Peace, Democracy and Development Blog Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:33:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Whither Peace between India and Pakistan? Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:30:46 +0000 by Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

India canceling the scheduled foreign secretary level meeting with Pakistan has raised doubts and intensified debates about the future of the India-Pakistan peace process. The meeting was to be held after a gap of one and a half years as India had cancelled after Pakistani forces allegedly beheaded one of India’s soldiers at the disputed border. This time India pointed out that Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi decided to meet the separatists from Kashmir despite its objection.

Will the bilateral relations reach a nadir after the cancellation of the meeting, giving rise to fears of a military confrontation, or is the cancellation just another strategic move by one of the rivals?

Pakistan called the Indian move unwarranted. Pakistan’s argument revolved around two points: First, Pakistan has been meeting separatists in its embassy in New Delhi since long. It is almost customary that Pakistan engages in this act before any bilateral level meeting. Second, though Indian officials earlier peeved at this action of Pakistan, they never cancelled a scheduled meeting.

The new government in New Delhi adopted a different strategy. Unlike the previous two governments, led by a coalition called United Progressive Alliance, the current government enjoys absolute majority in the parliament. The earlier two governments were perceived weak. Bharatiya Janata Party, the political party that won the elections in May this year, exploited the weakness of the Alliance and formed the government. The current government is also perceived to be more nationalist in its orientation that the earlier government.

When the incumbent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, took the oath of office in May this year, he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony in the forecourt of the presidential palace in New Delhi. Modi and Sharif developed personal rapport and promised to take the peace process forward. Sharif broke the tradition followed by former leaders of Pakistan by refusing to meet the separatists during his stay in New Delhi. The common elements that one can find in Modi and Sharif are: they are young and dynamic, pro-business, and democratically elected leaders. The Modi government had handed over a list of demands from Sharif, including reining in India-centric radical groups in Pakistan, bringing to book the minds behind the Mumbai terror attack in 2008, etc.

Sharif’s refusal to meet the separatists was considered by the new government as a positive step by the Pakistani leadership to boost the peace process. Modi during his Independence Day speech on 15 August deliberately refrained from Pakistan-baiting, almost a customary practice by Indian leaders on such occasions. Rather, he called the nations of South Asia to get together to fight common enemies like poverty.

While the Pakistani government’s response to India’s cancellation was on expected lines, the very cancellation by India was an unexpected development. This is perhaps the first time that India cancelled an official meeting because Pakistani officials met the separatists. Pakistan has long held that it is a key player in the dispute over Kashmir, and the bilateral talks must factor the Kashmir issue. It is, hence, necessary that Pakistan must consult the separatists to know their views and perceptions of the conflict and formulate policies accordingly.

India’s argument in cancelling the meeting is mainly three-fold: First, Pakistan should either talk to India or to Kashmiri separatists, but not to both. As Kashmir is a conflict between India and Pakistan, Pakistan should be engaged with India, not with the separatists. Second, the decision to meet the separatists was a break from the development displayed during the visit of Sharif, who refused to meet separatists to appease Indian leaders and to strengthen bilateral relations. Third, the new government was perhaps keen to display a hard line posture to Pakistan that it cannot simultaneously engage with the Indian government and the separatists, who are at odds with the India’s policy in Kashmir.

The fallouts of the cancellation will be contingent on how the two rivals perceive and act. The Pakistani High Commissioner went ahead in meeting the separatists. India did not disclose its next step. It is certain that the peace process will receive a setback, even if temporarily.

The internal dynamics of a nation-state affect its foreign policy. This rule applies well to the relations between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s decision to meet the separatists was guided by internal turmoil. Massive protest rallies were organized by an opposition political party and a religious group against the Sharif government. The Pakistani army, which plays a key role in policy making in Pakistan, did not appear to be happy at Sharif’s overture towards India. It may not be a surprise that the Sharif government decided to meet the separatists as an appeasement to hardliners. In India, too, the Modi government was interested to boost its image as a strong and nationalist government, not a weak one as the previous government was widely perceived. Modi visited Kashmir twice within three months of coming to power to showcase his government’s seriousness over the Kashmir issue.

Whatever may be the national calculations, peace is the ultimate casualty. It is difficult to say whether the two countries will revive dialogue soon, but it is not difficult to predict that unless dialogue is revived the relations will go further sour.

