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America’s Failures in Afghanistan: What are the Russian Plans?

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President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not inward looking but very much outward looking and has clearly shown its intentions to exert in its near abroad. Near Abroad is an official terminology used in military, political and economic doctrines of the Russian state, its meaning is the rightful sphere of influence of Russia in the surrounding regions which culturally and politically belonged to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. And Afghanistan is next to Near Abroad and historically a country Russians have always vowed to control with certain parts of the Russian State Establishment even considering it as an extended Near Abroad.

In September 2015, a meeting was held between the former leader of the Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and Russian President Vladimir Putin with the agenda being potential cooperation. Putin unofficially met with Mullah Akhtar Mansur at a military base in Tajikistan, and this meeting received very minimal publicity in the mainstream media. According to some reports, its purpose was to discuss bilateral cooperation in the fight against the Daesh which is gaining influence in Afghanistan. Since then Russian State Establishment has gone on expanding contacts with the Taliban and they want to achieve the following objectives:.

First, while maintaining ties with the Taliban, Russia reminds the West of the inadmissibility of ignoring Moscow’s interests in the discussion of plans relating to Afghanistan at regional and international platforms. In January 2016, in order to advance the peace process in Afghanistan, a Quadripartite Coordination Group (QCG) was formed, which included the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Four participating countries held meetings concerning negotiations with the Taliban. Russia felt isolated, although the efforts of QCG ultimately did not lead to success.

Secondly, while supporting the Taliban, the Russian political leadership seeks to strengthen the barriers which halt spreading of US and NATO influence in the region. Since 2001, more than 3 thousand US troops have died in Afghanistan fighting against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In addition to active participation in the Middle Eastern processes, Moscow also intends to expand its influence beyond Central Asia, including inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thirdly, Russia feels the threat posed by the influence of Daesh in Afghanistan. Since 2014, Daesh has been increasing its influence on the territory of Afghanistan, which, as the Kremlin fears, may lead to its expansion, including in the north, to the countries of Central Asia and to Russia itself. The Taliban and Daesh have been fighting each other, so Russia found it necessary to extend a helping hand to the Taliban.

In December 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry officially and publically announced that Moscow was exchanging intelligence information with the Taliban in the framework of military operations against the Daesh. The experience of Russia’s regional cooperation with Iran and Turkey in the Syrian settlement, which brought some success, suggests that Moscow can try to apply this approach in Afghanistan, involving Iran in joint actions.

Fourth, another headache for Moscow is Afghan opium. Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the total illegal drugs in the world, which are mainly produced in the territories controlled by the Taliban. Drug producers in Afghanistan look at Russia as one of the largest markets in the world. Every year, the illegal use of narcotic drugs kills 70 thousand people in Russia. Thus, the leadership in Moscow believes that in the fight against drugs the Taliban can be a better partner than the national unity government of Afghanistan.

The Russian support of the Taliban will have numerous consequences for the future of Afghanistan. It will weaken the authority of the central government in Kabul, which as a result will lead to the creation in Afghanistan of the situation that already exists in Syria. However, while in Syria Russia supports the government of President Bashar al-Assad, in Afghanistan, supporting the Taliban, Moscow will limit the power of American sponsored government in Kabul.

There is also a larger goal of achieving international consensus – the exclusion of the US from the processes which lead to conflict resolution in Afghanistan. This is one more incentive for Moscow’s ties with the Taliban, achieving an international consensus on Moscow’s strategy aimed at selective interaction with the Taliban will strengthen Russia’s international status as a mediator in conflict resolution at the expense of the US. Since December 2016, Russia has been holding regular diplomatic negotiations to resolve the political crisis in Afghanistan. Among other things, these talks call for moderate Taliban groups to participate in peace talks with the Afghan government.

The US refuses to participate in these negotiations because of its reluctance to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban. However, the expansion of these negotiations from the tripartite summit of Russia, China and Pakistan in December 2016 to the forum of 11 states in April 2017 with the participation of representatives of Central Asian countries, Iran, India and Afghanistan shows that the selective strategy of cooperation developed by Moscow with the Taliban movement has weight age and finds recognition from regional partners .

