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Going beyond Old Theory of ‘String of Pearls,” China is trying to make its Strong Presence felt in Indian Ocean

The November 14 departure of trade cargo from Gwadar marks a decisive arrival for China in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf region

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– by Mahendra Ved

November 19, 2016: Forget the “String of Pearls” theory about how China is supposedly surrounding India on the high seas. China is not just on the sea, but also on land, in air and deeply involved in the economies of all of South Asia and beyond.

Two events in India’s neighbourhood taking place on a single day, November 14, show the extent to which the Chinese reach has extended and is expected to grow phenomenally. They need to be taken into account by India’s strategic planners.

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One was Pakistan’s Gwadar port going operational and the other was the announcement in Dhaka that Bangladesh was getting its first-ever submarine from China.

Last Monday, the first major trade cargo departed from Gwadar, marking the operationalisation of the port designed and built by China. That also marked the completion, in just about two years, of the project to feed the port under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the Chinese One Belt-One Road initiative.

Flagging off the cargo, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the CPEC will “integrate development and commerce of various regions across Asia and Europe by increasing connectivity”. He further said that it seeks “to transform Pakistan into a regional hub of trade, commerce and manufacturing by harnessing its geo-strategic location into a geo-economic advantage”.

Taking in the big picture, he said the CPEC “will help integrate South Asia, China and Central Asia and offer opportunities for people in this region, and investors all over the world”.

The CPEC is central to the Sino-Pak vision and also to the Pakistani leadership as a panacea to all the ills affecting the country and of an acute feeling of being isolated after the United States under Barack Obama and much of Europe leaned towards India.

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At the event, the Prime Minister was accompanied by Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif. Both have attributed Pakistan’s current tensions with India to part of the latter’s efforts to “frustrate” the CPEC.

The November 14 departure of trade cargo from Gwadar marks a decisive arrival for China in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf region. From there, two ships — Al Hussain Zanzibar and Cosco Wellington — set sail for ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union.

The Chinese have moved fast in Pakistan when, by contrast, there is little push on the India-Iran-Afghanistan accord to develop the Chabahar port in Iran — less than 100 km from Gwadar — and build a railway line that would link Chabahar to landlocked Afghanistan and thence to Central Asia.

The project, with the blessings of the Obama administration, was also to get Japanese participation with the likely visit to Iran of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But a Japanese official recently said there was no word from the promoters of Chabahar seeking any financial participation.

The announcement in Dhaka about it getting its first-ever submarine from China comes a few weeks ahead of the visit to India of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, likely in the latter half of December. A range of political and economic issues are expected to be on the agenda.

However, Bangladesh has for long placed its military eggs in the Chinese basket. Irrespective of the political colour of the regime in Dhaka, this has been a continuing and expanding process, making China the largest trade partner and the No. 1 supplier of military hardware to Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, China’s deep involvement in Myanmar is a continuing story irrespective of whether the generals rule the country or the present civil-military leadership. So is China’s commitment on several projects in Nepal, including a railway line that can be extended right up to the Nepali border with Bihar.

Nepal wants to maintain careful equi-distance with India and China. Similarly, Sri Lanka, under heavy debt to China, wants to compensate the latter with several projects that the Maithripala Sirisena government has held back.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in July proposed to China’s Ambassador Yi Xianliang varying degrees of control over some of Sri Lanka’s biggest infrastructure projects, including the Mattala International Airport and portions of the Hambantota deep-sea port, and wondered if Sri Lanka could receive some debt relief.

China refused the suggestions saying it was not possible under Chinese law. But it has continued to promise “fullest cooperation” and that such deals should be conducted via investors on proper commercial terms. While China’s government will not swap debt for equity, it will help clear the road for Chinese companies to take over key projects in Sri Lanka. IZP, a Chinese information technology company, has been put forward as a potential purchaser of Mattala International Airport, while COSCO is looking into expanding operations at the Hambantota deep-sea port.

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The fact of the matter is that India has neither the capacity, nor the political intent, to reach out to its neighbours with investments and projects. Indeed, many of the projects awarded to it have lagged behind for several reasons.

