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Asia News Columns World News

‘China’s Road Construction in Shaksgam Valley Alters Status Quo’

Any alteration in the status quo by China and Pakistan in the Shaksgam Valley infringes upon India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, such changes could disrupt the existing security dynamics in this mountainous terrain … writes Sanal Kumar Sharma

Recent commercial satellite imagery reveals that China has built a road across the Aghil Pass and this road stretches into the lower Shaksgam Valley in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK).  Further, China has also built a parallel track to the road in the Shaksgam Valley in the Trans-Karakoram tract. While India has been aware for quite some time of Chinese road construction activity in the Shaksgam Valley, territory that Pakistan illegally ceded to China in 1963, the threat to India has increased with the road ahead coming close to the Siachen Glacier.

The road branches off from a highway in China’s Xinjiang province and disappears into the mountains around 50 kms north of the Siachen Glacier. The groundwork for this road was laid between June and August of last year. Given China’s rapid construction abilities, this distance is easily bridgeable and poses a clear and present danger to India’s national security.

India has regularly documented the frequent border violations by China along the border. However, a more concerning development is their militarisation of PoJK and the Shaksgam Valley. China has been building military infrastructure and roads in the Shaksgam Valley as a strategic move to distract India from its land grab in PoJK, a region over which India has territorial claims. China and Pakistan’s collaboration on building infrastructure in this 590 km long border area disregards India’s rights and creates a direct military threat. Satellite imagery suggests this road construction may have begun in mid-2017, after a border stand-off between India, Bhutan and China. The construction that passes through Aghil Pass (India’s frontier with Xinjiang before 1947) was first flagged on X (formerly Twitter) by ‘Nature Desai’, an observer of the Indo-Tibetan boundary.

Any alteration in the status quo by China and Pakistan in the Shaksgam Valley infringes upon India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, such changes could disrupt the existing security dynamics in this mountainous terrain. These apprehensions are compounded by reports of increased military collaboration in the area. In 2021, the Gilgit-Baltistan province unveiled plans for a new road linking Muzaffarabad to Mustagh Pass, bordering Pakistan’s Shaksgam Valley. This road is proposed to connect with Yarkand in Xinjiang, suggesting a potential route through the Shaksgam Valley to link with China’s G219 national highway.  

China-Pakistan.

The Indian government has consistently claimed the Shaksgam Valley, which is currently controlled by China, as part of its territory. This includes the region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoJK). In a 2019 speech, Home Minister Amit Shah reaffirmed this position, stating that the Indian constitution defines Jammu and Kashmir to include both PoJK and Aksai Chin. The road reportedly enters the disputed territory at Aghil Pass, which historically marked the border between Kashmir and Tibet. This fact was even acknowledged by past Chinese rulers. India frequently cites Aghil Pass and the Shaksgam Valley in border negotiations with China, pointing to historical evidence to support its claim. This evidence includes Indian government maps, dating back to 1907, that consistently showed the area as Indian Territory. Interestingly, archival Chinese maps from the early 20th century also seemed to agree, according to a website run by Claude Arpi, a scholar specialising in Tibet, with India’s stand.

There are implications of China taking physical and military control of the Shaksgam Valley. The first is that by having de facto control, it gives China the opportunity to claim that the border between India and Xinjiang extending from the Karakoram Pass to Afghanistan, a distance of some 590 km, does not exist and is actually the border between China and Pakistan. This is a result of the 1963 border agreement between China and Pakistan. By pushing in military infrastructure into the Shaksgam Valley, China has effectively altered the status quo of the 1963 Agreement making it null and void. The next point of note is that China has used geography to its advantage to create a pincer from two sides on the Siachen Glacier towards India. It also means that the border with China is today only 3,488 km, whereas in reality, it is a little over 4,000 km, if the Shaksgam Valley border up to Afghanistan is included!

From a military perspective, Chinese infrastructure could potentially threaten Indian troops stationed in Ladakh in the future. This latest development is significant and should be seen as part of China’s ongoing strategy of pressuring India through incursions all along the Line of Actual Control. Essentially, they are part of a larger Chinese plan to establish a permanent military presence in the contested areas.  Chinese Border Defence personnel have also been observed patrolling the area along the newly constructed road in the Shaksgam region. At least two military posts are also visible. Older satellite imagery of 24 October 2016 showed no roads or posts in the entire Shaksgam Valley.

Jammu and Kashmir is a strategically vital area for India. Control of parts of the Union Territory by Pakistan and China over time have created challenges for India diplomatically and militarily. The China-Pakistan concert in PoJK creates multiple challenges. India has thus far, avoided direct conflict to reclaim these areas, while Pakistan has used military force on several occasions. It is only recently that India has articulated the need to  ensure the re-integration of PoJK with India. When India revoked J&K’s special status in 2018, China sided with Pakistan and called Kashmir “disputed.”

Currently, China is mainly backing Pakistan publicly, helping them get international attention, and putting troops near the Ladakh border to put pressure on India. The emergence of a second Chinese road intersection in the Karakoram, this time through the Aghil Pass in the Shaksgam Valley, represents a significant development. Recall that the pre-existing route in the PoJK, i.e., National Highway 35/G-314 through the Khunjerab Pass, serves as a vital link of the CPEC, the construction of an alternative route through the Shaksgam Valley introduces a new dynamic. The Chinese infrastructure project in the Shaksgam Valley directly threaten India’s sovereignty and security, especially given their proximity to the Siachen Glacier. The strategic significance of the Siachen Glacier underscores the urgency for India to fortify defences and pursue proactive diplomatic and military solutions.

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Columns Crime PAKISTAN

Young zealots pose grave threats to minorities in Pakistan

The state, especially the army, had created and supported extremely rabid extremist outfits like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) which has been given a free rein in running vicious online campaign against minorities, especially the Ahmadis, writes Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan’s downfall can be measured not only in terms of its economic crisis and political subjugation to the military alone but more truthfully how its young are being radicalised online by extremist groups patronised by the state.

