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China dimension to Kashmir conflict

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One has to admit willy-nilly that propaganda does have the power to distort fact. Nay, the distorted reality becomes beliefs that remain unchanged in dark recesses of gullible finds. Let us look at one such disinformation-drilled `belief’, as published and republished in India’s directories and yearbooks. The canard is that Pakistan yielded land (varying guestimates up to 5,000 square kilometres) under Sino-Pakistan boundary agreement signed on March 2, 1963. The truth is that China yielded 2,000 square kilometres of administered territory to Pakistan. C china does have boundary disputes with India. As an emerging hegemon, China could have amended its boundary maps in accordance with its official position of security and territorial integrity. But, president Xi Jinping of China has a phlegmatic temperament in stark contrast with bucolic, volatile Narendra |Modi of India.

Like Kashmir dispute, Mcmahon and Durand lines are maleficent legacies of British colonial raj (rule). The colonists left behind frontier ‘zones’ called ilaqas (un-demarcted regions) like the McMahon Line with Tibet (or Durand Line with Afghanistan). There was a hullabaloo when China took over the hypothetical McMahon Line in 1950.

India felt like being caught napping. The reality is that India’s then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was engrossed in Aksai Chin in Ladakh from 1949 to 1959. Tibet-Xinjiang Highway ran through McMahon Line, a vital area. India’s vital interest was the McMahon Line in the east. China did not protest at all when India ousted the figure-head Tibetan administration in Tawang in February 1951.

Background to McMahon Line

A few facts about McMahon Line are in order. In April 1914, McMahon somehow managed to get the draft treaty initialed by the Chinese delegate Ivan Chen. Later, McMahon and the Tibetan representative signed a joint declaration to the effect that the redrafted convention would be binding on both their governments.

Maxwell in his book, India’s China War, brings out that the map accompanying the draft convention showed the proposed division of Tibet into ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Zones. The frontier of Tibet was marked in red colour and the proposed boundary between the two Tibetan Zones in blue colour. But the red line which for greater part of its length showed the boundary between Tibet and China, curved round its southern extension to show what would have been boundary between India and Tibet. In that ‘sector it followed the alignment on which McMahon had agreed with the Tibetans’. The proceedings of the agreement were made public in 1935 and the Survey of India began to mark the lines on their maps.

After the Second World War, the McMahon line got revived. Posts happened to be established in the two regions through routes, Walong and Dirang Dzong, which connected India with Tibet.

India’s view

Though India does not have a cogent case on the boundary issue, let’ us elucidate India’s point of view vis-à-vis China’s. India believes: (a) in the Eastern Sector, the McMahon Line is respected by China in the actual observance,  even though name of this line is anathema to the Chinese as a “hangover from the era of colonialism”. The two countries have divergent perceptions about two vital places. These are Thag La (Chodong) and Migyuton (Long ju). ThagLa lies towards east of Bhutan and adjoins it. Long ju lies, on another border route to the east of it. (b) In the Central Sector, that is, the alignment west of Nepal and reaching the Ladakh area of the IRK, the disputes concern the alignment of postures at Bara Roti (Wu Je). Here both sides have agreed before 1962 to respect the status-quo and not to maintain any military presence. (c) It is in Ladakh, that the two sides have a major difference over the alignment.

China’s view

The main points of the Chinese view are: (a) there were only four points of dispute on the line of actual control. Regarding area in Ladakh under dispute, China had declared in 1963 that she would vacate the area in which India had set up 43 military posts prior-to the War of 1962. However the border adjoining Baltistan and the Dardic States being under Pakistan’s control, India should first settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. (b) The Aksai Chin road is vital to China, because it links Western Tibet to Sinkiang This road, built by the Chinese from Shigatse in Tibet to Yechen in Sinkiang, covers a distance of 2,000 miles at a height varying from 11,000 ft. to 16,000 ft. through Aksai Chin. In Akasai Chin the road passes through Shabidulla (once the outpost of the State of Jammu and Kashmir) and ends at Kokyar where Sinkiang begins. Even though the journey is difficult and arduous, the Chinese use it in preference to the Keriya route which passes East of Aksai Chin and also links Rhutog in Western Tibet to Khotan in Sinkiang.

