The relationship between Washington and Moscow is already near the breaking point, and early this morning, risked spinning entirely out of control, when a pair of Russian jets first harassed and thenMore
China’s economy, the second largest in the world, has always been in the spotlight. Recently, the country has deployed its economic work for 2023, opening a new chapter for its economic development and filling us with confidence in China’s economy in the new year.
But where does this confidence come from?
Looking at the bigger picture, the 10 new prevention and control measures ushered in a new stage of China’s COVID-19 response. Although the pandemic has not yet come to an end, the optimized strategy will undoubtedly boost economic activity, and facilitate the flow of economic factors and commodities. Put simply, the optimized strategy has reinvigorated the economy. The roads are busier, the malls have more shoppers, and travel apps have seen an uptick in customers. The optimized COVID-19 strategy and updated economic policy have brought China’s economy into a new development stage.
In terms of specific economic measures, “expanding domestic demand” has become a top priority in achieving the goal of ensuring stable growth in 2023. Predictions for this year depict a bleak global economic outlook with sluggish external demand. In contrast with the Keynesian belief that “demand creates its own supply,” China emphasizes generating effective demand through high-quality supply, which means continuously innovating to create higher-level products. For example, despite the saturated cellphone market, the emergence of smartphones redefined cellphones, creating demand from 7 billion people for the new products. This represents the underlying logic behind China’s efforts to deepen supply-side structural reform.
According to a recent report from the World Bank, China contributed an average of 38.6% to global economic growth from 2013 to 2021, more than the G7 countries combined. Expanding domestic demand means further tapping the huge potential of China’s supersized market of 1.4 billion people. This will translate into a critical driving force to the economies of both China and the world.
In addition, developing the private sector is also a key priority. With private businesses, such as Huawei, Alibaba and ByteDance, accounting for a large proportion of China’s economy, the private sector has now become a major economic player in the country. Statistics show that in the first 11 months of 2022, the import and export volume of China’s private businesses amounted to 19.41 trillion yuan (about $2.82 trillion), or 50.6% of the country’s total. Private businesses have also demonstrated stronger vitality and resilience, especially in terms of the sustainable development of new forms of foreign trade.
Therefore, China is scaling up its support for the private sector, continuously urging equal treatment of private businesses and their state-owned counterparts, and helping micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises to overcome difficulties posed by the pandemic. These supporting measures aim to promote the sound development of private businesses. Likewise, the thriving of private businesses will in return bolster the economy by creating more jobs, ensuring the continued growth of disposable incomes, and further expanding domestic demand and boosting consumption. As such, we are also confident about the growth of the private sector in 2023.
China’s economy has withstood multiple tests and challenges during the three years since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the year 2023 is bound to be a brand new journey in striving for economic growth. However, with the current policies, innovation capacity and various driving forces, we are confident that China’s economy will grow steadily, continue to act as an engine for the global economy and propel further growth.
The Brazilian news agency reported that Lula da Silva’s inauguration as the new president on January 1 for a historic third term amidst a carnival-like backdrop was attended by over five dozen foreign delegations, composed of heads of government, vice presidents, foreign ministers, special envoys and representatives of international organisations. It was the largest event with high-level international figures in Brazil since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The BRICS leaders flocked to Brasilia — the vice-presidents of China and Russia and the foreign minister of South Africa. The solitary exception was India. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar prioritised a tour of the beautiful Mediterranean island of Cyprus and Austria.
India’s “underrepresentation” probably was due to the close equations between PM Modi and Jair Bolsonaro, who served as the 38th president of Brazil from 2019 until 2022, whom Lula defeated. For some strange reason, Modi government invested heavily in Bolsonaro by inviting him as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day in January 2020.
It was a controversial decision, given Bolsonaro’s obnoxious record on misogyny and homophobia, and his perversion for targeting the indigenous people. In a scandalous incident, he once told an opposition politician Maria do Rosario during a debate in the parliament, “I wouldn’t rape you because you’re not worthy of it.”
Later, he explained that he wouldn’t rape her because she was “ugly”. Bolsonaro’s misogyny surged when he once remarked “I have five children. Four are men, and then in a moment of weakness the fifth came out a girl.” Again, his homophobic views got the better of him when he threatened that “if I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up.”
Indeed, it remains a mystery what attracted the Indian ruling elite to Bolsonaro, an ex-military officer. Maybe, his “strong man” image and fascist ideology?
Be that as it may, ignoring Lula’s historic return to power in Brazil is incomprehensible. It is not only that he’s, arguably, the most charismatic statesman from a developing country, but he is certain to steer the BRICS to a higher destiny during his 4-year term.
Lula’s return comes at a juncture when the BRICS is going from introvert to extrovert and its greater global ambition raises hopes across the wide expanses of the Global South of material changes in the global economic system. The ongoing polarisation between the West and the Rest over Ukraine issue accentuates the trend.
The hallmark of China’s BRICS chairmanship in 2022 has been the launch of the extended BRICS+ meeting at the level of foreign ministers. China also has plans to open up the possibility of developing countries joining the core BRICS grouping. In fact, Algeria, Argentina and Iran have already applied to join BRICS, while Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt have announced their interest in becoming the group’s members.
Looking ahead, the vitality of the BRICS trajectory will largely depend on the success of the BRICS+ enterprise. While an inert, introvert BRICS has neither global capacity nor global mission, a stronger, more inclusive and open BRICS has the potential to become the basis for a new system of global governance. This is the crux of the matter.
To be sure, the BRICS association needs to overcome its mounting internal contradictions. On the one hand, a fundamental transformation of the globalisation process has begun (and this process is only gaining momentum) and there are calls for the basic principles and mechanisms which bring the BRICS countries together to undergo reform. On the other hand, this is also an inflection point as multipolarity gains traction and all global multilateral organisations are faced with the loss of their status as universal platforms for overseeing the global rules of the game.
India faces an acute problem of self-identification, since it notionally advocates the transformation of global mechanisms imposed by developed countries but also happens to be a votary of the so-called “rules-based order”, which is a metaphor for the political ideology of the US as the dominant state and “lone superpower” in the 1990s.
Indeed, the difficulties of the BRICS were also caused by internal reasons. BRICS became internally highly heterogeneous and the main reason for this is India’s unwillingness to work with China as leaders of economic growth. To be sure, the aggravation of contradictions between China and India has led to a slowdown in active work in the BRICS.
Enter Brazil. The victory of Bolsonaro in 2018 would also have been a moment of risk for the BRICS, as the new elites in power in Brasilia made no secret of their desire to place their main stake on rapprochement with the US. Surely, India saw in Bolsonaro a “natural ally” within the BRICS, which largely explains the high honour Modi bestowed on him on 2020 Republic Day.
