Southwest Asia

Iran After Parliamentary Elections

EWI's inaugural “Brussels MENA Briefing” focuses on Iran's parliamentary elections and the resulting domestic implications and consequences for Iranian foreign relations.

On March 3, the EastWest Institute (EWI) and the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO), launched its “Brussels MENA Briefing” series with the topic of the recent parliamentary elections in Iran. Dr. Azadeh Zamirirad from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and Adnan Tabatabai from CARPO led the discussion, with EWI’s Wael Abdul-Shafi serving as moderator.

The briefing focused on the domestic and regional implications of the elections held on February 21. Iran’s conservative political camp, the Principlists, claimed victory despite a voter turnout of 42 percent—the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Although the Iranian Parliament does not decisively shape Iran’s foreign policy, the timing of the election results is significant, especially as U.S. sanctions and regional tensions—as well as the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus—negatively impact global perceptions of Iran.

These parliamentary elections may foreshadow the presidential elections of 2021, considering the effect the parliament has on the public-political discourse. This is especially important given the sensitive timing of the elections, in which the looming succession of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is an increasing topic of discussion. Furthermore, the election results may be a manifestation of the more confrontational foreign policy approach Iran has been taking since last summer.

The discussion also touched upon the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani, who’s death mostly impacted not Iran but Iraq, where Soleimani was able to unite different Iraqi-Shia factions. Soleimani’s image in Iran has become institutionalized, as illustrated by the strategic placement of a billboard overlooking Tehran’s Valiasr Square on the eve of elections, showing a diverse Iranian population standing united behind Soleimani. The image symbolizes a shift of emphasis from Islamic sentiments to national unity.

Other topics raised during the briefing include a need for the European Union (EU) to open communication channels with conservative camps in Iran, the importance of recognizing differences within the conservative factions and a greater consideration of how social issues influence the political sphere. For the EU, the political shift in Iran might be a source of opportunity, confirming the saying that “hawks may be the best peacemakers.”

About the Brussels MENA Briefings:

The Brussels MENA Briefings are bimonthly, in-depth roundtable discussions on topics of current significance in the MENA region, co-hosted by EWI and CARPO in EWI’s Brussels office on the first week of every second month. Please note that attendance is by invitation only.

Should you be interested in being considered for the invitation list, kindly send an email to Desirée Custers with your name, affiliation and geographical or thematic area of interest and expertise in the Middle East.

2018 Annual Report

The EastWest Institute is pleased to release its 2018 Annual Report, chronicling the programmatic activities, achievements and new initiatives in the past year and reflecting key geopolitical trends around the world.

The institute remains focused on tackling these evolving issues, as well as on forecasting challenges in other topics and regions.

To access the complete report, please click below:

Afghan Narcotrafficking: A Joint Policy Assessment

EWI Releases Final Joint U.S-Russia Report on Afghan Narcotrafficking

The EastWest Institute (EWI) has released Afghan Narcotrafficking: A Joint Policy Assessment, the sixth and final report from the institute’s Joint U.S.-Russia Working Group on Afghan Narcotrafficking, which provides a comprehensive and updated assessment of the Afghan drug trade and the role that both the United States and Russia might be able to play in countering this shared threat.

The Joint Policy Assessment represents a consensus assessment by both U.S. and Russian technical and policy experts and is intended to serve as a toolkit based on which relevant stakeholders can formulate policy solutions on cooperative bilateral and multilateral measures to reduce the threat of Afghan narcotrafficking. These key stakeholders include policy officials and interlocutors in the United States, Russia, Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, as well as regional and global organizations.

“The scale and intensity of the Afghan narcotrafficking threat has increased in past years, and despite differences in the national priorities and interests of the United States and Russia, this remains an issue of mutual strategic concern for the two countries and the region as a whole,” notes Ambassador Cameron Munter, CEO & President of the EastWest Institute. “It is critical for both countries to manage and mitigate the Afghan narcotrafficking threat and foster cooperation on this issue—even in this prohibitive climate for improved U.S.-Russia relations.”

