One of the ironies of being a Pakistani living abroad, especially in the West, is having to pose as Indian. According to Asghar Choudhri, the chairman of Brooklyn’s Pakistani American Merchant Association, a lot of Pakistanis can’t get jobs after 9/11 and after the botched Times Square bombing of 2010, it’s even worse. “They are now pretending they are Indian so they can get a job,” he told a US wire service.
That is because while Indians are highly integrated immigrants – besides being the highest educated and best paid of all ethnic groups in the US – Pakistanis have taken part in terrorist activities in the very lands that gave them shelter.
From Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 (8 years before Bin Laden) and is now serving a 240-year prison sentence to Mir Aimal Kansi, who shot dead CIA agents and was later executed by lethal injection, to Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square “Idiot Bomber”, there is a long line of Pakistanis who have left a trail of terror.
The San Bernardino, California, attack of December 2015 by a Pakistani American couple was the most spectacular in recent times. The husband was American-born raised and yet he chose to launch a terror act against the people of the United States.
But while Pakistanis wear an Indian mask for Western consumption, back home it’s business as usual.
Two incidents amply demonstrate that Pakistanis have learnt nothing. One was the widespread outrage across the country over Osama Bin Laden’s killing by American commandos. In response to America’s exposure of Bin Laden’s hiding place, Pakistan moved to shut down the informant network that lead the Americans there.
The other was the unholy fracas over CIA shooter Kansi’s execution. The day after Kansi was sentenced to death by an American court, four Americans were shot dead on the streets of Pakistan. His funeral was attended by the entire civilian administration in his hometown Quetta, the local Pakistani Corps Commander, and the then Pakistani ambassador to the United States.
Thousands of mourners turned out as Quetta city shuttered down. Kansi’s coffin, draped in black cloth with verses from the Koran embroidered on it in gold, was carried on the shoulders of young men some 10 miles from the airport to his family’s home in Quetta. In Islamabad, the capital city, lawyers and university students poured out on the streets.
The irony of outpourings of support for hardened terrorists is that Pakistan is seriously impacted by terrorism. A global study by the London-based Institute for Economics and Peace ranks Pakistan fourth on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) list, behind Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
According to the study, “Terrorism remains highly concentrated with most (58 per cent) of the activity occurring in just five countries — Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.”
It mentions the most fatal terrorist attack in Pakistan, of 2014: “Assailants detonated an explosives-laden vehicle and then stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar city, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. At least 150 students and staff were killed and 131 were wounded in the attack. All seven assailants were either killed by security forces or detonated their explosives-laden vests.”
The gunmen belonged to the terrorist group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is also known as the Pakistani Taliban because it is based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is an offshoot of the original Taliban which was created by Pakistan as a weapon to be used against Afghanistan and India.
State sponsored terror
That Pakistan is a state sponsor of terror is well known. In Hillary Clinton’s words to Islamabad, if you harbour snakes in your backyard, don’t expect them to only bite your neighbour.
It was Pakistan’s demagogue dictator General Zia-ul-Haq who declared that “we will bleed India with a thousand cuts”. The reckoning was that since Pakistan can never hope to win a war against India, then India must be hit with terrorism. To this effect, Pakistan first supported Kashmiri and Sikh separatists, armed them and provided them safe bases on its territory.
When both these terror campaigns failed, Pakistan created an alphabet soup of home grown terror groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. These two were complemented by the Haqqani network and the original Taliban, which has now split into dozens of splinter groups, some of which are still controlled by the Pakistan military and its chief intelligence agency, the ISI.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of US, Mike Mullen has described the Haqqani Network as the “veritable arm of Pakistan’s ISI”. Mullen said the ISI was supporting the Haqqani network, which attacked the US embassy in Kabul in September 2011 and also the September 2011 NATO truck bombing which injured 77 coalition soldiers and killed five Afghan civilians.
In a November 2014 interview to the BBC, the adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan should not target militants like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, which do not threaten Pakistan’s security.
Indeed, Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world which believes in good terrorists (who attack the West, India and Israel) and bad terrorists (who target Pakistan). An example of a ‘good’ terrorist group is the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which regularly conducts mass rallies and congregation, advocating jihad in Kashmir. For its December 2014 rally, Pakistan ran two special trains to carry the crowd to Lahore. India’s foreign ministry termed this as “nothing short of mainstreaming of terrorism”. The congregation was held near Pakistan’s national monument, the Minar-e-Pakistan, where 4000 policemen provided security.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is the group responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack, which led to the deaths of 156 innocent people. On December 3, 2008 Indian officials named Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhavi, a top leader of the Lashkar, as one of four possible major planners behind the attacks. Four days later, Pakistani armed forces arrested Lakhvi in a raid on a training camp near Muzafarabad in Pakistani Kashmir.
