Pakistan-US relations have witnessed a severe decline especially after January 2018. Earlier this month, US Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, who was accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford, stayed in Islamabad for nearly five hours during which he met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa in the anticipation of resettling the deteriorating bilateral relations.
During the visit, Pakistan and the United States decided to reset the bilateral ties by giving another shot after the positive initial engagement which resulted in an understanding between the Trump administration and the new Pakistani government on delivering on each other’s expectations.
A positive aura was established during the meeting signaling an encouraging way forward for the relations by both countries. Hopes were paved in finding solutions to the common problems of both countries e.g. Afghanistan. Initially, the goodwill signaled optimism following a press conference by Pakistan’s FM. FM described how “positive” the meeting had been and is sure to bear fruit in future. Hopes were established on matters resolving between the two countries.
It was not long before the situation started to revert. Mr. Pompeo visited New Delhi the very next day after which a joint statement was released at the conclusion of the US-Delhi 2+2 dialogues. The statement made clear that everything Mr. Qureshi had painted in regards to the new set of Pak-US relations was worth no serious consideration. Both Delhi and Washington revealed to “have trained their guns towards Islamabad on the counter-terror front. They held, without vague signals or hidden intentions, Pakistan responsible for spread of terror through proxies. They named groups with Pakistani affiliations and have recalled past events like Mumbai, Uri, Pathankot to point to the alleged plots of terror whose perpetrators need to be brought to the book”. A new series of strategic partnership was also vowed to have began between India and the US to counter the growing military and economic strength of China (and/or Russia) in the region with massive arms trade treaties and other military assistance for each other during the visit.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office denied these allegations quite late- a week after they were presented. The delay helped paint yet another bleak picture on the strength of Pakistan’s foreign standing- giving chance to the critiques to point out Pakistan’s shortcomings in foreign affairs.
In the aforementioned scenario, what strikes the mind is that if Washington was actually serious in helping Pakistan out of the Afghanistan problem and establish fresh start to relations, it should have restrained India’s aggressive design. US had given a surety of security to Pakistan from the Eastern front to let Pakistan focus on stabilizing the Western front in Afghanistan by engaging with the Taliban to harbor a peace process. On the contrary, Washington has sandwiched Pakistan between two hostile neighbors from the east and the west creating a security dilemma or a stalemate for Pakistan both militarily and diplomatically.
Washington was fast to allege Pakistan of leaving terrorist harbors in Afghanistan and not doing action against them but when it had to help Pakistan make sure in achieving victory in Afghanistan (its own interest), it reverted the game by picturing Pakistan as the biggest problem.
Pakistan currently is in no position to create enmity with a regional power- India with the championship of a super power- the US to make it difficult for an economically, politically strained country- Pakistan for the ability to counter it likewise.
A popular notion among the masses of Pakistan is that China or Russia may prove to be better allies to help Pakistan despite the US backing out so prominently. This too is an unreliable dimension since Islamabad’s ties with Moscow are not well enough for Moscow to jump into any military fallout faced by Pakistan in assistance during the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, China, if history is studied, has never set an example of backing Pakistan militarily in the times of need against India. China will never perturb its economic ties with India to help Pakistan out. In this scenario, it is not Pakistan that can determine Chinese or Russian assistance for itself but China and Russia themselves determine how much can they bear for Pakistan keeping their own interests safe.
This grave lesson was not learnt by Pakistan’s government when none of our perceived friends countered Pakistan’s nomination in the FATF grey list by the US. It does not seem to be popular even now when Pakistan is facing a severe strategic threat from both its sides.
Pakistan is facing serious ramifications in its diplomatic as well as strategic arena with the abruption of expected hostility from Delhi and Washington. This is a crucial time where we need to shift our focus towards our foreign policy rather taking a cloak of false ego under the slogan of “Pakistan First” addressing internal matters like the dam fund or tree plantations rendering to be more important.
Pakistan-US bilateral relations are on their lowest ebb in history where vague future prospects are being witnessed. US’s intention to remain significant in the region coupled with its intention to contain China (and/or Russia) in the region has sought it to develop its partnership with India. This partnership has serious implications for Pakistan, foreseeing no future betterment in relations with the US in the short term to midterm time frame. US relations with Pakistan currently are focused more on re-stalemate rather than resettlement.