The radicalisation of the youth has not been new to Pakistan. Ever since Pakistan turned to `jihad` as its strategic instrument of war and manipulation, the young have been brainwashed to kill innocents in the name of religion. Radicalised young became easy fodder for jihadi groups mushrooming across Pakistan during the Zia-ul Haq days. Hundreds of terrorist groups were created, during the East Pakistan crisis, the Afghan Jihad and the proxy war against India in Kashmir. These groups needed unsuspecting young men who could be sent to die in the name of religion. Radicalisation became an agenda in hundreds of madrasas set up across the country.

Ahmadi graves desecrated, anti-Ahmadi slurs inscribed

When these same radicalised men turned towards Pakistan, there was panic and quick de-radicalisation programmes became the buzzword. Copious amounts of articles, research reports and seminars were produced and trashed. Programmes were introduced across the country. But it was merely a ruse, an excuse to tap into western funding sources for such programmes. In reality, the Pakistan Army continued to support and finance extremist and terrorist groups in different parts of the country. Jihadi literature became easily available online. Special coaching classes were held to promote such vicious literature among madrasa students and rich schools.

The sordid truth became known when the state, especially the army, created and supported extremely rabid extremist outfits like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) which has been given a free rein in running vicious online campaign against minorities, especially the Ahmadis. Of the several thousands of young men radicalised online by TLP was a young madrasa student who shot and killed two Ahamdis in Punjab’s Phalia town last week. He confessed of being influenced by what he read or saw online posted by extremist groups. He saw TLP leaders baying for the blood of Ahmadis. The Ahmadi community has complaining to the authorities about such online hate campaigns for long. Many have fallen victim to extremists in the recent past. The Ahmadi religious places have been destroyed and their graveyards dug up. Mobs, instigated by online campaigns, have even prevented burials of Ahmadis in the recent past.

But it is not only the Ahmadis who have been bearing the brunt of radical groups. Last year, Christian families and churches were set on fire in Jaranwala, Punjab, by blood-thirsty mobs influenced by online allegations of two Christian youths reportedly making blasphemous notes on Quran. Both were later found to be innocent of these charges but by then the town had been set on fire and Christians made to flee to safer areas.

The shocking aspect of the Jaranwala episode was the involvement of young men and boys as young as 14. More than half of the mob were teenage boys armed with sticks, stones, incendiary items and other weapons. The fanatical mobs attacked not only those areas where the alleged incident of blasphemy had taken place but other Christian areas. During the attack, the boys were seen smiling and laughing as they set houses on fire. The mob of young boys chanted hateful slogans which were once heard only in terrorist camps.

Many experts blame TLP for such mass scale radicalisation of young boys in Punjab. The group holds weekly gatherings, monthly religious events and anniversaries of different saints which draw a large number of youths and boys. These platforms are used to radicalise and brainwash the boys against minorities. The outfit posts highly contentious matter on Facebook and Twitter which incites young boys to attack the minorities. The shooting of two Ahmadis by the young madrasa student is merely a tip of the iceberg.

ALSO READ: Pakistan’s Energy Crisis: Importing Electricity From Central Asia Amidst Blackouts

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China Columns India News

China Promoting Fake Anti-India Sikh Protests In The West

Codenamed “Operation K”, China has been exploiting the gangster killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada to incite the international Sikh diaspora and create fake anti-Indian protests in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, a report by Dr Sakariya Kareem

In August 2018, the then Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui had donned a turban during a visit to the Dr Kotnis acupuncture clinic in Ludhiana. This was a symbolic act as the ceremony was held in Punjab. However, today the Chinese are using social media to incite anti-India Sikh protests in the West. Codenamed “Operation K”, China has been exploiting the gangster killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada to incite the international Sikh diaspora and create fake anti-Indian protests in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Meta, the company operating Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp in May 2024, as part of its “Meta’s Quarterly Adversarial Threat Report” released a notice on the fake social media accounts created by China for this purpose. The company has since dismantled the Chinese network of false accounts titled “Operation K.”

The Meta notice states that the network “originated in China and targeted the global Sikh community, including in Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, the UK, and Nigeria.” Meta removed “37 Facebook accounts, 13 Pages, five Groups, and nine accounts on Instagram. About 2,700 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1,300 accounts joined one or more of these Groups, and under 100 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.” Although the figures appear to be low, they are normally the tip of an iceberg. Meta found a parallel behaviour coming from the same Chinese source on Telegram and X.

Khalistani elements attempting to pull down the Indian flag but the flag was rescued by the Indian security personnel at the High Commission of India, in London. (ANI Photo)

“They appeared to have created a fictitious activist movement called Operation K which called for pro-Sikh protests, including in New Zealand and Australia,” Meta explained. That the Chinese are behind Operation K is clear; the origin of the messages, where “the operatives posed as Sikhs and proceeded to post content as well as manage Pages and Groups,” was traced back to a “network from China targeting India and the Tibet region” that had been shut down in early 2023 but is now resurfacing.

Meta noted that the content included “images likely manipulated by photo editing tools or generated by AI, in addition to posts about floods in the Punjab region, the Sikh community worldwide, the Khalistan independence movement, the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan independence activist in Canada, and criticism of the Indian government”. One instance network has been cited by India Today. It talks of Adya Singh, who portrayed herself as a Punjabi girl with a UK education and living in Delhi. She claimed to be deeply passionate about Sikh heritage, language, and culture, and was an outspoken critic of the Indian government. Her social media posts often called for the US to “support Khalistan to counter Indian hegemony”. However, the reality is that Adya Singh did not exist! This account was part of the network of fake profiles linked to China.

