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Waiting for the Intra-Afghan Dialogue to Begin

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to rapidly growing uncertainty at the global and regional levels. The United States has been hit particularly hard, and in the most unexpected of ways, and is now facing a serious internal crisis with a number of unknowns. Moving forward, this may lead political elites to question many of the postulates of Washington’s domestic and foreign policies, which had until recently seemed unshakable and immune to erosion.

And now Trump, trying to get ahead of events and ride his luck into the November elections, has announced that a plan for social change is in the works. Speaking recently to graduates of the West Point Military Academy, the President unexpectedly announced that the U.S. military would “no longer rebuild other countries” and “solve other people’s conflicts,” which is noteworthy because the country’s leaders typically use this occasion to publicly formulate the main postulates of the United States’ foreign and military policies. Let us recall, for example, the South Asian concept (the so-called AfPac) put forward by Barack Obama during a speech at West Point in 2008. The primary objective of AfPac was to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in a phased and painless manner (to the extent that this was possible) while at the same time partially shifting the focus of U.S. policy in the region to resolving the longstanding conflict between the central authorities in Kabul and the Taliban movement. However, Washington was unable to achieve any real progress in either of these areas during Obama’s presidency (the George W. Bush administration was equally unsuccessful here).

The issue of Afghanistan has become a real headache for Donald Trump. When he came to office, he vowed to put an end to the Afghan adventure of his predecessors, without harming the pro-American regime in Kabul. But before any real progress could be made in this direction, the United States first had to engage in difficult negotiations with the Taliban, which began in the autumn of 2018 and clearly raised the ire of the central government in the Afghan capital. The Taliban had initially insisted on the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. contingents from the country and wanted nothing to do with the government of Afghanistan, expecting, and not without good reason, that it would simply capitulate in the face armed and aggressive opponents. In the end, after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy on the part of Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, the parties finally came to an agreement in February 2020 and signed a joint document stating that, in exchange for the withdrawal of troops, the Taliban would launch a dialogue with Kabul on the division of power and cut all ties with the terrorist structures of al-Qaeda.

Both sides claimed that they had got the better end of the deal. Washington balanced the agreement by promising that it had not abandoned its military and political obligations to Kabul. For their part, the Taliban consolidated their military and political status as one of the sides in the Afghan conflict, speaking on behalf of the unrecognized Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (although the reaction to the agreement on the part of the Taliban movement’s military commanders was somewhat mixed). All this notwithstanding, the Taliban, as before, were content to sit back and wait for the coalition government in Kabul to quickly collapse. And these were not empty hopes, as the internal strife within the ruling elite threatened to give the Taliban exactly what they wanted. The contradictions led to yet another large-scale political crisis following the hotly contested presidential elections in 2019. Just like the last election in 2014, opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah did not recognize the legitimacy of the results that saw Ashraf Ghani retain his position as the country’s president and set about organizing his own parallel government. The dispute remained unresolved until March 2020, when Washington threatened to suspend its rather generous financial assistance.

Under the new agreement, several ministerial posts were handed over to Abdullah’s supporters, while Abdullah himself was named Chairman of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council, making him the second-highest ranking official in the country. The Council’s mandate includes holding negotiations with the Taliban movement, although any agreements made as a result of these talks will have to be approved by the President. In this regard, it is entirely possible that Abdullah’s status may become politically vulnerable due to the unpredictability and numerous pitfalls of the upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations. The fact that Abdullah’s appointment was met without any real enthusiasm by the Taliban could also be an important factor here, although they did confirm that they were willing to negotiate, nonetheless. At the same time, the Taliban did not want the negotiations to take place on neutral territory and successfully lobbied for them to be held in Doha, where the previous agreements with the United States had been hammered out, and where the organization maintains its political office.

