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The Potential of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Stabilizing Afghanistan

Shaza Arif

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Afghanistan today remains afflicted with instability and looming threat of terrorism. Kidnapping, killings, bomb blasts and other such notorious activities continue to vandalize the lives of millions of Afghans. Moreover, it also poses a perilous threat to regional security and has the potential to jeopardize the ongoing economic projects, the most pertinent of which is the Chinese initiated Belt Road Initiative (BRI). After a protracted stay of 17 years in Afghanistan, the U.S forces have ultimately decided to withdraw its troops and bring an end to the Afghan War. However, the withdrawal of the United States will change the security dynamics of Afghanistan. The regional players are well aware of this fact and have galvanized their efforts to avert the possibility of chaos in the region after the United States extricates.

BRI is a colossal initiative and is the manifestation of China’s ambitions to entangle the region into an economic interconnectedness. This magnanimous project will evolve a number of opportunities for other regional states including Afghanistan. A stabilized Afghanistan is a dire requirement of BRI; partly because the integration of Afghanistan into the initiative will be very fruitful and partly because turbulent conditions in Afghanistan can pose obstructions in the functioning of various projects particularly, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Furthermore, countries like China and Russia are extremely apprehensive of the spillover effect of terrorism to other states.  Hence, chalking out a secure environment is crucial.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is the largest and most populous regional organization which commenced in 2001 for the fostering of friendly relations between the members, expediting regional connectivity and eradicating terrorism. In 2005 SCO-Afghan Contact Group was established to put forward recommendations and proposals for the cooperation between SCO and Afghanistan on security matters along with various aspects of mutual concerns such as enhanced trade activities. Even though the activities of the forum remained stalled till 2009; However 2017 onwards the SCO-Afghan Contact Group held three annual meetings. Moreover, in 2012 SCO accorded the observer status to Afghanistan.

In the 2017 meeting of the SCO-Afghan Contact Group in Astana Kazakhstan, the organization readjusted the Group activities in the light of the expansion of the organization by adding new members: India and Pakistan. All foreign ministers endorsed the building of a stable Afghanistan and exchanged opinions to combat the prevailing threat of terrorism and carve out a secure environment. Similarly, all the parties generated a consensus on the dire requirement to bolster the SCO-Afghanistan cooperation in the future. In addition China offered to host the 2018 Contact Group meeting which was accepted by all of the parties to materialize the initiatives proposed in the meeting through further discussions, proposals and frameworks.

In the 2018 meeting in Beijing, all the members again reasserted their support to intensify the cooperation between Afghanistan and SCO. Secretary-General Rashid Alimov also attended the meeting, and  made the opening remarks by stating,  “The leaders of the SCO member states are unanimous in their firm commitment to Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity, as well as their invariable support for the Afghan Government and people as they strive to restore their country and strengthen democratic institutions”.

Again in 2019, the meeting held for the third time. The participants discussed the current status of the security condition in Afghanistan, Afghan reconciliation process along with a roadmap draft for future actions. Furthermore, parties agreed on fostering further cooperation between Afghanistan and SCO members on terrorism and the prospects of regional connectivity.

SCO has emerged as the largest and most populous regional organization. The BRI initiative will indeed be the manifestation of regional interconnectedness. It opposes unilateralism and trade protectionism. Moreover, the SCOs principles of non-interference and consensus are also quite captivating for Afghanistan. Likewise the geostrategic location of Afghanistan is very pertinent for the BRI initiative. China has become either the first or second largest trading partner of most of the SCO members. Hence Afghanistan can benefit a lot from this initiative provided the security conditions are tamed.

The Chinese attitude towards Afghanistan has been very amiable. In June 2018, during a meeting between President Ghani and President Xi Jinping, Xi called for the amplifying of high-level interaction, bolstering local-level cooperation along the anti-terrorism and trade cooperation. Moreover, he also praised the endeavors of the Afghan government towards peace and stability in view of the announced cease-fire with the Taliban. The President also highlighted that an “Afghan led and Afghan owned” reconciliation process will serve as the sole driver for paving sustainable peace in Afghanistan. An engaging aspect is that China being a dominant regional player has the capacity to pacify the tensions between the Afghan and Pakistan government, this will be a mighty achievement and will serve the interest of regional security. Similarly another area where Afghanistan needs assistance is the governance. Augmenting the weak institutions of Afghanistan is mandatory for the efficient functioning of the state. SCO members can play a part in fortifying the institutions through a proper framework.

Most important is the urgent need to curb the ISIS from protruding its network in Afghanistan. This is a very pressing task and requires a synergized action by all the regions through efficient intelligences sharing and the training of Afghanistan’s forces in a manner that they can tackle this potential threat on their own.

