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South Asia

Walking a tightrope: Pakistan struggles to juggle multiple balls

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Pakistan risks falling off the tightrope it walks as it attempts to balance its relations with rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Developments in recent days, including this weekend’s Baloch nationalist attack on a luxury hotel in the strategic port city of Gwadar and a legal dispute over completion of a gas pipeline against the backdrop of Saudi-Iranian-Qatari competition for the Pakistani gas market, suggest that Pakistan is caught between a rock and a hard place.

The South Asian nation’s seemingly unsustainable tightrope walk is likely to have consequences for the security of China’s massive US$45 billion investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative; an approximately US$10 billion planned Saudi investment in a refinery and a copper mine in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan; and Pakistani hopes of getting a grip on  political violence in a bid to attract further badly needed foreign investment and avoid sanctioning for inadequate counterterrorism measures.

The assault on the highly secured hilltop Zaver Pearl Continental Hotel Gwadar, part of Pakistan’s largest luxury hotel chain, in which four people, including three gunmen were killed, was the second incident since Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani last month agreed to step up security cooperation along their 959-kilometre long border.

Many Baloch, members of an ethnic minority on both sides of the border, feel economically disadvantaged and marginalized with a minority harbouring nationalist aspirations. Security-led repressive policies by both Iran and Pakistan have fuelled militancy and offer ample opportunity for manipulation by regional powers.

In an emailed statement claiming responsibility for the hotel attack, Baloch Liberation Army (BL) spokesman Jihand Baloch said this weekend’s attack targeted “Chinese and other investors who were staying at the PC hotel.” The hotel was believed to have few guests because of Ramadan.

In an earlier statement issued last week after an attack on a coal mine in which five people were killed, Mr. Baloch asserted that “Balochistan is a war-torn region and we will not allow any investments until the independence of Balochistan.”

BLA operatives have in the past seven months hit various Chinese targets beyond the boundaries of Balochistan, including a convoy transporting Chinese engineers in Karachi and the People’s Republic’s consulate in the city.

Baloch nationalist militancy is not the only problem confronting Pakistani security forces in the strategic southwest of the country. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack last month on a market in the Baloch capital of Quetta frequented by Hazaras, a beleaguered Shiite minority, in which 19 people were killed and dozens injured.

Iran blamed allegedly Saudi and US-backed Balochistan-based Sunni Muslim militants for an assault in February on the Iranian side of the border that killed 27 Revolutionary Guards.

In an apparent bid to build confidence, Mr. Khan admitted during his visit to Tehran that militants operating from Pakistan had attacked targets in Iran but vowed to put an end to that.

Complicating Mr. Khan’s efforts to walk a fine line between Saudi Arabia and Iran and safeguard crucial Chinese and future Saudi investment is the fact that the Trump administration’s stepped up maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic republic is restricting the South Asian nation’s ability to live up to prior commitments to Iran and fuelling Iranian concern that Saudi Arabia is able to influence Pakistani policy.

Jeddah-based Arab News quoted Mobin Saulat, the managing director of Pakistan’s state-owned Inter State Gas Systems, as advising his Iranian counterparts that US sanctions were preventing it from completing the Pakistani leg of an agreed gas pipeline despite statements by Messrs. Khan and Rouhani that they were seeking to enhance connectivity between their two countries.

Iranian suspicion of Saudi covert activity in Balochistan as well as the kingdom’s ability to influence Pakistani policy stems from multiple factors that Tehran sees as indicators.

These include massive Saudi financial assistance to help Pakistan avert a financial crisis, question marks among international oil executives of the economic rationale for the kingdom’s  plan to build a refinery in Gwadar, a plan published by a Riyadh think tank calling for the fostering of an insurgency among Iran’s Baloch minority, reports by Pakistani militants of Saudi funding for anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim militants in Balochistan, and evidence of broader segments of the Pakistani population buying into Saudi-inspired ultraconservative interpretations of Islam as a result of the kingdom’s decades-long support of religious and cultural institutions as well as media.

Iran’s province of Sistan and Balochistan hosts the Indian-backed port of Chabahar, a mere 70 kilometres up the Arabian Sea coast from Gwadar. A shadowy militant Sunni Muslim group claimed responsibility for a rare suicide bombing in Chabahar in December.

Pakistan scholar Madiha Afzal noted in a just released Brookings report that “Saudi Arabia has succeeded in changing the character of Pakistan’s religiosity in a bid to expand its influence in the Muslim world, and in its mission to counter Iran.”

