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Arthashastra- book review

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Arthashastra is a historical Indian book which covers aspects of state functioning. It is about how economy, politics, military strategy and diplomacy of a state should work. It was written by Kautilya in 300 BCE but was lost at that time and was discovered by Rudrapatna Shamasastry in 1905 CE. He was a Sanskrit scholar. He published it in 1909 and was translated into English in 1915. Arthashastra was written for the King of that reign, Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya was the Prime Minister of the Maurya Empire. It was a sort of a handbook for Chandragupta to run his kingdom. There are different views regarding the authorship of Arthashastra. Some authors say that it was written by three persons, Kautilya, Chanakya and Vishnugupta while others say that all three were one person. Vishnugupta was his real name and Kautilya/ Chanakya was his surname. So, all have a concord on this and call him Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra. Arthashastra is also compared to ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli because of its realist approach to the statecraft and politics.

There is a concept in Hinduism called the concept of Purusarthas i.e., four goals in human life. They are Dharma (moral values), Artha (economic values), Kama (psychological values) and Moksha (spiritual values). Artha is one of them and probably the most important one. Arthashastra is the combination of Artha and shastra (treatise). Its main concept is how a state, or an empire can work greatly. For this Kautilya combined 15 old books in Arthashastra and explained different concepts in it like economic prosperity, military strategy, political affairs, external affairs, internal matters of Harem of the King, King’s own characteristics, qualities of a Prince, ministers, spies, civil officers and how to manage the public etc. Following is the summary of the book covering important points related to the government, politics and statecraft of an empire.

It starts with greetings to Sukra and Brihaspati. It is a compilation of all the Arthashastra written by ancient teachers for the perseverance of the earth. It also mentions Kautilya as the author. Kautilya gives the most importance to the four sciences i.e., Anvikshaki, the triple Vedas, Varta and Danda-Niti. Then he determines the position of each science by mentioning different school of thought views. School of Manu believes in only three sciences, excluding Anvikshaki as considering it a special branch of Vedas. School of Brihaspati holds that Varta and Danda-Niti are the only sciences and triple Vedas are only an abridgement for a man experienced in Lokayatravidah i.e., three worlds heaven, earth and atmosphere. School of Usanas say that only science of governments is the only science having origin and end of all. But Kautilya believes in all four sciences from which righteousness and wealth is learnt.

For “Anvikshaki”, Kautilya says, it constitutes the philosophy of Samkhya, Yoga and Lokayata. Samkhya is associated with Yoga school and Lokayata is the philosophical school of materialists. Among the four, Anvikshaki is the most beneficial for dealing with worldly affairs and to get all kinds of knowledge and virtues. For “Triple Vedas”: Sama, Rik and Yajus combine to form triple or three Vedas. These with Atharvaveda and Itihasaveda called as the Vedas. Triple Vedas determine the duties of four castes in Hinduism i.e., Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Brahmans are responsible for teaching, studying and taking charge of sacrificial performances. Kshatriyas’ duty is performance of sacrifice, study, giving gifts and military services. Vaisyas do agriculture, cattle-breeding and trade. Shudras have to serve the twice born (dwijati) or Brahman and perform as craftsmen, singers, dancers and poets. Kautilya further explains the duties of other people as well. The duty of a house owner is to earn money, marriage among equals, giving gifts to gods and guests. A student or Brahmacharin should learn Vedas, prayers and respect for his teacher. Vanaprastha or the forest-recluse have to worship gods, self-denial, sleep on grounds and wear deerskin. The duty of an ascetic ‘Parivrajaka’ is self-control, abandoning material gains, living in forests and chastity. The observance of these duties lead man to heaven ‘Swarga’ and disobedience cause disturbance on Earth.

Kautilya now determines the “position of Varta and Danda-Niti”. Varta has descriptions about agriculture, cattle-breeding, trade and labor. It says it is army and treasury obtained through Varta that a King rules over his and rival’s nation. Danda-Niti is law of punishment or science of government on which the well-being of other three sciences depend. It allows man to acquire things or resources, improve them and then honestly distribute them among the people. If it is done nicely, then King can bring people under his control. Kautilya says if punishment is rightly given, then people will respect King and his words but if given under ignorance or anger, then it will only make people furious and rebellious. The absence of law of punishment will only bring imbalance in the society where strong will crush the weak. In the end Kautilya says that people can lead a happy and successful life if governed by the King.

