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Beyond ‘Wait and Watch’ in Afghanistan: Global Implications

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Taliban supported by Pakistan took over Afghanistan by force, amidst  an embarrassing, botched withdrawal of US and allies, posing a façade of negotiated takeover. With announcement of a caretaker Government led by 18 UN designated terrorists out of 33 Ministers, it has mocked the global community, UNSC, all world players and actors, who were propagating Taliban 2.0 to be moderate and reasonable, hoping for inclusive government. The desperate cries of Afghan women, and attempts of people to throw babies out of Taliban controlled land, has shamed the world community, finding itself helpless due to varying interests, hiding behind “Wait and Watch” policy, as the last cry for resistance in Panjshir also fell to Taliban-Pakistan nexus, in territorial terms, although insurgency and tactical actions of resistance will continue. There have been many strategic errors by US and its allies, Afghan leadership, and security forces, recounting which doesn’t help the forthcoming grave threat, which humanity is being pushed into unless some mid-course correction is done globally.        

Global Implications

The jubilation amongst Taliban and Pakistan of seemingly defeating the most powerful US and allied forces and freedom to form a ‘Government, which is of the terrorists, by the terrorists, and for the terrorists’, has rejuvenated terrorism, fundamentalist ideology and self-belief in victory, by displacing a democratically elected government and forcing the world community to keep mum, with praises from few countries. US decision to withdraw can well be understood to be in its national interest, having crossed its culmination point, but the manner in which withdrawal was conducted has created an awkward situation, where in combat troops have left, without evacuating many citizens of many countries, whose exit is at the mercy of Taliban. Withdrawal is a proper military operation wherein, the force is expected to maintain adequate combat troops to keep the exit passage and airport/base safe for softer elements to pull back, and troops withdraw at the end. The fact that $ 85 billion worth of US equipment (some rendered unfit) is in Taliban hand has appreciably increased its capability, with potential of its repair, transfer to Pakistan/China and possible reverse engineering, will haunt US Military of botched withdrawal for many decades. 

The resultant hostage situation has muted the response of many, who would otherwise could have been critical of blatant human right violations, leading to unprecedented human disaster. Evacuating the people, likely to be victims is therefore, the topmost priority/implication, and countries are calibrating their responses accordingly. Some countries are forced to depend on Pakistan, despite knowing that it is root cause of the problem and epicentre of terrorism, while others are seeking evacuation through Qatar. It has also exposed the hypocrisy of major world powers, like China emboldening Taliban even before takeover, and US not punishing Taliban and Pakistan for supporting terrorism, and sanctioning Iran on similar excuse. It has also exposed the double speaking Islamic terror groups, who want to speak for Muslims, but choose to ignore Chinese treatment of Uyghurs, to get funding and legitimacy from a P5 member in UNSC. It proves that terrorist live for themselves, to grab power and spoils of war, and misuse religion for self-interest. It has also exposed the weakness of UN, passing the buck to member states. The UNSC resolution is so weak, deleting the word Taliban from the text, regarding not to allow use of territory for terrorism against other countries, justifying poor credibility. 

With Terrorists at the helm of affairs, Haqqani network with interior ministry, and al-Qaeeda, ISKP, JeM, LeT and many more terror groups flourishing in terror enabling environment, the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) Region is going to be the largest conglomeration of terrorists in the world. US (as per some media reports) may have calculated two years lead time for any terror group to be strong enough to strike its main land, but this estimate may prove optimistic, like its estimate of Afghan forces holding out for six months. A 9/11 type of strike is thus possible in any part of the world, in quicker time frame than it ever was, making the world much more vulnerable to terrorism, after rejuvenation of misplaced idea of global Jihad, post-Taliban takeover. The threat of global export of terrorism from this region is omnipresent. The lone wolf warriors and sleeper cells also seem to have been rejuvenated.    

