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Democratic transitions in South Asia: Solih led Opposition brings hope to Maldives

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Authors:  Srimal Fernando and Mizly Nizar*

The 2018 Maldivian Presidential Election and the run up to it was closely watched not only by the neighboring South Asian nations but also the international community. The overwhelming victory of opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih a close aide of former President Mohamed Nasheed defeating the incumbent President  Yameen Abdul Gayoom will alter the political direction of the Indian Ocean archipelago. Solih’s victory gaining 134,616 votes with 58.33 % of total votes cast appears to bring new hopes to the island nation ending the authoritarian regime of Yameen who obtained 96,132 votes or 41.7 % of total votes. A few hours after the historic election victory Solih announced on television “I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power”.

Over the past years the discontent in Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) aided in the emergence of several splinter parties. The opposition parties came together in a coalition when there appeared to be no other solution in sight to bring back democratic processes to an ailing nation. In this context Ibrahim Solihof Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)was nominated as the Joint opposition Presidential candidate for the2018 Presidential election.

Some of the factors that led to the formation of the opposition coalition are the arrest of former President Maumoon Gayoom and top court judges in   February this year. The international community had requested the release of all political   prisoners and those in exile including Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed andQasim Ibrahim.

Furthermore, during the turbulent tenure of Yameen, the Indian  Ocean island nation saw  journalists  routinely  facing  harassment and intimidation while the regime practiced a high degree  of censorship  on privately  run  media  channels. State run media monopolized on election propaganda favouring the incumbent Yameen. Maldivian based public interest groups, civil society, journalist and activists played a key role under trying circumstances risking their own lives for the protection and promotion of civil liberties of this nation.

The policies of the west and India’s foreign policy towards Maldives during this period had been one of constructive engagement and noninterference towards the Island nation. Once Maldives had declared the dates for the election, it was back on the international agenda with renewed hopes of facilitating the island nation to transition back to democratic processes.

Closer to the elections, the role played by the Qasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party, Nasreena Ibrahim wife of jailed former President Maumoon Gayoom and Dunya Maumoon former Minister of Foreign Affairs were significant in the current election victory of the MDP.

The electoral behavior of the 26 Atolls  had changed considerably   between the 2013 and 2018 Presidential elections. In the recently concluded election the Maldivian voters were more divided than they had been in 2013 with reduced dominance of the ruling PPM. A large proportion of voters of the PPM’s Gayoom faction had transferred their votes to the Joint Opposition candidate. In addition supporters of Qasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Adhaalath Party voters had shifted their electoral support to the MDP.  This   pattern was particularly noticeable in Male’, Hulumale islands and especially the Addu Atoll.   However, the ruling PPM tended to be strong in some Atolls outside Male’.

Compared to other South Asian nations, political modernization came late to Maldives. It was not until 2008, that Maldives held its first democratic elections with a multiparty system. The 90 % voter turnout and the election victory of the recently concluded Maldivian election sends a clear message that there is still hope to rekindle democratic process while ending monopolized schemes of autocratic rule. There is great confidence that constructive democratic reforms will take place in the coming months with the victory of   Ibrahim Solih refashioning the previous multi party democratic system while steering the Indian Ocean Island nation in the right direction for progress in the future.

* Mizly Nizar is a foreign policy analyst and a former visiting lecture at The Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)  and the Open University of Sri Lanka.

Research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa

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South Asia

Kashmir: The Unconquerable Will of Kashmiris is still Alive

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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Every dictatorship flourishes more on the continuing incapacity of the public to examine and evaluate reality in the way that a scientist does in a practical manner; and that’s the reason why these skills, are not being taught in public education in order to keep them ignorant of the truth. In India, the children are reinforced with hatred for minorities especially Muslims, which develops into uncontrollable animosity, instilled in the minds of the masses by the dictators, without logical grounds. This is what has been happening in India since decades and now transformed into the genocidal agenda of RSS. The actual issue is actually with the Muslim identity that the people of Kashmiri have.

