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Music as a Tool of Conflict Transformation?

Posted in Education, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia on September 29, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

“I have waited and dreamt of this moment for years…We only want to do good. Music must go out from here to all our friends everywhere… To all Kashmiris,” said world renowned conductor, Zubin Mehta on 7 September 2013 while leading the orchestra in the famed Mughal Garden in the heart of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side.

The concert, organized by the German embassy in New Delhi, was perhaps the first of its kind in the troubled Kashmir, in which the famous Bavarian State Orchestra of Germany played Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky. The orchestra also played Kashmiri music in conjunction with a Kashmiri ensemble, led by Abhay Sopori. The concert titled Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (the feel of Kashmir) can be watched  here.

 Expectedly, the music program received opposition from separatist leaders, who called for protests against it. Some opposition groups organized a parallel concert titled Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (the reality of Kashmir) in the city. The good thing that can be observed is that the protests took the shape of another music concert, not violent demonstrations and bloodshed.

Can music be an instrument of conflict transformation? Putting it in another way, can music like other forms of art such as dance and drama, literary fests, etc. play an effective role in changing the mind of leaders and their followers who seek resolution of conflicts through violent methods? Particularly in the case of Kashmir, which has a rich Sufi culture and various  musical traditions, how far can such an occasion can be  a catalyst in moderating the violent positions of the parties?

Before the start of the program, German Ambassador John Steiner  told the audience that the concert is a tribute to the people of Kashmir and their culture. In his words, “The distance between Munich and Srinagar is 7,756-km. Today, the distance reduces to zero. German and European cultural heritage bow to Kashmir, to its history, to its beauty and to its difficult reality and journey.”

Such a program also took place in 1955 when the Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin visited the valley.   However, in the 1990s the separatism took a violent turn with support from across the border and also with repressive measures by the Indian security forces. The violence led a whole generation of Kashmiris, who were born and brought up in those years, to question the very status of Kashmir and turn towards violence under the guidance of radical leaders.

But one can notice that even the separatist leaders  were divided on this concert. Some of them questioned the very organization of the program by Germany in a disputed territory and called the move a ploy to showcase that everything is normal in Kashmir. While some others described the expensive event as a waste of resources which could be diverted for poverty eradication or development purposes. The Nawaz Sharif government of Pakistan, a party to the conflict, remained muted concerning the concert. This indicated the moderate approach of the newly elected government to the conflict, and its interest in cultivating friendly relations with India.

Music, which  is not essentially religious, has often been a victim of radicalism in Kashmir. Radical groups in Kashmir like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Dukhteren-e-Millat, Jaish-e-Mohammad, etc. perceive music as antithetical to religion. Besides music, they perceive freedom of expression and gender equality in the same way. In that sense, they share same values and ideas with other radical groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pragaash, an all-girl rock band in Kashmir, which was getting popular in the region due to its avant-garde music, had to vanish within months of its emergence due to threats from these radical groups.  In contrast, another girl of Kashmir origin in Pakistani city of Karachi, Maha Ali Kazmi has become popular due to her romantic song Nazar, which can be watched here.

Any observer with having a sense of reality of the Kashmir conflict, and an understanding of the reality of national, regional and global politics in the post-cold war globalized world will be comfortable in arguing that neither the rigid positions of  India  and Pakistan, nor the separatists are going to be realized.  The official Indian position that undivided Kashmir is an integral part of India, and Pakistan’s official position of supporting Kashmir’s right to self-determination (with the hope that it will merge with Pakistan), are  matters of the past. This was realized  in the early 2000s when both  countries decided to make the border flexible, allow people- to- people contacts and commence cross-border trade. I have argued in my monograph ‘ Making Kashmir Borderless‘  that a borderless Kashmir with free flow of goods, ideas and people across the border (while retaining the symbolic division to satisfy national egos) will perhaps be the most feasible solution to the protracted conflict.

The South Asian subcontinent, which includes India, Pakistan and the undivided Kashmir, shared a common history and many aspects of culture. This is no truer than in case of music and drama. Noted Bollywood actors like Balraj Sahni, Dev Ananad, Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Kapoors and a host of others hailed from Pakistan, while noted Pakistani singers like Mehdi Hassan, Munni Begum, Reshma and many others hailed from India. The history of cross-cultural linkages is indeed legendary. The famous Sikh shrine Nankana, the birth place of Sikh religion founder Nanak, lies in Pakistan, while the famous Sufi shrine in the name of Chisti, frequented by Pakistani Muslims, lies in India. As a friend from Pakistan told me, it is the vested interests that create most of the problems. Common people, busy in the daily routines of life, want to live in peace and enjoy themselves. The concert early this month sends this message. More such events should be organized in both parts of Kashmir with support from New Delhi and Islamabad.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD candidate 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.

