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South Asia

Muslims’ Compassion and Tolerance towards other Religions-A Strategic Deficit?

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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The recorded history of our planet for several thousand years has seen dawn of three major divine religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each faith showed remarkable progression of individuals’ exclusive penchant for spiritual journey whosoever sought for it at different stages of life and history that belonged to their inner-self.

However all religions stretch across the spectrum of ones life to the domains that are also inclusive of societies. Here lies exactly the juncture when religions became the tools of coercion and exploitive forces, particularly towards minorities. Karen Armstrong aptly captured the thesis hubris when she remarked, “They (leaders) fight with members of other faiths, who seem to challenge their claim to a monopoly of absolute truth; they also persecute their co-religionists…. Very often priests, rabbis, imams and shamans are just as consumed by worldly ambitions as regular politicians. But all this is generally seen as an abuse of a sacred ideal.”

While the West addressed the threatening menace of plunder and persecutions of medieval age in the name of religion by separating Church from State, Muslims were ordained to enforce their religion, revealed as a complete code of life and successfully demonstrated by the last Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him:pbuh) and his early companions. Yet all the faiths followers strayed at one stage of the history or the other, particularly during the expanding and contracting phenomenon of empires since 18th Century onwards. The minorities like Christians, Jews and Muslims bore the brunt of massive genocides during action-reaction syndrome when Russian, Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires were contesting Europe-Eurasian arena. The urge of the empires to impose their mythical homogenized cultural, religious and racial order tempted them to commit mass atrocities on their own or captured minorities. By the end of Second World War, millions had perished until Europe-Eurasia emerged from the debris of prolonged but relatively recent conflagration raging since the beginning of the 20th Century. Thereafter the West committed itself to uphold values like respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance.

 

Islam, an epitome of these values as well as main contributor to the Western Renaissance, lost the pace. It was the brilliant  charter of Islam that prompted even Mr. Richard Nixon to speak for Muslims when he advised the West, “Just as knowledge from the East helped trigger the ‘Renaissance’ in the West, the time has come for the West to contribute to a renaissance of the Muslim world.” Benevolent essence of Islam fell victim to corrupt political ambitions of its rulers, pushing it to the vortex of crises. Within the design of conduct of international relations, it is a strange paradox that Muslim countries’ governments, friendly towards the Western powers simmer with antagonistic wave despite the latters’ remarkably tolerant policies. Sane people are at loss to comprehend when millions of Muslims draw succor from their fat economies and seeking the Western countries’ citizenship makes a prime nostalgia for them, yet we do not miss any opportunity to target Christain minority in some Muslim countries like Egypt, Nigeria, Iraq, Indonesia and Pakistan. It is also true that Muslims grievances are growing manifold in the wake of rampant regional wars and territorial occupation disputes the world over but among the galaxy of nations, the resolution of the simmering conflicts  has to be sought through means recognised by international laws. During U.S. Vice President Mr. Joe Biden’s recent visit to Pakistan, his emphasis that the West does not grudge Islam which is a fast expanding religion in America, is a precursor to the massive awareness permeating through the West. Even the U.S. is being advised to desist from ideological expansive designs of which she is being suspected by some of her antagonists.

 

On the contrary, Islam that means ‘peace’ has been hijacked by a fraction of radicals and criminals who kill fellow Muslims and minority civilians, women and children, bomb mosques, churches and kidnap people to raise money for sustaining ‘fitna’ that  has won Islam universally several titles like millitant Islam, radical Islam, political Islam and barbarian Islam though it is eternally lustrous and glorious which recognizes no other brand. All titles being attributed to it are  retaliatory symptoms for which, we ourselves are to blame. Qur’an and authentic ‘hadith’ treatises are laden by the holy verses and narrations that exemplify Islam as the religion which herladed peace, grace, dignity, honour and fraternity among its ardent  faithfuls as well as followers of the Abrahamic religions of common ancestry. Holy Quran, being the latest divine revelation to our last Holy Prophet, not only recognizes Bible and Torah but encumbers us, the Muslims, to have faith in them being the divine books, its Prophets and respect their followers.

