Asian fault lines of Biden’s war on Russia

M. K. Bhadrakumar

Indian Punchline | April 11, 2022

As relations with Tokyo sour, Moscow beefs up the coastal defence systems on the Kuril Islands that Japan claims as its own

The tremors of the United States’ tensions with Russia playing out in Europe are being felt in different ways already in Asia. The hypothesis of Ukraine being in Europe and the conflict being all about European security is delusional.

From Kazakhstan to Myanmar, from Solomon Islands to the Kuril Islands, from North Korea to Cambodia, from China to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the fault lines are appearing.

To be sure, extra-regional powers had a hand in the failed colour revolution recently to overthrow the established government in Kazakhstan, a hotly contested geopolitical landmass two-thirds the size of India, bordering both China and Russia, Washington’s sworn adversaries. Thanks to swift Russian intervention, supported by China, a regime change was averted. 

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Reflections on Events in Afghanistan

M. K. Bhadrakumar

Indian Punchline

11. US slips out of Kabul but is vengeful

The back-to-back press briefings on August 30 by General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr, commander, US Central Command and Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, on Afghanistan conveys the picture of a superpower badly bruised and embittered but remaining vengeful. This is bad news. 

Gen. McKenzie said, “Taliban had been very — very pragmatic and very business-like… they were actually very helpful and useful to us as we closed down operations”. But then, Americans wouldn’t even share with the Taliban the exact time of their “tactical exfiltration”. Nor was there any “discussion of turning anything over.” 

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12. To recognise, or not to recognise, that’s the question

At the weekly briefing in Moscow on Thursday by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated that Russia will consider recognising Afghanistan’s new authorities once an inclusive government is formed in the country. 

To quote Zakharova, “We call for the establishment of an inclusive coalition government in Afghanistan that would involve all of the country’s ethnic and political forces, including ethnic minorities, so the question of recognising the country’s authorities will rise after the process is over.” (TASS

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13. Panjshir revolt becomes footnote

At the daily foreign ministry briefing in Beijing on Friday, Russian correspondent of Sputnik asked spokesperson Ambassador Wang Wenbin how China viewed the Taliban decision to attack Panjshir and how this will affect the Afghan situation. 

Ambassador Wang replied that “it is China’s sincere hope that all parties in Afghanistan will go with the Afghan people’s eager aspiration and the international community’s expectation to resolve differences through consultation and ensure a steady transition so that the people of this war-torn country can live free from war and conflict and build lasting peace at an early date.” 

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14. The fall of Panjshir

Panjshir has fallen to the Taliban with a bang — and a whimper. The bang is because a 40-year old legend lies shattered, the legend of the invincibility of Panjshir Valley. And the whimper is because the short-lived ‘resistance’ had a tame ending. 

A BBC report said the revolt’s two top leaders Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh were not even in Panjshir during the past 4 days at least but had left for Tajikistan and were apparently leading the so-called ‘resistance’ via Twitter. It may seem farcical and will have deleterious consequences. 

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Reflections on Events in Afghanistan

M. K. Bhadrakumar

Indian Punchline

The Taliban fighters posing for family photo and relaxing in the Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug 15, 2021

1. Collapse of the Afghan Army 

Social media reported that at the Kabul residence of the Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib who post-haste fled to Tajikistan on Saturday with President Ashraf Ghani, three Toyota Landcruiser SUVs were found stacked with American dollar bills. 

Mohib was the shadow king of Afghanistan. He controlled the country’s defence budget. In the coming year, he would have handled over $3 billion, which the US has earmarked as assistance for the Afghan armed forces. The Taliban spoiled his party. 

The mystery of the Afghan armed forces losing the will to fight is actually no mystery at all. The main reason has been the misappropriation of defence budget. In Ghani’s set-up, Mohib, his trusted flunky, controlled the Defence Ministry — not the Defence Minister — and he obviously did well for himself — and probably Ghani too. Time will tell. 

