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Indian Press ( 12 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press On Tablighi Jamaat, Secular Tradition And Clash Of Civilisations: New Age Islam's Selection, 12 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

12 November 2020

• Tablighi Jamaat Case And Indonesia: How India's Domestic Politics Is Adversely Affecting Its Foreign Policy Agenda

By Ashutosh Nagda

• French State School Today Is An Incarnation Of Its Secular Tradition

By Vijay Singh

• India Must Learn From France: Let Us Also Fight Religious Extremism With Hard Secularism

By Rahul Shivshankar

• Clash Of Civilisations

By Julio Ribe

• Days Of Whines And Poses In America

By V Sudarshan

• Slow Justice

By S. Binodkumar Singh

• Biden Likely To Give India More Strategic Space

By Yogesh Gupta


Tablighi Jamaat Case And Indonesia: How India's Domestic Politics Is Adversely Affecting Its Foreign Policy Agenda

By Ashutosh Nagda

November 07, 2020


Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hand with Indonesian president Joko Widodo. AFP


In March this year, the Government of India arrested several members of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation for violating the COVID-19 lockdown guidelines. Out of the 3,500-plus Tablighi members that were booked, 751 were reported to be Indonesian nationals.

According to a recent report in The Wire, over the past eight months, the diplomats from both countries have been trying hard to keep a lid on the possible consequences of the arrests on the bilateral relations of India and Indonesia.

Since the re-election of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in 2019, several of its domestic political decisions — the abrogation of Article 370, the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the release of a redrawn Indian map, amongst others — have had a negative spillover effect on India’s foreign relations. The Tablighi Jamaat issue is another addition to this list, which could have adverse ramifications on New Delhi-Jakarta bilateral relations.

Jakarta’s compulsions

Since its arrival in 2014, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put a greater emphasis on its Act East Policy (AEP) and enhancing India's cooperation with ASEAN countries. In this, Jakarta is a key gatekeeper given its status as the largest economy of Southeast Asia as well as India’s largest trading partner in the region.

Furthermore, the two countries share common collaborative goals in the Indo-Pacific — a centre of economic as well as geopolitical gravity in today's times. There is also an upward curve in defence ties between the two countries as seen with the Sabang Port joint development and the recent agreement between the respective defence ministers "to expand defence ties and technology sharing". Thus, irking Indonesia could cause a hindrance to India’s eastward act.

The arrest of the Indonesian nationals was the second time that a diplomatic tussle had arisen between New Delhi and Jakarta. Earlier in February, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry had summoned India's Ambassador to Indonesia, Pradeep Rawat, to discuss the Hindu-Muslim sectarian riots in New Delhi that had begun over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Indonesia had been one of the first countries to publicly and diplomatically raise concerns over the riots.

It is imperative to note that Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, has — in the last few years — witnessed a greater emphasis on the Islamic identity in its polity. This re-emergence has seen a steady rise right from the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections, which were preceded by mass sectarian mobilisations by Islamists against the then Jakarta governor.

This had a trickle-down effect in and around the 2019 Presidential elections in the country, wherein incumbent Jokowi partnered with Islamist allies as he joined hands with the likes of Ma’ruf Amin (ex-head of Nahdlatul Ulama and the current Vice President of Indonesia), Prabowo Subianto (presidential rival and current defense minister) and the Muhammadiyah (supporters of Subianto’s candidature).

The summons to India's ambassador in Indonesia had come amid a rising criticism and condemnation of the Delhi riots from two both NU and Muhammadiyah, the largest Muslim organisations in Indonesia.

The appeasement of the Islamists before the elections had helped Jokowi get re-elected as the President of Indonesia. He seemed to have had continued with the appeasement in a bid to clear the pathway for his economic agenda also known as Jokowinomics 2.0, the success of which was heavily dependent upon a recently passed omnibus bill on job creation. This contentious bill was overwhelmingly passed in the Indonesian parliament wherein Jokowi has managed to cobble up an alliance that controls roughly 74 percent of the country's parliament.

The bill, whose passing and success has been noted as the real barometer of the success of Jokowi’s agenda, has a long way to go. While the administration and the bill face continuous opposition from labour unions and environmentalists, the Indonesian President would like to avoid any political opposition (especially from the Islamists) in the future. That can then distract the progress of these reforms and thus affect Jokowi’s goal of being the country’s next "Father of Development".

In this context, any anti-Muslim measures or rhetoric by New Delhi and especially the ones which target the Indonesians will have the scope of pushback from Jakarta. While the recent pushbacks have been mild in diplomatic nature, the ones in the future can ignite a major diplomatic as well as economic tussle between the two countries.

