Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

The Future of Kashmir

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th November, 2016

libg-kashmir-seminarThroughout the decades that I have been working as a writer and broadcaster on international affairs, one situation has remained frozen — though maybe “frozen” is not quite the right word, as there have been occasional outbursts of armed conflict and longer periods of civil unrest and its suppression. The situation I am talking about is Kashmir, which was the subject of a seminar hosted by Liberal International British Group (LIBG) last night at the National Liberal, and which I chaired. In a nutshell, at the time of the partition of India in 1947 one major geographical area remained incompletely resolved: Kashmir. Should it be part of Pakistan (given its Muslim majority) or in India (which its local ruler preferred). Or should it become an independent state? The United Nations decreed that there should be a plebiscite so that the people of Kashmir could decide for themselves, but that has never happened. The net result is that “Azad” Kashmir is now treated by the Pakistani government as part of Pakistan, while India occupies Jammu-Kashmir. Three times India and Pakistan have gone to war over the issue, though recently there has just been occasional shooting across the so-called Line of Control. Some people argue that as both the South Asian giants have nuclear weapons that now prevents them going into anoher full-scale war, but others maintain that, on the contrary, the fact that they do have nuclear arsenals means that another war could lead to widespread annihilation.

kashmir-protestLast night’s seminar was addressed by a line-up of diverse speakers coming from different perspectives. Hina Malik (well-known as a LibDem activist in West London) read out a passionate message from a friend in Srinagar (Indian Kashmir) detailing specific cases of human rights abuses. The LibDem peer Lord (Qurban) Hussain spoke about his frustration when trying to get a meaningful response from the UK government about its commitment to putting pressure on the Indian government over the issue. The writer and academic Nitasha Kaul — herself originally from Srinagar — gave a measured analysis of the current situation citing media and academic sources while Jay Iqbal of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) — a political grouping with widespread support among parts of the UK’s huge Kashmiri diaspora — argued strongly for the international community to do what it can to pressure the Indians to implement a plebiscite, which he believed would deliver a vote in favour of independence. Phil Bennion, Chair of LIBG and a former MEP for the West Midlands, spoke about his experience as the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) spokesman on South Asia during his time of office in the European Parliament, emphasizing what he saw as the need for a negotiated settlement, which would require a degree of give-and-take from both India and Pakistan. Taken as a whole the panel did not have a single approach to recommend, but the evening was nonetheless a valuable contribution to the debate about what Kashmir’s future should be, united or divided. But that debate is likely to continue for some time.

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2016: Doomsday for ISIS?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th December, 2015

AmadiYesterday Iraqi government forces retook control of the city of Ramadi from ISIS/Daesh, though much of its infrastructure was trashed in the process. This was a welcome development which prompted the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to declare that self-styled Islamic State will be crushed during 2016. Brave words, but I fear that he is being over-optimistic. The next target for the Iraqi army — with back-up from the United States and others in the anti-ISIS coalition — is the city of Mosul. That really would be a huge setback for Islamic State if it were to fall, not only because of its large size but also because of its key location in a region rich with oil. But retaking Mosul is unlikely to be easy.

ISISMoreover, there is another reason why Mr al-Abadi’s prediction is perhaps premature. Even if ISIS is eliminated in Iraq during the course of next year — and that is a big “if” — it is still well dug-in in Syria, where the HQ of its “caliphate”, Raqqa is located, and it is making progress elsewhere, notably in Libya and Pakistan. Like al-Qaeda, ISIS is a sort of franchise, though one with a clearer project in mind for the type of (to Western eyes dystopian) world it wants to see. Groups in other parts of Asia and Africa, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, which started independently have pledged a degree of allegiance or affiliation to IS. Furthermore, though some of the first wave of young jihadis have returned to their homelands, or been killed, fresh waves are being recruited, mainly through networks of friendship. That is why I believe that ISIS’s Doomsday will only come when its message has been successfully branded as toxic and un-Islamic and its perverse appeal is overwhelmed by something stronger and more positive.

