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Sub-continent: What is in the throes of danger?

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By K.N. Pandita

Chinese intrusion in Eastern Ladakh some weeks ago is neither an isolated nor a sporadic event. It is a pre-meditated plan with close relevance to the ominous situation developing in South Asia from the Himalayan heights to the Indo-Pacific region. China’s threatening postures and dubious moves either in the South Sea or in Galwan Valley of Eastern Ladakh, are signs of coercion and hence an indirect threat to peace in the region. At the root of this scenario lies the ambition of China for dominating the Asian Continent militarily and tighten economic stranglehold for smaller Asian-African states. Statements emerging from various official sources in Beijing or the state-controlled media are portentous and menacing. Nibbling at the borders of her neighbours is China’s history. India is facing this menace along 7000 km Himalayan border with China just because of Nehru putting an end to the strategic buffer of Tibet.

Pressure from the international community is growing in China for an investigation into the leakage and global spread of coronavirus from a Wuhan laboratory and China suppressing the news for several weeks. World leaders have begun to concede that President Trump did not guffaw against the WHO; he castigated it on a solid basis. The world could rue about China making deep inroads into the world body and its subsidiaries.

The US is not alone in demanding a balance of economic relations with China. Japan, Australia and India are equally serious. But the withdrawal of production units from China has technical and logistic strings added to it and cannot be implemented without meticulous planning and taking the consequences into account.

Re-focusing attention on India-Pacific region in the light of growing anti-China demonstrations in island states in South East Asia, sporadic movement of Chinese naval ships in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and Beijing’s recent warnings to Australia against supporting an inquiry into the origin and spread out of the pandemic, all indicate that the Far Eastern strategy of the American policy planners and also of the major democracies of the world might necessitate upgrading of respective strategies.

China is uneasy with the Quad and makes no mistake in assessing that stable democracies will ultimately insist on and work towards just and equitable economic order. The world is taking note of China’s hardened posture towards its small Pacific neighbours. Intermittent show of Chinese warships in the Chinese Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean and the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel is a loud message that China allows herself the liberty of police manning the Indo-Pacific region.

With CPEC in doldrums partly because of Pakistan’s crumbling economy and partly because of the impact of the pandemic, China seems to have slowed down the pace of its Road and Belt narrative. It will impact the overall strategy of China regarding the Gilgit-Baltistan region where Beijing wants to have a strong military base in Skardu. Islamabad is reported to have agreed to facilitate it. Kargil is not too far away from Askardu and the road link did exist during the days of the Maharajas of J&K. Mehbooba Mufti as the chief minister of J&K State repeatedly demanded re-establishment of road connectivity between Kargil and Skardu.

Knowledgeable sources reported that China has been eyeing a foothold in the Wakhan corridor also close to the Afghan mainland. At the same time, Beijing has been impressing upon Pakistan to formalize the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan region because the area is disputed by India. That is what made Pakistan Supreme Court recommend annexation of the region to the Pakistan mainland. The Supreme Court took no cognizance of the anti-Pakistan struggle undertaken by the nationalist elements in Gilgit and Baltistan and it is likely to escalate the decade’s old tension between the nationalists and Pakistan authorities.

After India scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir State on 5-6 August owing to increasing sedition activities of separatist in Kashmir and their blatant camaraderie with Pakistani agencies, Pakistan embarked on a virulent anti-Hindu and anti-India propaganda on a large scale. It tried to influence even the UN subsidiaries like the UNHRC. The Chairman of UNHRC Session 42 and the Chairman of the UNHRC both issued statements criticizing India for so-called violation of human rights of the people of Kashmir. They did not say a word about the vast terrorist network spread out by such Pakistan-based terrorist groups as have been designated by the UN itself and are active in Kashmir. India rejected the report as biased and based on false reports. It is to be noted that the US has already withdrawn from the membership of the UN Human Rights Council alleging that it has been politicized and has lost its sanctity.

With Pakistan ganging up with some of the non-Semitic Islamic states like Turkey, Malaysia and Iran, she began criticizing liberal and pragmatic Arab states friendly towards India for not making OIC an effective tool to take some strong anti-India position on Kashmir. They made India only a symbol while actually, they are struggling to remove Saudi Arabia from its pivotal position among the Islamic countries and bring in a new structure that would work against democracy and liberalism in Islam.

In the background of these developments in which China and Pakistan have been working in tandem, India demanded Pakistan to vacate its illegal occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan areas. This was a message essentially for China. Indian media gave big hype to India’s intention of retrieving the part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan in 1947.

