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

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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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The Charisma and Chaos of Imran Khan

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PTI Chairman Imran Khan gestures at the march participants as his convoy arrives in Gujranwala on November 1, 2022. — Instagram

The chances of Imran Khan winning the elections of 2018 were quite murky. Despite his unparalleled fan base and populist rhetoric appeals to the young, and labor class of Pakistan, the legitimacy of his government is marred with allegations of fraud, rigging, and exploitation.

Some argue that his candidacy was a marketing tactic used by the ‘Establishment’ in Pakistan to form a government that is rather weak and dependent so that the ‘Establishment’ can continue its control over domestic security issues including the Nuclear escalation and relations with India.

But by and large, Khan won the elections.

Maybe it was the stardom attached to the name ‘Imran Khan’ and Pakistanis not wanting to confide in the same faces ruling them for centuries.

Maybe it was the mismanagement and violence that marred election day with unfathomable delays in result declaration in metropolis cities, coupled with post-poll manipulation.

Maybe it was the judicial-military nexus, that placed all the votes in the right places by not allowing voters to use their will during elections.

Maybe it was the 7 years-old narcotics case hearing moving forward against the stalwart of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Hanif Abbasi, giving him a life sentence in a rare late-night session of court, four days ahead of the elections that effectively knocked PML-N out of the race.

But the deal was done and can’t be undone and Imran Khan became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, for better or worse.

Khan the Celebrity

Pakistani nationals were victims of the financial crisis, unemployed people, those who lost their homes, and who were in debt; these people felt like the two parties ruling Pakistan for centuries had destroyed their country’s economy.

Imran Khan, with his humongous stardom as an athlete and philanthropist, seemed like the only ‘Messiah’ that could save them from all the atrocities they were facing.

Though, a significant number of votes were cast in favor of PML-N but not in the places that would have locked the win. So Imran Khan, persuaded the angry Pakistanis, the youth, and the labor class who were fed up with being handed over in trade deals with other nations.

Khan, a socialite that he was, knew how to connect with these agitated masses. Their grievances were clear as a day and so he gave them pretty promises wrapped up in his vibrant rallies filled with catchy songs. His huge social media presence along with the ‘Naya Pakistan’ slogan further amplified his staunch.

But there lies a challenge as to why Khan became the top highlight of this era. To many who were tired of politicians filling their own pockets, and amid the corruption charges on Nawaz Sharif, Khan’s celebrity status, his colorful personality, his promise of a corruption-free Pakistan, and his unconventional ‘Don’t Panic’ attitude – all of this made Khan seem like the only option who would deliver a better life and nation and, if not that, then at least would be the eradicator of what Pakistan had become.

Khan the Totalitarian

The other side of the coin sees Imran Khan as a narcissist, self-centered, and power-hungry mogul. After achieving his eternal craving of becoming the Prime Minister, he hardly showed any respect for the institutions of the country. More often than not he refused to attend the sessions of Parliament, with his excuse being the presence of members of the opposition party whom he referred to as ‘Crooks’ and ‘Chors’ (thieves).

This resulted in laws, instead of passing through an ordinary law-making process, being passed through presidential ordinances, with very limited power. We can clearly say that these laws were passed without debate, consensus, and thorough examination, negating the very foundation of constitutional requirements.

Additionally, Khan likes to fabricate stories in his speeches, a lot. In this vein, he brings down any democratic provision that proves him wrong, including targeting political parties on concocted charges of corruption; sustained attacks on the media; undermining law authorities, even the Supreme Court is not exempted from his allegations.

Through the abrogation of rule of law, irresponsible remarks about institutions, and disdain toward democracy, Khan himself created a fragile parliamentary system, which then collapsed on him. Not only this, but he has fractured the already dwindling democracy of Pakistan into a whole new level.

Khan the Leader

Khan came onto the political scene when Pakistan was facing a volatile situation both at home and abroad, coupled with the tensions going on with the Americas, and the rampant inflation, he was still able to take some impressive measures. His work related to health, relief programs, house loans, the environment, entrepreneurship, and the COVID response is admirable.

In addition, his billion tree tsunami and the building of several small dams initiated an environment-friendly drive in the climate change-affected country. But was he able to deliver on the ‘Promises’ made to the nation? Absolutely Not.

Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the cabinet as the abrupt changes in the system dwindled the confidence of investors in Pakistan’s economic machinery. His careless handling of some important economic programs including the CPEC decelerated the capital influx that caused the GDP to drop considerably.

