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Kashmir: Pakistan and India may resume ‘dialogue’ in Nepal

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Relations between India and Pakistan have been complex due to a number of historical and political events. Relations between the two states have been defined by the violent partition of British India in 1947, the Kashmir conflict, nuclear arsenals in ready mode, the numerous military conflicts fought between the two nations and regular cross fires at the LOC (essentially to terrorize the besieged Kashmiris on either side). Consequently, even though the two South Asian nations share linguistic, cultural, geographic, and economic links, their relationship has been plagued by hostility and suspicion.

Jammu Kashmir continues to be under joint occupation of India, Pakistan and China. Now India controls about two-thirds of the Jammu Kashmir state while some western and northwestern regions are under Pakistani occupation. China controls the uninhabited Aksai Chin region in the state’s frigid northeast that it “acquired” from Pakistan.

Dealing with each other has been one of the most formidable challenges that has confronted Pakistan and India over so many years, worsened during the last 35 years. The current BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Narendra Modi employs a more muscular strategy in its relations with Pakistan. While in opposition, the same Bharatiya Janata Party always opposed any relationship with it neighbor Pakistan and insisted that terror and talks cannot go together. The participation of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014 allowed for some cautious optimism, but nothing positive emerged form that meeting. Foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for August 2014 were called off at the last moment because of a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi. Sparring nuclear-armed neighbours agreed to unrestricted talks as Indian foreign minister visited Pakistan for the first time since 2012. The restarting of a “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” was announced by India’s top diplomat Sushma Swaraj, the first Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan since 2012.

Ever since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May last year, after his Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a landslide electoral victory, he has been courting India’s neighbors. He had invited the heads of SAARC countries to his swearing-in and followed this up with visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar. BJP has not been really accommodative of the genuine concerns causing deadlocks in bilateral talks. Analysts said India softened its position after a string of state elections that struck a gloomy picture for the ruling party when it was in the interest of Modi’s Hindutva BJP to strike a hawkish, populist line against Pakistan.

Reports suggest that Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj may meet in Nepal this week on the sidelines of a Saarc ministerial-level meeting. Diplomatic sources reported that India and Pakistan were exploring the possibility of a meeting between Swaraj and Aziz and also between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in the Nepalese tourist city of Pokhara. Modi is slated to visit Islamabad in November 2016 for the SAARC regional summit.

The two South Asian prime ministers are scheduled to travel to the USA to attend a nuclear security summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama. In the first top-level diplomatic exchange between the two neighbors and archrivals in the last seven months, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar reached Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Jaishankar’s two-day visit – part of a broader trip to all member countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – is significant as it could mean that the two nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought four wars since August 1947, when the British freed and divided the Indian subcontinent, could resume bilateral talks for the first time since India broke off a dialogue in response to Pakistani diplomats meeting with separatist leaders from Kashmir in New Delhi.

Jammu Kashmir , the only Muslim-majority in the northernmost state of India after annexing it in 1947 has been at the center of the dispute between the two neighbors throughout their independent history. Pakistan also shares a part of Kashmir now known as Azad Kashmir. While India considers the entire Jammu Kashmir state an inalienable part of its union, and Pakistan wants a UN-proctored plebiscite, as specified by UN, to decide the region’s fate, there is significant and growing support among Kashmiris for independence.

Summit exchanges and other high level meetings have done enough to stabilize bilateral ties mainly because of the Kashmir issue. Both South Asian nuclear states do not want to get rid of their dangerous WMD. Indian Foreign minister Swaraj met with Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, and his top foreign affairs adviser, and also agreed to start a dialogue process that would include Kashmir and other border disputes.

Pakistan said it was taking steps to bring about the early conclusion of the stalled trial of those involved in the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Earlier in the day Swaraj told representatives of 31 countries gathered for the Heart of Asia conference on the future of Afghanistan that it was time for India and Pakistan to display “the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation…The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them.” The change in tack had been presaged by a closed-door meeting in Bangkok between the two countries’ national security advisers, which itself followed an informal conversation between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the Paris climate change conference the week before.

