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Unhappy India

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Not very long ago (Sept 2, 2019), India launched a rocket to the far side of the moon.  It carried a lunar lander that fell silent following the landing attempt four days later.  Had it survived, India would have become the fourth country in the world to accomplish the feat.  Still, the partial success was a matter of pride.  There have been other signal achievements including a doubling of GDP in the past decade.  Then, why are Indians unhappy? 

The World Happiness Report for 2018 ranks Pakistan and Portugal respectively at numbers 75 and 77 while India is far behind at 133 adjacent to Congo at 132 and Niger 134.  Bangladesh at 115 is also happier than India.  On the other hand, India’s per capita GDP ($2036 — IMF) is now higher than Pakistan ($1555).  So again, the question:  Why are Indians unhappy?

Could it be the answer lies not in absolute but relative wealth?  The Gini Index is a measure of wealth inequality where 100 represents the most inequality possible and zero perfect equality i.e. when everyone has the same wealth.  On the subcontinent for 2018, Pakistan’s index at 30.7 beats many first world countries while India’s (35.7) is way behind.  Pakistanis are also higher in generosity (0.216), whereas for India this variable is much lower at 0.172.  Generally, charitable giving is found to improve self-image and well-being.

India is seeking another way as archeologists are busy trying to dig up evidence of events described in the Hindu religious texts — ancient civilization becoming a tool for expressing Hindu superiority and raising self-esteem.  Yet India does not really have to; it can bask in the architectural glory and beauty of the Taj Mahal.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might have kept count of who were Hindu artisans and laborers and who Muslim, not the Mughals.  Perhaps the BJP can find vindication and gratification in the fact that Shah Jahan’s mother (Manmati Bai) was Hindu.

Mr. Modi might also glance westward at Egypt and its pyramids to observe that magnificent ancient civilizations do little to enhance stature in the present.  A better focus for him could be on the 800 million of his own people trying to earn enough each day to get a meal; indeed, while his staff are proud to announce, he changes his clothes three times a day.  Vainglorious and narcissistic may be, but it is difficult to forget Mr. Modi’s chalk stripe suiting with his name woven into the stripes.  Extreme penury and inequality are unlikely to make a people happy.

Add to that the caste system and its unbelievable (for the modern world) treatment of untouchables — who are not a negligible minority when every sixth Indian is one.  The chronicle of a family, Untouchables by Narendra Jadhav is an enlightening but painful read.  Imagine not being able to drink from the village well because of birth and heritage.  Most humans are proud of their heritage, but like the Nazis earlier, the BJP tries to restrict it to the three upper castes among Hindus.

Recurrent lower-caste humiliation and threat of violence draws rancor turning to disguised hostility, not the best ingredients for a happy homogenized society.  To this can be supplemented the newly-formed notion of Hindu superiority — a bald-faced conceit when the country had been ruled by Muslims and the British for 800 years, not forgetting the Sikhs in the Punjab.

There could be another marker for happiness:  a low suicide rate.  Science magazine’s cover topic in vol 365 (23 Aug 2019) was devoted to the tragedy of suicide.  The global average rate is 10.5 per 100,000 of population.  On the subcontinent, Pakistan’s is less than a half at 4.5; India’s a whopping 15.6 (pp 736-7).  Yet it is possible the rate is even higher as the notorious farmer suicide figures are manipulated by the states according to Wikipedia.  The para on the number of farmers cites researchers’ claims that “… official data may be overestimating the number of total farmers in India, and undercounting the total number of farmer suicides every year.”

Worth a brief mention, Japan’s tradition of harikari leads to the very high rate of 15.7; India with a comparable figure has no such tradition.

One surprise is that six of the top seven countries with the lowest suicide rates are not necessarily rich … just Muslim, so Pakistan is not an anomaly.  Perhaps it is the Islamic emphasis on equality, brotherhood andmandatory charitable giving that facilitates societal cohesion.  Islamic countries also average a rate so low as to be about a third of that for wealthy Europe and North America. 

If it appears contradictory because the Scandinavian countries in Europe are also at the top of the happiness report, there are other issues to consider like the dark of winter leading to depression.   Among the top ten in the world, the suicide rate in Greenland is 51.1, Lithuania 28.0, Russia 25.1.  It seems the major reason Scandinavian countries are happier is due to the broad social welfare net covering healthcare, unemployment, pensions, and so on.  It frees the populace from the usual worries about old age security or of paying large hospital and drug bills as in the US.  Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are, however, comparable on the social welfare scale.

Then there is the serious issue of insurgencies.  While  mostly confined to the northeast and east, the battles are more common than is commonly realized.  Thus the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project reports that in 2016 (the latest figures) there were 186 violent events (about every second day) of which 52 percent were battles.  Bomb blasts targeting security forces accounted for 19 percent and another 9 percent sought to destroy infrastructure.  Violence against civilians hurt by both sides constituted the remaining 20 percent.  These conflicts are ongoing since the early sixties with thousands of lives lost, as a quick glance at Wikipedia confirms.  Of course, violence in Kashmir is on a different scale altogether for the lives lost number in the tens of thousands.