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2. The green shoots of politics are reappearing 

The explosion of life is unstoppable. The first buds are edging their roots from the dirt no sooner than Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul on Sunday, without telling anyone, carrying a massive loot of ill-begotten wealth stolen from his people. And the green shoots of political recovery are appearing. 

Tense and urgent care is needed. The region is rallying. Pakistan has taken the lead. 

On Sunday afternoon, a galaxy of senior Afghan politicians, largely drawn from the erstwhile Northern Alliance of the late 1990s, arrived in Islamabad to cogitate with the Pakistani leadership regarding the mainstreaming of the Taliban. The delegation comprised three top figures from Panjshir Valley, veteran Hazara leaders, the Jamiat-e Islami, Afghan Parliament (including, interestingly, the eldest son of the Tajik leader from Mazar-i-Sharif Mohammed Atta Noor.) 

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3. The Return of the Native 

There is immense curiosity about the Taliban’s first moves following the dramatic return to Kabul after two decades. The big question on everyone’s mind is whether the Taliban has ‘changed’ since the 1990s. Opinions vary. But, so far at least, there are no signs of a return of repressive authoritarian rule. 

The stunning press conference on Tuesday in Kabul by the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid distinctly exuded an air of moderation and tolerance to dissenting voices. 

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4. The ‘X’ Factor in Kabul 

The Chinese commentaries vehemently reject the western claims of democratic transformation in Afghanistan. A conversation on Tuesday between the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his American counterpart Antony Blinken (at the latter’s initiative) brought this out sharply.

Wang told Blinken that ‘facts have once again proved that mechanically copying an imported foreign model cannot readily be fitted to the use in a country with completely different history, culture and national conditions, and ultimately, is unlikely to establish itself.’

Wang said that without the support of people, ‘a government cannot stand’, and the use of power and military means to solve problems will only cause more problems, and ‘lessons in this respect deserve serious reflection.’ Wang underscored that Afghanistan’s open and inclusive political framework ought to be ‘in accordance with its own national situations.’ read more

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Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Routine Immunisation in Karachi, Pakistan

Subhash Chandir, Danya Arif Siddiqi, Hamidreza Setayesh and Aamir Javed Khan

The Lancet | June 29, 2020

Open Access | Published:June 29, 2020 | DOI:
The swift spread of COVID-19 has upended health systems and affected all health services. The disruption of routine immunisation services could start secondary outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and also worsen the longstanding inequity in immunisation coverage, especially in rapidly urbanising cities. Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and the largest megacity in Pakistan, is home to more than 16 million people.

 Despite the city’s status as the industrial hub of the country, Karachi has seen a decline in the delivery of health-care services over the past decade. The city has numerous informal settlements, ranging from dense, urban slums near the city centre to less dense, urban sprawl fading into periurban areas. An estimated 7 million people live in these informal settlements.

 These vast aggregations of underserved urban poor are the most susceptible to debilitating diseases, given that they live in densely packed areas with poor access to health services and low rates of immunisation coverage.


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Pakistan’s COVID-19 response is eroding trust of people in institutions, says report

Peoples Dispatch | July 21, 2020

COVID-19 in Pakistan
(Photo: AFP)

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that the COVID-19 crisis has led to further erosion of trust among the people towards the country’s political institutions. In its latest fact-finding report released on July 19, the HRCP said that “the structural imbalances of Pakistan’s polity, manifested in the primacy of unelected institutions, became crystallized in a crisis of this proportion.”

“The government’s overall response has been marred by inconsistent messaging at the top, which must be rectified by ensuring that the federal and provincial governments present a united front in this time of crisis,” the HRCP report added.