Relations between Pakistan and India improved dramatically when the two sparring nuclear-armed neighbours agreed to unrestricted talks after years of disagreeing terms of any discussions of their numerous disputes. High-ranking officials from the nuclear-armed neighbours have held precious few meetings since the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India in May 2014 given his government’s insistence that talks focus on battling terrorism and not the contested region of Kashmir, a key Pakistan concern. The diplomatic breakthrough by two countries that regularly exchange fire across their contested borders was announced at the end of a regional summit in Islamabad where officials also hinted at a possible revival of talks between the Afghan government and “Taliban groups”.

Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup last week said that no schedule of bilateral meetings in Nepal have been drawn up with Pakistan or any other country. Aziz and Swaraj will be in Pokhara for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 16 and 17 March. A senior Pakistani official said Islamabad was ready to resume the dialogue at any time, and was also open to a meeting between Aziz and Swaraj in Nepal. the Pakistani official said there is no proposal as of now for the meeting in Nepal but Pakistan will respond positively if India approaches us for this purpose.

The meetings, if held, will provide an opportunity to the two sides to discuss the much-delayed talks between the foreign secretaries, who were to meet in Islamabad in January. The key foreign secretary-level talks are meant to draw up a roadmap for a series of meetings between the two countries on a range of issues, including Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, water, and trade and commerce.

The efforts to resume the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue hit a deadlock after the terror attack on Pathankot airbase that India has said was carried out by militants from Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group. Sources said Aziz and Swaraj, if they meet, will discuss the possibility of an interaction between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi later this month in Washington. During the meeting, the foreign secretaries realized that peaceful dialogue is the only way forward to resolve all outstanding issues. However, an immediate resumption of dialogue between the two countries is not yet a certainty.

India has officially maintained that Jaishankar was travelling as part of Delhi’s plans to stay in touch with Saarc neighbors but had, however, made resumption of talks with Pakistan a non-negotiable condition for aligning with the BJP in Kashmir. Earlier, Jaishankar’s trip to Islamabad follows only days after a new government, in which the BJP is a junior coalition partner, was installed in Jammu and Kashmir in Indian side. This is the first time that the Hindutva BJP is sharing power in the Muslim-majority state, and in the elections conducted in December, Modi’s BJP had its best ever electoral result in the state. “I want to say on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister, that we must credit the Hurriyat, Pakistan and militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state,” Sayeed reportedly said. “People from across the border made the atmosphere conducive. They also have assets — Hurriyat, militants… if they had done something (during the election) such a participation of people would not have been possible. This gives us hope.”

India has put in place an elected government in the troubled state of JK. The BJP’s coalition partner is the PDP (People’s Democratic Party), which was led by the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. Sayeed, who had in the past been said to be close to Kashmiri separatists, caused a controversy soon after being sworn in as the state’s new chief minister after he expressed gratitude to local separatist outfits and armed militant groups for allowing peaceful elections in the state. The BJP-led federal government in New Delhi distanced itself from Sayeed’s comments, and instead, credited “the Election Commission, our armed forces and the people,” for peaceful elections in the state.

Decrying a Pakistani official’s reported remark about use of nuclear weapons against India, US has urged the two countries to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their long standing issues. “Obviously, what we want to see are the tensions decrease,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters when asked about a Pakistani official’s reported threat to use tactical weapons against India. “And speculation about the potential use of nuclear weapons certainly isn’t doing anything to help decrease tensions, if in fact those comments were made,” he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said repeatedly is that he wants the two nations to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their issues. “And we understand that there are issues longstanding,” he said. “But that’s what really needs to happen, is sitting down, dialogue, cooperation, talking through these things, and trying to work through some meaningful solutions.” Asked to comment on a new report by two US think tanks that Pakistan may have about 350 nuclear weapons in a decade or so to catch up with the status of India in the field, Kirby said he did not have a specific update regarding any talks with Pakistan on the nuclear issue. “Obviously, we continue to urge all nuclear-capable states, including Pakistan, to exercise restraint regarding furthering their nuclear capabilities,” he said.