Pakistani media played up the threat and the opposition parties in Pakistan questioned the rationality of Pakistan army and intelligence agencies abetting insurgency in Kashmir but negligent about the impending threat of India planning to recover the lost territory in PoK and GB. GHQ felt rattled and the show boy Prime Minister, to save his skin, went on crying wolf. “We will give India a befitting reply if she makes any adventure of attacking Pakistan” became the refrain of Imran Khan’s lifeless vitriolic. China and Pakistan both had a reason to feel frustrated on being informed by respective intelligence sources that Indian military brass was working on some plan.

Raising and legitimizing the jihadist legions as the frontline of its defence strategy against India, relentlessly facilitating infiltration into Kashmir of armed jihadists, massively brainwashing ordinary Kashmiris and propagating through electronic media barrages of anti-India hatred among them on the religious count and the Kashmir separatists and ambivalent Kashmiri Muslim leadership not missing any opportunity of subversion, and the tailpiece of Gupkar Memorandum, forced the NDA government to meet the situation according to its merits. The roots of the State Reorganization Act of 2019 have to be searched in this emerging scenario.

When China thrice vetoed Security Council’s attempt of designating Masu’d Azhar, the Chief of the Pakistani terrorist organization called Jaish-e-Muhammad, it was clear to New Delhi that China was lending outright support to Pakistani terrorists carrying out subversion in Kashmir.

For India’s military strategists, the time had come to act in the light of Indian Parliament’s unanimous resolution of 1994 to liberate the part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir from the illegal occupation of Pakistan since 1947. Pakistan had turned down the Security Council’s two important resolutions (1948 and 1949) on J&K which left India free to follow a course of its choice. Thus was born the idea of exploiting the strategic importance of Gilgit and Baltistan in the new scheme of Inner Asian strategy.

Interests of China and Pakistan converge on Gilgit – Baltistan. India could make a pincer attack from Gurez area to reach Gilgit border cutting off Pakistan’s link via Neelam Valley, and get positioned her troops at some meeting point with Gilgit-Wakhan border. India would like to have short connectivity with Afghanistan and the vast region of Central Asia and beyond the Aral Sea.

Alarmed by India’s plan of retaking the territory illegally occupied by Pakistan and also the nearly 5000 sq km of Shaksgam region in Chilas ceded by Pakistan to China, the two adversaries jointly planned the double-pronged strategy of PLA making an incursion into the Eastern Ladakh and Pakistani Rangers – the border security force—intensifying firing and shelling Indian posts along the LoC including civilian habitats. As the situation showed signs of becoming grim in Ladakh standoff, Pakistan called a crucial meeting of her Corps Commanders presided over by the army chief and attended among others by the three services chiefs and the ISI chief. Dawn of 17th June reported, “Services chiefs on Tuesday expressed satisfaction over the preparedness of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to counter India’s sinister designs after receiving a rarely combined briefing on occupied Kashmir and other regional issues at the headquarters of the premier intelligence agency.” The paper went on to say, “Military leadership expresses satisfaction over the agency’s preparedness to counter India’s sinister designs. The ISI has, meanwhile, been giving briefings to political and military leadership. Prime Minister Imran Khan has twice been to the ISI headquarters — on April 23 and June 3 — for intelligence briefings on the security threats. These briefings have assumed special significance because they have taken place amid escalating tensions with arch-rival India.” The paper disclosed that the Pakistani foreign minister was scheduled to visit Beijing in a couple of days obviously to brief the Chinese on the ground situation. Immediately following this important meeting of Pakistani military brass, tension along the LoC in J&K has escalated with Pakistani Rangers opening more fronts for pounding Indian posts and then to receive a befitting reply.

Thus we see that Ladakh standoff has implications far beyond the shadow of the Himalayas. There is little sense in PM Modi repeating India’s philosophy of resolving bilateral issues through peaceful dialogue. It is not a bilateral issue that India is confronting. What is in the throes of danger is not just the Indian nation but the very concept of democracy, freedom and human dignity. Therefore, for India it is of utmost importance to make a departure from the traditional policy of running after elusive peace. Our security narrative must change and we must accept the eternal truth that power flows through the barrel of the gun.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India).

Why Muslims neglect the Uighurs

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By K.N. Pandita

The US Secretary of State announced the imposition of visa restrictions on such Chinese officials as are found responsible for perpetrating atrocities on Uighur Muslims of the autonomous region of Xinxiang, formerly known as Eastern Turkestan.

