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Sharif Victory Offers an Opportunity for Improved Pakistan-India Relations

Posted in Conflict Resolution, India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Peacebuilding with tags , , , on May 20, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

Pakistan last week completed democratic elections with the political party Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) emerging victorious. Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh congratulated the leader of the party, Nawaz Sharif, even before formal announcement of election results. Sharif invited the Indian Prime Minister to attend his swearing-in ceremony and accepted India’s invitation to visit New Delhi. He will be prime minister for the third time. The Indian political class expressed hope that the new establishment in Islamabad will accelerate a peace process between the two countries, which has been moving laggardly since the Mumbai attack of 2008.

The good news is that the outgoing government is the only democratically elected government inPakistan’s 66 year history that lasted for constitutionally defined five years. Most of that history witnessed rule by the army. Though Sharif was elevated twice to the post of prime minister, he could not complete the terms. Last time he was deposed from power in 1999 by then army chief, Pervez Musharraf. The same year in February Prime Minister Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee had met in Pakistani city of Lahore to sign the Lahore Declaration to foster bilateral relations and move forward to resolve contentious issues. Within four months of the declaration, the bonhomie in relations evaporated as war took place along the line of control inKashmir. The war was allegedly initiated by Pakistani army chief Musharraf without Sharif’s agreement. It was only after US President Bill Clinton intervened and summoned Sharif toWashingtonand told him to withdraw forces that the war came to an end but at considerable loss for both the countries. The differences between Sharif and Musharraf increased and as a result the powerful army under Musharraf removed Sharif from power in October 1999. The world was not surprised at the development asPakistanhad a history of the army overthrowing democratically elected leaders. While Sharif is now poised to be the leader of the country, Musharraf is now under arrest due to various charges.

Sharif is a businessman turned politician. He belongs to the most populous and wealthy state ofPunjab. He emerged as a political leader under the rule of another military dictator, Zia ul-Haq, who ruledPakistanfor 11 years after deposing the democratically elected founder of thePakistan’s People Part (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. For Sharif, coming to power after a gap of 14 years, the challenges have increased manifold. When he was deposed from power there was no Pakistani-Taliban link on the horizon, there was no 9/11 or the desire to oust the Taliban from power inAfghanistan. There was no large scale proliferation of home grown terrorist networks with links with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Though these may pose new challenges, the old challenges in the form of the power rivalry between army and government, managing relations withIndiaand addressing contentious issues likeKashmirwill be equally daunting.

The Indian political class hopes that Sharif can play an effective role in fostering bilateral relations. The PPP led government was perceived weak and plagued by corruption. It was engaged in a power tussle with judiciary. The leader of PPP, Asif Ali Zardari was perceived a weak leader, accused of corruption. The Supreme Court of Pakistan had insisted on pursuing cases against him. Sharif, based inPunjab, is perceived to be a strong leader and has a relatively clean image. However, the challenges before him are numerous. With regard to extremism and terrorism, Sharif has to checkmate their mushrooming growth and their impact on Pakistani polity and society.

During the election campaign, Sharif had promised to initiate dialogue with the violent groups, and hopefully he would fulfill his promise in initiating dialogue with these groups and bring them to the path of peace. But this will be a daunting task. InPakistan, there are large number extremist groups with different ideologies. On the basis of their targets they can be categorized as India-centric (Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad), Pakistan-centric (Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan), Afghanistan-centric (Taliban, Haqqani network), ethnic-centric, targeting Shias and other ethnic minorities (Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan) and world-centric (Al Qaeda). Sharif will have to use his political acumen in tackling these forces, while taking on board the army and other political parties in crafting policies against them. He may face problems in this regard. Some sections of the establishment, particularly the intelligence agencies and sections of army, may be inclined to shelter some terrorist groups as a strategic tool.

