India pushed to the brink in Afghan Peace Process

Sakshi Tiwari

Student of MA in Defence and National Security Studies from Panjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, Strategic Issues and International Relations.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Secretariat convened a meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. It was held in a rare but unsurprising format of 6+2+1 which comprised of its 6 neighboring states- China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan apart from the two world powers United States and Russia and of course, Afghanistan. United Nations later said in a press briefing “This format brought together Afghanistan and six neighboring countries plus Russia and the United States, in recognition of the importance of the region to Afghanistan’s
stability and sustainable development.” However, one country that has
considerable affinity with Afghanistan and is a significant stakeholder in the region- India was missing from this virtual meet.

This did not come as a surprise for India given that it has been excluded from several other formats that were convened to discuss the Afghanistan situation. However, the fact that this meeting took place just days after Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to External Affairs minister of India S. Jaishankar apprising him of the situation and assuring him of an aligned Afghan policy has had some unsettling effect. For now, India can do with the reason that it wasn’t invited to the meet as it does not share a physical border with Afghanistan but it’s time that India evaluates its position in the region and do something about this status quo given that it is going to be the non- permanent member of the UNSC from 2021-22 and is the second biggest player in the South Asian region.

India has still not formally recognized Taliban as a political outfit and has held the position that any peace process in Afghanistan should be ‘Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled.” This has created bottlenecks for the global community to involve India into any peace process with its rigid ideas about Afghan governance. Given the political instability due to friction between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, there were issues in the stance for an Afghan-led peace process. They seem to be arriving at an agreement now and that is a good thing. There has been no let-up in Taliban
led attacks ever since the US-Taliban deal, making the situation even more volatile. However, it will not be easy for India to directly engage with Taliban given the fact that it supported the IC-814 hijackers and India in turn, helped in the overthrow of Taliban’s rule to establish the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Hence, any involvement in Afghan peace process will require a major shift in Indian foreign policy.

India shares a natural bonhomie with Afghanistan. Since 2001, ​ India has provided $650–750 million in humanitarian and economic aid. India’s support and collaboration extends to rebuilding of air links, power plants and investing in health and education sectors as well as helping to train Afghan civil servants, diplomats, police and army recruits. In the recent past, India has led the efforts in developing the Chabahar port that gives it access to West Asia through Afghanistan, thus bypassing Pakistan. Hence, India has lot to lose in the long run if it does carve a space for itself in the transition of peace in the war-ravaged nation.

Going with the status quo, a greater influence of Pakistan and China over
Afghanistan, both of whom are India’s arch rival is a very real possibility. United States has given much leeway to Pakistan in the past year to aid and fast track the peace negotiations. In fact, Pakistan has been credited for bringing the Taliban back to the table and with China already pretty much invested in exploration work in the country there is only a downward spiral for India if it does not change its position. However, India’s challenges are manifold when it comes to playing a constructive role in Afghanistan. Last month, there was an attack by ISKP on a Sikh gurudwara which claimed the life of Afghan Sikhs and an Indian national. Following the attack, the Indian authorities carried an overnight mission and bought back the consulate staff and stationed ITBP personnel from the Herat and Jalalabad province of Afghanistan. The reason cited for such a move was the raging Covid19 pandemic but the truth is that there was active intelligence about more such attacks on Indian embassies and consulates. Given the security threat, it becomes difficult to tread the path of peace for India which will have to share the space with Pakistan, a country that aids terrorist organizations like ISKP.

India’s policy makers must try to align their national security interests with their regional interests for better policy outcomes. With countries steering away from multilaterism and China gaining the goodwill of its neighbors by providing aid at a time of a pandemic, India will have to make active efforts to bend the scale in its favor once all of this is over. India will have to convince the global community that any lasting peace in the region will require India’s presence and support. There lies the opportunity but it might come with significant risks.

read more

Pandemic in the times of a global economic downturn

Sakshi Tiwari

Student of MA in Defence and National Security Studies from Panjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, Strategic Issues and International Relations.

With the dawn of a new decade, the world was staring at an unprecedented crisis that would spell doom in the weeks to come. In a world that had been going back to narrow nationalism and evading the concept of shared interests,
Covid19 was a tragedy waiting to happen. The Coronavirus, member of the SARS family that started in Wuhan city of Hubei province in China took shape of a global pandemic that has brought the entire world to a virtual halt. Even though the cases started pouring in since mid-December in China, it was much
later that the Communist regime woke up to take adequate measures and enforce a lockdown. For many days, while China grappled to contain the virus, the world remained ignorant to the potential of the virus to spread beyond political borders and take shape of a pandemic. It was much later in the last
week of February, when the virus travelled to the western world that it was declared a global emergency. What followed was a disaster that continues to cost lives and tear down economies by sabotaging global supply chains.

