• As China-Pakistan Ties Become Wider, India Must Prepare For Implications
By Shalini Chawla
• US Vs Trumpistan: The Current Occupant Of The White House Says He Won’t Vacate Even If He Gets An Eviction
By Jug Suraiya
• Let’s Live A Happier Life In Gratitude
By Pratiksha Apurv
As China-Pakistan Ties Become Wider, India Must Prepare For Implications
By Shalini Chawla
September 30, 2020
China's President Xi Jinping meets with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing (Reuters/File)
With the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in sight, Pakistan is gearing up to gather support from China to avoid the blacklisting. Reports suggest that Islamabad is likely to persuade the US to support it as it feels it can leverage its much-lauded role as a successful negotiator in the US-Taliban agreement signed on February 29. While Pakistan will have support from Turkey and Malaysia, Beijing is expected to push hard in Pakistan’s favour at the meeting. Pakistan has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 and even though Islamabad is getting its progress report ready, there is little evidence to suggest that its faith in the use of terrorism as a state policy against India will change.
Pakistan’s growing alliance with China has been a major factor that has alleviated international pressure on it, altering its strategic calculus. Beijing’s all-out support to Pakistan provided room to shrink Islamabad’s reliance on the West (especially the US). Importantly, Pakistan’s military build-up has continued with Chinese defence imports despite its economic slowdown and mounting debt.
China’s assistance to Pakistan over the last six decades has expanded from a purely military relationship to economic and diplomatic levels. Beijing’s weapon supply not only added to Pakistan’s defence capability but also strengthened its will to carry out a proxy war through terrorism in India, without the fear of being defeated in retaliatory Indian aggression.
C Raja Mohan writes: There is no happy end-state in India’s relations with its neighbours
China’s lavish military assistance to Pakistan has been on four critical fronts: Export of Chinese conventional military equipment; support in Pakistan’s nuclear build-up; assistance to Pakistan’s indigenous defence industry and intelligence sharing. The supply of Chinese conventional weapons started in the 1960s and 1970s with F-7s and MiG-19 fighters. In the 1980s, the Pakistan Army inventory had significant Chinese equipment including the T-59 MBTs, T-60 and T-63 Light Tanks, and Type 531 APCs. By the early 1980s, China had provided Pakistan about 65 per cent of its aircraft and more than 70 per cent of its tanks.
Pakistan started its naval acquisitions from China in the 1980s with a long-term objective of striking a deal for technology transfer for indigenous production in the future. In the last two decades, the focus of Pakistan’s defence procurement has been on the build-up of its air force and the maritime strike capabilities of its navy. In these, technology transfer from China has been a key feature. The Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AMF), under the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at Kamra, started production of the Karakoram-8 jet trainer in collaboration with the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC). JF-17 is co-developed by Pakistan and China and reports suggest the PAC has been producing 58 per cent of the JF-17’s airframe, and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation 42 per cent of it. In 2006, the Pakistan Navy ordered four F-22P-type frigates from China and it was agreed that the fourth F-22P will be manufactured in Pakistan at a Karachi shipyard. PNS ASLAT is the first indigenously built frigate of the navy and the production was done in collaboration with the China Shipbuilding and Trading Company.
On the nuclear front, Pakistan received help with the reactor, weapon design as well as nuclear material (in the 1970s and 1980s). China continued missile technology assistance to Pakistan and the technology of the Chinese M-11 was used by Pakistan to develop missiles, including Hatf-3/Hatf-4 (based on M-11) and Hatf-6 (based on Chinese M-18).
Ram Madhav writes: As Chinese ambition expands, Delhi must turn towards PM Modi’s principle of ‘together we grow’
The intelligence-sharing cooperation between the two countries has deepened and reports suggest posting of Pakistan’s ISI officers (from this March) to China’s Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department. The alliance expanded into an economic partnership with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which Pakistan sees as a game-changer. Beijing’s diplomatic support to Pakistan has grown significantly after the revocation of Article 370 and China has repeatedly raised the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council.
It looks like China wants its alliance with Pakistan to serve as an exemplar to smaller nations in South Asia and the Middle East to fulfil its boundless strategic and economic ambition. The Sino-Pak nexus is expected to grow further in the coming years and India needs to be strategically prepared to deal with the implications of the alliance.
Shalini Chawla is distinguished fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies
US Vs Trumpistan: The Current Occupant of The White House Says He Won’t Vacate Even If He Gets An Eviction
By Jug Suraiya
September 30, 2020
Following reports that the US president (POTUS) won’t quit the presidency and the White House even if he loses the election, Second Opinion did a phone interview with him.
Second Opinion: Mr POTUS, some Indian netas hang on to their official residences long after they’re no longer in office, but your saying that you won’t give up the White House even if you lose the election is a first for American politics. How do you justify it?
POTUS: I justify it by saying that those darned Damnocrats as I call ’em are turning this so-called election into a scam, a hoax, by bringing in this male-in ballet. Why can’t women also ballet? Heck, I like women. In fact, some say I’ve been known to like ’em a little too much. Heh, heh!
SO: Yes. So it’s said. But it’s not male-in, as in the male gender, it’s mail-in, as through the postal system. And it’s not ballet but ballot.
POTUS: Yeah? Whatever. Anyway, even if I lose by the popular vote as I did the last time, all those electoral colleges like Yale and Harvard will help me win as they did before.
