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South Asia

South Asia: A COVID-19 Outlier?

Noor Aftab

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International observers remain baffled at the rate of spread and impact of Corona on one of the most populous regions in the world. South Asia is home to more than a 5th of the world’s population. As is the case with other trends related to Corona, it is still not clear why the virus did not see the surge in the region that was experienced in other parts of the globe.

South Asia had been deemed as the perfect hotbed for the Coronavirus. It is densely populated, has poor public health institutions, and is geographically close to China, where the virus originated. Its people are also affected by severe levels of poverty, malnutrition, and hunger. While the countries share a similar heritage, the region happens to be one of the most poorly connected in the world, owing to bad road networks and toxic bilateral relations between some of the countries.

Despite strict guidelines from respective governments, social distancing norms are incompatible with South Asian society. It is a privilege only the elite can afford, as a vast majority of the people live in close proximity with their family members. The region also comprises of fairly religious societies, and governments have faced challenges in the prevention of congregational worship. In Pakistan, Khan was severely criticized for allowing communal prayer during the month of Ramadan.

It can be argued that the relatively lower numbers can be accounted for by low testing rates but if the health care systems in these countries had been choking up, it would have been very difficult to hide.

India, the economic giant in the region, can boast of imposing the strictest lockdown in the world. While the fatality rate is increasing with every passing day, the number of deaths is nowhere near that of Europe or the US. Migrant workers paid a heavy price for the lockdown, which was announced without prior notice, leaving millions displaced. The economic cost of the lockdown has been astounding, as an estimated 122 million Indians lost their jobs in April alone. India’s unemployment rate is now at a record peak of 27.1%,

Similarly, in Bangladesh, researchers from Dhaka University predict that around 15 million people from different sectors will become unemployed in the country due to slowdown of businesses. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Asad Umar, predicted that around 18 million people might lose their jobs as a result of the lockdown.

Modi and Khan have recently eased lockdowns in India and Pakistan respectively, in spite of increasing cases, as they expressed concern for low-income groups and daily wage earners in their countries. Their concerns regarding their economies may be well-founded. According to a recent Yale study, social distancing measures may be more effective in saving lives in higher-income countries. Whereas, in lower-income countries a complete lockdown may be counterproductive, significantly increasing the economic costs. Economic benefits generated by social distancing are estimated to be 240 times larger for the United States, or 70 times larger for Germany, compared to the value created in Pakistan. The value of savings would be 59% of the GDP for the US, 85% of the GDP for Germany as opposed to 14% of Bangladesh and 19% of India’s GDP.

There are several theories about the conservative spread of the virus in South Asia. None of them have been substantiated as yet. It could be that the pandemic was taken more seriously in these developing economies because there was an acceptance of the fact that they weren’t well equipped to deal with the crisis in case it hit them with full force. Some experts credit the warmer and humid climate of the region to have kept the spread of the disease in check. Others are talking about the protection offered to South Asians by the vaccine for Tuberculosis, BCG and possibly a weaker strain of the virus in this region.

One of the more plausible explanations for this trend seems to be the extremely young population of the region. The average age of an Indian is 26.8 years. The number is less than 25 years in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. In contrast, the average age of a citizen is 45 in Italy and above 40 in Germany, France and the UK. According to the Yale study, Populations in rich countries tend to skew older, and so the mortality rate is expected to be higher in those countries, in spite of the disparity in healthcare capacity.

According to Jacob John, a virologist from India, it is not sensible to compare the situation in South Asia with Europe yet, as the region is over a month behind in terms of timeline. Therefore, the April of Europe should be compared to June in India. The epidemic is developing in different countries at different rates and it has not yet reached its full maturity in the region.

There is little doubt about the fact that Covid-19 represents one of the greatest challenges for global leaders of our times. Policy has to evolve constantly according to the trajectory of the virus in the concerned country. The choice between lives and livelihoods can never be an easy one to make.

While it’s too soon to declare any country’s approach a success, it can be acknowledged that South Asian countries enforced stringent lockdowns at a relatively early stage compared to many in the West. However, locking down for over a month hasn’t necessarily slowed down the spread of the disease and the reversal of restrictions could lead to spikes in rates of infections. This in tandem with increasing economic constraints makes it a complex dilemma for policymakers. As the virus is yet to peak in the region in the coming months, the real challenge for the leadership lies in expanding their capacity to deal with the worsening situation.

