Dawn – India vs Pakistan

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Op/Ed, 21 February 2020. Earlier this week, while wrapping up the high-profile case of peaceful protestors arrested and charged with sedition in the federal capital in late January, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah asserted the inviolability of citizens’ constitutional rights and made the pointed remark: “This is Pakistan, not India”.

In truth, the CJ was commenting less on India than on the imperative of constitutional courts in Pakistan defending the social contract, and political dissidents in particular, from state excess. Our democracy is, at best, fragile. Superior courts have often sided with the establishment, and military dictators in particular.

The proceedings in the said case, then, set an important precedent for whose side constitutional courts should take in times to come.

Yet the reference to India did not go unnoticed. Narendra Modi’s BJP is increasingly turning India into a theatre of the absurd, approximating the most draconian regimes history has known. The political executive, and, in some cases, superior courts, are constantly running roughshod over citizen’s rights.

Police and paramilitaries are making a habit of beating up, arresting and disappearing ordinary people. Right-wing vigilante mobs appear to have license to attack vulnerable populations and anti-government protestors at will.

In both India and Pakistan, these dark times, and the chances are that things could get darker still, also represent an unprecedented opportunity for progressive constituencies on both sides of the border to close ranks, not only to arrest the current wave of authoritarianism, but overturn the entire narrative of enmity and distrust that has persisted since soon after the British partitioned the subcontinent.

These dark times also represent an unprecedented opportunity

India and Pakistan are not the only states in our world to have come into being on the back of European colonial rule and cultivated state nationalisms to the detriment of the majority of their people. There are many adjacent states in Africa, for instance, which have been at loggerheads since formal independence. Think Ethiopia and Eritrea, for instance.

But India and Pakistan are literally home to one-fifth of the world’s population, the subcontinent is more at risk of climate disasters than any other region and, perhaps most significantly, both countries are experiencing massive youth bulges with access to an increasingly digitalised public sphere unprecedented in size and scope.

It is of course true that both countries have different postcolonial histories. Many observers see Pakistan as a praetorian state in which the military establishment has remained the arbiter of the polity virtually since its inception. India, on the other hand, is viewed as a more functional bourgeois state with deeper democratic foundations in the trenches of civil society, including educational institutions and media.

Yet these stylised narratives gloss over the shared legacies of colonialism, most notably the thana, katcheri and patwari. Moreover, everyday politics in both countries is heavily structured by entrenched caste, religious, gender and class faultiness that make political parties outlets for patronage rather than carriers of universal programmatic change.

Perhaps most significantly, in both countries, the coercive apparatus of the state has brutalised its peripheries.

It requires deep introspection for ordinary people on both sides to transcend nationalist proclamations of ‘our’ country being better than ‘their’ country. We Pakistanis have always struggled to do so due to the state’s foundations, official historiographies of the unitary Muslim ‘nation’ and the institutionalised power of the religious right.

The rise of the RSS to state power in India has made it even easier for hawks on our side of the border to peddle an ‘us versus them’ narrative as Muslims in India become the most prominent target of the Hindutva project.

Indian progressives also face an uphill battle to stem the tide of hateful nationalist rhetoric. The universities and media entities that housed the dissidents of Indian democracy are being flushed out by mobs. Meanwhile, social media, as we know in this country as well, gives progressive voices an outlet, but also ample opportunity for right-wing hawks to coalesce around simplistic and hateful slogans.

Yet to reduce the current conjuncture to just doom and gloom is to ignore what is qualitatively different about it. Young people can recognise the ‘other’ and the parallels between our polities in ways that were arguably impossible in the past. New forms of solidarity are emerging in Pakistan and India between central regions and peripheries, and, increasingly, across the borders of both states as well.

It may be a long haul, but there is hope yet that ‘India vs Pakistan’ eventually gives way to a shared future beyond militarism, establishments and hate.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.


Dawn – India summons Turkish envoy over Erdogan’s remarks on Kashmir

New Delhi – India, 18 February 2020. India summoned the Turkish ambassador on Monday to lodge a diplomatic protest over President Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks on occupied Kashmir and warned it would have a bearing on bilateral ties.

