Indian civilisationalism: a potential next flashpoint?
When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, he laid down a marker for a critical mass of world leaders who, like him, think in civilizational rather than national terms.
In the minds of these leaders, the stakes in Ukraine are about much more than the future of a former Soviet republic or the rejiggering of Europe’s security architecture.
Much like Mr. Putin’s ambition to establish a Russian world that is defined by the geography of Russian speakers and adherents of Russian culture rather than internationally recognized boundaries, men like Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi envision a 21st-century world order in which civilisationalist aspirations trump national sovereignty, freedoms, and minority rights
To them, creating a 21st-century world order involves coercion and potentially, if need be, the use of military force to redraw maps to suit their, at times, downplayed aspirations.
It comes at the expense of the independence of countries like Ukraine, the rights of littoral states in the South China Sea and ethnic and religious minorities like Indian and Chinese Turkic Muslims, and potentially much of non-Indian South Asia.
No doubt Messrs. Xi and Modi are eyeing Ukraine closely for lessons learned. Mr. Putin has crossed a Rubicon at tremendous human, political and economic costs with no immediate potential reversal.
Mr. Xi has other immediate fish to fry. He is unlikely to cross a similar Rubicon any time soon to achieve his ambitions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s One China policy that views Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland.
Neither is Mr. Modi, whose ideological home embraces the concept of Akhand Bharat or an India that stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar and encompasses nuclear-armed Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.
US and European diplomats take heart from the fact that since first becoming prime minister in 2014, Mr. Modi has refrained from publicly referencing Hindu nationalist geopolitical ambitions. He seemingly last spoke publicly about those ambitions in an interview in 2012 when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he suggested that “Hindustan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh should rejoin.”
Nevertheless, one lesson the war in Ukraine offers is that the United States, Europe, and their Asian allies at their peril take civilisationalist aspirations lightly.
Despite warnings by US intelligence and statements by civilisationalist, nationalist and far-right voices in Mr. Putin’s immediate entourage, many wrongly believed that the Russian leader was playing bluff poker in the run-up to the invasion but would not send troops into Ukraine.
“Although the notion of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) may seem far-fetched today, the same was said of Putin’s expansionist ambitions until recently,” said political scientist and journalist Sushant Singh.
Six weeks into the Ukraine invasion, a prominent militant Hindu nationalist with close ties to Mr. Modi predicted, in the first indication of a timeline, that the aspirations of the Hindu nation could be achieved in the next 15 years.
“You spoke about 20-25 years, but if we increase our speed, I say 10-15 years… I do not have the power at all…it is with people. They have the control. When they are ready, everyone’s behaviour changes. We are preparing them… We will walk together as an example, without fear. We will talk about non-violence, but we will walk with a stick. And that stick will be a heavy one,” said Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS, with some six million members, is Mr. Modi’s political cradle that gave birth to his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Founded almost a century ago, the RSS is a militant, right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organisation.
Mr. Singh noted that RSS schools across India teach the concept of Akhand Bharat. Moreover, an RSS publisher produces a map of India’s “holy land” that includes Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.
Mr. Modi’s policies, including his 2019 amended citizenship law that provides a pathway for citizenship to Hindus from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan but not to Muslims, as well as the stripping that year of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, seemed to be nods towards Akhand Bharat.
India’s Muslims constitute the world’s third-largest Muslim community and account for 14 per cent of India’s 1.4 billion population.
It may be a long shot, but Mr. Modi could be the one major civilisationalist leader with whom engagement has a chance of containing, if not taming, whatever irredentist instincts he may have. Those instincts likely constitute one reason why India has sought to walk a middle road in the Ukraine crisis.
In contrast to Russia and China, with whom battles lines have been or are being drawn, engagement with India by the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian states is based for a good part on a perceived shared geopolitical interest to counter the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific.
In a broadening of engagement that goes beyond existing close economic and political ties, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has invited Mr. Modi to attend a summit in June of the Group of 7 (G-7) in the Bavarian Alps.
The Quad is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, while the G-7 groups Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States.
In another positive sign of engagement, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and religious nationalists are quietly exploring whether they can find common ground in shared humanitarian values.
RSS executive committee member and former BJP secretary-general Ram Madhav said in an interview last week with this writer that “Eastern civilizations (and) Eastern religions all share the same civilizational value system.” Mr. Madhav referenced Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and ‘an Islam with an Eastern value system like Indonesian Islam.’”
Mr. Madhav, widely viewed as a moderate among Hindu nationalists, was referring to a concept of Humanitarian Islam put forward by Nahdlatul Ulama, the world and Indonesia’s largest Muslim civil society movement.
Nahdlatul Ulama advocates reform of what it calls “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights without reservations and envisions inter-faith relations based on shared common values.
Mr. Madhav spoke on the eve of his second visit to Indonesia in two years for talks with Nahdlatul Ulama.
