Posts Tagged ‘ Salman Bashir ’

Ready to probe ‘gruesome’ beheading, Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir says

As Reported by Sachin Parashar for The Times of India 

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On a day when Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s offer for talks received lukewarm response here, Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir turned out be the real game-changer as he said that Islamabadwas willing to address all Indian concerns over LoC, including its demand for a probe into the mutilation of the bodies of Indian soldiers.

In an exclusive interview to TOI, Bashir said: “Essentially, what the Pakistan foreign minister has said is that Pakistan is willing to discuss all Indian concerns, especially those related torecent LoC developments with a clear objective to ensure respect for ceasefire along LoC.” It was Pakistan’s refusal to give any such assurance that had forced India to harden its stand and provoked PM Manmohan Singh to say that it can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.

Asked if his assurance included India’s demand for investigations into the beheading of soldier Hem Raj, Bashir said, “When we say all concerns, we are not excluding anything…I believe all civilized people, no matter where they are, would be appalled by the gruesome incident”. However, Bashir added that for India to accuse Pakistan of the act without any probe was still not “understandable” for Pakistan.

Bashir reached out to the Indian people saying that they should not look upon the Pakistanis as “insensitive” or “inhuman”. In what is likely to soothe frayed nerves here further, Bashir did not mention any international role, including the UN, while talking about investigations into the incident.

“We want that both sides at the military level undertake their own investigations and use bilateral channels to get to the bottom of the incident. We are also concerned about ceasefire violations that have resulted in several casualties on our side but for peace to prevail we believe that the way forward is to talk to each other instead of getting into mutual recrimination,” he told TOI.

He added: “Pakistan foreign minister’s offer for talks with her counterpart is of considerable significance as it shows Pakistan’s desire to steer the process of reengagement in the right direction and at the same time address the issues of concern through the dialogue process. We hope that this sincere gesture will be reciprocated.”

While doubts have been raised about Pakistan’s commitment to MFN status for India, Bashir also brushed that aside saying that the “in principle” decision still stands and Islamabad will continue to seek better trade ties with India. He, however, added that for this it was important the positive atmosphere prior to the LoC flare-up was not vitiated.

Bashir said that he found developments like the return of Pakistan hockey players and move by India to stall visa-on-arrival for senior citizens “troubling”. “I think when there are multiple issues, both sides need to communicate more and not allow iron curtains to descend”.

As he pointed that there have been no “impulsive” reactions from Pakistan authorities to the statements made by Indian leaders, including Manmohan Singh. He said Pakistan still looked upon Singh as a man of peace who is very well respected in his country for his initiative for dialogue between the two countries.

Bashir said Pakistan was not proposing any time frame for Khar-Khurshid dialogue. “We have made an offer and the two most important words are ‘dialogue’ and ‘de-escalation’ – the rest is a question of form and modality,” he said.

Talking about the deep sense of hurt in India over the LoC incident, Bashir called upon people in position of responsibility and opinion makers to act responsibly and “not play with raw emotions”. “People of Pakistan are not insensitive to the sentiments of the people of India. Whenever there is a tragic incident – be it an earthquake or a terror attack or some heinous crime – ordinary people suffer from the same sentiment. But what I object to is the instinctive reflexes for Pakistan bashing and whipping up of emotions which has almost turned into a stereotype. It is important for saner voices to realize that neither Pakistan can wish India away nor India can do the same to Pakistan,” he said.

Bashir ended by recalling what Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had said on his visit to Pakistan recently: “Our people have shared geography and history and there is no reason why they can’t share their future too.”

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Military Puppet. Or Rising Star?

By Rubab Shirazi for Tehelka Magazine

If The unfolding political crisis in Pakistan does not upset junior foreign and economic affairs minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s elevation as full-fledged foreign minister, she appears all set to travel to New Delhi for meeting her Indian counterpart SM Krishna this month for the ministerial meeting of the resumed dialogue process. Her promotion is needed to remove the protocol hitch for the ministerial meeting.

