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Indian Press On Crusade For Afghan Women And Pakistan In The Throes Of Turmoil: New Age Islam's Selection, 31 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

31 October 2020

• Crusade For Afghan Women

By Hiranmay Karlekar

• You Cannot Kill An Idea With Another Idea. But You Can Always Kill A Human Being With An Idea

By Tabish Khair

• Interesting Times Ahead In Pak

By Markandey Katju

• The Troika Of India-US Pacts Should Not Be Over-Hyped, Pakistan Tells Why

By Manoj Joshi


Crusade For Afghan Women

By Hiranmay Karlekar

31 October 2020


They should not be left at the mercy of the Taliban and civil societies in all democracies should ensure that they have equal rights and freedom


As the world is pre-occupied with dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and individual countries solve their respective specific problems, such as India with its confrontation with China, the fate of Afghan women has received little attention. No Government seems to be bothered by the fact that a political order in Afghanistan, shaped according to the Taliban’s dictates, may once again relegate them to virtual house arrest and deprive them of almost all freedoms, including the economic activity of their choice, and independent access to healthcare — as they were during the Taliban rule from 1994 to 2001.

In a report titled The Taliban’s War on Women: A Health and Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan, Physicians for Human Rights, a respected human rights organisation based in the United States, presented a nightmarish picture of the condition of Afghan women under Taliban rule. It wrote: “The Taliban was the first faction laying claim to power in Afghanistan, which had targetted women for extreme repression and punished them brutally for infractions. To our knowledge, no other regime in the world had methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on the pain of physical punishment, from showing their faces, seeking medical care without a male escort or attending school.

“It is difficult to find another Government or would-be Government that has created such poverty by arbitrarily depriving half the population under its control of jobs, schooling, mobility and healthcare. Such restrictions are literally life-threatening to the women and their children.”

Lt-Gen Kamal Matinuddin (Retd) of the Pakistan Army wrote in Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994-97, “Girls are being denied education, women have been prevented from working. If they leave their house, they have to be covered from head to foot with a veil (burqa); besides being veiled, women have to be accompanied by a male relative when they venture out on the streets. Shopkeepers have been directed not to sell goods to unveiled women. Rickshaw drivers are not to pick up women passengers unless they are fully covered. Women caught violating these rules are imprisoned, as are the shopkeepers and rickshaw-drivers.”

Things began to change after the Taliban were booted out of power in 2001 by US-led coalition forces. As George R Allen and Wanda Felbab-Brown state in their paper, Fate of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan, which is a part of Brookings Institution’s 19A: Gender Equality Series, “The post-Taliban constitution in 2004 gave Afghan women all kinds of rights, and the post-Taliban political dispensation brought social and economic growth that significantly improved their socio-economic condition.” They further state that against fewer than 10 in 2003, the percentage of girls enrolled in primary schools rose to 33 in 2017. Registered female enrolment in secondary schools rose from six to 39 per cent in the same period. Three-and-a-half million Afghan girls were in school with 1,00,00 studying in universities. They further say, “By 2020, 21 per cent of Afghan civil servants were women (compared with almost none during the Taliban years), 16 per cent of them in senior management levels; and 27 per cent of Afghan members of Parliament were women.”

These gains are no doubt unevenly distributed. The beneficiaries have mainly been urban women. According to Allen and Felbab-Brown, in rural Afghanistan, where 76 per cent of Afghanistan’s women live, life has not changed much from the Taliban era, their formal legal empowerment notwithstanding. This goes particularly for Pashtun areas besides others where rural minority ethnic groups live. They have to get permission from men in their families to access health care, attend school and work. Many Afghan men are deeply conservative. Typically, families allow their girls to have a primary or secondary education — usually up to puberty — and then arrange their marriage. Even if the male guardian of a young woman permits her to attend a university, she may not be allowed to work after graduation. Also, rural women have to bear much of the brunt of the devastating conflict between the Taliban and Government forces and local militia. Loss of husbands, brothers and fathers to the fighting causes severe psychological trauma and fundamentally jeopardises their economic survival and ability to go about everyday life.

