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Imran Khan to swear unwavering loyalty to Beijing for fresh Chinese loans

Pakistan is a broke nation today whose biggest lender is China. Since 1980, Islamabad has gone to the IMF 13 times seeking bail outs.

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Imran Khan

When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives in Beijing later this week, the newly-minted leader will have his task cut out: To secure fresh Chinese loans for his country’s hobbling economy.

Khan’s four-day visit, which begins on Friday, is also significant for Beijing, which is worried over the tardy progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Islamabad’s new government’s reported second thoughts on the project, a linchpin of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative.

“During his election campaign, he said some words against the Belt and Road initiative. We were worried if there would be some policy changes (if he came to power). But recently, I think, things have become better,” Wang Dehua, a South Asia expert at the Shanghai Municipal Center for International Studies, told IANS.

“This is Imran Khan’s first visit (to China) and will be a landmark one,” Wang added.

In the run-up to Pakistan’s general election earlier this year, Khan had slammed his predecessor Nawaz Sharif for alleged corruption in the Chinese-funded project.

Beijing grew more worried when the new government under Khan reportedly said Islamabad thinks the deals under the CPEC were “unfair” and wants to renegotiate them with Beijing.

“This was a misleading interpretation by the media,” Wang added.

Xi Jinping has poured about a trillion dollars into the Belt and Road project that aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through a vast network of highways, railways and sea lanes.

Of the allocation, China has pledged some $60 billion for the CPEC alone, the crown jewel of its connectivity project that aims to connect Kashgar in its restive western province Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the troubled Balochistan region.

Beijing knows the strategic importance of Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea which, once developed, will give China easy access to one of the most important trade arteries, the Straits of Hormuz.

China is building railways, highways and industrial parks under the framework of the CPEC, which, it says, will give jobs and bring prosperity to Pakistan. Islamabad too says this publicly.

The “iron-brothers” keep swearing unflinching loyalty to each other.

India has made no bones about its opposition to the CPEC as it claims the part of disputed Kashmir held by Pakistan through which the route of project is planned.

Besides this, the West sees the Belt and Road as a tool for Beijing to spread its geo-strategic influence and push poor countries like Pakistan into a debt trap by giving them high-interest loans.

When China and Pakistan inked the CPEC deal in 2013, Pakistan’s foreign debt was $61 billion, which now stands at about $95 billion. According to independent estimates, Islamabad owes $19 billion to Beijing alone.

Pakistani Railway Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad lent credence to these reports when he announced that Chinese investment in a rail project was being lowered from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion, citing his country’s inability to repay.

“CPEC is like the backbone for Pakistan, but our eyes and ears are open,” Ahmad said.

China vehemently denies the charge of “debt diplomacy”, saying the US is jealous of the success of the Belt and Road initiative and Beijing’s rise. It maintains that the CPEC has brought stability to the region.

Pakistan is a broke nation today whose biggest lender is China. Since 1980, Islamabad has gone to the IMF 13 times seeking bail outs.

When Khan made the 14th attempt, the IMF told Islamabad to disclose all the financial details of the CPEC about which China and Pakistan have been cagey.

Khan changed his mind, flew to “friendly” Saudi Arabia and came back with a $6 billion loan.

The leader, who has vowed to change the fortunes of Pakistan, will try his luck yet again when he meets Xi.

Asked if he thinks Beijing will give another loan to Islamabad, Wang said: “No comments.”

Beijing has sounded positive about granting new loans to Islamabad with the Foreign Ministry saying that China supports Pakistan in dealing with a difficult financial situation.

In the face of a bleeding trade war with the US and a slowing down of China’s economy, Chinese critics have begun questioning the way Xi is giving loans to other countries.

If Beijing extends another loan to Pakistan after sanctioning $2 billion earlier this year, it is to be seen what promise it exacts from Islamabad.

Also, Beijing would never want the US-dominated IMF to know about the financial details of the CPEC.
Khan is all praise for the CPEC now and might go back home happy. However, he might be conveyed Beijing’s displeasure over Pakistan raising human rights issues in Xingjiang.

In October, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister urged the Chinese envoy to soften the restrictions placed on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. A Pakistani minister telling the Chinese envoy to handle the situation was unexpected for Beijing from its “best friend.”

The issue of stability in Afghanistan is also likely to figure between both sides as Beijing wants a peaceful Kabul for geo-strategic reasons.

The two allies will also discuss America’s foreign policy. The US has turned the heat on China on trade and other fronts. It has scrapped military aid to Pakistan and signed a big defence deal with India.

“It is natural that Pakistan will move closer to Beijing in the light of the growing proximity between Washington and New Delhi,” Wang said.