A hit on credibility

The mechanism of a healthy bilateral relationship not only involves the head of states and the respective governments, but also the population of the two countries. In that regard, the credibility of a country plays a primary role. The Tablighi Jamaat case seems to have dented New Delhi's credibility among ASEAN countries, and especially within Indonesia.

According to an ASEAN diplomatic source quoted in The Wire’s report, in the first few weeks after the issue erupted, the ASEAN members "constantly wrote and asked for information as per protocol" from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). “But, it was clear that they themselves did not have anything to tell us,” the source added. This thus raises serious questions on the diplomatic maneuverability of the MEA and the latter’s position in the current Indian dispensation.

Further, the report goes on to mention some important discrepancies between the Indian and the Indonesian public statements on certain key events during this period.

In April, the Prime Minister of India held a telephonic conversation with his Indonesian counterpart. The official Indian read-out of the same mentioned that the leaders “discussed issues related to their citizens present in each other’s countries” without any mention of the Indonesian Tablighi Jamaat members. On the other hand, while referring to the same conversation, the Indonesian foreign minister told the local press that Jokowi had raised the issue of Tablighi Jamaat congregation with Modi.

The report notes two other instances — the ASEAN-India senior officials meeting of 15 July and the ASEAN-India ministerial meeting of 12 September — when the Tablighi Jamaat issue was informally discussed and not recorded in the official press release and the chairman’s statement, respectively. While the sources cited in the report confirmed the discussion of the issue in the 15 July meeting, the Indonesian Foreign minister herself briefed the media about the appraisal of the issue at the 12 September meeting.

This sequence of events and the glaring differences between New Delhi’s 'tight-lipped' approach to Jakarta’s outspokenness hints at a possible hit to the former’s credibility amongst the Indonesian public and the government.


India’s domestic political compulsions and decisions in the last eighteen months have invited an equal amount of flak and questions from the international community. This, in turn, has led the conversation in Indian foreign policy. Thus it won’t be wrong to say that New Delhi’s domestic political situation is affecting its foreign policy agenda. The results of the same seem discouraging, to say the least, and this has the potential to create a major foreign policy turmoil in the coming years especially from the least expected corners such as Indonesia and the ASEAN. If that happens, New Delhi may bid adieu to its eastward ambitions.


French State School Today Is An Incarnation Of It's Secular Tradition

By Vijay Singh

November 7, 2020

My first brush with the French school system and the republican values it is meant to incarnate — both tied to the recent gruesome beheading of a French schoolteacher — was in the late 1980s. I was invited to France Culture, a radio channel here, for my book La Nuit Poignardée (The Wounded Night) to discuss the Punjab militancy in the 1980s. I was surprised to find two unusual guests with me — two Sikh boys, 13 and 15 years old, who had hit the “unofficial” news for being asked to refrain from coming to their state school in a turban. This was in itself an offshoot of the ongoing debate on banning French Muslim girls from attending schools in headscarves.

To put the boys in the studio at ease, I asked one of them in Punjabi: “Veera, school vich ki hoya si? (What happened at school?)” The boy didn’t answer, looking embarrassed. I asked again. He twirled his lips and mumbled in the most native French: “Chais pas, je ne parle pas le pendjabi, moi! (Sorry, I don’t speak Punjabi!)” The boys looked so perfectly French that I wondered how on earth they could be asked to remove their turban, which is almost a part of their natural attire. I raised this issue the same night with two renowned French women writers, who had come home to dinner. They didn’t know much about turbans, but the discussion quickly switched to Muslim headscarves and they became furious: “No way! No question of girls covering their heads. This is the French republic, and they’ll do what it demands!”

These incidents prodded me to dig into the historical making of the French secular state school, and its uniqueness that the French are so proud of. Jules Ferry, Minister of Public Instruction in 1882, was the first to create the state school, which was to be mandatory, free and secular. Besides the French Revolution’s cries of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, this school was also a response to centuries of violent conflict between the state and the Catholic church. The inchoate secularism of Ferry’s republican school was fortified in 1905, when a French law separated the church and the state, thus marking the beginnings of French secularism (laïcité) in modern times. While citizens were free to practise any religion in their personal lives, the state had now declared itself to be free of any religion.