Source: Data Compiled by The Defence Horizon Journal through Innefu Report

For those unfamiliar with Chinese use of social media to target and malign India, one would do well to recall the 2017 Chinese video with racist overtones that sought to parody Indians (21 August 2017). This was issued by Xinhua news agency and claimed to give China’s position on the Doklam standoff. The video mocked and parodied Indians, a salvo against India against the backdrop of the military standoff at Doklam near the Sikkim border. The video in English was a little more than three minutes and was titled the “7 Sins of India: It’s time for India to confess its seven sins”. Notably, the video featured a man with a turban and a fake beard, an apparent attempt at parodying a Sikh, speaking the way Indians are perceived to speak English. The video targets the Sikh minority, and for some perplexing reason, the “Indian” is seen to be brandishing a pair of scissors.

In a larger sense, it is not surprising that China has chosen social media platforms to air an anti-India narrative. Social media is today the favoured destination for expression of anti-India sentiment. One report (The Defence Horizon Journal, January 23, 2023) argues that the pro-Khalistani sentiment on social media was amplified after the announcement of the Kartarpur corridor in 2018. One such example cited is the Twitter activity of Aston University’s ‘Khalistan Society’, which joined the platform in November 2018 and had 1,055 tweets and posts about Sikh history and Sikh prisoners. It referred to the Indian state of Punjab as ‘Indian-occupied Khalistan.’

Meta notice about “Operation K.” (via Bitter Winter)

A similar account idolizing Khalistani leaders, ‘Greater Khalistan’, joined the platform around November 2019 and made 3,464 tweets, as of November 2022. The operatives of such accounts attempted to propagate the idea of injustices faced by the Sikh community at the hands of the Indian state. On other social media platforms, like Instagram, there has been an increase in engagement with phrases such as Khalistan. There were nearly 92,500 posts with the hashtag #Khalistan Zindabad (Long Live Khalistan). The social media agenda of pro-Khalistan accounts are primarily built upon what happened during Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. 

China’s latest Operation K is reminiscent of Operation Topac launched by Pakistan against India and more specifically, in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s, which started the insurgency. The only difference is that Operation K has been conducted on the social media. One suspects that Pakistan’s ISI is somehow behind Operation K. However, Meta’s report clearly says it originated somewhere in China. That it has used an anti-India Sikh sentiment in countries in which the Sikhs are present in large numbers is an important indicator of their efforts to target India.

ALSO READ: Time to Reset Relations with Modi 3.0: China State Paper

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Columns India News Politics

MUMBAI DIARY: The Future Hinges on Results

Uddhav Thackeray’s popularity graph has grown up tremendously in the state and also at national level. As political observers feels that Maharashtra and Mumbai can play a crucial role of “King Maker” in the formation of the government … writes VINOD RAGHAVAN

INDIA’s financial capital – Mumbai is all set to decide the fate of three heavyweight political leaders’ their future on June 4th.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is eyeing to break the record of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by occupying the country’s top post for the third consecutive term, is not leaving any stone unturned. While, his close ally turned bitter foe Uddhav Thackeray, who has been bruised and badly hurted for breaking his Shiv Sena, which was founded by his late father, who is popularly addressed as Hinduhriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray, in his home turf Mumbai capital of Maharashtra state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uddhav Thackeray interacting during the Dwishatabdi Mahotsav (200 Years) of Mumbai Samachar, in Mumbai. (File Photo: ANI)

Political veteran 84-year-old, Sharad Pawar, is all set to take revenge against Modi-led BJP for engineering split in his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and dividing his joint family, with Ajit Pawar taking away his party symbol of “Wrist Watch” and also the party symbol, which was founded by senior Pawar after leaving Congress party.

Mumbai, has six Lok Sabha seats, which is believed to be the stronghold of the united Shiv Sena. After the split in Sena led by Eknath Shinde with 40 MLAs and 13 MPs, the power equation shifted to the Shinde faction supported by BJP in Maharashtra. This is the time for Uddhav Thackeray to flex his muscle and to show Modi-Shah and also to the Election Commission of India, that the party cadres and the people of Mumbai and Maharashtra are with him and his is the real Shiv Sena.

Shiv Sena was founded way back in 1960s by Balasaheb Thackeray to fight for the causes of Marathi Asmita (Maharashtra’s pride) and to regain the Maharashtrian pride, Uddhav has toured every nook and corner of Maharashtra with his alliance partners NCP-Sharad Pawar group, Indian National Congress with other smaller parties, addressed in all the 48 Lok Sabha constituencies with huge rallies and systematically played the victim card vigorously, which has gone down well with the masses of Mumbai and Maharashtra.

Then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray speaks during the floor test in assembly, Eknath Shinde, Jayant Patil and Aditya Thackeray is also seen. (File Photo: ANI)

Many old-timers from Mumbai and neighbouring Thane district feels that Uddhav has been back-stabbed by BJP-led by Modi-Shah. Shiv Sena which helped BJP for nearly three decades to grow from 2 MP party with Vajpayee and Advani at the helm, today they have become too big for their shoes.

In desperation, Modi addressed around 25 rallies in Maharashtra and Mumbai, also held a Road Show in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, which shows his panic. Modi might have realised Uddhav’s importance, thus recently, he told selected journalists that “I will be the first to reach Uddhav for any help” but while addressing public rallies, he takes potshot on Uddhav and also calls his Sena as “Nakli Sena” (Duplicate Sena) 

Earlier, in 2014 and 2019 BJP with united Shiv Sena the combine had sweeped all the six Mumbai seats and also the neighboring Thane and Kalyan-Dombivali seats were in their kitty. While, the alliance had bagged 42 seats from Maharashtra in 2014 and 2019.

Interestingly, political observers feels that Uddhav, got good support from the people of Maharashtra and also Muslim communities are whole-heartedly supporting him, as they have seen him in discharging his duties as Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Communists were Sena’s bitter rivals for decades, are also supporting Uddhav openly and sharing dias in many of their strongholds, with a sole aim of stopping Modi to come back to power for the third time, as they fear that he will change the Constitution and will sell off all the government properties to his good friends.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge in conversation with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP-SCP) chief Sharad Pawar during the INDIA bloc joint press conference, in Mumbai. (ANI Photo)

NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar, is also facing the same problem, as his nephew Ajit Pawar, ditched him and fielded his wife Sunetra against Supriya Sule, a sitting MP and senior Pawar’s daughter from their stronghold Baramati near Pune.

