Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s trip to New Delhi sent multiple signals

29 May 2014

Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as India’s prime minister coincided with a major diplomatic initiative. By inviting SAARC leaders, especially Pakistan’s prime minister, a new beginning has been made. After intense consultations and taking a strategic risk, Nawaz Sharif decided to attend the ceremony.

Pakistan’s India policy has been the exclusive preserve of its civilmilitary bureaucracy. In the past six years, there has been a gradual shift.

Pakistan’s India policy has been the exclusive preserve of its civilmilitary bureaucracy. In the past six years, there has been a gradual shift.

Critics in Pakistan termed the ceremony as a continuation of Delhi Durbar — the grand assembly of local rajas and maharajas to pay homage to the British crown. Old-fashioned hawks spoke about BJP’s role in the fall of the Babri Masjid, the Gujarat riots and general anti-Muslim rhetoric that its parent organisation RSS is famous for. Sharif ignored all of this and took a gamble to remain true to his quest for a normalised relationship with India. For him, this was a pledge he had made to Pakistani electorate last year. The terrorised Pakistanis, for all the anti-India sentiment that has been drummed up, appreciate the value of peace.

He Means Business (more…)

Pakistani Media Under Attack

23 May 2014

The Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi survived an assassination attempt in March that killed his driver. He and other liberals have been targeted for criticizing Islamist militancy and a blasphemy law.

See more The New York Times

How the Future of South Asia Can Change!

6 November 2013

By Raza Rumi

Since Pakistan’s inception, its relationship with India has been mired by insecurity, hostility, suspicion and mistrust. Independence in 1947 was followed by conflict over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute eventually led to the 1965 war, and that episode was subsequently followed by the Tashkent Declaration. Yet, the Tashkent Declaration was a short-lived attempt at forging amiable ties between both States as six years later, amid political and ethnic turmoil in Pakistan, in 1971 a second war took place.  East Pakistan had declared independence, and West Pakistan lost its Eastern arm, partly due to Indian intervention in what was largely seen as an internal matter, in Pakistan. Pakistan blamed India for facilitating Bangladeshi nationalists and their quest for independence after being politically and ethnically discriminated. Despite Bangladesh gaining independence, enmity between the two States ratcheted up further, as India flexed its muscles and tested its nuclear weapons capability in 1974, and again in 1998. In response, Pakistan conducted its own nuclear weapons tests in 1998, which subsequently heightened tensions in the already volatile relationship between both countries.

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan have largely been viewed through a contextual global prism since the country’s inception in 1947. The US was one of the first countries to set up diplomatic ties with Pakistan, yet relations soured with the advent of the Cold War which shaped the former to pursue a relationship with Pakistan, as a balancing power against China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Economic aid provided to Pakistan has been largely, military in nature and Pakistan continues to remain as an important Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally today.

After 1970, with the election of the leftist Pakistan People’s Party government, the already transactional relationship found itself in troubled waters, due to outright condemna-tion of war atrocities committed by the Pakistan military during the Bangladesh Liberation War. The relationship took another turn in the 1980s, after the Soviet coup in Afghanistan, and saw the US, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Zia-ul Haq-led government cooperate to curb the Soviet expansion in Afghanistan, a view to helping Afghan insurgents stave off the USSR.

Yet in the 1990s, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons led to economic and military sanctions from the US, which were later lifted, after the US-led war on terror in 9/11, as the US sought the country as a vital ally in the War on Terror, given its geographical proximity to the restive country. Unlike Pakistan, whose military and economic security concerns necessitated and alignment with Russia or China, India sought no such alliance, and was in fact one of the pioneers of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, India’s implementation of socialist policies led it to form a cooperative relationship with the USSR, which frayed its relations with the US. (more…)

Foreign policy directives

11 June 2013

Here is another on-point editorial from ExTrib

For those who thought that there would be monumental shifts in Pakistan’s foreign policy with the advent of a new government in Islamabad, it is time to settle for realism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s latest message to the heads of Pakistani missions abroad restate what has been stated time and again. His government wants to pursue “economic diplomacy” and favours a “peaceful neighbourhood”. As Prime Minister Sharif prepares to battle with theenergy crisis, his government’s foreign policy guidelines make an overt reference to this issue and direct the heads of missions abroad to suggest bilateral and multilateral partners with tangible project proposals in the traditional and renewable energy sectors. This is easier said than done, especially given the security climate. But Prime Minister Sharif’s pro-business reputation may salvage the otherwise intractable situation and we may witness some success on this front.