During a visit to Pakistan last week, Erdogan said the situation in occupied Kashmir was worsening because of sweeping changes New Delhi introduced in the Muslim-majority region and that Turkey stood in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

India told Turkish envoy Sakir Ozkan Torunlar that Erdogan’s comments lacked any understanding of the history of the Kashmir dispute, the Indian foreign ministry said.

“This recent episode is but one more example of a pattern of Turkey interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. India finds that completely unacceptable,” foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.

He said that India had served a strong demarche, or formal diplomatic note.

India withdrew Kashmir’s special status in August of last year and brought it under federal rule. Pakistan slammed the measure and other Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey and Malaysia joined in calls for India to reconsider its actions.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has put curbs on palm oil imports from Malaysia in retaliation and officials have said it is planning to cut some imports from Turkey as well.

“These developments have strong implications for our bilateral relations,” the foreign ministry spokesman said, referring to Erdogan’s comments.

Erdogan told Pakistan’s parliament that the Kashmir problem cannot be solved through pressure but on the basis of justice and fairness.


Dawn – Hafiz Saeed’s conviction

Op/Ed, 14 February 2020. The verdict on the terror financing cases involving Jamaatud Dawa supremo Hafiz Saeed on Wednesday is a major development as this country tries to dismantle the active militant infrastructure.

Saeed was, of course, the driving force behind Lashkar-e-Taiba, before dissociating from it when it was banned to go on to establish JuD. Formed as the US-backed Afghan jihad was winding down in the late 1980s, the Kashmir-centric Lashkar became one of the most violent and well-organised militant groups in South Asia.

The lawyer of the veteran jihadi leader, who along with an aide was convicted by an antiterrorism court, says they will appeal the judgement in the Lahore High Court.

Saeed’s counsel argues that his client was convicted for no other reason than due to FATF “pressure” ahead of its upcoming meeting. Whether FATF was a consideration, it does appear that there is a growing realisation in the government and security establishment that nurturing or ignoring such violent actors was a dangerous policy, and that the time had come to put an end to their activities.

The fact is that using militant actors as tools of foreign policy is a failed strategy. This seems to be the understanding at the top in Islamabad.

While world powers, including those who are now asking Pakistan to ‘do more’, were at one time proponents of using religious militants against state or non-state opponents, today they have publicly ditched this strategy.

Moreover, using such proxies has brought nothing but problems for Pakistan, with the UN listing Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist.

Besides involvement in foreign theatres, and the ensuing opprobrium this has brought Pakistan, the fact is that LeT/JuD fighters have also contributed to instability within the country.

The organisation has maintained links with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as with elements that evolved into the Punjabi Taliban. Considering these precedents, it can only be welcomed that Saeed has been sent to prison.

Another major point that the conviction of the JuD chief raises is that, in Pakistan, militant groups are proscribed while their leaders and cadres continue to operate as per routine.

Perhaps the sentencing of Hafiz Saeed will help change this situation.

For example, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Musharraf administration outlawed a host of jihadi and sectarian groups, but they continued to operate without hindrance and merely changed their names.

The fact is that this country’s jihadi infrastructure, built under General Zia-ul-Haq’s watch with American ‘guidance’ and Saudi money, should have been dismantled a long time ago.

While the mistakes of the past cannot be undone, a new course can surely be charted by ensuring that no armed groups espousing violence within or outside the country are allowed to operate in Pakistan. This will help improve the country’s standing externally, and help keep the peace domestically.


Dawn – Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday said India’s ruling Bhartya Janata Party (BJP) was facing imminent defeat in New Delhi polls due to premier Narendra Modi’s contentious moves concerning new citizenship laws.

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 10 February 2020. Addressing a gathering of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) in Islamabad, the foreign minister said several countries that had deepened their ties with India, were reevaluating their relationships after the government’s questionable moves in occupied Kashmir and its introduction of discriminatory laws.

“However, while it it true that everyone speaks of ethics and doing the right thing, their actions are always in line with safeguarding their own economic interests.”

He further said that India’s economic growth has halved since the BJP came back into power. “We are worried that India may try to stage a Pulwama-like false flag operation to move its own peoples’ focus on Pakistan, instead of on its own economic situation,” Qureshi said.

Speaking of economic growth and stability, Qureshi said, “The world will take Pakistan seriously when we are financially stable.

“That is why I am here today, so that we can come up with ways for the foreign ministry to facilitate the finance ministry and other ministries in establishing contact with other countries and forging better ties with them.