Kautilya says that a student should “learn all sciences” from expert teachers. As for the Prince is concerned, he should be married after 16 and he also should learn all sciences from efficient and aged professors. In the morning, he should learn military art and weapons, and in the afternoon hearing Itihasa i.e., Purana, history, illustrative stories, Dharma Shastra and Arthashastra. When a Prince keenly hears his teachers, he gets knowledge, it leads him to application and self-control. All this makes him efficient in leaning. So, a well-educated and disciplined King would enjoy no opposition on Earth. If a King refrains from his six enemies i.e., lust, anger, greed, vanity, pride and overjoy then he would succeed. But if he fell prey to these then he shall be destroyed along with his kingdom.

Kautilya also sheds light on how “the life of a good King” shall be. If a King refuses to follow those six enemies and restrains his organs of senses, then he would gain knowledge, ensure safety and security of his people, keep himself in discipline and do good for the nation. With his senses under his control, he would refrain from unjust acts and without violating any rules, can enjoy his life, charity, wealth and desires. But, if any of these are overdone, can hurt others and itself too. Kautilya says wealth is the most important among all. Ministers who help the King in keeping away from such enemies, are respectable and hence they assist the sovereign.

Regarding the “selection of ministers”, there are various views from different school of thought. Bharadvaja says that the King should appoint his classmates as ministers because he knows them personally and can trust them well. Visalaksha says if ministers are King’s classmates, then they could dislike him as well. So, ministers should be those whom secrets are known by the King himself so they cannot betray him. Parasara says that King has his own secrets as well. So, he should appoint those who helped him in his difficult times and are trustworthy too. According to Pisuna, ministers should be men tried and tested of their abilities in respective fields. Kaunapadanta says that the King should appoint those whose fathers or grandfathers have been ministers before so that they have an established relationship with the King based on trust. Vátavyádhi says the King should appoint new persons specialized in polity as ministers because they would not offend him and obey him as the King. Son of Bahudanti says that ministerial position needs experience not just theory. Therefore, rather than new officials, the King should select ministers from high families who are noble, brave and have loyal feelings towards King. Kautilya says that indeed man’s efficiency in work shows his ability and such men, after considering their place and time of work, should be appointed as ministers.

For the “Creation of Council”, Kautilya describes the qualities which a minister should have. A ministerial officer should be a high family member, trained in arts, strong memory, health, skills, strong conduct and free from procrastination and hatred. Those who have half or quarter of these qualities, are posted on lower ranks. The King has much work to do simultaneously, so he assigns those works to ministers. As for the appointment of Priest, he should be from noble family, well educated in all sciences and has the ability to prevent calamities from the skies and human doings by performing rituals explained in Atharvaveda. A King should follow the teachings of him.

Kautilya explains another issue which is “Ascertaining by Temptations Purity or Impurity in the Characters of Ministers”. A King, with the help of his Prime Minister and High Priest, shall offer temptations to his ministers to test their character. The King along with a priest set up a situation where the priest disobeys King and is dismissed. Then he, disguised as a classmate, tries to provoke other ministers against King. If ministers do not fluctuate, then they are tested as pure. This is termed as religious allurement. In the same way, a commander of army and a woman spy, as disguised, make ministers go against the King, but if they remain firm then it means that they are loyal to the King and are pure in character. These practices are known as monetary allurement and love allurement, respectively. Kautilya says that the King or Queen shall not themselves take part in that, instead appoint agency of spies to test ministers.

Arthashastra discusses about “Institution of Spies” too. The King with his ministers makes spies. Those spies are disguised as fraudulent believers, hermit, a householder, merchants, colleagues, firebrand, murderers and beggar women. They swear that they would tell King everything they find suspicious. This way they would check the purity of character in King’s people or servants. It further explains who will become what type of spy. Orphans who are solely dependent on state for their food and living, will fight tigers and elephants in battlefield and will become firebrand. Those who are cruel, become poisoner. A Brahman poor widow, who wants to earn money, will become woman ascetic and live in King’s Harem. Women of Shudra caste will be wandering spies. Those spies who are well trained and educated will be assigned to spy on King’s ministers and officials. Dwarfs, eunuchs, dumb will be spies in their own houses and the local spies also have to trace the foreign spies in their lands.