Pakistan doesn’t want to bring terrorists like Lakhavi to justice because that would expose its sponsorship of terror groups. After India produced evidence of the Lashkar’s hand in the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan did the predictable. In order to claim that none of these guys were technically within Pakistan, the ISI asked the terrorists involved in the attack to leave the country.
But it turned out to be a big mistake as one of these terrorists was caught in Saudi Arabia, which presented him on a platter to India. During his interrogation by Indian investigators, the terrorist revealed he was one of the key people tasked with training the 10 Mumbai attackers. He said he was in the control room near the international airport in Karachi from where Lakhavi was directing the attackers. He also said that after Lakhvi’s arrest in December 2008, the Pakistanis destroyed the control room in Karachi.
The January 2016 attack on an air force base in Pathankot, India, in which seven Indian security guards and six terrorists were killed, will give you an idea of how Pakistan continues to deny links with terror groups on its own soil.
After the Indians allowed a Pakistani investigation team to visit the air base, the Pakistanis raised the outrageous claim that the attack was carried out by India to defame Islamabad. This has a parallel in 9/11 deniers in Muslim countries where everyone seems to be convinced that Israel and the US were behind the Twin Tower attacks.
According to the Indian Express newspaper, the Pakistani investigators were given a full transcript of the telephonic conversations between the terrorists and their Pakistani handlers along with their identity. The Indian side gave the Pakistanis “the links of Pakistani officials, believed to be ISI personnel, with the handlers of the terrorists”. They were provided with “electronic and forensic evidence regarding the slain terrorists’ Pakistani links, name of the terrorists and several other critical evidence after an exhaustive probe conducted” by India.
The Pakistani team was given concrete proof that a senior terrorist leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed was in constant touch with the terrorists and giving them necessary instructions during the three-day carnage.
And yet Pakistan claims it was a stage managed attack by India.
The stark reality is that Pakistan has now become synonymous with terror. An unfortunate fallout of the country’s long association with terror is that ordinary Pakistanis worldwide appear tainted. A broad survey released on June 27, 2012 by the United States-based Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes says that in a number countries, including China, as well as several Muslim countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon, the majority populations negatively view Pakistanis.
Pakistan is not only a universally disliked country but the Pakistanis themselves have learnt nothing from their history, continuing to support the very actors who are responsible for Pakistan’s negative image.
It is a measure of Pakistan’s penchant for exporting terrorists, counterfeit currency and drugs that India has constructed a 1400 km long steel fence across its border with its wayward western neighbour. The floodlit fence, which is patrolled 24/7, can be seen from space as a bright orange line snaking from the coast to Kashmir.
Iran is also building a 700 km steel and concrete security fence along its border with Pakistan “to prevent border crossing by terrorists and drug traffickers”. When complete it will make Pakistan the most fenced-in country in the world.
In four of the five predominantly Muslim nations covered by the survey, over half gave Pakistan negative ratings. Jordan (57 percent), Lebanon (56 percent), Tunisia (54 percent) and Egypt (53 percent) had an unfavourable opinion of Pakistan. The only exception was Turkey, where attitudes were divided (43 percent negative and 37 percent favourable).
In East Asia, 52 percent of Chinese saw Pakistan unfavourably, as did 59 percent in Japan and 59 percent in India. The Chinese statistic is not surprising as Pakistan-trained Chinese Uighur Muslims have launched terror strikes in their remote province in China. Japan deported around 15,000 Pakistanis after 9/11.
Beaten, corrupt military most loved
Every country has an army but the Pakistan Army has a country. The Pakistani military is the most corrupt institution in the land, with a finger in every national pie. Army officers get prime plots of land post-retirement at a third of the market price. It is certainly a case of generals fattening at the expense of an increasingly poor population.
The Pakistani military has lost fours against India. After every war, Pakistan has lost territory, face and the credibility of its fighting forces. And yet Pakistanis rate this military very highly.As many as 77 percent said the military has a good influence on the country.
