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South Asia

75 Years Journey of Independent India: Views from Bangladeshi Perspective

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India, which was known as the Indian subcontinent for centuries, was a very rich region in terms of culture, economy and civilizations. For instance, at the end of the 17th century, India’s share was actually a quarter of the world economy. From history, we see that the Europeans came to this region to change their fates. In fact, India had a rich maritime legacy and played a significant role in world trade and economy for centuries. A British scholar, John M. Hobson, in his book, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilizations argues that “As late as the end of the eighteenth century, India had greater intensive and extensive power than the major European powers” had.

So, this was India, an economic power, maritime power and definitely a soft power. But the 200 years of British rule and exploitation made India decay in all parameters. Against British exploitation, India emerged as a sovereign nation-state on 15 August 1947. India’s independence in 1947 is a landmark event in the world history. And as a citizen of Bangladesh, India’s independence is crucial to me for several reasons.

First, I believe that if India would not be independent, Bangladesh might not have emerged as a sovereign nation-state in 1971. Without India’s material, moral and diplomatic support, the independence of Bangladesh would not be possible. It is important to note that 1, 6, 61 Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives for the Liberation of Bangladesh. This is how Indians fought for Bangladesh’s independence which is well-recognized in Bangladesh. In addition, when 10 million refugees from Bangladesh took shelter in different states of India, including West Bengal, the people of those states wholeheartedly supported them. The spirit of 1971 remains the foundation stone in Bangladesh-India relations.

Second, from an “international basket case”, Bangladesh is now a development miracle. And behind such success, one also needs to acknowledge the role of India in the last 50 years.

Third, India is a versatile land with great diversity in geography, language, religion, culture and ethnicity. In fact, the impressive development record, continued prosperity, stability, the sustainability of the largest democracy in the world, strong democratic institutions and a vibrant civil society including the media and academics  is an inspiring story to many in the region and beyond. And to create an identity of the South Asian region in the international arena, Indian independence was crucial.

Fourth, a stronger and prosperous India is beneficial to the South Asian countries and the region as a whole and beyond. In these 75 years, India has achieved impressive success from agricultural production to nuclear and space technology, from Ayurveda to biotechnology. So, if India would not be independent, it might not be able to excel itself in the areas of science, technology and innovations which have spill-over effects in the region.

Finally,India’s independence has value from an international relations perspective. One must remember that India emerged during the Cold War period, where power politics mostly dominated the world politics. Against such a backdrop, India advocated for de-colonisation, spoke for South-South cooperation, and avoided aligning with power blocs. India emphasized on peaceful international relations, a rules-based order. In fact, India played a crucial role in the success of the 1955 Bandung conference. It is also worthy to note that India hosted the first-ever Asian Relations Conference in March-April 1947, which was the forerunner of the Bandung conference.

I want to emphasize here that coming down to 2021, India needs to play a leading role as a regional power. As a citizen of Bangladesh, I feel that some issues can be taken into consideration seriously on the occasion of India’s 75years of independence. 

First, after 75 years of India’s independence, I strongly feel that India needs to focus more on its soft power than hard power. With about 1.35 billion people, investment in human development and human security becomes necessary for India.

Second, I do feel that India needs to focus more on institution building in the region. In this case, it is worthy to note that India is doing an excellent job in the promotion of regional consciousness through South Asian University. However, except for South Asian University, we don’t see so much success of the SAARC. In fact, it will not be wrong to claim that SAARC is not working out well due to India-Pakistan rivalry. Against such a backdrop, India can strengthen BIMSTEC. I think it is high time to move forward the Bay of Bengal region which has remained a conflict-free region for years. There is also a need for strengthening BRICS, BCIM Economic Corridor, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association, where India can play crucial role.

Third, there is a growing militarization in the Indian Ocean Region which is not beneficial to any littoral state. In order to make Indian Ocean Region as a zone of peace, India can play leading role.

Fourth, in 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) focusing on mainly maritime domain which is highly encouraging for the region. It can be mentioned that maritime terrorism, piracy, armed robbery against ships, marine plastic pollution, climate change and ocean acidification, the emergence of dead zones, overfishing, IUU fishing  are grave concerns for the littorals in the Bay of Bengal region including India. In this case, a regional approach becomes imperative where India needs to play a significant role.

