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Indian Press ( 4 Jan 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press on Anti-Conversion Law, Assam Bill on Govt Madrasas and Brewing Uprising in Pakistan: New Age Islam's Selection, 4 January 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

4 January 2021

• UP Anti-Conversion Law Overturns Social Culture of Law-Making in Modern India

By Pradip Kumar Datta

• Assam Bill on Govt Madrasas: Another ‘Attack’ On Minority Rights?

By Dr. Adil Hossain

• 2020 Has Been Horrible Year For India For Reasons That Have Nothing To Do With Pandemic

By Tavleen Singh

• Key Constitutional Values Invoked Last Year Must Be Built On

By Ritwika Sharma

• This Decade Will Be Decisive For Democracy, Capitalism

By Shashi Shekhar

• Battered Economy, Brewing Uprising In Pakistan Means India Can’t Rule Out Adventurism In 2021

By Tara Kartha


UP Anti-Conversion Law Overturns Social Culture of Law-Making In Modern India

By Pradip Kumar Datta

January 4, 2021

The Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samaparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh 2020, known as the “love jihad” law, dramatically expands the scope of prohibitions against conversion, with catastrophic implications for inter-faith marriage.

The most effective feature of the ordinance are the procedures it stipulates for identifying illegitimate conversions. Conversions immediately preceding or succeeding marriage are prohibited. This is, of course, not a major impediment since a person can conceivably convert much before or much after marriage. But the actual act of conversion is made dangerous. This is done by adding “allurement” for conversion as a cognisable and non-bailable offence. Allurement takes the form of “material benefit”, employment, free education in “reputed schools”, “better lifestyle”, even “divine displeasure”. A gift can be accepted to strengthen social bonds; a school can be attended from a desire for education; but the same person may convert for reasons of faith — not for the “temptation” of gifts or of good education. How can the motivation to convert be established on the basis of what is really a coincidence of different actions?

The law provides a remarkable solution. Overturning accepted principles of justice, the “burden of proof” is on the accused. The law agencies do not have to bother about proving guilt; instead, the accused will have to run from pillar to post to show evidence of innocence. If this were not enough, a FIR can be lodged by any member of the family related through blood, marriage or adoption. Picture this scenario: An interfaith couple announces an intention to marry and this does not suit an unknown relative, who charges one of the partners with illegal conversion. To prove innocence in an already overburdened and slow-moving court system will take up a great part of one’s life.

In the case of conversion, this is doubly dangerous since the ordinance envisions no measures to protect the intended convert. On the contrary, the precise details of the probable convert will be displayed outside the DM’s office. There is little room for escaping the ministrations of the love terminators.

The testimony of the converted is not even mentioned in the document. What does the converted think of the conversion? Why has he or she converted? None of these questions that give personhood to the converted is mentioned in the procedures. Instead of giving the basic right of conscience to the individual, it is the police who are given the task of verifying the legitimacy of the conversion. Given the connection between conversion and inter-faith unions popularised by vigilante and police action, it is only logical to assume that the police can interfere with any inter-faith marriage.

Indeed, just after the ordinance, a consensual marriage with approval of the respective families was investigated by the UP police on the complaint of Hindu Yuva Vahini. Even the family no longer matters. It is the police with the backing of vigilante groups that can intervene at will.

The campaign against inter-faith unions is not new. About a century ago, an organisation called the Women’s Protection League, headed by lawyers and newspapermen, alleged that Muslim “goondas” were abducting Hindu women. They indiscriminately lumped together actual cases of physical kidnappings and sexual exploitation with consensual unions. Often the league’s narrative was refuted by the woman saying she had consented or had the approval of parents. The campaign did not cause physical violence. Nonetheless, their high-voltage publicity generated a tremendous sharpening of communal ill-will. It contributed to the repudiation of the heritage of the Non-cooperation-Khilafat movement. Interestingly, there was a turnaround a decade later. Under a different leadership, the League cited statistics showing that both Hindu and Muslim goondas abducted women. It also probed the family oppression of women, which led to their being entrapped in cases of actual abduction.

Jumping to our time, the UP ordinance shows that despite the lack of evidence of “love jihad” (testified by SIT probes), the organised insistence on a fictional conversion conspiracy has managed to have its way. In the process, it has plugged many of the embarrassing holes, such as the question of choice, that plagued the League campaign.

