The holiest city in Iran, life in Mashhad is shaped by two competing discourses: the “shrine discourse” and the “secular discourse”. Political support for the former since 1979 has allowed the shrine discourse to overshadow every other aspect of the city, placing the two discourses at loggerheads and making their co-existence very difficult. Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative hardliner who has previously been the custodian of the Shrine of Imam Reza, in Mashhad, is now the President of Iran. The increasing dominance of a discourse with totalitarian characteristics could expand from Mashhad to the whole country under Raisi’s administration.
While the preservation of American democracy should be a lodestar of any US foreign policy, having employed hard power over 200 times since the end of the Cold War, such events as Washington’s exit from Afghanistan and departures from Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, with their human, economic and political costs, have demonstrated the limitations of using excessive military force as a leading component of foreign policy.
The “rebirth” of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad”, is an outcome of China’s assertive policies. Despite not yet being as comfortable in its relationship with the United States as it is with Japan, New Delhi’s ties to Washington are progressing faster than ever before, although Prime Minister Modi’s fixation on a “Hindu” India could act as a brake on that alignment.
The marshalling of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region has rung the bell for the commencement of a New Cold War. Even though the United States and China must not fail to manage their rivalry, it is imperative to develop a clear understanding of the dangers and consequences of any possible New Cold War, including of the pitfalls for the allies of both the global powers.
The United States is no longer interested in prolonged military engagements in foreign lands to effect regime change or in financial investment to enable nation building; the project of nation building is to be the job of the local populace and not that of the US military. Working with partners, Washington will continue to promote such democratic norms as basic human rights, humanitarian aid and regional diplomacy.
A failure to understand Afghan history, the country’s tribal culture, its unfamiliar rugged terrain and an underestimation of the Taliban’s faith, determination and fighting skills, combined with the rampant corruption of the Karzai and Ghani governments, Washington’s misreading of Afghan political reality and faulty technical intelligence, all led to the failure of US military plans.
The United States and Pakistan must achieve a strategically beneficial and sustainable relationship because, despite global strategic realignments, the international community has never been more interdependent and interactive. Ultimately, both countries need to realise that extremes can and must be avoided and the middle ground on almost all issues should be explored.
President Biden’s decision to finally withdraw US forces from Afghanistan was the correct decision and certainly overdue. The lack of preparation to do so orderly and safely, however, was yet another terrible mistake in a string of mistakes that have plagued the US from day one.
Under its “Health Silk Road” programme, Beijing is supplying COVID-19 vaccines to over 80 countries, particularly in the developing world, many of which are members and supporters of the Belt and Road Initiative. While efforts to counter the virus are welcomed, the vaccines in question are largely untried and unapproved. Furthermore, while China has indeed donated vaccines to a few countries, the majority have had to purchase their supplies, in some instances using loans offered by Beijing to do so.
Having suffered a political lockdown since August 2019, followed by a Covid-19 lockdown from March this year, in the guise of returning “normality” to the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, the Modi Government has launched an economic snapshot and vision statement to 2030. One indication of Kashmir’s future may be the appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of Manoj Sinha, a close acquaintance of Modi’s and a strong proponent of Hinduisation values.