The opportunity provided by crisis in the backdrop of worldwide emergency due to lethal Corona pandemic (Covid 19) has re-set the button to once again appreciate the values of human connectivity and to co-exist on March 15, 2020 in South Asia as well. A call by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in a bid to foster collective thinking amongst the SAARC countries after a hiatus of four years, was a welcome step responded enthusiastically by all the member states. Reclaiming the space essential for a multilateral or even a bilateral dialogue, particularly between Pakistan and India, scuttled by the protracted and historically generated acrimony, this nature’s intervention has a lesson to learn from, as humans. It is a lesson needed much more than ever, against merciless encroachment allowed to the politics of might through arms race, nuclear supremacy and economic concentration. Already, the arrogance of nationhood has significantly destroyed the peace of the stressed habitat belonging to the South Asian region occupied by 3% of the world’s landmass and 21% of world’s population. The SAARC countries have even agreed to set up COVID-19 fund with India contributing an initial corpus of $10 million. All the leaders shared country situations and experiences in the aftermath of the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as measures taken by them to control the spread of the virus. They also recognized the need to analyze and address the long-term economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region and continue with the consultation process through meetings at the ministerial and experts’ level; identifying the Nodal Experts to take further action on the proposals discussed during the Conference; and formulating a comprehensive regional strategy against COVID-19 through the SAARC process and other appropriate steps.
South Asia has managed to resist the COVID-19 assault so far, given the vast region it covers but the unpredictability continues to loom. How long will this sense of cooperation and coordination prevail and help the nations of the region transition the defunct SAARC? It is direly essential to improve the immunity required to counter unprecedented challenges? How sustainable will these measures be in the absence of building confidence ruined so brutally over the years?
The Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Dr.Zafar Mirza, in his address to the video conference of South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC),very pertinently pinpointed the member states; India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and urged them to gear up its resources as a region to fight against the deadly virus collectively. However, while highlighting the core human issue, realizing the freedom of Kashmiris living in Indian Occupied Kashmir forcefully quarantined for more than 200 days is could be the first step of not only towards the humanness, but also would encourage the importance of unanimity. India itself was the first one to have taken the Kashmir issue to the world’s international forum, UN, way back in 1958 while respecting the collective solution of the outstanding issues. The issue has taken an ugly curve due to India’s non-compliance with the UN decision of holding plebiscite. Instead Kashmiris are suffering from worst denial of human rights by using the brutal mechanism of state terrorism. They are being constitutionally ripped off their demand for self-determination. More so, the exponential rise in communal progrom seen in the recent past has further exasperated the fear of non-secular behavior. The contradiction in the primary role itself along with the fancied or may be masquerated in a perpetual hypocritical policy already fractures the collective mechanism proposed by India itself. India needs to do more to initiate a human gesture.
Already, founded in 1985, the cooperative outcomes denied by the pain of non-socialisation of the member states particularly after the Uri attack, mainly initiated by India during the 19th SAARC Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad in November 2016; undermined the vitality of regional integration. In March 2018, during his visit to Kathmandu, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi once again sought the help of Nepal, the chair of SAARC, to revive the organisation by convening the pending Summit in Islamabad. Pakistan has also solicited the support of Sri Lanka. Aimed at achieving peace, freedom, social justice, and economic prosperity by promoting a shared understanding, good neighbourly relations, and meaningful cooperation, improving the quality of life in the member countries by fostering self-reliance, promoting mutual assistance, and strengthening the relations has been a baseline objective. However, the mismatch between SAARC’s ambitions and achievements has been unfortunately profound. Unlike the other regional forums like European Union (EU), The South East Asian Association of ASEAN etc,no tangible economic or political benefits have been realised by SAARC so far. It is mostly termed as a case of ‘retarded regionalism’. Regrettably, the regional behavior of India has also not been very encouraging, since no initiatives have been portrayed by India to transcend the parochial politics with Pakistan as a co-member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) unlike the other smaller states of the organization. In fact, the behavior had been on the contrary with continuing strategic offense. The resonance of surgical strikes, the pronounced offensive nuclear doctrines, the politics of diplomatic and economic isolation desired for Pakistan, all add more weight to the disrespect of peaceful co-existence rather than the cooperative and coordinated step. The re-buttoning of SAARC is a welcome opportunity and holds silver line, yet the journey holds massive ifs and buts for its structure to sway the temporariness in the call. The mechanism of this Regional Association has to be strengthened with more permanent sincerity.
Afghanistan deserves humanitarian assistance generously
Whether it was the former USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s or the US war from 2001-2021, Afghanistan was under war and unrest for almost four decades. Not only Afghanistan was destroyed completely but has affected the whole region, especially Pakistan. Pakistan was one of the fastest growing economies in the 1960s, and 1970s, but with the start of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan’s economy started deteriorating consecutively on yearly basis. Pakistan has not only sacrificed around 80,000 precious human lives but also an estimated economic loss of around US Dollars 250 Billion. Extremism, Terrorism, Drug culture, and Gun Culture was additional gift of the Afghan war.
