Balochistan needs serious attention

Balochistan needs  serious attention

The brutal killing of 11 miners of Hazara community in Mach area of Balochistan province has raised many questions about five significant aspects; the worsening law and order situation in the province, vulnerable communities, writ of the provincial government, overarching role of the federal government and the external factor. As a precedence after all terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the external factor is immediately quoted and highlighted in order to cover-up the other four aspects mentioned above. Resultantly, no one really goes into the nitty-gritty and in-depth investigation of such violence until there is a repeat of another terrorist attacks and blame again passed on to external elements. Moreover, there is no clear identification of the external factor; their location, motives, means of transportation, weapons and ammunition, liaison with local attackers, execution phase and finally their escape routes after terrorist attack(s). In this entire process, what is the role of provincial law enforcement agencies and intelligence network?
The province of Balochistan constitutes 43% of the total landmass of Pakistan. The province has been bestowed with tremendous potentials of natural sources with high mountain barriers and a long coastal area. The people of the province are hard worker, tough, intelligent and loyal to their motherland. Unfortunately, owing to poor development over the years, lack of education and other basic facilities and bad governance system the masses of the province felt deprived and ignored. The deprivation of the masses became their vulnerability which was exploited by local feudal lot and external factors; the spying agencies of regional states and international powers. Resultantly, there remained phases of instability in the province for quite some time. This marvellous province of Pakistan has under gone various regional and international conspiracies. The sub-nationalist groups have established their armed terrorist organizations like; BLA, BRA, BLF etc. These dissidents have been attacking the local population and law enforcement agencies for furtherance of their vested ulterior motives for decades now. Besides, there are many religiously motivated groups who have been undertaking attacks on some vulnerable communities like Hazara community. The frequency of the terrorist attacks remained very high from 2005 to 2010. From 2011 to 2020, there has been a gradual slow-down in the frequency of violent terrorist attacks in the province and many armed groups even surrendered to accept the writ of state. During these years, there has been a noticeable change in the outlook of the province, which can be attributed to the awareness among the people of Balochistan.
The instability and chaos is used by external forces for defaming Pakistan, further exploiting local populace and to implement their vested strategic interests. This aspect needs serious attention by the provincial government by re-setting the priorities for maintaining law and order in the province. The aspect of security of vulnerable communities like Hazara is yet another failure of provincial government. There have been repeated killings of this community in last decade. The temporary and momentary security measures, taken by the provincial government are neither sufficient nor long-lasting to secure them. A long-term security measures with an inbuilt sense ownership and being secured has to be devised by the provincial Government in consultation with Hazara community and all those being exploited by sub-nationalist groups.
The provincial Government has to establish its writ outside Quetta and major cities of the province. In this regard, there is a need for the re-assessment of the vulnerable areas, key locations, population centres, major routes and threat perception. The provincial Government of Balochistan must improve its governance system by concentrating on the masses. The current elite centric approach has to be changed with a primary focus on people. In this regards, the youth of Province must get maximum employment opportunities. Indeed, the terrorism and militancy are direct outcome of idleness. The massive budget of the province must be spent judiciously on the people of province, especially in their education, health and provision of basic facilities. Such measures will enable the government to have a write all over the province by eliminating causes of violence and militancy.

