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Role of institutions

The strength of state depends how active its institutions are. Visionary leadership invests in institutions which have the responsibility of national security. Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the head quarter of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) where a comprehensive briefing was given to the national and military leadership on regional and national security situation. On this occasion, the Prime Minister appreciated tireless efforts of ISI for national security and expressed satisfaction over its professional preparedness.

Over the past five decades Pakistan is facing threats to national security both on the western and eastern borders in addition to the menace of terrorism within the country. At this critical juncture ISI is keeping a close vigil on the multipronged war strategies of the enemy including the fifth generation war. Unfortunately certain PML-N leaders gave lethal ammunition to India for the fifth generation war against Pakistan

From the past seven years India has kept the tension high on the line of control, with daily shelling of military posts and civilian population. It is also using the soil of Afghanistan for terrorist activities inside Pakistan. The country has lost the lives 80,000 civilians and security personnel in war against terrorism. The war still continues. The frequency of terrorist attacks in Baluchistan is high. It is pertinent to mention that serving Indian Naval officer Kalboshan Jadhev was arrested in Baluchistan.

The credit of collection of irrefutable evidence about the Indian involvement in State sponsored terrorism goes to ISI. The evidence has been compiled in the shape of dossier, which has been presented to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and five permanent members of the Security Council. The dossier dissolved in thin air the Indian narrative against Pakistan which it was selling to the international community. Ironically, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi did not appreciate the presentation of the dossier unmasking India. He criticised it in Private TV channel programme.

In sharp contrast to the last PML-N government’s which all along preferred second fiddle role before India on the diplomatic front; PTI government is playing on front foot to expose the terror financing role of Indian government in the region. Accompanied by the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quershi, DG ISPR major General Babar Iftikhar presented an evidence laden dossier in Press Conference. It contains authentic documentary material that unmask the Narendra Modi led how it finances the terrorist groups including the reunified TTP, Daesh and proscribed dissident Baloch groups BRAS.

Major General Babar Iftikhar showed on screen to media a translated letter in Dari that establish four meetings of RAW agent Col. Rajesh with commanders of terror outfits to execute terror activities across Pakistan in the current and next months. He also told with transaction record about the mode of terror financing through Indian banks in third country. He said that India is spending millions of dollars and has raised a militia of 700 persons to carry out terrorist activities in Baluchistan to hit CPEC related projects. This is how the silent warriors of our spy agency serve the country and defeat the nefeous designs of India. Unfortunately, at the behest of enemy, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has started vilification campaign against this institution, while sitting abroad. The people of the country are now well aware of his animosity against institutions of the state.

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Indian farmers’ protest

In sharp contrast to other political parties of India, BJP acts as sole custodian of the financial interest of corporate sector at the cost farmers. The Union government is enacting certain laws to deregulate the agriculture sector, which farmers view detrimental to their interest. It merits mention that against these laws the Union Minister for agriculture Harsimat Kaur had resigned in protest in September. The laws will benefit the big farmers to sell food commodities to corporate buyers and exporters, whereas small farmers then will not be able get minimum support price of their produce at Mandis.

Thousands of Indian farmers are on the roads of Capital Delhi for the last few days. The central government has invited 30 union leaders of farmers for talks on the new laws that deregulate the agriculture sector. The law entirely benefits big businessmen who deal in the agriculture commodities. Then small farmers who produce staples such as wheat and rice will be eventually deprived of minimum support price.

The law also restricts holding of stock by farmers and movement of produce to destinations where small farmers can get better price. Maharashter government opposed the union government ban on stocking and export of onions whenever retail price have tended to go up. The farmers in Punjab and Haryana fear that new law will restrict their freedom to sell their produce at better price. Much of the government fixed support price is paid to farmers at the agriculture products market centers or Mandis. And if government stops buying for building stock, farmers will be then at mercy of private sector, depriving them of getting fair return ratio.

Another negative aspect of deregulating agriculture will result in withdrawal of subsidy that government pays on the purchase of seeds, fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Eventually, the agriculture will land in crisis.

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Political Melodrama of Pakistan

Muhammad Zikriya

We all live in a free independent state that enjoys complete autonomy in its affairs. But the idea behind the liberation of Pakistan was not simply to provide a piece of land, as the sub-continent was doing the same. The idea was to provide a sense of security, to have religious autonomy, to provide a place which we could call home and not a house alone, a place which subdued all forms of indifferences. As this country was not made in a day and was certainly not presented to us on a silver platter. Thousands had to sacrifice in order to give us what we have today.

But with time, we lost our identity somewhere down the road as the struggle for power ensued, as would in any power vacuum state of affairs. The fact that the common man lost his value as a human being, marked the establishment of a feudal political system. That benefits the rich and establishes laws for the poor. Democracy became ‘Oligarchy’, and shortly after followed by ‘Dictatorship’. It was then, those very oligarchs retaliated against the dictator to regain what they had lost. Convincing the people that it was in their best interest if they did the same and like herds of sheep we followed and when things fell apart. It was the honourable People of Pakistan that suffered.

Once everything settled down and the leader assumed office. It became his or her children’s birthright and they completely forgot what the people had done for them. As can be seen in many instances when political leaders were met with harsh words when they visited their elected areas for the first time after three years of assuming office.

