The disappearances and killings of Baloch activists living in Pakistan and abroad under mysterious circumstances have made headlines in recent years. The surge in cases relating to these “enforced disappearances” highlights the urgency for Pakistan to resolve the grievances felt by the people of the region as it tries to forge an identity away from the U.S. and looks to China for its future growth.
On December 20, 2020, on a winter day during the pandemic, 37-year-old Karima Baloch, a Pakistani Baloch human rights activist living in exile in Canada, apparently decided to take a stroll along the Toronto waterfront at Center Island—a tourist area that was located far from then-mostly locked-down places of business—and was found dead due to drowning. The police ruled out any criminal activity behind her death, but her husband, Hammal Haider, who is also an activist, said that they had received death threats a month before his wife’s death, according to the Guardian.
Eight months earlier, in May 2020, another Baloch activist, journalist Sajid Hussain, was also found dead due to drowning in a river in Sweden, where he’d been granted political asylum in 2019. These two deaths—both newsworthy for having taken place in Western countries and involving activists who had been living in asylum—are a drop in the ocean in terms of disappearances of activists from the Balochistan province in Pakistan. Groups in Balochistan believe there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people who have disappeared in Pakistan, with new cases of “enforced disappearances” filed all the time. One Western source reported that more than 1,000 activists were “killed and dumped” in Balochistan between 2011 and 2016 alone.
Prolific Pakistani activist and writer Pervez Hoodbhoy told me that the protests against the “enforced disappearances” that took place in the Balochistan region at the end of 2021 “drew tens of thousands of people, including women and children, day after day for three weeks from nearby areas of Gwadar, including Turbat, Pishkan, Zamoran, Buleda, Ormara, and Pasni. They were protesting against the treatment of locals, and particularly the paucity of drinking water and intrusions by Chinese fishing vessels. The sense of deprivation is felt far and wide in Balochistan.”
There are many elements to the conflict between Balochistan and Pakistan. Balochistan is on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and has been greatly affected by the four decades of conflict there. It’s the keystone of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which stretches from China to the regional hub port of Gwadar. It’s also the region belonging to the oppressed Baloch minority within Pakistan.
At the heart of the conflict, however, is the failure of the counterinsurgency model being followed by Pakistan for keeping the nation together.
England invaded Balochistan in 1839, as part of their 19th-century “Great Game” operations intended to secure and expand the British Empire in Asia. Considered semi-autonomous, Balochistan was called Kalat and ruled by Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, who declared independence during the traumatic events of the 1947 partition of India into India and Pakistan. After an eight-month insurgency beginning in 1947, the Khan of Kalat finally acceded to Pakistan in 1948. Several rounds of battle between Baloch nationalists and Pakistan’s government followed thereafter: in 1958-1959, 1962-63, 1973-1977, and from 2004 to today.
Forty years of often ambiguous alliance with the United States in Afghanistan has transformed the Pakistani state, strengthening the covert wings of the country’s armed forces. Since the 1980s, Pakistan has supported the Afghan insurgents. In the 2000s, Pakistan supported American counterinsurgents, and eventually came to support both the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan and the Taliban insurgency (which took over control of Afghanistan in August 2021 and has been governing the country ever since) at the same time. Pakistan used a U.S.-modeled approach to deal with Baloch separatism, sponsoring Islamic militancy against secular nationalism in the region and deploying the brutal methods of counterinsurgency.
When I asked Hoodbhoy about Pakistan’s approach to Balochistan, he said: “Like the dreaded generals of Latin America, Pakistan’s generals too have learned how to quell insurgencies. Over the years, dead bodies have appeared on the roadsides with marks of torture and many thousand young Baloch men have gone missing, some forever.”
On Pakistan’s nudging of rebels against secular nationalism in Balochistan, Hoodbhoy said: “The establishment has willfully used extremist militant religious organizations like Sipah-e-Sahaba as an antidote to Baloch nationalism. It has worked up to a point—what was once a Marxist-inspired insurgency as… [seen during] the 1973 uprising is now more ethnically oriented.”
Hoodbhoy also identified the local media coverage of the issue as part of the problem: “No journalist who reports accurately on events from Balochistan can expect to live too long,” he said. “In January 2022, Baloch students were rounded up in Lahore, which is many hundred miles away [from Balochistan], after a terrorist attack [a bomb blast in the market area in Lahore that was] likely carried out by the Taliban.”
