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Refugees and the Proposed Amendment in the Citizenship Law of India

Dr. Nafees Ahmad

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The Government of India presented the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Lok Sabha 19 July 2016. The impugned Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 whereunder the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship procedure have been enacted. The Bill aims to extend citizenship to an individual who belongs to minorities such as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs hailing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who enters into India without valid visa or travel documents.

The entry of such persons in India shall not be treated as an illegal migrant. The refugees fleeing religious persecution from these countries see India as their natural home. Thus, the proposed Amendment makes them eligible for applying for Indian citizenship by the process of naturalization. The present citizenship law of 1955 treats such arrivals as illegal migrants. The Bill proposes to reduce the cumulative period of residential qualification from eleven years to six years for getting the Indian citizenship by naturalization.  

Is Bill Discriminatory?

The impugned Bill signifies a positive and opportune change in the Refugee Policy of India. It would be beneficial to the displaced people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. In India, there are 9,200 refugees from Afghanistan, and of which, 8,500 are Hindus. There are more than 400 Pakistani Hindu refugee settlements in Indian cities like Ahmedabad and Surat in Gujarat, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and Jaipur in Rajasthan. However, more than 200,000 Lakhs refugees are living in India that comprises Chakmas and Hajongs from Bangladesh. Refugees from these countries are Hindus and Sikhs and are scattered in Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. However, it is contested that the proposed Amendment would benefit the Hindu migrants significantly as it restricts itself only to the minorities from this trinity of countries. Consequently, Government of India has made “religious persecution” as the core criterion to confer citizenship. But it has discriminated against other minorities and groups from these countries who are also confronting the same situation of religious persecution like Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Tamil Muslims in Sri Lanka who have taken refuge in India. But, unfortunately, new Amendment Bill excludes the Muslim refugees on the ground of religion from these countries.   The proposed Bill does not extend protection to Sri Lankan refugees who Hindus, Muslims, and Christians of Indian origin who have been living India (Tamil Nadu) since 1983 due to the state-sponsored violence against them. The Bill further discriminates against Afghan Hazaras who face religious persecution, and Australia has extended asylum to them.

What is Refugee Law in India?

Are there benefits of not to have a law on refugees? Having a law on refugees entails exorbitant fiscal responsibility for the Indian state. Every law brings with itself financial liabilities to implement its legal mandate. But, unfortunately, India does not have any law on refugees but welcomed people in search of safety and sanctuary since antiquity and hosts refugees from every nook and corner of the world as per its historical traditions of hospitality. India deals with different groups of refugees differently that deprives them equality before the law and equal protection of the law. The central government determines the status of refugees by Ad hoc administrative decisions with a political tinge in the absence of any law. However, refugees are dealt with the Foreigner Registration Act, 1939, that applies to all foreigners coming to India. Though, Government of India invokes the Foreigner Act, 1946 to regulate the entry, stay and departure of all aliens in India. Other laws like Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, Passport Act, 1967, and Extradition Act, 1962 are also applied to deal with the refugees. India does not have any central body except Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) under the Bureau of Immigration of India to handle the refugees.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is a UN agency exclusively dealing with refugees and their problems worldwide, gets permission from the Government of India to assist those refugees who do get any direct aid and assistance from the government. In India, UNHCR extends de facto protection to refugees who have not been recognized under the Indian Law. However, the Part-III of the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth under Article-15. The equality of opportunity in matters of public employment has been provided in Article-16 of the Constitution. While enjoyment of fundamental freedoms with reasonable restrictions are guaranteed under Article-19, and that is equally available to refugees with the protection of script, language, and culture of minorities (Article-29), but refugees or foreigners do not have the right to establish and administer educational institutions under Article-30.  Hence, there have been several attempts in the past to have a national refugee law. Few members of Parliament across the party lines presented private members’ Bills in the Parliament for enacting a national refugee law on December 15, 2015. Shashi Tharoor’s Asylum Bill, 2015, Varun Gandhi’s National Asylum Bill, 2015, Rabindra K. Jena’s The Protection of Refugees and Asylum Seekers Bill, 2015 but these Bills are still pending before the Parliament for its consideration.

