India’s view is that abrogation of special status and Kashmiris’ hereditary proprietary rights is an internal matter. They harp that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Kashmiris’ struggle to shake off Indian yoke amounts to terrorism. And that its legislative coup d’état would be harbinger of peace, amity, and lasting prosperity in Indian-held Kashmir. Pakistan’s view is, unless revocation is withdrawn and curfew lifted, the situation would result in blood bath. There are eight million Kashmiris under clampdown by nine lac Indian troops. What’s the truth?
Terrorists or freedom fighters
Unlike Kashmir, Bangladesh was not a disputed state like Jammu And Kashmir State. It was an integral part of Pakistan. But, harboured, nurtured, trained and armed Bangladeshi `freedom fighters’ in India’s lexicon. Pakistan calls them `terrorists’. USA’s gallery of `freedom fighters’: Noam Chomsky recalls USA sheltered gallery of Latin American terrorists, extolled as `freedom fighters’. Jallaludiin Haqqani (founding father of formidable Haqqani taliban) `was once a White House guest! (Indiavision news September 28, 2011).
Kashmiris, not `terrorists’, but India, a `rogue state’
Let India not forget that Kashmir is a disputed state as per UN resolutions and the Simla accord. A state that flouts international treaties is called a `rogue state’ (Noam Chomsky’s Rogue States).
To refresh India’s memory: (a) It was India, not Pakistan, which internationalised or multilateralised the Kashmir issue by rushing a reference to the United Nations under Article 35 (Chapter VI). This Article enables any member to draw the Security Council or the General Assembly’s attention to any dispute or situation, which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute. Both India and Pakistan accepted ceasefire from Jan 1, 1949, onwards, and supervision by UN observers. (b) No UN resolution incorporates India’s view that Indian-held Kashmir has acceded to India by virtue of the Maharaja’s decision to accede to India. (c) Kashmir is not a domestic or strictly regional issue, as the UN has already intervened. The government of India has itself invoked and submitted to the jurisdiction of the UN and has accepted its role for resolution of the dispute, and acquiesced to the resolutions passed by the Security Council on Jan 17, 1949, Jan 20, 1948, April 21, 1948, and June 3, 1948. (d) Kashmir is still on the agenda of the Security Council though dormant due to culpable default. (e) The UN resolutions stand validated by the Simla agreement of 1972.
India is reminded of jus cogen, pacta sunt servanda (‘treaties are to be observed’) and are binding upon signatories. India may try to wriggle out of this maxim by pleading that the UN resolutions stand antiquated under another principle clasula rebus sic stantibus (‘things as they stand’ or ‘fundamental change of circumstances’).
But it has not yet so done for obvious reasons. It cannot renounce international and bilateral treaties without being declared a rogue state.
Terrorism against minorities
Why pro-India bloc is mum about terrorism and minorities’ persecution by ruling-BJP-RSS-Sangh Parivar conglomerate (maha gathbandhan)? Why international community is blind, deaf and dumb towards persecution and killing of beef-eating Indian minorities, arson of Muslim houses at Meerut, hounding of Kashmiri students, girls included, and manhandling and looting of Kashmiri traders, across India? When he was a chief minister, prime minister Narendra Modiled an 11-phase gaurav or papadshahi yatra (pride parade) to terrorise Muslim community in July 2002. He winked at Gujarat carnage, and Babri masjid demolition. Why UNO is hesitant to designate him a terrorist?
RSS’s anti-Muslim stance
Rashtrya Swayem Sevak Sangh (RSS) is busy r-imaging it in media as just a cultural entity without any political ambitions. But its severalacts unmask its brutal face.
Indian newspapers (datelined Kanykumari, July 6, 2003) have highlighted the anti -Muslim and -Christian resolutions, passed at RSS’s national executive’s meeting held at Kanykumari from July 5-6, 2003. The resolutions inter alia criticised so-called Christian terrorism against the Hindus. The meeting appealed to the Christians not to submit themselves to the dictates of the `extra-territorial’authority of the Pope.
