Friday, 31 July 2015

What was it all for Mr Khan? KHURRAM HUSAIN

What was it all for Mr Khan? KHURRAM HUSAIN

TODAY Imran Khan owes the country an answer to this simple question: what exactly was all that sound and fury last August all about? If the matter had been little more than angry speeches and walkouts from parliament we could have shrugged it off. If it was loud press conferences and hostile talk show appearances, we could have accepted it.
But no. In the name of their grievances, they laid siege to the capital city for months and caused a totally unnecessary delay in the visit by China’s president, who wanted to announce $46bn worth of investment projects for the country.
They called for a tax revolt, arguing from their container-tops that there is no obligation to pay taxes to a government that the PTI has deemed illegitimate. They called on people to not pay their electricity bills, threatened to cut power supply from Tarbela dam (as if that was within their power to start off with), and urged resort to illegal hundi channels for all cross-border foreign exchange transactions, in order to squeeze the country’s foreign exchange reserves and thereby push it towards default.
Refusal to pay taxes and bills and common resort to informal channels for foreign exchange transactions are grave ills that threaten the state’s viability in the long run.
They briefly shut down the two largest cities in the country, Karachi and Lahore, causing billions of rupees in loss to traders, and interrupting the movement of vital fuel supplies. Investment decisions were postponed, board meetings of important foreign investors were disrupted, and one CEO of a large multinational even took the highly unusual step of going public with his concerns (CEOs are usually a very cautious lot in terms of what they say in public).
Don’t damage Pakistan’s democracy story he warned, it’s the best thing happening in the country currently. “Some of my Pakistani friends do not appreciate the enormity of this transition and what it means,” he said, referring to the first historic democratic transfer of power in the country’s history.
“[W]e need stability in the system, people to follow the rules laid down to obtain their demands, not a revolution or any other yearning for ‘discipline’ that comes from outside the system created by the Constitution.
“What I see happening in Pakistan today worries me because if people on the streets can start calling the shots, then it would negate the positive story of Pakistan to possible investors” from all around the world.
It’s hard to underline how unusual it is for a CEO, particularly of a multinational company, to write words like this in a public forum, but that was the level of the anxiety that the dharnas created in the minds of investors.
People from the investor community told me back then that they had communicated to their headquarters abroad that the threat to Pakistan’s democracy has receded, and the reply they received was, “Sure, for now, but what about next year, and the year after that?”
The dharnas didn’t do much material damage to the economy, but the harm done to Pakistan’s only bright spot, its narrative, its democracy, was incalculable. With the judicial commission’s report, and the refusal of the armed forces to get involved, things are once again on the mend, testament to strong healing powers of our democratic institutions. Once more the skies have cleared and the next summit to be scaled — the general election of 2018 — is in view. But Mr Khan and his cohorts must answer a straightforward question. What was it all for? For what did they hurl such truckloads of dirt onto the country’s institutions and its historic journey towards the consolidation of democracy?
Refusal to pay taxes and bills and common resort to informal channels for foreign exchange transactions are grave ills that threaten the state’s viability in the long run. For what did he endow these practices with legitimacy, aggravating and magnifying the narrative of those who employ these means to derive for themselves ill-gotten gains?
Even today, the government is struggling with informal-sector players who are up in arms against a simple measure in the budget that penalises bank transactions by those who have not filed a tax return. Listen to the way those protesting this measure justify their actions, and you will hear echoes of the dharna speeches.
That is the nature of the harm that the dharnas did. Even as the real problems in the country reared their heads, the party which had championed itself as the party of change, of good governance, has been found missing in action, busy battling the ghosts that have haunted it ever since the tsunami it thought it was entitled to in 2013 never materialised. I refer to the massacre at the Army Public School, from which the PTI publically washed its hands with the argument that providing security at the school was not its job. I refer also to the floods that have devastated Chitral, the coverage of which has had to compete with the judicial commission report for space on the broadsheet and on the airwaves.
Pakistan must shed its infatuation with the saviour, with strongman rule, as the answer to its ills. No individual, no matter how charismatic, can set the ship of state back on an even keel. That job can only be done by a system of rule. And there is no system of rule better than democracy for a multilingual, multiethnic country teeming with diversities and cleavages of so many varieties. Let’s stop vilifying the only system of rule we have. Let’s work together to mend it. The PTI can start by doing its duties in KP province, and then turn to the electorate in 2018 with a story to tell.
The writer is a member of staff.
Twitter: @khurramhusain
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2015