SO: I think those electoral colleges are different from colleges like Yale and Harvard. But do you feel that the law which says that a US president can’t remain in office for more than two terms should be scrapped so that you can remain POTUS for a third term, and more?
POTUS: Sure. Why the heck shouldn’t I? What’s the point of reinventing’ the wheel, over and over? If folks way back, when the first wheel was invented, had said: Hey, let’s reinvent it every four years, maybe try and give it a square shape next time, or a triangle, we’d still be stuck in the Stone Age, and livin’ in caves or something. So why keep reinventing the presidency? Just stick to the POTUS we’ve got – me. And after me there’s always Ivanka.
SO: This sounds like Trumpistan. What happens to democracy?
POTUS: Along with the Damnocrats, it gets the boot. God bless America!
SO: We might need to change that to God save America….
Our well-being in testing times is linked to both physical and mental health. Greater happiness is now needed more than ever before and that is precisely the reason why we should start our day by thanking existence for this priceless gift called life.
When we look at the trees, mountains, rivers, the whole of nature outside of our home, one thing in common is that all seem to be full of life, yet as though in deep, silent prayer. We feel speechless, with a deep sense of gratitude. Prayer exists in the inner realm, at the very core of our centre. Researchers are now discovering that the sense of gratefulness not only has a profound impact on our overall health; it also helps in reducing depression, anxiety and in treating sleep disorders.
Professor Alex Wood and his team with Jeffrey Froh and Adam Geraghty in 2010 published a paper titled ‘Gratitude and Well-Being: A Review and Theoretical Integration’. They concluded that gratitude is related to a variety of clinically relevant phenomena, including psychopathology depression, adaptive personality characteristics, positive social relationships, and physical health, particularly stress and sleep. The paper also quoted a study conducted on a community of 247 people who were showing signs of excessive worrying and anxiety disorder. Through controlled gratitude intervention, they found that a sense of gratitude was effective in reducing both body dissatisfaction and excessive worry. The researchers also quoted a previous study conducted in 2003 by Emmons and McCullough, where participants were asked to maintain a daily list of events for which they were grateful, including even just waking up in the morning. The study clearly concluded that ‘gratitude is strongly related to well-being.’
Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita said to Arjuna, “Tam eva sharanam gachchha sarva-bhavena bharata, Tat-prasadat param shantim sthanam prapsyasi shashvatam” – Hey Arjuna, your whole being needs to surrender for the gift of peace, happiness and that eternal abode. The surrender Krishna is talking about is deep gratitude towards existence, towards life and all the other valuable things it has given us.
When we thank the trees for the breeze in the morning, it becomes prayer and our being turns into pure gratitude. When we see misery, pain and suffering today, we should try helping someone who needs help. This action could bring joy to someone. Just like existence, we have many things in abundance and a sense of thankfulness can change our life. Osho observed that gratitude arises, whenever we start feeling God’s presence all around, and that moment transforms our whole energy into gratitude and our whole being becomes a thanksgiving.
We should never think about existence’s gift to us in terms of quantity – big or small. Sant Kabir said, “Tinka kabhu na nindiye” – We should not even show disrespect to a speck of dust. This is a deep message that everything around has its own value. We need to acknowledge that everything existence is offering us has the potential to bring harmony and balance in life. Gratefulness is true communion with existence and perhaps the only fragrance of the heart. We should be grateful for breathing, for being helped, and for the abundance. Let this feeling of deep gratitude become our intrinsic nature. And, slowly we will realise that all our complaints simply disappear, leaving us in an ocean of joy, celebration and total bliss.
• Pakistan’s Parliamentary System — A Colonial Relic
By Ali Khan
• Lost In Xinjiang
By Rafia Zakaria
• Chinese Muzzle
By Mahir Ali
Pakistan’s Parliamentary System — A Colonial Relic
By Ali Khan
September 29, 2020
Still reeling from the horrifying Lahore-Sialkot motorway incident, the nation recently saw one of the country’s seasoned politicians stand in parliament and exploit the sickening events for political point scoring, woefully out of touch with the people’s suffering. Why are we not shocked? Because, it’s typical of our politicians. Our political system encourages and rewards such acts of party interest over national wellbeing.
Our parliamentary system — the dusty, awry pass-down from a former marriage — is fundamentally inappropriate for a country of Pakistan’s size, diversity, and complexity. A tool of majoritarian politics, it incentivises ill-intentioned and incompetent rulers to pander to powerful majorities, vital to their parliamentary seat count, at the expense of society’s most vulnerable. In Pakistan, it has further mutated into dynastic rule, where two of the country’s wealthiest families also control two of the largest parties, both lacking any real ideological core, with their members pledging absolute allegiance to their monarch-like leaders in return for a get-out-of-jail free pass to accumulate wealth themselves. In reality then, when politicians use national tragedy to gain an upper hand, they are simply doing what the system demands of them.
The choice of a presidential system is not only wise, it is obvious.
The topic is complicated, confounded by petty party-members’ propagating sham logic in fear of losing their grip on a system they can twist. Simply put, the choice whittles down to three primary points: justice, merit, and representation.
The parliamentary system undermines justice and fairness in Pakistan. Our system is designed to disproportionately favour large majorities (e.g. a province), and breed divisiveness. In theory, Punjab could choose the PM even if not a single vote was cast for his party outside of its borders, incentivising politicians to pander to its interests. Throughout history, we can see the root of our many problems in the similar exploitation and neglect of discrete segments of the country including religious minorities and tribal populations. A presidential system would maintain a proportional representation in the National Assembly while allowing us to choose our representatives at the local and federal level based on the individual’s promise and commitment.
