Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

Archive for the 'Ethnic Conflict' Category

What Drives Conflict?

Posted in Conflict Minerals, Ethnic Conflict, Fragile States with tags on March 26, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

 

That’s the question being asked by USAID and Humanity United who are jointly sponsoring a contest to see who can come up with the most innovative solutions to identify the drivers of conflict and to help communities prevent or at least prepare for it.  The The Tech Challenge Contest is offering prizes of up to $10,000 for the most innovate project proposals.

A Turning Point in Kashmir?

Posted in Ethnic Conflict, Kashmir, South Asia with tags , , on January 16, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by    Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

While the New Year celebrations are still on high gear, Kashmir mourns the death of soldiers on both sides of the border. India and Pakistan have traded charges against each other, and from the maze of these allegations and counter allegations the truth emerges that relations in the first month of 2013 have soured. Though the death of three soldiers, one from Pakistan and two from India, during cross border firings does not indicate a decisive reversal of the peace process, it certainly adds suspicion as to whether both the countries will go along this year in fostering peace or will indulge in endless saber rattling.

Pakistan alleges that the Indian army killed one of its soldiers on 6 January 2013 in a cross border firing incident. India alleges that Pakistani soldiers crossed the line of the control (the official term for the border in Kashmir) and killed two Indian soldiers on 8 January 2013. The tense relations afterwards spiraled up with both the countries summoning each other’s High Commissioner (Ambassador) to their foreign offices and issuing démarche. Pakistan closed one border crossing point at Poonch, operational since 2006 for travel and trade. Its foreign ministry called for the United Nations intervention for an investigation into the charges of both the countries. The Indian defense minister accused Pakistan of violation of bilateral agreements and the Indian air force chief threatened exploring ‘other options’ to address the issue.

For the first time the ceasefire at the line of control, declared by India and Pakistan in 2003, has been violated. Though there were violations earlier, none of them had received wide national and international attention and led to death of soldiers. The last decade remained largely peaceful, raising hopes for a resolution of the conflict through means of bilateral dialogue and deliberation. Leaders of both the countries termed the peace process historic and irreversible. Despite various set backs such as the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, or on Mumbai 2008, the tense atmosphere did not jeopardize the peace process. The peace process had gathered momentum since 1999 when then Indian prime minister boarded a bus from New Delhi to Lahore. The later years witnessed cooperation between the two countries, and as a result the impregnable line of control was made flexible, people were allowed to meet, and intra-Kashmir trade commenced.

The question now arises: will the new year skirmishes soon be the past and both countries will positively reshape relations? Or will they further escalate, thus dampening the hopes accumulated over the past decade? At present, in the charged atmosphere, it is difficult to predict the course the relations will take. But the premonitions are not that good. First, as Pakistan is going to hold general elections this year, and India the next year, Kashmir which is a vote catcher may get renewed attention not as a crucible of peace but as an issue in national prestige to be fought over. Jingoism may trump over sobriety during these election years. Second, as the countries pass through raging problems – in Pakistan the menace of extremism and terrorism and economic stagnation and in India the cases of massive corruption and law and order problems accompanied by public anxiety and protests – Kashmir may become a diversion from crucial national issues.

Wise counsels will likely prevail on the leaders of both the countries despite extremists on both sides of the border vying for blood. One of the Indian leaders called the peace process a sham and argued for stern measures against the rival . Extremist groups in Pakistan, including the one behind the Mumbai attack, called for more violence as a means to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. The top leaders of both  countries did not speak the language of violence, though the cloud of suspicion and frustration is visible in their press statements. India called an emergency meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security to deliberate the ongoing situation. Its defense minister, while accusing Pakistan for the stalemate, termed the recent developments ‘tragic’ and ‘provocative.’ (For details see here.)  Pakistan’s foreign ministry protested against the ‘unacceptable and unprovoked’ attacks by the Indian army. (For details see here.)

India appears cagey at the suggestion of the Pakistani foreign ministry about the involvement of the United Nations for an investigation of the issue. Pakistan has evinced interest in an investigation led by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a UN mandated body established in 1949 following the first Indo-Pak war. India opposes any third party mediation in Kashmir and refers to the Shimla Agreement, signed by the two countries in 1972 following the second war that mandates the two countries for a peaceful and bilateral settlement of the conflict. Pakistan’s insistence and India’s reluctance for UN mediation may further dampen the relations. While the pressure from the US and the United Nations may help defuse the tension, it requires firm resolve on part of the leaders of both the countries to work for peace and tide over the current turbulence.

