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Afghan Women Socio-economic Status and Gender Equality in Afghanistan

Hamidullah Bamik

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Gender inequality refers to unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals based on their gender. It results from differences in socially determined gender roles and through the biological differences between men and women we discussed in the earlier session. While gender equality is a basic right that does not require economic justification, gender equality is a key factor in contributing to the economic growth of a nation. Because women account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s social and economic development in the long term depends on whether and how it educates and engages women in the economy.

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations has defined gender mainstreaming as follows: “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”

Gender mainstreaming is a process of assessing the impact for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in any area and at all levels. It considers women and men’s concerns and experiences in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and social spheres to promote gender equality. Government officials and elected representatives who are involved in policy formulation, project planning, preparation of budgets, program implementation and review are responsible for gender mainstreaming

The government of Afghanistan is committed to promoting women rights as enshrined in the Constitution approved 2004 and in international treaties and conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that was signed by Afghanistan in 1980 and acceded in 2003, the Millennium and subsequent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and United Nations (UN) Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. The National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) 2007-17 is the Afghan government’s plan for implementing its commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Specific goals include:

-The elimination of discrimination against women and the development of women’s human capital and female leadership.

-NAPWA implementation focuses on sectors that are critical to improve the women’s situation: security, legal and human rights, leadership and political participation, economy, work and poverty, health and education.

-To realize the government’s gender equality commitments, gender is a cross-cutting in strategic and policy documents such as the ANDS/ANPDF, the NPPs.

Legal and Policy Framework for Gender Equality in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan there have been a number of systematic efforts to mainstream gender into the development process since 2001. The Bonn Agreement of 2001 setting the course for the new Afghanistan nation and government included a commitment to mainstreaming gender issues endorsing the establishment of “a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multiethnic and fully representative government”. The Agreement lay the foundation for several institutional developments including the drafting of a new constitution and the establishment of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) responsible for mainstreaming gender into the policies and programs of the ministries to ensure that gender equity concerns are addressed. The Afghanistan constitution, ratified on January 4, 2004 promotes gender equality when it states: “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” (Article 22) The Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) provided the development framework for the nation across the key areas of security, governance, economic and social development.  The ANDS (2008 – 2013) vision for promoting gender equality across government is the “promotion of women’s advancement is a shared obligation within government and it is a collective responsibility of all sectors, institutions and individuals to include women or gender concerns in all aspects of government work – from policies, to budgets, programs, projects, services and activities, including recruitment, training, promotion and allocation of benefits and opportunities.”

Afghan Government’s Policy Role for Socioeconomic Development of Women and Girls in the Society

The government policy can facilitate women’s labor force participation including in the government as civil servants. Many governments now institute policies that encourage women to work and make it easier for them to do so. Maternity, paternity and parental leave are closely associated with women’s economic participation in many parts of the world. Parental benefits enable mothers, fathers or both to take paid or unpaid time off to care for a child following birth can increase women’s participation in the workforce and foster a more equitable division of childrearing. Childcare is an important factor in allowing women to reconcile professional and family obligations because women tend to bear the majority of the caregiving responsibilities in most countries. For example, a well-established daycare system can support women in employment, thereby improving the efficiency of labor markets. Legislation can help to prevent gender-biased discrimination in society and create an enabling environment to support women through, among other policies, obligatory and voluntary quotas in public and private entities, targeted subsidies to female businesses, anti-harassment and affirmative action and supervisory bodies monitoring the implementation of national policies.

Increasing Women’s Participation in the Civil Service in Afghanistan

In January 2018, the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC)of Afghanistan proposed a new government wide policy on equal employment opportunities for women in government. The new policy entitled “Policy on Increasing Women Participation in Civil Service” is designed to help overcome gender related discrimination in the work place. The implementation of the policy will help to resolve the problem of discrimination and biased employment opportunities.  “A discriminatory approach in employment opportunities particularly towards women violates the principles of effectiveness, ownership of activities and justice. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all to manage the working environment and employment procedures in a manner that helps to remove this fundamental issue in the civil service sector of the country,” stated the IARCSC Commissioner regarding the new policy.

“Gender equality is an individual and social responsibility for all of us. These types of policies will ensure that we all change our ideas and change our actions,” stated the head of the complaints board of the IARCSC. The increasing women’s participation policy proposes a number of actions to improve the processes and procedures for recruiting more women in the civil service, safety in the workplace, security and social security, these proposed actions will create an enabling environment to help recruit and retain more women in the civil service. The overall goal of the draft policy is to increase the role of women in government institutions to 30 percent of the total workforce within the next two years. Currently, women comprise about 22 percent of total employees of government institutions in Afghanistan.

