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The Hindu Notes for 01st September 2018

Making peace with Naya Pakistan

India should encourage people’s initiatives to forge a ‘coalition of the willing’

The election of the eminent Pakistani cricketer, Imran Khan, as Prime Minister (albeit through a flawed election) has rekindled hopes among committed democrats in South Asia, especially India, that Pakistan is about to emerge into a new dawn. Also that it would bring to an end many of the travails that afflict India-Pakistan relations today.

Careful about false starts

To be optimistic about the future of democracy in Pakistan and, alongside this, an improvement in India-Pakistan relations is, no doubt, welcome. However, it needs to be laced with more than a tinge of realism, since India-Pakistan relations have witnessed several false starts over the years. A moot question at the outset is this: How far can it be said that real democracy exists in Pakistan today, even though an election process was gone through? More important, can a political neophyte turn around the situation in a country whose attempts at democracy have never been fulfilled all these years?

While hopes have been expressed that Pakistan may effect changes in the way it views relations with India, it is difficult to accept that merely because that country has a new leader who is not a politician in the usual mould, things are about to change. Democratic leaders in Pakistan, especially more recent ones like Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have paid a heavy price whenever they sought to enlarge their democratic constituencies. They have been unable to withstand the machinations of the Pakistani ‘deep state’, which controls almost every single aspect of political activity in Pakistan.

For the Pakistani ‘deep state’, the main enemy is India. No democratically elected leader can afford to ignore this fact. Hence, India needs to assess the situation in Pakistan in somewhat greater depth, and not jump to any conclusion of better prospects in India-Pakistan relations in the immediate, or even medium, term.

No doubt, history is replete with instances of how transformational leaders, who embody particular ideas and ideologies, are able to turn around the fortunes of their countries. No one can possibly accuse Mr. Khan, however, of being a transformational leader — one who is capable of inspiring people through well-considered and carefully thought out ideas and suggestions. Hardly anyone will credit him with a single visionary idea, or articulating a new vision for Pakistan.

With regard to India-Pakistan relations, Mr. Khan has been content with reiterating hackneyed themes that every new Prime Minister or leader in Pakistan spouts at the beginning of his tenure, viz., a desire to initiate talks with India, resolve differences between the two countries, improve trade relations, resolve the Kashmir conflict, and alleviate poverty in both countries. In addition, we have the usual drumbeat of views by other members of his team, stressing the need for a dialogue between the two countries to sort out mutual issues and problems.

The new Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi (of 26/11 infamy), has ‘tongue-in-cheek’ proposed “a continued uninterrupted dialogue” to resolve “all outstanding issues”, whatever that means. In his previous stint as Foreign Minister in the Pakistan Peoples Party regime, he had hardly endeared himself to audiences in India, and there is no reason to believe he has changed colour under the Imran Khan dispensation. Many of the other key Ministers in Mr. Khan’s Cabinet are holdovers from previous administrations, quite a few being from the Pervez Musharraf period. None of this holds out much, if any, hope for an improvement in India-Pakistan relations.

Understanding Imran Khan

It would be interesting to conjecture which constituency Mr. Khan caters to, or represents, other than himself. Only after that would it be possible to determine what our policy shoud be towards Pakistan, and how to deal with him. Not to do so would be the height of folly, notwithstanding the genuine desire for peace in our country, or perhaps in both countries.

The circumstances under which Mr. Khan succeeded in these elections would seem to suggest that the ‘deep state’ in Pakistan played a not-so insignificant role in his victory, perhaps even a preponderant role. Over the years, the ‘deep state’ has co-opted some of the key levers of power, not excluding the judiciary, to maintain its stranglehold on Pakistan. Gone are the days when Generals like Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf openly declared their intention to seek power and take charge of the state. Today, the ‘deep state’ adopts more insidious means to maintain control over the levers of power.

Included in this repertoire of means and methods is choosing charismatic leaders, who have no worthwhile political base and willing to do their bidding, to front for them. In doing so, they avoid accusations of military dictatorship, and of trampling on democracy and democratic rights. It would not be the first time in Pakistan, or for that matter elsewhere in the world, that these kinds of tactics have succeeded.