Another concern is about “Protection of Parties For or Against One’s Own Cause in One’s Own State”. Along with set up spies on prime ministers, King shall also espy his people. Classmate spies shall start debates regarding King with opposing arguments in crowded area and see for traitors. They also have to confirm the rumors going on in the public. Spies disguised as astrologers shall look for greedy, angry and suspicious people, then their relationship with each other and foreign Kings. Contented people will be awarded and discontented shall be convinced by giving gifts or by punishments. Hence, a wise King shall guard his people with varying factions of enemy and foreign Kings among them. Another point is about “Winning over Factions For or Against an Enemy’s Cause in Enemy’s State”. There are some people who are against the King due to many reasons. Some are provoked whose rights are not delivered, some are alarmed who are furious and aggressive for King, others are ambitious and haughty. All these people have something against the King. These people are offered to work together with spies under formal terms to get their goals. The friends of foreign Kings can also be persuaded through gifts, threats or by pointing the defects of their Kings.

“Business of Council Meeting” is another point here. After taking care of local and foreign parties, the King then looks at the administrative affairs. The decisions related to administration are taken through deliberations at the council meeting. The subject of the meetings shall be kept confidential from all people even from birds because they used to be the couriers of information too. Therefore, without any back-up guarding force, a King shall never enter into a deliberation of council meeting. Whoever discloses information about council meeting, shall be punished heavily. So, the most important information shall only be known by the King because ministers could leak information through carelessness. So, the members of the council shall learn sciences and Vedas.

Kautilya in Arthashastra also talks about the “envoys”. The successful councilors are made as envoys. Those who have ministerial capabilities are made ambassador. Those who are one-quarter less capable shall be given missions. Whoever has half of the above abilities, convey summon. An envoy shall befriend the enemy’s officers who work on boundaries of cities. He also shall know about the size of enemy’s area and about precious things there. When he enters the fort of enemy King, he shall clearly explain the mission assigned to him. Other than these duties, an envoy maintains treaties, gains secret information and makes enemy’s officers and envoys his friends. Therefore, such envoys shall be appointed by the King and he shall guard himself from foreign spies.

Another most important topic covered in Arthashastra is “Protection of Princes”. King shall take extra care of his princes. There are various arguments about this as well from different scholars.  Bharadvaja says that ill-tempered and jealous princes can end up taking the throne of their fathers. So, they shall be punished secretly when they show love for the King. Visalaksha says princes shall be guarded in a safe place because punishing them would be cruel and it would exterminate Kshatriya race. School of Parasara say that fearing from princes seems like fearing from a lurking snake. He may think that his father (King) is locking him up and ends up making his father responsible for his sufferings. So, the prince shall be guarded inside the fort. Pisuna argues that after getting to know the reason of his rustication, he may turn against the King. So, he shall send to the fort of the foreign King. It is like a wolf hidden in a flock of sheep. Kaunapadanta says it is better for a prince to live in his own state in case the foreign king instigates him against his father. Kautilya says a Prince shall learn sciences and refrain from allurements like hunting, liquor or women. If he has good qualities, then he may be appointed as commander-in-chief or the heir. If the King has only son, then attempts shall be made to procreate him a son but never a wicked prince shall be installed on the royal throne.

“The Duties of a King” are also explained in detail. Firstly, a King should be strong and energetic as the whole nation is looking up to him and would follow him. Secondly, if he is weak then enemies can easily hurt him. A King shall divide his time for different activities. He shall check accounts and expenditures, look into public matters, eat and study, collect revenue, attend superintendents, attend assembly of ministers, receive secret information through spies, his me-time, supervise infantry and military operations’ strategy with commander-in-chief. A King shall never make his officials and public wait. If he is inaccessible to them then confusions and conflicts shall happen, or he may end up falling prey to the enemies. So, he shall attend businesses himself and never postpone them. Kautilya says the King shall ever be active, he shall find his happiness in his people’s happiness. Being active is the only way to get wealth and successes or otherwise he shall perish along with his kingdom.

