Much similar to Pakistan, Thailand has been in transition
It is not the ‘Thai Spring’. The country is actually known for military coups. It is a regular feature in that Southeast Asian country. Conditions for a coup have always been created. Politicians are often ousted and brought in many times. Since constitutional monarchy was established in 1932, around 18 military coups have been staged.
The ongoing political chaos has been creating conditions for another coup. Normally demonstrators are loyal to monarchy and incline toward military. Thailand is neither an absolute monarchy nor a complete constitutional monarchy. It is something in between them, existing in that political texture for long. Monarchy could directly intervene in politics, as in 1973 and 1992 to restore political order.
Protestors – thankfully not rebellious – are calling on the ruling party, Pheu Thai Party, to step down to their demands. The protest, however, goes against the will of the majority that wants the government to stay in power. This is a pretty strange situation. One needs to go by democratic credentials – to respect the will of the majority instead of creating an Unelected People’s Council by protestors to elected new prime minister. It cannot be the Unelected People’s Council to elect prime minister. The unwise move could tarnish country’s nascent democracy. Prime ministers are elected through elections.
Military also staged a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra when he was attending the UN General Assembly Session in New York in 2006. This time the Thai generals are reluctant to seize power. They might have had a bitter experience in 2006 and they intend to keep away from politics. They have been asking for a political resolution to end the chaos, and might not intervene. The Pheu Thai Party has established good contacts with the royal palace and the military, two powerful institutions in the country.
Shinawatras’ politics matters a lot in Thailand. It has grown stronger after 2006. The ongoing chaos dates back to 2006 military coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of corruption and nepotism. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in 2011 – the first woman in country’s high profile politics along with a strong business base and rural support. It was a big comeback for the Pheu Thai Party when its leader was living in self-exile in Dubai.
Economy got much better in the last two decades in Thailand. It is the second largest economy in Southeast Asia. Free water and electricity were provided to villages along with the rice mortgage scheme. People might yet be aspiring for a non-corrupt governance and more political participation. It might not be a politics for power, but a new middle class is on the rise. The old political guards might not subscribe to peasantry and labour participation. The Thai politics was previously dominated by capital Bangkok, army and businessmen. A new touch has been given to the rural participants who are 67 percent of Thailand’s population.
Provinces, especially the populous northeast one, have little say in politics. Today there is prosperity in provinces. They have modern facilities. Provinces want a change and an even greater say in politics. Thaksin Shinawatra boosted the democratic process when he was elected in 2001. The Pheu Thai Party is popular among northeastern peasants. The party gave them a new sense of participation.
Now they want a greater role in determining Thai politics. One the other hand, resurgent Muslims also play a part in Thai politics, which cannot constantly be undermined on account of ethnic cleansing and terrorism. This is another impression one got out of Thailand’s chaos. In fact, it not a real political change but a social change that is rapidly transforming Thai society.
Corruption also cannot be ruled out in Thai politics like other countries in Southeast Asia. Protestors blame the government’s inefficiency in controlling corrupt business practices. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted on account of corruption by the military. Similarly, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been confronting a number of corruption charges, including the rice scandal of US$13 billion, leveled by the opposition.
There are infrastructural projects and loans scams too, opposition alleges. Under the Amnesty Bill, the government tried to exonerate Thaksin Shinawatra of all corruption charges. This brought the people to streets, some experts say. Opposition also says that the last elections were rigged and fraudulent.
The Shinawatras’ have established close contact with Pakistani politicians. Yingluck Shinawatra visited Pakistan in August and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reciprocated the visit in November. Earlier, Thaksin Shinawatra was close to former Pakistani PM Shaukat Aziz. All of them have one thing in common: they are businessmen-turned-politicians.
The Puea Thai Party has been resisting and upholding the credentials of popular democracy. If the party and government were thrown away, it would be equated to the popular Ikhwanul Muslimin in Egypt that was toppled by the army in July. Thailand should refrain from becoming another Egypt. Otherwise, we could not control political mess rising from Southeast Asia to the Middle East when popular consensus was thrown away.
For long, Thailand has been in transition – similar to Pakistan. Just a decade is not necessary for the growth of democracy. It needs decades and centuries. Pakistan’s new democracy is hardly six years old. Thailand experienced the bitter military rule for long. Let democracy to work there.
If a coup took over in Thailand, popular Pheu Thai Party, peasantry, and provinces will receive a set up. At the same time, a stronger move for change has been taking place since 2006. It would take some more time when ruling consensus would emerge in Thai politics. Dialogue must take place within the constitutional framework instead of solving matters in streets, creating conditions for a coup.
Rule of law and majority consensus must prevail. A deeply polarized society can only be unified under consensus. Military should remain neutral in every situation to strengthen democracy in Thailand. Let’s get away from the false wisdom that military coups create political stability. Enough coups have already taken place in that country without bringing political stability. It is time to learn from history than staging another military coup.
The writer is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.
The choice in Yemen
Chances are dim that elections will be held in Yemen next February. Yet without elections, the push for reforms and change that were inspired by the Yemeni revolution would become devoid of any real value. Yemenis might find themselves back on the street, repeating the original demands that echoed in the country’s many impoverished cities, streets and at every corner.
It is not easy to navigate the convoluted circumstances that govern Yemeni politics, which seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis. When millions of Yemenis started taking to the streets on January 27, 2011, a sense of hope prevailed that Yemen would be transferred from a country ruled by elites, and mostly beholden to outside regional and international powers, to a country of a different type: one that responds to the collective aspirations of its own people.
Instead, after a long stalemate that pinned most of the country and its political representatives against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters, Gulf countries brokered a power transfer deal. The deal however sidelined Saleh, but not his family and their proponents.
It is of little help that interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was elected to guide the transition for a two-year period in 2012, is no revolutionary. True, he seemed sincere in his attempt to curb Saleh’s still prevailing influence over many of the country’s institutions, but that is hardly enough. Saleh’s supporters are still powerful and the former ruling class is fighting back for relevance and influence. This results from a combination of deepening poverty and a failure to translate any of the revolution’s demands into any tangible solution that could be felt by the country’s poor and marginalized classes.
The target of Saleh’s supporters is the Conference of National Reconciliation (CNR). It convened on March 18 to explore common ground between all strands of Yemeni society, draw-up a new constitution and organize national elections. The 565 members of the conference found out that their differences were too many to overcome. Exploiting Yemen’s political woes, tribal and sectarian divisions, the old regime used its own representatives at CNR, and sway over the media to derail the process.
In remarks before the Security Council, Jamal Benomar, the United Nations envoy to Yemen, sounded the alarm to the staged comeback. A statement of his remarks was made available to the media on Nov 28. It said that there was a “well-funded, relentless and malicious media campaign” to undermine Hadi, so that he either prolongs his mandate or leaves offices. “Some elements of the former regime believe they can turn back the clock,” the envoy said. These elements have become a “persistent source of instability.”
The dialogue itself has been extended, with little evidence that anything concrete is on the way. What is even worse is that 85 delegates representing south Yemen, which until 1990 was a state of its own, decided to permanently leave the conference. The separatist movement in south Yemen has grown massively in recent months. The country is more vulnerable than ever before.
If Hadi leaves, a political vacuum could spark another power struggle. If he stays by extending his term in office, the dialogue is likely to falter even more. There can be no win-win situation, at least for now.
Considering that Benomar himself played a key role in shaping the current transitional period, his gloomy reading of the situation in Yemen is hardly encouraging.
As talks are derailed and the prospects of a compromise are at an all-time low, the Southern separatist movement Al-Hirak continues to gather steam. The movement grew increasingly more relevant following the Oct 12 rallies, when tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Eden, mostly demanding secession from the north.
What is happening in Yemen these days is in complete contrast to the collective spirit that occupied the streets of the country nearly three years ago. In Jan 2011, a large protest took place in the Yemeni capital Sana’a demanding immediate reforms in the country’s corrupt family and clan-based politics. Within a week the rest of the country joined the initial cry for reforms. On Feb 3, both Sana’a and Eden stood united under one banner. It was a momentous day because both cities once served as capitals of two warring countries. The youth of Yemen were able to fleetingly bridge a gap that neither politicians nor army generals managed to close despite several agreements and years of bloody conflicts. However, that collective triumph of the Yemeni people was only felt on the streets of the country, overwhelmed by poverty and destitution, but also compelled by hope. That sentiment was never truly translated into a clear political victory, even after Saleh was deposed in Feb 2012.
The Gulf-brokered agreement under the auspices of the UN and other international players stripped the revolution of its euphoria. It merely diverted from the massive popular movement that gripped the streets for many months, allowing politicians, representatives of tribes and other powerful elites to use the NDC to simply achieve its own interests, be it to maintain a handle on power – as is the case of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC), or to ignite old hopes of secession. The party that was closest to the collective demands of ordinary Yemenis was the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), representing the opposition. However, conflict soon ensued between members of the JMP themselves, especially between the Islamic-leaning Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah) whose core supporters are based in the North, and the secularist Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), based in the South.
Considering the mistrust in the very process that is meant to lead the country towards permanent reforms and democracy, and in the very representatives guiding the transition, it is no wonder that Yemen is once more at the brink of tumult. The country’s unity, achieved in May 1990, after bitter struggle and war between a Marxist-Leninist South Yemen, and North Yemen, is now at risk. Equally as dangerous is that the south, although represented by the all-encompassing Al-Hirak, hardly speaks in one voice.
