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South Asia

Indian Muslims: A rich hunting ground for Middle Eastern rivals

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently declared that Turkey was “the only country that can lead the Muslim world,” he probably wasn’t only thinking of Middle Eastern and other Islamic states such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Increasingly, there is evidence that Indian Muslims, the Islamic world’s fourth largest community after Indonesia and the South Asian states, is on Mr. Erdogan’s radar.

Mr. Erdogan’s interest in Indian Muslims highlights the flip side of a shared Turkish and Indian experience: the rise of religious parties and leaders with a tendency towards authoritarianism in non-Western democracies that, according to Turkey and India scholar Sumantra Bose, calls into question their commitment to secularism.

Mr. Erdogan’s interest in Indian Muslims goes beyond his hitherto unsuccessful attempts to persuade Indian authorities to shutter some nine schools and colleges associated with exiled Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Accusing Mr. Gulen of responsibility for a failed 2015 military coup, Mr. Erdogan’s government is seeking the preacher’s extradition to Turkey from his refuge in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

While Mr. Gulen is an obsession to Mr. Erdogan, the president’s interest in Indian Muslims is part of bigger fish he has to fry.

Indian Muslims are too big a community to ignore in Mr. Erdogan’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia for leadership in the Muslim world, particularly in the wake of the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that has catapulted the rivalry to centre stage.

Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to create inroads into the Indian Muslim community is facilitated by the Hindu nationalism of the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, that prompted The Washington Post to headline a recent article by Indian journalist Rana Ayyub describing mounting anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia, “Modi’s India is a living nightmare for Muslims.”

Mr. Erdogan is competing for Indian Muslim hearts and minds with a continued flow of Saudi funds to multiple Salafi organizations, including charities, educational institutions and political organizations, and reporting by Turkish journalists associated with the Gulen movement, who point to Turkish links with militant clerics.

They include controversial televangelist Zakir Naik, whose Peace TV reaches 200 million viewers despite being banned in India.

Problematically, some of Mr. Erdogan’s interlocutors, including Mr. Naik, seemingly prefer to straddle the fence between Turkey and Saudi Arabia and play both sides against the middle.

‘One among the few Muslim leaders who appreciate, have the guts to support Islam openly, is the president of this country, that is President Erdogan…. You are lucky to have a president like president Erdogan,” Mr. Naik told a crowd in Istanbul shortly before Turkey declared its support for Qatar at the outset of the 18-month old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

Mr. Naik’s remarks are unlikely to have sat well with Saudi Arabia whose King Salman had two years earlier awarded the preacher the King Faisal International Prize for his “service to Islam.”

The award includes US$2 million in prize money. Unconfirmed press reports say Mr. Naik has been traveling on a Saudi passport since his Indian document was revoked in 2017.

If the geopolitical stakes for Mr. Erdogan are primarily his leadership ambitions, for Saudi Arabia it’s not just about being top dog. Influence among Indian Muslims creates one more pressure point for the kingdom in its opposition to Indian funding of Iran’s Arabian Sea port of Chabahar.

Saudi Arabia fears the port will help Iran counter harsh US sanctions imposed after US President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal from a 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

The kingdom is further concerned that the port will enable Iran to gain greater market share in India for its oil exports at the expense of Saudi Arabia, raise foreign investment in the Islamic republic, increase its government revenues, and allow Iran to project power in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Finally, Saudi Arabia sees Indian Shiites, who are believed to account for anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of the country’s 180 million Muslims, as an Iranian fifth wheel.

Indian media quoted a report by India’s Intelligence Bureau as saying that ultra-conservative Saudi Islamic scholars were frequently visiting Indian Sunni Muslim communities. The Bureau reportedly put the number of visitors in the years between 2011 and 2013 at 25,000. It said they had distributed tens of millions of dollars – a scale unmatched by Turkish funding.

The Saudi effort is furthered by the fact that some three million Indians work in the kingdom, many of them from Kerala in southwestern India.

“The Muslim community in Kerala is undergoing the process of Arabification… It is happening like the westernisation. Those Indians who had lived in England once used to emulate the English way of life back home. Similarly, Muslims in Kerala are trying to bring home the Arabian culture and way of life,” said scholar Hameed Chendamangalloor.

South Asia scholar Christophe Jaffrelot noted that Muslim institutions in Kerala, including the Islamic Mission Trust of Malappuram, the Islamic Welfare Trust and the Mujahideen Arabic College had received “millions of (Saudi) riyals.”

