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Lessons from History for a New Pakistan

M Waqas Jan

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As Prime Minister Imran Khan’s newly elected government pushes forward his vision of a ‘Naya (New) Pakistan’, it is important that the lessons learnt from the country’s troubled past also be kept mind. These include lessons learnt not only from the sub-continent’s colonial past, but also from the series of events that inevitably led to the East Pakistan debacle. While much has been written on the country’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, there exists a glaring lack of honest introspection into the events that led to the secession of East Pakistan. As 16th December, the date of Pakistan’s surrender of its Eastern Wing quietly passes by, it is worth revisiting why this ignominy has been more or less self-censored as part of the country’s national discourse.

As many scholars have noted over the last few decades, Pakistan’s history has itself become a site of contestation amongst various commentators. The very idea of an official narrative, with all its discursive underpinnings is one that has been argued against consistently by some of the country’s leading scholars. These arguments have themselves become enshrined in much lauded works such as K.K Aziz’s seminal ‘The Murder of History’ or for instance Ayesha Jalal’s‘ The Sole Spokesman’. With an emphasis on deconstructing the country’s dominant historical narrative, a common theme running throughout these works is the call for greater introspection from which to perceive and contextualize the present. By taking a step back and laying bare the many myths that have been propagated as part of Pakistan’s culture and identity, it is important that the lessons learnt from our troubled past are employed in the present, lest we remain doomed of repeating the same mistakes over and again.

Applying this approach to the history of East Pakistan, the consensual narrative that is widely presented revolves around how it was Indian interference that primarily led to the secession of a key territory comprising of 55% of the country’s overall population. It attributes India’s long-standing animosity towards Pakistan as the primary cause for the creation of Bangladesh. Hence, in the vast majority of history text-books being taught in schools throughout Pakistan, the emphasis has largely been on how India served as the architect of this traumatic and psychological setback to Pakistan, severing the close historical, cultural, and religious ties that had once bound East Pakistan together with its Western wing.

What this narrative completely ignores however is the decades of neglect, mismanagement and systemic marginalization of East Pakistan’s population at the hands of the dominant status quo in Pakistan’s Western wing. Politically under-represented, economically marginalized and even culturally ostracized, one wonders what recourse was left to these citizens who had merely traded colonial subjugation under the British, for second-class citizenship within a newly independent Pakistan. While India did play a dominant military role in the 1972 conflict which eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh; laying the blame entirely on Indian interference is ignoring the decades of policies and systemic marginalization for which the then governments of Pakistan are largely to blame. Not to mention the unprecedented violence which the Pakistani military resorted to in its last ditch efforts at maintaining its control over the Eastern Wing.

It is no surprise that based on the prevailing politics of the South Asian region, this narrative which emphasizes Indian interference has been further reinforced over the last seven decades’ animosity between India and Pakistan. In fact, drawing on the steady deterioration of Indo-Pak ties, it remains hostage to the prevailing accusations of cross-border terrorism and state-sponsored unrest currently being leveled by both countries against one another. Pakistan for instance has repeatedly pointed out that India has long been fomenting unrest in Balochistan and its adjoining tribal areas, in effect waging a proxy war along the same lines as it did in former East Pakistan. There exists credible evidence linking certain militant groups operating within these areas directly with the Indian state and military.

However, owing to the heavily securitized nature of Pakistan–India relations, such claims and activities have over the years sadly become accepted as the norm rather than the exception. This ‘normalization’ has in turn allowed previous Pakistani governments to easily attribute widespread underdevelopment and the lack of security within the country to the nefarious ‘external hand’ of foreign powers.

Hence, while there is a certain truth to the considerable extent to which India’s nefarious designs have impacted the country’s progress and development, this should not be used as an excuse for the Pakistani government’s own lack of policy and proper governance. This holds especially true for some of Pakistan’s most marginalized regions.

There is no denying that there has for instance existed a very real historic marginalization of the people of Balochistan as well as the tribal areas to the North. There exists even today a glaring lack of infrastructure development as well as a severe dearth of basic public goods such as education and healthcare. While these factors alone may not warrant a full-fledged secessionist movement, they do create certain conditions to be exploited by the state’s adversaries.

If the prevailing narrative regarding East Pakistan is taken as an example, there is still perhaps a long way to go before the Pakistani state fully accepts and takes ownership of its own shortcomings with regard to its development focus. If Pakistan is to better insulate these troubled areas from external influences, what’s required is an honest and deep introspection on how to truly re-prioritize the country’s economic development and governance agenda. If not, then history shows that there is unlikely to be anything Naya (New) in the newly elected government’s vision for Pakistan.

Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad. He can be reached at waqas[at]thesvi.org

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South Asia

This is Pakistan

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With an unprecedented progress in politico-socio-economic domains, Pakistan has a new face in the world. It has not only successfully corrected misplaced perceptions about it, but the internal and external circumstances around it have also changed, which has helped shaping Pakistan its renewed look according to changed regional and international environment. The successes at the security front has also led to the economic progress in Pakistan.

In result of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and anti-extremism operations, it lost tens of thousands of people, including soldiers and civilians. Pakistan’s strong resolve together with sustained military operations against terrorist elements, however, brough back peace and stability in the country. According to Security Report 2019 by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), “Pakistan witnessed a further decline in the number of terrorist incidents and consequent casualties… terrorist attacks this year decreased by around 13 percent as compared to 2018.” The report clearly depicted a gradual decrease in terrorist attacks and casualties since 2009. In this regard, Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) helped eliminating the menace of terrorism from the country. The improved security situation in the country resulted in the economic dividends in the shape of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan is also appreciated for its nuclear material safety. In its annual report, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) – a leading United States non-proliferation watchdogdivulged that “Pakistan’s improvements in the Security and Control Measures category are significant because strengthened laws and regulations result in durable boosts in Pakistan’s score as well as provide sustainable security benefits.” While appreciating Pakistan’s further improvement in nuclear materials’ safety, Laura Kennedy, a former United States diplomat, tweeted that “one welcome bit of news reported by #NTIindex is that #Pakistan ranked as most improved in security of those countries holding nuclear materials.”

Pakistan’s fight against Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) is used as a role model by developed countries of the world. The Government of Pakistan (GoP) revealed a PKR 1.13 trillion relief package to help to the powerless and securing industry and other organizations. The concept of ‘Smart Lockdown’ also reaped its dividends and Pakistan has come out from the dangers of this deadly virus.

On the socio-economic front, Pakistan is making progress as well. For instance, the current account deficit has reduced from US$ 20 billion to US$ 3 billion together with a significant decrease in trade and fiscal account deficits. The stalled construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam has also been approved, which will result in additional water supplies for better agricultural production. There has been increase in the rights activism i.e., Transgender Pride March, Aurat March, Climate March, and Student Solidarity March. Women sports stars of Pakistan won international medals and recognitions.For instance, 8-year-old Pakistani Taekwondo star Ayesha Ayaz won a bronze medal for Pakistan at the 7thFujairah Taekwondo Open Championship in United Arab Emirates (UAE); Hajra Khan won 3 Guinness World Records; Mahnoor Shahzad won the Annapurna International Badminton Tournament; Nida Dar became the first Pakistani woman to sign a deal with an international cricket league, Sydney Thunder; Shahida Abbasi from Hazara won one of the total two gold medals for Pakistan at the South Asian Games 2019; and Mallak Faisal Zafar won first position in the Basic Novice Girls II category at the 24th International Eiscup Innsbruck 2019. Test cricket also returned to Pakistan.

Culturally, Pakistan is projecting itself more prominently. Pakistani celebrities are mamking it to international fashion weeks – Mushk Kaleem and Alicia Khan walked the ramp for Milan Fashion Week 2019. Pakistani film Laal Kabootar won the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival for the Best Feature Film Award. ActressMahira Khan was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, strengthening the bond between the people of Pakistan and the international community. Moreover, Mehwish Hayat was appointed ambassador to UK based international humanitarian charity, Penny Appeal.

On the entrepreneurial front, 9 Pakistanis made it to Forbes’ coveted 30 under 30 Asia list: Ahmed Rauf Essa: Founder, Telemart; Karishma Ali, President, Chitral Womens Sports Club; Laila Kasuri, Water Analyst, Global Green Growth Institute; Hanaa Lakhani, Hasan Usmani,Gia Farooqi and MoneebMian, Cofounders, Roshni Rides, Zain Ashraf, Founder, Seed Out; and Zainab Bibi, Founder, Pakistan Society for Green Energy (PSGE).

Regionally, Pakistan’s foreign policy is paying its dividends. Pakistan’s relations among Iran, Afghanistan, Sri-Lanka, Russia, United States and others has improved significantly. Overall, there is many encouraging events happening in and around Pakistan.

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South Asia

Post-Pandemic Politics

Usman Ghani

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Franklin Roosevelt has rightly put it, ‘In politics, nothing happens accidentally. If anything happens, it’s palpable that it planned this way’. Numerous features have been defining pre-pandemic world politics over the years. The current situation shows that pandemic will only reinforce largely five global fault lines that have been characterizing the global environment even in the pre-pandemic phase. Form this we can extrapolate the future course of global politics. 

