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Understanding Iran’s traditional position on Kashmir

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Almost two months ago, the Supreme Leader of Iran, during a meeting with top government functionaries and foreign emissaries, spoke of myriad problems facing the Muslim world and emphasized the importance of resisting against the arrogant, oppressive powers. He referred to conflict-marred states like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Myanmar and Kashmir.

The mention of Kashmir, like always, raised a few eyebrows in New Delhi, since the Indian government deems Kashmir as an ‘internal issue’ and does not appreciate ‘outside interference’. The leader said the people of Kashmir will push back their enemies by unwavering resistance in the near future, the way he has repeatedly said Israel would be wiped off the map in next 25 years.

For those who think Iran has an ambiguous position on Kashmir and the Leader does not consider the issue of Kashmir at par with Palestine or Nigeria or Myanmar should pause and skim through his statements made over the years in the context of Kashmir’s freedom struggle.

His most powerful and widely-reported statement till date came on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr last year. Known to weigh his words carefully, the Leader spoke of “many wounds inflicted on the body of Muslim world” and urged the Ummah to “express its disdain for the oppressors”. He singled out Bahrain, Yemen and Kashmir, and said the Muslim world should “openly support” people in these countries.

The statement was, much to the chagrin of mandarins in New Delhi, welcomed in Kashmir. The octogenarian Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani hailed the statement as “timely and pragmatic’, while his Hurriyat counterpart Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed his gratitude to Iran for supporting the “just freedom struggle” of the people of Kashmir.

Was the Leader trying to send a strong message to New Delhi or was he merely reiterating and reaffirming what Imam Khomeini had quite unequivocally said decades ago? Why did he club Kashmir with Bahrain and Yemen? Who are the “oppressors” he was referring to and what did he mean by “open support”? These questions generated palpable buzz on social media after the statement was issued and reported by big media outlets.

Barely a week after the statement was made, the Leader mentioned Kashmir again, this time while addressing an important meeting of top judiciary officials in Tehran. Reaffirming his country’s support to Kashmir, he asked his country’s judiciary to support the “oppressed figures and people of the world, like Sheikh Zakzaky (of Nigeria), and the Muslims in Myanmar and Kashmir”.

Iran’s supreme leader is known to speak with clarity and precision. He does not beat around the bush neither does he make polemical arguments to reap paltry political dividends. So it is essential to deconstruct his statements and put them into context.

A former Indian diplomat, writing in an Indian news portal, said the Leader mentions Kashmir mainly to warn India against cozying up to the US or hostile neighbors in the Middle East. That is a very simplistic way of reading his statements. There is no denying that the growing proximity between India and Israel would not be viewed favorably in Tehran but to suggest that it provokes Iran’s supreme leader to issue statements on Kashmir would be naïve.

The Leader has often issued statements of support and solidarity with the people of Kashmir and he mentions the “just struggle” of Palestinians and Kashmiris in every sermon. His plain-speaking has many a times put a spanner in Indo-Iran relations.

For instance, in November 2010, on the occasion of Eid ul Zuha, he made a passionate appeal to the Muslim community to support the “struggle” in Kashmir and put Kashmir in the same category as Afghanistan and Palestine. New Delhi took strong exception to his statement, which had come barely three months after Iran’s foreign ministry denounced the military crackdown on peaceful protests in Kashmir, and summoned the Iranian envoy to lodge a formal protest. India subsequently voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), almost five years after it had reported Iran to the UN Security Council for alleged violations of its NPT obligations.

Iran’s stated position on Kashmir, clearly spelt out by Imam Khomeini, has been consistent since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Imam, who according to some historians traces his roots to Kashmir, had once made it categorically clear to a visiting Indian delegation that the ties between the two countries would not improve until the bloodletting in Kashmir continued. His successor has followed the same line on Kashmir, which is reflected in his statements and sermons.

Even before these recent statements, the Leader had on several occasions raised the issue of Kashmir. In May 1990, he said Kashmir cause is about “truth and justice” and those who silence them “have an unjust cause”. In September 1994, he said the “issue of Kashmir is the issue of humanity” since people of the region are “subjected to oppression and tyranny”. In April 2001, he called for the political settlement of Kashmir as per the aspirations of the people of Kashmir.

In November 2016, he brought up Kashmir in a conversation with Slovenian president Borut Pahor, basically referring to West’s interest in “keeping wounds open”.  “The Americans do not have a plan for uprooting Daesh (ISIL). Like the English who have kept the wound of Kashmir open since the era of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent,” he said.