Going by data, there have been 13,071 fatalities out of the 311,894 cases reported worldwide. The virus which earlier had Wuhan as its epicentre has now shifted to Europe with Italy and Spain being the worst affected, reporting maximum casualties outside China. The virus has spiralled out of control by
causing unprecedented damage in world powers that have failed to contain a virus as contagious as this one. From United States to Iran, from Japan to South Korea, from the South-East Asia to South Asia, Coronavirus has sent the entire world into a tizzy. Clearly, the world wasn’t ready for a public health
emergency of this scale and the humongous economic consequences that it would entail.

The already receding global economy has been hit due to disruption in the global supply chains. Economies have effectively shut down with commercial sectors such as aviation, tourism, communication and IT sectors worst hit. Investors have started pulling out of market in fear of a global recession and
stock markets have plummeted all over the world. Crude oil has become cheap giving respite to the oil importing nations like India but has hit the oil-producing West Asian region like a wrecking ball. After the United States cut interest rates, the central banks around the globe have been forced to cut interest rates to ensure liquidity. The world is staring at a very huge
economic crisis that is unfolding one day at a time. It started with the lockdown enforced in China with factories and commercial hubs like Shanghai shutting down and has effectively crossed transnational borders. Employees
have been asked to self-quarantine across the world, transportation has been suspended and borders have been sealed, thus bringing trade to a halt. The health care system across the world is overburdened and the revenue receipts
have seen a pitfall. The productivity over the world has gone down exponentially.

In India, the virus is still in the second stage and has not assumed the stage of community transmission with recorded cases pegged at 360 by the Health department. However, the already distressed economy has felt the heat of a potential spread with Foreign Portfolio Investors withdrawing more than 6000 crores from the Indian market. Sensex and Nifty have nosedived and private investment has vanished. The cinema halls, hospitality sector, malls and gyms have been shut along with educational institutions. The biggest generator of revenue for the Indian economy, the Indian Railways has suspended about 80 trains and restricted travel. The fiscal deficit is set to widen and the economy is predicted to grow at an even dismal rate.

The economic downturn of this scale is being witnessed for the first time since 2008. The countries must make dramatic efforts to arrest the economic downturn but most of all, head of states must ensure that enough liquidity is ensured so that there is no panic among the citizenry and enough financial packages are earmarked to contain the virus. United States is a case in point given that it has sanctioned $850 billion to stop the spread of
virus. Countries like Singapore have paid $100 per day to self employed people to ensure that they self-quarantine. Alacrity in ensuring abundant financial resources are attributed to health care and emergencies goes a long way.

This opportunity should also be used by nation states to evaluate their relationships. Trade wars must be suspended, protectionism should be kept behind and multilateralism must be promoted to deal with the crisis emanating out of the Coronavirus. Conspiracy theories and political blame games must be put to rest immediately. Damages must be assessed and nations must come together in combating them. Indian Prime Minister holding a video conference with the head of states of the SAARC nations is a step forward towards collective security against a common enemy and must be adopted the world

The effect of this pandemic will be felt for a long time. The global economy will take a lot of time to recover from Recession, Employees will be laid off from MNCs in huge numbers, agencies will be forced to shut shop, the healthcare system will feel the heat for a very long time and a new debate will be sparked
off about the need to allocate more to social spending and security. Some might take the protectionist route and erect walls. However, it is time for the world to rethink its policy and be prepared in the face of another global disaster.

read more

Why is the arrest of a 26 year old social activist creating waves in Pakistan?

Sakshi Tiwari

Student of MA in Defence and National Security Studies from Panjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, Strategic Issues and International Relations.

The Pashtun community was once again pushed to the wall with the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen, a prominent leader and chief of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) by Peshawar police on the 27th ​ of this month. He was slapped by grave charges like criminal intimidation, promoting enmity between different
groups, criminal conspiracy and sedition for making a speech on 18​th​ of the same month and sent to a 14-day judicial custody. In his speech, Manzoor talked at length against the 1973 constitution of Pakistan which was drafted by the government of
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. His arrest comes as no surprise as he has been one of the most vocal critics of Pakistan’s military. For a country that’s infamous for curbing free speech and dissent using colonial era laws, this is a new low in its recent history
and even more so as Manzoor is one of the most important figures of the Pashtun movement that has been at the receiving end of injustice and oppression for years.