Regional Implications

All neighbours of Afghanistan are concerned about export of terrorism and refugees from Afghanistan including Russia, CAR countries,  Iran, and China. Iran has also voiced concern over Pakistan active involvement in Panjshir Valley battle. Pakistan’s immediate strategic aim has always been to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan by enforcing Durand Line over friendly government in Kabul, and edge out other players from Afghanistan, including India. Pakistan also utilsed the opportunity to send out large number of terrorists to fight alongside Afghan Taliban, whom it wanted to relocate to avoid FATF fallouts, yet preserving its ‘Strategic assets’ to be used against India later. Having achieved the immediate aim, getting Haqqani into strong position, it now faces a challenge of push back from rejuvenated Pashtun community and TTP. Pashtuns have 30 out of 33 Ministers in caretaker government. Taliban in power never compromised on Durand Line and their stance in future may well be similar. A regular backlash with TTP, overflow of refugees and germination of Talibanisation and Shariah Law amidst fundamentalists, in some of its areas will be a challenge for Pakistan in long term.

Chinese strategic interest in Afghanistan includes, connectivity projects to Iran by extending CPEC to get warm water access and exploit mineral and other resources of Afghanistan, including narcotics  trade. With initial hesitancy of not becoming the third power (after USSR and USA) to suffer in “Graveyard of Empires”, China engaged with Taliban in Tianjin earlier, and recently announcing $31 million aid, hoping that ‘Interim Cabinet will restore Order, and end anarchy’. China hopes that it will be able to secure its security and economic interests with Taliban, which is promising no support to ETIM and inviting their investments, thus opening the window for economic exploitation, in a haste for recognition. This is a dangerous honeymoon, because neither Taliban is homogenous to control all factions, nor Chinese have support of local population, and there are many groups like ISKP, which may not be amenable to ignore atrocities in Xinjiang. Taliban itself has ETIM cadres fighting for them including some commanders; hence it is unlikely to divorce them, although it doesn’t mind making a sham promise for the sake of seeking international legitimacy. China may find that it may be much more risky to operate any transport corridor/project in Afghanistan, than doing so in Pakistan, where a politicised Army is sustaining it, with difficulty. Chinese, however, are unlikely to make heavy  investments in Afghanistan easily. Their aid/investment will have some strings attached  in consonance with ‘Debt Trap Policy’.

Impact on India

India like other neighbours will have to be ready to face additional terrorists with better weaponry and surveillance devices, as pay back to Pakistan’s support. Pakistan was never short of terrorists to infiltrate. Post abrogation of Article 370, political, financial, intelligence support to terrorists within India has reduced, synergy between security forces and intelligence agencies has improved and strong security grid is in place to check infiltration from Pakistan; hence additional terrorists will add to waiting list for induction into India. The bigger concern is export of fundamentalist ideology, incentivising lone wolf warriors/sleeper cells within country. India also needs to strengthen its investigative, legal and other systems against people misusing right of speech to stoke fundamentalist ideologies.

The Indian strategic interest include prevention of export of terrorism and connectivity projects to CAR through Iran-Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. In this context, India may have to talk to the Government of the day. India doesn’t hold Gilgit-Baltistan; hence despite being a legal neighbour of Afghanistan, has no direct land route, which reduces its capability to directly influence any military outcomes in Afghanistan. For the time being India needs to evacuate its people and minorities likely to be persecuted fastest, refrain from any developmental work, even if requested by Taliban and work out options with other countries having similar concerns, before taking any call on Taliban, either way. The consultation of Intelligence staff and National Security advisors of US, UK, Russia, and India indicate some efforts in this direction. 

Way Ahead for Afghanistan?

