Thursday, August 13, 2020

US Hegemony in World Affairs- In for a Change?

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Nikhita Gautam

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US Hegemony in World Affairs- In for a Change?


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 13, 2020


The US Passport

The US Passport | Source: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

The collapse of Soviet Union in the late 1980s brought an end to the cold war being fought through proxies by the USA and USSR. This heralded an era in which the USA emerged as the sole superpower which started to dominate the globe in a way that no country has done in recorded history.

This domination was based on brute strength the US enjoyed in the field of military power, economic power, scientific research, democratic institutions, and above all the American ideology which frames it as an exceptional country. Off late there are signs which indicate that a process of decline in this domination has started.

The US domination was evident in the adoption of liberal economic and governance models by the former Soviet bloc and non-aligned countries during the 1980s and 1990s. This neo-liberal model relied on international cooperation and globalisation was its rallying cry. This allowed international organisations like the World Bank, IMF, and WTO to force smaller countries to make their fiscal policies as per their models. It also nudged countries to join various multinational Free Trade Agreements (FTA).

The other aspect of global cooperation was different agreements on climate control, arms control, missile technology control, nuclear non-proliferation, terror funding, anti piracy, and international criminal justice system. In all the economic, security or governance related international mechanisms, it was the US soft and hard power which stood as a guarantor.

Over time, the unrivalled hegemony of the US started showing some cracks. Russian economy recovered from the ashes of the collapsed USSR and the country underwent a massive overhaul of its military. It once again started challenging the USA in eastern Europe and the Middle East. From Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Kosovo, or Iceland in Europe to Iran, Syria, Yemen, or  Libya in MENA to Venezuela in South America, Russia and the USA are backing opposing forces.

Photo of Chinese city Shanghai from the rooftop of Jin Mao Tower, 23rd tallest building in the world | Source: Denys Nevozhai via Unsplash

China has also quietly gained a lot of influence in the developing and underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa at the time when the USA is seen retreating. This process has hastened in the last decade when China, buoyed by a rising economy, started investing in the infrastructure of Asian and African countries without any baggage of human right concerns which normally comes with the USA or European countries.

China and Russia anchored many new international institutions like BRICS, New Development Bank, AIIB, EAEU, SCO, which tackle regional security, military cooperation, economic infrastructure and internet governance. All of these exclude America. Apart from these countries, India, Brazil and other emerging regional powers also started challenging the USA narratives on geopolitical and economic affairs.

Donald Trump holding a press conference | Source: The White House via Flickr    

That, and how the current president Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized allies, sympathized with dictators, issued travel bans, undermined international organizations like WHO and NATO, and pulled back from treaties. These actions leave a leadership role that America played in the past to be fulfilled, which further advances the China-Russia agenda.

The unhinged rhetoric of the US President Donald Trump has also played a role in emboldened the adversary as well as friends of the USA to increasingly chart an independent course which may be diametrically opposite to the US stand. His focus on America First has dented the post WW-II US moral leadership which based on  the divine responsibility of helping the world.

The US has always had an interventionist approach where they “help” and “lead” the rest of the world, giving them more power, which comes with both rights and responsibilities. Trump has rejected that and instead made an “America first” which focuses on material, fiscal gains rather than ideological ones. This can be seen in how President Trump tries to broker deals with money rather than cultural and ideological nuances in conflicts such as the widely criticized Israel-Palestine peace plan.

A person holding US Dollars | Source: Viacheslav Bublyk via Unsplash

There is also how the usage of the dollar for global trade, while providing the country global dominance, cheap goods and borrowing costs, also makes it run a trade deficit, which Trump endeavours to reduce. That, however, might prove impossible without changing the global currency in itself. The fact that America extorts political leverage using economic methods like sanctions also made many countries look for the replacement of the US dollar as preferred currency for global trade.

Another casualty of America first is the withdrawal of the USA from many international treaties and agreements under President Trump watch. The US withdrew from Arms control treaties with Russia, Free Trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, International climate treaty, Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO, UNHRC, UNRWA, WTO, TPP and many other significant international and bilateral agreements under President Trump.

The US withdrawal has inflamed the allies and emboldened the adversaries of the USA. Its allies in Europe are increasingly taking an independent stand on foriegn policy and looking for raising a Europe centric security setup, independent of NATO. They are also strengthening intra-EU trade and standing up to the US pressure on trade policies.

Similarly Russia and China have increased their influence in multinational bodies as they have now become the militarily and economically strongest countries after the withdrawal of the US.

The era of US dominance in world affairs since the end of WW-II in general and after the collapse of the USSR in particular is now resting on very fragile legs. No amount of policy change by the new administration in the USA, to be headed by Trump or Joe Biden, is going to reverse the emergence of a multipolar world in which the US, with all its might, will be one of the poles.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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