 

Recent wave of bombing Christians’ churches and their mass celebration of religious rituals has dented the inter-faiths harmony irreparably. Such violence that struck Indonesian, Nigerian, Iraqi, Pakistani and Egyptian Christians at intervals, has become a matter of grave concern, triggering a serious debate not only among Christians but also among (silent) Muslim majority that stands subdued by the specter of becoming hostage to a misled minority of the religious fanatics. It was this feeling that inspired venerable Shiekh of Jamia al-Azhar to condemn instantly the car-bombing of the Coptic Christians’ church at the dawn of new year in the port city of Alexandria in Egypt, terming it as an odious crime. The Church Priest, whom the Shiekh rushed to meet, advised the mourners to stay calm, reminding them that we, the followers of religions of Abraham are brothers and no one could divide us. Egyptian President also condemned the attack. Within days, an Egyptian court sentenced a murderer to death who had killed three Coptic Christians and a policeman during a shoot out a year earlier on January 6, 2010 in southern Egypt. While such sporadic but violent crimes against the civilian citizens of minorities in Muslim world gravely jeopardise the future sustenance of millions of Muslims earning thier bread and butter in the West, some like Dr.Hubertus Hoffmann express anguish, raising convincing questions to challenge such crimes not through the Christian holy scriptures but emphatically through the verses of Holy Quran that are difficult to refute. Referring to the compassion and tolerance towards other faith by our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he befittingly mentions about a delegation of the Christians of Najran visiting Medina, when the Prophet lodged them too in the mosque and permitted them to hold their prayers on one side of the mosque with Muslims on the other side. In this mosque, dialogues between Christians and Muslims were conducted with freedom, respect and tolerance. Would it happen today though compliance of Quran and ‘Sunnah’ is mandatory for all of us and any of our acts to the contrary would render us to be the grievous sinners?

 

Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann who is a witness to the miseries wrought on the Muslims of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan(FATA) and even Palestine for decades as collateral losses, always takes the principled stand from high moral ground on these issues, would have ordinarily not waxed, had threat to the faiths were not really colossal. He draws our attention to Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Charter of Privileges granted to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. It reads “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far: we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day.”

The charter authenticity could never be in doubt and the Prophets’ companions ensured its implementation from all the angles of interpretation even when the Caliph happened to be the victim. Umar ibne al Khatab (may Allah be pleased with him), the second caliph of great virtues and an icon of Islam, after having been fatally stabbed by a minority-assassin did not have any worry except about the possible breach of the Prophet’s pledge, given to the minorities, as a reactionary commotion and revenge seeking craze by the grieved faithfuls. He preempted an ugly situation through a historic personal example. His message for the Caliph-to-be from the death-bed was, “I urge him to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Apostle (pbuh), in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not overtax them beyond their capability” (Sahih al Bukhari, Hadith: 4.287).”

 

It becomes imperative therefore, for the ‘silent majority’ of Muslims to act and compensate for the huge strategic deficit while abiding by true spirit of Islam so that glorious Islam shines the way as it did during the Holy Prophet’s era. We would thus achieve greater inter-faiths and intra-faith harmony among the subjects of the state(s).

(The writer is a member of WSN International Advisory Board and author of a book, “The New Great Game: Oil and Gas Politics in Central Eurasia” by Dr. Makni (his acronym):     makni49@hotmail.com)

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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South Asia

Modi-fying Kashmir and Historical Facts

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The Modi government on 5th august 2019 revoked two key constitutional provisions — Article 370 and Article 35A — which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir distinctive rights. India moved around 50 thousand military personnel into the valley to avoid any backlash, which shows that the Indian government is afraid of the repercussions of an illegal act. But these curfews and emergencies are not new for Kashmiris. Kashmiri’s will continue fighting for their land and will never compromise. Kashmir is an 86,000-square mile disputed region that is divided between India, Pakistan and China.  Kashmir’s independence struggle has a long history.