Bolsonaro, like Modi, felt no commitment to the idea of uniting the Global South under the banner of reshaping the world order. Both preferred pragmatic, technocratic areas as the BRICS agenda that are objectively beneficial to them (eg., technological cooperation, the fight against organised crime, digitalisation, the Development Bank and so on) although this resulted in an atrophy of the raison d’être of BRICS agenda.
But, as luck would have it, Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 US election led to a cooling of the enthusiasm on the part of Bolsonaro and the Brazilian elites regarding the prospects for rapprochement with the US. The apple of discord was Bolsonaro’s policy toward the Amazon River.
Bolsonaro worried about the inclusion of environmental issues in the NATO agenda and he discarded his previously restrained approach to the BRICS, recognising its importance as a tool to counter isolation in the event of worsening relations with the US and the EU.
Suffice it to say that Lula’s return is happening at a defining moment. In his first remarks after assuming power on Sunday, Lula vowed a drastic change of course to rescue his nation plagued by hunger, poverty and racism.
Lula made clear his main focus would be on ending hunger and narrowing rampant inequality. He also said he aims to improve the rights of women, and attack racism and Brazil’s legacy of slavery. Lula declared that social conscience will be “the hallmark of our government.”
Unsurprisingly, India feels uneasy that the centre of gravity in BRICS is poised to shift further to the left of centre. Equally, India will find it difficult to maintain its role as a regional leader with the entry of Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia into the portals of BRICS. Being an acolyte of the US-led “rules-based order,” India faces the spectre of isolation.
Beijing, whose approaches to diplomacy and international politics are known for their strategic vision for the long term, is biding its time. Lula told Chinese vice-president Wang Qishan who participated in the ceremony in Brasilia as Xi Jinping’s special representative, that he looked forward to visiting Beijing “to further deepen bilateral practical cooperation in various fields, enhance friendship between peoples, and lift Brazil-China relations to a new level.”
On December 15, 2022, while helicopters flew overhead, members of Peru’s national army shot down civilians with live bullets in the outskirts of the city of Ayacucho. This action was in response to a national strike and mobilization to protest the coup d’état that deposed President Pedro Castillo on December 7.
On December 15, hundreds of university students, shopkeepers, street vendors, agricultural workers, and activists gathered at the center of Ayacucho to express their discontent over the removal of Castillo and continued their mobilization toward the airport. Similar action was witnessed in several other cities across the southern Andean region of the country.
As protesters approached the airport, members of the armed forces opened fire and shot tear gas canisters directly at them. The firing by the army from the helicopters proved to be the most lethal. As the hundreds of unarmed people ran for their lives, the shooting continued.
Ten people were killed as a result of this violence inflicted by the army, and dozens more were injured, according to official numbers provided by the ombudsman’s office. At least six people are still fighting for their lives in hospitals in Peru’s capital Lima and in Ayacucho. Autopsies of 10 of those who died in Ayacucho show that six of the victims died from gunshot wounds to the chest. The youngest was just 15 years old.
On December 27, Reuters reported how one of these fatal victims in Ayacucho, 51-year-old Edgar Prado, was shot and killed while attempting to help someone else who had been shot down during the protests.
The exceedingly violent response of the security forces to the anti-coup protests across Peru was widely condemned. A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited the country from December 20 to 22 to receive testimonies from local human rights organizations and victims about the violent repression suffered by protesters and also spoke to families of the 28 fatal victims. The delegation traveled to Ayacucho on December 22.
More than a dozen other family members, Ayacucho inhabitants, organizers, and a couple of independent journalists, including myself, waited on the sidewalk of one of the city’s narrow and colorful streets as the meeting was underway. As people came and went, much of the events and tragedies of December 15 were recounted.
“They won’t show you this on the news here,” Carmen (name changed) told me as she showed me a video on her phone of a young boy with blood all over his shirt being dragged to safety by fellow protesters. “That’s her nephew,” she said, pointing to a woman sitting on the ground.
Pedro Huamani, a 70-year-old man who is a member of the Front in Defense of the People of Ayacucho (FREDEPA), was accompanying the victims waiting outside the IACHR meeting. “We have suffered a terrible loss,” he told me, “I was present that day in a peaceful march toward the airport.”
“When they began to shoot tear gas grenades and bullets at us, I started to choke, I almost died there,” Huamani said. “I escaped and went down to the cemetery, but it was the same, we were trying to enter and they started to shoot at us from behind. Helicopters were flying overhead and from there they shot tear gas grenades at us, trying to kill us.”
Carmen brought over some of her friends and one of them, who was wearing a gray sweatsuit, told me, “We all live near the airport, and saw everything happen. You should’ve seen how they shot them down like animals. We tried to help some of the injured, but it was hard.”
The massacre in Ayacucho, as well as the violent repression across the country, has only intensified people’s demand that Dina Boluarte step down. Boluarte was sworn in on December 7 immediately following the coup against Castillo. In interviews and public addresses, she has justified the use of force by police against protesters calling their actions as acts of “terrorism” and “vandalism.”
Huamani, while shaking and holding back tears, said: “She is a murderous president and in Huamanga, we do not want her, nor do we recognize her as president because this woman ordered the police and the army to shoot at us Peruvians. And these bullets, these weapons, are really bought by us, not by the army, nor the soldiers, but by the people. And for them to kill us is really horrible.”
The anger felt by Ayacucho residents is also linked to the historical undermining of Peruvian democracy and the economic exclusion suffered by the regions outside of Lima. Huamani explained: “They took out our president [Castillo] so this is not a democracy. We are not a democracy, we are in [state of] war, but not just in Ayacucho and Huamanga, but also in Arequipa, Apurímac, Cusco. In these regions, we are suffering from poverty, we can no longer survive, we are dying of hunger… and these right wingers want to make us their slaves, but we won’t permit this because we are responding and resisting.”
Old Wounds Ripped Open
December 15 was not the first time civilians in Ayacucho were massacred by the Peruvian armed forces. Many who were present on December 15 said that the warlike treatment received by the peaceful protesters was reminiscent of the days of the two-decades-long internal armed conflict that Peruvians suffered through more than 20 years ago.
“They still treat us as if we were all terrorists,” a family member of one of the victims of the protests pointed out.
As part of the state’s campaign against the guerrilla insurgency, it tortured, detained, disappeared, and murdered tens of thousands of innocent peasants and Indigenous people, accusing them of supporting or being part of the insurgency.
