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Re-Hyphenation of India-Pakistan, Internationalization of Kashmir and the SCO

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Pakistan recently hosted the 9th Defence and Security Expert Working Group (EWG) meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (hereinafter, SCO) on 19th and 20th of February under the ambit of defence and security mechanism of the SCO. Given the strained relationship between India and Pakistan in recent past, India’s participation in the summit came as surprise to many. This is primarily because since over a year following the Pulwama attacks in February 2019, the bilateral talks between the two nations have remained suspended. The relations between the two South Asian neighbours have deteriorated to such an extent that India withdrew MFN status granted to Pakistan under WTO laws and Pakistan did not attend a military medicine conference of the SCO, organized under the aegis of the same defence and security mechanism, in Delhi last year. It is also important to note that both these countries have refrained from inviting each other in any events or exercises hosted on their soil.

Despite differences, the two neighbours have participated in joint exercises held in Russia since they became members of the SCO in 2017. This was the first exercise in which both these countries participated together since their partition in 1947. Being part of international organization, it is a common practice of members to extend of invitations to other state for any event organized under the organization. As a result, India extended invitation to Pakistan for the SCO’s Heads of Government meet (hereinafter, the Meet) scheduled to be hosted in India in 2020. However, even before any official announcement was made on behalf of the Govt. of Pakistan, the media houses in both the nations have started anticipating the absence of Pakistani PM Imran Khan from the Meet because of the strained relations between the two neighbouring nations. In these tensed times, when it is important for both the countries to continue their mutual dialogues, they have been cutting down all the ties which might help in restoring normalcy in the region.

Internationalization of Kashmir and Re-hyphenation of India-Pakistan

The gap in understanding between the countries further widened when India passed two controversial legislations last year, one relating to the special status of the disputed territory of Kashmir in August 2019 and another related to the citizenship for refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in December 2019. Pakistan, as usual, tried its best to corner India in most of the international forums over the Kashmir issue. With its all-weather ally China’s support, Pakistan tried to raise the Kashmir issue in the UNSC, which was rejected by all the other members of the UNSC. Pakistan’s attempts to bring international attention to the Kashmir question coupled with periodic statements by the two heads in their respective rallies, has given media in both these countries enough fodder to run weeks of useless debates and discussions over the constrained relations between the two. In a shocker, a report suggested that “bashing Pakistan” occupied most part of the prime-time debates on Indian news channels while the country continues to suffer from high unemployment rates and serious economic slowdown.

Apart from above, through media and social media, the obsession of India and Indians with Pakistan has been continuously growing. Even elected representatives of the ruling party have been bashing Pakistan in their election rallies in provincial elections rather than focusing on the pertinent questions of economy, unemployment, women safety and inequality. As a matter of fact, “bashing Pakistan” has become a key factor in electoral gains for the ruling party. One of the BJP leaders, Yogi Adityanath, often portrayed as a successor to Narendra Modi by many, as per reports, took the name of Pakistan, mostly in negative sense, 9 times in just 48 seconds, during his speech in a rally organized just before the Delhi elections. Even the leaders in opposition like Dr. Shashi Tharoor, during their speeches have referred to India’s current Hindutva political discourse as the founding stone of “Hindu Pakistan”. The strategy employed by the right wing majoritarian party which came back with a bigger mandate in 2019 general elections is simply to portray the neighbour as the root cause of various problems, similar to what Pakistan has been doing since its inception. Most of the exit polls in India suggested that electorate during the 2019 general elections voted for the BJP because of the national security reasons often invoked by the ruling party and lack of alternatives at the national level. However, it must be kept in mind that Pakistan by following same ‘demonizing thy neighbour’ principle, ultimately became a “failed” state at worst and “nuisance” state at best. Bluffing on the politics of “national security” might render some short-term electoral gains, but in the long run often backfires as the state ends up focusing on trivial issues rather than more pertinent issues such as economy, unemployment, inflation, women security, etc. It is also worth noting that the same country where in early 2010s, Pakistan nearly vanished from public discourse, is now witnessing the most senseless and careless mentions of Pakistan not merely by media but by elected political representatives. As a result of its robust economic growth in early 2010s the country which was often hyphenated with China has been re-hyphenated with Pakistan in most of the international media.