Al-Hirak itself is divided and at times seems incapable of taking one solid political stance. Following a statement in which Al-Hirak announced that they “completely withdraw from the conference (holding) all the parties that placed obstacles in our path responsible for this decision,” another statement surfaced on Nov 28, also attributed to Al-Hirak “denying the walkout and affirming that the Southern movement remains committed to the national dialogue,” reported Asharq Al-Awsat.
Yemen’s divisions are copious and growing, allowing the old regime to find ways to once more dominate the country. It could easily rebrand itself as the party capable of uniting all Yemenis and saving Yemen from complete economic collapse and disintegration.
Still empowered by the spirit of their revolution that underscored the resilience and discipline of one of the world’s poorest nations, Yemenis might find themselves back on the streets demanding freedom, democracy, transparency and more, demands of which nothing has been accomplished, nearly three years on.
Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” and “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).
Where the new government stands
One of the major negatives for the sitting governments all over the world is that they invariably are the victim of the syndrome of ‘disadvantages of incumbency’. No matter how good and imaginative their policies are, there are always people out there who consider it their scared duty to cavil at them and make a conscious effort to ferret out inadequacies in those initiatives out of context. The other disadvantage is that the incumbent governments, for some inexplicable reason, also suffer from lack of credibility. The combination of these two factors makes it really difficult for the governments to defend their policy options. This phenomenon is more pronounced in developing countries as compared to the developed nations.
Pakistan presents a quintessential model of this phenomenon. The present government has hardly completed six month of its incumbency and it is already being subjected to an undeserved opprobrium for its failure to turn around the economy and surmounting the other inherited challenges without making an honest effort to evaluate its endeavours in their proper context. The major thrust of the criticism on the government relates to the economic situation of the country. Perhaps it would be pertinent to have a cursory glance at the state of the economy when the PML-N government was installed, to understand the real worth and value of the policies put in place to address the maladies afflicting the economy.
It is a known fact that the present government inherited a severe energy crisis which was one of the major factors responsible for triggering economic meltdown. The economy was in complete shambles. Budgetary deficit stood at 9% of the GDP and the country had an internal debt liability of Rs14.3 trillion. It faced a huge budget deficit and its overall financing requirement on external front stood at US$11.5 during the current fiscal year. The country was likely to default on the payment of loans with all the accompanying negative fall-out for the country and hence needed to be addressed on top priority basis.
An objective appraisal would reveal that the government without wasting any time took a prudent decision to approach the IMF for US$ 5.3 billion loan package for the next three years with an upfront payment of US$ 3 billion to repay the IMF loan due to be paid during the current financial year. That loan was not only successfully negotiated but the IMF during an evaluation exercise has also endorsed the measures taken by the government to restructure the economy and reforms aimed at expanding the tax base and other measures to address the economic afflictions. The government is in the process of raising US$ 4.7 billion from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank besides raising US$ 4 billion through private investment and privatisation proceeds.
The government was convinced that the only way to revive the economy required attracting foreign as well as internal investment and broadening the tax base. The first budget presented by the government envisaged reducing the budget deficit from 9% of the GDP to 6%, measures to reduce government expenditures, bringing more and more people into the tax net, providing incentives for the foreign investors in the form of tax holidays and infrastructural amenities. With a view to generate employment within the country the government launched a programme to advance loans to youth up to Rs2 million to start their own business which is likely to play a significant role in reducing unemployment among the skilled and educated young men.
Recently, another package has been announced to encourage private investments whereby the government has exempted an investment of up to Rs25 million from scrutiny as to its source, made in the construction industry, Thar Coal projects in Sindh and mining projects in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa provided that the sources are not hit by Narcotics Act of 1977, Anti-Terrorism Act of 1977 and anti-money laundering laws. A number of other incentives were also announced to promote culture of paying taxes.
The government has retired the circular debt and there is a discernible improvement in regards to power outages. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been making frantic efforts to seek assistance and support of other countries in regards to promoting foreign investment, especially in the energy sector. In this regard, he has visited a number of countries, though his detractors have failed to acknowledge the utility of these visits. China is helping us in a big way to tide over the energy crisis and the Chinese companies are expected to make an investment of US$ 6 billion in this sector over the next five years. The government is giving top priority to changing the energy production mix by switching over to coal based power production and other renewable energy resources. Power producing companies have been asked to switch over to coal based power generation. Work on ten new coal based projects with a cumulative production potential of 6,600 MW has already been initiated at Gaddani in Balochistan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recently also performed the groundbreaking ceremony of the largest civil nuclear power plant designed to generate 2,200 MW of electricity and revealed that six more such projects would be launched in the near future. As a follow-up of his visit to the US and the agreements reached with the US government, a delegation visited US recently to discuss its investment in the energy sector. All these positive outcomes of his visit to foreign countries in themselves constitute an authentic snub for those who look askance at these sojourns and also provide a ranting proof of the seriousness with which the government is approaching the issue of energy shortage and revival of the economy.
Another very positive aspect of the foregoing measures is that the jobs created through foreign and domestic investments in the industrial sector will also lead to enhancement of government revenues through taxes by broadening the tax base and bringing more and more sectors into the tax net; a prescription that economists of all hue agree on ungrudgingly. There are however some difficulties being faced by the masses in the short run as a consequence, like revisions in the energy prices, withdrawal of subsidies across the board and resort to a programme of targeted subsidies but the dilemma is that they cannot be avoided. When the steps taken by the government start creating their impact and the projects start operating, the situation will certainly ease. It is an inescapable reality that building a prosperous future does entail some sacrifices and hardships.
Malik Muhammad Ashraf is an academic. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Upset by the US-Iranian nuclear deal, Saudi Arabia has little choice but to rely on the US for regional security
Saudi Arabia seems to have few viable options for pursuing a more independent and forthright foreign policy, despite its deep unease about the West's tentative rapprochement with Iran.
Upset with the United States, senior Saudis have hinted at a range of possibilities, from building strategic relations with other world powers to pushing a tougher line against Iranian allies in the Arab world and, if world powers fail to foil Tehran's nuclear ambitions, even seeking its own atomic bomb.
But alternative powers are hard even to contemplate for a nation that has been a staunch U.S. ally for decades. Russia is on the opposite side to Riyadh over the Syrian war and China's military clout remains modest compared with the United States'.
Robert Jordan, U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03, said there would be limits to any Saudi alliances with other powers.
"There is no country in the world more capable of providing the protection of their oil fields, and their economy, than the U.S., and the Saudis are aware of that. We're not going to see them jump out of that orbit," he told Reuters.
While Jordan was a senior diplomat in the administration of President George W. Bush, some Saudi analysts also say the kingdom is well aware of what major foreign policy shifts would involve - particularly any pursuit of nuclear weapons.
This could end up casting Saudi Arabia as the international villain, rather than its regional arch-rival Iran, and Riyadh has no appetite for the kind of isolation that has forced Tehran to the negotiating table.
"Saudi Arabia doesn't need to become a second Iran," said a Saudi analyst close to official thinking. "It would be a total reversal of our traditional behaviour, of being a reliable member of the international community that promotes strategic stability and stabilises oil markets."
Diplomatic sources and analysts in the Gulf say the kingdom, while unsettled, will not risk a breach in relations with its main non-Arab ally and will explore, however warily, a purely diplomatic response to the Iranian opening.
Top Saudis are nevertheless furious with Washington. Senior U.S. officials held secret bilateral talks with Iranian counterparts for months to prepare for last month's interim nuclear agreement between six world powers and Tehran, raising Gulf Arab rulers' fears that Washington is willing to go behind their backs to do a deal with Iran.
Saudi leaders were taken unawares by the content of the deal that was struck in the early hours of November 24, despite an earlier promise by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep them informed of developments, diplomatic sources in the Gulf said.
In Washington, a senior State Department official said Kerry had been in close contact with his counterparts throughout the two rounds of negotiations in Geneva, and had talked to Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on November 25.
"The agreement was reached in the middle of the night and Secretary Kerry spoke with the Saudi Foreign Minister soon afterward," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The agreement offers Tehran relief from sanctions that are strangling its economy, in return for more oversight of its nuclear programme. Riyadh, along with its Western allies, fears this is aimed at producing weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif suggested on Sunday the deal should not be seen as a threat. "This agreement cannot be at the expense of any country in the region," he told reporters in Kuwait. "We look at Saudi Arabia as an important and influential regional country and we are working to strengthen cooperation with it for the benefit of the region."
Diplomatic sources in the Gulf say Riyadh is nervous that the deal will ease pressure on Tehran, allowing it more room to damage Saudi interests elsewhere in the Middle East.
The conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom is at odds with Iran's revolutionary Shi'ite leaders in struggles across the Arab world, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen.
Most of all, Riyadh sees Iran's open support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in fighting a rebellion backed by Gulf states as a foreign occupation of Arab lands.
Two Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders have been killed in Syria this year, and rebels have also said Iranian fighters are on the ground, although it is unclear whether they are there in any great numbers. The Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, which is allied to Tehran, has also sent fighters to help Assad's forces, although these are Arabs.
Riyadh has expressed lukewarm support for the nuclear deal, couched alongside caveats that it was a "first step" and that a more comprehensive solution required "good will".
But some prominent Saudis have made bold declarations that Riyadh will develop a tough new foreign policy, defending its interests in keeping with its status as the richest Arab state and birthplace of Islam.
Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi ambassador to London, told The Times newspaper that "all options are available" to Riyadh, including seeking its own atomic weapon, if Iran managed to build the bomb.
But diplomatic sources in the Gulf and analysts close to Saudi thinking say the main problem in turning such rhetoric into action is the lack on an obvious replacement for the U.S. security umbrella in the Gulf, or for the American military's role in advising, arming and assisting the Saudi armed forces.
"There'll be more contact with the Russians and Chinese than in the past. They've gone elsewhere for weapons before and we'll see some more of that, but the overall environment will be America-centric," said Jordan.
A Western adviser to Gulf countries on geopolitical issues said senior Saudis have looked at ways of reducing the kingdom's long-term reliance on the United States.
France is one option, albeit one that remains firmly in the Western camp notwithstanding past differences with NATO allies.
Riyadh has worked closely with Paris in recent months on both Syrian and Iranian issues, and has awarded it big naval contracts. That said, the Saudi armed forces and economy are so closely tied to the United States that any serious attempt to disengage over the longer term would be prohibitively costly and difficult, diplomatic sources in the Gulf say.
Washington remains much closer to Riyadh on every Middle Eastern issue than any other world power at present except France, which has taken a hard line on Iran.
In Syria - the issue over which there is the greatest disagreement between Riyadh and Washington, the kingdom is already arming and training some rebel groups which the United States, wary about arming jihadists, views with caution.
Diplomatic sources in the Gulf say these efforts will continue and may expand, but logistical challenges will hinder any rapid attempt to increase training much beyond the thousand or so rebels now working in Jordan with Saudi special forces.
Riyadh's own fears of an Islamist backlash, reinforced by a bombing campaign inside the country in the last decade, prevent it from arming more militant groups with ties to al Qaeda.
The sources say Saudi Arabia still relies on a lot of support from Western allies for command and control expertise, and would find it very difficult to build its own coalition of Arab allies to join forces in a military campaign.
The kingdom and its five closest regional friends, the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, have been unable to agree on a shared missile defence shield after years of discussions, they note.
THE SAUDI BOMB
Prince Mohammed's warnings on the possibility of seeking a nuclear bomb have previously been voiced by other top Saudis, including former intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal.
But on closer inspection this looks less like a serious statement of intent and more like an attempt to nudge world powers into being tougher on Iran by raising the spectre of an atomic arms race in the Middle East, where Israel is already widely presumed to have nuclear weapons.
The analyst close to official thinking suggested that actively seeking nuclear arms would backfire, making Riyadh the proliferator of mass destruction weapons instead of Iran.
Media commentators have speculated the kingdom could obtain an atomic bomb from its nuclear-armed friend Pakistan, or on the arms market. But the analyst said it would never place itself in the position of being an international outcast like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and more recently Tehran.
"Iraq did it. Iran did it. Saudi Arabia would never do this type of behaviour," he said.
Saudi Arabia is in the very early stages of planning an atomic power programme, and has signed up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and a more rigorous safeguarding protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Any attempt to build a bomb in secret would probably take decades due to the kingdom's current lack of any nuclear technology, expertise or materials, analysts believe.
Even if it were to attempt to short cut that process by, for example, buying an off-the-peg atomic weapons system from Pakistan - a transaction itself fraught with difficulties - the obstacles would be formidable.
"There's a lot of infrastructure to put in place, to make the threat credible and deliverable. It's not clear to me that Saudi Arabia would be able to do that in short order at all," said Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and nuclear proliferation expert.
Such an effort would also incur a massive price in diplomatic and economic relations with other countries, notably the United States. The Saudi economy, reliant on oil exports and the import of many goods and services from overseas, appears ill suited to withstand such pressures.
Angus McDowall is a British freelance journalist.
With its “imminent collapse” or “peaceful evolution theories,” the West is wrong on China
From President Barack Obama’s ceding of the center stage to his Chinese counterpart at the recent APEC gathering to frenzied attempts to decipher the country’s political and economic directions from the party’s just finished Third Plenum, the rising giant of the East often dominates Western political discourse. Unfortunately, such discourses are taking place on a faulty paradigm.
Ever since 1989, mainstream Western opinions about China have been dominated by two divergent theories with opposite policy prescriptions. The ultimate aim of both was to build a universalized world order, which, of course, could not be credible without China. One is the “imminent collapse” school. Espoused by cold warriors, it predicted wholesale collapse of the country. The one-party political system was inherently incapable of managing the intensifying social and economic conflicts as the country went through its wrenching transformation from a poor agrarian economy to an industrialized and urban one. The Western alliance should seek to contain China, so the theory went, and thereby hasten the fall of a threatening power ruled by an illegitimate regime. The other is the “peaceful evolution” school. These are the panda-hugging universalists who made the “they-will-become-just-like-us” prediction. As the country modernized its economy, China would inevitably accept market capitalism and democratize its political system, and proponents urged deploying an engagement policy to speed up this evolution.
Nearly a quarter century has passed since the Western intellectual and policy establishment has been guided by these two schools of thought about arguably the most significant development of our time – China’s reemergence as a great power. The report card is not pretty.
The assumptions made by the imminent-collapse school include the following: China was run by a dictatorial party clinging to the dead ideology of Soviet communism. Its political system inherently lacked the ability to adapt to the rapidly modernizing Chinese society. The myriad social and economic conflicts would soon implode, and the fate of the Soviet Union awaited the party state. With that, a major ideological obstacle to a Western-designed universal order would be removed.
Of course, the cold warriors have had to postpone the effective date of their prediction year after year for decades. What did they get wrong? It turned out that the party has not been holding back or reacting to China’s modernization, but leading it. Self-correction, an ability many attribute to democracies, has been a hallmark of the party’s governance. In its many decades of governing the largest and fastest changing country in the world the party has pursued the widest range of policy changes compared with any other nation in modern history. Most recently it has successfully managed a highly complex transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy – where many developing nations have failed. In the process it has produced the most significant improvement in standard of living for the largest number of people in the shortest time in history.
Because of this performance record, China’s modernization process has strengthened the party’s rule, not weakened it. The key driver of the party’s success is inherent in its political institution. Over the decades, the party has developed a process through which capable leaders are trained and tested – eventually emerging at the top to lead the country. Whereas elections have failed to deliver in many parts of the world, meritocratic selection has in China.
As embarrassing as it must have been for the collapse predictors, the bitterest disappointment belongs to the universalists who foresaw with philosophical certitude the inevitable evolution of China towards liberal democracy and market capitalism. Their conviction was guided by the grand post–Cold War narrative: After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world would come together under a globalized order. Western values were universal values. Western standards were universal standards. Indeed, many have capitulated to that narrative. A large number of developing countries transformed their political and economic systems, some violently, to meet the demands of globalization.
But China walked a different path. As the party embarked on dramatic reforms, the country possessed a degree of national independence unmatched by most developing nations. This ability to control its own destiny allowed China to engage globalization on its own terms. Its one-party system remained intact and the party institution matured and strengthened. Its economic integration with the developed world was carried out in ways that brought maximum benefits to the Chinese people. Market access was granted in exchange for direct investments that created industrial jobs and technology transfers. The government exercised political authority above market forces and led the largest investment expansion in infrastructure and health and education in history.
The dream of “they-will-become-just-like-us” has evaporated. After the Cold War, many were enamored by the material successes of the West and sought to emulate Western political and economic systems without regards to their own cultural roots and historical circumstances. Now, with a few exceptions, the vast majority of developing countries that have adopted electoral regimes and market capitalism remain mired in poverty and civil strife. In the developed world, political paralysis and economic stagnation reign. The hard fact is this: Democracy is failing from Washington to Cairo. Even the most naïve panda huggers could not sustain the belief that China would follow such “shining” examples.
If the West wants to deal rationally with China, a paradigm shift in thinking is urgently needed. And, perhaps, such a shift could provide fresh ideas on how the West can approach the world differently and even begin to solve its own problems.
To begin a reassessment, it is useful to first recognize what China is not. It is not a revolutionary power, and it is not an expansionary power. It is not a revolutionary power because, unlike the West of late, it is a non-ideological actor on the world stage and not interested in exporting its values and ways to the outside world. Even as its interests expand far beyond its borders – and make no mistake, these interests will be vigorously defended – it will not seek to actively change the internal dynamics of other countries. It is not an expansionary power because that is not part of the Chinese DNA. Compared with the many empires in human history, even at the zenith of its own power during its long civilization, China has seldom invaded other countries in large scale. The Chinese outlook is that of centrality, not universality. More practically, the Chinese see, rather wisely, that, although it could not accept wholesale the current global architecture, its rise must be peaceful. Otherwise the consequences are unimaginable. China’s sheer size makes this so. Self-interests will dictate that China is likely to err on the side of restraint as it reemerges as a great power.
History is littered with precedents of failures to accommodate rising powers leading to tragic conflicts. But that does not have to be destiny. Give China time, allow it the space and independence to continue on its own path. Live and let live. The forced convergence led by the West is costing everyone, not least the West itself. Perhaps a healthy respect for divergence could pave the way toward a convergence of a more peaceful and sustainable kind.
Eric X Li is a venture capitalist and political scientist in Shanghai. This essay is adapted from a lecture given at the Oxford Union.
What does latest dead Afghan 2-Year-Old have in common with Paul Robeson, John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Marley, and the Kennedys?
This is the season of death, when we celebrate the dying of the sun with an orgiastic burst of consumption and environmental destruction. This is the season of rebirth when we spend time with loved ones and reach out to help others we don’t know.
