It is the soldiers (Army) that has always called the gunshots in Pakistan. But when it comes to the General Election, it will disrupt the complete elected process to emerge as the arbiter of the destiny of that nation.
Writing about last week’s bloodshed in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistani daily, Dawn, wrote, “If there were any doubts that Pakistan still remains vulnerable to terrorism, the past week has put an end to them.” This is a polite but an irrefutable admission that willy-nilly terrorism is allowed to remain entrenched in Pakistan. Three separate attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have claimed 150 lives, leaving 200 wounded. Among the dead were Awami National Party leader Haroon Bilour and Balochistan Awami Party candidate Siraj Raisani.
Notably, both political parties have been protesting against the suppression of the rights of their people and the hegemony of ethnic Punjabis. In Pakistan, ethnic Punjabis are predominant in the Army, civil administration, police force, intelligence organisations and Foreign Service. Though so far no terrorist attack of the magnitude of the three under discussion has taken place in the Sindh Province, nevertheless, Sindh does not lag behind in any of the non-Punjabi Provinces in having faced brutal terrorist attacks. Terrorist attacks of this magnitude on the eve of General Elections carry more meaning than what meets the eye.
The Baloch nationalist movement is now a decade-old and under each military ruler in Pakistan, the Baloch people have suffered untold suppression and oppression. Some of their outstanding nationalist leaders have been liquidated mostly under fake encounters. Many of them suffered incarceration in false cases and biased judiciary had no qualms of conscience in being inimical towards them.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Pakistani Army decimated the brave Pukhtuns, accusing them of complicity with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Through carpet bombing, drone attacks and military operations like Zarbe Azab, the Pakistan Army got the credit of killing thousands of Pukhtun and destroying their habitats. The cry for a separate Pukhtun homeland, though suppressed brutally for some time by state authorities, has now resurged and the young Pukhtuns are swarming to the new movement in drones.
The crux of the matter is: Who are the people or organisations that undertook such bloodshed and for what purpose? People in Pakistan need not be told who the perpetrators of such ghastly killings are. Terrorist organisations, like TTP, Daesh (militant Islamic State group), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and others associated with them have a history drenched in blood. Whatever the frame and operational tactics of the organisation, they are ideologically same.
This July 25, General Elections in Pakistan will be the third such under the existing Constitution. The Constitution has been amended twice or thrice by military dictators and one civilian dictator. The last amendment made so far was by former military General Pervez Musharraf who was made the President after his term as Army Chief was over.
It was known to knowledgeable circles in Pakistan that the Army would manipulate the impending General Elections because it was under compulsion to do that. Senior echelons in the Pakistani Army understood that the world community no longer supported coup d’état and martial laws. Pakistan, now known for harbouring terror, is at pains to retrieve credibility as a law-abiding state and not as a rogue nation. It has become a compulsion for the Army to succumb to the democratic process.
The new game-plan of the Army is to accelerate terrorist onslaught, particularly on such political parties and candidates that are known to oppose the Army’s supremacy. Former Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif and his party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML (N)) have been targeted. Nawaz Sharif had forcefully demanded that in the light of the Constitutional provision, the Pakistan Army had to be subservient to the authority of the elected dispensation. This was nothing less than red rag to the bull. The Army played a masterstroke: It roped in the judiciary to bring a case of corruption against Nawaz Sharif under Article 61 of the amended Constitution.
The judiciary in Pakistan has never enjoyed credibility with the civil society. Thus, the Army acting as proxy — a game in which it is adept at — managed to impose life-long ban on Nawaz Sharif from fighting the election. Not satisfied, the judicial authority sentenced him to 10 years in jail and his daughter, Maryam, who the Army apprehended might step into the shoes of her father, has been sentenced to seven years in jail.
This was the Army’s first plan to forestall the return of PML(N) and it had been executed meticulously, thanks to a judiciary bankrupt of fair deal and fair conscience. The second safety valve manufactured by the Army was the creation of the Pakistan Tahreek-I Insaf (PTI) led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
The dharnas and protest rallies or the feigned long march which Imran Khan led in the past year could not be possible without the covert support of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Today, Imran Khan is enjoying the favour of being the head of the King’s party.
A close study of the history of the Pakistan Army will show that it has been the fiercest enemy of the democratic process in that country. Whenever it felt that democracy was on the verge of getting rooted in Pakistan, the Army played a game usually soaked in blood only to prevent the democratic process and intimidate those who dared to work towards the strengthening the roots of democracy in that country.
The policy of United States President Donald Trump indirectly accusing Pakistan of spreading terror in the region, especially in Afghanistan and Kashmir, has demoralised the Pakistan Army. Withholding of 300 million dollars of military and development aid has taken the wind out of the sails of the Pakistan Army. This has indirectly intensified the Army’s fears of being ultimately dominated by an elected Government in Islamabad. No wonder, the Pakistan Army will play a masterstroke at the end of the day and derail the entire election process to emerge once again as the arbiter of the destiny of the beleaguered nation.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)
Writer: K N Pandita
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The hefty five billion dollar fine that EU imposed on Google on charges of anti-competitive practices will make little difference.
A five billion dollar fine that the European Commission imposed on Google on anti-competitive behaviour is just a drop in the ocean for the Silicon Valley giant. The technology company’s parent Alphabet announced that its annual revenues crossed $110 billion last year. Of course, Google will fight this fine, unprecedented in its scale, because of how it behaves with its mobile operating system Android. The allegations are very similar to those charged against Microsoft over two decades ago when it dominated the web browser space with Internet Explorer. Remember that? The fines and punishment hardly impacted Microsoft and the same is likely to happen to Google. But while Google has kept relatively quiet, the scandals surrounding Facebook haven’t gone away. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg said that he won’t crack down on Holocaust denying groups. This, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal where Facebook user data was compromised by a third-party. It appears that technology giants, which have disrupted traditional information sources, are not being responsible. They have allowed fake information to flourish; they have enabled hate groups like never before; and by swallowing up advertising revenue they have permanently compromised reliable information sources, such as newspapers. Yet, they have democratised information and challenged the sources of that information. But should they do more to mitigate fake news and also be more responsible with their market behaviour? Yes.
