The Asian Age – Trump’s Afghan/Pakistan mess: A ‘rebalancing’ is needed

K C Singh

Op/Ed, 19 October 2017. America’s President Donald Trump announced his new Afghan policy on August 21, after an in-depth review. He changed three elements in his predecessor Barack Obama’s doctrine. One was a limited surge of 3,000 additional troops, taking the total to around 11,000.

He also took timelines off the table, which common sense and military leaders had anyway demanded as withdrawal dates allow the Taliban to, in sporting terms, run out the clock and avoid negotiations. Finally, Mr Trump loosened the rules of engagement, thus liberating field commanders from constraints on the manner and place of deployment.

What caused the real regional churn was his threatening message for Pakistan, seeking more action against terrorists and their sanctuaries while inviting India to increase its development footprint in Afghanistan. This caused sinking morale and ire in Pakistan.

In New Delhi, it seemed as if Diwali had come early, and ruling party spokespersons preened on television, using harsh and condemnatory language about Pakistan. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj took the same line as she turned her UN General Assembly address into a Pakistan-bashing session.

The global Indian vision had been subsumed in a vitriolic Pakistan policy. Pakistan adopted its time-tested methods of mixing ire with self-pity, bemoaning its sacrifices in combating terrorism. The onus for bringing the Taliban to heel was gradually shifted to Afghans or others, claiming it had diminishing influence on the group.

Links to the deadly Haqqani Network were denied, but by a magic trick Pakistan got released from the same group the Canadian-US Boyle family abducted since 2012. Mr Trump’s subsequent adulatory tweet saying he looked forward to working with Pakistan caused some discomfort in Delhi.

Even Rahul Gandhi hit his target sarcastically, asking whether it was not time for PM Narendra Modi to go hug Mr Trump once again.

In the process, the US objective has been largely lost. Senator John McCain, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, asked appropriately that he would freeze confirmation of new defence appointees until he gets “a more detailed strategy for war in Afghanistan”. Some contours of the new US approach are visible already, though many ambiguities remain.

The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) met in Muscat, Oman, on October 16. When a senior US official was asked by me why only China was in that group out of the regional powers, besides the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the answer was that it was one of many groupings to enable finding a regional consensus on stabilising Afghanistan.

That is easier said than done as President Trump’s refusal to certify that Iran was abiding by the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal, and dubbing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation is likely to drive Iran to oppose the US’ Afghan policy.

It is conjectured both Iran and Russia have been lately offering the Taliban aid and sanctuaries. Thus US-Iran dissonance will breed Iranian non-cooperation or even hostility as the US moves to stabilise Afghanistan. Pakistan is partially right that other regional players are guardians of some elements of the Taliban, thus diminishing Pakistani influence.

Similarly, the Saudi Arabia-led pillorying of Qatar, which is being opposed by Iran and Turkey, will play out in Afghanistan. The only formal Taliban office overseas is in Doha, Qatar. It is now difficult to travel to Doha from many aviation hubs in the Gulf, making contact with Taliban leaders more difficult.

Apparently Saudi Arabia and UAE have opened their own channels to the Taliban leadership to remain in play. Thus the Iran-led Shia alliance rubbing against the Sunni alliance led by Saudi Arabia in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen will get reflected in their roles in Afghanistan.

However, a shared concern is the resurfacing of ISIS (Daesh) fighters, ejected from their strongholds in Syria and Iraq, in Afghanistan and even Pakistan. They are without a state sponsor as yet and threaten all regional powers. Hopefully no one will start using them in the “Great Game” in the region. Can all regional powers sink their differences to counter them?

India-Pakistan relations remain bogged in mutual recrimination. The Narendra Modi-Ajit Doval doctrine of no dialogue till support to terror ends is unrealistic. At best, Pakistan should be held accountable for attacks traceable to its state agencies. Otherwise the veto on India-Pakistan relations passes into the hands of any single jihadi who is willing to die.

Unfortunately, popularly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been decapitated by judicial writ. Pakistan is already in electoral mode with parliamentary elections due next year.

Mr Modi faces a crucial Gujarat Assembly election soon, and may even be forced to call early Lok Sabha elections if the economy does not rebound or a bad monsoon is anticipated.

Thus, bilateral ties in the foreseeable future will be run by hawks on both sides. Afghanistan can be the greatest confidence-builder between the two nations, or the theatre of extreme offshore rivalry.

