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Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear: The Present Situation in India

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People all over the country are protesting against the damage that has been done to the very ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. In western world and across the globe, India is known for the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and let those ideals remain intact and flourish in his India.

Citizens Protests against the Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2019

Indian Parliament last week enacted the amendment in the most controversial Bill in this millennium – The Citizenship (amendment) Bill, 2019, neglecting the beforehand mentioned stand of US Commission on International Religious Freedom that stated that US should go for sanctions against present Home Minister and ‘other principle leadership’ if the Bill goes through the parliament and becomes an Act. The very next day, Bill was through the parliament, became the Citizenship (amendment) Act, 2019 and New Delhi retaliated by pushing back the statement by USCIRF. But probably, it was unaware that a huge wave of active citizens is heading to counter the change, which they call ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘undemocratic’ in the criteria of amended Act. Since December 10, from when the Bill was enacted, a huge wave of protests have begun and are still going on.

The protestors are basically protesting for 2 reasons: First, the protests by students, various academia, scholars, and different citizens across different cities and states are against the ‘discriminatory nature’ of the Act which intentionally keeps one religious community (to name Muslims) out of the scope of the amended Act. The Act, as per New Delhi’s stand, basically grants citizenship to 6 religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The point that New Delhi misses here is that – the constitution of the country doesn’t grant any power to the state to enact any law which could potentially be ‘discriminatory’ on any grounds. Furthermore, the Act remains mute when it comes to Atheists and other Muslim minorities which are also persecuted in the countries mentioned in the Act. Now, to potentially exclude atheists indicates that it is direct violation of fundamental right in democracy – the right to choose or not choose the religion. Also, not including other minorities which are ‘persecuted’ in the neighbouring countries also has raised eyebrows about true intention of the Act.

The Second group of protests are happening in the north eastern region of the country which is bound to have the maximum plausible impact, be it positive or negative, by this legislation.

The citizens in the north eastern and eastern states, primarily in Tripura, West Bengal, and Assam see this legislation as a threat to their regional identity. India is diverse – both culturally as well as linguistically and any attempt which seems to curb that identity has always had a negative impact on the state and this time as well, the same thing has happened. Here citizens are uniting and protesting against the legislation because if the Law comes into the force then thousands of all those who are “foreigners” in the eyes of the citizens of north eastern state will acquire the official citizenship of the country and a complete change in demography of the region will take place, which might be up to an extent that in many areas the majority of native citizens would become minority against those whom they call “foreigners” and will acquire the citizenship.

Democracy itself at stake

New Delhi has always boasted about being the “world’s largest democracy” at all the international forums and panels but in present circumstances it is no strange that in the country the very idea of “democracy” seems to be at stake. Firstly, the university students, initially in New Delhi, who protested against the legislation were detained and have alleged the use of ‘force’ by the Delhi Police. The lathi-charge, use of tear gas, and that of water cannons by police against the university students indicates that everything is not going alright in the country. Initial protests occurred at the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia University of New Delhi. The violent clash between police and protesting students of JMI occurred on 15th December 2019 in which 50 students protesting were arrested by the police. Soon thereafter, the students of another university in the neighbouring state to New Delhi, Aligarh Muslim University broke down the protests against the legislations as well as in the solidarity with the students of JMI. Again the students in AMU as well were made to face the brutality of police. In AMU campus, which initially saw a peaceful demonstrations till the campus area, the lathi charges, tear gas, stunned grenades, pellets and stones were used in the clash. Many students have been injured in a crackdown with the police.

Soon thereafter, the unity of the students across the country shook all the legislators, irrespective of the political party as presumably none of them would have expected that students across the country could unite and make all those in the government face – ‘the active citizenship’. Students, scholars as well as academia, irrespective of their academic background, have united against the legislation which they deem to be “discriminatory” and also in the solidarity with the students of JMI who faced the police ‘force’. The protests which began from 3 most prestigious universities of the country have spread across every region of the country and have covered universities in almost every territorial domain of India. The participation covering wide spectrum of citizens, protesting and demonstrating against the ‘nature’ of the Act clearly indicates that the ‘public opinion’ in the country is not in the favour of legislation which the current majority-retaining regime has brought.

