Dawn Editorial 4 August 2019

Ominous signs


From the looks of it, the Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi is preparing to up the ante in the occupied territory by pouring in troops.
Read: India’s troop buildup triggers panic among residents in occupied Kashmir
According to media reports, Delhi recently sent 25,000 military personnel to the held region; this is in addition to the 10,000 troops that were reportedly stationed in IHK last week. Moreover, tourists and Hindu pilgrims have been told to leave the region due to ‘terror threats’.
Naturally, this disturbing series of events has created alarm in IHK. There have been calls to stock up on food and fuel, which has led to panic buying, while in another development, details were recently leaked of an order to police from the rulers in Delhi to keep an eye on mosques and preachers. To this explosive situation we can add the fact that India is regularly violating the ceasefire along the Line of Control, while the BJP intends to scrap a crucial article of the Indian constitution that prevents outsiders from buying property in IHK. The signs, therefore, do not inspire hope.
It is no secret that the ideological fountainhead of the BJP is the Hindu fascist RSS. Are the worrying developments in Kashmir a reflection of the Sangh Parivar’s intentions in the occupied region? Does Prime Minister Narendra Modi plan to throw all democratic conventions to the wind in order to fulfil the agenda of his ideological parent, and appease his populist voter base? There are many indications of this. By doing away with Article 35A of the Indian constitution, the BJP will open up the floodgates for massive demographic changes in IHK, as the native population will be overwhelmed by outsiders. If the hardliners in Delhi think this will be a masterstroke through which they will ‘conquer’ Kashmir, they are mistaken. Such moves will only take Kashmiri disaffection with India to new heights; already cries for azadi are ringing out in the held valley. Perhaps fearing massive resistance from Kashmiris to its malevolent intentions, the Indian state is further strengthening its military presence in the heavily militarised region.
Unfortunately, the Indian establishment appears to have traded in reason and sagacity for arrogance and brute force in IHK.
The increased troop presence and the plans to alter Kashmir’s constitutional status will be a recipe for disaster. Kashmiris — especially the youth — have had enough of India’s brutality and are willing to sacrifice their lives in their quest for freedom and dignity.
But there is still time; if Mr Modi and his cohorts so wish, they can pull back and extend the hand of dialogue to the Kashmiris and Pakistan. Sanity demands that India reject confrontation and adopt negotiation and peacemaking instead. Will those who matter in Delhi pursue the course of sanity?
Police-Levies merger
THE process of dismantling an old, colonial legacy in Balochistan has begun. Three districts of the province — Quetta, Gwadar and Lasbela — have been converted from ‘B’ areas into ‘A’ areas, with police taking over Levies stations in these locations. This follows the provincial cabinet’s decision in May to merge the Levies, responsible for maintaining law and order in rural ‘B’ areas, with the police, tasked with the same in urban ‘A’ areas. The arrangement had clearly been obsolete for a long time, even more so after terrorism began to pose unique challenges not encountered earlier. In such a vast province, where violent extremist outfits and separatist organisations were rapidly acquiring a foothold, the police’s footprint was limited to only 5pc, while the writ of the ill-equipped and poorly trained Levies extended over 95pc of Balochistan. Even though the Frontier Corps was given policing powers in 2012 to counter increased lawlessness in the province, the situation demanded an increased presence of a structured law-enforcement agency, like the police.
This is the second time such a merger is taking place. It had been initiated earlier in 2002 during Gen Musharraf’s time, until all the Levies had been absorbed into the police, but was reversed in 2008 during the PPP government. Then, as now, many of the sardars and tribal elders were against the merger. After all, Levies personnel are a locally raised force, beholden to the local tribal chief for their appointment rather than the government; shorn of any real authority, the Levies are reduced to performing little more than watch-and-ward functions. Even though during the first merger, they had been trained alongside the police by the army’s Special Service Group and are no longer the same ragtag force they once were, the pressure of tribal affiliations was once again a major stumbling block to their performance when ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas were revived. The arguments in support of retaining an archaic system designed to strengthen the feudal setup in service of the British Empire’s security needs do not hold water. Consider, for example, the perception that the incidence of crime goes up in areas where the police is deployed; the fact is, crimes committed in ‘B’ areas are often settled through the jirga system — presided over by tribal influentials — instead of being proceeded against through formal channels. Such parallel, regressive systems of ‘justice’ or policing have no place in today’s world.
Saudi women’s rights
SAUDI ARABIA has just announced fresh measures to empower its female citizens. Saudi women over the age of 21 are now legally free to travel without the permission of a male guardian. Earlier, even an adult Saudi woman had to get her guardian’s consent in order to apply for a passport. That is not the only progressive move; because of a series of royal decrees, Saudi women now have the right to register childbirth, marriage and divorce, and can be guardians themselves to minors. The steps are part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s initiative to introduce reforms in the conservative kingdom — by ushering in some semblance of equality between the genders. The actions that form part of the royal agenda have drawn support from not only Saudi women, but also the international community. The repercussions of these steps taken to free women from archaic means of control will no doubt be widespread, both in terms of the actual impact on women’s movements — especially in the Arab-speaking world and other Muslim countries — for greater liberties, and the image of Muslim women in their relationship with the Islamic state.
Many parts of the Muslim world that have traditionally sought inspiration from the cradle of Islam have been watching the prince’s moves closely. But, as in Saudi Arabia, in these places too there are traditions and regressive mindsets to contend with on a daily basis. In fact, Saudi women may well remain bound by convention and custom and be unable to quickly claim what is legally due to them. There will be many Saudis not ready to allow them the use of their new freedom, as guardians of the old order try to cling to the powers they accumulated over time and prevent women from driving, travelling alone and going to concerts. Meanwhile, these efforts at greater liberty cannot be complete without a review of other human rights of Saudi citizens, including women. Even as sisters gain new confidence, some Saudi women activists who campaigned for their rights remain behind bars.

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