CHINA PAKISTAN ECONOMIC CORRIDOR: ITS IMPORTANCE AND IMPLICATIONS

2016 surely proved to be a roller-coaster ride on the global stage. The Colombians struck a peace deal with the guerrilla group, the coup in Turkey failed, Britain voted to leave the EU, Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States and Eastern Aleppo fell, to name a few. Another milestone in economic partnership has been the development project of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is an ambitious infrastructure project of Pakistan to solidify its support with China. This “game changing” move has given rise to a few questions that need to be answered: “Is China about to transform Pakistan?”, “How much is this of concern to India?” and “Could China be having other ulterior motives?”

A BRIEF OVERVIEW:

The US $50 billion (INR 3.4 lakh crore), 3000km CPEC is basically a group of projects that will connect Kashgar in Western China to the Arabian sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan. It is a part of advancement of China’s desire to seek for a quicker, and a more direct route to the Middle East and the Western world. It involves the construction of a network of highways, railways, pipelines and fibre optic cables. It is considered to be an extension of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Through this project, China can substantially reduce the distance covered in the existing route to Middle East – through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca – by almost 10000km. The 15 year project has been partially funded by China, and is believed to improve the economy of Pakistan and create lakhs of jobs.

PAKISTAN’S GAIN:

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Pakistan views the corridor as a game changer, as it believes that it would build world class infrastructure, increase revenue for the government and increase foreign investments. Also, it would supply oil and natural gas through the proposed pipelines and create employment opportunities for the youth of Pakistan. CPEC alone is expected to create 7,00,000 jobs for Pakistan. It is also believed to boost tourism in a few regions, especially for mountaineers, due to their proximity to some of the ‘eight-thousanders’ (peaks above 8000m).

Pakistan is facing a serious energy shortage of 4,500MW, but a private consortium would develop 10,000 MW energy generating capacity by 2020. This would greatly help Pakistan to bring down its energy deficiency to zero. Ultimately, CPEC is extremely important to Pakistan and it cannot afford to lose this opportunity. There is more for Pakistan to gain, considering the long term economic impacts.

CHINA’S PERSPECTIVE:

China considers these development initiatives a potential source of stability and prosperity for both countries. From a Chinese perspective, cooperation in the areas of security and economics are closely intertwined, and improvements on one side can improve the other. It is almost as though security and economics are two separate wheels on the same vehicle, and both need to be spinning to move things forward.

More broadly, the CPEC has to be understood in the context of China’s strategic interests in East Asia. China hopes it can expand its strategic space by heading west. Pakistan serves as a crucial bridge between China and Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Security and stability in Pakistan will make it possible for China to exercise greater influence in these regions and to ensure security at home. This is why China is willing to pour vast amounts of resources into the economic corridor—based on the logic of improving security through economic development.

THE RISKS INVOLVED:

In my opinion, the security, political and cultural risks must not be overlooked.

The first of these is obviously, terrorism. It was not a surprise that India labelled Pakistan as the ‘Ivy League of terrorism’, given the terrorist organizations being nurtured on its home soil. It has long affected Pakistan’s internal stability and security, the situation seems to be showing no signs of improvement. Because the CPEC is so important to the government, the construction sites and personnel could become targets for religious and nationalist extremists. The Pakistani authorities have promised to provide security to Chinese workers, but this is a short term solution. It is uncertain if over time, Pakistan would maintain its promise by deploying the military and ensuring the safety of the workers.

Secondly, Pakistan’s domestic politics is also important to the CPEC’s success. The country’s political system has never been particularly stable. Political power oscillates between military and civilian leaders. Pakistan’s traditional political culture, which is almost feudal in nature, also continues to play an important role. Powerful families based in different provinces, such as the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, have typically held political power. Behind the party politics are local interest groups associated with these families. Various parties within Pakistan have disagreed a lot about how CPEC transportation routes should be mapped out. The debate over which route the CPEC would follow has caused and will cause substantial delays.

