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Music as a Tool of Conflict Transformation?

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


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


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


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.


Kashmir on the Brink

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



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.

US Policy in Africa : Through the Lens of Anti-Terrorism

Posted in Africa, Education, Mali, Peacebuilding, Terrorism, Tuaregs with tags , , , , on November 26, 2012 by michaelkeating


Michael Keating


Here is a rare public presentation by the leader of the US Military’s Africa Command (Africom), General Carter F. Ham. While there is nothing surprising here there is commentary on the U.S. military’s position on the upcoming effort to oust rebels from Northern Mali.  The General makes no bones about the fact that it is a very complicated situation given the intertwining of criminal, terrorist and political actors.

I think you are right to identify the presence of illicit networks, illegal trafficking in persons and drugs and weapons, financing – this is certainly present in the same region and the networks upon which that illicit trafficking is conducted are the same networks that support the terrorist organizations operating in northern Mali. One of the efforts that I think is important in an overall campaign plan – not just military – are to find opportunities to separate out the criminal aspects, separate out the politically motivated entities, and focus specifically on the terrorist presence and deal with the political in different ways.

The General goes on to say that he views the planning as an African affair with strategic inputs from the Americans and Europeans, presumably the French. He makes no mention of Special Forces involvement of the kind that is underway in Central Africa in the pursuit of Joseph Kony, but then again he is unlikely to telegraph strategy at a public gathering.

While the opportunities for a negotiated settlement seem dim, it is not at all clear that a force of ECOWAS alone troops will be trained and equipped  enough to oust a band of heavily armed determined fighters who have had two years to dig in. Furthermore, as the discussion reveals, there is still no plan for the after-battle.

Winning the peace is not yet on the ECOWAS drawing board.

Debating Boko Haram: “A Foreign Terrorist Organization?”

Posted in Africa, Boko Haram, Nigeria, Peacebuilding, Terrorism on November 25, 2012 by michaelkeating
Darren Kew
Republicans in the US House and Senate have recently called on the Obama administration to designate Nigeria’s Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  CPDD’s Prof. Kew testified in July 2012 (testimony was earlier posted on PaxBlog) that the FTO designation would not help at this time, and would likely make matters worse.  Recently, he engaged in an online debate on the matter with Pastor Laolu Akande of the Christian Association of Nigerian Americans (CANAN), who is strongly in favor of FTO.  See their debate, and commentary from other Nigeria scholars on Boko Haram at:!topic/usaafricadialogue/Jo0H895BCLU
And add your comments here at PaxBlog!

Disarming Militias in Libya: Look to the Examples of Others

Posted in Disarmament, Libya, Middle East, Peacebuilding with tags , , on October 10, 2012 by michaelkeating

The BBC reported on how in Benghazi and Tripoli last week (10/29), over 600 Libyan militiamen turned over their weapons to the Libyan army in exchange for the opportunity to win electronics such as laptops and TVs.
This is just a small victory for peace building considering that some 200,000 Libyans  have access to over 2 million weapons that include a variety of weapons ranging from tanks to handguns.

The weapons are in the hands of militia groups  as a result of the 2011 Libyan civil war and were primarily acquired from the Gaddafi regime or from neighboring countries. Previous attempts to collect them have failed but it seems that momentum was gained after the attack on the US embassy in Libya on September 11 that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The government put out public announcements on TV for the recall of weapons and it worked to a limited degree because of disgust over the terrorist act from just a few weeks before and a desire on the part of many civilians to establish peace and begin rebuilding the state. See the report here.

Peter Fragiskatos argues, in a BBC op-ed, that there are hundreds of militia groups motivated by  two reasons: for ideological reasons and for
material gains.   We know that at least this recent success story appealed to those looking for material gains. The trick may be figuring out the right incentives for groups that are motivated by ideological reasons. Attempts to replicate this recent weapons turnover will likely be tried in other Libyan cities. What can be learned from this?