It is therefore direly vital for Pakistan to shift its focus on severe issues like its foreign standings, diplomacy and international strategic partnerships rather meager internal issues. A wake up call is needed for the government to address this issue on priority and stop living in an age of self-deception that is intentionally promoted at the price of the reality.
70 Years Together: Australia and Sri Lanka Forging Stronger Relations
Authors: Srimal Fernando and Yashodha Rathnayake*
In reinforcing Seventy years of bonds, Sri Lanka enjoys closer foreign relations with Australia than ever before. This bilateralism is an emerging strategic choice, their ties focusing on economic integration. The short and long term engagement of the South Asian Island and the Asia Pacific nation can be a basis for opening opportunities for other neighboring economies. Even though there are many disparities between the two nations, there are also considerable similarities too. Much had happened in the past decades between Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ visit to Sri Lanka in 1950s, and lately by the Premier Malcolm Turnbull’s visit in 2017. In Sri Lanka during an official visit Australian Prime Minister Trurnbull stated “I look forward to continuing our discussions on strengthening our economic links, defense engagement and our work together to combat trans-national crime particularly people-smuggling,”. Further the Colombo Commonwealth summit of 2013 was a transformative moment that laid a solid diplomatic foundation with the presence of Premier Abbott. The age-old bilateral bonds of both countries go beyond diplomacy. Hence the 109 000 Sri Lankan Australians diaspora (Department of Home Affairs; Immigration and Citizenship) can also be a source of strength, pride that forges these bonds between the two nations.
The Sri Lankan conflict was a testing time for Australian foreign relations with the island country. Australia was unwilling to take sides during this time and the relationship drifted a little bit. Yet, the Australian government has positively contributed to various socio – economic causes to uplift Sri Lankan society, especially in war-affected areas. To consolidate these efforts they provided an estimated figure of AUS$27 million in 2008 as overseas development aid (ODA) to Sri Lanka which was torn apart by war. After ending the conflict in 2009 Australia increased ODA levels. Followed by this development assistance in2018 Australians provided AUS$28.6 million. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia)
It might be worth mentioning commercial engagements between these nations. Compared to 1990s, South Asian consumers are now on Australian investors’ radar screen, since the subcontinent economy is growing faster than ever. The current economic vision plan of Sri Lanka is making it much easier for Australian companies to invest in the island nation. The clearest signs of this bilateral stability doubled in 2017, bringing this two way trade figure to AUS$1.4 billion. Hence the current Australia’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, H.E. Bryce Hutchesson stated, ‘’this year’s figures reflects the steady growth in commercial engagement between our two countries. As close friends and Indian ocean neighbors, we’re now seeing the trade and investment relationship expand as Sri Lanka’s economy moves forwards and Australian companies take an increased interest in the Sri Lankan market’’.
The economic integration between Australia and Sri Lanka can occur due to several factors. One of the major reasons is due to its vital geographical position in the Indian Ocean. It is noteworthy to mention Sri Lanka forms a major link for Australian entrepreneurs to gain great preferential market access to over 1.6 billion consumers through South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) arrangement. This framework would be a huge advantage for Australian’s. At the other end of the spectrum on Australian investors could explore low cost outsourcing opportunities. Yet with low coordination efforts this may lead to more promising outcomes. As per Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian companies have invested over AUS$89 million in 2017. With this growing trust Sri Lanka needs to convert the current foreign policy direction that requires to gain a foothold in the Australian market.
The income growth of the new middle class in Sri Lanka enabled to increase in tourist activities. This is more likely to have highlighted the need to expand air and maritime connectivity. Recently Sri Lankan Airline, the national carrier operates daily long haul flights to Melbourne, which had paid off handsomely. Rapid mobility of air services are influencing tourism demands. This has resulted a large number of Australians visiting the island country. As many as 80000 Australian tourist visited Sri Lanka in 2017.(Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), 2017)
But now, Sri Lanka and Australia has turned a new leaf reinforcing through sports diplomacy. In this regard cricket made much sense. There are great stories of how Australian coaches mentored the islanders prior to Sri Lankans becoming globally famous cricketers in 1996. Today sports diplomacy has reached to a point where a trophy was named after the famous cricket legends Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Sri Lanka and Australia test cricket was dedicated to the iconic cricketers.
