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Saffron arrogance

India’s new found frenzy of extreme right nationalism is radiating signals of intolerance amongst various segments of Indian society as well as erratic behaviour towards neighbours. Past year or so has seen a number of setbacks for India-Pakistan relations. It still remains to be seen whether New Delhi has a clear policy on Pakistan. In contrast, political parties across the political divide in Pakistan are on the same page when it comes to making peace with India. BJP government in India has already wasted too much time, and it should now seriously move forward on all bilateral issues with Pakistan. Modi is still learning to be a statesman; whether Modi shapes India or India shapes Modi is an interesting catch 22 projection!
There are as many roads to peace and stability as there are to crisis and conflict in South Asia. Modi‘s government has been anti-Pakistan from day one. It wishes to unilaterally design a bilateral framework, dictating what qualifies for dialogue, and what does not. It wants Pakistan to forget about Kashmir, water, Siachen and other important issues, and only stand accountable to India for terrorism, and that too as interpreted by India. While on the other hand, Pakistan is ready to resume a dialogue process with India simultaneously on all contentious issues. The entire world has endorsed Pakistan’s stance.
Nepal has adopted a new constitution much to Indian dislike. Despite numerous strategic concessions like a border agreement to India’s advantage and generous grant of transit rights, Bangladesh has not been able to get anything in reciprocation; even its rightful share of water continues to be usurped by India. Sri Lank is struggling to come out of the shadow of LTTE era, orchestrated by out-right Indian support to the Tamil terrorist entity. To ease its difficulties, Pakistan has offered to allocate space in its Special Economic Zones for Sri Lankan investors. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has realised that his obsession of friendly relations with India—during Modi era—is a pipe dream.
However, most remarkable resistance has come from within Indian civil society which has sharply reacted to Modi’s model of a polity where Shiv Sena (army of god) calls the shots with impunity—radiating a perpetual sense of insecurity. Amongst Pakistani public, Modi’s domestic policies have reinforced faith in two nations’ theory and that vision of Pakistan’s forefathers for a separate homeland for Muslims was a correct assessment of erratic political behaviour of extremist elements within Hindu community.
Modi’s critics point to a number of recent incidents, including mob killings, as evidence of a growing intolerance among Modi’s Hindu extremist base against India’s mainstream Hindu majority and religious minorities. Visits of Pakistani sportspersons, artists, intellectuals etc. are disrupted by Shiv Sena activists as a matter of routine. Indian prime minister also retains ties with the far-right RSS, a group that many argue is trying to turn India into a Hindu fundamentalist state.
When people of India are rejecting Modi-ism state by state, Modi thought it appropriate to get a shot in the arm by paying his respects to former colonial masters in London. For the first time since entering office, Modi is on the back foot and was hopeful that trip to Britain will restore him some glory. The red-carpet reception was a stark reversal of fortune for Modi, who had been banned from Britain until three years ago over anti-Muslim riots which killed over 1,000 people in 2002 in Gujarat, while he was chief minister of the state. Modi is believed to have let the carnage go on for three days, he intentionally did not act effectively to arrest the violence; taking the cures from the chief minister, law enforcers also chose to do nothing while looking busy. Later Kangaroo courts absolved Modi of most of the charges; and private entities and individuals who pursued the matter on unofficial channels faced Modi’s and Shiv Sena’s wrath.