Whatever may be the initial euphoria, an individual functioning in this milieu is unlikely to be able to navigate an independent path that could lead, at least a part of the way, to eventual success. In the case of Mr. Khan, he seems to have even less room to manoeuvre. To all intents and purposes, he appears to be a prisoner of the ‘deep state’. India would do well to realise this at the beginning of his tenure as Prime Minister. It is much better than being lulled into a false sense of complacency.

Be clear

In this context, India will need to create a framework that leads to realistic outcomes, given that it genuinely believes in peace with Pakistan. There needs to be clarity regarding short- and medium-term goals, before embarking on the ultimate objective of bettering India-Pakistan relations. Repeating past shibboleths and setting impossible goals is not the answer.

The first step should be an acknowledgement that the new government in Pakistan faces threats, from elements both within and outside the government. Furthermore, the threat to better India-Pakistan relations comes from the ‘deep state’ embedded within the Pakistani establishment. Given the entrenched nature of the ‘deep state’, Mr. Khan will be compelled to adopt what may be termed as the ‘Pakistan First’ approach’, in which relations with India would have least priority, and the emphasis would be on better relations with China as also the U.S. and the West. In the light of this, the establishment in India should tailor its response appropriately if it hopes to succeed in the longer term.

For the present, it would perhaps be advisable for the Indian state to step back and provide greater scope for people’s initiatives, strengthen the existing democratic order initiatives driven by people’s groups, and enhance the constituency for peace in the subcontinent. Towards this end, it should coordinate strategies among different agencies within the government on how to enlarge the constituency for peace and liberal tendencies in both countries. The effort should also be on increasing the share of people in Pakistan who recognise the need to act responsibly, and rally the ‘likeminded’ who seek peaceful co-existence with India. It should involve appealing to people in Pakistan, much beyond those involved in the administration.

Only after such moves reach a certain stage, and the outlines of a ‘coalition of the willing’ emerges, should the establishment step in. The short message is for people’s groups in India to engage, and engage with whomsoever it is possible to in Pakistan with a view to creating a suitable climate for peace and better relations. Admittedly, there are many segments in both countries that may not be willing at present to back the move for better relations. However, there does exist a constituency for peace in both countries, especially in India, which needs to be galvanised to act.

Strengthen democracy

India should also take steps to encourage the rest of the democratic world to advance, and defend, democracy in Pakistan, and implicitly improve relations with India. It means actively cultivating a constituency for collective action among civil society worldwide, going beyond mere populism and the usual range of India-Pakistan tensions. If sufficient progress is made, then the establishments on both sides could proceed to the next step.

M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

For a shift in gear

There has to be a change from focussing only on managing natural disasters to improving resilience

Kerala’s unique topography — of coastal plains and rolling hills between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats — is vulnerable to several natural hazards, landslides, flooding and coastal erosion being the most common. Incidents of flooding have become frequent, aided by human intervention. In the massive flooding the State faced recently, more than a million people were displaced and had to be housed in relief camps. The conservative estimate of losses has been put at ₹21,000 crore. While the Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel had recommended the gradation of the Western Ghats into three eco-sensitive zones, with significant restrictions or outright bans on construction and mining activities, this was not acceptable to the State government.

Vulnerable country

India is prone to disasters. About 70% of its coastal areas are prone to tsunamis and cyclones, about 60% of its landmass vulnerable to earthquakes, and 12% of its land to floods. Multi-storied housing is booming in urban India, built on a framework of beams, pillars and brick walls. With parking spaces prioritised at the ground level over structural stability, retrofitting is urgently needed, despite the significant costs. Most Indian houses are made of brick masonry walls, with fire/unfired bricks and stones, and yet few if any undergraduate civil engineering courses consider these materials, focussing instead on reinforced cement and concrete. Earthquake engineering is taught as a specialisation at just a few universities, leading to a serious shortage of retrofitting-trained civil engineering manpower.

