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Kashmir-A Million Pellets for a Million Stones

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The other day my friend while discussing Kashmir’s worsening situation literally rebuked me for writing yet another opinion on Kashmir’s current uprising and prevailing mass unrest, reacted brutally so far by security forces leaving about sixty nine civilians dead and thousands injured.

The point is whether mass cries and scores of articles, opinions or commentaries, etc, on Kashmir’s worst uprising so far have made any difference on the ground situation, as far as the tactful tackling or peace building or approaching the angry and protesting people is concerned? The answer is a clear no.

Why is it so, there are reasons. The reason is not that the nation does not politically understand Kashmir and its issues or what people refer to when they talk of UN Resolutions, Plebiscite or right to self determination or Azadi, etc,. The nation seems more worried about geo-politics and cannot afford to see its hostile neighbor coming closer. Also Kashmiri people understand that security forces or local police are trained personal and do what they are asked to do and do not do things on their own. Therefore whatever, killings or torture so far in the valley cannot be attributed only to forces and their mishandling but to the political masters who control them. The question is why so many killings don’t still matter and apart from night raids and intimidation against masses, what positive and reasonable efforts are being done on the ground to normalize the situation? Is there any, I doubt.

A Dangerous Tit for Tat

Now there is a strange dichotomy and a tit for tat situation when the uprising is in its second month. Strikes or shut down or in common parlance hartals during the day called by the resistance camp and stressed religiously by militants as a direct action of dissent are followed by masses. On the other hand forces now impose curfew during the night time when people were actually moving out after day long shutdowns. The two camps, i mean forces and separatists, have therefore shared the whole 24 hours of a Kashmiri in equal proportion leaving him completely breathless. People protest during the day, forces beat them in the night. Forces barging in peoples’ homes at night and smashing window panes is also on. A million stones for a million pellets. When it comes to Kashmir context, we have developed a strong culture of direct action in terms of hartals since decades now but till date without any significant results as everybody takes it as a normal affair of life now. Still people defy curfews for protests and follow hartals religiously. The reason is the system in place which is crippled and has no credibility among the masses. The power elite has even has lost guts to face the same people who voted them to power. They only offer sermons of peace without actually doing anything for it and play blame game to escape queries. Justifying violence in Kashmir is easy and labeling Pakistan for everything is much easier but understanding the woes of and approaching the masses especially now when the use of power has crossed all limits seems very difficult. This difficult situation is further made impossible by politicians who are either in opposition or anti-Mehbooba by their rhetoric. The only thing so far constructive they have done is approaching the President and the PM in the centre. Hartal calendars keep appearing and updating like examination date sheets and calls for bandhs and chalos’, etc, continue only to be curbed or foiled by the state. When hartal time is over, forces start their turn. Where will it all end, nobody knows. What is the way out; nobody knows even not the state at the moment.

Kashmiris’-Historically Resilient

Kashmir has been suffering since centuries and witnessed a plethora of unaccounted oppression and long drawn conflict with linkages to cruel history. This has slowly led to coping strategies among masses and they have developed enough resilience and honed survival instincts and ability to survive under all kinds of adverse situations. During the acute conflict situation in 1990’s there used to be hartals for months together, like Dargah Hazratbal siege (1993) and long drawn hartals, massive uprisings of 2008 and 2010 (the new ragdo culture) but life never stopped despite acute situations. Also for any act or activity that starts hampering the economic interest of the Kashmiris, they quickly discover a way to overcome, manoeuvre or bypass it. Also people in Kashmir now have turned self medicos and psychologists or counselors as well. They witness the worst but take it easy now because they know there is no way out but to live it. Same is the case with the mass protests or bandhs that Kashmir followed and preferred over violent conflict but not without a range of repercussions. This time the rage has crossed all limits and Burhan Wani incident on July 8, played just a trigger.

Media Trials only Alienate Further

While Kashmir’s 2016 uprising is on, many media persons were thrashed either by masses or by security forces. Why masses don’t believe what they call Indian media can be attributed to venom that prime time channels spew on Kashmir and its people. Over last few years, people of Kashmir have become well aware of the true intentions, biases, and political games of media and large chunks of youth oppose their (prime time channels) Kashmir policy, goals and aspirations. Even media channels who insult every Kashmiri panelist very well know what is ailing Kashmir and what people want but their TRP craze changes the whole discourse on Kashmir that only leads to provocation and alienation besides strengthening the dissent on the ground. Baring a few media groups, Kashmir and Kashmiris are maligned and presented differently to the nation and labeled even as terrorists. Such a venomous approach further alienates people as their point of view hardly comes to surface.

