It appears, the neutral Tamil voters without party affiliations and who had earlier voted for any party just freely: either AIADMK, or DMK or Congress or BJP or some other parties in order not to waste their franchise, now seem to think favoring the newly formed PWF, making it to emerge a strong coalition to take on the ruling AIADMK and leaving the DMK-Congress stay far away.
These neutral voters would welcome the emergence of People’s Welfare Front (PWF) as a genuine party to work for the welfare of Tamils and the state and as such consider the Vaiko-Vijayakanth led coalition as giving to public a natural hope of popular identity and real progress.
The arrival of the DMDK led by the matinee idol in Tamil films Vijayakanth to align with PWF led by Vaiko has not only considerably strengthened the coalition, but also annoyed DMK and BJP – both were eager to get Vijayakanth to their side to be used for elections and thrown out after the poll, sooner or later. BJP as a genuine people’s party with similar ideology, is worst affected by Vijaykanth’s decision to join the Vaiko’s PWF
Not only the Hindutva BJP but even the Congress party, abandoned by the ruling AIADMK, is placed much better than BJP in Tamil Nadu is now reduced to be a minor player in the ongoing poll scenario.
Worse, having been kept away by two major Dravidian parties AIADMK and DMK, the BJP which declared it would form government in the South Indian state for the first time is nowhere in the picture.
In fact, the BJP is the now worst affected, rather “betrayed” party as not only Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi but even Vijayakanth could not trust its hidden agenda as part of Hindutva ideology. Politicians in Tamil Nadu, who had earlier promoted the Hindutva party for their own marginal benefits, now, after knowing that BJP has used them to increase its vote banks and seats in the state, is fully aware of poisonous BJP agenda and have distanced themselves from the BJP. In fact BJP has no real partners to get votes while those that have nowhere to go for alliance have decided to transfer their meager votes to BJP which makes no difference to the emerging poll equations in the state.
Earlier BJP had no presence in Tamil state and no seats in the TN assembly as Tamils did not like the party but later BJP floated a proxy Hindu Front in Southern part of the state in Kanyakumari district and won an MLA seat from Padmanabhapuram constituency – a traditional Congress (Kamaraj faction) and communist fort but BJPs’ propaganda machinery succeeded in poisoning the Hindu minds, winning the seat. BJP applies the RSS formula to catch the Hindu attention by insulting Muslims straight from the public platform. The policy of Islamophobia and terrorization of Muslims simultaneously worked well as a usual powerful strategy for the Hindutva party as it began getting party cadres to work for an overtly Hindu party and increase Hindu vote bank. Later, BJP’s alliance with AIADMK and DMK alternatively at state level helped it increase its vote share as well as seats in assembly; it even sent MPs to parliament. Today the Modi government has a minister representing Kanyakumari district who had won the seat by its alliance with DMK. BJP would fear that it would lose its place in the state soon.
The two main Dravidian (DMK and AIADMK), national (Congress and BJP) and Left (CPI and CPM) parties have watched helplessly as a string of Tamil nationalist and caste-based parties ate into their vote-shares but sought to make amends by co-opting them through electoral alliances. Though the Narendra Modi wave of 2014 saw the BJP-led NDA create a powerful third alternative, the coming together of the BJP, Vijayakanth’s DMK, S Ramadoss-led PMK and Vaiko’s MDMK has also unraveled.
Earlier, Congress, ruling the Centre, used DMK and AIADMK alternatively for electoral gains. BJP also used the same strategy to but increased its presence in the state. The Congress’s decline that began in 1996, after the split and the formation of the Tamil Manila Congress by Mooppanar, eroded Congress base in the state and it has continued unabated in the ensuing two decades. Though the BJP made some gains in the 1999 and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it can be safely said that national parties, including the Left, which was the main Opposition party in the 1950s before the ascent of the DMK, have lost the plot in Tamil Nadu. However, the party has retained some seats in the assembly.
Though the Congress was ousted from power in Tamil Nadu in 1967, it has, for the larger part of subsequent decades, been a significant political presence in the state. The Congress contested alone in 2014 and secured just 4.3 per cent of the vote share and drew a blank. After it gave up ambitions of retaking Tamil Nadu on its own steam, the Congress reconciled to playing second fiddle to the two main Dravidian parties through an arrangement where it cornered a lion’s share of the Lok Sabha seats. Both the DMK and AIADMK were keen to woo the Congress, mindful of its stature at the Centre and its power to dismiss democratically elected state governments under the much-misused Article 356 of the Constitution.
