April 05, 2019

Italy’s BRI pact will be measured by domestic politics


Italy’s BRI pact will be measured by domestic politics

Monday, April 1, 2019

Italy is the first G7 country officially to endorse China's BRI, but its cooperation faces various obstacles

On March 23, Italy became the first G7 country officially to endorse China’s global infrastructure and connectivity project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, Italy’s populist government is itself divided on engagement with the BRI; the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) views it as a timely opportunity to boost Italy’s struggling economy and deliver populist fiscal policies, while the far-right League is concerned lest it lead to Chinese ‘colonisation’ of some of Italy’s ports. Ultimately, the extent of the engagement will be determined by: voter concerns; the longevity of the current government; and which party holds the balance of power over coming years.

What next

At the EU-China summit on April 9, EU leaders will ask China to open its market to European industries. Creating more opportunities for Italian companies to succeed in China will be critical if the League is to support greater Chinese investment and development in Italy.

Subsidiary Impacts

Italy will pursue closer relations with Washington than Beijing.Rome’s BRI endorsement could be used as bargaining power to sell Italian government bonds to China.Development of Italian ports will bolster connectivity with Africa.


Cooperation between Italy and China dates to antiquity, when the Roman empire and Han dynasty coexisted as global centres of power.

Today, the dynamics of Italy-China relations are vastly different. In late 2018, Italy plunged into economic recession for the third time since 2008. Italy's sovereign debt stands around 132% of GDP, making it the second most-indebted country in the euro-area (see ITALY: Debt sustainability faces several challenges - February 1, 2019).


Italy's economic woes have coincided with China's growing global influence through foreign direct investment and loans, helping economies like Italy's grow despite adverse domestic and regional factors. According to the Italy-China Foundation, China has invested around 13.7 billion euros (15.3 million dollars) in over 600 Italian businesses since 2000, while Italy is the EU's third-largest recipient of Chinese investment (see EUROPE: Southern Europe seeks closer China relations - March 13, 2019).

Italy's nuanced China view

However, economic support from China has not fostered an unwavering pro-Beijing outlook in Rome. Despite welcoming Chinese investment, in 2017 the Italian government spearheaded EU efforts to strengthen foreign investment screening mechanisms, with the aim of protecting European industries from countries such as China (see EU: Competition policy faces opposition - January 29, 2019).

For different reasons, Italy's elites have been sceptical about China

During the campaign for Italy's general election in 2018, M5S and the League used anti-Chinese rhetoric in order to convey an image of 'Italy First' to voters. Although M5S wants to reduce Italian dependence on NATO and the United States by enhancing ties with emerging market countries such as China, the party has been critical of China, following allegations of unfair trade practices.

Ideologically, League leader Matteo Salvini sees building close ties with US President Donald Trump and strengthening cooperation with NATO as seminal to Rome's foreign policy interests, more than developing closer ties with Beijing.

BRI symbolism

Italy's endorsement of the BRI on March 29 involved signing a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with 29 separate deals, totalling around 2.5 billion euros; that could rise to 20 billion euros. The main sectors affected by the deals include energy, finance, transport and agriculture, involving state-owned as well as private companies.

Several predominant agreements figure in Italy's endorsement of the BRI:

China's state-owned China Communications Construction Group will cooperate with the Genoa and Trieste port authorities on infrastructure projects to enhance rail and sea connections to Central-Eastern Europe and Africa respectively (see EUROPE/CHINA: EU is now sceptical about ports - February 6, 2019);Italy's state-owned investment bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and Italian gas company Snam will cooperate with the Chinese Silk Road Fund on investment in China and in countries that have joined the BRI; andChina's private e-commerce group, Suning, will cooperate with the Italian Trade Agency to create greater market opportunities for 'Made in Italy' products in China.

Italy's endorsement of the BRI is symbolic in two senses: it reaffirms Chinese investment in Italy, something that has continued for two decades; and BRI endorsements are portrayed in China as an international stamp of approval for President Xi Jinping.

It is also a product of the current Italian government's interest in enhancing ties with Beijing. In 2018, Italy's pro-Beijing Michele Geraci, the undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Economic Development, visited China four times. He also spearheaded the newly established 'China Task Force', which encourages Italian economic actors to cooperate with Beijing.

However, full details of the MoU are yet to emerge, and BRI MoUs are usually intentionally vague. They are also non-binding: there are no legal consequences if Italy decides to withdraw from any of the agreements. Ultimately, Italy's engagement with the BRI will be measured by what the coalition parties can sell to their voters.

Italy First

The notion of Italy First is core to the appeal of the League and M5S, but it is understood divergently in the case of China. For M5S, Italy First means defying EU convention and adopting national rather than pro-Brussels positions concerning relations with Beijing.

Chinese investment could be crucial for the affordability of the party's social-friendly citizens' income scheme, a key election promise that entered into force in March. The roots of M5S's popularity are in southern Italy, where Italians struggle most.

Under the citizens' income scheme, Italians whose annual household income is below 9,360 euros are eligible for a prepaid debit card of 770 euros per month to pay for essentials. With spending cuts very likely in next year's budget, strong and stable Chinese investment could be crucial in financing the popular scheme.

However, the League, which is anti-immigrant and has its roots in the industrial North, is concerned lest Italy be at risk of 'colonisation' from China. For Salvini to develop more support for the BRI, it is essential that China opens up its market to foreign industries and creates conditions that allow Italian firms to flourish overseas.


Future government

China will continue to be a strong source of investment in Italy, but the extent to which the BRI agreements will be realised is uncertain (see ITALY: Government relations - January 15, 2019).

The League is the Italian party that Beijing will watch attentively. Coalition relations are often fraught, marked by clashes over policy ideas; new polling trends suggest that the longevity of the government is in serious doubt.

Since last year's general election, Salvini's anti-immigrant agenda has seen his party's popularity rise from 17% to over 30%, while M5S's support has dropped from 33% to the low 20s. Three recent substantial electoral defeats for M5S in southern Italy are increasing pressure on the party to pull out of the government and sharpen its profile in opposition. That could happen if the party suffers further losses in the European Parliament elections in May.

Italy's engagement in the BRI could be watered down substantially if the M5S are no longer in government

In the case of an early general election, the League would, at best, win with a majority, or else head a right-wing coalition with its allies, Forza Italia and Brothers of Italy. It would be a populist government, but Salvini's variant of populism will be even more dominant than it is now. Also, in a 2018 Pew Research poll on European attitudes towards China, only 29% of Italians said they had a favourable view.

Chinese Pressure Tactics

Chinese Pressure Tactics

By Dr. James M. DorseyApril 3, 2019

Xi Jinping, photo via Office of the President of Russia

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,131, April 3, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Recent Chinese pressure on Myanmar to approve a controversial dam project and the arrest in Kazakhstan of a human rights activist suggest that China, in a seemingly tone-deaf pursuit of its interests, is forcing governments to choose between heeding increasingly anti-Chinese public sentiment and pleasing Beijing to ensure continued political and economic support.

Apparent Chinese disregard of public opinion, whether as a matter of policy or because of haphazard insensitivity, is compounded by the powering of anti-Chinese sentiment in several countries as a result of commercial terms of China-funded Belt and Road projects that favor the use of Chinese rather than local labor and materials.

The Chinese approach risks that anti-Chinese sentiment, meshed with social and economic discontent, will explode into popular protests that could prove destabilizing. It also has the potential to complicate Chinese efforts to ensure that the Muslim world continues to refrain from criticizing China’s crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the strategic but troubled northwestern province of Xinjiang.