Our parliamentary system also undermines meritocracy — the right people are not in the right jobs. The PM cannot appoint his own cabinet. Instead, he chooses from a list of ill-suited ministers to lead ministries they know little about. A presidential system promotes meritocracy, allowing appointments of experts in key positions, such as Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Moeed Yusuf, to be the norm, not the exception. Pakistan could finally leverage its talent, calling on its citizens to serve as and when needed, instead of relying on “electables,” who ply power through perverse feudal and economic influence.
Finally, our system does not truly represent its peoples’ interest. It attracts an incompetent ilk of legislators, interested only in wielding executive power. We vote not to elect representatives to legislate, but to indirectly elect a PM. Our MNAs have no incentive to improve their constituency, and unsurprisingly there is little intelligent debate in the chambers; with politicians not accountable to the people they represent. A presidential system would decouple our executive leadership from local government elections and provide the public a chance to judge their local representatives on performance.
Still, a presidential system is not a magic pill. The threat of an authoritarian regime under a presidential system is real so we must meticulously design a transition, ensuring government work is conducted with effective “checks and balances”. Done well, it will align the incentives of our government to the people’s interests.
So, let us choose a system befitting our diversity and scale. Let us begin to write our own history. Do we want a just and meritocratic country where our rulers represent the people’s interests? If yes, then the choice is clear: we vote to move to a presidential system of democracy.
SAKANDAR Hayat is a Pakistani who had settled in the Uighur city of Kashgar. There he ran a successful garment business. His wife and three children, two daughters and one son, were all ethnic Uighurs from the area. In 2017, when Ramazan came around, Hayat decided to take a trip to Pakistan with his son. They came down from Xinjiang and crossed the border into Pakistan. They had spent three weeks in Pakistan when they received an alarming phone call from back home. His wife had been picked up by Chinese authorities and placed in one of the so-called re-education camps set up by the Chinese Communist Party. His two daughters, seven and 10 years old, had been placed in an orphanage. He begged and pleaded for more information about them, but was unable to gather any news.
As the whole world knows, there have been numerous reports of the Uighurs of Xinjiang being subjected to terrible coercion and abuse over the past several years. Drone footage shows camps built to detain hundreds of thousands of them. Recent reports using Google’s satellite imagery show that new camps are being built to house even more Uighur Muslims. Those who have been in the camps report their hands being tied together as they languish in rooms of 35 prisoners each.
One former detainee told reporters that they would be woken up at 4a.m. to listen to lectures about the Chinese Communist Party and how it cares for them. For breakfast they received hot water and a piece of bread, followed by being made to run in circles, and five hours of instruction in the Chinese language. Those who provided any resistance or did not show proper interest in being re-educated to be ‘Chinese’ instead of ‘Uighur Muslim’ were punished and even tortured. In simple terms, the camps are pure hell.
It is no wonder, then, that Sakandar Hayat was terrified that his wife had been taken away and detained in one. Unable to get information about her, he and his son made their way to the border. As soon as they got there, they were met by Chinese border guards, who arrested Hayat’s son. They told Sakandar that his son would be returned to him in a week, after he was questioned about what he did in Pakistan. He would not see him again for two more years.
They had spent three weeks in Pakistan when they received an alarming phone call from back home.
Sakandar’s story is not the only one. In their feature on Hayat’s case, the Los Angeles Times also detailed the cases of several more Pakistani men married to Uighur women who have faced similar problems. In the case of one, he was only allowed out of the camp himself if he promised to be an informant. Others talk of similar oppressive measures and a feeling of complete helplessness before the Chinese authorities.
Mohammed Umer Khan, a Pakistani Uighur whose family moved to Rawalpindi in 1967 to flee oppression by the Chinese government, has faced problems despite the fact that he lives in Pakistan. Using funds from the Umer Uyghur Trust set up by his family, Umer was running a small school outside Rawalpindi. The school, which was first set up in 2010, intended to promote the Uighur language and culture among those Uighurs living in Pakistan. Not long after, he received a visit from law enforcement officers who told him to close the school and accused him of “harming Pakistan-China relations”. When he did not agree to their demands, he said they came back and destroyed it. In 2015, he tried to reopen the school, but it had to be shut down again after a month, allegedly owing to harassment by Pakistani authorities. In 2017, he spent several days in detention.
Pakistani and Chinese authorities also appear to be cooperating with each other in terms of collecting information about when ethnic Uighurs visit Pakistan. A recent rule requires them to register themselves and their family members with an organisation funded by the Chinese Embassy, which Umer fears would be used to monitor them. The onus behind all of this is no mystery: Pakistan is an indebted country and quickly becoming a vassal state to China. If China believes that Uighurs must abandon their culture and faith in order to ‘assimilate’ as Chinese, then so too does Pakistan. This is true to such an extent that, last year, Pakistan joined 36 other countries in signing a letter supporting China’s policies in Xinjiang.
The future for Pakistanis married to Uighurs appears terribly bleak. Pakistan’s authorities appear to believe they cannot (as they should) negotiate on their behalf. In the case of Sakandar Hayat, this meant he had to wait two years to get a visa to return to Kashgar. When he went, he found a wife who now remained silent, as if all the life had been drained from her owing to what she had endured in the camp. Hayat’s son still has to live in the camp, except for two days when he works for a Chinese telecommunication company on a labour contract that he had to sign. Sometimes he receives payment for his work, at other times he does not.
