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South Asia

Raymond Davis Saga and Bold Judgment

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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Raymond Davis has been acquitted by a lower court in Pakistan from the alleged charges of committing a felony in broad day light on a busy road in the provincial metropolis, Lahore. The shock decision has left the nation floundering in the deep sea of turmoil and anguish.

The frenzy of debate about pros and cons has touched a new crescendo but is destined to die off. The tragic murders of Faheem, Faizan and Ebad were also ominous that swept our foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, off his portfolio for his reticence in not yielding to the official stance and later lobbing a leading statement that Raymond  did not enjoy diplomatic immunity. The statement was embarrassment for the U.S. as well as Pakistan. His post resignation discrete bitterness was palpable as he embarked on yet another imprudent phase of public discourse. Foreign policy is not a mob politics, a fact he utterly failed to reckon. The visiting U.S. emissaries paid him visits too to afford him a chance of rescuing his image and heal the dent caused to his vanity. However the damage had been done.

Within hours, we stood thoroughly polarized as a nation when government lost entire maneuver space for public diplomacy though it made several overtures that Raymond case was within the ambit of mutual diplomatic protocols. By implication, Pakistan pursued double track diplomacy. On one hand, it assured U.S. that the margin for return of the accused could be explored, even after allowing the law of the country to take its course. On the other hand, our Prime Minister led the campaign to dampen public angst, assuring that we would behave like a proud sovereign state and stand by the grieved families. It was a statement of several dimensions. Concept of sovereignty in globalized politics has under gone a tremendous adjustment but our masses were never educated about it at any stage.

The way Raymond gunned down the victims, was a clear illustration of his hubris. To top it all, U.S. Consulate rescue vehicle crushed Ebad to death in an attempt to reach beleaguered Raymond, adding fury to the fire. Public resentment further inflated to become a tsunami of hate, particularly after U.S. insisted upon release of the accused, flaunting his disputed diplomatic immunity card, when deceaseds’ blood had yet not dried up.

Pakistan government at provincial and federal levels took a marvelous stand at such a crucial juncture and let the legal formalities proceed by detaining Raymond in the jail who did not expect detention for a moment but had to face incarceration for several weeks. Yet under the barrage of media hype and threats from some intolerant segments of civil society, dispassionate opinion never surfaced that would have informed the masses that dispensation of ‘justice’ also needs conducive environments and restraining of emotions at least until the court’s verdict. Media failed to project a point that courts are not the bodies, which go by the public agitation to execute the accused summarily. Universal hallmark of the justice remains that a criminal be let off the hook for want of evidence once a while but never ever an innocent be dispatched to gallows.

On certain scores, we as a civilized nation have been out rightly the losers. The moment news flashed on the electronic media about acquittal of Raymond, reactionary sentiments swelled up to match Himalayan peak. In the wake of carefully orchestrated ‘threaten and scare’ campaign by some non-integral parties to the episode but with vested interests, no one was prepared to believe the impartiality of the judicial organ that goes by the norms of justice and not by the nefarious agenda or shenanigan. The fact is the victims’ dependents/heirs have accepted ‘diyat’ (compensation/blood money) while dropping murder prosecution and forgave him. Their act bears legitimacy from all angles and leaves no space whatsoever for protests from any quarter because the heirs availed their right the same way as they did while opting to lodge murder cases against Raymond. Unfortunately, in this land of pure, a draconian trend has sprung like a monster that any trigger happy person, disregard to his credentials has the authority to bring forth the charges and summarily execute the ‘sinner’ at his will. The silent majority is aghast and watches from the periphery. The other day, a woman who opted to seek her marriage dissolution from her husband was slaughtered within the courts premise in full public as well as police view because her husband thought that she was ‘wasting’ his/her time and he had expeditious ‘mode’ of justice to administer.

No one ever brought forth in the media the incidence of several deaths of the foreign dignitaries in alien lands including Pakistan when the norms of courtesy and diplomatic manners were never sacrificed. It was a harsher case in contrast but the way out has absolute backing of law. It would be ridiculous if one fumes from the den over government, Raymond, victims’ heirs or for that matter even over U.S. who secured his release after satisfying all legal and religious impediments. Not being content here, reportedly prosecution proceedings against Raymond have already commenced. In other words, U.S. has been truthful to its earlier pledge when it promised to conduct Raymond’s trial and sure, it is being done though after forgiveness by the victims’ heirs and payment of blood money, they have the margin to omit penalizing him. U.S. Ambassador in Pakistan, Cameron Munter did not celebrate Raymond’s acquittal but sought an opportunity to reach for soothing of the victims’ heirs’ ire instead. So did Senator John Kerry though none of them was obliged to do so at this stage.

Our sovereignty is too fragile and threatened even when a straw moves. Sovereignty is a term easy to use because it fills the mouth and sounds scholarly but scantly understood. Certainly, it endows tremendous status on a state but also encumbers it to measure up for several responsibilities to qualify for the ‘sovereign’ title. On the internal scene, persistent efforts to create a cobweb of intrigues and obfuscations certainly hindered the justice that our brilliant judiciary managed to obviate. A plethora of conspiracy theories, our visionary private TV channel anchors conceived while putting answers in others mouths through leading questions were deplorable. Media is obliged to expose the opposing opinions and views in tandem and helps intelligentsia to make the just choices. Unfortunately, it acted as a big stoker of public frenzy. An anchor also probed the myth of absence of Mian Nawaz Sharif, a prominent opposition leader and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister, on Raymond’s departure day to give it a mysterious twist. Perhaps at that very moment, Mian Nawaz Sharif was battling for his life under the surgeons’ care in London.

What forced the family to flee the country? Obviously, the incentives may have been U.S. visas, green cards and securing the huge trove of money, they received. However, extensive intimidation and incessant life-threatening bully by their so-called sympathizers have been the actual cause of their fleeing. The bereaved families’ dilemma was rubbished under the malignant cries of nationalism and false ego. No one made any effort to pry into the victim families’ miseries. They obviously exercised their religious as well as legal right to accept blood money but who would call it a justice when Damocles sword was hung on them not to patch up. It was sheer wrongful coercion. Only a handful of true sympathizers and the court rescued them from the dilemma. Talk of the town is that ISI; our supreme intelligence agency played its role. If that were valid, it did wonderful job. For the security fear and any possible backlash, the acquittal and whisking away Raymond and heirs of victims by a USAF plane was a very well synchronized event. Raymond has benefited in the process that he owes it to the magnanimity of the victims’ heirs. No one has any business to resent.

Good news is that we have seen yet another feather added to the pinnacle of our judiciary’s glory and there is glimmering hope of emancipation ahead. Bad news is that our print and electronic media are misusing freedom of speech card. The most powerful group among them, instead of cementing national harmony, tolerance and international consensus, works as an arrogant cartel to agitate the masses further and sponsors opinion blitz, which is dangerously schismatic.

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

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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