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Stop treating the Pakistan army with kid gloves

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In recent days, all eyes have been on President Trump’s tweet on January 1, 2018 which sent out an unequivocal message, that it can not be business as usual with Pakistan, unless the latter takes concrete action against terror groups like the Haqqani Network.  Said Trump in his tweet:

‘The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!’

Trump’s tweet was followed by the US decision to not just withhold aid of 255 Million USD (FMF, Foreign Military Funding for the fiscal year 2016), due to Pakistan’s in action against terror groups. The Department of Defense has also suspended an amount of USD 900 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year of 2017. In all over 1.1 Billion USD has been suspended. Kentucky Republican Senator, Rand Paul will be introducing a bill for ending all US aid to Pakistan. Said Paul:

“I’ve been fighting to end Pakistani aid for years. But now we have a breakthrough. President Trump has publicly called to end their aid, and is currently holding up over $200 million of it. I want to end all of it,”

The Kentucky senator has argued, that the money provided to Pakistan can be used for building infrastructure in the US.

Reactions in Pakistan, to Trump’s tweets were predictable. While some opposition parties said that US President’s assertive attitude vis-à-vis Pakistan is a failure of the present Pakistan Muslim League- N PML-N government, to put forward  Pakistan’s view point effectively. The PML-N government criticized the US President’s remarks, and said that it was ready to provide audits, and it had been at the frontline in the war against terror. Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khwaja Asif in response to Trump’s tweets stated:

‘Pakistan is ready to publicly provide every detail of the US aid that it has received over the last 15 years,’

In the midst of all this, a number of noteworthy developments have taken place.

First, both Nawaz Sharif ,President of Pakistan Muslim League and former PM,  and Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab province and PML-N’s PM candidate met with the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman on the night of January 1, 2018.  There were speculations of various kinds with regard to the meeting. The first was, that an agreement was being worked out through with Nawaz Sharif would be exiled to Saudi Arabia, to avoid the corruption cases filed against him in Pakistan. This was flatly denied by his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif however. A spokesman of the former PM also issued a strong denial in a press release. Said the spokesman :

‘He has always utilised these relations for national interest and never for his personal benefits,’

The other was that the Sharif’s met with the Saudi Crown Prince in the light of the recent statements of President Donald Trump, and had gone as a result of an understanding with the Pakistan army. Irrespective of whatever the reality was, it clearly shows that the Sharif’s are extremely relevant, not just because of their political influence in the province of Punjab, but also their strong networks in Saudi Arabia.

Second, Nawaz Sharif, who has, inspite of domestic constraints, made concerted efforts to improving ties with India, had according to some news stories met with Pakistan National Security Advisor (NSA) Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua on December 28th, at the former’s Raiwind residence in Lahore. During this meeting, Sharif spoke about the need for mending fences with neighboring countries. The meeting was however dismissed as a false report.

Third, most interestingly the former PM while reacting to Donald Trump’s attack on Pakistan as regrettable, Sharif launched an all out attack on the army and dictatorships in a speech on January 3, 2018. While he blamed Pervez Musharraf for capitulating to the US in 2002. The former PM also accused the army of propping up leaders through secret deals. He was alluding to the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-E-insaaf PTI Imran Khan. Sharif also called for self introspection, and that it was time for Pakistanis to … ‘ask ourselves why the world does not take us seriously’.

A few points need to be kept in mind

First, Sharif who has been written off remains the tallest and most mature political leader who realises the importance of strong ties with neighbors, and realizes the pitfalls of excessive dependence upon one country. During his speech on January 3, 2018 he categorically stated:

“I would like to advise Prime Minister Abbasi to develop a policy that ensures we don’t need US aid so that our image is not attacked in this manner,

Second, Sharif’s aggressive approach towards the army may not be appreciated by many in Pakistan, as well as outside. The Saudi Prince is supposed to have put forward his discomfort with Nawaz’s approach towards the army, saying it will destabilise Pakistan. Nawaz is not likely to cave in easily, and is likely to use every opportunity to attack the army, and will make attempts to restore civilian supremacy. This is clearly evident from his speech on January 3, 2018.