Historically Kashmiris have not ruled their own land since their last king Yusaf Shah Chak who was defeated by the Mughals in the 16th century. Chak launched guerrilla attacks against the armies of Mughal king Akbar on November 1586, he was certain that “Independence was just a day away”. Since then it’s been 400 years since Kashmir has passed into the hands of Afghans, Sikhs, the British Great Britain and now Indian rulers after partition. Today, the same kind guerrilla attacks continue against Indian occupational forces, although by a renewed insurgency fueled by modern weapons and communications technology.

Thousands of Kashmiri’s are part of the armed freedom struggle against Indian forces. Now in the shape of the Kashmir freedom movement, it is entirely different from what it was during the early years of partition. Now, the use of social media has changed the dynamics of the freedom movement making it extremely challenging for India to curb the voices of Kashmiris in the present era. Though India always blames Pakistan for supporting freedom fighters and stone pelters it has never really applied an introspective approach to what its armed forces are doing.

As Kashmiris continue to reject India and its democracy the Modi government has locked down almost 90 lakh Kashmiris since 5 august. There is a complete media blackout in Kashmir and still India calls itself a democracy. Such Indian actions to erode the basic fabric of the Kashmir freedom movement will only fuel the struggle for independence even more. There are many people inside India which negate this act of oppression by the Modi Government. Modi’s actions are opposite to democratic values which India claims are reason for its unity. 

Several Indian activists have condemned the abrogation of articles 370 and 35 A. Till now 6 petitions have been filed in the Indian supreme court, all of which reflect the pure negation of Mr. Modi’s agenda. Hence, the way India is treating Kashmiris will surely have dire consequences for the state in the future. The country which calls itself the largest democracy is treating Kashmiris worse than animals, a democracy where even cows purportedly enjoy more rights than Kashmiris and Muslims.

In 1947 Kashmiris resisted against Dogra forces and around 2 lakh were killed but the Kashmiris refused to be subdued. After partition on 2 November  1947, Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had promised a plebiscite in Kashmir saying: “The fate of Jammu and Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. The pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

But India has still not pulled back its troops since then and has continued to forcefully occupy the region. Pakistan and India have fought a number wars and smaller-scale conflicts in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 due to Kashmir with border skirmishes remaining common even today. India is involved in killing Kashmiris while the world remains in silence. Only a consistent struggle can force India to check its decisions otherwise, India is on its way to change the demography of Kashmir. Modifying the status of Kashmir within the Indian constitution won’t change realities which exist historically. Even today, the whole world acknowledges that Kashmir is an international dispute and not just an internal matter of India. By casting even further light and global attention on this issue through his most recent actions, Mr. Modi has gravely miscalculated the outcome of this move.

Revoking Article 370 A has already stripped Kashmiris of their special rights and now there would be single citizenship for Kashmiris. The Indian flag will be the only flag and article 356 and 360 will be applicable. Minorities will be eligible with a 16 % quota. People from other states will be eligible to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir. Assembly duration of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will be for 5 years. All the above developments will further estrange Kashmiris in their own land.

From 1586 till now, the Kashmiris defeated many oppressors and none was able to subdue them. Mr. Modi’s modification of its status will definitely fire back in the coming days as India cannot impose a curfew forever. At least 4,000 people have been detained in Kashmir since August 5 and situation on ground as reported by international media is getting worse than ever. More and more Kashmiri youth will join armed groups and the intensity and number of armed attacks is widely expected surge dramatically. Without a doubt such a dangerous and arrogant decision by the Indian leadership has severely compromised the peace and stability of the entire region.

