South Asia

India’s Security Council Challenge

Writing for, W. Pal Sidhu discusses India’s recent election to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which bore testimony to the country’s positive standing among its UN peers.

Sidhu discusses India’s difficult periods of turmoil and transition leading up to its current economic prominence and status as a world leader.  Following the Cold War, India hit a period of economic downturn and also lost its political ally, the Soviet Union: “In this period of transition, India was weak internationally and had little or no influence beyond its neighborhood, let alone in the powerful UNSC.”

Evaluating India’s status today versus in the past, Sidhu explains its significant progress: “Nineteen years later, the world and India are remarkably different.  Today, India is recognized as one of the economic engines that might alleviate the current global economic crisis.  A successful UNSC tenure will allow India to prove its global leadership credentials and also further its national interests.”

According to Sidhu, India’s success in the UNSC is contingent upon two factors: “First, whether it can restore the council’s legitimacy by supporting resolutions that are effective and implementable.  Second, India will have to prove that it can play with the big boys – the five permanent members of the UNSC.” In other words, India will have to demonstrate why its membership in the UNSC should be permanent.

For Sidhu, the real challenge may not turn out to be India’s election into the UNSC, but whether or not it can stay there.

Click here to read Sidhu's piece on

The Challenges Facing Obama in India

Writing for Mail Today, Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India and member of EWI’s board of directors, discusses the importance of President Obama’s upcoming visit to India, explaining the underlying challenges in maintaining this political alliance.

 Obama’s forthcoming visit to India is awaited with muted expectations.  Both sides need a ‘successful’ visit so that the substantial political investment already made in the bilateral relationship is protected.”

Despite Obama’s consistent praise of India’s prime minister, Sibal maintains that there is a disconnect between his actions and his words, specifically in reference to American outsourcing to India: “[Obama] has personally led the charge against American companies practicing outsourcing despite the substantive Indian business links this has created.” Sibal discusses the intricacies of the IT industry explaining that Obama’s criticism has the potential to hinder the bilateral relationship.

“Even if one construes such talk as playing to the domestic gallery at a time of huge unemployment, projecting India as a competitor stealing U.S. jobs advances no core U.S. interest vis a vis India, besides overlooking sizeable job creation by Indian investors in the U.S.” states Sibal.

Another complex aspect of the U.S.-India relationship is the United States’ relationships to China.  Sibal argues that the U.S. needs to acknowledge China’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea and the combined China-Pakistan threat to India.

Sibal concludes: “President Obama’s visit should be genuinely ‘successful’ in mutual interest, but how to ensure this in real substance, not in soaring rhetoric, given the complexities involved, presents a challenge.”

Click here to read Sibal's article in Mail Today (page 12).

EU Market Access, Not Aid

Writing for the News, EWI Director Ikram Sehgal argues that Pakistan’s officials need to make a stronger case for why the country needs better market access to the West. The concern in Europe is that textile imports from Pakistan will reduce the number of jobs held by citizens of the EU in the textile industry.

“The incongruity of this protest can only be gauged from the available statistics,” states Sehgal.

Sehgal follows this statement with statistics and examples of European imports from China, India and Pakistan.  Pakistan’s exports of 3.32 billion Euros to Europe in 2009 amounted to an increase of 1.26 billion Euros from 2005, constituting a mere 0.27 percent of Europe’s overall imports, and only 1.4 percent of the EU’s textile imports. 

“Pakistan’s exports are all commodity items for budget conscious customers which do not compete with the high end fashion items manufactured in Europe,” explains Sehgal.  With Pakistan’s main export of cotton, commodity comparison between Pakistan and Europe is akin to comparing apples and oranges – in other words, they are not comparable.

Sehgal continues by explaining the recent disasters in Pakistan such as the flood and the ongoing war, both of which have robbed the country of its already limited resources: “we cannot engage the hearts and minds of the populace effectively without the economic means to do so,” Sehgal assesses. 

The main concern from the Pakistani perspective is the issue of market access, which has recently improved.  Sehgal concludes: “The force-multiplier effect and optimism created by even the modest export figure increase sanctioned by EU will make a difference in alleviating the misery/disenchantment of the common man of Pakistan. The goodwill generated for the EU as well as the long-term benefits of stability in the region are tremendous.”

Click here to read this piece online

Russia Can Aid in Coping with China

Writing for India Today, Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India and member of EWI’s board of directors, assesses the effects of the global power shift to Asia on the relationship between Russia, India and China, and how this can and should shape the Russia-India-China (RIC) dialogue.

