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Pakistani elections spotlight the country’s contradictory policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A virulently anti-Shiite, Saudi-backed candidate for parliament in Pakistan’s July 25 election symbolizes the country’s effort to reconcile contradictory policy objectives in an all but impossible attempt to keep domestic forces and foreign allies happy.

Ramzan Mengal’s candidacy highlights Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to Islamic militants at a time that the country risks being blacklisted by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.

It also spotlights Pakistan’s tightrope act in balancing relations with Middle Eastern arch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran while trying to ensure security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), at US$50 billion plus the crown jewel of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and its single largest investment.

Finally, it puts on display risks involved in China’s backing of Pakistan’s selective support of militants as well as the Pakistani military’s strategy of trying to counter militancy by allowing some militants to enter the country’s mainstream politics.

An Islamic scholar, Mr. Mengal heads the Balochistan chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), a banned successor to Sipah-e-Sahaba, an earlier outlawed group responsible for the death of a large number of Shiites in the past three decades.

Pakistan last month removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Pakistani terrorism list, at the very moment that it was agreeing with the Financial Action Task Fore (FATF) on a plan to strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime that would keep it off the groups blacklist.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with Mr. Ludhianvi in recent days.

Military support for the participation of militants in elections was “a combination of keeping control over important national matters like security, defense and foreign policy, but also giving these former militant groups that have served the state a route into the mainstream where their energies can be utilized,” a senior military official said.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mr. Mengal was uninhibited about his relationship with Pakistan’s security forces. “No restrictions at all. I have police security during the election campaign. When I take out a rally in my area, I telephone the police and am given guards for it.,” he said. Mr. Mengal said of the 100 ASWJ operatives arrested in the last two years only five or six remained behind bars.

A frequent suspect in the killings of Hazara Shiites in Balochistan, Mr. Mengal led crowds in chanting “Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (Infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels),” but is now more cautious not to violate Pakistani laws on hate speech.

Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights reported in May that 509 Hazaras had been killed since 2013.

Many of those killings are laid at the doorstep of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violent group that split from Sipah/ASWJ but, according to a founding member of Sipah still has close ties to the mother organization. ASWJ denies that it is still linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

Suicide bombers killed 129 people this month in an attack on a rally of the newly founded Balochistan Awami Party, widely seen as a military-backed group seeking to counter Baloch nationalists. The Islamic State as well as the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Mengal was the alleged conduit in the past two years for large amounts of Saudi money that poured into militant madrassas or religious seminaries that dot Balochistan, the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The funds, despite the fact that it was not clear whether they were government or private monies, and if they were private whether the donations had been tacitly authorized, were widely seen as creating building blocks for a possible Saudi effort to destabilize Iran by fomenting ethnic unrest among the Baloch on the Iranian side of the Pakistani border.

A potential Saudi effort, possibly backed by the United States, would complicate an already difficult security situation in Balochistan, home to the port of Gwadar, which is a key node in China’s massive investment in Pakistan and has witnessed attacks on Chinese targets.

It would risk putting Saudi and Chinese interests at odds and upset Pakistan’s applecart, built on efforts to pacify Balochistan while not allowing its longstanding, close ties to the kingdom to strain relations with its Iranian neighbour.

The Pakistani military’s strategy of easing militants into the country’s mainstream politics is also not without risks for China that in contrast to its South Asian ally has adopted an iron fist in dealing with dissent of its own, particularly in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang where China has implemented extreme measures to counter Uyghur nationalism and militant Islam.

If successful, it would create an alternative approach to counterterrorism. If not, it would reflect poorly on China’s selective shielding from United Nations designation as a global terrorist of a prominent Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.

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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A Review of the Draft National Education Policy 2019

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There is an urgent and imperative need to rekindle dialogue on the shaken education structure in India among politicians and decision makers. While there is a proliferating realization to the finite financial limits of ‘improving literacy rate’, there is a detrimental lack of alternative discourse on the way forward, a futuristic dialogue on the achievable. It is rightfully said that a life without education is like a boat without a rudder. While the solutions to the problem may seem simple to layman’s eyes, it is as multifaceted and dynamic from a microscopic lens. This paper will attempt to review and critique the education system in India in light of the recent National Education Policy 2019 developed by the ministry of human resource development that seeks to propose transformative changes.

