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Fall and Rise of Khan, Case Pakistan: General Elections-2013

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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Empires rose and fell in the history but none fell before the rise. The empire (a metaphor) characterised by his appeal to the masses’ passion rather than territories that is christened by (Imran) Khan, a cricketer turned philanthropist and later a politician,

saturates the nation morally as does a mystic inspires his folks about the virtues he is determined to cling to, no matter what the cost, even life, if he has to sacrifice. This blizzard of hope has taken roots in a country soaked in corruption, anger, ethnic schism, poverty and incessant malicious blackmail from the top for last about six decades, turning the peace mongering society into fractured islands of violence.

His election campaigns sparked the ardent desire among his supporters to do something that could serve as a beacon for the posterity, heralding an era of peace and tranquillity. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), that translates as ‘Pakistan Justice Movement’ is his platform from where he speaks extempore and with conviction. Truth drips from his every word, cutting through the thick layers of vile deception that wraps all politicians (a few exceptions apart), contesting 11 May 2013 general elections in Pakistan.

Fall and Rise of Khan

An edifice of empire with ‘centre’ orientation, yet an ideological one was building up fast. Everyone would love to rush to his rallies and those not finding the option feasible would get glued to TVs from the sofa brink. Then something struck like a bolt. Only three days before the elections, millions of his fans saw the towering Khan plummeting from 16 feet crashing platform. Hundreds of hearts were near to cease. It was as if the dream of Pakistan was shattering. The hope for emergence of a brilliant, meaningful and prosperous state where justice ruled was inclined to abandon us much faster than the falling Khan.

He sustained head injury and went unconscious for a while. The fall had occurred. Millions hands went up high above the shoulders; beseeching God to give him and Pakistan a chance. Lo and behold, All-knowing, All-seeing, the Merciful and the Magnificent answered prayers within minutes. Khan was back to senses, talking as if the hope had reinvigorated, pushing the entire nation in a fit of mix of jubilation and responsibility. Country appeared rising from the fall as did Khan who was on fast pace of recovery, consoling his fans from hospital bed to be calm and thrust ahead to realise PTI manifesto. He did not utter a single word to explain or complain, how and why he was tossed off the platform. With hands on the pulse of the people of Pakistan, he knew the scale and intensity of their anguish and at a critical moment he did not want to stoke their anger further. He aimed high. Brush with angel of death appears to have given him an added feel of aroma of ultimate success even if it was partially elusive this time on conclusion of current elections.

Spark of Hope

During his electioneering campaign, Khan sounded scary warnings about inevitable Tsunami to corrupt politicians and some top government functionaries against whom cases are pending in higher courts for swindling billions of rupees from state’s coffer. Tsunami, he described, would wash away all evils, the corrupt and others committing acts of felony but hiding behind the safety net that democracy affords even in the countries where rule of law is flouted or seen applying to the down trodden only. An elite class is above it, even when its crimes are abhorrently heinous. Dawn of 11 May witnessed an unimaginable phenomenon. Young, old men, women and children wrapped in PTI flags were reaching the polling stations before the doors opened.

Khan labelled the PTI performance akin to defeat amidst wide spread rigging episodes in Punjab and Karachi. However he was hilarious about the youths’ fervour with which they toiled day and night for the party. PTI has recovered from long drought. In 2002 elections, the party had yet not geared up and Khan won solitary National Assembly seat from his native constituency, NA-71 Mianwali. In 2008, PTI boycotted the general elections as a protest against the dictator, Gen Musharraf’s policies. During the five years break, it concentrated on organisational aspects and opinion mobilisation that led to its impressive performance, now in 2013. Jumping to National Assembly with 33 seats in pocket, emerging as leading party in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa (KP) with 34 seats and in Punjab with 22 seats, its leadership has proved that PTI is a force in national and international politics to reckon, with potentials of yet longer, perhaps trampling leaps during 2018 elections.

Election Synopsis

Summary of the election results which are yet to be officially declared amidst wide spread rigging charges, several parties have sounded, shows PML (N), a party led by Mian Nawaz Sharif has secured formidable position in National Assembly at the federal level and also in the Provincial Assembly of Punjab. PTI of Khan swept in KP with ‘Independents’ and JUI (F) on the trail prominently. Province of Sindh has been bagged by PPPP and in urban centres, MQM has made significant gains. Baluchistan has been the arena of nationalist parties where major parties have not been able to demonstrate their electoral power. Significant numbers of seats have been clinched by ‘independent’ candidates throughout the country with apparent motives to trade off their pivotal position as the bargain chips while extending cooperation to the leading party’s race to the power corridors. In a short stipulated period, they got to join some party but in the process, there have been instances in the past that they earned millions of rupees in exchange for the electoral support to the party wishing to ascend the podium.