The Aksai Chin road, together with the highway from Kashgar to the Khunjerab Pass and onwards into Pakistan, forms part of the lines of communication in the two remote non-Han autonomous republics, namely Tibet and Sinkiang). (c) Part of India’s border with the Sinkiang autonomous region is under Pakistan’s control since 1947. So, again, India should first settle the dispute with’ Pakistan first (As per Pakistan’s and Azad Kashmir’s governments’ agreement, the Northern Areas are under administrative control of Pakistan. (Facsimile of the agreement is given in Yousaf Saraf’s Kashmiris Fight for Freedom). The Northern Areas include Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, except the frontier from Siachen Glacier in the West to the Karakoram Pass and Aksai Chin. (The areas are of importance to upper Ladakh as the two rivers, the Shyok and Mibra have their origin here in Rumo and Siachin Glaciers respectively. The two rivers join and then fall into the Indus River and serve the water needs of the whole area of Ladakh North of Indus.) (d) The provisional agreement between China and Pakistan in respect of the area west of Siachin Glacier in March 1963 gives the area of Shaksgam, which abuts on the Siachin to China. Some areas of Tapndumbash, Pamir and Raksam have been given by China to Pakistan. (e) The 1963 agreement between Pak and China covers the border right up to the Karakoram Pass. These areas will need tripartite negotiations when political conditions become favorable.

Why border dispute with China lingers on

India makes equivocal statements about its boundary position with China. It says one thing in Beijing and quite the other in New Delhi. China has magnanimously solved most of its border disputes with other countries, except India. China abhors India’s equivocation. India is content with endless “positive” and “satisfactory” Joint Working Group negotiations on the boundary issue. A recent article in the Chinese-foreign ministry sponsored journal, International Studies, Cheng Ruisheng, an advisor to the Chinese foreign ministry, claims that India illegally occupies 90,000 sq. km of Chinese territory in the eastern sector, 33,000 sq. km of Chinese territory in the western sector, and 2,000 sq. km of Chinese territory in the middle sector. 

Despite India’s diplomatic hypocrisy, the two countries took some well-meaning steps. They appointed special representatives to accelerate border negotiations, lingering for 22 years. Now, India prime minister’s principal secretary is India’s negotiator, replacing the India-China joint working-group. Indian prime minister’s visit to China in June 2003 was the first-ever in decades. The joint declaration signed during this visit acknowledged `China was not a threat to India’. India recognised China’s sovereignty over Tibet and pledged not to allow “anti-China” political activities in India (pampering De Lai Lama as a protégé).   On its part, China acknowledged India’s 1975 annexation of the former monarchy of Sikkim by agreeing to open a trading post along the border with the former kingdom and later by rectifying its official maps to include Sikkim as part of India. In his first address to the nation, then India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, emphasized carrying forward process of further development and diversification of Sino-Indian relations. Jingoistic Modi’s priority remained Pakistan, not China. It tried to weaken Pakistan internally (abetting terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces) and bankrupting Pakistan at Financial Action Task Force underhand talks. It embarrassed China while getting some entities Pakistanis designated as terrorists.

Could Kashmir trigger disintegration of Indian ‘Union’

India should revisit its history how Indian Union came into being _through compromises with `rebellious’ icons like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah of Kashmir, Master Tara Singh of East Punjab, Lal Denga of Mizoram, Angami Zapu Phizo (1913–1990) “Father of the Nagas”, , and so on.

Let India realise that Indian Union is a loose sally, a cauldron of centrifugal movement, at rest for the time being. Visualise what happens to this Union if China begins supply of weapons to various insurgent groups fighting in northeastern India. China hem India in from both, the eastern and the western flanks.

A digression of Naxalbari link to Kashmir’s freedom movement

India arrested several intellectuals for links to separatist movements (indiatvnews dated August 30, 2018). These letters `establish links between the Naxals and Kashmiri separatists’. They `suggest support of Congress leaders to extreme Leftists agenda, and even give proof that the arrested accused were involved in procuring weapons and arming the rebels through international routes’. The letters were written by, or on behalf of P Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, and Sudha Bharadwaj. Police story `exposes

`Maoists plot to assassinate PM’. Congress shrugged off allegation as Modi’s ‘old tactic’).

