Post Afghanistan, US-Pakistan Relations Stand On The Edge Of A Precipice

With the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, Pakistan may have come closer to achieving its long-sought “strategic depth” with respect to its western neighbor, with a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. But the Taliban’s victory is also seriously testing Pakistan’s long fraught bilateral relationship with America. For the last 20 years, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been defined by the needs of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. With that war having ended with an outcome as ignominious as a Taliban takeover, the relationship is at a clear crossroads. The outlook isn’t positive. Here’s where things stand.

The Mood In Washington

In Washington, where policymakers have been grappling with the fallout from the sudden Taliban takeover of Kabul in August and the scrambled evacuation that followed, the focus has shifted to identifying the mistakes made in the war in Afghanistan. Washington is taking a hard look at where things went wrong — and Pakistan, given its long history with the Taliban, is part of that equation.

In congressional hearings a couple of weeks ago on Afghanistan, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that “we need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary” in understanding how the Taliban prevailed. In September, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly said during his congressional hearing that “This is one of the things we’re going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years.” He added that the U.S. government would also be looking at “the role we would want to see [Pakistan] play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” signifying that a review of how to engage Islamabad in the future was ongoing.

In the Senate, 22 Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill calling for Afghanistan’s new Taliban government to be sanctioned, along with governments that have supported the Taliban. The bill also calls for a report that will include “an assessment of support by state and non-state actors, including the government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020,” that also looks at the provision of “sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping, and tactical, operation or strategic direction.”

What Pakistan Is Saying

Pakistan’s Senate in turn displayed “alarm” over the bill moved in the U.S. Senate, which Pakistan’s media termed an “anti-Pakistan” bill. Pakistan argues that it is being scapegoated for U.S. military and Afghan leadership failures — while ignoring its own support of the Taliban. It has not officially recognized the new Taliban regime, but it has been concertedly pitching engagement with it, with government officials making the case in speeches, op-eds, and interviews.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan went beyond calls many have made for humanitarian relief and financial liquidity to avoid economic collapse in Afghanistan, to saying that “we must strengthen and stabilize the current government, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.” (Pakistan also points out that instability and violence in Afghanistan will spill over into Pakistan.)

But Pakistan faces a credibility issue, and its call for the world to engage with the Taliban may have found more takers if it had not given the Taliban sanctuary or support over the last 20 years. As it is, these calls only highlight Pakistan’s long-standing ties with the Taliban. And Pakistan’s stance seems to argue for international support before the Taliban fulfill promises they have made regarding girls’ education and human rights.

What America Wants From Pakistan

America wants to ensure that Pakistan doesn’t formally recognize the Taliban government, and that it exercises its leverage over the Taliban to get the group to make concessions on women’s rights and girls’ education, and to form an inclusive government. (So far, the Taliban’s interim cabinet is all male, and beyond some diversity of ethnicity, entirely non-inclusive.)

Going ahead, America also wants to continue to cooperate with Pakistan on certain counterterrorism matters — especially now that it is limited to “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan. General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, alluded to that in his congressional testimony: “Over the last 20 years we’ve been able to use what we call the air boulevard to go in over western Pakistan and that’s become something that’s vital to us, as well as certain landlines of communication. And we’ll be working with the Pakistanis in the days and weeks ahead to look at what that relationship is going to look like in the future.” The general was referring to air lines of communication (ALOCs) and ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that Pakistan provided to the U.S. over the last 20 years.

Recent Engagement From The Biden Administration With Pakistan

The Biden administration’s engagement with Pakistan to date — pre- and post-withdrawal — has focused almost exclusively on Afghanistan. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns visited Pakistan in September, ostensibly to discuss counterterrorism cooperation as well as other matters. Blinken and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had their first in-person meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, and the focus was on Afghanistan.

The readout of the meeting from the State Department was unmistakably bare bones and focused singularly on Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ longer readout also noted Pakistan’s “desire for a balanced relationship with the United States that was anchored in trade, investment, energy and regional connectivity.” This imbalance revealed a disconnect in their views of the relationship.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Pakistan last week. In an interview in India just before the visit, she said: “It’s for a very specific and narrow purpose, we don’t see ourselves building a broad relationship with Pakistan. And we have no interest in returning to the days of hyphenated India, Pakistan.” While in Pakistan, where she met Qureshi; Pakistan’s chief of army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa; and the Pakistani national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, Sherman was more diplomatic.

She noted that “Afghanistan was at the top of our agenda, but we also discussed our cooperation in other areas, including the climate crisis, geoeconomics and regional connectivity, and ending the COVID-19 pandemic” and added that “the United States believes that a strong, prosperous, democratic Pakistan is vitally important for the region and indeed for the wider world.”

Hanging over these meetings is the fact that Biden has not yet called Khan since he took office in January. The glaring lack of a phone call is a topic of considerable discussion in Pakistan.

Warning Signs

Many in Pakistan watching this phase of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship are evoking the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, when the U.S., after having allied with Pakistan to fund and arm the mujahideen that Pakistan trained to fight the Soviets, looked away from the region. America eventually sanctioned Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.

Over the last 20 years, Washington’s needs in Afghanistan defined the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, even if that meant Washington sometimes had to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s sanctuary for the Taliban. Now, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington has little incentive to gloss over what it has long seen as Pakistan’s double game or to broaden ties. Washington’s attention is now east of Pakistan: on its relationships with India and other countries to counter China.