The ordinance also promises to overturn the social culture of law-making in modern India. Let me take two milestones in the making of modern law. The foundational moment is Rammohun Roy and his campaign to outlaw widow burning. Roy’s motivation for the campaign was to insist on the personhood and autonomy of the widow. He believed this would produce a society that would be bound together by mutual compassion and sympathy. The decisive moment is that of Ambedkar. A crucial concern for Ambedkar was with fraternity that could only be ensured by providing individual liberty and by gradually equalising opportunities for social segments. Fraternity was notably lacking in Indian society and it was the duty of law to provide its foundations. For both Roy and Ambedkar, the purpose of law was to remake social relations.

While neither thinker spoke on inter-faith marriages, it is significant that Roy was suspected of converting (even if he did not) while Ambedkar actually converted. More than anything else, it is clear that the ideal of fraternity is one that is served by inter-faith unions that may or may not include conversions. It promises a place where a range of modern syncretic cultures can develop alongside others. In a letter to a couple who braved communal tensions to enter an inter-faith marriage, Rabindranath Tagore wrote that love has its own rules that are not bound by dharma or varna. It is our culture of law-making that sanctions the exploration of the unknown, the experiments with truths, that are at grave risk in this drive to what may be called fraternicide.


Pradip Kumar Datta is a former professor of political thought at JNU


Assam Bill on Govt Madrasas: Another ‘Attack’ On Minority Rights?

By Dr. Adil Hossain

02 Jan 2021

When the Assam government passed a bill to abolish all the state-run madrasas and Sanskrit tols in the state with serious objection from the opposition parties in the assembly, the state's Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the intent was only to 'secularise' education.

While arguing that the government “cannot allow teaching religious education with public money”, a government note also emphasised that they would convert 97 Sanskrit tols in the state.

A Bid To ‘Save’ Assamese Culture & Civilisation

Opposition parties like the Congress and Badruddin Ajmal's All Indian United Democratic Front (AIUDF) questioned the government's intent by alleging that the bill would polarise Assam ahead of the 2021 assembly elections.

They are right to be apprehensive of such a move as minister Sarma had earlier declared that the upcoming elections would seen as a battle to save Assam’s ‘culture & civilisation’.

According to the 2011 Census, Hindus account for around 61.47 percent of Assam’s population, while Muslims stand at about 34.22 percent. Referring to the state’s demography, Sarma had said the 60-plus majority would ‘together fight against this culture-civilisation notion’.

Muslims are often accused by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — to which Himanta Biswa Sarma belongs — for bringing in ‘alien’ Islamic culture into the state.

Why Does BJP View Madrasas With Suspicion?

Madrasas, be they state-run or self-funded local Islamic seminaries, have always remained the ‘favourite target’ of BJP leaders since the party's inception. They have been regularly terming madrasas as ‘hotbeds of terrorism’, without any basis and verifiable facts.

However, we rarely see such public statements concerning the Sangh Parivar’s educational institutions like Ekal Abhiyan or Vidya Bharati.

‘Secularism Alibi Falls Flat’

The motive behind such biased attitudes lies in the Sangh’s ideology, where every Hindu is a de-facto Indian. For the Sangh, however, this does not apply to a Muslim, whose nationalism can be questioned at every step.

Some scholars have linked this move with the broader Indological project associated with the New Education Policy (NEP 2020), which strives to promote ancient Hindu civilisation as being the foundation of the idea of India.

Another issue associated with madrasas is the aspect of 'modernisation', which has always been discussed in government corridors. Though the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee busted the myth that most Muslim kids get their education in local madrasas (only 4 percent do, the Committee had said), the idea to mainstream and modernise these institutions had remained in use only to 'otherise' the minority community.

This has been done by both the ruling party and so-called ‘secular’ parties who failed to provide basic educational services in Muslim-dominated areas. Himanta Biswa Sarma has already announced a separate bill to regulate and modernise private madrasas as well.

Why Assam Govt’s Decision On State-Run Madrasas Can’t Be Seen In Isolation

In recent times, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and other Hindu outfits have ramped up their campaigns to amend Article 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution, which allows minorities to protect their culture and language and enjoy the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also demanded that Article 30 should be extended to Hindus as well.

Relying on these laws, Muslim outfits in Assam are considering legal challenges to this recent decision taken by the Assam government. Such cases would raise many constitutional issues which are already being debated in the highest court of India.

Though the Modi government has not taken any direct step to amend Article 29 or 30, in the recent past, they have challenged the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University in the Supreme Court, citing ‘central aid’ to these academic institutions.