While US sanctions may have, at least for now, given the death knell to the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, Saudi influence appears to have failed in stopping Pakistan from entertaining a gas deal with Qatar, another of the kingdom’s nemeses, despite an almost two-year old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led diplomatic and economic boycott of the Gulf state.

Qatar recently lowered the price in a bid for a major Pakistani liquified natural gas (LNG) contract in an effort to outcompete Saudi Arabia, that last month sent a delegation to Islamabad to discuss the South Asian nation’s gas needs.

The competition is about more than commercial advantage. While Qatar sees its gas exports as part of its soft power strategy, Saudi Arabia views the Pakistani contract as part of an effort to establish the kingdom as a major trader and marketeer as it strives to position itself as a significant gas exporter over the next decade.

Pakistan’s ability to maintain its tightrope walk could be further endangered if it fails to convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watch dog, that it is doing sufficient to meet the group’s standards.

Pakistan was last year grey listed by the group and risks being blacklisted if it fails to convince FATF in talks later this month that it has substantially improved its controls. Blacklisting listing would significantly curtail its access to international finance at a time that it is seeking a bailout by the International Monetary Fund. (IMF).

Juggling multiple balls is proving to be an increasingly difficult act in which Pakistan may be the country out on a limb but many of its partners have a stake in ensuring that it maintains its tightrope walk.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

The Power Competition between Liberals and Conservatives in Pakistan

Ali Abbas

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There is competition between the two sections of society in Pakistan. Their ideologies, ideas and agendas are essentially conflictual in nature. The champions of Liberalism believes in struggle for democracy, pluralism, human rights, freedom of speech, individual liberty and modernization. While the Religious forces focus and struggle for the introduction and implementation of Islamic Law. As they also often raise the voice for the unification of Muslim Umaah and injustices with Muslims in all over the world. 

The poor and neglected segments of society are the natural recruitment for the religious group. Usually they are supported by the conservative section of society and local financial resource base is very strong. This section gained the support of national establishment in different times particularly when the era of Zia’s Islamization. Liberal section of the society suffered more hindrances because of absence of democracy, constitutionalism and influence of undemocratic forces. Mostly the liberals look towards the western liberal democracies for political support. However, their influential campaigns for the rights of the people has established appreciable credentials in the society. With the absence of democracy the basic requirements for the liberal civil society remain strange in Pakistan therefore the right wing section has strengthened in the country.

The society can effectively change by two ways: i-e from top to bottom or from bottom to top, usually it has been said that the political strategies and progress is based on this idea. The change at the top and the trickledown effect will create an impact at the bottom where it is needed. The religious segment of civil society started its organization in Pakistan on the base of Islamic ideology or religious expression for the creation of Pakistan.

 International context has played a crucial and definitive role in the establishment of two divergent and conflicting segments of civil society in Pakistan. The final battles of Cold War were executed through the religious force of Pakistan and Afghanistan leaving an indelible mark of extremism and religiosity on Pakistani society. The unfair treatment of the problems of Muslims in the world by USA and its allies sometimes frustrate the masses and thus serve as the breeding ground of hatred and religious extremism.

Two divergent ideologies are in power competition in the country. Basically the ruling elites of Pakistan has used religion for their own power and political purposes. The society is more emotionally attached with religion, so it’s too easy for ruling elites to exploit the religious sentiments of the common people. In fact the religious section has strong rooted in society, a common person can be easily provoke in the name of religion by ruling and religious elites. Even the leaderships of political parties having western educational background, ideas and progressive thinking. The performance of religious political parties in elections throughout the history of Pakistan remained poor. However, failure of mainstream political parties in revitalizing politics, economics and society and hopes of establishing Islamic law and a system of justice and equality attracted some people to the religious forces.

On the other side, the liberal or secular elites are frequently vocal against the mixture of religion in the state affairs. But this section of the society is weak as compare to the right wing of the society. The secular elites mostly having the western background of education have inspired from the west democracies and open societies. The idea of open and secular society cannot be constitutionalize because of the deep rooted religion within the society. The actual agenda of liberalism has been failed to the deliver by the liberal elites. They have their own definition of liberal society that cannot be consider as counter ideology. The extreme definition of open society has not suited in an underdeveloped society. The society lacks several things for a liberal and open and progressive society. Pakistan’s society is underdeveloped, lack of political awareness, rights and duties of a responsible citizen. The poor educational system in Pakistan has become the point of international concern. The lack of quality and modern education, limited economic opportunities make an ordinary man target for the groups. The system suffers from insufficient investment in education sector, institutional incapability, and the poor curriculum that often provokes intolerance. Education is the most important factor that rescues the nation from these ills.

