Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums

Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums
Barbed wire on a deserted road during restrictions in Srinagar, Kashmir, August 5, 2019. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 03 February 2021

Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums

Indian scholars decry government move to vet Kashmir forums
  • BJP orders inspection measures on seminars covering ‘internal matters’
  • Kashmir-based academics have labeled the decision a ‘totalitarian move’

NEW DELHI: Scholars in Kashmir and across India expressed outrage on Tuesday over a government order for all public universities and institutions to seek approval before hosting international online forums on Kashmir and other “internal matters.”

Experts have said the decision creates an “iron curtain” over free thought.

The Indian education ministry’s “revised” circular dated Jan. 15 requires central educational institutions, publicly-funded universities and government-owned or funded organizations to seek permission from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) before organizing online seminars covering Indian border issues, including Kashmir, among other topics.

“While giving permission, the MEA should ensure that the subject matter for online events is unrelated to security of state, borders, the North East and UT (Union Territory) of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh or any other issues that are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters,” the education ministry said in a statement.

The revised guidelines will be implemented with “immediate effect.”

As part of the new measures, those taking part in seminars must also have their names recorded and approved by the government.

“The guidelines come into force with the date of it being released,” Saroj Kumar Choudhary, government undersecretary, told Arab News.

Before the latest guidelines, prior approval was required from the MEA to organize foreign conferences or seminars in India — specifically those involving non-Indians arriving in the country on a conference visa — with the latest order being extended to webinars, too.

Kashmir-based academics have labeled the decision a “totalitarian move.”

Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Central University of Kashmir said: “They are trying to raise iron curtains around India, which is unsustainable.

“This is the inception of a totalitarian state, and that is how totalitarian states behaved in the past.”

He added that a university “should be a universe where academics discuss issues without any restrictions and where new ideas are generated.”

Therefore, the guideline is a “problem for those who want to discuss issues and also a problem for academics.”

The disputed territory of Kashmir faced several new restrictions in August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which granted autonomy to the region.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government also divided the state into two federally administered units — the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The move was followed by a crackdown on political activity, mass arrests of hundreds of political leaders and activists, and a total lockdown of the region.

Kashmir has yet to have its democratic rights restored, with 4G internet services suspended and many political workers kept in jails.

Hussain said with the government’s latest order, “the regimented atmosphere of Kashmir is being extended to the whole of India.”

He added: “It will destroy all the structures of academics.”

Prof. Siddiq Wahid, a Srinagar-based international scholar and academic, said the guidelines were “a very scary proposition.”

He added: “It forces and encourages something more diabolical than a law that is self-censorship on the part of individuals and institutions.

“You deny scholarship and knowledge to people through such steps. The direction India is going in is a matter of deep worry.

“By the time the world realizes, it might be too late.”

Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, a former leader of Kashmir’s pro-freedom alliance, the Hurriyat Conference, said that by issuing such “restrictive” guidelines, India was trying to escape “stark realities.”

He said: “You cannot establish peace if you don’t address the disputes. How long will you continue fighting over Kashmir? India and Pakistan cannot escape the reality of rising to the occasion and addressing the issues of Kashmir.”

He added that any solution “has to be Kashmir resolution-specific rather than restricting discussion on the issue.”

A BJP spokesperson refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News on Tuesday.

Scholars, however, bemoaned the “end of intellect” in India.

“It’s the end of scholarship and intellect in India,” Prof. Apoorvanand Jha from Delhi University, told Arab News.

“The Indian government claims that they are going to establish world-class institutions and invite Ivy League universities ... with guidelines like these, how can you expect any free thought to prosper and flourish in India?” Jha said.

“The BJP regime is anti-knowledge and anti-intellect.

“Universities in India are already in a semicoma because in the last few years all the central universities are being controlled by plaintiff vice-chancellors appointed by the government,” he said.

Prof. Ghulam Mohmad Shah of Delhi-based Jamia Millia University said: “Democracy has already been in decline in Kashmir under the BJP regime.

“It is in a terminal decline and hopeless state.”


