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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

Is PTM Genuine to its Cause?

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) v/s Sate is a fiery tale which none can anticipate how it will end. Sparked from the extra judicial murder of model aspirant Naqeeb Ulllah Mahsud on January 13, 2018, the movement continue to get a constant hype on the political spectrum of Pakistan. Initially named Mahsud Tahafuz Movement turned into Pashtun Tahafuz Movement when the case was put forward to the court and Rao Anwar was arrested. However, things got transformed as PTM started taking a constant nudge with the state. From the protest in front of press club in Islamabad, in 2018 to different rallies across country things shifted vigorously. PTM’s defiance is mainly pointed at criticizing the military institution and falsely blaming the institution for their plight. But the question rises that is PTM another mainstream political movement subjected for the elites rather than addressing the actual issue? And are they trying to internationally politicize the issue in order to demoralize the efforts of Pakistan?

On April 29, 2019, DG ISPR Maj Gen. Asif Ghafoor, military spokesperson, addressed PTM leadership and apprised them that the time has come when legal actions is mandatory to be taken against them. He further claimed that the financial records makes the existence of PTM skeptical as they are directly being funded by the foreign factions from neighboring countries  for their protests and rallies.  He was also of the view that PTM is being used by the foreign factions to instigate instability when Pakistan has achieved relative peace. However, the fact should not be neglected that the Government of Pakistan and military establishment acknowledges the demands put forward by the leadership of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. At various points both, government and military, tried to engage with them in a collaborative manner. Recently on April 16, 2019, Senate Special Committee met the PTM leadership along with the MNA Mohsin Dawar. Even before, when the movement was in its early phase military was the first one to engage with them. When a request was put forward by the PTM leaders to meet military in order to express their grievances, it was agreed. Meeting was held between PTM delegation of 15 members and DG, ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on Feb 08, 2018, in which apart from primary demand of justice for Naqeeb Mahsud there were other 4 demands. The military showed consensus on all of them. But the duality of the PTM should not be unremembered as on one side it engages with the government and the military but at the same time the constant barraging on the state and its institutes continues through social media. Things got more complicated as the tone of PTM got discordant day by day. The relentless spewing of hate and impudent comments against the state and its institution clearly show as on whose side PTM is. Movement is kind of drifting away from the true cause when the anti-state and separatist slogans and hymns are openly vocalized in the rallies and are now directed to demoralize the standards of army rather than demanding the rights.

With constant efforts from both government and military the PTM appears reluctant to develop a consensus. Keeping this whole saga in mind One might consider that either PTM leaders are not well negotiator or they don’t want to negotiate and the picture is much larger then it seems.

In 2018, a commission was also formed to facilitate PTM which included high ranks from the military and reputable civilians. State was persistence in facilitating the PTM grievances. DG ISPR also highlighted in his briefing that in order to remove landmines, a team was formed and is currently putting every effort at their disposal. The team had cleared 45 percent of the area and in pursuit of the task 101 Jawans had lost their lives. State constantly acknowledges the demands of PTM but PTM and its virtual diaspora have failed to acknowledge the efforts made by the state.

Pashtun makes up to 15% of the total population of Pakistan. What will happen if this number of population, a province indeed is brought in confrontation with the state? It will be enough to vandalize the socioeconomic fabric of Pakistan. Pashtuns of Pakistan have always been delicate segment of Pakistan as they were in the crossfire between Pakistan’s efforts against eradicating terrorism. It makes them soft target and vulnerable to be used by animosities against Pakistan. The point to ponder is that despite the efforts, and acknowledgement of their grievances by the state why this matter is getting more intense whereas the fact should not be forgotten that both parties are on same line in terms of addressing the problem. The only way this can be resolved is when the PTM stop being patsy against Pakistan and show real concern to give solace to the Pashtun community rather than exploiting their grievances

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RSS: Grim Reality under the Secular Veil of India

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Religious extremism is not something novel to mankind. Between 132-136 CE, Romans faced the confrontation with the Jews. A Jew extremist, Simon Bar Kokhba, led the revolt against Romans known as Kokhba Revolution. He succeeded in establishing a Jew state which lasted for just three years, ultimately falling again in to Roman hands.

Under constitutional veil almost every other nation has some sort of religious or ethno extremist factions in their ranks with mass support. India too, which claims to be a true secular model in the subcontinent has their own version of extremist militia and what is worth worrying is that it is well organized and well structured.

RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is an extremist Hindu vigilante militia which is being nurtured by many political hands. It came into existence in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar – a Hindu nationalist. Initially it was established to retaliate against the British raj and Muslims and unite Hindus to devise a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) but in post-independence scenario it became a blot on the secular veil of India. Indian Constitution makes it a secular country but RSS finds it against the norms of Hindustan. It is not the RSS which shifted its discourse but it was India which became a secular state by constitution. Even before the inception of RSS various Hindu nationalist emphasized on the existence of solely Hindu nation. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar,the founder of Hindu nationalist ideology Hindutva (an ideology which aims to form hegemony of Hindus) stated that there is a dire need of a solely Hindu nation.

RSS was banned three times in its post-independence continuity. First it was banned in 1948 after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist. The interesting fact is the man named Nathuram Godse, who murdered Gandhi, was not an active RSS member at that time but was once. In 1975 RSS came into scrutiny again when Indra Gandhi banned extremist organizations and imposed emergency across the country, and then in 1992 when dispute over Babri masjid erupted and it got demolished.