The Congress is now truly a shadow of its former self. The DMK, even while renewing ties with the Congress, was keen on enticing Vijayakanth and offering him a significant share of the seats. However, Vaiko, a former firebrand leader of the DMK who was expelled to make way for Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin, making him ‘rise’ politically to replace his father in due course, has kept the idea of the third alternative alive through the People’s Welfare Front, which includes the Dalit party, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Kachi (VCK), the Left parties, and now the Vijayakanth’s DMDK also.
Between 1977 and 1999, both the DMK and the AIADMK aggressively pursued alliances with the Congress. This resulted in a situation where the Congress won 14 out of 15 seats it contested in 1977; 20 out of 22 in 1980; 25 out of 26 in 1984; 27 out of 28 in 1989 and all 28 seats it contested in 1991.
The Congress under Rahul Gandhi launched a talent search across Tamil Nadu to rope in youngsters but the plan fell flat in the absence of a concrete political agenda for the future. The BJP in Tamil Nadu has also offered little beyond the tired slogans of Hindu consolidation. An AIADMK win in 2016 will not signify the consolidation of political space, but the fragmentation of its bipolar politics.
The charismatic leaders like MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi on the one hand and competitive populism on the other have shaped the agenda of the AIADMK and the DMK. The newer Dravidian parties have also imitated this strategy of leader-centric parties and populism. More damagingly, they were quick to enter into alliances with the DMK and AIADMK, and are no more seen as credible alternatives.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s remark that the Congress has been reduced to playing a tail-ending role to regional parties rings true in the context of Tamil Nadu. Its southern ally, the DMK, is hesitant to part with the 63 seats that were offered to the Congress in 2011. The Congress had come a cropper in that election winning only five seats forcing the DMK to rethink the utility of this alliance in the Lok Sabha elections.
While the Third Front is unlikely to win too many seats, it will snatch away many anti-incumbency votes from the DMK, but a couple of analysts say that might help the AIADMK improve the chances of retaining power.
In order to win the poll against the powerful AIADMK, rhetoric alone may not be sufficient, the PWF has to work more with a proper strategy, get votes of those who think they are unnecessarily supporting the corrupt parties in the state and they must consider a credible alternative to change their fate. People should now know why they should use the poll to change their destiny under threat from the DMK and AIADMK and also Congress and BJP. Vaiko should not miss the bus.
People of Delhi removed both the Congress and BJP, powerful national parties that were ruling Delhi state alternatively, with just one stroke last year and replaced them with a new common people’s party – Aam Aadmi party (AAP). While Congress party which rueld a few term consecutively couldn’t win even one seat in current assembly while BJP somehow managed just 3 seats in the 70 seated Delhi assembly. AAP got a historic mandate from Delhiites for its selfless service to the state.
People of Tamil Nadu can also do the same by choosing the People’s Welfare Party. Yes, why not?
Meanwhile, Dr Ramdoss’s PMK party needs to ponder over its decision to go it alone in the poll. If its key goal in the election is to change the corrupt DMK/AIADMK alternative governments, his party would be able to secure the majority need for a government formation. But by entering into poll alliance with a likeminded PWF, it can achieve it. That would give considerable hopes for other states with corruption index very high to opt for genuine pro-people government. Still there is time PMK for rethoughts!
The poll process in Tamil State has just begun with each party and coalition beginning to screen the candidate for each constituency and choosing the “right” persons for the contest. AIADMK, DMK and PWF seem to have completed much of the selection process, while BJP, still in a state of confusion, stands confused even at this stage.
Whether or not Tamil Nadu would succeed in choosing a truly new party or people’s coalition to rule the state would work for the people – and not for the parties, leaders and families – remains to be seen.
Tamil Nadu requires a fundamental change.
Whether Pakistan’s membership in the IAEA Board of Governors is a major diplomatic achievement?
Pakistan has once again been elected a member of the IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) for the next two years on September 20, 2018. The Board of Governors of the IAEA is one of its policy making organs. The BoG not only examines the financial statements, it also makes recommendations for the IAEA budget. It finalizes the membership applications, accepts safeguard agreements and contributes in the safety standard publications. The approval of Director General of the IAEA with the approval of General Conference is also the responsibility of the Board. Pakistan has been chosen 19 times to the Board in the past and has played an important role in the formulation of the agency’s policies and programmes. It also has the honor of chairing the Board thrice in 1962, 1986 and 2010.