The issue of domestic security is directly linked to our foreign policy. As the guidelines rightly identify, unless the region is peaceful, Pakistan’s efforts for growth and development will not bear fruit. This is where the issue of Afghanistan and how Pakistan will act in the run-up to the Nato withdrawal becomes critical. The guidelines reaffirm the need for developing a regional consensus on supporting a stable government in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s official policy of backing “an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation”.

Considerable pragmatism has entered into the PML-N’s policy stance since winning the election. The guidelines call for progressive pursuit of normalcy in bilateral relations with India and seeking solutions to all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. A good part of the guidelines seems to be the emphasis on “close cooperative relations” with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. Thankfully, the issue of terrorism has also featured in these guidelines where the new premier has mentioned developing a comprehensive strategy and a national consensus on the threat of terrorism. Finally, in terms of Pakistan-US relations, there is a clear case of continuity, on working on areas of divergence and consolidating where both countries converge. With respect to the foreign policy, we should not expect radical changes anytime soon



Book review: An ambitious undertaking

19 December 2012

Pankaj Mishra’s new book is an ambitious undertaking. “From the Ruins of Empire: the Intellectuals who Remade Asia” traces the lives and works of three Asian intellectuals who were at the forefront of several resistance movements in times when colonists had occupied countries and exercised almost absolute intellectual power.

It is a fascinating narrative, which challenges the Eurocentric version of ‘the truth’ and claims “the central event of the last century for the majority of the world’s population was the intellectual and political awakening of Asia and its emergence from the ruins of Asian and European empires”. Mishra focuses on Jamal-al-din al-Afghani (1838-1897), a renaissance figure who was a formidable critic of the Western intellectual ascendancy, Liang Qichao (1873-1929), a thinking journalist who was a proponent of Confucian ideals, and Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), an epitome of the great Bengali renaissance and the awakening of Indian consciousness.

Thus Mishra constructs a powerful account of how white men once “conquerors of the world, were no longer invincible”. Mishra’s personal identity has gradually espoused the cause of internationalism. He lives in the West and travels to the East as an ‘insider’ thereby picking up the threads of societies in transition which most Western writers are unable to fathom. Al-Afghani, for example, argued for intellectual resistance to the hegemony of the West, which unfortunately has been distorted to the extent that today rationalized use of violence has entered the battle of ideas. The Muslim world has a lot to learn from al-Afghani, whose legacy has been squandered over time. In a way, Mishra’s book comes as a major source of reviving the public debate on today’s ‘Muslims versus West’ real and imagined conflict. (more…)

‘Reforming’ the education system

30 April 2011

By Raza Rumi

Pakistani students sit inside and on top of a rickshaw heading to their schools in Muzaffargarh in Punjab province, Pakistan, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. AP Photo

The recent debates on education have also highlighted how the education sector is not receiving its due compared to say defence, infrastructure and other expenditures made by the government. However, the discussion has yet to move to the most important area i.e. quality of schools and what sort of learning are they providing?

The task of reforming the education system is huge, complex and some would say next to impossible. However, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution has opened the doors to avenues for change. Firstly, education is a provincial subject and the transfer of budgets (with increased allocations through the National Finance Commission Awards) implies that there is now more flexibility and autonomy with the provinces in matters of policy and operations. Secondly, the inclusion of right to education in the fundamental rights also ensures that this is now a justiciable right as well as a paramount priority of the state. (more…)

China: Braving the Storm

23 August 2010

My piece which appeared in Southasia

The Chinese economy, it appears, has recovered from the recession in record time. According to the National Bureau of Statistics in Beijing, annual growth was unexpectedly strong at 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010. By achieving such high growth rates in times of global recession, many expect China to overtake Japan this year to become the second largest economy of the world. Strengthened by these economic gains, China has used its political leverage to facilitate regional integration, by engaging in a number of bilateral swap arrangements with countries around the world.

Given that China only has 10% arable land, it becomes imperative for the country purchase commodities from other nations to satisfy the country’s growing consumption demands, and to invest in countries producing such commodities. Such a process will reinforce new corridors of increasing trade and investment flows between China and Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Similarly, its gigantic market and related demand have led China to invest in natural resource supplies of different countries, especially those in Africa and the Middle East.

Read the full article here

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