Imran’s UN shot at Modi
Imran Khan’s impassioned speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday has sent heads spinning. Taking to the podium for over 50 minutes, he addressed four themes that conjoin inextricably. With Pakistan not in any way a significant contributor to climate change, as a country, it faces considerable risks in relation to the melting of Himalayan ice, which could have significant implications for the water supply the country. Climate change is an important international concern, and Khan highlighted the plight facing developing countries that are not in any way the perpetrators of the problem but are often the net receivers of most of the disadvantages associated with it. His next subject referred to money laundering and how developing societies, often crippled by national debt due to the need to sustain various economic development initiatives, but being unable to do so without external assistance, has led to huge concern. Primarily, there is a huge drain on the nation’s finances when elites siphon off vital funds and deposit them in personal bank accounts in London and New York. However, when attempts made to retrieve these monies move forward, the legal systems of these countries prevent speedy solutions, leaving the affected nations no better off in the short or long term. Some of these lifted funds end up diverted to finance terror and so it is doubly urgent that this matter is concentrated on swiftly.
The emotional tone of his speech heightened when he moved onto the topic of Islamophobia. A complex, tricky and highly disputed term, the concept does contain a powerful message that aims to highlight what is effectively hate towards Islam and Muslims. However, I would not have imagined a national leader taking the podium at the United Nations schooling avid listeners on the nature of a form of vindictive, hateful and urgent racism that affects Muslim groups across the world by virtue of their faith, often in addition to their skin colour and cultural norms. Islamophobia has become hyper-normalised, not only in the global North, in places such as Western Europe and North America, where there are 40 million Muslim minorities, but also in the global South, in particular in places such as India, with its 180 Muslim minorities often on the receiving end of various forms of systematic racism. While Khan did not highlight this topic in this speech, the incarceration of over 2 million Chinese Uighur Muslims suggests globalising of these issues but with little by way of global attention on the matter. All of these outcomes are various manifestations of the Islamophobia, which has individual, structural, societal, cultural and legal characteristics. The final part of the speech was devoted to the topic of Kashmir, and rightly so given the urgency of the current situation.
The content of his speech on Kashmir highlighted a number of important concerns regarding the foundations of hate towards Muslims. Modi’s recent election victory on the back of pronunciations in relation to fighting terrorism and projecting a global vision in relation to greatness of India is directly from the pages of the playbook that we are witnessing in the US, in England, in parts of Europe and in Turkey. Various governments gain power when they demonise immigrants and minorities, thereby displaying all the xenophobic tropes seen in populism throughout the ages. The idea of the strongman facing down cosmopolitan elites, which is code for educated minorities working in the centre of power, culture and politics, is a way of shoring up the support of less-educated masses who are mobilised by the idea of the show of strength in the face of an internal menace at the hands of ‘others’. In the end, these politically authoritarian actors are merely shoring up their own status and privileges associated with cosying up to the billionaire class whose interests are in reducing taxes, securing offshore tax havens and being held to scrutiny as little account as possible.
In the case of India, there are concerns in relation to unemployment, imbalance in relation to regional economic development as well as inflationary pressures on the wider economy. Instead of addressed in terms of domestic social policy reforms, these issues are presented as outcomes created by undesirable ‘others’, permitting hate and anger to be vented in their direction rather than of governments whose responsibility it is to the entire nation. But in the further case of India, the rise of Modi has come alongside the demonisation of Muslims in India and elsewhere, especially towards Pakistan, which is seen as a harbinger of terrorism that is often exported to India by Pakistan. However, Modi has a history of looking the other way when Muslims are faced with pogroms, namely in Gujrat in 2002. With the ideology of the RSS embedded in the BJP, it is essentially a form of deeply held racism and casteism underpinned by anti-Muslim and anti-Christian sentiment as an attempt to evoke a sense of a pure race of Hindus. This politicisation of religion is akin to radicalisation, extremism and fundamentalism associated with similar processes in relation to other parts of the world when such outcomes are evoked under similar circumstances. For 56 straight days now, 8 million people have faced lockdown. They are being prevented from using telecommunications or travelling. Young people cannot attend schools, colleges and universities. Kashmir is unable to obtain important medical supplies for its peoples. The 70 years or so years of systematic oppression, marginalisation and exclusion at the hands of various Indian governments, which has now placed over 900,000 troops on the borders of Jammu and Kashmir, has reached a new level of despair. With stories of rapes, humans rights abuses, incarceration of young people in the tens of thousands, regular nightly rates and a strict curfew, it is no surprise that Khan uses the idea of an open prison to describe the reality facing these 8m Kashmiri Muslims.