A new form of melodrama was orchestrated by PTI, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf back in 2014 under the name of “Azadi March”. When they set the trend for a new form of protest. What they had sown is now being reaped in the form of PDM, Pakistan Democratic Movement.

It is but a mere dangerous trend that has been set into motion, that if you lose the elections, the elections have been rigged. For the next five years, the loser would protest and the opposition retaliates in any way possible to compensate the loser itself. Instead of engaging in meaningful debate in the House of Parliament, as is their sacred duty.

Our leaders have lost our Quaid’s vision and cannot differentiate between black and white. The blame game is on, and talks of breaching people’s mandate run high. But we beg to ask a few questions from our leaders, what if one of the members of PDM assumed office, would they still be supported by their allied parties, or would the calls change back to “Imran, Zardari Bhai Bhai”, Imran and Zardari are brothers. Or would they remain intact? The odds of which are dire.

But the question remains that why does the retaliating party always assume that they have the answer to all the issues of Pakistan? Why can they not support each other in matters of state? Are they not breaching their followers vote by protesting day and night across the country in hopes of assuming office? While their constituencies lay in ruins and people are dying every day. Does PPP not see the dire and inhumane conditions in which the people of Tharparkar are living? Does PML-N not see the severe circumstances of lower Punjab? Does PTI not take into account the massive irregularities in the construction of the BRT structure? What they do not realize is that they are exploiting the people’s mandate for their gains.

While neither PTI nor PDM realise the fact that they both are destroying whatever they once promised their people. Imran Khan, Maryam Nawaz, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have nothing to lose apart from their seat on the Prime Minister’s table. They are not the ones who see their children being brought back in coffins, they do not have to see the life fade away from their eyes and they sit helplessly.

It is a race of power and they do not think of us people as anything but pawns in their mere game that they think we cannot hope to comprehend. For how long would this drama continue and for how long would the people have to suffer. But history has taught us, with every rise there is a fall and like every other thing, they will realise this sooner or later.

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How will the future of US foreign policy and economic engagement affect Turkey?

Matthew Bryza

The foundation of the US-Turkey partnership is centered on the NATO alliance. At times, US President Donald Trump has expressed skepticism about NATO, but at the same time his rhetoric has been credited by some for encouraging member states to meet their obligations to increase defense spending. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, represents a much more traditional US approach to NATO. At a time of rising challenges from powers such as Russia and China, the 2020 US presidential election offers two truly contrasting visions for the future of US engagement in the world. The Trump administration has preferred to pursue its foreign policy goals through bilateral relationships based on more narrowly defined national interests, while Vice President Biden has suggested a return to greater multilateralism and more emphasis on values.

We asked three experts to share their thoughts on which policy would best fit Turkey’s perspective and interests, how a Biden administration would affect US foreign policy towards the Middle East as well as in the Mediterranean, and whether the United States can play a mediating role between Turkey and Israel. Additionally, we asked our contributors their thoughts on the prospects of increased economic engagement between the United States and Turkey on trade and investment, including energy, as well as technology in the case of four more years of President Trump versus a Biden administration, and whether is there any potential for practical progress towards the $100 billion bilateral trade goal or a free trade agreement.

Biden’s multilateralism would be to Turkey’s benefit, but economic engagement may stall: Over the long term and strategically, a return to greater multilateralism and more emphasis on values by the United States would serve Turkish interests.

Turkey is the only secular and democratically-governed Muslim-majority country with a vibrant free market economy that enjoys decades-old ties to all western-oriented institutions including NATO. Turkey’s armed forces are the second-largest NATO military force with recent combat experience and an impressive historical record in terms of multilateral peace and stability engagements in conflict zones ranging from Bosnia and Somalia to Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The unique added value of Turkey’s membership in such institutions will be more recognized in a multilateral world order and it will be easier to leverage the cultural and religious diversity that Turkey brings to the table in a value-based environment rather than one that is solely interest-based and focused on bilateral relations. The core fundamentals of US foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East or even Turkey will not change if Biden is elected in November. Biden personally knows all the actors in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration. As vice president, Biden took the lead in representing the United States after the Gülenist coup attempt in July 2016.

Like President Erdogan, Biden is a pragmatic politician. I believe they would get along much better than most analysts seem to believe. The only real difference will be that Biden will defer more to the opinion of career professionals within key institutions such as the State Department and the Pentagon. The latter could produce a tougher stance towards Turkey on issues such as the S-400 defense system, but over the long run, the basic fundamentals would not change.

Similarly, a Biden administration will not make drastic changes in US policy towards Israel and the larger Middle East and is also likely to continue supporting the recent rapprochement between the Gulf countries and Israel. I would expect Biden to try and mediate between Turkey and Israel. As to the Eastern Mediterranean disputes including Libya, I strongly believe a Biden administration will take a similar stance and favor meditation.

However, Biden’s Syria policy and his approach to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) might be the biggest risk for Turkey if he assumes the presidency in 2021. I would strongly urge Biden and his key staff to immediately disengage the United States from Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) elements in Syria. There is so much potential on the economic front that officials on both sides are talking about quadrupling the existing trade flow. As a member of the Executive Board of TAIK (The US-Turkish Business Council), I am very encouraged by recent bilateral economic developments and trends.

For example, liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from the United States have almost tripled in the last few years. Turkey is still buying more LNG from other countries, but this is where political support can weigh in.

