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International community warned of Taliban 'danger' to security and peace

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The re-emergence of the Taliban threatens the peace and security of the “whole world”, an event in Brussels was told.

The stark warning came at a conference which discussed the rise of extremism in South Asia, particularly in the context of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

Junaid Qureshi, the Executive Director of European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), said, “Since the Taliban took over in Kabul terrorism in the region has risen.  The Taliban wants to implement their kind of order but our fear is that this will merely serve to encourage terrorist groups and not only in Pakistan but in Kashmir and elsewhere.”

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He was one of the speakers at a two hour hearing which also looked at the alleged role Pakistan plays in allegedly supporting terrorism.  The actions of Pakistan were roundly condemned at the event, which was moderated by Jamil Maqsood and hosted at the Brussels Press Club.

Qureshi said he hoped the event “will shed light on a worrying trend: the fact that terrorism is spreading from this part of Asia and is allegedly supported by Pakistan. This threatens human rights and civil society in the region and threatens the stability of the whole world.”

He said such fears were shared by those in Kashmir which, he said, was a country where its people wanted to live in “complete harmony” but which is currently  “occupied by force.”

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Another speaker was Andy Vermaut, of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés (AIDL) and a prominent human rights activitist.

Vermaut, who is based in Belgium, said he wanted to highlight the “import of terrorism from Asian to Belgium.”

He told the event, “I was recently stunned to hear that a home made bomb was found in a west Belgian town and a Palestinian man was then detained. I congratulate the Belgian security services for their breakthrough in this case.  The aim was to carry out a terrorist attack on Belgian soil. I hope the police investigation will shed more light on the attack that was going to be carried out.”

Further comment came from Manel Mselmi, an advisor to the EPP group in the European Parliament, who told the event, “I want to speak about women’s rights in the region, especially now.

“We can start with the case of Pakistan. I have a list longer than my arm of assaults against women in this country. But this is a silent epidemic as no one is talking about it. These are still referred to as honour killings but more than 1,000 women are killed in this way each year.” she said.

“In the case of Afghanistan,  the Taliban has issued new guidelines setting dowry rules for women. Women in this war ravaged country have been subject to rapes, lashings and enforced prostitution.  It is estimated that a total of 390 women have been killed in the country 2020 alone. Others have been injured in cases of excessive violence against women including cases of mutilation and torture. Women and girls are stopped from going to school or having any kind of economic independence.  With the Taliban now in control again the situation will get worse.”

She added, “These women sometimes escape to  Europe including Belgium but political leaders sometimes avoid speaking about speaking about this issue for fear of being accused of islamophobia but these women have the right to be treated as human beings.”

Sardar Saukat Ali Kashmiri, exiled Chairman of UKPNP, also took part and said, “It is a known fact that for those who live under those who live in some Muslim countries, their fundamental rights have been compromised by the rules of those countries. I denounce this and I also denounce the forced propaganda of people like Imran Khan."

“People in Pakistan do not have the same rights as in the West and women face the worst kind of discrimination.  Religion is used as a tool and terrorism is the foreign policy of these rulers, including in Pakistan."

Belgian senator Philip Dewinter, who said he had visited the countries under the spotlight at the conference, said, “After the defeat of U.S led forces in the region  we now have new possibilities of radical Muslims travelling from Europe to Syria. This will fuel international terrorism.

“The Taliban has money, experience and the means to organised these kind of people. This is a big threat and we should be aware of this threat. Our governments need to take the Taliban seriously. Dealing with them is a bad thing: we should boycott them as that is the only way to deal with the Taliban. They are a threat for the whole free world and certainly for us Western Europeans.”

He concluded, “We have the threat of mass migration again as many Afghans will come here again. I am afraid of a third refugee crisis here again. We should be well aware that the Taliban takeover with the alleged help of Pakistan is big military, terrorist and security threat to us.

“We are with those who are resisting this and fighting this. Let that be clear.”

Editor's note:

EU Reporter supports the Brussels Press Club as a safe space for expression and freedom of speech. EU Reporter does not subscribe to the allegation that Pakistan is a "terrorist state" or that its government supports terrorism in any way.

Afghanistan

Does the US have any leverage on the Taliban 2.0?

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In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos (telecast 19 August 2021), President Biden said he did not believe that the Taliban have changed but were going through an “existential crisis” in their desire to seek legitimacy on the world stage, writes Vidya S Sharma Ph.D.

Similarly, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared on ABC's "This Week” (August 29, 2021), he was asked how the US would ensure that the Taliban will keep their side of the bargain and allow foreigners and Afghans with valid documents to leave the country after August 31, 2021, respect the human rights and especially allow females to be educated and seek employment? Blinken replied, “We have very significant leverage to work with over the weeks and months ahead to incentivize the Taliban to make good on its commitments.”

What both Biden and Blinken were referring to is that the collapsing economy of Afghanistan (ie, the lack of funds to provide the basic services, rising unemployment, soaring food prices, etc.) would force them to moderate behaviour.

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The rationale behind their thinking is that 75% of the Afghanistan Government’s budget is reliant on foreign aid. This money very largely came from Western Governments (the US and its European allies and India) and such institutions as IMF, World Bank, etc.

The Taliban have been able to fund their insurgency by turning to the harvesting of opium, narcotics smuggling and weapon trafficking. According to Afghanistan’s ex-central bank chief, Ajmal Ahmady, that money would not be sufficient to provide basic services. Therefore to obtain the necessary funds, the Taliban would need international recognition. The latter will not come unless the Taliban moderate their behaviour.

Guided by the above rationale, the Biden Administration quickly froze of the assets of Da Afghanistan Bank (or DAB, Afghanistan’s central or reserve bank). These assets mainly comprised gold and foreign currency amounting to US$ 9.1 billion. A very large percentage of them are deposited with the Federal Reserve (New York). The rest are held in some other international accounts including Switzerland-based the Bank for International Settlements.

