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Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenges



The new government in Pakistan will have to take some hard decisions on difficult issues pertaining to foreign policy, even though the choices will be very limited. Numerous complexities will emerge not only in its dealings with its immediate neighbours like Afghanistan and China, but also external players in the sub-continent, predominantly the US.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the most difficult challenge for the new Pakistani leadership will be how to manage the situation post-2014, and how best to guard its interests. Within a year, two things are expected to happen: fresh elections for the Afghan President and the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. In a situation where Karzai is not very popular either with the non-Pashtuns or with the Taliban, Nawaz Sharif will have an onerous task to ensure that the next president is acceptable to Pakistan, and will help in safeguarding Pakistan’s interests. The second part of the challenge will be the roadblocks to the reconciliation process and how Nawaz Sharif will influence the final outcome – whether he will continue to give support to the Taliban, which will not be acceptable to the Americans or to Karzai, or whether he will try to accommodate the non-Pashtuns and non-Taliban Pashtuns to arrive at a durable solution. The core interest of Pakistan will be the same, to ensure that a pro-Pakistan dispensation is in place once the Americans leave. Whether or not to support the Taliban will be a difficult choice.

The Afghan conundrum and Pakistan’s response to it will shape the attitude of the US towards Pakistan, giving rise to challenges. If there is no change in policy with regard to the Taliban, and the Sharif government also continues to support the Taliban and remains guided by the army or ISI, then it is going to earn the ire of the US. This may be circumvented to an extent, if the US and Pakistan reach an understanding about giving the Taliban a role in government. The issue of drone attacks will acquire salience. Only if the Pakistan government is able to control militants from the FATA area and prevent them from attacking Afghanistan, can the Americans be expected to stop launching the drone attacks. If not, the drone attacks are likely to continue. This would create problems within Pakistan, given the immense opposition to drone attacks within the country. In the run up to the elections, it became apparent that both the PML (N) and the PTI considered drone attacks as being undesirable. Relations between Pakistan and the US are likely to remain tense. This will have a bearing on continued economic and military aid from the US which is important elements in the two countries relationship. The Afghanistan situation, the condition on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and the ability of the Sharif government to control the militants will determine the overall nature of Pakistan-US relations. Nawaz Sharif realising the importance of the American relationship will try to remove misgivings, even though there will be limitations to it.

China has been a traditional source of military hardware for Pakistan and has invested in areas like telecommunications, ports and infrastructure. Efforts are on to explore trade and investment opportunities. China has taken operational control of the Gwadar port and continues cooperation in the nuclear field. At the same time, the Chinese have strong reservations about militancy in Pakistan and militancy emanating from Pakistan which has been creating problems in its Xinjiang province. Yet, this problem is unlikely to jeopardise relations between the two countries. They are also concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. Despite the all weather friendship, Pakistan cannot rely on China to bail it out economically. In some areas, China has not been as forthcoming as expected by Pakistan. Pakistan has been in need of economic aid, but it has become apparent that China is not catering to this need of Pakistan, given its obvious reluctance to cough up aid and budgetary assistance. However, the strategic aspect of the relationship will remain strong because of China’s own interests. While there is consensus within Pakistan about its relationship with China, this is not so about its relationship with the US. There is no doubt about the close cooperation between Pakistan and China and the future trajectory of that relationship, given China’s support for Pakistan diplomatically. Problems over extremism flowing from Pakistan, and unmet expectations for aid would remain minor irritants in that relationship.

Basically, one should not expect any drastic change in the foreign policy orientation of Pakistan, because Pakistan’s geopolitical interests will not allow the new government to bring about radical change. Unless ofcourse: (1) it controls the domestic militants with a heavy hand, and (2) the new government decides to support a representative elected government in Afghanistan (supports the President and the cabinet of the President which would be representative of the members of the former Northern Alliance as well as the Pashtuns), and does not rely only on the Taliban.

Civilian oversight on security policies can perhaps be expected to be stronger than before, given Nawaz Sharif’s political stature and the broad-based mandate from the people. Yet, to imagine that the army will not have much of a role will be unrealistic, as policies will have to be carried forward by the army. Hence, the civilian government and the army will have to work in tandem.

If there is scope for change, perhaps it is only with India, as Nawaz Sharif could give an assurance that he will not allow terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s soil, and will take some action against the Mumbai culprits. Also, as a businessman, Sharif attaches more importance to improving trade relations with India. Given the knowledge that US and China cannot be reliable partners to bailout Pakistan in an economic crisis, there is greater scope for change in attitude towards India. In the light of this, trade and investment cooperation can be expected to increase.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere .

Sumita Kumar is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.


In-depth research, presentation, preparation of reports on South Asian security for various agencies and organisations (for instance, report on "Major International Players and India's Neighbours: Pakistan," as part of a National Security Council Secratariat (NSCS), Government of India, project on India and the World in 2020: Security Perceptions July 2001) and organising colloquia on a range of security related issues. Briefings and lectures on Pakistan's foreign policy, domestic politics and South Asian security concerns. Was Staff Representative on the Executive Council of the IDSA from September 2004 till October 2006.