In the case of Pakistan’s relations with India, Sharif has to resume his old policies of promoting friendly relations with its most important neighbor. As India’s Prime Minister stated in his congratulations to Sharif, “The people of India also welcome your publicly articulated commitment to a relationship between India and Pakistan that is defined by peace, friendship and cooperation.”  The relations during the last four years have not been that cordial and particularly after the border skirmishes in the beginning of this year, and the death of an Indian prisoner in Pakistani jail this month, the relations have soured further. Sharif and Singh will have to build the relations in areas which are less controversial like trade, and gradually move towards addressing contentious issues like Kashmir. The forthcoming visit of Sharif to India will hold a lot of promises for the bilateral relations.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also a fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy in the same university.

 

A Perilous Peace in Sri Lanka

Posted in Conflict Resolution, Democratic Development, Disarmament, Human Rights, South Asia, Sri Lanka with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Mukesh Chandra Baral

March was a muddled month for Sri Lanka. In the capital, Colombo, a Sinhalese Buddhist mob was filmed hooting and clapping around a destroyed clothing warehouse owned by a Tamil Muslim. The mob pelted stones on a vehicle while policemen stood by. After a week, in Kilinochchi, reportedly a mob damaged the party office of Tamil National Alliance and smashed vehicles belonging to the party. The party accused the police of not taking any initiative to quell the attacks.

The lawlessness in the country trails the three-decade long civil war that ended in May 2009. Thousands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) fighters, along with their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, were killed. The death toll is estimated to be eighty to one hundred thousands. The civilian casualty is believed to be around forty thousands. The civilian death has been the most contentious issue since the beginning of the war.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, at the 22nd session of United Nations Human Rights Commission, which ended on 22 March 2013, world powers were pressing Sri Lanka for accountability. They wanted an investigation of horror and the atrocities allegedly carried by the government forces against Tamils during the Civil War. The session concluded with a US-sponsored resolution on human rights seeking an adequate progress in investigating killings and disappearances, mainly the brutal months at the end of the Civil War. The government spent most of March denying the past atrocities and legitimizing the ongoing mobocracy.

The call for accountability is not new for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshya. The UN resolution in 2012 had asked him to investigate and prosecute the violators. He had also agreed to implement the findings of Report of the Secretary- General’s Panel, which had found the allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and the government credible. But, ‘accountability’ does not look like a priority for President Rajapaksa.

His response towards any report on human rights violation by his administration has been ‘denial’. ‘Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) focusing on restorative justice, did just that. The Commission formed by the government started the investigation but quickly cleared the military from the allegation of deliberate attack on the civilians. Other human rights group pointed out that the investigation was flawed but the LLRC took no further steps.

Accountability peddlers

The United Nations is not the only one asking Sri Lankan Government for meaningful action. EU has long joined United Nations for accountability. United States, India, Canada, and Britain are some other powers on board. While speaking during the UN resolution, the Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated US’s demand for accountability. The resolution was backed by India, one of Sri Lanka’s close neighbors, exerting further pressure on Sri Lanka. Indian government seems very concerned. It has historical reasons to be reluctant. But, it is constantly pushing Sri Lankan government for accountability.

The Commonwealth Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in November 2013 has become another headache for Sri Lanka. David Miliband, a powerful MP from the British Labor Party, is lobbying publicly to shift the venue of 23rd Commonwealth Summit. Canada is one of the toughest Sri Lankan critics among the Commonwealth nations. It has been demanding independent investigation of the atrocities since 2011.

There are other organizations like International Monetary Fund which have demanded accountability on part of the Rajapakshya administration. Sri Lanka needs to show results along the line of accountability, unless it wants to stick with countries like China for all support. No doubt, the issue has turned into an agony for Sri Lanka

Dictator in the making

The Daily Mirror, one of the prominent newspapers of Sri Lanka, in March printed pictures of an inauguration of a memorial museum by the president. The museum restored a bus and depicted monks killed by LTTE. The pictures published were disturbing and provoking. Above all, the pictures were approving the Civil-War narration of the Sinhalese majority, the victor. One could only imagine the mass impact of the museum in the long run. The war is over, but the conflict, it seems, still exists. Three decades of war has solidified an enemy image that needs to be addressed. But instead, the president himself is inaugurating the sites of one-sided narrations. That is not only intensifying the injuries but also creating further divisions between Sinhalese and Tamils.

