The Infowar On Xinjiang Failed, Now They’re Targeting Pakistan & PM Imran Khan

By Andrew Korybko
Source

The Western Mainstream Media’s infowar about the true state of the anti-terrorist situation in Xinjiang failed after a group of diplomats and journalists were unprecedentedly allowed to visit some of the education and job-training facilities in the strategically located province, after which the weaponized narrative was tweaked to become one of “China buying off Pakistan’s silence”, which dishonestly portrays the Muslim Great Power’s pious leader as a religious hypocrite and dangerously risks provoking terrorist attacks against him and his government.   

2018 was predominantly characterized by four main stories for Pakistan – the rise of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s latest Prime Minister; the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) anti-blasphemy protests and subsequently seditious calls for acts of terrorism against the state; the Hybrid War on CPEC that peaked near the end of the year with the Karachi & Chabahar attacks and the first-mentioned mastermind’s assassination in Afghanistan; and the creeping awareness of the Western Mainstream Media’s infowar narrative about China’s alleged treatment of the Uighur in Xinjiang. It’s therefore not surprising that all four of them are still relevant at the beginning of 2019, but there are worrying signs that hostile perception managers are attempting to weave them together as part of a renewed destabilization campaign against Pakistan.

The Hybrid War on CPEC received an unexpected setback after one of the so-called “Balochistan Liberation Army’s” (BLA) top terrorists was assassinated in Afghanistan right before the New Year, which occurred just a few weeks before China’s unpreceded diplomatic and journalistic opening in Xinjiang when it recently allowed members of both professional communities to visit some of its education and job-training facilities that it constructed there as part of its anti-terrorist operations in the strategically located province. Beijing even announced that UN officials are welcome to travel to the region as well, provided of course that they follow the proper procedures and don’t interfere in the country’s domestic affairs. These two developments are the reason why the weaponized narratives that were unleashed against both countries are now being tweaked.

Recognizing that the BLA terrorists were dealt a mighty blow by the recent assassination of one of their leaders and the growing popularity of Dr. Jumma Marri Khan’s Overseas Pakistani Baloch Unity (OPBU) that peacefully reintegrates wayward overseas Baloch into Pakistani society, and realizing that the world is becoming aware of the fact that the scandalous stories about China’s treatment of the Uighur in Xinjiang are fake news, the forces that are hostile to both multipolar Great Powers are scrambling to adapt their infowar techniques to these changed conditions. It’s with this situational context in mind that one should approach the latest claims coming from the popular American-based financial and business news site Business Insider, which just published a very inaccurate portrayal of Pakistani-Chinese relations.

In an article titled “Pakistan abruptly stopped calling out China’s mass oppression of Muslims. Critics say Beijing bought its silence”, one of the outlet’s news reporters attempted to make the case that China paid Pakistan off so that it wouldn’t use its influence in the larger international Muslim community (“Ummah”) to rally its co-confessionals against Beijing’s alleged mistreatment of the Uighur. The author drew attention to a widely publicized fake news report that the country’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs supposedly brought this topic up in a critical way when meeting with the Chinese Ambassador last September. Bothofficials later denied the media’s reports about their talks, but the damage was already done because few people who heard the fake news were made aware of their response.

The writer then tried to make it seem like PM Khan was sidestepping the Uighur issue after reminding her audience about Chinese support for Pakistan’s economy, with her innuendo being that “Beijing bought its silence”. She then quotes two people to press home this point, the second of whom is Peter Irwin, who’s described as a “project manager” at the so-called “World Uyghur Congress” (WUC). Unbeknownst to her audience and conspicuously left out of her report, that man functions as a spokesman for an organization that many in China and beyond believe to be the political wing of the so-called “Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) which was designated as a terrorist group by the UN in 2002. This makes it very disturbing that his words were included by the author in the article’s title.

After declaring that China was “buying the silence of Pakistan”, Irwin goes on to say that “he knows he simply needs to keep his mouth shut”, concluding that “someone like Khan has a very good idea of the balance of power in their relationship with China.” This dangerously insinuates that PM Khan and his government are being paid to stay silent about the plight of Muslims, which would make them religious hypocrites if it was true and accordingly paint them as targets of Takfiri terrorists (i.e. those who target alleged “infidels”/”apostates”). Dolkun Isa, the WUC leader who China regards as a terroristrecently slammed Muslim countries for not supporting him, so it might be that Irwin was tasked by his boss to weaponize this narrative against Pakistan and PM Khan personally.

This is exceptionally dangerous in the Pakistani context because leaders of the TLP opposition party were arrested late last year on charges of sedition and terrorism after they called on their supporters to commits acts of violence against state officials on the purported basis that they were violating fundamentalist Islamic tenets following the Supreme Court’s acquittal of a Christian woman who was previously convicted of blasphemy during a high-profile case. Some of the group’s most religiously extremist sympathizers inside of Pakistan and abroad might interpret Irwin’s hypocrite/infidel/apostate insinuation that he just spread on the globally famous Business Insider information outlet about the pious Prime Minister as a “call to action”, just like Isa might have planned to happen all along as punishment for Pakistan’s refusal to support his narrative.

The WUC-ETIM’s intention seems to be to rekindle the Hybrid War on CPEC by expanding it beyond its now-contained Baloch “nationalist”-driven acts of terrorism to become an “Ummah”-wide militant jihad against the Pakistani state for its position towards China’s alleged treatment of the Uighurs, which is increasingly being revealed to have been the proper one all along after Beijing’s recent diplomatic and journalistic opening in the province debunked the last year’s worth of fake news about this emotive issue. It’s precisely because it turned out that Pakistan was right all along, and its refusal to fall for this infowar narrative doomed the plans to organize an “Ummah”-wide militant jihad against China, that it’s now being targeted through this desperate Hybrid War scenario.

No one should automatically assume that Business Insider is knowingly acting as an instrument of Hybrid War against Pakistan, and it might just be a coincidence that its news reporter decided to obtain exclusive comments on this topic from an individual representing an organization that Beijing regards as a political front for a UN-designated terrorist group (which she didn’t inform her audience of), but the outlet’s irresponsibly inaccurate portrayal of the country’s relations with China nevertheless advances the aforementioned scenario regardless of its original intent. A globally renowned US-based information platform is openly being used by what many consider to be a terrorist-connected organization to spread its dangerously false innuendo that PM Khan is a hypocrite/infidel/apostate who was paid off by China to remain silent about the supposed plight of fellow Muslims, and that’s extremely alarming.

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A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

December 30, 2018

A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times – here and here – by special agreement with the author)

The new Great Game on the Roof of the World

On top of the graceful Baltit Fort, overlooking the Hunza Valley’s Shangri-La-style splendor, it’s impossible not to feel dizzy at the view: an overwhelming collision of millennia of geology and centuries of history.

We are at the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or – as legend rules, the Roof of the World. This is an area about 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) crammed with spectacular mountain ranges and amidst them, secluded pristine valleys and the largest glaciers outside of the Polar region.

The location feels like vertigo. To the north, beyond the Batura Glacier, is the tiny northeast arm of Afghanistan, the legendary Wakhan corridor. A crest of the Hindu Kush separates Wakhan from the regional capital Gilgit. Xinjiang starts on Wakhan’s uppermost tip. Via the upgraded Karakoram highway, it’s only 240 km from Gilgit to the Khunjerab Pass, 4,934 meters high on the official China-Pakistan border.

