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Can President Trump end unrelenting repression in Kashmir?

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World today is facing a lot of serious problems for which USA is the chief cause and even instrumental. Two major issues- Palestine in West Asia and Kashmir in South Asia – continue to derail peace momentum globally. Of these, genocides of Kashmiris in Jammu Kashmir, being perpetrated by India, remain the crucial problem that has not received the attention it does deserve.

Like Israel, India also puts pressure n world powers not to interfere in Kashmir issue. Similarly, Indian sources do not let any news paper or media publish anything that supports the Kashmir cause or against Indian occupational crimes. Clearly, upon enduring constant repressive methods by Israel for decades of its occupation and proliferation of illegal settlement construction operations in Palestine, Palestinians are on their way to gain full and complete sovereignty from Israel by legal means as the UN has approved Palestine as a defacto member and now all-powerful UNSC passed a resolution to remove and end further Jewish settlements in Palestine.

For the first time in years since 1948 when Israel was imposed on Mideast, USA as refused to use its veto to protect Israel and defend its expansionist operations.

The establishment of Palestine sooner than later, thus, is a foregone conclusion. President Trump, though plays politics not to offend America’s close ally Israel, is reportedly supporting a sovereign Palestine state and two-nation solution in Mideast.

Probe of Indian occupational crimes

A recent civil society’ fact-finding report notes that the concentration of security forces in JK is among the heaviest in the world. An estimated 700,000 Indian Army, paramilitary and state police forces watch over a population of just 14 million. Literally every Muslim in Kashmir is under Indian military surveillance and terror cum fake encounter target.

Trump needs to address the problems Kashmiris face under Indian brutal occupation as Kashmiris face very similar problem as of Palestinians as its neighbor occupies their nation Kashmir and keeps attacking and killing Muslims there. Soon after the establishment of Palestine, USA should also take up the issue of Kashmiri struggle for sovereignty back and ensure security of Kashmiris Muslims as India, its military and media care only about security of Hindus living in JK, supporting Indian case in Kashmir. Indian media want every Muslims in Kashmir is killed if they don’t accept Indian brutality occupational crimes in Kashmir as their ill-fate. India simply cannot accept any protest in Kashmir.

The population of Jammu Kashmir, now India’s only Muslim-majority state, confronts unrelenting repression by heavily-armed central and state government security forces, including indiscriminate pellet-gun barrages, arbitrary and repeated arrests, and deliberate blinding and killing of unarmed protestors.

As Kashmir is reeling under continuous demonstrations and regular curfews imposed b the JK government to make life very difficult for the Kashmiris, last month a volunteer group, led by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and Anuradha Bhasin of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PFPD), visited Muslim dominated Jammu and Kashmir, formerly a soverign nation but now India’s northern-most state for 10 days to study real situation in the most militarized zone on earth.

The expert report extensively documents widespread and shocking human rights violations by the Indian state and blatantly criminal behavior by security personnel.

For years, both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party as ruling dispensation alternatively play mischief with Kashmiris. India’s Hindu supremacist BJP government and its local partner, the J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP), responded with ferocious violence to the mass protests that convulsed the Kashmir Valley during much of the summer and fall.

While India targeted Muslims only in its occupied Jammu Kashmir, it never bothered about Azad Kashmir, the portion that is occupied by Pakistan, but of course without nay brutality meanly because Kashmiris do not oppose Pakistani occupation as a crime but a boon to protect themselves from Indian atrocities. In late September, the BJP government in India, seeking to increase its Hindu vote banks, plunged South Asia into its gravest war crisis in at least 15 years. Wanting to showcase its military prowess, New Delhi ordered illegal and highly provocative cross-border raids inside Pakistan-held Kashmir ostensibly in reputed retaliation for the September 18 attack on the Indian military base at Uri, then vowed it would continue to impose an ‘unacceptable’ price on Pakistan until all attacks on India from Pakistan ceased.

