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Indian Press ( 21 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press on Love and Jihad, Islamic World in Churn and Recognizing Israel: New Age Islam's Selection, 21 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

21 December 2020

• Love and Jihad

By Prafull Goradia

• Recognizing The State Of Israel

By Shabeer Ahmad Parey

• Israel’s Growing Footprint

By KP Nayar

• Islamic World In Churn, Outcome Will Dictate Future Geopolitics

By Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

• A Pakistani Introspects On Birth Of Bangladesh

By Tasneem Siddiqui


Love and jihad

By Prafull Goradia

December 20, 2020

There is a particular problem in a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy. At a young age few think of understanding each other’s conception of marriage. The vigour of youth leads them to fall in love and possibly plunge into marriage. The Muslim method is nikah which according to the authoritative Dictionary of Islam (by Thomas Patrick Hughes and published by Rupa & Co) literally means conjunction or (in this context) usual sexual process (Webster Dictionary).

Legally, Hughes goes on, it implies a marriage contract. Unlike in Hinduism it is not a sacrament. Roman Catholicism does not permit even divorce. In Christianity, the churches view marriage as a union, divine and indivisible. Thus, Hindus and Christians look upon marriage as a union of permanence whereas in Islam it is a a contract between two parties. For the husband, divorce or talaq is easy and a matter of waiting for three months after he speaks out his first notice to the wife.

The celebrated IAS couple Tina Dabi and Athar Amir have filed for divorce in Jaipur, two years after the two tied the knot. Their love story and marriage in 2018 had made national headlines. A video of IAS officer Tina Dabi has gone viral with a claim that she is married to a Muslim man and now she is separated from her husband after two years of marriage because her husband tortured her to wear a burqa, convert to Islam, read namaz and adopt Khan in her name.

Even without divorce, he can marry up to four women at a time and if divorces are given, there is no limit on the number of wives he can have in the course of his life. Hinduism and Christianity insist on only one wife. If therefore I had a daughter who wished to marry a Christian boy I would have no objection in principle. For a Muslim boy, I would have to explain the differences at length; enumerate the risks she would be taking.

Now to turn to the boy’s side, if he is a faithful or momin, he should bring forth as many Muslims (children) into this world as possible. So that at one time there would be more Muslims than the others in the world.

The Dictionary of Islam by Hughes quotes the Hadith (The Traditions, the second holy book after the Quran) as quoting the Holy Prophet advising men to marry women who will love their husbands and be more prolific, for I wish you to be more numerous than any other people, That is why some fearful Hindus have used the word jihad in this context.

To be fair every Muslim young man is unlikely to know all this. He only knows that his family would have no objection to his marriage to a girl of any religion so long as she reads out the kalimah, from the Quran. Thereafter she is a virtual Muslim. Before 1955 when the Hindu Code Bill came into being, Hindu men could marry as many women as they liked, and some rich ones went on until they had even 13 or 14 wives all in the same house. I have as a child visited two families, one in Junagadh and one is Kolkata, with the husband and two wives each. In both cases, the women seemed to get on well with each other. My own aunt was a second living wife. She was nearly a graduate and the husband a doctor and a very nice gentleman. This combined family of two mothers and six children lived together happily near Lonavala on the then Bombay- Poona highway.

Sri Ramchandra’s father Dasaratha had three wives Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikayee. Sri Ram did leave Sita after his return to Ayodhya from Lanka on the ground that he wanted to be seen to be upright. He did not marry again.

Going back to Islamic practices, one is the Mut‘ahmarriage, contracted for a limited period, for a certain sum of money. Such marriages are still legal amongst the Shi‘ahs. They establish the legality of mut‘ah upon the traditions. Mut‘ah, or “temporary marriages” are continual upon declaration and acceptance, as in the case of nikah, and the subject of the contract must be either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jewess; she should be chaste, and due inquiries should be made into her conduct.

Some dower must be specified, and if there is a failure in this respect, the contract is void. There must also be a fixed period, but its extent is left entirely to the parties: it may be a year, a month, or a day, only some limit must be distinctly specified. In permitting these marriages a custom in old Arabia to assign to a traveler who became a guest for the night some female of the family. Raja Ghazanffar Ali Khan, the first Pakistani High Commissioner to India, was invited to a particular annual party by the Maharajah of Bharatpur whose Divan he had been some years earlier. The rule of the occasion was that guests should be accompanied by their wives. Ghazanffar Ali’s wife had not yet come to Delhi and therefore he contracted a Mut‘ah marriage for the evening party. Some Islamic countries have legislated to modernize their Sharia laws. For example, in Pakistan, the rule governing marriages is the Muslim Personal Law (The Sharia Application Act 1962). In this law, there are severe restrictions on polygamous marriages.