Chinese pressure on various countries aimed at imposing its will coincides with Beijing’s adoption of a more aggressive diplomatic posture that has seen its diplomats employ blunt, undiplomatic language and repeatedly break with diplomatic protocol.

Rising Chinese pressure on Myanmar to revive the suspended Myitsone dam project in ethnic Kachin state is putting the government between a rock and a hard place.

It is being forced to choose between two unappealing options: 1) ignoring popular concerns that the dam would disrupt the traditional economy of the Kachin in a region wracked by ethnic insurgency and cost Myanmar control of the Irrawaddy River, its most important waterway; or 2) risk the ire of China, on which it depends both politically and economically.

China has reportedly offered, in return for the dam, to support Myanmar against condemnation by the UN, Western countries, and some Muslim nations for its repressive campaign against the Rohingya, some 700,000 of whom fled to Bangladesh in 2017.

China has invested some US$15 billion in scores of projects in Myanmar.

China’s state-controlled Global Timesnewspaper recently quoted Xiamen University Myanmar expert Fan Hongwei as saying that “the abrupt suspension of such a significant project has blurred political trust between China and Myanmar.”

In 2011, former Myanmar president Thein Sein suspended the $3.6 billion dam project in response to a campaign that brought together conservationists, scholars, and political activists, including Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Activists assert that the dam, if built as previously designed, would flood 600 square kilometers of forestland in northern Kachin state and export 90% of the power produced to China.

Myanmar is not the only country to have recently experienced Chinese attempts to force it to act in ways that can have unintended consequences.

Kazakh police, despite widespread public criticism of the crackdown in Xinjiang, last weekend raided the office of Atajurt Eriktileri, a group that has reportedly documented more than 10,000 cases of ethnic Kazakhs being interned in China. Activist Serikzhan Bilash was arrested.

Activists suspect that the raid was the result of Chinese pressure aimed at squashing criticism of the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Similarly, Russian leaders are facing mounting public anger in the Lake Baikal region and the country’s Far East at their alleged connivance in perceived Chinese encroachment on the region’s natural resources, including water.

petition by prominent Russian show business personalities opposing Chinese plans to build a water bottling plant on the shores of Lake Baikal attracted more than 800,000 signatures, signaling the depth of popular resentment and the pitfalls of the Russian alliance with China.

Pakistani FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi sought to put a good face on differences with China over his country’s demand that the focus of the China Pakistan Economic Project (CPEC), the $45 billion-plus crown jewel of the Belt and Road Initiative, be shifted from infrastructure and energy, poverty alleviation, job creation, and agriculture.

China has acknowledged Pakistan’s demand but suggested that the refocusing would happen all in good time.

Qureishi asserted in March that CPEC had entered its second phase, but provided few details. The minister said agreements on the second phase, which would involve the creation of four economic zones, would be concluded at an unspecified date.

China has notably refrained in recent months from contributing to the financial bailout of Pakistan that was achieved instead with the help of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have committed some $30 billion in funding and investments.

Pakistani and Chinese officials have gone out of their way in recent months to deny any dent in what they have described as an all-weather friendship. “There is no threat to CPEC. Our government considers it a game changer,” Qureishi insisted.

China’s deputy chief of mission in Islamabad, Lijian Zhao, insisted in an interview last year and in a series of tweets that China has “always supported & stood behind @Pakistan, helping #develop it’s #infrastructure & raise #living standards while creating #job.”

Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding. Indications so far are that China is digging in its heels on the assumption that its political and economic clout will allow it to get its way. It is an approach that ignores potential black swans and does little to garner soft power.

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Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.


South China Sea: Filipino officials dial up the rhetoric

Agence France-Presse reports:

The Philippines on Thursday April 4 branded as "illegal" the recent presence of hundreds of Chinese ships near a disputed island in the South China Sea — a rare public rebuke of Beijing by Manila, which has backed off their once tense territorial standoff…

Pag-asa, also called Thitu island, is held by the Philippines, but in the first three months of the year at least 275 Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels were sighted in the area, the Philippines military said.

"The presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa (island) ... is illegal," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement. "Such actions are a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty.”

Even Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte — who on April 2 said China was a “friend”despite the tensions in the South China Sea — told China on April 4 to stay away from Pag-asa:

“I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pagasa because I have soldiers there. If you touch it, that’s a different story. I will tell the soldiers ‘prepare for suicide mission.’”

Meanwhile, from Beijing, state news agency Xinhua reports that “China and the Philippines wrapped up their bilateral talks on the South China Sea issues yesterday, with both sides hoping for an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”

Eight months in, how is Balochistan faring?

From economic revival to managing the insurgency, here's a progress report of the province's coalition.

Malik Siraj AkbarUpdated about 9 hours ago

In 2018, Balochistan witnessed political earthquakes on at least three different fronts. All these tumultuous changes emanated from different sources and targeted specific goals. All these political rebellions in near-unison identified a common enemy: Islamabad.

The first upheaval came months before the general elections of July 2018 when several members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and former allies of ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, decided to close Balochistan’s doors to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Weary of what they described as Balochistan’s endless exploitation by the two mainstream national parties and persistent manipulation of the province’s natural resources and political vulnerabilities, this group of traditionally pro-establishment politicians formed the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).

All national and regional parties viewed the BAP as the establishment’s outpost in Quetta. On the contrary, the BAP, which unsurprisingly won the highest number of seats in the provincial assembly, pledged that, going forward, all decisions on Balochistan would be made in Quetta instead of Islamabad.

That promise was soon broken when the decision on who would become Balochistan’s next chief minister was actually made in Bani Gala, as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) announced its support for Jam Kamal, previously Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s Minister of State for Petroleum.

Consequently, the BAP, only months after its formation, was ready to become Balochistan’s next ruling party.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani.

The second rebellion came from the Balochistan National Party (BNP), a Baloch nationalist party that ditched its historical and ideological Baloch and Pashtun nationalist allies and entered into several electoral alliances with the right-wing Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.

To its critics, the BNP said that it had a strategy and a game plan for the next five years to find a solution to Balochistan’s problems by assisting the new government as needed.

The initial hope was that the BNP would move quickly to form a coalition government in the province. Too excited about their victories and desperate to join the new government, members-elect from the Awami National Party, the Hazara Democratic Party and the Balochistan National Party-Awami, all erstwhile allies of the BNP, jumped on the BAP bandwagon.

It was paradise lost for the BNP.

Nonetheless, on August 8, 2018, following an intense three-hour discussion in Quetta, the BNP affirmed support for the PTI through a six-point memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the party’s president and former chief minister, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, and PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Under the MoU, the BNP extended support for PTI candidates for the positions of the prime minister, the National Assembly speaker and the deputy speaker.

As a quid pro quo, the PTI pledged to meet a series of BNP demands, ranging from the release of the Baloch missing persons to the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Balochistan.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani (centre) with Balochistan Assembly Speaker Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo (right).

The third major political upheaval was led by none other than voters of Balochistan who dumped all three parties from the former ruling coalition: the PML-N, the National Party (NP) and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP).

Voters particularly rebuked the NP and the PkMAP for playing the nationalism card to muster votes and then, after coming into power, using it as a pretext to indulge in and justify corruption and nepotism.

In other words, voters said: if we can vote you in, we can vote you out as well. Hence, the PML-N and PkMAP, which had won 12 and 14 out of the total 65 seats in the previous Balochistan Assembly, ended up winning only one seat each in 2018.

The NP, whose leader Dr Malik Baloch was elected as the province’s first chief minister from the middle-class in 2013, had won 11 seats in those elections, but failed to win a single seat in the 2018 polls.