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Why the West may miss the Taliban's Mullah Omar, by David Rohde

Why the West may miss the Taliban's Mullah Omar, by David Rohde
 July 30, 2015
Reports on Wednesday that reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died will be rightly hailed by some as the demise of an American nemesis. But the death of the one-eyed Afghan commander may also scuttle the most promising peace talks in Afghanistan in a decade.
Omar’s direct role in day-to-day Taliban operations had been declining for years, according to Western diplomats in Afghanistan. Even if he is alive, the former leader of Afghanistan is believed to be severely ill.
But the myth that surrounds Omar is a key element in determining whether peace talks can succeed. With Islamic State and other jihadist groups vying for the loyalty of young Taliban fighters, it is unclear whether any leader except Omar can hold the movement together and then get its members to accept a peace settlement.
 “The nightmare is if nobody respected the leadership anymore in the Taliban,” said Graeme Smith, an International Crisis Group senior analyst who is based in Kabul, “because then you have no one to talk to.”
After decades of using Afghanistan as a battleground for proxy war, the major powers that exacerbated the country’s internal divisions are finally on the same page. Two weeks ago, as Chinese and U.S. diplomats stood by, Pakistani officials convened the first direct peace talks between senior Afghan and Taliban officials in a decade. A second round of negotiations is scheduled on Friday.
But the emergence of actual negotiations has placed enormous strain on the Taliban and widened a dangerous rift inside the group.
In the past few weeks, two different militant groups once allied with the Taliban have issued statements declaring Omar is dead. Their goal was to call into question the authority of his deputy, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, to lead the group.
Omar’s 26-year-old son, Yaqoob, and other hardliners oppose the peace talks, according to a recent story by a veteran Pakistani journalist with close ties to the Taliban. The hardliners opposed Mansoor’s decision to send a delegation to direct peace talks on July 7. Mansoor later issued a statement purported to be from Omar that supported the talks.
The worrying trend is that this dispute reflects deep tribal divisions within the Taliban that could divide the entire movement. Ideological rifts exist as well. Some hardline factions that have declared allegiance to Islamic State now often engage in gun battles with traditional Taliban groups.
At the same time, the Obama administration’s withdrawal of the vast majority of U.S. troops has bolstered the efforts of the Taliban hardliners. The insurgents have made sweeping military gains in the country’s north.
Afghan government forces are experiencing a 50 percent increase in casualty rates. Roughly 4,100 Afghan soldiers and police were killed and 7,800 wounded in the first six months of this year, according to news reports.
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has also come under withering criticism from fellow Afghans for a bold diplomatic gamble. Since taking office, the U.S.-educated anthropologist has openly wooed Chinese and Pakistani officials. He made many concessions in hopes they could help bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
In a piece of rare good news from Afghanistan, Ghani’s gambit has paid off. After sheltering Taliban leaders for the past 14 years, Pakistani military officials are putting intense pressure on the Taliban to attend the talks.
Pressure from China, the Pakistani military’s most important ally, appears to have played a central role, according to Barnett Rubin, a former senior State Department official and expert on Afghanistan. Chinese officials increasingly see militancy in the region as a threat to Beijing’s plans for economic growth and political stability in western China, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As Rubin wrote in the New Yorker on Wednesday:
An increase in terrorist attacks connected to a separatist movement in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, some of whose fighters received training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, had led China to regard the stability of Afghanistan as crucial to its internal security as well as its economic future.
As odd as it may seem to some Americans, Omar’s death could not come at a worse time. Omar’s brutality was medieval. But for more than a decade, he served as the unifying force of the Taliban.
The talks on Friday and their progress in the weeks ahead could help determine whether Afghanistan follows the route of Syria, Yemen and Libya toward state collapse. As the rise of Islamic State has shown, an even more radical group could rise out of the disintegration of the Taliban.
A rare moment of consensus among international powers and their longtime Afghan proxies exist. But it may be too late to halt the centrifugal forces unleashed in Afghanistan by both internal and external actors over the past 40 years.

