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What the SCO Summit in Bishkek Confirmed

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Ensuring security and creating favorable conditions for the economic progress of states, regardless of their size and global political weight, is a long-term challenge for global development as a whole. This agenda gains greater relevance against the backdrop of increasingly turbulent global and regional processes that are characterized by both the exacerbation of old challenges and the expansion of new and non-traditional ones, the blurring (primarily at the initiative of the United States) of the basic principles of international law and inter-country relations, growing political egotism, protectionism in trade and economy, etc. Preventing these developments is becoming progressively more difficult without building up clear and substantive interaction between states that would not want these trends to become irreversible.

These circumstances were naturally the focus of the recent Bishkek summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), an alliance that has begun to stake its claim to being both a both trans-continental and global organization following the accession of India and Pakistan to its ranks. At the same time, while last year’s Shanghai 8 meeting in Qingdao, China was a sort of overture for its two new members, the Kyrgyzstan summit demonstrated the Organization’s rather quick (albeit not entirely smooth) adaptation to its qualitatively new geostrategic parameters.

The continued development of constructive bilateral contacts between SCO member states and within the organization itself provided a significant positive political background for the summit. As before, the example was set by Russia and China, whose strategic interaction and trade and economic cooperation was further solidified in the period between the previous summit and the one in Bishkek. Recent examples of this include the participation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in April 2019, and the subsequent visit of President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping to Russia and his participation in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. The recent re-election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India reinforces the possibilities for the country to implement strategic structural changes inside India, build stable long-term relations with its neighbors (primarily with Russia and China) and increase India’s role in regional and global affairs, which is the object of the country’s progressively growing desire. These developments also open new opportunities for broad cooperation within BRICS and the consultative mechanism of three SCO members — Russia, India, and China (known as RIC). The next RIC meeting is scheduled to take place alongside the upcoming BRICS summit in Osaka in late June 2019, which will be held concurrently with the next G20 summit.

Another important positive factor in the further improvement of cooperation within the SCO and the raising of the organization’s political profile in Eurasia and beyond is the recent intensification of interaction among the Central Asian states, the majority of which (four out of five) are SCO members. This interaction is gaining momentum across the entire spectrum of political, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres, alongside increasing bilateral cooperation with the organization’s members. The landmark resolution of the UN General Assembly of June 22, 2018 “Strengthening Regional and International Cooperation to Ensure Peace, Stability and Sustainable Development in the Central Asian Region” noted the important role that Central Asian states play in ensuring security, stability and sustainable development in the region. In particular, the resolution noted their efforts to achieve stability in Afghanistan. In this regard, it is necessary to note the progressive growth of interaction within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which celebrated its fifth anniversary on the eve of the SCO summit. Let us not forget that four out of eight SCO members are also EAEU members, as are one observer (Belarus) and one dialogue partner (Armenia). The recently signed agreement on mutual cooperation with China opens up additional opportunities for this alliance.

The principal message of the general political declaration adopted at Bishkek was the firm intention of the participants to continue broad cooperation in all three principal areas: security, economy, and humanitarian ties. The list of these specific areas alone testifies to the ever-growing dynamics that span an increasingly greater number of areas of interaction and involving not only states but also their specific regions and individual constituent entities, in joint activities. Therefore, a broad and multi-layered system of sectoral and humanitarian ties within the entire organization is gradually beginning to take shape. Another significant outcome of the summit was the confirmation of the readiness of the parties to continue to follow the course of active cooperation in building international relations of a new type based on the principles and norms of international law, mutual respect, fairness, equality and mutually advantageous collaboration, as well as on cooperation in shaping a general vision of the “community of common destiny” that China has been actively promoting in recent years. While discussing the state of affairs in another area of fundamental importance for the SCO (international and regional security and combating terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking), the parties paid special attention to the implementation of all the adopted documents and the intensification of specific cooperation within corresponding mechanisms and working groups.

The SCO member countries confirmed their commitment to preserving the organization’s development dynamics both in the final Declaration (which covered virtually the entire range of international and regional issues) and in nearly twenty documents signed or approved at the summit. Among the most important of these documents are the approval of the Programme for the Development of Interregional Cooperation of the SCO member states and the Procedure for the Work of the Forum of Heads of Regions of the SCO member states, which may give an additional impetus to trade and economic cooperation within the organization, as cooperation in this area is still far from perfect. An important role in this regard could be played by the task of studying issues in expanding the SCO’s capabilities in transportation and communication. This would constitute a specific contribution of the organization to fulfilling the task of linking the EAEU and China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

At the same time, the summit once again highlighted the lack of consensus within the SCO concerning the Belt and Road Initiative. With the exception of India, all the participants spoke in favor of the linking projects and other arrangements concerning the initiative. New Delhi is known for its continued skepticism towards the BRI in connection with the China–Pakistan cooperation in transportation and logistics in Kashmir, a region that is disputed by India and Pakistan. India’s political sensitivity in this regard is quite understandable, and it is something that the SCO will have to keep in mind.

