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Islam and Politics ( 10 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Stop Taking Muslims for a Reservation Ride: New Age Islam’s Selection from Indian Press, 11 September 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

11 September 2015

Stop Taking Muslims for a Reservation Ride

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

United Arab Emirates Look To India as a New Key Partner

By Shishir Gupta

A Tale of Errors

By M M Ansari

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri: Neither Hawk nor Dove

By Khaled Ahmed



Stop Taking Muslims for A Reservation Ride

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

Sep 11, 2015

The word reservation — misused by political parties to befool Muslims — should be deleted from the Indian lexicon in the context of quotas based on religion. Recently, vice-president Hamid Ansari, while delivering a lecture used the word “affirmative action” and perhaps meant that Muslims needed reservations. Muslims have never asked for reservations and it’s only their so-called leaders who keep wailing for quotas.

It’s time that Muslims were dissuaded from reservations and persuaded to find a firm footing in the mainstream through hard work. The Congress-led governments in the past had taken the Muslim community for a ride in the name of religion-based reservations, which is unconstitutional.

Reservations are no more than crutches for Muslims. The solution lies in competing and progressing through merit. The reality is that reservation degrades the universal concept of merit logically as well as ethically. Reservations on the basis of religion are uncalled for in a secular polity.

However, it should be clear that the Muslims are among the most disadvantaged and underprivileged sections of society. According to a survey by Friends for Education, an NGO, almost 52% Muslims live below the poverty line, as compared to 25% of all Indians. Of the 100 Muslims admitted at the primary level, only four finish high school, while only one makes it to college. In the recent civil services exams, there were only 11 Muslims among the 422 successful candidates. The situation continues to be same in other areas as well.

It would be worth examining as to what the founding fathers say about reservations. Interestingly, Sardar Patel vehemently supported the charter for providing political safeguards to the minorities as given in Articles 292 and 294 of the Draft Constitution, but Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifz ur Rehman, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Hussainbhoy Laljee and Tajammul Hussain opposed it. The question is: If they are given jobs against a quota, will their woes end? How can the educational, economic and social conditions of 15% of a one billion population change with a few seats in a university or government jobs?

The basic reason for this is the lack of reform among Muslims, absence of modern education, the bigotry of Ulema and their siege mentality. A sincere effort should be made to support the current social reform growing in the community, promote literacy and education campaigns, insist on gender equality and inheritance laws, enhance girl-child education and create opportunities for helpless Muslims that they empower themselves through education and new skills.

Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on education and religion.


United Arab Emirates Look To India as a New Key Partner

By Shishir Gupta

Sep 11, 2015

A diplomatic tectonic shift in India-United Arab Emirates relations with serious ramifications for Pakistan has taken place since Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed at Abu Dhabi airport on August 16.

Apparently Modi is amused that the media found only two takeaways from his historic two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — he was given a rare reception by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and his five brothers and land was allocated by the Gulf State to build a temple in Abu Dhabi. That Modi’s visit was a game-changer was evident during the September 3 Joint Commission Meetings (JCM), chaired by the foreign ministers of India and the UAE in New Delhi.

On the sidelines of the JCM, a top UAE interlocutor fondly told his Indian counterparts that he had kept a house (palace in Indian parlance) in Karachi and Lahore as both the Pakistani cities were vibrant and full of gaiety in the past. He said it was only during his recent visit to Lahore that he realised that the laughter had disappeared from the historical city and one could now feel the stench emanating from decay all over.

Pointing to various terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, the interlocutor called Pakistan virtually a failed state and drew comparisons with terror-wracked Algeria. He conveyed that the UAE was most upset with Pakistan, the biggest Sunni military power, for not coming out in support of Saudi Arabia against Shia Houthis in the Yemen civil war and against Iran for exacerbating the Shia-Sunni fault lines in West Asia.

