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South Asia

US Call for a New Relationship

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad

‘Trust, but verify’ an Old Russian proverb that President Reagan liked to repeat often. Trump is neither the first President nor he is going to be the last to criticize Pakistan of deceit and threaten to cut off American assistance. Notwithstanding, the last six decades of the US support, the US has failed completely in cultivating an ally in Pakistan nor has it meaningfully changed the nature of its relationship with Pakistan, which can be best described as ‘transactional’. A quid-pro-quo relationship between the two has never been established with regards to the assistance they both offered to each other. In truth, United States has never really trusted Pakistan.

President Trump avowed in his New Afghan Strategy that the US has been paying Pakistan ‘billions of billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting for’ but the mantra should be put to a halt. Likewise, the US must be conveyed boldly to stop continuing its false claims that Pakistan shelters the ‘agents of chaos’ and be reminded that friends don’t put each other on notices.

Similarly, statements and avowals that India now is a strongest ally to the US, disturbs Pakistan, chiefly because of the irony at Trump administration’s part which only sees the glittering Indian market but pay no heed to the growing Indian cease fire violations across the LoC and the atrocities India commits against the unarmed civilians of the Indian held Kashmir.

The recent visits and statements however by the senior US officials and Trump’s aides reflect the US call for a new relationship between the US and Pakistan, which once used to be close allies in the US led ‘Global War on Terror’.

Pakistan’s foreign policy makers at this point in time must be mindful of the fact that the US is a major trading partner and should adhere to a relationship more than ‘transactional’. Moreover, the risks and fears at the US part of ‘rampant destabilization and civil war in Afghanistan’ increments further the region already devoid of trust. For, nobody actually knows whether the US will stay or eventually leave Afghanistan.

The Afghan war has now become a war of logistics, in words of Sun Tzu ‘the line between order and disorder lies in logistics’, Pakistani supply lines thus provide Islamabad with a leverage in absence of shorter, cheaper and acceptable alternative routes. Given these circumstances, Pakistan should make best use of the US call towards a more robust bilateral relationship.

The move for a ‘new relationship’ and improved ties began last week with senior Trump aide’s visit to Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistani leaders.  Earlier also the impressions that Pakistan and the US were on a collision course were dispelled by a top US general. Likewise, US department’s acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells asserted that the US was not thinking of cutting its ties rather assured that the US still cogitate Pakistan indispensable to the resolve in Afghanistan.

The aforesaid developments clearly indicate that the strained US-Pakistan relations would improve soon and that the suspension in the military aid is also not permanent.

To conclude, achieving long term stability and defeating the insurgency in the region will be difficult without Pakistan’s support and assistance.

Research Associate Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad. He can be reached at ubaid[at]thesvi.org

South Asia

Democratic transitions in South Asia: Solih led Opposition brings hope to Maldives

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Authors:  Srimal Fernando and Mizly Nizar*

The 2018 Maldivian Presidential Election and the run up to it was closely watched not only by the neighboring South Asian nations but also the international community. The overwhelming victory of opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih a close aide of former President Mohamed Nasheed defeating the incumbent President  Yameen Abdul Gayoom will alter the political direction of the Indian Ocean archipelago. Solih’s victory gaining 134,616 votes with 58.33 % of total votes cast appears to bring new hopes to the island nation ending the authoritarian regime of Yameen who obtained 96,132 votes or 41.7 % of total votes. A few hours after the historic election victory Solih announced on television “I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power”.

Over the past years the discontent in Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) aided in the emergence of several splinter parties. The opposition parties came together in a coalition when there appeared to be no other solution in sight to bring back democratic processes to an ailing nation. In this context Ibrahim Solihof Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)was nominated as the Joint opposition Presidential candidate for the2018 Presidential election.

Some of the factors that led to the formation of the opposition coalition are the arrest of former President Maumoon Gayoom and top court judges in   February this year. The international community had requested the release of all political   prisoners and those in exile including Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed andQasim Ibrahim.

Furthermore, during the turbulent tenure of Yameen, the Indian  Ocean island nation saw  journalists  routinely  facing  harassment and intimidation while the regime practiced a high degree  of censorship  on privately  run  media  channels. State run media monopolized on election propaganda favouring the incumbent Yameen. Maldivian based public interest groups, civil society, journalist and activists played a key role under trying circumstances risking their own lives for the protection and promotion of civil liberties of this nation.

The policies of the west and India’s foreign policy towards Maldives during this period had been one of constructive engagement and noninterference towards the Island nation. Once Maldives had declared the dates for the election, it was back on the international agenda with renewed hopes of facilitating the island nation to transition back to democratic processes.

Closer to the elections, the role played by the Qasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party, Nasreena Ibrahim wife of jailed former President Maumoon Gayoom and Dunya Maumoon former Minister of Foreign Affairs were significant in the current election victory of the MDP.

