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Monday, October 5, 2020
Pakistan Press on Scientific Excellence, Middle East and Afghanistan: New Age Islam's Selection, 5 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
5 October 2020
• Need for Scientific Excellence
By Dr A Q Khan
• Realignments in the Middle East
By Dr Naazir Mahmood
• Afghanistan in Retrospect
By Kamal Azfar
• Does Pakistan Have A Plan B For Afghanistan?
By Kamran Yousaf
Need For Scientific Excellence
By Dr A Q Khan
October 5, 2020
Humans have forever tried to use natural resources for their own well-being so as to ensure a prosperous and comfortable life. As the human mind developed, their requirements increased and they endeavoured more and more to discover nature’s secrets.
Initially the progress was slow, but over the last few centuries the process has accelerated. Phenomenal progress has taken place in the field of science after World War II, surpassing all the previous achievements. Unfortunately, nowadays most of the scientific developments originate in Europe and the US. In the rest of the world, only the Japanese and Chinese have shown excellence in research and in all the technological fields.
All other nations have become 'users only', which prevents them from making useful contributions to their own development. They are now paying the price of their ignorance. This, too, is the case in Pakistan. Poverty, hunger and disease are the order of the day and we have done little to equip ourselves with advanced technologies. We are, therefore, depending on imports and are consequently subjected to economic pressures from technologically advanced nations and are dependent upon their donations, goodwill and loans, making the burden of circular debt almost unbearable.
We cannot afford to continue living in this situation any longer. Not only do we need to make up for lost time, we will also have to march ahead in order to keep abreast with the advanced countries. So far, we have failed to develop our own indigenous scientific, technological and social order.
To develop such an order, we need a research-oriented approach in both natural sciences and social sciences. We need to expose our students to a more practical and industrial-oriented research approach so as to improve the state of science and technology in our country. The only shining example we have is that of our nuclear development. The same goes for the social sciences. It is a shame that ideas and theories from alien sources dominate our intellectual thought while we have a rich and fertile cultural background. We need to create our own visions.
On a global level, the rate of technological advancement is tremendous while ours is practically non-existent, yet we seem oblivious to the gravity of the situation. Highly talented human resource is abundantly available locally but quality control, research and development are almost non-existent, causing many talented people to seek greener pastures abroad.
Technological development cannot be achieved without trained manpower, a proper infrastructure and provision of the necessary engineering materials. To train human resource, certain reforms in the existing educational systems are needed. There is now growing awareness for the need to set up research facilities and institutions of higher learning in the fields of science and technology, both in the public and private sectors.
This awareness led to the establishment of the GIK Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Topi, the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Quaid-e-Azam University, Karachi University and Punjab University. Establishing such institutions is definitely a step forward. The Fachhochschule that has been set up is a technical college like HNC, HND, etc. Students can learn technologies there but not research with, or development of, these technologies. Nor can PhD degrees be obtained there.
Besides being a cosmopolitan city, Karachi has certain features exclusively its own. It is not only the largest city in the country, it is also the nerve centre of the country’s economic, industrial and financial structures. People from all over the country and from very diverse backgrounds live there, so it emerges as a good place for institutes to select students. Because it is also 'my' city, I was instrumental in setting up the Dr A Q Khan Institute of Bio-technology and the Institute of Behavioural Sciences there with the help of many philanthropic-minded friends and associates. After their opening and smooth functioning, the first Institute was donated to Karachi University and the second one to Dow University of Health Sciences.
Another institute worth mentioning is Indus Hospital, set up by the selfless services of the Islamic Mission Hospitals Trust. They are very active in the training of nurses and in setting up an Institute of Health Care. This institute has been constructed from contributions made by Pakistanis living abroad, associates and friends.
Healthcare for the common citizen is sadly lacking in Pakistan and a healthy population goes hand in hand with the development of education in general and science and technology in particular. It is to be hoped that Indus Hospital will be given formal recognition by the governor of Sindh by granting it a charter so that it may develop into a premier institute in Karachi.