“In theory these three countries forging a true partnership could start a new chapter in world history,” states Sibal.

But Sibal maintains that the RIC dialogue may not have as much promise as originally anticipated because “the validity of most of the premises underlying it has been shaken.”  Now that the United State’s sole superpower status has waned, as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2008 financial crisis, there is not as much need for Russia, India and China to come together to balance the global power structure.

China provides the most dramatic example of the current realignment in geopolitics. As Sibal puts it: “Since the RIC dialogue began China’s economic rise has been spectacular, with its economy now overtaking Japan’s in size.  China’s self-confidence has bounded and nationalist feelings are being fed at home.”

Despite its rapidly growing economy and population, Sibal believes India is in many ways the weakest member of the RIC dialogue.  Though India is a member of the G20, it is not a permanent member of the Security Council, which limits its role in the RIC in key decisions on global peace and security issues. 

Of the three countries, India and Russia have the most common interests—especially when it come to countering the terrorism and religious extremism that is ravaging Afghanistan and Pakistan, endangering Central Asia and even southern Russia.  Even so, this bond may not prove strong enough to successfully maintain the RIC dialogue.

Sibal concludes: “The RIC dialogue was a grand idea that failed to live up to expectations because the conditions in which it was set up changed rapidly.”


Photo: "Moscow Kremlin" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Alexey Kljatov (ChaoticMind75)

Challenging battle for women's rights in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Parliamentary elections took place on 18 September. More than 1o million people cast their vote to elect the new Wolesi Jirga, lower house of parliament, for the second time since the fall of the Taliban. Each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces elected members in proportion to its population. Out of 249 seats, 68 seats are guaranteed for women.

As the campaign was approaching the crucial final stage, we spoke with MP Safia Saddiqi, a member of Afghan Lower House of Parliament who represents the south-eastern province of Nangahar, about the challenges that women MPs face in Afghanistan. Ms. Saddiqi travelled around Nangahar with her team and discussed the future of Afghanistan with women, and the role they need to play in it.  She shares with us some of her valuable insights from the field.

PN: What were the main difficulties that female MPs running for Parliamentary elections faced during the recent campaign?

SS: Security had a crucial role to play. The lack of security, especially with regards to women candidates, prevented them from travelling to remote areas or to their provinces. This greatly affected their ability to raise the support of their constituency. Financial constraints added to the difficult security situation. Because of the lack of financial resources, women did not have enough funds to organize a proper campaign and print out posters or flyers. Under such conditions, it is hard to compete with male candidates and this means that many women simply can't afford to be active in politics.

Moreover, there is the problem of candidates running for Parliament that actively try to discredit other candidates, and unfortunately these discredited candidates are often women. All these problems are further aggravated by corruption and slander practices. And the situation is the same everywhere in Afghanistan, being it rural or urban.

PN: What are the challenges to come for those women who will be part of the newly-elected Parliament?

SS: I think that the biggest challenge for women is the difficult financial situation. For example, in the former Parliament I did not even have an office. How are we supposed to work in such conditions?

There has not been much attention given to women and their legislative proposals, or any other activities in which they are involved in the Parliament. The Afghan society is still a male-dominated society. Generally, there are no major changes in the situation of Afghan women for many reasons, be it the political or economical situation or the cultural constraints. This situation is mirrored in the Parliament.

Unfortunately there are no signs that the discrimination against women will end in the near future. There is some support from certain male Parliamentarians for the work women have been doing so far in terms of women’s rights, but on the ground, there is no crucial change for the Afghan women. Discrimination between men and women will remain one of the main challenges, as it was for 99% of the women MPs, and hopes that the current situation will change are very low.

PN: How can Parliamentarians worldwide contribute to strengthening the role women MPs in Afghanistan can have in stabilizing and transforming Afghanistan?

SS: I think that there is much value in an international network of Parliamentarians, especially from a working group focused on women MPs in Afghanistan and the wider region. Parliamentarians worldwide need to raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in the political life of Afghanistan. There needs to be more support from Parliamentarians, especially in the neighbouring countries. The Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention could be the best convener of such events. Women MPs in Afghanistan need to connect with their fellow colleagues, especially from neighbouring countries and learn from their experiences and apply the best practices and lessons learnt. There is a great need to establish cooperation among women MPs, not only within the Afghan Parliament itself but also with women MPs in the wider Arab world, which support our work tremendously. Women from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Iran and other neighbouring countries could greatly benefit from sharing experiences and working together on the issues that concern us all. If we can support each other, work together for our women, children and people, and bridge our political divisions, then we can transform the region and bring peace and stability to our countries.