While Trump did not explicitly mention Afghanistan at West Point, he did not have to. Everybody understood what he was talking about. All the more so because the President had discussed his intention to pull troops out the country before the elections in November. Only time will tell whether or not he will actually do it. The thing is, if we do not see any real steps made in the intra-Afghan process, then the Americans will find it increasingly difficult to put on a happy face. This is what makes the joint call of the special representatives of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan for foreign troops in Afghanistan to “withdraw in an orderly and responsible manner to ensure a smooth transition” published on May 18, 2020, particularly relevant. Both the government of Afghanistan and U.S. officials have made it clear that they are ready to open the intra-Afghan dialogue, which could take place very soon. In fact, discussions are already underway in Kabul regarding the rules of the meeting and the creation of its working and administrative bodies. Meanwhile, several external actors who have a vested interest in Afghanistan’s future have gone to great lengths to show the world that they should be the ones to host the negotiations.

In the midst of all this, almost no one is talking about what the main substantive content of the negotiations should actually be. To begin with, the talks should not revolve around the division of power (that is, what powers each side will be vested with and what state and other structures they will control). Instead, they should focus on the very political, ideological and economic basis of the future power structure in Afghanistan.

Right now, Kabul and the Taliban have diametrically opposite views on this issue. For example, the central government calls for a republican form of government based on the principles of moderate Islam and respect for the fundamental documents of modern international law. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to promote the concept of building a fundamentalist Islamic emirate, something that it reiterated following the recent negotiations with the United States. And it does this despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of external actors (both inside and outside the region) have unequivocally stated that the Taliban’s claims to sole rule in Afghanistan are unacceptable. Given all this, it would seem that the only way for the parties to come to an agreement on the future state structure of the country is if concessions are made on both sides.

The international and regional community could, and indeed should, play a big role in this process. We are talking primarily here about countries in the immediate vicinity of, or in close proximity to, Afghanistan, as well as about the European Union. All these countries have been keeping a close eye on events in Afghanistan over the years, and during this time, they have developed a number of common approaches to how they see the future of the country, with unconditional respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The consultations between the members of the tripartite group consisting of the United States, Russia and China set up to more or less coincide with the launch of U.S.–Taliban negotiations proved instrumental in moving the process forward. Russia then pushed for the mechanism to be expanded to the 3-plus format to include Iran and Pakistan, but Washington’s desire to isolate Tehran from the Afghan problem as much as possible meant that the proposal did not have its intended effect.

At the same time, a number of structures have been set up in recent years both inside and outside the region that have, among other things, set out the common positions of all the participants in the intra-Afghan dialogue. In this regard, alongside the launch of this dialogue, it may be worthwhile to hold an international conference where all interested parties from outside the region could come together to reaffirm their stances on the problem of intra-Afghan reconciliation. Such an event may go a long way in preventing the future negotiations from getting bogged down in low-priority, fleeting issues that will take attention away from real, long-term problems.

From our partner RIAC

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation. Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Research, MGIMO University, RIAC member.

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South Asia

The man who saved the world from Pakistan

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image source: voices.transparency.org

But for a few brave souls like Frits Veerman, Pakistan would have become the world’s most frightening nightmare. Not that it is not today but it could have been worse: we could have been facing a nuclear Armageddon now.

Veerman, a professional photographer in Amsterdam, was one of the first to ring warning bells about Pakistan’s skullduggery in stealing nuclear documents, materials and technology to build its own nuclear bomb. His warnings were brushed aside, he was forced to keep quiet, sacked and harassed to no end for speaking the truth. In a just world, he should have been hailed as an icon of courage. He died in relative obscurity recently.

His story will, however, continue to live, a story of courage to speak out in a world where truth often falls to realpolitik. When Pakistan was running a big nuclear smuggling ring from its diplomatic missions and other agencies, governments and security officials in different parts of the world chose to look the other way. In fact, many connived in the colossal thievery.  They  knew  what  Khan  and his  associates  were  doing  but business and political interests trumped over reason.

Veermen was the only one to say that `the emperor was naked`. He could have easily succumbed to pressure or greed but he did not, and even at a great cost to his life, he chose to speak out, rather than keep quiet.

