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From Pulwama to Abhinandan: How India Lost the Narrative War to Pakistan

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The Pulwama attack on 14 February 2019 not only led to the deaths of 40 Indian paramilitary personnel but also lobbed Pakistan and India into yet another narrative war – and more ominously, the potential of a real one. Before any investigation was conducted, the Indian military, political leadership, and media began a jingoistic propaganda offensive against their neighbour – stating that Pakistan was behind the attack. Soon after the Pulwama attack, Pakistan and Indian fighter jets were embroiled in a dogfight (details ahead) in which Pakistan destroyed two Indian jets and subsequently captured one pilot, Abhinandan (now released). The article examines the unfolding narrative war brought forth by these events. It primarily deliberates on the role of both countries’ media in said narrative war. The article highlights the distorted and false claims that the Indian media disseminated fervently – their unobjectivity, antagonism, and falsities stemmedfrom the hostility exemplified by their government and military. This aggression was contrasted by the Pakistan media’s focus on objectivity (for the most part), and relatively calmer approach – this stemmed from Imran Khan and the military’s reliance on impartiality, facts, and restraint. As the dust settled, reputable international media outlets who were the de facto adjudicators of this war judged in favour of Pakistan’s official and media narrative to the dismay of New Delhi.

Indian Media & Narrative

The Indian media has a storied propensity for being acrimonious and dispelling exaggerated, distorted, and even false news stories. This is emphatically true in relation to its neighbour, Pakistan. Indian news outlets in their greed to be the first ones to break stores, on many occasions, neglect to fact-check them. For example, in 2017, India Today’s Hindi channel, Aaj Tak, ineffably reported that a fatwa had been issued in Saudi Arabia that men could eat their wives if they were hungry.

The obnoxiously loud anchors and analysts during prime time become even more conspicuous if the news isin relation to Pakistan. Shouting to the audience as if they are hard of hearing, dramatic deliveries of what is supposed to be news, fear mongering, and jingoism are their modus operandi. It is an obsession, which draws massive ratings and revenue for them as it gravitates the Indian masses towards their TV sets. Although, one could label these Bollywood-esque theatrics as innocuous, the hyperbole and outright lying against Pakistan and Muslims is particularly worrisome. Anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiment has erupted since Modi and his RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) affiliated BJP came into power.

Commenting on the Pulwama attack, documentary filmmaker, Sanjay Kak, observes, “Every time an incident like this happens, before the government can respond, before the army can respond, before the military responds, the media immediately jumps the gun, asking for war.” Although, his assertions are valid, but when the government and military did have a chance to respond, they in perennial fashion blamed Pakistan without any investigation. After the Pulwama incident, Al Jazzera conducted a report on the Indian media and noted that especially during prime time, the media “descends into unjournalistic ranting”. For example, after the attack, a popular Indian anchor, Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, proudly said to his viewers, “India wants Pakistan punished. Like you I also want Pakistan punished”. Other anchors were miming similar statements causing a surge in anti-Pakistan sentiments across India. Associate professor, Rohit Chopra, states, “With the exception of a few sane voices, what you have is a completely absurd and very dangerous competitive jingoism that’s perennially on display from all these anchors”. Citing how India’s “media is war-crazy”, Mumbai-based journalist, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, writes that after the Pulwama attack, the media was “trading journalistic responsibility for tabloid hysterics”. The Indian media tried its best to link Pakistan to Pulwama – they wanted something to gain traction. However, their rushed approach embarrassed them on a myriad of occasions. For example, they claimed Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, a Pakistani cleric who died in 2007, was the mastermind of the attack. Furthermore, media outlets such as India Today, ranted that Rasheed was killed by the Indian army after Pulwama attack, which would be quite a feat. The Indian media and anchors beating on their war drums, became louder and more assertive, clamouring for revenge against a crime that Pakistan had not been implicated of.

This call was answered by the ultra-nationalistic BJP when they launched a “surgical strike” by invading Pakistan’s airspace. They claimed that a terror base was destroyed near Balakot – and with it, 300 or so terrorists were killed. Pakistan agreed that its airspace was violated by Indian jets, however, it apprised that no “terror base” was destroyed and barring from four trees and one injured man, there was no casualty (details ahead). Adopting the Indian official narrative, the Indian media outlets went hysterical with pride and made sure to inculcate this sentiment among its viewership. One news anchor, Gaurav Sawant, tweeted that India should “Strike again & again”. The sanctimonious Indian media in an attempt to validate the “surgical strike” narrative propagated a video of a jet flying as evidence of India’s attack –channels like CNN News 18 ran this footage. Their exuberance was misguided again as the footage, ironically, was of a Pakistani jet flying over Islamabad around 3 years back. Rather than publicly apologising for such sub-standard and yellow journalism, the Indian propaganda machine continued to disseminate animosity and unfounded allegations. The Indian media also began passing off a video game’s footage as the alleged strike on the terror camp. Fortunately, there are some reputable Indian media outlets and fact checkers that did their job and reported that this was from a video game.