And what a dip in British values: “This isn’t just a historic visit. It’s a historic opportunity,” Cameron said ahead of the visit. “It’s an opportunity for two countries, tied by history, people and values, to work together to overcome the biggest challenges of our age.” As one of the outcome of visit, India is buying more Hawk trainer jets for its air force. Britain is bending over backward to enhance trade with India. Cameron promised in 2010 to double Britain’s trade with India by this year. He has visited the country three times, but the trade figure has barely increased. India is one of the most difficult countries of the world to invest in. Ahead of the visit, Modi’s government, last week, announced plans to liberalise its foreign direct investment (FDI) regime in areas including defence, banking and construction. The move is seen as a bid by Modi to counter accusations that his reform drive is stalling, especially highlighted by BJP’s humiliating defeat in recent Bihar elections.
Narendra Modi undertook his visit to the UK under the shadow of unprecedented protests by Indian diaspora, cutting across ethno-sectarian divides, who warned of a “rising climate of fear” under Modi’s rule. Around 200 literary figures signed an open letter urging David Cameron to demand that Modi provide “better protection” for critical voices such as writers and artists and also raise the issue of freedom of expression. Also, around 46 MPs, including the leader of the opposition Labour party Jeremy Corbyn, signed a parliamentary motion urging Cameron to raise human rights issues with the Indian government. Before he even set foot in Britain, he was the target of a high-profile protest in the centre of London. It had a simple message: “Modi not welcome.” That message was briefly projected on Westminster — the meeting place of Parliament. A large number of Muslim and Sikh groups also protested Modi’s arrival in the UK. Kashmiri diaspora also protested, in numbers, Modi’s action in and about Kashmir and demanded the settlement of dispute in-line with the UN resolutions. Estimates have it that protesters outnumbered the state sponsored pro-Modi rally.
India has not responded to Pakistan’s overtures for peace in South Asia, the way it should have. Terrorism against any country is completely unacceptable, and Pakistan itself has not been spared from this scourge. Pakistan is presently fighting one of the biggest inland wars ever fought against terrorists, with little international help. Pakistan’s fight against terrorism is commendable, especially its role in fighting a difficult war in tribal areas— under the banner of Zarb-e-Azb.
Recently, while in Islamabad, former Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid gave an overview of Pakistan-India relationship in recent times, noting that, “Modi is not used to talking to people who disagree with him,” as he illustrated the problematic manner in which the incumbent Indian government approaches dispute resolution with Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendera Modi’s high ambitions of re-shaping India on an extremist Hindutva model and region as India dominated South Asia with other counties relegated to vassal status has come to a naught rather quickly. His invitation to all heads of SAARC countries to attend his inaugural ceremony was the first step in this regard; compliance by all stooges —though in good faith—gave Modi an impression that he had achieved this objective, so he started behaving like regional Maharaja, while at the same time submitting to the mighty by pouring tea for Obama.
Strong public consensus in Pakistan for improved relations with India is breaking down due to conditionality and stark messaging by Modi. Trade between the two sides would be favourable for both sides, but it is an unfortunate reality that economic and regional connectivity in South Asia continues to be hostage to political stalemate, largely sustained by Modi’s erratic signalling.