A prominent Pakistani nuclear expert Dr. Naeem Salikin his book “Nuclear Pakistan Seeking Security and Stability” writes that Pakistan’s cooperation with the agency has been reciprocal. In other words it not only benefitted from the agency but also Pakistan’s nuclear expertise and its human resources proved to be invaluable contribution to the agency. Pakistani scientists and engineers have contributed to the IAEA work in numerous fields including in the area of nuclear safety and security. It also hosted nuclear safety and security workshops with the cooperation of IAEA on the regional level. Pakistan has been beneficiary of the IAEA assistance and its nuclear establishment is fully committed to increasing this cooperation in various fields ranging from nuclear power development to that of agriculture, medicine and livestock. Pakistan’s Country Program Framework (CPF) 2014-2019 provides assistance in the wide range of areas as nuclear safety and security, nuclear power development, industrial application, human health under the technical cooperation program of the IAEA.
Since the inception of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons it has faced allegations and hostilities which have not been faced by any other nuclear state in the world. Although, the formation of the NSG in 1974 was the result of Indian violation of peaceful use of nuclear material for military purposes but the irony is that now the founders of NSG are advocating India for the membership of NSG. China is the only state which understands that India is not the only country but Pakistan is also capable of producing highly enriched uranium and plutonium for civil and military purposes and it can easily assist developing states in advancing their nuclear infrastructures and technology. All nuclear power plants of Pakistan are under the IAEA safeguards while the US is extending exceptional treatment to India by letting it keep its eight reactors out of IAEA safeguards that are producing fissile material in large quantities, and intentionally ignoring this.
In this regard, Pakistan advocates a non-discriminatory approach towards the non-NPT nuclear weapons states for their entry into the NSG. Nevertheless, it is the prime time for Pakistan to fight its case through the IAEA as it is going to formulate policies of IAEA for future. It should also try to introduce the policies which treat all nuclear states equally because discriminatory behaviors and policies undermine the credibility of the non-proliferation regimes.
In a nutshell, Pakistan has been facing enormous amount of propaganda regarding its nuclear safety and security and the amount of literature projecting Pakistan’s perspective is inadequate and small. Therefore, it’s imperative that Pakistan projects its perspective concerning its nuclear safety and security. Pakistan has been in full compliance with the agency regime for over fifty years now. Pakistan’s cooperative and positive behavior towards the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and non-proliferation regimes requires equal treatment. Keeping in view the stringent nuclear safety and security record of Pakistan and its advanced nuclear fuel cycle capability, it should be considered eligible to be provided the nuclear fuel cycle services under the IAEA safeguards. Pakistan can make its membership in BOG a major diplomatic achievement by advocating its perspective with full determination.
Can India Balance Between Beijing and Washington?
On October 10, 2018, a Senior Chinese Diplomat in India underscored the need for New Delhi and Beijing to work jointly, in order to counter the policy of trade protectionism, being promoted by US President, Donald Trump.
It would be pertinent to point out, that US had imposed tariffs estimated at 200 Billion USD in September 2018, Beijing imposed tariffs on 60 Billion USD of US imports as a retaliatory measure, and US threatened to impose further tariffs. Interestingly, US trade deficit vis-à-vis China reached 34.1 Billion USD for the month of September (in August 2018, it was 31 Billion USD). Critics of Trump point to this increasing trade deficit vis-à-vis China as a reiteration of the fact, that Trump’s economic policies are not working.
Ji Rong, Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India said that tariffs will be detrimental for both India and China and given the fact that both are engines of economic growth it is important for both to work together.
The Chinese diplomat’s statement came at an interesting time. US President, Donald Trump on October 2, also referred to India as ‘tariff king’. Even though the India-US strategic relationship has witnessed a significant upswing, yet the US President has repeatedly referred to India imposing high tariffs on US exports to India (specifically Harley Davidson motorcyles).
It also came days after, after India signed a deal with Russia (October 5, 2018) for the purchase of 5 S-400 Air Defence system, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Chinese envoy’s statement also came days before India attended the China dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Significantly, India and China also began a joint training programme for Afghan Diplomats on October 15, 2018 (which would last till October 26, 2018).
Trilateral cooperation between India, China and Afghanistan was one of the main thrust areas of the Wuhan Summit, between Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and Indian PM, Narendra Modi, and this is one of the key initiatives in this direction.