India cops with refugees and asylum seekers with the three-fold strategy.  Firstly, Government of India grants full protection and assistance to refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet. Secondly, refugees who get the asylum at the UNHCR level, and the “principle of non-refoulement” is applied for their protection e.g. Afghans, Burmese, and Somalis, etc. Thirdly, refugees who are neither recognized by the Government of India nor the UNHCR but have arrived in India and got assimilated with the local populace, e.g. Chinese refugees from Myanmar living in the state of Mizoram. Thus, the Indian government deals with these refugees differentially as domestic political power permutations are central to their treatment. Particularly, Sri Lankan and Tibetan refugees got refugee identity documents, and they are entitled to a range of legal benefits. Tibetan refugees live in settlements and enjoy unobstructed freedom whereas the Sri Lankan refugees are kept in camps under surveillance with restricted mobility. On the other hand, refugees from Myanmar, Palestine, and Somalia do not get any aid and assistance from the Government of India, and they are discriminated and deprived of access to essential resources for human survival. Now, the government has agreed to long-term visa to Chin refugees from Myanmar, but ethnic groups of refugees have been put on procrastination.

Judicial Response

The Supreme Court (SC) of India has done exceptionally excellent service to the cause of refugee rights. In the absence of refugee law in India, SC has interpreted the word “person” in the Article-21 of the Constitution in an unprecedented justicial tradition. According to the judicial interpretation of the SC, the term “person” also includes non-citizens. Therefore, SC has addressed and appreciated the plight of refugees in many cases. Particularly, the cases of  Khudiram Chakma v. State of Arunachal Pradesh and Ors, (1994 SC 615), and National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh, (AIR 1996 SC 1234) in which the SC held that “all the refugees living in India have the right to life and the personal liberty” as enshrined in Article-21of the Constitution. The “state is obligated to protect the life and freedom of each, be a citizen or otherwise, and it cannot permit individual or group of individuals to threaten the refugees, to leave.” The SC has further directed that the state of Arunachal Pradesh is constitutionally obligated to protect and safeguard the life, liberty, health and overall well-being of the Chakma refugees.

 Consequently, there is a series of judgments delivered by the SC, High Courts of Gujarat, Gauhati, Punjab and Tamil Nadu in cases of Chakma,  Sri Lankan, and all other refugees who have reiterated that the rights of refugees must be protected on the anvil of due process of law in a democracy. Majority of the judgements have explicitly recognized the importance of the UNHCR and paved the way to acquiesce itself in refugee issues in India. But, regrettably, the refugee jurisprudence evolved and bloomed finds itself at war with the ordinary law relating to the foreigners that hugely empowers the government to deport them to their countries of origin arbitrarily. Unfortunately, the Law Commission of India in 2000 recommended in its 175th Report that government should enact a more rigorous law to deal with the “illegal entrants” without any kind consideration to the well-founded fears of their persecution and migration. Are people illegal? People are only human beings, and such a recommendation should not have come from such a statutory body. However, the SC in Louis De Raedt v. Union of India and Ors, B.E. Getter v. Union of India and Ors; S.G. Getter v. The Union of India, (1991) 3 SC 554, held that Article-21 of the Constitution of India protects the life and personal liberty of all persons including aliens and foreigners happened to be in India. Therefore, refugees as non-citizens cannot be deprived of their rights except according to the procedure established by law. Therefore, judicially created refugee rights (JCRs) under the Constitution of India has successfully been protecting the life and liberty of vulnerable persons. Hence, JCRs have become the de facto cum de jure the law of the land in the absence of national refugee legislation.