In this environment, U.S.-Pakistan relations face a reckoning.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan might have been a moment of opportunity to rethink a bilateral relationship that has been defined for much of the last 40 years by Pakistan’s western neighbor. But in early August, I wrote that the relationship between America and Pakistan stood in an uneasy limbo as the U.S. was withdrawing from Afghanistan; and that there would be “little to no appetite in Washington to engage with Pakistan on other matters going ahead if Afghanistan was embroiled in violence or in Taliban hands.”

The latter outcome has come to pass. Warning signs are flashing red for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and it’s safe to say that the scope for cooperation has narrowed. Sherman may not have been engaging in diplo-speak on Pakistan while in India, but she may have given away where the Biden administration is leaning for now on Pakistan: limited engagement on Afghanistan, and little else.

(Madiha Afzal is a Fellow – Foreign PolicyCenter for Middle East PolicyCenter for Security, Strategy, and Technology)

“All People Deserve To Have A Voice In Their Government And Be Treated With Respect” US Secretary Blinken Declares During Visit To India

Democratic values and free citizenry define India, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinkensaid in New Delhi, during his first ever visit to India after the Biden Administration was installed in Washington, DC.  At a press conference after holding bilateral talks with his counterparts in India on Wednesday, July 28, 2021, Secretary Blinken said the United States views India through the prism of common democratic values and that there are challenges that can be ‘ugly’ that need to be dealt through “corrective mechanisms.”

“Our shared values and democratic traditions were part of our conversation,” Blinken said. “The relationship is so strong because it is a relationship between two democracies. Americans admire Indians’ commitment to rights, democracy and pluralism. Indian democracy is powered by its freethinking citizens. I approach this with humility. U.S. has challenges too. The search is for a more perfect union which means we are not perfect. Sometimes, the challenges can be painful, even ugly,” said Blinken to a question about ‘backsliding’ of democratic values in India. Blinken pointed at the free press and independent judiciary as part of the “corrective mechanism” that can repair challenges to democracy.

Blinken arrived in India on July 27th to discuss strengthening Indo-Pacific engagement, seen as a counter to China, as well as New Delhi’s recent human rights record and other issues. Blinken’s visit included meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior officials on Wednesday, and was held just days after his No. 2 diplomat, Wendy Sherman, was in China for face-to-face talks.

Earlier, at a civil society roundtable held by Antony Blinken, Inter-faith relations, the farmers’ protest, freedom of expression and the Pegasus spyware issue were discussed by the participants.

Blinken, in his first visit to the country since joining US President Joe Biden’s administration, discussed supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as India’s human rights record.

Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was “one of the most important in the world”. And he added, “The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief … these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours. And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress. As friends we talk about that.”

The role of civil society in India also figured in the discussions, with Blinken saying in his opening remarks that democracies such as the US and India need a vibrant civil society if they are to be “more open, more inclusive, more resilient, more equitable.” He added that “all people deserve to have a voice in their government and be treated with respect”. GesheDorjiDamdul, director of the Tibet House in New Delhi; Inter-Faith Harmony Foundation of India head KhwajaIftikhar Ahmed; Representatives of the Ramakrishna Mission and Sikh and Christian organizations were part of the round table, where the seven representatives spoke and shared their concerns about the situation in India.

Concerns over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and China’s aggressive actions were also raised by the seven civil society representatives who joined the roundtable with the theme “Advancing equitable, inclusive, and sustainable growth and development”, according to participants who declined to be named. “The farmers protest, CAA, restrictions on the media, freedom of expression, rights of minorities, inter-faith relations and the Pegasus surveillance issue were all raised by the representatives but there was no substantial discussion on these matters,” said another participant.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, the US had said it intended to raise human rights and democracy during his engagements in New Delhi. The US has in the recent past spoken out on issues such as the situation in Kashmir and movements such as the farmers’ protest on the outskirts of Delhi. Following the globally conducted investigation by several media outlets on Pegasus, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken  said that he would discuss human rights and democracy during his two-day visit to India in a constructive way.

“I will tell you that we will raise it, and we will continue that conversation, because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts we don’t,” Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Dean Thompson told reporters during a conference call last week. With specific mention to the Indian government’s usage of Pegasus, Thompson said that the US is concerned with the idea of using spyware against a civil society, journalists or anybody for that matter. He also said that the US does not have a particular insight on this issue but they have been quite vocal about ensuring companies do not sell such pieces of technology.

Blinken said India and the US should continue to stand together as leading democracies at a time when global threats to democracy and international freedoms are increasing. Both sides talk about issues such as democracy as friends “because doing the hard work of strengthening democracy and making our ideals real is often challenging”, he said.

Media reports state thatBlinken flagged the concerns of the US regarding democracy and human rights during his talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar.Asked about these issues at a joint media interaction with Jaishankar, Blinken said shared values and democratic traditions “were very much a part of our conversation today.” He described Indian democracy as a “force for good in defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific and a free and open world” and said both countries have “self-righting mechanisms” made up of free citizens of different faiths, a free media and independent courts powered by a system of free and fair elections.

Jaishankar said he made three points to Blinken, including the fact that the “quest for a more perfect union applies as much to the Indian democracy as it does to the American one”.Ahead of Blinken’s visit, India’s foreign ministry said the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with the top US diplomat.Modi’s government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country’s biggest minority.

Opponents of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party have accused it of squashing dissent and introducing policies aimed at refashioning a multi-faith democracy into a Hindu nation that discriminates against Muslims and other minorities. Modi has also been accused of trying to silence voices critical of his administration’s handling of the massive pandemic wave that tore through the country in April and May.India routinely denies criticism of its human rights record and has rejected criticism by foreign governments and rights groups that say civil liberties have shrunk in the country.