Women and the Afghanistan Carpet Industry

Carpet weaving is an important part of Afghanistan’s history and culture and is known throughout the world for its quality. It is easy to set up a loom within the home and materials for carpet weaving are inexpensive and easy to obtain. Because of this, many Afghan women develop the skill and are able to generate income for their family without having to leave the home and children.

However, the lack of large-scale resources to cut, wash, and finish these carpets has prevented Afghanistan from fully capitalizing on one of its most valuable exportable commodities. Because there have been inadequate efforts from the government to create an enabling environment for carpet producers to do business, and a lack of investment in building the capacity of women who are involved in carpet weaving in business and marketing, much of Afghanistan’s carpets are exported for finishing and final sale. Pakistan has particularly benefited, where the government has invested and given tax credits for carpet production.

Due to the lack of investment in a predominantly female handicraft industry in Afghanistan, Afghans lose the full profit of their hard work and craftsmanship, and the country loses valuable economic resources in potential taxes and revenue generation, carpet sales to expand the national economy, and development of a sustainable domestic industry from which both men and women can benefit.

Afghan Women in Security Sectors

A recent report on gender responsive budgeting in fragile and conflict-affected states noted the risk that in post-conflict countries the attention to gender equality is usually focused on the social services with less gender-specific funding for sectors important for state- and peace-building like the security sector and economic recovery. This is important to consider in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the security sector (mainly Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security) represents more than 40% of the national budget.  The security sector development budget is fully funded by the international community.  The Tashkeel of the security sector is about half a million employees.  To date there has been some progress towards increasing women’s participation in the security sector including:

Ministry of Defense: Of 195,000 Afghan National Army representatives, 14,007 are women which is less than 1% of the total. In 2016, 400 women new recruits were studying in the National Military Academy. The Ministry of Defense is planning to increase the number of women in the Army by 5,000. A number of women within ANA have been given the opportunity to pursue higher education in universities. A number of women have also had the opportunity to use scholarships to pursue their higher education outside the country.

Ministry of Interior: Of a total 150,000 Afghan National Police, 3,269 are women (2,937 police and 389 civilian) currently working within the Ministry of Interior. 8,210 police women associations have been established within the ANP across the country with policewomen meeting regularly and discussing their challenges and finding solutions. The recruitment processes for policewomen have been good resulting in an increased number of women in ANP. There have been some technical capacity building efforts inside and outside country for police women. There have been some improvements in providing facilities such as women toilets, women changing rooms. In some provinces, the presence of women in the police headquarters has increased citizen’s trust in the police force particularly among women. Women contact policewomen regularly and seek their support. In some provinces, policewomen have been successful in identifying and arresting insurgents wearing women clothing and identifying security threats, smugglers of narcotics and guns as well as those engaged with robbery and abduction of citizens.

National Directorate of Security: 700 women are currently working with the National Directorate of Security across Afghanistan. Capacity building initiatives have been conducted such as courses on improving English language, driving skills and first aid skills for women. Some women have been promoted.

Despite the progress to date, challenges remain in an effort to empower women and increase their participation in the security sector. These challenges include: 1) weak recruitment campaigns and a prevailing attitude within ANSF that women lack capacity to do specific roles; 2) Due to discrimination in a male dominated sector, there has been little efforts to put forth plans for promoting women and assigning them to more leadership roles; 3) Women often have not received weapons and equipment despite being trained to use them and often have not received uniforms; 4) Women still lack access to changing rooms and ladies toilets and child care services in police districts; 5)  Women in ANSF still face literacy, technical and capacity deficiencies.  While there have been some short-term training initiatives, the sector has not developed a long-term sustainable plan for training and capacity building of women in the security sector.

Afghan National Police: Although the tashkeel of the Afghan National Police (ANP) reserves jobs for female civil servants and police officers, women fill fewer than half these jobs. Many provincial chiefs of police are reluctant to accept female recruits. There is very little pressure on police chiefs to recruit more women, and the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the ANP, to initiate reforms. Negative atti­tudes and practices persist after women have been recruited. Policewomen often lack basic items such as uniforms, which male colleagues receive. Many women find themselves performing menial tasks (such as making tea) and receive limited or no training opportunities to develop their careers, leaving intelligent and ambitious policewomen unmoti­vated and unfulfilled. Adequate measures to facilitate equal access, control and equal results of men and women entering the police force need to be implemented.