The conversation was sheer music to the ears of the Indian interlocutors as it was coming from a country that once did not allow the Indian ambassador inside a UAE air base after the Indian Airlines flight IC-814, hijacked by Pakistani terrorists, landed in the morning on December 25, 1999, for refuelling en route to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

The UAE was the country that allowed unfettered access to 1993 Mumbai serial blast accused Dawood Ibrahim, who runs a huge business empire stretching from Karachi to Abu Dhabi, and his gang. This was also the country that allowed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to recruit vulnerable Indian expatriates in the UAE to launch a jihad against their own country using their strategic arm — the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group. Indian Mujahideen co-founders Amir Raza Khan, Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Bhatkal, Abdus Subhan Qureshi, Aftab Ansari and Sadiq Israr Sheikh, who account for more than 1,000 murders of innocents in India, have a base in Dubai or Sharjah.

The Azamgarh module of the Indian Mujahideen comprising Atif Ameen, Arif Badar and Dr Shahnawaz was funded by Pakistan agencies through the UAE to target innocents from Lucknow to Delhi to Mumbai in the past decade.

The big question is: So what has brought about this huge change in the Gulf royals that they have decided to initiate operational cooperation with India against terrorism of all denominations — cyber security and intelligence sharing — and singled out New Delhi as the destination for multi-billion dollar investments? The answer lies in the emergence of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah as mega global centres of finance and trade with expatriates from all over the world making this Gulf kingdom as their second home.

With the rise of the Islamic State or Isis just across their borders, the fear of a terror attack has reached critical levels as it will directly impact the security of finance and trade institutions in the Emirates. Given that terror groups of all denominations — from the Taliban to al-Qaeda to Isis  — have a presence in the Af-Pak region, the UAE and other Islamic countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh want to insulate themselves from these religious radicals. From a country where the West Asia royals used to indulge in game hunting in the Sindh and Balochistan deserts, Pakistan has become a pariah state with even its chief patron, Saudi Arabia, seriously suspicious of its long-term intentions.

This is evident from the overtures coming from Riyadh to New Delhi directly and through royal intermediaries that Modi should visit Saudi Arabia by the end of this year to cement the bilateral relations. While the India-UAE joint statement after Modi’s visit is unequivocal in its condemnation of terrorists and their sponsors, its direct impact will be that the Emirates will no longer be a safe haven for anti-Indian activities, with Pakistan taking a direct hit from its economic consequences.

The closeness of India-UAE ties also has a direct bearing on the West Asia kingdoms investing in economic opportunities in India as the Abu Dhabi royals are very close to Saudi Arabia, just as the Dubai royals have family ties with Jordan’s ruling family. Apart from investment, the India-UAE rapprochement also provides India a diplomatic opportunity to play the honest broker to stabilise the ferment in West Asia post the Arab spring and rise of Isis. The fact is that India is the only country that has close ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, the key regional players with military muscle.

Although Modi has, to date, made all the right moves by focusing on good governance and development, the fruits of India’s multi-layered engagement with West Asia also depend on his ability to prevent any polarisation on religious lines and using an iron hand to pre-empt any communal conflagration.

It is a foregone conclusion that there will be instigation from across the borders to sharpen the communal divide so that the India-UAE engagement remains only on paper as the relations with the Emirates are not confined to security but stretch all the way to the joint development of an anti-cancer vaccine.

The UAE has played the first card by taking to task a cleric who vocally opposed land allocation for a temple in Abu Dhabi and even enacting a law by which a Muslim calling his religious brother an apostate or what is called Takfir in Islam is punishable. The law, which has resonance in West Asia, has a direct impact on Takfiri terrorist groups like Isis, al-Qaeda and the LeT. It is time for India to reciprocate.


A Tale of Errors

By M M Ansari

Sep 11, 2015

India-Pakistan relations have deteriorated mainly due to frequent skirmishes on the LoC and terror attacks in different parts of India. The perpetrators of these crimes have unfortunately gone scot-free, which adversely affects the implementation of confidence-building measures.

The cancellation of foreign secretary- and NSA-level meetings, on different pretexts, belies the expectation of resolving contentious issues through dialogue. The international community has genuinely been concerned about the escalating tension between the two countries.