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


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#Hashtag for Peace? Mon, 04 Aug 2014 14:34:45 +0000 by Charlotte Carnehl

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The pictures are powerful. They are reasons for hope. They show positive relations between Arabs and Jews all over the world, as friends, classmates, partners, and coworkers. Relationships in which trust and respect are a granted normalcy. After #Bringbackourgirls it is now the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies, which has gone viral on social networks. Arabs and Jews use Facebook and twitter to demonstrate for peace in Gaza and an end of the conflict.

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The Israeli Jew, Abraham Gutman, and his Syrian-American Muslim classmate at Hunter College, Dania Darwisch, created #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies, a slogan that has already been used in Hebrew for a couple of years. Under the same name they also initiated a Facebook group. In an interview to Voice of America Gutman and Darwish explain how they were disturbed by the hate they saw on social media channels after the escalation of the conflict in Gaza. Gutman said that with this online movement, they “wanted to create a space where people had the same experience we had with each other, that you can disagree, but you can have a debate, and try to be part of a solution in a productive way.“ Since its launch about three weeks ago, the Facebook group has already 55,903 likes (as of August 4).

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The participants of this online initiative refuse to be mere observers in the face of the war in Gaza, which has already cost more than 1300 lives in the three weeks since it started. They take action by sharing stories about interreligious and interethnic love and tolerance. These heart-warming pictures show people countering the common conflict narrative that mainly aims to de-humanize “the other”. It is great to see this political awareness increasing on an Internet platform, which is often overloaded with selfies and status updates on yesterday’s dinner.

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But can hashtags influence politics? Are they a new form of political participation? The effect of such online movements is hard to measure, but it might be time for some optimism. Politicians also use the Internet; they read about recent trends in the world of social media, and will have most likely come across #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. As the picture of Michelle Obama holding a sign with #Bringbackourgirls illustrates, some hashtags even make it into the White House. The pictures of kissing Palestinians and Israelis or orthodox Jews demonstrating for a free Palestine have a power that is usually lacking on the level of diplomacy: emotions.

But while hashtagging in the hope for political change is a start, it is not enough. I encourage those social media users, who limit their political activity to uploading pictures and tagging their friends, to articulate their opinion also in their offline lives. Protest publicly, sign petitions, educate yourself and others, boycott, vote – this will bring us closer to making a change in the real, analogue world.

German Fulbright scholar Charlotte Carnehl is a fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development and a second-year student in the International Relations Master’s program UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.


]]> 0 Social Actors Fight the Rising Tide of HIV in U.S. Southern Poor Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:57:57 +0000

The greatest number of persons living with HIV in the United States are now living in the South, and they face poorer health outcomes and increased AIDS-related deaths as com- pared to the rest of the country. The southern United States has a disproportionate share of low-income individuals, with many lacking access to health care and health insurance. Health facilities are also comparatively fewer and more difficult to reach than in other areas of the United States. The impacts of this already poor health infrastructure on low-income people living with HIV in the South can be life-threatening.

Read the full report of our senior fellows Courtenay Sprague and Sara E Simon.

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Democracy in Myanmar: Back to the Past? Thu, 17 Jul 2014 00:47:51 +0000

By Aung Tun

(First published in the Global Times on July 14, 2014)

When the new government in Nay Pyi Taw came into office in 2011, many Myanmar interest groups asked a very common question: How far could Myanmar’s reform go? Now that question has changed. A different, critical question arises: Is Myanmar going backward now? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened in Myanmar in the past couple of years. There have been some noticeable changes inside the country. The peace process, which is critical to Myanmar’s democratization, has had both positive and negative outcomes. The good news is that there has been a government effort to secure cease-fires with various ethnic armed groups. While at least this effort is aimed at a “no fire zone” first, there are some doubts for this. The bad news is that there have been both small and large battles on the ground in Kachin state since the new government came into office in Nay Pyi Taw. Nobody is sure why those battles are still going on and what the exact, necessary steps are in order to stop war there. Of course, there are many internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who have been refugees for more than three years. The government is even not able to figure out a way to get the necessary food aid to reach the IDPs effectively. 

The release of a considerable number of political prisoners was definitely a positive step for democratization in Myanmar and has been a force for national reconciliation. However, almost all former political prisoners are now advocating amending the controversial 2008 Constitution, particularly article 436, that blocks constitutional changes. To change the constitution, at least 75 percent support in parliament is needed, which is not possible given that 25 percent is reserved for military personnel who are stalwartly opposed to change at an institutional level. The opposition, who currently hold less than 12 percent of seats, has huge public campaigns against the article, collecting millions of signatures from the public. At the same time, anti-Muslim violence has erupted recently in Mandalay leaving 2 people dead and 14 people injured. Although a curfew has been imposed, the rule of law is still often absent on Myanmar’s streets, which is hardly a sign of progress in democratization.

