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Why India does not want the United States to mediate in India-Pakistan parley?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he India authorities’ refusal to Nikki Haley’s proposal of involving Donald Trump’s administration in de-escalating tension between Pakistan and India may sound an abrupt and unplanned response, but was actually a result of meticulous and thorough examination of different factors that may affect India’s regional and transregional ties.

US ambassador to the United Nations(UN) Nikki Haley in remarks at a news conference on Monday, 3rd April 2017, said that the United States is concerned about the current India-Pakistan impasse and would like to “find its place” in moves to ameliorate tensions between both the neighbors. The newly appointed US Security Council Chair said this in response to a question: “It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward”. She further added, “ I would expect that the administration is in going to be in talks and try and find its place to be a part of that and we don’t think we should wait till something happens. We very much think that we should be proactive in the way that we are seeing tensions rise and conflicts start to bubble up and so we want to see if we can be a part of that.” However, just a few hours after this press conference, India sent a strong signal to the United States that its suggestion wasn’t welcome. Although Haley appeared to be signaling a shift in American position when she emphasized the US President Donald Trump direct involvement in efforts to mitigate the India-Pakistan rift, but the New Delhi’s rebuff to the US offer has adumbrated the need to examine the Indian policy in solving the issue with Pakistan bilaterally.

The first reason of India not wanting the United States to meddle in India-Pakistan rift is India’s strong position of not being open to any third party intervention in the issue. It has stressed upon it in the past and has again reiterated its stance on Tuesday in a press release in response to Haley’s proposal where it enunciated that New Delhi’s stance on the importance of the bilateral redressal of all issues between the two countries has not changed. The Indian government believes that peace talks between India and Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, the Indus Water Treaty and the Line of Control (LoC) should be held in an environment free of terror and violence. However, India does expect the United States to enforce international mechanisms & mandates concerning terrorism emanating from Pakistan that continues to be the single biggest threat to peace in Subcontinent region and beyond.

Secondly, India wants the United States to stick to its Post-Cold War policy of not interfering in the Kashmir issue. Though the history indicates that the United States have kept on playing an affirmative role in Kashmir problem, but it has always respected the privacy and freedom of both the countries to solve the problem by themselves. That is precisely the reason that Barack Obama administration revoked from interfering in the Kashmir issue even after declaring that it will play an active role to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan. After this, former state department spokesman John Kirby formally announced that the issue of Kashmir is for the two nations to work out and the United States had no role to play in it. Kirby also elucidated that it is for India and Pakistan to determine the pace, scope, and character of talks on the Kashmir issue. Therefore, India now wants Trump’s administration to continue to follow the preceding government policies and India’s blatant response to Haley the other day was a clear indication of that.

Thirdly, India does not trust the US’ intentions because of its nebulous policy in South Asia region. Along with the United States, other major powers also backed India in the war of 1965 and betrayed it at the last moment. During the early 1960s, the United States has been openly and secretly providing military aids to India which it during the war. During the war of 1965, when Pakistani troops invaded Kashmir, India moved quickly to internationalize the regional dispute. It asked the UN to reprise its role in the First India-Pakistan War and end the current conflict. The Security Council passed Resolution 211 on September 20 calling for an end to the fighting and negotiations on the settlement of the Kashmir problem, and the United States supported the UN decision by cutting off arms supplies to both belligerents. Though the UN resolution and the halting of arms sales had a definitive impact on the conclusion of the war, but it did affect the India and Pakistan’s trust in the United States.

Moreover, in the war of 1971, the United States sympathized with Pakistan, because of various reasons. Among them two reasons were that: firstly, Pakistan belonged to American-led military Pact, CENTO, and SEATO; secondly, the United States believed that any victory of India will be considered as the expansion of Soviet influence in the parts gained by India with the victory, as it was believed to be a pro-Soviet nation, even though they were non-aligned. Andrew Small has also written in his book “The China-Pakistan, Axis” that, how Henry Kissinger, United States Secretary of State of that time, planned to move American ships in the vicinity, allowing Jordan, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to send American arms to Pakistan when it was on the brink of losing the war of 1971 against India. Because of this mistrust developed towards the United States, India has the inkling of being betrayed from the Leading super power again and because of this ersatz surety of its belief, it does not want the Unites States to take part in peace talks with Pakistan.