(Gaurav Sharma is the IANS correspondent in Beijing. He can be contacted at [email protected] )

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Uttar Pradesh law on love jihad seeks to divide communities, writes Kapil Sibal

The Ordinance also goes against the right to privacy. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing their partner’s religion

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Love Jihad

When laws are motivated by communally divisive agendas, they breed suspicion within communities, resulting in a sense of alienation. That in turn negatively impacts societal peace and harmony. Occasionally, it leads to sporadic violence. When such laws attempt to interfere with personal relationships or emotive issues of choice, which are at the heart of individual freedoms, the outcomes are even more disturbing. That explains why matters relating to marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance polarise dialogues and attitudes.

Such agendas germinate a majoritarian culture pitting “us” against “them” and give birth to electoral majorities. The road to power then becomes a relatively easy enterprise. The rise of right-wing assertions, a global phenomenon, is based on such engineered societal divides. The Uttar Pradesh government’s recent promulgation of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, relating to “Love Jihad” is yet another attempt, in a string of communally charged initiatives, aimed at reaping electoral dividends.

Love jihad is a concept the contours of which are blurred. However, in simple terms, all that it means is that if a Muslim boy, in love with a non-Muslim girl chooses to marry her and she embraces Islam, such a union will be looked upon with suspicion by the law and is liable to be declared void. This strikes at the root of individual liberty since such a union cannot be held to be legally suspect. It strikes at the core of the ‘right to privacy’, which is protected constitutionally.

The Ordinance also targets mass conversions, which have taken place in the past. These include conversions to Christianity in the 1930s, to Buddhism by Dalits in the 1950s and Mizo Christians to the Jewish faith in the 2000s. Those seeking to convert allure marginalised castes and tribes with hope, dignity and material enticement. Dr Ambedkar, disenchanted with the caste structure of Hinduism, converted to Buddhism.

The reasons for such mass conversions are complex and need to be addressed separately. Under the proposed law, those guilty of mass conversions are liable to face a jail term extending up to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. While it is justifiable to prevent conversion based on force, coercion, undue influence, misrepresentation and allurements, it is difficult to prove these elements if a Muslim boy and a non-Muslim girl or vice-versa exercise their free will to marry for reasons that are entirely personal. The reason why non-Muslims convert to Islam is because the children born in wedlock would otherwise be excluded from inheritance under Muslim law.

Absent this conversion, the union of a Muslim with a non-Muslim or vice-versa will be a difficult proposition. That is why the intent of the proposed law is suspect as it seeks to target conversion and not marriage. The Ordinance provides that in an interfaith marriage, if one of the partners wishes to embrace another religion, that person will have to inform the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate in writing at least two months in advance. A format of the application seeking permission for conversion will be provided by the government.

Under the proposed law, it would be the responsibility of the person embracing another religion to prove that such person was not converted forcibly or through fraudulent means. Those who abet, convince or conspire are also liable to be prosecuted. Any such violation of the law would entail a jail term of six months to three years and a minimum fine of Rs 10,000.

Marriage between two people is personal to them. It allows either of them to opt out of the marriage. In addition, the person victimised is free to allege use of force, coercion, fraud, undue influence or misrepresentation against the other. In the absence of any of these, it is unthinkable that the law mandates a person who voluntarily embraces another religion to seek permission to prove that the decision was not actuated by any of those elements. Reversal of the burden of proof in matters of personal choices of a life partner may be legally unsustainable.

The obligation to seek permission for conversion two months in advance is fundamentally arbitrary and a violation of the ‘right to privacy’. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing the religion of the partner. The state can certainly regulate acts of forced conversion but the starting point of such regulation has to be a complaint made by the individual who opts to convert. In most of these cases, it is the parents who complain that their daughter has been fraudulently enticed into a relationship and is a victim of forced conversion.

The Ordinance allows members of the family of those who convert or any relative to lodge an FIR. This makes the Ordinance an instrument of harassment in situations where interfaith marriages are voluntary.
We have seen this being played out in Hadiya’s case in Kerala. The couple went through trauma when Hadiya’s husband and some organisations were targeted for allegedly having induced her to convert to Islam. This was despite the fact that she constantly denied the allegations, asserting that she had embraced Islam voluntarily and much before she had met her husband.

The drama was then played out in court after the Kerala High Court held the marriage to be void on grounds that there was no reasonable explanation given by Hadiya for her marriage to a Muslim without the consent of her parents. Finally, while appearing personally in the Supreme Court, she unequivocally stated that she had married her husband of her own free will and converted to another religion much before her marriage. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was asked to investigate the circumstances in which Hadiya had married and converted.

The NIA decided to widen its investigations. From a list of 89 such marriages, it investigated 11 cases and in the absence of prosecutable evidence, all such matters resulted in closure. The bottom line is that the Ordinance serves a political purpose. It is yet another way to polarise our polity. The issue is emotive and seeks to divide communities. The constitutionality of such a legislation when challenged should be decided with utmost speed. The court, hopefully, will find such laws to be antithetical to the constitutional ethos and our civilisational values. Any attempt to delay adjudication would only be playing into the hands of those intending to divide and not unite India.