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On Aug. 18, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) suspended Afghanistan’s access to IMF resources including $440 million in new emergency loans on the ground that the Taliban government did not have any international recognition.

From President Biden’s address to the nation on 31 August, it was also clear that his administration, along with intense diplomacy, will use financial sanctions as a central tool to achieve US foreign policy goals.

Just like the cancellation/freezing of foreign aid (read salaries of Afghanistan Government’s employees and public sector outlays), other leverage instruments mentioned by Western Governments, in one way or the other, amount to financial sanctions, ie, what Afghans can import and export, preventing expatriate Afghans from using formal banking instruments to remit money home, etc.

In this article, I wish to explore to what extent any sanctions regime led by the US can influence the Taliban’s policies. More importantly, in addition to not allowing Afghanistan again to become the epicentre of terrorism, what policy changes West should demand in return for lifting sanctions or releasing frozen funds.

Before I examine this issue any further, let me give you a glimpse of the economy of Afghanistan and the depth of its humanitarian problems.

Afghanistan’s economy at a glance

According to The World Factbook (published by Central Intelligence Agency), Afghanistan, a landlocked country, has a population of 37.5 million. In 2019 its real GDP (on purchasing power parity basis) was estimated to be US$ 79 billion. In 2019-20, it exported an estimated US$ 1.24bn (est.) worth of goods. Fruits, nuts, vegetables and cotton (floor carpets) comprised about 70% of all exports.

Afghanistan is estimated to have imported goods worth US$ 11.36bn in 2018-19.

About two-thirds (68%) of its imports came from the following four neighbouring countries: Uzbekistan (38%), Iran (10%), China (9%) and Pakistan (8.5%).

Thus, Afghanistan only earns 10% of the foreign currency needed to pay for its import requirements. The rest (= shortfall) is met by foreign aid.

Afghanistan imports about 70% of electrical power at an annual cost of $270m from Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, according to its sole power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS). Only 35% of Afghans have access to electricity.

In the year 2020-21 (ie, just before the withdrawal of the US troops), Afghanistan received about $8.5 billion in aid or about 43% of its GDP (in US $). According to a report published in Al Jazeera, this amount “funded 75% of public expenditure, 50% of the budget and about 90% of government security spending.”

Natural and man-made tragedies

Due to the ongoing insurgency, Afghanistan already had 3.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) before the Taliban launched their major offensive in May-June this year to extend their rule to the entire country. According to the UNHCR, the recent Taliban blitzkrieg has created another 300,000 IDPs.

Further, the Covid 19 pandemic has hit Afghanistan very hard. Nearly 30% of its population (about 10 million) is infected with the COVID-19 virus and even the front line medical and healthcare staff have not yet been vaccinated. And the country is suffering from the second drought in four years.

Thus the Taliban are ruling over is a cash-strapped, drought-stricken country that is severely afflicted with the Covid -9 pandemic.

Humanitarian Aid: US moral responsibility

Some non-profit charities within and outside the US and some foreign governments have been impressing upon the US to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. The UNHCR also has spoken about the dire situation in Afghanistan.

The Taliban takeover of the country has further exacerbated the humanitarian situation. They have laid off tens of thousands of employees and many thousands have gone into hiding fearing for their lives in revenge attacks from the Taliban for working with the latter’s opponents. And their fears are justified as I discuss below.

In my first article in this series, I argued that Biden made the right call when he decided to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan. This decision also meant that the Taliban were able to reclaim power after 20 years of insurgency.

Therefore, a strong case can be made that it is morally incumbent upon the US and its allies to lead a humanitarian aid programme in Afghanistan.

In this connection, Al Jazeera reports, “towards of August, the US Treasury issued a limited new license for the government and partners to give humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.” That is a piece of good news.

The US and its allies can provide the necessary humanitarian assistance through multilateral organisations, eg, the UN, Red Cross and Red Crescent, World Food Programme (WFP), Oxfam International, CARE, etc. This approach does not involve recognising the Taliban Administration and will ensure the aid reaches its target. It will ensure the funds would not be misappropriated or defalcated by the Taliban.

Since Western countries will not allow the ordinary Afghans to starve to death which would surely ensure the Taliban’s ouster from Kabul so let us evaluate how formidable a tool the financial sanctions collectively might prove against the Taliban?

How can we assess Biden’s claim of leverage and more importantly, if any deal is struck with Taliban 2.0, it would be delivered? Can the Taliban 2.0 be trusted? One way to determine this is to examine how they have behaved so far? Another thing that could shed light would be to scrutinize if there is any gap between what the Taliban 2.0 say in their press conferences for international consumption and how they act at home? Are they any different from the Taliban 1.0 that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001? Or, are they just more savvy in their public relations effort?

Cabinet of Terrorists

It can be reasonably argued that Taliban 2.0 is very much like the Taliban 1.0. The interim cabinet announced by the Taliban last month is full of hard-line members who served in the Taliban 1.0 cabinet.

Just like the Taliban 1.0 cabinet of 1996, the present cabinet also has the stamp of Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The latter has financially supported, trained, armed, and organised shelter for them in Pakistan (to rest and regroup after a stint of fighting in Afghanistan) over the last three and half decades or so.

To ensure that the Taliban 2.0 will rule over the entire country, it is has been widely reported that in the battle of Panjshir, the last province to resist the Taliban rule, Pakistan helped the Taliban with arms, ammunition and even fighter jets so that the Taliban could quickly defeat the Northern Alliance fighters.

The reader may recall that the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15 and it took them nearly a month before the interim cabinet was announced.

It was widely reported that in early September there was a shootout in the presidential palace in Kabul in which Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led peace talks with the U.S. in Doha, was physically attacked by Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani, a member of the Haqqani clan, because Baradar was arguing for an inclusive government.

Soon after this incident, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, chief of ISI, flew to Kabul to ensure that the Baradar faction was sidelined and the Haqqani faction was strongly represented in the cabinet.

The present Taliban cabinet has four members of the Haqqani clan. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the clan leader and the US-designated terrorist, now serves as interior minister, the most powerful domestic portfolio.