Click here to read this article on the Parliamentarians Network website

Support is Still Needed for Pakistan’s Flood Victims

Over the past months Pakistan has been hit by unprecedented floods, the worst in living memory, and perhaps the worst floods in history. More than twenty million people have been uprooted and over 2,000 died along the broad plains along the river delta, starting in the mountains. This is has impacted the lives of more people than the Indian Ocean tsunami, Haiti’s earthquake and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake combined.

The damage has been enormous: whole villages washed away, roads and bridges broken and cut off, immense loss to agriculture, industry, infrastructure and services. Millions of people lost their homes and livelihoods. In addition to all the other damage the floods have caused, floodwaters have destroyed much of the health care infrastructure in the worst-affected areas, leaving inhabitants especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases.

A massive international effort is ongoing since August, providing emergency medical care, distributing food, water and shelter, and helping to rebuild Pakistan’s shattered infrastructure. Even so, almost 1.5 million people are still homeless, while 800,000 people have been cut off by floods and are only reachable by air. More than 70 per cent of Pakistan's population doesn’t have adequate access to proper nutrition, and food shortages will only increase.

The situation is still at a crisis point. Aid agencies are doing all they can on the ground to reach people, but support is necessary for this work to continue. As an EWI board member, I am proud of the Institute’s commitment to humanitarian causes. In fact, they are at the root of its work for a safer and more stable world.   Everybody committed to EWI’s efforts may therefore wish to support the millions left fighting to survive with little food, clean water or shelter.

Donations can be made to the reliable organizations listed below. I also stand ready to forward any assistance to responsible and effective local organizations that will ensure help gets to those really affected. You can contact me at

Ikram Sehgal is a Board Member of the EastWest Institute.

Pakistan's Trust Deficit

Writing for The News, EWI Director Ikram Sehgal gives an inside perspective on the rising distrust of Pakistan’s government, which has occupied the national conversation.

“No one seemed sure about how trust in governance could be restored in Pakistan, only that anything, or anyone, would be better than our present rulers,” writes Sehgal of recent discussions.

Exploring possible avenues for change, Sehgal considers the army, whose image has been bolstered by its response to the recent floods. Although Pakistanis widely oppose martial law, many are resigned to it as a last resort against total anarchy, Sehgal observes. And while Army Chief Kayani apparently has no ambition to grab political power, “stranger things have happened.”  

Taking stock of the country’s political dysfunction, Sehgal writes about the perceived corruption of President Zardari’s government and the concern that the Supreme Court may be unable to administer rule of law, particularly in tumultuous regions like Balochistan, which was swamped by diverted flood waters. Remarking on the possible reemergence of unpopular former president Pervez Musharraf, Sehgal predicts that Zardari “may possibly suffer the same fate as the person he deposed, someone who now fancies himself as the ‘Comeback Kid.’”

For Sehgal, the only hope for constructive change lies in principled bureaucratic officers at the lower end of the political spectrum. If there is no change within the system, Sehgal warns, the result will be anarchy.

Click here to read this article online.

After the Flood: Pakistan and a Changed World

Greg Austin wrote this piece for his weekly column in New Europe

“Biblical scale” is the phrase in English, at least for those whose identify with the Bible as a reference point for catastrophe. There may be a similar term from other religious traditions. By any measure, the inundation in Pakistan in July was a force of nature that humankind could not have wrought. But the allusion to divine power, evoking memory of “the great flood”, should alert us to the possibility that nothing will be the same again, either for Pakistan or the world as a result of this most recent tragedy. To get a sense of the political power of nature, one might recall the inundation of East Pakistan in 1970 that fueled the political revolt by the Awami League, resulting in the break-up up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Though far fewer people died in the recent floods than in the 1970 inundation (some 2,000 compared with an estimated 400,000 in 1970), the physical damage this year was far greater and far more widespread. Five times as many people have been displaced in the recent floods compared with 1970, and in 2010 prices, the damage this year is estimated to be 30 times greater.    

Politics is not ordained by nature (thankfully). Choices will be made by people and quite different medium term pathways for Pakistan can still be imagined. But the country has not really known peace and stability for much of its brief political history. Even though Pakistan has produced and benefited from a degree of economic prosperity and advanced culture, the darker periods and underlying fragility in the political system give reason to wonder whether the country will pull together to rehabilitate the affected people and communities.

