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Strategic Alignments at SCO: Prospects for India-Pakistan bilateral Relations

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, initially, the Shanghai Five was created by China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan in 1996 with the aim to resolve the border disputes among its member states. Later on, Uzbekistan was also granted full membership in 2001 and the Organization was named as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The Organization promotes and beholds the objectives for creating an environment of mutual respect, trust and friendly ties with neighboring and member states based on enhanced support for the progressive cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, education, scientific technology, power, communication, energy and environmental protection issues.

The collapse of the Soviet Union gave birth to a new world order based on a unipolar system under the U.S supremacy influencing almost all the major fields of the international affairs. During the Cold War era, the world was mainly divided into two major blocs having their respective military alliance frameworks where each side had a number of allied states under their command; these military alliances were based on the commitments and arrangements for the collective security of all the member states and the defensive and offensive modes by all the member states even for the attainment of respective national interest goals of any single member state. Similarly, the member states of the U.S led NATO collectively struggled to check the further expansion of the Communism to Europe and other parts of the world.

Polarity is a theoretical construct; real international systems only approximate ideal types. The concept of unipolarity implies a threshold value in the distribution of capabilities among states. How do we know whether a system has passed the threshold, becoming unipolar? It happens when a unipolar international system contains one state whose share of capabilities places it in a class by itself compared to all other states. This definition reflects the fact that a state’s capabilities are measured not on an absolute scale but relative to those of other states. In keeping with this definition, a unipolar state is preponderant in all relevant categories of capability. In a narrow but also frequently used, criterion, a system is unipolar if it has only one state capable of organizing major politico-military action anywhere in the system. After the dismemberment of Soviet led WARSAW PACT, the challenging of the US supremacy was a natural factor due to the US designs to dominate the former parts of Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States of Central Asia (CIS) by granting them membership of NATO. Hence unable to counter the threat alone, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was created as a power balancer to prevent the US dominance over the Russian sphere of influence. Still it was insufficient on its part because the members of the CSTO were not that militarily or politically strong, to counter balance the NATO States.

During the Cold War era, the collective security alliances like Warsaw Pact under the Soviet and the U.S led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were the organizations which aimed to collectively respond the other side in case of any aggression. The basic principle behind the creation of organizations was to prevent the other side from any kind of military, political, diplomatic and economic hegemony which may turn the other side to dominate the global affairs single handedly and by that way, the concept of balance of power flourished where each side tried to maximize its power through the means of maximum number of allied states committed to collectively check the growth of other side to their sphere of influence and respond accordingly. Even in recent time, the great power seek option to further enhance their spheres of influence and such moves close to the theories of neo-colonialism have urged the global political system to gradually keep moving towards a new Cold War. Such stereotype thinking resulted in an ever growth in the number of Organization like the NATO, EU, SCO, ASEAN, CIS, BRICS, etc.

SCO as a major player in the region

The increasing engagement of the US and allies in the Asian region are perceived as serious threats to Russia and China. Particularly, the recent development in the aftermath of Crimea crisis between Russia and the West and the prevalent perception of encirclement of China by the NATO forces are some of the pushing forces to look beyond the economic gains and counter the challenges existing next door. This situation of competition is created among the states when they found their interests on stake each challenging the other to gain the national policy objectives on each other’s expanse. In some cases when the states find it difficult to pursue the policy objectives individually, due to intensity competition among states. In such a scenario, the states’ immediate approach becomes to align themselves with the other states to form a common alliance. These alliances can be of different kinds i.e.; economic alliances like E.U., ASEAN, OIC and, military alliances like as NATO, WARSAW PACT and regional alliances like SAARC etc. The member states of these alliances thus share some common interests which binds them for collective effort; ultimately all aimed at balancing the power equilibrium against other competing powers so that no single country becomes able to dominate the global or regional military and political scenario

