Archive for September, 2010

Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims

By Louisa Lim for National Public Radio

It is 5:50 in the morning, and dark shadows scurry through narrow alleys to the mosque, as the call to prayer echoes from a minaret in Kaifeng. This city in central China’s Henan province has an Islamic enclave, where Muslims have lived for more than 1,000 years.

In an alleyway called Wangjia hutong, women go to their own mosque, where Yao Baoxia leads prayers. For 14 years, Yao has been a female imam, or ahong as they are called here, a word derived from Persian.

As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam. “The status is the same,” Yao says confidently. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.”                                        

Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers. Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers.

China has an estimated 21 million Muslims, who have developed their own set of Islamic practices with Chinese characteristics. The biggest difference is the development of independent women’s mosques with female imams, something scholars who have researched the issue say is unique to China.

Yao studied to become an imam for four years, after being laid off from her job as a factory worker. First she studied under a female imam, then with a male imam alongside male students.

Her main role is as a teacher, she says. “When people come to pray, they don’t know how to chant the Quran, so my job is teaching people about Islam, helping them to study one line at a time and leading the prayers,” she says.

Mosques Began As Quranic Schools

The modest courtyard of Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque contains within it the entire history of China’s mosques for females. It’s the oldest surviving women’s mosque in China, with one gray plaque high up on a wall dating back to 1820.

Like other women’s mosques, it began as a Quranic school for girls. These sprang up in the late 17th century in central China, including Shanxi and Shandong provinces. They morphed into women’s mosques about 100 years ago, starting in Henan province. Remembering her own childhood, 83-year-old Tang Guiying says even then the women’s mosque was the only place a girl could receive education.

“I didn’t go to school when I was small,” she chuckles. “We were all too poor; none of us girls studied. But I came here to play and study. The old imam was very, very old — she was 80-something, and she had bound feet.”

Tang is sitting in the mosque’s washroom as she talks. This is where women conduct ritual ablutions before prayer. This space — and the mosque itself — doubles as a social center for these women, the heart of a community. In Kaifeng, there are 16 women’s mosques, one-third the number of mosques for males.

A Unique Chinese Tradition

Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of a book on the phenomenon, says that so far there are no women’s mosques in other countries. In most of the Muslim world, women pray behind a partition or in a separate room, but in the same mosque as men.

Shui points out that the women’s mosques in China are administered independently, by women for women, in addition to being legally separate entities in some cases. “After reform and opening up [in 1979], some female mosques registered independently, which shows the equality of male and female mosques,” she explains.

Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders.

China is the only country to have such a long history of female imams. However, there are things that, according to the customary practices of Chinese Muslims, female imams can’t do.

They can’t, for instance, lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses. Forty miles away in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, white-sashed mourners wail as they process through the streets carrying the coffin from a mosque. No female imams are participating.

Opposition Still Exists To Women’s Roles

In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences.

“Historically in northwestern China, there were no female mosques,” says Shui, the researcher. “There was resistance because people thought that building female mosques was against the rules of religion. But in central China and most provinces, people think it’s a good innovation for Islam.”

In the past decade, some women’s mosques have been established in northwest China. The phenomenon appears to be spreading, helped politically by the Islamic Association of China, a state-controlled body that regulates Islam and issues licenses to practice to male and female imams alike.

This is part of the anomaly that is religion in China — the atheist Chinese authorities are endorsing a practice some Muslims find unacceptable. While there is broad support among Kaifeng’s Muslims for female mosques and imams, there is also some opposition.

“The education of Islamic women is a very important job,” says Guo Baoguang, of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng. But he admits that he has been criticized for organizing religious education forums for Muslim men and women to take part in together.

“There were some criticisms that women ought to be in the home, and ought not take part in social activities. I think these criticisms are too conservative, and don’t account of the importance of women’s education in Islam,” he says.

Guo believes that when it comes to female imams, China is leading the way.”Given the fast development of China’s economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world,” Guo says. “The developments Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslims elsewhere in the world.”

