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An Open Letter to Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

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Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, departs Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 18, 2019. Ian Vogler/Pool via REUTERS

Dear Uncle and Aunty,

Greetings,

This letter comes to you from your Pakistani nephew whom you do not know. I would like to thank you for visiting my motherland. For you it was, “Royal Tour”, but for Pakistan, your visit was “the most complex tour” due to security and logistical considerations. According to reports, over 1,000 security personals were used to ensure your safety and protection. I am optimistic, you must have enjoyed five-day trip that covered more than 1,000KM from Islamabad to Lahore, and countryside in the North, and border regions to the West.

Uncle, by God you both are matchless. You both were constantly in breaking-news in Pakistani media and gossips about the dressing sense of Aunty Kate were in prime-time headlines. Undoubtedly, aunty was looking gorgeous in green “Shalwar-Kameez”, a traditional style of dress for Pakistani women, which she dressed at “Emperor’s Mosque”. I am not sure either aunty was informed that her late mother-in-law also visited this Mosque during her trip?

Uncle, I would like to take an opportunity to tell you that one of my ancestors – Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb built that Mosque in 1673 long-before “The British Raj” on the Indian subcontinent – “Golden Bird” from 1858 to 1947. You should know why my country, sliced away from India, came into being and gained independence. I do not want to talk about bitter history, dim present and shady future! But, I want to show you the other side of picture that you missed during your “Royal Tour”.        

Believe me, uncle, at its creation, Pakistan inherited the British legacy of a parliamentary system. But, the parliaments (National or Provincials) are only debating and fighting club of elite. Sometimes, elections only commit to reshuffling of the same faces. However, presently Pakistan has a democratic system without democrats and it is hijacked by a small group of feudal lords, political elites, business groups and bureaucrats.

In 2019, Pakistan is facing terrible economic crisis, the economy has slowed down, the Rupee has been devalued, and there has been increase in the rate of inflation. Pakistan is also dealing with a balance of payments crisis, and system is ill-equipped to make changes which would avoid future excessive debt. In the second quarter of 2019, Pakistan had a current account deficit of $3242 Million. Part of Pakistan’s financial crisis, global monetary tightening, reduced investor confidence, overvalued exchange rate, increased oil prices, and subdued interest rates have negatively impacted the country’s already precarious economic situation.

The world’s financial experts recently placed Pakistan on the list of countries that are supposed to face a serious food crisis. One of the basic reasons is soaring price due to gap in demand and supply of edibles. Pakistan is amongst the nations that likely to face food crises due to increasing prices of food commodities. According to a report, 80 million Pakistani are food insecure, while 95 districts face problems such as hunger and malnutrition-related disease. In the same way, 39 percent of Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty. Pakistan’s poverty index revealed that 4 out of 10 citizens live below the poverty line. 

Pakistan could “Run Dry” by 2025 as its water shortage is reaching an alarming level. Pakistan is running out of drinkable water, and anticipated that it is likely to suffer a shortage of 31 million acre-feet (MAF). Massive water crisis have brought a new economic burden to citizens and have affected 14.91 million people in city of light – Karachi only. Electricity crisis in Pakistan is also one of the major reasons that hindering the economic growth. Unavailability of power (minimum 6 hours a day load-shedding) is affecting directly or indirectly on every sector of life. 

In Pakistan, the most important aspect of well-being is also the most neglected. Pakistan’s successive governments – civil and military – have not made health a priority. The overall public health scenario of Pakistan paints a miserable portrait. One child dies every minute due to vaccine-preventable diseases. The infant mortality rate is 66 per 1,000 births; the maternal mortality rate is 170 per 100,000. According to statistics, Pakistan had not been able to control the burden of communicable diseases. Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries where polio is still endemic and ranked fifth on the list of high-burden TB countries. However, we are number one in Men’s T20 format of Cricket.