Referring to efforts in the US to become a “more perfect union,” Blinken said that “sometimes that process is painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but the strength of democracy is to embrace it”. Blinken also tweeted about “India’s pluralistic society and history of harmony” and said civil society “helps advance these values.” SecretaryBlinken announced an additional $25 million in US government funding to bolster India’s vaccine program. Blinken told a press conference following delegation-level talks between the two sides that the financing will help save lives by bolstering vaccine supply networks across India, since the country has yet to reach a double-digit mark in the percentage of completely immunized individuals.

“This funding will contribute to saving a life by strengthening vaccine supply chain logistics, addressing misinformation, vaccine hesitancy and helping to train more health care workers,” he said.The latest support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) comes on top of the US government’s announcement of more than $200 million in Covid-19 assistance. Blinkenemphasized that the two governments are committed to putting an end to the Covid-19 pandemic in India and the US.

The New Delhi talks were expected to lay the groundwork for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US – later this year, Indian media reported. Washington has long viewed India as a key partner in efforts to blunt increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region. The U.S. and India are part of the Quad — a group that also includes Japan and Australia — allies in the region helping deal with China’s growing economic and military strength.

US Lawmakers Urge Action on Pegagus

In the context of Modi government snooping on diplomats, activists, political opponents and the media, U.S. lawmakers are growing increasingly alarmed by reports that the Israeli firm NSO Group leased military-grade spyware to authoritarian regimes around the world, who allegedly used it to hack the phones of politicians, journalists, human rights activists and business executives.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, who has been at the forefront of demands that Saudi Arabia be held accountable over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, told Haaretz that he is considering legislation aimed at regulating the private spyware industry. “I’ve been following this for a while, so I’m not at all surprised that the reporting has uncovered evidence of what any rational person would have assumed to be true given the NSO Group’s client list and potential uses of sensitive technology,” the New Jersey Democrat said.

“I’m glad it’s getting the attention it deserves because this is an industry that is currently completely unregulated — which is a scandal in itself. This kind of sensitive hacking and surveillance technology should not be sold by private companies to the highest bidder on the open market,” Malinowski added. “The problem goes well beyond one company. There’s an industry that has been created to meet a demand for this technology and it’s enabled by the lack of regulation. What they are doing is technically legal; the point is it should not be,” he noted.

Malinowski, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committees, said NSO Group needs to come clean following the company’s firm rejection of the revelations. “The categorical denials, combined with a refusal to provide any information about who their clients are, should be unacceptable to the U.S. government and other governments seeking to prevent the proliferation of this technology,” he said, adding that “their denials suggest either unbelievable credulity or arrogant dishonesty. “A fundamental principle should be that authoritarian governments cannot receive this kind of technology. What NSO Group is saying right now is equivalent to saying ‘we sold silencers to the mafia, but don’t worry, they’re only using it for target practice,” Malinowski continued. “I don’t care what promises are signed on a piece of paper, these are governments that do not distinguish between dissent and terrorism.

When they say they will use the technology against terrorists, they are saying they will use it against journalists.” “I do think responsibility is first and foremost with the United States government. I’d love to see Israel work with the U.S. and other democratic countries to establish some rules governing this trade, but I wouldn’t expect the Israeli government to do this alone,” said Malinowski, who also previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. “The U.S. should lead this effort, and I expect this to be the case moving forward.” While Malinowski is calling for the swift development of rules that would enable companies like NSO Group to be held accountable, he notes there are already tools that can be implemented — namely the Khashoggi Ban, a sanction and visa restriction established by the Biden administration that would target anyone believed to have targeted dissidents outside the borders of their country on behalf of a foreign government.

“The U.S. does have tools to prohibit companies and investors from doing business with entities like NSO Group. Sanctions should be explored and possibly implemented. We can’t deal with this on a case-by-case basis, however,” Malinowski said. “We need much more clear rules for the industry that signal that people cannot be monetizing their talents by selling sensitive technology to authoritarian states. Malinowski is not the only U.S. lawmaker to call for action following the reporting on NSO Group. Sen. Ron Wyden, who has previously called for investigations into whether technology sold by NSO Group and other foreign surveillance companies was involved in the hacking of U.S. citizens, raised the topic during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this week.

“There’s got to be some accountability for spies for hire. And that is going to be a central part of this discussion,” Wyden said, echoing his comments to the Washington Post that “these spy-for-hire firms are a threat to U.S. national security, and the administration should consider all options to ensure that federal employees are not targeted.” A U.S. State Department official told Haaretz that they have no announcements concerning visa restrictions. “The United States condemns the harassment or extrajudicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” the official said.

“Just as states have the duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights. Thus, they should ensure that their products or services are not being used by end users to abuse fundamental freedoms,” the official added. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on Congress to investigate “this threat to democracy,” adding that his office is working with the San Antonio-based family of Paul Rusesabagina, currently imprisoned in Rwanda. His daughter’s phone was among those hacked by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to The Guardian.

He said he did not want to speculate without evidence regarding linkage between NSO Group‘s client list and countries with whom Israel improved diplomatic ties under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but noted that he “would assume if the Israeli government assumes export licenses, that it knows where products are being exported to.” Democratic lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to consider placing NSO Group on an export blacklist, saying that recent revelations of misuse reinforced their conviction that the “hacking-for-hire industry must be brought under control”.