Then there is the question of the Myanmar government’s relationship with the military. Since the new government took power, the Myanmar military has voluntarily become a separate institution that does not necessarily need to comply with the new government’s edicts. Nonetheless, Myanmar’s democratization will be in part judged by whether the military can become a professional body that follows civilian instruction, as is democratic practice, rather than a player with its own vested interests. This is perhaps the most difficult task in Myanmar’s democratization. And the public doesn’t know who to hold responsible for the process, the president or the army’s leaders. Too much power to control the course of democratization still lies with the military rather than the people.

Given all this, Myanmar’s democracy is at a critical juncture. Ahead of the 2015 elections in which the opposition National League for Democracy is expected to win a landslide, Myanmar’s politics may become more fragile. Within ruling parties or among rival parties, power struggles would affect the nation negatively. However, the majority, the poor, cannot bear a failed state again.
Bettering their lives should be the first priority for all politicians and stakeholders in the political process.

The author is currently a consultant for a local development firm, Professional Research & Consultancy in Yangon. He has also worked as a journalist inside Myanmar for several years. He is a 2014 gradute of the IR program at UMass Boston.


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Impressions from Israel/Palestine Mon, 23 Jun 2014 02:26:42 +0000 by

David E. Matz


In mid-June I visited Israel for a week, spending one day of that time in Palestine. A year ago I visited Berlin for a week and on returning home sent some notes of the visit. Writing about Israel-Palestine is different. Berlin is a loaded topic, but in writing I felt no burden that I was speaking to how people would assess a conflict: who are the good guys, how bad are conditions there, should the reader really be worried or relaxed, are things getting better or worse?

I think of myself as a very minor participant in the conflict – whether as teacher, scholar, or activist. So the first thing to report is that peaceniks I met with, Jewish and Palestinian, some of them well known and politically active for decades, also feel “very minor,” indeed rather irrelevant. The conflict runs its course with no impact from them. Still, they go to anti-occupation demonstrations, formulate Arab- Jewish projects, and speculate about what the EU or Obama or someone will do. Meanwhile, the people I met with (and never lose sight of the hyper-selective nature of my “data base”) live what can only be called a good life: travel, eat in nice restaurants, have exciting ambitions. Even the self-described pessimists are buoyant in their pessimism.

That this is true among the Israelis is news available from many sources. There are construction cranes everywhere (well, everywhere in Tel Aviv), the restaurants and coffee shops are overflowing (my daughter who lives there complained that she couldn’t get a reservation at one place two weeks in advance), and the quality of cooking is very high. The annual Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv drew, it was said, over 100,000 people from Israel and elsewhere (who knows how many were gay participants, how many out to watch the fun; I was there.), and this in a country with a politically powerful, proudly intolerant, rightwing religious population. There is also an annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem; this generates more friction. The Tel Aviv government put up flags to celebrate the parade, and the police did a great job of traffic control. It ended with a huge party on the beach.

Ramallah is a city in Palestine. (Calling it Palestine is a politically hot move, as is every alternative. It can also be called Sameria and Judea, the occupied territories, or the West Bank, each generating its own conflict depending on the company you are keeping.) Here there are also good restaurants and cranes, but many fewer. Coffee shops and markets are colorful and overflowing. Palestinians are creating their own institutions. I was told of a lively, successful program for inducing students from fourth grade on up to go into science and technology, using the predictable range of encouragements including a robot competition. The art of navigating the Israeli bureaucracy, the press of the Israeli army and the widely discussed corruption of Palestinian government are essential skills for success.

There are checkpoints staffed by young Israeli Jews, though there are fewer than five years ago. The most dramatic are those that decide who can enter Israel from Palestine; these are often slow, sometimes involve standing in the heat in long lines, fenced in single file by iron-bars. The image of cattle is hard to ignore. Palestinians can leave Palestine into Jordan more easily, though also with some difficulty. If they enter or leave the region via Ben Gurion Airport they run the substantial risk of being taken out of line, questioned, searched (sometimes intimately), and delayed, perhaps missing their plane.