The term “Naxalite” is rooted in Naxalbari village (West Bengal) where Kanhu Sanyal presented the concept of “forcible protest against the social order relating to holding of property and sharing of social benefits”. To him the purpose of the protest was “organizing peasants to bring about land reform through radical means including violence”.

Charu Mazumdar is given credit for making the Naxalite movement (“left wing extremism”) a practical reality. He started the movement as a “revolutionary opposition” in 1965.  The world came to know of the movement in 1967 when the Beijing Radio reported “peasants’ armed struggle” at Naxalbari (Silliguri division of West Bengal). In July 1972, the police arrested Charu Mazumdar.  They later tortured him to death on the night of July 27-28.

The Naxalite ideology has great appeal for marginalised strata (particularly,oppressed,and adivasis, tribal) of India’s caste-ridden society. The Naxalites aim, as contained in their Central Committee’s resolution (1980) is: ‘Homogenous contiguous forested area around Bastar Division (since divided into Bastar, Dantewada and Kanker Districts of Chhatisgarh) and adjoining areas of Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, East Godavari Districts of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrapur and Garchehiroli district of Maharastra, Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, Malkagiri and Koraput districts of Orissa would comprise the area of Dandakarnaya which would be liberated and used as base for spreading people’s democratic revolution’.

The Naxalites want to carve out an independent zone extending from Nepal through Bihar and then to Dandakarnaya region extending upto Tamil Nadu to give them access to the Bay of Bengal as well as the Indian Ocean’.  Several pro-Naxalite revolutionary bodies (People’s War, Maoist Communist Centrei,  and Communist Party of Nepal) merged their differences (October 15, 2004) to achieve their sea-access aim.

The tremendous appeal of the Naxalite movement is due to the popularity of their agenda for the common man _ land distribution and development of agricultural sector, ridding World Bank’s influence, social justice to the dalits (oppressed),  development of coastal Andhra and Rayaseema region, and eradication of corruption.

The movement is growing more and more popular.  It has already engulfed 13 Indian states and is spreading to the other states.  Chief ministers of India’s 13 states, at their coordination conference, admitted their incapacity to meet the Naxalite menace.  They appealed to the centre to raise a joint task force to meet the Naxalite insurgency.

India shrugs off Naxalite movement as an internal-security problem.  However, the populist appeal of the movement’s ideology reflects that it could assume international dimensions, if supported by China.  India’s Lieutenant General KM Seth laments, ‘Unfortunately, the threat to internal security from Naxalites has acquired dangerous proportions and can no longer be wished away.  …they are also developing links with Turkish and Philippino terrorist organisations…We have suffered and bled patiently and have taken huge human casualties, which could exceed 13,000, uniformed personnel and 53,000 civilians during the last 25 years… As of today, their overall strength could be put to approximately 20, 000 undergrounds, 50,000 over-grounds and more than a lakh in frontal organisations. Their armoury  is reported to comprise approximately 900 AK-47 rifles, 200 light machine guns, 100 grenade firing rifles, 2 inch mortars, thousands of .303 rifles, self-loading rifles and .12-bore guns with a huge quantity of explosives at their disposal’. (“Naxalite Problem”, U. S. I. Journal , January-March 2005, New Delhi, p. 19, 23).

India may blame Pakistan for the freedom movement (‘insurgency’ or ‘militancy’) in occupied Kashmir.  But, who shall she blame for the Naxalite insurgency in Andhra Pradesh and other Indian states? This is a movement against economic deprivation and brutality of the state or central government’s law-enforcing agencies.

Indian media has now begun to report that the counter-insurgency forces are fearful of grappling the Naxalites.  In Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), the Naxalite announced a cash reward of five lac rupees per policeman (“Reward scheme sends forces into huddle”, Indian Express, August 25, 2005). Then IG (Guntur Range) Rajwant Singh admitted, ‘My men are removing the posters and convincing the villagers to inform them about the activities of Naxalites’.

