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Under the guise of friendship, China is looting Pakistan

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Pakistan and China define their friendship as “higher than the heights of the Himalayas and deeper than the depths of the Arabian Sea.” To make it even stronger, President Xi Jinping of China visited Pakistan in April 2015, with a multibillion-dollar investment plan — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the main plank of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China has always defined the BRI as a win-win situation, implying that both China and host countries would enjoy the resultant economic prosperity. The truth, however, is completely different.

Basically, “win-win” probably meant that China would “win twice.” Unfortunately, the CPEC has burdened Pakistan’s economy with a lot of debt and trade deficits, and pushed the country on to the brink of bankruptcy. As well, China did not provide Pakistan with industrial technology to help it boost exports, nor did it create many jobs in the country — because the project has mostly hired Chinese laborers.

Basically, ‘win-win’ probably meant that China would ‘win twice’

It was the burden of Chinese debt that forced Sri Lanka to hand over its Hambantota Port to China and a massive piece of land in Colombo to Chinese multinational corporations, in return for debt relief. The fear of a debt trap pushed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (pictured below) to halt the contract for China Communications Construction Company to build the East Coast Rail Link, thought to have cost the government around US$20 billion, along with a $2.5 billion agreement for an arm of a Chinese energy giant to construct gas pipelines. He had earlier suspended the projects, leading some analysts to believe that he wanted to renegotiate the terms during his China trip.

Story of a so-called friend

Honestly, you can’t call a country your friend when it forces you to buy its equipment and material to be used in its projects — a port, coal-fired power plants, roads and railways (the CPEC). And when this exercise severely shreds your dollar reserves and piles up government expenses, this so-called friend offers a helping hand in the form of billion-dollar debts — so that you can keep importing from it.

Ultimately, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Your people suffer; you arrange a funeral ceremony of your economy with just enough foreign reserves that you can barely afford imports of two months. Then the so-called friend offers you some more debt, so that you can buy necessary goods (or otherwise, your citizens will starve).

You say thanks to your so-called friend and move on in your life. Suddenly, you see your economy standing on the brink of an ultimate collapse. You knock your so-called friend’s door for help, but this time, you face a blatant “no.” Why? Because your so-called friend wants to improve its image in the eyes of the world powers — as they think that your so-called friend is using you like a tissue paper.

Hopelessly, you approach an international lender (the International Monetary Fund), which offers you some help on condition that you will have to make the economic deals with your so-called friend public. When that so-called friend becomes aware of the bank’s (IMF) conditions, it warns you, saying that the loan from the bank (IMF) should not affect our “so-called friendship.”

The curse of Xi Jinping’s ‘debt-trap diplomacy’

China has been accused by the West of leveraging huge loans it holds over less developed economies across the world in order to snatch their key assets and increase its military intervention.

From Pakistan to Montenegro, from Laos to Kyrgyzstan, many nations owe huge debts to China. Let us take the example of Sri Lanka. It owed more than $1 billion to China and unfortunately wasn’t able to service the debt; China reportedly forced it to hand over Hambantota Port on lease for 99 years.

In April this year, China approached Vanuatu to set up a military base, which owed Beijing about $250 million. Tonga also carries some big debts and is facing difficulties in servicing them. The prime minister of Tonga, Akilisi Pohiva, in August showed his concerns over China’s debt-trap diplomacy, saying Beijing was preparing to seize assets from his country.

China forces Pakistan to buy Chinese equipment for use in Chinese projects, shredding its reserves; then it extends Pakistan loans to cover the purchases, which increases the burden of debt on Pakistan’s economy

For Pakistan, the situation seems alarming. China forces it to buy Chinese equipment for use in Chinese projects, shredding its reserves; then it extends Pakistan loans to cover the purchases, which increases the burden of debt on Pakistan’s economy. Machinery imports alone from China in the first two years of the CPEC raised Pakistan’s current-account deficit by 50%.

Now Pakistan is facing a severe foreign-currency shortfall, especially the US dollar holdings of its central bank, which have dropped to $8.4 billion, barely enough to pay for two months of imports. The trade deficit is skyrocketing; in the fiscal year ending last June, exports were $23.22 billion while imports exceeded $60 billion. Indeed, its public-sector debt stands at $75.3 billion — 27% of Pakistan’s gross domestic product.

