Here, I briefly analyse the circumstances entangling Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to Chinese geoeconomic interests and unfavourable public opinion acting as a barrier for India to participate, with or without Japan, in the island’s strategic developmental ventures.
In a unilateral move, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced on February 1, 2021, that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority will manage the operations of East Container Terminal(ECT) of Colombo Port on its ownand will not be sold to any foreign country. This statement effectively revokeda 2019-signed Memorandum of Cooperation on the joint operations of ECT with India and Japan.
As a consolation offer, the Rajapaksa government has offered India and Japan an offer to develop the yet-to-be-built West Terminal of the Colombo Port on public-private-partnership (PPP) model. New Delhi and Tokyo have not expressed its interest in it, while reiterating that Sri Lanka should remain committed to the initial ECT project.
The project was intended to enhance the port’s harbouring capacity to host more international cargo ships for transhipment activities, of which 70 per cent businesses come fromIndia. It is this strategic fact that necessitated the Indian government to join hands with Japan, thereby alleviating concerns surrounding India’s sole involvement.
Last month, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met with the Rajapaksa brothers, the President and Prime Minister, and registered Indian concerns about the stalled ECT project. Unfortunately, for India, as it turns out, that meeting has not seen its intended result.
The background for Sri Lanka’s move
It was about twenty months ago, in May 2019, the previous government of Sri Lanka, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, inked a tripartite pact (Memorandum of Cooperation) with India and Japan for the joint operations of Colombo Port’s East Container Terminal (ECT)at a cost of $700 million.
While the Sri Lanka Ports Authority was to retain cent per cent ownership in the venture, a jointly-owned Terminal Operations Company was to run the terminal on a daily basis, with 51% Sri Lankan stake and 49% jointly with India and Japan.
But, the deal has been stalled since July 2020 as the government ordered a review of the project due to increasing uproar from the port workers’ unions and nationalist groups against any foreign involvement in Sri Lanka’s ‘national assets’.
The Rajapaksa government’s recent ECT move follows such continuing protests from port workers’ unions, supported by several nationalist and civil society groups, demanding complete Sri Lankan control of the ECT, which is located not far away from Chinese-led project sites in the greater city of Colombo.
China-backed projects lying adjacent to ECT
The East Container Terminal is located just three kilometres away from the Port City Colombo project also known as the Colombo International Financial City project, conceived as an extension of the Central Business District of Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo. It will take about 25 years to be completed in 269 hectares of reclaimed land from the sea.
The state-run China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the same behind the controversial 2017 Hambantota port project, had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this futuristic project, aimed at creating the first world-class planned city of South Asia, conducive for businesses, along the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
The ECT is also near to the Colombo International Container Terminal, in which the China Merchants Port Holdings Company holds an 85% stake. Considering these facts, a Chinese hand in forming unfavourable public opinion towards Indian and Japanese involvement can be suspected, if not proven. It is also noteworthy that public protests against China-led projects are almost absent.
Ties with Japan on back foot
As a key player in the Indo-Pacific, along with India, Japan provides substantial assistance, both as financial aid, technical assistance, and low-interest loans, to Sri Lanka.
Japan was also one of the biggest aid-givers to Sri Lanka during the civil war, which occurred from 1983 to 2009. Japan’s Mitsui Group was the chief contractor of the Sri Lankan Parliament Building, completed in the 1980s, situated in Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. Japan also cooperates with India on building an LNG Terminal and piped gas distribution system in the island.
The initially warmth in relations between Colombo and Tokyo has been curtailed by an increasing Chinese presence and economic influence on Sri Lankan affairs. Before the recent ECT decision, the Rajapaksa government has also unilaterally walked back from a Japanese rail project in Colombo.
A ‘pearl’ in Chinese shadow
The island of Sri Lanka is strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, overlooking major sea routes connecting West Asia and Eastern Africa with Southeast Asia and eventually China. This makes the island an ideal location for global transhipment business, literally ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean’. The ports surrounding the island are of particular significance in this context.
