Chancellor, Jammu central university & former High commissioner to Pakistan
NOT surprisingly, the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by Parliament has stirred a hornets’nest internationally and across the country. The Act clears the way for providing Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities, exclusively from all three of our Muslim-majority neighbours: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. While the Act predominantly deals with non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, it has earned us the ire of Bangladesh and Afghanistan also. An estimated 25,400 Hindus, 5,800 Sikhs and 100 Christians, mainly from Pakistan, will be immediate beneficiaries. Interestingly, the main targets of extremist Sunni violence in Pakistan are the Qadianis, described as heretics, and the Shias. The Afghans have reacted predictably, noting that after the ouster of the Taliban, the Sikh and Hindu communities have lived happily and prosperously in their country. It has also to be noted that the Muslim Rohingya refugees in India are internationally recognised refugees, who have fled persecution in Myanmar.
The Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh, which is unquestionably the government friendliest to India in South Asia, has unfortunately been the recipient of strong domestic criticism because of this Indian legislation. Hasina was already under pressure from radical Islamic elements, backed by Pakistan, for allegedly being too pro-Indian. She has, however, skilfully balanced Bangladesh’s relations with India and China, while ensuring that it remains on good terms with both. In the eyes of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the emergence of a radical Islamist government in Dhaka would be ideal to challenge India significantly on its eastern borders. The most serious challenge we face is to ensure that Hasina herself does not come under pressure from pro-Pakistani elements in her country. These elements will endeavour to destabilise relations with India by creating exaggerated fears of a possible deportation of a large number of Muslims, whom India believes, are from Bangladesh. Hasina has already sent us a strong signal of her distress and displeasure, by deferring scheduled visits of her Foreign Minister and Home Minister, to India.
The recent announcement has also revived fears in our North-Eastern states, notably Assam and Tripura, about indigenous populations being reduced to a minority. There is talk of reviving the agitations prevalent from the 1980s. These led to the formation of insurgent groups like ULFA, which sought and obtained a safe haven in Khaleda Zia-ruled Bangladesh and in areas across the Myanmar-China border. All this is taking place when we have successfully marginalised insurgent groups in the North-East. This has been done with commendable cooperation from Myanmar and Bangladesh, together with some skilful negotiations with the NSCN (IM) in Nagaland and destruction of NSCN (Khaplang) bases in Myanmar, with cooperation from Myanmar. The new development that we need to take note of is that active links are now growing within China’s Yunnan province between the Chinese authorities and armed insurgent groups from Myanmar and India. China is, in effect, interfering in the internal affairs of Myanmar and India, and positioning itself to be mediator between the Myanmar government and heavily armed Myanmar insurgent groups. These challenges need to be handled sensitively and firmly.
The Trump Administration is determined to pull out of Afghanistan well before the forthcoming presidential elections. Pakistan is working methodically to use its protégés from the Haqqani network to take control of areas in Afghanistan, adjacent to the disputed Durand Line. Our western neighbourhood is also set for another era of Taliban/ISI collusion, akin to what one saw during the hijacking of IC 814 in 1999.
India has a reputation of being a democratic society, where Muslims and other minorities enjoy equal opportunities. The goodwill of people across our western neighbourhood has to be sustained and some hard facts understood. There are 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide and 800 million Muslims living across our extended neighbourhood, from Turkey to Indonesia. We enjoy huge respect across the ‘Islamic Belt’, as is evident from the support we receive on a wide range of issues. One-third of the world’s Muslims live in South Asia.
Pakistan is on the warpath diplomatically over the alleged shutdown in the Kashmir valley. It will inevitably go into overdrive, especially in Afghanistan, claiming that Indian policies are directed against Afghan Muslims also. There will also be a concerted effort by Pakistan in neighbouring Islamic countries, across our Indian Ocean neighbourhood, to run down India. Pakistan has watched with alarm at the manner in which PM Modi has transformed India’s relations with Arab Gulf countries. He has focused attention particularly on ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where over four million Indians reside and work.
The western world appears divided on how to deal with India. The days when we enjoyed bipartisan support in western democracies appear to be behind us. It will require a carefully crafted diplomatic effort to regain this ground.
We should not be apologetic about what emerges from our democratic processes. But, when I analyse global reactions, from the distant Pacific Ocean shores of California, where there is a massive presence of high-tech personnel from India, I cannot help noting genuine international concern over two issues. The first is the prolonged detention of mainstream politicians, who have been active participants in democratic processes in Kashmir. There is also widespread concern over the unprecedented Internet shutdown during manifestations of public unrest. These issues will, hopefully, be addressed more imaginatively. There is, however, no sympathy for detained Kashmiri separatist leaders, who have long-term links with Pakistan, and whose support for violence includes killings of IAF officers.
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