EU-China investment deal opens up new geopolitical scenarios

EU-China investment deal opens up new geopolitical scenarios

On December 30, 2020, the news of the historic investment agreement between China and the European Union was reported.
After seven years of negotiations, during a conference call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the “Comprehensive Agreement on Investments” (CAI) was adopted. It is a historic agreement that opens a new “Silk Road” between Europe and the huge Chinese market.
The CAI’s basic principles aim at a substantial rebalancing of trade betw-een Europe and China, as the latter has so far shown little openness towards the former. With this agreement, China is opening up to Europe in many significant sectors, with particular regard to manufacturing and services.
In these sectors China commits itself to removing rules that have so far strongly discriminated against Europ-ean companies, by ensuring legal certainty for those who intend to produce in China, as well as aligning European and Chinese companies at regulatory level, and encouraging the establishment of joint ventures and the signing of trade and production agreements. In the manufacturing field, the “automotive” sector will be boosted, with specific reference to the production of electric cars, but also to the production of chemical products, materials for telecommunications and new generation health devices.
As far as the service sector is concerned, China will foster European investment in cloud services, financial services, private healthcare and the services related to air and maritime transport. In all the sectors covered by CAI, European investors and producers will no longer suffer any discrimination with respect to Chinese competitors, including state-owned companies, nor will they be denied access to productive sectors so far forbidden to foreigners.
The agreement also provides for guarantees that will make easier for European companies to deal with the paperwork needed to fulfil all administrative procedures and obtain legal authorizations, thus removing the bureaucratic obstacles that have traditionally made the operation of European companies in China difficult.
It is the first time in its history that China opens up in this way to foreign companies and investment.
In view of attracting them, China is committed to lining up in terms of labour costs and environmental protection, thus progressively aligning its standards with European ones, in terms of fight against pollution and trade union rights. With a view to making this commitment concrete and visible, China adhe-res to both the Paris Climate Agreements and the European Conve-ntion on Labour Organization.
While commenting on the signing of the agreement, President Von Der Leyen stressed that “this is a fundamental step in our relations with China. The agreement will provide European investors with unprecedented access to the Chinese market, thus enabling our business to grow and create jobs. It also commits China to adhering to the principles of transparency and non-discrimination and fundamentally rebalances our economic relations with China.
The China-Europe agreement is another piece in the mosaic of commercial and political relations on which China wants to build the geopolitical role of a nation which, according to growth estimates, is destined to reach the first place in the world ranking in terms of GDP by the end of the decade.
In fact, CAI follows by just a month the signing of the “Regional Compreh-ensive Economic Partnership” (RCEP), an agreement of strategic importance signed by China with the ten ASEAN countries and with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The RCEP has been described as “the world’s largest trade and investment bloc” and essentially creates an area of economic cooperation and free trade involving 2.2 billion people producing 28%of world trade and over 30% of global GDP.
The RCEP countries account for 50% of the world’s manufacturing output, 50% of automobile production and 70% of electronics. The RCEP eliminates 90% of tariffs on trade in the signatories’ region, thus creating a huge Asian free trade area that sees, on the one hand, India’s marginalization and, on the other, the growth of China’s role throughout East Asia. The CAI agreements with Europe and the RCEP agreements with Asian partners undoubtedly mark a historic turning point in relations between China and the rest of the world. The United States remains excluded from these relations, as it is currently blocked in a process of transition that limits not only its democratic activity, but also its operativity and international credibility.
After the hallmark of U.S. foreign policy in Trump’s era was reduced to imposing tariffs on trade with China, the gradual loss of credibility of the U.S. administration has stultified Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempts to gather a broad international anti-Chinese coalition led by the United States.
The RCEP is there to demonstrate how fragile the U.S. attempts to counter China economically and politically have been, as two once strategic partners of the United States like South Korea and Australia have literally turned a deaf ear to American appeals and have struck a historic and strategic deal with China. The CAI puts Europe in communication and in ever closer connection with what for centuries was “The Middle Kingdom”, i.e. a China that has chosen to lower its ideological barriers in order to open up new pathways of economic progress and hopefully democratic development. French and German representatives were present at the CAI signing.
While Europe was opening the “new Silk Road”, the country that gave birth to De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, and to Marco Polo, protagonist of the opening of the first “Silk Road”, was conspicuously absent from the negotiation table.
—Modern Diplomacy

The delusion of American exceptionalism

The delusion of American exceptionalism

On January 6, Vice President Mike Pence convened the two chambers of Congress to count electoral votes and officially certify Joe Biden as the president-elect of the United States. This is usually a straightforward and purely ceremonial procedure that takes around one hour. Yet these are not “normal” times.
First, several Republican lawmakers, in a brazen but doomed effort to keep Trump in office, started raising objections to the results of the electoral college, prolonging the process. Then, in an unprecedented attempt to overturn the election, thousands of pro-Trump protesters stormed and “occupied” the Capitol. As people wearing MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) hats and carrying Trump flags rampaged through offices and onto the legislative floors, lawmakers were told to shelter in place in the House Gallery. Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser swiftly put the US capital under curfew and announced a two-week state of emergency.
As the images of chaos and violence coming from the heart of American democracy filled television screens and social media timelines, millions in the US and around the world were shocked, but all this was not necessarily surprising.
President Donald Trump, after all, has long been spouting baseless claims of widespread election fraud, claiming the presidency has been “stolen” from him, and egging his supporters on to violently resist the peaceful transfer of power. He openly pressured Republican officials, including Vice President Pence, to ignore their constitutional duties to keep him in office. He even made a now-infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger instructing him to “find the votes” he needed to win the swing state.
Just hours before the riot in Washington, DC, in a 70-minute speech near the White House, the president called the election result an “egregious assault on our democracy”, and openly instructed his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol”, adding “You will never take back our country with weakness”.
But Trump was not the only one responsible for Wednesday’s riot. Countless Republican lawmakers and officials – as well as conservative media personalities – contributed to thousands of Trump supporters being convinced that the election was “stolen” from them. Out of ideological loyalty, short-sighted political pragmatism or pure partisanship, they helped the president incite his supporters to violence, undermine the US Constitution, and make a mockery of the electoral process.
Even many high-ranking Republican establishment figures refused to condemn the president’s unlawful attempts to overturn the election until the last minute, as they were scared to lose the support of Trump’s millions of loyal followers. Many others, meanwhile, chose to ignore or downplay the president’s antics, claiming that his influence would evaporate soon. Meanwhile, right-wing extremism slowly became mainstream.
Now, after the Capitol is secured and Biden’s victory certified after a day of chaos, politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are vocally condemning Trump and highlighting the challenge facing the new administration and the country. But why was Trump’s xenophobic and divisive language accepted for so long? Why was he allowed to undermine the rule of law and the separation of powers not only in the weeks after the election, but during the entirety of his presidency? Why were his dog whistles to white supremacists, racists and violent fascists ignored and normalised? Why did the American state not take the necessary measures to prevent Wednesday’s insurrection, which was incited by the president and his supporters out in the open for everyone to see?
One reason is the prevailing idea that the US democracy is just too strong to fail. Mix that with American exceptionalism and the widespread belief in the superiority of Anglophone liberal institutions, and you can see how America ended up where it is today.
The parochial belief that US democracy and institutions are “invincible” became especially strong after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union. In the eyes of many, “democracy” had categorically prevailed over dictatorship, and there was (apparently) nothing else to add to history.
Today, therefore, is a day of reckoning for Americans (and everyone in the Western world) who believe their democracy is “too strong to fail”, even when their elected officials are working to normalise ultra-nationalism and violent right-wing activism for political gain. Rather than continuing to view their country as an “exception”, they should look to the recent past, and other countries, to understand the perils of normalising fascistic and anti-democratic tendencies. In the interwar years, for example, conservatives across Europe “legitimised” ultra-nationalism or violent activism. They believed they could “exploit” fascism and still preserve the democratic legitimacy of their respective states. As a result, many nations in Europe found themselves being ruled by fascist dictators, experienced widespread violence at the hands of far-right militias, or were forced to establish authoritarian regimes. In many cases throughout the 20th century, from Latin America to Europe, authoritarians and fascists came to power “legally” through elections, gradually decimating institutions, undermining the rule of law and eliminating opposing voices during their time in office – which often lasted years if not decades. These periods of authoritarianism were rightfully seen as crises or collapses of democratic systems. Regrettably, despite the widespread refusal to accept reality, this is precisely what is being experienced today across the Western world, from the United Kingdom and Poland to, of course, the US: a crisis of democracy. Demagogic leaders have been allowed to undermine political institutions for years while right-wing “extremism” became “mainstream”.
If they want to heal their country and rebuild their democracy, the America’s new leaders need to abandon the idea of American “exceptionalism” and finally put a stop to the normalisation of anti-democratic, even fascistic, behaviours of their fellow politicians.
But there is one more lesson they should learn from other countries that experienced similar crises of democracy in the recent past: Even after being defeated in polls and courts, dangerous political trends like Trumpism do not disappear overnight.
The same may happen with Trumpism in the US. Even when Trump is finally ousted from the White House, the damage he caused by legitimising actions and behaviours that were once taboo in American politics may continue to hinder the healing process of American democracy in the years to come. So, America is no exception to any rule, the American democracy is not too strong to fail, Trumpism is likely here to stay, and Americans need to quickly come to term with these facts, if they really want to, in President-elect Biden’s words, “build back better”
—Al Jazeera