“Maybe we all can stand up and talk about these values…commit ourselves to those values including respect for pluralism, inclusivity, and commitment to the nation-state idea, (and) patriotism… If something can be worked out jointly, we would be definitely happy to do that,” Mr. Madhav said.
In Mr. Madhav’s mind, the RSS’s vision of Hindu nationalism or Hindutava already incorporates principles of humanitarianism as articulated by Nahdlatul Ulama .
The movement’s critics reject that assertion. Moreover, the RSS’s alleged association with widespread inter-communal violence and perceived discrimination of Indian Muslims calls it into question.
Indo-Pak Game of Influence in Afghanistan: Who Is Winning?
Afghanistan has earned its status as a centerpiece of the global ‘Great Game’. It has been fought for, sought after for reasons ranging from its strategic location to huge in situ reserves of natural resources and reserves. Standing at the crossroads of Central-South Asia and Middle East, it is believed to be holding more than $ 1 trillion worth of untapped natural/mineral resources and metals.
For Pakistan, it has earned the repute of being its strategic depth owing to reasons ranging from use of the soil by India against Pakistan to cross-border terrorism. While India has capitalized on these threats post 2001 using USA-sponsored regimes in Afghanistan to launch its own hybrid warfare against Pakistan. The dossier released by Pakistan in November, 2020 proposed with evidence the existence of 66 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that the report alleges were being used to wage terrorism and dismantle economic prospects of the former. Building upon prospects of state sponsored terrorism by India, it maintains that India has been actively involved in rekindling the fusion of Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP) with its break away factions, Jammat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul-Ahrar while also paying more than $820, 000 to TTP through its collaborators.
Owing to its strategic importance, India invested more than $ 3 billion in Afghanistan in about 400 economic projects it launched in the country. 150 projects were still underway when Taliban government took reins in Afghanistan in August 2021. During Ashraf Ghani’s government, India-Iran-Afghanistan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been proposed, whereby India committed $21 billion to expand its Chahbahar project to Hajigak. It is pertinent to mention here that Hajigak holds 1.7 billion tons of untapped iron deposits out of total 2.2 billion tones that Afghanistan is estimated to be holding, placing Afghanistan among top ten countries with extractable iron reserves. About $11 billion worth of Hajigak iron and steel mining project was handed over to consortium of seven Indian companies, together with $ 2 billion commitments for developing supporting infrastructure including Chahbahar –Hajigak Railway. India will never give up on its planned and already attained investment in the country while for Pakistan, it is much favorable to bring in the major shift in its policy towards Afghanistan.
Pakistan, with the Taliban government stands on more favorable grounds contemporarily but owing to Afghanistan’s economic woes-about 28. 3 million people (2/3 of its population) need urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023, according Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Relief (OCHR)-it is not unlikely for the country to shift alliances.
Pakistan has remained heavily invested in Afghanistan with respect to security affairs. It has been the foremost reason behind its independence from USSR in 1989 and is heavily engaged diplomatically to build interlinkages of the state with the international community for earning the humanitarian benefits for its people. A peaceful, prosperous, stable and connected Afghanistan serves the interest of Pakistan and hence the country continuously commits to pursue continuous and practical engagement with the interim Afghan government.
The atmosphere is now changing with realizations. In the latest Fifth China-Pakistan-Afghanistan Foreign Minister’s Dialogue, The Afghan interim government reiterated its commitment both with Pakistan and China that it would not allow any individual, group or party, including the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ETIM to use its territory against the neighboring countries. The format is of strategic importance in its focus on trilateral economic cooperationto fully harness Afghanistan’s potential as a hub for regional connectivity. Pakistan shall be prudent in this regard as it can reap magnanimous benefits from expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan, as proposed. Ad hocism must be avoided to maximize mutual benfit under such overtures in such a manner that national interest is attained.
For its part, Pakistan has spent more than $ 1 billion in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and invested heavily in capacity building of Afghanistan, including 72 km Torkhum Jalalabad Road and 400 bed Jinnah Hospital worth $118. 8 million while also training 644 Afghan police and drug control officers, among others. Keeping up with its commitments of capacity building in Afghanistan, it has also been providing high-end assistance as that of road construction machinery, mobile hot mixers, generators, medicines, ambulances and trucks among others. More than $ 5 billion in in-kind humanitarian assistance has also bene provided.
Although such overtures intensify Pakistan’s standing in bilateral relations with Afghanistan but bilateral consolidation would require early completion of such projects as that of TAPI, CASA-1000, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission line among others. Such projects serve dual purpose for Pakistan: Afghanistan that protects the interest of Pakistan and regional consolidation that would mean raising Pakistan to higher pedestals when it comes to regionalism and hence International affairs.