To top it all off, Pakistan, in 2021 dropped from 124th place to 140th place according to Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), leaving an ugly mark on Khan’s corruption eradication promises on which he has led the foundation of his political career. Maybe he should have abided by the agenda of progression in order to gear up his performance instead of getting involved in blame and shame politics.

Khan the funambulist

The important reason why Khan has a cult following in Pakistan is his unfiltered and raw opinions about topics like the Americas, and Afghanistan which he keeps casting in his speeches. And, the audience, mostly the social media-induced young generation eats it all up like a sweet concoction, without paying heed to the implications it will bring to the foreign policy of Pakistan.

Khan’s decision to appoint Usman Buzdar, an underqualified and inexperienced newcomer to a vital position in the key city of Punjab pretty much sums up his political foresight. Perhaps, the most interesting yet debatable contrivance of his regime is his relentless attitude toward the United States, no previous Prime Minister of Pakistan was able to say ‘Absolutely No’ to the US as it had many allies in the domestic political platform of Pakistan. This stance of Khan was admired a lot in the country, with the phrase being trending in Pakistan. But the remarks came with ramifications for Pakistan on the international forum. This whole scenario further makes people question his political sanity.

Imran Khan possesses all the characteristics of a populist leader and in Populism: A Very Short Introduction, Cas Mudde says: “Populists are dividers, not uniters” they split society into “two homogenous and antagonistic groups: the pure people on the one end and the corrupt elite on the other.” True to this narration, Khan has divided the nation into two groups of ‘Evil and Good’ people, and the consequences are detrimental to the stability of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Conclusion

To sum it all up, Imran Khan, despite his misgivings, his warts, his narcissism, and his unhinged political views, is still able to reach a class of people that have seen Pakistan erode for centuries and consider him the last hope for the country. But he certainly is not the best choice for democracy as his political understanding is ruined by his self-righteous approach. In this manner, he is no better than former US President Trump who incited his supporters to pass on the U.S. Capitol to forestall the peaceful transition of power after his electoral defeat. It is precise to say that Pakistan has fallen into a deep cauldron and only a Magic Wand can heal it at this point. Though Khan has not singularly created this cauldron, he most definitely is exploiting and feeding on it.

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Chattisgarh Elections 2023: Future of United Progressive Alliance and BJP

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Chattisgarh, the 9th largest state of India by area and 17th most populous state with population of 30 Million will go to votes in upcoming elections in 2023. Chattisgarh saw an electoral shift in 2018 when voters chose INC lead United Progressive Alliance over BJP which was into the power since 2003. The legislative assembly comprises of 90 constituencies and population demography favors the Hindu’s with 93.05%, Muslims are major minority with 2.02% and Christians make up 1.92% of the population of Chattisgarh. The major contenders in the elections are United Progressive Alliance, which came into power in 2018. The major parties in the Alliance are Indian National Congress (INC), Dravida Munnetra Kazghagam, Janta Dal (United), Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party. This alliance faces BJP as major gladiator of the Elections.

INC lead United Progressive Alliance Government

In 2018 elections, United Progressive Alliance defeated BJP in the state to form the government. Previously BJP enjoyed three successive tenures in power. The Alliance proved to be vital in defeating the ex-ruling party and Bhupesh Baghel of INC was sworn in as new CM of Chattisgarh. The newly elected government opted for the developmental model in the state with their activities ranging from sports to health and good governance. The CM gave the vision of ‘Employment Mission’ which aimed at providing 15 lac jobs to people of Chattisgarh. The government provided the masses with the vision of ‘trust, development and security’ in order to remain popular and hence their projects based upon wellness of the general public. The CM started ‘Khelbo-Jeetbo-Gadhbo Nova Chattisgarh’ scheme in order to enhance sports infrastructure and facilities for youth of Chattisgarh. The scheme covered major as well as local games. The government also launched ‘ Makhyamantri Haat Bazar Clinics’ scheme in order to provide and ensure health services in rural and remote areas of the state. This scheme received a lot of praises from the masses during pandemic period. Government also enhanced education sector by setting up more than 600 Hindi and English medium schools. CM launched ‘Swami Atmanand English Medium Education System’ in all districts of the state. The scheme aimed at setting up of the English medium colleges for the students. The government under CM Baghel, also faced severe opposition in form BJP. The BJP criticized government of corruption, farm loans and internal rift among government officials. The CM also survived ‘No Confidence Motion’ tabled by BJP in the legislative assembly in July 2022.