For far too long, technology has been the wild west in the name of technology and better features. Technology companies have gotten away with irresponsible behaviour. Their actions have killed competition and made many subservient to technology on the back of getting things for free. User data is the next goldmine that all sorts of technology companies and service providers want to mine. Your information and mine is up for sale, acquired without our explicit consent. There needs to be more oversight by administrators across the world. Nobody is arguing for a Chinese style leash and firewall — information should be available to everyone — but that information cannot be wrong. Companies should be allowed to thrive in this ecosystem. At the end of the day, technology should not help humankind not be something that takes over everything. Technology for technology’s sake is not the solution. The European Union’s fine on Google while admirable will do little to change the situation. Google and their services as well as Facebook are embedded in most of our lives and a fine and slap on the wrist will not change that.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
As the Communist Party cannot rule without creating resentment, Jinping’s wish to make China a global power may not only land him in trouble, but might bring China to a dead-end.
China is a big country, a powerful state, but a nervous nation. Beijing is today able to rule far beyond its borders; a seemingly-insignificant incident: During the World Cup semi final between France and Belgium in Moscow, a French man shared his photos holding a Tibetan flag. Hugues Picon, the activist, was immediately arrested and kept in police custody and barred from entering the stadium for the final. He was probably unaware of the length of Beijing’s arm. However, China’s extended power is bound to create more and more problems for President Xi Jinping in the future. The Communist Party in Beijing can’t rule the world without creating resentment all-over. A commentator in the South China Morning Post pointed to a serious issue confronting the Middle Kingdom: “China needs to heed overseas unease as it moves to global centre-stage.”
Observers are concerned over the growth of Chinese nationalist pride and influence abroad. The Hong Kong paper remarked: “China must be wary of nationalist pride and its visions of taking global centre-stage triggering unease among its neighbours.” In a new book, China’s Change: The Greatest Show On Earth, Hugh Peyman, an old China watcher, questions: Has China got it right? Ultimately, Peyman believes that Deng Xiaoping’s approach will continue to serve the country well, and ‘as long as China keeps changing, it will find its way’. That is probably where the fate of China will be decided.
But can China change and become a state accepting the global rules of behaviour? Unfortunately during the past five years, China has changed but for the worse, ignoring or antagonising its own periphery (Tibet, Xinjiang, et al), as well as its neighbourhood. The recent campaign to forcibly assimilate ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang in order to erase nationalist sentiment and create an Islam with socialist characteristics is a case in point. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, wrote that the move is bound to fail because it “ignores lessons learnt not only from recent Chinese history but also the experience of others.”
Referring to the Belt and Road Initiative, Dorsey added: “In what amounts to an attempt to square a circle, China is trying to reconcile the free flow of ideas inherent to open borders, trade and travel with an effort to fully control the hearts and minds of its population.” At the same time, inside censorship shows that not all is under control. The South China Morning Post observed: “China’s censors are scrambling to control the narrative about the trade war with the US by giving the media a list of dos and don’ts when reporting on the topic.”
Knowledgeable sources in the Chinese media told the newspaper that they had been told “not to over-report the trade war with US and be extremely careful about linking the trade war to stock market falls, the depreciation of the yuan or economic weakness to avoid spreading panic.” Is it possible to tightly manage everything and everyone? But presently control is extremely well-organised. According to Chinascope, a first batch of graduate students recently received Master’s degrees in United Front (UF) studies at the Central Institute of Socialism in Shandong University, the Chinese Communist Party’s training and education facility for its cadres. Chinascope said: “Since its launch in 2015, the program has recruited 38 doctoral and 50 masters degree students.” The UF is an organisation to carry out the party’s revolutionary and political campaigns not only in places like Tibet, Xinjiang or Taiwan, but also abroad.
The UF was introduced during the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution as the soft hand of the party. According to the Jamestown Foundation: “The United Front Work Department is the department of the CCP charged with consolidating support for Party policies among non-CCP members, including among individuals of Chinese descent overseas. It is has long been a key, albeit well concealed, element of the CCP’s foreign policy.” The last issue of the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation takes the case of Mongolia: “Sinified religion has a role to play in Xi’s elevation of the UF into a foreign policy tool.”
It studied the case of the Jebtsundamba Hutugtu’s succession process: “It is perceived as a challenge the CCP’s neo-imperial reincarnation management system, which will undergo a major test when it comes to the selection of the next Dalai Lama reincarnation.” The Jebtsundamba is the equivalent of the Dalai Lama in Mongolia. The study shows that some unreported events in Mongolia “reveal attempts to cultivate senior lamas and exploit internal divisions to counter Dharamsala influence and earn global Buddhist ‘discourse power’.” Chinese organisations would like to compete with India for the lead of the Buddhist movement worldwide. The UF has considerably extended its influence under Xi, particularly by absorbing into the UF Department, the State Administration of Religious Affairs, a Government organisation which implements China’s religious policy. At the same time, Internet surveillance has tremendously expanded overseas, thanks to a host of new technologies.
Chinascope reported that Zhongkedianji Beijing Technology, a big data firm in Beijing, admitted to have developed a software called ‘junquan yuqun’; it is capable of detecting more than 8,000 ‘sensitive’ websites in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan: “In addition, it has established 18,000 information outlets in China which can monitor news, forums, blogs, microblogs, pictures, and videos. It can even collect information in 53 languages including English, French, Spanish, and the languages of ethnic minorities in China.” The company’s website said that the surveillance system can “carry out public opinion analyses, information warnings, and hot spot analyses. It can collect negative public opinion, public opinion trends, briefings, analyses, forwarded information, and do statistical analyses for the Government. It can monitor news, forums, blogs, Weibo, pictures, videos.”
Surveillance also applies to the Chinese expats. Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s former permanent secretary for Foreign Affairs, recently told a forum in Singapore: “In plain language, what this means is that overseas Chinese should be persuaded, induced, or in extremis, coerced, into accepting allegiance to China as at least part of their identity.” It is quite frightening. But ultimately, this will bring China to a dead-end. Too many foes will be unmanageable, even for a big power. Will Xi get the message before it is too late?
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
Writer: Claude Arpi
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Sharply diving the Nicaraguan society, the President, Daniel Ortega, fails to acknowledge that the public’s mood may cost him his presidentship.
As public protest in Nicaragua has deepened, Daniel Ortega, the embattled President of the country, is battling for his survival. Though his term will end in 2021, protesters are bent on seeking his immediate resignation and an early election. His revolutionary party Sandinista National Liberation Front (in Spanish, Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional — FSNL) came to power with a promise to offer a reformist Left front regime in the country. He was the man behind ousting dictator Anastacio Samoza Debayle from power in the 1970s. However, since his first term in office in 1985, Ortega has changed his style of governance, turning the whole Government into a family business and promoting his cronies in Government enterprises. Besides, in 2016 when he came to power again, he chose to make his wife Rosario Murillo his Vice-President.