Like in the case of Mr. Naik, Turkey has reportedly sought to also forge ties to Maulana Syed Salman Al-Husaini Al-Nadwi, a prominent Indian Muslim scholar who is a professor at one of the country’s foremost madrassas or religious seminaries, Darul-uloom Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow.

Mr. Al-Nadwi tweeted his support for Mr. Erdogan in advance of last June’s election. “We represent the Muslim peoples and 300 million Muslim Indians. We want the Turkish people to take place next to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party,” Mr. Al-Nadwi said.

Mr. Al-Nadwi’s son Yusuf was a speaker at a conference in Istanbul in 2016 on the history of the caliphate movement in Turkey and South Asia organized by the South Asian Center for Strategic Studies (GASAM) founded by Ali Sahin, a former deputy minister for European affairs and member of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Mr. Al-Nadwi sparked controversy in 2014 by offering Saudi Arabia to raise a 500,000 strong militia of Sunni Muslim Indian youth that would contribute to a global Islamic army to “help Muslims in need,” fight Iraqi Shiites and become part of a Caliphate.

At about the same time, Mr. Al-Nadwi also raised eyebrows by praising the Islamic State’s success in Iraq in a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The Turkish-Saudi competition for Indian Muslim hearts and minds is grit on the mill of Hindu nationalists even if Turkish moves have attracted less attention than those of their Saudi rivals.

The India Foundation, with its close ties to Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), warned last year in an analysis of the significance of two Saudi-funded universities’ adoption of a palm tree in their logos that the kingdom’s proselytization “laid the ideological foundation for Arabisation of Muslims in India. Over time, this has dealt a suicidal blow to the local character of Islam in the Indian subcontinent.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

China’s Diplomatic Tightrope Amidst Rising Indo-Pak Tensions

M Waqas Jan

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Since the dramatic rise in Indo-Pak tensions earlier this month, the entire South Asian region has once again been propelled on to the international forefront amidst fears of all-out nuclear war. Even though these tensions have receded significantly over the last couple of weeks, they had earlier reached near an unprecedented tipping point with both countries prepped to launch a series of ballistic missiles at each other following one of the modern age’s first aerial dogfights. As the specter for further military engagements is replaced by concerted efforts at diplomacy, the ongoing situation offers a unique look at the varying roles being played by one of the region’s primary stakeholders, namely China.

This is evident from recent reports that have revealed the important role that was played by diplomats from China, Saudi Arabia and the US in bringing both India and Pakistan back from the brink of all-out war. China’s role however demands closer inspection especially considering how it is widely expected to take on a more prominent leadership role based in part on the US withdrawal from global affairs, as well as in part on its own rise as a major power.  

Despite China’s clear and long-standing history of close cooperation with Pakistan, China has repeatedly avowed playing a more neutral role amidst the rising tensions between both India and Pakistan. In official statements given by Foreign Minister Wang YI, as well as Foreign Office Spokesman Lu Kang both during and after the recent crisis, China repeatedly called for restraint and dialogue presenting itself as a willing and able mediator. It showed itself as willing to play a more stabilizing role in the region through a more normative approach to conflict resolution. This stands in contrast to a perhaps more unilateral approach steeped in (super) power politics that would otherwise aim to redraw the region’s strategic fault lines.

Even with regard to the divisive issue of Kashmir, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has espoused a more conciliatory approach emphasizing the need for economic development and poverty alleviation as issues that should be addressed collectively. This is especially evident in the case of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its overarching Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where Beijing has repeatedly emphasized the inclusivity of this initiative. Citing how the BRI can serve as a platform for enhancing Indo-Pak Cooperation, China’s offered solution has been directed towards meeting the infrastructure requirements of both countries at a broader regional level. 

However, China’s so called neutrality has been vociferously brought into question by India especially as a result of China’s most recent diplomatic maneuvers at the UN. This is because China has for the third time blocked a UNSC resolution aimed at blacklisting JeM leader Masood Azhar under the 1267 sanctions committee. Accused by India as being the mastermind behind the Pulwama attacks, India along with France, the UK and the US have repeatedly pushed for blacklisting Azhar subjecting him to a travel ban, arms embargo and asset freeze.

In contrast, China’s position on the issue has been to implement a technical hold on the decision calling for a more responsible solution to the issue based on greater dialogue and consultations. This has been widely perceived in India as not only favoring Pakistan at India’s expense, but also as an implicit justification of Pakistan’s support of cross-border terrorism within Indian occupied Kashmir.