Although the Bill has always been controversial and the present regime had failed to enact it in 2016, but after retaining power in 2019 elections – the present regime went ahead with the legislation. The present regime missed two thing – first the public sentiment in north eastern state and second and most unexpected for the legislators – the active citizenship by the students of the country. Presently ‘to maintain law and order’ situation, internet services has been seized in many regions of the country including its capital city – New Delhi. Government has imposed Section 144 of Indian CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) and curfew has been imposed so as to stop protests from being violent.

Diplomatic Loss

New Delhi has suffered a huge diplomatic loss as a consequence of the recently amended Act and it is an ‘open secret’. Since very beginning itself USCIRF – the body of US congress has been critical of the Act which held a view that it is ‘a dangerous turn in wrong direction’. Later on United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR), in one of its tweets, expressed the “concerns” over the Act and maintained a stand that it is “fundamentally discriminatory” in nature. New Delhi seems to have forgotten that it is no isolated place from the rest of the world and if anything which seems to be “undemocratic” happens in the largest South Asian country then it is much obvious that fingers would be pointed out to the country which, at many occasions, has boasted about being “world’s largest democracy”. The very ideals of India as well as the Indian diplomacy are based on pluralism and democracy, which has to be kept in mind while making any decision. It is highly likely that New Delhi might be held accountable, at international level, for the Act which has caused a chaos throughout the country. Furthermore, its relations with eastern as well as southern neighbouring countries might also be affected by this legislation. The long-standing international image of India being pluralistic and respective diverse opinions seems to be at stake.

Meanwhile the statements in which the elected representatives are trying to humiliate protestors in name of seizing their properties and doing economic loss to them will accelerate the image blurring of the country at international level.

The Conclusion

India is going through a phase where potentially its “democratic” image itself is at stake. The present generation, particularly the students and academia have raised their concerns and have held the demonstrations and protests all across the country to express their displeasure with the legislation. Nation-wide protests have erupted since last one week and the ‘wellbeing democratic country’ image of the country has begun to tarnish which will surely have its own implications in the future. The activeness of the students is commendable as they are trying to participate in the democratic decision making process irrespective of their respective academic background. The present legislation has already been challenged in the Supreme Court but it would be too idealistic for citizens to sit idly and wait for the apex court to deliver the judgement and thus they have came out in the streets and have expressed themselves. In the western world and across the globe, India has always had an image of country of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar – the country of pluralism and rule of law, it is high time that the very ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the chairman of drafting committee of their constitution – Dr B R Ambedkar is realised in the country.

Jaimin Parikh is a diplomatic researcher currently engaged with European Institute of Policy Research and Human Rights. He is also serving as an Expert Reviewer with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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South Asia

Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions

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Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.

The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.

Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.

The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.

The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.

Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.

Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.

Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.

Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.

A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.

That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.

These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.

The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.

Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.

“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.

“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.

The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.

Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.

Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.

Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.

Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.

Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.

Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.

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Panjshir – the last stronghold of democracy in Afghanistan

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The Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan has briefly stalled only in the face of strong resistance mounted by the people of the country’s recalcitrant mountainous province of Panjshir. Whoever controls the region’s passes controls the routes leading to China and Tajikistan, but to seize this mountain valley and, most importantly, to keep it permanently under control has always been a problem for all invaders. Eager to let the international community see for the first time in 40 years a united Afghanistan as a sign of their final victory, the radical Islamists were prepared to make any sacrifices, including filling the approaches to the Panjshir Valley up with dead bodies. Moreover, the Taliban’s longtime ally Pakistan, which, regardless of its status of an ally of the United States, has provided them with direct military support. In fact, Islamabad admitted its less than successful role when it proposed signing a truce to find and take out the bodies of its special Ops forces who had died during the attack on the valley. However, drones flown by Pakistani operators, professional commandos (possibly once trained by the Americans), air support and other pleasant gifts from the allies eventually bore fruit letting the Taliban be photographed in front of the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud Sr., the famous “Lion of Panjshir,” who controlled the valley from 1996 to 2001. The Islamists also took control of the province’s central city of Bazarak.

