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High Expectations from PM Imran Khan’s visit to the U.S.

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High expectations run for the upcoming visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, to the USA on 20 July 2019 for a 5 days trip. It will be his first official visit after becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. Unlike, previous leaders, who were eager to visit the USA just after taking charge of the office, because they need foreign support, especially from the USA to authenticate their legitimacy and power to rule.  PM Imran Khan is a different leader, and not over-ambitious. In fact, previous leaders were always seeking US support to maintain their government’s legitimacy and recognition.  But, PM Imran Khan, depends on his people, masses of Pakistan. He enjoys the full support of common people in Pakistan, especially the youth. He is lucky enough to enjoy support from the Military establishment and Judiciary of the country. He gained deep roots inside Pakistan and may not depend on any political support from abroad.

Pakistan believes to maintain good relations with all nations, based on equality, respect, and mutual benefits. Pakistan is a nation of peace lovers and believes the rules set under UN charter for developing relations among nations. Pak-US relations are also no exceptions.

Although the US is one of the first nations that had established diplomatic relations with Islamabad. However, the seven decades of US-Pakistan ties have been far from smooth and experienced many ups and downs.

During the Cold War, Pakistan was a big supporter of the US and protected American vital interests in the region, including during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan was also a close ally in the “war on terror” after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Although Pakistan extended a cordial hand of friendship to the US whenever it needs support, and sacrificed a lot, and heavy price for friendship, but the US always steps back whenever it does not requires Pakistani role in an issue and relations declines. In spite of non-NATO closest ally, Pakistan has faced some of the toughest and strictest US sanctions in history.

The two countries have always cooperated with each other on their common goals and interests, though the US has failed to value Pakistan’s interests and has kept on making demands. “Do more” has been the message of the US leadership in recent years, without understanding Pakistan’s capacity to comply, or its own interests.

During the past few years, the US has blamed, coerced and threatened Pakistan. Of course, there exist some concerns on both sides, and some of these may be genuine, but some are based on misunderstandings only. However, requires to address each other’s concerns seriously and can be resolved easily.

Practically, the US considered the relations were on the project to project basis. Whenever the US needs Pakistan’ support, they extend the hands of friendship and ignore all the differences, while, once the project is over, the objectives were achieved, the real face of the US revealed and sanctions, coercion, and threats were witnessed. It happened not only once, but became the routine normal practice in the past. The Pak-US relations were considered transactional, based on assignment to assignment only.

Currently, the US has been facing a big headache “Afghan Issue”.  After fighting for 18 years, spending up to US Dollars trillions, using the most lethal weapons, most sophisticated war techniques, most advanced technologies, best-trained troops, and resources from its allies, NATO, yet could not win in Afghanistan. Currently, 60% of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Americans cannot walk freely and fearlessly in the streets of Kabul. They are not safe except inside military camps, like Bagram Air Base. In practical terms, it is the Taliban who rule most of Afghanistan, not the US-supported government of President Ashraf Ghani.

US economy may not be able to sustain such expensive wars anymore. That is why the US has principally decided to pull its troops from Afghanistan and Syria. But wanted to save its face, wanted a safe and honorable exit.

The US tried India for any role in Afghanistan but failed to achieve any objective. The military and civil leadership in the US has realized the pivotal role of Pakistan and reached a conclusion that the US may not be able to achieve its strategic goals in this region, without Pakistan’s vital support. Pakistan is willing to extend its all possible support to resolve Afghan Issues, as long as it is Afghan Led, Afghan Owned and should be sustainable. Pakistan has already helped the US to contact the Taliban directly for peace talks, and several rounds of such talks have been conducted successfully. Pakistan may play an important role in the safe and honored withdrawal of US Troops.

The US president desired to meet the Pakistani new leadership and upon his desires, PM Imran Khan has decided his proposed trip. This visit may carry some extraordinary expectations because it is going to happen under very extraordinary geopolitics prevailing in this region currently.

The US is engaged with China on Trade War, the South China Sea and “Contain China”. While confronting Russia is at its peak, North Korean Issues, Middle-East, especially Iran is hot burning issue of the current era. The US relations with Europe and its impression in the developing world, especially “Islamophobia”.