And finally, the cultural concerns. As China and Pakistan gradually expand cooperation, there will be an increasing number of Chinese corporations investing in Pakistan. Different cultural practices and ways of thinking could cause misunderstandings, and this could negatively affect CPEC projects. For these corporations to be successful, they will need to understand local cultures, norms, and rules. Having information about and services for doing business in Pakistan is also crucial for Chinese corporations.

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INDIA’S CONCERNS:

One of India’s major concerns is that the corridor is passing through the disputed territory of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). This is a violation of the sovereignty of the Indian territory and hence, India has been quite vocal about this. Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Chinese President Xi Jinping the two countries need to be “sensitive” to each other’s strategic interests. If China continues with this project, it means that they consider this region to be a part of Pakistan, thus infringing India’s sovereignty.

Secondly, China will get additional access to the Pakistan territory and the Arabian Sea. It is a geo-political advantage for them. Also, considering the fact that the friendship between China and Pakistan has been lasting for the past five decades and the recent backing of Pakistan by China in the United Nations against India, China shall back Pakistan militarily in case of a skirmish with India. India must take all steps that it can to sabotage its development, if it still wants to remain the superpower in the region.

The insurgency and the militant groups of Balochistan needs no introduction. Ever since the mention of the ‘B’ word by PM Modi in the Independence Day speech last year, it has left the Pakistan government furious and has even accused India on conducting terrorist activities in the region. Balochistan is one of the least developed provinces of Pakistan and epicenter of CPEC. Pakistani government has been ignoring the Baloch region since its incorporation into Pakistan. At the time of independence Balochistan was an independent princely state but was later annexed by Pakistan. Since its annexation the demand and struggle for independence is going on which is being suppressed from time to time by excessive use of force by Pakistani military. Balochistan’s Gwadar city is the crux of CPEC but people are raising their voice against this project. Hence, Pakistan has much to do and a long way to go in order to instill confidence in the people of this region.

CONCLUSION:

If we look ahead with the hope of the CPEC dream coming true, it would be a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan. China will use Pakistan as a pathway to increase its access to global markets, and in doing so, the economy of Pakistan would be accelerated. To be frank, all India can do is to wait and watch. It is not under the power of India to impose sanctions or condemn this act on a global stage. The best India can expect is to hope that this turns tables around and becomes a burden for Pakistan and China, thereby decreasing the economy further of Pakistan.

– Sundaresan Manickam

Macron – Europe’s Saviour?

To greater convergence, we need more integration.

– Emmanuel Macron

 

The world can learn a lesson or two from the French, especially with respect to the art of decision-making. The French people seem to understand their country and politics better than Americans could understand theirs, as is evident with the conclusion of the recent French Presidential Elections. Emerging triumphant over his rivals, Emmanuel Macron has brought back hope to his nation, and possibly, to Europe as well. Since taking office four weeks ago, his star has been shining bright, restoring a sense of national pride, and his words have spread a sense of relief after many believed that France would follow America’s example and elect the next Trump.

 

After Obamamania spread through America in 2008 and NaMomania spread through India in 2014, 2017 is seeing the advent of Macronmania. Let us examine how a man on a mission changed the entire political scenario. In a country where political careers have traditionally been built over decades, Macron took the risk of founding his own centrist party from scratch rather than seek the nomination of the right or left. It was a gamble that paid off in the end, as he won the vote of those disillusioned with the existing political class. However, all was not all bright and sunny for him. His campaign was initially met with cynicism, with rivals writing off the ambitious upstart as too inexperienced, but Macron kept moving forward, paying no heed to his critics.

 

He used his image as a moderniser to draw huge crowds. He modelled his party on Obama’s successful 2008 campaign. Luck favoured him, as a scandal engulfed the conservative Republicans while the Socialists had a downfall. This fuelled his rise to the top, as he led the battle against far-right Marine Le Pen. And we know what happened next – Macron beat her soundly and went on to win the elections.

