The New World Disorder: We must learn to live with it

President Donald Trump poses for photos with the 2017 NCAA football national champions the Alabama Crimson Tide at the White House on April 10, 2018. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP

By Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Jul 30 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

A fundamental law of physics, also applicable to the social sciences, is that everything in nature is in a state of flux. The sage Heraclitus had said we never step into the same river twice. The flow of the river of life today has remarkably gained a momentum that is torrential. It gushes ahead washing away old values, norms, and the societal architecture that human mind and endeavour had conceived and created over a long period of time. As it leads us into the digital post-modern era dominated by big data, cloud-computing, and artificial intelligence, it also impacts on the politics, economics and sociology of how we organise our lives.

It is without doubt that a major factor of change in our socio-political and economic life today, President Donald Trump, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, the United States. He is relentlessly adding kinetic energy speeding up the motion. But did not make a sudden appearance. Ex Nihilo nihil fit—nothing comes from nothing. Mr Trump, with his disturbingly erratic and seemingly irrational behaviour, is the product of decades of domestic and global developments. These are those that are both within America and in the world beyond. In the nineteenth-century America believed it had a “manifest destiny”, ordained by God. It was not only to expand its territorial dominion westward, but also spread democracy and capitalism throughout North America.

Across the Atlantic, in Europe, the present was being shaped by the past. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 created nation-states. The French Revolution of 1789 sparked nationalism with its positive and negative ramifications. Germany, a somewhat late entrant to European civilisation, burst upon the unfolding history with its enormous contributions in literature, mathematics and philosophy. The “Protestant Reformation” of Martin Luther, supplanted orthodox Catholicism, igniting the spirit of enquiry. It also laid the foundation sciences and a new work ethic. Eventually a scattered Germanic nation became united under Bismarck. Meantime other European nations—Spain, Portugal, Holland and England—were dividing up the world between themselves. Freshly empowered, Germany now demanded its “platzan der Sonne”—“a place in the sun”, including its own colonies.

The result was two disastrous world wars. America, the “new world”, was called out to aid the “old” Europe. Thereafter, to rebuild it on the ashes of the conflagrations. Through the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund), the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization, it helped create “a new World Order”. It helped set the norms and standards for trade, arms control, and international relations. The “Manifest Destiny” now moved eastward. The opposing Communist ideology of the Soviet Union was confronted and ultimately vanquished. The winner was capitalism, buttressed by free trade and liberal values. America was now the “city on the shining hill”, the unparalleled “hyper-power”.

Then several things happened. First, unsurprisingly, hubris set in. Its military misadventures, in Iraq and Afghanistan, led to immeasurable damage to the respect and reputation it had acquired. Second, its strategic nuclear-weapon superiority was now deterred not just by Russia, but also China. Third, it incurred huge deficits in trade with its partners, with many now seeing commerce as a “zero-sum game”. Finally, other nations were rapidly emerging in capabilities and in particular China. Its new-found wealth and capacity, spurred on by President Xi Jinping’s “ZhungGuomeng” or China Dream, were being rapidly translated into power. The American sociologist, Andre Gunder Frank, remarked that what he feared more was not so much the rise of China, as America’s response to it.

America was now exhausted. Middle America, the redneck white working classes, distressed by the widening gulf between them and the elite, thought they were paying a heavy price , economically and militarily, for their so- called “leadership of the free world”. Enter Donald Trump. He was thrown up by this constituency, small, but consistent and powerful. He promised to tear up the rulebooks of traditional conduct, put “America First” and make it “Great” again. He pulled America out of past agreements, challenged the very institutions that America had created, and sought to renegotiate America’s engagements with the rest of the world. America was not necessarily disengaging from the world. Rather, it was re-engaging with its perceived self-interest, on new terms. It now preferred to do it bilaterally, where it was strong, rather than multilaterally, where it felt weak and constrained by rules. To America there was no longer “friends” or “foes”. Only “others”. Idealism had yielded to realism. Lord Palmerston of Britain had once, in a moment of pique vis-à-vis his continental peers, had reportedly remarked that God had made a mistake when He made foreigners. Mr Trump actually seemed to believe it.

So, is the old global order giving way to a New World Disorder? Perhaps. Some fear that there may be chaotic consequences that would be unmanageable. But chaos need not necessarily be bad. For instance, ancient Greeks perceived it positively. To them it was the dark void of space, the primeval state of existence, from which the four elements of nature—air water, earth and fire, and eventually divine and human forms emerged. Today we see disruption as providing the necessary fillip to technological innovation. Trump’s actions may be perceived as doing the same on the political matrix. Possibly in a dialectical fashion, the “disorder” that we “confront” would eventually synthesise into another order, a newer methodology for the interrelationship of peoples and nations.

For most countries, including those in our own region, South Asia, these developments may presage a return to the classical form of “balance of power”. Henry Kissinger has endeavoured to educate the contemporary times on it. It entails that no nation is supremely dominant. Each is left to calculate its imperatives of power, and accordingly, align itself with or oppose other nations. No one would be an a priori ally or antagonist forever.