Islamabad needed an urgent cash injection for its suffering economy, for imports and clearing debts. It is not that Pakistan didn’t ask China or Saudi Arabia to bail it out. Even Saudi Arabia agreed to invest in the CPEC in the form of an oil refinery in Gwadar, but China had concerns, as Saudi Arabia is a major non-NATO ally of the United States and any involvement of the Saudis in CPEC would indirectly mean allowing US intervention. Economic deals between Beijing and Islamabad related to the multibillion-dollar “debt trap” that is CPEC have been kept behind an opaque sheet of “we trust each other” from Day 1.

The United States, on every occasion, has accused China of predatory lending practices and ruining small economies. In my opinion, China had to portray itself as “sincere and unselfish” and therefore, it was a blatant “no” from Xi for another bailout for Pakistan. Or, it may also be that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is aware of the dark realities of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Coming out of a fool’s paradise

As The News reported on October 1, Pakistani Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad (pictured above) said the estimated cost of expansion and reconstruction of ML-1 (Main Line-1 that runs from Peshawar to Karachi) under the CPEC had been brought down to $6.2 billion from $8.2 billion. “Pakistan is a poor country that cannot afford [the] huge burden of the loans,” Rashid told a news conference in Lahore. “Therefore, we have reduced the loan from China under CPEC for rail projects from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion.”

Remember that Financial Times report?

“The previous government did a bad job negotiating with China on CPEC — they didn’t do their homework correctly and didn’t negotiate correctly, so they gave away a lot,” Abdul Razak Dawood, the Pakistani cabinet member responsible for commerce, textiles, industry and investment, told the FT.

“I think we should put everything on hold for a year so we can get our act together,” he added. “Chinese companies received tax breaks, many breaks, and have an undue advantage in Pakistan; this is one of the things we’re looking at because it’s not fair that Pakistani companies should be disadvantaged.”

What Dawood said clearly shows that Imran Khan’s government is skeptical about China’s intentions behind pouring billions of dollars into Pakistan.

Between China’s warning and IMF’s conditions

Imran Khan is known for the slogans he raised during his election campaign, that if Pakistanis would give him a chance to form the government, he would break the country’s addiction to begging the West for dollars whenever it finds itself in a financial crisis. On October 8, Khan forgot his lofty claims and allowed Finance Minister Asad Umar to announce that Pakistan would seek a hefty loan from the IMF. It will be the country’s 13th bailout from the IMF since the 1980s.

And for sure, it will face strict conditions imposed by the Fund. It may force the Khan-led government to privatize steel mills and Pakistan International Airlines. And this would result in tens of thousands of jobs being lost, which will come with countrywide protests against Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Before the announcement, the dollar in Pakistan was trading at 125 rupees to $1 — after that, the rupee has been devalued to 135 per US dollar.

The rupee’s depreciation has increased Pakistan’s debt by $6.75 billion, thus contributing to some more economic woes for the nation. Just after Asad Umar announced the government’s decision to seek a bailout package from the IMF on the night of October 8 came a substantial single-day stock-market loss by more than 1,300 points — losing almost 270 billion rupees ($2 billion) of its capitalization.

The government has failed to restore investor confidence, and thus the selling spree has continued.

As a result, the index dropped below 37,000 points. The IMF’s projection that the inflation rate might hit 14% by June 2019 further intensified the situation.

And there is yet another huge burden on the shoulders of Imran Khan and his cabinet — to disclose the nature, size and terms of the debt that Pakistan is bearing. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF (pictured below), clearly said the Fund would expect “absolute transparency about the nature, size, and terms of the debt that is bearing on a particular country,” and although she did not explicitly mention China in her remarks, they were given directly in response to a question about Pakistan’s stockpile of Chinese debt.

The transparency must extend to “the extent and composition of that debt,” she added, regarding whether it was government-owned or by state-owned enterprises “or the like of it,” which presumably means it also includes private-sector debt.

If Pakistan gives access to all the hidden information related to CPEC deals to the IMF, it will end up hurting its fair-weather friend China. The State Bank of Pakistan is not aware of the details of the CPEC deals and therefore, it compiles its own debt-sustainability forecasts on the basis of the incomplete information available.

