Sunday, February 22, 2009

To My Good Friend Mohammad Yasin Malik

Rarely do I personalize a posting on my blog, but this is an open congratulations to my good friend Mohammad Yasin Malik, Chairman of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on his Nikah with Mishaal Mullick in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. I am very happy for my good friend, and hope that he and his new bride live a happy and free life for decades to come.

Pakistan’s Need to Embrace Reality

Over the past few weeks, the reports coming out of Pakistan hopefully raised enough eye brows in the US to finally lead their closest ally in the ‘War on Terror’ to finally embrace reality. The schizophrenic policies of the Zardari/Geelani Government have taken both practical steps, yet exacerbated the same problems that have plagued the security of the Pakistani people for decades. Until the Government of Pakistan (GoP) finally embraces reality, security will continue to deteriorate for the majority of moderates who live in the country. Unfortunately, the dysfunction leads a majority of the world to assume that Pakistan’s chaos stems from a country full of radicals and Islamists rather than moderates and secularists. Fortunately, the truth remains the latter in this case, a reality that Pakistan’s neighbors and the rest of the world should be thankful due to the nuclear dynamic of the Pakistan dilemma.

Secret Talks with India

A story in Sundays Washington Post claimed that for the past three years, secret negotiations have taken place between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir Issue. Unfortunately, these talks were between the previous Musharraf led GoP, and came to an unfortunate end due to the ineffective and corrupt leadership of the Musharraf regime. Musharraf’s inability to affectively lead his country internally due to a decade of funding, training and supporting extremist elements as a policy of appeasement, rather than developing and embracing the majority secular and moderate population has led to the possibility of Pakistan becoming a failed state. Fortunately, the brain trust within the Pakistani establishment remains strong enough to hopefully survive the efforts of the extremists to take over the country through fear and intimidation, rather than through the Democratic process the Pakistani people love to profess as an example of good governance. However, the supposed breakdown of talks with India regarding Kashmir, and the nature of a deal that would have been acceptable by India, Pakistan and the Kashmir people is most unfortunate and sad.

Truce with the Taliban and Small Arms Distribution

Another example of dysfunction rests in the supposed truce between the GoP and the Taliban in the SWAT Region. Moreover, the recent report of the GoP, or at least a regional authority of the GoP in the SWAT region giving 30,000 rifles to local militias to combat the Taliban continues to be a reflection of the GoP’s inability to implement a consistent strategy resulting in the general public’s support for the government, fighting extremist elements and doing so without the necessity of creating another element of possible militancy. Finally, the GoP must take a robust approach at eliminating the rogue elements within the military and intelligence services that still support militant elements both within the SWAT region, as well as in the Kashmir region, which resulted in the Mumbai tragedy this past year. Until the GoP can get a handle on these rogue elements, no matter what strategy changes are made, the central government will continue to be undermined, resulting in continued failure and chaos.

Embracing Reality rather than Defeat

Should the GoP finally accept the advice that both the United States Government, as well as its neighbors Afghanistan and India regarding a robust proactive approach combating extremism, progress would result in a sustainable success. The continuation of the same policies of the past decade will undoubtedly result in a security situation mirroring that of Iraq from 2003-06. The bombing of a Shiite wedding this past week symbolizes Al-Qaeda’s desire to create the same communal rift in Pakistan between Shiite and Sunni Muslims as they did in Iraq. Moreover, having permitted Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup and strengthen along the boarder of Afghanistan has once again been a decision that has haunted both the military and the central government.

The failure to eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda following their retreat from Afghanistan remains a crucial mistake resulting in the current deterioration of the security situation. The same can be said for the GoP’s failure to once and for all dismantle the militant camps on the Kashmir border with India resulting in the Mumbai tragedy. Hopefully the Zardari/Geelani Government will soon come to accept and react to these realities rather than accepting defeat and putting the entire region at risk.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

India and Pakistan Find Common Ground, Unfortunately in Gender Inequality

Typically, when discussing women’s rights, political and economic freedoms and freedom of education in South and Southwest Asia, the focus of discussion tends to mainly revolve around the Talibanization of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of course, the oppression of women’s rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan due to the oppressive nature of the Taliban and Talibanization of the SWAT region continues to be the most deplorable example of gender based violence on the planet. However, if recent events in India are any indication, Hindu Nationalist groups such Sri Ram Sena and Shiv Sena are engaging in their own form of 'Taliban-style' tactics, proving that in South Asia, the problem is not just with Muslims who are afraid of modernity, but the same can be said for Hindu extremist groups as well. Due to Secretary of State Hillary Clintons lifelong fight of gender equality, and President Obama’s new focus on South Asia by the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Envoy to the region, hopefully, political leadership in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan take the necessary steps to combat religious extremists of all faiths who as a whole are attacking women for just attempting to ascend to their rightful place as an equal in society.