In an ethnic flare-up in Xinjiang in 2011, more than 24 persons were killed and property destroyed. The attacks were brutal in Kashghar. Beijing accused the radicals among the Uighur Sunni Muslim community of Xinjiang of stoking the riots. It brought the onus of the violent upsurge to the doorsteps of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who, it said, “receive training in Pakistan – an ally of China”, reported the Aljazeera channel in its Asia Pacific newscast on 6 August 2011. Beijing had the inkling that ETIM could have some connection with the apex body of the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The militants of the latter group had attacked Chinese nationals in Pakistan a few times in the past. In 2012, TTP murdered a tourist from China and argued that that was an act of “revenge for the Chinese government killing our Muslim brothers in the Xinjiang province”, reported The Diplomat of Sept 20, 2019.

China summarily executed a couple of Pakistani jihadis affiliated to Jaish-i-Muhammad, and one or two of them were repatriated to Pakistan, of course, after concluding a deal. Analysts have no difficulty in understanding why last year China thrice vetoed the Anglo-American proposal at the Security Council demanding that the Jaish chief Mas’ud Azhar is designated as an international terrorist. Azhar is reported to have promised the Chinese that he would neither invite nor allow Uighur nationalists to the training camps of Jaish-e-Muhamma in Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been vocal about the “mistreatment” of Muslims around the world with particular reference to Kashmir. Stretching this narrative further, he and his foreign minister have initiated a worldwide propaganda campaign that India and its “Hindutva” are out to decimate Muslims. He even castigated the OIC for not reacting as it should to the “atrocities perpetrated by India on the fraternal Muslim community in Kashmir”.

However, questioned by a reporter at the World Economic Forum (2020) in Davos, Switzerland why he speaks about only Kashmiri Muslims and not the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang, Khan first claimed not to “know much about” the scale of the abuse. But then in the same breath acknowledged that his government was indebted to Beijing because “they came to help us when we were at rock bottom,” reported the Business Insider of January 23, 2020. This shows that Pakistan’s real concern is in the economy, and for that, religion can be sacrificed without demur. Yet he laments of Muslims being “mistreated.”

The Chinese government has been accused of imposing a mass crackdown on millions of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim majority, by imprisoning them in detention centres in Xinjiang — where they are allegedly beaten, deprived of food and subjected to medical experiments — and promoting heinous crime of mass rape in the name of ethnic unity. China has denied reports of abuse at what the government calls “re-education camps” and decried its Western critics.

The Economic Times of December 4, 2019, reported that the US Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill seeking a tough response from the Trump Administration over reports of mass detention centres in China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, prompting Beijing to threaten possible retaliation.

The US House of Representatives passed the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which, among other things, proposes that America redirects resources to address the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. “By passing this bill, Congress is showing that the US will not turn a blind eye to the suffering of the oppressed”, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said. He added, “As with the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act, we are sending a simple but powerful message to the Communist Party: power cannot be maintained at the expense of the rights of the people without substantial consequences,” wrote The Economic Times of 4 December 2019.

In a BBC news broadcast, John Sudworth made some revelations on how the Uighurs internees are treated in Xinxiang. He says, “Harsh new legal penalties have been introduced to curtail Islamic identity and practice – banning, among other things, long beards and headscarves, the religious instruction of children, and even Islamic-sounding names. The policies appear to mark a fundamental shift in official thinking. It coincides with a tightening grip on society under President Xi, in which loyalties to family and faith must be subordinate to the only one that matters – loyalty to the Communist Party.” The BBC commentator went on to say, “The Uighurs’ unique identity makes them a target for suspicion. That view has been reinforced by credible reports that hundreds have travelled to Syria to fight with various militant groups. Uighur Sunni Muslims are now subject to ethnic profiling at thousands of pedestrian and vehicle checkpoints while Han Chinese residents are often waved through.”

In September 2019, the US criticized Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for not highlighting the plight of the Uighurs the same way he spoke about the Kashmiris. Alice Wells, US acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, said in New York that “Khan’s comments on Kashmir were unhelpful, reported The Economic Times of September 26, 2019.

.How Pakistani Prime Minister and most of the Pakistani radicalized organizations including those designated by the UN are tight-lipped about the most egregious persecution and ruthless sanitization of Uighur Muslims is best reported by the Business Insider of January 23, 2020. It writes:

“Despite reports about Uighur rights abuse, many Muslim-majority countries, afraid of incurring China’s wrath, have stayed mum. The 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December mentioned: “disturbing reports” of China’s Muslim crackdown in a series of tweets. It then backpedalled by releasing a report saying that it “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens and looks forward to furthering cooperation between the OIC and the People’s Republic of China.”