Now the moot point is why protests are continuing unabated and how the Ortega Government is planning to address the crisis. The saga of stand-off started in April 18, 2018, between his Government and a section of people as a reaction to cut in the pension system. Once protests intensified, the Ortega Government reversed the order for the status quo. Surprisingly, the protesters resolved to remain on the streets across the country and raised many other issues. These all include massive corruption charges against Ortega family and a section of cronies, his increasing dictatorial style of functioning, and finally, the elevation of his wife, Murillo to the office of the Vice-President. The demonstrators seemed to have made up their mind to push Ortega out of office.
The capital city of Managua has become “Tahrir Square” of Nicaragua. The regional human rights body, named Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), says hundreds have died during protest against the Ortega regime since April 18 as the Government deployed special force “Grupos de Choque” (Shock Forces) to repress protests. Currently, demonstrators openly blame the Shock Forces and the Army for all the violence taking place in the country. But, the establishment accuses criminal gangs and specific political groups for creating unrest against the legitimate Government of Ortega.
What surprises the international community is that this chaos is completely different from earlier ones in Nicaragua. Precisely, the lead protesters are no other than students from universities from different parts of the country. Joining them are ordinary people from all walks of life. This is making the whole chaos complicated for Ortega. More particularly, the Catholic Church and the business community too have joined hands with the commoners against the Government.
People are demanding deep democratic reforms. And all of them believe that if Ortega continues in office, no such reforms can be carried out. Simply put, his administration will not allow any reform which might derail him from power, they believe. However, the Ortega Government thinks the new rebellion is nothing but a “coup” to remove a democratically elected president of the country.
The IACHR and Amnesty International are urging the Nicaraguan Government not to use lethal weapons against the protesters. Also, they are calling for an investigation into the use of force by paramilitary forces in the country. However the Government has straightway denied any allegation of using lethal forces against the people and blames the opposition political forces and thugs for the current mess in Nicaragua.
Currently, a national dialogue between the Government and the protesters has failed as the latter insisted on the resignation of Ortega. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church and the Organization of American States have offered to mediate. But frankly speaking, it would be difficult to bring the Government and the protesters back to table soon. In case, the national dialogue revives, it can work well, but then Ortega will not step down so easily. What will happen next, no one knows for now. If Sandinistas have to go, they won’t go peacefully. Record shows when he lost election in 1990, million of dollars of public money was transferred to Government loyalists on Ortega orders and bureaucrats looted the offices in broad daylight. Is it going to be another affair to be remembered with horror and despise? Let’s have a look at history.
By 1970s, America’s hemispheric policy was dominated by the spectre of “another Cuba”. With the rise of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime right at the backyard of the US, Washington too was cautious about such upheavals in South America. To prevent such unwanted fears, then US President Lyndon Johnson had sent a force of 20,000 men to the Dominican Republic in 1965 and equally cautious Henry Kissinger quickly brought Chile under the surveillance of the CIA. But then, the fall of the thuggish Samoza dynasty in Nicaragua made this fear more palpable for Washington. At any cost, the policy-makers in the US wanted to prevent a Sandinista regime in Managua. What happened in Nicaragua literally shocked the Americans — a Sandinista regime was formed by the guerrillas. Ortega initially ran the Government very well with friendly attitude towards the business community. But he continued to suppress the Opposition and cut freedom of the press.
Described by his admirers, Ortega is not a public intellectual as he had to cut short his studies to join the Leftist guerilla warfare in the past. But surely, he has mastered the craft of becoming an astute political operator — he is expert in making new alliances and dividing and debilitating his enemies.
Again, Ortega’s bond with the church is remarkable. An atheist earlier has gradually cemented his ties with the priests across the country. Between 2013 and 2015, his Government spent $3.2 million public money to install decorative metal trees in and around Managua. These biblically inspired trees, called as “Trees of Life” come up with high power lights at night showcasing both beauty and his reverence for the faith. In 2016 election, wherein he won a landslide victory, the party posters display the curious slogan across: “Christian, Socialist, Solidarity”. Since then, he has been using this policy of mixing religion and politics only to promote his policies and programmes through them. But the irony is that this is the same old church which helped oust the authoritarian Government of Ortega is now fast becoming his friend.
His brand of “state capitalism” has more loopholes than advantages. It has sharply divided the Nicaraguan society. Ortega faces his last test of survival. His failure to acknowledge the mood of the public will cost him dear. Nicaragua is soon falling into an abyss. Political pundits say it is in the process of turning into another Venezuela.
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)
Writer: Makhan Saikia
Courtesy: The Pioneer
India has to play the balancing act through multi-alignment with the US and China in order to positively engage with the countries and preserve its strategic autonomy.
After the second India-China Maritime Affairs Dialogue held in Beijing last week, it was made clear to China that the evolving India-Pacific strategy was not aimed at China’s containment. It was also stated that both countries discussed perspectives in maritime security and cooperation, with New Delhi elucidating the contours of the Quad — Quadrilateral dialogue India-US-Japan-Australia — which was dismissed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as “headline grabbing” and “foam on the ocean that would dissipate soon”. Modi’s keynote address at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue helped allay apprehensions about the Quad’s target being China. There has been considerable confusion about the strategic geography of the Indo-Pacific as also of its possible military content and configuration. The belated elaboration follows the reset of India-China relations at Wuhan and the unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability over Trump’s capricious actions that call for discretion and caution over any rash geostrategic commitment to the US which are perceived as directed at China.
