(The Daily Star) - The Annual Jamboree of global defence leaders at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore is much more than just a talkathon. Amidst the wining and dining, and in the chambers and corridors, policymakers and thought leaders get the opportunity to interact with one another intensely over a weekend. They try to make sense of how the regional critical security and related issues are evolving, against the backdrop of a rising Asia and a burgeoning superpower competition in what is now being increasingly viewed as the “Indo-Pacific Region”. Over the last several years the United States seemed to enjoy a walk-over vis-à-vis the agenda in the absence of senior Chinese protagonists. It invariably resulted in a spot of “China-bashing”, and a consequent erosion of its significance, the high quality of discourses notwithstanding.
Only a few would be persuaded that President Donald Trump is deeply informed about any moderately complex subject. Ballistic missiles is one such. In fact, such a notion becomes firm when one considers his expression of bewilderment when Japan did not shoot down the North Korean “Hwasong-15” missile in flight just as the Saudis had done the Houthi projectile fired from Yemen. Anyone with even meagre understanding of missile technology would know that thetwo situations were not the same. And that the former action would have been well-nigh impossible with available Japanese capability.So when he caught out the Russians cheating on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty of 1987, he took many by surprise. The Russians might have indeed tried to pull wool over American eyes by quietly deploying a new medium range weapon in violation of that landmark agreement. This is not to say that Mr Trump came to this conclusion on his own. At least it was apparent that he heeded counsel in this regard, which in itself is a silver lining of no mean consequence.
America has had a fairly inscrutable history. Haven to the oppressed in the European continent, its early settlers, while relishing the fruits of freedom, pretty much exterminated its indigenous inhabitants. At the same time, as a reaction to absolutist monarchies elsewhere in the world it created pluralist institutions. In this “New World” the Lord did not supposedly anoint Kings investing them divine rights, but imparted them directly to the people through the Constitution. While their leaders penned and pronounced praises to liberty (in the “Federalist Papers” written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, for instance), notions of equality were not extended to their black African slaves. While they were explicit in expressions of their new world coming to the aid of the old, their entry into the Great Wars of the twentieth century was actually effected only when their interests were directly threatened. They initiated the use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction in warfare, only to champion their elimination when others, particularly not of their ilk, sought to acquire them. While their intelligence agents relentlessly worked towards regime-changes in other countries, they themselves reacted adversely when others allegedly sought to do the same in theirs. So, how was it that America, such a bundle of contradictions, able to project itself as a beacon of morality on the international scene over such a sustained period of time?
In my previous avatar as a diplomat, like much of the rest of the world, I saw myself as an ardent advocate for change in Myanmar. It was in the grip of Generals who ran a horrendously repressive regime. In 2009, urging calm on those who wished to come down hard on the ruling junta, I had written in a publication: “The main challenge with Myanmar is to find the right balance between the carrot and the stick. The balance needs to tilt in favour of the carrot.” A decade down the line, circumstances require me to alter that thesis. Today, I would opt for the stick. And much of the rest of the world would agree.
The relationship between a smaller and a larger neighbourly state, as also between a weaker and stronger one, is often tricky on both sides. Though not always, it requires greater dexterity on the smaller protagonist. This is because more “power” tends to reside with the larger, which is also usually the stronger partner.
Shakespeare had once observed, through his character Marcellus addressing Horatio in the drama Hamlet, that there was something rotten in the State of Denmark. Thereafter, he sought to analyse those remarks by weaving an incredibly complex scenario that focussed on the woefully morbid persona of his brooding and indecisive hero, Prince Hamlet. Were the English bard to return to the present times and be asked on his view as to what ails contemporary Pakistan, he would perhaps respond, with incontrovertible logic and certitude, that it is the economy. Prime Minister-elect Imran Khan would agree. Mr Khan would also conclude that the indecisiveness of the young Dane would be a luxury that he could ill afford.
A fundamental law of physics, also applicable to the social sciences, is that everything in nature is in a state of flux. The sage Heraclitus had said we never step into the same river twice. The flow of the river of life today has remarkably gained a momentum that is torrential. It gushes ahead washing away old values, norms, and the societal architecture that human mind and endeavour had conceived and created over a long period of time. As it leads us into the digital post-modern era dominated by big data, cloud-computing, and artificial intelligence, it also impacts on the politics, economics and sociology of how we organise our lives.
As one heads towards the elections in Pakistan on July 25, the main question in concerned minds is whether Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is going to be Pakistan's next prime minister. Mr Khan has much going for him. He is a refreshingly fresh face in high political office untainted by corruption with rivals whose reputations stand in stark contrast. He is the blue-eyed boy of Pakistan's “angels”—also known as the military establishment—who see themselves as the “mirror image” of the Pakistani society with scant respect for civilian political leaders drawn from feudal and business backgrounds, most of whom they accuse of having exploited the people. And finally, for a nation that thirsts for glory that has generally eluded it, Mr Khan is someone who earned huge admiration by winning for his people the World Cup in cricket, the holy grail of recognition in South Asia. Undeniably, Mr Khan has also toiled long and hard for victory at the polls. Is he going to get it? The question merits analysis.