One political factor in 1970 was key. It was the failure of the government of Pakistan to respond to the catastrophe. It was irrelevant to the critics whether this was the result of indifference or incapacity. But the government did not cope.

Forty years on, given the scale of the recent disaster, other pressures on the government of Pakistan and other demands on international sources of relief, it is easy to imagine a scenario where within six months, we see a similar situation, with a groundswell of political opposition reacting to inadequate government support.

Other analysts have issued similar warnings. My aim here is to draw a bigger picture. The world is not prepared for what may result if there is a serious revolt. The countries with greatest demonstrated capacity to respond are those of NATO and the EU. Yet even they do not have enough money, enough military or even the mentality to be a force for good in a Pakistan facing generalized political unrest among its poorest communities least able to recover from the floods. India, China, Russia and Japan will similarly be left in sideline roles.  

In terms of resources, both material and spiritual, there is only one group of benefactors left who can come through in the long haul – the wealthy oil-producing Muslim countries. They are already disposed to emergency relief in Pakistan but it is unlikely that any of them is yet seized fully with a view of the dire consequences that might await them at home within ten years if they fail to move beyond emergency relief to long term rehabilitation of Pakistan.

The rehabilitation will not just be an infrastructure exercise, but a political and social trial to underpin the political cohesion and internal security of the Pakistani state. Who will step up from the Muslim world to lead this unprecedented effort of global strategic import? Will Europe and the United States follow that lead? 

Organized Political Islam: Rising Power

Greg Austin wrote this piece for his weekly column in New Europe

As readers of this newspaper will know, the OSCE spans three continents, brings together about 15 per cent of humanity, has 56 members, and has four out of five permanent seats in the UNSC. There is another regional organization that also spans three continents, represents the aspirations of a bigger slice of humanity (about 25 per cent), and has 57 countries as members, but none with a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

The group in question is the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the world’s only “regional organization” based around a religious attribution. Apart from its 57 members (Muslim majority states), there are a number of states or entities as observers: Bosnia and Hercegovina, Thailand, Russia, the Central African Republic and the Turkish Cypriot government.

The OIC has its own Development Bank, its Islamic UNESCO (ISESCO), the Islamic International Court, the International Islamic News Agency, and a host of subsidiary and affiliated organizations. It does not of course represent in a direct political sense all Muslims, but it does purport to speak on behalf of the “umma” (the community of Muslim believers worldwide).

Osama bin Laden wrote often of the Umma, expressing on occasion the hope that it would rise again to a prominent place in world political affairs, and be recognized again for high achievement in the arts and sciences. I mention that not to credit the source in any way, but to demonstrate that the sentiment about an organized Islamic resurgence is seen as a good mobilizing tool. That aspiration is shared by many leaders in the Islamic world, and it is captured in the Charter of the OIC: “to work for revitalizing Islam’s pioneering role in the world”. This vision, one I share, is the departure point of this analysis.

There are other high ambitions expressed in the OIC charter, including the more familiar idea of a “common market”, albeit an “Islamic Common Market”. Turkey, also an aspirant for EU membership, is actively promoting both parts of this OIC agenda: scientific and technological advance and regional economic integration.

The OIC revised its original 1972 Charter only in 2008. At the time, Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, declared that as a result of the new charter "the possibility of an Islamic Renaissance lies before us".

The OIC is a leading force in the fight globally against violent extremism.  In 2008, the conference declaration noted: “We continue to strongly condemn all forms of extremism and dogmatism which are incompatible with Islam”. The OIC is also leading a global campaign against rising Islamophobia around the world, a phenomenon documented by independent sources.

To many observers, the OIC is an imperfect organization, to be faulted for its internal divisions, for its hostile attitude to Israel, for what some see as its ingrained anti-semitism, and for its extreme political diversity (from monarchies, dictatorships, and radical regimes to democracies of varying stripe).

That view does not capture the essential dynamism and progressive character of the evolutionary path on which the OIC has been set for number of years. Nor does it speak to the sense of injustice over Palestine that for its part, it carries into many political forums.

A full assessment of the trajectory of this interesting organization would be very useful. One thing is clear. The OIC wants a new partnership with the West, and some countries are beginning to respond to that. The path to regional and wider international power and authority may be long and rocky, but the OIC and its member states have a vision for regional and global economic and scientific development that is definitely beginning to change the world for the better. Let’s work with them.


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