Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.–Thomas Moore
Kashmir has a way of arousing strong emotions, even among those like the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who never set foot on its soil. At the time of partition of British India, Kashmir was one of the largest princely states and like the rest of the princely states, it had the option of joining either of the two dominions of India and Pakistan or else declare independence. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had a similar choice to make but unable to take a stand he chose to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan in order to buy time. India delayed signing such an agreement. It was following this agreement, that Pakistan with an eye on taking over Kashmir, started to act up and enforced a virtual economic blockade of this landlocked state, in a bid to force the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan (Singh, 1989).
The Maharaja desperate for supplies turned to India for help and matters soon took a turn for the worse, when Pashtun Tribals funded and equipped by Pakistan, invaded Kashmir, in October 1947(Haque, 2010). Facing imminent takeover of his state, Hari Singh again turned to India for help, but the Indian Government expressed its inability to intervene militarily in the absence of an Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja had dithered for too long to his detriment, he then signed the agreement and Indian troops were airlifted to the valley, immediately. The Indian Army successfully routed the tribal force,code named ‘Operation Gulmarg’,and it was the Pakistani Army which now took up the slack and stepped in continue the battle.
With winter creeping in, fighting was resumed only in the spring of 1948. It was to be almost a year before a UN sponsored cease fire took effect in January 1949, and the cease fire line became the de facto border pending resolution of the dispute. In retrospect, the Pashtun invasion was in effect the first proxy war waged by Pakistan and the resulting cease fire line was to become the Line of Control in a later ‘avatar’. It is in the context of Kashmir that we shall examine the coming in to being of these twin concepts of ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Proxy War’ and see how they created and shaped the flow of events as they un folded, in the intervening decades. Also examined, will be the role of the two state actors in a bid to identify likely outcomes and possible course corrections.
Proxy War and Kashmir
Proxy wars cannot be understood, unless they are placed in the context of their existence and usage. For Pakistan, the benefit in this manner of engagement, lies not only in its deniability (for political reasons) but also because it minimises the chances that such a conflict could escalate into a full blown act of war (Byman, 2018).
As an added corollary, there is the added incentive of reduced financial and human costs. Contextually, of even more significance, is the fact that India has military superiority which Pakistan would find hard to counter, if it were to engage in direct combat in a bid to annex Kashmir. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, when Pakistan plays the religion card for motivation, the results exceed expectations as it radicalises Islam in a Kashmir which originally subscribed to Sufi Islam. The incentive of ‘Azaadi’ is just a metaphor for annexation.
In Kashmir, there is a chain of causality, that began when, Major General Akbar Khan, a serving Pakistani Army officer, used Pashtun Tribals to stage an armed insurrection in Kashmir in October 1947 (Haque, THE KASHMIR CONFLICT: WHY IT DEFIES SOLUTION, 2010). The tribals in this operation were the first in a long list of non -state actors used by Pakistan in the relentless proxy war being waged, across the line of control, till today. Praveen Swami chooses to call this an “informal war” and rightfully says it has had a greater impact than both the 1947 and 1965 wars, as it set the stage for a seemingly endless engagement (Talbot, 2007).
Line of Control and Kashmir
In international parlance there was no such term like the line of control, until it was coined in 1972, when the Simla Accord was signed between India and Pakistan, after the post war (1971) negotiations between the two countries. The physical origins of the line of control, date back to the first Indo-Pak war in 1947, an invasion, gone wrong. Pakistan had committed this act of aggression, covert and overt, in spite of having signed a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and for no identifiable reason except to further Jinnah’s interpretation of the Two Nation Theory. In spite of speculation about the exact timing of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, the fact remains that Indian troops intervened with this accession instrument in place and the UN mediated a cease fire between the two countries and the cease fire line was formalised in a Karachi agreement signed in July 1949. Approximately one third of Kashmir was now with Pakistan and India had the balance two thirds. In the following years, there were three major wars with Pakistan and out of them it was the 1971 war which metamorphosed the cease fire line in to the Line of Control (LOC), as part of a larger political settlement. This line of control was in effect ‘cordon sanitaire’ based on military realities and political exigencies. Virtually unaffected by the wars of 1965 and 1999, the 742 km LOC still traverses majorly mountainous terrain with the Siachen Glacier as its end point. It has now been fenced over much of its length to discourage infiltration from Pakistan.