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South Asia

Kashmir: A Victim of the Influence of Major Powers

Mohamad Zreik

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India-Pakistan relations are constantly tense and India-Pakistan history is full of struggles and rivalries. The problems between the two countries have emerged on the international scene recently when the Indian state decided to abolish autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir and apply full control of the Indian state over the region. The area is known to be the center of a dispute between India and Pakistan over land claims and border demarcation.

The Indo-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir is classified as one of the most dangerous in the world. India and Pakistan are nuclear states. The Kashmir conflict began in 1947 and did not end today, after Kashmir was a former independent region in the Himalayas. Kashmir lies in a strategic area on the Himalayas, bordered by India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan; it is a region of cultural diversity and contains the most important Eastern religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. The region of Kashmir is one of the most beautiful regions of the world and fertile agricultural land with a lot of natural resources, but the political instability and security has ruined the economic situation and the lack of tourists and investors.

Historically, Kashmir has been a Hindu religion, but the connection between Kashmiri people and Afghan families has led to the spread of Islam. Kashmir was ruled by the Mongols from the 16th to the 18th centuries, after which Kashmir returned to be an independent state. However, strong British influence in that period robbed the sovereignty of that country by selling land and people, who are mostly Muslims, to a Hindu warlord, Gulab Singh, for 7.5 million rupees.

This “contract of sale” was quickly legalized in the Amritsar Treaty. Since then Singh has declared himself “Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir”, and imposed on the local population by force Hindu culture and its religious principles. He burned mosques and overthrew anyone who begged himself to oppose his rule and stand up to Hindu principles. After Maharaja “Gulab Singh” took over the rule of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja “Hari Singh”, who completed the same path of his predecessor in a land where the number of Muslims at the time 94%.

The severe repression of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in cooperation with the British prompted them to raise their voice in the face of the Maharaja and his allies in 1931. On 25 October 1947, after violent confrontations between the Maharaja and the population, the Kashmiri people won and the Maharaja was expelled. Maharaja sought support from India after Britain stopped supporting him.

The British colonial policy divided the area there on a religious basis. Most of the Muslim lands have been annexed to Pakistan, and the Hindu-majority lands have been annexed to India. In 1947, Indian military forces returned to Kashmir by force against weak Kashmiri resistance and little support from Pakistanis.

At that time, Pakistan began to support the rebels and the separatists from India, which led India to complain to the Security Council accusing Pakistan of supporting the rebels in Kashmir. Pakistan has responded that India is trying to promise Kashmir sovereignty, but it is working to annex Kashmir and bring Maharaja Hari Singh back to power. In 1948, the Security Council sought a mutually satisfactory solution, dividing Kashmir territory, one part called Azad Kashmir or Free Kashmir is supervised by Pakistan, and another part is Jammu and Kashmir and is supervised by India

The never-ending wars between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue prompted India in 1974 to conduct six nuclear experiments. This means that India has become a nuclear state and is capable of destroying every enemy, namely Pakistan. This has pushed Pakistan to become a nuclear power by acquiring nuclear weapons. In 1988, India and Pakistan signed a non-aggression pact. Military science suggests that the Asian region is the most dangerous on earth and capable of destroying mankind. India, Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran are nuclear states. Religious conflicts and territorial disputes are accelerating the nuclear war. According to the Pentagon, the next nuclear war between India and Pakistan will claim at least 12 million deaths and more than 7 million wounded from the region.

India, as a big country and a major nuclear power in the Asian region, will not concede to Pakistan in this Kashmir conflict. But India is demanding the entire territory of Kashmir, i.e. Pakistani Kashmir and Chinese Kashmir and this is impossible to achieve, and the conflict is increasing today through the legal measures taken by the Indian state to annex Jammu and Kashmir to the sovereignty of the Indian state and wrest autonomy. Therefore, the solution to this issue remains through diplomacy and negotiations because the weapons, force and many wars in that region did not lead to any positive result.

