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Biden administrations regional strategy should keep Pakistan in consideration

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After decades of dysfunction, a sigh of relief was on the horizon. The US-Afghan peace process was on its stage of finalization after a tiring, exhaustive yet profitable period. For the region, it is far from getting out of turmoil. It is a far-fetched idea as the Kashmir valley burns with an intensity that may burn the entire region if appropriate policies and islamophobia won’t be addressed.

An effective American presence is required. For all his misgivings, the outgoing US President, Donald Trump, tried in vain to bring India to the dialogue table. Trump is now out and a new sheriff is ruling the streets. Hopes and fears are attached with the new administration. This stems from the careful selection of words from Kamala Harris, Antony Blinken, and General (retired) Lloyd Austin relating to the region. It shows the concern and mindfulness of the new regime about the matter at hand.

Kashmir and treatment of Muslims in the BJP led regime has caught the attention of Biden and his team. At the Washington DCbased Hudson Institute, Secretary Blinken expressed his concerns relating to the situation in the South Asian region especially Kashmir. During the presidential campaign, Blinken asserted that the Biden Administration intends to raise the issue of Kashmir with India. US’s concerns on recent Indian legislature that discriminates against Muslims is also on their agenda.

They have criticized the actions taken by the Indian government particularly relating to freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir, and about the laws on citizenship. He shared the Biden administration’s plan to discuss Kashmir and other issues with India as pieces of evidence have surfaced that leave no space for ambiguity.

Biden himself has expressed his disapproval of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. During the presidential campaign was outspoken about the Kashmir issue and clearly stated it in the “Joe Biden’s Agenda for Muslim Americans”. The campaign expressed several outrages against the Muslim community and increasing islamophobia around the world. The brutalities faced by humans of Kashmir and persecution of Rohingyas were brought to light. Promise to take necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir was made.

The new administration wants to promote the ideology of peace and harmony, and the region will be under consideration as at least 20 South Asian-Americans have been appointed to the key positions in president Joe Biden’s administration.

However, the list has excluded some Indian-Americans, Sonal Shah, and Amit Jani, who had worked on the Biden campaign, allegedly due to their Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) links. According to a report, those with RSS-BJP links have not found a place in Biden’s team because secular Indian-American organizations have urged his transition team to keep such individuals on the sidelines.

Another key actor in the Biden presidency will be Ilhan Omar. He represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S, openly condemned the “Hindu nationalist project” by BJP. “At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for the Muslims in Assam to be put in those camps?”

Biden administration accepted that they are aware of restrictions on arguments on opposing opinions and peaceful protest. Shutting communications and slowing the internet showed a weakened democracy, which was in notice of the Biden Administrations and they look forward to findinga solution to all unsolved human crises occurring against minorities.

The choice of advisors in Biden administration has been interesting and surprising to say the least. Not only have they inducted members from all opinions, but people who have first-hand experience of the region. Recent inductees include two Held Kashmir-born female experts (Sameera Fazili and Aisha Shah), bringing Kashmiris a glimmer of hope that they might now be felt better through receptive and sympathetic hearts in Washington, DC.

Sri Lankan American, Rohini Kosoglu, has been chosen as Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President, whereas Bangladeshi-American, Zayn Siddique, would be discharging duties as Senior Adviser to the White House Deputy Chief of Staff.

Earlier in December, Pakistani American Ali Zaidiwas chosen as Deputy National Climate Adviser. He had played a key role in drafting and implementing the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and helped negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement. Zaidi will be working directly under former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been appointed US President’s Special Envoy for Climate.

Laterin January, the President Biden inducted a second Pakistani American, Salman Ahmed into his Foreign Policy team. He would be serving the Biden administration as Director of Policy Planning in the US State Department. Ahmedhad previously served as head of strategic planning in the Obama National Security Council, was chief of staff of the US Mission to the United Nations. He had also directly supported the-then US Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations with Russia on Syria between 2013 and 2016. He was the co-chair of the International Ceasefire Task Force in Geneva.

With the administration having a varied pool of different ethnicities, it signals they will be casting a wide net in international politics. For Pakistan, Islamabad hopes for acknowledgment of its efforts in regional stability and fight against terrorism. The signals received have been positive as American Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee, “Pakistan was ‘an essential partner’ in the Afghan peace process. (Islamabad) Has promised to deter regional actors from spoiling the peace of the region if he was confirmed as the secretary of defense.”

Austin has stated on an account that “continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues.”He also admits to the blood and sweat hard work of Pakistan to take steps to take out anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Muhammed.

Biden must have an agenda for Pakistan, as the country is in the middle of south Asian regional politics. Over the last couple of years, Islamabad has been successful in dropping its grade from 3rd to 7th in the global terror index. This has come about after continuous efforts to keep its borders and those of its neighbors safe from terrorism. Islamabad has worked hard to protect its integrity in eyes of the world and is emerging as a leader in the Muslim community around the globe.

It is a fact that Islamabad has never played the role of an ally to any country during the Afghan-US peace dialogues and has shown continuous efforts to eradicate all the terrorism possible. But the unrest in the region has made it difficult to achieve the desired results. The bipartisan role played needs to be lauded and the country assisted in its march towards regional stability.

