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Bijoy Dibos: Reminiscing the birth of a free Bangladesh in its golden jubilee year

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Bijoy Dibos means the Day of Victory in Bengali language. In Hindi, this day is known as Vijay Diwas, celebrated on 16 December every year in Bangladesh and India. 2021 marks 50 years since the end of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 that saw the birth of a free nation of Bangladesh and the biggest surrender of troops since the Second World War, 93,000 in number, as the genocidal state of erstwhile West Pakistan (now Pakistan) was brought to its knees by the combined strength and will of Bengali nationalists of erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the Indian armed forces.

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“When some Pakistani Generals in 1971 foolishly spoke of a jihad against the Hindu unbelievers, they were fighting a country whose army was commanded by a Parsi (Zoroastrian), whose Air Force in the Northern Sector was commanded by a Muslim, whose Eastern Command that marched into East Pakistan was commanded by a Sikh and the General who was helicoptered to negotiate the surrender of the Pakistani forces was Jewish. That’s India. It’s not a country of one religion or one kind of people. It’s always been a country for everybody.” (Dr Shashi Tharoor, Al Jazeera English, 2017)

Last week, on 6 December, India and Bangladesh observed Friendship Day (Maitri Diwas/Moitri Dibos) to commemorate India’s recognition of Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent state in 1971. The story of Bangladesh’s independence is also the story of how the Pakistani military leadership’s systematic persecution, massacre and rape of the Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971, numbering in tens of thousands, was brought to an end by India’s timely military intervention on the side of the Bengali resistance forces (referred to as the Mukti Bahini) during the course of Liberation War against the tyrannical West Pakistani regime.

The political elite of Pakistan were dominated by the Western side that had no respect for East Pakistan’s majority Bengali people or their language and cultural distinctiveness. The roots of discontent of the Bengali people towards the Pakistani government, which eventually metamorphosed into a nationalist movement, can be traced back to the immediate post-independence period in the late 1940s.

The background of Bengali resistance

When the Indian Subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, the Islamic state of Pakistan was formed as a non-contiguous territorial entity on the western and eastern sides of India. On the West lay modern-day Pakistan and in the East lay modern-day Bangladesh. The Pakistani people, despite being largely Islamic in terms of religion, remained divided on ethno-linguistic lines, largely influenced by geo-cultural factors. Nowhere was it more evident than in the East, where the Bengali-speaking population had little in common with their Western counterparts, who were largely of Punjabi and Pashtun descent.

The Bangladeshi people are historically and culturally connected with the eastern region of India, particularly with the states of West Bengal and Tripura. The influence of larger than life literary behemoths such as Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay transcends beyond politically-made boundaries and remains as the common ethno-linguistic heritage of the Bengali people, who were divided into two nationalities with the creation of Pakistan in 1947, and psychologically divided as early as 1905 with Lord Curzon’s first Partition of Bengal that year, as part of the British-era ‘Divide and Rule’ policy, aimed at weakening the cradle of Indian nationalism – the Bengal region.

The Bengali Language Movement as a precursor the rise of Bengali nationalism

In the very next year following the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent, the then Karachi-based Government of Pakistan proclaimed ‘Urdu’ as the sole national language, inviting resentment and mass protests among the Bengali-speaking majority in the East. Sectarian tensions and demonstrations followed, forcing Karachi to outlaw public meetings and rallies.

The students in Dhaka, East Pakistan, and other political activists defied the law and continued with their protests, which ended with the brutal killing of a number of student demonstrators by the police on 21 February 1952, instigating widespread civil unrest in the East. After eight years of struggle, the Pakistani government yielded to the demands of the Bengali people in the East and granted an official status to the Bengali language in 1956.

Later in 1999, UNESCO declared 21 February as International Mother Language Day as a tribute to the Bengali Language Movement and also the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world. It is a national holiday in Bangladesh. The Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and the Bengali diaspora community observe the day by paying tribute to the martyrs of 1952. The Language Movement had a major cultural impact on Bengali society, rejuvenating their national consciousness with the celebration of language, literature and culture in the following years and decades.

The call for greater autonomy

Along with the discrimination faced by the Bengali people, data from the 1950s and 1960s showed that exports from East Pakistan such as jute were a key contributor to Pakistan’s export income. However, the Bengalis of East Pakistan fell far behind in the distribution of politico-economic power within the state of Pakistan.

Taking up these issues, the would-be Founding Father of Bangladesh, the Awami League party’s leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, fondly referred to as Bongobondhu, meaning “the Friend of Bengal”, kick-started a new movement in the mid-1960s in East Pakistan calling for greater provincial autonomy, which later evolved into the famous ‘six-point demands’. But it was not only rejected by the West Pakistani leadership, Mujibur Rahman was branded as ‘separatist’ too.

The late 1960s: A churn in Pakistan’s domestic politics

Pakistan’s domestic politics was witnessing new transformations in the late 1960s with the rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a socialist-inclined party formed in 1967 to resist General Ayub Khan’s dictatorial administration and the mounting economic inequalities. Parallelly, the public support for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League, a party formed in 1949 as a Bengali counter-weight to the dominance of the Muslim League, was also rising.