Taliban are an indispensable part of Afghanistan. Years after fighting, all the parties have realized that there is no military solution to the Afghan issue. China and Russia are active actors in the Afghan Peace Process and are even in talks with the Taliban. Hence, they can play an instrumental role to steer them to the talking table with the Afghan government.

The China-led organization serves as a potential driver of stability in Afghanistan in the long run due to the economic interconnectedness which will curtail the onerous economic crisis which Afghanistan is tackling at the moment and at the same time aid Afghanistan for security measures. The SCO members, observers and dialogue partners can collectively push towards stabilizing Afghanistan. Moreover, the expansion of SCO is quite likely in the future with the prospects of roping in Afghanistan as a full member are also on the table. Afghanistan can attain a lot from SCO and vice versa. Changing geopolitical landscape, geostrategic location of Afghanistan coupled with the ongoing economic initiatives has opened a pathway on which Afghanistan can tread towards stability.

Student of Defence and Diplomatic Studies at Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi , Pakistan, My research areas include Revolutions in Military affairs, Artificial Intelligence, Arms Control and Disarmament and Issues related to South Asia. twitter: @ShazaArif14

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South Asia

Current Political Scenario in Pakistan

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Imran Khan, born in 1952, educated in the UK, brought-up in Western Word, very well aware of Western Culture, yet equipped with strong traditional values, is 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is known for his honesty, love for humanity, and great leadership qualities. He asserted himself in the international community as a visionary global leader, especially after his speech in the UN General Assembly in 2019, which has made him attract international attention.

He struggled for 22 years to become Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is also Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – a political party that he formed in 1996. As a result of General election 2018, PTI won 116 seats in the National assembly out of 270 and declared the largest political party.

After taking charge of his office, PTI announced a 100-day agenda for a possible future government. The agenda included sweeping reforms in almost all areas of Government, including the creation of a new province in Southern Punjab, fast-tracking of the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the betterment of law and order situation in Karachi, and betterment of relations with Baloch political leaders. In his first spec h, he announced that as he is impressed by China, how they eradicated poverty and corruption, he would like to learn from the Chinese experience.

PTI was envisaged as a Movement to fight for a just and equitable society based on the system that Prophet Mohammad(PBUH) laid down in the Medina Charter, which was the foundation of the model Islamic state, an egalitarian society based on the rule of law and economic justice – the first welfare state in the history of humankind. It is these principles of justice and egalitarianism that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisaged Pakistan, and it is these principles that are the foundation of PTI.

During his election campaign, he made several promises with people of Pakistan, and masses trusted him and voted him. It was a very unusual election in Pakistan, against the traditional politics, the majority voted him, especially the middle class, educated people, and youth& women. He emerged as the third most popular leader in the history of Pakistan, just after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

People of Pakistan had high expectations from him in return for voting him and trusting him. Unfortunately, most of the expectations turned unfulfilled. The cost of living has gone up, shortage of Atta, Sugar, Petrol, high inflation, devaluation of currency, joblessness, shortage of electricity, etc., are common issues hitting the common man. Yet, he enjoys popularity. Most people believe that PM Imran Khan is sincere and wanted to full-fill his promises, but his team is not with him on the same page. Masses still do not blame him but blame his team instead.

In fact, it is believed that although Imran Khan is the Prime Minister of Pakistan because of some of his good deeds which All-mighty Allah (God) liked and elevated him to the long-desired position as Prime Minister of Pakistan. But it is not the PTI-led Government.

His team includes non-elected members, foreign imported members, dual national members, electable elite, who joined him only recently for getting better positions in his Government. The hard-core, PTI workers are out-side his Government or a very little percentage at some unimportant positions. For example, the most important is Finance, a non-PTI led, Governor State Bank, led by non-=PTI, Strategic Planning, led by non-PTI, Interior Ministry, again a non-PTI-led, Commerce, again a non-PTI led, and so on….

Some of PTI friends argue that previous Governments also hired Imported, non-elected, and dual nationals in their tenures. It is true, the previous Government also did similar things, but what happens to them? Are people of Pakistan liked their acts? Voted them again? If PM Imran Khan also follow their path and he should be ready to face the same outcome.

We voted PTI for a change, reforms, meritocracy, justice, equality, change of status quo, and transformation completely. People of Pakistan can sacrifice a lot but have voted PTI for a cause. It is afraid if the cause is not served, the people of Pakistan may think differently. Pakistan can not afford any more crisis. The rapidly Emerging Geopolitical scenario may not allow us to have any disturbance internally.

However, neutral, intellectuals in Pakistan think that;  is he so helpless? Is making his team was not his own choice? What were pressures to form a team of not-his-choice? And so many similar questions. At least, people may blame him for not making his team based on merit, honesty, sincerity, loyalty with Pakistan. It is suggested, PM Imran Khan should think about how to satisfy the public before it is too late.

