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Pakistan, India to be full members of SCO

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he 2017 annual Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be held on 7-8 June, in Astana, Kazakhstan. Beijing-headquartered SCO, which focuses mostly on security-related issues such as counter-terrorism cooperation in Central Asia, is comprised of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members. Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have “observer” status.

Its 2015 summit in Ufa in Russia had formally adopted a resolution which started the procedures to admit India and Pakistan into the security grouping.

Pakistan is set to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in its upcoming session in Astana, Kazakhstan which starts June 8. In a statement released to the media, the Foreign Office (FO) has stated that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will participate in the 17th meeting of the Heads of State Council (HoSC) of the SCO on June 8-9 in Kazakhstan. While there, the PM will hold bilateral meetings with other leaders on the sidelines of the summit. PM Sharif will also attend the inauguration ceremony of the International Expo 2017, which will host 100 participating countries, including Pakistan.

India as South Asia’s largest economy is also set to be included in the SCO in the upcoming Summit in Astana. In becoming full members of the SCO, Pakistan and India will join the ranks of current members Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Pakistan, which has been an observer at the SCO since 2005, applied for a permanent membership in 2010. According to the FO spokesperson, “The decision, in principle, to give membership to Pakistan was taken by the SCO Heads of States in a meeting held in Ufa, Russia, in 2015”. In the press release, the FO stated that Pakistan had been actively participating in the organization’s activities as an observer and that it fully subscribes to the “Shanghai Spirit”.

The statement further added that Pakistan shares “historical and cultural links, as well as strong economic and strategic complementarities” with members of the SCO. It stated that the SCO will help Pakistan advance its interests regional peace, stability and development and its support for regional cooperation against terrorism and extremism.

The annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which took place in Tashkent on Jun 30, 2016, celebrated the 15-year history of this organization. The six SCO member states – Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – evaluated the successes that this organization has achieved in the past decade and a half, and determined the future format of its work.

The summit in 2017 will have more two participants, for a total of eight, after India and Pakistan officially join the organization. In Tashkent, these two countries signed a memorandum of commitment to the SCO – the last documents before becoming full-fledged members. At the summit, he warned the countries from engaging in confrontations with each other, and encouraged maintaining the non-aligned status of the organization. The talks were difficult, but in the end, SCO managed to overcome all difficulties and agreed on granting membership to the new countries. However, the compromise does not mean that the existing contradictions between New Delhi and Islamabad would not be transferred to the SCO platform.

Central Asian countries, which had declared their region a nuclear-free zone, will have a difficult time balancing inside such a composition. It is clear that the expansion of the SCO will now move regional problems into the background. The majority of SCO member states (with the exceptions of China and Uzbekistan), are also part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), where collective efforts are being undertaken to try and solve regional security problems. Russia is trying to win over Central Asian members to its side, just as China is trying to do.

Now enjoying such status in the SCO are Afghanistan, Iran and Mongolia. The greatest chances of joining are given to Iran, whose interests in the organization are actively being promoted by Russia. Tashkent was especially cautious when it came to the idea of membership for Afghanistan, a country where the main security threats and risks in Central Asia originate.

Two years after the summit in Ufa, the Central Asian countries that had previously doubted the wisdom of expanding the SCO with two other South Asian countries that are in constant conflict with each other, seemed to have come around to the idea. The president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, who criticized the expansion of the SCO with two unofficial nuclear powers, seemed more restrained this year.

For the first 15 years, the SCO has primarily focused on economic and security issues. Going forward, the work of the SCO will continue in an expanded format. India and Pakistan will become full members of the SCO now , a move that was finally decided at the Tashkent Summit. In the summit’s final declaration, dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the organization, the participating countries agreed to assist each other during economic crises, and to continue in their joint efforts in fighting extremism.

Economic development issues were also paramount on the agenda of the Astana Summit. SCO leaders have complained that very often, uneven economic development is leading to the slow implementation of joint projects, particularly in trade and construction of transport infrastructure spheres. In connection with this, the countries have pledged to help each other in times of economic crisis. To accelerate the construction of regional transport infrastructure, Putin suggested that SCO countries that are not members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) join the Russian-Chinese cooperation projects involving the EAEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt. “Connecting all SCO member states, as well as CIS countries, to these integration processes, would be a prelude to the formation of a large Eurasian Partnership,” said Putin. However, the experts do not think much of the potential for economic cooperation within the SCO framework. Uzbekistan said that Tashkent has always looked at the SCO platform as a means for establishing bilateral cooperation on security issues, rather than economic ones.

At the SCO summit in Tashkent, they also signed an Action Plan for the implementation of Development Strategies for the SCO until 2025, where participating countries have identified their directions of development in the coming years. These followed the outlines of the development strategies for the SCO that the participating countries adopted at last summit in Ufa.

China hoped the admission of India and Pakistan into the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) security grouping will contribute to security and stability in the region. “Both India and Pakistan are China’s important neighbours and important countries in South Asia. China hopes that India and Pakistan can enhance mutual trust and improve relations through more dialogues. This is conducive to not only the two countries themselves, but also to regional prosperity and development.”