Refugee Influx in India

Refugees have been arriving in India from all over the world including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, and Tibet, etc. Today, there are 65.3 million refugees globally including asylum seekers, irregular migrants, returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). India is a home to diverse groups of refugees from all continents and region of the world. India has accommodated refugees from Tibet in 1959, the refugees from Bangladesh in 1971, the mass influx of Chakma refugees again from Bangladesh in 1963 and from Sri Lanka in 1983, 1989 and 1995. However, India has been receiving refugees from Afghanistan and Myanmar since the 1980s, and Rohingya refugees have been coming for the last couple of years from the Myanmar. But there is no stoppage of refugees and migration from Bangladesh. By the end of 2015 as per the UNHCR report, there were 207,861 persons of concern out of which 201,281 were refugees, and 6480 were the asylum seekers. These figures comprise 175,000 Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees who were granted asylum decades ago. UNHCR India reported that 31,000 asylum-seekers and refugees had been registered with the UNHCR in India. However, UNHCR estimated in September 2014 that there are 109,018 Tibetan Refugees, 65,674 Sri Lankan Refugees, 14,301 Myanmar’s Refugees, 10,395 Afghan Refugees, 746 Somali Refugees and 918 Other Refugees. As of August 2015, only 39 Syrian Refugees and 20 asylum-seekers got registered with the UNHCR India.

Predictably, refugee influx in India is bound to increase due to current conflicts in different parts of the world. For example, on September 20, 2016, Permanent Mission of India in Geneva-Switzerland was contacted by Brahumdagh Bugti—a prominent Baloch leader in exile from Balochistan-Pakistan for seeking political asylum in India. Having accepted by the India, it would be second highest grant of political asylum after Dalai Lama—the Tibetan spiritual leader—in the post-1959 era.   

Global Trends

Every 113th person in the world is a refugee who is denied the right to nationality and access to the most basic rights and resources. UNHCR reported in 2016 that there are 10 million stateless persons with no rights and nearly 34,000 people become the victims of forced displacement in every year. The global refugee crisis is the failure of comity of nations in their commitment to have a world based on the ‘purposes and principles’ of the UN Charter. The world community has subjected itself to political chicanery of the few in its ranks. International agreements and understandings are not getting proper adherence and enforcement in national jurisdictions to address the impugned crisis. In September 2016, UNHCR and the World Bank jointly conducted the study to diagnose the cause of the refugee crisis wherein global violent conflicts were identified to have caused forced displacement, and the current trend has been going on for the last more than three decades. This study has culled out countries like Afghanistan, Burundi, Caucasus, Colombia, Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and former Yugoslavia responsible for the present refugee crisis that has been affecting the 1% population of the world. This study has also identified a pattern that remains unchanged since 1991 regarding fifteen developing countries who hosted 89% of the refugees and 99% of the IDPs.

There UNHCR reports that 34,000 people all over the world involuntary leave their homes to get away from persecution, conflicts, and war. The Syrian War is the biggest example of a contemporary conflict that has already claimed 321,358 and 470,000 casualties as per oppositions groups in Syria since March 2011. However, UN and League of Arab Envoys to Syria on April 23, 2016, put out an estimate of 400,000 people who lost their lives in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The UN has ascertained 13.5 million Syrians in 2016 who were in need of humanitarian assistance, and 6 million out them were IDPs in Syria, and more than 4,8 million are refugees outside the Syria. In January 2017, the UNHCR has registered 4,863, 684 people as refugees with an incremental mobility. The resources and infrastructural facilities of the host countries are tottering under the ever-mounting pressure of these refugees. Now, the moot question is how to address this escalating crisis and swelling of refugees and asylum seekers in the countries of reception. Are existing models of lego-institutional response sufficient to the refugee crisis? And how to tackle the growing number of refugees in the host societies? But, there have been few countries who have been treating the refugees and asylum seekers under their legal and administrative policies. In the EU jurisdictions, new system processes and quota systems have been emplaced to respond to the contemporary refugee crisis.