The King shall “make villages” on new land or ruins. Each village shall not be less than a hundred families and not more than five hundred families of Shudra caste. Boundaries shall be demarcated by rivers, mountains, caves or forests. Priests and other people who perform rites shall be given lands with the exemption of taxes and fines. Accountants, administrative people, physicians, horse-trainers and messengers shall be given land which they cannot sell. Lands which are ready for cultivations shall be given to taxpayers and those lands which are in process, shall not be taken away from people. Kautilya says that the King shall not only look after old timber forests, buildings and mines but also make new ones.

According to Kautilya, “finance is the most important thing” as many tasks depend on this. Things which constitute in financial prosperity of an empire are public prosperity, capturing thieves, wealth coming from crops, prosperity of commerce, less calamities, less taxes and income in gold. But things which cause harm to treasury include obstruction, fabrication of accounts, loss in revenue, self-enjoyments, trade-offs, misusage of funds etc. Kautilya also describes their punishments. For obstruction, a fine of 10 times of amount is imposed, lending money of treasury and trading by government’s money is punishable for the fine of twice the amount of profit earned, for fabrication the fine is 10 times, an intentional loss of revenue by someone’s doing is 4 times the loss, miscalculation of revenue collected is punished for 12 times of the total amount. There are forty ways of embezzlement and in case of embezzlement, a public announcement is made if there are any people affected by the offender. If someone comes forward then he is paid equally to the amount he lost, by the King.

Arthashastra also explains “remedies against natural calamities”. Eight kinds of natural calamities are there from which a King has to protect his nation. These are fire, floods, pestilential diseases, famine, rats, tigers, serpents, and demons. To prevent fire, cooking shall be made outside in summers, precautionary measures shall be taken, and offerings and prayers shall be made to the fire. To ward off floods, villagers living near rivers shall migrate to up countries in rainy days, boats and bamboos shall be prepared in case of persons affecting from floods, people who are intentionally neglecting rescue shall be fined 12 panas, rivers shall be worshiped, experts in Vedas and mystics shall perform incantations against rain and in case of drought, Indra and Ganges mountains shall be worshiped. To overcome pestilences or plagues, remedial measures shall be taken. Doctors with their medicines and ascetics with their purificatory ceremonies shall try to avoid floods. Moreover, offerings to God, milking cows on ceremonial grounds and spending nights in devotion to God shall also be observed. During famine, the King shall show mercy on people and provide them seeds from his own collection or seeking help from other friend Kings. Other policies include extracting wealth from rich people or the King emigrating to other green lands with his people. The King shall also move with his people towards seas or rivers where water is abundant, and his people can grow crops there or the King shall buy them food by hunting or fishing on a large scale. To ward off danger from the rats, cats and mongooses shall be let out. Those who kill caught rats shall be fined 12 panas. Same punishment is for those who do not control their dogs except for wild tribes. Rituals shall be conducted by ascetics and rats shall be worshiped on new and full moon. To overcome the danger of snakes, remedies shall be taken, and incantations may be done by experts, experts in Atharvaveda shall perform rites, and snakes may also be worshiped on new and full moon. To get rid of tigers, corps of animals filled with the juice of madana plant may be put in different places. They may be caught using nets and weapons. One who neglects a person in the clutches of a tiger shall be punished 12 panas and who kills a tiger, he will be awarded the same amount too. Experts in Atharvaveda and mysticism shall perform rituals to ward off demons. The King shall protect his people from demons as a father to his sons. Such magic experts shall be honored by the King.

According to Kautilya, “the elements of sovereignty” are the King, ministers, country, fort, treasury, army and friends. Then he describes best qualities of them. The best qualities of a King are member of a high family, brave, divine, righteous, truthful, grateful, has set great goals, enthusiastic, powerful, resolute mind, has assembly of high ministers and highly disciplined. The qualities of a good country or state include having capital cities in center and extremities of Kingdom, can maintain its own citizens along with the outsiders in case of calamities, dominates neighboring kingdoms, free from uneven tracks and wild beasts, has fertile lands, abundant waters, bears vast army and taxation, a population of agriculturalists, intellectuals and loyal servants to the King. A good treasury is justly obtained, rich in gold, silver and gems, and can withstand long time calamities. Kautilya says that a wise King is expert in politics and even though he owns a small territory, will conquer the whole earth with the help of his best elements of sovereignty and cannot be defeated.