Gurdaspur Strike is a Pakistani Tactical Shift from J and K to Punjab, Syed Ata Hasnain

Gurdaspur Strike is a Pakistani Tactical Shift from J and K to Punjab, Syed Ata Hasnain July 27, 2015, 12:07 pm

Pakistan’s Continuing Perfidy
·         Gurdaspur attack a tactical ploy by Pakistan to divert attention
·         Since 2014 Pakistan’s focus shifted from the LoC to rather easily accessible Jammu-Pathankot International Border
·         Deliberate move to draw the Indian Army and drain its potential in counter-insurgency operations
·         Attack not unexpected as it falls in sync with earlier pattern of violence being followed by high-profile diplomatic activity

It is a day after Kargil Vijay Diwas. Just a few hours ago India was in celebration mode on the hard-won victory of its armed forces. Obviously, the mood across the border and LoC was one of seething anger. Nations hate being reminded of military defeats and in the context of India and Pakistan, the latter has to work hard to create an information hype to convince its people about its own perceived military capability.

In moments of anger nations do irrational things and Pakistan has a history of this; never viewing the larger picture, the end result and the final pay off. The terror strike in Gurdaspur appears to smack once again of a futile attempt by Pakistan’s nexus of agencies and organisations to remind India of the ‘war by a thousand cuts’.
Why do I say this? Take a good look at the ground situation. Militancy in J&K is almost down and out although its potential of revival is always live; the new local cadres are not capable of high profile acts, there is no leadership and the LoC dragnet against infiltration is so effective that adding to numbers and bringing in leaders is proving near impossible.

From LoC to IB
The positives in one area negatively impact another; that is a basic lesson in tactics. In 2014, Pakistan’s nexus shifted the emphasis from the LoC to the Jammu-Pathankot International Border (IB); Pakistan calls it the Working Boundary. Instead of Srinagar, Anantnag and Rajouri, it was Kathua and Samba that became the objectives. Here it is simpler to infiltrate. The dense and well-coordinated counter-infiltration grid of the LoC does not exist, the fence is porous and the objectives are just a few kms away.

The National Highway proves to be an asset; infiltrate from one point, hijack a truck and strike at a target 10-15 (or more) kms away. Targets are many: schools, police stations, military camps, deputy commissioner’s office etc; fail at one and redeploy to another in a matter of minutes unlike in the LoC sector where the army will react within minutes and block all egress.

The reason for shifting the area of strikes further south of Pathankot is that the army’s 9 Corps and Western Command have been getting their acts together and strengthening their preparedness against such terrorist activity. In fact, Lt Gen K J Singh, the GOC-in-C Western Command, has been frequently visiting the Jammu IB sector and gingering up his commanders and troops. When effectiveness improves, the focus of the Pakistan nexus shifts and objectives in Punjab obviously have their own significance.

Army Not in CI Role
It is not for tactical and operational reasons alone that we have witnessed the ‘migration’ of terrorist activity from the LoC sector towards areas between Jammu and Pathankot and now into the northern part of Punjab. The army is not in counter-insurgency (CI) operational mode here; unlike 9 Corps north of Pathankot which partially is. While there is considerable army deployment in Gurdaspur and Amritsar sectors it is in peace and training mode.

Pakistani Objectives
By striking in Gurdaspur, the Pakistan nexus is attempting three things. First, expanding the arc of militancy/terror to draw in the army; it has successfully done so in the Jammu to Pathankot sector. Greater the deployment of the Indian army in CI duties, less its availability for training and more the fatigue on its men.

Secondly, the entry of terror in Punjab forces the expansion of the gaze of Indian intelligence agencies, thereby diluting their focus on J&K. Thirdly, it is the psychological messaging which must not be missed. The nexus is attempting to convey our vulnerability and its strength, its ability to pick and choose its targets.