When Khar, 34, became the minister of state for foreign affairs in February, hardly any eyebrows were raised — more so because the ceremonial position has been used since 2004 to accommodate scions of influential families in the Federal Cabinet. Khar’s entry was instead seen as a bid by the government to prioritise the economic aspect in its diplomacy.

But the news of her elevation was met with strong criticism because she was seen as being too young and raw to handle complex foreign policy issues, even though she had been part of the Cabinet since 2004. For a good part of her political career, which started with her election as member of the National Assembly in 2003, Khar has been a low-key politician.

In a country that already has an accidental president (Asif Ali Zardari) and prime minister (Yousuf Raza Gilani), it wouldn’t be a surprise if the foreign minister is also accidental. If things go as planned, she would take oath this month as Pakistan’s 26th foreign minister and bag the honour of being the first woman to hold the post. But, Foreign Office (FO) bureaucrats, who derisively refer to her as “the girl” in private, say that she is no match for most who have occupied this crucial post.

Khar comes from a privileged background, being the daughter of well-known politician Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar and niece of infamous playboy and former Punjab governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar. The latter’s wife Tehmina Durrani wrote My Feudal Lord, which caused controversy by describing her abusive and traumatic marriage with Ghulam Mustafa and her experience of life in a patriarchal society. Despite her feudal upbringing, Khar graduated from Pakistan’s best business school, Lahore University of Management Sciences and obtained her masters in hospitality from the University of Massachusetts.

Khar’s likely appointment is coming at a time when the country’s foreign relations are not in the best of shape — the alliance with the US is withering away fast; cross-border controversies are marring Pak-Afghan bonhomie; and though the Indo-Pakistan dialogue is progressing, the Thimphu spirit is fading as indicated by recent bilateral meetings.

Even if Khar succeeds in getting the post, diplomatic observers think she will not be the real decision maker — the power would still lie with the military. Having an inexperienced person like Khar as the FO boss, who would depend heavily on bureaucracy for policy as well as administrative matters, suits the military establishment at Rawalpindi GHQ in maintaining its control over Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Unlike her predecessor Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who lost his job for taking a hardline position on immunity for CIA operative Raymond Davis (involved in fatally shooting two youth in January), Khar isn’t thought to be independent minded.

No one at the FO knows about Khar’s views on important issues like relations with the US, Europe, India, Afghanistan and about the War on Terror. She hasn’t given any interviews or delivered speeches on foreign policy ever since she moved to the FO in February, even though she was the de facto boss during this time.

Though much has been written about her meteoric rise in politics, she still remains an enigma. Her credentials for being considered for the crucial post are her two stints as minister of state for economic affairs; a brief assignment as special assistant to the prime minister on finance, revenue and economic affairs; and more lately her FO job.

No one knows Khar’s views on important issues like the war on terror, Indo-Pak relations, or the strained partnership with the US

According to her curriculum vitae, foreign affairs was not a subject of interest until lately. She avows interest in finance, economic affairs and agriculture development. But, quite contrary to her fondness for the three subjects, she runs an upscale restaurant in Lahore. Her husband Feroze Gulzar is a textile industrialist. For most of her career, Khar had been dealing with international loans and grants. Foreign Service officials, who don’t want to be named, caution that real-time diplomacy is a different ball game.

Administrative chaos at the FO, another officer says, grew under the overachieving lady, who had been promoted by the PPP government as an astute manager. Khar was responsible for economic affairs during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime. Economic mismanagement turned out to be the major cause of the defeat of her previous party, PML(Q), in the 2008 elections. Fearing that she wouldn’t be given a party ticket, she changed her loyalties weeks before the polls and joined the PPP.

IF SUCCESSFUL in achieving the prized foreign ministership, it would not be the first time she would be filling someone’s shoes. In 2003, she contested elections in place of her father, who couldn’t run for National Assembly as he was not a graduate; in 2009 she became the first woman minister to present the federal budget because former finance minister Shaukat Tarin was not an elected Parliamentarian.