What used to be called the Russian Pamir, now in Tajikistan, can be seen with naked eyes from one of the peaks of the Karakoram. To the east, past Skardu and an arduous trek that may last almost a month, lies K2, the second highest peak in the world, among a mighty group north of the Batura Glacier (also known as Baltoro), which is 63km long.

Receding Hopper Glacier

The receding Hopper Glacier in northern Pakistan. Photo: Asia Times

To the south lies Azad (“Free”) Kashmir and slightly to the southeast what locals define as Indian-occupied Kashmir. The former King of Kashmir agreed to be part of India after Partition in 1947 but troops were airlifted to the northern state and after a year of fighting, India went to the UN. A temporary ceasefire line was established in 1948 and runs down from the Karakoram towards the Nanga Parbat – the killer mountain, dividing Kashmir into two virtually sealed halves.

Massive mountain ranges

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

original Silk Road, parallel to K’koram hwy

The ancient Silk Road is seen above the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

The Himalayas start in Gilgit and then run southeast through a cluster of high peaks, including the Nanga Parbat, directly on the Islamabad-Gilgit air route (flights by turboprop only take off if weather around the Nanga Parbat allows).

Strategically, this is one of the top spots on the planet, a protagonist of the original Great Game between imperial Britain and Russia. So it’s more than appropriate that here is exactly where a protagonist of the New Great Game, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), actually starts, linking western China’s Xinjiang to the Northern Areas across the Khunjerab Pass.

Karakoram politics

CPEC is the supreme jewel in the Belt and Road crown, the largest foreign development or investment program in modern China’s history, loaded with way more funds than years of US military aid to Islamabad.

And we are indeed in Ancient Silk Road territory. Looking at the millenary trail parallel to the Karakoram, lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Development Foundation, it’s easy to picture the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang traversing these heights in the 7th Century, and naming them Polo-le. The Tang dynasty called it Great Polu. When Marco Polo trekked in the 14th Century, he called it Bolor.

Early last month, I was privileged to drive on the upgraded Karakoram Highway along CPEC all the way from Gilgit to the Khunjerab, and back, with multiple incursions to valleys such as lush, pine-forested Naltar, Shimshal (manufacturers of sublime yak wool shawls), Kutwal and receding glaciers, such as Hopper and Bualtar.

The Karakoram Highway was originally conceived in the 1970s as an ambitious political-strategic project able to influence the geopolitical balance in the subcontinent, by expanding Islamabad’s reach into previously inaccessible frontiers.

Now it’s at the heart of a trade and energy corridor from the China-Pak border all the way south to Gwadar, the port in Balochistan in the Arabian Sea a stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf. Gwadar looks likely to be a crucial springboard to China becoming a naval power – active from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and on to the Mediterranean, while CPEC, slowly but surely, aims to change the social and economic structure of Pakistan.

Previous Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the controversial “Lion of the Punjab”, was an avid CPEC supporter after he won the 2013 elections. At the time current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, winner of elections held in July, had already polled second nationwide and rose to power in the strategic Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province – straddling the area between Islamabad and the tribal belt.

Sharif, in June 2013, when he was about to enter negotiations with the Chinese, was lauding what would become CPEC as an infrastructure scheme that “will change the fate of Pakistan”. So far that has translated mostly into new hydroelectric dams, coal-fired power stations, and civil-nuclear power. The China National Nuclear Corporation is building two 1,100 MW reactors near Karachi for nearly $10 billion, 65% financed by Chinese loans. This is the first time that the Chinese nuclear industry has built something of this scale outside of their country.

More than a dozen CPEC projects involve power generation – Pakistan is no longer woefully energy-deprived. These projects may not be as sexy as high-speed rail and pipelines, which could arrive much later; after all CPEC in its planned entirety runs to 2030.

Of course, monumental business decisions will have to be addressed; the staggering cost – and state of the art engineering – involved in building a railway parallel to the Karakoram; and the fact that oil pumped via a pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang might cost five times more than via the usual sea lanes all the way to Shanghai.

A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

What Imran wants

Imran Khan is way more cautious than Sharif, who had a “China cell” inside his office and commanded the Pakistani Army to set up a 10,000-strong security force to protect China’s CPEC investments.

But Khan knows well about the firepower behind CPEC: the Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), CITIC, Bank of China, EXIM, China Development Bank. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) projects that BRI could mobilize as much as $6 trillion in the next few years. What Khan wants is to negotiate better terms for Pakistan.

China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, never tires to stress that Pakistan’s serious debt problem relates to the initial phase of CPEC, due to the massive import of heavy machinery, industrial raw materials and services.

As I learned in Islamabad in various discussions with Pakistani analysts, Khan actually wants to expand CPEC and prevent it from leading Islamabad towards an unsustainable debt trap. That would mean tweaking CPEC’s focus away from too much infrastructure development to technology transfer and market access for Pakistani products. Financing for agriculture projects, for instance, could come via CPEC’s Long Term Plan, which unlike the so-called Early Harvest Plan does not come with a price tag attached and can be negotiated freely between Islamabad and Beijing.

According to a 2016 IMF report, $28 billion in projects included in Early Harvest will be completed by 2020: $10 billion to develop road, rail and port infrastructure, and $18 billion in energy projects via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with Chinese firms using commercial loans borrowing from Chinese banks.

CPEC though is an extremely long-term endeavor. Other CPEC investments in energy and transportation infrastructure financed by China will be finished only by 2030.

A new CPEC emphasis on industrialization via technology transfer would allow Pakistan to produce some of what China imports. That would imply reneg otiating the Pakistan-China Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), getting to the level of preferential treatment that China offers to ASEAN. Essentially, this is what Imran Khan is aiming at.

Hail the Ismailis

Gilgit-Baltistan is the safest place in the whole of Pakistan. Here, there’s no “terror threat” by the Pakistani Taliban or dodgy al-Qaeda or ISIS spin-offs. Major spoken languages are Shina and Burushaski, not Urdu. The population is overwhelmingly composed of Ismaili Shi’ites – like Karim Shah, an encyclopedia of Central and South Asian history and culture reigning over a cave of wonders in Gilgit where anything from authentic heads of Gandhara Bodhisattvas to 18th Century silk Qom carpets from a Persian royal family can be found.

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

We spent hours talking about Khorasan, the original Kipling-esque Great Game, Col. Durand (who drew the Durand Line separating Pashtuns on both sides of an artificial border), the Kashmir question, the astonishingly complex geo-eco-historical system of the Northern Areas, and of course, China.

Shah imparted the impression – confirmed by other traders – that the local population may see some tangible CPEC-related benefits, but does not know exactly what Beijing wants. Chinese visitors – engineers, bureaucrats – are remote; tourism has not picked up yet, as in the case of the Japanese, who have been Northern Areas enthusiasts for decades. Thus, an improvement in Xi Jinping’s “people-to-people exchange”, a key component of BRI, seems to be in order.

Legend rules that Hunzakuts, the inhabitants of the glorious Hunza Valley, are descendants of three soldiers of Alexander the Great who married beautiful Persian women of high aristocracy. While Alexander campaigned along the Oxus, the three couples traveled across the Wakhan corridor, discovered the marvelous valley, and settled down.

The tolerant Islam they came to practice centuries later is impervious to Gulf proselytizing. When I crossed an austere village by the Karakoram, visibly out of place, my Ismaili driver Akbar noted that these were “Sunni Wahhabis”.