This situation was mirrored in Pakistan in September when Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, the country’s religious affairs minister, slammed Beijing for battering Uighurs in the name of counterterrorism — only to have Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi attack the media for “trying to sensationalize” the goings-on in Xinjiang. Amusingly, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government had decided to deal privately with issues that may arise with Chinese leaders. Nevertheless, he would go about drumming up “Kashmir Muslim case” anywhere and everywhere on the globe. Obviously, in either case, the economy not religion is the real decisive factor and Islam is a political ploy. Imran Khan treats Uighur Muslims differently from the rest of the Muslims of the world just because they live in China and Kashmiris live in India.

Comparing Uighur persecution to that of India’s retraction of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, Imran Khan vexed eloquent saying China’s campaign against the Uighurs is “nothing compared to what is happening in India, in Kashmir. You cannot compare the scale.”

Well, if the comparison is the criterion and religion is the subject then one may ask, “How many mosques in Kashmir have been closed or pulled down; how many people have been prevented from praying in mosques; how many Kashmiris are barred from observing Ramadhan; how many Kashmiri Muslim women are told not to wear the veil; how many are forbidden from naming their kids as Muhammad and how many seminaries (Jamaat-i-Islami madrasahs/darsghas) have been told to shut down? One may ask Imran Khan to tell us how many piggeries have been opened in Kashmir, how many “vocational re-education camps” have been set up in Kashmir to accommodate even one-tenth of the one million internees in such camps in Xinjiang who are subjected to brainwashing, sent as factory labourers or subjected to sexual assaults?

This comparison plus a host of other facts prove only one thing that it is the Islamic pretenders alone who are brazenly politicizing Islam and using it an instrument of misleading people. In July 2019, a group of 22 countries including 18 from Europe and joined by Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia wrote a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging China to uphold its laws and international obligations, and stop arbitrary incarceration of Uighurs and other Muslim and minority communities, and permit freedom of religion. China experts, drawing on official Chinese documents, satellite imagery and the testimony of families whose relatives have been detained, estimate that China has detained a million or more people in re-education centres and has imposed intrusive surveillance,” wrote the New York Times of July 10, 2019. None among the major Muslim countries signed the letter. And what is more, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan sent separate letters to Beijing profusely praising China for her good treatment of Muslims of Xinjiang and at the same time profusely appreciating Beijing for coming down with a heavy hand on “Uighur terrorists.” Consider, the Uighurs struggling for the preservation of identity are labelled as “terrorists” by the two Islamic countries, and the Kashmiri insurgents fighting for seceding from India and joining Pakistan are labelled as “nationalists and freedom fighters.” This is what we mean by asking who politicizes Islam?

India invited to G-7 Camp David summit

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By K.N Pandita

During a 25-minute telephonic talk on June 2, President Trump invited PM Modi to the G-7 Summit likely to be held in Camp David in September this year. Originally scheduled for 10-12 June, the summit had to be postponed owing to the corona pandemic.

G-7 was founded in 1975 by the then seven top economies of the world as an informal forum to discuss pressing world issues. Canada joined in 1976, EU in 1977 and Russia in 1997 (but only to be expelled in 2014). The organization has been discussing economic and other issues as well. In that sense, the organization is within its bounds to discuss China as is proposed by President Trump, the host to the meet.

Trump has been nursing the idea of expanding the representative character of G-7. He also favours re-admission of Russian Federation expelled in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea. Trump argues that the importance of the Russian role in global strategy cannot be underestimated. The rise of China, India and Brazil on the global economic map has made G-7 somewhat beside the point because its share in the global GDP has fallen to 40 per cent.

President Trump has also invited Russia, Australia and South Korea besides India to the impending G-7 Summit. In a press release, our Ministry of External Affairs praised Trump for his “creative and far-sighted approach” adding that such an expanded forum will be in tune with the realities of the post-COVID-19 world.

However, while appreciating the expansion move, Russia has questioned the wisdom of excluding China from the forum as it puts a question mark on the representative character of the organization. In a blunt statement Moscow said that “if Trump wants to create an anti-China coalition and discuss the future of China, he may be disappointed. Few will support such an undertaking.”

Amusingly, South Korea, alive to her strategic sensitivity, too, has shown some hesitation. An official spokesperson said that while the US was a friendly country, China was a neighbour and that South Korea would like to be realistic.
As expected, Beijing sharply reacted to the American move. Foreign office spokesperson Lijian Zhao said, “Any attempt to seek a small circle against China is doomed to fail and is unpopular.” China feels confident she has many supporters world over.