The terrorist leaders are breaking promise of being moderate or accommodative, on daily basis, at the behest of hardcore elements, who are unlikely to settle for anything less than Shariah Law. No women in caretaker Government, and the Ministry of women Affairs replaced by Ministry of Vice and Virtue, ban on protests, women sports and scores of restrictions are enough indicators of revival of Taliban of 2001. The caretaker Government is by no means inclusive, which will give rise to fragmentation of Taliban factions, who had joined hands to push US out. There is a likelihood of civil war to erupt, which will continue. Taliban despite being in power, will also face unprecedented cycle of instability from angry population, led bravely by women folk on the streets, resenting Sharia law and rival groups in Afghanistan and within Taliban. Various tribes and terror groups may emerge in a manner that no single entity or foreign player gets that strategic space exclusively. This will certainly have a telling effect on regional and global security situation, as Af-Pak Region will become the largest breeding ground for terrorism, with some of the terror groups becoming strong enough to strike US, EU, China, India or CAR. Afghanistan seems to be heading for a situation where in different areas will be under influence of different groups, leaving helpless population in the hands of fundamentalists.

History may not excuse global community, silently witnessing a democratic society being plunged into stone age governance, functioning on religious fundamentalism mode, ready to export terrorism globally. With no boots on ground, It may be too ambitious to control Taliban/ other terror groups  by ‘Over the Horizon’ aerial operations, as it has collateral damages, which further refuel hate, new recruitment to terror industry on revenge mode. Taliban certainly needs finances and legitimacy to govern, which must be used as a leverage to make it behave in civilised way. The only workable option is to freeze its funds, not to give legitimacy and later at appropriate time sanction Taliban if it goes back from its promises.

West needs to correct its assessment of epicentre of terror, which continues to be Pakistan Army/ISI, which is doing its best to make dreaded terrorists as state actors, like them, having been reasonably exposed. Voices airing this nexus of Afghan officials, its people and lately Iran, seem to be lost, as no-one wants to step in ‘Graveyard of Empires’. The West has to get out of love for strategic space of Pakistan (which is now controlled by China) or relevance earned by it, out of its terror factory or nuclear bluff/hangover.

Unless Pakistan is sanctioned, terrorism will prevail as most group view it as role model for terror combined with nuclear arsenal, making it confident of never to suffer punishment for its deeds. This myth needs to demolished, as softer measures against Pakistan and Taliban have miserably failed in two decades. Both need to be blacklisted, to feel the threat of internal fragmentation due to mass dissatisfaction, to make them behave in civilised manner. It is unlikely to happen through UNSC, due to Chinese veto; but blacklisting by FATF is a possibility where members have equal votes. The option of creating a democratic alternative, countervailing forces was tried two decades back, but it failed due to poor strategy of external and internal players.   West shouldn’t get into one more disaster to realise that Pakistan continues to be the main cause behind its unprecedented embarrassment.  

The author is a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst; he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India.

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A long way of solidarity: a voice for the voiceless Kashmiris

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Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac

Every year on February 5 Pakistan observes Kashmir Solidarity Day. It aims to demonstrate Pakistan’s support and solidarity with the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir, and their continuing liberation struggle, and to honor Kashmiri martyrs who sacrificed their lives fighting for Kashmir’s independence.

Every year, on Kashmir Solidarity Day, Pakistan expresses its political, moral, and diplomatic support for the righteous fight of our Kashmiri brothers and becomes its voice in the international forums.

Kashmir’s discord carries historical as well as contemporary events that hinder its political future.

Historical account of the humiliation of Kashmir’s people

The history of conflict dates back to 1947. In the June 3 plan, the princely state offered a choice between India and Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh deceived Pakistan and ceded Kashmir to India through a standstill agreement, which sparked an uprising of Pashtun tribesmen and the Hindu nationalists and RSS to organize a program against Muslims, killing between 20,000 and 100,000 Muslims. On October 27, 1947, Indian troops landed in Kashmir to fight against the Pashtuns and the local armies; this led to the first India-Pakistan war. During the war, India’s prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, promised a referendum: “The fate of Jammu and Kashmir is ultimately decided by the people; the pledge we have given is not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world.” “We will not and cannot back out of it.”

India referred the dispute to the United Nations a little more than two months later. A resolution passed on August 13, 1948, asking both nations to withdraw their forces; once that happened, a referendum was to be held, allowing the people of Kashmir to decide their political future. But the Indian troops were never withdrawn, and the referendum never happened. On January 1, 1949, the ceasefire was agreed upon, and Kashmir became a disputed territory. Over the next 70 years, India and Pakistan fought three wars over Kashmir.