The Haqqani network, the most brutal and hard-line of all factions that comprise the Taliban, has the strongest links with ISI and has never severed its ties with Al Qaeda. This was reinforced, as recently as in May this year in a report produced by the UN’s Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Committee. It states, “the Haqqani Network remains a hub for outreach and cooperation with regional foreign terrorist groups and is the primary liaison between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda”.

It would be worthwhile to mention here that thousands of foreign fighters, including Chinese, Chechens, Uzbeks, and others, still comprise the Taliban militia. All these fighters have connections with terrorist groups/sleeper cells in their respective home countries.

Including 4 terrorists belonging to the Haqqani clan, the present cabinet has more than a dozen persons who are either on the UN, the US and the EU lists of terrorists.

Master of spin doctoring

Complete Amnesty: How do the Taliban’s performance rate against their public statements? Though they repeatedly promised a complete amnesty for those who worked for the previous administration or the US-led international forces yet recently released UN threat assessment report shows that the Taliban have been conducting house-to-house searches to locate their opponents and their families. This has meant many thousands of employees, for fear of retribution, have gone into hiding and are, therefore, without income. The Biden Administration is reported to have given the Taliban a list of Afghans who had worked with foreign troops.

Now compare their actions with their statement. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, according to the BBC said at a press conference on August 21, said that those who worked with foreign troops will be safe in Afghanistan. He said, "We have forgotten everything in the past... There is no list [of Afghans] who worked with Western troops. We are not following anybody.”

Women’s rights: Further, the Taliban have ordered thousands of people not to show up for work. This is especially true for women employees. This is even though their spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, in a press conference on August 17 said, “We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in society.”

About women, let me narrate to you what is happening on the ground.

On September 6, when some girls and women protested for not being allowed to go to schools/universities or work, the Taliban whipped the demonstrators and beat them with sticks and fired live rounds of bullets to disperse the protesters (see Figure 1).

The BBC reported one protester saying, “We were all beaten. I was also hit. They told us to go home saying that's where a woman's place is.”

On 30 September, an Agence France-Presse reporter witnessed the Taliban soldiers violently crackdown on a group of six female students who had gathered outside their high school and were demanding their right to go to school. The Taliban fired shots in the air to frighten these kids and physically pushed them back.

Figure 1: Photo of peacefully protesting women being threatened by the Taliban.

Notice a Taliban fighter pointing his Kalashnikov at an unarmed woman. (September 6, 2021).

Source: India Today: Taliban 2.0 is exactly like Taliban 1.0: Seen in six images

Press Freedom: What about their commitment to press freedom. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said (via Al Jazeera translation), “Journalists working for state or privately-owned media are not criminals and none of them will be prosecuted.

"There will be no threat against them.”

Etilaatroz, an Afghan news organization and publisher of a daily newspaper, sent a number of its reporters to cover women’s protests on 6 September. Five of these reporters were arrested. Two of them were tortured, brutalized and severely beaten with cables.

Figure 2: Etilaatroz reporters beaten by the Taliban for covering women's protests on September 6, 2021

Source: Twitter/Marcus Yam

Free travel: As part of US troop withdrawal, the Biden Administration negotiated with the Taliban that along with foreigners, Afghans with valid travel documents will also be allowed to leave Afghanistan.

This was confirmed by the Taliban. Referring to Afghans with valid documents, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy head of the movement's political commission in his press conference of August 27, said, “The Afghan borders will be open and people will be able to travel at any time into and out of Afghanistan.” The Biden Administration is reported to have given them a list of Afghans it wanted to leave the country.

History of negotiating in bad faith

When the US troop withdrawal was nearing the end, the Taliban changed their tune and said that they will not allow Afghan nationals to leave the country. Zabihullah Mujahid, in his press conference of August 21, said “We are not in favour of allowing Afghans to leave [country].”

The reader may recall in my first article in this series where I discussed the merits of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, I mentioned that President Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban. I also mentioned that though the US stuck to the specific conditions and timetable as laid out in the agreement, the Taliban never delivered on their side of the bargain.

From the above discussion, it must be clear to the reader that the Taliban have a history of negotiating in bad faith and cannot be trusted to deliver what they may have agreed to during the negotiations or even promised publicly.

Biden Administration knows the Taliban are habitual liars

Fortunately, the Biden administration and US allies seem to be fully aware of this difficulty in dealing with the Taliban.

Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the EU said early last month, “The Taliban will be judged on their actions — how they respect the international commitments made by the country, how they respect basic rules of democracy and rule of law... the biggest red line is respect for human rights and the rights of women, especially.”

On September 4, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said, “The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support...our message is, any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned.”

Taliban 2.0 can expect a few more friends this time

The Taliban 1.0 ruled for 4 years. It was a pariah regime, only recognised by three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Taliban 2.0 can expect a few more countries to recognise them, especially China, Russia and Turkey.

As long as the Western countries continue providing humanitarian aid, the Taliban 2.0 will have little need for international recognition. 70% of its exports go to four neighbouring countries. Lack of international recognition will not stop this trade. The Taliban have a well-developed network to smuggle opium to other countries. The same network can be used to sell nuts, carpets, etc.

The Taliban control the entire country, so they would be able to collect more revenue in taxes.

China has promised $31 million worth of aid to Afghanistan. It has also promised to supply coronavirus vaccines. On July 28, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted a 9 member Taliban delegation. Wang said China expects the Taliban to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.”

China is keen to establish diplomatic ties with Afghanistan at least for four reasons:

  1. China is interested in exploiting Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, estimated to be more than one trillion dollars. However, such ventures will not yield much revenue to Afghanistan treasury in the short term.
  2. China would not want the Taliban to provide any kind of assistance to Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group, native to Xinjiang province. In return for their promise, the Taliban will most likely receive some recurring financial assistance/aid.
  3. China would want to extend its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to Afghanistan as Afghanistan gives it another access to the Central Asian states and further beyond to Europe.
  4. In return for any assistance that China may offer to Afghanistan, China may demand the use of Bagram airbase.