Rationale of farm protests

Vijay Inder Singla | Aadil Singh Boparai

The recently enacted farm laws and the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act by the Union government has led to a standoff with no resolution in sight. Farmer organisations and several state governments had conveyed their opposition to the laws at the time of the promulgation of the ordinances. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government, which exhibits disdain for efforts to build consensus through wider consultations, proceeded to push the bills through Parliament without any meaningful discussion with the Opposition parties.
The disinformation campaign launched by the BJP to mislead the public that the present laws accord freedom to the farmers to sell their produce to whoever they choose/desire is far from the truth. Under the current/existing Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) model, the farmers already have the choice to sell their produce to private parties. The transactions take place at APMC mandis, which are regulated and safeguard the farmer from exploitation at the hands of the multinational companies (MNCs). The Centre is seeking to replace the existing agricultural marketing system with a handful of intermediaries who will be under no obligation to pay the minimum support price (MSP) to the farmers.
The Centre has overlooked a fundamental aspect that no one size of farming pattern fits all. Our founding fathers were conscious of this ground reality and placed agriculture under the State List of the Constitution. The National Agricultural Research Project divides our country into 127 different agro-climatic zones. The different zones include varying landholding patterns, weather/climate, soil content, production patterns and water levels. The present laws fail to factor in the heterogeneity in our farming patterns and attempt to impose the Bihar model of agriculture, which has failed to yield dividends to the farmers. The vilification campaign against the arhtiyas overlooks the supportive role played by this irreplaceable cog in the agricultural wheel. It is the arhtiya to whom the farmers look to for financial support for the purchase of fertilisers, short-term loans and family needs; both enjoy a relationship of mutual trust. The midnight Income Tax (IT) raids on officer-bearers of the arhtiya association in Punjab reflects the mindset of the BJP. Such high-handed measures undertaken with an objective to browbeat and intimidate supporters of this peaceful movement have become part of the BJP agenda to quell legitimate criticism and dissent. Corporates, with their profit maximisation motive and impersonal transactional relationship, can never fill the shoes of an arhitya. The unilateral imposition of the present laws, without taking the farmers into confidence, has further widened the trust deficit between the agriculturists and big business.
The amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 2020, gives carte blanche to hoarders and traders to engage in predatory pricing. The statement of objects and reasons for the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, was to regulate and check hoarding of essential items and black-marketing of food produce by unscrupulous traders. The recent amendment removes cereals, pulses, oil seeds, edible oil, onions and potatoes from the list of “essential items”, facilitating unlimited hoarding and speculative trade. As a consequence of the recent amendment, the government can step in to regulate the stock limit for these food items only in the event of a war, famine, natural calamity or an extraordinary price rise in retail value. Unless there is a 100% price increase in retail price of the aforesaid items, the government is proscribed from intervening to check hoarding and black-marketing of food produce and cereals. This facilitates the path for exploitation of the consumers and will lead to inflationary pressures across sectors.
The labelling of protesting farmers as “anti-nationals” has led to justifiable anguish among the farming community. Every household of Punjab and Haryana has made innumerable sacrifices for the country right from the time of the freedom movement. The role played by Punjab in defending our nation’s territorial integrity and in feeding the country in the time of the food crisis is well recorded in history. Thousands of ex-servicemen, who have served at our borders, are part of the farmer protests and are seeking redressal of their legitimate grievances. Over 50 farmers have lost their lives at the protest sites owing to low temperatures and difficult living conditions. We need an empathetic government with a moral compass to urgently find a solution to the satisfaction of the farmers. Engaging in dilatory tactics and subterfuge will further exacerbate the growing trust deficit between the farming community and the Centre.
—Hindustan Times