International Law

India must treat people humanely who are distressed, displaced and forced to flee their roots and motherlands under terrible situations. But India manages and handles refugees on an individual basis in an informal manner in consonance with the jurisprudence developed by the Supreme Court and international treaties. However, India does not have a formal policy on refugees and asylum seekers. Despite the fact that India is a liberal democracy, but it has not signed the international instruments whereunder refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons are governed. India is not a party to 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (UNCSR) with its 1967 Additional Protocol, though, more than 145 countries have become parties to these instruments and having well-defined legal protection obligations for the refugees. Further, India has not acceded or ratified the  1954 UN Convention on the Statelessness and 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The principle of non-refoulemnt (no-forced expulsion) enshrined in the Article 33 (1) of UNCSR whereunder a person cannot be deported, repatriated or forced to go back to the territories of persecution against his/her free will and volition. The territories may be his/her country of origin or a third country where exists a constant danger to his/her security, liberty, and safety. Even Article 3 of the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) also makes the same provision, but India has only signed it and has not acceded and ratified it, therefore, India is not under any obligation to a party to this Convention. However, CAT has received 161 ratifications as of February 2017, and its Protocol has 75 signatories and 83 parties as of October 2016, and it’s CAT Committee is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the CAT.

However, there are plenty of international conventions and instruments which have been signed and ratified by India such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, the 1966-International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-(ICCPR), the 1966-International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the 1963-UN Convention on the Elimination of the All Forms of the Racial Discrimination-(CERD), the  1979-UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women-(CEDAW), and the  Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989 etc. India does recognize the right to asylum under Article 14 (1) of the UDHR states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” India has been respecting these treaties in protecting refugees but without any uniformity of law and policy. The application of any convention, declaration and agreement must be based on the principle of “good faith” called pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept). Therefore, India must eschew from selectively applying these international human rights instruments and protecting the refugees fleeing persecution. While India might have considered several provisions of UNCSR but it has not treated all the classes of refugees equally, and, therefore, the refugees could not get the same humanitarian assistance for which they should have been entitled to under the policies of the Government of India. 

Principle of New Beginning

It is, indeed, fallacious to perceive the refugees as a burden, enemies or strangers; they are also the human beings with all the inalienable human rights. The principle of new beginning must be evolved by practical cooperation, solidarity and responsibility, and uniform standards of better refugee protection. Therefore, the Preamble of UNCSR adumbrated a vision of Burden-sharing Responsibility with equitable distribution of refugees while discouraging the Push-back Approach of many national governments. The concept of Burden-sharing Responsibility has been contemplated that the states can allocate a maximum grant out of their fiscal resources to establish, maintain and contribute to the proposed Global Refugee Fund (GRF). The GRF can be utilized to facilitate refugees’ voluntary repatriation to their motherlands, integration in the host country, resettlement in the third country or helping the government of the refugee-producing country to address the problems of displaced persons. Thus, such an initiative requires a political will at the highest level of governance. For example, at the regional level on March 03, 2014, the EU Parliament has approved the AMIF (Asylum, Migration Integration Fund) for the period 2014-2020 by replacing the European Refugee Fund, European Integration Fund, and European Return Fund to comprehensively supporting the refugees in the Europe. Therefore, at international level, there must also be a Global Refugee Fund (GRF) that makes available financial assistance to the refugees in situations of need. GRF should be consolidated with the contributions from the national governments. The bigger countries should make greater financial contributions in proportionate to their Burden-sharing Responsibility. Hence, each state would be contributing to the GRF, and the refugee receiving countries could utilize the resources out of GRF and protect the rights of the refugees. Such a mechanism would be beneficial for the countries like India who is not a party to the UNCSR and India would have a system to address the refugee influx that it faces across its porous borders without incurring any monetary liability on its national resources and the economy while respecting the human rights of the refugees.