Kashmir and Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Given the track record of Pakistan’s use of international forums to play the victim card and its relentless efforts to internationalize the Kashmir issue, it should come as no surprise if it decides to raise it in the Meet.In the EWG Meet, Pakistan refrained from raising the Kashmir issue but it would clearly have made sense to raise the issue as the meet was essentially based on defence and security concerns. What is yet to be seen is what course Pakistan will be taking later this year during the Meet scheduled to be hosted in India, later in 2020. While in most of the west-led international forums, Pakistan failed to corner India on the Kashmir issue, but when it comes to the SCO there exists a certain degree of institutionalized exceptionalism resulting from the inherent Chinese influence which has, since its inception, used the forum to perpetrate its own interests masquerading as the interests of central Asia. While the forum has been previously successful in resolving border disputes between Russia and China, it is yet to be seen how far the “three evils” categorization of the SCO anti-terrorist mechanism is going to aid the two south Asian democracies to resolve their disputes.

At the outset, the forum has already clarified in the past that it considers the Kashmir dispute as a bilateral dispute and it will not be the appropriate forum to raise the issue. The SCO Secretary General, Vladimir Norov, has already stated in a press conference that, “One of the fundamental obligations for the member states is not to bring bilateral contradictions and disagreements to the SCO family, as the SCO is not engaged in the settlement of disputable bilateral issues, whether border, water or other topics in relations between individual member states”

Further it is also worth noting that SCO has a more flexible model of decision making. While it is true that the organization deals with areas such as security and border disputes, yet the consensus-based mechanism of decision making is problematic to ensure robust legally binding agreements like it happens in case of other multilateral institutions. While consensus mechanism is mostly seen with great optimism, but at times it might not be able to render useful solutions to problems. As in this case, it will be impossible for the multilateral forum to persuade India to accept mediation in the Kashmir issue. Just like the WTO’s Appellate Body crisis because of US’ dissent, India’s powerful voice of dissent in the SCO will make it impossible for the forum to establish any kind of deterrence. While, it might prove to be useful in opening dialogue between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, yet these dialogues might end up being mere formalities.

But India should not take the situation lightly as despite PM Modi’s strong international presence, countries like China, Canada, Malaysia and Turkey and international organizations like Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have already stated their concern about India’s actions. In a globalized world, where international relations have become significantly more important compared to what they were in early 20th century, international pressure on any majoritarian government to take into consideration the well being of its minorities while framing any policy is a kind of push back. In contemporary times, when most of the leaders in opposition have become useless, when media mostly works as a mouth piece of the government and the judiciary crumbles in front of an all-powerful executive, international forums might become important to seek actions against such unilateral measures often represented as “sovereign functions” and “internal matter”. While over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has already moved to Supreme Court against the Indian government, no such international pressure has come from multilateral organizations in case of India’s revocation of special status of Kashmir till now. In this case, the Meet assumes great importance for both India and Pakistan to justify their respective stands on the issue if it is, at all, raised by Pakistan.

Samarth Trigunayat is LLM graduate from South Asian University, New Delhi. South Asian University was established by SAARC member nations to enhance cooperation between the member states through the tool of education. The author is currently employed as Young Professional (Law) at Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. The author has previously worked as Assistant Professor at Faculty of Law, Shree Guru Gobind Singh Tricentenary University, Gurugram, India. His area of interest includes International Trade Law, International Investment Law, Feminist Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law. The author can be reached at: lawyer.samarth[at]gmail.com

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Defense

The Proxy War of Libya: Unravelling the Complexities

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The African continent has been infamous for its desolate conditions and impoverished lifestyle for years. The violence has not spared the region either since the extremely unstable Middle-East has set the vendetta throughout the region, verging Africa in the east. Whether it comes to the spreading influence of ISIS under the flag of Boko Haram; a terrorist organisation operating in Chad and North-eastern Nigeria, or the rampant corruption scandals and ream of military cops in Zimbabwe, the region rivals the instability of its eastern neighbour. However, one conflict stands out in Northern Africa, in terms of high-stake involvement of foreign powers and policies that have riven the country, not unlike Syria in the Middle-East. Libya is one instance in Africa that has faced the civil war for almost a decade yet involves not only local powers but is also a focal point that has caused the NATO powers to be at odds.

