Pakistan

Atrocities against the Sikh Community

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Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is a US-based organization which has been striving and struggling for an independent Sikh land for the last many years. The basic demand of this organization is the secession of Punjab from India and the formulation of a separate homeland for the Sikh community. It was founded in October 2007 and primarily was headed by lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. With its head-quarter in New York, the organization was banned in India in 2019. Now this movement for a separate Sikh land run by the SFJ has become a worldwide movement and millions of Sikhs are providing all possible support to it. Recently on 19 September, a referendum for the independent Sikh land Khalistan was organized by the SFJ in Brampton, Canada. According to the media reports, more than 100,000 Canadian Sikhs took part in that voting. Canada is home to over one million Sikhs. It is something very interesting that there are more than 30 million Sikhs all over the world and out of these 30 million about 28 million live in India. It means that India is home to 90% of the total Sikh population but the handful of extremist Hindu elements has made their life hell there in India. Circumstances have compelled them to migrate to the countries like Canada where everyone enjoys equal rights, particularly regarding religious liberty. 

With reference to the Sikh referendum in Canada, the BJP government had many times urged the government of Canada to put a strict check on the leaders of the Khalistan movement in Canada but the Canadian government always plainly refused to do so. The Canadian government spokesman said that their country would never stop Canadian Sikhs from expressing their views by holding the Khalistan Referendum as the legal parameters of the country’s laws consider it a democratic process. He furthermore said that it all was a peaceful process. According to the media reports, even after that flat refusal, the Indian government did not stop urging but rather pressurizing the Canadian government to act against the rising pro-Khalistani sentiment in Canada.

As far as the Khalistan movement is concerned, it is getting day by day stronger all over the world; since in Canada, there are more than one million Sikhs, the strength of this movement could be felt more there. The leaders of the Khalistan movement say that they are not against the Hindu community; they have no hatred against any religion but they hate the BJP extremists who don’t let them live in India. These extremists very bluntly and openly claim that India is only for the Hindus and no one from any other religious school of thought must strive and desire to stay in India; particularly the Sikhs and the Muslims. For the purpose of defaming these two communities, the Indian intelligence agencies are doing their utmost. Recently on 13th September, the walls of a prominent Hindu temple in Toronto Canada, known as BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir were defaced by scrawling pro-Khalistan and anti-Indian slogans. The BJP government without wasting any time and without any proof and investigation started condemning the Sikh community living in Canada for defacing the temple walls. 

Some social media users started sharing a video of the defaced shrine where Khalistani sentiments can be seen written on the walls but according to Livemint, the legitimacy of the video could not be confirmed. On the other hand, the Canadian government simply rejected the Indian point of view by saying that Canadian nationals have every freedom to express their views under the country’s laws relating to the right to freedom of expression and the right to free speech and assembly. Here an important point to be noted is that this so-called ‘hate-incident’ took place just five days ahead of the Khalistan Referendum voting.

There is another side of the incident too. The Canadian police claimed that it had arrested an Indo-Canadian man for tearing a picture banner of the martyred Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the city of Caledon, Ontario. This incident occurred a few days before the defacing incident of the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. It means these two incidents were ‘designed’ in a very calculated manner. The perpetrators tried to target the peace and harmony of Canadian society where everyone is allowed to do anything living within the boundaries provided by the law of the country. Certainly, the BJP government is not happy with the Canadian government as it has granted legal freedom to the Sikh community of raising its voice for Sikh rights. It is a sheer misconception of the Indian government that by pressurizing the Canadian government, it would succeed in crushing the Sikh demand for a separate and independent Sikh homeland. The same cruel behaviour of the Indian government could be noticed in the Illegally Occupied valley of Kashmir where the local people are being treated as if they are slaves.

Linking Climate Devastation and Fossil Fuel Profits

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What do Pakistan, Puerto Rico, and Jackson, Mississippi, have in common? They’ve all recently experienced climate-related catastrophic rains and flooding, resulting in the loss of homes, electricity, and running water. But, even more importantly, they are all low-income regions inhabited by people of color—the prime victims of climate injustice. They face inaction from negligent governments and struggle to survive as fossil fuel companies reap massive profits—a status quo that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called a “moral and economic madness.”