“This will help us learn from them and also work with them,” Qureshi said while adding that Pakistan has seen deindustrialisation in recent years.

“The question is about when this process started. If industries are shutting down now, something must have happened in the past few years to have triggered the process. No one sets an industry up with the feasibility of a year or six months in mind, they think years ahead of time.

“However, I am not here to place blame or play politics, I am here to find a way forward,” the foreign minister said.


Dawn – PTI Lahore leader apologises over posters offensive to Hindus

Rana Bilal

Lahore – Panjab – India, 06 February 2020. A Lahore-based leader of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has issued an apology after he came under fire on social media for putting up banners that contained text deemed offensive to Hindus.

The banners featuring the image of Mian Akram Usman, the PTI Lahore general secretary, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah were put were up in connection with Kashmir Solidarity Day, which was observed across the country on 05 February.

The poster was accompanied by the text “Hindu baat ne nahi, laat se maanta hai” (Hindus cannot be reasoned with using words but by force). After coming under criticism on social media, Usman took to Twitter to apologise to “all peacefully living ‘Hindus’ [on] both sides of the border”.

When approached for a comment, Usman told Dawn News TV that he had asked his printer to prepare posters in connection with Kashmir day which should have text critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The printer “misunderstood” and replaced the word “Modi” with “Hindu” on the banners, the PTI office-bearer claimed. Dawn.com is trying to reach the concerned printing service for comment.

Later, while responding to a Twitter user, Usman said the posters had been removed “immediately” after they came to his notice. “I’m not the one who [gets] stuck on mistakes,” he wrote.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari in a tweet on Thursday said the PTI general secretary had been “reprimanded and posters were taken off immediately”.

She termed it “a shameful and ignorant approach by the individual”.


Dawn – FBR report finds high-ranking officials involved in large-scale corruption

Mubarak Zeb Khan

Islamabad – Islamabad Capital Territory, 02 February 2020. The Customs Intelligence Department has unearthed a network of top officials involved in large-scale misdeclarations of description and value of imported goods in over 900 containers causing losses worth billions to the national exchequer.

The misdeclarations at several collectorates were detected a few months ago especially at the Karachi-based collectorates, Torkham Customs Stations and Collectorate of Appraisement in Quetta, but the issue was placed on cold burner for months.

Official documents seen by Dawn and background interviews with senior tax officials showed that those posted as ‘collectors or chief collectors’ are linked to political circles or top bureaucracy at the federal level and are using this clout to their advantage and causing huge revenue losses to the national exchequer.

The corruption in customs department has become so vivid at the collectorate level that DG Customs Intelligence Muhammad Zahid had sent several letters to FBR Chairman Shabbar Zaidi for taking action against the involved officials.

A special report on fraud at Customs Station, Torkham was also sent to the chairman on 06 December 2019. Similarly, several reports regarding corruption at Appraisement Collectorate Quetta, Port Qasim Collectorate and Appraisement East were also sent to the chairman.

However, no action was taken against those officers involved in the corruption.

One of the much-awaited actions was taken on Friday when few customs officers posted in Peshawar and Quetta were transferred and relieved from their job with immediate effect. “Few names of senior customs officers posted in Karachi were dropped at the highest level before issuing the notification”, a source in the FBR told Dawn.

To investigate the level of revenue loss and corruption, the government has given responsibility of the inquiry to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). “We have requested the FIA to investigate the case of Torkham and Quetta”, the source added.

But, Chief Collector North Dr Asif Mehmood Jah told Dawn that he has also initiated an inquiry into the scam.

However, he said that he was not aware of the scam even though some of the instances of misdeclarations were also reported at Islamabad dry port, Islamabad airport and Sust Dry Port, which fall under his jurisdiction. “I will complete my inquiry in two weeks”, he claimed.

As per reports sent by DG intelligence to FBR chairman, 355 containers of imported goods were cleared without duty and taxes at Customs Station, Torkham. All these containers were released on fake goods’ declarations.

The FIA will also investigate the role and responsibility of directorate officials, who have failed to detect the scam.

According to a senior customs intelligence official, the Customs Station, Torkham case is very unique in the way that trucks carrying imported goods passed through the station without filing mandatory declaration and paying duty and taxes.

