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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.

Research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa

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South Asia

The need of China- Pakistan ties

Muhammad Usman Ghani

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At times the significance of neighboring countries can’t be denied or ignored. History is the biggest beholder that any country who fancied cordial terms with its neighbors has enjoyed the taste of development and otherwise. In the contemporary world, the links get to establish on the plank of how strong are you economically. Gone are the days when the relationships would foster for the reason of being the nuclear might. At the present era, the countries offer you even hand in case you are economically well instituted and dominate the world market. China the world’s biggest emerging economy is fantasized by the majority of the countries. The countries perceive China as an ideal country to foster good terms.

In this respect, Pakistan is fortunate enough to have the best terms with China. The amicable terms of Pakistan and China are an eyesore for many countries particularly the U.S. and India. The saga of Pak-Sino ties began in 1951 when Pakistan recognized nationalist turned communist China. From those very moments, the relationship between both states experienced the unending boom. The friendship between China and Pakistan has now strengthened much more than ever. The rationale behind that intimate bond is now transactional and strategic needs of both the states.

China an economic giant shares 523kms border with Pakistan and situated in the northeast side of the latter. During recent times its significance for Pakistan has grown multiple times. China is vital for Pakistan strategically and transactionally. The BRI (Belt Road Initiative) that envisages China’s connectivity with the world incorporates CPEC is fate changer for Pakistan. The thriving consummation of CPEC would ensure Pakistan’s economic triumph. Pakistan shares a history of a troubled relationship with India. As per the designs of India, it wants Pakistan diplomatically isolated from each front. When it comes to Afghanistan, the North Alliance there doesn’t enjoy good terms with Pakistan. It doesn’t possess virtuous viewpoints about Pakistan. It has ever blamed Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan. In the west, Pakistan has another neighbor Iran, with which the relationship rosary is somewhat fragile. The U.S. sanctions bearer country (Iran) has mixed contemplations about Pakistan. The story of Pakistan’s ties with Russia doesn’t portray the perfect portrait. Across the continent, there is a global power the U.S. that has a longing desire to dictate Pakistan. It has commanded Pakistan whether it is the cold war or the global war against terror. The U.S. outpoured the money in Pakistan whenever it desired and froze the aid according to its desire. Thus, Pakistan is not at good terms with the U.S.

Amidst all the scenario, Pakistan is in dire need to maintain good terms with the one that could mitigate its sufferings. In this respect, China holds the best prospect. Besides, China always came forward to assist Pakistan on international organizations like the U.N. and the S.C.O (Shanghai Corporation Organization). Along with it China being the dominant member of N.S.G (Nuclear supplier group) has always endorsed Pakistan’s membership bid. On the other side, China negates India’s desire to become a member of the N.S.G. The resolution of the Kashmir issue is among the national interest of Pakistan, and China always stood by Pakistan in this matter. The matter is not confined here, China being an industrial and the technological giant outpours its products in Pakistan. The transfer of technology and products from China to Pakistan has helped the latter up to a greater extent.

Indeed China has been kind to Pakistan, but the question is; why China showers its magnanimity over Pakistan.

The answer has multiple dimensions. Aforementioned, China is dominating the global economy. It is emerging as the world’s biggest economy by upsetting the U.S. This upkeep of China is an eyesore for the U.S. Globally, China shares irksome ties with the U.S.  Last year the U.S. entered into the trade war with China. When it comes to the region, Asia, China finds India as its competitor that seeks regional dominance. Additionally, the consummation of the BRI has now become considerably important for China. China is well aware of these challenges and astute enough to read the trends of the time. It deems Pakistan as a considerate opportunity in this respect.

