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Afghanistan Peace Process: Who Will Get More?

image credit: Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP

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US-TALIBAN Doha deal has highlighted the opportunity to bring possible peace in Afghanistan in upcoming days but it seems that it was just a tip of iceberg and major problems lie in the  intra-Afghan peace talks which were supposed to be held post accord between Afghan Taliban and Afghan Government where Taliban has emerged as powerful entity and demanding maximum share in political set up of state.

Doha talks broke the ice between Taliban and US led international forces and finally reached at an agreement to achieve long lasting peace in war torn region. The key features of agreement were withdrawal of forces in different phase and dropping weapons from Taliban side to take them into national stream to create an environment to achieve goals of bringing peace. On the hand, Trump has to fulfill his promises of bringing foreign troops to back in homeland. In a situation, where chaos and mistrust prevailed the relationships between two sides, it is not a easy task to bring them on the same page over political transition.

Achieving peace in the graveyard of empires is not a bed of roses but the path which leads to the peaceful end is full of thorns. It is not easy to bring peace in Afghanistan until the domestic entities do not join and to make a comprehensive plan to resolve the problematic issues. To negate the effects of centrifugal forces, it was decided to bring all the domestic stakeholders on the table talks and resulted in the Intra-Afghan talks particularly between Afghan Government and Afghan Taliban to settle problems like exchange of prisoners and power sharing in the center as well as in provinces.  The exchange of prisoners took almost five months to settle in which Afghan Government agreed to release high profile Taliban prisoners and on the other hand Taliban agreed to release civilian along Afghan forces captives. Six month after the Historical Doha Peace deal, on 12 September 2020, A stage has been set to initiate negotiations over the power share formula. The question arises that  how to set the formula for power sharing. The overwhelming demands of Power in center and provinces from Taliban have put the negotiation process at stakes. The Taliban have strengthened their feet in Afghanistan over past two decades.

According to U. S OFFICIAL reports of 2019, it is estimated that

“Only 53.5 % of Afghanistan are under the government control or influence, 33.9 % is contested and the remaining 12.9 %  are under the Taliban control or influence. “

With the passage of time, Taliban proved as more active player in state which influence more common masses with its attractive tactics of providing justice and basic facilities . Overall, Taliban emerged as powerful entity because they compelled the US led International Forces, which were well equipped and trained, to bend the knees. The Doha deal put the last Neel in the coffin and Taliban appeared not only most influential but also as diplomatic entity which happened first time in the history. In addition to this, almost half of the Afghanistan territory is directly controlled by the Taliban and have popular support. The role of Taliban in peace talks is seeing as suspicious because of their constant strategy of pressuring the government to gain maximum share in power. Moreover, Afghanistan government, alleged as corrupt and incompetent, is too weak to counter the Taliban stance because they are totally militarily and economically dependent on the west particularly US and its allies. There is sharp divide between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani over some political issues. These vulnerabilities give edge to the Taliban. Taliban wants governorships of almost 16 provinces, demanding major ministries like foreign, Interior and Finance and induction of the Taliban into security forces along islamization of constitutions. There are deep uncertainties and skepticism over the negotiations that where it will lead but it is clearly viewing that if intra afghan talks get success then Afghan Taliban will bore more fruits due to on ground reality which favors Taliban stance.

On foreign level, neighbor states are showing green signals to the Taliban and particularly Pakistan, Iran and China compelled the International community to not call Taliban as a terrorist group but recognize them as diplomatic entity. The alignment of interests compelling states to come more close to the Afghan Taliban. For Pakistan, Afghanistan is very important for geostrategic and geo economic interests. Pakistan almost shares a long border consists of almost 2200 km2 and finds Afghanistan as a “ Strategic Depth “. So, to attain certain objectives, Pakistan wants to install  a favorable government in Afghanistan comprises of maximum Taliban representatives. Taliban and Islamabad relationships are traced back in twentieth century where they joined hands to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan which is undeniable fact. It is also said in clear words that the way of peace in Afghanistan passes from the Pakistan. Recently Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan over Intra-Afghan peace process said

“Successful culmination of an Afghanistan-led and Afghanistan owned peace and reconciliation process is indispensable for Afghanistan and for regional peace, stability and prosperity.” 