The population of Ayacucho was one of the hardest hit. According to reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to look into the human rights violations, of the estimated 69,280 fatal victims of the internal armed conflict in Peru from 1980-2000, 26,000 were killed or disappeared by state actors or insurgent groups in Ayacucho. Thousands of people that fled their towns for the city of Ayacucho during the conflict continue to search for their loved ones and demand justice.
One of them is Paula Aguilar Yucra, who I met outside the IACHR meeting. Like more than 60 percent of people in Ayacucho, Indigenous Quechua is her first language. The 63-year-old is a member of the Ayacucho-based National Association of Relatives of Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP). She fled her rural community in Usmay for Ayacucho in 1984 after her mother was killed and her brother was taken by soldiers and never seen again.
Nearly 40 years later, she mourns again. Her grandson, 20-year-old José Luis Aguilar Yucra, father of a two-year-old boy, was killed on December 15 by a bullet to the head as he attempted to make his way home from work.
In a vigil held on the afternoon of December 22, Paula stood tall with the other members of ANFASEP and held a sign reading: “Fighting today does not mean dying tomorrow.”
In his second coming as Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has hit the ground running. The international climate in which he skilfully operated for close to 15 years in two stints as prime minister has changed beyond recognition.
Netanyahu’s foreign policy legacy has become listless — principally, the Abraham Accords and Israel’s hugely consequential relationship with Russia, both of which significantly impacted the tough neighbourhood in which he successfully navigated Israel’s core interests.
For sure, breathing new life into the above two vectors — Abraham Accords (Israel- Saudi ties) and Israel’s relations with Russia — will remain top priorities for Netanyahu. While Israel-Saudi relations impact regional security, Israel’s relations with Russia will have far-reaching consequences for Israel’s security. That is for three reasons.
First, Putin is at war with the US and the Western world who are Israel’s traditional allies. But Netanyahu is anything but a one-dimensional man. Trust him to turn challenges into new opportunities.
Second, recapturing the verve in the relationship with Moscow has a great deal of collateral significance. Russia has become a full-fledged West Asian actor today and, arguably, in certain ways makes a more effective regional partner for Israel than the US. The US’ retrenchment is plain to see and the ensuing decline of its capacity to leverage allies such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Egypt hits Israeli interests.
Third, during these 18 months that Netanyahu was out of office, Russia and Iran have turned around their difficult relationship into a quasi-alliance, thanks to western sanctions against Moscow. Netanyahu senses the folly of the West trying to “erase” Russia.
The media is discussing a possible deal between Moscow and Tehran over Russia’s Su-35 Super Flanker multi-role 4+ generation fighter jets. What lends an intriguing touch is that the deepening military ties between them coincide with Tehran’s intention to expand its uranium enrichment program. Iran reportedly reached 60% enrichment of uranium at its Fordow enrichment plant and has reportedly informed the IAEA that it had started to enrich uranium at the higher levels.
Then, there is the Syrian sub-plot where Israel continues to operate in that country’s air space, which Russia controls, largely due to the secret understanding between Netanyahu and Putin whereby Moscow acquiesced with Israeli activities to contain Iran and its militia groups and squash its attempt to turn Syria into yet another “resistance front” like Lebanon or Gaza.
However, it is the Ukraine war that has dramatically uplifted Russia-Iran strategic ties. Netanyahu realises that the fledgling Russo-Iranian quasi-alliance can be tackled if the Russian dependency on Iranian military technology is rolled back.
That ultimately requires that the Ukraine war should be brought to an end sooner rather than later and also an easing of western sanctions. Most certainly, the war should not be allowed to run its current indeterminate course. This is precisely where Netanyahu can be expected to concentrate his formidable diplomatic skill.
The signs are there already. Soon after taking over as the new foreign minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, on Monday, Eli Cohen stated that he was planning to have a conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on January 3.
The manner in which way Cohen framed this disarmingly simple proposition during his inaugural speech (which was broadcast live by Israeli Foreign Ministry’s press service) needs to be carefully noted: “Tomorrow, I am supposed to talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and later on with other European ministers.”
Earlier, in a recent speech, Cohen hinted that on the issue of Russia and Ukraine, Netanyahu government will be discreet in its public utterances, pointing toward a major course correction toward engaging Russia. The outgoing Israeli PM Yair Lapid had condemned Russia publicly. Since the Russian operation in Ukraine began on February 24, Lapid as FM never once spoke with Lavrov — or with Putin, while officiating as interim PM.
However, even under Lapid, Israel’s pro-Kiev policies did not go far beyond rhetoric. The Israeli ambassador to Kiev, Michael Brodsky told Washington Post recently that Israel’s relations with Russia are creating “limits that cannot be overcome.” Brodsky added that Israel is aware of the “frustration of some Ukrainian Jews,” but “no government in Israel is going to jeopardise this interest [with Russia] for anybody else, including the Ukrainians.” Brodsky also noted that Israel’s situation is “fragile,” as it is not part of NATO, and most Ukrainian Jews understand that Israel is in a “tough position.”
For Israel, Russia is not like any country. Russian-speakers constitute 15% of Israel’s population. It is an influential constituency in Israeli domestic politics and has kinship with the Jewish population in Russia. Russian investment in Israel is rather substantial and it is an open secret that Russia’s oligarchs viewed Israel as a home away from home.
Truly, the umbilical chords that tie Russian culture and history with Jerusalem cannot easily be ruptured. Only last week, Moscow reiterated its demand to reclaim Russian assets in Israel. Former prime minister Sergei Stepashin who handles the issue announced in Moscow that Russia will submit a claim to Israeli court for the Church of Mary Magdalene, Chapel of the Ascension, and the Viri Galilaei Church!
Putin has also demanded an end to the litigation preventing the transfer of Alexander Nevsky Church in the Old City, after commitments made by Benjamin Netanyahu during a previous term as prime minister. Conceivably, such demands are part of internal Russian politics as well.
The Kremlin feels elated that Netanyahu is back in the diplomatic circuit. What is most gratifying will be that unlike the previous Israeli set-up, Netanyahu will not passively accept a subaltern role in the US-Israeli partnership.
Netanyahu has extensive networking with American elites and he won’t hesitate to leverage it if Israeli interests are at stake. And, without doubt, Israel is a stakeholder in the Ukraine crisis and Israeli interests are well served by creating space for peace talks to commence between Moscow and Kiev.