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South Asia

India’s Constitutional Revocation and Prevalent Security Environment of Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, President Trump had offered to mediate the outstanding Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. This move was greatly appreciated by Pakistan with President Trump publicly stating that Prime Minster Modi had requested him to mediate between the two countries over Kashmir during the sidelines of 2019 G20 Summit held in Osaka in June this year. With President Trump’s offer to mediate at such a crucial time, the issue has once again achieved global significance. Moreover, President Trump’s mediation offers, and India’s recent move constitutionally revoke the special status offered to Kashmir would likely have serious implications within the prevalent security environment throughout the region. 

India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter. Taking a step forward, on August 5, 2019 the government of India revoked the special status of the Kashmir region that has been previously granted under Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Indian constitution through a presidential order. Referred to as the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill that was later approved by parliament despite the opposition’s criticism. Under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution the Kashmir region had been awarded special constitutional rights and a ‘so-called’ autonomous status of decision making. Following the abrogation of Article 370, the Kashmir region would be divided into two ‘Union Territories’ i.e. Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh governed by the Indian central government.

The timing of this constitutional abrogation might have been influenced by President Trump’s offer of mediation between India and Pakistan that was reiterated by the US President despite India’s rejection. This abrogation was also part of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto as promised by Prime Minister Modi during the 2019 general election. By fulfilling this electoral promise, Mr. Modi is trying to assert that Kashmir is entirely an internal matter for India and that it would not allow any third country to interfere in the Kashmir issue irrespective of its relations with India.

Based on this notion India is inclined to project this political and constitutional change as its internal matter. By revoking the special status of this disputed region, India also intends to change the demography of Kashmir as much of the current population is Muslim. India has been involved in various tactics to change the demographic structure of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) which includes a steady stream of Hindu migrants relocating and settling in masse from other parts of India in this predominantly Muslim region.

This trend is also evident in the region’s population numbers. In 1947 for instance, the Muslim population of IOK was about 79 per cent. As of 2018 this figure has been reduced to 68 per cent. In this regard the abrogation of Article 35(A) would likely intensify this trend as in the future, non-residents of Kashmir would be able to purchase property in Kashmir and would become permanent residents with a right to vote. 

The security environment of Kashmir has been at stake in recent years due to India’s desire to oppress the freedom movement militarily. During Prime Minister Modi’s first term from 2014-2019 the Kashmiri freedom struggle has seen greater military suppression, especially since 2016 when a prominent freedom fighter Burhan Wani had been brutally assassinated. However, it seems that India has still not succeeded in achieving its desired objectives. After a landslide victory in the 2019 elections and with Mr. Modi once again in office as Prime Minster, the military suppression of the freedom movement in Kashmir has further intensified. Recently, India has deployed an additional 38,000 paramilitary troops in the region to join more than half a million troops and paramilitary forces already present. Along with this increased military presence in Kashmir, India has also been involved in continued aggression across the Line of Control (LoC) as evident by its use of prohibited ‘cluster bombs’ against the civilian population. These could have seriously provoked Pakistan to respond in an offensive way and might have resulted in another February 2019 episode.

At the present, Indian aggression along the LoC poses a major threat to peace in the region. India might believe that it could carry out a limited attack or ‘surgical strike’ against Pakistan which would stay below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold as evident from the February 2019 military engagement and the recent attacks along the LoC. India has repeatedly attempted to dominate the escalation ladder as was shown in the recent escalation instance the recent escalation following the Pulwama attack. Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned about the possibility of a ‘false-flag operation’ in Kashmir carried out by India for which Pakistan might be blamed. Based on such blame India could launch a limited attack or a low intensity conflict across the LoC. Consequently, Pakistan would be left with no choice but to respond in kind to any such aggression by India.

India’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status and its military offensive in Kashmir could trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan within a year. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve a very dangerous precedent which would likely pose as a serious detriment towards the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. This change in the constitutional status of Kashmir would greatly limit the prospects for third-party mediation in the future especially for the United Nations, whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future. Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by India’s aggressive behavior which ultimately would have long lasting implications for strategic stability throughout the South Asian region.

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