India-US relations have seen an upward trajectory, driven by extensive military and economic engagement. In Trump’s first policy declaration on South Asia and Afghanistan in August 2017, he praised India for its stabilising role in Afghanistan. In the US National Security Strategy paper of December 2017, India figured as the US’ global and most favoured defence partner. With China, the narrative has been marred by glitches, aberrations and hostility. The Modi Government, in pursuit of a muscular policy, which ignored the asymmetry in national power, found to its discomfiture that a risen China was leave alone being containable, not even receptive to India’s legitimate asking for clarification of LAC. This deviation from the established policy of keeping the boundary question on the back burner (Special Representatives reached an impasse after 19 rounds of conversations on a political solution to the boundary question) maintaining peace and tranquillity on LAC and while managing other contradictions, getting on with trade and commerce. Still there were border conflicts at Depsang, Chumar that culminated with Doklam. Given India’s unenviable two-front challenge, a temperamental Trump and looming uncertainty, the Government sought a recalibration of relations with China. Normalisation of ties with Beijing needed clarification on Indo-Pacific and Quad. Rewind to the first edition of the Raisina Dialogue, 2016, New Delhi. Admiral Harry Harris, the US Pacific Commander, in his keynote address, invoked the Obama-Modi Joint Strategic Vision Statement of 2015 which identified Asia-Pacific (including South China Sea and Indian Ocean) as the key lifelines requiring freedom of navigation and open skies. Harris called the region Indo-Asia-Pacific and proposed to India “we need you, your leadership”. He added, “let us be ambitious together”. He raised two issues: The Quad and joint patrolling anywhere in the Indian Ocean, South China Sea or “anywhere our leaders decide”. In Raisina 2017, Harris renamed Asia Pacific as Greater Indo Pacific and continued with the strategic seduction of India by inviting it to sign the two remaining foundational agreements — Communication, Compatibility and Security Arrangement and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation. These two are unlikely to be inked anytime soon. At Raisina 2018, Harris called China a “disruptive transitional force in Indo Pacific”. Although Harris retired this year, he ensured his command was redesignated as the Indo Pacific Command.
Indo Pacific translates differently to different countries in the region. At Shangrila, Modi said, “India does not see the Indo Pacific as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means directed at any one country”. While Quad was not mentioned, strategic autonomy was. Actually, it was our own Commander Gurpreet Khurana who coined the term Indo Pacific before anyone else as linking Indian Ocean with West Pacific through Malacca Straits. The Quad similarly has a history dating back to 2007 and was mooted by Japan’s Shinzo Abe. It was formally revived in 2017 with its first meeting at Manila as a Track I dialogue of junior level officials. India is the only country that does not have a permanent presence in the Pacific Ocean like the other three; and is the only one to share a land border with China. It is also the only country not part of any military alliance. In the four separate statements after the first Quad, Free and Open and Rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific appeared as a common objective.
The second meeting of the Quad last month in Singapore shared objectives in areas of connectivity, development, regional security, including counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and maritime cooperation. The centrality of Asean was highlighted. Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba said that Quad does not have a military dimension. He also said that there were no plans for joint patrols with the US or any country which is not a maritime neighbour of India. The strategic community is divided on India joining the Quad with a military and security architecture whose object is to counter China’s hegemony in the Indo-Pacific. They cite China’s fait accompli of creating militarised islands in South China Sea as designed to breaking out of the first island chain which they say, must be checked and rolled back.
Last year, the External Affairs Ministry hailed the Indo-US partnership in maintaining stability in the Asia Pacific region after Trump declared India as a leading global partner in his National Security Strategy paper. For the last 20 years, annually, the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi, has strenuously scouted in vain for an Asian security structure akin to Nato. For the Indo-Pacific at best one can conceive of a regional maritime cooperative security structure which is not threat but capability based to meet common challenges in the Indo-Pacific with India focusing on the Indian Ocean. India has made substantial unilateral concessions to China to secure the Wuhan summit and to ensure the Government is not diverted over the next 12 months from its single-minded goal of winning the next election. Inviting Trump for the Republic Day is a minor risk compared to the accompanying institutional gains. Given the lack of full deterrence, India has to constructively engage with the US, China and others to preserve strategic autonomy through multi-alignment.
(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)
Writer: Ashok K Mehta
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Humanoid Robot Sophia, who was in India, says the country is colourful, diverse and beautiful.
Developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics, Sophia is modelled after actress Audrey Hepburn, and is known for her human-like appearance and behaviour compared to other robotic variants. She uses artificial intelligence, visual data processing and facial recognition.
Sophia, who is here to be the part of 7th Forevermark Forum, got into an interesting conversation with Stephen Lussier, CEO Forevermark & EVP of The De Beers Group of Companies during the forum that focussed on the theme, “Future is Now.”
When Lussier asked her if this is her first time in India, she replied: “No. I have been to India before. It’s a colourful, diverse and a beautiful country.” Talking further about herself, she said: “I live in Hong Kong and travel the world to meet people from different cultures.”
Sophia, who spotted a Forevermark Diamond necklace, asked Lussier that, “How does one really choose the best diamond?” To this, he replied: “You start by asking your jeweller about the 4Cs that is the cut, clarity, colour and the caratage. So diamonds having the best cut, flawless clarity, colourless nature and the high carat weight are the ones that are most valuable and worth buying,” he told her.
Also talking about what the future means to her, she said: “The future is unpredictable but I really want to make a difference.”
And is there anyway you think we could make the future better, asked Lussier? Replied Sophia: “Yes. By planting more trees, by using water wisely and contributing to help the environment.”
The goal of the forum was to provide a wide platform for all its partners to interact, transact and gain new perspective to events within and outside the industry. Partners discussed diversity in thought, culture, design and innovation in a multi-faceted future which they felt was brimming with diverse opportunities.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Nawaz Sharif, being one of the canniest politicians in the world, will try his best to get out of the jail. But can he be successful in performing a Houdini-like escape this time?
Nawaz Sharif would never have imagined that he would one day become a poster-child for democracy. But in an increasingly dysfunctional Pakistan, he is now a prisoner of conscience of the Pakistani deep state. Nor could he imagine that Indian newspapers across the political spectrum would be writing sympathetic editorials for him. Pakistan is a country where the Armed Forces have all but taken over all functions of the state without admitting to actually doing so. They have certainly taken over the judiciary. Politicians in Pakistan undoubtedly suffer from the bug of corruption so deep-rooted in South Asia and the fact that Sharif, like so many other Pakistani Prime Ministers before him, is corrupt is quite believable. The news reports about the Sharif family having secret bank accounts in Panama should not surprise anyone; many of South Asia’s elite have ferreted away millions of dollars of public funds. But the fact is that Sharif is also one of the best bets Pakistan has of not completely turning into a Chinese client state.