Netanyahu has Putin’s ears and can play a role for the Biden Administration, too, like no other western leader can perform today. On the other hand, Iran’s nuclear programme is turning into a fuming volcano and a point may come very soon when Netanyahu will be compelled to act. And that could happen in the 2024 election year, something that the Biden Administration can ill-afford to see happening. Suffice it to say, the Ukraine conflict and Iran’s bomb are joined at the hips, as it were.
Putin said in a message to Netanyahu on Thursday, “In Russia, we greatly appreciate your personal and longstanding contribution to strengthening friendly relations between our countries.” Russia’s foreign ministry said it was “ready for constructive cooperation” with Israel to “clear up the climate in the Middle East and the international scene in general”.
On December 22, Putin called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his election victory and the establishment of a new government, while Netanyahu’s office disclosed in a statement that the conversation mainly revolved around the conflict in Ukraine. Netanyahu told Putin he hopes a resolution to end hostilities will be found as soon as possible, and the consequent suffering.
Netanyahu also told Putin that he is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Tehran’s attempts to establish military presence in Lebanon and Syria along Israel’s northern border.
To be sure, Putin is all ears and eyes for Netanyahu. The point is, Moscow gains if diplomacy reappears on the wasteland of Ukraine issue. Certainly, it is far from the case that Russia is enjoying the destruction of Ukraine or the sorrows of the fraternal people.
Source: India Punchline
Just after a period of less than 24 months of entering Tamil Nadu politics and becoming the President of Tamil Nadu BJP and with no prior political experience, Annamalai has certainly become a “strike force” in Tamil Nadu politics today.
A number of political researchers and discerning observers wonder as to what could be the reason for Annamalai’s stormy entry into Tamil Nadu politics and his nearly outshining so many other experienced politicians in Tamil Nadu including those in Tamil Nadu BJP itself.
A careful study clearly indicates that there are reasons for this.
Entry into politics at the right time:
Annamalai has entered Tamil Nadu politics at the right time when the common people in the state have almost become tired of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu for around sixty years now, which have been marked by several negatives including a high level of corruption, an increasing number of people including children getting addicted to liquor and counter-productive and caste-based politics and unprincipled politicians.
People have been voting for one dravidian party or the other so far since they had no other alternate party with good standards. Poor people have been voting for anyone of the Dravidian party based on the freebies given, loud promises made and distribution of cash to the poor voters at the time of elections. Several poor people know very well that it is wrong to take cash for voting but “justify” their accepting cash, stating that by accepting cash they would be only squeezing out the money swindled by the politicians and thus “would make such politicians poor”.
The senior citizens who have seen great political stalwarts in Tamil Nadu such as Kamaraj and Kakkan, who exhibited very high personal and political standards and ruled the state competently, crave whether such politicians of high standards would enter Tamil Nadu politics anytime in future.
Youth in the state who have been told about the exemplary standards of Kakkan and Kamaraj find it difficult to believe that such great politicians could have lived in the state at all. They often wonder whether such high political scruples would be possible for any politician.
At a time like the present one, when people are looking for political leader of high standards, Annamalai has entered Tamil Nadu politics, raising hope that Annamalai could take the political standard in the state to high level, matching the standards of Kamaraj and Kakkan.
There are some unique attributes in Annamalai, which has not been seen in any other politician in Tamil Nadu. He is well educated with an engineering degree and management qualification from a reputed institution, entered the India cadre of IPS bypassing the competitive exam and served as a senior police officer in Karnataka with an impeccable record.
He speaks knowledgeably not only on politics but a variety of other subjects such as administrative ethos, philosophy, history and so on with the capability to speak in the Tamil language that could be readily understood by anyone.
What is more, is his courage of conviction and confidence to make critical observations with informative data and analysis. He uses strong language against corruption, which has caught the imagination of the common man.
In such conditions, everyone is keen to know what Annamalai thinks about any matter and people flock to his meetings in good numbers.
There is a vacuum in political leadership in Tamil Nadu, as the ministers and politicians are fast losing their credibility and the governance appears to be virtually a family affair. This scenario gives an opportunity for Annamalai to continue his crusade
Both print and visual media in the state appear to be soft and uncritical towards the ruling party for whatever reasons. In such circumstances, Annamalai has a problem in reaching his message to the people through print and visual media. In such circumstances, he is heavily dependent on social media to publicise his views.
Of course, social media has two sides and there is also negative publicity on social media for Annamalai.
Obviously, the politicians belonging to the ruling party and allies are concerned about Annamalai gaining popularity and in the coming days, it is likely that many false allegations would be made against Annamalai to spoil his image. The ruling party is likely to leave no stone unturned in this regard.
It remains to be seen how Annamalai would face this challenge, which would come not only from opposition parties but also from within the BJP itself by those who fall to the “offers” from the ruling party men.
Annamalai at the crossroads:
While Annamalai is gaining popularity, it is too early to guess whether such popularity would be sustained and converted into votes for him.
While popularity means that people are taking a close look at Annamalai’s speech and programmes, he has to maintain high standards in a consistent manner, so that people would not change their views.
Perhaps, Annamalai may pass the test which could happen, if he has the quality in him and exhibit it to the people.
Today, in Tamil Nadu politics, Annamalai is at a crossroads.
Tamil Nadu would be a loser, if Annamalai would fall apart due to the high-pressure campaign against him that is bound to be launched by the opposite parties and vested interests.
People would stand by Annamalai if he would continue to show that he is an unbending fighter against corruption and negative politics.
While Annamalai is gaining popularity, it is too early to guess whether such popularity would be sustained and converted into votes for him.
In a dramatic, though expected, development in Nepal’s politics, on December 26, 2022, Maoist veteran Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda took the oath as Prime Minister of Nepal for the third time. He had earlier served as Prime Minister in 2008-2009 and 2016- 2017.
On November 20, 2022, elections for 165 seats of the House of Representatives (HoR) were held under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in a single phase. In accordance with the constitutional arrangement, 110 seats are allocated under the Proportional Representation (PR) system. There are a total of 275 seats in the HoR.
As per the final results submitted by the Election Commission to President Bidya Devi Bhandari, the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Nepali Congress (NC) emerged as the single largest party with 89 seats (57 FPTP+ 32 PR), followed by the K.P. Sharma Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), 78 seats (44 FPTP+ 34 PR); Prachanda-led Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist Centre (CPN-MC), 32 seats (18 FPTP+ 14 PR); Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP), 20 seats (7 FPTP+ 13 PR); Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), 14 seats (7 FPTP+ 7 PR); Janata Samajbadi Party, Nepal (JSP-N), 12 seats (7 FPTP+ 5 PR); Madhav Kumar Nepal-led Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Socialist (CPN-US), 10 FPTP seats; Janamat Party, six FPTP seats, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party-Nepal (LSP-N), four FPTP seats; Nagarik Unmukti Party, three FPTP seats; and Rashtriya Janmorcha and Nepal Mazdoor Kisan Party, one FPTP seat each. Independents secured five seats.
