South Asia Summary: August 21-24, 2021

ThePrint’s “India’s Domestic Politics Makes China-Pakistan Nexus More Potent in Taliban Era” is a good place to start this summary. Conventional wisdom in India, it says, holds that Kashmir is most vulnerable to the surge of terrorism that is feared will pour out of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, but actually it is the trunk of the body politic that is most vulnerable. If the Taliban is not what it was 20 years ago, nor is India. It is now divided by the Hindutva ideology of the ruling BJP, as well as numerous social and economic problems. In order to check Indian attempts to link up with an American-led alliance, “China can be expected to continue to pin down India’s scarce resources by keeping its sword poised on the Northern borders…The timing of the blow will be decided by the signs of India regaining its strength and it would be carried out by Pakistan but done in conjunction with China. An orchestrated upsurge in the Northern border tensions can be combined with a terrorist attack by Pakistan.

The author, a retired general, is quite specific about the targets that a Chinese-Pakistan alliance might hit. He says it “must have religious significance and should be accompanied by significant loss of Hindu lives. Targets in the Indo-Gangetic belt [the Hindutva heartland] would be the preferred choice due to the deep polarization” already manifest in India.

As if on cue, a debate on conducting the first caste census in nearly a century is starting to pick up steam in India. The last time this became a hot topic, about 30 years ago, it gave birth to the Modi version of the BJP, Hindutva 2.0, as an article in The Hindustan Times calls it. This was a marriage of the older, Brahman-dominated Hindutva with lower-caste politics. The marriage was built on “vilifying the Muslims”, it says. When the VJ Singh government of 1990 tried to mobilize lower-caste voters, the BJP responded with its notorious, ritualized march on Ayodhya.

Interestingly, a piece in Muslim Mirror maps out a parallel process among India’s Muslim communities: “It is now a well-known fact that a majority of Muslims share the socio-cultural and ethnic heritage with their…’Hindu’ counterparts”. If Muslims have needed to shower greater solidarity with each other in post-Ayodhya India, as with Hindus, this has had the effect of papering over their own, internal caste issues. The net effect is that caste-based inequalities, as well as gender/ethnic/class inequalities, tend to be ignored and therefore preserved.

Northeast India, with its mixture of local ethnic groups, Bengali-speakers, Bangladeshi refugees, and rising Hindutva may be an early indicator. Assam currently has less than 45 days to complete construction of “detention centers” for Muslim residents who cannot prove that they are citizens of India, according to India’s The Telegraph.

Perhaps Pakistan represents another aspect of this attempt to resolve real internal differences by appeal to “an illusory monolithic religious identity”. Thus, with the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we see an uptick in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Yet Afghanistan is the missing link in the grand scheme to tie Central Asia, AfPak, and China to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan, both as the corridor through which infrastructure will pass and as the geopolitical sword of Damocles that hangs over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor already being put in place. Getting India and the US out of Afghanistan is the first step. Dealing with the Taliban and its sympathizers in the region is the next.

Right now, assuming that India is behind at least some of the attacks on Chinese assets and individuals in Pakistan, it does not look eager to give a Chinese-Pakistani alliance an easy go of it. China’s The Global Times points its fingers at two countries: “In this region, some US and Indian intelligence forces keen to infiltrate into Pakistan have held a hostile attitude toward China’s BRI. Blocking the development of the BRI has become their main target to contain China’s rise. And, the terror attack that targeted Chinese engineers who worked for the Dasu hydropower project is said to be fuelled by the Indian intelligence agency.”

What is more, it speaks almost as if China were willing to make the kinds of commitments the US made in Afghanistan in AfPak. First, demanding that the Taliban “strike the terrorist forces that were groomed in Afghanistan but now active in Pakistan. This is a window through which China could observe the new government of Afghanistan”. Second, “China will not only support Pakistan to strike a heavy blow to [Balochi] terror forces, but also warn all the external forces [the US and India] to stay away from those terror forces. Once China obtains evidence that they support terrorist forces in Pakistan, China will punish them.” China may have a much greater geostrategic interest in Gwadar than the US had in Afghanistan. Whether Chinese meddling in AfPak will be any more appealing to the region than the US presence was will have to be seen.

The Sri Lankan government is under increasing pressure to show whatever progress it has made in its investigation of the Easter bombings of 2019, and it is under a degree of pressure by some Muslims who object to the new Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

In Nepal, a ranking member of India’s BJP met with various political leaders there to conduct “wide-ranging discussions”. Opinion pieces continue grumbling about the rule-by-ordinance that Deuba’s recycled prime ministership has recycled from his opponent and predecessor.  Dissatisfaction with the current system of government is making some question the federal, secular republic and long for a ‘unitary Hindu’ state, according to Nepal Live Today.

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