Following Manzoor’s arrest, Mohsin Dawar, a Pashtun lawmaker in the National Assembly was allegedly manhandled and arrested from the National Press Club when he staged a protest against the PTM chief’s arrest.

Manzoor Pashteen’s arrest was widely condemned by the Afghan cabinet along with other international stakeholders. Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter, “ I am troubled by the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen and his colleagues. I fully echo the concerns raised by Amnesty International in this regard and hope for their immediate release. While our region is suffering from atrocities caused by violent extremism and terrorism, governments in the region must support and encourage peaceful civilian movements for justice and must avoid any means of force and violence against these movements. On the contrary, differences with such peaceful movements must be resolved through dialogue and engagement.”

Formed in 2014 ,the Pashtun Tahafuz movement is a social movement for human rights of Pashtuns based in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Previously the ex-Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) wasn’t part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and this region has borne the brunt
of Pakistan’s war against Taliban in the north-west region. The movement earlier known as the Mahsud Tahafuz Movement was formed as an initiative to remove landmines from Waziristan of the FATA region post the war in that area. This tribal settlement, dominated by Pashtuns was governed by the colonial era regulations that called for collective punishment for entire communities, including destruction of property and denial of access to courts. In May 2018, this area was granted the constitutional protections that were earlier denied to it. However, it fell short of assuaging the concerns of Pashtuns. The movement has attracted disproportionate attention as it has been at the forefront of protests against the government demanding accountability for extra-judicial killings, forced
disappearances and casualties from landmines.

Pashtuns are the largest ethnic minority in Pakistan constituting about 15% of its total population. They have also been the most war-stricken community in the Islamic country as the FATA was used as a safe haven by Afghan Taliban for a long time and subsequently resulted in an all out war against it in the region. The rights of the Pashtuns were taken away and civil and military authorities were allowed to operate in the region with little oversight and almost complete impunity. The Pashtun Tahafuz movement gained acceleration and assumed a
national character when Manzoor Pashteen along with others staged widespread protests against the extra judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mahsud by the military. The movement that started from south Waziristan in FATA soon spread to the
rest of the country and got support from other tribal communities like the Baloch and the Hazara.

Some in the Pakistani government circles and hyper-nationalistic groups falsely claim that PTM to the creation of a separate unified state called Pashtunistan for all Pashtuns that are presently distributed between the Pakistan and Afghanistan border. They claim that the movement is a threat because any
possible secession of the Pashtuns from Pakistan will not only result in the loss of strategically located land but also ignite passions within other tribal minorities for a separate state and will result in a total chaos in the country. However, no
member of PTM has formally raised any demand of secession from the Pakistani state. On the contrary, many Pashtuns like Manzoor have made it clear that they see themselves as an inalienable part of Pakistan and want to use democratic
ways to fight for their rights.

However, in order to defame the PTM, Pakistan has asserted on multiple occasions that the movement is funded by India and Afghanistan to cause etho-minority conflict in the region and destabilize the country. This has led to further discontent and frustration within the Pashtun community.

The arrest of Manzoor assumes importance because Prime Minister Imran Khan has been vocal about the needs and concerns of these tribal settlements throughout his political career, unlike his predecessors. In fact, two days before the arrest, the federal government invited the movement for a constructive
dialogue which was in line with Imran Khan’s policy of appeasement of tribals in general and Pashtuns in particular. The Defence Minister Pervez Khattak went to the extent of remarking that the federal government is willing to include the
movement in the mainstream politics, a visible departure from the policy of previous governments. What changed in two days that called for the arrest of the most important leader of the movement has led to speculation around the world.The speech made by Manzoor Pashteen has been blown out of proportion and grave charges have been slapped on him which is not expected to stand scrutiny in the higher courts of law. However, Pakistan’s frequent imposition of sedition to restrict free speech and criticism of its civil and military authority points towards
its authoritarian nature. To make matters worse, the arrest will have wide ranging repercussions for Pakistan as the Pashtun community stands up for itself with more vigour and passion to claim its rights.

read more

Creation of the post of Chief Of Defence Staff: A New Dawn For Indian Military?