How Afghanistan realigns itself socially and politically will have long-term consequences for the entire region and the world. States continue to seek their own vested interests in the process. It is long-term, strategic and holistically calibrated policy making and intense economic investment on bilateral and multilateral levels that can pit Afghanistan in favor of Pakistan as compared to India, in the long run.
Pakistan’s Political Turmoil and Global Security Concern
Pakistan is currently in a critical juncture of political turmoil which is posing a threat to its sovereignty as well as growing concerns about global security. Not only that, if Pakistan fails to address the crisis, then definitely it will be the beginning of the extinction of democratic values regionally and globally. Pakistan has also been spiralling towards a severe economic catastrophe and struggling to meet the basic needs of its population. Now Pakistan is in a state of critical emergency after 1971, where the elite class should not repeat their apocalyptic mistake of ignoring the voices of the people.
The power struggle of the current stalemate began when Imran Khan was ousted in April 2022 following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. However, this imbroglio is hardly a scenario that has arisen overnight. This is a result of bankrupt political regimes. Needless to say, Pakistan’s ruling power has generally been characterized by its preference for one side of the Pakistan Army. Each of the five prime ministers has been indicted or imprisoned after leaving office. The military-dominated Pakistan has a long record of engineering the electoral playing field to achieve the Army’s preferred result.
Corruption has long been a pressing issue in Pakistan’s political landscape, with high-profile corruption cases involving influential politicians and bureaucrats. These scandals have eroded public trust in the government and raised concerns about the misuse of public funds. The economic condition in Pakistan was facing a severe crisis. Now the devastating flood of 2022, 50-years high inflation, food and energy shortage, collapsed investment, critically low exports, and foreign exchange reserve, mounting foreign debt, and the failure of international lenders have further exacerbated the situation. Furthermore, Covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia put tremendous pressure on world food and energy prices, which has had a negative impact on Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistan is experiencing violent social unrest. Economic challenges, rising inflation, polarized politics, and unemployment have contributed to the frustration and discontent among the populace, especially the youth where over 60% of the population is under the age of 30. A weaponized society with nothing to lose has grown a new ability to touch the untouchable elite Institutions. Furthermore, ethnic and sectarian tensions, mass reform movements recently by religio- political parties, and engagement between Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan(TTP) and security forces clearly spelled out the public frustration with elite Institutions or ruling systems.
Pakistani, especially the young generation, are frustrated and possess discontent with the country’s political discourse of weakening opponents and appeasing puppet masters. Poor dynastic leadership has also paved the way for military intervention in state power. Imran Khan has taken advantage of the situation to make himself the savior of the nation. However, he is also seen as a trump card for Islamic jihadist organizations. His party’s strongholds, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Lahore, and Punjab, are all strongly under the control of Islamic jihadist groups. Imran Khan as a prime minister praised the mujahideen and hailed Osama bin Laden as Shahid (martyr) in the parliament. One more significant thing, the Pakistani Constitution has ensured the right to choose the Sharia rule provincially or in special administrative areas.
Now, in recent years, TTP or other similar religio- political fundamentalists have exhibited mass reform movements and continue armed struggle across the country. Their issue-based movement has become popular among the countrymen and their armed struggle has made the elite establishment bound to sit for a peace deal with TTP. We will be in a fool’s paradise if we ignore the smartness and political acumen of present Islamic jihadist organizations. Now the situation in Pakistan is more favorable for TTP as well as International Islamic militant organizations. The Pakistani Judiciary, PTI, Islamic militant organizations, and military, Pakistan Democratic Movement(PDM) coalition are near to head-on collision. The worst possible fact is civil war, and the next phase will be the triumph of the Islamic jihadist movement.
The pressing question that demands attention from global leaders is why Pakistan should be a cause for concern. We must not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation. Drawing upon my extensive two-decade study of Islamic militant organizations, it is evident that the Islamic jihadist movement will emerge at full throttle in Pakistan. In my opinion, Pakistan will be Afghanistan 2.0 today or tomorrow unless the crisis is not dealt with appropriately. This ideological warfare is just like cancer in the human body. If we fail to recognize it at an early stage, it would leave us no choice but to surrender. Now, if we compare the situation of Pakistan with earlier Afghanistan, Iraq, Burkina Faso, and Mali, then it becomes evident that Pakistan is at the last stage of ideological cancer. I assume that the next Islamic jihadist movement is likely to extend its reach to Kashmir and Yemen. If this movement gains traction in Pakistan, then it will be a matter of time to establish a strong jihadist bastion in South Asia and the Middle East.
The West, unfortunately, has deprioritized its engagement against Islamic militant organizations, which will compromise the value of democracy and bring a new dimension to democratic countries globally. To be sure, we will not be able to see democracy piping over the Great Wall in the East and the African-Russian imaginary barrier in the West. Meanwhile, Somalia and Yemen will serve as strategic game-changer, providing an economic lifeline for international Islamic jihadist organizations.