The package of documents approved in Bishkek draws particular attention to the approval of further actions by the SCO–Afghanistan Contact Group in order to facilitate the expedited launch of the peace process in Afghanistan. The instability in the country and the protracted armed confrontation between Kabul and its Taliban opponents have been the principal challenge for stabilizing the regional situation for many years now. This circumstance affects the national interests of all SCO member states without exception. The general instability in Afghanistan has been increasingly affected in recent years by ISIS militants infiltrating the country (coming from, among other places, regions adjacent to Central Asia and China), as they lost control over a significant part of Syria. This development demonstrates a link between the two crisis-affected regions, especially since the majority of terrorists migrating to Afghanistan are natives of Central Asia and Muslim-populated regions of Russia and China. Such activity is unequivocally viewed as an immediate threat to the stability in the regions to the north and northeast of Afghanistan.

The SCO member states have repeatedly, and at various levels (including the very highest level), expressed their grave concerns over the entire range of problems in Afghanistan. The Bishkek summit was no exception. The Declaration signed at the end of the summit confirmed the organization’s readiness to advance a political settlement of the conflict under the direction, and with the participation, of the Afghan people themselves, both bilaterally and within the SCO–Afghanistan Contact Group. This item of the Declaration testifies to the SCO’s Afghanistan policy taking a more precise shape, which translated into the development of a roadmap at the Group’s scheduled meeting in Bishkek in April.

The continuing deterioration of the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan breathed new life (at Russia’s suggestion) into the work of the Contact Group two years ago. The heads of state of the Shanghai 8 decided to develop a roadmap, a decision that has practical value that appears particularly relevant today, as there are plans to launch a peace dialogue and the United States and NATO may withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. In an attempt to speed up the process, Washington appointed a special representative for Afghanistan last autumn who was tasked with finding a formula for launching a dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban and creating conditions for the withdrawal of troops from the country. At the consultative meeting between representatives of the United States, Russia, and China in April of this year, a consensus was achieved concerning the common vision of a new stage in the Afghanistan process. Engaged in active work with the opposing parties, Russia recently proposed the so-called Moscow format of talks for the Afghan parties concerned. For the first time ever, this format made it possible to establish direct contact between them. Some Central Asian states operate in a similar vein. One prominent example is Uzbekistan, which has offered to host inter-Afghan talks. In this regard, pooling the efforts of SCO member States, or at least clearly coordinating their practical steps concerning Afghanistan, appears particularly relevant in the near and medium term. The Bishkek summit sent a specific signal in this area as well, stressing the significance of further interaction in various international formats, including the Contact Group, the Moscow Consultative Format, etc.

Preserving peace and stability in the Eurasian space (including the SCO space) is largely determined by the general political climate in Asia. The tasks the SCO faces are similar to those challenges that this key world region faces today, and this similarity was clearly manifested at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held in Dushanbe after the Bishkek Summit. The Dushanbe meeting was attended by 27 member states and 13 observers, including international organizations. The meeting’s attendees emphasized, in particular, the need to pay special attention to the situation in Afghanistan.

The SCO is becoming increasingly confident in the path it is treading towards becoming the crucial foreign political hub of the broadly understood Eurasian space. The expanding multidimensional participation of its members in large-scale trans-regional economic projects and initiatives is laying solid economic foundations for such prospects. Against this background, we can hardly expect the SCO to be able to boost the economic component of its activities and turn it into the core of its work. This place will most likely be held by the multidimensional security sector. The SCO states will become more involved in the Eurasian economic agenda through the transnational economic institutions they have already established (or are planning to establish). The Shanghai 8 will most likely play the role of a serious multidimensional political center. Both this area and the further bolstering of coordinated policies of SCO member states in the short and medium term should be the focus of Russia’s year-long chairmanship of the SCO that it assumed on June 13–14.

From our partner RIAC

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation. Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Research, MGIMO University, RIAC member.

