BY SHASHI MALLA
• India Revokes Kashmir’s Special Status *
India’s Interior Minister Amit Shah – the brains behind the radical right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party – announced the revocation of disputed Kashmir’s special constitutional status with a presidential order. There was an uproar in the lower house of parliament, and in Kashmir itself there was a severe security lockdown that kept thousands of people inside their homes.
[We will be following this development closely because of regional ramifications. Please check our website: www.peoplesreview.com.np]
• Amidst Major Gun Violence, Trump Again Betrays Constitution & American People
Over the last weekend, there were horrific incidents of gun violence [for the umpteenth time] in the US cities of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio carried out by radicalized young white males.
In an address to the nation, President Donald Trump did not rise to the occasion. Instead of hitting the nail on the head – promoting legislation to curb radical gun violence and to finally stop his own extremist rhetoric – he blamed violent video games, mental illness, the internet and a culture of violence in the country for the terrible shootings.
[We will also have an update for this evolving situation in the build-up to the 2020 presidential elections on our website]
• Afghanistan: Beginning of the End? *
Last Saturday, a fresh round of US-Taliban “peace” talks started in Qatar’s capital Doha. Officials described these to be the “most crucial” phase of the negotiations to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan – the longest for the United States!
Senior officials said “a peace agreement” could be expected at the end of these 8th round of talks between the diehard enemies and could enable foreign forces – both American and allied – to be withdrawn from the war-torn country – a so-called ‘peace with honour’. About 20,000 troops, most of them American are now in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.
ZalmayKhalilzad – a U.S. Citizen of Afghan descent – the US ‘peace envoy’ for Afghanistan, who has held many meetings with Taliban leaders since last year, on reaching Doha to resume talks, claimed: “We are pursuing a peace agreement not a withdrawal agreement”, on Twitter. He added: “A peace agreement that enables withdrawal. Our [U.S.] presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal will be conditions-based,” amplifying that the Taliban were signaling they were ready to conclude an agreement.
Khalilzad made the astounding and unbelievable claim: “We are ready for a good agreement.” Sources with knowledge of the talks said an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban could be expected before August 13 (Reuters).The hardline Islamist Taliban militant group now controls more territory than at any point since the United States bombed them out of power in 2001.
With momentum apparently building for a breakthrough in bilateral talks, most Afghans whose lives have been overshadowed by war and raging violence on a daily basis, are candidly skeptical any deal will bring them peace. Ordinary people, as well as government officials genuinely fear that the US, in its unseemly haste to exit its longest war, is rushing for a deal that will see the rabid insurgents regaining some level of power in Kabul in the short term – and absolute power again in the long run.
A psychology student at Kabul University echoed the general sentiment: “We cannot trust the Taliban and their commitments because they were cruel and oppressive in their regime,” (AFP).They were seeking a monopoly of power that was unacceptable to the majority of Afghans. Especially their commitments to working women and the education of girls were not genuine. America was, in fact, giving the impression of “running away” and ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban, throwing into doubt the countless hard-won gains for ordinary Afghans.
US President Trump has gone weary and lost interest in Afghanistan, and is not cognizant of the adage “ more haste, less speed” [i.e. success in the performance of an activity, rather than rapidity of movement] as he is too inexperienced, fickle and unknowledgeable in foreign affairs.
Trump is, therefore, unaware that his administration has manoeuvred itself into a corner – no more and no less than a policy of appeasement. A so-called Afghan ‘peace with honour’ will turn out to be ‘Trump’s Munich’.
Any neutral observer could tell him that:
the US were making too many concessions, without corresponding ones from the Taliban
troop withdrawal should be done phase-wise
the legitimate Afghan government must be fully integrated in the peace/withdrawal process, otherwise it’s a farce
the regional powers – China, India and Pakistan – must be part of the solution, including in peace-keeping operations
a role for SAARC must be explored, after all Afghanistan is in the western periphery of this regional organization.
• Route for Improved US-Iran Relations/ Background of Enigmatic History *
A former prominent American go-between has made novel suggestions to improve US-Iran relations in the context of the ‘no war and no peace’ tense scenario in the region of the Strait of Hormuz.
Franklin T. Burroughs lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 15 years. He served as consultant to the prime minister in Iran, and represented the ruler Mohammad Reza Shah as personal representative to US President Jimmy Carter. Later, he was adjunct professor at John F. Kennedy University in California.
As Shakespeare wrote, ‘what’s past is prologue’, and Burroughs sketched in “The Hill” why Iran cannot trust the United States: “the inconsistency of [US policy toward Iran] during and since the Jimmy Carter Administration has proved, at times, detrimental to Iran.” Initially, President Carter praised the Shah and declared that under his leadership Iran “was an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” However, he then changed course and refused to be in touch with the Shah and ignored the Shah’s proposal to back the democratic election of an Iranian prime minister and the possible establishment of a monarchy on the British model. Burroughs served as the Shah’s personal emissary in this regard. This is one of the great ‘ifs’ of modern history – what might have happened [and above all not happened] if Carter had been more receptive!