The RSS called upon the Hindus, particularly Swayamsevaks, to be vigilant about `anti-national and terrorist’ Christian groups, posing a threat to the country’s internal security. It urged the Government to take strong measures against said groups. In a separate resolution, the RSS condemned Pope John Paul II’s statement criticising Indian states’ legislations banning conversions of the Hindus by missionaries.
The executive declared that such conversions were a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the country (It is significant to mention that the Pope had just said that `free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom was prohibited in India’. Besides, the right to change one’s religion is enshrined in the UNO’s Charter of Human Rights, also). It urged the Centre to lodge a protest with the Pope for exhorting the Christian missionaries to carry on their campaign of conversions defying the law of the land.
RAW officers’ confessions
Some Indian diplomats and RAW’s cover officers have made startling revelations in their books about involvement in insurgencies or terrorism in neighbouring countries. . For instance, RK Yadav, and B. Raman (The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane) make no bones about India’s involvement in Bangladesh’s insurgency. They admitted that India’s then prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented to rule Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of Military junta. Kao, through one R&AW agent, got hijacked a plane Fokker Friendship Ganga of Indian Airlines from Srinagar to Lahore. India’s security czar Doval publicly claims that he acted as a spy under a pseudonym in Pakistan for 11 years. In an article, titled How India secretly armed Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, in Hindu dated September 1, 2019, India’s former ambassador tells about India’s secret support to Northern Alliance. He discloses India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces. The support involved `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds’. These supplied were `delivered circuitously with the help of other countries’ or ` through his [Masssoud’s] brother in London, Wali Massoud’. The less said about Kalbushan Jadhav, the better.
Mujeeb, a `terrorist’
Roedad Khan, in his book Pakistan: A Dream gone Sour’ ( page 70) writes Agartala Conspiracy Case was withdrawn, not because the prosecution case against Mujeeb was weak, but because over a million people were out on the streets of Dhaka, several government offices and the houses of ministers including Kawaka Shahabuddin’s house-were burnt. .Ayub had no choice but to withdraw the case’.
Through its proxies like Naila Baloch, India sponsored offensive posters on taxi cabs and buses in Switzerland and Britain. USA has recently outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army. However, earlier, in 2012, a handful of Republican had moved a pro-separatist bill in US Congress. It demanded `the right to self-determination’. Diplomat Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar’s involvement in anti-Pakistan/taliban activities as well known.”
Pushtun Tahafuzz Movement
Pushtun Tahafuzz Movement is apparently being backed up by India. In their over-ebullient speeches, PTM’s leaders openly scold Pakistan’s National Security institutions. For instance, Manzoor Pashteen, in his interview (Herald, May 2018, p.48), berates Pak army operations and extols drone strikes. He says, ‘The army did not eliminate even a single Taliban leader. All the 87 Taliban commanders killed in the last 18 years were eliminated in drone strikes’. At a PTM meeting in Britain, even Malala Yusafzai’s father (Ziauddin), like His Master’s Voice, echoed anti-army sentiments. He said, “Pakistan army and intelligence agencies knew that Fazalullah was a terrorist who continued to operate radio station in Swat’.
Kalbushan Jadhav’s episode
Jadhav was an Indian-navy officer, attached to the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). His mission was to covertly carry out espionage and terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan also alleged there were Indian markings on arms deliveries to Baloch rebels pushed by Jadhav. To India’s chagrin, India’s investigative journalists confirmed from Gazettes of India that he was commissioned in the Indian Navy in 1987 with the service ID of 41558Z Kulbhushan Sudhir. A later edition of the Gazette showed his promotion to the rank of commander after 13 years of service in 2000. His passport, No E6934766, indicated he traveled to Iran from Pune under the name Hussein Mubarak Patel in December 2003. Another one of his Passports, No. L9630722 (issued from Thane in 2014), inadvertently exposed his correct address: Jasdanwala Complex, old Mumbai-Pune Road, cutting through Navi Mumbai. The municipal records confirmed that the flat he lived in was owned by his mother, Avanti Jadhav. Furthermore, in his judicial testimony before a Karachi magistrate, Karachi underworld figure Uzair Baloch confessed that he had links with Jadhav. India’s prestigious Frontline reportage (Praveen Swami, February 16, 2018, India’s secret war) surmised the possibility that Jadhav still served with the Indian Navy. Gazette of India Files bore no record of Jadhav’s retirement. India told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Jadhav was a retired naval officer. But, it refrained from stating exactly when he retired. The spy initially worked for Naval Intelligence, but later moved on to the Intelligence Bureau. He came in contact with RAW in 2010.