That being the case, India has much more to worry and work on beyond countering the “String of Pearls”. The Dragon has arrived in the Indian Ocean. (IANS)

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In The Name Of The Father: Honour Killing And Blasphemy In South Asia

Is there any lesson for India to learn from the occurrence and fallouts of cases related to Honour Killings and Blasphemy in Pakistan?

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Honor Killing Protest in Pakistan.

By Tania Bhattacharya

Taniya Bhattacharya
Ms. Tania Bhattacharya

There was once a girl from the rural areas of Pakistan, South Asia. At the young age of 16, she was forcibly married off by her parents. Her husband turned out to be an inebriated womanizer. She tried to live with him, producing a son, and tried to put up with his infractions. When it became too much to ignore, she would complain. He then silenced her by using brute force, punches and kicks. Unable to bear the toll her marriage was taking on her mental and physical well-being, she deserted her man and her child, and left the village. Arriving in the metropolis of Lahore, she decided to make it big in the entertainment industry. To her mind, the simplest way to achieve this was to use a pseudonym and social media as the medium of exposure. So she went on the offensive with her frequent uploads which soon went viral; dressing provocatively, gyrating and singing sensuously; recording video messages for Pakistani male celebrities; and even proposing marriage to cricketer turned
politician Imran Khan. People began to notice her. Gradually this woman, once a victim of domestic abuse, evolved into Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian. Employing a ruse as a whistleblower in one instance, she inadvertently exposed a Mufti and created a furore in the wake of the incident. But everyone watching her videos, was not a fan. There was something dark lurking beyond the pale of adulation, that she was finally able to sense and wake up to. Calling an urgent press conference one day, she begged for the media to leave her alone or to provide her with protection. They had had the temerity to fish out her passport details and her birth name and hold it up for the world to see. It was the last time the public saw her speak. Weeks later, on the 15th of July 2016, she was found dead
in the home she had bought for her parents and siblings; strangled to death in her sleep, by her own brother who had grown irate by reading the lecherous comments of her fans and thought that she had brought dishonour to her family.

Only, this is not the script of a film. It is the biography of Pakistani internet celebrity Qandeel Baloch. Now, her life has been immortalized into a television drama named ‘Baaghi’, or ‘Rebel’. Qandeel’s homicidal brother Waseem Azeem, confessed to the crime, saying that his sister’s licentious moves, had brought disrepute to their clan. The shocking incident was condemned by a number of Paki public figures who bear a liberal image among the masses. Two of these were the late human rights activist Ms. Asma Jahangir, and chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Qandeel’s tragedy is not an exception. She joins a long list of victims in Pakistan, who have paid with their lives for either dishonouring filial ties, or for committing Blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. As far as the latter goes, there have been at least two famous cases of women who were accused of blaspheming; Asia Bibi, and more recently, Rimsha Masih.

Asia Bibi, during a private conversation in a fruit orchard, seemingly made certain deprecatory comments about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Someone – in all probability one of the women participants in the said conversation – then reported her to the authorities. She was arrested for the alleged crime, that had occurred on the 14th of June 2009. Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, carries the death penalty for blasphemy. Merely being reported on the flimsiest instance of supposedly speaking ill about Muhammad, can earn someone the noose in that country.

Also Read: Pakistani Christians Not Feeling Safe After The IS Attack

In order to indict her, the prosecution from its end, had brought forth seven witnesses, two of whom were women; Mafia Bibi, and Asma Bibi. The women claimed that after they refused to drink the water Asia had brought for them – on the grounds that she was a Christian – Asia had proceeded to lampoon Islam’s prophet. As the Pakistani media has pointed out, it is not improbable, that Afia and Asma were in a dispute over potable water with the accused, and may have used the opportunity to get rid of her. In the end, following an infirmed defence, Asia Bibi was sentenced to be hanged. The year was 2010.

Rimsha Maasih, another Christian, was accused of Blasphemy at the mere age of 14. Khalid Jadoon, a Muslim cleric, had complained to law enforcement, that Rimsha had burnt pages from the Holy Quran. Rimsha, who suffers from learning disabilities, was framed by Jadoon, but even after the courts had established this, Jadoon was let off the hook, lightly, with all charges against him being dropped. Rimsha fled to Canada with her family in tow, after she was released from gaol. The year was 2012.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws are unforgiving of its minorities, who face arraignment and a death sentence upon being convicted.