Fragiskatos pointed out that this is not the first successful attempt by governments to collect arms after domestic civil strife. He highlights
that there have been successful attempts in Albania, Mozambique and Cambodia to collect weapons. In these cases, governments provided the militia with job training, various tools, or community projects using local labor as incentive for weapons turnover to the military.

If the Libyan government would like to implement weapons collections in other cities and make meaningful progress to this end, perhaps they should upgrade incentives to more practical ones that could offer the militia groups opportunity to improve their livelihoods. TVs are not going to provide permanent employment opportunities for these rebels. Rather, job education, household tools, public works projects will help to employ people and rebuild society. Furthermore, with help from the international community in the form aid, there should be guaranteed incentives offered to every one of the 200,000 estimated rebels who hand in weapons rather than entering them into a lottery with only the potential to win prizes.

It is still too soon to tell if this will be successful in fostering peace and aiding the society rebuilding process. In the months to come. if the Libyan government continues to successfully recall weapons, this could offer insight into how to help heal future post conflict societies and how to help them avoid falling into  viscous cycles of conflict.

Check out this BBC video clip of a Libyan weapons collection checkpoint and read the full article, “Libyans hand over hundreds of weapons to army.”

Priscilla DeGregory is a graduate student in the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston.


Somalia Conference Breaks New Ground

Posted in Africa, Peacebuilding, Somalia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 27, 2012 by michaelkeating

The recently concluded London Conference on Somalia is probably the most high profile that has been held for Somalia. As a Somali citizen I see a glimmer of hope for Somalia in the London Conference. It looks like the entire international community is acting together cohesively and that will hopefully eliminate the competition and division among the international community itself on the issue of Somalia. Fifty heads of state and representatives attended the conference; even the breakaway self-declared Somaliland was pressured to attend the conference by Britain. This is what really makes this conference different from the others before it. At past conferences there were too many doctors in the operating room, many of them were suspected by Somalis of operating with dirty knives,  but this time the world seemed to be united with one message. Today the people of Somalia celebrated the London Conference and in support of the London Conference they decorated the main roads of Mogadishu with Somali and British flags.

Thank you to mayor Tarzan of Mogadishu (a legal resident of the UK) who was also invited in the conference. This is the first time that the flag of a western country was decorated on the streets of Mogadishu in the last two decades and that shows trust. As Professor, Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College said this week, the London Conference is the subject of considerable anxiety, skepticism, and hope among Somalis. It is widely seen as a critical moment in Somalia’s long 20-year crisis, a meeting that could shape the direction of the country in the coming years, for better or for worse.

The goal of the London Conference seems attainable with the focus on piracy, famine and terrorism which is the number one concern for the West. Terrorism is also equally a concern for Somalis. Terrorism, lack of security and rule of law is what led to both the famine and the piracy in Somalia today. The international community and the Somali government should carefully focus on Al Shabaab which seems to be crumbling by the day. As requested by the Somali Prime Minster Dr. Abdiwali Ali, airstrikes should intensify. AMISON troops whose number was increased this week by the Security Council from 12,000 to 17,000 should also now be able to compound pressure on Al Shabaab who recently joined Al Qaeda. The Kenyans and their TFG ally forces in the South are moving very slowly and they should be pushed to move quicker and capture Kismanyo. This war is about winning the hearts and the minds of the people as no one can win the public with prolonged foreign occupation. It is essential that Ethiopia and Kenya help TFG forces fully quickly liberate Kismanyo,  Baydhabo and the other Al Shabaab strongholds  and withdraw rapidly after these cities fall under the TFG control which must get ready to fill the void. Keep in mind, the people of Somalia are tired of war, civilian casualties and the interventions of their neighbors especially Ethiopians.