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Pandemic is the weapon to remain the ‘throne’ sustainable

Mohammad Kepayet

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Do you think, now rulers are using the pandemic for its favor? How pandemic is appearing in front of the people? In what ways is pandemic being sold? The government using this Covid-19 for its sustainable advertisement. When Coronavirus is deadly to the average people, at the same time it is an important tool to persistence to the government. This unknown enemy is the main topic of discussion in the national parliament. But the budgetary allocation in the health sector is poor. Pandemic is the common trading point from the MP and to the government bureaucrats. It is the weapon to remain the ‘throne’ sustainable.

The European country Hungary has set an excellent example. That defective democratic country has become completely autocratic country. Prime Minister Viktor Urban has been given the power to rule the country until the end of the Coronavirus crisis. As a result, parliamentary elections were effectively canceled. Urban says, he needs to have such capabilities to prevent coronavirus infections. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed Hearing a corruption case against him for three months. Interesting thing, corrupted rulers are using this crisis to their favor.

In the post-independence Indian subcontinent, famine and natural disasters have occurred at different times. The Colonial rulers have tried to suppress the citizens through those disasters. Colonially, the Indian subcontinent has also learned how to sell a national crisis and how to suppress and absorb its citizens. Now the government of this subcontinent is still following that same method.  

Where one’s own life is in crisis, there is less opportunity to think about what is happening to others. Ordinary people only want to know more about the pandemic. They try to know how many dead and how many are infected in COVID-19. And they want to know which area is being under lockdown. Because they need to buy some necessary things, so they are seeking which shopping malls are open for all. 

In Bangladesh, the mass media also broadcasting news, according to the needs of ordinary people. The media industry is not able to understand some times it is being used by governmental publicity. And it is the main medium for selling this pandemic. Traditional mass media are not doing any follow-up news about how many people were detained under the Digital Security Act amid the pandemic situation! Even the media did not do any investigative news about how many people lost their lives by extrajudicial killings! How many people have become unemployed? How many farmers are not able to sell their commodities due to the transport crisis? The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer in the result of the Covid-19 catastrophe. 

The consequence of pandemic is everywhere. This virus not only taking away people’s lives but also taking away the minimum assurance of human survival. It is doing deep damage to human life. That damage cannot be seen with the open eyes. We can only see the statistics. We only see the number of dead and infected people.  

When the state goes through a national crisis, other problems become minor. The same thing has happened in the case of Bangladesh. The ruling government has been ruled since 2008 has now matured. There is no battle in the political ground because of the Covid-19 crisis. So-called opposition party BNP has almost been suppressed. The government has increased surveillance everywhere in the name of Coronavirus confrontation. From airports to people’s personal lives is now under surveillance. At this time the only voice that can be heard is the voice of the government and the voice of the bureaucrats. Where no presence of the common people. In this pandemic, the government seems to have become stronger and more powerful. 

There are no rebellious music-songs, poem-novel amid Covid-19. No criticism in the mass media. Political ground is calm, with no meetings and rallies. Universities and readymade garments are closed. No movement to control road accidents. No movement against rape. No demand for an increase in salaries and allowances of school teachers. People only seeking to save their lives. Is the government able to fulfill the demands of the people? Or the rulers are strengthening themselves by using this Pandemic.     

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An Argument on Sino-India Conflict

Ghanwah Ijaz

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Lately, tension has built along the China – India disputed borders. Since the Dokhlam crisis, both sides have gradually increased their number of troops in the areas near Pangong lake and Galwan valley region. The expansion of the battalions in these particular regions, for the obvious reasons, fuelled the fear of an extensive confrontation between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Consequently, on May 5, 2020, scuffles broke out between the Chinese and Indian troops. This has been one of the most enduring disputes, grinding on the men on foot. Moreover, the violent hand-to-hand clashes between the troops of the two sides are risking an open conflict.

Will the crisis heighten or the officials will be successful in defusing it through dialogue? What are the official claims of the two states? What are the reasons for increasing the number of troops in the disputed region? Is Galwan valley strategically significant? Does border infrastructure development play its part in stepping-up the conflict? Why both states cannot afford an all-out war, at present? All these questions need a well-articulated and calculated answer. This article tries to explain the strategic and economic aspects of the recent standoff. Furthermore, it endeavours to answer most of the abovementioned questions and present four reasonable scenarios, forecasting the possible outcome of the standoff.