Despite China’s claims to the contrary, these actions have led China to face growing diplomatic pressure as it finds itself increasingly unable to justify its position; especially in light of its own internal concerns with regard to terrorism such as in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Furthermore, Chinese policy towards India is still built on close trade ties, with China still being India’s second largest trade partner. Recent calls within India to ban Chinese goods bears witness to this fact which China is well cognizant of.

Hence, with regard to China’s self-avowed desire to remain neutral amidst the Indo-Pak rivalry, the onus does perhaps lie on China to reduce its inclinations towards Pakistan to some degree in favor India. However, considering India’s own ambiguity and uncertainty with regard to its role as an emerging power, India has itself offered little room or incentive by way of addressing the rise of China. India’s obsession and deep seeded insecurity with respect to Pakistan has instead greatly limited its ability to form a clear and forward-looking policy for the wider region. As evident in the recent rise in tensions following Pulwama, the Indian approach can only be characterized as being more reactive than proactive in nature, lacking any hint of direction or vision it might have for the South Asian region.

Therefore, the fact remains that even though China has been looking to adopt a more neutral position between India and Pakistan, India’s own uncertainty, lack of political will, and its incessant obsession with Pakistan has done little with regard to its attempt of serving as an emerging power within the region. Hence, while China may be unwilling to alter the regional status-quo based on its actions and policy towards South Asia, it is the uncertainty and lack of a clear direction from India that has allowed bilateral ties between Pakistan and China to have a profound regional impact even beyond South Asia.  

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South Asia

Countering Terrorism and the dawn of CPEC

Sabah Aslam

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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is much more than just a development deal between two states; it is to a large extent a mega-project which encompasses many foyers of economy, trade and politics as well as strategy between two highly important states within Asia. It incorporates developing a network of roads, pipelines, and railways which connects Balochistan province in Pakistan with Xinjiang in China. It has heralded a cross country exchange of nationals who are working day and night to make this mega-project a successful one. At present, there is an estimate of around 20,000 Chinese nationals working across Pakistan, and this means that around 70,000 short-term visit visas are being issued each year.

But with all this being said, it needs to be understood that the current state of terrorism is threatening to the entire Endeavour and this needs to be catered to. There are countless foreign forces which are at work to derail this mega-project and Pakistan is understandably doing its part, but it also opens susceptibility for China. There is also a propaganda being floated around by some hostile forces which are against CPEC and this revolves around the perspicacity of China being a so called “future colonizing power” as well as the issue of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. This can add to some inside forces operational in making CPEC more vulnerable and sensitive. Furthermore, there is a threat of terrorism which is being emanated within the Baloch Insurgents as well as the added foreign pressure of other Islamist terrorist groups particularly the Islamic State’s (ISIS) local affiliates in the country.  The terror attacks which rocked Balochistan in December 2018 and January 2019 are testimonies of this.

To begin with it must be cleared that currently the Baloch insurgent groups have exhibited signs of antagonism toward the Chinese presence in Pakistan. This province has a dire sense of dearth paralleled with other provinces and because of this under-development and political instability there is a lack of trust within Baloch people towards the Federal governments. Adding the Chinese presence in this atmosphere has only proven to further this lack of trust and probable resentment. The idea of exploitation of local resources by the Chinese is a coming propaganda which has already surfaced and will be pushed by some entities which do not wish for CPEC to succeed. A total of six Baloch separatist groups have publicised displeasure toward the Chinese presence, which is impaired by the government’s inability to address Baloch grievances. In the year 2018, Allah Nazar Baloch who is the commander of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) addressed a letter to the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, stating that Chinese nationals, including fishermen, laborers, and tourists, are legitimate targets for attacks. Furthermore, in 2018 the BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) targeted a bus transporting Chinese engineers in the Dalbandin district in a suicide bombing.

Moreover the Islamic State’s (IS) local branch for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), has also targeted Chinese presence in Pakistan. The IS has labelled China an “oppressor of Muslims similar to Israel, India, and the U.S.” in the past. The increasing Chinese presence in Pakistani provinces gives these networks an opening to gain conspicuousness and coverage by targeting foreign nationals and business professionals which adds to their importance as well. With the Islamic State’s territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, a possible shift toward Afghanistan and Pakistan as a safe-haven for operations, and portrayal of itself as a group that is as strong now as it was back in 2014.

China has strategic geostrategic interests in Pakistan which will be indomitable to avert CPEC from failing or its interests being targeted by terrorist and separatist groups. China has no doubt become more inclined to strengthen its counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan since 2015, the most recent example of which is the joint training exercise conducted in Punjab province in December 2018. Previously China has patented the TTP as a serious and well-engineered menace to peace and stability within Pakistan which adversely impacts the Chinese position in the state after the group threatened to cut off access to the Karakoram Highway.