Symbolic power of education is a part of a larger goal of these forging ties. Australian institutes provide standardise facilities for many Sri Lankan students to pursue higher education. Hence statistics speaks for themselves, where over 9000 Sri Lankan students are studying various subjects in Australia. This country has been the second most popular tertiary study destination for Sri Lankans.
For the success towards stronger diplomatic relations, Sri Lankan foreign policy makers require an out of the box thinking. Australian policy makers also must try to use their influence to create a conducive environment for these bonds to grow. Change for a new direction in stronger ties ultimately requires continuous collaboration.
*Yashodha Jayathmi Rathnayake, a scholar BA (Hons) in English, at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka.
New Government in Bangladesh: Implications for China-Bangladesh Relations
The People’s Republic of China is one of the earliest countries to congratulate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her landslide victory by securing two-third majority in the 11th National Parliamentary Election in Bangladesh, held on December 30, 2018. Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka, Zhang Zuo, and his team paid an official visit to the Prime Minister’s Office, Ganabhaban, on December 31, 2018, to hand over the congratulatory messages to the newly elected Prime Minister from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. This official message denotes China’s continuous support to Bangladesh as well as the potency of their bilateral strategic partnership at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Over the years, especially since 1990s, China has emerged as a cooperative and reliable partner for Bangladesh in the economic development and national security build-up of the latter. Under the constant rule of Sheikh Hasina and her party, Bangladesh Awami League, in Bangladesh since 2009, the relationship has turned into a comprehensive strategic partnership.
In terms of trade, China, at this moment, stands as the largest trading partner for Bangladesh with more than $10 billion of bilateral trade volume. According to the reports provided by the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, the amount of country’s total export to China was $808.14 million in the fiscal year 2015-16, compared to the amount of $319.66 million in 2010-11. At the same time, China’s export to Bangladesh in 2015-16 was worth about $9.8 billion, compared to the amount of $5.9 billion in 2010-11. Economists have predicted that, if the current rate continues like this, the bilateral trade volume would reach up to $18 billion in 2021, when Bangladesh will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Throughout the last decade, Bangladesh has developed an outstanding political relationship with China as well. For example, when Chinese President Xi Jinping’s paid an official visit to Dhaka in October 2016, Bangladesh received him with the highest official greetings ever. It was the first visit by any Chinese head of the state to Bangladesh in 30 years, which is considered as the biggest diplomatic milestone to their bilateral relationship.
During this visit, both countries signed 27 deals and memorandum of understanding (MoUs) worth an amount of $13.6 billion in trade and investment sectors. President Xi has also offered $23 billion loan to Bangladesh for supporting some large-scale infrastructure projects. Prior to that, in May 2014, the China Major Bridge Engineering Company (CMBEC) was awarded for the construction of Padma Bridge, the biggest ever infrastructural project in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been an official partner of China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016. The country is one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) as well. Geographically, Bangladesh is a part of both overland and maritime routes of BRI. It is a member of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) initiative, which focuses on the revival of the Southern Silk Road under BRI by physically connecting the landlocked provinces of Southern China to the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand, the Chattogram sea-port and its adjacent maritime area of Bangladesh have been an integral part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The country has, in fact, received the second highest amount of funding from BRI project in South Asian region, after Pakistan.
Apart from these developments, China has also emerged as a strategic security partner for Bangladesh in South Asia over the last decade. In the period of 2011-2015, for example, Bangladesh became the second highest importer of military equipments from China. In order to strengthen the capacity of Bangladesh Navy under the current regime of PM Sheikh Hasian, Bangladesh purchased two submarines from China, named BNS Nabajatra and Joyjatra, both delivered in 2016. Bangladesh also purchased six surface ships from China in between 2009 and 2015, which include two patrol boats with modest anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities. These technological supports and upgraded equipments from China have enabled Bangladesh Navy to be emerged as a “blue-water” defense force for protecting country’s maritime area.