Pakistan and India are rival countries and vie for the dominance in the South-Asia. Also, India seeks Pakistan’s isolation on the diplomatic front. Whether it is LOC skirmish, water dispute, and the Kashmir issue; India and Pakistan ever remain at loggerheads over any of these issues. Such stalemate is an ideal context for China because the U.S. has opted India as its strategic ally in South-Asia. China, Pakistan, and India all the three countries share borders with each other. Regrettably, these three countries have reservations over territory and have fought wars as well. The nexus of Pakistan and China is undoubtedly capable of countering the Indian interests. However, this nexus is more in favor of China than Pakistan. Engaged in other affairs like trade war, operating the BRI, seeking an alliance with other states; China doesn’t want to involve more in countering India. China sees Pakistan as the best option for this purpose because this serves the interests of China and Pakistan as well.

When it comes to technological advancement, China has hit the mark in the world. Industries, power sector, automation houses, such departments require energy to run. Central Asian Republics (CARs) are renowned for being rich in energy resources, and the unique location of Pakistan joins it with the CARs. The CPEC is initiated for this purpose of providing the shortest route for transiting fuel to China from energy-rich countries, and Pakistan is playing its role as the energy-conduit state. Pakistan through the CPEC is conserving China’s transit cost and time as well.

China and the U.S. share a fraught history of bonds and remain at loggerheads; Pakistan in recent times has also experienced cold shoulder from the U.S. The cold war rival of the U.S., Russia is yet another camp that is not at good terms with the former. The neighbor of Pakistan, Iran that is reeling from the vicious cycle of the economic downturn is also the victim of the U.S. rage. Last year the U.S. torpedoed the JCPOA unilaterally, and during the same year, Donald Trump heralded the sanctions on Iran. Iran also initiated a project with India to counter the CPEC on its Chabahar port. China by the cooperation of Pakistan can incorporate Iran in the CPEC, and the alliance of China, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia can counter the dominance of the U.S.

The recent visit of Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan to Pakistan is a good omen for both countries. The Chinese reservations that reared head following the terrorist attack in Gawadar would diminish by the visit of vice president. Wang Qishan also held meetings with PM Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, CM Usman Buzdar and Governor Punjab Chaudry Ghulam Sarwar.

It is also in the national interest of Pakistan that it should seek an alliance with other countries and the foreign policy agenda of Pakistan has also the same appeal. PM Imran Khan with his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi must have to strengthen the bond further since the cordial bonds with China would ensure Pakistan’s prosperity.

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Tussle Between Hindu Nationalists And Reformists

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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On the evening of January 30, 1948, as he walked to his regular interfaith prayer meeting, Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed.  The assassin Nathuram Godse was a Hindu nationalist who opposed Gandhi’s inclusiveness towards those of other faiths, particularly Muslims. 

Manifested in its worst form in the assassination of a revered figure, this conflict between liberal and nationalist Hindus continues to this day.  The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is the current target of the Hindu nationalist BJP’s scorn.

In India’s recent general election, the BJP and Narendra Modi the prime minister were returned to power with an increased majority in the lower house of India’s parliament.  Their usual poor showing in West Bengal, even though improved in this election, has led to comments designed to arouse public ire — like the state has been turned into a mini-Pakistan.  It is worth noting that Gandhi’s killer was a former member of the RSS, leaving it to form an armed group.  Also the RSS is considered the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, and Mr. Modi continues to be a member. 

Not long ago Gauri Lankesh was murdered outside her home for expressing liberal views.  This time in the Kolkata disturbances against Banerjee, it was a bust of a secular reformist liberal that was decapitated:  the venerated Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891) was a lawyer, philosopher and reformist who contributed to rationalizing the Bengali alphabet and prose, and fought for Hindu widows’ right to remarry.

But the difference between Hindu nationalists and liberals is of earlier origin.  In the 19th century, social reformers like Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade were opposed by others like B. G. Tilak.  If Ranade supported the Age of Consent Bill raising the age when girls could be married from 10 to 12, then Tilak thought it to be an interference by foreigners in Indian customs and traditions.  Tilak had also formed cow protection societies raising communal tensions in his Bombay base — sound familiar to the present situation where meat eaters and leather tanners are often targeted?  Ranade sought to keep religion private and foresaw the potential conflict

The practice of celebrating the birthday of the god Ganesh was old and the ‘puja’ or worship usually performed in the home.  Tilak now encouraged a public ‘puja’, encouraging people to bring the Ganesh idols out of their homes and celebrate openly.  The festival of loud music and idols in procession continues to this day and is now spread out over ten days.

