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The ‘High-Risk Low-Gain’ Politics of the Kashmir Issue

M Waqas Jan

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Over the last few days, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to have come under tremendous fire for his recent statements regarding a possible future settlement with India over Kashmir. Speaking to a group of foreign journalists, Mr. Khan had stated that he might have a better chance of reaching an agreement with Mr. Modi if his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party were voted to power in the ongoing elections in India. This he predicted would be better than dealing with the struggling Congress Party which may lack the political capital to cooperate with Pakistan, out of fear of alienating India’s influential far-right. 

Considered by many as a blatant endorsement of Mr. Modi and his more oppressive brand of politics, Mr. Khan has since taken considerable flak from his political opponents as well as from some prominent voices within Pakistan’s mainstream media. These include former diplomat Senator Sherry Rehman who has vehemently criticized the PM’s statement. Her position is that Pakistan instead of appearing to favor certain individuals should focus on dealing with the Indian state as a whole. Particularly with respect to the Kashmir issue, she pointed out that favoring one individual or party over the other not only amounts to interference, but denigrates and shuns other parties from any future diplomatic efforts as well.

The Senator does have a point. Picking favorites and potential negotiation partners before the Indian elections even start does amount to a diplomatic faux pas of sorts. However, if one was to simply consider the PM’s statement on its own merits, all he did was state a harsh, albeit long-standing political reality that has persistently characterized both countries’ relationship with one another. Particularly with respect to the politics and discourse surrounding the Kashmir issue, this reality has been referred to by renowned South Asian expert Stephen P. Cohen as the ‘high risk low gain’ nature of cooperation that exists between both countries.

This idea of the high-risk low-gain nature of Pak-India relations is based on the fact that any form of cooperation between both countries has historically remained fraught with risks, particularly within the realm of local politics. This idea that leaders on both sides of the border have often more to lose than to gain politically has been evident throughout both countries’ histories; especially when calling for greater cooperation.

For instance, these same risks were evident on both sides during Mr. Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan in late 2015. Building on the budding bonhomie between himself and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, both leaders had highlighted their growing personal relationship as highly positive for India Pakistan relations. This was despite the criticisms both were facing for appearing too conciliatory and overeager to paper over long standing issues. However, the risk of appearing weak or ceding more than necessary was ultimately greater for an already weakened Nawaz Sharif. Already dogged by the increasingly tenuous relationship between himself and the military establishment, Mr. Sharif instead of gaining any ground towards a workable solution with India, found himself even more politically alienated as a result of his overtures.

The same was the case in the Musharraf era as well. At the height of his power in 2001 and immune to the political risks of civilian leaders, Mr. Musharraf appeared more than willing at the Agra summit to reach a workable solution. His proposed solution however remained untenable for Indian leaders such as L.K Advani, who found the risks of appearing reconciled with the Pakistani General as too great. Six years later, the four point plan which Mr. Musharraf had developed over years of back-channel talks with Mr. Manmohan Singh’s government, also fell through as Mr. Musharraf’s political troubles at home started to take toll. The growing uncertainty over Mr. Musharraf’s political future further compounded the risks being faced by Indian leaders in late 2007, at a time when the Kashmir issue was according to many ‘all but resolved’.

Even more ironic perhaps was the lost opportunity for India at Simla in 1972, where Shrimati Indira Gandhi Ji at the height of her power remained a hair short of finalizing the Kashmir issue with a militarily defeated Mr. Bhutto. As the controversial story goes, a verbal agreement between Mr. Bhutto and Mrs. Gandhi just fell short of being written down and signed due to Mr. Bhutto’s insistence. He had reportedly asked for more time as the political risks for reaching a final settlement over Kashmir were far too great for him then.

Coming back to Mr. Imran Khan’s most recent statement, his prediction of a weakened Congress party being less able to face such risks can be termed as a candid summation of the above historical lessons. Not to mention the risks Mr. Khan himself faces to his own political capital, when calling for cooperation with a jingoistic and war-mongering BJP government. A BJP government, which thus despite its highly questionable sincerity to peace, may still yet offer a more pragmatic chance of cooperation over Kashmir.

Yet, in staying true to the irony that has long plagued India -Pakistan relations, both Mr. Khan and Mr. Modi are neither the first, nor likely the last leaders to face the high risk low-gain implications of calling for peace and reconciliation between Pakistan and India. Unless there is widespread political consensus on an honest and stringent commitment to peace and reconciliation on both sides of the border, that elusive peace sought by a few idealists is likely to remain just that; an elusive ideal.

Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad. He can be reached at waqas[at]thesvi.org

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A Review of the Draft National Education Policy 2019

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There is an urgent and imperative need to rekindle dialogue on the shaken education structure in India among politicians and decision makers. While there is a proliferating realization to the finite financial limits of ‘improving literacy rate’, there is a detrimental lack of alternative discourse on the way forward, a futuristic dialogue on the achievable. It is rightfully said that a life without education is like a boat without a rudder. While the solutions to the problem may seem simple to layman’s eyes, it is as multifaceted and dynamic from a microscopic lens. This paper will attempt to review and critique the education system in India in light of the recent National Education Policy 2019 developed by the ministry of human resource development that seeks to propose transformative changes.

The field of education essentially is viewed through a narrow outlook of having normative or static foundations that can be generalized. This is however far from reality. Education system and structure is highly contextual and subjective to the jurisdiction it is studied in. While it is necessary to take cognizance of the fact that metamorphic changes, if any, are gradual, access to basic quality education for many is a far cry. India demands a comprehensive nationwide policy such as this and more importantly the implementation and enforcement of the same. The paper shall enumerate few highlights of the policy as no specific selection can paint an accurate picture of the well-integrated and comprehensive policy.

One of the fundamental solutions to the policy focuses on a key demography to foster a massive positive multipliers effect on the Indian society. It promises high quality education and childhood care for all children between the age bracket of 3 to 6 years by the year 2025. This encompasses the holistic development of the child including healthcare, nutrition and skill development. The vitality of the early years of brain development have been consciously highlighted in the past few years with growing awareness and study in this field.

It is essential that we tackle the grassroots of the issue being the quality of teachers and their accessibility. Professional teacher education and improvement of the quality of the educators is vital to better education and hence multidisciplinary programs for teachers are proposed to be included in large universities. Weak educators lead to weak professional in all fields. A four-year integrated stage – specific B.Ed. programme has been proposed by the HRD ministry and the Draft Committee alongside a restructure of the technical and medical education in the country. It outlines a proposal for the exit examination for medical professionals to create a robust filtering system to enable qualified and erudite individuals into the medical industry, enabling them to do justice to their respective professions.

Back to the fundamentals, the policy seeks to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy through a spectrum of programs and measures that have been carefully drafted and articulated to promote the same. Correspondingly, the draft policy aims to transform the pedagogical structure of the curriculums in the Indian education system for more effective learning that holistically encompasses cognitive, social and emotional development. The learning model will serve equitable emphasis on all fields and subjects, inherently leveling the balance of importance in academic and vocational cum co-curricular training. The examination structure within the Indian education system has for long been critiqued as counterproductive and toxic. It separates the individual from the real process of learning. With that in light, the policy proposes a complete radical revamp of the exam structures to relive the stress factor, strive for improvement in the learning pursuit and assess real learning.

The political and governmental handhold must undoubtedly begin with a substantial increase in the public investment for the normative expansion and vitalization of public education at all levels. While the policy extensively focuses on amending the tangible flaws of the education system in India, it leaves behind the lived reality and cultural context. I believe that it is far more fundamental to break the stigma that revolves around educating people and address the deterrents to pursuing education. The cultural withdrawal of the reluctance of educating girl children and women in rural spaces is a problem that can’t merely be broken down through financing but through a cultural shift in mindset and an awareness of its criticality. Similar is the case with low income workers such as farmer, plumber and technical workmen that seek to pass on the profession to their heirs under the assumption of retrieving faster interest on their investment of time as opposed to the uncertainty that comes with a hard earned financial investment on poor quality education.

Another cultural adaptation to the policy must be vocational categorical training for specific target groups that diverge from the mainstream education such as training of young mothers or single parents in not just rural but also urban spaces. Finally, the indestructible caste system that is simple inseparable from the education system. The reservation system and its debate has been prolonged for decades and a cause for plentiful havoc uprising in urban spaces as merit seeks to triumph status. This is however often shunned through non-discrimination policies but is far more complex than meets the eye.

