Critical Geopolitics Demands National Unity
After the Iranian missiles attack on the US military bases in Iraq on January 8, this year in response to the US drone strike at Baghdad’s airport on January 3, 2020, which killed military commander, General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, along with five members of the militia, including its leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, tensions between the Washington and Tehran dramatically sharpened. Noting that any war between the two countries will envelop the entire region, having dire consequences on the entire world, on January 8, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan asked Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to visit Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US with a message of neutrality in the US-Iran military confrontation and offer of mediation, while Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Qamar Bajwa who has been in touch with the American leaders since the start of the crisis, was tasked with telling the same to his international interlocutors.
On the same day, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter: “US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper called Gen. Bajwa to discuss the situation. The army chief had soon after Gen Soleimani’s assassination also received a call from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The defence secretary expressed that “the US didn’t want to seek conflict, but would respond forcefully if necessary”.
The COAS was quoted as having told Mr Esper, “We would like situation to de-escalate & shall support all initiatives which bring peace in the region. We call upon all concerned to avoid rhetoric in favour of diplomatic engagement. We all have worked a lot to bring peace in the region by fighting against terrorism…We will continue to play our constructive part towards success of Afghan reconciliation process so that it doesn’t get derailed and region goes towards conflict resolution instead of new conflicts.”
It is notable that since August 5, last year when Indian extremist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ended special status of the Jummu and Kashmir by scrapping articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution in a malicious attempt to turn Muslim majority into minority in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), lockdown in the IOK have continued unabated. Indian fanatic rulers’ extremist approach against the Muslims could be judged from the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA), passed by the Indian Parliament. The CAA (The National Register of Citizenship) is against the Muslim immigrants especially from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Despite violent protests across India, Modi-led government has not withdrawn the CAA.
While, Indian fanatic rulers are also escalating tensions with Pakistan to divert attention from the drastic situation of the Indian Held Kashmir, and have continued shelling inside Pakistani side of Kashmir by violating the ceasefire agreement in relation to the Line of Control (LoC).
At this crucial hour, Pakistan is facing many internal and external problems. Externally, Pakistan’s forces, especially, Pak Army and Rangers have been responding to India’s unprovoked firing at the Line of Control (LoC) boldly inside Pakistani side of Kashmir. Besides, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa have repeatedly said that Pakistan’s Armed Forces are fully ready to meet any prospective aggression or invasion by India.
Internally, Pakistan’s Armed Forces and country’s primarily intelligence agency ISI have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists. Peace has been restored in Balochistan and Karachi, including other vulnerable regions.
Pakistan is facing multi-faceted crises and challenges like corruption, soaring prices, energy-shortage, unemployment, crimes, lack of health facilities, and dependence upon the US-led developed countries, IMF and World Bank for financial aid. So, internally, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have been facing a different war courageously, while enemy is also different, which still employs subversive activities of various kinds.
However, it is good development that political parties of the country have come to terms in order to strengthen institutions of Pakistan. Geo-politics surrounding Pakistan is extremely critical which does not require state to get involved in petty internal disputes, but to concentrate on a looming global disaster in the making from our western and eastern borders.
In this regard, the three bills—the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Pakistan Air Force (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) regarding the tenure of the services chiefs—chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff and the chairman of the joint chief of staff committee passed through the National Assembly on January 7, this year and next day, were approved by the Senate. The bills were sent to the President Arif Alvi for his assent, who also singed them. Now, these three amendments have officially become law.
Mainstream opposition parties PML-N and PPP had intended to introduce some amendments to the bills, but withdrew the same and also voted in favour the bills, presented by the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the National Assembly. In this respect, taking the floor, PPP MNA Naveed Qamar said: “Keeping in mind the situation in the country and the new situation in the region in order to send a unified message, we [PPP] have decided not to press these amendments”.
It is regrettable that by ignoring the geopolitical scenario in the region, some internal entities such as opposition parties Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and National Party representatives from the, opposed the bills.
In this respect, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan said regarding the opposition parties which voted in favour of the bills: “When it comes to national interest and safety, all political parties are ready to set aside their interests and stand with the government…Today, I salute all political parties and the role that they have played [in passing the bills in the National Assembly], especially the Pakistan People’s Party” (PPP)….Today is also an eye-opener for the enemies of the state. Whenever the country has needed its political leadership, they have stood by the country and acted in the greater national interest…I am hopeful that this show of unity from the Parliament will also be demonstrated on other matters related to the national interest. “You can see what is happening in the region”, she said in an apparent reference to a rise in tensions after the US assassination of top Iranian Gen Qasem Soleimani. She added” “In such a scenario, if there is instability or uncertainty in institutions responsible for national security and their leadership…it ultimately sends a message to Pakistan’s enemies about your weakness and vulnerability. This serves to perpetuate the propaganda of your enemies…Today the parliament has sent a message to the enemies of the state by unanimously passing these bills.”
