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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

View from the neighbourhood: Vitiated ties

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent.

Updated: February 3, 2020 2:31:54 am
India Pakistan relations, Dawn editorial India Modi, Bangladesh India Awami League, Views from the niehbourhood Dawn, usually not pro-government or jingoistic, praises the powers-that-be in Pakistan for constantly reiterating the country’s “commitment to peace”. (Image for representational purpose)

A little over a fortnight ago, when New Delhi indicated that it would extend to Pakistan an invitation to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit to be held in the city later this year, the editorial in Dawn expressed cautious optimism. On January 31, that optimism has disappeared, and not without reason.

The newspaper asserts that “India’s top civil and military leaders have been making irresponsible statements where Pakistan is concerned, publicly rattling sabres mainly for domestic consumption — and vitiating the atmosphere in South Asia as a result”. The latest example of this bellicosity comes from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that India could defeat Pakistan in a war “in 7-10 days”.

Dawn, usually not pro-government or jingoistic, praises the powers-that-be in Pakistan for constantly reiterating the country’s “commitment to peace”. It asserts: “The harsh rhetoric against this country from Mr Modi and company appears to be designed to reassure his fan base that he remains ‘tough’ on Pakistan. However, such warmongering can have dangerous implications for regional peace, and Pakistan’s restraint and measured behaviour should not be taken as a weakness.”

The editorial — while stronger than its counterparts in the Bangladesh media over the political rhetoric in India about “ghuspaithe” — marks a trend: An exclusivist, majoritarian domestic political rhetoric in India is clearly affecting bilateral and multilateral ties and could well damage the “neighbourhood first” policy beyond repair.

University woes

India is not the only country where higher education, and its relationship to the larger political forces, is going through a crisis. Repeated incidence of violence and killing in Bangladesh, often attributed to member of the Chhatra League (the ruling Awami League’s student wing) have been a cause for growing concern in that country.

Nepal, too, it appears is going through a similar crisis. According to the January 30 editorial in the Kathmandu Post, Kathmandu University, one of the last bastions of academic freedom and excellence in the country, is now under a cloud: “Reports of Kathmandu University in turmoil due to politicisation are worrying; it is especially alarming because this institution was afforded much more credibility than any other Nepali university. If Kathmandu University fails to regain its reputation, it will be destroyed from inside — leaving a hollow shell behind.”

The editorial recalls how Tribhuvan University, once renown globally, has faced a crisis of credibility and falling standards due to its politicisation. Kathmandu University escaped this fate, according to the editorial, because of the autonomy enjoyed by the Academic Council and University Senate. “However, news of the unilateral decision-making of Vice-Chancellor Ram Kantha Makaju, along with the allegation of financial impropriety, is extremely troubling. Equally vexing is the protesting employee’s resorting to the obstruction of classes and exams to have their demands met. It is clear from the numerous sources from within Kathmandu University that Makaju’s monopolising of authority is not working.”

The high-handedness of VCs can have severe consequences, as many in India are learning. And as the editorial points out, academic freedom is one of the keys to academic excellence.

Imran unpopular?

Since his elevation to prime minister of Pakistan after the 2018 general election, Imran Khan has not exactly had a smooth ride. Inam Ul Haque, a retired Pak army major general and now commentator on strategic and political affairs, writes of a waning confidence in the PM and the government.

Tabdeeli or change is why “many of us” voted for Khan, according to Haque. This change was meant to be “from corruption to honesty, from loot and plunder to a system that is transparent and corruption-free, from the law-at-discretion to a rule-based system, from under the sway of elite — the ashhrafiyya to a greater sensitivity for the have-nots and from privilege to the lack of privilege”. Unfortunately, Khan has delivered “more of the same”.

Governance has been ignored at the cost of wanting to “hang the corrupt”, the economy is in the doldrums — the once-burgeoning real estate sector is singled out in the article. But an even more significant factor emerges, reading between the lines of Haque’s article.

PM Khan, since long before his election, was seen as being backed by the all-powerful Pakistan army. So much so, recalls the article, that he has often been described as a “selected PM”. But, Nawaz Sharif too once enjoyed the confidence of the military, which can glean public opinion “when it becomes a crescendo” but “has no clue of the economy”.

“One earnestly hopes the dying pangs (of Khan’s popularity),” says the article, “don’t become the death of a dream that once upon a time, not long ago, was PTI and its Kaptaan”.

(Curated by Aakash Joshi)

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