The dramatic outcome created a complicated situation for Balochistan. The province looked to PTI and BAP to resolve its outstanding issues. It was the first time that both these parties were heading the federal and the provincial governments respectively.

Progress report

Nearly eight months after coming into power, the PTI — unconditionally supported by both BAP and BNP, the ruling and the main opposition parties — still falls short of the pledge it has made in chapter three of its election manifesto: “Champion reconciliation in Balochistan.”

As part of its efforts to strengthen the federation, the PTI promised it would “empower the Balochistan government to launch and champion large-scale efforts for political reconciliation.” Besides, it vowed to “reach out to the Baloch leadership and the disgruntled Baloch groups, especially the youth by ensuring them political and economic empowerment.”

Stakeholders in the province seem to be running out of patience concerning PTI’s ability to break the political impasse and negotiate with armed Baloch groups.

I asked Dr Malik Baloch what should happen to achieve reconciliation in Balochistan. He said it was solely the prerogative of the establishment if it wants to allow dialogue between the government and the Baloch insurgents.

“I really wanted reconciliation with the Baloch armed groups,” he said while recalling his term as head of the provincial government. “If the establishment is not onboard, reconciliation is almost impossible. I did my best but to no avail.”

Former chief minister and NP leader Dr Abdul Malik Baloch.—Reuters

Unlike previous governments, the PTI and BAP have either stepped back from earlier promises to reach out to the Baloch insurgents or decided only to negotiate with groups that do not champion secessionist ambitions.

The BAP, on the other hand, did not even acknowledge the existence of the Baloch insurgency in its 2018 election manifesto, nor did it indicate any plans to reconcile with the disillusioned Baloch nationalists.

Babar Yousafzai, PTI’s provincial spokesperson, does not see a retreat from the party’s earlier commitment to reconciliation. He cites support from the BNP for PTI at the federal level as evidence that moderate Baloch nationalists who respect the Constitution fully support the PTI.

“The state will talk only with those who will recognise the Constitution, and the writ of the government. In recent months, several insurgents have surrendered, accepted the rule of law. In return, the state has offered them amnesty,” he said in an interview with me.

Statistics on violence in Balochistan portray a different and a bleak picture.

For example, in its Pakistan Security Report 2018, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (Pips), an Islamabad-based think-tank, reported a 29 per cent decline in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, but Balochistan remained the country’s most-affected province in terms of terrorism-related casualties.

According to the report, at least 354 people were killed in Balochistan — over 59pc of the total 595 people killed in terrorist attacks across Pakistan — and 589 others were injured in 115 reported attacks from there.

Both Yousafzai, the PTI spokesman, and Pips, are somewhat correct that violence from Baloch nationalists has decreased. Pips said in 2018, the Baloch nationalists “carried out 80 attacks — as compared to 138 such attacks in 2017 — which claimed 96 lives and wounded another 216 people.”

State of the insurgency

However, it is important not to overlook two other vital factors if one is to avoid jumping to simplistic conclusions about the state of law and order in Balochistan.

First, groups like Pips compile their data based on reports in the media. In 2017 and 2018, newspapers in Balochistan came under severe pressure from the security establishment not to report ‘negative stories’ containing the activities of the armed groups.

The government believed that publishing the actions of these organisations demoralises the security personnel fighting to restore peace in Balochistan, stir panic among the public and further glorify insurgent activities.

Hence, newspapers began to censor stories about the activities of armed Baloch groups. In reaction, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), a group active mostly in the Makran region under the leadership of Dr Allah Nazar, announced a boycott of the news media.

Related: I was the first chief minister to address the existence of death squads in Balochistan: Abdul Malik Baloch

That said, the BLF forcefully asked cable operators to stop airing Pakistani news channels and also forced newspaper distributors to stop delivering newspapers in Baloch-majority parts of the province.

A BLF-led boycott of the media started on October 24, 2017, and lasted until January 20, 2018. During this time, several press clubs also remained closed.

Persistent tensions between security forces and Baloch militant groups have made it almost impossible to independently and consistently report all violent incidents.

Obviously, the fact that they are not reported in the media does not mean violent attacks have stopped occurring.

Second, almost all Baloch armed groups are undergoing transformation, caused by a change in traditional leadership and urbanisation of their operations from small towns to cities outside Balochistan, as witnessed by the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, which was claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA).

The leadership of these Baloch armed groups is shifting from the old traditional commanders to more educated and trained young operatives.

Homecoming of the disappeared

One critical issue that has continuously fuelled anti-Islamabad sentiments and generated support for Baloch nationalist and insurgent groups has been the longstanding problem of missing persons.

Despite repeated interventions by the Supreme Court in the past, frequent calls by human rights organisations and incessant protests and long marches by rights activists and families of disappeared people, no one has been able to persuade those blamed for the recurrent cases of enforced disappearances to give up this counterproductive policy and practice.

All efforts, including the formation of several official committees, have failed to resurface the missing persons so that armed groups and the Baloch nationalists do not manipulate this issue for their own political gains and public sympathies.

Years before becoming the prime minister, PTI chairman Imran Khan visited the protest camp of the missing persons outside the National Press Club in Islamabad in April 2012.

According to one report, during his visit, he “asked the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to clear his position on the alleged involvement of armed forces in picking up people as the allegation was earning a bad name for Pakistan Army.”

He was reported saying that the issue of the missing persons was “crippling peace in Balochistan where bodies of people picked up from their homes had been found abandoned which resulted in giving birth to hatred against the state.”

Relatives of missing persons demonstrate at Hyderabad Press Club in 2013 as they participate in a travelling march organised by Voice of Baloch Missing Persons from Balochistan to Islamabad.—Photo by INP

After years of failure and inaction, there is finally a slight breakthrough in Balochistan as some of the missing persons have actually begun resurfacing since the beginning of the year 2019.

Dozens have returned home who were once on the list of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a Quetta-based organisation comprised of family members and relatives of the missing persons. The organisation has campaigned on this issue for more than a decade.

Some of the people who have returned had been missing for as many as eight or nine years. On their release, these victims of forced disappearance do not speak to the media.

When the BAP came into power, it approached the VBMP representatives and said it was serious in resolving the issue without going public about its intentions because premature announcements might raise public expectations and cause enormous embarrassment if the provincial government fails to make progress on this front.

The Balochistan government and leaders of the VBMP met at least four times. They exchanged details about the missing persons and discussed suggestions and strategies that could help in bringing back the missing persons.

In these meetings, VBMP leaders categorically told the newly-elected government that they were unwilling to go through the longer route of filling out more forms and appearing in front of a new commission or a joint investigation committee because they viewed this as a delaying tactic from the government’s side. They had already gone through this monotonous process several times in the past under different governments.

A change appeared when Jam Kamal, the chief minister, on December 26, 2018, replaced Home Minister Mir Saleem Ahmed Khosa with Ziaullah Langove.

Days after his appointment as the new home minister, Langove visitedthe camp of the missing persons in Quetta and pledged to bring back the disappeared persons within three months.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Kamal, who was also under continued pressure in Quetta from relatives of the missing persons to do something about the issue, met with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to seek their help.

In depth: The case of missing persons in Balochistan

In a press conference in Quetta on January 16, 2019, Kamal did confirmhaving spoken to the prime minister and reminding him of his election campaign promise on the recovery of the missing persons. He mentioned that he was talking to all “stakeholders” in what seemed to be a reference to the army and security officials.

On the same day, the VBMP announced it was closing down its protest camp for the first time in a decade after meeting with Kamal who had also requested them to give him a few months to address the matter.