The field of education essentially is viewed through a narrow outlook of having normative or static foundations that can be generalized. This is however far from reality. Education system and structure is highly contextual and subjective to the jurisdiction it is studied in. While it is necessary to take cognizance of the fact that metamorphic changes, if any, are gradual, access to basic quality education for many is a far cry. India demands a comprehensive nationwide policy such as this and more importantly the implementation and enforcement of the same. The paper shall enumerate few highlights of the policy as no specific selection can paint an accurate picture of the well-integrated and comprehensive policy.

One of the fundamental solutions to the policy focuses on a key demography to foster a massive positive multipliers effect on the Indian society. It promises high quality education and childhood care for all children between the age bracket of 3 to 6 years by the year 2025. This encompasses the holistic development of the child including healthcare, nutrition and skill development. The vitality of the early years of brain development have been consciously highlighted in the past few years with growing awareness and study in this field.

It is essential that we tackle the grassroots of the issue being the quality of teachers and their accessibility. Professional teacher education and improvement of the quality of the educators is vital to better education and hence multidisciplinary programs for teachers are proposed to be included in large universities. Weak educators lead to weak professional in all fields. A four-year integrated stage – specific B.Ed. programme has been proposed by the HRD ministry and the Draft Committee alongside a restructure of the technical and medical education in the country. It outlines a proposal for the exit examination for medical professionals to create a robust filtering system to enable qualified and erudite individuals into the medical industry, enabling them to do justice to their respective professions.

Back to the fundamentals, the policy seeks to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy through a spectrum of programs and measures that have been carefully drafted and articulated to promote the same. Correspondingly, the draft policy aims to transform the pedagogical structure of the curriculums in the Indian education system for more effective learning that holistically encompasses cognitive, social and emotional development. The learning model will serve equitable emphasis on all fields and subjects, inherently leveling the balance of importance in academic and vocational cum co-curricular training. The examination structure within the Indian education system has for long been critiqued as counterproductive and toxic. It separates the individual from the real process of learning. With that in light, the policy proposes a complete radical revamp of the exam structures to relive the stress factor, strive for improvement in the learning pursuit and assess real learning.

The political and governmental handhold must undoubtedly begin with a substantial increase in the public investment for the normative expansion and vitalization of public education at all levels. While the policy extensively focuses on amending the tangible flaws of the education system in India, it leaves behind the lived reality and cultural context. I believe that it is far more fundamental to break the stigma that revolves around educating people and address the deterrents to pursuing education. The cultural withdrawal of the reluctance of educating girl children and women in rural spaces is a problem that can’t merely be broken down through financing but through a cultural shift in mindset and an awareness of its criticality. Similar is the case with low income workers such as farmer, plumber and technical workmen that seek to pass on the profession to their heirs under the assumption of retrieving faster interest on their investment of time as opposed to the uncertainty that comes with a hard earned financial investment on poor quality education.

Another cultural adaptation to the policy must be vocational categorical training for specific target groups that diverge from the mainstream education such as training of young mothers or single parents in not just rural but also urban spaces. Finally, the indestructible caste system that is simple inseparable from the education system. The reservation system and its debate has been prolonged for decades and a cause for plentiful havoc uprising in urban spaces as merit seeks to triumph status. This is however often shunned through non-discrimination policies but is far more complex than meets the eye.

The crux of the situation in India is the mismanagement and ill balance between the supply and demand of educational resources in the country. There seems to be a wide gap between the allocation of financial expenditure by the government and the actual tangible change it has created in the recent years. Most importantly, a contextual negligence of tackling issues through the lens of different perspectives, actors and stakeholders. India is not necessarily a resource deficit nation, rather the lack of monitoring and utter negligence of the resource management consequently traps many regions of the country under illiteracy. Future development and economic growth of the nation calls for immediate action and a microscopic outlook of the issue by state actors. To deduce, the policy aims at addressing the diverse plethora of needs of multiple stakeholders in a harmonious manner with the goal of providing quality education to all.