 

Since his inauguration, Macron has sought to restore lost grandeur to the presidency, delivering his victory speech in front of the Louvre museum — a former royal palace — and hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin at Versailles palace. He has also kept a tight rein on communications, to minimize the risk of slip-ups and avoid the excessive media exposure soured voters on Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. His election also has brought about stability, both economic and political, in the European Union after the fiasco of BREXIT.

 

Recently, when US President, Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of America from the Paris Agreement, Macron sent out invitations to American researchers, with the perfect slogan- “MAKE OUR PLANET GREAT AGAIN”. While it is funny, using Trump’s election campaign slogan, this new recruitment effort is hardly the first time that Macron has stood up to Trump, or even to other world leaders. But it is the first tangible evidence we have that the new French president puts his money where his mouth his, and that is significant.

 

With world politics changing every moment, the world needs more progressive leaders to guide the people. Emmanuel Macron appears to be a leader that can do so. His start has certainly been dynamic, but will he be able to keep this up throughout his tenure? Will he bend to pressure from the US and from other sources? Will he stand-up to problems or will he find a way around them? Is he the man who will come to the rescue of Europe? Only time will reveal the answers.

 

– Aditya Ramaswami

India-Pakistan : A Face off, yet again.

18th May 2017 was a historic day, not only for the International Court of Justice but also for the doomed relations between the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It left those billion beholders on either side of the Line of Control, wade through a heap of emotions; those of shock, relief, grief, hope, distrust, anxiety, hate…and even more hate. It is sadder still to helplessly witness the ever-widening gorge between the two countries.

Amidst the developments in India and Pakistan, the Media has been the only source of information for the citizens. Hence, all that they have is a set of polarised views and completely different tales, from either side. To get a better idea of the extent of the polarisation, let us explore a few pivotal questions related to the entire case –

 

Who is Kulbhushan Jadhav?

 

Pakistan: An Indian national, who serves the Indian Navy. He is working as a spy for the Indian Intelligence agencies, under the pseudonym of Hossein Mubarak Patel. He was commissioned in the engineering branch of the Indian Navy in 1991 and has been involved in intelligence operations since 2003.

India:  An Indian national, who served the Indian Navy, but has had no contact with the government, since he left service in 2001. He runs a small business in the Iranian port cities of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas.

 

What is Jadhav’s role?

 

Pakistan: Jadhav is a spy, working for the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) for India and has been involved in subversive activities in Karachi and Balochistan. A confession video was released, where he admitted to all the above allegations.

India: Jadhav was abducted by last year, from the Iran-Pakistan border, by the Sunni Group Jaish-ul-Adl and Pakistan has fabricated the documents and the confession video.

 


What is the broil about?

 

India: Jadhav was sentenced to death on 10th April through a Field General Court Martial (FGMC). Firstly, Pakistan has made “egregious violations” of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963: India has been denied information regarding Jadhav’s trial and the request to consular access to Mr Jadhav over 15 times. Instead, Pakistan suggested Consular access only on the condition that India exchanges information regarding Jadhav’s activities in the home country.

Secondly, Indian intelligence officials have questioned the legality of an Army general court martial sentencing an unarmed foreigner like that.

Pakistan: The Vienna Convention provisions, according to Pakistan are not intended for a ‘spy’ involved in terror activities. According to the bilateral agreement of 2008, matters related to political and security issues will be decided on merit. As per that, there has been no violation. Moreover, Jadhav, who Pakistan views as a bigger threat to security than Ajmal Kasab, has been given 150 days to legally challenge his sentence.

Why ICJ?

India and Pakistan are signatories to the Optional Protocol of the Vienna Convention which deals with Compulsory Settlement of Disputes. As per the Protocol, disputes revolving around the interpretation or application of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations falls under “compulsory jurisdiction” of the ICJ.

 

What were the arguments at ICJ?