Since the US withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and over-taken by the Taliban on 15 August 2021, there appears hope for peace and stability. It has benefited Afghanistan immensely but also has shown positive developments in the whole region. Regional developments and prosperity are linked to peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is all out to stand with the people of Afghanistan to boost their economy and well-being. In this context, Pakistan and Afghanistan are likely to agree on the development of a multimodal Air-to-Road Corridor, which will contribute significantly to the economic development of both countries. Pakistan underscored the need for urgent international humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people while reiterating its support for a peaceful, united, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan. Pakistan-China plan to extend CPEC to Afghanistan is proof of Pakistan’s firm commitment to a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and connected Afghanistan.
Since September 2021, over 14945 Tons of humanitarian assistance has been sent to Afghanistan via 694 trucks and four C130 planes under arrangements of the Pak-Afghan Cooperation Forum (PACF). In the wake of the recent earthquake in Afghanistan, Pakistan has opened its border in South Waziristan and established a makeshift medical facility. Relief aids from Pakistan include food, clothing, blankets, medicines, etc. For ages, Pakistan is supporting reconstruction in the war-ravaged neighboring country by building hospitals, schools, and roads to help improve the lives of the Afghan people and its development assistance to Afghanistan has reached the US $1 billion so far. In 2019, Afghanistan’s second-largest hospital, Jinnah Hospital, which is a 200-bed, state-of-the-art medical facility in Kabul, was opened at a cost of more than $24 million as part of Pakistan’s contribution to reconstruction and development efforts.
Recently, Pakistan has offered to provide online education facilities for Afghan students – Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) and Virtual University (VU) will teach students through their TV network.
In 2020, the country’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) announced around 3,000 scholarships worth Rs. 1.5 billion Afghan students studying in different institutes of Pakistan in various fields, including medicine, engineering, agriculture, management, and computer science.
Pakistan has made exemplary efforts to reinvigorate bilateral economic relations to boost trade and investment through cooperation in diverse areas and frequent exchange of business delegations.
In a bid to reconstruct and rebuild Afghanistan, Pakistan has never acted as a traditional donor country which is evident from its four decades of hosting 3 million Afghan refugees and facilitation of the Afghan peace process prior to the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
From its limited resources, Pakistan is providing the US $500 million for capacity building in various sectors including education, and health as well as building schools, hospitals, roads, etc. communications infrastructures of Afghanistan. A few completed projects under Pakistan’s Bilateral Assistance Program are as under:-
Roads & Transportation Sector
o 75 Km Torkham – Jalalabad Road.
o Additional carriage Wayat Torkham – Jalalabad Road.
o 3 internal roads in Jalalabad.
o Traffic signals in Jalalabad city.
o Provision of road construction machinery.
o 30 Mobile hot mixers, generators, and medicines for Wardak Province.
o 200 Trucks & 100 Public transport buses.
o Rehman Baba School and Hostel, Kabul at cost of Rs: 120 million.
o Liaquat Ali Khan Engineering Faculty Block, Balkh University at cost of Rs: 1046 billion.
o Allama Iqbal faculty of Arts, Kabul University at cost of Rs: 672.54 million.
o Sir Syed Post-graduate faculty of sciences, Nangarhar University at cost of Rs: 389.65 million.
o 6 primary schools and 2 Vocational Training Institutes in Kabul and Baghlan.
o 10 Buses for Kabul and Nangarhar Universities.
o 300,000 School Kits for 18 provinces.
o 2000 fully funded scholarships for higher education in Pakistan.
o 500,000 refugee students enrolled in schools in Pakistan.
o Trained 644 Afghan police and drug control officers, doctors and paramedical staff, diplomats, judicial officers, customs officers, agriculturists, and bankers.
o Nishtar Kidney Centre, Jalalabad at a cost of USD 7 million.
o 400 Bed Jinnah Hospital, Kabul at a cost of USD118.854 million.
o Naeb Aminullah Khan Hospital, Logar at a cost of USD 20 million.
o 45 Ambulances for 12 provinces.
o 14 fully equipped mobile medical units at a cost of Rs 58020 million.
o Medicines for Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
o Free Eye Camps (still continued).
o A single philanthropic Pakistani organization performed over 30,000 free eye surgeries on Afghan patients in 2008 alone.
General Assistance included the provision of TV transmitters for Kandahar, a Digital Radio Link between Kabul and Peshawar, security equipment and computers, installation of 15 deep well hand pumps in villages of Kabul, and rehabilitation of Kabul Zoo and Deh Mazang Park.