As a result, attitudes differ. While women in rural areas want peace — many of them even on the Taliban’s terms —  urban women generally want the Government not to give in and accept a political order in which the Taliban can implement their retrograde gender and social agenda. Hence, the question: Are the Taliban prepared to moderate their stance and, if so, to what extent?

Borhan Osman and Anand Gopal write in Afghan Views on a Future State; (With an introduction by Barnett Rubin: NYU/Centre on International Cooperation), “a number of interviewees emphasised that Taliban redlines lie not with female education as such, but rather with co-ed or wholly secular education, which accords with views voiced even by Mullah Omar.” They said they did not object to women working or to the education of women in their country. However, what they objected to and prevented by force was if this work or education breached Islamic Shari’a. Nowadays, there were scores of schools, especially for girls in the area under the Islamic Emirate, and women performed jobs such as “teaching of girls and medicine for women.”  They further said, “We encourage this and we call for it on condition that hospitals for females are segregated from hospitals for males, and on condition that the work conditions are in harmony with Islamic Shari’a, not to satisfy instincts, whims and lust. We do not care if the West or the world complain about us in this respect. All we want is to establish Islamic Shari’a in Afghanistan; we do not care who is satisfied and who is not satisfied.

“Similarly, several interviewees presently active in the movement said that an Islamic State should not only allow women to go to school, but it must encourage them; indeed, the State should use its resources toward this end. The condition for such education is that girls should observe the proper hijab and that there should be full segregation. There appears to be little change on the view of women’s right to work, however. Most interviewees accepted the need of women in the sectors of health and education, and in any Government department dealing with women and children. Beyond that, there appears to be little enthusiasm for the idea of women holding public office or working in businesses not dealing with females or children.”

What all this adds up to is a far cry from what Afghan women — at least those in urban areas — enjoy in terms of opportunities, rights and freedoms. Women in rural areas doubtless lag behind. They, however, legally have the right to the opportunities available in the cities and, a great deal of their distress will disappear when peace returns — a goal that seems distant but should not be abandoned. Besides, the most important question is whether what the Taliban means what they say or are peddling falsehoods aimed at persuading the Americans to take a less stringent line with them.

In an article titled The false inclusivity of the Taliban’s emirate (, Mehdi J Hakimi writes, “Notwithstanding repeated claims that they support women’s rights, for instance, the Taliban has continued to attack girls’ schools. Also, women and young people, while comprising most of the country’s population, are conspicuously missing from the Taliban’s negotiating team. Moreover, despite Afghanistan’s rich pluralism and cultural mosaic, there is extremely little ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural and professional diversity within their ranks. This absence…tells us, through calibrated action rather than hollow rhetoric, who is actually welcome in the Taliban’s emirate.”

Referring to the “blatant inconsistency between the Taliban’s mantra of inclusion and praxis of exclusion, this early in the intra-Afghan talks,” and their reneging on their “counter-terrorism pledges to the United States by continuing to operate closely with al-Qaeda,”  Hakimi concludes by writing that the Islamic emirate’s recurring duplicity “must serve as a reminder of the perils of hastily taking a leap of faith towards the Taliban. A lasting peace, after all, is possible only through a genuinely inclusive process — not through one masquerading as such.”

Clearly, there is no guarantee that the Taliban will implement even their currently professed stand on the opportunities and freedoms they would grant women — which themselves fall far short of what Afghan women enjoy now — when they are in power. Afghan women are in peril. Civil societies in all democracies must press on their Governments not to abandon them.


Hiranmay Karlekar is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author


You Cannot Kill An Idea With Another Idea. But You Can Always Kill A Human Being With An Idea

By Tabish Khair

October 30, 2020

You cannot kill an idea with another idea. But you can always kill a human being with an idea.

Let us talk of two ideas that often come to blows with one another: The idea of freedom of expression and the idea of the sacredness of your religious symbol. Someone makes cartoons of this religious symbol — in this case, the prophet of Islam, Mohammad. A dedicated teacher in Paris shows these cartoons to his students in good faith. He believes it is necessary for the sake of the first idea, that of freedom of expression. I have no problem with that. Neither do all the Muslims I know.

But there are some Muslims, some custodians of the religious symbol in France, who get outraged. They post intemperate things on social media. They later claim that it was simply protest and criticism, not a provocation to violence. But they do end up provoking an angry, confused young man, who beheads the teacher that had shown the cartoons to his students, and is dutifully shot down by police officers.