Modi, who was seen as a new ray of hope in 2014 and 2019 with his charisma and speech, looks like he is fading as he has remained mum on his earlier poll promises of giving every year two crore jobs, bringing black money,  giving Rs15 lakh, price rise of essential commodities. However, he is talking about his vision of 2047 and to make India powerful nation globally.

People burst into laughter to Uddhav Thackeray calling Modi as “Gajini” Aamir Khan’s film, where he forgets and moves ahead with new promises.

Uddhav Thackeray’s popularity graph has grown up tremendously in the state and also at national level. As political observers feels that Maharashtra and Mumbai can play a crucial role of “King Maker” in the formation of the government.

ALSO READ: Close to 9% drop in voter turnout in Maharashtra phase 4 polls

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-Top News Columns PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s New Cyber Crime Unit Chokes Freedom Of Speech And Press

Pakistan’s new cyber crime unit under controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) law endangers freedom of speech and press, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

The Pakistani government recently launched a special cyber crime investigation unit under the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, shifting the role from the Federal Investigation Agency (FDA).

The new agency will be led by a director general with 15-year experience in digital forensics or public administration, as per reports.

According to an editorial published in the Dawn newspaper, the newly launched National Cyber Crimes Investigation Agency (NCCIA), which has been set up to replace the FIA’s cybercrime wing, raises substantial concerns about the motive behind it.

In the opinion piece, the Dawn mentioned that the NCCIA is mandated to handle offences under the PECA, which, activists allege, was used routinely by the FIA to silence dissent.

Experts say the introduction of NCCIA poses fresh threats to journalists and activists in Pakistan as the PECA law, which was originally enacted to combat various forms of cybercrime such as cyber terrorism, unauthorized access, electronic fraud and online harassment, and to enhance the security of cyberspace for users and businesses, is used by the country’s authorities to suppress dissent and curb the freedom of press and speech.

The Dawn, in its editorial, also raises concern about the exact objective of the NCCIA that the FIA could not achieve as the writer of the piece believes the reuse of the FIA’s main resources — personnel, assets, and existing cases — under a new banner (NCCIA) raises a fundamental question.

The Dawn, in a report published in December, 2022, termed the PECA as a weapon of the state to “harass, intimidate and silence critics.”

In the report titled “Project PECA I: How to silence a nation”, the Dawn mentioned that scores of politicians, journalists, activists and sometimes, even ordinary citizens, who dared pour out their frustrations on digital spaces have been hounded by law enforcement agencies ever since the law came into effect.

The Dawn also called PECA a tool for political victimisation as PECA has been routinely used against political workers, journalists, academics, activists and citizens since 2017.

Al Jazeera reported, citing the reports of a media rights watchdog, that Pakistan has been establishing a “chilling pattern” of using the threat of legal action to silence dissent.

The “crimes” Pakistani journalists were charged with included “bringing the armed forces into disrepute”, “bringing the judiciary into disrepute” and “bringing the intelligence agencies into disrepute”, according to the report.

The Doha-headquartered international media outlet reported that human rights groups and journalists have warned that journalists in Pakistan are facing increased strictures from the authorities not to cover certain topics, particularly allegations of the military’s increasing role in governance and politics.

According to IFEX, a nexus of more than 120 independent non-governmental organizations for free expression, as underlined is Section 37(1) of PECA, which empowers the authorities to regulate online content, the restrictions imposed on online speech include content that is against the “glory of Islam, security of Pakistan, public order, decency and morality and; integrity and defence of Pakistan.”

The IFEX opined that these categories were sufficiently broad and vague to target anything that might “challenge the status quo, which the state, via PECA, can then arbitrarily dub ‘unlawful’.”

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Pakistan government’s amendment to the PECA, which was made in 2022, was the latest in a concerted campaign to restrict freedom of expression and stifle dissent.

Acting deputy regional director for South Asia at Amnesty International, Nadia Rahman, said, “PECA has been used to silence freedom of expression on the pretext of combating ‘fake news,’ cybercrime, and misinformation.” 

“The amendment not only violated the Pakistan Constitution, but also put anyone who questions the government or other state institutions at further risk. It particularly endangered journalists, human rights defenders, and political opponents who run the risk of prosecution for merely doing their jobs,” Rahman added.

Lahore High Court.

The amendment to PECA also made it incumbent upon courts to conclude trials within six months and furnish monthly progress reports of pending trials, and ordered federal and provincial officials to remove any obstacles that may hinder the progress of the proceedings, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch, Patricia Gossman, said that the PECA was introduced neither to protect the public from legitimate cybercrime concerns nor to respect fundamental human rights, and the new amendments to the law further embedded violations of basic rights with a thin veneer of legality.

However, Islamabad High Court later declared the ordinance unconstitutional, passing which Pakistan attempted to make the PECA more restrictive, and restrained the Federal Investigative Agency (FDI) from making any arrests under the ordinance, reports IFEX.

PECA is a draconian law that contains vague and overly broad offenses, and it has been criticized by Pakistan’s human rights defenders and civil society organizations for criminalizing legitimate forms of expression based on supposed national security concerns and to protect majoritarian interpretations of Islam, according to Amnesty International.

ALSO READ: Pakistan’s new cyber crime agency may target Imran Khan supporters

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Columns India News USA

Misguided Protests at Rutgers Threaten to Undermine Progress in Kashmir

The demand to display a separatist Kashmiri flag is not only legally untenable since Kashmir is an integral part of India, but it also threatens to provide a moral veneer to the regressive, anti-democratic forces that seek to balkanize the region through violence, writes Dr Satish Sharma

Recent protests at Rutgers University demanding the display of a separatist Kashmiri flag have drawn widespread criticism from Indian-American organizations. Their objections are well-founded, as giving credence to separatist movements threatens to undermine the remarkable progress made in Jammu and Kashmir under Indian governance. Indian-administered Kashmir has witnessed tremendous development in recent decades, sharply contrasting with the dire situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Robust investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education, and economic opportunities have uplifted millions of lives in the region. From modern highways and railways to new hospitals and schools, Indian Kashmir is rapidly catching up with the rest of the nation.