There is give and take in every relationship. While Pakistan does not have much leverage over China, it does have a close relationship with the country. This close relationship is not enough to thwart what appears to be a decades-long master plan to change the cultural, religious and demographic characteristics of Xinjiang. It could however, be just enough to at least ensure that Pakistani Uighurs and Pakistanis living in Xinjiang are safe and able to travel back and forth without fear that they or their family members will be forced into a camp. The request may not be fulfilled by imperious and super-powerful China, but it is one that Pakistan’s government should make.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
LATE last week, China’s President Xi Jinping was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying at a two-day conference: “Viewed overall, Xinjiang is enjoying a favourable setting of social stability with the people living in peace and contentment. The facts have abundantly demonstrated that our national minority work has been a success.” The Communist Party’s policies were “totally correct” and efforts to plant the national identity “deep in the souls” of Uighurs and other minorities “must be held to for the long term”.
The same week, fresh evidence emerged of what that “national minority work” entails, with analysis of satellite imagery by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) revealing that 380 detention facilities have either been built or expanded since 2017. “We don’t believe we have found them all,” says the ASPI’s Nathan Ruser. “The largest is more than 300 acres in size. That is more than three and a half Disneylands.”
It is estimated that about 10pc of Xinjiang’s Uighur and Kazakh minorities have involuntarily been enrolled in what are officially described as vocational re-education institutes. By most accounts, trades are indeed taught in these facilities, but that is only part of the purpose. Much effort is focused on indoctrination, both cultural and ideological.
The campaign is not restricted to Xinjiang. There have lately been reports of a similar “mass labour programme” in Tibet, apparently aimed at turning rural agricultural labourers into factory workers. In Inner Mongolia, meanwhile, protests erupted last month against a policy to gradually replace Mongolian with Chinese as the medium of instruction in schools.
The largest detention camp is 300 acres plus.
Such measures are sometimes officially depicted as part of Xi Jinping’s campaign to eradicate poverty by the end of this year. How could that possibly be construed as an undesirable goal?
On the face of it, the intent is welcome. On the other hand, the very fact that poverty still exists in China more than 70 years after the communist revolution seems like an indictment of much that has occurred in the interim. The failure is even more stark if one compares the ostentatious wealth of Shanghai with the deprivation in the vast countryside. China boasts the second highest number of billionaires after the United States, yet half its population subsists on an annual income of about $1,500, roughly equivalent to the price of a Chinese-manufactured iPhone.
President Xi has himself approvingly cited the scholarship of Thomas Piketty in the context of inequality in the US, but the publication of the French economist’s latest book, Capital and Ideology, was nonetheless held up in China because the author refused to agree to the excision of segments referring to economic disparities in China, notably the fact that wealth distribution between the top 10pc and bottom 50pc is “only slightly less inegalitarian than the United States and significantly more so than Europe”.
China can perhaps justifiably boast of many achievements in the past few decades, during which it has insinuated itself into the global economy by becoming the world’s leading manufacturer, albeit largely on the strength of an underpaid and overworked workforce without recourse to the organising options available to labour, to some extent, in most capitalist societies.
Its response to the Covid-19 pandemic has also been remarkable, despite egregious initial slip-ups, at least if the official figures are to be taken at face value. Its economy has by some accounts roared back into life while much of the rest of the world is still struggling with a range of restrictions. China’s apparent strategy, as in many other countries, is to henceforth rely more on the domestic market.
However, the impressive ability to construct a hospital in Wuhan within a week or so also extends to the rapid erection of detention centres elsewhere.
If Xi Jinping does not particularly stand out among the international rogues’ gallery of dilettantes running the world, it’s largely because his attentions are focused locally. There are indications, but no conclusive evidence, that there is substantial opposition to him within the Communist Party. Which is hardly surprising, given that critics and dissidents face extended incarceration or worse, and it is never easy to tell whether those incarcerated or executed for graft or corruption are actually guilty.
The cultural genocide unfolding in Xinjiang has lately begun to provoke some pushback, both economic and political, although there is cause to suspect it is more directly related to other aspects of Beijing’s belligerence on the economic and geopolitical fronts. Were Xi to kowtow to the usual capitalist deities, the outrages in Urumqi and Kashgar would probably soon be forgotten.
But China’s largely facetious claim to socialist ideals deserves a sceptical eye-roll, and the idea that “Xi Jinping Thought” is “21st-century Marxism” hardly bears scrutiny, yet it will be important to keep a close eye on China’s future trajectory, in respect of both its formidable achievements and its egregious — and often repellent — excesses.
• Lebanon Awaits the US Presidential Elections, But Will Collapse Faster While It Waits
By Hanin Ghaddar
• Do We Still Need Cities In A Virtual, Post-Pandemic World?
By Fahd Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed
• Annexation without Declaration: The Israeli Case
By Najla M. Shahwan
Trump, the Teflon President
By Marwan Bishara
29 Sep 2020
US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters during a news conference inside the James S Brady Briefing Room at the White House on September 27, 2020 in Washington, US [Reuters/Ken Cedeno]
Watching the United States election season from across the Atlantic, I am reminded of the story of the 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant, who hated the Eiffel Tower but had lunch at its restaurant because it was the one place in Paris where he could not see it.
Indeed, Americans are increasingly losing sight of America, of the big picture, as they turn inward and against each other with such venom, blinded by racial hatred, religious bigotry and the cult of personality.