Finding Gandhara art in Gilgit made perfect sense. Gandhara historically formed a sort of fertile and irrigated triangle between the Iranian plateau, the Hindu Kush and the first peaks of the Himalayas. Between the 6th Century BC and the Islamic invasions, it was the crossroads of three cultures: India, China and Iran. And it was here that an extremely original Greco-Buddhist art and culture flourished, way after Greek power had waned.

Gandhara Bodhisattva head, Gilgit cave of wonders

A Gandhara Bodhisattva head in Karim’s shop in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

The Kashmir question

As a new 21st Century crossroads, CPEC faces stern challenges – from geology (constant landslides and floods in Gilgit-Baltistan) to wobbly security in Balochistan, threatened by a combination of separatist and religiously or politically manipulated movements. I was not able to visit Gwadar and the south of CPEC even though contacts in Islamabad supplied military sources with an application for a NOC (No Object Certificate, as it is known on Pakistan) weeks in advance. The military response: too “sensitive”, as in dangerous, for a lone Western journalist, especially in the aftermath of the Aasia Bibi case.

China will need to find a way – perhaps via negotiations inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – to mollify India on CPEC’s route straddling Kashmir.

In 1936 the British made a deal with the Maharaja of Kashmir, getting Gilgit on lease for 60 years. But then came Partition. At the time the Kuomintang – in power in China, before Mao’s victory – was engaged in secret negotiations to restore Hunza’s fabled independence as a new state allied with China. But the Mir of Hunza finally decided to join the newborn Pakistani nation.

Few may remember that, during the 1950s, way before the India-China border war in 1962, there was trouble on the China-Pakistan border, when Beijing seized 3,400 square miles of Kashmir, including parts of old Hunza, whose Mirs always recognized Chinese suzerainty. When the British had first seized Hunza in 1891, the Mir actually fled to China.

Zhou EnLai visits Baltit Fort in early 60s

This puts into perspective some fabulous documents preserved at Baltit Fort, like China-Baltistan trade agreements and a picture of Zhou EnLai visiting the fort in the early 1960s.

It’s also fascinating to remember that at the time Zhou Enlai already thought about Karachi – no Gwadar at that time – connecting to an “ancient trade route, lost to modern times, not only for trade but for strategic purposes as well”. Xi Jinping has definitely read his Zhou EnLai thoroughly.

China Baltistan trade agreements

Historic trade agreements between China and Baltistan. Photo: Asia Times

Nowadays, the President of Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, always stresses that “unlike Indian propaganda”, the Pakistani side is “thriving politically and economically”, and CPEC could also be beneficial for Indian Kashmir. As it stands, this remains a red line for New Delhi.

Once in a lifetime chance

At the National Defense University in Islamabad, I was shown a paper by Li Xiaolu, from the Institute of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University of the PLA detailing how Beijing hopes that “by opening China’s west to Central and South Asia, building better transportation infrastructure, and by encouraging trade with South and Central Asian countries, the development of manufacturing, processing and industrial capacities in Western China can be promoted”.

Now compare it with road and rail infrastructure improved across Pakistan being able to turn the whole nation into an actual trade corridor, while the Pakistani Navy improves its defense in deep-sea waters with Gwadar positioned as a third naval base and offering support for Chinese ships across sea lanes close to the Middle East and Northern Africa.

No wonder Chinese analysts share a virtual consensus about traditional Chinese wisdom favoring unity for prosperity – a key plank of CPEC and BRI – and prevailing over containment and confrontation.

For CPEC to work, Beijing needs three things: a political solution for Afghanistan, which is already being worked out inside the SCO, with China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran (as an observer) directly involved; stable relations between India and Pakistan; and certified security across Pakistan.

Beijing is actively encouraging closer connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the Quetta-Kandahar railway and the Kabul-Peshawar highway. CPEC is actually expanding from the Karakoram to the Khyber Pass, trespassing the artificial Durand line along the way.

In contrast, multiple factions in Washington continue to twist all possible faultlines to thwart these projects, with a propaganda campaign designed to portray BRI as a swamp of corruption, incompetence, a “debt trap” and “malign” Chinese behavior.

Yet among all BRI corridors, material progress across CPEC is more than self-evident. I saw every village in the Northern Areas with electricity and most of them linked by fiber optics, a stark contrast to when I traveled a severely dilapidated Karakoram, twice, two decades ago.

Pakistan now has a once in a lifetime chance to harness its geographical location – with borders intertwining centuries of history and culture with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East – to set itself up as a key bridge between the Middle East and both the Mediterranean and Western China.

Rumors abounded in Islamabad that Imran Khan is aiming for an international standard university in the capital, positioned as a center of study and research tracking the new mosaic of an emerging multipolar world. Young people power will be more than available, like Jamila Shah, currently at the National Defense University, doing a masters in Peace and Conflict Studies, and working with an NGO, the International Rescue Committee. Jamila, from Hunza, in Gilgit-Baltistan, is the face of Pakistan’s future.

Jamila Shah

Jamila Shah. Photo: Asia Times

Still hostage to a corrupt oligarchy, cartelized industries, falling exports (60% of which are textiles), and with almost half of their youths aged from five to 16 out of school, Pakistan faces a Sisyphean task.

Economist Ishrat Husain has correctly noted that Pakistan’s model of “elitist growth” must be replaced by “shared growth”. Enter a modified CPEC opening the path ahead, hopefully like those cargo trucks defying the slippery, snowy Khunjerab full blast.

CPEC trade Pak style

Trade on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Asia Times

Up next: On the road in the Karakoram 

On the road in the Karakoram

On the Pakistani side, a wooden house serves as a small customs office fronted by “the highest ATM in the world” – though you try a foreign credit card at your peril. The Chinese side boasts an intimidating, metal-plated James Bond-esque structure with no humans in sight.

This is ground zero of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the point where the revamped, upgraded Karakoram Highway – “the eighth wonder of the world” – snakes away from China’s Xinjiang all the way to Pakistan’s Northern Areas and further south to Islamabad and Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea.

From here it’s 420 kilometers to Kashgar and a hefty 1,890 km to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. But going south is where the fun really begins.

highest ATM in the world

World’s highest ATM. Photo: Asia Times

Traveling the Karakoram from Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas, to the Khunjerab and back is an exhilarating road trip along CPEC and its spin-offs. And it’s a crazy carousel.

Psychedelic Pakistani trucks, Chinese container road warriors – some trying to subdue the Khunjerab without chains on their tires – packed minivans plying the Hunza-Xinjiang route, Silk Road motels, the smell of curry interfacing with the best apricot juice in the world, roadside butchers, shacks advertising themselves as “Silk Road Investment & Credit Society Ltd,” many a Pak China Gateway Hotel, checkpoints consisting of a roadside table and a bunch of papers kept from flying away by pebbles, stashes of yuan crisscrossing rupees and dollars and messy, multi-level “people to people exchanges.”

Chinese container truck up the Khunjerab with no chains on tires

A Chinese container truck ploughs over the snow without chains on its tires. Photo: Asia Times

It’s one of the greatest road trips on earth. And in geopolitical terms, it may be the greatest.

Mind the yaks

Karakoram North starts at the environmentally protected Khunjerab National Park, where yaks roam freely on the road and ibex and marmots are easily spotted nearby. But there are no Marco Polo sheep, much less snow leopards. (Though local Ismailis insist a few dozen reside in the park.)