On the other hand, PoK remains mired in poverty, lack of development, and human rights violations perpetrated by Pakistan’s powerful military-intelligence apparatus. Separatist terrorist groups operating from PoK have carried out heinous attacks in Indian Kashmir, destroying countless lives and property over the decades. India’s role as a responsible sovereign has been to maintain law and order while facilitating the region’s equitable development. While protests against the government are increasingly curbed in Indian Kashmir through both development initiatives and security measures, the opposite scenario plays out in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

There, protests demanding basic rights, freedom of expression, and accountability from the heavy-handed Pakistani military establishment are an extremely common occurrence. The people of PoK have grown weary of the systematic lack of economic progress, human rights violations, and denial of democratic rights in the region under Pakistan’s occupation. Despite mass demonstrations demanding change, the powerful Pakistani Army has responded with an iron fist, deploying brutal crackdowns and arbitrary detentions of civilian activists. The resentment of the local populace in PoK stemming from decades of deprivation and subjugation continues fueling widespread protests that are routinely suppressed by Islamabad.

In contrast, the revocation of Article 370 in 2019 has ushered in a new era of progress and development in Jammu and Kashmir. With the region’s full integration into the Indian union, long standing barriers to investment, land ownership rights, and equitable laws have been removed. This has opened the floodgates for rapid infrastructural development, with new roads, power projects, healthcare facilities and educational institutions coming up at a rapid pace. Crucially, newfound economic opportunities and employment avenues have provided hope to the region’s youth, who no longer have to grapple with the despair of joblessness. Tourism is thriving like never before amid improved security. Perhaps most importantly, people from other parts of India can now permanently settle inJ&K, ending the region’s regressive isolation and enabling cross-pollination of ideas. While some temporary disruptions were inevitable, the people of J&K have embraced these transformative changes that promise to usher their homeland into a new age of prosperity and genuine integration with the rest of the nation.

The demand to display a separatist Kashmiri flag is not only legally untenable since Kashmir is an integral part of India, but it also threatens to provide a moral veneer to the regressive, anti-democratic forces that seek to balkanize the region through violence. The protests appear driven more by misguided ideological zeal rather than facts on the ground.

The decision by Rutgers University and other American institutions to entertain demands for displaying separatist flags like that of Kashmir sets a disturbing precedent that could enable anti-national forces and embolden subversive elements across the world. By providing a platform to separatist symbols and causes, the U.S. risks fanning the flames of divisiveness and secessionism in other countries. This can be construed as undue interference in the internal matters of sovereign nations.

Such moves undermine principles of territorial integrity and go against the official policy of the U.S. government which respects the unity and borders of India and other allied nations. Enabling separatist movements also runs counter to American interests, as several U.S. states themselves have faced secessionist tendencies that were rightly and legally quashed. Universities displaying separatist flags provide a regressive example that could potentially inspire separatist groups within America as well. The U.S. should be extremely cautious about allowances that provide oxygen to separatist ideologies which can spiral into extremism, violence and geo-political instability.

As a public university, Rutgers should steer clear of being perceived as endorsing separatist movements anywhere in the world. It would do well to resist divisive demands that run counter to the values of unity, progress and democracy that universities are meant to uphold. Giving a platform to separatists can only enable radicalization and damage societal harmony. The development trajectory of Indian Kashmir serves as an inspirational case study. It underscores how integration and inclusive policies can uplift even the most conflict-ridden regions when a nation remains steadfast on the path of democracy and good governance. Universities would do better to focus on such positive narratives that can guide the world towards peace and prosperity.

ALSO READ: US Reaffirms India’s Sovereignty in Arunachal Amid Regional Dynamics

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Asia News Columns World News

Why Muizzu Must Give Up his Leadership in the Maldives?

The true extent of Muizzu’s alleged corruption and the potential implications for the Maldives’ future are perhaps best illustrated by the rift that has emerged between him and his former ally, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom …. Writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

As the Maldives inches closer to the high-stakes parliamentary elections on April 21st, the nation finds itself at a critical juncture, forced to confront the harsh realities of the ruling Progressive National Congress (PNC) party’s tainted legacy. Under the leadership of the notorious Dr. Muizzu, the PNC has become synonymous with cronyism, corruption, and a flagrant disregard for democratic principles, casting a dark shadow over the nation’s future. The accusations leveled against the PNC paint a disturbing picture of a party that has systematically undermined the principles of meritocracy and good governance. Reports have exposed a troubling trend of PNC officials favoring their own party loyalists for government positions, sidelining qualified candidates from other political affiliations. This blatant nepotism not only stifles the professional growth of capable individuals but also deprives the nation of their invaluable talents and expertise.

Moreover, the PNC’s thirst for power extends far beyond mere political appointments. The party leadership has openly declared its intention to seize control over the nation’s State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), a move that threatens the independence of these crucial economic entities and sets a dangerous precedent for unchecked abuse of power. Compounding this brazen overreach, the PNC has reportedly imposed undue pressure on government staff, demanding that they vote exclusively for party candidates – a gross violation of democratic norms and individual freedoms. Perhaps most alarming are the reports of the PNC’s willingness to deny basic services, such as electricity, to households that do not support their agenda. Such discriminatory practices are not only unethical but also serve to erode the unity and social fabric of the nation, dividing the Maldivian people along political lines and undermining the very foundations of a cohesive society.

