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Why solidarity with oppressed Kashmiris!

M. Raza Malik

Introduction

The people of Indian occupied Kashmir intensified their struggle for securing their right to self-determination in 1989 and the mass movement gave sleepless nights to the Indian rulers. In a bid to crush this popular movement, India appointed Jagmohan Malhotra as the Governor of the occupied territory on January 19, 1990, dismissing the government of Farooq Abdullah. Jagmohan was already notorious for his anti-Muslim bias and activities in India. Soon after the appointment of new governor, a reign of terror was unleashed in occupied Kashmir and on the night of January 20, Indian troops molested several women in Srinagar during house raids. As the word about the molestation of the women spread in the morning, thousands of people took to the streets in the city to protest against the brutal action of the troops. The occupation forces resorted to indiscriminate firing on the protesters in Gaw Kadal area of the city, killing over 50 people and injuring hundreds of others. The massacre caused resentment in Pakistan and the ensuing 5th February was declared as a solidarity day all across the country. Since then, every year, the day is being observed to express unity and oneness with the oppressed people of Jammu and Kashmir at the state level.

Pakistan observes a public holiday on the day. Seminars, conferences and demonstrations are held by the government and people of Pakistan to highlight the important aspects of the Kashmir dispute and the gross human rights violations being perpetrated by Indian troops in occupied Kashmir. The Pakistanis and Kashmiris living abroad organise special events in world capitals to remind the international community that settlement of the Kashmir dispute is imperative for sustainable peace and stability in South Asia.

Background of Kashmir dispute: It is a historical fact that India had illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir by landing its troops in Srinagar on 27th October, 1947, against the wishes of the Kashmiri people and in total disregard to the Partition Plan of the Indian subcontinent that had resulted in the formation of two new independent counties – Pakistan and India. The Partition Plan had given all the Princely States the choice to accede to either of the two countries. Being a Muslim majority State, Jammu and Kashmir was destined to become part of Pakistan, but Indian rulers in connivance with the British rulers and Maharaja Hari Singh destroyed the future of millions of Kashmiris under the so-called “Instrument of Accession” document.

Many neutral observers reject the existence of any such document. A prominent British historian, Alistair Lamb, In his book “The Birth of Tragedy”, citing successive events after the partition wrote that the Indian troops had invaded Kashmir prior to the signing of the “Instrument of Accession”. He claims that it was due to this reason that the Indian government never made the document public at any international forum. Noted Kashmiri researchers, Abdul Majid Zargar and Basharat Hussain Qazilbash, proved that the “Instrument of Accession” is fake and no such genuine document ever existed. Even Indian Archives Department has now declared that the document is lost. This has put question marks on the very existence of the document.

The people of Jammu and Kashmir never accepted India’s illegal occupation of their motherland and right from the day one they have been struggling to liberate it from Indian subjugation. Their resistance and resilience forced India to seek the help of the international community to settle the Kashmir dispute. Sensing a humiliating defeat to its forces, it approached the United Nations Security Council on January 01, 1948. The World Body in its successive resolutions, accepted by both Pakistan and India, promised that the people of Kashmir would be given the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination through a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under its supervision. These UN resolutions and the pledges made by Indian leadership remain unimplemented even after the passing of several decades.

Commonality between Pakistan and Kashmir

Pakistan’s affinity with the people of Kashmir can be understood in the backdrop of several reasons. Both share strong bonds in respect of religion, geography, culture and aspirations. The worst kind of Indian state terrorism in occupied Kashmir since 1947 has forced hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri people to migrate to Pakistan from the occupied territory and the main driving force behind their movement has been their strong emotional attachment to the country.

This affiliation has been acknowledged even by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. When asked a question in 1965 about holding of plebiscite in Kashmir, he had responded, “Kashmiris would vote to join Pakistan and we would lose it. No Indian government responsible for agreeing to a plebiscite would survive.”

The ideological commonality between Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir can be gauged from the fact that the genuine representatives of Kashmiris had attached the future of the territory with Pakistan by passing a resolution in the meeting of their representative party, Muslim Conference Jammu and Kashmir, in Srinagar on 19th July 1947, whereby it was declared that Jammu and Kashmir would be a part of Pakistan. This development had happened about a month before the creation of Pakistan. The people of occupied Kashmir have time and again showed their attachment with Pakistan by raising the slogans of “Long Live Pakistan” and “We want Pakistan.” Hoisting of Pakistani flags during protest demonstrations has become order of the day. Kashmiris celebrate Pakistan’s national days with enthusiasm while those of India are observed as black days.

The reality is that both Pakistanis and Kashmiris consider the Kashmir dispute as an unfinished agenda of the partition of the South Asian sub-continent in 1947 and the liberation struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir as an inseparable part of Pakistan movement.

Kashmiris’ revolt against Indian occupation

The people of occupied Kashmir gave impetus to their struggle to secure their right to self-determination in 1989. This movement gave sleepless nights to the Indian rulers who lost their control, in practical sense, and could not even hold sham elections for the so-called Legislative Assembly and the Indian Parliament in the occupied territory.

They responded this popular movement with the brute military might. Since January 1989 till December 2018, Indian troops have martyred 95,234 Kashmiris, widowed 22,894 women, orphaned 107, 751 children and molested or gang-raped 11,107 Kashmiri women – the rape of women being used as a weapon of war to intimidate the Kashmiris into submission. Over eight thousand innocent youth have been subjected to disappearance in custody and their whereabouts remain untraced. Many of those are feared to be buried in thousands of unmarked graves discovered in the territory after being killed by Indian troops in fake encounters.

Mass uprisings: The Kashmiris’ ongoing freedom movement took a new turn in 2008. For the next three consecutive years, people in thousands kept hitting the streets with the demand of the right to self-determination. However, most of the time, Indian troops and police personnel subjected these peaceful demonstrators to excessive use of brute force, killing more than 200 people during the period.

In the ongoing mass uprising triggered by the extrajudicial killing of popular youth leader, Burhan Wani, on 8th July in 2016, over 760 Kashmiris have been killed and more than 25,300 injured in the firing of pellets, bullets and teargas shells by the Indian forces’ personnel during demonstrations and military operations. More than 340 people including an 18-month-old Hiba Jan have lost their one or both eyes to the pellet injuries while over 1,020 are at the verge of losing their eyesight. Hundreds of people including Hurriyat leaders have been put behind the bars. The Indian police and troops have stepped up cordon and search operations across occupied Kashmir to suppress the uprising and intimidate the people into submission.

Indian state terrorism and other machinations: Despite killing hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris during the past over seventy-one years, India could not subdue the Kashmiris’ resolve for freedom. Narendra Modi-led BJP communal government is hell-bent to completely merge Jammu and Kashmir in India and change the Muslim majority of occupied Kashmir into minority by using its judiciary to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution to pave way for giving the citizenship rights of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian people. Indian designs to change demography of Jammu and Kashmir are intended to influence in its favour the results of a referendum whenever held in the territory. As such, the move is against the very purpose of the relevant UN resolutions. At the same time, New Delhi is using its investigating agencies like National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) to implicate Hurriyat leaders, activists and pro-freedom people in false cases to force the Kashmiris to surrender their just cause.

