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Outer Space Diplomacy in South Asia

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Recent SAARC Video Conference meets by the leaders of SAARC nations opens a new hope for this regional Organisation. The remark made by the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on telemedicine is significant, especially for a landlocked country like Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal. India, as a substantial power in Space in the SAARC region, can contribute to building such satellite-based telemedicine information to their neighbours. On 14th Nov2019 India celebrated the 130th Birth Anniversary of the first Prime Minister of India, who can rightly remember as the ‘architect of modern India’. Nehru was an undisputed leader of third world countries and a stalwart figure of the Non-Alignment Movement. He was a man who believed science and technology strengthens a nation. At a time when over 130crore Indians are proud of the achievement of ISRO Moon Mission, we should not forget the vision of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Indian National Committee for Space Research(INCOSPAR) was established during Nehru’s tenure under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in 1962 upon the insistence of Vikram Sarabhai who was quick to highlight the need for space research. INCOSPAR grew to become ISRO in 1969.Space technology plays a vital role in various spheres of development, such as social, economic and environmental. Climate change monitoring, weather forecasting, disaster management, search and rescue operations, satellite-based telecommunications, educational field like informative online content delivered by satellite, e-learning opportunities are a few to name.

In the South Asian region, India is a superpower in outer space activities. India can share the outer space benefit with its South Asian neighbours to make a strong bond on Space diplomacy.

In 2017, India’s successful launch of the first-ever South Asia Satellite (SAS) to boost communication and improve disaster links among its six SAARC neighbours except Pakistan has “opened up new horizons of engagement” in the region and helped it carve a unique place for itself in space diplomacy.The successful launched of SAS by ISRO was appreciated through a video conference by leaders of South Asia barring Pakistan.

India is a party to the Outer Space Treaty,1967 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Treaty’), an international instrument which deals with regulation of Outer Space. Under Article I of the Treaty, the first paragraph says that ‘the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind’. Developing countries believed that the above provision laid down that those states in a position to use or exploit outer Space were obliged to take necessary steps to ensure that other countries, no matter what their level of development, could benefit from space activities

The United Nation General Assembly(UNGA) Resolution ‘Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Benefit and in the Interest of All States, Taking into Particular Account the Needs of Developing Countries’, adopted in 1996 recognizes the importance of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer Space for the benefit and interest of all states, in particular, the needs of developing countries. India can fulfill its international obligation arising from outer space treaty as well as accomplish its space diplomacy goal by helping its Neighbours through Outer Space.

India needs a Space Legislation

The Outer Space governed by the International Law and United Nations Treaties and Principles under the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). Out of the five United Nations Treaties relating to space activities in Outer Space, India has ratified four (The Outer Space Treaty 1967, The Rescue Agreement 1968,The Space Liability Convention 1972) and signed one (The Moon Treaty). Legally speaking, under Article 2(1)b of Vienna Convention of Law of Treaties (VCLT), 1969‘ratification’ means International act whereby a State establishes on the international plane its consent to be bound by a treaty. It means a Country must enact the necessary legislation to give domestic effect to the treaties within a time-frame.

India has been performing space activities in compliance with the obligations of UN Treaties on Outer Space. In recent times, private industries and some of the start-up companies are interested in space-related activities. Still, the lack of domestic legislation in the field of space-related activities in Outer Space is the major obstacle for them. In the year 2017, India drafted a ‘Space Activities Bill, 2017’for supporting the overall growth of the space activities in India, but still, the bill is under consideration. Theonly legal framework supporting India’s space ventures is the Satellite Communication Policy 2000 and Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011 (revised). Articles 51 and 73 of the Indian Constitution foster respect of international law and treaty obligations (under the Vienna Convention on theLaw of Treaties,1969). Article51 specifically mention that the state shall respect all the provision related to International Law and shall make its best effort to fulfil its treaty obligations. Article 73 of the Constitution of India puts no restriction on the power of Executive in relation to International law, thus allowing the Executive to enter into any treaty obligations. Also, Article 253 of the Indian Constitution provide that the Parliament has the power to legislate and pass a law to fulfill International Obligations.