Now would be an appropriate time to come to grips with public murder and make a public investment in peace. If I were summoning back ghosts of governments past for a press conference at the National Press Club, my first inclination — lasting only a split second — would be to bring the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Native Americans, the Laotians, the Mexicans, the Cambodians, the Iraqis, the Guatemalans, the Japanese, the Afghans, the Germans, the Yemenis, and all the peoples of the world dead by our indifference or malevolence and by our sacred tax dollars. Pacific Islanders killed by weapons testing would join children killed by drug testing, and prisoners both innocent and guilty killed by electric chairs and injections, standing side-by-side with the resurrected bodies of men tortured to death by the CIA, kids melted with white phosphorous, and presidents — both foreign and domestic — cut down by assassins spreading freedom and joy.
My second inclination would be to line up a handful of press-worthy celebrities whose celebrity might motivate a bit of our national press corpse [sic] to hop an elevator for the long commute to the press club despite the fact that these particular celebrities were murdered by our government. First might be Paul Robeson. Here’s a wikipedia summary for those unfamiliar with this great man. Here’s a taste of Robeson’s voice. And here’s audio of a discussion with Robeson’s son and others of how the CIA drugged him and then electroshocked him, effectively debilitating and silencing a voice that had never before faltered, a voice that had gone so far as to denounce the House Un-American Activities Committee as un-Americans to their faces. This article sums up this crime. This more recent article looks back.
Next to Robeson before the cameras might stand John Wayne. In 1955, movie star John Wayne, who avoided participating in World War II by opting instead to make movies glorifying war, decided that he had to play Genghis Khan. The Conqueror was filmed in Utah, and the conqueror was conquered. Of the 220 people who worked on the film, by the early 1980s 91 of them had contracted cancer and 46 had died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Statistics suggest that 30 of the 220 might ordinarily have gotten cancer, not 91. In 1953 the military had tested 11 atomic bombs nearby in Nevada, and by the 1980s half the residents of St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, had cancer. You can run from war, but you can’t hide. Imagine that comment in John Wayne’s voice as he stands, newly restored to life, speaking at a podium surrounded by handsome hacks who play journalists on TV.
Beside Robeson and Wayne at the best-attended-ever press conference we might line up Ernest Hemingway. When I was first told that Hemingway had killed himself, it was explained to me that he didn’t want to live as an old man incapable of hunting lions. And yet this was the author of The Old Man and the Sea. Make sense of that if you can. Now we learn from Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life that the FBI’s surveillance of Hemingway “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.” Hemingway’s close friend didn’t take Hemingway’s complaints about the FBI seriously until his FBI file was finally released, confirming the surveillance. “It’s the worst hell,” Hemingway had said. “The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using [a friend]’s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.” I wonder how many high school English classes will mention this.
Next to Hemingway, let’s bring out Bob Marley. The CIA’s files on him are being kept secret for your protection, but the death and destruction the CIA was bringing to his country is undisputed, the CIA’s responsibility for the failed assassination attempt against him is very likely, and it appears that in the end the CIA got him by a manner that sounds insanely bizarre if you haven’t heard about giving an entire French town LSD or targeting a single intended victim (Fidel Castro) with a poisoned diving suit, an exploding cigar, a ballpoint-pen syringe, an exploding conch shell, and dozens of other crackpot schemes that sound less comical when they work.
Some surprise guests at the press club might include John and Robert Kennedy. Others might include, after all, the millions of nameless forgotten dead, the victims of the industrial-scale “signature strikes” that have been our biggest public investment. Not that the reporters would all see the point of cramming so many resurrected bodies into their club, but because some of the celebrity victims might more clearly grasp and articulate the purpose of the event. Sooner or later we are going to have to stop killing people and start loving people, or the rebirth of life after winter won’t keep repeating.
David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.
Tectonic shifts in global balance of power
As the American influence wanes in the Arab world, Russian and China are likely to gain. One of the important reasons why the US wanted to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan was to concentrate on the threat posed by the emerging clout of China. While the focus of the world was fixated on the nuclear deal with Iran and affairs of Syria for the last few months, tensions have been brewing in the Asia Pacific, related to the disputed islands of Senkaku/Diaoya in the East China Sea.
In the case of Syria, and other recent Arab conflicts, both Russia and China have resisted the calls for intervention. Moreover, the last minute deal struck with Syria over its chemical weapons would not have been possible without Russian cooperation. In fact, many claim that Russia helped US out of a tight position, and thus also provided an opening for a political solution to Iran’s nuclear programme.
At the same time, others argue it was the buildup of military hardware in and around the Strait of Hormuz that finally convinced Syria and Iran about West’s seriousness.
Nonetheless, while most of these conflicts appear to have local underpinnings, it would be difficult to grasp the holistic picture without understanding their significance to the overall balance of power, especially amongst global actors such as US, Russia and China, including other European heavyweights.
While Russia encroaches in the Middle East, it has also been re-exerting itself in Eastern Europe. The case of Ukraine is a case in point where under pressure from Russia, the government decided against joining the European Union and that has now led to public protests. Additionally, Russia wasted no time in the aftermath of the recent deal reached with Iran, to make a case for why there was now no need for the American/NATO missile defense system.
While the US and NATO had claimed the system was directed at countering threats from Iran, the Russians had consistently protested against the placement of the components of this system in Eastern Europe, alleging the system was actually meant for Russian missiles.
In South Asian theatre, while Russia traditionally has good ties with India, it is also gradually warming up to Pakistan and has offered assistance with building up the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Russia has also offered partial funding and technical assistance for CASA-1000 project, expansion of Pakistan Steel Mill ($500m), Guddu and Muzaffargarh power plants, and Thar coal project.
On the other hand, good ties with Russia facilitate Pakistan’s outreach to Central Asia; another region previously under the Russian sphere of influence.
As the American influence ebbs in the core Islamic world and its long-term ties with nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan are in a state of flux, it has been building relations with the Islamic nations of the Pacific. The recent US engagement of US with Iran can be viewed as connected to the worsening of ties with Sunni Muslim states.
While China and Russia have been deepening ties with both the Shiite and Sunni states using SCO, the US and NATO have remained disengaged from Iran and the Shiites. Now this pattern is heading for a historic reversal as US focuses on building a balance by engaging Iran and perhaps in the future attempt to pull it away from China and Russia. To what extent will this move disillusion the Gulf Sunnis, and if this would push them in the arms of Russia and China, remains to be seen.
How the other European powers respond to these changes will also help in understanding the emerging picture. Early signs indicate France is focusing heavily on the Islamic Maghreb and Central African region. On April 29, the UK based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) presented a ‘Return to East of Suez’ policy brief. The paper suggests that Britain is considering placing its land, sea, and air forces across the Middle East, for touch and go type operations that increasingly look likely. The report adds that the Arab awakening, the situation of Iran and Syria, have made the Middle East highly volatile and Britain is preparing policy options on how to respond. The British outlook looks pretty similar to the US – small bases located strategically across the region with Special Forces and smart weapons on the ready to conduct quick operations.
According to the RUSI report, the potential missions could be in support of the American and NATO operations, but could be taken independently as well. And, it goes on to ease European worries that Britain is looking to operate outside of European security arrangements. In a larger framework, while the US is pivoting to the Pacific, UK appears to be pivoting back to the Middle East. Whether this is a coordinated move is not known yet, nonetheless, it would likely provoke reaction from other powers.
The above context provides another angle to understand the recent occurring in the Asia Pacific, where China becomes more aggressive in asserting its territorial claims. China established a new air defense zone over the disputed islands in East China Sea last month, and has declared it will start enforcing fresh rules. The declaration was immediately tested when unarmed American B-52 and B-2 bombers intruded the zone without informing the Chinese, followed by Japan and South Korean planes doing the same. This has raised a discussion about the Chinese intent and reaction, and with that the chances of escalation. If China does not enforce the new rules, it would seem weak, but then why did it want to appear strong at this juncture.
Ironically, accompanying the air disturbances in East China Sea is the civil unrest in Thailand – a country with the strongest ties with China in the region. Whether it’s a matter of NATO supply line and drones in Pakistan, the EU membership in Ukraine, or the type of government in Egypt, these are all reflections of the rapidly unsettling global balance of power.
Of ‘cherry-pickers’ and ‘spinners’
By now, I should be used to the fact that people will ‘cherry-pick’ polls or try to ‘spin’ results to fit their agendas. But, it still rankles.
For example, I still get upset when I recall how then Vice-President Dick Cheney famously tried to find good news in the first poll Zogby International conducted in Iraq in October, 2003. Our poll findings demonstrated that even at that early date America was in real trouble with the Iraqi public. But Cheney would not accept bad news. Appearing on "Meet the Press" a few days after our poll release, he praised the "carefully done...Zogby poll" saying that there was "very positive news in it".
In fact, what we found was that a majority of Iraqis claimed that they had been abused by the US military, felt that America was hurting their country, and wanted US troops to leave.
In response, I wrote a rebuttal, which The Guardian titled ‘Bend It Like Cheney’, chiding the vice-president for abusing our poll findings to suit his purposes in much the same way that he had falsified intelligence to justify the war.
With this as background, I want to address some concerns I have with interpretations being given to the results of our most recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) poll in Egypt.
