• Kashmir: UN Security Council in a Quandary
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last Friday refrained from calling for an emergency meeting on the disputed Kashmir region, or even issuing a formal statement. This is the world’s most dangerous conflict according to former US President Bill Clinton. This is probably because of its geo-strategic location and of its populistic, nationalistic, religious, cultural overtones, and above all because the antagonists – India and Pakistan – are nuclear-armed powers.
Instead, the ongoing Kashmir crisis was just one of several topics that the 15-member Security Council discussed in a “consultative” meeting. The UNSC just laconically urged both India and Pakistan to resolve the matter bilaterally – a viewpoint previously underlined by UN Secretary General.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stripped the Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir state [IAK] of its special autonomous status on August 5, the closed-door Security Council meeting was held at the urging of Pakistani PM Imran Khan and China’s express request [as a permanent member, this could not be denied by the current, sitting UNSC president]. The UNSC response can only be characterized as ‘perfunctory’.
Pakistan [in its own administered areas/PAK] and India both rule parts of the disputed Himalayan/Hindu Kush territory, but claim it in full. The restive region has been a flashpoint between the nuclear-armed archrivals since their independence 1947 from the British Raj. Since the late 50s of the last century China has some territorial claims in the area – above all, the Aksai Chin plateau of Ladakh [which historically was an independent state with close relations with Tibet and the Kingdom of Mustang in Nepal until its conquest by the Dogra Raja of Jammu].
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said after the UNSC meeting: “They [Security Council members] are also concerned about the human rights situation there [in Kashmir] and also it’s the general view of members that parties concerned should refrain from taking any unilateral action that might further aggravate the tension there since the tension is already very tense and very dangerous.”
India’s UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin reiterated New Delhi’s official policy that Kashmir is not an international conflict. He accused Zhang of trying to pass off his own personal remarks as “the will of the international community,” adding that India’s latest move was purely an internal matter.
However, Pakistan’s UN ambassador Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, still considered the UNSC consultation to have been a success, saying it had brought the Kashmir issue back to the limelight – for the first time since 1965.
Nepal’s Stalinist-Leninist/Maoist government may be in a state of disarray, but at least Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali took a principled stand on the Kashmir crisis, saying that it was not an “internal”, but a bilateralissue between India and Pakistan. This will please neither India and Pakistan, but it was the correct stance befitting the chair of SAARC.
Gyawali also urged the two countries to hold negotiations for maintaining peace and tranquility in the region. The foreign minister is to be saluted, for he has knowingly or unwittingly rubbished the Indian pre-conception of “special relations” between the world’s only two Hindu-majority nations. He has, in fact, promoted the notion of Nepal’s foreign policy and national security of not only being “equi-distant from Beijing and New Delhi”, but also being non-aligned and neutral in the Indo-Pakistani conflict. This is a landmark in Nepal’s foreign relations, and must irritate [to put it mildly] India’s up and coming external affairs minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar no end.
• Kabul Carnage: Trump’s Peace with Dishonour
Last Sunday, after 63 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack at a wedding reception in the capital, Kabul, outraged Afghans are questioning the rationale of US-Taliban negotiations, aimed at ending the long drawn out war, and above all getting the U.S. troops to leave the country.
The latest bombing in a packed wedding hall brought new carnage to a country plagued by decades of violence. Many women and children were among the dead 182 wounded. Ms. Rada Akba wrote on Twitter that peace with those who bomb our weddings, schools, universities, offices and houses is out of the question. “Selling out this land and its people to those killers is sick and inhuman. History won’t forget this,” she wrote on the social media platform [Reuters].
The Taliban denied responsibility for the blast in a minority Shi’ite neighbourhood, and condemned it. Islamic State militants also operate in Afghanistan and have carried out bloody attacks in towns and cities, some against Shi’ites. But people doubted the Taliban denial, asking ‘Who else is capable of carrying out such brutality.
The U.S. and the Taliban are trying to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan’s US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani. Both sides have reported progress after eight rounds of talks [in Doha, Qatar] since late last year.
