Asia News Columns PAKISTAN

THE DARK SIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN PAKISTAN: Pressing Challenges and Prospects

Pakistani social media is marred by faith-based hate, particularly targeting Sikhs, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias, and others. A June 2023 survey found that 92% encountered online hate content, with victims reaching 51% … reports Dr Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan is grappling with a mounting surge of digital hate and extremism, primarily manifesting on social media platforms. In response, the Violent Extremism Prevention Unit (VEPU) of Islamabad Police has identified more than 700 accounts responsible for propagating religious and terrorism-related content on various social media platforms in the last six months.

VEPU was established in 2023 to combat this menace and has intensified its efforts under the leadership of Dr Akbar Nasir Khan, Islamabad Capital City Police Officer. Their crackdown targets religious, sectarian, and linguistic hatred in collaboration with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has blocked more than 200 accounts. It’s shocking to observe that online hate speech in Pakistan has increased 400-fold, involving racism, xenophobia, gender-based hatred, and religious intolerance, often conveyed through memes, text, images, and videos.

Pakistani social media is marred by faith-based hate, particularly targeting Sikhs, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias, and others. A June 2023 survey found that 92% encountered online hate content, with victims reaching 51%. Hate speech primarily targets Jews, Americans, Indians, Afghans, women (56%), Shias (70%), and Ahmadis (61%). Shockingly, instances of hate-driven violence persist. Pakistan now faces a fresh wave of digital hate following the removal of Imran Khan, yet lacks a comprehensive strategy to counter misinformation and polarization.

This underscores the crucial role of social media in shaping political narratives and highlights the urgent need to address and mitigate the pervasive online hate, which poses a significant threat to Pakistan’s social harmony and political stability. The Violent Extremism Prevention Unit (VEPU) of Islamabad Police has identified more than 700 accounts on X (Twitter), Facebook and other social media platforms spreading religious, terrorism-related material in the last six months. VEPU was established this year (2023) to act against hate propagation on social media.

On the directions of Islamabad Capital City Police Officer (ICCPO) Dr Akbar Nasir Khan, the unit has intensified its crackdown on social media platforms to combat the spread of religious, sectarian, linguistic hatred and propaganda against institutions, a police spokesperson said. Moreover, the unit has written to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take steps for closure of the accounts among which more than 200 have been blocked.

Digital/Online hate refers to any form of hate speech or discriminatory behaviour that takes place on online platforms, including messaging apps, social media, and online forums. Digital technologies are purported to propagate bigotry, hate speech, and intolerance for some specific purposes. It takes different forms, including racism, xenophobia, gender hatred, sexism, sectarian and religious intolerance. Digital hate can be expressed in various ways, such as memes, text, images, and videos.

Unfortunately, Pakistani social media is filled with faith-based hate and dangerous messages directed towards Sikhs, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias and other faiths. In addition, Pakistani Twitter (now, X) space is full of spiteful and dangerous words like Murtad, Fitna, Wajib-ul-Qatal (deserving to be killed), Kafir (infidel) etc. targeting religious minorities.

Among the provinces, Punjab tops the list of hate speech, Rawalpindi with significant prominence, followed by Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, and Quetta. When it comes to online spaces where more and more people are joining diverse social media platforms to express their views and share their opinions (or those of others whom they support), these above-mentioned labels, titles and stereotypes get enormously amplified, appealing widespread attention across whole communities.

Furthermore, as reported in the month of June 2023, the online hate speech report survey in Pakistan found that 92 per cent of respondents have come across such content online, and 51 per cent have been the target of it. Much of the hate speech identified by the report is religiously and culturally motivated, with 57 per cent of respondents saying they had come across hate speech directed at Jews; 51 per cent witnessing hate speech directed at Americans 51 per cent against Indians; 38 per cent against Pakistanis especially minorities and marginalized and 24 per cent against “other westerners” with Afghans close behind at 20 per cent.

Religious minorities, women, politicians and members of the media were also in the firing line. In particular, 56 per cent of people had come across hate speech directed at women. 70 per cent saw Shias become targets on social media, and 61 per cent witnessed Ahmadis take the brunt. A few instances are as follows: In October 2022, a handicapped man was set on fire in Ghotki, Pakistan. When the victim jumped into a nearby pond to extinguish the fire, the attacker, apparently a student of a religious seminary, followed him, strangling him to death. The reason, according to media reports, was accusations of blasphemy. The video of the killing went viral online.

In May 2020, rumours circulated that an Ahmadi representative was to be included in the National Minority Commission by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, however, the then government denied this report after widespread public and political outrage, including from senior government officials, who publicly expressed hate against the Ahmadi community on Tweeter, and Facebook.

 In July 2020, Tahir Ahmed Naseem, a member of a religious minority, was fatally shot at his own trial in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by a teenager, when a video of him declaring himself to be a prophet was circulated on social media.9 During March- April 2020, in the first five weeks of lockdown alone, there were at least 12 anti-Ahmadi trending hashtags on Pakistani Twitter. In a single day in August 2020, there were nearly 200,000 hate-filled tweets against Ahmadis.

Earlier, in 2018, Pakistan launched a smartphone application that allowed its citizens to anonymously report extremist, radical or sectarian-based hate content to the relevant authorities. The app named Chaukas (vigilant) was created by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), for devising counterterrorism strategies, and was made available on both Android and iOS systems.

Chaukas was developed under NACTA’s larger Tat’heer (to sanitize) online portal and aimed at combating cyber[1]extremism and hate content in Pakistan.11 However, as reported on February 17, 2022, at least 62 people have been imprisoned in cases pertaining to hate speech on social media since 2015, as per a report submitted to the Supreme Court by the Punjab government on minorities’ rights. The law enforcement agencies had registered 99 cases regarding hate speech over the past seven years, in which 101 arrests were made. At least 11 people were acquitted while 62 were convicted in these cases, it added.

In Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is known for its notorious use of various social media platforms to gather huge and violent masses for political protests and rallies. The TLP has tactically employed YouTube for political and religious outreach, to stay linked and reach out to its base to join ranks during protests, frequently taking a vicious course. Beyond YouTube, the TLP is also trusted on Twitter and Facebook.

During the violent protests in October 2021, it created trending content on Twitter, often amplified with aid from trolls, without much action from platforms to remove such content. In the past few months, Pakistan is also facing a new wave of digital hate after the removal of former Prime Minister Iman Khan. However, Pakistan lacks an institutional mechanism to watch, study and counter this digital assault, misinformation, and polarisation endeavours by centrifugal forces within the country. Earlier, in the 2018 elections of Pakistan, social media tools were used as a primary source of political campaigns by the parties and their supporters. For instance, PML-N raised the slogans of “Mujhay Kion Nikala” “Khalai Makhlooq” and “Vote Ko Izzat Do” on Facebook and Twitter.

Implicitly, these slogans were labelled as expressions of resistance against the military establishment and as a narrative supporting the claim that the former prime minister’s removal was orchestrated, purportedly involving the military. In contrast, PTI championed the slogan of “change,” captivating Pakistan’s youthful populace, who are adept in the realm of social media. This proficiency in digital platforms enabled PTI to amass substantial support. It is an undeniable reality that both PML-N and PTI engaged vigorously in steering trends and disseminating viral video clips, either in their favour or to discredit their political adversaries.