Greatest Challenge Is Economic

In the women’s mosques, most of the faithful are elderly. Young women with families often don’t have the time to worship, especially given the lengthy purification rituals several times a day.

Third-generation imam Sun Chengying, who has been practicing for 21 years, worries about the future.

“I haven’t had any students since 1996,” she says, shaking her head. “Women don’t want be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it.”

Female imams sometimes earn as little as $40 a month, one-third of what can be earned in other jobs. Younger women need to earn more to support their families. And so it appears the future of female imams in China is threatened — not by the state, not by resistance from inside Islam, but by the forces of market economics.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Chinese Muslim female imams are unique to China but this practice of allowing female imams is one that should be encouraged throughout the Muslim world. Female imams as well as increased rights for women in Islam across the board will only help strengthen Muslim societies.

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Indian-Pakistan Friendship Blooms Amid Games Chaos

By Amlan Chakraborty for Reuters

India has received support from an unlikely source as it races to finish preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi which start are due to start Sunday.

Following recent concerns about unhygienic athlete accommodation, security and an epidemic of Dengue Fever, in part blamed on stagnant water around unfinished construction sites, sports administrators in neighboring Pakistan are unwavering in their support for the troubled Games.

“When you host something like this, there will be issues but I’m confident it will be a success,” Lal Chand, Pakistan’s deputy chef-de-mission told Reuters by phone.

“We always had very good relation with the Indian Olympic Association and supported them. We will be arriving in full force to spread the message of peace and goodwill,” he said.

Politically, relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought three wars, were frozen when Pakistan-based militants attacked the Indian City of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

However that has not appeared to be the case for sport and Games Organizing committee chief Suresh Kalmadi earlier this year thanked Pakistan for supporting India’s bid to host the October 3-14 event.

“Pakistan supported us to the hilt to get the Commonwealth Games to India. We can never forget their support,” Kalmadi had said in June.

‘TWO-WAY BATTLE’

“We and Canada were locked in a two-way battle for getting the hosting rights and Pakistan supported us in our bid.”

Even when complaints about dirty and unhygienic facilities at the Games Village was drawing flak from all corners, Pakistan hockey player Rehan Butt came out in support for the organisers.

“…I feel that the issue is blown out of proportion in this case. There were problems during the Manchester Games (in 2002) as well where we stayed in a university hostel,” Butt was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

“That was the worst experience but we did not complain. We, India and Pakistan, never do that.”

Sports historian Boria Majumdar provided a perspective on what brings the bitter neighbors closer in sport.

“I’m not surprised, after all India and Pakistan have inherited the same culture. Historically, they have always put up a united stand in international sport,” said Majumdar.

“Even when politicians were at loggerheads, sports bridged the gap,” he said.

In 1987, then Pakistan President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq visited India for a cricket match, using the trip to help defuse tensions between the neighbors over a massive Indian military exercise held near the border just months before. The same year, the two countries jointly hosted the cricket World Cup.

The tennis duo of Rohan Bopanna from India and his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul Qureshi were U.S. Open men’s doubles finalists earlier this month.

India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna has invited his Pakistani counterpart to watch the Commonwealth Games, and said he hoped it could also give them a chance to move on their peace dialogue.

For Better or Worse, White House Bets on Pakistan’s Civilian Government

Reported by Josh Rogin for Foreign Policy magazine

The Obama administration has always been clear that the path to winning the war in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. But if Bob Woodward’s new book is accurate, the White House considers its war effort much more dependent on the success and survival of Pakistan’s civilian government than was previously known.

Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars,” which hit bookstores Monday, sheds new light on the Obama administration’s vast outreach to the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. It paints a picture of an administration working hard to court the Pakistanis while remaining somewhat confused about Pakistani thinking on a range of issues.