Third, post the 2018 Parliamentary elections which PML-N is likely to win, efforts will be made to reach out to India, since a better economic relationship with India will fit in with the overall goal of Pakistan becoming more self-reliant. PML-N would also like to send a clear message to the Pakistan army about who is the real boss. The Pakistan army will off course continue to sabotage such efforts, but Nawaz Sharif seems determined to make one last ditch effort. This will off course require PML-N to take decisive action against terror groups targeting India.

External forces should stop treating the Pakistan army with kid gloves. While the US has taken the lead in taking a strong stand against the Pakistan army, China too needs to do a rethink of its short term goal of using Pakistan to contain India. Terrorism and instability will have an impact on China in the near run as well as long run. The outside world while being firm with the Pakistan army, should continue to make efforts for strengthening democratic forces within Pakistan.

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South Asia

Indian students abroad and the new immigration policy

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The UK and US have for long been preferred destinations for Indian students, due to employment opportunities, and the deep economic and political links India shares with both these countries. In recent decades, other countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand have also emerged as popular choices  for Indian students. In the case of the US, total number of Indian students as of 2018 was 1,86,000. Indian students contributed well over 6 Billion USD to the US Economy. For some time, there was a decline in number of Indian students going for disciplines like Engineering, given the Trump Administration’s revisions made to the H1-B Visa regime. As a result number of Indian students going to the US dropped by 21%, and was estimated at 18,590 in 2017.

Apart from this, there are new restrictions to the Optional Practical Training OPT. Says the United States Customs and Immigration Services UCSIS website:

‘The training experience must take place onsite at the employer’s place of business or worksites to which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has authority to conduct site visits to ensure the OPT requirements are being met….The training experience may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers because ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.”

This revision has also made US education less attractive for Indian students, who looked at training as a possible opportunity.

UK’s recent reforms

Only recently, UK has introduced reforms to its immigration regime. In its new immigration policy tabled before British Parliament, India was not included in the list of ‘low risk countries’ , by the British Home Office, for Tier 4 student visas (university applications for students applying for low risk countries will become simple. Significantly, countries, including Bahrain, Indonesia, and the Maldives have been included in the list.

It would be pertinent to point out, that the spokesman for the Home Office did acknowledge the relevance of Indian students:

“We welcome Indian students who want to come to the U.K. to study at our world-leading educational institutions. We issue more visas to students from India than any other country except China and the U.S.,”

Reactions to this decision

Lord Karan Bilimoria, an entrepreneur of Indian origin, and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has dubbed this as an insult to India, while also citing this as an instance of UK’s ignorant attitude towards immigration.

It is likely, that UK Home office’s decision may have an impact on the FTA  (Free Trade Agreement) to be signed between India and UK, the former is likely to harden its stance.

While the recent decision is not likely to go down well with prospective Indian students. There has been a dip in Indian students attending British Universities. In 2010, Indian students in UK were estimated at 60,000. While in 2016, that number had dropped significantly to 15,000. In 2017-2018, there was a 27% increase in student visas (the first time since 2010), but this did not cover the decline over a number of recent years.

Problems being faced by Indian students have been raised on a number of occasions. Indian High Commissioner to UK, YK Sinha, had flagged the issue of problems faced by Indian students in UK, with Britain’s Minister of State for Universities Sam Gyimah in June 2018.

The recent Immigration policy did have some good news in the context of tier-2 visas (for professionals). Techies, teacher, doctors and engineers, have been removed from the total cap of 20,700 Visas. This creates new opportunities for professionals.

Countries which have benefitted

The biggest beneficiaries of the restrictive policies of US and UK have been countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In Australia, there were over 68,000 Indian students as of November 2017 (a rise of 14% from the period from January-November 2016), there has been a surge in the number of Indian students attending Canadian universities ( in 2015, this number was estimated at 31,795 while at the end of 2016, this was estimated at 52, 890).