 

‘Softening’ the Border in Kashmir

Posted in Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia with tags , , on July 11, 2013 by michaelkeating


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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

One of India’s federal ministers, Farooq Abdullah, who earlier served as chief minister of  the Indian part of Kashmir, recently argued for ‘softening’ the border in Kashmir. Drawing inspiration from the European Union, Abdullah argued, “This (soft border) has transformed the socio-economic landscape of entire Europe and I do not see any reason why Indo-Pak region will not progress and prosper once there is mutual trust and strong bonding between the two nations.”

Abdullah’s argument may no longer sound novel as a number of arguments and steps over the last decade have been made for a softer border in Kashmir. Some of these have produced significant results. What is important is that despite recent border skirmishes or developments, like the death of an Indian citizen in a Pakistani jail, the leaders of India and Pakistan have not resorted to the old saber-rattling. Rather, they have focused on those aspects of bilateral relations which can be cultivated despite the persistence of the conflict. India and Pakistan can mutually gain in trade without sacrificing their national interests. The leaders realize that in the post-cold war globalized world territorial conflict and rigid borders cannot be perpetual drags on the path towards development. Therefore it is no surprise that the Line of Control (the official name of border in Kashmir) is increasingly viewed as a line of cooperation, communication and commerce. As Abdullah rightly argued, “Opening of roads will herald a new era of understanding, give boost to trade, commerce and tourism and above all open new vistas of people-to-people contact, which he described held key to peace and stability in the region.”

The election of a new government in Pakistan in May 2013 can be considered significant for the discussion on Kashmir’s borders. The Indian leader’s pronouncement can be seen in light of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif’s indication that he would take effective steps to address contentious issues between the two countries. In one of his recent interviews to an Indian reporter, Sharif narrated how his parents, both Kashmiris, had migrated from Kashmir to Punjab before partition of the Indian subcontinent. Sharif’s intention to develop cordial relations between the two countries can be seen in his invitation to his Indian counterpart to his swearing in ceremony few weeks back. It was during Sharif’s tenure as prime minister in late 1990s that India and Pakistan had initiated a number of significant confidence building measures including the cross-border bus service between Indian capital New Delhi and the Pakistani city Lahore in 1999.

It was after 1999 that the peace process gained momentum. In 2005, one border crossing connecting the capitals of both parts of Kashmir (Srinagar and Muzaffarabad) was opened. This step was called the ‘mother of all peacebuilding measures’ as it was in the wake of a six decade old conflict that such a step towards softening the border was taken.  In 2006, another cross-border point connecting Poonch, in the Indian part of Kashmir to Rawalakote in the Pakistani part of Kashmir was opened. Initially these two crossing points were opened for people-to-people contact but in 2008 they were opened for trade. There are many other cross-border points (some of which are branches of the Silk Road), which were operational before the partition and Indo-Pak wars. These can be reopened. Kashmir is well connected from within and as an economic unit the parts under the control of India and the parts under the control of Pakistan complement each other, and their reopening will foster economic growth in the region. A flexible border will also facilitate meeting of thousands of divided families who have been separated since decades due to abrupt division of Kashmir after the wars. The rigid border has sliced their culture and identity because Kashmir as a whole had enjoyed an integrated identity (called Kashmiriyat) for centuries.

It may appear farfetched to argue that a flexible border in Kashmir implies resolution of the conflict. But, it certainly implies management of the conflict by focusing on common interests of the rivals in a non-zero sum game framework. There is considerable literature which argues that poverty and underdevelopment contribute to conflict. Addressing these problems help in managing the conflict and opening ways for its resolution. The two routes (mentioned above) have already proved effective in not only facilitating meeting of divided families and helping them to think out of state-centric frameworks, but also in promoting trade between the two parts of Kashmir.

Sharif is likely to adopt policies to make the border more flexible. The initiatives to make the border flexible will prove beneficial for both India and Pakistan. For Sharif, it will boost his image in India and in the world that he is serious about cultivating peace in bilateral relations. For the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, known for his statement “India will go an extra mile (for peace with Pakistan),” Sharif’s peace initiatives will silence hardliners in India and help his political party in the forthcoming general elections. Such policies will also help the people of both parts of Kashmir as they will bring them closer and help improve their economic condition. A flexible border, in sum, will benefit all stakeholders to the conflict.

 

 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.

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

Arvind Mahapatra's profile photo

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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.

 

Disasters Defy Borders

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

Arvind Mahapatra's profile photo

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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.

Downward Spiral of India-Pakistan Relations?

