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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

2018 was the deadliest year in the history of Kashmir

Irfan Khan

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Kashmir is natural paradise and gorgeous valley located between Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China and with a small strip of 27 miles with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. But it is still a disputed region since partition of United India into India and Pakistan (also Bangladesh in 1971) in 1947.

The history of the freedom of Kashmir dates to 1931 when the people, both Hindus and Muslims, initiated a freedom movement against the then Maharaja (ruler) to have their own indigenous rule. The resentment of the people led to the ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign against the Maharaja in 1946. Faced with the insurgency of his people, the Maharaja fled the capital, Srinagar, on October 25, 1947 and arranged that India send its army to help him crush the rebellion. India, coveting the territory, set the condition that Maharaja must sign an ‘Instrument of Accession’ to India. At the same time, India had to attach another condition that accession was made subject to ‘reference to the people.’ On India’s showing, therefore, the accession has a provisional character.

Then India brought the dispute to the United Nations where the Security Council discussed the question exhaustively from January to April 1948. Then both India and Pakistan and approved by the international community that the dispute over the status of Jammu and Kashmir can be settled only in accordance with the will of the people which can be ascertained through the democratic method of a free and impartial Kashmiri citizens vote.

The people of Kashmir, despite of being injured since long could not lost their hope. They believe in United Nation(UN), assuming it will advocate choice of freedom for them. During the July-August 2018, people from entire Srinagar and other towns, were protesting government of India’s violation of Article 35-A of Indian’s constitution. 35-A, assure special rights to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Whenever, there is peaceful demonstration from them, then they must suffer basic human rights violation, fear and state of starvation as response of Indian government. In 2018, 111 civilians are killed which is double to the previous year recorded 40 killing by the Indian forces. India has some 500,000 troops deployed in Kashmir. Popular unrest has been rising since 2016 when a charismatic young Kashmiri leader, Burhan Wani, was shot dead by Indian forces.

Pakistan always has been bolstering the way of peaceful talk with India over the issue. Last year, in October, Prime Minister Imran Khan, repeated Pakistan’s stance that the solution to the region’s dispute laid in dialogue. He said,”It is time India realised that it must move to resolve the Kashmir dispute through dialogue in accordance with the UN SC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people”.

Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in response to PM Khan said we welcomed “Pakistan’s concern” but called for Pakistan to “do much more” to “put an end to the appalling grind of repression and human rights abuse that Kashmiris are suffering at the hands of Indian state.

Happily, UN has issued human right report on Kashmir in June 2018. The report of 49 pages strongly emphasis on human right violation and abuses and delivering justice for all Kashmiris. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein remarked “The political dimensions of the dispute between India and Pakistan have long been centre-stage, but this is not a conflict frozen in time. It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering. Therefore, any resolution of the political situation in Kashmir must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses by all parties and provide redress for victims”.

2018 was the deadliest year in the history of Kashmir. Hope so, Pakistan and India sandwiched by UN would resolve the issue based on Kashmir people’s choice of freedom so that human violation could be ceased.

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South Asia

CPSEC: The Saudi addition to CPEC

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CPEC has been a cornerstone of Pakistan’s long-term macroeconomic policy, and no matter who has been in power, the resolve to continue it further has been steadfast. Pakistan has realized its geopolitical advantage and has focused on constructing trade, energy and transportation corridors throughout its length. China and Pakistan in 2015, had agreed on partnering for the development of an economic corridor which would connect China’s western front with that of the Indus Belt and eventually with the Arabian Sea. The plan saw $ 62 Billion being committed to the execution of the project, building roads, rails, and power projects all along the length of Pakistan.   Contrary to popular belief, the economic corridor actually benefits both countries. China needs alternate routes for uninterrupted trade and energy supply, while Pakistan direly needed infrastructure and power sector development.

Saudi Involvement

At the recent Investment Conference titled “Davos in the Desert”, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister had pitched the investment opportunities in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia now wants to be a partner in the CPEC project. The investment revolves around the establishment of an “Oil City” in Gawadar. Adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister had said Saudi that the investment in the huge Oil City project in Gwadar would be $22 billion.

Recently after the twitter spat between the US and Saudi Arabia, the relations have been strained between the two long-term allies. Saudi Arabia, a longstanding US ally in the region is looking to diversify its relations with other nations to reduce its American dependence. This is why Saudi Arabia wants to partner into the CPEC project.

What benefits does Saudi Arabia have with the joining in the project? Saudi Arabia is still the largest supplier of crude oil. It has been looking to secure its oil exports and look for stable markets for its oil export. China is the largest importer of crude oil in the world, accounting for 18.6% of the total global import. The US, on the other hand, is the second largest importer of crude oil, though it also has a huge domestic production which accounts for 40% of its total domestic use. China clearly has the demand and the will to import Saudi oil and for this reason, Saudi Arabia wants to establish refineries, storages, and oil processing units at Gawadar to allow for uninterrupted oil flow into western China. The flow of this oil would be through Pakistan which has longstanding friendly bilateral relations with both Saudi Arabia and China. These relations are also independent of each other, hence the relations would not be affected by overlapping national interests. China also wants to have an uninterrupted energy supply to its mainland via alternate routes, which could not be affected by the geopolitics of the seas.