One more neighbor, Iran, shares her western borders with Afghanistan has changed policies towards Taliban due to rise ofa formidable enemy  in Afghanistan which is targeting the Shia minorities and perceived as a threat to the stability of Iran. Taliban are fighting to counter the ISIS in Afghanistan. So, in this way, the juxtaposition of Interests are compelling Iran to join hands with Taliban. In the past, Iran was supporting the northern alliance to fight against the Taliban but now the tables have been turned in favor of Taliban.

As far as, China’s stance in Afghanistan is concerned, it is more about the geopolitical interests which demand a peaceful Afghanistan with pro Chinese authorities. The geostrategic position which makes Afghanistan an utmost significant actor because it connects China with central as well as Middle Eastern states. In addition to this, the emergence of ISIS in the region also poses a security threat to the stability of China. The Suspicious activities of East Turkestan Islamic movement( ETIM) in Muslim populated areas in western China have already created trouble for China and the support of ISIS would intensify the situations. By keeping these points in the mind, Chinese officials are making strategies to completely support the Taliban in the region.

Such strong points enhance the importance of Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan but the emergence of ISIS in the region is creating troubles for both Taliban as well as Afghan government. Before climaxing more power control, Taliban and Afghan should know their limitations. Undoubtedly, Taliban group is more powerful but not at such level that they could capture the Kabul. Rapprochement is the only solution to this problem. The key players like Pakistan which perceived as a provider of territorial space to the Taliban and Afghan Government backed by the US should play a constructive role and compel both to reach at final destination of peace. It would be imperative for both parties to agree to ceasefire, level of hostilities and have  more moderate and flexible pluralistic and inclusive political system by focusing on the rehabilitation of the people who faced traumatic life for almost  two decades. If it does not happen then the external forces like ISIS would exploit the opportunities and a new era of civil war would be facing by the locals.

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South Asia

Importance of Analysis of Major Events of Pakistan

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Pakistan in the past 74 years of independence has gone through events some of which have even changed its geography as well as demography but thorough, honest, unbiased and transparent analysis have either not been carried out and if done recommendations have not been implemented in letter and spirit and defaulters have not been awarded penalties. In most cases lessons have not been learnt and corrective actions taken. Almost similar mistakes are being repeated. Aldous Huxley, an English writer said, “Reality cannot be ignored except at a price; and the longer the ignorance is persisted in, the higher and more terrible becomes the price that must be paid.

Soon after independence, the Quaid emphasized upon the constituent assembly to frame the constitution on priority. It passed the objective resolution on 12 March 1949, the main point being Pakistan shall be federation, wherein the state shall exercise its powers and authority through the representative of the people; the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice as enunciated in Quran and Sunnah shall be fully observed. Subsequently four committees to frame constitution submitted their reports which could not sail through the assembly mainly because equal representation was proposed to both wings, East and West Pakistan whereas the population as per censuses of 1951, former had 42.0 and the later 33.7 million. The third draft, Muhammad Ali Bogra formula which was considered most appropriate proposed bicameral legislature, lower house based on population, total 300 seats (E Pak 165, 4 units of W Pak 135). Upper house to consist of 50 seats to be divided into 5 constituent units (10 each, E Pak, Punjab, NWFP, Sindh, Balochistan). In the meantime, Ghulam Muhammad, the Governor General (G G) dissolved the assemblies on 24 Oct 54, his decision was upheld by the Supreme Court (SC) headed by Justice Muhammad Munir under the law of necessity. Thereafter, PM, Muhammad Ali took the task of framing the constitution and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy of Awami League (PM from Sep 56 to Oct 57) agreed to E Pak and W Pak both as one unit, unicameral legislation, national assembly, 300 seats having equal representation. The first constitution was promulgated on 23 March 1956. In the first eight years of independence the constitution could not be framed, mainly because of denying democratic rights to East wing which were explicitly mentioned in the objective resolution. The same mind set prevailed which led to dismemberment of Pakistan in December 1971. Similarly, the precedence set to uphold the decision of GG under the law of necessity was followed subsequently in 1958,1977 and 1999. If we had capital punishment in the constitution of 1956, 1962 similar to article 6 of present constitution, that, “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.”  It may have deterred the adventurous minds. It is pertinent to mention that, the Martial Law imposed by Gen Yahya Khan in March 1969, was declared usurper by the Supreme Court. Justice, Hamood ur Rehman had written in Asma Jilani case (PLD 1972 SC 139) that Gen Yahya Khan had no authority to abrogate, but no action was taken against any one. In short Pakistan has been governed by five constitutions (twice by the India Act of 1935, 1956, 1962, and 1973 in vogue), and four martial laws (1958, 1969, 1977, and 1999), and once emergency was imposed by Gen Pervez Musharraf, acting as Chief of the Army Staff, on 3 November 2007, and issued a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). This was declared illegal by SC, the case was tried in the court of law, the punishment was awarded, but the final decision by the SC is pending.  Four times elected governments were dismissed under article 58, 2(b) of the constitution, which gave discretionary powers to the president to dissolve the elected government. This clause has been finally removed by 18th amendment on 8 April 2010. It is pertinent to mention that Indian constitution was promulgated on 26 January 1950 and it has never been abrogated or held in abeyance. If we had carried out sincere analysis by committees or commissions comprising all stakeholders soon after the occurrence of events, we may have reached a workable solution of governance. The present constitution has undergone through many amendments. If more changes are required that can be done by the parliament. The need of the hour is to follow constitution in letter and spirit.  Make the three pillars of the state, judiciary, legislation, and administration strong. All other institutions are required to work strictly under the constitution, rules, regulations, and the oath taken by various authorities/personalities.