Proxy War and Line of Control
Regardless of nomenclature, with the war of 1947, the matters of proxy war and the line of control, became inextricably linked to the very existence of the countries of India and Pakistan. Just like the first war of 1947, Pakistan, unsuccessfully tried the proxy route again in 1965, with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ but the infiltrators could not garner local support and ‘conventional’ war broke out. The UN then negotiated a cease fire, and the Tashkent Agreement restored the sanctity of the 1949 cease fire line. In subsequent years, the 1971 war mutated the cease fire line, in to the LOC, and this war was more to do with the liberation of East Pakistan, anyway. Finally, it was Zia, who ultimately formalised this bid to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”(Katoch, 2013). The juggernaut he set rolling in 1988, never quite stopped and the Kargil war of 1999, was to see the pattern repeated, in terms of the use of non-state actors.
In the intervening years, since, only the ‘face’ of proxy war has changed and evolved, the heavily militarized LOC is a constant. To start with, in the eighties, it was the pro-independence JKLF with indigenous recruits, which held sway, only to be replaced by a pro-Pakistan, Hizbul-Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-Mohammed. Even now, the youth of Kashmir, is being radicalised and trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, for ‘Jihad’, but ‘terrorism fatigue’ is setting in. Militants are losing support of the local population, more and more, just as Pakistan uses its Afghan experience to use different nationalities as cannon fodder. Peace talks make no headway in this paradigm and there are no winners in this war, social and economic development is the casualty, damaged goods abound amongst the public and the security forces, alike.
In Search of a Settlement
Taking the time of partition as a point of reference, Pakistan was convinced in its mind that given geographical contiguity, and the fact that the state was predominantly Muslim, Kashmir should be its own. Clearly this was a political issue which Pakistan turned in to a military conflict. From thereon, Pakistan’s strategies ensured that the situation was turned in to a regional conflict with international dimensions. So much so Clinton referred to the LOC as the “most dangerous place in the world”(Popham, 2000). Playing its cards well, Pakistan turned a political stalemate in to a militaristic, socio-religious and political quagmire. With no noteworthy democratic institutions to speak of, Pakistan wants to liberate Kashmir, choosing to forget that accession was the instrument of choice when the princely states decided their fate at the time of partition. How was Kashmir’s choice being invalidated if this was so.
Today, the Kashmir Valley is a land transformed. From a paradise of untold natural beauty, it is a landscape of concertina wire fences and concrete bunkers. Its residents are in a state of siege, emotionally scarred, unable to cast off the twin yokes of militancy and counter-insurgency, with the military and militants lurking at every corner (literally). Brutality abounds. Opportunistic politicians, flawed elections, corrupt bureaucrats, a protecting force which behaves like an occupation force, are faces of this brutality that have been unleashed on the people of Kashmir. This was not always so.
Clearly, somewhere along the way India lost her bearings. It failed to take in to account the aspirations of the people. Kashmirayat, was secular, but it was not taken seriously and it did not take much to ignite the flames of ‘Azaadi’ which almost engulfed the valley. The secular bond was broken with the forced migration of the Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley. Regardless of the prevailing political dispensation, over time, with the growth of militancy, repression was the dominant reaction and the ‘mailed fist’ gained precedence. Radicalised Islam began to replace Sufi Islam((RETD), 2018). Fear and suspicion ruled the psyche of the people. The youth felt disenfranchised. India had fallen in to the trap of enforcing a siege instigated by Pakistan. Kashmiris felt betrayed. Article 370 which granted unprecedented autonomy, had been diluted until it was just symbolic, when it was abrogated in 2019, by a fiercely nationalistic government which had only just snapped ties with an electoral partner perceived as soft on separatists.