Knowing the belligerent attitude and behaviour of the Pakistani leadership, particularly in the context of alleged terror activities in India, a re-examination of India’s response and handling of the meetings is urgently called for. While India should be commended for adhering to the principles of the preset agenda of the two meetings, it has missed the opportunity of advancing its own interests: Evolving joint mechanisms for containing terror as well as promoting economic engagement, critical for durable peace. In the last one year, the diplomatic errors committed by our leaders are unprecedented.

 First, the foreign secretary talks in August last year were called off because Pakistan had invited Hurriyat leaders for a meeting. But Hurriyat leaders have, in the past, met with top-most Indian leaders, including the home and prime ministers, as well as senior officials of Pakistan. The ISI and IB are also in touch with them. So what have we gained by cancelling the talks on the pretext of the Hurriyat meeting with the Pakistani leadership?

 Second, India has been unfairly ignoring the concerns and grievances of people living in PoK, as no attempt has been made by leaders to reach out to them or take up with Pakistan issues for ameliorating their socio-economic difficulties. After all, as per the provisions of the Constitution and the resolutions passed by Parliament, the people of PoK are Indian citizens and the government has the responsibility to do everything possible to realise their political and economic rights.

Third, an understanding was reached between the two countries at Ufa for holding an NSA-level meeting in New Delhi. While the challenge of laying a roadmap for the resolution of all contentious issues is daunting indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly said in his address on August 17 in Dubai that all political differences can be resolved through active engagement of stakeholders in a meaningful dialogue process. But this line of action was not adhered to. The NSA-level meeting was cancelled mainly because India insisted on a discussion of terror-related issues, whereas Pakistan was inclined to include the K issue as well.

But this insistence of Pakistan is not new. There was no justification for shying away from discussions on Kashmir. India’s positions on all contentious issues are well known and the same could have been maintained or reiterated, rather than cancelling the meeting. India has missed an opportunity to place on the record facts about the heinous crimes committed by individuals and terror organisations operating from Pakistan.

Fourth, it is pertinent to mention that, in the context of the inhuman treatment of PoWs by Pakistan which has been violating the Geneva Convention, the Supreme Court has lamented that the Central government hasn’t taken it up with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to expose the inhuman treatment of Indian soldiers by Pakistan. This has a demoralising effect on the army.

Senior SC advocate Ram Jethmalani, who is also an ardent supporter of the BJP government, suggests that India should refer the Kashmir dispute to the ICJ. If such voices gather momentum, the resolution of the Kashmir issue may become even more complex. Therefore, critical issues facing the country should not be relegated to a lower level of importance, especially not ones that require the active cooperation of neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan.

Clearly, India has erred in handling diplomatic relations with Pakistan and, as a result, huge opportunities have been missed to take appropriate decisions for promoting mutually beneficial political and economic relations. It’s almost certain that Pakistan will raise the issue of Kashmir as and when a meeting is convened, at any level and anywhere, to embarrass the Indian leadership.

M M Ansari was interlocutor for J&K.


Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri: Neither hawk nor dove

By Khaled Ahmed

Sep 11, 2015,

The foreign minister of Pakistan from 2002 to 2007, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, has regaled a grumpy anti-Indian Pakistan with his 850-page book titled Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Relations Including Details of the Kashmir Framework (OUP 2015). It is a document peace-loving Pakistanis tired of anti-India jingoism will derive strength from. He says he is not a hawk, but he wouldn’t be labelled a dove either, with its feathers much ruffled from kicks coming from all directions.

His father, Mahmud Ali Kasuri, was a lawyer like him — a Marxist who mixed radicalism with religion, and fell afoul of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the latter began using strong-arm methods to deal with opponents. Son Kasuri too couldn’t pull along with PM Nawaz Sharif after he tabled the 15th Constitutional Amendment enforcing sharia, which, in the eyes of many, would make him a caliph. In 2002, he was foreign minister in the cabinet of General Pervez Musharraf, who had overthrown and imprisoned Nawaz Sharif after performing the most shameful act of invading Kargil.