Saudi Arabia also looks at Pakistan as its long-term partner and a potential market for its exports.  Pakistan has a 202 million population, 70% of which is under 35 years of age. In case, peace returns to the region, Pakistan could show exponential growth and bulge of a new vibrant and energy-hungry middle class. In addition to that, Saudi Arabia wants to have stakes in Pakistan’s economy and what better way of doing all this than to invest in an Oil City, which also happens to be geographically nearby Saudi territory. Pakistan has also been very eager for investment diversification in its economy to avoid being labeled a China-only economy. Showing to the world that’s its doors are open for any country willing to invest into Pakistan.

Convergence of interests

This incredible convergence of interests paves the way for the China Pakistan Saudi Economic Corridor to be a very constructive regional partnership.  This partnership would see three regional powers engaging in positive regional trade and connectivity projects which would eventually increase trade, trust, and dependence on each other. Pakistan and China, both have repeatedly stated that CPEC is open for all to join in and collectively reap the benefits of trade and regional connectivity.

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South Asia

2018: A good year for China-India relations

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Authors: Arun Upadhyaya and Carter Chapwanya*

The year 2018 ended on a high note for China’s peripheral diplomacy as Sino-India relations are in good shape owing to several positive steps taken by the two governments.

Relations between the two countries had turned sour in the fall of 2017 due to border disputes in the South-Western part of mainland China. Several pundits had predicted that the standoff would escalate into a major military confrontation but the events that ensued proved them wrong.

Diplomatic efforts from both sides mitigated the conflict and culminated into an informal summit between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi which was held in Wuhan in April 2018. This summit had serendipitous effects that would reverberate to this day as they have come to be known as the ectoplasm essence of the ‘Wuhan Spirit’.

The two leaders agreed to focus on areas of cooperation and respective national development which would consequently enable them to set aside their differences.

They agreed to consolidate their resources in efforts of hastening regional development. The ‘China-India Plus’ cooperation model for regional development was devised and this would serve as a trust-building mechanism between two great economies that would then work together on several projects in and around the South-Asian region.

By October, the fruits of this arrangement could already be seen as the first phase of the India-China joint training for Afghan diplomats commenced in Delhi from October 15 to 26. The second phase was then held a month later in Beijing from November 18 to December 2.

India’s External affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj remarked that the joint training sessions were building blocks for a long-term trilateral partnership for the befit of Afghanistan. This came as a surprise to many as India had shown great reluctance towards trilateral interactions involving China in Nepal.

A similar sentiment had just two days earlier been expressed on the official account of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, which also described the training as ‘Trilateral Cooperation between India China and Afghanistan’. This was a major indication of the shift in India’s traditional position and created optimism for greater cooperation between the two countries.

The Doklam military standoff, in the border dispute, may just have laid the seeds for greater friendship between China and India as the efforts to resolve it resulted in many positive outcomes for the future of Sino-Indian bilateral ties.

In the meetings in Wuhan, Xi and Modi also saw the need to pursue more people-to-people mechanisms of high-level cooperation. At the end of December 2018, Chinese foreign minister; Wang Yi visited India to attend the first meeting of the China-India high-level people-to-people and cultural exchanges mechanism building on the agreement reached by the two countries in Wuhan.

At the meetings in Delhi, delegates from both countries reviewed the progress of the people-to-people initiative and agreed that the cultural exchange has been conducive for consolidating the social base of China-India friendships. They identified areas for further cooperation while strengthening existing programs such as the China India think tanks; youth exchange programs, education cooperation among others.

On the regional and the multilateral level, a consensus was reached to use organisations like East Asia Cooperation, BRICS, Ancient Civilisations forum and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in consolidated efforts of peace-building and development.

In addition, Sino-India economic ties improved significantly in 2018. China has now begun importing Agricultural and Pharmaceutical products from India and this has been quite a welcome development for India.

Another milestone achieved in 2018 as the two countries deepened their defence and security cooperation. Beijing and Delhi held the first high-level meeting on bilateral security cooperation with an objective of strengthening cooperation on counter-terrorism, drug control among others. Their two militaries also resumed military drills that had stalled in the aftermath of Doklam standoff. India also agreed to the renaming of Taipei and this was a very significant step in strengthening the bilateral relations.

Increased cooperation between China and India could be instrumental in fostering sustainable peace, stability and development in the region. Pundits now believe, increased strategic cooperation between the two Asian giants could also have interesting implications to the global balance of power.

The future looks bright for Sino-India relations as just in 2018; the two sides maintained strategic communication. The two leaders met several times for high-level meetings in an effort to build bridges on areas of dispute as well as to strengthen the mutual desire for commensurate growth and development. 2019 may even bring greater areas of convergence for Sino-India relations especially if the US protectionist agenda persists, and with the ‘spirit of Wuhan’ working well for the two countries it is doubtful whether there would be any major trepidation.

*Carter Chapwanya is a published author and currently a Political Science PhD candidate at Shandong University

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