Shortly after the Indian incursion into Pakistan’s airspace, the international media shot down the Indian rhetoric. According to the New York Times, the Pakistani narrative was substantiated by two Western security officials and military analysts, who noticed that any terror base in Balakot had long dispersed. Washington Post noted that according to reports from local residents and police officers there was a strike but no signs of mass casualties. The Guardian stated, “The attack was celebrated in India, but it was unclear on Tuesday whether anything significant had been struck by the fighter jets, or whether the operation had been carefully calibrated to ease popular anger over the 14 February suicide bombing…”. Reuters interviewed some local residents about casualties; one of them, Abdur Rasheed, said, “No one died. Only some pine trees died, they were cut down. A crow also died.” Reuters even interviewed a hospital official, Mr Sadique, in the Basic Health Unit, Jaba – he stated, “It is just a lie. It is rubbish. We didn’t receive even a single injured person. Only one person got slightly hurt and he was treated there. Even he wasn’t brought here.” Questions such as “where did the bodies go if there were 300 casualties?” and “where are the destroyed buildings?” proved to negate the Indian state and media’s narrative. The New York Times reported that the Indian side provided no visual evidence of the strikes, while the Pakistani military provided pictures from Balakot showing not much damage. High-resolution satellite images provided by San Francisco-based company, Planet Labs, further revealed to the world that the buildings that were “targeted” were still standing – no scorching or holes or other indicators of an aerial assault were identified. In fact, the satellite images and other evidence provided by Pakistan and the international media has even shown the light to some segments of the Indian media. For example, vis-à-vis the satellite images, The Economic Times (India) reports “The images cast further doubt on statements made over the last eight days by the Indian government of prime minister Narendra Modi…”. Even opposition parties who were supportive of the Indian government initially are now feverishly stating that Modi has provided no proof of any strike.

After the faux surgical strike, Pakistan launched an aerial retaliation, which was previously announced by the Armed Forces, in which fighters locked on to several Indian targets but chose to fire in an empty field to avoid any loss of life. Immediately after this, Pakistani and Indian jets faced each other in a dogfight – the Pakistanis show down two Indian jetsin Pakistani airspace, one of which’s pilot was captured by the country. India conversely acknowledged that they lost a singularMiG-21 Bison and the pilot was in Pakistani hands – but stated that India also downed a Pakistani F-16. Pakistan claimed this as false and asserted that it lost no jets. The international media again heavily leaned towards the Pakistani assertions as India could not provide any proof of their claims while Pakistan did. Pakistan captured the MiG-21’s pilot, wing commander Abhinandan and showed footage of his downed jet – this was more than enough proof to the world that Pakistan was stating facts and won the dogfight. Vis-a-vis the Indian claims that it downed a Pakistani F-16, they were proven to be bogus. Pakistani and Indian Air Force officers (retired and serving) were sceptical that India shot down an F-16 citing that easily accessible evidence such as Abhinandan’s radio transmissions to flight controller, loss of radar blip, and video recording(s) of air-engagement had not been provided. Furthermore, while analysing the Indian media’s picture and video evidence of the alleged downed F-16, it was revealed that the exhaust shown was consistent with an R-25 engine found on a MiG. During a live TV show, an Indian anchor clamoured to the audience and an Indian analyst that the pictures he was displaying were of the downed Pakistani F-16. This immediately backfired when the Indian analyst stated, “I do not think that it is entirely accurate. That part is actually a MiG-21 part.” Moreover, the service hatch on the wreckage showed a “CU” format serial number written, which is used on Indian upgraded MiG-21’s.Quite recently, American scholar, Christine Fair, who is known to be very vocal against Pakistan, stated at the Indian hosted Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh “I say this clearly with 100% certitude that there was no F-16 struck down.I do not believe you did. I believe that my bonafides as a critic of Pakistan stand for itself”. The reason the Indians “needed” there to be a downed F-16 was to save face or otherwise its military capabilities would be exposed. The latter is exactly what transpired – a Foreign Policy article remarked that the dilapidated state of the Indian Air Force was reinforced when Pakistan came out victorious in the dogfight. The New York Times also spelled tragedy for the Indian government and media as it commented that due to Pakistan’s victory over India, questions arise regarding its “vintage” military.