There are many more institutes of great utility in the fields of science, technology, social sciences, health care, etc. Too many to be mentioned by name. The point to be made here is that without financial input, transparent policies, non-political appointments, careful curriculum planning and competent staff, no significant progress can be made. Another point is incentives, adequate emoluments and a positive, creative working environment to counteract the current brain drain.
During the past few months, the politics of the Persian Gulf has changed pretty fast. These changes will have a far-reaching impact not only on the Gulf area but also in the entire Middle East, and on South Asia too. Starting with the UAE, some other countries are also improving their relations with Israel.
Since the process started with the UAE, let’s begin our discussion there. Earlier this year when the UAE sent its space mission to Mars, the world was puzzled about what this small country was up to. Though small, the UAE has extended its influence substantially. To understand how it was possible, we need to take a brief look at its history. The UAE is a federal state comprising seven Emirates, which joined hands to form a union in 1971. The largest unit of the UAE is Dubai, with four million people out of a total population of nearly 10m.
The second is Abu Dhabi with around three million and the third Sharjah with nearly 2.5m. So around 95 percent people live in these three units and the remaining in Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, and al-Fujairah; whereas the smallest is Umm al-Quwain with just 75,000 people. The UAE shares land borders with just two countries: Oman in the east and Saudi Arabia to the southwest. Interestingly, out of nearly 10 million people, only 1.5m are citizens of the UAE; the rest are foreigners such as nearly four million Indians and three million Pakistanis.
The UAE has the sixth largest reserves of oil in the world, and the seventh largest of gas. Before the formation of the UAE, the tribal sheikdoms in this area were known as the Trucial States – the word Trucial derived from a series of truces signed in the 19th century with Great Britain. They remained an informal British protectorate until British PM Herold Wilson announced in 1968 that the treaties would be revoked. Then the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan, led negotiations to form the UAE and remained its leader till his death in 2004.
He maintained good relations with the UK and US, and developed his country using its oil wealth. In addition to the UAE, in this region the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plays a significant role. The GCC formed in 1981, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE; Iraq has never been part of the GCC. The six Gulf States of the GCC are under the command of Sunni Muslim rulers. Perhaps that is one reason they have not embraced Iran and Iraq into the GCC.
In the GCC, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar claim to be constitutional monarchies while Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are absolute monarchies. We can gauge the claim of constitutional monarchies by the fact that in Bahrain, Khalifa bin Salman has been prime minister for the past 50 years, making him the longest-serving PM in the world. In the UAE, the president is the 72-year-old Khalifa bin Zayed, but the de facto ruler is his 60-year-old younger brother Muhammad bin Zayed, commonly written as MBZ. Normally, the president of the UAE is from Abu Dhabi and the prime minister is from Dubai.
Currently, the prime minister and vice-president is Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum aged 70. MBZ is also the second in command of the army, and has been playing a decisive role in improving relations with both India and Israel. During the past 15 years, MBZ has transformed both external and internal policies of the UAE. He has developed an aggressive foreign policy and helped the Arab world quash any democratic movements. The Arab world has 22 countries which are also members of the Arab League (AL), with a population of around 450m which is nearly equal to that of the European Union (EU).
Within Europe, citizens of at least 27 countries can cross borders without visa, but in the AL there are hardly any countries that allow each other’s citizens visa-free travel; so much for the Arab or Muslim unity we talk about. Before establishing relations with Israel, we saw the UAE intervene in Yemen where Saudi Arabia was leading military action against Houthi tribes who hold sway over most of northern Yemen. The UAE used its F-16 fighter planes to hit Houthi targets but even after five years the de jure capital Sanaa is still under Houthi control.
Dozens of UAE soldiers have died in missile attacks by the Houthis. In just one attack, nearly 50 soldiers died which was the largest loss of life for the UAE anywhere in the world, prompting it to withdraw from Yemen. The UAE also did not like it when the former US president, Obama, signed an agreement with Iran. When Trump assumed power, relations between America and the UAE once again started flourishing.
America, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have relatively similar feelings towards Qatar. When Saudi Arabia blockaded Qatar, the UAE supported the blockade. The same can be applied to Libya where America and the UAE have a common stance. In 2019, MBZ welcomed Pope Francis to the UAE where he led prayers of nearly two hundred thousand Catholic Christians coming from 100 countries. An enormous Hindu temple has also opened its doors to worshippers in the UAE. The UAE forces have also quietly worked with Nato after the removal of the Taliban government in Afghanistan since 2001.
They have tried to reduce the impression in Afghanistan that Nato forces were anti-Muslim. The UAE has built or renovated many mosques across Afghanistan. Another manifestation of this is also evident in Somalia which is practically divided: with Somaliland in the north as an autonomous state supported by the UAE; whereas the capital of Somalia – Mogadishu – has Turkish advisers and forces. In Libya too, Egypt and the UAE are helping Khalifa Haftar who has occupied eastern parts of Libya while the internationally recognized government in western Libya has support from Qatar and Turkey.
But the most significant step we witnessed in August 2020 when standing by Netanyahu and Trump, MBZ announced that the UAE was initiating formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Now Israel and the UAE will try to contain Iran and Turkey to check their influence in the region. Recently, when Greece and Turkey faced each other in a maritime dispute near the island of Crete, the UAE also directed its planes and ships in that direction. All this indicates that with better relations with Israel, the UAE plans to increase its influence mainly regarding Iran and Turkey as well.
Though the expected cooperation between Israel and Turkey will span from commerce and culture to education and health, it is no secret that their primary collaboration will be in military matters. Israel is likely to help the UAE with its most developed technology that Iran and Turkey lack. Finally, on September 15, Bahrain has also signed an agreement in Washington with Israel to establish diplomatic relations.
To conclude we may say that the Gulf States are quickly drifting towards Israel, and that is going to be a major challenge for non-Arab countries to realign their foreign policy.
Dr Naazir Mahmood holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.
Harold McMillan, prime minister of England, a classic alumnus of Balliol College Oxford, predicted to my mentor Sir Anthony Kenny, Master of Balliol College, long years ago in 1980, that the Red Army would be compelled by the Afghan Mujahideen to a shameful retreat from Afghanistan, just like the British officers led Indian Army following the capture of Kabul in the first Afghan war of 1938.
If you do not digest history, it tends to repeat itself. At least, US President Trump has the good sense to negotiate with the very Taliban the US had overthrown, and to agree to a retreat of the American forces from Afghanistan after an 18-year occupation of Afghanistan following the Osama bin Laden-led massacre of innocents in New York and Washington on 9/11.
Even his critics will agree that President Trump is not a war-happy president. He who opposed the totally unjustified invasion of Iraq, the result of a collusion between Bush and his poodle Blair, which was based on fake evidence, and supported by Senators Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Unlike the criminal conspiracy between Bush and Blair, which later led to the unjust war against Iraq, it can be argued that the Afghan government paid the price for an unwise invitation to harbour known terrorist Osama bin Laden. What is incredible is that Obama raised the presence of the US Army to the highest figure of 100,000. After Osama bin Laden had paid the price of terrorism with his life at Abbottabad, Obama ought to have declared ‘Mission Accomplished’.
“Justice has been done”, declared Obama after the death of Bin Laden at the hands of US Special Forces. Pakistan has, however, paid a heavy price for collusion in the two Afghan Wars during the reign of two dictators; namely generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf.
This lasted for four decades, from the US-funded Afghan Mujahideen resistance, known as the biggest CIA operation in history, which ended with the Geneva Accord sponsored against the wishes of the worst dictator Pakistan has seen, Gen Ziaul Haq. After using the mujahideen, successive American administrations consigned them to the dustbin of history, having settled the score with the Soviet Union, under Comrade Brezhnev for backing Asian Hero Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam.