The author has a Master’s degree from SOAS in Asian Politics. She is particularly interested in South Asian politics and likes to paint in her free time. Noor is currently part of the Research Division at The Nerve Center. Twitter: @NoorAftab5 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/noor-aftab-376919171/

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South Asia

The Power Competition between Liberals and Conservatives in Pakistan

Ali Abbas

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There is competition between the two sections of society in Pakistan. Their ideologies, ideas and agendas are essentially conflictual in nature. The champions of Liberalism believes in struggle for democracy, pluralism, human rights, freedom of speech, individual liberty and modernization. While the Religious forces focus and struggle for the introduction and implementation of Islamic Law. As they also often raise the voice for the unification of Muslim Umaah and injustices with Muslims in all over the world. 

The poor and neglected segments of society are the natural recruitment for the religious group. Usually they are supported by the conservative section of society and local financial resource base is very strong. This section gained the support of national establishment in different times particularly when the era of Zia’s Islamization. Liberal section of the society suffered more hindrances because of absence of democracy, constitutionalism and influence of undemocratic forces. Mostly the liberals look towards the western liberal democracies for political support. However, their influential campaigns for the rights of the people has established appreciable credentials in the society. With the absence of democracy the basic requirements for the liberal civil society remain strange in Pakistan therefore the right wing section has strengthened in the country.

The society can effectively change by two ways: i-e from top to bottom or from bottom to top, usually it has been said that the political strategies and progress is based on this idea. The change at the top and the trickledown effect will create an impact at the bottom where it is needed. The religious segment of civil society started its organization in Pakistan on the base of Islamic ideology or religious expression for the creation of Pakistan.

 International context has played a crucial and definitive role in the establishment of two divergent and conflicting segments of civil society in Pakistan. The final battles of Cold War were executed through the religious force of Pakistan and Afghanistan leaving an indelible mark of extremism and religiosity on Pakistani society. The unfair treatment of the problems of Muslims in the world by USA and its allies sometimes frustrate the masses and thus serve as the breeding ground of hatred and religious extremism.

Two divergent ideologies are in power competition in the country. Basically the ruling elites of Pakistan has used religion for their own power and political purposes. The society is more emotionally attached with religion, so it’s too easy for ruling elites to exploit the religious sentiments of the common people. In fact the religious section has strong rooted in society, a common person can be easily provoke in the name of religion by ruling and religious elites. Even the leaderships of political parties having western educational background, ideas and progressive thinking. The performance of religious political parties in elections throughout the history of Pakistan remained poor. However, failure of mainstream political parties in revitalizing politics, economics and society and hopes of establishing Islamic law and a system of justice and equality attracted some people to the religious forces.

On the other side, the liberal or secular elites are frequently vocal against the mixture of religion in the state affairs. But this section of the society is weak as compare to the right wing of the society. The secular elites mostly having the western background of education have inspired from the west democracies and open societies. The idea of open and secular society cannot be constitutionalize because of the deep rooted religion within the society. The actual agenda of liberalism has been failed to the deliver by the liberal elites. They have their own definition of liberal society that cannot be consider as counter ideology. The extreme definition of open society has not suited in an underdeveloped society. The society lacks several things for a liberal and open and progressive society. Pakistan’s society is underdeveloped, lack of political awareness, rights and duties of a responsible citizen. The poor educational system in Pakistan has become the point of international concern. The lack of quality and modern education, limited economic opportunities make an ordinary man target for the groups. The system suffers from insufficient investment in education sector, institutional incapability, and the poor curriculum that often provokes intolerance. Education is the most important factor that rescues the nation from these ills.

Finally, it can be argued that the conflict between the religious and secular is deeply rooted in sociopolitical history of Pakistan. Both occupy entirely different societal sections with opposing ideologies. Civil society in Pakistan in its present form presents a multidimensional, fragmented but dynamic picture because of the existing divisions and conflict between the secular and the religious. There is need a proper definition of relationship between state and religion and also need to build up the morale of civil society to realize that for the development and progress is only in moderation. Media including print and electronic should encourage progressive mind and dialogues for societal harmony and tolerance.

