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Welcome move: Pak, B’desh minority immigrants find home in India

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By Nithin Sridhar

The Modi government has recently taken a decision to exempt persecuted minority refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh from relevant provisions that govern their entry and stay in India. These provisions include rules made under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946.

The exemption ordered by the government will allow the persecuted refugees to stay in India even after the expiry of their Visa. This will help minority refugees belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian community who are fleeing Pakistan and Bangladesh because of religious persecution.

The immense relief that the recent decision may provide to these persecuted refugees can only be understood by looking at the magnitude of religious persecution that continues to take place in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Status of Minorities in Pakistan

The Hindu population in Pakistan stood at roughly 15% after partition in 1947 and got reduced to just 2% by 1951. In 1998, the Hindu share stood at 1.6%. Hence, within four years between 1947 and 1951, most of the Hindus in Pakistan either migrated to India or were killed in the genocide that followed the partition.

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The tiny portion of Hindu population that survived the genocide has continued to face persecution and harassment especially after Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq came to power in Pakistan. Hindus are not the only minorities who have faced persecution. Christians in Pakistan have also faced a similar discrimination and harassment.

Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik in his ‘Religious Minorities in Pakistan’ report states: “Physical attacks, social stigmatization, psychological insecurity, forced conversions, and continued institutional degradation characterise the position of religious minorities in Pakistan.”

He further says that religious hatred is also used to forcefully acquire properties belonging to minorities such as properties housing temples, churches etc.

He adds: “Aside from religious feuds and socio-cultural/economic deprivation, the official policies of appeasement and the emphasis on religious uniformity have allocated second or even third-class citizenship to millions of Pakistanis.”

Education is another sector that is hostile to the minorities. The curriculum taught in not only the madrassas but also in public schools promotes hostility towards non-Muslims. The blasphemy law is another tool that has been used to target non-Muslims.

Many churches and temples have also been attacked and destroyed. In one incident, after torn pages of Quran were strewn around, 13 churches and 700 households were destroyed by a 10,000 strong Muslim mob.

In his 2009 article, Amir Mir says, “Of the 300 Hindu temples that Pakistan inherited in 1947 at the time of partition, hardly three dozen have managed to survive, many of whom are in ruins and are set to disappear with the passage of time if due attention is not paid to their maintenance.”

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He further points out that, at least 200 Hindu temples were destroyed in Pakistan after the unused Babri Masjid was razed in India.

He sums up the condition of Hindus in Pakistan thus: “Together with the apathy of the general public, the Hindus of Pakistan remain a forgotten and voiceless people who have to live a low-profile existence and have to put up with many insults to their honor and dignity, without any safeguard. The Pakistani authorities rarely intervene to help their Hindu nationals, despite the fact that there are frequent reports of the kidnapping of Hindu women and children and looting of Hindu property, besides other forms of discrimination and persecution.”

Regarding the condition of Christians in Pakistan, a report by Jinnah Institute describes them as being “on the frontline of the persecution and violence against minority communities. From interviews conducted with Christians from a variety of professions and ages, it is clear that many feel they are treated as second-class citizens and discriminated against in all aspects of life.”

Therefore, there is a systematic and persistent persecution of various religious minorities in Pakistan. Apart from violence, kidnapping, and forceful marriages of minority girls, minorities in Pakistan are also subjected to legal discrimination, economic exploitation, and social prejudice.

Status of Minorities in Bangladesh

The condition of minorities in Bangladesh is no better. Before Bangladesh was born in 1971, it was called “East Pakistan.”

In the years that followed the formation of India and Pakistan, East Pakistan faced complete discrimination from its western counterpart. As a result, there was a rebellion in East Pakistan against its western masters.

The Pakistani army, which had been under the control of West Pakistan, tried to crush the rebellion by adopting a genocidal campaign against the ethnic Bengalis.

Thousands of Hindu Bengalis were killed and a large number of ethnic Bengalis, most of whom were Hindus were forced to flee from East Pakistan. One report puts the number of ethnic Bengalis who fled to India at 10 million.

But, the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Bangladesh was not limited to 1971. Instead, it had been going on for last seven decades. The Hindu population in Bangladesh area in 1947 was around 31% which got reduced to around 19% by 1961, to around 14% by 1974 and currently stands at around 9%.

According to an estimate by Professor Abul Barkat, around 8.1 million Hindus went missing from Bangladesh from 1964 to 2000– around 600 Hindus per day. A large portion of this missing population has invariably come to India as persecuted refugees.

The minorities in Bangladesh, especially the Hindus, face large-scale discrimination and persecution. The properties of the minorities are grabbed, their places of worship are razed and various forms of violence and sexual exploitation are imposed on them.

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Md. Rajib Hasnat Shakil in his report on the persecution of minorities in Bangladesh says: “An overwhelming 98.68% of the rape victims are minority, and rapists happen to be from the cadres of the ruling parties. Nearly 200 Hindu women were gang raped in Char Fashion, Bhola, in one night at a single spot. The police do not allow the minorities to press charges against the rapists, and if they insist, they are given a run around for a few days so the evidence of rape disappears, and then, the police officers themselves persecute them.”

According to a 2014 human rights report, at least 1699 temples have been destroyed in Bangladesh during 2013 and 2014. The recent killings of the atheist bloggers are well-known. But, what is not well known is that around 302 minorities have been killed and another 2900 have been physically assaulted during 2013 and 2014. Also, around 5000 families have been displaced from their lands during the same period.

These clearly depict a very disturbing picture of the condition of minorities in Bangladesh. They face persecution and discrimination in all aspects of life- political, economic, social, and religious. They receive support neither from the government nor from the society.

In the face of such life-threatening situations many minorities from both Pakistan and Bangladesh are forced to flee to India with the hope of survival and a better life. Many Hindus from Pakistan have come to India on a tourist visa but have refused to go back. According to one estimate, there are around two lakh Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are living in India.

Therefore, the present decision by the Modi government will provide relief to large number of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and other persecuted minorities who have fled from Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is a humanitarian step taken in the right direction and the government must be congratulated for it.

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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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Pakistan
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.

Pakistan
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.

Pakistan
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.

Pakistan
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.

Pakistan
. 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.

Pakistan
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)