Obama himself was confused about the nature of Pakistani intentions during two crucial decision points in his administration’s Afghan policy — the March 2009 strategy rollout and the deliberations in November 2009, which resulted in a troop surge and a huge expansion of covert operations in Pakistan. However, based on advice from the majority of his key advisers, he nonetheless tried to entice Pakistan to commit to a deep and long-term partnership with the United States by offering the Zardari government incentive after incentive, with relatively few pressures.

According to Woodward’s account, the centrality of Pakistan was championed early on by Bruce Riedel, the Brookings scholar who was brought on as a key figure in the Obama administration’s March 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.

Riedel, who referred to Islamist extremists in Pakistan as the “real, central threat” to U.S. national security, personally convinced Obama, only two months after he took office, that Pakistan needed to be the centerpiece of his new strategy. Riedel’s plan involved arming the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency and increasing economic and other forms of aid to the civilian government. This marked the beginning of the term “Af-Pak,” which drove the administration’s belief that stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked.

Riedel’s Pakistan focus was not due to his confidence that the civilian government could control the military and intelligence services. In fact, he referred to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a “liar” with regards to the activities of the secretive Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is widely suspected of aiding the Taliban insurgency. Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly echoed Riedel’s views on this matter.

Inside the administration, Blair argued that Obama was approaching Pakistan with too many carrots and not enough sticks. He at one point advocated bombing inside Pakistan and conducting raids there without the Pakistani government’s approval. “I think Pakistan would be completely, completely pissed off and they would probably take actions against us … but they would probably adjust,” he once told Obama.

Obama, however, opted to pursue a less confrontational path. He concluded the central task would be convincing the Pakistani leadership to throw its lot in with the United States He said at the time of the initial strategy review in March 2009, “that we had to have a serious heart-to-heart with Pakistani civilian, military and intelligence leaders.”

Later that year, when making the decision to send an additional 30,000 “surge” troops to Afghanistan, Obama knew that his plans to also expand the U.S. military presence in Pakistan and widen drone strikes would be a hard sell to the Zardari government. In an attempt to sweeten the deal, Obama framed the policy as a new “strategic partnership” with Pakistan, even tying the success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to the survival of Zardari and the legacy of his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto.

“I know that I am speaking to you on a personal level when I say that my commitment to ending the ability of these groups to strike at our families is as much about my family’s security as it is about yours,” Obama wrote in a letter to Zardari delivered by National Security Advisor Jim Jones and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan.

Zardari’s response to that letter reinforced what many in the administration already suspected: Pakistan’s government was in the grips of an internal struggle over whether to embrace the United States. Zardari’s initial response focused heavily on India, though the Pakistani president only referred obliquely to his country’s strategic rival. Woodward reports that the White House believed the letter was written by the Pakistani military and the ISI. However, the Zardari government did end up accepting Obama’s offer.

Obama’s top advisors told the U.S. president that he would have to accept something short of complete success in convincing Pakistan to turn away from its longstanding obsession with the military threat it perceives from India.

When Obama had a meeting with Zardari in May 2009, he told the Pakistani president the he did not want U.S. taxpayers to be funding Pakistan’s military buildup against India “We are trying to change our world view,” Zardari told Obama, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

At times, Obama was downright puzzled by his advisors’ advice regarding Pakistan. For example, intelligence reports confirmed that Pakistani officials were afraid that the United States would leave Afghanistan too early, as they believed had occurred after the end of the resistance to the Soviet regime in the 1980s. On the other hand, Pakistan worried that if the United States was too involved in Afghanistan, it might aid in the establishment of a larger Afghan army than Islamabad was comfortable with.

“What am I to believe?” Obama asked his senior staff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all told him these were the types of contradictions that were commonplace when dealing with Pakistan.

For its part, the Pakistani government was just as confused and puzzled by the Obama administration. Woodward recounts one anecdote, in which Zardari tells the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad that he believed the United States was involved in orchestrating attacks by the Pakistani Taliban against the Pakistani civilian government.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, a key go-between, tried several times to explain to the Obama administration how to court Pakistani leaders, comparing the dynamic to “a man who is trying to woo a woman.”

