The historical roots of contemporary political order in India and Pakistan – Modern Diplomacy
India is a stable and democratic country where Pakistan is an unstable “Hybrid Regime” which is controlled by the “Deep State” within the state. Though both the countries have similar root and colonial past, but the political orders are diverged than one can imagine. Some facts can be mentioned regarding to this discussion.
One, after the independence decade (1948-58), the Constituent Assembly of India ratified the constitution and formed a political order. On the other hand, Pakistan not only struggled to ratify a constitution, but also struggled to held a democratic election which showed the institutional weakness of Pakistan later led to military coups.
Two, Indian National Congress (INC), the party that led Indian independence movement established in 1885, earlier than Pakistan Muslim League (1905). In one hand, INC was leading the independent movement, on the other hand, PML was detached from such activities till the Indian election 1937.
Three, India was united under a single leader Jawaharlal Nehru. INC was the party that continuously winning the elections and formed the government in the post independent phase. If somehow Nehru died early, INC had national leaders with Nehru who could take the charge of INC and India. But Pakistan had only one leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. After the death of Jinnah, no leaders could take the responsibilities rather everyone went for the personal gain. Before the military coup, Pakistan changed seven Prime Ministers.
Four, after the independence, Indian bureaucrats were from all kinds of backgrounds. But Pakistani bureaucrats were mainly the Muslims. They were less in numbers and not trained well. In one hand the bureaucracy was struggling, on the other hand, the political institution was finding hardship to form a government or ratify a constitution. They were no organized institutions other than the Army which had hundred years of history which let the military intervene.
Five, though INC was elite, middle-class, Brahmin, educated peoples’ party, later INC incorporated the rural middle-class, the upper-class land lords and the peasants. INC had a national ideology of socialism and it promised to the peasant class that they would reform the lands and distribute to everyone. INC was program based. The leadership was divided in several tier. On the top tier, the national leader, but in the tier two and three, the leaders were from the general public and from the different backgrounds. So, the organization and the ideology of INC was noticeable. PML on the other hand, was formed by the rich land lords of North and west India. They had only one motivation to retain their privileges. They did not have any programs or ideology rather the only slogan “Islam is in Danger”. After the independence, the formation of Pakistan, they had nothing to glue up the leaders and people.
Six, INC could make compromise between the social fractions thorough its organization. It replicated with different states and regions that joined or would like to join India. INC made compromises and concessions with the states which made the union stronger. But, Pakistan could not make such concessions. The East Pakistan was different in language and ethnically. It was also dominated by the peasant class. They were 56% of all population, but Pakistan deprived them in the constitution which led to a chaos before the constitution was ratified and the union became weaker.
INC leaders were prepared for the responsibility of nation building where PML was fighting among themselves. This sealed the fate of both India and Pakistan for the future.
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The reopening of the Kartarpur Religious Corridor by India (which connects Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur – India with Darbar Sahib – Kartarpur, Pakistan) on 18th November 2021, the eve of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev’s 552 birth anniversary (November 19, 2021) is important for a number of reasons.
The corridor which was inaugurated in November 2019 (the 550th birth anniversary year of Guru Nanak Dev) in spite of the tensions between both countries, enables Sikhs and devotees belonging to other communities, to pay obeisance at Kartarpur — a town established by Guru Nanak, where the founder of the Sikh faith spent the last few years of his life along with his followers (during this period, Guru Nanak gave practical shape to his spiritual thoughts and his vision for an egalitarian and truly inclusive society, while also giving importance to hard work and labor).