These methods—covert operations, the infiltration and sponsorship of specific insurgents against one another, media manufacturing of consent of the public against innocent people who have been baselessly implicated in terrorist activities—are characteristic of the U.S. counterinsurgencies carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. But should Pakistan keep using legacy U.S. methods when it is no longer under any obligation to do so?
Deteriorating Relations Between the U.S. and Pakistan
The visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to Moscow on February 23-24, in the middle of Russia’s war with Ukraine, symbolized the sorry state of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship. This deterioration in relations set in more than a decade ago as the United States grew frustrated with Pakistan’s less-than-enthusiastic support for U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and the inhumane U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Former U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said in 2012 that “Quite frankly, the Pakistani military and leaders that give safe haven to the mass murderer of Americans [Osama bin Laden] should not expect to be treated with respect,” according to an Al Jazeera article. Another Congressman, Louie Gohmert, suggested during a 2012 video interview that the U.S. should look at breaking up Pakistan, starting with Balochistan, as a strategy to help U.S. troops who were then still occupying Afghanistan: “Let’s talk about creating a Balochistan in the southern part of Pakistan. They’ll stop the IEDs and all of the weaponry coming into Afghanistan, and we got a shot to win over there,” reported Al Jazeera.
Pakistan has been accused of supporting terrorism and faces a tightening noose of financial controls and sanctions through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The U.S. practices financial warfare against allies and enemies alike. As an ally quickly moving toward becoming an American enemy, Pakistan is not likely to escape these financial sanctions.
What has put Pakistan fully in the opposing camp to the United States is Pakistan’s relationship with China, its so-called “all-weather ally.” And the symbol of that relationship is perhaps the cornerstone of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship of which is the Gwadar port in Balochistan. Writer and political analyst Andrew Korybko has argued that Pakistan is the target of a U.S. hybrid war, one focused on the CPEC and Balochistan, and that Pakistan has been the target of this war since 2015. He told me that Pakistan is now trying to change course from the American iron fist: “Efforts are being made [in Pakistan] to invest more in the region’s infrastructure, both physical and social. Locals feel left out of the country’s recent growth and want a larger share of the wealth that’s derived from their resource-rich and geostrategically positioned region.” Pakistan’s lighter approach, he said, will “be put to the test in Balochistan in the coming future.”
With a growing presence in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, BRI deals often involve Chinese banks financing the construction of infrastructure projects in these regions, which are led by Chinese companies, with loans sometimes paid back directly in natural resources such as minerals or petroleum. As former Liberian Minister of Public Works Gyude Moore explained to an audience at the University of Chicago, these loans by the Chinese banks are often rescheduled when they become due. The BRI is based on the premise that the path to prosperity for poor countries is through win-win solutions—trade deals in which the economically stronger party (China in all cases) does not interfere with the internal politics of the weaker party or country. This means that for all the business being done in the CPEC, the resolution of the Balochistan conflict remains solely Pakistan’s responsibility. China’s approach to separatism within its own borders, in Xinjiang, has been different from the U.S. (or Pakistan’s or India’s) counterinsurgency approach: as opposed to enforced disappearances, assassinations, and military operations, the cornerstones of China’s counterinsurgency approach have been vocational training, “re-education” camps, and poverty alleviation.
Because of the comprehensive demonization of China’s approach by the Western media, China’s programs in Xinjiang have no prestige and are not seen as a model to be followed by any other country. But for the resolution of the issues in Balochistan, viewed by many as “Asia’s Next Headache,” is a path based on peace and development possible?
Hoodbhoy outlined his thoughts on the minimum elements required for improving the situation in the province: “The key to Pakistan’s stability does not lie in making the army’s fist yet harder or peddling hard varieties of religion in an attempt to contain nationalist discontent. Instead, it must be found in sharply limiting the power of the federation, sharing power between provinces, equitably distributing resources, and giving Pakistan’s various cultures and languages their due. In the long run, only a system where all [provinces and regions] have a stake can survive and prosper.”