Honour Killing is by no means peculiar to Pakistan. It is a pan Afro-Asian epidemic, that affects women and girls who are defenceless. Sometimes, powerless men become victims too, if the perpetrators are wealthy, and connected, as India witnessed in the case of Nitish Katara’s murder. In Jordan, the parliament has long been trying to pass laws to counterbalance its record of the honour killing of girls. In the African continent, the practice is rampant, as it is in India, where caste concerns and family dictates tend to govern the lives of couples who wish to turn their relationships into a lifelong commitment.

Also Read: How Honorable is Honor Killing?

However, even if honour killing is not restricted to Pakistan, Blasphemy is the most pronounced there, out of the entire swathe of the Indian sub-continent, which includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. For the committing of blasphemy, the necessary requirement is of a religion that has a founding father, whose words are written in stone. Islam is not the only religion with a founding father. So are Judaism and Christianity. However, blaspheming does not appear to scar societies with a majority Christian or Jewish population. The reason is not these religions, but the watering down of their original ethics at the hands of the European Enlightenment and the Renaissance. Islam on the other hand, did not experience any internal change on the scale of the two, and continues to remain unrepentant of its Blasphemy pogroms.

Nor is this to say, that there are no freethinkers within the Paki establishment and larger society who condemn the Blasphemy Law and are highly critical of it. Prominent humanist the late Salman Taseer, who was a long time beau of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and the father of their son, the author Aatish Taseer, was gunned down outside his home, due to his defence of Asia Bibi, against the court’s verdict. He had been appealing for mercy on Asia’s behalf.

As case after case has revealed, inflicting a prison term or a death sentence on unsuspecting members of Pakistan’s minorities, coupled with instances where the opportunity is used for settling personal scores, have become the hallmark of the implementation of its Blasphemy Law.

Perhaps the most infamous instance of this law being in flagrant violation of basic human rights, is in the case of Mashal Khan. Mashal Khan was a medical student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. He had been a journalist previously and had spend many years working and studying in Russia. Mashal had Leftist leanings, and took great pains to describe himself as a Humanist, above everything else. His twitter and facebook accounts, frequently dropped bombs about how the Pakistani military establishment was responsible for mind control and collateral damage and how its propaganda tactics were causing more harm to its people than good. Mashal has spoken on several occasions, about the persecution of the minorities of his country, with special focus on its Hindus. Time and again, he had advocated that his country’s problems were its own, and that it was a fruitless exercise to pin the blame on
India and its Hindus.

Also Read: Christian Blasphemy Suspect in Pakistan Jumps from Building to Escape Torture

It is not difficult to surmise as to why he was targeted for assassination. On the fateful day of the 13th of April 2017, a large group of students from the Abdul Wali Khan University who were Mashal’s own peers, attacked him furiously inside the campus. He was lynched and shot at, being left mortally wounded. When the ambulance was called, it was already too late. Mashal’s mother later recounted, that when she kissed his hand for the last time before his burial, she found that even the bones of his fingers, were broken.

Just as there are regressive forces within Pakistan that are preventing the nation from thinking along humanist lines by riding on the coattails of its Blasphemy Laws and its ethics over Honour Killing, there is also a handful of right-minded activists, students, and leaders there, who are straining to make themselves heard. One of them had been the late Mashal.

Is there any lesson for India to learn from the occurrence and fallouts of cases related to Honour Killings and Blasphemy in Pakistan?

Let us not emulate. Blasphemy will never be a popular idea among the majority Hindus of this country, since Hinduism does not have a founding father, the religion being a conglomeration of branches of varying lengths and sizes. But freethinkers have faced the heat in recent times in this country. The murder of a Gauri Lankesh, a Narendra Dabholkar, or an M.M. Kalburgi, are proof enough, that sections of Hindus are no longer tolerant of dissent.

This is tragic. Hinduism’s many schools of philosophy, include one that deals exclusively with Atheism. Known as the Charvaka reservoir of critical analysis, this system of beliefs relies entirely on rationalism and empirical evaluation.

One can only hope, that Charvaka’s unhindered existence in the millennia of Hinduism’s history, will
prove a point to Hindus, and prevent them from going Pakistan’s way, in the realm of Blasphemy.

Tania is a freelance writer with a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies who has a wide range of interests.