To quote section 6 of the law, no man, during the subsistence of an existing marriage, shall, except with the previous permission in writing of the Arbitration Council, contract another marriage. An application for permission shall be submitted to the Chairman and shall state the reasons for the proposed marriage, and whether the consent of the existing wife or wives has been obtained thereto.

On receipt of the application, the Chairman shall ask the applicant and his existing wife or wives. The Arbitration Council so constituted, may, if satisfied that the proposed marriage is necessary and just, grant permission. Clearly the sharia has been subjected to an amendment. Its crux is that a no- objection clearance is essential from the existing wife.

Malaysia, which too is predominantly Muslim, with the sharia governing marriage, divorce and succession, has also placed restrictions. A man cannot marry a second wife unless the first wife consents, and further, the first wife must fill in a no-objection form.

In Tunisia, by a legislation enacted in 1956, polygamy was prohibited and made a criminal offence. The Syrian Law of Personal Status of 1953 made the permission for a second marriage dependent on the proved ability of the husband to support a second wife while the Iraqi law of 1959 said that there should be some “lawful benefit” involved. In the case of Egypt, a bill which aims at restricting polygamy and the right of the husband unilaterally to repudiate the first wife, was passed in 1962. This information is based on An Introduction to Islamic Law by Joseph Schacht, Universal Law Publishing Company, Delhi, 1997.

Justice MC Chagla, in his autobiography, Roses in December, had occasion to write: “I am horrified to find that in my country, while monogamy has been made the law for the Hindus, Muslims can still indulge in the luxury of polygamy. It is an insult to womanhood; and I resent this discrimination between Muslim women and Hindu women”.


 Prafull Goradia is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament


Recognizing the State of Israel

By Shabeer Ahmad Parey

December 21, 2020

After Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and Bahrain, Morocco is the fifth Arab state which has in the very recent past given a nod to normalizing her relations with Israel. This has been the part of the larger strategy of the US and Israel that has worked well. The deal with UAE that concluded with the help of the USA this year has encouraged the Arab states to come openly in establishing their ties with the Jewish state.  So countries in the Arab peninsula are re-opening and revisiting their long-held positions vis-à-vis the state of Israel. At the end of the deal with Bahrain, Netanyahu had thanked Trump by saying, “it took us 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country, but only 29 days between third and fourth, and there will be more” referring to 1994 peace deal with Jordan and recent agreements. Analysts argue that this is a major alliance build-up against Iran at the behest of big elephant in the room i.e., Saudi Arabia.  There has been fervent media speculations over covert Saudi-Israeli meetings in the very recent past. Some even suspect Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia, however, officially denied by king Salman.

These developments will have a long-lasting effect not only on the politics of West Asia but beyond. So far as Iran is concerned, there is a strong will within the Israeli and Saudi establishment to cut her wings. Though Obama had come up with a nuclear deal with Iran, however, Trump’s administration not only declined the deal but also heavily imposed sanctions against Iran – to the best wishes of Saudis, Israeli, and one of the forceful Jewish neo-Conservative lobby working in the middle east. With the coming of Joe Biden, it will be seen which lines he follows

For Palestinians, these deals are simply a letdown. They are hell-bent to stop Arab states to recognize Israel till an amicable two-nation solution is realized. Referring to the deal with Bahrain, Wasel Abu Yousuf, a senior Palestinian official said, “this is another stab in the back of Palestinian cause, the Palestinian people, their rights and Jerusalem,” However, Arab states favorably respond to these deals and are inline to sign one by another.

Where do we see India and Pakistan in this new conundrum?

Pakistani Prime Minister, this year in September said that he was under intense pressure from an unnamed friendly state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. His remarks were interpreted as King Salman’s poor support for lobbying in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for Kashmir cause. Pakistan’s warning for creating a new Muslim block did not go well with Saudi’s wishes and in response, Pakistan had to face the brunt of withdrawal of half of the $ 2billion,  Saudi Arabia had deposited in Pakistan’s central bank. Since then Pakistan’s political as well as military establishment is working hard to bring relations between the two countries on track. The academics, military and political leaders in Pakistan are worried about recent happenings in West Asia. They are afraid that this may result in the encirclement of Pakistan by US led Israel-India proximity near their waters. Pakistan fears to be sandwiched by this Abraham Accord, because it may also involve Japan, Australia. This has given realization in Pakistan that between “recognition and no recognition” there is much more which they can make use of. That is engagement with Israel, without, however, hurting Palestinian interests. Some even suspect Pakistan’s covert engagement with Israel already in vogue.