The network is so powerful that even Prime Minister Imran Khan openly commented on it.

In a public speech given at Pind Dadan Khan on Dec 26, 2019, PM Imran Khan had referred to corruption in the customs department. “We found one collector customs in one area who was earning Rs 70 crore per month,” he said during that speech.

A Quetta-based customs official confirmed to Dawn regarding an incident of misdeclaration, clearance of refined steel as scrap and diesel especially at Taftan Border Station.

“We have conveyed to the FBR officially and unofficially about these corruption [instances]”, said the official while adding that no one will believe the FBR was not aware of the widespread corruption at the Quetta Collectorate.

On 21 May 2019 a Customs General Order (CGO) no.5 was issued which clearly mentioned role and responsibilities of chief collectors. One of the responsibilities of chief collector is to inspect collectorates and sub-ordinate offices.

However, chief collector was stopped from involvement in the day-to-day operational matters of collectorates. One senior customs officer believed the CGO was issued to stop collectors from monitoring collectors especially those associated with the network and powers were shifted to member customs operation.

According to sources at the intelligence office, more than 500 containers were detected in which misdeclaration was also detected involving billions of rupees in tax evasion in Karachi. “We have sent a report of more than 100 containers of steel trade misdeclarations to the FBR which were confiscated”, the source said, it involved tax in the range of Rs1-1.5bn.

The refined steel was cleared at ports for export processing zones duty-free which were actually diverted for other purposes. However, it is estimated that the number of containers cleared from Karachi port on the pretext of export processing zones was well above 500.

Some officials believe the total number of containers could be more than 1,500 but it could not be confirmed officially.

Under the garb of Landa (used garments), electronic goods were cleared at Karachi ports. “We have sent all these reports to the FBR”, the source said adding the tax authority has yet to take any action against people involved in the corruption.

According to sources, DG office sent several letters about the misdeclarations at Port Qasim, Appraisement East and many other offices.

Now, it is the responsibility of high ups to take action against these officers who are still enjoying their positions.


Dawn – Not just the Economist: Modi’s image in the global press has taken a beating in the last two months

From western media to publications in India’s neighbourhood, Narendra Modi’s second term has invited much more criticism.

New Delhi – India, 24 January 2020. Narendra Modi was once known globally as the Indian politician who presided over the violent Gujarat riots. Despite being a chief minister, Modi was in 2005 denied a visa to the United States, which found him responsible for violating religious freedoms in the 2002 riots that saw more than 1,000 people killed.

In the decade that followed, Modi managed to resuscitate his global image, such that he was a perceived as a business-friendly, efficient politician who was on track to lead India.

Now, nearly two decades after those riots and six years after Modi became prime minister of India, global coverage is once again bringing scrutiny to the Hindu nationalist policies of his government that have sparked countrywide protests over the last month.

This week’s cover of The Economist, titled “Intolerant India: How Modi is endangering the world’s biggest democracy”, drives this home clearly.

But it is not just The Economist.

Global media across the board has drawn attention to Modi’s divisive moves in recent months. After winning re-election in 2019, Modi has used his second term to double down on his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda, most prominently by stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy and passing a controversial piece of legislation that adds religious criteria to India’s citizenship laws.

Many believe the moves are meant to drive home the idea that India belongs to Hindus.

While in some cases the reports were written by Indians, including opinion pieces by analysts offering their own commentary, the coverage makes it clear that those following the news about India from afar have been made aware of the controversial nature of Modi’s second term.

This has happened even as Modi has convinced his base that both his own reputation and that of India has risen tremendously over the last year. Here are some of the pieces in the foreign press:

Israel’s Ha’aretz carried a piece in December 2019 by Khinvraj Jangid, headlined: ‘Modi’s Malignant anti-Muslim Vision for India Is Becoming Reality’:

“Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was deeply concerned with the fate of democracy in Asia. He was proud of the fact that Israel was founded, amidst regional violence, as a democracy in 1948, and believed India, founded a year earlier, offered great hope in Asia thanks to its democratic, secular and egalitarian ambitions.

Ben-Gurion’s admiration for Nehru’s vision was not dulled by the fact that even a full decade after India recognized Israel in 1950, New Delhi was still reluctant to establish diplomatic relations.

But now, under the premiership of Narendra Modi, precisely the values that Ben-Gurion and many other world leaders so admired are being systematically undermined in India.”

