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The Saga of Helpless and Hapless Kashmiri People

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Kashmiri people from the last seventy years since 1947 have been abandoned by the two rivals, now nuclear states – India and Pakistan. Indo-Pak rivalry is one of the main reasons that Kashmir remained unresolved since long time after the partition of India into two dominions – independent India and independent Pakistan.

The two newly independent states within short span of time got indulged in territorial clashes particular on Kashmir. Currently, there is hardly any day, where a civilian, security man and militant are not assassinated in Kashmir.   

When we scroll the dusty pages of reminiscent history of Kashmir, we come to know how hard it is for Kashmiris to live in a valley where there is no guarantee of life. Historically, Kashmir is a law and order problem for India while for Pakistan, it is a disputed territory, an unfinished business. For international community, it is one of the most dangerous area where chances of nuclear exchange are high between the two belligerent and trust deficit states.

Among the Kashmiris, there is a diversion of opinions, for some, it is just a futile and never-ending battle between India and Pakistan for rich resources available in the valley especially water. While some argued that Kashmiris should be given the ‘right to self-determination’ to choose either to accede with India or Pakistan as per the UN resolution. Interestingly, majority of people wants complete freedom from two states. Others demand restoration of state autonomy, and Ladakh division, where majority of people are Buddhists demand union territory status. In Jammu, Hindus determinately want to accede with India completely by abrogating Article 370 which provide special rights to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

At the academic level, the countless study has been published across the globe for the settlement of unresolved Kashmir dispute. Most of pundit’s favour plebiscite to settle the dispute ones for all. Some academic think tanks argued that a meaningful and peaceful dialogue should be initiated between India and Pakistan as an immediate step to bring order and normalcy back in the valley and the ultimate solution is of course the referendum. However, some Indian analysts argued that Kashmir is just a law and order problem by which resistance movement should be dealt ruthlessly, that is why the large concentration of Indian security forces with special powers are visible in the valley to crush any resistance movement whether armed or civilian. While for some, it is just a redundancy problem in the valley, Indian government should provide maximum opportunities to the Kashmiris to thwart the resistance movement peacefully.

At the political level, Kashmir remained just a tool to win the confidence of the people for strengthen the domestic politics in both states – India and Pakistan. Both states with the help of the confidence building measures (Lahore Summit and Agra Declaration) tried their best to settle the unresolved Kashmir dispute but completely failed to settle it peacefully. The track II diplomacy also failed to settle the unresolved issue. Obviously, when two states failed to settle the Kashmir issue, Kashmiris left with one option to start resisting against Indian rule.

There is no doubt that India violated the state autonomy through 48 presidential orders that culminated into anger and anger changed into resistance movement in Kashmir against the foreign rule. Apart from the direct wars, during the Kashmir intifada in 1989, Pakistan supported Kashmir materially and diplomatically to resist against Indian rule. Several academic thinks tanks like Summit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur admitted that it is because of misrule by India in Kashmir that provided impetus to Pakistan to support Kashmir. Since 1989, Kashmir remained under severe turmoil where innocent lives have been crushed harshly.

There are different stories regarding the genocide of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus inside the valley. The Kashmiri pandits migration after Kashmir uprisings in 1989 is another important episode of the complicated Kashmir dispute. And, human rights violations inside the valley by Indian security forces is at its peak. There are many shameful and fatal episodes inside the valley where innocent Kashmiri women became victims of mass rape in the hands of Indian security forces. For instance, more than thirty innocent Kashmiri Muslim women were mercilessly raped in twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora in 1991 during the cordon and search operation by Indian security forces. The Indian security forces enjoy impunity inside the valley due to Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).   

After Kashmir uprisings, India tried to settle the unresolved Kashmir issue with nukes. Despite India possess nuclear warheads, it failed to deter Pakistan for escalating sub-conventional conflict in the region. The reason put forth is simple, Pakistan’s asymmetric escalation posture (first-use policy of nukes) against Indian conventional attack to Pakistan. I assume that India mistakenly provide opportunity to Pakistan to become more aggressive towards it by overtly detonating five nuclear devices in May 1998. Reciprocally, Pakistan tested six nuclear devices in the same month in retaliation. Subsequently, the Kargil skirmish of 1999 happened under the nuclear umbrella and experts argued that it is because of this instrumentality of wreaking havoc that Pakistan behaved more aggressively than before towards India.  

Currently, Kashmir is again boiling since Hizbul Mujahidin Commander, Burhan Wani was killed by the Indian security forces in summer 2016. Kashmiri youth wittingly joined the militancy to resist Indian rule with the tacit support from the general public inside the valley. Several times, Kashmiri people (men and women) without fearing about their life and career, rush towards the encounter areas to help the militants to escape. Along with the armed resistance, a new form of civil resistance movement is visible inside the valley.

The resistance movements in Kashmir have now shifted to more civilian resistance in the form of stone pelting, protests, write-ups, facebook posts, graffiti and songs. Those who did not participate in direct resistance movements in Kashmir do not mean that they are outside of movements. These people believe in praying, crying, cursing and wailing plaintively particularly Kashmiri women who are beating their chest and singing songs to show their resistance and express their anger towards a foreign rule. These types of resistance (civil) are more powerful than armed resistance to pressure civil society and international community to intervene.

Indian government states that the resistance movement especially those who pelt stones on Indian security forces were funded by Pakistan in Kashmir. The demonetization was implemented to stop stone pelting in Kashmir and Indian Prime Minister Office states that with the help of demonetization, “Stone-pelting incidents in Kashmir came down by 75% from the previous year”. It is interesting to note that the college boys and girls, school going kids joined the resistance movement in Kashmir this year and previous year to express their anger towards the foreign rule.

How it is justifiable for parents to allow their school going children to risk their lives for money to join the resistance movement in Kashmir. With the help of the UN banned pellet guns, hundreds got killed, thousand injured and hundreds blinded in the hands of Indian security forces with the tacit support of state police. The civil resistance movement is the result of the broken promises by Indian government towards the helpless and hapless Kashmiri people.

Finally, Indian government selected ex Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor and special representative to restore peace in the valley. Sharma was given task by Indian government to talk with all the stockholders including Hurriyat Conference in the valley as a dialogue process. After his visit, he argued that his trip to Kashmir was successful. However, without a meaningful dialogue process with Pakistan, all the peace initiatives from Indian side will be fruitless. Interestingly, Pakistan is party to the dispute is admitted by India itself.

India is reluctant to talk with Pakistan on Kashmir issue because of an issue of infiltration. India blamed Pakistan for spreading terror in the region by backing and funding the militants in Kashmir against Indian rule. On the other side, Pakistan loudly responded that until India will not offer a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir issue to Pakistan to settle it forever, sub-conventional conflicts and funding to militants in Kashmir will continue. Pakistan wants UN resolution through plebiscite to settle the dispute, however, India is worried about the majority of Muslim population in Jammu and Kashmir state, that is why India has rejected the UN resolution on Kashmir by claiming that India and Pakistan in historical Shimla agreement after 1971 war have affirmed to settle the Kashmir issue bilaterally.  

All the talks between India and Pakistan to settle the Kashmir issue was not initiated on the humanitarian grounds. Recently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has rejected the option of independence of Kashmir. Similarly, Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir argued that independent Kashmir is not an option, “internal autonomy is our right”. Vehemently, Farooq rejected the option to accede with Pakistan, however, argued that the other part of Kashmir clearly belongs to Pakistan. India should restore autonomy of the state, only then peace will return to the valley.

It is all about national interest, both states want to utilize the resources of the valley for future requirements and mainstream political parties in the valley have remained puppet in the hands of Indian government. It is over all centre (New Delhi) that is responsible for the turmoil in the valley due to poor governance, broken promises and violation of the state autonomy. Kashmiri people have been completely abandoned since 1947. One can easily imagine why confidence building measures have failed to settle the Kashmir issue. Also, the religious groups of both states have wittingly made this issue more complex by spewing venom in their speeches against each other. Kashmir should be separated from India-Pakistan rivalry and religious card has not ability to settle the dispute.

This is not mere hyperbole. Rather, this is a fact that both the states have indulged in attitudinarianism, egoism, and the Hindu-Muslim mentality. There is no case of religious rivalry inside the valley, all the sections of people live peacefully, the religious card is triggered by India and Pakistan to win the emotions of the people for their own interests. Experts explicitly argued that there are multiple agencies working inside the valley that thwarted the peaceful resolution of Kashmir.

The dispute over Kashmir is not just a matter of India-Pakistan; it is first about Kashmiri people. Both nuclear states should come forward in terms of peace rather than strategic terms to settle the Kashmir issue ones for all on humanitarian basis. There are thousands of unidentified graves in Kashmir and parents are desperately waiting for their sons who got missing since 1989 in Kashmir.

Rameez Raja is pursuing Ph. D at Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. His writings have previously appeared in Rising Kashmir, Café Dissensus Everyday, Kafila, South Asia Journal, Foreign Policy News, Modern Diplomacy, Pakistan Observer, Kashmir Observer, and Kashmir Monitor. Email ID: rameezrajaa23[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Saudi-Chinese Friendship: Should India be Concerned?

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Image source: Xinhua/Xie Huanchi

Saudi Arabia hosted the grand China-Arab summit in December last year and leaders of the two nations deliberated on future trade ties and regional security. The summit happened at a time when USA and Saudi ties are at an all time low. There lies massive uncertainty on global energy markets after the West forced a price cap on Russian oil and Washington is looking guardedly at China’s rising influence in the Middle East.

In Oil trade, China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade more than $87 billion in 2021. Saudi Arabia is China’s top oil supplier, making up 18% of China’s total crude oil purchases. The two countries have deals in refineries, power and military & security.

 Africa’s natural resources have long been a Chinese favourite. Every year, China doles out billions in grants and loans to African governments as an inducement to secure raw material deals or to finance the infrastructure projects which are ultimately going to benefit its own companies.

What is India’s position on the China- Arab summit that intends to boost development and cooperation among the two? India would be in a bit of a quandary one may assume as Arabs are their good friends, as they claim; while the Chinese are not. The trio of the China, Arabs and Pakistan (being used as a mere proxy), uniting is bound to be a slight source of worry for India. What is India’s take on this friendship?

From a diplomatic perspective, if their friendship and goodwill is promoted, it’s a good thing but one hopes that this does not undermine Indian interest, as any bilateral relation must not  destabilize a third relation. In general when one talks of the Arab world, one thinks of its gargantuan energy power and energy crisis and its management is a global issue right now. With the Ukraine Russia war hanging around the energy crisis, it could be an ‘Energy Security’ thing they are trying to do bilaterally. If a big country like China enters the domain of energy, food etc it could turn out into a fairly big movement in the markets, in terms of prices and availability. India has to reckon by the fact that China is large and when you take out a large chunk of something that is available, that can create a pressure situation for others.

Also the union of China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan may have certain repercussions on India, as China and India already have problems and those are huge problems, there’s no denying that. Sachin Sawant, Senior leader of the Indian National Congress leader, the country’s main opposition party states that they are already over-exerting their power on India. The Chinese are going on building roads, tunnels and bridges nonstop along the border. India needs to develop stronger guiding principles, when dealing with China and its global intentions are concerned. It is a huge point of worry for India.

India definitely cannot do or say much if two good friends decide to meet, but it does have its  set of concerns. If China forges more business alliances with the Arabs in the energy and other sectors, India foresees instability in the markets which may be against its economic interest. It also is wary of the Chinese and Arabs getting together as this is a powerful alliance and its outcome may have a negative impact on Indian interest.

What could be the intentions of China to promote this friendship further and strengthen their relations with the Arabs. How does India look at this union of two economic superpowers? Every country wants to have good friends. They both have global ambitions and one goes about a decade back or lesser, they had invested heavily in Africa. They went there and tried to get hold of all the mines that were of strategic importance to them. They need nickel, gallium etc which are crucial for smart phone manufacturing. So, yes! They would be eyeing many such opportunities in their bilateral ventures.

China is known for its expansionism and they use their financial strength to arm-twist many countries, especially the economically weaker ones. “They are the Shylock kind of money lenders; they keep on lending money at exorbitant rates and then the poorer countries like Pakistan get into that vicious cycle where China takes hold of all their resources at very cheap rates. India is not at all bothered about their befriending the Arabs, because Chinese intentions are well known to the world,” says a concerned Sawant.

India says it is well aware that the Chinese mean business when they talk of befriending the Arabs. Together the two may explore many more avenues of business which strengthen their respective economies. Would their friendship affect India’s foreign policy in anyway? How affected or concerned is the Indian Government with this strategic partnership of China and the Arab nations?

Both Saudi Arabia and China are also part of G-20, and they must work in some areas of convergence that emerge from this global exercise. India closely follows whatever they are doing in terms of multilateral regional matters which impact the well being of all people, and also other matters that are taken up in G20, like climate change, green development and digital economy. India has sufficiently strong relations with the Arabs and its foreign policy will only be affected if China does something that is out of line of its interest.

Sawant reiterates that it is a matter of concern for India. The leader says that the alliance of China with the Arabs is definitely rooted in more trade and greater geo-political ambition. It can harm India. He says that China has this habit of deliberately targeting India’s neighbours, antagonizing them like it has been doing with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, all in a bid to weaken India. It has been their strategy and India should be worried about that. “India needs to revamp its foreign policy in dealing with China. On one hand we ban their apps but then our imports from them are also growing multi-fold, this has to stop. Even on the Bhutan front India needs to be more proactive in protecting the interests of people in that region,” argues Sawant.

If India looks at the China-Arab partnership through the prism of G20 then, it will jointly work on pressing global issues and is confident of a positive outcome. However, it would expect  China to cooperate with it in its G20 endeavours. Does the Indian Government have any certain policy to enhance cooperation and influence in the Mid East Region? Yes, the Middle East is India’s immediate neighbourhood. India has an authentic historical and cultural relationship with them which is now nicely developing into a stronger and closer economic partnership. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is India’s major economic partner; most of its energy comes from there. Also, it has huge Diasporas in the Arab countries who are emerging as investors in India’s growth and infrastructural development.     

“Any foreign policy is good until is serves the interest of the country. Just on the basis of how you are welcomed by foreign countries and how we welcome them cannot help determine foreign policy; this is a holistic issue. The Chinese President comes here and enjoys a resplendent welcome but that doesn’t stop their army from attacking us. What exactly we do in the interest of the country will help shape up strong foreign policy with any country. The Arabs, though our good friends will obviously be happy with the trade agreements with China, but we must be wary that it does not harm us or our economy inadvertently,” says Sawant.

In the end, India must be confident of its faith and friendship with the Middle East. Being a long time economic partner of theirs, they also benefit from the fact that Indians living in the Arab nations are a huge plus point for them. While there seems to be a bit of skepticism about the China- Arab ties, India should be confident that this will not come in the way of their strong relations with the other 7 GCC countries.

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Taliban and the crisis in Afghanistan

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In 2021, the Afghan Taliban took back control of Afghanistan after fighting a rebellion for twenty years. The Taliban reformed and began regaining territory less than 10 years after the American-led invasion that overthrew the previous regime in 2001. In line with a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, they staged a swift assault as the US started to evacuate its last forces from Afghanistan.

Even though they promised to preserve the rights of women and communities of religious and racial minorities, the Taliban have enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Taliban have failed to provide Afghans with sufficient food supplies and economic possibilities as they have evolved from an insurgent organization to a functioning administration.

Numerous instances of human rights violations have been documented by the UN mission in Afghanistan. Because the Taliban scared off journalists and put limits on press freedom, more than 200 news outlets had to close. Activists and protesters have been tracked and forcefully disappeared, and their government has ruthlessly suppressed protests. They also reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which was previously in place, and enforced laws against actions judged to be contrary to Islam. They instructed judges to apply their version of sharia in November 2022; in the following weeks, authorities resumed public hangings and floggings.

Women’s rights have been undermined. Due to restrictions put in place by the Taliban, girls are not allowed to go to high school, and women are not allowed to go to college or teach there. The group banned women from working for local and international voluntary groups in December 2022. According to estimates from the UN Development Program (UNDP), limiting women’s employment might cost Afghanistan’s GDP up to 5%. Amnesty International reports a substantial increase in the number of women jailed for defying discriminatory rules, such as those requiring women to cover their whole bodies while in public and to only appear with male chaperones. In addition, there are now more child marriages.

The UNDP says that the Taliban’s rule has also taken away the gains that Afghans made in their living conditions in the 20 years after the US invasion. In a study from October 2022, the organization claimed that practically all Afghans were living in poverty. Since the takeover, the economy has contracted by up to 30%, and there have been an estimated 700,000 job losses. More than 90% of individuals are impacted by food insecurity. The problem is getting worse because several countries and international groups have stopped giving aid, which is vital to the economy and public health.

International observers are nonetheless worried that the Taliban pose a danger to national and international security through their funding of terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda. Taliban leadership might convert Afghanistan into a haven for terrorists who could launch attacks against the US and its allies, despite Taliban pledges that the country’s territory wouldn’t be used against the security of any other country. The violence has also increased along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, which has always supported the Taliban. Tehrik-e-Taliban, a terrorist organization commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, has gained strength due to the Taliban’s ascent to power. The organization broke off a cease-fire with the Pakistani government in 2022 and began carrying out assaults throughout the nation. Officials from Pakistan have charged the Afghan Taliban with giving the extremists a safe harbor in their country.

For many years, the Afghan government relied on help from a number of countries; according to 2019 World Bank research, contributions from foreign partners funded 75% of the government’s public expenditures. Many of these countries stopped off aid when the Taliban took control, fueling concerns about potential future economic turmoil. Nevertheless, aid rose in 2022 as donors sent more than $2.6 billion. The US has donated more than $1.1 billion in help since the coup. However, according to UN authorities, the pledges fell short of the nation’s humanitarian requirements.

Many Western countries, most notably the US, shut down their diplomatic posts in Afghanistan when the Taliban took power. Diplomatic relations and recognition have been withheld from the Taliban regime, which refers to Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The UN General Assembly has also postponed a decision on who would indefinitely represent Afghanistan at the UN. The Taliban are now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for suspected atrocities, including crimes against humanity, committed against Afghans.

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Decoding Donald Lu’s Visit: A Positive Upward in US-Bangladesh Relations?

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The U.S Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Donald Lu paid a visit from January 12 to 15. During his brief but swarming itinerary the two parties discussed various issues ranging from diplomatic to political. Interestingly, this is the 11th visit of any U.S high-official in the past two years. The frequent swapping of delegations from the both sides pose a critical juncture between the U.S-Bangladesh relationship. Experts believe that recurrent visits from US high-ups are definitely an auspicious sign between the relationship of the two nations. Therefore, the visit of Donald Lu is an offshoot of the “growing reciprocity and renewed engagement” between Dhaka and Washington.

Needless to say, Bangladesh has a long standing and steady relationship with the US since the latter recognized the former shortly after independence on April 04, 1972. Recently the US-Bangladesh celebrated the completion of 50 years of bilateral relationship and US President Joe Biden termed this as “robust partnership”. Amid such backdrop, it goes without saying that the recent visits signal to a significant positive tie-up between the two parties and the visit can be interpreted in the context of international and domestic backdrop of international politics.

The US is the largest market for Bangladesh’s RMG export. Naturally, the issue of GSP reinstatement plays a key role in bilateral camaraderie. Under such circumstances, Lu’s visit is important to hold talks of economic in the context of Bangladesh’s growing needs, especially after the LDC graduation. Moreover, in the annual Global Firepower 2023 Military Strength Ranking, Bangladesh is placed 40th out of 145 nations. On the other hand, Bangladesh came in 12th place on the GFP review’s list of ‘Strengths on the Rise,’ which emphasizes national military powers based on strong growth patterns until 2023. In this context, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA) agreement indicates to a deeper and strategic engagement from the US rationale.

Bangladesh’s stands at the heart of a strategic position of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to counter the increasing footprint of China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Bangladesh maintains a neutral position in terms of its foreign relations and has been carefully helming without taking any side of any major powers. Washington’s focus on free and fair election is important to maintain a stability in the greater Bay of Bengal neighborhood- an important feat in it’s IPS. Conversely, Bangladesh values economic partnership to sustain her ongoing upward trend. However, at the same time Bangladesh should be careful not to succumb to any pressure, a case in point when the Foreign Minister announced that the US proposed strategy is being vetted under the lens of economic opportunity.

On the domestic fore, arguably, the U.S has been advocating for a free and fair election, upholding democratic values, and condemning extra judicial excesses. However, continuous engagement between the two parties resulted helping to mitigate tensions and create a more positive atmosphere. The crux of Donald Lu’s visit is to reaffirm democratic ideals in state mechanism, rule based international system and Bangladesh to be part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Accordingly, Bangladesh has committed to hold a fair election and the recent decline of the controversial RAB’s extrajudicial excesses reported by Human Rights Watch as well as peaceful demonstrations of the opposition have been markedly praised by Donald Lu. From Bangladesh’s perspective rescinding of sanctions, reinstatement of GSP, and more support for Rohingya Refugees were reiterated. More importantly, Dhaka’s impartial foreign policy goals align with Washington’s interest in the South Asian region and it will be of American interest to consider Bangladesh as an important ally in the geopolitical chessboard of the Indo-Pacific region.  

However, the visit is also crucial for Donald Lu who is accused of meddling with the internal affairs of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. But, Donald Lu manifested his diplomatic acumen to “manage the fissures of the diplomatic ties’ and “highlight on the areas of convergence” in the recent visit. Evidently, the past year has been tumultuous for South Asian nations, following the collapse of Colombo, the Pakistani Economic Crisis and the revolving debt crisis around the region. Amongst her neighbors, Bangladesh has endured relatively steady political and economic pursuit. Therefore, US needs to formulate a comprehensive South Asian policy to accommodate the interests of the respective nations on its own merit.

Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S is vital in both economic and political stance. Continued engagement and partnership between the two states is critical for the security of South Asia as well as Bangladesh’s ongoing economic prosperity. On a pragmatic tone, it would take more than just this one visit for Bangladesh to solve these complex geopolitical issues. For now, the visit has symbolized strengthening of U.S-Bangladesh relationship going forward by exonerating the mutual interests to diplomatically resolve pressing bilateral issues and elevation of continuous engagement.

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