The myth of `revocation’ benefits
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill is no panacea for the region’s prosperity and multifarious problems. It has in fact exacerbated Kashmiri’s misery (lockdown, no food, communication, sense of security).
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill could not plug up `infiltration’ routes. The walnut and apples crops have been destroyed for want of buyers, rain, or immobility. No new jobs. The state already had over 484,901bloated jobs in 27 government departments. Where would Governor Satya Pal Malik absorb announced (August 28, 2019) new 50,000 jobs to be created in three months. A Global Investor Summit is scheduled to be held in October. It is unlikely that Indian investors, let alone global, will come to the Union Territory in an risky environment.
One of the outcomes of the reorganisation legislation is the renewed claim to “Azad Kashmir”. In the IHK’s 114-seat assembly, 24 have been kept aside for Azad Kashmir.During the debate in Parliament on the resolution on the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, Home Minister Amit Shah mentioned that the region included “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” and that “we would be willing to sacrifice our lives for it” (that is, having it within the boundary of India). At a public event, a few days later, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh said that “in future, if talks are held with Pakistan, they will be on the issue of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and no other issue”.
Gilgit and Baltistan Tensions: they are closer ethnically to Kargil, which has a mosaic of distinct ethnic and religious groups from the rest of the undivided State.
Informal discussion of the issue in a closed-door format at the Security Council led to no resolution. Yet, it is a source of concern to India. As soon as the situation becomes a threat to peace and security, P-V and security council would spring into action.
China is executing several infrastructural projects in Gilgit and Baltistan bordering Ladakh and Azad Kashmir. The U.S. position tilts in Pakistan’s favour for consideration of Afghanistan exit. Pakistani diaspora in Britain and sikhs may increase Pakistan’s leverage.
Internal tensions and dissensions within IHK
The supporter and detractors of abrogation are now rigidly polarized. The pro-abrogation camp is frightened by demands in Jammu, including by local BJP leaders, to de facto continue the current practice of allowing only current State subjects to buy land or get local jobs.
They have argued for the adoption of domicile rights as prevalent in States such as Himachal Pradesh.
In Ladakh, the tensions are already visible between the Buddhist-majority Leh and the Shia-majority Kargil districts. While Leh is in a celebratory mood, a different reality prevails in Kargil. There are significant minorities in both districts. Leh got its Autonomous Hill Council in 1995 when the State was under President’s Rule. Then people from Kargil opposed a collective Ladakh Council for Leh and Kargil. This was preceded by long bouts of tension between the two districts. In 2003, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed decided to give Kargil its own council. In a memorandum to the Governor on August 30, 2019, Joint Action Committee Kargil Chairman Sheikh Nazir demanded that the new Union Territory be called Kargil-Leh, the rationale being that Leh had become synonymous with Ladakh. On the other hand, the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) wrote to home minister Amit Shah seeking protection of the Buddhist community in Kargil. The letter written by LBA president P.T. Kunzang accused Sheikh Nazir of instigating communal tension in the region. Too, like the people of Jammu, the people of Leh want a check on outsiders acquiring lands and jobs in the new Union Territory.
Dalit residents of the State also are demanding permanent resident Certificates (PRCs). Over 1, 50,000 refugees who came from neighbouring Sialkot in 1947 also are clamouring for PRCs.. On February 8, 2007, the IHK’s Legislative Assembly rejected a bill giving them the right to become citizens of the State. Speaking in the Assembly, the then State Finance, Law and Parliamentary Minister, Tariq Hamid Karra, said: “We have full Assembly sympathies for West
Pakistan refugees. But the matter has to be resolved in a consensual manner as it has many dimensions.” A similar demand for PRCs was made by a section of the Dalit (Valmiki) community. Its members had come from the Gurdaspur and Amritsar areas of neighbouring Punjab province in 1957 to work as sweepers because sweepers in Jammu and Kashmir had gone on strike.