Two bodies. Two deaths. Death is a physical matter. So is suffering: Even mental afflictions have physical consequences. All pain is felt in the body. The body that is not immortal.

The two ideas do not die. Their conflict does not die. They have no body that can be beheaded or shot. They cannot be threatened, imprisoned, abused, tortured, killed. All this can only happen to the bodies that espouse either, and more, of the ideas. It does not matter whether the ideas are good or bad, or, as is often the case, both good-bad. What matters is that ideas do not have a body.

Hence, these two ideas continue to be at loggerheads. France believes constitutionally in secularism and freedom of expression and inevitably feels the need to buttress these ideas. Its president makes a strong speech reiterating such values. The fact that elections are just a year away adds urgency to the speech. Some French towns project the cartoons on buildings. Some Muslim countries, where the rulers use the idea of sacredness rather than freedom of expression to rule, decide to boycott French goods. These are countries whose autocratic governments do not trust freedom of expression in any field. The lines are drawn.

I am told that, in retaliation, the French government is considering asking school-teachers to show the cartoons in class. Schools are closed right now. But they will open soon. Will they be instructed to show the cartoons to all their students? What do teachers think of this proposal?

I call a couple of teachers I know in France. They are French-French. This means that they are White and Catholic. But they teach in schools where many students are from immigrant and Muslim backgrounds. Both these teachers believe in freedom of expression. Just as strongly as I do. But both say that this proposal, and all such proposals, leave them feeling uneasy.

“Why?” I ask them.

They cannot pinpoint the reasons for their unease. Then one says: “How do I get across to students who feel that I am just insulting their culture? I am sure they won’t say anything to me, but I might lose them forever. They will just bracket away everything I could teach them. I will fail as a teacher.”

Then the other one says: “And what happens if they listen to me and go out and get into the wrong crowd, or into fights? What happens if they, or I, become vulnerable to violence by extremists on their side or my side?”

I can hear what they are trying to express. I know why they cannot express it. Because we have a huge vocabulary for ideas, religious or secular, in all languages. But we have so few words to utter the body. The body that eats and touches, laughs and weeps, hears and sees, believes and doubts. The body that is always different from other bodies in its looks and attire and movements and hopes and fears — and, hence, needs full freedom to be what it is. The body that shares mortality with other bodies. The body that can be beheaded, or shot. The body that can be manipulated by ideas — religious or secular — to make itself vulnerable. That precarious body.

Even as I write all this down, I hear more: Arabs beaten up, people knifed in a church in Nice. Bodies.

How does one ensure that this body, the body that suffers and dies, has the freedom to live as it wants? After all, that is why people like me believe in freedom of expression. It is not the idea that matters, but its necessity for the body to live. The body needs to be able to express itself without retribution. But, say those who object to absolute freedom of expression, what if the body expresses hatred for others, hatred that can induce some angry, confused man, on the other side this time, to take a gun and shoot down Muslims?

Yes, that danger is always there. It exists on all sides. There are laws to prevent it. But note: It is a danger to the body. Finally, this idea or that can be used to threaten, imprison, abuse, torture, kill the body. Do not fight for this idea or that idea, if it is at the cost of the body. Stand by the body. Let it be free to live, and not suffer.


Pakistan Is In The Throes Of Turmoil Right Now

By Markandey Katju

31 October 2020

The hostility between the US and China is steadily increasing and this is bound to have an effect on the ruling Pakistani establishment

Pakistan is in the throes of turmoil right now. However, despite all the rallies and hue and cry created by the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), it is unlikely to be of much consequence. For the uninitiated, the PDM was formed in September by the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Fazal-ur-Rehman, but constitutes 11 parties, representing nearly the entire political spectrum of Pakistan. Significantly, the PDM has brought together the two mainstream but rival parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by the exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but currently headed by his daughter Maryam.

