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Trump draws geopolitical battle lines in South Asia

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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President Donald J. Trump has drawn battle lines in South Asia that are likely to have a ripple effect across Eurasia: a stepped-up war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a tougher approach towards Pakistan’s selective support of militancy, and closer cooperation with India – moves that are likely to push Pakistan closer to China and Russia.

There is little doubt that Mr. Trump had few good choices 16 years into an Afghanistan war in which the Taliban and other militant groups are holding their ground, if not making advances, buffeted by Pakistani policies that are rooted in the fabric of the country’s military and society. Similarly, there is little doubt that Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to militancy poses serious challenges to US policy in South Asia as well as a global effort to contain political violence.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump could find that his newly announced South Asia policy will fail to achieve his goal of an “honourable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices” made by the United States. The silver lining is that Pakistan may temporarily engineer a stay of execution but ultimately will find itself in a cul de sac from which there is no escape.

Mr. Trump, despite refusing to disclose details of his strategy in Afghanistan, made clear in a speech outlining his South Asia policy, that he hopes that an increased US military presence will force the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Yet, achieving that would require the kind of military and political engagement in Afghanistan that Mr. Trump seems unwilling to embrace.

US media reported that Mr. Trump envisioned only a modest increase of several thousand troops in a country wracked by corruption whose military is largely incapable of standing its ground on its own. Various military and political analysts suggest that it would take a far greater commitment to militarily turn the tables on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s exclusive focus on defeating militants militarily or bombing them into submission ignores the broader economic, social and political problems that fuel militancy in Afghanistan and drive Pakistan’s support for the Taliban and a selection of other groups. “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” Mr. Trump said.

Announcing a tougher approach towards Pakistan, Mr. Trump insisted that the South Asian nation’s partnership with the United States would not survive if it continued to harbour and support groups that target the United States.

Adding fuel to the fire, the president emphasized the US’ strategic partnership with India, calling on it to support his administration’s policy with increased Indian economic assistance to Afghanistan. In doing so, Mr. Trump challenged a pillar of Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan: limiting Indian influence in the country at whatever price.

Mr. Trump’s approach to South Asia puts to the test two assumptions: that Pakistan will want to preserve its partnership with the United States at whatever cost and that it has few alternatives. Mr. Trump could well find that at least in the short term those assumptions are incorrect.

Pakistan’s relationship to militancy is engrained in a deeply-rooted zero-sum-game approach towards India within the military as well as an empathy for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism that is woven into the fabric of the security forces, parts of the government bureaucracy, and significant segments of society.

Pakistan’s use of militant groups to counter India in Afghanistan and Kashmir as well as an anti-dote to nationalist insurgents in the restive province of Balochistan is moreover tacitly endorsed by China’s repeated vetoing of the designation of Masood Azhar, an anti-Indian militant, former fighter in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and Islamic scholar who graduated from a Deobandi madrassah, Darul Uloom Islamia Binori Town in Karachi, that is the alma mater of numerous Pakistani militants.

Moreover, China, with an investment of more than $50 billion in Pakistani infrastructure and energy that would turn the country into a key node, if not the crown jewel of its One Belt, One Road initiative, is a logical escape for a government and a military that lacks the political will to confront its own demons. Similarly, Russia, long eager to gain access to warm water ports and expand its influence in Central and South Asia, is certain to see opportunity in further estrangement between Pakistan and the United States.

Closer ties to China and Russia may offer Pakistan a temporary escape from dealing with structural problems. Ultimately, however, Pakistan’s relationship to militancy is likely to also complicate its relations with Beijing and Moscow amid escalating violence in Balochistan and no end in sight to the militant insurgency in Afghanistan.

A series of devastating attacks in Balochistan over the last year that have targeted Pakistani cadets, decimated the legal profession in the capital Quetta, and targeted Chinese nationals as well kidnappings and drive-by shootings pose a serious obstacle to China’s strategic ambition to extend its maritime power across the Indian Ocean and turn the sleepy Baloch fishing port of Gwadar into a gateway to its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

Pakistan has, moreover, in the past year turned a blind eye to Saudi funding of anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian militants in Balochistan, including a Pakistani cleric who remains a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, a government advisory body tasked with ensuring that legislation does not contradict Islamic law, despite having been designated a global terrorist by the US Treasury.