Fifth, on February 8, 2019, the late and the former External Affairs Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj, at the 5th India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Committee Meeting mentioned that as many as 90 bilateral agreements had been signed between Bangladesh and India since Narendra Modi’s 2015 visit in Bangladesh (Ministry of External Affairs of India, 2019). I want to reiterate here that this has only been possible due to a strong political will from both Delhi and Dhaka to deepen the ties. And this improved relation has impacted millions of people across borders. I always think that a strong political will is enough to change the region of South Asia and the Bay of Bengal Region, where India can play a crucial role.

Sixth, I believe, nurturing people to people contact becomes important in any bilateral relationship. In this case, easing the visa regime, increasing the volume of scholarship, the volume of cultural exchange programmes, including exchanges of students and teachers, musicians will be imperative in accelerating people-to-people contacts in the region where India can play leading role. It is highly encouraging that in 2019, the number of visas issued by India to Bangladeshi citizens crossed the mark of 1.5 million, which is imperative in the promotion of people-to-people contacts.

Seventh, I strongly believe that strengthening academic cooperation between India and its neighbours becomes necessary. India can make a study; how many India Study Centre are available in the region and how many institutes in India focus on neighbourhood studies? It is important to promote joint research and collaboration among scholars, researchers in the region. India study centre in the region needs to be promoted where Indian High Commission on those particular countries can play vital role. Though there is a Japan Study Centre and an East Asia Study Centre focusing on mainly China and Japan at the University of Dhaka, there is no India Study Centre in Bangladesh. It is important to establish an India Study Centre/Institute at the University of Rajshahi, which will be dedicated to the knowledge promotion on Indian affairs, on Bangladesh-India relations.

Eighth, the world of 1945 and 2021 is not the same. Similarly, India of 1947 and 2021 India is not the same. For instance, in 1947, India was a poor country with a large impoverished population and suffering from food shortages. The situation of the industry was also not good enough. The country also faced challenges like national integration and nation-building in the post-partition era. In 2021, India is the third largest economy in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms while the country has the third-largest pool of scientific and technical experts in the world. It is one of the key countries in the global economy and global supply chain. The country has contributed immensely to the international peace and security domain through its active troops contributions to the UN peacekeeping missions. Thus, I strongly feel that United Nations Security Council needs to be reformed. And as a South Asian representative, India can be a permanent member of the Security Council. Indian neighbours can actively support India to gain the Security Council membership.

Finally, there is a possibility of the rise of protectionism, less cooperation in the post-pandemic world. The coronavirus crisis also showed the world the apparent absence of global leadership when it was badly needed. The coronavirus crisis also showed us the importance of the region, regionalism and regional cooperation to face any pandemic or any common challenge. Thus, I feel that, in the vaccine production, sharing and vaccine trade, India’s neighbours including Bangladesh should get the first priority. Because in this age of inter-dependence of so many factors and dimensions, if the people of its neighbours remains unsafe against the pandemic, the safety of India would also be endangered or vice versa.

I conclude by saying that India’s fate is closely tied with its neighbours as it is said that you can change your friends but not neighbours. In fact, neighbours matter in the context of security, development, peace, and prosperity. Therefore, India, with its South Asian and Bay of Bengal neighbours can work collectively in the international forums for the common causes including global health governance, climate change, and free trade. At the regional scale, India taking its neighbours in confidence, can constructively cooperate for a prosperous and peaceful South Asia and Bay of Bengal region in the post-COVID-19 world, which would ultimately benefit everyone.

Md. Shariful Islam is an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Currently, he is on study leave and pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi. Email: shariful_ruir[at]ru.ac.bd

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South Asia

A long way of solidarity: a voice for the voiceless Kashmiris

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Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac

Every year on February 5 Pakistan observes Kashmir Solidarity Day. It aims to demonstrate Pakistan’s support and solidarity with the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir, and their continuing liberation struggle, and to honor Kashmiri martyrs who sacrificed their lives fighting for Kashmir’s independence.

Every year, on Kashmir Solidarity Day, Pakistan expresses its political, moral, and diplomatic support for the righteous fight of our Kashmiri brothers and becomes its voice in the international forums.

Kashmir’s discord carries historical as well as contemporary events that hinder its political future.