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Defense

Urgency of Reviewing India-Pakistan’s CBMs & Risk Reduction Measures

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In an unprecedented event on March 9, 2022, India launched a missile, reportedly identified as the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which landed in Pakistan. After crossing the international border, the missile travelled 124 kilometres at an altitude of 40,000 feet into Pakistani airspace before impacting near the city of Mian Channu, Khanewal District. Following the incident, India started issuing clarification statements only after Pakistan reported the matter. In its first statement, India noted that the missile was accidently launched owing to a technical malfunction. Later, the Indian government changed its statement and termed it a human error, involving ‘possible lapses on part a Group Captain and a few others.’ Around six months later, India terminated the services of three Indian Air Force (IAF) officers, after a Court of Inquiry found ‘deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)’ by the officers and held them responsible for misfiring the missile.

Pakistan has rejected the purported closure of the incident and called the findings of the Court of Inquiry unsatisfactory and inadequate. While reiterating its call for a joint probe, Pakistan not only termed Indian clarifications ‘simplistic’ but also criticised the country for failing to immediately inform when the missile was launched. India’s failure to communicate the incident violated the 1991 agreement with Pakistan on preventing air space violations. Under the agreement, both India and Pakistan have to inform and investigate inadvertent violations of airspace promptly. Meanwhile, India also failed to activate the high-level military hotline to inform Pakistan. Both the countries maintain mechanisms of hotline contact between their Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) to resolve misunderstandings.

Fortunately, the missile was unarmed and no lives were lost. Pakistan also responded towards the situation with restraint. However, the incident marks an alarmist event. Whether the incident was an accidental launch, an unauthorised launch, or a simulated exercise, it suggests not only shortcomings in India’s technical and procedural system but also shows its irresponsible behaviour as a nuclear weapon state. The incident also raises numerous questions about the country’s safety protocols, Command and Control (C2) of nuclear weapons and missiles, and communication mechanisms. The situation would have escalated if the accident had led to destruction or loss of lives, since there were several indications that Pakistani authorities had considered retaliation. Second, if the incident had taken place during a crisis, it could have led to inadvertent military escalation owing to miscalculations.

In this regard, there is a great urgency that both India and Pakistan collaborate on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to ensure that such accidents or unauthorised launches do not take place in the future. Even if they do, the two countries should be able to inform each other before any military response.

First, India and Pakistan need to review their joint 2005 Agreement on the Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles. The agreement covers surface-to-surface ballistic missiles only, and each country provides at least three days’ notice for a test launch. Both countries are obligated to not situate test launch sites within 40 kilometres of their shared border nor land a weapon closer than 70 kilometres from the border. However, the agreement has its limitations as it does not cover cruise missiles. In 2005, New Delhi declined to accept Islamabad’s proposal to include launch of cruise missiles in their joint agreement on pre-notification of ballistic missile launches. Currently, Pakistan and India have multiple and diverse types cruise missiles in their arsenal with high ranges. There is an urgency of expanding the pre-notification regime to include cruise missiles, including surface, air or sea-launched versions to avoid misunderstanding. Second, in order to avoid accidents in case of routine maintenance or inspection, India should efficiently and professionally ensure safety precautions regarding its missiles.

Additionally, India and Pakistan could also consider devising new Risk Reduction Measures (RRMs). For example, missiles that are scheduled to be inspected, both countries need to configure their weapons’ guidance systems to unoccupied places such as oceans or deserts where they pose minimum dangers. Moreover, the weapons’ pre-fed adversary target locations need to be removed while used for inspection, training, or simulated exercises. The maintenance of actual coordinates of adversary targets could lead to unintended escalation in accidental launches. These measures would not only help avoid accidents, they could also serve as an added layer of protocol to minimise the possibility of unauthorised launch.

However, accidents happen despite best safety protocols as there are limits of safety procedures. In such a possibility, there is a need of haste to communicate accidental launches. India needs to make use of existing channels of communication to avoid miscalculations in times of crises. The BrahMos missile incident indicates that crisis could erupt quite quickly between India and Pakistan. Unless the two countries adhere to their existing CBMs and establish new measures, mitigating such incidents and preventing risk of escalation could become a Gordian knot.

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Why Parties to Russia Ukraine War Prolonging it?

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Russia Ukraine War seems to be entering a deadly phase after seven months, witnessing significant twist in the form of Kremlin’s declaring victory in hasty referendum in four regions of occupied territory to join Russia, poising itself for complete annexation of occupied areas, having announced partial mobilization calling up 3,00,000 reservists for frontline duties. The recent successes of Ukrainian counteroffensive, as the cumulative military aid over $60 billion poured into Ukraine from US led NATO, seems to have emboldened Zelensky to talk of defeating Russia and getting back his entire territory. Angered NATO, left out of battle by nuclear threat, calling out sham referendum, is looking to table new resolution against it, knowing fully well that it will be vetoed by Russia.