Pakistan’s support: The Pakistani leadership has always represented the Kashmiris’ aspirations and never betrayed the faith reposed in it by the Kashmiri people. The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, since assuming his office in August 2018 and the Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, have time and again called for peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute for ensuring durable peace in South Asia. The opening of Kartarpur corridor for the Indian Sikh yatrees to visit their holy places in Pakistan is the manifestation of the Pakistani leaderships’ desire for cordial and friendly relations with India. It is a reality that despite facing the worst Indian military aggression for supporting the Kashmiris during the past several decades, Pakistan never gave up its support to the Kashmir cause and continues to advocate resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the Kashmiris’ aspirations.

The Senate and National Assembly in unanimously passed separate resolutions strongly denounced the massacre of 14 Kashmiris and injuring of over two hundred others by Indian troops in Pulwama district of occupied Kashmir on the 15th of December, 2018. The resolutions urged the international community to play its role in resolving the long-standing Kashmir dispute to bring an end to the bloodshed of Kashmiris at the hands of Indian forces’ personnel.

Promising developments

The unparalleled sacrifices rendered by the people of occupied Kashmir in their just struggle during the past over seven decades have shaken the attention of the world community, which has started to raise its voice in favour of their rights. Many promising developments on Kashmir have taken place during the past few years. The UK Parliament held a debate on the Kashmir situation on January 19, 2017 during which a motion supporting the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination and upholding the UN resolutions on Kashmir was passed. The European Parliament issued a document on July 18, 2018 that highlighted the history of the Kashmir dispute, the UN resolutions on the issue and the Kashmiris’ freedom struggle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussain, released a report (first of its kind) on June 14, 2018 that highlighted the grave human rights violations perpetrated by Indian troops in occupied Kashmir. The incumbent UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, upheld the position taken by her predecessor, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussain, on the human rights situation in Kashmir. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir in the British Parliament in its report released in October 2018 expressed concern over the human rights violations in occupied Kashmir.

Conclusion: Given the fact that the Kashmir dispute involves two nuclear powers and a small incident can prove disastrous for the entire South Asia, it is high time for the world community to take steps towards addressing this contentious problem. It needs to understand that due to the unrealistic and intransigent approach of India, the peace of the entire region is at stake. 5th February is a reminder to the world powers that they should use their influence on New Delhi to settle the conflict over Kashmir.

At the same time the supreme sacrifices of Kashmiri people needed to be acknowledged besides India warrants to be censured for disrespecting the UN resolutions and continued human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. The observance of the Kashmir Solidarity Day conveys a clear message to India that it would have to recognise the Kashmiris’ right to choose their fate by themselves as granted by the UN resolutions.

razamalik849@yahoo.com

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Pakistan: the new emerging tourism destination

Ramsha Afridi

In 2019, there is no doubt in the International world that Pakistan is the new ‘it scene’. Within the last year and a half, the Pakistani state has gone through a dramatic change of political, social and economic events; shocking the world.

Imran Khans, leadership, China’s keen interest towards Pakistan and the advent of exposure through social media has created a whole new space for Pakistani tourism to flourish.

It all started from when PTI government, a new government sworn in to power in 2018, began to take some serious steps to creating a new, uplifting image of Pakistan, known as ‘Naya Pakistan’. Naya Pakistan promised various changes, with one of the biggest being its effective promotion of Tourism.

In 2018, prime minister Imran Khan himself took to his social media accounts posting beautiful pictures of the landscapes of Pakistan; with curious public even comparing the sights to Switzerland and Europe. IK posted the following viral tweet, on twitter; “From our beaches in the south to Fairy Meadows in the north, and the rich history of our Land, Pakistan has unlimited potential for developing eco-friendly tourism. This is a commitment we are determined to fulfill InshaAllah.”

Not long after this PTI pledge; there was array of trust, curiosity and desire to explore Pakistan by the public.

Social media stars, youtubers, and prominent public figures took this opportunity to discover and showcase their touristic experiences in Pakistan themselves. Youtubers such as Eva Zu Beck, from Poland, who has accumulated nearly half a million followers on her social media, was one figure who travelled extensively across various regions of Pakistan; creating the most mind-blowing content of Pakistan the world has seen in a long time.

Cynthia Ritchie, an American director living in Pakistan, was another public figure who took social media by storm by revealing pictures of herself cycling in the beautiful sceneries of Peshawar. It was evident, that the international public and Pakistani’s themselves have never felt so positive about the touristic prospects of Pakistan before.

Though, there is more to come. Forbes, a major American business magazine near the beginning of 2019 named Pakistan as ‘one of the coolest places to visit in 2019’. Attention towards Pakistan’s potential of tourism was tremendously unravelling from the Western world.

If Pakistani tourism taking up the world of social media wasn’t enough; China, Pakistan’s super power Asian neighbour signed a contract to invest 60 billion dollars in to Pakistani port city Gwadar as well as its infrastructures all around the Nation. The massive step taken by China is bound to not just to help Pakistan create jobs, attract foreign investors but also will attract tourists from all over the world.

China’s pledge has led to heightened security; meaning there is more national safety and refuge available than ever before. The masses have never felt so protected, confident and excited to tour Pakistan ever before.

Clearly, there is a lot to expect and imagine; Pakistan is going through the most fascinating and exciting transition in its 70 year old history. The beautiful nation has no doubt progressed in to modernity and warm heartedly opens its borders to tourism, multi-culturalism and diversity. It was just about time, when Pakistan’s sandy beaches, luscious green mountains, beautiful Arabian sea coastlines were exposed to the world.

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America and the Taliban are edging towards a deal

COULD THERE be a ray of hope for Afghanistan? After 17 years of fighting, America and the Taliban may be ready to lay down their arms. The adversaries have agreed in principle on a framework for ending their war, says Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s point man on Afghanistan.

The outline was forged in talks in Qatar that were originally scheduled to last two days but ended up being extended to six. It envisages America withdrawing troops in return for assurances that Afghanistan will never again become a haven for international terrorists. America also wants a ceasefire and the start of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which the Taliban have resisted until now.

Osama bin Laden was living in Afghanistan when he plotted the 9/11 attacks on America. It was to overthrow his protectors in the Taliban and to search for him that America first dispatched troops to the country in 2001. Part of their mission ever since has been to hunt for terrorists. The other part—helping build a stable democracy—has been justified on the grounds that Afghanistan may otherwise become a base for terrorists again.

Although in 2001 the Taliban invoked Afghan traditions of hospitality in their refusal to hand over bin Laden, for at least the past decade they have promised that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks on other countries. They not only repeated those assurances in Qatar, Mr Khalilzad says, but also agreed to provide guarantees and an enforcement mechanism—though he has not revealed any details of those.

In exchange America seems to have acceded to the Taliban’s main demand: that it withdraw its troops from the country. For years the insurgents have said the starting point for talks must be the end of what they call the American occupation. They do not believe America’s assurance that it does not want a permanent military presence in the country. An American pull-out now appears to be on the table although, again, the timing and scale remain unclear.