I don’t think any Muslim leader has championed the cause of Kashmir as vigorously as Imam Khamenei has. Like Imam Khomeini, the Leader has deep love and affection for the people of Kashmir. He visited Kashmir valley in 1980, soon after the Islamic revolution, and delivered a historic lecture at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, in which he emphasized the importance of Muslim unity and brotherhood. He also joined congregational prayers led by then Kashmir’s chief priest Mirwaiz Farooq and met then Kashmir’s tallest spiritual leader Ayatollah Agha Yusuf Kashmiri. His official website has a detailed account of his visit to Kashmir by late Qalbi Hussain Rizvi.

The Leader’s statements on Kashmir illustrate the fact that Iran will never abandon Kashmir. They should not be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to India-Israel or India-US bonhomie, but reassertion of Iran’s stated position on Kashmir.

First published in our partner MNA

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A Review of the Draft National Education Policy 2019

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There is an urgent and imperative need to rekindle dialogue on the shaken education structure in India among politicians and decision makers. While there is a proliferating realization to the finite financial limits of ‘improving literacy rate’, there is a detrimental lack of alternative discourse on the way forward, a futuristic dialogue on the achievable. It is rightfully said that a life without education is like a boat without a rudder. While the solutions to the problem may seem simple to layman’s eyes, it is as multifaceted and dynamic from a microscopic lens. This paper will attempt to review and critique the education system in India in light of the recent National Education Policy 2019 developed by the ministry of human resource development that seeks to propose transformative changes.

The field of education essentially is viewed through a narrow outlook of having normative or static foundations that can be generalized. This is however far from reality. Education system and structure is highly contextual and subjective to the jurisdiction it is studied in. While it is necessary to take cognizance of the fact that metamorphic changes, if any, are gradual, access to basic quality education for many is a far cry. India demands a comprehensive nationwide policy such as this and more importantly the implementation and enforcement of the same. The paper shall enumerate few highlights of the policy as no specific selection can paint an accurate picture of the well-integrated and comprehensive policy.

One of the fundamental solutions to the policy focuses on a key demography to foster a massive positive multipliers effect on the Indian society. It promises high quality education and childhood care for all children between the age bracket of 3 to 6 years by the year 2025. This encompasses the holistic development of the child including healthcare, nutrition and skill development. The vitality of the early years of brain development have been consciously highlighted in the past few years with growing awareness and study in this field.

It is essential that we tackle the grassroots of the issue being the quality of teachers and their accessibility. Professional teacher education and improvement of the quality of the educators is vital to better education and hence multidisciplinary programs for teachers are proposed to be included in large universities. Weak educators lead to weak professional in all fields. A four-year integrated stage – specific B.Ed. programme has been proposed by the HRD ministry and the Draft Committee alongside a restructure of the technical and medical education in the country. It outlines a proposal for the exit examination for medical professionals to create a robust filtering system to enable qualified and erudite individuals into the medical industry, enabling them to do justice to their respective professions.

Back to the fundamentals, the policy seeks to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy through a spectrum of programs and measures that have been carefully drafted and articulated to promote the same. Correspondingly, the draft policy aims to transform the pedagogical structure of the curriculums in the Indian education system for more effective learning that holistically encompasses cognitive, social and emotional development. The learning model will serve equitable emphasis on all fields and subjects, inherently leveling the balance of importance in academic and vocational cum co-curricular training. The examination structure within the Indian education system has for long been critiqued as counterproductive and toxic. It separates the individual from the real process of learning. With that in light, the policy proposes a complete radical revamp of the exam structures to relive the stress factor, strive for improvement in the learning pursuit and assess real learning.

The political and governmental handhold must undoubtedly begin with a substantial increase in the public investment for the normative expansion and vitalization of public education at all levels. While the policy extensively focuses on amending the tangible flaws of the education system in India, it leaves behind the lived reality and cultural context. I believe that it is far more fundamental to break the stigma that revolves around educating people and address the deterrents to pursuing education. The cultural withdrawal of the reluctance of educating girl children and women in rural spaces is a problem that can’t merely be broken down through financing but through a cultural shift in mindset and an awareness of its criticality. Similar is the case with low income workers such as farmer, plumber and technical workmen that seek to pass on the profession to their heirs under the assumption of retrieving faster interest on their investment of time as opposed to the uncertainty that comes with a hard earned financial investment on poor quality education.

Another cultural adaptation to the policy must be vocational categorical training for specific target groups that diverge from the mainstream education such as training of young mothers or single parents in not just rural but also urban spaces. Finally, the indestructible caste system that is simple inseparable from the education system. The reservation system and its debate has been prolonged for decades and a cause for plentiful havoc uprising in urban spaces as merit seeks to triumph status. This is however often shunned through non-discrimination policies but is far more complex than meets the eye.

