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South Asia

Battle of Yokes: Indo-US vs. Sino-Pak Nexus

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Rearrangements of new realities after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1979, and the readjustment of post WWII International Order into a multi-polar regionalized and globalized world, has led to the twosome power game in South Asia to continue via proxy. In all, from the legacy of 9/11 to the unsubstantiated accusations of ‘terrorist proxies,’ having safe havens for the Haqqani and the Taliban, Pakistan remains in a tender predicament despite being the ‘most allied non-NATO ally’ of the US. The role of a frontline state for the US was played unfailingly by Pakistan both during and after the-Cold War by joining anti-communist alliances like CENTO and SEATO and in the War on Terror (WoT) respectively. Pakistan was also a strategic ally to the CIA and facilitated its biggest covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It helped the US provide billions of dollars in weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen. Till then, India was on the opposite side of the fence as it pursued a pro-Soviet policy.

Amidst the rise of a multi-polar politico-economy in a more regionalized and globalized world, India has successfully attracted its economic and diplomatic successes into new international opportunities. As such, shifting its romance towards the US after the Soviet Union was more lucrative to its politico-strategic clash with Pakistan.

In fact, India was already a better choice for the US.It had its comprehensive industrial base with 10% economic growth rate in early 1990’s, at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The policy of self-reliance pursued uninterruptedly by India ever since its independence also adhered well in an increasingly more integrated international financial system despite new political dynamics. Its geo-strategic location next to the emerging US new competitor, China, embodied better transactional value. The $400 billion Foreign Exchange Reserves,7.4 percent economic growth rate almost equal to China and an earnings of about $30 billion from Foreign Direct Investment provide a solid base much in contrast to Pakistan’s import and aid driven economy.

Pakistan, on the other hand, had to largely compromise on its national interests by looking for bailout packages from the International Monetary Funds and International donors with its political status already weak as the mutual mistrust between the US and Pakistan had reached to new heights. To find a space in such an international politico-economic rivalry was an uphill task for Pakistan.

Hence, Senior US diplomat Alice Wells’ renewed criticism on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), during her visit in January, 2020, is a realistic tilt towards India. Evidently, the US allying itself with India more than Pakistan is more useful for the US and should be understandable. Her vehement criticism on the flagship projects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in repetition of her earlier remarks at the Wilson Centre in Washington on Nov 21, 2019, represents simply politics of pragmatism and interest.  Similarly, the alleging lack of transparency in CPEC projects and the claims that Pakistan’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing is an argument in the same vein. Amb. Wells went even further to declare that the companies blacklisted by the World Bank got contracts in the CPEC and had opposed the debt sequence as well. She also suggested that by getting Chinese financing for the projects, Pakistan was buying expensive loans which would eventually take a heavy toll on its already struggling economy.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Quraishi’s talk about human rights abuses by the Indian troops in the occupied Kashmir and intensified LoC ceasefire violations, assurances of Pakistan’s resolve for peace and stability in Afghanistan, was more of a diplomatic struggle to gain a strategic and political space in already strained relations and amidst a growing Indo-US nexus. The US already considers India a ‘major defence partner’ to facilitate defence technology, combat exercises and wargames. Joint projects have already been designed to include aircraft carrier technologies and jet engines, futuristic helicopters, infantry combat vehicles, F-16/ F-18 fighter production line and billions of dollars’ worth of arms deals including the C-17 Globemaster, Poseidon-8, C-130 Super Hercules, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been denied for creating a strategic imbalance in the nuclear South Asian region ever since the Obama presidency.

The times of Donald Trump are no different with his new syndrome of Islamophobia. Though, Trump praised Pakistan’s role in War on Terror and in Afghanistan during his several rounds of meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, his earlier declaration of Pakistan as the most dangerous country after Iran and the relations promoted between India and the US by four successive presidents prove enough evidence on the convergence of their interests. Pakistan has almost lost grounds to India. India holds a significant place in the American strategy to contain China also. Their policy of strengthening India’s conventional forces is growing with every passing regime. The statement of Alice Wells should therefore be seen in the light of the Mike Pompeo’s (the US Secretary of State)earlier warning to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).He said that the Trump administration will not allow it to lend US dollars to Pakistan for repaying China. The looming threat of placing Pakistan on the FATF blacklist should also be taken as yet another arm twister with the same aim.