“India is a Hindu state now, we are second-class citizens”, reads the headline of a report from the UK’s The Times on January 10. The report begins with this harrowing anecdote:

The crowd scattered and word spread up the street in panic: “Police, police.” While protesters scrambled to flee over the rooftops of the block in old Lucknow, dozens of officers burst in below, raining blows on women and children. The Muslim families cowered from their attackers.

“Take her veil off, check if she’s a man,” one officer yelled, pointing to Salma Hussain, 29, who wept as she recalled the humiliation. The women were groped and officers commented on their breasts as they beat them.

“One man put a gun to my head,” said Tabasum Raza, 26. “He said: ‘Tell me where the men are hiding or I’ll shoot you.’”

China’s Global Times carried the perspective of an academic seeking to explain what he sees the difference between Chinese nationalism’s motivations and those of India’s Hindu nationalism:

“The rise of Hindu nationalism has broader implications for international politics. Hindu nationalism tends to be motivated by winning, which needs constant victories and reputation to nurture itself, or it will lose the driving force or even destroy development, unlike nationalism in China, which tends to be triggered by sorrowful sentiment, when the country is being invaded or bullied.

Therefore, Hindu nationalism will not be satisfied to be only the dominant force within India. It will push the country to pursue higher international status, from permanent membership in the UN Security Council to dominance in the Indian Ocean and South Asia and eventually a major world power, to satisfy the need for victory and reputation.”

Russia Today is a rare outlier, carrying a piece by an Indian academic defending Modi’s actions and claiming that the protests are anti-democratic.

“It is difficult to understand how India, the world’s largest representative democracy that concluded a massive electoral exercise in 2019, has turned overnight into an “autocracy.” The BJP, that forms the federal government at the Center, has suffered recent reverses in state elections to further underline the vibrancy of India’s democracy.

If liberal democracies around the world are facing a threat, it is not from populist leaders but “liberals” themselves who are unable to come to terms with reality. A little humility may help.”

It isn’t just in the West. The critical coverage of India is apparent in the neighbourhood too.

One might expect such pieces from the Pakistani press, since the discourse around the current controversy has seen Modi and his government once again attempt to deflect pressure by blaming Islamabad, but in other South Asian countries also, questions are being asked about Modi’s leadership.

A piece in Bangladesh’s Daily Star brings up the likely impact it may have on the country.

“The Act clearly brought into the open how the BJP government of India views Bangladesh. Such negative depiction has been an affront for the people of Bangladesh. The rolling out of the NRC and the application of CAA are likely to have grave consequences for Bangladesh.

It is time for those at the helm of the state to discard the rhetoric, take stock of these developments and collectively develop a national strategy to face the likely challenge.” The Annapurna Express in Nepal carried an interview of political scientist Hari Sharma, explaining what is different between the politics of India and his country:

“We did try politics based on religion by introducing the threat of Christians but that did not play out well. But in India, Hindutva is propagated against Islam. In India religion is divisive or a faultline, just like in the USA race is a fault-line. In our country, religion is not a fault line so far. But if we learn bad things from India, it could become a faultline.”

Returning to the West, on Monkey Cage, a Washington Post blog, one analyst explained why it was significant that the protesters are holding up the Indian flag and the Constitution at demonstrations.

“This is why the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Registry of Citizens are so explosive.

They are only the latest in a string of recently enacted BJP policies that restrict national belonging, including revoking the autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority region; accompanied by an ongoing military siege; rewriting textbooks to promote the BJP’s political program and ideology; and condoning violence against Muslims.

Together, these policies constitute a systematic BJP project to violently redraw the boundaries of national belonging to include only the ethnic-majority Hindus and to exclude ethnic minorities, notably Muslims. This rejects the secular, multicultural principles upon which India was founded and which are embodied in the flag, the anthem and, most explicitly, the constitution.

By invoking these symbols, the protesters in India are drawing on this historic, inclusive vision of their country.”

The Washington Post’s coverage, in fact, seems to have bothered Modi enough that when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the newspaper, announced that he was planning to invest another $1 billion into India earlier this month, a Union minister said he was not doing the country any favours.

Another leader from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party explained that several comments about Bezos were indeed about The Washington Post’s coverage of India.