“We all know what he wants from her. Right?” Haqqani said in a meeting with Jones, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and the NSC’s Gen. Doug Lute.

“But she has other ideas. She wants to be taken to the theater. She wants that nice new bottle of perfume,” Haqqani told them. “If you get down on one knee and give the ring, that’s the big prize. And boy, you know, it works.”

Haqqani said the “ring” was official U.S. recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear program as legitimate. He also warned that the Pakistanis would always ask for the moon as a starting point in negotiations. He compared it to the salesmanship of rug merchants.

“The guy starts at 10,000 and you settle for 1,200,” Haqqani told the Obama team. “So be reasonable, but never let the guy walk out of the shop without a sale.”

Although the Obama administration has had some success improving the relationship between the two governments, Pakistan’s civilian leadership still faces a series of difficulties in its goal of exerting control over its entire national security structure. Stability has also been threatened by the enormous pressures resulting from the war that it is waging inside its own borders, and political attacks leveled against it from the media and the courts. Zardari’s perceived sluggish response to the devastating flood crisis has cost him even more credibility among the Pakistani public.

But while the end of Zardari regime has often been predicted, it appears that he will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is aware of how crucial his cooperation remains for the success of the mission in Afghanistan.

When Woodward sat down for his interview with Obama earlier this year, he asked the president if the situation was still that Pakistan is the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy. “It continues to this day,” Obama replied.

The Next Nuclear Arms Race

By Tim Sullivan and Michael Mazza for The Wall Street Journal

India and Pakistan are the two countries most likely to engage in nuclear war, or so goes the common wisdom. Yet if recent events are any indication, the world’s most vigorous nuclear competition may well erupt between Asia’s two giants: India and China.

Both countries already house significant and growing arsenals. China is estimated to have approximately 450 warheads; India, roughly 100. Though intensifying as of late, Sino-Indian nuclear competition has a long history: India’s pursuit of a weapons program in the 1960s was triggered in part by China’s initial nuclear tests, and the two have eyed one another’s arsenals with mounting concern ever since. The competition intensified in 2007, when China began to upgrade missile facilities near Tibet, placing targets in northern India within range of its forces.

Yet the stakes have been raised yet again in recent months. Indian defense minister A.K. Antony announced last month that the military will soon incorporate into its arsenal a new intermediate-range missile, the Agni-III, which is capable of reaching all of China’s major cities. Delhi is also reportedly considering redeploying survivable, medium-range Agni-IIs to its northeastern border. And just last month, India shifted a squadron of Su-30MKI fighters to a base just 150 kilometers from the disputed Sino-Indian border. An Indian Air Force official told Defense News these nuclear-armed planes could operate deep within China with midflight refueling.

For its part, China continues to enhance the quality, quantity and delivery systems of its nuclear forces. The Pentagon reported last month that the People’s Liberation Army has replaced older, vulnerable ballistic missiles deployed in Western China with modern, survivable ones; this transition has taken place over the last four years. China’s Hainan Island naval base houses new, nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines and affords those boats easy access to the Indian Ocean. China’s military is also developing a new, longer range submarine-launched ballistic missile which will allow its subs to strike targets throughout India from the secure confines of the South China Sea.

No single event has stoked this rise in tensions. China, already concerned about India’s growing strength and its desire to play a greater role in Asia, is even less enthused about the burgeoning strategic partnership between Delhi and Washington. While Beijing has learned to live with American forces on its eastern periphery, the possibility of an intimate U.S.-India military relationship has generated fears of encirclement. The ongoing Sino-Indian border dispute, as well as India’s position astride China’s key maritime shipping lanes, has made the prospect of a Washington-Delhi axis appear particularly troubling.

India’s surface-to-surface missile Agni-II launches off Wheelers island in Orissa state, India, on May 17, 2010.

