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India Will RK Nagar outcome define future of Tamil Nadu politics?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]ith just a few days left for the crucial RK Nagar bypoll in Tamil Nadu, campaigns are gathering momentum in the constituency of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa and stakes are running high especially for the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) which is now split into three factions, making it difficult for any of the factions to win for AIADMK.

A bypoll was necessitated following Jayalalithaa’s demise on 5 December under mysterious circumstances. RK Nagar in Chennai will see 62 contestants—the highest since its inception in 1967— when the constituency goes to vote on 12 April.

Historically speaking, the incumbent ruling party has always had an advantage in by-elections in Tamil Nadu. But now the ruling AIADMK party does not look confident to retain the seat while Panneerselvam look forward to win it for Jayalalithaa- even public seems to have sympathy for his Puratchithalaivi faction but DMK is all out to outsmart him. Deepa may not have chance to win this time.

The poll is particularly important for the DMK, ruling faction and OPS faction of AIADMK and end game fight is very tensed. Money is being distributed for votes and ruling AIADMK is being blamed for buying votes.

Now that the ruling AIADMK is formally split into AIADMK (Amma) and AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma) and with the EC freezing the party’s two leaves symbol, the traditional AIADMK voters would be weighing between the new symbols—hat and lamp post.

DMK has fielded N. Maruthu Ganesh—the party’s secretary for RK Nagar east division and a journalist with party mouthpiece Dinakaran—as its candidate. While former chief minister O. Panneerselvam camp—AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma) which has been allotted the lamp post—is fielding veteran E. Madhusudhanan as its candidate, the Sasikala faction—AIADMK (Amma) with the hat symbol—has Sasikala’s relative T.T.V. Dinakaran in fray.

According to analysts, the opposition DMK is in a better position amid the confusion within the ruling party. Depending on which faction of AIADMK takes the second and third positions, the future course of the party will unveil. Analysts don’t rule out the possibility of a merger between the two groups even one day before the poll day.

However, Ruling faction is interested in knowing which of the factions would ains more votes will be in a commanding position to bring the party together. Depending on which camp (of the AIADMK) wins or who gains better share of votes, there could be a consolidation or realignment within the two factions of the party.

RK Nagar, Chennai

Traditionally any bypoll is won by the ruling party, but given the political turmoil and chaos over the last three months within AIADMK, the opposition DMK would have an edge.

Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar, the high-profile constituency in north Chennai that elected former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa twice, is all set to once again choose its legislative representative on April 12. A total of 62 candidates, including eight women, are in the fray in the by-election. The AIADMK has won seven out of 11 times in the constituency in the last 40 years. This time, three candidates are are claiming to be the ‘real face of the AIADMK.’

The late Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa contested from the RK Nagar (Chennai) constituency for the first time in the 2015 by-elections. She chose it again the following year to win the assembly elections. RK Nagar has become Jayalalithaa’s home turf in public perception, even though Srirangam was the Iyengar-Brahmin’ (which is what she was, by birth) constituency, from where she won to become the CM in 2011. Freshly acquitted, wrongly, of any wrongdoing in the disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa won by a margin of over 1,50,000 votes in the 2015 by-elections. This might seem like a bonafide celluloid miracle wrought by a party that was born and raised by filmdom, and run by ‘Amma’, who was once ‘Anni’

In 1989, after MGR’s death, the AIADMK split into the Janaki faction and the Jayalalithaa faction. In the ensuing elections, the DMK won hands down, since the votes were split between the two factions and their allies. Both AIADMK factions (Jayalalithaa Vs Janaki) in 1989 laid claim to the ‘two leaves’ symbol.

The AIADMK’s two leaves have – metaphorically speaking – split, into the Sasikala faction and the O Panneerselvam faction. There is the DMK, led by Stalin, and the MGR Amma Deepa Peravai, led by Deepa Jayakumar (Jayalalithaa’s estranged niece). All four parties now seek to fill the legendary and occasionally notorious shoe-rack of Jayalalithaa.

Sasikala’s ADMK, with Edappadi Palanisamy as the chief minister, is by far the most stable party. As the ruling party, they will have access to resources and the machinery to whip up a good campaign- and they are doing that even though public is not impressed. The lack of trust is all thanks to the public angst against Sasikala, who is still seen as a conspirator in Jayalalithaa’s demise.

Political analysts say a win for Dinakaran would assert his position in the party and he could even claim the chief minister’s post. But Mr. Dinakaran had said that Edappadi K. Palaniswami will continue to head the government.

The fate of both Sasikala and Dinakaran’s party posts will be decided by the Election Commission as the rival AIADMK camp has claimed that the appointments are not in line with the party’s constitution. The Enforcement Directorate has imposed a ₹28crore fine on Mr. Dinakaran for money laundering. He is also facing two 20-year-old FERA cases for acquiring foreign exchange from unauthorised dealers.

Votes for currency notes

The Election Commission (EC) is closely monitoring the bypoll. Following a complaint by opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the EC ordered the transfer of Chennai police commissioner S. George. It has also transferred almost all the officials involved in the RK Nagar bypoll, appointed as many as five observers—the highest-ever for a constituency in the country—and deployed two IAS and two IPS officers on night patrol until the polling is over.