Punjab has had its share of problems over 20 years ago and a remnant of separatist terrorist leadership still exists abroad, especially in Pakistan. Punjab’s current administrative woes and the social turbulence brought on by the culture of drug abuse makes it extremely vulnerable. No one is saying that we are likely to witness a return to the days of extreme terror in Punjab. Yet, Punjab is a rim land (border) state and its strategic significance is also its physical connect with J&K.
Arc of Terror
Expanding the arc of turbulence and terror into its geographical region can only be a worrisome threat to India’s security community. The failure to blow the railway tracks has been providential. We cannot push our luck too far.

After Ufa, were we awaiting such a strike? The IB sector and portions of the LoC did go live with exchange of firing but it stopped at that. It was an excellent ruse; grant it to our adversary. Low level activity and then ceasefire, before hitting hard. This fits in well with established patterns of the past when violence of some form was always timed with high profile diplomatic activity to convey a message.

However, the proliferating terrorist activity spreading from Jammu into India’s hinterland is definitely worrisome. Knee jerk reactions of deploying the army must be avoided. The Punjab and J&K police have to coordinate intelligence and the BSF needs a larger footprint along the IB. The IB fence has to be made high-tech with induction of better surveillance systems.

All these need to be done almost overnight. More such attempts can be expected and the parleys that are set up for the next few months have to address this with Pakistan before sentiments in the street demands more proactive action across.
(The writer is a former General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and now associated with the Vivekananda International Foundation and the Delhi Policy Group)

Is Islamic State In Jammu And Kashmir, by Vikram Sood

Is Islamic State In Jammu And Kashmir, by Vikram Sood*
Thursday, July 30th, 2015
It does not take long or very much for peace to be disturbed in Jammu and Kashmir. Till mid-summer, the feeling was one of peace with tourism in full swing, hotels fully booked and flights packed with tourists. Suddenly it began to change. In June, ISIS and Pakistani flags made an appearance once again. The last time when ISIS flags appeared in Srinagar was in June last year.
Recent incidents following the burning of the ISIS flag by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists in Rajouri are a case in point. The Rajouri incident has led to a chain of protests by Muslim youth and events that have threatened to get out of control.
The Army has been called out to carry out flag marches. Angered youth were protesting against the burning of the ISIS flag saying they were offended because the flag has the Kalimah Tayyiba (or the Shahada) scribed on the flag. Their contention was that this flag was made out of ordinary paper with the inscription done with a chalk. This was enough cause for tension and the burning of the flag on Eid was further aggravation.
The demand in Rajouri is that the matter be investigated and the accused apprehended by Monday, otherwise there will be a bandh in the entire district. In anticipation, youth have been assembling and raising road blocks by burning tyres. The VHP has asserted that there was no intention to hurt Muslim sentiments.
Pakistani flags along with those of Lashkar-e Tayyaba and ISIS had appeared in different parts of the Kashmir valley earlier this month after Eid prayers. This phenomenon by itself is not new and many take it in their stride. However, the ISIS phenomenon is relatively new. Kashmiri youth had unfurled the ISIS flag even last year, but what makes it more ominous is the beliefs of ISIS, its leadership, its rapid successes and its tactics.