India is emerging in space technology as well as in space-related activities. Due to this emergence in space technology, the Indian government shook hands with private entities to devise a robust space programme. Currently, India does not have any domestic legislation in the field of space law. It is dealt with by the Department of Space (DoS) which is the nodal agency for space activities in India. The United States of America enacted ‘The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015’ which allows the citizens of the USA to ‘engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of space resources’. Besides, private stakeholders like ‘SpaceX’ of Elon Musk and ‘Blue Origin’ of Jeff Bezos are riding the seat in Space Technology. The other space faring nations are investing a good amount of money by private players and India is lagging in harnessing the power of private innovation in the space domain. China is significantly increasing its space investment through public as well as private entrepreneurs.

The Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her debut Budget speech last year (2019), announced the launch of New Space Company, i.e. New Space India Limited (NSIL) which will serve as the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) along with Antrix Corporation Limited (both wholly owned by the Government of India). The planned Space project of ISRO is human-crewed space flight (Gaganyaan) before 2022, Aditya-I India’s first Solar Mission scheduled to be launchin 2020 and Permanent Space Station possibly in the next five to seven years. The private capacity in Space will boost the new dimension such as Space Tourism, Small Satellite revolution and increasing space competitiveness among private players. It attracts private investment, creates jobs and also promotes research in the area of Science and Technology.

Significance of Becoming Space Power

India is growing fast in Space and Space Technology product and services not only for societal applications but also to support commercial activities and pursue diplomatic and security objectives. US, Russia and China are already giving fierce competition in pursuit of becoming a space power. Recently conducted ‘Mission Shakti’ and newly Defence Space Agency (DSA) demonstrated India space capability. India will need to equip itself to meet the emerging security challenges.

The Budget session 2020 of Parliament is going on, and the Modi Government must formulate a space policy. Parliament must expedite the enabling legislation for the betterment of India’s Space Programme.

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South Asia

Nepal Should get rid of Sino-India paranoia and must accept US MCC Aid

Vikash Kumar

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The US has offered, under its MCC grant, 500 million US $ aid to Nepal which is reluctant to accept it due to Chinese concerns. Nepal should get rid of Sino-India paranoia and accept this aid. It should relinquish geopolitical adventures and its engagement with nations other than India and China will be a step further in the assertion of the country’s strategic autonomy. Nepal’s sovereign decision should be precipitated by its own concern for national interest and not of any third party’s imagined interest collision with it.

Among diverse political turbulences being seen in Nepal, one which is being less talked about is Nepal’s indecisiveness over US aid amounting to 500 million USD under Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). While the government is inclined to accept it – Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada incorporated this in the new budget before its parliamentary endorsement – the grant is facing opposition, inter alia, from within the Nepali Communist Party (NCP).

The opponents are forwarding the arguments that accepting it may damage blossoming ties with China. There may be strong element of truthfulness, prima facie, in this argument but this advocacy is shorn of any understanding of Nepal’s national interest.

Nepal is sandwiched between two Asian Giants sharing great ambitions for future whose geo-political interests are colliding as they try to sell off their versions of worldview. Nepal is, of late, becoming hotbed for this bilateral competition. History is evidence to the fact that any great power rivalry has resulted unbearable consequences for playgrounds – where big power competes for their interests in other nations. Middle east and Afghanistan are two evergreen examples.

The obsession with fear of China’s reaction over a sovereign decision, essentially economic in nature, speaks volume about the intrusion of that country in Nepalese political landscape. Discussions in Nepalese media platforms and among policy makers are revolving more upon the US Indo-Pacific Agenda versus China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which should, in no way, be Nepal’s immediate priority. Surprisingly, absent in the discussions are cost-benefit ratio of these projects. A perusal of the MCC aid and geopolitical events of recent past shows that the cost-benefit scale skews in favour of economic advantage to the country.

Firstly, the MCC aid is a grant not a loan. Thus, it comes with benefit sans any obligation. There are no legal or political conditions attached to it and thus a claim that Nepal’s sovereignty will be promised by accepting the aid is wholly fallacious.

Secondly, these projects relate to ‘Electricity Transmission’ and ‘Road Maintenance’. As per MCC, the electricity projects include, inter alia, laying of 300 km of high voltage power lines, equivalent to one-third the length of Nepal; the addition of a second cross-border transmission line to facilitate greater electricity trade with India; and activities to improve sector governance to increase private investment. The road projects chiefly concerns maintaining ‘key roads’ admeasuring a length of 300 km which are vital for movement of goods and people. An aid amounting to nearly 1.5 % of GDP must not be rejected for imaginary fear of the Dragon.