2.The 1965 war between India and Pakistan started on 6 Sep and cease fire was accepted by Pakistan without achieving desired objectives on 22 Sep. As per Tashkent declaration of January 1966 mediated by Ex USSR and signed by President Ayub Khan and Indian PM, Lal Bahadur Shastri our troops had to go back prior to 5 August 1965 positions (prior to start of war). We must have carried out through analysis at all level by the concerned political and military authorities and taken necessary actions. This would have certainly avoided Kargil battle of 1999 which also concluded without achieving desired objectives. Infect it resulted political crisis at home and tarnishing the image of Pakistan abroad.

3.The rule of Gen Zia is criticized from many angles. India occupied Siachen glacier in 1984 and his reaction was lukewarm. It is believed that he had created a political force to curtail the influence of PPP especially in the urban areas of Sindh like Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas. The short gains impressed the rulers. Subsequently this party was not in the control of its creators; infect it turned against the security and law enforcing authorities. If we had carried out complete analysis of the prevalent problems at that time and tried to solve these politically; the incidents of losing life of many innocent people may have been avoided. Instead of learning a lesson, dharna of TLP, a political party of 2017 at Faizabad was supported by some political opponents of government at that time and intelligence outfits. The verdict of Qazi Faez Isa (Sup Moto Case 7/ 2017) is relevant. He had given details of the case and recommendations.   One of the recommendation is “The Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual. The Government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Defense and the respective Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are directed to initiate action against the personnel under their command who are found to have violated their oath.” Hardly any action has been taken. In the verdict, the case of 12th May 2007, when the deposed Chief justice was scheduled to visit Karachi and he was not allowed has also been mentioned. The roads were blocked with containers. A total 55 people were killed and hundreds suffered bullet injuries.  It says that “When the State failed to prosecute those at the highest echelons of government who were responsible for the murder and attempted murder of peaceful citizens on the streets of Karachi on 12th May, 2007 it set a bad precedent and encouraged others to resort to violence to achieve their agendas.” This clearly indicates that in the past we have not been analyzing each and every event and taking the required actions therefore, the conditions are deteriorating. In the recent incident, a Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was brutally beaten to death on 3 Dec 21 over blasphemy allegations at the factory in Sialkot where he worked as a manager. The mob then dragged his body out on the road and set it on fire. This incident has tarnished the image of Pakistan all over the world. It is indeed a day of embarrassment for Pakistan. However, government has assured that strict action shall be taken against culprits. All the major political parties, renowned religious leaders have condemned this episode. The importance of blasphemy law cannot be denied. However, the wrong use of this law is becoming common which needs to be checked with iron hands. This is not first such incident. Mashal Khan was lynched by his fellow students in 2017, Shama and Shahzad Masih were burnt alive in the brick kiln in 2014. We need to take such incidents very seriously. Those who take law and order in their hands should be given exemplary punishments so that such incidents are not repeated. The need of the hour is to sincerely carry out analysis of each and every event by the committees of experts in the respective fields, stakeholders, and take necessary action without fear and in the national interest. This sovereign state has been bestowed upon us by Allah Almighty, it is our duty to preserve it intact. The peace and tranquility is paramount for the progress of Pakistan.    