Unfortunately, Pakistani society and politics have harnessed the formidable power of social media as a tool to promote their own agendas and propagate hatred against political rivals, as well as individuals of different religions, sects, or ideologies. In conclusion, Pakistan confronts a significant challenge through the rise of digital hate and extremism, largely propagated via social media. This divisive trend undermines social cohesion and political stability, necessitating a robust response. The Violent Extremism Prevention Unit (VEPU) is a vital step in countering this menace. However, a comprehensive strategy is needed to address the deep-rooted issue of online hatred. It is imperative for stakeholders to collaboratively work towards shaping a positive digital discourse for Pakistan’s future, fostering an environment that promotes tolerance, diversity, and constructive dialogue that will ensure unity, harmony, and progress in the society and political arena for lasting peace and prosperity.

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Sunak and his Tories should be ashamed of pulling up the ladder

Rishi Sunak’s ancestors first migrated to Kenya from India and then settled in Britain. Like him, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel too also had a similar background … writes Prof. Kishan Devani, BEM, FRSA

The Tories’ divisive Immigration policy is one that should not surprise any one of us. Given their political history which has had the likes of Enoch Powell at the helm of their party, it really should not surprise us that Sunak, Braverman and others are taking such hardline views on Immigration.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty visit BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple. Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street.

As the son of refugees myself, whose parents arrived here from Uganda (grandparents from India to Uganda in the early 1900s) in the 1970’s I have witnessed many in my community, who are now comfortable with pulling up the ladder after them. The classic examples are of course, Sunak, Braverman and Patel.

Rishi Sunak’s ancestors first migrated to Kenya from India and then settled in Britain. Like him, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel also had similar backgrounds.

The recent immigration policy proposed by Sunak & his team has caused quite a stir. The ‘Stop the Boats Bill’, or Illegal Migration Bill seeks to end illegal entry as a route to asylum in the country and even denies them the opportunity to put forward their case. Many have been taken aback by Sunak’s & Braverman’s strong anti-immigration stance, and their utterances, especially considering their own family’s migration history.

Announcing this policy, Sunak wrote: “If you come to the UK illegally, you will be stopped from making late claims and attempts to frustrate your removal. You will be removed in weeks, either to your own country if it is safe to do so, or to a safe third country like Rwanda.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, in her statement, said: “The British people rightly expect us to solve this crisis and that’s what myself and the Prime Minister fully intend to do. We must stop the boats. You will not be allowed to stay.”

One might assume that individuals who have personal experience with immigration would be more sympathetic to the plight of immigrants. However, the reality is quite different. Many of these politicians have been at the forefront of implementing harsh anti-immigration policies. They seem to be closing the door behind them.

There may be a few reasons behind why Sunak, Braverman and Patel have been willing to pull up the ladder behind themselves. I have tried to examine a couple below.

This class of comparatively earlier migrants (which my own family belong to) often see themselves as a unique group of people who were able to successfully integrate into British society, and that others will not be able to do the same. This may lead to a belief that those who are unable to integrate are somehow less deserving of being allowed into the country. This line of thinking is dangerous as it perpetuates the idea of deserving and undeserving migrants, leading to the further marginalisation of certain groups. Which is the line the Conservatives have been very happy to peddle now for some time. They also feel the need to distance themselves from recent migrants. This phenomenon is not unique to the UK, as many immigrant groups in various countries have attempted to distance themselves from new arrivals in order to avoid being associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination.

Another possible explanation for support for such legislation could be that these politicians, including Sunak, are catering to the anti-immigrant sentiment, which exists in certain parts of British society. To appease their vote base, they are advocating stricter immigration laws and projecting themselves to be tougher and harsher on immigration. as well as to gain acceptance from the Conservative Party base that they represent. Sunak & Braverman may feel that by being vocal about their anti-immigration stance, they can prove their loyalty to the conservative party and establish themselves as “true” British citizens.

Whatever the rationale behind the actions of Sunak’s Conservatives – what is for sure is that they are callous, heartless and divisive policies which are defunct of any long-term vision in an ever-increasing globalised world. As someone from an East African Asian background the same as Sunak, Braverman and Patel – I am truly ashamed and embarrassed at the country they are trying to make us into. Pulling up the Ladder is morally repulsive and regressive. We shall not let them win and shall look to build an inclusive, tolerant Britain that is outward-looking and progressive. As someone who has campaigned with the last 5 Conservative Prime Ministers, I strongly urge our community to vote against this divisive politics at the next given opportunity.

(Professor Kishan Devani BEM, FRSA is a UK political & public figure and a writer & columnist)

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SPECIAL: India’s quest for a permanent UNSC seat

The time has come to accommodate India at UNSC. India’s global stature has risen in the past few decades owing to its economic prowess. Today, India has become the fifth largest economy in the world with a GDP of about USD 3 trillion. Moreover, by 2027 India is expected to become the third largest economy in the world, replacing Germany and Japan … writes Dr Divya Rani. This article delves into India’s compelling case for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) amidst the evolving dynamics of the 21st century. It traces the origins of the UNSC and how its membership, dominated by the P-5 nations, no longer reflects the contemporary multipolar world order.

India, as a founding member of the UN and a global heavyweight, presents an unassailable argument for permanent membership at UNSC. Nobody can ignore India’s contributions, not only as the world’s largest democracy and a burgeoning economic powerhouse but also as a provider of global public goods, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The growing chorus of international support for India’s bid, including from countries that traditionally held reservations, underscores the timeliness of this endeavour. With India’s rich history of constructive global engagement and its status as the largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, India’s quest for a permanent UNSC seat is a matter of when, not if, and essential for the organisation’s legitimacy and efficacy in addressing contemporary global challenges.

The United Nations came into existence in the midst of a geopolitically charged environment in the immediate aftermath of World War II. One of the bodies formed within the ambit of the UN – the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – tasked with the maintenance of world peace and checking any aggression by any nation in the world, became the most powerful multilateral body in the world.

rime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at the Bharat Madapam for the G20 Summit, in New Delhi on Saturday, September 9, 2023. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

At the time of its formation, the UNSC membership represented the geopolitical realities of the time. It became a club of major world powers, with finally five members called the P-5, who retained the permanent membership with veto powers, comprising – the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. However, today the geopolitical realities have changed. It is no longer the world of 1945 dominated by few powers. The 21st century is witnessing a multipolar world with many countries emerging as powers to reckon with in their own right. Amongst them the one making the fastest strides is India.

There are numerous reasons that lay credence to India’s claim for a permanent seat at the UNSC. As a founding member of the UN, India has consistently supported the UN in its aims and objectives. Today, India is the largest democracy in the world and with nearly 1.4 billion population, it is the most populous country in the world. India represents more than one-sixth of humanity in the world.

An entity like the UNSC which was formed to work for peace and stability in the world so that humans can prosper is doing grave injustice by ignoring the largest representative of the most important stakeholder – the people of the world. More importantly, in doing so the UNSC itself is facing the crises of legitimacy and credibility.

India’s global stature has risen in the past few decades owing to its economic prowess. Today, India has become the fifth largest economy in the world with a GDP of about USD 3 trillion. Moreover, by 2027 India is expected to become the third largest economy in the world, replacing Germany and Japan.

As per IMF Deputy Managing Director Antoinette Sayeh, India seems to be the ‘bright spot’ in the world economy, registering healthy economic growth rates in a world afflicted by economic slowdowns and stagflation risks. India thus is playing a significant role in supporting the global economy to get back on its feet. On the economic front, India has come a long way from contributing merely 4 per cent to the global GDP at the time of its independence to contributing 15 per cent of the global GDP today. The evolution of India marks its rise as a leading power in the world.

