Crackdown on protests: Is there a change in India’s policy toward Palestine?

Indian protesters hold a rally in solidarity with Palestine in New Delhi on Oct. 27, 2023. (AN photo)
Indian protesters hold a rally in solidarity with Palestine in New Delhi on Oct. 27, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 28 October 2023

Crackdown on protests: Is there a change in India’s policy toward Palestine?

Indian protesters hold a rally in solidarity with Palestine in New Delhi on Oct. 27, 2023. (AN photo)
  • Mahatma Gandhi opposed a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, deeming it inhumane
  • Israel’s envoy in Delhi admits he is pushing India to declare Hamas a terrorist organization

NEW DELHI: Rallies in solidarity with Palestine have been ongoing in India for the past two weeks. Despite the fact that the majority of them have been dispersed by authorities, protesters believe they should still take to the streets in the wake of Israeli attacks on Gaza.

In the Indian capital alone, three rallies were stopped by police in the past week. During the latest one, on Friday, Arab News witnessed the arrest of dozens of demonstrators.

“It is important to protest. If you go back to 200 years before India got independence, we were fighting our battle,” N. Sai Balaji, former president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, who organized a protest in front of the Israeli embassy on Oct. 23, told Arab News.

“The Indian people fought British colonialism and we got freedom. We look at the Palestinians in the same way.”

Support for Palestine was an important part of India’s foreign policy even before independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Palestine was under British administration from 1920 to 1948.

Many years before the establishment of Israel, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement, had opposed a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, deeming it inhumane.

“Mahatma Gandhi’s views were expressed at various times on this question, particularly when there was intense Jewish migration from Europe to Palestine in the first half of the 20th century, which later culminated in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948,” Prof. A.K. Ramakrishnan from the Center for West Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arab News.

He cited an interview that Gandhi gave to the magazine Harijan in 1938: “He mentioned that Palestine belongs to Arabs in the same sense as England belongs to the English and France to the French. And that support was very important, even though there was tremendous pressure from the Jewish community and the World Zionist Organization on him to issue a statement in support of Jewish immigration and their agenda in Palestine.”

The stance of other Indian independence leaders was no different; India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was dedicated to the Non-Aligned Movement, although it was his administration that eventually recognized Israel.

“After independence, the Indian government, under his leadership, recognized the state of Israel, but no fuller relationship was established,” Ramakrishnan said.

Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi, who became the third prime minister of India in 1966, had a close relationship with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who often referred to her as his “elder sister.”

“That’s a clear example of how warm, how cordial, the relationship was back then,” said Dr. Amir Ali, assistant professor at the Centre for Political Studies at JNU, adding that, in the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Palestinians studied at Indian universities and were welcomed by Indian society.

“Our relationship with the Arab world is that it’s always been very, very warm,” Ali continued, adding that it continues to be so, despite the clear change in India’s official policy since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014.

According to Ali, however, that shift was underway long before Modi came to power.

“I think the major change happened in the 1990s, with liberalization. In 1992, we had (diplomatic) relations established with Israel,” Ali said. Since then, he continued, India has looked to balance its policy between Israel and Palestine, relegating the latter more to the background.

“Since 2014, there has been a definite change in India’s position,” said Prof. Sujata Ashwarya from the Centre for West Asian Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, noting that, even though India has not gone as far as the US did in 2017 — recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — it no longer calls for East Jerusalem to be recognized as the capital of Palestine.

When Israel began its daily bombing of Gaza on Oct. 7, after an assault by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas, Modi stirred controversy by initially offering support for Israel.

He took to social media to say he was shocked by the “terrorist” attack and that India stood “in solidarity with Israel.”

Two days later, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement saying that India had always advocated “negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine.” But Modi’s post clearly encouraged Israel, whose ambassador to New Delhi, Naor Gilon, told reporters last week that he wanted India to recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization, a matter he had raised with the government.

Ashwarya said she was not surprised that the envoy felt he could try to pressure the Indian government, given Israel’s behavior on the international stage.

“When the UN secretary-general said there is a context to all the violence taking place in the region, Israel demanded that he resign,” she said. “Israel is emboldened because the entire Western world, which has all the military and economic power, is behind Israel. Israel has all the audacity because it is backed by everyone in the Western world.”

What the Israeli envoy missed, according to Ashwarya, was that the word “terrorist” in Modi’s post referred to the attack, rather than Hamas itself.

“He did not mean Hamas ... In India’s policy, Hamas is still not considered a terrorist organization,” she said. “As far as my understanding of foreign policy goes, India is not going to take any action in this regard. Not in the near future.”

Ashutosh Singh, assistant professor at Amity University in Noida, said any such move would prove problematic for India.

“Calling Hamas a terrorist organization will raise so many questions for Indians: Would you call Bhagat Singh a terrorist?” he said, referring to a hero of the early 20th-century Indian independence movement who was a vocal critic of British rule in India and was involved in two high-profile attacks on British authorities, which referred to him as a terrorist.

“Even people who don’t believe in the ideology of Hamas don’t call them terrorists; they will say they are militants, they’re freedom fighters,” he continued. “Although we don’t support them, we will never condemn them because they are freedom fighters.”

Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift

Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift
Updated 48 min 43 sec ago

Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift

Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift
  • The belated first trip to the Latin American powers had been seen as an opportunity to build ties with two key leaders

WASHINGTON: US top diplomat Antony Blinken was meeting President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday, amid a diplomatic spat after the Brazilian leader likened Israel’s war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two.
US officials have said they expect Lula and Secretary of State Blinken to have a robust conversation on issues of global security, including the conflict in Gaza sparked by attacks in southern Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome in Israel until he takes back the comments.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday that Washington disagreed with Lula’s comments, but declined to preview what Blinken would say in the meeting on the issue.
Lula’s comments came after he visited the Middle East last week and just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro as part of Brazil’s presidency of the G20 group of advanced economies.
Washington, which provides Israel with military and diplomatic support, has urged Israel to protect civilians but defended Israel’s right to target Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.
Ahead of Blinken’s travel to South America, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told reporters that sharing ideas on the conflict in Gaza would be “crucial to the conversation” between Lula and Blinken.
The two would also discuss efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela, a US-Brazil partnership on workers’ rights and cooperation on transitioning to clean energy, Nichols said.

Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say

Updated 7 sec ago

Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say

Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say
DUBAI: Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.
Iran’s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.
Iran’s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards — an elite force that oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program — declined to comment. Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.
An Iranian military official — who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information — said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.
Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.
“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”
UN Security Council restrictions on Iran’s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.
A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.
A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.
By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.
“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal.”

A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces. The Ukrainian defense ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.
Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.
“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Center for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.
Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.
Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometers and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.
Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.
“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.
“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defenses to intercept,” Lee said.

Iran’s hard-line clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.
Defense cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajjizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran’s drones, missiles and air defense systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.
And last month, Russia’s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.
“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran’s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”
The stakes are high for Iran’s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.
While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies — including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen — have attacked Israeli and US targets.
A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.
He said Western nations were concerned that Russia’s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.
Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.
Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.
“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.

Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya

Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya
Updated 35 min 20 sec ago

Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya

Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya
  • Panchenko has been coming most days to lay flowers at an impromptu memorial to him in Tbilisi
  • With Navalny gone, she is pinning her hopes on Yulia Navalnaya, who has pledged to continue her husband’s work and urged Russians to share her “rage” at President Vladimir Putin

TBILISI: Like many other young Russians, Anastasia Panchenko’s political awakening came courtesy of Alexei Navalny.
Left reeling by his sudden death, she is looking now to his widow Yulia to take on the mantle of Russian opposition leader.
Since Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony last Friday, Panchenko has been coming most days to lay flowers at an impromptu memorial to him in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital she has called home since fleeing Russia in 2021.
Once a journalist with a pro-Kremlin news outlet in Krasnodar, southern Russia, Panchenko quit her job and went to work in Navalny’s campaign office after police violently dispersed protests in 2017 that were prompted by one of his anti-corruption investigations.
“He turned my life on its head,” she said in an interview.
With Navalny gone, she is pinning her hopes on Yulia Navalnaya, who has pledged to continue her husband’s work and urged Russians to share her “rage” at President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denies involvement in Navalny’s death, which it says is under investigation.
“Yulia Navalnaya is our new hope,” Panchenko said. “She has taken upon herself all of Alexei Navalny’s political capital. I think she’s the lawful, legitimate leader of the opposition.”
Navalnaya, 47, has not yet had time to set out her vision for Russia’s opposition, whose leading members are in prison or abroad.
Currently outside Russia, she would risk arrest if she returned to the country — like Navalny himself, whose last day of freedom was the day he returned to Russia in January 2021 after recovering in a German hospital from an attempt to poison him in Siberia.
Semyon Kochkin, a former Navalny campaign manager now also living in Tbilisi, said the task ahead of his widow was daunting, especially from exile.
“Yulia always demonstratively said she didn’t want any part in politics. I never expected that she would go into this battle,” he said.
“I’m very worried for her because she’s in danger. They can do anything (to her). Of course she’s not in Russia, but even so. She was never a public figure. She is going to be gravely tested. We will support her.”

Panchenko and Kochkin were both part of a national network of campaign offices set up by Navalny when he attempted to run for president in 2018 but was barred from standing.
After he was jailed in 2021, his network was banned as “extremist,” and most of his staffers fled Russia under threat of long prison sentences. Many moved to Georgia, which allows Russians to stay indefinitely, without a visa.
With Navalny now dead, Tbilisi’s tight-knit community of political exiles is grappling with the loss of a man many hoped would follow in the footsteps of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, one day walking free from prison to become the country’s president.
Kochkin, 30, runs an anti-Kremlin channel on the Telegram messenger app, and maintains a list of natives of his home region of Chuvashia who have died in the war in Ukraine. He admits Navalny’s death has left him at a loss.
“I don’t really understand what we’re supposed to do in this situation right now,” said the activist, whom Russian authorities have designated a “foreign agent” and placed on a nationwide wanted list.
“We always thought of Alexei as the person who’d tell us what to do. He’d make the plan, and we’d carry it out. Now there’s no one who’s going to make that plan for us. We need to sit down and do it for ourselves.”