Aunty, Kensington Palace said in a statement, “Access to quality of education, particularly to girls and young women, is one of the UK’s top priorities in Pakistan”. Undoubtedly, education not only plays important role in building nation’s character and makes people responsible citizens, but also considered most powerful instrument, to eradicate poverty and make better socio-economic progress. I am very thankful to Kensington Palace for this concern. Unfortunately, Pakistan is suffering from an extensive education crisis. Millions of Pakistani children do not attend school, and those that do deal with absent teachers and poor learning environment. 63% of government schools are in a dangerous or dilapidated condition and lack basic facilities.  

Our great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib wrote more than a hundred year ago:

“If disgrace after death was to be my fate,

I should have met my end through drowning,

It would have spared me a funeral and no headstone would have marked my last resting place”.

Unfortunately, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) recently released report on Human Development Index (HDI); Pakistan was at the 150th place, out of 189 countries. Similarly, Pakistan ranking was 105th on the indicator that measure how much credit a country gets for doing business. Disappointingly, in terms of Human Capital Index (HCI) launched by World Bank, Pakistan falls in the bottom rank due to the low GDP per Capita.

These are more bitter things, but there is a shortage of sugar as-well, or else I would have coated my words appropriately. Uncle, you may be thinking why I am telling you all this? Please grant me permission to answer your concern! We are poor because our country is poor. In our country, how we can spend on people or national development schemes when our money is robbed by the ruling elite? Pakistan is being plundered by corrupt elites and corruption and money laundering have become endemic in the country and its institutions. Here, I would like to draw your attention on Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan’s UNGA speech that focused on corruption and money laundering. “Every year billions of dollars leave poor countries and go to rich countries. Billions of dollars siphoned by corrupt politicians to tax havens, expensive properties bought in western capitals. The rich countries must show political will; they cannot allow this flight of capital from poor countries through corruption”. The PM also called on developed counties to fight back against tax havens.

Uncle and Aunty, my country is poor, yours is rich and developed. I love my country and I also like your country. But, one thing that I do not like about your country, “UK has become a safe haven for corrupt capital stolen from around the world”, according to Transparency International (UK). The corrupt ruling elite must not be allowed to park dirty-money in your country. Uncle, I request you to help my country to retrieve the robbed money from people of Pakistan that is parked in the safe havens of Great Britain, so that we utilize it on development plans of our country and our citizens. I said this all because you are not only wiser, you are also my uncle.

Convey my good wishes to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. If I have caused you offense, I beg your forgiveness. With the utmost respect! May you both have an amazing life together filled with endless laughter, far more joy than sorrow and a peaceful love.

Your nephew,

Mirza A.A. Baig

(On behalf of citizens of Islamic Republic of Pakistan)

Mirza A.A. Baig is CAS-TWAS President’s Fellow at University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). Biomedical Health Informatics Professional and Freelance Science Writer.

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South Asia

Changing Regional Security Paradigm: A Challenge to Kashmir and Options for Pakistan

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The post-cold war world has witnessed shifts in international and regional security paradigms. Due to globalization, easy migrations, advanced technologies, changing geopolitical scenarios, and social resources the world today is more vulnerable to diversified threats.  In this regard, traditional conflict resolution tactics are not enough or influential. New strategies and options are needed to gain interest without being in direct war and confrontations. One such old conflict which has been there for more than 70 years despite 3 major wars between India and Pakistan is Kashmir Issue. While Pakistan is struggling economically and politically, India on the other side is increasing its soft power projection within the region and beyond, posing a serious threat to the traditional tactics of Pakistan towards the Kashmir cause.

The 4 major factors that boosted the strategies of the Indian state are identity, security, prosperity, and soft power. Along with defense, India was focused on its economy, diplomacy, and identity so much from the past few years. It is one of the key drivers of the global economic market, making up about 15% of the world’s economic output. Soon India will become the world’s largest country by Population, accounting for maximum youth, meaning it is offering incentives, consumer markets, and youth force to other countries. Moreover, India has become the third largest producer of steel (producer with Arcelor- Mittal), enhancing the credibility and reliability of MADE IN INDIA across the globe. It is considered an IT giant. Many IT companies from India entered Fortune 500-group that has opened doors of businesses and jobs for the Indian youth.

