Tag Archives: Asia

Dr Masuma Hasan: Two Centuries of Russia’s Institute of Oriental Studies

The Russian Institute of Oriental Studies marks not only 200 years of its founding but makes a statement about a changed world

Some institutions are resilient and survive the ups and downs of fate. Others cannot sustain themselves and fall by the wayside. A great survivor is the Institute of Oriental Studies (IOS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which commemorates the 200th anniversary of its founding this year. The bicentennial was recently celebrated in October in Moscow with a congress. The congress itself, where I was invited to speak, was a gala event — essentially a Russian affair with marginal input from Western scholars, which is what made it remarkable. In Pakistan, we are used to only hearing about and from Western academics about the region. It coincided with Russian’s tilt to the East in world affairs, a celebration of the Asian part of its Eurasian identity. President Vladmir Putin did not attend the congress but a message from him was read out at the inauguration. As much as anything, the gathering signalled the increasingly multi-polar nature of our world.

The IOS was founded in 1818, in Russia during the reign of Emperor Alexander I. It has gone through many vicissitudes through empire, wars, invasions, revolution and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was originally established in St. Petersburg as the Asian Museum under the Imperial Academy of Sciences, as a depository of oriental manuscripts and a library facilitating scientific research. In 1950, the institute was shifted to Moscow, becoming a major centre of oriental studies. Today its depositories house more than one million volumes of ancient books and manuscripts. In 2008, the St. Petersburg (later Leningrad) branch was reorganised into a separate Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. The institute in Moscow is a unique venue for the study of the problems in history and cultures of the Orient, especially the countries of Asia and North Africa. Hundreds of experts work there. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Karachi, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, PIIA, Politics, Russia

Speech by Dr Masuma Hasan: The East in World Politics – The New Power

Centennial Conference of the Institute of Oriental Studies Russian Academy of Sciences Moscow – 30 October 2018. Speech by Dr. Masuma Hasan: I wish to begin by paying a tribute to the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences on the 200th anniversary of its founding – to its resilience, the remarkable academic assets it has developed over two centuries, its proud history and the excellence and dignity of its scholars. It is an honour for me to have been invited to this great event. On this occasion, I want to acknowledge the scholarship of Professor Yuri Gankovsky who headed the Centre for the Study of the Near and Middle East and also recognise the work of the present head of the Centre, Professor Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky, and his colleagues. Turning now to our subject, “The East in World Politics – the New Power”, as we have seen in recent years, the new power in the East is the tilt towards Asia.

In terms of sheer numbers, two-thirds of the world’s population or more than 5 billion people will reside in Asia by 2050 but population is declining in North America and Europe. Some analysts believe that Asia might produce half the world’s GDP by 2050 with an expansion of human capital and production. It is dominated by the strategic interests of two great powers, China and Russia, and the pitch for regional and global status by India. Today, if the East is seen as a new power in world politics, it is undoubtedly mainly due to China’s phenomenal rise and its economic and global aspirations but also because of Russia’s assertive role in global politics and “turn East” policy. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is reflected in its six economic corridors along two routes: the New Silk Road Economic Belt running west through Russia and Central Asia and the 21st Century Maritime Road to reach Europe through South Asia and South-west Asia. One of these corridors, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor runs from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar in Pakistan and has been described as a game changer for Pakistan’s economy. Continue reading

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Filed under China, CPEC, Discussion, Europe, Pakistan, PIIA, Russia, Trade, United States

Sacking of PM is Unconstitutional

The country, until two days ago, had a Prime Minister in office who commanded the confidence of parliament, which he had demonstrated not long ago by having a no confidence brought against him defeated in parliament.