BJP and Caste votes

Caste permutation and combinations have always played a role of dominating factor in the state of Chattisgarh. The state is amalgamation of upper castes, schedule castes (SC), Schedule tribes (ST) and Other Backward Castes (OBCs). The Kurmi’s and Sahu’s dominate upper castes in the state. One third of the population is composed of Scheduled tribes (ST), while Schedule castes (SC) make up 12% of the population and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) are 41% of the population. Upper castes and OBCs have traditionally tilted in the favor of BJP. SC votes have been divided among BJP, INC and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In 2013 however, BJP swept through 9 out of 10 constituencies of SC reserved seats. Dalit vote bank also has an influential role in elections. There exists around 12% of Dalit vote splitting between BJP and BSP. This vote bank influences 40 constituencies of the state. BJP is also counting upon Sahu’s votes in order to gain power back in upcoming Chattisgarh elections.

Chattisgarh as home ground of Hindutva

Chattisgarh has seen a violent shift when it comes to application of agenda of Hindutva. RSS and its political affiliate BJP have targeted Chattisgarh for Hindutva onslaught. The norms of Hindu identity have gone deep down into the roots of the society. ‘Ghar Wapsi’ scheme is gaining influence in Chandigarh. In March 2022, a ceremony was held and 1250 people returned to Hindu dharma. In states like Odisha, Chattisgarh and Jharkand more than 10,000 people have returned to Hindu dharma. BJP has developed a narrative of targeting Congress for miseries of Hindu’s all around India. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) an affiliate of RSS has been provided with security umbrella of BJP and it has forced Churches in Chattisgarh to use name of ‘Acharya’ and ‘Up-Acharya’ instead of ‘Father’. VHP has also forced churches to display images and painting of Hindu goddess ‘Saraswati’ in churches. The organization has also forces churches to distribute ‘Prasad’ instead of sweets at the eve of Christmas, thereby attacking the root identities of Christianity in the state. Around the time when BJP formed the government in center in 2014, 5 villages in Bastar district of Chattisgarh were banned for non-Hindu practices. Hindu leaders in Chattisgarh are calling for killing of any individual who tries to convert Hindus into any other religion. The Equation between the minorities and Hindus started changing since 2003, when BJP was installed into power in Chattisgarh. The change has intensified now when BJP is also present in Center. 

Bet on Youth’s vote

The youth vote bank in Chattisgarh can be the turning point in the upcoming elections. The major gladiators BJP and United Progressive Alliance are eyeing the vote share of youth in the state. The initiatives started by the CM Baghel, progressively targets the youth and their development. However, BJP accuses the current INC lead state government of unemployment among the youth. The tussle between the major contenders in the state is pivoted for Youth vote. The saffron party has also targeted youth with the identity confrontation within the framework of Hindutva. However, the INC lead coalition government is centered on the agenda of developmental and governance model for the youth rather than targeting and convincing youth on identity based vote bank. The youth from minority section of the population may opt for INC and United Progressive alliance for the power in state but saffron influenced youth and upper castes are likely to put their weight in BJP’s favor.

Conclusion

Chattisgarh elections 2023 will play a major role in determining the BJPs future in center as well. Chattisgarh has been the power bank for BJP since 2003 but shift in 2018 has taken BJP by shock and surprise. However, upcoming elections can also prove to be referendum of policies applied by BJP at national level. INC will also have to investigate its depth in masses as well. The future of alliance mostly depends upon the INC performance in the state elections. The General Elections can also be strategically targeted by INC in form of alliance and coalition seat shares in order to give tough time BJP which is by far thriving among the masses at national level.

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Radical Khalis Sentiments-Hurting the Indo-Canadian Zeal

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Recently the referendum, which has taken place in Brampton, Canada, over the demand of Khalistan as a separate country from India, has intensified the flames of mutual distrust between the relations of the two counties. Over a lakh Sikhs could be seen participating in the voting, followed by the protests and vandalizing a Hindu Temple, in which anti-India slogans were being raised. This so-called referendum was organised by the well-known pro-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SfJ).

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of India took no time to respond and raise its objection over the happenings and, in its weekly media briefing, stated, “The extremist and Radical elements held a ridiculous exercise. The matter has been taken with Canadian authorities through diplomatic channels.” Following this, a travel advisory was issued for students and Indian nationals travelling to Canada “to exercise due caution and remain vigilant.” Now, this hyped the issue as, in return to this advisory, Canada issued an advisory for its citizens not to travel to areas nearby the Indo-Pak border, especially the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, and Gujarat.

Withering Bilateral Relationship?

