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Pakistan’s Case of Diplomacy and Glacier Conks

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Roedad Khan, quoting him as a metaphor for any Pakistani, has burnt himself out, at least proverbially. His passion remains stuck with stark disappointments as he yearns to see our ‘Quaid’s’(founding father) dreams as achieved.

Several icons from our civil society including journalists would soon be hunch-backs under the heap of scandals they expose about massive corruption, nepotism and state conspiracies, to the verge of proving the gluttons committing acts of treason. However, our federal top guns remain soaked in their unholy hobbies on the trajectory of their ill founded domains. Instead of fishing for clues for recovery from public opinion through the media, their genius is consumed by the devices to go more lethal and ambitious in wicked pursuits. In the mean time, our judiciary has been inundated with the burden of their responsibility to often act unilaterally but brilliantly when state’s institutions’ functional credibility is not characterized by their service to the people but by self-glorifying their misdeeds. Where such comparison is within the ‘corrupts’ in competition, the magnitude and tainted colossus of these monsters become immeasurable. It would be absolutely fair to exclude Army from this ominous bracket.

Federation functionaries have the tongue in their cheeks to clamor that democracy is threatened in Pakistan. Wikileaks has thoroughly exposed them as if they are hanging by a cliff and seeking rescue from the external collaborators. The dramatic irony in the whole issue is that the ‘cliff’ is their own making to provoke sympathies among our allies of war on terror. Pakistani coalition government, thoroughly vulnerable to blackmail by its own constituent allies, has devised a nefarious strategy to gobble up themselves and extend absolute impunity to their accomplices. They, amidst the volleys of mutual barbs, cling to each other because they are desperately in the need of a continuing empire to mop up their sins.

Once this humbug goes on, our foreign policy brains have been lax wittingly and unobtrusively from the public eyes on several crucial issues of international relations, which crystallize through the conduct of diplomacy, ‘as a policy instrument possibly in association with other instruments such as economic or military force to enable an international actor to achieve its objectives’ (Baylis & Smith). Thanks to globalization, we are not only an international actor but the geo-strategic location endows us with tremendous significance. If the diplomacy wizards do recognize our inherent vitality which is doubtful, one thing is sure that their recognition has not been supplemented with adequate exterior maneuvers. Our stance is mercurial and not commensurate to the challenges. We tend to buckle under the weight of national and international issues to keep ourselves well aligned to the wishes of external factors which push us to the pitfall of erroneous decisions when our indigenous failings are in no dearth.

Our government attempts to project its weight by ridiculing other pillar(s) of state despite knowing that our deeds or misdeeds are picked up by international community faster than we do, being cast in a crystal. When Army asserted that we would defend our borders employing all means available, certainly it was aimed at India with whom there have been three wars since independence in 1947. However it was not meant to negate the spirit of diplomacy and freedom of dialogues option with our eastern rival. Rather it meant reinforcing the dialogue diplomacy with military support in tandem to lend our negotiations a position of advantage. None else than our ruling party spokesperson spew out a firm denial that these were not the government views, at colossal detriment to the conduct of successful diplomacy.

Mr. Asif Ali Zardari calling Kashmiri freedom fighters as terrorists from as responsible a platform as that of ‘President’ and offering withdrawal from Siachin Glacier in 2008 and 2010 respectively, made our adversary’s stance more stubborn. Did he know the extent of damage he inflict to our foreign policy, strategic implications for India and advantages that accrue to Pakistan when we keep the bull locked by the horns in Siachin with perhaps much lesser comparative, though considerable, cost in men and material? His statements were not only antithesis to the basics of the diplomacy dynamics but also of our valiant men’s and officers’ sacrifices, literally crouching like Dr. Iqbal’s (Poet of the East) legendary ‘shaheens’ (eagles), gasping for each breath, yet resolutely  perched on the rocks above 20,000 feet. On the contrary, India has not budged an inch from its reticence beyond fascinating colloquialism occasionally over Kashmir as well as Sir Creek. Instead it has launched a well orchestrated effort to encircle and isolate Pakistan from Afghanistan, the West, Japan, Russia, China, and Middle East. Recognition of India’s role in Afghanistan by U.S., European Union and Russia is a direct set back to the conduct of our foreign policy. Already India is being accused of fomenting instability in Pakistan’s south-western province, Baluchistan and funding a segment of Taliban. Some dissident leaders’ trails by our intelligence agencies are reported to have confirmed this hypothesis. Thus when India claims it stakes for having a role in Afghanistan, it is crystal clear what she exactly means.