It is desired that the International Community may also follow the same spirit and extend the much-needed humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan on emergency bases. Especially the developed nations should generously assist Afghanistan.
Varisha Tariq – Representing women in politics
Varisha Tariq is a writer and politician interested in the intersectionality of gender, class and global politics with culture. She is an Alumna of Ashoka University, and founder of Helping Hands NGO, Lucknow. She has been published in an anthropological book ‘People called Lucknow’ and in news outlets like Vogue, Stylist Magazine, Fodor, CH-VOID, LiveWire, Your Story, Feminism In India and Hindustan Times. You can find all her published work here and her most recent article in Vogue here.
Why did you choose to contest for elections in India?
Growing up as a Muslim woman I had become intricately familiar with how politics impacts marginalised women’s rights. The lack of women in politics certainly played a huge role in how the policies in the country were shaped. I had always been a feminist who has been interested in bringing large-scale change and post my undergraduate studies at Ashoka, I realise the potential Indian Politics hold. Not just that but the understanding that it’s all about the courage to enter these fields. To quote Emma Watson, “if not me, who? if not now, when?”
Why did you choose Congress as the party you want to support?
My reason for choosing congress was based on the party’s current policy, leadership and an analysis of its relevance geographically and their long-term vision. The party re-designed its vision to a feminist structure with women empowerment as a key point in its manifesto. It promised to have a minimum of forty per cent women in leadership positions. In Uttar Pradesh, Congress has been strong opposition to the right-wing ideological party, BJP. Moreover, the party leadership is committed to restructuring the party from a long-term perspective and I appreciated the dedication. These were my reason for choosing to support congress.
What are some campaigns you ran for your party?
All my campaigns were in alignment with #LadkiHounLadSaktiHoun campaign. I ran a digital campaign to raise awareness about the electoral process in order to encourage others to apply. I tried to break down the process of applying for MLA in Uttar Pradesh as this knowledge would make politics more accessible to people who have doubts or reservations about the political system. The campaigns were planned keeping Covid in mind so they had physical restrictions.
Why did you choose feminism as a centric theme for your campaigns?
Having experienced patriarchal and structural defects that work against the Indian woman, and having worked in the social sector, I realised the biggest change that needs to come in India is in the field of policy making. Even if we have strong laws that can help prevent oppression against women, we don’t have a strong policy system that can properly support it. Politicians are key in creating and promoting healthy policies. Strong policies regardig women can only come into affect if we have more feminist politicians. Even apart from that, I have always dreamt of creating feminist social impact and I believe that this campaign has been a start of a lifelong commitment to this cause.
Do you see yourself trying for elections again despite the outcome this time?
That is a yes without any doubt. Politics is one profession where you must commit to a long-term plan. For the same reason, this is never rushed. You keep coming back to politics as and when you grow. When I entered I knew that this would be something I would carry with me lifelong and the efforts have to be consistent. So, in short, yes, I will definitely keep trying till it works out.
What has your social work in the past included?
I worked as a Resident Assistant in the final year of my college, a student ambassador for Ashoka University for two years, a member of Centre for Gender and Sexuality, Ashoka University. All these commitments drew out a leader in me, a leader who is passionate about serving her community. In 2019, I established Helping Hands NGO where I led a team of six individuals. The objective was to make welfare schemes accessible for the marginalized. Over the span of four months, I connected to more than forty-five thousand female students and two thousand families. During the deadly second wave of Covid, I used my NGO to increase awareness of medical resources available in Lucknow. I worked with Ashoka University and Barefoot International at the time when India was, quite literally, gasping for breath. Today I am working to create sustainable creative scholarships for marginalised young girls who want to grow up and pursue unconventional career paths.
What are your future plans?
After dabbling in the creative sector, development sector, politics and business I have realised that the one thing that has remained common in whatever I do is my feminist understanding of the world. In order to learn and understand more about the feminst leadership and perspective I have decide to pursue a masters in Gender and Law from SOAS Univeristy of London. Post that I would want to come back to India and pursue politics. Hopefully my deeper understanding of Gender and Law from South-Asian perspective would allow me to create meaningful and sustainble impact in politics in the years to come.
The India-Pakistan Sub-Conventional War: Democracy and Peace in South Asia -Book Review
Sanjeev Kumar H.M., The India-Pakistan Sub-Conventional War: Democracy and Peace in South Asia, New Delhi: SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd, 2022, pp. 207, ₹1,095 (Hard Cover). ISBN: 978-93-5479-420-9.
The India-Pakistan relations have involved a manifestation of the multifaceted nature of conflict since their independence and partition. The legacy of colonialism, psychology of fractured identities and a deep sense of nationalism have been the leading trends defining their relations. From geopolitical conflicts over Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism, their geostrategic ties with other countries to the third party involvement of US and China, India and Pakistan have seen multiple level of tensions.