Adding to these socio-political churn was the devastating Cyclone Bhola that wreaked havoc in East Pakistan and India’s eastern coast in November 1970. It was the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded in modern history, claiming 500,000 lives. Pakistani central leadership based in the West showed an extremely callous attitude to the looming humanitarian crisis as they deliberately delayed and downplayed the much-needed relief efforts, adding to the resentment of the Bengali people in East Pakistan.

Both Bhutto and Rahman emerged as strong political leaders of Pakistan by the end of the decade with a substantial number of people rallying behind on both sides. General Ayub Khan’s decade-long military regime relented to popular sentiments by 1969, forcing the transfer of his Presidency to General Yahya Khan in March that year, who agreed for elections to the Pakistani National Assembly in the following year. Free polls were held in December 1970 for the first time since Pakistan’s independence. Bhutto’s PPP and Rahman’s Awami League strongly took on each other.

Voting took place in 300 general constituencies, of which 162 were in East Pakistan and 138 in West Pakistan. Surprising all, the Awami League emerged victorious by gaining an absolute majority, winning 160 of the 162 general seats and all seven women’s seats in East Pakistan. The PPP won only 81 general seats and five women’s seats, all in the West. In the provincial elections that followed, the Awami League again dominated the East, while the PPP established its dominance in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh in the West.

President Yahya Khan and the PPP Chief Bhutto did not wish to see a party from East Pakistan in the West-based central government. Instead of Mujibur Rahman, General Yahya Khan appointed the veteran Bengali politician Nurul Amin as Prime Minister, asking him to reach a consensus between the PPP and the Awami League. However, this move failed as the delay in inauguration had already caused significant unrest in East Pakistan. All these developments formed a potent recipe for an escalated civil war by the following year.

Genocide of the Bengali people in East Pakistan and the resultant refugee crisis

By the beginning of 1971, ethnic tensions between Bengali nationalists and the pro-Pakistan, Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims of East Pakistan began to rise. By early March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman issued a call to the Bengali people of East Pakistan to prepare for an all-out struggle following the imposition of martial law, the indefinite postponement of the scheduled session of the National Assembly that was due to be held on 3 March 1971 in Dhaka and the unwillingness of the Yahya Khan regime to transfer power to the elected representatives.

The Pakistani government responded to the deteriorating law and order situation in the East by launching ‘Operation Searchlight’ by the end of March that continued till mid-May. It was led by a Pakistani General named Tikka Khan, who planned and orchestrated the military action aimed at cracking down on Bengali dissent and to decisively take control of East Pakistan’s major cities by quelling all political and military Bengali opposition forces.

However, West Pakistani leadership failed to anticipate a prolonged Bengali resistance, which later intensified with the intervention of the Indian military, following the influx of about 10 million Bengali refugees to eastern India. The Indian army was already providing active support to the Bengali freedom fighters known as the Mukti Bahini in the form of arms and training. Pakistan’s brutal crackdown on Bengalis in East Pakistan eventually culminated in the genocide of innocent civilian Bengali nationalists, intelligentsia and the minorities.

No definite survey has yet been made to ascertain the exact number of people massacred by the Pakistani army. But, it is estimated to be as high as three million. The killings and genocidal rape of Bengalis committed by the Pakistan army and the Pakistani paramilitary force known as the Razakars remains as one of the worst genocides in modern human history. Sadly, the United States and the West, allied with Pakistan, turned a blind eye on this escalating humanitarian catastrophe, terming it an ‘internal matter’ of Pakistan. In the meantime, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested and taken to West Pakistan.

India and Pakistan goes to war for the third time

While the Bengali population of East Pakistan stared at an existential question on their national self-determination, India was going through a crucial general election in March 1971 that saw Prime Minister Indira Gandhi returning back to power in a landslide victory by overcoming the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) party’s internal splits and power struggles.

Just weeks after taking over as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi sought the possibility of a military intervention in East Pakistan to Indian Army Chief General Sam Manekshaw, who in turn informed her that the armed forces were not prepared enough for such a highly risky move and needed more time to prepare themselves well, as both the Western powers and China threw their weight behind Pakistan. Notably, it had also been less than a decade since the 1962 debacle with China. India’s military logistics and weaponry were also not favourable for a new war, as many of the defence orders were only being delivered by that time, of which the training and the tactical preparation parts still remained.

While the Indian armed forces were undergoing preparation to intervene and the refugees kept pouring in, PM Gandhi made sure that India won’t be isolated on the diplomatic front or deprived of energy and other crucial supplies by bilaterally engaging all concerned countries. India has been repeatedly appealing to the global community for assistance, but it has failed to receive any solid support of any major power.

Getting closer to the Soviets

PM Gandhi, thus, went a step ahead by setting aside the legacy non-aligned mentality and harnessed support of the other superpower, the Soviet Union, by signing the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation between the two countries in August 1971. This treaty would turn out to be highly consequential and of great significance for India during the rest of the Cold War years, and particularly during the approaching war with Pakistan in December. It also helped India in the multilateral front as the Soviet Union vetoed all anti-India resolutions at the United Nations. The Soviets also made sure that the Chinese won’t come to the rescue of the West Pakistanis by deploying its troops along the Sino-Soviet border as a political message.