Sakshi Tiwari

Student of MA in Defence and National Security Studies from Panjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, Strategic Issues and International Relations.

On the first day of 2020, General Bipin Rawat, the erstwhile Army Chief, assumed office as the first ever Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in an elaborate ceremony with all the three service chiefs present at his Guard of Honour. The appointment was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement about the creation of the office of CDS from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independence Day last year. Rawat was replaced by General Manoj Mukund Naravane as Army Chief and assumed office on the same day as him.

A new department to be called ‘Department of Military Affairs’ (DoMA) is exclusively created which is to be headed by the Chief of Defence Staff. The areas to be dealt by the department include the Armed Forces- namely the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, Integrated headquarters of the Ministry of Defence comprising the Army, Navy, Air Force and Defence Staff headquarters and Territorial Army. It will also include in its ambit the works related to the three services and procurement exclusive to them except capital acquisitions. Among the major works shifted to DoMA are matters related to creation of major infra like naval bases, army stations etc, counter insurgency operations, the size and composition of the army, deployment of forces on the border, supply of arms and ammunition to neighbouring nations, aid to civil authorities, and promotion matters of senior officers. Even though the CDS is envisioned to be an independent
authority and does not fall in the chain of command, its area is too wide to deter it from encroaching upon the authority of the three service chiefs. It could potentially create a discontent amongst the latter, thus defeating the very purpose for which it was conceived.

Hailed as a longstanding military reform by many within the ranks, it was first recommended by the Kargil Review Committee in 2001. The CDS will perform dual roles as the single point military adviser to the Defence Minister and as the Chief of newly created Department of Military Affairs. Even though the CDS will not enjoy any command authority, he will be the ‘first among the equals’ in the way that his word will be the last in matters of promotions, travels, appointment to key posts and overseas assignments. Thus, making him a single point authority and centralizing power which could be lethal keeping in mind the fact that it could lead to speculation and apprehension with the servicemen. In addition, he will also perform an
advisory role in the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).

There are a host of duties that General Bipin Rawat is expected to perform in his capacity as the Chief of Defence Staff including creating a synergy between the three services, promoting jointmanship and integrating operational capabilities in theatres or zones where two or more
services overlap. He will be expected to reduce inter-services frictions and take on board all service chiefs for making decisions that concern the military and their operational readiness. The CDS will have to be fair in his decisions as he would be responsible for procurement and acquisition endemic to the three services and eliminate any bias that he has in the favor of the army so as to maintain balance and fraternity among the three branches of the military. Since, the army enjoys the lion’s share in the defence budget, it will be the prerogative of the CDS to clear the air as and when required so that the navy and the air force don’t feel that their interests have been compromised. He will also have to advice the Department of Defence in matters of revenue. Thus, a lot of confidence building has to be done in the days to come.

The major domain of the Chief of Defence Staff is the Department of Military Affairs (DoMA), fifth under the Ministry of Defence in addition to Department of Defence, Department of Research and Development, Department of Defence Production and Department of Ex-servicemen welfare. The DoMA to be headed by Gen. Bipin Rawat will have 2 Joint Secretaries, 13 Deputy Secretaries, 25 Under Secretaries and 22 Section Officers. It will have in its purview the training policy, training establishments and cadre management of the services. Defence diplomacy with the neighboring countries will also be incorporated under the department. The mandate of the DoMA will include promoting jointness in procurement, restructuring of the military commands, optimal and fair utilization of resources and establishment of Joint Theatre Commands. However, to streamline operations and promote jointness, there is a
need to conduct trilateral exercises at regular intervals than just establishing a joint command for optics. The DoMA must also specify the role and responsibilities of the Joint Command to establish coherence and build confidence for mere rhetoric might not suffice.

The post of Chief of Defence Staff is an ambitious one which has been advocated by the Military and The Executive alike. If implemented in letter and spirit, it will accelerate India’s vision of becoming a formidable regional power as the CDS will be armed with the authority to send
expeditionary forces, carry out military diplomacy and supervise overseas military assignments single-handedly. In addition, the success of the newly created post will lie in the coherence and camaraderie between the three services which is also the purpose for which it is conceived. The role of the CDS should be objective and independent and should not in turn, subsume or diminish the roles of the Chiefs of the three services. The CDS must bear in mind that he is a facilitator and not a central authority of power. It is an open secret that General Bipin Rawat enjoys proximity with the PMO. He must tread the path with caution and avoid making political statements. He must maintain military propriety and not exceed his powers. Lastly, the CDS should remember that he’s the man of military and must avoid, on all costs, becoming the man of the government. Only time shall tell if it is a new dawn for the Indian Military.

read more

Taiwan election: A jolt to Chinese ambitions?