Nuclear Armageddon: A fair worry? Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan warned war
between the nuclear rivals could `have consequences for the world’ (Washington Post Sep 27, 2019) Kashmir is the flashpoint that triggered the past wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999, besides a quasi-war or the military standoff in the years 2001-2002. It is the real casus belli between the two next-door nuclear-capable neighbours. Even today, it remains the nuclear tinderbox. India wants the issue to remain on the back-burner, but Pakistan wants its early resolution. John Thomson, in his article ‘Kashmir: the most dangerous place in the world’ has analyzed whether it is a myth or reality to perceive Kashmir as the most dangerous place in the world (Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Bushra Asif and Cyrus Samii (eds), ‘Kashmir: New Voices, New Approaches’). He has given cogent arguments to prove that the Kashmir issue could once again spark another Indo-Pak military confrontation with concomitant risks of a nuclear war.
Most western analysts, also, do not rule out the possibility of a nuclear war because of the Kashmir dispute. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has, inter alia, pointed out that ‘avoiding nuclear war in South Asia will require political breakthroughs in India-Pakistan’. The earlier India revamps its attitude to Kashmir dispute, the better. India is stoking up entente by alleging that Pakistan is air-dropping munitions in East Punjab through drones (Pakistan, drone, Punjab Police, Punjab, State Special Operations Cell, NIA,The Statesman September 27, 2019).
India’s forte: Modi assures the world that India is headed for a five-trillion-dollar economy. He is a Buddha incarnate, a doyen of world peace. Some of his slogans may nevertheless be hollow. India has seen numerous slogans in 16 general during 72 years of independence_ Nehru’s slogan of “aaraam haraam hai.” (rest is not kosher), Lal Bahadur Shastri’s “jai jawan jai kisan” (long live farmer, long live soldier), Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” (eradicate poverty), post- 1977 echo of “Indira hatao, desh bachao” (remove Indira, save the country), post-Indira-assassination (October 31, 1984) “jab tak suraj-chaand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega” (till sun and moon shines Indira will live on) , BJP (1996) slogan “sabko dekha baari-baari, abki baari Atal Bihari” (now it’s Bihari’s turn), BJP (2014) “achchhe din aane waale hain” (good days are in the offing), BJP (2019) Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible), jal sey nal jal shakti (water power), jal jeevan (water is life ), ayushman bharat’ (happy India) and swachh bharat (clean India). . Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ‘Global Goalkeeper Award’ for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by the government. The world is enamoured of Modi’s reformist programmes.
Pakistan’s foible or Achilles’ heel
Indian propaganda is that Pakistan is headed for bankruptcy. Invisible `establishment’s rule’ has ruined its economy. Some `intellectuals like Ayesha Siddia Agha (author of military inc.) caricatures life-style of Pakistan’s armed forces visa-vis that of the common. Hey make no mention that successive civilian governments did nothing to provide universal healthcare or education to the people. In actual fact, the Military Inc. shares its blossoming profits with its burgeoning civil employees. One sore point however remains. The civilian governments shun defence-paid civilian employees. The civilian health and institutions regard them as pariah, as celestial aliens. Besides they are woefully inadequate to meet the burden of existing civilian employees in various ministries and departments.