The final installment under EWI’s Afghan Narcotrafficking series, the Joint Policy Assessment follows five successful consensus-based reports: Afghan Narcotrafficking: A Joint Threat Assessment (2013); Afghan Narcotrafficking: Post-2014 Scenarios (2015); Afghan Narcotrafficking: The State of Afghanistan's Borders (2015); Afghan Narcotrafficking: Finding an Alternative to Alternative Development (2016); and Afghan Narcotrafficking: Illicit Financial Flows (2017).

Established in 2011, the Working Group has also garnered positive feedback and support from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation (FSKN), in addition to various multilateral organizations/agencies such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Fully committed to the critical importance of Afghanistan, and the urgent need for continued U.S.-Russia cooperation, the EastWest Institute will establish a new Joint Working Group to assess the threat of terrorism in the war-torn country. Over the course of two years, the Working Group plans to convene in Moscow, Washington, D.C., Brussels and Astana and produce a joint threat assessment, which will be disseminated to key policy officials and interlocutors.

Please click here for the full report.

Click here for the executive summary.

Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment

EWI Releases Joint U.S.-Russia Report on Terrorist Threat in Afghanistan

The EastWest Institute (EWI) today released Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment, the culminating report from the institute’s Joint U.S.-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism in Afghanistan. Authored by American and Russian contributors, the report provides a timely, even-handed assessment of terrorism and armed conflict in Afghanistan, while also exploring the counterterrorism agenda in the broader geopolitical context of U.S.-Russia relations.

“In spite of ongoing tensions between the United States and Russia, Afghanistan and counterterrorism have remained rare dynamic areas for constructive, bilateral dialogue,” said Vladimir Ivanov, director of the Working Group and EWI’s Russia and the United States program. “At this critical juncture in Afghanistan’s road to peace, and as violence continues to plague the country, it is more important than ever for the U.S. and Russia to better align their counterterrorism and peace-making efforts, not just for the safety and stability of Afghanistan, but for the region and world.”

Click here for the full report. The Russian translation of Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment will be made available in June 2020.

Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment is intended to serve as an analytical tool for policymakers and an impetus for joint U.S.-Russia action. The report provides an overview of the security situation and peace process in Afghanistan, taking into account U.S. and Russian policies, priorities and interests; surveys the militant terrorist groups in and connected to Afghanistan and explores the security interests of various regional stakeholders vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Challenges relating to border management, arms trafficking and terrorist financing in Afghanistan are also briefly addressed.

Launched in October 2017, the Working Group convened U.S. and Russian policy and technical experts in Moscow, Washington, D.C., Brussels and Vienna over the course of two years. The Working Group has since garnered positive feedback and support from key interlocutors, including the U.S. Department of State, U.S Department of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Water Security and Disaster Management in Asia

On March 2-4, the EastWest Institute (EWI) and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), in concert with the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) and Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks (COSATT), convened a high-level dialogue entitled: “Water Security and Disaster Management in Asia” in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The dialogue, second in the project series, brought together experts from both the public and private sectors in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives to jointly analyze threats to water security in Asia in the face of worsening hydro-meteorological disasters due to climate change. The two-day dialogue consisted of six panel discussions on varied topics related to the politicization of water security, including the economic vulnerabilities of the water crisis and stakeholder engagement, among others. 


Vice Admiral KKVPH De Silva
Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy

Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh 
Observer Research Foundation-Kolkata

Mr. Dipak Gyawali
Former Minister of Water Resources of Nepal

Mr. Ikram Sehgal
Pathfinder Group Pakistan

Dr. Jayanta Bandyopadhyay
Observer Research Foundation

Dr. Khondaker Azharul Haq
Global Water Partnership South Asia

Mr. Ibrahim Zuhuree
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Maldives

Mr. Ahmad Rafay Alam
Punjab Environment Protection Council; Pakistan Climate Change Council