At the heart of these transgressions lies a deep-rooted culture of corruption that has permeated the highest echelons of the PNC’s leadership. The party has been embroiled in numerous scandals, from the misappropriation of millions of dollars in dubious drone purchases to significant bribery allegations surrounding the Fushidhiggarufalhu reclamation project. These scandals point to a systemic problem of corruption within the party’s ranks, casting doubt on its commitment to financial integrity and responsible governance. At the center of this maelstrom stands Dr. Muizzu himself, infamously known as “Kazzaab” (the liar) due to his notorious reputation for dishonesty. The gravity of the accusations against him is underscored by the fact that he is currently under investigation by various authorities, including the Maldives Police, the Maldives Monetary Authority’s Financial Intelligence Unit, and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The allegations range from embezzlement and money laundering to the misappropriation of funds and the misuse of corporate vehicles to conceal the origins of ill-gotten gains.

However, the true extent of Muizzu’s alleged corruption and the potential implications for the Maldives’ future are perhaps best illustrated by the rift that has emerged between him and his former ally, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Yameen, who initially endorsed Muizzu’s candidacy for the presidency, has since formed the People’s National Front (PNF) party and has leveled serious allegations against the current government, accusing it of never intending to release him from his politically motivated imprisonment.

The Muizzu government’s desperate and authoritarian attempt to crush Yameen’s newly formed People’s National Front has spectacularly backfired, laying bare the administration’s utter disregard for democratic norms and civil liberties. At a recent PNF rally, Yameen rightfully condemned the regime’s deployment of excessive force, including the appalling use of pepper spray, against his peaceful supporters during the party’s inauguration. This brutal crackdown, motivated solely by Muizzu’s fear of any opposition, inflicted significant self-inflicted political damage by handing the PNF an immense publicity coup before it could even officially take shape. As Yameen pointed out, over 60,000 Maldivians tuned in to witness the government’s repressive tactics, while a mere 25 people showed up for Muizzu’s own rally – a damning indictment of his waning popularity and tenuous grip on power. The disgraced President’s flimsy denial of involvement in this shameful episode only compounds his crisis of credibility and reinforces perceptions of him as an authoritarian despot intolerant of dissent. Muizzu’s utter hypocrisy is further exposed by his refusal to advocate for Yameen’s long-stalled appeal against his politically-motivated jailing, despite previously vowing to prioritize the case – clear proof that his regime never intended to uphold democratic principles or adhere to due process. This sordid affair has irreparably tarnished Muizzu’s reputation and emboldened growing calls for his removal to restore freedom and justice in the Maldives.

Yameen’s unwavering willingness to confront the PNC’s misdeeds head-on have struck a chord with a nation weary of empty promises and self-serving agendas. His call for a boycott of the presidential election, though initially rejected by his former allies, underscores his principled opposition to a system that has been compromised by the very forces he seeks to root out.[3] As the nation prepares to cast its votes, the choice before the Maldivian people is clear: they can either embrace the PNC’s culture of cronyism, corruption, and disregard for democratic norms, or they can rally behind Yameen’s vision of a transparent, accountable government that serves the interests of all its citizens, not just a privileged few.

The stakes in this election could not be higher. A victory for the PNC would not only legitimize the party’s tainted legacy but also embolden those who seek to exploit the nation’s resources for personal gain. It would be a triumph of deceit over integrity, of self-interest over the greater good – a dark path that could irreparably damage the foundations of democracy and good governance in the Maldives. On the other hand, a resounding rejection of the PNC at the polls would send a powerful message that the Maldivian people will no longer tolerate the erosion of their democratic institutions and the pillaging of their nation’s wealth. It would represent a mandate for a government that is truly accountable to its citizens, one that upholds the principles of transparency, meritocracy, and the rule of law – a beacon of hope for a brighter, more just future for all Maldivians.

In this pivotal moment, the nation must ask itself a fundamental question: Do they wish to entrust their future to a party that has repeatedly demonstrated a contempt for democratic values and ethical governance? Or do they wish to chart a new course, one that is guided by the principles of integrity, justice, and an unwavering commitment to the greater good? The answer to this question will echo through the annals of history, shaping the destiny of the Maldives for generations to come. It is a moment that demands courage, resolve, and an unshakable commitment to the ideals upon which any true democracy must be built. As the polling stations open on April 21st, the world watches with bated breath as the Maldivian people make a choice that will define the very soul of their nation. Will they choose the path of deceit and cronyism, or will they embrace a future of transparency and accountability? The fate of the Maldives rests in the hands of its citizens, and their decision will reverberate through the ages – a testament to their resilience, their principles, and their unwavering pursuit of a just and prosperous society for all.

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Columns Education PAKISTAN

28 Million Out of School: Pakistan in Throes of a Education Crisis

Pakistan’s education crisis is marked by a shockingly large number of out-of-school children, very low learning outcomes, wide achievement gaps and inadequate teacher efforts, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

Recently Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai expressed concern over Pakistan’s education crisis.  In a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, she wrote “Currently, 26 million children — predominantly girls in the poorest districts of Pakistan — remain out of school. Furthermore, more than 200,000 teachers’ seats are vacant nationwide.” “This gap is severely affecting the functioning of schools and negatively impacting student retention and quality of schooling. Our collective aim should be to design a measurable, realistic plan to bring these numbers down significantly over the course of your term,” she added.

Although through her letter Malala has highlighted the crisis in Pakistan’s education sector, the actual number of out-of-school children in the country stands at a startling 28 million, somewhat more than what she has quoted.  Despite tall claims made by successive governments to enroll out-of-school children, the number of such kids continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Pakistan’s education crisis is marked by a shockingly large number of out-of-school children, very low learning outcomes, wide achievement gaps and inadequate teacher efforts.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks in an interaction with foreign media in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Ahmad Kamal/Xinhua/IANS)

In January this year, a report on the performance of the education sector was released by the Pakistan Institute of Education, a subsidiary of the education ministry revealed a lack of funds, poor pupil-teacher ratio, missing basic facilities as well as 26 million Out of School children (OOSC) in  Pakistan. The report highlighted that an alarming 26.21 million – basically, 39 percent of children in Pakistan are out of school. OOSC are defined as children of school going age that are not going to school. The compulsory range of school going age is stipulated as five to 16 years under article 25-A of the Constitution. The number of  OOSC stands at  11.73 million in Punjab, 7.63m in Sindh, 3.63m in KP, 3.13m in Balochistan, and 0.08 million in Islamabad. The percentage of out-of-school children decreased from 44 percent in 2016-17 to 39 percent in 2021-22.