A careful analysis of the issue reveals some hitches inherent in the idea of expanding the organization. For example, the United Kingdom had, at one time, proposed a G-7+3 meaning Australia, India and South Korea. The immediate trigger for the UK’s idea was her concern over cybersecurity given the Huawei controversy and he needs to reduce dependence on China for 5G technology. Following US’ imposition of additional sanctions against Huawei, the National Cyber Security Centre has been looking after the impact on UK’s networks. The UK has categorically rejected Russia’s inclusion and has even threatened to use veto option if any attempt is made to bring in Russia.

Canada, too, objects Russia’s inclusion arguing that Moscow has been showing scant respect for the international law. France and Germany, two important members of the EU and also of the G-7, are not enthusiastic about the expansion idea of G-7 nor are they convinced of the wisdom of isolating China.

In this complex discourse, our interest lies in knowing how India is going to handle the situation arising out of the invitation of President Trump, which Modi is reported to have accepted in his telephonic talk. It will be reminded that the French President Macron had also extended a personal invitation to PM Modi last year to attend the G-7 summit held in his country. But today the situation is different.

Dispassionate study reveals that there is no one opinion on the subject among Indian commentators. Those who do not find any noteworthy good coming out of the expanded G-7 to India put forth their case as follows. It is not clear whether the invitation to India from President Trump is for permanent membership of G-7 or just as an observer. In the latter case, the invitation is more or less an embarrassment. As an observer at the summit indirectly means that the organization is not yet willing to acknowledge India as a growing economic power on the globe. Secondly, will India, with barely $ 2000 per capita income, be happy going along with the richest countries and the strongest economies in the world? How will other groupings like SAARC, ASIAN or NAM interpret it? India’s close neighbours in South Asia like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Bhutan will anxiously track the unfolding events.

Presuming that India gets the membership in the expansion plan, the political fallout of such a decision will be that Sino-Indian holdup will further intensify. It could negatively impact whatever little personal equation has been created assiduously between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi. After all, excluding China from expanded G-7 while she continues to be in G-20 is a clear message that a coalition against China is envisaged. It is also clear from the invitation of President Trump to Russia that the September Summit Meet in Camp David would consider the matter of China.

What is to be considered about China is the core of America’s ani-China grouse. For example, Trump is wary about the unjustifiable trade imbalance between the US and China. China has expanded her economy to jump to number one position on the list of great economies of the contemporary world. China has been demonstrating aggressive posture against her small neighbours in South East Asia besides the big countries like Japan and India – with which she has more than 3400 kilometres long border. Beijing is nibbling all along the southern and western border by taking advantage of the illegal annexation of Tibet. China has floated several schemes that will help her ultimately attain the most influential position in Asian strategies. Power through the economy is the new mantra through which China has penetrated deep into the UN and other international bodies and poses a strategic threat to the US and her allies. especially in the India – Pacific region and the Straits of Malacca through which maximum trade of the world is carried. Her aggressive postures towards smaller countries in her neighbourhood endanger international peace.

This apart, India has her troubles with China also. The way China betrayed the trust India had reposed in her friendship after the Bandung conference, and then the 1962 incursion by Chinese PLA into our eastern region followed by aggressive postures against Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh border, Doklam and more recently in Eastern Ladakh in Galwan Valley all indicate that China wants to keep the border issue simmering so that she does sword rattling intermittently to subdue India.

Because of this ground reality, we are disposed to think that the time has come for India to change the narrative from weakness to strength as an economic and military power in Asia not next to but at par with China. India needs to befriend strong and dependable partners to ensure peace and tranquillity not only along the Sino-Indian border but in the entire South Asian region where international interests converge. Security of the region is imperative given China-Pakistan camaraderie helping China to show off massive PLA presence in the Himalayan region a matter of much concern. India has to react wherever her interests are jeopardized by China’s hostile attitude.

While India has become a victim to Pakistan sponsored terror, China has been trying to shield Pakistani terrorist organizations and non-state actors at all international fora including the UN Security Council. China is obstructing India from capturing a permanent seat in the Security Council. China is in illegal possession of a vast area of J&K State, partly in Aksaichin and partly in Raksam-Shaksgam areas close to Chinas clandestinely obtained by her from another illegal occupant namely Pakistan. The increasing military presence of China in Skardu in PoK is a serious threat to the security of the crucial LOC in Baltal- Ladakh axis. Since Pakistan continues to use PoK as the launching pad for armed infiltration by jihadis into Kashmir, India has to think seriously how to deal with the situation. And lastly, India will be within her right to plan connectivity to Afghanistan via Gilgit and Wakhan corridor to open a link with vast Afghan and Central Asian region. India has stakes in the expanded G-7.
(The writer is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).