Published on: Dec 31, 2019
On December 29, 2019 U.S carried out airstrikes hitting five targets on Syria-Iraq border, hitting three targets in Iraq and two in Syria. Among targets was the head quarter of Kataib Hezbollah in Al-Qaim where at least 25 members of 45th brigade of militia were killed.
It is safe to say that currently circumstances stand at the edge of chaos and destruction and a single event will be enough to spark the return of violence. The chaos in Iraq is merely a spark away and U.S might have just provided that. The government in Iraq is marred by political crisis and the Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi has already resigned. No single party or entity is in position to enforce its will and there is a sensitive power vacuum. Similarly nationwide protests against the political establishment are on the nerve of law enforcement institutions.
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Following the United States and NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 attacks in 2001, Pakistan became the frontline state as non-NATO ally of the US in the war on terror. Islamabad provided the required logistic support to the US/NATO mission in Afghanistan besides deploying security forces on the Durand Line to seal the border. After 18 years of this relentless war, attempts are now underway to get rid of this war and create an environment for durable peace in Afghanistan. The peace talks entail all stakeholders including the US, Taliban, and the Afghan government. The incumbent US administration led by President Trump has time and again criticized the unnecessarily protracted nature of this war, which has resulted in huge economic losses to the US tax payers. In the 2016 election manifesto for his Presidential run, he promised to end this war and bring the US troops home. Since then, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to engage all stakeholders in a dialogue process. The US appointed Former Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as its special envoy to Afghanistan to fast track the dialogue process. Now, as the 2020 Presidential Electionscome close, the US troop’s proposed withdrawal from Afghanistan might be consequential for President Trump to win the second term in office.
The war in Afghanistan has resulted in a humongous economic and physical cost to the US. In the last 18 years, the US has suffered approximately 2,4001 military casualties in Afghanistan, and the financial cost has been around $975 billion.2 The US military engagement in Afghanistan appears closer to ending as the US officials negotiate directly with Taliban representatives on major issues like the withdrawal of US troops, and preventing Afghanistan from being used by terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Despite exclusion of the Afghan government from the talks, the US’ official claims regarding the progress made received setbacks when Afghanistan witnessed Taliban attacks that claimed several lives including a US soldier. Consequently, just before the Afghan presidential elections, President Trump announced withdrawal from the talks amid apprehensions that Taliban might not respect the peace agreement in future.
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A stakeholder based analysis of Indian Ocean Region (IOR) will provide us with insight, critical for future political realignments. States in current dynamic political structures need to work on governance mechanisms to protect their national interests while extending cooperation to other states for peace and regional security. One can press on the need for development of a new maritime security governance framework to address the challenges threatening the regional security architecture. The use of maritime space for a common purpose creates room for shared objectives. Other than this, the stakeholders maneuvering in the IOR are subject to common risks and vulnerabilities. Sharing of common objectives and collectively facing challenges set the stage for effective risk treatment and vulnerability reduction efforts.
Maritime security is, therefore, a matter of vital importance for the national interests of states, as access to resources and their secure transportation are the drivers behind national growth and development. Against the back drop of maritime significance, states are taking initiatives to secure specific routes, ports and choke points. Despite this understanding, the existing security architecture is least effective in the region. The ineffectiveness of security architecture in the IOR can be traced to regional diversity along with chauvinistic self-interest. These are two primary hurdles that thwart the formation of an effective governance framework.
This policy brief lays out the rational need for regional powers to frame an action plan for preserving the maritime potential, not purely from a strategic perspective but also from multilateral perspectives of social, political, economic, human development and safety significance. The need of the time is to identify inter-linkages between direct and indirect security threats to determine the possibilities for a new model of governance along with identification of inter-state obligations.
Pakistan’s strategic importance in the maritime domain has been at the center of debate, particularly with the on-going development of the “Port of Gwadar” and how it may lead to a new economic architecture in the region and globally. However, the broader significance of the IOR lies in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative taken by China that includes Port of Gwadar under China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC), aiming to strengthen regional connectivity.
The purpose of this study is to examine the need to strengthen maritime security governance, particularly in reference to Port of Gwadar and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.2 The rising significance of the IOR is central to the discussion on maritime security. The maritime involvement of different states in the IOR and the change in their strategic approach calls for strategic management of maritime potential as well as improvisation of the power kinetics through effective legal and governance framework and collaboration.