India has been very quick in gaining the ground the situation offers to her in the West Asian region. Narindra Modi government soon after entering office, made an important policy shift by announcing Look West Policy, the countries in West Asia warmly welcomed India to play her role in the region. India has built a strong relationship with the UAE, Israel, and now on the way to Saudi Arabia. The recent developments have offered India a new opportunity to which she is responding pro-actively. Mr. Vivek Katju in his recent article to Greater Kashmir, “India, and a West Asia in flux” writes “India’s interaction with West Asia and specifically with the Arab Peninsula has witnessed substantial activity over the past three weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a detailed telephonic conversation with the ruler of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani on December 8. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the last week of November. Army chief General MM Naravane began a visit to the UAE and Saudi Arabia on December 9 and India and Israel held ‘foreign office consultations’ on December 7. This extent of activity in such a brief period reflects the importance that India attaches to a region where it has great stakes. Equally, it demonstrates the countries of the region place great significance on their ties with India. It is noteworthy that these interactions have taken place at a time of change in West Asia.”(GK. 12-12-20). He further says that the visit by the Indian Military Chief is coming in the background of difficulties in Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arab and UAE.

India boosts Gulf Countries in taking reigns of their security into their own hands and minimising their dependence on the US or Pakistan, for example. Besides, there are multi-layered geopolitical reasons for this new development. India is using the fissures developed between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to bolster its case as a long-term partner in heir Salman’s bid to open up the Saudi economy and society, on one side, and also allowing India to promote its position on issues such as Kashmir more successfully within the Muslim world.


Shabeer Ahmad Parey is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department Of Higher Education, posted at HKM GDC Bandipora


Israel’s Growing Footprint

By KP Nayar

Dec 21, 2020

Many Indians are ecstatic that Israel and Bhutan established diplomatic relations last weekend. Going by posts on social media, conversations with those who take an interest in international affairs and the general tenor of reportage of the event in the national press, it is as if this was a wedding in the family to be celebrated by all its members, including distant relatives.

The same Indians would have condemned Bhutan if the kingdom had tied a similar knot with China. They would have ranted about betrayal by Bhutan although ties between Thimpu and Beijing are, in fact, something natural. China is next door to Bhutan, its immediate neighbour, and belongs there. Whereas Israel is not even a distant neighbour, the way Gulf countries are in India’s extended backyard.

Ties between this country’s friendliest neighbour, Bhutan, and one of New Delhi’s closest defence and security partners, Israel, are an occasion for India to reflect on where South Asia is headed, once the coronavirus pandemic abates. Israel is doing in Asia — including the Arabian Gulf — what India could have done three decades ago. Creative, clever and unafraid to take risks, as Israelis always have been, Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Prime Minister in the Jewish state’s history, simply filled, with careful planning, a void that India had left in the Gulf.

Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister, has taken interest in repairing this historic mistake, both in India’s immediate and extended neighbourhoods, but six years are not enough to make up for decades of neglect. Other players, Israel for example, inevitably step in.

A decline in American power and President Donald Trump’s policy of extricating the United States from overseas involvements, which he considered unnecessary, forced Israel’s hand in one sense. It speeded up a process, which has been an evolving concept in Tel Aviv for many decades. Policymakers in West Jerusalem were merely waiting for the right conditions to expand Israel’s footprint in Asia. While Trump helped by vacating space, a certain space for India as a regional power always existed, which successive governments in New Delhi chose not to occupy.

Three decades ago, the Gulf countries were not attractive postings for Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers the way they are now. There were few IFS officers who had invested in the wherewithal to effectively serve in the strategically important monarchies in that region. Two decades had already passed since Britain had withdrawn from the Trucial States. The vacancy was India’s for the taking, to work with local rulers as a friend, neighbour and partner. But New Delhi abdicated a role in which it was cast both by history and geography.