In global political system states generally create a balance against each others’ powers, when two great powers equally maintain the equilibrium called bipolarity where both exercise equal status of power in international affairs and when many states succeed to maintain the status-quo it is called a multi-polarity where each posses a particular sphere of influence and in general sense at the international level as well. The bipolarity or multi-polarity is not only limited within the concepts of competition for between two states but all the member states of an alliance as a whole maintain the balance of power equilibrium against the opposite side.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organization also faces some challenges side by side to the opportunities. Russia envisions several dimensions to the future of SCO; these include strengthening the major functional areas of the cooperation along with expansion of the organization in the form of new partnerships. Although Russian hopes to enlarge the scope of SCO organization by expanding its membership list yet the prospective of potential candidate states agreeing to the offer does not seem much positive. Members of the SCO had agreed on the fact that there is a need to pause the process of enlargement of the SCO but some Russian experts having completely opposite views voted against it. Anatoly Torkunov, rector Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) stated that SCO would be more effective if it if it was identified as a representative of the whole Asian Pacific Region rather than being isolated to the representation of Central Asia alone. This could be accomplished by including new stated in SCO. However, the full membership of Pakistan and India raised two issues for Russia and the SCO. Firstly, both the countries in spite of being nuclear weapon states are non-signatories of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT) which is a clear contradiction of the primary requirements for the being a member state of SCO.

Prospects of India-Pakistan Relations as permanent members of SCO

For Pakistan and India, the period after its inception was the marker of the direction of its foreign policy. The society under the rule British Raj was greatly influence by the Western thoughts and the way of conducting state affairs in the likely style. The unlucky movement after one year of their partition, the India and Pakistan fought a war in 1948 involved the both states in an unending arms race and their involvement with various regional and international alliances and forums in order to meet their economic and military needs.

During the initial period of their status of observer states at the SCO, the main concern for about the full membership of India and Pakistan was that it would cause further trouble to the organization due to their prolonged hostility that is existent right from their inception, despite the SCO powers Russia supported the Indian membership so the China to Pakistan but their entrance in SCO as permanent members was always a gloomy reality that it would create a de-fragmentation within the organization and a divide as two different groups one led by the China and the other by Russia and ultimately it would become an impression of an organization within organization that yield in a weak institutionalized organization diverted from its main agenda to counter-weight the extra-regional powers and ultimately the SCO would become a less effective organization having very low significance and benefits for the member states.

Moreover, the closely observing analysts of the SCO believed that the acceptance of India and Pakistan as permanent members would disrupt the current internal political arena and will also affect the relations of other members with the rest of the world particularly, the countries that are being urged by the international community to abide by the regulations of the NPT. Secondly, the main cause of tension and a bone of the contention, the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan would always remain a direct variant to affect the consensus of the member on any particular issue related to bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, which is not the kind of message SCO wants to portray in front of the outside world.

Similarly, the case of Iran for the grant of permanent membership has always remained a controversial topic. Iran is viewed a potential nuclear state by the international community and hence would provoke the USA to further obstruct the organization’s work. This is why the Iranian membership in the SCO being considered controversial although, Russia is already linked with Tehran for trade purposes and the SCO members can also largely benefit from Iran’s huge energy resources but ultimately the acceptance of Iran as a member state of SCO would only involve severe risk of inviting diplomatic isolation of the organization. Moreover, such controversy at this point would not be benign for the further development of organization into a real balancing power bloc for SCO still needs certain improvement in various grounds. In case of Iran’s full membership of SCO in near future despite of its ambiguous nuclear program which is a pinching point between US and Iran relations, but it would also pose e direct threat other non- member states of NATO.

China’s growing ties or energy trade with Iran and Pakistan is one of the other reasons that Russia does not want Iran and Pakistan to join the SCO group. China is in the process of exploring the opportunity of importing gas through pipeline from Iran and Turkmenistan, with Iran. According to China’s view, this gas would be delivered across Pakistan and Afghanistan via a pipeline. Therefore, it is very much clear that Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, would most certainly oppose any such route plan. Russia would definitely try to restrict the   options of China of buying gas from Turkmenistan or increase its pipeline capabilities to gain access of gas resources in Central Asia. These concerns are the basis of Russia’s negativity towards full membership of Iran and Pakistan with the SCO and according to many analysts cooperation over energy supplies is precisely the reason why China wants these two states to be members of the SCO.