This concept of French secularism evolved over the 20th century, giving French citizens “freedom to believe or not to believe, to practice a religion, to be atheist, agnostic or to be an adept of humanist philosophies, to change religion or to cease to have any religion”. But while French secularism guaranteed freedom of religion, it also conferred freedom vis-à-vis religions. Freedom of thought, which derived from the freedom of conscience, gave the freedom to criticise any idea, belief or opinion, subject to the only condition that it did not incite hatred or violence.

French state school today is an incarnation of this secular tradition, which was further fortified in the face of new challenges posed by immigration, largely from former French colonies. In 2004, another law was promulgated, banning schoolchildren from wearing any overt signs or clothes that would betray their religious affiliation. This was an effort to create a unique school space, where everyone would look equal and “religiously anonymous” — no crosses, no headscarves or burqas, no turbans, no Jewish kippahs (skullcaps). (The Sikh boys come with hair-nets now.) The message was clear: School was meant to be a temple of learning, where reason and rationality reigned.

This secular outlook was strengthened by another constitutional right — the right to freedom of expression. Macron said recently at the Panthéon: “Freedom of expression is part of French heritage.” Armed with these two republican laws, French schoolteachers today are thus actively encouraged to foster a fearless spirit of inquiry, regardless of religion or any other hindrance. The caricatures shown at the French school, thus, form a part of this tradition of teaching and learning.

Freedom of expression is a precious human right, and it must particularly be protected today in the face of several democracies showing dangerous authoritarian trends and democracy being a distant dream in several countries. But must freedom of expression — or “secular expression” — not pause and review itself on that invisible line where the principle of human respect begins? Won’t tolerance of the other make the right of freedom of expression more dignified and acceptable? Won’t, as Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye make the whole world blind?”

Although President Macron has made it amply clear that his fight is for a secular state and against Islamic radicals, not Islam, the sad truth of our times is that the world has changed, particularly since the first Gulf war (1990). Anger has got internationalised, and social media has only been an accomplice in this development. Emotional turmoil and “touchiness” has increased, and, in a world where illegal arms are available for the asking, it’s become easy to pick up a gun and shoot down whoever angered you. There’s a stench of revenge in the air — both from the state and the angered people.

In France, there are ominous internal realities, too. Demographics have changed. Ten per cent of the population is Muslim. Amongst the school-going population, this percentage, and the percentage of “believers”, is much greater. A majority of Muslims less than 25 years place Islam before the Republic. Reportedly, many schoolteachers are “Islamo-radicalised”. Several schoolchildren have refused to observe a one-minute silence to mourn terrorism-related tragedies. Recent showing of the caricatures, which seem to have become coterminous with the French republic, have divided people into pro or anti-caricature. Schoolteachers are at a loss of words to teach freedom of expression. Under these conditions and in the interest of promoting social harmony, would it not be wise, therefore, to re-read these precious lines?: “Before putting forward any precept or maxim to your pupils, ask yourself if there is, to the best of your knowledge, anyone who could be offended by your words. Ask yourself if there is a single head of family of a pupil present in your class, be it only one, who could refuse to give consent to what you are about to say. If yes, abstain from saying it.” These are the words of none other than Jules Ferry, the founder of the French state school, in his Lettre aux instituteurs (1883).


Vijay Singh is a journalist, writer and filmmaker living in Paris.


India Must Learn From France: Let Us Also Fight Religious Extremism With Hard Secularism

By Rahul Shivshankar

November 7, 2020

The lifeblood of the modern French state has been violently extracted from the veins of renaissance reactionaries who murdered for liberty, equality and fraternity.

Since then, aside from the egregious and unpardonable excesses of the colonial era, the French state has by and large been an enthusiastic practitioner of secular values. If it has erred in recent times, it has been towards a pedantic secularism that has attracted controversy from avowed multiculturalists.

For example, laws in France permit the government to deny requests for citizenship to those who reject orders banning burqas on grounds of “lack of assimilation”. Indians would be familiar with an incident not so long ago when laws were invoked against turban-wearing Sikhs in France on the grounds that the head gear militates against French mores of social cohesion. The ban led to fervent protests in India that forced the Indian government of the day to raise the issue discreetly with its French counterpart. The French government responded by pointing out that turbans were allowed in public places but not in schools.

In a statement that is still available on the French embassy website the French government explains that the restrictions are in line with the “laws on laicite (the French principle of separation between the state and religious institutions) and practical solutions have been found to reconcile their (Sikh) religious practice with the principles of the French Republic”. From all indications French Sikhs seem to have understood this.