In Indian-administrated Kashmir, India maintains around 600,000 troops in Kashmir, who have committed human rights violations like rape, torture, and enforced disappearances that continue today. The number of people killed in Kashmir is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000, which shows the ruthlessness of the so-called largest democracy in the world.

Situation after the abolishment of articles 370 and 35A

On August 5, 2019, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir a special status and autonomy. The Indian government enforced a curfew, disrupted communication connections, arrested political leaders, and deployed extra soldiers in the area, generating widespread resentment and demonstrations.

Since the abolition of Articles 370 and 35A, human rights abuses and violations in Kashmir have increased significantly, with claims of widespread mass arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions by Indian security personnel. The Indian government has also restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, making it impossible for citizens to openly express their thoughts and report on the state of the area.

In addition, the Indian government has been accused of fostering demographic changes in the area through the settlement of Hindu migrants, which has resulted in a fall in the percentage of the Muslim population and degradation of the Kashmiri people’s distinctive cultural and religious identity.

International human rights groups have shown concern about the situation in Kashmir and demanded an independent investigation into the reported human rights breaches and abuses. About 87 civilians have been killed by the Indian forces since the abrogation of Article 370. The international community has also advocated for a peaceful settlement to the issue that takes the Kashmiri people’s rights and interests into consideration.

The situation in Kashmir remains severe, and the continuous violence and human rights violations continue to provide the international community with a formidable task. The region’s political future is still unknown, and a sustainable resolution to the war has not yet been found.

Pakistan’s Advocacy for Kashmir

Pakistan has made several attempts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Kashmir and has sought international backing for its stance on the matter. Pakistan has repeatedly discussed the Kashmir issue at the United Nations and other international forums, stressing the need for a peaceful settlement of the conflict based on the self-determination principle and the right of the Kashmiri people to choose their destiny. Pakistan has also made diplomatic attempts to garner international support for its viewpoint, notably via the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Pakistan has also endeavored to provide political, diplomatic, and moral assistance for the Kashmiri resistance movement. India has accused Pakistan of financing terrorism in the area based on information that Pakistan supports separatist organizations in the region. Pakistan has denied these allegations and advocated for a peaceful settlement according to UN Resolution 47 (1948), which calls for a ceasefire, and UN Resolution 51 (1948), which calls for a plebiscite to be held in the region to determine the will of the Kashmiri people.

Despite these attempts, the situation in Kashmir remains unresolved, and a permanent resolution to the conflict has not yet been reached. The issue remains a significant source of conflict between India and Pakistan and a problem for the international community.

Conclusion:

Kashmir’s political future remains uncertain and is the subject of ongoing discussion and negotiation between India and Pakistan, as well as international engagement.

Currently, the territory is split between India and Pakistan, with India administering the greater part and Pakistan the smaller. The Line of Control (LoC), which divides the two managed territories, has often been the scene of tension and bloodshed.

There have been appeals for a peaceful conclusion that takes the rights and interests of the Kashmiri people into consideration. Some have suggested the concept of “self-determination,” in which the people of Kashmir would have the right to choose their destiny through a referendum or a negotiated solution between India and Pakistan.

Kashmir’s political future is unpredictable and vulnerable to the continuous dynamics of the war as well as the shifting political and strategic objectives of the major regional countries. The international community still has a big part to play in finding a solution, and India, Pakistan, and the other countries in the area are likely to have to be involved and support any lasting solution.

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Sri Lankans deserve a clean break from the past

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The decision of former president Maithripala Sirisena to run for president pits two unpopular, establishment candidates against one another. With both Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe involved in past political turmoil and the current economic crisis, Sri Lankans deserve a clean break.

While a presidential election cannot be held until 2024, the Sri Lankan Electoral Commission recently announced local elections for February. With no popular mandate and as the only member of his party, President Wickremesinghe is expected to face an embarrassing defeat in the poll, but it is unlikely to bring down the government.