The urgent need of the moment, however, is to turn the heat down in Balochistan. How to cool Balochistan off? I asked Baloch activist and writer Shah Jahan Baloch about what Pakistan should do immediately to dial the conflict down. He came back to me with an extensive list. On the human rights front, the bare minimum includes the release of all missing persons; criminal cases against those who have murdered civilians and activists whether they are in the armed forces or not; the withdrawal of the Frontier Corps and army and its replacement with civil administration and law enforcement; and peace negotiations with the Baloch nationalist parties with international mediation. On the economic side, the army needs to release its control of border trade with Iran and Afghanistan and replace it with ordinary customs authority; fishing and water rights need to be demilitarized; and so, too, do educational institutions and elections. If a long-term solution based on developmentalism is to work, demilitarization must precede it.
By Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter. You can find him on his website at podur.org and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.
174 Dead After Crowd Crush Indonesian Football Match in Kanjuruhan Stadium
At least 174 people died and hundreds were injured in violence and a crowd crush after an Indonesian league football match, the deputy east Java governor has said.
Supporters of the Javanese clubs and longtime rivals Arema and Persebaya Surabaya clashed after Arema were defeated 3-2 at the match in Malang Regency, East Java.
Supporters from the losing side invaded the pitch and authorities fired teargas, leading to a crush and cases of suffocation, said East Java’s police chief, Nico Afinta.
Thirty-four people died in the Kanjuruhan stadium and the rest while in hospital, and hundreds were injured, he said. Two police officers were among the dead.
Many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit, Afinta said.
“They went out to one point at the exit, then there was a buildup – in the process of accumulation there was shortness of breath, lack of oxygen.”
A police spokesperson later put the death toll at 129 in one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters. A hospital director told local TV that one victim was aged five.
Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said the number of spectators exceeded the capacity of the Kanjuruhan stadium.
He said in an Instagram post on Sunday that 42,000 tickets had been issued for a stadium that had a capacity to hold 38,000 people.
The head of the Malang Regency health office, Wiyanto Wijoyo, said earlier that officials were still collating the numbers of injured.
Victims “died of chaos, overcrowding, trampling and suffocation”, Wiyanto said, adding that the injured were referred to different local hospitals.
Fighting reportedly started when the thousands of Arema fans rushed on to the field. Persebaya players immediately left it but several Arema players still on the field were also attacked.
Local reports said up to 3,000 spectators had taken to the field, out of a crowd of 40,000. Police said 13 vehicles were damaged, including 10 police cars.
Images captured from inside the stadium showed huge amounts of teargas and people clambering over fences. People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.
Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning.
The Indonesian government apologised for the disaster and promised to investigate its circumstances.
“We’re sorry for this incident … this is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” the Indonesian sports and youth minister, Zainudin Amali, told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Amid the longstanding rivalry beetween Persebaya Surabaya and Arema FC, Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
Mahfud MD said organisers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
“This sport … often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said on Instagram.
The Indonesian league has been suspended for a week as a result of the riot.
“We are concerned and deeply regret this incident,” said Akhmad Hadian Lukita, the president director of PT Liga Indonesia Baru. “We share our condolences and hopefully this will be a valuable lesson for all of us.”
The Indonesian football association (PSSI) said it would investigate what happened.
“We announced the decision [to suspend the league] after we received a direction from the chairman of PSSI,” Akhmad Hadian said. “We are doing this to respect everything and while waiting for the investigation process from PSSI.”
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at the UK’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a crowd crush at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s national stadium.
Reuters & Agence France-Presse__________________
Will the Samarkand Spirit Revive the Word ‘Mutual’ in World Affairs?
In mid-September 2022, the nine-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for its 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State. Because China, India, and Pakistan are members of the SCO, the organization represents about 40 percent of the world’s population; with the addition of Russia, the SCO countries make up 60 percent of the Eurasian territory (the other member states of the organization are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and now Iran). In its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, the SCO represented itself as a “regional” organization, although the sheer scale of the SCO would allow it to claim to be a global organization with as much legitimacy as the G-7 (whose seven countries comprise only 10 percent of the world’s population, although the group accounts for 50 percent of the global net wealth).
The keyword in the Samarkand Declaration seemed to be “mutual”: mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual consultation, and mutual benefit. There is an echo in these words of the final communiqué of the Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, which led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. The Samarkand Spirit mirrors, for a different period, the Bandung Spirit with an emphasis on sovereignty and equality. Words like “mutual” are appealing only if they provide tangible benefits for the people who live in these countries.
