The Kashmir Question: India, Pakistan, China?

Since the signing of the Simla Agreement in 1972, the Kashmir conflict has largely been viewed as the kernel in historically fraught Indo-Pak relations – a repository of long-standing ethno-religious divisions, opposing nationalist ideologies, and cross-territorial violence. In the wake of the UNHRC’s landmark 2018 report on the region, it has only recently been recognised that effective reconciliation in Kashmir is wholly dependent upon India and Pakistan taking joint responsibility for the endemic human rights abuses committed on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) i.e. the de facto boundary between India and Pakistan within Kashmir. Nevertheless, in framing the conflict in Kashmir as a wholly bilateral issue, such scrutiny has failed to properly account for China’s emerging role as a hitherto under-discussed third-party in the conflict. In light of China’s previous investments in other conflict zones, and its own history of human rights abuses, The Next Century Foundation’s researcher, Udit Mahalingam, examines how escalating tensions in current Sino-Indo relations can be situated against broader, multilateral disputes occurring at both the LoC and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) i.e. the de facto boundary between India and China within Kashmir. 

The recent June 15th clash between Sino-Indo security forces in the Galwan Valley (along the LAC between Ladakh and Aksai Chin) provides the ideal starting point for this discussion. The most significant escalation in over four decades of relations between India and China, the skirmish is emblematic of savage warfare at its worst, despite the enforcement of a 1996 border agreement, which prevents either side from “open[ing] fire […] within two kilometres of the Line of Actual Control”. At least twenty Indian soldiers, and an unknown number of Chinese security officials died in the conflict, perishing at the hands of “stones, iron rods and bamboo poles wrapped in barbed wire laced with nails”. With both nations accusing the other of territorial infringement and unilateral aggression, the question remains as to when the process of disengagement will resume, especially considering that Sino-Indo tensions were already simmering in the wake of the 2017 Doklam standoff.

Propelled by far right Hindu nationalism on one side and quasi-hegemonic expansionism on the other, the Galwan Valley conflict is the perfect example of how geopolitical gridlock is often maintained at the expense of ordinary lives, on both sides of the divide. As such, the ramifications that this clash has on the adjacent conflict in Kashmir cannot be understated. To begin with, it situates India’s current infrastructural investments on its side of the LAC within its wider unilateral interventions across the LoC, evidenced most prominently in the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019, as well as the subsequent security lockdown and communications blackout enforced within the region. Moreover, given the strategic importance of Ladakh as the point of intersection between the Indo-Pak and Sino-Indo border, the recent skirmish draws further attention to the importance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (C-PEK) in relation to the conflicts at both the LoC and LAC. 

At first glance, the C-PEK, a flagship for China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative, (BRI), seems to serve as just one of the many signifiers for China and Pakistan’s self-described ‘iron brotherhood’. Nevertheless, given China’s history of engaging in debt-trap diplomacy with other conflict zones in South Asia, it would be unwise to avoid scrutinising the superpower’s strategic investments in transport infrastructure (road-building, rail-line building, etc…) within Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In consolidating its control over the aforementioned region, China has represented itself as a seemingly sympathetic ally to the cause of self-determination amongst the Kashmiri population. Despite China’s well-documented persecution of its own minority Uighur Muslim population, the Galwan Valley conflict has only helped engender such a representation, setting the stage for potential third-party escalations within the region. To quote a recent report from the Observer Research Foundation, “the [Kashmiri] people are seeing China’s aggression as a lesser evil simply because it doesn’t affect their lives and livelihood directly”. Given the intensification of Indo-Pak and Sino-Indo relations, a three-way conflict fought on two fronts would not only shatter the existing bilateral agreement on the Kashmir issue, but would aggravate the humanitarian crisis at both sides of the LoC. The devastation left in the wake of such a conflict will serve as an additional setback to the wider process of reconciliation within the region. 

In view of the tensions between India, Pakistan and China, it is imperative that the international community recognise the multilateral dimensions of the conflict in Kashmir.  Given the rampant spread of ethno-religious nationalism on both sides of the LoC, a two-state solution may be near-impossible to negotiate, let alone implement. Nevertheless, despite the recent internationalisation of the region’s humanitarian crisis, third-party mediation via the United Nations would fail to account for the intensely tribalized nature of the conflict. This would only help stagnate progress towards long-term regional peacebuilding and reconciliation. In the Next Century Foundation’s view, a syncretist approach would be the most effective long-term solution to the conflict. Such an approach could potentially involve bilateral recognition of the LoC and LaC as official borders rather than loose demarcation lines, as well as a multilateral response to the associated humanitarian crisis (via international judicial institutions, such as the International Court of Justice). In light of the current stasis in Indo-Pak and Sino-Indo relations, it remains to be seen as to whether such a solution could ever be implemented.


Kashmir comes to Birmingham

A meeting convened jointly by the Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation on the Kashmir issue was put together by NCF intern Maariyah Rashid. The Chair was Reverend Larry Wright of Kings Norton Birmingham, Convenor, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council and the speakers were: Dr Kurshid Ahmad, The Association of British Muslims; Dr William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation; Mr Michael Macy of the Next Century Foundation, formerly US State Department. The Next Century Foundation is in Consultative Status with the United Nations and their current submission to the UN Human Rights Council, was to raise awareness on Kashmir.