But, president does not seem concerned about it. Probably, he is paying back for the landslide victory of 2010. Thanks to the election, his party holds clear majority in the parliament. His close relatives who constantly conform his moves are in power. His older brother Chamal Rajapaksa is the Speaker in the parliament. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa is the Minster for Economic Development. Another brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the defense secretary. His niece Nirupama Rajapaksa is the Minister for Water Supply. He has already a 24-year-old son in the parliament. No wonder, he is blamed for promoting nepotism in the country.

Analyzing the power distribution and the chain of events, it can be argued that he is seeking more power. This January, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke was impeached and forcefully removed from office. The Supreme Court later ruled the Parliamentary Select Committee’s presiding unconstitutional. But the president did not appear to be concerned about the ruling. He appointed his legal advisor Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice, in the midst of the Bar Association protest. The Parliament has long removed the presidential term limits. All these developments suggest that he is going for the third term. But, does he have a plan to remain in power even after? In other words, is there a dictator in the making? Well, the developments suggest, the probability is high.

 

Disasters Defy Borders

Posted in Conflict Resolution, Education, India, Kashmir, Natural Disasters, Pakistan with tags , , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter on the Pakistan-Iran border,  impacted countries as far away as India, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and others. The earthquake that took place on 16 April 2013 was not as devastating as the one that took place in Kashmir in 2005, the impact of which spread across the borders of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. Though it was of a lesser magnitude (7.6) than the recent one, it devastated parts of Kashmir and killed more than 73 thousand people. As I was doing field studies in Kashmir those days, I could feel how disasters defy state borders , and how they provide a  a hard lesson, that conflicting nations must develop common mechanisms to address these disasters and address the issues of conflict in a peaceful manner.

Like the border areas between Iran and Pakistan, the border areas between India and Pakistan (including disputed Kashmir) are located in seismic zones.  These areas, part of the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountain range, are rich in flora and fauna and other natural resources, particularly water. Due to the rivalry between the two neighbors, these common resources are not properly harnessed as they are in a disputed area, which both claim as part of their territory. These resources are also neglected when they are devastated by natural disasters like earthquakes. The impact of 2005 earthquake could have been minimized had the rivals joined their hands in time and started rescue operations together. Thousands of lives could have been saved. Bilateral mistrust and the stereotyping of the images prevailed even during this disaster, at least in initial days. As Kashmir is highly militarized, the rivals feared that allowing the neighbor might lead to revelation of military secrets.

The recent earthquake serves a call to the countries of South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan, to transcend the narrow thinking and old policies of rivalry, and think in terms of collective gain in times of collective crisis. The earthquake killed about 9 people in Mashkel area of Baluchistan in Pakistan. About 1000 mud houses were damaged in this area. In India the tremors were felt far and wide including the national capital territory Delhi, and provinces including Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Kashmir also felt the brunt of the earthquake, though no casualties have been reported so far.

The 2005 earthquake was far devastating for both the countries and the region of Kashmir. The earthquake took place on 8 October. Kashmir, particularly the part under the control of Pakistan, was most devastated though Kashmir under India’s control too was affected. There were some devastated areas, though under Pak control, which were easily accessible from the Indian side. Pakistan initially hesitated and its then ruler, Pervez Musharraf cited the reason of ‘local sensibilities’ for not accepting Indian offer of assistance. It was after some days of the disaster that Pakistan accepted the Indian offer but by that time many people, who could have been rescued, died under the rubble  or due to injuries.