Why No Party to the war is thinking of conflict termination?

This prolonged war is making everyone in the world vulnerable to inflationary pressures, triggering an unprecedented energy crisis and acute food shortages. In view of that, diplomacy and talks for conflict termination should have been the logical option long back, but no party to the war seems to be thinking about it due to own strategic interest, wanting to make more gains before getting back to negotiation table. All parties know that they can’t be outright winners in this war, but all are prolonging their agony to avoid being an outright loser.

Russian Stakes

Russia is yet to achieve its strategic aim of liberating complete Donbass Region and remaining southern Ukraine to landlock it, to join up with Transnistria. It has suffered heavy casualties and reverses in many regions like Kharkiv. It has received no worthwhile military material support from anyone in the prolonged war; hence consolidating its gains, redeployment of troops in Russian friendly areas by pulling back from unfriendly ones, along with regrouping and rejig in military hierarchy is a sensible option from military perspective.

The awkward thinly veiled threat by President Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, if Russian “territorial integrity” is threatened has put NATO on notice as to how it would respond. The expected annexation post referendum complicates the nuclear threat, as attack on annexed territory may invite nuclear response as per Russian nuclear policy.

Putin may not be encouraged with meek support from China, its ‘strategic partner with no limit’ seemingly responding within careful limits, and comments like ‘Not an era of war’ from otherwise impartial India. Russia might end up with extension of direct land border with NATO by over 1000 Km in terms of Finland joining it. It also continues to suffer standoff attacks from Ukraine’s recently acquired long range capabilities including drones and clandestine raids of special forces and non-state actors like blasts in Crimea.

Russia is aware of its limitations in the areas of economic, diplomatic, information warfare, and political warfare. Russia’s much-criticised partial mobilisation and call for reservists is comparable to Ukraine’s, which carried it out while under Martial Law, seven months ago and was praised by Western media, highlighting information war against Russia. As a result, it will be prone to hold onto its existing territorial gains and prolong the conflict into the winter, which could favor a new offensive to accomplish remaining military objectives to give itself a stronger negotiating position to have the sanctions lifted.

Ukrainian Stakes

Having accepted so much of political, strategic and military investment of NATO in his country and tasted some success in his counteroffensives, President Zelensky, posing to be fighting on behalf of US led NATO to weaken Russia, is not in a position to back out from prolonging the war.

Ukraine cannot overlook the fact that it has lost 15% of its original land since being independent, is left with over 10 million refugees, devastated towns, suffered significant casualties, and its hyped democracy is struggling under martial law and referendum. While US-led NATO’s military assistance and arsenal can increase its combat power to launch standoff attacks, regaining lost ground from the Russians will be very difficult because they will use built-up areas for defending their gains in a manner similar to how Ukrainian troops did, more so under nuclear hangover.

NATO’s military support to pursue war will not bring Ukraine any closer to peace; nevertheless, it may result in long-term changes to its territorial configuration, unending proxy war, and enhance long term Russian threat. President Zelensky is aware that the western narrative and information war that portrays him as a hero and clear victor is unsustainable, yet he will prolong the conflict in order to safeguard his political survival and continued aid.

NATO’s Stakes

NATO may be encouraged by successes of Ukrainian counter-offensives, and its own gains in non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war against Russia in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, but concerned that it can’t take Putin’s nuclear threat lightly, because a tactical nuclear strike from cornered Russia is within the realms of possibility, if Russia declares newly acquired territory as its integral part, post successful referendum and applies the policy of escalate to de-escalate.

The United States may benefit from sales of arms, energy, and post-conflict construction contracts in Ukraine, and it may justify recent increases in aid in order to pursue its goal of weakening Russia in order to fend off potential rivals in Europe, but its biggest strategic loss is bringing Russia, China, and Iran closer than ever before in a strategic partnership. It may be beginning of adoption of alternate global/localised financial systems, undermining its grip on current global financial system.

NATO, encouraged by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, is keen to add both with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank for better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean.

NATO will continue to urge Russia to end the conflict while supporting Ukraine in its proxy war until last Ukrainian remains because holding negotiations when a sizable portion of the land is in Russian hands will be viewed as NATO’s weakness. With millions of refugees mixed in with activated mercenaries and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganise itself after learning from its mistakes, the war is undoubtedly not making Europe more peaceful. It has signaled its willingness to sacrifice its energy and economic interests in order to achieve that goal. To effectively combat unfriendly Russia in the long run, the EU will need to increase its defence spending while holding some sovereign decisions hostage to the USA.