SCO and the Implications of bilateral Relationship of India and Pakistan

Although the SCO’s Council of the Heads of States has accepted the proposal for the grant of full membership to Pakistan and India in the Organization and it is also hoped that by the start of 2016 these two states would gain permanent membership after completing certain documentary requirements. The two states were observer states of the SCO since 2004 and had been trying to get the permanent membership but the main hurdle between the grant of membership always remained the concern about Pakistan and India’s hostility towards each other. Despite of the fact, the hostility will definitely prevail after becoming permanent members but the thing which is being perceived as a ray of hope that both the states will get a platform to resolve their bilateral issues effectively.

The basic tenets of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization abide its members to refrain from the interference in other’s internal matters and preserve their self-respect, sovereignty and to encourage the creation of an environment based on cooperation in their region and neighborhood. The Organization is further ambitious in promoting the enhanced support for the economic, cultural, scientific, environmental, communication and educational cooperation. Despite of all these factors, the Organization has never came out of its ambiguous nature that whether it’s going to become a permanent military alliance to counter the Western bloc or it will only remain a regional economic forum. The ambiguity is because of the creation of Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) that has a remarkable number of quick response forces and the members of SCO often conduct collective military and naval drills and demonstrate the military and naval power effectively.

Moreover, it is strongly going to become a time of test of the significance of the SCO as an effective player to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan through a series of diplomatic moves that would urge both parties to bring an end to the historical disputes and hostility between the two neighboring states. Such success at the part of SCO would be historical landmark on its credit and would encourage many others to consult the Organization for their issues and this will ultimately make the SCO an ever effective player next to the UNO in the international political arena.

Apart from the issues of discord between India and Pakistan, the Organization will bring immense economic and trade opportunities for the both as the dominant powers of the SCO i.e. China and Russia are huge industrial and economic hubs and at the other hand the other Central Asian members are immensely rich with their oil and natural gas resources that are more than enough for energy starved nations like China, India and Pakistan.

Role of dominant SCO powers in bringing-up peace and progress in the region

SCO has not only helped in establishing regional calm and stability but has also been successful in controlling conflicts from spreading to other regions. Central Asia, Balkans and the Middle East share a history of complex conflict ranging from religious to ethnic nature. But the formation of SCO in Central Asia portrayed a much better image of it as compared to the Balkans and the Middle East. The presence of SCO played an important role in preventing the Afghan civil war from spreading into Central Asia. By doing so SCO managed to develop a successful example for the rest of the international community struggling with post Cold war conditions. It would not be wrong to say that had ‘Shanghai Five-SCO’ not been present in Central Asia the Afghan war would have most certainly spread to its neighboring countries. This depicts how the SCO is acting to maintain the security and stability.

In the light of these achievements, it can be said that SCO has played an integral part in maintaining the regional calm and stability of its member states. Addressing the Afghanistan which is also one the urgent defence and foreign policy issue faced by the Obama administration, the SCO’s claims of the failure of US strategy and their growing demands to new government for setting-up a final time frame to call back NATO troops from Afghanistan. The current situation is completely against the US and its allies’ troops that are badly stuck in Afghanistan and the further announcement of sending more troops to the country has raised many questions for the SCO members and other world as well.

In a very short period of less than a decade, the SCO has established itself as a global security mechanism. Successfully being able to marginalize the Western and American influence in the Central Asian region therefore, most of times the SCO has been termed as NATO of the East and a counter-weight by Russia and China to challenge the United States and allies presence in the region. It is also believed, that the Sino- Russian interests will shape the future of whole region and more especially of oil and natural gas rich Central Asia.

Future Perspectives: challenges and opportunities for the Region

The phenomenon of continuous shift in power among the major players of the world, the face of international relations keeps changing respectively. Given that, it is important that our understanding of the world we live in should also evolve accordingly, and we are not stuck with a worldview that has no relevance with the evolving realities of a world in transition. Global politics is always characterized with three tendencies; namely, cooperation, competition and conflict.

