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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.

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

Post-UNGA: Kashmir is somewhere between abyss and fear

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Hailed as a hero for calling out New Delhi’s draconian measures in occupied Kashmir, Imran Khan warned the world of a “bloodbath” once India lifts its lockdown of Jammu and Kashmir. He persuaded global leaders to denounce the brutalities and human rights violations unleashed on Kashmiris ever since the disruption of the decades old status quo, which had been granted by the symbolic autonomy of Articles 370 and 35(A) within the Indian constitution. The constitutional coup d état ensures the alienation of Kashmiris in IOK beyond the point of redemption with massive spillover effects across the LOC. Pakistan is home to 4,045,366 self-governed and independent Kashmiris as per the 2017 census, who are desired of more than a political and diplomatic support for their brothers in IOK. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars on the Kashmir issue.

Focusing on the brazen denial of core human values, Imran Khan prognosticated a more radicalized world as the scourge of radicalism finds more fodder in a discriminated society. If climate change is ignored, the clichés of religious affiliation continues and the inherent right of self-determination remains disregarded, violent reaction is inevitable. He said, “we all know that marginalisation leads to radicalization”… “No one did research that before 9-11, the majority of suicide bombers in the world were Tamil Tigers. They were Hindus”, but Hindus rightly escaped the blame since belief and religion has nothing to do with desperation.

Imran Khan talked more like Gandhi than the nation of Gandhi itself. He reminded the world of the reincarnation of the progrom and racial ridden medieval periods when religion and state were inseparable .It has reshaped and now resides more in inter-state relations while negatively stirring regional cooperation and globalization. Already enwrapped in a world of deprivation, the fifth largest population of South Asia is fearfully seen at the brink of a nuclear war with there being very few options left for a seven times smaller nuclear state of Pakistan, which has been already driven to the wall. The speech was well received and touched a chord with many Kashmiris reeling under the unprecedented communications blackout and travel restrictions in place since August 5.

“It felt like there is someone to watch our back. It felt that someone is talking for us, that we are not alone”, was the feeling commonly displayed. Hundreds of affected Kashmiri stakeholders came out of their homes, shouting slogans in support of Imran Khan and calling for the independence of Kashmir despite the movement restrictions and deployment of additional force by India in Srinagar.A fresh charge sheet has also been filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India against the chief of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, (JKLF) Yasin Malik, and other leaders including Asiya Andrabi, and Masarat Alam on October 4, 2019.

Conjuring up his dystopian vision, Prime Minister Modi made no mention of the disputed region of Kashmir in his read-out speech at the UN along the lines of diplomatically bureaucratic explanation. He only ticked the fanciful boxes of development, progress, and world peace, annihilation of terrorism and protection of environment. This speech however, was soon followed by a threat from his own government’s defence minister calling for the liberation of Pakistani Administered Kashmir as the next step in India’s quest for regional dominance.

Moreover, Imran Khan has also expressed his fears in his erstwhile meetings with Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Trump has offered mediation, but only if both Pakistan and India agree. A senior US diplomat for South Asia called for a lowering of rhetoric between India and Pakistan, while saying that Washington hoped to see rapid action by India to lift restrictions it has imposed in Kashmir and the release of detainees there. Similarly, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, in his address to the General Assembly on 27 September stated that,;”The Kashmir issue, a dispute left from the past, should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”

Nonetheless, an arrogant denial by India to the support of Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir by Turkey and Malaysia is more of an inept understanding of diplomacy and international commitment. India needs to step out of the skeptical comprehension of the role of the UN that was pronounced by Ms. Vidisha Maitra India’s Permanent Mission to the UN. The sway of diplomatic terms espoused with preconceived historical interpretations could be misguiding for political leaders. Modi needs to keep his ears close to the ground to save his political future. It is an extensional battle for Kashmiris. No concertina wire can blur the contradiction in his approach to the issue, “when they are in India they say it is an internal issue and when they are on the international forums, they consider it a bilateral issue,” said one of the residents of Srinagar. Confusion exacerbates the fear, which consequently becomes a forerunner to terrorism. Same goes for the US whose mediator’s role gets paradoxical by Trump’s close alliance with Modi in his perusal of Asia-Pacific policy. Though, Imran Khan is perpetually using his political and diplomatic influence proactively, to mobilize both the international community and his own people, the anti-India feeling, the pro-militancy sensitivity and the general sense of despair — is stronger than before in Kashmir.

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Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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