The corridor had been closed in March 2020, after the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic. It would be important to point out, that days before the announcement of the re-opening of the Kartarpur corridor, 3000 Sikh pilgrims had been issued visas to pay obeisance at Sikh shrines including Gurudwara Janam Asthan (Nankana Sahib), the birthplace of Guru Nanak and Gurudwara Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur) and to participate in the celebrations on the occasion of the 552nd birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
Kartarpur Corridor is important, because it has the potential to open new vistas not only in the area of religious tourism and people to people contact, but also pave the way for significant trade opportunities through the two Punjab’s via the Attari (India) and Wagah (Pakistan) land crossing as well as other borders like Hussainiwala (India)-Kasur (Pakistan). After the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor, in November 2019, Pakistan PM Imran Khan had spoken in favor of giving a boost to religious tourism and in the past two years, the renovation of a number of Sikh and Hindu shrines has begun and a number of shrines have been handed over by the Pakistan government, back to the respective communities (Pakistan’s economy could benefit significantly from religious tourism and restoration of common heritage of both the Punjab’s). The international community had welcomed this initiative and the UN Chief Antonio Gunterres who visited Kartarpur in February 2020 said
‘When we see in so many parts of the world fighting in the name of of religion, it’s necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine’.
Third, what is important is that the re-opening of the Kartarpur Corridor has received bi-partisan support especially in the state of Punjab (India) which goes to elections in 2022. All the major political outfits of the state have been urging the central government to open up the corridor. Chief Minister of Punjab (India) Charanjit Singh Channi along with his cabinet colleagues paid obeisance at Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur) on November 18, 2021. While in the past too, political outfits of Punjab have been batting for bilateral trade and closer economic ties with Pakistan, in recent years ever since the downward spiral at the national level, there have been very few voices which have been vociferously lobbying for the same (a few political leaders, civil activists, farmer activists have flagged this issue repeatedly).
If one were to specifically examine the possibility of India-Pakistan trade relations improving in the short run, it is important to bear in mind, that after the announcement of a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LOC), in February 2021, there was talk about resumption of bilateral trade, Pakistan had removed a ban on import of cotton, yarns and sugar from India, though at the lost moment this could not go ahead. Significantly, in the past two years, Pakistan has been importing essential commodities, such as sugar and wheat, at very high prices from a number of countries, and there is again pressure from certain lobbies to resume imports of certain commodities from India. The demand for resumption of bilateral trade through Wagah-Attari is likely to gain ground in Punjab (India) since all walks of life will benefit from robust trade between both sides, the snapping of trade ties in 2019 hit the economy of the state’s border belt, especially the tertiary sector. Punjab Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi after paying obeisance at Gurudwara Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur) said revival of bilateral trade via the Punjab’s will lead to ‘a new era of unprecedented progress and prosperity’. For Pakistan also it makes sense for resumption of bilateral trade and importing essential commodities from India via the Wagah-Attari land crossing.
Regional dynamics – India-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral
If one were to look at the issue of regional connectivity beyond the bilateral relationship, the demand by a Taliban delegation for allowing Indian wheat to transit through Pakistan is important, the latter has allowed 50,000 tonnes of wheat through its territory(Pakistan had allowed Afghan goods to enter India via Wagah in 2020). It would also be pertinent to out, that the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, had stated that the Taliban wanted robust trade relations with India (including through the Wagah border crossing).
The Kartarpur Corridor provides an opportunity not just to calm down the tempers between both countries, but to explore possible synergies in trade and people to people contact especially between through both Punjab’s. The corridor has been dubbed as not just a corridor of peace, but also one of boundless opportunities for both Punjab’s, it remains to be seen if in the changing geopolitical situation in the region and the economic impact of the covid19 pandemic, Islamabad and New Delhi resume people to people linkages and focus on strengthening economic ties.
With the Taliban back in power, influencing them away from their regressive roots will be difficult. Human rights abusers China, Russia, and Pakistan now dominate foreign relations with Kabul, while the United States and rights-respecting nations are on the outside looking in. Washington and Brussels hope the lure of official recognition and the release of frozen funds will encourage the Taliban to meet the basics, such as respecting the rights of women and religious minorities and allowing girls’ education up through university. Unfortunately, the early results are not encouraging.
Shaharzad Akbar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission now in exile, reported “continuously happening” killings, sometimes occurring every day in certain areas. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is no more, now replaced with the Ministry of Preaching and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (aka the religious police). Taliban announced that all female city government employees in Kabul should no longer come to work, and girls over 12 can no longer attend school. Hazara Shia face increasing persecution by the Taliban, while ISIS cells strike Hazara worshippers with impunity.