In France then, the right to offend or be blasphemous is near absolute. The French believe that, at their core, the tenets of religions could be naturally offensive to the adherents of other faiths. In the French scheme it is therefore inconceivable that a history teacher would have to pay for his life for an alleged act of blasphemy. In fact a vast majority of French people view Samuel Paty as an activist not a blasphemer. The history teacher’s decision to defy the mullahs and show his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, during a lesson on free speech, was a symbolic one in protest against the terror attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for much the same reason.

It is in this limited context then that French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to end “Islamist separatism” in the country. Religious extremism is anathema to secular democracy and Macron is only doing what every avowed secular-liberal would do in a situation like this: fight weaponised obscurantism. For, there can be no denying that only obscurantists among Muslims would take such an extreme step as to decapitate a teacher for encouraging students to defend the right to believe or not to believe.

It is therefore surprising that Macron’s attack on “Islamist extremists”, not Islam, has drawn such widespread criticism from around the world. Many Muslims have taken to the streets in their respective countries to accuse Macron of Islamophobia. Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad in a 13-point harangue on Twitter ominously called upon Muslims to slay millions of French people for the massacres of the past. Worryingly, the demagogue found appreciation in some circles, raising the spectre of violence.

Are the shootings in Vienna and the French city of Lyon, or the attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, directly attributable to Mahathir Mohamad’s invocation? One hopes not, but his absurd comments could open the floodgates for an unending cycle of worldwide revanchist violence. Will he justify Christians suddenly deciding to avenge unpunished attacks by Muslims in the past?

Beyond the ludicrousness, Mahathir Mohamad and those who “liked” his tweet are only betraying their poor understanding of the language of universal human rights. The defence of human life, liberty and freedom of expression is a moral and legal obligation of a rules-based society, not a phobia against Islam. Those who are not able to comprehend this fact are only authorising bigotry of the “other” side.

The Modi government is right to have supported President Macron. Sections of the opposition and disparate Muslim groups here in India, who are criticising Modi, are undermining well-established constitutional values. Instead of letting vote bank compulsions dictate their response, they would be better advised to demand consistency. The response to Muslim communalism cannot be an aggravating Hindu variant. There are vital lessons to be learnt from France, which is fighting religious extremism with hard secularism.


Clash Of Civilisations

By Julio Ribeiro

Nov 06, 2020

The French have always been irreverent about anything to do with religion. Perhaps this almost national attitude to God and God’s attributes was a fallout of the French Revolution. It is not surprising, therefore, that French President Emmanuel Macron made an off-the-cuff statement that conveyed to the Islamic world that the French government would uphold the right of its citizens to dabble in cartoons of the Prophet.

The issue arose because of the beheading of a Paris school teacher who had shown the cartoons drawn in a popular French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, a publication that specialises in political satire, to his pupils in a classroom. Ordinary Muslims take umbrage to the depiction of their Prophet in picture form. Cartoons, of course, are the worst form of picture depictions since the artist intends to draw wry humour which fragile minds cannot stomach.

More than any other religion in our universe, Islam smells apostasy and insult in any rejection of its beliefs, however casual the intent of the culprit. In Muslim nations, the apostate would be put to the sword. In non-Muslim countries like France, the violent reactions of true believers would send out messages of dire consequences. The beheadings in Paris and Nice and the stabbings in the latter city were the responses of extremists who really believe that violent revenge would win them grace in heaven!

What brought me cause for joy and hope was a body of local believers calling themselves ‘Muslims for Secular Democracy’, led by my friend Javed Anand, husband of an even bigger friend, Teesta Setalvad, who in castigating the beheading of the teacher, Samuel Paty, made secular liberals exult. Here, at last, was a group of moderate and sensible Muslims that knows that no religion and no God will condone the brutality of murder and mayhem.

The very next day, to the consternation of the same secular liberals, thousands of Muslim protesters took to the streets of our cities, condemning France and its President for standing up to the legal rights of its citizens! Cinema houses in France and other countries of Europe have often screened films debunking some core beliefs of Christians regarding Jesus Christ, while hardcore Christians protested peacefully outside. Peaceful protests are par for the course in mature democracies.

France enforces strict segregation of the Church from the State. In its schools, religious symbols like crucifixes are not displayed. They are, in fact, not permitted. In many Christian lands, the crucifix is prominently displayed above hospital beds — but not in France or the Nordic countries which pride themselves on their secularism.

In his seminal work, The Clash of Civilisations, political scientist-cum-writer Samuel Huntington had predicted that the North-South divide between democracy and communism would be replaced by the East-West divide between the more populous but economically backward Muslim countries of the East and the established Christian-led economies of the West. The Islamic concept of a caliphate led to the establishment of the ISIS which tried to conquer lands and cities with economies based on oil revenues in Syria and Iraq and actually controlled vast territories in those lands for a decade. It established its capital in the Syrian city of Rakka, then under its control.