The gaps

Yet, risk management is still in its infancy. In the case of Kerala, in 2003, the Home Ministry had proposed the formation of specialist teams to manage disasters using four battalions from the Central Industrial Security Force and Indo Tibetan Border Police. Kerala was required ‘to identify a State-level training institution’ for the purpose. The project has been forgotten. It has been the same response, even after the Ockhi disaster when the Centre proposed forming a special team and funding.

We are far behind even in forecasting disasters that occur annually. Even now, after the Kedarnath floods in 2013, Uttarakhand still has few if any Doppler radars to provide early alerts about cloudbursts and heavy rain. There are few guidelines on construction in flood-prone regions, or even a map of safe zones.

Few States have prepared emergency action plans for the over 5,000 large dams in India, with reports of just 200 dams having been covered so far. Inflow forecasts are available for around 30 reservoirs and barrages (there are over 4,800 such structures). Mitigation projects for upgradation of the observatory network have barely commenced. The effectiveness of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been hampered by a shortage of trained manpower, training, infrastructure and equipment, which prompted the Comptroller and Auditor General to highlight the National Disaster Management Authority’s performance in projects such as vulnerability assessment and mitigation projects of major cities as “abysmal”.

We need to revise the norms for disaster relief in India. Each State and district has different costs for labour and construction, making the idea of a uniform amount for relief redundant. In Kerala’s Kuttanad region, one of the earliest affected by the floods, the specified compensation of around ₹92,000 for a completely destroyed house offered was seen to be inadequate. Current disaster norms do not differentiate between States, offering, for example, the same amount per unit for disaster relief in Bundelkhand as in Goa. Such practices are bound to lead to an inadequate recovery.

On the ground

Disaster norms are also skewed more towards rural areas, focussing on agriculture, fisheries, livestock and handicrafts from a relief perspective. Typically, after a disaster, revenue officials are responsible for visiting affected areas and identifying people for relief, in turn offering scope for misuse and corruption. In addition, any disaster relief will typically exclude anyone living in an unauthorised area. Such norms also exclude share-croppers and agricultural labourers, while focussing only on small and big farmers. The former are also the ones excluded from the rural credit market, while facing significant risk from agricultural uncertainty. Finally, unlisted disasters which are not neatly bucketed in the specifications under the Calamity Relief Fund are restricted to a relief of 10% of the fund’s annual allocation.

Moving forward

Planned urbanisation can withstand disasters, a shining example being Japan which faces earthquakes at regular intervals. The India Disaster Resource Network should be institutionalised as a repository for organised information and equipment gathering.

India needs a strong disaster management agency. Disaster preparedness should be focussed on meeting the immediate contingency, implementing a conceptual, long-term rehabilitation strategy while maintaining an ethnographic understanding. It must be built on anticipatory governance, emphasising studies that embed foresight and foster citizen awareness. The NDRF must fill its vacant specialist positions while being given better control over transfers and deployment of its personnel. Without such reforms, only the Indian Army and paramilitary forces can remain first responders, and States will continue to cry out for relief. Perhaps, it’s time to move on from being focussed only on managing natural disaster emergencies to improving resilience.

Feroze Varun Gandhi is an MP representing the Sultanpur constituency for the BJP

Protecting the dissenters

India’s constitutional democracy is predicated on the people’s right to call state power to account

The course of democracy anywhere in the world is defined by events that test the resilience of democracy and also add to it. The arrests on August 28 of some of India’s most respected human rights activists, known for their public weal, is one such watershed event that will test the will of the Indian people to assert their freedom and the capacity of libertarian institutions to resist the state’s onslaught on the republic’s core values.

Resisting injustice

While the Supreme Court has interdicted the detention of the accused in jail, their house arrest is only a limited consolation. The truth is that the accused will have to face a never-ending oppressive prosecutorial process which, once initiated, consumes life and is destructive of one’s pride and dignity. We cannot, therefore, let this moment pass without registering the force of the nation’s collective conscience to resist injustice against those who have chosen the path of service and commitment to social causes. Their life’s work and the well-documented circumstances of the arrests proclaim their credentials and a presumption of innocence qua the charges. While an attempt has been made by prosecuting authorities to link the arrests with the alleged “Maoist plot to assassinate the Prime Minister”, the case presented to the courts for transit warrants reportedly goes no further than alleging a case of incitement to violence through inflammatory speeches and historical references. The allegedly inflammatory exhortation is with reference to a plea to revolt against injustice in the backdrop of the Bhima-Koregaon violence during a Dalit gathering in January this year, which was preceded by a meeting of the Elgar Parishad under the patronage of Justice (retired) P.B. Sawant of the Supreme Court and Justice (retired) B.G. Kolse Patil of the Bombay High Court, both of whom see no legal justification for the arrests.