Having deprived the province much of its Internet access, the radicals, who control most of the Afghan territory, found it easier to wage an information war. Their claims of victories were now more difficult to contest, even though information about their retreat did reach the outside world. Reflective of the heavy losses suffered for the first time by the Taliban and their allies – the Haqqani Network and other remnants of al-Qaeda, as well as by the regular Pakistani army is the brief truce arranged by Islamabad. Looks like the mountain passes leading to Panjshir were literally filled up with corpses…

As for Massoud Jr., the young lion of Panjshir, and his supporters, they retreated to the mountains. In fact, they had nowhere to fall back to. The problem of Afghanistan is its ethnic diversity. Thus, the country is home to 23 percent of ethnic Tajiks, most of whom live in the Panjshir Valley. However, the Taliban rely mainly on the Pashtuns, who account for over 50 percent of the country’s population. As for the new masters of Afghanistan, they are ready to carry out ethnic cleansings and even commit outright genocide in order to bring the valley into submission. To make this happen they are going to resettle there their fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Local men aged between 12 and 50 are already being taken away and, according to the National Resistance Front, no one has seen them again. However, due to the information blockade, the Taliban will not hesitate to refute such facts. One thing is clear: Massoud’s Tajik fighters and the government troops that joined them are fighting for their lives, and there will be no honorable surrender!

The main question now is whether the young lion of Panjshir will receive the same support as his father once did, or will find himself without ammunition and food. After all, the Taliban leaders have reached certain agreements with the United States. Suffice it to mention the numerous remarks made, among others, by President Biden himself about the Taliban now being different from what they were 20 years ago.

But no, the Taliban`s remain the same – they have only hired new PR people. Meanwhile, hating to admit their defeat, Brussels and Washington will have to engage in a dialogue with those who are responsible for the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and for the numerous terrorist attacks in Europe. The Taliban are pretending to make minor cosmetic concessions. Minor indeed, since they are still depriving women of the opportunity to work and study, destroying higher and secondary education and brutally clamping down on people who simply do not want to live according to religious norms.

The United States is actually helping the “new-look” Taliban. Their potential opponents, including the famous Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, left the country under various guarantees, and Washington is trying to keep them from any further participation in the conflict. Democratic politicians naively believe that by creating an Islamic state and ending the protracted civil war in Afghanistan the Taliban will ensure stability in the region and will not move any further. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan do not think so and are strengthening their borders and preparing to protect their Afghan compatriots, because they know full well that the Taliban`s are not a national political party; they are a radical Islamist ideology.

It knows no borders and spreads like a cancerous tumor, destroying all pockets of Western culture. It can only be stopped by force. However, the two decades of US military presence in Afghanistan showed that Washington, which quickly took control of the country in 2001, simply had no strategy to keep it. The Afghans were given nothing that would appear to them more attractive than the ideas of radical Islam. As a result, the few Afghans who embrace European values are fleeing the country, and those who, like Massoud Jr., decided to fight for their freedom, now risk being left to face their enemy all by themselves.

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Misjudgements in India’s Afghan policy

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India’s Afghan policy has always been obsessed with the desire to deny Pakistan the “strategic depth” that Pakistan, according to India’s perception, yearns. If India had a pragmatic policy, it would not have found itself whimpering and whining like a rueful baby over spilt milk.

India supported the invasion of Afghanistan by both the former Soviet Union and the USA, both losers. President Trump mocked Modi for having built a library for the Afghan people. Trump expected India to contribute foot soldiers, and by corollary, body packs to the Afghan crisis. India played all the tricks up its sleeves to convince the USA to make India a party to the US-Taliban talks. But the USA ditched not only Modi but also Ashraf Ghani to sign the Doha peace deal with the Taliban.

India’s external affairs minister still calls the Taliban government “a dispensation”. Interestingly, the USA has reluctantly accepted that the Taliban government is a de facto government.