For countries like Bangladesh, as for other smaller South Asian countries, it would mean the need for nimble diplomacy. Linkages would need to be constructed on the merits of specific issues. It is important to bear in mind, that even if America at the highest levels disengage, at operational levels, where its interests are not critical, its field functionaries like its diplomats may be landed with a greater role. This is why we see America sanction, on recommendations from its agents in the field, Myanmar generals for their alleged atrocious perpetration of inhumane violence upon the “Rohingyas” in the Rakhine State.

Nevertheless, South Asia, as well as other regions, must know that it can no longer routinely draw on external state-actors to make up the power gaps with adversarial neighbours. It is a key point to bear in mind for our leaderships in this election period in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bangladesh and India. These countries would be well advised to renegotiate their intramural relationships. They must aim to ease tensions among themselves to be better able to confront the world with collective interests. They must be able to help themselves, as no one else will.

The global trends cited earlier will not alter substantively even after Trump leaves office. He is not the cause but the effect of the changes. The “New World Disorder” will eventually become a new normal, which will become yet another “New World Order”. For now, however, the “disorder” has come to stay. The rest of the world has no option but to recognise, readapt and respond to the changing times.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is a former foreign adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and is currently Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Pakistan’s Vote – a Loud and Clear Message that People Want Democracy at Any Cost

Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records in the country’s Jul. 25, 2018 – which had the largest ever voter turnout. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jul 30 2018 (IPS)

Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace.

“None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” analyst Muhammad Junaid told IPS.

On Saturday, Jul. 28, electoral officials announced that Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI (Move for Justice party) won 115 of the 272 contested seats in the National Assembly. The former ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), won 64 seats and Pakistan People’s Party won 43. Other seats went to smaller parties and independents, with militant parties losing badly.

Junaid, who teaches political science at the University of Peshawar, said that Pakistan has suffered a great deal because of terrorism and people had clearly rejected terrorist-linked groups in the polls.

Political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek supported extremist candidates allegedly linked to the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 108 people, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Saeed is head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), one of the largest terrorist organisations in South Asia.

However, the party was rejected by voters across the country as it failed to win a single seat in the national assembly.

Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, contested the elections from Punjab province, but lost. Saeed’s son-in-law, Khalid Waleed, faced a similar fate. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) results show that the party’s candidates received just 171,441 votes, just a drop in the ocean when compared with the more than 49 million votes that were cast.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), another party with a clear sectarian mindset, had fielded more than 150 candidates contesting the National Assembly seats and hundreds more who contested provincial assembly seats. The party received just over two million votes and just two of its candidates were elected to the Sindh provincial assembly, the ECP results showed. Sindh is one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

People also rejected candidates from Jamiat Ulemai Islam Sami for the party’s connection with the terrorist group Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The party’s leader, Maulana Samiul Haq, is known as the father of the Taliban and his seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania is referred to as the “University of Jihadists”.

Pakistan faced a great deal of criticism from both the international and local media, human rights groups as well as political leaders for having hundreds of individuals with clear links to extremists openly campaigning in the election.

In June, the global watchdog Financial Action Task Force placed Pakistan on its terrorism financing watchlist. The call for Pakistan to be placed on the list was led by the United States in a move to pressure the country to close financing loopholes for terrorist groups. The U.S. has previously accused Pakistan of providing a savehaven for terrorists.

The country itself, however, has not been immune to terror attacks.

On Jul. 10, Haroon Bilour, a candidate from the Awami National Party, was killed in Peshawar along with 30 others. The terrorist group TTP claimed reasonability for the attack. Two days later, a candidate from PTI was killed in a separate act.

On Jul. 13, candidate Siraj Raisani, along with 130 others, was killed in a suicide attack in Balochistan, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces. On election day the province was scene to another suicide attack, which killed 30 people.

However, the deadly attacks failed to deter people as they formed long queues at polling stations to cast their votes. Some 55 percent of Pakistan’s registered 100 million voters turned out at the polls – the highest ever turnout in Pakistan’s history.

Junaid said militants wanted to advance their own agenda and rule people through the use of force and fear and not democracy.

In Khan’s victory speech he continued to condemn terrorism and vowed to establish peace in the region. “We want a better relationship with neighbouring countries, India, Iran and Afghanistan as well as China and the U.S. to have peace in the region,” he said.

Pakistan’s army deputed 350,000 soldiers to guard polling stations on election day and publically declared their support for democracy.

“Militants want to create anarchy in our country, but the nation is united against militancy. Our military and civil leadership are on the same page and determined to continue the war against terror till its logical end,” military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said.

Analyst Khadim Hussain said that it was indicative of people’s hate for terrorism that they took part in a “high-decibel campaign” for the national polls to defeat terrorism.

“Long queues were seen outside the polling booths. People remained vibrant and upbeat, which was a signal that they wanted democracy and rejected terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he said.

Despite incidents of terrorism, the mood was extremely upbeat, and towns and villages were adorned with party flags and banners calling on people to vote for respective candidates, he said. The message was loud and clear that people wanted democracy at any cost, Hussain said.

Foreign observers declared the election free, fair and transparent.

“A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment,” the European Union’s election observation mission chief Michael Gahler, told a news conference Jul. 27.

Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates, he added.

Religious parties contesting the polls also fared poorly.

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