It’s not new to see something similar between the two countries. This ongoing process of mutual distrust has continued for a long time. The main issue behind all these tensions remains the same: the Khalistan movement and the extremist activities planned and performed by radical and extremist elements. Khalistan has always been a security concern from an Indian perspective, as it has time and again questioned India’s internal security by influencing public sentiments, especially of those who largely align themselves with the thought of a separate Sikh state, be it in India or the Indian diaspora in Canada or any part of the world.

It seems like the diplomatic relations have deteriorated more since Justin Trudeau assumed office. During the farmer’s protests of 2020-21 in New Delhi, Trudeau supported the Indian farmers as the protests intensified. Again, it created a hostile situation between the two sides as the MEA went on to summon the Canadian high commissioner, lodging a solemn protest over Trudeau’s remarks, quoting it as – ill-informed and unwarranted, advising him not to interfere in internal matters. Other than that, EAM Jaishankar refused to attend the Covid-19 foreign ministers grouping, headed by Canada the same year. During his last state visit to India, PM Trudeau allegedly got Jaspal Atwal, a Khalistan militant, along with his official delegate. This was certainly not welcomed by the Indian side, as Atwal was a convict in an attempt to assassinate Punjab Minister Malkiat Sidhu in 1986.

A Chronology of the Khalistan Issue

Khalistan, in literal meaning, is the pure land. But in Sikh political ideology, it’s the land of Khalsa that is the Sikh homeland. The Khalistan movement, as what it seems, indeed, came into existence after Operation Blue Star, but the story began in 1929 when Motilal Nehru presented ‘Poorna Swaraj’ at the Lahore session of INC. There were three people, who opposed it, Mohammed Ali Jinnah – for Muslims, Dr. B R Ambedkar – for Dalits, and Master Tara Singh of Akali Dal- for Sikhs. And this was the first demand for the Sikh homeland, which gradually became popular and gained support at the grass-root level in Punjab, which in turn, proved to be the base for the beginning of the Punjabi Suba Movement. This movement demanded a separate Sikh state within India on linguistic grounds. It continued over for 19 odd years. Following this, Punjab got trifurcated into three states; Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, with Chandigarh as the shared capital of Punjab and Haryana.

This movement turned violent and became a radical one with the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Some called him ‘Sant,’ some militant. But it’s a matter of fact, that he railed in an armed struggle against the Indira Gandhi government for a separate Sikh nation, culminating with Operation Blue Star. This operation not only ended the armed struggle but also left a dark imprint of hatred amongst many Sikhs towards their own government. This was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her security personnel, who were Sikh. Due to this, almost 3000 Sikhs got killed in the anti-Sikh violence of 1984.

Khalistan Agenda: A Political Tool for separatism

The recent trends and the political discourse so far show that ‘Khalistan’ is being used as a political tool by people in power like Trudeau, as part of their agenda of identity politics to increase the vote share by gaining the support of Canadian Sikhs. According to the figures released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada(IRCC), Canada is home to over 19 lakhs Indians which amounts to almost 5.1% of the total population of Canada, in which 8 lakh are Sikhs, constituting about 2.1% of the total population of Canada, along with over 2 lakh Gujaratis, constituting approximately 0.6% of the total population.

Trudeau’s last state visit to India was dubbed an absolute political disaster by many speculators, as the Indian side did not give him much attention. But looking at the same state visit from a different perspective, the grass seems greener on Trudeau’s side. It is because he landed at the Palam Air Base along with his wife and three kids, through which he depicted himself as a family man. Then during his week-long stay in India, he went on to visit the Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, to target the Sikh population of Canada. Besides that, he visited the heritage city of Ahmedabad, to target the Gujarati population of Canada, along with visiting Mumbai, where he met a lot of celebrities from Bollywood, and Bollywood has the utmost influence on Indians as a whole. PM Trudeau has so far been successful in gaining the support of a large chunk of Canadian Sikhs, and to preserve this support, Canadian authorities tend to refuse to take any actions against radical separatist elements and advocate them by saying it’s their right to protest peacefully.

Conclusion

It’s crystal clear from the current geopolitical situation that the Khalistan movement is worsening the bilateral relationship between both countries, because Khalistan and the extremist activities associated with it have always been a concern over internal security for India, and matters related to internal security do reflect on foreign policy. At the same time, it is being used as a political tool to score some brownie points amongst a sect of the population by defaming the very status of the Republic of India. Canada has the upper hand, attracting thousands of Indian students to pursue higher education, which the Indian side can never ignore. If India wants to nullify the effect of separatist influence over Canadian Sikhs, it must be done in a way that tends to heal the deep scars of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, which could help the Sikhs to move on from the bitter memories of that bloodshed, by making policies which favor Sikh population in India and abroad.

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