China has too much invested in for Pakistan’s selective support of militancy or the advantages of needling India by protecting Mr. Azhar to ultimately get in the way of achieving its geopolitical goals vested in its One Belt, One Road initiative.

As a result, Pakistan’s refusal to confront its demons could in the final analysis leave it out in the cold: its relationship with the United States severely damaged, India strengthened by closer cooperation with the US, and China and Russia demanding that it do what Washington wanted in the first place. Pakistan is likely to have fewer, if any, options and no escape routes once China and Russia come to the conclusion Mr. Trump has already articulated.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

13th G-20 Summit: India’s Diplomacy Finest Hour

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The week leading up to the 13th G-20 Summit 2018 was one filled with chaos for the world’s mightiest economic and military superpowers. Great Britain was at loggerheads with the rest of EU and with its own Parliament over the Brexit deal. France was on the boil with protests over rising fuel and commodity prices. The United States of America and China had locked horns on who would cede ground in the ongoing trade war. Russia was again caught in conflict with Ukraine. Germany was in a fix on whether or not to impose sanctions on Russia over the Kerch Strait incident. Finally, Saudi Arabia was entering the summit knowing it would face diplomatic isolation over the ongoing yet to settle incident brutal murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

At the summit, there was no success between the abovementioned countries to break the palpable tensions amongst them. The only diplomatic breakthrough and yet not a success was drawn between China and the United States wherein they decided to halt the tariff war for now. However, there no details are out on this halt and the devil is the details which is yet to be revealed. On the bilateral front, POTUS Trump did not meet Crown Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia or with Vladimir Putin.

While the above two paragraphs seem to portray a gloomy summit, one country made diplomatic strides in balancing and holding all the powers present at Buenos Aires together and achieved in bringing forth a very progressive Buenos Aires G-20 Leaders’ Declaration. I’m referring to the Republic of India. In a matter of 48 hours at the summit, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, India left a significant foot print. India was able to hold bilateral and trilateral meetings with very contrasting and contradicting groups without either of the groups gaining more prominence over the other.

India held the first ever Japan-America-India (JAI) trilateral meeting. The meeting of the three democracies discussed their converging interests to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite being a part of this group, India has made it clear that it sees Indo-Pacific as a geographic and not a strategic construct. While James Mattis proclaimed recently that the Indo-Pacific for the United States is from Hollywood to Bollywood, Mr. Modi long before this meeting had stated that for India, it stretches all the way from the East African Coast to the Western Coast of America. India stands by this firm position in order to maintain a friendly relationship with China which it has rebuilt since the Doklam stand off last year. India has now held 4 bilateral meetings between Xi Jinping and Modi. Even the Chinese side has acknowledged that there has been perceptible improvement in the Indo-China relations post the informal Wuhan summit between the two leaders. The JAI meeting can be termed as a victory for India as it did not receive any negative press from the prominent Chinese press.

Also, there was no signs of the QUAD group holding any meeting despite Australia’s presence at the meeting because China has always viewed this group suspiciously and believes that this groups interest is to contain them. India showed respect to China by not bringing this group together at Buenos Aires.

Next, India participated in the RIC meeting with Russia and China. This was the 2nd time that this group met in 12 years. This showed the seamless balance India has achieved in interacting with America in JAI and the Eurasian giants in the RIC meeting. Modi comfortably raised the issues of rising volatility in fuel prices in this meeting without any derailing voices it usually faces from Pakistan in the SCO meetings where theses three countries usually meet on such issues. The RIC meeting was necessary because unlike at JAI, over here Modi was able to highlight the necessity to reform multilateral institutions which have been unable to meet the expectations of the international community.

There was a BRICS meeting held on the sidelines of the summit too which was attended by heads of the four governments. They exchanged views on continued terrorist attacks and urged all nations to take a comprehensive approach on tackling terrorism including all the elements identified in the Johannesburg Declaration.

The G-20 declaration echoed a lot of pressing issues that were reiterated by Mr. Modi throughout the two days at various fora. His points on tackling international economic offenders; countering terrorism; tackling climate change; reformation of multilateral institutions; benefits of digitization; need for technological innovation in finance; sustainable food future; gender empowerment found its way in some form or the other into the declaration.