Watching the “quantum of solace” drop fast, as political incitement diminishes tolerance, promotes violence and spreads panic, one wonders if the country will descend into civil strife if incumbent President Donald Trump loses the upcoming election.
In many ways, the presidential vote is not only a referendum on his character and leadership, but also a referendum on the character of the country and its standing in the world.
The Moral Argument
Predictably, liberals and Democrats blame Trump and his Republican enablers for all that is ailing America today, though, as the president himself puts it, he would not be in power in the first place if it were not for their failings and follies.
They see him as a mean, vulgar, cheating, lying character, who either practises or embraces racism, chauvinism and bigotry.
They see him as an immoral, divisive and dangerous leader who has torn the country apart to stay on top, serving the narrow interests of one group over another.
They argue that he is an incompetent and lazy commander-in-chief, unfit to serve the common good of the country, as he has demonstrated during the pandemic.
They believe, as president, he is more interested in the trappings of the office than the workings of the presidency; that he prefers talking about himself over working for the country; that he is obsessed with his image but indifferent to America’s standing.
Now, a sceptic might question such damning criticism by the opposition party in the heat of battle, even though much of it is collaborated by media reports, including this week’s damning revelations about his taxes.
And that is not all.
Democrats are not alone in their criticism of Trump. Republicans have also harboured similar and no less damning sentiments.
Leading Republican senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Susan Collins as well as former Republican governors like Nikki Haley and Rick Perry, and the likes of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who cheer Trump today, have all severely criticised, if not condemned him in the past.
They took turns calling him a liar, narcissist, authoritarian, ignorant, demagogue, bully, crook, crazy, delusional, a racist bigot and unfit for office.
In other words, there is a consensus of sorts across the political spectrum over Trump’s defects and derelictions.
All of this begs the question: why, despite their low opinion of the president, do an overwhelming majority of conservatives and Evangelicals, as well as, a majority of white and male Americans continue to support Trump?
The ‘Pragmatic’ Argument
Alas, most Republicans seem unmoved by their own “moral judgement”, arguing that Americans propelled Trump to victory in 2016 despite his multiple personal scandals.
Indeed, their response to the moral argument is straightforward, self-serving and rather cynical. They believe, to paraphrase one of their favourite philosophers, Adam Smith, that it is not from the benevolence of the baker that you get bread for dinner.
In this way, whatever Trump is losing among liberal Republicans who see him as anathema to their traditional Republican values, he is making up by gaining the support of certain independents. Those who think Trump has done well on the economy are more likely to vote for him – as many as 82 percent of them, according to the latest polls.
In other words, as long as Trump implements the conservative agenda by cutting taxes, lifting regulations, appointing conservative judges etc, Republicans will stand behind him, regardless of his lies, transgressions and divisiveness.
As long as the president uses his popularity among the hardcore right-wing voters to boost Republicans’ own chances for re-election, they will return the favour, come what may.
All of this has made Trump into Teflon president par excellence. No scandal, no matter how great or grave, can damage his popularity. Indeed, any of his political, financial or sexual scandals could have utterly diminished another candidate, but not Trump.
It is political cynicism at its worst.
All of this makes one wonder if this week’s damning revelations about his tax avoidance or potentially tax evasion will hurt him “bigly”, as he might say… or be treated like any other scandal.
But that is not all.
Many Republicans seem to support Trump for his traits, not despite them.
Some may support him because he knows how to pay very little or no taxes to stiff the “welfare state”. Others may back him because he is aggressive and tenacious, willing to do all to win.
Once they realised they could not beat him, Republican leaders joined him unconditionally, some grudgingly, others happily.
Either way, they have supported his nationalist policies and xenophobic, populist and chauvinist rhetoric which are tearing the country apart, viewing him as the white male antidote to establishment liberals like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
And they support him despite his rhetoric undermining the electoral process and rejecting the peaceful transfer of power, especially when he insists he is destined to win unless the Democrats cheat, which threatens to pave the way for a prolonged political battle that may spill over onto the streets.
To be sure, a constitutional crisis or an electoral implosion at a federal level will trickle down to all levels of US society and polity, where confidence in the ballot box is indispensable to the stability and wellbeing of states, cities, counties and boroughs that regularly elect over half a million officials.
And that is not all, either.
A Machiavellian Leadership
In fewer than four years, Trump has been able to take full control of the Republican party, bullying its traditional leaders and demolishing its liberal wing.
Despite being a political novice with no articulated vision, Trump has managed to dictate the party agenda, message and policies to his favour through stick – blackmail and coercion – and the occasional carrot in the form of budget allocations and government appointments.
Nowhere has his grip on the party been more obvious than in its last convention, which for the first time lacked any written platform, and instead was fully dedicated to honour Trump and his family.
It is indeed mind-boggling how this intellectually challenged, politically inexperienced real estate developer has been able to mount a hostile takeover of a major political party, brand it like he brands his towers, and begin to transform the world’s leading democracy.
An untold number of those who could speak out are afraid of doing so because they would be ruthlessly labelled and tweeted into infamy by the “brother leader”.
If re-elected, Trump will come back next year with greater vigour and vengeance, and there may be little to stop him from ruling like an autocrat, ala Vladimir Putin.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but it is useful to make this comparison to point to where the problem with the Republican Party really lies today.