There are a number of factors, which have resulted in New Delhi and Beijing seeking to reset their relationship. The first is difference between New Delhi and Washington on economic ties between the former and Iran and Russia. Washington has given mixed signals with regard to granting India exemptions from Countering America Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
US ambiguity on providing waivers to India
While sections of the US establishment, especially Jim Mattis, Defence Secretary and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo have been fervently backing a waiver to India, there are those who oppose any sort of waiver even to India. NSA John Bolton has been warning US allies like India, that there will be no exemption or waiver from US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector. On October 4th, Bolton while briefing the press said:
“This is not the Obama administration … is my message to them (the importers),
Trump himself has not been clear on providing India a waiver, when asked about this issue, he said India would know soon about the US decision (Trump has the authority to provide a Presidential waiver to India from the deal with Russia). A State Department Spokesperson also stated, that the US was carefully watching S-400 agreement with Russia, as well as India’s decision to import oil from Iran, and such steps were ‘not helpful’. With the US President being excessively transactionalist, it is tough to predict his final decision, and with growing differences between him and Mattis, one of the ardent advocates of waivers for India, it remains to be seen as to which camp will prevail.
US protectionism and New Delhi’s discomfort
Differences between Washington and New Delhi don’t end on the latter’s economic ties with Tehran and Moscow. India has on numerous occasions stated, that while strengthening strategic ties with the US, it was concerned about the Trump administration’s economic policies. This was clearly evident from the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the SCO Meet (October 12, 2018) held at Dushanbe, Tajikistan where she pitched for an open global trading order. Said Swaraj:
“We have all benefited from globalization. We must further develop our trade and investment cooperation. We support an open, stable international trade regime based on centrality of the World Trade Organization,”
Even if one to look beyond Trump’s unpredictability, there is scope for synergies between New Delhi and Beijing in terms of economic sphere and some crucial connectivity projects.
For long, trade has been skewed in favour of China, and this is a growing concern for India. Trade deficit between India and China has risen from 51.1 Billion USD in 2016-2017 to 62.9 Billion in 2017-2018 (a rise of over 20 percent).
The imposition of US tariffs has opened up opportunities for China importing certain commodities from India. This includes commodities like soybeans and rapeseed meal. In a seminar held at the Indian embassy in Beijing in September 2018, this issue was discussed and one on one meetings between potential importers (China) and sellers (India) was held. India urged China to remove the ban which had imposed on the import of rape meal seeds in 2011.
Connectivity and Afghanistan
Another area where there is immense scope for cooperation between India and China is big ticket connectivity projects. During his India visit, Uzbekistan President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev invited India to participate in a rail project connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has welcomed this proposal, saying that this would strengthen cooperation between China and India in Afghanistan. India-China cooperation on this project is very much in sync with the China-India Plus Model proposed by China at the BRICS Summit in July 2018.
India and China can also work jointly for capacity building in Afghanistan. New Delhi has already been involved in providing assistance to Afghanistan in institution building and disaster management, and if Beijing and New Delhi join hands this could make for a fruitful partnership. The India-China joint training program for Afghan diplomats is a significant move in this direction. India and China can also look at joint scholarships to Afghan students where they can spend part of their time in China and the remaining time in India.
Both India and New Delhi for any meaningful cooperation in Afghanistan can not be risk averse, and will have to shed their hesitation. Beijing for instance has opted for a very limited ‘capacity building’ , where it will work with India in Afghanistan. While Kabul had expected that both sides will invest in a significant infrastructure project, Beijing with an eye on its ally Islamabad’s sensitivities opted for a low profile project.
New Delhi should not be too predictable in it’s dealings with Washington DC, and has to do a fine balancing act between Beijing and Washington DC. While on certain strategic issues are synergies between India and the US, on crucial economic and geo-political issues, there are serious differences, and India’s ties with Beijing are crucial in this context. New Delhi and Beijing should seek to expand economic ties, and the latter should give more market access to Indian goods. Apart from this, both countries should work closely on connectivity projects. If both sides build trust, the sky is the limit but it will require pragmatism from both sides. Beijing should not allow the Pakistani deep state to dictate it’s links with India (especially in the context of cooperation in Afghanistan). New Delhi on its part, should not make any one issue a sticking point in its complex but very important relationship with Beijing.
The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region
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.
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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