Sakshi Tiwari

Student of MA in Defence and National Security Studies from Panjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, Strategic Issues and International Relations.

In a major turn of events, Tsai Ing-Wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a landslide victory with 57.1% vote share defeating Chinese-backed ​ Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). The election campaign that was marred with a number of controversies against Tsai was expected to deliver a crushing defeat to DPP with pro-Beijing parties launching an all out attack on Tsai, pushing her to the wall. However, her resounding victory has come as a surprise in all quarters within Taipei, pleasant to some and distasteful to others.

The victory of pro-democracy DPP cannot be seen in isolation. Tsai Ing-Wen’s campaign got a shot in the arm with pro-democratic political parties sweeping the local body elections in Hong Kong which were also seen as a referendum on the protests that have roiled the region for months. It is an open secret that the diminishing footprint in both these regions is a reason to worry for the south-Asian giant that swears by the One-China policy.

Despite the fact that Taiwan has been under self-rule since 1949 and has been conducting direct elections since 1996, China maintains that Taiwan derives all its power from it and is an
inseparable part of the mainland. Taipei’s pro-democracy effort finds resonance with a large indigenous population but has put its autonomous status in peril. China has left no stone unturned in subjugating Taiwan, both economically and diplomatically. Its long term strategy is to isolate it even further in order to throw cold water on its pro-democracy aspirations.

For decades, China has stood firmly by ‘One China’ policy whereby Republic of China (Taiwan) is considered a part of People’s Republic of China (PRC) and is not a sovereign state. It has used this policy on the global scale, sending clear message to the international community iterating that it cannot have separate diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Hence, it is anybody’s guess why China was irked beyond measure with United States giving due importance to Taipei and signing trade and security agreements with it. With Donald Trump coming to power in 2016, United States has symbolically upped the ante in favor of Taiwan to coerce China and control its rise in the south Asian region. Having made that point, it must be noted that a US warship sailed Taiwanese waters post a trade deal between Washington and Beijing.

The victory of Democratic Progressive Party has come as a challenge to China which is already grappling with the Hong Kong protests that are in its seventh month now and shows no signs of abating. With DPP coming to power, the echoes for democracy will grow louder. China has, on many occasions, expressed that it can contemplate using force to integrate Taiwan into the mainland. If the calls for democracy find a domino effect, it can pose a big challenge to Xi Jinping. With the
next Congress of the Communist Party of China slated for 2022, Xi cannot afford any uprising, either from Hong Kong or from Taiwan.

read more
Editors' Take

The US-Iran Conundrum

Sakshi Tiwari

Student of MA in Defence and National Security Studies from Panjab University. Areas of expertise- Defence, Strategic Issues and International Relations.

The already strained ties between the United States and Islamic Republic of Iran hit a new low when the US at the instruction of President Donald Trump assassinated top Iranian General and Commander of the Quds force, Qassem Soleimani in a strike outside the Baghdad Airport in
Iraq. The assassination that led the tensions soaring in the gulf was justified by Donald Trump as a necessary action on the man who was allegedly responsible for the killing an American contractor and injuring American troops in Iraq. Trump also added that Soleimani was hatching a plan to attack various embassies of the United States. The killing led to shock waves running around the Gulf with Iran pledging revenge and the world speculating a Third World War. All the major world leaders
called for restraint including the arch-rival of Iran and an all weather ally of the United States- Saudi Arabia. Cries for de-escalation started to reverberate from all across the globe with Israel warning that any attack on its soil will not be tolerated.

Qassem Soleimani, obliterated by the United States was the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an elite unit that handles Iran’s overseas operations. Known as Iran’s shadow commander, Soleimani was the mastermind of Iranian military operations in Iraq and Syria which led to the defeat of the Islamic State. He was the man who oversaw the militias in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq to protect Iran’s interests. His popularity was such that people believed that he might run for presidency one day. He was addressed by the Supreme leader of Iran as a ‘living martyr.’