Just like China, Russia is happy to see the US defeated in Afghanistan. Both Russia and China, along with Pakistan, would be happy that the US is not present in their backyard anymore. Both will also be keen to fill in the political vacuum left by the departure of the US and thus provide international legitimacy to the Taliban.

Like China, Russia has been in contact both publicly and clandestinely with the Taliban for a decade or so. It also does not want the Taliban to export Islamic extremism to Russia or its security partners in Central Asia. It wants Islamic extremism to be sealed within Afghanistan’s borders.

According to Russian security experts, Russia has provided arms to the Taliban on at least two occasions. Once it was when Gen John Nicholson, the head of US forces in Afghanistan, alleged in March 2018 that Russia was arming the Taliban. According to Russian experts, it was a token arms transfer meant as a confidence-building gesture.

The second time Russia gave arms to the Taliban to avenge the killing of Russian mercenaries by US troops at the February 2018 Battle of Khasham in Syria.

According to Andrei Kortunov, the director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council, Russia fears that a sharp deterioration of the Afghan economy could make the Taliban’s hold on power tenuous as it could strengthen the positions of ISIS (K) and Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.

But Russia will need to balance several delicate relationships. It would like to engage with the Taliban and assist them so that Afghanistan is not fragmented or balkanised. It would also like to ensure that it does not pose any threat to Central Asian states. And if Afghanistan becomes unstable then Afghan refugees do not flee to the neighbouring Central Asian states (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan). In other words, if the Taliban hold on power slips then Afghanistan’s problems do not spill to Central Asian states.

Russia cannot be seen to be too close to Afghanistan because it would then cause concerns in India with which Russia has enhanced security cooperation. India sees the Taliban as a proxy of Pakistan.

Turkey has also shown interest in engaging with the Taliban. President Recep Erdoğan envisages Turkey to be the centre of the Islamic world as it was during the peak of the Ottoman Empire. It was the seat of the Caliphate. This vision of Turkey has seen President Erdoğan intervene militarily in Syria, Libya, and Azerbaijan. Turkey, as a NATO member, has maintained a small contingent of troops in Afghanistan for the last 20 years in non-combat roles.

Turkey is interested in taking control of the security of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The Taliban wants to do it themselves. However, they have offered Turkey the opportunity to take responsibility for logistical support to Kabul airport. At the time of writing this article, the negotiations were deadlocked. Turkey has been impressing upon the Taliban that the international community would prefer if the airport security was controlled by a country they had confidence in.

Erdoğan also does not want to see any Afghan refugees come to Turkey. To prevent them from seeking shelter in Turkey, Erdoğan has been building a wall along the Turkey-Iran border.

Turkey is also interested in engaging with the Taliban because Erdoğan hopes this will help Turkey’s construction industry to win some construction projects. Erdoğan believes Qatar, a long time backer of the Taliban, might provide funds for such projects.

The US would probably not mind Turkey engaging with the Taliban. Turkey could play an important role in backchannel negotiations between the US and the Taliban in future.

How effective sanctions could be?

They work by attrition. Very slowly. Just like the flowing water in a stream smooths and polishes a stone. And they may not yield any tangible result in the desired timeframe.

One of the weaknesses of any sanctions slapped on a country is that the sanctions imposing parties assume that the rulers of the targeted country care for the welfare of their citizens.

No matter how carefully targeted, sanctions cause a lot of hardship to ordinary citizens of the targeted country. Economic stagnation or an economy growing at a very sluggish pace reduces ordinary persons’ chances to realise their full career potential. It reduces their access best health options in terms of the latest medical and surgical breakthroughs.

The authoritarian rulers are only interested in staying in power and enriching themselves. For example, North Korea has been under sanctions for decades. We often hear of food shortages and increasingly tough living conditions in North Korea but this has not stopped the successive Chairmen of North Korea from developing and amassing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles instead of spending funds on initiatives that will ameliorate the living conditions of ordinary North Koreans. Nor have the sanctions forced North Korea to come to the negotiating table with a reasonable proposal. This is why the sanctions failed to yield results against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The same is true of Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, and other countries.

The authoritarian rulers know that as long as their repressive security apparatus supports them they can continue to remain in power. For example, the Iranian Ayatollahs know that as long as they look after the interests of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdârân-e Enqâlâb-e Eslâmi) they will remain in power. The Revolutionary Guards have brutally crushed all popular uprisings against the regime in the past and ensured widespread rigging during all Presidential elections.

Further, it is easier to ensure the sanctions are being implemented in some countries than in others. For example, Iran mainly exports oil so it is easier to monitor its oil trade. Russia has been able to largely neutralise the effects of sanctions.

The imposition of sanctions on the Taliban also assumes two things: (a) they hanker after international recognition; and (b) they cannot survive without Western aid.

The Taliban 1.0 survived for four years without international recognition. As stated above, the total aid to Kabul for the year 2020-21 was about $8.5 billion.

Perhaps half of the aid was being embezzled. But let us be more conservative and assume only 25% of the aid budget was being misappropriated. Then we come to a figure of $6.3 billion. Blaming the West for hardship, the Taliban can save some money by reducing the salaries of government employees. They do not have to pay the wages of ghost employees and soldiers. A big chunk of the Government budget was going towards providing security. This will not be the case anymore as the insurgents are in power now. The Taliban can also make up a part of this shortfall by collecting taxes more efficiently. The remainder shortfall will almost certainly be met by aid provided by their old and new benefactors, eg, oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar, China and Russia.

It was mentioned above that the Taliban had reneged on their agreement and were not permitting those Afghans who worked in various capacities for the US, NATO and Australian missions to leave the country. It was also mentioned that the Taliban were conducting house-to-house searches to find these people. All these developments will put pressure on the US and its allies to do their best to get these persons out as quickly as possible. If the Western countries still want these people out then they probably would be forced to pay a hefty ransom (it could be in the form of releasing some funds deposited with the Federal Reserve in New York.).