Since taking office, Kamal has made a name for himself as an approachable chief minister. He actively uses Twitter to communicate with the public, the media and local activists as he readily answers public inquiries and gives the impression that his government believes in public services, accountability and transparency.

In a province where most chief ministers are tribal chiefs and have historically remained inaccessible and unapproachable, Kamal is breaking away from those traditions and redefining the voter-leader relationship.

His presence on social media has also made it impossible for him to remain silent in the face of hundreds of questions and messages received everyday about the missing persons and what his government has done to recover them.

“Like other political parties, we could also hold photo sessions or make false claims and promises on the recovery of the missing persons as soon as we came in power. But, we chose to behave seriously and responsibly because we are the government and we have to act like the government and not like a political party. It is a complex issue and we need more time to fix it fully,” Kamal said in a press conference in January.

—Photo by INP

With the return of some of the missing persons, Nasrullah Baloch of the VBMP sees some light at the end of the tunnel. Nasrullah says the PTI’s central leadership has not contacted them directly since coming into power, but their provincial leadership has kept in touch.

He is ecstatic over the recommendation by the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights urging the Ministry of Human Rights to draft a bill that will criminalise enforced disappearances in Pakistan and make it a punishable offence.

“If this bill is passed, it will prove that the PTI government is committed to resolving the issue of enforced disappearances,” he said, adding that the VBMP has three critical recommendations for the federal government if it wishes to permanently resolve the issue of the missing persons in a dignified manner.

First, when a person is picked up, their family members should be informed about the charges against them, and they should also disclose the name of the agency that is holding the accused person in custody.

Second, people who have already gone missing should be recovered and presented in court to face a legal trial.

Third, if any missing person has already been killed in custody, their family members should be informed so that they no longer wait for their return.

The return of some of the missing persons has already triggered an obnoxious war between supporters of the PTI, BAP and BNP as to who should actually be credited for this success.

Nasrullah Baloch does not shy away from giving credit to Chief Minister Jam Kamal and BNP's president, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, for their active role in addressing this issue.

However, he insists that actual credit goes to the families of the missing persons, especially women, children and the elderly, who have remained attached with the VBMP struggle for a decade in their quest for justice.

Throughout these years, he reminded, they had been threatened, intimidated and harassed. Even security agencies, he alleged, warned the media not to report about their protest camp while leaders and activists of different political parties were told not to visit the missing persons’ camp.

He also commends Kamal for fulfilling his promise to highlight the issue in Islamabad, where he was given the green signal to could go back to Balochistan and tell the media that the state institutions were serious about addressing the issue of the missing persons.

Whose CPEC?

Political parties in Balochistan entered the election race in July 2018 branding Islamabad as the real enemy. Today, they still do not show any remorse for doing so.

Differences at the local level aside, political parties in the coalition government, as well as the opposition, have been deepening their criticism of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Balochistan’s inadequate share in the multi-billion dollar project.

The Baloch armed groups have initiated a series of extreme violent attacks on the Chinese, ranging from the BLA-sponsored attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers in August 2018 in Dalbandin — which injured five people and occurred 210 miles away from Quetta — to the shocking attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

Political parties have also not been pleased with Islamabad’s handling of Balochistan’s concerns and demands on CPEC.

Cognisant of Balochistan’s increasing sense of dissatisfaction about CPEC, Imran Khan, in his first official visitto Quetta as prime minister in October 2018, said the province would be paid more than its due share in CPEC projects.

That seemed like a mere promise. It still awaits fulfillment.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other notables at the ceremony marking the initiation of trade activities through CPEC Gwadar.—AFP

“The PTI leadership lacks a clear strategy and framework to address Balochistan’s political and developmental issues. We, as allies and coalition partners, have tried many times to make them understand and develop a political strategy and action plan,” said Sanaullah Baloch, a former senator and a vocal opposition member from the BNP in the Balochistan Assembly, in an interview with me.

Sanaullah says PTI has been “disappointingly slow” in the implementation of BNP’s six-point agenda it accepted in return for the latter's support.

“The PTI-led central government is almost following the footprints of previous regimes, and so far it is unable to disclose an innovative, realistic and practical approach and policy to address hardcore issues including mainstreaming and empowering Balochistan.”

As things stand, a disillusioned Sanaullah warns that his party might review its support for the PTI once its leaders sit down to evaluate the Centre’s one-year performance and fulfillment of the promises it had made to the people of Balochistan.

Analysis: No progress made on Balochistan component of CPEC’s western route

On December 21, 2018, the Balochistan Assembly passed a resolution tabled by Sanaullah demanding a higher share for the province in CPEC.

Chief Minister Jam Kamal did not confront or dispute the contents of the resolution presented by Nawab Aslam Raisani, a former chief minister under the PPP government, who had called for more transparency and inclusion of Balochistan in the decision-making process on CPEC projects.

“Balochistan’s current share under CPEC is only 4.5pc. If we don’t include Gwadar Port and Hubco projects, then Balochistan’s share in CPEC is reduced to a meagre 1pc,” the chief minister said on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly in December.

Kachkol Ali Baloch, a former leader of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly, describes CPEC as a “destructive and exploitative mega project” where, he alleges, China has applied its sharp power doctrine and debt-trap diplomacy to take over the Gwadar port with a mysterious agreement.

He points out that security forces have begun to restrict local fishermen from going to the sea for fishing.

Citing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Kachkol Baloch says without the consent of the indigenous peoples of Balochistan, development under CPEC will be a violation of international standards.

A guard keeps watch at Gwadar Port.—AP

Even Mohammad Aslam Bhootani, Gwadar’s elected representative in the National Assembly, is skeptical about CPEC’s positive impact on Balochistan in general and Gwadar in particular.

He points out that the PTI has little control over Balochistan since the military calls the shots on matters pertaining to the province, which it treats as a high-security zone.

Taking a break from the CPEC hype and the surrounding media blitz, Bhootani told me he wants everyone to look at Gwadar with a realistic lens as he reminds that his electoral constituency lacks fundamental amenities of life such as electricity, water and security.

“People of Gwadar are agitating because their ancestral lands are being taken away forcibly for the proposed refineries by Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” complains Bhootani, who once served as the Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly.

He seeks to draw attention to the dark side of the robust Saudi investment that was widely advertised during the recent visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Pakistan.

The Gwadar MNA mocks Islamabad for using Balochistan-based projects, such as Gwadar and Reko Diq, as a pretext to seek billions of dollars from Gulf countries to get bailout packages.

Perspective: CPEC: The devil is not in the details

Nevertheless, amid all the gloom, BAP’s Senator Anwaar Kakar says his party is “quite satisfied” with PTI as it is paying proper attention to the province in terms of development.

“In the past, everyone imposed a chief minister on Balochistan from the Centre. But this time, they respected the mandate in the province and allowed the BAP to lead,” he said in an interview with me.

Voters and political parties in Balochistan have remained patient in the first eight months of the PTI-led government as they have awaited relief with great anticipation.

However, rising socio-economic measures, political accommodation and relief will be needed to keep the province satisfied and avoid any disruption of the current flow of support the PTI enjoys from various stakeholders in the province.

The next four months will be critical if the BAP is rocked by infighting, or if BNP decides to withdraw its support for the PTI in Islamabad to protest unfulfilled promises.

That does not seem utterly improbable. A shift on such a large scale can completely change the political arena in the province and potentially disrupt whatever progress the PTI believes it has made thus far — or plans to make in the future.