The statement by four members of Congress followed reports by the Pegasus project, a collaboration of 17 media organisations including the Guardian, which investigated NSO, the Israeli company that sells its powerful surveillance software to government clients around the world. The leak at the heart of the Pegasus project contained tens of thousands of phone numbers of individuals who are believed to have been selected as candidates for possible surveillance by clients of NSO. The numbers included those of heads of state such as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, government ministers, diplomats, activists, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers.

NSO has also said the data has “no relevance” to the company, and has rejected the reporting by the Pegasus project as “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”. It denied that the leaked data represented those targeted for surveillance by the Pegasus software. NSO has said the 50,000 number is exaggerated and said it was too large to represent individuals targeted by Pegasus. The company has also said that its government clients are contractually mandated to use Pegasus to target suspected criminals and terrorists and has said it would investigate any allegations of abuse.

US Holds UNICEF Monopoly For 74 Years – In A World Body Where Money Talks

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2021 (IPS) – With Henrietta Fore’s decision last week to step down as UNICEF Executive Director, her successor is most likely to be another American since that post has been held– uninterruptedly — by US nationals for almost 74 years, an unprecedented all-time record for a high-ranking job in the UN system. The seven U.S. nationals who have headed the UN children’s agency since its inception in 1947 include Maurice Pate, Henry Labouisse, James Grant, Carol Bellamy, Ann Veneman, Anthony Lake and Henrietta Fore. Pate held the job for 18 years, from 1947 to 1965, and Labouisse for 14 years, from 1965 to 1979. No other agency has had a national stranglehold on such a senior position in the 76-year history of the United Nations.

As for individuals monopolizing office, Dr Arpad Bogsch, another US national, held the post of director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva for 24 long years (1973-1997). But more recently, however, the professional life span of senior officials in the UN secretariat is mostly five years, with a possible extension for an additional five years. Since money talks, the US has continued to stake its claims for the UNICEF job, primarily as its largest single financial contributor. But that claim also applies to several UN agencies, which depend on voluntary contributions, and where some of the high-ranking positions are largely held by donors or big powers, mostly from Western Europe, or China and Russia.

James Paul, former Executive Director at the New York-based Global Policy Forum (1993-2012) and a prominent figure in the NGO advocacy community at the United Nations, told IPS much is at stake in the appointment of the head of a major agency in the UN system. Powerful governments battle over prestige and the shaping of policy, he said, pointing out, that “interest is intense now, as the appointment of a new head of UNICEF comes up”. “Observers inevitably wonder: what country gets the post, what is the region of the appointee, what ethnic or national group does this person represent, what is the person’s gender identify, and finally, last but not least, what is the policy inclination and administrative record of the person selected?” said Paul, author of “Of Foxes and Chickens”—Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council (2017).

He said some candidates may be serious people with years of experience while others may be personal friends of a powerful head of government. How will the selection process work and how much pressure will be put on those with a say over the appointment process: the UN Secretary General and Executive Boards or committees? he asked. In the early years of the UN, he said, there was a tendency to appoint male candidates who were US nationals. The US government often acted very bluntly about getting its way and it threatened many times to withhold funding or punish UN officials if its candidate was not selected. Two well-known cases of US hegemony are UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, and UNDP, the UN Development Programme.

UNICEF is notorious because its Executive Director has been a US national continuously since the organization’s founding 74 years ago, said Paul. Now that the current head is stepping down, the question inevitably arises – will Washington once again be able to get its way? Admittedly, it did make one concession over the years. Under pressure in 1995 to accept a very accomplished Scandinavian woman, the US agreed to drop its male candidate. Washington then proposed a woman and turned up the heat. Carol Bellamy, the US candidate, was eventually appointed. The present head, Henrietta Fore, is also a woman but she too carries a US passport, said Paul.

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996), who had a love-hate relationship with the US, tried to break the US monopoly back in 1995. But he failed. In his book “UN-Vanquished–a US-UN saga,” (1999), Boutros-Ghali says he was thwarted by then US President Bill Clinton and US ambassador Madeline Albright. Clinton wanted William Foege, a former head of the US Centres for Disease Control, to be appointed UNICEF chief to succeed James Grant, also an American. Since Belgium and Finland had already put forward “outstanding” women candidates — and since the US had refused to pay its UN dues and was also making ”disparaging” remarks about the world body — “there was no longer automatic acceptance by other nations that the director of UNICEF must inevitably be an American man or woman,” said Boutros-Ghali.

“The US should select a woman candidate,” Boutros-Ghali told Albright, “and then I will see what I can do,” since the appointment involved consultation with the then 36-member UNICEF Executive Board. ” Albright rolled her eyes and made a face, repeating what had become her standard expression of frustration with me,” he writes. When the US kept pressing Foege’s candidature, Boutros-Ghali says that “many countries on the UNICEF Board were angry and (told) me to tell the United States to go to hell.” The US eventually submitted an alternate woman candidate: Carol Bellamy, a former director of Peace Corps. Although Elizabeth Rehn of Finland received 15 votes to Bellamy’s 12 in a straw poll, Boutros-Ghali said he asked the Board president to convince the members to achieve consensus on Bellamy so that the US could continue a monopoly it held since UNICEF was created in 1947. And thereby hangs a tale.