If decision-makers can solve the disagreements and focus on more prosperity instead of more conflict, there is no reason why Turkey would not prefer US products. Similarly, Turkish products are known for being “Chinese prices at German quality.”

At a time that many US importers are looking for alternatives to China, why not leverage Turkey’s capabilities or team up to compete with China in Africa? It is however very difficult to build on such dynamics while the US Congress is threatening sanctions and newspapers are filled with negative stories about Turkey. We must collectively invest in stability and move forward.

From an economic perspective, four more years of Trump would probably be welcomed by business communities because there is substantial existing outreach on this front that might hit a wall if the US administration changes. However, no matter who comes to power in November, the challenges of the pandemic is going to make it quite hard for any administration to make desired level of progress towards 100 billion bilateral trade goal or a free trade agreement in at least near future.

Namik Tan is the former ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the United States. A Biden presidency could reset an adrift Turkey

The Trump administration not only pursued a foreign policy of more narrowly defined national interests, but also made its policymaking more transactional. A president who has neglected values, which previously sat at the heart of the transatlantic alliance, did not help an already struggling NATO in a post-Cold War era. This focus on national interests played into the hands of the Turkish government, which preferred to discredit NATO and its leading members, especially following the coup attempt of July 2016. The Turkish government implied that the allies were supporting the coup plotters The Trump administration’s opposition to multilateralism coupled with the Erdogan government’s anti-Western populist discourse paved the way for Ankara to further drift away from the NATO framework. Although the growing relationship between Ankara and Moscow is highly transactional and dependent on Turkey’s security concerns in Syria, the intensification of the defense cooperation has gone beyond short-term interests.

A Turkey who has lost both its NATO anchor and the potential of full EU membership (given the lack of appetite on both sides), would lose a great deal of its strategic value in its region. Turkey can never fully realize its potential if democratic values keep being degraded. Likewise, in the 21st century NATO can never fully realize its potential as a military alliance if it cannot connect with civil society. For Turkey to stay on the democratic path, its NATO membership must play a role. That is why Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s vision could be helpful to resetting Ankara’s perspective in the next decade.

The United States has always had the potential to play a mediating role between Turkey and Israel. Former President Barack Obama’s intervention in April 2013 to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pick up the phone and apologize to Erdogan for the killing of Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara flotilla is a perfect example.

We know that the United States was always a hidden actor in the talks that eventually led to a rapprochement between the two co-untries in 2016. However, the Trump administration’s imprudent approach of empowering Israel and its decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem led to a loss of confidence in Turkey. US foreign policy will need to undergo a major shift if Washington is to regain its balancing role in the region.

There is a similar kind of distrust in Ankara regarding Washington’s relations with the Gulf countries, since the Trump administration openly took the side of Saudi Arabia and UAE on various occasions. Although Turkey-US trade has real potential, announcing a $100 billion bilateral trade goal was a tactic to divert attention from the mounting problems between the two countries.

When President Erdogan was finally invited to Washington in November 2019 to meet President Trump, there was a desperate need for a positive item on the agenda given the outcry in the United States against Ankara’s ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in Syria. The $100 billion bilateral trade goal or a free trade agreement made decent talking points in a press conference which made the contention points between Ankara and Washington very visible, despite the efforts of Turkish spin doctors to highlight only the trade points.

A real increased economic engagement between Turkey and United States will not be possible if Ankara keeps strengthening its defense cooperation with Russian entities which are already sanctioned by the US Treasury. Penalties for violating sanctions can be severe for Americans. More importantly, the opaque economic policies of Ankara, who has a reputation of meddling with state tenders, on top of the increased volatility of Turkish markets, make it hard for American investors to show interest in doing business in Turkey. Turkey, more than Trump or Biden, must promote itself as a reliable business partner. Cansu Çamlibel is the Editor-in-Chief of independent online newspaper Duvar English and former Washington correspondent for the daily Hürriyet.

Turkey and NATO: With just a few days before the US presidential election, Turkey’s relations with the United States, France, and Greece are as tense as at any time since the 1974 Cyprus crisis. A change in the US president is unlikely to reverse this negative trajectory and could in fact lead to even greater discord and misunderstanding.

Ankara believes its assertion of its maritime and diplomatic rights is based on solid legal ground and therefore merits its Allies’ support. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Government argues the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) calls for an “equitable” resolution of conflicting maritime boundary claims between two neighboring states, while Greece focuses instead on another provision of UNCLOS that Ankara believe would limit Turkey’s exclusive economic zone severely and unreasonably. In Libya, Turkey argues it is the only country offering decisive military support to the North African country’s UN-recognized government. In Syria, Turkey lauds itself as the only NATO member who was willing to confront both Russia and the Assad regime militarily and force them to end their bombing of civilians in Idlib Province, which are widely viewed as war crimes. And in Azerbaijan, Ankara maintains that its military support is legally justified because it is helping to end the occupation of Azerbaijani territory and restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in keeping with four United Nations Security Council Resoluti-ons dating back to 1993.

Other actions by Ankara, however, have made it difficult for some of its key NATO Allies to appreciate these legal arguments.

The purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system has boxed the US president into a legal corner: The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) requires sanctions against Turkey in response to this purchase. President Trump has simply ignored this law until now. If Trump is reelected, it is unclear how long he will be able to resist growing political pressure in the US Senate to adhere to the law. On the other hand, if Joseph Biden is elected, he will almost certainly sanction Turkey under CAATSA, and early in his administration, thereby aggravating bilateral tensions even further.