Her inexperience aside, party colleagues say that Khar is deceptively wily and ambitious as they point to how she smartly outmanoeuvered other contenders in the race for the foreign ministry, including former law minister Babar Awan, former foreign minister Sardar Assef Ali and National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza — all political heavyweights.

One of her weaknesses is that she isn’t a media darling. Searching online for her interviews turns up a little-known Saturday Post article, that too dated several years ago. On this count, she would turn out to be a weak and ineffectual representative of her country’s foreign policy. In her first media appearance alongside a visiting US functionary Thomas Nides, Khar was unimpressive. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir hurriedly scripted a few lines for her to deliver before PTV cameras, but according to one official, she struggled with it. Days later, when speaking to the media alongside UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, when she was asked about the prospects of a peace deal with Afghan Taliban, Khar started speaking about a failed peace deal with militants in Swat to prove Islamabad’s commitment to peace with militants. Pakistan, she probably forgot, does not equate Afghan and local Taliban. The government has been treating the two entities differently.

Online discussion boards have been filled with negative comments on her expected elevation. “What a farce. We are at one of the most critical junctures in our foreign affairs, so we decide to hand out perhaps the most important portfolio to a 34-year-old with a degree in hospitality management!” reads a posting on a discussion platform called Pakistan Defense.

What goes in her favour is that apart from allegations by her critics of tax evasion, something normal for a Pakistani politician, she has no major controversies attached to her name.

Pakistan Questions Legality of U.S. operation that killed bin Laden

By Karen Bulliard for The Washington Post

Pakistan’s foreign minister on Thursday appeared to question the legality of the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden, and again denied that his country had knowingly sheltered the world’s most-wanted terrorist.

The comments by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir came as Pakistani officials faced rising domestic backlash about the helicopter-borne assault in a sleepy neighborhood of a military garrison city, which they have acknowledged they did not know about in advance and — once they became aware of it — could not prevent.

The preservation of national sovereignty, particularly against incursions by U.S. troops, is a highly sensitive issue in nuclear-armed Pakistan, and both the presence of bin Laden and the dramatic American raid that killed him have greatly embarrassed the military here.

Bashir, citing United Nations Security Council resolutions on counter-terror operations, told reporters that the “modalities for combating terrorism raises certain legal and moral issues” and said that “everyone concerned ought to be mindful of their international obligations.”

On Tuesday, the foreign ministry in a statement expressed “deep concerns and reservations” that the U.S. carried out the mission in the city of Abbottabad unilaterally, without Pakistan’s knowledge or permission.

Such comments differ considerably from Pakistan’s measured statements in the hours after the killing, when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani called bin Laden’s death a “great victory.”

But though clearly directed at the United States, the suggestions that the operation might have breached international law also appeared to be a warning to Pakistan’s archenemy, India, which has been targeted in terror bombings and attacks by Pakistani militants.

On Wednesday, India’s army chief said his forces were capable of carrying out a similar raid — a notion Bashir called “bravado.”

“We feel that sort of misadventure or miscalculation could result in a terrible catastrophe,” Bashir told reporters here, while also vowing that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe. Pakistan and India, which also possesses nuclear weapons, have fought three wars.

Bashir indicated that there would be little introspection inside Pakistan about how and why bin Laden was able to reside here, under the nose of the military. Some Pakistani officials in recent days have said there would be an inquiry into intelligence failures, but Bashir played down that, saying questions about bin Laden were “for historians.”

“I would call it a ‘view,’ ” rather than an inquiry, Bashir said. “I think we are in a constant process of viewing at every level. … This is a routine. So I think we should not try to give it a slant in terms of an inquiry. There’s no such thing as an inquiry.”

Bashir provided additional details about Pakistan’s role in the years-long search for bin Laden, and about its actions the morning of the raid, when he said two Pakistani F-16 fighter jets were deployed in response to the U.S. operation. By the time the jets reached the compound, the raid was over.