According to the latest published figures, total contributions to UNICEF in 2020 were over US$7 billion. The public sector contributed the largest share: US$5.45 billion from government, inter-governmental and inter-organizational partners, as well as Global Programme Partnerships. The top three resource partners in 2020 (by contributions received) were the Governments of the United States of America (US$801 million), Germany (US$744 million) and the European Union (US$514 million). As UNICEF’s largest donor, the US was considered “an indispensable partner”. “Our partnership with the US Government is broad and diverse, spanning humanitarian and development programmes across key areas of UNICEF’s work, including health; education; early child development; water, sanitation and hygiene; nutrition; child protection; gender equality; HIV and AIDS; immunization; and research programmes,” according to UNICEF.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN assistant secretary-General and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS the argument over the post of UNICEF Executive Director was the first clash between Boutros-Ghali and Ambassador Albright who otherwise was very friendly, as both were “former professors”. As Boutros-Ghali once quipped: “I may be America’s yes man (as he was described in the Arab press when he was elected secretary-general) but certainly not, yes sir “. Initially, American UNICEF Executive Directors like Henry Labouisse and James Grant proved their value not merely by bringing U.S. funds but by their proven accomplishments, said Sanbar.

Guterres, an experienced politician, will most likely explore options: perhaps await proposals from the Biden Administration while keeping open possible interest by members of the Security Council like Norway–and others, which could offer a substantive contribution, as long as its candidate is a woman, said Sanbar who had served under five different secretaries-general during his longstanding UN career. Paul pointed out that UNDP provides an interesting basis for comparison. It had a US head (the title is Administrator) for thirty-two years consecutively, from its founding in 1967.

In 1999, when the moment for a new appointment arose, the UN membership stepped up pressure for a more diverse pool of candidates. At last, the magic spell of US dominance broke, as Mark Malloch Brown of the UK got the nod. And since 1999, there hasn’t been a single US national in that post of UNDP Administrator. That was a sign that Washington’s grip on the UN was slipping and that its global influence was waning – slowly perhaps but unmistakably. A capable woman from New Zealand, Helen Clark, was one of the new breed, along with a Turk, Kemal Dervis, and a German, Achim Steiner, who currently holds the post. But not all US nominees have turned out badly, said Paul.

James Grant, was a widely-respected head of UNICEF, and Gus Speth won plaudits as head of UNDP. But symbolism is important in a multi-lateral organization with a world-wide membership and a very diverse constituency. “No matter how competent the US candidate might be, and no matter how independent-minded, color-coded and engendered, it is time for UNICEF to get a non-US Executive Director. The world of 1947 has long gone. US hegemony is not what it was.” “A bit of fresh air at UNICEF is long overdue,” declared Paul.

(ThalifDeen is the author of a newly-released book on the United Nations titled “No Comment -– and Don’t Quote Me on That.” Peppered with scores of anecdotes-– from the serious to the hilarious-– the book is available on Amazon worldwide. The link to Amazon via the author’s website follows:

US Awaits India’s Nod To Dispatch Covid Vaccines

The United States has said it is waiting for the Indian government to give a green signal for dispatching the anti-Covid vaccines that the US is donating to several countries across the world. “We are ready to ship those vaccines expeditiously when we have a green light from the Government of India,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, as reported by news agency PTI. US vaccines have reached Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. But for India, it is taking time as there are some legal hurdles for emergency import, Ned Price said.

The US earlier announced to share 80 million doses from its domestic stock with countries around the world. Under India’s share, it is supposed to get 3-4 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer from the United States. While Moderna has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India, Pfizer has not yet applied for an emergency approval in India yet.India has sought time to review its legal provision to accept vaccine donation, the United States has said as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh received vaccines from the US.

What are the legal hurdles?

“Before we can ship those doses, however, each country must complete its own domestic set of operational, of regulatory, and legal processes that are specific to each country. Now, India has determined that it needs further time to review legal provisions related to accepting vaccine donations,” Price said.

Sputnik plans 300 million doses a year

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, developed by Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, was granted emergency use authorisation in India in May. Covishield-maker Serum Institute of India (SII) has added yet another brand to its growing portfolio of Covid-19 vaccines, unveiling plans on Tuesday to manufacture Russia’s Sputnik V over the next two months. SII’s addition to a growing list of Indian partners for Sputnik V would enable the country to churn out over a billion doses of the Russian vaccine every year. It is also likely to help improve supply of the vaccine in India, where a soft launch has already taken place through vials imported from Russia but doses from most domestic manufacturers are still awaited.

SII, through its partnership with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), intends to produce over 300 million doses of Sputnik V per year, said Russia’s sovereign wealth fund in a statement. This takes India’s annual production capacity of this vaccine to nearly 1.2 billion doses a year. The Pune-headquartered vaccine maker has already received samples of the cell and vector — crucial components to make the vaccine — from the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology as part of the technical transfer process. The cultivation process has already begun.

“We hope to make millions of doses in the coming months with trial batches starting in the month of September,” said SII CEO Adar Poonawalla. “We expect the ramp-up to be quite quick…we’ve actually been working with Serum for the last three months,” said RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

Eric Michael Garcetti Nominated To Serve As US Ambassador To India

President Joe Biden has nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Michael Garcetti to serve as the American ambassador to India. Indian American organizations welcomed the announcement, made Friday, July 9, calling it an opportunity for the Indian diaspora to work together to continue bridging US-India ties. Garcetti, 50, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, has been mayor of Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US, since 2013.Garcetti’s nomination has long been anticipated. He needs Senate confirmation to get the position. If he makes it, he will be the first sitting Los Angeles mayor to leave the position voluntarily in more than 100 years, according to the Los Angeles Times

Prior to his election to the Los Angeles City Council, Garcetti was a visiting instructor of international affairs at the University of Southern California, and an assistant professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College. His academic work focused on ethnic conflict and nationalism in Southeast Asia and Northeast Africa.