Recently, USA and Pakistan urged India to give up its rigid attitude to Kashmir and help solve the issue in a amicable manner without nay wars. US spokesman, however, praised India’s constructive role in Afghanistan and said the USA would like other countries including China to play a similar role there. “We want Afghanistan to be a good neighbour in the region” Kirby said. “And India has played a constructive role over the last several years inside Afghanistan, and we would look to other nations like China to do the same.” “I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous with better future,” Kirby said.

In a busy day of diplomacy, the Heart of Asia summit saw officials from leading countries hint at fresh talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government which were abandoned after just one round this summer. Antony J Blinken, US deputy secretary of state, said the Afghan and Pakistani leaders renewed their commitment to an “Afghan owned and Afghan led” process during meetings with senior diplomats from the US and China, in a sign of the powerful international pressures for a peaceful end to the war. Aziz Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistani ambassador to both Kabul and New Delhi, said there was now a “ray of hope” for improved relations with India. However bitter experience meant “you should never be overly enthusiastic because you never know where the next stumbling block will come”, he said. There are doubts over how quickly the talks can begin given the violent splits that developed within the Taliban after it was revealed in last July that the insurgency’s spiritual leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. News of Omar’s death triggered a sharp increase in attacks in Afghanistan as the Taliban’s new leader Mullah Mansoor attempted to assert his authority over a movement divided over both his leadership and the wisdom of negotiating with the Kabul government. The surge in violence, which many in Afghanistan believe is caused by clandestine Pakistani support for the rebels, heaped pressure on Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, to abandon his policy of making concessions to Islamabad to gain Pakistan’s backing for peace talks.

India and Pakistan occupy not only Kashmir valley but even the dangerous Siachen Glacier where avalanches take place regularly, killing soldiers. Recently, after an avalanche claimed the lives of Indian soldiers on the Siachen Glacier, calls for demilitarization are rising. The demilitarization of Siachen is definitely doable diplomatically. Moreover, there is a critical mass of opinion in both India and Pakistan that neither can sacrifice so many lives on the inhospitable glacier. If the initiative is not seized by both sides now, the vagaries of nature will continue to exact a toll on forces deployed in Siachen, even if peace holds.

Regional peace in South Asia, now depending on India and Pakistan, unless established, is not an option but a necessity.

Siachen Glacier only symbolizes the nature of mutual hatred between the nuke neighbors. Pakistan as well as India has a duty and responsibility as regional leaders.

Resumption of the Indo-Pak ‘talks” or ‘dialogue’ in Nepal or elsewhere would be meaningless unless the leaders realize the need for resolution of Kashmir issue.

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South Asia

Pakistan PM visited Sri Lanka to further strengthen the existing friendship to new heights

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Prime Minister Imran Khan during the Sri Lanka visit. PHOTO COURTESY: FACEBOOK/IMRAN KHAN

At the formal invitation of the Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, H.E. Imran Khan, paid a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka on 23-24 February 2021.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was accompanied by an elevated-level delegation comprising Federal Ministers and senior Government officials. The first-ever visit by the Prime Minister of Pakistan to Sri Lanka since the formation of the new governments in both countries clearly reflects the warmth and goodwill between the two countries’ governments and peoples. Prime Minister Imran Khan received a warm traditional welcome from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Sri Lanka’s Ministers.

During the visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan held delegation-level discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Both sides comprehensively appraised the multifaceted bilateral relationship in various fields of cooperation. The talks were held in a warm and cordial environment, marked by mutual trust and respect. The visit offeredboth sides a timely opportunity to further shape upon their close and regular consultations, particularly in the areas identified during the recently held Foreign Secretary level Bilateral Political Consultations, Joint Economic Commission session, and the Commerce Secretaries-level Talks.

Both sides reached a wide-ranging consensus on ways and means to strengthen cooperation further comprehensively and decided to hold frequent meetings; promote high-level and delegation-level exchanges; and enhance the process of consultations, collaboration, and synchronization between their respective institutions. Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated Pakistan’s support for the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka in line with the vision of a “peaceful neighborhood.”

The two sides reviewed the all-encompassing engagement between the two countries in promoting cultural linkages, human resource development, capacity building in diverse areas, and educational and technical cooperation. The Pakistan side announced 100 scholarships in health sciences and medicines (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme (PSLHECP). The Sri Lankan side appreciated the cooperation being extended by Pakistan in human resource development and capacity building.