ISIS can be traced back to its original form in 2002 when the Jordanian ex-Al Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had formed his group Tawhid wal-jihad. Later it transformed into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Daesh, (aka Dawah al-Islamiyah fi I ‘il Iraq was sa-Shams) led by the mercurial Abu Bakr el-Baghdadi who dramatically announced the formation of the Caliphate of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.
This marked a break with Al Qaeda too. The ISIS hold is marked by unimaginable brutalities towards non-believers and other Muslims seen to have wavered from the puritanical interpretations and of the ISIS ideologues. The ISIS has been responsible for extreme violence throughout the month of Ramzan. ISIS now holds territory, holds oil wells and their revenue and considerable weaponry snatched from Iraqi and Syrian armies. It was reported to have received assistance from the Saudi Arabians and the Emirates and Qatar.
The ISIS now constitutes a grave threat not only to its neighbourhood but also beyond as far as Algeria in the West, into Africa up to Nigeria and up to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ISIS is fast becoming the major and immediate threat to those it considers its opponents. Such organisations like the ISIS operating outside their own territories need local support.
It is believed that ISIS may have local support in southern Afghanistan and in Balochistan. The Baloch, however, allege that groups have been sent by the Pakistani state to counter rising nationalist sentiment. The US now believes that Pakistani assistance would again be required to tackle ISIS in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan, with its innumerable terrorist organisations, some of them now working on their own, would provide enough fertile ground for organisations like ISIS to thrive within and spread outwards from here. It must be remembered that Al Qaeda leadership is still based in the FATA of Pakistan from where it continues to give directions.
The ISIS flag has the same banner as the flag of Boko Haram, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Shahada or Kalimah Tayyiba. This has alarming implications. Any inadvertent taking down of the flag would be deemed as an affront. The display of the ISIS flag in Srinagar in the past would be a cause for some concern in the Indian security establishment.
At one end, it may be seen as an attempt to seek attention by a group of angry and disgruntled youth but no security establishment will assume that to be the final truth. There may never be any direct evidence of ISIS involvement but sympathy to the cause, a desire to express anger against New Delhi and the tendency of Pakistan to fish in troubled waters will always be factors. The goals seeking vague solutions or demands like sovereignty or independence, can easily be mixed with demands for a caliphate as the Kashmiri youth tends towards radical beliefs.
Many Kashmiris, however, point out that Kashmir and Jammu have been witness to atrocities of the ISIS kind in the past. It all started in the winter of 1989 with gruesome killings of the Hindus in the Kashmir Valley, including brutalities like the Lalru bus murders, and the acts of Bitta Karate, Noor Khan, Mushtaq Lutrum, and Yasin Malik still remembered with horror. Hizbul Mujahedeen terrorists pumped scores of bullets into Lassa Koul of Doordarshan and left him to die on the streets of Srinagar. Mohammed Shaban Vakil had to pay with his life for his views.
ISIS flags and slogans may be useful to attract attention but they are not good news for those very people who want to use these slogans. Kashmiris need to see what has been happening to the Syrians, Yezidis, Kurds, and Shias because they follow a different Islam. The ISIS may not have arrived but possibly the thought has begun to flicker. The security agencies would be concerned.
The writer is an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a former Secretary of R & AW, Government of India
Courtesy:, July 28, 2015