This article first appeared in the newindianexpress on Nov 30, 2020 under the title ‘The perils of an economic oligarchy’. The writer, a senior Congress leader, is a former Union minister.

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China to build dam on Brahmaputra river despite concerns raised by India, Bangladesh

China will implement the hydroelectric project downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River (Brahmaputra River) in 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), said Yan Zhiyong, chairman of Powerchina which is tasked to build it.

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xi jinping

Beijing: In yet provocation amid the ongoing India-China standoff, Beijing is moving ahead with plans to build a hydropower project on Brahmaputra river in Tibet likely to have an impact on lower riparian India and Bangladesh.

The proposal for the same has been made in the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan and is slated to be implemented from next year.

“China will implement the hydroelectric project downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo river in 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and its long-term goals through 2035 made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China,” said Yan Zhiyong, the chairman of Power Construction Corp of China (Powerchina), tasked with the construction of the project, according to government mouthpiece Global Times.

As expected, the Chinese leadership is viewing the project from a security lens as well.

“The project could serve to maintain water resources and domestic security,” added Yan while speaking about the project at a conference on Thursday.

“There is no parallel in history… it will be a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry,” Yan told the conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering.

The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035 were adopted by Plenum – a key policy body of the Communist Party of China (CPC)- last month.

The details of the project will be released after the formal approval of the same by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) in early 2021.

Implications for India, Bangladesh

The proposal for building a dam on the Brahmaputra river, which originates in China, has sparked concern in lower riparian states India and Bangladesh. Beijing has downplayed such fears.

As a lower riparian state, India has rights to the waters of the trans-border rivers under international law. The Indian government has earlier expressed its concerns to Beijing and urged it to ensure that the interests of downstream states are not harmed by any activity in upstream areas.
Yan added that the hydropower exploitation of the Yarlung Zangbo River downstream is more than a hydropower project. It is also meaningful for the environment, national security, living standards, energy and international cooperation.

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SFJ annouces $1M aid for agitating farmers, agencies vigilant

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

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Farmers Delegation

New Delhi: As thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are rallying at Delhi’s three interstate border points, banned secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is trying to fish in troubled waters by announcing $1 million aid for farmers who suffered injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action in Haryana.

The information has sent security agencies into a tizzy, with many deployed on protest spots in plainclothes to keep a close tab on SFJ supporters who may mingle with protesters as part of their “ill-intention” to lure innocent farmers and take undue advantage of the situation in the name of helping them.

In its recent announcement through a social media platform, the SFJ said it will provide $1 million aid to farmers from “Punjab and Haryana who have suffered bodily injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action during their hard-fought journey to Delhi”.

The SFJ’s message mentions its plan for opening a 24-hour call centre on November 30 in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany to accept online applications from farmers of Punjab and Haryana to reimburse for their losses and also to register votes for its “Khalistan Referendum”.

“SFJ is kick-starting the Khalistan Referendum voting from London on August 15, 2021 for the independence of Punjab,” mentions the message circulated by SFJ’s US-based General Counsel and group’s key leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun — designated a terrorist by the Indian government.

Assuring farmers of Punjab and Haryana that the SFJ will bear all the losses they have suffered, Pannun stated that “once Punjab is liberated from Indian occupation, the loans of the farmers will be waived and free power supply granted”.

The group has also threatened to take up the matter at the international level if the Indian government did not repeal its three contentious farm laws enacted in September.

“If the Modi government does not scrap the farm bills, as demanded by the farmers, SFJ will initiate legal action against India at the international level with the backing of various kisan organisations,” Pannun said in the message.

Security establishment, including anti-terror agencies, have since intensified efforts against the group banned by the MHA via a notification dated July 10 last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) following its “anti-India activities” to disrupt law and order in the country.

However, the security officials maintained, no suspicious activity of the group has been noticed in the national capital or in the interstate border areas so far, even as central agencies are keeping a strict vigil to avoid any untoward activity.

It is the third such message circulated by the SFJ in the past one week. The SFJ earlier this week had called upon farmers of Punjab and Haryana to raise Khalistan flag at the India Gate here on the 12th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, following which the national capital was put on high alert.

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

The move followed inputs that the Sikh community across India has rejected the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored propaganda of ‘Referendum-2020’. Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has been backing the malicious campaign launched by the SFJ as a large number of Pakistani Twitter handles have started tweeting in favour of the so-called ‘Referendum’.

Dubbing Sikhs in Kashmir as “freedom fighters and Sikh soldiers”, the US-based Khalistani radical outfit has urged them to support its most infamous agenda, ‘Referendum-2020’.

The group is already on the radar of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has been taking action against its key leaders such as Pannun and many others. In the beginning of September, based on NIA’s inputs, the MHA had issued an order to attach the properties of Pannun and SFJ’s Canada coordinator Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

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