The Indian Diplomacy was at one of its finest hours and also its high points that it has never exhibited so far. In a matter of those 2 days, India showed that it has gained global salience. Whether it is the world’s most advanced democracies; world’s most progressive economies or world’s most powerful militaries—everyone today wants great relations with India. Modi was able to show that NAM is a relic in the Indian diplomatic archives and that we are able to work in contradicting and contrasting groups and yet maintain seamless balance in achieving our strategic interests and promote peaceful relations with all nations alike.

India is now gearing up for the G-20 summit in 2022 which it will host in the 75th year of its independence. India owes its gratitude to Italy which has forfeited its opportunity to host in 2022. Mr. Modi has sounded the bugle that we will be a New India in 2022. Although India may not have the indigenous military prowess or economic dominance like China or the United States, it has always used the good will it has achieved through its soft power to bring the world together. Mr. Modi and his diplomatic entourage deserve a salute for keeping this G-20 summit together.

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India and Pakistan bid for NSG Membership

Adeela Ahmed

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48 years journey of India and Pakistan resulted in them getting the de-facto Nuclear Weapons Status. Since the last 20 years, both rivals have developed their arsenals in accordance with Credible Minimum Deterrence to meet the demands of nuclear strategy and security environment.

Henceforth, with the modification of global dynamics, India and Pakistan bid for the membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group. They aspire to enter into a legitimate Nuclear Regime to gain global recognition, power, prestige, and security.

India’s bid for NSG membership is backed with powerful states in disguise as Nuclear Weapon States, playing their Great Game to control the power politics of the Asia Pacific Region. India’s real motive is to have access to Nuclear technology from International markets, admission in the international arena of nuclear commerce, get more Uranium for Nuclear Reactors and fulfil their demand for thermonuclear weapons, Import Nuclear weapons (Russia-France), and easy to produce missile capabilities. The aggressive aims are undermining the guidelines of NSG and are a grave threat to regional stability.

In addition to that, India’s Strategic ambitions are eminent to its recent Strategic collaborations with France and Russia. It shows that their future plans are not just confined to the peaceful use of Nuclear Technology. Moreover, India is acquiring Igla-S system, Vshorad missiles, S-400 Triumf, Eurofighter Typhoon, LCA-Tejas MK 1A, Mig-21s, Su-30 MKI, Rafale, AK-103 assault rifles, Nuclear Submarines from different defence deals. The existence of India’s secret nuclear city Challakere highlights India’s ambitions to become a regional power. Their stance to match the nuclear arsenal of China and Pakistan is a big bluff.

India is using all its resources to avail the NSG membership. They are lobbying with close friendly states to work with other members to get India acknowledged in the NSG. India is also addressing concerns of some member countries over India’s non-NPT status. India is stressing that admission must be ‘merit-based’, and not ‘criteria-based’, as advocated by China, and that being a member of groupings like the Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, and Wassenaar Arrangement, boosts its credentials.

Moreover, President Obama explicitly committed himself to facilitate India’s entry into the four components of the international export control regime, namely the MTCR, the Australia Group, the Wassenaar, and the NSG. India has recently been granted the STA-1 status and can avail new strategic opportunities under a 2+2 Framework which can open the doors of international nuclear commerce for India. It is an open threat to regional stability and violation of NPT Regime.

Alice Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia said that we moved ahead with an STA-1 authorization and we certainly believe that India meets all of the qualifications of the Nuclear Suppliers group and will endure to actively advocate on behalf of India’s membership.

Beijing backed a two-step approach which demanded that the NSG members first need to arrive at a set of principles for the admission of non-NPT states into the NSG and then move forward with the negotiations. Talks between the Indian and Chinese officials on the subject were “forward-looking”. Apart from China, there are others factor that are a hurdle for India to achieve NSG status, including India’s refusal to sign the CTBT and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

NSG member nations are typically nuclear nations that come together as a global control regime for trade in nuclear materials, equipment, and technology. India’s bid for membership violates the rules and regulations of NSG.

If India does get the membership, it will not support Pakistan’s membership and it will sabotage Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan wants global recognition, as the country’s defence policies will be in danger due to the US’ and India’s aggressive aims. The US exempts India from rules and regulations for civilian nuclear trade and facilitates it with a legal right for the sake of playing their own Great Game in the Asia Pacific Region. The Indian government has accelerated its diplomatic efforts to participate on the NSG’s high tables as a full-fledged member.