Pakistan’s attack on Indian airbases gives a start to war

By November 1971, General Sam Manekshaw informed PM Gandhi of the army’s state of preparedness to move across the border and to openly side with the Mukti Bahini fighters. These moves by India enhanced the West Pakistani sense of insecurity, which in turn responded by attacking 11 Indian air bases along the western front on December 3 in an Operation code-named ‘Chengiz Khan’. This marked the beginning of a 13-day war between India and Pakistan that continued until 16 December with the fall of Dhaka to the combined forces of India and the Mukti Bahini.

India responds by bombing Pakistan’s port of Karachi

The response to Pakistani air strikes was given by the Indian Navy on the following day in an Operation code-named ‘Trident’, wherein Pakistan’s most important and strategic port of Karachi was bombed using Soviet-supplied anti-ship missiles, thereby inflicting heavy damage upon Western-supplied Pakistani warships and the naval facilities with India suffering no losses at all.

In memory of victory in this operation, India observes Navy Day every year on December 4. In yet another embarrassment to the Pakistani Navy, Operation Trident was followed by another one code-named ‘Python’ on December 8, thereby striking the same port of Karachi twice in less than a week’s time.

The 1971 war witnessed an effective coordination between the ground, naval, and air forces of the Indian military for the first time in a full-scale war since independence. The overall strategy of the Indian armed forces was to keep the war short with minimum loss of lives by treading on unconventional routes with the local knowledge of Mukti Bahini fighters (the Muktijoddhas), thereby approaching and striking through farm fields, by-lanes, alleys, and the rural countryside, rather than moving through main roads and cities. However, the ultimate aim was to reach Dhaka, the capital city of East Pakistan in a rapid advance and to force its surrender.

The Indo-Soviet coalition wins over the US-Britain-China-Pakistan coalition

While the US and Britain showed its support to Pakistan by deploying its fleet of warships to the Indian Ocean in a move aimed at intimidating India, the USSR deployed its own strike group from its Pacific port of Vladivostok, including nuclear-armed warships and submarines, in India’s support thereby ensured a balance of power, preventing a direct clash between India on the one side and the US and Britain on the other. Pakistan also has China’s support.

While the Indian Navy effectively blockaded the Bay of Bengal, preventing the entry of Pakistani vessels, an aerial blockade of Pakistani aircraft flying over Indian airspace by the Indian Air Force was already operational since the beginning of the year. Indian soldiers and the Muktijoddhas continued to fight valiantly on the ground and were gaining a decisive upper hand by 14 December.

Pakistan surrenders, the war ends, and a free Bangla nation is born

The head of Pakistani Army’s Eastern Command and Chief Martial Law Administrator of East Pakistan, Lt. Gen. AAK Niazi appealed for a ceasefire. However, India’s negotiator and chief of staff of Indian Army’s Eastern Command, Maj. Gen. JFR Jacob, who worked under General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the combined Indian and Bangladeshi forces in the Eastern Theatre Jagjit Singh Aurora and the Indian Army chief General Sam Manekshaw, demanded a public surrender of Pakistani troops, who were approximately 93,000 in number.

With no options left, General Niazi signed the Instrument of Surrender in the evening of 16 December 1971, thereby bringing the Bangladesh Liberation War to its end, effectively leading to the birth of a free nation of Bangladesh. This was the largest public surrender of a country’s armed forces since the Second World War.

Bangladesh thus gained its much-fought freedom, and India, a nation haunted by the ghosts of 1962, now has a reason to rejoice. India was one of the earliest countries to recognize Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent nation during the course of war itself. Later, Bangladesh adopted a poem titled ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ (My Golden Bengal) as its national anthem, written by the famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who has also written India’s national anthem.

With this defeat, Pakistan was dismembered due to its own ill-intended policies and the curtains were down for General Yahya Khan’s military rule with the rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to power. India and Pakistan signed a peace treaty in the Indian hill station of Shimla in July 1972, wherein Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in exchange for the return of Pakistani prisoners of war. India’s decisive victory in the war has demonstrated its regional power in the Subcontinent and has ensured relative peace in the border areas with Pakistan for the next two decades until Pakistan began to reinvigorate insurgency in Kashmir into a militant form with the launch of Operation Tupac in the late 1980s.

2021, thus, marks 50 years since a free nation of Bangladesh was born, wherein the combined strength and will of India and Bangladesh brought the genocidal state of Pakistan to its knees. Today, Bijoy Dibos/Vijay Diwas symbolizes the long-standing friendship and a shared past between India and Bangladesh that are to be cherished for the posterity.

Bejoy Sebastian is an independent journalist based in India who regularly writes, tweets, and blogs on issues relating to international affairs and geopolitics, particularly of the Asia-Pacific region. He also has an added interest in documentary photography. Previously, his bylines have appeared in The Diplomat, The Kochi Post, and Delhi Post.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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