Libya, officially recognised as the ‘State of Libya’, is a war-torn country in the Northern periphery of the African continent. The country is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the North, Egypt lies to its East and Sudan and Tunisia border in the Southeast and Northwest respectively. Apparent from the topography, Libya stands as an epicentre to the countries ridden with conflicts, stands the ground that was the central root of the infamous Arab Spring uprisings taking a rebellious storm right off its borders in Tunisia back in 2011. While the NATO-led campaign garnered success in overthrowing the notorious dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and thus bringing the draconian regime to an end, it failed to account for the brewing rebels and militias in pockets throughout the state of Libya.

Over the following years, weaponry and ammunition was widely pervaded across the region in spite of strict embargo placed. The pilling artillery and unregulated rebels cycled the instability in the country leading to the successive governments to fail and eventually split the country in two dominant positions: The UN-recognised Government National Accord (GNA), led by Tripoli-based leader and prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by the tailing ally and successor to Gaddafi, General Khalifa Haftar.

While both GNA and LNA vied for the control on Libya, foreign powers involved rather similar to the labyrinth of stakes in Syria, each state split over the side supporting their part of the story and ultimately serving their arching purpose of interference in the region. Despite of the ruling regime of Al-Sarraj since the controversial election win of GNA in 2016, Haftar-led LNA controls an expansive territory and has been launching offensive attacks against the GNA alliance. GNA enjoys the support of US, Turkey, Qatar and Italy; each serving either ideological support or military backing to secure the elected government of Libya. Meanwhile, LNA is backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. While the western powers see GNA as an economically stabilising solution to the Libyan crisis, Russia and France eye Haftar as a key ally to expand influence in the African region and reap control of the oil-rich resources under control of Haftar’s troops in the oil-crescent territory.

The Turkish regime, on the other hand, eye Libya as a direct answer to the Russian influence in the Syrian war that has been pushing the Kurdish alliance stronger along and within the southern borders of Turkey. This has led to recent clashes and direct escalation in the proxy war waged in Syria. Turkey plans to incentivise the leveraging position against Russia in Libya by deploying military advisory to Tripoli to strengthen their position against the Russian-backed Haftar to ultimately deter the alliance from spreading far in the African region.

The power split in Libya was exacerbated in 2017 following the Gulf crisis that led to the boycott of Qatar by the Arab quartet led by Saudi Arabia. Libya stood as a battle ground for both strategic and military positions to one up the other alliance in external power games while the internal matters of Libya are long forgotten and population left clueless and desperate for welfare. Since then, the vested interests in Libya have side-lined yet the peace process has been encouraged by both UN and Merkel-led ‘Berlin process’ in support to the UN efforts to restore peace in Libya. However, the strained relations and foreign demarcation is still apparent even though no escalation has been in action for months.

Now the ceasefires have been in talks for a while and except for a few skirmishes, the powers have been curbed since June 2020. The silence could imply room for diplomatic efforts to push a much-awaited resolve to this complex proxy war. With the recent turn of events in the global political canvas, wheels of the betterment might turn in favour of Libya. Saudi Arabia has recently joined hands with Qatar, opening all borders to the estranged ally and resuming diplomatic relations. Turkey is eying the coveted spot in the European Union since the UK exit. The US in redefining its policies under the revitalising administration of Joseph Biden while Russia deals with the tensed relations with the Gulf since the oil price war shattered the mutual understanding shared for years. The core players of the Libyan Proxy war are dormant and may remain passive due to external complexities to handle. Yet, with regional powers like Egypt threatening invasions in Libya and both GNA and LNA showing no interest in negotiation, a conclusive end to the Libyan crisis is still farfetched.

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Pakistan Army’s Ranking improved

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According to data issued by the group on its official website, Pakistan Army has been ranked the 10th most powerful in the world out of 133 countries on the Global Firepower index 2021.Especially the Special Services Group (SSG) is among the best in the world.  Just behind; 1- United States PwrIndx: 0.0721,  2- Russia PwrIndx: 0.0796, 3- China PwrIndx: 0.0858, 4- India PwrIndx: 0.1214, 5- Japan PwrIndx: 0.1435, 6- South Korea PwrIndx: 0.1621, 7- France PwrIndx: 0.1691, 8- United Kingdom PwrIndx: 0.2008, 9- Brazil PwrIndx: 0.2037, 10- Pakistan PwrIndx: 0.2083.