The announcement that Sirisena would run as president comes at a pivotal time for Sri Lankans.

Wickremesinghe warned this week that the Sri Lankan economy could contract by up to 4% this year, after shrinking 11% last year.

Last year, the island nation descended into turmoil, with an economic collapse leading to its worst crisis in years. Foreign currency shortages, runaway inflation and a recession left the government unable to make debt repayments and left Sri Lankans desperately short of food and fuel.

This led to unprecedented unrest, particularly in the capital Colombo, resulting in the deaths of protesters and police, with hundreds more injured or detained. The protests culminated in the storming and occupation of the presidential palace, forcing Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country, with Wickremesinghe replacing him as president.

Sirisena has a chequered history in Sri Lankan politics.

Sirisena was part of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet before defecting to the opposition and winning a surprise election victory against Rajapaksa in 2015.

As President, Sirisena formed a close partnership with Wickremsinghe, appointing him Prime Minister, before the two spectacularly fell out. This culminated in the sacking of Wickremesinghe in 2018, replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa. At the time, Wickremesinghe claimed that the move was “unconstitutional”.

This led to a constitutional crisis and power struggle between Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa and Sirisena, with the former President dissolving parliament and calling snap elections. Sirisena then decided to not seek re-election, leaving office in early 2019. He was replaced as president by Mahinda’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Recently, the Sri Lankan supreme court ordered Sirisena and several other top government, police and intelligence officials to pay millions of rupees in compensation to the victims of the 2019 Easter bombings in Colombo. The court found that Sirisena, as former president, ignored multiple warnings about an imminent terrorist attack weeks before the deadly event took place.

But Wickremesinghe is also no saint.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, won a parliamentary vote with the backing of the Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July 2022. For this reason, he is accused of owing his position to the family.

Upon gaining the presidency, Wickremesinghe immediately cracked down on protesters, condemning the protests as “against the law” and calling protesters “fascists”. Under his watch, more than 140 protesters have been arrested and its leaders driven into hiding.

In August 2022, the United Nations condemned his government’s crackdown on protesters. The UN also criticised the repeated use of emergency measures, such as curfews, calling them a “misuse of emergency measures”.

The president has also been accused of delaying this poll, claiming the economically crippled country cannot afford to spend 10 billion rupees on a local election. However, the election commission decided to proceed despite the president’s request. Nonetheless, this raises doubts about Wickremesinghe’s respect for the democratic process.

What Sri Lankans desperately need is political stability and good economic management so the country can dig its way out of its worst crisis since independence.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe offer neither. The former is struggling to finalise a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund and both are notorious for poor political decision making and unpopular with a public desperate for change.

Therefore, Sri Lankans are faced with two establishment candidates who only offer more of the same.

The solution, at least for the time being, is for Wickremesinghe to call a presidential election so the next president has a clear mandate by the people. This will assist in forming a stable government and in bailout negotiations with the IMF.

Power also needs to be decentralised through ambitious political reforms that allow for wider participation and decision making in parliament. While, admittedly, this would be difficult under both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, it is the first step in dealing with corruption and nepotism in Sri Lankan politics.

Presidential candidates serious about solving the countries problems also need to focus on key issues, such as rebuilding the economy, accountability for human rights and rebuilding political integrity and public trust.

Only once this is achieved, and Sri Lanka has shed itself of its dysfunctional political past, will it be able to recover.

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A Hybrid Political System for Pakistan: A Proposal

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The political system of Pakistan is an amalgamation of Islamic, British, and Indian influences, shaped by a multifaceted array of religious, ethnic, and regional factors, making it a culturally rich and ever-changing landscape. Pakistan is renowned for its powerful military establishment, which has traditionally wielded significant influence in determining its political direction. The nation’s political history is characterized by cycles of military rule, punctuated by several coups, followed by phases of democratic rule, though the military has continued to exert a significant degree of influence in the country’s politics. Furthermore, Pakistan has had to contend with the pernicious threat of extremism, with various militant groups operating within its borders and perpetrating terrorist attacks, which have destabilized the nation’s political, social, and economic stability.