The Yak and Sheep Highway

Yak and sheep roam the highway. Photo: Asia Times

The first serious pit-stop in the Karakoram is Sost, which used to be the Pakistani border in the old days – as when I traveled the road, twice, 20 years ago by jeep from Kashgar. Now, the bustling trade entrepot is the HQ of the Silk Road Dry Port Sost. Chinese lorries unload their cargo and Pakistani trucks take up the relay to transport the merchandise all across the nation. It appears modern and well-organized. Everything proceeds smoothly.

entrance to the dry port at Sost

Entrance to the dry port at Sost. Photo: Asia Times

Snaking south, we pass right under the spectacularly receding Passu Glacier. In a nearby village, a funeral is in progress, with the crowd taking over the road alongside yaks and buffalos and interrupting traffic at will.

The receding Passu glacier by the Karakoram

The receding Passu Glacier by the Karakoram. Photo: Asia Times

The upgraded Karakoram is an apotheosis of Pak-China Friendship Tunnels – all exhibiting the obligatory commemorative billboard extolling a geopolitical friendship soaring “higher than the highest mountain.”

One of many Pak-China tunnels

One of the many Pak-China tunnels. Photo: Asia Times

This is CPEC in effect. It is astonishing when compared to the recent past. Between the Hunza and Gilgit rivers flowing parallel to impeccable asphalt worthy of an autobahn, a fiber optic cable runs all across the Northern Areas.

Chinese engineering has performed miracles. Around 160km south of the Khunjerab we drive around Attabad Lake, which totally submerged the road after a landslide in January 2010. For over five years there was simply no China-Pakistan overland trade, although some went via Kashgar-Gilgit flights. The solution by the China Road and Bridge Corporation had to be a tunnel – completed in 2015.

Attabad lake, now negotiated via a tunnel

Attabad Lake, now negotiated via tunnel. Photo: Asia Times

Trade along the Karakoram is bound to pick up – after years at less than 10% of total China-Pak trade, which tends to flow especially from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, not Xinjiang. Some stretches of the highway remain prone to constant landslides, rockslides or floods, which require a number of 24/7 rescue and maintenance teams. These are Pakistani, while the SUVs of the police in the Northern Areas have been supplied by China.

The heart of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects are road and railway lines. These do not cost a fortune per se; the expense is in the construction costs for bridges and tunnels. Russia spent over $4 billion on its Kerch Strait bridge to the Crimea. New Silk Road costs will be exponentially higher. Tunnels can be way more expensive than bridges.

Where the Himalayas rise

From the Karakoram it’s sometimes possible to catch a glimpse of the formidable Nanga Parbat – Kashmiri for “Naked Mountain,” later nicknamed the “Killer Mountain.” It has never been climbed in winter, and is actually a series of ridges which anchors the western Himalaya range, culminating in an ice crest at 8,126 meters above sea level. That is the ninth highest peak in the world and the second in Pakistan after K2.

Glimpse of the mighty Nanga Parbat

Heading into the mighty Nanga Parbat (on the right). Photo: Asia Times

As we approach Gilgit, the road signs – in English, Mandarin and Russian – say 468 km to Abbottabad (site of the Osama bin Laden endgame) and 583 km to Islamabad. Way down south, in less mountainous terrain, I’m told the odd rockslide gives way to occasional floods.

South of Gilgit, the Chinese once again are in frantic building mode, attacking the road starting from the Karakoram to the strategic Mecca Skardu. The road, according to local Ismailis, should be ready before 2020.

meeting of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and Himalayas

Where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas meet. Photo: Asia Times

And then, on a bend of the revamped highway, the intersection of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan mountain ranges – bordering the confluence of the Gilgit River with the Indus, now flowing south all the way to the Arabian Sea – spreads before us. Nearly 85% of the Indus discharge happens between May and September, out of snow and glacial melt, propelling the monsoons. Abdul, the painter of the Karakoram, is applying the finishing touches to a white-clad viewing point.

Abdul, painter of the Karakoram

Abdul: Painter of the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

The China-Pak embrace

The building of the original Karakoram – an engineering tour de force – took no less than 27 years and claimed the lives of over 1,000 Chinese and Pakistani workers.

The Karakoram Highway is much more than a road; it’s a rolling, graphic emblem of the China-Pakistan geopolitical embrace, surmounting all manner of economic, cultural, geological and security barriers over decades to the benefit of a strategic objective. And the strategic objective now is CPEC as the flagship BRI project.

At the recent opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where he was guest of honor, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described CPEC, including the Karakoram highway, as a “vital link” for China and Pakistan with the Middle East and Central Asia. “CPEC is a mechanism to connect China, the Middle East and Central Asia that also opens ways for fresh investment and paves the way for new markets,” he said.

Khan also reassured his hosts – as well as domestic public opinion – that his new government is engaged in deep, meaningful reforms to ensure transparency and accountability; virtual ghosts as far as Pakistani business is usually concerned.

“Pakistan has an array of resources, minerals and renewables amidst the most diverse landscape,” Khan said, adding that his country is a leading exporter of sports goods, medical instruments and IT products, and has promising, 100 million-strong human resources under the age of 35. So, the potential is immense.

Islamabad is all in on completing CPEC up to 2030, with projections of up to 3% added to annual GDP growth, as industrial output is bound to rise with more electricity courtesy of CPEC investments and more production coming from Chinese-style Special Economic Zones.

CPEC’s Long-Term Plan (2017-2030), released one year ago, defines four priorities in Pakistan: Gwadar Port; energy projects; transport infrastructure (as in upgrading of the Karakoram); and industrial cooperation. Imran Khan’s government (see Part 1 of this report) is aiming for Pakistan to position itself, via CPEC, as the key hub uniting the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.

The big plan

This implies, geopolitically and economically, an even stronger, trans-regional, China-Pakistan alliance in contraposition to India and Washington. The US reaction to BRI in 2018 was to unleash a whispering campaign to try to discredit it. Beijing, for its part, expects India and Pakistan to at least discuss their political differences inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

From now on, China’s far west and south – Xinjiang and Yunnan – have to become the top drivers of the Chinese economy. Upgrading their road, rail and energy infrastructure and closely linking them to South Asia and Southeast Asia is essential for China to keep growing – all that boosted by crucial energy connectivity via a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, an oil pipeline from the Caspian in Kazakhstan, further massive gas shipments from Siberia, and, further down the road, a possible gas pipeline from Gwadar port to Xinjiang parallel to the Karakoram.

Will it work? The Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas have seen it all come and all go over multiple millennia. So why not? The upgrading of the greatest geological and geopolitical road trip on earth is a start.

Karakoram checkpoint

Karakoram Highway checkpoint. Photo: Asia Times.

Pakistan’s New PM Imran Khan Seeks Historic Peace Deal with India, After Decades of Conflict

Under the Pakistani volcano

Image result for geopolitical chessboard,

Via The Saker

November 04, 2018Under the Pakistani volcano

While Khan plays on a complex geopolitical chessboard, Chinese aid could be a financial lifeline as Islamabad faces off against deadly religious extremism

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

It has been a breathless week, huddled in the shadow of the simmering, bubbling, politico-religious volcano that is Imran Khan’s Pakistan.

And this week’s multi-faceted developments may just signal seismic shifts in Pakistan’s internal and external relations for the foreseeable future.

Before moving on to bloodier matters, let’s start with the “Mr. Khan Goes to China” episode – essential for reviewing all aspects of what is enthusiastically described by both sides as the “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership”.