The then five party Joint Ruling Alliance (JRA) – NC, NCP-MC, CPN-US, LSP-N and Rashtriya Janmorcha – had contested the elections together. The then main opposition party, the CPN-UML had RPP and JSP-N as alliance partners. Though no single party or alliance emerged a clear-cut winner, the JRA could have formed the government, with the help of Independents, as the alliance was in striking distance with 136 seats, just two short of the 138 seats required.
However, the tussle between Prachanda and Deuba over the issue of who would lead the new government intensified. Reports indicate that, while a tacit understanding was reached between the two leaders to lead the government on a rotational basis, the NC in the morning of December 25, rejected Prachanda’s demand to be the Prime Minister in the first half of the term. Later in the day, Prachanda went to meet his friend-turned-rival-turned-friend, another Maoist veteran, Oli, and brokered a deal to form a new government on rotational basis, with Prachanda becoming the Prime Minister first. Prachanda then exited the JRA. On the same day, along with Oli and other new alliance partners, Prachanda went to President Bidya Devi Bhandari, to stake his claim, and was appointed Prime Minister. The had President set December 25, 2022, as the deadline to stake the claim.
Prachanda has the support of 165 lawmakers, including CPN-UML with 78, CPN-MC with 32, RSP with 20, RPP with 14, JSP-N with 12, Janamat Party with six and Nagarik Unmukti Party with three. The President has given him a month’s time to prove his majority in the house.
On November 20, elections for seven Provincial Assemblies were also held. Government formation at the provincial level is still under process. However, the new alliance is expected to form governments in all seven provinces.
It is useful to recall here that, after the previous HoR elections in 2017, the pre-poll Left alliance, including CPN-UML and CPN-MC, had emerged victorious and formed the government. The two parties later merged and formed the Nepal Communist Party. However, the bonhomie between Prachanda and Oli did not last long and the two parted ways. A demerger took place in March 2021, after which Prachanda supported Deuba to become Prime Minister, leaving Oli rudderless. Now it is time for Deuba to be cast away.
Meanwhile, the country remains free of terrorism. The last terror-linked fatality was reported on December 8, 2020, when a teacher was shot dead in the Miklajung Rural Municipality in Morang District of Province No. 1. The teacher, identified as Rajendra Shrestha, was killed by Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand) cadres. There were 13 fatalities in 2019 (three civilians, two Security Force personnel and eight extremists), all linked to CPN-Maoist-Chand. Violence had surged in 2019 after a lull of almost six years, between 2013 and 2018, during which Nepal recorded just two fatalities (both civilians, in 2013). After facing immense pressure from the Security Forces, the CPN-Maoist-Chand reached a three-point agreement with the Government on March 4, 2021. The agreement stated, inter alia:
- the CPN-Maoist-Chand will seek to address all its political issues through dialogue,
- the CPN-Maoist-Chand will carry out all its political activities in a peaceful manner, and
- the Nepal Government will lift the ban it had imposed on the party’s activities, free all cadres from jail and withdraw court cases against them
No other Maoist insurgent group is violently active. The insurgent groups in Terai have also become dormant.
Concerns, however, persist. The Chand group has constantly been accusing the Government of not implementing the 3-point agreement in toto, as its cadres are still in jail. In a demonstration of its grievances, the Chand group boycotted the recent elections, with its spokesperson Khadga Bahadur Bishwokarma warning,
Our party has decided to totally disregard the November 20 federal and provincial polls to be conducted by the capitalist government. We have decided to give an appropriate response if the state suppresses our party’s publicity programmes.
The party cadres have subsequently been found to be involved in several incidents of explosion.
Inputs, however, indicate that Pakistan-backed Islamist fundamentalist groups have increased their activities in the country, particularly along the India-Nepal border.
Even though the Maoists are back at the helm again, political stability remains at risk. While the old rivalry and distrust between Prachanda and Oli could flare up again at any time, the tussle between new alliance partners cannot be ruled out, given the deep ideological divides. Thus, while the CPN-UML and CPN-MC are Leftist parties, the RPP is a right-wing monarchist group. It is to be noted that the longevity of the JRA was always under threat as it was an opportunistic alliance between NC and Maoists who were bitter rivals during the Nepali civil war, and remained so for much of the time after.
The insurgency is very much in the past in Nepal, but political instability and friction, at least occasionally spilling over into violence, is an ongoing reality. As with much of South Asia, there is little assurance that this will not escalate at any point into wider disorders, with dormant insurgent formations once again finding the opportunity to reassert themselves. The political classes have demonstrated little maturity in their scramble for power, with at least some elements only recently and provisionally distancing themselves from the option of armed insurrection. Crucially, however, the election process appears have to taken hold on both the people and the leadership, with the second successful national election passing quite peacefully, giving some hope that Nepal’s fractious will not translate into armed violence in the foreseeable future.
A holistic view of happenings in the year 2022 gives more cause for concern than hope for the world community. While significant developments have happened in the field of science and technology in the year 2022, peace and harmony in the world still remain a distant dream. Many people seem to have become pessimistic and think that aspiring for peace in the world is an unrealistic and utopian expectation.
While several unhappy events have taken place in 2022 particularly due to war and conflict, natural as well as manmade calamities, one of the worst things that have been noted is the denial of rights and privileges for women by law in a few Islamic countries, particularly in Iran, Afghanistan and to some extent in Saudi Arabia.
While the growth in civilization over the last several decades has ensured that women are treated as equal to men in all respects by enforcement of the law by most governments, still atrocities against women and the exploitation of women have been reported in an isolated manner in several countries. Offences against women and heaping insults on them in private households and public places and work spots have been reported and particularly sexual assaults against young women are being reported too frequently. This implies that the section of menfolk continues to think and act as if women are inferior creation of God and their weaker physical attributes in comparison with men justify the women being viewed as weaker and susceptible to exploitation.
While such disturbing trends prevail in many countries, the law and regulations in such countries do protect women’s liberty and freedom and atrocities against women by men are treated as punishable offences.
Scenario in Iran and Afghanistan:
However, what is happening in Iran and Afghanistan is different from the rest of the world, as oppressive acts against women have sanctioned laws in Iran and Afghanistan.