European leaders are reluctant to agree to a diplomatic dialogue with the Taliban as well, but pro-Russian Afghan politicians pay attention to the relationship between the strategies for engagement with the Taliban, which the countries of Europe and Russia adhere to. Former pro-Kremlin President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai said in April 2017 that Norway and Germany have been negotiating with the Taliban for many years, and criticizing Russia’s relations with the Taliban from the West, he said, is a manifestation of double standards.

The precedent already exists. Since the US conducted secret talks with the Taliban in 2012, Russian politicians believe that under the influence of international pressure and in the absence of active military operations in Afghanistan, Washington can return to the strategies of interaction again in the Trump presidency like his predecessor Obama.

If the United States follows the example of Russia and recognizes the need to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban, then the international community’s representation of Russia as a great power will increase significantly. Moscow’s response to international crises, such as those involving Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea, is aimed at turning Russia into a counterweight to the United States. This indicates that in the pursuit of this status, the success or failure of Moscow’s interaction with the Taliban is associated with serious consequences.

In short, Russia’s selective interaction with moderate members of the Taliban movement casts doubt on US negotiating strategies for this Afghan militant organization. And Russian politicians, promoting a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan and gaining international recognition through their diplomatic interaction with the Taliban, can help strengthen the status of Russia again as a great power and an indispensable intermediary in resolving crisis situations and conflicts around the world.

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South Asia

A double-edged sword: China and Pakistan link up with fibreoptic cable

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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This month’s inauguration of a fibreoptic cable linking Pakistan with China could prove to be a double-edged sword. Constructed by Chinese conglomerate Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd, the cable is likely to enhance both Pakistan’s information communication technology infrastructure as well as the influence of Chinese authoritarianism at a moment that basic freedoms in Pakistan are on the defensive.

The $44 million, 820-kilometre underground Pak-China Fibre Optic Cable links Rawalpindi with the Chinese border at Khunjerab Pass and is backed up by a 172-kilometre aerial cable. A second phase of the project is likely to connect to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan, a key node in China’s US$ 50 billion plus infrastructure-driven investment in the South Asian state, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The cable is expected to provide terrestrial links to Iran and Pakistan and serve as a conduit to the Middle East, Europe and Africa through hook ups with submarine cables.

The inauguration of the cable came days after China launched two satellites for Pakistan from the Jiuquan Space Center in Inner Mongolia, to provide remote sensing data for CPEC.

The satellites are expected to monitor natural resources, environmental protection, disaster management and emergency response, crop yield estimation, urban planning and provide CPEC-related remote sensing information.

The prominence of Pakistani military officers, including General Qamar Bajwa, Pakistan’s top military commander and Major General Amir Azeem Bajwa, the head of the Special Communications Organisation (SCO), at the inauguration underlined the cable’s strategic and potentially political importance.

Pakistan’s military sees the cable as a way of ensuring that the country’s in and outbound traffic does not traverse India. Major General Bajwa told lawmakers last year that the current “network which brings internet traffic into Pakistan through submarine cables has been developed by a consortium that has Indian companies either as partners or shareholders, which is a serious security concern.”

The key to the cable’s potential political significance lies buried in the Chinese-Pakistani vision that underlines CPEC against the backdrop of Chinese concern about the messiness of Pakistani politics and the People’s Republic’s support of what it sees as the behind-the-scenes stabilizing role of the country’s powerful military.

A leaked draft outline of the vision identified as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the outline said.

The vision appears to suggest addressing security primarily through stepped up surveillance  based on the model of a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state in parts, if not all of China, rather than policies targeting root causes and appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

The draft linked the fibreoptic cable to the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Pakistan’s Ministry for Planning, Development, and Reform said at the time that the draft “delineates the aspirations of both parties”

The cable’s facilitation of aspects of the Chinese surveillance state and soft power strategy occurs in a country in which feudal and patronage politics dominate the countryside and the military has sought to severely curb media coverage in the run-up to elections scheduled for July 25.