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Maldives Crisis: A Brief Primer



The declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and arrest of two senior judges prompted an exiled former president to ask India on Tuesday to send an envoy backed by the military to free political prisoners on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

Here’s background information on the crisis engulfing the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 400,000 people, whose faraway islands are best known as a luxury holiday destination.

The Main Protagonists

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency February 5. He defied a shock ruling from the Supreme Court that quashed convictions ranging from terrorism to corruption and ordered the release of nine leading opposition figures, on the ground that the cases against them were politically tainted.

Yameen came to power in 2013 after winning an election the opposition said was rigged. Critics accuse his government of imprisoning opponents, curbing free speech and pressuring the judiciary.

His rival Mohamed Nasheed became the Maldives’ first democratically elected president in 2009, but he was forced to resign amid a mutiny by police in 2012. After losing the election to Yameen the following year, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015 on charges that he said had been concocted by Yameen’s government.

Allowed to leave jail to seek medical treatment abroad, Nasheed was granted asylum by Britain in 2016. He has said he wants to contest a presidential election due later this year and was in Colombo when the Supreme Court decision precipitated the crisis. After Yameen declared a 15-day emergency on Tuesday, Nasheed called on India, the main regional power, to intervene.

Nasheed, a graduate of Britain’s Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen’s administration.

During his imprisonment, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney championed his cause and helped expose alleged human rights violations by Yameen’s administration.

During his presidency, Nasheed had drawn world attention to the Maldives by conducting an underwater cabinet meeting, with the ministers wearing scuba diving suits, to highlight the dangers posed by global warming to low-lying island nations like his own.

The Role of the Supreme Court

While quashing the convictions against Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders, and ordering the release of those in detention, the court said that they should be retried.

Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
It also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year. The removal was unconstitutional, the court said.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen’s party to lose its majority in the 85-member assembly.

Should the opposition reach a majority, it would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no-confidence motions against government officials.

The President’s Disregard for the Supreme Court Ruling

Declaring the emergency, Yameen’s office issued a statement saying the court order had disrupted functions of the executive and infringed national security and public interest. It also said the constitution could eventually be undermined if the court order was implemented.

The president’s office said some rights have been restricted under the emergency and some laws suspended, though no curfew has been ordered. It gave assurances for the safety of Maldivians and foreigners.

Having imposed the state of emergency, Yameen ordered the arrest of the country’s chief justice and another top judge, and security forces seized control of the Supreme Court.

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen said he had acted to prevent a coup and implied the judges had sided with his enemies as they were under investigation for corruption.

The president had earlier fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court order to release Yameen’s opponents.

The army appears to be supporting Yameen. On Sunday, state television showed several police and soldiers saying they were ready to sacrifice their lives “in the defence of the lawful government.”

Yameen’s supporters have shut down an independent television station.

Ex-President Nasheed’s Appeal to India 

In a Twitter post, Nasheed asked India to send an envoy, backed by its military, to release the judges and political detainees. He also urged the United States to block financial transactions of Yameen’s government.

New Delhi sent troops to the Maldives in 1988 to foil a coup, purportedly involving foreign mercenaries.

The International Reaction

The United States and India have urged Yameen to heed the court decision, but he has disregarded international calls to solve the crisis through dialogue.

China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, said the crisis should be settled internally.

The Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth, the association of former British colonies and dominions, in 2016 after being threatened with suspension for failing to show progress on democracy.

Courtesy: Voice of America

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Ex-Maldives President Calls on India, US to Intervene in New Political Crisis



The Maldives’ exiled former president is calling on India and the United States to intervene in his country’s political crisis.

Mohammed Nasheed issued a statement Tuesday urging India to send an envoy — backed by its military forces — to the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago to free imprisoned Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and court Judge Ali Hameed. Saeed and Hameed were arrested earlier Tuesday when security forces stormed the Supreme Court building in the capital, Male, just hours after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency.

“President Yameen has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power,” Nasheed said in his statement. “We are asking for a physical presence.” He also called on Washington to impose a freeze on all financial transactions of government officials.

Nasheed was elected president in the Maldives’ first multi-party election in 2008, but he resigned in 2012 amid a military takeover. He lost the 2013 presidential race to Yameen, and was then tried and convicted of terrorism charges in a trial criticized by human rights activists. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but later granted medical leave last year to travel to Britain, where he was granted asylum.

Police said in a Twitter message they had arrested Chief Justice Saeed and Judge Hameed “for an ongoing investigation.” They gave no details about the allegations or charges against the two judges.

In addition to the two jurors, security forces also arrested former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

President Yameen imposed the state of emergency after refusing to comply with a Supreme Court order to release detained political leaders.

“During this time, though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected,” a statement issued by the president’s office said.

Yameen’s administration defied the top court’s order last week to release the prisoners, and asked the court Monday to revoke it.

Democratic gains in the Maldives have eroded under the leadership of Yameen, who has conducted a crackdown on the opposition and the press.

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PM Modi and PM of Israel Netanyahu at Joint Press Statement



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