Vis-à-vis the captured pilot, wing commander Abhinandan, even he took a major jab at the Indian media. Before leaving Pakistan, he regretted that the “Indian media always stretches the truth. The smallest of things are presented in a very incendiary manner and people get misled.” Overall, the Indian media, without conducting any research of its own, only mimicked whatever the government told them and ignored any objective voice.

Pakistani Media & Narrative

The Pakistani media is certainly not renowned in the world as the most objective or professional. It feels that their immaturity is on display perennially. Like their Indian counterparts, they too have elements of cheap Bollywood theatrics, overly loud newscasters, and journalists biased towards a specific political party. Their theatrics and unprofessional behaviour include confronting families of victims who died in fresh terror attacks, as well as playing funny background music as a politician slips or forgets what to say. Regrettably and astonishingly, Pakistan has more news channels than entertainment ones. In fact, the news and political discussions have become a form of entertainment for the public and since competition is fierce, this leads to copious amounts of sensationalism and yellow journalism. However, compared to the Indian media, they are not as malevolent, are much calmer, and the jingoism is much more reserved. In Pakistan, none of the media houses promote anti-Indian sentiments as policy, however, conversely, all Indian ones target Pakistan maliciously.

When Indian channels called for violence against Pakistan due to the Pulwama attackand later celebrated the fake “surgical strike 2.0”, the Pakistani media became unhinged. Not to be outdone by its neighbour, the Pakistani media began shouting back and regrettably started to resemble what the Indian media is mostly criticized of. This by no way means that the Pakistani media was as bellicose as India’s but concurrently it was nowhere near an internationally accepted standard of journalism. As one commentator put it, “Don’t get me wrong, the Pakistani talking heads on TV haven’t been showing some sort of graceful etiquette; they just look better in comparison [to India].” Pakistani and Indian media, unlike reputable international media houses, are inherently sentimental and let their feelings of patriotism seep into their reporting – especially in high-tension scenarios. However, unlike the Indians, the Pakistani media generally does not rant on why it should “punish” or “invade” India, even when the BJP-run government has followed a policy of isolating Pakistan and has turned Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into a battlefield. BJP and Modi have become globally condemned due to their human rights abuses of thousands of Kashmiris, as well as more recently their abrogation of J&K’s special autonomous status which has led to an ongoing curfew and media blackout in the region that has lasted over 100 days. Due to these crimes and the abhorrent conditions faced by other Muslims and minorities in India, the Pakistani media can be considered anti-BJP, but not anti-India (as most call for dialogue).

When faced against the onslaught by the Indian media vis-à-vis the Pulwama incident, the Indian incursion, and the dogfight, the Pakistani media became more hostile than its default setting and attacked India’s narrative. As tensions rose, Pakistani news was laden with “patriotism” and talk show hosts donned military uniforms to ensure there was no doubt who they were supporting. Backgrounds of jets flying and tanks firing were displayed virtually in some TV studios with anchors in the foreground talking brashly about the Pakistani Armed Forces. Indian journalist Salil Tripathi condemned both nations’ media stating “Not one of the fulminating television-news anchors exhibited the criticality demanded of their profession”. During this time, the Pakistani media became rather belligerent even if it was not turned up to full volume like India. Arguing the same, BBC correspondent, Secunder Kermani, stated that where the Indian anchors were demanding military action, Pakistani journalists “were more restrained, with many mocking what they called the ‘war mongering and hysteria’ across the border.” The preceding is true as many Pakistani anchors did try to tone down tensions and called for calm (albeit while supporting their country). A media analyst stated that in comparison, the Pakistani media played “peace monger as opposed to a war monger” role. A media outlet reported, “As opposed to the rabble-rousing, baying-for-blood Indian media, their Pakistani counterparts have been, barring certain exceptions, relatively more muted.”