We released the data this week under the headline "Egyptian Attitudes: Divided and Polarized". Since then, I have seen news stories, commentaries, and tweets implying that our findings have good news for the Muslim Brotherhood, bad news for the military, and surprising news about the US, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In fact, if the results of the poll are looked at objectively, the results are far more complex and nuanced.
It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood still has the confidence of 34 per cent of Egyptians. But confidence doesn't equal support, and it's not possible to positively spin or boast about this number when the poll also shows that one-half of all Egyptians want the Brotherhood to be banned and 83 per cent of Egyptians say that the Morsi government has some "responsibility for the current problems facing Egypt today".
And while 79 per cent of Egyptians say that ‘national reconciliation should be an important goal for Egypt’, a plurality of all Egyptians see the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘the biggest obstacle to reconciliation’.
Another columnist made note of findings that showed that 51 per cent of Egyptians said that "it was incorrect of the army to depose Morsi" as president, that 46 per cent of Egyptians said they were "worse off" since the July 3 military action, and that support for the military had dropped from over 90 per cent in June to 70 per cent in our most recent poll.
What that writer failed to note was that the military's decision to depose Morsi and support for the military, itself, was mainly opposed by the one-third of Egyptians who said they had confidence in the Muslim Brotherhood. Among the other two-thirds of Egyptian society, the decision to depose Morsi had overwhelming support and the military, as an institution, still has a near 90 per cent confidence rating.
As for those who said they were now ‘worse off’ – those numbers were also skewed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, 80 per cent of whom said they were ‘worse off’. Among the rest of Egyptians, more than 75 per cent said they were either ‘better off’ or ‘about the same as they were before’.
As for the writer who expressed surprise at the US' low four per cent favourable rating, or the tweeter who dismissed the highly favourable ratings Egyptians gave to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as being ‘bought by billions’ – our poll findings tell a different story. The US has almost always fared poorly in Egyptian public opinion largely due to US policy toward Palestine and the war in Iraq. Since we began our Arab World polling in 2002, except for the brief honeymoon that followed President Obama's 2009 speech at Cairo University, Egyptian attitudes toward the US have consistently been low. In 2011 the US favourable rating in Egypt was just five per cent and in 2012 it was 10 per cent.
At the same time, our past polls show that Egyptians have had favourable views of Saudi Arabia and the UAE long before those nations made large contributions to the current Egyptian government. In fact, the only interesting finding in this area of the September poll is the significant drop in Egyptian support for Turkey and Qatar (despite the significant financial support Qatar had given to the Morsi government). This decline is most likely due to the support Turkey and Qatar gave to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The bottom line is that despite the efforts of the ‘cherry-pickers’ and ‘spinners’, there is nothing in this poll to buttress the position of the Brotherhood. And while the military can find some evidence of support in the poll – there are, as well, clear warning signs that should be heeded.
Here's what I believe are the real top line findings from our survey. First and foremost, Egypt is deeply divided and polarized. But while that is true, 60 per cent of all Egyptians say they are hopeful about the country's future (slightly down from the 68 per cent who were hopeful in July, but still significantly higher than the 36 per cent who were hopeful in May – before the military intervened). It is also important to note that 83 per cent of all Egyptians believe that their situation will improve in the coming years.
At this point, two-thirds of all Egyptians see themselves in a post-Morsi era. In our most recent poll, they tell us that they want: a government that will ‘keep us safe and restore order’, the ‘road map’ to be implemented creating a framework for ‘a more inclusive democracy’, and an amended constitution and a newly elected civilian government. Finally, they decidedly favour national reconciliation – even while they see the Brotherhood as the main obstacle to such an effort.
From earlier polls we have conducted in Egypt, it is clear that the number one priority for most Egyptians is the improvement of their economy leading to job creation. Continued unrest only impedes progress in achieving that goal. There is a message here for all of Egypt's political forces – including the Brotherhood and the military – to avoid behaviours that further exacerbate the divisions that are paralyzing the country. Egypt needs to turn the corner so that its government and people together can create the more prosperous, inclusive, and hopeful future that most Egyptians still believe can be theirs.
The puppet who refused to move
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is not conforming to his puppet status. He was meant to be the marionette of Washington’s confused and often incompetent policy in Afghanistan. With Karzai at the helm of a broken and mutilated state, the Coalition forces demonstrated with much aplomb what version of democracy they were giving the Afghan state. Not only was it a weak stripling, it proved to be a diseased one on the cusp of death.
The anger shown towards Karzai’s reluctance to the current security plan by Washington is almost amusing. He has been accused by Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, as “reckless in terms of Afghanistan”. He has refused, at this point, to ratify the security deal with his occupying sponsors despite its endorsement last week by the Loya Jirga, or council of tribal elders. He is biding his time, waiting till spring national elections are concluded.
The bilateral security arrangement, if implemented, would see a continuing U.S. military presence once the U.N. mandate that oversees its role ends in December 2014. This is further proof that withdrawal is something U.S. officials are contemplating with deepest reluctance, the unnecessary inconvenience of abiding by the wishes of a local populace they generally regard as roadside furniture in strategic planning.
Withdrawal is a word they would like to sidestep altogether, removing the bulk of the troops while still maintaining a set of stern military eyes over their satraps in Kabul. In the words of an unnamed senior Obama administration official, “The footprint of the intelligence community depends to some extent on the footprint of the military” (Washington Post, Dec 2). If those eyes are removed, U.S. special operations and intelligence personnel would become ineffective. Hence the pressing need to clip the wings of Afghan sovereignty, qualifying it within the parameters of perceived U.S. security.
RAND analyst Linda Robinson is happy to have suggested a different approach: lie, even more, to win Karzai over. Giving him a zero-option was not wise, showing clay-footed indiscretion. The U.S. approach to Kabul in this case “betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of Afghan nationalism and pride” and it would have been wiser that Washington crafted “this in a way in which his role as guardian of Afghan sovereignty is unimpeachable.” Pride, sovereignty and nationalism are three concepts alien to the U.S. approach to that country, but Robinson dares not mention it.
It is also striking that these officials assumed that Afghan compliance in qualifying their own sovereignty would be a matter of course – mindless assumption seems to be the staple of clumsy hegemony. Between 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. and allied troops would remain at various bases in Kabul and in the four corners of the country. The interminable war would continue.
The consequences are being hammered home should U.S. involvement be totally removed from the region. Foreign aid would cease to flow, thereby asphyxiating the state. This was a threat aimed at Karzai by the White House national security advisor Susan E. Rice. Karzai claimed on December 1 that Washington had commenced cutting military supplies. As a Sunday statement from the Afghan national security council noted, “The meeting concluded that the cutting of fuel supplies and support services to the Afghan army and policy is being used as a means to pressure Afghanistan [to sign] the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] with the U.S.” (Al Jazeera, Dec 1).
James F. Dobbins, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has issued a gloomy forecast. “If [the agreement] doesn’t happen, if this anxiety grows, you project into the upcoming electoral period a degree of instability caused by growing alarm at Afghanistan returning to the 1990s” (Washington Post, Dec 2). The official line from the occupation forces is a dull and fanciful one: that the 1990s must be avoided; that the coalition has been invaluable to stabilising Afghanistan.
Fictitious lines have been drawn in the sand, the crossing of which will result in calamity. The truth has always been that such forces were creating the most artificial conditions and forging the weakest of institutions to begin with. Afghanistan was invaded and unconvincingly occupied. An ersatz mutant democracy has been created, fuelled by graft and corruption and there are no doubt some in the region who would be happy with the U.S. zero option of withdrawing all forces should Karzai refuse to comply. Karzai is unlikely to call Washington’s bluff, given his love for its snakelike gravy train. The charade is set to continue, only for some time.
A force that invades, however paternal, however benign, is the force that eventually must leave. Afghanistan will continue to fight, against all who are on its soil, because it has known nothing else. Karzai is but an aberration, a front, a footnote to be erased by the next power struggle.
With the entire Afghan policy in shambles, the countries that have invested in the enterprise, often bloody, rarely successful, need to come up with plausible narratives. They need to argue that the blood was worth shedding. The case is not convincing. The greatest testament to that failure is Karzai himself, the significant proof that Afghanistan is doomed as long as he, and his sponsors, remains in power.
Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The trial of Musharraf and his cabinet
On November 23, 2013, Imran Khan while addressing the historic ‘dharna’ mentioned the approach of prolonging the war in Afghanistan by a member of Musharraf’s cabinet. The purpose being the inflow of US dollars. Khan sahib is the leader of change in Pakistan and his words carry weight. Success or failure of a government depends on the performance of its cabinet members. As the country is moving in the direction of change, Musharraf’s cabinet members must be thoroughly scrutinised to break the shackles of status-quo. Following is the list of the dictator’s team.
Zubaida Jalal Khan, Nilofer Bakhtiar, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Hina Rabbani Khar, Aamir Liaqat, Raza Haraj, Omar Ayub Khan, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Rao Sikander, Ishaq Khan Khakwani, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Aftaab Ahmad Sherpao, Jehangir Khan Tareen, Awais Leghari, Ijaz-ul-Haq, Javed Ashraf Kazi, Nauraiz Shakoor, Sikander Bosan, Liaqaut Jatoi, Zahid Hamid, Ameer Muqqam.
The last meeting of this cabinet was held in November 2007 presided by the then PM Shaukat Aziz followed by a photo session. The entire team was sure of coming back into power; but it was the assassination of Benazir Bhutto that turned the table. The country had to suffer another cabinet with record loot and plunder. Another list and another disaster. The indictment of Pervez Musharraf under Article 6 is in fact a trial of his entire cabinet. Once the Pandora’s box opens, everyone will run for cover.