Democracy has become a terrifying business in the villages of Pakistan. Elections might change the federal and state governments, but the feudal and punitive power structures in the countryside don’t change. The feudal lords offer allegiance to the new ruler and continue to oppress the poor villagers,” said Ali Akbar Natiq, a scholar, poet and novelist who returns every two weeks to his home district of Okara in Punjab, in an article in The New York Times.

The media crackdown involves censorship of TV channels, newspapers and social media, including preventing the distribution of Dawn. An English-language newspaper, Dawn was established by Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah before the 1947 partition of British India, as a way for Muslims to communicate with the colonial power.

Cable operators were advised to take Dawn’s TV channel off air, advertisers were warned to shy away from the paper while its journalists were harassed. Other journalists and media personalities have been kidnapped or detained by masked men believed to be linked to military intelligence.

Columnist and scholar S. Akbar Zaid said last month that he was advised by Dawn that the paper could no longer publish his column “because of censorship problems that they are facing with regard to the military and its agencies. They say that the threats are very serious,” Mr. Zaid said.

Daily Times journalist Marvi Sirmed reported that her home was burgled and ransacked last month. The intruders took her computers, smartphone, and her passport as well as those of members of her family but left valuables such as jewellery untouched.

Pakistan’s military has denied cracking down on the media although it conceded that it was monitoring social media.

Bloggers, including well-known journalist Gul Bukhari, are among those who have been detained and released in some cases only weeks later.

A guard in a detention centre where five bloggers were held last year for three weeks, alongside ultra-conservative militants, told his captives:, according to one of the detainees: “You are more dangerous than these terrorists. They kill 50 or 100 people in a single blast, you kill 600,000 people a day,” a reference to the 600,000 clicks on the bloggers’ Facebook page on peak days.

In an editorial published after months of harassment Dawn charged that “It appears that elements within or sections of the state do not believe they have a duty to uphold the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. Article 19 of the Constitution is explicit: ‘Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press.’ The ‘reasonable restrictions’ that Article 19 permits are well understood by a free and responsible media and have been consistently interpreted by the superior judiciary.”

The paper went on to say that Dawn “considers itself accountable to its readers and fully submits itself to the law and Constitution. It welcomes dialogue with all state institutions. But it cannot be expected to abandon its commitment to practising free and fair journalism. Nor can Dawn accept its staff being exposed to threats of physical harm.”

At the bottom line, Pakistan’s new fibreoptic cable promises to significantly enhance the country’s connectivity. The risk is that visions of Chinese-Pakistani cooperation in the absence of proper democratic checks and balances threaten in Pakistan’s current political environment to undermine the conditions that would allow it to properly capitalize on what constitutes a strategic opportunity.

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India Ranked at Top as the Most Dangerous Country for Women

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Thomson Reuters Foundation in its recent survey released on June 26, 2018 ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women.

More than 500 global experts on women’s issues took part in a survey covering areas such as healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual and non-sexual violence and human trafficking. Not enough was being done to tackle the dangers women faced, they said. India was ranked fourth in a similar study conducted in 2011.

Afghanistan and Syria were ranked second and third in the study, followed by Somalia and Saudi Arabia. The only western nation in the top ten was the USA. The foundation said that this was directly related to the #MeToo movement

According to government data gathered in the study, crimes against women in India rose by more than 80 per cent between 2007 and 2016. Nearly 40,000 rapes were reported in 2016, despite a greater focus on women’s safety after the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012 that prompted nationwide protests and led to tougher laws against sexual abuse being introduced.

India recorded 539 cases of sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016, 170 per cent from 2006, a report from last year suggested. However, campaigners have said that those figures are only the tip of the iceberg; a 2017 survey by India’s National Bar Association found that nearly 70 per cent of victims did not report sexual harassment.

Manjunath Gangadhara, an official at the Karnataka state government, said: “India has shown utter disregard and disrespect for women. Rape, marital rapes, sexual assault and harassment, female infanticide has gone unabated. The fastest-growing ecnomy and leader in space and technology, is shamed for violence committed  against women.”

Some observers pointed out that the study, while it took in wider streams of figures, was primarily based on opinion.