Afghanistan is global hub of narcotics production and smuggling. It is the main source of opium, morphine and heroin, among other cannabis-type and amphetamine-type stimulants. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the country has attained a notoriety for being one of the largest producers of the illicit opium poppy. The level of its production and smuggling reached new heights in the 1990s. The production got reduced significantly for a short period of time during the Taliban rule, but again its cultivation started increasing after the 2001 invasion of the US/NATO troops on Afghanistan. According to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime’s annual opium survey, in 2017, opium production in Afghanistan reached a record high. After years of US military strikes, global efforts by the UN along with US and its allies, as well as spending of more than $8.7 billion dollars to counter the country’s illicit narcotics economy, Afghanistan still remains the world’s largest opium producer.1 As a result in February 2019, the US ended its anti-narcotics campaign in the country, without achieving any substantial results or dismantling the production and trafficking network, which, despite the campaign has spread to more areas.
For the first time since the invasion of Afghanistan, the US has recognized that only a durable peace process can ensure peace and stability in the war-torn country. Previously, the US relied on a military solution, but the US President Trump’s desire to exit the 18 years long war has opened a new avenue of diplomacy, by conducting negotiations with the Taliban leadership. The security situation in Afghanistan has considerably worsened, in the last couple of years;, the uncertainty and instability in Afghanistan has had negative implications on the region. All the stakeholders to the conflict, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran, and even the US agree that the cycle of violence must be broken, and the Afghan conflict must be brought to an end.
The appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, and the consequent rounds of peace negotiations between the US and the Taliban leadership haves given hope to the world. However, there are several hurdles impeding the success of this peace process, mainly political. It is imperative that a meaningful peace process may be undertaken to establish long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The 21st century offers immense political and economic incentives for the South Asian region that has always remained pivotal to the strategic interests of big powers. The current transformation in international politics is marked by the process of economic globalization and regionalism that has added to the significance of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The Chinese strategy of economic integration through economic corridors and infrastructural development has paved way for the policy sector of primary stakeholders to view the rationale of economic corridors from multiple perspectives i.e. CPEC as a tool of realism, CPEC as a tool of regional integration and CPEC as a geo-strategic and economic game changer. Secondly, the states involved need to rationalize their plans of action to keep their national interest and sovereignty integral. This calls for evaluation of the CPEC in a broader perspective i.e. its domestic, regional and international implications. CPEC’s critical appraisal will enable the policy and strategic sectors to relate to their security and foreign policy objectives, accordingly.
An analysis of Pakistan’s political structure, its history of socio-economic and infrastructure development, China’s Foreign policy, national interests and the basis of Pakistan-China friendship will enable us to understand how the CPEC is interacting and is expected to interact with the state structure of Pakistan. Pakistan-China relationship is a success story with a great deal of potential to meet the imperatives of the changing global and regional geo-strategic and geo-economic scenarios.
The concept of economic corridors came into limelight with the extension of support by the Asian Development Program to the development of greater Mekong sub region (GMS). The major landmark achieved by GMS program can be traced back to the boosting of transport connectivity in the sub-region as epitomized in the other existing economic corridors. Under GMS investments were targeted in the sector of energy, telecommunication and transport.
Geopolitical and strategic dynamics of broader Middle East are undergoing seismic changes due to escalating tension between the United States and Iran, after unilateral American withdrawal from the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries. The situation further aggravated with subsequent re-imposition of the US sanctions on Iran earlier lifted as a result of Iranian compliance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), also known as the P5+1 Agreement. The recent escalation started when last month, the Trump administration cancelled the US waivers allowing eight countries – China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey to continue buying oil from Iran. Moreover, the US designated Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, and threatened others to stop ‘doing business’ with Iran as this would be considered as ‘bankrolling terrorism.’ In a tit for tat response, Iran declared American military’s Central Command (Centcom) as a terrorist organization and the US government as sponsor of terror. The defiant reciprocal moves by Iran have vitiated the already precarious security environment of the region.
In October 2017, the people of Raqqa were finally freed from the heinous rule of the Islamic State (IS) by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) comprising Kurdish and Arab fighters after suffering in absolute hell under the tyranny of IS for about four years. The defeat of Islamic State’s territorial caliphate in Syria had compelled foreign fighters to flee and return to their native countries.
Many security analysts are of the view that though IS has suffered a ‘physical defeat’ but its ideology still holds the power to inspire extremist recruits and it will continue to attract the ideologically motivated Jihadis around the world. The IS appears to have transformed itself from ‘state to a fluid organization’ capable of offering umbrella to different local, regional and international militant organisations to use its name and new method i.e. ‘Do-It-Yourself terrorism’. The recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia and Sri Lanka are the prime examples of this new modus operandi adopted by the IS and their local affiliates.
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