The world affairs are integrative and disintegrative processes are always at continued development where there are factors contributing to peace and issues leading to war. There is always hectic competition going on among major players of the world. Sometime, this competition causes conflict. Some time, it leads to peace. All depending mainly upon the great powers relations with one another, the present state of relations cause any shift or smoothness of inter-state relations. In international relations the future of any state-to-state relations is completely unpredictable, but the present course of any activity can at least reflect the possible outcome of their possible action. Thus, certain degree of caution needs to be taken while comparing the SCO with any of the organizations in the West for economic and security cooperation in the near future. It is believed when two for the coming future time. It is believed when two friendly states having interest in the same thing, it naturally creates a sense of competition and to some extent makes them hostile to one another. Especially while looking into the history of international relations, most of times it has been seen when ever two states have been struggling to pursue a common thing as a issue of their vital national interests they ultimately became rivals, as it was in the case of Soviet Union and US in the post world war II era their vital interests, turned their alliance into confrontation and hostility and finally resulted a prolonged Cold War involving the whole world. The current state of SCO and NATO relations is alarming for a change of global political system with a forecast of a new emerging global bipolar political structure. The SCO’s demand for a new world order not merely based on the US dominance over world affairs and other institutions, the economic one is not an exception which brings a growing clash of interests between the SCO and NATO member states. The SCO poses serious challenges to other organizations in various grounds that are not only for NATO but also for the European Union; the SCO’s economic strength is also one of turning factor in the present global structure.

Conclusion

The grant of permanent membership to India and Pakistan by SCO’s Council of Heads of States would give an impetus and a distinguished role of these two states in the international affairs. These two states would also get access to enormous economic, political, military and other opportunities. Though the membership in the SCO brings opportunities at one hand but at the other it will open a new Pandora’s Box for the India and Pakistan due to the fact that the SCO is believed to be a counterweighted to the NATO and sometimes it is also called a NATO of the East because of its military designs and the drills that would pave the way for the transformation into a permanent military alliance, will generate the sense of competition and an opposition towards the most of European nation and the American.

For Pakistan and India, there already exists a regional forum like SAARC that has hardly effectively managed the crises between the two states. The less effective role of the SAAR is because the India and Pakistan are never accommodated any accord of the regional organization. Apart from the fact that SCO has immense economic and development opportunities but a futuristic role that is not more than the SAARC would hardly extend SCO’s importance in the regional and international affairs. Even after becoming permanent members of the Organization, the upshot cannot be expected that positive but definitely it would only affect the current prevalent status of the Organization and would only drag it towards an unending divide.

Nasurullah Brohi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and can be reached at nasurullahsvi(at)outlook.com

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Critical India: The Real Story

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In recent months, there has been an unprecedented barrage of criticism, innuendos and verbal onslaught on the Modi-led Indian government. The important thing to be noted is that almost the whole of criticism has come from media, academicians, intellectuals and activists, based in India. Among some of the foreign-origin criticism again, the perceptible point is that even there, most of them have had come from Indian based abroad.

Now the obvious point that emerges out of it is what’s the big deal. Aren’t we a democracy, supposedly the largest democracy in the world till the advent of Modi at the national stage changed all that, at least that is what some Indians believe. And a democracy is supposed to have a fair share of criticism of its executive, of its wrongdoings, failures and et all. So what if Modi leadership is being criticised, chided and lambasted by many why should one question it.

Let’s get back to the facts. When Modi took the reins of government in New Delhi, the economy was comfortably placed averaging a GDP growth rate of 6.7% during the 2009-2014 period. For 2013-14, other important economic indicators retail inflation 10.53 based on CPI, Tax to GDP ratio at 7.2% and gross fixed capital formation rate to GDP at 29 with unemployment at a stable 2.2%, showed the economy in a reasonable positive light.

Currently, the Indian economy is passing through one of its worst phases. After  averaging  an  annual  GDP  growth  of  7.5%  for  2014-19,  the  last  two quarters have shown the GDP growing at a measly 3.1% and 4.5% with the overall economy getting contracted by almost 20% and on a YTY basis it might contract by about 8-9%. Unemployment at 6.1% is the highest in the last three decades  while  exports  too,  have  not  made  much  headway.  Made  in  India initiative has failed to do well while Atmanirbhar Bharat has many sceptics, within and outside India.

The government is under fire on one more ground that Bangladesh reportedly has gone ahead of India on the per capita income score. TV channels have hours of unending debates on how this government has brought India to its knees and it is due to the incompetence, ideological prism, fascist and authoritarian, communally divisive attributes of Modi that the country has come to such a pass.