A French journalist named Anna Erelle went undercover to befriend an Algerian-descended ISIS emir or captain of French nationality. Her book Undercover Jihadi Bride gives a fair account of the murders and beheadings ordered by ISIS forces in and around Rakka in the decade before the organisation was ousted from the Middle East and its caliph killed by the joint forces of Syria, Russia and the US.

The depredations linked to the ISIS should caution like-minded Islamic jihadist adventurers from dreaming of the unattainable! But they continue to dream and to feed on promises of rewards in the after-life made to them by semi-literate mullahs. Lacking secular education and skills to compete in a secular environment, they fall back on antiquated religious practices that can only lead them to despair and from despair to crime and from crime to destruction.

Candidates to avenge perceived wrongs are never wanting. I have seen this in the Khalistani terrorist scene in Punjab. The emotional chord is one that is easily touched. It leads soldiers of terror to self-destruct sooner or later.

The problem with jihadi terrorism is that it transcends boundaries and even geographies. The ISIS and the Al-Qaida attracted recruits from all over the Islamic world. The ‘ummah’, the brotherhood, provided the cannon fodder from among the gullible who were fired by visions of Islamic rule in the world, with the Sharia law dictating how men must pray and dress and eat and how women should be treated.

In India, extreme elements of the Hindu right were disgusted with the terror strikes by jihadists in a land that had been populated from times immemorial by the Indo-Aryans and the people they had conquered but later assimilated into Aryan society at lower graded levels. These disgruntled elements decided to take matters in their own hands and give a befitting reply to their tormentors. But they went about the riposte in a very amateurish manner, with the result that they were soon discovered and put out of commission.

The moral of the story is that the call to arms by extremist elements of any religious persuasion will be answered by disgruntled young men who have smelt insult to their religion and its culture. But those who answer the call will soon repent because those who want to live peaceful and conventional lives outnumber them by wide and convincing margins.


Days Of Whines And Poses In America

By V Sudarshan

Nov 06, 2020

Consider this enduring Texas poll scene from four days ago in the dying hours of the presidential bid 2020: A Biden campaign bus is swarmed by dozens of cars flying Trump-Pence flags boxed in, blocked, railroaded and prevented from going to its campaign destination. Incumbent President Donald Trump tweets the video, which goes viral, to his 88 million followers with a message: “Did you see how the cars ‘escorted’ the bus? I love Texas!” You would be right in guessing where the Texas electoral college votes are going when the Electoral College meets on December 14, six days after December 8 when the results of the American elections are expected to be finalised.

That is still more than a month away. Between now and then, there could be many a slip between the White House and ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden. Even should he clinch that magic 270 electoral votes unofficially, from the way Trump has been running down the voting process, selectively, and from the increasing number of times the Trump campaign is using the word ‘fraud’ and threatening to take the legal way, federally and even nationally, to deny Biden victory, it looks as if America is bracing for a bruising photo-finish.

This is because Joe Biden has patently failed to demonstrate that he is by far and away the clear winner the pollsters were predicting he was. This is also because Donald Trump has proved to be more tenacious, if not more deeply rooted, in his substantial electoral base than was presumed. At least in almost half of a bitterly politically divided United States of America where the President himself has led from the front in sowing divisiveness, distrust and plain meanness all around. There has been a qualified sigh of relief that so far there has been no violence considering the plywood drawbridges and other defensive structures that have been erected in the business districts and shops and stockpiling in American homes, not least of firearms. According to the New York Times which quoted FBI data, Americans bought 15.1 million firearms in the first seven months of this election year. This apparently represents a 91 per cent jump over the same period in 2019. It is indisputably a symptom of anxiety that Donald Trump has wantonly wrought in his presidential years, cheerleading political hooliganism and plain bullying. It has also been evident that armed militias have been seen in many of the rallies. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that some of the lines in the gun stores were about as long as the bread lines in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania in the late eighties. It is frightening to think that all it requires is a spark, a tiny spark, and so far, Trump has shown no hesitancy in sparking. There is a whole laundry list, but you do get the picture.

As Trump called portions of the process, “a fraud on the American people,” “an embarrassment to our country,” he claimed, “Frankly, we did win this election.” And outlined his strategy, a threat to go to the US Supreme Court. The appeal process has already begun in Pennsylvania and is likely to spread to other states as well.