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South Asia

Bangladesh’s Vaccine Policy: Cooperation beyond Geopolitical Lens

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photo: UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

Since its outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented devastation to every nook and corner of the world. Not being just a cataclysmic health crisis, the pandemic is subtly but substantially reshaping social norms, economic systems, diplomacy way-outs, as well as global leadership and rivalry. As of now, experts believe that this deadly virus is not going to completely disappear overnight rather will remain as a recurring event like the normal flu virus. However, acquiring herd immunity which insists on mass inoculation is the most acceptable solution to combat the worsening situation.

The world is becoming unable to meet the demands of the massive number of vaccines as only a handful of wealthy nations are producing them. In the wake of the current condition, every country, either rich or poor has its own game to play, rich ones for achieving so-called ‘vaccine nationalism’ and the poor ones for maintaining proper channel to procure them. As if conquering the pandemic bears testimony to not only a country’s economy and resources but also its strategy and diplomatic prudence.

By now, it is evident that Coronavirus traits are very complex as unpredictable mutations of it can jump back and forth across the globe. Today’s successful COVID-19 players might be a victim of tomorrow’s worst-hit outbreaks. For instance, the overconfidence emanating from India’s temporary triumph over vaccine manufacture caused sufferings for more than 90 countries. It is understandable why India’s worsening situation led to the failure of delivering 30 million vaccine doses as per a deal with Bangladesh. However, it was unfair not to deliver even a single dose after the sudden halt on vaccine export, for which Bangladesh has paid in advance.

Due to some unavoidable factors, for Bangladesh, Serum was the only feasible and proximate option for vaccines. Firstly, Bangladesh continued consistent efforts to keep all the alternate options simultaneously within the reach. Some of the vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna require extremely cold refrigeration which in terms of both storage capacity and commercial viability is untenable. WHO/GAVI backed initiative COVAX Facility has been proved inadequate to respond to the demand worldwide equally. Secondly, due to long term and consistent G2G liaison between Sheikh Hasina and the Modi Government, Bangladesh ranked the Indian source at the initial ladder. But it didn’t mean Bangladesh subsequently closed other avenues for future exigency. Thirdly, India’s initially successful ‘vaccine diplomacy’ was so overwhelming that it seemed India was just a step behind from becoming a ‘vaccine hegemony’ worldwide.

Over the sudden upside-down flip of India, Bangladesh had to make desperate diplomatic efforts to procure vaccines for which China and Russia nodded positively. Bangladesh inked a non-disclosure deal of 15 million Sinopharm doses with China. Also, Bangladesh received two consignments of 1.1 million of Chinese Sinopharm doses as gift. Up until now, Bangladesh is hopeful of joining to the China-led initiative of vaccine storage facility and collaboration with Russia to produce Sputnik V locally.

In such a pandemic situation when co-operation is urgent rather than competition, geostrategic gambit should not predominate in the South Asian region which is home to around 25% of the global population. As for Bangladesh, being densely populated with a population of more than 170 million, it is highly vulnerable to the risk of COVID-19 expansion and mutation due to acute intra and inter-regional people to people contact, if this particular region remains less inoculated. Currently, Bangladesh only needs 1.6 million AstraZeneca doses to continue the inoculation program that kicked off on February 7, 2021. Also, a burgeoning economy like Bangladesh, can afford to purchase sufficient vaccine doses as well as manufacture them locally. Not only that, Bangladesh should be called for particular attention for a full-fledged vaccine production scheme, as COVID-19 vaccines are considered as ‘global public goods.’

