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70 years of Kashmir under Indian occupation

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When India celebrated its 70th anniversary of independence, unfortunately, it also indirectly celebrated the occupation of Jammu Kashmir. One of the achievements of recent history of India in the negative sense is the genocides of Kashmiris- India murdered over 1000,000 Muslims Kashmir while using and protecting Hindus there.

Real protests

Kashmir today, even on Eid day, remains a nation in protest against Indian occupational crimes. Protests erupted on Saturday in Kupwara district of north Kashmir when a youth went missing while another was severely beaten and has been hospitalised in a critical condition with the locals alleging that were taken into custody by Indian Army. Police has registered two separate FIRs against army, one for attempt to murder and another for kidnapping and abducting in order to murder. Villagers of Kakarpati village of Devar Lolab told news agency GNS that Army picked up two local shepherds from forest area of Trimukh upper reaches of Lolab which is connected to Bandipora district.

The Indian/JK government, controlled by New Delhi, considers their prerogative to kill and deal with Kashmiris for seeking sovereignty back from a powerful military power called India. Two ailing Kashmiri women leaders rearrested despite release orders by Court

As Kashmiris are on agitational mold to regain sovereignty from Indian military yoke, India feels highly embarrassed before world powers while PM Modi feels the pinch in front of world leaders.

Interestingly, one of the Indian islets in Lakshadweep on Arabia Sea disappeared owing to climatic change nearly 20 years ago but Indian government has not yet recognized that it lost a small islet without any population. Indian official gazettes have made any change and as India still reasserts that every islet of India is intact. That is problem of India which refuses to accept the fact it has lost a small part of its territory in the natural process as it simply cannot accept or even imagine that Kashmir that decorates India as its multi-jewel crown on its head

India worried

Presumably, Indian strategists in New Delhi and abroad are with latest India maps looking at Kashmir and they cannot visualize India without that crown known as Kashmir on Indian head.

In fact, more than the land, India is concerned about the image of India on Indian map without Kashmir. Indian map without Kashmir looks like a wild animal – not exactly a cow – whose head has been severed. This of course Indian strategists and military experts cannot digest.

Indian strategy for China is one of appeasing that neighbor maybe because Beijing has withdrawn it stop badminton players (women) from the courts, thereby making Indian fight for tittles easier. India may have begun a dialogue with China over parts of Kashmir it occupies. Although China has not invaded Kashmir but got a part of Kashmir as a (paid) gift from Pakistan is not helping Beijing to convince New Delhi which seeks to take back that part of Kashmir from China as well.

That Kashmiris who fight for sovereignty, do not ask both Pakistan and China also surrender their lands makes Indian case difficult but makes India come closer to China easily. India would ask China not to worry about Kashmir as once occupied Jammu Kashmir is now lost for Kashmiris forever. However, the secret talks among India, Pakistan and China – the joint occupiers of Jammu Kashmir- are not revealed to public.

India continues to deal with the besieged Kashmiris the way the military feels best, or rather worst.

Brutality is the key expression that could be used to describe what the Indian solders do in occupied Kashmir day in and day out and at night. India has provided a perpetual blanket approval of every murder and all acts of genocides through fake encounters and all atrocities of making Kashmiris disappear from Kashmir valley once for all.

Obviously, India must have learnt all these murder techniques from its former masters in UK who continue to guide New Delhi in secret state terror operations. Now Israel seems to have accepted Indian appeal to offer terror tips on payment basis to deal with Kashmiris and others who seek sovereignty.

While their occupation masters in New Delhi celebrate 70 years of independence from Great Britain, Kashmiris who lost their sovereignty to then freed India have no choices but to cry loud over their loss of sovereignty under joint UK-India conspiracy with blessings from super power USA and other imperialist capitalist powers.

In fact, no power invades and occupies a weak alien nation to leave the occupation on its own. Invaders quit “subject” nations only under pressure or by force. Great Britain invaded many countries, including USA but had to leave most of them, if not all of them. Interestingly, not only Americans got independence from UK but also have become closest ally of USA today.