While comprehending the existence of boundless potential of religious tourism to Buddhist archeological sites and perceiving the close ancient and cultural ties dating back to Gandhara civilization, the two sides emphasized the importance of augmenting cooperation in the field of tourism and highlighted the benefits of sharing expertise in the hospitality industry, including training and capacity building. The Pakistan side declared its initiative of establishing the Asian Civilization and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya, Kandy. Both sides recognized the importance of enhancing air connectivity to promote people-to-people contact, tourism, trade, and culture.

In order to explore new avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and investment between the two countries, a high-level Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was held on 24 February 2021. The Conference provided an opportunity for effective and meaningful engagement between the business communities of the two countries. At the Conference, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka sides reiterated the importance of strengthening economic relations in critical areas of mutual interest and diversifying trade and investment. The two sides emphasized the importance of realizing the goal of achieving a US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan Sri Lank Free Trade Agreement.

During the visit, the following MoUs between Pakistan and Sri Lanka were signed:

i. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on Cooperation in Tourism

ii. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation between the Board of Investment of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

iii. Memorandum of Understanding between Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi Islamic Republic of Pakistan

iv Intent Cooperation between Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and COMSATS University Islamabad

v. Memorandum of Understanding between University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and Lahore School of Economics, Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa together accredited the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association reconstitution. Both sides highlighted the need to strengthen parliamentary cooperation between two sides.

Both sides expressed satisfaction at the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defense. They noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to Defence Dialogue has further provided a prospect to expand security sector relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a new $50 million defense credit line facility. The two sides stressed the need for a strengthened partnership to support and coordinate with each other to deal with matters related to security, terrorism, organized crime, drug and narcotic trafficking, and intelligence-sharing.

In his efforts to strengthen sports diplomacy, Prime Minister Imran Khan participated in a shared session with the sports community of Sri Lanka on 24 February 2021. At this event, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sports and Youth Namal Rajapaksa, in the Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane, stated the commissioning of the “Imran Khan High-Performance Sports Centre” in Colombo.

The Pakistan side declared its decision to provide PKR 52 million to promote sports in Sri Lanka, including through training and equipment.

Both sides stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue and harmony as a key to promoting cultural diversity, peaceful co-existence, and mutual empathy.

The two sides observed the close cooperation between the two countries at regional and international fora on mutual interest issues. They agreed to strengthen a coordinated approach on such matters further.

Both sides restated their commitment to the principles and intents of the SAARC Charter. They stressed the need for SAARC Member countries to build on convergences for the region’s people’s greater good. Both sides emphasized the need to convene the Charter Based bodies and agreed to take forward the SAARC process for further strengthening regional cooperation to achieve prosperity in the region.

Discussing the regional and global environment developments, the two sides restated their shared commitment to regional peace, security, and stability. Prime Minister Imran Khan underscored the need for peaceful resolution of unresolved disputes through constructive dialogue in accordance with international legitimacy.

In the context of regional connectivity, Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the opportunities presented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of BRI, for regional economic growth and prosperity.

Discussing the extraordinary challenges postured by Covid – 19, the two sides highlighted the need for combined efforts to deal with the pandemic. Sri Lanka thanked Pakistan for the tremendous assistance extended to the return of stranded Sri Lankans in Pakistan since the Covid pandemic outbreak.

While echoing the new government’s commitment to strengthen the bilateral relations further, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka thanked the government and people of Pakistan for the persistent support extended by Pakistan to defend the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan extended an invitation to the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to visit Pakistan at their earliest convenience and thanked Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for the warm cordiality extended to him and his delegation.