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South Asia

The New Axis, the Mapolitics and South Asia: The Indian View

Prof. Harish K. Thakur

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Today, while the pandemic has caused immense economic recession worldwide, South Asia exponentially simmers with territorial disputes, extra-maritime activities, border skirmishes, militarization of states and mapolitics.In the Covid 19 scenario when the world has turned inimical towards China under the shadow of conspiracy theories and the unnerved China is grappling to lead the world playing unfair, its challenge appears to be sunk by the confident India as it had to withdraw at Galwan after a border standoff. In the meantime to divert the global attention while China flexes its muscles in South China Sea and pricks on the Indian borders at Ladakh in the light of the implications of its BRI project, a new power axis of Beijing, Islamabad and Kathmandu (BIK) has taken shape against India making its position a bit discomfited and evocates special attention as after Tibet another buffer between India and China significantly dilutes. The release of new political map by India after the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has been retaliated by Nepal and Pakistan that lacks legitimacy even within these states and this has further aggravated the scenario.  

While China loses the comfort of concurrence from Russia and Saudi Arabia about its South Asia policy, the coastal states of South China Sea have also consolidated their firmness against its incursions as on June 29, 2020 Vietnam issued a statement after the meeting of ASEAN leaders  that “we reaffirm that the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones”.2 Recently the unwillingness of several companies to carry in China and shift to the other South Asian states like India and Bangladesh where cheap labour is available mark the beginning of a new order featured by a strengthened Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), renewed US-India collaboration about Indo-Pacific, and a vibrant Indian Ocean zone. The Indo-Chinese rivalry over the region is not new but after the leasing of the Hanbantota sea port of Sri Lanka to China in 2017, the end of US Combat Mission in Afghanistan, and the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs through the Indian territory of Pak Occupied Kashmir their ties have further strained. The strategic rivalry between the two is so sharp that India for the first time fought against China in a foreign territory of Bhutan during the Doklam crisis in 2017.

The timing of the Chinese assertions along the north-western frontiers of India at Ladakh near Galwan and Pangong Tso is also critical as Covid 19 has not even peaked in India till date and the situation turns more precarious in the coming months. The decision of China to prick the borders is not new but this time the intent appears to be different. The major Chinese concern is the bleak prospects of the $62 billion CPEC project that faces stiff opposition in Baluchistan and people of POK. The military coordination between Pakistan and China has been established as “Indian intelligence agencies have recently noticed activities of the Chinese Air Force at Skardu Airbase in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). More than 40 Chinese fighter jets, J10, have been witnessed in Skardu in the month of June itself. The Chinese Air Force is understood to have been preparing to use the Skardu airbase to launch an attack against India.”3 While India faces a two-pronged battle in Ladakh at the Lipulekh trijunction between India, Nepal and China, the setting up of a new post near it by Nepal’s Armed Police Force (APF) after India’s inauguration of the new road to Kailash Mansarovar irks India. This led to Indian Army Chief Manoj Mukund Narvane remark that Kathmandu is acting on “behest of someone” (China) over the Lipulekh issue.  Nepal’s Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel has said that the statement was an insult to the nation’s history and was made ignoring its social characteristics and freedom.4

Against the emergence of Indo-Pacific strategic alliance and the troubled waters in the South China Sea that stifles the Chinese trade route through Malcca the CPEC provides China an easy access in the Indian Ocean through Xinjiang-Gwadar highway. China’s troubled relations with the South East Asian states over the control of South China Sea, the reduction of APEC vis a vis the newly forged Indo-Pacific and the strategic forum QUAD further increase the significance of CPEC which will remain an unrealisable dream until India approves which is a distant possibility. Now China is willing to execute a forcible solution but to be repulsed by India. However the dragonomics has worked as it has succeeded in trapping the small Indian neighbours like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh through its debt trap strategy. After CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act 2019) Bangladesh has also registered protest with India and distanced by cancelling few official visits to India. China also controls 17 islands of Maldives on lease basis and its network of maritime expansion has significantly increased in the last few decades.             