Indeed, a Biden administration will probably take a more confrontational approach toward Turkey on several other issues. In contrast to President Trump, who has declared his admiration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, candidate Biden stated in late 2019 that Erdogan should be removed from office. Biden has also attacked Trump recently for “coddling” Turkey in the context of Turkey’s maritime boundary disputes with Greece and Cyprus and the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

After a rough start with Ankara, a President Biden can be expected eventually to embrace the strategic importance of strong relations between Turkey and the rest of NATO. After all, Biden is a foreign policy traditionalist, which means he places NATO at the center of US national security planning. Black Sea security could be a key area of focus for a Biden administration. As vice president, Biden led the US response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He should therefore appreciate the recent agreement between Turkey and Ukraine on cooperation between their defense industries, which focuses on naval vessels, military aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Turkey is also among the staunchest supporters of Georgia’s membership in NATO, which should appeal to a President Biden.

And if Trump is reelected, he will most likely continue looking for ways to improve relations with the country led by Erdogan, including by trying to fulfil both leaders’ aspirations to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion, (a tall order outside exports of liquified natural gas exports from the United States to Turkey).

Matthew Bryza is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. He served as a US diplomat for over two decades, including as US ambassador to Azerbaijan and deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

Dynamics driving US foreign policy unlikely to drastically change: I would caution against any presumption that a Biden administration would be able, even if it were strongly predisposed, to return to something like the status quo ante Trump with respect to America’s role in the world.

For better or worse, the pre-Trump international order, in my view, is irretrievably disrupted. More to the point, this is very much as President Trump and about half of the American electorate intended for him to accomplish—to the limited extent that foreign policy was a salient factor in the 2016 elections or will prove to be in 2020. Even if Biden resoundingly defeats President Trump at the polls, it’s not at all clear to me that a Biden administration could confidently interpret this as a clear and well-defined popular “mandate” with respect to America’s global interests and role, and how best to pursue them. Consistent with US tradition even in “normal” times, neither candidate has made foreign policy issues—with the exceptions of some relatively minor and relatively transient or narrow-constituency issues—major planks in their campaigns.

It’s safe to suppose that a Biden administration broadly would adopt a more obviously collaborative, traditional US “internationalist” approach and foreign policy goals. But any US administration both leads and responds to US popular opinion regarding engagement in world affairs. I believe that President Trump has both pressed and reflected historic shifts in US popular outlooks on the costs, benefits, requirements, and modalities of US leadership and engagement with the world.

Moreover, quite apart from the traditionally leading role of the executive branch in US foreign policy, Turkey is one of the handful of countries that has enjoyed sustained interest from the US Congress—usually of a critical nature. Hence Turkish diplomats are always among the most energetic and expert in engaging with the Congress. That necessity for skillful Turkish engagement with the US Government and people through the Congress as well as the administration is unlikely to change, regardless which party prevails in the coming elections.

I believe that economic engagement between the two countries will continue to run its natural course based more on economic factors and regional developments than on any particular policy choices of either a Trump or Biden administration. I suspect that a historical analysis would indicate that both (traditional) Republican and Democratic administrations have approximately equally promoted foreign trade, investment, and security cooperation as a global principle, and especially with Turkey as a formal treaty ally and one of the top twenty world economies. Even the free-est of American “free traders” administrations have negotiated very elaborate measures to protect US industries, so US “free trade” agreements remain rare, and few would expect them to proliferate in future under either Republican or Democratic administrations.

Likewise, administrations of each party have presided over regrettable (and usually regretted) periods of extreme tension with Turkey. Since at least the time of Presidents Johnson and Ford, neither party can claim a monopoly on the episodic US resort to imposing or threatening to impose various forms of sanctions, whether for specific expressed economic or regional security policy purposes.

Francis J. Ricciardone is president of the American University in Cairo and former US Ambassador to Egypt and Turkey.

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Afghanistan today

Iqbal Khan

More than one prophesies are being aired about the future prospects of Afghan peace process. Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace has confirmed the predictions by many other individual thin tanks and individual strategists that there had been no progress in Doha Talks. Taliban have effectively time out Donald Trump. And they are looking forward for a fresh start with Joe Biden.

There have also been suggestions about a breakthrough in the talks, reporting that both sides have agreed to include the US-Taliban agreement, UN endorsements for the Afghan peace process, commitments of the negotiating teams and the will of the Afghan people as the foundational base for upcoming negotiations.

Being beneficiary of ongoing chaos in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s dispensation was never in favour of engaging Taliban and it made sure that the process does not move ahead on the pretext that “the Taliban’s demand are against Afghanistan’s Constitution”. Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters on November 25 that the Taliban’s demand is “against the Constitution.” Sediqqi said peace is a priority for President Ghani and that the Taliban should join the peace process as it is supported by the international community. He added that the deadlock in the talks has not broken so far; “Afghan Republic’s negotiating team is trying to break any deadlock and keep the Taliban at the table of negotiations.”

International community continues to show concern about the high level of violence in the country resulting into snowballing of civilian casualties. Nearly 50 percent spike in violence has been reported amid peace talks, causing around 6,000 civilian casualties during this year. As reported by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in its quarterly report to the US Congress on November 5, attacks, both, against Afghan forces and civilians were 50 percent higher in the three months towards the end of September when compared to the previous quarter. The watchdog reported 2,561 civilian casualties this quarter, including 876 deaths, up by 43 percent from the April to June period.