The observation in court of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy” is a clear reiteration of the citizens’ right to disagree with, denounce, and decry a situation or state of affairs that is unjust and oppressive. This is the philosophy that inspired our freedom movement and defines India’s constitutional democracy, which is predicated on the people’s right to call state power to account, albeit within the constitutional framework.

An ominous portent

Unlawful detention with its accompanying injustices, including the innumerable instances of custodial torture, mock the promise of our Constitution and rob citizens of their self-worth and dignity, which are at the pinnacle in the hierarchy of human rights. The routine constitutional aberrations under the present dispensation are indeed an ominous portent. Charges of sedition against student activists in the past, the persecution of political opponents on trumped-up charges, cases against office-bearers of inconvenient non-governmental organisations, and a brazen display of the state’s iron fist are reminiscent of the ways of dictatorial and colonial regimes which had to give way to modern democracies inspired by the cry for freedom in every heart, everywhere.

The arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira — lawyer, journalist, poet, and rights activists, respectively — would serve a national purpose if, rising above partisan considerations, we can galvanise ourselves as a nation and hold aloft the torch of freedom. A nation born to freedom is expected to vindicate the supreme sacrifices made by its freedom fighters so that we may enjoy the fruits of liberty, of which eternal vigil is the price. We cannot ignore the defining lessons of history which find an echo in the immortal words of Dante that “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, preserve their neutrality” and in Ram Dhari Singh Dinkar’s celebrated verse, “Samar Shesh Hai, Nahin Paap Ka Bhagi Keval Vyadh, Jo Tatasth Hain, Samay Likhega Unka Bhi Apradh (The criminal alone is not responsible for the crime. Time will also record the crime of those who are neutral/indifferent to it).”

Historically, all totalitarian movements and dictatorial regimes have their genesis in exaggerated threats to national security. Invariably, fundamental freedoms encroached upon in the name of security are seldom restored to their holders without an upsurge. Our own struggle for freedom was rooted in the conviction that a nation has a right to revolt, for which our founding fathers adopted peaceful means. How, then, can the Indian state, which is anchored in the promise of constitutional democracy and committed to the preservation of fundamental human freedoms, unjustly invoke oppressive laws against its own citizens crusading against social and political inequities — citizens against whom there is as yet no clinching evidence to sustain the grave charges — is the question. Considering the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act under which the rights activists have been charged, it is hoped that the Supreme Court will insist upon utmost circumspection on the part of the prosecuting agencies in pressing ahead with the prosecution.

Standing up against injustice

A nation that seeks inspiration in its folklore of elevating nationalism associated with poets such as Ram Prasad Bismil, Allama Iqbal, Ashfaqulla Khan, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Ram Dhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ and Durga Sahay Suroor cannot remain impervious to injustice, social or political. A verse of Allama Iqbal will remain relevant as long as our goal of establishing a just and humane social order remains an ongoing national enterprise. In his inimitable style, the national poet had exhorted us thus to fight against social and economic injustice: “Utho! Meri Dunya Ke Ghareebon Ko Jaga Do, Kakh-e-Umra Ke Dar-o-Diwar Hila Do, Jis Khait Se Dehqan Ko Mayassar Nahin Rozi, Uss Khait Ke Har Khosha-e-Gandum Ko Jala Do (Rise and wake up the poor of the world; shake the doors and walls of the mansions of the great; burn every stack of wheat from the field which does not yield a livelihood to farmers).”

We know that tyranny expands in proportion to the space available for its existence. By standing up against injustice, we accept the burden of being and, indeed, it is better to be than not to be.

Ashwani Kumar is a former Union Minister for Law and Justice