In terms of education and cultural exchanges, both China and Bangladesh have further developed their cooperation during this period. Several Chinese language institutes have been established, by far, in both public and private universities of Bangladesh. The number of Bangladeshi students studying in China has also been increased significantly with the help of growing number of scholarships from the Chinese government.
Hence, as per the expectations from both sides, the extension of Sheikh Hasina’s government for the third time will contribute to further boost up this bilateral cooperation. China believes that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh will be able to fulfill its “Vision 2021” and, thereby, to become a middle income country by 2021, which would create further opportunities for the promotion of China-Bangladesh friendship in the upcoming days.
Will Pakistan go to IMF finally?
International Monetary Fund (IMF) was created just after World War II (WWII) in 1945. It was the time of re-organization of the world order after massive destruction of WWII. UN and its organizations were establishing and whole world was passing through reforms. The IMF is an organization of 189 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.
The beneficiary of WWII was US, and emerged as leader of World. IMF and World Bank like other UN and International organizations were depending on US funding to some extend and US has been utilizing in expand its economic, political and military influence around the world, frequently. US was involved in appointing head of such organizations directly or indirectly. I leave it to my readers to judge that if IMF and other organizations have achieved its objectives or not?
Pakistan have been knocking doors of IMF since 1958, and it has been 21 agreement with IMF. Generally, IMF provides loans at very low interest rates, and provides programmes of better governance and monitoring too. But for last 6 decades, Pakistan has suffered a lot, in term of good governance. Especially last 2 decades, corruption, nepotism, poor planning, bribery, weakening of institution, de-moralization of society, etc were witnessed. We may not blame IMF for all such evils, but must complain that IMF failed to deliver, what was expected. Of course, it is our country, we are responsible for all evils, and wrong doings happened to us. We have to act smartly and should have made right decision and on right times.
In fact, beneficiary of corruption, is west, and in some of the cases, west has inspired or protected the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in the developing nation and Pakistan is no exception to it. At least, IMF failed to monitor the utilization of funds provided.
IMF also dictates its terms and condition or programmes like: devaluation of local currencies, which causes inflation and hike in prices, cut or draw-back of subsidies on basic utilities like fuel, gas, electricity etc, which causes cost of life rather higher for local people, cut on development expenditures like education, health, infrastructure, and social development etc, which pushes the country backward.
Pakistan was no exception to it in the history of our relations with IMF. Last couple of decades, we could not develop our infrastructure, as a result we are back ward and could not take off economically, could not built Dams and suffering from Power shortage and water crisis, Education, health and social sector was ignored and pushed us rather backward.
In past, whenever we approached IMF, US administration was favoring us, but this time, it was witnessed that US may create hurdles or resistance in the form of additional conditions etc.
Based on experience of 6 decades, Government of Pakistan (GoP) have to make decision, weather to go to IMF or not? It is very serious issue and very sensitive decision. GoP is very serious and in close consultations with various experts from within the government and out side the government. There is a group in Pakistan, lobbying for IMF, as it is cheapest and more structured. Pro-IMF lobbies are more close to PM Imran Khan. While, there are experts who are against IMF and feels in past, if IMF was not helpful for Pakistan, then why to go again for the same tested organization. It is worth mentioning that, Pakistan is a diversified nation, and freedom of expression is ensured by constitution of Pakistan, so many controversial opinions are expected – we enjoy the highest degree of freedom. .
In past, politicians were rather easy to coerce and IMF was successful in their missions. But, today, Pakistan is in safe hands and current leadership is honest, loyal and sincere with Pakistan. The PM Imran Khan is a strong man and will take decision based on principles in the best interest of nation. Sources close to him, feels that till date he is not convince yet, but will take a firm decision soon. His decision will be based on expert advice, national interest and purely merit-based.
However, all other option may be explored and taped, like friendly nations have already extended a hand of financial assistance. Like Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and China. Which has lessen the need of going to IMF to a great extent. It will provide an edge to Pakistan, while negotiating with IMF.
Whatever will be his decision, people of Pakistan trust him and will stand behind him. His decision will be considered the decision of 220 million of Pakistan. Pakistan has a history of “No Default” in last 7 decades to any one of our international obligation or agreement. Pakistan is a civilized, disciplined and matured & resilient nation. We have passed many harsh tests, in last 4 decades and learnt many lessons.
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