As if on cue, eyes rolled in the Western press, which either did not give much weight to the meeting in their media coverage or emphasized the divisions between the countries that attended the meeting. Remarks by China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi about their views on the Russian war in Ukraine shaped the headlines of the Western media. Certainly, the countries that attended the Samarkand meeting do not see eye to eye on each of the issues discussed, but they have built trust with each other and are interested in increasing their diplomatic and economic ties, particularly related to trade.
The SCO states contribute 24 percent to the world’s gross domestic product and accounted for 17.5 percent of world trade in 2020, a volume of activity that is enticing for poorer states in Eurasia. The locomotive of this economic activity continues to be China, which is the largest trading partner of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, India, and Uzbekistan. The advantages of trade among the countries—including energy purchases from Russia—anchor the SCO, which has become one of the key institutions for the integration of Eurasia.
Iran became a full-fledged member of the SCO at the Samarkand meeting. Over the course of the past decade, U.S. sanctions on Iran and Russia as well as the U.S.-driven trade war against China have drawn these three countries closer together. In April 2021, China and Iran signed a 25-year agreement on trade, which Iran’s ambassador to China Mohammad Keshavarz-Zadeh said “is not against any third country,” meaning the United States. Similar sentiments, but with a stronger anti-Western tone, could be heard at the seventh Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, Russia, in September 2022, where Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said, “the West is failing, the future is in Asia.”
The SCO is not merely the consolidation of Asian countries heavily sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. India, an SCO member, is a non-sanctioned state, and Türkiye, another non-sanctioned country, is seeking to join the SCO, belying such an easy dismissal about the reason for the existence of the organization. India is a full-fledged member of the SCO and has taken over the presidency of the organization till it hosts the next meeting in 2023. India’s Modi played an active role at the Samarkand meeting, and, according to an op-ed written by India’s former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, he suggested that India’s membership to the SCO is part of “our commitment to a multipolar world.”
Türkiye, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is a dialogue partner of the SCO and is now seeking to upgrade its status to become a member of the organization. In 1987, Türkiye applied to join the European Union and “was declared eligible to join the EU” in 1999. Told that the process is necessarily slow, Türkiye’s senior officials watched with dismay as Ukraine applied to join the European Union in February 2022 and then was accepted as an EU candidate in June, jumping far ahead of Türkiye, whose candidacy has not moved forward and the accession negotiations have “effectively frozen.” The Samarkand meeting was the first SCO meeting that was attended by Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who spoke about the SCO region being the “ancestral homeland” of the Turkish people and a natural fit for his country. India’s leadership in the SCO and the possibility of Türkiye’s entry into the organization show that the SCO is increasingly becoming an instrument for Eurasian integration.
“The situation in the world is dangerously degrading,” noted the Samarkand Declaration. “[E]xisting local conflicts and crises are intensifying, and new ones are emerging.” As the SCO met, Azerbaijan attacked Armenia—replaying the conflict of 2020—opening further tension between Russia (which is in the Collective Security Treaty Organization with Armenia) and Türkiye (which is a close ally of Azerbaijan). Adding to the confusion, clashes broke out at the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with Putin hastily calling the presidents of both countries to settle their differences. Modi and Xi met at the Samarkand meeting for the first time since the May 2020 clash between Chinese and Indian troops in the high mountain region of Ladakh. No real progress has been made on the decades-long border dispute between these two large Asian powers. Such existing local conflicts not only threaten the security of the people who live in those countries but also pose a challenge to the SCO becoming more than a regional organization.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
Real Politics Drives Engagement Between India and the Taliban
When the death of Ayman Al Zawahiri was announced last week, the government of India, a country singled out as a target by the Al Qaeda leader, remained quiet. Many analysts read the fact that he was able to base himself in the Afghan capital as the Taliban’s failure to keep its promise that the group had cut ties with extremist groups threatening other countries. Theories swirled that Pakistan had given up his location to the Americans in a great betrayal. Either way, Al Zawahiri’s death on a Kabul balcony from a US drone strike was an awkward moment for India because it highlighted what was once considered unthinkable – New Delhi’s attempts to build ties with the Taliban.
In June, India announced the re-opening of its embassy in Kabul after shutting it down when the Taliban swept to power a year ago. Historically, India and the Taliban have been enemies. The Indian national security establishment viewed the group as a Pakistani proxy; the Taliban in its previous incarnation as a government between 1996 and 2001, ensured Afghanistan gave Pakistan and anti-India terror groups strategic depth. From the Taliban’s perspective, India supported Afghanistan’s previous republican government, as well as anti-Taliban forces in the 1990s. Given this, it is surprising that both sides now seem to want to engage with each other. Yet, it seems as if realpolitik has brought both sides to this moment.