While Australia abolished 457 (the equivalent of an H1 B), which impacted Indian professionals.  Canada has been generous in providing work visas as well as permanent residency. The latter has been successful in weaning away software professionals from the US through Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s, Global Skills Strategy.

Need to safeguard Indian students interests.

Countries like US and US need to decide for themselves, whether or not they want to make use of talent. Indian government, itself needs to be more firm in safeguarding the interests of its students overseas. Indian students, who perform exceedingly well academically, as well in the professional sphere, are an important component of India’s ‘Soft Power’.

Indian students, on their part, should also explore new destinations, which are trying to open up student visas and employment opportunities and should not go by education consultants.  As India begins to strengthen ties with countries in East Asia and South East Asia, Indian students should explore possible opportunities in countries like Taiwan. It is setting up more education centres in India, establishing exchange programs with Indian Universities. The country’s Ministry of Education is also planning a revision to the law according to which talented overseas students may be permitted to work in Taiwan.

Conclusion

Countries which have been preferred choices for higher studies should realise that Indian students have numerous options, and they can not be taken for granted. Not just simpler application procedures and student visas, it is important that there are substantial incentives such as relaxation of work visas. New Delhi on its part needs to be firmer in flagging problems being faced by Indian students, and while strengthening ties with countries there should be a focus on strengthening educational linkages.

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Is Indian Democracy Dying?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The prominent journalist and editor, Shujaat Bukhari was leaving work when he and his two bodyguards were shot and killed.  Suffice to say newspapers are the lifeblood of democracy and Indian administered Kashmir under the decades-long grip of a half-million strong security force has a questionable claim.  Yet brave journalists, unafraid, write and sometimes pay the consequences.

Following Mr. Bukhari’s murder and the thousands attending his funeral, the security services have raided presses shutting down newspapers.  The internet is not quite as easily controlled, so some have been busy updating their sites.

Since Gauari Lankesh was brutally murdered at her doorstep in September 2017, another four journalists have lost their lives.  She, too, espoused views contrary to the ruling party’s current philosophy of an India aligned only with the mores of upper-caste Hindus.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, the principal Indian leaders who fought many decades for independence would have been appalled.  Gandhi protected low caste untouchables referring to them as the ‘children of god’; they are now known as Dalits.  Nehru, a Brahmin by birth, was a socialist in belief.  His dream was of a secular, socialist India.  The latter is long over, the former under vicious attack as Muslim and Christian minorities are marginalized.  In addition to journalists, three heavyweight intellectuals have been killed.  All were rationalists, the Indian word for atheists.

Gandhi was assassinated less than six months after independence by a right-wing Hindu nationalist who was angry at Gandhi’s moderate attitude toward Muslims.  The assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the extreme-right Hindu Mahasabha political party, and had his roots in the paramilitary, Hindutva-promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).  Its militancy has led to its being banned three times:  after the Gandhi assassination, during the Indira Gandhi emergency rule in the mid-1970s, and for its role in the Babri Mosque demolition.  The British also found its beliefs beyond the pale and banned it during their rule.

Not only is the RSS flourishing now but it serves openly as the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  Together they continue to push their agenda for a Hindu India tolerating only Hindu culture or beliefs, in other words, Hindutva or Hindu hegemony.

Hindutva scholar Shridhar D. Damle confirms what is quite well known, that the RSS is now exerting its influence in academia, government and cultural organizations.  The laws restricting cow slaughter are not a Narendra Modi whim.  Mr. Modi joined the RSS at the age of eight, was nurtured and nourished by it, the philosophy seeping into his bones like mother’s milk; any moderation necessitated only by political considerations.

The RSS infiltration of academia is pervasive.  Last year, its think tank, Prajnah Pravah, summoned 700 academics including 51 university vice-chancellors (presidents) to Delhi to attend a workshop on the importance of a Hindu narrative in higher education; just one example of influencing what can be taught.  A gradual loss of academic freedom has been the frightening consequence of constant interference backed up by its militancy — frightening because dying with intellectual freedom, journalists, writers and thinkers is also Indian democracy … slowly but surely, unless the voters stand up to the RSS sharkhas (volunteers) at the next election.