Furthermore, Indian envoys and policy experts believe that American improved relationship with India post-1990s has made possible the further exacerbation of the prickly relations between India and Pakistan. They believe that increased American exports of military technology have acted as a security threat to Pakistan, engendering it to accrete its military resources as well. This has resulted in the increase in military and nuclear arsenal competition between the two countries, leading to the further obfuscation of the tortuous bilateral relations.

Finally, The recent report card of the United States involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan shows a record of misunderstanding, hubris, and failure. Therefore, India would not want the United State to indulge itself in the India-Pakistan conundrum and to turn South Asia as its next battlefield. India has witnessed the Unites State involvement in Syrian Conflict where it has supported Syria’s main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, and provides limited military assistance to the “moderate” rebels. Also, since September 2014, the United States have been conducting air strikes on IS and other jihadist groups in Syria as part of an international coalition against the jihadist group. Furthermore, the United States had also started a program to train and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels to take the fight to IS on the ground. This, along with the India’s learning from four wars experience with Pakistan, has a comprehensive idea that how any conflict between Pakistan and India can escalate the involvement of the superpowers, nuclear-armed states and neighboring countries which might turn into a World War three. India also knows that both Pakistan and India have nuclear fusion weapons now and a slight misunderstanding between both the states can lead to a nuclear war, the results of which will be more devastating than the catastrophe caused by dropping the fission bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Therefore, India has a wary and chary diplomatic policy towards Pakistan and believes that it will be a facetious decision to involve the United States in India-Pakistan subtle relations.

Many critics have excoriated the India’s snub to the US offer, arguing that it will result in demurring the India-US burgeoning ties. However, critics have failed to realize that involving the United States will impair the current mushrooming relations between the two countries sorely as compared to the damage that a rebuff will cause. Prime Minster Modi has taken calibrated efforts at the highest political level to transform bilateral relations between India and the United States. Modi has been extremely careful while dealing with the United States as he believes that India’s developmental priorities cannot be met without substantive cooperation with the United States. Also, India constantly requires the support of the United States for the structural changes in India’s security environment brought about by an aggressive China and its growing strategic convergence with Pakistan via CPEC, leading to a re-think on ‘non-alignment’ as a guiding principle of foreign policy. Moreover, Modi has taken painstaking efforts to seek economic opportunities in deepening defense ties and technology cooperation with Washington. Modi had been proud to stand among the tech CEOs of Silicon Valley to announce the transformation of India into the “Digital India”. Moreover, India is proud to be the only country outside Washington’s formal treaty allies that will gain access to almost 99 per cent of latest U.S.’s defense technologies after being recognized as a ‘Major Defense Partner’. It certainly captures what is emerging as a unique relationship between India and United States and India does not want the banal India-Pakistan babbling to act as a hurdle in it.

Maria Amjad has graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan, with a Political Science degree. Her interests include the history and politics of the South Asian region with a particular interest in India-Pakistan relations. The writer can be reached at mariaamjad309[at]gmail.com

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Religion Freedom Index of Bangladesh: Current Developments and Government Responses

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Pope Francis joins in prayers led by a Rohingya Muslim man at an inter-religious conference at St Mary’s Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on December 1, 2017. Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently published its annual Religious Freedom in the World 2021 Report (RFR) that scrutinizes the situation for all major religion groups in 196 countries across the world. The report found that, over the past two years, oppression against susceptible faith communities has augmented in all but one of the 26 countries listed in the survey’s worst (‘red’) category. Bangladesh is that only country whose position on the red list of religious persecution remains unchanged.

The annual report says that religious freedom is being undermined in one out of every three countries in the world which composed two-thirds of the world population. 62 countries out of a total of 196 face severe violations of religious freedom. The situation of minorities in India and Pakistan is deteriorating further. The situation in China and Myanmar is the worst. According to the report, the situation is worse in 95 percent of the 26 countries where persecution is taking place. Nine new countries have been included in this list- seven from Africa and two from Asia.