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

India Pakistan Cross - LoC Trade A Low Hanging Fruit That Can Deliver

India Pakistan Cross - LoC Trade A Low Hanging Fruit That Can Deliver
By Afaq Hussain and Shakti Sinha*
The people of Kashmir are hopeful the PDP-BJP government, in power in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, will take up local concerns at the national level. The “Agenda for Alliance” released by the state government in March spoke about many issues, including political and developmental concerns. We would argue that one important issue deserves more detailed attention — the largely unexplored subject of “Cross-LoC Trade”.
In 2008, barter trade commenced across the Line of Control as part of a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between India and Pakistan. The measure is considered one of the most significant CBMs taken by the two countries in recent history. This was expected to enhance economic cooperation between the two sides of Kashmir and eventually between India and Pakistan. Though initially this trade was in the limelight and did serve its purpose, but over the last few years its benefits seem to have been clouded by other “considerations”. It is of utmost importance that government looks into cross-LoC trade from the lens of the Valley, for them to make astute policies that would deliver politically, socially and economically.
In recent years, the term LoC has often being referred to as Line of Commerce and even Line of Cooperation. This is not surprising as trade volumes have shown a substantial increase despite trade being on barter terms, lack of proper communication channels, absence of a banking system, dearth of legal enforcement of contracts and, limited number of trade days and tradable goods. LoC trade has expanded from US$0.3 million in 2008-09 to $97.2 million in 2011-12.
There is a need to build on this since the potential is immense. Interaction with traders bears this out. There is tremendous zeal amongst people on both sides to further cross-LoC linkages. Trade across the LoC would serve as a source of employment, especially for the local youth. Such linkages would also offer Kashmiris an opportunity to reunite and associate with family members and friends, despite being on opposing sides of the LoC line. The development of cross-LoC trade should, thus, be a major priority of the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party (PDP-BJP) alliance as this trade offers a host of economic prospects to the state, in terms of employment generation, revenue generation and contributions to state GDP.
In addition to basic measures, increasing the number of vehicles, increasing the tradable commodities, promoting tourism and travel, fostering communication amongst people from both sides, encouraging greater stakeholder engagement — required to give LoC trade a boost, it is important to retain and preserve the character of the initiative. Conferences, consultations and talks focused on promoting cross-LoC trade usually dwell on the aforementioned measures but overlook the need to make the people of Kashmir feel that the government recognises the importance of this trade. The optics of such recognition cannot be underestimated.
Undoubtedly, the six-decade-long Kashmir dispute has had tremendous human and economic cost. Cross-LoC trade deserves serious and immediate attention because the short and long term impact of trade across divided Jammu and Kashmir would have major implications for the region. Based on repeated interactions with numerous stakeholders, it becomes clear that if both national governments give this trade proper attention and focus, it has the potential to reap positive economic benefits to the state and, in the long run, to the two nations.
At a geo-strategic and micro level, the importance of LoC trade needs to be understood in the context of the free flow of trade raising prosperity levels of people on both sides of the LoC and enabling them to become key stakeholders in the peace process. At a macro level, the governments can use this as a means of mitigating the long drawn out conflict in the region. Economic benefits have always served as a means of powerful conflict resolution. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been emphasizing the importance of trade and greater regional integration. The LoC trade fits in completely with his agenda. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on the same page in recognising the importance of bilateral trade. Despite the recent flare-up on the LoC, the need to build on the Ufa summit is important. A peaceful border and neighbourhood will ultimately help the development agenda of India.
Governments on both sides should use the prospering cross-LoC trade to provide the much-needed boost to the presently latent India-Pakistan relationship. It would call for courage and imagination. Recent developments in the larger neighbourhood, particularly on the subcontinent’s northwest, offers both hope and challenge. Stated positions would have to be discarded and agility shown both in taking advantage of unexpected openings and in countering adverse trends. Strengthening cross-LoC trade is a relatively low-hanging fruit that would deliver domestically and externally.
*Afaq Hussain is Director and Shakti Sinha is Chair – Policy Research Group Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals, New Delhi. They can be reached at