Hardly a day passes without a Naxalite attack on government’s forces or installations, attacks on convoys, banks, railway stations, kidnapping of informers and assassination of anti-Naxalite figures.  Some recent incidents include two Central Reserve Police Force personnel killed in Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh. The gun-battle took place near Keshkutul village under the Bhairamgarh police station area when a joint team of the CRPF’s 199th battalion and local police was out on an area domination operation (Press Trust of India, New Delhi, June 28, 2019). In another incident, fifteen members of the Quick Response Team of the Gadchiroli (Lendhari nullah in Kurkheda area) police were killed in a land-mine blast. Sixteen policemen, on way to inspect the torched vehicles, were blown off at police posts and forest department’s towers. Four policemen were killed to loot the sum of Rs 12 lac (railway-men’s salary), hacking 16 more. Earlier, Naxals killed of Bandwan CPI-M leader Rabindra Nath Kar and his wife, and Madhya Pradesh Transport Minister Lakhiram Kaware (Congress).

In Naxalite-influenced rural areas, there is no trace of India’s judicial system.  There, the Naxalite organisations act ‘virtually like policemen, arresting, meeting out “justice” and in some cases even executing the guilty’ (“Internal security situation”, India’s National Security: Annual Review 2004, New Delhi, India Research Press, 2005, p. 87). 

With merger of pro-Naxalite revolutionary bodies, the Naxalites are the sole arbiters of justice in rural areas.  To counter rising Naxalite influence, the BJP and the Congress-coalition parties are cooperating in anti- Naxalites operations. 

Analysts in India realise that the Naxalite movement would the biggest headache for the Centre in the next few years. India’s home ministry admitted `increased Maoist activity in the tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh(Hindustan Times, New Delhi Jul 04, 2019. Security forces were taking stick-and-carrot steps so that `rebels do not gain any foothold in the southern states’. `States such as Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra have dedicated forces to fight the Maoists. The CRPF has a separate unit, CoBRA [Commando Battalions for Resolute Action]to counter the Maoists’.

Inference

Conspicuously, China’s position regarding McMahon is tenable under international law. Yet, it hesitated to print new maps, showing its northern and north-eastern frontier without reference to any McMahon Line.

China supports Pakistan’s view on Kashmir. The portents are that disputed Kashmir could trigger disintegration of the Indian `Union’, provided China decides to support centrifugal movements, particularly the Naxalbari.  Insurgncies and wars are ugly but they continue to dot history pages. China needs to re-think through emerging geo-political scenario. With obdurate India still unwilling to talk on Kashmir, despite China dimension, solution of India-Pak-China Kashmir tangle is nowhere in the offing. 

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon

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Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier ,  the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).

Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.

Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness

Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem.  Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.

He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).

India’s current first option

It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.

Cartographic annexation

By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India?  India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.  

India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.

In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.

India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.

India’s propaganda

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?

The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

 Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Death of back-channel

In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue.  This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism.   The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.

Death of dialogue and diplomacy

Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one,  comes up as the only option.

Concluding remark

Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.

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Major Challenges for Pakistan in 2022

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Pakistan has been facing sever challenges since 1980s, after the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The history is full of challenges, but, being a most resilient nation, Pakistan has faced some of them bravely and overcome successfully. Yet, few are rather too big for Pakistan and still struggling to overcome in the near future.

Some of the challenges are domestic or internal, which can be addressed conveniently. But, some of them are part of geopolitics and rather beyond control of Pakistan itself. Such challenges need to pay more attention and need to be smarter and address them wisely.

Few key areas will be the main focus of Pakistan in the year ahead. Relations with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, dealing with Afghanistan’s uncertainties, managing the adversarial relationship with India and balancing ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran.

Pakistan has to pursue its diplomatic goals in an unsettled global and regional environment marked by several key features. They include rising East-West tensions, increasing preoccupation of big powers with domestic challenges, ongoing trade and technology wars overlying the strategic competition between China and the US, a fraying rules-based international order and attempts by regional and other powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighborhood.

Understanding the dynamics of an unpredictable world is important especially as unilateral actions by big powers and populist leaders, which mark their foreign policy, have implications for Pakistan’s diplomacy. In evolving its foreign policy strategy Pakistan has to match its goals to its diplomatic resources and capital. No strategy is effective unless ends and means are aligned.

Pakistan’s relations with China will remain its overriding priority. While a solid economic dimension has been added to long-standing strategic ties, it needs sustained high-level engagement and consultation to keep relations on a positive trajectory. CPEC is on track, timely and smoothly progress is crucial to reinforce Beijing’s interest in strengthening Pakistan, economically and strategically. Close coordination with Beijing on key issues remains important.