In one year’s IFS batch, which took charge of Indian embassies in the Gulf in that period, Kiswahili was given the same importance as Arabic as compulsory foreign language for the probationers. It was a batch whose intake was larger than usual, yet the bulk of the recruits were taught Russian, Chinese or French. Besides, it did not help that those probationers who learned Arabic did their best to avoid a posting to an Arabic-speaking country, preferring the comforts of European capitals instead.

One officer was an exception to this rule. Naturally, he had access in Gulf capitals that went well beyond his rank and seniority in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). When he went to Saudi Arabia to prepare for then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh’s pioneering visit to the kingdom, the Minister of State for Defence in Riyadh told this officer, out of the blue, that the Saudis would like India to play a role in defending their kingdom against threats.

The officer was completely taken by surprise. He came back and recorded a detailed note about this conversation along with his modest prescriptions for a greater Indian role not only in the kingdom but in all of the Gulf. Nothing came of it, of course, and the note was probably consigned to the trash bin by his then bosses, none of whom knew Arabic and had never served in the region. Informally, the officer lobbied for some action, but was told that the Saudi minister must have said it to make the visiting officer feel good.

Israel has been preparing for the Abraham Accords, which normalised relations with some Gulf states — with more to follow — for many decades. India, on the other hand, did not even have a prime ministerial visit to key Gulf states for three decades until Modi ventured to go there. Israel has similarly been comprehensively preparing to lay their hands on a bigger diplomatic, security and commercial pie in South Asia ever since New Delhi and Tel Aviv established full diplomatic relations in 1992.

They started in Sri Lanka, meddling, unobtrusively, but cleverly on the Sinhala side in the island's violent and protracted ethnic conflict. The disaster perpetrated by Rajiv Gandhi with the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) gave an opening for Tel Aviv. The establishment of relations with Bhutan is a case of natural progression for Israel in achieving strategic depth in South Asia.

One of Tel Aviv’s goals is to have formal relations with Pakistan and Bangladesh. This may take longer with Dhaka than with Islamabad, in part, because Bangladesh has too much democracy unlike Pakistan. Even when this happens, it will constitute no threat of any kind to India. Israel is a friend for India and can be counted on as one in need. What Indians, especially politicians and those engaged in public discourse, lose sight of, however, is that Israel is expanding its presence in South Asia to protect its interests and its interests alone.

What India cannot ignore is that several South Asian countries are looking for someone in their backyard to balance India. China is toxic in this regard when it comes to their own ties with India. They do not want a zero sum game vis-à-vis India and China. Israel offers an ideal alternative for Thimpu, Kathmandu and Colombo, for now, and in the long run for Male, Dhaka and Islamabad as well. And finally, let no one forget that Israel has excellent relations with China. All of which means South Asia is all set for a new ‘Great Game’ in its territory.


Islamic World In Churn, Outcome Will Dictate Future Geopolitics

By Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

21st December 2020

Many do not agree with the ‘clash of civilisations’ theory of Samuel P Huntington but there can hardly be a doubt about the fact that there has been a churn within the Islamic world since 1979. The defeat of the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan at the hands of the US-Saudi-Pakistan combine through 1979-89 contributed to the end of the Cold War. The revolution in Iran in 1979 also had a profound telling effect within the faith. The events that followed after 1989 began an unspecified and hard-to-peg vision of the Islamic world: on the one hand, reformation in the faith and potential steps towards modernisation, and on the other, obscurantism or a return to the origins of the faith.

A competition to lead the faith and take the Ummah to a position of dominance in international power politics was also triggered. The combination of these trends is what the churn has been all about—an internal process of conflicts between numerous sects and subsects and between Islamic nations. However, when these trends mire into geopolitical issues, they create far greater turbulence. Palestine-Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria have been just a few.

The progressive emergence and persistent presence of non-state actors such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Al Shabab and Boko Haram have added a different dimension. Arab nations, more specifically those of the Gulf Cooperation Council, financially dominated the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia has led the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the 57-nation club of Islamic nations that addresses many of their affairs but without great unity and even lesser vision.

In the last two years and more, specifically after the onset of the Covid pandemic, the churn within the Islamic bloc appears to be changing course. It will take several analyses to specify the effect this is likely to have on different important nations and regions, as also the geopolitics involved there. However, the most critical part is to ascertain how these changes are occurring, thereby creating a new strategic environment that will enable fresh alignments or reinforce existing conflicts.