Illustration by Mushba Said

Are you keeping track of the government’s performance? Share your insights with us at prism@dawn.com

The writer is a freelance journalist from Balochistan. He tweets @MalikSirajAkbar


Pakistan’s GDP growth to fall behind Nepal, Maldives this year: UN

Pakistan’s GDP growth to fall behind Nepal, Maldives this year: UN


ISLAMABAD: The annual Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2019 titled ‘Ambitions beyond Growth’, released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) on Thursday, forecast Pakistan’s GDP to remain lowest in the region at 4.2 per cent in 2019 and 4pc in 2020 compared to Bangladesh’s 7.3pc, India 7.5pc, Maldives and Nepal 6.5pc each in 2019.

The survey revealed that overall economic conditions in the region are stable with the projected 5-5.1 per cent GDP growth in 2019 and 2020 respectively. However, export-oriented sectors face headwinds from weaker demand in Europe and possibly in US, and looming uncertainty over ongoing US-China trade war.

Read:Pakistan's GDP growth expected to slow down to 3.9pc: ADB report

Pakistan’s economy is experiencing severe balance of payment difficulties amid large fiscal and current account deficits and mounting pressures on the currency, the report adds.

Inflation in the developing Asia-Pacific region is forecast to increase moderately in 2019 to 4.2pc before dropping to 3.8pc in 2020. However, potentially higher tariffs against the backdrop of trade tensions and rising uncertainties, currency depreciation and unfavourable weather could push up consumer and food prices.

According to the survey, the region’s medium-to-long term prospects depend on structural transformation and broad-based productivity growth. The report cautions against countries shifting from an agriculture-based economy to one in which services play a dominant role, bypassing manufacturing sector.

New frontier technologies may reduce the scope for industrialisation in “late entrant” developing countries, while high-value-added services require skilled workers. This calls for investment in people and enabling infrastructure, the survey suggests.

Stating that the next phase of structural transformation in the region must be environment-friendly, the survey illustrates that investments to speed up transition to more resource-efficient systems of production and consumption would not only reduce carbon emissions by a tenth, but deliver high economic returns and over time can reduce net financial costs to zero.

The 2019 survey points out that achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 would require an annual additional investment of $1.5 trillion for Asia-Pacific developing countries — equivalent to 5pc of their combined GDP in 2018.

Despite rapid economic growth, the survey notes, too many people are left behind, without a fair chance in life, while environmental degradation has reached alarming levels, threatening the sustainability of past development gains. Hence, keeping the old paradigm of prioritising GDP growth at all costs is neither feasible nor desirable, the report argues.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2019


Pakistan’s brave posture on Balakot belies growing insecurity

Rawalpindi’s brave public posture, however, belies its growing insecurity and inability to rein its fast slipping reputation.

By ET CONTRIBUTORS | Apr 05, 2019

A cropped version of a satellite image shows a close-up of a madrasa near Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019. Mandatory credit: Planet Labs Inc./Handout via REUTERS

By Prasad Nallapati

Pakistan continues to be on high `military alert’ although the Balakot episode receded to background and India deeply engrossed in a long, grueling election campaigning for the world’s largest democratic undertaking.


The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is reveling in showcasing its “muscular” policy toward Pakistan while the opposition, equally vehemently, questioning some of its unsubstantiated claims.

-Mohammed (JeM) camps at Balakot heights in what it said a `preventive anti-terrorist operation’. The JeM had earlier claimed responsibility for killing over 40 Indian paramilitary personnel at Pulwama in a suicide attack in Jammu and Kashmir. The terrorist group is controlled by Pakistan’s army and its intelligence wing.

Pakistani establishment too was upbeat for having retaliated the air raid by shooting down India’s MiG-21 Bison in the ensuing dog fight and capturing its pilot, Wg Cdr. Abhinandan Varthaman. Its spin doctors had even ridiculed the Balakot attack as no more than `eco-terrorism’, suggesting that the bombing could only destroy a few trees on the hill side.


Rawalpindi’s brave public posture, however, belies its growing insecurity and inability to rein its fast slipping reputation.

Pakistan’s air space remains closed for civilian air traffic for more than a month now forcing airliners to take long and expensive detours. Its Air Force is conducting extended drills, with air defense units on maximum alert. Armed forces, posted across the western borders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces, have been moved to the eastern border. Terrorist camps have been shifted further deep inside the country.


There is obvious fear of further “surgical strikes” from Modi government, notwithstanding his preoccupation with the two-month long election campaigning season. No chances are being taken by Pakistani military establishment despite heavy cost of maintaining high alert on the border.

Meanwhile, the country’s security and financial environment is fast deteriorating, placing heavy toll on its meagre resources. Baluch resistance groups found an opportunity to drill fear into remaining paramilitary forces and blast infrastructural facilities, which are often seen to be benefiting ruling Punjabi elite rather than the local people. Pakistani Taliban (TTP) saw the pressure off on them to slowly regain control of the tribal areas.

Inflation reached a five-year high last month, having gone up by 9.41 percent year-on-year, indicating high current account and fiscal deficits. Emergency financial support packages received from Saudi Arabia, UAE and China, though helpful, are unable to stop the slide. Finance Minister Asad Umar has been raising frantic calls for early signing of the IMF deal to prevent economic havoc, but the negotiations have not yet been completed.

Australia has cut its foreign aid to Pakistan as part of general cuts to its aid program to finance its own infrastructure projects.

China-funded CPEC projects are all running behind schedule and much of the earlier projections have been scaled down. Increased Baluch armed attacks added a new uncertainty further aggravating the security situation around project areas in the unruly province.

A team of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which just concluded its review of Pakistan’s compliance with its undertakings of closing gaps on terror funding and money laundering, remained unsatisfied with its actions so far.

There is visible exasperation on the part of Foreign Minister Qureshi who commented, “Pakistan could be blacklisted by the FATF due to lobbying by India.” He estimated that the county could suffer $ 10 billion loss annually if it remains in the watchdog’s grey list. The Karachi Stock Market has already lost over 20% value over the last year due to the measure.

China may have saved Pakistan once again from being defeated in the UN 1267 sanctions committee to list JeM head Maulana Masood Azhar as global terrorist, but it turned out to be a short-lived joy. The US, supported by the UK and France, has taken the direct route to the UN Security Council and circulated a draft resolution on placing Azhar on the terrorist list.

China is found scrambling to find a shade to hide from being shamed and appears to have reluctantly come around to work out a way to resolve the matter. How long does China put its credibility at stake to protect Pakistan’s terror infrastructure is to be seen.

Pakistan is fast losing friends who it thought would protect its interests at any cost. If it continues to believe that it can get away fooling the international community on its terrorism policy, it will soon come to a shock. It is not only getting internationally isolated, but its economy is fast collapsing.

After all, the Modi’s policy of isolating Pakistan among world community seems to be working. There is universal international approval of India’s right to launch counter-terror strikes into Pakistani territory as was demonstrated by the recent Balakot air attacks and an infantry surgical strike across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir in 2016.

India has also exposed limits of Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, which has so far been used to continue its unhindered support to terrorist groups to destabilize not only Jammu and Kashmir state, but India at large.

The fear of more surgical strikes is unnerving Pakistan and it cannot afford to keep its military forces on full alert forever.

There lies India’s strength and Pakistan’s fault lines.

Pakistan has now started paying a price for its support to terrorism and it is up to them to either continue to tread the same path and suffer unbearable pain or change the course for a better future for itself and the region at large.

It is very unlikely that Rawalpindi will ever be willing to give up its `veritable arm’ of terror in its attempt to inflict a `thousand cuts’ to bleed India even if it were mean `to eat grass’. The call for dialogue is only a ploy to lull India and play for time.