It is expected that Pakistan may full-fill its needs on Afghan Issues. But Pakistan may ask some kind of permanent friendship based on the guidelines-principles of the UN. Keeping its strategic interests with Russia and China, Pakistan may strengthen its relations with the US. Pakistan may not compromise on its ongoing initiatives for revival of its economy like CPEC/BRI. Pakistan’s strategic interests in SCO may not be compromised. Pakistan would like to meet its security requirements from any country in any form, including S-400. Pakistan may not accept project based relations and will ask persistency and sustainable long term policy based relations. Pakistan may not accept coercion, sanctions, threats, and pressures in any form in the future. It depends on how maturely the US administration responds to Pakistan’s genuine expectation. However, the intellectual circles are optimistic about the expected outcomes of this visit. On the other hand, Pakistan is ruled by better leaders today and understands its strategic interests very well and may not compromise.

Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan.

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South Asia

COVID-19 May Become ‘Pandemic Plus’ for Certain Countries and People

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As the world grapples with COVID-19 and ponders over its ultimate toll, it may actually turn out to be a pandemic plus kind of a scenario for some people, countries and regions.

Lingering conflicts, already prevalent diseases and natural disasters – on top of a host of political and governance issues – may actually render novel coronavirus an exacerbated threat for people in certain parts of the world.  

Think about countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya. Years and decades of unending armed conflict means inadequate, if at all, healthcare apparatus in most parts of these countries. Even a very low rate of COVID-infections would simply be beyond the capacity of the system to handle, leaving countless people to die haplessly.

Take Afghanistan, for instance. While the number of infections right now is low at around 400 with around a dozen deaths reported, it is emerging that some 2,00,000 refugees and migrant workers returning from Iran are not being tested – raising fears that a wave of large scale infections may just be around the corner. In case of Yemen, the grave extent of hunger amongst a large chunk of population also means dangerously weak levels of resistance against any illness. The situation is by no means any better in war zones of Syria and Libya.

Refugees and Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) face added vulnerabilities. Millions of Syrians in Turkey and Afghans in Iran and Pakistan live in crowded, ill-equipped camps. So, perhaps worse, is the case for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh. Poor living conditions and little-to-no access to quality healthcare may translate into much higher risk, even with a small-scale outbreak of this hard to contain virus. Social distancing and isolation are unthinkable in such unfortunate settings.

In Pakistan, this is also the start of time when the cases of Dengue fever begin. For past several years, every year the country loses dozens of lives with thousands of infections crippling the services at Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) of public hospitals at their peak in summer. Right now, OPDs of public hospitals are already closed to safeguard spread of COVID-19. It is a nightmare to imagine the peak of the two difficult-to-deal-with diseases striking together, or even one following the other, in a short span of time.

Over past few months, countries from East Africa to Middle East to South-West Asia have faced devastating locusts’ attacks on their standing crops – worst ever since 1993. Food crops of millions of hectares across these three regions have either been devastated already, or on verge of being lost to these little flying creatures. Unhindered supply of food items can hardly be overemphasized in times of a pandemic. Unless taken proper care of, locusts remain a serious threat to food security of tens of millions of people.

More importantly, experts are warning that millions of eggs have already been laid by locusts in countries such as Pakistan, and new mating / reproductive seasons also loom. This tells us that coming cotton and maize crops would also be in danger, mostly so in the poorest parts of affected countries where farming is the lone livelihood.

Oppressed populations are another group facing added danger. The world is well aware of the virtual curfew in India Held Kashmir (IHK) for over eight months now, since August 5, 2019. Situation in occupied Palestinian Territories is hardly any different either. Strict controls over medical supplies and essential items, and sources of information, are all set to multiply the impact of a pandemic once it outbreaks in such environments.

And it sadly is not the case only for occupied territories of Kashmir and Palestine. Ruling Bhartia Janta Party’s (BJP) attitude towards 200 million plus Indian Muslims – especially recent laws aimed at their exclusion – make the Muslim population of India all the more threatened when a pandemic breaks out in such a vast, overly populous but ill-equipped country. Reports of Muslims truckers transporting essential supplies in this hard time have already starting to emerge, and public statements of politicians are fanning the fire of anti-Muslim communalism.

And last but not the least, crippling sanctions on certain countries. It has widely been reported internationally that US sanctions are severely limiting Iran’s response – amongst one of the worst affected countries – towards COVID-19. Tehran is not able to easily import essential supplies for its fight against the virus that has already killed some 4000 Iranians.

Now it is coming to the fore that US sanctions are also hampering supply of medical and humanitarian aid not only to Iran but also to Cuba and Venezuela – particularly the aid being sent by China and its corporate. This indeed is a serious humanitarian dilemma for the countries subjected to sanction. Good to note however that voices, international as well as from within the US, are starting to be raised on inhumane impact of these restrictions.

Upended risks call for special attention, on part of governments and international institutions. Let us hope the world can realize this, coming up with timely and targeted response.