The meeting discussed the lack of international engagement on the Kashmir issue, the question as to whether a three way referendum on the status of Kashmir was credible, the possibility of the demarcation of the line of control as the international border, and the acute need to encourage Kashmiris to stand in local elections in Indian controlled Kashmir, because the current boycott was (in the view of two of the speakers) severely counterproductive in so much as it was dissempowering the local community.

The following notes on feedback from the floor are from William Morris LLD and are his personal record and possibly may not be endorsed by all present, let alone by the ABM or NCF as a whole:

  • Concern was expressed about the loss of contact with families. The comment made was that, “The onus is on India to be peaceful”. It was and is the view of the Next Century Foundation that the use of violence in response to violence has been counterproductive throughout the modern history of Kashmir and has exacerbated the misery endured by the people of the valley.
  • The suggestion was made that, “The elections are corrupt”. This, felt the NCF, may be true but policy of non participation adopted by the politicians of the valley (many of the seats were not contested and a very substantial number had no candidate at all) has severely failed the people of Kashmir.
  • The question was raised as to why Kashmiris were not listened to. The response from Michael Macy being that the international community was not interested and the response from William Morris being that the expatriate Kashmiri community were ineffective in their approach, often failing to engage effectively with the key forums available to them such as the British Conservative Party and the United Nations in Geneva.
  • The Good Friday Agreement was put forward as a model for reconciliation. The NCF acknowledged the fact that there was something to be learnt from the Good Friday Agreement, though the circumstances were different. None the less if the objective were independence for Kashmir, that was and is unattainable at this time in history given the stubborn resolve  of the Governments of Pakistan and India to oppose any such outcome.
  • The comment was made that there was no clear demarcation for the line of control. Most attending were very strongly opposed to the demarcation of the line of control as the international boundary as such a move would severely hamper the aspiration for independence. The NCF felt that the aspiration for independence was  impractical despite being the avowed objective of most of those present. However in view of the opposition to the demarcation of the line of control as the border, the NCF will try and help look at alternative ways forward.
  • A call was made for a “space for dialogue”.  The Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation both said that was at least one aspiration that they could help fulfill.
  • One speaker from the floor said that in view of the opposition to making the line of control the border, and the perennially unfulfilled nature of the aspiration for independence, there was a need to think outside the box. He said that in view of the framing of this problem in religious terms, nationalism does not work. He said, “I say no to nationalism”. He said a fresh look at the situation was needed to provide a solution that was both viable and acceptable.
  • Another speaker suggested passionately, to the disquiet of many present, that a bloody struggle was inevitable. On the other hand a speaker from India stated that the situation was not as bad as many present perceived it to be, that life in Azad Kashmir was far from perfect, that there were other groups such as the Kashmiri Pandits, who were also having a hard time, that the people of the valley were desperately concerned about the absence of tourism, and that he was concerned that violence might come home from Kashmir to the streets of Birmingham. The NCF for its part acknowledges that there is anger at the lack of a UK response to the Kashmir issue but does not feel that is likely to result in greater extremism in Britain – thank heavens.
  • One speaker asked how best to mobilise the world to take a greater interest in Kashmir. Both the ABM and NCF said that a series of working group meetings to develop an acceptable objective for the status of Kashmir and a strategy to attain that objective might be a solid initial step that could be undertaken.

Moving things forward on Kashmir

The following is a written statement on Kashmir to the Human Rights Council Forty-second session 9–27 September 2019 Agenda item 3 submitted by The Next Century Foundation, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status:

The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.
[22 August 2019]

The Next Century Foundation notes that the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy, asks, in his report before the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council, that the Secretary-General appoint a special representative on unilateral coercive measures with a remit that would be broader than that of the Special Rapporteur and that would include facilitating a dialogue to solve the underlying causes of such measures.

The Next Century Foundation supports this request. We think this would be of particular importance in regard to the Kashmir issue. We especially note the concerns expressed in the report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on July 8, 2019, raising serious concerns about abuses by state security forces and armed groups in the parts of Kashmir administered respectively by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of India. We would add our own concern about the persistent failure of local politicians in Indian administered Kashmir to engage adequately in the forums already open to them at local level.

We would further state that now is the very best time to start taking measures to facilitate an amelioration of the longstanding misery of the people of Kashmir and would suggest that the very best first step to be taken at this point in time would be to appeal to both India and Pakistan to make the line of control the international border.
Once the international border is in place perhaps India might be in a better position to withdraw India’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1990 which effectively stops all permission to prosecute any security force personnel in civilian courts.

Also, as highlighted by the OHCHR, we would hope that India would amend its Public Safety Act of 1978, the administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years.

However, the Next Century Foundation also shares the concern of the OHCHR that Pakistan address its strategic deficiencies in so much as Pakistan has a history of providing arms and training to militant groups.

The Next Century Foundation is also deeply concerned at human rights violations in Pakistan-held Kashmir most particularly the threats against journalists for doing their work. We also share the UN human rights office’s concern over the enforced disappearances of people from Pakistan-held Kashmir.

