A near miss

I had a near miss tonight!

I had hired a metro cab to take me to the airport. Keeping in mind the uncertain security situation I had moved early to reach Chaklala in time. I settled down in the back seat looking forward to a circuitous but uneventful journey. It was past midnight as we moved beyond the MacDonald on Nazimuddin Road, when the cabbie braked and the taxi screeched to a halt. It was just in time to avoid a collision with a dark grey Toyota Corolla stuck in mud in the middle of the road. It was a dark night and neither the car nor the heap of freshly dug up mud was visible. The artificially created obstacle was covering the entire length of the road and was high enough to prevent any vehicle driving over it. Nazimuddin Road is one of the main arteries of Islamabad and is wide enough for a car to comfortably cruise at 80 to 100 kmph at any time of day or night. As we realized what a near miss we had broke out in cold sweat. It could have been a fatal accident.

It has now been over a month that our serene capital has been turned into a battleground.   Rowdy protesters belonging to the camp of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri have kept the otherwise disciplined and somber denizens of Islamabad on edge. A visibly shaken government has used all kinds of tactics to make the movement of the marchers difficult. Their ill advised and haphazard knee jerk responses have only made the life of the man on the street difficult. Shipping containers have been used extensively and now mud heaps. Traversing an otherwise well laid capital city had become an ordeal since it was dug up for the grandiose Metro bus scheme a few months back.

I do not subscribe to the ideology of any particular party. The upstart and status quo forces have teamed up to add to the miseries of the people. I am a common Pakistani and only want stability in my country and normality in my city so that I can go about my business safely without driving into a container or a dark heap of mud at night.

Are the politicians inside the parliament and outside on the Constitution Avenue listening? Please resolve your differences quickly and lets get back to work. Our problems are too grave to be solved overnight. It needs concerted hard work and well thought out policies.

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Who is minding the fort?

While our politicians fight it out in the parliament and on the Constitution Avenue and the D Chowk, and the military remains fully engaged in Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the populace reel under the miseries unleashed by monsoon rains, one wonders, who is minding the fort?

A number of red flags have popped up that need immediate attention. There was an exchange of heavy artillery fire along the Working Boundary in the villages of Chaprar and Bajwat in the month of August that resulted in the deaths of civilians and loss of property. As per form, Pakistan allowed the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan UN Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) monitors to visit the sites of the ceasefire violations to assess the situation, while India blamed Pakistan without verifying the facts through neutral military observers. Then Indian Prime Minister Modi decided to cancel the talks of the defence secretaries because he did not like the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi talking to the Kashmiri Hurriyet leaders.

Having successfully upped the ante at home, Modi went on a tour of Japan. Sensing that the once pacifist country was displaying aggressive posturing in South China Seas. Modi took a jingoistic swipe against China< he warned his country’s eastern neighbour against expansionism in the region. To show that he now belonged to a separate regional bloc, Modi signed a number of agreements with the Japanese government on trade and commerce including one on defence. Both leaders expressed the intention to double the Japanese investment in India in the next five years. The upbeat mood of the two governments was quite visible at a joint press conference, where the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that he would work hand in hand with his Indian counterpart to “dramatically strengthen relations in every field and elevate ties to a special, strategic global partnership.” Modi in turn said that “We intend to give a new thrust and direction to our defence cooperation, including collaboration in defence technology and equipment, given our shared interest in peace and stability and maritime security.” The visit also used by the Japanese to push for the sale of an amphibious aircraft to Indian Navy. Abe and Modi agreed to look into upgrading a ‘two-plus-two’ format for security talks by bringing together their foreign and defence ministers, and directed officials to launch working level talks on defence equipment and technology cooperation. They also agreed to hold regular maritime exercises, and that Japan would continue to participate in US-India drills.

The other area, where there was a keen desire for cooperation was a nuclear energy deal. Despite mutual reservations in this area “significant progress” was reported. Perhaps these negotiations may move forward in the next round of talks. India, however had clear success in nuclear matters with Australia. An agreement was signed by Indian and Australian Prime Minister Modi and Tony Abbot to buy Australian uranium. The Australian PM was on a state visit to India and was looking for opportunities to enhance trade. The Australian uranium exports had been flagging particularly after it decided not to sell it to Putin’s Russia. The uranium deal is in the mutual interest of both countries. Uranium used for civil nuclear energy can of course be diverted towards bomb making. Of the 72 reactors under construction globally, about half are in India and China. Mr Abbott reiterated that “India is the world’s emerging democratic superpower,” and it was “an important sign of the mutual trust that exists between Australia and India.”

In September Mr Modi will be visiting the US to attend the annual UN General Assembly meeting. This is another victory for the Indian prime minister. Earlier, he had been denied a visa for his alleged participation in the Gujarat pogrom but now a red carpet welcome is being laid out for him. In an article jointly written by Joshua T. White & Michael Krepon, it has been surmised that the most important outcome would be a revision and extension of the 10-year ‘New Framework’ for the US-India defence relationship, which is up for renewal in 2015. Washington will also be making a new sales pitch for defence exports to India. It is expected that besides the possible sale of Apache and Chinook helicopters, joint projects will be mooted under the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), inaugurated in 2012. The US government and industry have proposed dozens of innovative co-development projects, which reportedly include cooperation on subjects as diverse as surface-to-air missiles, magnetic catapults, and big data exploitation. The most likely agreement would be the co-development of next generation Javelin anti-tank missile. Washington will also like to discuss the issues of regional security with India, which would clearly include China and Afghanistan.

            Meanwhile there have been developments, which suggest that the Islamic State (IS) and the AlQaeda are expanding their operations into South Asia. This is the making of an explosive security situation. Therefore there is a requirement that the country’s political leadership should come out of their wrangling and quickly focus on the internal and external threats.