Concerned by the changes around her, Aneeqa Tanveer is a student of current affairs using her learning to guide the coming generations in interests of the world. A mother of two, Aneeqa is pharmacist and academic by trade with eight years of experience under her belt. She remains staunch in her journey to educate the youth and has formulated workshops on various topics. To raise her voice, she is active on various forums of her interest.

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South Asia

Pakistan: Politics entered into a new phase

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Although Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan got the vote of confidence from Parliament and seems his grip over politics. No doubt that the masses in Pakistan still believe that he is an honest, sincere, and visionary leader. But many questions are rising in their minds. Like: why he opted for seeking a vote of confidence from the Parliament: was he obliged? Any legal requirement? Was he wanted to prove his popularity? Etc.

Irrespective of Senate elections, he was not legally bound to seek a vote of confidence from the Parliament. In Pakistan’s history, one of the prime ministers got a vote of confidence from the Parliament but could not survive longer and have to leave his prime minister-ship soon.

Will PM Imran Khan complete his remaining tenure till 2023 comfortably? Should he stay relax once getting a vote of confidence and proving his popularity? Should he conceive all is fine and his Prime Ministership is out of danger? Will the opposition stay calm and quiet till 2023 for the next general election in the country? And so on, many questions need to be answered.

True, it is absolutely true that PM Imran Kahn, for 178 votes in the National Assembly and secured his confidence in the Parliament. It was only the vote of filthy wealthy parliamentarians; they might not be reflecting the views of the masses. They got elected in the general elections held in 2018 but have lost contact with the masses in their own constituencies. PM Imran Khan also has in isolation from his voters. A specific class has encircled him and keep a distance between him and the masses. They do not know how tough is life for the majority of masses in their constituencies. The cost of life, inflations, and price-hike have made their lives miserable.

Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, who is a well-known public leader and representative, has expressed his views just after the vote of confidence in the Parliament that the Prime Minister should take notice of Government Servants Salary structure, which has not been revised for a long time. In contrast, the inflation and price-hike have made their lives miserable.  I fact majority of the masses are facing hardship due to price-hike and are not satisfied with the Governance of PM Imran Khan. They might reflect their anger in the next general elections.

PM Imran Khan has struggled 22 years to become 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. He made several promises to the public to seek their support during the election campaign. People of Pakistan shown trust in him and voted for him. But after becoming Prime Minister, he has not met the expectations of the masses or his voters. He has not fulfilled some of his promises. Especially his promises affecting the common person and masses are not fulfilled, which might harm his political career.

The country is still facing an economic crisis, joblessness, poverty, corruption, lack of merit, denial of justice and lack of health care and education, etc. The masses are still suffering and living a miserable life.

PM Imran Khan cares a lot for the imported elite and which was reflected in the senate elections. He has chosen 15 out of 27 cabinet members from outside the hardcore PTI members. His choice of imported, dual national, foreign nationals, and electives from other parties will not stand with him once he is in deep crisis and may travel abroad, leaving him alone. Some of his cabinet members, who have not to stake in Pakistan, or on the pay role of foreign countries, may not rescue him in severe crises. At the cost of few cabinet members, he should not offend his loyal workers and PTI members.

This is when he should think twice about what caused him to seek the vote of confidence. How should he serve Pakistan in the capacity of Prime minister, where he can meet the masses’. It is masses whose votes make a difference. The elite is not more than 10% in the country, and their vote bank can not make him Prime Minister again.

On the other hand, the opposition is intended to give him a hard time and may not spare him to relax or enjoy the prime ministership longer. The masses, due to dissatisfaction, may be exploited by the opposition.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s politics has entered into a new phase, and it is suggested that PM Imran Khan availing this opportunity, should re-evaluate the situation and revise some of his policies and take merit-based righ decisions. It is never too late!

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South Asia

COVID-19 pandemic and positives/negatives of the Pakistani government’s policy towards it

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The covid-19 erupt from Wuhan in December 2019. The first case in Pakistan was observed on February 26th, 2020.It is considered a global pandemic because of its contagious nature. It has engulfed many lives and economies. Whereas Pakistan, despite its socioeconomic and political problems, has tackled covid-19 efficiently so far. Objectives of these policies were to contain and mitigate the spread of covid-19. Pakistan made effective policies to hamper the unfurling nature of covid-19. It was praised by the director-general of WHO and he mentioned it as a lesson for the rest of the world. The upshots of the policies on its citizens were both positive and negative, but they helped a lot in sailing through covid-19.

Covid-19 has accentuated the inadequacy of the health sector. However, to combat covid-19, RFCC assists hospitals to evolve their capacities to provide treatments. Many hotels and motels were converted into quarantine centers. Number of ventilators, gears, beds, and testing capability has been increased. Pakistan got a loan of $760M to improve its medical handling. These policies seem effective as they are the major line to combat covid-19. Number of staff has also increased. These policies play a crucial role in containing Corona virus but due to lack of awareness, many people didn’t get tested. Overall, it played a positive role.

