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Cross-Border Terrorism, Migration and Human Trafficking: The Rise of Border Walls in South Asia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he countries of South Asia are using the United States and EU’s deterrence model of building walls and fences along the border, to deter cross-border terrorism, migration and human trafficking. However, this deterrence strategy will ultimately fail, just like it did in the United States and EU.

On 5th May 2017, Afghan security forces fired across the border at Chaman on Pakistani census workers and troops escorting them, killing nine and leaving thirty-three wounded. In the crossfire, Pakistani officials reported that six were killed on the Afghanistan’s side. This has led to the series of crossfires between both the armies across the Durand Line (Pakistan-Afghanistan Border), and in the recent incident of yesterday, Pakistan army claimed to kill fifty Afghan soldiers and over a hundred injured as a retortion to 5th May cross-border attack on Chaman. Two days earlier than the Chaman incident, India claimed that they have found two beheaded dead bodies of their soldiers near the Line of Control (LoC) who were brutally mutilated by Pakistan’s special forces. While both these countries have inculpated their western neighbor for the cross-border infiltration and terrorism, India faced an additional concern of cross-border migration and human trafficking of Bengalis and Rohingyas refugees from the India-Bangladesh border. This is precisely the reason that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared at the end of the month of March that India plans to seal international borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh by 2018. Singh believes that it will help India to tackle the rising issue of terrorism and refugee crisis in the country. Just two days after this, Pakistan also announced that it is going to build a fence across the Durand line (Afghanistan Border) in order to stem the flow of violence across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both of these announcements have come at a time, when the debate on the border restrictions has already been in the limelight, mainly because of the United Stated president Donald Trump’s pledge to build a “giant wall” on the country’s border with Mexico and the usage of these restrictions as a tool to prevent the movement of refugees from Syria into Europe.

Why is this new trend of border walls emerging in South Asia? How different or similar is the border walls in this region from that of massive walls being built on the borders of the United States, Israel, and European countries? How these controversial border security projects are justified in their respective countries and what consequences these physical barriers have on the lives of those living in these newly securitized spaces?

In order to find answers to these questions, it is first important to understand the Professor of the University of Quebec, Montreal, Elisabeth Vallet’s categorization of the border walls of the 21st century. She believes that in recent years “three distinct types of walls have appeared, 1) anti-migration walls (most common), 2) anti-trafficking walls and 3) anti-terrorism walls.

With the increase in the cross-border infiltration, migration and human trafficking in South Asia, the demand for the building of fences have been increased as well, and the frustrated politicians have to spend exorbitant pecuniary awards to limit the cross-border activities in the region. Currently, there are three borders that are being fenced by their respective governments to attenuate the cross-border activities in the region.

1)   India-Bangladesh Border

On the eastern side, India is planning to construct the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier, a 3,406-kilometer (2,116 mi) fence of barbed wire and concrete just under 3 meters high, to prevent the cross-border immigration and human trafficking from Bangladesh. India shares a 4,096-kilometer (2,545-mile) -long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 180 km in Mizoram, 443 km in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km in West Bengal. The Bangladeshi divisions of Dhaka, Khulans, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet and Chittagong are situated along the border. A number of pillars mark the border between the two states. Small demarcated portions of the border are fenced on both sides. The Land Boundary Agreement to simplify the border was ratified by both India and Bangladesh on 7 May 2015.

In the Modi era, India is lubricating the bilateral relations with Bangladesh by building pipelines to wheel diesel under a 15-year supply agreement with Bangladesh. Furthermore, the rail and road linkages being made available for transport of people and goods across the India-Bangladesh border is another boost in the relations. Apart from all this, the civil nuclear cooperation and military aid to Bangladesh are all meant to foster strong bilateral relations. However, the radicalisation of Bangladesh Muslims and their inclusion into the ranks of jihadis organized are a cause of constant concern to India for multiple reasons. India is already facing the consequences of Pakistan’s descent into jihadi extremism and now if Bangladesh were to collapse, India would have to contend with a similar rogue neighbor in the east. The smoke signals are ominous, among them Sheikh Hasina’s failure to ensure the safety and security of Bangladesh’s dwindling Hindu minority. West Bengal is flooded by Bangladeshi malcontents who now freely cross the border to take refuge here, and then return to indulge in jihadi violence both here and there. A recent Government of India statement pegged the number of Bangladeshis living illegally in India at more than two crores. Nobody knows the exact figure, nor is there any estimate how many of them are radicalized. Therefore, India has started building a fence to act as a permanent schism between the two masses of Bangladesh and India as to prevent the penetration of Bangladeshis into the country. Also, the border has been used by the Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state to enter into India. Despite the hurdles, police checks and fences, it is said that the Rohingya refugees are imbued to endure the long and treacherous journey to the Indian provinces of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Assam.