However, it would be wrong to conclude that the sanctions would be totally ineffective. The Taliban might cosy up to China initially because China is willing to recognise them and also offer them some funds for development purposes. But they are not stupid. They would soon figure out that it would be in their interests to seek better relations with the West so that they can improve their negotiating position versus China, Pakistan, etc.

For example, the US could also offer to release some funds in return for outlawing opium production. Just like Russia and China, it is also in the interests of the US that extremist Islamists, if harboured, remain confined within Afghanistan and their movements and activities (eg, trying to radicalize youth in other countries) are closely monitored. Releasing some frozen assets could be used as a bargaining tool towards this end.

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Vidya S. Sharma advises clients on country risks and technology-based joint ventures. He has contributed numerous articles for such prestigious newspapers as: The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne), The Australian Financial Review, The Economic Times (India), The Business Standard (India), EU Reporter (Brussels), East Asia Forum (Canberra), The Business Line (Chennai, India), The Hindustan Times (India), The Financial Express (India), The Daily Caller (US. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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Afghanistan

Don’t blame Pakistan for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan

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Watching the recent Congressional hearings on Afghanistan, I was surprised to see that no mention was made of Pakistan’s sacrifices as a US ally in the war on terror for more than two decades. Instead, we were blamed for America’s loss, writes Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (pictured).

Let me put it plainly. Since 2001, I have repeatedly warned that the Afghan war was unwinnable. Given their history, Afghans would never accept a protracted foreign military presence, and no outsider, including Pakistan, could change this reality.

Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments after 9/11 sought to please the United States instead of pointing out the error of a military-dominated approach. Desperate for global relevance and domestic legitimacy, Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf agreed to every American demand for military support after 9/11. This cost Pakistan, and the United States, dearly.

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Those the United States asked Pakistan to target included groups trained jointly by the CIA and our intelligence agency, the ISI, to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, these Afghans were hailed as freedom fighters performing a sacred duty. President Ronald Reagan even entertained the mujahideen at the White House.

Once the Soviets were defeated, the United States abandoned Afghanistan and sanctioned my country, leaving behind over 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and a bloody civil war in Afghanistan. From this security vacuum emerged the Taliban, many born and educated in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.

Fast forward to 9/11, when the United States needed us again — but this time against the very actors we had jointly supported to fight foreign occupation. Musharraf offered Washington logistics and air bases, allowed a CIA footprint in Pakistan and even turned a blind eye to American drones bombing Pakistanis on our soil. For the first time ever, our army swept into the semiautonomous tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which had earlier been used as the staging ground for the anti-Soviet jihad. The fiercely independent Pashtun tribes in these areas had deep ethnic ties with the Taliban and other Islamist militants.

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For these people, the United States was an “occupier” of Afghanistan just like the Soviets, deserving of the same treatment. As Pakistan was now America’s collaborator, we too were deemed guilty and attacked. This was made much worse by over 450 U.S. drone strikes on our territory, making us the only country in history to be so bombed by an ally. These strikes caused immense civilian casualties, riling up anti-American (and anti-Pakistan army) sentiment further.

The die was cast. Between 2006 and 2015, nearly 50 militant groups declared jihad on the Pakistani state, conducting over 16,000 terrorist attacks on us. We suffered more than 80,000 casualties and lost over $150 billion in the economy. The conflict drove 3.5 million of our citizens from their homes. The militants escaping from Pakistani counterterrorism efforts entered Afghanistan and were then supported and financed by Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies, launching even more attacks against us.

Pakistan had to fight for its survival. As a former CIA station chief in Kabul wrote in 2009, the country was “beginning to crack under the relentless pressure directly exerted by the US.” Yet the United States continued to ask us to do more for the war in Afghanistan.

A year earlier, in 2008, I met then-Sens. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry and Harry M. Reid (among others) to explain this dangerous dynamic and stress the futility of continuing a military campaign in Afghanistan.

Even so, political expediency prevailed in Islamabad throughout the post-9/11 period. President Asif Zardari, undoubtedly the most corrupt man to have led my country, told the Americans to continue targeting Pakistanis because “collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.” Nawaz Sharif, our next prime minister, was no different.

While Pakistan had mostly defeated the terrorist onslaught by 2016, the Afghan situation continued to deteriorate, as we had warned. Why the difference? Pakistan had a disciplined army and intelligence agency, both of which enjoyed popular support. In Afghanistan, the lack of legitimacy for an outsider’s protracted war was compounded by a corrupt and inept Afghan government, seen as a puppet regime without credibility, especially by rural Afghans.

Tragically, instead of facing this reality, the Afghan and Western governments created a convenient scapegoat by blaming Pakistan, wrongly accusing us of providing safe havens to the Taliban and allowing its free movement across our border. If it had been so, would the United States not have used some of the 450-plus drone strikes to target these supposed sanctuaries?

Still, to satisfy Kabul, Pakistan offered a joint border visibility mechanism, suggested biometric border controls, advocated fencing the border (which we have now largely done on our own) and other measures. Each idea was rejected. Instead, the Afghan government intensified the “blame Pakistan” narrative, aided by Indian-run fake news networks operating hundreds of propaganda outlets in multiple countries.

A more realistic approach would have been to negotiate with the Taliban much earlier, avoiding the embarrassment of the collapse of the Afghan army and the Ashraf Ghani government. Surely Pakistan is not to blame for the fact that 300,000-plus well-trained and well-equipped Afghan security forces saw no reason to fight the lightly armed Taliban. The underlying problem was an Afghan government structure lacking legitimacy in the eyes of the average Afghan.

Today, with Afghanistan at another crossroads, we must look to the future to prevent another violent conflict in that country rather than perpetuating the blame game of the past.