Prior to the CIA-sponsored first Afghan War of the 20th Century, we in Pakistan were not even familiar with the automatic weapon known as ‘Kalashnikov’. Pakistan has paid a heavy price for the induction of Kalashnikovs, despite the warning conveyed to Speaker Illahi Bux Soomro that we have left behind so many weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan that it will take several generations to clean up the mess. This was the time during which the Kalashnikovs fell into the hands of tyrannical parties and mutating clerical-led terrorists, which wreaked havoc in Pakistan from 1979 to 2009.
Thus, we in Pakistan should celebrate the peace deal between the Pashtun Taliban and the Tajiks led by Abdullah Abdullah. It is therefore all the more difficult to comprehend a recent statement by PM Imran Khan, pleading with the Nato forces to not withdraw from Afghanistan. That is not doing Pakistan any favours. The sooner the unwelcome Nato quits Afghanistan, the better it will be for Pakistan and the rest of the world.
Kamal Azfar is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, and a former governor of Sindh.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghan High Peace Council for National Reconciliation, was in Pakistan recently. This was his first visit to Pakistan in 12 years. During his three-day stay in Islamabad, he held wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and delivered a talk at the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies. In his own words, Abdullah described his visit as successful, hoping to open a new era of cooperation in bilateral ties between the two estranged neighbours.
The visit was important because it was taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing talks between the representatives of Afghan government and Taliban in Doha. The negotiating teams are currently trying to agree on the agenda and rules of engagement. What they have already agreed on was that irrespective of whatever happens in the battlefield, the intra-Afghan dialogue would continue. This means talks and violence can go hand in hand. The Afghan government and other stakeholders agreed to it as this is considered a historic opportunity for evolving a consensus on the future of Afghanistan. No one wants to squander this opportunity. The process remains intact despite many delays and hiccups mainly because President Donald Trump wants to show some success in Afghanistan before his re-election bid. The US presidential election is only a month away and it remains to be seen if both the parties are able to come up with some kind of agreement before that.
In this context, Abdullah’s visit was significant. He had two clear objectives: (a) to seek Pakistan’s support for convincing the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire or at least reduce the current level of violence (b) to remove mistrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan and discuss possibilities of cooperation in the post-conflict Afghanistan.
Abdullah said Pakistani leadership assured him that they would make all-out efforts to convince the Taliban for truce — something that the insurgents have so far refused to accept. The Afghan high peace council chief said Pakistan and Afghanistan “are on the same page” on the issue of ceasefire. Now the question is: does Pakistan exercise enough leverage over the Taliban to convince them for a ceasefire? It is evident that Pakistan does have a sway over the insurgents. The February 29 deal between the US and the Taliban would not have been possible without Pakistan’s active support. Pakistan was also instrumental in sorting out issues that were hindering the start of intra-Afghan talks. It was due to this reason that Abdullah sought Pakistan’s help in convincing the Taliban for a ceasefire. But observers believe the Taliban may not agree to this condition at this stage since they consider violence as a major tool in their armoury to push the other side for accepting their demands.
Pakistan’s role in facilitating the peace process has been acknowledged by the US, Afghanistan and other stakeholders. Unlike the past, there have been no public accusations of Pakistan playing a ‘double game’. The change in approach is largely attributed to President Trump’s policies. When he decided to withdraw troops from Afghanistan with or without a deal, the US establishment was worried that any exit without putting together some kind of arrangement with the Taliban would reverse the gains of the past 19 years. That was the actual reason behind the progress so far achieved in the peace efforts. But if there is no deal or political settlement among all the Afghan groups, there is a fear that Pakistan may yet again be in the crosshairs. So far Pakistan has played its cards well but it certainly needs a contingency plan in order to ensure that it is not made a scapegoat if the current efforts for peace do not succeed.