Recommendations

As a socioeconomic researcher, I am inclined to articulate that gender inequality is rooted in the cultural norms and values of Afghan society. So as to fight and challenge these rigid and male dominated cultural norms, the government of Afghanistan, and very particularly the educational sectors of Afghanistan should begin fighting with gender inequality from schools. Because schools are the main places where children learn cultural norms and embody them when they enter society later as civil servants and officers. Having said that I have the following suggestions for the Afghan government and responsible entities for addressing the issue of gender inequality:

First, introduce a new compulsory subject: Gender Education—aimed at developing a social and political understanding of gender in as part of the official school curriculum for both boys and girls, at the post-primary level in all state and central education boards. Explicit conversations and critical dialogues on gender bias and power should officially become part of the student experience. Defining Gender Education as a standalone curricular subject will give it legitimacy and create a stronger impetus for incorporating gender in the classroom. This will also necessitate the development of the requisite curricular and teacher materials, which the curriculum and teacher training department of Ministry of Education should create in collaboration with NGOs like the USAID Promote: Women in Government Project and other relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Second, incorporate gender education compulsorily, in pre- and in-service teacher training and teacher education programs. Teachers are potentially powerful agents of social change, provided they can perceive themselves as such. Training in effective communication of gender-related issues with the community should also be included in pre-service training. All of the above implies intensive in-service training of teachers and educators, along with the development of teacher training materials and curriculum, which should be created by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with NGOs.

Together these commitments form a robust policy mandate that supports the integration of gender equality and empowerment programming in the post–primary education in schools across Afghanistan. At every social and political platform, there is a call to change deeply entrenched patriarchal ‘mindsets.’ School education is a good place to facilitate mindset change in a whole generation of boys and girls. To do this, it is time we made our curriculum truly progressive by including lessons in gender equality.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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South Asia

Indian Imbalanced Balance

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A serious crisis is looming over journalism in India, which is increasingly vested in the hands of authority. On the one hand, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee asks for “discussion and dissension” for a vibrant democracy. “There should always be room for the argumentative Indian, and not the intolerant Indian. The media must be the watchdog, the mediator between the leaders and the public,” Mukherjee said while paying his regards to Ramnath Goenka – former press baron. On the other hand, Indian media has lost its credibility regionally as well as internationally owing to quality of Indian public discourse. According to criminal lawyer Rebecca Mammen, “The true test of a robust democracy is the independence of its media. Over the past few years our media has become the mouthpiece of the party in power. Coupled with the fact the corporate owners of media houses share close links with the government, the Indian media has tragically lost its voice.”

The mainstream media is vested in the hands of a selected few and refuses to question authorities.         The ‘Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, which was released on April 20, has ranked India at 142 among 180 countries reflecting poor credibility due to pressures by government. According to the Report, the Indian media is reeling under a Hindu nationalist government, which has time and again tried to gag journalists. Moreover, India’s influential TV news channels function largely as government mouthpieces.A European non-governmental group “EU disinfo lab” had uncovered a network of 265 ‘fake’ news outlets sponsored by an Indian network to influence the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) with content against to Pakistan.

The crisis in the Indian media will have deeper impacts on Indian democracy. With a feeble opposition, weak institutions, and an inadequate media, Indians have no checks and balances. For instance, maligning Pakistan High Commission, Colombo(PAHIC) during a recent Indo-China conflict was an Indiangovernment instructed media strategy to divert public opinion from their failures in North. In other words, media strategy inadvertently defines poor political will of India to stand up to China while feel strong enough to bully the smaller neighbourhood.

The sane voices in Indian media have continuously shrinking space.Having almost 400 news channels, Indian media has failed to highlight serious matters, such as beef ban, human rights violations in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IoJK), and numerous discriminations against Indian Dalits. “Over the last few years – especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the general election of 2014 – the Indian mainstream media has allowed itself to be undermined by the transcendent political power that he represents,” said Pamela Philipose, The Wire. “A new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse.  Also conspicuous is the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state – developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media,” says Philipose.

In a similar manner, a political scientist Giles Vernier argues that “a new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse.  Also conspicuous is the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state – developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media.One reason why we don’t see much criticism in the media is that the government, in the person of the Prime Minister, has the ability to completely dominate the media’s agenda, by saturating the public and media sphere with the message, image, and his voice.”

Journalists should be critical of government’s handling of its internal and external matters to keep it on the right track. TV channels will call speakers of their choice, who would heavily lean to one side of discussion and pretend that it is balanced.

In the current atmosphere, with enraptured legislative issues and social perspectives, with populist political leadership, with developing bigotry against minorities and dissenters, the media can and ought to be an encouraging sign for liberal, mainstream and law based thoughts, yet additionally to guarantee that outrageous perspectives does not get into the papers or on TV. Rather, the media in India has become some portion of the issue, either excitedly partaking in preparing of contempt against the helpless, or carrying on in an insincere path by permitting the most exceedingly terrible components a free run of significant reality on their foundation. Whole ages of columnists are growing up with the possibility that they are playing out an important help; they have scarcely any good examples to gaze upward to, since their own managers, who should know better, are either sold out, ideologically dedicated to fanaticism or are indecisive, without firm feelings or just fearful. In any case, Indian reporting is in a profound emergency, all for the sake of ‘balance.’

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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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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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