Pakistan wants to improve ties with the US. But relations will inevitably be affected by Washington’s ongoing confrontation with Beijing, which American officials declare has an adversarial dimension while China attributes a cold war mindset to the US. Islamabad seeks to avoid being sucked into this big power rivalry. But this is easier said than done. So long as US-China relations remain unsteady it will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s effort to reset ties with the US especially as containing China is a top American priority. Pakistan desires to keep good relations with the US, but, not at the cost of China. In past, Pakistan was keeping excellent relations with US, while simultaneously very close with China. When the US imposed economic blockade against China and launched anti-communism drive during the cold war, Pakistan was close ally with the US and yet, keeping excellent relations with China. Pakistan played vital role in bring China and the US to establish diplomatic relations in 1970s. Yet, Pakistan possesses the capability to narrow down the hostility between China and the US.

Pakistan was close ally with the US during cold war, anti-communism threat, war against USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, and war on terror, etc. Pakistan might be a small country, but, possesses strategic importance. As long as, the US was cooperating with Pakistan, Pakistan looked after the US interest in the whole region. In fact, Pakistan ensured that the US has achieved its all strategic goals in the region. Since, the US kept distance from Pakistan, is facing failure after another failure consecutively. The importance of Pakistan is well recognized by the deep state in the US.

US thinks that withdrawal from Afghanistan has diminished Pakistan’s importance for now. For almost two decades Afghanistan was the principal basis for engagement in their frequently turbulent ties, marked by both cooperation and mistrust. As Pakistan tries to turn a new page with the US the challenge is to find a new basis for a relationship largely shorn of substantive bilateral content. Islamabad’s desire to expand trade ties is in any case contingent on building a stronger export base.

Complicating this is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its partner of choice in the region in its strategy to project India as a counterweight to China. The implications for Pakistan of US-India entente are more than evident from Washington turning a blind eye to the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and its strengthening of India’s military and strategic capabilities. Closer US-India ties will intensify the strategic imbalance in the region magnifying Pakistan’s security challenge.

Multiple dimensions of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will preoccupy Islamabad, which spent much of 2021 engaged with tumultuous developments there. While Pakistan will continue to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian and economic collapse it should not underestimate the problems that may arise with an erstwhile ally. For one, the TTP continues to be based in Afghanistan and conduct attacks from there. The border fencing issue is another source of unsettled discord. Careful calibration of ties will be needed — assisting Afghanistan but avoiding overstretch, and acknowledging that the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan are far from identical. Moreover, in efforts to mobilize international help for Afghanistan, Islamabad must not exhaust its diplomatic capital, which is finite and Pakistan has other foreign policy goals to pursue.

Managing relations with India will be a difficult challenge especially as the Modi government is continuing its repressive policy in occupied Kashmir and pressing ahead with demographic changes there, rejecting Pakistan’s protests. The hope in establishment circles that last year’s backchannel between the two countries would yield a thaw or even rapprochement, turned to disappointment when no headway was made on any front beyond the re-commitment by both neighbors to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control.

Working level diplomatic engagement will continue on practical issues such as release of civilian prisoners. But prospects of formal dialogue resuming are slim in view of Delhi’s refusal to discuss Kashmir. This is unlikely to change unless Islamabad raises the diplomatic costs for Delhi of its intransigent policy. Islamabad’s focus on Afghanistan last year meant its diplomatic campaign on Kashmir sagged and was limited to issuing tough statements. Unless Islamabad renews and sustains its international efforts with commitment and imagination, India will feel no pressure on an issue that remains among Pakistan’s core foreign policy goals.

With normalization of ties a remote possibility, quiet diplomacy by the two countries is expected to focus on managing tensions to prevent them from spinning out of control. Given the impasse on Kashmir, an uneasy state of no war, no peace is likely to continue warranting Pakistan’s sustained attention.

In balancing ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan should consider how to leverage possible easing of tensions between the long-standing rivals — of which there are some tentative signs. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keen to use economic power to expand his country’s diplomatic clout by making strategic overseas investments, Pakistan should use its political ties with Riyadh to attract Saudi investment through a coherent strategy. Relations with Iran too should be strengthened with close consultation on regional issues especially Afghanistan. The recent barter agreement is a step in the right direction.

