Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

Updated 18 May 2014
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Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

AHMEDABAD, India: Millions of India's Muslims fear Narendra Modi's landslide election will fuel religious discrimination, intolerance and even bring bloodshed, but some are also prepared to give him a chance.
Modi stormed to victory at the polls, throwing the left-leaning secular Congress from office and handing his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a powerful mandate for promised sweeping reforms.
Critics warn the size of the victory will empower Modi, steeped in nationalist ideology and tainted by riots, to run roughshod over religious minorities, particularly India's 150 million Muslims.
But some, at least, are hopeful that Modi's promise during the campaign of jobs and development to revive the stalled economy will benefit all classes, castes and religions, not just the Hindu majority.
"My hopes have been rekindled, I am looking forward to better days under his rule," said Abdul Salaam, 29, a Muslim tailor in Varanasi, a Hindu holy city which has a sizeable Muslim community.
Salaam pointed to the prosperity of western Gujarat state, where Modi was chief minister for 13 years, saying he hoped these policies could be reproduced nationally.
Muslim widow Parveen Banu, whose family was killed in communal riots in Gujarat, said the BJP leader would not dare turn against Muslims after weeks on the campaign trail preaching national unity.
Banu remembers running through the blood-splattered alleys of Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad to escape the Hindu mobs that killed her husband and four children.
Banu, 40, has since rebuilt her life and now runs a shop selling mutton minutes from her home in a slum — 12 years after the riots that killed at least 1,000 people.
As chief minister at the time, Modi is dogged by allegations he failed to stop the bloodshed, although he has been cleared by a court investigation.
"Of course Modi hates Muslims, but as prime minister can he really afford to show it?" Banu said.
"Plus, he has spoken of cultural unity and he has to live up to our expectations and I believe he will. He's not crazy.
"I just hope Allah shows him the right way."
Despite the optimism that some Muslims have, many fear life under a Modi-led government and voted in large numbers against him. According to a nationwide post-poll survey, only nine percent of Muslims voted for the BJP while 43 percent opted for Congress.
"Muslims are the only community to vote in big numbers for Congress," Sanjay Kumar, whose Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies conducted the poll, said.
Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence, was obliterated, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament.
Modi secured the strongest mandate of any Indian leader for 30 years, after the BJP won 282 seats, dominating even in states with large Muslim populations such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The number of Muslim lawmakers dropped from 30 in the outgoing parliament to a record low of 24, limiting their clout for the next five years, The Times of India said.
Nazma Begum, who runs a small cloth-dyeing business in Varanasi, said she feared few could now stop Modi and the hardline groups that are allied to the incoming prime minister.
"I find Modi scary. I never imagined he would have such a big win. It's sad because now he will have a free rein, he will do as he pleases. Who would dare to question him?" the 40-year-old Muslim widow said.
Modi himself struck a note of unity in his first comments after his win, saying: "I want to take all of you with me to take this country forward."
But while Modi has stressed inclusiveness and development, his top aide Amit Shah was briefly banned from campaigning for inflammatory comments seen as a bid to polarise voters along religious lines.
Modi also fought and won the seat of the sacred city Varanasi, viewed as an effective way of burnishing his nationalist credentials.
In the only Muslim-majority state, where an insurgency has long raged against Indian rule in favor of independence or merger with Pakistan, some Muslims are hopeful for Modi for different reasons.
Chief Muslim cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he wanted the new government to take "bold steps" to solve the dispute over Kashmir.
Modi told media during the campaign that he would pursue the policies followed by former BJP premier Atal Behari Vajpayee, who sought several times to make permanent peace with Pakistan over Kashmir.
"Modi has won on the promise of development and progress which can happen when there is peace, but an unresolved Kashmir issue is a hindrance to peace," Farooq said.


Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

Updated 26 May 2019
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Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

  • Only the Afghans ‘can decide upon the future of their country’

KABUL, BERLIN: Germany, a leading donor and member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, has been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart peace talks to end 18 years of conflict, officials said.

While the Taliban have been talking with US officials since October about withdrawal of international troops, they have so far refused formal talks with the Western-backed government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.

Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, has visited Kabul for talks with the Afghan government and met Taliban officials in Doha at least twice this month.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Potzel said.

“In the end, only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

The chief US negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in March said that a draft agreement had been reached on a withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

But there has been no agreement yet on a cease-fire or a start to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, both seen as key conditions for a settlement.

An Afghan delegation had been due to meet Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha last month to build the basis for possible negotiations, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute after a dispute over the number of participants.

FASTFACT

 

● At least 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war last year. ● 14,000 US troops are still stationed in Afghanistan.

“We realize that US-Taliban talks will gain momentum only if the insurgent leaders start engaging with the Afghan representatives,” a senior German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that Germany was one among several countries to have offered help to seek a peaceful resolution. 

The EU and Indonesia are among those to have offered help, another Taliban official said, declining to be named.

Discussions were held with Germany about an Afghan-Taliban meeting in Germany but no decision has been made, Shaheen told Reuters.

 

Captives subjected to abuse

Afghan captives held by the Taliban have been subjected to abuse, ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture, the UN said on Sunday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it interviewed 13 detainees from a group of 53 recently rescued from the Taliban, mainly members of Afghan forces but also civilians and government officials captured by the insurgents.

The group was freed on April 25 when Afghan troops raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the Khas Uruzgan district in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the captives were held since 2018, with three since 2016, the UNAMA statement said, adding they were kept in poor conditions and subjected to forced labor. It cites the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

“I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of UNAMA.

The detainees were shackled while in captivity and almost all said they were beaten. The Taliban told them it was punishment for supporting the government, working with the Americans or fighting the insurgents.