Way Ahead

Despite the narrative and rhetoric of the west, Ukraine may not recapture a sizable amount of territory, but standoff strikes, proxy war, clandestine operations, and some ground operations to cause Russian fatalities will continue in the coming days, inviting an equal or stronger Russian reaction.

In the Big powers’ contestation in Ukraine, the global need is that this war should end, but the negotiations are unlikely, because Russia has not yet achieved its strategic objectives on the ground, which is essential to persuade NATO to lift sanctions. On the other side, US led NATO doesn’t have any leverage to restrain Putin, so it finds weakening Russia by ongoing proxy war, without sharing any burden of body bags, as the most convenient option.  This is especially true when Zelensky is prepared to take this move because he understands that without US support, he will lose his position of power.

In current phase of offensive, Russia seemed to have reached its culmination point before seizing center of gravity of Ukrainian forces, a situation which is uncomfortable for any attacker in military campaign. The referendum and nuclear threat by Russia have pushed the war into next phase, with NATO yet to work out its responses.

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India overreacted to the US $450 million deal with Pakistan

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India registered a strong protest with the US last week over the latter’s decision to approve a $ 450 million sustainment package for Pakistan’s aging F-16 Fleet. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency DSCA said in a statement that the sustainment program would assist Pakistan in its campaign against terrorism with a rider that it will not affect the status quo in the region. The Biden administration has ignored the “strong objections” raised by India over the proposed foreign military sale of $450 million to Pakistan in order to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 program.

Pakistan’s arch-rival India has voiced “serious objections” to the US plan for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth $450 million for hardware, software, and spares for the F-16 fighter jet during official meetings with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu in Delhi.

In widely published comments, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said last week that the US was not “fooling anybody” by claiming the equipment was for counterterrorism operations. Recently Indian foreign Minister cut short his trip to the US, and without attending his pre-scheduled meetings and returned back to India in protest. His behavior was unprecedented in the diplomacy world and considered an overreaction.

Prime Minister Modi is upset too and sources close to his are guessing a severe reaction from him. Unconfirmed, but a possible reaction may include cancellation of defense agreements with the US, and exclusion from “Quad” – an anti-China alliance with the US, Japan, and Australia. The Indian ideology of intolerance, extremism, and nationalism is the real threat to the region.

As a matter of fact, India has been hijacked by extremists and any extreme reaction is expected at any moment. There was a time in history when India was known democratic and secular state. But, now, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, all extremist political parties and groups under the umbrella of the BJP are ruling India.

The extremist and fanatics are implementing their agenda of eliminating minorities and transforming India into a “Pure Hindu State”. Especially with Pakistan, a traditional rivalry exists and they cannot see any improvement in Pakistan. 

Pakistan was in the American club for almost Seven Decades and enjoyed very cordial relations with the Western world. Whereas India was a close ally with the former USSR. Although Pakistan was a close ally of the West, yet was facing the toughest sanctions too. However, there is a realization in Washington and a visible policy shit was witnessed recently. Pakistan always welcomes and desires the restoration of traditional friendship between the West and Pakistan.

The US claims the proposed sale to Pakistan does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions, but it would be hard for New Delhi to digest such claims and remain complacent. Interestingly, the fleet of F-16s has been part of the Pakistan Air Force since the early 1980s. Pakistan has always used the US-supplied defense systems in its defense only. The F-16s in their arsenals have been no exception. In February 2019, after the Indian Air Force launched its air strike on Balakot, Pakistan came to deploy its F-16s to target Indian military bases close to the Line of Control.

Apart from Pakistan, the US has sold F-16s in many countries like Bahrain, Belgium, Egypt, Taiwan, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey, etc. However, South Asia remains a highly volatile region. The US has been sitting on the sale of F-16s to Turkey based on security concerns in the Mediterranean region, which makes the Pakistan agreement all the more intriguing.

Department of State spokesperson Ned Price has said the relationship Washington had with Pakistan “stands on its own,” responding to criticism from India over a proposed US sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Islamabad.

Answering a question about Jaishankar’s comments, the state department spokesperson said on Monday Washington did not view its relations with India or Pakistan “in relation to one another.” “These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests,” Price told a briefing. “And the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own.”

There are positive signals and it seems the traditional relations between the US and Pakistan will be restored soon. Our relations are not any threat to India or any other nation, but, for promoting regional peace, stability and development. We are partners in peace, development, and the total welfare of humankind.

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