The Trump administration will soon realise that no Afghan/Pakistan policy will work unless all regional powers honestly cooperate. The US President’s next visit abroad is to China, Japan and Republic of Korea, with its focus likely to be on containing North Korea with its nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump needs to rebalance his approach to South and West Asia if his Afghan policy has to work. Otherwise, ironically, the creator of radical Islamist forces to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan will find the roles reversed, with the Russians using the Taliban to undermine the US in Afghanistan.

The Indians may act likewise if they see Pakistan gaining control over the new US Afghan doctrine. The moral is that while tweets can entertain or provoke, they cannot really resolve geostrategic riddles.

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
He tweets at @ambkcsingh


The Hindu – A day in Delhi for Ghani and Tillerson

The visits will provide India opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues

Special Correspondent

New Delhi. 20 October 2017. Continuing with close bilateral consultation, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will visit India on October 24. The official confirmation about the visit came even as the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated India’s commitment to ‘rule-based international order’, setting the stage for the visit of USA Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the capital on the same day.

The visit by President Ghani comes within days of a visit to Kabul by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Thursday’s Taliban attack on the Afghan National Army base in Kandahar province that killed at least fifty-eight security personnel.

When asked about the details of the Afghan leader’s agenda, an MEA official source said that the visit was being “worked upon” and a statement on the agenda would be made soon.

Mr Ghani’s visit, which is likely to last for half-a-day, is significant as it comes two-months after USA President Donald Trump announced his government’s new Afghanistan policy for which he has urged India to do more.

Crucial talks

The visits of Mr Ghani and Mr Tillerson to Delhi indicate that they will provide all three, the USA, Afghanistan and India, the opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues.

Indicating at India’s stance to Mr Tillerson’s visit, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “We appreciate his positive evaluation of the relationship and share his optimism about its future directions. We look forward to welcoming him in India next week for detailed discussions on further strengthening of our partnership.”

The Ministry’s statement was a response to Mr Tillerson’s October 18 comments at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, where he highlighted his two decades-long personal ties with India and said:

Centre of gravity

“The world’s centre of gravity is shifting to the heart of the Indo-Pacific. The USA and India, with our shared goals of peace, security, freedom of navigation, and a free and open architecture, must serve as the eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific.”

Mr Tillerson had also pointed out that China’s rise as an international power had been “less peaceful”. The Asia-Pacific component of the visit will unfold soon after the latest congress of the Communist Party of China which led to the consolidation of power of President Xi Jinping and his re-election for one more term.

Dawn – Hostage family held in Pakistan for five years: CIA

Washington DC, 20 October 2017. The CIA head said on Thursday that the US-Canadian couple kidnapped by the militants in Afghanistan were held inside Pakistan for five years before being freed last week.

“We had a great outcome last week when we were able to get back four US citizens who had been held for five years inside of Pakistan,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank in Washington.

Mr Pompeo’s remarks appeared to be the first time a US official has publicly stated that the family spent their captivity in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military and government indicated that US citizen Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their children were rescued shortly after entering Pakistan from Afghanistan.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed the hostages were probably held by the Haqqani militant group in or near its headquarters in northwestern Pakistan the entire time.

WCPO Cincinnati – Tri-State Sikhs group sends volunteers to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief

Jay Warren

West Chester-Ohio-USA, 13 October 2017. United Sikhs is an organization many in the Tri-State may not have heard of, but they’re recognized by the UN.

This weekend, they’re holding a fundraiser for humanitarian relief after some of their members have returned from hurricane recovery efforts Puerto Rico.

This week, about 60,000 people in Puerto Rico have clean drinking water again thanks to an engineer from United Sikhs who diagnosed and spearheaded repairs in Utuado.

“I don’t want to say ‘single-handedly,’ because he had a team helping him and a support staff, but he managed to fix and restore that main engine that’s going to serve 15,000 families with fresh water,” Jaipal Singh said.

Singh is a member of the group who just got back to Cincinnati Thursday night. He said the damage in Puerto Rico was “as if the Incredible Hulk was walking across the island and started picking up massive trees and telephone poles and started throwing them every which way.”

Friday afternoon, women were preparing food for the fundraiser. It’s an outgrowth of the philosophy of langar, getting to know someone through sharing a meal.

Sikhs believe in the oneness of mankind, which is what drives United Sikhs to volunteer, according to Maneshwar Singh.

