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Refugees and the Proposed Amendment in the Citizenship Law of India

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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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Shaking Things Up: A Feminist Pakistani Foreign Policy

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Almost eight years ago, under Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in 2014, Sweden created its first of a kind feminist foreign policy and released a handbook later on about how it has become a part of the entire Swedish Foreign Policy Process i.e. initiation, formulation and implementation. Consequently commendable results were achieved covering rights, representation and resources. The handbook states that such a foreign policy propels the idea of application of a systematic gender equality perspective throughout the whole foreign policy agenda of the Swedish government.

A feminist foreign policy is a framework which uplifts the day-to-day lived experience of ostracized communities to the forefront and delivers an expansive plus profounder analysis of international issues. Moreover, it takes a step beyond the black box approach of customary foreign policy discerning. It provides an alternate coupled with an intersectional rethinking of security and that too from the viewpoint of the most marginalized strata of the society on military force, violence, and domination. Furthermore, it is a multidimensional policy framework that aims to elevate women’s and marginalized groups’ experiences and agency to scrutinize the destructive forces of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and militarism. The Swedish Feminist Foreign Policy is designed to enhance women’s ‘rights’, ‘representation’ and ‘resources’ in every facet of its operations using a facts-based methodology, indicating out the hard numbers and statistics behind systemic inequalities that exist between men and women in rights, representation and resources, while remaining stranded in the fourth concept — the ‘reality’ of where these females live, which is an affirmation to the feminist notion of intersectionalism.

Considering the principle of these four R’s, Pakistan is a great candidate for following the footsteps of Swedish foreign policy as the citizens of Pakistan are still struggling to believe in the central principle of the Feminist Foreign Policy which is to enjoy while having the same power to shape society and their own lives by both men and women. Furthermore, based upon Pakistan’s patriarchal status quo, the principles of inclusion and removal of gender parity in the fields of diplomacy, foreign policy, economics, decision making and especially Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are need of the hour. For reference, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan secured a position of 153rd out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Regretfully, the country got placed at 7th position among eight countries in South Asia, only better than Afghanistan.

Pakistan had a female prime minister (11th and 13th PM), a female foreign minister (21st FM) and quite recently a couple of days ago, the country sworn in its first female judge of the Supreme Court. The latest development sounds promising as it brings in a new ray of light to ensure a more gender sensitive shift in decision making lens of the apex court in the judicial hierarchy of Pakistan. However, this is just a single piece of jigsaw puzzle due to which the bigger picture still remains incomplete and awaits a proper addressing mechanism. The simple math tells evidently that if women are not part of decision-making and leadership especially in underrepresented and highly patriarchal provinces of Pakistan such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan where conflict also adversely affects the women’s lives, it affects society as a whole. In Pakistan, where the reserved seats for women in parliament are also questioned amongst some facets of society, it is highly necessary to formulate foreign policies based upon the footsteps of Swedish government to inculcate a sense of importance of women participation in diverse areas following the principle of ‘representation’.

For starters, Pakistan should start with strengthening women participation domestically and then move towards achieving global objectives through its foreign policy. Working on the footsteps of Swedish government these goals to be achieved are to provide globally, by the Pakistani foreign ministry through promotion of  women’s full enjoyment of human rights; freedom from violence; participation in conflict resolution and peace-building; political participation and influence; economic rights and empowerment; most importantly sexual rights along with reproductive health. Moreover Pakistani foreign policy makers should recognize the link between certain treaties and acts which are directly or indirectly related to gender-based violence since women are the largest sufferer of violence resulting through use of force either through state or non-state actors as women are the first to be affected by power dynamics during and after conflict. The best example of such sensitiveness towards marginalized strata was set by the Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström when she declared the revocation of a 37 million euro arms deal with Saudi Arabia back in 2015 over human rights issue. Pakistan should do likewise in similar situations to establish a firm stance.

A feminist perspective has been implemented in academic scholarship throughout, but less so in policy practice. Lessons should be drawn from key critical scholarships into tangible policy development and discussions should be made on how to make foreign policy more accessible and democratic. In order to do this, Pakistan must challenge the dominant narratives of international political discourse and push for structural and hierarchical change to challenge systems that perpetuate the status quo; the intertwined structures that sustain global patterns of oppression and discrimination must end. Pakistan must ask difficult questions and engage those who have traditionally not been included in foreign policy in order to elevate the voices of those who’ve suffered from global injustices. This means emphasizing historicized, context-specific analyses of how destructive dichotomies play out in practice, as well as interrogating domestic and foreign policy decisions to push for a more just global order.

A feminist approach to foreign policy will provide a powerful lens through which we can interrogate the hierarchical global and national systems of power that have left millions of people in a perpetual state of vulnerability. Looking at foreign policy of countries such as Pakistan from the feminist perspective, will not only bore fruits to the women but also other nations as a whole. The future is promising under the ambit of such a foreign policy but it requires cultural and policy shifts in the country. Much evidently, the idea of a secure and just world will remain a utopia without a feminist foreign policy.

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India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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