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I Am Malala

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th December, 2014

imageWhen the Pakistani teenager Malala Housafzai became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate recently her story resonated around the world as a testimony of hope and determination by a very brave girl wise beyond her years. Of course, not everyone is happy with the renown that has been granted her since being shot by a supporter of Pakistan’s Taliban for daring to speak out in favour of education for both girls and boys worldwide. Now based in Birmingham, England, where she had major reconstructive surgery, Malala received thousands of letters and cards after her recovery, from the powerful and famous to ordinary men, women, girls and boys. But the most striking was a letter from a Taliban commander telling her that if she returned to Pakistan, stopped her campaigning, wore a burka and entered a madrasah (Koranic school), he would forgive her! This gem comes right near the end of her compelling autobiography, I Am Malala, (Phoenix, £7.99), written in conjunction with foreign correspondent Christina Lamb. Lamb is to be congratulated for really letting Malala’s authentic voice come through, whether it is piously seeking God’s help in her mission, or fighting with one of her younger brothers, or indulging her girly passion for pink. The attack on Malala, when she was shot in a school bus, was the culmination of a period of increasing conflict with the forces of darkness that took over the Swat valley where she grew up, as well as the indifference and sometimes obstruction of government officials and high military or intelligence officers, some of who were clearly in cahoots with the Taliban. The first part of the book is an excellent first-hand account of what it was like to live in the shadow of fear of the Taliban and as such is an invaluable modern historic resource. But the book is also a song of love for Malala’s father, who from the day of her birth gave her all the devotion and nurturing that many Pashtun fathers would reserve only for sons. There are passages in the book that drive one to tears of despair at the inhuman cruelty of some religious fanatics who justify the most heinous crimes by their warped interpretation of the Koran and a traditional culture of male supremacy. But above all, the book is a triumphant declaration of faith that good and justice can be victorious if people are brave enough to stand up for themselves and for the rights of others, including children.

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Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th October, 2013

RadicalMaajid NawazThe radicalisation of Muslim youth has been a prime concern of Western governments and security agencies ever since 9/11. But it is sobering to realise that the path to militancy — with its intolerance and, in extreme cases, its contempt for human life — is not necessarily only one way. Readers of Ed Husain’s 2007 book The Islamist (Penguin, £9.99) will be aware of that, but it is useful to have the message reinforced by the record of another SOAS alumnus’s journey to Islamism and back, Maajid Nawaz’s Radical (W H Allen, £8.99). Born in Southend, Essex, in what white neighbours would doubtless have considered to be a “well integrated” Pakistani-origin family (his mother was positively liberal), Maajid experienced not just casual racism as a child but also the violence of white skinheads. He learnt to stand up for himself, carrying a knife around with him for years. But it was at college in Newham, East London, that he came under the influence of Islamist radicals, notably from Hizb ut-Tahrir. After witnessing a fatal stabbing there he was recalled by his family to Southend, enabling him to get the grades necessary to go to SOAS to read Law and Arabic. He met a similarly radical young woman, married and fathered a baby boy, moving with them to Egypt to work on his Arabic, following a prolonged stay in Pakistan where he worked to further Hizb ut-Tahrir’s cause. He hoped to do the same in Egypt, but the omnipresent Mubarak security forces had him under surveillance and before long he was taken away in the middle of the night from his apartment in Alexandria and entered the hell of the regime’s torture chambers, where every inmate was electrocuted on a rota system, the screams of their agony resonating through the dark dungeon hour after hour. Maajid was fortunate himself to narrowly escape the electrodes, instead being knocked about and threatened with rape, and eventually he was put on trial and transferred to a political prison, whose inmates included Ayman Nour, the Egyptian Liberal who had dared to stand against Hosni Mubarak in a presidential election and was incarcerated on trumped up charges for that impertinence. By this time Maajid was getting regular consular visits a well as some contact with his family, but his release was as sudden as his arrest and maybe partly because Amnesty International had adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, putting pressure on both the Egyptian and British governments. SOAS let him resume his studies, but his marriage had broken down and he had become disillusioned with the ideology that had driven him for several years. He met up with Ed Husain, who had defected to rationality well before, and made his own great leap away from Islamism; together they established Quilliam, a foundation dedicated to countering Islamist extremism (and also Islamophobia) and won open access to both the last Labour government and its Coalition successor. Indeed, so far did Maajid’s conversion go that he joined the Liberal Democrats and is now the Party’s candidate for the three-way marginal London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. I read Radical at one sitting, over eight hours on a plane back from Beijing on Thursday. It was literally a book I could not put down, passionate and at times chilling, but ultimately cathartic. Highly recommended.