Coming back to the time of independence, Dionisio Anzilotti, former President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, says that Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 was “against all canons of international law” and “a clear violation of the Charter, the Security Council’s resolution of 17 January, 1948” (Pan, 1998).Just as interesting is the fact that, the accession document is deemed to be legal under international law even if it is signed under duress(Ayoob, 1967). As for the oft touted failure to institute a plebiscite, the UNSC resolution signed by both countries, clearly calls for first off withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir, with India keeping its forces at a minimum. Pakistan will never pull back and the stalemate therefore continues.
Clearly, there is an impasse and an impossibility for either side to blink. In Pakistan, the army cannot possibly abandon a conflict through which it exercises control over the body politic that sustains its economic, political and economic interests. It is almost as if, Kashmir is the very reason for the existence of the army and for the public of Pakistan, Kashmir’s liberation and annihilation of its bête noire, India, is the only national priority. Muhammad Shaffi Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician put it well when he said, that the Pakistan Army has “been feeding the tiger for a long time” for it to just walk away(Kifner, 2001). The danger in proxy warfare being that after a time proxies begin to “act according to their own interest and impulses”(Byman, ORDER FROM CHAOS Why engage in proxy war? A state’s perspective, 2018)(ibid).Pervez Musharraf and others have realized this truth much to their chagrin.
India, too is riding its own tiger, as it is caught in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap ‘in terms of being, in a state of no war accompanied by no peace(Carciumaru, 2015). The fear being that any let up in military presence will escalate militancy. The abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in to centrally administered divisions, has destabilized already vulnerable democratic processes, turning Kashmir in to a simmering cauldron. The current political dispensation at the centre is still going ahead andrapidly making changes in domicile laws, in a bid to alter the demographics of the region. Previous state governments had done this for different reasons when they allowed the settling of Rohingya refugees in Jammu and thereabouts, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, matters can take a serious turn from hereon, with resentment boiling over among the populace at large.
Attempting to deal with the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan is consequently changing its strategy. A leaked policy document from the ‘Green Book 2020’,indicates that the proxy war will now move towards, a‘non kinetic domain’(Osborne, 2020).Cyber warfare and psychological warfare being used to aid and abet a native uprising, so as to be able to defend Pakistan’s position on international forums. With a defensive and weakened Pakistan, India, too must move differently and realize that it cannot have a decisive win against militancy, using brute force. With militancy, currently at an ebb, the time is in fact opportune to move towards a ‘negotiated settlement’ as the militants are politically discredited in a scenario where India has the moral high ground as it does not believe in building terror launch pads on its soil. Its people of Kashmir are decidedly at an advantage economically, when compared to their ‘compatriots’ across the LOC and they have a ‘voice’, in a country where rule of law still prevails. Aberrations like the AFSPA, can surface in any dispensation, you don’t throw the baby with the bath water.
Bashir Manzar wrote on twitter, “From Geelani to Farooq Abdullah, we have a luxury to say anything and everything against India, ridiculing it for rejecting our right of self-determination,independent Kashmir, autonomy, self-rule etc. But when Pakistan rejects all these things, we turn into non-speaking species. Are we more scared of Pakistan than India?”
Seven decades later, peace is still intractable in the Kashmir Valley.Violations across the line of control continue, by both sides and the proxy war initiated and sustained by Pakistan, has been a constant for long.Kashmir is ina ‘mutually hurting-stalemate’(Carciumaru, Beyond the ‘Low-Level Equilibrium Trap’: Getting to a ‘Principled Negotiation’ of the Kashmir Conflict, 2015) (ibid).Perhaps, the most elegant solution to this imbroglio would be acceptance of the line of control as an international border with greater autonomy for Kashmir (as suggested by Farooq Abdullah)so that the people of Kashmir couldthen move on with their lives, which in a paradoxical manner seem to be in a state of suspended animation, as long as the conflict continues to play itself out. This is not utopian, all it needs is political will and some give and take(Sharma, 2017).