Kashmir, at the moment, is a prison under military control, not because of any rebellion which had happened there (none did); rather it is simply because of a senseless unconstitutional invasion, on August 5th, to conquer the valley (Muslim majority state) totally by Hindu Indian troops, to practice the nefarious designs of Hindu-totalitarian BJP government. Thus, turning India itself into an apartheid-supremacist regime, much like Israel is over Palestine. India has made this abrupt move to turn Kashmir into India’s own Palestine, grabbing the lands of Kashmiris by revoking Article 35A and turning it into a huge prison for Muslims.

Decades have passed, however, and the plebiscite promised was never held. Kashmir is the most militarized region in the world, with armed Indian troops deployed in the Indian-administered Kashmir for more than three decades. They have occupied Kashmir through the use of colonial war measures acts, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act that have given Indian troops complete impunity. The Genocide Watch, which keeps an eye on disputes across the world, gave a brief history of Kashmir in its alert while detailing the reasons which led it to issue the warning. The report was issued for Occupied Kashmir in the wake of India’s ongoing suppression in the Muslim majority region following revocation of its special status.

While explaining the reasons behind issuing the alert, the organization also recalled the Indian atrocities in Kashmir where occupation forces have carried out genocide and massacres, killing people mercilessly. The people of Kashmir have been suffering the human rights violations which include gang rapes and mass disappearances of thousands of people. As many as 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed and several thousand wounded, blinded with pellet guns and maimed, including through torture tactics in custody.

Though the imperialistic forces have tried their best to silence and suppress the Kashmiris, yet they have been fighting for self-determination for hundreds of years. Today, the Hindutva ideology disguised in the mask of nationalism to control the valley continue crushing the Muslims without any ignominy. Hence, India’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, is nothing other than yet another act of shameless imperialist aggression.

There can be no legal justification of Modi’s traitorism to the Indian Constitution which he has been doing to J&K ever since August 5th. The only real question is instead whether Indian media will start to publicize this important fact or will it follow the path of yellow journalism as ever. Meanwhile, the Indian government races forward with its rape of India’s Constitution, in the hope that the Muslims of J&K will evacuate that land so as to enable Hindus ‘democratically’ to enforce some sort of apartheid anti-Muslim regime there, which is a clear violation of Indian law merely to implement the RSS wicked strategies to achieve the Hindu control there.

There is no denying the fact that fascists everywhere are traitors to their country, and this is now being made manifestly clear in India where Modi seems to be like Hitler. Hence, the status of India as a democracy has been badly derailed because a country where the constitution is illegally exploited does not deserve to be called a democratic country. There is a procedure to be followed (to amend) any constitution i.e., an amendment bill must be passed by each house of Parliament by a two-thirds majority of its total membership when at least two-thirds are present and vote.

Therefore, Modi’s hold of Kashmir is unconstitutional, at least unless and until India’s Constitution is amended. Moreover, if Indian military continues its occupation there, then it is likely to spark a war in Kashmir, which could quickly become a war between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, next door to India.

Pakistan is the loudest to voice its opinion against change. Pakistan has always responded promptly when it comes to Kashmir and stated, ‘’Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps. Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan, and anyone laying a hand on our jugular vein will meet a frightful end.”

In a nutshell, the BJP government is openly violating the international humanitarian law by means of this brutal and entirely unjustifiable military crackdown. The attempt to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing by India is being watched by the world and the international organisations are helpless in playing their role on Kashmir issue. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that the important Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and UAE have not condemned Indian atrocities in IHK. It is only Pakistan which has always played a positive role and made constructive efforts to resolve Kashmir issue, where India has always responded back with aggression. But India should keep in mind that Pakistani forces are fully prepared to respond any Indian aggression in a befitting manner.