In many ways, the past decade saw Sri Lanka emerging as a hot-spot for great power rivalry between India and China like the 2017-signed controversial deal of Hambantota Port in India’s own backyard where Chinese geopolitical interests are also aligned.
India can’t afford to even think of a future Chinese military base in Hambantota, like the one operating in Djibouti since 2017. Today, Chinese debt-trap diplomacy is affecting even the internal sovereignty of Sri Lanka, which is poised to turn worse in the future, leading to more assets-for-money swap arrangements with China or Chinese state-run corporations.
Sri Lanka is also a key part of China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, connecting three continents, both via land and sea. Due to this entanglement with China, combined with the lack of confidence on the sub-continental giant across the Palk Strait, Colombo is attaching itself closer to Beijing, at the cost of deteriorating ties with New Delhi and Tokyo.
The inescapable trap of Chinese geoeconomic involvement in Sri Lanka, combined with the majority population’s not-so-warm memory of Indian involvement with the island’s frozen ethnic tensions pose a serious strategic challenge in the coming years for neighbouring India in the wider Indo-Pacific region, more than it does for Japan.
Cease-Fire Review: A ray of hope
Pre-Negotiations are very much crucial to achieve the state of “Negociation Continuelle” (continuous negotiations) the only way due to which conflicting parties go for sustained mode of talks. On 25th February Director Generals of military operations (DGMO’s) of India and Pakistan contacted with each other to review cease fire agreement, on line of control (LOC), which was held back in 2003. Both States reaffirmed cease fire agreement and to restart weekly hotline contact at DGMO’s level. The agreement was largely violated by both states for several times and they were accusing each other for violations. But one thing is common that on both sides Kashmiris are suffering, they are raising their children in an environment of fear and severe violence. India and Pakistan are both nuclear capable states of South Asian region and are considered as the custodian of regional peace and stability. And without shadow of a doubt regional peace and security is a collective responsibility of the responsible states. Pakistan and India are the main conflicting parties of South Asian region and Kashmir is the bone of contention between them. Kashmir has been a question of integrity for both States. The Line of control also known as working boundary, divides Indian Kashmir from Pakistani Kashmir. There are several resolutions have been passed by the UN General Assembly to address the Kashmir issue but never implemented. UN wants to solve this issue according to the hopes of Kashmiris. The initiation of bilateral talks in the present outrageous environment is not less than a blessing in disguise and it will be fruitful for all the stakeholders; India, Pakistan and Kashmiris as well. This peaceful move from Pakistan and India is highly appreciated globally because Kashmiri diaspora is present worldwide and they are very much concerned with future of their homeland.
Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi, with his hostile ideology of “Akhand Bharat” assumed office in 2014. His political adventurism based on jingoistic-cum-hawkish policies dragged India State to the verge of staunch illiberalism where identity crisis burst up, which is more lethal than previously existing class crisis. Every community including lower class Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. all are vulnerable to the identity crisis. On 30th May 2019, he sworn for his second tenure as prime minister of the world’s so called largest democracy. He came with another adventurous mandate and the first demonstration took place when he suspended special status of Kashmir and abrogated articles 370 and 35A. His ideology is regarded as Nazi-inspired ideology because in contemporary scenario only RSS community and other proponents of Hindutva are only considered as “Real Hindustani”. All minorities are suffering in India because their basic living rights are kept aside. The ongoing farmer’s protests shook the foundations of the state, hundreds of thousands of farmers rushed to the Delhi against the anti-famer laws passed by Indian Parliament.
In India Separatist movements are getting pace; minorities are unsatisfied with governing approach of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reuined the secular and democratic face of India. On the other hand, Foreign policy of India is facing severe challenges because PM Narendra Modi’s approach is hostile based on hatred and prejudice. These attributes are fatal for State’s reputation at foreign lands; the recent India-China standoff was just a teaser of BJP’s whole story related to foreign relations. In addition to this, Economic goal of 2025 of India is again became a distant dream just because of belligerent policies of ruling regime.