India’s fury at Moeed Yousaf’s interview?
In an interview with Indian media outlet The Wire, Moeed Yusuf , revealed that India had expressed a “desire for conversation” but said that Pakistan’s agreement to talks would be conditional (Talks with India only possible with Kashmir as third party, says SAPM Moeed Yusuf, Dawn 14 Oct 2020) . India quickly denied any offier for talks. Moeed as also his interviewer were quickly dubbed anti-India jihadi.
A leader becomes a traitor the moment he stops singing paeans for “secular democracy”. Take Sheikh Abdullah. Barkha Dutt recalls (This Unquiet Land, p. 154) `In a 1948 speech to the United Nations, Sheikh Abdullah … made a blistering defence of the accession to India. Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir) roared, :`I had thought all along that the world had got rid of Hitlers…but what is happening in my poor country I am convinced that they have transmigrated their souls into Pakistan…I refuse to accept Pakistan as a party in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir’
Dutt says, “Sheikh Abdullah [later] began to talk about possibility of independent Kashmir…Soon after he changed his stance he was jailed and dismissed from office and was not able to lead the state for another twenty years’.
While talking to Cyril Al Maeda in an exclusive interview that appeared on 12th May, Pakistan’s former prime minister Sharif had said `Militant organizations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?’ During Kalbushan jhadav’strial, Indian counsel used the MNS statement ` to blame Pakistan for its alleged involvement in sponsoring terrorism in India’.
The factual position is that gullible Sharif had relied on statement by then serving ISI chief Shuja Pasha. Even Pasha’s statement was grossly misinterpreted. Pasha never asaid that it was ISI who in any way sponsored the Mumbai operation. Even the USA never trusted interrogation of David Headley who was `linked’ to the Mumbai incident.
Let me quote Mohammed Adobo and Etgar Ugur (eds.), Assessing the War on Terror, 2013, Lynne Reiner Publishers, Inc., Colorado 80301 (USA). Chapter V: Pakistan Perfidious Ally in the War on Terror, C. Christine Fair, p. 85)
According to Indian officials who interrogated him after his indictment, David Headley, an American involved in the Mumbai attacks conceded ISI involvement (Jason Burke, “ISI chief aided Mumbai terror attacks: Headley”, The Hindu October 19, 2010; Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thomson, “US had warnings on Plotter of Mumbai Attack”, New York Times, October 17, 2010). US officials have not endorsed this claim. Bt, according to some reports, the current director general of the ISI Shuja Pasha, acknowledged that the persons connected to the ISI were involved in attacks (Woodword, Obama’s Wars, pp 46-47). Documentary analysis shows secretive Mumbai trials were translucent (Davidson, Betrayal of India: Revisiting the 26/11 Evidence).
It is a documented fact that India is stroking insurgencies in neighbouring countries. 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’… Some Indian diplomats and RAW 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 recalls ‘Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. India Gandhi had then confided to Kao that if Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the 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. India’s then army chief, SAM Manekshaw confessed in video interview that India Gandhi ordered him to attack erstwhile East Pakistan. (YouTube: Indian Army Stories of the Indo-Pak War 1971 by Sam manekshaw).
United Nations’ view of `accession: Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions to forestall the `foreseeable accession’ by the puppet assembly. Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and affirmative Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 outlaws accession or any other action to change status of the Jammu and Kashmir state.
Under hypnotic spell of Indian propaganda, readers naively accept IHK’s `assembly’ and preceding `instrument of accession’ as fait accompli. No sir, they aren’t. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the sham assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions to forestall the foreseeable` accession’ by the puppet assembly. Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 outlaws accession or any other action to change status of the Jammu and Kashmir state.