Pakistan’s military-industrial complex, in this case quite literally as much of Pakistan’s industrial complex is controlled by the military, has been gorging of late on Chinese funds for China’s planned economic corridor from Gwadar on the Arabian Sea via roads and rail through to the Chinese border. However, as several other countries have seen the example of Sri Lanka and how the Chinese have economically captured that nation in a debt-trap, Pakistan wants China to double-down on their investments even as reports emerge of China having second thoughts about Pakistan’s economic viability. The fact is, minus any semblance of democracy, Pakistan’s political parasites are being wiped out by their far worse cousin species, the Pakistani military parasite, and the judiciary is aiding the process.
We do not know what will happen to Nawaz Sharif now. He returned to Pakistan fully-well knowing the risks he was undertaking. Pakistan’s military has executed one Prime Minister, killed their own Chief and assassinated another Prime Minister. It is a truly dysfunctional military whose only objective is to keep surviving, the nation be damned. Nawaz Sharif must have been the last person to believe that one day he would be called brave, but he could have stayed on in exile. One could believe that Mian Sharif knows that the path his country is headed down is not a good one and if he did not act, Pakistan would be beyond saving.
Nawaz Sharif stood up to the military before and paid the price. He was the single best-bet India had for negotiating a truce with its neighbour and foster the belief that our two nations for long divided by hate might finally work together in joint economic prosperity. And being a popular mass leader, he could have also sold the idea to his nation. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now. One hopes that elements in the Pakistani deep state come to their senses soon enough and realise that Sharif, despite all his flaws, is not bad compared to the alternative.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
There are a number of different takes people have when it comes to the what the real Benazir Bhutto. With all the different versions, Sashanka S Banerjee will always believe that Benazir Bhutto was the woman who first offended him and eventually befriended him, sharing dark secrets.
Ironically, my first experience of meeting Benazir Bhutto was quite unpleasant, to say the least. To my surprise, minutes after I was introduced to her by Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury, who had earlier served as the President of Bangladesh, at his then family home in Hendon, London, I was denied even breathing space as she started an unprovoked and an unrelenting verbal attack on India. She described India as a “hegemonic power harbouring territorial ambitions on neighbouring countries”, an “oppressive tyranny masquerading as a democracy”, a “violator of human rights in Kashmir”, a “Muslim baiter” and much more. Her voice was shrill, her face flushed with goose pimples indicating that she was nervous while talking to me — an unknown Indian from the enemy country. I suspect she was under the illusion that I was a member of some sort of a repressive, Gestapo-like organisation of India.
I was disappointed to have discovered that a mature and sophisticated lady who had studied in Oxford and Harvard and belonged to a highly-regarded political family in Pakistan, would be so naive in her approach. It was her first interaction with a former senior bureaucrat — even if from the enemy country. And before this, the bureaucrat actually had regard for her as she had introduced democracy in Pakistan. But, she went on with her anti-India rant. And I wondered what her underlying motive could be. Whatever her intention was, my curiosity only increased over time. One thing I was sure about was that her worldview was not dissimilar to the official position of Islamabad that Pakistan would never bow down to India and be a poodle to New Delhi.
Initiated as a policy option by Benazir, Pakistan had devised its own ways of keeping India — a soft power in her view — firmly on the leash. Forging of ties with Taliban after she had become the Prime Minister of Pakistan meant using the terror group’s violent methods against India as an instrument of state policy. Pakistan Army had long aspired to secure “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Benazir had played a key role in that. And this was her idea of power play with New Delhi.
Thus, Pakistan started an innovative “two-front war” — on the East with India and on the West with Afghanistan. There was no dearth of funding for this dangerous game, richly sourced from three of its key allies. At the same time, for Islamabad it was strategically important to maintain the pretense that it was a “friend to India”. Within the parameters of this manufactured ambivalence, Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury’s introduction of Benazir Bhutto, heralded the beginning of a stormy and complicated equation.
Our next meeting was scheduled a few days later at her home in a luxury apartment at the Lauderdale Towers in The Barbican, London. Most of my remaining meetings in the subsequent period of my association with her were held at her home.
Benazir being much younger to me, I chose to address her by her first name. She didn’t mind it. I said, “Benazir, the other day, you thundered like the cataract of Niagara but, just think, did your fire and fury serve any real purpose? Neither was I intimidated nor was Justice Choudhury persuaded by what you said.” I added, “How can anybody call India a hegemonic power when within three months of the liberation of Bangladesh, at the end of a successful military campaign, India withdrew its armed forces from the soil of what was now sovereign independent Bangladesh? It was a gesture of goodwill. Some 93,000 Pakistani POWs taken at the end of the Bangladesh War of 1971 were also released. But Benazir didn’t return the compliment.
Gradually, our discussions began taking shape. I took the initiative and asserted that if she was looking for India’s support in promoting liberal democracy in Pakistan, I thought that India would gladly come forward and help her and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party. But this was all subject to New Delhi agreeing. I gave her the example of India’s support extended to the secular, democratic, and pluralistic Bangladesh Liberation Struggle led by Shaikh Mujibur Rahman.
I could see she was not amused. I felt like she had other things weighing on her mind. After several interactions, I got a shrewd impression that she was hiding something from me. Soon, I had no doubt in my mind that she was still in a state of deep shock and mourning. I would often find her getting emotionally choked while talking about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her father. Her eyes would moisten at the very mention of his name.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged till death on August 4, 1979, and buried at Larkana, the family’s graveyard. I often heard her saying that General Zia-ul-Haq was an incarnation of evil.
She would speak about her father as “Shahid Zulfikar Ali Bhutto” and described his hanging as “judicial murder”. I could detect the undercurrent of an overpowering dark force working within her, craving for revenge against the Pakistani dictator. She had mentioned the word “revenge” to me a number of times. I was pretty certain that she had also spoken about it among some untrustworthy friends. I knew only too well that Benazir had no security cover appropriate to her status provided by the state. She was an easy target, very vulnerable.
It couldn’t be that the ISI didn’t get a wind of Benazir’s overzealous pronouncements on avenging the dead. I was not prepared to believe that the ISI would not deploy a posse of surveillance detail on her, like static and mobile watch and telephone tapping for delving into her inner thoughts on her father’s hanging by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was all too well known that the grip of the ISI on Pakistan was so firm that not even a crow could fly over Pakistan without the ISI knowing about it.