This brings up the other narrative that is accompanying a lot of the critical pieces written about India over the last few months. It is not just that Modi has moved forward on his Hindu nationalist agenda. This has also come at a time when India, once seen as a rising power that could challenge China in the region, has seen its economic fortunes nosedive.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, it is the combination of controversial moves and a slowing economy that is adding to the global concerns about India, enough for the International Monetary Fund to say that the country is dragging down the world economy, while another report cites India as being at “extreme risk” of civil unrest.

Here is the Journal’s Bill Spindle:

“Since [his May 2019 re-election] Mr. Modi has paused only briefly to address the economy—most notably with a big corporate tax cut after the election, as the BJP has raced to accomplish controversial initiatives long espoused by the party’s most ideological Hindu nationalist supporters.

Each move sparked criticism and questioning from abroad and increased anxiety among some domestically, particularly Muslims and a wider group of Indians concerned the country’s democracy is turning in a religiously intolerant and majoritarian direction.

Yet even as social discontent rises, the economy’s stubborn sluggishness looms as a largely unaddressed menace that could exacerbate those problems, say many economists.”


Dawn – Hasina, Karzai join criticism of Indian citizenship law

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 20 January 2020. Bangladesh and Afghanistan have opposed India’s controversial law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which cites the two together with Pakistan as the three neighbours that discriminate against non-Muslim minorities.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Hindu that the law which excludes Muslims and woos Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from the three countries for citizenship rights should be extended to everyone equally.

“We don’t have persecuted minorities in Afghanistan, the whole country is persecuted. We have been in war and conflict for a long time. All religions in Afghanistan, Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs, which are our three main religions, have suffered,” Mr Karzai said.

He was speaking to The Hindu during a visit to Delhi where he addressed the inaugural session of the government’s Raisina Dialogue. Mr Karzai said he hoped the sentiment that minorities must be protected “would be reflected in India with regard to other Afghans, who are Muslim, as well.”

Mr Karzai’s comments, differing from New Delhi’s view are significant, given that he has been seen as a strong friend of India. Like many Afghan leaders, Mr Karzai has also lived in India for several years beginning in 1976, and has studied in Shimla.

In December, India’s foreign ministry had clarified that the CAA referred to past attacks against minorities in Afghanistan and that the current government had “substantially addressed the concerns of the minority communities as per their constitutional provisions.”

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, seen as a key regional ally of India’s rightwing Hindu revivalist government, criticised the new law in an interview with Dubai’s Gulf News, saying the new law was not necessary.

Ms Hasina said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had personally assured her that a related new measure, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), was an internal matter of India that would not affect her people.

But the NRC is being implemented in Assam, and is proposed to be extended across the country, with a view to sending back alleged illegal Bangladeshi migrants to their country.

Home Minister Amit Shah has said the proposed countrywide NRC would be used to evict Muslim “termites”.

“We don’t understand why (the Indian government) did it. It was not necessary,” Ms Hasina told Gulf News in Abu Dhabi where she held high-level meetings. The statement is the first by the Bangladesh leader since the disputed law, that has triggered protests across India, was cleared by the Rajya Sabha on 11 December.

During the parliamentary debates, Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly referred to persecution faced by minority communities, mainly the Hindus, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan arguing that these groups should get citizenship rights in India. Ms Hasina distanced her country from the line taken by the Indian government.

“It is an internal affair. Bangladesh has always maintained that the CAA and NRC are internal matters of India.

The government of India, on their part, has also repeatedly maintained that the NRC is an internal exercise of India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in person assured me of the same during my visit to New Delhi in October 2019,” she said.

Ms Hasina’s government has said that minority communities did not leave her country because of persecution and maintained that there is no reverse migration from India either. “But within India, people are facing many problems,” she declared.


Dawn – To defuse palm oil row, Davos diplomacy likely between India – Malaysia

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 18 January 2020. Trade ministers from India and Malaysia are likely to meet on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos next week amid a palm oil spat between the two countries, a Malaysian government spokesman told Reuters on Friday.

Hindu-majority India has repeatedly objected to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaking out against its recent policies which critics say discriminate against Muslims.

Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, is the second-biggest producer and exporter of palm oil and India’s restrictions on the refined variety of the commodity imposed last week have been seen as a retaliation for Mahathir’s criticism of New Delhi’s actions.