The prime area of change is the Middle East that is in much less turmoil and undergoing a process of transition. The Arab-Israeli conflict, which dominated Middle East geopolitics for many years, is giving way to the emerging sectarian conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have changed tack and are in the process of making peace with Israel, although formalisation is awaited. Israel is no longer outcast to a segment of the Middle East nations.

The recent flurry of Abraham Accords appears to set the tone for many more nations to normalise relations with Israel, facilitated by the US. Nations such as Syria and even Lebanon may not follow suit but the potential for stability will increase if discord with Israel reduces. In the same light, Qatar’s de-isolation is in process under US nudging; this too will contribute towards stability. The energy-related significance of the Middle East has been only partially reduced with the US no longer dependent on the region. China, Japan and India continue to remain so for their future economic growth.

The US is looking to shift focus to the Indo-Pacific but its continued presence in the Middle East will also ensure some control over resources and events at the strategic confluence of the world. The Islamic world’s energy-linked significance, which rose in 1973, could remain intact for some more time. Terror has been on the blink ever since the defeat of the Islamic State. The potential for resurgence always remains due to the existence of proxies of Iran and core elements of the non-state terror groups. The sectarian conflict cannot be won on any conventional battlefield.

It will be a fight that will exploit every facet of hybrid war with irregular strikes against assets, population and leadership—prime potential for high turbulence. The end of Israel’s outcast status may somewhat contribute towards neatening the lines of conflict after the complexities witnessed during the Syrian civil war, when it was difficult to determine who was in conflict with whom. Yet, whatever is achieved, there is further setback due to the more energetic involvement of Turkey in the affairs of the Islamic world and the Middle East in particular after a clear fallout with Europe; Mustafa Kemal’s dream lies shattered and with that has arisen Turkey’s Ottoman ambition.

Ostensibly, Turkey is with Iran and Pakistan in an attempt to challenge Arab and specifically Saudi hegemony of the OIC. Yet, Turkey, after assisting in Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh, is now giving indicators of hardening its stance against Iran and attempting to show a softer approach towards Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is probably setting the stage to welcome the new US administration in the hope of having sanctions imposed by the Trump administration lifted.

Such dynamic changes by key players in the Islamic world will be a frequent phenomenon as lines yet remain blurred and loyalties are still for sale. Pakistan, for instance, sits on the fence of whether to go with Turkey and Iran or return to the traditional Saudi club. Contending with US-Saudi soft pedalling on Kashmir will be a difficult decision but its economic plight gives it few options. The Af-Pak area will continue to attract attention due to conflicts that Pakistan is involved in, on both its flanks.

One area that remains in contention is the ideological nerve centre of the future. Will Saudi Arabia’s high position as the custodian of the holy shrines be challenged? Although Islam is linked to the Saudi territories and the Arabic language that spell the emotions of the faith, a contestation for leadership could yet occur.

A few random issues at stake will be whether an Arab Spring 2.0 will occur anytime in the near future, how Iran handles conflicts around it, whether the non-state terror groups attempt a major resurgence, how successful efforts to reduce Islamophobia are, and finally how Europe responds to immigrant communities. On the final manifestation from the churn of these trends will the Islamic world contend with future international geopolitics. Expect to hear more on this from my keyboard.


Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd) is Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir


A Pakistani Introspects On Birth Of Bangladesh

By Tasneem Siddiqui

December 20, 2020

16December – the blackest day in Pakistan’s history – has come and gone. There was not even a token remembrance of this day of shame at the national level in Pakistan. Only a couple of seminars were arranged by some research institutes and NGOs where learned speakers even after 50 years, did not unequivocally condemn the military action/genocide and the shameful surrender by Pakistani forces.

They instead indulged in polemics of numbers and the role India played in dismembering the country. Does it matter now whether the number of killed was 35,000 or a million, or ‘only’ 5,000 women were raped and not 100,000? India – our declared enemy No. 1 – did what it had to do in a situation created by our paranoid rulers.

They did not have the courage to tell the audience that there would have been no Pakistan if Bengalis, represented by Maulvi Fazlul Haq had not supported the Lahore Resolution in 1940, and if SH Suhrawardy had refused to accept the ‘typographical’ error (‘state instead of states’) in 1946 in the AIML meeting in Delhi.

They also did not tell the audience that the same Suhrawardy (who was the Prime Minister of Bengal till 14 August 1947 and enjoyed huge popularity), was unseated from the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on flimsy grounds and was almost declared persona non grata.

