Monday, April 20, 2015

Pakistan's Stand on Yemen; NA-246 By-Poll; Xi Jinping’s visit; Realignment in South Asia

Does public opinion on the Yemen crisis indicate a shift in the positive direction for Pakistan? Should the Pakistani forces take part in a Saudi ground assault on Yemen? Is Iran really behind the Houthis? 

Will there be an upset in NA-246 by-election in Karachi? 

Will the Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s Pakistan visit be a game-changer? What does an MSR (Maritime Silk Route) mean to the Balochs and the Balochistan insurgency? 

How are India  and Pakistan realigning themselves in post Cold War World?

ViewPoint from Overseas host Faraz Darvesh discusses these and other questions with panelists Misbah Azam(, Riaz Haq (, and Ali H Cemendtaur ( in Silicon Valley, California, USA. 

کیا پاکستان میں یمن کے متعلق بالغ رائے عامہ ظاہر کرتی ہے کہ پاکستان میں حالات بہتری کی طرف گامزن ہیں؟ کیا پاکستانی فوج کو یمن میں فوجی چڑھائی میں سعودی عرب کا ساتھ دینا چاہیے؟ کیا اس دفعہ این اے ۲۴۶ میں متحدہ قومی موومنٹ کو واقعی شکست ہوسکتی ہے؟ کیا چینی صدر کا اسلام آباد کا دورہ پاکستان کے معاشی حالات یکسر تبدیل کردے گا؟ کیا گوادر کراچی ریلوے لائن کا منصوبہ بلوچستان کے خراب حالات میں مکمل ہوپائے گا؟ کیا ہندوستان کا جھکائو مغرب کی طرف بڑھ رہا ہے جب کہ پاکستان چین اور روس سے تعلقات بہتر کررہا ہے؟
ویو پواءنٹ فرام اوورسیز کے میزبان فراز درویش کی مصباح اعظم، ریاض حق، اور علی حسن سمندطور سے گفتگو۔

Yemen Crisis and Sectarian strife; NA-246; Xi Jinping’s Pakistan visit, Balochistan, and India’s realignment from WBT TV on Vimeo.

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Xi Jinping Visit to Pakistan 

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Obama's Pakistan Connections

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Riaz Haq said...

China picked a dam project in northern Pakistan for its first investment by a $40 billion Silk Road infrastructure fund as President Xi Jinping looks to expand the country’s influence across three continents.
The fund will become a shareholder of China Three Gorges South Asia Investment Ltd., which will construct the Karot dam on the Jhelum river, according to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website on Tuesday. The total investment will be $1.65 billion, according to the People’s Bank of China.
“We don’t subscribe to the view that a country expands hegemony when it becomes powerful,” Xi told Pakistani lawmakers on Tuesday. “Peaceful development is in China’s interest and also in the interest of Asia and the world.”
Xi’s visit is the first by a Chinese head of state in almost a decade to Pakistan, a nation that’s key to to his efforts to access the Indian Ocean over land and boost trade with Europe, Africa and the Middle East. China is Pakistan’s top trading partner, and they have a mutual distrust of India.
The two nations are planning $45 billion in projects along a 3,000-kilometer (1,850 miles) corridor stretching from Xinjiang in western China to Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The investments -- $28 billion of which were announced this week -- would boost Pakistan’s economic growth and provide another route for China to import oil from the Middle East.
‘Great Match’
The Karot dam will be located in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad. It’s a “great match” between the development strategies of the two nations and a priority project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China’s central bank said in its statement.
The 720-megawatt run-of-river dam would take about six years to build, according to project disclosure documents filed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corp., which is investing $125 million in China Three Gorges South Asia Investment Ltd. The project would generate 75 percent of its energy during the summer months when water flow in the Jhelum river is at its highest, the documents show.
China Three Gorges Corp., the Beijing-based developer of the world’s largest dam, expects to become Pakistan’s biggest clean-energy company with plans for $5.5 billion of hydropower, solar and wind projects totaling more than 2,000 megawatts in capacity, according to the IFC. Pakistan requires as much as $20 billion in investments over the next five years to overcome a 10,000-megawatt shortfall in power capacity, it said.
‘All-Weather’ Friend
On Monday, Xi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed pacts to build roads, ports and power plants, nearly equal to the amount of foreign aid the U.S. has provided to Pakistan over the past decade to support its war in Afghanistan.
If realized, the investments will help Sharif revive Pakistan’s economy, which suffers from chronic power failures and an insurgency that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001. Sharif has received a loan from the International Monetary Fund to help put the country’s finances back on track.
“It’s very significant,” said Mohammed Sohail, chief executive officer of Topline Securities Ltd. in Karachi. “It can bring a big change for all our economic fundamentals, in particular in energy.”
Pakistan’s benchmark stock index has been among Asia’s best performers over the past six months. It fell 0.9 percent at 11:29 a.m. local time, the most in three weeks.
The 51 agreements included an “All-Weather” strategic partnership that seeks to formalize longstanding defense ties between the nations. They also pledged to fight terrorism and help bring peace to Afghanistan. The two nations may conclude the sale of eight Chinese submarines, more than doubling Pakistan’s fleet.