Thirdly, China must not be expected to react negatively just because of the fact that the aid is coming from a rival nation. If it is not so, India should have acted in similar imaginary way in 2017 when Nepal became a party in BRI, an initiative India rejects as it passes though Pakistan Occupied Kashmir! Also, the sensitivity of India’s concern which relates to geopolitical issue is graver than that of China’s as it concerns an economic project.

Concerns relating to issue of provisions of MCC may be alleviated by having recourse to negotiation with US over it. For example, Nepal can negotiate that in place of US law it will be provisions of international law which will apply and there would be an independent international tribunal to settle any disputes, whatsoever arises pertaining to the project.

In past, we have seen Nepal’s compulsion as it has accepted the fate to play between India and China, letting itself more vulnerable to whims and caprices of these two countries. US aid under MCC is a golden opportunity for Nepal to look beyond India and China and seek greater engagement with other powers to derive economic benefit and relinquish meaningless geo-political adventures.

The best example in south Asia following ‘strategic autonomy’ is India which followed a non-aligned policy, although shaky one, throughout the cold war which enabled it to get benefits from both the superpower blocs and wrath of none. Now, of course, there has been a shift in strategic alignment of India – it is undertaking appropriate diplomatic manoeuvring– as China’s claim of peaceful rise seems rather flimsy in view of perennial projection of hard power against its neighbours and US under Donald Trump is more unstable now. The occasion has not come, till now, for Nepal to take any sides.

Economic cooperation should not be halted due to a geo-political competition wherein Nepal does not have any significant stakes. Nepal must catapult the entanglement of Sino-Indian paranoia and assert its strategic autonomy. Not only US, Nepal should seek greater engagement with other powers too. Rather than out rightly rejecting the MCC aid, it must undertake a negotiation to ward off its concerns relating to sovereignty. The message should go to both Asian giants that Nepal could not be taken for granted as it will follow a multi-aligned approach in contradiction to its hitherto Sino-Indian balancing approach. This will ensure more diplomatic leverage and clout to Nepal vis-à-vis India and China.

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Current Political Scenario in Pakistan

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Imran Khan, born in 1952, educated in the UK, brought-up in Western Word, very well aware of Western Culture, yet equipped with strong traditional values, is 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is known for his honesty, love for humanity, and great leadership qualities. He asserted himself in the international community as a visionary global leader, especially after his speech in the UN General Assembly in 2019, which has made him attract international attention.

He struggled for 22 years to become Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is also Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – a political party that he formed in 1996. As a result of General election 2018, PTI won 116 seats in the National assembly out of 270 and declared the largest political party.

After taking charge of his office, PTI announced a 100-day agenda for a possible future government. The agenda included sweeping reforms in almost all areas of Government, including the creation of a new province in Southern Punjab, fast-tracking of the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the betterment of law and order situation in Karachi, and betterment of relations with Baloch political leaders. In his first spec h, he announced that as he is impressed by China, how they eradicated poverty and corruption, he would like to learn from the Chinese experience.

PTI was envisaged as a Movement to fight for a just and equitable society based on the system that Prophet Mohammad(PBUH) laid down in the Medina Charter, which was the foundation of the model Islamic state, an egalitarian society based on the rule of law and economic justice – the first welfare state in the history of humankind. It is these principles of justice and egalitarianism that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisaged Pakistan, and it is these principles that are the foundation of PTI.

During his election campaign, he made several promises with people of Pakistan, and masses trusted him and voted him. It was a very unusual election in Pakistan, against the traditional politics, the majority voted him, especially the middle class, educated people, and youth& women. He emerged as the third most popular leader in the history of Pakistan, just after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

People of Pakistan had high expectations from him in return for voting him and trusting him. Unfortunately, most of the expectations turned unfulfilled. The cost of living has gone up, shortage of Atta, Sugar, Petrol, high inflation, devaluation of currency, joblessness, shortage of electricity, etc., are common issues hitting the common man. Yet, he enjoys popularity. Most people believe that PM Imran Khan is sincere and wanted to full-fill his promises, but his team is not with him on the same page. Masses still do not blame him but blame his team instead.

In fact, it is believed that although Imran Khan is the Prime Minister of Pakistan because of some of his good deeds which All-mighty Allah (God) liked and elevated him to the long-desired position as Prime Minister of Pakistan. But it is not the PTI-led Government.

His team includes non-elected members, foreign imported members, dual national members, electable elite, who joined him only recently for getting better positions in his Government. The hard-core, PTI workers are out-side his Government or a very little percentage at some unimportant positions. For example, the most important is Finance, a non-PTI led, Governor State Bank, led by non-=PTI, Strategic Planning, led by non-PTI, Interior Ministry, again a non-PTI-led, Commerce, again a non-PTI led, and so on….