The crux of the situation in India is the mismanagement and ill balance between the supply and demand of educational resources in the country. There seems to be a wide gap between the allocation of financial expenditure by the government and the actual tangible change it has created in the recent years. Most importantly, a contextual negligence of tackling issues through the lens of different perspectives, actors and stakeholders. India is not necessarily a resource deficit nation, rather the lack of monitoring and utter negligence of the resource management consequently traps many regions of the country under illiteracy. Future development and economic growth of the nation calls for immediate action and a microscopic outlook of the issue by state actors. To deduce, the policy aims at addressing the diverse plethora of needs of multiple stakeholders in a harmonious manner with the goal of providing quality education to all.

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The Torn Red Carpet: Welcome to Nepal in 2020

Sisir Devkota

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In Google’s search rankings, the official website of project Visit Nepal 2020; comes second. Travel agencies in Nepal have replaced their landing pages at the expense of the overall legitimacy of the most genuine online resource. There is a wealth of videos shot in and about Nepal in Youtube; from ticketing companies to vloggers, visiting Nepal in 2020 might entail different things for various people. However, Mount Everest is not getting pink every passing day; the year 2020 will comfortably succeed the prior geologic timescale. All is not lost if one does not make it to Nepal next year. Hence, why the calling?

Across the world, nation branding for tourism is not a new catch. Egypt, Bolivia, Holland and Guatemala, advertise themselves with their official names. For others, a well thought phrase follows the brand image. Maldives-the sunny side of life, Imagine your-Korea, Belize-is closer than you think are other examples. For the rest, global events, does the work. Visit Nepal 2020 sounds the most ambitious of all; despite of less thoughtful investment over the slogan, it is clumsily competing with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, across internet search engines. A lack of strategic branding can cost an entire project. Hence, why the ignorance?

As much as the slogan promises for a great experience, things are not quite ready for the incoming tourists. A national plan aimed for the visit year has stalled and stakeholders are looking for a safe landing. As long as the tourists arrive, Nepal will make money in 2020. Even though farsightedness is out of capabilities, stakeholders are not promoting the false promise; instead, Nepal’s promise has been promoted wrongly. Nepal is one of the poorest nations in South Asia and the economy largely depends on salaries from abroad. It does not take much to comprehend the economics, the 2020 project, is a cash cow for a reclining economy. For all the wrong reasons, Nepal is calling for a temporary settlement. One-step at a time, for now, tightening up for the next year only.

Start a business in Nepal 2020. Explore Nepal in 2020. Seek opportunities in Nepal 2020. Beware of money sucking agencies and institutions, when you visit Nepal in 2020. Nepal’s southern neighbour, India, invites entrepreneurs from all over the world; however, Make in India, has not gained steam, like once anticipated. The think-tank behind Visit Nepal 2020 have lost an edge over possible opportunities; scaled business policies are missing from the project structure. Moreover, Visit Nepal 2020 sounds like a welcome for the newcomers, but history suggests that, incoming tourists are largely returnees, thanks to majestic natural richness.

“Visit Nepal 1998-Once is not enough”, was largely successful in terms of arriving numbers; however, after work has been a sorry state of affairs. Unsurprisingly, if Nepal were not enough at once, there would not have been the need for a visit year, two decades later. Therefore, Visit Nepal 2020 is a re-launch, from the supply perspective. For anticipating visitors, this information seeks responsibility. The visit year would only succeed whilst bottom level stakeholders would benefit from spending. In addition, if the economy manages to thrive from the revenue generated in 2020, it would largely be successful. It is another misconception that recycling slogans would lead to the same result. Local suitors in Nepal would be most excited; for them, it is another chance to rekindle with international visitors. Technology and social media will make the difference; at last, Nepal is waiting to stamp its tourism potential.

Visit Nepal in 2020 for lifetime experiences. Visit Nepal later again for unlimited life experiences. Then, repeat.

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Sri Lanka Appoints New Minister for Foreign Relations

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Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations (Picture source news .cn)

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as  the Minister of Foreign Relations after his  Presidential election in 2019.  In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister  Gunawardena  hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka .His father Philip Gunawardena   is a famous national hero known as ‘the Father of Socialism’. Gunawardena  a  graduate  from the University  of Oregon in the US, entered politics in 1972. In 1983 as  the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP)  he entered Parliament in a  by-election held in Maharagma.  He  is well-known as a  long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.

The new  Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena  is  supposed  to  implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy.   In a recent newspaper interview he stated  “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community”(Sunday Observer,2019).In this context there  is a history to this non-aligned policy.     At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).  As part of this approach, the new  Sri Lankan government had outlined in the  manifesto how the  presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The   manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy .We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister    mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges”. Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is, therefore, vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African  nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals  over the next five years.

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