Furthermore, along with being a major partner in trade and commerce in the international market, regionally India provides aid and acts as an advocate of welfare for many developing countries in Asia. Along with that, it is also looking towards opportunities to gain the interest of Afghanistan which is an internationally isolated state.   Internationally, it has become a major geo-strategic and geo-economic partner of many western states like the US and UK, as it has the potential to counter the Chinese Rise. It is part of various geopolitical alliances initiated for the containment of China such as QUAD and middle eastern alliances i.e., I2U2.  Moreover, India also has a settled Middle Eastern policy to benefit from all major actors instead of choosing blocs. Thus, India has worked on its economy, over the years to bring prosperity and self-sufficiency within the country. It has provided markets and incentives to other countries thereby increasing its lobbying power. Through its strong diplomacy, it has become a major actor that also promoted its values and identity.

Lastly one can’t deny that the hegemonic capabilities of India have challenged the Kashmiris and their freedom movements. India is now integrating into Kashmir not only militarily but also diplomatically, politically, and economically. It has incentivized the Kashmir issue as well.  After India revoked articles 370 and 35A It is working on Kashmir’s demographic changes. India also opened doors for tourism and international investments in Kashmir. If someone starts investing there, that will normalize that Kashmir is part of India. Yet India didn’t receive any backlash, nor it is isolated or being sanctioned. The reason is simple, India has good ties with many western states. It provides incentives and fulfills the economic and political interests of the west.

For Pakistan, which is a party to the conflict, instead of normative a more realistic approach is required now. Though Pakistan has emotional attachments with Kashmir but it’s not enough to just talk about morals and injustice at international forums.  If Pakistan wants to support the Kashmiris it should enhance its intellectual power, academia, and soft power projection. Literature and academia help export the actual ideologies and narratives to the rest of the world. The Kashmiri diaspora within Pakistan and abroad should be supported for that. In addition, Pakistan needs to increase its influence to counter India not only in the military sector but also in the economic and political domains.  The defense ratio between Pakistan and India is 1/8 while on the other hand in the economy it is 1/20. Though the importance of defense can’t be ignored in the balance of power, but international politics has evolved, and power is not limited to military only. One can look at the two recent world events where there was the use of force and weapons to gain interests i.e., Afghanistan and the Ukraine-Russian war. Afghanistan is now internationally isolated while Russia is being sanctioned and criticized. So, direct confrontations and wars are not accepted and supported by states at broad levels. Thus, with the changing global political and strategic environment it is important to work on spheres of academia, research, soft power, and diplomacy.

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The Taliban and the current Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the Afghan state and the public rapidly declined. The country’s territories have become the source of international terrorism and many global problems.

August 15 is the first anniversary since the power in Afghanistan was seized by the Kabul Taliban, and the ex-president of the Afghan state, Ashraf Ghani fled. After a year of the Taliban’s power, their power has not yet been recognized by any state in the world.

According to the UN International Labor Organization, the Taliban’s ascension to power in Afghanistan has led to rapid growth in the unemployment rate among the population. Based on the data of the UN, such a situation in the Afghan labor market was caused by the economic crisis and the prohibition on work for the female population. Over five hundred thousand people in Afghanistan lost their jobs during the first month of the Taliban rule. “The crisis has affected women the most. Thus, their employment level, already extremely low by world standards, decreased by 16% in the third quarter of last year. By mid—2022, it is projected to fall to 28%,” the UN investigation states.