To understand these multifaceted dynamics of India-Pakistan relations, the book under review involves an adequate analysis of their unique relations that is beyond the understanding of any western theorization. The book criticises the theory of democratic peace thesis and reports its failure in the context of India-Pakistan relationship as two democracies facing multiple level of conflicts. The author, Sanjeev Kumar HM, criticize the liberal peace thesis for considering only the conventional definition of warfare, and suggests to move beyond or consider the sub conventional form of conflict through diving into the empirical case scenarios of India-Pakistan relations. It examines the modes by which the crisis-prone processes of democratization in South Asia have contested the central thesis of liberal theory of international relations, which claims a natural link between democracy and war. In other words, the book opposes the epistemic foundations of democratic peace hypothesis by deconstructing its central arguments in the geostrategic context of the South Asian regional security architecture. It explains the South Asian region as a postcolonial territorial formation, which has been plagued by internal conflicts driven by social-economic inequities and embedded complexities.
Unlike the chronological explanations of India-Pakistan relations, the book aims to revise the theoretical rigors around them. The ontology, epistemology, spatial-temporal aspect of every theory is different, thus cannot be generalized. The democratic peace these is suitable for those societies engaged in interdependent community, for instance- European Union. The author has analyzed the transferability of democracy and peace from domestic to regional and then to the global level, which varies as per the history of a country or region. Unlike Western Society, the South Asian region has multiple aspect of analysis- Nationalism, Post-colonial conditionality, and delayed modernity. The failure of modernity in South Asia itself makes it not qualified to be analyzed as per the liberal peace thesis concept.
The deepening of democracy goes through stages like- decay, consolidation and maturity. Pakistan as a deep state, manages between authoritarianism and democratization since the beginning. With increasing emphasizes on Islamic state goals and military statecraft, Pakistan continued to face legitimation crisis and shrinking of public sphere, being a terror manufacturing state facilitating under military control thus has no connection to the liberal peace theses. While despite all the neo-liberal reforms, India has failed to create an inclusive society and over-bureaucratization of development that reflects how India doesn’t fit in liberal peace theses. In liberal peace theses, there is a presupposed rationalism required between two parties to maintain peace that is mostly missing between India-Pakistan.
He has argued how liberal peace theses fails to take following factors into consideration (thus fails to anlyze the South Asian region)- 1) Regime types, as a democracy can be procedural or consolidated or both based on the stage of democracy deepening it could have achieved; 2) Different nature of State, as while India focused on maintaining status quo, Pakistan continued to emphasize on escalation and reaching threshold; 3) State behavior, as the nature of peace and war gets determined by the behavior of states. The most important aspect of the book is the fact that author has attempted to redefine the concept of war as different from the conventional concept of war given by democratic peace theses. He argues that India-Pakistan war are not only conventional in nature, but also have remained sub-conventional that costed more casualties to both sides. The sub-conventional wars have been a result of both countries’ failure in nuclear deterrence.
The book concludes that the democracies in South Asia have gone through sub-conventional war consistently, most particularly between India-Pakistan making their equations as unsuitable to be analyzed by the democratic peace theses, despite being democracies. Their sub-conventional war involves multifaceted aspect of conflicts that involves- a) geopolitical factors due to contest and hostilities over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, majorly seen as contest between the Westphalian and the primordialist conception of state; b) Ideological contestation between secularism and Islamic nationhood in the context of Jammu and Kashmir most particularly. c) The over acquisition of nuclear weapons by both countries reflects their contested terrain of power politics.
Weakness or Limits of the book:
The book is theoretically loaded with less empirical explanations, which requires a less advanced IR scholar or student to do two or more readings to understand the complex terminologies used in the book. It has given a fair explanation how liberal peace thesis has no application in the South Asian region, but has used only the case study of India-Pakistan relations. If the central argument opposes the generalization of democratic peace thesis in analyzing the relations between any democracies, then the counter-argument of the book should have used more examples before generalization the non-application of peace thesis in South Asia. The absence of enough empirical examples in comparison to theoretical arguments can limit the readership of the book.
How it is good for the IR students?
As mastery on theoretical analysis is a loosing trend among IR and foreign policy scholars. This book will lead the reader in the direction of conceptual clarity of not only democratic peace thesis and its critic neo-kantian cosmopolitan, but also the whole IR theoretical base. How every theory of IR views the anarchical nature of world order and suggest solutions, but not all solutions fit into the South Asian region. This means the analysis should consider the spatial and temporal aspects of a situation or case study as well. Sometimes a theory fits, sometimes doesn’t but following a particular spatio-temporal analysis derived majorly from Euro-American experience limits the scope of analyzing a regional of different spatial-temporal dimension like South Asia, which is full of its very unique kind of controversies and disputes around the issues of river water sharing, transborder migration, cross-border terrorism, diverse ethnic nationalities, and so on.
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