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Pakistani Hindus daughters relinquish to forced Muslim marriages

Last year, the legislature in Southern province of Sindh passed a legislation that outlawed the forced conversion of those below age 18, but it never came into effect

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Lahore, Feb 28, 2017: Last spring, Anila Dhawan was abducted from her home in Hyderabad, Pakistan. She was forced to marry the abductor and convert to Islam.

The police refused to step in. Her abductor stated that Voluntarily, the girl had eloped from home, converted into Islam and married him. But post her family mounting pressure on the court, she spoke the truth to the judges and she was freed.

“Her life was threatened,” her attorney, Ramesh Gupta, stated. “She wanted to go back to her parents and the statement (she made to the court) helped to sway the decision in her favor and she was freed to join her family.”

Anila is among those Pakistani Hindu girls who are abducted due to draconian religious discrimination in a country that comprises of 98 per cent Muslim majority.

According to South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, a local human rights group, every year, it is estimated muslim men abduct about 1000 girls of Christianity and Hinduism faith but mostly Hindu girls. According to Pakistan Hindu Council, about 5000 Pakistani Hindus flee to neighbouring country India where 80 per cent population practises Hinduism. They flee to evade the religious persecution and discrimination.

Last year, the legislature in Southern province of Sindh (where the Kohlis reside) passed a legislation that outlawed the forced conversion of those below age 18, but it never came into effect. Conservative Islamic factions and groups objected to this measure and criticised the 5 years imprisonment on those who were guilty of forcing conversion. They produced the rationale that the law was ‘anti-Islamic’ and an endeavour to make Pakistan a secular country.

“We will not remain silent on this controversial law,” said Hafiz Saeed, a leader of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a self-proclaimed charity that the United States has declared a terrorist group.

In January the measure was vetoed by Sindh government. The legislative defeat was a major let down to human rights, activists stated.

“The problem of conversions is real,” said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a mewmber of the Pakistan Hindu Council and parliament. “We are not against the conversion of religion as a result of research or preaching. But why are only underage Hindu girls in Sindh changing religion?”

For instance, last summer’s night, Ameri Kashi Kohli’s 14-year-old daughter was abducted from her home while she was sleeping in Southern Pakistan.

It was a harrowing experience for her when she discovered what happened to her daughter.  “She had been converted to Islam and became the second wife of our landlord,” Kohli stated. Her landlord falsely claimed that the teen was compensation for a $1,000 debt the family owed him.

On top of that, the police refused to intervene. “They just said forget your daughter, she has converted,” Kohli described. They said “my daughter Jeevti is now known as Fatima.”

The defeat of the bill exhibited that religious conservatives have considerable power in the country.

“Government after government, military and civilian, have caved in to pressure from the extremists,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., who specialises in Pakistan’s minorities. “It is imperative for the government to stand by the people it represents. The bill to stop enforced conversion must be passed unaltered.”

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She said that the muslim leaders are critical of new protections extended to religious minorities and woman to and safeguarding them, especially women.

As per Kohli, she says she has lost her daughter. The landlord produced an affidavit from the teen and claimed that she was neither forced to convert nor marry and she ran away voluntarily. The parents claim she was forced to write this. As per Husband’s wishes, she was not allowed to meet her family or friends.

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Kohli stated that the plight of her daughter speaks volume about the uncertain future of Hindus in Pakistan.

“There (are) many Fatimas in this country,” Kohli stated. “But does this country have place for a Jeevti?”

Many stories dealing with such appalling and gruesome stature come across in Pakistan but no action is taken to prevent this social evil.

– prepared by Sabhyata Badhwar of NewsGram. Twitter: @SabbyDarkhorse

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Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project With China

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns.

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A man passes through a railing while others board a train as they make their way home at the Cantonment railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan ’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects because of debt concerns.

The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms.

Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently.

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Visitors read instruction material about land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for the Colombo Port City project, on the Galle Face sea promenade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2, 2018. The Port City project was initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA

Unease elsewhere

The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors.

Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China.

But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a statement in response to questions faxed by Reuters, that both sides were committed to pressing forward with BRI projects, “to ensure those projects that are already built operate as normal, and those which are being built proceed smoothly.”

Pakistani officials say they remain committed to Chinese investment but want to push harder on price and affordability, while re-orientating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in infrastructure funds, to focus on projects that deliver social development in line with Khan’s election platform.