In addition to the economic decline, there has been a rise in drug production in Afghanistan. Drugs are one of the Taliban’s main income zones, and their power has re-activated the production and export of opium and heroin. However, the drug business was also active under the former Afghan authorities. According to the UN, in 2021, Afghanistan’s income from drug exports amounted from 1.8 billion to 2.7 billion US dollars. This profit is from 6 to 11% of the GDP of the Afghan state. As before, the main drug export channels pass through Pakistan. The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued a fatwa in 2022 to ban the production and distribution of opium and other drug substances in Afghanistan. However, there have been no significant changes in this situation. Nevertheless, the Taliban repeatedly make statements about the cessation of drug production, but they also confirm that the prohibition on opium production will lead to the loss of the only way of earning for peasants, leading to an uprising.

Pakistan acts as the main partner country for Afghanistan. Bypassing sanctions, weapons are coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan. And the majority of Afghan drugs are exported through Pakistan’s western provinces – the southern route. The main patron and sponsor of the Taliban is also the Pakistani military leadership. With the help of Pakistani support, the radicals seized power in Afghanistan and persecuted other alternatives to power.

The Taliban’s first financial income was provided by transportation fees that the militants took from truck drivers on the border of Afghanistan and the state’s territory. The Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan concentrated its forces on extracting natural resources. In February 2022, the Afghan media reported on the negotiations of the new Afghan government with China on the development of copper and lithium by Chinese companies. But even though China, along with Pakistan, is a vital partner of the Taliban regime, mineral development has not yet begun. Without the support and diplomatic assistance of China and Pakistan, the Taliban would not have been able to establish their authority over Afghanistan. However, Beijing still has not officially recognized their power.

Also, summing up the results of the year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, we can definitely say that the new regime fails to solve the economic and social problems of the state. According to UN research, Afghanistan is on the verge of famine and humanitarian collapse. It is worth noting that during the presence of the United States and NATO in the country, there was no such catastrophic situation. Also, during the period of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the position of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State has strengthened. The Taliban does not intend to start the fight with the presence of these organizations.

Also, in June 2022, an earthquake with colossal consequences occurred on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The death toll during the disaster was more than 1.5 people, and more than two thousand were injured. The UN has recorded that Afghanistan’s government cannot cope with the threats that the Afghan society is forced to cope with alone.

UNICEF and the World Food Program note the catastrophic situation of Afghan children, and organizations make statements about the high level of undernutrition and that over 3.5 million children urgently need treatment. The UN website says, “Hospital wards are full of malnourished children: many one-year-olds weigh as much as a six-month-old baby would weigh in a developed country, and some are so weak that they cannot move.”

The new government of Afghanistan carries out mass executions, severe human rights violations, and forced disappearances of citizens and previous security forces employees. This is recorded by the United Nations Assistance Organization in Afghanistan. To a large extent, the repression is carried out by two Talib departments – the Ministry of Propaganda of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the General Directorate of Intelligence. Both organizations are under the auspices of Pakistani security agencies.

UNAMA experts report “arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and protesters.” There were 160 extrajudicial executions, 178 unjustified arrests and 56 cases of torture of former Afghan military and Government employees. In addition, 2106 victims were registered among ethnic and religious minorities (700 killed, 1406 wounded).

After a year, the Taliban authorities, according to international organizations, destroyed the essential state structures in Afghanistan responsible for solving social issues such as jobs and the state’s humanitarian condition. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission premises were also seized, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was closed. Afghan women are deprived of the right to work. Except for some professions, they are not allowed to travel more than 72 km unaccompanied by men and cannot appear on the street with an open face. Responsibility for all violations of the rules of a woman is borne by her father or another close male relative. The punishment is dismissal from work or imprisonment.

Freedom of speech was also seriously impaired. The international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that there are half as many media in Afghanistan as a result of the year-long run of the Taliban. During the year, 219 organizations out of 547 media were closed. Before the Taliban came to power, there were 11,857 journalists in the country. Today only 4,759 of them remain. Female journalists took the first impact. Almost all of them were left without their job.