When an army faces defeat its generals are stripped off their uniforms, never to fight again and face humiliation. The December 1971 surrender of General Niazi at the Paltan Madan in Decca was the end of his career and a new term was introduced in annals of military called ‘shaheed, ya ghazi, ya Niazi’. Unfortunately, this approach is not applied to failed governments and its cabinet members. The ‘Achkans’ and ‘Lota Waist Coats’ are dry cleaned and pressed for another oath, leading to another failed administration and the show goes on for the preservation of status-quo.
As laid down in the 1973 constitution, ‘the Cabinet shall aid and advise the Prime Minister in the exercise of his functions’. In the oath it says: “That I will not allow my personal interests to influence my official conduct or my official decision or advice so tendered. That, in all circumstances, I will do right to all manner of people, according to Law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.” How many cabinet members to date have followed their oath of office? All elected representatives and ministers were asked to file their assets before 1985. The year is important as the first non-party based elections opened the flood gates of corruption, nepotism, institution bashing, conflict of interest and open recruitment in vital public service departments like education, irrigation, police, health etc.
Keeping the USA model in mind, the founding fathers of the 1973 constitution desired fresh recruitment of technocrats in higher grades of bureaucracy (Grade 21, 22) through lateral entry. In the ZAB regime several renowned technocrats were appointed federal secretaries by the prime minister (Masood Hasan, Dr Muhammad Ajmal, Nasim Ahmed to name a few). Till date, the constitution allows the PM to promote and appoint officers in these grades. In the USA, every incoming administration brings a new team not only in the cabinet but on all senior positions. Except for the furniture everything else changes. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the babus and their bosses (cabinet members) remain unchanged. Revolving doors, musical chairs, ‘lotacracy’, whatever the term, it is the same faces in all cabinets and parties. Zia’s slogan was Islam, Nawaz stood for economic revival, Benazir desired ‘musawat’ (equality), Musharraf stood for enlightenment and Imran is committed to ‘insaf’ (justice) and change. The slogans keep changing, but the team to implement that remains intact with the same ‘babus and their bosses’. So much for the change.
My late father was a worker of the Pakistan Movement. He joined Muslim League in 1935 and kept his allegiance to the party till his death. The only praise I ever heard from him about the Red Shirts (Ghaffar Khan and Wali Khan) was that they were honest to their cause. He would often say ‘betrayal calls for death’. Honesty, integrity and self-esteem were the hallmark of the founding fathers. There is a ‘Punjabi term ‘ulaama’ (finger pointing or blame) that had to be avoided at all costs.
Pakistan today is being ruled by the PML-N which openly admits that they cannot deliver on their manifesto as the ground realities are much grimmer than their assumptions. It is indeed a betrayal of their cause. Though politically I am opposed to Mian sahib, I still pray for his long life. The arena is lethal, there is no room for child’s play. Today Muslim League is nothing but an ‘ulaama’.
The country is ready for change; comrades cannot wait any longer. Imran Khan and his PTI is in the forefront and the nation is solidly behind them. There can be no betrayal, he is known to hold his ground. Unfortunately, the failed cabinets of 1985 to 2013 cannot deliver change. Like defeated generals their wars are over. Pakistan needs ‘ghazis’ not ‘Tiger Niazis’. This indeed is a historic moment that calls for caution and planning but no betrayals.
A new Pakistan is on the horizon. The year 2014 will usher in an era of change. Those who will betray will be wiped out. Victory is in sight, finally a generation of Pakistan is in a position to hand over ‘Quaid’s country’ to the next generation. It is our duty and solemn pledge. We are not like the cabinet members who betray their oath of office and change uniforms to serve their benefactors. Both in and out of uniform, our allegiance is to the motherland.
Dr Farid A Malik is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Imran Khan vs the rest
We know it is the same Imran Khan who began his journey to fame by challenging the commonly held notions through hard work, faith and utmost dedication.
He was told he could never be a fast bowler due to physical issues, yet the world witnessed the greatness he achieved. Pakistan were deemed not to have even an outside chance at the crown jewel of cricket mid-way into the 1992 Cricket World Cup but he led the team like cornered tigers and succeeded in fetching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Another milestone was achieved for Pakistan when Khan was once again told about another impossibility: this time the leading medical experts opined that a cancer hospital with mostly free services was not feasible in even the USA let alone in Pakistan. Yet today we all know about the glorious standards and services emanating from Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCHRC) which has won several excellence awards servicing about 75% of its patients for free.
Imran Khan then focused his attention on the much neglected area of education. He dreamed of creating a world standard institute, ultimately transforming it into a knowledge city where education and degrees of international standards would be conferred upon students. Further, he, as usual, wanted the doors of this opportunity to be open for those less fortunate segments of our society who could not afford such a dream otherwise. That is why Namal College, the only college in Pakistan to offer a foreign degree, came into being. As Chancellor of Bradford University (UK), Khan set up links between it and Namal College. As with SKMCHRC, deserving students are provided with free education. Namal is on its way to becoming the first education city of Pakistan in one of the least-developed parts of the country.
After delivering in fields ranging from sports, to health, to education, there was still a sense of un-fulfilment resulting from a caring heart disturbed at the massive miseries of a nation in the clutches of ruthless rulers feasting on its resources. It was then that Imran Khan realised that he could not bring the kind of positive change in the lives of ordinary Pakistanis that he dreamed of. But politics was an ultimate challenge for an honest and non-corrupt person, facing the traditional linchpins; the adherents of Machiavelli who would go to any extent to save their fiefdoms built on the carnage of human misery. But Khan has never backed off in the face of adversity. And so began the journey of change via PTI.
The relentless efforts of a struggle spanning 17 years is a tale of utmost commitment, dedication and perseverance in the face of stiff resistance by forces opposed to change.
First time in the history of not only Pakistan but entire South Asian region, proper and large scale intra-party elections were held as per true democratic norms. This was unprecedented and a slap on the faces of traditional parties who continue to act as family limited companies.
The way Imran Khan galvanised youth is unprecedented in Pakistan. It ensured that other parties realised the importance of youth and started projects to entice youth, the credit for which ultimately goes to Imran. He made the youth realise their own importance and how they needed to take matters in their own hands to change the destiny of Pakistan. Indifference was no longer a feasible option.
The infamous “tsunami” hit the overseas Pakistanis much before it arrived in Pakistan. Having firsthand experienced the facilities offered by welfare states, the rights given and the liberties offered, they were the first to affirm Imran’s message of change for a better Pakistan. They worked day and night for the cause. For the first time a political party in Pakistan had a base of paid members. Donations of millions of dollars poured in from all over the world. This was all evident of the faith the brightest and the most affluent of Pakistan’s children have in Imran Khan.
Some people criticise some mistakes he made and Imran Khan has shown the courage to openly accept when there is one, another sign of great leadership. With survival of status quo at stake, local, regional as well as international players have invested heavily in the media. If we follow the money trail it becomes obvious that the disproportionate and often distorted criticism of Imran Khan is at the behest of these vested interests.
Despite any drawbacks in PTI, for no human is perfect, even the worst of his critics agree that he is still the best available option for Pakistan. He is the only one politician who gave Pakistan a lot and even sacrificed his own family life for that. Above all, Imran Khan gave hope and self-respect to a disillusioned nation and politically motivated those, especially the youth, who were indifferent to the process defining their nation’s future.
Imran Khan’s stance on drones and war on terror has remained unchanged. When the USA hit the peace dialogues with another drone, despite being in KP government, Khan stood up for his promises and stance. He refused to compromise, whatever be the cost. A historic public gathering marked the beginning of protests and sit-ins to block supply to NATO via KP, sending out a very strong message to the USA to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. However, the PML-N’s response was incongruous. Instead of standing by their stance during the election campaign and the last few years, albeit developed following the lead of Imran Khan, they took a U-turn and opposed his brave move. One can be forgiven for confusing PML-N with PPP as it put forward the exact arguments the PPP used to and which the PML-N had opposed vehemently before coming into power.
Let us rise above any prejudices and self-interests and ask ourselves whether any other politician, except Imran Khan, has given so much to Pakistan in terms of fame, recognition, social work, awareness, self-respect and hope. Is there any other politician who has done even a fraction of what Imran has done for this nation without being in power? Is there any other leader whose honesty, courage and positive intent are beyond doubt? Is there any current political leader who has even sacrificed his family life for Pakistan?
If your answer is, as any neutral answer will be, that there is no such politician except Imran Khan, then it is high time that we unify to strengthen his hands and work together to make our Pakistan better under his leadership.
Omer Zaheer Meer is an Economist who is also a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter @OmerZaheerMeer, or on mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Society and the innocent psychology
Amidst the obstinate continuum of socio-political woes in Pakistan, what very often gets eclipsed from notice are our children. While many a psychology is being forfeited in Pakistan, most crucial is that of our young ones.
The recent episodes of child abuse, going viral across the media and social networking websites, have sparked an interest in children to especially explore the subject. An ignorance of child abuse can be dangerous, and an exposure to it might cause unreal fears in the child. It is a ‘to be or not be’ question. Hence, the only workable panacea to this end is that children must be equipped with sufficient trust, confidence and ‘attachment’ (Bowlby, 1962), above all to their family to be able to communicate their worries and problems.
