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South Asia

Conflicting Neighbors

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Nowadays, the thrill of the Cricket World Cup 2019 has taken over all countries participating in the tournament. Each country is seen supporting its own team either by their physical presence on field or through social media, where a match other than the one payed on ground is played.

The two South Asian neighbors, Pakistan and Afghanistan recently had their match in which both teams gave each other a tough competition though Pakistan won by a very small margin. It should add in favor of Afghanistan, whose cricket team in a very short span of time has come up to the competition of a relatively better team like Pakistan.

Even though the game is called as a gentlemen’s game, where sportsman’s spirit should have been adopted by both sides, supporting each other and taking the game lightly enough to keeping it just a game, but it is undoubtedly very disappointing to see it get escalated into a political strife quite quickly.

Supporters were seen abusing each other, getting into physical conflict as soon as the match concluded. The conflict was prevalent both online and offline, on social media and in physical ways.

Deciphering this situation, it is seen to be a matter of international importance as it translates to certain grave outcomes that might prove costly for Pakistan in the future. Firstly, it is an open dislike between two Muslim countries that isn’t a norm generally. Pakistan maintains good relations with almost all fellow Muslim nations except Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has never been successful on pulling off cordial relations with its immediate Muslim neighbor, though with great strands of commonality in culture, society, religion etc.

The bilateral relations have always been marked with mistrust, a game of accusation and counter accusation and a complex blame game with each marking the other responsible for its domestic volatility. This current match was just another translation of this scenario.

Secondly, this is also the translation of the most recent Indian war doctrine termed as the “Hybrid Warfare Doctrine 2018-19” where India is fighting a soft war in the choke points of Pakistan, including Kashmir, Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Hybrid warfare basically is how Indian discourse is imposed over mindsets of these area, creating among them an antagonistic point of view against Pakistan through literature, indoctrination, propaganda, politics, false imaging etc.

The former doctrines like the Cold Start or the Integrated Land Warfare doctrine have been yet unsuccessful to deliver on the Indian military’s full expectations, where they wanted to make conflict supremely costly for Pakistan. Particularly after the Pulwama episode of conventional supremacy, that was derailed earlier this year to deliver itself effectively, giving a huge set back to Indian military planners.

The former doctrines focused on arms, physical power, military and real-time war supremacy. Hybrid doctrine is a hidden, clandestine version of soft hostility Indian strategic thinkers have recently taken up, where a war is being waged on soft platforms rather real-time conflict. The nature of this doctrine of being secretive makes it a very lethal agenda against Pakistan.

India for this reason has developed a “Technical Service Division (TSD)” that works secretively to promote the ideas of this current warfare strategy to destabilize Pakistan. It includes the indoctrination of the leaders of Indian occupied Kashmir to build an anti-Pakistan stance amongst them, as well as in Baluchistan and Afghanistan- the current given situation of which is a lustrous example.  

In this domain; the world of soft power and propaganda, we have clearly lost a war against India which may prove very costly to us in the future. We have yet lost to establish a good writ of Pakistan among the Afghan societal mindset in whom 84% now think that Pakistan always has some gross scheme under its sleeve to harm Afghanistan in all domains, with only 8% of Afghans being in favor of Pakistan, whereas Pakistani policy makers only wish to think the opposite.

It is not the Afghans alone that are involved in the spreading of hate for each other, Pakistanis too, have been very hard to the Afghan settlers of Pakistan generally, and also after the match on social media and one-to-one towards the Afghan society as a whole.   

This scenario is not the alone work of Pakistani attitudes towards the Afghan society but also is fueled by the vast Indian intervention and influence in Afghanistan through smart power, which has only spurred up in the recent years.

Pakistan has lost where it has created for itself in its Western borders another hostile party, adding towards Pakistan’s own security vulnerability, which was already quite grave by a traditionally insecure Eastern border. Pakistan now is sandwiched between two adversaries, making its strategic equation look bleak on its borders.

India’s Hybrid Warfare Doctrine of 2018-19 is as harmful as the physical warfare doctrine that Indian strategic thinkers have unfolded upon Pakistan formerly. Pakistan had somewhat been successful in buffering the physical warfare doctrines by either establishing arms that counter Indian proliferation or by setting examples like the very recent episodes of Pulwama to decline Indian hegemony over South Asia.

Pakistan has yet not come up with a comprehensive plan in buffering the current hybrid warfare doctrine of India within and without the borders of Pakistan, which may prove very lethal towards the sovereignty of Pakistan in the near future, with more of Pakistan’s choke points been infected with Indian propaganda, opting for a stance antagonistic to that of the existence of Pakistan.

Researcher at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and student of International Relations and Politics at Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad.

South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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South Asia

Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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