Now, traditional cultures found in the West as well can be seen protesting or demeaning women for demanding issues such equal work for equal pay and their right to choose as a serious issue. However, in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, women continue to fight to come out of the Dark Ages, let alone their current struggle to equal political and social standing. Shedding just the basic beliefs that a woman has no place in the educational sphere, the workplace and economic standing; no doubt will remain a daunting task for generations to come. However, based on UN models of gender equality, India and Pakistan rank below China in terms of gender equality across the board. In fact, from 2005-2008, India and Pakistan have dropped in their Gender Equality Index, and show very little signs of improving due to newly invigorated religious extremists activities. Moreover, extremist groups have had a recent rise in political popularity due to increased protest and agitation by religious extremist groups, both Muslim and Hindu, and have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in order to secure the power among men.

Pakistan’s Declining HDI Ranking

Recently, the Government of Pakistan capitulated to the Taliban allowing Sharia Law to rule over the public sphere in the SWAT region of Pakistan. This will result in Pakistan falling further behind the rest of the world in terms of development issues, and no other demographic will pay a heavier price than woman. Pakistan already ranks 123rd in literacy, 142nd in primary and secondary education and 154th in life expectancy according to the Human Development Index created by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Given the reality that Pakistan already is teetering on becoming a failed state, by allowing further persecution and discrimination against women only furthers Pakistan’s complications of generating the necessary intellectual capital necessitated for growth. There are reports that the situation is improving in Pakistan with regards to education for young girls. However, due to the continued capitulation to hardliner demands, at what point will these so-called 'improvements' be internalized by Pakistan as a whole? Furthermore, from young girls to grown women, does Pakistan have enough time to survive for the actualization to take place?

India leads Pakistan in HDI, by a whisker

In India, the reality continues to deteriorate as well in terms of gender equality. According to the same UNDP statistics, India is 115th in literacy, 126th in primary and secondary education employment and 122nd in life expectancy with regards to women. According to a recent UNESCO Report on women in the public sphere, as India continues to attempt to rise from extreme poverty to modernity, women must play a critical role in all aspects of society if economic growth and development are to rise to even second world levels, and out of third world status. Of course, many people will point to Bangalore and Mumbai as examples of modernity and equality, however, these two cities are but a fraction of the reality within India. These types of examples are like comparing New York City to rural parts of Middle America where gender equality pale in comparison to one another. Hopefully, political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party will once and for all distance themselves from extremist organizations who are using this form of intimidation against women for political gains in the upcoming elections. It is time the Indian Government realize that creating nuclear weapons and having call centers in Bangalore does not make India a top-tier nation state. With over a billion people, one would hope that 500,000 young people would be able to do this work.

India and Pakistan share spotlight in gender persecution

There have been widespread reports of schools in Pakistan specifically for girls being burnt down. Woman in India being pulled from coffee shops in Delhi and Mumbai by Hindu Nationalists and beaten for sitting and talking with men. Even on Valentines Day, shopkeepers were threatened for participating. Of course, Valentines Day is a Western fabrication or what we like to refer to as a “Hallmark Holiday.” It took the resolve of a few minority secular groups to finally put an end to the violence being perpetrated by the Hindu Nationalists by making them the target of scorn and ridicule by placing boot polish on the faces of the perpetrators of religious fanaticism. However, the idea that women, let alone girls are ‘impure’ for the sake sharing a nice card or small trinket does fall exactly into line with the same practices of Islamic Extremists found throughout Pakistan, and a typical rallying cry by Hindu political nationalists as an example of why Muslims are the evildoers of the world.

An example of this can be found in the report that a brother and sister were beaten simply for walking together in the streets of New Delhi. Now, the report stated that they were “suspected” of dating because they were holding hands. However, everyone holds hands in South Asia! When a westerner sees two men holding hands in India, should they suppose those men are homosexuals because in western culture that is what it would symbolize? Of course not, this would be preposterous and succumbing to an ethno-centric point of view. Bottom line is, this type of behavior on display for the world to see has painted India into a position that Hindu Nationalists now can be viewed in the same light as the Taliban.

Oddly enough, the Kashmiri Separatist Hardliner, Syed Ali Geelani was the voice of reason during much of the violence against women being perpetrated by the Taliban in Pakistan. Mr. Geelani properly pointed out that the only way that Pakistan will grow as a nation is for equality among women in the educational sphere with regards to becoming doctors, teachers and lawyers, and deserve the right to be equal with a man in the work place. Geelani as the voice of reason on gender rights in South Asia? The world has turned on its head for sure.