On accepting the nomination Garcetti posted a statement on the city’s website: “I love Los Angeles and will always be an Angeleno. I want you to know that every day I am your mayor, I will continue to lead this city like it is my first day on the job, with passion, focus, and determination. I have committed my life to service –– as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant and, if confirmed, next as an ambassador. Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call. And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role, and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles.”

Welcoming Garcetti’s nomination MR Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur, investor, and founder of Indiaspora, stated in a press note, “We are excited that President Biden has nominated a reputed leader who has proven himself on several fronts. “It speaks volumes to the importance of the U.S.-India relationship that a close and trusted ally of President Biden may be America’s point person in Delhi.”

According to Sanjeev Joshipura, Indiaspora’s executive director, “Mayor Garcetti recognizes the importance of international cooperation and how to bring different actors together on the world stage.” Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, another Indian American non-profit organization, said, “Ambassadorship to India is a critical position for strengthening ties between the world’s largest and the world’s oldest democracy, and President Biden has made an excellent choice in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.” He added, “Mayor Garcetti’s credentials and national stature make him an excellent pick for the ambassadorship to India, a position that is critical to key American priorities like the global COVID-19 crisis, climate change, and immigration.

“As mayor, Eric Garcetti oversaw the vaccine deployment in the nation’s second-largest city, where over 50% of people over the age of 16 are now vaccinated. Garcetti understands the urgency and reality of addressing climate change, and is familiar with geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region from his service in the US Navy.” The ongoing trade war between the two countries reached its lowest point in 2018 when India imposed tariffs on 28 products in retaliation to the U.S. government’s imposing of heavy tariffs on aluminum and steel from India. Earlier that year, the U.S. ended its generalized system of preferences for India, a program that allowed for duty-free exports of certain products.

Former President Donald Trump called India “the tariff king,” saying: “When we send a motorcycle to India, it’s a 100 percent tariff. When India sends a motorcycle to us, we brilliantly charge them nothing.” On defense, Rossow noted: “Mayor Garcetti will have a particularly steep learning curve to cover our defense relationship with India.” He referred to military exercises, finding a comfortable “strategic pathway,” pending defense sales, and the evolution of Quad, an initiative by the U.S., Japan, Australia and India to get Covid vaccines to the developing world. Garcetti’s close ties to Biden could accelerate Quad’s strategy, predicted Rossow.

The veteran India expert acknowledged that Garcetti presently has no relationship to India nor to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His views on contentious issues, such as India’s treatment of its minorities, or his position on statehood for Jammu and Kashmir are unknown. However, the two-term mayor serves on the executive committee of Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of the Modi government. Indiaspora founder MR Rangaswami cheered Biden’s announcement. “It is good for India to have an ambassador from the U.S., who is a Rhodes scholar and familiar with geopolitics.”

Biden’s First Ever Visit Abroad: Strengthening Alliance With NATO

President Biden embarks this week on the first foreign trip of his presidency to attend a series of European summits. He’ll attend the meeting of the Group of Seven nations (G-7) in Britain. Then, he’ll head to a NATO summit in Brussels.

President Biden embarks this week on the first foreign trip of his presidency to attend a series of European summits. He’ll attend the meeting of the Group of Seven nations (G-7) in Britain. Then, he’ll head to a NATO summit in Brussels where he’ll rub shoulders with the majority of the European Union’s leaders. All of that will precede what is likely to be a tense encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16. After spending the past five months focused on domestic affairs and battling the pandemic, Biden will try to demonstrate how his administration is “restoring” U.S. leadership on the world stage.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post published on Saturday, the U.S. President promised to shore up Washington’s “democratic alliances” in the face of multiple crises and mounting threats from Moscow and Beijing. The U.S. will stand with its European allies against Russia, President Joe Biden has promised ahead of the first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin.Most recent American presidents have selected North American neighbors for their first cross-border trips, though former President Donald Trump, whose penchant for unilateral action and open skepticism of the NATO alliance unsettled American allies, made his first overseas stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For Biden, the first trip is meant to turn the page from Trump’s approach to alliances.

“It’s both a practical chance to connect with key allies and partners on shared opportunities and challenges,” said Yohannes Abraham, the chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council, in an interview with the AP. “But also it’s an illustration of something that the president has been clear about that the transatlantic alliance is back, that revitalizing it is a key priority of his, and that the transatlantic relationship is a strong foundation on which our collective security and shared prosperity are built.”

“We are standing united to address Russia’s challenges to European security, starting with its aggression in Ukraine, and there will be no doubt about the resolve of the U.S. to defend our democratic values, which we cannot separate from our interests,” he wrote.“President Putin knows that I will not hesitate to respond to future harmful activities,” he said. “When we meet, I will again underscore the commitment of the United States, Europe and like-minded democracies to stand up for human rights and dignity.”Since taking office in January, Mr. Biden has ramped up pressure on the Kremlin, and his comments likening Mr. Putin to a “killer” were met with fierce criticism in Moscow.

But both leaders have expressed hopes that relations can improve, with the Russian President saying on Friday he expected a “positive” result from the talks.Mr. Biden in his weekend op-ed also stressed that Washington “does not seek conflict” — pointing to his recent extension of the New START arms reduction treaty as proof of his desire to reduce tensions.“We want a stable and predictable relationship where we can work with Russia on issues like strategic stability and arms control,” he wrote.

U.S. Trade Report Calls ‘Make In India’ Policy As “Trade Restrictive”

The U.S. tried to resolve “long-standing market access impediments affecting U.S. exporters” with India during 2020, says the 2021 President’s Trade Agenda and 2020 Annual Report — an annual report submitted by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to Congress. The report terms India’s policies “trade-restrictive” and saying the “Make in India” campaign epitomises the challenges to the trade relationship.