Benazir had an inherent capacity to spring surprises. I was not quite ready for it, but one day she came up with a proposal that was beyond the bounds of my wildest imagination. She said, “You have been putting pressure on me to open up about my “secret agenda”. I will tell you, but it will be in bits and pieces”. Then, she told me that she would like to send a group of six young men to India on an “extended” educational tour for training in leadership skills in democratic principles and practice drawn from the Indian experience. The training would include lectures on international relations with special focus on India-Pakistan relations. As our discussions expanded, I was getting a sneaky feeling that Benazir was keeping what she “really” wanted close to her chest. She was shrouding her real thoughts in ambiguity. Her half-baked thoughts in the backdrop of what she was saying all this time, were in all probability linked to her zeal for revenge against General Zia-ul-Haq.
I asked her if she was thinking of an extreme kind of capital punishment with the help of an enemy country. And added that she must know the consequences of embarking upon such a dangerously mad mission. Moreover, why would India get involved in such a misadventure?
“What would happen if there was a leak? Are you not afraid of dying,” I asked. “No, for my father’s sake I am prepared to die. But my mission must succeed,” she said. It was becoming devastatingly clear to me that the “judicial murder” of her beloved father had acted as a catalyst in splitting her personality into two parts.
She asserted that a question kept nagging at her, “Why should I not take revenge with a concrete plan of action against that murderer? He has ruined my family. My mother has been widowed and my brothers and I have been orphaned when we are still at the prime of our lives.” A second shock awaited me. I asked her how much she trusted “the boys”. “Hundred percent” was her answer. What were their political affiliations? She paused for a moment and then admitted coyly, “Yes, you are right. They were cadre members of Jiye Sindh Mahaz (JSM) led by GM Syed.” Do you know him? She didn’t hesitate to say “Both of us are Sindhis, Yes, I know him”. I told her that GM Syed was serving a life sentence in a Pakistani prison for treason. I did not have to remind her that JSM was a pro-independence militant organisation fighting for the liberation of Sindh. Nobody knew if he was still alive. I reflected what was Mujibur Rahman to Bangladesh Liberation Struggle, GM Syed was to Sindh Freedom Movement. I told her that the ISI regarded JSM as “a separatist terrorist outfit” and they would go to any extent to crush them with heavy handed brutality.
It was a revelation to me that Benazir had close connections with GM Syed’s pro-independence movement in Sindh. I wondered, “Did she have an open mind for switching her loyalties to the Sindhi Freedom Movement, if her aspirations at Pakistan’s national level were to fail?” At this point, I thought I had enough knowledge of her inner thinking and must not pursue this matter any further. In fact, it seemed to me that there was perhaps already a dark deal struck up between JSM and herself.
India partly agreed to Benazir’s request but it was nowhere near to what she really wanted. India agreed to receive the “boys” in Delhi. As a huge gesture of goodwill to Miss Bhutto, they would be issued tourist visas for three months. The boys would be extended normal consular courtesies. They would be taken around the Golden Triangle — Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. While in Delhi, they would be taken around on day trips to the Houses of Parliament, the Supreme Court, CP, and Raisina Hill. They could be taken on a short day trip to a Military Academy and so on. They would be treated as honoured guests. As per Benazir’s personal wish, total secrecy would be maintained about the trip. What was deeply disappointing for Benazir was that there was not a word about military training for the boys that she had asked for. Her core interest was ignored in totality.
In the blood-soaked, revenge-filled, unforgiving political environment of Pakistani politics, a brief comparative study of three high-level political assassinations that happened in quick succession between 1979 and 2007 may be in order. I will touch on them in chronological order. For starters, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged to die on some “flimsy grounds” under orders of General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s military dictator, on April 4, 1979. There were reports that General Zia-ul-Haq did not trust the highly ambitious Bhutto and suspected that any day Bhutto he may usurp power from Zia. The hanging solved the military dictator’s fears but threw the country into turmoil and Benazir in a determinedly revengeful outrage.
Nine years later, General Zia-ul-Haq was killed, in an “air mishap” after his flight on a PAF heavy duty C-130 transport carrier took off from Bahawalpur Cantonment’s airfield on August 17, 1988. This game-changing event, described as “political murder” has also come to be known as “a case of exploding mangoes”.
Security had cleared “some casual employees” working in the Cantonment. There was a fruit and vegetable shop that loaded two basketful of the finest Dasheri mangoes, one for the military dictator and another for the US Ambassador Arnold Raphel, who was accompanying the General. They were on a visit to Bahawalpur Cantonment to oversee the performance of America’s best known main battle tanks (MBTs) Abram M1. After their field inspection, they were going back to GHQ Rawalpindi, satisfied that the tanks were to the liking of the military dictator. The order was to be in the region of 300 Abrams M1 MBTs. The loaders — there is no scope for any doubt — had placed two high explosive time bombs hidden in the mango baskets. Nobody checked the baskets because the security environment in the Cantonment was thought to be water-tight. After the explosion that killed everybody on board the aircraft, the ISI went into an overdrive to find out who had done it but the matter was so delicate that the report of the investigation was kept “top secret”. Any punitive action would have to wait for an appropriate date. Apparently, the assassination looked like part of a bigger conspiracy where there was involvement of biggies who had political and military interests.
Nineteen years later, it was Benazir Bhutto’s turn to face the wrath of her enemies, quite probably, the military top brass, perhaps avenging the killing of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. A brief recount of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination — as her cavalcade started moving out after her successful election rally held at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, where Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951, a small group of Punjabi-looking young men who also had Punjabi accent surrounded her moving car, started shouting slogans of “Jiye Benazir” a Sindhi language version of “Benazir zindabad” or “long live Benazir” in English. She was lured to stand up looking through an opening in the roof of the SUV to thank them. In a flash, she was fired upon from a precision weapon allegedly of military origin. Of the four bullets fired, one went through her head, killing her almost instantly. This was quickly followed by a bomb attack which completed the job of killing the leader.
For the record, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination took place after her fateful election rally on December 27, 2007. Thus, Benazir with a tasbih — a string of prayer beads — in her hand, chanting “Jiye shahid Bhutto”, died. A thing to note about these three political murders was that they were all linked to each other by a thread of starkly competing interests in an intense power struggle among viciously ambitious power-hungry military men and politicians at high places. In the bargain, all three lost their lives after short spells of glory. What’s worth is the lack of any long term impact — it was business as usual after a few short weeks.
A few days after General Zia-ul-Haq died, Benazir summoned me to a pub located in a hidden corner on the ground floor of the Barbican Towers for a chat. I saw her beautiful face, pretty much glowing like one who had won a war and established an empire. She felt quite strongly that the exit of an “evil genius” like Gen Zia-ul-Haq was reason for celebration. “The punishment was willed by Allah,” she asserted with a raised glass of Coca-Cola in her hand and a broad smile on her face.