`Accession instrument’ is a myth, unregistered with the UN. Alastair Lamb, in his book Incomplete Partition (Chapter VI: The accession Crisis, pp. 149-151) points out that Mountbatten wanted India not to intervene militarily without first getting `instrument of accession’ from maharajah Hari Singh. Not doing so would amount to `intervening in the internal affairs of what was to all intents and purposes an independent State in the throes of civil conflict’. But, India did not heed his advice. It marched its troops into Kashmir without maharajah‘s permission _ an act of aggression. Lamb says `timing of the alleged Instrument of Accession undoubtedly affected its legitimacy'(p.172, ibid). She adds `If in fact took place after the Indian intervention, then it could well be argued that it was either done under Indian duress or to regularise an Indian fait accompli’.
He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947. Actually, it was on October 27, 1947 that the maharajah was informed by MC Mahajan and VP Menon (who had flown into Srinagar) that an Instrument of Accession is being fabricated in New Delhi. Obviously, the maharajah could not have signed the instrument earlier than October 27, 1947. The instrument remains null and void, even if the maharajah had actually signed it. The reason, as pointed out by Alastair is that the `signatures’ were obtained under coercion. Under law, any undertaking secured through coercion or duress is null and void. She points out Indian troops had already arrived at and secured Srinagar airfield during the middle of October 1947. On October 26, 1947, a further airlift of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir took place. She questions: “Would the maharajah have signed the Instrument of Accession, had the Indian troops not been on Kashmiri soil?” Isn’t it funny that, in the summer of 1995, the Indian authorities reported the original document as lost or stolen?
Lamb concludes (p. 191, ibid):`According to Wolpert, V. P. Menon returned to Delhi from Srinagar on the morning of 26 October with no signed Instrument of Accession. Only after the Indian troops had started landing at Srinagar airfield on the morning of 27 October did V. P. Menon and M. C. Mahajan set out from Delhi from Jammu. The Instrument of Accession, according to Wolpert, was only signed by Maharajah Sir Hari Singh after Indian troops had assumed control of the Jammu and Kashmir State’s summer capital, Srinagar’.
It is time the Kashmiris woke up and grab the opportunity to correct their historical blunder. It is `Now or Never’. No more palliatives.
Conclusion: India is unqualified to become a permanent member of Security council as it has flouted international treaties. India is wedded to `might is right’ (Noam Chomsky, Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs). It should be shunned as a rogue state and punished as a pariah states ( Tim Niblock, Pariah States and Sanctions in the Middle East).
Tripartite dialogue over Kashmir: Only Way out
Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Special Advisor to Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Security and Strategic Policy disclosed in an interview with senior Indian journalist, Karan Thapar (October 13, 2020) that India sent us a message for a desire to a conversation. He added that Pakistan stands for conversation that moves us forward. He however emphasized that there are three parties to the dispute, Pakistan, India and there is a principal party, called Kashmiris. The only thing that matters is the wishes of the people of Kashmir.
We whole heatedly welcome the articulation of Dr. Yusuf to include the Kashmiri leadership in the talks. The people of Kashmir will welcome any talks between India and Pakistan as long as the genuine leadership of the people of Jammu & Kashmir is the part of process of negotiations. They steadfastly maintain that tripartite talks are the only way to resolve the Kashmir issue that has dominated the South Asian region for over 73 years. They maintain this constructive position, despite the outrage caused and the indescribable suffering inflicted on them, by the barbarities of the Indian occupation forces.
The people of Kashmir want to emphasize that as the dispute involves three parties –Government of India, Government of Pakistan and the people of Kashmir who are the most directly affected – any attempt to strike a deal between two parties without the association of the third, will fail to yield a credible settlement. The contemporary history of South Asia is abundantly clear that bilateral efforts have never met with success. The agreement between India and pro-India Kashmiri leaders, like Sheikh Abdullah failed because they sought to bypass Pakistan. Similarly, the agreements between India and Pakistan, like Tashkent Declaration and Simla Agreement failed because they sought to by pass the Kashmiri leadership. All these attempts served only to prolong the dispute, leaving the basic issue unsettled and preserved the stalemate. Although the Simla Agreement of 1972 is irrelevant to the Kashmir dispute, yet it did visualize a ‘final settlement’, but failed for a concrete course of action toward determining Kashmir’s status by the will of its people.