Given the default Pakistani hawkishness on Kashmir, Kasuri’s foreign policy thinking comes across as doveish, but he doesn’t want to appear as such because he thinks being a dove is un-pragmatic and gets you nowhere. He would rather be a realist who does some “unsentimental weighing” of the odds facing policymaking, with an eye to culture and civilisation rather than nuclear stockpiles.

He leans towards people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan and was convinced that “Pakistan’s existing policy could not advance or safeguard the interests of Kashmiris and Pakistan in the foreseeable future”. He is also leery of “armed non-state actors… damaging the Kashmir cause and hurting Pakistan’s national interests”. He accepts what Pakistan has so far ignored when conducting its India policy, starting with General Ayub Khan, who triggered the 1965 war, and ending with the Kargil operation that sank an economy that had just revived after a decade of political instability: “One of the perennial challenges faced by Pakistan is the disconnect between its security objectives and economic realities.”

With Kasuri as foreign minister, Musharraf switched off the jihad in Kashmir and earned the hostility of many inside the Jihadi microcosm of Pakistan, which included the interface between his army and the non-state actors. (Three attempts on his life came from “within”.) Kasuri seems to be the man behind him: “I strongly believe that it serves Pakistan’s national interest to normalise relations with India; animosity with India has cost Pakistan both economically and politically. I also personally know many Indians who believe that it serves India’s national interest to befriend Pakistan.”

Then Musharraf pronounced the formula to underpin India-Pakistan normalisation with a status quo. He dropped the demand for annexing Kashmir to Pakistan and settled for: One, initiating a dialogue; two, accepting the centrality of Kashmir; three, eliminating whatever is not acceptable to Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris; and four, arriving at a solution acceptable to all the three stakeholders. This set the framework for what was to emerge as “autonomy” for both Kashmirs, without changing the map and by “making the border irrelevant”. Kasuri thinks this framework represented his vision and remains the only way forward for Pakistan and India to this day.

 If you are neither a hawk nor a dove, you are bound to get kicked from both sides of the ideological divide. This is how Kasuri describes his encounter with the most hawkish leader of the Kashmiris in Indian Kashmir: “Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s tone was aggressive as he criticised Pakistan’s policies on a number of counts, including the proposal to start a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. He described President Musharraf’s four-point agenda as vague and criticised the president’s statement on the UN Security Council resolution’s relevance to Kashmir. He was generally inflexible in his approach to resolving the Kashmir dispute. Fortunately, other Kashmiri leaders I met recognised the need for unity in the ranks of Kashmiris; they were more pragmatic and by and large unwilling to go along with Geelani’s rigid approach.”

 Standing in the middle of rejectionists and capitulationists, he knows he is surrounded by inflexibilities that bring on wars. “I like middles,” said John Updike. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.” Is Kasuri ambiguous? If so, his ambiguity is blessed, compared to the “clarity” of the inflexible.

There is “Kashmir fatigue” in the world and Pakistanis are beginning to feel it. Writing in Dawn (“Does Kashmir really matter to most Pakistanis?”, September 3), Rustam Shah Mohmand, an important tribal leader and ex-civil servant, tallies the damage sustained by the Kashmir dispute in South Asia: “The cost of confrontation is unquantifiable — in terms of lost opportunities, absence of trade, lack of focus on poverty eradication, inadequate financial allocations for education, healthcare and sanitation.”

 Kasuri was greatly encouraged in his thinking by the BJP PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Today, we have PM Narendra Modi, and we have cross-border shelling taking its toll on both sides as the two TV-kibitzing nations are mutually outraged in favour of war. In India, lawyer-commentator A.G. Noorani seems to agree with Kasuri: “Collapse of the short-lived Ufa peace process caused deep depression among people in Indian Kashmir. They know only too well that the key to their liberation from the oppressive stagnation there is an accord on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan which satisfies their aspirations as well.”

Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’