Limited but focused surgical strikes deep inside Pakistan, at every opportune moment, is the new normal for India. Modi’s BJP is expected to return to power after the elections, as per the projections, and if so, this policy is only likely to be more sharpened.

Prasad Nallapati is President of the Hyderabad-based think tank, the Centre for Asia-Africa Policy Research and former Additional Secretary to Government of India.


April 04, 2019

Note on Tweet by Tarek Fatah

Anonymous Expert

Note on Tweet by Tarek Fatah


Coming from people like Tarek Fatah this would be instantly set aside as usual (Hindu) right wing propaganda. Carefully collected hard evidence would be needed for the national (i.e., English) and international media to take note of such things.

Indian English media cannot verify this on its own. They are welcome in the Valley only if they go to search for victims of counter-insurgency, but not if they go to ascertain growing extremism etc.

Indeed, the real and enduring success of militancy has been the introduction of an information chasm and consequent control over the narrative through selective release of information to the outside world and control over the information disseminated within Kashmir.

On a day when both a police constable and a civilian protester died, a leading English language newspaper published from Srinagar described the constable more or less as a morally corrupt person and the protester as a pious Muslim, who did not accept water before death as it was not yet time for iftar. The newspaper did not have journalists on the spot in either cases. So, someone is feeding these dichotomous images of corrupt state oppressing pious people.

Always Blame the West! - And Six Other Disinformation Trends

4 April 2019


Always Blame the West! - And Six Other Disinformation Trends

This week, the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine churned out enough material for us to register about 50 cases, which we've divided them into seven categories showing how certain narrative templates are used and reused for different stories and adapted to different audiences. These categories range from the usual – “The West did it!” and “It wasn’t us!” – to the outrageous “I can’t believe I’m reading this”, which contains lies so blatant that even the most hard-boiled disinformation aficionado might need to take a seat. The Elites vs. the Losers

The narratives in this category seek to instil an inferiority complex in the reader, both on a personal and national level, and to drum up opposition to the political establishment. One case for example suggests that voting in the European Parliament elections simply gives a few politicians the opportunity for a cushy life in Brussels, but brings no benefits to average Latvians. This is a popular narrative around election time, used by pro-Kremlin actors to discourage voter turnout and to increase the prospects of populist, anti-establishment parties.

Ah, fascism – one of the Kremlin's go-to refrains for delegitimising anyone or anything it doesn’t like. Europe is fencing itself off from Russia with a wall of fascism, hate, and Russophobia! In Latvia, Nazis are in power, so there's no point in voting! More than seventy years after the end of World War II, you might think that Russia has moved beyond such outdated tropes. But that would be asking too much.

Be afraid. Be very afraid!

Like accusations of fascism, fearmongering is another favoured pro-Kremlin narrative strategy. This week, the pro-Kremlin media cited a US report to argue that the conflict between Russia and NATO is likely to lead to a military conflict in the Baltic Sea. Conveniently, the article failed to mention the report's actual conclusion – that "a major conflict between NATO and Russia remains unlikely".Stoking fear and perceptions of insecurity is a particularly common tactic when it comes to Ukraine – currently the Kremlin's chief obsession. Apparently, ahead of the second round of the Ukrainian presidential election, Poroshenko is planning to organise new provocations in Donbas. As the EUvsDisinfo database has tracked, disinformation about Ukraine's alleged aggression and agitation has been at the core of the Kremlin's narrative strategy from the moment Russia initiated its war against Ukraine. But at the same time, glaring inconsistencies remain – after all, how is it possible that a failing country with a military verging on collapse could pose a real security threat to Russia?! The Kremlin can't have it both ways, no matter how desperately it wants to.
It wasn't us!

Deflection is another popular pro-Kremlin disinfo tactic. It includes well-known hits like "Kyiv downed MH17, not Russia!", because Ukraine failed to close its airspace over the rebel-held areas of Donbas. In fact, the BUK missile system responsible for the tragedy originated in a Russian army unit and was taken back to Russia after the tragedy. Other hoax stories deflecting blame from Russia claim that the West is responsible for warlike provocations in the Black Sea, and that the Ukrainian government is responsible for the war with Russia, not the other way around. 

This category also includes great examples of obfuscation: for example, that it’s not clear who shot a protesting crowd in Lithuania in 1991, but it was probably the Lithuanians themselves, or a third party. This narrative likely stems from a recent court decision in Lithuania which found that the former Soviet defence minister and 60 officers were responsible for this incident. 

"It wasn't us!" also comes up regarding Russian meddling in the French elections. Yet again, according to pro-Kremlin media, there is no evidence that Russia was involved, and thus confusion persists. In reality, investigations by The Insider and Mediapart.fr established that GRU-linked hackers stole the emailsfrom Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team and that later, pro-Kremlin media spread news about the leaks. 

The West did it!

Related to the category above, "The West did it!" is all about Russia's favourite scapegoat. You've heard it before: it's the West, not Russia, which meddles in other countries and is constantly trying to destabilise them – just look at BelarusUkraineMaidan, and Venezuela. And don't forget the role of NATO!Election meddling in Ukraine

This week, we saw ten stories about alleged election meddling in Ukraine, including: organised falsificationsvoting at gunpoint, Donbas residents being refused the right to votecampaigning with dirty money, and electoral fraud. What's the overarching theme? That Ukraine is a failed state and the elections are illegitimate. Cui bono? The Kremlin. As usual.
I can't believe I'm reading this

And finally, the most entertaining specimen of the lot! We're told that Brazil will gain NATO membership so the US can use it as a springboard for military intervention in Venezuela. Fact-check: the pro-Kremlin media neglected to mention that Brazil's NATO membership would requireall NATO members to agree to amend Article 10 of the alliance’s 1949 founding treaty, which states that only European countries can join, besides Canada and the United States. The prospect of Brazilian membership? Beyond unlikely.
And then there are the standard eyeroll-inducing fairytales: that Russia's aggression against Ukraine is a myth, that there was no "invasion" of Crimea, and that Crimea in fact rejoined Russia after a legally valid referendum.

A memo to the Kremlin: no matter how many times you repeat a lie, it doesn’t become true.Click here for the FULL COLLECTION of recent stories repeating disinformation.

April 03, 2019

Perils of China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative

Perils of China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative

G Parthasarathy  | Updated on April 03, 2019  Published on April 03, 2019

Using ‘aid’ as leverage, China is slowly exploiting developing nations and establishing its dominance in the Indian Ocean

One of the most remarkable developments in recent decades has been the rise of China, spearheaded since 1978, by the visionary leadership and economic reforms of Deng Xiao Ping. China registered the highest rate of economic growth in history, growing at an average rate of 9.5 per cent annually, for over three decades. This followed the earlier rise of Japan between 1950-1989, with an average annual rate of growth rate of 6.7 per cent.

Deng transformed a country crippled by centralised planning and state control of industries, into a more decentralised economy, with increasing involvement of private initiative. This era saw market reforms leading to a surge in exports, with China emerging as the largest exporter in the world. China’s private sector today controls around 80 per cent of its industry and virtually the entire agricultural sector. State farms today, employ barely 1 per cent of agricultural labour.

Article Continues Below

There are 658 billionaires in China, which is ruled by a “Communist” Party, as against 584 in the US, ruled by Trump’s right-wing Republican Party!