Dr. Damodar Pokharel
Nepal Centre for Disaster Management

Mr. Shafqat Munir
Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies

Dr. Uttam Sinha
Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

Dr. Suba Chandran Durai
National Institute of Advanced Studies

Ms. Dharisha Mirando
China Water Risk

Ms. Ailiya Naqvi
Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research

Ms. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Observer Research Foundation – New Delhi

Ms. Ruwanthi Jayasekara
Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka

Mr. Nisar A. Memon
Water Environment Forum, Pakistan

Mr. Kumar Pandey
Independent Power Producers’ Association of Nepal

Ms. Mallika Joseph
Chanakya Chakra


Rear Admiral (RNR) D C Gunawardena
Sri Lankan Navy

Dr. Christian Hübner
Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung RECAP

Mr. Nishchal Pandey
Centre for South Asian Studies

Dr. Walter Ladwig
EastWest Institute


This roundtable dialogue on “Water Security and Disaster Management in Asia” was made possible through the partnership and generous support of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung|RECAP, Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) and Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks (COSATT).

How China Can Offer Pakistan a Path From the Precipice

Valued at $62 billion, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a focal point of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s ambitious undertaking to enhance connectivity between Asia, Europe, and Africa. CPEC promises to create economic prosperity by turning Gwadar, Pakistan, into a trade hub that links China to the rest of Asia and Europe. However, with Pakistan’s economy suffering and in the midst of a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, Islamabad has been more carefully scrutinizing CPEC’s affordability. Pakistan has been coming to terms with the massive, unsustainable amount of Chinese loans it has taken to implement these projects.

Six years into this initiative, Beijing is beginning to acknowledge the growing international criticism about its distortive lending practices, and it is pledging to instill a greater level of openness, transparency, and sustainability. The Chinese government is taking steps to not only help Pakistan, which has been dubbed its “all-weather friend,” to restore its economic balance, but also to realize the true promise of CPEC.

Click here to read the full article on RealClearWorld

Pakistan: Imran Khan's Economic Challenges

After almost 22 years of political struggle, Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have finally emerged victorious in what appears to be, despite allegations, one of the most civil electoral exercises the country has witnessed in the last few decades. Pakistan’s general elections mark the second successful democratic transition of the government, which in and of itself represents a tremendous victory and promising step for the future.

However, the man soon to be appointed for the top job in governing one of the most geostrategically important, yet turbulent, countries in the world has a huge responsibility riding on his shoulders. Khan’s primary voter base, the Pakistani youth, are earnestly looking to him as a pioneer of a new political era,  at a critical juncture when Pakistan is battling a serious debt crisis and facing a policy predicament in light of China’s growing economic foothold in the country. Given his claims to be a transformative leader, Khan’s political momentum and commitment toward the welfare of the youth will profoundly determine the country’s position in face of intransigent socioeconomic challenges.

Read the full article here in The Diplomat.

Image: "Konferenz: Pakistan und der Westen - Imr" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by boellstiftung

Pakistan’s Place in a Globalized World

EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal writes about Pakistan's role in the post-Cold War world.

In an increasingly globalised world, we are geographically very beneficially at the crossroads separating South Asia with Central Asia and the Middle East, this must be converted to our geo-political advantage. The new nation state of Pakistan felt quite vulnerable because of Indian hostility on its eastern borders and by Afghanistan's obstinate refusal on the western borders to recognize the newly formed state. The early compulsions formulating Pakistan's foreign policy were such that we had no choice but to find strong support in the world to help guard its very existence. There is no certainty as to what would have happened if Pakistan had opted for Soviet Union's support instead of choosing US as an ally. Given the social and mental setting of our early leaders, the evolving global cold war scenario found Pakistan aligned with the US as a natural choice, the Pakistan Army relying fully on American weaponry and equipment for its defensive needs. Our membership in SEATO and CENTO severely limited our foreign policy options.