In contemporary scenario if we look towards India, only Modi-Media nexus will be seen. But in reality the situation is getting worse day by day. The review of cease fire agreement, offered by India, is a positive step towards the regional peace. It is appreciated by both civil and military administrations of both states. When PM Imran Khan assumed office he offered dialogue to his Indian counter-part but Indian Premier refused to go for any sort of talks. India always took a position that to initiate talks first of all, Pakistan has to stop the cross-border terrorism. Both terrorism and talks can never go side by side, this Indian claim is not based on empirical evidences because Pakistan has been facing menace of terrorism since 2001 and leaving no stone unturned to root out terrorism and safe havens for terrorists.
Currently, India is facing deep internal and external challenges. It is in the interest of India to have peace talks with Pakistan. On the other hand, it is a ripe moment for Pakistan to act decisively because it is the only time when India can review its decision of 5th August 2019.Moreover, it is a ray of hope to establish peace in entire region. This is the time when bi-lateral diplomacy can turn the traditional regional political dynamics. Both states are facing same problems when it comes to poverty, climate change, social security and the list goes on. The realm of these talks should expand and concern parties have to include economic and political regimes in front of each other otherwise momentum of talks will be lost. Regional connectivity is important to have eternal peace, Pakistan and India should review SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) that would provide basis for economic, cultural as well as political connectivity. Major Powers should also play their important role because world cannot afford rivalry between two nuclear states. Now, America is under a democrat President, and they should check every internal and external move of their Strategic and defense ally in Asia-Pacific region. Negotiations between India and Pakistan are in the interest of all other regional and extra-regional actors. Both states should adopt flexible approach while discussing the core issues and should avoid blame game. It will enhance the chances of continuous negotiation which is a pre-requisite for peace and progress.
What does the Kashmiri want?
A group of envoys visited the illegally-occupied Jammu and Kashmir State ostensibly `to take first-hand account of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and government’s efforts to restore normalcy’ (Hindustan Times February 17, 2021). Srinagar welcomed the envoys with a spontaneous shutdown. Prior to the visit, political leaders and human-rights activists were detained. The envoys did not visit Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti or any of the other opposition Kashmiri leaders.
The Hindu dated February 17, 2021 reported ‘The J&K government showcased “deepening democracy” to visiting 24 foreign diplomats, who arrived on a two-day tour of the Union Territory (UT) on Wednesday amid a spontaneous shutdown in Srinagar and alleged detention of recently elected National Conference (NC) district council members in Budgam’.
Post-special-status abolition situation
After abrogation of the special status, India took a number of steps to silence public dissent_diurnal and nocturnal search operations to hound, kidnap or kill the Kashmiri, Internet ex-communication, blatant use of draconian laws against ordinary Kashmiris and their leaders alike. A law was passed to jail parents of stone-pelters., if any. Meanwhile local body elections were held in which the ruling BJP was cut to size. But, India, as reported b y the Hindu also, showcased the elections in international media as a proof of popular participation and contentment of the people with the status quo.
Have the Kashmiri resigned to their fate
The mysterious silence in the Valley during the envoys’ visit speaks volumes on how much the Kashmiri hate India. However, it appears the Kashmiri could have shown their ennui through some mode of peaceful protest. They could draw lessons from the Occupy the Wall Street or Precariat Movement in the USA.
Occupy has six letters. A group of six persons mostly celebrities in their fields, stand up at some busy street holding letters O,C, C, U, P, and Y. The Kashmiris also could have displayed the letters in word `AZADI’ through a group of five persons.
Arnold Toynbee, in his Challenge and Response Theory postulates that if a challenge is too onerous a nation may become apathetic. In similar vein, Ibn-e-Khaldoon suggests that survival of a tribe (nation) depends on cohesion (asabiya, nationalism) of a tribe faced with life-and-death threat around its frontiers.
Amy Chua (Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations) talks about static or dynamic response of a society as shaped by group instincts of various components of a society.