In an increasingly multipolar world, Pakistan also needs to raise its diplomatic efforts by vigorous outreach to other key countries and actors beyond governments to secure its national interests and goals.

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Afghanistan: UN launches largest single country aid appeal ever

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Displaced families collect water during a harsh winter in Kabul, Afghanistan. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

The UN and partners launched a more than $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan on Tuesday, in the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services there, which have left 22 million in need of assistance inside the country, and 5.7 million people requiring help beyond its borders.

Speaking in Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that $4.4 billion was needed for the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan alone, “to pay direct” to health workers and others, not the de facto authorities.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for $623 million, to support refugees and host communities in five neighbouring countries, for the Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan.

“Today we are launching an appeal for $4.4 billion for Afghanistan itself for 2022,” said Mr. Griffiths. “This is the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed, and actually fundraised in 2021.”

Needs could double

The scale of need is already enormous, both UN officials stressed, warning that if insufficient action is taken now to support the Afghanistan and regional response plans, “next year we’ll be asking for $10 billion”.

Mr. Griffiths added: “This is a stop-gap, an absolutely essential stop-gap measure that we are putting in front of the international community today. Without this being funded, there won’t be a future, we need this to be done, otherwise there will be outflow, there will be suffering.”

Rejecting questions that the funding would be used to support the Taliban’s grip on de facto government, Mr. Griffiths insisted that it would go directly into the pockets of “nurses and health officials in the field” so that these services can continue, not as support for State structures.

UN aid agencies describe Afghanistan’s plight as one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises.

According to UN humanitarian coordination office OCHA, half the population now faces acute hunger, over nine million people have been displaced and millions of children are out of school.

Youngsters’ plight

Asked to describe what might happen if sufficient support was not forthcoming, the UN emergency relief chief replied that he was particularly concerned for one million children now facing severe acute malnutrition. “A million children – figures are so hard so grasp when they’re this kind of size – but a million children at risk of that kind of malnutrition if these things don’t happen, is a shocking one.”

But humanitarian agencies and their partners who will receive the requested funding directly can only do so much, Mr. Griffiths explained, before reiterating his support for the 22 December UN Security Council resolution that cleared the way for aid to reach Afghans, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban.

“Humanitarian agencies inside Afghanistan can only operate if there’s cash in the economy which can be used to pay officials, salaries, costs, fuel and so-forth,” he said. “So, liquidity in its first phase is a humanitarian issue, it’s not just a bigger economic issue.”

Stave off disease, hunger

He added: “My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan. Humanitarian partners are on the ground, and they are delivering, despite the challenges. Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death by supporting the humanitarian plans we are launching today.”

Highlighting the need to avoid a wider regional crisis emanating from Afghanistan, UNHCR chief Grandi, insisted that what was needed most, was “to stabilize the situation inside Afghanistan, including that of displaced people who are displaced inside their country. Also, to prevent a larger refugee crisis, a larger crisis of external displacement.”

Nonetheless, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours had sheltered vulnerable Afghans for decades, Mr. Grandi explained, as he appealed for $623 million in funding for 40 organizations working in protection, health and nutrition, food security, shelter and non-food items, water and sanitation, livelihoods and resilience, education, and logistics and telecoms.

Decades of shelter

No-one should forget “that there is a regional dimension to this crisis, represented by the Afghan refugees but also Afghans with many other ‘stay’ arrangements in neighbouring countries in particular,” Mr. Grandi said, “especially in Pakistan and Iran that have hosted Afghans for more than 40 years, but also Central Asian States.”

Since the Taliban takeover last August, women’s and girls’ rights have continued to come under attack, OCHA noted in a statement, “while farmers and herders are struggling amid the worst drought in decades and the economy is in freefall”.

Rights reminder

On the issue of protecting fundamental rights, Mr. Griffiths underlined the fact that UN humanitarians were continuing to hold “conversations” with Afghanistan’s de facto authorities at a national and sub-national level, on issues such as aid and education access for all.

Echoing that message, UN refugee chief Mr. Grandi noted that humanitarians on the ground were well aware of the importance of stressing the need to protect the rights of minorities and other vulnerable Afghans.

“Our colleagues are there every day, and that’s what they talk about every day; they certainly talk about access, and delivery and needs, but they also talk about women at work, women in school – girls in school – rights of minorities, but it’s that space that we need to preserve.”

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