Israeli peaceniks and Palestinians tell many stories about the horrors of the occupation, and even in a region, and a conflict, not famous for meticulous truth telling, there is no reason to doubt their essential accuracy. I met with several Palestinian scholars of great professional accomplishment (many publications in world class academic journals, appointments at prestigious overseas universities) who have not received appointments to Israeli universities. It was said (often, but who knows?) that 1.4% of Israeli university faculty are Palestinians. Bitterness is sometimes on the surface, sometimes integrated with professional talk, sometimes invisible.

Of course everyone talks about the peace process, all despondently: disappointment with Obama/Kerry, fury at Netanyahu, resignation about Abbas. All governments are seen as weak, self absorbed, stuck. Each population lives in its own definition of a bubble. Optimism survives on what I am now calling the meteor-theory: something will come from the sky and change everything. If these peaceniks weren’t so militantly secular I would be very suspicious.

Netanyahu’s alleged weakness and incompetence notwithstanding, my impression is that his government’s twin policies are working: (a) allow just enough economic development to give Palestinians the sense that in an uprising they would have a lot to lose, while (b) making things grim enough to encourage many to leave. (And (c), invest heavily in “intelligence gathering” among the Palestinians.) One story says that 300 doctors and “many young people” have emigrated in the last ten years. How long can 375,000 Jewish settlers and an unknown number of soldiers control 2.5 million Palestinians in Palestine? No one knows. Peaceniks wonder about potential Palestinian uprisings, non-violent resistance, and whether “the world will continue to allow it.” I have my own meteors.

The disappearance recently of three young Orthodox Jewish settlers was a major topic of discussion, but the peaceniks didn’t know what to make of it. Only Netanyahu had a clear focus: he blamed Fatah, Hamas, and by inference the West. I like the view that since Netanyahu is the only beneficiary of the disappearance, he must be the one who did it. I liked this theory in part because I made it up.

Time to come home.


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Music as a Tool of Conflict Transformation? Sun, 29 Sep 2013 19:41:10 +0000


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.

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Contending Visions of Development in India, more Political than Economic Tue, 30 Jul 2013 18:03:06 +0000


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As India’s general elections will take place in less than a year to elect a new government in New Delhi, political parties with support from noted economists have ratcheted up rival visions of development. Though this trend could be visible in all general elections, the forthcoming election has witnessed an unprecedented uptick of participation by noted economists.

Intense debates about India’s growth are not something new as such debates have taken place since independence. While India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru called industries as ‘temples of modern India,’ his political mentor Mahatma Gandhi was against industrialization and believed in village swaraj (self-rule). Post-independence India had witnessed the influence of Gandhi’s ideas. Nehru followed a middle path, called ‘mixed economy,’ under which heavy industries remained under state control, while small scale industries were left to private initiatives. The impact of Soviet five-year plans was evident on Indian economic strategy in those years. The preamble to India’s constitution also proclaimed India to be a ‘socialist’ country. Nehru’s thinking led to the establishment of many heavy industries and particularly under the second five-year plan, also called the Mohalanobis model, many heavy industries were established in different parts of India.

This mixed economy model was largely pursued till the late 1980s. Both India and China followed socialist models of growth. China’s opening of its economy for private sector and foreign investment in late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping led it to grow at a faster rate, while India’s economic growth tottered at a lower single digit level with slogans such as ‘garibi hatao’ (eliminate poverty) occupying center stage in policy making.

It was only in the early 1990s when India underwent an acute financial crisis that it opened its economy. It was under the stewardship of then Finance Minister, currently Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh that India invited foreign capital, provided incentives to private sectors, ended quota-permit raj, and as a result in a span of one decade India’s growth story was not only India’s story, but also a story of a rising power with Indian companies like Tata, Reliance, Bharti, etc making names and investments around the world. While in 1991 India’s foreign exchange reserves stood at $1.2 billion, in 2013 the number was more than $280 billion. India’s growth story, however, was blighted by massive corruption, indecisiveness of its leaders and internal problems.

Ahead of the forthcoming elections noted economists have argued about the most appropriate model for the country and hence have deliberately or inadvertently are linked themselves to the ideology of one or the other political party. Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and professor at Harvard University, argued in his book Development as Freedom that development does not merely imply the building of industries or foreign exchange reserves but also the penetration of fruits of development to all layers of society including the poor and marginalized. He further argued that unless human capabilities are developed, a state cannot attain levels of just and fair growth. His academic rivals Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, professors at Columbia University, may not disagree with Sen on this point, but they sharply disagree as to how to achieve such a goal.