With nuclear India and Pakistan’s membership, the SCO will include countries encompassing over 40% of the world’s population. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will continue dealing mainly with security and economic issues, although there are doubts about how effective it will be once India and Pakistan join in 2017.

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South Asia

Economic And Political Reform Is Needed In Sri Lanka, Not State Violence

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Image source: Wikipedia

Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence has highlighted years of political and economic mismanagement and a reliance on state-sanctioned violence in response to legitimate protests. Legitimate reform and respect for human rights is required if the island nation is to act in the best interests of its people.

The crisis has resulted in the import-reliant country’s foreign currency reserves running dry, meaning that the government is unable to pay for imports of basic goods, including food and fuel. Rising inflation of 17 per cent has meant that any food available is now too expensive, with a kilogram of rice costing 500 rupees when it previously cost 80. The lack of fuel has meant that Sri Lankans are suffering through 12-hour power cuts, with the government asking people to work from home to save fuel.

Making matters worse, the government has defaulted on its foreign debts for the first time since independence. Sri Lanka’s debt is approximately $51 billion, making it now reliant on negotiations with its creditors, such as the Asian Development Bank, to pause payments so basic goods can be purchased.

As always, these issues are affecting Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable, particularly those in poorer rural areas, the elderly and people with disability. There are reports of people dying while lining up for fuel in the heat. This has the potential to worsen into a significant humanitarian crisis, with half the country sinking into poverty and food insecurity rising.

This is a big step back for a country that was once regarded as one of Asia’s success stories, formerly enjoying economic growth, burgeoning industries and a wealthier middle class. The was a sign of a country that was beginning to rebuild after a brutal civil war that affected all Sri Lankans.

While the government has blamed the crisis on the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent drop in tourism, the cause is closer to home, and the government deserves significant blame.

The President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, previously slashed taxes and focused on domestic markets rather than exports, creating an economy reliant on imports, which created unsustainable levels of debt. The government has also racked up huge debts to fund irresponsible infrastructure projects which has severely depleted the country’s foreign reserves. The banning of imports of chemical fertilisers left Sri Lanka’s large agriculture sector crippled and increased debt through the reliance on importing food.

The Rajapaksa family has ruled Sri Lanka for over two decades, with Mahinda Rajapaksa ruling as President between 2005 and 2015 and then as Prime Minister until his recent resignation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has served as President since 2019 and several family members have long held prominent positions within the military and government. This has resulted in rampant nepotism, corruption and poor economic decisions that have turned the public away from the once popular family.

The crisis in Sri Lanka has led to nation-wide protests, which have rapidly turned violent. Protesters have stormed government buildings and government forces have been injured. Citizens are justifiably angry about years of poor economic decisions that has crippled the economy, leaving millions without the most basic of goods.

Authorities have reacted to this unrest with a heavy handed approach. The deployment of the military with orders to shoot looters on sight and the use of water cannons and tear gas had led to two deaths of the arrest of over two hundred people, including peaceful protesters. President Rajapaksa has also declared two state of emergencies, severely restricting the rights of Sri Lankans and giving authorities sweeping powers to detain legitimate protesters or those breaking curfew. This raises serious concerns about the governments respect for human rights and will do little to rebuild trust in government.

Instead of the use of violence to crush protests, the government needs to take responsibility and undertake meaningful economic and political reforms to address the crisis and quell unrest.

Human rights need to be at the forefront of any solution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has rightly called for any attacks on civilians and peace protesters to be independently and transparently investigated. State of emergency declarations and curfews should also cease, allowing Sri Lankans their right to peacefully protest about legitimate issues of concern. Any peaceful protester illegally detained needs to be released immediately.

The government should also work with international partners to find rapid solutions to critical problems, such as providing basic goods to their citizens. The decision by the World Bank to provide $600 million in assistance and ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are welcome. But more needs to be done.

The government needs to undertake meaningful economic reforms, including reversing damaging tax cuts and reducing debt, so the IMF will agree to a more substantial financial package that allows the country to recover.

The democratic process also needs to be respected. The government should maintain dialogue and consult with other political parties’, civil society and non-governmental organisations to find adequate solutions to the economic and political problems facing the country.

This includes negotiating with opposition parties to reach political solutions that lead to ongoing stability. However, while the embattled President has replaced his brother as Prime Minister in an attempt to ease political pressure, the opposition has so far refused to join an administration with the Rajapaksa family. A political solution may need to be found that finally breaks the link with the Rajapaksa’s so Sri Lanka can move forward as a nation.

Sri Lankan’s have shown that they desire legitimate change in response to this unprecedented crisis. They demand meaningful political and economic change that will allow Sri Lankans to buy basic goods and reduce poverty. The government, whether it includes the Rajapaksa’s or not, needs to listen to the people and not respond with violence by respecting their human rights and undertaking meaningful change.

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“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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South Asia

When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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