President Xi Jinping has now emerged as China’s unquestioned leader, seeking to match the earlier pre-eminence of Deng Xiao Ping. Among Xi’s “mantras” to achieve his ambitions is the now famous ‘One Belt One Road’(OBOR) project, involving the use of Chinese construction companies, which have huge surplus capacities, in projects abroad. These companies did a stupendous job in China over the past three decades. They now have the surplus capacity, including labour and machinery, arising from the relatively small number of construction projects, yet to be undertaken in China.

President Xi’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative is not only involved in building roads and bridges but also railways, ports, dams, power stations and other infrastructure projects across 68 countries, spanning Asia, Africa and Europe. Estimates of total investments envisaged for these projects vary from $1 trillion to $1.3 trillion. The primary focus is on the Eurasian landmass. The main source of concern in India, however, pertains to Chinese projects across the Indian Ocean.

While the OBOR focusses primarily on the construction of roads, bridges, electrical power projects and dams, the terms for such assistance are opaque. Moreover, relatively little attention is paid to developing indigenous skills and capacities for operations and maintenance. The terms of interest and repayment are far less generous than the vastly concessional assistance/aid provided by institutions like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, or bilaterally by countries like Japan and Germany.

Falling for inducements

The net result of this Chinese “generosity” is that a number of developing countries, beguiled by Chinese protestations of altruistic assistance, soon find themselves handing over substantial tracts of territory and natural resources to the Chinese, with little development of indigenous skills and expertise.

There is very limited transparency in Chinese “aid.” Moreover, there are cases of ruling elites across Asia and Africa falling prey to Chinese “inducements”.

India’s western Indian Ocean neighbourhood, in an area extending from Djibouti and Mombasa on the shores of East Africa, to Gwadar in Baluchistan and to Hambantota and Colombo, in Sri Lanka, remains its primary source of concern about Chinese intentions. Using its “aid” as leverage, China has secured its first military base in the East African Port of Djibouti. China has, in turn, undertaken work on port facilities, construction of two airports and a rail line, from Djibouti, across landlocked Ethiopia.

In neighbouring Kenya, China’s involvement in the strategic port of Mombasa and construction of a railway line linking the port to the capital Nairobi, have also raised eyebrows internationally. There are growing apprehensions in Kenya that it would soon be unable repay its debts to China and be forced to make “concessions”, on the management and use of Mombasa port. China is the largest lender to Kenya, with debt liabilities reportedly amounting to around $42 billion

Closer to India, reckless spending by the government of former President Abdulla Yameen in Maldives, has resulted in the island nation, with a population of 4 lakh and a GDP of $4.9 billion, acquiring a debt of $3 billion, on account of the usual Chinese infrastructure mix of roads, bridges, airports and housing. The newly elected government of President Ibrahim Solih has been more circumspect about such projects getting the country into a Chinese debt trap and being forced to mortgage its crucial security interests.

This is an experience which Sri Lanka also faced, when, unable to repay its debts, it was forced to concede substantial control of the Hambantota Port, with a 99-year lease of the Port to China. Colombo was then also compelled to allow Chinese nuclear submarines to berth in Colombo.

Pakistan and Myanmar are inevitably going to experience similar dilemmas in coming years. The $62 billion “China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” involves road, rail, mining, port, power sector and agricultural projects, under conditions, which have not been made known transparently, even to Parliamentary Committees and the country’s central bank.

With its foreign exchange reserves dwindling to $6-8 billion and its pleas for an IMF bailout dependent on the goodwill of the US and its allies, Pakistan is faced with very difficult choices on economic management and its backing for groups like the Taliban and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in coming months. Apart from developing and virtually taking over the Gwadar Port in Baluchistan, China is all set to build up Pakistan’s navy with the supply of four of its “most advanced” warships and eight advanced attack submarines, by 2028. At the same time, an isolated Myanmar faces virtual Chinese blackmail to accept Beijing’s “aid” to build a highly unpopular and ecologically dangerous hydroelectric project, in the face of strong public protest.

This project is to be part of a Chinese “economic corridor,” linking its Yunnan Province, with Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal Port of Kyaukpyu.

Multiple aims

China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ project obviously has multiple aims. India cannot, however, overlook the obvious fact that the project is geared to establishing Chinese domination of vital lanes of communication and oil supplies in the Indian Ocean.

Responding to India’s concerns voiced over two decades ago, a Chinese Admiral arrogantly remarked: “The Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean”. China’s aim of dominating the vital sea lanes of communications across the Indian Ocean have serious implications for the maritime security of not only India, but several of its partner States, ranging from the US and Japan to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea.

The writer is a former

High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on April 03, 2019


What robots can't do


NYU, 1945. Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty


As powerful as artificial intelligence can be, its abilities are extremely narrow: An AI that beats a chess grandmaster can't recognize a face or drive a car. And a robot that carries out flawless eye surgery can't do so unless positioned precisely first.

Erica writes: It turns out that humans have a similar failing— put them in front of a problem they've never solved, and they often come up short.But in the future of work,when automation assumes responsibility for up to half or more of current jobs, such ability will be a huge human advantage — and possibly necessary.

What's happening: U.S. colleges, preparing students for future jobs that might not yet even exist — andto beat the robots — are starting to nudge them out of the familiar rhythm of class and teach them how to tackle unfamiliar problems. "That is the skill of the future," says David Hollander, a professor at NYU.

The big picture: One of the greatest anxieties experienced by today's college and high school students is how to game a very different future whose shape is still all-but imperceptible, but that will involve lots of automation across blue- and white-collar jobs.

The good news is that, according to the preliminary consensus, robots will have an extremely difficult time mimicking the very human ability to pivot both physically and mentally when confronted with something surprising.So early preparation for the future revolves around developing, polishing and expanding on this adaptability.Soft skills "are the hardest skills to get," says Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future.

Hollander designed and oversees a seminar at NYU that is meant to make this pivoting skill much more advanced. In the "Real World," as he calls the class, Hollander invites companies and government agencies into the classroom to confront students with problems they definitely will never have seen.

"You may be from the real estate world and working on a marketing problem. You may be from marketing and solving a human resources challenge. To me it's all the same thing," Hollander told me."You are developing the skills of taking on something you have never seen before, and you must do it collaboratively with other human beings."

Erica visited the class on Monday. Fifteen students gathered along with their professor — Jonathan Yi, a film director whom Hollander recruited to teach this semester — at the headquarters of FCB International, a fancy PR firm.

Their challenge? To design an anti-vaping ad campaign for the Food & Drug Administration, targeted at teens. The FDA is one of the firm's clients.

"We want crazy ideas," said Jared Shell, an FCB director co-teaching with Yi.

Leon Zhang, a graduate marketing student, suggested an ad showing how much money teens spend on Juul and Juul pods. But Shell said it wouldn't work because the FDA wants to avoid publicizing that teens are buying these products illegally.

Zhang and his teammates then honed in on ewaste, the electronic trash generated by vaping. Tossing used Juul pods is not the same as littering cigarette butts, they told Erica. The former has metal bits that could seriously harm a dog that eats it while on a walk. But the team is not yet sure if they'll settle on that.

Still, Shell was impressed. “If you guys don’t want to use that environment thing, I'll take that to our creative team right now," he told them.

Go deeper: Rebooting high school



Apr 2, 2019

The latest issue of➡ CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy is an article by Bianca Baumler, senior consultant on public diplomacy, foreign affairs and communications for the European Union (EU).

"EU Public Diplomacy: Adapting to an Ever-Changing World" provides an insider's view of how the EU approaches shaping hearts and minds.

“EU diplomats often find themselves in the position of having to provide basic facts about the EU before being able to engage on the level of policy," writes Baumler. "Powerful country-specific images such as Italian design, Swedish feminism, Dutch bikes or Estonian digital governance work against the development of a unified global EU image. ... Common global messages are key to a coherent public diplomacy."