Some of PTI friends argue that previous Governments also hired Imported, non-elected, and dual nationals in their tenures. It is true, the previous Government also did similar things, but what happens to them? Are people of Pakistan liked their acts? Voted them again? If PM Imran Khan also follow their path and he should be ready to face the same outcome.

We voted PTI for a change, reforms, meritocracy, justice, equality, change of status quo, and transformation completely. People of Pakistan can sacrifice a lot but have voted PTI for a cause. It is afraid if the cause is not served, the people of Pakistan may think differently. Pakistan can not afford any more crisis. The rapidly Emerging Geopolitical scenario may not allow us to have any disturbance internally.

However, neutral, intellectuals in Pakistan think that;  is he so helpless? Is making his team was not his own choice? What were pressures to form a team of not-his-choice? And so many similar questions. At least, people may blame him for not making his team based on merit, honesty, sincerity, loyalty with Pakistan. It is suggested, PM Imran Khan should think about how to satisfy the public before it is too late.

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South Asia

Pandemic is the weapon to remain the ‘throne’ sustainable

Mohammad Kepayet

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Do you think, now rulers are using the pandemic for its favor? How pandemic is appearing in front of the people? In what ways is pandemic being sold? The government using this Covid-19 for its sustainable advertisement. When Coronavirus is deadly to the average people, at the same time it is an important tool to persistence to the government. This unknown enemy is the main topic of discussion in the national parliament. But the budgetary allocation in the health sector is poor. Pandemic is the common trading point from the MP and to the government bureaucrats. It is the weapon to remain the ‘throne’ sustainable.

The European country Hungary has set an excellent example. That defective democratic country has become completely autocratic country. Prime Minister Viktor Urban has been given the power to rule the country until the end of the Coronavirus crisis. As a result, parliamentary elections were effectively canceled. Urban says, he needs to have such capabilities to prevent coronavirus infections. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed Hearing a corruption case against him for three months. Interesting thing, corrupted rulers are using this crisis to their favor.

In the post-independence Indian subcontinent, famine and natural disasters have occurred at different times. The Colonial rulers have tried to suppress the citizens through those disasters. Colonially, the Indian subcontinent has also learned how to sell a national crisis and how to suppress and absorb its citizens. Now the government of this subcontinent is still following that same method.  

Where one’s own life is in crisis, there is less opportunity to think about what is happening to others. Ordinary people only want to know more about the pandemic. They try to know how many dead and how many are infected in COVID-19. And they want to know which area is being under lockdown. Because they need to buy some necessary things, so they are seeking which shopping malls are open for all. 

In Bangladesh, the mass media also broadcasting news, according to the needs of ordinary people. The media industry is not able to understand some times it is being used by governmental publicity. And it is the main medium for selling this pandemic. Traditional mass media are not doing any follow-up news about how many people were detained under the Digital Security Act amid the pandemic situation! Even the media did not do any investigative news about how many people lost their lives by extrajudicial killings! How many people have become unemployed? How many farmers are not able to sell their commodities due to the transport crisis? The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer in the result of the Covid-19 catastrophe. 

The consequence of pandemic is everywhere. This virus not only taking away people’s lives but also taking away the minimum assurance of human survival. It is doing deep damage to human life. That damage cannot be seen with the open eyes. We can only see the statistics. We only see the number of dead and infected people.  

When the state goes through a national crisis, other problems become minor. The same thing has happened in the case of Bangladesh. The ruling government has been ruled since 2008 has now matured. There is no battle in the political ground because of the Covid-19 crisis. So-called opposition party BNP has almost been suppressed. The government has increased surveillance everywhere in the name of Coronavirus confrontation. From airports to people’s personal lives is now under surveillance. At this time the only voice that can be heard is the voice of the government and the voice of the bureaucrats. Where no presence of the common people. In this pandemic, the government seems to have become stronger and more powerful. 

There are no rebellious music-songs, poem-novel amid Covid-19. No criticism in the mass media. Political ground is calm, with no meetings and rallies. Universities and readymade garments are closed. No movement to control road accidents. No movement against rape. No demand for an increase in salaries and allowances of school teachers. People only seeking to save their lives. Is the government able to fulfill the demands of the people? Or the rulers are strengthening themselves by using this Pandemic.     

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