The electoral behavior of the 26 Atolls  had changed considerably   between the 2013 and 2018 Presidential elections. In the recently concluded election the Maldivian voters were more divided than they had been in 2013 with reduced dominance of the ruling PPM. A large proportion of voters of the PPM’s Gayoom faction had transferred their votes to the Joint Opposition candidate. In addition supporters of Qasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Adhaalath Party voters had shifted their electoral support to the MDP.  This   pattern was particularly noticeable in Male’, Hulumale islands and especially the Addu Atoll.   However, the ruling PPM tended to be strong in some Atolls outside Male’.

Compared to other South Asian nations, political modernization came late to Maldives. It was not until 2008, that Maldives held its first democratic elections with a multiparty system. The 90 % voter turnout and the election victory of the recently concluded Maldivian election sends a clear message that there is still hope to rekindle democratic process while ending monopolized schemes of autocratic rule. There is great confidence that constructive democratic reforms will take place in the coming months with the victory of   Ibrahim Solih refashioning the previous multi party democratic system while steering the Indian Ocean Island nation in the right direction for progress in the future.

* Mizly Nizar is a foreign policy analyst and a former visiting lecture at The Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)  and the Open University of Sri Lanka.

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South Asia

Pakistan should ‘Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick’ in response to India

M Waqas Jan

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With the 73rd United Nations General Assembly currently underway, tensions in South Asia once again seem to be building up to yet another verbal battle between the delegations from Pakistan and India. As the Pakistani Foreign Minister and his Indian counter-part both arrive in New York, the mood between both sides remains sour owing to the recent cancellation of the proposed meeting that was to be held between the two on the sidelines of this summit. Thus instead of talks, the age-old issues surrounding Kashmir, terrorism and cross border violations are once again expected to take center stage in both Ministers’ speeches to the General Assembly.

However, it is worth noting that despite the appearance of escalating tensions, Pakistan is in a much better position diplomatically in light of the recent steps taken by key officials in India. These include the Indian Army Chief’s sudden sabre-rattling over the weekend, coupled with the confusion and inconsistency in the contradictory statements issued by the Indian Foreign Office.

The case of the latter arises from the fact that Pakistan’s offer for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA was at first accepted by India. It was then suddenly rescinded within a day, along with a strongly worded statement that not only questioned Pakistan’s motives, but accused it of harboring ‘Evil Intentions’ from which the ‘true face of its Prime Minister was revealed.’

Even in the long history of Pak – India tensions, the wording of this official statement marks a fresh departure from established diplomatic norms between the two countries. It harks back to the rhetoric employed by the hard-line Iran regime against the Bush led US Administration. Or the kind of statements made by the North Korean leadership as part of its carefully crafted narrative of defiance and belligerence to the world status quo. Both present examples of where international sentiment went against such fiery rhetoric as opposed to supporting it.

Coming from India however, the statements made by its army chief as well as its external affairs spokesperson appear at best as an over-reaction. At their worst, they come off as a grave miscalculation that has in fact played right into the narrative being posited by Pakistan. This narrative is linked directly to the unabashed and hard-line approach taken by the Modi government, in placating its vast political base of far right nationalists. Pakistan has long accused the Indian government of pushing forth an anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan agenda, harking back to the days of Mr. Modi’s stint as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The rise of religious intolerance and widespread political divisiveness in India are often cited as a direct result of Mr. Modi’s inability to promote peace and diversity within the region.

Based on the above, the recent cancellation of talks between the two countries’ Foreign Ministers is thus widely perceived to have been carried out within this same context. Especially with the Indian elections looming just ahead, many have pointed out that escalating tensions against Pakistan would greatly help in diverting the Indian electorate’s attention away from domestic issues. Channeling such anti-Pakistan sentiments, the incumbent government can thus position itself as the only credible deterrent to the bogeyman that Pakistan is being made out to be; In effect, uniting a fractured and divisive polity against an age-old historic enemy.

Considering how India has often accused Pakistan’s foreign policy of being made hostage to Civil-Military tensions and more or less defined by hawkish generals; it is extremely ironic to see how India’s own foreign policy is here being made hostage to local communal and political tensions amongst its own populace. While Mr. Modi may perhaps achieve some semblance of a political victory domestically, one wonders whether it is worth India losing its credibility as a key regional power internationally.

Based on this scenario Pakistan here has a unique opportunity in claiming the moral as well as diplomatic high ground by merely exercising restraint. Instead of playing into the bellicose rhetoric and being goaded in to a tactical misadventure, Pakistan should continue to push for talks emphasizing the need for peace and restraint. This should be done in spite of the inherent weaknesses on display within the Indian government and military.