Afghanistan’s darkening rights situation shouldn’t be a surprise. President Trump’s flawed withdrawal agreement with the Taliban ignored human rights, while America’s chaotic pullout under President Biden left minorities and advocates extremely vulnerable to persecution. All while U.S. and European influence shrank as China, Russia, and Pakistan filled the void.
In the face of these setbacks, one untested route for American and European diplomats to influence the Taliban could be through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the OIC’s 57 member states include Afghanistan and critical players Pakistan and Qatar, as well as heavyweights Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Describing itself as representing the “collective voice of the Muslim world,” the OIC’s Islamic credentials, international heft, and diverse membership uniquely positioned it to press the Taliban on these fundamental issues.
The OIC Charter commits members to “preserve and promote the lofty Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity” and “promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, rule of law, democracy and accountability.” The OIC maintains a special monitoring body, the Independent Permanent Commission of Human Rights, whose stated purpose is to advance “human rights and fundamental freedoms in Member States.” In addition, the OIC has convened several conferences on promoting gender equality and rights of women by member states and OIC institutions, most recently in Cairo in July 2021.
However, the OIC won’t be a panacea. Many OIC members score poorly on Freedom House’s democracy index and internet freedom index, and more than half of the countries on the State Department’s blacklist for religious persecution are OIC states. Moreover, despite the OIC Charter and human rights observatory, the OIC has rarely, if ever, publicly criticized a member state for the many glaring abuses. For instance, in the face of regressive Taliban policies, the Organization’s commentary has been limited to condemning terrorist bombings of mosques, and calling for the new Taliban government to prevent terrorists from operating in Afghanistan.
That’s not to say the OIC does not comment on human rights. OIC efforts are often focused on problems facing Muslim minorities in non-Muslim majority countries. For example, it has repeatedly condemned the potential genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Burma alongside Western nations, with OIC member Gambia successfully bringing suit before the International Court of Justice. The OIC has also spoken out on religious freedom limitations in Europe, like hijab bans in Switzerland.
At the same time, the OIC and its members have been silent about China’s genocidal campaign against Uighur Muslims. When I visited Jeddah in my former diplomatic role focusing on religious minorities for the State Department, my invitation for the OIC to join U.S. condemnation of Beijing’s abuses was met with polite silence. Instead, OIC members chose to look the other way or actively expressed support of Chinese policies.
But by convincing the OIC to positively engage human rights in Afghanistan, the United States and Europe could indirectly influence the Taliban. Working through the OIC could be a bank shot during a full-court press to advance fundamental rights.
However, policymakers should first consider several questions.
First, would the OIC be a credible voice for basic human rights in Afghanistan? Yes. OIC members generally allow women to work and go to school and university and protect religious minorities’ worship rights. These basics are settled. The OIC will engage differently than Western nations, likely eschewing public condemnations of the Taliban. Their quiet diplomacy will make it difficult to gauge the thoroughness and frequency of their efforts. Yet, the OIC would be better positioned than the West to argue the practical application of theology regarding the governance of an ethnically and religiously diverse society and the rights of women.
Secondly, would the Taliban listen to the OIC? Probably. The Taliban questions the Islamic credentials of many OIC members, viewing them as corrupt and themselves as representing pure Islamic governance. But considering the Taliban’s Islamic orientation, the OIC is uniquely situated to press the Taliban to meet basic human rights conditions. And the OIC has leverage: the OIC could use the possibility of Taliban recognition at their headquarters in Jeddah to encourage respect for women’s rights, girls’ education, and religious minorities.
Lastly, would OIC members allow the Organization to engage on human rights in Afghanistan? Unclear. British MP Rehman Chishti has raised this idea when meeting with OIC ambassadors in London. While the OIC secretariat in Jeddah has influence, it generally follows the lead of member countries. Some OIC members play the spoiler in the Human Rights Council. Pakistan led the OIC bloc to slow-roll a widely supported Human Rights Council action to create a monitoring mechanism over Afghanistan. While finally allowing the creation of a special rapporteur, it was the weakest option available.