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‘Six weeks of Indian Disinformation in Kashmir Lockdown’

Ramla Khan

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The Indian curfew in Srinagar, capital to Jammu and Kashmir territory climbs to six weeks. Not only are the roads concealed with military troops but the reality and misery of eight million people remains unexposed plus disinformed to the world. Despite of all international media spelling in unison the perturbed lifestyle of Kashmir, alas New Delhi’s state media still presents a rare tranquil plot of the region. Only state centric news is transmitted with favorable changes and molds. Kashmir crisis is not an Indian debut with disinformation operations instead the Modi dominion is today termed a pro in this regard. The ‘Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) landslide’ in 2019 electoral is largely credited to his ‘bundle of lies’ which induced the Indian general public to vote on the ideological lines of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).As supported by the popular American magazine ‘The Atlantic’- many of India’s misinformation campaigns are developed and run by political parties. Another Washington based institute labels ‘What’s more alarming is that political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, are behind most of these disinformation campaigns’.  The critique and accounts of Pakistani leadership are pronounced as a tool of forged propagandaby Indian press -Zee TV and ‘The Economic Times’.

Repression of truth with oppression

Discrete vistas have appeared between the on aired news from international broadcasting and New Delhi. The normalcy and ease of restrictions has been claimed in Srinagar since August as mentioned by ‘The Economic Times’ – Restrictions eased in J-K; life returning to normal. whereas AI Jazeera – the leading Qatar pay television channel repetitively discusses the torment of stranded people in lockdown. Al Jazeera, identifies back to back ‘ average 20 protests each day’ which explicitly notifies that the curbing termed curfew is alive.

According to DW, a German news network the ‘truth cannot be verified’ as the security forces turn the camera away, ‘the right to speak freely will not simply be restored when the phones start ringing again’ as the newspaper editors in Srinagar complain being dictated what to write and what not to. Under the fascist policies of Narender Modi people are detained from speaking actual situation on media and are facing harassment from Indian troops resting all over the roads since August 5,2019.  The few days back episode of Dr. Omer Salim  is an exemplar who on spot during his interview to a BBC reporter was captured by Indian police. The video clip is a vivid demonstration that how the truth is delayed from reaching world. The doctor had merely requested the government to reopen the communication infrastructure and treatment facilities for chemotherapies and patients who needed urgent dialysis sessions. Another broadcasted report by DW television identifies untreated patients due to closed operation theaters.

The fingers are raised on Indian ideals of democracy by the foreign media. New Delhi can dub the Islamabad news sources as self-fabricated so lets take in the statement of Urmila Matondkar, an Indian actress converted politician: “The question is not only about abrogating Article 370. It was done in inhuman manner,”. IAS Officer Kannan Gopinathan, resigned from his reputed post last month with his utterance on India Today, “I joined civil service with the hope that I can be the voice of those who have been silenced. But here, I lost my own voice.”

Concealed tragedy of Kashmir

The Times of India’ mentions “not a single bullet has been fired” in the state since August 5″. Al Jazeera in its September apprise jots ‘Electric shocks, beatings’: Kashmiris allege abuse by India army. New York Times registers ‘Asrar was known as a smart young boy who stayed away from protests, hedied after security officers hit him in the face with buckshot. As stated by ‘The Guardian’,the 16-year-old, Asrar Ahmed Khanwas fired with a pellet gun on 6 August and due to severe injury deceased in the following month. The news remained uncovered by any prominent channels in New Delhi. According to TRT World, Turkish press network, Lieutenant of Indian army Jeet Singh Dhillon has denied to use any weapon despite of medical verification his conference professed  that a stone was hit to the young teen.

The criterion of justice

Under the present adopted stratagem of New Delhi against the Muslim community in Kashmir, Modi government is highly defamed at various platforms except in India which still nominates it as a hero of nation. The world needs to define its justice criterion with exception of caste creed and color. Unfortunately the ethical code remains absent throughout the globe.

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Abrogation of Article 370 and Pakistan’s Pathetic Response

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Pakistan, which is a party to Kashmir dispute could not make significant move after the Indian decision to scrap Article 370. The fragile economy, conventional military asymmetry and limited influence in international community restrict the options for Pakistan to take any strong stance against Indian illegal decision.