The Taliban is desperate for developmental and humanitarian assistance. Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed, a situation worsened by one of the worst droughts to hit the country in living memory. In June, a devastating earthquake killed 1,000 people. India sent 30,000 metric tons of wheat and 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan in February. Pakistan, long viewed as the Taliban’s benefactor, will in the long term be unable to match Indian assistance given that its economy is a shambles and the level of political instability.
Moreover, Pakistan-Taliban relations have become increasingly tense in recent months. Just like previous Afghan governments, the Taliban refuses to recognize the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, viewing it as a colonial imposition. Taliban border guards have repeatedly blocked Pakistani attempts at fencing the border. Islamabad is also unhappy with the Taliban’s unwillingness or inability to rein in the anti-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) militant group, which maintains bases in Afghanistan. In April, Pakistan launched air raids against what it believed were TTP bases in eastern Afghanistan, which killed dozens of Afghan civilians. A Taliban spokesman said the airstrikes would pave the “way for enmity between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” A souring Taliban-Pakistan relationship may have created an opportunity for New Delhi.
Cooperation could begin with India providing developmental and humanitarian assistance in return for the Taliban’s assurances that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used by anti-India terror groups. New Delhi has still not officially commented on the Al Zawahiri killing. He had threatened India as recently as May, yet despite this, and perhaps to avoid embarrassing the Taliban further, New Delhi has chosen to stay silent. Instead, TV channels seen as friendly to the government have speculated feverishly on Pakistan stabbing the Taliban in the back by disclosing to the US Al Zawahiri’s location in a villa linked to the Haqqani faction of the Taliban, long considered close to Pakistan.
Both New Delhi and the Taliban, despite their history, have given signs over the last few months that they need not view each other as enemies. Even in 2019, when India enraged Pakistan by stripping Kashmir of its autonomy, the Taliban refused to comment on the issue, saying it was India’s internal affairs. New Delhi for its part has avoided antagonizing the Taliban. In November last year when India hosted the Afghanistan Conference with regional states, it made it clear that its aim in Afghanistan was not to support an anti-Taliban military alliance, but to prevent Afghan territory from being used by transnational terror groups. In May, India’s national security advisor went a step further by calling for enhancing Afghanistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities. What was left unsaid was how this could be done when the Taliban has not been recognized by any government thus far.
Clues as to the direction of the current limited detente may be gleaned from the red-carpet welcome given by the Taliban to 25 India-trained Afghan soldiers affiliated with the previous regime who returned to Kabul this month. After assurances from the Afghan interior ministry that no harm would come to them, it was further announced they would be used for the country’s national defense. The Taliban’s defense minister, Mullah Yaqoob, has also called for Taliban soldiers to receive training in India. This has to be seen in the context of the Taliban’s inability to defeat the ISIS in Khorasan Province militant group. This may be a bridge too far for New Delhi for now, but it is significant given that Afghanistan’s interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani belongs to the Haqqani faction, which was blamed for the 2008 Indian embassy bombing in Kabul.
Due to its strategic location and considerable mineral deposits, a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will become the site of great power competition yet again. Soon after coming to power, the Taliban asked a state-backed Chinese company to return to a mining project to extract copper. Neither the US nor India would like to see a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan fall under Beijing’s sway. As odious as the Taliban regime is, particularly in its treatment of women and minorities, it seems realpolitik will increasingly determine not just India’s but the world’s engagement with the new regime in Kabul.
Dnyanesh Kamat is a political analyst who focuses on the Middle East and South Asia. He also consults on socio-economic development for government and private-sector entities. Twitter: @sybaritico
Future of China’s Belt and Road Lies in the Middle East
China’s “project of the century” is undergoing some profound changes. Less than a decade ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) to connect China to Eurasia through extensive maritime and overland trade routes. Despite the grand rhetoric of the BRI physically linking the global economy to Beijing, the initiative’s aims are straightforward. The BRI is a Chinese investment platform that employs Chinese capital across infrastructure projects in emerging markets for geopolitical gains. Remarkably, this investment strategy is now turning away from traditional countries like Russia and African nations to focus on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Critics have argued that the BRI is a form of debt trap diplomacy by another name. The ongoing economic saga unfolding in Sri Lanka gives weight to these arguments. Yet, this narrow focus misses the larger geopolitical dimensions of the BRI’s true aims. Like many wealthy countries worldwide, China will always engage in predatory lending. That’s just how the global economy works. What’s more interesting is how the BRI has evolved into a vehicle of Chinese geopolitical influence and how this influence has shifted to focus on the Middle East.
The countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been on the official list of BRI countries since its inception, but they haven’t been a primary focus of the initiative in its earlier phases. This is partly because GCC countries don’t need access to cheap Chinese credit like some African and East Asian countries. Aside from being vital nexus points for trade in emerging markets, the GCC’s role in the BRI has traditionally been focused on regional partners, construction projects, and energy.
From the Gulf’s perspective, the BRI is a vital support link for allied countries such as Pakistan and Egypt. China has played a pivotal role through the BRI in the Gwadar port and pipeline project in Pakistan as well as Egypt’s Suez Canal Area Development Project. In recent years, the Chinese have grown more aggressive in their interest in the Middle East, specifically the Gulf. When Saudi Aramco was exploring various ways to become a publicly traded company, Chinese investors (some of which were backed by the government) were ready to buy large stakes in the economy. We will come back to why this interest belied deeper goals.
BRI investment has grown in Saudi Arabia recently as China has drawn down investment in other countries like Russia. The Financial Times reported last month that BRI spending in Russia dropped to zero, with no new deals taking place in the first half of 2022. In the same period, Beijing struck $5.5 billion worth of deals in Saudi Arabia. The full extent of what these deals include is unclear as not all have been made public, but analysts believe that many are focused on energy resources.
This shift reveals how China will use the BRI in the future and the extent of Beijing’s long-term ambitions in the Middle East. The quick reallocation away from Russia and into other parts of the world demonstrates the flexibility of the BRI. This is not a monolith investment vehicle that is resistant to change. Rather, BRI capital can be easily diverted based on geopolitical considerations.
In this case, Russia is at the mercy of western sanctions stemming from the Ukraine conflict. At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US is anything but warm. Sensing an opportunity to solidify its position in the region, Beijing has shifted the funding focus of BRI to ride the geopolitical tides. Instead of thinking about the BRI as a way of connecting the global economy to China, perhaps we need to think of the BRI as a way of China exporting its geopolitical will on to the rest of the world.
With the end of its combat mission in Iraq and the complete withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, the US is pulling back its interests in the Middle East. US president Joe Biden’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel revealed a tepid American interest in the region. China has long sought a significant foothold in the Middle East in its battle with the US for global hegemony.
The ultimate realization of this goal will be upending the US dollar-dominated global oil trade. That’s one reason China took an early interest in a significant stake in Saudi Aramco. While that bid was unsuccessful, China’s recent BRI investment push at the precise time that America pivots away from the region will surely bring Beijing’s goal one step closer. China’s long-term plans to replace the US as the world’s superpower aren’t a secret. Just track BRI funding for clues of what Beijing will do next.
Joseph Dana is the former senior editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was also the editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact. Twitter: @ibnezra
Zawahiri Killing Shows US Needs a Pakistan Long Game
When news broke this week of the death of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri in Kabul by a US drone strike, speculation soon began in neighboring Pakistan over whether the drone that killed him took off from bases there or passed through the country’s air space.
US-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation has been controversial since the early days of the War on Terror, triggering a backlash from Islamist politicians, Pashtun tribesmen, and formerly pro-state jihadist militants. It even fomented violent dissent from within the armed forces.
Today, America remains unpopular in Pakistan. Sentiment toward the US is a long way away from the days when prominent American visitors would be greeted enthusiastically by Pakistani crowds.
And though the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship – including counterterrorism cooperation – is far more reduced in scope, it has become entangled with Pakistan’s domestic politics in ways unlike before, potentially becoming a major electoral factor in Pakistan’s main urban centers.
When Prime Minister Imran Khan was deposed through a vote of no confidence in April, he alleged that he was brought down through a US “regime change” conspiracy, which he claimed was motivated by his firm opposition to allowing the US to operate military bases in the country.