Historical account of the humiliation of Kashmir’s people

The history of conflict dates back to 1947. In the June 3 plan, the princely state offered a choice between India and Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh deceived Pakistan and ceded Kashmir to India through a standstill agreement, which sparked an uprising of Pashtun tribesmen and the Hindu nationalists and RSS to organize a program against Muslims, killing between 20,000 and 100,000 Muslims. On October 27, 1947, Indian troops landed in Kashmir to fight against the Pashtuns and the local armies; this led to the first India-Pakistan war. During the war, India’s prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, promised a referendum: “The fate of Jammu and Kashmir is ultimately decided by the people; the pledge we have given is not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world.” “We will not and cannot back out of it.”

India referred the dispute to the United Nations a little more than two months later. A resolution passed on August 13, 1948, asking both nations to withdraw their forces; once that happened, a referendum was to be held, allowing the people of Kashmir to decide their political future. But the Indian troops were never withdrawn, and the referendum never happened. On January 1, 1949, the ceasefire was agreed upon, and Kashmir became a disputed territory. Over the next 70 years, India and Pakistan fought three wars over Kashmir.

In Indian-administrated Kashmir, India maintains around 600,000 troops in Kashmir, who have committed human rights violations like rape, torture, and enforced disappearances that continue today. The number of people killed in Kashmir is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000, which shows the ruthlessness of the so-called largest democracy in the world.

Situation after the abolishment of articles 370 and 35A

On August 5, 2019, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir a special status and autonomy. The Indian government enforced a curfew, disrupted communication connections, arrested political leaders, and deployed extra soldiers in the area, generating widespread resentment and demonstrations.

Since the abolition of Articles 370 and 35A, human rights abuses and violations in Kashmir have increased significantly, with claims of widespread mass arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions by Indian security personnel. The Indian government has also restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, making it impossible for citizens to openly express their thoughts and report on the state of the area.

In addition, the Indian government has been accused of fostering demographic changes in the area through the settlement of Hindu migrants, which has resulted in a fall in the percentage of the Muslim population and degradation of the Kashmiri people’s distinctive cultural and religious identity.

International human rights groups have shown concern about the situation in Kashmir and demanded an independent investigation into the reported human rights breaches and abuses. About 87 civilians have been killed by the Indian forces since the abrogation of Article 370. The international community has also advocated for a peaceful settlement to the issue that takes the Kashmiri people’s rights and interests into consideration.

The situation in Kashmir remains severe, and the continuous violence and human rights violations continue to provide the international community with a formidable task. The region’s political future is still unknown, and a sustainable resolution to the war has not yet been found.

Pakistan’s Advocacy for Kashmir

Pakistan has made several attempts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Kashmir and has sought international backing for its stance on the matter. Pakistan has repeatedly discussed the Kashmir issue at the United Nations and other international forums, stressing the need for a peaceful settlement of the conflict based on the self-determination principle and the right of the Kashmiri people to choose their destiny. Pakistan has also made diplomatic attempts to garner international support for its viewpoint, notably via the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Pakistan has also endeavored to provide political, diplomatic, and moral assistance for the Kashmiri resistance movement. India has accused Pakistan of financing terrorism in the area based on information that Pakistan supports separatist organizations in the region. Pakistan has denied these allegations and advocated for a peaceful settlement according to UN Resolution 47 (1948), which calls for a ceasefire, and UN Resolution 51 (1948), which calls for a plebiscite to be held in the region to determine the will of the Kashmiri people.

Despite these attempts, the situation in Kashmir remains unresolved, and a permanent resolution to the conflict has not yet been reached. The issue remains a significant source of conflict between India and Pakistan and a problem for the international community.

Conclusion:

Kashmir’s political future remains uncertain and is the subject of ongoing discussion and negotiation between India and Pakistan, as well as international engagement.

Currently, the territory is split between India and Pakistan, with India administering the greater part and Pakistan the smaller. The Line of Control (LoC), which divides the two managed territories, has often been the scene of tension and bloodshed.

There have been appeals for a peaceful conclusion that takes the rights and interests of the Kashmiri people into consideration. Some have suggested the concept of “self-determination,” in which the people of Kashmir would have the right to choose their destiny through a referendum or a negotiated solution between India and Pakistan.

Kashmir’s political future is unpredictable and vulnerable to the continuous dynamics of the war as well as the shifting political and strategic objectives of the major regional countries. The international community still has a big part to play in finding a solution, and India, Pakistan, and the other countries in the area are likely to have to be involved and support any lasting solution.