Applying Amy Chua’s framework to Kashmir situation
Amy Chua challenges the view that the conventional mechanism of demokratia (government by the people) is a panacea for all the problems of a society. Thus the recently-held local level elections or even `state assembly’ elections in occupied Kashmir are no panacea for the Kashmiris’ simmering discontentment, their revulsion to yoke of Indian rule. Chua, in her afore-quoted book analysed situation in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Venezuela, besides so-called terror tribes including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Kashmir in Chua’s framework would suggest it is naïve to believe that Kashmiris are resigned to their fate. By analogy, even a thousand years of exploitation by a microscopic Chinese population did not subdue the Vietnamese hatred of the Chinese. As soon as the Americans left Vietnam, the native Vietnamese prowled upon the rich community of Chinese like a pack of wolves. The Americans plunged into decade long futile war with Vietnam without realizing that the Vietnamese were not Chinese stooges.
The indomitable fighting spirit
Indian forces had been using pellet guns to blind the Kashmir. Now, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, they have begun to use even chemical weapons against the Kashmiri.
Let us have a glimpse of the dogra’s reign of terror in Kashmir. To stifle the Kashmiri’s fighting spirit, the dogra punished even Kashmiri children who played with fork-slings (ghulail) and stones (Muhammad Yousaf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, vol. 1, p. 50). Under the dogra rule, the Kashmiri were treated no better than beasts of burden. Instead of donkeys and horses, Kashmiri Muslims were used to transport goods across Gilgit, Leh and Skardu. They carried luggage on their backs across glaciers as high as 17,000 feet. Thousands of them perished along the way each year owing to frost bites, fall from a precipice, and hunger or sickness. The dogra caravans were not humane enough to stop for a while in the snowy passes to look after the injured porters (or ‘human beasts of burden’). Besides performing the forced labour, the Kashmiri had to pay heavy taxes. Whole of their produce was confiscated by the dogra. Little was left for tillers and their children to eat. On every item, the oppressed Kashmiri had to pay multiple taxes. Take shawls. Not only the shawl-makers were taxed, but also the other intermediaries like importers of pashmina (wool) from Ladakh, and storekeepers, whether wholesalers or retailers (ibid. p. 280-81).
The regressive revenue system resulted in a famine during winter of 1877. People began to die of starvation. Instead of releasing grain stocks from the royal go-downs, the maharajah’s constabulary drowned the starved, crying people in the Wullar Lake. Saraf writes: “Whole boat-loads of starving people have been conveyed by the Maharajah’s officials to the Woolar Lake, and there drowned” (ibid. p. 294).
The reign of terror by Indian forces (now estimated at about nine lac regulars and security personnel) who replaced the maharajah’s constabulary on October 27, 1947 is no less gruesome. International human-rights organisations, as well as India’s National Human Rights Commission, have brought into limelight the Kashmiri’s mysterious disappearances, their custodial deaths, and countless rapes of hapless Kashmiri women.
Like the dogra, Indian rulers are mercilessly exploiting Kashmiris’ economic resources. Bulk of locally-generated electricity is being diverted to Indian states. The tourism industry is in shambles. Highly – educated people have no jobs. With no inflow of tourists, the shopkeepers have no business. Unlike the occupied Kashmir, all the socio-economic sectors in Azad Kashmir are progressing by leaps and bounds.
Toynbee’s Challenge and Response Theory suggests that if the challenge is too strong, a nation becomes apathetic. Ibn-e-Khaldoon’s asabiya (spirit of national cohesion) also suggests that a nation’s spirit is likely to be smothered by a challenge which is too heavy. Historical lessons do not apply to the Kashmiri’s struggle. Neither Indians, nor the dogra could gag them. The struggle for freedom has continued unabated.
The lesson from Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom is that repression or palliatives like elections in occupied Kashmir are no good. The Kashmiri wants “freedom”. Their group instinct is `resistance’. But they need to learn from peaceful resistance movements like the Occupy and the Precariat.