I am convinced the right thing for the world now is to engage with the new Afghan government to ensure peace and stability. The international community will want to see the inclusion of major ethnic groups in government, respect for the rights of all Afghans and commitments that Afghan soil shall never again be used for terrorism against any country. Taliban leaders will have greater reason and ability to stick to their promises if they are assured of the consistent humanitarian and developmental assistance they need to run the government effectively. Providing such incentives will also give the outside world additional leverage to continue persuading the Taliban to honor its commitments.

If we do this right, we could achieve what the Doha peace process aimed at all along: an Afghanistan that is no longer a threat to the world, where Afghans can finally dream of peace after four decades of conflict. The alternative — abandoning Afghanistan — has been tried before. As in the 1990s, it will inevitably lead to a meltdown. Chaos, mass migration and a revived threat of international terror will be natural corollaries. Avoiding this must surely be our global imperative.

This article first appeared in the Washington Post.

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China was the biggest beneficiary of the 'forever' war in Afghanistan

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Nobody would have imagined in his/her wildest dreams that the technologically most advanced, economically and militarily most powerful nation on the earth that had recently claimed the status of being the sole superpower in the world after the collapse of the USSR, could be attacked at home by a group of 16-17 fanatic Saudi Arabian citizens that were members of a non-state entity, the al-Quida, led by another Saudi Arabian Islamic fundamentalist, Osama bin-Laden based in Afghanistan, one of the most backward and isolated countries on earth, writes Vidya S Sharma Ph.D.

These individuals hijacked 4 civilian jet aeroplanes and used them as missiles to destroy the Twin Towers in New York, attacked the Pentagon’s west wall and crash-landed the fourth one in a field in Stonycreek, a township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These attacks resulted in nearly 3000 civilian US fatalities.

Though the Americans knew that the Russian or Chinese ICBMs could reach them yet they largely believed that ensconced between two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, they were safe from any conventional attack. They could undertake a military adventure anywhere in the globe without any fear of retaliation.

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But the events of the eleventh of September, 2001 shattered their sense of security. In two important ways, it changed the world forever. The deeply embedded myth in the minds of the US citizens and political and security elite that the US was impregnable and invincible was smashed overnight. Second, the US now knew it could not cocoon itself from the rest of the world.

This unprovoked attack made Americans palpably angry. All Americans - irrespective of their political leanings – wanted the terrorists punished.

On Sept. 18, 2001, Congress nearly unanimously voted to go to war (House of Representatives voted 420-1 and the Senate 98-0). Congress gave a blank cheque to President Bush, ie, hunt down terrorists wherever they may be on this planet. What followed was 20 years long war on terror.

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Neo-con advisers of President Bush knew that Congress had given them as a blank cheque. On September 20, 2001, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush said: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

The 20 years-war in Afghanistan, the Iraq War Mark II instigated under the pretext of finding the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the US involvement in other insurgencies (totally 76 countries) around the globe (see Figure 1) not only cost the US $8.00 trillion ( see Figure 2). Of this amount, $2.31 trillion is the cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan (not including the future cost of veteran’s care) and the rest can very largely be attributed to Iraq War II. To put it differently, the cost of fighting insurgency in Afghanistan alone so far is roughly equal to the entire Gross Domestic Product of the UK or India for one year.

In Afghanistan alone, the US lost 2445 service members including 13 U.S. troops who were killed by ISIS-K in the Kabul airport attack on Aug. 26, 2021. This figure of 2445 also includes 130 or so US military personnel killed in other insurgency locations).

Figure 1: Worldwide locations where the US engaged in fighting the war on terror

Source: Watson Institute, Brown University

Figure 2: Cumulative cost of war-related to September 11 attacks

Source: Neta C. Crawford, Boston University and Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University

In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lost 18 of its operatives in Afghanistan. Further, there were 1,822 civilian contractor fatalities. These were mainly ex-servicemen who were now working privately

Further, by the end of August 2021, 20722 members of the US defence forces had been wounded. This figure includes 18 wounded when ISIS (K) attacked near on August 26.

I mention some salient figures relating to the war on terror to impress upon the reader to what extent this war has consumed the US’s economic resources and the time of generals and policymakers in the Pentagon.

Certainly, the biggest price the US has paid for the war on terror – a war of choice - has been its perceived diminution of status in geostrategic terms. It resulted in the Pentagon taking its eyes off China. This oversight allowed the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) to emerge as a serious competitor of the US not only economically but also militarily.

The PRC’s leader, Xi Jinping, now has both economic and military power projection capability to tell the leaders of less developed countries that China has “pioneered a new and uniquely Chinese path to modernization, and created a new model for human advancement”. The US’s inability to quell the insurgency in Afghanistan even after 20 years, has given Xi Jinping one more example to underscore to the political leaders and public intellectuals all over the world that “The East is rising, the West is falling”.

In other words, President Xi and his wolf-warrior diplomats have been telling the leaders of the less developed world, you would be better off joining our camp than seeking help and assistance from the West that before offering any financial assistance will insist on transparency, accountability, free press, free elections, feasibility studies regarding a project’s environmental impact, governance issues and many such issues you do not want to be bothered by. We would help you economically develop through our Belt and Road Initiative.

Pentagon’s assessment of PLA in 2000 and 2020

This is how Michael E. O’Hanlon of Brookings Institution summarised the Pentagon’s assessment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2000:

The PLA is “slowly and unevenly adapting to the trends in modern warfare. The PLA’s force structure and capabilities [are] focused largely on waging large-scale land warfare along China’s borders... The PLA’s ground, air, and naval forces were sizable but mostly obsolete. Its conventional missiles were generally of short-range and modest accuracy. The PLA’s emergent cyber capabilities were rudimentary; its use of information technology was well behind the curve; and its nominal space capabilities were based on outdated technologies for the day. Further, China’s defense industry struggled to produce high-quality systems.”

This was at the beginning of the war on terror launched by neo-cons who colonised foreign and defence policies during the George W Bush Administration (eg, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Perle, to name a few).