While both sides have gone to war three times over Kashmir, the position of Pakistan has fundamentally changed in relation to the disputed territory. It now places firmly at the fore the view that the right to self-determination is the only solution to the Kashmir question. This is a major step and an important role in the light of the fact that the world often turns its eyes away from Kashmir because it sees it as a bilateral problem between India and Pakistan. In doing so, it silences the Kashmiris, but now Pakistan is taking a very different line, which places the hopes and futures of Kashmiris in their own hands.
There is no doubt about the fact that Pakistan has its own problems, and Kashmir has been an issue that has plagued the country for many years. Both US and India routinely accuse Pakistan of nurturing and training terrorists in the country and then exporting them to various neighbouring conflicts; however, this would be to deny the historical origins of this observation. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1980s, Pakistan was working alongside the Americans to train the mujahedeen, supplying them logistic, military and operational support. As the conflict with the Soviets ended in the late 1980s, these mujahedeen were effectively left on their own. Although trained, battle-hardened and still tribalistic, during a hiatus in the early 1990s, the formation of the Taleban came about as a way in which to prevent tribal killings, rapings and internecine conflict between the Afghans. By the mid-1990s, the Taleban were mobilised in relation to a radical Islam that emerges outside of the geography and its peoples — such is the way of radical Islam across the world. With the events of 9/11 drawing in Pakistan into the ‘war on terror’, over 70,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives, largely as a result of attacks on them by other Muslims mobilised by their own misunderstandings of radical political Islam. By the mid-2000s, the Islamisation of the country that began under the auspices of General Zia ul-Haq in the early 1980s took a turn for the worse as this radicalisation in Afghanistan spread into Pakistan. It has affected the experiences of minorities of every hue and faith, and it led to a diminishing of the recognition of the diversity of language and culture that was the mosaic of Pakistan when it was first established. General Pervaiz Musharraf had to introduce ‘enlightened moderation’ to disassociate himself and the wider country from the growing problems of political Islam within it and in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan and killed in Pakistan by US special forces in 2011.
Towards the end of Imran Khan’s stirring speech, he alluded to the idea that ‘Islamic radicalisation’ is not an ideologically religious phenomenon but one that emerges out of the context of oppression, systematic marginalisation and humiliating experiences at the hands of internal or external agitators whose means and methods exist to obliterate Muslims. The only way to defend against these kinds of attacks is by putting their ‘hand on the gun’, or in the case of Pakistan, the finger on the nuclear button. Such talk is certainly likely to arouse an embittered population in Pakistan who have never heard a national leader speak in such electrifying terms for at least four decades, with the last being the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, once again in the United Nations but in the early 1970s. However, this is the tragedy of the situation. Nobody wants war and certainly a nuclear war. Nobody wants innocent people to suffer such an inhumane existence. In the world today, there are too many people on the receiving end of systematic violence and oppression, exclusion and annihilation in certain cases, but too much of the world looks away in disdain, and this is arguably the most disturbing part of this recent political act by India in relation to Kashmir. Too much of the world is oblivious to what is going on or simply too disinterested to care. But when this happens, there is room for pockets of radicalisation across the Muslim world. And when then there is an incident, an entire faith or country is blamed. Action is taken against certain groups who are targeted en masse, and then it starts all over again.
The people of the world need to understand how the situation in Kashmir is a fundamental violation of every single human rights consideration on the planet. There can only be a diplomatic solution, especially in light of 70 years of toil and suffering. Exercising the right to self-determination of Kashmiri is the only solution to this malaise. The world needs to act now before it is too late.