 

Ground Realities and Future Projections

Some pleasant and bitter realities have emerged. PPPP led by Asif Zardari, the scandal-prone ruling party, has been reduced to non-entity in the national assembly as well as in the provinces except in its strong hold of Bhuttos (Sindh) where it managed to keep the nationalist tinge alive despite claiming to be the secular party. Indulgence in massive corruption and allowing coalition partners to blackmail it during the entire previous term in exchange of letting the party to run the highest offices at the federal level are the main causes of its downfall. No issue of the public concern when the nation sweltered under the weight of power crises or inflation and hopeless law and order situation, were addressed by the party seriously. They consumed the term in the struggle of their survival.

PML (N) has clinched dominating position at National Assembly and Punjab Provincial Assembly. The populous province of Punjab alone has more than 50 % share in the total electoral tally. With coalition partners that it may enlist, it is likely to rule Baluchistan as well. It would be unfair, though not impossible if it attempts to hijack PTI mandate from KP to constitute PML (N)-led government through alliance with smaller parties. Thus the party is confronted by interesting paradox which, if not handled with care could ruin its index of good governance.

PML(N) has the tendency to flout the majority mandate as it did during its previous term by locking horns with Chief of Army Staff, Gen Pervez Musharraf. As the prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif had the prerogative to appoint a chief of his own choosing but the manner he proceeded with to remove him was loathsome for the entire army. He wanted to prove himself an unbeatable macho and the Army chief a humble taxi driver as if the chief was to change the wheel only, forgetting that Army is extremely disciplined and respected institution. Even if he has learnt from his tragic episode of removal by Gen Musharraf, he is likely to fail on certain issues as one reads from his statements in last couple of days when he has yet not taken over the coveted office of the Premier. Hate for Army runs in his family genes for reasons best known to him to the extent that his brother, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who shared PPPP government until March 2013 as the chief minister of the largest province of Punjab, gets hostile even to the retired Army officers. If ever any of them approached him for the redress of grievance, he took pleasure in giving cold shoulder to him if not an insult of the kind.

On the national and international issues, PML (N) is likely to fall trap to the glitters that are not to heal the wounds of people of Pakistan who have been afflicted with during the last about two decades. Its leadership rule would be characterised by love and hate only as it has no middle position, extremely vindictive to the foes and forgiving to its well wishers, no matter the degree of crimes they commit. Within last few days, talk of the town is that US and Saudi Arabia lent Sharif Brothers unrestricted financial support to prevent Khan Tsunami sinking PML (N) to the depths of nonentity. A journalist reportedly has pulled a loud shot through a column, claiming that to defeat Khan from Lahore constituency, Sharif Brothers doled out money to rig the election to the tune of 850 million rupees. Also their vengeance was at peak against PTI when they made two deplorable moves in Khan’s native constituency in Mianwali by forcing Humair Hayat Rokhri, a traditional winner family, to withdraw and leave field open for Obaidullah Shadikhel alone to win from Khan. Not stopping here, Sharif Brothers are alleged to have opened the treasure chest filled by US and Saudi Arabia for their candidate to defeat Khan, no matter what the price. Mercifully the tons of money could not purchase the proud people of Mianwali. The proofs are yet to surface from the level of wide spread gossips. Fortunately gossips in Pakistan are generally more authentic than the government inquiry commissions who produce concocted , distorted and corrupt reports.

There is a considerable hate for US but saner elements are of the opinion that powerful US must be respected and moved along as a partner. However no one, like Khan had declared, is inclined to be subservient to US. Royals of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are predominantly respected by every Pakistani, being the ‘khadim-ul-harmaain al-shariffain’ but interference in Pakistani politics to such an extent to defeat a sincere, truthful and dedicated leader like Khan is against the teaching of Islam. If the Royals had to side with anyone, they should have sided with PTI on merit or stayed away from PML(N) whose past record is quite tainted.

The Elusive ‘Maulana’

JUI (F), led by canny Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, is one case in the entire exercise who has gained in 2013 general elections despite lending support to dictator to the hilt for the entire duration until 2008 and his notorious Legal Framework Order (LFO) that has been overturned by the judiciary. He is capable of speaking from the dais to scold US and Jews but off the scene, he can beg concessions from them. He is one man who has not been discovered or if the masses have registered his lust to remain part of every government minus political morality, they have not held him accountable by shunning him off on the eve of general elections. It appears as a research topic to ascertain why proud people of FATA and other provinces have failed to measure his follies.