Meanwhile, income tax officals have raided the residences and offices of many important people in Chennai and elsewhere, including ministers, VC of MGR University. Money and documents shave been reportedly recovered from them.

Ahead of RK Nagar by-poll In Tamil Nadu, 15 Lakh seized and 28 men arrested. Public says money Rs500 and 200 are bribed for each vote and a lot of money is being distributed to voters even in public. Reports suggest around Rs. 15 lakh was seized and 28 persons were arrested on Wednesday for their alleged roles in various incidents of money distribution to voters and violence in the run up to the April 12 RK Nagar assembly bypoll. Authorities said seizure of Rs. 14.92 lakh was made by EC’s flying squads and static surveillance teams in RK Nagar where bypoll was necessitated due to former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death.

The day also saw the Election Commission ordering transfer of 22 police officials, including two IPS officers, out of RK Nagar even as the opposition parties lodged complaints with Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni against the alleged distribution of money to voters by the AIADMK’s VK Sasikala faction. While three AIADMK activists (VK Sasikala’s Amma faction) were arrested for allegedly attacking DMK cadres over a row, 25 others were arrested on the basis of 15 cases registered for alleged distribution of money to voters, police said.

The attack on DMK men was over a row related to the alleged money distribution. Meanwhile, videos of alleged money distribution in RK Nagar and markings made in the area to facilitate it are doing the rounds in social media and messaging app Whatsapp.

Commenting on the alleged money distribution, PMK chief Ramadoss demanded countermanding of RK Nagar bypoll and said it should be held after the cash distribution’s impact faded. The bypoll should be held by drafting officers only from outside Tamil Nadu and by deploying Central police forces, he said. EC replaced Additional Police Commissioner (North) MC Sarangan with H M Jayaram (now IGP, Operations) besides 21 other police personnel.

Meanwhile DMK Rajya Sabha MP, RS Barathi in a petition to Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni said, “The ruling party (Dinakaran faction) is planning to continue the illegal distribution of money to voters. We, herewith, enclose proof of the illegal distribution of money.” He demanded steps to stop it. Former Minister KP Munusamy of O Panneerselvam-led faction too petitioned the CEO on the matter.

Anger toward ruling Sasikala AIADMK

As the fight over the seat started, AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who was campaigning at the 42nd ward in support of VK Sasikala’s nephew and party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, had slippers and tomatoes thrown at her.

The whole of Tamil Nadu is concentrating on the upcoming RK Nagar by-election, which is now being considered as the zone that will decide the future course of politics in the state. As the fight over the seat started, AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi, who was campaigning at 42nd ward in support of VK Sasikala’s nephew and party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran, had slippers and tomatoes thrown at her. Saraswathi was heard screaming, “You are throwing stones and slippers at me. Is this right? We’ve come to ask for your votes but you’re throwing slippers at us!”

Team EPS and team OPS have been hurling allegations at one another, with Dinakaran accusing the rebel party faction led by O Panneerselvam of manipulating its poll symbol of electricity pole as ‘two leaves’. Not to be outdone, team OPS blamed team EPS of distributing money for votes.

And in support to the claim by team OPS, a man was yesterday arrested for distributing money for vote, and what apparently gave him away was his flashy ‘hat’ (symbol for team EPS) carrying the AIADMK flag’s color. Already many videos have gone viral on social media where people had altercation with such money distributors.

Candidates and promises

Every candidate has come out with certain promises but the ruling AIADMK and Panneerselvam faction have put forward interesting promises.

Dhinakaran, the candidate from team EPS for the by-elections, has promised people that should he win, 57,000 house would be constructed for RK Nagar residents. Team OPS, which is fielding Madhusudhanan as its candidate, has on the other hand promised a judicial inquiry into Jayalalitha’s death within a week of their victory, and to also turn the late TN Chief Minister’s house into a memorial. When asked how their promises are related to RK Nagar victory, they said that whoever wins the by-poll, will control the party and by the government.

An AIADMK veteran, E. Madhusudhanan was the party’s presidium chairman. He has contested in R.K. Nagar four times and represented the constituency in the Assembly during 1991-96, the first tenure of Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister. Madhusudhanan was convicted and later acquitted in a free dhoti-saree scam during his term as Handloom Minister. He has some 19 criminal cases pending against him, which he claims were politically motivated. When Madhusudhanan switched to former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam’s side, Sasikala dismissed him from the party. Maintaining that he is still the party’s presidium chairman, Madhusudhanan ‘expelled’ Sasikala. . Madhusudhanan is a strong Jayalalithaa loyalist and stayed with her when the AIADMK split into Jaya and Janaki factions in 1989. He has been associated with the AIADMK since the party was formed and is a North Chennai strongman. He is contesting using the ‘Electric Pole’ symbol under party name ‘AIADMK Puratchi Thalaivi Amma’.