Youth and Dissent

Some of the very meaningful manifestations were seen during the floods in September 2014 where the same dissenting youth saved thousands of lives. Why the same youth are now on streets against the power reflects the oppressive designs of the state that have forced them to do so. Why isn’t the culture of dissent changing in the valley and why efforts have still not been made to approach youth, remains a question to ponder over? Does Kashmir need new ways to display anger or oppression, also needs a deeper thought as the fallout is so expensive given the prevailing bloodshed? For a pellet or a bullet cannot be an answer to a stone, State is yet to ban the lethal weapons and justify crisis mishandling by least equipped security personnel merely as a self defence or a small sorry after a murder.

What is the way-out to all this mess? The answer is peace but the very peace will be felt only by addressing human rights abuse so far and bringing the culprits to justice. How is Noman- the little son of murdered lecturer Shabir Mangoo-who was beaten to death by forces different from the Aleppo’s (Syria) five year old boy Omran-who was pulled out of the rubble of a bombed building in Syria recently which made the whole world cry? Is Kashmir becoming India’s Aleppo by such heinous crimes and why isn’t the nation crying for Noman? What is such an unaccounted violence going to teach the young children like Noman? Why is the State hell bent on turning Kashmiri youth into a lost generation. Such a catastrophe is actualizing gradually as resistance discourse and the masses’ resolve irrespective of caring about economy, value of life or scare of torture is going hand in hand. Who will address this dangerous trend? At least bullets and pellets or beating people to death in night raids or routine abuse will not address this.

Today’s well read, upward looking and a progressive Kashmiri is wise enough. He is articulate in his content as well. He raises questions in every TV show, conference or seminar on Kashmir, human rights, democracy, etc,. He has learnt a new dissent but needs satisfactory answers to his genuine queries which he never gets and in turn is labeled as seditious or anti-national. He demands a true answer on the question of recent killings and torture, he recalls Bijbehara massacre, Dardpora widows, half widows, Kunan-Poshpora mass rapes, Asiya-Neelofar double rape and murder, Pathribal massacre, Wandhama massacre, Chattisingpora tragedy, suffering of Kashmiri Pandits, disappearances & mass nameless graves, fake encounters like Machil tragedy, youth arrested and criminalized under PSA, prolonged detentions of leaders, muzzled voices, time and again gagged communication in the name of law and order, hijacked democracy and futile Bandhs, unaccounted killings under draconian AFSPA, etc,. Is the nation ready to address these grievances and prove that Kashmiris’ have all Azadi like the rest of Indians? He is made to feel like another Indian when he has been already made into a monster and even labeled a terrorist. The troll brigade online keep abusing them and media houses even YouTube keeps allowing such abusive comments.

Look For a Way-out Now

There is a dire need to address the current violent social unrest and it should not be taken or forgotten like past uprisings. Kashmir’s new social movements are now emanating from internet, use of new media, intellectual and political discourses. Still there are enough believers of peace diplomacy and functional interlocutions, fruitful and result oriented interactions and mediations provided the government in power initiates such a dialogue. Also people aspire for reconciliation and establishment of truth and accountability commissions which need to be respected. The only thing that remains to be actualized is the empathetic power apparatus that treats people their own and really care about blindly slapping PSA’s on youth and unaccounted use of bullets and pellets to suppress but feel the pain of civilian killings day in and day out and try practical measures to stop it. At the moment nothing but use of force is the only reality on the ground.

Last Word

The nation has failed to listen to and harness the potential of Kashmiri youth who have always been seen as a threat rather than an opportunity to make peace in the trouble torn region. They are active in politics and are brilliant in administration and entering in every sphere of life but they have grievances which cannot be answered every time by force and bullets and pellets.. They are fed up with shrewd politics and the policies of the great divide. They are becoming able scientists, researchers, writers, administrators, etc, who know their way and I am sure who can work for a different Kashmir which believes in peace and pluralism and is highly opposed to oppression, inequality and exclusion. This all can happen provided they are given a space and a platform to have their say. They are allowed to protest peacefully and are approached by authorities to address their grievances. They just demand justice and that must be delivered by thinking Kashmir as a political problem and treating Kashmir as the people of Kashmir not just its mountains and lands. Hatred only begets hatred and indifference only breeds chaos and alienation.

