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South Asia

Who failed Afghanistan?

photo: UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

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As Taliban stands at the doors of the Arg for a final takeover, the last glimmer of hope for a better future withers away. The ultraconservative regime is believed to strangulate whatever little was achieved to build a peaceful and stable nation. As the dramatic turn of events unfold, the question arises:  who failed Afghanistan?

The 2020 US-Taliban Peace Deal, formally known as the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” essentially focuses on the promise that “Afghan soil would not be used for any activity against the US and its allies”. The terms of the Deal too have remained questionable. It binds the Taliban to “reduce violence” and does not mention a ceasefire. Even if a civil war broke out, as recently witnessed, the deal shrugs  off all responsibility on part  of the US if it did not affect its allies. The long drawn “Intra Afghan Talks” convened in Doha, Qatar (September to December 2020) ended with a mere agreement on the guiding principle for negotiation with no concrete plan for peace  to be seen. Even after much protest from human rights organisations, participation of women remained meagre in the Afghan government delegation while there were no women in the Taliban delegation. Moreover, there was no representation of conflict victims. The forum largely became a platform for negotiating bilateral issues between the other participants instead of focusing on Afghanistan.

Though all participants at the 9th Ministerial meet of the Heart of Asia Conference-Istanbul Process at Dushanbe, Tajikistan held in March 2021 reaffirmed their support for a peaceful, prosperous, secure and stable Afghanistan, little attempts were made to commit to any real transition to a full fledged democracy, the consequences of which are seen today.

The weakness of the Afghan government further intensified the country’s fall to the Taliban, marked by some crucial reshuffles in the top rungs of the military and the government. While President Ashraf Ghani faced charges of corruption and use of unfair means to win elections, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has been marred by  factional strife laden with ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, despite years of training and billions of dollars of aid and investment, the ANDSF remains corrupt, incompetent, poorly equipped and poorly trained. They were never prepared to defend against  a power hungry, better equipped and trained Taliban. The fall of the government, lacking external support and weakened by internal strife, was inevitable.

With Ghani fleeing the country and the diplomatic  corps of other nations leaving one by one, the innocent Afghan civilians are left to deal with a much stronger Taliban on their own.

The land torn by several decades of war bears deep scars of humanitarian crises.

During the decade following the Soviet invasion in 1979 to ensure the establishment of a Communist government, over 1.8 million lives were lost and 1.5 million were disabled, which included 300,000 children. Over 7.5 million Afghans were rendered homeless. Since the beginning of the War led by the United States against its former protégé- turned-rival Taliban in 2001, 241,000 lives have been lost out of which 71,000 were recorded as civilian deaths. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)  reports that Taliban was responsible for 45% of the 2,177 civilian casualties caused between January 1 and September 30, 2020.

Women and children have paid the maximum price for a war waged to ensure their ” dignity” and “secure” ” opportunities” for them.

In 2011, Amnesty International ranked Afghanistan as the worst place to live as a woman.  As many as 87%  of Afghanistan’s 15 million women reported to have faced some sort of physical, emotional and sexual assault which comes not just from Taliban and pro government forces but also from the international troops stationed in Kabul to ‘protect’ the civilians. Though the overall literacy rate has increased to 43%, only 29.8% women are literate.

With restricted movement under a conservation regime and recurring violence, women’s access to  medical facilities has suffered badly. As per UNICEF data, one in three adolescent girls in Afghanistan suffers from anemia.

While women remained virtually invisible from public life under Taliban rule (1996-2001), little has been achieved since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. Women do not enjoy equal opportunities as men and are restricted from holding public offices. Men continue to control absolute power all but in name.

As per the UN Women Global Database on Violence Against Women, 51% of women in Afghanistan face Intimate Partner Violence. The 2009 law against domestic violence lacks implementation and is often flouted by judicial and administrative authorities.

While globally suicide rates among men are higher than women, in Afghanistan, 80% of the suicide attempts are made by women. While accurate figures are not available, the World Health Organisation reports that over half a million people in Afghanistan suffer from depressive disorders while 1.2 million suffer from anxiety disorders. Actual figures might be much higher.

