show dissatisfaction over the US decision not to support the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011; Washington’s backtrack from its position, which it took earlier to attack government targets in Syria, and recent rapprochement between US and Iran over the nuclear issue. KSA wants the US to place sanctions on Iran and compel it to refrain from developing nuclear weapon capability. The USA however, is paying no heed to Saudi Arabia’s concerns. The temperatures rose on the Saudi side came to boiling point and made the Saudi government review their relations with the USA.

The political uprising in the Middle East, which started in December 2010 from Tunisia and swelled out into Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, has affected almost all the countries in the region directly or indirectly. The turmoil and violence that followed the political unrest has swallowed hundreds and thousands of lives. There are two narratives to define and understand this situation. The western narrative, which termed this uprising as the ‘Arab Spring’; and the non-western narrative, which labeled it as ‘political instability’; both narratives stand contradictory to each other. This is where difference lies.

United States has been responding to the unfolding instabilities in the Middle East through the lens of her geopolitical interests, which is why its approach varies from state to state. The Saudi position in this regard has been consistent from day one when it all started out; bringing back the stability and avoiding mass civilian causalities. In a recent interview,

Prince Turki Bin Faisal Al Saud, former Chief of Intelligence and brother of the Foreign Minister, said that “Syria is an issue, where American policy has been wrong.” Today the real concern in the Kingdom is to not only stop the mass civilian atrocities in Syria, but also preventing this conflict from expanding into the Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

If this happens, the whole Middle East will sink into instability and huge human catastrophe. There is a realization in US power corridors that Saudi Arabia, being the ‘great player’ in Middle East, can play a vital role in the bringing back peace and stability in the region. Both Saudi Arabia as a great regional player and the US as great extra-regional player should work together for a better outcome.

By Manzar Zaidi
Nov 5, 2013


The Nazi German state and the Balkans in the heart of Europe brought down the Weberian model of authority, which had assumed that societies  moving along a secular path would be guided by a rational bureaucracy set in a working democracy. Charismatic leaders would demonstrate the power to veer the trajectories of rationally functioning state governance frameworks into realms of genocide and the holocaust. This hegemonic role of the power elites has been purportedly been responsible for radicalization to a great extent in the Muslim World, by default, design or misplaced intentions. This is one of the reasons why we are now starting to see grassroots agitation in such Muslim countries which have seen such hegemonic rule.

Islamic polity contextualizes the leader to embody both political and moral authority, since the ummah needs guidance by capable leaders. The emphasis  upon the revival of the Caliphate by  Islamists is related to  this discourse, as well as  explaining quite satisfactorily  the unflinching obedience given to ‘Amirs’ or ‘Sheikhs’ such as Mullah Omar and Bin Laden. Fareed Zakariyya, an erudite Egyptian scholar,  suggests that contemporary religious movements as a whole  deviate from creating critical consciousness in their followers by a tunnel visional  obedience to a leader or doctrine, without giving  self critical attention to mundane socio-economic and political contexts. Since these doctrines offer sanctuary “from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence”, they remove themselves simultaneously from the realities of these problems. A simple cure-all solution is unflinching obedience to a leader or doctrine, which Zakariyya has labeled “the suspension of human reason.”

Thus, Radicalization in much of the Muslim world is not necessarily a revolt against modernity per se, but an expression of resentment against efforts to impose a Western or Marxist ‘imported’ variant of it by leaders, who at one time or the other took over , many times(but not always) due to an inherent need ‘to be led’. This has usually not fared well against staunch traditionalist resistance, in the process veering many of these defensive entities towards Islamist trajectories. Dismal socio economic frameworks, unemployment and income inequalities have also made the ruling elite felt insecure about their power base, and in interests of self sustenance they held on to it by processes varying from brutal military dictatorships to Marxist models of governments to appeal to Sharia .According to Zakariyya the recent resurgence of Radicalization in Muslim world is “a clear reflection of the lack of consciousness among the masses. The spread of these movements becomes inevitable after more than thirty years of oppression, the suspension of reason, and the domination of a dictatorial political system.”

In the colonial past of many Muslim countries, the colonizing force was a symbiotic entity with local elites who opted for a favorable compartmentalization of policy, as against a uniform national political arena which would have allowed populist politics to flourish and put at risk fragile vested interests. The unbridled monarchies of Gulf States and tribal chiefs in East Africa and Nigeria, along with some feudal interests in Pakistan are such inclusive entities, besides many others. When direct rule from the centre broke down in countries such as in Algeria, this espoused the cause of the elites in reaching centre stage in politics in many post colonial Muslim nation states. In many such nascent states, the inherent power relationship structures within colonialism were perpetuated in continuum by these elites, till they met expressions of resentment; this is also happening right now in many Muslim countries.

Many such states also have tribal trajectories; Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of tribal settlement presumes that outlying tribes tied together by kinship solidarities conquer, settle, and rule a state till the time kinship loyalties loosen, the rulers urbanize and  lose control over distant tribes, and the cycle begins again. Logically, the tribal cliquish mindset of the leaders in an Islamic country built upon the ashes of tribalism would tend to persist even in a state framework.  This seems to be somewhat the situation in present day Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, all states which are most affected by violent radicalization, Islamism and tribalism; not coincidentally, autocratic leaders in these states have been blamed for the current dilemmas of these states.

This tribal mindset may also be a driver of political processes in countries of the Middle East, explaining why dictatorships have arisen so easily and have been tolerated by the masses. In historical tribal warfare, winning against an opponent (whether it be the skeptical populace of a state or political opponents) counts as a victory, and there is no such thing as a graceful defeat, since victory counts for everything and victims are often despised, not pitied. Some leaders in such a state may cultivate this tribal mentality as well, since many have ruthlessly persecuted political opposition, and put down dissenting voices as sedition. This persecution is further heightened by disdain for persons with non membership of the tribal affiliation, aggravating the causal cycle of discrimination against the ‘non members’ by the ruling elite. As Ajami observes, “triumph rarely comes with mercy or moderation (in the Arab World)”.
Muslim leadership in the twentieth century has seen a bewildering array of kings, military dictators, mullahs, democrats, tribal men, etc; adding to this motley arraignment of leadership are newly emerging aggressively ultra right literalist Islamist movements. Unfortunately, most of these leadership frameworks share the commonality of having a sole political agenda of survival or sustaining of foisted regimes on a populace. Since this system of governance is imposed by elite driven by political motives of a self sustaining regime or agenda, it can loosely be classified as an Elitist- political Islamism. This Elito Political Islam has generally identified itself with what it considered as an ally of convenience in the shape of a particular variant of Islamism that it considered pliable , and then flirted with it, generally with little success. The Egyptian regime’s flirtation with Muslim brotherhood (ranging from cordiality to brutal suppression) is just one trend amongst many. Thus, besides issue of corruption, nepotism, suppression of freedom and democracy, this Elito political Islam has fostered radicalization in many Muslim states through the devices of governance frameworks which hastily consorted with rightist religious movements in the hope of self sustenance, in the process dooming their constituencies in many cases to spirals of violence, which in turn generated vested interests of self sustenance by continuation of this violence.

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