We also note with considerable concern Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions on August 5 of this year over Jammu and Kashmir. Some argue that he was prompted to take the action he did in response to the offer by the President of the United States of America to intercede on the Kashmir issue. If so that is doubly saddening. We understand how frustrating outside interference can seem if it is unasked for. But we would point to the experience of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which was, in the end, grateful for US intervention in the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, a contributing factor in regard to the Good Friday agreement which is so sadly under pressure at present because of the unforeseen factor known as Brexit. However, the point is that outside actors can be helpful, especially in longstanding issues like those of the disputes in regard to the future of Northern Ireland or Kashmir.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had of course effectively given semi-autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of India’s partition in 1947. Premier Modi’s abrogation of this essential constitutional principle is distressing.

Premier Modi’s actions may be partly due to frustrations over a lack of leadership in Kashmir, and that frustration we understand. The people of Kashmir must engage better in the forums available to them. Policies involving the boycott of political forums are almost always, in the view of the Next Century Foundation, self-defeating.

That said, these measures, notably the removal of article 370 of India’s constitution, have been greeted by an absence of concern from people other than Kashmiris themselves.

Where is the strong concern that should be expressed on the part of the British government, the former colonial power? Britain has the largest number of expatriate Kashmiris (as British citizens of Kashmiri origin) in the world and yet has utterly failed to take a strong stand in regard to recent events. Perhaps that is in part a shortcoming on the part of Britain’s citizens of Kashmiri origin who are good at crying crocodile tears but seem unwilling or unable to garner action from their own political representatives.

The United States of America has been equally unforthcoming despite the fact that it is a nation perceived by some as having acted as a catalyst in fomenting recent events.

Similarly, the People’s Republic of China, though arguably a nation with a considerable interest in the region, has remained silent.

So too Europe and indeed the entire international community, much of which seems uninterested in the issue despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.

Article 51 of India’s constitution commits the Government of India to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations and, encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration. Hopefully Indian will revise its current position in due course.

Pakistan for its part has actually called for UN intervention. If Pakistan is genuine about finding a resolution through the UN, it should show meaningful progress toward effectively dealing with the problem of that part of the militancy in Kashmir that is generated within its own borders.

United Nations Resolution 39 (1948) gives the UN authority to investigate any dispute or any situation which might, by its continuance, endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.

UN Resolution 38 (1948) calls on both India and Pakistan to refrain from doing or permitting any acts which might aggravate the situation.

The UN can and should play a role as mediator. Furthermore, the Next Century Foundation would also like to see the facilitation by the UN of dialogue between Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control, supported by both India and Pakistan.

And we should all, all of us concerned about the future of Kashmir, help identify an effective leadership among Kashmiris, both within the region and among the diaspora. An empowered Kashmiri leadership that is taken seriously by the international community would encourage all parties to this dispute to behave differently.

We therefore endorse the Special Rapporteur’s request that the Secretary-General should indeed appoint a special representative on unilateral coercive measures with a remit that would be broader than that of the Special Rapporteur and that would include facilitating a dialogue to solve the underlying causes of such measures. And the Next Century Foundation further ask that one of the first issues to be addressed by the new special representative, if indeed such a representative is appointed, be that of Kashmir.

The Colonised become the Colonisers

“Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians” – Muhammad Iqbal.

India was once a country at the mercy of British rule, a profitable part of the British Empire and subject to Britain’s colonizing tactics. India like a good student absorbed these tactics and added them to their playbook, later to implement their own version of settler-colonialism. In 1947, the dissolution of the British Raj happened and with it twelve million people were displaced as abstract lines were drawn creating the self-governing countries of Pakistan and India. However, the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was also born and still remains part of the political landscape. The fraught battle between the two nations over who should assert authority in the region created tensions which reached boiling point as India removed J&K’s special status last Monday. The issue of India taking control of Kashmir sits in a nexus of state power, nationalism, and colonialism and should be analysed as such.

The crisis unfolded last week when Article 370 was withdrawn from the constitution by the Indian government. Article 370 was integral to keeping some kind of peace in the region. It allowed J&K to have special status within India. Provisions such as outsiders not being able to buy land or property were in the agreement meaning a certain level of autonomy was afforded to J&K.  Article 370 was viewed as an important tenant in maintaining stability and was entrenched in the constitution and thus theoretically could not be removed. The Narendra Modi government itself said in 2018 in a written reply in Parliament that there was no proposal to remove Article 370. Furthermore, the Supreme Court refused to accept that Article 370 was temporary in nature as sometimes argued by politicians. The importance and permanence of Article 370 is clear. On removal of the article, the BJP announced a ‘reorganization bill’ which bolsters the ideological nationalist belief that India should be a unitary and centralized nation-state. India is what the political theorist Hannah Arendt terms ‘seeing like a state’; specifically a hyper-nationalistic state.

When we allow fascism and hatred to take root in a political system in such a way, terror unleashed onto those most vulnerable in the guise of ‘democracy’ is inevitable. This issue of taking control of J&K is intricately interlinked with Modi’s campaign of hyper-nationalism.  As Hannah Arendt, who herself experienced fascist terror, theorised, to establish a totalitarian regime, terror must be presented as an instrument for carrying out a specific ideology. The ideology must win the hearts of many and even gain a majority and then terror can be used to stabilize the totalitarian state.  In India, terror imposed on J&K has become the vehicle to carry out Modi’s ideology of hyper-nationalism and the masses have come on board in the hopes of creating a greater India. The first step in justifying this terror is to rectify what Modi views as the wrong of the ‘Muslim-appeasement bill’ which is Article 370.  This move shows India is happy to rule in an authoritarian fashion to expand its power and territory whilst ignoring international law and its own constitution.