Pakistan Day Celebrations: Civilian Participation
Pakistan got independence on 14 August 1947 by hectic political struggle from the platform of All India Muslim League (AIML) under the dynamic leadership of Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The presidential address at Allahabad on 29 December 1930 of Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, accelerated and gave more clarity to the movement. He presented the idea and concept that Muslims are a separate nation by emphasizing that a nation is distinguished from the other based on religion, customs, and traditions. At the same time, he strongly disagreed with the Western concept of religion as a private affair. Iqbal explained that Islam is a way of life and thus Muslims are a separate nationand accentuated that unless their rights areprotected, it is impossible to establish peace and tranquility in the sub-continent. The determined political struggle of AIML led to March 23, 1940, Lahore Resolution, at its 27th annual session. The Quaid addressed the session on the first day andstressedthat Hindus and Muslims follow two different religions, philosophies, social customs literature and this made them two distinct nations.
The contents of the resolution, according to Story of Pakistan are“No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may benecessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. It strongly rejected the concept of United India. The word states wassubstituted to one state by a resolution passed at the 1941 Madras session of the AIML which stated, “everyone should clearly understand that we are striving for one independent and sovereign Muslim State.” Moreover, in all speeches, the Quaid used the word “an independent homeland” or “an independent Muslim state”.Pakistan and India became dominions on 14 and 15 August 1947 respectivelyby the Indian Independence Act, 1947, based on the Mountbatten Plan of 3 Junepassed by the parliament of the UK on 18 July. Keeping in view the atrocities being committed by RSS, a militant wing of BJP in Indian Illegally occupied Kashmir (IIoK), and minorities especially Muslims in all over Indianot being allowed to practice religion freely, havevery sturdily substantiated the decision of AIML to fight for a separate state for Muslims. It elucidates their political acumen and far-sightedness.
Pakistan remained a dominion for about nine years till thefirst constitution as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was adopted on 23 March 1956.Thereafter 23 March was celebrated as “Republic Day” (Yome Jamhooria)every year to commemorate the Lahore resolution and adoption of the constitution. After the imposition of martial law by Ayub Khan in Oct 1958,it is being celebrated as“Pakistan Day”. Probably the plotter of the coup could not celebrate constitutionalism and democracy on March 23 so ‘Republic Day’ was replaced with ‘Pakistan Day. The main feature is a three-servicesparade in Islamabad followed bythe display of military weapons and equipment. Floats of the provinces also march past. The flypast by Army and Navy combat aircraft displaying their weapons and equipment.The flypast by PAF fighters and aerobatic.
The celebrations are spread over about two and half hours.Pakistan Day has taken the shape of a Defense Day which was not originally intended. Moreover, Army, Navy, and Air Force organize their respective Defense Days on 6,8, and 7 Septemberevery year. The events of the Pakistan Day parade give an impression especially to civilians that military strength is the only most important component of national power. The remaining such as economic capacity, natural resources, industrial capacity, national cohesion, political structure, and leadership, etc. which are also very vital needs to be given projection. Therefore, parade proceedings may be modified to include more participation of civilian-related events. The latest inventory and indigenously developed weapons and equipment may be displayed to reduce timings. The PAF fighters may only carry out professional flypast andaerobatic performance similar to the aerobatic display team, like “Red Arrow “may be excluded. It is pertinent to mention that most of the countries have prohibited aerobatic display in public places to avoid any untoward incident. It is suggested that floats carrying students who have topped in the boards and universitiesand have done distinct research work in the past year may be added. Similarly,floats carrying civilians who have been awarded Pride of Performance and other awards, businessmen who have been bestowed awards, sportsmen who have brought honors for Pakistan may also be included. Few industrial floats may also be added with indigenously manufactured machinery and other items.Floats carrying agricultural products and livestock may also be considered.Citations are read as the float passes the dais. Moreover, in Islamabad and the provincial capitals industrial exhibitions may be organized which may include indigenously developed machinery and other items.The civilian participation in Pakistan Day celebrations will certainly add colors and act as a source of pride for them as well as for the nation.
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