India played Mumbai card very shrewdly, depicting Pakistan backing and actively supporting the tragic episode once its voices even feeble, are heard loud and clear for an obvious advantage of  its much trumpeted democratic platform versus Pakistan. Murder of 93000 Kashmiris so far has not been able to move the world conscience that seems to be pushed by commercialism more than philosophy of pursuing peace. For the major powers, India is a prolific trade partner and worth billions dollar arms market as well. On our side is a dark picture. Pakistan run by a dictator for nine long years from 1999-2008 has been ravaged beyond repairs. Wikileaks disclosure about Israeli leadership’s continuing concern for President Musharraf’s safety and well being explains the entire myth of his millions dollar bonanza; he is now reaping under the guise of ‘enlightening’ lectures in the West. During his rule, his meetings with Israeli top functionaries are no secrets. The only country declared off limits by Pakistani passport, unfortunately, is Israel. The printed warning it carries ‘this passport is valid for all the countries of the world except Israel’ had obligated him by implication to  refrain from such honey-mooning but flouting the norms and ethics had been his favorite slushy slippery ground that he has yet to answer when cold hands of justice would reach him. Not only toppling but throwing a democratically elected Prime Minister, Mr. Mian Nawaz Sharif and the bonafide Chief of Army Staff, Gen Khwaja Zia-ud-Din into black dungeon are the major charges against him, among dozens of other allegations of heinous crimes, he is not likely to wade through clean. How one would have expected such a con man to have stood for national interests? Unfortunately the successor government is also incapable and bent upon adding insult to the injury. Amidst lurking disenchantment of the masses, Pakistan failed to cash upon the vital evidence emanating from Indian sources about setting ‘Samjhauta Express’ ablaze in 2007. The complicity of Indian government officials, in firebombing Pakistan bound train near Panipat (India), with the Hindu terrorists is undeniable. Charred bodies of sixty eight Pakistanis were pulled out and fifty two were injured, most of them critically.

Analysts in India also remembered the moments of the tragedy that preceded it by five years in 2002 at Godhra railway station in Gujarat (India). No evidence could prove that fire attack was preplanned by Muslims when fifty Hindus were killed. One thing is sure that the magnitude of revenge which the majority Hindus unleashed over Muslims next morning was unprecedented. They burnt them alive and killed about 2500 of them. The state’s machinery deliberately stood by, watching the human carnage till there were ashes and stench all around. Mysterious then and later also, the candidate of extremist Hindu party, BJP, which thrives politically on the heaps of hatred towards Muslims, had clean sweep in the coming election. Many observers believe that the train massacre was stage-managed to the logical conclusion, which was consummation of BJP victory. In India such treachery, when it comes to Muslims, is never surprising. Recent comments by a senior Indian Congress leader, DigVijay Singh, likening Indian RSS and BJP hatred for Muslims to that of Nazi’s against Jews, is a stark reality and stigma, BJP carries.

Pakistanis could hope with a sense of loss from our policy wizards that these tragic events could be brought up as an effective counter-lever to parry off Mumbai scathing and consequent dent to our image among the comity of nations. While Mumbai massacre rumbles every now and then, our diplomats perhaps are not even mindful of the butchery meted out to Muslims in India, including Kashmir. Such are the short memories on our side. Absence of flurry of publicized diplomacy offensives usually means all quiet on this front to suggest that our policy pundits are gripped by inertia or inert dreams. Compromises are not welcome because we would be led to demolishing our crucial geo-political pivots. On the other hand we are clear about the hypothesis that India needs peace more than us. It does not need a genius to guess but simple arithmetic that Indian stakes in peace are much more monumental than Pakistan. Yet the reality predominates the scene for both the neighbors that peace-making is the only way through. It should be driving both sides crazy that it has remained elusive for sixty three years until now. While talking to an eastern TV channel, Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh talked of responding and readjusting to global trends towards multi-polarity and managing the regional environments in Asia in a manner which enhances peace, security and overall development of our societies. He asserted that it is incumbent on all countries of the region to build cooperative partnerships. It is a paradox that in real dynamics of international relations, he appears excluding India from ‘incumbent on all countries of the region’ clause about matters relevant to Pakistan.