India is a fractious country divided by caste, religion, ethnicity, language; wracked by political and administrative corruption; stymied by bureaucratic incompetence; and yet producing brilliant engineers and scientists capable of world-quality research and space exploration.  It is cause for hope, although slim, unless the country pulls itself up by its bootstraps socially and economically. 

Author’s Note:  This article appeared first on counterpunch.org

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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South Asia

Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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South Asia

Pakistani Fanatics and their Foreign Policy Overtures

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A prudent leader ought to have regard not only for present troubles but also for future ones. They must prepare with every energy because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time. Through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that everyone can see them, there is no longer a remedy. These words are famously attributed to 16th-century Italian Philosopher Machiavelli, advising the ruler about statecraft, in his Magnus Opus, The Prince.

A similar kind of ignorance and obliviousness against which Machiavelli was warning to the ruler of the state was reflected by the government of Imran Khan when protests by a radical religious organization (TLP) shook the country from 11-20 April. Previous to this latest episode, TLP has also staged various sit-in and violent protests by which they effectively froze all life in twin cities as well as in various cities of Punjab.

2017 Faizabad interchange protest was the zenith of its anarchical behavior. In that protest, TLP demanded the resignation of the law minister altering the oath declaration in the election bill 2017. Preceding, the court heard a plea on the stated matter. Justice Qazi Faiz Essa while hearing a plea on the case, remarked; “The ambitious leadership of a fledgling political party [TLP] projected itself as the defender of the Muslim faith. They provoked religious sentiment, stoked the flames of hatred, abused, resorted to violence, and destroyed property worth Rs.163 million.”  Another takeaway from the ruling of the Supreme Court goes like, “Protestors who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against by the law and held accountable.”

Qazi Faiz Essa’s observation is enough to make a viewpoint on the organization. It is recommended that steps must be taken to curtail the reach of TLP. But allowing its leaders to further myth-spin bogus and inflammatory narratives, catch the attention of masses, effect normalcy in the country, and take hostage federal and provincial capitals many times after that shows sheer incapability on behalf of the state.

Moreover, the recent episode is also another criticism of religiosity interwoven within Pakistani society that has been exploited by opportunists to gain the support of the masses since its birth. TLP, an amalgamation of religio-political narrative, first appeared on the scene when it demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the person who assassinated Governor Punjab Salman Taseer for criticizing blasphemy laws. After the execution of Qadri, Rizvi laid the foundation of Tehreek-E-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) for the purpose to protect the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan under the banner of protecting Honor for Prophet (PBUH). TLP is the political wing of TLYR which emerged as the 5th most popular political group in the electoral race of 2018. These numbers are a barometer to show that the party has gained considerable support among the masses for its narrative

Though the rise of TLP is attributed to fault lines within the domestic political culture of Pakistan and cultural cleavages that exist in the society. The recent protests were the result of its activeness in international affairs relevant to its narrative. The group tried to dictate the foreign relations of Pakistan. In the latest episode, TLP took on the streets again and demanded severing diplomatic ties with France. In the short aftermaths of TLP protests, European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling the review of the GSP+ status of Pakistan for abuse of blasphemy laws and expressed deep concerns over prevailing anti-French sentiments.

To add insult to injury, all of this is happening at a time when Pakistan is looking to create a soft image for herself, seeking an effective role in regional and international organizations for political and economic benefits, lobbying to move out of FATF grey list, and initiating an international campaign to unmask Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, etcetera. Unfortunately, this has seriously jeopardized our pursuit of national interests and can nullify progress.

Disrespect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is an issue sensitive to all Muslims but there is always a better way of doing things. The goal should be to stop disrespect and blasphemy and not forging further cause of hatred. On the other hand, the French president defended the acts as Freedom of Expression – a value so dear to the west – so even if Pakistan sends the French Ambassador back and suffers all the losses, is there any assurance for improvement in a situation regarding blasphemous content? What will be the next step of TLP if this continues? What will be the alternatives for Pakistan after that? Surely, this calls for some reflection on self-proclaimed defenders of religion. Government, on its part, must opt for softer and diplomatic ways in reaching out to France and making them realize the severity of the issue for Muslims.

To sum up, State ought not to be bogged down by religious pressure groups and fanatics like TLP for the reason being that they have not understood long-term national interests. Pledging to Khadim Rizvi on moving the parliament about French ambassador was never a wise act. One should have been vigilant enough to access the Omens. Furthermore, the government must impart this to such groups that they must not test the nerves of the state. It is in the interest of the state as well as government to not let things slip out of hand and go this further hereafter where one more episode similar to this makes international isolation inevitable.

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