The decision has to be studied in light of the complex history of attacks on minority rights in India. Be it ‘secularism’ or the aim to ‘modernise’ madrasas, the decision appears to be only a façade.


Adil Hossain, D Phil (University of Oxford), is Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Khurpi. He is also a Commonwealth Scholar.

This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. New Age Islam neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)


2020 Has Been Horrible Year For India For Reasons That Have Nothing To Do With Pandemic

By Tavleen Singh

January 3, 2021

Something fundamental changed for the worse in India in the year just ended. And, it had nothing to do with the pandemic. The change was not subtle. It manifested itself in the first weeks of 2020 in a poisonous new political language that spewed out of the mouths of the Prime Minister’s closest associates and his most senior ministers. The Home Minister set the tone by describing illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as ‘termites’ and then making a series of menacing speeches in which he made it abundantly clear that he intended to use citizenship as a weapon. The discriminatory changes to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) may not have provoked such an angry reaction from Muslims had those speeches not been made.

When Muslims saw that their citizenship could be questioned when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) came and took to the streets in protest, senior ministers called them traitors. The protesters made the National Flag and the Constitution symbols of their protest, but it made no difference. When Covid arrived, the venomous political language transmuted into action. The first response of senior ministers of the Government of India was to blame the Chinese virus on a conference of the Tablighi Jamaat that was being held in Delhi. The conference could not have been held without permission from the Home Ministry, and those who came from abroad to attend it would have come into India legitimately, but they were treated as criminals. Many ended up spending months in jail until the cases against them were all declared spurious by Indian courts. They have now been able to return to their countries, but the political discourse remains poisoned.

Its most recent manifestation comes in the ludicrous ‘love jihad’ laws that BJP chief ministers are competing to pass as soon as possible. These laws are supposed to protect Hindu girls from predatory Muslim men, but in fact are based on that primitive assumption that women are the property of men and have no right to make their own choices. We should all be horrified by this ‘parivartan’, but we are not because we have become so used to new political realities.

We have also become used to the idea that the Indian State has the absolute right to crush dissent no matter how brutally this is done. We know now that the Dalit teenager from Hathras was gangraped by the four men she named before dying. Charges have been brought against them. But, since her battered, broken body was burned in the dead of night without funeral rites, Yogi Adityanath’s officials were able (with the help of the media) to perpetuate for the longest time the lie that she was killed by her brother in an ‘honour’ killing. Those who dissented were charged with being part of an international conspiracy of ‘leftists and liberals’ to defame India’s fair name.

Every time there is dissent an international conspiracy suddenly appears, as we saw most recently with the farmers’ protests. Modi’s ministers and BJP spokesmen only changed their tune when angry Sikh farmers started saying that if they were called ‘Khalistanis’ one more time, they would stop sending their sons to die defending our borders. But, the damage is done. Yet again it has become evident that in the ‘new India’, anyone who questions Modi’s policies will be treated as ‘anti-national’. Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy, so the harm done by this contempt for dissension is incalculable.

This should have been the year in which the Opposition parties found their chance to revive their dismal fortunes by standing up for the values of the ‘old’ India. This did not happen. The Congress party, which is the only political party capable of taking on the BJP nationally, has shown that it is in the middle of yet another nervous breakdown. There have been many since that first defeat in 2014, but it is clear that no lessons were learned from losing two general elections. The party’s most important leader, Rahul Gandhi, continues to treat public service as a hobby and not a fulltime job. So, after making angry noises in support of the farmers, off he went for yet another holiday. What then was the point in demanding a special session of Parliament?

If Indian politics was poisoned by hate in 2020, the Indian economy was poisoned by neglect. It was already going downhill before the Chinese virus hit and it has, for obvious reasons, continued down that road. The IMF recently announced that of all the countries in the ‘emerging markets’ club, India had fared the worst. Other surveys, including those by the Indian government, show that the downward slide of the economy has begun to manifest itself in the health of our children. The National Health Family Survey shows that India now has the largest number of stunted children in the world, and the highest outside sub-Saharan African countries. This cannot be blamed on past negligence because the children surveyed were born after 2015.

So, if 2020 has been a horrible year for the world because of the Chinese plague, it has been a much more horrible year for India for reasons that have nothing to do with the pandemic. At the end of this bleak account of the year just ended, I find it hard to say Happy New Year, but definitely hope that 2021 will be better.