In this context, the political generosity and kindness cannot be the criterion to attend the problems of refugees, homeless and stateless people in India. The present scenario is a most defining moment in the history of India as it is emerging in a new avatar of global standing. Therefore, India must utilize the auspices of the SAARC to consider the South Asian Declaration on the Refugees and Eminent Persons Group’s (EPG) proposed National Model Law on the Refugees thereunder. Moreover, India can evolve a regional approach to enunciate the rules and regulations for protecting the refugees in South Asia. At the same, India must abdicate its dilemmatic policy on national refugee law. India has always protected the persecuted refugees and provided them refuge and security, and nobody is preventing India to have a national legislation on refugees. Hence, India requires having a uniform, stable, and strong structure and strategy to protect the refugees from all corners of the world. The absence of national legislation on refugees has placed the refugee rights in a vacuum, and such rights are regarded as privileges which can only be claimed by those refugees who are politically advantageous for the power structures in the host country. Refugees should not be accommodated to extract demographical, religious, and political mileage. The UNCSR could be deliberated as the basis of domestic refugee law, but India may have its modifications and changes in tune with our national requirements wedded with the principles of constitutionality. Therefore, a national legislation on refugees is immensely required in India in the interest of refugee protection incommensurate with global legal standards. However, India has to go for a refugee law for maintaining the territorial integrity, for securing the porous borders, for ensuring the homeland security, for evading the international pressures in the name of refugee rights, and for establishing our high benchmarks of respecting the international human rights. Today, the world is a simmering cauldron of conflicts and people are getting displaced on an unprecedented scale. Therefore, We, the People of India, must approbate our capacity to take the challenges of any refugee influx ahead.

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at]gmail.com,drnafeesahmad[at]sau.ac.in

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Breaking Down the South Asian Dynamic: Post Pulwama attack & Saudi Prince’s visit

Uzge A. Saleem

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The political and strategic activities of the South Asian region have been on a high for the past week or so. The region faced a very unfortunate incident on 14th February, 2019 when 40 Indian soldiers were killed in an attack in Pulwama, India. The already torn region of Kashmir faced yet another blow and has been in turmoil since the attack. The 14th February attack somehow translated into more violence against the innocent civilians of Kashmir. Not only Kashmir but other cities of India have also been actively involved in hate crimes against Muslims, particularly Kashmiri students. BBC news reported the violence against students from Kashmir in various universities across the country and how they were being thrown out of their residences.

The attack has been condemned by all alike, however, the Indian nation has assumed Pakistan to be behind the attack. The Prime Minister Nirendra Modi has given his two cents on the matter and his words seem to be clearly motivated by his desire to cash this unfortunate incident for a win in the upcoming Indian general elections. India’s highest Diplomat in Pakistan has also been called back and the action has been reciprocated by Pakistan as well. As we break down the current rush of hostilities between the two nuclear neighbors there are mainly two theories revolving around. The Indian theory is short and bitter, it claims Pakistan is responsible because it is an irresponsible state that provides safe havens to terrorists. The group linked to this attack has also been declared close to Pakistan’s agencies on many occasions. The theory is evidently childish and sounds like it is being repeated for the 100th time with no solid proof or credible information yet again. The mere allegations have brought no good but unfortunately India’s higher names are set on fueling the age old fire for their petty gains.

We have a theory from Pakistan’s side as well. Although it is not an official theory nor has it been discussed by any of the higher leaderships publicly but it is nonetheless doing the rounds in the policy circles. It claims Indian officials themselves were involved in not only the Pulwama attack but the less spoken of, Iran attack as well. Both the attack were significantly close to Pakistan’s Eastern and Western borders. This is something the state of Pakistan would not bring upon itself at such a crucial time when the security situation of the state was desired to be at its best for the arrival of the Saudi crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman. The visit was not only a remarkably significant diplomatic achievement for Pakistan but was also very significant for the South Asian region and Muslim countries around the globe. In times like this when the state of Pakistan was consumed in making preparations for the arrival of the Prince it would be a rather immature strategic move to involve itself in something so disastrous and fragile at the same time. However, some believe Indian officials planned this to create unrest in the region as an attempt to halt the Prince’s visit.