 

India has persisted in achieving threatening posture. She has secured a base in Tajikistan and is doing thriving business in Kazakhstan in energy sector despite presence of a very tough and competitive rival, China. Ajay Patnaik rightly boasts, “Two landmarks signified India’s changing approach. In November 2003 India agreed to renovate and upgrade the Ayni air base in Tajikistan. In August 2005 Indian state-owned company ONGC combined with Mittal Industrial Group to form ONGC Mittal Energy Limited (OMEL) to acquire energy assets in Kazakhstan”. What laurels have we achieved despite our territorial contiguity with Central Asia? Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan, Vice Chancellor, University of Peshawar, is rightly bewildered to observe that in Central Asia, India is every where. While he does not deny their privilege to be there, he maintains, Pakistan is nowhere.

Potentials of the land mass, Pakistan, as a bridge to satiate Indian energy-thirsty but booming economy remain precious bargaining chips during negotiations with India. Transit trade relaxation from Afghanistan to India and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Gas Pipe Line agreement are some hasty if not ill-thought moves that have left us empty handed when we had an alternative to flaunt Gwadar outlet for the sake of diplomacy. With our hind view about the quality of Indian diplomacy that is consistent and vibrant, at some point in time, we would again be cornered by her as in Afghanistan, and now for Siachin Glacier where India has picked up ‘environments degradation’ card to force our forces pull-out on us. It also shows how India manipulates universal trends to its advantage. Indian burgeoning defense budget and attempts to ditch our economy by choking off rivers inflow prove its relentless pursuits to strike at our survival roots. On the contrary, our foreign office apathy of not launching diplomatic blitz for effective resolution of mother-of-all disputes (Kashmir) is intriguing. Our moral ascendancy has been rendered redundant at international level when poor and reluctant campaigning has resulted in our faltered stance, with emerging impression at times that we are about to ditch Kashmir issue. President Musharraf’s claim to justify Kargil misadventure that it brought Kashmir Issue to the world focus, could not have been more repulsive and loathsome. On the other hand India successfully invaded Junagadh, Goa, Hyderabad, Kashmir and clipped off our wing to the East in 1971 to become Bangla Desh. Through effective diplomacy it has not only managed to wipe off its sins of aggression but has become a standard bearer of the largest democracy in the world. Having licked off its claws after several territorial hunts, it now purrs, a stance more lethal to secure Energy Bridge to link with Central Asia in the absence of which it’s ardently perceived global role would remain a pipe-dream. Playing to Indian tunes, we are eager to oblige without ever exploring the ramifications that would accrue for Pakistan.

 

The bottom line of the debate is not that diplomacy doors be shut off but made more responsive with cutting edge. An edge that is not reactionary but preemptive, far sighted and to engage our adversary on forward foot. Before the two sides line up nuclear armaments for a devastating conflict in the wake of deep rooted mutual frenzy, there is a need to mobilize world opinion to avert another holocaust. UN silence on this issue, despite the existence of plebiscite-supporting resolutions in its archives, is certainly lamentable. It is also reality that diplomacy in 21st Century is far more complicated particularly when convergence of national interests of the major powers is a foregone conclusion in this region. Yet our foreign policy ‘gurus’ are perhaps not putting the diplomats stationed in our embassies abroad to the optimum utilization whose performance had been traditionally dismal, some exceptions notwithstanding. They may have been led to complacency and lavish lethargy by innate greed but the irony is that no specific goals are given to them to shoulder-push our national interests to fruition. At the same time our government has to recognize that diplomacy, though largely concentrates on international issues, draws succor from state’s internal environments. If the state remains laced with corruption, nepotism and horrible governance, diplomacy limps everywhere it tries to project itself being on fragile roots.  Successive failures to plug the yawning gaps would subject us to agonizing arm-twisting by India in sync with other stake holders to squeeze more and yet more from our clattering skeleton As the word ‘Conk’ means a blow to the head, one would implore the rulers to save us from such deadly blows. Conversely ‘conk’ also means fungus growth on decaying wood. One would pray, Pakistan is not destined to such doom.