Key Constitutional Values Invoked Last Year Must Be Built On

By Ritwika Sharma

Jan 03, 2021

One of the most striking images at the beginning of 2020 was that of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), protesters reading aloud the Preamble to the Constitution. It is truly significant then that 2020, with all that happened in between, ended with farmers from across three states expressing their dissent against three agricultural laws passed earlier that year. Let us review how the Constitution fared last year with the hope that key constitutional values, which were invoked and tested in 2020, remain pivotal to the lives of the Indian citizens in 2021 and beyond.

Constitutional challenges to CAA ranged from suits filed by several states to petitions alleging infringement on the fundamental right to equality and the secular character of the Constitution. However, the most significant challenge to CAA was mounted outside the courtroom — while the streets were marked by protests against the implementation of the law, social media platforms saw genuine attempts by users to educate themselves on both CAA as well as the Constitution.

The first quarter of 2020 witnessed a political and constitutional crisis in Madhya Pradesh. This crisis attracted attention to the Tenth Schedule — the anti-defection law — of the Constitution. The events in Madhya Pradesh were just one of many instances of this law being bypassed. It also lay bare why the Tenth Schedule can often magnify the problem it was intended to solve.

What marked the beginning of the second quarter was Covid-19. After an initial response to the pandemic led by states, the Centre stepped in by invoking the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The National Disaster Management Authority, while notifying the lockdown on March 24, emphasised the need for “consistency” in the application of measures across the country. This perceived need for consistency, where the constitutional framework envisages roles for the State as well as local governments to reign in an epidemic, inevitably put a dent in the federal balance. The sudden nature of the first lockdown, and the halt on vital economic activities debilitated state finances, severely shifting the balance in India’s fiscal federal architecture. The other striking image which characterised 2020 was that of migrant workers compelled to walk long distances after the lockdown. It was a failure of policymakers that the drivers of key economic activity were not assured the dignity they deserve. The Constitution and all the institutions were collectively at their lowest when certain states remained unwilling to allow entry of migrant workers, and the Supreme Court (SC) merely approved the steps taken by the Centre to redress their grievances.

Parliament, an institution increasingly characterised by political grandstanding, could not redeem itself enough in 2020. Well into the third quarter, on September 20, the three agricultural bills were passed by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha, despite protest from the Opposition. The passage of these bills gnawed away at a foundational principle of the Constitution — parliamentary form of government characterised by debate, discussion, and accountability. The agricultural laws were passed with scant deliberation, a defect which even the most cogent drafting of their substantive provisions cannot rectify. The last quarter of 2020 witnessed the promulgation of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020. Envisaging multiple declarations by individuals before and after conversions, the law is intrusive and its constitutionality dubious. Finally, there were constitutional questions that the SC did not hear (Article 370’s abrogation, CAA’s constitutionality), the pressing questions of access to certain resources in a near-virtual world, and some more. But there were positives.

There were assertions of federalism by some states on CAA; the Election Commission smoothly conducted its first post-Covid assembly election; and, most significantly, citizens came into their own and truly realised the import of the Constitution — for themselves and their fellow country people. Let us hope to build on this spirit this year.


Ritwika Sharma works at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and leads Charkha, Vidhi’s Constitutional Law Centre The views expressed are personal


This Decade Will Be Decisive For Democracy, Capitalism

By Shashi Shekhar

Jan 03, 2021

Do you remember the moments when this century was about to begin? There was a buzz everywhere about the 21st century — that it would set the stage for humanity’s decisive battle against violence, hunger and poverty. After 20 years, these dreams have given way to crippling fears. All the indications, which raised our hopes, have now crumbled. This next decade is going to prove decisive for democracy and capitalism.

If we look into the period from 1900 to 2020, we will find that a change of established values takes place every second decade. Let us fast forward to 2001. It was a period of big hopes and dreams. The Cold War between the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States (US) that had become almost a permanent feature after World War II was over, strengthening the hold of capitalism. In the early 1990s, the world had accepted that capitalism was the main key to progress. At the same time, programmes for poverty alleviation in Asian and African countries gained momentum. Never in the history of mankind had such a large number of people risen above the poverty line. Along with this, all credit was given to democracy and globalisation for an increase in basic amenities across societies. So, the beginning of the 21st century was a hopeful one. But in 2001, two incidents led to a new turn all around.

That year, China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This was the formal arrival of the Dragon on the world stage of the free market. Then came the fateful events of September 11. Osama bin Laden’s jihadists crashed air planes into the iconic World Trade Center’s skyscrapers in the greatest act of terror that the US had ever seen. These two events led to a decisive change in the world order. On the one hand, the US got caught up in protracted and unproductive wars, on the other, China quietly increased its strength. An economic crisis followed and then came the Covid-19 pandemic. The suffering and unemployment were there for all to see at the dawn of 2021.