Veerman discovered the Pakistani game when he was a   young professional photographer in Amsterdam. He used to work at a consultancy firm, FDO (Fysisch-Dynamisch Onderzoek), as a technical photographer. An important client of FDO was   Ultra Centrifuge Netherlands which was part of a top secret project run by a consortium of Dutch, British and German scientists at a nuclear plant in Almelo. In May 1972, a young and charming Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan joined the team as a translator of technical documents. He soon became friends with Frits Veerman. He took pictures of centrifuges for him. The two shared an office and met at dinners in the evening. Veermen was introduced to Khan’s wife and two daughters and often went to their house for dinner.

Khan quickly expanded his circle of friends and he would freely access areas at the nuclear plant which were hitherto prohibited. It was sometime in 1973,  a year  after the Pakistani joined the consultancy firm,  that Veermen had his first doubts. He thought there was something fishy about the manner in which the Pakistani was charming his way through the rank and file of the establishment.

It was two years later that Veermen’s suspicions became stronger. He realised that the young Pakistani was in fact a thug–he was stealing classified papers from the plant. This happened one day when he went to Khan’s house near Schiphol airport for dinner.

What he saw took his breath away. He saw top secret centrifuge drawings lying around in Pakistani scientist’s house. They were supposed to be at the plant and locked up in vaults. As Veerman later recalled in an interview with BBC, “That was my biggest worry, what was he doing with those drawings? All the little pieces of the jig-saw put together made me come to the conclusion that Abdul was spying.“ Khan asked him to photograph the documents for him but Veermen refused. He also happened to overhear a telephonic conversation between the Pakistani and his old professor in Leuven about sensitive centrifuge matters. Veerman lost no time in reporting the matter to his superiors. His seniors heard him out and told him to keep quiet. He was asked not to speak about what he saw and found to anyone.

In late 1975, when AQ Khan realised that he was coming under greater scrutiny from a multitude of agencies, he took leave from the office, and along with his family flew back to Pakistan. He never returned. What many did not realise for some time was that Khan had smuggled out precious drawings and a no less useful rolodex of key suppliers of nuclear material and technology in Europe and elsewhere.

But Veerman had not heard the last of Khan. From Pakistan, his former friend wrote to him frequently seeking answers to technical questions about nuclear technology. When he showed one such letter to his superiors, he was asked to burn it. Less than a year after Khan fled Amsterday, FDO held a meeting on the issue where Veerman repeated his assertion that Khan was a spy. Veerman later gave a statement about Khan to Dutch police. But, as Veerman were to find out later, his blunt accusations did not endear him his superiors or others in the government. In fact, the nuclear consortium and consultancy firm, FDO, were delighted when Khan sent his emissaries with a long list of items and work he wanted to contract to European firms. Soon after, Khan’s technicians began arriving at FDO to take a “ “a course in ‘how to build an ultracentrifuge’’, Veerman commented.

In 1978, Veerman lost his job. No reasons were given but he knew he was being sacrificed for speaking out against Khan’s smuggling ring and the complicity of the nuclear plant officials as well as government authorities. The powerful nuclear industry lobby did not want any investigation because it would have exposed its laxity and complicity. The government too was not keen on any probe because it would have been embarrassing and would have impacted diplomatic relations with some countries. So they all kept quiet. The one man who spoke was asked to shut up.

In 1983, during a meeting with FDO officials, when he realised that his only crime was his outspokenness, Veerman was furious and decided to tell the story  to a Dutch newspaper. But nothing came out of his expose and he quietly retreated to a lowly paid job and into obscurity. The state, however, chose to punish him further–he was put on an international watch list and for many years questioned by police whenever he travelled abroad. He was stalked by the police. In one such instance, his family in a car was stopped by armed police.

It was only in 2016 that his role in breaking the world’s most dangerous nuclear smuggling network  was acknowledged by the authorities. The Whistleblowers Authority, a Dutch institution created in 2016, came to the conclusion that Veerman was unfairly treated at the time, as it considered it likely that whistleblowing was the reason for firing him in 1978. A recent report of the Huis voor Klokkenluiders, the Dutch Whistleblowers Authority, showed that the agency had finally absolved Veerman of any charges and in fact pointed out hy he, and not Khan, was punished.