Based on this insensitivity, arrantly ignoring Pakistan’s legitimate security and economic concerns is certainly a blow for a country which had suffered immense material damages amounting to over $120 billion during the US War on Terror as a frontline ally. Hence, as is, can Pakistan rely on such passive diplomacy?

Understandably, the onus of understanding this dilemma in their relations lies more on the US. It can be safely held responsible for changing the balance of power in South Asia with its consolidated political, strategic, monetary and military union with India. Its apathy towards the strategic balance in the region with three nuclear powers; China, India and Pakistan, along with the Afghan quagmire cannot be ignored. Neither does it absolve Pakistan for keeping all its eggs in one basket. Notwithstanding the fact, Pakistan remains a state of crucial relevance to the region. To revitalize its role, Pakistan needs to look beyond the $5.5% projected GDP for 2020s as a catalyst towards regionalism of South Asia and bring its house in order. Remarks of Daniel S. Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), that, it “is anything but clear. A clean break between Pakistan and the US seems unlikely, despite simmering disagreements over a number of issues” cannot be ignored either.

South Asia

Pakistan puts press freedom at the core of struggle for new world order

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Sweeping new regulations restricting social media in Pakistan put freedom of expression and the media at the heart of the struggle to counter both civilizationalist and authoritarian aspects of an emerging new world order.

The regulations, adopted without public debate, position US social media companies like Facebook and Twitter at the forefront of the struggle and raise the spectre of China’s walled off Internet with its own state-controlled social media platforms becoming the model for a host of illiberals, authoritarians and autocrats.

The regulations, that take effect immediately, embrace aspects of a civilizational state that defines its legal reach, if not its borders, in terms of a civilization rather than a nation state with clearly outlined, internationally recognized borders that determine the reach of its law and that is defined by its population and language.

The regulations could force social media companies to globally suppress criticism of the more onerous aspects of Pakistani law, including constitutionally enshrined discrimination of some minorities like Ahmadis, a sect widely viewed as heretic by mainstream Islam, and imposition of a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy.

The new rules force social media companies to “remove, suspend or disable access” to content posted in Pakistan or by Pakistani nationals abroad that the government deems as failing to “take due cognizance of the religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities of Pakistan.” The government can also demand removal of encryption.

Social media companies are required to establish offices in Pakistan in the next three months and install data servers by February 2021.

The government justified the rules with the need to combat hate speech, blasphemy, alleged fake news and online harassment of women.

The Asia Internet Coalition, a technology and internet industry association that includes  Facebook and Twitter, warned that the regulations “jeopardize the personal safety and privacy of citizens and undermine free expression” and would be “detrimental to Pakistan’s ambitions for a digital economy.”

The introduction of the regulations reflects frustration in government as well as Pakistan’s powerful military with social media companies’ frequent refusal to honour requests to take down content. Pakistan ranked among the top countries requesting  Facebook and Twitter to remove postings.

On the assumption that Facebook, Twitter and others, which are already banned in China, will risk being debarred in Pakistan by refusing to comply with the new regulations, Pakistan could become a prime country that adopts not only aspects of China’s 21st century, Orwellian surveillance state but also its tightly controlled media.

The basis for potential Pakistani adoption of the Chinese system was created in 2017 in plans for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$60 billion plus crown jewel of the Belt and Road, an infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven initiative to tie Eurasia to China.

The 2017 plan identifies as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. The plan appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

It envisions a full system of monitoring and surveillance to ensure law and order in Pakistani cities. The system would involve deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Critics in China and elsewhere assert that repression of freedom of expression contributed to China’s delayed response to the Coronavirus. China rejects the criticism with President Xi Jingping calling for even greater control.

Pakistan’s newly promulgated regulations echo Mr. Xi’s assertion during the Communist party’s January 7 Politburo Standing Committee meeting  that “we must strengthen public opinion tracking and judgment, take the initiative to voice, provide positive guidance, strengthen integration, communication and interaction, so that positive energy will always fill the Internet space… We must control the overall public opinion and strive to create a good public opinion environment. It is necessary to strengthen the management and control of online media.”

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South Asia

Kashmir burns as lockdown continues

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The valley is on fire again, and it is engulfing the whole region. It is not just about Pakistan or India but the onus remains on the world, every person, every country, and every individual as Kashmir suffers from these flames.