Despite not having a remarkable health policy, so far, Bangladesh has responded much better compared to other countries in South Asia regarding COVID-19 management. However, the condition might flip over uncanny circumstances anytime soon. Therefore, any vaccine procurement initiative should look through the prism of exigency, not preference for their allies, as downpour of misery on one corner is a failure to the entire globe.

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South Asia

Looming Humanitarian Crisis – Millions May Die in Afghanistan

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A mother and her child in the Haji camp for internally displaced people in Kandahar, Afghanistan. © UNICEF Afghanistan

There is a dire need for massive funds transfer to Afghanistan in present circumstances where banks and businesses have collapsed, the hunger crisis is also rising while the prices of basic commodities like shelter, fuel, and food have increased. There is a clear warning from World Health Organization (WHO) that within one year over 3 million children may suffer from malnutrition. UN World Food Program has also issued multiple warnings of deteriorating food insecurity in Afghanistan. The Winter season will also become too risky for the survival of one million children as the temperature will drop to an extremely low level. 

There are numerous cases of acute shortage of money, where families are compelled to even sell their babies and daughters as child brides. Public hospitals are facing a shortage of medical equipment; the nurses and doctors are not paid prompting them to quit. The majority of Afghans want to move to other countries for life security and a better future. Heavy human traffic from Afghanistan has gathered on borders with Iran and Pakistan. UNHCR has called on authorities of Afghan neighboring countries to cease the forced return of Afghans, noting that many of them may require refugee protection.

The private sector, which works for the progress of the country, has halted due to uncertainty. There is a serious and shocking analysis by UNDP that by July next year 97% of the Afghan population may fall under the poverty line. Millions of people are living hand to mouth and will face harsher economic crises due to troubling economies. 

Even $1.29 billion aid, recently announced from US and EU for Afghanistan & its refugees living in surrounding countries cannot solve the economic crisis permanently. This aid will only be able to postpone the human disaster for some time but it is not a permanent solution.

The world’s best economists are constantly warning that the present economic situation will lead to anarchy and chaos in Afghanistan. Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP’s Afghanistan head, said, “I’m comparing Afghanistan with Venezuela, Lebanon, and so on; we haven’t seen such an immediate, abrupt drop”.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the first step by the Biden administration was to freeze the $9.5 billion foreign reserves. Taliban recently called on the US delegation in Doha for the unconditional and immediate unfreezing of Afghanistan’s financial assets.

IMF has also warned that this year Afghan economy will get contracted to 30%. During Ghani’s government, US aid accounted for 75% of the government budget and 45% of the country’s GDP. The majority of sectors of Afghanistan were run by foreign aid including a majority of public-sector jobs in the medical, teaching, policing, and legal sectors.

From the last few months, the life of millions of daily wagers/ working class has become hopeless. They gather in various downtowns for the sake of work but as the construction industry has halted so they get back without getting any work. They are unable to buy food for themselves and their families and live miserable lives. Another fact of the matter is that Afghanistan has long been dependent on imports of basic utensils.

In Ashraf Ghani’s government, the Afghan economy was fragile because of poverty and corruption. Customs, administration, and traffic officers, who have gone unpaid for months, are asking for more bribes. Things have become highly disorganized in all segments of the country.

Taliban have placed withdrawal limits on currency ranging from 200-400$ per week to counter complete currency collapse. Taliban have appealed to fill its billions of dollars vacuum from Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, and China. Taliban are also pressing the US for the release of its frozen funds and they think that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is increasing as a result of their frozen funds. Afghans are facing a shortage of crucial goods due to trade disruptions and the collapse of financial services which have supplemented traders’ woes that depend on U.S. dollars and bank loans for imports. Issuance of sanctions’ exemption, by the Biden administration at the end of September to ease out the process of aid, is still not enough.

Afghan interim government has to find the best economic team from inside and outside the country which should be able to bring some fruitful strategies and planning to solve this economic crisis. The International community needs to come together to join hands with the Afghan interim government to avoid the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan. The international community should also play its role in bringing “explicit humanitarian exemptions” for the delivery of aid to prevent a “catastrophe”.  Watchdogs like UNSC and the US government should do their utmost to raise the living standards of the Afghan people.

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