The incompetent civilian governments wasted funds on deco rational projects, instead of establishing new hospitals. By a stroke of pen, the government shifted burden of general public to Federal government Services Hospital. As a result, the hospital became good for nothing for both serving civilians and general public. The Mil Inc. is nice enough to extend them medical and educational facilities at par with serving officers till superannuation. But, overpowered by its own load of retirees, the Inc. disentitles them from medi-care upon superannuation. That, unfortunately is the time when the sexagenarians need medi-care, shelter and education most for their children. I, for one, spent over Rs. 60, 000 at Ali Medical for treatment of a `disentitled’ family member without reimbursement. The defence establishment could benevolently extend benefit of `revolving fund’ to their defence-paid employees. In case of fund crunch, their proportionate share could be extracted from civil-hospitals budget. As a last resort, this fund could be insurance- or contribution (50% department, 50% retiree) –based. This is how the defence establishment could snatch away one propaganda lever from hands of `Inc.-bashers. The contributory or insurance based formula could be extended by do-nothing civilian governments to all citizens.
Pakistan government could learn a lot from Ayusman Bharat and Thailand’s success in achieving universal healthcare in 2002. Thai lesson stressed importance of tight control within very limited resources at their disposal. They built a careful architecture which allowed them, through their Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Program, to clearly specify medically validated protocols and associated prices for all the available services, including diagnostics and medicines.
A few words about housing. Like Defence Housing Authority, two civilian bodies, federal government Employees’ Foundation and Pakistan Housing Authority, are supposed to cater for shelter needs of retired civilian officers. The DHA allots plots and flats to all military officers according to strict criteria. So is not the case with civ bodies. I, for one, have not been allotted any plot or flat despite 40 years of service. Look at my misery, a septuagenarian with heart, diabetes and kidneys ailment. Instead of following date-of-birth/retirement criterion, the civilian housing authorities allot plots only to Grade 22 officers, for sure, leaving other in the lurch. It is unfortunate that civilians devolve blame for their incompetence to the Inc. India propagates that defence allocations are lopsided.
Conflict of interests and war are natural to communities, societies and countries. Lasting peace has been unprecedented in history. A bitter lesson of history is that only such states survived as were able to strike a balance between constraints of security and welfare. Garrison or warrior states vanished as if they never existed. Client states, living on doles from powerful states, ended up as banana republics. We should at least learn from the European security experience.
Just think of what great status were empires like Austria-Hungary, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden and Tsarist Russia (exposed to the 1917 revolution) and even the erstwhile USSR.
A common feature of all strong states had been that they had strong harmonious military and civil institutions, de jure capability to defend their territory and policies that favoured the citizenry rather than dominant classes _feudal lords, industrial robber barons and others. Pakistan needs to weed tout mafias, put its economic house in order, and provide, at least, universal healthcare to its people.
The clusters of sub-sets around the hegemon, with unequal capabilities may not share US vision. USA’s hegemony is imperiled by Venus effect, fanaticism (terrorism), political fragmentation of hegemon’s society, and chemical-biological terrorism. USA pampered India to be its proxy in the sub-continent. But she is tight–rope balancing Iran, Russia, and China.
EU experience shows how weak but intelligent states coalesced to ensure their survival by constraining the hegemon. Alternatively, they would have been on hegemon’s bandwagon in a subordinate position. India should read the writing on the wall and coalesce toward Pakistan.
Status of Minorities in Pakistan
In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression.
Forced Conversions: A chronic problem
On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities.
Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free.
The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge.
These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed.
Subpar Standard of Living
While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today.
While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas.
Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various
International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities.
Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute
Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly 95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.
In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of 9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under cultivation in Bangladesh.
This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river. Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.
The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.
Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.
A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact the water-flow available in the state.
The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).
Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them. Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.
However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.
In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent. The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with a solution.
In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.
In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of the river’s water to Bangladesh.
Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!
Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.
Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the mountainous regions of Sikkim.
Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river, which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed, including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation, increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.
Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5 per cent of the river’s running water.
Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also, reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding.
The Perspective Of Institutional Economics
The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the environmental concerns altogether.
Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore, none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’ signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.
This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions have different ecosystems.
Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’ and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses of political ecology.
Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute
Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.
Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social processes.
David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of the industrial development.
Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand, while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand, local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social, cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!
The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is the politics!
As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad
The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.
Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.
The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.
India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.
India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.
Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.
New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.
Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.
The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.
The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.
With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.
The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.
Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.
The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.
All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.
The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.
With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.
Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.
The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.
Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.
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