Europe’s watershed year

Europe’s watershed year

There is no denying that the EU struggled during the early days of the pandemic. We were ill-prepared, and many member states were initially inclined to let everyone fend for themselves. But genuine acts of solidarity soon followed, with many countries taking patients from, and sending emergency equipment to, those most in need. Then the EU-level measures kicked in. The European Central Bank provided massive liquidity, and the European Commission authorized member states to incur large deficits to support their economies.
The discussion quickly turned to how the EU could provide fiscal support to the hardest-hit countries, and these debates culminated in a historic “recovery fund.” An unprecedented €1.8 trillion ($2.1 trillion) was allocated for a new “Next Generation EU” instrument and the bloc’s next seven-year budget. Moreover, two long-standing economic-policy shibboleths were shattered. For the first time, EU leaders agreed to issue large-scale common debt and allow for fiscal transfers, provided that spending is aligned with the twin priorities of funding a green transition and securing Europe’s digital future.
On the international front, the EU’s position has been clear: a “pandemic world” needs multilateral solutions. We have lived by this motto even when others were going it alone. Our May 2020 (virtual) pledging conference to raise funds for vaccine research was a perfect demonstration of the EU’s unique strengths. While the United States and China were proverbially at each other’s throats, Europe stepped up to lead on this critical issue. Moreover, we did so in a quintessentially European way (call it “Multilateralism 2.0”), working with not only governments, but also foundations and the private sector.
Since the summer, Europe has suffered a second wave of infections and struggled with renewed lockdowns. Altho-ugh we have far more knowledge about COVID-19 and how to treat it, “pandemic fatigue” is widespread. Worse, the initial economic rebound appears to be fading, indicating that the crisis will continue to dominate our lives for months — and perhaps years — to come. As such, we must keep mobilizing across all of the relevant domains, from public health and the economy to security and global governance.
Revitalizing multilateralism thus will be a top priority for the EU in 2021. Obviously, we cannot achieve this alone. But we anticipate that we will have more partners in the year ahead than we did in 2020. With Joe Biden succeeding Donald Trump as president, the U.S. is expected to rejoin to the Paris climate agreement, restore its support for the World Health Organization, return to the Iran nuclear deal, and adopt a more constructive stance within the World Trade Organization.
America’s return to the global stage will serve as a much-needed shot in the arm for multilateralism. We hope that others, including China and Russia, will follow suit in reversing their selective and self-serving approach to multilateral cooperation in the U.N. and elsewhere.
Climate change is the existential challenge of our time. As with COVID-19, the warning signs are visible for all to see, and there is a solid scientific consensus about what to do. The difference, of course, is that there will never be a vaccine for climate change. So, we must bend the curve of greenhouse-gas emissions as fast as possible.
Finally, at the same time that we pursue multilateralism, we must build a capacity to act autonomously when necessary. As I argued a year ago, Europeans must confront the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. The EU must “learn to speak the language of power.”
The pandemic has underscored the need for European strategic autonomy, a concept that originated in defense circles, but that now extends to public health and many other domains. We have learned the hard way that there are costs to depending on just a few suppliers of critical goods — especially when the supplier is a country whose value system is fundamentally at odds with our own. The solution to this problem is diversification and, when necessary, shorter supply chains.
This is not just about market failures in medical supplies. Strategic autonomy is about how Europe can address vulnerabilities across a wide range of areas — from critical technologies and infrastructure (such as digital networks and cloud computing) to rare earths and the raw materials needed for the green transition. We must avoid excessive dependence on external suppliers in these strategic sectors. The point is not to embrace autarky or protectionism, but to safeguard our political independence so that we remain masters of our own choices and future.
Some elements of this strategy were put in place in 2020. Europe now has a mechanism to screen foreign investments, and we have begun to address the distorting effects of foreign subsidies. We are also boosting the international role of the euro, and preparing additional measures on issues such as government procurement. As matters stand, the EU procurement market is almost totally open, while that of some others remains almost completely closed. We must either ensure reciprocity or take steps to restore balance.
Strategic autonomy also applies to cyber issues. How can Europe manage data? We must avoid the dichotomy whereby data belongs either to Big Tech platforms (with little government oversight) or to the state (including its link to the security apparatus). The EU’s last major tech legislation was the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018, and much has already changed since then.
These are just some of the many challenges the EU will have to navigate in 2021. It will be rough sailing, but we will emerge stronger if we stay focused on two complementary priorities: revitalizing multilateralism and building up strategic autonomy.
—The Japan Times