India having learnt from its previous masters set out a carefully designed plan to dish out imperialism. Kashmir was already described as ‘the most militarised region on earth’ with 700,000 soldiers, paramilitary and police patrolling it. The Indian military are the architects of this prison. As Hafsa Kanjwal reports for Al Jazeera, “In the days leading up to the announcement, the government inflicted a series of psychological trauma on the local population”. Leaders of Kashmir were put under house arrest. Communication was cut off, with phone signals and internet blocked, thus worried people could r not each family or friends, this coupled with the increased deployment of troops. It could well be there may be some people of Kashmir who may not even know of the change in legislation. Journalists in Kashmir are reporting and printing newspapers by hand in order to keep the people somewhat informed.

As India took control by isolating Kashmir from the world they added more brute force to the picture. They took their next steps and began to shape the narrative, another trick learnt from the British as they try to abandon their image as colonial masters and rebrand themselves as a soft power. The state in India has ironically been the one to do outsourcing – they lent on the Bollywood industry to sell a happy go-lucky narrative of the events in Kashmir. As Bollywood buys titles, ‘Kashmir humura hai’ which translates to Kashmir is ours, now we face the future of state propaganda being outsourced to the clutches of capitalism with a catchy ‘item song’ playing in the backdrop.

Where do we go from here? – As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The lack of an international response is deafening yet predictable. However, if we do not speak of these events they will go down in history as a victory for fascism and we become the supporters of the oppressors.

NCF researcher Maariyah Rashid




How Hindu Nationalism is Distorting India’s Election – The Atlantic

The NCF’s senior member in Iraq’s Kurdistan, Stafford Clarry, comments further on India’s recent elections. He writes the NCF to say: 

I lived in India for about 14 years, plus 4 years in Bangladesh. Though fascinating in many respects, it was not easy. The experience taught me a lot.

This article by Jonah Blank in The Atlantic helps explain more about Hinduism not being a religion like Islam or Christianity. Hinduism has no requirements, no dos and don’ts.

Islam invaded and was absorbed into Hindu India. The Muslim Mughals added to Hindu India’s rich cultural heritage, eg Shalimar Gardens, the Taj Mahal, music and drama. An offshoot of Hinduism, Sikhism is a religion initially organized to fight Muslim invaders. Non-theistic Buddhism and Jainism are offshoots of Hinduism characterized by beliefs, traditions, and practices with (perhaps) god as essence, a focus of devotion, not the singular God of Islam or Christianity.

India, Australia, Italy, Brazil, and Hungary of course, are going the exclusion/exclusiveness route of Trumpism. Looks like another era we have to pass through and, hopefully, will come out better on the other side. Since the independence/partition of British India there have been laws, regulations, and efforts to minimize “communalism” that has occasionally erupted in violence. In a country like India, violence can involve millions.

Photo from the Atlantic: Narendra Modi waves to supporters in Varanasi in April. Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Lessons need to be learnt from India

Stafford Clarry, a senior NCF member in Kurdistan, sends some facts and observations in regard to lessons he thinks Kurdistan could learn from India:

There’s a lot to learn from India where a top-class education can be obtained at far lower cost than in Europe or America.

In addition, India’s strong, very broad socio-economic diversity has much to teach. India has perhaps the richest diversity in the world – culturally (many cultures and subcultures, many religions and sects, many languages and dialects, many geographical differences and philosophies), economically (from the extremely poor to the extremely rich), politically (2,000 political parties, plus other political groupings). Like Mesopotamia, ancient India was also one of seven cradles of civilization.

In the Middle East, it’s said that everyone is either a politician or a political analyst. In India, it’s said that everyone is an economist.

Of India’s nearly 1.4 BILLION population, over 200 Million are Muslim (14%). 80% of India’s population is Hindu. The remaining 6% are Christian and other religions (Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, etc.)
India’s Muslim population ranks third in the world. Indonesia ranks first and Pakistan, with its 97% Muslim population, is second numbering slightly more than India’s.

More than 800 million are eligible to vote in India. In the recent general elections, about 600 million voted.

Hinduism, which is richly diverse, is more an inclusive philosophy and way of life than a religion, unlike the exclusive religions of Islam and Christianity.

At its 1947 independence, British India was divided into secular India and sectarian Pakistan. Pakistan was further divided into East Pakistan and West Pakistan, separated by over 2,000 kilometers of Indian territory. With the same religion but different cultures, East Pakistan was economically dominant while West Pakistan was politically dominant. In 1971, East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh.

Though substantial progress has been made in reducing its import, India’s caste system remains an active socio-cultural construct. Hindu citizens who are not included in the caste system, who are ‘out-of-caste’ and considered the lowest of the low, are called “untouchables” (or Dalits).