To move the OIC into a constructive role, the United States and Europe would need to coordinate their work with the OIC secretariat in Jeddah and navigate complicated relations with the Pakistanis, Qataris, Saudis, and others. Pakistan will be the biggest obstacle, reluctant to relinquish any influence over its client state that provides strategic depth against its eternal fear of India. Arguments to self-interest would need to be made and the provision of inducements. For example, Pakistan might accede to OIC human rights quid pro quos tied with seating a Taliban representative at the next OIC ministerial if their client would be accepted among the family of nations.
With so much hanging on the line for women and minorities in Afghanistan, a new approach is required. To launch this effort, the Biden administration reviving the State Department’s OIC envoy position would give the United States a point-person for a human rights-focused agenda vis-a-vis Afghanistan through the Organization and its members. The European Union filling its envoy position on freedom of religion or belief would likewise help.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan is dire. Outside efforts to bring change have failed. The OIC is uniquely situated to press for improvements on widely agreed human rights issues in ways Western nations simply cannot. Consequently, policymakers in Washington, Brussels, and elsewhere would be wise to encourage the OIC to bring its influence to bear.
The CIA, MI6 and the Russian Security Council have recently pointed out that India is emerging as a global hub for the development of intelligence operations on Afghan soil, while also becoming the vital sponsor of the military opposition to the Taliban.
A joint working group on Afghanistan established by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)-MI6, and India’s external intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), are beginning to take action along these lines.
The new structure was inaugurated on September 3-4, 2021 in the presence of the Directors of both Services, Richard Moore and Samant Goel. The British Service is providing intelligence and data on South-East and South-West Afghanistan, where it operated in the past two decades, while the Indian Service provides daily updates on Northern Afghanistan, where it has close ties with the non-Pashtun ethnic group in the region.
Since the fall of Kabul last August, the RAW has been closely involved in uniting anti-Taliban forces into a common front with the Afghanistan National Resistance Front (NRF), which consists mainly of former Northern Alliance groups and organisations.
The Indian Service has also brought a number of officers from the National Security Directorate (NSD), the former Afghan intelligence service, to the field of operations.
Great Britain may also be interested in the logistical link that India has established with Tajikistan to support the NRF. It is also seeking Indian assistance for facilitating the sending – for observation purposes – of drones from the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Gissar Military Airport (GMA) in the village of Ayni, near the Tajik capital Dushanbe.
The GMA base was also the focus of a visit by CIA Chief William Burns on September 8, 2021, when he met with RAW officials and Ajit Doval, national security adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.
US officials discussed the possible transfer of some 20 former Afghan Air Force aircraft and an equal number of helicopters from the Termez base in Uzbekistan to the GMA, where they would be made available to the NRF. The US military would agree to maintain them, but such an arrangement would require an intergovernmental agreement, which would require the Indian Air Force to purchase spare parts and other equipment for the Afghan aircraft originating from the former USSR. The planes would be operated by the personnel of the former Afghan Air Force while the US government would be paid for the spare parts.
In the meantime, the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) could move to Indian bases in Ladakh, on the border with Pakistan, to conduct counter-terrorist operations. This latest agreement between the White House and Pakistan’s traditional enemy has caused some tension in Islambad. After visiting India, Burns met with the Chief of Pakistan’s armed forces, Major Qamar Javed Bajwa, and with Faiz Hamid, Chief of the well-known and powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which has always supported the Taliban currently in power in Kabul.
Burns was in Islamabad on the same day that Nikolai Platonovič Patrushev, the Head of the Russian Security Council, visited New Delhi, where he also met Ajit Doval. In a telephone conversation between President Vladimir Vladimirovič Putin and Modi on August 24, the Russian and Indian intelligence services began working together to establish a new attitude towards Afghanistan.
Russia accepted India’s request for financial and military assistance to the NRF. Russian forces have already strengthened their positions in neighbouring Tajikistan. The Kremlin would like to involve Iran in the discussions, and the new Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, will soon visit New Delhi.
Despite the closeness between Islamabad’s intelligence and the new rulers in Kabul, the strengthening of the Pakistani component of the Taliban, allied with the Islamic State in Khorasan, does not like the Pakistani ISI leadership.