Many Americans, especially Republicans, believe that the end justifies the means, ie, that using any and all means possible, even undemocratic and illiberal, is justified to maintain power.
So eager to defeat the Democrats, Republicans are slowly but surely turning undemocratic. They are willing to support the president if he cuts their taxes, echoes their religious beliefs and satisfies their sense of importance.
The rest is history.
But in a liberal democracy, the means are just as important as the end. In fact, to a large extent, the means are the end. Justice, liberty, equality and the rule of law are neither abstract nor expendable; indeed, they are indispensable for the long-term prosperity, security and survival of any democracy.
Populist authoritarian means may be attractive for some in the short term, but make no mistake – they are detrimental to any democracy.
And that is what ails America.
On The Brink
A majority of Americans may be increasingly aware of the danger facing their country, which could explain why Trump is trailing Biden in the polls.
But here on the other side of the Atlantic and across the Mediterranean, Europeans and Middle Easterners have a long and painful history with populist-nationalist leaders exploiting the political process to take over and impose their will on their nations.
It looks all too familiar and utterly disturbing to watch Trump borrow a page or more from infamous populist hyper-nationalist European leaders who brought their nations, and indeed the continent, to their knees.
If the election produces a more insular, authoritarian and aggressive American leadership, the implications for the world’s leading liberal democracy will be catastrophic and perhaps irreversible.
It will also trigger a dramatic domino effect in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, where populist leaders, far-right demagogues, and dictators look to Trump for inspiration and momentum.
Alternatively, a Biden win may have different implications, but I will leave this for another time.
Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst. He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.
Lebanon Awaits the US Presidential Elections, But Will Collapse Faster While It Waits
By Hanin Ghaddar
29 September 2020
Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran realized that they do not have to make concessions in Lebanon – or anywhere else for that matter – before the US presidential elections on November 3. They would rather use the Lebanese crisis as a negotiating chip when the new administration in the US – whether a new Biden administration or another Trump one – starts new talks with Iran.
Until then, neither the initiative of French president Emmanuel Macron, nor any other regional or international initiative, could force Hezbollah to concede.
After Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Adib recused himself, Macron gave a rare and specific press conference, focused on the Lebanese crisis. Although he did not declare any punitive measures against the Lebanese political elite, he did name and shame those who hindered his initiative, namely, Hezbollah and the other Shia political party Amal.
On Sunday, Macron accused Lebanon’s leaders of betraying their promises over their failure to form a government, and he gave the country’s political class four to six weeks to implement his roadmap. Macron said the political elite in Lebanon had decided “to betray” their obligations and had committed “collective treason” by failing to form a government. But more specifically, Macron pointed at Hezbollah, warning that the group should “not think it is more powerful than it is.... It must show that it respects all the Lebanese. And in recent days, it has clearly shown the opposite.”
During the six weeks that Macron gave to the Lebanese parties to sort out the problems, the US presidential elections will have taken place, and Macron and those in Lebanon will know which administration they’ll be dealing with for the next four to eight years.
Accordingly, Macron understood that Iran will not give him any win in Lebanon and that they prefer to negotiate directly with the US after the presidential elections. Macron’s initiative has failed, and until November 3, Lebanon will enter a phase of rapid deterioration – economic, social and security deterioration – as all parties will try to increase their odds of a favorable outcome ahead of the next round of talks. Macron will focus on the humanitarian aspects, the Trump administration on more sanctions on Hezbollah and probably more of its allies, and Iran on its survival and the survival of its proxies.
If Trumps wins a second term, his Iran policy will probably be the same. Although he said he is willing to negotiate a deal with Iran, it will probably include addressing Iran’s malign activities in the region.
However, the question remains what route Biden will take if he wins. Will he pursue a strategy that will save the Iranian regime and its proxies in the region, or is this is some kind of wishful thinking by Hezbollah and its sponsors?
Biden was part of the Obama administration that signed the JCPOA with Iran, but that doesn’t mean that Biden necessarily has the same outlook or that he endorses the same Iran policy as Obama. It is too early to tell, especially given that Biden’s foreign policy team has not been formed. But the one aspect that might differentiate Biden’s Iran policy from Obama’s is the fact that Biden is not in a hurry.
When Obama decided to move on with the negotiations, he was already in his second term, and Iran was by no means in a rush to reach a deal. Iran’s economy was much better, and the regime was stronger and less challenged. So Iran was able to practice its strategy of patience and play its waiting game to secure its regional interests before agreeing to any deal brokered by the Obama administration.
Accordingly, Iran’s interests in the region and its plans of expansionism were not challenged by the deal. Iran was able to expand its powers in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen without US hindrance, until Trump’s administration came along and sanctions were imposed.
However, this time around, Iran is in the corner and does not have the luxury of time. On the other hand, Biden would be at the beginning of his first term and will be in no need to rush signing a new deal with Iran, although he might ease off some of the pressure. Biden will also have other priorities, such as the COVID-19 challenges, China, and Russia.
In Lebanon, until Hezbollah faces the reality that Lebanon is not going to be Trump’s or Biden’s priority, and that time is not on their side, Lebanon might be completely lost and become a failed state.
Meanwhile, it has become clear to all parties involved – the US, the Europeans, the French, regional powers, and all of the Lebanese, including the Shia community – that Hezbollah is the main culprit behind the failure of the French initiative, and the reason why Lebanon has collapsed. It will be very difficult to walk back from this.
Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.
Do We Still Need Cities In A Virtual, Post-Pandemic World?