UK’s newest carrier joins fight against Daesh, stirs Russian interest

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Updated 22 June 2021

UK’s newest carrier joins fight against Daesh, stirs Russian interest

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 65,000-ton carrier, has a squadron of the cutting-edge F-35 jet and its support ships include the US destroyer The Sullivans
  • The carrier group is supporting the UK's missions to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan

EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA: Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is helping to take on the “lion’s share” of operations against the Daesh (Islamic State) group in Iraq, UK naval commanders said. It has also piqued the interest of Russian warplanes, who try to keep tabs on its cutting-edge F-35 jet in a “cat-and-mouse” game with British and US pilots.
Speaking aboard the 65,000-ton carrier on its first-ever deployment, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said the UK is carrying out most of the missions to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“At the moment, we’re taking on the lion’s share of that operation over Iraq, which is a fantastic, say, feather in our cap. But an achievement that ‘A’, we’re trusted and ‘B’, that we’re able to do that,” Moorhouse told reporters Sunday.
It’s the first time that a UK aircraft carrier is supporting live military operations on the ground in over two decades, projecting British military power on a global scale. Moorhouse said the carrier offers the UK flexibility in how to conduct military operations abroad and “keeps those that wish to cause us harm ... on their toes.”
He said the eastern Mediterranean has become more “congested and contested” over the last decade in light of the heavier Russian military presence in Syria, which is resulting in regular encounters with Russian ships and warplanes.

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

“We’re rubbing up against Russian activity, not in a you know, in a dangerous or aggressive manner, but you’ve just got other people out here playing in what is a fixed piece of water and airspace,” said Moorhouse, adding that a Russian warship has come within 10 kilometers (16 miles) of the carrier.
The commodore insisted that Russian, British and US pilots have a “healthy respect for one another” and their conduct has been “absolutely professional” since the aircraft carrier started anti-IS operations on June 18.
“But there is a reality when you buy yourself a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and you take it around the world ... people are interested in it,” he added.
Captain James Blackmore, who commands the eight British F-35 jets and the 10 helicopters aboard the carrier, said UK and Russian pilots have come within “visual distance” of each other.
“It’s that cat-and-mouse posturing, it’s what we expect in this region of world. And as you can imagine, it’s the first time for F-35s into the eastern Mediterranean,” said Blackmore. “So, of course Russia wants to look at what they’re like, they want to look at what our carriers are like.”
The state-of-the art F-35, armed with air-to-air missiles and laser-guided bombs, is being used over Iraq to look for other aircraft or unmanned drones, support troops on the ground as well as to carry out surveillance with its sophisticated sensor and radar systems.
“It’s a fifth-generation aircraft with a hugely, hugely capable radar and sensor suite, and that’s what it brings. So it’s the eyes and ears that it’s offering out there,” said Moorhouse.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its support ships, which include the US destroyer The Sullivans, will remain in the eastern Mediterranean for two to three weeks before moving through the Suez Canal to continue with a 7 1/2 -month deployment to India, South Korea and Japan.
The carrier also has 10 US F-35 jets from the Marine Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron 211 aboard that carry out operations under British command.


Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
Zsolt Balla, State Rabbi of Saxony, stands in the synagogue in Leipzig, Germany, Monday June 21, 2021, after his induction into the office of Military Rabbi of the Armed Forces. (AP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
  • The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future

BERLIN: The German military got its first rabbi in over a century Monday, with the inauguration to the post of Hungarian-born Zsolt Balla at a synagogue in Leipzig.
The German government in 2019 approved a proposal by the Central Council of Jews to restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the armed forces.
“This was unthinkable for decades and still can’t be taken for granted,” the head of the Central Council, Josef Schuster, said. “That’s why we have all reason to be happy and grateful today.”
During World War I, many Jews fought for Germany and dozens of rabbis are known to have performed pastoral work in the military. After Adolf Hitler’ came to power in 1933, the Nazis excluded Jews from all spheres of public life, later murdering millions in the Holocaust.
Schuster said Balla would ensure Jewish soldiers can serve in the military in line with their religious rules, and also teach non-Jewish soldiers about Judaism’s traditions and holy days, thereby helping reduce prejudice.
The 42-year-old rabbi, who was ordained in 2009, said he felt “incredibly gratitude to be allowed to live in a country that faces its past but has also resolved to go forward and actively make the world better.”
According to German news agency dpa, there are about 300 Jews in Germany’s 180,000-strong Bundeswehr. About half of the country’s military belong to a Christian denomination, while 3,000 are Muslim.
The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future.


Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Updated 22 June 2021

Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
  • Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month
  • The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use

LONDON: Three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Monday after forcing their way into a factory they claim makes components for the Israeli military.
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls.
The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use.
Greater Manchester Police said in a statement that officers were called to Greenacres Road, Oldham, at about 6:40 a.m. following reports of a protest.

Three men were arrested and remain in custody, police said.
Huda Ammori, co-founder of Palestine Action, told Arab News that it was hoped the men would be released within 24 hours.
She said that the activists wanted to cause further disruption to Elbit Systems.
“Activists have gone inside before, but not caused significant damage to the machinery. This is the first time it has been done on this scale, so it is definitely an escalation in terms of our activism and our campaign against Elbit Systems’ operations here in the UK,” she said.
Ammori claimed that people were growing frustrated with the UK government’s response to Israel’s actions, especially following the 11-day conflict that rocked Gaza in May.
The UK Parliament held a debate to discuss a petition signed by over 385,000 people calling for sanctions on Israel. Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged the government to push forward the two-state solution by recognizing the state of Palestine, but most MPs who took part in the debate rejected the idea of sanctions against Israel.

Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month.
“The government has failed to take action, our parliamentarians have failed and protests have been ignored, and when everything else fails, the only tool we have left is to take the power back into our own hands, and expose exactly what Israel’s arms companies are doing and building in UK towns and cities,” Ammori said.
A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said that four people were treated for minor injuries.


Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
Updated 21 June 2021

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
  • Ghani, Abdullah expected to discuss stalled peace process, bilateral ties with US

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to the US later this week for their first meeting with President Joe Biden since he assumed office, officials said.

“The issues that will be discussed at the meeting will be bilateral ties and the peace process,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, told Arab News.

The meeting on Friday comes amid a phased withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is scheduled to finish by September 11 in line with Biden’s order to end the “forever war.”

It follows a deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and the Taliban’s steady victories on the battlefield in various parts of Afghanistan in recent weeks.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Abdullah said that he was “looking for constructive meetings and discussions on US-Afghan relations, and establishing a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Ghani’s office could not confirm what the president expected to achieve from the talks.

However, Fatima Morchal, a spokeswoman for Ghani, told Arab News that he “would exchange views on the continuation of bilateral cooperation.”

The visit follows a March proposal by Washington for Ghani and Abdullah to form a new administration that would include the Taliban, amid a warning that the insurgent group would make rapid territorial gains once all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Ghani has long expressed his hope that Biden would review the troop withdrawal process, which is based on a controversial deal signed between the former US administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

He also freed thousands of Taliban inmates — under pressure from former president Donald Trump — but vehemently rejected the idea of a new coalition government, vowing to pass the baton to the next administration following elections.

“In recent months, Ghani has pushed for a one-on-one audience with Biden to persuade him to keep some troops in Afghanistan,” an anonymous official told Arab News.

However, the Afghan president’s hopes were dashed on Sunday when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “looks forward to welcoming” the Afghan leaders and reassuring them of US diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support for the turmoil-hit country as the drawdown continues.

“The visit by President Ghani and Abdullah will highlight the enduring partnership between the US and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” she added.

Psaki further emphasized that Washington “continues to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourages all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict.”

However, analysts have downplayed the importance of the upcoming meeting, warning that Washington is in favor of all-inclusive peace talks and will avoid solely backing Ghani’s government.