Xi’s financial lifeline for Khan?

Prime Minister Khan, leading a fresh government elected in July and facing a range colossal challenges, set the tone from the start. He did not mince words.

“Countries go in cycles, they have their high points, they have their low points,” he said. “Unfortunately, our country is going through a low point at the moment with two very big deficits, a fiscal deficit and a current account deficit. And so we, as I’ve said, have come to learn.”

Arguably few teachers beat Chinese President Xi Jinping, praised by Khan as a role model. “China’s phenomenal achievements are worth emulating,” Khan said. “No other country has tackled poverty and corruption the way China has tackled it.”

The lynchpin of the strategic partnership is inevitably the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Road, or Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). Before his stint as guest of honor of the First China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Khan met a crucial player in Beijing for CPEC financing: Jin Liquan, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Right from the start, Pakistan’s new Planning Minister Makhdoom Bukhtiar was confident that Islamabad would not need to reschedule around $2.7 billion in Chinese loans due for repayment in 2018. Instead, what’s in the cards is an improved economic package centered on taking CPEC to the next level.

A financially stable Pakistan is absolutely crucial for the success of BRI. A Pakistani audit of projects approved by the previous Nawaz Sharif administration called for streamlining CPEC, not curtailing it. Now, Team Khan does not subscribe to the notion of CPEC as a debt trap.

With Saudi Arabia and China stepping in with cash, Islamabad may avoid becoming further indebted to the IMF and its trademark “strategic adjustments”- widely dreaded across the Global South for producing a toxic mix of austerity and inflation.

Pakistan juggles China, Iran, Saudi, Turkey

Pakistan is all about its prime geopolitical location, the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia.

For Beijing, Pakistan as a key BRI node mirrors its new role as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As Khan has clearly identified, this interconnection can only turbo-charge Pakistan’s geo-economic position – under the institutional framework of SCO. The Xi-Khan partnership may actually center around an economic win-win for Pakistan and the SCO.

Of course, myriad challenges lie ahead.

Take for instance Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Lu Kang having to clarify that “all the cooperation between China and Pakistan has nothing to do with territorial disputes.”

Kang was referring to the hoopla surrounding the fact that a Pakistani company launched a bus service from Lahore to Kashgar via Islamabad; essentially the northern CPEC route via the Karakoram Highway, which skirts Kashmir. China does not want any interference whatsoever in the ultra-volatile Kashmir dossier.

Saudi Arabia is also making some not-too-subtle moves. Islamabad’s official position is that Riyadh’s recent financial offer came with no strings attached. That’s unlikely to be the case; Saudi traditionally casts a long shadow over all matters Pakistani. “No strings” means Islamabad should keep closer to Riyadh, not Tehran.

The House of Saud – paralyzed by the fallout of the bloody Istanbul fiasco – will go no-holds-barred to prevent Islamabad from getting closer to Tehran. (Or Ankara, for that matter). A possibly emergent, long-term, game-changing Turkey-Iran-Pakistan alliance was the talk of the town – at least during the first part of this week of weeks.

That brings us to the crucial visitor Khan received in Islamabad before his trip to China: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Last month, 14 Iranian border guards were kidnapped by the Pakistan-based Jaish al-Adl Salafi-jihadi fanatics. Pakistan security forces have been helpless so far.

Khan and Zarif talked about that – but also talked about Khan’s offer to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia in trying to find a solution for the tragedy in Yemen. The fact is, a Tehran-Islamabad rapprochement is already a work in progress.

That is the sophisticated geo-political game Khan must play. Meanwhile at home, he has to get down and dirty as he gets to grips with violent domestic religious turmoil.

‘Go legal – or else…’

I’ve been in Islamabad since Monday – right on the lip of the volcano, and enjoying the privilege of being part of one of the most extraordinary geopolitical conferences in recent times, something that in the current polarizing dynamic could only happen in Asia, not the West. But that’s another story.

While I was parsing elaborate analyses of this geopolitical chessboard, reality intervened.

Or – perhaps – it was a graphic intimation that Pakistan may just be changing for the better.

Street blockades paralyzed key nodes of the nation because Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman laborer, in jail for nine years, was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of spurious charges of blasphemy. There are less than 4 million Christians in Pakistan out of a total population of 197 million.

I was with a small group on the motorway to Peshawar, prior to taking a detour to Taxila – Alexander-the-Great land, where I planned further research on ancient Silk Roads – when suddenly we were halted.

A mullah was blaring his hate through a loudspeaker. A couple of his minions blocked all circulation.

Why the police would not dislodge this small group is the matter of all matters in Khan’s arguably new Pakistan. The highway standoff embodies the high-stakes grapple underway between the state and religion.

Back in Islamabad, as he led me around the campus of the National Defense University, Timoor Shah, a bright young man at the Center for Policy Studies, gave me a crash course on the nuances.

What a global audience should understand is this. On one side stand the state, the military and the judiciary. (Accusations continue to be hurled that Khan was privileged in the July elections by the military – the top institution in Pakistan – and an activist judiciary.) On the other side, stand fringe religious nuts and an opportunistic, discredited opposition.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a minor extremist political party whose only platform is to punish blasphemy, has issued death threats against the three Supreme Court judges. Pakistan could do worse than import a strangle/bone-saw/dissolve-in-acid Saudi execution squad to deal with such groups.

It’s instructive to consider what the director general of the PR arm of the powerful intelligence service, ISI, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had to say: This is a legal matter and the Pakistan Army should not be dragged into it. Ghafoor also stressed, “We are close to winning the war against terrorism and our attention should not be diverted.”

Ghafoor told politico-religious parties protesting against the Supreme Court judgment – quite a few of which were firmly on the lunatic fringe – to go legal or else. Amid this, TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi swears that that the Army has threatened to “destroy” his party.

The military sent a delegation, including ISI officials, to talk to the religious protesters. Ghafoor was careful to stress that the ISI is an intelligence department that reports to the prime minister.

In the end, the government caved in. Despite knowing that Aasia Bibi faces fundamentalist wrath and her only path to safety would be a one-way ticket out, they agreed to put her on something called the “Exit Control List.” Even that did not prevent TLP fanatics from threatening “a war if they sent Aasia Bibi out of the country.”

‘Taliban Godfather’ killed

As if all this were not toxic enough, on Friday evening Maulana Samiul Haq – the fabled “Godfather of the Taliban” – was stabbed to death in his house in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city.

Haq led the sprawling Darul Uloom Haqqania, a madrassa, or religious school, in Akhora Khattak, near Peshawar, founded in 1988. The madrassa graduated none other than Mullah Omar, as well as other Taliban notables.

Haq embodies a torrent of turbulence in modern Pakistani history – including his stints as senator during the Zia ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif administrations. He also tabled a notorious Sharia bill during Sharif’s last term.

But for me, the story was personal. In a tortuous way, Samiul Haq saved my life – courtesy of a letter of introduction he had signed after I visited his madrassa to follow a Talibanesque indoctrination in progress.

When, along with my photographer Jason Florio, we were arrested by the Taliban at a military base in Ghazni in the summer of 2000, we were only released from waiting six months to be tried as “spies” because of Samiul Haq’s letter.

This obviously pales when compared to the high-profile, principled move by the Pakistani Supreme Court to save Aasia Bibi from a death sentence.

But it could be the first salvo in a Khan-era Pakistani war against religious fundamentalism.