Humanitarian crisis

The United Nations’ Development Programme has portrayed a bleak situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is faced with multifarious challenges. These include prolonged drought and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upheaval caused by the current political transition: frozen foreign reserves, and rising poverty.

About 47 per cent of its people live below the dollar-a-day poverty line. If the poverty line is pushed to $2 a day, 90 per cent of Afghans would be poor. About 55 per cent of Afghans are illiterate.

Ninety seven percent of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line, As such, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty. Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. The UNDP has proposed to access the most vulnerable nine million people by focusing on essential services, local livelihoods, basic income and small infrastructure.

Currently, the gross national product of Afghanistan is around $190 billion, just a little more than the $160 billion economy of Dhaka city. The country’s legal exports of goods and services every year account for $1 billion. It imports$6 billion worth of goods and services every year.

About 80 per cent of world production of opium comes from Afghanistan. Every year, Afghanistan produces nearly 10,000 tons of opium and the revenue generated from it amounts to $7 billion approximately. About 87 per cent of the income of opium producing farmers comes exclusively from this single product. The illicit opium export by Afghanistan is worth $2 billion every year. The role of opium is significant.

About 80 per cent of public expenditure in this country is funded by grants. Since 2002, the World Bank has provided Afghanistan with a total of $5.3 billion as development and emergency relief assistance. The IMF earmarked for Afghanistan $400 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for combating the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

The United States has frozen about $10 billion worth of Afghan assets held at various banks in Afghanistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn the $400 million worth of SDRs allocated earlier to Afghanistan for addressing the Covid-19 crisis. The World Bank has not said anything as of yet, but it may also put restrictions on its funding to Afghanistan.

India’s lip service to Afghanistan

India provided around $3 billion in aid to fallen U.S.-backed Afghan government.  It trained the Afghan army and police. But now it is not willing to pay or pledge a penny to the Taliban government. Look at the following Times of India report:

“India did not pledge any money to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan probably for the first time in 20 years. That it has not done so as Jaishanker declared … (At UN, India offers support to Afghanistan but does not pledge money. The Times of India September 14, 2021).The Hindu, September 11, 2021

India’s tirade against Afghanistan

Indian policymakers and experts say they see no guarantees that Afghanistan won’t become a haven for militants. “Afghanistan may be poised to become a bottomless hole for all shades of radical, extremist and jihadi outfits somewhat similar to Iraq and Syria, only closer to India,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who was India’s ambassador in Kabul between 2010 to 2013.  He added that the Taliban victory could have an “inspirational effect” not only for Kashmir’s rebels but wherever religiously-driven groups operate in the broader region… Lt. Gen Deependra Singh Hooda, former military commander for northern India between 2014-2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan  (With Taliban’s rise, India sees renewed threat in Kashmir, Star Tribune September 14, 2021). “Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh conveyed to Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton that the rise of the Taliban raises serious security concerns for India and the region. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would spark a “catastrophic” situation for the Afghan people and be a “gift for terrorist groups.”). Afghan economic meltdown would be ‘gift for terrorists,’ says U.N. chief” (The Hindu, September 11, 2021)

 India’s former envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay is skeptical of the conciliatory statements by the taliban government. He advises: “We should welcome recent statements by Stanekzai and Anas Haqqani that suggest some independence from the ISI. But we should also ask some hard questions and judge them by their actions and words, and not let down our guard, both with regard to our multiple security concerns such as whether they can protect us from the Ias and ISI, sever ties with other terror groups, especially those supported by the ISI against India, deny Pakistan strategic depth, and preserve and build on our historic P2P and trade ties; and a genuinely inclusive govt in Afghanistan that accommodates the majority of Afghans who want the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2004 Afghan Constitution or at least acceptable to the Afghan people.” (Taliban move to form govt, Naya Afghanistan brings new challenge for India, September 2, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India wants a “central role’ to be given to the UN in Afghanistan. India’s mumbo jumbo implies that Afghanistan should be made a UN protectorate. Indian media is never tired of calling the Afghan government a bunch of terrorists. They have even launched video games about it.

India needs to rethink how it can mend fences with Afghanistan that it regards a hothouse of terrorists.

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