Global Firepower (GFP) list relies on more than 50 factors to determine a nation’s Power Index (‘PwrIndx’) score with categories ranging from military might and financials to logistical capability and geography.

Our unique, in-house formula allows for smaller, more technologically-advanced, nations to compete with larger, lesser-developed ones. In the form of bonuses and penalties, special modifiers are applied to further refine the annual list. Color arrows indicate a year-over-year trend comparison.

The geopolitical environment, especially the regional security situation, is quite hostile. Pakistan is bordering India, a typical adversary and has not accepted Pakistan’s independence from the core of heart, and always trying to damage Pakistan. The Kashmir issue is a long standing issue between the two rivals. On the other hand, the Afghan situation is a permanent security threat for Pakistan. Bordering Iran means always facing a danger of aggression from the US or Israel on Iran, resulting in vulnerabilities in Pakistan. The Middle East is a hot burning region and posing instability in the region. The growing tension between China and the US is also a source of a major headache for Pakistan.

Under such a scenario, Pakistan has to be very conscious regarding its security and sovereignty. Although Pakistan’s ailing economy is not supporting its defense needs, it may not compromise strategic issues for its survival. Pakistan focuses on the quality of its forces instead of quantity. The tough training makes a real difference—the utilization of Science and Technology-enabled Pakistan to maintain its supremacy.

Pakistan is situated at a crucial location – the entrance point to the oil-rich Arabian Gulf is just on the major trading route for energy. Pakistan is at the conjunction of Africa, Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and China. Pakistan is a pivotal state and always focus of world powers.

During the cold war era, Pakistan sided with the US and protected the region’s American interests. The US military establishment knows well that as long as Pakistan stands with the US, it can achieve all its strategic goals in the region. However, It was the American choice to give more importance to India and ignore Pakistan.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and struggling for the promotion of peace globally. Pakistan always raises its voice at the UN and other international forums for oppressed ones and against any injustice. Pakistan. In the history of seven decades, Pakistan was never involved in any aggression against any country. Pakistan’s official stance is, “We are partner for peace with any country, any nation, or individuals.” Pakistan is a partner and supporter of any peace-initiative in any part of the world. 

However, Pakistan is always prepared to protect its territorial integrity and will not allow any aggressor to harm our sovereignty at any cost. Pakistan is determined for its independence and geographical integrity.

Pakistan is no threat to any country or nation. Neither have any intention of expansion. But always ready to give a tough time to any aggressor.

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Defense

Israel continues its air strikes against Syria after Biden’s inauguration: What’s next?

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A family of four, including two children, died as a result of an alleged Israeli air strike on Hama in northwestern Syria on Friday, January 22, Syrian media said. In addition, four people were injured and three civilian houses were destroyed.

According to a military source quoted by Syrian outlets, Israel launched an air strike at 4 a.m. on Friday from the direction of Lebanese city of Tripoli against some targets on the outskirts of Hama city.

“Syrian air defense systems confronted an Israeli air aggression and shot down most of the hostile missiles,” the source said.

The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reported that there were loud sounds of explosions in the area.

In turn, the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on alleged strikes resulted in the death of Syrian citizens.

Over the past time, Israel significantly stepped up its aerial bombardment. This incident was the fifth in a series of Israeli air attacks on targets in Syria in the past month and the first after the inauguration of the U.S. President Joe Biden. Foreign analysts and military experts said that Tel Aviv intensified air strikes on Syria, taking advantage of the vacuum of power in the United States on the eve of Biden taking office as president.

While the Donald Trump administration turned a blind eye on such aggression, a change of power in the United States could remarkably limit Israel in conducting of military operations against Syria and Iran-affiliated armed groups located there. As it was stated during his presidential campaign, Joe Biden intends to pursue a more conciliatory foreign policy towards Iran. In particular, he unequivocally advocated the resumption of the nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In this regard, Tel Aviv’s unilateral actions against Iranian interests in Syria could harm Washington’s plans to reduce tensions with Tehran.

By continuing air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, Israel obviously sent a massage to the United States that Tel Aviv will consistently run anti-Iran policy, even if it will be in conflict with the interests of the Joe Biden administration. On the other hand, such Israeli behavior threatens to worsen relations with the United States, its main ally.

In the nearest future, the US reaction on the Israeli belligerent approach toward Iran will likely determine whether the relations between Tehran, Tel Aviv and Washington will get better or the escalation will continue.

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