The visit, however, took place anyway and was a rather successful one. Not only were MoU’s signed between the leadership of Pakistan and the Royalty of Saudi Arabia but mechanisms to implement the MoU’s were also chalked out. The spontaneous release of 2107 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi prisons n the request of Pakistan’s prime minister was a clear show of the blooming Saudi-Pak relations. It not only took the friendship and trust between the two nations to new heights but created a new sense of love and respect for the Prince amongst the general public of Pakistan which has not been seen so evidently before. The prince being awarded with the highest civil award of Pakistan marks the utmost success of the visit which did not settle well with many of the self-proclaimed key players of the region.

The prince has plans to visit India as well where it is expected that peace between India and Pakistan would be suggested as a key desire. It can also be expected that India’s leadership would take this opportunity to trade peace in return of other favors from the Saudi delegation. Regardless of the absurd reaction from the neighboring country, Pakistan has remained calm and acted with utmost maturity during the entire blame game. Regardless of knowing very well how capable the Pakistani army is, the state has made no loose remarks and has also recorded its reservations against India’s escalating remarks in a letter penned down by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to the General Secretary of the United Nations. Pakistan always has, still does and always will promote peace and prosperity in the region.

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The Pulwama Attack and India’s rhetoric

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The Attack which occurred in the Pulwama District of Jammu and Kasmir was indeed a horrific event. The attack took place on India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The suicide bomber triggered the car bomb while 78 vehicles with over 2,500 CRPF men were on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway. Pakistan’s Foreign Office was quick to condemn this unfortunate event. According to the statement released the attack occurring in Pulwama District was a matter of grave concern.

India was however very quick at pointing fingers towards Pakistan. Within an hour or so of the incident, while even the basic on-site investigations weren’t completed, India blamed Pakistan for the Pulwama Attack. Pakistan’s Foreign Office rejected any claim linking the attack to Pakistan without proper investigations. The Pulwama attack no doubt is a tragedy, but the way the attack unfolded and India’s knee-jerk reaction has raised quite a lot of doubts and questions in Pakistan, India as well as the international community.

Questions Pakistan asks

First of all, on what pretext did the Indian authorities blame the Pakistani State for the attack? The suicide bomber named Adil Ahmed Dar was a native Kashmiri, the car used in the Suicide attack was a Mahindra Scorpio (non-existent in Pakistan). How can Indian authorities deduce Pakistan’s hand, with this little information, in such a less time?

Secondly, Adil Ahmed Dar has been named as the suicide bomber by the Indian Media. According to the Kashmir Times story published on 9th October 2017, Indian Security forces had apprehended a Kashmiri named Adil Ahmed Dar. The news quoted the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police for Southern Kashmir, S P Pani that the militants belonged to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Now, this is conflicting news because Indian media claims the attacker to be from Jaish-e-Muhammad. There are also news reports that the attacker never came back from police custody. Without proper investigation, no one will know whether he escaped from the authorities or he was made to film the confession statement under duress.

Thirdly, Indian authorities have claimed that 350KG of explosives were packed into the car which rammed into the CPRF bus. How 350Kg of explosives could be accumulated in the most heavily militarized regions of the world right under the nose of the heavily armed Indian Army. The stretch on which the incident occurred had been cleared earlier in the morning, and authorities have termed this as a “serious breach” of security. Doesn’t this point to the incompetence of the world’s largest buyer of military hardware?

Lastly, who is the beneficiary of the attack, especially from a timings point of view? The attack happened just a day before Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was due in Islamabad to announce billions of dollars of investment, while on the other hand, Modi wants some political leverage against his opponents. His Pakistan bashing is really popular in his BJP vote bank and this could also be an effort to woo his supporters back to him.

Kashmir: A humanitarian issue

The Kashmir issue has been the bone of contention between the two South-Asian neighbors. It has been the prime reason for hostilities between India and Pakistan. There exists a UN resolution demanding for a plebiscite in Kashmir, for seeking the will of Kashmiri people to weather join Pakistan or Kashmir. India, however, refuses to implement the UN resolution in their true letter and spirit.  Pakistan has been asking India for a dialogue on a peaceful settlement of Kashmir Issue, but India has not only turned down Pakistan’s offers but has kept its heavy-handedness in suppressing the people of Kashmir.

