As Pakistan Goes Under Virtual Dictatorship, US, India Celebrate ‘Democracy’, Partnership

By A Correspondent
“Real Hindus Don’t Lynch” – Indian Americans Protesting Against Modi in New York. (Photo courtesy @ashoswai)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Washington on a high-profile visit to cement his country’s relations with the US. The visit is happening in the backdrop of heightening US-China tensions, continuing war in Ukraine, Pakistan slipping under alleged military-lead and civilian-enforced dictatorship, questions about India’s human rights record, and shrinking civil liberties, especially its treatment of minorities including Muslims.

President Biden took to Twitter to release a photo of him and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden with Modi to welcome him at the White House.

Pakistan Singled Out on Alleged Terrorism
The 57-point joint statement posted on the White House website after the meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi singled out Pakistan on a familiar charge – terrorism. “President Biden and Prime Minister Modi reiterated the call for concerted action against all UN-listed terrorist groups including Al-Qa’ida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb-ul-Mujhahideen. They strongly condemned cross-border terrorism, the use of terrorist proxies and called on Pakistan to take immediate action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for launching terrorist attacks,” read the statement.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office rejected the statement, calling it “unwarranted, one-sided and misleading.”
More than 70 members of the House of Representatives and US Senate, all Democrats and led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), signed a letter to Biden urging him to press Modi on “the need to protect human rights and democratic values in India.”

The letter points to numerous reports about “the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organizations and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access,” in India under Prime Minister Modi’s watch.

However, the White House insisted President Biden did not plan to “lecture” Modi on human rights just three months after State Department listed “significant human rights issues” and abuses in India, including reported targeting of religious minorities, dissidents and journalists. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on the eve of Modi’s visit that Biden is expected to bring up US concerns about democratic backsliding and attacks on Muslims and other minorities in India, but he will not lecture Modi on the subject.

US politicians and sections of the Indian diaspora protested Modi’s visit by staging rallies against the Indian prime minister in New York and Washington DC.
US-India Joint Statement

They were not alone in urging Biden to press Modi on human rights. In a statement on June 20, Amnesty International said the US and India must address the grave human rights issues in both countries. “Prime Minister Modi has presided over a period of rapid deterioration of human rights protections in India, including increasing violence against religious minorities, shrinking civil society space, and the criminalization of dissent,” it said in a statement shared with Al Jazeera.

The US and India are expected to announce agreements related to defense cooperation and sales, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and investments in India by Micron Technology and other United States companies.

Modi arrived to a red carpet welcome in the US Capital amid high hopes inside the beltway that India will drift away from its largely neutral posturing on the world stage. But many in the US still do not consider India an ally. The Time magazine ran a detailed story on the eve of Modi’s visit, titled “India is not a US ally – and has never wanted to be“.

“Despite careful nurturing by Washington over the years, many aspects of U.S. ties with India remain challenging. Bilateral trade has grown tenfold since 2000, to $191 billion in 2022, and India became the ninth-largest US trading partner in 2021. But longstanding economic gripes persist, meriting 13 pages in the 2023 Foreign Trade Barriers report from the U.S,” said the Time report. “Trade Representative. Multilaterally, India’s role in the fast-consolidating “Quad” consultation (comprised of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan) has brought shared purpose to Washington and New Delhi, both of which harbor concerns about China. But New Delhi also champions alternative non-Western groupings like the BRICS, and it remains outside bodies central to U.S. diplomacy like the U.N. Security Council and the G7,” it added.

But strategic compulsions are the first victim of “values-based” foreign policy that President Biden wants the world to believe in. By not “lecturing” Modi on India’s worsening human rights record, President Biden is missing an excellent opportunity to prove his critics wrong. Washington can take its partnership with India to the next level without compromising the basic principles of US foreign policy – human rights, freedom of speech, association, worship and democracy.

Modi addressed a joint session of the US Congress on Thursday afternoon (June 22) which was boycotted by half a dozen Democratic members of Congress, including Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Modi has become the first Indian prime minister who has addressed the joint session of US Congress twice.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted she would boycott Modi’s speech, insisting a joint session of US Congress address should not be extended to “individuals with deeply troubling human rights records…engaged in systematic human rights abuses of religious minorities and caste-oppressed communities.”

 Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) also took to Twitter calling the honor given to Modi to address the joint session as s “shameful”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) justifying her boycott of Modi’s speech, accused his government of repressing religious minorities, emboldening violent Hindu nationalist groups, and targeting journalists/ and human rights advocates with impunity.

Why is the US less worried about the ‘dictatorship’ in Pakistan?

President Biden is also being criticized for ignoring human rights violations in India’s neighbor Pakistan where the military has allegedly imposed an undeclared martial law through its civilian allies — an alliance of 14 political parties. Thousands of opposition political workers belonging to Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf of former prime minister Imran Khan have been arrested under a brutal crackdown on political dissent. Pakistan Army high command announced earlier this month it will try civilians in military courts over the May 9 attack on the residence of the Lahore Corp commander, allegedly by PTI workers.

Khan vehemently denies the charge, demanding an impartial judicial inquiry into the incident. The military is yet to announce findings of any transparent investigation into the incident, unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a constitutional petition challenging the trial of civilians in military courts.

Americans of Pakistan descent and a growing number of embers of the US Congress have been lobbying the White House to press Islamabad on its human rights violations. The Pakistani American Political Action Committee (PAKPAC), a leading advocate for good governance and democracy in Pakistan, announced on May 18 that 65 Members of US Congress have sent a “powerful message” in a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on human rights and democratic backsliding in Pakistan.

International human rights and press freedom organizations have voiced grave concern over HR violations, shrinking civil liberties, and press freedom which have stalled the country’s march toward democracy. The government has blacked out opposition voices from the media with a blanket ban on giving coverage or even naming Imran Khan in television broadcasts. The action has been widely condemned, especially by Human Rights Watch.

Journalists critical of the government and the military are especially facing the state’s wrath. Media reported in recent days that Shaheen Sehbai, Wajahat Saeed Khan, Adil Raja, Syed Haider Raza Mehdi, Sabir Shakir, Moeed Pirzada and one other person had all been charged with offenses against the state and anti-terror laws.

Amnesty International and global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have said the cases against journalists under anti-terror laws violate the right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International asked Pakistani authorities to “end the use of offences against the state and anti-terror laws to silence critics.”

The RSF, in its statement, called for dismissing “ludicrous mutiny accusations in a complaint with no credibility” against Wajahat Khan and Shaheen Sehbai. “In view of the absurdity of the supposed incriminating evidence, we call on the Islamabad prosecutor’s office to dismiss this complaint, which should never have been received.”

Another journalist and a known critic of the government, Imran Riaz Khan remains missing weeks after his reported forced disappearance. Interestingly enough, the police and the state’s numerous intelligence agencies, including those under military control, have denied any knowledge of the missing journalist. Many in Pakistan fear Khan’s life may be in danger, especially in the light of Arshad Sharif’s fate who was brutally killed by unknown gunmen in Kenya last year. His killers remain at large as the Pakistani government has failed to make any meaningful progress in the investigation.

The State Department in its annual 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices earlier this year, raised concern over the significant human rights problems in Pakistan. But unlike its stance on Bangladesh, which has been brought under US visa sanctions regime for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid’s repressive policies, Pakistan and India are exceptions. Both are being treated differently. While human rights violations under Modi’s India are no issue for President Biden, his administration insists that the situation in Pakistan is that country’s “internal affair”

Michael Kugelman, the noted South Asia expert at Wilson Center, best summed it up in a series of tweets recently. “More broadly, the administration doesn’t want to risk getting dragged back into domestic politics in Pakistan, as it was when Khan accused it of colluding in his ouster-something folks here still haven’t forgotten, even though he’s toned down the “US conspiracy” rhetoric of late,” he said.

“Frankly, a simple statement issued by State Dept- expressing strong concern about any threats to freedom of speech and dissent in Pak-could go a long way. It could push back against the perception that US silence means endorsement and at least serve US public diplomacy interests,” he added..

 

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