“This time, the Americans will make it clear to Ghani that he would lose US support if he pursues anti-peace agendas (failure to hand over power to an interim government based on intra-Afghan talks),” Abdul Satar Saadat, Ghani’s former legal adviser, told Arab News.

“The government is making propaganda about the visit, calling it as the start of a new chapter, but this meeting will be Ghani’s last meeting with Biden,” he added.

Ahmad Samin, a former World Bank adviser, agreed, adding that the president’s meeting with Biden will not “strengthen Ghani’s political image.”

“It is crystal clear that Ghani is not considered an ally of the US,” he told Arab News.

Samin further cited an example of a speech where Biden misspelled Ghani’s name as “Kayani,” a former army chief of Pakistan, to explain how “important” the Afghan president was to his US counterpart.

The Afghan visit comes amid a series of territorial gains by the Taliban in various regions of Afghanistan, including in the northern and northeastern areas, where they previously failed to establish a stronghold during their five-year rule, which ended with the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The insurgents have captured dozens of districts in recent weeks, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, even as Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the country’s protracted conflict.

The battlefield setbacks prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, including the head of the army, amid criticism that a lack of coordination was the reason for Taliban advances and a spike in casualties among government forces.

Following his appointment on Saturday, Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi called on Afghans to “cooperate with the troops in the war against advancing Taliban forces.”

Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during the civil wars in the 1990s, replaced Asadullah Khalid, who held the position since 2018.


Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
Updated 21 June 2021

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
  • Duterte pushes for Filipino workers to be part of Kingdom’s ‘visionary’ reform program

MANILA: The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.

The subject was discussed during a meeting on Sunday between President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy and presidential assistant on foreign affairs, Robert Borje, and Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi.

Philippines Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos were also part of the discussions.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary for Global Media Affairs J.V. Arcena told Arab News on Monday that Borje and Al-Rajhi highlighted the two nations’ commitment to “significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.”

Borje told Al-Rajhi that Duterte welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), introduced in March, “as a significant step toward addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system” in the Kingdom.  

He also expressed confidence that the initiative will raise productivity and competitiveness of the labor market in the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes Filipino household workers will be included in the reform initiative,” Borje said.

He emphasized Manila’s commitment to work with the Saudi government in implementing the labor reforms, especially to advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers. At the same time, Borje sought the Saudi official’s support for other initiatives to support Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom.

These include a repatriation program for distressed OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to strengthen the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate-General in Jeddah, and to make consular services more accessible to Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

Borje underscored the need to address fundamental issues of all migrant workers in the Kingdom, such as harnessing technology to improve access to labor sector services, protection of wages, and automation of recruitment processes.

“Both sides are looking forward to the Joint Commission Meeting and also showed eagerness to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on labor soon, based on the LRI reforms that the Saudi government has done,” the statement said.

It added that Riyadh and Manila “hope to see the convening of a technical working group on the details of the MOU on labor.”

Describing the Saudi government’s reforms on migrants’ rights as “bold and visionary,” Borje aired his optimism that the Philippine-Saudi relations would “continue to grow beyond labor cooperation,” such as in the trade and investment sectors.

The Philippines is willing to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on a multi-dimensional partnership, in line with Duterte’s vision, he said.

Borje’s meeting with Al-Rajhi was part of the Philippine delegation’s five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, anchored on the president’s commitment to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two officials also discussed “issues of common interest,” following which Saudi King Salman received a written letter from Duterte which dealt with relations between Riyadh and Manila, and ways to support and enhance them in various fields.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia marked 50 years of diplomatic ties in 2019, with Duterte congratulating King Salman for the Kingdom’s “landmark” LRO, which, among other benefits, abolished the kafala system for migrant workers last year.

In a phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May, Duterte renewed the Philippines’ commitment to strengthen bilateral and trade ties and intensify efforts to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

He also conveyed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s free COVID-19 vaccinations for Filipinos and the financial assistance extended to the Philippine health sector during outgoing Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy’s farewell event in the Malacanang last week.

Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the largest number of any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate. About half work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the Kingdom’s construction, outsourcing and healthcare sectors.