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Huge blast on the Afghanistan-Iran border

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Migrants at the IOM Islam Qala Reception Centre. The Centre provided services to thousands of Afghan returnees daily, prior to the catastrophic fire on 13 February. IOM/Nick Bishop

On Saturday 13 February the Islam Qala reception center owned by the IOM was demolished at the border between Afghanistan and Iran, leading to a pause to repatriation service for afghans. This led to a devastating burn. At least 40 people were killed because of this huge blast, while 17 were wounded. Tens of thousands of repatriated Afghans obtained humanitarian relief from the center International Organization of Migration, (IOM) in 2020. None were injured in the fire by IOM workers or migrants returning from Iran.Whatever sparked this explosion was not instantly apparent. The provincial governor of Herat, Wahid Qatali, said the Afghan first responders did not have the means to light the enormous fires and required Iran’s assistance by firefighting aircraft.”We can’t even discuss the victims for the time being,” Qatali told The Associated Press. Emergency crews and Afghan security services moved hundreds of fuel and gas tankers from the region, while an appeal for air-firefighting assistance was made available to the International Resolute Support Mission, quoted by Reuters as quoted by Katali.

Mohammad Rafiq shirzy, spokesperson for the district hospitals of Herat’s Provincial capital and also called Herat, said that more than 500 trucks were carrying natural gas and diesel that have been destroyed by the severity of the fire, and he said that it was impossible for ambulances to reach the injured or to reach the explosion site. Hossein Akhundzadeh, a regional Iranian trade official, told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the explosion of more than 300 coal, diesel, and petrol cars. The flash has not yet been contained, and precise evidence was not provided,”It’s not known whether the drivers were able to escape or not. The blaze has not been contained yet and exact information is not available,”We don’t know whether the driver might escape or not.The Power Supply Ministry Spokesman, Wahidullah Tawhidi, said the fire was continuing after nightfall and that Afghanistan was pressuring Iran to close down its electricity supply. It has been said that the burning of two pylons has disconnected 100 tons of electricity imported into the Herat Province by Iran. He said 60% of Herat, one of Afghanistan’s leading provinces, was powerless.A dangerous route Afghan people often pursue overnight because of fear of gangs of violence, attacks between Herat City and Islam Qalah. Taliban gunmen, on the other hand, travel freely across the area.Afghan government troops assembled defensive positions and aided emergency ambulances and cars from and to the border. According to Iranian State TV, the fire spread to the Irish customs facilities Dogharoon, and first responders, including the fire departments, the Iranian army, and the border guards, managed to extinguish the fire. The natural gas and diesel trucks were sent away from the scene.As part of a national concession exempting Kabul from US sanctions against Iran, the United States permits Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran.

According to a statement from the Aghan organization, on Monday, “IOM anticipates a substantial decline in rates of return through the Islam Qala in the days to come as migrants are now re-routed from Iran into the main border crossing of Milak province of Nimroz, which lies over 1,000 km south-west.They have shown that in 2020, there returned a high number of Afghans.Nick Bishop, program manager of IOM reported in a cross-border return reply that “the initial inspection of reception centers for the return showed significant damage to the roof and walls.”The staff of the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Returns (MoRR) are relocating people in need here to the IOM transit center in Herat before IOM staff are back, awaiting a full assessment and inspection of the safety situation before IOM staff can resume their work from here. “The organization takes exceptional steps to secure the continuing humanitarian assistance can take place.

Unfortunately, as the fire began all the returning residents, who had already moved to their next location at our reception center, that day.There was a drastic rise in return rates last year, as COVID-19 caused many Afghans residing in neighboring Iran to lose jobs and livelihoods. By 2020, the largest year of return was almost 860,000 illegal Afghan immigrants back from Iran.Approximately 15,000 people cross the Islam Qala border point daily, while nearly 1,500 per day need humanitarian assistance. Approximately 60% of Herat province was helpless as a result of flames, said DABS, an Afghan power supplier.Islam Qala is one of the main ports of Afghanistan that traffic most officially with Iran. Afghanistan has earned concessions from Washington to buy oil and gas from Iran amid the sanctions of the United States.A risky stretch of highway between Herat and Islam Qala, where Afghans barely ride by night for fear of criminal gang attacks. In the area, the Taliban are still free to work.Hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so.

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‘External forces’ won’t decide the actions of New Delhi

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India’s farmer’s protest is in the news for a while for the obvious reasons. In a democracy there should be protests, it keeps the power balanced. However, in India, the protestors and the government are both facing a common challenge, that is the external influence. To which, Indian External Affairs Minister and other government wings already made public statements. Before understanding the external factors, one needs to look into the farmer’s protest.

