Hong Kong, Kashmir And The Illusion Of Freedom In India

Compared to measures being taken in the Kashmir Valley, China's handling of the Hong Kong protests seems remarkably permissive.

Indian forces in Shrinagar, Kashmir, on Aug. 5
Indian forces in Shrinagar, Kashmir, on Aug. 5
Badri Raina


Addressing the National Urban Development Summit in Gurgaon recently, India's minister of state Rao Inderjit Singh lamented that China has been able to grow faster than India, which is "handicapped" by being a "democracy."

If the recent events in Hong Kong and Kashmir are anything to go by, the minister's claims are patently not true.

Just as the former state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a "special status' in India, Hong Kong has formally been a part of China, but with special provisions to its political life. Both regions have been struggling to retain these special provisions that were duly granted to them. In the Chinese case, the arrangement has been called "one country, two systems."

Chinese authorities have been facing massive public protests in Hong Kong against their sly attempts to disrupt the status-quo by seeking to pass a bill that would give authorities the right to extradite people facing trials to mainland China.

Chinese authorities may rightfully send in army units into Hong Kong. And yet, they haven't done so.

Protests have now continued for months and show no signs of abating, but the Chinese dictatorship has refrained from issuing shoot-at-sight orders to end the imbroglio. Instead, the Molotov cocktails thrown at the police are countered by tear gas and rubber bullets — and not pellet guns.

According to the terms of the distribution of powers between the mainland and Hong Kong, the authorities of the former may rightfully send in units of the People's Liberation Army into Hong Kong. And yet, they haven't done so.

Contrast that to the efficiency with which India's "democratic system" has dealt with Kashmiris. This writer was in the Valley until the last day of June 2019, a witness to a flourishing tourist season. No "unrest" of any kind was either visible or in the offing.

But without even the "mainstream" political leadership of the state knowing why, humongous measures began to be taken on one pretext or the other. A sniper gun mysteriously appeared en route to the Amarnath shrine that involved, as always, millions of visiting devotees. And overnight, government agencies, led by the honorable governor, began to suspect unprecedented "security" concerns. Before long, the yatra pilgrimage was cancelled and devotees and tourists turned back.

Several thousands of paramilitary forces were soon airlifted to the Kashmir Valley to take over every nook and cranny. All communication outlets and modes were rescinded, and schools and colleges closed. Moreover, hundreds upon hundreds of political leaders and workers, from the very top of "mainstream" parties, were "detained" and then "arrested." Media outlets wishing to carry out their constitutional obligation to report on events were stymied by the complete lack of communication channels and debarred from moving freely through the Valley.

To this day, since the momentous date of Aug. 5, Kashmiris within the Valley and outside have no way of making contact with fellow Kashmiris, including immediate family members. Prohibitory orders restricting the gathering of citizens turned to effective curfews, with even genuine curfew passes being issued to some media people honored in the breach.

Moreover, the decision to revoke the "special status' of the state was taken and implemented without one single citizen or political leader either being consulted or allowed to mount the right to peaceful assembly and democratic protest.

Students protesting in Hong Kong on Sept. 2 — Photo: Michael HϋBner/Geisler-Fotopres/DPA/ZUMA

Surely, Singh would agree that India's "democracy" did not "handicap" the government of the day from carrying out a whole gamut of draconian measures that no democracy ought to.

If anything, India's "democratic" system has found it easily possible to turn away concerned political leaders from the mainland from exercising their democratic duty to visit there and acquaint themselves with the conditions in which Kashmiris subsist in a province-wide lockdown.

As a consequence, India, like China, now has its own "Forbidden City": Srinagar. If China's Forbidden City was forbidden for the unseemly monarchical goings-on there during the days of decrepit dynasty rule, Srinagar is forbidden to protect people from a population that thinks too much and refuses to be bashed or coddled into compliance.

At the time of writing, a pall of invisibility had appeared to have fallen over the unfortunate state. Indeed, you may well say that if one effective way of solving people's grievances is to make them invisible, then the Kashmir imbroglio has been solved.

Not only have many media outlets been persuaded of the grave "security" imperatives requiring the virtual incarceration of an entire people, but even the chairman of the Press Council of India, a retired Supreme Court judge, has found it necessary in the name of national interest to intervene all on his own in the apex court, where a petition demanding the lifting of the communication shutdown is due to be heard.

The totalitarian Chinese state could draw a lesson or two in good governance from Indian democracy.

It is some consolation that other members of the Press Council have now objected to this suo motu initiative of the chairman and called it a "dangerous' thing. Singh now might agree that given these circumstances, the totalitarian Chinese state could draw a lesson or two in good governance from Indian democracy.

Ominously, there is no telling when — or if, and in what manner — the citizens of India in Kashmir will be handed back their fundamental right to life with dignity and to liberty, as stipulated in the all-important provisions of Article 21 of the Indian constitution. After all, the honorable prime minister is due in the United Nations General Assembly around Sept. 27 and, presumably, all must remain trouble-free until that event passes.

Meanwhile, as Kashmiris quiver in invisible cubby holes in order to ensure that Indian democracy is safe from millions of its citizens wishing to be heard about their own fate, millions of protesters in Hong Kong under communist rule continue to be allowed to gather and raise their voice on behalf of what they perceive to be their democratic prerogative.

One might well wonder whether it is the Chinese who are emulating democracy or the Indians who are emulating one-party, authoritarian rule.

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Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung


BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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