No doubt Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis because of which people are suffering. Prices of essential commodities like food and medicines have gone through the roof and there is mounting unemployment. However, despite these, the people of Pakistan are unlikely to give much support to the PDM as it is an unholy alliance of corrupt leaders. While Nawaz Sharif was mentioned in the Panama Papers, his daughter Maryam has been accused of having four huge flats in England by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Then there is Bilawal whose mother Benazir allegedly took huge amounts of money abroad and Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the Rasputin of Pakistan and a rank opportunist, to name a few. These politicians have no real love for the people of Pakistan but are a disgruntled, motley lot having nothing in common. In fact earlier, for years they had been at each other’s throats but now they have united because they are out of power and not enjoying the loaves of office.

As anticipated, Nawaz Sharif’s attack from London in his online speech in the PDM rally in Gujranwala against General Bajwa and some other top military brass — probably thinking that this would divide the Pakistani Generals and provoke some to stage a coup against the Army chief — did not have any effect. An army, by its very nature, is different from a mob. It is a highly-disciplined organisation, with a hierarchy and chain of command. Each person on a lower rank unquestioningly carries out the orders of his superior. The army chief is at the top of this hierarchy and the corps commanders, even if they sometimes disagree with him, will ultimately carry out his orders. They know that breach of this discipline destroys an army, and therefore themselves. So there will be no coup in the Pakistan Army, whatever Nawaz Sharif may think. The Pakistan Army officers are fiercely protective of their Generals, both serving and retired, and will not tolerate their humiliation, because they know if this happens one day they, too, may meet a similar fate. In fact, it is probably because Nawaz Sharif started hounding General Musharraf that the Pakistan Army turned on him.

The essence of a State is its military and bureaucratic establishment. In Pakistan, the army is the real power, though it prefers to shield and screen itself behind the veneer of a civil Government, as that gives it power without responsibility. Imran Khan is clever enough to realise this, and as long as he keeps the army happy (which he is doing with great alacrity) he is safe. To think that a mob can fight and disperse an army, even if a hundred times smaller in number, is unrealistic and silly. It reminds one of Vendemiaire in Paris in October 1795, when 4,000 troops under Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte dispersed a mob numerically 10 times larger by “a whiff of grapeshot.” So all the PDM’s horses and all the PDM’s men cannot have any effect on the Pakistan ruling establishment, however many rallies they may hold. However, there is one factor which can have an effect, and it is this which needs to be considered.

Earlier, Pakistan was pro-US and was closely tied to it, economically and militarily. But now it has also become close to China, which has emerged as the second superpower in the world. China has closer proximity to Pakistan and has hugely invested in it. The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor has forged a strong link between the two countries. The Chinese are taking away huge amounts of raw materials from Balochistan. Gwadar Port has been given on a 40-year lease to China and Pakistani markets are full of cheap Chinese goods. So Pakistan, which earlier had only one master, now has two. It is well-known that the hostility between these two, the US and China, is steadily increasing, and this is bound to have an effect on the ruling Pakistani establishment, which may well be torn apart, one part siding with the US and the other with China.

Mere discontent among the Pakistani people, over rising prices, unemployment and so on, by itself is unlikely to cause an overthrow of the rulers. But if coupled with, and supported by one of the two masters mentioned above (which may feel threatened by the other’s ascendancy), this may well happen in the long run, caused by a fissure in Pakistan’s ruling establishment. Interesting times are ahead in our neighbouring nation.


Markandey Katju is former Judge of the Supreme Court of India


The Troika Of India-US Pacts Should Not Be Over-Hyped. Pakistan Tells Why

By Manoj Joshi

30 October, 2020

On Tuesday, October 27, India and the US signed the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on the occasion of the third ‘2+2’ in-person meet held between the Indian and US foreign and defence ministers in New Delhi. The agreement gives India access to classified US geospatial and GIS data.

India-US defence ties predate the strategic congruence that became evident after the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott dialogue in the late 1990s, followed by President Clinton’s visit to India in 2000. In fact, they go back to efforts to develop defence technology ties during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure between 1984-1989.

GSOMIA (a military information agreement) was the first of the foundational agreements to be signed in 2002 during the visit of  Defence Minister George Fernandes to Washington DC. It essentially guaranteed that the two countries would  protect any  classified information or technology that they shared. It was aimed at promoting interoperability and laid the foundation for future US arms sales to the country.

