Pakistani PM says ‘committed’ to seizing Islamist charities

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reacts during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan Jan. 22, 2018. (Reuters/Caren Firouz)
Updated 23 January 2018
0

Pakistani PM says ‘committed’ to seizing Islamist charities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday said his government will push ahead with plans to seize control of charities run by an Islamist designated a terrorist by Washington, and warned the United States not to weaken Pakistan.
Abbasi brushed off US President Donald Trump’s recent tweet accusing Pakistan of “lies and deception” in its commitment to fighting terrorism, as he raised the prospect of charging the United States to use Pakistan’s airspace to resupply NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Under pressure from the United States and international institutions to crack down on terrorist financing, Pakistan last month drew up secret plans for a “takeover” of charities linked to Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, who Washington blames for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
The United States has labelled the charities Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) as “terrorist fronts” for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), or “Army of the Pure,” a group Saeed founded in 1987 and which Washington and India accuse of carrying out the Mumbai attacks.
Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says the charitable organizations he founded and controls have no ties with militants.
But both he and the organizations have been sanctioned by the United Nations and his freedom in Pakistan, where he holds public rallies, has been a thorn in Islamabad’s relations with India and the United States.
“Yes, the government will take over the charities which are sanctioned and not allowed to operate,” Abbasi, 59, told Reuters in an interview at the prime minister’s chamber in Pakistan’s Parliament in capital Islamabad.
Answering specific questions about the proposed takeover of JuD and FIF, Abbasi said the civilian government had the backing of the powerful military, which effectively controls Pakistan’s security and foreign policy.
“Everybody is on board, everybody is on the same page, everybody is committed to implementation of UN sanctions,” he said.
He declined to set a deadline.
JuD and FIF did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. The organizations have previously said they would take legal action if the government tried to take them over. Saeed could not be reached for comment.
Selective action
There are concerns in Pakistan that the country may face financial sanctions over accusations of selective action against Islamist militant groups and financing.
Pakistan is a base for myriad Islamist movements, and critics accuse Islamabad of only targeting militants who attack the state while leaving unscathed those who target neighboring Afghanistan and arch-foe India. Pakistan denies those allegations.
Abbasi said Pakistan had made progress in curbing terrorist financing after meetings with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body that warned Islamabad could be put on a watchlist for not doing enough to stop the practice.
“We’ve had several meetings on that, and from what I’ve seen a large part of those actions have been taken,” Abbasi said.
A UN Security Council team is due to visit Pakistan this month to review progress against UN-designated “terrorist” groups, which includes LeT and others such as the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network.
Former petroleum minister Abbasi said any sanctions against Pakistan would be counter-productive to the country’s own battle against Islamist militants, which he called “the largest war on terror in the world.”
“Any constraints put on Pakistan, actually only serve to degrade our capability to fight the war against terror,” he said.
Trump meeting
Relations between the United States and its uneasy ally have frayed since Jan. 1, when Trump lashed out against what he called Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” over its alleged support of Afghan Taliban militants battling US troops in Afghanistan. Washington has since suspended aid totalling about $2 billion.
Abbasi said Trump’s tweet was “unacceptable” in its tone and that Pakistan should not be “scapegoated” for US failures in Afghanistan.
“That is something ... we cannot accept because nobody’s suffered more than Pakistan,” Abbasi said, adding that tens of thousands of Pakistani have died from militancy that has inflicted damage worth $120 billion to the economy.
US officials last year warned of tougher measures against Pakistan, including potentially withdrawing its “non-Nato ally” status or even designating it a state sponsor of terrorism.
Abbasi said much of the suspended aid was from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies for the costs of supporting counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.
He said the US needed to respect Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against Islamist militancy and raised the prospect of charging Washington for air transport flights that have been resupplying US-led troops and Afghan forces in landlocked Afghanistan.
“If somebody wants to start quantifying expenses and aid, I think let’s put this on the table also. Let’s discuss that,” Abbasi said, though he added that such talk was “hypothetical.”
Abbasi dismissed media reports that Islamabad has ended intelligence sharing with the US military as false.
And he also spoke fondly about a brief discussion he had with Trump in September at a reception at the UN General Assembly in New York.
“I found him to be fairly warm,” he said. “Somebody that you would like to engage with and talk to.”