“Everything is based off of recognizing that oneness, and from that you get a compassion and a lovingness for everything that is the creation,” Singh said.

United Sikhs will be in Puerto Rico as long as they’re needed. Now they’re also planning to send aid workers to California to help people displaced by wildfires.

Anyone interested in donated can visit the United Sikhs’ online fundraiser.

Dawn – Ghosts from Vietnam

Irfan Husain

Op/Ed, 14 October 2017. Readers of my generation will no doubt recall the horrors of the Vietnam War in which countless lives were lost in a pointless conflict.

I was in my early 20s when the Tet Offensive of 1968 shattered American illusions that the Vietcong were on the verge of defeat. I remember all too well the anger many of us felt over the merciless American bombing of unarmed civilians in North and South Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia.

Watching the 10-part documentary about the war directed by Ken Loach and Lynn Novick, I relived those bleak times as harrowing images from old newsreels showed the unceasing American assault on Vietnam. In terms of archival research, this is a cinematographic tour de force.

Spread over 18 hours of news reports and interviews, it overwhelms the viewer with its unrelenting coverage of events on the shifting battlefields, as well as in Washington, Hanoi and Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).

By weaving together factual coverage and a vast range of personal interviews, the documentary underlines the horrors and sacrifices on both sides.

In particular, the implacable determination of the North Vietnamese communist leadership, and its willingness to commit hundreds of thousands of men and women to the cause, comes through as an immovable force.

Facing them were the mounting numbers of Americans in uniform: at one point there were nearly half a million US troops in South Vietnam. Almost 60,000 were killed. More bombs were dropped by the US on Indochina than on Germany and Korea combined.

The US is still bogged down in Afghanistan

Seen on paper, these statistics do not move us as does the testimony of a 15-year-old North Vietnamese girl who volunteers to join a unit that hauls supplies to the south through the jungle. Known as the Ho Chi Minh trail, this network of paths was constantly bombed by US planes. Napalm was commonly used, and casualties were heavy.

Through the documentary (I have watched the first six episodes) runs one constant refrain: as casualties mount and success remains elusive, general after American general asks for more troops. The Pentagon keeps assuring president Lyndon Johnson that if field commanders were given extra troops, the enemy’s defeat would be assured.

Inside the US, the daily TV coverage of the war made it increasingly unpopular, fuelling a significant anti-war movement. When four demonstrating students at Kent State University were shot dead by the National Guard, protests erupted across the US. Large demonstrations broke out in London, Paris and other capitals.

Finally, following the 1973 Paris peace talks, the Americans withdrew from Vietnam, leaving behind the abiding image of a helicopter taking off from the US embassy in Saigon, with people clinging to its landing gear. Thus ended a needless war that consumed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Sadly, no lessons appear to have been learned. The Americans are still bogged down in Afghanistan after 16 years of war. And the generals are still calling for more troops and promising victory. But additional forces have done nothing to cow the Afghan Taliban into submission.

As in South Vietnam, the US enjoys control of the air, and has artillery and armour. And yet an outgunned, dirt-poor foe has fought the mighty war machine to a halt.

With their focus on ‘body count’ and PowerPoint presentations, US generals have not factored in ideology and nationalism as force multipliers. Given the fact that American politicians are ultimately answerable to voters, they cannot afford an unending number of body bags.

One reason there is so little interest in America about the Afghan conflict is that the class composition of US forces has changed since the Vietnam War. In the latter period, soldiers were conscripted into the armed forces, forcing many young, educated middle-class men to fight.

Now, the Americans have an all-volunteer military, and most foot soldiers are from the working class. They have a lower social profile, and get little sympathy or attention. There is thus far less media coverage of the Afghan war than Vietnam received.

But the larger question to be asked is why Americans have not applied the lessons of Vietnam to Afghanistan? After all, in both conflicts they faced poorly armed but highly motivated foes, and both the Vietcong and the Taliban had contiguous territory they could shelter in.

A retired Russian general, interviewed during the height of the fighting in Afghanistan, said he was amazed to see the Americans repeating the Red Army’s mistakes. Why, he wondered, had they not spoken to him and his ex-colleagues to benefit from their experience?

Why indeed? Obviously, hubris prevents US generals from learning from history, or the knowledge of others. They think their superior arms can win easy victories, but as the Vietcong and Taliban have shown, asymmetrical warfare depends more on resolve and a willingness to sacrifice.