Now fast forward to 2020. This is how O’Hanlon summarises the Pentagon’s assessment of the PLA in its 2020 report:

“The PLA’s objective is to become a “world-class” military by the end of 2049—a goal first announced by General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2017. Although the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has not defined [the term world class] it is likely that Beijing will seek to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military or that of any other great power that the PRC views as a threat. [It] has marshal[l]ed the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.”

China now has the second-largest research and development budget in the world (behind the US) for science and technology. President Xi is very keen to overtake the US technologically and ease the problems of stranglehold and enhance self-reliance.

China is now ahead of the US in many areas

China aims to become the dominant military power in Asia and the western half of the Pacific.

China’s rapid modernization of the PLA is increasingly forcing the Pentagon to face its own procurement problems arising from shifting goalposts/capabilities for different weapon programmes, endemic cost overruns and delays in deployment.

Despite starting technologically well behind the United States as the 2000 Pentagon report shows, China has developed new systems faster and more cheaply.

For example, at the time of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, the PLA put on display its new high-tech drones, robot submarines and hypersonic missiles — none of which can be matched by the US.

China has used well-honed methods that it mastered to modernize its industrial sector to catch up with the US. It has acquired technology from abroad from countries like France, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. It has reverse-engineered the components. But above all, it has relied on industrial espionage. To mention just two instances: its cyber-thieves stole blueprints of F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters and the US navy’s most advanced anti-ship cruise missiles.

But it is not only by industrial espionage, hacking computers of defence establishments and coercing companies to transfer their technical know-how to Chinese companies that China has modernised its weapon systems. It has also been successful in developing its own silicon valleys and carried out a lot of innovation domestically.

For example, China is a world leader in laser-based submarine detection, hand-held laser guns, particle teleportation, and quantum radar. And, of course, in cyber-theft, as we all know. It has also developed a specially designed light tank for high altitude for land warfare (with India). Its nuclear-powered submarines can travel faster than the US submarines. There are many other areas where it has a technological edge over the West.

In previous parades, it exhibited its H-20 long-range stealth bomber. If this bomber lives up to its specifications then it will severely expose US naval assets and bases across the Pacific to surprise air attacks.

We often hear about the artificial islands being erected by China to unilaterally change its maritime boundaries. But there are numerous such territorial expansion ventures China is engaged in.

I just mention one such venture here: China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), a state-owned company, is in the final stages of building a vast underwater spying network across the sea bed of disputed territory in the East China Sea and South China Sea (between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands). This unmanned network of sensors, underwater cameras and communications capabilities (radar) will enable China to monitor shipping traffic and scrutinise any attempts by its neighbours that may interfere with China’s claim to those waters. This network will give China “round-the-clock, real-time, high-definition, multiple interface, and three-dimensional observations.”

As mentioned before, China’s modernisation programme is aimed at becoming the dominant military power in Asia and the western half of the Pacific. When it comes to sheer military might and hard power projection, it is already far ahead of all the democratic countries in its region: India, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Xi has stated numerous times that one of his goals is to bring back Taiwan into China’s fold. China shares land borders with 14 countries and maritime boundaries with 6 (including Taiwan). It has territorial disputes with all of its neighbours. It wants to settle these disputes (including the absorption of Taiwan into China) on its terms without any regard to international law and treaties.

China sees the US as a major obstacle in achieving its territorial and global ambitions. Therefore, China sees U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and is bases in the Philippines and Guam as its chief military threat.

For the US there is still time to re-establish dominance

The US has been distracted/obsessed with the “war on terror” for the last 20 years. China has taken full advantage of this period to modernise the PLA. But it has not reached parity with the US yet.

The US has extricated itself from Afghanistan and learnt it is not possible to build a nation that subscribes to western values (eg, democracy, free speech, an independent judiciary, separation of religion from the government, etc.) without regard to that country’s cultural and religious traditions, traditional power structure, and political history.

The US has a window of 15-20 years to reassert its dominance in both spheres: the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans where it relies on its air force and ocean-going navy to exert its influence.

The US needs to take some steps to remedy the situation urgently. First, Congress must bring about stability to the Pentagon budget. Outgoing the 21st chief of staff of the Air Force, General Goldfein in an interview with Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon said, “no enemy on the battlefield has done more damage to the United States military than budget instability.”

Emphasizing the long lead time necessary for the development of weapon systems, Goldfein noted, “I’m the 21st Chief of Staff. In 2030, Chief 24 will go to war with the Force I built. If we go to war this year, I will go to war with the Force that John Jumper and Mike Ryan built [in the late 1990s and early 2000s].”

But the Pentagon also needs to do some house cleaning. For example, the cost of the development of the F-35 stealth jet was not only well above budget but also behind time. It is also maintenance-intensive, unreliable and some of its software still malfunctions.

Similarly, the navy’s Zumwalt stealth destroyer has failed to live up to its specified potential. Roblin points out in his article in The National Interest, “Eventually, program costs exceeded the budget by 50 per cent, triggering an automatic cancellation according to the Nunn—McCurdy Act.”

It seems there is recognition in the Pentagon that it needs to put its act together. The outgoing Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer in a forum at Brookings Institution said that to enhance our readiness “we looked at our systems, we looked at our command and control,” to determine what changes we needed to make. Then “we looked outside … It is kind of an irony that in the ‘50s and ‘60s, corporate America looked to the Pentagon for risk management and industrial process, but we atrophied there completely, and the private sector went around us, and now are way out in front of us.”

When comparing China’s military capabilities with that of the US, instead of being amazed at what China has achieved, we also need to keep in mind that (a) the PLA was trying to catch up from a very low base; and (b) the PLA does not have any experience of real war. The last time it fought a war was with Vietnam in 1979. At that time, the PLA was thoroughly defeated.

Further, there is some evidence that the PLA has deployed some of its weapon systems without thoroughly testing them. For example, China rushed its first advanced stealth fighter jet into service ahead of schedule in 2017. It was later discovered that the first batch of J-20s was not so stealthy at supersonic speeds.