President Sirisena’s sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place has been described by some as a ‘constitutional coup’. The phrase ‘constitutional coup’ is a contradiction in terms, or ‘an oxymoron’, because it would imply that although President Sirisena’s actions amounted to a coup, his actions are sanctioned by the constitution. There is no constitutional basis for the President to have removed the Prime Minister. At the press conference held on 27 October 2018, as reported in Adaderana (GL explains how PM was removed and why Parliament was prorogued) Dr G.L. Peiris, the chairperson of the SLPP, attempted to justify the legality of President Sirisena’s actions, putting forward two points in support. They are (i) the cabinet of ministers stood dissolved by the very fact of exceeding the numerical limit prescribed in Article 46(1), and (ii) the President as the appointing authority has also the power to dismiss him. In fact, the phrase used by Peiris is ‘compulsory removal’. What Dr Peiris sought to do was to provide an ex post facto rationale for the President’s action but the reasons he put forward for the removal cannot be reconciled with those given by the President. Nor are they reflected in the position taken by the President in his gazette notification.  

The gazette notification announcing the President’s decision stated that “the President in the exercise of powers conferred upon him under the Constitution …, has removed Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe … with immediate effect.” (see The Gazette Extraordinary no. 2094/43 dated Friday 26 October 2018). There is no reference in this gazette to the specific provision or provisions of the constitution under which the President purported to act when removing the Prime Minister from office. If, as Dr Peiris says, the cabinet of ministers ceased to hold office and the Prime Minister had gone out with the cabinet, then there was no need for the President to have “removed” the Prime Minister from office, and to have done so with immediate effect. The President has not stated that the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa became necessary because the office of the Prime Minister which was occupied by Ranil Wickremesinghe had fallen vacant. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Dr Reeza Hameed, Legislation, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Sri Lanka

A Silent Witness to Rohingya ‘Genocide’

There has been clear and ample evidence of the grave atrocities committed against the Muslim Rohingya by Myanmar military forces.

On 2 October 2018, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, became the first person to have her honorary Canadian citizenship revoked. Although Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her fight for democracy in Myanmar, she has failed to be a champion of change and human rights after the horrors of Rohingya genocide surfaced. According to a United Nations fact-finding mission, Myanmar’s military has systematically killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, burned hundreds of their villages, and engaged in ethnic cleansing and mass gang rape while the Myanmar’s leader has allegedly denied the atrocities, restricted access to international investigators and journalists, defended the military and denied humanitarian aid for the Rohingya. While Canada sends a powerful message against the violators of human rights, would anyone come to the rescue of one million Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, described as the ‘world’s most persecuted minority’?

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has a population of around 51 million people which consists of more than 135 ethnic groups. One group, the Muslim Rohingya with a population of 1.1 million living mainly in Rakhine State in the north of the country, are not recognised as an ethnic nationality of Myanmar and suffer from arguably the worst discrimination and human rights abuses of all. As noted before, the Rohingya are stateless and they have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless and while most of them still live in extremely poor conditions in Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as well as Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, over the course of many decades. Myanmar’s government does not consider the Rohingya its nationals and claim that they are Bengali labourers who immigrated to Myanmar during the more than 100 years of British rule (1824-1948), from today’s India and Bangladesh. Continue reading

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Criminal law, Discussion, Ethnic cleansing, Genocide, Human Rights, Islam, Islamophobia, Myanmar, Pakistan Horizon, Rohingya, Statelessness

The Impact of Soviet Labour Camps on Society: The Legacy of the Gulag

The Gulag played an important role throughout Soviet Russia and is a major point that is brought up when discussing the history of Russia from 1919 to 1960. To this date when one talks about Russia or its most infamous Soviet era leader Joseph Stalin, one recalls the Gulag even if one has only the basic knowledge about it. The system is renowned because through it, various individuals inflicted harm on millions of people. The Gulag was a part of the Soviet Russian System of governance and touched every person who lived in that era. Even today, in modern day Russia people recall the Gulag and its perpetrators with dread and horror. The Nazi concentration camp system and various other concentration camps that were similar mainly existed to exterminate their prisoners and had a brief lifespan. The Gulag however, lasted over decades and played a huge role in the industrialisation brought in by Stalin. It was a system that embedded itself in the penal system and the culture and society of the people in Russia and its effects can be seen to this day. 

