Peace, Democracy and Development Blog http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:57:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://blogs.umb.edu/?v=3.8.1.1 Social Actors Fight the Rising Tide of HIV in U.S. Southern Poor http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2014/07/29/social-actors-fight-the-rising-tide-of-hiv-in-u-s-southern-poor/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2014/07/29/social-actors-fight-the-rising-tide-of-hiv-in-u-s-southern-poor/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:57:57 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=448

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? http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2014/07/17/democracy-in-myanmar-back-to-the-past/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2014/07/17/democracy-in-myanmar-back-to-the-past/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 00:47:51 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=442

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 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2014/06/23/impressions-from-israelpalestine/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2014/06/23/impressions-from-israelpalestine/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 02:26:42 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=425 by

David E. Matz

Friends,

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.

David

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Music as a Tool of Conflict Transformation? http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/09/29/music-as-a-tool-of-conflict-transformation/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/09/29/music-as-a-tool-of-conflict-transformation/#comments Sun, 29 Sep 2013 19:41:10 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=417

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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.

 
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Contending Visions of Development in India, more Political than Economic http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/07/30/contending-visions-of-development-in-india-more-political-than-economic/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/07/30/contending-visions-of-development-in-india-more-political-than-economic/#comments Tue, 30 Jul 2013 18:03:06 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=412

by

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 http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-07-18/news/40657164_1_kerala-model-gujarat-model-high-economic-growth)

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 http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-17/india/40027062_1_senior-jd-rajnath-singh-bjp-move)

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 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/07/11/softening-the-border-in-kashmir/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/07/11/softening-the-border-in-kashmir/#comments Thu, 11 Jul 2013 14:05:03 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=408
by

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 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/06/05/game-changing-global-education/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/06/05/game-changing-global-education/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 10:56:13 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=399

 

 

 

by

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 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/05/20/elections-offer-an-opportunity-for-improved-pakistan-india-relations/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/05/20/elections-offer-an-opportunity-for-improved-pakistan-india-relations/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 00:04:02 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=390 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.

 

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A Perilous Peace in Sri Lanka http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/04/28/385/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/04/28/385/#comments Sun, 28 Apr 2013 13:51:48 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=385

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Mukesh Chandra Baral

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

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

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

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

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

Accountability peddlers

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

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

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

Dictator in the making

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

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

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

 

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Disasters Defy Borders http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/04/28/disasters-defy-borders/ http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/2013/04/28/disasters-defy-borders/#comments Sun, 28 Apr 2013 13:40:01 +0000 http://blogs.umb.edu/paxblog/?p=379 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.

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