To its great credit, soon after India’s independence, a Dalit was appointed chairman of the constitution drafting committee. BR Ambedkar became known as the architect of the Constitution of India. He earned PhD degrees from Columbia University and the London School of Economics (LSE). He was “a jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement and campaigned against social discrimination towards the untouchables (Dalits), while also supporting the rights of women and labour.” He was independent India’s first Minister of Law and Justice. The Constitution of Iraq is composed of 144 articles. The Constitution of India is composed of 444 articles.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. Since their 1947 independence from Britain, India and Pakistan have fought four wars and have been involved in many skirmishes and other armed conflicts.

Breaktime (fun): Daily India-Pakistan evening border closing ceremony:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat Province when Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in 2002. About 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslim (80%). As a result, Modi was banned from entering the US, UK, and EU. As he rose in prominence, the bans were lifted.

The Wall Street Journal writes:

India Turns West but Away From Western Values

The country’s first pro-American prime minister also stands for intolerant Hindu nationalism.

By a thumping parliamentary majority, Indian voters returned to power Thursday an alliance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Judging by the manner in which his Bharatiya Janata Party campaigned, Mr. Modi looks certain to undo many of the secular norms that have defined India since independence. Expect the BJP to govern India for the next five years in ways that are unabashedly Hindu, the religion of 80% of India’s population. This isn’t good news for the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities, or for the millions of Indians who don’t wish to be told what they should eat, wear, read and watch by a religiously driven government. 
After its independence from Britain in 1947, India opted to embrace the political and legal system of its erstwhile Western overlord. It chose the Westminster model of elective democracy as well as the common law, in preference to any native or indigenous political and legal alternative. For seven decades, India has remained faithful to that system.
The Indian Constitution draws from the unwritten British constitution, as well as from the constitutions of the U.S., Ireland, Australia and Canada. The French ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity were of particular consequence to the drafters of India’s Constitution, almost all of whom were schooled in Western political values.
The chairman of the constitutional drafting committee, B.R. Ambedkar, was a Dalit—a man from the community formerly referred to as “untouchable.” He knew from personal experience that Indian values—primarily those embedded in orthodox Hinduism, whose most ancient legal text, the Manusmriti, ordains the caste system—had resulted in a social order in which men like him were reviled for centuries.
Ambedkar saw India’s salvation in those rights that flowed from Western values—primarily equality and a recognition of the dignity of the individual. These came to be enshrined in the Indian Constitution, and were intended to trump Hindu norms. India’s Constitution, remarkably, was a forthright rejection—by Indians—of ancient Indian values. 
Independent India has offered, in many ways, the best deployment of Western political values outside the West. From its first day as a sovereign nation, India has affirmed that elections and the rule of law are the sole political currency in a land whose people had previously been British subjects even as they were denied British citizenship. 
The demands made of the British by those who led India’s freedom movement weren’t outlandish. They asked that Indians be given in India the same rights that Britons were accorded in Britain: suffrage and self-rule. In the end, it was the irrefutability of those demands—allied to the nonviolent pursuit of them—that compelled the British to accede to India’s independence.
The colonial Indian elite were formidable opponents precisely because they embraced everything that Western political philosophy had to offer on the subject of citizenship and self-governance. They certainly embraced the English language; and, quick to recognize the flaws in their own culture, as well as the irrational and unscientific nature of many traditional Indian practices, they embraced Western education as well. In the past five years, however, these values have come under fierce attack, as the BJP has shown a hostility to Western ideas, all in the name of reviving Hindu tradition. 
Is the West losing India? This is where things get paradoxical, for India has never been more allied to the U.S. than it is now. 
Mr. Modi is India’s first openly pro-American head of government. He has visited the U.S. three times in five years, and he has badgered President Trump to visit India. He hobnobs with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, and, like Mr. Trump, he is in love with Twitter . A shared fear of China draws Mr. Modi’s India and the U.S. together, as does a common cause against Islamist terrorism.
In the first 40 years of its independence, India was ruled by the avowedly secular Congress Party, with its umbilical link to the Indian freedom struggle and its conscious adoption of Western values. The country was more pro-Soviet than any other genuine democracy. Its anti-Americanism was in part the result of Cold War arithmetic, but also of the cultural inclinations of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and Indira Gandhi, his daughter and political heir, whose high-minded contempt for capitalism would have dire results for the country’s economy.
India has been moving ever closer to the U.S. even as its present government discards many of the secular values and protections that formed the bedrock of India’s constitutional compact. Particularly alarming is the intolerance of practices and behavior—whether sartorial, dietary, literary, cinematic or confessional—that offend a vocal cadre of Hindu activists operating under the aegis of the ruling party. Their aim is to undo those very Western values that have, in Indian constitutional guise, kept the country from collapsing into a state of disorder. 
There is increasing suppression of speech, and an ugly relegation of religious minorities to a politically and socially subordinate status. Radical Hinduism has become brazen and unapologetic. In the most recent elections, the BJP fielded a candidate who stands accused of terrorism and who described the Hindu-chauvinist assassin of Mahatma Gandhi as a “patriot.” She is now a member of Parliament. 
One can’t say India is reverting to some sort of intolerant type, as might be said of Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has no consistent or wholehearted history of democracy. In their refashioning of India’s political and civic norms, Mr. Modi and the BJP aren’t reviving any traditional code of governance. India’s political values since the first minute of its independence have essentially been Western values. If these are stripped away, India will be in uncharted territory—lost not only to the West, but to itself.
Mr. Varadarajan is executive editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Modi benefits from increased tensions in Kashmir

As India awaits the results of the largest elections known to humankind, fighting continues along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s polls closed today after running since April 11. The voting took place over 7 stages in order to meet the bureaucratic feat of managing an election in which 900 million were eligible to vote. Incumbent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem likely to fight off the main opposition, the Indian National Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi.