The media came next with a 68 percent rating, followed by religious leaders at 66 percent.
With religious zealots getting a solid two-thirds rating, is it any surprise that support for using the Pakistani military to fight extremist groups has declined over the last three years? Opposition to using the army to fight extremist organisations is especially high in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (where 54 percent opposed) and Baluchistan (50 percent).
Biting the hand that feeds
India does not get any aid from the United States and yet among all 21 nations Pew surveyed, Indians seemed most favourably disposed towards it. Only 12 percent said they had unfavourable opinion of the United States. On the other hand, 80 percent of Pakistanis had a negative opinion of America, with 74 percent regarding it as an enemy country.
American aid efforts were seen in a negative light by Pakistanis although the country continues to get billions of dollars of US aid. Around four-in-ten (38 percent) said US economic aid was having a mostly negative impact on Pakistan, while just 12 percent believed it was mostly positive. Similarly, 40 percent thought American military aid was having a mostly negative effect, while only 8 percent said it was largely positive.
This is a snapshot of Pakistan, where the arrow of time is travelling backwards, taking them into a cycle of medieval madness. Where the death of a terrorist merely means he will be instantly replaced by a hundred clones.
The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas
The Blitzkrieg winning back of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the concomitant US pullout established Taliban 2.0 in Kabul. But this has created a number of dilemmas for the stakeholding states. The latter include Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, viz. Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, China in the northeast and Pakistan to the east. Russia is also affected since it considers former Central Asian Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its backyard and since Moscow has its own share of extremist-secessionist problems in Chechnya. It is also worried about Islamic fundamentalism spreading to its Muslim population concentrated around its major cities and the Caucasus.
The dilemmas are as follows:
I. If the US-led withholding of economic aid and international recognition continues in essence, then conditions– as it is they are bad enough in Afghanistan—will further deteriorate. This will lead to greater hunger, unemployment and all-round economic deprivation of the masses. Such dystopia will generate more refugees in droves as well as terrorists who will spill out to seek greener pastures beyond the country’s borders.
Such condition will in turn mean a life-threatening headache for not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan but also for more distant lands. The liberal democracies of Europe. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and others have already had their share of refugees—and terrorists—when waves from an unsettled Syria hit them way back in 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel even decided to act magnanimously and opened Germany’s doors to a million fleeing the civil war in Syria. Such acceptance of refugees from Asia and Africa in Europe, however, boosted right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other movements throughout that continent. As a result the easy cross-border movements within the European Union came to be partly restricted in order to keep unwanted refugees out. Calls went out for hardening the external borders of the EU against more refugee invasion. The EU also made arrangements with Turkey to absorb and manage the refugee onrush in exchange for fat amounts of the Euro.
The prospects of a second such wave of refugees desperate not only to escape the clutches of the medieval Taliban but to find a promising future and remarkably better living conditions in the advanced lands of Europe are giving nightmares to the governments of the latter countries.
There seems to be a growing consensus among many in the international community that not only purely humanitarian but also larger economic aid to the Taliban-run Afghanistan should be extended—and without delay, if only to keep a lid on refugees—and terrorists—spilling across the borders. Islamabad apparently scored a remarkable ‘victory’ over New Delhi when its protégé Taliban replaced the pro-Indian Ghani government. Nevertheless, it is worried about the spillover into its territory across the Durand Line to its west. Pakistan, hence, leads this school of thought most vociferously[i]. It fenced its border with Afghanistan to a significant extent in anticipation of more refugees pouring in. It has been joined in the chorus by Russia, the EU, China, and others. China, for instance, has emphasized the need for releasing funds to Afghanistan at its talks with the G-20 on 23 September.[ii] However, no such stipulation is seen in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declaration released at the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 17 September, though the document mentions explicitly the need for an “inclusive” government that includes the left-out minorities. India’s presence at the meet may have prevented the inclusion of a funds-release clause.
II. But even if the US unfreezes the $9.25 billion Afghan assets under its control, and allows the IMF and the World Bank to make available other funds and assets to the funds-starved Taliban’s Kabul, a major problem will still linger. This is the question of ‘inclusive’ government, which the Taliban had promised among other things in its February 2020 agreement with the USA at Doha. The composition of the current Taliban government shows the mighty influence of the hardliners within the Taliban, elements like the Haqqani network and the secretive hardcore Kandahar Shura—as opposed to the seemingly more moderate Pakistan-based Quetta Shura. The Prime Minister of Taliban 2.0, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on a UN-designated blacklist; its Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list with a multi-million dollars reward hanging over his head.