One of the arguments that support India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UNSC is the fact that India, in alignment with the vision of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ – the world is one family, has emerged as the provider of public good to the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when the major powers were engaged in vaccine nationalism, India showcased its selflessness through the Vaccine Maitri initiative under which India distributed over 160 million doses of vaccines, medical kits, and other essential items including food grains to over 150 countries, especially the developing and least developed countries.

Moreover, India not only successfully evacuated its own nationals but also citizens from over 123 countries during the global lockdown under the Vande Bharat Mission, an unprecedented repatriation program.

India’s rise in global stature is owed to its multidimensional prowess. India became the fourth country to soft-land on the moon and the first one to land on the South Pole of the moon under the Chandrayaan-3 Mission.

Recently India also sent its first sun mission – Aditya L1 which has been successful in its mission objectives so far.

India is also gearing up for its manned mission to space with Gaganyaan. Not just in the space sector, but India is making long strides in various other fields. Take for instance the digital public infrastructure. At a time when the world is increasingly moving towards digital, India already makes 46 per cent share of the total digital transactions in the world. India’s UPI, RuPay card, and JAM trinity model, among others, have placed India as the leader in this segment.

If these attributes made India’s case stronger, India’s successful G20 presidency took it a notch above. India championed the voice of the Global South within the G20, shifting the G20 towards equity and inclusivity rather than being focused on the G7 countries and their interests. A major breakthrough came in the form of the inclusion of the African Union as the latest member of the G20 under India’s presidency. With the African Union, representing 55 African countries, as the new member, the G20 is set to become more representative in its membership.

It is also to be India’s credit to be able to come up with the joint communique given the charged geopolitical atmosphere owing to the Russia-Ukraine war. What looked seemingly very difficult till now, as other multilateral fora in the past year could not release a joint communique due to the absence of consensus, India succeeded in achieving 100 percent consensus. The New Delhi Declaration took up various issues affecting the world, especially the developing and the least developed countries, including food security and climate change. India also managed to reach a consensus on a debt relief framework for Ethiopia, Ghana, and Zambia that will help these countries tide over the economic crisis facing them. Further, the announcement of the India-Middle East- Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), connecting South Asia, the Middle East through to Europe and the USA added further weight to India’s increasing heft in the evolving global order.

There is now unequivocal support for India’s candidature for the permanent seat at the UNSC. Even countries which have not traditionally supported India’s candidature, such as Turkiye, have now joined this chorus. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the New Delhi G20 Summit lent his support to India as a permanent member of the UNSC, stating that the world is larger than the five countries (implying P-5) while expressing his view that India deserves to be a permanent member.

During the G20 Summit, US President Joe Biden also reaffirmed his support for India’s permanent membership of the UNSC. He went on to welcome India’s candidature as the non-permanent member of the UNSC for the ninth time in 2028-29. Even UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres echoed similar sentiments making a pitch for UNSC reforms on an immediate basis.

India’s successful G20 Summit certainly provided much weight to India’s legitimate right to be a UNSC permanent member, however, support for its claims has been there for quite some time now. A few months back French Ambassador at the UN Nicolas De Riviere favoured reforms in the UNSC while supporting India’s bid for permanent membership while speaking at the UNSC open debate, reiterating the position of French President Emmanuel Macron regarding India’s candidature. UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also gave a call for a more representative UNSC while affirming the UK’s support for India’s candidature.

Calling India the leader in economic growth with vast diplomatic experience, authority and reputation in its region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov backed India as a permanent member of the UNSC. The other G-4 countries viz.

Germany, Japan, and Brazil have already lent support to India and to each other’s candidature. All this is nothing but a signal of “an idea whose time has come”. The only elephant in the room is China and its trivial objections on frivolous pretexts. Fearing India’s rise as a challenger to its own geopolitical clout in the region, China is the only P-5 country that has been evading giving support to India’s candidature.

India has always been a very constructive and responsible actor in the international realm, contributing immensely to various UN Missions, especially in the areas of development, human rights, climate change, and peacekeeping. In fact, India has contributed over 200,000 peacekeepers to 49 of the 71 UN peacekeeping missions since 1948, making India the largest troop contributor to the UN Missions.

India’s growing power, its value system, and its positive contribution to world peace and prosperity have made India’s case for permanent membership in the UNSC very strong.

(Dr. Divya Rani is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, BHU, Varanasi. She contributes regularly on contemporary issues of national and international significance)

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PROFILE: Naramsetti Rao, the Storyteller From Andhra

Fostering Imagination and Shaping Society: A Journey through the World of Children’s Stories

Today, as we commemorate Uncle Pai’s birthday, we celebrate his enduring dedication to education and his unwavering belief in the transformative power of storytelling for learning and enlightenment

On this special occasion, Khushboo Agrahari had the privilege of interviewing one of the eminent storyteller from Andhra Pradesh, Naramsetti Umamaheswara Rao. With a prolific output of over 1500 stories catering to both children and adults, Rao has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. He has authored more than 30 books and garnered numerous prestigious awards for his literary contributions and storytelling prowess.

Notably, Rao was honored with the esteemed Kendra Sahitya Akademi award in children’s literature for his novel “Ananda Lokam,” among other accolades. In recognition of his profound impact on the realm of children’s literature, Sri Jagana Sarathbabu received a doctorate from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam in 2022 for his extensive research on Rao’s works. Additionally, two scholars from Presidency College, Chennai were awarded M.Phil. degrees for their in-depth studies on various books authored by Naramsetti Umamaheswara Rao in 2016 and 2017.

Today, on Uncle Pai’s birthday, we bring you insights from this illustrious storyteller. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview.

Stories play a vital role in the growth and development of children. The books they read and the characters they get to know can become like friends. How do you choose your characters for your short stories?

“Albert Einstein once stated that stories are the key to nurturing a child’s intelligence. He believed that the tales children hear during their early years profoundly shape their personalities and cognitive development. These stories, told in their native language by parents and caregivers, not only bring joy but also impart vocabulary and moral values.

Children’s love for stories endures, enhancing their learning abilities and comprehension skills. Through characters in stories, they learn to discern right from wrong and internalize valuable life lessons. As they grow, school introduces them to a wider array of stories, deepening their empathy and understanding of human nature.

In crafting children’s stories, I carefully design characters to convey specific messages effectively. Relatable protagonists engage young readers and enhance their reading skills. Stories play a pivotal role alongside parents, teachers, and friends in shaping a child’s development.

Fiction based on real-life can also help children with their own life experience – it shows them how diverse the world is and that some people’s lives are vastly different to theirs. What themes you choose for kids.

The term you mentioned, “fiction based on real life,” raises questions about fiction itself. What exactly is fiction? If we narrate events from our lives that never occurred, it becomes fiction. While it might be fictional in our context, it could be someone else’s reality. This highlights how even fictional stories mirror real life. Only those stories rooted in reality truly touch readers’ hearts, captivating them and inspiring transformation.

Furthermore, hearing stories from others’ lives, even if they don’t mirror our own, unveils life’s myriad contradictions. These stories offer lessons in ethics, norms, cultures, and methodologies distinct from our own. This variety in life experiences enriches our understanding and consciousness, reminding us that life’s pathways diverge. By exposing children to diverse life stories, we impart education and illustrate the world’s vibrant tapestry. My selection of stories is tailored to the prevailing times. Yet, the ultimate objective remains instilling positive virtues in children through a protagonist devoted to societal well-being. Regardless of the plot, my guiding principle is always to craft stories that yield benefits for children’s growth.

Stories help to develop a child’s imagination by introducing new ideas into their world – ideas about fantastical worlds, other planets, different points in time and invented characters. How do you think writers help in the development of imagination in kids?