Finally, it can be argued that the conflict between the religious and secular is deeply rooted in sociopolitical history of Pakistan. Both occupy entirely different societal sections with opposing ideologies. Civil society in Pakistan in its present form presents a multidimensional, fragmented but dynamic picture because of the existing divisions and conflict between the secular and the religious. There is need a proper definition of relationship between state and religion and also need to build up the morale of civil society to realize that for the development and progress is only in moderation. Media including print and electronic should encourage progressive mind and dialogues for societal harmony and tolerance.

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South Asia

The New Axis, the Mapolitics and South Asia: The Indian View

Prof. Harish K. Thakur

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Today, while the pandemic has caused immense economic recession worldwide, South Asia exponentially simmers with territorial disputes, extra-maritime activities, border skirmishes, militarization of states and mapolitics.In the Covid 19 scenario when the world has turned inimical towards China under the shadow of conspiracy theories and the unnerved China is grappling to lead the world playing unfair, its challenge appears to be sunk by the confident India as it had to withdraw at Galwan after a border standoff. In the meantime to divert the global attention while China flexes its muscles in South China Sea and pricks on the Indian borders at Ladakh in the light of the implications of its BRI project, a new power axis of Beijing, Islamabad and Kathmandu (BIK) has taken shape against India making its position a bit discomfited and evocates special attention as after Tibet another buffer between India and China significantly dilutes. The release of new political map by India after the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has been retaliated by Nepal and Pakistan that lacks legitimacy even within these states and this has further aggravated the scenario.  

While China loses the comfort of concurrence from Russia and Saudi Arabia about its South Asia policy, the coastal states of South China Sea have also consolidated their firmness against its incursions as on June 29, 2020 Vietnam issued a statement after the meeting of ASEAN leaders  that “we reaffirm that the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones”.2 Recently the unwillingness of several companies to carry in China and shift to the other South Asian states like India and Bangladesh where cheap labour is available mark the beginning of a new order featured by a strengthened Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), renewed US-India collaboration about Indo-Pacific, and a vibrant Indian Ocean zone. The Indo-Chinese rivalry over the region is not new but after the leasing of the Hanbantota sea port of Sri Lanka to China in 2017, the end of US Combat Mission in Afghanistan, and the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs through the Indian territory of Pak Occupied Kashmir their ties have further strained. The strategic rivalry between the two is so sharp that India for the first time fought against China in a foreign territory of Bhutan during the Doklam crisis in 2017.

The timing of the Chinese assertions along the north-western frontiers of India at Ladakh near Galwan and Pangong Tso is also critical as Covid 19 has not even peaked in India till date and the situation turns more precarious in the coming months. The decision of China to prick the borders is not new but this time the intent appears to be different. The major Chinese concern is the bleak prospects of the $62 billion CPEC project that faces stiff opposition in Baluchistan and people of POK. The military coordination between Pakistan and China has been established as “Indian intelligence agencies have recently noticed activities of the Chinese Air Force at Skardu Airbase in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). More than 40 Chinese fighter jets, J10, have been witnessed in Skardu in the month of June itself. The Chinese Air Force is understood to have been preparing to use the Skardu airbase to launch an attack against India.”3 While India faces a two-pronged battle in Ladakh at the Lipulekh trijunction between India, Nepal and China, the setting up of a new post near it by Nepal’s Armed Police Force (APF) after India’s inauguration of the new road to Kailash Mansarovar irks India. This led to Indian Army Chief Manoj Mukund Narvane remark that Kathmandu is acting on “behest of someone” (China) over the Lipulekh issue.  Nepal’s Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel has said that the statement was an insult to the nation’s history and was made ignoring its social characteristics and freedom.4

Against the emergence of Indo-Pacific strategic alliance and the troubled waters in the South China Sea that stifles the Chinese trade route through Malcca the CPEC provides China an easy access in the Indian Ocean through Xinjiang-Gwadar highway. China’s troubled relations with the South East Asian states over the control of South China Sea, the reduction of APEC vis a vis the newly forged Indo-Pacific and the strategic forum QUAD further increase the significance of CPEC which will remain an unrealisable dream until India approves which is a distant possibility. Now China is willing to execute a forcible solution but to be repulsed by India. However the dragonomics has worked as it has succeeded in trapping the small Indian neighbours like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh through its debt trap strategy. After CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act 2019) Bangladesh has also registered protest with India and distanced by cancelling few official visits to India. China also controls 17 islands of Maldives on lease basis and its network of maritime expansion has significantly increased in the last few decades.             