I am sure the nation has not lost vision on Kashmir but certainly before the PM spoke on the youth killings and the need for a dialogue beyond development discourse, nation seemed not caring about Kashmir. The Home Minister’s second visit to the valley for making peace is a welcome step and should bear fruits of peace in the valley.

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South Asia

As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad

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The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.

Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.

The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.

India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.

India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.

Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.

New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.

Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.

The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.

The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.

With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.

The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.

Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.

The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.

All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.

The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.

With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.

Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.

The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.

Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.

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South Asia

The Dysfunctional Pakistan’s Legislature

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The legislature of Pakistan has several problems and because of this very reason governments are unable to make any landmark laws for the state that can prove to be effective in resulting some socio-political or economic changes in the society. The noncooperation among the parties in the house is the major problem that leads no healthy debate. People have never seen the political parties having a healthy debate among the political parties on some key matters that need to address. Political parties prefer crosstalk on each other that mostly ends up on the dismal of legislature. Mostly in the house the opposition and the party in power never each on consensus on anything that shows their no seriousness towards the legislation.

 In my opinion the opposition of Pakistan perceives its role to be negative always. The opposition perceives as their duty to walk out from the house, make fun of their fellow colleagues, bringing our historical facts to propagate negativity about the agenda. This attitude results in no fruitful law-making.

The scenario of national assembly of Pakistan is that if the ruling party does not has two-third majority in the house they will be paralyzed as the opposition has imagines role of not supporting the government to pass laws and bills that can benefit their reputation among the public. In this game of interest the parties forget the importance of legislation and national interest rather they are more focused on protecting their own interests and interests of their political parties.

The tussle between the government and the opposition is endless that is negatively impacting the legislative system of Pakistan.

Another factor that weakens the legislative process of Pakistan is the issues within the upper house. This plays a vital role in enacting the laws without senate’s cooperation legislation cannot improve and strength.

 The sustained bitterness and confrontation with the government and opposition leads to no progress in the making of legislation and strengthening the rule of law. For example the PTI coalition passed the bills and introduced 8 ordinances in its first year of government.

The ten bills passed by national assembly faced a new challenge which was the Senate of Pakistan where PTI also does not hold the majority. Ten out of 4 bills sailed through Senate whereas 3 remained pending in Senate. Only 7 bills turned into acts in the first year of PTI government.

The lack of coordination and seriousness in the parliament is affecting the progress of Pakistan. Without rules and making of new legislation how can the country progress? In a democratic system the rule of law is one of the pillars for true democratic practices but unfortunately in Pakistan we only see leg-pulling and blame game between the institutions.  The lack of political consensus among the parties is another problem. On the other hand the formation of Standing Committees of national assembly is important for the functioning of the system. According to the Rules of Procedure of national assembly the members of Standing Committees has to be elected within 30 days after the elections of the leader of house but according to the data of PILDAT previous assembly managed to form these in 3 months instead of 30 days. This indicated lack of seriousness of the members.

The current government has only got the executive authority and not the legislative competence that makes them dysfunctional as they are dependent on the opposition and then Senate for passing of the legislation and making it a law.

Another factor that weakens the legislative system of Pakistan is the overactive judiciary and the intervention of the military in law making. Through this intervention the legacy of the military rule is still being kept alive. Most of the time the Supreme Court and the judiciary intervene in the legislation to serve their interest and weaken their opponents sitting in the government. The overactive judiciary encroaches the governance agenda, legislative advice etc. the legislative procedure in Pakistan is still developing its institutional identity.

The duty of the legislature is to respond to its public needs and also exercise oversight of the executive, but there is not engagement in the civil society and no research is being conducted on the public policy for better and effective policy making.

In the end it can be concluded that the system is also faulty but the attitude of the parliamentarians is more disappointing and discouraging. The whole system is unsuitable for a less educated population of Pakistan as most of the parliamentarians are unaware of policy-making and its importance for the state. The process is also complex and complicated as it has to go through several steps for making a bill a law.