US-Pakistan relations have been a roller-coaster ride from the outset. Not many remember American Gary Powers piloting US spy plane U-2 from Badaber air base near Peshawar before being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Our precarious situation was highlighted by Khrushchev publicly putting us in the Soviet nuclear crosshairs. Though for decades Pakistan continued solidly siding and furthering US national security interests in the region and the world, the 1963 border agreement with China went against the grain. Similarly our interests were always not identical as the 80s Afghan War of the eighties and the one since 2001 has shown. Issues Pakistan considered dear to our national interest like the Kashmir and the crisis in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) never got more than verbal support. The Nixon-Kissinger "tilt" towards Pakistan involved only a symbolic show of force in the Indian Ocean by the US Sixth Fleet. The US has always come to our rescue with massive aid during national disasters like floods, cyclones, earthquakes etc, otherwise millions of lives would have been lost. For this we must remain ever grateful.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the bipolar world which came into existence after the World War II came to an end. The so-called 'non-aligned' bloc of which India was a driving force lost its importance even before the demise of the Soviet Union. This was capitalism's final victory over all alternative ways of life and development, the US war machine seen as vitally contributing to this victory. For a couple of decades, the world became unipolar, the US being the only superpower standing after almost five decades' of competition for global supremacy. Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' perceived Islam and the Muslim world that owned a large part of the oil and gas reserves of the planet as their new enemy. For a couple of years Russia, the defeated giant, was graciously given the role of a junior partner in the global game.

The happenings of 9/11 triggered a new wave of global polarization and warfare kept the world occupied while quite unnoticed the collapse of the Soviet Union saw a China-Russia rapprochement begin to take place. Declaring in 1992 that they were pursuing a "constructive partnership"; in 1996, they progressed toward a "strategic partnership"; and in 2001 signed a treaty of "friendship and cooperation" that led to the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Eurasian in its design this new organisation reminds one of the European Union (EU) in its principles of association. Drawing new members it has developed into a new political, economic and security-related focal point that has quietly changed the relations in Asia. India and Pakistan together have becoming new members since 2017but that has not automatically solved our problems. As the sudden thaw in cross-border firing across the LOC has shown, could this be changing? This new SCO platform promises stability and options for negotiated resolution of crises. While the Arab Middle East is up in flames and destabilized for the time, the Asian mainland has generally avoided such turmoil. Without much fanfare the economic counterpart of Baghdad Pact and the CENTO, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD),has been replaced by the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Compared to three countries forming the RCD,ECO has more than a dozen countries of the region as members. Could this be the harbinger of a Baghdad Pact "in reverse", with Russia and China the new sponsors for Iran, Turkey and Pakistan instead of the US and UK?

Despite coming in for constant criticism, Pakistan's foreign policy has astutely availed the new opportunities. Diversifying our security-related cooperation towards China and Russia, we have taken a hands-on attitude in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan. The Army has succeeded in stabilizing the tribal areas by clearing the Haqqanis and other militant bases in Swat and FATA as well as fencing the vulnerable border to avoid illegal border crossing of militants. The legal foundation for a full-fledged integration of the tribal areas into Pakistan to bring them at par with the rest of the country has been laid. Despite the anti-Pakistani attitude and consequent rhetoric among certain circles of the Afghan civil and military, the US must take cognizance of our vital role in any initiative to achieve their goals in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is the crossroads bridge between the different regions of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Our foreign policy commitments have to mirror our special responsibility to keep the region stable. Pakistan needs to work hard to improve relations with our immediate neighbours, this forbids our joining any bloc or having relationships with one country to the exclusion of others. The decision not to join the war in Yemen but to join the Saudi-initiated military alliance against counter-terrorism is an example of how to keep a balance between our next-door neighbour Iran and an old friend Saudi Arabia. Similarly we must maintain the balance between an old ally US, our deep friendship with China and the newly developing relations with Russia. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a great economic force-multiplier for us, it is fortunately for us a Chinese economic strategic compulsion. We need to work hard to revive our relationship with the US to an even keel. Pakistan's national interest lies in being a member of no bloc but to be friends with all the blocs.

Read the piece on Business Recorder.


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