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Pakistan’s Corona Fight: Through Faith or Foolishness?

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Science has given lucid understanding of diseases and also provided medicament for it. In this 21st Century, science and technology has occupied almost all the areas of human life starting from medical to cosmos. The ongoing global pandemic of corona virus has put almost all the world into psycho-economic misery. People have shortage of food and medical supplies and governments are busy in controlling human loss. China’s Wuhan city which is said to be the birthplace of Novel Corona virus has returned to normal life because of the effective control of Chinese government and its policies. The Italy has been devastated because of the most-deaths caused by Covid-19 and Spain is also one of the badly affected countries. The US and UK have also announced their policies to combat N-corona virus and are also briefing their nations about the estimated death toll.

Pakistan is a starkly unique nation in that regard. It does not mean that Covid-19 has not hit Pakistan rather majority of the Pakistanis are taking this pandemic as mere insignificant disease. In response to WHO’s warning ,Pakistan’s government announced partial lockdown of cities and majority of the public and private institutions are shut down to avoid further spread of Covid-19.Apart from Urban centers people are determined to fight N-Corona virus through their faith and they believe N-Corona cannot kill them until the will of God. There is no doubt that almost all of the divine religions believe in it but this thinking seriously undermines scientific findings. By not abiding instructions of the government, its hard to avoid killer bug. People at large are terming it the wrath of God and advocate that everyone should seek His mercy. On the contrary under such a crisis hoarders are making large sums of money by creating artificial shortage of food and grocery items. Masks, sanitizers and other products have already disappeared from the market. This simply is the organized hypocrisy of so-called religious ones.

 In response to government’s appeal not to offer prayers at mosques there have been an outright reaction from people at large. Some radicals termed it as the conspiracy of Jews and Christians to halt prayers at Ka’aba(the holiest place for Muslims).In the meanwhile clergy in Pakistan did a press conference on national media and Ulema(from all school of thoughts) sat together and urged people to offer Juma(Friday) prayers in the mosques. This act was against governmental policy to fight N-Corona virus and seriously undermined the writ of the government. Even faith advocates that “follow your Emir(ruler)”This way Prime Minister Imran Khan is the democratic ruler(emir) but his instructions were openly violated. In Pakistan Tableeghi Jamaat(preachers party) was no less than others in flaunting disobedience to government orders. Majority of the Pakistanis wait response from religious clergy to act and government tried its best to telecast Ulema messages on national television to aware about the pandemic (Covid-19) and urged people to stay home. Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Shaikh of Al Azhar and Supreme Council also issued a Fatwa that Juma Prayers can be suspended during such a critical time. Pakistan’s most powerful constitutional body the council of Islamic ideology(CII) chairman Qibla Ayaz also issued a statement that masses should pray home instead of going mosques because there is a fear of pandemic spread to others. This crisis of Covid-19 had more cases in Pakistan found among pilgrims coming back from Iran and Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims coming from Taftan(Iran border) had to stay at quarantine centers which were not well equipped and the supplies of food and shelter were inadequate. That led pilgrims to (most of them affected) to break quarantine and escaped. It caused spread of Covid-19 to others too. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) briefed the government and shared the details with people about the supplies (ventilators, masks, medical kits, testing kits) coming from China.

China being time tested friend stood by Pakistan otherwise medical staffers were reluctant to perform duties in some parts Sindh and they went on strike. Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken several measures to effectively control the spread of Covid-19 and avoid economic loss. Pakistan’s chief of Army staff General Qamar Bajwa also urged the entire nation to stay united in such a critical time. There are acts of kindness and charity all over to help the poor and needy to avert starvation. There are crackdowns on hoarders and price hikers. But if the people are fighting against covid-19 through their faith, then faith advocates humanity, honesty and generosity too which profit makers lack at this juncture. Ramadan (holy month of fasting) is imminent and this behavior is likely to prevail. There is a grim challenge of countering misinformation on social media where various religious figures incite people to oppose government orders of banning Friday prayers at mosques. Some so called Ulema are terming it a conspiracy against Islam and its followers. None of them is talking of its cure because they either lack scientific knowledge or do not believe science. Pakistani masses are fighting corona virus pandemic because of their lack of knowledge, it’s the same as a cancer patients survives a cancer until he/she comes to know about it. The moment a patient is diagnosed with the cancer, he/she no longer survives. Sometimes ignorance is a bliss but that bliss does not last longer in case of pandemic. I conclude my argument here that science has the power to cure diseases. It also provides remedies to most lethal diseases but Covid-19 vaccine is not made yet and if science fails, faith consoles the victims. But the faith guidelines should come from government instead of any random Ulema.