What are the farm laws?

Last year Government of India passed three laws in order to bring a reform in the agriculture sector in India, which are:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act – provides for setting up a mechanism allowing the farmers to sell their farm produces outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Any licence-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices. This trade of farm produces will be free of mandi (marketplace) tax imposed by the state governments.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance – Allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produces freely.
  3. Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – amendment to the existing Essential Commodities Act. This law now frees items such as foodgrains, pulses, edible oils and onion for trade except in extraordinary (read crisis) situations.

According to the government – the new laws will help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments. Successive governments have found financial constraints in investing in farm and rural infrastructure. It is argued that with food markets growing exponentially in India, private players would make agriculture profitable for the farmers.

Why farmers are protesting?

It’s been around 3 months since the Farmers are protesting in North India, on the highways en-route Delhi. Despite having rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, they’re yet to find a common understanding.

Farmers are worried as they feel this may impact the existing structure and lead to the corporatization of the agriculture sector in which the big corporations will exploit the farmers. Moreover, the new farm bill talks about the establishment of the private Agriculture Produce Market Committee, which in turn will end the role of middleman involved in the market, However, the middleman is seen by farmers, not as one exploiting them but one who provides services to them. Their number in two states – Punjab & Haryana could cross 100,000. So, farmers and middleman fear that this will ultimately result in huge job loss and impact the structure.

Another point farmers fears that from individual-to-individual relation, these bills will change the market into the individual to corporate relations. With a changed dispute settlement mechanism the farmers also are worried that their pleas could not get the desired settlement.

MSP – Minimum Support Price is another demand forwarded by the farmers, which they apprehend that allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produces would lead to lesser buying by the government agencies in the approved Mandis (marketplace). The protesting farmers say the new laws would thus make the MSP system irrelevant and they would not have any assured income from their farming. Right now, the government announces fixed MSP for around two dozen crops.

The working of the MSP system has been such over the years that it benefits only a handful of farmers at the all-India level. The Shanta Kumar committee set up by the Modi government in 2015 says that only six percent of farmers benefit from the MSP regime.

The catch here is that for farmers of some states such as Punjab and Haryana, the MSP system has worked well. In these two states procurement of paddy and wheat range around 75-80 per cent.

So, the fear that the MSP system may crumble and get dismantled after the new farm laws are implement has become a very emotive issue for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. And, that is why they are the ones who are most vocal in their protest against the farm laws and demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for both APMC and private Mandis (marketplace).

The government, however, is constantly in touch with the farmers and trying to resolve the issues through dialogue and till then the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.

External group’s interference

Many external elements are interfering in the protests and challenging the government, including a few fringes and notorious separatist organisations which are based and nurtured by the West during the days of the cold war days for the obvious reasons. In the garb of human rights and democracy, they know it very well that how to destabilise a nation. There are many examples in front of us, the Russian protests being one of them. 

The world has seen how after the new U.S. government’s arrival in the United States set the narrative for the socialist lobby around the world. President Trump very well assessed the threats of such groups and kept them in check but the new administration seems to propagate their ideology as the state policy. 

When President Biden said, “We must meet the ‘new moment’ accelerating global challenges” it indicates toward continuing the policies of Obama administration with new added ‘Biden’ characteristics. 

The tweets by American celebrities and people with clear political leaning are not about the protests, they in fact, do not know much about the protest, and their idea is to attack the ideology which doesn’t meet theirs. India is a land of protests, revolution, ideas and ideologies and both the Government of India and Indians respect the thoughts across the spectrum.

One of the American Congresswomen said that she will continue to monitor this situation closely and another expressed the solidarity but their thoughts are not driven by the plights of farmers, rather a particular ideology.

Recently, the State Department welcomed the reforms by the Indian government and also advocates for the protests. Which is contradicting in itself. India as a bearer of an Independent Foreign Policy should avoid any validation by any foreign government and let not the tweets by a particular mindset decide the course of protest or government actions.

India as a democracy respect different ideas but can’t allow any ‘vested interest’ groups influence any actions by New Delhi.

From our partner International Affairs

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