There have been curious cases of few leading opposition politicians, former diplomats, bureaucrats and a couple of ex-military officers, taking a vitriolic, not critical,   anti-government   attitude,   describing   the   government’s   so-called communal, fascist, RSS-led divisive policies that have created troubles with countries  like  China,  Pakistan  and  Nepal.  Interestingly,  these  are  the  very words that are frequently used by Imran Khan, the Pakistani PM in his personalised attacks on Modi. Many of the self-proclaimed analysts who write in a very detailed way on Indian affairs are found  sitting comfortably in some obscure corners of the USA, Canada or Europe without being to India for quite some time.

One  prominent  Indian  security  analyst,  talks  about  India  being  a  no match for China and that in case of a war, within hours, China could decimate Indian  forward  air  bases  and  cripple  country’s  cyber,  communication  and security systems. He also has questioned and castigated government’s go-ahead with the US on BECA and COMCASA on the grounds that the country’s security threats may emanate from the US and not China. A former diplomat with purported leftist leanings has frequently talked about India standing no chance against a superpower China, economically, politically and militarily.

One important point of oft-used argument is that Modi government is responsible  for  Indian-Chinese  troubles  and  that  this  government  is  being backed by corporates to woo the US and act as its lackey. The abrogation of Article 370 by the government is given a primary reason for the anger of China and if that had not been done, China would have continued with its all is well attitude vis-à-vis India. So by daring to do so, India has angered a superpower and hence the Chinese muscle-flexing.

Now let’s try to analyse facts straightaway. Economy undoubtedly, India is in a precarious situation and the GDP contraction is a  very serious one. However, seen objectively in the light of economic disruptions caused by demonetisation and the introduction of GST and that too, followed by the Corona pandemic, it shows that the situation is difficult but not lost. The tax base has widened significantly. Infrastructure has done extremely well as against any previous times in Indian history. Power, Roads, Railways, Airways, Ports all have done remarkably well while telecom has lagged behind. Manufacturing is lately picking up while exports too, aren’t doing badly now. India’s foreign exchange reserves at US$575 Billion is at an all-time high and is currently ranked fifth in the world. Retail inflation in the light of CPI is stable whereas unemployment has acquired critical dimensions and require remedies, urgently. And before Bangladesh, this country had been lagging behind Sri Lanka too on per capita income for decades but why that was not previously discussed by experts, requires no guess.

On  social  issues,  criminal  acts  against  minorities,  especially  against Muslims for which the Modi government has received the maximum flak, have to be seen in the context of broader socio-economic landscape of the land. There have been similar crimes against people from Hindus too and most of them have taken place due to their poor economic status. Nowhere, minorities from economically higher strata have been victimised. And records of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Commission for Women (NCW), National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) clearly illustrates that poor economic background has been the overbearing factor responsible for various crimes against most of the fellow Indians.

It also needs to be noted that most of such incidents have taken place against people not because of their caste, religion or the so-called BJP-promoted Brahminical and Hindutva domination but due to social and political factors. A good number of top BJP leaders belong to lower and OBC castes. So that should be also considered while claiming that the ruling party has a typical anti lower caste mentality

Crimes against women are reported in the media and discussed by intellectuals,  academicians  and  politicians  based  on  their  caste  and  not  by talking about gender bias and in terms of political gains. Hence, we have seen a crime at Hathras (UP) taking the country by storm while similar other incidents in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab (all Congress-ruled states) being merely reported or even not being talked about.

Taking about the Modi government destroying institutions in the country, there have been instances when judges passing specific judgements and criticism against   the   government   or   its   leaders,   the   judiciary   becomes   the   last institutional survivor in the country. When same judges pass government favourable judgments becoming unpalatable then that becomes an attack on judiciary.

Media  too  when  it  keeps  highlighting  governmental  failures  at  the national level then it is fine. However, when opposition-ruled states in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or other places stifle media on free reporting, journalists get detained, their mobiles snatched, false FIRs done there is an eerie silence from the whole of opposition politicians, academicians, intellectuals, champions of freedom of expression, both in India and abroad. How could one comprehend this class of freedom of expression, except double standards.