Children’s imagination is a potent force that constructs their unique worlds. Within these imaginative realms, they find solace with kindred spirits. Exploring such imaginative domains equips them with insights into reality, shaping their personalities and growth. The significance of children’s literature lies in nurturing this imagination, expanding their imaginative landscapes through stories.

My four-decade literary journey, from “Melerigina Manishi” to “Vintha jalam,” has been dedicated to enhancing children’s imaginative horizons. Children love conjuring magical worlds, populated by fantastical beings and characters. Trees, birds, and humans play versatile roles in these mental landscapes, contributing to their rich creativity.

Classic works like Panchatantra and Aesop’s fables teach children ethics and virtues through imaginative animal characters. Authors universally aim to ignite children’s imagination, fostering a deep connection to these fictional realms. The more vibrant and engaging this imaginative world, the more children wholeheartedly embrace it.

As you can see, children’s stories are important for a number of reasons and form a vital part of the growing process. Being part of that process do you think can writers help brings a sense of satisfaction as well as being great fun for children in the digital age?

In the digital era dominated by computers, time flows continuously, yet children’s imagination and joys remain steadfast. These enduring aspects remain constant regardless of changing times. Childhood remains unchanged, preserving its essence even as the world evolves. Children’s imagination, joys, and needs remain consistent. Our responsibility is to provide for children within the current societal context. Just as a mother’s love endures, so do the timeless joys of childhood. Children’s literature plays a pivotal role, captivating both young and old with stories. Life itself is a narrative, every human experience a story, every lesson a tale. Despite the digital age, children’s needs endure, met through books, videos, and technology that carry on the tradition of storytelling. Writers continue to play an essential role, weaving stories that shape society. Stories persist, fueled by the constant need for storytellers.

Chandamama, the magazine that taught generations about ethics and India for more than six decades. Being a writer from that golden era do you think today’s generation kids are missing the priceless treasure trove of stories from age old Indian tales?

Indeed, today’s children are missing out on the invaluable wealth of Indian stories. It’s not a lack of treasure but rather a shortage of proper conduits for it. Esteemed children’s magazines like Chandamama, Bommarillu, Bala, Balamitra, Balajyoti, Bala Bharti, and Bujjai have made a unique contribution to society and literature. Chandamama, in particular, stands as a symbol of children’s imagination, shaping lives profoundly. The cherished inclinations fostered by magazines like Chandamama have profoundly influenced generations, instilling language, culture, intelligence, and virtues. The era when Chandamama thrived marked a golden age of literature. However, the contemporary generation is missing out due to shifting times. Regular monthly magazines like Balabata, Molaka, Champak, and Nani are published, adapting to modern times through online platforms like Go, Sanchika,, and Pratilipi. While literature endures, the challenge lies in finding dedicated providers. Creators abound, but the lack of effective dissemination hampers access. Neglecting children’s literature in the current generation could lead to detrimental consequences for society.

We belong to the land of colourful tales that reflect a legacy steeped in rich imagination and limitless creativity of the mind. Our childhood is stored in comics and cartoons, be it for the sake of entertainment or implicit moral guidance. Do you agree that today’s literacy space is more or less westernizing?

Westernization hasn’t diminished children’s literature; if anything, it could have enhanced it. Our own childhood was a different era, while today’s childhood boasts technological advancement and expanded literary connections globally. In the past, entertainment options were limited, contrasting with today’s colorful, imaginative stories that stimulate creativity and reflect morals. Comics, then and now, play a role, though their presence is less in our Telugu language. Children are drawn to comics and cartoons, which wield significant influence, often exceeding that of books. Both mediums offer entertainment and development, carrying implicit moral messages. I firmly believe that children’s literature can thrive across diverse mediums.

Before the advent of a century driven by technology, the internet and artificial intelligence, when life did not oscillate between deadlines and computer screens, children were initiated into the world of vivid narratives and stories through numerous children’s magazines which introduced children to their fantastical and exceptional culture and mythology. Tell us the importance of literature and storytelling in today’s age?

In this era defined by internet and artificial intelligence, progress and civilization intertwine with technology. Our quality of life is gauged by our resources, which have advanced considerably. The sky is now traversable, planets reachable, and countless marvels created—a testament to technological growth. We present these developments as stories to children, expanding their imaginative realms, often leading to scientific discoveries. Children’s literature nurtures these imaginative sparks. Education and science, inescapable aspects of adulthood, stem from childhood. Our rich culture, though somewhat obscured, still harbors uniqueness derived from an array of unearthed civilizations. Understanding our culture is vital for a promising future.

Childhood magazines have long conveyed the magnificence of our culture. A diverse array of stories, from folk metaphors to multi-genres, spread across the nation, celebrating our culture. Preserving this culture for future generations is essential. We need profound narratives that divulge hidden truths and imagination.

Stories play an integral role in this process. Thus, passing down ancient texts like Puranas, Vedas, and Shastras is vital. Reading Ramayana imparts values like brotherly love, commitment, and loyalty. Bharata teaches against jealousy and recklessness, while Bhagavatam stresses on helping others. Ganesha’s story teaches respect for elders. Mythological stories should be introduced in childhood, nurturing the foundation for a brilliant future. As tools evolve, the joy remains unchanged—a nostalgic parallel between our childhood winged horses and today’s helicopter rides.

Telugu literature flowered in the early 16th century under the Vijayanagar empire, of which Telugu was the court language. Tell us a brief history of Telugu literature being an established Telugu writer?

Telugu literature thrived during the 16th century in the Vijayanagara Empire, marking a golden era. Poets penned numerous works, leaving a rich legacy for posterity. While this history is known, I believe our researchers have not fully explored the depths of Telugu’s antiquity. Andhras are mentioned in the Mahabharata, implying their ancient prominence. It’s likely that the Andhra language experienced substantial literary growth during that era.  The Telugu Prabandha era, flourishing under the Vijayanagara Empire, is also significant in literature. We recently commemorated the millennium of the first poet, Nannayya, referring to it as a thousand years of Telugu.  The Telugu we use today is influenced by Sanskrit and other languages, yet it’s crucial that we safeguard its distinct identity. Reviving forgotten Telugu words can reinvigorate the language, reestablishing its popularity and vibrancy. Losing a language means losing a significant part of our history, stunting development and life’s richness.

Stories have always been the lens through which children see the world, because stories highlight diversity, break gender stereotypes and define a moral compass for the society ! How do you choose your story idea?

Stories serve as moral compasses, offering a lens through which children perceive the world, guiding them towards exemplar behavior. They illustrate ideals, reflecting both nature and distortion. Stories hold an inherent idealism, subject to interpretation by each reader, shifting with age and perspective. Variations emerge from writers’ viewpoints, narrative styles, and intentions, enabling fresh insights even into familiar themes. This diversity maintains the writer-reader connection, acknowledging the need for variety.

As an author, I strive for narrative variety. Drawing from ancient and modern literature, I tailor stories to fulfill children’s needs while addressing common challenges they face. Writers carry the responsibility to reinvigorate ancient folk tales in a manner that resonates eternally, fostering social awareness.

Stories have the power to change the world for the better or worse. It is difficult to say where the line between fiction and fact is. We are witnessing, for example, how a story written by Valmiki is changing modern India for the worse. Even the Supreme Court believes the story to be fact, not fiction.  What are your views?

Researchers aim to discern the authenticity of the Ramayana epic. Rather than fixating on its reality, the focus should be on the lessons, ethics, and societal benefits that this millennia-old narrative carries. Ramayana, a grand epic, holds virtues embedded in each character. Its status as fiction or reality is secondary. Every religion offers its holy texts, emphasizing goodness. The presence of facts or fiction doesn’t diminish the essence of goodness. Human nature encompasses both positive and negative traits, and we must extract only the good.