Baumler describes progress through the relatively new EU Global Strategy, several case studies, how to measure results, and several recommendations for strengthening the EU's public diplomacy.

Download "EU Public Diplomacy: Adapting to an Ever-Changing Worldhere.

📌 Recommendations for a Stronger EU Public Diplomacy

Based on my experience as an EU diplomat and a public diplomacy lead consultant across the globe, I have identified several means to develop a more creative, effective and coherent approach to EU public diplomacy.

My recommendations come from over ten years of public diplomacy discussions, research and exchanges of best practices. They are also based on a research of existing public diplomacy scholarship.

1. Create a pool of inspiring speakers

2. Join and support existing fora for dialogue and discussion

3. Motivate audiences through simple application steps and innovative activities

4. Invest in local language learning, scholarship and the development of a public diplomacy community

5. Develop an EU public diplomacy virtual “library” and toolkit

6. Mainstream public diplomacy: all EU staff are “ambassadors”

7. Clarify and streamline bureaucratic and security requirements

Onshore balancing: The threat to Oman's neutrality



Camille Lons 
03rd April, 2019

B.F. Gliddiard (cropped) - CC BY 2.0

Oman's decision to grant the US Navy access to strategically important ports reflects intensifying global rivalry between the US and China. Europe can work to keep Oman a neutral mediator.

Last week, the United States and Oman signed an agreement that allows the US Navy to call at the strategically important Omani ports of Duqm and Salalah. The deal will provide the US with greater flexibility to conduct maritime operations should there be an escalation in its confrontation with Iran. But the agreement also reflects the intensifying global rivalry between the US and China. Beijing’s growing influence is complicating alliances and rivalries across the Gulf, threatening to break Washington’s long-standing dominance in the region. The US move into Oman is partly driven by a desire to monitor China’s activities in the region and to limit Chinese commercial and logistical expansion.

It is unclear whether Oman can remain neutral indefinitely, given the competing demands on it from regional and global powers. 

Given that competition between major powers in the Middle East can have major implications for their security, European countries should work to maintain Oman’s valuable role as a neutral mediator. The United Kingdom is particularly well placed to do so, as the only European state with a significant presence in the sultanate – having recently signed a joint defence agreement with it that led to the establishment of a joint logistics support base in Duqm. Indeed, rather than using its historical ties with Oman to merely protect its national interests, the UK should coordinate with its European allies to maintain Muscat’s neutrality. The sultanate is skilfully navigating between the interests of various parties, but it risks losing its neutrality as it is drawn further into the winds of regional and global rivalry.

Anticipating the risks of escalation

A few days after signing their new agreement, the US and Oman conducted joint military exercises in line with what Washington calls“the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals”. Nonetheless, in the short term, the US likely focuses on such activities as part of its effort to squeeze concessions out of Tehran. Less than a year after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran continues to develop ballistic missiles and repeatedly threaten to block the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which one-third of global seaborne oil exports flow.

To address this threat, the US is expanding its access to anchorage in the region. Although their infrastructure is still under development, various Omani ports are located near Iran, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa – three important security flashpoints for the US and its regional allies, not least Israel and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, Duqm and Salalah are located mid-way between two key chokepoints either side of the Arabian Peninsula, in the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. In the event of a new regional crisis, the ports would provide the US with direct access to the peninsula via the Indian Ocean without the need to go through either strait. The new agreement will allow Washington to exert further pressure on Tehran, including in the event of escalation between the sides.

Countering the growing influence of China

In the long term, the US likely sees access to Omani ports as falling within a global race for control of strategically important infrastructure. Due to their position, Duqm and Salalah have attracted the attention of several international powers in recent years. Like the US and the UK, India also recently obtained the right for its navy to use Omani ports. And the sultanate has promoted the port’s commercial advantages to attract investments from countries such as Kuwait, South Korea, and even Iran.

Yet China stands out with its ambitious $10.7 billion project to develop Duqm’s port and industrial zone. Due to its economic problems, Oman relies heavily on such foreign investment to develop its non-oil industries under a diversification plan entitled “Oman 2040”. Muscat perceives China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative as a real opportunity to achieve this goal.

Nonetheless, large-scale investment of this type generates a great deal of concern among Beijing’s rivals, especially Washington. During the past decade, China – the world’s largest importer of oil – has become a discrete but ever more influential player in the Middle East, heavily investing in ports in the region through the Belt and Road Initiative. This investment increasingly has acquired political and security dimensions. For instance, China opened in 2017 its first overseas military base, in Djibouti. And there are rumours that Beijing will seek to use the Pakistani port of Gwadar for military purposes. Investment not only provides China with access to strategically important locations but, in some cases, can tie a host government into a relationship of economic dependence.

The US seems unwilling to tolerate this situation. Testifying before the US House Armed Services Committee in February 2018, General Joseph Votel, commander of Central Command, expressedconcern about China’s strategy of progressively strengthening its global military posture through access to infrastructure between Gwadar and Djibouti – points between which Duqm and Salalah fall. The following month, General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of Africa Command, said in a congressional hearing there could be significant consequences for the US military if China increased its influence in Djibouti. In this light, the US-Oman agreement seems to reflect Washington’s desire to rebuff Beijing as much as Tehran.

Maintaining Oman’s neutrality

For Oman, the agreement is a diplomatic victory. Rallying US support is crucial to balancing external pressure and avoiding dependency on any one power. Aware of its vulnerability and eager to protect its neutrality, the sultanate has in recent years sought to balance its alliances with rival powers, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, China and India, and China and the US. However, prior to the deal, the Trump administration had shunned relations with Muscat, perceiving it to be too close to Tehran. In parallel, the sultanate was under increasing pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates due to its relationships with Iran and Qatar. This prompted Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said to host Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in October 2018, with the aim of securing US support. Judging by the new agreement between Muscat and Washington, the sultanate’s strategy was effective.

It is testament to the success of Oman’s approach that the US has not yet forced the sultanate to choose between Washington and Tehran. But it is unclear whether Oman can remain neutral indefinitely, given the competing demands on it from regional and global powers. In this context, growing US support will help empower Oman in relation to China but could complicate its diplomatic relationship with Iran.

This is where European countries can play a useful role. They may not be key players in the Middle East but they can still provide Oman with the kind of unequivocal political support crucial to maintaining its neutrality. Should they fail to do so, the Middle East could lose one of its most effective mediators to a maelstrom of crisis and 

April 02, 2019


01 APR 2019 - 13:49




Pro-regime militias have played a key role in military offensives and local security enforcement during the Syrian civil war. They proved crucial tools in ensuring the survival of the regime of President Assad and shaped the course of the war. Today, the regime and its allies are seeking to bring their ‘war on terrorism’ against remaining rebel forces to a conclusion. In parallel, the future role of pro-regime militias in Syria’s political order has become contested between the Syrian regime and its main international backers – Iran and Russia. This has left Western European policy makers uncertain about the true nature of the political and military forces that will run the Syrian state. Israel watches the situation closely as it takes an understandable interest in the future political order of its neighbour. This policy brief identifies the most important interests of Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime in respect of pro-regime militias. Their visions for the future of these militias are explored through six possible scenarios. The potential effects of each scenario carry important ramifications for the future of the Syrian state and its people, including possibilities for the safe and voluntary return of refugees.

In this policy brief, authors Samar Batrawi & Nick Grinstead provides six plausible scenarios (depending on the geopolitical realities) for pro-regime militias in ''post-war'' Syria.