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Sri Lankans deserve a clean break from the past

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The decision of former president Maithripala Sirisena to run for president pits two unpopular, establishment candidates against one another. With both Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe involved in past political turmoil and the current economic crisis, Sri Lankans deserve a clean break.

While a presidential election cannot be held until 2024, the Sri Lankan Electoral Commission recently announced local elections for February. With no popular mandate and as the only member of his party, President Wickremesinghe is expected to face an embarrassing defeat in the poll, but it is unlikely to bring down the government.

The announcement that Sirisena would run as president comes at a pivotal time for Sri Lankans.

Wickremesinghe warned this week that the Sri Lankan economy could contract by up to 4% this year, after shrinking 11% last year.

Last year, the island nation descended into turmoil, with an economic collapse leading to its worst crisis in years. Foreign currency shortages, runaway inflation and a recession left the government unable to make debt repayments and left Sri Lankans desperately short of food and fuel.

This led to unprecedented unrest, particularly in the capital Colombo, resulting in the deaths of protesters and police, with hundreds more injured or detained. The protests culminated in the storming and occupation of the presidential palace, forcing Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country, with Wickremesinghe replacing him as president.

Sirisena has a chequered history in Sri Lankan politics.

Sirisena was part of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet before defecting to the opposition and winning a surprise election victory against Rajapaksa in 2015.

As President, Sirisena formed a close partnership with Wickremsinghe, appointing him Prime Minister, before the two spectacularly fell out. This culminated in the sacking of Wickremesinghe in 2018, replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa. At the time, Wickremesinghe claimed that the move was “unconstitutional”.

This led to a constitutional crisis and power struggle between Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa and Sirisena, with the former President dissolving parliament and calling snap elections. Sirisena then decided to not seek re-election, leaving office in early 2019. He was replaced as president by Mahinda’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Recently, the Sri Lankan supreme court ordered Sirisena and several other top government, police and intelligence officials to pay millions of rupees in compensation to the victims of the 2019 Easter bombings in Colombo. The court found that Sirisena, as former president, ignored multiple warnings about an imminent terrorist attack weeks before the deadly event took place.

But Wickremesinghe is also no saint.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, won a parliamentary vote with the backing of the Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July 2022. For this reason, he is accused of owing his position to the family.

Upon gaining the presidency, Wickremesinghe immediately cracked down on protesters, condemning the protests as “against the law” and calling protesters “fascists”. Under his watch, more than 140 protesters have been arrested and its leaders driven into hiding.

In August 2022, the United Nations condemned his government’s crackdown on protesters. The UN also criticised the repeated use of emergency measures, such as curfews, calling them a “misuse of emergency measures”.

The president has also been accused of delaying this poll, claiming the economically crippled country cannot afford to spend 10 billion rupees on a local election. However, the election commission decided to proceed despite the president’s request. Nonetheless, this raises doubts about Wickremesinghe’s respect for the democratic process.

What Sri Lankans desperately need is political stability and good economic management so the country can dig its way out of its worst crisis since independence.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe offer neither. The former is struggling to finalise a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund and both are notorious for poor political decision making and unpopular with a public desperate for change.

Therefore, Sri Lankans are faced with two establishment candidates who only offer more of the same.

The solution, at least for the time being, is for Wickremesinghe to call a presidential election so the next president has a clear mandate by the people. This will assist in forming a stable government and in bailout negotiations with the IMF.

Power also needs to be decentralised through ambitious political reforms that allow for wider participation and decision making in parliament. While, admittedly, this would be difficult under both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, it is the first step in dealing with corruption and nepotism in Sri Lankan politics.

Presidential candidates serious about solving the countries problems also need to focus on key issues, such as rebuilding the economy, accountability for human rights and rebuilding political integrity and public trust.

Only once this is achieved, and Sri Lanka has shed itself of its dysfunctional political past, will it be able to recover.

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South Asia

A Hybrid Political System for Pakistan: A Proposal

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The political system of Pakistan is an amalgamation of Islamic, British, and Indian influences, shaped by a multifaceted array of religious, ethnic, and regional factors, making it a culturally rich and ever-changing landscape. Pakistan is renowned for its powerful military establishment, which has traditionally wielded significant influence in determining its political direction. The nation’s political history is characterized by cycles of military rule, punctuated by several coups, followed by phases of democratic rule, though the military has continued to exert a significant degree of influence in the country’s politics. Furthermore, Pakistan has had to contend with the pernicious threat of extremism, with various militant groups operating within its borders and perpetrating terrorist attacks, which have destabilized the nation’s political, social, and economic stability.