Pakistan, which relies on yearly monsoons to enrich its agricultural industry, has had unprecedented floods since June, impacting 30 million people and killing more than 1,500—a third of them children.

Zulfiqar Kunbhar, a Karachi-based journalist with expertise in climate coverage, explains that “things are very critical” in the rain-affected areas of his nation. Kunbhar has been visiting impacted regions and has seen firsthand the massive “agricultural loss and livelihood loss” among Pakistan’s farming communities.

Sindh, a low-lying province of Pakistan, is not only one of the most populous in the nation (Sindh is home to about 47 million people), but it also produces about a third of the agricultural produce, according to Kunbhar. Twenty years ago, Sindh was stricken with extreme drought. In the summer of 2022, it was drowning in chest-deep water.

The UN is warning that the water could take months to recede and that this poses serious health risks, as deadly diseases like cerebral malaria are emerging. Kunbhar summarizes that provinces like Sindh are facing both “the curse of nature” and government “mismanagement.”

Climate change plus government inaction on mitigation and resilience equals deadly consequences for the poor. This same equation plagues Puerto Rico, long relegated to the status of a United States territory. In September 2022, on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people, another storm named Fiona knocked out powerfor the entire region.

Julio López Varona, chief of campaigns at Center for Popular Democracy Action, spoke to me from Puerto Rico, saying, “the storm was extremely slow, going at like 8 or 9 miles an hour,” and as a result, “it pounded the island for more than three days” with relentless rain. “Communities were completely flooded; people have been displaced,” he says. Eventually, the electrical grid completely failed.

Days after the storm passed, millions of people remained without power—some even lost running water—leading the White House to declare a major disaster in Puerto Rico.

Even on the U.S. mainland, it is poor communities of color who have been hit the hardest by the impacts of climate change. Mississippi’s capital of Jackson, with an 82 percent Black population and growing numbers of Latin American immigrants, struggles with adequate resources and has had problems with its water infrastructure for years.

Lorena Quiroz, founder of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, a Jackson-based group doing multiracial grassroots organizing, told me how the city’s residents have been struggling without clean running water since major rains and resulting floods overwhelmed a water treatment plant this summer.

“It’s a matter of decades of disinvestment in this mostly Black, and now Brown, community,” says Quiroz. In a state run by white conservatives, Jackson is overseen by a Black progressive mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is now suing the state government over inaction on the city’s water infrastructure.

Quiroz says it’s “painful to see how government is not doing what they should, how the state government is neglecting its most vulnerable populations.”

Over and over, the same pattern has emerged on a planet experiencing catastrophic climate change. Setting aside the fact that we are still spewing greenhouse gasesinto the atmosphere as the world burns and floods, the impacts of a warming climate are disproportionately borne by poor communities of color as evidenced in Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Jackson, and elsewhere.

The UN head, Guterres is doing what he can in using his position to lay blame precisely on the culprits, saying in his opening remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York recently, “It is high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors, and enablers on notice. Polluters must pay.” Guterres specifically touted the importance of taxing fossil fuel companies to cover the damage they are causing in places like Pakistan. According to the Associated Press, “Oil companies in July reported unprecedented profits of billions of dollars per month. ExxonMobil posted three months profits of $17.85 billion, Chevron of $11.62 billion, and Shell of $11.5 billion.”

Contrast this windfall with the countless numbers of people who lost their homes in Pakistan and are now living in shanties on roads where they have found some higher ground from the floods. “If you lose a crop, that’s seasonal damage, but if you lose a house, you have to pay for years to come,” says Kunbhar.

Kunbhar’s view of what is happening in Pakistan applies equally to Puerto Rico and Jackson: Society is “divided between the haves and have-nots,” he says. “The poorest of the poor who are already facing an economic crisis from generation to generation, they are the most vulnerable and the [worst] victims of this crisis.”