Biden’s hopes of winning hinges now on Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10) and Michigan (16), which have been traditionally Democrat but swung to Trump in 2016 and not by huge margins. North Carolina with 15 electoral votes and Georgia, with 16, are the other two states where the results have yet to be declared, are also too narrow to call, but were swinging imperceptibly towards Trump. The postal ballots, which Trump has discredited, as well as the overseas votes and the military votes have still to be counted. In America, it is manual counting, not the EVMs. It remains to be seen how cleanly Biden prises the remaining electoral votes out of this looming mess and how far the Republicans go to back Trump in subverting the established processes. For now, the jury is out. The point to note here is that even though the margins here in 2016 were low, it has been an uphill task so far for Biden, even though he concentrated his firepower here.

Trump hopes to exploit the legal route because the Supreme Court is packed with Republican nominees, six out of nine, and most of the legislatures in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are in firm Republican control. That hasn’t changed with this election either. As Biden moves inexorably closer to 270, the Trump dirty tricks department will go into overdrive, playing with the perceptions and emotions of his followers.

If Biden emerges winner, then the transition remains. With a loose cannon in the waning White House and a larger world that has changed dramatically in the Trump years, there is residual scope for worry that Trump does not leave more mess for Biden to clean up after him. The first is the big knock that the image of America has taken.

What is happening in the US now is no different from what a petulant authoritarian figure from, say, Latin America did in in the eighties or an African despot who steals an election or two. Indeed, by attempting to deny a complete accounting of votes, how different is Trump from President Saddam whom Bush accused of rigging the elections? Think also Robert Mugabe. Indeed, the American position as a global leader has been substantially undermined by Trump himself. Already that position stands considerably diminished and dented and some of his alliances are under stress. Trump comes off as no different from Putin or even Xi Jinping. What the 45th President of the US has managed to do is take the sheen off the American model of democracy and bring it to the same level of say, Gen Pervez Musharraf, stealing the government from Nawaz Sharif. But let’s look at the bright side: The good news for India is, if Trump emerges out of all this unscathed, we should not have to explain the arithmetic of election results in, say, Jammu and Kashmir to the Americans anymore, if and when we get around to it.


Slow Justice

By S. Binodkumar Singh

 November 9, 2020

On October 22, 2020, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) issued a death warrant against Jatiya Party leader and former State Minister Syed Mohammad Qaiser over crimes against humanity he committed during the Liberation War in 1971. The death warrant was sent to the Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, secretaries of the Home Ministry and Law Ministry, and District Magistrate. However, Qaiser was given 15 days to appeal the decision. Qaiser was sentenced to death on December 23, 2014, when the prosecution proved seven charges against him. On October 29, 2020, Qaiser filed a petition with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court seeking review of its verdict that upheld his death sentence. In the review petition, Qaiser mentioned a total of 18 grounds for which the apex court may consider his prayer. His lawyer Tanvir Ahmed Al Amin argued that Qaiser was 82 years old and sick. He moves on a wheel chair. There is no precedent of sentencing such an old sick man to death in the world, he said. Qaiser is now in Keraniganj jail.

Thus far, the War Crimes (WC) Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 125 leaders, including 50 from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI); 27 from the Muslim League (ML); 11 from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI); five from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); two each from the Jatiya Party (JP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); 27 former Razakars; and one former Al-Badr member. Significantly, out of 125 leaders indicted, verdicts have been delivered against 95 accused, including 69 who have been sentenced to death, and 26 to imprisonment for life. The latest verdict given by the ICT was on December 11, 2019, in which Abdus Sattar alias Tipu Sultan (66) was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971. He was charged on August 8, 2018, with two counts of crimes against humanity. The tribunal sentenced Sattar to death for abducting Babar Mandal from Shaheb Bazar of Rajshshi city on September 26, 1971, taking him to Shaheed Samsuzzoha Hall torture camp at Rajshashi University, torturing him in confinement there, and shooting him to death at the killing ground in the eastern side of the hall at midnight on September 27, 1971. He was also sentenced to death for abducting 11 freedom fighters by attacking village Talaimari, Boalia, Rajshahi on November 2, 1971, taking them to the same torture camp of the Razakar force, torturing them in confinement there for two days and shooting nine of them to death at the same killing ground on November 4, 1971. In 1971, he was a cadre of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), and joined the infamous Razakar force.

