welcome to Foreign police‘s South Asia Brief.
Highlights of the week: Why The next Afghan refugee crisis could be unprecedented, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi designs his biggest cabinet reshuffle since taking office, and Bangladesh extends its COVID-19 containment.
If you would like to have South Asia Brief delivered to your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.
The looming refugee crisis in Afghanistan
The news from Afghanistan is going from bad to worse. As of July 5, the Taliban had recaptured 122 districts since May 1, according to an analysis by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank that closely follows the insurgency. Afghan forces surrender military outposts and the Taliban seize their weapons.
Meanwhile, unrelenting violence, the Afghans are fleeing. In the north, where fighting has intensified this week, more than 56,000 people have been displaced in recent days, according to the United Nations. (By 2021, more than 205,000 people have been displaced across the country.) The US troop withdrawal, now about 90% complete, is expected to exacerbate the conflict, paving the way for a major refugee crisis.
After more than 40 years of war, refugee crises are sadly familiar to Afghanistan. There are nearly 3 million registered Afghan refugees in the world, or about 1 in 10 refugees. But a perfect storm of factors suggests that the next crisis could be particularly acute: an emboldened and expanding insurgency, terrorist violence, the US withdrawal, a fading peace process, and severe drought to begin.
Those who flee are likely to seek entry into Pakistan and Iran, which are already home to several million Afghan refugees each. In recent years, Tehran and, to a lesser extent, Islamabad have both sought to deport people to Afghanistan because of the perceived economic and security costs of their reception. The United Nations estimates that around 585,000 “undocumented returnees” from Iran and nearly 7,000 returnees from Pakistan have returned to Afghanistan this year.
Europe, via the Mediterranean Sea route, has become an increasingly popular destination for Afghan refugees, but European Union states have also expelled thousands of Afghans. The intensification of fighting in northern Afghanistan means that Central Asian states will also face an influx of refugees. On Monday, a few days after the Taliban seized the main border post with Tajikistan, more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers fled there. Civilians are unlikely to be far behind.
In the event of a refugee crisis, many countries will face international pressure to welcome Afghan refugees. But there will also be internal pressures not to admit them. In Pakistan, which is building a fence along its border with Afghanistan, a key suspect in a recent terrorist attack was found to be of Afghan origin this week. “We say repeatedly that the Afghan refugees are our brothers and sisters, but the time has come for their dignified return,” Pakistani national security adviser Moeed Yusuf said.
The least politically risky option for Afghanistan’s neighbors is to house the refugees in facilities just across their borders, hoping the UN and aid groups will help fund them. EU states, and in particular those who participated in the NATO mission, should also do their part to welcome Afghan refugees. In recent years, they have been deporting them on the pretext that they are economic migrants rather than refugees from war. The country is now embroiled in a full-scale civil war.
The looming crisis offers the Biden administration an opportunity to back up its pledge to help restore US global leadership. United States Should Increase Funding For The Office Of The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees And Related Agencies To Ensure Pakistan, Iran And Central Asian States Have The Support They Need To Help Refugees Afghans.
Washington, along with Kabul, Afghanistan’s neighbors, NATO countries and international aid groups, should also push the Taliban to establish safe zones for internally displaced people. Afghanistan. The best way to deal with a refugee crisis is to give people less incentive to leave. As the fighting escalates, this will admittedly become a tough sell. As Afghans continue to flee the violence, they will need help, and quickly.
July 7 to July 9: Minister of Foreign Affairs of India S. Jaishankar visits Russia.
July 12: The Stimson Center is hosting an online discussion on geopolitics of connectivity in South Asia and beyond.
New Delhi cabinet reshuffle. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a massive cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, with 12 ministers losing their posts and 36 new ministers joining the government. This is the biggest upheaval since Modi took office in 2014. Among the main victims are Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, both of whom resigned before the reshuffle.
Modi has retained his most prominent collaborators: Interior Minister Amit Shah, one of his closest allies; Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh; Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman; and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, who was visiting Russia when the reshuffle was announced.
Global and national factors likely led to the reshuffle. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party lost a key state election in West Bengal in May, and state polls in five other key states are scheduled for February and March 2022. Modi likely intended to bring new blood to boost BJP’s electoral prospects, especially amid a major pandemic and economic challenges.
Moreover, the reshuffle may be an effort to bolster India’s global image, which has recently taken a hit. Vardhan and Prasad were the public faces of India’s response to the pandemic and a growing feud with Twitter over internet freedom, two issues that have sparked negative international media coverage.
Pakistan blocks Lahore attack on India. This week, Pakistani officials accused India of carrying out a terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan last month that left three people dead, including a child, and injured 24. Pakistan’s national security adviser Yusuf said an Indian national with intelligence ties organized the attack. The explosion occurred near the home of Hafiz Saeed, the leader of an India-focused terrorist group called Lashkar-e-Taiba and closely linked to the Pakistani security establishment.
The attack could appear as a gunshot to warn Pakistan that its assets are not safe. But India apparently has little incentive to stoke tensions with Pakistan as it focuses on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and a warm border with China. His willingness to agree to a border ceasefire with Pakistan earlier this year further suggests that he has focused his energy elsewhere.
No end in sight for Bangladesh. The coronavirus wave continues in Bangladesh and, given what has happened in India and Nepal, its path seems painfully familiar. Many areas lack oxygen and hospitals are under great pressure. The hardest hit places include Khulna, Bangladesh, the third largest city, and the border regions of India, where the delta variant was first detected.
Dhaka, the capital, is also in shock. Infection rates there have jumped from 3 to 28 percent over the past month, and officials fear hospitals will run out of beds in a matter of weeks if they continue to rise. This week, the government announced that an ongoing national lockdown would be extended until July 14. But factories, including those in the clothing sector, remain open as long as they follow sanitary protocols.
A controversial new coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh has become a flashpoint for tensions between the government and environmentalists. The Rampal power plant, a joint project with India, is expected to start producing electricity in December.
Environmentalists are concerned about 3,527 tonnes of coal imported from India for the plant as well as its location: the site is just 15 km from the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and a World Heritage site. of UNESCO. The government began building the plant without first carrying out an environmental assessment, despite a stipulation from the committee overseeing the World Heritage sites.
Plant officials insist that they minimize environmental risks. This week, an official said that “high quality” coal from Indonesia or Australia will be used to generate electricity, and that coal from India – known to be particularly polluting – will only be used for construction purposes. Government officials also said the plant will use environmentally friendly technology, although they did not give details.
“As citizens of this country, we want to know why the government is destroying the Sundarbans, which are known as the lungs of the country.”
–Khushi Kabir, an environmentalist in Bangladesh, decry construction of the Rampal power station
In a provocative editorial in Pakistan Friday hours, security analyst Ejaz Haider presented a plan on how Islamabad should deal with security threats in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. “Pakistan must immediately train and develop capabilities to gather early intelligence” on anti-Pakistan terrorists in Afghanistan “and strike them on Afghan soil,” he wrote.
Gaurie Dwivedi, Visiting Fellow at the United Service Institution of India, wrote for the India time on the challenges India faces in pushing back the economic weight of China. “India promises to be the economic stabilizer against China,” she said. “But that will only remain a promise if New Delhi does not address some of the fundamental problems plaguing its economy.”
nepali writer Madhav Shrestha advocated for public diplomacy in the Himalayan weather. “In the case of Nepal, which has no hard power worthy of the name, public diplomacy has significant value in promoting its national interest and building a lasting image of a well-mannered and responsible member. of the international community, “he said. wrote.