There are several Islamic countries where regulations are enforced by law, where severe dress restrictions exist for women, the marital laws are oppressive and polygamy is permitted where women are virtually reduced to the level of pleasure objects for men and restrictions exist for women in places of worship
The recent ban on University education for women in Afghanistan is the worst development that has taken place in living memory. To put it bluntly, any government which put such restrictions on women should be viewed as uncivilized and extremely backward.
What is particularly distressing is that there has been no effective force in the world, which can safeguard the liberty of women in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan and ensure the dignified status of women in society.
There are, of course, some isolated groups all over the world which make statements against such restrictions on women but they have little impact in countries like Iran and Afghanistan.
U N O should act:
Under the circumstances, one option is that United Nations Organisation should take a firm stand against oppression and denial of rights for women by law in any country and declare such regulations as inhuman and governments in such countries as uncivilized.
At present, United Nations has the concept of maintaining a peacekeeping force to send multinational peacekeeping forces to disturbed countries to protect the victims. We also have institutions like the Red Cross, which go to the aid of victims and sufferers during war and calamities.
In the same way, UNO should examine whether it can have a wing that can be aptly named an “Oppressed Women Protection Force”, which can be sent to such countries where the restrictions imposed on the liberty of women are enforced by law.
Such Women Protection Force may be authorized by the UNO to enter such countries, where government restrict women’s liberty by law and carry out a sustained campaign for women’s liberty in the region. This women’s Protection Force can considerably strengthen the women’s movement in these countries considerably. Of course, this protection force will be an unarmed body and would be a moral force that cannot be ignored by the offending governments. This force would also represent the voice of the civilized community and bring enormous pressure on the offending governments to mend their ways.
This suggestion for a Women’s Protection Force may sound whimsical, vague and impractical in the present scenario in world.
However, this idea does deserve to be developed, debated and fine-tuned in a way that it can become a reality.
It should be kept in mind that in the past such “impractical ideas” have gained acceptance due to the sustained efforts of right-thinking individuals and positive campaigners.
The United States government held the US-Africa Leaders Summit in mid-December, prompted in large part by its fears about Chinese and Russian influence on the African continent. Rather than routine diplomacy, Washington’s approach in the summit was guided by its broader New Cold War agenda, in which a growing focus of the US has been to disrupt relations that African nations hold with China and Russia. This hawkish stance is driven by US military planners, who view Africa as ‘NATO’s southern flank’ and consider China and Russia to be ‘near-peer threats’. At the summit, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin charged China and Russia with ‘destabilising’ Africa. Austin provided little evidence to support his accusations, apart from pointing to China’s substantial investments, trade, and infrastructure projects with many countries on the continent and maligning the presence in a handful of countries of several hundred mercenaries from the Russian private security firm, the Wagner Group.
The African heads of government left Washington with a promise from US President Joe Biden to make a continent-wide tour, a pledge that the United States will spend $55 billion in investments, and a high-minded but empty statement on US-Africa partnership. Unfortunately, given the US track record on the continent, until these words are backed up with constructive actions, they can only be considered empty gestures and geopolitical jockeying.
There was not one word in the summit’s final statement on the most pressing issue for the continent’s governments: the long-term debt crisis. The 2022 UN Conference on Trade and Development Report found that ‘60% of least developed and other low-income countries were at high risk of or already suffering in debt distress’, with sixteen African countries at high risk and another seven countries – Chad, Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe – already in debt distress. On top of this, thirty-three African countries are in dire need of external assistance for food, which exacerbates the already existing risk of social collapse. Most of the US-Africa Leaders Summit was spent pontificating on the abstract idea of democracy, with Biden farcically taking aside heads of state like President Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria) and President Félix Tshisekedi (Democratic Republic of Congo) to lecture them on the need for ‘free, fair, and transparent’ elections in their countries while pledging to provide $165 million to ‘support elections and good governance’ in Africa in 2023.
Most of the debt held by the African states is owed to wealthy bondholders in the Western states and was brokered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These private creditors – who hold the debt of countries such as Ghana and Zambia – have refused to provide any debt relief to African states despite the great distress they are experiencing. Often left out of conversations about this issue is the fact that this long-term debt distress has been largely caused by the plunder of the continent’s wealth.
On the other hand, unlike the wealthy bondholders of the West, the largest government creditor to African states, China, decided in August 2022 to cancel twenty-three interest-free loans to seventeen countries and offer $10 billion of its IMF reserves for use by the African states. A fair and rational approach to the debt crisis on the African continent would suggest that much more of the debt owed to Western bondholders should be forgiven and that the IMF should allocate Special Drawing Rights to provide liquidity to countries suffering from the endemic debt crisis. None of this was on the agenda of the US-Africa Leaders Summit.
Instead, Washington combined bonhomie towards the African heads of government with a sinister attitude towards China and Russia. Is this friendliness from the US a sincere olive branch or a trojan horse with which it seeks to smuggle its New Cold War agenda onto the continent? The most recent US government white paper on Africa, published in August 2022, suggests that it is the latter. The document, purportedly focused on Africa, featured ten mentions of China and Russia combined, but no mention of the term ‘sovereignty’. The paper stated:
In line with the 2022 National Defense Strategy, the Department of Defense will engage with African partners to expose and highlight the risks of negative PRC [People’s Republic of China] and Russian activities in Africa. We will leverage civil-defense institutions and expand defense cooperation with strategic partners that share our values and our will to foster global peace and stability.
The document reflects the fact that the US has conceded that it cannot compete with what China offers as a commercial partner and will resort to military power and diplomatic pressure to muscle the Chinese off the continent. The massive expansion of the US military presence in Africa since the 2007 founding of the United States Africa Command – most recently with a new base in Ghana and manoeuvres in Zambia – illustrates this approach.
The United States government has built a discourse to tarnish China’s reputation in Africa, which it characterises as ‘new colonialism’, as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2011 interview. Does this reflect reality? In 2017, the global corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Company published a major report on China’s role in Africa, noting after a full assessment, ‘On balance, we believe that China’s growing involvement is strongly positive for Africa’s economies, governments, and workers’. Evidence to support this conclusion includes the fact that since 2010, ‘a third of Africa’s power grid and infrastructure has been financed and constructed by Chinese state-owned companies’. In these Chinese-run projects, McKinsey found that ‘89 percent of employees were African, adding up to nearly 300,000 jobs for African workers’.
Certainly, there are many stresses and strains involved in these Chinese investments, including evidence of poor management and badly designed contracts, but these are neither unique to Chinese companies nor endemic to their approach. US accusations that China is practicing ‘debt trap diplomacy’ have also been widely debunked. The following observation, made in a 2007 report, remains insightful: ‘China is doing more to promote African development than any high-flying governance rhetoric’. This assessment is particularly noteworthy given that it came from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental bloc dominated by the G7 countries.
