Differing Agendas in South Asia


Once again, India and
Pakistan are on the brink of war. The two countries have fought wars with each
other in 1947, 1965 and 1971, and fought smaller clashes in 1999 and various
other times. This time both states have nuclear weapons. The current crisis
began December 13, 2001, when a group of terrorists attacked the Indian
Parliament. The Indian government claimed that Pakistan was responsible, because
the insurgent groups that have been fighting the Indian government in Kashmir
(and committing terrorist atrocities in the process) are based in Pakistan.
India claimed that if the U.S. could attack Afghanistan for being a terrorist
base, so could India attack Pakistan. The logic is the same. India was correct.
The logic is the same, and just as the U.S. attacking Afghanistan is a disaster
for millions of people, so a war between India and Pakistan would be a disaster
for millions of people.

The U.S. bears
considerable responsibility for the crisis in South Asia. It used Pakistan to
fight its proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Pakistan, in the process,
created a network of terrorists with connections to its military and
intelligence services that it can no longer control. At the same time the new
Bush doctrine, which states that those who harbor terrorists are as deserving of
attack as terrorists themselves and that nations in their “self-defense” have
the right to issue ultimatums and unilaterally judge the response and carry out
punishment, provides India with a precedent for escalating the conflict.

For me, a leftist
from the third world living in the first world, there is a certain difficulty in
criticizing the Administration of a third world country, like India or Pakistan.
Such criticism already abounds in the mainstream and there isn’t really a need
to present scathing criticisms of the corruption or brutality of the elites of
such countries. Nor is there a lack of lamentation about the terrible poverty,
ill health, lack of infrastructure and protection of human rights suffered by
the people of such countries. What is lacking in the mainstream, first world
press is an analysis of the role first world states play in this— the legacy of
imperialism and the imbalance between north and south, rich countries and poor.

Another danger in
criticizing third world states is that the current world is one where the
militarily powerful, especially the U.S. and the UK, are looking for pretexts to
intervene in third world countries. When they do intervene, they commit huge
atrocities and do not solve any of the problems they claim to want to solve. But
they love the veneer of legitimacy that selective human rights defenders and
critics of third world elites can provide. Those who seriously want to prevent
atrocities, regardless of who is committing them, don’t want to provide such
pretexts for intervention.

So why criticize
third world regimes?: because the criticisms are true. Atrocities are
atrocities, and not liking the atrocities of big, imperial powers ought to imply
not liking the atrocities of regional powers or imperial allies or independent
terrorists. Another reason is because the people of third world countries are
suffering not only from the actions of first world elites, but from their own
elites as well.

But the most
important reason to be critical of third world states is because it could have
some positive impact. India is a big country, a regional power allowed some room
to maneuver by the great powers (unlike small countries like Haiti or Guatemala)
with a free press and important activist movements. In India, informed dissent
can contribute to constraining state violence. Even the most powerful states or
the most dictatorial can be moved to act more responsibly by international
attention and pressure.


India-Pakistan Conflict

The conflict between India
and Pakistan over Kashmir is complicated. India’s status as a regional power
with greater resources compared to Pakistan has led to Pakistani elite fears
that Pakistan could not survive without alliances to other powers, such as China
and the U.S., Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S. and the distorting effects this
has had on Pakistan’s internal politics and foreign policy has helped
destabilize the region. From this geopolitical standpoint, both states have
reasons to fear for their security, contributing to the escalating arms race
between the countries.

Another layer is
the nationalistic one. India and Pakistan were both part of British India and
the history of South Asia shows the border between the countries to be somewhat
artificial (like most borders in this world). Both India and Pakistan are huge,
multireligious, multiethnic countries. Both have histories of suppressing and
accommodating separatist movements. Pakistan is a Muslim state by constitution,
while India is a secular one. (Writers have pointed out the irony that in
2001-2, the leader of Muslim Pakistan is a secular general and the leader of
secular India is a Hindu communalist). At its founding, Pakistan had two parts,
East and West Pakistan, separated by India. East Pakistan broke away from West
Pakistan and became Bangladesh in 1971 in a war between India and Pakistan.
Pakistani nationalists fear that India has never really accepted Pakistan’s
existence and so every conflict with India, every concession made to India, is
over Pakistan’s survival. Indian nationalists have a similar fear of a domino
effect. If Pakistan can separate because it is a Muslim country, what of the
other 200 million Muslims in India—would they separate as well? What about
linguistic separatist movements? Is India to be divided into many, many
homogeneous units that can then be easily dominated by the great powers?

Still another
element in the conflict is the specifically communal one, as distinct from
nationalism. Not only are there the interests of states and the nationalist
objectives and fears for the future of these states and their continuing
territorial integrity, power, and so on, there are also attempts to change the
political basis of both countries. The ultimate goal of the Hindu right in India
is to turn India into a Hindu state. The goal of the Islamic right in Pakistan
is to get rid of whatever secularism remains in the country (and throughout the
region). The weapons that these elements use are the usual ones: political
violence of various kinds, scapegoating of minorities for economic problems, the
suppression of dissent and free expression, and mobilization on the basis of
communal identity, not on the basis of shared political or economic agendas.