India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal denied on Thursday that the government was trying to hit out at Malaysia in particular.

The row between the countries, nevertheless, pushed benchmark Malaysian palm futures to its biggest weekly decline in more than 11 years on Friday.

No agenda has been set for the proposed meeting between Goyal and his Malaysian counterpart Darell Leiking on Friday, the spokesman for Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry said, adding that the request for a meeting had come from India.

An Indian government source said a meeting was indeed likely with Leiking. A spokeswoman for India’s trade ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported on Thursday that Malaysia did not want to escalate the palm spat with India by talking of any retaliation for now, after Mahathir’s media adviser called for tighter regulations on Indian expatriates and products. Malaysia instead wants to rely on diplomacy.

A separate Indian government source said it was important for New Delhi also to talk things out with Malaysia.

“We too have a lot to lose in Malaysia, there are 2 million Indian-origin people there,” the source said.

There were a total of 117,733 Indian nationals registered as foreign labour in Malaysia as at June 2019, accounting for nearly six per cent of the total foreign workforce in the country. Ethnic Malaysian-Indians are the third-largest community in the Southeast Asian country.

Another reason for frosty ties between the countries is the continued presence of controversial Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik in Malaysia, said one of the sources.

Naik, who faces charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, has lived in Malaysia for more than three years and has permanent residency in the country. He denies the Indian accusations.

The sources declined to be identified as they were not authorised to talk to the media.


Dawn – USA deplores detentions, internet ban in occupied Kashmir

Anwar Iqbal

Washington DC – USA, 13 January 2020. The chief USA diplomat for South Asian affairs, Alice Wells, has expressed concern over continued detentions and internet-shutdown in occupied Kashmir, days before her visit to New Delhi for bilateral talks.

“Closely following USA ambassador to India and other foreign diplomats’ recent trip to Jammu & Kashmir. Important step,” she wrote in a tweet posted on the official website of the US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

“We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents, and internet restrictions. We look forward to a return to normalcy,” she added.

Kashmir has no internet access for more than 150 days.

Ms Wells will reach New Delhi on 15 January on a three-day visit that includes talks with senior Indian officials on bilateral and regional issues. She will then proceed to Islamabad on a similar, three-day visit that will begin on 19 January.

On Thursday, the Modi government arranged a “guided tour” for some New Delhi-based diplomats to the occupied valley, the first after India scrapped the region’s autonomous status five months ago.

“European Union envoys declined an invitation, apparently because the visit did not include meetings with three former chief ministers, who continue to be in detention and whose parties dominated Kashmiri politics,” reported an American broadcaster, Voice of America.

But US ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, accompanied the group, which met Indian military officials, politicians and journalists selected by Indian security services.

India showcased the visit to support its claim that normalcy is returning to the troubled region, where a strict clampdown imposed in August paralysed life as authorities imposed a dusk to dawn curfew.

Indian authorities also imposed unprecedented restrictions on both social and conventional media and disconnected cellphones. Indian security forces also arrested hundreds of Kashmiris, including senior politicians. Most of them remain in detention and the internet suspended.

The diplomats from more than a dozen countries were driven in a motorcade from the airport amid tight security and the areas they visited were also selected by Indian officials.

“Although access for diplomats, rights activists and foreign journalists to Kashmir has always been controlled, India has further restricted travel to the region for both foreigners and Indian opposition leaders,” VOA noted.

The USA broadcaster reported that Indian opposition parties were criticising the government for not allowing their leaders to visit the region while taking diplomats on what they called a “guided tour”.

“Essentially, the government wants to demonstrate that everything is normal in Kashmir, which is far from the reality,” said Congress Party leader Manish Tewari.

Besides Ambassador Juster, the diplomats who visited Kashmir represented Norway, Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

“It’s all about trying to improve the optics,” Manoj Joshi, a foreign affairs analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi told VOA. “Around the world, the government’s handling of the domestic situation has been getting huge amount of negative attention.”

Although Indian succeeded in “persuading” Washington to sends its ambassador, “its other good friend France hid behind the European Union decision not to go on the guided tour,” reported an Indian media outlet, ThePrint.

“Brazilian ambassador to India, Andre Aranha Correa do Lago, didn’t travel to Srinagar although his name was on the list,” the report added.