What will be the outcome of the United States’ recent $55 billion pledge to African states? Will the funds, which are largely earmarked for private firms, support African development or merely subsidise US multinational corporations that dominate food production and distribution systems as well as health systems in Africa?
Here’s a telling example of the emptiness and absurdity of the US’s attempts to reassert its influence on the African continent. In May 2022, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia signed a deal to independently develop electric batteries. Together, the two countries are home to 80 percent of the minerals and metals needed for the battery value chain. The project was backed by the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), whose representative Jean Luc Mastaki said, ‘Adding value to the battery minerals, through an inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, will definitely allow the two countries to pave the way to a robust, resilient, and inclusive growth pattern which creates jobs for millions of our population’. With an eye on increasing indigenous technical and scientific capacity, the agreement would have drawn from ‘a partnership between Congolese and Zambian schools of mines and polytechnics’.
Fast forward to the summit: after this agreement had already been reached, the DRC’s Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and Zambia’s Foreign Minister Stanley Kakubo joined US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in signing a memorandum of understanding that would allegedly ‘support’ the DRC and Zambia in creating an electric battery value chain. Lutundula called it ‘an important moment in the partnership between the US and Africa’.
The Socialist Party of Zambia responded with a strong statement: ‘The governments of Zambia and Congo have surrendered the copper and cobalt supply chain and production to American control. And with this capitulation, the hope of a Pan-African-owned and controlled electric car project is buried for generations to come’.
It is with child labour, strangely called ‘artisanal mining’, that multinational corporations extract the raw materials to control electric battery production rather than allow these countries to process their own resources and make their own batteries. José Tshisungu wa Tshisungu of the Congo takes us to the heart of the sorrows of children in the DRC in his poem, ‘Inaudible’:
Listen to the lament of the orphan
Stamped with the seal of sincerity
He is a child from around here
The street is his home
The market his neighbourhood
The monotone of his plaintive voice
Runs from zone to zone
Consequent upon the Ukraine war, as the Sea of Azov becomes an inland sea for Russia, bracketed by the Crimean Peninsula and the mouth of the River Don, the sea and rail networks of the region extend to Iranian hubs on the Caspian Sea and ultimately lead to the Indian Ocean. A feature article in Bloomberg last week titled Russia and Iran Are Building a Trade Route That Defies Sanctions brings to centre stage this “sanctions-busting” project in the region.
Last month, Mehr News Agency reported that a first 12 million–ton shipment of Russian grain bound for India already transited Iran. The time has come for the inland trade corridor known as the International North-South Transport Corridor or the INSTC, which was launched in 2000 to connect the Baltic Sea with the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, the West’s “sanctions from hell” against Moscow roused the INSTC to life. Moscow is currently finalising the rules that would give ships from Iran the right of passage along inland waterways on the Volga and Don rivers!
The INSTC was conceived as a 7,200 km-long multimodal transportation network encompassing sea, road, and rail routes to move freight between Russia, Central Asia and the Caspian regions, Iran and India. At its core, this is a Russian-Iranian project who are stakeholders in countering the West’s weaponisation of sanctions.
But there is much more to their congruent interests. The Western sanctions motivate them to look for optimally developing their economies, and both Russia and Iran are pivoting to the Asian market, and in the process, a new trading bloc is forming that is completely free of Western presence. “The goal is to shield commercial links from Western interference and build new ones with the giant and fast–growing economies of Asia, ” Bloomberg noted.
Speaking to a group of senior Russian editors on Monday in Moscow, Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “Rest assured that in the near future, we will see a serious drop in the West’s ability to ‘steer’ the global economy the way it pleases. Whether it wants it or not, it will have to sit down and talk.” This is the crux of the matter — force the western powers to negotiate.
In the near term, INSTC’s takeoff will depend on some big projects. On Monday, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak spoke about an energy grid involving Russia, Iran and Central Asia and the South Asian region.
Novak said, “A constant influx of national currencies gives confidence to the market. At the beginning of the year, we faced a situation where it was not very clear what to do with these currencies. At the moment, they are traded on the stock exchange and ensure mutual trade turnover… If at the beginning of the year this flywheel swayed very hard, then in just a few months it became commonplace, and we began to trade steadily in national currencies.” De-dollarisation provides an underpinning of the INSTC. This is one thing.
Second, Novak made the disclosure that Russia and Iran may reach an agreement on swap supplies of oil and gas by the end of this year. As he put it, “If we talk about perspective, this includes exports of gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan — either using the infrastructure projects of Central Asia, or through a swap from the territory of Iran. That is, we will receive their gas in the south of the country [Iran], and in exchange we will supply gas to the north for Iranian consumers.”
Novak added, “We expect around 5 mln tons [of oil] per year and up to 10 bln cubic meters [of gas] at the first stage.” Pakistan is interested in sourcing Russian gas. Novak referred to Russia’s agreement with Azerbaijan, which is set to increase gas supplies, and “when they increase gas production, we will be able to discuss swaps.”
Pakistan has an inherent advantage, as all the participating countries of the INSTC except India also happen to be members of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. At some point early enough, the two designated Iranian ports in the INSTC — Bandar Abbas and Chabahar — will likely get linked to Gwadar Port, which is the gateway to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] leading to Xinjiang, and an important component of the BRI.
Clearly, the INSTC will spawn a web of international economic corridors. Iran is destined to become the hub of converging strategic interests with significant economic dimensions that will determine new alliances and impact the geopolitics of South and West Asia in the 21st century.
The US has been waging an information war to debunk the CPEC and fuel anti-China sentiments in the Pakistani public opinion. But it is a hopeless endeavour to malign the INSTC as a geopolitical project and impractical to threaten regional states from associating with what is an intercontinental trade route that is no single country’s franchise. After all, how to sanction a trading bloc?
The facts speak for themselves. The INSTC trials carried out to transport containers from Mumbai to St Petersburg using the trade corridor are able to reduce the delivery time of cargo from 45 days to 25 days at 30% cheaper rates than via Suez Canal, justifying the hopes for enhanced connectivity and utility of the corridor. Clearly, the trade potential of INSTC is immense.
However, Russia and Iran are determined to decouple the West. Lavrov said on Monday, “We can no longer rely on these people. Neither our people nor history will forgive us if we do… we too openly and naively put our faith in the assurances that we heard in the early 1990s about a common European home and the need for an international division of labour that would rely on the best performance and competitive advantages of each country, so that, by pulling our efforts together and saving resources, we would be able achieve the best and cost-effective results. All of that was empty talk.”
