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South Asia

Is secularism dying in India?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan



Gauri Lankesh was shot to death on September 5, 2017.  A consistent critic of Hindutva politics and right-wing Hindu extremism, the journalist-activist edited Gauri Lankesh Patrike her own weekly.  She was not the first. 

In August 2015, Malleshappo M. Kalburgi, a noted scholar who was opposed to superstition in Hinduism, was assassinated.  Both Lankesh and Kalburgi were staunch proponents of the theory that their Lingayat religion was distinct from Hinduism.

Also in 2015, in February, it was Govind Pansare, a left-wing politician who also opposed religious superstitions (like, for example, the ritual to ensure a male child), and also lobbied vocally for the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act.  Then there was rationalist Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, who made debunking religious superstition and mysticism his life’s work.  In August 2013, he was shot and killed as he took his morning walk.  Following his death, the Anti-superstition act he had worked so hard without success to get through the Maharashtra state government was finally enacted.

The killings of three rationalists, i.e. atheists, and a strong dissenter have cast a pall.  Voices are being stilled.  There is much more as evidenced by the complicity of authorities in instances of mass killing, their mono-cultural narrow vision in a multicultural and multi-religious society, and insurgencies in many parts of the country.

Celebrating 70 years of independence last August 15, India has much to be proud of including strong economic growth.  Yet in this new century India’s steps are clearly faltering given its darker side, and, while it tries to assume a role on the world stage, the state within is cause for some despair.   

 Last month on August 25th, following the rape conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — a former Sikh, styled the guru of bling for his flamboyant lifestyle — thousands of his Dera religious supporters ran amuck burning buildings, vehicles, railway stations and bringing life to a halt in the states of Haryana and Punjab, and even in parts of Delhi.  More than 30 people died and a curfew was imposed.

Indeed gurus are popular:  Mr. Modi has appointed a saffron-robed, Hindutva firebrand religious leader, Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state.  This was after local elections there in which communalism was an essential ingredient of his party’s victory.

Also on August 25th, activists across the country observed Kandhmal day in memory of the victims of an anti-Christian pogrom in 2008.  Kandhmal is in the state of Orissa just southwest of Bengal and over a thousand miles east from Punjab. 

A 2016 documentary directed by K. P. Sasi vividly illustrates this notorious incident.  Titled Voices from the Ruins:  Kandhmal in Search of Justice, it relates the story simply and without resort to emotion.  The effect is devastating as the horror of pitiless violence unfolds.  In this orgy of arson and bloodshed, the victims were Adivasi and Dalit Christians — converts continue to be remembered as Dalits in their communities.  Dalits are the lowest caste of Hindus formerly known as untouchables.  The Hindutva perpetrators destroyed over 350 churches and 6500 dwellings.  Eight years later fear and intimidation still rule, and the more than 56,000 people who were displaced have not returned.  Churches and homes remain the ruins they were after the pogrom.  

Devastating as it was, it is an event not as well known as the 2002 Gujarat riots directed against another minority group, the Muslims, in which at least 1000 were killed.  Gujarat is a 1000 miles south of Punjab.  The geography of the three incidents is an indicator of how  communal hatred has infected people across the nation.

Rana Ayyub, (author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up and a friend of Gauri Lankesh) is the journalist who, at tremendous personal risk, exposed administrative and police complicity through a sting operation sponsored by Tehelka magazine.  She has just been honored in Vancouver with a Courage in Journalism Award.   On her heels, the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has secured the convictions of 119 individuals including a minister (Indira Jaising, Outlook magazine, March 2015).  The founders of CJP are paying for their success:  Several cases have been filed against them, including criminal charges for such transgressions as accepting about $290,000 over a ten year period from the Ford Foundation.   Some use these cases to question their veracity; others say they are being subjected to a campaign of harassment in the courts.

The last twenty-five years have seen the delicate fabric of communal amity rent repeatedly for political gain by upper caste Hindu nationalist parties.  For instance, Prime Minister Modi’s new laws against cattle slaughter not only affect a $10 billion industry employing mostly Dalits and Muslims, but added to the incendiary rhetoric his ruling party have  fostered a climate of hate leading to tragic events.  Attacks against Muslims and Dalits have intensified. 

On June 22, 2017, three days before the Muslim holiday of Eid, four boys were returning home to Mathura on the train from Delhi following a shopping trip.  Recognized as Muslims, they were taunted as beef eaters and then set upon.  In a moving train with other travelers looking on, they were beaten severely and 16-year old Junaid Khan stabbed fatally.  One should note that much of southern India eats beef as does the northeast, and of course Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. Kerala’s legislature protested the Modi slaughter restrictions by having a beef breakfast.