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The Torn Red Carpet: Welcome to Nepal in 2020

Sisir Devkota

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In Google’s search rankings, the official website of project Visit Nepal 2020; comes second. Travel agencies in Nepal have replaced their landing pages at the expense of the overall legitimacy of the most genuine online resource. There is a wealth of videos shot in and about Nepal in Youtube; from ticketing companies to vloggers, visiting Nepal in 2020 might entail different things for various people. However, Mount Everest is not getting pink every passing day; the year 2020 will comfortably succeed the prior geologic timescale. All is not lost if one does not make it to Nepal next year. Hence, why the calling?

Across the world, nation branding for tourism is not a new catch. Egypt, Bolivia, Holland and Guatemala, advertise themselves with their official names. For others, a well thought phrase follows the brand image. Maldives-the sunny side of life, Imagine your-Korea, Belize-is closer than you think are other examples. For the rest, global events, does the work. Visit Nepal 2020 sounds the most ambitious of all; despite of less thoughtful investment over the slogan, it is clumsily competing with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, across internet search engines. A lack of strategic branding can cost an entire project. Hence, why the ignorance?

As much as the slogan promises for a great experience, things are not quite ready for the incoming tourists. A national plan aimed for the visit year has stalled and stakeholders are looking for a safe landing. As long as the tourists arrive, Nepal will make money in 2020. Even though farsightedness is out of capabilities, stakeholders are not promoting the false promise; instead, Nepal’s promise has been promoted wrongly. Nepal is one of the poorest nations in South Asia and the economy largely depends on salaries from abroad. It does not take much to comprehend the economics, the 2020 project, is a cash cow for a reclining economy. For all the wrong reasons, Nepal is calling for a temporary settlement. One-step at a time, for now, tightening up for the next year only.

Start a business in Nepal 2020. Explore Nepal in 2020. Seek opportunities in Nepal 2020. Beware of money sucking agencies and institutions, when you visit Nepal in 2020. Nepal’s southern neighbour, India, invites entrepreneurs from all over the world; however, Make in India, has not gained steam, like once anticipated. The think-tank behind Visit Nepal 2020 have lost an edge over possible opportunities; scaled business policies are missing from the project structure. Moreover, Visit Nepal 2020 sounds like a welcome for the newcomers, but history suggests that, incoming tourists are largely returnees, thanks to majestic natural richness.

“Visit Nepal 1998-Once is not enough”, was largely successful in terms of arriving numbers; however, after work has been a sorry state of affairs. Unsurprisingly, if Nepal were not enough at once, there would not have been the need for a visit year, two decades later. Therefore, Visit Nepal 2020 is a re-launch, from the supply perspective. For anticipating visitors, this information seeks responsibility. The visit year would only succeed whilst bottom level stakeholders would benefit from spending. In addition, if the economy manages to thrive from the revenue generated in 2020, it would largely be successful. It is another misconception that recycling slogans would lead to the same result. Local suitors in Nepal would be most excited; for them, it is another chance to rekindle with international visitors. Technology and social media will make the difference; at last, Nepal is waiting to stamp its tourism potential.

Visit Nepal in 2020 for lifetime experiences. Visit Nepal later again for unlimited life experiences. Then, repeat.

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Sri Lanka Appoints New Minister for Foreign Relations

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Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations (Picture source news .cn)

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as  the Minister of Foreign Relations after his  Presidential election in 2019.  In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister  Gunawardena  hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka .His father Philip Gunawardena   is a famous national hero known as ‘the Father of Socialism’. Gunawardena  a  graduate  from the University  of Oregon in the US, entered politics in 1972. In 1983 as  the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP)  he entered Parliament in a  by-election held in Maharagma.  He  is well-known as a  long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.

The new  Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena  is  supposed  to  implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy.   In a recent newspaper interview he stated  “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community”(Sunday Observer,2019).In this context there  is a history to this non-aligned policy.     At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).  As part of this approach, the new  Sri Lankan government had outlined in the  manifesto how the  presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The   manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy .We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister    mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges”. Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is, therefore, vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African  nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals  over the next five years.

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