India’s easy invasion and quick occupation of Jammu Kashmir was possible because all big powers led by USA and UK supported the illegality behind the “deal” without the endorsement of the people of Jammu Kashmir and none, including China, opposed Indian military action. Neither USA nor UK can approve of invasion without popular consent as that goes against genuine democracy.

India bought problems

While its ruthless occupational crimes in Kashmir as it key policy, India may have good things to claim credit like its music which has made its mark on the world stage. Indian food is cultural given. Indian fashion now competes at the level of haute couture even as Indian fabrics are in demand in both the East and the West as much as the ever increasing Indian demands for western cloths and electronics and fashions. Indian professionalism in media to highlight Indian needs above others, engineering and information technology has formed a swathe and Indian business’ know-how is cutting edge. Bollywood is interested in making big films to match the Hollywood productions.  Last November, demonetization was welcomed by NRIs but there is still a lingering suspicion that the truly rich got away.

There are many issues Indians face. Among them, the killings over beef eating make us look savage and primitive. The refusal by the Parliament to revoke Article 377, a vicious law imposed on India by the same foreign yoke which ironically has no such law in its own country. Indian men still decide what women can do with their bodies. But fanatics Hindus only talk about Islam and Muslim religious rights. The Big Brother manifested itself by way of linking Aadhaar cards with PAN cards and no one quite knows why. For NRIs, it’s another hill to climb. Just as there was confusion about demonetisation — rumours of another one are on the way — the public is unclear how GST will play out even as retailers pull back on several items till there is clarity.

With 29 states and seven union territories what are a few more if a sense of identity is assuaged. The seven sisters in the North East were hit by floods and we took far too long to react, an acid commentary on our levels of awareness of an integral part of India.

A dangerous ignorance that China will exploit as it has spent the past two months trying to hector India on the borders of Bhutan and Sikkim. There are fears that a strong conflict is possible.

However, there’s little to celebrate. Since India was ruled for 200 years by a foreign power, Britain, it takes revenge on Kashmiris by occupying their nation since Indian independence.

The tension in Jammu Kashmir does not seem to be lessening as Indian occupation forces keep targeting Kashmir youth.

Indian terror strategists argue that India should never budge and surrender Kashmir to Kashmiris. And, therefore, unless a “hardcore” decision to void Article 370 is made to bring that nation on par with Indians states of the country, the issue will never be resolved. All we will do is confront civilians with guns and widen the chasm. The incessant appeasement as a policy only breeds contempt. The call for Gorkhaland in the east needs to be resolved swiftly.

India believes military action can solve all problems of Kashmiris once for all. In 2016, India imposed terror at IOC by to surgical terror attacks in Uri. Yes, keeping Indian troops’ morale high should be of utmost importance.

Abrogation of Article 35A: Widespread agitation against BJP’s ‘Israel model?

Abrogation of Article 35A: Kashmiris prepare for widespread agitation against BJP’s ‘Israel model’.

From hawkers to grocers, manufacturers and dealers, everyone stands united in their view that abolishment of Article 35A will bring turmoil in the Valley

Article 35A of the Constitution empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define its “permanent residents” and their special rights and privileges. It was added to the Constitution in 1954 through a presidential order.

In Srinagar’s trade heartland, Lal Chowk, the local cab drivers sound like doomsayers. They are talking about the possible political fallouts in Kashmir, in case the Supreme Court of India, under pressure from the Modi government, abolishes Article 35A of the Constitution of India that restricts any outsider other than state subjects of Jammu Kashmir from acquiring immovable properties or having voting rights.

The others could only offer sighs than to comment or intervene over his ‘no fun’ remark. Such ‘distressed’ talks have overtaken the Valley since long. It is reminding people of those ‘talks of revolt’ that took place in the Kashmir Valley before Burhan Wani’s killing last summer in an encounter with forces.

These discussions are taking place inside offices, shops, streets, buses and inside homes. The idea of losing their permanent residency, employment, property, and scholarship, to outsiders, in case the Article 35A is removed or altered, is keeping Kashmiris on the edge. Kashmiris have lost their sovereignty to India due to a deep rooted conspiracy.

Kashmiris are quite aware of the ‘onslaught on Kashmir’s special status’. “Kashmiris won’t allow tinkering with our state subject law. We still repent the day when our leader Sheikh Abdullah committed a blunder by trusting the Delhi (government),” says an old employee. But now, he says, as a train of tourists comes out of the TRC after registration, “The government of India must know that it isn’t the same Kashmir as before. Any attempts to alter our constitutional status will be opposed tooth and nail.” This defiant mood has to do with the petition filed by an NGO ‘We the Citizens’ in the Supreme Court in 2014, seeking to scrap Article 35A. After serving notices to both, the state as well as Centre, the apex court only received counter-petition filed by the state government.

BJP and PDP rule the JK state, promoting the Hindu, Hindutva and Indian interests in return for money from New Delhi. The BJP-ruled Centre refused to file an affidavit, but instead sought a “larger debate”. The Centre’s posturing has unsettled the mood in the Valley with political commentators asserting that the Narendra Modi-led government is actually clearing all decks to scrap the article to settle outsiders in the Valley.

In fact, a larger sense prevails in the Valley that the BJP government wants to resolve the Kashmir issue through demographic changes.

While the Opposition and separatist camps in Kashmir have threatened an uprising over the judicial tinkering of the Article 35A, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has warned the central government that any such attempts won’t leave any “tricolour upholder” in the Valley.

The commoners in the Valley are getting mentally prepared for putting up a “bigger battle” to safeguard their constitutional positioning. Commenting on the controversy, he says, “On the one hand, the government of India calls for peace in Kashmir, while on the other hand, it threatens the very idea of it by resorting to the courts to achieve its political motives… Now, tell me, who is playing the role of a ‘terrorist’ in Kashmir?”

In restive Maisuma, the stronghold of pro-freedom leader Yasin Malik, the buzz is getting shrill. Many residents who often take the security forces head-on through street protests here see a ‘Hindutva pattern’ in the latest controversy.

Ever since the PDP formed a coalition government with the BJP, every person in Kashmir knew that there would be tension. This is essentially an RSS government led by the PDP madam. “But we will make sure we do not accede to their wishes and demands.”

In uptown Srinagar, many pose a question as to why the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is still in alliance with the BJP. In this ‘new’ Srinagar neighborhood known to house the government officialdom, the mood might not be militant, but the locals are flaying the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government. “Every Kashmiri is politically sound as we are living in a political disturbed and conflict zone. How come RSS thinks that they can fool people of Kashmir by resorting to such tactics?” says a trader in Hyderpora.

In Srinagar’s MA Road, which is lately witnessing a string of protests by students of a women’s college, against the security crackdown on Kashmiris, a college-goer blames PM Modi and his government for triggering fresh tensions in the Valley for political changes. “They wish for Kashmir to get disturbed, like in 2016, and that our people should again get killed or injured with pellets, slapped with cases under the Public Safety Act and be taken to the jails and police stations.

In Kashmir’s restriction zone aka Downtown Srinagar, the discussions revolve around Delhi’s (central government’s) “decadal deceit” with the people of Kashmir. “India simply wants Kashmir, not Kashmiris,” says a retired engineer, of Rajouri Kadal, the bastion of Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. “Otherwise, they would have never said that Indians will come and settle here to help change the azadis course. But they are mistaken. Such attempts hardly undo the legitimate demands.”

In the narrow lanes of Habba Kadal, a non-migrant Kashmiri Pandit, who only gives his first name to protect his identity, calls the ‘article 35A controversy’ as New Delhi’s foolishness. “So far, the government of India has not been successful in getting the Kashmiri Pandits back to Kashmir, and now this blatant attempt to create a mini-India out of Kashmir is simply nonsensical,” says Suresh. “They only know how to trigger tensions in Kashmir. They should come and live here for a week as a commoner, and then give these nonsensical statements.”

Now no migrant Pandit wants to return to the Valley, which is affected because of the everyday killings, strikes, and lack of jobs. From hawker to grocers, and from manufacturers to dealers, everyone stands united in their view. “Every Kashmiri wants to fight. I know my business will also suffer, but I can manage with sookhi dal roti (dry rotis) than allowing any federal sinister designs to alter the demography of my Valley,” says an hotelier in Srinagar.