Literature isn’t exclusively history, and not all history is literature. Shastra texts, Puranas, and commentaries diverge. Regardless, the social benefits within them must be acknowledged. Ramayana’s creative brilliance is evident, inspiring new creations. Reading Valmiki’s Ramayana can empower writers. The characters exemplify noble qualities. While various interpretations exist, Valmiki’s version is often considered the standard. Literary exploration doesn’t always require absolute truth; it seeks good for society. Stories possess transformative power, whether constructive or not. Constant exposure can lead common people to view them as truths, blurring the line between fiction and reality. The Ramayana, embraced as a guide by many, influences lives across India, transcending religious faith.

There are growing instances of intolerance seen in our society today and its impact on the artistes and writers can be widely seen. Does it make telling your truth through your work all the more important? What keeps you going as a writer?

Social intolerances are complex and distressing, disrupting societal harmony. In a diverse nation like India, religious tolerance is paramount. Mutual respect should prevail without imposing beliefs on one another. No religion holds superiority over another. These issues also often intertwine with politics. Writers can contribute positively by reducing intolerance rather than exacerbating it. Artists employed by companies might find it challenging to express their full creativity. As writers, they may struggle to fulfill their social responsibility effectively.

Writers should strive to provide valuable insights to society without fueling conflicts. Balancing one’s work with the greater good is essential. Maintaining truthfulness is important, even if it means abstaining from writing at times. As a writer, my motivation stems from inner peace, self-assurance, and a sense of purpose. My life’s objective is social harmony. In this pursuit, I offer my dedication: Sangam Sharanam Gatchami!

ALSO READ-An Unmatched Adventure – A short story by Dubai based young aspiring author Myra Kumar

READ MORE-The art of story telling

Asia News Columns PAKISTAN

Fear of riots as protests over power tariffs intensify in Pakistan

The latest hike has left many with no choice but to skip bill payments, risk disconnection, or come out on the streets. Pakistan saw similar protests around between 2007 and 2015, with several of these transforming into full-scale, multi-day episodes with considerable rioting … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

The countrywide protests are taking place in Pakistan against rising electricity and petrol prices, with thousands taking to city streets and setting their electricity bills alight. Protests erupted late last month and spread to many cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad. The unrest comes as the poverty-stricken Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis, with inflation hovering at around 29 per cent.

The cost of electricity has doubled in the last three months to about PKR 50 per kilowatt. Whereas petrol prices have shot up from PKR 262 per litre in June to PKR 305 this month. The Pakistan government data suggests food inflation was at more than 38 per cent in August and is likely to rise further this month due to the rise in electricity and fuel prices. With a ‘powerless’ caretaker government in Islamabad and no policy clarity to address the ongoing economic crisis, Pakistan is likely to witness more internal turmoil in the coming weeks, with the anger targeted at the Pakistan Army.

The recent protests forced the caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar to hold an emergency meeting on August 27 to discuss the high electricity bills; however, no immediate relief was announced. On the contrary, Interim Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar told the parliament on August 31 that Pakistan had no “fiscal space” to provide any immediate relief to the public. Furthermore, Akhtar warned of an imminent increase in power tariffs in the coming days.

 “We are an import-dependent country, and the commodity prices have to be passed on as we do not have the fiscal space and any room for subsidies, which is going to hurt people,” she said. “It is noteworthy that the increase in power prices was a key condition for Pakistan to secure a USD 3 billion bailout under the International Monetary Fund’s stand-by arrangement (SBA).

The deal came in July with the IMF pressing Pakistan to carry out long[1]awaited economic reforms. As a condition, the previous Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government slashed energy sector subsidies in line with the IMF deal, sending fuel prices to an all-time high. After months of delay, the July deal saved Pakistan from an imminent default and paved the way for fresh financial help from countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Despite violent street protests, the caretaker government cannot cut the new tariffs on electricity bills because such a move would upset the IMF and jeopardise the timely release of the next tranche from the bailout package. Moreover, the IMF staff would conduct a quarterly review (July-September) to make a decision on the disbursement of USD 710 million second tranche of the USD 3 billion SBA.

Since the start of the new fiscal year in July, the Pakistani rupee has devalued by 10.5 per cent against the United States dollar, going from PKR 275 at the start of July to PKR 304 per USD on August 30.  The devaluation of the Pakistani rupee has negatively impacted its import bills. With the recent increase in power tariffs and fuel prices, the middle- and lower-income classes in Pakistan are fighting for their survival. Some households are forced to seek loans to pay off their exorbitant electricity bills to avoid the blackout. In addition to power hikes, Pakistan is still reeling from the aftermath of last year’s devastating floods that caused losses of more than USD 30 billion in three provinces – Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.

In the absence of an elected government in Islamabad, there is a lack of sincerity and urgency in addressing life-threatening issues of the common people in Pakistan. Seeing an opportunity to earn political brownie points, many parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) held demonstrations across major cities against the recent hike in power tariffs.

Similarly, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is targeting the caretaker government, and the military establishment, for the growing instability in the country. Protests turned violent in Karachi when a worker from the utility company K-Electric (KE) was attacked by an enraged mob. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the energy department requested police protection for its staff and installations after threats of attacks by protesters.

As Pakistan sees protests in several cities against electricity prices, there are calls for traders to revise their opening hours to avoid using electricity between 6.30 pm and 10.30 pm when charges are highest. Most traders currently operate from noon to 10 p.m. The move has been resisted by traders in the past. The reason is simple: the rising cost of living has left many households increasingly vulnerable in Pakistan. Most of them are forced to spend close to 50 per cent of their monthly expenditure on energy bills. Therefore, the latest hike has left many with no choice but to skip bill payments, risk disconnection, or come out on the streets. Pakistan saw similar protests between 2007 and 2015, with several of these transforming into full-scale, multi-day episodes with considerable rioting.

Columns World News

Spy Balloon Fuels Calls to Revoke 1979 Deal With China

Given the tension between the two countries over Taiwan and the South China Sea and Beijing’s alleged practice of pressurising foreign companies into sharing trade secrets and intellectual property with Chinese corporate partners, its attempt to carry out large scale cyber espionage and stealing of technologies, many analysts have argued that the US-China agreement must be scrapped altogether

A day after Nikkei Haley, an ex-US Ambassador to the UN who is running for the Republican presidential nomination pledged to bring about a “sea change” in the US policy towards China to protect American interests, 10 US lawmakers wrote a letter to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 27, requesting him to prevent the Joe Biden administration from extending a 1979 agreement with China on science and technology after it expires on August 27.

More than four decades ago, the US headed by then President Jimmy Carter signed an agreement with China on cooperation in science and technology (STA) in order to strengthen friendly relations between the two countries. The agreement is renewed every five years. In view of rising concerns about China’s growing military strength and theft of US scientific knowhow and technologies, US lawmakers, including Chair of the US House of Representatives Select Committee on China, Mike Gallagher, want that the US should desist from renewing the 1979 agreement when it expires on August 27. The immediate cause of writing this letter to the Secretary of State was the alleged Chinese spy balloon that floated over America earlier this year. This was highlighted by The Wall Street Journal in its report on June 28, which said the Chinese balloon was equipped with US-made surveillance gear. An analysis by the US defence and intelligence agencies of debris recovered after the balloon was shot down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina in February this year, revealed that the said balloon was equipped with American gear, along with more specialised Chinese sensors and other equipment to collect photographs, video, and other information to transmit to China, The Wall Street Journal said.