Although the Taliban did not officially take a formal position, a member of the new government in Kabul has also defied calls from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and from other quarters for forming a more ‘inclusive’ government. That would mean more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and women holding important positions in the government, a phenomenon markedly absent in the current governmental setup dominated by male Pashtuns. The Taliban member shot back that the current government was as much ‘inclusive’ as it was possible to make and that the Taliban did not care for others to dictate to it what kind of government would suit Afghanistan.
If Taliban 2.0 remains essentially as it is today, with the minorities ignored, this would still create unrest and insurgency in the country. A civil war in the not too distant a future cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that even Pakistan, which certainly would not like to see its protégé Taliban’s power diluted, keeps harping on the ‘inclusive’ clause along with Russia and others.
A civil war will not be confined within the boundaries of Afghanistan but will attract intervention by neighbouring states and other more distant stakeholders like the USA. Tajikistan will continue to back the Tajiks living astride its southern border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan will do the same with the Afghan Uzbeks. Shia Iran will stand up for the Shia Hazaras while the Western world will, in general, wish to see ‘human rights’ and especially ‘women’s rights’ given full leeway. The Chinese seemed to have cut a deal. They would extend economic aid to Kabul in exchange for assurances that no terrorism or separatism would go out of Afghan territory.
But Taliban 2.0, despite its smooth assurances at Doha and elsewhere, shows no signs of stretching significantly from its understanding of the Sharia law, which it said it wished to uphold as a framework within which all these rights would be respected. There are reports that the US is in talks with Russia seeking a base on Russian territory or again in Tajikistan for its future ‘over-the-horizon’ operations in Afghanistan, starting with monitoring purposes.
In sum, while option I, outlined above, promises an immediate disaster for South Asia and even beyond, option II holds out only marginally better prospects. It still has the Damocles’ sword of the probability of a civil war hanging over the head. The ideal solution would be to widen the Taliban 2.0 government to include the deprived minorities with an eye on keeping an effective lid on social instability. But the prospects for such a solution seem far-fetched, given the apparent domination of the hardliners in Taliban 2.0 and the long-standing animosity between the northern non-Pashtun Afghans and the Pashtun Taliban.. Also, the attacks by other extremist groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and so on will unlikely cease, even if option II is fully implemented. These extra-Taliban extremist groups will only encourage the radical elements within the Taliban to opt for more aggressive actions, both within and outside Afghanistan’s borders.
The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.
[i] Incidentally, the Pashtuns living on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line of 1893 do not recognise it, and that includes the Taliban)
[ii] Reid Standish report, gandhara.org of rfe/rl.org, 27 September 2021, accessed 14 October 2021, 09.07 Indian Standard Time (IST)… All times henceforth are in IST.
How India utilised the AFSPA to suppress freedom movements?
The freedom movements in the volatile north-eastern state of India predate the Partition. The Englishman realised importance of the North East as it could provide a corridor to the Japanese in World War II. India applied the Armed forces Special Powers Act first to the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur, a cauldron of unrest. The act was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north eastern region of India. The states affected by the draconian law included Assam. Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the seven sisters. The forces brutally applied the AFSPA to the states. It ignored outcry by people against has mounting incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. Indian government continued to extend the initial period for imposition of the law ad infinitum sometimes with ex post facto notifications. Its pleas were without AFSPA all the north eastern states will secede from India.
A large part of the original region that constitutes the seven states of the republic of India had strong political, economic and socio-cultural links with South East Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian subcontinent never extended east of the Brahmaputra River. The British colonists were the first to repress freedom movements. . In the early nineteenth century they moved in to check Burmese expansion into today’s Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur king, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828. Under this treaty Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.
The resentment against the Englishman led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891. The British were subdued by the fighting spirit of the local people. So, they preferred not to administer directly but only through the King.
During the Second World War, the Japanese tried to enter the Indian sub continent through this narrow corridor. But back home when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed they retreated from the Imphal and Kohima fronts.
A buffer zone
Before leaving India, the British pondered over many proposals for post-Partition of India. The local people were however never consulted. Finally the British divided the region such that some parts went to Pakistan but the lion’s share to India.