No one knows what China and Pakistan have possibly agreed on.

If Pakistan gives access to all the hidden information related to CPEC deals to the IMF, it will end up hurting its fair-weather friend China

What Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at his press briefing in Beijing was shocking. On one hand, he endorsed Pakistan’s request to the IMF for financial assistance, but cautioned that the facility should not affect economic cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing, as Dawn reported.

Like a good friend of Pakistan, Lu could have endorsed the help that the IMF is offering to Pakistan — but the so-called “friend” cautioned Islamabad that the facility should not affect economic cooperation between the two countries. Already Pakistan’s stock exchange is suffering, and this statement will contribute to investor confidence being lost, as it would make investors more skeptical about the possible consequences of Pakistan disclosing the hidden deals of CPEC.

Friends don’t threaten each other, and China needs to understand that.

China should at least offer a helping hand to Pakistan in its truest sense. Rather than enmeshing it in a debt trap, it should invest in Pakistan’s magnificent renewable-energy potential, such as financing solar-power plants in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, so that the country can cut down expensive crude-oil import for electricity generation. And it should help the country boost its exports by providing it with advanced industrial machinery and technology, so that the country can obtain comparative advantage in the production of some high-valued items.

There is nothing wrong in taking help from a “friendly” nation for the sake of energy and transport sector development, but as the world works on the theory of realism and capitalism, there is nothing like a free lunch.

China is securing its interests in the multibillion-dollar CPEC — and currently even enjoying Pakistan’s piece of the cake.

Only after Pakistan begins to export more will it be able to acquire sufficient dollar reserves to fulfill its demands of energy and infrastructure on its own. Substantial macroeconomic changes have to be made so that it can produce, consume, save, expand and export efficiently.

Investment on research and development is needed. Barriers to enter and exit markets must be reduced. It will have to ask other countries (and not just friends) to make investments in its market. If the country properly explores its renewable-energy potential, it won’t need coal, gas or petroleum to fuel its power plants.

Author’s note: This article first appeared at DailyO (India Today)

Columnist, blogger and social activist. Studying Economics and International Relations. My writings on socioeconomic issues, foreign affairs and culture frequently get published in DAILY TIMES, ARY NEWS Blogs and DUNYA NEWS Blogs. Twitter: @an_alisalman

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Critical India: The Real Story

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In recent months, there has been an unprecedented barrage of criticism, innuendos and verbal onslaught on the Modi-led Indian government. The important thing to be noted is that almost the whole of criticism has come from media, academicians, intellectuals and activists, based in India. Among some of the foreign-origin criticism again, the perceptible point is that even there, most of them have had come from Indian based abroad.

Now the obvious point that emerges out of it is what’s the big deal. Aren’t we a democracy, supposedly the largest democracy in the world till the advent of Modi at the national stage changed all that, at least that is what some Indians believe. And a democracy is supposed to have a fair share of criticism of its executive, of its wrongdoings, failures and et all. So what if Modi leadership is being criticised, chided and lambasted by many why should one question it.

Let’s get back to the facts. When Modi took the reins of government in New Delhi, the economy was comfortably placed averaging a GDP growth rate of 6.7% during the 2009-2014 period. For 2013-14, other important economic indicators retail inflation 10.53 based on CPI, Tax to GDP ratio at 7.2% and gross fixed capital formation rate to GDP at 29 with unemployment at a stable 2.2%, showed the economy in a reasonable positive light.

Currently, the Indian economy is passing through one of its worst phases. After  averaging  an  annual  GDP  growth  of  7.5%  for  2014-19,  the  last  two quarters have shown the GDP growing at a measly 3.1% and 4.5% with the overall economy getting contracted by almost 20% and on a YTY basis it might contract by about 8-9%. Unemployment at 6.1% is the highest in the last three decades  while  exports  too,  have  not  made  much  headway.  Made  in  India initiative has failed to do well while Atmanirbhar Bharat has many sceptics, within and outside India.

The government is under fire on one more ground that Bangladesh reportedly has gone ahead of India on the per capita income score. TV channels have hours of unending debates on how this government has brought India to its knees and it is due to the incompetence, ideological prism, fascist and authoritarian, communally divisive attributes of Modi that the country has come to such a pass.