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The World after Osama Bin Laden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd May, 2011

The US administration is understandably cock-a-hoop about hunting down and killing the inpiration and figurehead of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. It was no surprise to me — or anyone else routinely covering events in the region — that he was located in Pakistan, though it was a startling that he was living cheek-by-jowel with some of Pakistan’s most elite military units in Abbottabad. He did, of course, have allies or at least sympathisers in some elements of the Pakistani security forces, not to mention the Pakistani Taliban. But I guess it makes sense to hide in th sort of place people wouldn’t expect to find you, rather than hanging on in some cave in Tora Bora. However, celebrations about his removal in Washington, London or elsewhere may be short-lived. Just as the death of Colonel Sanders did not lead to an end to the KFC franchise so Osama bin Laden’s demise will not necessarily harm Al Qaeda dramatically. In the short-term, it might evn increase terrorism. Nonetheless, it would be churlish to be anything other than grateful that the wretched man has been disposed of. And who knows: maybe this will give the United States, Britain and their NATO Allies the beginning of an exit strategy from Afghanistan?

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Doing Business with Pakistan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th February, 2011

Given all the recent television footage of bomb outrages and flood damage in Pakistan, this might not seem the best country in the world to invest. But at a seminar at Lancaster House in London, hosted by UK Trade and Industry (UKTI), the myth of a nation rapidly disappearing down the plughole was dispelled. There were strong presentations by Britain’s Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Lord Green, and his Pakistani equivalent, Saleem Mandiwalla, who both set the ambitious goal of doubling the current annual bilateral trade flow of £1 billion to £2 billion, though being a little vague about the timeframe in which this could be achieved. The British High Commissioner to Islamabad, Adam Thomson, stressed the problem of perception in Britain when thinking about Pakistan; the first two words that come into people’s heads are “terrorism” and “corruption”, he said, whereas as far as he were concerned, they should be “opportunity” and “engagement”. It was clear from subsequent sessions at the seminar that there are vast opportunities for investment in Pakistan — notably in the fields of energy, infrastructure and food storage and processing. The country’s population of 180 million is expected to almost double by the year 2050 and there is a growing middle class with increased purchasing power. Moreover, geographically Pakistan is potentially an important hub for the whole South-West Asian and Arabian Gulf region. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to fail to acknowledge the very real challenges ahead.

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David Miliband Ducks the Issue

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th October, 2008

The Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Muallem, has been visiting London, which made yesterday’s US helicopter assault on an alleged senior al-Qaida operative inside Syria unfortunately timed for Britain’s and Europe’s efforts to bring Syria in from the diplomatic cold. Mr al-Muallem and his British counterpart, David Miliband, were due to hold a joint press conference following their talks, but this was cancelled, as our Foreign Secretary repotedly did not wish to answer questions about the US attack. I bet he didn’t.

Meanwhile, the Syrians —  who say the fatalities were all local civilians — are screaming justifiably but impotently and both Iran and Russia have joined in the condemnation of what Mr al-Muallem described as Washington’s ‘cowboy politics’. The British government is keeping schtum. That is inevitably being interpreted across the Middle East as tacit approval for what the Americans have done.

One would have thought that during the twilight weeks of the Bush presisidency, the Bush Doctrine would have been quietly laid to rest. But not a bit of it. Pre-emptive strikes and raids into sovereign territory — recently in Pakistan too — continue, with apparently not a care about ‘collateral damage’. The families of the deceased are naturally grieving. But the wider Islamic world is angry. And David Miliband’s silence looks miserably like complicity.

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Is Pakistan Going Pear-shaped?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th October, 2008

Earlier this year, at a Liberal International British Group Forum on Pakistan, David Hall-Matthews (from Leeds University) and I gave a fairly pessimistic prognosis about how the country would evolve following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Some people at the meeting thought we were being unjustifiably gloomy, but recent events have only heightened my concern. Not all Pakistanis are thrilled with having Ms Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’ Zardari, as President. But even more serious is the deteriorating security situation. The appalling terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last month was only the most high-profile example.

This morning, I received a distressing message from a Pathan friend who works for an NGO in Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province. The other night, a group of Taliban turned up at his door and demanded US$10,000, saying that they would kill him if he failed to come up with the money. Not surprisingly, he has gone into hiding, but both his life and his livelihood are now at risk. NGOs are being deliberately targeted by the Taliban in Afghanistan too, but it is particularly alarming that they now operate with such impunity in and around Peshawar.

As part of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive action in Washington’s War on Terror, a number of US attacks have been made inside Pakistan, without the approval of the government in Islamabad. Apart from the fact that some innocent villagers have been part of the ‘collateral damage’ in these attacks, the public relations effect has been disastrous, actually strengthening the hands of the extremists. So, far from being encouraged by what has happened since David and I gave our down-beat predictions about Pakistan’s future, I have the growing impression that the country is going completely pear-shaped.

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