It is burning everywhere. The dispute of Pakistan-India is not new. It has elevated from its dormant levels. From the disruption of peace-talks to election fueled border skirmishes, every action and every other effort in the region is worsening the situation.

Time has stood still. It has stopped healing wounds and only the lacerations have increased. As the lockdown persists, the agony persists and continues to darken the skies.

The cries of innocent Kashmiris (nine million of them) scream on the loss of their loved ones. The arrests under the Public safety Act (PSA) has demeaned its meaning in Kashmiri eyes and in the eyes of the world. Everyone arrested under this act have gone under detention without trial for a maximum of two years. As absurd it sounds, the trauma is more horrific.

And all of this began with the passing of Article 370. And it has raised many questions in the minds of the people living in these areas

Voted by the majority of Indian parliament members, that is,351 votes in favor and only 72 against, on 5th of August. The timing, the stunts being played by the restraining government are to be questioned. Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed to normalize the abnormal situation in the state of Jammu Kashmir. But the truth cannot be further from this. In the six months since, the state could not have destabilized more had Pakistan directly intervened. At its lowest ebb of the past 40 years, the situation needs to be normalized.

And in this manner Modi and the current Indian government have set the template for every dictatorial regime. Arrest all possible voices of a region, cut all communications, blockade the region and you are on your way.

Internet, tele-communication and any sort of media coverage was limited to say the least. As millions suffered badly with each passing day of the curfew. The valley burnt and there were no witnesses as a complete lockdown continued as the government tried to normalize the state.

But the images of the valley made their way out and the stories they tell do not need much interpretation. They support their tales without much context. It will be wrong to assume their context but there was no one to state it. Such was the stranglehold of the government. And this was in stark contrast to what was aimed at.

To revive Kashmir’s economy and make it come at par to rest of the country, a lot of different directions were available. So why mess with the hornets nest.

The necessary steps that Modi’s government had to take were promote local governance and encourage new investment plans in the state. Outdated plans had to be set aside and a renewed focus on ones that bring the state to the forefront after lagging behind rest of India for so many years.

What Mr. Modi does is anyone’s guess. After all, he has been the face of RSS backed BJP known for its neo-Nazi politics. The great face of secular India maligned by the idiosyncratic visions of a deranged lunatics.

And it has not played out well in Kashmir. The state’s lack of governance has had a detrimental impact on its development and the current legislature change will not help its case. All these measures were strongly criticized by the international media and on political forums.

The need to stabilize the region of Indian occupied Kashmir becomes very frequent question in the minds who follow the news update on the region. For Pakistan and India, the claim of Kashmir could not be more skeptical than in current situation. And impact current affairs situations in the geography.

From America taking out its soldiers from Afghanistan, to unrest in Iran and middle-east. The noisy neighbors and Kashmir issue impacts everyone. And as we learn from Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and its ensuring unrest, South Asia is not going to stabilize for some time. And Kashmir will be the talking point.

Wisdom would suggest that this issue should be decided sooner rather than later. Even if India’s claim of Kashmir being an unresolved matter of India, it should be resolved at the earliest. This has to be done some day, and with American troops leaving Afghanistan, doing it before will be a good time.

The freedom fighters have been engaged in Afghanistan for the better part of two decades and the focus will return on Kashmir. The suffering of millions of Muslims cannot be overlooked and the region will not be able to stabilize. It is in the best interests of all parties involved, especially India.

On the other side of the border, Pakistan is watching eagerly and getting support for its international claims. Peace talks have been proposed and they would mutually benefit both the countries and stabilize the region. But no movement has been seen on this front. Both Islamabad and Delhi are far from sitting across each other.

Pakistan itself has unilaterally changed the structure of Azad Kashmir government. And they did it by changing the status of the Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir territories last year. Any kind of the unrest in the Kashmir state has a direct effect on the Azad Kashmir.

And Pakistan cannot keep a blind eye on a region as close as the Indian Kashmir.It has openly talked about freedom of Kashmir from India and demands from the world to support its rights. And as Pakistan supports the Kashmir issue on all forums indiscriminately, the pressure is piling on Delhi.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced solidarity with Kashmir. His government is taking the issue to every forum possible including the human rights forums in United Nations (UN).Islamabad knows the significance of this period and has highlighted the violations happening under Article 370.Pakistan’s support Kashmir is firm and is not budging.