India likewise feels encircled by China’s so-called “string of pearls”—a series of Chinese-built, ostensibly commercial port facilities in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Beijing’s military ties to Pakistan, interference in the Kashmir dispute and references to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state, as “Southern Tibet” have done little to reassure New Delhi of Chinese intentions. The rapid growth of China’s conventional military might in recent years—between 2000 and 2009, China’s military spending more than tripled—and the lack of clarity as to its intentions, has spurred India to pursue its own military modernization.

These shifts in India’s and China’s nuclear force postures thus represent only the latest and most serious efforts to constrain and convey dissatisfaction with the other’s perceived regional ambitions. But they are more troubling than conventional redeployments.

First, these developments suggest that neither country has confidence in the other’s “no first use” policy. India has good reason for concern: The number of missions attributed to China’s deterrent—responding to nuclear attacks, deterring conventional attacks against nuclear assets, providing Beijing freedom from nuclear coercion and otherwise “reinforcing China’s great power status”—were enough to make the authors of the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power last year question the country’s commitment to its “no first use” policy. India, for its part, relies on its nuclear forces to offset gaps and imbalances between its conventional military capabilities and those of China.

Second, there is a point at which efforts to enhance deterrence can foster an arms race. Any attempt on the part of China to increase its own defenses necessarily weakens, or is perceived to weaken, the security of India, thus spurring further defense build-ups; the opposite is true as well. Shifts in nuclear force posture can be particularly disruptive, and have been known to precipitate crises. Upon the discovery of Soviet efforts to deploy missiles to Cuba in 1962, for example, the U.S. responded militarily with a naval “quarantine” of the island, bringing Washington and Moscow as close as they have ever come to a nuclear war.

Finally, the redeployments of India’s and China’s nuclear forces suggest that there is deep-seated and growing discord between the two Asian giants. This is troubling news for a region whose future peace and prosperity depends heavily on continued comity between Delhi and Beijing. It is only a matter of time before the China-India military competition begins to affect neighboring states. China’s nuclear force modernization, for instance, stands to threaten not only India, but also Korea, Japan and other U.S. partners in Asia. A dramatic defense buildup in India, meanwhile, will no doubt leave Pakistan feeling less secure.

Tensions are unlikely to ease any time soon. The two countries appear much closer to the brink of an all-out arms race than they do to any resolution of their differences. While each profits from the other’s economic growth, it is that very growth—which finances military modernization and which is so dependent on potentially vulnerable overseas trade—that creates the conditions for heightened insecurity.

Mr. Sullivan is research fellow and program manager at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Defense Studies. Mr. Mazza is a senior research associate at AEI.

Revisiting Pakistan’s ‘Strategic Depth’

By Syed Nadir El Edroos for The Express Tribune

Two words that hold our country hostage is our policy of maintaining ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Apart from referring to a poorly titled adult film, the policy envisages to protect Pakistan’s eastern borders from unwanted Indian influence.

However, the consequences of continuing with this policy and differentiating between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban, has led to accusations of Pakistan playing a ‘double-game’  in Afghanistan. For many the accusation has become quite stale and repetitive. It seems to have become an open secret, with many accepting it as a reality, a part of the status-quo for dealing with the troubles in the region.

Whether the policy has been successful is debatable. The military’s and the ISI’s continued links with the Haqqani network ensures that they are a sought after broker for any back channel attempt to woo the Taliban.

The strategy aims to maintain Pakistani influence in/over Afghanistan, and to thwart alleged Indian designs. However, the policy has at the same time made Pakistan quite unpopular with large segments of the Afghan establishment. Interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs, while demanding an end to foreign influence in Pakistan is met with much ridicule in foreign capitals; it reeks of hypocrisy.

The policy is also questionable, as it breeds violence, and is responsible for the deaths of thousands in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As the violence continues, Pakistan is sure to be in the news, accused for fostering, abating or at the very least tolerating continued bloodshed to maintain its interests.