The Hindustan Times – Trump sends lieutenants to ‘agents of chaos’ Pakistan with tough message from USA

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.

7 October 2017. President Donald Trump will dispatch his top diplomatic and military advisors to Pakistan in the coming weeks, turning up the heat on a nuclear-armed ally accused of harbouring terror groups.

Weeks after Trump angrily accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to “agents of chaos,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to depart for Pakistan late this month.

He will be followed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, according to US and Pakistani sources.

The one-two punch is designed to drill home Trump’s message that Pakistani state support for jihadist groups has to end, according to officials briefed on the visits.

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.

The relationship reached the breaking point in 2011, when president Barack Obama sent commandos into Pakistan in 2011 to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a military garrison town.

With little change since then, Trump came to office indicating that Washington’s frustration had reached the point where something had to give.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said in an August address.

But in the six weeks since Trump signalled that tougher tone, there have been precious few signs that the calculus in South Asia has changed.

Mattis told Congress this week that he will try “one more time” to “see if we can make this work.”

Not acceptable

“To this point, we have not seen any impact on military-to-military relations,” said one Pentagon official, suggesting any change would not happen after Mattis’s visit.

Visiting Washington, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif appeared unwavering.

He lashed out at “hollow allegations” about Pakistan harboring terrorists as “not acceptable.”

“That is not the way you talk to 70-year-old friends,” Asif said bitterly.

“Instead of accusations and threats we should cooperate with each other for peace in the region,” he added in confirming Tillerson’s visit.

While professing anger in public, Pakistani officials in private complain about receiving no concrete requests to target the Haqqani network or other groups.

US officials have been reticent to share some intelligence for fear of tipping off targets with links inside Pakistan’s government.

Earlier this month, a US drone killed three suspected militants in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Pakistani officials also complain of receiving mixed messages from the Trump administration, which is still struggling to find its feet under a mercurial commander-in-chief.

A September meeting in New York between Vice President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was said to be cordial, despite Trump’s fire and brimstone rhetoric.

“It was a very good meeting with the vice president,” said Asif.

After that, Pakistan officials said, they were surprised at a tougher tone outlined in public by Mattis and in private by Trump’s National Security Advisor H R McMaster.

Call Pakistan’s bluff

Some optimists point to a visit by Pakistan’s army chief to Kabul as evidence that Islamabad is moderating, after years of support propping up the Taliban.

But many, having watched this debate for decades, are less convinced.

The Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, they argue, remain a potent tool in the hands of Pakistani intelligence.

“Of course they don’t get the message” said Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University.

“Pakistan is not going to do anything different than its already doing unless the administration can figure out a way to do what no administration has previously done.”

“That is basically to call Pakistan’s bluff and impose some meaningful punishment.”

Trump has warned that military aid, which was halved between 2012 and 2016, could be cut further, a move that Fair dismisses as insufficient.

“It’s basically saying that we’re going to cut back the money the US taxpayer is giving to Pakistan,” she said.

“That’s not punishment. Pakistan is not entitled to our money. What they are really talking about is giving Pakistan less of an allowance.”

Policymakers have considered revoking Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status, with deep symbolic but limited practical impact.

Punitive economic sanctions, that could force Pakistan closer to China, Russia or Turkey, seem a long way off.

And Pakistan remains vital for the United States as a route to resupply its forces in Afghanistan and for supplying the Afghan army.

NBC News – Officials say Sikh student’s soccer ban was miscommunication

Chris Fuchs

Philadelphia-Pennsylvania-USA, 29 September 2017. A ninth grader in Pennsylvania wearing a Sikh head covering was barred from playing in a boys soccer match Tuesday, a decision that the state’s athletic association said resulted from a miscommunication.

The unidentified student who attends Marple Newtown High School, not far from Philadelphia, was to participate in a match with his team against Conestoga High School, the law firm of DiOrio & Sereni, which represents the Marple Newtown School District, told NBC News in an email.

But the student, who had on religious headgear that he and his family said was worn in observance of his Sikh faith, was not permitted to compete, according to the school district.

Through its attorney, the school district said it had no information to believe the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) referee’s decision was motivated by religious discrimination.

“Our District was surprised to learn that, according to a PIAA soccer referee’s decision, the PIAA apparently does not have a rule that reasonably accommodates the wearing of religious headwear by our student athletes who play soccer,” Mark A. Sereni, the school district’s solicitor, added in a statement.