Indian manned space flight ‘by 2022,’ PM pledges

Updated 15 August 2018
0

Indian manned space flight ‘by 2022,’ PM pledges

  • Modi highlights manned space mission and major health care initiative during independence day address
  • PM’s speech a campaign launch for next year’s elections, observers say

NEW DELHI: India is planning its first manned space mission by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Wednesday.

Delivering his fifth independence day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, Modi said that the manned flight would be the culmination of India’s recent advances in space science.

“We have decided that by 2022, when India completes 75 years of independence, or before that, a son or daughter of India will go to space with a tricolor in their hands,” he said.

India will become the fourth nation after the US, Russia and China to send a manned mission to space.

In his 90-minute speech, Modi listed his achievements of the past four-and-a-half years and announced a new health care scheme that would cover 5 billion people.

Observers described Modi’s speech as a campaign launch for next year’s elections.

“No doubt next year’s elections are playing on the PM’s mind. The tone and tenor of the address reflects that,” said political analyst and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

As expected, the Indian PM announced his government’s flagship program, Ayushman Bharat, a national health scheme that will offer health insurance from about $5,000 to 1.4 million poorer families.

Popularly named “Modicare,” the scheme targets rural and middle-class voters and will be rolled out in the final week of September.

Comparing the past four years of his leadership with the previous government, Modi said that “the red tape has gone and now there is more ease of business — the sleeping elephant has started walking.”

He boasted that “India’s standing in the world has increased in the past four years and today when any Indian goes anywhere, all countries of the world welcome them and the power of the Indian passport has increased.”

However, the opposition Congress Party described the speech as high in rhetoric and low in substance.

“The Indian economy is a virtual shambles. The rupee has crashed to a historic low. Joblessness, farmers’ suicides, atrocities against marginalized Dalit groups, attack on minorities, corruption — all these show that the government has failed,” said Sanjay Jha, a Congress Party spokesman.

Aateka Khan, of Delhi University, said Modi’s speech was “hollow” and that “India has never looked as divided as it is looking now. He has failed to assure the besieged minorities about their security.”

Mukhopadhyay said the speech was “disappointing” and failed to reflect the vision Modi set out when he addressed the nation for the first time in 2014.

“He seems to be still blaming the opposition for the ills of the country,” the political analyst said.

Mukhopadhyay believes that “Modicare” ignores India’s huge infrastructure deficiency. “In the absence of good medical facilities, how are poor people going to benefit from the insurance?” he asked.

India’s 71st independence day also offered observers a chance to reflect and assess the country’s future.

“The legacy of freedom is under siege today. We as a modern nation state with secular principle are at a crossroads,” said Santosh Sarang, a political analysts based in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

“The forces of division are more predominant today than ever before in this independent nation.”

Sarang said that “economic growth is not the only parameter that can make India great; keeping India together and preserving its syncretic culture is also important. The way the attack on minorities has increased and their sense of insecurity has been institutionalized make us question how long we can remain a liberal and secular democracy.”

He warned that “majoritarian Hindu forces now want to rewrite the Indian constitution to make it exclusive, not inclusive.”

Urmilesh, a New Delhi-based thinker and analyst, agreed. “What is at stake is the idea of India. In 1947, we took a pledge to make India a modern, progressive nation and tried to promote scientific temper among new generation, but today a new idea of India is being promoted which sees its future in majoritarian politics. This is very much against the spirit of freedom struggle and nation-building.”

He said that independence day left him “somber and sad” that fundamentalist forces, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its protege Bhartiya Janata Party, which never participated in the freedom struggle and opposed the creation of a liberal and secular India, are ruling the country.

“The atmosphere in the country is so vicious that religious minorities and liberals have been pushed to the edge,” he said.

The right-wing activist Nirala, however, said that “the meaning of independence day does not remain the same all the time. We cannot have the same prism of looking at India as it was in 1947. What is happening today is the redefining of nationalism, which reflects the majoritarian thinking. Hinduism is the way of life in India and it should asserted unabashedly.”