The London Conference will bolster the security accomplishments and the momentum is likely to continue. The once feared Al Shabaab is now crippled to a point where the only option for them is to hit and run. With that being said, it’s an uncomfortable truth, but direct dialogue with groups like Al Shabaab is sometimes indispensable to reach a sustainable peace. And even if it turns out that dialogue gets us nowhere with Al Shabaab, talking and listening can help us to better understand how we can bring  some of the moderate ones on board. Al Shabaab recently joined Al Qaeda and that may create divisions within its ranks. For instance, there are reports that some members of the Al Shabaab leadership are  a bit more moderate than hardliners like Ahmed Godane,  who is the current Al Shabaab leader. Generally speaking, there are three groups of Al Shabaab.  Some are hardline,  the so-called irreconcilables (Godane and foreign jihadists fall in this category); the reconcilables (often showing a nationalistic agenda and a conciliatory tone) and the third are those who lie somewhere in between the  two. The Somali government will have no choice but to fight people like Godane and migrant foreign jihadists to the end but the TFG must initiate a negotiation effort that empowers Somali traditional elders to reach out to those Al Shabaab members who are willing to talk. The Somalis should recognize that military power alone cannot defeat  an insurgency; even the Americans are now talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan. We should talk to our young fighters and The International Community should also encourage this dialogue with Al Shabaab in order to reach a lasting peace in Somalia.

By: Saeed Aden

The Author is a fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and is the Director of Global Peace Aid-Somalia.

2010/ AFP Photo

Killer NGOs: Not Your Average Community Service Organization

Posted in NGO, Peacebuilding, Terrorism with tags , on February 23, 2012 by michaelkeating

Killers Sans Frontieres?


At first I thought it might be a joke or at least a painful oxymoron. “Killer” and “NGO” are generally not two words one usually finds in proximity. But when you read Col. Gary Anderson’s call for the establishment of Killer NGOs in today’s Foreign Policy magazine you may never think the same about the World Wildlife Fund again.

Anderson, a retired Marine Corp officer, says that citizens of the U.S. will never support wars against terrorists that require invasion forces the size of those that invaded Normandy. Instead he proposes the funding and establishment, in places like Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc.  of small private armies that are made up of indigenous fighters, are well armed and trained, have a development component and are dedicated to eradicating terrorists organizations, yet another kind of NGO according to Anderson.

As their paymaster we will have control over them and if they go rogue then we can simply cut off their funding. Sounds simple, right?  Nothing can go wrong with a plan like that.

What distinguishes a Killer NGO from a plain old mercenary army or militia is their professionalism and their development arm. What distinguishes them from the national army of whichever country we are speaking of is their willingness to take on bad guys our way and not get involved in the complexities of local politics.

Personally I have a lot of problems with this kind of wordplay. It is hard enough for real NGOs to operate in these places without fear that they might be labelled a ‘killer’ by some crazed warlord. It is much better if the fighters and the healers keep a wall between themselves otherwise innocent people in conflict zones might not be able to get the help they need.

Besides we already have a global killer NGO. You can find it here.


Michael Keating

photo by: mritunjay








PaxBlog Enters the Conversation

Posted in Democratic Development, Education, Peacebuilding, Rule of Law on February 15, 2012 by michaelkeating

    Welcome to PaxBlog, where we believe that peace, development and democracy are inter-related such that it is hard to achieve one without the other. We also believe that integrated development studies is an emerging discipline that will take greater shape and have a bigger impact through the interaction of social scientists, software engineers, chemists, biologists, economists, physicians, managerial experts, ecologists, poets, philosophers, and artists. Globalization is forcing all development practitioners to examine their own models and practices to deal with a world where the nation-state is eroding as the key actor in development and where global forces outside the control of any particular state actors are shaping lives for rich and poor alike. Our blog will be a platform for many of the voices of development, conflict resolution, and democracy-building at UMass Boston, but we are open to any voices that need to be heard, especially voices from the global south. If you have something to say to us about development, about peace and conflict, about social entrepreneurship, about environmental stewardship, about the role of democracy in shaping new global societies, or about the role that technology can play, please let us know.  Let this be your go-to place for the best thinking about peace and development by helping us build a community of dialogue based on provocative ideas.   Welcome to PaxBlog. With your help, we will soon be a voice to be reckoned with.