If it can be counted as a positive impact at all, the earthquake did impact the mind of leaders of both the countries. Both the countries agreed to open five crossing points in Kashmir for cross-border movement of humanitarian assistance. Till that year, the border in Kashmir was closed for 58 years. The Chief Minister of the Indian part of Kashmir called the opening of border and cross-border movements a  ‘historic confidence building measure.’ Many novel ideas such as a joint Indo-Pak natural disaster committee, opening of more border points for meeting of divided families, pilgrimage and trade were mooted. In that sense, the earthquake impacted the conflict dynamics in the Indian subcontinent. The year 2005 and the years aftermath, particularly till the Mumbai terror attack in 2008, were termed the peaceful years in Indo-Pak relations. The peace process was labeled ‘irreversible.’

The Indo-Pak relations, however, can not be subject to a linear pattern. The relations are unpredictable. Mistrust is so deeply ingrained in the national psyche of both the countries, and so openly flaunted by the leaders, it becomes difficult to consolidate gains from confidence building measures. The relations are also plagued by another problem. In the case of India, on matters of foreign policy including relations with Pakistan, the political elites in New Delhi adopt a unified position despite differences in ideologies, whereas in the case of Pakistan there seems to be a tussle between the civilian government based in Islamabad and the army based in Rawalpindi in matters of policy making. While democratically elected governments may be more inclined towards democratic means of conflict resolution, the army may prefer to adopt a rigid line. Though the leaders both the countries apparently realize that the conflict can not be sustained for long as it demands a heavy cost in terms of arms preparedness (while significant sections of people in these countries are poor), they still play old games to incite popular passion to remain in power. Unless these leaders change their approach and impart a culture of peace to their national constituencies, it is difficult to think in terms of sustainable peace in the subcontinent. The earthquake in 2005 imparted a lesson in this direction. Perhaps the recent earthquake will goad the leaders to think more in terms of peace than in terms of war and violence. Even if it brings a little change, that will be worth of it.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow in the Center for Peace, Development aand Democracy.

Looking for Peace

Posted in Conflict Resolution with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Katherine Walter

Over the past few weeks I have tried to put into words what peace means to me. After the Marathon Monday Bombings in Boston rwo weeks ago, I feel as if this might be in the thoughts of others. So here are a few impressions from a journey that can be very personal for all of us.

First, I have to say that I feel very grateful to be surrounded each day as I go to school by those who strive for peace. I am constantly rejuvenated as I feel of their spirits and passion.

Second, as I was watching the General Conference that my church does twice a year there was a talk about personal peace. It was given by Elder Quentin L Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church. His talk encompassed a lot of what I have come to find as important in my journey for peace. Here is the link to his talk, where you can either read or watch here.

There is a specific thought from his talk I would like to highlight on the principle of agency. Agency allows us to choose a variety of good things that will enrich our lives. But, this same agency is what allows others to act in ways that bring “pain and suffering…even when caused by things we do not understand.” He continues later saying, “We all long for peace. Peace is not just safety or lack of war, violence, conflict, and contention.”

I personally believe that part of peace comes from being true to yourself and those around you. We all have the capacity to be an influence for good and peace in the lives of others, if we choose to. How amazing is that?

Finally, I want to turn to the organization Ultimate Peace. Today I attended the panel and presentation given by the kids who participate in the program. Here is a quick description given on the flyer that was distributed through e-mail,

Ultimate Peace builds bridges of friendship, trust and understanding among Arabs and Jews from Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank, using the character building sport of Ultimate Frisbee as context. The program started in 2009 and supports youth to apply valuable gains off the field.

Check out the website! They are amazing! I was so impressed and inspired by these kids. The last question asked was if they thought peace was possible. Their responses had a similar theme that not only have they changed and feel more peace, but it can and has changed the lives of the people around them.

What happened in Boston last week will be with all of us in many different ways. But, for many of us this was our first glimpse at the reality of frequent violence that exists for people all over the world.

What if we tried better to promote peace person to person as these kids have? What would change for us, or for those we interact with? How can you reach outside of yourself this week to touch another  life?

Katherine Walter is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at UMass Boston.