Out of the 48, 43 members are with India while China, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria have objections to exceptionalism and insistence on development of a uniform criteria for the entry of all non-NPT nuclear states. Hence, it is vital to strengthen the criteria and norm-based approach and revisit multilateral approaches to strengthen the Proliferation Regime. Moreover, criteria Based Approach will benefit Pakistan’s security concerns.

On contrary, Pakistan has defensive Nuclear Posture which had maintained Full Spectrum deterrence to counter Indian Cold Start Doctrine and Pakistan Nuclear policy is not aggressive/ offensive to obtain more fissile material for nuclear weapons. The reality of Nuclear South Asia is that whatsoever, the Nuclear Treaty, Group or Agreement have to be signed, India and Pakistan evaluate their Strategic calculations with each other to keep their National Security foremost.

Pakistan must strengthen its diplomatic lobbying skills to collaborate with others states to defend Pakistan so that it can get the MTCR, Wasanaar, Australia Group and NSG membership. Tasnim Aslam, head of the UN desk at the Foreign Office stated that “Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure and the ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods, and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses”.

Presently, there is a need for dialogue to discuss the issue. The role of the US and Russia in this regard cannot be negated and they should motivate regional states towards peace.  India’s policy of isolating Pakistan and its hostile attitude towards Pakistan is hazardous for South Asian Strategic Stability.

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A pioneer Dalit campaigner

MD Staff

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Sannani Pariyar, photo: World Bank

Sannani Pariyar – Member, District Coordination Committee, Dhading, Nepal

Fifty-five year-old Sannani Pariyar initially became interested in politics during her school days. While her family was very poor, her parents knew the value of education and enrolled her in school. She was able to complete grade seven, the highest level her school offered. As her parents couldn’t afford to send her to school at the district headquarters her education temporarily stopped. She was able to commence Grade Eight only after three years when her village school was upgraded to higher levels.

However, when she was in grade nine, her family started to force her to get married. “I did not want to get married but I had no choice because I didn’t have an excuse for not getting married,” Sannani says, “All my friends had already gotten married and it was very difficult to get a good marriage proposal.” She finally succumbed to family pressure and got married and within a year, gave birth to her son. “I was preparing for my School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam. But I had to give birth to my son just before, which forced me to quit the examination,” Sannani reveals.

She dedicated her time and energy into raising her son and later a daughter, but as her and her husband’s financial situation wasn’t good, she began to help her husband in his tailoring shop. Sannani reflects, “sometimes, I feel that these struggles teach you more and make you more determined as a person.”

That determination and courage led her to become involved actively in politics after her children were old enough to go to school. Sannani joined the All Nepal Women’s Association, a sister organization of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) as a member. Reigniting her thirst for education, Sannani decided to continue her studies, 18 years after her schooling stopped. She went to the school along with her daughter and both of them passed SLC with good marks.

After completing SLC, Sannini became involved in various organizations including People to People group, a local level group which works to end various kinds of caste-based discrimination and violence against women. She explains, “Being involved in these groups helped me connect with the community and to work with them very closely, which helped me eventually build trust and leadership.” She however believes that women and minority groups such as Dalits are given positions in political parties only to fulfil the quotas and aren’t provided with meaningful opportunities to participate. She said that there still a long way to go to changing the attitudes and mindsets of people, adding, “There is still a vast difference in what people at the decision-making level do and say. Breaking that barrier and putting an end to the discrimination will be my ultimate win.”

She submitted a nomination for chairperson in her ward in the 2017 local elections, but her party initially tried to discourage her from filing the candidacy for the position. She recalled, “They told me it would be very expensive to win the election. But I told them that it was not their problem, and that I would manage somehow.” She contested for the election after she got a loan from a cooperative, and ultimately won.

Promoting Gender and Social Inclusion in her municipality

Sannani has also become a member of the District Coordination Committee (DCC) in her district of Dhading. As an advocate for women’s rights and preventing violence against women, she has used her role as member in the DDC to support the drafting and approval of a Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) policy for her municipality of Jwalamukhi. This policy is the first of its kind in the municipality and will be used by all the wards within Jwalamukhi. Sannani hopes that it inspires other municipalities to draft their own GESI policy. She has also been regularly advocating for the provision of a separate gender-responsive and GESI-related budget, and has been successful in lobbying for allocating a separate budget of NRs. 500,000 (US dollar 1= Nrs. 113) for the GESI programs in her municipality.

World Bank

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