The two other steps discussed in Qatar are a ceasefire and talks between the Taliban and the government of Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s president. The Taliban have thus far refused a truce, except for three days last year during a Muslim holiday. This has been dictated both by uncompromising ideology and by pragmatism. Commanders fear it may be difficult to motivate fighters again if they lay down their weapons for a long spell. The Taliban have also long refused to speak to the elected Afghan government, which they claim is an American puppet.

Mr Khalilzad presents all four main elements of the deal—the exclusion of international terrorists, an American withdrawal, a ceasefire and talks between the Taliban and the government—as an indivisible package. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he says, “and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.”

The Taliban are less clear. They have triumphantly briefed their supporters about the progress towards a withdrawal, but have been more coy about the ceasefire and talks. American officials say that the Taliban have requested more time to confer among themselves on these. Their negotiators have gone home to do just that. Talks will resume later in February.

After years of gloom, any progress is welcome. Afghanistan’s war has claimed more than 24,000 civilian lives since 2009. Mr Ghani admitted last week that 45,000 members of his security forces had died since 2014. The war and a series of other conflicts that preceded it have blighted a beautiful country, leaving it one of the poorest in the world. The framework is “historic”, says Graeme Smith of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. “This is closer than we have ever been so far to some kind of settlement process.”

But the framework glosses over many of the thorniest issues and, despite the desire for peace, there are concerns about motivations on both sides. Donald Trump, America’s president, has long indicated that he would like to pull American troops out of Afghanistan. That could cause Mr Khalilzad to embrace a deal that is not so much a hard-fought compromise as a figleaf to cover America’s retreat. The Taliban, for their part, may make promises they have no intention of keeping, on the assumption that America will be reluctant to return once it has withdrawn.

Mr Khalilzad’s framework focuses on questions that stem from 9/11. Yet Afghanistan has been at war for 40 years. Resolving deeper disputes, about how Afghanistan should be governed, will depend on Afghan-to-Afghan talks. Among the chief concerns for many are whether and how the Taliban will take part in Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy. Are they prepared to sit down with factions that they battled in the 1990s? Do they want to seize power themselves? Will they continue to murder girls for going to school?

The Taliban have a strong hand and it is getting stronger. Although the war is at something of stalemate, that is thanks only to America’s presence. The government’s casualties, America’s generals admit, are unsustainable. A hasty withdrawal would leave the government vulnerable, even if talks with the Taliban are under way. A lasting settlement will probably not come from a blockbuster deal. Instead it is likely to involve gradual and incremental steps. That would require Mr Trump to deploy a virtue he is not known for: patience.

Courtesy: (economist.com)

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UAE’s art world is more international than it is Arabic

Melissa Gronlund

Over the past few decades, the UAE has positioned itself as the stable exception to the politically fraught Arab region: a safe haven for investment, capital and people. As many jokingly call it, the United Arab Emirates is “Middle East-lite.”

The UAE art scene has followed a similar storyline. Conflicts in the Middle East since the Gulf War have caused major collections of Arab modernist paintings to be dispersed. Since 2008 many of these have been sold – either at auction or at fairs – in Dubai. Patrons such as Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi have assembled substantial collections, establishing a permanent home for Arabic modernism in the country and giving the UAE the role of Arab cultural safe haven.

But as the contemporary art scene matures, it has become clear that the UAE art world is as globalized as its demographics – in some ways, exactly as globalized as its demographics. A key focus is emerging on South Asia, the region from which around 70% of Dubai’s population hails. Despite cultural and linguistic ties to Arab nations on the level of government, the grassroots art scene reflects a different reality.

For example, in January, the Indian-born entrepreneur and art patron Smita Prabhakar, who has lived in Dubai for four decades, announced she was setting up the Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai to exhibit and promote art from South Asia.

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, the influential head of the Sharjah Art Foundation, will curate the next Kochi-Muziris Biennial in the Indian state of Kerala – which over the course of its four editions has established itself as a key venue for UAE-based artists.

Concrete, the Rem Koolhaas-designed multi-use site also in Dubai, is hosting this March an exhibition of Bangladeshi art curated by the Dhaka Art Summit.

The winds, it may seem, are blowing from the east.

Why this shift? On one level, it follows the arc of national interest toward South Asia.

Last year, the UAE played host to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, celebrating India as one of the Emirates’ primary trading partners. Dubai also has been a safe haven for Pakistani business. One of the biggest names in the art world – Arif Naqvi, the embattled former head of the Abraaj Group – is a Pakistani national.

There is a further impetus to look east because of the continuing dispute in the Arab Gulf region involving Qatar. Restrictions on trade and other exchanges imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others on Qatar – formerly a key cultural partner with substantial fine art holdings in private and state hands – has forced the art community to look wider afield.

At the same time, the international focus of the UAE’s new art institutions is simply a more visible reflection of two facets that have always existed: a consistent outward orientation and the country’s diverse population.

The UAE’s contemporary art offerings, such as the Sharjah Biennial, Art Dubai, the Global Art Forum and the Sharjah Art Foundation’s March Meetings, were until recently events catering toward a visiting audience. They took advantage of the UAE’s geographical position between Asia and Europe to pull in interested parties from around the world, often with the budget to cover flights and accommodation.

Now, however, a number of art institutions are opening up across the UAE that reflect the growth in the local art audience and a maturity of the scene. These range from headline-grabbing museums such as Louvre Abu Dhabi to smaller not-for-profit foundations such as the Jameel Arts Center and the NYUAD Art Gallery.

The Sharjah Art Foundation, which runs the Sharjah Biennial, recently pivoted to focus on year-round programming and is building a site for the permanent display of its extraordinary collection.

These new institutions give a platform to the young art scene that didn’t exist before, elevating one particular focus that has existed somewhat below the radar: identity politics.

Non-Emirati artists active in the UAE, even if they grew up there, do not have a path to citizenship, and often must cobble together short-term visa situations to live in the country they call home. As one recent collection of short stories by Deepak Unnikrishnan, an Indian who grew up in Abu Dhabi, puts it, the UAE is full of temporary people.

These questions of national belonging have been particularly keen for the art scene. Though Emiratis have behind them governmental clout and funding, the art world, especially in Dubai, has emerged mostly independent of government investment.

Key early players in the contemporary art world were raised in the UAE and then returned to the Emirates after studying abroad. In addition, the third-culture microcosm of Dubai chimes with questions of post-colonialism and globalization that have been important across the art world more generally.

The rapidly developing art scene also reflects the internationalism of the UAE beyond South Asia. The Jameel Arts Center is run by a Saudi organization, and headed by a British citizen and longtime Dubai resident. Sheikha Hoor also recently established the Africa Institute, focusing on the links between the Gulf and North Africa.

While the Saadiyat museums project of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (if it comes to fruition) is somewhat different, being government-led, it also visibly demonstrates the role of international expertise in building the country’s art scene.

Indeed, as the years progress for the still-young country, the UAE seems to be surprised by the number of people who want to call it home.