Qassem Soleimani’s funeral which saw the Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei crying on his casket and a turnout of about a million people who assembled to pay their last respects to the General was the testimony of the anger and grief. It was followed by Iran’s retaliation on US Military bases of Erbil and Al Asad inside Iraq. Iran described the strikes as a ‘slap on the
face’ of United States and claimed that they managed to kill 80 American soldiers. However, Trump later clarified that there were no casualties as no soldier was stationed at either of the two bases that were targeted by the strikes. Iran took a defensive posture and invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter to justify the strikes on the US bases as an act of Self Defence.

However, the key takeaway that emerges from Iran’s strikes is that Iran carried out a limited attack with no intention to escalate the situation. It was done to send a strong message to the United States and its allies. However, it fell short of inflicting maximum damage on American life and strategic assets. The choice of targets, especially Erbil suggests that Iran intended to convey to the Americans that they were not safe in Iraq despite
their strong presence in the Kurdish region. From its face value, it seems that Iran wanted to pacify its people who were calling for revenge without pushing United States too much. The leaders in Iran are aware that they have neither the economic strength nor the military capability to engage in a direct conflict with the United States which is a force to reckon with and even more so with allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel in the middle east. Both Trump and Hassan Rouhani were quick to add that they did not want the conflict to escalate into a full-blown war.

Iran has been on the brink ever since United States unilaterally walked out of the Nuclear Deal that was chalked out between Iran and P5+1 countries and imposed sanctions on it. The tensions kept increasing forthwith and reached a tipping point when America warned its trading partners to stop importing oil from Iran. The economy has been in shambles ever since. On the other hand, United States has been irked by increased cooperation between Iran and Russia especially in the Syrian conflict. United States does not have significant interests in Iran given the fact that it has energy sufficiency which made it easier for it to take a vengeful stand against
the Islamic republic. With increased uncertainty in the Middle-Eastern region, Arab countries will further try to strengthen their militaries and hence, there will be a boom in the arm industry of the United States. It is a win-win situation for America.

Another point worth noting in the whole conundrum is the posture taken by Saudi Arabia who has time and again warned Iran of dire consequences and has sided with United States in all matters. Even though the news of Soleimani’s assassination was received well by the kingdom in the backdrop of alleged attack of Iran led Houthi rebels on its oil and natural gas facility,
there were calls of de-escalation fearing further instability in the region at a time when it is engaged in economic reforms. Since, Saudi Arabia does not have a dedicated policy vis-a-vis Iran, it largely depends on United States for decisive action.

The fact that Donald Trump chose Iraq as the point of attack to eliminate Soleimani and not Iran was also instrumental in not resulting in an all-out war. Iran would have had no other option but to go to war with the United States had its own country been attacked. From what it appears, Iraq was chosen deliberately because of the clout that Soleimani had in Bhagdad. However, the attack has caused deep fissures in Iraq with the legislative assembly passing a resolution for the eviction of all US troops stationed in its land to counter a resurgence of Islamic State. The gulf continues to remain on a boil with different states having different interests at stake. Peace in the Middle East is a precursor to the economic growth in the region which is heavily dependent on natural resources like natural gas and oil.

In the backdrop of strikes and counter-strikes, Trump called on the European countries to walk out of the JCPOA deal and promised more sanctions on Iran. In order to reduce tensions, the remaining signatories have to persuade Trump to come back to the negotiating table and slowly
but surely lift sanctions from Iran in order to dissuade the fire that engulfs the entire region.

The tensions between the two countries will severely impact the world. Countries that are dependent on Iran for their energy needs will be pushed to the wall with oil prices soaring at a time when the global economy is witnessing a major slowdown. For example, the threat of war led to a surge of 6% in the price of crude oil. What happens in case of an all out war is an open ended question.

The way forward for Iran should be to reduce its uranium enrichment so as to make the environment conducive for America to return to the negotiating table. It will be in its interest to not irk it’s European counterparts at a time when they’re being pressured by the US to withdraw from the nuclear deal. On the other hand, Donald Trump must make efforts to forge a deal that suits both countries and take steps to de-escalate the situation.

read more

Pakistani General kept under house arrest, as Army grapples with fear of internal dissent

Pakistan Army has been in a predicament since the last few weeks. The present Chief of Army Staff, General Bajwa’s three year extension was cancelled by the Supreme Court of the country, and one of the military dictators of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of treason.