The Provocative Mapolitics  

 Inching forward has been an old policy of China to gradually expand territorially against its neighbours. In recent times China has followed a policy of rechristening the islands and underwater locations in South China Sea. It has named 25 islands and reefs in the South China Sea in a move to cement its territorial claims in the disputed waters. China has set up two new district governments on the Paracel and Spratly islands, known as Xisha and Nansha in China. This has been done with a purpose to deter what it said were “intrusions” by US ships and planes. Several of the newly named islands fall within these two new districts. Beijing also named 55 underwater locations to claim rights over resources. The Chinese moves are in violation of Exclusive Economic Zones of several neighbouring states like Philippines and has escalated tensions with them.5 In July 2016, an international tribunal rejected China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea, concluding that Beijing’s claim violated international law. While the United States takes no position on the competing claims in the South China Sea, Washington does reject Beijing’s claim and has deployed two carrier strike groups in dual-carrier operations through the contested waters. Punctuating this position is US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent announcement that China’s claims are “completely unlawful6

China is being closely followed by Pakistan and its new born ally Nepal, whose communist regime has recently raked up several controversies with India like Lipulekh, calling Covid 19 as Indian virus and river waters. In an act of provocation, that was lauded and hailed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as an “unprecedented step”, Pakistan has shown some Indian territories in Pakistan. The new map was released by Islamabad on August 4, 2020 that showed the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh as Pakistani territories illegally occupied by India. The controversial map also shows the erstwhile state of Junagadh in Gujarat and Sir Creek within Pakistan’s borders. The Pakistani government confirmed that the map will henceforth be used in curriculum across the country.

Before this on June 13, 2020 Nepal’s lower house of Parliament Pratinidhi Sabha too had unanimously passed the historic Second Constitution Amendment Bill guaranteeing legal status for the updated political map of Nepal which included India’s Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura  in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district as part of Nepal. Nepal and India have disagreement over Kalapani since 1815 when British and Nepal signed treaty of Sugauli but till 1998 Nepal remained silent over it and showed little interest. It was only with electoral battles and the increased role of Communists (patronised by China) in Nepal that it became a convenient tool for flaring up the electorate resulting in the amendment now. The Nepalese and Pakistani actions are in retaliation of the New Indian Political Map released by Indian government on October 31, 2019 after the abrogation of special status under article 370 to Jammu and Kashmir. The map had shown whole of Pak Occupied Kashmir as part of India and created two new Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.  While the Indian action was over a longstanding disputed territory occupied illegally by Pakistan and later partially (3400 sq.kms.) ceded to China the retaliations are less legitimate and more of unnerved frowning. So the new mapolitics has engulfed South Asia that surely is going to deepen the difference between the three states. 

The distanced neighbours and the inimical trio against India has to be handled skillfully by the Government of India  and a new process of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), at least with the smaller neighbors, should be initialed to check the things turn worse.

Notes & References

1Mapolitics refers to the strategy of a state showing the territories of others in its own official map, a step short of war to gain legitimacy through internationalizing the issue.

2Jim Gomej, “ASEAN takes Position vs China’s Vast Historical Sea Claims”, Diplomat, June 29, 2020.

3Defence Aviation Post, 30 June, 2020.

4The Times of India, May 25, 2020.

5Didi Tang, The Times, UK, April 20, 2020.

6Patrick Mendis and Joey Wang, South China Morning Post, August 8,  2020.

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South Asia

Kashmiri Lives Matter

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Inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter” after the murder of George Floyd, on 25 May 2020. Many other movements are gaining momentum against discrimination around the world. Kashmiri movement for their legitimate right of self-determination, also gained momentum. Kashmiris are struggling for their rights for 72 years, but India not only denying their legitimate right but using accessive force to suppress them.

Starting from Times Square, New York, on the 5th of August 2020,  to almost all capitals of Europe and other parts of the world, Kashmiri people staged protests, agitations, demonstrations, to express their anger and dissatisfaction with the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. They were displaying banners with various slogans like Kashmir Lives Matters, Freedom for Kashmir, Condemned India atrocities, Respect for human lives, etc. Not only the Kashmiris, but local people also joined them in such protests. Mainstream Media, around the world, has covered their protests and published or broadcasted the Indian atrocities and brutalities in Kashmir. Seminars, Conferences, were held to address the Kashmir issue in many countries.

