How Pakistan was Put on US’s Watchlist

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The Pakistani politics are going through a revamp where the Supreme Court dismissed a 3-term Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, on corruption charges. While it is within the jurisdiction of Pakistan Supreme Court to rule on eligibility of a political candidate, under the current system, it is not entirely up to it to investigate individual cases and hand out sentences, for which National Accountability Bureau is trying Mr. Sharif and his family on corruption, money laundering, and perjury charges under supervision of a Supreme Court Judge.

The Sharif family was facing similar charges over a decade ago, which were dismissed by the military dictator, President Musharraf as a result of Saudi interference that secured Mr. Sharif and his family a political exile as part of a political deal. The Sharifs have family and business ties with Saudi Arabia and own a highly profitable Steel mill there while Pakistan’s national steel mill collapsed under their premiership and is now one of the biggest deficit contributors to the Government’s budget.

Naturally, keeping up with their past precedents, the Sharifs are looking for a way out of facing corruption charges once again for which they have not only rung up Saudis but also hired Washington lobbying firms. But given that the Supreme Court is freer in Pakistan today than ever before and with the opposition party, PTI, adamant about securing convictions for decades-long embezzlement, there is hardly a role for foreign powers to play in engineering national politics of Pakistan.

Seeing no way of influencing Pakistan from the outside, Mr. Sharif, who still wields total control over his party, PML, looked to cause internal unrest in the country to pressure the Supreme Court and political opponents in suspending the judgment. To achieve that goal, the PML-majority Parliament passed a bill with sweeping electoral amendments, one of which tweaked the wording of the oath that Parliamentarians take upon being sworn in.

Under the existing wording, Parliamentarians were required to reiterate their belief that Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam. The proposed amendment would take away that requirement; opening doors to the Parliament for Qadiyanis, who are deemed non-Muslim under the Constitution of Pakistan. Even though non-Muslims are allowed to serve as Parliamentarians in Pakistan and many Pakistani Hindus and Christians do, Qadiyanis are specifically barred.

A week before the proposed amendments were put to vote, Mr. Sharif’s son-in-law, a Parliamentarian, stood on the floor and out of nowhere expressed concerns over Qadiyanis serving on high ranks in the Military and in the Courts. Many accused him of inciting sectarian violence in Pakistan, a claim that would hold more weight once his party’s proposed amendments were scrutinized.

For days the PML Government denied that their amendments made any changes with regard to oath taking of the Parliament even though it was one of the most apparent sections of the bill.

The pressure and blowback from the opposition, religious organizations and PML’s own supporters forced them to withdraw the proposition but by then it was far too late, protestors had gathered in the nation’s capital and demanded that ‘real masterminds’ of the bill be named and dealt with according to the law. The Government refused to back down and threatened protestors with aggression if they did not disperse.

Despite Court orders to clear the protests that had disturbed millions of residents, the Government kept extending the deadline until the Army stepped in to mediate between the protestors and the Government. Both parties signed an agreement, which ended protests that by then had grown countrywide. Within hours, the country’s law minister resigned, who had touted the Government’s proposals and repeatedly denied claims that any changes were being made with regards to the oath.

Though PML failed in prompting unrest in the nation, they had succeeded in broadcasting a fundamentalist narrative internationally that overshadowed Pakistan’s efforts in safeguarding minority rights in recent years, serving as a precursor to the nation’s addition to the US’s watch list.

This does not vindicate the State Department of making the unwarranted move. For decades now, the State Department has tried to influence inner politics of Pakistan to the detriment of US-Pakistan relations, perpetuating corrupt elements even as the South Asian state tried to rid itself of the same elements that it is currently being accused of bolstering.

Mr. Sharif, who has enjoyed US support for much of his political career, allegedly took money from Bin Laden to topple Benazir Bhutto’s democratically elected Government, first female-led administration of the Muslim world. Despite that, a PML leader, who now serves as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, on his recent visit to the United States addressing the attendees at an Asian society meeting claimed that his party was the one with ‘liberal policies’ in Pakistan while their opponents, PTI, appealed to people of the fundamentalist mindset.

So the fact that US’s suspension of military aid and Pakistan’s inclusion in the State Department’s watchlist comes at a time when Mr. Sharif is calling on foreign powers to pressure Pakistanis into agreeing to a deal is very conspicuous and highlights State Department’s concerns as Pakistan breaks away from decades-old tradition of succumbing to foreign pressure.

Pakistani security forces have cracked down on domestic insurgents and terrorist rudiments as a result of which, terrorist attacks targeting Pakistani civilians have plummeted and the nation has returned to a state of normality but this success on domestic fronts did not come about overnight.

Hundreds of Pakistani troops died, millions of dollars worth of artillery was used, intelligence apparatus was redesigned, information sharing departments were set up between dozens of Federal agencies and millions of Pakistanis had to be ‘internally displaced’ from their homes temporarily.

Neither the United States nor any other nation could expect Pakistani cooperation if they are unwilling to appreciate the sacrifices that Pakistanis had to make to fight a war that wasn’t theirs, to begin with. The national security to Pakistanis is as important as it is to the Americans but if one nation or the other begins with a predetermined condition that their national interests are somehow more important then it is as difficult as it is unfair to continue cooperation.

An example of an effective cooperation between US and Pakistan is America’s investment in Pakistan’s education system. In terms of median age, Pakistan is the second youngest country on earth, therefore, investment into its’ education system does not only provide it with endless economic prospects but it also helps security forces’ efforts in veering away the youth from militancy and extremism in the region.

Another example would be US’s efforts in addressing the polio epidemic in Pakistan but given the uncertainty surrounding security measures, even that is at risk since it is Pakistan’s security forces that ensure the security of medical professionals tasked with delivering vaccination to children in some of the most troubled areas of the country.

Moreover, as easy as it is in the United States to accuse the Government of knowingly adding cancer-causing agents into polio vaccines of the 1950s and 60s, it is just as easy for militant propagandists to claim that US attempts ‘mind control’ via its’ polio vaccine especially as the State Department openly tries to bully the nation of 200 million into submission.

It is very difficult if not impossible in the 21st century to pick and choose the sectors in which one wishes to cooperate with foreign countries but to start on a good foot, one must first establish mutual respect amongst nations and a feeling of trust. Without either of those characteristics, any relationship will eventually collapse.

— Shah (Twitter: CalculusGod)

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