The Provocative Mapolitics  

 Inching forward has been an old policy of China to gradually expand territorially against its neighbours. In recent times China has followed a policy of rechristening the islands and underwater locations in South China Sea. It has named 25 islands and reefs in the South China Sea in a move to cement its territorial claims in the disputed waters. China has set up two new district governments on the Paracel and Spratly islands, known as Xisha and Nansha in China. This has been done with a purpose to deter what it said were “intrusions” by US ships and planes. Several of the newly named islands fall within these two new districts. Beijing also named 55 underwater locations to claim rights over resources. The Chinese moves are in violation of Exclusive Economic Zones of several neighbouring states like Philippines and has escalated tensions with them.5 In July 2016, an international tribunal rejected China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea, concluding that Beijing’s claim violated international law. While the United States takes no position on the competing claims in the South China Sea, Washington does reject Beijing’s claim and has deployed two carrier strike groups in dual-carrier operations through the contested waters. Punctuating this position is US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent announcement that China’s claims are “completely unlawful6

China is being closely followed by Pakistan and its new born ally Nepal, whose communist regime has recently raked up several controversies with India like Lipulekh, calling Covid 19 as Indian virus and river waters. In an act of provocation, that was lauded and hailed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as an “unprecedented step”, Pakistan has shown some Indian territories in Pakistan. The new map was released by Islamabad on August 4, 2020 that showed the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh as Pakistani territories illegally occupied by India. The controversial map also shows the erstwhile state of Junagadh in Gujarat and Sir Creek within Pakistan’s borders. The Pakistani government confirmed that the map will henceforth be used in curriculum across the country.

Before this on June 13, 2020 Nepal’s lower house of Parliament Pratinidhi Sabha too had unanimously passed the historic Second Constitution Amendment Bill guaranteeing legal status for the updated political map of Nepal which included India’s Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura  in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district as part of Nepal. Nepal and India have disagreement over Kalapani since 1815 when British and Nepal signed treaty of Sugauli but till 1998 Nepal remained silent over it and showed little interest. It was only with electoral battles and the increased role of Communists (patronised by China) in Nepal that it became a convenient tool for flaring up the electorate resulting in the amendment now. The Nepalese and Pakistani actions are in retaliation of the New Indian Political Map released by Indian government on October 31, 2019 after the abrogation of special status under article 370 to Jammu and Kashmir. The map had shown whole of Pak Occupied Kashmir as part of India and created two new Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.  While the Indian action was over a longstanding disputed territory occupied illegally by Pakistan and later partially (3400 sq.kms.) ceded to China the retaliations are less legitimate and more of unnerved frowning. So the new mapolitics has engulfed South Asia that surely is going to deepen the difference between the three states. 

The distanced neighbours and the inimical trio against India has to be handled skillfully by the Government of India  and a new process of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), at least with the smaller neighbors, should be initialed to check the things turn worse.

Notes & References

1Mapolitics refers to the strategy of a state showing the territories of others in its own official map, a step short of war to gain legitimacy through internationalizing the issue.

2Jim Gomej, “ASEAN takes Position vs China’s Vast Historical Sea Claims”, Diplomat, June 29, 2020.

3Defence Aviation Post, 30 June, 2020.

4The Times of India, May 25, 2020.

5Didi Tang, The Times, UK, April 20, 2020.

6Patrick Mendis and Joey Wang, South China Morning Post, August 8,  2020.

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South Asia

Kashmiri Lives Matter

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Inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter” after the murder of George Floyd, on 25 May 2020. Many other movements are gaining momentum against discrimination around the world. Kashmiri movement for their legitimate right of self-determination, also gained momentum. Kashmiris are struggling for their rights for 72 years, but India not only denying their legitimate right but using accessive force to suppress them.

Starting from Times Square, New York, on the 5th of August 2020,  to almost all capitals of Europe and other parts of the world, Kashmiri people staged protests, agitations, demonstrations, to express their anger and dissatisfaction with the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. They were displaying banners with various slogans like Kashmir Lives Matters, Freedom for Kashmir, Condemned India atrocities, Respect for human lives, etc. Not only the Kashmiris, but local people also joined them in such protests. Mainstream Media, around the world, has covered their protests and published or broadcasted the Indian atrocities and brutalities in Kashmir. Seminars, Conferences, were held to address the Kashmir issue in many countries.