More than 50 per cent of all school going age children are out of school in 17 out of 28 districts in Balochistan. District Shaheed Sikandarabad has the highest proportion of OOSC in Balochistan at 76 per cent, with Sherani following at 70 percent of out of school children between the ages of five and 16 years.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, district Kohistan has the highest proportion of OOSC at 60 per cent.

The results from key assessments conducted by the National Assessment Wing, specifically the Trends in International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS) and the National Achievement Test (NAT), highlighted the urgent need to improve learning outcomes among students. The report said that in 2021-22, spending on education remained 1.7percent of GDP.

In terms of enrolments, these happen later than required, with a lack of emphasis on early childhood education leading up to class 1. Drop outs start to happen between 9-11 years of age.  The dropout ratio rises steadily with age. However, the proportion of children who have never attended school remains overwhelming at all age levels.

A teacher attends a class at a makeshift school set up in a public park in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. (File pic: Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal/IANS)

Large schools across Pakistan simply lack toilets, potable water among other basic facilities. As per the report, only 23 percent of primary schools in Balochistan have access to potable water. Only 15 percent schools in Balochistan have electricity. In terms of toilet facilities  scarce in all primary schools, across Pakistan, Balochistan fares worst with 77 percent primary schools, 31 percent middle schools, and four percent high schools not having toilets for students. In Sindh, 43 percent primary schools do not have toilet facilities. In Balochistan, the situation is alarming.  In Azad Kashmir, 58 percent primary, 34 percent middle, and 23 percent high schools do not have this facility.

OOSC in Pakistan can be compared to that in the Sub-Saharan countries. It is one of the major challenges faced by the education sector of the country. Poverty and lack of awareness were major factors behind this issue. According to a teacher from Islamabad, “In most of the cases, the kids do labour work to help their families and the children will not be able to join schools till this issue is resolved.” Governments have highlighted very slow progress on education participation, completion and closing of the gender gap”, and successive cabinets have approved plans for bringing OOSC to schools, but practically no serious steps have been taken to handle this crisis.

Furthermore in terms of the quality of education. Consider this statistic. The result of the last CSS examination, announced on September 18, 2023 reflects the quality of graduates being produced by our higher educational institutions (HEIs). The Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) conducts a competitive examination, commonly known as CSS, for recruitment of officers at the starting stage in the civil services of Pakistan. As per the FPSC, at least 20,000 candidates attempted the written part of the examination, of whom only 393 candidates, or 1.94 percent, passed.This reflects the falling standards of Pakistan’s education over several years. One of the FPSC  reports states that many of the candidates were not even familiar with elementary mathematics. Many candidates “did not even know the direction of a simple compass, confusing north with south and east with west.” Almost all its reports complain about the absence of analytical skills among the candidates who mostly reproduce “crammed knowledge.”

A student writes “Yes I am Malala” on the blackboard at a government school in southwest Pakistan’s Quetta. (File Photo: Xinhua/Irfan/IANS)

An inclusive education does not discriminate by gender, language, religion, etc. On gender, discrimination is manifest at the outset when income constrained families spend more to educate sons than daughters. Children whose home language is not English or Urdu cannot acquire elementary education in their own language even if their parents want. The exclusion of languages such as Sindhi and Balochi means not only their slow death but also the withering of their associated cultures and identities.The religious content of one religion is diffused throughout textbooks prescribed for secular subjects. This practice is justified by the argument that Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim (97.5 per cent), which makes it alright to propagate predominantly Islamic content.

Thus, Pakistan’s school education is neither inclusive nor equitable and is departing further from these objectives. Because Pakistan’s ruling elite is just playing along with the UN? One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) obligates the country to provide inclusive and equitable education for all. The SDGs were preceded by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 15 years. None were attained in Pakistan without any analysis of the reasons for the failure. Instead, the country signed on to a new set of goals with a fresh lease of 15 years during which officials would continue to hold meetings and participate in conferences. Meanwhile, the people in whose name the exercise is being conducted are largely excluded from the conversation.

ALSO READ: Understanding Pakistan’s Struggle with Terrorism

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Asia News Columns PAKISTAN

Understanding Pakistan’s Struggle with Terrorism

Terror attacks have surged in Pakistan in tandem with the resurgence of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan, a complex and turbulent one, is driven by its geopolitical ambitions and strategic concerns. Historically, Pakistan has pursued policies aimed at diminishing India’s influence in the region, often at the expense of stability in Afghanistan. This intricate strategy has involved supporting radical factions within Afghanistan, including groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, through various means such as intelligence cooperation, the provision of weaponry, and offering sanctuary. Despite pressure from international actors, notably the United States, Pakistan has persistently been reluctant to alter its approach, even as sporadic attempts at fostering strategic partnerships through economic aid have been made.

The motivations underlying Pakistan’s actions are multifaceted. Firstly, Pakistan is apprehensive about the prospect of an unstable Afghanistan becoming a safe- haven for anti-Pakistani militant groups, thereby escalating regional instability. Consequently, Pakistan views maintaining ties with the Taliban as strategically imperative, albeit reluctantly, considering the group as a necessary ally among Afghanistan’s political actors.

Furthermore, Pakistan faces internal challenges in countering terrorism, particularly in its Punjab heartland, where targeting militant groups aligned with Afghanistan could incite retaliatory attacks. This underscores Pakistan’s limited control over the militants it has historically supported, a reality it hesitates to acknowledge due to potential domestic and international ramifications.