This article aims to shed light on the challenges faced by the political system in Pakistan, specifically concerning the current political turmoil the country is experiencing. It also suggests a potential solution to stabilize the system and bring about a revolution in the way politics is conducted in Pakistan

The challenges faced by Pakistan’s democracy are compounded by the elite classes’ actions. The country is currently facing significant upheaval, which can be attributed to several factors. The lack of solid democratic institutions, frequent military takeovers, and the involvement of powerful military and civilian elites are among the underlying causes of the country’s political instability. Additionally, ethnic and regional conflicts, poverty, and economic growth issues further exacerbated political instability. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, as well as political unrest in neighboring countries, have also had an impact on the country. Furthermore, Pakistan’s history of military control, political corruption, and a lack of a deeply ingrained democratic culture have all contributed to the volatility in its political system.

The current political quagmire that plagues Pakistan is multifaceted, primarily stemming from a dearth of political acumen and a paucity of commitment on the part of leaders to prioritize the exigencies of the populace over their own personal and factional interests. This has led to a diminution of public confidence in the political system and government officials. Furthermore, the military’s prolonged political intervention and sway history has exacerbated a lack of democratic stability and accountability. Another critical conundrum that has impeded the country’s political evolution is the preponderance of corruption and nepotism in every government agency, rendering it difficult for citizens to repose trust in government officials. As a result, there is a burgeoning loss of faith in institutions of all varieties, with people losing trust in the government, corporations, and political leaders.

Furthermore, the failure of successive governments to address the issue of corruption has further undermined public trust in the political system. The permeation of corrupt practices in every government institution has made it difficult for citizens to have faith in government officials, leading to a general disillusionment with the political system. Additionally, the lack of transparency and accountability in government operations has enabled corrupt officials to operate with impunity, further eroding the public’s trust in the political system. The aforementioned issues have resulted in a political climate marked by a lack of stability and continuity, hindering the country’s economic and social development. It is imperative that the political class and other stakeholders work towards addressing these issues to ensure that the political system can effectively serve the people’s needs and promote the country’s long-term stability and prosperity.

Proposing A New Way to get stability in Political System?

A hybrid political system combines characteristics of many political systems, such as democracy and autocracy. Two examples are a semi-presidential system, which combines a prime minister and a president, and a federal system, which combines a central government with regional administrations. Hybrid systems can also include components of other kinds of democracy, such as a parliamentary system combined with a robust presidential system. These systems are frequently viewed as a compromise between competing political ideologies or as a means of balancing the strengths and shortcomings of various systems

If the official replaces the current political system with a hybrid one, it could be very beneficial. One of the main advantages of a hybrid system is that it allows for a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government. In a presidential system, the executive branch is separate from the legislative branch, with the president having a lot of power. In a parliamentary system, however, the executive branch is accountable to the legislative branch. In a hybrid system, the executive branch has some independence from the legislative branch but is still responsible for it. This helps to prevent too much power from being concentrated in one person or group and also helps to protect citizens’ rights and to avoid abuse of power.

An additional benefit of implementing a hybrid system is that it may facilitate more efficient decision-making by leveraging the strengths of both presidential and parliamentary systems. In a presidential system, the separation of powers can result in stalemates and prolonged indecision, while in a parliamentary system, the government can swiftly collapse if it loses the legislature’s support. A hybrid system, on the other hand, can offer a balance of stability and agility, allowing for more prompt decision-making while maintaining the accountability of the executive branch. Furthermore, considering Pakistan’s history of military involvement in politics, a hybrid system can provide a mechanism to hold the military accountable to the civilian administration and reduce the likelihood of military intervention.

It is imperative to acknowledge that a hybrid system may not be the ultimate remedy for all of Pakistan’s issues, and its successful operation would require meticulous planning and execution. Nevertheless, this system could potentially provide a glimpse of sustained stability in Pakistan’s political landscape, and it is incumbent upon the authorities to consider this system as a viable option to circumvent further obstacles.

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