It is a vital exponent of Russian history that cannot be ignored if one wants to understand the culture, society and politics of that nation. GULAG is the Russian acronym for The Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies of the Soviet Secret Police and has come to signify and represent the soviet slave labour in all forms and varieties as well as the repressive system and tyranny of the Stalin Era. The system was first established under Vladimir Lenin as an alternative to prison during the years immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution. Although it functioned from 1919 to 1960, the Gulag generally denoted the entire penal labour system in the USSR. It served as the Soviet Union’s main penal system for robbers, rapists, murderers, and thieves. Vast numbers of camps of all forms and varieties (labour camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps, children’s camps, transit camps) were located mainly in the remote regions of Siberia and the Far North. Continue reading

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Discussion, Genocide, Human Rights, Russia, Women

Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Term Limit

The Nineteenth Amendment has once again become the subject of controversy, and its current focus concerns the provision in the Nineteenth Amendment that disqualifies the same person from being elected as President for more than two terms. The two-term limit is not an innovation of the Nineteenth Amendment. A provision imposing a term limit was in the Constitution as it was originally enacted in 1978 but it was repealed by the Eighteenth Amendment enacted during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as President. It was re-introduced by section 3 of the Nineteenth Amendment which inserted the following new paragraph as Article 31(2) of the Constitution: “No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the People, shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the People.” (emphasis added). This prohibition was reinforced by section 21 of the Nineteenth Amendment which added Article 92(c) of the Constitution which disqualified a person who “has been twice elected to the office of President by the People” from being elected to the office of President thereafter.  This is identical to the paragraph that existed as Article 92 (c) of the 1978 Constitution before it was repealed by the Eighteenth Amendment. 

It has been argued, nevertheless, by some, including Professor G.L. Peiris and ex-Chief Justice Sarath Silva, that these provisions do not disqualify Mahinda Rajapaksa from seeking a third term. Mahinda Rajapaksa has already served two terms as President but if this argument holds, then he would be eligible not only to run for a third term but also a fourth. It has been contended that according to the Constitution as amended by the Eighteenth Amendment there was no provision imposing a term limit, and as the Nineteenth Amendment does not expressly state that Article 31(2) is to apply retrospectively, it should not apply to Mahinda Rajapaksa, who, in ex CJ Sarath Silva’s rather infelicitous oxymoronic phrase, is ‘a previously elected incumbent in office’.  (Sunday Observer 19 August 2018, Mahinda ineligible to contest 2019 prez poll – Jayampathy). Mahinda Rajapaksa is not currently holding office to be called an incumbent. Continue reading

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Filed under Accountability, Discussion, Dr Reeza Hameed, Human Rights, Pakistan Horizon, Sri Lanka

Bakhtawar Atta: Structural Adjustment Programmes: A Blessing or a Curse?

“Pakistan is still in the clutches of World Bank, IMF”: a claim recently made by a prominent politician and member of the National Assembly, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, urges us to reflect on the ties between powerful financial institutions and unstable countries such as Pakistan. The word ‘clutches’ forces us to dramatically picture such ties as shackles of oppression from which underdeveloped countries have been attempting to break free. Since the formation of IMF and World Bank in 1944, their involvement has been heavily present in the Third World. On paper, their participation seems like a glorious blessing paving way for efficient global progress. However, after inspecting further we can view the birth of such institutions as a strategic move by former colonial powers to maintain their hegemony. Such strategies are a disguise by various measures, one of them being the use of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). SAPs have long prevailed as a rescuing mechanism by international financial institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank, posing as caped heroes who implement specific economic policies in return for providing aid to developing countries. 

However, their continuous attempts to save the financial problems can be inspected with a critical eye. SAPs have expanded to several developing and underdeveloped areas such as Latin America, Africa and South Asia. Restructuring the economic framework is vital for the successful progress of any country but problems arise when such restructuring gives precedence to benefitting the West over the main victims in need for development. An initiative taken by the Bretton Woods institutions, namely, the IMF and World Bank, SAPs were developed in the 1980s as conditions and loans for developing countries. To tackle the influx of debt in 1970s due to boycotts and decreased consumptions from the West by the Third World unison, a restructuring of development and governance evolved after the IMF and World Bank inspections. Continue reading

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Filed under Debt, Discussion, Economy, IMF, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, World Bank