But what is making the organization function with full momentum? The organization has a fully functional website where one can recruit itself in the organization. Its proper hierarchical order makes it worth worrying as there is a National leader and then there are Regional leaders to oversee the local dealings. It also conducts daily quasi military exercises in parks and open spaces. On many occasions, the members of RSS were involved in the lynching of Muslims and lower casts Hindus. RSS’s Cow protection squad was constantly involved in various incidents during Modi’s reign.

Indian Prime minister, Narendra Modi, during an interview revealed that the personality and the discipline he has, RSS played a major role in shaping it. He also said that he became part of the organization at very young age. RSS also played major role in the putting the throne of Delhi under the Modi’s feet and is again playing a major role in running his election campaign for upcoming elections.

The institutionalized structure of the RSS makes it unique as it has a Cow protection squad, women wing, Labor union and a farmer union to outreach mass population. On its website, they claim that they have more than 50,000 shakhas, a Hindi word for branches, in villages and different cities across the country. Utar-pardesh, a city with largest population in India and major electoral club in the lower house; it is reported that there are 8000 shakahs only in UP which are there obviously to influence the elections and win majority in the house.

Embedded hate against Muslims and other minorities is not something new, in fact, it is in the core beliefs of the organization. M.S Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak (head of RSS) wrote a book named Bunch of Thoughts which comprised of the lectures he had given to shakhas over the country. In his book he wrote that internal elements pose far greater threat to national security than outside aggressor. Golwalkar than identified three major “Internal Threats: i) Muslims; ii) Christians; iii) Communists. Not just this, in an article published in THE HINDU on November 26,2006 it was revealed that the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was somehow celebrated by the RSS. Moreover, giving reference to the secret documents which he had seen the writer divulged that Golwalker had called a meeting on December 6, 1947, where RSS workers of Govardhan, a town not very far from Delhi. As per the police report regarding the meeting, assassination of the leading persons of the Congress was discussed to create terror and panic among the public and to get hold over them. Just after two days. Golwalkar again addressed several thousand RSS volunteers at the Rohtak Road Camp, Delhi. The police reporter notified that the RSS leader had clearly said that Sangh would not rest content until it finishes Pakistan and if anyone was a hindrance in their way they would not spare them either whether it was Nehru’s regime or any other.

Having such militant Hindu organizations flexibly working without any state censorship and proliferating into Indian society is a threat to Indian secular dream. Aimed at making India a purely Hindu state such far-right groups in subcontinent will make exclusive societies rather than inclusive. Intra-state tensions will continue to mount. Which will create the so-called nonpolitical groups like RSS propagating into the Indian society through political interference and can make India’s future bleak. With such intra-state terror groups Indian vision for secular and inclusive India will remain a chimera.

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IMF bailout package and public opinion

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The 22nd bailout package for Pakistan at its final stages. There exists a mix of public opinion on this package, some are in favor and some differ. Both lobbies have own reasons and strong justifications, which makes a common man even more confused.

PM Imran Khan was criticizing previous governments for seeking IMF bailout packages in the past and expressed that he will not go to IMF, and may prefer suicide over begging. In the early few months of his Government, he was hesitant to go to the IMF and tried his best to seek help from friendly countries alternatively. Some of the friendly countries extended helping hands too, which includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, and China.

But the economic situation was so serious and dangerous that the country was at the edge of collapse or default. Still some of his advisors of the opinion that there exist other options instead of going to IMF. The deal under consideration is US Dollars 6 billion over a period of 39 months. It means less than 2 billion a year, which it really too little. If we control our imports of luxury items and un-necessary item, we may reduce our import bill by US Dollars 5 Billion easily. Or with a little bite of our efforts, we may be able to increase our exports by US Dollars 5 Billion easily. Some experts are thinking only for US Dollars 2 billion a year, we should not accept the harsh terms and conditions of IMF.

In the 7 decades history of Pakistan, 21 prgrammes of IMF were not good enough to make Pakistan a sustainable economy. Why one should expect, this 22nd will do something good. During the previous 21 programmes, Pakistan was a very close non-NATO ally of USA. Pakistan was on the right side of the US, a partner in Cold War Era, Front Line State in War on Terror. Politically, Pakistan was one of the favorite nations of the US and secured all possible support.  But today the situation may be rather different, as, after the Abbottabad Incident and Salala Incident in 2011, Western World has almost written-off Pakistan. USA has signed Major Defense Partner (MDP) agreement with India. The USA has created the Indo-Pacific Alliance with India, Japan, and Australia, to counter China, where Pakistan is engaged with China under BRI/ CPEC.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, the public has voted him or her blindly in good faith & trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, the public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

Unfortunately, he failed to form his own team and was depending on a team lobbying for IMF, World Bank or Western World. They have encircled him and kept on lobbying for their agenda. They finally pushed him to a stage, where he agreed to accept IMF. Close to him, sources think, he was never convinced but was made to accept. We are afraid, if this lobby can isolate him from nationalists and patriots, may succeed in the implementation of their agenda.

PM Imran Khan, is honest, hardworking and people loving leader. He loves Pakistan and common citizens of Pakistan. He really wanted to bring a change in the Society, where common man’s welfare is a top agenda. He is sincere with the nation and wanted to establish a total comprehensive welfare state. Unfortunately, he was lobbied wrongly and opted for IMF.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is an honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

Hope PM Imran Khan may educate people of Pakistan about the details of the IMF package and try to convince the masses. The welfare of common man and all other promises made with the nation before elections may be explained to masses, this is required urgently before he loses credibility and popularity among the masses.

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