Arthashastra also discusses a situation where “a weak King is attacked by a powerful King”. In this situation, Bharadvaja says that the weak King shall surrender, and it is the same as bowing before Indra, the God of Rain. Visalaksha says that the weak King should fight with all of his might because it is the duty of a Kshatriya despite of the fact that he wins or not. Kautilya says that he who completely surrenders, lives his life in despair. When a weak King fights a strong King, it’s like crossing a sea without boat. So, the weak King either seek help from a powerful King or seek refuge in an impenetrable fort. There are three types of invaders defined: just, greedy and demon-like conqueror. A just conqueror is satisfied with only respect, the greedy one needs lads and wealth but the demon-like not only needs wealth and family of the weak king but also his life. So, the weak King shall seek help of the first, satisfy second one with wealth and for the third one, he should keep a distance between them by offering him land and wealth.

In my opinion, Kautilya’s Arthashastra is much relevant in the 21st century. It has discussed so many points which are still present in states too. For example, issue of the purity or loyalty of ministers, institution of spies or now-a-days intelligent agencies, danger of attack of a strong state on weak state etc. States still interact on the basis on their interests, treasury or the finance department is the most important one in state functioning, embezzlements happen, the phenomenon of war is there, new towns have to be made, where monarchy is present those states still have issues related to princes or heirs and throne, public has grievances related to leaders and many more. In short, Arthashastra has everything which could occur in a state and it is a complete book to run a country under proper rules and regulations as it was written for the same very purpose by Kautilya for the King Chandragupta Maurya.

As far as the strengths and weaknesses of Arthashastra are concerned, I think its strengths are unmeasurable as discussed earlier as well. It is a comprehensive treatise beneficial for a country. But the weakness which I came across is that some points are really hard to digest. E.g., the part where the protection of princes is discussed, how can a King enlock his own kid just under the suspicion of future treason or send him to another King’s fort? It is something strange. Moreover, Arthashastra was written on Hindu Ideologies for an Indian Empire. There are various points where Hindu ideology clashes with other religions and ideologies. So, it would be difficult for non-Hindu states to follow those rules in the same sense. It is biased towards Hinduism.

In a nutshell, Arthashastra is a very good example and a guide to achieve a state’s interests inside and outside its boundaries. This clearly defines how a leader, its ministers, cabinet, officials, and people should be to acquire the best in their favor. Kautilya devised a state structure for public welfare which is needed in the 21st century world too where states still vague wars, directly and indirectly. States are struggling hard to survive because their state structure is messed up. If Arthashastra is followed in its true sense, then, I think, states would clearly see a difference in the aftermath of their decisions. The consequences would be good for all whether it is state, officials or the common people. But the states should imply those rules and policies keeping in view their political structure as well, as empires no more exist. But still, its policies are much relevant to gain successes for the state’s betterment.

Maria Saqib is a bachelors International Relations student enrolled in National Defence University, Islamabad (Pakistan). With a prominent GPA of 3.3, she is looking forward towards an enlightened future by pursuing her subjects in practical field.

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Afghanistan: the US and NATO withdrawal and future prospects

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On April 14, the United States of America announced that it would withdraw all its troops stationed in Afghanistan from May 1 to September 11, 2021. On the same day, NATO also said it would coordinate with the White House military to initiate the withdrawal.

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has actually been going on since the Soviet invasion of that unfortunate country on December 24, 1979.

What are the plans of NATO and the United States? How will the situation in Afghanistan change in the future?

Regarding the US announcement of the deadline for troop withdrawal, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan government respects the US government’s decision to withdraw its troops by the agreed date.

According to the Associated Press, there were 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan before May 1, far below the peak of over 110,000 in 2011.