The economic slowdown can be seen in the textile industry in India and Bangladesh. It was a lucrative multinational industry with raw material for the finished product coming in from all over the world. Due to the coronavirus, raw material could not reach either country and exports were stalled.

A large number of people lost their jobs in several industries. From ordinary workers to professionals, so many suffered. Many faced salary cuts. There were many who not only lost their jobs but also their homes. A large number of those who had risen above the poverty line over the last 30 years were forced to return to the same state again.

With the arrival of new “strains” of the coronavirus, a number of restrictions are coming back. But we now see a new trend. It is “economic nationalism”. Most countries have started insisting on products being made locally, to provide employment opportunities to locals. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has also been advocating a “vocal for local” movement. However, it is not possible at the moment to predict how much improvement this will bring in economic conditions.

It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment. Farmers have been camping around Delhi in extreme weather conditions for over a month now. This is the first year since 1961 when the cold wave has wreaked havoc for more than eight consecutive days. On the first day of the New Year, the mercury dropped to one degree, but even this biting cold has not deterred the farmers from continuing their protest. But this kind of anger is not unique to India. Neighbouring Pakistan and Nepal are also witnessing struggles for various reasons. China, which is creating turmoil on our borders, is also struggling to maintain peace in Hong Kong. This anger is no longer the preserve of Asian and African countries. A while ago, a protest, dubbed Black Lives Matter in the US, took a violent form. There was also a Delhi-like farmers’ protest in Berlin, Europe’s biggest city in the continent’s richest country Germany in 2019. Farmers blocked the roads of the city with more than 20,000 tractors. They went back home after the pandemic but their resistance is still on.

There is cause for fear in these developments. There are many examples in history which tell us that in such situations, rulers start insisting on immediate measures, most of which have adverse impacts. This is happening at the moment. During this period, 91 countries imposed various restrictions on the mainstream or social media. In September 2020, a Freedom House survey showed grave human rights violations by the State and a severe assault on the democratic system in many nations. If this trend holds in this decade, then many values established in the post-World War II era may become things of the past. This will prove fatal for democracy. There is another fact which needs attention. Human civilisation has always discovered new light in the darkest days of crisis. With this hope, let us welcome this new decade.


Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan


Battered Economy, Brewing Uprising in Pakistan Means India Can’t Rule Out Adventurism In 2021

By Tara Kartha

4 January, 2021

In a year that saw the world suddenly being brought to its knees, it might be academic suicide to try a little forecasting. But Covid or not, it is something that should be done within governments rather than the usual year-end ‘review’ that essentially ends up as a cut-and-paste exercise to hide bad assessments.

The task is not easy, but a forward look is vital to prevent nasty surprises from popping up, especially in a country that is located next to the powder keg that is Pakistan. This is going to be an exercise in gray with streaks of black, but it has to be done.

The power remains but trouble ahead

The first level of forecasting is somewhat easy – the army will continue to be the dominant force in Pakistan. But there’s a twist. A combined opposition while ranting against Prime Minister Imran Khan carefully stated that while it was against the ‘puppet’, and its controllers, it fully ‘respected’ the army. Even former PM Nawaz Sharif’s rant was directed against (extended) Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, together with the assurance that he had great regard for the army and its soldiers.

This is a tirade against the army chief in particular, which is curious since Sharif’s party actually supported Bajwa’s extension last year. As any army officer from a democracy will assert, extending an army chief’s tenure is bad news for everyone else down the line. As many as seven Generals were reported to have joined hands to block Bajwa’s extension when the Supreme Court decided to take it up. Expert opinion holds that 17 senior generals will retire if Bajwa completes his term, presumably in November 2022. That’s a lot of unhappiness.

It seems, therefore, that it is not entirely coincidental that the opposition in Pakistan is targeting Bajwa and his circle only. Add to that, the fact that he essentially ‘lost’ Kashmir to Article 370, and the circle is complete. The new year will not find an easy head at the top, either in the army, or by extension, in the Prime Minister’s Office. That, in turn, means that some adventurous action by Pakistan cannot be ruled out; not martial law, which is entirely unnecessary when the army is already in full control, but some populist action against enemy number one – India. Remember that General Pervez Musharraf came to power on the winds of Kargil. A group of generals could do the same.