When people are faced with atrocities, it is a natural tendency to fight against it. India should take note that it is a politically disturbed state and if they (the Centre) falter with our law, not only in Kashmir, but more than 80 percent of the state will be affected and there will be violence all around.

Al-Qaeda or USA?

Apparently, Al Qaeda has arrived in Kashmir and the ramification of the development is yet to be ascertained.

Musa is the youngest but first militant from Kashmir who has been linked with a global outfit. He has not pledged his support to the Al-Qaeda yet. But if such a thing happens then it will be bad for both Kashmir as well India.

The statement from Al-Qaeda naming Zakir Musa, the former militant commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, as the head of its wing in Kashmir has generated mixed reactions within and outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Al-Qaeda announcement has divided the militant ranks in the Valley with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba rejecting any role for the international terror organisation in the Valley. Many in the Valley are taken aback, worrying about its impact on the ongoing

Many believe that, India will intensify its policy towards Kashmiris after the Al-Qaeda announcement. “Musa’s exit from Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and subsequent developments in the Valley’s political scenario have created ambiguity here. Musa is being hailed both as an Indian agent and an Islamist, but I think the Kashmir issue is now becoming more complex, moving beyond the Hurriyat paradigm,” a political scientist said.

Freedom fighting militant groups too are reflecting on the new development, assessing its repercussions on Kashmir’s struggle. “There is no space for any international organisation like Daesh (Islamic State) and Al-Qaeda in the state,” said Salahuddin who also cautioned the people to remain vigilant of the conspiracies of India and keep their relations intact with (the) organisation fighting against the Indian Army. They should not become a part of any global agenda,” he said. However, many in the Valley believe that the situation is going to change if Musa, indeed, happens to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Over the years Al-Qaeda has changed a lot. Many of its affiliates have detached themselves from the main wing and become completely indigenous. Kashmir will be no exception. The newly nominated group is likely to work indigenously. It will increase the popularity of Musa and more youths will likely join his group than the others in the near future.”

Al-Qaeda’s announcement also indicates that after years of talking about the travails of Palestine, Kashmir and Myanmar, it has finally mustered courage to come forward for Kashmir’s struggle. But, the separatist leaders in the Valley have already denied any involvement of international groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Kashmir. However, there are others who also disagree on Musa’s involvement.

Some police officers emphasized that if the Al-Qaeda gets involved, it will strengthen the hands of the militants. This kind of development would definitely lead to confusion as well as ideological clashes

The reactions from Kashmir are mixed, but what everyone agrees upon is that Al-Qaeda’s announcement is an interesting development and opens a new chapter in Kashmir’s post-1989 armed local insurgency.

NIA targets Kashmiri

The latest unrest and perpetual demonstrations have dominated the Kashmir streets and affected Kashmiri life. But the new development has upset all calculations of New Delhi the worst way possible.

As a natural response to the emerging sovereignty demand, India has used its National Investigation Agency (NIA) to create problems for the freedom Hurriyet leaders. And NIA is working over night to cripple the freedom movement. India has learned all these tactics from its former Masters in London. It targets mosques and Islamic educational institutions.

The National Investigation Agency on Jul, 18 2017 has sent notice to Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid and an education trust run by separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to find out whether or not funds collected at the mosque are used to fuel the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir. The state witnessed over seven-month-long unrest after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Muzafar Wani, in July last year.

The NIA has also issued notice seeking appearance of Mohammad Ibrahim Shah, secretary, Anjuman-e-Nusrat-ul-Islam, an education trust, which is headed by Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The trust runs Islamic educational institutes in the areas of Rajouri Kadal, Safa Kadal and Bota Kadal in Kashmir. Both the Anjumani Auqaf and Nusrat ul Islam have been asked to furnish their accounts of the last five years.

Besides looking into the role of Hurriyat Conference leaders, the NIA has also written letters to some newspapers asking them to furnish details about stone-pelters whom they had mentioned in their stories. “It is learnt that your newspaper has published some articles/news items mentioning the names and addresses of those involved in cases of stone pelting, burning of schools and damage to government property in the past one year starting from 1 July, 2016. It is requested to direct the concerned to provide the above mentioned documents/photographs/articles for investigation in the instant case,” read the letter issued by the NIA. The NIA is also investigating the role of former militants as well as the political leaders associated with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman, Hurriyat Conference (Geelani), in funding the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.