UNAMA further labels Afghanistan as  ” one of the deadliest countries for children”. with more than 700 children being killed by both Taliban and pro government militia. Children have been subjected to physical, emotional and sexual harassment. The practice of ‘bacha bazi’ (sexual assault of young boys by older men), which was outlawed in 2018, continues to prevail.

In 2019, as per the Asian Development Bank data, of the 1000 babies born, 60 died before attaining the age of 5. As per government records, more than 7000 schools had no building or physical infrastructure. Children have been robbed of their right to quality education and a safe environment. According to UNICEF, 2 million girls remain out of school. Air raids and attacks on schools are common. UNICEF states that only 12% of children aged 6-24 months receive the right variety of food in the quantity required for their age. Moreover, Afghanistan has the highest stunting rate among children younger than 5 in the world ( 41%).  Rate of stunting among children, a sign of chronic malnutrition, at 9.5%  is “extremely high”.

More than 4 million people in Afghanistan, majority being women and children, are internally displaced. This figure  is more than the entire population of Mongolia. Refugees who escape the country and seek asylum abroad continue to be forcibly returned. With tightening immigration policies across the globe, the chances of seeking refuge as a way of survival have further waned.   The Coronavirus pandemic has added to the precarious situation. Overcrowded refugee camps, paucity of medical facilities and basic amenities, inadequate food resources, etc. have worsened the condition. As of August 17,2020,  37,600 Covid positive cases and 1375 deaths were reported. With paucity of testing, the figures might be much higher.

Poverty rates also remain exponentially high with 47.3% of the population living below the nationally determined poverty line. The proportion of the population employed below US $1.90 purchasing power parity a day was  34.3%  in 2019.

Unemployment rate remains high at 11.7% (2020), further worsened by the  pandemic.

Furthermore, Afghanistan faces a “serious” level of hunger with a score of 30.3, ranking 99 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020.

The recent developments show that all attempts at securing a better future for Afghanistan were built on sand and were mere empty promises. A reckless plan to withdraw troops without considering the outcome has not only displayed the apathy on part of the international community to the plight of innocent Afghan civilians but has further scratched the wounds they have been bearing for over forty years of constant turmoil.

The international forces who styled themselves as the ‘torchbearers’ of justice  are as much to blame for the disastrous consequences as the Ghani government. While it is too late to stop  Taliban which is all set to sit au sommet d’état des choses in Kabul, what can be done is not to repeat the mistakes of the past and adopt active measures to push Taliban regime through diplomatic channels, employing both soft measures such as dialogue and harsh measures such as sanctions, if need be, to make it abide by human rights and ensure that it works in a way that grants women  a greater latitude to develop their potential. However, hopes for a better future seem flimsy. To expect an ultraconservative regime like the Taliban to be easily swayed by mere diplomatic pressure would be naive. However, a solution will only come from negotiation at the high tables and not through the barrel of the gun. Any attempt at forcing the Taliban out, which in any case does not seem plausible considering the recent chain of events, will only add to the precarity of the innocent population. We have already failed Afghanistan, what can be done is to stand as one to demand a better future for our fellow humans and display the political will to do so which has been lacking till now.

Cherry Hitkari is a former history graduate from Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi and is currently pursuing her Masters in East Asian Studies at University of Delhi, India

South Asia

Shaking Things Up: A Feminist Pakistani Foreign Policy

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Almost eight years ago, under Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in 2014, Sweden created its first of a kind feminist foreign policy and released a handbook later on about how it has become a part of the entire Swedish Foreign Policy Process i.e. initiation, formulation and implementation. Consequently commendable results were achieved covering rights, representation and resources. The handbook states that such a foreign policy propels the idea of application of a systematic gender equality perspective throughout the whole foreign policy agenda of the Swedish government.