South Asia is
desperately poor. Its population lacks access to basic education and health
care. Its land and resources are not used for the benefit of its population, but
for local elites and international corporations. It lacks the infrastructure
needed to prevent natural events from becoming disasters that kill hundreds of
thousands of people. Basic human rights are not protected by governments and
political participation is highly constrained, especially by the failure of
popular education, but also by arbitrary police and military power. Many of
these problems are becoming worse over time, not better, in the face of economic
restructuring, free market fundamentalism, communalism and now the “war against
terrorism.” There is an urgent need for a re-orientation of South Asia’s
capacities and resources towards the development of its own people and away from
World-Bank-led megaprojects, export-led “growth,” and war. This re-orientation
is the agenda of many South Asian social movements, like those in the National
Alliance of People’s Movements in India (but also many others).

The political
leadership in South Asia is (with important exceptions) mostly drawn from its
most economically privileged classes. They aren’t inclined to embrace a social
agenda that would lead, by empowering the people and to their own
disempowerment. Even if they were, they know they would have to contend with the
great powers if their decision to work for a social agenda conflicted with the
agenda of the rich countries. They are inclined by their position and their
ideology to pursue nationalist and state objectives, justify them using national
and communal ideologies, and to try to contain and divert the social agenda and
social movements. It is this kind of shell game that led both nations to
provocatively test their nuclear weapons in 1998 and is probably partly to blame
for the current flare-up as well.

Why do the people
of India and Pakistan go along with this? The first answer is that they do
not—as social movements that reject communalism and struggle for survival and
justice attest. The second answer is because, economically and politically
disempowered, they settle for national or communal agendas as a consolation
prize. The third answer is fear: if others are mobilizing on communal lines and
in the absence of a strong secular alternative, you have little choice but to do
so yourself, lest you find yourself surrounded by enemies and without friends.

There are clearly
a number of conflicting agendas in South Asia and not all of them can win. The
state and national agenda, especially in alliance with “globalization,” seems to
crowd out the hope of a social agenda. South Asia can afford to feed an arms
race or its people, but not both.


Democratic Solution for Kashmir

The starting point for any
solution in Kashmir is the self-determination of Kashmiris. But
self-determination is so vague that those who have acted in violation of it
(India and Pakistan) have claimed that they are defending it.

Even though most
of the history of Kashmir is one of “Kashmiriyat”—a unique syncretic culture
where Hindus and Muslims coexisted—there are significant regional differences
within the state. Ladakh is a predominantly Buddhist part of the state that
borders China. Jammu is predominantly Hindu, ethnically Dogra, where the people
feel closer to India than to Pakistan. The Kashmir Valley, predominantly Muslim,
on the Indian side of the “line of control” (the “border” between India and
Pakistan), has been suffering a counterinsurgency war that killed about 3,000 in
2001 and about 34,000 in the past 11 years, according to Amnesty International.
On the other side of the line of control, encompassing part of the Kashmir
Valley, is Azad Kashmir (or Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir or PoK) controlled by
Pakistan, where human rights violations have also been reported and where some
of the militant groups that have committed acts of terrorism in Kashmir and in
India are based. Any solution would have to take into account this complexity
and protect the autonomy of all of these different groups.

A plebescite is
not a panacea. A plebescite is necessary, to be sure. But there are some
additional thorny questions. Will there be a single vote for all of Kashmir or
will there be a vote for each of Ladakh, Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, and Azad
Kashmir (PoK)? Muslims are a majority in the valley and, in Kashmir overall.
Hindus are a majority in Jammu. Buddhists are a majority in Ladakh. Separate
plebescites for Jammu, Ladakh, and the valley would probably yield, depending on
the options voted on, a very different outcome than a single plebescite for the
state as a whole. What would the options voted on be: total independence (for a
landlocked new country, which in practice could guarantee its domination by the
U.S. or by its big South Asian neighbors), accession to India, accession to
Pakistan, partition? Plebescites, elections—votes of any kind are part of a
democratic process, as is people formulating options together, discussing them,
communicating freely, debating in a free press, associating freely. A democratic
solution for Kashmir means that the Kashmiris get to do all of this. For this to
happen, both India and Pakistan have to stop using Kashmir as the site of their
power games and start taking the social agenda of Kashmiris, as well as the rest
of South Asians, much more seriously.

So Pakistan must
stop supporting terrorists and so must India stop violating human rights in
Kashmir. There is no reason why both states cannot stop doing this right now, no
reason one side has to wait for the other to do their part, and no reason they
do not, except that social pressure from the people hasn’t reached strength
sufficient to compel them to do so. But movements all over South Asia are
fighting to do just that.                                               Z

Justin Podur maintains ZNet’s South
Asia Watch