There have been curious cases of few leading opposition politicians, former diplomats, bureaucrats and a couple of ex-military officers, taking a vitriolic, not critical,   anti-government   attitude,   describing   the   government’s   so-called communal, fascist, RSS-led divisive policies that have created troubles with countries  like  China,  Pakistan  and  Nepal.  Interestingly,  these  are  the  very words that are frequently used by Imran Khan, the Pakistani PM in his personalised attacks on Modi. Many of the self-proclaimed analysts who write in a very detailed way on Indian affairs are found  sitting comfortably in some obscure corners of the USA, Canada or Europe without being to India for quite some time.

One  prominent  Indian  security  analyst,  talks  about  India  being  a  no match for China and that in case of a war, within hours, China could decimate Indian  forward  air  bases  and  cripple  country’s  cyber,  communication  and security systems. He also has questioned and castigated government’s go-ahead with the US on BECA and COMCASA on the grounds that the country’s security threats may emanate from the US and not China. A former diplomat with purported leftist leanings has frequently talked about India standing no chance against a superpower China, economically, politically and militarily.

One important point of oft-used argument is that Modi government is responsible  for  Indian-Chinese  troubles  and  that  this  government  is  being backed by corporates to woo the US and act as its lackey. The abrogation of Article 370 by the government is given a primary reason for the anger of China and if that had not been done, China would have continued with its all is well attitude vis-à-vis India. So by daring to do so, India has angered a superpower and hence the Chinese muscle-flexing.

Now let’s try to analyse facts straightaway. Economy undoubtedly, India is in a precarious situation and the GDP contraction is a  very serious one. However, seen objectively in the light of economic disruptions caused by demonetisation and the introduction of GST and that too, followed by the Corona pandemic, it shows that the situation is difficult but not lost. The tax base has widened significantly. Infrastructure has done extremely well as against any previous times in Indian history. Power, Roads, Railways, Airways, Ports all have done remarkably well while telecom has lagged behind. Manufacturing is lately picking up while exports too, aren’t doing badly now. India’s foreign exchange reserves at US$575 Billion is at an all-time high and is currently ranked fifth in the world. Retail inflation in the light of CPI is stable whereas unemployment has acquired critical dimensions and require remedies, urgently. And before Bangladesh, this country had been lagging behind Sri Lanka too on per capita income for decades but why that was not previously discussed by experts, requires no guess.

On  social  issues,  criminal  acts  against  minorities,  especially  against Muslims for which the Modi government has received the maximum flak, have to be seen in the context of broader socio-economic landscape of the land. There have been similar crimes against people from Hindus too and most of them have taken place due to their poor economic status. Nowhere, minorities from economically higher strata have been victimised. And records of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Commission for Women (NCW), National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) clearly illustrates that poor economic background has been the overbearing factor responsible for various crimes against most of the fellow Indians.

It also needs to be noted that most of such incidents have taken place against people not because of their caste, religion or the so-called BJP-promoted Brahminical and Hindutva domination but due to social and political factors. A good number of top BJP leaders belong to lower and OBC castes. So that should be also considered while claiming that the ruling party has a typical anti lower caste mentality

Crimes against women are reported in the media and discussed by intellectuals,  academicians  and  politicians  based  on  their  caste  and  not  by talking about gender bias and in terms of political gains. Hence, we have seen a crime at Hathras (UP) taking the country by storm while similar other incidents in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab (all Congress-ruled states) being merely reported or even not being talked about.

Taking about the Modi government destroying institutions in the country, there have been instances when judges passing specific judgements and criticism against   the   government   or   its   leaders,   the   judiciary   becomes   the   last institutional survivor in the country. When same judges pass government favourable judgments becoming unpalatable then that becomes an attack on judiciary.

Media  too  when  it  keeps  highlighting  governmental  failures  at  the national level then it is fine. However, when opposition-ruled states in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or other places stifle media on free reporting, journalists get detained, their mobiles snatched, false FIRs done there is an eerie silence from the whole of opposition politicians, academicians, intellectuals, champions of freedom of expression, both in India and abroad. How could one comprehend this class of freedom of expression, except double standards.