Imran Khan Sucks Poisonous Ideology Out of Pakistan’s Diplomatic Relations

By Adam Garrie
Source

Any country that forms its diplomatic relations on the basis of ideology rather than pragmatism is necessarily signing up for conflicts which are as unnecessary as they are detrimental. Just as so-called interlocking alliances in Europe led to a regionalised Balkan conflict growing into a monstrous First World War, so too did the ideological divides of the Cold War lead to multiple global conflicts that could have otherwise been avoided. From the time of Pakistan’s birth to the US led invasion of Afghanistan, multiple Pakistani leaders have felt an inexplicable need to form alliances on the basis of someone else’s ideology. As a result, Pakistan was cut off from opportunities in the wider world while Pakistan’s own partners had not sufficiently respected Pakistan as a sovereign nation with monumental potential as an economic and diplomatic powerhouse in Asia.

During this year’s general election in Pakistan, Imran Khan’s PTI party campaigned on a manifesto of pragmatic non-alignment whereby Islamabad would remain neutral in the conflicts of others while simultaneously working with all nations in order to secure win-win outcomes for the Pakistani people. Already, Imran’s policy shift from ideological subservience to intelligent openness has literally paid dividends. At a time when western Eurasian and European nations questioned their relationship with Saudi Arabia over the controversial murder of a journalist, Imran not only remained neutral but he turned the tables on a long standing relationship in order to replace lopsidedness with equality and the win-win mentality.

It was Imran’s tactful diplomacy that secured from Riyadh a much needed one year $3 billion loan in addition to a further $3 billion in the form of deferred payments of oil purchases. It was also under Imran’s watch that Saudi Arabia decided to integrate itself in the Belt and Road initiative in the form of a deal to invest $10 billion for the building of a new oil refinery in Pakistan’s Gwadar port city.

But this did not happen in isolation. Days prior to Imran’s trip to Riyadh (the second since becoming Prime Minister), he held a positive meeting with Qatari officials. Likewise, not long after Imran’s second trip to Riyadh, Pakistan’s President was dispatched to Turkey where he spoke positively about expanding the scope and breadth of relations between two nations that have long standing fraternal relations. When one considers that Saudi Arabia is currently in the midst of a manifold diplomatic row with both Turkey and Qatar, Imran’s achievement was to make the most of warm relations with all – without taking a side in affairs remote from Pakistan’s national interest. Likewise, Pakistan’s offer to mediate in the three year long war in Yemen has been met with good will from all quarters, thus demonstrating that Pakistan’s international prestige has already increased as a result of Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) replacing a beleaguered Pakistan.

While Pakistan’s relations with neighbouring Iran have long been strained, Imran has already met twice with Tehran’s influential Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. While the proximate cause of Zarif’s recent visit to Islamabad was to discuss the most unfortunate and mysterious kidnapping of Iranian border guards who were brought into Pakistani territory, the meetings also covered a wide range of issues in-line with the gradual rapprochement between Pakistan and Iran. Coming to Pakistan in a spirit of good will, Iran’s Foreign Minister stated,

“Iran and Pakistan are two very good neighbours, and Tehran enjoys good relations with Islamabad. We consult with them on all matters”.

Later Pakistan’s Foreign Minister released the following statement:

“While expressing satisfaction over cooperation with regard to the Pakistan-Iran border, it was agreed to continue close consultations through the established multipronged mechanism between the two countries. Foreign Minister Qureshi underlined that the Pakistan-Iran border was a border of peace and Pakistan will spare no effort to keep it this way”.

Pakistan looks therefore to continue improving relations with Iran while simultaneously enjoying a more equal and more importantly a more meaningful relationship with long standing allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Any notion that Pakistan must choose to align itself with one set of rivals over another is not only counter intuitive in a multipolar world but it runs contrary to Pakistan’s own national interests.

While the poison of a zero-sum mentality to foreign affairs is being sucked out of the Pakistani body politic by the new government, just over the border in India, Pakistanis can see how the government of Narendra Modi is scrambling to re-align itself after a policy of almost subservient devotion to the United States backfired on several fronts.

First the US refused to exempt India from its tariffs which came as a shock to some policy makers in New Delhi. Then India was excoriated by elements of the US establishment for purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia and finally, in a symbolic blow to India’s prestige among its newfound American partner, Donald Trump refused an invitation to the country’s Republic Day parade. In this sense, India has learned the hard way that if one doesn’t have good relations with as many nations as possible, one stands to be exposed and humiliated by a hegemon disguised as a co-equal partner.

India’s disappointment in the US (however temporary it may prove to be) will be a familiar tale to Pakistanis who have witnessed decades of humiliation due to Islamabad’s track record of locking itself into lopsided alliances formed on the basis of foreign ideologies. By contrast, US President Richard Nixon once said that Indira Gandhi, “suckered us”, referring to the fact she was willing to engage in dialogue with the US without evading strong relations with India’s then Soviet ally.

Today, Imran Khan is neither suckering anyone nor is he insulting Pakistan’s dignity by locking the country into the rusty cage of ideological alliances and partnerships. Indeed, even by approaching the IMF at a time when it would clearly be more beneficial for Pakistan to rely on loans from friendly countries, Imran has been able to use this reality to leverage both the cash rich Saudi Kingdom and Pakistan’s all-weather Chinese partner in order to secure the best deal possible for Pakistan.

As Imran is hours away from departing for China where he will hold the most important meeting of his career with President Xi Jinping, he can go in the confidence that Naya Pakistan is win-win Pakistan. The ghosts of the past are being exorcised in more ways than one and Imran is prepared to make the best of any potential situation through his steadfast and open approach to diplomacy which has already helped to ease the economic tensions he inherited from his predecessors.

Imran Khan’s Patriotic Leadership Secures a $3 Billion Loan to Ease Crisis

By Adam Garrie
Soruce

Saudi Arabia has recently been making headlines for all of the wrong reasons. While the $10 billion investment agreement that will see Riyadh join the Belt and Road initiative by building a new oil refinery in Pakistan’s Gwadar port city, this story has generally be buried beneath those discussing the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But while for nations with the economic luxury of investigating the Khashoggi matter, business might not proceed with Riyadh as usual, for Pakistan, there is a crisis at hand that effects not the family of a single slain man but the lives of over 200 million Pakistanis.

Decades of domestic mismanagement in respect of the Pakistani economy appears to have forced Islamabad back to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new bailout to stop Pakistan’s current account deficit from causing a major economic crisis. While Prime Minister Imran Khan recently stated that he will approach three nations (which he did not name) prior to approaching the IMF, further statements from Pakistan’s government indicate that a new IMF bailout may be inevitable. That being said, Pakistan has yet to formally make the request to the IMF.

The risk of Pakistan not being able to pay back its debts due to the domestic current accounts deficit has led Imran Khan to suggest that a possible hybrid solution involving a smaller IMF loan in combination with loan agreements with sovereign partners may be the best way forward. It is against this background that Imran met with top Saudi officials including King Salman in Riyadh where he is attending the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference, sometimes called the “Davos in the desert”.

During a lengthy interview before attendees of the FII conference, Imran Khan spoke candidly about the pressing matter of a monetary injection either from an cooperative partner nation, the IMF of both. He also laid bear the reality that economic reforms implemented today might not achieve their full desired goal for months or even a year. That being said, Imran balanced this honest and frank assessment against his medium and long term goal to rejuvenate Pakistan’s founding mission as articulated by national father Muhammad Ali Jinnah who sought to built a state where the welfare of all citizens was collectively assured through progressive measures designed to enhance social harmony.