In Puerto Rico, Varona sees displaced communities losing their lands to wealthier communities. He says that the local government in Puerto Rico is “allowing millionaires and billionaires to come and pay no taxes and to actually take over many of the places that are safer for communities to be on.” This is an “almost intentional displacement of communities… that have historically lived here,” he says.

And in Jackson, Quiroz says she is aghast at the “mean-spiritedness” of Mississippi’s wealthier enclaves and state government. “It is so difficult to comprehend the way that our people are being treated.”

Although disparate and seemingly disconnected from one another, with many complicating factors, there are stark lines connecting climate victims to fossil fuel profits.

Pakistan’s poor communities are paying the price for ExxonMobil’s billions.

Puerto Rico remains in the dark so that Chevron may enjoy massive profits.

Jackson, Mississippi, has no clean drinking water so that Shell can enrich its shareholders.

When put in such terms, Guterres’s idea for taxing the perpetrators of climate devastation is a no-brainer. It’s “high time,” he said, “to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice,” so that we can end our “suicidal war against nature.”

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Are these floods in Pakistan an ‘act of God’?

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5 mins read

Calamities are familiar to the people of Pakistan who have struggled through several catastrophic earthquakes, including those in 2005, 2013, and 2015 (to name the most damaging), as well as the horrendous floods of 2010. However, nothing could prepare the fifth most populated country in the world for this summer’s devastating events, which began with high temperatures and political chaos followed by unimaginable flooding.

Cascading frustration with the Pakistani state defines the public mood. Taimur Rahman, the general secretary of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (‘Workers and Peasants Party’), told Peoples Dispatch that after the 2010 floods, there was ‘enormous outrage about the fact that the government had not done anything to ensure that… when there is an overflow of water, it can be controlled’. Evidence of relief funds being siphoned off by corrupt politicians and the wealthy elite began to define the post-2010 period; those memories remain intact. People understand that when the disaster industrial complex is in motion, cycles of corruption accelerate.

A third of Pakistan’s vast landmass was inundated by floods in the last week of August. Satellite imagery showed the rapid spread of the waters which broke the banks of the Indus River, covering large sections of two major provinces, Balochistan, and Sindh. On 30 August 2022, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called it a ‘monsoon on steroids’, as the rainwaters swept away more than 1,000 people to their deaths and displaced about 33 million more. The situation is dire, with those who fled their homes in immediate and long-term danger. The people camped out on higher land, such as major roadways, are currently at risk of starvation and in danger of contracting water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, and hepatitis. In the long-term, people who have lost their standing crops (cotton and sugarcane) and livestock face guaranteed impoverishment. Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal estimates that the damages will total more than $10 billion.

At first glance, the primary reason for the floods appears to be additional heavy rain at the tail end of an already record-breaking monsoon or rainy season. A very hot summer with temperatures of over 40°C for long periods in April and May made Pakistan ‘the hottest place on earth’, according to Malik Amin Aslam, a former minister for climate change. These scorching months resulted in abnormal melting of the country’s northern glaciers, whose waters met the torrential rain spurred by a ‘triple dip’ – three consecutive years of La Niña cooling in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In addition, catastrophic climate change – driven by global carbon-fuelled capitalism – has also caused the glacial melt and downpour.

But the nature of the floods themselves are not wholly due to turbulent weather patterns. Significantly, the impact of the rising waters on Pakistan’s population is due to unchecked deforestation and deteriorated infrastructure such as dams, canals, and other channels to contain water. In 2019, the World Bank said that Pakistan faces a ‘green emergency’ because each year about 27,000 hectares of natural forest is cut down, making rainwater absorption in the soil much more difficult.

Furthermore, lack of state investment in dams and canals (now heavily silted) has made it much harder to control large quantities of water. The most important of these dams, canals, and reservoirs are the Sukkur Barrage, the world’s largest irrigation system of its kind, which draws the Indus into the southern Sindh River, and the Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs, which divert the waters from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Illegal real estate construction on floodplains further exacerbates the potential for human tragedy.