The crux of the situation in India is the mismanagement and ill balance between the supply and demand of educational resources in the country. There seems to be a wide gap between the allocation of financial expenditure by the government and the actual tangible change it has created in the recent years. Most importantly, a contextual negligence of tackling issues through the lens of different perspectives, actors and stakeholders. India is not necessarily a resource deficit nation, rather the lack of monitoring and utter negligence of the resource management consequently traps many regions of the country under illiteracy. Future development and economic growth of the nation calls for immediate action and a microscopic outlook of the issue by state actors. To deduce, the policy aims at addressing the diverse plethora of needs of multiple stakeholders in a harmonious manner with the goal of providing quality education to all.

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The Torn Red Carpet: Welcome to Nepal in 2020

Sisir Devkota

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In Google’s search rankings, the official website of project Visit Nepal 2020; comes second. Travel agencies in Nepal have replaced their landing pages at the expense of the overall legitimacy of the most genuine online resource. There is a wealth of videos shot in and about Nepal in Youtube; from ticketing companies to vloggers, visiting Nepal in 2020 might entail different things for various people. However, Mount Everest is not getting pink every passing day; the year 2020 will comfortably succeed the prior geologic timescale. All is not lost if one does not make it to Nepal next year. Hence, why the calling?

Across the world, nation branding for tourism is not a new catch. Egypt, Bolivia, Holland and Guatemala, advertise themselves with their official names. For others, a well thought phrase follows the brand image. Maldives-the sunny side of life, Imagine your-Korea, Belize-is closer than you think are other examples. For the rest, global events, does the work. Visit Nepal 2020 sounds the most ambitious of all; despite of less thoughtful investment over the slogan, it is clumsily competing with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, across internet search engines. A lack of strategic branding can cost an entire project. Hence, why the ignorance?

As much as the slogan promises for a great experience, things are not quite ready for the incoming tourists. A national plan aimed for the visit year has stalled and stakeholders are looking for a safe landing. As long as the tourists arrive, Nepal will make money in 2020. Even though farsightedness is out of capabilities, stakeholders are not promoting the false promise; instead, Nepal’s promise has been promoted wrongly. Nepal is one of the poorest nations in South Asia and the economy largely depends on salaries from abroad. It does not take much to comprehend the economics, the 2020 project, is a cash cow for a reclining economy. For all the wrong reasons, Nepal is calling for a temporary settlement. One-step at a time, for now, tightening up for the next year only.

Start a business in Nepal 2020. Explore Nepal in 2020. Seek opportunities in Nepal 2020. Beware of money sucking agencies and institutions, when you visit Nepal in 2020. Nepal’s southern neighbour, India, invites entrepreneurs from all over the world; however, Make in India, has not gained steam, like once anticipated. The think-tank behind Visit Nepal 2020 have lost an edge over possible opportunities; scaled business policies are missing from the project structure. Moreover, Visit Nepal 2020 sounds like a welcome for the newcomers, but history suggests that, incoming tourists are largely returnees, thanks to majestic natural richness.

“Visit Nepal 1998-Once is not enough”, was largely successful in terms of arriving numbers; however, after work has been a sorry state of affairs. Unsurprisingly, if Nepal were not enough at once, there would not have been the need for a visit year, two decades later. Therefore, Visit Nepal 2020 is a re-launch, from the supply perspective. For anticipating visitors, this information seeks responsibility. The visit year would only succeed whilst bottom level stakeholders would benefit from spending. In addition, if the economy manages to thrive from the revenue generated in 2020, it would largely be successful. It is another misconception that recycling slogans would lead to the same result. Local suitors in Nepal would be most excited; for them, it is another chance to rekindle with international visitors. Technology and social media will make the difference; at last, Nepal is waiting to stamp its tourism potential.

Visit Nepal in 2020 for lifetime experiences. Visit Nepal later again for unlimited life experiences. Then, repeat.

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Sri Lanka Appoints New Minister for Foreign Relations

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Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations (Picture source news .cn)

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as  the Minister of Foreign Relations after his  Presidential election in 2019.  In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister  Gunawardena  hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka .His father Philip Gunawardena   is a famous national hero known as ‘the Father of Socialism’. Gunawardena  a  graduate  from the University  of Oregon in the US, entered politics in 1972. In 1983 as  the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP)  he entered Parliament in a  by-election held in Maharagma.  He  is well-known as a  long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.

The new  Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena  is  supposed  to  implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy.   In a recent newspaper interview he stated  “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community”(Sunday Observer,2019).In this context there  is a history to this non-aligned policy.     At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).  As part of this approach, the new  Sri Lankan government had outlined in the  manifesto how the  presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The   manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy .We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister    mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges”. Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is, therefore, vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African  nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals  over the next five years.

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