India: A Pretentious Regional Power
“India has presented to the world a particular face: a rising India, a shining India, secular and democratic India…but this belies the harsh realities of the millions of impoverished citizens of the country whose voices and faces remain hidden.” This was stated by Honourable Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan, Minister of Defense, during his address as Chief Guest, at an International Seminar on “India: A Pretentious Regional Power”, organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) at the Marriot Hotel, Islamabad today.
The seminar was chaired by Ambassador (R) Inam-ul-Haque, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Distinguished speakers at the seminar included: Dr. Ejaz Akram, advisor to President National Defense University (NDU) & former Associate Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS); Dr. habil. Christian Wagner, Head of Research Division Asia at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP); Ms. Laura Schuurmans, independent writer and researcher based in Jakarta; Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal, Assistant Professor at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) and Mr. Mohammad Waqas Sajjad, Senior Research Fellow at ISSI.
Engineer Dastgir Khan stated that for India as well as Pakistan, non-traditional security threats that affect people’s lives and livelihoods, such as water insecurity, climate change and the like should be seriously tackled. Understanding India as a pretentious regional power is important for both Pakistan, as well as for the rest of the world – particularly for the former so as to ensure it is prepared to meet any challenge militarily. The minister went on to say that while Pakistan has for several decades been raising the issue of human rights abuses in Kashmir, it is only now that the international community is beginning – and that too inadequately – to notice the violence committed by Indian state agencies. Whatever values a country espouses is how it treats its minorities and India has failed on that account. Indeed, it would also bode well for India and its citizens to forego pretensions and delusions that surround gross violations of human rights in the country, listen to sane voices from its own midst and address the massive issues of poverty and other such concerns. For Pakistan, the real response to these developments is to focus on its own developments, economic growth and political stability.
The speakers analysed the growing economic insecurity and issues of governance in India. The main points raised in the seminar were that though India has projected that it has a common goal to contain China as a rising power, and in this regard, to rebalance the world order, it is still reflective of a society facing multiple problems where the highest authorities are either directly or indirectly complicit in gross violation of human rights, and undermining human security and civil liberties of its citizens. India has two faces: one violent, which is shielded behind a façade of humanity and efforts to bring peace. It is the former face – one which emanates fascism that needs to be understood. Hindu majoritarian debate is reducing the space not only for minorities, but for the secular Hindus as well. While India has continued to invest in hard power and its military needs to acquire global and regional power status, it should make efforts to lift the millions of its people from the high poverty levels they are enmeshed in. The biggest challenge India faces – as do other developing countries – is catering to a growing youth population with adequate employment opportunities. Sideways, the growing phenomenon of xenophobia is fast emerging in India and must be countered. Overgrown and pre-mature claims of greatness should not be accepted at face value and need scrutiny and analysis. In this regards, Pakistan needs to see where India is going wrong so it does not follow that course of action and thus avoid the pitfalls.
Earlier, in his opening remarks, Chairman ISSI, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood said that the idea of the rising Indian economy can no longer be used to sustain the argument and belief of India as a regional power. The resurgence of rabid Hindutva ideology, which enjoys state patronage, is tearing the religio-social fabric of the Indian society. Alarming regularity of reports about shocking gang rapes that have institutional support, mosques that are vandalized, and people who are killed for rumours about consuming or selling beef, shows a level of social strife and lack of civil liberties that is too conspicuous to be ignored. The rampant “Saffron Terrorism” puts paid the claims of secular pluralist India. Externally, India has uneasy to hostile relationship, over- laden with unresolved disputes, with most of its neighbours, holding back much needed regional economic integration envisioned under the SAARC and CPEC. These communal, aggressive , coercive tendencies have received a new fillip following the advent of Prime Minister Modi, a long time Percharak (worker) of RSS.
It should no longer be the case that progress in South Asia is considered a zero-sum game – Pakistan is quite clear on this. Efforts of image building lose their value if done through violent means, which is why India should strive to cooperate with other countries in the region. But it should be kept in mind that the journey to becoming a great power begins at home – peace, harmony and prosperity from within ultimately translates into success abroad. In his concluding remarks, the Chairman thanked all the speakers and lay emphasis on the importance of curbing the declining human security and economic deprivation in India. He said that though India does have the requisites of becoming a major power, but as yet it does not have the pre-requisites of becoming that major power.