This article aims to shed light on the challenges faced by the political system in Pakistan, specifically concerning the current political turmoil the country is experiencing. It also suggests a potential solution to stabilize the system and bring about a revolution in the way politics is conducted in Pakistan

The challenges faced by Pakistan’s democracy are compounded by the elite classes’ actions. The country is currently facing significant upheaval, which can be attributed to several factors. The lack of solid democratic institutions, frequent military takeovers, and the involvement of powerful military and civilian elites are among the underlying causes of the country’s political instability. Additionally, ethnic and regional conflicts, poverty, and economic growth issues further exacerbated political instability. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, as well as political unrest in neighboring countries, have also had an impact on the country. Furthermore, Pakistan’s history of military control, political corruption, and a lack of a deeply ingrained democratic culture have all contributed to the volatility in its political system.

The current political quagmire that plagues Pakistan is multifaceted, primarily stemming from a dearth of political acumen and a paucity of commitment on the part of leaders to prioritize the exigencies of the populace over their own personal and factional interests. This has led to a diminution of public confidence in the political system and government officials. Furthermore, the military’s prolonged political intervention and sway history has exacerbated a lack of democratic stability and accountability. Another critical conundrum that has impeded the country’s political evolution is the preponderance of corruption and nepotism in every government agency, rendering it difficult for citizens to repose trust in government officials. As a result, there is a burgeoning loss of faith in institutions of all varieties, with people losing trust in the government, corporations, and political leaders.

Furthermore, the failure of successive governments to address the issue of corruption has further undermined public trust in the political system. The permeation of corrupt practices in every government institution has made it difficult for citizens to have faith in government officials, leading to a general disillusionment with the political system. Additionally, the lack of transparency and accountability in government operations has enabled corrupt officials to operate with impunity, further eroding the public’s trust in the political system. The aforementioned issues have resulted in a political climate marked by a lack of stability and continuity, hindering the country’s economic and social development. It is imperative that the political class and other stakeholders work towards addressing these issues to ensure that the political system can effectively serve the people’s needs and promote the country’s long-term stability and prosperity.

Proposing A New Way to get stability in Political System?

A hybrid political system combines characteristics of many political systems, such as democracy and autocracy. Two examples are a semi-presidential system, which combines a prime minister and a president, and a federal system, which combines a central government with regional administrations. Hybrid systems can also include components of other kinds of democracy, such as a parliamentary system combined with a robust presidential system. These systems are frequently viewed as a compromise between competing political ideologies or as a means of balancing the strengths and shortcomings of various systems

If the official replaces the current political system with a hybrid one, it could be very beneficial. One of the main advantages of a hybrid system is that it allows for a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government. In a presidential system, the executive branch is separate from the legislative branch, with the president having a lot of power. In a parliamentary system, however, the executive branch is accountable to the legislative branch. In a hybrid system, the executive branch has some independence from the legislative branch but is still responsible for it. This helps to prevent too much power from being concentrated in one person or group and also helps to protect citizens’ rights and to avoid abuse of power.

An additional benefit of implementing a hybrid system is that it may facilitate more efficient decision-making by leveraging the strengths of both presidential and parliamentary systems. In a presidential system, the separation of powers can result in stalemates and prolonged indecision, while in a parliamentary system, the government can swiftly collapse if it loses the legislature’s support. A hybrid system, on the other hand, can offer a balance of stability and agility, allowing for more prompt decision-making while maintaining the accountability of the executive branch. Furthermore, considering Pakistan’s history of military involvement in politics, a hybrid system can provide a mechanism to hold the military accountable to the civilian administration and reduce the likelihood of military intervention.

It is imperative to acknowledge that a hybrid system may not be the ultimate remedy for all of Pakistan’s issues, and its successful operation would require meticulous planning and execution. Nevertheless, this system could potentially provide a glimpse of sustained stability in Pakistan’s political landscape, and it is incumbent upon the authorities to consider this system as a viable option to circumvent further obstacles.

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