 

India: The country submitted a plea to stay the execution of the alleged Indian Spy, which was granted by the court on 10th May 2017. In the hearing at the Peace Palace, on 15th May, the Indian Counsel, Harish Salve pointed out that the “situation was grave” and Pakistan has “egregiously violated” the Vienna Convention of Consular Regulation. India felt extremely threatened by Pakistan on the security issues of the former Navy officer. Concerns were raised on Jadhav’s execution in Pakistan, even before the arguments concluded in the court. The 150-day window for him to challenge the judgement is no relief to India because no Pakistani Counsellor was willing to take up Jadhav’s appeal.

Pakistan: Pakistan’s Counsel, Khawar Qureshi QC rejected the projected urgency of the case. He also termed India’s allegations of the alleged abduction of the spy from Iran, as far-fetched. The Pakistani Defence Minister had earlier stated that Jadhav’s prosecution followed a “due legal process” and “there was nothing in the legal proceedings that was against the law”.  Pakistan also added that it would not allow concessions to any element who threatens the country’s stability and security.

After considering arguments from both sides of the table, the bench of U.N.’s highest court, comprising 11 judges, at the Peace Palace, announced the verdict, effectively laying a stay at the execution. President Ronny Abraham said, “The Court considers it a failure on the part of Pakistan to present counsellors to Jadhav”.

Amidst the clamour of the verdict, Indians were found heaving a sigh of relief, while the Pakistani Media was busy spilling some creative ink.

The entire episode just poses the following existential arguments: We say that humans are progressing to a better, more peaceful tomorrow. Has any nation ever gotten even remotely close to what that noble word means, by wallowing in the dirty pool of blame game and manipulation? How can two nations think of fostering good will, if they can’t respect each other’s point of view? Is Media – as the most important pillar of society, being responsible enough with its facts and opinion?  Finally, are we, as humans, doing any better at dealing with prejudice on the basis of religion and race?

All that the citizens of the two countries can do is, to wait and watch, hoping that their blood smeared history does not repeat itself.

– Aayushi Sharma

Anti-Ballistic Missile Technology – A sword or a shield?

In today’s world, with a persisting arms race that has resulted in a cut-throat competition among countries to emerge on top, constant development of new defence technologies has become a necessity. One such technological advancement, which can give any country an edge in the global arms race is the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM).

The term “Anti-Ballistic Missile” is a generic term conveying a system designed to intercept and destroy any type of ballistic threat. Along with the rocket, it also requires a radar to accurately pinpoint the trajectory of the incoming missile. It is usually done by first launching the interceptor missile to within a certain radius of the mid-flight ballistic missile and following it up with an explosion to destroy the ballistic missile or push it off its target.

The US, however, has been focusing on a more precision-based system, wherein the interceptor missile collides with the incoming projectile and uses its kinetic energy to make it deviate from its path. One major advantage of this system is that a nuclear tipped ballistic missile will not detonate upon a kinetic energy hit.

All ABM systems have been proven to be largely effective against short and medium range ballistic missiles, but intercepting an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) poses a serious challenge as they move too fast for most of these systems. Currently, only USA and Russia possess the technology to intercept incoming ICBMs.

One situation where the ABM technology will probably fail is against Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs), which can launch multiple ballistic missiles at a time from a single source to multiple locations. Therefore, ABM technology can be relied on against countries that pose a comparatively smaller threat, like North Korea or Iran. However, if the likes of China, USA and Russia are involved, then it is a different ball game altogether.

Cost wise, ABM technology is more expensive and much harder to procure than the corresponding ballistic missiles that it can take down. This is because of the much higher accuracy required to counter a moving target. In addition, if an ABM system is designed to effectively take down and MIRV threat, then the already high cost increases exponentially. This is why many countries have preferred to go with conventional ballistic missiles as deterrents rather than investing on an ABM system.

The recent news about the installation of the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system in South Korea raises the question about the role that ABM technology plays in world politics. Although technically made for “defence” purposes, these systems have serious abilities to undermine the strength of the enemy, hence disturbing the balance of power.