When the 25-member fact-finding group visited Kashmir between November 11 and 20, the Indian and Pakistani armies were mounting massive military barrages across the Line of Control that separates Indian- and Pakistan-held Kashmir, effectively blowing apart the shaky truce that has prevailed between the rival nuclear-armed states since 2003. Kashmiris on both side of LOC feel heavily terrorized.

Turning point

India for years has adopted different strategies to silence Kashmiris from raising objections to Indian military misrule of Jammu Kashmir but has failed. New Delhi could not successfully use its government in Sri Nagar to work for Indian cause in the region. But military misadventures have harmed Indian cause of continued occupation of Jammu Kashmir.

Even after seeing the secret graveyards in Kashmir, revealing what has happened to those Kashmir Muslims who fought against military of India and imposition of extra military laws to give a free hand to the state killers in Kashmir, Kashmiris continue their struggle for sovereignty.

The worst and strongest ever Kashmiri national protests erupted following the July 8 ‘encounter killing ’by summary execution by India, which cannot tolerate any opposition from Muslim leaders for state repression and murders, of a 21-year-old leader of an Islamist, Kashmiri separatist insurgent group, the Hizbul Mujahideen. Rattled by the size and tenacity of the protests, the BJP government blamed them on “Pakistan-supported ‘terrorists” and ratcheted up pressure on Washington and Islamabad.

Its aims were two-fold: to draw attention away from the popular protests in J&K and their brutal repression at the hands of the India state forces and fanatic media and to compel Pakistan to end all logistical support for the quarter-century long insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir.

The ‘civil society’ fact-finding report notes that the concentration of security forces in JK is among the heaviest in the world. An estimated 700,000 Indian Army, paramilitary and state police forces watch over a population of just 14 million. The fact-finding volunteers traveled to the Kashmir Valley districts where the recent protests have been most widespread and gathered much evidence of the violence and humiliations that the Indian military and state police have imposed on the local populace. Moreover, because of the legal immunity granted the state police under the JK Public Safety Act (1978) and the army and paramilitary forces in Kashmir under India’s notorious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, they can and do act with impunity.

The report states ‘unarmed and symbolic protests in Kashmir have been met with sustained attack by the Indian army, police and paramilitary, including with the use of pellet guns, (chili-based) PAVA shells and firearms. Several deaths have been caused by targeted killings of unarmed civilians by armed forces even in the absence of protests or demonstrations.

The volunteers further found that most pellet-gun wounds have been above the waist, indicating that security forces have deliberately sought to blind and kill protesters. ‘Most deaths we came across’, say the volunteers, ‘have been caused by injuries waist-above, without any warning fire. Deaths and injuries caused by pellet guns too are all above the waist and preponderantly at eye level causing blinding or long-term ophthalmic damage.’

Indian security forces invariably justify their violence by dubbing its victims as ‘anti-national.’ In fact, this is a catch-all phrase that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP government routinely employ against persons or organizations expressing even sympathy with the victims of the state repression in Kashmir. The report documents how families that pursue legal remedies against the security personnel responsible for the killing of their loved ones are subjected to raids, repeated arrests and even torture from the out-of-control security establishment.

Casualty counts vary, as the government is trying to cover up the scale of its repression and families often fear informing authorities that a member has been injured for fear of reprisals. But close to a hundred civilians have been killed since the protests erupted in early July. Many thousands more — the J&K daily Greater Kashmir claims 15,000 — have been injured.

Collective punishments, including destruction of property and animals and revenge attacks, akin to those Israel’s security forces mete out to the Palestinians, are the norm in Kashmir. The fact-finding report bears witness to this: ‘In the towns and villages where there were killings by the Indian Army, police and paramilitary, we met with ordinary people who narrated a cycle of search and seizure raids following killings, and of indiscriminate firing, including at funerals and memorial gatherings. In several of these instances the Indian Army, police and paramilitary broke windows and destroyed household goods, livestock, and food rations in peoples’ homes.’

In several villages and towns they visited, the armed forces, during their search and seizure operations, routinely destroy the local electricity transformer or sub-station, denying the entire village or locality access to electricity.’ The mass character of the protests in the Kashmir Valley have given the lie to the Modi government’s claims that the opposition to Indian rule is simply or mainly the product of Pakistani intrigue and ‘Pakistani-sponsored terrorism.’ The Kashmiri separatist groups supported by Islamabad were in fact taken by surprise by this summer’s eruption of mass protests.