Asia’s New Geopolitics Takes Shape Around India, Japan and Australia

Asia’s New Geopolitics Takes Shape Around India, Japan and Australia
Japan, India, and Australia will be instrumental in determining Asia’s fate in the 21st century.
New configurations in Asian geopolitics are emerging thick and fast. Last month saw the initiative of a new trilateral involving India, Japan, and Australia when Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar met his Australian counterpart and the Japanese vice foreign minister. Japan will also be a part of bilateral India-U.S. annual naval exercises–the Malabar–slated to be held over the next few months. Though Japan has participated in these exercises in the past as well, this will be only the second time when Japan will join these exercises in the geostrategically critical Indian Ocean region.
There is a growing convergence in the region now that the strategic framework of the Indo-Pacific remains the best way forward to manage the rapidly shifting contours of Asia. Proposed first by Japan and adopted with enthusiasm by Australia under the Tony Abbott government, in particular, the framework has gained considerable currency, with even the U.S. now increasingly articulating the need for it. Though China views the framework with suspicion, many in China are acknowledging that the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a critical regional space for India and China needs to synchronize its policies across the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific.
These developments underscore the changing regional configuration in the Indo-Pacific on account of China’s aggressive foreign policy posture as well as a new seriousness in India’s own China policy. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to Japan and Australia has been a significant part of his government’s foreign policy so far as strong security ties with Tokyo and Canberra are now viewed as vital by Delhi.
China’s increasing diplomatic and economic influence, coupled with domestic nationalistic demands, has led to an adjustment of its military power and the adoption of a bolder and more proactive foreign policy. From China’s unilateral decision in 2013 to extend its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a contested maritime area in the East China Sea overlapping with the already existing Japanese ADIZ to announcing new fishing regulations for Hainan province in January 2014 to ensure that all foreign vessels need fishing permits from Hainan authorities to operate in more than half of South China Sea, the list of assertive moves has been growing in recent years. China’s land reclamation work in the Spratly Islands has been the most dramatic affirmation of Beijing’s desire to change the ground realities in the region in its favor. This has generated apprehensions about a growing void in the region to balance China’s growing dominance.
With the U.S. consumed by its own domestic vulnerabilities and never ending crises in the Middle East, regional powers such as India, Japan, and Australia have been more proactive than in the past in managing this turbulence. The new trilaterals emerging in Asia go beyond past attempts at rudimentary joint military exercises. In December 2013, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) conducted its first bilateral maritime exercise with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region. With growing strategic convergence between the two, in 2014 India invited the JMSDF to participate in the annual Malabar exercises with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific waters.
India and Japan have an institutionalized trilateral strategic dialogue partnership with the United States, initiated in 2011. Maintaining a balance of power in the Asian-Pacific as well as maritime security in the Indo-Pacific waters has become an important element of this dialogue. A similar dialogue exists between the U.S., Japan, and Australia. And now a new trilateral involving India, Japan, and Australia has joined these initiatives, which can potentially to transform into a ‘quad’ of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. The roots of this potential partnership were laid as early as late-2004, when navies from the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia collaborated in tsunami relief operations all across the Indian Ocean.
Japan was one of the earliest vocal supporters of such initiatives. In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his earlier stint as prime minister, lobbied for Asia’s democracies to come together in a ‘quadrilateral.’ This was also actively supported by the United States. Such an initiative resulted in a five nation naval exercise in Bay of Bengal in September 2007. However, China, perceiving a possible ganging-up of Asia’s democracies, issued demarches to New Delhi and Canberra, causing this initiative to lose steam, since both Australia and New Delhi felt it unwise to provoke China. However, as China becomes more aggressive in the region, there are signs that India and Australia may be warming up to the idea again.
The uncertainty of Chinese power and intentions in the region as well as the future of American commitment to maintaining the balance of power in Asia rank high in the strategic thinking of regional powers. This rapidly evolving regional geopolitics is forcing Asia’s middle powers – India, Japan and Australia – to devise alternative strategies for balancing China. Though still continuing their security partnership with the United States, these powers are actively hedging against the possibility of America’s failure to eventually balance China’s growing power. Asia’s geopolitical space is undergoing a transformation. While China’s rise is the biggest story still unfolding, other powers are also recalibrating and their influence will be of equal, if not greater, consequence in shaping the future of global politics in the Asia-Pacific.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Pakistan’s sedition sweep in Gilgit Baltistan, Umar Farooq

Pakistan’s sedition sweep in Gilgit Baltistan, Umar Farooq | 20 Jul 2015 
Dozens of activists have been charged with sedition for calling for greater self-rule in the mountainous region.
Gilgit, Pakistan -  The Pakistani government appears to be cracking down on dissent in Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous region of vital importance to Pakistan's alliance with China.
Since last October, more than 50 activists have been charged with sedition for calling for greater self-rule in the region, which is controlled by Pakistan but claimed by India.
Gilgit-Baltistan, which borders China, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, has not been granted full constitutional status by Islamabad - meaning that it is not an official province, and that its residents cannot vote in national elections.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was given a red-carpet welcome when he visited Pakistan this April.
The two countries signed a series of memoranda to build highways, power plants, gas pipelines, and an expansion of the port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean, which Beijing hopes will become a major outlet for its burgeoning manufacturing industry.
China is expected to pour more than $46bn into the projects, which are the largest foreign investment that cash-strapped Pakistan has ever seen.  

Islamabad and Beijing have had a military alliance since the 1960s, when the countries' armies built the Karakoram Highway connecting China's western Xinjiang province with Gilgit-Baltistan, which was called the Northern Areas until 2009.
Pakistan has used the region to launch several offensives in an attempt to wrest control of Indian-held territory in neighbouring Kashmir.

In 1963, Pakistan ceded part of the region to China - much to the chagrin of India, which has fought a war with Beijing over control of the area.

India maintains that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Kashmir, and belongs to it. Several United Nations Security Council resolutions have called for a plebiscite in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir to determine their political status, and a small contingent of international military observers maintain a presence in Gilgit and Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
A trade route for China
Throughout its conflict with India, Pakistan has found China to be its only local ally, and India has long accused the two countries of building the Karakoram Highway to allow the movement of troops in the region. 