He said a cellphone number for bin Laden’s trusted courier was discovered by Pakistan’s top spy agency and provided to the CIA, which used it to locate bin Laden’s compound.

U.S. officials have said they were monitoring the courier’s phone and e-mail communications and found him when he contacted a family member.

Bashir contradicted previous Pakistani statements that Abbottabad was under “sharp focus” since 2003 — a year when, a Pakistani intelligence official said earlier this week, the construction site for what would become the bin Laden compound was first raided.

Satellite images provided by U.S. officials, however, show there was no building happening on the property at that time.

On Thursday, Bashir said Abbottabad first surfaced on Pakistan’s radar as an al-Qaeda hideout in 2004, when the driver of Faraj al-Libbi, an al-Qaeda operative who would be arrested by Pakistan in 2005, was traced to the garrison city.

Pakistan’s president denies harboring bin Laden

By Nahal Toosi and Zarar Khan for The Associated Press

Pakistan’s leader denied suggestions that his country’s security forces sheltered Osama bin Laden as Britain demanded Tuesday that Islamabad answer for how the al-Qaida chief lived undetected for six years in a large house in a garrison town close to the capital.

But in a nod to the complexities of dealing with a nuclear-armed, unstable country that is crucial to success in the war in neighboring Afghanistan, British Prime Minister David Cameron said having “a massive row” with Islamabad over the issue would not be in Britain’s interest.

A day after U.S. commandos killed bin Laden, reporters were allowed within the 15-foot, barbed-wire-topped walls of the compound for the first time. But the doors of the house were sealed shut and police were in no mood to open them.

Local residents showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that Washington said malfunctioned and was disabled by the American strike team as they retreated. A small servant’s room outside the perimeter showed signs of violent entry and had been briskly searched, clothes and bedding tossed to the ground. Its wall clock was on the floor, the time stuck at 2:20, when the U.S. team would have been on the ground in the early hours of Monday.

Asif Ali Zardari’s comments, in a Washington Post opinion piece Monday, were Pakistan’s first formal response to suspicions raised by U.S. officials and others. Those suspicions could further sour relations between Islamabad and its Western backers at a key point in the war in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden was killed close to a military academy in the bustling northwestern town of Abbottabad, not in the remote Afghan border region where intelligence assessments had assumed he had been holed up. That was quickly taken as a sign of possible collusion with the country’s powerful security establishment, which Western officials have long regarded with a measure of suspicion despite several notable al-Qaida arrests in the country since 2001.

“Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact,” Zardari wrote.

Ties between the two nominal allies were already strained amid U.S. accusations that the Pakistanis are supporting militants in Afghanistan and Pakistani anger over American drone attacks and spy activity on its soil. They came to head in late January after a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistan’s, in what Washington said was self-defense.

Senior U.S. officials did not directly accuse Pakistan of collusion, but made it clear they had concerns.

“People have been referring to this as hiding in plain sight,” Obama’s counterterrorism chief John Brennan told reporters Monday. “Clearly, this was something that was considered as a possibility. Pakistan is a large country. We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there.”

Lawmakers were more direct.

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said Pakistan’s intelligence and army have “got a lot of explaining to do,” given that bin Laden was holed up in such a large house with surrounding buildings, the fact that its residents took the unusual step of burning their garbage and avoiding any trash collection.

“It’s hard to imagine that the military or police did not have any ideas what was going on inside of that,” Levin said.

Cameron, who has also made supporting Pakistan a major foreign policy commitment, echoed those concerns.

“Those are questions we have to ask, those are questions we will want answered and we will be asking that question of everyone in Pakistan and the Pakistani government,” Cameron told BBC radio before acknowledging the West’s limited leverage against Islamabad.

“We could go down the route of having some massive argument, massive row with Pakistan, but I assess our relationship with Pakistan and it is my very clear view that it is in out interests to work with the government and people of Pakistan to combat terrorism, combat extremism and help development in that country.”

Suspicions were also aired in many Pakistan’s media and on the street Tuesday.