“Out of 220M population, 25% are living below the poverty line and 30% live in grave poverty,” said the PM Imran khan. Therefore, containing the poverty and retaining the economy is an arduous task. For this purpose, the Ehsas program was launched with a stipend money of Rs.12000 for the vulnerable. Employees wouldbe paid a salary during complete lock-down. The government displayed leniency in paying taxes to accelerate the investment. The banks remained open during the nationwide lock-down. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that Ehsas program didn’t prove effective due to the absence of a proper tracking system. The poor and needy people in rural areas were not affable with the technology, therefore they were unable to enroll in this program.

Moreover, the government’s policy of smart lockdown cannot be ignored. It started in April, targeting the disease hotspots. The purpose of this policy was to provide a breathing space to the most vulnerable section of the society. Because nationwide lock-down was threatening food security. Smart lock-down technology played a crucial role and made Pakistan distinctive around the world.

To dampen the adverse effects of covid-19 on society, section 144 was implemented to avoid public gathering. According to the health ministry “home quarantine, zoning of hospitals, and social distancing should be in the nitty-gritty of the policy.” They imposed a ban on air traffic and started screening at the airports for international travellers these measures proved beneficial to some extent. But unfortunately the government couldn’t ensure the SOPs.

In a nutshell, the aforementioned account enables a worthy conclusion that Pakistan has managed to contain the devastating effect of covid-19, however, the danger is not over yet. The second wave of covid-19 has started globally which can overturn the successful results other way round. Therefore, some stringent action should be taken to make the policy of containment of covid-19 more effective that is only possible if there is a consensus between the federal and provincial governments. The only way to limit the dangers of the virus is to come up with the unified and all inclusive national plans.

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Who pulls the strings of the government of India?

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While talking to a Cornell college professor, Rahul Gandhi lamented (March 2, 2021) that the RSS was making use of its educational institutions to propagate its tunnel vision (NewsMatters, March 6, 2021). `Wherefrom money comes to run hundreds of thousands of schools’, he asked.

The RSS, founded in 1925, is not only distorting history, and polluting syllabi but also compelling the BJP government to appoint its nominees to key posts whether academic or political.

The RSS’s rationale is that it is their government. As such, they have every right  to make appointments to all political and non-political posts and revise syllabus according to their own version of history.

A bird’s-eye view of appointments

Besides president Kovind Nath, a dalit, and Hindu-monk Yogi Adityanath, several parcharaks (apostles) were nominated for appointment as chief ministers, governors and cabinet ministers. The nominees included ML Khattar, chief minister of Haryana, Trivendra Singh Rawat, chief minister of Uttarakhand, Devandar Fadnavis (Maharashtra), and Ram Thakur (Himachal Pradesh).

The veterans appointed as governors included Balramji Das Tandan (Chhattisgarh), Ram Naik (UP), Om Prakash Kohli (Gujarat), Keshri Nath Tripathi (West Bengal), Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Vidya Saga Rao (Maharashtra), Vaju Bhai Bhala (Karnataka), Padmanabha  Acharya (Nagaland), Jagdish Mukti (Assam) and Tathaghat Roy (Tripura) (Source: Aryana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot (eds), Majoritarian State).

Dr, Lokesh Chandra was made president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Ram Bahadur Roy, former ABVP organizing secretary who was jailed during Indira-Gandhi- imposed emergency was appointed to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts. Baldev Sharma, former editor of the RSS’s Hindi mouth-piece Panchjanya, was appointed chairman of the national Book Trust. Shakti Sanha, private secretary to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was rewarded with appointment of Director of Nehru Memorial and Library. The memorial was the hub of Nehru-Gandhi legacy. A small-time actor Gajendra Chauhan was appointed Chairman of the Films and Television Institute of India. Hindu Nationalist Anupam Kher was appointed head of India’s Board of Film Certification.

Realising that educational institutions are key agents for ideological dissemination, the RSS thrust its nominees as vice chancellors and directors in universities and cultural institutions of higher learning.

RSS’s version of history

A distorted version is taught in RSS-run Vidya Bharti schools. Hindu caste system is well delineated in Rig Veda, Manusmriti and Bhagavad Gita. But, the RSS preaches that the Muslim Turks initiated the untouchability. Turks introduced commodes in India. “Hindus who refused to convert to Islam were forced to clean them. And, thus they became untouchable.”

Conscription power

While addressing a large gathering at Muzaffarpur, Bhagwat said, `RSS volunteers were so disciplined that they could be mobilized in a matter of days should the constitution and laws of the country so demand’. Many senior retired armed forces officers including former army chief General VK Singh have joined the RSS.

Inference

Bhagwat’s bonhomie with politicians, media, judiciary, industry, religious leaders and civil society reflects that the RSS would continue to keep the Modi government under its Octopus claw. Also it is keen to extend its influence in political, societal and non- governmental spheres. To deepen its roots, the RSS has initiated  programmes like Family Awakening (parivar prabodhan),Village Development (grama vikas), and Social Harmony (samara satta). 

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