The highway will become the main artery for the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a network of roads for transporting Chinese goods through Pakistan.
These development plans, argue activists in Gilgit-Baltistan, is why Islamabad is anxious to squelch dissent from residents of the region.

"China wants to send its goods through here, and Pakistan is looking for its own benefits," claimed Baba Jan, one of hundreds of political activists in Gilgit-Baltistan who have found themselves at the centre of the government crackdown in the region.
I hold a Pakistani ID card, but I cannot vote for people in parliament. I cannot become prime minister or a member of parliament. I do not fit the description of a citizen, according to the constitution.
Israr-ud-din Israr, HRC
Last year, Jan was among 12 people who were given multiple life sentences by a special anti-terrorism court, which was set up to prosecute the Taliban and al-Qaeda, for charges that include sedition against the state.

The sentences came in response to protests that took place in the town of Aliabad in 2012, which criticised Islamabad for not following through on promises to provide aid to those displaced by a landslide a year earlier.
Police killed two men trying to disperse the protesters, triggering riots in which residents burned down dozens of government buildings in the region. Jan and more than 100 others were arrested, and Islamabad initially threatened to prosecute all of them in anti-terrorism courts for sedition.

"There is a fundamental right to protest in Pakistan, but it is not being given to us," Jan told Al Jazeera from his prison cell in the city of Gakuch, where he is awaiting a ruling in an appeals court.
"We were never violent. We just stood in the road and talked to people," Jan said.
This June, Jan ran his election campaign for the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly from his prison cell, coming in second place.

The polls drew criticism from India, which called them "an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the region".
Pakistan, in turn, levelled the same charges against India, saying troops maintained an "illegal hold" on its portion of neighbouring Kashmir, and that polls there were "sham elections" held "at gunpoint" that violated UN resolutions maintaining the region was disputed territory. 

More than 400 candidates stood for election last month to the 24-seat assembly, which has no powers to legislate important matters like how the region's natural resources are used, or how trade with neighbouring China is conducted.

A central issue was the new China corridor, which Jan, along with a handful of other activists who ran for the assembly, see as a slight to locals.
"They should have asked people what they want," said Jan. "Our environment will be destroyed. The local people were not given any option to give their input." 

Naeem, a truck driver in Gilgit, was also unhappy about the plan. "What are we going to get from this deal? We can't even control our own border. Pakistan will collect customs from China, and it will go to Islamabad."
'Making chutney' 
In the lead-up to the polls, more than 50 activists were arrested and charged with sedition, said Israr-ud-din Israr, the local representative of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan .
Israr argued that the charge of sedition itself makes no sense in Gilgit-Baltistan, since Pakistan's constitution makes no mention of the region, and in international fora Islamabad maintains that the region is part of the dispute with India over Kashmir.

Because of its disputed nature, Giglit-Baltistan has not been made a province, so the only laws that apply there are those extended by the prime minister.

Spokespeople for the Pakistani prime minister's office and the foreign ministry did not respond to queries from Al Jazeera. The Ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs, which manages the region, refused to give a comment also, as did local officials, including the District Commissioner, the highest local officer.

"How can there be sedition here?" asked Israr. 
"I hold a Pakistani ID card, but I cannot vote for people in parliament. I cannot become prime minister or a member of parliament. I do not fit the description of a citizen, according to the constitution," Israr stated. 
Kashmir's economy shattered by conflict
Last October, Israr and nine others were charged with sedition after they led a march to the UN observer's office in Gilgit to deliver a letter calling for the organisation to look into the arrest of Bab Jan and other activists, whom they termed "political prisoners". 

The case against Israr and the others was thrown out by an appeals court, but the campaign picked up steam.
This February, 19 people who spoke at a seminar in Gilgit entitled "Gilgit-Baltistan in Light of the Kashmir Dispute" were arrested and  charged with sedition, because they referred to the region as a "disputed" territory.   

This June, eight activists were 
 beaten and arrested  by police as they attempted to deliver a letter to the UN observers in Gilgit calling the planned elections "illegal", and demanding a plebiscite be held to determine the region's political status. 

"India and Pakistan are making chutney with us," said Jan. "No one cares about the people here, their economy, their real problems."
Source: Al Jazeera