The report on Bangladesh says that the torture of minorities has not increased in recent years but the influence of Islamic groups is increasing in the politics of Bangladesh. However, the government has been successful in subdue the influence and maintaining religious freedom. For instance, after the rise of Islam-fabric politicization leading by “Hefazat-e-Islam”, the top leaders and at least 375 people nabbed for their recent violent activities. The strict position of law enforcement agencies against the rampage of the group denotes the zero-tolerance of Bangladesh government in ensuring religious freedom and upholding “secularism” which is one of the state principals of its constitution. The argument can be evident with the recent report of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) titled, “Bangladesh and Pakistan: acting against extremism versus making a show of acting against extremism”. Highlighting the activities of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam (HIB) in Bangladesh and the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) in Pakistan, the report comments that Bangladesh government has been making “noticeable progress in dealing with the radical Islamist HIB whereas Pakistan has floundered dramatically in its inconsistent, ill-considered and ill-implemented attempts to pacify the TLP”. Besides, the initiatives of the Bangladesh government in protecting the minority rights are so much praiseworthy.

According to the 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom of US Department of State, to advocate the minority rights and to foster religious tolerance, Bangladesh government has taken a number of initiatives such as-

•Providing guidance to imams throughout the country to prevent militancy and monitoring mosques for “provocative messaging”.

•Deploying law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considering potential violence. The Economic Times reported that 30,000 and 31,272Durga Pujas were organized across the country in 2017 and 2018 respectively without any security issue.

•Zero-tolerance to Islamic militancy. For instance, Special Tribunal convicted and sentenced to death seven of eight defendants who were accused in the 2016 killings of 22 mostly non-Muslim individuals at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

•Offering stipends to students from the minority groups in the primary and secondary level; and

•Providing funds for minority rituals and social activities.

Most importantly, Bangladesh ensures a level playing field in the employment sectors and a viable people-to-people contact. ‘Dhormo Jaar Jaar, Utsob Shobar,’ (Religion for own, but festivals for all” is a testimony of its secular values and communal harmony. The ACN report itself showed, in Bangladesh, where due to fear of infection, minority faith groups were incapable of offering the last rites to family members, an Islamic charity buried not only Muslim but also Hindu and Christian victims of COVID-19. Besides, reliefs were equally provided to every sector of the society regardless of their race or religion.

To conclude, Bangladesh always believes in fraternity beyond ethno-religious affiliations and practiced secularism in daily life throughout the history. But at present, due to the rise of right-wing populist politics both at regional and global level and rise of fundamentalism, religious harmony in Bangladesh is also affected. However, comparatively, Bangladesh is doing better than many regional states and the country is destined to overcome the challenges in near future due to the pro-active role of the government in this regard.

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West Bengal Election: Implications for Indian Politics

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Polling officials collecting the Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) and other necessary inputs required for the West Bengal Assembly Election, at a distribution centre, in Uluberia, West Bengal on April 05, 2021. Image source: Election Commission of India, Government of India

After a tumultuous eight phase election process, Trinamool congress has become successful to retain power for consecutive third terms amidst growing popularity of saffron tide. However, Mamata Banarjee’s Trinamool congress has successfully halted the tide at West Bengal frontier. The victory of TMC in the state testifies to “Bengal Exceptionalism” and is also a victory for Indian secularism.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) victory in the assembly election has far reaching repercussions for wider Indian politics. For one, it sends a resounding message to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that their dream of monolithic Hindu India is still far-fetched. While BJP was much enthusiastic and ardent to gain a victory in the election, as evidenced by Amit Shah’s intermittent visit to Bengal and the latter’s incendiary rhetoric and Prime Minister Modi’s several visit to state to canvass votes. Interestingly, the ubiquitous display of Narendra Modi’s posters led one commentator to sardonically quip whether NarendraModi is vying for chief minister position. This partly explains the importance BJP and Narendra Modi attached to West Bengal election.

Above all, this election was important for BJP to prove their regional appeal. BJP’s vision of “one state, one party” largely hinged on the victory in the Bengal. If BJP could win in Bengal, there had been possibility that other states would fall in order. This significance of Bengal election illuminates the importance that BJP attached to Bengal and their buoyant activities to seal the victory.

Bengal was long been known as bastion of ethnic politics rather than communal one. It was never been a fortress of all-India political parties. Even, in its heyday of all India politics, Indian National Congress (INC) couldn’t gain much favor in Bengal election as the politics in Bengal is driven by an appeal to “Bengali-ness” which other nationwide party lacks.