There was a long stretch thereafter when the two countries continued to discuss various other foundational agreements, but nothing came through in the UPA years.  It was only after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and the US had an unusually talented and sensitive Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, that the two sides were able to work out the LEMOA (logistics exchange agreement) signed in August 2016 during Carter’s visit. It was the second agreement to be signed and required a great deal of negotiation since its implications went beyond the Indo-US plane. It provides the framework for sharing military logistics, for example for refuelling and replenishment of stores for ships or aircraft transiting through an Indian/US facility. The third agreement, COMCASA (communications security agreement) was signed during the inaugural ‘2+2’ meeting in September 2018. This is an India-specific version of the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).  COMCASA enables the US to supply India with its proprietary encrypted communications equipment and systems, allowing secure peacetime and wartime communications between high-level military leaders on both sides. Further, it also enables Indian aircraft and ships with the US-made equipment to communicate with each other and with the US seamlessly. Because of the lack of this agreement, India had operated the US-made C-17s, C-130s and P-8I’s with commercially available systems for nearly half a decade.

The BECA facilitates the provision of targeting and navigation information from US systems. As is well known, for example, that the GPS, which was developed by the Pentagon, has a classified section which is far more accurate than the one available for use by US in our cars. But in addition, missiles and systems require geomagnetic and gravity data if they want pinpoint accuracy. But, of course, having the data by itself doesn’t guarantee accuracy; your missile navigation systems must also be able to use this highly accurate data.

In themselves the agreements are fairly routine and should not be over-hyped. They are really about building trust and setting the trajectory for future relations. They are not the end, but the means to get there.

As of now,  all of them would enable cooperation and exchange in a range of sensitive area, but they do not  obligate the two countries  to provide or service a particular requirement.

Also, it needs to be pointed out that in all the agreements except LEMOA, the traffic is really one way, i.e. from the US to India. To clarify further, our asymmetry ensures that the technology that needs to be protected and the service that is expected, will come from the US, whether it is military technology, encryption systems, or GIS data.

However, India being a resident Indian Ocean power, is important from the LEMOA point of view. Indeed, India has to worry that by synchronising its systems with those of the US,  it will enable Washington to enter its decision-making loop, something that no sovereign country would like, especially since we do not have an identity of views relating to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and have different perspectives on some important Indian Ocean issues.  Even in the case of China, there are differences that would prevent whole-hearted cooperation.

These foundational agreements are a product of the American bureaucratic culture. They have scores of commitments around the world and their  bureaucracy is particular in ensuring that they all fall into a legal framework.

This is what the Pakistanis realised too late. Islamabad thought that the bilateral defence agreement they had signed with the US in 1959  would compel Washington to aid them in war with India, but the pact was merely an Executive Agreement, not a treaty approved by the US Senate. Indeed, the US could have come to their aid in 1971 using that agreement with a much more friendly Administration in Washington, but it didn’t.

So, we need to be clear that the US is not obliged to provide us any technology that we want under GSOMIA, neither will it have any obligation to provide us geospatial data in every circumstance. Certainly, it is unlikely to assist India in any venture relating to Pakistan. In the case of China, this administration may be obliging, but that may not necessarily be true of succeeding administrations in the US. At the end of the day, the reality is that the US is the giver and India the receiver.

Likewise, of course, India may not necessarily provide logistics facilitation to US vessels, were they to be involved in a war against, say for the sake of discussion, Iran. But as this author’s Ph.D. supervisor once said, agreements are a scrap of paper, unless they are backed by a mutuality of interest at the given time.

What these agreements do is to provide a trajectory which may lead somewhere, in this case, a India-US military alliance. But we’re not there as yet. As the Pakistan case reveals, that even as formal allies, assistance does not automatically kick in.

Also read: The 3 foundational agreements with US and what they mean for India’s military growth

However, it is undeniable that there is a lot of room for cooperation even short of a formal alliance. During the Raisina Dialogue in March 2016, the then chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris had called on the two countries to be more ambitious, and perhaps undertake coordinated patrols in the South China Sea. But here we need to enter the caveat that Indo-US defence cooperation remains confined to the region under the responsibility of the US Indo-Pacific Command which ends in India’s western shores. But India’s primary naval challenge is in the western and north-western Indian Ocean. Just how these agreements can be finessed to serve our ends there remains to be seen.


Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal.



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