“Our District is investigating this ruling and has advocated and will continue to advocate for the rights of our student athletes to appropriately wear religious headwear,” he said.

But Robert A. Lombardi, PIAA’s executive director, told NBC News that the incident was a miscommunication between the school and PIAA, not a rules issue.

He wrote in an email that the school had not properly requested a modification to a National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rule to allow headgear for religious purposes. The association approves them on a case-by-case basis, according to Lombardi.

He said it was corrected Thursday after the school submitted a request.

“Annually, all schools are informed of this information at the pre-season rules meetings held in their area,” Lombardi said. “The oversight by the school should not cause this overreaction”.

A voicemail left Thursday with the NFHS, which establishes rules for a number of sports, including soccer, was not immediately returned. On Twitter, the organization said it has “no ban on religious headwear in soccer”.

Sports associations have gradually been relaxing regulations that once prohibited religious headgear from being worn during competitions.

The International Basketball Federation, known as FIBA, unanimously approved such a rule in May that is expected to take effect on 1 October. The change will affect players of a number of religious faiths, including Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

Dawn – What is Ashraf Ghani’s plan to end Afghanistan’s 40-year conflict?

Given the similarities between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s situations, what lessons can Islamabad learn from Kabul?

Hufsa Chaudhry

New York-UN-USA, 24 September 2017. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in an on-the-record session at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York moderated by the President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee, David Milliband, offered interesting insights into Kabul’s strategy for tackling its 40-year-long conflict and struggle against terrorism.

The Afghan government, Ghani said, is working on a four-year ‘multi-dimensional’ security reform programme, the fundamental aim of which is to provide grounds for a political settlement to the Afghan conflict.

Although United States (US) President Donald Trump’s announcement of a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia was met with backlash in Pakistan, the strategy is something Ghani welcomed.

“It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and the implications are quite significant,” he said at the CFR talk.

He went onto explain that US troops are set to play a role in the overhaul of Afghan security forces in terms of leadership, management, systems and processes under the programme.

However, the programme has two other major components: Pakistan-Afghan peace and political dialogue with the Taliban.

In addition to these components, tackling poverty, judicial reform and infrastructural development are all believed to be factors that set the stage for sustainable peace in Afghanistan, according to Ghani.

The Indian Express – Once again, India promises to ratify Torture Convention in Geneva

Of interest was the statement by the NHRC. It was a vastly improved statement than the one made in May. Though the NHRC claims it differs from the Home Ministry on the proposed deportation of Rohingya refugees, it is yet to intervene in the Supreme Court on this matter.

Ravi Nair

New York, UN, 22 September 2017. The adoption of India’s report to the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last evening, by consensus, hid more than it revealed to the public eye.

India blunted the criticism of member states by stating it had accepted 152 out of the 250 recommendations made to it in May, when India’s third periodic report was reviewed. As for the remaining 98 recommendations, India merely took “note” of them.

Human rights worthies like China, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Kyrghyzstan, Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos and Libya lauded India’s efforts. It was difficult not to notice the raised eyebrows in many parts of the room when the very democratic Lao People’s Democratic Republic lauded freedom of religion in India!

Estonia, the little Baltic state which is currently President of the European Council, was honest. It welcomed India’s decision to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), which India had signed in 1997.

India had made a similar commitment during the earlier second periodic review process in 2012. Only to forget it before the ink was dry.

The ratification of the Torture Convention is a major issue. Countries that had raised it in May included, Germany, Botswana, Norway, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, Guatemala, Italy Lebanon, Montenegro, Mozambique, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the US, Portugal, Australia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Israel, Chile, Burkina Faso, the Russian Federation, Denmark, Indonesia, Guatemala and Sierra Leone.

No western conspiracy this! Across the spectrum, North and South, the issue of rampant torture in India is an issue of concern.

Estonia also called upon India to become a signatory to the Rome Statute which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC). Latvia and Uruguay had raised the issue in May 2017. India is vehemently opposed to subject itself to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Estonia also called upon India to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

Portugal, Guatemala, Ireland Mozambique, Greece, Namibia, Rwanda, Belgium. Lithuania, Italy, Spain, Australia, Montenegro, Timor-Leste and France had raised it in May.

How many more countries will it take and how many more judicial killings will it take in India to prove that the killing of any human is wrong?

Estonia also expressed concern about judicial delay and the attacks on freedom of expression in India. This had also been raised earlier by Ethiopia. It also raised the issue of constriction of space for civil society.