Iran and Eurasian Economic Union [comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan] have reportedly finalised the terms for a free trade agreement involving more than 7,500 types of commodities. A market as big as $700 billion is opening up to Iranian products and services as of the next Iranian year [starting March 21, 2023].
The FTA encourages free movement of goods and services, and provides for common policies in the macroeconomic sphere, transport, industry and agriculture, energy, foreign trade and investment, customs, technical regulation, competition, and antitrust regulation. It will be a game changer for the INSTC, transforming the power dynamic in the vast Eurasian landmass and the Gulf region. The INSTC signifies a strategic axis between Russia and Iran built around a trade route heralding a non-western trading bloc of free-wheeling regional states with common interests in resisting western hegemony.
In a daring incident on December 18, 2022, a detained terrorist overpowered a constable at the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Complex in Bannu Cantonment (Bannu District) and, after snatching the constable’s weapon, freed 34 other detained terrorists.
Major General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry, Director-General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), stated, “As soon as they came out of lockup, the terrorists got more weapons from the mall and started firing.” One CTD constable was killed and another was injured. The injured constable died later. Meanwhile, Security Forces (SFs) cordoned off the area and launched an operation. “Immediately after the seizure of the complex on December 18, two terrorists were killed, three were arrested, and two security forces personnel were injured in the exchange of fire,” the DG added. “Efforts to induce the terrorists to surrender unconditionally continued for the next two days,” he disclosed, adding that the terrorists demanded a safe passage to Afghanistan. On December 20, the SFs took action against the terrorists for not surrendering. “During the operation – fierce exchange of fire between terrorists and security forces – 25 terrorists were killed. Three terrorists were arrested while seven surrendered. Three sons of the soil were martyred fighting bravely in the operation,” the DG added. 10 soldiers, including two officers, were injured in the operation.
Meanwhile, a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson on December 18, 2022, claimed responsibility for the hostage incident. He ‘clarified’ that though the militants in the previous video statement while demanding safe passage “mistakenly mentioned Afghanistan”, the group in fact had spoken to government officials overnight and asked them to “shift the prisoners” to either South or North Waziristan.
On December 19, two civilians and one soldier were killed while one civilian was injured in a suicide attack in Miranshah area of North Waziristan District.
On December 18, four Policemen were killed and four were wounded, as terrorists attacked the Bargai Police Station in Lakki Marwat District. The terrorists used rockets and grenades to break into the Police Station. Militants managed to flee after killing the enforcement personnel.
On December 14, one soldier and a civilian were killed while 14 others, including nine security personnel, were injured, when a suicide attacker on a motorcycle targeted a Security Forces’ (SFs) convoy on Data Khel Road at Miranshah in North Waziristan District.
On December 7, 2022, a Policeman was killed when terrorists attacked a Police post with heavy weapons in the Kangar Pul area of Bannu District.
In a brutal incident, on December 5, 2022, a Frontier Constabulary (FC) soldier and his son were killed by unidentified assailants in the Jani Khel town of Bannu District. Around 20 armed men entered the house of the FC soldier and shot the two dead. They then beheaded the FC soldier and hung his head from a tree in the Bachki Market area. The head was spotted by tribesmen in the morning, who then informed the Police.
The Bannu Division in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) comprises three Districts: Bannu, Lakki Marwat and North Waziristan.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Bannu Division has recorded at least 343 terrorism-related fatalities (16 civilians, 76 SF personnel and 164 terrorists) in 2022, thus far (data till December 25, 2022). In 2021, there were 175 terrorism-related fatalities, including 17 civilians, 46 SF personnel and 57 terrorists.
The 2022 tally, with over a week still to go, is the highest in a year since 2009, when fatalities peaked at 399. Fatalities in the Division have been on a rise since 2018.
SF fatalities in 2022 were the highest in a year since 2007, when 106 troopers were killed. The 2022 terrorist fatalities were the highest since 2009, when 245 terrorists were killed. Meanwhile, civilians continue to face a threat from the terrorists, though this has remained moderate over time.
The Bannu Division accounted for a total of 2,877 fatalities (348 civilians, 594 SF personnel, 1190 terrorists, 162 Not Specified) since March 6, 2000, when SATP commenced compiling data on conflicts in Pakistan. These fatalities were recorded in 348 incidents of killing.
The District-wise distribution saw 1,416 fatalities in the North Waziristan District (48 civilians, 374 SF personnel, 842 terrorists, 152 Not Specified); 634 in the Bannu District (299 terrorists, 164 civilians, 162 SF personnel and nine Not Specified); and 244 in the Lakki Marwat District (136 civilians, 58 SF personnel, 49 terrorists and one Not Specified). [North Waziristan was an Agency of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) till May 28, 2018, when FATA was merged with KP.]
Indeed, unsettled by the security situation, Bannu Commissioner Arshad Khan, in a meeting on July 18, 2022, asked the relevant officials to prepare a comprehensive report on Police infrastructure and working mechanisms in North Waziristan.
On December 19, 2022, a report presented to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during the national security review meeting warned that, because of an acute shortage of staff and resources, the CTD of KP would not be able to prevent or stop terrorist attacks in the province and lacked the capacity to fight terrorism. The report noted,
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa environment remained highly volatile when compared with other provinces; in the last one year, Punjab faced 5 terrorist incidents (3 Shaheed and 30 injured) compared with 704 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (305 Shaheed and 689 injured); with 93 terrorists killed mostly by security forces. Despite facing major wrath of terrorism, focus of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on counter terrorism capacity building is absent.
Rana Sanaullah, Federal Minister of the Interior, blamed the province’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government, asserting that the province was paying the price of PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s “incompetence and corruption”, adding “Imran Khan is busy dissolving assemblies and terrorists are busy killing innocent people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.” Significantly, Imran Khan has threatened to dissolve KP and Punjab Assemblies, where his party is ruling.
Further, on December 23, 2022, Additional Inspector General of Police (AIDGP)-Operations, Mohammad Ali Babakhel, declared that the “southern districts, including North and South Waziristan [from among the newly-merged tribal districts] as well as Lakki Marwat and Bannu districts [from settled areas], are trouble spots.”
On November 28, 2022, the TTP declared an end to the seven month-long ceasefire and is most likely to escalate violence in the Bannu Division and elsewhere in KP, as well as in the country at large. The present political slugfest between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz, and Imran Khan’s PTI can only provide the terrorists greater opportunities for violence and further destabilization.