In the recent past, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while deciding on the legal challenge to the second tenure for Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa asked the government to define the tenure, terms and conditions of service of the army chief and to get their approval from the parliament within six months. The apex court had emphasised that it was up to the parliament to carry out legislation that would provide “certainty and predictability” to the post of the COAS for all times to come.
As per the amendments approved, the appointment of the services chiefs and chairman of the joint chief of staff committee would be the prerogative of the prime minister and his decision to appoint, reappoint or extend the tenures of chiefs and the chairman cannot be challenged in any court of law. The upper age limit for a four-star appointment has been fixed at 64 years in the case of reappointment and extension; otherwise, the officer will retire at the age of 60 years.
As regards the US-Iran tensions, addressing both houses of parliament separately on January 6 and January 7, this year, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister stated: “Pakistan won’t be party to US-Iran conflict…if the situation deteriorated, it would shift the country’s focus from its economic development”. He called upon “the international community, particularly the UN Security Council, to play their role for the regional security…I contacted with the foreign ministers of Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey…called for restraint and de-escalation as tensions rise over the US killing of Soleimani…The incident will further destabilise the region… the crisis can have a negative impact on the Afghanistan peace process…and Pakistan”. Hinting at American intentions, he also stated that his country will not let its soil be used against any other state”. Qureshi reiterated Islamabad’s readiness to continue to play a role in preventing further escalation, and maintaining regional peace and stability”. He added: Pakistan is making efforts for a vibrant role of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC]…on human rights violations in India-occupied Kashmir…India is facing protests in different states over a controversial law could use the opportunity to divert attention from its internal problems by trying to destabilise Pakistan and carry out a false-flag operation”. He assured the parliament that “the Pakistani nation and the army are fully alive to the ongoing situation, and are capable enough to defend their homeland in case of any misadventure by India.”
In this connection, following the targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani by the US and its drastic aftermath, in his interview to a leading Pakistani TV channel, ISPR DG Major General Asif Ghafoor, stated on January 5, 2020: “Pakistan will not become party to anyone or anything but will be a partner of peace and peace alone”, he quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying. “We will not allow our soil to be used against anyone”.
Maj-Gen Ghafoor sought to quash rumours making the rounds on social media and explained: “The US secretary of state primarily discussed the regional situation with the army chief [Through his call to the Army chief]…The army chief emphasised the need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement by all concerned to de-escalate the situation in broader interest of peace and stability…Pakistan has consistently played its role to lower tension between Iran and the United States”.
Regarding Indian war-like diplomacy, Maj-Gen Ghafoor said that he “has also read the statement of India’s new army chief Gen. Manoj Mukund” in which “he had threatened to carry out “preemptive strikes” in Pakistan and “this intent has adequately been demonstrated in our response during surgical strikes and Balakot operation…Pakistan’s crushing response to the botched Indian air strike in February, last year, in Balakot…Two Indian fighter jets were shot down by Pakistan in retaliation…The Pakistani military knows how to defend its motherland…India knows this too…India is on a dangerous course which would only lead it to self-destruction”.
It is mentionable that Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had conducted many terrorism related attacks in Pakistan. Having connections with Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Indian RAW, the terrorists of the TTP have been destabilizing Pakistan. RAW and NDS are also in connivance with the Pashtoon Tahfuz Movement in order to create disturbance, law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and that of Baluchistan. Apart from other similar regions of the country, some terror attacks in these provinces were part of nefarious designs against Pakistan.
But, it is misfortune that some prominent anti-state activists are leaving no stone unturned to destabilise Pakistan in these critical times and support external enemies’’ narrative intentionally or unintentionally. The consensus and joint efforts by mainstream political parties is being appreciated by the general public. This whole process is supportive of the argument that how democracy is gaining strength in Pakistan, something which the foreign enemies of Pakistan cannot digest easily. For the sake of stability, prominent political parties have left behind petty issues and are in favour of strengthening Pakistan.
At this critical moment, our political leaders, including religious parties must pledge that they will not support their parties at the cost of the country. In order to castigate the conspiracy of the external enemies against the integrity of the country, our political leaders, media and human rights groups must remain united, as present critical geopolitics demands national unity and harmony in wake of the US-Iran tensions and Indian threats.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations