As the fiercely fought and the keenly watched Gujarat Elections draw to a close today, another discourse is set to dominate the Indian National Media. No doubt the recent polls in Gujarat have been a battle worth watching with personal attacks, violent barbs and extravagant one-man showmanship that put the entire nation to shame but the results are expected to just as unsettling to the mood of the nation.
In this battle for Gujarat, no quarter was asked and none was given. The results are expected to come next week and whatever, they may be, they will determine the course of my great nation.
Beneath all this cacophony of the Gujarat Elections, shrill voices of protest and reason (according to the speakers themselves and their supporters) gained volume. These voices called for the scrapping of the polls being held using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and a return to the era of ballot paper elections. The reason for this is that they believe, the EVMs are being tampered with and results being manipulated in favor of the ruling party. This claim has found much traction in the national media and it is rare to find any newsroom debate where the viability of the EVMs is not being questioned and sad as it may seem, the national Innovation which has made the Indian democracy hassle free & tamper-proof, become a subject of ridicule.
Before going into any nuances of the accusations being made against the EVM, let us first examine the Indian Electoral Process and the role of EVMs in it. India is the world’s largest democracy. Every adult citizen of India has the right to vote and elect a leader. The entire geographical spread of the nation is divided into small units, known as constituencies. Democracy in India is deep rooted and elections are held for the local bodies, the state assembly and the national assembly. This democratic decentralization has ensured that more and more people become the part of the system meant to govern them. Every voter in India is listed in a register prepared by the Election Commission of India (ECI), whose sole job is to ensure a free and fair election. The ECI takes charge of the entire official apparatus in a bid to ensure that every voter is able to go out and vote without any fear. During the Election period, the entire region is under a model code of conduct and the administration keeps a keen eye on those with the potential to violate the sacred sanctity of the electoral process. The Indian Democracy, while the largest in the world since its inception, had never been fool proof. Booth capturing, ballot-stuffing and cash-for-votes were some common problems that dominated the early elections. The ECI gradually managed to weed out most of the peculiarities of the electoral process over time. The introduction of the EVM allowed the ECI to reduce organizational & logistical hassles dramatically. The EVM is a standalone machine with no connection to any wireless or network devices. It is powered by a battery and has no need to rely on local power. The EVM comprises of two pieces, a ballot unit and a control unit. Each EVM has a chip and access to EVM internal circuitry to a select few. More so, the polls and counting are carried out in the presence of ECI observers, neutral observers, party delegates and in the security of Central Armed Police Forces. EVMs completely negated the ballot stuffing and the massive booth-capturing that was part and parcel of elections in the Hindi Heartland.
While allegations of EVM tampering were made ever since their introduction, these allegations gained much traction after the massive scale of BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh (India’s most populous and political bellwether). BJP and its allies won over 80% seats in a state which is the world’s most populous sub-division. It won’t be a hyperbole if I call UP the world’s fourth largest democracy. BJP and its allies won a little near 40% votes which translated into a humongous 80% majority in a three-cornered fight. While the sheer scale of victory was unprecedented, it was not entirely unexpected. Moreover, Data from the past election i.e. the 2014 General Elections showed that BJP lost votes and seats. But the Opposition could not comprehend this. For them, it was difficult to recognize that they had woken a sleeping giant and they were babies trying to take it on headlong. The opposition grappled with the possibility of looking weak and acknowledging that they had been out-maneuvered by the BJP and its massive election machinery. They could just very well say the same.But, saying so would have undermined their leader’s standing. A king never blames himself for the loss of his kingdom. He always has a fall guy.Hence, the Opposition looked for a fall guy. EVMs were a convenient fall guy. EVM tampering, they said. How else can BJP win in a state like UP?
A closer look at the polling data shows that what happened in UP was entirely predictable. The principle opposition parties of BJP in UP, the SP, BSP and the Congress all targeted a similar vote-bank- the Dalits& Muslims for the BSP and the Yadavs& Muslims for the SP-Congress combine. While formidable on paper, these 3 communities comprise only of 40% of the total electorate and this left the silent 60% open for BJP’s wooing. It is said that to win a war, you should consolidate your army and split that of your opponent and this is what happened in UP. It should not take a PhD in Psephology to realize where the BJP succeeded and where the opposition failed. On closer observation of the crowd making the most noise about EVM tampering, throws up a very interesting insight. The loudest voices against the EVMs are those who were considered to be king-makers and vote banks. Politicians lined up to woo them and doled out massive largess to ensure their support. In the media, those questioning the EVMs have always been anti-BJP and have a history of crying foul over the most trivial of issues (the Rafale “scandal” is their latest talk of the town).
Coming to Gujarat, the BJP’s stronghold and the home state of the current Prime Minister, the ruling party’s campaign appeared to have taken multiple hits (GST, Demonetization, the anti-incumbency of 22 years and the reservation protests) and was fast losing steam. Congress appears to have taken a lesson or two from its past blunders and had modified its campaign accordingly.A community which was aggressively wooed by all “secular” political parties is suffering from political irrelevance in Gujarat and Rahul Gandhi, the recently appointed party president is going on a literal temple run in Gujarat and is busy flaunting his upper caste credentials in a bid to woo the Hindu vote. The situation in Gujarat seems poised to be polarizing against BJP.But why do we forget a basic tenet of science, for every action there is equal and opposite reaction. For every instance of polarization, there is a counter polarization. Congress may have tried to polarize the Patidars on reservation but deep while, it split the OBCs with its reservation talks and there is a severe threat of counter-polarization. Who wins Gujarat remains to be seen but for now, BJP is clearly in the leading seat.
I know that the day when the results come and if they come in the favor of BJP, a shrill cry of EVMs being hacked to ensure the BJP’s victory will start to gain volume. Look closely at them, for you will find will, be none other than those who sit in TV New rooms and flaunt their secular credentials, all the while ignoring the fallacies of their own arguments. In the street, you may find a youth or two crying EVM fraud, blaming the Government for their joblessness while not acknowledging their own shortcoming of education and competency. Religious leaders with hushed voices who will say that they knew this would happen and the EVMs were hacked as no one could save the BJP, not acknowledging their role in mobilizing votes via sermons had come to a cropper and the electorate has become smarter. You will find opposition leaders rumbling and venting out their frustrations on the Election commission, not acknowledging their own shortcomings and weaknesses. Then there will be that odd guy on social media, who has no clue about how the electoral system works but always starts and ends his rants with EVM tampered. Look no further for these are the kings who have lost their kingdom.
Breaking Down the South Asian Dynamic: Post Pulwama attack & Saudi Prince’s visit
The political and strategic activities of the South Asian region have been on a high for the past week or so. The region faced a very unfortunate incident on 14th February, 2019 when 40 Indian soldiers were killed in an attack in Pulwama, India. The already torn region of Kashmir faced yet another blow and has been in turmoil since the attack. The 14th February attack somehow translated into more violence against the innocent civilians of Kashmir. Not only Kashmir but other cities of India have also been actively involved in hate crimes against Muslims, particularly Kashmiri students. BBC news reported the violence against students from Kashmir in various universities across the country and how they were being thrown out of their residences.
The attack has been condemned by all alike, however, the Indian nation has assumed Pakistan to be behind the attack. The Prime Minister Nirendra Modi has given his two cents on the matter and his words seem to be clearly motivated by his desire to cash this unfortunate incident for a win in the upcoming Indian general elections. India’s highest Diplomat in Pakistan has also been called back and the action has been reciprocated by Pakistan as well. As we break down the current rush of hostilities between the two nuclear neighbors there are mainly two theories revolving around. The Indian theory is short and bitter, it claims Pakistan is responsible because it is an irresponsible state that provides safe havens to terrorists. The group linked to this attack has also been declared close to Pakistan’s agencies on many occasions. The theory is evidently childish and sounds like it is being repeated for the 100th time with no solid proof or credible information yet again. The mere allegations have brought no good but unfortunately India’s higher names are set on fueling the age old fire for their petty gains.
We have a theory from Pakistan’s side as well. Although it is not an official theory nor has it been discussed by any of the higher leaderships publicly but it is nonetheless doing the rounds in the policy circles. It claims Indian officials themselves were involved in not only the Pulwama attack but the less spoken of, Iran attack as well. Both the attack were significantly close to Pakistan’s Eastern and Western borders. This is something the state of Pakistan would not bring upon itself at such a crucial time when the security situation of the state was desired to be at its best for the arrival of the Saudi crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman. The visit was not only a remarkably significant diplomatic achievement for Pakistan but was also very significant for the South Asian region and Muslim countries around the globe. In times like this when the state of Pakistan was consumed in making preparations for the arrival of the Prince it would be a rather immature strategic move to involve itself in something so disastrous and fragile at the same time. However, some believe Indian officials planned this to create unrest in the region as an attempt to halt the Prince’s visit.
The visit, however, took place anyway and was a rather successful one. Not only were MoU’s signed between the leadership of Pakistan and the Royalty of Saudi Arabia but mechanisms to implement the MoU’s were also chalked out. The spontaneous release of 2107 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi prisons n the request of Pakistan’s prime minister was a clear show of the blooming Saudi-Pak relations. It not only took the friendship and trust between the two nations to new heights but created a new sense of love and respect for the Prince amongst the general public of Pakistan which has not been seen so evidently before. The prince being awarded with the highest civil award of Pakistan marks the utmost success of the visit which did not settle well with many of the self-proclaimed key players of the region.
The prince has plans to visit India as well where it is expected that peace between India and Pakistan would be suggested as a key desire. It can also be expected that India’s leadership would take this opportunity to trade peace in return of other favors from the Saudi delegation. Regardless of the absurd reaction from the neighboring country, Pakistan has remained calm and acted with utmost maturity during the entire blame game. Regardless of knowing very well how capable the Pakistani army is, the state has made no loose remarks and has also recorded its reservations against India’s escalating remarks in a letter penned down by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to the General Secretary of the United Nations. Pakistan always has, still does and always will promote peace and prosperity in the region.
The Pulwama Attack and India’s rhetoric
The Attack which occurred in the Pulwama District of Jammu and Kasmir was indeed a horrific event. The attack took place on India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The suicide bomber triggered the car bomb while 78 vehicles with over 2,500 CRPF men were on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway. Pakistan’s Foreign Office was quick to condemn this unfortunate event. According to the statement released the attack occurring in Pulwama District was a matter of grave concern.
India was however very quick at pointing fingers towards Pakistan. Within an hour or so of the incident, while even the basic on-site investigations weren’t completed, India blamed Pakistan for the Pulwama Attack. Pakistan’s Foreign Office rejected any claim linking the attack to Pakistan without proper investigations. The Pulwama attack no doubt is a tragedy, but the way the attack unfolded and India’s knee-jerk reaction has raised quite a lot of doubts and questions in Pakistan, India as well as the international community.
Questions Pakistan asks
First of all, on what pretext did the Indian authorities blame the Pakistani State for the attack? The suicide bomber named Adil Ahmed Dar was a native Kashmiri, the car used in the Suicide attack was a Mahindra Scorpio (non-existent in Pakistan). How can Indian authorities deduce Pakistan’s hand, with this little information, in such a less time?
Secondly, Adil Ahmed Dar has been named as the suicide bomber by the Indian Media. According to the Kashmir Times story published on 9th October 2017, Indian Security forces had apprehended a Kashmiri named Adil Ahmed Dar. The news quoted the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police for Southern Kashmir, S P Pani that the militants belonged to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Now, this is conflicting news because Indian media claims the attacker to be from Jaish-e-Muhammad. There are also news reports that the attacker never came back from police custody. Without proper investigation, no one will know whether he escaped from the authorities or he was made to film the confession statement under duress.
Thirdly, Indian authorities have claimed that 350KG of explosives were packed into the car which rammed into the CPRF bus. How 350Kg of explosives could be accumulated in the most heavily militarized regions of the world right under the nose of the heavily armed Indian Army. The stretch on which the incident occurred had been cleared earlier in the morning, and authorities have termed this as a “serious breach” of security. Doesn’t this point to the incompetence of the world’s largest buyer of military hardware?
Lastly, who is the beneficiary of the attack, especially from a timings point of view? The attack happened just a day before Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was due in Islamabad to announce billions of dollars of investment, while on the other hand, Modi wants some political leverage against his opponents. His Pakistan bashing is really popular in his BJP vote bank and this could also be an effort to woo his supporters back to him.
Kashmir: A humanitarian issue
The Kashmir issue has been the bone of contention between the two South-Asian neighbors. It has been the prime reason for hostilities between India and Pakistan. There exists a UN resolution demanding for a plebiscite in Kashmir, for seeking the will of Kashmiri people to weather join Pakistan or Kashmir. India, however, refuses to implement the UN resolution in their true letter and spirit. Pakistan has been asking India for a dialogue on a peaceful settlement of Kashmir Issue, but India has not only turned down Pakistan’s offers but has kept its heavy-handedness in suppressing the people of Kashmir.
Last year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on Kashmir. The report made startling revelations about Indian atrocities in Kashmir. The UN reported the use of pellet-firing shotguns against violent protesters resulting in deaths and serious injuries. Official government figures list 17 people as being killed by pellet injuries between July 2016 and August 2017. In January 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister told the state legislative assembly that 6,221 people had been injured by pellet guns. The Human Rights Watch stated that Indian security forces “assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks”; according to the report, rape was regularly used as a means to “punish and humiliate” communities.
The Pulwama attack is purely a domestic issue and blaming Pakistan is just a way for diverting attention from the Indian Army’s atrocities in Kashmir, its incompetence and the BJPs failures. BJP is facing an election defeat visibly and the upcoming elections could most likely mean an end to Modi’s political career. Fore-seeing his future, he is using the one card which plays in India well “Pakistan Bashing”.
Prime Minister Modi has openly threatened revenge on Pakistan. He has to understand that peace in the region is the ultimate prize. Peace and stability in South Asia is a combined responsibility and that such irresponsible remarks are a direct threat to stability. The Indian media should also tone down the warmongering and hysteria in their content. In these times when information travels with the speed of light, any misunderstanding could have disastrous effects.
Pakistan has offered India times and again to solve all issues including Jammu and Kashmir through peaceful dialogue. In Pakistan, India-bashing has never been an election slogan. Anti-India fanatics do not come to power and the common people do not buy into their anti-Indian rhetoric. Isn’t it high time for India to shun this pointless and baseless habit of pointing fingers at Pakistan for every wrong which happens inside it, and instead address its internal issues through dialogue, at least this is the way civilized nations resolve their issues?
What Can the Afghan Government and Taliban Learn from Colombia’s Peace Deal with FARC?
The experience of Colombia’s peace with FARC has always been the subject of Western experts working on the war in Afghanistan due to the characteristics of Afghanistan’s war akin to Colombia’s war.
It is argued that the insurgent movement with a political rivalry to mobilize dissenters to enter the community is a substitute order that rebels attempt to fundamentally change the infrastructure of society. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Afghan Taliban insurgents can be put into such socio-political context.
The FARC, with the full name of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (in Spanish was formed in the 1960s as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Colombia. The FARC officially separated from the Communist Party of Colombia in 1980 but continued its guerrilla war against the Colombian government. The war between FARC and the Government of the Republic of Colombia lasted 55 years and left dead approximately 250,000 people.
Colombia’s Peace Process
The Government of the Republic of Colombia has made three major and important attempts to build peace in the last thirty years, especially in the mid-1980s and late 1990s, but all failed. But peace efforts that began in Havana, the capital of Cuba in 2012, came to fruition five years later. Ultimately, these efforts effectuated in to the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC on November 24, 2016.
The Colombia’s peace agreement with FARC was rejected by less than one percent in a referendum on October 2, 2016. The results of the referendum showed that 50.2 percent of voters opposed the agreement. But later, many Colombians who were anti-FARC rebels became their supporters. To strengthen further the peace and stability in Colombia, the Colombian government allocated 10 seats to FARC in 2018 and 2022 in the Colombia’s Congress elections.
The success of the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of Colombia and FARC is derived from their mutual agreement on key issues. First, they reached a reciprocal agreement on development of rural areas, especially those areas that were damaged more than other areas during the conflict. Second, they talked about the elimination of drugs and reducing high poverty rates in the peace process and agreed mutually. Third, the Government of the Republic of Colombia concurred with political participation of FARC members in the political process. Hence, they could successfully end their chronic conflicts that took many Colombians’ lives.
Afghanistan’s Peace Process
In November 2001, the Taliban regime was overthrown entirely by the United Nation forces led by the US. Subsequently, the Afghan government and the international community stepped up their efforts to support various plans to undermine the expansion of insurgents and ultimately bring them to the peace process. These efforts include programs such as Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR 2003-2006), United Nation supported Afghanistan New Beginning Programs (ANBP) and its successor the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG 2005.
When US President Barack Hussein Obama put forward the idea of looking for moderate elements among the insurgent groups in March 2009, the official peace talks in Afghanistan became more important. Unfortunately, all the above peace efforts have not been effective in stabilizing Afghanistan and failed to pursue a meaningful engagement of the involved countries in Afghanistan’s war in the peace process.
Recently, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan declared two truces with the Taliban to encourage them to join the peace process. But unluckily, the Taliban groups not only did not welcome the Afghan government’s ceasefire, except the first truce but also responded with atrocity and intensifying their insurgency. Political experts are inclined to argue that the experiences of the Colombian government’s peace deal with FARC insurgents can aid Afghanistan in reaching a permanent peace deal with the Taliban groups.
The Similarities of Afghanistan’s and Colombia’s War
According to Foreign Policy, the current Afghan war is reminiscent of the Drug War in Colombia and requires a Colombian plan for its termination. The insurgency in Afghanistan is nurtured by an ideological war that is being conducted to bring Afghans under the banner of religion. Conversely, in Colombia, FACR fought with the central government for lucrative sources of money and ways to smuggle drugs. However, it is argued that despite having ideological roots, narcotics is the main financial source of Afghanistan’s insurgent groups.
In 2016, the Global Witness reported that the warlords and Taliban’s earnings from a small Badakhshan region are equal to the total income of the Afghan government’s natural resources sector. The report adds that in 2014, armed groups from two mining areas of Deodarra in Kuran and Munjan districts in Badakhshan province earned about $20 million. It echoes that the ongoing war between the Taliban and the Afghan government is also a war on controlling natural sources like the war between FARC and the Colombian government. Thus, the experiences of the Government of the Republic of Colombia in its peace talks with FARC can help the Afghan government in its peace talks with the Taliban.
The Afghan Taliban groups like the FARC in Colombia, are dwindling in Afghanistan. They still have their local supporters in Afghanistan. Theo Farrell, the professor and executive dean of law, humanities, and the arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia argues that the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation were the main reasons of Taliban’s successful resurgence after 2001. It projects that still, Taliban groups have a large number of adherents among the Afghan communities. Undoubtedly, they will support the Taliban if the group joins in peace talks with the Afghan government and forms its political faction as did the FARC in Colombia.
The FARC opened negotiations with the Colombian government after decades of armed conflicts. Many of FARC insurgents like the Taliban groups did not believe in the usefulness of the talkswith the Colombian government at the beginning. But they tested their trust and succeeded in this regard. Likewise, the best option for the Afghan Taliban to put into practice their demands is joining the negotiating table with the Afghan government.
The Colombia’s Peace Process Takeaways for Afghanistan’s Peace Process
Perhaps the most important innovation to come out of Colombia’s peace process has been the inclusion of victims. Delegations of victims from both sides of the conflict were invited to come to Havana to recount their experiences. In other words, the Colombian peace process was the first in the world that included a formal role for victims of the conflict—they got to interact directly with the negotiators. The inclusion of victims gave the Colombian government’s peace process its best chance of success. Likewise, Afghanistan’s government can emulate a similar way to succeeding in the peace process with the Taliban. The Afghan government should invite the representatives of the victims of war to the negotiating table so that they can share their stories and gain confidence that their voices are heard in the peace process.
Ultimately, the need for a comprehensive and lasting peace in Afghanistan requires creating a national and international consensus on the peace process with the Taliban. This is what Colombian President; Juan Manuel Santos did about peace with the FARC rebels. Initially, a national consensus regarding the peace deal was created inside Colombia. Then the Colombian government reached an international consensus for peace with the neighboring countries, the regional and international powers. Similarly, the Afghan government should reach a unanimous agreement on peace talks with the Taliban inside Afghanistan, then with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, regional and international powers. Doing so, the Afghan government might be able to close the war and insurgency chapter of Afghanistan’s modern history.
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