However, upheavals in Bengal politics had been unmistakable in recent times. Especially, the event of BJP’s significant performance in 2019 union elections led some observes to presage an ominous trend of Bengal politics unfolding. The BJP’s 40% share of vote from Bengal is largely an anomaly in the Bengal’s election history where all India political parties had hard time managing minuscule portion of the votes. The 2019 election result therefore doesn’t augur well for TMC in 2021.The defections of stalwart TMC leaders in favor of BJP exacerbated this grim predication and forbade an electoral mishap for TMC.

The detractors implicated Trinamool Congress for power abuse, extortion, misappropriation of welfare money and egregious Muslim appeasement. Especially, BJP seek to frame Trinamool Congress as anti-Hindu party. They had pointed to how Mamata Banarjee had benefitted Muslim clerics inordinately by providing them with benefits which their counterpart of Hindu religion was deprived of. Beside, “Bangladesh Card” had been recurrently employed to accuse the alleged lenient approach of TMC with regards to Bangladeshi migrants.

BJP capitalized on anti-incumbency resentment emanating from prolonged period of TMC role which had generated local level corrupted politician and scandals of misappropriated welfare schemes facilitated BJP rhetoric. Besides, BJP promised that the coordination with center government will be far easier if BJP gains state power. BJP rallied unemployed youth with the pledge of jobs had BJP

ascent to Bengal throne. Above all, BJP appealed to Hindu sentiments of the 60% majority Hindus of the state.

However, with the charismatic leadership of Mamata Banarjee and the promise of being rooted in Bengali soil and a proponent for peaceful communal relations, Mamata Banarjee’s TMC has been indomitable as manifested by resounding victory of Trinamool Congress.

The BJP’s promise of “Hindu Bengal” hadn’t materialized as West Bengal had long been a fortress of communal harmony, largely an aberration from all other Indian states. This communal harmony has been again bolstered by defeat of BJP in the assembly election.

The result of the election will largely reverberate across India with far-reaching consequences. Firstly, the victory of Trinamool Congress means that Modi’s vision of monolithic India isn’t viable in view regional peculiarities. Secondly, it safeguards the federal structure of India in face of increasing intrusion of central government. It also will restrain Narendra Modi’s unchecked centralization of the state. Thirdly, it will make Mamata Banarjee a spokesperson and central figure of anti-BJP movement in absence of vigorous congress presence. Fourthly, it puts an end to NarendraModi’s contentious CAA(Citizen Amendment Act) and other policies.

Lastly, this win of Mamata Banarjee has the possibility of catapulting her to the heft of an all India leader. Especially, in the absence of a BJP’s strong chief minister face, Mamata Banarjee was vying with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has momentous implication. This will consolidate the popularity of TMC in other states also with the image of Mamata Banarjee and memory of implicitly defeating Narendra Modi serving as an accelerator of her all-India appeal.

Nevertheless, there is marked indications that the Bengal politics has irrevocably altered in the process of this election. While Bengal had long been the indisputable image of Indian secularism, the communal tendencies have made deep inroads in Bengal politics. BJP has surpassed all other local political parties and now only second to TMC. This trend is unnerving for secular Bengal as well as India. However, it can now rightly be articulated that saffron tide of communalism has been retarded. This victory of Mamata Banarjee has reverberation across India and can be termed as the victory of Indian secularism and federalism.

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Feasible Outcomes after Withdrawal of US Troops from Afghanistan

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According to US President Joe Biden’s announcement, the process of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan has begun. On September 11, 2001, there was a militant attack in the United States. The United States went on a military operation in Afghanistan in the wake of that attack. Now all US troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the longest war in U.S. history. US President Biden commented that the goal of the US war in Afghanistan has been achieved. After the Taliban’s overthrow, the civilian Afghan government was established in Kabul with US support. The US administration now feels that the present Afghan government is capable of ensuring the security of its country.

The announcement during Trump’s tenure was that the troops would leave on May 1. Biden pulled it off in September. Biden’s Republican party has persuaded him against the rapid departure of troops. The reason behind Biden’s announcement of the new withdrawal date lies in repairing relations with NATO, which suffered under Trump. This transatlantic relationship was damaged by several of Trump’s statements. According to Trump, NATO members were not doing what they were supposed to pay for the alliance and wanted to approve Germany, Afghanistan’s top contributor after the US. When the withdrawal agreement was negotiated with the Taliban last year, the demands of NATO members, who are dependent on the US military for airlift support, were not considered sufficiently. Now it appears that NATO also announced the withdrawal of troops after Biden announced the withdrawal of troops to fix September 11 as the withdrawal date. This time change has given NATO members the opportunity to work to coordinate with the United States for their departure from Afghanistan. The Biden administration’s move could be seen in the context of efforts to bring US foreign policy back to multilateralism.