A feminist foreign policy is a framework which uplifts the day-to-day lived experience of ostracized communities to the forefront and delivers an expansive plus profounder analysis of international issues. Moreover, it takes a step beyond the black box approach of customary foreign policy discerning. It provides an alternate coupled with an intersectional rethinking of security and that too from the viewpoint of the most marginalized strata of the society on military force, violence, and domination. Furthermore, it is a multidimensional policy framework that aims to elevate women’s and marginalized groups’ experiences and agency to scrutinize the destructive forces of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and militarism. The Swedish Feminist Foreign Policy is designed to enhance women’s ‘rights’, ‘representation’ and ‘resources’ in every facet of its operations using a facts-based methodology, indicating out the hard numbers and statistics behind systemic inequalities that exist between men and women in rights, representation and resources, while remaining stranded in the fourth concept — the ‘reality’ of where these females live, which is an affirmation to the feminist notion of intersectionalism.

Considering the principle of these four R’s, Pakistan is a great candidate for following the footsteps of Swedish foreign policy as the citizens of Pakistan are still struggling to believe in the central principle of the Feminist Foreign Policy which is to enjoy while having the same power to shape society and their own lives by both men and women. Furthermore, based upon Pakistan’s patriarchal status quo, the principles of inclusion and removal of gender parity in the fields of diplomacy, foreign policy, economics, decision making and especially Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are need of the hour. For reference, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan secured a position of 153rd out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Regretfully, the country got placed at 7th position among eight countries in South Asia, only better than Afghanistan.

Pakistan had a female prime minister (11th and 13th PM), a female foreign minister (21st FM) and quite recently a couple of days ago, the country sworn in its first female judge of the Supreme Court. The latest development sounds promising as it brings in a new ray of light to ensure a more gender sensitive shift in decision making lens of the apex court in the judicial hierarchy of Pakistan. However, this is just a single piece of jigsaw puzzle due to which the bigger picture still remains incomplete and awaits a proper addressing mechanism. The simple math tells evidently that if women are not part of decision-making and leadership especially in underrepresented and highly patriarchal provinces of Pakistan such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan where conflict also adversely affects the women’s lives, it affects society as a whole. In Pakistan, where the reserved seats for women in parliament are also questioned amongst some facets of society, it is highly necessary to formulate foreign policies based upon the footsteps of Swedish government to inculcate a sense of importance of women participation in diverse areas following the principle of ‘representation’.

For starters, Pakistan should start with strengthening women participation domestically and then move towards achieving global objectives through its foreign policy. Working on the footsteps of Swedish government these goals to be achieved are to provide globally, by the Pakistani foreign ministry through promotion of  women’s full enjoyment of human rights; freedom from violence; participation in conflict resolution and peace-building; political participation and influence; economic rights and empowerment; most importantly sexual rights along with reproductive health. Moreover Pakistani foreign policy makers should recognize the link between certain treaties and acts which are directly or indirectly related to gender-based violence since women are the largest sufferer of violence resulting through use of force either through state or non-state actors as women are the first to be affected by power dynamics during and after conflict. The best example of such sensitiveness towards marginalized strata was set by the Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström when she declared the revocation of a 37 million euro arms deal with Saudi Arabia back in 2015 over human rights issue. Pakistan should do likewise in similar situations to establish a firm stance.

A feminist perspective has been implemented in academic scholarship throughout, but less so in policy practice. Lessons should be drawn from key critical scholarships into tangible policy development and discussions should be made on how to make foreign policy more accessible and democratic. In order to do this, Pakistan must challenge the dominant narratives of international political discourse and push for structural and hierarchical change to challenge systems that perpetuate the status quo; the intertwined structures that sustain global patterns of oppression and discrimination must end. Pakistan must ask difficult questions and engage those who have traditionally not been included in foreign policy in order to elevate the voices of those who’ve suffered from global injustices. This means emphasizing historicized, context-specific analyses of how destructive dichotomies play out in practice, as well as interrogating domestic and foreign policy decisions to push for a more just global order.

A feminist approach to foreign policy will provide a powerful lens through which we can interrogate the hierarchical global and national systems of power that have left millions of people in a perpetual state of vulnerability. Looking at foreign policy of countries such as Pakistan from the feminist perspective, will not only bore fruits to the women but also other nations as a whole. The future is promising under the ambit of such a foreign policy but it requires cultural and policy shifts in the country. Much evidently, the idea of a secure and just world will remain a utopia without a feminist foreign policy.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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South Asia

India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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