An immediate ceasefire in Afghanistan is the most sought after item in the peace process. Reportedly, Afghan chief negotiator Mohammad Massoom Stanikzai and presidential peace advisor Salam Rahimi made an unannounced trip to Kabul, seeking President Ghani’s approval for the agreed formulation.

The Taliban and the Afghan government have been engaged in talks in Doha, since September. The discussions quickly became bogged down by disputes on the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.

Dozens of foreign nations, international institutions and the European Union took part at a virtual global conference hosted from Geneva. Donor fatigue was evident during the November 24 UN hosted donor conference.

Though donors pledged billions to Afghanistan, most of them also attached strings. Many countries imposed restrictions over pledged funds, like, progress in talks between the Taliban and the government, among others. United States and Germany, introduced restrictions on future funding and some committed for just the next year – departing from four-year pledges made in the past. “We’re pleased to pledge today $300m …with the remaining $300m available as we review progress in the peace process,” US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said in a virtual address to the conference.

The US has been contributing roughly $800m a year in civilian aid in recent years. Hale said “significant progress” had recently been made, including a tentative agreement on ground rules that could allow negotiators to proceed to the next stage of forming an agenda, however, an increased level of violence in the country seems to depict a different reality in terms of progress. Germany pledged 430 million euros ($511m) in 2021 and signalled it would keep contributing until 2024 but also stressed that progress towards ending almost 20 years of war was needed.

The European Union pledged 1.2 billion euros ($1.43b) over four years, but emphasised aid was conditional. Norway will keep aid to Afghanistan at around NOK 650 million in 2021, and continue at same until 2024. However, Norway could reduce the aid if the peace talks and anti-corruption efforts fail. “Our support and further levels (of support) will be assessed on the basis of the authorities’ efforts against corruption,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide (H) said. She added that satisfactory progress in the peace process is also important.

“Our assistance will support the Afghan authorities’ goals of democracy, sustainable development and modernization, help lift people out of poverty, improve governance, reduce corruption, and improve the daily lives of Afghans,” EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said.

Uncertainty over whether the compromises needed for peace might lead to backsliding on human and women’s rights has also made some countries wary about making long-term commitments to an Afghan administration, which needs foreign money to cover about three-quarters of its spending. “Afghanistan’s future trajectory must preserve the democratic and human rights gains since 2001, most notably as regards to women and children’s rights,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. “Any attempt to restore an Islamic emirate would have an impact on our political and financial engagement,” he added. The UK said it would pledge $227m in annual civilian and food aid. Curbing corruption was another wish on the part of countries considering donations.

Afghanistan is likely to receive 15 to 20 percent less funding than the roughly $15.2b pledged at the last conference in Brussels in 2016 due to uncertainties over the peace process and Covid-19. President Ashraf Ghani has estimated that aid covers about 75 percent of the country’s public spending.

Breshna Omarkhel has reported for VOA that former NATO commander expects Joe Biden Administration to Keep Troops in Afghanistan James Stavridis, retired US Navy admiral and former military commander of NATO, said the US and its allies should keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, for the foreseeable future to pressure the Taliban into a peace agreement with the Afghan government.

He said, “My sense is the international community will in fact continue to support Afghanistan, really, for the indefinite future. I certainly believe the United States, in particular, with a Biden administration coming in, will be very likely to want to conclude a successful peace agreement.

I think the entire international community wants that. So, the level of aid may be reduced a bit, but I think as a general proposition, the support will continue, frankly, because we are getting closer and closer to a peace agreement, inshallah (God willing)”.

Two narratives: all is well in Afghanistan, as well as, it’s as bad as in 2001 are being kept afloat to either continue with Trump’s policy of complete withdrawal of troops, or to switch over to Biden’s concept of keeping around 10,000 boys in Afghanistan.

Writer is a freelance c-olumnist; e-mail:

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Can Trump change a key census count? Supreme Court hears his claim

Nina Totenberg

Even as the Trump administration is heading out the door, President Trump is trying to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial census. If he succeeds, it will be the first time unauthorized immigrants will not be counted for purposes of drawing new congressional districts.

Three lower courts have ruled unanimously that the president’s action violates either the Constitution, the federal census statute, or both. On Monday the US Supreme Court hears arguments in one of those cases — from New York.

The start of the US census: The United States was the first country to put a mandatory national population count into its Constitution. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America, and to use that count to allocate how many votes each state would get in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

The census was to be a reflection of “We the People” in the preamble to the Constitution, according to Margo Anderson, perhaps the leading census historian in the country, and author of The American Census: A Social History. She says that when the Founding Fathers convened for the Constitutional Convention, the question was, “How do we measure ‘the People?’… Should we do voters? Should we do property owners? Should we do this? Should we do that? And they decided … look, let’s count everybody and be done with it.”

The Constitution’s “Great Compromise” was that every state would receive two senators, no matter what the state’s population, and the House of Representatives and Electoral College would be apportioned to represent the “whole number of persons” counted in the census of each state.

There were only two exceptions: Native Americans living on tribal lands, who did not pay taxes to the US government, were deemed part of a different sovereign nation; and the enslaved population in the South was counted but each slave counted only as three-fifths of a person. That changed after the Civil War when the Fourteenth Amendment counted the former slaves as whole persons, too.