The Taliban sees the UN’s message about human rights in Afghanistan as propaganda. On July 21, Taliban official Zabiullah Mujahid posted on social media: “There are no arbitrary killings or arrests in the country. If someone kills or arbitrarily arrests, that person is considered a criminal and will be brought before Sharia law.”

In sum, a few conclusions about the power of the Taliban must be noted. The Taliban is characterized by a lack of qualification in the country’s rule, and the leadership cannot organize public service. Also, the Taliban does not fulfil its duties to combat terrorist organizations, which has ensured the strengthening of the position of existing banned groups. The female population of Afghanistan and various social minorities suffered. The Taliban are building strong relationships with authoritarian countries such as Pakistan, China and Russia. Islamabad carries out the actual control of the Taliban and also uses the Taliban in the South Asian region for its geopolitical purposes.

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South Asia

Khalistan Referendum

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Every charter of Human Rights provides a framework for the basic individual rights. Under these civil liberties, all humans are entitled to revel in those privileges. Sikh community residing around the globe is facing heinous behavior from the India’s Modi regime as it is a home for many Sikhs. The episode of unlawful arrest of the UK-based Sikh activist named Jagtar Singh Johal in 2017 with the help of UK government ignited a huge number of protests across the world. According to his lawyers from Scotland, he has been tortured and falsely accused to whom British PM Boris John acknowledged while showing his concern. Most recently, the murder of Sidhu Moosewala who was an active supporter of Sikh rights is an example of India’s unjust activities. Provision of security was denied by BJP government before his murder. In support of Sidhu and separate homeland for Sikhs, more than 17,000 Sikhs voted for Khalistan Referendum in Rome, Italy. Similarly, UK having one of the highest ratio of Sikh diaspora, organized a campaign under the active advocates of Sikh rights “Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)” in which 30,000 British Sikhs voted for referendum on 31st October 2021. Series of Sikh referendums are lined up and SFJ declared that after completing this voting series, it will be a decision of 120,000 Sikhs showing the desire for separate land under the rule and law provided them by International Justice System.  A huge referendum is planned for the Sikhs of Punjab on 26th January 2023.

The roots of these referendum are enrooted into the event of Operation Blue Star happened in 1984. Under this operation, Indian army attached on the holiest place of Sikhs, “Golden Temple” to capture Sikhs whom Indian Army declared as terrorists and claimed that they are hiding weapons inside the temple as well. Many innocent Sikhs lost their lives. The level of brutality not only stopped at killing innocents but also disrespected the sentiments of the followers of this particular religion. A homeland that ought to be safe place for its residents became a threatening region. That’s why a huge number of Indian Sikhs migrated to other states like UK, Canada, Italy and US to seek a safe residence. The fight for the cause of Sikh’s rights is still going on, as there is a referendum on 18th September 2022, Toronto, Canada, in which high ratio of Sikh voters are expected to participate.

Massive genocide and extra-Judicial killings are the major tools of Modi regime against the Sikh community. To deal with all these unlawful activities, Sikh diaspora has organized itself into groups like “Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)” who are arranging referendum, holding protests and advocating Sikhs right at all possible platforms. Specifically for the Khalistan Referendum, Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC) has been designed to have free and fair voting for the basic demand. Through such representation, Sikhs are asking for a legal demand from India’s Modi regime. These organizational setup shows that Sikh community is well aware of its rights, and using the peaceful means to convey their message to the world. 

If India is real democracy and wants to be seen as democratic country, it should accept Sikh referendum results.  The result of referendum can always be leveraged in “Law fare domain” to ask India to hold an official referendum for the purpose.  Democracies are torch holder of freedom, human rights and their liberties. This behavior of India is not acceptable to be an example for the rest of aspiring democratic states where the Modi Regime is having genocidal designs against the specific communities. Khalistan Movement with the aspirations of a separate homeland is the legitimate demand of Sikh community. By overturning these movements and referendums, India is suppressing its minorities and violating their right to self-determination through peaceful means.

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