They also did not have the courage to say that from day one, the bureaucratic-military alliance, dominated by Muhajirs and Punjabis, treated East Pakistanis as secondclass citizens, and their aspirations and expectations as part of an independent nation, were spurned with contempt. Whether it was their legitimate share in political power, allocation of resources, national integration, language or culture, they felt a sense of deprivation from the very beginning.

Learned Pakistani speakers also did not tell the audience that East Bengalis’ love for Pakistan was more profound than any other province because they were the most exploited people, firstly at the hands of the rapacious East India Company, who after the Battle of Plassey, reduced prosperous Bengal to penury, and secondly by landlords and business interests, who had initially partnered with Britishers and later on continued loot and plunder on their own.

It was unfortunate that most (West) Pakistanis believed that Bengalis were lesser Muslims as their culture and language was dominated by Hinduism, and Ayub Khan had the guts to say that they “have all the inhibitions of downtrodden races”. The obnoxious propaganda that the debacle of 1971 took place because Hindu teachers had brainwashed the Bengali youth still persists. It was also unfortunate, that with few exceptions, no voices were raised by West Pakistani leaders or intelligentsia against the military action, and the destruction which came in its wake. As a matter of fact, most of them were in cahoots with the Pakistan army.

Now let us come to another important point. Is it not a fact that from the mid-1950s West Pakistani ruling elite started considering the eastern part as a liability and threat to their rule? Initially they exploited the foreign exchange earned through jute export, but then thought that rampant poverty and absence of infrastructure in Bengal would require huge resources which would hamper the progress of the Western wing.

They also realized that sooner or later a constitution would be framed, followed by general elections. Since the eastern wing had 55 per cent of the then population, the national assembly and federal government would naturally be dominated by them. What happened between August 1947 and December 1971 is a sad story of power play, shenanigans, intrigues and betrayals to stop dominance of East Pakistanis in national politics.

Most Pakistanis treat Ayub Khan’s rule as the ‘golden period’. In mid-sixties, even acclaimed economists had declared Pakistan as a ‘model of development’ for third world countries. But it is ironic that in 1971, the same people found that Bangladesh was a basket case. And a basket case it was. Over 40 million people crammed in 54,000 square miles, East Bengal being a deltaic country had a history of natural disasters i.e. floods and cyclones, resulting in food shortages and frequent famines. Over-population, poverty, disease, hunger and lack of infrastructure was a daunting challenge for any government.

Initially, Bangladesh faced the twin-menace of political and economic instability as well. It was not easy for a poor country to come out of the trauma of a costly war of ‘liberation’. To top it all there were problems of military interventions, poor governance, institutional vacuum, corruption and polarization in society.

Given all these factors, these difficulties looked unsurmountable, but from 1980s onwards growth picked up. Initially it was lacklustre, but once it was on track, there was no looking back. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Bangladesh’s growth momentum has not declined. To the surprise of many, its economy grew 8 per cent in the past fiscal year even surpassing those of India and China. Its exports have touched $40 billion and foreign exchange reserves are impressive. In one of his recent articles, Prof SM Naseem of Quaid-e- Azam University has pointed out that apart from steady GDP growth, Bangladesh has achieved significantly higher progress in terms of social indicators. As a matter of fact, given its level of economic development, Bangladesh has over-performed in social development. Special mention needs to be made about the population’s growth rate of 1.1 per cent per year, and rise in average life expectancy surpassing those of India and Pakistan by 4 and 6 years respectively.

Compared to Bangladesh, where does Pakistan stand today? After three or four superficial cycles of high growth, we are back to square one. This year if we achieve a GDP growth rate of 1.5-2 per cent, it will be a miracle. Our exports remain stagnant at $25 billion. Our foreign and domestic debts have crossed all limits and foreign exchange reserves are down to $15 billion.

Having a population growth of 2.1 per cent and youth bulge of 60 per cent, we are sitting on a demographic time bomb. In HDI, we are at serial number 140. Whether it is routine immunization, infant mortality, gender balance in primary and secondary education or sanitation, we are almost at the bottom and regressing.

A question can be asked: if Bangladesh had remained a part of Pakistan could it have become a ‘development surprise’ in a generation’s lifetime, or would it have remained as under-developed as most parts of Pakistan are even after 73 years of independence?


Tasneem Siddiqui is a retired Pakistani civil servant who had served in erstwhile East Pakistan and as Chief Secretary of Sind. He is Chairman of Saiban Action Research for Shelter, Karachi.



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