Under the expected deal on a step-by-step withdrawal of US troops, the Taliban would guarantee Afghanistan would not be a sanctuary for terrorists to expand and plot new attacks.
However, the government has not been part of the negotiations, since the Taliban refuses to talk to them considering them an American puppet. The US expects the militants to make a commitment to open power-sharing and agree to a ceasefire. The problem is that there are many Taliban factions, and the Islamic State and remnants of Al Qaeda have not been eradicated or are not involved in the peace process.
The resurgence of the “Islamic State in Khorasan” could ultimately pose a grave threat not just to Afghans, but to the United States and Europe. The US and EU must get their act together and not think of a precipitous exit.
“Trump may be keen to wash his hands of Afghanistan – his flippant suggestion last month that he could win the war there but would have to kill 10 million people [one-third of the country’s population] drew an angry response from the country” so the “Washington Post” (August 19, 2019).
• Hong Kong: Summer of Discontent
Both pro-democracy and pro-Hong Kong government demonstrators have rallied in Hong Kong, highlighting the acute political divide in the semi-autonomous territory – part of the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.
Last Saturday, thousands of teachers, led by their Hong Kong union, marched through torrential rain in support of pro-democracy protesters. They made their way to Government House where they tied white ribbons [symbol of peace and harmony] to a metal fence near the building. The protesters are demanding an investigation into the use of brutal police force in recent weeks and the resignation of Carrie Lam, the special territory’s embattled chief executive. Since June this year, Lam has been under pressure to withdraw a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
On the other side of the harbor, at the Kowloon pro-Beijing rally, speakers accused pro-democracy activists of upsetting harmony in the former colony, handed back by Britain to China in 1997.
Pro-democracy activists claimed that further weekend rallies [now in the 17th weekend] would show that their movement enjoyed broad support among the 7.4 million population – despite violent tactics used previously by a minority of protesters.
Outside Hong Kong’s border, China’s state media has released footage showing increased military buildup and exercises, fueling speculation that China’s paramilitary police force could be sent in to suppress the protests if they get out of hand [DW/Deutsche Welle News].
At last Sunday’s pro-democracy protest, the organizing “Civil Human Rights Front” claimed that as much as 1.7 million turned out [!], amid increasingly severe warnings by Beijing [BBC].
The existential question confronting the people is no easy one: “how will Hong Kong maintain itself, neither jeopardizing the Chinese state nor being jeopardized by it” [Madeleine Thien in NYT, August 19, 2019].
• Sudan: Historic Transition Deal
After months of mass protests, the ruling military council and the main opposition coalition have signed a final agreement for a transitional government. The historic deal was signed by General Mohamed HamdanDaglo, deputy chief of the military council, and opposition leader Ahmed al-Rabie, during a ceremony at a grand hall by the river Nile in the capital Khartoum.
The signing ceremony was also attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad, South Sudanese President SalvaKiir, and the heads of other neighbouring countries. The agreement has been hailed as a chance for a “new Sudan.”
At the same time, Sudan’s political stability is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa – commanding the Gulf of Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea [Bab el-Mandeb] and further to the Suez Canal — to Yemen [where regular Sudanese soldiers have been recruited by the United Arab Emirates to combat the Houthis], Egypt and Libya.
Under the terms of the agreement, a joint military and civilian sovereign council will enforce power-sharing, i.e. it will rule for a little over three years until elections can be held. A military leader will head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.
The new council will include the current de facto head of state General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta.
The former senior United Nations official Abdalla Hamdok, an experienced economist, has been designated as transitional prime minister. He has the daunting job of stabilizing Sudan’s deteriorated economy, left devastated in 2011 when the oil-rich South Sudan gained independence.
The future hinges on whether the ruling council will be able to keep a tight grip on the military’s power during the three-year transitional period leading to planned elections.
In the meantime, the country’s longtime dictator, General Omar al-Bashir has gone on trial on corruption. A team of 100 lawyers is assisting him! He has already admitted receiving US Dollar $ 100 million from deceased King Abdullah and a further US Dollar $ 25 million from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for ‘charitable purposes’. He is also wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court “for heinous crimes committed against the Sudanese people” (Amnesty International/AFP).
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