Adding to Pakistani Army’s woes is a stand-off between myriads of its senior level officers and the Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa. In August last year, Prime Minster of Pakistan Imran Khan and later the President of Pakistan approved a three year extension for Gen. Bajwa. This decision struck the senior officers in the establishment like a thunderbolt as in next three years approximately 24 Lt Gens would have retired with none of them getting an opportunity to be the chief. The move was countered by Lt Gen Safraz, who was the senior most officer in service after Gen Bajwa. He along with six other disgruntled senior officers joined hands with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to block the extension of the present army chief, Gen. Bajwa. The final verdict from the Supreme court whittled down Bajwa’s three years long extension to a mere six months. But Lt Gen Sarfraz had to bear the brunt of being a dissident– he along with his family members have been under house arrest since then. This happened despite Lt Gen Sarfraz having resigned from service on November 26.

Senior Pakistani journalist Gul Bukhari broke the news about Gen. Sattar being under house arrest

Pakistan Army has been going through a tumultuous time as its officers at different levels have started to buckle under pressure with the bone of contention being Gen Bajwa’s extension. Lt Sarfraz has been superseded by Lt Gen Nadeem Raza, who was very recently awarded with the Nishan-e-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan. Ostensibly, Raza could take over as the next Chief of Army staff from Gen Bajwa, as in the past he had been the Chief of General staff and headed the intelligence and operations.

Dousing the fire of dissent within the establishment has been a herculean task for both Gen. Bajwa and Imran Khan after news of Sarfraz Sattar’s house arrest began doing rounds. None of the above augurs well for the populace of Pakistan as the country has already been on tenterhooks due to poor performance of its economy and FATF (Financial Action Task Force) putting Pakistan on grey list due to surge in terrorist activities on its soil.

Levina Neythiri
Engineer by profession, Political Mugwump, Observer and Analyst of foreign affairs and national security.

Originally posted on Resonant News

read more

The Tension of the Extension

Taha Siddiqui is an award winning journalist living in exile in Paris since 2018. He runs, a digital media platform that documents censorship in South Asia.

This past week, Pakistan saw an unprecedented civil-military and political turmoil as the Pakistan’s superior courts questioned the legality of the decision by the government for granting a three-year extension to General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistan Army chief, who was to retire at the end of November 2019. For now, the courts have suspended the extension and have granted the General a six-month relief. The judiciary has thrown the ball in the court of the parliament and have asked them to constitutionally legislate this matter in the parliament within the stipulated time period, as until now, there was no clear legal provision for giving out such extensions in the tenures of Pakistani military chiefs.

General Bajwa took office in 2016, and was chosen by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. At the time of his selection, he superseded other military generals who were in line for the post, because he was deemed to be pro-democracy by PM Sharif. It is believed that he was one of the military commanders in 2014 that advised the army against a coup when Islamabad was besieged by protesters led by Imran Khan, the current prime minister of Pakistan, who was in opposition at that time.

But since Bajwa took charge as the army chief, he has overseen the undoing of democratic project and is credited to have been behind the reversal of many civil liberties previously enjoyed by the Pakistani public. Many also suspect him and the army under his command to have orchestrated the victory of Imran Khan in 2018 general elections along with the ouster of Nawaz Sharif and his subsequent imprisonment over trumped up corruption charges. Sharif recently flew out of country for medical treatment after falling critically ill in prison. Bajwa has also been responsible for curtailing press freedoms in the country and cracking down against critical voices. Under him, many journalists and civil society activists say Pakistan is facing the worst kind of media censorship since the draconian military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq in the eighties, who oversaw the Islamization of Pakistani society. 

The government cited that Bajwa was getting an extension due to the poor regional security situation, especially in the wake of the Kashmir crisis that was triggered by the revocation of Article 370 by the Indian government. New Delhi stripped away the special status of the valley, prompting severe criticism from Pakistan as Islamabad believes it has claim over the region. But if Bajwa stays on, peace in the South Asian region may actually deteriorate as witnessed during his first three years in office. Political violence in Afghanistan is at an all-time high, with the militant groups including the Afghan Taliban, which are believed to be backed by the Pakistan Army, carrying out regular attacks in their home country. Also, in Indian administered Kashmir, terrorism has also peaked, with one of the worst terror attacks happening in the history of the conflict in February this year. Dubbed as the Pulwama attack – it saw 40 dead security personnel when a member of the Pakistan-backed militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad blew himself up in a suicide attack. Following the bombing, India responded with carrying out strikes inside Pakistan at alleged terrorist training camps. Pakistan responded with military power too, bringing both nuclear armed countries closer to a dangerous confrontation, that only subsided after international powers intervened, asking both sides to show restraint.