When the Pulwama event unfolded, the Indian state and media (as mentioned) attacked Pakistan without any evidence. Pakistani media began by fact checking Indian claims and disproving Indian falsities around the Pulwama attack. The media scoffed and invalidated the Indian media’s claims that the already deceased Ghazi Abdul Rasheed was involved in the Pulwama attack. The Pakistani state and media narrative emphasized that the Pulwama attack was an Indian security lapse. During this time, the Pakistani media remained relatively composed. They did, however, become gaudier when India entered Pakistani airspace and claimed that 200-300 terrorists were killed, but still things remained in control. During this incident, the Pakistani media refuted that 200-300 people died by providing pictures of the bombed site that were made public by the Armed Forces’ media wing, ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations). The ISPR was in fact the raison d’être why Pakistan’s narrative was victorious with even retired Indian generals, Syed Ata and Rajesh Pant, stating that the ISPR played a masterstroke. In their ambitious endeavours to disprove Indian propaganda, some Pakistani journalists went to investigate the actual site that was bombed (Jaba, near Balakot) – a sagacious move on their part. Well-known Pakistani journalist, Arshad Sharif of ARY News, trekked at night with his media team and showed, live on a program, the craters where Indian bombs fell. Out of breath, he went inside one of the craters and stated, “This crater’s depth is around 4 feet and the width is around 6 feet when the Indians claim they dropped a 1,000 kilogram bomb.” As mentioned before, the Pakistani narrative was later substantiated by the international press (especially when the ISPR and the military escorted them to the bombed site). The Independent stated “The ‘300-400 terrorists’ supposedly eliminated by the Israeli-manufactured and Israeli-supplied GPS-guided bombs may turn out to be little more than rocks and trees” while villagers pointed to Reuters that besides four bomb craters and some broken pine trees, there was “little other impact from the series of explosions”.

When Pakistan retaliated the next day against the Indian incursion (which led to the dogfight), the Pakistani media began plummeting down akin to the Indian MiG. After the Pakistani military confirmed in a press conference that they downed two Indian jets, journalists present started yelling “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan). Due to the hysteria of winning the dogfight and capturing an Indian pilot, the media trapped itself several times by airing incorrect pictures and videos. India’s fact-checking website Alt News, was a breath of fresh air as they exposed fake news coming from both countries.For example, Alt News debunked a picture of a shot down plane aired by ARY News who claimed it to be the one downed by Pakistan, when it was in reality a MiG-27 that crashed into a building in India in 2016.

After capturing the pilot, the Pakistani media became conceited – craving further Indian embarrassments, they displayed fake news about the Indian Armed Forces. For example, Pakistani channel, AbbTakk, ran the news: “21 Sikh Regiment Refused To Fight For India” – claiming that Indian Sikh soldiers had refused to fight against Pakistan. The picture was photoshopped and made its way from social media to Abb Takk. There should have been an apology for running such bewildering statements but none could be found. Furthermore, a few days after the dogfight, there was huge news in Pakistan that India sacked its air marshal, Hari Kumar, when in reality he retired after a 39-year long career. The lack of investigation by some Pakistani channels in airing stories often mirrored the lack of checks-and-balances present while sharing information on social media. Besides these three examples, however, there was not much fake news circulating around unlike on the Indian side. Vis-à-vis the Indian pilot, Pakistan’s media aired the video of him sipping tea and extolling the professionalism of the Pakistani Armed Forces. This footage was obviously a feel-good moment for the country and the media and was soreplayed continuously. The pilot expressed that he was treated well and that he would not change his statement when released – which he has not still.

Conclusion

Overall, as commentators stated, the Pakistani media was not as egregious as the Indian media. The main reason for this, despite issues with unprofessionalism and some instances of fake news, was the media’s general reliance on reporting the truth regarding events unfolded. The Pakistani media shared real images of the bombed site in Jaba, went there to investigate, debunked various Indian lies, and continually perpetuated Imran Khan’s message of dialogue and peace. They came off relatively more mature due to Pakistan’s government and its armed forces (via ISPR)calling for restraint. Imran Khan even released the captured pilot as a symbol of goodwill while calling for dialogue. Furthermore, since the media relied on the Pakistani government and the ISPR’s version of the events – which were based on impartiality and facts – they came out looking more trustworthy. The reverse was true for the Indian media as their narrative was based on speculation and lies stemming from the bellicose Indian government and in reporting this version, their media was exposed ad nauseam for lying. Media analyst Adnan Rehman stated that the Pakistani officials who continuously warned against escalation inspired the “peace monger role” of the Pakistani media. While both countries’ media need drastic reforms and a professional makeover, in this war Pakistan not only downed two Indian jets, but also downed India’s biased narrative.

Sarmad Ishfaq works as a research fellow for the Lahore Centre for Peace Research. He completed his Masters in International Studies and graduated as the 'Top Graduate' from the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and magazines in the areas of counter-terrorism/terrorism and the geopolitics of South Asia and the GCC.