John Bowlby, a renowned psychologist, came up with an attachment theory of the child to his caregivers. These were primarily the anxious avoidant attachment, anxious resistant attachment and disorganised attachment. A due consideration to these attachment types –made easier by me for the layman to relate with – will guarantee not just the security of a child, but also that of others at the hands of the child when he grows up.
First, the anxious avoidant attachment. It is defined with the parent being emotionally unavailable to the child. When the child demands physical closeness, it is denied to him because the caregiver, a mother, for instance, is either too busy with other chores or just does not feel enough for the child’s requirements. Anxious avoidant attachment leads to children becoming passive to the mother’s presence. He cannot any longer differentiate between a stranger’s presence or his mother’s. In our society, where ends are not always so comfortably met with one parent working, the working mothers usually have to resort to developing such an avoidant attachment with the child.
Second is the anxious resistant attachment that stems from ambivalence in the caregiver’s attitude towards the child and hence it confuses the child as the caregiver would sometimes be completely apathetic towards the child’s demands, and other times, would overly exaggerate whatever the child wants. This may lead to overstimulation of unexpected outbursts of tantrums in the child. In later years this intermittent behaviour of caregiver will translate into an acute emotional and identity crisis. Low income families and the poverty stricken masses in Pakistan all exhibit this attitude where financial worries in the face of crushing inflation have all but disoriented the breadwinners.
The disorganised attachment comes third and it is at its most ruthless when it comes to the child’s overall wellbeing. It is associated with the frightening or confusing behaviour on part of parents. In this, the child may be subjected to physical or mental abuse and torture, intentional or inadvertent, by the caregivers. This may lead to serious cognitive, perceptive, physical and emotional deficits in the child. As the child sees abuse happening to him, his personal experience would justify him committing similar acts on his counterparts. This will be a socially disruptive attitude. Such children usually grow up to become wanton rebels opposing authority and control. In their later professional lives and as citizens of the Pakistani state, we can expect from such children a flagrant defiance of rules and laws. Hence, adding dry tinder to a combustible law and order scenario in the country.
It is important to note that the child will only react in the light of the way things have transpired before him or happened to him. Thereby, tilting the nature vs nurture discourse in the favor of nurture in this case. It is inevitably the result of that attention and interaction with the caregivers that the child becomes what he does at the day’s end. The child spends most of his time with the mother and hence, by ministering the child’s physical needs and the emotional requirements, the mother is the first institution of the child’s cognitive, physical, social and perceptual development. On the other hand, the disorders of an unbalanced and a lopsided attachment pattern may cause a disruption in the child’s emotions e.g., anxiety or depression; disorderly behaviour like aggression; poor physical function, for instance, psychogenic disorders; and an ambivalence in mental performance, like problems at school.
According to Eric Erikson, personality development takes place with a progressive resolution of problems distinctive of each stage and hence without the due resolution, the personality of the child may not flourish to its fullness; leading to multiple inhibitions or a mere fixation in a child’s psychology. Fixation is the ‘stuck in a stage’ phenomenon which the child cannot outgrow throughout his life. For instance, if the first stage of life, according to Ericson – ‘trust versus mistrust’ – does not get due resolution, and the child is unable to define who he can trust and who he cannot, then this ambivalence in social interaction and mal-judgment in dealing with people will last throughout his life. Thus it might come to jeopardising the child’s physical, emotional and psychological calm and security in later years.
Erikson also found that there is a constant tug of war between social requirements and the child’s personal needs. Once an imbalance occurs between the two, the child begins to suffer from many psychosocial deficits. Once any of the listed issues arise, it must ideally necessitate parents to look into the kinds of interaction and behavioural patterns which have been presented to the child in its rearing.
The problems of psychosocial nature will emerge from the environment and the child’s own cognition, and will ultimately affect the society in which the child resides. Children are our investment in the future, and for the future. We must take care of these little buds if they are to develop into responsible and conscientious citizens of a nation. Disrupting their development, owing to our neglect or abuse, can hamper the future generation from growing. And for that we will never be forgiven.
Fatima Zubair can be reached at email@example.com.
A cause to rejoice, or a call to arms?
Thankfully the stars were not quite in favour of the prime minister donning the military regalia to add the role of the Chief of Army Staff to a plethora of duties that he is already performing. So, we finally have the new army chief in the person of General Raheel Sharif. Welcome to the post, general!
Much is being said of the delayed transition in the military leadership and the possible impact that it may have on the challenges that the country is faced with, particularly in the context of the fight against terror, the scheduled US drawdown in Afghanistan and the simmering relations with India. Most of the commentators, in their overzealousness, emanating from a palpable lack of understanding of how the institution of the army functions and what may or may not be possible for a new chief to do, are predicting various scenarios which appear to be out of sync with reality.
The institution of the army does not act on the whims of its chief alone as the political leaders are wont to doing. A recent example is the so-called package announced by the prime minister to revive the economy which is illustrative of the inherent dictatorial penchant of the ones deceitfully wearing the democratic apparel. This has been done without any debate in the parliament which would have been the right approach to follow in any democratic dispensation. But, no, the parliament is there only to rubber-stamp the princely adjudications of the chief executive. The spots are those of a dictator and the prime minister cannot even hide them!
The package is also a vile continuation of the old proclivity to provide to the tax-defaulters and the money-launderers with ways and means to whiten their ill-gotten billions which they have amassed by scavenging the state’s coffers. Let us not forget that this is done a la the spirit of the National Reconciliations Ordinance (NRO) where such criminal provisions are enacted at the drop of a hat with no questions asked!
On the contrary, the army chief will only implement policies after these have been debated exhaustively by the top echelons of the institution. No whimsical decisions will hold sway as is so often the occasion with the political leadership. There are also no skeletons in the military command’s cupboards that need to be hidden from public view by ‘buying’ court adjudications or by appointing tainted criminals to key positions with powers to define the fate of individuals (read political leaders) and, in certain respects, even the fate of the state. There is a merit-based system that throws up commanders, each one of them equipped with the qualities of capability, capacity and courage to lead.
The existing balance of power between the military and the political hierarchies is based on one dominant fundamental: the sharing of responsibility in matters regarding the national security, foreign affairs and the economy. Areas that further accentuate the need for this consultative process include the war against terror and policies regarding India and Afghanistan. Any deviation from this fundamental premise will cause ripples between the two leaderships as has been the case on a few occasions in the last five to six years.
When Nawaz Sharif was ‘elected’ as the prime minister, he had his eyes fixed on three things: the appointment of his men in the presidency, the General Headquarters and the Supreme Court. He has his Mamnoon Hussain in the presidency. But, that is just about all that he will have to be content with because the army chief will never be anyone’s man, and the appointment of the chief justice is beyond his call. Under the circumstances, the best that he could hope for was to create an impression that he had selected the new army chief, so the necessity of bypassing the seniority benchmark and appointing a relatively less-fancied general to the coveted slot in a bid to stamp his personal authority on the institution. He is also keen to create an impression that the elevation of the new chief justice has his blessings so that these two people remain amenable to his disposition. What he does not recognise is that, for this to happen, the bulk of responsibility would rest on his shoulders. But, unfortunately, the actions of the government create an impression that the prime minister is driven by a dominant dictatorial penchant and that he would try to impose his exclusive non-consultative and non-democratic writ on institutions and individuals alike. This is where trouble is likely to brew.
Indications are aplenty of the widening gulf between the government and the judiciary. The non-implementation of the apex court directives in innumerable matters is indicative of the political leadership’s mindset to quickly oversee the transition from Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to the next incumbent of the coveted office. The question is whether that would bring about the desired change in the judiciary’s perception of the government’s intentions and a softening of stance towards its errant ways? If that be so, what would be its possible impact on the painfully slow ascent of the rule of law which is considered to be the one core requisite for facilitating improvement in matters of governance in the country? The government’s intentions can be adequately gauged from the fact that a large number of state institutions are without their heads, thus bringing their work to a grinding halt. This is so because the apex court has been an impediment in the way of the government appointing its Mamnoon Hussains to these coveted positions. So it waits for December 12 and the new incumbent hoping that he would look the other way.
The relations between the prime minister and the army high command are symptomatic of a perennial trust deficit. The prime minister’s infatuation with the past and his tendency to trace the core of all problems to the dictatorial interludes is dominant in his discourse and interactions. This is an attempt to divert public attention from his and his government’s glaring failures during his past stints in power as well as during the first six months of the current one. An exclusive product of a military dictator, his refusal to concede that he was responsible for systematically dismantling the fledgling democratic edifice is the most detrimental component of this growing negative syndrome. It appears that he is either unable to get over the bitterness of the past, or he is unwilling to do so and would like to use this as a convenient ploy to hide his incapability and incapacity, and that of his foot-soldiers, to cope with the growing challenges. Whatever its need and causes, it remains a monumental factor in further perpetuating the gnawing trust-deficit and impeding the emergence of a healthy relationship between the military and the government that would be conducive for the formulation and implementation of state-friendly policies. An immediate concern for the nascent relationship will be the war against terror that is likely to test the apparently divergent perceptions of the two institutions in dealing with the scourge.
The army seems to have turned a new leaf in its history which is emphatically illustrated by the six-year stint in power of the outgoing COAS. The temptation to intervene was presented to him on a platter not once but many times, but he wisely resisted it and, instead, helped the government in overcoming the challenges that it faced. One such occasion occurred during the movement for the restoration of the judiciary when all pundits had proclaimed the immediacy of a military intervention. The controversies surrounding the Kerry-Lugar Bill and the Memo fiasco were the other occasions that could have prompted military intervention as would have numerous other instances exemplified by gross corruption and abject failure of governance. But the army resisted the bait. That showed signs of maturity.