PM Narendra Modi, won the Elections based on anti-Muslim and Anti-Pakistan slogans and it was expected that his policies will be anti-Muslims and Anti-Pakistan. But PM Narendra Modi has not calculated well the consequences. Today, the Indian economy collapsed, society has been divided, law and order situation deteriorated, Government rit has weakened, insurgencies go momentum. Simply India as a country may not survive long and may disintegrate soon.  PM Modi is pushing India toward disaster. His Nazi thinking and extremist policies have ruined India already. India used to be known as a secular state, but today India is an extremist Hindu state, with no rights to minorities and low caste Hindus.

One year ago, on the same day, the 5th of August 2019, India revoked its own constitution Articles 370 and 35A and annexed Kashmir. The merger of Kashmir and Ladakh to Union territory ends the special autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, which is a disputed territory, recognized Internationally. The UNSC passed dozens of resolutions to resolve the Kashmir Issue. But India is not implementing the UNSC resolutions and became defaulter to the UN, which is a criminal act.  Kashmir is a disputed territory among China-Pakistan and India. The Unilateral actions taken by India angered the stakeholders and offended the international community.  It is a clear breach of international law and fair practices of the civilized world. It was Indian international commitment, the legal binding under Delhi agreement 1952, to implement the UNSC resolutions.

India is spoiling the peace of the whole region. It has initiated arms race in this region and procuring more and more lethal weapons. It should be known that the region is heavily armed with nuclear weapons. India, China, Pakistan, and Russia, al are nuclear countries. Any misadventure may cost the human lives of almost half of the world population.

Indian cross-border terrorism and aggressive acts are increasing and threatening the neighboring countries. India has disputes with all of the regional countries, like Nepal, China, Bhutan, Sikkim, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Almost nine hundred thousand troops of the Indian army, empowered with draconian laws,  have illegally occupied the territory and are keeping the 8 million people of Kashmir under siege while violating with impunity the International Humanitarian law and practices. Kashmir has become the largest jail. Indian troops are using lethal weapons, cluster bombs, pallet guns, and perpetrating Sexual offenses, destroying Muslim religious and private properties. Whereas the Kashmiri civilians are innocent and unarmed. They are protesting and agitating peacefully for their legitimate right of self-determination, sanctioned by UNSC in 1948. Although UNSC resolutions are legally binding on India, but, India is delaying and not implementing UNSC resolutions passed in 1948. 

Estimated killings so far are said to be 352, including 75 unarmed civilians, 196 freedom fighters, and also 81 from the occupational forces. 170000 persons have been arrested including old-aged, women, and under-aged children. The top political leadership has been arrested or house arrest. The activists and youth are arrested are shifted to detention camps. Children are separated from parents and messed in detention camps. It’s now a year since the curfew was clamped. There is a severe shortage of food, medicines, fuel, and electricity and the basic necessities of daily life. The phone and internet services are suspended. Travelling is restricted, especially media persons and foreigners.  Kashmir is totally cut-off from the rest of the world, and blacked-out, with no flow of information. Only state media is reporting the censored reports. Whatsoever is reported in the International media is only a fraction, as leaked information is always limited only. The actual situation on the ground is rather much more severe and dangerous. Kashmir is split into two Indian union territories as Kashmir and Ladakh.Against the wishes of the stakeholders. This is the worst type of tyranny being faced by the helpless people of Kashmir in the history of humankind.

For 72-years of Indian atrocities and brutalities, have forced Kashmiris to seek a merger with Pakistan. The more force India will use to suppress Kashmiris, the more hate will increase against India, and the more love for Pakistan will increase. The ultimate solution to Kashmir is the merger with Pakistan according to UNSC resolutions through holding a plebiscite. India is granting domicile to non-Kashmiris, especially Hindus from other parts of India, to change the demography of Kasmir. India wanted to change the Muslim majority of Kashmiris which stands 87% to the Hindu majority. India failed to control Kashmir for 72-years, and will never keep occupation forever. India has to leave Kashmir, the sooner, the better. The spirit of Kashmiris can not be suppressed by any means, they are determined to keep their struggle till victory. People of Kashmir are brave, bold, and committed. No one can suppress them.  Salute to the brave men and women from Kashmir, who are fighting with the huge Indian Army and yet not surrender. Their struggle will reach a logical end with Victory only.

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