In fact, as Burroughs reveals that the US had extensive contacts with Ayatollah Khomeini even before the Iran revolution. Above all, the Carter administration – crucially and strategically – aided Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran by preventing the then Iranian military from launching a military coup. Pivotal roles and back-door diplomacy were played by US General E. Huyser, Deputy C-in-C of the US European Command in Germany and US Ambassador William H. Sullivan in Tehran and “helped ensure the success of the Islamic Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.”
After decades of troubled bilateral history, under President Barack Obama tensions between the two countries began to thaw, and in 2015 after years of negotiation, the Western countries, EU, Russia, China and Iran signed the nuclear agreement. The normalization of relations seemed possible.
Unfortunately, President Trump dashed all hopes in this and other matters. Without rhyme or reason and (mis)guided by his irrational loathing for Barack Obama and his legacy, he withdrew from this agreement [and other landmark international agreements, including the Paris climate accord], and in retaliation Iran has started to breach the uranium stockpile limits laid down in the agreement. Sundry incidents in and around the Strait of Hormuz have escalated tensions.
Burroughs suggests the sincere application of public diplomacy to break the impasse. Trump has to start by immediately ending “the use of negative and belittling language when talking about or to Iran” [as he did with Kim Jong Un of North Korea]. On the other hand, “socially correct and diplomatic figures of speech” could work wonders.
Trump has also to be less overwhelmed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies and show more respect for Iran and its historically rich civilization. This also entails recognizing Iran as an important regional power – on par with, if not greater than Saudi Arabia. Iran has already indicated – subtly and overtly – that it is more than ready for fresh negotiations. The European powers must act resolutely.
If Trump remains obstinate, Europe and the world at large can only hope to prolong the status quo, until the American people rid themselves of a charlatan and rogue in 15 months time.
• China’s Long March to Affluence *
Chatham House/The Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) in London is “an independent [research and] policy institute with a mission to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.” In the latest issue of its journal “The World Today” [the current issue is open-access], Yu Jie, a senior research fellow, has written a succinct and fascinating account of China in the past hundred years in order to illuminate the challenges of the immediate future.
Yu concludes that in order for China to sustain it’s quest for global pre-eminence, leader Xi Jin-ping must base his policies on “on an innovative reading of the past and a belief that shared prosperity is not only essential for China’s development but, more importantly, is the only means to maintain the [Communist] party’s legitimacy and ensure its survival.”
By the way, this lesson should be of great import to our Nepalese comrades too!
• China’s One-Party State May Shape our Future *
Also in the current issue of “The World Today”, Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford explores the ways and means how China can change in the future, and the specific role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in this process.
On the home front, the CCP promotes “socialist values” which forms the basis for an ever-expanding “Chinese Dream”. Abroad, China’s “nexus of economic, political and military influence is framed by the idea of a ‘community of common destiny’. Deng Xiaoping’s ascendancy in 1978 marked the beginning of remarkable economic development, rising global role and robust authoritarian public affairs.
Mitter explores how realistic it is to presume that the People’s Republic of China will maintain its momentum over the next 30 years until it marks the centenary of its foundation. He is of the opinion that this is possible, but only if it changes: “China will need to embrace economic and social openness in a way that it is still reluctant to do.” He is quite upbeat in this regard: “In the end, it won’t be America’s decision as to whether China can dominate the next three decades. It will be China’s.”
• China & the Western Alliance *
Chatham House has also published on line, an eminently readable and cogent briefing/paper on: “The Rise of China and the Future of the Transatlantic Relationship” by Jennifer Lind. The author is an associate professor with the Department of Government at Dartmouth College, a faculty associate at Harvard University and an associate fellow at Chatham House/RIIA.
Professor Lind has discussed in some detail the role of the United States, Canada and Western Europe in stabilizing international politics and economies by spreading support for the liberal goals of free markets, democracy and human rights. In this context, China is becoming wealthier and more assertive, and at the same time, there are cracks in the Western alliance [not to forget Trump’s disjointed foreign policy] and risks to European cohesion.
On the one hand there exists “asymmetric interests” among the transatlantic partners [including in the South China Sea and vis-à-vis Japan and South Korea], and on the other, China skillfully applies “wedge strategies” to pick off potential partners/allies. For Europe, there is a need to develop “a geopolitical and strategic relationship” with China [Emmanuel Macron], in order to “condition”, but not yet “contain” China’s behavior [Lind].
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]