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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/19/18

Challenges for Pakistan -- Relations with the U.S., Afghanistan, China, Iran and Religious Extremists

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I was in Pakistan 10 days ago speaking at the conference "The Geopolitics of Knowledge and Emerging World Order" organized by the Pakistani National Defense University. The symposium brought together scholars and journalists from six countries at the top military university in Pakistan. My contribution was "How Perceived Exceptionalism, Racism, Hatred, Bigotry and Rejection of the Rule of Law Can/Will Dethrone an Empire."

Other presenters from China, Germany, Sweden and Pakistan included Pepe Escobar, editor of Asia Times, Dr. Robert Jensen, recently retired Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas-Austin, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, Director and Public Affairs Professor at the Center for Islam and Global affairs, Istanbul, Turkey and Dr. Mohammad Marandi, Professor of Literature and Orientalism, University of Tehran, Iran.

The relationship between the Trump administration and Pakistan is frosty after the United States cut $330 million in military aid to Pakistan in October 2018 over its failure to reign in militant groups operating in Afghanistan. The Obama administration had also suspended $800 million in aid in 2011 and $350 in military aid in 2016 for the same reasons.

The U.S. isolates itself from Pakistan at its own peril. With a population of over 202 million, Pakistan has the sixth largest population in the world following China, India, USA, Indonesia and Brazil, is one of nine countries that have developed nuclear weapons and is a key player in regional security issues involving its neighbors Afghanistan, Iran, India and China.

Not surprisingly, with the U.S. government turning away again, the new government of Pakistan led by Imran Khan has turned to its neighbors for assistance -- Iran and China. The first international dignitary that the new Prime Minister met with after his election in July was the Foreign Minister of Iran.

While I was in Pakistan, Khan was busy with both domestic and international issues. That week, the Iranian Foreign Minister again visited Pakistan to speak with Khan and Khan traveled to China to be the Guest of Honor of the Chinese government at the First China International Import Expo held in Shanghai November 2-3, 2018. The Khan administration is banking on the $60 billion in land and sea projects underway with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a link in China's massive project of the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) or the New Silk Road.

The Trump administration has been left on the sidelines-again -- in a very important region where the U.S. has embarked on its 18th year of war on Pakistan's neighbor Afghanistan.

In the days (October 31-November 3, 2018) I was in Pakistan, the challenges for the new Pakistani government were on display. Protests paralyzed the country over the decision of the Pakistani Supreme Court to acquit a Pakistani Christian woman named Aasia Bibi of charges of blasphemy -- of insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammed -- after she had been on death row for eight years.

The mere allegations of blasphemy have resulted in deaths of those accused by religious zealot vigilantes led largely by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party which is well known for its hard-line stance on blasphemy issues. Founded in 2015, the TLP blockaded Pakistan's capital Islamabad for several weeks in 2017 calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws which forced the resignation of the federal law minister and paved the way for the group to poll more than 2.23 million votes in the July 25, 2018 general election.

The Supreme Court that ruled that there was no evidence eight years ago on which to convict Ms. Bibi and who cited parts of the Koran to bolster their decision, are themselves under threat of death by the vigilantes.

The Supreme Court acquittal resulted immediately in thousands of Muslims (primarily men) taking to the streets, blocking traffic, burning tires, cars. The protests continued for three days with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff warning the protesters that the Army would take action if "chaos" resulted.

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Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand (more...)
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