By Fahd Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed
September 29, 2020
Ever since the first cities were established some 7,000 years ago, humans have been ineluctably drawn to one another. Whether round fires to keep warm or round town squares to be part of the commercial action, we are a species innately inclined to congregate, thanks to our basic needs and wants.
And when it came to habitation, the majority of us were compelled to set up sticks in urban centers. Over millennia of industriousness and innovation, we gradually transformed these urban hubs into dynamic hives of activity, which kick-started human productivity, innovation and invention.
These human hives of activity came to be known as cities. And they, in turn, became the heartbeat of our economies, the lifeblood of our societies.
Today, 55 percent of the world’s population live in cities. Combined, our cities produce 70 percent of the world’s GDP. By 2050, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs predicts that 68 percent of Earth’s population will live in urbanized areas.
In the last nine months, however, the road we were travelling forked unexpectedly and we, as a collective humanity, collided with a major speed bump. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed our world and the way we live.
As the new reality dawned, our cities became the front lines and the epicenters of the chaos caused by the virus. And many struggled to cope with the sudden increase of public-health demands placed on them.
Typically, the infrastructure of the city is not designed to deal with a viral pandemic that spreads most effectively in close human contact. Dense living quarters, large gatherings, public transit systems, skyscrapers, shops and restaurants are all designed for the very opposite of social distancing. They are built to bring many, many of us together at the same time, in the same place.
Amid this time of reckoning and a new virtual reality, an urgent question emerged: Have cities become obsolete?
This question has driven the work done by the Urban 20 (U20) Engagement Group’s work for the last nine months. It has informed and infused the hundreds of pages of research and urban analysis conducted by our three special task forces.
And it is being discussed and debated at great length during the 2020 U20 Mayors Summit, where we will officially present our communique to the G20, with policy recommendations to create more sustainable and inclusive urban spaces in the years ahead.
Before we do that, however, let us say this much: The city will never be obsolete. We are a social species that does our best work and achieves our best when we are together. We will always be drawn to the excitement and buzz of the city. But they will have to change and adapt with the times if our socioeconomic development is to continue sustainably.
It was also telling that, in our hour of utmost need, our cities demonstrated an inherent flexibility, agility and resilience. Many were able to transition to a virtual world almost overnight. They supported us when we needed it most.
Despite the momentous shock that we underwent — adapting to working from home, families, friends and colleagues relocated or stuck at home, in some cases in different continents — we have never been better connected. Everything changed, but our productivity did not slow; in fact it increased.
You may think that this returns us to the question: Do we really need cities in 2020? The answer does not change. While we can now seamlessly host summits and forums virtually, cutting travel and commute times, virtual meetings don’t allow us to develop the trust, rapport and chemistry required for us to build highly productive and cooperative relationships.
Virtual events don’t spring the random chance encounters, the ad-hoc ideation, co-inspiration and the spontaneous meeting of the minds that have driven innovation throughout history.
Virtual meetings are planned meetings. But cooperation, ideation and innovation happen, in many cases, when spontaneity is at its unfettered best — through chance, unplanned encounters.
While friends and families can catch up over a virtual dinner through an app, it will never replace the genuine social bond that grows and blooms from sharing that same meal face-to-face across the same table.
And while our kids can learn from home and do their homework on their smart devices, we should remember the reason we have schools is not to just to offer children a structured pedagogical curricula, but to also, and almost as importantly, to provide them with exposure to social situations that equip them psychologically with the skills required for them to succeed in the outside world.
Although this pandemic has forced us into social distancing and to productively digitize many of our daily routines, we yearn for that deep and inherently human connection that comes from physically connecting and congregating. And that will never change.
So, the real question should be: How can we enable cities to adapt to this and future shocks? The answer is: Investment in agility and resilience measures. The importance of investing in the resilience of our cities and our citizens is the headline takeaway from 2020 for urbanites and city planners.
We must find a way for our people to thrive, in business and in private life, regardless of circumstance. We must help people adapt. We must help people become more agile and resilient. We must prepare them for a future shaped by climate change, contagion and connectivity.
Fahd Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed is the Chair of the Urban 20 (U20) 2020 and the President of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City.
Annexation without Declaration: The Israeli Case
By Najla M. Shahwan
SEP 30, 2020
In the previous months, the world was sent up in arms by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex 30% of the West Bank. However, after the plan was halted temporarily the outcry faded, an alternative date remained unannounced, and it began to matter little whether the annexation had a formal date or that there was not, in fact, a continuous de facto annexation gradually taking place on the ground in the West Bank.
As part of the Oslo Accords, the occupied West Bank was divided into three parts. Area A constitutes 18% of the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) controls most civilian affairs and internal security, while Area B constitutes about 22% of the area in which the PA is in charge of education, health and the economy. Area C makes up 60% of the occupied West Bank and was supposed to be gradually handed over to the PA, but instead, Israel still retains total control of it.
Israel's exclusive control includes law enforcement, planning and construction, while most of the area has been reallocated for the benefit of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military, at the expense of Palestinian communities.
The Palestinian population in Area C comes to around 300,000, most of them small herding communities scattered in remote areas, mainly on the eastern and southern slopes of the West Bank.
Twenty-five years have passed since the Oslo Accords, and this complicated situation became a permanent condition of ever-tightening Israeli control over Palestinian life and development in Area C, within a process of dispossession and land seizure designed to expand Israeli settlements and restrict the territory available to the Palestinians who live in the region.