Riaz Haq said...

A former diplomat, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, said in a TV debate that the Pakistani army has decided to raise a special force to safeguard this 3,000km corridor.
Many are sceptical because the army previously failed to ensure a trouble-free supply to Nato troops in Afghanistan.
But some believe the military is likely to treat the Chinese corridor differently because the economic benefits accruing from it could help isolate Baloch insurgents.
Why is China doing this?
Pakistanis have long described their "friendship" with China as higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the oceans, and as information minister Pervez Rashid put it more recently, sweeter than honey. But behind these lofty words lie some hard-core interests.

China has been a more reliable and less meddlesome supplier of military hardware to Pakistan than the US, and is therefore seen by Pakistanis as a silent ally against arch-rival India.
Friendly exchanges with China also help Pakistan show to its "more volatile" allies in the west, notably the US, that it has other powerful friends as well.
For the Chinese, the relationship has a geo-strategic significance.
The corridor through Gwadar gives them their shortest access to the Middle East and Africa, where thousands of Chinese firms, employing tens of thousands of Chinese workers, are involved in development work.
The corridor also promises to open up remote, landlocked Xinjiang, and create incentives for both state and private enterprises to expand economic activity and create jobs in this under-developed region.

China could also be trying to find alternative trade routes to by-pass the Malacca straits, presently the only maritime route China can use to access the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Apart from being long, it can be blockaded in times of war.
This may be the reason China is also pursuing an eastern corridor to the Bay of Bengal, expected to pass through parts of Myanmar, Bangladesh and possibly India.
Experts say much of Chinese activity is geared towards boosting domestic income and consumption as its previous policy of encouraging cheap exports is no longer enough to sustain growth. On the external front, it is investing in a number of ports in Asia in an apparent attempt to access sources of energy and increase its influence over maritime routes.

Riaz Haq said...

The Holy Qur’an narrates to its followers the episode of the Yemeni King Abraha who wanted to sack the House of Allah, the Holy Kabaa in Mecca, few years before the birth of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Allah destroyed the elephants of that besotted invader by despatching little birds with pebbles in their beaks to check the advance of the aggressor. That, perhaps, was the first-ever aerial defence of a military target in the recorded history of mankind.
But what an irony it is that in this 21 st century, Yemen is being pummeled from the air by the besotted rulers of Saudi Arabia who claim to be keepers and custodians of the Holy Kaaba. History, indeed, is repeating itself, but in completely reverse order.
The Saudis had no business invading a hapless—and aerially defenceless—Yemeni people from the air. It’s as much an act of bloated hubris as was Abraha’s invasion of the land where the House of God was located.
But the age of miracles has long since come to an end. So, it’s inconceivable that there would be any squadrons of miracle birds coming to the aid of the beleaguered Yemenis and blasting the Saudi fighters and bombers off the Yemeni air space.
However, the irony of ironies is that it’s the modern-day Abrahas who are seeking the help of their friends, ‘brothers’ and allies to beef up their invasion with their armies and arms so they may heap more misery on the poor Yemenis . Pakistan is one ‘brotherly’ state the Saudis desperately covet to rope into their corner.

Riaz Haq said...

#Saudi Prince Warns Agnst #Iran's Growing Influence On #Arab, #Muslim Nations, Slams #Pakistan For Neutrality #Yemen …

Prince Turki Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, warned against Iran's encroachment on Arab and Muslim nations in the region this week as Iranian-backed rebels continue to fight the Saudi-backed government in Yemen. Faisal also urged Saudi Arabia's allies to curb Iranian influence.

The ongoing conflict in Yemen has pitted rivals Saudi Arabia against Iran in a battle for Middle East supremacy. “As we are dealing with Yemen, Iran’s imperial ambitions will be checked in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq,” Faisal said in a statement Monday, according to Arab News in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “Our nations and peoples are experiencing a period of chaotic and harmful interventions and changes.”

Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States and United Kingdom, also called Pakistan’s decision to stay neutral in the ongoing Yemen war “disappointing.” A Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen since late March. Iran’s Shiite government has supplied the Houthis with arms, money and training. The militia ousted Yemen’s Sunni government and seized the capital Sanaa in September.

“Some mealy mouthed politicians have forgotten what the Kingdom has done for Pakistan since its birth,” the Saudi prince said in the statement Monday.

Faisal also asked U.S. President Barack Obama to “find the way to make our area free of weapons of mass destruction,” as Washington seeks to sign an agreement with Tehran that would curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Arab News said. Tentative framework for a nuclear deal between six world powers and Tehran was drafted last month, in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activity in return for lifted sanctions. A final agreement could be reached by the end of June.

“The devil is in the details, which we will await,” said Faisal, founder of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

Riaz Haq said...

IMF: #SaudiArabia will be bankrupt in 5 years: It's running on empty @AJENews

Saudi Arabia could burn through its financial assets within five years, as the country grapples with slumping oil prices.

The Middle East’s biggest economy is expected to run budget deficits of 21.6 percent in 2015 and 19.4 percent in 2016, according the IMF’s latest regional outlook.

That means Riyadh needs to find money to meet its spending plans. Just like its oil exporting neighbours, it plans to make substantial cuts to its budgets.

"For the region’s oil exporters, the fall in prices has led to large export revenue losses, amounting to a staggering $360bn this year alone," Masood Ahmed, the IMF’s Middle East director, told reporters in Dubai.

There has been a trickle of evidence over the last few months that not all is well inside the kingdom.
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency has withdrawn $70bn in funds managed by overseas financial institutions. Its foreign reserves have fallen by almost $73bn, since oil prices slumped, leaving it with $654.5bn.

But with a debt-to-GDP ratio of two percent, there is plenty of room for the country to borrow money to fund its growth.

The International Monetary Fund’s regional report also found that:

Syria’s economy has contract as much as 60 percent since the start of the conflict.
Yemen’s economy has slumped nearly 30 percent.
Economic growth for the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan could rise to 3.9 percent in 2016 from 2.5 percent this year.
Oil prices are expected to average $52 a barrel in 2015 and could rise to $63 a barrel next year.
With oil prices languishing around $50 a barrel, oil exporters need to diversify their economies to absorb millions of job seekers. "Achieving fiscal sustainability over the medium term will be especially challenging given the need to create jobs for the more than 10 million people anticipated to be looking for work by 2020 in the region’s oil-exporting countries," Ahmed said.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan and #SaudiArabia reconcile after rift over #Yemen. Gen Raheel Sharif visits King. #Pakistan can mediate.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are resetting their relationship, which was dealt a major setback earlier this year when Islamabad refused to join the Saudi war in Yemen.

Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, visited Riyadh last week and held talks with King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and Defense Minister Prince Muhammad bin Salman. A joint Saudi-Pakistani military exercise was also concluded. The Saudi media hailed the visit as an end to the "somewhat cool" period that followed the unanimous vote in the Pakistani parliament last April against sending any troops to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The vote was followed by a wave of editorials in the Pakistani press harshly critical of the Kingdom. This criticism was highly unusual given the long history of close relations between the two states. Pakistan deployed thousands of soldiers in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to deter any aggression by Iran against the Kingdom, for example, and Saudi Arabian money has helped bankroll Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. There are also 1.5 million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia.

The chief of army staff's visit will help repair the rift over Yemen, but doubts about Pakistan's reliability will persist in the Gulf. Promises to come to the defense of the Kingdom and especially the two holy cities are taken with some question marks by the Gulf's royal families, especially in Abu Dhabi.

For their part, senior Pakistanis have doubts about the stability of the succession process in Saudi Arabia. They are monitoring carefully the king's son, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is also deputy crown prince as well as defense minister, and who is very ambitious. The king has already deposed one crown prince this year, his brother Prince Muqrin, with no explanation. Many Pakistanis are also unhappy with the Saudi response to the tragic stampede at the Hajj this year, in which dozens of Pakistanis were killed.

Given its neutral stand in the Yemen conflict, Pakistan could play a critical role in any peace agreement there by providing the core of a peace keeping force to oversee a cease-fire. Pakistan has a long history of providing excellent forces to United Nations peacekeeping missions. It is also experienced in managing Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions, which will be crucial to any peace process in Yemen. General Sharif will be in Washington later this month and should be quietly encouraged to lean forward to assist ending the war that Islamabad wisely stayed out of.

Riaz Haq said...

Former #Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif to lead '#Muslim #NATO' Military Alliance

Pakistan’s retired army chief has agreed to become the first commander of the “Muslim Nato”, a fledgling military alliance of mostly Sunni Islamic states led by Saudi Arabia.

The announcement led to a flood of criticism of Raheel Sharif, a general who until recently had been lauded for his three years leading Pakistan’s half a million-strong army.

The Pakistani defence minister, Khawaja Asif, revealed on television that Sharif would become the first commander-in-chief of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), a proposed coalition of 39 countries that will have its headquarters in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The IMAFT was announced in late 2015 as a foil against Islamic State and terrorism in general but it has not been supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis.