What was no less important for Benazir was that the death of Gen Zia-ul-Haq potentially opened the door for her to climb the political ladder and win her position as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. Her passion for the creation of a sovereign, independent Sindh emulated from the example of Liberation of Bangladesh, seemed to have died with her.
Before I left for home, I said, “Benazir forgive me for asking you something that may upset you — who put the “exploding mangoes” in the baskets of the C 130 that killed General Zia-ul-Haq and US Ambassador Arnold Raphel?” For the first time, she addressed me endearingly and said, “My dear friend, I should not answer your query. However, since I have already shared so many secrets with you, I will not disappoint you. Yes, I happen to know them.” For her comfort, I did not ask their names.
For me, it was now time to say goodbye to Benazir. I had a warm hand shake, said an emotional goodbye, and stepped back. And as it turned out, I was never to meet her again. Benazir’s assassination will be remembered by future generations as the darkest day for democracy in Pakistan’s turbulent history.
Banerjee is the author of A Long Journey Together
— India, Pakistan and Bangladesh published in 2008
Writer: Sashanka S Banerjee
Courtesy: The Pioneer
PM Narendra Modi is expected to make the most of his stay to the African continent.
Stakes are high as Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his five day three-nation tour of Africa on Monday. The visit comes at a time when there is a decline in trade and investment in the continent not to mention years of diplomatic neglect of Africa and its absence from the foreign policy matrix. The past decade, however, has seen Chinese presence in Africa expand exponentially as Beijing cast its net wide looking for energy security and strategic depth. This has, fortunately, compelled India to facilitate a comprehensive engagement with the continent and also enter into its fourth phase of friendship with Africa, the first India-Africa Forum Summit having taken place from April 4 to April 8, 2008, in New Delhi. Despite such unprecedented diplomatic outreach and high-level visits to Africa, India’s contribution as well as interest in Africa’s growth has failed to keep pace with intent and declined with time. China, our biggest competitor on the continent, makes India’s economic presence in Africa look miniscule. The figures are revealing: Chinese investments increased from 2011-12, when its investment levels were equivalent to India’s at $16 billion, to a massive $40 billion in 2016-17.
In terms of defence and security ties too, China is way ahead of India. According to the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research, China’s export of arms and ammunition to Africa increased to 55 per cent in a period of four years (2013-2017). China also boasts of an exponential growth in arms import to sub-Saharan Africa, which is up to 27 per cent from 16 per cent over the past four years. And our bleeding hearts diplomats must take some responsibility for India lagging behind in forging a deep defence and military relationship with various African nations. Perhaps nothing exemplifies how ahead of the game Beijing is when compared to New Delhi than the factoid that China has virtually gifted Rwanda, the Prime Minister’s first port of call during his African sojourn, a military training centre and provided tech support for an Artificial Intelligence based security platform. We have a lot of catching up to do; the Prime Minister’s visit, despite the memes it has spawned on social media, is essential. We hope something substantive comes of it. Africa is an aspirational continent with a young population and huge scope for development. India needs to sustain its engagement with Africa and set itself the aim of emerging as its economic, security and cultural partner so it can be a part of the African growth story even as expands its global strategic footprint.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The power of Brexiteers’ lie in their threat to have the ability to stage a revolt that fatally splits the Conservative Party, overthrows May, and precipitates an early election.
Even with Donald Trump scheduled for a brief visit to the United Kingdom this week amid massive protests, it’s still ‘all Brexit, all of the time’ in the sceptred isle — and the long struggle over the nature of the deal that will define Britain’s relationship with the European Union post-exit allegedly reached a turning point last weekend.
“They had nothing else to offer. They had no Plan B. She faced them down,” said a senior Government official about the hard-line Brexiteers after Prime Minister Theresa May got them to sign up a so-called ‘soft Brexit’ at a crisis Cabinet meeting last Friday. But the armistice between the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ factions in her fractious Conservative Party lasted less than 48 hours. On the morning of July 8, hard-line Brexiteer David Davis, the ludicrously titled Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, reneged on his short-lived support for May’s negotiating goals and resigned in protest. Then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson followed suit, claiming that May’s plan meant “the (Brexit) dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”
The sheer fecklessness of the ‘Brexit dream’ is epitomised by Johnson, who first compared May’s negotiating plans to “polishing a turd”, then came round to supporting them for about 36 hours, and finally resigned, saying that they would reduce the UK to a “vassal state” with the “status of a colony” of the EU. Yet at no point in the discussion did either of them offer a coherent counter-proposal.
And what is all this Sturm und Drang about? A negotiating position, devised by May with great difficulty two years after the referendum that yielded 52 per cent support for an undefined ‘Brexit’, which could never be accepted by the European Union. Its sole virtue was that it seemed possible to unite the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ factions of the Conservative Party behind it. But the unity imposed by May broke down before the weekend was over.
All four of the great offices of the state — Prime Minister, Chancellor (Finance Minister), Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary (Interior Minister) — are now held by Conservative politicians who voted Remain in the referendum. Yet they are unable to persuade their party to accept even a ‘soft Brexit’ that preserves Britain’s existing access to its biggest trading partner, the EU.
The Brexiteers’ power lies in their implicit threat to stage a revolt that overthrows May, fatally splits the Conservative Party, and precipitates an early election that brings the Labour Party to power. They may not really have the numbers to do that — it’s widely assumed that a majority of the Conservative members of Parliament secretly want a very soft Brexit or no Brexit at all — but May dares not test that assumption.
So, horrified by the prospect of a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn (who is regularly portrayed by the Right-wing media as a Lenin in waiting), the Conservatives are doomed to cling desperately to power even though they can probably never deliver a successful Brexit. And the time is running out. The United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union on March 29 next year, whether there is a deal that maintains most of its current trade with the EU or not. In practice, the deadline for an agreement is next October, since time must be allowed for 27 other EU members to ratify the deal. If there is no deal, the UK simply ‘crashes out’, and chaos ensues. The volume of trade in goods and services between the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU is so great, and the preparation for documenting the safety and origins of goods and collecting customs on them so scanty, that the new border would simply freeze up.