According to the websites of the Financial Times and theDeutsche Welle, some ten thousand soldiers from the 36 NATO Member States and other US allies are currently stationed in Afghanistan, including as many as 895 Italian soldiers, as well as 1,300 Germans, 750 Brits, 619 Romanians, 600 Turks, etc.

President Trump’s previous Administration signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan in February 2020, setting May 1, 2021 as the deadline for NATO to begin withdrawing from that country. The Washington Post reported that after the current US government issued the withdrawal statement, the Taliban immediately said that if the United States violated the peace agreement and did not withdraw its troops in Afghanistan, the situation would get worse and one of the parties to the agreement would take responsibility for it.

This year is the twentieth since the United States started the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The war in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest overseas war, and has killed over 2,300 US soldiers and wounded some 20,000 people, at a cost of over 1 trillion US dollars.

Although the United States and its allies attacked the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the situation in Afghanistan has been turbulent for a long time, with over a hundred thousand Afghan civilian casualties in the fighting.

According to The New York Times, both Parties’ members of the US Congress have differing views on the consequences of withdrawal. According to the newspaper, Republicans and some Democrats believe that the troop withdrawal will encourage the Taliban insurgency, while others believe it is necessary to put an end to this indefinite war.

But what considerations can be made for the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan?

It is well known that the purpose of the United States in taking the war to Afghanistan was a very heavy measure of retaliation against al-Qaeda, which had organised the terrorist attacks of September 11, and against the Taliban regime that protected the top leaders of that terrorist organisation. Although al-Qaeda has not been destroyed, it is unlikely to create similar problems. The United States has achieved its strategic goals and is no longer involved in East Asia’s tactics and strategy.

The interests of NATO (considering its individual Member States) in Afghanistan are fewer than those of the United States. As a military alliance with the United States, the achievement of US strategic goals means that NATO’s equal strategic goals have also been achieved. Hence, rather than continuing to run the risk of confronting the Taliban and al-Qaeda after US military withdrawals, NATO is more willing to remove the “political burden” as soon as possible.

While announcing the terms of the withdrawal, the White House has stated that the threat of extremist organisations such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and ISIS is spreading globally and it is therefore meaningless to concentrate forces in Afghanistan, with a steady expansion of its military cycle. At the same time, however, the White House has stated that after withdrawal, diplomatic and counter-terrorism mechanisms will be reorganised in Afghanistan to face security challenges. Hence, from the US perspective, there is currently a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The prospectsfor advancing the Indo-Pacific regional strategy to oppose China also means that it would be counterproductive for the United States to remain in Afghanistan any longer. Even after the troop withdrawal, there will be insecurity in Afghanistan. That being the case, however, the United States will still find ways and means to support the Afghan regime and the armed forces of the Kabul government.

The Washington Post has also reported statements by a Pentagon official who has stressed that Afghanistan is a landlocked country: consequently, once US and NATO forces withdraw, one of the biggest challenges will be how to effectively monitor and combat extremist organisations and resist threats to US security: at that distance it will be even more difficult without sea landings.

According to Reuters, the CIA predicts that the possibility of a further US-Afghan peace deal is little and has warned that once the United States and its allies withdraw, it will be difficult to stop the Taliban.

The Afghan government forces currently control Kabul and other large cities, but the Taliban are present in more than half of the country’s territory and rural areas. In the future, the possibility of a Taliban counter-offensive cannot be ruled out.

Great Britain’s The Guardian has commented that the years of war have generally made Afghans feel a strong sense of insecurity and the withdrawal of troops will not bring much comfort to the local population. According to the London-based newspaper, for the United States this is yet another war that cannot be won.

According to experts, there are two extreme possibilities in the future situation in Afghanistan. The excellent situation is the one in which the less extremist wing of the Taliban mediates so that, once the United States withdraws, the Taliban can gradually move from being an extremist organisation to being an internal administrative one and then negotiate with the legitimate government supported by the United Nations: this would mean a long-term peace after forty-two years of war.

Under extremely unfavourable circumstances, instead, the Afghan government forces would overestimate their military strength and intend to continue the war alone against their traditional opponents, at which point peace negotiations between the two sides would break down.

This would mean falling again into a prolonged civil war and into eternal war.

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Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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