The consequences had been predicted by Tilak’s reformist adversaries, notably Justice Ranade and G. G. Agarkar, the latter a friend 0f Tilak who had become a critic.  In September 1893, Bombay suffered its first communal riot leaving nearly 100 dead and 500 injured.  Minor clashes had already occurred over the incessantly loud music and general disruption of daily activity.

The religious flavor so imparted to the independence movement gave pause to Muslims; the glue binding secular society was being dissolved.  Feeling marginalized, they soon formed the Muslim League to protect their rights, and not long thereafter began to demand a separate homeland … Pakistan. 

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Nuclear Suppliers Group: 29th Plenary Meeting

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Following the June’s 2018 plenary in Latvia, Nuclear Supplier Group is once again all set to held its next meeting in June 2019 in Kazakhstan. From transparency till criteria based admittance and further discussion upon technical and political admittance, NSG stepped through the innumerable stages. The 29th meeting is expected to be mostly focused on the agenda of accepting the memberships of new applicants, India and Pakistan.

28th plenary meeting came forward with discussion of 48 governments on all the developments of NSG meetings till date along with observers. They revised the strong binding on prevention of proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Participating governments also exchanged the information regarding global proliferation challenges and implementation of NPT worldwide. It included reconfirmation of commitment of Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) to United Nations Security Council resolutions 2371, 2375, 2397 and all previous resolutions.NSG also reviewed continued binding of Iran to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and E3/EU+2. Discussions were also proceeded on requests of participation. As it was discussed earlier in 2016th meeting to create space for technical, legal and political aspects of non-NPT members.

Earlier NSG discussed about strengthening the transparency of the organization. It felt need to update its guidelines considering the nuclear related industry and global security. Strengthening the NSG policies, its transparency, Peaceful use of nuclear energy, prevention of nuclear proliferation, nuclear exports with appropriate safeguards, physical and technical protections, adherence to the NPT and JCPOA policies are the basic aims behind the organization. Previously NSG condemned DPRK’s nuclear tests and Iran’s nuclear program showing its strong assertion. The process however was often politicized and biased in historical events where China seems to be in favor of Pakistan while Russia and USA preferred India’s stance. Back in 2012 Australia supported India’s entry to the group. Previously India and America condemn the sale of nuclear reactors of China to Pakistan. It was the part of same series in global politics.

NSG released “Updated Control List” following the 28th plenary meeting to reaffirm the strong binding and implementation of NPT as well as JCPOA. In January 2019 China once again made it obvious with its statement. The admittance of non NPT members is against the basics of NSG. It will be worth assuming that the rules and regulations of NSG or any other international or national organization are always tend to get mold at the need of the hour. Governments are manipulating these basics according to their benefits. Acceptance of applications of membership by India and Pakistan would definitely mean to deviate from the basics of the NSG. As most of the meetings in previous decade were focused on criteria based membership and adherence to the NPT rules along with observation of IAEA principalities.

Going through the sequence of events Nuclear Supplier Group nurtured through the couple of years. Accepting the membership of non NPT members Pakistan and India are against guidelines of NSG. Nuclear non-proliferation and productive use of weapons is its basic principle. If NSG governments make a consensus upon accepting the memberships based on legal, technical and political reasons it will deviate from basic norms and principles of NSG. However flexibility is the second option. It can be the softest possible gesture in any kind of setup. Through flexible rules and regulations and to absorb changing whenever required, any organization can be best fitted into the system. Likewise NSG may become supple enough to consider the options otherwise then the non NPT membership condition. Flexibility is the beauty of anything. Rigidness does not let any setup modernize according to the hour of the hour. Same fits for the NSG membership for Pakistan and India. However on the other hand taking stake of the very basics of any organization would be behind normal. It may demolish its transparency and reputation. So NSG has choice whether to maintain its reputation or to become flexible enough to absorb the changes at greater platform.

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