No longer can the mere holding of talks between India and Pakistan defuse the situation. It is a matter of record that during the 72 years history of dispute, India has merely used the façade of talks to evade settlement and ease internal or external pressure. In 1962, when India was facing grave difficulties because of war it had launched against China, it agreed to a round of ministerial talks only to delude two eminent emissaries sent by the United States and the Great Britain. The six seemingly serious sessions were simply exercise in futility. After the end of the 1965 war, when the Security council had committed itself to address the underlying cause of the India – Pakistan conflict – which was none other than the Kashmir dispute – Indian secured the support of its ally, the former Soviet Union and the tacit acquiescence of others to help consign the dispute to limbo as far as the United Nations was concerned. Today, India is again in confrontation with China on one side and with Pakistan on the other. We earnestly hope that the Indian Government’s message to Pakistan ‘for a desire to have a conversation’ will not be one more step in that direction to sabotage the real intent of the talks through diversionary tactics.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf’s approach is based on pragmatism when he said that there can be no progress in talks if they are not accompanied by practical measures, like:
i. To release all political prisoners; ii. Reverse military siege in Kashmir, iii. Pull back the Domicile Law that changes the demography of Kashmir; iv. End human rights violations; and v. Stop Indian state terrorism.
In the past, India has not desisted from its human rights violations while announcing its intent to talk. India has to be told in an understandable language that peace cannot be held, nor continued as long as terror reigns over Kashmir and India remains at war with Kashmiris.
The people of Kashmir believe that the conversion of Line of Control (LoC) into an international border is a non-solution. Such an idea is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Kashmir. They fought against status quo and as Dr. Moeed Yusuf said ‘Line of Control is a problem and cannot become a solution.’
We hope that the Secretary General of the United Nations maintains and intensify his watch over the situation in Kashmir and not be lulled into the belief that India and Pakistan will initiate any meaningful dialogue over Kashmir unless there are some mediatory initiatives by an impartial third party. Third party could be the United Nations itself or a person of an international standing who could be delegated by the United Nations to bring all the three parties together.
The policy that aims at merely defusing the situation, whatever that may mean, and not encouraging a credible settlement has not paid in the past. It is likely to do even less now.
How the India-Bangladesh Cooperation can overcome challenges in the Agricultural Sector
The majority of South Asia is still an agrarian society depending on agriculture for livelihood and survival. Approximately, 60% people in India and Bangladesh are involved in agricultural activities to earn their livelihood. Out of them, over 87% and 70% of rural people in Bangladesh and India respectively derive their income majorly from the agrarian sector. Therefore, it plays a crucial role in the economy of the developing countries.
Being the most prominent sector of the economy, bilateral cooperations in the agricultural sector can pave the way to overcome the current economic challenges in India and Bangladesh.
Challenges faced by India & Bangladesh in Agriculture
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the already agonized agriculture sectors in South Asia. With the spread of virus, disrupted labour and transportation during the lockdown, it is not an unknown fact that the agricultural sector has taken a hit.
Being neighbours and sharing one of the longest land borders with each other, India and Bangladesh faces similar kinds of challenges in agriculture. These are –
Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on economies. Both India and Bangladesh are no exception to this. India’s GDP shrank 23.9% in the second quarter of 2020 even though the gross value added (GVA) from agriculture, forestry & fishing grew by 3.4% at constant prices in April-June 2020. Meanwhile, the agricultural sector in Bangladesh saw a decline to 3.11% in FY 2020 from 3.92% in FY 2019. These were the impact of the countrywide lockdown placed to reduce the spread of the Covid-19. Both of the countries being agrarian in nature, 60% of total population derives their livelihood from agriculture. Hence, it remains one of the most hit sectors in both the countries.
With the lockdown and restrictions in movement of goods and transport services, farmers struggled to harvest and sell their winter crops, hence facing widespread losses.
Mass Exodus of Migrant Workers
The workers of India and Bangladesh have faced double effects of the pandemic with the mass exodus of migrant workers and their humanitarian struggles. Millions of workers were forced to go back to their native places in both the countries due to lockdown. Many Bangladeshi workers who used to work in India also returned under the dire situation.