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A Skeptic view of Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code

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On 25, February 2021, the Information and Broadcast Minister of India released the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code. These rules are effective immediately. Such immediate implementation is necessary because of the raging misinformation campaigns, and unregulated social media content. These are exacerbating the fissures within the society. The new Media law aims to shut those information led discrepancies in society. These intermediary rules apply to all the internet curated content providers and intermediaries. The applicability of these rules is quite wide. If you decide to set up a website that provides information on current affairs, if you decide to design an application to exchange information, if you decide to start a blog which of course publishes only a curated content, then you should do your job following this law. But, if you start a personal blog, then this is not applicable. On the whole, it is a self-regulating framework provided to the online publishers and intermediaries by the government. However, there are certain concerns with this gazette that will be viewed in this article.

In the lieu of this self – regulating law, an examination of WhatsApp’s encryption system would provide a more critical view on the new guidelines. WhatsApp claims that its platform provides an end to end encryption to protect the privacy of the user communications. In the intermediary guidelines, article 3 (1) (d) brushes away the end-end encryption of social media platforms. Firms like Facebook gained the trust (at least initially) because of the end to end encryption. With the government mandating these platforms to provide them with the source of the content, the intermediary platforms have to take a shot at the encryption. Else it is not possible to provide the information of the source.

However, an interesting and much-needed mechanism has been mandated by these new guidelines. The grievance redressal mechanism provided by section 3 (2) is a welcome move. All the intermediaries shall provide the same grievance redressal officer on their platform. Any complaint shall be acknowledged within 24 hours and shall be solved within 15 working days. There is also an oversight grievance redressal system as provided by the rule (13) of the intermediary guidelines. Under this rule, an unanswered complaint or an unsatisfied answer would have a chance to appeal to the higher authorities. This appeal would be sent to Level II of the self-regulating body to which the publisher is a member. Level II body is an inter-departmental committee. This committee is only an advisory committee and any action on the intermediary is a sole prerogative of the Ministry of Information Technology. Ironically, this procedure includes a long process with an unnecessary advisory committee. Further, India is a country where RTI filings are not properly addressed even though there is a proper redressal mechanism with an appellate authority. This grievance redressal mechanism might end up being functional only on paper. The government has provided 3 months to establish such a grievance redressal system on their platforms, and till now no intermediary has put up such a system.

These rules are no doubt necessary and more stringent laws may be required to keep the misinformation and propaganda in check. However, if the measures are to be made stringent, they would appear similar to that of Chinese laws. Already, Indian foreign policy is thought to resemble that of China. China and India both align their nationalistic fervor and historic glory in molding their foreign policy. This new social media law appears to make sure that India is not lagging behind China in strictly codifying the society. It uses vague terms like content should not be defamatory [3 (1) (b) (ii)], threatens unity, integrity, sovereignty, defense, of India [3 (1) (b) (vii)]. China in its constitution also uses similar vague terms to which many scholars pour in criticism.  Within the Chinese constitution, Article 25  constitution provides publishers with a list of types of content that are strictly prohibited. They include ‘incitement to secession’, ‘sabotage of national solidarity, ‘disclosure of state secrets, ‘promotion of obscenity, superstition or violence’ and, ‘harm to social morality and excellent cultural tradition of the nation’. Article 8 categorizes acts that are ‘manufacturing ethnic conflict and incitement to secession’ through ‘fabrication or distortion of facts’ or ‘publication or spreading of words or speeches’. Such vague terms are opined to be a cause of self-censorship in China. If the language used by the Indian government and the Chinese government is similar, then self-censorship can also be thought to dawning in India.

The Rules could have been much better if technology is understood

Instead of blanketly asking the intermediaries to provide the information of the source, the government could have deliberated with the technical experts and arrange a software key to decode the encryption whenever the responsible authority asks for the data. In such a way, the privacy of the individual will also be protected and the platforms will comply with the regulations.

Another irritating development is the mention of informing the users about the legal agreements and the data policy of the digital platform. This is no new approach. It is in practice for many years and most of the users will not read a line of the agreements. When online services become a necessity of life, it becomes the prerogative of the government to make sure that the public is well aware of all the regulations and guidelines. Perhaps a better way is to introduce a course in all levels of education. Moreover, consent of a user to use google maps, email services, bank applications is not all consent. These have become necessities and if consent is not provided from an individual, these services are not provided. I reiterate here that necessary consent is not consent.

Conclusion

A short example would summarize the incapacities of India. Recently, the Competition Committee of India has intervened when WhatsApp updated its policy terms. WhatsApp tuned their policy to share the data with a third party via Facebook. This would give them an undue advantage on digital marketing which has become the ubiquitous business model. Strong laws on data portability would have avoided this ex-ante. To maintain a level playing field, CCI has to step in and yet there is no law. Even the new guidelines for the intermediaries do not have a basic framework (to say data legislation). Further, intermediaries are allowed to collect and store the data. Irony is that, this rule is enacted without the data protection law.