The first and the obvious feature is the rising multi-polarity with power being diffused vertically and horizontally between countries and within countries because citizens become more impart by accessible cheaper technologies. Therefore, global power especially economic power continues to be redistributed while the state power also continues to be eroded by the greater influence of non-state actors both good and bad. In today’s world, no single power can achieve outcomes on its own. It can only do so in conjunction or with the cooperation of other states. Since the Second World War, this pandemic is the first global crisis in which US leadership has been absent.

Secondly, the resurgence of competition and tensions between the big powers in the global environment have come into sight. US-China confrontation has become the most consequential and geopolitical development, which is going to influence and shape the world in the coming years. It can be seen that an outbreak of trade and tech war during the pre-pandemic will continue in the future. Political tensions are also at a record high. President Donald Trump of the United States has been using hostile rhetoric against China. Because of the severe actions taken by the US, China has reached its limits and started pushing back.

Thirdly, global powers are retreating from multilateralism and a rule-based international system. The renunciation of international agreements and treaties has been witnessed over the months. The irony is that the pandemic demands greater solidarity and cooperation but quite the opposite has happened, where there is an absence of international solidarity and much less collaboration. The USA has renounced a long list of treaties including the Iranian nuclear deal, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF), and recently the Open Skies agreement. It has also walked out of key multilateral institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the WHO more recently.

Another feature is the rise of populist leaders who are often described as strongmen. Although it’s debatable how much they deserve the description of strong men. Populist leaders act unilaterally with impunity as well as seek to rewrite the rules of game either in the world or their region depending upon their capability to manage. They are mostly disdainful toward international norms. In South Asia, the grimmest example is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is taking brutal and illegal actions not only in occupied Kashmir but also within India by pursuing communal politics.

Ultimately, there would be an emergence of anti-globalization sentiment due to multiple factors. The UN will be celebrating its 75th anniversary which is going to be a historic moment while American threatens to leave the World Health Organization (WHO) permanently. In this unenviable situation, the UN has been under great strain because its main agency which deals with the health crisis is under attack due to curtailment of funding by Donald Trump. Furthermore, certain leaders of the west are going to reject the existing trading regimes because they cannot compete anymore. The prevailing situation in those countries demands to remake global supply chains and they intend to reduce their dependence on China. Apart from that, plans are considered to move towards setting up local hubs of manufacture and supply.

In a nutshell, there is going to be a reversal of many aspects of globalization. Protectionism, trade wars, and to some extent travel restrictions will be a new reality. Right-wing populist leaders will use the health crisis to reinforce their policy preference for closed borders, strict immigration laws, and the ban on the free movement of labour that has been seen in recent decades. The future course of the most important bilateral relationship of our century which is between China and the United States will have a huge impact on the global economy as well as on the international order and multilateral institutions. Pandemic has further strained the relationship and resulted in trading accusations and allegations from both sides. Summarily, that has been described as the new cold war by many. The question arises whether these two global powers will arrive at modus vivendi or will there be a standoff. This has become a more enduring feature of the global landscape.

To round off the whole debate, the World is possibly at one of the history’s most unsettled periods in international relations with the atomization of the international system. This is an uncharted territory which the world has not seen before. For Pakistan, there are going to be strategic, political, and economic implications because it seeks to form good relations with both countries. Pakistan ought to understand that in the long run, its strategic future lies with China rather than the US.   

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South Asia

Prime Minister K.P. Oli of Nepal miss the opportunity

Saurav Raj Pant

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In Nepal, Prime Minister K. P.  Oli  seems to stay in power by disrespecting his party members. He doesn’t care about agreement made with his party co-leaders Prachanda  regarding  power sharing after Oli’s 2.5 years reign. He bluntly made a statement that  his party members are meeting covertly in hotels of Kathmandu to overthrow him with the assistance of India. This  resulted to the seeding of conflict within party allowing Chinese ambassador running door to door for negotiating with party leaders to reconcile. Chinese ambassador to Nepal is engaging with Nepal Communist Party(NCP) leaders to keep K. P Oli in power but India wants to overthrow him. The Prime Minister post in Nepal is now became the platform where two big powers are colliding.