In India, when the lockdown announced in March 2020 put the migrant workers from rural areas in harm’s way both physically and economically. With factories and transportation shut down, and no mode for survival, migrant workers took to take long walks to their homes.
Bangladesh also witnessed a similar mass exodus of migrant workers from urban areas of Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj,etc. A large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers also returned from abroad. These workers have lost their source of income and cannot return until the crisis brought by the Covid 19 could be handled. Even though the government of Bangladesh introduced various initiatives to reintegrate the migrant workers into the workforce, however, the stigmatization of Covid-19 being brought by outsiders still remains in Bangladesh.
With the mass migration, there are labour issues due to which there is farm labour scarcity in some areas and excess in others. In Bangladesh, for instance, farm wages have been rising steadily in the past decade but with migrants returning to their villages, wages have gone down. In the Indian state of Punjab, farmers are ferrying migrants who have gone to their native places in Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh back to Punjab to work on paddy farms. Since paddy sowing depends heavily on manual labour, the shortage due to the earlier exodus has led to a rise in wages, which will impact farmer’s profit margins.
On 20 May 2020, one of the dangerous cyclones, Cyclone Amphan hit the Bay of Bengal, affecting both India and Bangladesh. With a wind speed of 210 km/hr, it first hit the land of the Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal. In India, it affected more than 4 million people. Amphan hit particularly at the Sundarbans at the border of India-Bangladesh. Though the storm was weakened when it hit land in Bangladesh, it still impacted more than 55,600 homes and displaced over 100,000 people. Amphan was the most powerful cyclone ever to form in the Bay of Bengal, and though it weakened before making landfall, it caused widespread damage in both countries. Cyclone Amphan is considered to be the costliest disaster in the Bay of Bengal.
According to Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, Amphan destroyed over 28 percent of the Sundarbans, damaging a significant portion of the area’s mangrove forests. In addition to causing livelihood and human ramifications of the cyclone, it has also impacted the agriculture in both India and Bangladesh. There will be a long lasting impact on coastal communities’ livelihood. The storm has surged and salinized large portions of cropland making it unusable for yielding crops in the coming years.
In June 2020, the monsoon flooding added additional woes to the agricultural sectors of both India and Bangladesh. Both of the countries are still facing the effects of the pandemic, the migration, cyclone and a flood on top of that, just adds to the complexities.
The monsoon floods affected eight states in India. Odisha and Madhya Pradesh were the most affected states of India. There were 17 and 19 deaths recorded so far in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh respectively. There have been over 10,382 houses and 168,904 hectares of crop area affected due to these floods.
The excessive rains in Bangladesh has opened widespread havoc impacting food insecurity, livelihood and disruption of agricultural production. Around 7.53 million people were exposed to moderate flooding causing 700,000 households requiring food security and agricultural livelihoods support. There have been severe losses of crops, poultry, livestock and fisheries in 92 percent of the total affected unions. It is estimated that 125,459 ha of agricultural land require rehabilitation.
Bilateral Cooperations for Mutual Benefits for India and Bangladesh
The ongoing crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic and the additional challenges both countries face due to monsoon floods, mass exodus of migrants, cyclones are common to both the countries. As neighbouring countries with quite a close diplomatic relation and porous land border, the need for a bilateral cooperation could be stressed between India and Bangladesh.
In a webinar on ‘Regional Cooperation in Trade and Development of Agriculture: Perspectives from Bangladesh and India’, the executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), Selim Raihan said that bilateral cooperation and political willingness were most important in improving the trade in agriculture. The economic shutdown is hampering movement of products between the two countries and affecting farmers of the countries. With the opening up of the land ports, reviving the marketplaces along the borders of Bangladesh and North East India, can strengthen business-to-business communication. Hence, the enhanced cooperation will help farmers of both countries to market their agricultural products. This kind of cooperation can benefit farmers of both countries, increase regional trade and assist in export earning.
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Defense3 days ago
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