 

The writer is a defense analyst and member of WSN International Advisory Board with doctorate in International Relations, ( makni49@hotmail.com)

 

(An abridged version, of this opinion article appeared in The News International-Pakistan, 22 December 2010)

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Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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South Asia

Possible scenarios in Afghanistan after US withdrawal

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After two decades of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden has announced the date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and ends the longest war. According to him, the United States wills withdrawal its entire military forces from Afghanistan military bases by 9/11/2021. Many Afghanistan politicians do not believe that the U.S. withdraws all of its troops because the central government of Afghanistan does not have adequate preparation after the U.S. withdrawal situation.  However, in this article, I will explore the thinkable scenarios in Afghanistan after the U.S. troop’s withdrawal?  In this study, I will focus on some possible situations in Afghanistan.

 First, achieving peace and construction of Afghanistan National Unity Government (ANUG) is the first possible option post-exit of U.S., Now that foreigners have announced they have left the country, there is no reason for conflict. Such a situation will achieve long peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region; this option needs a comprehensive peace, including internal and external players involved in the coming peace process. I look forward to how the Afghan government maintains the balance of power between the Taliban and other political parties; this is very crucial because the imbalance drawback to the collapse of government and Afghanistan will plunge into civil war as we experienced during the Najibullah government as well. In the external arena, the most affirmative scenario is the situation for the regional country will not be worse. The U.S. will continue its support to the Kabul government in the post-exit era. The external stakeholders, particularly China and Russia, are interested in stability and durable peace in Afghanistan through cooperation with the other regional states (Pakistan, India, Iran, and Turkey). The resolution of the Afghanistan issue will guarantee the security of South and Central Asia its vital for China and Russia because of the core threats to China and Russia from Afghanistan terrorist groups activities, its danger for the U.S. as well. 

Another significant reason is that Afghanistan is the gateway to the Central Asian States with potentially untapped energy resources. The regional Actors want direct access through Afghanistan to these natural resources to meet their dire energy demands. Because of American military presence in the region, the regional countries, particularly Iran, Pakistan, China, and Russia, felt threatened. They began to oppose and protect their interests connected with Afghanistan’s peace and security. The notion is that, in the prolonged presence of the United States, these states that have economic and security interests in Afghanistan would be in danger. China and Afghanistan have several ongoing projects underway, and different transnational actors have sabotaged these projects on several occasions. Likewise, Pakistan has a direct border link with Afghanistan, has several stakes in Afghanistan, and needs access to Central Asia. Pakistan also has concerns about the presence of America. It has also made strong connections with China so that mutual interests could be met by joining hands together.

Similarly, Iran and Russia being strategic partnerships have profound political and economic interests in Afghanistan and arch-rivals of the United States. Both countries have to oppose the actions of the United States and a potential threat for both country’s interests in the Afghan mainland and Central Asia. It means the diverging interests in Afghanistan of regional and American interests, politico-military outcomes would in the long term seem not conducive for lasting peace in Afghanistan unless these could have a political consensus on the said diverging interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan internal reconciliation. If all stakeholders involving in the Istanbul negotiation, they could form an ANUG that all have so far required. Agree, this will be the best option to end the war, and such a government will be bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