Through this process, law-making on controversial issues is nearly impossible because in Pakistan people protect their interest instead of their state. Even if the government is serious for law-making the judiciary, military and bureaucracy will not allow the government to do its job. This is high time to adopt a new system in this country and draw lines for every institutions particularly judiciary that is the most rigid institutions and creates hurdles for every government by interrupting them.

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Reinforcing the Role of the International Community in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis

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A young Rohingya girl holds her brother outside a youth club in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. The United Nations defined Myanmar’s August 2017 atrocities to the Rohingyas as “Textbook case of ethnic cleansing”. On July 02, 2018, during his visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General noted that “I have no doubt that the Rohingya people have always been one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world, without any recognition of the most basic rights starting by the recognition of the right of citizenship by their own country – Myanmar”. Thus, the severity of the Rohingya crisis is well-recognized by the international community. This article focuses on the necessity of the international community’s role in facilitating a safe and sustainable Rohingya crisis solution.

The ironic story is that though it is already three years passed, no concrete action is manifested to facilitate the Rohingya refugee repatriation. In the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China applied veto power in the case of Rohingya refugee resolution, which made strong impediments to the repatriation process. Russia and China did this calculating their narrowly defined interest rather than humanity which is in fact, ironic for the world. Thus, the United Nations could not play a crucial role in facilitating the Rohingya refugee repatriation.

Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world. Though Bangladesh is a rising economic power, feeding more than 170 million people is not an easy task. Also, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees have added extra socio-economic pressures in the country. For Bangladesh’s continued growth, prosperity, and stability, there is no alternative to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar as early as possible. Since Myanmar committed ethnic cleansing to the Rohingyas, and the country is not interested in taking back the Rohingyas, only the international community including the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can pressurize Myanmar to ensure a safe and sustainable repatriation.

Bangladesh strongly believes that the international community can play an essential role in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis permanently. For instance, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, offered five points proposal including the full implementation of recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission, and the establishment of civilian monitored safe zone in the Rakhine State to the international community to resolve the issue. Similarly, at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina offered a four points-proposal to resolve the Rohingya crisis highlighting the role of the international community. Sheikh Hasina emphasized that the international community must ensure that the root causes of the Rohingya problem area addressed and the violation of human rights and other atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingyas are accounted for.

The good news is that the on November 19, 2020, the United Nations has adopted a resolution on “The Situation of Human Rights of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” while Bangladesh seeks a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Resolution called for taking concrete actions by Myanmar to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis, i.e. granting them citizenship, ensuring the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their homes by creating a conducive environment. Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Rabab Fatima notes that “As a country that hosts over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas, Bangladesh continues to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis, which lies in their safe and dignified return to Myanmar”.

Notably, Germany on behalf of the European Union and Saudi Arabia on behalf of the OIC co-tabled the Resolution which was sponsored by the 104 member states including the USA, Canada, and Australia. It is also a positive development that a total of 132 countries voted in favour of the Resolution while nine countries voted against and 31 countries abstained. It demonstrates that most of the countries in the world want a permanent, sustainable and peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. It also signifies that these countries care for the humanity while the nine countries who voted against the Resolution only care for their narrowly defined interest. The future generations will undoubtedly read and know the actions of those nine countries who do not care for humanity. Those nine countries need to know that despite several domestic challenges, Sheikh Hasina has shown kindness, humanitarian gesture and thus protected and sheltered those Rohingyas from killing by the Myanmar armies.

Notably, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of hosting refugees. This will remain as a humanitarian example in the world. One also needs to keep in mind that the socio-economic realities of Turkey (who is the top in hosting refugees), and Bangladesh is not the same. While the GDP (per capita) of Turkey is US$ 9043, Bangladesh’s GDP (per capita) is US$ 1856, the population density of Turkey is 108 per square kilometres, and Bangladesh’s population density is 1116 per square kilometres. Thus, considering the contexts, and socio-economic realities of Bangladesh, the international community needs to reinforce the Rohingya refugee repatriation process. Most importantly, the international community needs to execute the adopted Resolution as early as possible for the sake of humanity, for the sake of a just cause. The future world will certainly note the noble actions taken by the international community for such a just, and reasonable cause.

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