The result is the ‘image deficit’ that haunts Pakistan. The dismal public response to the floods in Pakistan for example was attributed to this effect. It has also been more difficult for our economic managers to garner favourable trade concessions and development grants. Winning over wider public support remains a problem, as Pakistan remains associated with fostering rather than curtailing violence in Afghanistan. Politicians in the west are portrayed as weak by the right-wing media, such as Fox News in the US, for taking initiatives to support Pakistan.

Look at any article posted on any western news outlet. The comments question the calls for sympathy for Pakistan as we are branded as supporters of terrorism, who inflict material and physical damage on their interests.

An alternative strategy

There needs to be an alternative to our current strategy. The alternative need not be between defending Pakistan from India or bowing before it and allowing it a free hand in Afghanistan. We need to engage with both Afghanistan and India to leverage our geographic position to develop strategic depth with positive connotations.

The US, Afghanistan and India have been pressing Pakistan to allow the transit of Indian goods over Pakistan through to Afghanistan and vice versa for years. I say, let the goods pass, hell put them on the trains. That will help to give our faltering railways a financial shot in the arm. Extend the Iran-Pakistan pipeline into India, let the gas flow. Transit fees galore! Rather than questioning Indian development aid to Afghanistan we should support it. Geographically it’s more of an advantage for us, as any increase in economic activity in Afghanistan will immediately suck in Pakistani exports.

What would the advantages be? Imagine the headlines. Pakistan would look like the peace builder, shunning international criticism and situating itself as committed to the development of an Afghan state. We would also be seen on the diplomatic offensive vis-à-vis India. With Pakistan offering so many incentives, India will have to respond in the affirmative. After all India is cultivating its image as a regional and global superpower, the ball will firmly be in India’s court. It cannot be seen rebuffing genuine gestures from its old foe.

Importantly, a policy that leverages our geographic position economically rather than militarily negates any association with violence.  We would be treated as victims rather than the guilty.

If India is indeed developing consulates across Afghanistan housing RAW agents that ferment trouble in Pakistan, improved economic ties will help shed a spotlight on the functioning of these consulates. As Pakistan becomes vital for transporting Indian-Afghanistan exports and imports to each other, minimising any threat to these links will become a primary concern for Indian traders. This will build added pressure on those who dare concoct nefarious designs to fuel militancy in Balochistan for example.

India can switch on and off the belligerent rhetoric as India’s economy has little or no interests in Pakistan. However, a Pakistan which is vital for Indian trade, supply of resources etc will have no choice but to tone down any sabre rattling that seems to be a cyclical part of Pakistan-India relations.

So where does Pakistan’s security come in?

In any period of belligerent hostility Pakistan will have the ability to cut of energy and trade links. Containers can be seized, Indian traders in Pakistan arrested, and diplomatically we can garner support by portraying ourselves of peace. We have gone the extra mile to foster our relations with India and support a viable Afghanistan. India would be seen as the aggressor. How is that for maintaining strategic depth?

Our present policy allows for India’s security establishment to deal with her interests in Afghanistan ignoring any media or public scrutiny. A policy that places economic links at its foundations will open up Indian policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan and the actions of its security agencies to wider scrutiny. The competition between competing interests will insure that whatever policy is actually implemented is a watered down compromise that is not a real threat to Pakistan.

We have to find alternatives to the status-quo. With the nation reeling under flooding, terrorism and economic stagnation we are more dependent on foreign assistance than at any point in our history. They are not many variables that we can control for. We can’t control how the foreign press paints us, how we are perceived abroad etc. However, what little we can do to help alter these perceptions, we must. And this does not have to lead to subjugation to Indian influence that many right wing commentators would suggest.

If we are to continue with our obsession with thwarting Indian designs, can we please do it in a manner that doesn’t hold us all hostage to violence and paint us as terrorist?