The DMK has fielded N. Marudhu Ganesh as its party’s candidate. A journalist-turned-politician, Mr. Ganesh is the party’s area secretary of R.K Nagar (East) unit and belongs to a family of DMK cardholders. Ganesh hopes that his introduction to the local people as a Dinakaran journalist will work in his favour. R. Loganathan is the CPI(M)’s candidate. But the CPI and the VCK, alliance partners of the People’s Welfare Front, have declined to support his candidature. Loganathan is a member of the party’s North Chennai district Executive Committee. The party is banking on the sizeable working class population in the constituency.

P. Mathivanan is DMDK’s North Chennai District Secretary. He lost to Mr. M.K. Stalin in the 2016 Assembly elections. As a resident of Kodungaiyur,he is pinning hopes on voters to elect a ‘local person.’ Film director-turned-politician Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Katchi has fielded Kalaikottudhayam as its candidate. Kalaikottudhayam runs a Tamil news channel called Tamizhan TV and has produced a few movies.

Tamil music director Gangai Amaran, younger brother of legendary music composer Ilayaraaja, is the BJP’s candidate for the bypoll. He joined the BJP in 2014 and is currently the president of the State unit’s cultural cell. Gangai Amaran had accused Sasikala of forcing him to sell his 22-acre farm at Payyanurin 1994. He was one of the prosecution witnesses in the disproportionate assets case. The BJP is betting on Amaran’s popularity and caste. The constituency has a significant number of Dalits, and the BJP hopes they would vote for him.

J. Deepa

Jayalalithaa’s niece J. Deepa is also contesting the bypoll as an independent. She has been allotted the ”boat” symbol. Ms. Deepa rose to fame after the death of Jayalalithaa. She claims to be the “rightful successor of Jayalalithaa” and had managed to gain support from a section of AIADMK followers. A staunch opposer of Sasikala and her family, Ms. Deepa floated a political outfit called MGR Amma Deepa Peravai on Jayalalithaa’s birthday last month, putting an end to rumours that she will join hands with the Panneerselvam camp.

The Election Commission on Thursday tightened the screws on the by-election to the RK Nagar Assembly constituency, scheduled for April 12, by putting in place more measures to ensure free and fair polls.It appointed as many as five Observers, the highest ever in any constituency in the country and deployed two IAS and two IPS officers on night patrol until the polling is over. Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha said, “The Commission will monitor the arrangements closely and will not leave any stone unturned to ensure free, fair, transparent and inducement-free election.” CCTVs would be deployed in major streets and junctions and checkpoints in the constituency to monitor movement of vehicles and persons.

Observation

Election commission is making all efforts to help the people vote without fear.

So far the ruling Sasikala faction of AIADMK has made any move for merger of factions as it is keen to see OPS faction is finished even if DMK wins comfortably in that process. Possibly Sasikala is working towards ending MGR-Jayalalithaa rule in the state. .

Now Tamil Nadu without Jayalalithaa as the only vote puller of the party one has to see if OPS could emerge the winner of the hearts of Tamils, even if unable to win the poll due ot split politics.

Absence of Jayalalithaa phenomenon in Tamil Nadu politics, both DMK and BJP are back with new hopes. While DMK wants to win the RK Nagar to push for a government change in Madras Fort sooner than later, BJP is eager to make a presence in Tami Nadu politics once again.

DMK has got a solid vote bank unlike the AIADMK where there seems to be a three way split. Moreover Congress party is backing the DMK candidate. CM Palanisamy has not been able to make a decision to take step forward, without prisoner Sasikala’s nod, to merge with Panneer Selvam faction to let Jayalalithaa legacy live in the state without further major setbacks. Sasikala seems to be toying with idea of ending the MGR rule in the state. She knows once down, AIADMK cannot revive its fortunes as there are no charismatic and loyal leaders in the party. .

Without the symbol of two leaves, the voters who want to vote for Jayalalithaa party could be confused. New symbols are bound to confuse the common or ‘aam voter’.

Money and other resources play very important role in polls. Sasikala’s faction and the DMK have the money-power to repeat this tradition. The OPS and Deepa camps lose this round.

The by poll results in RK Nagar constituency in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai would give an idea of the changing course or otherwise of politics in Tamil Nadu in the post-Jayalalithaa era, particularly an assessment of popularity of the ruling AIADMK (Amma). The results would also show the benefits of DMK would gain from the death and division of AIADMK in the state and, if BJP could make any profits from the fluid situation obtaining from the untimely demise of Jayalalithaa.

The current situation indicates that DMK could sail through albeit with a small majority and that would be big success for the opposition party which is eagerly awaiting a government change in Madras Fort for quite some time and so long as Jayalalithaa was in control, it could not make any head way in achieving its goal.

When Jayalalithaa won the general poll with a resounding victory for the AIADMK for the second consecutive term without any truck with any of the parties, notwithstanding the BJP’s attempts to be a partner of the ruling AIADMK to win a few seats in this southern state, she indeed made a history in Tamil Nadu politics and took all politicians by shock.

Now the situation is back to square one! Speculation is indeed thrilling!

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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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