 It might be politically unpopular to say that the UAE art world is not Arab, but its cultural institutions are beginning to tell just such a story.

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Bombshell report punctures Indian prime minister’s job growth claim

Manira Chaudhary

India’s prime minister made a surprise decision in November 2016, launching a demonetisation drive that rendered 100 and 1,000 rupee banknotes obsolete. The negative impact of the decision was clearly visible the following year as the country’s unemployment rate rose to a 45-year high of 6.1 percent, according to a groundbreaking report by Indian newspaper Business Standard on Thursday, quoting figures from a survey the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had allegedly concealed from the public.

The report pointed out that the unemployment rate is at its highest level since 1972-73, quoting a periodic labour force survey (PLFS) of the government-run National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). Prior to the news report, the NSSO survey findings became a pressing issue as two senior government officials resigned earlier this week. One of them, P.C. Mohanan, accused the government of withholding the NSSO report even after it had been officially vetted and approved. The NSSO comes under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and is responsible for conducting large-scale sample surveys in the country, forming the basis of many research studies and reports.

This is the second such blow to the government after a think tank reported earlier this year on a loss of 10 million jobs between December 2017 and December 2018, a figure which was denied by the government. “One reason for the whopping figure of unemployment is that demonetisation led to the shrinking of the informal sector. It ended up creating havoc for this sector which accounts for 90 percent of the people working in the economy and is intensively cash dependent,” Political Analyst Sajjan Singh told TRT World.

“When the government saw that it was nowhere close to curbing the unaccounted money, which they said was the primary objective of demonetisation, it went on to justify it by shifting the goalpost to digitising the economy.” The BJP government has now come under intense criticism for ‘withholding’ the NSSO report with many accusing it of hiding the dismal unemployment rate in view of the upcoming national elections. “The statistical claims by the government in terms of growth rate do not find resonance on the ground, whether in the agrarian sector, informal or the formal sector,” Singh said. “There is also a trend that when there are no jobs in the economy, the people who are looking for jobs also tend to withdraw to a private shell. It notifies a kind of depression within the economic realm.”

Speaking to TRT World, Jayati Ghosh, a development economist at India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “These figures were expected and explain why the government is trying to suppress this report. “Labour force participation rate, which consists of both people who are employed and those who are seeking work, has fallen and the employment rate has fallen to only 36.7 percent – a drop of 2.7 percentage points in a supposedly growing economy. It’s terrifying.”

According to Ghosh, the alarming figures also indicate the labour market has come under strain mainly due to scrapping of 86 percent of currency notes and the “bad implementation” of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). “The government does not have the strength to confront that and is desperately trying to cover it up,” she said.

In 2014, the BJP government came to power under Narendra Modi on promises of development and providing jobs. Now, with the general elections just over two months away, the claims seem to be unravelling. The resignations of the only two external members of the NSC also indicates the level of influence and interference the central government holds over different institutions and ministries and its attempt to cover up all kinds of data which show it in a bad light.

According to IndiaSpend, a data-driven news website, the government has been withholding not just employment data but also that on caste, farm suicides, crime and nutrition. The data on foreign direct investment, which was published every quarter by the Department of Industrial Policy and Production, has also not been published since June 2018, despite the Reserve Bank of India providing it with regular updates. The suppression of information not only hurts the credibility of the government but also deprives the country of a fair chance to judge the efficiency of the government, especially when the next general elections are due soon.

In response to the Business Standard report, officials from Niti Aayog, a policy think tank of the BJP-led government, said the NSSO data had not been released because it is “still being processed” and will be released when it is ready. They also said that the numbers released were neither “verified nor final”. The governing BJP is already embroiled in a range of issues. A recent two-day strike by more than 200 million workers against growing unemployment was yet another indication that things are not right.

The agrarian crisis and widespread protests by farmers cost the BJP the assembly elections in three major states. With growing discontent, the party is likely to face a tough time in preserving the voter base that propelled it to power in 2014. “I hope the government does not resort to anything drastic in terms of social stability to divert the attention of people from this issue,” Ashwini Deshpande, a professor at the Delhi School Economics, told TRT World.

For his part, Singh predicts a declining vote share for the ruling BJP in the 2019 national elections. “A government needs an economic base to play cultural politics. Once that starts depleting, the cultural top is not going to sustain,” he said. “People will no longer think in terms of their religious or caste identity but in terms of their occupational identity. What seems to be the scenario is that once this occupational identity supersedes the cultural identity, the voting behaviour will be more anti-BJP.”

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Pakistan relying less and less on US, turning to China, Saudi Arabia & UAE

Darius Shahtahmasebi

Pakistan is making important strides in its military and naval capacities with the help of China, relying less on US-made weaponry. Despite accepting money from all sides, Pakistan’s relationship with China continues to be strong.

After the Trump administration decided to suspend $3 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, complaining that Islamabad fails to do enough to combat terrorism, Washington has risked pushing Pakistan into the open arms of a number of other notable nations.

China-Pakistan relationship continues to strengthen

China has been a key ally for Pakistan in recent times and is almost certainly the reason why the US has taken a sharp turn in its approach to dealing with the country. (Considering that the Bush administration was caught red-handed funding Pakistani terrorist groups, Washington’s recent disdain for Islamabad makes little sense in the context of wider US imperialism).

Now, China is assisting Pakistan’s Navy to expand rapidly, with the completion and delivery of four advanced warships currently under construction in Shanghai. According to the Diplomat, Pakistan’s Chinese-made naval vessels will arrive through a bilateral arms agreement by 2021. Worth over $348 million, these frigates have the capacity to act as anti-ship and anti-submarine operations, as well as for air defense.

Reports seem to indicate that these ships are to be stationed for defense and security in and around the Gwadar port. This is the same port that many media outlets accused China of attempting to hijack and transform into its own naval base. Perhaps the media sounding the alarm over these reports have helped convince China to try a subtler strategy of creating a naval presence around this strategic area, but either way, the move to acquire Chinese naval ships is sure to irk the United States irrespective of the end result, as some experts are predicting that this will lead to regular Sino-Pakistani patrols across the region.

That being said, this is also the same port in which Saudi Arabia is planning to establish a $10 billion oil refinery, according to the Saudi Energy Ministry, setting Saudi Arabia up as a key partner in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan turning down American arms

Unfortunately for Washington, Pakistani purchases of US-made military equipment have begun to fall. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute appears to show that US weapons exports to Pakistan dropped from $21 million in 2017, from a whopping $1 billion just seven years prior. Altogether, since the September 11 attacks, the US has provided over $22 billion in overt security aid to Pakistan and another $10 billion in economic aid, according to a July 2018 report conducted by consultant firm Avascent.

However, despite these initial findings, this same report found that Pakistan was increasingly turning to Beijing for its defense equipment and leaving Washington out in the sand. In total, Pakistan has signed billions of dollars’ worth of contracts for fighter aircraft, submarines and warships from China. The report estimated that over the next decade, Beijing will become the single most important arms supplier for the Pakistani military, but maintains options to obtain arms from Turkey and Russia as well. Turkey, for its part, will upgrade two of Pakistan’s Agosta 90B-class submarines, will provide four MILGEM corvettes to the Pakistani Navy, and already provided a navy fleet tanker in 2016.