Ancient Egypt How to build a state to last — II

Ancient Egypt  How to build a state to last — II

The people who eventually became the Egyptians found a way to adjust to the changing environment that eventually proved highly successful and enduring. Not only did they settle down in the Nile Valley to become sedentary farmers, they also managed to innovate effective ways to harness the mighty fertile power of the river and to keep the unforgiving hell of the desert at bay.
“This made the populations who went on to collectively become the Egyptians form a worldview where management was everything,” observes Xekalaki. “To the Egyptian worldview, there was no alternative system able to control the environment and secure wealth as effectively as the one headed by a pharaoh.” The image of the pharaoh as a benevolent despot has been used to defend Egypt’s modern-day dictators, by suggesting that Egyptians understand no other way of government. It has also been used to defend autocracy elsewhere in the world. These inferences, however, are built on several gross misunderstandings. First, claiming the Ancient Egyptian system was superior to democracy ignores the core rationale for democracy. The value of democracy is not that it is a more stable and effective system than autocracy, though it often is, but that it is more just. Second, the way Ancient Egyptians accepted the authority of the pharaohs was not that different to the way later societies accepted the divine right of kings to rule – an idea peoples of the world have since largely abandoned and would find hard to return to, despite numerous notable exceptions. Moreover, the claim that the success of the Ancient Egyptian civilization makes the case for autocracy overlooks the checks and balances that were built into the Egyptian system. Although it is tempting to think that Egypt was governed by the whim of its monarch, historical evidence suggests that the king’s despotic powers were kept in check through the divine concept of ma’at (harmony), which applied to the pharaoh too, and a complex system of secular laws and courts. Moreover, women in Ancient Egypt enjoyed more legal rights than anywhere else in the world at any time until the 20th century. The modern image of the oppressed and downtrodden Ancient Egyptian peasant and laborer also appears inaccurate in light of recent archaeological discoveries. Not only were Egyptian workers well compensated for their labor, including some reports of state healthcare, they also knew how to stand up for their rights. This is eloquently expressed in the first (of many) recorded strikes in human history, when unpaid artisans in Egypt downed tools to protest against late wages and the paranoiac system’s failure to perform its duties under ma ’at. Beyond all this, Egypt’s unique geography and topography also played a central role in the development and endurance of the Egyptian civilization. “The Nile Valley, despite being at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Asia, and Africa, works in a way different to any other place on Earth,” explains Xekalaki.
The vast expanses of desert surrounding the Nile Valley acted as natural and well-defined borders for the state, not to mention as defensive buffer zones. They also ensured that the country could take the time to develop its own unique civilizational model largely untroubled by outside threats. Beyond being a de facto island, another vital factor in Ancient Egypt’s success was its disinterest in conquest and expansionism for most of its history. Many empires throughout history eventually collapsed because they grew too big for their boots and could no longer afford to maintain such enormous dominions. Egypt, in contrast, never strayed far from its historical frontiers and focused its energies on maintaining its internal prosperity and security.
This was partly founded on Egyptian aloofness and contempt for other civilizations. Egyptians believed they lived in the best society and the idea of leaving their paradise on Earth was unthinkable. This is why the desire for expansionism and conquest has only dominated brief periods in Ancient Egypt’s three-millennia-long history. Egypt’s geographical advantage eroded over time, as military technology progressed and other civilizations became more powerful. Eventually, Egypt was conquered geographically but not politically or culturally. Later, it was subsumed into other empires, its language, culture and religions naturally dying or being purposefully killed off in the process. It is difficult to draw clear lessons for the 21st century from the Egyptian experience. Egypt’s location in the Fertile Crescent meant it was in the middle of the most vibrant area of human development back then but, crucially, it was shielded against threats from rival civilizations by its friend and foe, the vast moat of arid desert enveloping the fertile sliver of the Nile valley and Delta. In addition, Egypt was so wealthy and technologically advanced that it was, for the most part, able to see off any potential threat quite easily. Moreover, the foreigners that did come were, for the most part, migrants not invaders, making the country a diverse and dynamic melting pot. In today’s far more crowded world, no country or society enjoys this level of protection against external threats. Moreover, though Egypt was advanced for its time and able to build things we’d be hard pressed to emulate in the modern world, the technology and complexity of the modern world would be bewildering to the Ancient Egyptian. With this complexity, comes a heightened level of vulnerability and fragility, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us with its disruption of global supply chains.But there are still two important lessons modern states can learn from Ancient Egyptians. First, the Ancient Egyptian experience clearly shows that resisting the temptation of empire building could be key to a state’s longevity. Second, and perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from this ancient civilization, relates to the role of the state. Recent decades have seen governments lose significant power to global corporations and the private sector. This process started with the weakest and poorest countries but now extends to even the most powerful. The neoliberal worldview has convinced us that big government is always bad and that the private sector is far better at ensuring our prosperity and wellbeing than the state. Back then, the state was responsible for pretty much everything: ensuring the land was properly managed and irrigated, collecting and redistributing taxes and crucially, guaranteeing work for everyone. Seen through the prism of Keynesian economics and Roosevelt’s New Deal, the pyramids were not (solely) acts of monumental folly but were the largest and grandest job-creation scheme the world has ever known. Ancient Egypt provides us with an interesting case study as we grapple with how to exit the ongoing economic crisis and wonder whether governments should intervene to safeguard work and welfare for everyone.
The Ancient Egyptian experience suggests that a greater role for the state would be good both for the wellbeing of the individual and the future viability of the state itself. This does not mean that we need to roll out a command economy like that of the pharaohs. After all, we do not face the centralized, nationwide challenges facing a pre-modern society seeking to harness the power of a mighty river in an otherwise hostile environment. What it means is that governments must embrace their role as the ultimate guarantors of citizen welfare and the equitable distribution of wealth.