Key Issues

Key issues on the agenda include unemployment and farming, areas where Modi is not performing well. In January, leaked reports showed unemployment to be at its highest level since 1972-3, and with a large youth population, finding a job is a key concern. Rising costs and lower prices for farmers are also important as half the population works in the farming industry. BJP has already seen this concern play against them, losing three rural states in December.

However, the issue of national security has recently become particularly pertinent. With a nuclear-armed neighbour, national security is always an issue but as tensions have risen it has become more important – a situation which has benefitted Modi.

How Has it Benefitted Modi?

Tensions between India and Pakistan over the region of Kashmir have existed ever since its conception in 1947. However, they intensified on February 14, 2019, when the Islamic militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) launched a suicide attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir. The attack killed 40 Indian security forces and reignited tensions. Indian and Pakistan airstrikes followed and although tensions have died down, fighting continues along the border.

Although Modi may have not instigated the attacks, he has certainly benefitted from them politically. Modi’s strong man Hindu nationalist narrative resonates well with a large section of the population, and the recent increase in violence has created a strong rally around the flag effect for him. The results of the election are set to be announced on Thursday 23rd May and current polls suggest he is expected to win. Whether violence centred on Kashmir will decrease after this is yet to be seen, however, a solution is greatly needed.

Picture Credit: India Prime Ministers Office (GOLD-India). Accessed through Wikipedia Commons.

India continues to fail its Dalit Women

India’s 2011 census stated that 16% of the Indian population, some 200 million people, are Dalits. Historically, being a Dalit in India means being at the bottom of an outdated and abysmal caste system. This idea still persists and as a result, Dalit people are vulnerable to a host of human rights abuses. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable must also struggle against patriarchal structures. A UN report from February 2018 highlights the fact that the discrimination Dalit women face, alongside factors such as lack of healthcare and sanitation, has resulted in Dalit women living, on average, 14.6 years less than ‘higher’ caste women. This is a shocking statistic. The report emphasises the fact that it is not just being of a lower-caste and one’s gender that acts as a barrier to mobility, opportunity and equality. The colour of one’s skin can also play a factor in how you are treated in India. A fair complexion is praised and promoted across society, through the media and beauty ideals. As a result, racism becomes a pertinent issue. If you are a dark-skinned Dalit women, your prospects in Indian society are not as fortunate as those of higher-caste, fairer women. This is particularly true in terms of employment with statistical evidence demonstrating that Dalit women are less likely to gain employment and when they do, they earn significantly less than their non-Dalit female counterparts. Literacy rates and levels of education of Dalit peoples are also significantly lower than their ‘higher’ caste counterparts. This huge problem persists across the nation and needs continuous attention.

There is a radical Indian feminist push within the country that seeks to move away from more homogenous feminist movements that fail to take into account the further oppression one may face as not just a woman, but a Dalit woman. As a result, we have seen the development of ‘intersectional feminism’ at both a grassroots and international level. Both Dalit and non-Dalit Indian women have used the concept of intersectional feminism to raise the profile of injustices against the Dalits. The ‘Dalit Women Fight‘ in India and the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) in Nepal are two such groups campaigning for visibility and change. There are other platforms that have established themselves as a means of articulating the voice of Dalit women, notably All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) which is a movement born from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s organisation that lends its support to groups such as FEDO. The voice of these Dalit women is growing in prominence. This gives hope to those that believe in the improvement of the welfare and wellbeing of Dalit women in a country that has historically seen them marginalised and oppressed.

The position of Dalit women in India, a nation infamous for its failure to protect its women and facilitate true equality, is deplorable. Whilst there are grassroots and international efforts making noise, this is not enough. The Indian government has continuously been the subject of great criticism for the position of its women, minorities and those from ‘lower’ castes, yet they continually fail to do anything substantive about it. The international community needs to raise the profile of Dalit women in India and apply pressure where it is needed to ensure that the future for these women is one of hope and change.

Untangling Afghanistan: Proxy wars and geopolitical rivalries

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently spoke in an interview of Afghanistan’s need for Russian support. Decrying the US for ‘killing us for 17 years’, he claimed that Russian support was the only means with which peace could be achieved in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is desperately trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The belief of some in Kabul is that the Taliban’s strength is reliant upon Pakistan and, with enough international pressure, Pakistan will withdraw its support. The US was originally supposed to provide this pressure. However, Karzai’s desire for non-US international support, born out of the US’ ruined reputation in the region, is well documented. Russia was not the first country he turned to. In 2017, Karzai attempted to reach out to India for support, suggesting that they replace the US as the military force upholding the Afghan government. He suggested that such action would be in India’s national interest, as it would damage Pakistan. Pakistan’s apparent support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is a permanent stumbling block when it comes to bettering Afghan-Pakistan relations. However, India’s military strength pales in comparison to that of the US. India does not have the means to replace the USA, and many in Afghanistan would regard any Indian intervention as suspect, India being regarded as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Indeed the core of the Afghan problem is regarded by many as the Indo-Pakistan proxy war being fought out on the streets of Kabul.