Posted in India, Kashmir, Pakistan, South Asia on March 24, 2013 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

India-Pakistan relations, in the aftermath of the execution of a Kashmir Muslim in the last month, have reached a new low. Though Kashmir witnessed turbulence after the execution, the bilateral relations appeared to have sailed smooth despite border skirmishes in January. The initial pronouncements of Pakistan were cautious and Indian leaders also downplayed the sensitive issue as it was linked to one of the most protracted conflicts in South Asia. Despite the border skirmishes in January and the execution in February, the common assumption among the stakeholders in the conflict was that the relations would continue smoothly and none of the parties would  sacrifice the accumulated peace of the past decade and return to old methods of violence.

Developments during the past weeks, however, indicate that the relations are spiraling downward. On 14 March, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the execution of Afzal Guru by the Indian government and demanded that the body of Guru be returned to his family in Kashmir. The body of Guru was buried in Delhi’s Tihar jail as the Indian government was apprehensive that delivering the body to his family in Kashmir might fuel the separatist spirit in the region. On the next day, the Indian Parliament  passed a resolution condemning Pakistan’s resolution and accused their neighbor of interfering in India’s internal affairs. It further reiterated the old nationalist position that the whole of Kashmir is an integral part of India. The resolutions of both the houses of the Indian parliament stated that they reject “Pakistan’s interference in the internal affairs of India and calls upon the national assembly of Pakistan to desist from such acts of support for extremist and terrorist elements.”

On the same day India cancelled the bilateral hockey series that was to be played in India next month. India’s apex hockey body, Hockey India stated, “The bilateral series between India and Pakistan has been cancelled as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not give us permission. The MEA had sent a fax to us yesterday, asking us not to host Pakistan or travel to the country for the series.” Pakistan’s hockey authority reacted sharply and observed that such acts only vitiate the already tense atmosphere between the two countries. Pakistan also threatened to boycott the world junior hockey championship to be held in India in December.

In the case of both countries, it appears that current political situations triumphed over genuine concerns of peace and stability in the volatile Kashmir. As Pakistan is going to elections in few months, the resolution aimed at appeasing the right wing political spectrum and hard line religious groups in order to win elections. Pakistan also shelved the idea of granting Most Favored Nation status to India, mainly keeping an eye on the forthcoming elections. In Pakistan’s elections Kashmir plays a crucial role, and the issue is so much ensconced in national psychology since the partition of the Indian subcontinent, a hard line position on the disputed region proves a vote catcher. Though Kashmir does not play a key role in Indian elections, Pakistan is often portrayed as the spoiler of the peace process. Some of the hard liners have gone to the extent of suggesting that the Indian government  declare Pakistan an enemy state. They have criticized Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh as dovish. Singh had earlier made his famous conciliatory statement that India would ‘walk the extra mile’ to buttress peace with the neighbor. As the elections season is too gearing up in India, the ruling party in New Delhi also appeared eager to display its hard-line image before the public to garner votes. Hence, the Indian parliament’s resolution on the day after  the Pakistani resolution was not a surprise.

The incidents since January (detailed here and here ) set the trend for this downward spiraling. In the past decade such events took place but they did not dampen relations for such a long time except in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attack. Particularly after the civilian government came to power in Pakistan in 2007, the peace advocates were hopeful that the ‘irreversible’ peace process would continue till its logical end in terms of transforming conflict in Kashmir. But as the recent developments indicate, the relations have gradually taking a downward turn in a steady manner. Manmohan Singh declared few days back that ‘business can not be as usual’ with Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Raza Pervaiz Ashraf was in the Indian city of Ajmer for a religious visit to the famous Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Contrast this visit to the visit of Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari last year in April. Zardari on his return had stopped in New Delhi and met Manmohan Singh. This year’s visit clearly reflected the increasing distance between the policy makers of both the countries. India’s foreign ministry spokesperson stated that “The Pakistani Prime Minister is not visiting New Delhi and no substantive discussions are scheduled to be held in Jaipur (where Indian government was hosting a lunch for him on his way to Ajmer).” The recent developments have certainly contributed to widening the gap in the already fragile relationship between the countries. Unless the leaders mend the relations and restore the trust, the downward spiral may prove dangerous.  They have fought four wars, diverted huge funds for building arms, and both possess nuclear weapons.

If there is a thread of hope in the increasing tangle of pessimism, both  countries planned to go ahead with the earlier schedule in forming the India-Pakistan Business Forum on 15 March. The forum would facilitate trade between the two countries. As per the current plan the fifteen member forum is to meet every six month, and deliberate on issues of bilateral trade and investment.  It needs emphasis that in case of India-Pakistan relations politics precede economics. Unless the tense political relations are mended, the economic initiatives may not work as the hardliners in both sides will attempt to jeopardize trade between the two countries.

 

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.