Ten hours that shook America

Ten hours that shook America

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol lacked the gravitas of the storming of the Winter Palace, that much is certain. Incited by U.S. President Donald Trump at a nearby rally, where he encouraged his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol, the mob did succeed in interrupting a joint session of Congress to confirm the Electoral College vote in favor of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. But lawmakers carried out their constitutional duty, completing the counting of the Electoral College votes on Thursday and ensuring Biden’s inauguration will take place on Jan. 20.
The insurrectionists were nowhere near as disciplined as Lenin’s Bolshevik cadres of armed revolutionary soldiers and sailors. Most were paunchy, middle-aged, red-hatted “weekend warriors” who were as interested in getting a good selfie from the Capitol Rotunda as they were with overthrowing the U.S. government and establishing Trump as an unelected dictator. It was, as one commentator put it, a “Beer Belly Putsch.” And yet, the insurrectionists’ actions — pathetic though they were — will have revolutionary implications for America’s self-image and standing in the world. For the first time in the country’s history, a defeated incumbent president summoned a mob to intimidate Congress into violating the U.S. Constitution to keep him in power. Aided and abetted by the right-wing press and rank-and-file Republicans, Trump’s four years of open contempt for democratic values, institutions, and norms have yielded precisely what he has always wanted: a lawless, nihilistic revolt against the “elites” by the “losers” that he has made into his core supporters. Judging by his own behavior in recent weeks, Trump appears to have concluded that he was, too. To his mind, after four years of his attacks, America’s representative institutions lacked the will to defend themselves. How else to explain his efforts to strong-arm officials in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia to “find” enough votes to make him the winner? Instead of seeing repeated official rebuffs as a sign that the American Republic was not yet ready to fall, Trump focused on the fact that he has paid no price for his efforts to subvert U.S. democratic processes and institutions over the past four years. Having faced no consequences so far, why wouldn’t he keep pushing until the system broke entirely? After all, the sad spectacle on Capitol Hill was also suborned by Republican lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and almost three-quarters of the Republican caucus in the House. All had openly signaled their intent to object to votes that have already been duly certified by state governments. Validating paranoid conspiracy theories of “voter fraud,” it is they who gave Trump — a true coward in any other circumstance — the bravado to egg on the baying mob.
But the “sedition caucus” is not the only culpable party. For four years, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party have looked the other way as Trump degraded the U.S. presidency. Following Trump’s impeachment last year by the House of Representatives, Republican Senators voted to acquit him and then initially lent credence to his false claims of election fraud. Even today, as the mob approached the Capitol, McConnell continued to spread the lie that it was the Democrats who undermined American democracy first. Similarly, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has for years expressed “concern” about Trump’s behavior, but offered no resistance as he waged war on American institutions throughout his one and only term. These spineless politicians will live in infamy, but so, too, will every Fox News journalist (and the broadcaster’s owner, Rupert Murdoch) who has parroted Trump’s lies. So, too, will the leaders of the social-media platforms — particularly Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — that have served as fire hoses of disinformation and lies. America now finds itself confronting something that hasn’t happened since the time of Abraham Lincoln: rejection of the constitutional order by a significant share of the electorate. While America’s adversaries watched the events of Jan. 6 with glee, its many friends and allies around the world did so with dismay.
Like Lincoln, Biden will now need to confront this existential homegrown challenge head on. One thing is already certain: The Trumpian insurrection will not be pacified by soothing speeches about “moving on” without holding the guilty to account. For Trump, for the Republican Party, the brutal truth of Proverbs 11:29 must now be applied: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”
—The Japan Times