A similar effort on the part of Nawaz Sharif has been woefully missing as he remains immersed in the putrid juices of his own past, completely unmindful of its sinister ramifications.
If he tries, as is his obvious wont, to disturb the existing balance of power between the military and the political hierarchies and stamp his authority in an autocratic manner, the existing trust-deficit would likely aggravate quickly which could result in undesirable moves from both sides. The need is for the prime minister to understand that individuals and their self-securing moves cannot hold sway over institutions and their role in the process of national evolution. He must understand that the army is a key national institution that needs to be strengthened. He also needs to understand that the past that he embraces passionately is to be left behind because the present works by different dynamics. In simple words, there is a need for him to grow up and stop thinking in terms of his personal interests dictating the national paradigm. It should be the other way round and the supremacy of the national paradigm should be acknowledged ungrudgingly as, otherwise, the cause to rejoice could swiftly transform into a call to arms!
Raoof Hasan is a political analyst and the Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What the Quaid expects from him
Dear new COAS,
Here is what the founder of our nation, Quaid-e-Azam would have said to you, if he were alive today. In fact, these being his very own sayings, makes it what he actually said to you.
The Quaid-e-Azam while addressing a mammoth rally in Lahore on 30 October, 1947, said:-
“We thank providence for giving us courage and faith to fight the forces of evil. If we take our inspiration and guidance from the Holy Quran, the final victory, I once again say, will be ours. All I require of you now is that every one of us to whom this message reaches must vow to himself and be prepared to sacrifice his all, if necessary, in building up Pakistan as a bulwark of Islam and as a great nation whose ideal is peace within and peace without.”
And on 25 January, 1948, while addressing the Sindh Bar Association in Karachi, he said:-
“Islamic principles have no parallel. Today they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1300 years ago.”
Further in the same speech he said:-
“Islam is not only a set of rituals, traditions and spiritual doctrines, Islam is a code for every Muslim which regulates his life and his conduct in all aspects, social, political, economic, etc. It is based on the highest principles of honour, integrity, fair play and justice for all.”
These are the two most important speeches of the Quaid after the creation of Pakistan in which he also assures that the future constitution of Pakistan shall not be in conflict with the Sharia Law and he envisages Pakistan to become the fortress of Islam.
It needs to be clearly understood that in the Quran Islam is always called Deen and not Mazhub (religion). Deen means a complete code of life whereas Mazhub is the rituals and the mode of worship. Deen includes Mazhub. This was very clearly explained by the Quaid in his above quoted speech. In English language there is no word equivalent to Deen, consequently Islam is erroneously called a religion. The Quaid told us that the Islamic principles had no parallel and were fully applicable to present day life.
The Quaid on 25March, 1948, in his address to the officers at Chittagong said:-
“Those days have gone when the country was ruled by the bureaucracy. It is people’s government that is responsible to the people more or less on democratic lines and parliamentary practice. You have to do your duty as servants; you are not concerned with this political or that political party; that is not your business. The second point is that your conduct and dealings with the people in the various departments in which you may be: wipe off that past reputation; you are not rulers. You do not belong to the ruling class; you belong to the servants. Make people feel that you are their servants and friends, maintain the highest standard of honour, integrity, justice and fair-play.”
The Quaid in his informal talk to the civil officers at Government House, Peshawar, on 14 April, 1948, said:-
“The first thing I want to tell you is this, that you should not be influenced by any political pressure, by any political party or individual politician. Governments are formed, governments are defeated, prime ministers come and go, ministers come and go, but you stay on, and, therefore there is great responsibility placed on your shoulders. You should have no hand in supporting this political or that political party, this political leader or that political leader; this is not your business.”
The above quoted advice to the civil servants is equally applicable to the members of the Armed Forces. However, specifically for the Armed Forces on February 21, 1947, the Quaid in his address to the officers and men of the ACK Regiments in Malir said:-
“You have fought many a battle on the far-flung battlefields of the globe to rid the world of the fascist menace and make it safe for democracy. Now you have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of Islamic democracy, Islamic social justice and the equality of manhood in your own native soil.”
Furthermore, the Quaid in his address to the officers of the Staff College, Quetta, on 14 June, 1949, (89 days before his death) said:-
“One thing more. I am persuaded to say this because during my talks with one or two very high ranking officers I discovered that they did not know the implications of the oath taken by the troops of Pakistan. Of course, an oath is only a matter of form, what is more important is the true spirit and the heart. But it is an important form and I would like to take this opportunity of refreshing your memory by reading the prescribed oath.”
The Quaid then read out the oath prescribed at that time. It must be pointed out that the Quaid had gone to the Staff College with a copy of the oath in his pocket. He further advised the officers:-
“As I have said just now, the spirit is what really matters. I should like you to study the Constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the Constitution of the Dominion.”
The Oath presently prescribed for the Members of the Armed Forces as given in the Second Schedule (Article 244) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan is as follows:-
“I, ------------------, do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which embodies the will of the people, that I will not engage myself in any political activities whatsoever and I will honestly and faithfully serve Pakistan in the Pakistan Army (or Navy or Air Force) as required by and under the law.”
A citizen of this state
PS: This article is just meant to remind the new COAS what the Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam, expects from him.
Return to the bottle
The sequence is established. You first release the genie, we are reliably informed by Middle East folklore, and then it grants your three wishes.
America has set free a genie called Iran from three decades of isolation within the world's most congested conflict zone. Over the next six months we shall find out whether Iran will grant America's three wishes, or actually one wish written in three codes: forget the bomb. The one thing a genie will not do, however, is return to the bottle which was its prison. Whether Iran's nuclear ambitions get punctured, or deposited into some storehouse of mind and memory for revival at some later date, the Geneva deal between America, five other major powers and Iran has already begun to redraw the strategic map of the region and beyond.
This Geneva deal is extremely good news – for India. It eases, and could over time even eliminate, America's dependence on Pakistani space in its crucial battles with the Taliban and its myriad terrorist associates. It cannot be a coincidence that the historic agreement came on the eve of America's withdrawal from Afghanistan. America is trying hard to establish distance between retreat and defeat. It knows that the war against Taliban must continue; and its generals are now convinced that Pakistan's army is a dubious, if not duplicitous, ally against extremist Islamist militants driven by a frenzied conviction that they can recreate Sunni empires of the seventh century. There are no on-the-record statements yet, but the obvious does not need advertising. Iran is potentially a more reliable ally than Pakistan in this conflict, since the Sunni Jihadists hate Shias as apostates.
Witness the recurrent anti-Shia violence in Pakistan. For four decades Pakistan, with subdued but compliant American acquiescence, has ring-fenced India out of a region vital to India's security interests. For the region, 2014 marks not the end of war, but the beginning of a variation on an old conflict. There is already talk in the Taliban and terrorist circles of a plan to flood Kashmir with fighters on a scale comparable to 1947, with the Pakistan army providing safe passage for this offensive.
The Jihadi narrative is resurgent. It can claim to have driven out both the superpowers of the 20th century from Afghanistan, the Soviet Union first and NATO next. Pride is contagious. There will be an influx of fresh recruits. But India is not the only target of "liberation" from "infidel occupation". China's only Muslim-majority province, Sinkiang, is also within their assault zone. China is not oblivious to this danger. And Russia is worried about the consequences for Muslim regions of central Asia, including its own border territories. Russia, China and India will need Iran as much as Iran needs them; all three have kept their relations with Tehran alive through years of sanctions.
The strategic advantage, therefore, could shift slowly, imperceptibly, to Iran as negotiations begin to turn the Geneva deal into a pact. America and its West Europe allies cannot afford to fail in a process that they started with eyes wide open. If Barack Obama, undermined by the US Congress, falters, America risks damage to an alliance over Iran sanctions it has fostered with much effort. Russia, China and India will not feel any great need to cater to the demands of American politicians influenced by parish compulsions in voting districts. Sanctions cannot be effective without multilateral unity.
The four big purchasers of Iranian oil, China, South Korea, Japan and India, were required to curtail their imports further this year. This has already become irrelevant. But if what is perceived as a quibble by the international community prevents the logical culmination towards a final pact, these countries could place their national needs above international commitments.
Israel and Saudi Arabia, as odd a couple as there could be conceived, are leading the challenge against any final agreement. The Saudi angst is ideological [in Islamic terms], geopolitical and visceral. Apart from schismatic fervour, it cannot forget Iran's challenge to the Saudi monarch's prestige as custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Riyadh has also invested heavily in a Pakistan-Talib Afghanistan-Gulf-Saudi bulwark against the Shia line from Herat to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel, under Benjamin Netinyahu, has propagated an existential fear of the future, with Iran as the epicentre of such dread. But Obama has flexibility. Washington is no longer dependent on Saudi oil, and American public opinion, tired of multiple confrontations, is in favour of rapprochement with Tehran. The coming year could become a swivel moment in history.
John Kennedy pointed out that foreign affairs is the one truly important issue for an American president to handle. Barack Obama rubbed the lamp; he must now ensure the genie grants his wish. A genie in the sky can be a dream come true, or a nightmare.
Mobashar Jawed Akbar is a leading Indian journalist and author. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Guardian. He has also served as Editorial Director of India Today.