On Kashmir issue that has been hugely debated and discussed on, nationally and internationally,  Article  370  if  many believe that  was  part  of Indian Constitution applicable to it, that itself explains the government’s right to amend (it has been done many times by previous Congress governments) and  abrogate it. The comprehensive political integration has removed the ambiguous stand India has continued on Kashmir since 1948. As for security implications, the situation in the last one year has been much better and peaceful and better developmental   activities,   lesser   inefficiency,   administrative   apathy   and corruption is visible on the ground.

As for China’s perceived anger, the stand of the current government on rapid building of huge infrastructure in the border region, beneficial for both developmental and strategic reasons, needs to viewed in the context of all previous governments, embedded in the typical Nehruvian mind-set which believed in keeping China happy and not building border roads that will prevent Chinese PLA to reach Indian mainland quickly. Unfortunately, this stand was even taken by one of the recent defence ministers, a very senior Congress leader. So much for the protectors of Indian sovereignty.

Finally, the so-called supremacy of Chinese military. If indeed, it had been so they would not have put their prestige at stake by reaching for a stalemate and eight rounds of unending military and diplomatic confabulations with India, a la Doklam. The desperation and confusion with the Chinese establishment is all the more evident in its repeated requests for Indian quid pro quo for vacating positions in southern banks of Pangong Tso for leaving its positions in Indian areas in Ladakh.

It is true that there is an unlimited social media platform used maliciously by many in India for disseminating all their partisan views. In media too, pro and anti-government views get prominently displayed, in print and electronic and objectivity is in free fall  and available at a  steep discount.  The Indian government has erred in remaining quite on a number of issues, affecting social and religious harmony thus giving an impression of its complicity. Further, there are a number of big mouths in the ruling party, from national to village level who keep on ranting irresponsible statements, providing legitimacy to many criminal acts being done by political or anti-social elements and affecting the credibility of national government in the process. An objective analysis of the government, including a responsible and constructive criticism, based on facts and figures, should be the order of the day. That will go a long way in alleviating irresponsible, biased reporting and improve governmental efficiency and social- economic cohesion in India and the region.

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Status of Minorities in Pakistan

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In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression. 

Forced Conversions: A chronic problem 

On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities. 

Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free. 

Blasphemy Laws 

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge. 

These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed. 

Subpar Standard of Living

While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today. 

While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas. 

Missed Opportunity 

Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various

International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities. 

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South Asia

Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute

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Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West  Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly  95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of  Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth  longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.

In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of  9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of  Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for  their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under  cultivation in Bangladesh.

This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s  when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river.  Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River  Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.

The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led  to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the  hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.

Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an  equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same  have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.

The Dispute

A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and  September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves  way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water  could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta  Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact  the water-flow available in the state.

The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since  water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas  Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).

Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh  makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them.  Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created  siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.

However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried  up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue  which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.

In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed  to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent.  The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint  Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint  Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with  a solution.

In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the  needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will  have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter  expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.

In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India,  Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister  of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of  the river’s water to Bangladesh.

Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but  they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been  continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!

Main Problem

Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of  the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower  generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian  country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even  Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and  irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the  availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just  Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability  of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and  local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing  scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the  mountainous regions of Sikkim.

Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held  responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the  environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river,  which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed,  including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation,  increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.

Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted  by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due  to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5  per cent of the river’s running water.

Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube  wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also,  reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused  widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding. 

The Perspective Of Institutional Economics

The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just  about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India  consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about  the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up  the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower  projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the  environmental concerns altogether.

Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about  using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own  that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot  allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore,  none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state  to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’  signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other  state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.

This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of  property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility  others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of  economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks  about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says  that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come  and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions  have different ecosystems.

Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’  and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local  communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly  effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses  of political ecology.

Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute

Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes  this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is  characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we  live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings  themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.

Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political  processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It  also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw  this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social  processes.

David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon  of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations  between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers  are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of  the industrial development.

Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand,  while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the  hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand,  local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social,  cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development  and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!

Conclusion

The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and  industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities  concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through  the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it  continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local  communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are  losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the  major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose  course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are  dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is  the politics!

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