 

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Blasphemy issue needs a permanent solution

The good sense has prevailed, an imminent catastrophe has receded. In a written statement issued on August 30, Geert Wilders announced "not to let the cartoon contest go ahead.” The contest was to be held at the tightly guarded offices of his Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament building. Meanwhile, the Netherlands government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest. Prime Minister Mark Rutte questioned Wilders' motive for organising the contest. Pakistan’s foreign minister congratulated the nation and Muslim Ummah on their moral victory and termed the cancellation of the contest a victory for Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Cancellation announcement came within days after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement saying the act was hurting the sentiments of Muslims living all around the world. Condemning the blasphemous cartoon competition in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Imran Khan had blamed the recurrence of such incidents a collective failure of the Muslim world, saying he would take up the matter at the United Nations General Assembly’s upcoming session. After the publication of Salman Rushdi’s blasphemous book ‘Satanic Verses’, it has become very easy to malign Muslims in the West, the prime minister said. “And they have been successfully doing it.” If they [Western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the West how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)?” Pakistan’s foreign office is undertaking a hectic diplomatic campaign to avert the exhibition of profane cartoons in November. Hopefully the good sense would prevail. Time and again, Western Christian countries purposefully hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims through public display of profane audio-visual and print material about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), under the pretext of their so called doctrine of freedom of expression. In a stark contradiction, same very European States immediately imprison anyone questioning the veracity of ‘Holocaust’, while Muslims and their religion don’t get the similar preferential treatment. While earlier such incidents in Netherlands were an act of non-state actors, this time parliamentary permission to hold the forthcoming exhibition inside parliament premises had made the government of Netherlands a party to this nefarious act of religious extremism. Opposition leader Greet Wilders has a track history of airing anti-Muslim sentiment. In December 2017, he proposed that European countries should adopt Donald Trump-style travel bans to counter a wave of Islamisation, according to him, sweeping the continent. Wilders also urged Europe to adopt Australia’s tactics in turning back migrant boats and to build new border walls, as Trump had vowed to do along the US frontier with Mexico. Wilders is the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives. During his election campaign, Wilders had published a one-page election manifesto calling for a ban on all asylum seekers and migrants from Islamic nations, and urged his country to leave the European Union. Wilders also stands for banning the Quran and closing all mosques and Islamic schools. Political environment in Netherlands is quite murky and thoroughly mired in populist rhetoric, where both the government and the opposition are, more often than not, competing to appear more racist and exclusionist. Wilders was defeated in March 2017 elections by Mark Rutte. According to Guardian “cost of latter’s victory against Geert Wilders’ anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom PVV party was a pyrrhic victory”. Mark Rutte’s VVD party had adopted the very rhetoric of Wilders to beat him. Rutte had said: “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Close to end of his previous tenure as Prime Minster, Rutte thought that being tough on Turkey would fetch him more votes, therefore he “happily sparked a mini-international crisis for the sake of votes”. While during the electoral campaign, Rutte said stopping Wilders was about stopping the “wrong sort of populism”. Situation is akin to India where both BJP and Congress compete to articulate more pro Hindu rhetoric to encash Hindu vote bank. Pakistan had approached Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to lodge a protest against this planned cartoon competition in Netherlands. Former caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Haroon had set the dice rolling by writing a letter to the OIC Secretary General seeking his leadership for a collective action to register a protest of OIC countries with the Dutch authorities, who in turn had written to the Dutch foreign minister, on behalf of 57 Muslim countries, protesting against this abominable event. It is not the first time that the Netherlands is holding such competition. In the past also such acts have frequently been committed by this country with a malicious intent to target the noblest personality of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Pakistan has called upon the Dutch Ambassador to Pakistan and the EU Ambassador, who represents 28 European countries, to register the protest. “We have conveyed our condemnation of this deliberate attempt to vilify Islam. Such incidents should not go unpunished,” Foreign office spokesperson said. Pakistan’s new government had taken forth the process. During its first meeting, cabinet decided to take up the matter at bilateral level. Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands over an announcement of holding a competition of blasphemous caricatures. “The charge d’affaires of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was summoned to the Foreign Office on August 13, and a strong protest was lodged”, Foreign office stated. Deep concern was conveyed at this deliberate and malicious attempt to defame Islam. “Pakistan’s ambassador in Hague has been instructed to forcefully raise the issue with the Dutch government along with ambassadors of OIC member states,” the Foreign Office went on to add. Foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi also spoke to his Dutch counterpart. Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva were directed to take up the matter with the UN Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies and procedures. The issue would also be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled to be held on the side-lines of forthcoming 73rd ministerial session of the UNGA. Though the triggering issue is behind us, OIC should not lower its guards, it should firm up an action plan if any individual or government attempts such a misadventure in future. During this meeting the Muslim countries should send a loud and clear message that the despoliation of Muslim holy personalities is not acceptable to them. The silver lining is that there have been saner voices from within Dutch civil society. Demonstrations were held by Dutch nationals to show solidarity with Muslims. During March 2017, Dutch citizens gathered at a mosque in Amsterdam, to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim population. People representing a broad coalition against racism gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque to show opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. “We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society,” said Najem Ouladali while addressing the gathering. “We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society,” Ouladali added. Najem was one of the organizers of the gathering. Pakistan should continue to work closely with all the OIC member states to find a permanent solution to this recurring issue. Matter should be persistently raised at the relevant international fora until a sustainable way is found by the international community for preventing such abhorrent acts.

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