The process has involved the demolition of Palestinian homes, schools, medical facilities and a refusal to recognize private property rights.
Israel’s apartheid project not only violates international law and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination but jeopardizes hope for a two-state solution, making territorial compromises increasingly difficult.
Years of neglect and suppression have left the Palestinian people living in Area C in a desperate situation, isolated from other areas in the West Bank and highly vulnerable to forcible displacement and ever-worsening policies.
Israel’s ongoing control of all critical aspects of security and civil affairs in this area has been guided by the intertwined goals of minimizing the Palestinian population while facilitating the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements and settler population in the same territory which ballooned from just 1,500 in the early years of occupation to almost 430,000 in 2020.
Israel's Silent War
Recently, a report by Israeli daily Haaretz has shed light on Israel's battle over Area C, as the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held two meetings, late July and mid-August, dealing with what they called a "Palestinian takeover" of Area C, complaining in the discussion of Palestinian construction in 61% of the West Bank, which they claimed was choking off Israeli settlements and sabotaging the chance for further expansion – which is the opposite of the reality on the ground.
Furthermore, the report highlighted Israel's intensifying demolition campaign in Palestinian communities targeting the existence of Palestinians in Area C and how the Israeli officials proudly testified in the meetings about the efforts taken to target and destroy Palestinian agriculture and construction in Area C.
According to the head of Israel's Civil Administration, Israeli forces have uprooted 42,000 trees planted by Palestinians over the past 20 years, including 7,500 in 2019 while in the same year, Israeli forces confiscated 700 excavators and other equipment from Palestinians.
Figures from the Civil Administration show that from 2016 to 2018, Palestinians submitted 1,489 requests for building permits in Area C but approval for only 21 of these – 1.4%. During this same period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued for Palestinian structures in the same area.
Haaretz noted that senior Israeli officials had drawn up regional priorities for demolishing Palestinian structures, which "at this stage" include "the area surrounding Jerusalem," the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley.
According to Knesset committee member and senior Likud MK Nir Barkat, Israel aims to settle 2 million Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, adding: "They have enough territory in A and B."
In another step, Israel has significantly reduced the number of internationally (mainly European) financed Palestinian projects in a plan to eliminate European involvement in financing humanitarian projects in Area C.
According to Haaretz, last week the Israeli government allocated about $6 million to survey and map out unauthorized Palestinian construction in the West Bank's Area C, which is under full Israeli control. This is the first time that funds have been specifically allocated for such a survey as part of the state budget.
Even though the authority for enforcing the Israeli law on illegal construction in Area C is in the hands of the Civil Administration, the survey budget was allocated to the newly founded Settlement Affairs Ministry.
In addition, 19.5 million shekels ($5.64 million) were allocated for grants to local government in West Bank settlements. These funds were approved as part of an 11 billion-shekel addition to the budget, while no final state budget for 2020 has been decided on.
New Settlement Construction
In complete defiance of international outcry against the Israeli regime’s land grabbing and illegal settlement expanding policies in the occupied lands, last week the Palestinian Ma’an Arabic news agency cited a report published by Israel’s Channel 7 media network that the 70-year-old chairman of the Likud political party had given the green light for plans to build over 5,000 units, after more than six months during which such construction had been frozen.
The report added that there have been contacts between settlement leaders and Netanyahu over the past few days, where Jewish extremists have called on the Israeli premier to end the freeze on settlement construction activities in the West Bank or face large-scale protests against his administration.
On Aug. 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations and under the agreement, the Israeli regime has supposedly agreed to "temporarily" suspend applying its own rule to further areas in the occupied West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley that Netanyahu had pledged to annex.
While Emirati officials have described the normalization deal with the Israeli regime as a successful means to preventing annexation and save the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli leaders have lined up to reject the UAE's bluff, the Israeli prime minister himself having underlined that annexation was not off the table, but had simply been delayed.
On the other hand, Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital, view any Arab normalization deal with Israel as a betrayal of their cause.
Last week Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released data on the demolishment of Palestinian structures built without Israeli building permits.
Between March and August 2020, 389 structures owned by Palestinians in the West Bank were demolished or confiscated – including in Areas A, B, and in east Jerusalem. On average, this is about 65 structures a month, which, according to the U.N. agency, is the highest average number of demolitions in the past four years. About 79% of the structures demolished or confiscated were located in Area C.
Their demolitions “hit the most vulnerable of all and undermined emergency operations,” the statement said.
Adding that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli authorities indicated that they would restrain their longstanding policy of demolishing inhabited Palestinian homes. "Sadly, demolitions during the period March-August 2020 left 442 Palestinians homeless, further exposing many to risks associated with the pandemic. In August alone, 205 people were displaced, more than in any other single month since January 2017," he said.
Beyond homes, the targeted buildings included water, hygiene or sanitation assets and structures used for agriculture, among others, undermining the access of many to livelihoods and services. Moreover, 50 of the structures had been given to Palestinians as humanitarian aid, and their destruction hit the most vulnerable of all and undermined emergency operations.
"Of specific concern is Israeli authorities' increased use of an expedited procedure (Order 1797) for the removal of structures as soon as 96 hours after delivering a notice, largely preventing owners from being heard before a judicial body," added the U.N. coordinator, saying these took place without “declaration" or fanfare. Israel is grabbing more lands, expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and by all unlawful means turning out the Palestinian lands of Area C into Israeli territories.
Najla M. Shahwan is a Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers