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South Asia

Gasping Democracy and Our Unrelenting Kleptomaniacs

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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The ‘melodrama’, every Pakistani is witnessing, for last couple of months, portrays a national tragedy of its kind. It is baffling to see as high an office as that of Prime Minister (PM) indulging in sinister manoeuvres,

which strike at the roots of lustrous institutions like Judiciary and Pakistan Army. Yet the irony is that the PM who happens to be the constitutional Supreme Commander (SuCo) and his mentor, the President, he seeks guidance from, are under cyclic attacks of hallucination ever since the dawn of ‘Memo-gate’. The institutions that stand guard to establish writ of the government and protect the constitution are under cross-wire of Pakistan People Party’s (PPP) top guns, who also ‘cry wolf’ incessantly.

However, more they gaffe and groan, more they sink in the quagmire of their own making.

PPP chief whip, Dr (pseudo) Babar Awan appears in rhythm with him to reinforce malignant campaign as vociferously as he defends shamelessly his claim of being a PhD from US University that never existed.  Judiciary, perhaps after withholding its months-long restraint, finally took notice of their blatant defiance and served them the ‘contempt of court’ notices. Not to mention their lesser lies but the Himalayan one, they tell from across the rostrum amidst flashing cameras to claim that ‘they have never defied Judiciary’, lamenting concurrently that conspiracies are being hatched against the ‘parliament’ and the ‘people mandate’ for PPP. Being the ruling party, they carry heavy baggage of suspected treason, misconduct, corruption and nepotism. The have resorted to adopting a flawed hypothesis that their confrontation with Judiciary and Army would win them people’s popularity for second lease of life in forthcoming general elections in 2013.

Anyone keeping tag of the events would sequentially list all unashamed government’s attempts to block the dispensation of justice despite the apex court’s clear directions for conduct of transparent proceedings. To save an ‘above-the-law’ scion of two political stalwarts, Shujaat and Pervez of PML (Q) from possible retribution in the wake of massive, more than proven fraud and embezzlement charges, PPP embraced these politicians to win their party support. Ditching the political morality and the public trust, invested in them could never deter them just because greed of power in their lexicon has precedence over all virtues. The deal inscribed a shameful chapter of history of the time when crimes against the accused were liquidated. Intelligentsia, if writhing in pain, is justified to express their anguish on sight of their shenanigans, bulldozing way through crippled lower court. Unfortunately, in the land of pure the politicians justify all wicked games under the label ‘politics’ because they have taken oath and thereafter prevails a dirty tradition here when often immoral, brazenly offensive acts stand condoned. Rather than serving the masses, ‘democracy’ has been turned into a safe haven for plundering the national wealth by its standard-bearers. What a trial when the state was in prosecution role and what a fantastically ‘honourable’ acquittal of the accused while PM who leads ‘supreme parliament’, claims to ‘respect and obey the Judiciary’. In fact, he rubbed on his toes the Supreme Court instructions for appointing honest officers for transparent investigation and seeing the charges through to the logical end. If no evidence comes up before the court and the prosecution witnesses turn hostile, Judiciary cannot act as vagabonds to hand down any punishment. That distinguishes virtues from the vices.

The apex court verdict about NRO (National Reconciliation Order) in unambiguous terms was also trashed by the PPP. PM cronies openly defied and mocked Judiciary rather in poetic overtones. PM’s defence lawyer, pursuing ‘Contempt’ hearing made frightening revelation. He said there was no action left in NRO that was feasible to implement and PM thought it expedient, not to write letter to Swiss authorities to extricate public money stashed by the plunderers because his law team had given such recommendations. Mr. Aitzaz Hasan had no answer when the Bench reminded him about PM’s obligation of heeding to the court’s judgment and not to the law team’s summaries.

As if NRO and successive corruption scandals, generally cracked by vigilant media every fortnight were not enough. In between landed another bombshell—‘Memo-gate’ purported to be the brainchild of Hussain Haqani (former Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington) and with the alleged connivance of PPP leadership. It shocked every Pakistani on the suspected chicanery of some top black sheep to plot against a sensitive institution that is fulfilling its obligations under challenging scenario in credible ways. What added to the masses fury even more was the unprecedented vitriolic reaction demonstrated by PM and his patron, not to mention their cronies. Resultant immensity of panic, which struck the PPP leadership, at least benchmarked the devastating potentials of the episode, meaning that ‘Memo-gate’ was not any ‘Hoax-gate’. PM and the patron invented some pernicious themes to blackmail Judiciary as well as Army. He went, regrettably, beyond limits to accuse the Army and Spy Chief of serious allegations. His lie could not sustain long and had to retract his accusations. To show some feather in the cap, he fired the Secretary Defence because he refused to tow his line and submitted his ‘affidavit’ to the Supreme Court on the court’s instructions. Even non-professional would understand that the Secretary was bound to endorse his version and not the pack of lies if he was dictated to by anyone else. This way, PM has bagged colossal angst of the entire Army that holds such officer like the Secretary Defence in great esteem because of his clean conduct for about four decades. The mode and manner, he was shown the door, could be condemned to any extent because he was humiliated for his principled stand. SuCo did it because he ‘respects all the institutions.’

PPP and PM’s aversion in recent years for the Army is least masqueraded. He travels hundreds of KM to offer condolences for a bureaucrat who died during a road accident, a justified gesture of generosity and care for the deceased’s family. Conversely, SuCo is not inclined to show military grace ever to render his symbolic shoulder-support for a few seconds to the funerals of several dozen soldiers who sacrificed their most precious asset, life, for the country at Salala Post on Afghan border. The sacrifices rendered by the martyrs are acknowledged whole-heartedly because when Army stands guard round the clock in treacherous terrain and at dizzy heights up to 21000 feet, 180 million people have peaceful and sound slumber. The beauty of the entire zealous dedication is that Army does it as a sacred duty that it owes to the fellow citizens.

The country is in grip of curses, imposed on it by the rulers. The way all PPP government blunders are dumped in a basket called, ‘conspiracies’, it is a strange paradox that embezzlement cases surfacing in last over four years have links invariably to the President and PM’s advisors or their chosen fraudsters. A record flare for the less educated youth to rehabilitate him is also a golden feather in PPP’s hat when PM appointed a matriculate as Chairman OGDC and let the PhDs rot. OGDC is Oil and (natural) Gas Development Corporation that is corruption den for the corrupt. Yet PPP’s chief as well as minor whips rattle without blink because ‘they respect all institutions’. They may be right by a fraction as in their reckoning at least, ‘corruption’ has also become an institution in Pakistan, genuinely loved by them. PPP government has singular honour to preside over 8500 billion rupees ($8b) going down the ‘corruption’ drain during its rule since 2008. Thanks to recent Transparency International’s mind-boggling report. Only the black hole in the universe could suck in such a big amount. Implicitly, this party or some of its individuals have bigger corruption-holes than the black hole. That is how they leave democracy gasping for survival. In the mean time, monstrous ‘hunger’ is devouring the poor masses gradually but consistently. It is indeed a grave situation in Pakistan.

One would extend appreciation for the sober and honest voices within them who are in minority. However, their silence, by squelching their conscience off, makes them party to their leaders’ abhorrent misdeeds to share equal if not greater responsibility. Best service to render is to the state and not to the corrupt individuals who tend to perpetrate tyranny. ‎ “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent,” said Thomas Jefferson.

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

Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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Walking the tight rope: India’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Middle East

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India’s diplomatic corps have been resolutely articulating India’s stances and furthering its interests in the international fora where multiple challenges emanating from historical and contemporary contexts are being faced. One important factor which India’s astute foreign policy makers have faced is the complicated and crucial engagement with the Middle East. There are multiple facets to India’s engagement in the contemporary context that add to this complexity. One, India’s old adversary and neighbor Pakistan has upped the ante in its diplomatic blitzkrieg especially within the Muslim world. Second India’s has varied strategic interests in the warring Middle East factions. Third, the economic interdependencies and the crisis in the international trade in the Trump era has further complicated India’s position as an economic actor in the region. While there are various constituent elements of India’s Middle East outreach, the contemporaneous concerns relate more to its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.

India and Saudi Arabia have historically engaged in deep and multi-dimensional political, economic, cultural, defence and strategic cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been an important Indian trade partner; the Kingdom remains a vital source of energy for India, which imports almost a fifth of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Enhanced security cooperation has added a new dimension in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Riyadh. Recently, Indian PM Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even as the top leadership continues to send signals of deep comradarie and solidarity.

With the ascent of the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, various layers in this important diplomatic relationship have surfaced. This has happened in a particularly peculiar geopolitical and geostrategic context where both countries have faced tough challenges to their internal stability and international position. While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the consequences of the massive attack in its oil fields as well as the widespread criticism of humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the international fora, India is grappling with international criticism and discourse about the situation in Kashmir in context of dilution of its political autonomy as well as prolonged information and communication blackout.KSA has had a mediating role in the Indo-Pak tussle since Pulwama and how this hyphenation has led to competitive photo-ops of diplomatic support. Even as KSA has stood by Indian leadership’s vital interests. However, the Pakistani leadership has been relentless in its attempts to appeal to the leader of the Islamic world for vital economic and diplomatic support, especially in context of the Kashmir situation. Even as Saudi Arabia has managed this delicate equation with deftness, it has given in to Pakistan’s economic demands while making a symbolic gesture of closeness by offering the private jet to Pakistani Prime Minister for his visit to the West.  It doesn’t help that the Indian economy is going through a rough phase. However, the audacious announcement to invest $100 Billion in the fledgling Indian economy is a bold testament of the veritable and vibrant economic partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh. It is pertinent to note that in the contemporaneous challenges that the countries face, Iran as well as Pakistan emerge as key actors that affect the bilateral engagement in a pronounced manner.

Iran is India’s historic ally and third largest supplier of crude oil. However, the India-Iran relationship transcends oil. India, with an investment of $500 million, aims to develop Iran’s Chabahar port as a transit hub for Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, India is developing two gas fields, namely Farzad-B gas field located in Tehran and the South Pars field located between Iran and Qatar. These projects clearly highlight India’s long-term engagement with Iran. However, India’s muted response to US pressure has been causing slight tension in the bilateral relationship. Even though the top-level bilateral meeting between Indian premier Modi and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani was successful to diffuse tensions to an extent. The crisis in Yemen, oil trade and even India’s action in Kashmir continue to affect the relationship.

In this context, the challenges emanating from Turkey are also a sign of worry. Even as Turkey has remained an old ally of Pakistan and a supporter of the ‘Kashmiri’ cause, its open support for a rather lonely Pakistan should cause some worry in India’s strategic circles. This is because India has fine diplomatic relations with Turkey and has considerable economic and trade interests.

However, oil being an important consumer and agricultural good in India’s economy, it is important to secure its interests to have access to reliable and affordable Iranian crude oil. The trade negotiations and engagements with the US haven’t had any headway even as the threat of sanctions for buying oil from Iran continues. India could emerge as a trouble-solver in this context especially since this KSA-Iran conflict in oil supply context has global implications. PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the US leadership could be useful in this context.

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