Second, maintain the status quo: U.S. President announced the date of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, reminding that the United States continued its assistance, exceptionally provide large military and financial aid to Afghanistan. It is unclear whether such a promise will be fulfilled; if the U.S. keeps its support, particularly military and financial assistance to Kabul, the Afghan security forces have enough power to maintain the status quo after the U.S. exit. In this case, if the peace talks in the Istanbul conference fail, the Kabul government will survive. The Afghanistan national army will able to fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Let us remember that Dr. Najib’s government was still strong in terms of power, defense. Still, the main reason was led to his government downfall are the imbalance between internal control and ethnic divisions. Regarding imbalance, we can see the role of General Dostum. In the beginning, he was a core ally with Najib when he turned to the North alliance because he did not see himself in the power position. The ongoing situations in Afghanistan are similar; the statement should focus on the role of warlords and political parties to maintain the inter balance this significant for the central government to survive. On the other hands, the economic and military support for the Afghanistan government crucial because without external support Afghanistan government cannot survive; if the necessary financial resources for security are not available from external donors at the same times in the government of the internal situation have many challenges such as insurgency, terrorist, ethnicity, corruption, and warlords. The current conditions Afghanistan faces the external and internal threat; the Afghanistan government need to deal with it. In this situation how the Ghani will deal with post-U.S. withdrawal, he has two choices two survive the first; he imbalance with China and Russia because china can help Afghanistan financially and play a significant role to force Pakistan and Taliban as well, this choice very dangerous if he fails cannot survive if he succeeds he will be overcome both threats. The second is to keep its alliance with the U.S. this situation will maintain the status quo but not bring durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.           

Third, the collapse of government and going to civil war:  after two decades of war, the U.S. shortcut way to bring peace in Afghanistan. Washington tries to face save from withdrawal of Afghanistan. The U.S., represent Khalilzad, has provided a draft Afghanistan Peace Agreement to the Kabul government and Taliban. The core idea is to replace the elected Afghan government with a transnational one that may occur, including Taliban and negotiation between the parties for a future permanent system. At the same time, president Ghani receives a letter from U.S. Secretary of state Blinken saying it was “urgent” to “accelerate peace talks” and move “quickly toward a settlement.” The letter also has asked Turkey to host a high-level meeting between the Afghan sides “in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement.” Suppose the government is to think of independent defense. The Istanbul conference is a good opportunity for the Taliban and Kabul governments to achieve peace; otherwise, the situation will be worse. The current situations are an important opportunity for all different parties, ideologies, groups, and ethnic groups have come together. The unification and arrangement of these products is a complex and arduous task and requires compassion and sacrifice. On the other hand, if the Kabul government delays the negation to remain in power and the Taliban also holds up to returning to power by force, this condition will disintegrate because the ethnic, linguistic, religious, and other divisions turn into armed conflict. In the worst-case scenario, then the 1990s, conflict and war and killing will be restarted, and Afghanistan situations will be worse than Iraq and Syria. In conclusion, this paper argues the future situations of Afghanistan after the U.S. force withdrawal from Afghanistan. During the history of Afghanistan’s statement constantly losing in the diplomatic arena in this crucial moment, how the Ghani governments deal with internal and external issues? All Afghanistan people wish the politicians can play a good role and end the forty-year war and move towards prosperity and stability. If the intra-afghan dialog fails, keep the status quo is also good, at least worse government better than no government, for the benefit of the people and the inhabitants of the big cities, as far as it is acceptable. It is like being delivered in an explosion and suicide attack in these twenty years, and so on. But if we go to the civil war and ethnic conflict and alley to alley, people will forget the previous civil war. I hope that will not happen. People are starving for peace and stability. It would be suitable for political leaders to abandon their interests, focus on the national interest, and move toward a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.

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South Asia

Afghanistan: the US and NATO withdrawal and future prospects

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On April 14, the United States of America announced that it would withdraw all its troops stationed in Afghanistan from May 1 to September 11, 2021. On the same day, NATO also said it would coordinate with the White House military to initiate the withdrawal.

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has actually been going on since the Soviet invasion of that unfortunate country on December 24, 1979.

What are the plans of NATO and the United States? How will the situation in Afghanistan change in the future?

Regarding the US announcement of the deadline for troop withdrawal, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan government respects the US government’s decision to withdraw its troops by the agreed date.

According to the Associated Press, there were 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan before May 1, far below the peak of over 110,000 in 2011.