Last year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on Kashmir. The report made startling revelations about Indian atrocities in Kashmir. The UN reported the use of pellet-firing shotguns against violent protesters resulting in deaths and serious injuries. Official government figures list 17 people as being killed by pellet injuries between July 2016 and August 2017. In January 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister told the state legislative assembly that 6,221 people had been injured by pellet guns. The Human Rights Watch stated that Indian security forces “assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks”; according to the report, rape was regularly used as a means to “punish and humiliate” communities.

The Pulwama attack is purely a domestic issue and blaming Pakistan is just a way for diverting attention from the Indian Army’s atrocities in Kashmir, its incompetence and the BJPs failures. BJP is facing an election defeat visibly and the upcoming elections could most likely mean an end to Modi’s political career. Fore-seeing his future, he is using the one card which plays in India well “Pakistan Bashing”.

Prime Minister Modi has openly threatened revenge on Pakistan. He has to understand that peace in the region is the ultimate prize. Peace and stability in South Asia is a combined responsibility and that such irresponsible remarks are a direct threat to stability.  The Indian media should also tone down the warmongering and hysteria in their content. In these times when information travels with the speed of light, any misunderstanding could have disastrous effects.

Pakistan has offered India times and again to solve all issues including Jammu and Kashmir through peaceful dialogue. In Pakistan, India-bashing has never been an election slogan. Anti-India fanatics do not come to power and the common people do not buy into their anti-Indian rhetoric. Isn’t it high time for India to shun this pointless and baseless habit of pointing fingers at Pakistan for every wrong which happens inside it, and instead address its internal issues through dialogue, at least this is the way civilized nations resolve their issues?

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What Can the Afghan Government and Taliban Learn from Colombia’s Peace Deal with FARC?

Hamidullah Bamik

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The experience of Colombia’s peace with FARC has always been the subject of Western experts working on the war in Afghanistan due to the characteristics of Afghanistan’s war akin to Colombia’s war.

It is argued that the insurgent movement with a political rivalry to mobilize dissenters to enter the community is a substitute order that rebels attempt to fundamentally change the infrastructure of society. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Afghan Taliban insurgents can be put into such socio-political context.

The FARC, with the full name of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (in Spanish was formed in the 1960s as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Colombia. The FARC officially separated from the Communist Party of Colombia in 1980 but continued its guerrilla war against the Colombian government. The war between FARC and the Government of the Republic of Colombia lasted 55 years and left dead approximately 250,000 people.

Colombia’s Peace Process

The Government of the Republic of Colombia has made three major and important attempts to build peace in the last thirty years, especially in the mid-1980s and late 1990s, but all failed. But peace efforts that began in Havana, the capital of Cuba in 2012, came to fruition five years later. Ultimately, these efforts effectuated in to the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC on November 24, 2016.

The Colombia’s peace agreement with FARC was rejected by less than one percent in a referendum on October 2, 2016. The results of the referendum showed that 50.2 percent of voters opposed the agreement. But later, many Colombians who were anti-FARC rebels became their supporters. To strengthen further the peace and stability in Colombia, the Colombian government allocated 10 seats to FARC in 2018 and 2022 in the Colombia’s Congress elections.

The success of the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of Colombia and FARC is derived from their mutual agreement on key issues. First, they reached a reciprocal agreement on development of rural areas, especially those areas that were damaged more than other areas during the conflict. Second, they talked about the elimination of drugs and reducing high poverty rates in the peace process and agreed mutually. Third, the Government of the Republic of Colombia concurred with political participation of FARC members in the political process. Hence, they could successfully end their chronic conflicts that took many Colombians’ lives.

Afghanistan’s Peace Process

In November 2001, the Taliban regime was overthrown entirely by the United Nation forces led by the US. Subsequently, the Afghan government and the international community stepped up their efforts to support various plans to undermine the expansion of insurgents and ultimately bring them to the peace process. These efforts include programs such as Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR 2003-2006), United Nation supported Afghanistan New Beginning Programs (ANBP) and its successor the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG 2005.