Upasana  Mahanta, of Jindal Global University in Delhi, told The Times: “I’m not sure that India is any more dangerous now than it was six years ago. In terms of progress, having only legal provisions  will not make the difference. Most studies show that women in India are mostly victims of violence from their partners or family members. Which shows they are hurt because they are women, regardless of cultural, economic or social factors. Women are basically being put in their place through violence.”

In the past year several prominent rape and murder cases involving children have led to the introduction of the death penalty for those convicted and speedier trial process for violence against females.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development declined to comment on the survey results, said the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news network’s philanthropic arm.

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Pakistan: A New Space Era

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Pakistan’s fragile economy and resource restraints are the main hurdles in the way of technological development, especially in space affairs. Therefore, it is so obvious that Pakistan governments’ priorities were off the beam in term of emphasis on space technology. Notwithstanding, Pakistan has taken a small step by launching two indigenously manufactured satellites, Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A (PakTES-1A) into orbit using a Chinese launch vehicle.

PRSS-1 is an earth observational and optical satellite, which will allow SUPARCO to analyze its imagery requirements in terms of land mapping, agriculture classification and assessment, urban and rural planning, environmental monitoring, natural disaster management and water resource management for the socio-economic development of the country. After the launch, Pakistan has joined the elite club to have its own remote sensing satellite in orbit.

Pakistan is an active participant of international cooperation of Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO). The APSCO is an inter-governmental institute functioned as a non-profit independent body with full international legal status. Its Members include space agencies from Bangladesh, China, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey. The recent launch of satellites by Pakistan is an extension of support given by APSCO. Therefore, it is the conceding fact that after the successful launches of PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A projects, the space collaboration between Pakistan and China with respect to APSCO will be further strengthened.

The launch of two new satellites will facilitate SUPARCO in developing indigenous capabilities in space technology and promote space applications for socio-economic uplift of the country. Recently, an international conference on the Use of Space Technology for Water Management was hosted by the SUPARCO in March 2018. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) – were jointly organizing the Conference. The conclusion of the conference was that there mote sensing satellite technology i.e. PRSS-1, have validated established competences in terms of water resource management.

Pakistan is rapidly becoming a water-stressed country and according to some estimates, it could face mass droughts by 2025. In this scenario, a remote sensing satellite will be very beneficial in accumulating the data for future plans to fight against this evolving threat. PRSS-1 will use remote sensing techniques to outline the surface water bodies, assess meteorological variables like temperature and precipitation, estimate hydrological state variables like soil moisture and land surface characteristics, and fluxes such as evapotranspiration will be compiled by scientific methods.

Pakistan along with other South Asian states is the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Satellite remote sensing is a useful scientific tool in understanding the climate system and its changes. The technologies and information related to space contribute a fundamental role in climate knowledge, science, monitoring and early warning. Space-based information can subsidize to calculations of the vulnerability of societies to climate change and can help monitor the efficiency of adaptation strategies.

Agriculture holds a great significance for Pakistan and being an agrarian economy, all institutions should be playing a positive role for consolidation in the agriculture sector. The professions related to agriculture i.e. farmers, agronomists, food manufacturers and agricultural policymakers can concurrently augment production and profitability by using space-based technology. The best apparatus to monitor and enhance agriculture development is a remote sensing satellite, which provides key data for monitoring soil, snow cover, drought and crop development. Remote sensing satellite can assess and record precipitation for farmers to assist them in scheduling the timing and amount of irrigation they will need for their crops. Precise data and examination can also benefit in forecasting a region’s agricultural output well in advance and can be critical in anticipating and mitigating the effects of food shortages and famines.

In this era of technological advancement, the Global community today faces a series of non-tradition threats such as climate change and the management of depleting natural resources. In the backdrop of emerging requirements of societal and economic development, geospatial technology is evolving as a top technological domain in the 21st century. The technologies related to earth observation and remote sensing techniques are getting growing interest from the academia, scientists, governments and industries. Pakistan is increasing its efforts in managing natural resources, enhance sustainable urban and territorial development initiatives, facilitate the conservation of forests and valuable biodiversity habitats. Space technologies must benefit all countries; therefore, the international community must support Pakistan to ensure the peaceful application of its space programme.

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