“While India’s large market, economic growth, and progress towards development make it an essential market for many U.S. exporters, a general and consistent trend of trade-restrictive policies have inhibited the potential of the bilateral trade relationship. Recent Indian emphasis on import substitution through a “Make in India” campaign has epitomized the challenges facing the bilateral trade relationship,” the report says. The Make in India campaign was launched by Prime Minister Modi in 2014 to incentivise production in India.

The report describes the Trump administration’s revocation of India’s preferential trading status under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program in June 2019 and the ensuing discussion to achieve a mini trade deal (“package”) throughout 2020.

“U.S. objectives in this negotiation included resolution of various non-tariff barriers, targeted reduction of certain Indian tariffs, and other market access improvements. The United States also engaged with India on an ongoing basis throughout 2020 in response to specific concerns affecting the full range of pressing bilateral trade issues, including intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement, policy development affecting electronic commerce and digital trade, and market access for agricultural and non-agricultural goods and services,” the report said.

These issues remain unresolved, leaving inconclusive, negotiations that lasted until close to the end of the Trump administration.

In a country-wise section on Digital Service Tax (DST), a Section 301 investigation on India’s DST, which began in June last year, is highlighted. The investigation is ongoing, as per the report.

India finds a total of 179 mentions in the report which is over 300 pages long. Many of the mentions are in a chapter on trade enforcement activities — describing disputes brought by the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Nature and Nurture: How the Biden Administration Can Advance Ties With India

As the administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to begin in the United States, the U.S.-India relationship is facing new tests. Biden, who deemed India a “natural partner” on the campaign trail, will have the task of upgrading a mature relationship at a time of new global dynamics and challenges.

A new Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) issue paper, “Nature and Nurture: How the Biden Administration Can Advance Ties with India,” outlines the competing pressures currently shaping U.S.-India relations.

In the paper, ASPI Associate Director Anubhav Gupta provides a blueprint for how the incoming U.S. administration can advance bilateral ties to the next level, nurturing Biden’s idea of a “natural” relationship. Presenting a series of 10 recommendations to strengthen the U.S.-India partnership, the paper suggests that a Biden administration:

  • Expand the scope of the relationship to elevate health, digital, and climate cooperation.
  • Turn the page to a positive commercial agenda that emphasizes reform and openness.
  • Renew U.S. leadership and regional consultation in the face of China’s rise.
  • Emphasize shared values as the foundation of the relationship.

The paper also argues that a growing convergence between the views of New Delhi and Washington regarding Beijing will continue to facilitate a stronger security partnership. However, “despite the increasing convergence with New Delhi on the China threat, Washington should not take for granted that a deeper strategic alignment is inevitable,” Gupta writes.

At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has devastated both economies and strengthened support for economic nationalism, which may impede stronger commercial cooperation and the two nations’ ability to take on China. Gupta observes that “at a time when the United States and India are starting to decouple from the Chinese economy, they unfortunately have not found ways to draw closer together commercially.” With India embarking on a new campaign of “self-reliance,” an ambitious commercial agenda may be out of reach; however, Gupta argues that “Biden should not shirk from setting an optimistic tone for the relationship that deviates from the recriminations of the past four years.”

Moreover, Gupta notes that a further weakening of democratic norms in India could raise difficult questions for Biden. The incoming U.S. administration “will have to walk a tightrope of emphasizing shared values and standing up for democratic ideals while ensuring that it does not alienate important partners like India in the process.”

(A new issue paper from the Asia Society Policy Institute)

Trump Honours Modi With Legion of Merit Award

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi was presented with the highest degree Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit on Monday, December 21st in Washington, DC. The award is given only to the Head of State or Government. Modi was given the award in recognition of his steadfast leadership and vision that has accelerated India’s emergence as a global power.
US President Donald Trump on Monday presented the prestigious Legion of Merit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his leadership in elevating strategic partnership of the two countries and emergence of India as a global power.

India’s Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, accepted the award on behalf of the prime minister from the US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien at the White House.
President Trump “presented the Legion of Merit to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his leadership in elevating the US-India strategic partnership,” O’Brien said in a tweet. Modi was presented with the highest degree Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit which is given only to the Head of State or Government.

He was given the award in recognition of his steadfast leadership and vision that has accelerated India’s emergence as a global power and elevated the strategic partnership between the United States and India to address global challenges.

O’Brien in another tweet said that Trump also presented the Legion of Merit to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The awards were received by their respective ambassadors in Washington DC.

President Trump “awarded the Legion of Merit to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his leadership and vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Trump awarded the Legion of Merit to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his leadership in addressing global challenges and promoting collective security, O’Brien tweeted.
The United States is the latest country to confer its highest award to the Indian prime minister. Other awards include Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud by Saudi Arabia in 2016, State Order of Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan (2016), Grand Collar of the State of Palestine Award (2018), Order of Zayed Award by United Arab Emirates (2019), Order of St Andrew by Russia (2019), Order of the Distinguished Rule of Nishan Izzuddin by Maldives (2019.

Trump’s Attorney General Barr Denies Voter Fraud In Us 2020 Election

Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

His comments come despite President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election was stolen, and his refusal to concede his loss to President-Elect Joe Biden.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but they’ve uncovered no evidence that would change the outcome of the election. “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP.

The comments are especially direct coming from Barr, who has been one of the president’s most ardent allies. Before the election, he had repeatedly raised the notion that mail-in voter fraud could be especially vulnerable to fraud during the coronavirus pandemic as Americans feared going to polls and instead chose to vote by mail.