Conclusion

PTI is likely to do well in whatever capacity it finds itself. The leadership is sincere, mature, educated and young. Even if the conspiracies by old hacks force it to play the opposition role that is equally crucial as it would have been in power. Striving for the rule of law, prevalence of justice no matter who is in the dock must remain their cardinal points of conduct. With the larger picture yet to emerge, PML (N) should be best advised to dampen its arrogant and revengeful history. It must heed PTI and other sincere political parties for the conduct of internal affairs and about the matters of foreign policy, an area it is woefully ignorant, at best emotional. Mian Nawaz Sharif, just on receiving the felicitation messages from foreign dignitaries, has started showing his cards that should have taken months to reveal in exchange for national gains. Deficit of brinkmanship was legible on his face. On the hand, the party has to root out corruption, as it has festered in Punjab even during their recent rule for several years. Dispensation of justice and building up the institutional capacity of the departments must be its top priority. It must remember claims are easy to make but need Herculean effort to implement. If peace in the country, self-sustaining economic recovery and diplomatic palpability, not necessarily through alien shadows, is not achieved the soonest possible on merit of our national interests, then we are headed for status quo. Such a monster of despair must cause shudder to every Pakistani because none can endure a corrupt and inefficient as well as biased government for yet another term. One would wish happy governance to PML (N) at the Centre, in Punjab and possibly Baluchistan, to PTI in KP and to PPPP in Sindh. Long live Pakistan and its lustrous Khan.

Author is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, holds Master’s as well PhD degree in International Relations and has authored a book. Writes frequently, has participated in several national and international conferences/seminars. (dr.makni49@yahoo.com)

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 problem of pellet guns in Kashmir

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Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of the Indian union dogged with an overridden unhealthy political atmosphere. The valley of Kashmir is beset with a major governance deficit which has given renewed impetus to the dissenting voices of the masses day in and day out. Dissent is the hallmark of a democracy which acts as a medium for the expression of the masses against the system. There are certain rights and duties guaranteed by the Indian constitution for the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and right to life. Caught in the quagmire of a political crisis that has deeply permeated the society, the people in Kashmir from time to time vent up their dissent. Hartals are the tools for the masses through which they ventilate their pent up emotions. Kashmir is not a different case. It is also amuck with crisis and caught in a looming distress day in and day out. Kashmir is the most sensitive zone of the whole Asian sub-continent, where situations turn awry with the passage of time, like the seasons of the year and is the only state of the Indian Union where there has been a reckless use of the pellet guns without any regard for the precious life of the common man. This is a sort of dichotomy.

The use of pellet guns is a major problem which has not only maimed, blinded and killed the masses, but also shaken the collective conscience of the people, who have fallen prey to a different approach of dichotomy of the government. The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 brought about a volcanic eruption in valley which not only deteriorated the situation in Kashmir, but also increased the massive alienation of the masses. The waves of grief and anger against the day-to-day killings and maims that the people felt increased with each passing day. In order to control the crisis, the security agencies used the deadly pellets which caused heavy damage to the sufferers. More than 1200 people lost their vision in 2016. According to a report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), more than 75% people suffered injuries due to pellet guns, ranging from minor to major in 2016.There was a heavy loss of life.

Although small in size, these black metallic balls have deteriorated our young generation. The use of pellet guns has wreaked crisis in Kashmir. For the security agencies, it is meant to disperse the crowds, but, for the common masses, it is a problematic affair. Pellet guns are pump-action shotguns which fire a cluster of small, round, metal pellets with high velocity over a broad range.

Recently, after the killing of a militant from Pahalgam area during the anti-establishment protests, a number of people were injured due to pellet A nurse working in the same area personally told me that we healed at least 100 plus pellet injured victims. The bloody Sunday of this year’s April and the subsequent clashes of the protestors with the security agencies left many injured, with multiple cases of pellet injuries to the eyes of the protestors.

Naseer Ahmad Bhat of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was killed by the security forces during the post-Burhan phase of 2016 protests in Kashmir. He was an able worker and a good cricketer who fell silent to the pellets. Not only the collective conscience of the people was shaken, but also a state of disparity ensued. These deadly pellets have not even spared the school going children and snatched the power of seeing of the victims. Insha, a pellet victim who passed her matriculation examination last year despite odds is an inspiring hope for the likewise victims.

Pellets cause a number of biological ramifications in the victim, like the loss of vision, the state of paralysis, in case, the damage is caused to the spinal cord, defacements, and death in case of damage to the vital organs of the body, like, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, etc. Moreover, the pangs of guilt that a victim suffers in silence dishearten one and all. The use of pellet guns as a crowd-control method during protests, whether in case of cordon and search operations (CASO) or common protests has added a volley of questions to the psyche of the common man? Being a part of the Indian union, that two acing the crown, Kashmir has been treated otherwise all through the passing times. People have got million queries, but, there are no solid answers to their problems and subsequent tactful solutions.

The substitution of pellet guns with PAVA shells can in no way control the crisis. The way people of other parts of the country are treated should form a close semblance in case of protests in Kashmir. Why the security forces are using pellets and bullets against the people whom the system claims with a sense of belonging. There can be other alternatives, like the use of water cannons without any damage and subsequent ensuing crisis that engulfs the society and creeps the psyche of the common men. If this is the notion of the system to punish dissent, then dissent itself takes a u-turn of additions and alterations with the passage of time. The bleeding valley is giving a close call for one and all to unite and ensue a state of peace and order. There is an urgent requirement of the administrative and political will to stop the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

Whatever is happening to the people of Kashmir has not been experienced by the other people of the country. After all, it is a question of humanity. People suffer out of the ways as circumstances decide or may be destined otherwise. But to expect a peaceful valley without the intervention of a political will would be an underestimation of statements. There is a dual intolerance in Kashmir, one from the people and next from the system. The systematic targeting of the protestors from a point blank range irrespective of regard for the human life has shattered several families in Kashmir

Kashmir is passing through the phases of testing times with each passing day. The ugly turn of the situations and recurring events and the amateur dealing of the same has created an unhealthy atmosphere everywhere, where people have lost faith in the governance systems. The safety and security of every Tom, Dick and Harry is the looming question of the hour. Exits from dwellings and adieus from home don’t guarantee the safe return of the leavers. The interlocutor of the centre in vale, Mr. Dineshwar Sharma once reiterated that, ‘the priority is to prevent Kashmir turning into Syria’. The imbroglio has crippled the educational scenario, down slowed the economy, increased the unemployment, but, above all, the ultimate question is the redressal of the problem at stake, which for God sake can erupt into a lava-laden volcano one day and engulf the whole peace, stability and order of the South Asia, if not tactfully handled in the current times by the government.

The victory of BJP at the centre with the thumping majority after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ falls short of words and has partially failed in the state of J&K.The killings of the common masses are in no way remedies to the political ailments. There should be the ultimate regard for the human lives. Why has the blood of the people become so cheap .When will peace return to the valley of Kashmir? The government of India had constituted an expert committee in July 2016 to explore other possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons. Although, the committee submitted its report and the recommendations were taken into account by the government for implementation. But, what happened afterwards lies in the public domain for discussion. The use of pellet guns is tantamount to the violation of rights of the people.

In order to direct the valley towards the state of peace and development, the role of multiple players of India, Pakistan and Valley is necessary. This way the government can make a significant contribution in the restoration of normalcy. The need of the hour is the unity of all the stakeholders of the society, like government, non-governmental parties, NGO’s, etc. to help these pellet victims via financial or other means.

Although, there has been a strong criticism of the use of pellet guns not only at the local level ,but also at the international level, but the main part of the problem resolution lies with the government of India and the state. Although, much has been said and written about the people of Kashmir with the flow of waters of the river Jhelum, but the stability of the region is a farfetched dream. Here, comes the role of the government into play. The use of pellet guns against the dissenting masses has wreaked havoc and wounded the collective psyche of the people, particularly those who have lost their near and dear ones due to the deadly metallic balls. Those who have fully or partially lost the vision and are living in dark suffer in silence. The government should review the situation and put a full stop for the future use of pellet guns. Those who have lost their dear ones should be financially compensated or by provision of bread and butter. However, the clarion call of the people is the complete ban and stoppage of these pellet guns in order to prevent the further damage and restore the faith of the people in the system. The government of India should pass a resolution to put a terminal pause to the use of pellet guns in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The vital task for the current times is to build a consensus for the total pellet ban. The use of non-lethal methods by the security agencies like water cannons could be the best alternatives. This will not only restore the faith of the people in governance, but also generate a feeling of belongingness among the masses. The bruised scars of the pellets have defaulted the trust of the people in the political system. Although, the situation is worrisome for one and all, but, in which direction the boat sails lies with the future course of action. After all action speaks louder than the words.

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Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions

Uzge A. Saleem

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Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.

There  are  a  lot  of  ambiguities  surrounding   Pakistan’s  nuclear  program  which  are  there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.

There have been news in an Israeli newspaper,  Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified  as  Pakistan’s  growing  arsenal  and  other  similar  reasons  which  have  always  been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.

However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have  a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.

Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the  line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.

Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat.  The program  is not for the state  to pick  and choose  enemies  and start  non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its  nuclear era.

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Behind Indo-Pacific Vision

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Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia.  Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).

The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.

An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:

While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert

It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”

While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by  Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).

Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).

Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:

US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.

Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous.  Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.

Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and  immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’

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