The climate crisis needs a vaccine too

The climate crisis needs a vaccine too

If current indications are anything to go by we are witnessing the revival, even intensification of the ecologically-damaging production and consumption patterns which have landed us in this predicament. Carbon emissions are rising once again as economies begin to revive. Environmental safeguards are being relaxed on the plea that industries badly hit by the pandemic cannot bear the burden of such regulation at least for some time.
It has been estimated that countries around the world may have spent a total of $6 trillion to deal with the economic consequences of Covid-19, not counting the billions spent in laboratories around the world to fast-track an effective vaccine. The existential nature of the threat from the pandemic justified this extraordinary response even though nations failed to pool their scientific and financial resources to enable a collective and collaborative response.
This is the second time during this millennium that we have witnessed an international response on this scale. There was a massive deployment of economic stimulus packages by G-20 countries to respond to the global financial and economic crisis (GFEC) of 2007-08. This was successful in averting a meltdown of the global trading and financial system. Both during GFEC and the current crisis we hear the same exhortation — that countries should engage in a green recovery from the crisis, that they should rebuild their economies in an ecologically-sustainable manner, that these crises are urgent intimations of the threat to planetary survival, which are ignored at our collective peril. But if current indications are anything to go by we are witnessing the revival, even intensification of the ecologically-damaging production and consumption patterns, which have landed us in this predicament. Carbon emissions are rising once again as economies begin to revive. Environmental safeguards are being relaxed on the plea that industries badly hit by the pandemic cannot bear the burden of such regulation at least for some time.
The United Nations (UN) recently convened a virtual Climate Ambition Summit at which the secretary-general called for member-states to declare a Climate Emergency and take drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable climate adaptation. While several states committed themselves to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century they gave little evidence of their willingness to come together to deal with what the incoming United States (US) President Joe Biden has described as an “existential threat of our time”. Should not there be an urgent mobilisation of world’s top scientists to deliver climate-friendly technologies with the same urgency as they have created effective vaccines against Covid-19 within just a year? Should not countries deploy large economic recovery funds to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to non-fossil and cleaner sources of energy? The climate challenge will unleash a crisis of a scale and severity before which the current pandemic will pale into insignificance. Are the lessons of the pandemic going to be left unlearnt? The chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee, had this to say in his brief remarks at the summit: “We are currently on a path risking serious, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” Do we need any more convincing?
The pandemic has generated a welcome debate on what constitutes true value and how may this be measured? Our accounting systems, on the basis of which we calculate business risks and profits and losses, are biased towards demonstrable, quantifiable and immediate effects. They undervalue effects which may manifest over longer periods or for which we have not yet developed measuring tools. Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything which can be counted counts. There is an added problem of measuring feedback loops among inter-related domains. For example, food, water and energy security are closely inter-linked and intervention in one domain has knock-on effects in other domains. Our current accounting systems can only handle linear effects in single domains. It was loss of biodiversity that shrunk wildlife habitat, bringing unfamiliar viruses carried by wild species into contact with domesticated animals and human beings. What may have been justified by arguments of food security and expanding human settlements had no means of assessing the serious health risks this generated. This is related to the classic problem of dealing with external economies where it is not possible to relate individual cost incurred to individual benefit received as the latter is socialised. Challenges such as climate change and public health require such socialisation of costs and benefits and because they are global in dimension, they can only be dealt with through multilateral processes.
The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly exposed the perils of the rampant degradation of our planet’s fragile ecology. Linked to this is the industrialisation of food production, based on mass-breeding of beef, cattle, sheep, pork and poultry in conditions that make the spread of infections and contamination of the food chain all but inevitable. Plastics may be convenient to use but they are now clogging our rivers, lakes and the ocean. These are all cross-domain issues and need to be treated in a comprehensive frame and through global efforts. Could India take the intellectual lead in pioneering new methods of measuring value?
The Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to be held in Glasgow at the end of 2021. This gives Indian diplomacy a year in which to mobilise the international community in favour of a path- breaking outcome based on science and the principle of equitable burden-sharing. On this, India’s interests are fully aligned with the world at large.
—Hindustan Times

From turmoil to clarity International relations in the new decade

From turmoil to clarity International relations  in the new decade

Attempts by key global actors towards trade and technological decoupling are setting the stage for a conflict that is challenging the fundamentals
of globalisation as we have known it since the early 1990s

We enter a new year and a new decade of the 21st century as the world around us is evolving at such a rapid pace, with a scale and scope often difficult to comprehend. For scholars and pundits, older paradigms have ceased being adequate in guiding their analyses about the national and global political environment. Policymakers, for their part, are being forced to respond in real time to the challenges coming from multiple dimensions. The year that has just passed was a reminder that history can be made up of events — and their consequences — beyond anyone’s control. The world was blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not only taken lives and livelihoods but is accentuating the trends that were already visible in the last few years: changing global balance of power, weakening multilateral institutions, growing disenchantment with the global economic order, and challenges to the extant normative consensus.
The year 2021 therefore is beginning with a certain clarity which only the turmoil of 2020 could have made possible. Consequently, key aspects of the global order this year will be sculpted by the legacy of the year gone by. And perhaps no other factor will have as much of an impact on international affairs as China’s foreign policy trajectory under President Xi Jinping. Xi has already veered away from his predecessors in carving a more ambitious and aggressive approach to the external world. As the COVID-19 outbreak reached pandemic proportions, he used the crisis as an opportunity to expand China’s geopolitical footprint across the world — from the South and East China Seas to the Himalayas, from Europe to the Middle East. As Xi lays down a blueprint for a new world order hinged on the Chinese Communist Party’s worldview, the rest of the world will be anxiously looking for a greater balance in the global matrix.
Xi has already veered away from his predecessors in carving a more ambitious and aggressive approach to the external world.
For much of the rest of the world, such anticipation extends to the wait for the Biden administration in the United States to set out its own foreign policy agenda. Joe Biden has come to power at a time when America is divided on the fundamental values it has historically espoused. And while Donald Trump will soon be leaving the White House, Tumpism is alive and well. American leadership is in great demand precisely at a time when the country’s ability to deliver on its global commitments is at its weakest because of fraying domestic consensus.
Yet one area where there is emerging consensus not only in the US but globally as well, is the challenge that China poses to US interests and to the global order. The US-China contestation is shaping up as the epochal geopolitical contest of the coming years. Even if Biden decides to engage China after assuming the presidency later in January, it is unlikely to change the longer-term trajectory of this bilateral relationship. The sharpening of their tensions will be accentuated in the domains of trade and technology — the two areas that have been driving the global economic order in the last several decades.
Attempts by key global actors towards trade and technological decoupling are setting the stage for a conflict that is challenging the fundamentals of globalisation as we have known it since the early 1990s. An ongoing backlash against globalisation is likely to gain further momentum, especially as the costs of global integration are seemingly rising by the day. Already, there is a recalibration happening across the West where even mainstream political parties have been changing their long-held positions on issues such as trade and migration. It is unlikely, however, to be restricted to the West. As the world becomes more fragmented — from supply chains to connectivity initiatives — shoring up support for globalisation will only become more difficult.
This fragmentation will influence the future of global multilateralism. While most nations continue to profess their abiding faith in multilateralism, the institutional manifestations underpinning the extant order are getting hobbled by their internal contradictions. Indeed, a global health pandemic should have been the high point of the search for a collective solution; instead, it has turned out to be its nadir. Not only is China challenging an order that it believes was created in its absence, but even the US, which was its most important founder, seems dissatisfied with the status quo. The same liberal order that has arguably been central to maintaining peace and prosperity worldwide for more than seven decades, is proving incapable of finding equitable and effective solutions to today’s common challenges. This signals a remarkable retreat: a fragmented global order is emerging not only in traditional spheres of global governance but also in those areas where new norms are needed to be set — such as space, cyber and emerging strategic technologies. As the world becomes more fragmented — from supply chains to connectivity initiatives — shoring up support for globalisation will only become more difficult. The most consequential theatre of this emerging geopolitical and geoeconomic jostling will be the Indo-Pacific, which is already the centre of gravity of global opportunities and challenges – a process that will hasten in the near future. For all of China’s attempts to discredit the idea of the Indo-Pacific, its unprecedented acceptance — from Western Europe to the far shores of the Pacific — merely shows that its time has come. The churn in this maritime geography will see a strengthening of “coalitions of the willing” in the absence of any formal institutional architecture and in light of an intensified major power contestation.
The other geography key to unlocking the global geopolitical chessboard will be Eurasia, where the Sino-Russian entente is producing new realities and can profoundly shape the global balance of power. While unlikely to result in a formal alliance, the China-Russia relationship is disproving some of the initial scepticism about it. Its future trajectory will not only shape the geopolitics of the heartland but will also push other major powers into reacting in ways that will upend some of the traditional calculus as we know them. And then there is the Middle East, a region that tends to hog the global limelight. The Abraham Accords have managed to overturn a number of assumptions about regional politics, opening up new possibilities in the region, both for cooperation and renewed conflict.
—ORF