Pakistan is also reportedly the largest importer of the F-7PG aircraft from China, with more than 50 F-7PG fighters in the Pakistan Air Force (one of these planes just recently crashed in Western Pakistan, killing the pilot).

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

In actuality, China and Pakistan are developing their relationship in more ways than at first meets the eye. It is one thing to spend millions of dollars attempting to beef up a nation’s navy, but it is something else entirely when two nations become attached on a much deeper level, particularly when it involves the citizens of those countries. Just this week, the government of Pakistan announced a new visa regime between Pakistan and China, tourism being an area of Pakistan’s economy that China has already been contributing heavily. Reportedly, millions of young Pakistanis are also foregoing English and learning Mandarin instead in order to obtain jobs and degrees. If we fast-forward a few decades down the line, I venture to bet that Western influence in Pakistan will be almost completely invisible.

Pakistani President Arif Alvi also just hailed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), vowing that the scheme will bring economic prosperity to the two countries. The CPEC is essentially a combination of infrastructure projects in Pakistan funded by Chinese loans which are worth at least $62 billion. As explained above, Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by watching this project develop (not surprising, when one understands why).

CPEC, combined with China’s New Silk Road Project, has top US lawmakers and intelligence personnel increasingly “concerned.” One senator stated that he was “concerned about data access China may control through digital infrastructure projects in countries around the world. What is the IC’s assessment of potential dual-use aspects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and what threats do they pose to US interests?” 

US allies and partners “seeking greater independence from Washington”

A report compiled by Daniel R. Coats, the director of national intelligence, entitled “Worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community” identifies Pakistan as a nation that contributes to the risks of escalation dynamics and security in the region. More noticeable, however, is that while Pakistan appears in the document a handful of times, China is mentioned at least 85 times right throughout the report.

“We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish US influence,” the report states. “China has built its first overseas military facility in Djibouti and probably is exploring bases, support facilities, or access agreements in Africa, Europe, Oceania, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.”

Most curious is the foreword of the report which, after outlining all the threats Russia and China pose to the United States in all the different ways, states that “[a]t the same time, some US allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to perceptions of changing US policies on security and trade and are becoming more open to new bilateral and multilateral partnerships.”

Let’s do the math. As already stated, the US has deprived Pakistan of $3 billion in security assistance. Not too long ago, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) UAE deposited $3 billion into the State Bank of Pakistan to support its economic growth. Saudi Arabia made a similar promise, agreeing to provide Islamabad with a one-year deferred payment facility for importation of oil worth up to $3 billion.

At around the same time, Emirati media announced that the UAE and Pakistan were accelerating defense cooperation after the federal minister for defense production in Pakistan, Zubaida Jalal, received Major General Staff Pilot Ishaq Saleh Al-Balushi, head of the executive directorate of industries and development of defense capabilities at the UAE Ministry of Defense in Islamabad.

Pakistan is also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia on a framework for $10 billion in Saudi investments. While some media will present Pakistan’s willingness to work with Saudi Arabia as an issue which will rattle and unnerve China, the available evidence appears to show that Sino-Pakistan relations are continuing unabated.

The question of Pakistan’s nukes

Last Thursday, the Pakistani Army Strategic Forces Command conducted a successful test flight of the Nasr close-range ballistic missile, which is nuclear-capable and can reach a specification of 70km.

The target of the ballistic test may surprise you. According to the Pakistani Army statement, the Nasr “augmented Full Spectrum Deterrence posture remaining within the precincts of policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence, against prevailing and evolving threat spectrum more effectively including enemy’s ballistic missile defense and other Air Defence Systems.”

The “enemy” referred to in this statement appears to be a blatant reference to Trump’s recent 2019 Missile Defense Review, which admitted that the US had “discussed potential missile defense cooperation with India” in light of the fact that “a number of states in South Asia are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.”

Currently, Pakistan has ballistic missiles with ranges that can hit anywhere inside India. It has also built nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that can travel up to 400 miles. Not surprisingly, it was the US that gave the green light to Pakistan to modify its F-16 fighters to be capable of dropping nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

Pakistan’s economic woes put the nation in an incredibly compromising position. Knowing that it can no longer rely on Washington for support, it has to turn to as many partners as it can to keep its economy afloat. While China may not be thrilled by Saudi Arabia’s attempt to wade in on its project at the Gwadar port, it does appear that Pakistan’s geopolitical significance, particularly in relation to China, will entail Beijing continuing to prioritize its relationship with Pakistan. This includes, if necessary, militarizing its available bases in the region through the supply of its Chinese-made naval vessels.

Courtesy: (rt.com)

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Deep Fake Menace Vs Trump’s Fantasy World

Sara Corcoran 

My condition today was likely not as acute as Matt Whitaker’s dehydrated performance, soaking the carpets of the White House press room with his beads of sweat while he responded to reporters peppering him with questions about the Special Counsel’s investigation. That performance, while puzzling and embarrassing, was starkly real. There was no video or audio manipulation there — no ‘”deep fake” performance by the fake Acting Attorney General. 

“Deep fake” action, however, took center stage before the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and co-chaired by Senator Mark Warner D-VA) where the U.S. Intelligence Community was giving its annual worldwide threat assessment. Cybersecurity, in its various forms, was identified as the significant threat that we are still not equipped to deal with or contain. The ability of foreign players to manipulate artificial intelligence in the form of audio and video to create false scenarios and affect political results is a growing viral menace. 

According to witnesses, Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS are the major threats to the United States. Iran is not identified as a significant danger because they are technically in compliance with the international nuclear agreement. This assessment is in sharp contrast to the stream of presidential tweets and pronouncements that ignore Russian election meddling, praise the Chinese trade negotiations, emphasize Trump’s warm relationship with Kim Jong Un, and portend the demise of ISIS. Instead, Trump focuses like a laser on our Southern border and sends military troops to deal with putative assaults to our national security. It is not accidental that the Intelligence Assessment delivered today failed to mention border security. Trump cannot be happy with this result.

While Sen. Angus King characterized the IC response to the various threat matrixes as agile, mobile, and hostile, is the United States capable of meeting the “deep fake” threat? Experts, such as John Carlin, the former head of the National Security Division at the Department of Justice believes the FBI is very capable in collecting intelligence and the attributing cyber intrusions to specific state and non-state actors. However, in his book, Dawn of The Code War, Carlin believes that information loses its value if the Administration fails to implement policies that levy a cost on violators, denies its veracity, or fails to act upon it. This is the situation the United States, unfortunately, finds itself in today.

Sen. Kamala Harris proved an effective questioner of the intelligence witnesses. She was very agile, mobile and had just the right amount of gracious hostility in her questioning. She asked DNI Secretary Coates what was the status of the report on actions taken to identify and protect against Russian election meddling. Coates demurred and suggested that it be addressed in the afternoon’s closed session. Though sometimes a necessary evil to avoid the disclosure of sensitive information — especially intelligence sources and methods — this closed session deferral is also used to mask the conflicts between the intelligence community’s views with the volatile and morphing positions of the White House.