Dmitry Tsibiryov, the former head of Navalny’s headquarters in the Volga River city of Saratov, is another Georgia-based activist who says he will remain politically engaged.
As part of a project by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Tsibiryov has been cold-calling Russian voters for weeks, trying to persuade them to vote against Putin or spoil their ballots in a March 15-17 presidential election. He told Reuters he had spoken to about 70 by mid-February.
“Now, there’s no possibility of talking to residents of Russia face to face, but I can over the phone,” said Tsibiryov, 38.
“I believe in the beautiful Russia of the future,” he said, borrowing a slogan from Navalny. “What is the ocean, if not a lot of tiny droplets? We’re contributing those droplets in this project, one, two people at a time.”
Panchenko, the former journalist, says she is focused on fundraising and organizing legal support for those detained for commemorating Navalny’s death in her native Krasnodar region.
But while she looks now to Yulia Navalnaya, she is bereft at the death of her political idol.
“I think it’s an irreplaceable loss. Alexei Navalny’s name will be on people’s lips for a long time to come because it’s impossible to replace him,” she said.

UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire

UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire
Updated 47 min 7 sec ago

UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire

UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire
  • Defense minister Grant Shapps admitted to parliament that “an anomaly did occur” during an exercise on January 30
  • It is believed to be the second failed launch in a row

LONDON: The UK government said Wednesday that it had “absolute confidence” in its Trident nuclear deterrent system despite a reported missile test failure.
Defense minister Grant Shapps admitted to parliament that “an anomaly did occur” during an exercise on January 30, following reports that a missile fired from the submarine HMS Vanguard fell into the sea.
Shapps said in the written statement that it was “longstanding practice” not to comment on such tests, but that it was providing information “in recognition of the level of interest” in the operation.
“On this occasion, an anomaly did occur, but it was event specific and there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile,” insisted the minister, who was on board the vessel at the time of the test.
“Nor are there any implications for our ability to fire our nuclear weapons, should the circumstances arise in which we need to do so.”
The Sun newspaper reported on Wednesday that the “first-stage” boosters on the dummy Trident 2 missile did not ignite when fired off the coast of Florida, with an anonymous source saying, “it just went plop, right next to them.”
It is believed to be the second failed launch in a row.
Despite the setback, Shapps said that the test “reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in which the government has absolute confidence.
“The Trident missile system remains the most reliable weapons system in the world, having successfully completed more than 190 tests,” he added.
“The UK’s resolve and capability to use its nuclear weapons, should we ever need to do so, remains beyond doubt.”
But the opposition Labour party called the reports “concerning.”
The 13-meter-long Trident missile, which can aim at targets up to 4,000 miles away, are fired underwater from submarines, with boosters supposed to ignite when the weapons reach the surface.
Each Vanguard-class submarine can hold eight Trident rockets, but they are due to be replaced in the 2030s by the larger Dreadnought-class of vessels.

Bangladesh resists pressure to accept more Rohingya from Myanmar

Bangladesh resists pressure to accept more Rohingya from Myanmar
Updated 21 February 2024

Bangladesh resists pressure to accept more Rohingya from Myanmar

Bangladesh resists pressure to accept more Rohingya from Myanmar
  • Dhaka spends about $1.2 billion annually to support refugees
  • Myanmar fighting in early February spilled across the border into Bangladesh

DHAKA: Bangladesh is refusing to accept more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, with authorities saying on Wednesday that the country is already overburdened in supporting more than 1.2 million refugees.

The Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh over decades after escaping death and persecution in Myanmar, especially during a military crackdown in 2017.

The developing country spends an estimated $1.2 billion annually to support the refugees, as international aid for the oppressed stateless minority has fallen since 2020.

Most of the Rohingya refugees live in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in eastern Bangladesh.

“We are already overburdened with more than 1 million Rohingya,” Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

“The people of Bangladesh certainly will not welcome any more Rohingya here. Hospitality in the host community has turned into hostility. In this context, there is nothing much we can do for the newly displaced (Rohingya from Myanmar).”

Rahman’s statement follows comments from other Bangladeshi officials, including Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, who told reporters earlier this month that Bangladesh “will not allow any more Rohingya to enter the country.”

Hundreds of people from Myanmar, including some Rohingya, have gathered at various points along Bangladesh’s border in recent weeks to seek shelter as the junta battles a strong resistance offensive.

Hundreds of Myanmarese border troops and police, some with bullet wounds, also sought refuge in Bangladesh during intense periods of fighting in early February.

“It can’t be said that the overall law and order situation is very good at the moment as almost every day there are incidents of murders … moreover, there have been new added tensions due to the unrest in the border areas,” Rahman said.

The Rohingya, which the UN has described as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities,” have faced decades of discrimination and repression in Myanmar, where they are not recognized as an indigenous ethnic group and are denied the right to claim citizenship.

Thousands of Rohingya refugees embarked on deadly sea journeys from Bangladesh — and to a lesser extent from Myanmar — in 2023. Last year also saw the highest figure in nine years — 569 — of the number of Rohingya refugees who died or went missing during dangerous crossings.