This is not the first time that there has been a controversy over these systems, causing many countries to be concerned about the implications. The Anti- Ballistic missile treaty of 1972 between the USA and USSR is testimony of this fact. The treaty limited the number of ABMs that the countries can possess and also the number of sites that they can be kept in. However, the treaty was withdrawn by the US in 2002 as it felt the need to be able to develop effective missile interceptors in case of a threat by a “rogue actor”.

Coming to the recent issue in the Korean Peninsula – there is a sense of “déjà vu“ that recent events provide. In 2013, at the time of tensions between North and South Korea, Kim Jong-un had threatened South Korea of a nuclear weapon strike, and even talked about using nuclear tipped missiles against US bases. US back then had claimed to send their THAAD missile defence system to South Korea as a means of protection. Now, this move not only angered North Korea but also neighbouring China, whose security could have been undermined by the deployment of this system in the Korean Peninsula. This was considered to be one of the reasons why China took up measures such as targeted sanctions against North Korea, in spite of being its only ally, to bring the situation back to normal. As a matter of fact, the THAAD system did not even reach South Korea in 2013. Possibly the threat itself did the trick.

In the present day, with North Korea staging a strong display of Artillery and the US conducting joint military drills with South Korea and Japan, tensions in the Korean Peninsula are rising. The USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived on April 25th at the South Korean port of Busan for what seemed to be a routine exercise by the US seventh fleet. Simultaneously, two American destroyers conducted maritime exercises with ships from South Korea and Japan.

On the morning of the 26th, the Korean Defence Ministry released a statement that parts of the THAAD system had been installed in North Gyeongsang province, in view of the threat from Pyongyang.  As expected, this has invited strong criticism from both China and North Korea, with China stating that it will “firmly take necessary measures to safeguard its own interests.”

North Korea has had a history of making tall claims and threatening to conduct pre-emptive strikes against alleged American plans of attack on itself, to gain leverage over South Korea in bilateral matters or even ask for some form of aid from the US and others. Fortunately, the violence has not translated in the same proportion on the ground, but this move by the US and South Korea does raise eyebrows.

The US further vowed to complete the installation of the THAAD system within a matter of days and also use more sanctions against North Korea. North Korea, in turn vowed to conduct more missile and nuclear tests. China has displayed its concerns as well, going to the extent of conducting military drills as a response and has also promised retaliation if the US goes ahead with the mission.

Amidst this tension, the US also did admit that the THAAD missile defence system is not sufficient, since North Korea has pre-emptively been working on missile systems that can be launched from the sea. This will render THAAD less effective since it can be trusted completely only to block missiles from certain trajectories, not all. Moreover, even if THAAD can overcome the threat of a missile attack, even then, North Korea’s military might be a force to reckon with. All this possibly might be the hint of further US activity in the peninsula.

There is another twist to the story, as US President Donald Trump made comments that South Korea will have to pay for the missile defence system, indicating some disagreements between South Korea and US as well. The situation is getting messy, and it can lead to possibly the biggest escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula in a long time. Only time will tell whether this happens or not.

 

–  Madhav Singh

Emergence of China as a Superpower

When China awakes, it will shake the world.
– Napoleon Bonaparte

Has China finally awoken? That is the billion-dollar question.
The history of China is both fascinating and complex. Its culture has been described as both peaceful and warlike. China was created by conquest and has essentially been ruled by a series of warlords. However, China has also experienced periods of peace and active trade with its neighbours. There have also been extensive periods where China has isolated itself from outside influence and became a closed society. These experiences have profoundly shaped the culture and strategic thought of China.

The rise of modern China to become the second largest economy in the world was made possible only through the success of the Chinese communist revolution in the mid-20th century.  The People’s Liberation Army, also known as the Red Army at the time, defeated the invading Japanese Imperial army in the Second Sino-Japanese War. They later defeated the US imperialist-backed comprador-led Kuomintang Nationalist army.  This allowed the reunification of China as an independent, sovereign state.  The Communist government abolished the extra-territorial privileges of the Western imperialists and ended the territorial fiefdoms of the regional warlords and gangsters. They also drove out the millionaire owners of brothels, the traffickers of women and drugs as well as the other “service providers” to the Euro-American Empire.

