AFTER the UAE became the third Arab state in decades to recognise Israel last month, it had been predicted that this would create a domino effect, with other Arab and Muslim states following suit. Sure enough, Bahrain joined this growing cluster of states on Friday, while other Arab/Muslim countries may be waiting in the wings for an opportune moment to publicly announce their embrace of the Zionist state. Like the UAE move, President Donald Trump gleefully announced the ‘breakthrough’ on Twitter, heaping accolades on his “GREAT friends” Israel and Bahrain. Indeed, out of all the Arab states, the Gulf sheikhdoms are prime contenders where the recognition of Israel is concerned, with or without the resolution of the Palestine question. The Gulf Arabs are under the American security umbrella with many — including Bahrain — hosting major military bases, while several among them are also on poor terms with Iran. Therefore, there is little surprise that these states are willing to accept Israel, with the US offering friendly ‘advice’ on the benefits of doing so.
The Palestinians, expectedly, are not so happy about the move, with the PLO describing the Bahraini decision as a “betrayal of the Palestinian cause”, while Hamas has called for the “virus of normalisation” to be resisted. And while their rulers are describing the decision in glowing terms, many Bahrainis have expressed their dismay on social media with Manama’s move. Indeed, any consensus on the Palestine question within the Arab/Muslim world is very quickly dissolving. At a recent online Arab League meeting, foreign ministers of the bloc were not able to come up with a resolution condemning last month’s normalisation of ties between Israel and the UAE. This indicates that some powerful players in the League clearly feel uneasy about condemning the deal, and thereby upsetting the US.
The aforementioned developments indicate the existence of two very distinct camps in the Muslim world; the pro-American camp, which includes the Gulf Arabs, has no qualms about jettisoning the Palestinians’ legitimate demands and getting on the next plane to Tel Aviv. The other camp, which includes Iran and Turkey, is very vocal about the Palestinian issue and has condemned those rushing towards normalisation. In such a situation, the OIC or a similar forum of Muslim states needs to debate the issue thoroughly. The Palestinians and their supporters must be given such a forum to express their reservations about normalisation without a just resolution to the Arab-Israeli dispute. The UAE and Bahrain should also be allowed to express their justifications for establishing relations with Israel. Making peace with Israel is not impossible, as long as the Palestinians are satisfied that their national and human rights will be guaranteed in any peace deal. Moreover, external powers should not be allowed to use diverging views on the Israel issue within the Muslim world to isolate certain states, such as Iran.
Afghan peace talks
AFTER much uncertainty and delays, the Afghan peace talks have finally got off to a start in Doha, Qatar. The Afghan government delegation is led by Masoom Stanekzai while the Afghan Taliban team is headed by Shaikh Abdul Hakim Haqqani. Those in attendance at the talks also include American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, chief of the High Afghan Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah as well as Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar. Prime Minister Imran Khan has welcomed the intra-Afghan dialogue saying Pakistan has fulfilled its commitment and now Afghans should work towards a durable peace through a negotiated settlement of the dispute. The talks kicked off on Saturday with a long line of dignitaries from various countries welcoming the delegates and wishing them well. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also addressed the gathering through video link and called for an end to violence while saying Pakistan would back the consensus that emerged from the talks. The talks faced delays on the release of some Taliban prisoners but as a result of sustained pressure from all stakeholders, the Afghan government finally relented and allowed the detainees to walk free.
After decades of incessant hostilities and war, Afghanistan is at a historic moment that can herald the long-awaited peace. These talks represent the best chance for a settlement between factions that have fought each other with the support of external players. It is also an opportunity for the United States to bring to an end its longest running war that has led to the death of thousands of people and the near destruction of Afghanistan. Pakistan has played a very positive and constructive role in facilitating these talks and this role has been duly acknowledged by the United States, United Kingdom and other stakeholders. However the crucial stage has begun only now. There is much that could go wrong. The dangers of violence breaking out yet again remains alive. One incident could derail these negotiations. It is therefore important for all stakeholders, including Pakistan, to remain deeply engaged in these intra-Afghan negotiations to ensure that talks cross over any hurdles that may come up, and lead to a consensus that can see a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan. If peace can return to the war-ravaged country it would enable the people of Afghanistan to start rebuilding their lives and future. This benefits everyone, including Pakistan.
WITH the court cases challenging the formation of the sugar inquiry commission and the report it had produced out of its way for now, the National Accountability Bureau has initiated its investigation into the shortages of the sweetener last winter that saw its domestic prices shoot through the roof. The NAB probe is one of multiple inquiries Prime Minister Imran Khan had sanctioned in June against sugar mill owners on the basis of the comprehensive findings of a forensic audit report prepared by the commission. That was an unprecedented move because the government had decided to investigate an entire industrial sector that had been operating as a cartel for decades. The report had brought to light the various systemic issues in the industry, underscoring the fact that the powerful mill owners had for years cheated poor farmers, evaded taxes, secured massive government subsidies and committed corporate fraud. And yet, they got away with these crimes because of their clout over political parties and successive governments. Thus, it was but natural that the mill owners moved the courts to stop the government from conducting investigations that could lead to their incrimination.
Politicians of all hue have a stake in the sugar business and operate collectively to get massive financial favours from the government at the expense of hapless taxpayers and consumers. It is for the first time in the country’s history that a government has taken on this powerful mafia and initiated multiple probes into different types of frauds committed by the industry. Given the reputation of NAB, many suspect that its inquiry against the sugar mills could turn into a witch-hunt of certain politicians belonging to the opposition parties or those who have fallen out with the ruling party’s leadership. It is therefore important for the anti-graft agency to ensure that no one gets away or gets punished because of political affiliations. That will not only further damage NAB’s image but could also hurt efforts to bring to book those who have looted the national exchequer and consumers.