Turning to his nation’s relationship with China, the Pakistani Prime Minister stated that as a country that was able to lift 700 million people out of poverty in thirty years, China is naturally an inspiration for Pakistan as Imran looks to elevate the condition of his people in the most rapid fashion possible. Iman Khan went on to speak of the great economic potential of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and in particular the Gwadar port. He then invited members of the international business community to invest in the special economic zones that are being built at Gwadar while drawing a helpful comparison to Gwadar’s deep water port to that of Singapore. Imran Khan then reflected on the modern housing programme his government has just inaugurated.

In addition to explaining to his audience of Saudi and international investors that Pakistan is a resource rich country ripe for forward looking foreign direct investment, the Prime Minister further explained how years of a war on terror which saw extremists enter into Pakistan from the Afghan side of the Durand Line made many international investors concerned with the safety of investments in Pakistan. While Pakistan has largely won its own war on terror thanks to the professionalism of the security services that Imran paid tribute to, this fact remains scarcely reported outside of Pakistan. Therefore it was of supreme importance that Imran explained that while Pakistan’s economy is current going through a difficult period, that this is partly do to the supreme sacrifices that Pakistan made to rid itself of the plague of terrorist extremism. In this sense, Pakistan today is not only a sound investment but in a literal sense it is also a safe one.

In making the point that whilst Pakistan was one of the fastest growing economies in Asia during the 1960s but that subsequent decades of poor governance meant that the country “lost its way”, today under his government, Imran Khan looks to restore balance to society while attracting unprecedented levels of foreign direct investment.

Iman Khan’s statement was focused, honest and deeply informed. For the first time in decades, Pakistan has a highly articulate Prime Minister who is willing and able to act as an economic ambassador whose mission is to secure the best possible future for his fellow Pakistanis. The long term future is of course a bright one as CPEC and related projects will doubtless flourish in future years and decades. Therefore, Pakistan’s challenge in the immediate term is to secure credit lines with reliable and trustworthy partners who can help Islamabad to get over the current obstacles erected by a combination of poor governance from recent decades and a nationally exhausting war against extremism that was won at a great price to society.

By focusing on Pakistan and its relations with its traditional partners including China and his Saudi Arabian hosts, Imran Khan has not fallen victim to vainglorious temptations that were so attractive to many of his predecessors. Rather than speak as though he was more concerned with remote issues than those facing his people, Iman Khan spoke about what Pakistan needs, wants and can offer. This is mature statesmanship that offers the best possible solution to the present current accounts deficit issue.

While much of the world, including and especially Europe tries to exploit the tragedy of others for its own gain, Pakistan’s new Prime Minsiter has demonstrated calm, decisive and honest leadership at a time when anything else could harm Pakistan’s fortunes greatly. While some domestic opponents continue to argue among themselves, Imran Khan is making the case for Pakistan’s future to those who are in a position to extend a helping hand on a win-win basis. This is the difference between decades of failure and the potential of Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan).

As a result of Imran Khan’s discussions with the Saudi King and Crown Prince, Riyadh has agreed to loan Pakistan $3 billion as part of a year long credit agreement. Additionally, Saudi Arabia will allow Pakistan to defer payments for oil imports up to the amount of an additional $3 billion in an agreement set to last for one year. With Imran Khan soon to visit China, there is now hope that Pakistan can help to cut its deficit through a series of loans from friendly nations. 

Did Washington get used to the message of S-300? هل تأقلمت واشنطن مع رسالة الـ«أس 300»؟

Did Washington get used to the message of S-300?

أكتوبر 24, 2018

Written by Nasser Kandil,

While Turkey is making a clear progress against Saudi Arabia as two competing countries to be with Iran in any new regional formula, it is not a secret that the points of strength of Turkey come from the positioning in between Washington and Moscow as two sponsors of the new regional system which Moscow’s administration is recognized by America. Turkey seems Russia’s candidate which is accepted by America, versus Saudi Arabia which is backed by Israel after the announced alliance between the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and the Prime Minister of the occupation entity Benjamin Netanyahu and the sponsorship of the US President Donald Trump and his son in –law Jared Kushner through what is called as “the deal of the century” as a solution for the Palestinian cause and the declaration of Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran. It seems that the regression of Saudi Arabia is an interpretation of its failure in promoting the deal of the century and its turning into an actual deal that opens a new path in the regional balances. So it pays the cost of this failure and its failure in the war on Yemen. The repercussions of the case of Gamal Al Khashoggi seem closer to the required context to ensure the Saudi regression as the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in the early nineties was closer to the required scenario to overthrow the Iraqi regime.

The Russian victory in enhancing the position of Turkey instead of Saudi Arabia under US consent is expressed by the deal of the American pastor who was detained in Ankara and who was released yesterday, and is expressed by the understandings on the Turkish-American patrols in Manbej in the north of Syria. The return to the talk about Turkish-American normalization is based on the American coexistence with the Turkish arming with S-400 Russian missiles and on the Turkish economic strategic understandings that are related to the nuclear energy and the oil and gas market. Meantime there were questions about the status of Israel in the new regional system which its rules must be settled in the final stage of negotiations before the emergence of the final draft of settlement about the course of the war on Syria which is in its last quarter as recognized by everyone.

Israel which its bet on “the deal of century” failed despite Washington’s abidance by its obligations to the Saudi –Israeli bilateral to promote the concept of settlement on which the deal is based according to the Israeli vision and Saudi consent, and which is about removing the issues of the future of Jerusalem and the case of immigrants from the negotiation is aware that it will pay with Saudi Arabia the bill of failure which Washington cannot bear its consequences. Israel is the sponsor of the Saudi project in Washington through the bet on what could be done by the Saudi Crown Prince in case he assumes the Saudi, Arab, and Islamic leadership. Therefore it has to bear the consequences of its bets after Bin Salman’s failure in finding the Palestinian partner in the deal of the century,  his failure in the war on Yemen, and his most dangerous failure in keeping the status of Pakistan in the American-Israeli alliance. Israel lost the opportunity to reserve its seat for an attainable peace project; therefore, the threat of war is its only alternative solution.

The developments of the Russian-Israeli relationship in the equations and balances of the power in Syria which coincided with Syria’s deployment of S-300 under Russian sponsorship raised major questions about the ability of Israel to reserve its seat by the force of the military sabotage, especially because there is no hope for Israel in any military action against Iran. The balance of deterrence on the Lebanese front is increasingly coherent. Israel tried to absorb the shock by claiming that granting S-300 does not change its ability to move in the Syrian airspace, resorting to the scientific fiction to talk about the capacities of the modern US aircraft F-35 as the available counterpart to S-300. It opens a dangerous race between the capabilities of the Russian and American weapons, the Russian military promised in case the emergence of F-35 to drop it down even if this required the use of S-400 batteries. It is known that the Russian and the American leadership keenness not to involve in such a race because it will distort the reputation of the Russian and American weapons and will lead to a big loss in the secrets of the modern weapons, since the dedication to technological arming is undesirable.