In fact the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment firmly rejected attempts to change the apportionment base from a whole population count to a count based on voting eligibility or citizenship. As Rep. James Blaine of Maine said at the time, “Women, children, and other non-voting classes” may have “as vital an interest in the legislation of the country” as those who actually have the right to vote. The result has been that, as census historian Ande-rson observes, no census h-as ever been conducted that did not aim to count everyone on US soil, regardless of immigration status. Until now.

Trump tries to change the census: In July Trump issued a memorandum ordering the Census Bureau to send him two sets of numbers. The first set was for the whole number of persons in each state. And the second set — for apportionment of the number of seats in each state — was to subtract the number of undocumented immigrants from the total count.

As the memorandum candidly admitted, that might mean that California, for instance, would lose two congressional seats. Trump’s stated aim was to “not reward” states where large numbers of undocumented immigrants live.

“That’s illegal,” says the ACLU’s Dale Ho, who represents a coalition of immigrant-rights groups. It’s illegal, he maintains, “because the Constitution and federal statutes require the House to be divvied up according to the census,” including everyone in the total population.

The ACLU and 22 states, led by New York, are challenging the president’s order. “The decision that the Founders made, [and] that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment made, was that states get representation in Congress based on the number of people that they are responsible for and have to represent,” Ho says. “And it doesn’t matter whether those people are voters or not, if they’re citizens or not, or what their immigration status is or not.”

And he adds that one reason for linking apportionment to the census was to set an objective standard and prevent political manipulation of the process of determining how many congressional seats are allocated for each state. The Trump administration, however, contends that under the federal law governing the census the president has “unfettered discretion as to what data will be used” when it comes to who counts for purposes of apportionment.

States’ stakes: Interestingly, the usual red-state coalition that in other cases has supported the administration in the Supreme Court is not present in this case. Texas, Florida, Arizona and other Republican-dominated states that usually support the Trump administration’s legal positions are missing in action. That is because they might well lose congressional seats and Electoral College votes if Trump prevails.

So far the president has lost his argument in three lower courts, with both Democratic and Republi-can-appointed judges ruling against him unanimously. Just 10 states — accou-nting for a mere 52 congre-ssional seats and Electoral College votes — are siding with the administration. Among them is Alabama, which would likely lose a seat if the usual census procedures are followed.

Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour Jr. echoes some of the themes in the Trump administration’s argument. He maintains that the Constitution’s mandate to count the “whole number of persons” for the census actually meant counting “inhabitants.” And he argues that the Founding Fathers would have viewed inhabitants as people who have permission from the sovereign to be in the US, and who have publicly stated they intend to remain here.

“Our argument is that illegal aliens do not meet either of those requirements,” says LaCour. “They are not here by permission of the federal government … and therefore they are not inhabitants, as the Framers would have understood it when deciding to divide up federal power among the states.”

Alabama in fact goes further than the Trump Administration, contending, in essence that every previous census has been unconstitutional because they all counted individuals not authorized to be in the US. LaCour notes that the concept of illegal immigration did not really exist when the Constitution was written. That is because the Unites States very much wanted people to immigrate back then.

Still, as census historians note, even after the first law was passed restricting immigration in 1875, and after the Chinese exclusion laws were passed, the census still continued to count everyone, whether here legally or not, for purposes of apportioning congressional districts.

The only hiccough in the census system came in 1920 when a gridlocked Congress refused to reapportion itself, leaving the seats apportioned as they were in 1910. As a result of that stalemate, Congress in 1929 passed a law creating an automatic reapportionment system, based on a census count of the “whole number of persons” in each state; it called for those numbers to be reported to the president, who in turn would, according to the numbers, allocate the number of congressional seats in each state, and within a week of a new Congress convening, report those numbers to the clerk of the House of Representatives for certification.

Pandemic affects census count timeline

And that is where Monday’s case runs into some extra wrinkles. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau has already indicated it likely will not be able to meet the usual Dec. 31 deadline for reporting the new state population figures to the president.

Census workers have simply not been able to make as many visits to homes that have not returned census forms. Because the Census Bureau’s major work was to occur just when the pandemic led to lockdowns and because of last-minute changes by the Trump administration the bureau has not had enough time to finish processing and checking its figures. Earliest estimates for completing the job are for the end of January.

And that’s just for the regular census tabulations. But the bureau has not been able come up with a way to ascertain with any precision what portion of those people living in each state are not there legally. Even if the Census Bureau is able to meet the usual Dec. 31 deadline, which seems increasingly unlikely, Trump, by law, has just 10 days to carry out what is termed his “ministerial duty” to convey to Congress how many congressional seats each state is supposed to get.

Bottom line: Trump may not be able to send reliable figures to the House for certification before he leaves office. And if he does send figures that do not include all residents counted by the census, the House might well refuse to certify those figures, leaving the completion of the census and the task of assigning the number of congressional seats based on total population in each state to the Biden administration.

Courtesy: NPR

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Russia loses patience with Belarus dictator Lukashenka

Vladislav Davidzon

Russian Foreign M-inister Sergei La-vrov arrived in Mi-nsk on November 26 amid much pomp and ceremony for a face-to-face meeting with embattled Belar-us dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Moscow is one of Lukashenka’s few remaining geopolitical allies but this was not to be a friendly visit. Indeed, Lavrov appears to have flown to Belarus with the express intent of pushing for a managed transition of the country’s leadership.