Despite such a track record of the security situation, Bajwa seems to be getting another lifeline, even though, in past Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has vehemently opposed extensions for army chiefs. When General Asfhaq Pervez Kayani got an extension in 2010 under the then government of Pakistan People’s Party, which was led by the Bhutto family, Khan severly criticized the government for granting Kayani the extension, calling it a deal between the government and the military. But now Khan seems to have done the same himself, and perhaps for the same reasons as did the previous government – to survive in office.

PM Khan knows he has no guarantee that the next army chief would be as supportive of him as this one, given the past “collusion” he had with Bajwa, especially since there is immense pressure on the civilian government right now to improve its performance. Pakistan is currently going through a severe financial turmoil. Inflation currently is an all-time high of ten years, touching almost 13%. The country has also been unable to pay its external debts, and has been forced to borrow more to pay its old loans. Amidst all this, there are growing voices that Khan should step down as he has not been able to deliver, even though more than a year has passed since he took office. So in such circumstances, continuity in the military top brass is a safer bet for Khan, rather than having to build a relationship with someone new.

But now the courts have upset the plans of Khan and Bajwa to continue with the same setup. The move by the Supreme Court’s top judge Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa comes merely a few weeks before the judge’s own retirement. It also came in the wake of PM Khan criticizing the judiciary for allowing former PM Sharif to fly out of the country without a financial bond that the government wanted the Sharif family to deposit for security if he did not return. It appears that CJ Khosa decided to assert the power his office has, and regain the perception of independence, that was seen eroding away under his predecessor, Justice Saqib Nisar. CJ Nisar was known to be close to the military and has been accused of collaborating with Bajwa in the political witch-hunt that helped Khan come to power in 2018.

Now, Khosa seems to want to remove that perception that the judiciary and the military collaborate. Many expected that the courts would throw out the extension altogether but CJ Khosa perhaps also knows that upsetting a military chief can bring him trouble once he retires next month on December 20th 2019, and therefore he went as far as to ask the Pakistani parliament to legislate the tenure extension, citing that there was no clear law providing for such to happen currently.

However, the court’s decision to intervene and question the extension prompted a political debate that was not present before and allowed the Pakistani media to scrutinize the issue too. Usually the local media remains silent and self-censors when it comes to such military affairs. But this time around, there was a fierce debate in the media, with many questioning the government’s insistence on keeping Bajwa as the army chief, and wondering whether there were not other capable military officers in queue who could command the army.

One such critical editorial was published by the Dawn newspaper, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper that stated that “… the regional security situation — the official reason given for the extension — is for the army to handle as an institution, rather than being an individual’s job. Surely there are other officers more than capable of leading the army. Gen Bajwa’s next step will determine whether he is thinking of himself or his institution.”

It also appears that the military institution itself has been facing internal turmoil over Bajwa’s insistence to stay on even after the negative limelight he has received. Recently, Bajwa reshuffled some of his Corps Commander team, and although the reasons were not made public – there are indications that some of the commanders that were either transferred or forced to resign were those who were unhappy with Bajwa’s conduct in pursuing an extension and ruining the image of the military. Also, because of Bajwa’s extension, many of the generals will now retire without ever having a chance to become the chief, which has also led to discontent among the top ranks. There is a similar previous case during the time of the General Pervez Musharraf’s rule from 1999 to 2008. Following his ouster in 2008, Musharraf told the media that he suspected that his own spy chief, the then DG ISI General Kayani (who became the army chief after Musharraf and got an extension for himself too) orchestrated his ouster because he wanted to grab power. Recently, when the Pakistani capital Islamabad became besieged by opposition political groups, especially religious parties demanding PM Khan’s resignation, and also hinting at Bajwa’s retirement, it is believed that there were some elements within the military top brass that encouraged the protest, in a bid to try to upset the government’s plans and send Bajwa home.

The parliament session is suppose to begin from next week and it is likely to take up the issue and once again the political opposition parties will have a major role to play in deciding the fate of the army chief. Already, the debate has exposed the government and military nexus and Bajwa seems to have lost much public respect. The military chief has weakened his own influence and moral legitimacy. So when the issue is brought up in the parliament, it may provide an upper hand for civilian forces in the country to assert themselves and we might see the military’s authority further eroding if the opposition parties manage to pressure the government into a corner and demand that the government send Bajwa home.

read more