The combativeness in Balochistan province is largely advocated to be a product of the proxy war between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has by and again claimed that Indian intelligence is tangled in Balochistan and has been capitalising on the militancy in the province. These proclamations were broadened in 2016, when an Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested and indicted by Pakistan of being a spy.

These loopholes present in security can add up to the overall stagnation and possible blacking out of the $62 billion dollar deal between two prominent states. If this deal goes through, Balochistan will be resuscitated and has the potential to turn into a developing province for the future. Of course Pakistan and its policy makers are not completely phased out as there is an active unit of forces which are taking care of the impeding issue at hand. The collaboration between Pakistan and China has enhanced and this vulnerability does not need to be worried about much in the context of the larger strategic cooperation. CPEC is prone to terrorism but it is also prone to safeguarding the project, the intensity of which far exceeds the threats. Furthermore, the Pakistan-China cooperative partnership to counter-terrorism is need of time, especially when the BRI is transforming the world from geo-political to geo-economic phase. Mutual trust, joint efforts, and regional cooperation is the key to completely eliminate the scourge of terrorism from the face of earth.

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South Asia

Masood Azhar is not guilty nor involved in any crime

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China is a responsible state and understands its international obligations. China has become the second largest economy as well as geopolitical power of the emerging world. China’s wise decision to block Security Council’s resolution to declare Masood Azhar as terrorist is highly appreciated.

He was born at Bhawalpur on July 10, 1968. His father worked as the headmaster of the government school in Bhawalpur and very well respected in the society. He has five brothers and six sisters. He was educated at the JamiaIslamia and passed the almia (Islamic) examination in 1989.

He was blamed on several occasions by India and trialed in Pakistan. But found not guilty and released by courts. Courts in Pakistan are independent and well-known for delivering justice. The degree of freedom of Pakistani courts can be witnessed by their bold decisions against the two of sitting Prime Ministers of Pakistan. World has appreciated the justice system of Pakistan.

In fact, India is I habit of blaming Pakistan for its internal issues. On the one hand, India is using excessive force against its minorities and pushing them to the extreme corner, where they have left no option except taking arms. On the other hands, promoting and facilitating its extremist groups. India is a country, which officially promote intolerance, extremism, and spreading hate. Extremists in India has hijacked the Government and penetrated into all segments of the society. Especially in educational institutions and media. Their role is endangering not only the whole region, but the whole world.

India’s human rights violation records has exceeded the whole world. Its atrocities in Kashmir, Naga Land, Khalistan, Bihar, Assam, Tamil and Moa-ists, has been noticed by the International Amnesty and European Union and International Community.

Whenever, India bash Pakistan, we always asked them to provide evidence, which they do not have and cannot provide. Pakistan is a moderate, rational and responsible nation. We have offered India for providing reliable evidence so that we can take appropriate actions. In the latest, incident which happened on 14 February 2019 in Pulwama, which was 100% India’s domestic issue. Indian forces has tortured an innocent Kashmiri several time during the last few years. He was in the custody of Indian forces since 2017. But, habitually India blamed Pakistan. Without having any investigations, within hours India started bashing Pakistan and threatened for war. Prime Minister of Pakistan requested India to provide evidences or actionable intelligence, so that we can take any action. He offered a dialogue to settle all pending issues diplomatically. Instead of providing evidence and cooperation for dialogue, India has attacked Pakistan on 26 February 2019. Which is against all the norms of civilized world and UN charter. But Pakistan observed patience and restrained to avert escalation of full-scale war.

In fact, Masood Azhar is seriously ill for last several years and on bed. He cannot even move easily. Blaming him for any act of terrorism is injustice against humanity. India has tried to blame him several times in past. It is fourth attempt, where India has faced humiliated defeat. Hope, India may not have courage to put false allegations on any one else or use others as scapegoat in future.

France has presented a resolution to black list Masood Azhar, which was backed by UK and US. But the resolution was supported with evidences. In fact, the resolution may not be presented by France without having enough investigation and supported by solid evidences. UK and US has backed France only based on political reasons. This has damaged the reputation of Security Council too. It has been witnessed that UN has become tool for twisting other nations which do not fit-in Western Template. It is very unfortunate and alarming situation. However, China is a very mature and sensible nation, China has been coerced and victimized in past and can understand the responsibility of judging the truth. Chinese approach is appreciated and a ray of hope for all small countries and the whole developing world. It is appealed to international community and all peace loving nations as well as individuals to condemn coercing any individual or a country.

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