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Bajwa-Imran Visit to China and Rumours about CPEC

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It was a rumour for a long period that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) had been dying because of various reasons along with the negligence of the present government. In this regard, there are two popular narratives about the CPEC and Pak-China relations. One perspective which has been floating within Pakistani society since long is that because of American and Indian pressure regarding CPEC and Chinese involvement within the country, Islamabad has stopped the work on the projects that come under CPEC. Besides, Pakistan has been pressurized through International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to withdraw from Chinese investment within the country, therefore, it faces various difficulties in continuation of projects. While another perspective portrays an optimistic picture of the whole scenario where work on CPEC projects is in process and 13 projects worth $11 billion have completed. The projects such as M-5 (Multan to Sukkur Motorway), 2×660MW Port Qasim Coal-Fired Power Plant, 50MW Dawood Wind Farm, and 100MW Jhimpir Wind Farm have been completed which show the progress and success of CPEC. Also, the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and their talks about CPEC as well as point of view regarding CPEC show that both the Army and government are on the same page to continue the projects under CPEC.

Moreover, the formation of CPEC Authority which keeps the surveillance upon CPEC related works is also the evidence of the seriousness of government regarding CPEC. Furthermore, both the representative from Pakistan showed the intention of making relations between both nations namely China and Pakistan even stronger through engagement in multiple businesses and trade-related activities. Though American pressure creates many difficulties for Pakistan to continue the project still there is much progress in many projects related to CPEC. Moreover, America does not want China to rise at regional as well as global level. In this regard, the United States tries to counter Beijing actively on various grounds. Likewise, the American “Pivot to Asia” or “Rebalancing” policy aims to counter and restrict Chinese influence in the Asian continent including countering its engagement in the Asia-Pacific. However, Washington has been trying to contain Beijing but its economic growth shows the success. Therefore, it is considered the right time for Pakistan to shift its tilt towards China rather than an unbelievable, unpredictable, and weak alliance with America. Furthermore, Islamabad has been testing and observing the friendship of America which mostly remained seasonal and based on a specific issue after the fulfilment of objectives, Washington uses to ignore Islamabad even in its difficult times.

Pakistan through proper utilization of the CPEC initiative could boost its economy and get rid of American bloc which has a great share in the destruction, deaths, terrorism, underdevelopment and backwardness within the country. Many of the writers dub the CPEC and Chinese involvement in Pakistan as game changer which would take Islamabad towards the path of peace, prosperity, development, progress, and innovation within multiple fields. It is said that Pakistan could serve as the “Israel of China” because of various reasons it may be economic, political or financial which can be useful for the development of Beijing as well as Islamabad. As Israel keeps much importance for the US and it cannot compromise on its interests even at the cost of opposition and criticism from many states. Such as Washington’s “Deal of the Century” including support of it at every global forum. In the same manner, the South Asian region particularly Pakistan carries great importance for China which could connect Beijing with various natural rich resource nations of the Middle East and Central Asia. Moreover, it also paves the way for Beijing by connecting it with many other important countries of various continents of the world. Therefore, China has been struggling to create peace in the region. Furthermore, Afghanistan is the major nation which suffers from instability and security problems that also left effects on regional stability. Therefore, China wants to solve the Afghanistan problem for making it stable which will pave the way for the completion of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Concerning the Afghan issue, Beijing sees Islamabad as an important state which can play a decisive role in solving the Afghan problem as well as bringing peace in the region resultantly stopping the long-standing war at Afghanistan’s land. Peace and stability in Afghanistan could serve multiple interests of China because Kabul provides the land route for China to reach the Central Asian states that ultimately connects it with Europe. Therefore, China has been struggling hard to secure its national interest. That can easily be achieved if China will be successful in generating the dominance and influence over the South Asia region. Furthermore, this region is considered the testing grounds for the success of the Chinese initiated project namely BRI. As for American bloc and the other entities which are not happy with the rise of China are concerned, they also know the importance of this region for Beijing. It is mostly agreed that the success of BRI depends upon the successful completion of projects within this region. Therefore it is observed that if Beijing would be successful in the completion of projects all over South Asia than no one can beat and resist China on becoming the dominant or global power. In this regard, Washington will not allow Beijing to take its place easily. So it uses multiple strategies to contain China such as pressurizing Pakistan to withdraw from BRI, Strengthening relations with India and prolonging Afghan issue, and putting new sanctions on Iran.

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