Furthermore, it has not modernised all of its weapon systems. For example, many of its combat aircraft and tanks that are in service are of 1950s-era designs.

Aware of the increasing ability of China to project its military power and the need to be more efficient in procurement and development of weapon systems, outgoing Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, conducted a series of internal reviews at the Pentagon to determine if there was any programme duplication going on. But quick programme reviews as conducted by Esper are not going to be enough as the waste in the Pentagon takes many forms.

Increase in influence through Trade and Diplomacy

It is just not only in weapon systems that China has been able to catch up with the US. It has used the past 20 years to cement its influence through enhanced trading links and strengthening its diplomatic ties. It has particularly used its debt-trap diplomacy to considerably increase its influence in island countries in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean and Africa.

For instance, When nobody was willing to finance the project (including India on the grounds of not being economically feasible), former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa (brother of the current president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa), in 2009 turned to China to develop a deepwater port in his hometown of Hambantota. China was too eager to oblige. The port did not attract any traffic. Consequently, in December 2017, Sri Lanka, not being able to pay the debt, was forced to surrender the ownership of the port to China. China, for all purposes, has converted the port to a military base.

Other than the high profile “Belt and Road initiative” that the US found itself reacting to (instead of being able to counter it before it was all set up to go), China has weakened the US and NATO’s ability to respond by buying critical infrastructure assets in countries like Greece.

I just mention three examples briefly, all involving Greece. When Greece was asked to implement tough austerity measures and privatise some of the nationally owned assets as part of receiving bailout funds from the EU in 2010. Greece sold 51% off its Piraeus port to China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco), a state-owned company.

Piraeus was a pretty backward under-developed container terminal that nobody took seriously. By 2019, according to the Piraeus Port Authority, its container handling capacity had increased by 5 times. China plans to develop it into the biggest port in Europe. Now it is not unusual to see Chinese naval vessels docked in the port. That must concern NATO a great deal now.

As a result of these economic ties and under diplomatic pressure from China, in 2016 Greece prevented the EU from issuing a unified statement against Chinese activities in the South China Sea (it was made easier by the fact that the US was led by President Trump then). Similarly, in June 2017, Greece threatened to use its veto to stop the EU from criticising China for its human rights violations, especially against Uyghurs who are native to the Xinjiang province.

Biden Doctrine and China

Biden and his administration seem to be fully aware of the threat posed by China to the US security interest and dominance in the Western Pacific ocean. Whatever steps Biden has taken in foreign affairs are meant to prepare the US to confront China.

I discuss the Biden doctrine in detail in a separate article. It would suffice here to mention a few steps taken by the Biden Administration to prove my contention.

First of all, it is worth remembering that Biden has not lifted any of the sanctions that the Trump administration imposed on China. He has not made any concessions to China on trade.

Biden reversed Trump’s decision and has agreed with Russia to extend lifespan of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). He has done so primarily for two reasons: he considers Russia and its various disinformation campaigns, attempts by Russia-based groups at seeking ransom by cyber-hacking the information systems of various US companies, fiddling with electoral processes in the US and Western Europe (2016 and 2020 Presidential elections in the US, Brexit, etc.) not as serious threat to the US security as what China poses. He simply does not want to take on both adversaries at the same time. When he saw President Putin, Biden gave him a list of infrastructure assets he did not want Russian hackers to touch. It seems Putin has taken Biden’s concerns on board.

Both right- and left-wing commentators criticised Biden for the way he decided to pull the troops out of Afghanistan. Yes, it looked untidy. Yes, it gave an impression as if the US troops were retreating in defeat. But, it must not be forgotten, as discussed above, that this neo-con project, the “war on terror”, had cost the US $8 trillion. By not continuing this war, the Biden Administration will save nearly $2trn. It is more than sufficient to pay for his domestic infrastructure programmes. Those programmes are not only needed to modernize the crumbling US infrastructure assets but will create many jobs in rural and regional towns in the US. Just as his emphasis on renewable energy will do.

I give one more example. Take the AUKUS security pact signed last week between Australia, the UK and the US. Under this pact, Britain and the US will help Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines and undertake the necessary technology transfer. This shows how serious Biden is to make China accountable for its revanchist acts. It shows he is genuine about committing the US to the Indo-Pacific region. It shows he is prepared to help allies of the US to equip them with necessary weapon systems. Lastly, it also shows that, just like Trump, he wants the allies of the US to carry a greater burden of their own security.

Captains of the industry in the West must play their part

The private sector can also play a very crucial role. The captains of the industry in the West helped China to become so economically powerful by offshoring their manufacturing activities. They need to do their share of spadework. They must take serious steps to decouple the Chinese economy with their respective country’s economy. For example, if Corporate America were outsourcing its manufacturing activity to countries within its region (eg, Central and South America), they would kill two birds with one stone. It would not only staunch the flow of illegal migrants from these countries to the US. And they would help the US to regain its position of dominance because it would considerably slow down China’s economic growth. Hence its ability to threaten the US militarily. Lastly, most of the Central and South American countries are so small that they would never threaten the US in any way. Similarly, Western European countries could shift their manufacturing base to Eastern European countries within the EU.

The US now realises the degree of threat China poses to democracy and the institutions necessary for the democratic societies to function properly (eg, rule of law, an independent judiciary, free press, free and fair elections, etc.). It also realises a great deal of precious time has been lost/wasted. But the US has the potential to rise to the challenge. One of the pillars of the Biden doctrine is relentless diplomacy, meaning that the US realises its biggest assets are its 60 allies distributed all over the world versus China’s one (North Korea).

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Vidya S. Sharma advises clients on country risks and technology-based joint ventures. He has contributed numerous articles for such prestigious newspapers as: The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne), The Australian Financial Review, The Economic Times (India), The Business Standard (India), EU Reporter (Brussels), East Asia Forum (Canberra), The Business Line (Chennai, India), The Hindustan Times (India), The Financial Express (India), The Daily Caller (US. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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