Over a year ago, the IC glaringly admitted that Trump had taken no actions nor instructed their agencies to take measures to protect the American people from foreign election tampering. It appears that there has been no change. Trump continues to ignore the threat and arrogantly suggests that his Intelligence Community should go back to school.

Sen. Harris’ next question dealt with the Trump debacle in Helsinki. Were there any official records of the 2-hour plus meeting held between Putin and Trump? Once again, the IC witnesses deferred this question to the afternoon session. Helsinki has left our spooks spooked, especially since we now know that Trump took the notes away from his interpreter and destroyed them. The fact that Trump continues to repeat this behavior, meeting alone with Putin and insisting that no record be kept, is behavior that invites counterintelligence scrutiny.

If our enemies find it more fruitful and prudent to attack us on cyber, why is Trump pushing scenes from a movie to justify his desire to declare a “deep fake” national emergency? One thing is certain, we need tough Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee to give the American people the proper SIGINT– i.e., the truth.

Not only did FBI Director Wray believe that Russian meddling will continue in 2020, but also that it will adapt and multiply. According to Wray, China and Russia will coordinate to disrupt the American way of life. With China’s expertise in the theft of intellectual property, military secrets, technology, and the subterfuge of multiple supply chains, the FBI has an impossible task to address these threats. They will need help from Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to counteract the ‘deep fake” phenomenon going forward.

The United States has never been more vulnerable and susceptible to attack. Trump’s leadership vacuum and his single-task focus on a border wall are leading us to the precipice. Trump watches TV movies like Sicario the Soldado, filled with characters toting prayer rugs, gagging women, pouring drugs through the border and taking sharp turns in fast cars. Fantasy is not reality and cannot be the basis for U.S. foreign policy. Instead, when he goes to bed, Trump should be reading the Annual Intelligence Community Report from cover to cover until he has a firm grasp on the genuine crises that confront and threaten us.

Courtesy: (citywatchla.com)

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Young socialist who wants to save Germany from far-right domination

Salman Ahmed

How little-known German activists like Julia Hubner are taking on the AfD and countering the xenophobic campaigns of the far-right group. It’s an early start for Julia Hubner as she arrives in the town of Chemnitz on a cold January morning with fellow activists to plan the course of the year. The eventual goal is to bring about the political downfall of Germany’s right-wing political party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

‘Kleiner Funf’ is going to be a real battle. Still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, and waking up after a long Christmas break, Hubner and her coterie assume this battle alongside Germany’s other political parties. The goal is to reduce AfD’s electoral footprint across the country from the current 12 percent to less than five percent, which is exactly what ‘kleiner funf’ means: ‘less than five’.

Hubner is meeting with campaigners from around the country. ‘Kleiner Funf’ is like nothing these young campaigners have ever come across – it’s a battle that will drive them to confront seasoned right-wing campaigners and purveyors of hate, both politically and socially.   There is a strong sense of trepidation; all of the campaigners here are volunteers, taking time out of their professions to fight for the rights of society’s most vulnerable. The upcoming challenges, the hate mail, the threats that ensue are yet to be dealt with.

Taking on the AfD will require more than just meetings over tea and biscuits, but they are buoyed by smaller victories in the past and the hopes and dreams of nearly a million refugees who came to Germany in 2015 as a direct result of war in their homeland.

‘We are here for you’: Hubner’s voice breaks as she talks of her motivation. “It was very emotional to see so many people welcoming the people who arrived. There were thousands of people who came to the main station in Munich to say hello, they brought water, food and basic essentials,” she says. The 30-year-old activist comes from a small town in middle Germany with a population of not more than a few thousand people. She studied economics at university and works in public relations in Berlin. But all that pales in comparison to her superhuman campaigning abilities. In November 2018, she started a petition along with her sister to force the German government to pull back a controversial scheme enticing refugees to voluntarily return to their countries of origin with the promise of 1,000 euros. The money was meant for refugees to rebuild their homes, but it came as a slap in the face for those who had initially received a warm welcome in the country.

The scheme was marketed through billboard advertisements across urban centres. It was the brainchild of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who had loudly and openly opposed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy. He is also linked to comments such as “Islam is not a part of Germany”, made in March 2018, and then later that year, “migration is the mother of all problems”. It would be a reach to suggest that Seehofer’s comments have encouraged violent attacks on refugee shelters, but a million poor, insecure people have fast become a punching bag for many German politicians.

In a fight of margins, Seehofer’s party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which had suffered badly in the last elections, decided to seduce right-wing voters back from the AfD. Adopting a tough stance against refugees would deliver the desired result – they thought. Hubner and her sister had different ideas about the voluntary return scheme. Their online petition garnered over 30,000 signatures and forced the interior ministry to sit down with Hubner’s sister Hannah and their team to discuss the scheme. What they got in return was a lesson in realpolitik. “The interior ministry wasn’t going to do anything about it,” says Hubner. “They say it’s not unethical or illegal, but there was a hint that the underlying idea here is to attract those lost to the AfD.” That scheme expired at the end of 2018.

Hubner was brought up with the strong values of social justice and equality that Germany has heavily invested in teaching its post-war generation — a result of the difficult lessons learnt from the Holocaust and the World Wars. There are questions in German history textbooks many teenagers around the world wouldn’t be obliged to contemplate. Not repeating mistakes of the past is the continuing narrative.

And it is that sentiment which has led younger generations of Germans into open revolt against far-right rhetoric, such as that of the AfD.

Berlin’s activist past also has a deep resonance with many in the city. The current crisis has only awakened the sleeping socialist in many middle-aged Berliners.

After all, history didn’t bring down the Wall, people did. Although the crowds at the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, assembled in impromptu fashion, their gathering was not altogether spontaneous. It came after months of growing demonstrations and escalating pressure on the country’s Communist Party. Many of those planned demonstrations came to a peaceful end after the fall of the Wall. A sentiment of national unity ensued leading to nearly three decades of somewhat social harmony.

‘Wir sind mehr’: Roll on 2018, and that slowly drifting social harmony was rudely awakened as more and more Germans answered the call of ‘Wir sind mehr’.The phrase, meaning ‘we are more’, has became a rallying call for Germans to rise up against the far-right. And indeed, Hubner isn’t alone, there are millions like her across Germany, actively campaigning to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in society.

“Often I have to gather people, whenever the AfD call for a march or a rally, we have to show to the AfD and people around the world that we are not like this, and the only way we can do that is by coming out in greater numbers,” says Hubner. In May last year, an anti-migration protest organised by the AfD attracted 5,000 participants, and as is usually the case, a counter pro-migration rally organised by a plethora of left-wing activists attracted 25,000 people.