As a side effect of the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, the Pakistani counterpart of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement is strengthening its position in Islamabad, especially since the new leaders in Afghanistan have released a number of its members from prison.
This is causing some concern to the ISI, especially since the TTP established an alliance with the Islamic State in the aforementioned Khorasan Province (EIPK), which was involved in attacks on a mosque in Kunduz and the Kabul airport on August 26. The ISI leaders called for the Taliban’s help for preventing the TTP development.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that an amnesty was possible for the TTP militants who surrendered their weapons and swore allegiance to Pakistan’s Constitution, but for the time being the Pakistani Taliban have refused to compromise. The ISI believes that the TTP is supported by the Indian RAW, which seeks to destabilise Pakistan while the situation in Afghanistan is in flux.
Led since 2018 by Nour Wali Mehsud, a close relative of Baitullah Mehsud, the movement’s founder, who was killed by a drone in 2009, TTP members include former Pakistani armed forces personnel, some of whom quickly joined the EIPK.
A further source of concern to the ISI is the alliance between the EIPK and the TTP, which frightens Kabul, especially since attacks in Afghanistan have increased. Mullah Abdul Haqq Wathiq, Chief of the new Taliban intelligence service in Kabul, has admitted that the EIPK has managed to create sleeper cells in the capital and is now trying to target both Pakistani and Afghan officials and law enforcement agencies.
The ISI believes that the RAW is also trying to infiltrate the EIPK, but that the expansion of the movement has mainly to do with the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s regime on August 15 and the weak security and intelligence ability of the new Taliban authorities.
As has long been said, India and Pakistan are traditional enemies and Pakistan’s close friends are obviously India’s enemies.
Therefore, when the Taliban started fighting the pro-US Afghan government, India continued to invest money and weapons to support the anti-Taliban alliance. After the United States of America invaded Afghanistan, India did not hesitate to support the new government installed by the White House.
Statistics show that since the war in Afghanistan in 2001, India has participated in the construction of schools, roads, dams and hospitals in 34 provinces of Afghanistan, with a total investment of over three billion dollars.
Even before the final fall of Ghani’s government, India was still investing money and still hoping for a miracle. The miracle, however, did not happen and the Taliban returned. So much so that the Indian media complained: so much investment and influence wiped out at the same time.
The Indian media are widely read and watched in Afghanistan, despite being sceptical of the Taliban’s liberal promises.
In fact, India is particularly worried. The greatest foreign disasters in Indian history have all come from the Hindu Kush mountains in the North. Those who are familiar with history know that the Muslim Mughal dynasty, which ruled India for centuries (1526-1803), originated in Afghanistan and then went south to conquer India.
India’s real concern is that the rise of the Taliban will inspire the Muslim people in India (one hundred million believers) and intensify sectarian conflict, particularly over the issue of Indian Kashmir.
What struck the Indians most was a statement by Suhail Shaheen, spokesman of the current government in Kabul. He said that the Taliban had no policy to launch armed operations against any country, but as Muslims they had the right to speak about Kashmir to India itself and to other countries: for the first time, the Taliban commented on the Kashmir issue.
In reality, it is almost impossible to resolve all kinds of contradictions for over twenty years. Especially considering the deep geopolitical contradictions. But after all, India is a neighbouring country and the Taliban have no interest in colliding directly with it.
There will certainly be conflicts and claims, but there are areas where there will be cooperation and a win-win game. The biggest problem in Afghanistan now is reconstruction after the war. Among neighbouring countries, India’s economic strength is second only to China and it is not impossible to invest in Afghanistan.
It depends on the wisdom of all parties. Now, the whole world is indeed watching to see if the Taliban can deliver on their promises. India’s anxiety, however, is unquestionably a physiological fact.
The Taliban want to change, to be open and tolerant, to keep their promises and have no past grievances with India. India needs to change its mindset. In the past, the Taliban were Pakistan’s brothers, but now, as noted above, there are disagreements and contrasts between Kabul and Islamabad, between a traditional ally and some Afghan components of Pakistani origin that play at destabilisation.
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