On Kashmir issue that has been hugely debated and discussed on, nationally and internationally,  Article  370  if  many believe that  was  part  of Indian Constitution applicable to it, that itself explains the government’s right to amend (it has been done many times by previous Congress governments) and  abrogate it. The comprehensive political integration has removed the ambiguous stand India has continued on Kashmir since 1948. As for security implications, the situation in the last one year has been much better and peaceful and better developmental   activities,   lesser   inefficiency,   administrative   apathy   and corruption is visible on the ground.

As for China’s perceived anger, the stand of the current government on rapid building of huge infrastructure in the border region, beneficial for both developmental and strategic reasons, needs to viewed in the context of all previous governments, embedded in the typical Nehruvian mind-set which believed in keeping China happy and not building border roads that will prevent Chinese PLA to reach Indian mainland quickly. Unfortunately, this stand was even taken by one of the recent defence ministers, a very senior Congress leader. So much for the protectors of Indian sovereignty.

Finally, the so-called supremacy of Chinese military. If indeed, it had been so they would not have put their prestige at stake by reaching for a stalemate and eight rounds of unending military and diplomatic confabulations with India, a la Doklam. The desperation and confusion with the Chinese establishment is all the more evident in its repeated requests for Indian quid pro quo for vacating positions in southern banks of Pangong Tso for leaving its positions in Indian areas in Ladakh.

It is true that there is an unlimited social media platform used maliciously by many in India for disseminating all their partisan views. In media too, pro and anti-government views get prominently displayed, in print and electronic and objectivity is in free fall  and available at a  steep discount.  The Indian government has erred in remaining quite on a number of issues, affecting social and religious harmony thus giving an impression of its complicity. Further, there are a number of big mouths in the ruling party, from national to village level who keep on ranting irresponsible statements, providing legitimacy to many criminal acts being done by political or anti-social elements and affecting the credibility of national government in the process. An objective analysis of the government, including a responsible and constructive criticism, based on facts and figures, should be the order of the day. That will go a long way in alleviating irresponsible, biased reporting and improve governmental efficiency and social- economic cohesion in India and the region.

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Status of Minorities in Pakistan

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In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression. 

Forced Conversions: A chronic problem 

On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities. 

Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free. 

Blasphemy Laws 

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge. 

These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed. 

Subpar Standard of Living

While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today. 

While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas. 

Missed Opportunity 

Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various

International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities. 

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Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute

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Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West  Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly  95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of  Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth  longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.

In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of  9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of  Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for  their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under  cultivation in Bangladesh.

This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s  when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river.  Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River  Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.

The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led  to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the  hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.

Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an  equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same  have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.

The Dispute

A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and  September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves  way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water  could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta  Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact  the water-flow available in the state.

The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since  water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas  Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).

Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh  makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them.  Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created  siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.

However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried  up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue  which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.

In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed  to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent.  The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint  Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint  Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with  a solution.

In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the  needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will  have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter  expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.

In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India,  Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister  of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of  the river’s water to Bangladesh.

Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but  they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been  continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!

Main Problem

Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of  the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower  generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian  country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even  Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and  irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the  availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just  Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability  of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and  local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing  scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the  mountainous regions of Sikkim.

Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held  responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the  environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river,  which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed,  including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation,  increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.

Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted  by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due  to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5  per cent of the river’s running water.

Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube  wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also,  reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused  widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding. 

The Perspective Of Institutional Economics

The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just  about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India  consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about  the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up  the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower  projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the  environmental concerns altogether.

Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about  using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own  that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot  allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore,  none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state  to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’  signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other  state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.

This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of  property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility  others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of  economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks  about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says  that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come  and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions  have different ecosystems.

Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’  and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local  communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly  effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses  of political ecology.

Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute

Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes  this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is  characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we  live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings  themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.

Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political  processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It  also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw  this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social  processes.

David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon  of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations  between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers  are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of  the industrial development.

Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand,  while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the  hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand,  local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social,  cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development  and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!

Conclusion

The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and  industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities  concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through  the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it  continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local  communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are  losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the  major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose  course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are  dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is  the politics!

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