The debate between the noted economists can be characterized by the dilemma as to which came first, egg or chick? The Bhagwati-Pangariya duo would argue that investment in industries, infrastructure, etc. would propel growth with positive impact on the government’s welfare activities, as growth in these sectors will have its trickle down effect. Sen would argue that without development of capabilities in terms of education, health, and the alleviation of poverty, development will not be just and fair. It will lead to asymmetrical development with the rich becoming richer, and poor becoming poorer. Bhagwati and Panagariya have a different view on this. While Sen termed India’s recent growth story as ‘uncertain,’ as reflected in the title of his recent co-authored book Uncertain Glory, an indirect reference to India’s growth story, the Columbia University professors have taken a positive approach to India’s growth story in their recent book Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries. (see

The intellectual debates are politicized or are being appropriated by political parties. The current debate between these two rival groups is about the efficacy of the ‘Bihar model’ (with which Sen has sympathies) and ‘Gujarat model’ (with which Bhagwati and Panagariya have sympathies). Both Indian states have witnessed growth. But, it is not the question of which model of development that has raised the debate to such a charged atmosphere; rather it is the political implications of these debates and their likely impact on electorates. Bihar the north Indian state is ruled by a regional political party called Janata Dal Untied (JD- U), and led by Nitish Kumar, while Gujarat the west Indian state, ruled by a national party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The state is led by Narendra Modi. Both JD-U and BJP were allies for the last 17 years till June this year. At present Kumar is a strong critic of Modi and criticizes his secular credentials for the Gujarat riots of 2002 that led to killing of more than a thousand Muslims. Interestingly, Kumar praised Modi’s leadership in 2003 in a speech, within a year of the riots. (see

Times have changed with changing aspirations. Both Kumar and Modi are now aspiring to play pivotal roles in Indian politics beyond their states. While Modi is seen as prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in forthcoming elections, Kumar has kept his political cards close to his chest though his aspirations are not hidden. The current ruling party in India , the Indian National Congress (INC) is an arch-rival of BJP; hence it has welcomed the separation of JD-U from BJP. While the economists have raised fruitful debates about India’s growth, the politicization of these debates have actually tapered much of intellectual stamina of these debates.

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.

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‘Softening’ the Border in Kashmir Thu, 11 Jul 2013 14:05:03 +0000

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.

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Game Changing Global Education Wed, 05 Jun 2013 10:56:13 +0000





Conzolo Migliozzi

Think of students around the world who have limited exposure to the Internet as passengers on a captainless ship. They have no idea where they are going, and they’re unaware of the  perils that lie around them.

Then think of the most recent version of free college courseware, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as Knowledge Islands. Not only are they safe places to land and learn, but they also point you toward other Knowledge Islands – resources like gapminder, khanacademy, free statistics software, free ebooks, and soon they’ll even grant you access to copyrighted textbooks. After visiting enough of these islands, the passenger understands how to navigate the sea, transforming from passenger to captain.

Sounds nice, but the infrastructure needed to take a MOOC doesn’t exist in the places where these courses could be most beneficial (i.e. least developed countries). You can’t take online courses with inconsistent electricity, unreliable or non-existent hardware, slow or no Internet access. The students are on leaky rafts, not ships.

To address these issues, local government and aid agencies should support MOOC initiatives. There are many ways this could take shape. For example, existing colleges could create blended courses – use MOOCs to supplement courses already being taught. This model would allow instructors to adapt the MOOC to the local context and use the college’s computer labs and technical support. Retention, which is at less than 10% for MOOCs overall, should improve because students would have an instructor to engage with and keep them on track. And students could earn college credit.

Alternatively, by-pass the traditional college model and create workforce investment boards to analyze trends in the local job market, develop certification exams based on skills sets local businesses request, and recommend MOOC courses for applicants to prepare for the exams.  Add an internship program, a computer lab with someone to assist with technical issues, and you have a mini-MOOC university.

Either approach, or a combination of the two, would allow more people to build strong educational foundations, develop problem solving skills, and access research that pushes on the edge of human knowledge. Ultimately the goal isn’t just to go from passenger to captain, but all the way to Knowledge Island creator.


Conzolo Migliozzi is an international education consultant. He is a Center Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development and a graduate of the M.A. degree program in international relations at UMass Boston.

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Sharif Victory Offers an Opportunity for Improved Pakistan-India Relations Mon, 20 May 2013 00:04:02 +0000 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.


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