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China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, Islamabad. VOA

‘Mutual consultation’

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told Reuters that Beijing was open to changes proposed by the new government and “we will definitely follow their agenda” to work out a roadmap for BRI projects based on “mutual consultation.”

“It constitutes a process of discussion with each other about this kind of model, about this kind of roadmap for the future,” Yao said.

Beijing would only proceed with projects that Pakistan wanted, he added.

“This is Pakistan’s economy, this is their society,” Yao said.

IMF bailout likely

Islamabad’s efforts to recalibrate CPEC are made trickier by its dependence on Chinese loans to prop up its vulnerable economy.

Growing fissures in relations with the United States, Pakistan’s historic ally, have also weakened the country’s negotiating hand, as has a current account crisis likely to lead to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which may demand spending cuts.

“We have reservations, but no other country is investing in Pakistan. What can we do?” one Pakistani minister told Reuters.

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Laborers dig the ground before replacing concrete sleepers along railway tracks in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Crumbling railways

The ML-1 rail line is the spine of country’s dilapidated rail network, which has in recent years been edging toward collapse as passenger numbers plunge, train lines close and the vital freight business nosedives.

Khan’s government has vowed to make the 1,872 km (1,163 mile) line a priority CPEC project, saying it will help the poor travel across the vast South Asian nation.

But Islamabad is exploring funding options for CPEC projects that depart from the traditional BRI lending model, whereby host nations take on Chinese debt to finance construction of infrastructure, and has invited Saudi Arabia and other countries to invest.

One option for ML-1, according to Pakistani officials, is the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, which would see investors or companies finance and build the project and recoup their investment from cash flows generated mainly by the rail freight business, before returning it to Pakistan in a few decades time.

Yao, the Chinese envoy, said Beijing was open to BOT and would “encourage” its companies to invest.

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A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Large rail projects, problems

Rail mega-projects under China’s BRI umbrella have run into problems elsewhere in Asia. A line linking Thailand and Laos has been beset by delays over financing, while Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outright canceled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

Beijing is happy to offer loans, but reticent to invest in the Pakistan venture as such projects are seldom profitable, according to Andrew Small, author of a book on China-Pakistan relations.

“The problem is that the Chinese don’t think they can make money on this project and are not keen on BOT,” Small said.

Off-books debt

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the ML-1 line was placed among a list of “early harvest” CPEC projects that would be prioritized, along with power plants urgently needed to end crippling electricity shortages.

But while many other projects from that list have now been completed, the rail scheme has been stuck.

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. The difference between the two validate the investments made on the road, and give a hopeful image for the future.

Pakistani officials say they became wary of how early BRI contracts were awarded to Chinese firms, and are pushing for a public tender for ML-1.

Partly to help with price discovery, Pakistan asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a chunk of the rail project through tendering. The ADB began discussions on a $1.5-$2 billion loan, but China insisted the project was “too strategic,” and Islamabad kicked out the ADB under pressure from Beijing in early 2017, according to Pakistani and ADB officials.

“If it’s such a strategic project then it should be a viable project for them to finance on very concessional terms or invest in?” said one senior Pakistani official familiar with the project, referring to the BOT model.

China’s foreign ministry said Beijing was engaged in “friendly consultations” with Pakistan on the rail project.

Chinese companies participated in BRI projects in an open and transparent way, “pooling benefits and sharing risks,” it said.

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In this file photo taken Oct. 10, 2015, a bus moves past by solar power and wind power farms in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui region.

Chinese debt or no project

Analysts say Pakistan will struggle to attract non-Chinese investors into the project, which may force it to choose between piling on Chinese debt or walking away from the project.

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns and worries Beijing could end up owning a vital national asset if Pakistan could not repay loans, as occurred with a Sri Lankan port.

Khan’s government chafes at several Chinese intercity mass transport projects in Punjab, the voter heartland of the previous government, which now need hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year.

Also Read: Creating a New Silk Road: China’s Billion Dollar Investments to Expand Its Transportation Network

They also fume about the risk of accumulating off-books sovereign debt through power contracts, where annual profits of above 20 percent, in dollar terms, were guaranteed by the previous administration.

With the ML-1 line, there are also those who harbor doubts closer to home, including the previous government’s finance minister, Miftah Ismail, who said his ministry had always had concerns about its viability.

“When people say it’s a project of national importance, that usually means it makes no sense financially,” he said. (VOA)