God has little to do with these floods. Nature has only compounded the underlying crises of capitalist-driven climate catastrophe and neglect of water, land, and forest management in Pakistan.

What are the urgent multiple crises afflicting Pakistan?

The floodwaters have revealed a set of enduring problems that paralyse Pakistan. Surveys in May, before the floods, showed that 54% of the population considered inflation to be their main problem. By August, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported that the wholesale price index, which measures fluctuation in the average prices of goods, increased by 41.2% while the annual inflation rate was 27%. Despite inflation rising globally and the acknowledgment that the cost of the floods would be over $10 billion, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has promised a mere $1.1 billion with austerity-like conditions attached to it such as ‘prudent monetary policy’. It is criminal that the IMF would impose strict austerity when the country’s agricultural infrastructure is utterly destroyed (this inadequate action is reminiscent of the British colonial policy to continue the export of wheat from India during the 1943 Bengal famine). The 2021 Global Hunger Index already placed Pakistan at 92 out of 116 countries with its hunger crisis – prior to the floods – at a serious level. Yet, as none of the country’s bourgeois political parties have taken these findings to heart, undoubtedly, its economic crisis will intensify with little recovery.

This brings us to the acute political crisis. Since its independence from the British in 1947, 75 years ago, Pakistan has had 31 prime ministers. In April 2022, the thirtieth, Imran Khan, was removed to install the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Khan, who faces charges of terrorism and contempt of court, alleged that his government was removed at the behest of Washington owing to his close ties to Russia. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI or ‘Justice Party’) did not win a majority in the 2018 elections, which left his coalition vulnerable to the departures of a handful of legislators. That is precisely what was done by the opposition, which stormed into power through legislative manoeuvres, without a new mandate from the public. Since his removal, the standing of Imran Khan and the PTI has risen in Pakistan, having won 15 out of 20 of July’s by-elections in Karachi and Punjab, before the floods. Now, as anger rises against Sharif’s government due to the slow pace of relief for flood victims, the political crisis will only deepen.

What are the tasks at hand?

Pakistan is suffering from ‘climate apartheid’. This country of over 230 million people contributes only 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is threatened by the eighth highest climate risk in the world. The failure of Western capitalist countries to acknowledge their destruction of the planet’s climate means that countries like Pakistan, which have low levels of emissions, are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of rapid climate change. Western capitalist countries must at least provide their full support to the Global Climate Action Agenda.

Left and progressive forces – such as the Mazdoor Kisan Party – and other civilian groups have organised a flood relief campaign in Pakistan’s four provinces. They are reaching out mainly with food relief to tackle starvation in hard to reach, largely rural areas. The Pakistani Left is demanding that the government stem the tide of austerity and inflation that is sure to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

In the summer of 1970, flash floods in the mountainous region of Balochistan caused great damage. A few months later in the general elections, the poet Gul Khan Nasir of the National Awami Party won a seat in the Balochistan provincial assembly and became the minister of education, health, information, social welfare, and tourism. Gul Khan Nasir put his Marxist convictions to work building the social capacity of the Baloch people (including setting up the province’s only medical school in Quetta, the provincial capital). Thrown out of office by undemocratic means, Nasir was sent back to prison, a place he had become all too familiar with in previous years. There, he wrote his anthem, ‘Demaa Qadam’ (‘Forward March’). One of its stanzas, 50 years later, seems to describe the zeitgeist in his native land:

If the sky above your heads
becomes full of anger, full of wrath,
thunder and rain and lightning and wind.
The night becomes dark as pitch.
The ground becomes like fire.
The times become savage.
But your goal remains the same:
March, March, Forward March.

