UK panel explores 'rebrand' of Pakistan away from jihad and terrorism

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses a Kashmir rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

A panel of academics and South Asia experts from around the world explored the prospect of a "rebrand" of Pakistan away from an ideology of jihad and terrorism, with the Pakistani diaspora playing some role in such a move.

'Reimagining Pakistan: A Global Perspective', organised by the Jammu Kashmir Study Centre UK think tank and the Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK in London on Saturday, highlighted that Pakistan's so-called "jihad strategy" dates back to 1947 when it tried to "forcibly annex Kashmir".

The panelists were in general agreement that the country risks becoming increasingly isolated in the wake of its recent grey-listing by the global money laundering watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) unless some urgent steps are taken and that China could act as a counter-weight, given its own economic interests in the region.

"Pakistan has a unique opportunity to reposition itself as a leader in the region. The Kartarpur Corridor is a good start...but it needs to rebrand the country away from the ideology of jihad," said Seth Oldmixon from the Liberty South Asia, an independent group promoting political pluralism in South Asian.

"It (Pakistan) has been consumed by this ideology and its long-term interests lie in reimagining the country or it risks becoming increasingly isolated and economically destitute," he said.

Dr Christine Fair, a Georgetown University professor of security studies with a focus on South Asia, informed the gathering that the Pakistani High Commission in London had tried to coerce the venue of the panel discussion into cancelling the event.

"That is reflective of the kind of state it is," she said, adding that a reimagining of Pakistan could happen from within its diaspora, but diaspora communities are not often fully in tune with the realities on the ground.

"Washington needs to cut off all aid because aid is toxic to that state. The longer it stays on the grey list, it gets to bargain with the international community using the threat of terrorism," she said.

Other panelists, including Pakistani journalist-in-exile and Founder of Taha Siddiqui, highlighted the pressure on the media in the country but expressed hope that voices are on the rise against such a crackdown.

Khalid Shah, Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, traced the history of "Pakistan's jihad in Kashmir", leading up to what he described as the current "cyber jihad" aimed at radicalising Kashmiri youth and glorifying the idea of jihad.

"Pakistan is like a shark in the region...It is an existential threat to its neighbours in the region and countries beyond. The UK should stop all aid to Pakistan," noted David Vance, a writer at AltNewsMedia.

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