Devising and maintaining trust in the online content creators and users is becoming ever important. Apart from all the mentioned concerns and developments made by the Information Technology Rules, 2021, a central repository of citizens’ data which is described in the India Stack document would be welcome progress. Though the government needs to have the access to digital data, mocking the privacy of citizens is not an answer. A more technical solution must be adopted where access to the digital data from the social media platforms would be gained by the government through a thorough technical process, independent of the human-led institutions. Further, the vague terms used in this gazette appear to be similar to that of the Chinese constitution. The path towards regulating social media should be carefully treaded so that it follows and respects democratic values.

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Interplay of Power Politics in Afghanistan- A Tussle for Regional Solidarity and Security

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Afghanistan has been a battle ground for the dissimilar ideologies corresponding to communists and capitalists for the past many years. They always face a robust antagonism in the aspect of local Afghans, jihadist Taliban’s and the other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. But now the scenario of Afghanistan’s conflict is the in different and potential phase. Opportunities for peace are more often expected in the future but disintegration remains enthusiastic. A liable and lucid usual’s of U.S. actions may perhaps significantly intensify the gambles of a peaceful resolution to the unwinnable battle-ground for the America that has been taking place since last forty years. A hasty slant could accelerate the probabilities of a collapse and disruption of peaceful initiatives being taken in Afghanistan as well as getting worse of this long and tragic war with undesirable consequences for the regional solidarity and security. It may heighten huge threats to South Asian countries, the US its allies and, Afghanistan itself in the future if peace talks remain faltering.

After the drastic events of 9/11 engagements of great powers in Afghanistan seems likely more significant especially the United States of America and China’s involvement in Afghanistan that has portrayed a competitive manifestation in the milieu of great powers politics in the south Asian region. Tailed in complexes of interdependence and neo-structural realism paradigms. Sino- US involvements in Afghanistan hold negative imprints like polarization as well as drawn regional implications for stability and security predominantly affecting the relations between India – Pakistan and, Afghanistan into deteriorated and fragile environs. Furthermore, Sino-US rivalry devours a poorly lit prognosis of the regional economic interconnections and cohesions. Which are essential in reestablishing the strength and solidity in Afghanistan and also in the entire south Asian countries. Considering the first tier states like the United States of America, Russia, and china and the second tier states like Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Arab Emirates having enormous significance in the development of peace negotiation and dialogues between the Taliban and America.

Nevertheless in the post 9/11, the China-US foreign policy tracks documented and noticed under the egis of neo-structuralist realism paradigms shifts. Global security has molded the delineations of US and china’s amity on unwavering Afghanistan and theirs aim for regional security can be viewed under the complexes of interdependence. Both the nation-states have mutually mentored the capabilities and aptitudes for building diplomatic opportunities and evolving prospects in Kabul. On the other hand, it has alleged exhaustively, global power’s interests’ renders immense uncertain footprints for the South Asian security, an enlightening array of offense-defense balancing in Afghanistan. Although the US and China was successful in bringing the Mullah Brother to the negotiation table in Doha and succeeding round of Taliban-US talks. But the power competition among both the states has somehow ruined the opportunities for peace and security in the south Asian region unleashing the negatives for the bilateral relations among stakeholders. More decisively India’s role as a spoiler in Afghan peace dialogues, playing politico-strategic games with Karzai government through investments in infrastructures and several other ventures in Afghanistan.

The United States of America’s realist balancing on the land of hard-hitting populaces of Afghanistan devises from emerging South Asian states as a hub of global interconnectivity due to the importance of the immense development projects like belt Road initiative (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Which are threatening Washington’s interests and influence over the South Asian nations, so their aims to hold on the china’s geo-strategic underpinning reflects the divergence of strategic, political, and economic interests of America and China  in arrears to the Offensive- defensive realist balancing between these super – powers in southwest Asia. Strategically the US presence in Afghanistan has peeved Beijing. US politically gaming with Pakistan and Afghanistan by showing a huge furthest back support to India’s paly in Afghanistan generates a clash with Chinese intents of dominancy over south Asia. Moreover, in the economic interests of both the states have contended; including access to opium, natural gas, oil, and mineral resources in Afghanistan.