Following Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the new leader, Deng Xiaoping, commenced a series of reforms that radically changed China. Deng encouraged international trade and allowed foreign capital investment. The specific aim of these policies was to obtain large foreign exchange earnings, which would allow China to modernize and become more independent. Thus, China made a phenomenal entry into world markets, resulting in a booming economy.

The Chinese state re-directed massive public subsidies to promote high capitalist growth by dismantling its national system of free public education and health care.  They ended subsidized public housing for hundreds of millions of peasants and urban factory workers. Instead, they provided funds to real estate speculators for the construction of private luxury apartments and office skyscrapers. China’s new capitalist strategy as well as its double-digit growth was based on the profound structural changes and massive public investments made possible by the previous communist government. China’s private sector “take off” was based on the huge public outlays made by them since 1949.

The triumphant new capitalist class and its Western collaborators claimed all the credit for this “economic miracle” as China rose to become the world’s second largest economy. The new Chinese elite , however, have been less eager to announce China’s world-class status in terms of brutal class inequalities, which rivals only the US.

China has been growing at about 9% per annum and its goods and services are rapidly rising in quality and value. In contrast, the US and Europe have wallowed at around 0% growth from 2007-2012. China’s innovative techno-scientific establishment routinely assimilates the latest inventions from Japan and the West and improves them, thereby decreasing the cost of production. China has replaced the US and European controlled “international financial institutions” (the IMF, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank) as the principle lender in Latin America. China continues to lead as the prime investor in African energy and mineral resources. It has replaced the US as the principal market for Saudi Arabian, Sudanese and Iranian petroleum and it will soon replace the US as the principal market for Venezuelan petroleum products. Today, China is the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter, dominating even the US market, while playing the role of financial life line as it holds over $1.3 trillion in US Treasury notes.

There have been various attempts in the past to undermine China’s growth. For example, in the nineteenth century, British imperialism demolished China’s global position with its military superiority, seizing China’s ports because of China’s reliance on ‘mercantile superiority’. The conquest of India, Burma and most of Asia allowed Britain to establish colonial bases and recruit local mercenary armies. The British and their mercenary allies encircled and isolated China, setting the stage for the disruption of China’s markets and the imposition of the brutal terms of trade. The British Empire’s armed presence dictated what China imported (with opium accounting for over 50% of British exports in the 1850s) while undermining China’s competitive advantages via tariff policies.

Today the US is pursuing similar policies to halt China’s growth: US naval fleet patrols and controls China’s commercial shipping lanes and off-shore oil resources via its overseas bases. The Obama-Clinton White House is in the process of developing a rapid military response involving bases in Australia, Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. The US is intensifying its efforts to undermine Chinese overseas access to strategic resources while backing grass roots separatists and insurgents in West China, Tibet, Sudan, Burma, Iran, Libya, and Syria. The US military agreements with India and the installation of a pliable puppet regime in Pakistan have advanced its strategy of isolating China. While China upholds its policy of harmonious development and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, it has stepped aside as US and European military imperialism have attacked a host of China’s trading partners to essentially reverse China’s peaceful commercial expansion.

A communist government that has demonstrated that it is unhappy with its status in the world rules China. While Western governments have devoted a great deal of time and thought on how to treat China, their policies have not had any effect on the current regime’s respect for human rights or democracy. The fundamental issue is that the stability of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself represents a concern for both Asia-Pacific and world security. Any movement by the West to promote human rights and democracy in China represents a direct threat to the existing regime. China sees itself more and more as a counter to Western values and the Western way of life. In its effort to emerge as a great power, China has changed its security strategy from defensive to offensive. If China wants to be a dominant world power, and chooses to act based on the example of the former Soviet Union, it will have the potential to seriously undermine the current world order.