Kashmir on the Brink

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 17, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The Indian subcontinent remained tense after Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was executed by the Indian state on 9 February 2013. Guru was executed in New Delhi’s Tihar jail as his clemency plea had been rejected by the President of India six days earlier. He was convicted by India’s highest court as one of the main culprits behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, which resulted in the killing of 9 people, mostly the security guards at the entrance of the building. As the Parliament was in session with many law makers inside the building, a successful attack could have crippled India’s legislature.

As Guru  was a Kashmiri, the execution was perceived differently by various actors. Had he belonged to a different constituent unit of the Indian federation, the event woulkd not have received such wide attention. Though there is a constituency in India that opposes the death penalty as an antiquated method of retributive justice, the opposition appears insignificant in the context of the contentious nature of Kashmir. As the news spread of Guru’s execution, there were huge protests in Kashmir valley, with protestors clashing with the security forces, leading to death of five Kashmiris. The coming days may witness intense violence, unless India plays an active role in addressing the concerns of the people.

As Kashmir is perched between India and Pakistan, with both claiming  its territory in totality, the event has a larger fallout. They have fought four wars, and now both wield nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson expressed caution and said he “would not want to go into details of the trial process” as the matter is “being discussed and debated by the media and the human rights organizations.” He, however, reiterated Pakistan’s support, “we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express our serious concern on the high-handed measures taken by India in the wake of Afzal Guru’s execution to suppress the aspirations of Kashmiris…” Though Pakistan’s civilian government adopted a cautious approach, the extremist organizations in Pakistan like Jamat-ud-Dawa, one of the affiliates of the extremist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, organized protests in various Pakistani cities. The head of the Lashkar, also the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 that killed about 200 people, promised revenge against India’s act.

India attempted to downplay the execution with its home minister issuing a statement to the effect that the law has taken its course. The execution, he argued, was a matter of justice and there is no politics involved in it. According to him, “this (the execution) was not a political decision. It was done as per law.” Some analysts, however, see it as the government’s attempt to buttress its image as a tough actor in countering terrorism. The rightist political parties, however, expressed jubilation at the execution, while the leftist parties termed it an attempt by the government to appease the rightist parties.  India also undertook harsh measures to control protests in the valley by declaring a curfew, banning media and communication technologies, and detaining prominent separatist leaders of Kashmir. India aimed at preventing another 1984 like situation, which had witnessed the spiraling of militancy in the valley, leading to the death of thousands of people and earning Kashmir the sobriquet ‘the most dangerous place of the world.’ In 1984, a Kashmiri Muslim named Maqbool Bhat was executed by New Delhi in the same jail. His execution fuelled pent up frustration of the Kashmiri people and acquired violent shapes with support from across the border.

In the Kashmir valley, the situation continues to remain tense. Any linkage of the execution of Guru with injustice and suppression of Kashmiris by India may generate further violence and jeopardize the peace process. The militant organizations may use the situation to destabilize the region. The separatist leaders in the valley condemned the execution and argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. One of the prominent separatist leaders, Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, currently on a visit to Pakistan, criticized the execution as a ‘sinister design’ of India, and announced four-day mourning.  The argument of the separatists may have some merit as there are other convicts in Indian jails, who have not been executed yet despite being given their death sentence before Guru. The youth of Kashmir are likely to be mobilized to continue protests unless swift measures for restoring dialogue and trust is undertaken. The youth of Kashmir, born during the heydays of militancy, have witnessed death and destruction with their own eyes. It may not be very difficult on part of extremist leaders to inject in some of the disenchanted youth the spirit of violence and cause havoc in the region. This may be easier than earlier due to spread of communication technology. Some of the separatist leaders also perceive the ongoing protests as a prelude to a ‘color’ revolution in the style of the Arab spring.

The year 2013 so far has not been propitious for peace in South Asia. January witnessed border skirmishes between India and Pakistan with each accusing the other  of violating the ceasefire. The current events will further complicate the already fragile peace process. Recently the Indian prime minister argued that the peace process can not continue unless Pakistan addresses India’s concerns. In Pakistan there also prevails a sense of frustration as, despite a decade of relative peace, Kashmir remains a protracted conflict as both parties are hesitant to give up rigid positions. The radical constituency may get emboldened by the recent developments and revive the old methods of proxy war, extremism and terrorism. Such a development will not be beneficial for India and Pakistan. Perhaps India can take the lead in breaking the logjam in initiating dialogue with Pakistan, while simultaneously addressing the alienation of the people of Kashmir. As advocated by Pakistan’s US ambassador, the US, which enjoys friendly relations with India and Pakistan, can nudge both the countries to foster peace instead of cultivating animosity. Needless to add, peace between India and Pakistan is a major key to peace in Kashmir.


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.

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.