The problem with Afghanistan now turning to Russia is Russia’s apparent desire to improve relations with Pakistan. Relations between Russia and India have become strained recently due to burgeoning tensions between India and China. India’s response to these tensions has been to improve relations with the US, who are hoping India will effectively curb China’s influence. Russia has recognised that improved relations with Pakistan will, therefore, put pressure on India, improve relations with China and further antagonise the USA.

This leaves Afghanistan at a disadvantage. Officials in Kabul were celebrating news of Trump’s removal of two billion dollars in security aid to Pakistan, believing this would weaken the Afghanistan Taliban. A minority within Pakistan have blamed the Pakistan military for this, claiming that their tacit support for extremist groups has brought about this decision. Inevitably, Trump’s actions have increased street-level anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. It is therefore unlikely that such action will cause a change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. There is a tremendous fear within Pakistan of a ‘pincer’ move by Afghanistan and India. As a consequence, Pakistan’s actions regarding Afghanistan will always be motivated by the desire to ensure Pakistan’s security. Unfortunately, an unstable Afghanistan is more beneficial to Pakistan than a stabilised administration that is allied with India.

China has moved to improve Afghan-Pakistan relations by including Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is part of the Belt and Road initiative, China’s attempt to recreate the Silk Road. However, CPEC is already controversial due to its being built through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India and Pakistan have constantly fought over the sovereignty of Kashmir, and India does not recognise Pakistan’s control of the Northern half of the state. By extending the offer to Afghanistan, China has faced India with the prospect of losing a regional ally to its economic rival.

Untangling all of these geopolitical relationships is an almost impossible task. If Afghanistan is to have any hope of achieving peace with the Taliban, then their relationship with Pakistan has to improve.  The level of mistrust between the two countries is a major hindrance to the process. As long as it continues, the Taliban will always have a potential ally in Pakistan.  Unfortunately, the mistrust is founded on the conflict between Pakistan and India.  Afghanistan plays a vital geopolitical role for both of these countries. Both are experiencing significant political tensions, not only with each other but with China and the USA as well. Until these issues are resolved, international support for a stable Afghanistan will continue to be deprioritised due to security concerns.

The Precarious Position of India’s Minorities

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 14th of March, 2018. Item 5, Report of Forum on Minority Issues.

Mr President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to assert its belief in total inclusivity. The NCF would like to draw attention to the Republic of India’s relationship with its minorities. India is the world’s largest democracy and it continues to rapidly develop as it stands firm as a key player on the world stage with a diaspora spread across the globe. However, reflection is needed on the part of this great nation state as it considers its own areas of weakness.

As a Hindu-majority nation, India is home to many religious minorities, particularly Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains. Today we see expressions of insecurity and concern across several of these minority groups as they begin to feel that under a Hindu nationalist central government, their place in society is being compromised. There is a structural failure on the part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to credibly address or stop violence against religious minorities. There were at least 38 such attacks in 2017 alone. We join our voice to that of others such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who have expressed concern. Indian Prime Minister Modi has facilitated an environment that allows for violence against minorities. Since the creation of the Indian state, both Sikhs and Muslims especially have expressed their sense of insecurity within India. The former have a fraught relationship with the nation, particularly following the anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984. It is not just those within India who express such feelings, we see support from diaspora across the world, particularly in Canada and the United Kingdom. In 2015, there were protests by the British Sikh diaspora against Modi’s visit to London. In 2017 considerable concern was expressed about levels of anti-Muslim violence that had occurred in India. It is not just religious minorities that face difficulty. As indigenous peoples, the Adivasi, continue a long-drawn-out struggle for social inclusion and rights. The term Adivasi is used to represent the 200 different indigenous groups within India that comprise varying cultures, ethnicities and languages. Marginalised from mainstream society and often at the lower end of socio-economic indicators, these indigenous peoples face economic exploitation and poverty with little mobility and protection of their rights.

India is a country with a rich history and a variety of cultures and peoples and the Next Century Foundation strongly urges the government and people of India to foster inclusivity and acceptance, regardless of difference.

Reflections on Punjab: Seventy Years on from Partition

August 1947 marked the end of India as a single state and saw the emergence of today’s Pakistan and India. Partition caused unprecedented communal conflict, bloodshed and the mass movement of peoples across the border as Sikhs and Hindus became concentrated in India, whilst Muslims crossed over into new Pakistan. The hastily established border split existing communities, villages and homes in the northern state of Punjab. The state is the birthplace and homeland of Sikhism as well as being home to a Muslim majority and a number of special Islamic sites. Today, Punjab continues to experience tension and trouble as a direct result of partition whether that be in violent clashes at the India-Pakistan Punjab border, disagreements between different communal factions and government, or the involvement of the Indian or Pakistan diaspora in Punjab affairs.