Ancient Egypt How to build a state to last

Ancient Egypt How to build a  state to last

The early rulers of America widely used Ancient Egyptian symbols to signify the strength and durability of their young state

The ‘failing state’ pandemic that has engulfed the Middle East for many years now appears to be spreading to some of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced societies in the world.
The latest country to enter the fray of frailty is the United States. The fragility of the American state is evident in its disastrous handling and failure to minimize the human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also apparent in the political shambles that followed the expensive political circus that passed for an election, as well as the increasingly vicious tribalism devouring its societal bonds and institutions. Altho-ugh there is some hope that the incoming Biden administration could undo the damage done by Trump during his catastrophic presidency and pull the country back from the brink of collapse, there is little doubt that the US is in the midst of decline and decay. Not only have other powerful states narrowed the geopolitical and economic gap between themselves and the country once seen as the “sole dominant global power”, America itself seems to be unraveling. This means that Amer-ica’s rise and decline were spectacularly fast. This is not how it was meant to be. The foun-ders of the US intended to build a political system that would stand the test of time. They communicated this desire through Ancient Egyptian iconography and symbology. From the colossal obelisk erected in the capital to commemorate George Washington, to the pyramid on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, the early rulers of America widely used Ancient Egyptian symbols to signify the strength and durability of their young state. Washington, DC, wo-uld even have an actual pyramid today, if a certain John Pope’s ostentatious design for the Lincoln memorial had been approved by Congress. There was logic to their use of Ancient Egyptian symbols, and especially pyramids, to convey longevity – the first pyramid in Egypt was constructed nearly five millennia ago and is still standing. Meanwhile, the Ancient Egyptian civilization which constructed the aforementioned pyramid had a recorded history of some three millennia (from the early dynastic era before 3000 BC to the fall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in 30 BC).
Egypt undoubtedly went through several periods of transition and became briefly divided during those 3000 years. However, the Egyptian civilization did not enter a “dark age” even during these so-called intermediate periods. Inst-ead, it became more localized, with a decentralization of power, greater economic equality and more social mobility. Moreover, even the foreign conquerors of Ancient Egypt, such as the Macedonians, Persians and Hyksos, adopted Egyptian ways rather than imposing their own.
To put a long history into perspective, the pyramids were already ancient when the Ancient Romans took over Egypt and turned it into a province of their empire. In the two or so millennia since then, which is a millennium shorter than the lifespan of the Egyptian civilization, the world has witnessed the rise and fall of countless empires, states and civilizations.
So what was behind the remarkable staying power of Ancient Egypt and are there any lessons the modern world can draw from it?In short, the Ancient Egyptians owe the longevity of their civilization to their success in building a political system that was uniquely suited to their surroundings. “The state lasted because its structure worked perfectly, especially within this particular natural environment and it was thus really trustworthy,” says Zeta Xekalaki, a Greek Egy-ptologist with a PhD from the University of Liverpool. When what climatologists call the African Humid Period abruptly ended, causing the Sahara desert to revert to its natural dryness, the nomadic hunter-gatherers in what was to become Egypt faced a stark choice: adapt, move on or perish.
(To be concluded)