That would cause great difficulty for many European enterprises, but for Britain it would be a catastrophe. As an example, two-fifth of the components for cars built in the UK are sourced from elsewhere in the EU. Yet most of the time available for negotiating a soft Brexit has already been wasted, and Britain still does not have a realistic negotiating position. This preposterous situation is almost entirely due to the civil war within the Conservative Party between the Brexit faction the rest. The only reason that there was a referendum at all was because former Prime Minister David Cameron thought that a decisive defeat in a referendum would shut the Brexiteers up and end that war. He miscalculated.
The Brexiteers spun a fantasy of an oppressive EU that was the cause of all Britain’s troubles and sold it to the nostalgic older generation, the unemployed and underemployed who were looking for somebody to blame, and sundry nationalists of all colours. They narrowly won the referendum with the help of a rabidly nationalist Right-wing Press, spending well beyond the legal limits in the campaign – and, it now appears, with considerable support from Russia. (The biggest contributor to the Brexit campaign, mega-rich investor Arron Banks, met the Russian ambassador at least 11 times during the run-up to the referendum and the subsequent two months). There’s still a chance that reason will prevail before the UK crashes out of the EU, of course. But the odds are no better than even.
(The writer is an independent journalist)
Writer: Gwynne Dyer
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Religious minorities in Afghanistan such as Hindus and Sikhs have been at the receiving end due to decades of internal conflict. International organisations’ failure to acknowledge their plight adds insult to injury.
India’s foreign policy has its task cut out — to ensure the safety of the Hindu-Sikh community within Afghanistan or its safe repatriation to India (or migration elsewhere) with full citizenship and rehabilitation. In a positive move, New Delhi has issued long-term visas to members of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities and offered them the right to live in India without any limitation. India’s envoy to Afghanistan, Vinay Kumar, said that these Afghan citizens must take the final call. The Jalalabad bombing (July 1, 2018) has complicated matters for New Delhi and Kabul. India has given sustained support to successive Governments in Afghanistan (barring the Taliban that behaved shabbily during the Kandahar episode); Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invested personal capital in support of “Afghanistan’s multicultural fabric”. India has invested in many large development projects but growing insecurity has forced a slowdown. Seven Indian engineers kidnapped in May, in Baghlan Province, remain captive.
Some things are notable about the Jalalabad incident. First, Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, though security agencies are yet to confirm this. IS fighters are fleeing Syria in droves under pressure from the Syrian Arab Army and need safe havens; Pakistan which has long desired to be leader of the Islamic world seems a natural destination. How IS coexists with other terrorist groups there remains to be seen but Nangarhar, where the attack occurred, borders Pakistan and is a terrorist stronghold despite sustained operations by Afghan commandos and American airstrikes.
Second, Avtar Singh Khalsa, an important Sikh community leader and among the 19 victims in a convoy of Hindus and Sikhs that was going to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, may have been an intended target. He was planning to contest Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in October and would have been elected unopposed to the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) as the seat he was planning to contest was reserved for minorities by Presidential decree in 2016. The IS statement disparaged Hindus and Sikhs as “polytheists” and may have aimed at preventing even token political diversity in the nation.
Afghanistan’s Hindu-Sikh minority has lived under various strains for decades. The rich fled to India after the assassination of President Daoud in 1978. The assassination of President Najibullah in 1996 made life more difficult and a silent exodus began towards the West and India. In 2016, TOLOnews reported that 99 percent of Hindus and Sikhs had left Afghanistan in the past three decades. From 2,20,000 in the 1980s, their number shrank to 15,000 during the mujahideen era followed by the Taliban rule, and currently stands at barely 1,350. The television channel said that the main reasons for their flight were religious discrimination and official neglect. Under the mujahideen-Taliban, their lands and assets were seized by warlords, reducing them to penury. These were never restored after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Under the Taliban, Hindus and Sikhs wore yellow armbands and were not allowed to hold Government jobs. Even post-Taliban, bigoted neighbours harassed them while cremating their dead, children were bullied and could not attend schools and the community as a whole was made to feel like outsiders. The head of the Hindu Council in Afghanistan, told TOLOnews that he had lost 10 members of his family in the Afghan conflict; two brothers in the Army had died fighting the mujahideen. He said discrimination against the community began in 1992 “when people started counting who were Hindu or Muslim and Tajik, Uzbek or Hazara.” TOLOnews observed that Hindus and Sikhs once had thriving businesses in the country, but now faced increasing poverty. There are no Sikhs or Hindus in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. Only two gurdwaras function, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul; most temples are deserted.
The timing was political. It came the day after the Government ordered Afghan security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban on expiry of the Government’s 18-day ceasefire that overlapped with the Taliban’s three-day ceasefire for Eid, which IS did not join. It coincided with the visit of US envoy Alice Wells, who came to pressure the Taliban to engage with Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban is demanding direct talks with the US, which Washington has refused. Wells said, “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders … who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement”, and added that Islamabad had to do more to bring Taliban to the negotiating table.
The attack is a setback to the Afghan Government as it has forced the minorities to weigh the prospects of continued survival in that country. Tejvir Singh, secretary of a national panel of Hindus and Sikhs, told Reuters, “I am clear that we cannot live here anymore… We are Afghans. The Government recognises us but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims.” Sikhs who took shelter in the Indian consulate in Jalalabad added, “We are left with two choices: To leave for India or to convert to Islam”. Some Sikhs, however, said that their ties with Afghanistan were too deep to contemplate leaving. The situation is grim. Hours before the Jalalabad bombing, terrorists set fire to a boys’ school in Khogyani district and beheaded three workers, a standard tactic of IS, which had threatened to attack schools in the area as revenge for the US-Afghan military operations. It had specifically stated that it would also attack schools with girl students. The Norwegian Refugee Council, which runs a programme for displaced students, noted that, “Afghan schools are increasingly at risk on military, ideological and political fault lines, with attacks increasing in eastern Afghanistan”.
In a heart-warming gesture on July 3, 2018, as members of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee protested against the attack outside the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi, Afghan diplomats and officials joined the protests. Stating that Afghans were also victims of cross-border terrorism, they said Ambassador Shaida Abdali viewed the incident as “a shared pain” and the embassy “was obliged to protest together with the Afghan Sikhs residing in India who also found support from Sikh brothers of India”. The attack underlines the fragility of the regime in Kabul. The rogue elements in Pakistan cannot be controlled without joint and concerted action by the US, Russia, India and China.
Writer: Sandhya Jain
Courtesy: The Pioneer
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