The prominent international daily said findings of US defence and intelligence agencies support a conclusion that the Chinese balloon was intended for spying, and not for weather monitoring as China claimed. While such disclosures have speeded up the further worsening of the two countries’ ties, the US lawmakers in their letter to Antony Blinken accused Beijing of using “academic researchers, industrial espionage, forced technology transfers,” and other tactics to gain an edge in critical technologies, which in turn leads to “modernisation” of PLA, South China Morning Post said. However, Global Times in its editorial termed the US lawmakers’ letter to the Secretary of State as an attempt to “knock down another foundation of China-US relations.”

“Anyone with basic common sense about China-US relations knows that the China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement is not a sensitive contract. It is not dedicated to cutting-edge advanced technology cooperation but rather covers areas of cooperation primarily in basic research, including environmental sciences, agricultural sciences, physics, and chemistry,” Global Times said in its editorial on June 28. The CPC mouthpiece further said, “The agreement has not only promoted scientific research cooperation between the two countries but has also directly facilitated exchanges in fields such as business, education, and culture…In critical areas like agriculture, the US has benefited substantially from this agreement. Those anti-China lawmakers cannot find any faults with it, so they resort to baseless “concerns” to hinder its continuation.

”Several US media reports suggest that America has been conducting a review of the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement. But the US State Department earlier this month declined to comment on “internal deliberations on negotiations,” Reuters said.

Given the tension between the two countries over Taiwan and the South China Sea and Beijing’s alleged practice of pressurising foreign companies into sharing trade secrets and intellectual property with Chinese corporate partners, its attempt to carry out large-scale cyber espionage and stealing of technologies, many analysts have argued that the US-China agreement must be scrapped altogether. However, there are others who say that the agreement should be reworked to protect US interests. Yet there are those who say that the agreement should be allowed to continue as it gives the US valuable insight into China’s technical advances. Despite this, anti-China discussions and debates have gained currency in the US with former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikkei Haley making a frontal attack on the Chinese ruling dispensation, stating, “Communist China is the greatest threat to American security and prosperity by far.”

Speaking on the future of US-China policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC on June 28, Nikkei Haley referred to China’s recent actions, including the surveillance balloon that flew over the US, interception of a US fighter jet in the South China Sea as “purposeful actions of a communist dictatorship.”

She called for blocking US investments and exports as they enable China to strengthen the PLA or the CPC apparatus.

Canada Columns World News

Sikh Extremists Thrive in Canada Under Trudeau’s Nose

L’affaire Trudeau justifies the adage that politicians refuse to look beyond their nose for short-term gains.  He has been taking the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Jagmeet ‘Jimmy’ Singh Dhaliwal for his government’s survival … writes Malladi Rama Rao & Atul Cowshish

Clearly, vote bank politics are at play in Canada. Otherwise, the Khalistanis will not be thriving even as Prime Minister Justine Trudeau is professing friendship with India. 

L’affaire Trudeau justifies the adage that politicians refuse to look beyond their noses for short-term gains.  He has been taking the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Jagmeet ‘Jimmy’ Singh Dhaliwal for his government’s survival.

Prime Minister Trudeau denies on record supporting the activities of the Sikh extremists but Dhaliwal’s party is known as the shield for the pro-Khalistani elements in the country.   

Khalistan is well documented secessionist movement. Therefore, it should not have gained traction in Canada, which is home to ‘historical and active’ movements for secession or autonomy. 

From Trudeau’s home base, Quebec to British Columbia and Alberta to Vancouver Island, Canada has witnessed people hitting the separatist button over a host of local issues besides broken promises of the national leadership.  


Words such as referendum and self-determination might chime with Western sensibilities, but the likes of Justine Trudeau will do well to realise the dangers inherent in their short-term electoral politics. More so because Dhaliwal with his roots in Ontario province, takes recourse to verbal calisthenics that pleases the Sikh extremists but does not unequivocally condemn the demand for another division of India on religious grounds with the use of violence.

Arguably, the Canadian parliament is unique with the highest representation of Sikhs in any legislature in big democracies of the West.   Most people of Indian origin who sit in the national assembly of Canada trace their origin to Punjab.  Most of them are Sikhs but not all of them support Sikh extremists.

From what is in the public domain, the Sikh extremists are in the minority in their own community. Yet, the pro-Khalistani elements get to be heard widely and even manage to extract some political mileage in Canada.

A few years ago, the legislature of the southern Ontario province endorsed a private member’s motion that described the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as ‘genocide’

Recently, Brompton, known as the flower town, also in Ontario Province, witnessed a procession to ‘celebrate’ the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October 1984 by two of her Sikh guards.

Nearly 20 per cent of the Brompton citizens trace their origin to the Indian Punjab. The current Canadian population of immigrants from Punjab is said to be nearly a million; their population jumped several-fold between 2001 and 2021.

Neighbouring United States has a large Sikh population, particularly in the big state of California. Some of them had arrived there almost a century ago. They are peaceful, but in recent years, the Khalistan extremists have been attracting and brainwashing them.

Some time ago, San Francisco hosted a seminar where panellists had openly espoused the use of violence to achieve the so-called state of ‘Khalistan’. The star speaker was Trudeau’s present-day crutch, Jagmeet ‘Jimmy’ Singh Dhaliwal.

At the beginning of his political innings, Dhaliwal was hesitant to decry the role of Talwinder Singh Parmar, described as the mastermind of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985.  Named after the Second Century Kushan dynasty emperor Kanishka, the Boeing, Kanishka, flying from Toronto to Bombay, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean killing all 329 passengers and 22 crew members. The plan to bomb the flight was hatched in Canada. It is the worst terrorist attack in the history of Canada.

Quite a few ‘wanted’ men and women, accused or found guilty of political assassinations and other crimes in India, head for Canada. Some of them manage to become prominent political or community figures. For instance, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, wanted in India for several criminal cases is the president of the Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, British Colombia.           

Attacks on Indians or people of Indian origin by pro-Khalistani elements have been increasing regularly in Canada over the past few years, particularly in areas of Punjabi diaspora concentration.  The rise in such cases suggests the inability or unwillingness of the Trudeau government to deal strictly with the provocateurs and perpetrators. 

The British government is in no way different in this respect going by the vandalism indulged in by pro-Khalistan supporters at the Indian High Commission in London on March 19, 2023.

Both the US and Canada as also the United Kingdom have been welcoming and hosting dissidents and secessionists from the Third World countries while taking shelter under the good old liberal mindset.  It is time they stop sailing in two boats since they have their share of active or dormant movements in their own backyard. 

(The writers Malladi Rama Rao & Atul Cowshish are Delhi-based journalists and commentators)

Asia News Columns India News

G20:  Srinagar Champions Hearts of G20 Delegations

The G20 arrangements, Kashmir’s scenic beauty, and the warmth of her people were a hit among the delegations. The crown jewel of India mesmerized visitors with its historical charm amalgamated with the “smart city” conveniences. The iconic Mughal Gardens, the Dal Lake, and Polo View Market were the highlight of their itinerary. The delegation was impressed seeing how seamlessly the heritage and culture of the Valley flow into the present-day lifestyle … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Empty vessels make the most noise. Sitting in Delhi this noise comes from the immediate West. Since Morgan Stanley’s admittedly said “India is on track to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2027”, it has become de riguer for the spiteful to speak in urgent tones anything that might gather some media attention against India, whether or not it makes sense. And while they blacken reams of paper with their wordy diagnosis on India, the latter is soaring high aiming at $400 billion annual economic output by the next year.