Gau rakshak or cow protectors, whose vigilante bands now number over 200 in Gujarat alone, are terrorizing innocents.  Their attacks on meat-eating Dalits, who skin carcasses for sale to the leather tanneries, and on Muslims have led to several deaths hitting the headlines lately.

Thus on April 1st this year, a dairy farmer from Haryana was transporting cows purchased legitimately at a cattle fair in Rajasthan back to his home, when he was set upon by gau rakshaks.  Beaten mercilessly, Pehlu Khan died from his injuries two days later.  The police have done nothing so far to apprehend the suspects despite the man’s family traveling to the capital, New Delhi, and holding a vigil demanding justice.

Last year on September 13, 2016, two men again legally transporting a cow and a calf were attacked by a cow-protector gang and also severely beaten.  One of the men, Mohammad Ayub, died from his injuries shortly thereafter at a hospital in Ahmedabad.  The police first registered a case of attempted murder naming the vigilantes as Janak Ramesh Mistry, Ajay Sajar Rabari and Bharat Nag Rabari.  But as Pratik Sinha, a human rights activist, reported in a Facebook post after Ayub’s death, the police filed a second case underlining India’s present-day reality.  This time, instead of naming the assailants, they wrote down ‘unknown’.  The license plates of the cars involved in the attacks are also known.  Dalits and Muslims can expect little in the way of justice.   Except for a belated word, Mr. Modi has remained notoriously silent on the issue.

Overall figures for minority communal violence according to official statistics are  averaging 700 per year, leading to thousands of deaths.  In such an environment of hate, it is not surprising some were celebrating Pakistan’s recent victory over India in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy finals by a record margin.  For this 15 celebrants were arrested in Madhya Pradesh and charged with sedition.  When this farce could not be sustained, they were charged with disturbing ‘communal harmony’. 

Legislators in the U.S. became concerned enough to send Indian Prime Minister Modi a letter.  Dated February 25, 2017, it was signed by 26 congressmen and 8 senators and expressed grave concern over the ‘intolerance and violence’ against religious minorities.  They specifically cited the killings of Hasmat Ali in Manipur, Mohammad Saif in Uttar Pradesh, and two Sikh men during demonstrations protesting the desecration of their holy book.  Innocent Sikhs were also the target of revenge attacks after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by a Sikh bodyguard.  Almost 2000 were killed.

In the April 2015 issue of National Geographic, a magazine few would call political, an eye-popping map of India is displayed in its signature graphic style. A rusty, dried-blood light brown, mapped carefully adjacent to areas of government control, it reveals almost a quarter of the country where the Naxalite rebellion coupled with the Adivasi (another minority) struggle for land rights has taken hold. The area runs south from the Nepal border, to Kolkata (Calcutta), then along the Bay of Bengal almost to Chennai (Madras).  Westwards, it approaches close to Varanasi (Benares) on the Ganges, then towards Nagpur in Central India and to Bangalore (India’s IT capital) in the south.  Add the insurgencies in Assam, Manipur (minorities) and Kashmir (minority Muslim) which is bleeding again, and fully a third of the country is in strife.  Figures vary but frequently quoted is 100,000 dead in Kashmir with no end in sight.

Post independence the promise of the first prime minister’s socialist secularism brought forth a focus on education and heavy-industry development.  Flourishing first class technological institutes and rapid industrial growth was one result.  Yet illiteracy proved stubborn, and the country mired by corruption and strife became bogged down in an inequality stasis with crushing poverty, where it still remains.  Jawaharlal Nehru had fought for India’s independence, and as India’s first leader strongly emphasized a secular state.  Wealthy and highest caste (Brahmin), educated at elite Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge before taking law and the bar exams through Inner Temple, he became a Fabian socialist.  One wonders if he is turning over in his grave.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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South Asia

India’s Military Spending and South Asian Security



Over the past several years, unprecedented military modernization in Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, India, has worsened South Asia’s security environment. India’s heavy military spending and its unstoppable quest for the acquisition of sophisticated weapons have threatened regional stability. Indian desire to acquire global power status through military means has further been intensified as a result of US assistance particularly in former’s defence sector. Within quick span of time, defence trade between India and the US has shot from $1 billion to over $15 billion leaving other regional powers in the state of security consciousness.

India’s obsession with its military build-up doesn’t end here. According to the Stockholm International peace Research Institute (SIPRI) a prestigious international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, India, once again tops the list as world’s largest weapons importer. This is not a new development as previously, India also topped the list for the same reason.

As per SIPRI estimates, Russia remains top arms supplier to India. However, surprisingly arms deliveries from the US increased more than six-fold in the five-year period to the India. This trend in long run will definitely reduce market space for Russian arms and ammunition to India.

Despite the fact that, India’s unbridled military modernization is the primary impetus behind South Asian instability, global power’s economic expediencies in South Asia also undermines delicate conventional parity between India and Pakistan. For instance, Indo-US strategic partnership, which apparently touted as US’ China containment policy, seems more of a Pakistan containment policy. Much of the US provided weapon-tech to India is more useful against Pakistan in a conventional warfare. Almost 70% of Indian military troops and weapon system are deployed against Line of Control, (LOC). Interestingly, peaceful settlement of Docklam issue between China and India as well as sky-rocketing bilateral trade between both countries, which has reached to $84.44 billion last year, makes prospects of conflict almost impossible.

However, in contrast to aforementioned facts, the influx of massive military hardware from western capitals to India continues and in certain cases the flow of arms has gained momentum. There are two primary motives behind India’s overwhelming spending in defence industry.

First, India aspires for greater role in global environment and in certain ways it has been demonstrating its will and capability to influence global dynamics. India’s successful test of Agni-5, a long-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear weapons with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles, is a practical demonstration of its military capabilities to influence other powers around the globe. For hawkish policy makers in New Delhi, a strong military power can extend India’s global influence.

Secondly, India is following a policy of coercion at regional level primarily, against Pakistan which shares history of hostility and violence due to longstanding territorial disputes such as Kashmir. There is growing perception in New Delhi that militarily strong India can dictate South Asian affairs. That’s why India has been consistently opposing diplomacy and dialogue for peaceful resolution of disputes. Therefore, to meet its foreign policy goals, which are based on coercion and usage of hard power, India spends massive in military build-up.

Ironically, South Asia is called as nuclear flashpoint due to history of animosity and violent conflicts between India and Pakistan. With its mighty military power, India has emerged as the most potent threat for not just Pakistan but also a security challenge for other powers in the region.

Given the advantage it has in terms of nuclear missiles, military hardware and submarine fleet, India has been trying to create an environment conducive to wage limited war against Pakistan. For that, India has not just developed its military doctrine, Cold Start Doctrine, but also initiated and sponsored sub conventional war in Pakistan’s chaotic province, Balochistan.

In such circumstances, Pakistan needs to maintain delicate conventional military balance vis-à-vis India. Despite the fact, Pakistan has been facing number of issues at national, regional and international levels which include on-going military operation in tribal areas to hostile border skirmishes; a robust military modernization plan has become inevitable. A militarily strong Pakistan will be able to maintain its territorial integrity against aggressive yet militarily mighty India.

It’s an open fact that Pakistan has consistently called for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes and it has offered to resume diplomacy and dialogue over Kashmir dispute. Unfortunately, India’s cold response has not only restricted Pakistan’s peaceful overtures but also refused to accept third-party mediation in peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue. This clearly shows that, current ruling regime in India is not serious for peaceful settlement, rather more inclined to use of force and coercion. Under such circumstances, Pakistan needs to strengthen its force posture to pre-empt any kind of misadventure from its adversary. However, Pakistan, as it has done in past, must embrace peaceful overtures to bring stability in the region.

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South Asia

US Call for a New Relationship



U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad

‘Trust, but verify’ an Old Russian proverb that President Reagan liked to repeat often. Trump is neither the first President nor he is going to be the last to criticize Pakistan of deceit and threaten to cut off American assistance. Notwithstanding, the last six decades of the US support, the US has failed completely in cultivating an ally in Pakistan nor has it meaningfully changed the nature of its relationship with Pakistan, which can be best described as ‘transactional’. A quid-pro-quo relationship between the two has never been established with regards to the assistance they both offered to each other. In truth, United States has never really trusted Pakistan.

President Trump avowed in his New Afghan Strategy that the US has been paying Pakistan ‘billions of billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting for’ but the mantra should be put to a halt. Likewise, the US must be conveyed boldly to stop continuing its false claims that Pakistan shelters the ‘agents of chaos’ and be reminded that friends don’t put each other on notices.

Similarly, statements and avowals that India now is a strongest ally to the US, disturbs Pakistan, chiefly because of the irony at Trump administration’s part which only sees the glittering Indian market but pay no heed to the growing Indian cease fire violations across the LoC and the atrocities India commits against the unarmed civilians of the Indian held Kashmir.

The recent visits and statements however by the senior US officials and Trump’s aides reflect the US call for a new relationship between the US and Pakistan, which once used to be close allies in the US led ‘Global War on Terror’.

Pakistan’s foreign policy makers at this point in time must be mindful of the fact that the US is a major trading partner and should adhere to a relationship more than ‘transactional’. Moreover, the risks and fears at the US part of ‘rampant destabilization and civil war in Afghanistan’ increments further the region already devoid of trust. For, nobody actually knows whether the US will stay or eventually leave Afghanistan.

The Afghan war has now become a war of logistics, in words of Sun Tzu ‘the line between order and disorder lies in logistics’, Pakistani supply lines thus provide Islamabad with a leverage in absence of shorter, cheaper and acceptable alternative routes. Given these circumstances, Pakistan should make best use of the US call towards a more robust bilateral relationship.

The move for a ‘new relationship’ and improved ties began last week with senior Trump aide’s visit to Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistani leaders.  Earlier also the impressions that Pakistan and the US were on a collision course were dispelled by a top US general. Likewise, US department’s acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells asserted that the US was not thinking of cutting its ties rather assured that the US still cogitate Pakistan indispensable to the resolve in Afghanistan.

The aforesaid developments clearly indicate that the strained US-Pakistan relations would improve soon and that the suspension in the military aid is also not permanent.

To conclude, achieving long term stability and defeating the insurgency in the region will be difficult without Pakistan’s support and assistance.

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South Asia

Special Economic Zones and CPEC



Economic Expansion, high prices and inflation are the issues on which one can talk for hours. The scarcity of resources, energy crises and lack of industrial modernization are the challenges which Pakistan has been facing for past many decades. Despite the advantages of geographical setting, the country could not sufficiently expand its economy until 20thcentury. However, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought with it various infrastructural, energy, and industrial projects that show smooth progress in these sectors. One of the most significant developments is the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC.SEZ is a physically protected area with definite geographic boundaries under which the investors and the developers enjoy duty free benefits and streamlined procedures, set up by the government.  After the successful completion of the Early Harvest Program (EHP), the governments of China and Pakistan aspire to complete the Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC. As a key route to success, the LTP has been divided into three phases and the work on the first phase has already started. SEZs are on the first priority list of the first Phase of LTP. While utilizing the strategic location of Pakistan and the rich resources, the SEZ will contribute a framework for Pakistan’s domestic industries, and local economy.

The government has planned to establish nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in all the four provinces, federal areas and Gilgit-Baltistan under the framework of CPEC, which would be completed in a period of three years. Pakistan has conducted feasibilities of 5 SEZs which focuses only on the infrastructure. The three prioritized SEZs to be completed in the first phase of LTP are M3 Industrial City in Faisalabad, Punjab, Chinese SEZ Dhabeji, Sindh and Hattar SEZ in KP province. While the remaining six sites include Rashakai Economic Zone, M-1 Noshera, Bostan Industrial Zone District Pishin, AllamaIqbal Industrial City, Moqpondass SEZ in Gilgit-Baltistan, ICT Model Industrial Zone Islamabad, Development of Industrial Park on Pakistan Steel Mills Land at port Qasim near Karachi, Special Economic Zone at Mirpur AJK, Mohmand Marble city.

Although, there are general misunderstandings regarding the industrial ramifications of the SEZ’s under CPEC due to large number of Chinese firms and the exemption in the tax rates offered to them. However, the LTP of CPEC shows that these SEZ’s will offer the country with a great opportunity to accelerate industrialization because they are beneficial for all the international and domestic investors. So far in the history, SEZs have been the reason of economic boost in countries around the globe. Now this is a matter of concern that either these SEZs will make Pakistan a center of economic modernization and trade ventures or not. The economist and financial experts are optimistic about Pakistan’s emergence as one of the fast growing and promising global economy.

While stepping towards the era of industrialization, Pakistan faces a number of issues that have so far refrain the industries to understand their growth potential. Some of the chief hindrances to investment in Pakistan include poor security; non-availability of infrastructure and power crises, rent-seeking regulators, and cumbersome tax administration, etc. among many others.

Likewise the entrepreneurs in Pakistan have certain reservation with the incentives proposed by the government and SEZs for the investors and enterprises including ten-year exemption from all taxes on imported capital goods and exemption from tax on income accruable from development and operations in SEZs for a period of ten years. Although these incentives will be beneficial for the foreign investors at large but at the same time it will provide Pakistani enterprises with the opportunity to collaborate with the Chinese firms and launch joint ventures of mutual interests and benefits. This will be further beneficial for the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of Pakistan. Moreover it will bring Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country thus generating the foreign revenue.

Subsequently it is significant to keep in mind that in Pakistan there are certain security and political factors due to which the SEZ’s may face challenges. Hence forth to conquer these challenges provincial harmony among all the provinces and mutual consensus between the public sector and private sector is needed. SEZs under CPEC will be a life-time opportunity for Pakistani companies to work together with Chinese companies for the development of export-oriented manufacturing industries. Therefore, Pakistan should increase its products in the Chinese market and raise the ratio of its export while decreasing the trade deficit by lowering the imports.

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