Canada, Sweden, Pakistan, Switzerland, had referred to it in May. Another Baltic state, Lithuania and a member state of the European Union made similar calls to India. Many other country statements were not made orally yesterday due to paucity of time.

Of interest was the statement of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). It was a vastly improved statement than the one made in May. Though the NHRC claims it differs from the Home Ministry on the proposed deportation of Rohingya refugees, it is yet to intervene in the Supreme Court.

And yesterday, Home minister Rajnath Singh launched another diatribe against them.

The NHRC’s accreditation to the Global Alliance of National Human Institutions (GANHRI) is coming up in mid November 2017. Kenya and Slovakia had urged India to sign and ratify the Refugee Convention and conventions of Statelessness of 1954 and 1961 in May.

Some of the key recommendations made by countries that were merely “noted” in UN jargon, India can no longer “reject” recommendations, it can only take “note” of them, related to anti conversion laws. The Holy See had requested that India strengthen efforts to guarantee freedom of religion to everyone in this world’s largest democracy.

Italy, Germany, Netherlands, amongst others, said India must abolish anti-conversion laws with relation to religions or make the legislation less vague. Meanwhile, only in August, the BJP-ruled state of Jharkhand, passed a new anti-conversion law.

A number of countries focused attention on the need to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and expressed concern about the excessive use of force by security personnel, Switzerland, Slovakia, France, Peru, Greece, Pakistan and Sierra Leone among others.

While Germany, Norway, Republic of Korea, the US and the Czech Republic all called for amendment of the draconian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. India must start dealing with these issues with political will, as the international community is unlikely to let up scrutiny of its human rights record.

Once again, India promises to ratify Torture convention in Geneva

The Statesman – Divisive politics ruining India’s reputation abroad: Rahul

New York, 21 September 2017. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi took a strong hit at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, saying that “divisive politics” was ruining India’s reputation of peace and harmony abroad.

Speaking at an event on Wednesday here organised by the Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC), Gandhi said India has many religions and different languages and people have been able to live happily together because of the ideas of the Congress.

He said the single biggest thing that people asked him during his incumbent visit to the US was: “What happened to the tolerance that prevailed in India? What happened to the harmony?”

“For thousands of years, India has had a reputation of peace and harmony. This is being challenged.

“There are forces in our country that are dividing the country. It is very dangerous for the country and it ruins our reputation abroad… Divisive politics is going on and it has to be fought,” Gandhi said.

“India’s reputation in the world is very important. The world is transforming and people are looking towards us.

“Many countries in a violent world are looking towards India and saying may be India has the answer for the 21st century, maybe India has the answer for peaceful coexistence.”

“So we cannot afford to lose our most powerful asset. Our most powerful asset is that 1.3 billion people lived happily, non-violently, peacefully… This is something that as Congress people, every single one of us has to defend,” he added.

Gandhi said India belonged to all its people.

“I can see my Sikh brothers, I can see people from different states, India does not belong to any one of you. India belongs to this entire room, India belongs to single one of us and that is what the Congress party is.”

Gandhi said Congress as an organisation was more than a century old but Congress as an idea was thousands of years old.

“We do not represent an organisation, we represent a philosophy that is thousands and thousands of years old.”

He said the freedom fighters and people who sought to transform India had stood for the truth.

“It does not matter what is standing against them. When they believe in something and are convinced that it is truth, they stand up for it and pay the price for it. That is the Congress idea.”

Gandhi termed the Non-Resident Indians (NRI) “as the backbone of the country” and said he was keen to involve them in the work of the party to discuss its vision forward.

Referring to the challenges faced by the country, he said 30,000 youngsters were entering job market everyday but only 450 jobs were being created.

“This is the single biggest challenge in front of our country and it can be solved by building unified approach. India cannot give youngsters a vision if it is unable to give them jobs.”

He alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s focus was on 50-60 large companies and small businesses and entrepreneurs need to be empowered to create jobs.

The Congress leader said India has huge opportunities in the healthcare sector and added that developing cold chains will help increase incomes of farmers.

Gandhi said he had met leaders from the Democratic and Republican Party during his two week visit and was asked about the prevailing situation in the country.

“They have asked me what is going on in your country. We always believed that your country worked together, we always believed your country was peaceful. What is going on in your country,” he added.

Outside the event venue, a small group of Sikhs held a protest against the Congress Party’s role in the 1984 riots.