China emergence in dome of regional power have a lot more security apprehensions over the regional solidarity and security. How the internal and external dynamic swings owing to the politico- strategic influence of china in Afghanistan. China and Afghanistan both are the close neighbors sharing the short border of 76kilometers from Wakhan to Kashgahar linking with the mainland Xinxiang region of china. The geostrategic proximity in Afghanistan makes it more important for china to intervene and play its role for their own national interests. The whys and wherefores Chinese intervention is unblemished, Beijing wanted to portray like a regional and global aspiration based on offensive balancing in cessation of US and India’s hegemony in the south Asian region. The china’s interests in maximizing its power and security have assured the maintenance of the country’s status especially in Xinxiang region and accomplishing its goals of development plans and opportunities in silhouette of CPEC and BRI by 2025.

China has not militarily intervened in Afghanistan because of traditionally being guided policy of Beijing to avoid any forecasts like US and Soviet had already faced in Afghanistan. The foremost reason of no direct intervention of china could be because china feared from repercussion of militant or insurgent expected in the region of Xinjiang, in the name of jihad like Pakistan had faced in its northern sides. The extremists and Washington would have urges for the Uighurs Muslims separatists’ movements or to avoid any kind of extremism in contour of East Turkmenistan Islamic movement (ETIM) and intimidations to its grand vision of BRI and CPEC. However china play a lip service “operation enduring freedom” and evade in fitting together with the NATO alliances in Afghanistan.

Despite having clashes the US and china holds a collective strategies on anti-terrorism moves in Afghanistan vigor in the favor of regional peace and solidarity. Their collaboration in institutions buildings and development in Afghanistan, although their security objectives contradicts in the region. But Beijing’s imprints in deterrence and any kind of spillover in Xinxiang delineates the notion of china’s security in Afghanistan. China assist in building a mountain based brigade to counter ETIM in north eastern Afghanistan, having a huge political value for Beijing in context of building brigade probabilities to exceed the US economy by 2032.and china attempts through different projects strengthening the underdeveloped countries by creating a win-win situation at both ends promising Afghanistan for trade and developments. 

 The Interconnectivity of national security of Pakistan with stability and instability in Afghanistan has its own importance for the progress of Pakistan. No doubt Pakistan had played a fundamental role in the brawl of Afghanistan. Initially, an ally to US in War on Terror, Pakistan confronted a huge military and financial loss in war against terror. The phenomena of terrorism has effected Pakistan very much as in the shape of death of thousands of citizens and army personnel. Western media had always tried to portray Pakistan’s facade as in context of terrorist’s state. Pakistan has faced much more like drug trafficking, human trafficking, target killing, bomb blast on hospitals, industries, schools, colleges, mosques consequences in human suffering just after US invaded in Afghanistan, US drone attacks on Pakistan’s territory intensifying the grievances of tribal men. However in the contemporary era Pakistan has buildup its fence at Afghanistan boarder to avoid any bedlam from the organizations being funded by the extremists Al-Qaeda, Pakistan’s  government have banned the different organizations who were being funded by the Al-Qaeda whose persistence to make distress in Pakistan like they did in 2011 and onwards

A struggle for stable peace in Afghanistan will remain deformed to an inclusive approaches centered on the best possible consensus for solidarity and security including the role of all indigoes stakeholders in Afghanistan. As stability in Afghanistan directly links with the stability of region as well as long heart-rending relations of India and Pakistan to have mutual consensus over Kashmir resolution. International community and great powers prerequisites to play its role in Kashmir resolution, reconciliation of Durand line and encouraging Afghan- Pakistan concerns over their internal matters and trying to promote the trilateral dialogues between India-Pakistan and Afghanistan. Adhering the power sharing agreements put up with the Afghanistan’s independence and sovereignty and freedom for Kashmiris.     

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TLP vs Pakistan: A major conundrum

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A few days back we have experienced a violent anti-French protest by Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) that has paralyzed the country. This party which has recently emerged as a powerful force to be reckoned with in Pakistani politics is principally fighting against the Blasphemy case that was reported in France when a school teacher, Smaeul Paty showed caricatures of Prophet (PBUH) to the class. Therefore, it is demanding the boycott of French products, expulsion of the French ambassador, and with recent crackdown the release of TLP leader Saad Rizvi-a 26 years old.

However, to achieve their motives they were seen using violent means like protest with police and supporters clashing in the major cities leading to causality counts, massive injuries, and imprisonment. Pakistani administration has now banned the Hard-line party under anti-Terror law 1997, Section 11(B) on grounds that its actions are prejudicial to the peace and security of country and were meant to imitate the public, causing huge bodily harms to law enforcement agencies and bystanders.

Nevertheless, this protest by TLP that has wreaked havoc in Pakistan has to be analyzed from a critical lens while looking up to the factors that under the shadow are playing a major role in its propagation. There is a need to connect dots because TLP’s existence is not new, it has a history, and is time and again used as a “pressure group” by different factions openly or through back channels to achieve their vested interest.