Last week after much fanfare the G20 group’s third Tourism Promotion Meeting was conducted in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. It was an exhilarating affair for the residents, more for the tourism industry which has been a huge driver of the region’s economy since the beginning. Last year J&K hosted more than 16.2 million tourists worldwide, and that number after a few hundred thousand yearly turnout, is saying something. People have renewed faith in the government machinery post-2019 abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, as it has sparked a new dawn of prosperity and development in the region.

The bubbling excitement among the masses was palpable. For the first time in a long time, Kashmir was again in the limelight, except for all the good reasons. The Valley was unrecognizable to foreign delegations who had only ever heard of unrest in this part of the world. The event marked the international re-introduction of Kashmir.

After receiving the baton of G20’s yearly chairmanship from Indonesia in December 2022, India has gone full throttle to showcase its best, and naturally so. Nearly 10 million people in the Kashmir Valley are dependent upon the tourism industry. The J&K administration with the support from the Center has altered the geography of the UT, helping them decades ahead in progress.

Tracking Kashmir’s development and listening to its internationally echoing praises, while waiting for their economic and social predicament in the past few months must have been like watching a catastrophe in slow motion for Pakistan. It tried to foment some trouble by calling on international bodies and global leaders to stop India from conducting the meeting in Srinagar. Their Foreign Minister Bhutto-Zardari said that by holding the event “India cannot silence the voice of (apparently oppressed) Kashmiri people”.

For a country spinning on a roulette, jumping from an economic crisis to a political one, then a social one, all in one week, while committing human rights violations and internationally receiving reprimanding notices for the same, making such a bold statement about India is very audacious. Just last week UHNRC High Commissioner said that the rule of law in Pakistan is under serious threat. The violence following May 9 underscores the urgency with which Pakistan should first qualify as a country before spitting venom in envy.

The G20 arrangements, Kashmir’s scenic beauty, and the warmth of her people were a hit among the delegations. The crown jewel of India mesmerized visitors with its historical charm amalgamated with the “smart city” conveniences. The iconic Mughal Gardens, the Dal Lake, and Polo View Market were the highlight of their itinerary. The delegation was impressed seeing how seamlessly the heritage and culture of the Valley flow into the present-day lifestyle. Though Kashmir is modernized to suit the contemporary needs of people, the values and traditions continue to be the nucleus of the society, the thread that binds everything together.

Indulging their senses in the serene ambiance, the delegations agreed upon some conclusions and agreements to elevate Kashmir to a city of global status. It was unanimously agreed that Kashmir must be popularized as an international film shooting destination. Following the footsteps of the Gulf which invested $2.5 billion, participant countries discussed the possibilities of investments in various areas such as healthcare, skill training centers, higher education institutions, and so on.

Increasing the volume of exports and how, was another major topic of discussion. After the working group witnessed live demonstrations of artwork – from handwoven carpets to walnut wood carvings and the plush Pashmina shawls among others – they were spellbound. Department of Handloom and Handicrafts successfully cemented its place in the guests’ hearts. Through GI-tagging Kashmiri handicrafts, Saffron, and other unique Kashmir products have achieved global recognition. At the beginning of 2022, 40,000 Euros worth of carpets were exported to Germany alone!

On the occasion, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said that J&K will soon be among the top 50 destinations in the world. Violence, insurgencies, and Pak-imported terrorism are a thing of the past. People are high on life, blossoming in an ambitious environment that supports a growth-oriented outlook.

While Pakistan can criticize India nonstop over Kashmir, the truth is aptly stated by Michael Rubin, a senior fellow with The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “While Kashmiris under Pakistani control remain hobbled by a moribund economy and suppressed by Jamaat-e-Islami extremism, Kashmiris in India have security, taste freedom, and thrive.”

The new India is associated with robust expansion and economic prosperity. She is at the forefront of all global decisions and holds veto power that can change the course of humanity. According to McKinsey, “It’s not India’s decade, it’s India’s century”; holding her hand, Kashmir will reach the pinnacle of greatness.

Arab News Asia News Columns

SPECIAL:  Pakistan stares at political instability, economic crisis

The last few weeks have witnessed a clash between the top judiciary and the government that controls the National Assembly. Bills challenging the judiciary, particularly restricting the powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, have either been returned by the President or upturned by the Supreme Court. The top court is polarized into groups … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Already embroiled in what its analysts call a ‘poly-crisis’ for the past 13 months at least, Pakistan stares at its worsening in the coming months, end-2023 and beyond, with its governing institutions and forces that occupy them working at cross-purpose to the nation’s detriment.

Taking the economic stress first, the much-needed bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), delayed by seven months now, is not in sight. Pakistan could default on its debt servicing, inviting further restraints. Meanwhile, inflation, hovering between 26 per cent and 36, could worsen people’s daily needs like wheat flour is getting beyond the reach of even the middle classes.

 Political instability triggered by the no-confidence vote in the National Assembly that led to the Imran Khan Government’s fall in April 2022, has worsened. It will persist till general elections are held. Holding them early is Khan’s principal demand. The National Assembly’s life is till August this year. A decision may be taken only after the annual budget is passed in the third week of June. The National Assembly will complete its term in the second week of August, and if the government and the opposition fail to schedule the next general elections, a constitutional controversy would emerge.

But the outcome of the elections also may not resolve any of the basic causes of confrontation. Since 2013 at least, Pakistan has seen the loser rejecting the outcome of the poll and continuing to agitate on the streets.  If none of the parties or alliances gets the majority, the situation could get more volatile.  

Before that, the fledgling Shehbaz Sharif Government will have to decide on a caretaker government. The decision on the person(s) to man such a set-up would need the army’s nod, now that it has launched an aggressive counter to Imran Khan’s campaign.  

In between, many top functionaries end their respective terms.  President Arif Alvi’s term ends in October, but indications are that given his proximity to Imran Khan, he may resign earlier to return to political activity.

The last few weeks have witnessed a clash between the top judiciary and the government that controls the National Assembly. Bills challenging the judiciary, particularly restricting the powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, have either been returned by the President or upturned by the Supreme Court. The top court is polarized into groups. Chief Justice Omar Ata Bandial who heads the dominant group that has upturned many of the government’s moves, detentions of Khan and his supporters, ends his tenure in October this year.  

Various high courts have also upturned many army-induced government decisions. The judiciary that has supported the army in the past has developed an adversarial relationship. The situation may clarify only under a new CJP.

Ex Pakistan PM Imran Khan.(photo:Instagram)

A key part of the current crisis is Khan’s known dislike of the Army chief, General Asim Munir. Khan has accused him of trying to assassinate him and mentioned a particular general of the ISI. At the same time, Khan has been making overtures for talks that Munir appears to have not heeded. The army-Khan relationship is one of the most complicated factors in the current crisis. The army’s move, via the Sharif Government, to try those who attacked military establishments when Khan was briefly detained, has controversially led to civilians accused being tried by military courts under the Army Act. This could well be a warning-cum-bargaining factor if Khan’s side engages in talks. Khan formed a seven-member committee for that purpose when scores of his top party officials and lawmakers left him. The exodus continues even as Khan’s PTI is poised for a split.

This and much more have paved the way for a realignment of political forces. Khan’s alliance is cracking, while the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) could also re-align. The PPP of Bhutto-Zardaris has voiced many differences with Sharif’s party. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the PDM convenor, always an army ally, could also alter course.

Electioneering will not be normal. More violence is feared. The role of the Islamist groups who command a huge following would need watching.