As the issue takes rage, other countries also got involved in it as sitting back and ignoring the matter is out of question.

The United States (US) senate committee on foreign relations has called to bring an end to this type of “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir. Even Donald Trump has offered to support in any way to solve this “complex issue”.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has shared that he is personally keeping abreast with the situation in Kashmir and would “support Pakistan in issues related to its core interests.”Xi, however, added that both India and Pakistan should resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took up the issue in the UN General Assembly. He called to resolve it through peace dialogues as they ensure the safety, equity and happiness of the people of the region rather thana rmed collisions.

Even Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom stated that the people of Kashmir “must be included” in decisions concerning their future.

Decades have passed and there is a dire need to resolve this issue as the time flies it brings more anger in the residents. Open dialogues area solution which is in the best interest of Kashmiri people. Other repercussions are hard to fathom and difficult to digest.

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South Asia

How Internal Political Instability Risks Threatening Pakistan’s International Commitments

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Dharna (Mass sit-ins) politics in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon as it has happened several times by various political parties and other entities. Yet, it is the “timing of such Dharnas” that is the most important thing for the success and failure of such methods when pressurizing governments. Currently Pakistan faces numerous problems ranging from an unstable economy, terrorism, staunch opposition from other major political parties such as the PML (N) and PPP, the Kashmir issue, the Afghanistan matter and mounting Western pressure regarding CPEC.  Any misadventure created by a Dharna or any other issue could cost the present government a heavy price in the form of regional commitments considering the current situation of the country.

Recently Bilawal Bhutto announced a Dharna to be held in March in addition to the one planned by Fazul Rehman this month. Both parties through Dharna politics want to pressurize the incumbent government via politicizing the widespread inflation plaguing the Pakistani economy. They also aimed to further build on how Fazul Rehman through his previous Dharna the previous year had tried to pressurize the Imran Khan government along similar lines. One of his top demands then was calling for a re-election because he considered the election of July 2018 rigged. This demand was favored by wide swathes of the opposition because of their resentments against the existing government and its policies.

As is the current situation within Pakistan is already unstable because of various problems. The most pressing being Western pressure being applied through the FATF and IMF in key development projects such as CPEC. Under the current circumstances, the government cannot afford any kind of strike or resentment by political parties which can diminish its image at the national as well as global levels.

This is apparent in how, the United States and India through the FATF and other means have been pressurizing Pakistan on the pretext of clamping down on money laundering which is allegedly being used by various terrorist organizations within Pakistan. In this regard, any kind of trouble generated within the country through Dharna politics or any other means would lead to the country gaining further unfavorable international attention. The resulting political instability could further bring Pakistan closer to being placed on the FATF black-list. If that happens then Pakistan would suffer immensely giving birth to a whole host of new political and socio-economic restrictions for the whole nation.

According to the present government, it has already been struggling to control the list of demands given by the FATF to avoid being put on the blacklist. This was evident in the recent visit by Imran Khan and the Army Chief to the US where a whole range of issues were clarified with the US government. These included the internal situation within Pakistan along with other regional concerns such as terrorism, the Afghan peace process, the Kashmir dispute and Chinese involvement through CPEC. Moreover, the statement by American president Donald Trump should be taken seriously by the present government that America with the cooperation of various nations will protect human rights violations throughout the world and fight against radical Islamic terrorism. There are many precedents where America has been intervening within various regions of the world under the pretext of protecting human rights and eradicating terrorism.

In addition, there is no denying that India wants to exploit the situation further by projecting the Pakistani state as the mother of terrorism at multiple regional and global forums. There can be various motives behind this move in which the Kashmir issue and RSS ideology hold immense importance. It is widely believed that PM Narendra Modi wants to divert the attention of Pakistan as well as other regional and global forums from the atrocities and human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir.

In this regard, Imran Khan has been trying his best to halt Dharna politics through multiple strategies by calling for political unity to help alleviate the current difficult situation in the country. This for instance has been evident in his attempts to prioritize the threat from India regarding the Kashmir issue well as India’s designs to portray Islamabad as a terrorist state, above the internal politics being waged within Pakistan. Such concerns have made the situation of the country considerably sensitive hence the government has to behave and act sensibly to control the emerging situation. If such issues are not going to be solved skillfully and efficiently, then the entire nation is likely to bear the consequences and repercussions of the troubles generated through such internal instability.

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