Bangladesh’s silence on Kashmir is deafening


Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country has tacitly sided with the Indian government on its decision to revoke Article 370 and 35 (A) of the constitution that stripped Kashmiri’s of their right to autonomy on August 5, 2019. In addition to demotion of Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status from a state to a union territory, the mainland government has since issued orders leading to complete media and communication black out and has forced a curfew that has persisted for more than a month now.

Bangladesh, a country whose very existence is based on identity remains silent over Kashmir’s right to identity and freedom– the silence is deafening to say the least. According to local media reports, Bangladesh police has also issued a warning, criminalizing any protests and processions carried out to show solidarity for the Kashmiri cause.

Unfortunately, Bangladesh’s story isn’t any different from that of Kashmir. It is a story of grief and resilience; of violence and defiance and of identity. Some 48 years ago Bangladesh changed the map of the world with its independence from what was formerly known as West Pakistan. Bangladesh’s (former East Pakistan) struggle for freedom is a long painful history of structural violence that later aggravated into one of the most brutal events of violence in history.

The Bengali sub-nationalism is as old as the existence of Pakistan on the map of the world. The two wings, East Pakistan and West Pakistan, also referred to as the “Siamese Twins”, had a complex relationship since the beginning, owing to a complicated structure left behind by the British Raj. The geographical differences, weak economic structures and a looming Indian threat were some of the major hindrances in the development of a stable relationship between the two wings. But most importantly, the struggle for Bengali freedom was deeply rooted in difference between Bengali citizens and the mainlanders in West Pakistan. Distinct cultures, political alienation and language formed the basis of one of the greatest movements in history– Bangladesh Liberation War.

According to Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter who escaped Pakistani forces in London reported the scale of brutality unleashed on Bengalis of East Pakistan by West Pakistan’s forces. His article in The Sunday Times, UK on June 13, 1971 was a ground breaking report that revealed the death of 30,000-50,000 Bengalis. There are however, conflicting narratives on the atrocities committed by West Pakistani forces in East Pakistan during the Liberation War. Sarmila Bose from India in her investigative seminal work, “Dead Reckoning” has done a case-by-case research to explore the truth of the war. According to Bose, war crimes were committed by all sides, including West Pakistan, East Pakistan and India, and resulted in an estimated 50,000-1,00,000 deaths on all sides. In addition to extra-judicial killings, an estimate of 200,000 Bengali women were raped by 93,000 West Pakistani soldiers according to Jayanta Ray, an Oxford researcher and the Red Cross Organization.

Similarly, Kashmiri nationalism, also known as Kashmiriyat is determined largely by the ethos and lifestyle of the Kashmiri population influenced by indigenous secularism. This principle of nationalism originates from Kashmir’s rich legacy of moderate researchers and religious scholars, who were a voice of reason as opposed to the resolute, degenerated traditions and the exploitation of the man propagated by predominant religions. It was these voice of balance that made a difference in the spread of Islam as they impacted both the individuals and the rulers. Moreover, contrary to the custom, the spread of Islam in Kashmir was for most part not through the sword. It witnessed a more direct frame of Islam influenced by the Sufi developments instead of the more basic and standard structures predominant elsewhere.

Conflict arose when in the late 20th century, both Kashmiri nationalism and Indian nationalism collided and struggled to co-exist with one another. On 5th July 1990, the Government of India enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1990 in Jammu and Kashmir keeping in mind the ultimate goal to battle increasing separatist elements and also cross outskirt militancy from Pakistan. The Act was initially enacted to the North Eastern surroundings of India in 1958 as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1958 to deal with uprising circumstances there. The AFSPA 1990 in Jammu and Kashmir has been in power for over two decades now giving the Armed personals of the Indian security forces immunity to kill, rape, seizure, detain, torture, forcefully displace and migrate the indigenous community of Kashmiri’s.

According to a recent report published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) conflict-related casualties reached a historic high resulting in 160 civilian deaths in 2018 alone and 1,081 civilian deaths have been confirmed between 2008 and 2018. Since 2010 the Indian government has also continued the use of pellet-shot guns to resist the uprisings and protest processions in Kashmir that has resulted in 300 injuries and 16 cases of blindness including partial blindness of 19-month-old girl. According to the report, 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets used by security forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018. In addition, the report also highlighted abuses committed by the security forces during search operations and in arbitrary detentions. Above all, the Indian security forces continue to be protected by the Indian constitution’s AFSPA for crimes being committed in the Jammu and Kashmir territory which may also have led to increased unreported cases.

At present, 35,000 paramilitary forces in addition to the existing 70,000 have been deployed in the area making it one of the most highly militarized zones in the region. Kashmir remains under a 50 plus day curfew that has barred the population from living a normal life. Freedom of expression and movement has been restricted; several activists, trade unionists and political leadership has been arrested along with restriction from media appearances. According to latest reports, minors and young Kashmiris have been detained to curtail anti-government processions. Most of the situation remains unknown due to a complete communication cut off and media blackout that will reach its two-month mark in weeks to come.

Despite a common ground shared by both Bengali and Kashimiri nationalism, Bangladesh, an independent sovereign country has so far remained silent on the issue of human rights abuse in Kashmir by the Indian military and security forces. There could be a number of factors contributing towards this silence. One defining factor is economy- According to estimates trade volume between India and Bangladesh in 2017-18 reached a historic high crossing a $9 billion mark. Under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), Bangladesh was also offered tariff concessions by India for trade imports in 2011. In the past six years, Bangladesh’s exports to India grew from $512 million to $672 million. Garment export is predominantly a leading export product of Bangladesh to India. At present, it is the fastest growing economy in South Asia with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 7.28 percent in 2017. The estimated GDP of Bangladesh stood at $250 billion in 2017 and $274.025 billion in 2018.

The principles of complex interdependence are at play as trade relations with India continue to resist countries like Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from condemning Indian brutality in Jammu and Kashmir. In addition to the Gulf giants, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman have also not issued any statement condemning the situation. Moreover, the UAE government last month awarded the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with its highest civilian war amid the month-long curfew in Kashmir. The Gulf states and India share lucrative economic and trade relations worth $100 billion, according to estimates. Other than economic factors, foreign policy behaviors and interactions are also significant in the present scenario.

Another factor contributing to Bangladesh’s silence may be its enmity with Pakistan- primarily based on two reasons; historic grievances with its former wing and its strong political alliance with India. Pakistan has long claimed the territory of Jammu and Kashmir for its predominant Muslim population since its independence in 1947. Hence, Bangladesh’s pro-Indian stance on the Kashmir conflict is quite easily inevitable.

Although India has developed strong cordial relations with most economic giants that curtails states from adopting a defensive stance on Kashmir, Bangladesh holds a moral and ethical responsibility to at least condemn and demand a transparent investigation into the repealing of Article 370 and 35 (A), communication cut off and human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir.

Alina Younis is a freelance researcher for Al Jazeera English and a scholar of politics and international relations.

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