So far, six of the 69 people who were awarded the death sentence have been hanged. On September 3, 2016, JeI Central Executive member Mir Quasem Ali (63) was hanged at Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur District; on May 11, 2016, JeI Ameer (Chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami (75) was executed at Dhaka Central Jail; on November 22, 2015, JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67) and BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66) were hanged simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail; on April 11, 2015, JeI Senior Assistant Secretary General Mohammed Kamaruzzaman (63) was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail; and on December 12, 2013, JeI Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname ‘Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur)’ was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail. 32 others are absconding and another 31 cases are currently pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, out of 26 persons who were awarded life sentences, five persons have already died while serving their sentences – former JeI Ameer Ghulam Azam (91), who died on October 23, 2014; former BNP Minister Abdul Alim (83), who died on August 30, 2014; former JeI National Assembly member S.M. Yousuf Ali (83), who died on November 17, 2016; former JeI member Gazi Abdul Mannan (88), who died on December 19, 2016; and former ML member Mahidur Rahman (88), who died on May 21, 2018. 13 others were absconding and another eight were lodged in various jails of the country. Verdicts against 31 accused are yet to be delivered.

Recalling the support of the Government and people of India during the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971, Liberation War Affairs Minister Mozammel Haque announced on August 6, 2020, that Bangladesh would construct a monument in the memory of the Indian soldiers martyred in the Liberation War. The Bangladesh Government has selected 3.5 acres of land at Ashuganj in Brahmanbaia District bordering Agartala. The site selected has historic significance as the Indian Army fought the Pakistanis in some decisive battles in 1971, along with Bangladesh freedom fighters, at Ashuganj. Nearly 2,000 Indian soldiers were killed in the 1971 war against the Pakistan Army, to liberate East Pakistan. According to the Bangladesh Government, as many as 1,984 Indian Army men were killed in the war. Earlier, on July 25, 2011, Bangladesh conferred its highest state award, Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona (Bangladesh Freedom Honour) to former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi posthumously for her outstanding contribution to the country's 1971 Liberation War. Indira Gandhi made crucial contributions to the independence of Bangladesh, travelling across the world to mobilize support for the people of East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh, amid a massive crackdown on civilians by the Pakistan Army, and supporting the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) and eventually injecting Indian Armed Forces to bring the Pakistani Forces to their knees.

Significantly, on August 9, 2020, at the 12th meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Liberation War Affairs Ministry, a six-member Parliamentary Sub-Committee headed by Member of Parliament (MP) Shajahan Khan, was formed to prepare lists of those who collaborated with the Pakistani occupation forces during the 1971 Liberation War. The other members of the Sub-Committee are Liberation War Affairs Minister A.K.M. Mozammel Haque, Narsingdi MP Rajiuddin Ahmed, Chandpur MP Rafiqul Islam Bir Uttam, Brahmanbaria MP AB Tajul Islam and Chittagong MP Moslem Uddin Ahmed. The parliamentary team will work on enlisting and publishing the lists of anti-Liberation forces, including the Jamaat-e Islami, Razakars, Al-Badr, Al-Shams and the Peace Committee.

Further, on August 27, 2020, Minister for Liberation War Affairs Haque and State Minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed Palak, jointly inaugurated the digitization of 38 services of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs as part of the rapid digitization activities under the Government’s “MyGov” platform at the conference hall of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs. By launching the digitized services, the service recipients of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs will be able to be included in the Gazette, receive the freedom fighters’ honorarium, revise information on freedom fighter certificates, and apply for any services related to payment, service progress, submission of required documents and other related activities through five access points. The access points of the services are MyGov Web, MyGov App, 333, Union Digital Center and the Liberation War Affairs Ministry website.

However, expressing frustration over the pending cases in the War Crimes' trials, Shahriar Kabir, President of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee for Resisting Killers and Collaborators of the Bangladesh Liberation War) stated on October 24, 2020,

The ICT's cases are not normal cases like any other offence; the appeal hearing was stopped in the period of former Chief Justice Sinha and the appeals are still in the same state. The Supreme Court has to hear the appeal with the highest priority. We also suggested that the government follow other countries in the world in this regard. If the appeals are stuck in the appellate division with a backlog of other cases, they can hear appeals separately with the arrangement of the ICT set-up.

The achievements on the War Crimes Trials in Bangladesh are already remarkable. Sheikh Hasina's Awami League-led Government has shown enormous courage in pressing ahead with the War Crimes Trail reaffirming the Government's determination to honour its 2008 General Election pledge to bring the War Criminals of the 1971 genocide to justice. The Awami League is in its third straight term in power and its landslide victory in 2008 was precipitated by an election campaign where the war crimes trial was one of the top priorities. However, as a number of cases remain pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the eventual conclusion of the trials and appeals is far from over.