“I’ve always been a fighter for human rights, which has perfectly suited my new life here. When I hear or see millions of people fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities, I get a sense of security. It gives me hope that the future looks bright,” says 22-year-old Maya Hanano, who arrived in Germany from Aleppo, in Syria, in 2014. Talking about the concerted effort of hundreds of thousands of volunteers and campaigners, Hanano says: “I respect each and every one one of them and I know lots of other Syrian people who think the same way.

“Sometimes, it’s reassuring to know, that someone has your back. And in simple everyday life, I had my German friends help me go through everything step by step. Which made me realise that there are good people everywhere and you are never alone.” Hussam Albaba also arrived in Germany from Syria as a refugee a few years ago, and has since consolidated his place in German society and decided to give something back. “The sense of social activism here was deeply inspiring,” he says. “The sense of national solidarity was clearly visible, and it is that sense of social care which has inspired me to do what I do now.” Hussam now works for a social initiative in Berlin called Uber den Tellerrand, a common German expression which means open-mindedness. The idea is to bring together people from different backgrounds to meet, in the hope of cultural exchange and bridging divides.

Hubner is humbled by all this. “I don’t want refugees and asylum seekers to be overly grateful or excessively apologetic towards Germans, I want them to feel equal, feel as if they are a part of this society,” she says. When asked why she does what she does, she invokes the idea of ‘national duty’, a sense of collective responsibility. Germany, she tells TRT World, is one of the largest exporters of small arms. She says that every 14 minutes a person, somewhere in the world, dies because of a German-manufactured weapon, asking: “Does this not make it our responsibility to help?”Although Germany is the fourth largest small arms exporter in the world, TRT World couldn’t independently verify Hubner’s claim.

“We need to stop the wars, and these unnecessary killings,” Hubner concludes. “People don’t leave their homes, their dreams and their memories because they like Germany so much, it’s because of the unnecessary wars. But when they come here, I want to make them feel at home, and comfortable, they have lost everything.”

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Getting ahead of the implications of a U.S.-Taliban deal in Afghanistan

Jonathan Schroden

Last week, the United States and the Taliban engaged in another round of talks in Doha, Qatar regarding the future of the war in Afghanistan. These talks, which lasted twice as long as originally scheduled, have been cautiously hailed in the days since their conclusion by both sides as having made significant progress. According to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States and the Taliban have come to at least a framework understanding that includes a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to prevent future use of the country as a base for international terrorism. However, Khalilzad also tweeted that “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.” These additional U.S. demands are significant, as the Taliban to date have steadfastly refused the idea of talking directly with the current Afghan government, which it views as illegitimate. Yet there is a collective sense of cautious optimism that something notable happened last week and that Afghanistan may have advanced on a path toward peace.

The potential promise of this development has naturally led to commentary on what these developments mean and what might come next. For example, questions have been asked as to what “intra-Afghan talks” would address and how they might proceed. What emphasis might the United States place in future talks on the issue of human rights in Afghanistan, especially those pertaining to women and children? What would the pace of a U.S. military withdrawal look like and when might it begin? Would a “full withdrawal” mean all U.S. troops or would it only apply to those forces engaged in combat missions (as opposed to those advising Afghan forces)? And what structure and power-sharing arrangements would a reconciled Afghan government that includes the Taliban have? These are excellent questions, and elements of the U.S. government are no doubt currently engaged in working through possible answers. As someone who has conducted numerous assessments of Afghanistan’s security forces and security situation over the past 12 years, I would add the following four questions pertaining to the future security of Afghanistan, which I believe are some of the key issues to be addressed going forward.

First, what happens to the insurgent and terrorist threat in Afghanistan in the wake of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban? Much of the current discussion appears to assume that the Taliban would reconcile as a coherent entity, a rationalization that I typically hear underpinned by the group’s ability to control its fighters from engaging in any significant violations of the brief ceasefire that took place last summer. But what if that assumption doesn’t hold? While it is notoriously difficult to count numbers of insurgent personnel, unofficial estimates of the Taliban’s strength in recent years have ranged from 20,000 to 60,000 fighters. If we use these numbers for the sake of argument and assume that even 5 percent of these individuals decide not to abide by a settlement, there would still be 1,000 to 3,000 fighters opposed to the Afghan government. To put that in context, estimates of the size of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan have consistently ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 fighters. As an excellent recent discussion of this group makes clear, even a faction that size can conduct serious numbers of attacks and inflict large numbers of casualties in Afghanistan, to say nothing of what might happen should unreconciled Taliban fighters choose to directly merge ranks with the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Thus, consideration of Taliban splintering in the wake of a peace deal is a notable issue worthy of further examination.

Similar issues exist on the side of the Afghan government, which is to say it’s not clear that all factions of the current government would accept a peace settlement with the Taliban. If such a deal is viewed as antithetical to the interests of various groups (e.g., ethnic, tribal, political) within the country, elements of those groups might also decide to take up arms against a post-settlement government.

The question of what happens with the Haqqani Network is also critical to an effective and lasting settlement. The Haqqanis have been a very influential — and highly lethal — element of the Taliban-led insurgency for many years, and the Haqqani Network is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, akin to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Will the Haqqanis reconcile along with the Taliban? And if so, will the United States de-list them as a foreign terrorist organization? Or will they continue to conduct spoiler attacks in Kabul and southeast Afghanistan?

Second, how will the United States monitor and verify a Taliban pledge to not allow Afghanistan to serve as a base for international terrorism? Certainly taking their word on this point is not enough. As the eminent scholar on Afghanistan Barnett Rubin recently reminded us on Twitter, peace agreements aren’t based on trust. Rather, he explained, “They are based on mutual interest, verification, and enforcement.” There are numerous options for how this could be pursued, including a U.S. military and intelligence presence, a U.S. intelligence presence alone, or a multinational presence (e.g., a follow-on to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission or a U.N. mission). The size, capabilities, posture, mission parameters, and funding of a verification entity will be heavily dependent on post-settlement conditions — including, as discussed above, the residual nature of the threat — but it’s not too early for the United States and its international partners to start considering options now. An interesting related question is whether the Taliban, given the mutual distaste that all sides have for the Islamic State, might agree to a sustained U.S. counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan — or perhaps even just advisory support to an Afghan-led counter-terrorism force. Here again, though, the issue of the Haqqani Network could prove a critical sticking point.

Third, in their read-out of the recent talks, the Taliban “asserted the U.S. has agreed to help in reconstruction efforts after its troop withdrawal,” but an important unanswered question is what happens to U.S. and international levels of security assistance funding for Afghanistan in the wake of a settlement? Currently, the United States provides the vast majority of the funding for the country’s security forces ($5.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2019), while the rest of the international coalition contributes nearly $1 billion — and the Afghan government around $500 million — for a total funding line of roughly $6.7 billion. In the wake of a peace settlement, a safe assumption is that the U.S. government (and its international partners) will want to provide significantly less. The questions, though, are how much less and what does that mean? While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the Trump administration and Congress’ appetites are for future funding, a useful comparison for the sake of bounding the amount comes in the form of foreign military financing. As this tracker points out, in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2012, that country received $850 million of this type of security assistance. For the sake of argument (and round numbers), let’s assume a high-end estimate of $1 billion in U.S. foreign military financing, plus a generous assumption of $500 million from international donors and Afghanistan’s current level of $500 million, for a total post-settlement budget for Afghanistan’s security forces of about $2 billion.

