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): firstname.lastname@example.org)
India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?
India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.
The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours. It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.
According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms. These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.
This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?
India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.
Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.
The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015, lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.
In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.
South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.
There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.
New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.
India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access
These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.
There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.
India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris
A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.
Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.
“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.
Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.
Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.
In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.
India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.
S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?
S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.
His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.
Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US. The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.
But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.
Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.
There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book. He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.
One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.
This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.
The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.
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