Therefore, drawing on the century old dictum espoused by visionary US President, Theodore Roosevelt, Pakistan would do well to “Speak softly and carry a Big Stick, ”in response to the increasingly bellicose rhetoric being espoused by India. While much has been made of the ‘Big Stick’ in the form of nuclear deterrence on the international stage, it is the diplomatic finesse required in ‘Speaking Softly’ that is to give Pakistan the edge within the current debates unfolding at the UNGA.

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South Asia

Prospect of peace process between India and Pakistan

Adeela Ahmed

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The Sovereign States frame their foreign policy to set political goals that enable them to interact with the other countries of the world to promote their national interest, national security and enhance national power. The Government of Pakistan along with other challenges is focusing to formulate a vigorous foreign policy. It is a Herculean task but they are motivated to set the foreign policy preferences.  It has adopted an approach of conflict resolution to review their relations with not only with Eastern and Western neighbors but also with Muslims world and Great powers.

It is foremost goal of Pakistan not to confront any country but there would be no compromise on its national interests and national security. However, the incumbents at the helm of affairs are taking significant steps towards improving Pakistan’s relations with the neighboring and significant geopolitical countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is well aware of the fact that the improvement in relations with neighbors would reduce hostility in the region which would benefit not only Pakistan but also bring prosperity to the region. Pakistan is on the track of bringing peaceful relations with India and Afghanistan as peace in neighbors is peace in the Regions.

The international system is moving towards multipolarity. So, it is in the strategic interest of every state to develop good relations with countries to avail new opportunities and counter all the challenges for economic prosperity, regionally and globally, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels.

South Asia has significant Geo strategic importance in the world politics.  The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered among the most strategically important in the world which makes South Asia more important region for trade and global security. Pakistan Government took a big diplomatic step to initiate the Peace Process. The vision of Peace Initiative is to develop cordial relations on equal footings to improve trade and commercial ties. Such diplomatic move is beneficial for both countries and can reduce poverty and economics crises. With such positive proposals, Pakistan realized to avail the international platform of 73th Sessions of United States General Assembly to engage with India for regional connectivity and prosperity.

Keeping aside all the hurdles imposed by US and India to isolate Pakistan at the regional and international level Pakistan wrote letter to Indian counterpart.  The hurdles executed by US and India are as they have placed Pakistan in Financial Action Task Force (FATF) by the global financial watchdog and the United States has frozen aid to Pakistan for the country’s alleged failure to take serious steps in fighting terrorism and extremism. And on top of all that, Pakistan’s relations with neighboring Afghanistan are once again returning to the usual blame-game by Afghan Government due to India propaganda and subversion.

Unfortunately, on 22 September India rejected the step of peace initiative taken by Pakistan government arrogantly by making an excuse of the issuance of stamps of Kashmiri freedom fighters. Although the stamps were issued on July 24, a day before the general elections were held, the issue was raised by Indian media within 24 hours after New Delhi agreed to the meeting.

Actually, it is in the Strategic interest of India to cancel the talks for their domestic political advantage. The reality is that India did not want to engage with Pakistan and to hide its intentions by using old tactics of blame game and fake propaganda. Ridiculously, they criticize Pakistan intentions as “the evil agenda of Pakistan” and nullified the importance of dialogue.  It disappointed Pakistan as the resumption of the peace dialogue is the need of time.

India wants its supremacy in the region by suppressing and isolating Pakistan but Pakistan new government diplomatic tactful moves of improving ties with neighboring Afghanistan and Iran and revive strategic ties with China, Saudi Arabia, and UAE annoys them. They cannot perceive Pakistan growing and flourishing economically. They try to use the political card of “military adventure” on Pakistan but Pakistanis have warned that any misadventure may turn into a disaster. Pakistan will not bear it.

In South Asia, India and Pakistan are Nuclear power states and it put more responsibility on both states to make strategies that will keep safe the interests of the entire region.  The role of rational decision makers who can act pragmatically in the time of crises and conflict without any pressures is like heart line. In that context when we analyse the current situation, the attitude of Indian media, the public pressure is so severe and their domestic politics instigates decision makers to bend and issued harsh irrational statements. Such an attitude is not only against diplomatic norms but also interrupts the conditions of deterrence equation which build stability between nuclear adversaries. Military adventurism is a dangerous step which can cross the threshold and the result would be drastic.

Pakistan Government use the international platform to draw the attention of world about Indian human rights violations against and oppression of the people of India-held Kashmir along with Indian stubbornness in Peace talks with Pakistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated at 73th UNGA forum that Pakistan’s principled position of being open to dialogue and firmly believes that it’s the only way forward to ensure regional peace and stability. Globally it should be noted that India aggressive policies did not want peace and despite Indian belligerence, Pakistan always makes efforts for peace and stability of the entire region.  India has once again wasted a serious opportunity to change the dynamics of the bilateral relationship and has unleashed the hate among the rivalries. It is high time both the countries should realize that the only way forward is regional connectivity through amicable ways as their region is becoming the centre of world economics.

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