“That house was obviously a suspicious one,” said Jahangir Khan, who was buying a newspaper in Abbottabad. “Either it was a complete failure of our intelligence agencies or they were involved in this affair.”

Pakistan’s security establishment has yet to explain how bin Laden was able to live there undetected, and given that it is rarely transparent about what it does, it might never do so. Asked about the raid, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said it was time to move on.

“The issue of Osama bin Laden is history and I think we do now want to keep ourselves mired in the past,” he told reporters.

U.S. officials have said that Pakistani officials were not told about the early morning helicopter raid until the strike team had killed bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan from where they took off from, citing security reasons.

Many Pakistanis were surprised at how this was possible, especially when initial reports stated that the choppers took off from a Pakistani air base. Some were angry that the country’s sovereignty had been violated — an especially sensitive issue given the unpopularity of America here.

Zardari said it “was not a joint operation” — the kind of which has been conducted in the past against lesser terror suspects in Pakistan — but that Pakistani cooperation, in a general sense, had helped lead them to bin Laden.

“A decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world,” he said.

President Barack Obama also said the country’s anti-terror alliance had helped in the run-up to the operation, but did not thank Pakistan when he announced the death of bin Laden.

The death has raised fears of revenge attacks, both in Pakistan — which has seen hundreds of suicide attacks by al-Qaida and its allies since 2007 — and internationally. The U.S Embassy said its missions in Pakistan would remain closed to the public until further notice.

At Talks, Pakistan, India Close the Gap

By Anita Joshua for The Hindu

Conscious of the historical baggage, but unwilling to be burdened by it, India and Pakistan on Thursday inched closer to each other during the Foreign Secretary-level talks here and both sides held out the possibility of some tangible outcome after the July 15 ministerial engagement.

However, both Foreign Secretaries refused to be drawn into chalking out a road map or identifying goal posts. “There is a constituency for peace in both countries, and we should avoid stock phrases like road map,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said at a “joint press stakeout” here, shortly after spending a greater part of the morning with her Pakistan counterpart Salman Bashir.

The talks, according to Mr. Bashir, began as an exploratory venture, but “after this round, we are much more optimistic of good prospects at the Foreign Ministers meeting.” He summed up the talks as a “good essay in mutual comprehension,” a phrase he admitted to have borrowed from Ms. Rao.

Optimism apart, both conceded that this would be a protracted process that may not yield quick results, but decided to work on the doables in the interim. As to how they proposed to insulate the process from another freeze in relations in the eventuality of a flashpoint, Ms. Rao said this would also be a subject of discussion.

The first indication of some forward movement came with the announcement of the “joint press stakeout” soon after the talks had wound up, and the Foreign Secretaries were breaking bread in the Foreign Office.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bashir said the two sides decided to work towards restoring confidence and building trust to make it possible for a comprehensive, sustained and substantial dialogue.

Speaking in a similar vein, Ms. Rao described the talks as forward-looking with both sides trying to understand each other’s position. “We reflected on the modalities for restoring trust and confidence to pave the way for a comprehensive, sustained and meaningful dialogue in all areas. We have agreed that dialogue is the best way forward.”

Asked whether terrorism was discussed, she said both sides agreed that terrorists must be denied the opportunity to derail the process of dialogue while pointing out that Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had made an important commitment when he told his counterpart that efforts would be made to ensure that the Pakistani soil was not used for attacks on India.

Unlike in the past, when the two countries appeared to be speaking at cross purposes, this time the Foreign Secretaries seemed to complement each other.

If Ms. Rao deftly side-stepped a leading question on India’s reluctance to continue with composite dialogue by saying there was no issue over nomenclature, Mr. Bashir returned the favour by echoing this remark and refusing to be drawn into commenting on why Pakistan was not raising the issue of Indian-sponsored terrorism in Balochistan.

Instead, he broad-brushed the issue, stating that terrorism impacted Pakistan and was a concern to the region and the world. “Essentially, we have agreed to move from the rhetoric to the ways and means of addressing these concerns,” he said.

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