A month ago the government of BJP illegally dissolved the special status of Jammu and Kashmir through demolishing the Article 370. The article provides immunity to Jammu and Kashmir from Indian laws except foreign affairs, finance and communications. The decision is profoundly rejected by masses of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. In the mean time the opposition parties in India also expressed strong dissatisfaction against decision and predicted severe repercussions for Indian state. The decision has also been challenged in the Indian Supreme Court and hearing has already been started. Yet, since the 5th August Kashmir is under siege, curfew has been imposed, communication network, medical and health facilities have been blocked. The international human rights organizations and defenders issued a genocide warning and warned India not to commit genocide.

In this critical situation which is developed by India, Pakistan took stance to stand by Kashmir. Pakistan highlighted the violent action which engulfed the rights and lives of Kashmiri people’s. Although Pakistan expressed strong resistance and proclaimed to use all the means to give Kashmiri’s their right, but there is a huge difference in words and deeds. On behest of Pakistan, China called UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue and Chinese ambassador strongly condemned the Indian action and urged both parties to resolve the dispute through peaceful means. Yet it is important to point out that permanent members of UNSC refused to issue a post meeting joint   statement.

Here it is wise to highlight that the international politics is dominated by the self-interests of dominant powers and weak states have no say in the system. Pakistan could not compete with Indian power in international relations. After scrapping the article, India immediately sought foreign support and Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to different states. Modi visited France, Bahrain and UAE, while Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan only made phone calls to seek support against Indian action. This clearly disclosed the inefficiency of Pakistan to counter the Indian narrative.

Indian economic and investment potential is another factor behind cool response of international powers. India is trading partner of many countries and most prominent among them are USA, UK, UAE, China, European Union and Australia. The US has invested 9 million in India during the 2016 and UK has signed the commercial deals of 9.3 million recently. Australia is benefitted from Indian students and its education export is 2 billion dollars. EU a group of 27 independent states is another major investor and trade partner of India with 2.5 % international shares.

In contemporary international politics, diaspora is a backbone of any nation and same is true for India. It is observed that Indians are residing almost every influential state. More than 3.5 million Indians are working in UAE. During the 2015, Indian share was 16% in expats residing in the US, and Saudi Arabia host 1.9 million Indians. Kuwait having 1 million Indian workers and Oman 777,632 Indians. Europe also host the 1.2 million Indians.

The bilateral trade of India with US, China, EU, Japan, and Australia is impressive. In 2019, bilateral trade of India-China crossed the 100 billion, which expects to grow further. The US is second largest trading partner of India in goods, and the single largest export destination of Indian exporters. The bilateral trade has been grew at 7.59% annually from 68.4 billion in 2008 to 142.1 billion in 2018.

The 8.8 million Pakistanis are residing in western states, 4.7 million are living in EU and 1.2 in U.K. But Pakistan failed to activate its diaspora to promote national interests of the state. The Pakistani leadership never paid serious attention to engage diaspora, which resulted in poor representation of Pakistan in international community. On the other hand, Indian diaspora is much influential and have strong say in policies of US and EU. Their skills and education help them to climb the ladder of success and influence. So, it is high time for Pakistan to devise an effective strategy to lobby the national interests and engage diaspora. The diaspora is considered the defense line as they bridge the gap between their parent and host state. 

Pakistan’s economic structure is fragile with rising debt and prices of commodities. The country is dependent on international monitory institutions to repay its debt which crossed over 100 billion dollars. It is on 150thposition in poverty index among 189 countries according to UN Human Development Indicators. The value of rupee is decreased to lowest level and government is losing its credibility. Pakistan is spending its 20% budget on Army which is higher than education, health and social development allocation. The fragile economy, poor coordination in policy making and influence of military in foreign policy making has reduced the role of other state institutions. Although, current civilian government claims that civilian and military leadership is on same page, but the poor and ill-coordinated response exposed the fault lines. The top hierarchy of civilian and political leadership did not bother itself to convey Pakistani position on Kashmir, except making statements.

If Pakistan really want to influence the international community, then it needs to fix its poor economy, to improve its human and social system, engage diaspora, make effective and inclusive foreign and security policy. The economic, political and military power can guarantee the national interests of the country. So Pakistan work tirelessly on all the fronts to achieve the status of major power.

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