Last month, Barr issued a directive to U.S. attorneys across the country allowing them to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities, if they existed, before the 2020 presidential election was certified, despite no evidence at that time of widespread fraud. That memorandum gave prosecutors the ability to go around longstanding Justice Department policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election was certified. Soon after it was issued, the department’s top elections crime official announced he would step aside from that position because of the memo.

The Trump campaign team led by Rudy Giuliani has been alleging a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to dump millions of illegal votes into the system with no evidence. They have filed multiple lawsuits in battleground states alleging that partisan poll watchers didn’t have a clear enough view at polling sites in some locations and therefore something illegal must have happened. The claims have been repeatedly dismissed including by Republican judges who have ruled the suits lacked evidence. Local Republicans in some battleground states have followed Trump in making similar unsupported claims.

Trump has railed against the election in tweets and in interviews though his own administration has said the 2020 election was the most secure ever. Trump recently allowed his administration to begin the transition over to Biden, but has still refused to admit he lost.

The issues Trump’s campaign and its allies have pointed to are typical in every election: Problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks on mail-in ballots, as well as the potential for a small number of ballots miscast or lost.

But they’ve also requested federal probes into the claims. Attorney Sidney Powell has spun fictional tales of election systems flipping votes, German servers storing U.S. voting information and election software created in Venezuela “at the direction of Hugo Chavez,” – the late Venezuelan president who died in 2013. Powell has since been removed from the legal team after an interview she gave where she threatened to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” court filing.

Barr didn’t name Powell specifically but said: “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Barr said.

He said people were confusing the use of the federal criminal justice system with allegations that should be made in civil lawsuits. He said such a remedy for those complaints would be a top-down audit conducted by state or local officials, not the U.S. Justice Department.

“There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all, and people don’t like something they want the Department of Justice to come in and ‘investigate,’” Barr said. He said first of all there must be a basis to believe there is a crime to investigate.

“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. They are not systemic allegations and. And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.”

Under Biden, The United States Should Be There For Its Neighbors In The Western Hemisphere

The Biden administration should pay particular attention to the Western Hemisphere in setting its foreign policy priorities for the next four years. Central and South America, and Caribbean nations, have long been comparatively sleepy in U.S. foreign policy circles. And while the Trump administration, at times, directed its focus to the region — to Venezuela and Cuba, in particular — there remains significant potential to advance important U.S. strategic interests with but a few relatively low-cost, discreet, tailored actions, that would seemingly align with President-Elect Biden’s foreign policy world view.

Here, I do not purport to present a comprehensive policy for the hemisphere, which must address things like transnational criminal organizations, counter-narcotics policy, and energy and environmental issues. Leaving aside that important discussion for now, there are key signals that the Biden administration can send right out of the gate on democracy issues, economic development and immigration policy, trade, and more.

A premium on democracy

As a first step, the Biden administration should try to bring countries in Central and South America, and the Caribbean, into the aspirational coalition of democracies initiative. Doing so would signal renewed American attention on the institution of democracy with our regional neighbors, many of whom are suffering from a marked decline in democratic norms and ideals. The region’s mixed response to the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated this decline.

Establishing and jealously protecting relationships between the United States and Latin American democracies would alert the more authoritarian leaders in the region — like in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and increasingly Brazil — that this administration will place a premium on its relationship with democratic partners. This should help shape the whole of future regional interactions and transactions.

Improving U.S. policies on economic development and immigration

Next, the administration should pursue new ways, beyond the Alliance for Prosperity and América Crece, for the United States to help enhance economic development in the region.

Improving economic conditions will help check the seemingly constant challenge posed by irregular out-migration, especially as the effects of global climate change continue to exacerbate the risk of such migration. Moreover, economic development could serve as an important counter-balance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its growing aspirations throughout the region.

While admittedly a bit axiomatic, improving economic conditions — especially in Central and South America, though also in the Caribbean — would address a significant “push” factor for migrants fleeing their respective countries, usually for the United States. This is particularly true of the so-called “Northern Triangle countries” of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Irregular migration from these countries — and others in the region, including increasingly Mexico — to the United States appears to indeed be a persistent issue, despite a near singular focus on it from the outgoing Trump administration.

A new Biden administration might see similar numbers of irregular migrants arriving at the U.S. land border as the Trump administration saw in its initial months (and really, throughout its tenure). As a result, it could very well find itself with an all-consuming foreign policy challenge that prevents it from addressing other important issues.

In such a situation, a Biden team would likely face strong pressure from its political left flank to immediately and aggressively unwind — or at a minimum, not apply — Trump-era immigration policies. These policies, not counting the public health measures at the border in response to COVID-19, include of course the wall construction, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the third-country asylum rule, and the network of Asylum Cooperative Agreements, all of which the outgoing Trump administration used to great effect to deny entry, execute removals, and facilitate the transportation of arriving migrants to other countries. This issue is complicated by U.S. public opinion: A large portion of Americans apparently continue to support at least the ends achieved by such policies, especially during the pandemic, thus creating the condition where rapidly fielding a feasible solution to a fresh surge of migrants at the border may well prove both operationally and politically untenable.

So, as they say, the best defense is a good offense, which makes it critical for a new Biden administration to take the initiative to improve the economic conditions of our regional neighbors. It should do so rapidly, especially as a Biden presidency in and of itself likely creates its own not insignificant immigration “pull” factor. While this initiative may not stop all of the inevitable flow to the U.S. southwest border, clearly articulating this goal may help mitigate the numbers involved.

(By Michael Sinclair at Brookings)