Over the years local democratic movements erupted as the people aspired to a new social and political order. One important example is a strong popular democratic movement against feudalism and colonialism in Manipur, led by Hijam Irabot Singh.
The treacherous annexation of Manipur
The post-Partition India reconstituted the kingdom of Manipur as a constitutional monarchy by passing the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949 V.P Menon, a seminar representative of Government of India, invited the king to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in Shillong. Upon his arrival, the king was forced to sign under duress. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were strong protests but using violent and brutal repression the Government of India suppressed the democratic movement in Manipur and has continued applying the same methods ever since.
Colonisation of Nagaland
The inhabitants of the Naga Hills, sprawling across Indo-Burmese border, formed Naga National Council (NNC) aspiring for a common homeland and self governance. During 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission for independence. The Commission was examining the feasibility of future of self governance of India.
The Naga leaders forcefully articulated the demand of self governance once the British pulled out of India. Gandhi publicly announced that Nagas had every right to be independent. Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Indian union or not. However, shortly after the British withdrew, the new Indian rulers colonized Nagaland and claimed it to be Indian Territory.
The Naga National Council proclaimed Nagaland’s independence in retaliation, and the Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. The AFSPA was used to violently suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of North East. In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in the Shillong Agreement. Democratic forces of Nagaland smelt a rat in this deceptive agreement and rallied the people for national liberation of Nagas. One of the organizations which articulated the democratic demand of Naga people is National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
Mizo National front was a phenomenal product of a famine. In the Lushai Hills of Assam in the early sixties a famine broke out. A relief team requested for help from the Government of India. But there was little help. The relief team organised themselves into the Mizo National front (MNF) to liberate themselves from the neo-colonial occupation of India. Against the democratic aspirations of the people Indian army moved in. The rebellion was so strong, that the Indian air force had to bomb the villagers. The armed forces compelled people to leave their homes. This devastated the structure of Mizo society. In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and Government of India. This accord was as deceptive as the Shillong Accord made with the Nagas earlier. To promote dominance by high caste Hindus, India clubbed poor non-feudal ethnic groups with Adivasis, cheating them in the name of scheduled tribes and in the process forcing them to be marginalized and stigmatized by the upper caste ruling elites of India.
Gradually it became the neocolonial hinterland for exploitation by the Indian state, where local industries were made worthless and now the people are entirely dependent on goods and businesses owned predominantly by those from the Indo-Gangetic plains. The new Indian unscrupulous businesses pull the economic strings of this region.
In Tripura the indigenous population has been reduced to a mere 25% of the total population of the state because of large scale immigration from the North east and Bangladesh.
A series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with this rising National liberation aspiration of the people of North east. In 1953 the Assam maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Regulation Act was passed. It was applicable to the then Naga Hills and Tuensang districts. It empowered the Governor to impose collective fines, prohibit public meetings, and detain anybody without a warrant. Indian atrocities from 1980 onwards include: the massacres of civilians at Heirangoi thong (Manipur) in 1984, at RIMS Manipur in 1995, at Malom (Manipur) in 2000; the horror of army torture and violence on civilians during operation Blue bird (Manipur) in 1987 and operation Rhino (Assam) in 1991. Indiscriminate firing on civilians by armed forces personnel when their own vehicle burst in the town of Kohina (Nagaland) in March 1995, the shelling and destruction of the town of Makokchung (Nagaland) in 1994, the enforced disappearances of Loken and Lokendro (Manipur) in 1996, and the rape of Miss N Sanjita (who subsequently committed suicide) (Manipur) in 2003.
After the Partition, India emerged as the new-colonial power. The North East still yeans for freedom.
The myth of “shared values”
The Indian prime minister’s visit to the USA underlines a paradigm shift in the United States’ policy: a shift from Europe to Asia. The shift is dictated by India’s constant pressure on the US to do its part of the quid pro quo for India’s joining the Quad, a conglomerate to corner China. Like the USA, India also is embarrassed at the fall of Kabul. India wants that the Taliban would shut their eyes to the reign of terror in the occupied Kashmir. In its disappointment, the USA, like a rueful baby, is doing everything on India’s bidding to further isolate Pakistan.