When US President Barack Hussein Obama put forward the idea of looking for moderate elements among the insurgent groups in March 2009, the official peace talks in Afghanistan became more important. Unfortunately, all the above peace efforts have not been effective in stabilizing Afghanistan and failed to pursue a meaningful engagement of the involved countries in Afghanistan’s war in the peace process.

Recently, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan declared two truces with the Taliban to encourage them to join the peace process. But unluckily, the Taliban groups not only did not welcome the Afghan government’s ceasefire, except the first truce but also responded with atrocity and intensifying their insurgency. Political experts are inclined to argue that the experiences of the Colombian government’s peace deal with FARC insurgents can aid Afghanistan in reaching a permanent peace deal with the Taliban groups.

The Similarities of Afghanistan’s and Colombia’s War

According to Foreign Policy, the current Afghan war is reminiscent of the Drug War in Colombia and requires a Colombian plan for its termination. The insurgency in Afghanistan is nurtured by an ideological war that is being conducted to bring Afghans under the banner of religion. Conversely, in Colombia, FACR fought with the central government for lucrative sources of money and ways to smuggle drugs. However, it is argued that despite having ideological roots, narcotics is the main financial source of Afghanistan’s insurgent groups.

In 2016, the Global Witness reported that the warlords and Taliban’s earnings from a small Badakhshan region are equal to the total income of the Afghan government’s natural resources sector. The report adds that in 2014, armed groups from two mining areas of Deodarra in Kuran and Munjan districts in Badakhshan province earned about $20 million. It echoes that the ongoing war between the Taliban and the Afghan government is also a war on controlling natural sources like the war between FARC and the Colombian government. Thus, the experiences of the Government of the Republic of Colombia in its peace talks with FARC can help the Afghan government in its peace talks with the Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban groups like the FARC in Colombia, are dwindling in Afghanistan. They still have their local supporters in Afghanistan. Theo Farrell, the professor and executive dean of law, humanities, and the arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia argues that the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation were the main reasons of Taliban’s successful resurgence after 2001. It projects that still, Taliban groups have a large number of adherents among the Afghan communities. Undoubtedly, they will support the Taliban if the group joins in peace talks with the Afghan government and forms its political faction as did the FARC in Colombia.

The FARC opened negotiations with the Colombian government after decades of armed conflicts. Many of FARC insurgents like the Taliban groups did not believe in the usefulness of the talkswith the Colombian government at the beginning. But they tested their trust and succeeded in this regard. Likewise, the best option for the Afghan Taliban to put into practice their demands is joining the negotiating table with the Afghan government.

The Colombia’s Peace Process Takeaways for Afghanistan’s Peace Process

Perhaps the most important innovation to come out of Colombia’s peace process has been the inclusion of victims. Delegations of victims from both sides of the conflict were invited to come to Havana to recount their experiences. In other words, the Colombian peace process was the first in the world that included a formal role for victims of the conflict—they got to interact directly with the negotiators. The inclusion of victims gave the Colombian government’s peace process its best chance of success. Likewise, Afghanistan’s government can emulate a similar way to succeeding in the peace process with the Taliban. The Afghan government should invite the representatives of the victims of war to the negotiating table so that they can share their stories and gain confidence that their voices are heard in the peace process. 

Ultimately, the need for a comprehensive and lasting peace in Afghanistan requires creating a national and international consensus on the peace process with the Taliban. This is what Colombian President; Juan Manuel Santos did about peace with the FARC rebels. Initially, a national consensus regarding the peace deal was created inside Colombia. Then the Colombian government reached an international consensus for peace with the neighboring countries, the regional and international powers. Similarly, the Afghan government should reach a unanimous agreement on peace talks with the Taliban inside Afghanistan, then with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, regional and international powers. Doing so, the Afghan government might be able to close the war and insurgency chapter of Afghanistan’s modern history.

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