  1. Pakistan-Afghanistan Border

Pakistan’s decision to build a fence along the Durand line has been influenced by the cross-border terrorism and free movement of terrorists in and out of the Pakistan. The two countries share a 1,500-mile internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century when the British ruled the Subcontinent.

The border has long been a contentious issue. Ever since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghan and Western officials have said that the Afghan insurgency’s leadership maintains havens in Pakistan, particularly in the city of Quetta. The free movement across the border has helped the militants avoid defeat in a 15-year war led by the United States. At the same time, Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring its own terrorists, wanted Afghan Taliban leaders and their Haqqani network allies in the hilly areas of FATA and Waziristan.

Contrarily, Pakistani authorities have long accused Afgahniatsn of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along the porous frontier and waging deadly attacks inside their territory are based across the border in Afghanistan. In the month of February, Pakistan closed the border for more than a month after a suicide bombing at a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh Province on February 16, which killed more than eighty people, saying the terrorists behind the attack had sanctuaries in the country.

This has also engendered Pakistan to build the fence on the western border, which is vehemently criticized by the Afghan authorities who do not accept the division of land based on the Durand Line. Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said officials had not yet seen any signs of construction along the frontier but would move to prevent any such project. The Afghan government has never recognized this section of the border, drawn up during British colonial rule. It runs through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the power of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group on both sides. The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa believes that a better managed, secure and peaceful border is in the mutual interest of both the countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in the war against terrorism.

3) India-Pakistan Border

Drafted and created based upon the Radcliffe line in 1947, the border demarcates the Indian states and the four provinces of Pakistan. The border runs from the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan’s Kashmir, in the north, to Wagah, which partitioned the Indian Punjab state and Punjab Province of Pakistan, in the east. The Zero Point separates the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to Sindh province of Pakistan, in the south. The LoC which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan’s Kashmir is one of the most controversial and contentious boundaries of the world. The line has witnessed numerous conflicts, crossfires, and wars between the two arch rivals. The most recent of these is the India-Pakistan skirmishes along LoC post Uri-attack of 2016. India alleged Pakistan for supporting and backing the group of heavily armed terrorists to attack the rear administrative base of the Indian army at Uri, in Indian-administered Kashmir. Moreover, India has also blamed that the ten men who attacked the iconic Taj and Oberoi Hotels, the Central Railway Station, and a Jewish Centre in Mumbai in 2008 were associated with the terrorist organization based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. And the list of one country’s railing of cross-border infiltrations and other country’s rants of being innocent is interminable. In order to avoid these diurnal rumblings along the LoC, India has decided to fence its border along the LoC. India believes that this will restrict the cross-border terrorism and militant infiltration into India.

But the border expert Dr. Reece Jones, professor of Geography department at the University of Hawaii and author of the book: “Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel” argues that these border fences have failed to deter terrorism and to protect the population from external threats. He further added that while this deterrence strategy had made journeys to the United States and the European Union more difficult, the number of people attempting the journey did not diminish. “Instead, it has meant that there have been a staggering number of deaths at the borders”. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 10,000 people have died trying to cross a border since the start of 2015. Jones argues “These deaths are not accidental, but are directly related to the use of deterrence strategy and the construction of walls on the borders,”.

While the border walls and fences build in the South Asia and the rest of the world are effective as symbols that demonstrate that politicians are doing something to address the perceived threats brought by unauthorized movement. These perceived threats can be economic in the form of smugglers or workers taking revenue and jobs from citizens. They can be cultural in the sense that migrants bring different traditions, languages, and ways of life that might not match with the local culture, but they are said to be an expensive flawed solution the problem of infiltration, migration and human trafficking.

Critics argue that such walls will also harm the environment, as these do not encompass the shifting nature of rivers and deserts, therefore these are an impractical solution that encourages an ultranationalist siege mentality.

Dr. Vallet believes that if the exorbitant amont of money spent on these projects are instead invested in peace missions or towards responding to the climate change that triggers food insecurity and migration it would have the potential to change “the course of history.”

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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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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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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