How far the army will go to keep Khan out, and/or have the PTI disqualified from contesting elections is yet another imponderable. Analysts say what is touted as a “minus one” move to keep Khan out may not work and may only make him more popular. 

-Top News Asia News Columns

Mission Amritpal

Instigated by Pakistan, which, for the past five decades has been following a policy of inflicting thousands of cuts on India, these sleeper cells of Khalistanis come alive from time to time and try to foment trouble. Post – L’affaire Amritpal, the overseas Khalistani elements notably Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) appear to have bestirred themselves with some goading by their Pakistani mentors …  writes Rattan Saldi

The Khalistan movement, spearheaded by some hardcore secessionist elements in India and abroad is virtually buried in history now in India though it lingers on in pockets of the liberal West. Its violent end in India came in 1984 in the holy city of Amritsar during Operation Blue Star with armed forces killing its main crusader Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his cronies.

Attempts miserably failed to radicalise youth in Punjab and elsewhere in India in the name of so-called ‘Dharam Yudh’ by Bhindranwale, who had proclaimed himself, head of Khalistan, a Pakistan-like theocratic state, for the Sikhs. Many radical off-shoots of majority Sikh organizations like Dal Khalsa, Damdami Taksal, All India Sikh Students Federation and the like had mushroomed, spearheading the violent movement for the establishment of Khalistan. Most of them have since become part of history, either crushed or banned by the government.


Even at the height of their violent agitation in 1982-84, the Khalistan separatists were not able to break communal harmony in their battleground state of Punjab. People did not lose their good sense; Hindus and Sikhs lived traditionally concerned for each other’s miseries and joys, maintaining ‘Roti -Beti’ relations, and sharing succour and marital relationships.  

A constant fear of threat to their lives from radical elements, however, gripped them all the time in those turbulent days. By the early nineties, peace was restored in Punjab and people and the government heaved a sigh of relief.

Well, even after the Blue Star Op and the events that followed, which had left deep scars undeniably, a microscopic number of radicalized youth have survived mainly in border areas of Punjab as what are known as sleeper cells.

Instigated by Pakistan, which, for the past five decades has been following a policy of inflicting thousands of cuts on India, these sleeper cells come alive from time to time and try to foment trouble.

The recent mob violence near a prominent temple in Patiala, and the murder of a pro-Hindu Party, Shiv Sena leader in broad daylight in Amritsar are such acts to keep the security forces on high alert. Significantly, none of these violent acts could disturb communal harmony in Punjab. Nor could they trigger any hatred or discord among the Hindus and the Sikhs.

Viewed against this backdrop, the failure of Mission Amritpal Singh does not come as a surprise.

Amritpal is a self-styled Khalistan preacher – fugitive. He migrated to India in September 2022 from Dubai where he worked as a truck driver since 2012, to head ‘Waris Punjab De’ (Heirs of Punjab), a radical outfit.

This February he and his militant followers stormed a police station at Ajnala, near Amritsar to get the release of their associate held in a kidnapping and extortion case. They brandished swords and brazenly displayed firearms. Yet, the police observed restraint. It is because Amritpal and co took the shield of the Sikh Holy book, Guru Granth Sahib while storming the police station in Ajnala. Any police action had the potential to flare up.

In the chase that followed, many of his militant followers were arrested. His mentor, who is also his uncle, was nabbed and charged under the National Security Act. Amritpal Singh himself was arrested after a hot pursuit for 36 days and swiftly moved to a jail in Dibrugarh in the far eastern state of Assam, where eight of his associates are jailed.

Amritpal Singh tried to imitate Bhindranwale’s style of functioning to become popular in double quick time. He also tried to endear himself to the Punjabi youth by weaning them away from the drug menace. He even organised drug de-addiction centres, making a beginning from his native village under the garb of social reforms. These centres became his platform to deliver fiery sermons.

He and his associates tapped social media for their “Homeland for the Sikhs” campaign. And toured the countryside preaching secessionism. Police found a shooting range in his village tucked inside agriculture fields, where training in arms was given to youth.

After he escaped from the police dragnet, Amritpal Singh tried all sorts of gimmicks and approached prominent Sikh organizations and leaders to hold a Sarbat Khalsa (religious congregation) to approve his line of action for Khalistan. The deafening silence was the response followed by the homily – surrender to the police. 

Naturally, Amritpal was crestfallen. His dream of Sikh clergy adopting a ‘homeland’ resolution remained a pipe dream.  During Bhindranwale’s time, one such resolution was adopted at a congregation held at Anandpur Sahib.  And it is called the Anandpur Sahib resolution.

Despite his bravado, the self-styled Khalistan protagonist changed his hideouts while on the run since February 18. A high alert was sounded at all escape routes, including airports and borders with Nepal and Pakistan. His wife, a British national, was stopped from boarding a flight to London.

Amritpal was finally arrested from Rode village to which Bhindranwale belonged on a tip-off that he was hiding in the local Gurdwara. With all escape routes closed, he walked out of the Gurudwara into the police hands. Well, just before walking out, he reportedly delivered a brief sermon on Khalistan to the handful of people present in the Gurudwara. 

Conventional wisdom made the Punjab Police fear a backlash after Amritpal’s arrest. So, they packed him off to an Assam jail. But nothing of the sort happened. People in all major cities, towns and villages across Punjab continued their usual business. Perfect harmony and peace prevailed in the state signaling that separatists and secessionists would have no sympathy and support from the people at large.

With the arrest of Amritpal and all prominent activists of the outfit ‘Waris Punjab De’ which he was heading since September 2022, the Khalistan movement can be said to have died down in Punjab.

This does not mean all sleeper cells are liquidated. It is possible that some sleeper cells may still be out there and they may still try to trigger sporadic incidents; such flareups will be a routine policing problem. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Post – L’affaire Amritpal, the overseas Khalistani elements notably Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) appear to have bestirred themselves with some goading by their Pakistani mentors.  The result was an attempt to hoist the Khalistan flag after pulling down the tri-colour at the Indian High Commission in London.    There are reports of defacing Hindu temples in Canada, the United States and Australia. Well, small headlines, no front-page stuff.   

New Delhi has been taking up the issues of these attacks at the diplomatic level from time to time. Going by the turn of events, the response is far from satisfactory. The liberal West must realise that patronage or any pampering of secessionist movements like Khalistan is a misguided missile wrapped in human rights.  

For two reasons.

Such patronage when they are courting India as an emerging economic power, and as a counterfoil to the Dragon country is patently unfair, if not, absurd.  

  Every one of the Western liberal democracies has its share of active or dormant secessionists. They simply cannot lose sight of their backyard in their exuberance to needle others. Moreover, as L’affaire Amritpal demonstrated, the Khalistan campaign targeted at India has become a damp squib.

Put simply, Khalistan Movement is dead in India but survives outside India with its protagonists raising the bogey from time to time, and trying to foment trouble in India. The diplomatic corps and intelligence agencies need to be extra vigilant on this score.

Now to the Pakistan factor in the Khalistani campaign. Indian agencies have found clinching evidence of the involvement of the Pak Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in organizing training camps for militants and pushing them into India to foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. Drones are being used by handlers sitting in Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan to send consignments of arms and drugs into border areas of Punjab. Several such drones were either shot down or captured by the border security forces recently.

India cannot change its neighbours.   It has to live with a prickly Pakistan, hoping for the day when the land of the pure will realise the dangers of what Hillary Clinton once told them of nurturing snakes in the backyard.

(Rattan Saldi is a veteran broadcast journalist)