The NIA is also looking at the role of close associates of Geelani in fanning the unrest, and has recently summoned National Front chairman, Nayeem Ahmad Khan, in the case. Khan, who was recently in Delhi in connection with the investigation that is being carried out, has termed the investigations “witch-hunt”.

The investigation agency also questioned two retired bureaucrats and relatives of Farooq — Moulvi Shafat and Moulvi Manzoor — in the case. Both Shafat and Manzoor were in New Delhi for over a week and were questioned by the NIA in the case.

Earlier, the state police arrested some local youth for burning schools during the unrest while many others were slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA) to keep them in judicial custody.

Observation

While earlier, India did not take the agitation of Kashmiris seriously, now it has taken unrest by Kashmiris and especially the youth leadership very very seriously. India is for the first time in occupation history is scared. Hence New Delhi is scheming to fix the Kashmiris Muslims in as many ways as time permits.

Kashmiris want total independence first from India, whether Pakistan supports or not. Kashmiris seek to regain all territories lost since 1947, whether China like that or not.

India should read the messages written on the wall and make sincere efforts to surrender sovereignty to Kashmirs and help h them make a home for peaceful existence with property.

It is high time the UNSC wakes up to the occupational reality and realizes the truth about Indian brutal intentions in Occupied Jammu Kashmir and ask India to behave. Kashmiris do not posses weapons, except few pieces of stones being gathered from time to time to defend themselves from Indian military brutality.

Can ordinary stones end Indian military attacks on innocent Kashmiris?

Already India has consumed over 1000,000 Kashmiris and many more have disappeared. Enough of Indian state crimes in Kashmir. India should not be allowed to kill more Kashmiris.

Let the UNSC convene a special UN assembly meeting to grant sovereignty to Kashmiris.

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South Asia

Status of Minorities in Pakistan

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In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression. 

Forced Conversions: A chronic problem 

On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities. 

Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free. 

Blasphemy Laws 

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge. 

These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed. 

Subpar Standard of Living

While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today. 

While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas. 

Missed Opportunity 

Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various

International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities. 

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Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute

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Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West  Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly  95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of  Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth  longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.

In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of  9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of  Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for  their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under  cultivation in Bangladesh.

This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s  when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river.  Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River  Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.

The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led  to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the  hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.

Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an  equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same  have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.

The Dispute

A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and  September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves  way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water  could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta  Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact  the water-flow available in the state.

The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since  water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas  Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).

Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh  makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them.  Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created  siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.

However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried  up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue  which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.

In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed  to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent.  The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint  Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint  Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with  a solution.

In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the  needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will  have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter  expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.

In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India,  Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister  of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of  the river’s water to Bangladesh.

Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but  they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been  continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!

Main Problem

Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of  the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower  generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian  country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even  Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and  irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the  availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just  Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability  of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and  local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing  scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the  mountainous regions of Sikkim.

Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held  responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the  environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river,  which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed,  including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation,  increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.

Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted  by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due  to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5  per cent of the river’s running water.

Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube  wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also,  reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused  widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding. 

The Perspective Of Institutional Economics

The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just  about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India  consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about  the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up  the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower  projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the  environmental concerns altogether.

Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about  using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own  that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot  allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore,  none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state  to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’  signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other  state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.

This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of  property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility  others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of  economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks  about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says  that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come  and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions  have different ecosystems.

Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’  and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local  communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly  effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses  of political ecology.

Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute

Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes  this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is  characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we  live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings  themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.

Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political  processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It  also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw  this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social  processes.

David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon  of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations  between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers  are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of  the industrial development.

Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand,  while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the  hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand,  local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social,  cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development  and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!

Conclusion

The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and  industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities  concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through  the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it  continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local  communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are  losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the  major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose  course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are  dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is  the politics!

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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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