Nobody knows who killed Mr. Bukhari.  But when the standards have been set and a certain climate prevails, does it mean much?

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US- North Korea talks: A role model for Pakistan and India?

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Shahbaz Sharif — Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, current PML-N President, Former CM of Punjab (Pakistan) and the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the general election — while reacting to the meeting between US President, Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, stated that India and Pakistan should seek to emulate both countries, and explore the possibility of resuming dialogue.

Tweeted Shahbaz Sharif: ‘The US and North Korea talks should be a role model for Pakistan and Indian. If they can return from their previous hostile positions of attacking each other, Pakistan and India can also resume composite dialogue,’

Shahbaz, an astute politician and a capable administrator has generally refrained from commenting on India. More so, after his elder brother, had got into trouble after his remarks on the Mumbai attacks In an interview to Dawn, the former PM had said:

‘Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai”.. Why can’t we complete the trial?’

Nawaz Sharif drew flak not just from the National Security Committee (which includes top civil servants and defense officials). NSC issued a statement, saying:

‘The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions.

Some parliamentarians of the PML-N, also said that Sharif’s remarks were ‘inappropriate’. They had to be assuaged by Shahbaz

What are the precise implications of Shahbaz’s statements at this time?

Shahbaz Sharif’s statement is significant because the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has sought to extend an olive branch to India via his statements — though the ground situation across the LoC has not witnessed a significant change .

Shahbaz Sharif on his part is seeking to send the signal, that he is all for a better relationship with India, and this will go down well with large sections of the population in Punjab (this includes not just members of Civil Society, but the business community as well). As Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), he had visited India (December 2013), and met with then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, while also visiting his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in (Punjab, India). Shahbaz had also attended the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post at Attari in April 2012. Shahbaz has sought to strengthen people to people as well as economic ties with Indian Punjab.

In 2017, when both Punjab’s and North India was engulfed in smog, Shahbaz had also written to his counterpart in Indian Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh,  seeking a mechanism to tackle the issue of smog, as well as environmental pollution.  Said Sharif, ‘..Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces,”

At the same time, in his recent tweet, Shahbaz also raised the Kashmir issue, and does not want to appear excessively soft or a ‘sell-out’. Especially, vis-à-vis the hardliners and the military. Shahbaz Sharif had tweeted:

‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same, beginning with a dialogue on Kashmir whose heroic people have resisted and rejected Indian occupation.

In April 2018, at a rally Shahbaz had raised the Kashmir issue, saying ‘..we will make Kashmir part of Pakistan,”

Fourth, Shahbaz wants to ensure, that the PML-N sets the agenda of the election campaign with this statement he has also ensured, that PTI will need to make its stance on ties with India clear

Mixed signals from Imran Khan

Imran Khan has so far given mixed signals, on many issues including ties with India. Khan has attacked Sharif’s for being soft on the Kashmir issue, and stated that he will be far more vocal and raise the issue on International Forums. At a rally in 2016, the  Pakistan-Tehreek-E-Insaaf PTI Chief and former cricketer stated:

“Human rights are being trampled in Kashmir…And no matter what, we will support Kashmiris morally and politically.

Imran Khan also accused Sharif of having a close rapport with Modi and bartering away Pakistan’s interests in the process. The PTI Chief has also sought an enquiry into Nawaz Sharif’s ‘business interests’ in India on more than one occasion.

On the other hand on occasions, Khan has spoken about the need for improving India-Pakistan ties. Interestingly, during a visit to India in December 2015, Imran had called on Modi, and claimed to have had a constructive conversation on bilateral issues.

Conclusion

What is clearly evident is that Shahbaz, a consummate politician, will essentially follow his brother’s approach of wanting to improve ties with India, while not ruffling feathers with the Pakistan army. Shahbaz, also wants to send a message to both the opposition (especially the PTI) and the establishment (Pakistan military and ISI). While the message to the PTI, is that he will not allow it to set the agenda for the election.  To the establishment, Shahbaz Sharif’s message is that he is ready to work with them, but will not play second fiddle.

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