The US statements issued by the US Department about S-300 and its handing over to Syria suggested the Israeli desire to violate the capabilities of the Russian system, since the Russian decision of escalation is dangerous that has severe consequences, while the statements of the Ministry of Defense in the name of the coalition in the war on ISIS were reversed, they stated that deployment of S-300 does not affect the act of the coalition forces in its war on ISIS. It seems that Washington decided to adapt with the change imposed by Russia, it announced yesterday its withdrawal of F-35 aircraft due to a technical failure after the fall of one of the aircraft on a training mission, after the Americans had decided to develop F-35 in a way that it can compete S-300, while the Russians say that one of the planes which Israel has only seven of fell a year ago by S-200 not S-300 and the Israelis claimed its fall after its clash with a flying object.

Translated by Lina Shehadeh,

 

هل تأقلمت واشنطن مع رسالة الـ«أس 300»؟

أكتوبر 13, 2018

ناصر قنديل

– في الوقت الذي تسجل تركيا تقدماً واضحاً بالنقاط على السعودية كمرشحين متنافسين للجلوس مقابل إيران في أي صيغة نظام إقليمي جديد، لا يمكن إخفاء حقيقة نقاط القوة التركية المتأتية من التموضع في منطقة الوسط بين واشنطن وموسكو، كراعيين للنظام الإقليمي الجديد الذي صارت إدارة موسكو له موضع تسليم أميركي. وتبدو تركيا مرشح روسيا المقبول أميركياً، مقابل السعودية التي تدعمها «إسرائيل» بعد التحالف المعلن بين ولي العهد السعودي محمد بن سلمان ورئيس حكومة الاحتلال بنيامين نتنياهو ورعاية الرئيس الأميركي دونالد ترامب وصهره جارد كوشنر عبر ما سُمّي بصفقة القرن، كإطار لحل القضية الفلسطينية وإعلان تحالف عربي إسرائيلي بوجه إيران. ويبدو التراجع الذي تسجله السعودية ترجمة لفشلها في تسويق صفقة القرن وتحويلها إلى صفقة فعلية تفتح مساراً جديداً في توازنات المنطقة، وتدفع السعودية ثمن هذا الفشل إلى جانب فشلها في الفوز في حرب اليمن، بحيث بدت التداعيات الناتجة عن قضية جمال الخاشقجي أقرب للسياق المطلوب لتثبيت التراجع السعودي، كما كان غزو العراق للكويت مطلع التسعينيات أقرب للسيناريو المرسوم لإسقاط النظام العراقي.

– الفوز الروسي بتثبيت تركيا مكان السعودية برضا أميركي تعبر عنه صفقة القس الأميركي المحتجز في أنقرة والذي أفرج عنه أمس، كما تعبر عنه التفاهمات حول الدوريات التركية الأميركية في منبج شمال سورية، وعودة الحديث عن تطبيع تركي أميركي، يقوم على التعايش الأميركي مع التسلح التركي بصواريخ الـ»أس 400» الروسية، ومع تفاهمات اقتصادية استراتيجية تركية روسية تطال الطاقة النووية وسوق النفط والغاز، تقابله تساؤلات حول مكانة «إسرائيل» في النظام الإقليمي الجديد الذي لا بد لقواعد تشكيله أن تتبلور في المراحل الأخيرة من التجاذبات قبل ظهور النسخة الأخيرة للتسوية حول مسار الحرب التي شهدتها سورية، والتي يسلم الجميع بدخولها ربع الساعة الأخير.

– تدرك «إسرائيل» التي فشل رهانها على صفقة القرن، رغم إيفاء واشنطن بالتزاماتها للثنائي السعودي الإسرائيلي لجهة إطلاق الصدمة اللازمة لتسويق مفهوم التسوية التي تقوم عليها الصفقة، وفقاً لمقتضيات الرؤيا الإسرائيلية بقبول سعودي، ومحورها سحب مستقبل القدس وقضية اللاجئين من جدول التفاوض، أنها تدفع مع السعودية فاتورة هذا الفشل الذي لا تتحمل واشنطن تبعاته، فـ»إسرائيل» هي عراب المشروع السعودي في واشنطن من باب الرهان على ما يستطيعه ولي العهد السعودي في حال إطلاق يده في الزعامة السعودية والعربية والإسلامية، وعليها تحمل تبعات رهانها، مع فشل إبن سلمان في تأمين الشريك الفلسطيني في صفقة القرن، وفشله في حرب اليمن، وفشله الأخطر في الحفاظ على مكانة باكستان في الحلف الأميركي الإسرائيلي، بحيث فقدت «إسرائيل» أي فرصة للتحدث عن حجز مقعدها بقوة امتلاك مشروع للسلام قابل للتحقيق، وبقيت القدرة على التهديد بالحرب طريقاً وحيدة بديلة.

– جاءت التطورات التي شهدتها العلاقة الروسية الإسرائيلية في معادلات وتوازنات القوة في سورية مع نشر بطاريات الـ»أس 300» من قبل الجيش السوري برعاية روسية، لترسم أسئلة كبرى حول قدرة «إسرائيل» حجز مقعدها بقوة التهديد بالتخريب العسكري، خصوصاً أن لا أمل لـ»إسرائيل» برهان على عمل عسكري بوجه إيران، وتوازن الردع على جبهة لبنان يزداد تماسكاً بوجهها، وقد حاولت «إسرائيل» امتصاص الصدمة بالادعاء أن نشر الـ»أس 300» لا يغير في قدرتها على العمل في الأجواء السورية، مستعينة بالخيال العلمي للتحدث عن مقدرات الطائرة الأميركية الحديثة الـ»إف 35»، كردٍّ متاح على مقدرات الـ»أس 300»، فاتحة بذلك سباقاً خطيراً بين مقدرات السلاحين الروسي والأميركي، بحيث وعد عسكريون روس في حال ظهور الـ»إف 35» بإسقاطها ولو استدعى ذلك استعمال بطاريات الـ»إس 400»، ومعلوم حرص القيادتين العسكريتين الروسية والأميركية على أن التورط في سباق من هذا النوع سيلحق الأذى بسمعة السلاحين الروسي والأميركي ويوقع الطرفين في خسارة أسرار الأسلحة الحديثة، والتفرغ لسباق تسلح تكنولوجي غير مرغوب.

– التصريحات الأميركية الصادرة عن وزارة الخارجية حول الـ»أس 300» وتسليمه إلى سورية أوحت بتبني الرغبة الإسرائيلية باختراق مقدرات المنظومة الروسية، باعتبار القرار الروسي تصعيداً خطيراً يرتب تبعات وخيمة، فيما جاءت تصريحات وزارة الدفاع التي وردت ببيان باسم تحالف الحرب على داعش معاكسة، بالقول إن نشر الـ»أس 300» لا يؤثر على عمل قوات التحالف في حربها على داعش، ليبدو أن واشنطن قررت التأقلم مع التغيير الذي فرضته روسيا، ويجدون المخرج لذلك بالإعلان أمس عن سحب طائرات الـ»إف 35» من العمل لعطل تقني فيها بعد سقوط إحدى الطائرات في مهمة تدريبية، بعدما كان الأميركيون قد أعلنوا البدء بتجارب لتطوير الـ»إف 35» بما يؤهلها للقدرة على التعامل مع صواريخ «أس 300»، بينما يقول الروس إن الطائرة التي تمتلك «إسرائيل» منها سبعاً فقط قد سقطت واحدة منها قبل عام بصاروخ «أس 200» وليس «أس 300» وادعى الإسرائيليون أن سقوطها تم بعد اصطدامها بجسم طائر.

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