PM Narendra Modi, won the Elections based on anti-Muslim and Anti-Pakistan slogans and it was expected that his policies will be anti-Muslims and Anti-Pakistan. But PM Narendra Modi has not calculated well the consequences. Today, the Indian economy collapsed, society has been divided, law and order situation deteriorated, Government rit has weakened, insurgencies go momentum. Simply India as a country may not survive long and may disintegrate soon.  PM Modi is pushing India toward disaster. His Nazi thinking and extremist policies have ruined India already. India used to be known as a secular state, but today India is an extremist Hindu state, with no rights to minorities and low caste Hindus.

One year ago, on the same day, the 5th of August 2019, India revoked its own constitution Articles 370 and 35A and annexed Kashmir. The merger of Kashmir and Ladakh to Union territory ends the special autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, which is a disputed territory, recognized Internationally. The UNSC passed dozens of resolutions to resolve the Kashmir Issue. But India is not implementing the UNSC resolutions and became defaulter to the UN, which is a criminal act.  Kashmir is a disputed territory among China-Pakistan and India. The Unilateral actions taken by India angered the stakeholders and offended the international community.  It is a clear breach of international law and fair practices of the civilized world. It was Indian international commitment, the legal binding under Delhi agreement 1952, to implement the UNSC resolutions.

India is spoiling the peace of the whole region. It has initiated arms race in this region and procuring more and more lethal weapons. It should be known that the region is heavily armed with nuclear weapons. India, China, Pakistan, and Russia, al are nuclear countries. Any misadventure may cost the human lives of almost half of the world population.

Indian cross-border terrorism and aggressive acts are increasing and threatening the neighboring countries. India has disputes with all of the regional countries, like Nepal, China, Bhutan, Sikkim, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Almost nine hundred thousand troops of the Indian army, empowered with draconian laws,  have illegally occupied the territory and are keeping the 8 million people of Kashmir under siege while violating with impunity the International Humanitarian law and practices. Kashmir has become the largest jail. Indian troops are using lethal weapons, cluster bombs, pallet guns, and perpetrating Sexual offenses, destroying Muslim religious and private properties. Whereas the Kashmiri civilians are innocent and unarmed. They are protesting and agitating peacefully for their legitimate right of self-determination, sanctioned by UNSC in 1948. Although UNSC resolutions are legally binding on India, but, India is delaying and not implementing UNSC resolutions passed in 1948. 

Estimated killings so far are said to be 352, including 75 unarmed civilians, 196 freedom fighters, and also 81 from the occupational forces. 170000 persons have been arrested including old-aged, women, and under-aged children. The top political leadership has been arrested or house arrest. The activists and youth are arrested are shifted to detention camps. Children are separated from parents and messed in detention camps. It’s now a year since the curfew was clamped. There is a severe shortage of food, medicines, fuel, and electricity and the basic necessities of daily life. The phone and internet services are suspended. Travelling is restricted, especially media persons and foreigners.  Kashmir is totally cut-off from the rest of the world, and blacked-out, with no flow of information. Only state media is reporting the censored reports. Whatsoever is reported in the International media is only a fraction, as leaked information is always limited only. The actual situation on the ground is rather much more severe and dangerous. Kashmir is split into two Indian union territories as Kashmir and Ladakh.Against the wishes of the stakeholders. This is the worst type of tyranny being faced by the helpless people of Kashmir in the history of humankind.

For 72-years of Indian atrocities and brutalities, have forced Kashmiris to seek a merger with Pakistan. The more force India will use to suppress Kashmiris, the more hate will increase against India, and the more love for Pakistan will increase. The ultimate solution to Kashmir is the merger with Pakistan according to UNSC resolutions through holding a plebiscite. India is granting domicile to non-Kashmiris, especially Hindus from other parts of India, to change the demography of Kasmir. India wanted to change the Muslim majority of Kashmiris which stands 87% to the Hindu majority. India failed to control Kashmir for 72-years, and will never keep occupation forever. India has to leave Kashmir, the sooner, the better. The spirit of Kashmiris can not be suppressed by any means, they are determined to keep their struggle till victory. People of Kashmir are brave, bold, and committed. No one can suppress them.  Salute to the brave men and women from Kashmir, who are fighting with the huge Indian Army and yet not surrender. Their struggle will reach a logical end with Victory only.

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