Publicly, at least, Lavrov offered a soothing confirmation of Russia’s continued support. He also took the opportunity to somewhat cynically accuse the West of meddling in Belarus’s internal affairs. However, Lavrov’s main message was aimed not at Warsaw, Washington DC, or Vilnius, but at Lukashenka himself. During a very tense televised meeting, Lavrov proceeded to lecture the Minsk strongman in a manner that underlined the vastly unequal power dynamic between the two men.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Lavrov’s aim was to lay out a political ultimatum on behalf of an increasingly impatient Kremlin. The exact terms of this ultimatum still remain undisclosed, but they appear to be based on a deal struck during Lukashenka’s September 2020 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russian Black Sea resort city Sochi.

Lavrov reminded Lukashenka that the Russian side is now waiting for him to implement the agreements reached in Sochi. He specifically referenced reform of the Belarusian Constitution, a process that would curb the power of the Belarusian presidency. These constitutional changes are widely seen as an opportunity for Russia to engineer a Kremlin-friendly transition of power in Minsk. It is a transition that Moscow has desired for a very long time.

The political theater of Lavrov’s visit created the distinct impression that Russia recognizes the fundamental weakness of Lukashenka’s present position and does not plan on propping him up indefinitely. Instead, Moscow is attempting to find a solution that will calm the current crisis without threatening Russia’s geopolitical interests in the country. Moscow well understands the adage that “things must change to stay the same.”

When pro-democracy protests first broke out in Belarus at the start of August 2020 following a flawed presidential election, Russia intervened promptly to prevent the regime from collapse. The Kremlin provided Lukashenka with teams of television propagandists as well as a series of financial lifelines, while Putin also publicly declared his readiness to deploy security forces if the situation escalated further.

This Russian intervention in Belarus was not intended as a show of support for Lukashenka himself. Instead, it was driven by a deep-seated Russian fear of pro-democracy uprisings in the post-Soviet neighborhood, what political scientists refer to as “democratic contagion.”

The collapse of the Soviet Empire remains the formative political experience of Putin’s inner circle, who are haunted by the specter of a similar democratic wave sweeping the present regime away. This is the logic behind the doctrine of intervention that drew Russia into Ukraine in 2014 and led to the current support for Lukashenka. However, there is little love in the Kremlin for the Belarusian strongman. Ste-pping in to save his regime was an act of pure expediency.

The clearest hint regarding the nature of the recent message conveyed by Lavrov came from Lukashenka himself. Speaking the day after his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, the Belarusian leader appeared to indicate that he was indeed preparing to resign. Many international media outlets seized on Lukashenka’s remarks and reported that he had promised to step down as soon as he had introduced changes to the Belarusian Constitution. In reality, Lukashenka’s words were far more ambiguous and open to interpretation. Specifically, the Belarus leader said: “I am not making a new constitution for myself. With a new constitution, I will no longer work with you as president.”

This comment could mean all manner of things. It may mean that Lukashenka does indeed plan to step down. Equally, it could indicate that he intends to remain as national leader but in a different post under a reorganized constitutional structure. Given Lukashenka’s history as a cunning political operator, the likeliest interpretation is probably that he is playing for time and does not intend on going anywhere at all.

It is reasonable to conclude that Lukashenka’s vague commitment to step down was made under Russian duress. While it generated considerable international media coverage, his statement is unlikely to have convinced anyone in the Kremlin. Instead, Moscow will be expecting to see concrete steps towards a political transition in Minsk.

Likewise, Lukashenka’s domestic opponents were notably unimpressed. In response to his comments, Belarusian pro-democracy activists quickly assembled a long list of Lukashenka’s previous promises to resign. The earliest of these commitments dated back to 2002, when he reportedly stated that eight years in power was already more than enough.

Moscow’s apparent eagerness to push forward with a managed transition of power in Belarus suggests that valuable lessons have been learned from Russia’s heavy-handed and counter-productive approach towards pro-democracy protests and nation-building processes in neighboring Ukraine. Russia’s use of force since 2014 has not achieved the desired outcomes in Kyiv, with Ukraine now firmly set on a path away from the Russian sphere of influence.

The Kremlin is understandably eager to avoid repeating these mistakes in Belarus. There are already indications that Moscow’s backing for Lukashenka is eroding public support in Belarus for closer ties with Russia. A recent survey conducted in early November found that the number of Belarusians who favored alliance with Russia had dropped from 51.6% to 40% in the space of just two months. Once again, Putin’s informal empire is in danger of shrinking.

Russia has an obvious interest in overseeing Lukashenka’s departure, but it remains unclear whether the man himself feels obliged to leave. Throughout his 26-year reign, Lukashenka has made a habit of bluffing the Kremlin, mostly in order to avoid committing to any deepening of bilateral ties in line with the Union State agreement between the two countries. For the past two decades, he has fought tenaciously to keep his realm from being totally consolidated into the Russian Federation. Lukashenka’s slipperiness has become the stuff of legend in post-Soviet political circles, leading many to assume that he will now attempt to backtrack on any earlier promises he may have given to step down.

While Lukashenka’s future intentions remain shrouded in characteristic ambiguity, Lavrov’s recent visit to Minsk leaves little doubt that Russia is losing patience with the Belarusian dictator and has no intention of providing limitless support. Moscow’s attempts to orchestrate a favorable transition in Belarus could also be evidence of an increasingly pragmatic new tone in Russian policy towards the former Soviet republics.