The border itself is a particular focus for violence. In 2014 a suicide bomber killed some sixty people at the border and in 2016 a military confrontation at the border resulted in further casualties. This violence keeps negative feelings surrounding partition very much alive across the Punjab. The mistrust between the nations is highlighted by the difficulties that a Pakistan or Indian national may face when trying to get a visa for the neighbouring state. There are many hoops to jump through. The process itself takes at least 35 days and requires a multitude of letters, documents and the appropriate signature. Even upon arrival, there is the potential for further checks that are neither uniform nor predictable. This mistrust is a shame, for many people in Punjab have memories, friends, belongings or even ancestral homes on the other side of the border. They are denied the ability to travel back and to visit and as a result are denied the opportunity to grieve the trauma of partition.

Seventy years on from the violence of 1947, there are a some Sikh activist groups that persist in calls for ‘Khalistan’ – an independent, Sikh majority state. Their reasons are born out of the insecurity they feel as a religious minority in a Hindu nationalist nation, insecurities that have also of course been echoed by other minorities. In 1984, Sikhs were the subject of pogroms in so much as many were massacred in retaliation for Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Even the diaspora overseas that hail from Punjab remain invested in their state of origin and the issues of the past. In late September 2017, Times Square in New York City saw protests from thousands of Sikhs and their supporters expressing their hope for Khalistan and dissatisfaction with Modi’s oppressive India. Those calling for Khalistan may lack strength in numbers but the very existence of these secessionist claims represent the wound of communal difference that partition opened. The collective memories of events such as these ensures that the relationship between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims remains scarred post-partition.

However, the situation in Punjab is not wholly negative. The Punjab border stands not just as a symbol of hostility and tension, it also highlights the sense of camaraderie that is felt by Punjab and the two nations. Every day, at sundown, the two nations unite in an elaborate and long-standing ceremony in Wagah, Punjab where there is dancing and hand-shakes as the border is closed for the night. It echoes the reality of a shared history, collective memories and an intertwined present and future. Punjab’s future is one that is still hopeful as the state, the country and the diaspora reflect on the past and move into the future. A series of events, radio and television shows, literature and stories emerged in 2017, the 70th anniversary of independence, as younger generations began a dialogue concerning partition. Many of those who had lived in Punjab at that time came forward and shared their experiences; and in Amritsar, Punjab, the Partition Museum was founded by the Punjab government, inaugurated as a memorial to those who had experienced partition.

Systemic corruption does not deserve our tacit consent

The 19th century British politician, Lord Acton, averred that ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Over the last 150 or so years, this axiom on the link between power and corruption has proven time and again to be a highly perceptive comment on the darker side of human nature. From Nixon to Castro to Mugabe, there are countless instances of world leaders who subordinated the well-being of their people to the fulfilment their own self-interest. And while corruption is a widespread phenomenon, ranging from public service to private enterprise, from an individual to an international scale, it is at its most indefensible when committed by those acting in an official capacity for personal gain. Fostering a lack of accountability, transparency and good faith in government, corruption represents one of the single biggest threats to the well-being of a country.

When corruption is systemic, and corrupt practices are rewarded with wealth, power and impunity, then people are drawn into public service for the wrong reasons. Indeed, if there is a culture of impunity, then corruption represents a low-risk, high-reward means of advancing both you career standing and your personal fortune.

The numbers bear witness to the predominance of corruption throughout the world. Some sixty countries in the world are plagued by systemic corruption.  China and India, countries with populations of over a billion, are constantly battling systemic corruption.

Corruption is so inexcusable that it ought to be addressed head-on with comprehensive reform. And governments recognise that. And that is far less likely to be forthcoming if the common man and woman think that the personal motives of ruling officials are being prioritised over their own wellbeing. Which explains why it is very common for countries to task specialised anti-corruption committees with addressing the issue. However, when the problem is so entrenched and all-pervasive, these committees often merely act as a smokescreen. Take the example of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, who admitted having run a state-sponsored doping program for Russian athletes. Or Mishan Al-Jabourri, the head of the Iraqi anti-corruption committee, who brazenly admitted in February of last year that ‘everybody is corrupt, from the top to the bottom, including me’. It is disheartening that those tasked with rooting out corruption are engaged in the very same malpractices. Further, it shows that governments are often content with merely being seen to address corruption, rather than doing so in practice.

So what can realistically be done? It is plainly clear that this is a deeply rooted and highly complex problem, a problem whose exact character varies from country to country, but whose defining traits are universal. Effective reforms are reliant on political will. It is imperative that key political actors display credible intent to attack corruption at a systemic level. Those very same people who have acquired power and money in an imperfect system must be willing to use their influence to foster a new, meritocratic culture from the top down. On the other hand, there is the risk that the powerful in society, those with an incentive to maintain the status quo, will mobilise powerful forces to protect their own vested interests. Indeed, countless reformers with the most honourable intentions have failed out of an inability to neutralise resistance. Investigative bodies must be entirely independent and free from interference by the government or the judiciary system.

Corruption is something about which we cannot afford, in good conscience, to be defeatist. Corruption runs contrary to all that is humanly decent. It undermines democracy, it precludes meritocracy and it allows the few to steal from the many. Any attempt to fight corruption, however imperfect, is better than none.