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Kashmir on the edge of the abyss


 The New York Review of Books | August 13, 2019

Security personnel patrol during a lockdown in Srinagar on August 10, 2019. (Photo by TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

In an unsettled world, amid violent wars and imperial occupations, with all norms ruthlessly cast aside, did Kashmir really have a chance to be free? As unrest spreads, India, the vaunted “world’s largest democracy,” has imposed a total communications blackout. Kashmir is cut off from the world. With even the most conciliatory and collaborationist political leaders now under house arrest, one can only fear the worst for the rest of the region’s population.

For almost half a century, Kashmir has been ruled from Delhi with the utmost brutality. In 2009, the discovery of some 2,700 unmarked graves in three of the region’s twenty-two districts alone confirmed what had long been suspected: a decades-long history of disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Torture and rape of both women and men has been reported, but since the Indian Army is effectively above the law, its soldiers have impunity in perpetrating these atrocities and nobody can be charged with war crimes.Read More »

Four Killed in Balochistan in Second Train Attack in Two Weeks

by Gul Yousafzai

The Wire | March 18, 2019

Quetta: Four people were killed and 10 injured in Pakistan on Sunday when a bomb went off on a train track in the resource-rich province of Balochistan, where separatist rebels have been fighting the security forces for years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but ethnic Baluch separatists, fighting what they call the unfair exploitation of their province’s gas and other resources, have attacked trains in the past.

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Challenges for Pakistan — Relations with the U.S., Afghanistan, China, Iran and Religious Extremists


Photo of conference booklet by Ann Wright

I was in Pakistan 10 days ago speaking at the conference “The Geopolitics of Knowledge and Emerging World Order” organized by the Pakistani National Defense University. The symposium brought together scholars and journalists from six countries at the top military university in Pakistan. My contribution was “How Perceived Exceptionalism, Racism, Hatred, Bigotry and Rejection of the Rule of Law Can/Will Dethrone an Empire.”Read More »

Pakistan: Miranshah, Lawrence of Arabia and Rani Mukherjee

by Sanjay Kapoor

Pakistan army’s attempt to rebuild a war-battered Miranshah in FATA is also premised on creating a narrative and symbols that shows the presence of a foreign hand — India

Before Miranshah in Pakistan’s Waziristan was left in a state of disrepair after the Pakistan army launched a military operation — Zarb-e-Azb — in 2014 to oust the entrenched Pakistan Taliban, this frontier town had built a reputation for Pashtun assertion and the giddy romanticism of the Raj days.

In the cavernous passage to the briefing room of the army headquarters in Miranshah hang yellowed framed images that show giggly wives of British officers juxtaposed with those of hardy Pashtuns, attired in their flowing long shirts and turbans sporting their rifles. Myths about the Pashtuns and the tough terrains they lived in were further served by the mysterious posting of the Lawrence of Arabia or TE Lawrence to Miranshah as a “clerk” in the Royal Air Force in 1926. There was bewilderment in the barracks of Miranshah as to why a man whose exploits in Arabia redefined a region would settle for such a lowly job. No one believed the reasons why he was in this frontier post, which was, in Lawrence’s words, just a fort and an airstrip. Later historians believed he was an imperialist spy planted to overthrow the anti-British Afghan government. Lawrence’s ‘somnolent’ stay in Miranshah or stormier happenings in this region before 1947 are now confined to entries in Wikipedia or blogs of those obsessed with the Raj era. Over the years, many myths have fed the numerous stories from the bygone era.

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Meet the Man Who Grew a (Small) Forest in the Heart of Karachi

by Zofeen T. Ebrahim

The Wire | April 24, 2018

Meet the Man Who Grew a (Small) Forest in the Heart of Karachi

Shahzad Qureshi standing inside his urban forest. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/ The Third Pole

As temperatures rise globally, and urbanisation pushes people into concretised spaces, cities are struggling to deal with the negative health impacts. These include not just increased discomfort and exhaustion but respiratory problems, headaches, heat stroke and even heat-related mortality. The last is a fresh memory for the residents of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, due to the heatwave of 2015 which killed over 1,200 people.Read More »