The United States also feels that rebuilding relations with NATO and other partners is very important. Because it will enable the US to stay in better position to face various global challenges like China’s rise and climate change. Already China has expressed concern over the decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. China thinks foreign troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan in a responsible and orderly manner. According to them, this is necessary to ensure a smooth transition from Afghanistan as well as to prevent any terrorist group from taking advantage of the chaos. But the real problem lies for China as US officials point out that the United States now wants to focus on addressing other important challenges, including the threat from China, by shifting its focus from Afghanistan.

However, the long-term presence of US troops did not eventually defeat the Taliban. Afghan forces and the central government in Kabul could not be able to increase control over the entire country. After 20 years of war and thousands of deaths, US officials have acknowledged that the Taliban are at their strongest military level. We see that the attacks have increased dramatically in the last one year. The Taliban has taken over and has destabilized the position of the Americans in Afghanistan. The provincial capital, briefly occupied by Afghan troops, is regularly recaptured by rebels. US forces are leaving behind a deeply unpopular Afghan government that has not won the confidence of the people. Afghans blame Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s weak leadership for the Taliban’s resurgence. His reluctance to share power is hampering the initial move to map a post-war future, which is a barrier to peace.

The Taliban are indicating that they want to return to the role of the previous regime when American troops leave. Their desire is single authority. Unwilling to compromise and run the country, they want full authority after September. They are talking about establishing their own model of ‘Islamic rule’. But it won’t be that easy for them as they have full control of only 20 to 30 per cent of the districts of the country. The same is true of government forces. Both taliban and government forces hold power in the remaining 50 percent of the area. However if Taliban are able to take control over the whole country, women’s society and the media are most afraid of their past rule. Higher education institutions are often attacked by the Taliban. Millions of girls went to school while Americans were still there, who were forbidden by the Taliban to receive any kind of education. From under the protective shield of Americans, women became doctors, entrepreneurs, Parliamentarians. They will now be in danger. Similarly, Afghans who have struggled to make the country a more hospitable and socially tolerant place will be at risk. Meanwhile, about 17,000 Afghans from those communities are waiting to get U.S. visa.

It remains to be seen whether Afghanistan’s warring sides come to an agreement. As the US moves away, it is time for Afghans to lead the talks and agree on a permanent ceasefire and peace settlement. The coming months will tell how much faith the Taliban and the Afghan government can give to the war-weary Afghan people and show the leadership they need to rule. Whether the Taliban will undermine the rights of women and minorities returning to Kabul has become a question. It also remains to be seen whether the Taliban will allow al-Qaeda and IS militants to be active in Afghanistan if they return to power. There is a possibility of high levels of polarisation across the country due to insecurity among the groups. Stability can come only if the present government and Taliban in Afghanistan work together.

The United States is now more interested in shifting attention from Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East and looking to Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific region. The United States is reluctant to take responsibility for the negotiations even though it has announced the withdrawal of troops. Biden’s announcement does not have a roadmap for how the country will run after their departure. The United States wants Russia, China, Pakistan and India to participate in talks on Afghanistan. As a major power, it is dependent on who will be in governance in Afghanistan in the interest of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and India. China and Russia are interested in Afghanistan for regional dominance and trade reasons, but India has a major interest in Afghanistan’s geopolitics in the conflict-making relations with Pakistan and the Kashmir crisis. The current deal will benefit the Taliban as well; It will also help Pakistan create a comfortable position in regional politics. Pakistan would like its backed Taliban government to be established in Kabul in its desire to consolidate its influence. But Pakistan also has a reason to worry. If the Taliban cannot bring peace to the country, the world society will put the responsibility on Pakistan. The refugee wave in Pakistan could rise another round if Afghanistan is newly disturbed. India, on the other hand, will want Pakistan’s influence-free Afghanistan. Again, in northern Afghanistan, where the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek people live, they will not easily accept Taliban forces controlled by the Pashtun population. So there is a risk of long-term unrest. Afghanistan’s future situation depends a lot on what the role of regional powers will be after the withdrawal of US troops and how much the agreement of international community to control itself will be implemented there without being in Afghanistan.

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