The political maelstrom

Political forecasting is more difficult. The combined opposition in the form of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), unusually combining Left, Right and centrist parties, is being unified by the glue provided by the Pakistani ‘establishment’. There are few political leaders left who don’t have ‘accountability’ cases lodged against them, or have not been harassed in other ways. Fazlur Rehman has found his more than three-decade-old party split, with a breakaway faction under Maulana Sherani. Worse, Ali Wazir, the charismatic leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) found himself under arrest. Nawaz Sharif will have his passport withdrawn, while his strongman Khwaja Mohammed Asif was detained on accountability charges.

This onslaught may have created an ‘all for one and one for all’ spirit, but unity did come under strain when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) decided to contest Senate elections and by-elections, despite the PDM’s common agenda of mass resignations. But the 31 December deadline for this move has passed, and no party has done much about it. Neither is there any possibility that Imran Khan will resign by the demanded 31 January deadline.

Yet, each party has proved its strength to gather massive crowds at each venue, indicating that Pakistanis are ripe for change. The PDM cannot, however, sustain its jalsas at fever pitch indefinitely. It has to force a decision, and do it soon, probably through ‘Plan B’ – the threatened march to Islamabad or Rawalpindi. Sufficient numbers could spook the establishment into using force to disperse crowds. Which is probably why an offer of dialogue has been extended by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), even while it pooh pooh’s PDM unity. That offer has been rejected. Plan A or B, a crisis is possible by mid-2021 at least.

The economy suffers and so does CPEC

The boiling up of that crisis is directly linked to Pakistan’s dire economic situation where forecasts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), showing a yawning divide between GDP and inflation, are available, as does the World Bank’s, all of which are quite at variance with the rosy picture presented by the Pakistani State. To be fair, Pakistan was hardly alone in suffering the economic shock of the Covid pandemic and climate disasters. What is likely to hit is the slowdown of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), most apparent as the  State Bank of Pakistan indicated a complete slump in imports of machinery, among other things, from China.

Reports also note Beijing’s hesitation to finance projects of the cash-strapped Pakistan Railways, while Pakistan is attempting to re-negotiate loans on the back of ‘malpractices’ by Chinese companies. If or when President Xi does visit Pakistan in 2021, what can be expected is large declarations and small investments, with the sum total not reaching anywhere near the much-acclaimed $60-billion mark. It’s the classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Pakistan needs more investment for growth, but it won’t come in till the economy does a little better. That doesn’t mean China is going to back off. But it does mean that there is no ‘game-changer’ available in 2021.

…And relations with India

In relations with India, forecasting is shaded with grays rather than an outright black. Faced with charges of having ‘sold out’ on Kashmir, the Pakistani government has reacted with full-blown invective, taking the Kashmir issue to every forum; produced a map claiming not just Kashmir but also Junagadh and Sir Creek; and is now providing a dossier on alleged Indian terrorism to anyone and everyone. Recently, Foreign Minister Qureshi, during his visit to the UAE, charged India with planning another surgical strike, and in a possible swipe at reinvigorated Indian diplomacy in West Asia, warned of attempts to garner approval from partners.

All of this is a decided black. Yet, Pakistan did not significantly up the ante during the recent District Development Council elections in Kashmir, nor (so far) open up a ‘third front’ when India is decidedly occupied with China.

The year 2021 will also see Pakistan adding Gilgit-Baltistan to its constitutionally mandated territory, in a significant ‘tit for tat’ move that should give it satisfaction. Meanwhile, both countries have carried on with the annual exchange of lists of nuclear installations and prisoners in each other’s territory, indicating they would carry on with standard activities despite neither having a High Commissioner in residence.

Overall, 2021 will see a significantly weaker Pakistan, across the parameters discussed here. It must be remembered, however, that Kargil occurred when Pakistan was reeling under severe financial stress after its nuclear tests of 1998, resulting in yet another ambitious general coming to power. Another adventure could serve to sideline the PDM, unify the army, and provide proof of Islamabad’s fidelity to Beijing. The trouble is it would have to be a successful adventure. That’s not so easy.

Yet, 1999 is not the same as 2021. Nawaz Sharif no longer has his thick mop of hair, and the future seems to be in the hands of youthful politicians like Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and the not-so-young Maryam Nawaz. Neither will move away from the army orbit. But there is little appetite internationally for Pakistan’s endless wars either against India or in Afghanistan. And that’s the crux of it all. In 2021, Pakistan will really have less reason to hold up its head and stare down its opponents. And everyone knows it. It’s just that someone has to tell that to the generals.


Tara Kartha is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.



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