The report describes the widespread popular disaffection with an Indian state that has repeatedly violated JK’s special autonomous status within the Indian Union, imposed ‘presidential’ or central government rule, rigged elections, and for decades resorted to mass repression, including ‘disappearances’, torture and summary executions. ‘From common people’, says the report, ‘we heard articulate accounts of what they have faced from the Indian state and, in particular, of the sustained attack on their democratic rights from 1989 onwards. The failure of the Indian state and every government since independence to address the political sentiments of Kashmiri people is a source of both hurt and enormous resentment.’

Indian parties speak in one voice against Muslims

The Modi government’s violent repression of the popular protests in JK has been politically aided and abetted by the opposition parties, including the Stalinist Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its Left Front.

Interestingly, all of them unequivocally defend the right of the Indian bourgeoisie to rule over Kashmir, have helped in the cover-up of the atrocities being carried out by Indian security forces in Kashmir, and have hailed the provocative military strikes that Indian Special Forces troops carried out inside Pakistan in late September.

India bases its claim not on the support of the Kashmiri people, but on the document of accession to the Indian Union signed by the last member of the British-backed Hindu princely dynasty that ruled Jammu and Kashmir.

India claims its prerogative to kill every Muslims in occupied Kashmir who refuses to accept Indian occupation. The reactionary character of the false Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir is exemplified by the legal basis of their respective claims to ‘undivided’ Kashmir i.e., to all of the territories that had belonged, prior to Partition, to the British Indian Empire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan’s claim is based on the reactionary ideology that underlies the Pakistani state: Kashmir is rightfully Pakistan’s because it is a majority-Muslim area contiguous to the Muslim ‘homeland’ in the subcontinents northwest.

Kashmiris, besieged between these two illogical claims, have been the target of both Indi and Pakistan.

Shockingly, the ruling as well as opposition parties are together when it comes to attack Muslims either in India or Kashmir or anywhere in the region.

Observation

As a mere formality, India continues to claim ownership of Jammu Kashmir and reiterates that Kashmir is an integrate part of India.

The Kashmir tragedy and the reactionary military-strategic rivalry between India and Pakistan with which it is inextricably enmeshed are the outcome of the reactionary communal Partition of South Asia. In 1947, South Asia’s departing British imperial overlords and the rival factions of the ‘national’ bourgeoisie divided the subcontinent into an expressly Muslim Pakistan and a predominantly Hindu India.

While the India ruling class and its state machinery have repressed the people of Jammu Kashmir, the Pakistani corporate lords have run roughshod over the basic rights of the people of Pakistan-held Kashmir and systematically sought to manipulate the Kashmir question for its own profit ends.

The democratic rights of the Kashmiri people will be secured and the threat of a catastrophic nuclear war between India and Pakistan lifted only through a joint struggle of the common masses of the subcontinent to put an end to capitalist rule and establish genuine the Socialist regional system. That could help end blood bath in the region, in Kashmir, end terror attacks, open the way for the improved governance for the causes of people.

Notwithstanding the pressure tactics from Indian government being applied directly and through its former rulers UK and US government directly as a so-called strategic partners in terror machinations, and through Israel, one hopes President Trump would rise to the occasion to help and save the remaining Kashmiri Muslims by forcing both India and Pakistan to allow the Kashmiris to have rebirth of Kashmir to exist as a soverign nation in South Asia.

Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani governments and political calls need to consider the normalcy of the region that is being harmed by the nuclear race and LOC conflict, usually fanatic Indian media mischief to promote state arrogance towards Muslims and Kashmir.

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South Asia

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.

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Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy

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Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.

In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.

The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.

Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.

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South Asia

Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.

Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.

Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.

The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.

The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.

It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.

In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.

The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.

Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.

Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.

In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.

The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.

Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.

However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.

Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.

A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.

Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.

Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.

In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.

In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.

Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.

Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.

Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.

Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”

No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.

Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.

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