China is slowly climbing up the ladder of the superpowers, with the US trying to shake it off. Some say China has awoken, some say it will wake up in a few years, but it seems like China is playing its cards right just to wake up at the right time. Famous economists and researchers believe this century is going to be the Chinese Century. Only time will tell if China lives up to the predictions or is nothing more than a flash in the pan.

– Aditya Ramaswami

The Syrian Stalemate – A Real-Life Nightmare

“Some values must be universal, like human rights and the equal worth of every human being.”

– Bjorn Ulvaeus

Almost every nation in the world strives to uphold the above belief – to give all humans equal rights and uplift the backward and oppressed, with the United Nations acting as the supervising body. It however is imperative to take note of the usage of the word “almost” in the above stated lines­­- not all nations can afford this ideology. Yes, the nation being referenced here is the war-torn Syrian Arab Republic – with the Government forces, led by the President Bashar Al-Assad, fighting the rebel factions for control over Syria. Against this backdrop, Aleppo, which was the key economic hub before the start of the war along with being the most populous city of the republic, has stood out as an important location. Why the city is important and what it means for the future of Syria, these questions will addressed in the following paragraphs.

The Syrian War – A brief history

 The Syrian war, currently in its sixth year is a result of a long history of mistrust by the people of Syria, against the Assad regime. The government has held power in Syria since 1971, and not only failed to deliver on long-promised economic and political reforms, but has been accused of mass atrocities. This marked the birth of the rebels, who then formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA). With the spread of the Arab Spring to Syria in March, 2011, a series of questionable events began to take place. A war which originally wore the mask of a black-and-white crusade, with oppressed rebels looking to oust an outdated dictatorship, later came to unfurl an entirely different picture.

As the rebellion grew, bad guys on both sides took on to killing of innocent civilians thereby making the assurance of the protection of basic human rights seem like a myth to countless Syrians who were murdered, kidnapped, raped, tortured and radicalised. The tear-jerking images of Syrian children crying out for help, formed only a small fraction of the enormous volume of the victims of human rights violations. It has become a part of their daily routine to witness buildings collapsing, roads being littered with countless corpses, both old and young and grave atrocities being perpetrated all around. They have grown so accustomed to the war that sleeping without the fear of never opening their eyes again is a luxury they cannot afford. The current generation of kids will never know how it is to wake up in the morning to a cuckoo singing or a thrush knocking, for in their hearts and souls will be imprinted the sound of bombings and the scenes of war.

This is the reason why so many Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. They risk their lives and all that they have, just to escape the war and have a hope of leading a life, and if lucky, a better one. This exodus has not only forced mass internal displacement, with civilians fleeing from war zones to protect their lives and that of their families, but also has resulted in problems for the neighbouring countries.

Aleppo       

Aleppo is Syria’s most populous city and the capital of the vital Aleppo district, situated in the North-Western part of Syria. It was also a major economic and trading hub, and a strategic location for either of the sides to conquer and control. The western half of Aleppo was until recently occupied by the Assad-backed government forces while the eastern half was occupied by the FSA, thus keeping the focus on Aleppo for the majority of the War. As a result, the citizens of Aleppo were sitting ducks, trapped between the firing from both sides.

In the early days of the war, the rebels seemed to have an edge and were expected to overthrow the Syrian Army in order to win a significant chunk of Aleppo. The twist in the tale came when the government forces started being backed by Iran and Russia to fight the rebellion. This development fuelled the preparation of war on the other side too-the rebels were now trying to regain their position by taking aid from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among others. This seesaw shift in power continued for some time as both the factions fought for Aleppo. The decisive point was in September 2015, with the direct intervention of Russia through the medium of air strikes, which was a blow to the position of the rebels. In July 2016, these airstrikes severed the rebels’ last remaining road to the east, effectively placing them in a pincer trap.