S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Source: South Asia Intelligence Review


Biden Likely To Give India More Strategic Space

By Yogesh Gupta

Nov 12, 2020

JOSEPH Biden Jr. will soon take over as the 46th President of the United States. There is some consternation as many critics are not sure how the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris duo will react to the human rights situation, particularly in Kashmir. Also, that he will be ‘soft’ on China which may recoil on India in its current military confrontation with that country.

Biden is a seasoned and skilful politician, who for decades has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including as its chair. Second, he is calm, contemplative and a team leader who will listen to and go by the professional advice of the US establishment — including the State, Defence, National and Homeland Security, CIA, Trade and other departments. His long innings as the Vice President in two terms of President Obama unambiguously authenticate this view.

In an article, Why America must lead again, in the Foreign Affairs journal in March this year, Biden wrote that President Trump had diminished the credibility and influence of the US by abdicating the American leadership, indulging in ill-advised trade wars which had hurt its own consumers and undermining and abandoning its allies which are America’s biggest strength.

The post-Covid world will be very different from 2016 when the Obama-Biden duo left. China’s economy has made huge strides during this period. However, much of China’s economic growth is based on extensive use of unfair trade practices, including denial of market access, stealing of foreign technologies, subsidies to its state-owned industries and others.

China’s swift growth has been accompanied by massive modernisation of its military, including manufacture of fifth generation of fighter and stealth aircraft, long- and medium-range missiles, hypersonic and artificial intelligence (AI)-based weapons, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

Similarly, China has made considerable progress in other emerging technologies like 5G, quantum computing, new materials, robotics and space weapons. The rapidly growing China is now challenging the economic and military pre-eminence of the US in Asia. It has launched aggression against a number of countries allied or getting closer to the US such as India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia and others and is trying to divide the transatlantic alliance.

Biden has said that he would constitute a “united front of the US, its allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviour and human rights violations” and “place US back at the head of the table” to mobilise collective action on global threats. “When we join together with fellow democracies, our strength more than doubles. China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy,” he argued. Germany, France and leaders of the European Union have welcomed Biden’s election promising to work together on China and other challenges.

Though the aggressive rhetoric of Trump administration may change as Biden seeks China’s collaboration on climate change, non-proliferation and control of infectious diseases, the US and its allies will take collective action against China’s unfair trade policies, as per the Biden team. The US sanctions on export of sensitive technologies to China are likely to continue.

In his earlier avatars, Biden played an important role in the passage of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal in the Congress (2005) and later when the Obama administration declared India as a ‘major defence partner’ (2016). With the signing of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) recently, India has established close linkages with the US security architecture. Its large growing economy, professional armed forces and stout determination to resist China have augmented its strategic value. In its pursuit of multipolar world, India can play a critical role in checking the growth of China’s hegemony and its domination of Asia.

Biden made it clear in his Foreign Affairs essay that he would “fortify the USA’s collective capabilities with democratic friends by reinvesting in its treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea and deepening partnerships from India to Indonesia to advance shared values in a region that will determine the USA’s future.”

Biden has promised to invest in improving America’s competitiveness, pull down trade barriers, resist the slide towards protectionism and give more emphasis to fair trade. Given the rising trade deficit and unemployment in the US, it is likely that there will be some tough negotiations with India on issues such as high tariffs, market access, levy of taxes on US technological giants like Amazon and Google, but in an amicable manner without resorting to threats and tariffs.

On issues relating to immigration, H1B visas and the studies of Indian students in US universities, Biden is likely to be more positive though keeping in view unemployment in his own country.

Some Biden advisers have stated that he would raise human rights issues with India like Obama. This will be more in the nature of a dialogue among friendly states and would not be the main driver of his overall policy given New Delhi’s sensitivities and the importance attached to strategic issues confronting the two countries.

Biden has stated that his administration would stand with India against the threats it faces from its own region and along its borders. Given the above template, it is likely that India would find greater resonance on Pakistan’s support of terrorism, a continued US role in the fight against terror groups in Afghanistan and on resuming a nuclear deal with Iran.

Similarly, his stand on re-joining the Paris climate change agreement, convening a summit of democracies to discuss issues of common interest, meetings of major carbon emitters to reduce harmful emissions and control of infectious diseases would be of considerable interest to India. Summing up, India is likely to get more strategic space and a greater sympathetic understanding of its concerns from the Biden administration than that of President Trump.



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