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Is Nawaz Government Changing Gears Towards India?

Maria Amjad

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] P [/yt_dropcap]akistan and India relations have always been termed as the roller coaster ride, with fledgling democracy, imperious military dominion and uncanny mistrust decelerating its velocity. During the season of peace, the governments of both countries confabulates the campy slogans and glib promises of never-ending friendship between both nations, which turns into irksome babbling in times of political tension.

The masses of both sides have also started to question the tendency of recidivism of ties after a peaceful tenure. Uri-attack is the latest in the series of the events that have resulted in political impasse between both the nuclear armed states. The attack, which was made on rear administrative base of Indian army at Uri, Kashmir by group of heavily armed terrorist, jeopardized the subtle relations between the two arch-rivals, where one alleged the other for the deadly attack, and the other ranted about its own innocence on different international platforms. This has led to series of minatory finger-wagging in cross-talks between both countries’ army chiefs and lethal cross-fire on Line of Control (LOC) between both the armies. These clashes not only infuriated the masses against each other, but also desiccated the relations between the two countries on level of: diplomacy, trade and culture exchanges. Even though after five months of Uri-attack, the relations between both the countries have remained brim, however, it has been observed that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has taken some diplomatic measures to reach out India.

Nawaz government’s change of gears towards India has been comprehensibly reflected in some of the steps it has taken in past four or five months. Just three months after the attack, Nawaz government released 220 Indian fishermen on the occasion of Christmas as a “Goodwill Gesture”. Moreover, government also released an Indian soldier in January 2017 who claimed to inadvertently strayed across LOC on the day Indian claimed surgical strike was held. Previously, the Indian soldier was being alleged as a spy who was imprisoned and was being investigated and elicited. His unexpected release by Pakistani authorities has been taken as a first signal of thaw in India-Pakistan ties.

In the same month of January, Nawaz approved the resumption of screening of Indian movies in Pakistani cinemas. Following Uri-attack, Pakistani cinema owners boycotted Indian movies by implementing self-imposed ban to not show Indian movies in their cinemas. The idea was to register their vastitude of hatred towards India and its culture. Their decision was later backed by Nawaz government as well. Indian Bollywood movies and dramas have always acted as a channel to promote Indian culture, tradition and language to Pakistan. While every deadlock with India has witnessed the ban on Indian movies and dramas in Pakistan, the resumption of their screening in Pakistani cinemas and on televisions have always been used as a symbol to escalate tensions between both the neighbors.

With CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) widening its extent by garnering more supporters from around the region, a lot has been said and written about India’s objections over the project and building of Chahbahar port with Iran and Afghanistan as rival of Gwadar port, the baseline of CPEC. In the past, the impact of these two projects on regional and extra-regional actors has always been used as a source of power struggle in the region, but the recent flexibility of attitude shown by both sides have been commendable. On one hand, Iran and India have indicated that they will not use their project to counter the CPEC, on the other hand, Minister of Planning and Development of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal have invited India to join the CPEC, something which have been called as an unexpected move by the current Pakistani government. The Minister also seeks to pursue peace-talks with India which have been adjourned after the Uri-attack. At least one of them should realize the importance of getting out of the vicious circle of eternal issues by condoning them for a while and collaborating with the other. If the intention for building these two projects will be to reap economic benefits rather than to indulge in inept power competition, then these projects will bring prosperity to the region in the “Asian Century”.

The recent of all these steps taken by Nawaz government is the detainment of Hafiz Saeed at the end of month of January. Following his detainment, he was also listed under anti-terrorist attack and in Exit Control List. Furthermore, recently government has also canceled license of 44 weapons issued to Saeed and his aid. Although many experts contend that these bold measures are taken by Nawaz government in part by President Donald Trump’s arrival on the world stage as well as pressure from China, however, the factor to use Saeed’s detention to please India cannot be ignored. Saeed, mastermind of Mumbai attacks, is virulently anti-India and have always stood against Indian government’s occupation of the disputed territory of Kashmir. So, his detention will make India to persuade Pakistan on one lesser factor in order to make peace-talks effectual. While the majority of analysts state that the action has been done to placate Trump, but taking it as killing two birds with one stone, Pakistan has also used this opportunity to ameliorate India government as well. US, India and China have repeatedly asked the detainment of Jamaatud Dawa leader as his unrestricted campaigns have been a continuous threat to stability and peace of these countries.

Moreover, in the first week of February it has been signaled that Abdul Basit, the Pakistani envoy to India, will be replaced soon as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle to be carried out by Pakistan’s new foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua. Basit, who was posted to India in March 2015, is believed to have shaggy tenure as High commissioner to India, because of prickly relations between the both countries following Uri-attack. There was also news of Basit being the strongest contender for the post of foreign secretary before Tehmina Janjua’s appointment, however, he was not been chosen by Nawaz because of his recent cold relations with India being Pakistani envoy. Therefore, the wider reshuffle in Foreign Office of Pakistan and Basit’s end of tenure as High Commissioner to India next month has been considered as an explicit indication by Nawaz government to reset India-Pakistan ties.

The question arises that what engendered Nawaz government to take all these measures now?

Many analysts relate Nawaz current policies towards India with the retirement Pakistan’s 15th Army Chief’s Raheel Shareef, on 29th November 2016, as he was perceived to be hostile against India. This factor cannot be ignored but Raheel’s retirement will have minute implications over the policies of Nawaz government as the new army chief Qamar Jawed Bajwa is considered to be as hostile against India as Raheel was. Bajwa is believed to be well-versed with the complexities, nature of operations and terrain along the LOC. Although the news of his acclamation of Indian mature democracy while addressing a gathering of senior army officers at the General Headquarters in December 2016 got Indian and Pakistani media into tizzy, but his recent anti-India stance and open admonishment to Indian army has restored his status as a quintessential Pakistan’s army chief. Therefore, to argue that Nawaz government will face lesser resistance from new army chief will not be a fair argument to make.

The discreet behavior shown by Nawaz government towards India by the above mentioned factors can act as foundational step towards the new phase of healthy and friendly ties between both the countries, however, a lot need to be done to take relations forward from here. Pakistan and India should recommence the stalled peace-talks after six months impasse. Both countries’ Foreign Offices should realize the dire need of multi-faceted dialogues which could build long-term cooperation in energy, strategic stability and nonproliferation, counterterrorism, economics and education. Specifically they should resume their trade relations which have been on low following Uri-attack. Recently it has been in news that Indian Punjab have asked their government to negotiate with Islamabad to boost exports to Pakistan through the land route, keeping aside the ongoing diplomatic stand-off following the Uri attack and the surgical strike. This can be used as an opportunity to reinstate the trade relations between the two countries which are vital for the economic uplifts of both the states. However, despite a more peaceful LOC and stable situation in Kashmir, Indian Foreign Office has categorically rebuffed any possibility of peace-talks with Pakistan. Therefore, Indian government also needs to show flexibility in mending the old scars as one hand cannot clap alone. There is a dire need to rebuild the transactional relationship between the two countries which later need to be transformed into strategic one with deeply rooted trust and interest. The measures taken by Nawaz government in this aspect are appreciable however there is a need to put further efforts to persuade India for another episode of dialogue with firm belief to not let it file under the saga of ineffectual outcome this time.

Maria Amjad has graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan, with a Political Science degree. Her interests include the history and politics of the South Asian region with a particular interest in India-Pakistan relations. The writer can be reached at mariaamjad309[at]gmail.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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