The strategy that Assad has been applying to completely crush the rebel movement in Aleppo is rather shady – it is in fact illegal under the international law. Assad has enforced a full siege on the rebel controlled eastern part of the city and has prevented all humanitarian need and food supplies from reaching the rebel camps. His ultimate aim is to starve the rebels and deprive them of all common needs so that they cannot continue to fight and get the civilians to cooperate with them. With the help of Iran, Assad successfully suffocated the rebellion and as a result also regained control over more and more of the rebel territory.

Recent Developments                 

The rebels were down, but not yet out. At the end of July 2016, they launched a coordinated offensive which caught the government forces off guard, and temporarily broke the siege, but this victory was short-lived as the siege was reimposed in September. By the beginning of December, 2016, the Government had conquered an estimated 90% of the rebel land.  With another blow from the Government on December 13, the rebels were further forced to withdraw from all districts on the east side of the Aleppo River.

“The battle in eastern Aleppo should end quickly. They (rebels) don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” Lieutenant General Zaid al-Saleh, head of the government’s Aleppo security committee, told reporters in the recaptured Sheikh Saeed district of the city on December 13. On December 15, President Bashar Al-Assad hailed the “Liberation of Aleppo”, saying that it was a historic moment and congratulated the people of Aleppo for their steadfastness, bravery and sacrifices.

What does the Future hold?

Although Bashar Al-Assad has seemingly won, the war in Syria has not ended. Yes, the government now has control over Aleppo, but the same cannot be said for the entire country as the rebel forces are still present in many places. They will hit back harder at the Syrian army because of their defeat at Aleppo and the war will linger. Politically, too the war is at a stalemate because there is no part of the globe which is not involved. The USA is supporting the rebels and the Russian Federation is supporting the Assad Government, resulting in Syria becoming a battleground for a proxy war. In the end, however, it doesn’t even matter because the civilians are the ones who are losing the war irrespective of who wins it. They are the ones suffering on a day-to-day basis, and even if this war draws to an end, there might be no one to celebrate the victory, because when humanity loses, a victory is not worth celebrating.

The Consequences

As we have seen in this chessboard of politics, the civilians were the ones to suffer the most. Unless timely humanitarian aid is provided to all the victims and their human rights safeguarded, the very existence of humanity is at stake. Syria, which was once the cradle of civilisation, is dying a slow death as a result of this war. The golden history of Syria is now smeared with blood, death, war and the evils that come along with it. With age-old monuments and historic landmarks like the Umayyad Mosque and the medieval market destroyed due to the airstrikes, everything that Syria once stood for is now destroyed. Everything that tied the present to the glorious past has been left in ruins, just like the country.

This is the direct result of the fight for power and the long-term implications that it has on the common man.  Is this what the world has come to? The children of Syria will no longer be able to live up to the glory of its rich heritage and in order for them to grow up in a country without strife, a lasting solution to the conflict is needed.

A Solution?        

Every solution that the world has come up with involves difficult decisions which have to be made. Nothing is for certain though, as this mess has become even more complicated due to the intervention of third parties, and untangling it will take time.

Till then, the primary focus for the rest of the world should be the humanitarian side of things. All of us can contribute to this cause, to ensure that our fellow human beings get the basic human rights that should never be deprived of anyone, regardless of circumstances and to ensure that not a single voice pleading for help goes unheard, for as Albert Schweitzer said –

“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into an instant flame by an encounter with another human being”.

Harsha Sista

When I think about BITSMUN 2012 a distinct sense of apprehension returns to my mind. I remember hours of discussion, planning and hard work that many of us put in, with Vavilala leading the way. We did not know if we’d have enough delegates, little did we know if we’d be called a grand success, but the only thing that drove us was the relentless passion for good debate and effective simulation.

Today I look at the height to which BITSMUN Hyderabad has grown to, and can’t help but be proud of my juniors. When we passed you the baton, sometime in 2014, none of us were certain if the conference’s repute would be intact. Well let me tell you this, you have gone a step further and established the conference as one of the very best in India! Quenching debates, diplomatic deliberation and a fascinating time spent on campus after the committee is what commemorates BITSMUN for me. All the very best for this year’s edition!