Excerpts from the newsletter of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Trustless Companions

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3 mins read

Just a few months back, it was in the news that the US authorities were considering imposing sanctions on India because of its trade ties with Russia. It was all being done as a part of US’ isolation strategy during the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine those days. Situation became more serious when India stood in the line of those 35 countries which abstained themselves from voting at the United Nations against the Russian advancement in Ukraine. Certainly the Indian decision of going against the US will and desire was not very much encouraging rather pleasing for the US authorities, military as well as political. At political level both the Democrats and Republicans raised their concerns about India’s stance of ‘going against the wind’ and it was being apprehended that this decision would create distances between the two countries. It was also in the air that the Biden administration might impose sanctions upon India under the ‘CAATSA law’ which imposes certain restrictions on the countries purchasing defense materials from Russia, North Korea and Iran. The abbreviation CAATSA stands for ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. But in spite of all these fears and apprehensions, according to some analysts, India is still the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of US and this misconception rather misunderstanding would prove a seriously painful shock to the US policy-makers, somewhere in near or far future.

Meenakshi Ahmed is a renowned expert on India-US relations. She is the author of ‘A Matter of Trust- U.S. India relations from Truman to Trump’. Recently she penned down an article in the Atlantic with the title, ‘America Has Never Really Understood India’. She said, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resurrected Cold War hostilities, harkening back to a world in which the United States saw itself pitted in a Manichaean struggle, facing a choice between good and evil. The U.S. is using similar rhetoric today to persuade countries to isolate and punish Moscow.” She further says, “President Joe Biden has garnered support among his NATO allies to impose crippling sanctions on Russia, but his efforts elsewhere have been only partially successful. Australia and Japan—which, along with the U.S., make up three-quarters of the Quad, a relatively new Asian-security grouping—have signed on, but India, the fourth member of the bloc, has declined to join the chorus of condemnation.” If India were a very serious and sincere partner of the US, it must have been the first one to offer all cooperation in this regard.

In March 2015, Crispin Rovere penned down an article in The Interpreter with the title, ‘India is no ally of the US’. The writer said, “As for India and the US, I find it astonishing that after more than 50 years of being repeatedly burned, some Americans still have not learned their lesson and continue insisting that China and India are ‘natural competitors’. This is false. China and India are historical competitors, but such competition is not necessarily ‘natural’ and certainly nothing like the strategic competition that exists between China and the US. After all, any Chinese expansion in the Western Pacific will be at America’s expense. It is hard to argue that India’s expansion into the Indian Ocean is being actively resisted by China. India is not a pro-Western democratic bulwark, and never will be.”

Last year on April 15, 2021, same apprehensions were expressed by Chirayu Thakkar regarding uncertainty of US-India relations in an article appeared in the Stimson. The writer said, “For the last 20 years, the United States has mostly overlooked its divergences with India in multilateral forums as the relationship paid economic, strategic, and political dividends bilaterally, whereas the costs of divergences at the multilateral level were negligible. In spite of such exceptionalism enjoyed by New Delhi, U.S. diplomats at all levels reminded their Indian counterparts that India’s “obstinate role at the UN was increasingly at odds with our emerging strategic proximity.” With a restructuring of the global order, continuous assault on rules-based order, and China’s rise as a common strategic adversary, the costs of their inability to work together in the global governance arena can be much higher for both countries today.”

‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’ is no doubt a book which must be an eye-opener to all those who are misguided by the notion that India would always remain an ally of the US, keeping all its national interest aside. The book is written by India’s external affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. He has very emphatically tried to explain that India has no plan to align itself fully with either the U.S. or China. He says, “This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, reassure Russia, and bring Japan into play.” Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In September 2021, his review on Shankar’s book was published in the Hill, in which he tried to make his readers realize that whatever Jaishankar said in his book, must not be taken for granted as he had been a former ambassador to both Washington and Beijing; moreover he is the son of Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam who is recognized as the ‘father of India’s nuclear program’. Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam is the person who maintained close ties with Moscow even as he was perhaps the leading advocate of the 2007 Indo-U.S. Agreement on Civilian Nuclear Cooperation. If such a well-informed and well-connected person does not find harmony in American and Indian interests, it means the actual situation is altogether different from what apparently seems. If India is not fair in its relationship with US, why US is wasting its resources on making India ‘the regional god-father’.