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

The Challenges for Burma’s Icon of Democracy

Posted in Burma, Democratic Development, Education, Ethnic Conflict, Fragile States, Rule of Law with tags , , on October 6, 2012 by michaelkeating

CPDD’s Aung Tun, a journalist and Burmese activist, reflects upon the challenges facing Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s gradual thaw.

 

 

Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has concluded her two weeks visit to the US, her first visit here in over 35 years. Having been released from over 15 years house arrest, she has proven that she deserved the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can give, awarded to her for her consistent leadership of the democratic movement in Burma. She is also the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

We Burmese are very, very proud of Aung San Suu Kyi’s achievement and her courage as well as her decades long leadership of our so long oppressed country’s democratic movement. She is rightly viewed all over the world as a symbol of democracy.

Though Aung San Suu Kyi is free now, and is touring around the world in her new role as a key legislator in the Burmese parliament as well as a symbol of our struggle for democracy, so many important questions about the transition to democracy in Burma, renamed by the military government in 1989 as the Union of the Republic of Myanmar, remain. We have to be able to differentiate between what’s a real transition to democracy in Burma and what’s a faux transition.  We can’t afford a mistake.

Here are some important issues that need to be addressed.

The Constitution:

The Constitution, which was one-sidedly approved by the previous military regime, reserves 25% of the seats for the military.  The holders of these seats are not elected.   This needs to be changed. Though the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made changing the Constitution a priority, there is currently no way the NLD can change it since her party, though elected, is still not more than 10% of the Parliament.  Changing the Constitution requires approval at least 75% of the members of parliament. For a real democracy to flourish, the Constitution needs to be changed. Will it be possible to change the Constitution before the next election in 2015?  No clue yet.

The Ethnic Issue:

Burma has more than 100 ethnic minorities, most of them speaking their own language and having their own customs. This diversity would be wonderful if Burma was a federal state like the US.   But it is not.  In Burma, the government is highly centralized and the military still has enormous power.   As a result, the government has waged, and is still waging, civil war against many of these ethnic minorities, fighting, for example, against the Karen minority for over 60 years.  Even though a fragile ceasefire has recently been reached with the Karen, intensive fighting is underway in the Kachin state, in the northern part of the nation on the border with China, turning thousands of civilians into refugees. Recently, there has been much publicized ethnic violence in the Arakan state. As long as a reliable federal system cannot be established, ethnic issues will not be resolved, national reconciliation will be hindered, and consequently poverty, social, and economic development issues won’t be solved. Will Burma be able to solve its ethnic problems?  Again, no clue yet.

Education:

Burma’s higher education system has fallen apart. Universities and colleges throughout the country are inadequately staffed, have virtually no facilities, do almost no research, and have few qualified teachers. It is almost a waste of time for students in the universities. To solve this problem, Burma needs to change the educational system to allow educational institutions a healthy degree of local autonomy instead of total government control, as is the case now.   Total government interference in educational affairs is disastrous in terms of producing well-trained public service workers and highly needed skilled workers for the private sector.   Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other parliamentarians, most notably Daw Tin Nwe Oo, have proposed important educational reforms, but they have yet to be voted on. Burma needs a thriving group of intellectuals to help build the country’s future. Until meaningful educational reform is enacted, it won’t be easy to build a healthy and lasting democracy. So, will the educational system be reformed?  We will have to wait and see.

Economy:

Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia during the 1930s and 1940s. The country was the world’s biggest rice exporter at that time. Even today, at least 60% of the nearly 60 million people in Burma live in farming households. The previous military regime seized farmland by force and established crony capitalism.  Now, farmers are holding big demonstrations demanding their land back. It is not clear if the current government and the Parliament will be able to solve the problem.   The economy was also hurt by the sanctions imposed against the military government by the international community.  Now the sanctions imposed by the US will be lifted soon with Daw Aung  San Suu Kyi’s approval.  Will lifting the sanctions benefit the people at large? This, too, on the waiting list.

In sum, Burma is a changed place compared with previous years. No one can deny this. However, whether the Burmese people can create a thriving democracy remains to be seen.