Security personnel examine the blast site in southwest Pakistan’s Quetta. (File Photo by Asad/Xinhua/IANS)

Additionally, Pakistan is wary of the emergence of a robust Afghan government aligned with India, perceiving it as a strategic threat that could encircle Pakistan. This apprehension was accentuated in President Trump’s 2017 speech on Afghanistan, where he hinted at leveraging India’s influence to pressure Pakistan, primarily through economic means. Despite assurances recognising Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains cautious of India’s expanding role, including perceived support for Baluchi separatist groups within Pakistan. Consequently, gestures from the United States to improve India-Pakistan relations may inadvertently heighten Pakistan’s concerns about India’s regional influence.

Terror attacks have surged in Pakistan in tandem with the resurgence of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, over 1,500 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2023, marking a 50% increase from 2021 and triple the number in 2020. The Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, including the bombing targeting the convention of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamist political party within Pakistan’s coalition government. Paradoxically, while sharing ideological similarities with the TTP, the JUI’s participation in constitutional-democratic processes has led to its condemnation by the Islamic State as “hypocrites.”

Pakistan’s struggle with terrorism traces back to the late 1990s when local veterans of the U.S.-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan redirected their focus to domestic issues. Despite Pakistan’s apparent alliance with the United States in the Global War on Terror post-9/11, it failed to dismantle jihadist groups operating within its territory fully. The toll of this approach has been devastating, with over 16,225 terror attacks reported since 2000, resulting in 66,601 deaths, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

(Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi) (syq)

Groups like the Afghan Taliban have received substantial support from the Pakistani government despite their ties with Al-Qaeda. This support stems from Pakistan’s military objectives to secure more significant influence in Afghanistan relative to its rival, India, following the U.S. withdrawal. Concurrently, Pakistani authorities have taken a hardline stance against international terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as groups perpetrating sectarian violence or insurgency against Pakistani authorities.

While Pakistani officials may draw distinctions between various jihadist factions, militants often operate without such nuance. Despite theological differences, their commitment to jihad remains steadfast. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad before his death in a U.S. operation in 2011 underscores the resilience of Pakistan’s jihadist infrastructure. Although Pakistan collaborated with the U.S. in apprehending other Al-Qaeda leaders between 2001 and 2011, bin Laden’s ability to evade detection for years highlights potential support from non-priority jihadi groups.

Under former Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan initiated a ceasefire agreement with the TTP, which later collapsed amid allegations of military aggression. The subsequent government rejected the TTP’s demands for implementing Islamic law in bordering districts, attributing terror attacks to its splinter factions. While Pakistan’s military leadership has pledged a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy targeting all violent extremist groups, its implementation remains pending. Without decisive action, new offshoots and splinter groups of existing jihadist movements will continue to emerge, perpetuating a cycle of violence.

A Pakistan Elite Police Force commandos takes part in a drill to fight against militants at a school in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar. (Xinhua/Ahmad Sidique/IANS)

In conclusion, Pakistan’s intricate relationship with Afghanistan, shaped by strategic imperatives and historical alliances, has contributed to regional instability and a persistent terrorism threat within its borders. Despite external pressures and intermittent attempts to recalibrate its approach, Pakistan’s reluctance to sever ties with certain militant groups underscores the complexities of navigating its security landscape. Addressing these challenges demands concerted efforts from Pakistan, its regional neighbours, and international partners to confront terrorism comprehensively and foster stability in the region.

ALSO READ: Pakistan Army doing a ‘Balochistan’ in Pashtun-majority areas

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Asia News Columns PAKISTAN

Millions of Pak women are crippled by early marriages

Child marriages forced over 631,000 female students to either not attend school or leave classes midway due to early marriages, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

High rates of child marriages are crippling the lives of girls in Pakistan, forcing them to leave schools, bear children at tender age and manage families when they should have been swinging free with friends in parks and river banks.

The country witnesses over 600,000 child marriages in a year. As a result, Pakistan is home to nearly 19 million child brides; 1 in 6 young women are married in childhood.

The Pakistan Demographic Health Survey 2017-18, pointed out that 13.5 per cent of girls and 2.6 per cent of boys in Pakistan were victims of child marriage. The survey said 3.6 per cent of girls in the country get married before the age of 15; 18.3 per cent get married before the age of 18. The rate of child marriages was 23 per cent, all of which caused a financial loss to the national exchequer to the tune of $800 million.

Child marriages lead to an extraordinarily high rate of mortality, according to a joint research report of UN Women and the National Commission on the Status of Women, a national organisation working to improve the condition of women in the country. The report estimated that early childbearing and ignorance of reproductive health practices lead to high mortality, costing the country Rs 636 billion in a year. Early marriages also cause an annual increase of 21 per cent in the birth rate of children and 22 per cent in the death rate of children.

The joint UN report had much more stark reminders. Child marriages forced over 631,000 female students to either not attend school or leave classes midway due to early marriages. Of these, 360,000 were from the Punjab, 136,000 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 170,000 from Sindh and 28,800 from Balochistan.

Child marriages have been cited as one of the main causes of domestic violence. About 14 per cent of the cases of domestic violence in the Punjab were attributed to early marriage. The rate was 42 per cent in Sindh, 53 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 50 per cent in Balochistan.

Early marriages also force women to leave the job market abruptly. This numbers about a 21 per cent reduction, estimated to be an indirect annual loss of Rs 26.8 billion in wages.

Although Pakistan signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 under which marriage under the age of 18 was a violation of the human rights of children, the state has hardly done anything concrete to prevent such a large number of child marriages.

Experts cite poor health and sexual exploitation as two important outcomes of child marriages. Amjad Latif, advocacy and communication manager of Rahnuma, a member organisation of the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, said those who visited their medical facilities faced health problems due to early marriage. She pointed out that young girls also faced sexual exploitation due to ignorance and lack of financial independence.

A large number of women in Pakistan thus remain bonded to a practice which causes serious health and emotional problems. The state, despite conventions and speeches, remains oblivious to the critical needs of at least half of its population.

ALSO READ: Leaders Raise Concerns Over Child Marriage in Gilgit-Baltistan