The argument begins with the demarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC). China and India nourish different opinions on LAC, as it is not a determined frontier as both the states never agreed on where the actual official border lies (or should lie). The unresolved issue of ‘who owns which part of the land’ has been the exclusive cause of the 1962 war and the 73-day stand-off in the past. This time the 130 km long and 5 km wide Pangong lake became the new battlefield. LAC at Pangong lake is vaguely defined through pointers termed as ‘fingers.’ India claims that the LAC lies with finger 8 (F8) while China claims that it lies at finger 2 (F2) with the grey area laying in between. An unofficial Indian claim is that the Chinese troops have crossed F5. Some experts including Lt Gen (Retd) H S Pang and Colonel (Retd) Ajay Shukla believe that a part of the grey area (F4 – F8) has been captured by the Chinese troops. They have also termed this disturbance in the status quo as ‘intrusion.’ On the contrary, the Indian government is hesitant in admitting the claim. Experts also opine that besides Pangong lake area, situation is also worrisome for the Indian administration in the valley of Galwan.

The Chinese claim that its border defence troops have bolstered border control measures and made necessary moves in response to India’s illegal construction of defensive facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan valley region. This region holds extensive strategic significance. It is believed that whosoever occupies this area first, enjoys the High Ground Advantage. Some experts reckon that the construction of 255 km long Darbuk- Shyok- Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road near the border in Uttarkhand’s Lipulekh area, was the crucial factor in sparking clash between the troops of the two states. China had expressed its objection to the road at different occasions.

On a cursory look, the patterns through which India is altering the status of the entire region are threatening its immediate neighbours. China has evinced its discomfort in India’s decision of making Laddakh a union territory, unilaterally. Probably it would not be wrong to deduce that the Chinese border activity was a response to BJP’s unbridled horse.

 While the Indian government is mum on the issue, the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had initially conceded that a sizeable number of Chinese troops had come into the eastern Ladakh, though later it was claimed as erroneous information. So why the Indian government does not accept this aspect in the first place or why did the government rule-out any presence of Chinese troops on the Indian side of the Galwan valley? The answer is simple. If the government agrees to the claim of the Chinese intrusion, the Indian public would build-up pressure on BJP to take aggressive measures (most favored course of action) i.e. surgical strike against China. Realistically, India cannot demonstrate a jingoistic and aggressive approach towards China. So,if the surgical strike option is dropped, which option is left then? #BoycottChina?

Heading towards the economic aspect of the conflict, to teach China a lesson, Indian people have taken the issue in their hands. To do that, some opportunists have lamely directed the public to boycott the Chinese economy without evaluating how hard it would hit China. Education reformist Sonam Wangchuk, for instance, has asked the Indian public to boycott Chinese software in a week and hardware in a year. It is argued that even with complete boycott, India cannot affect the Chinese economy much because China is not dependent on the Indian market. However, China is the 3rd largest export destination for India. In FY19, for instance, India exported goods worth $16.7 billion to China. In the present state of the Indian economy, what if China boycotts’ in response? It is also argued that if China retaliates and boycotts Indian goods, 67% of drug export and 60% of electronic exports will get affected and Indian businesses will suffer gravely.

Without a doubt, the chances for the crisis to escalate are minimal. If the aggressor would have been Pakistan instead of China, PM Modi and his cabal would have set the stage for a ferocious and macho-styled response by now. So far, kudos to the Chinese and Indian governments in maintaining a stable and controlled environment in the handling of this crisis. As of now, both states are indulged in several rounds of talks to de-escalate the crisis.

Considering all the factors, this crisis could perhaps result in any of the four scenarios:

Scenario 1: Initiating War (Chinese Perspective)

At present, China cannot afford to indulge in an all-out war as it is experiencing acceptance in the western world, by holding its multilateralism agenda. As expressed in the Leipzig summit 2020, the Chinese government believes and extends the notion that the world economy could gain steam through solidarity, cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, multilateralism, and strong global governance. Indulging in a severe military expedition would critically dent the Chinese efforts.

Scenario 2: Initiating War (Indian Perspective)

In the midst of an economic crisis and military modernization program, India’s desire to fight a full-fledged war against China may not result in victory. The internal issues faced by the BJP government also do not qualify India to risk a war against China.

Scenario 3: India as a US Pawn

In the international arena, China being the sole hegemon challenger and a threat to the US interest in the Asia Pacific, if not shaken has at least weakened the standing of the US. Considering India’s socio-economic and political problems, the US can covertly encourage India by extending a lucrative offer for the revival of its looming economy. India could be played as a tool and it would help the US to dent the Chinese rise, especially in the post-pandemic world.

Scenario 4: Peace Process Through Military Establishment

Beijing and New Delhi seem determined to proceed with the settlement through their military establishments. It would be a hard task for both the sides to re-establish the status quo they have rearranged. Considering the larger picture, both military forces would preferably secure their interests and de-escalate. However, it may take some time for the military to absorb the recent unilateral changes on both sides.

It would suffice to conclude, as war benefits none, there is a high possibility that the militaries of the two ends would intelligently manage the crisis. But what the outcome would be in reality and how much it would satisfy the interest of either side, will take time to ascertain.

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