Shaping global opinion is a long term effort which must start sooner than later. Our challenges for the future, access to water, natural disasters caused by climate change and development depends in a large part to interaction and support of our neighbours and the international community. Politics and security needs are always a concern, but we must get society at large, the world over on our sign. We are not the cause but the victims. Strategic depth? Sure, but by other means.

EU Backs Deal to Deport Illegal Pakistanis

As reported by The Voice of America

The European Parliament has approved a controversial agreement that will make it easier for EU nations to return illegal immigrants from Pakistan back to their homeland.

The European Parliament backed the readmission accord Tuesday with a vote of 382 to 250. Twenty-three members opted not to vote.

Under the accord, any EU readmission request not answered by Pakistan within 60 days will be considered accepted.  Pakistan also will have to justify any refusal for readmission.

Some members of the European Parliament strongly opposed the agreement on human rights grounds. Opponents argued that Pakistan does not comply with relevant human rights standards and has not signed the Geneva Convention on Refugees, which prevents governments from deporting people at risk of torture.

Once ratified, the new rules will apply only to those who enter the EU illegally after the accord goes into effect.

The European Commission estimates that about 13,000 Pakistani citizens have been arrested in EU nations without proper documentation.

The measure calls for the EU and Pakistan to engage in dialogue on legal immigration and visa policy. The European Parliament’s approval of the agreement follows eight years of negotiation with Pakistan.

U.N. Speakers Urge Pakistan to Free Up Arms Talks

By Patrick Worsnip for Reuters

Heaping pressure on Pakistan, a high-level U.N. meeting called on Friday for talks to start immediately on a treaty to ban production of fissile material used as fuel for nuclear weapons.

But Pakistan has insisted it will continue to block such talks, arguing that a ban would put it at a permanent disadvantage to its nuclear rival India. The dispute has led to deadlock at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

At the U.N. meeting of some 70 states to discuss the paralysis at the conference, speakers avoided openly naming Pakistan, but several referred to “one country” that was causing the problem.

In a closing summary of the views expressed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “broad agreement on the need to immediately start negotiations on a … treaty banning the production of fissile material.”

Continued impasse could result in states going outside the Geneva conference, known as the “CD,” to tackle the issue, Ban warned.

Support has appeared to be growing in Geneva to find another approach — possibly small-group talks in parallel to CD sessions. A precedent was set when Canada and Norway moved talks on a landmine ban out of the forum, eventually clinching the landmark 1997 Ottawa Treaty.

At Friday’s U.N. meeting, Western powers sharply attacked Pakistan’s blockage of the CD, which requires consensus for its actions.

“It strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone else’s desire to resume serious disarmament efforts,” said U.S. delegate Gary Samore, a special adviser to President Barack Obama.

Washington understood that all countries needed to protect their security interests, and with that principle in place, “no country need fear the prospect of (fissile material) negotiations,” Samore said.

NO CONSENSUS

British junior foreign minister Alistair Burt said blocking the negotiations was “damaging for multilateral arms control.”

Launched in 1978, the CD has clinched treaties banning biological and chemical weapons as well as underground nuclear tests. Its members include all five official nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

But it has been unable to reach consensus on substantive work for the past 12 years. Pakistan’s refusal since January to launch negotiations on fissile material like plutonium and highly enriched uranium is the latest obstacle.

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said earlier this month his country would continue to hold out, arguing that India has an unfair advantage with bigger fissile material stockpiles and “discriminatory” nuclear cooperation deals with the United States.

“Pakistan’s security concerns can be addressed only once we have developed sufficient capacity to ensure our deterrent is credible in the face of growing asymmetry,” he told Reuters. “My instructions are, ‘We continue to maintain our position.'”

Pakistan did not speak at Friday’s meeting in New York. No decisions were made, but Ban said he would ask a panel of advisers to review the issues raised.

Separately, French delegate Jacques Audibert said Paris would host a meeting of the five official nuclear powers next year to discuss their obligations stemming from a May conference on nuclear non-proliferation.

The conference called on the powers to pursue negotiations ultimately aimed at the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

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