Oli’s 2.5 years in office achievement is not satisfactory. The two underperforming arena are Foreign Policy & Economy.  In Foreign Policy, Nepal is facing proxy war from the US-China global confrontation heat, India’s assertiveness & defensive approach & Chinese greater engagement in Nepal comparing to past. Secondly, Nepal’s philosophical confusion whether to continue full liberal capitalism model set by Nepali Congress or follow socialism model based on the ambition of communism. Oli’s team is now surrounded by capitalist forcing them to decide in favor of them. By theory, they have to work for pro-poor(because they are communist). Secondly, capitalist lobby and party cadres aspiration smash together—every basic commodities like health, education should be free as said by cadres and capitalist see business in these sectors. Confrontation between party cadres aspiration and capitalist has made economy standstill. COVID-19 impact is bringing Nepal migrant workers back home. No one has plan to resettle them. Dependency with India is very much high. In 2017, Nepal imports from India worth US$6520 million( 64.95% of out of total imports) whereas Chinese exports to Nepal is worth of US$1267 million(12.63% out of total imports in Nepal). These two immediate neighbors exports more than 75% of commodities to Nepal making Nepal highly reliant state.

Oli instead of trimming down this dependency with India—engaged in “nationalist’ war. He is unaware about India that his Sudurpaschmin  & Karnali province youth  has a employment opportunity in India. These provinces has very low HDI comparing with countrywide index. The HDI of Sudurpaschmin is 0.478 and Karnali province is 0.469. Youths of these provinces going to India for work because of very low job prospects on Nepal. This our ground reality. Underestimating this reality, Oli rhetoric on Indian virus is more lethal than Chinese virus had damaged the bilateral relationship to very extent. Unfortunately, the impact of such damage wont’ have to bear by him but by the youth of Sudurpaschim and Karnali who are working in millions in India because we are clear Post COVID-19 Nepal won’t have tremendous job boom in these provinces. So, they are again forced to go back to their work. During their presence in various job stations of India, they may be disrespected and bullied based on the Nepal’s PM statement.

Secondly, Oli mishandling of foreign policy of Nepal—–becoming suicidal for Nepal. Nepal had long enjoyed a friendly relationships with almost every powers centers of the world. During the time of the Cold War also, Nepal had managed to deal effectively with both Russia & the US. But this time, Nepal’s reactionary foreign policy tactics fuelled by Oli had made our immediate neighbors irritated and had also welcomed the US geostrategic presence in Nepal; knowingly or unknowingly. Each neighbors are having lack of trust in current Nepali government and wants to secure their interest by “overt or covert” operation. Nepal’s Non-aligned foreign policy is seriously being challenged by Nepal’s unorganized engagement in India-China-US frontiers. We are now came across crossroads—We are dependent on India for food, Close to China for political backup & supporting communist regime and more closer to the US for financial support. This will bring us to nowhere. India and China has sense of Competition & Collaboration(2C), US-China has a global confrontation on many sense. Nepal’s closeness to India is not liked by mass public in Nepal. Nepal’s communist party ally with China is not liked by India & the US. This is where the current ball is trapped. Nepal is in complete dilemma. The Belt & Road Initiative; the signature grand strategy of China & Indo Pacific Strategy(IPS) of the US are both ideologically confronts with each other. And, Nepal wants take advantage of these two based on the fragile diplomatic capacity that Nepal has.

Inside home politics, Oli has managed to concentrate power within him. The three powerful departments are: National Investigation Department, Department of Revenue Investigation & Department of Money Laundering Investigation have brought under the Prime Minister’s office. This meaning, Intelligence department for “covert or overt” operation for his rivals and the remaining two “money” related department for “cleaning up” the money from offshore and freeing up the corruption charges for his loyal. This is dangerous. His path put us on doubt whether he wants to become new “dictator” for Nepal. Secondly, his jokes are not working anymore on public like that of pre-election period. Everyone is irritated.  Oli crack jokes even in parliament at a time when country is hard hit by COVID-19. He suggest public to have turmeric powder as a solution to COVID-19 cure—which is a laughable matter for everyone. Unfortunately, this is not proven scientifically. Next to it, Oli is critically ill. He recently had a second Kidney transplant. How to become assure such critically ill person with  the support of medicines can perform best for the country? He is even “misusing” president of Nepal to take decision in favor of himself. In recent time, President quickly approved the prorogation of the session of the parliament sent by the cabinet. This is a thinkable matter. How can institution like “President” can decide instantly without analyzing its constitutional & political challenges of the recommendation sent by the cabinet. Oli is hardly a school pass out leader and always vocal to “defame” intellectuals of Nepal. Nepali intellectuals irrespective of independent or democrats values are fade up Oli words. So, no use of criticizing such move of cabinet. 

When his party members started to dethrone him for the first time; he had used “nationalism” card to put Limpiyadhura, Kalapani & Lipulekh area— encroached land by India on Nepal’s official map resulting public applaud. But critics know this is a tactics to remain in power. When he came to power with full majority—he has everything:  Two-third majority, massive opposition support and enormous public trust on him but he failed like those other governments made within 30 years span of Nepal’s democratic life since 1990. He seriously missed the opportunity. This resulted to the Nepal’s prosperity again in deadlock phase.

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