Islamabad has long struggled to find a balance between Saudi Arabia, a rich patron that is home to thousands of Pakistani expatriate workers, and neighbouring Iran that hopes to sell gas to energy-starved Pakistan.

Analysts say the decades-long standoff between Sunni Saudi Arabia and predominantly Shia Iran has helped fuel sectarian conflict in Pakistan.

Both countries have been accused of supporting their own favoured militant groups in Pakistan, where the Shia minority has been the target of relentless attacks.

In 2015, Pakistan declined to join military operations against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen despite relentless pressure from Saudi Arabia, which has led the intervention in its impoverished neighbour.


The decision not to come to the aid of a close ally that a year earlier had bolstered Pakistan’s finances with a $1.5bn gift was widely praised by analysts who feared involvement in Yemen would exacerbate sectarian tensions at home.

But the plan to allow one of the most esteemed army chiefs in Pakistan’s history to take up command of IMAFT has been met with widespread criticism on social media.

The Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, a Shia political group, expressed concern over the appointment, which it urged Sharif to turn down.

Some hardline Sunni groups, including the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, said they fully supported the development.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani defence analyst, cautioned that the IMAFT was not yet operational and it was unclear whether it would follow the model of Nato or something more like the United Nation’s peacekeeping operations.

“But there is a question of how far this force would be a non-partisan force,” he said. “At the moment it appears to be dominated by conservative Arab kingdoms so Iran, Iraq and Syria will not welcome it.”

He cautioned against Pakistan being dragged into conflicts at the behest of others.

“Pakistani troops have been in Saudi Arabia since the mid-1960s but the guiding principle has always been that they would serve only within the territorial boundaries of Saudi Arabia. If you create a kind of force of so many countries then one day the Saudis might want it to go to Yemen or Syria.”

Sharif became highly popular after an army crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban led to sharp falls in violence and an army-led public relations campaign that contrasted him with the country’s civilian leaders, who are widely viewed as ineffectual and corrupt.

He retired in November despite fevered speculation that he would be given an extension or elevated to the position of field marshal.

Riaz Haq said...

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan: Moving From the Personal to the Strategic Domain
Kamal Alam and Ibrahim Al-Othaimin

On many fronts, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are working to deepen and formalise ties that have historically been determined by the quality of relationships between kings and prime ministers
Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Saudi Arabia’s main intelligence agency, once described the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as ‘probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries without any official treaty’. Prince Turki himself was at the helm of Saudi decision-making for over three decades and oversaw the close cooperation between the two countries during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the first Gulf War, the Afghanistan campaign, and in post-9/11 defence diplomacy.

There were difficulties in the relationship. The Pakistani parliament’s opposition to Islamabad’s military involvement in the Saudi-led coalition in the ongoing war in Yemen sparked controversy and questions about the essence of the strategic relations between the two countries. However, Pakistan’s decision not to join their Saudi allies in that war was largely due to domestic preoccupations; these include fighting Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban and dealing with rebels from the country’s southwestern Baluchistan region. These issues have left Pakistan domestically exhausted and have influenced Islamabad’s decision to stay out of the Yemeni conflict so as to avoid opening up an additional front with Iran, the Houthi’s powerful external patron and source of resources, which could contribute even further to instability inside Pakistan.

Yet despite Pakistan’s neutrality in the Yemen crisis, Saudi-Pakistan relations remain strong and largely unaffected; Pakistan participated in exercise North Thunder, which took place in northern Saudi Arabia, along with 20 other Arab and Muslim countries in March 2016, and General Raheel Sharif, the former Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army, was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism. Still, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has often been seen over the years as being rooted in the personal relationships between Saudi kings and Pakistani prime ministers, rather than the formal institutions of the two countries.

For a long time, the relationship has been characterised by an exchange of capital flows from Saudi investors of various sectors, in return for military cooperation. According to the last available statistics, the value of trade exchange from mid-2012 to mid-2013 reached $5 billion. Over the preceding decade (from 2002 to 2012) the value of trade exchange reached approximately $30.7 billion. Saudi Arabia’s motives for capital investment in Pakistan have not only been financial, for the Saudis have offered support in more difficult times, and without direct commercial interests. For example, when a devastating earthquake hit Baluchistan in 2005, Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan with $10 million in humanitarian aid. Moreover, when floods swept across Pakistan in 2010 and 2011, Saudi Arabia granted Pakistan $170 million for relief operations and reconstruction activities in the affected areas. In January 2018, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan pledged to strengthen their economic ties with a preferential trade agreement that would fit in with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030. This is seen as addressing the previously grey area of ties between two countries. where no one quite knew what was being signed and by whom.