A VARIETY of adjectives are being used to describe the American air strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior commander of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi, near Baghdad airport early on Friday. ‘Reckless’, ‘foolish’ and ‘provocative’ seem to top the list.
Indeed, in a Middle East already on a knife-edge, the US action risks sparking a major confrontation with Iran.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for “harsh revenge” for the killing while the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister has termed the American move a “dangerous and foolish escalation”.
Russia, an Iranian ally, has said Washington has taken a “reckless step” while France says it sees an “escalation under way”.
Pakistan has also expressed its “deep concern” in the aftermath of the killing. Even within the US many lawmakers — who have no love lost for the Iranian general — have questioned the logic of President Donald Trump’s move. These reactions illustrate that this is no ordinary killing, and there is genuine alarm in world capitals that the assassination may spark something much bigger.
Soleimani was probably Iran’s best-known military figure, a powerful man with a direct line to the supreme leader. He was one of the principal architects of Iran’s muscular foreign policy in the Middle East that put him in the cross hairs of the US and its regional allies.
As for the immediate background to the killing, Iraqi militiamen with close links to Iran had stormed the American embassy in Baghdad earlier this week, which was seen as a reaction to the killing of Iran-backed fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Iranian missions had also been attacked a few months ago in Najaf, Karbala and Basra; Tehran saw the US and its Arab foes as being responsible for instigating the attacks. But even before this series of events, America and Iran had been on a collision course, particularly after Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, and to many it was only a matter of time before things spiralled out of control.
If saner counsel does not prevail, the assassination of Gen Soleimani may be the spark that sets the Middle East alight in a new conflagration.
At this point, Iran needs to show a mature and measured response. Though one of its most senior commanders has been killed, it must not act in haste.
The hawks in the US administration have long been itching for a fight with Tehran, and the strike appears to have been designed to elicit a strong reaction. But for the sake of its own people Iran must resist taking the bait.
Moreover, regional states and world powers must play their role to de-escalate the situation and ensure such provocations are not repeated by either side as a new war in the region is definitely not in the interest of world peace.
THE offer made by Etisalat, the UAE-based cellular mobile operator that acquired 26pc shareholding in PTCL back in 2005 for $2.6bn, to pay $275m and consider it as settlement of its outstanding payment of $800m is a pittance and signifies the immense weakness of the position that Pakistan is negotiating from. It is perhaps futile to ask whether the offer should be accepted or not. The amount has been outstanding for 13 years now, and there is nothing that three different governments have been able to do to get Etisalat to pay up. A refusal at this point may well mean waiting another 13 years for the next offer, and even then there is no way to guarantee that a better deal will be offered. Regardless of what the government decides, the damage that recklessness in privatisation decisions can do has been amply demonstrated. This is worth bearing in mind as the government gears up once again to reactivate the country’s privatisation programme that has been stalled since the fateful steel mill judgement of 2006.
The privatisation of PTCL was supposed to be a case study on how entire sectors of the economy can be revived and innovation ushered in as the private sector is invited to play a greater role in areas that had for decades been the exclusive domain of the state. At the time of the privatisation, the government had three bids to evaluate, in which Etisalat bid $1.96 per share, China Mobile $1.06 and Singapore Telecom $0.88 per share for 1.36bn shares of the company. The price differential was gigantic, and immediately Etisalat announced its reluctance to follow through on the bid. The then prime minister Shaukat Aziz, instead of allowing Eitsalat to bow out and taking the second bidder’s offer, invested tremendous personal time, effort and credibility in persuading Etisalat to stay on board. The lynchpin of his counter offer was to stagger the payments over an extended period of time, which Etisalat took but not to pay the balance. Today, we see where the unseemly haste and eagerness that was in evidence for the sake of a few more dollars landed the country. The dollars did not materialise, and Etisalat did not prove a superior custodian of the country’s innovative drive in mobile telecommunications. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Hafeez Shaikh should bear this background in mind when he proceeds with his own privatisation programme in the months ahead
Missing persons’ advocate
It can only be described as the cruellest of ironies that a man who devoted many years of his life fighting for missing persons would himself become a victim of enforced disappearance.
In the early hours of Dec 17, advocate Inamur Rahim, a retired military lawyer, was abducted at gunpoint by unidentified individuals from his home, in the presence of members of his family. It was only on Thursday that the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court was finally informed by a representative of the Ministry of Defence that Mr Rahim was being held by its subordinate agency under the Pakistan Army Act for an alleged and unspecified violation of the Official Secrets Act.
This, however, does not explain why he was kidnapped from his home in lieu of a formal indictment, or his continued detention without informing his distraught family of his whereabouts or granting him access to legal counsel.
Besides now granting such access to family and lawyers, the ministry must demonstrate that Mr Rahim’s due process rights have not been and are not being violated, and that he can be guaranteed a fair trial under such circumstances. Serious as the substantive charges against him may be, they do not give the state carte blanche to throw procedural law out of the window. Moreover, given the nature of Mr Rahim’s work and the fact that he has previously faced threats in the course of such work, the ministry must at the very least satisfy the court that there are legitimate grounds on which to charge him and that his detention does not constitute a form of harassment.
In this entire murky episode, one thing is certain: the public’s growing disquiet over a general escalation of abuse of powers by state institutions increasingly embodying the bewildering, convoluted logic of a Kafkaesque nightmare. The defence ministry must clarify how Mr Rahim’s detention is not a reflection of this phenomenon in order to assuage such concerns.