In many ways, Veerman’s honesty and tenacity saved the world from even a more dangerous Pakistan. His act of courage deserves international recognition.

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South Asia

Pakistan and Germany are keen to Sustain Multifaceted and Mutually beneficial Cooperation

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Pakistan has varied history of relationship and cooperation with other countries in international arena. Despite of proactive foreign policy Pakistan has been struggling to acquire global or regional status as a major power. Now in the age of globalization, the foreign relations between states have become more significant than before. Global and regional organizations, societies, economic zones and countries have network to attract and develop relationship among them. A major goal of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to develop good relations with international community and to handle global and regional issues. Activism of Pakistan‘s foreign policy reflects on the domestic socio-economic development. The national interest of Pakistan also support to regulate inputs from the external atmosphere into internal situation and to strive security and territorial integrity in the region and glob which always remained top concern of Pakistan. As bearing geo-strategic position, Pakistan seeks good relations with regional and global powers like America, China and European Union. Within European Union Germany has emergence as the developed economy in Europe. It is not only playing vital role within European Union but at the global level. Pakistan is also enjoying cordial relations with Germany on the base of common interest and perception on all international issues. Germany is also very keen to see sustainable development in Pakistan and acknowledges that the Pakistan is playing constructive role for regional peace. Germany greatly values Pakistan intense to strengthen multifaceted and mutual beneficial cooperation. Both the countries have been engaged on political, economic and socio-cultural partnership.

In past, East and West Germany had tilted towards forming alliance with India in 1950s but in 1960s, President Ayob Khan‘s visit to West Germany established economic relation between both the countries. Post Pak-India war 1971, East Germany was the first country of the Europe who recognized Bangladesh. During 1990s, Pakistan and Germany established Pakistan German Business Forum and Germany had become the fourth largest trade partner of Pakistan in 2000.  Germany also was ally of Pakistan in the war against terrorism in the north-west part of the country. Since the last few years, both the countries developed trade relations as well as Germany invested in the field of science and technology in Pakistan. On August 24, 2014, Germany built Pakistan Gate in Berlin to provide business and trade facilities to the businessmen of both the countries.

In November 2018, Pakistan offered Germany to join CPEC and to invest in the Special Economic Zone (SEZs). The mutual trade between both the countries enhanced to 3.0 billion euro in 2019.In 2021, Both Pakistan and Germany are celebrating 70th anniversary of establishment of bilateral relationship. Both the countries are planning to undertake several activities in this regard. Last month German Ambassador visited Karachi Chamber of Commerce and industries to call German companies, entrepreneurs and investors to earn from the potential and opportunities which are available in Pakistan and to bring business communities of both the countries more closer as well. Foreign minister of Pakistan has visited to Germany and meeting with business and members of Pakistani community. The foreign Minister held meetings with the leadership of Germany and repeated the desire of expansion of bilateral economic activities and exchange of technology. Both sides also discussed rapidly changing situation of Afghanistan and South Asian region. During the discussion, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Mass, Pakistan and Germany agreed to review the entire gamut of Pakistan-Germany relationship and tools of further deep bilateral cooperation in the field of trade, investment security and defense, health, education, tourism. The mass of both the countries want to utilize the potential of good relationship but it is observed that both sides have lack of political hierarchy, dedication and sincerity in past. The development and expansion of bilateral relationship lies on the path of peaceful coexistence and serious changes in the socio-economic structure is needed. Peace process with the neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India may attract Germany to invest in CPEC projects and other local project of education, vocational training, dam construction, tourism and economic activities in Pakistan. There is a need to organize a forum for the students and scholars of both the countries could interact and exchange their expertise for academic, economic and technology growth. There is potential of people to people interaction and development of cooperation between Pakistan and Germany. Pakistan may be more benefit from the relationship with Germany if the serious efforts be made on government level.