While that may still seem like a lot of money, it would represent a 70 percent decline in the security budget of the country within a few years. In that context, it is clear that a major restructuring of Afghanistan’s security forces — to include massive reductions in the number of its army and potentially also police forces and locations — would be required. What such a restructuring would look like and how many of Afghanistan’s security forces and bases would need to be cut are just a few of the heady questions that need to be worked through as part of post-settlement security planning.

Fourth, what happens to Taliban fighters and those personnel cut from Afghanistan’s security forces in the wake of a settlement? Should a peace deal be worked out, the country is likely to fairly quickly find itself in a situation in which some tens of thousands — if not a hundred thousand or more — young men currently serving as fighters on both sides are without a steady source of income. In addition, the U.N. Refugee Agency is tracking nearly 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees, the second largest such population in the world. The total number, including unregistered refugees, is likely much larger. If any sizeable fraction of this population returns to Afghanistan immediately after a deal, it will further strain the country’s economic carrying capacity. While Afghanistan’s economic prospects would presumably increase in the wake of a peace deal, such growth is likely to lag the immediate need presented by the issues I’ve just listed, which will in turn create security issues for the country. This then begs several additional questions, such as will the United States and/or the international community fund a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for Afghanistan? And if so, what might it look like and how would it avoid the failures of previous programs in the country? An alternative approach might be to try and the integrate Taliban fighters into Afghanistan’s security forces. If this option was pursued, would the United States and/or some coalition of international partners be willing to pay continued high levels of security assistance to enable it? And if so, how would this work in practice?

All of these are essential questions for the future security of Afghanistan, and there are certainly many more. Working through these issues is going to require a lot of effort and patience, detailed planning and challenging of commonly held assumptions, and the continued investment of significant funding and personnel for years to come. After all, a country that’s been in a state of civil war for 40 years will not easily be turned away from it. But if the Taliban continue to work with the United States — and eventually the Afghan government — these questions will have to be addressed in order to secure a lasting peace.

Courtesy: (warontherocks.com)

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Donald Trump’s foreign policy and its ‘magical thinking’

Wilson Dizard

US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy does not follow conventional American diplomacy and it could get more erratic as elections appear around the corner. It was a long, bad week for US President Donald Trump. His attempt to extort money out of taxpayers for his border wall fell short, as airline employee labour unions threatening to strike appeared to scare Trump off a continuing government shutdown. The government is funded now for three weeks, while Congress debates border policy. So the shutdown is done for now, but it could come back.

Then, if that weren’t bad enough, Trump’s longtime associate and adviser Roger Stone, a Republican political operative and smear mongerer of Richard Nixon-era vintage, found himself in handcuffs on Saturday morning in his mansion in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. The arrest came as part of the almost two-year long probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Stone was charged with seven felonies related to attempts to exploit the release of Russian-hacked Democratic National Committee emails to embarrass Hillary Clinton, all to help Trump win the presidency. In a bizarre coincidence, Trump decided this was the week to wade into Venezuela’s woes. He recognised opposition leader Juan Guiado as the country’s legitimate president. Nicolas Maduro, who still holds the deed to the oil-producing country, called Trump’s announcement an attempt at a coup.

Trump’s endorsement of Guiado came just after then 35-year-old Venezuelan claimed Maduro’s presidential title and announced himself, president. The American president grabbed the opportunity as fast as he could. On Monday night, the American National Security Adviser John Bolton, an armchair veteran of the Iraq War, and Steve Mnuchin, producer of the film Suicide Squad, announced new sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil companies.

What consequences the US move will have remain to be seen, but the suffering of the Venezuelan people is nowhere near ending, with three million fleeing starvation and poverty in Venezuela to neighbouring countries Colombia and Brazil, which just elected far-right prime minister Jair Bolsonaro, not friend of refugees, like Trump (Bolsonaro’s government also swiftly recognized Guiado’s claim to Venezuela’s capital). For Trump, however, appearing to take a stand against Maduro, and making common cause with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, could help him squeeze every last vote out of Florida.

The “Sunshine State” is home to many Republican-leaning Latin American exile communities that like to see any president take a tough line on Maduro. Or at least that seems to be what Trump is thinking, by turning Venezuela into a campaign issue in 2020. With 29 seats in the electoral college, Florida is a state Trump will absolutely need to win if he wants to be re-elected in 2020. With a brand new Trump-friendly Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, the president is also polling well in Florida, Politico reports. His numbers have declined in the upper midwest, where his trade war has thrown farmers off balance, and his promises to return manufacturing jobs haven’t come true. Meanwhile, Trump’s willingness to shutdown the government, harming both federal workers and imperilling the safety of aeroplane travellers, a headache for airlines, doesn’t endear him to anyone weak or powerful.

Trump understands that he won’t be able to get much through Congress, but he can still entertain himself by pushing the dials and levers on the US foreign policy apparatus without Nancy Pelosi’s permission. The biggest danger is that he’ll start a big war somehow, meddling with a world he doesn’t understand and refuses to learn. The likelihood of something catastrophic happening increases with virtually every foray onto the world stage that he makes.

If you want to understand why American foreign policy is so bizarre already, remember that it’s being conducted by a country in a state of low-level civil war over who’s human and how much. The first civil war concerned the humanity of people owned as property, just as nowadays our debates centre around the humanity of low-paid migrant labourers. The disagreement is still the same. Trump is the living, breathing embodiment of how twisted that uniquely American disagreement over who’s human can become.

But a country in the midst of a low-level civil war can’t be expected to have the most coherent foreign policy, but what’s remarkable is that Trump’s defies definition by any previous ideological thread in US relations with the rest of the world. Broadly, they’re internationalism, neoconservatism and isolationism. Each one of these ideologies assumes some level of trust or cooperation in international affairs. Internationalism trusts coalitions built along with the United Nations, such as the Iran nuclear deal; interventionism trusts coalitions outside of the UN, such as George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing”; and isolationism trusts that the US and the rest of the world can somehow stay out of each other’s way.

Each ideology is subject to its own sort of “magical thinking” that proposes simple solutions to complex problems and imagines things can happen that absolutely won’t.

But Trump doesn’t hold to any of them. He sees interventionism and internationalism as just different brands of “globalism,” and calling him an isolationist sounds correct but ignores his lashing out at other countries for disrespecting him, starting trade wars and threatening North Korea with “fire and fury.” Trump doesn’t refer to ideology for solutions to problems but rather to his instinct, and his instinct is practically nihilistic.

It’s impossible to predict his behaviour based on anything you learned about American politics in school. Momentous decisions for Trump seem to come on impulse or may be guided by the immediate imperatives of the news cycle and the latest scandal. Trump thinks magically in news cycles, with volatile, disastrous results. The world can expect more of this in 2019, but be prepared for a drastic, potentially turbulent, transition of power in November 2020. Even when he isn’t president, he’ll still be tweeting.