So, where does the savior of democracy lie? Or, are democracy and human rights merely tools used to suppress third-world nations? These crucial questions demand answers.
In conclusion, my perception will only begin to take shape once Islamabad falls. Pakistan must respond quickly because time is not on its side. Now the most straightforward way to restore peace in Pakistan would be through timely, free and fair elections, unfettered by the establishment’s intervention. An elected government has the potential to restore confidence in Pakistan’s Institutions, and that confidence is as desirable for Beijing and Riyadh as it is for Washington and New Delhi. Otherwise, the simplest explanation for other means may align with my perceptions(!), ultimately, becoming a stark reality.
G-20 Summit may not cultivate Indian-desired results
G-20 Summit 2023, is scheduled to be held on 09-10 September 2023, in India. The Summit will be hosted and chaired by Indian Prime Minister Modi, the President of g-20 on rotation. However, the United Nations recently released a report highlighting alleged human rights violations in India, casting a shadow over the country’s preparations for the prestigious event.
Human rights violations have risen dramatically in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) since 2019 when the government of India revoked the special status of the region, warned a UN Independent Expert, one week before a G20 meeting is scheduled to be
“By holding a G20 meeting of the working group on tourism on 22-24 May”, Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, warned that the government of India is seeking to normalize what some have described as a military occupation by instrumental sing a G20 meeting and portray an international “seal of approval”, despite what Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, told the UN Human Rights Council a few weeks ago was a worrying human rights situation in the Kashmir region.” held in Srinagar.
India’s Intentions in Hosting the G20 Summit:
Although India’s decision to host the G20 summit reflects it’s over ambitions to play a larger role on the global stage and shape the discourse on important issues. As a developing economy with a vast population, India wishes to leverage its position to promote its development agenda, attract foreign investments, and enhance its diplomatic standing. Hosting such a high-profile event presents an opportunity for India to showcase its economic progress, technological advancements, and commitment to global cooperation. But the release of the UN special report at this pertinent time, on Indian severe violations of Human Rights Violations, is a big obstacle to realizing Indian dreams.
The UN Report’s Highlights:
“The situation there has — if anything — become much worse since myself and fellow UN independent experts transmitted a communication to the government of India in 2021. We then expressed our grave concerns that the loss of political autonomy and the implementation of the new domicile rules and other legislation could alter the demographic composition of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, may result in political disenfranchisement, and significantly reduce the degree of political participation and representation of the Kashmiri and other minorities previously exercised in the former state, undermining their linguistic, cultural and religious rights,” he said.
“On all counts this seems to be occurring on the ground, in a repressive and sometimes brutal environment of suppression of even basic rights”.
The expert noted that there have been reports of significant numbers of Hindus from outside the region moving into the region so dramatic demographic changes are underway in IIOJK to overwhelm native Kashmiris in their own land.
According to de Varennes, the G20 is unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecutions, restrictions, and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate.
“International human rights obligations and the UN Declaration of Human Rights should still be upheld by organizations such as the G20,” he added, concluding that “the situation in IIOJK should be decried and condemned, not pushed under the rug and ignored with the holding of this meeting”.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures experts of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures Experts, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
Key Points of the UN Report:
Ahead of the G20 summit, the United Nations released a report highlighting alleged human rights violations in India. While the specific details of the report may vary, it is important to note that India, like any other country, faces complex challenges in maintaining human rights standards, given its diverse society and socio-political dynamics. Some of the key concerns raised in the report include:
Kashmir Issue: The report draws attention to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, focusing on the alleged excessive use of force, restrictions on freedom of expression, and arbitrary detentions.
Religious Freedom: The report highlights concerns regarding religious freedom, particularly with regard to incidents of violence, discrimination, and restrictions on religious minorities.
Women’s Rights: The report expresses concerns about gender-based violence, discrimination, and gaps in addressing women’s rights, including issues such as child marriage and gender inequality.
Freedom of Expression: The report raises concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and the shrinking space for civil society organizations and independent media.
The UN report’s release ahead of the G20 summit may have several implications for India:
Diplomatic Challenges: The report’s allegations can strain India’s diplomatic relations with some countries, potentially affecting bilateral cooperation and undermining its reputation on the international stage.
International Scrutiny: India’s hosting of the G20 summit will face heightened scrutiny, with the spotlight on its human rights record. This could lead to increased pressure on India to address the concerns raised and make tangible progress in safeguarding human rights.
Domestic Repercussions: The release of the UN report may fuel domestic debates and discussions about human rights, putting pressure on the Indian government to address these issues effectively and transparently.
Civil Society Activism: The report can empower civil society organizations and activists who are advocating for human rights and social justice, leading to increased public discourse and demands for change.
To be over clever, may turn into a disaster and counterproductive for India.
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