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Modi’s Illiberal Majoritarian Democracy: a Question Mark on the Future of Indian Minorities

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india democracy

The word majoritarian is an adjective which relates to or constitutes a majority, majoritarian politics, or majoritarian democracy. It can be defined as a traditional political idea, philosophy or a practice according to which any decision whether political, social, or economic of an organized society should be made by a numerical majority of that society or it can be defined as a traditional political philosophy that stresses that a majority usually branded by religious, language, social class that also includes other recognizing factors of individuals in a society are subject to a level of superiority in a society because of which they have a say in every affair of a society. The concept of majoritarian dispensation in India under Narendra Modi has deep links with four other political philosophies i.e. Populism, Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Sultanism. Before exploring Narendra Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India and its effects on the future of Indian minorities, I will first uncover the link of majoritarianism to political philosophies as mentioned.

A majoritarian leader is actually a populist leader who works hard for the concerns of people that who thinks are being ignored by the established elite groups in a society, and who always present himself as a new man mostly of a modest and plebeian background against old political establishment, in spite of the fact that who is a seasoned political figure, but usually not centre stage. This is exactly what Narendra Modi is, because in his 2014 election campaign, he presented himself as a new man against the Ghandi’s family’s old political system despite the fact he was CM Gujrat at that time. He also presented himself as someone who belongs to a very plebeian background that he had to work in his father’s tea shop when he was a child. Whereas, nationalism is a political idea or a philosophy that promotes and protects the interests of a particular nation, nationalism is the bedrock of most of the populists and NarendraModi is no exception. NarendraModi is a majoritarian national-populist leader who since his childhood has been the member of RSS, and now is a full time pracharak of RSS ideology that stresses that Hindu are the true and only sons of this Indian soil.

Majoritarian national- populist leaders like Narendra Modi are basically authoritarian leaders who reject political pluralism, and this is exactly what Modi is doing in India.Modi  and the BJP has made it clear that no other party should compete with it, or is even needed, as indicative from its slogan of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (a Congress-free India).Whereas, Sultanism is a form of authoritarian government and according to Max Weber NarendraModi is a new sultan of India who is pushing India towards illiberal democracy by rejecting all kind of civil liberties particularly of Indian Muslim minority.

Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India is basically the promotion of majoritarian democracy that asserts Hindus a special and superior status in India because they constitute 80.5% of total Indian population and that this majoritarian policy protests Hindutva ideology  that stresses that Hindus are the only sons of this soil and that strengthen the Hindu community. This majoritarian democracy is a big question mark on India as the world biggest liberal democracy because continuous violence, rejection of civil liberties, and crimes against the minorities that are Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians have been on the increase. About 1.8 million people who are minority communities are tortured in police custody every year. The word murder of minorities has been replaced by the term encounter killings. Torture have increased to such a huge extent that it questions the credibility of the rule of law and criminal justice. Hindu nationalists are revolting all around India especially against Muslims because they are the largest minority in India constituting 13.4% of total population and because Hindus have resentment toward their religion, Christians and Sikhs are no exception to their violence because they too constitute 2.3% and 1.9% of total Indian population.

Unfortunately, India under Narendra Modi is crawling from the world’s biggest liberal democracy to illiberal majoritarian democracy which is promoting and safeguarding only Hindu’s civil rights and liberties and that which is negating minority’s civil liberties and civil rights especially rights and liberties of Muslims of India. One such example of this is the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).Under the act, for the first time in India, religion is a basis for granting citizenship. According to some this citizenship amendment bill by BJP is an intentional act in order to marginalize Muslims from mainstream politics. In addition to this, Muslims are not only being tortured at their religious places for their religious affiliations, but they are also being tortured at their educational institutions which is evident from a video of 15 December 2020, where Delhi police brutally tortured Muslims students of Jamia Millia Islamia university.

Keeping in mind Narendra Modi’s illiberal majoritarian democracy, the future of liberal democracy or pluralistic India appears to be gloomy, where the future of Indian minorities especially Muslims is a big question mark. 

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