According to the websites of the Financial Times and theDeutsche Welle, some ten thousand soldiers from the 36 NATO Member States and other US allies are currently stationed in Afghanistan, including as many as 895 Italian soldiers, as well as 1,300 Germans, 750 Brits, 619 Romanians, 600 Turks, etc.

President Trump’s previous Administration signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan in February 2020, setting May 1, 2021 as the deadline for NATO to begin withdrawing from that country. The Washington Post reported that after the current US government issued the withdrawal statement, the Taliban immediately said that if the United States violated the peace agreement and did not withdraw its troops in Afghanistan, the situation would get worse and one of the parties to the agreement would take responsibility for it.

This year is the twentieth since the United States started the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The war in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest overseas war, and has killed over 2,300 US soldiers and wounded some 20,000 people, at a cost of over 1 trillion US dollars.

Although the United States and its allies attacked the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the situation in Afghanistan has been turbulent for a long time, with over a hundred thousand Afghan civilian casualties in the fighting.

According to The New York Times, both Parties’ members of the US Congress have differing views on the consequences of withdrawal. According to the newspaper, Republicans and some Democrats believe that the troop withdrawal will encourage the Taliban insurgency, while others believe it is necessary to put an end to this indefinite war.

But what considerations can be made for the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan?

It is well known that the purpose of the United States in taking the war to Afghanistan was a very heavy measure of retaliation against al-Qaeda, which had organised the terrorist attacks of September 11, and against the Taliban regime that protected the top leaders of that terrorist organisation. Although al-Qaeda has not been destroyed, it is unlikely to create similar problems. The United States has achieved its strategic goals and is no longer involved in East Asia’s tactics and strategy.

The interests of NATO (considering its individual Member States) in Afghanistan are fewer than those of the United States. As a military alliance with the United States, the achievement of US strategic goals means that NATO’s equal strategic goals have also been achieved. Hence, rather than continuing to run the risk of confronting the Taliban and al-Qaeda after US military withdrawals, NATO is more willing to remove the “political burden” as soon as possible.

While announcing the terms of the withdrawal, the White House has stated that the threat of extremist organisations such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and ISIS is spreading globally and it is therefore meaningless to concentrate forces in Afghanistan, with a steady expansion of its military cycle. At the same time, however, the White House has stated that after withdrawal, diplomatic and counter-terrorism mechanisms will be reorganised in Afghanistan to face security challenges. Hence, from the US perspective, there is currently a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The prospectsfor advancing the Indo-Pacific regional strategy to oppose China also means that it would be counterproductive for the United States to remain in Afghanistan any longer. Even after the troop withdrawal, there will be insecurity in Afghanistan. That being the case, however, the United States will still find ways and means to support the Afghan regime and the armed forces of the Kabul government.

The Washington Post has also reported statements by a Pentagon official who has stressed that Afghanistan is a landlocked country: consequently, once US and NATO forces withdraw, one of the biggest challenges will be how to effectively monitor and combat extremist organisations and resist threats to US security: at that distance it will be even more difficult without sea landings.

According to Reuters, the CIA predicts that the possibility of a further US-Afghan peace deal is little and has warned that once the United States and its allies withdraw, it will be difficult to stop the Taliban.

The Afghan government forces currently control Kabul and other large cities, but the Taliban are present in more than half of the country’s territory and rural areas. In the future, the possibility of a Taliban counter-offensive cannot be ruled out.

Great Britain’s The Guardian has commented that the years of war have generally made Afghans feel a strong sense of insecurity and the withdrawal of troops will not bring much comfort to the local population. According to the London-based newspaper, for the United States this is yet another war that cannot be won.

According to experts, there are two extreme possibilities in the future situation in Afghanistan. The excellent situation is the one in which the less extremist wing of the Taliban mediates so that, once the United States withdraws, the Taliban can gradually move from being an extremist organisation to being an internal administrative one and then negotiate with the legitimate government supported by the United Nations: this would mean a long-term peace after forty-two years of war.

Under extremely unfavourable circumstances, instead, the Afghan government forces would overestimate their military strength and intend to continue the war alone against their traditional opponents, at which point peace negotiations between the two sides would break down.

This would mean falling again into a prolonged civil war and into eternal war.

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South Asia

Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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