Many in Pakistan see recent events – including the army chief’s unusual call with a top US diplomat last week purportedly to secure quicker approval of the release of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan tranche – as evidence of collusion with the US in ousting Khan as part of a quid pro quo. Even an anti-Khan talk show host speculated that Pakistan allowed a “one-time” strike in exchange for help with the IMF.
Pakistan’s struggling economy could surely use all the help it can get. Official figures put inflation at around 25 percent. The rupee has been in a free fall, losing around 24 percent in value to the dollar since Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took power this April. And net foreign exchange reserves held by Pakistan’s central bank have fallen to $8.39 billion, covering under two months of imports. The deteriorating economy has substantially eroded public support for Sharif’s shaky coalition government.
For those keen on linking Pakistan’s economic and political turmoil to exogenous forces, there are plenty of dots to connect. Khan’s political troubles intensified in the early months of this year, just as the US discovered Al Zawahiri was in Afghanistan. And this summer, as the IMF adopted a tough posture in talks with Islamabad, the US intelligence community conclusively identified Al Zawahiri’s location in Kabul.
What may simply be coincidental is proof for some of the US orchestrating Khan’s removal and using various levers of influence to ensure it has the unimpeded ability to strike high-value targets in landlocked Afghanistan using Pakistan’s air space. The widely-held belief that Khan was the victim of a US conspiracy feeds into his popular support, increases the likelihood that he could return to power, and complicates America’s counterterrorism strategy in the region.
It’s very likely that the Al Zawahiri strike – and surveillance before and after the attack – involved the use of Pakistani air space. Indeed, a US congressman has said that Pakistan has given “tacit approval” of overflight rights.
Now, if US drones did in fact travel through Pakistan, possibly from a Gulf base, and not a Central Asian neighbor of Afghanistan, then the killing of Al Zawahiri not only proves the effectiveness of the US “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism strategy, but also its reliance on Pakistani air space.
If the US is indeed dependent on Pakistan to surveil and strike targets in Afghanistan, its counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan is potentially jeopardized by the return of Khan to power through elections within the next year. It’s vital that the US and Pakistan develop a counterterrorism cooperation framework that can withstand political pressures in Pakistan in the short term.
Toward this, the US should maintain a restrained, focused counterterrorism strategy, quietly partnering with Pakistan without having bases in the country (if it hasn’t already). Drone strikes, like President Bill Clinton used to say of abortion, should be “safe, legal, and rare.” The two countries should also ramp up intelligence sharing on shared threats, including Al Qaeda and the local branch of ISIS.
But Washington must also prepare for the potential return of Khan to power. It should resist the urge to demonize him as a kind of Hugo Chavez-style populist strongman and pariah. And it must avoid supporting – wittingly or otherwise – anti-democratic moves to keep him out of power. Doing so would put America at loggerheads with the Pakistani street.
Both sides should seek a credible off-ramp should Khan return to office. But in the end, he may not allow even very limited US drone overflight rights. And that is a reality the US must be prepared to accept. It would be Khan’s prerogative as the leader of a sovereign country.
Arif Rafiq is president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, a political risk advisory company focused on the Middle East and South Asia, and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute. Twitter: @arifcrafiq
Staff of BNNK Bogor Visit Ambassador of Hungary
Bogor Regency National Narcotics Agency (BNNK) staff visited the Hungarian Ambassador (23/05).
Following up on a meeting with the Hungarian Ambassador at an international discussion on the dangers of drugs in a number of countries, including Indonesia and Hungary on April 27, 2022, at Agape Foundation in Cisarua Bogor.
Imam Maulana and Kharisma Putra Bintara paid a visit to the Hungarian Embassy in Jakarta. On that occasion, both represented the Head of BNNK, AKBP. H. Moh. Syabli Noer to hand over souvenirs from BNNK Bogor to Ambassador Lilla Karsay.
During the friendly visit, it was stated that BNNK Bogor was very enthusiastic about establishing a cooperation program in drug handling in Hungary that focused on prevention and rehabilitation, especially for teenagers and adults within the family.
BNNK Bogor hopes that the drug handling program can be synergized between the two countries in the future.
In addition to discussing the issue of Narcotics, the Bogor BNNK also discussed the scholarship program offered by the Hungarian government for Indonesian students who wish to continue their education to a higher level in Hungary. The meeting was warm and pleasant.
Author: Nia S. Amira
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