A question arises, why TLP was not taken as a terrorist organization back in the time when the current PTI government used to have engagements with it? Why not PTM and MQM that are posing an existential threat to Pakistan and having connections with the RAW agency as well? Why only TLP has to face the music? Is it for the purpose to get out of the FATF grey list by banning such violent parties to show up for peace, but if it’s the case then the move is highly mistaken because considering the image of Pakistan internationally it is more distressing than ever.

Moving further, can we say that both TLP and State are part of the same ship befooling only the public? Or there is another undercover force behind it. Was all the criticism that the PTI government came across for mishandling the protest and not acting swiftly was intentional to point towards the failure of govt and to show the relevance of a particular faction without whom Pakistan can’t even deal with a protest?

Therefore, it’s important to understand who is acting at the backend of all the chaos as in Pakistan religion is very close to heart that is one of the reasons it is most likely to be exploited by the powerful factions for their interest. For instance, the very purpose of TLP creation by Khadim Rizvi in 2015 was to protect Pakistan’s blasphemy law and the finality of the prophet. As this is one of the factors that unites Muslims across the world. It’s not for the first time that TLP has shown up in the forms of protest, we did have the same protest in 2018 when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman was involved in blasphemy. At that time TLP had three days major sit-ins in Lahore after the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence awarded to Aasia Bibi by a trial court and upheld by the Lahore High Court, and ordered her release.

Much like this, in Nov 2020 the same protest was headed by Maulana Khadim Rizvi for dismissal of the French envoy. So the problem is with the government’s poor handling of the situation. Why it even agreed to remove the French ambassador in the first place, why it pledged to have a resolution sent to National Assemble on 20th April, if that was meant to be broken. Why not it was resolved properly through negotiations at its very beginning and even when they got sight of TLP planning to go for protests across Pakistan, or can we say that it was a deliberate move.

No matter what, it’s at the end the image of Pakistan that is under threat. Struggling to deal with a number of domestic issues, TLP emergence is no less than an extra salt for Pakistan. Thus, we need to understand TLP in the context of real and non-time threats that it is and can pose nationally and internationally to Pakistan before things get completely out of hand and where no solution seems likely.

Pointing to some of the most likely threat TLP could pose to Pakistan internationally and nationally. First and foremost, Pakistan that is already struggling to have stable economy, the TLP protestors and their demands like boycotting of French products would be a major challenge for Pakistan. For instance, EU is one of Pakistan’s largest export markets worth $6.92 billion (34%) with France alone accounting for 5% of total imports from Pakistan. Not just this, but Pakistan imports from France totaled US $356.05 Million in 2020. Hence with such massive trade going on between two states, cutting ties with France would not mean losing France but the larger European Union that will impact economy. Most recently EU has call for a review on Pakistan’s GSP+ Status because of alarming increase in the use of Blasphemy accusations. So the loss of GSP+ status would again mean another loss of $3.5 billion.

Then protests by TLP against France increase likelihood of Pakistan being in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list for years to come. Having already suffered a loss of almost $38 billion because of being in the Gray list since 2008, in this case when Pakistan FATF decision is scheduled on June, 2021 such violent protests added to the problems.

Moreover, TLP protest has given a clue to Pakistan’s enemies that always look up for such opportunities to create instability in Pakistan. Most importantly, India in our neighbors that has time and again used such religious factions for its interests and fund them across the border, so TLP protesters are yet another soft target for India to exploit. Reports too suggested out of 400,000 tweets, 70% were from fake accounts with around 380 Indian groups circulating fake news regarding the civil war in Pakistan.

Not just this, but a major real-time threat came to the government in its dealing with the protestors. As PTI government is already under severe criticism by the public for its poor performance, so in this state of crisis where it failed to tackle the situation timely, it just gives another hint for the current government’s incompetency which opposition parties exploited further.

Then the image of Pakistan that is projected internationally with the onset of such violent religious extremist protests by TLP is no less than a threat. Pakistan that is already under havoc for being referred to as a terrorist state, these actions by TLP again projected Pakistan’s image as an extremist state which is why France ordered its nationals to leave Pakistan at the earliest possible.

Conclusively, struggling to deal with the economic crisis, internal instability, separatist movements, and political divide, these protests only added to the problems. Therefore, it’s time Pakistan should take serious actions against such violent protestors. It has to rethink its policies, has to devise new strategies. Time demands thinking beyond self-interest towards the broader interest of Pakistan.

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