With Russian influence in retreat throughout the region, Moscow no longer appears keen to intervene directly. Instead, we may be witnessing the beginnings of a more nuanced approach that sees Russia in the role of adjudicator rather than enforcer. This was evident in the Kremlin’s ability to skillfully and advantageously direct the outcome of the recent Azerbaijani-Armenian War. Similar thinking now appears to be shaping Russian policy towards Belarus.

Such maneuvering takes time, but Moscow may yet be obliged to force Lukashenka’s hand. With US President-elect Joe Biden committed to supporting the pro-democracy movement in Belarus and threatening to impose tighter sanctions following his January 2021 inauguration, the clock is now ticking.

Few in the Kremlin will relish the prospect of entering into a confrontation with the new US President in order to defend one of the world’s most toxic politicians. Lavrov’s visit to Minsk suggests Moscow would much prefer to see a compromise solution in Belarus that would bring Lukashenka’s 26-year reign to a carefully choreographed end. However, Russia now has less than two months to resolve the crisis before the US enters the fray.

Vladislav Davidzon is a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

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Apex court dismisses NH&MP appeal against high court verdict

ISLAMABAD (APP): The Supreme Court Monday dismissed the National Highway and Motorway Police (NH&MP) appeal against the high court verdict.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar heard the case regarding recovery of fine from police officer ASI Malik Shujaat over a motor vehicle accident while tracing a vehicle.

ASI Malik Shujaat had an accident in May 2015 while chasing a speeding vehicle.

During the course of proceedings, Justice Ijaz questioned that where it was written that the police officer would compensate the loss while tracing someone.

The counsel for the NH&MP said that the police officer himself had offered to repair the vehicle.

Justice Ijaz said the department repaired the vehicle from its official and imposed a fine of Rs 0.3 million.

The counsel said there could be a loss of life due to the over speeding of the officer.

Justice Ijaz said the police officer chased the vehicle on wireless instructions.

The Chief Justice said the department first asked its officer to chase the vehicle and later took action against him.

Justice Ijaz said that accidents happened while chasing a speeding vehicle. The officer himself was injured, he added.

The high court had ordered an end to the reduction in pay by one stage and refund of the fine.

The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the high court and dismissed the appeal of the Motorways Police.

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Aseefa kicks off political career, vows to fulfil ZAB, BB mission

MULTAN (TLTP): Daug-hter of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Aseefa Bh-utto Zardari in her maiden political address on Mon-day said the people of the country have decided that the “selected government” should be sent packing.

Addressing the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally, Aseefa said, ““I pay tribute to all the party workers and activists who despite all hurdles created by the selected government have gathered in large numbers here.”

She said she came to Multan on behalf of his brother and party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who went into isolation after contracting coronavirus last week. “If our workers are arrested then our women leaders are ready to face all challenges.” She said that they are not afraid of arrests and vowed that she would stand alongside the party activists in testing times.

The daughter of former President Asif Zardari said even if Bilawal is arrested then women activists of the party would lead the movement from the front.

While paying a tribute to the martyrs of the PPP on the foundation day of the party, Aseefa said, “I hope that you will support Bilawal in a similar manner as you have supported Dukhtar-e-Mashriq [Benazir Bhutto].” She vowed to fulfil the mission of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and dream of Benazir Bhutto.

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz in her address said that PDM will announce its future strategy soon.

Addressing the public gathering under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in Multan, Maryam Nawaz thanked the people for “transforming the entire city into a rally venue.”

Greeting Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Maryam Nawaz when the country faces a threat, then its daughters and mothers come out to save it. On the occasion, she extended her congratulations to the Pakistan Peoples Party on its foundation day.

She lashed out at the government for creating hurdles to stop the public meeting and arresting their activists across the country. The PML-N leader also criticised the government over its “failure in controlling inflation.”

Maryam said the Sharif family has been going through difficult times recently. “But Nawaz Sharif told me to leave your worries at home and only think about the issues being faced by the masses.”

Commenting on PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s decision of not attending her mother’s funeral in Pakistan, Maryam maintained that elected representatives of the country have always endured such difficulties. “Nawaz was not playing county cricket in London that he did not come to attend the funeral,” she remarked, implying that the “difficult decision” was taken due to some compulsions.

Maryam said the government was using Covid-19 as an excuse to muzzle the opposition parties’ movement. “If Covid-18 [Imran Khan’s government] goes home then Covid-19 will also vanish,” she said, claiming that the incumbent government is a bigger threat than coronavirus which she said has destroyed the country’s economy and people’s livelihood.

Maryam quoted several examples of “corruption scandals” against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government including the PTI foreign funding case, Billion Tree Tsunami project and several others, saying that “despite all this they say he [Imran Khan] is honest.”

“Who is behind the recent campaign in favour of Israel in Pakistan?” Maryam questioned, adding that people of the country want to know whether PM Imran and his “selectors” are also on the same page over the issue of normalising ties with Tel Aviv.

JUI-F leader and PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in his opening remarks lauded the workers and supporters of PDM parties for attending the rally. “He [PM Imran] is visiting cantonments and ISI headquarters to pretend that he is safe [from being ousted] but you are not safe,” he remarked.