Still the portents are that not everything is hunky-dory with Indo-US relations. The US wants India to cancel its deal to purchase the S-400 air defence system from Russia. The US has given India a muffled message that unless the deal is cancelled India may face sanctions. India is hopeful of getting a waiver.After all, India became a member of the nuclear club without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has been a recipient of the US favours in the past also. In July 2003 India turned down the US request to provide 17,000 troops to shore up America’s war in Iraq. Then, India under prime minister Manmohan Singh also refused to support any US attempts to isolate or topple the Iran government. Manmohan wished Russian diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme would succeed.The US companies have invested $ 200 billion in China. Yet, she is perceived as the number one competitor to the US. The reason is that China may surpass the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth in the near future.
To Modi’s chagrin, the US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris underscored the importance of democratic values in their meetings. Biden quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s message of tolerance to allude to prevailing intolerance of BJP’s government, an avatar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Harris stressed the need for democratic countries to “defend democratic principles and institutions. Her remarks amounted to a diplomatic nudge to the Indian leadership amid concerns about “democratic backsliding” in India (Freedom house and the Economist downgraded India).
Before Biden and Modi joined their delegations for bilateral talks, the US President had made opening remarks: “Our partnership is more than just what we do. It’s about who we are…. It’s rooted in our shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, our joint commitment to diversity, and it’s about family ties, including four million Indian Americans who make the United States stronger every single day.”
Harris said at a joint media appearance with Modi before their first in-person meeting at the White House: “As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home.
She had earlier openly differed on Twitter with Jaishanker when he refused to attend a meeting with the House foreign affairs committee because the US legislators had rejected his request to exclude Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had been critical of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy.
“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Harris had tweeted in December 2019.
As for “tolerance”, the US invasions of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan leave no doubt about how much the US believes in what it professes.
India’s democratic “tolerance”
Since British raj days, India’s north east had been a simmering cauldron of freedom movements. British colonists held sway over the North East at gun point. In footsteps of the British colonists India suppressed freedom movements in the volatile North East through a slew of draconian laws. The most atrocious law applied to the region was the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. It was later extended to the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state also.
The AFSPA violates the fundamental constitutional rights of right to life, liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, free movement, practice of any profession, and protection against arbitrary arrest and freedom of religion, as enshrined in Articles 21, 14, 19, 22 and 25 of the Indian Constitution. AFSPA has been used in these regions to inflict thousands of deaths, custodial deaths and rape, torture, encirclement of the civilian population, combing operations, looting of private citizen’s property etc. Thousands of youth have simply disappeared.
Onus of proof on the accused
The AFSPA holds an accused guilty until proven innocent. This law violates legal maxim Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“innocent until proven guilty”).
A governor of an Indian state could through a notification declare a state to be “disturbed” without consulting the state legislature. The law gives armed forces immunity from any accountability. The law is not “in aid of civil authority” but “in place of civil authority”.
Powers of officers
Section 4 gives the following special powers to any commissioned officer, warrant officer or non commissioned officer of the armed forces in a disturbed area: (a) If in his opinion, it is necessary for maintenance for public order to fire even to the extent of causing death or otherwise use force against a person who is acting in contravention of an order prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapon. (b) If in his opinion, it is necessary to destroy any arms dump or fortified position, any shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made, and any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed gangs or absconders. (c) Arrest without warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence and to use whatever force is necessary to affect the arrest. (d) To enter and search without warrant any premises to make an arrest or to recover any person wrongfully confined or to recover any arms, ammunition, explosive substance or suspected stolen property.
Section 2 (c) of the Act also clearly shows the close affinity between AFSPA and those laws governing the military such as the Army Act (1950). It reads, ‘All other words and expressions used herein but not defined in the Air Force Act 1950, or the Army Act 1950, shall have the meaning respectively assigned to them in those Acts’.
A war against own people
The act applies toacts that are ‘likely to be made’ or ‘about to be committed’. This presumption is characteristic of war zones. In a war situation, any officer whether he is a commissioned, junior commissioned or non-commissioned officer-leading his men in the field is the judge as well as part of the body that executes his judgments.
The AFSPA grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to arrest, search, seize and even shoot to kill. Thus it violates the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life to all people. The AFSPA also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). India signed the ICCPR in 1978, taking on the responsibility of securing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant to all its citizens. In particular, the Act is in contravention of Article 6 of the ICCPR guaranteeing the right to life.
India is often called “the world’s largest democracy” by the West. Western notion of democracy (Westminster model) is that it is government of the people (masses, not classes), for the people and by the people. In truth, Indian democracy is in name only, not in substance. The “shared values” are a ruse.
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