There is little coincidence that the countries who rank that highest in the HDI Report also have the highest score in terms of gender equality. In fact, women trend to be higher wage earners, better-educated and greater contributors to society in terms of intellectual capital. And yes, they still have children and maintain a healthy functioning household by all traditional, albeit Western, standards. Hopefully, the spotlight shed on both India and Pakistan with regards to gender based violence in recent days will result in greater robust action against the threats and intimidation against a more just and equal society in the region as a whole.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Peace through Truth and Reconciliation, Not Politics

The paring down of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s mandate by President Barack Obama regarding Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, especially regarding the issue of Kashmir, is a clear recognition of the new administration’s ability to learn quickly on extremely complex issues like the one’s being faced in South and Southwest Asia. A fundamental complexity that President Obama must come to grips with resides in an ability to understand the historical and ethnic complexities of the region if his new policy focus will result in a success. Of course, in the modern world, issues such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist outfits in the region are believed to rest in the hands of state actors, rather than direct engagement at the local level.

Micro level approaches can and will make the necessary progress for a viable outcome to come to fruition. Hopefully, the new administration will not wait as long as the Bush Administration waited in Iraq to realize the tribal and ethnic realities that existed prior to the invasion of Iraq. It was via a process of ‘truth and reconciliation’ between Shia and Sunni tribes that such outcomes became viable in Iraq, and through the usage of the same process in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kashmir region of India, can success be found as well.

The necessary approaches to stem violence and regain public support of the people in the SWAT Valley and Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, and the turbulent areas along the Afghan border rest in exploiting cultural ties, not altruistic beliefs of nation states. Many of the Al-Qaeda fighters found in the region are in fact not from the region, and are not viewed favorably by local tribes who view their guests just as abusive and oppressive as the government. In order to make gains in these turbulent regions, Pakistani and NATO forces need to utilize the connections that can be found among the people, rather than relying on military might by leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan long known to abuse the populations in these regions. Through the use of empathy and understanding of the proud history these tribes hold so dear. Only then when will elders accept the false jihad presented to them by outside forces.

By holding a Loya Jirga, or “Great Council” with the tribes in the region, this will allow military and diplomatic officials to isolate the outsiders who have held these people hostage for over a decade to this point. There is a specific reason why Al-Qaeda has chosen to recruit Tajik’s, Uzbek’s and Pashtun’s to engage in the majority of the fighting, and not Arab’s who fundamentally make up the leadership of Al-Qaeda. It’s called racism. During the Loya Jirga however, development assistance guarantees are a necessity that these tribes will require to insure that they will not be ignored or forgotten as they have in the past. Their sacrifices made during the 1980’s against the Soviets with US backing has not been forgotten, nor has the fact the US left them to deal with the leftovers like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

Failure after failure can be found in the poppy fields, gun and weapons traders and Wahabbi schools throughout the region. Wahabbism originates from Saudi Arabia, and takes the view that Arabs are superior. Cracks in Wahabbism belief has already begun to reveal itself in the terror networks have expressed growing tired of Wahabbi rhetoric justifying the suicide bombing of other Muslims along communal lines. Should NATO and diplomatic entities begin to exploit this fundamental flaw in the militant ideology coming from Al-Qaeda and their associates, the tide may surprisingly turn quicker than expected. As much as President Bush and his Administration like to point to the military surge as the reasoning of diminished violence in Iraq, it was the “Sunni Awakening” negotiated by General David Patreus with tribal elders and showing empathy and respect for their tribal history, and emphasizing the lack of respect by Saudi’s and Egyptians whose ideology sought to oppress the Iraqi tribes, not liberate them. The same can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The same approach must be taken at a micro level in Kashmir as well. Kashmir in and of itself remains a political problem created by forces in the Indian and Pakistani Governments. However, bringing the Dogra’s or Pandits of Jammu (Hindu), Hanji’s of the Valley (Muslim) and Ladakhi’s from Ladakh (Buddhist) together to reconcile their differences will force the hands of Indian and Pakistani authorities to resolve the issue to benefit the society as a whole. There is a shared history and culture of the three that continues to be recognized by all three communities and a desire to reconcile their differences. A truth and reconciliation format would be the best possible way to free the Kashmiri from differences that have been created at the nation state level, and not by the communal harmony that once existed prior to the uprising of 1989.

The Indian Government in a way of skirting the issue framed the conflict in the international media and community as a conflict along communal lines, and not the result of a rigged election. The Hindu population was essentially forced to flee to refugee camps in Jammu, which the State of India now subsidizes in an effort to keep the two communities from reconciling. Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik, a secular Muslim leader in the Valley continuously visits the camps promising the safety of the Pandit community, and calling the lack of Pandit presence in the Valley a “cultural void that can only be filled by the Pandits themselves.” However, Hindu Nationalists continue to propagate Mr. Malik as a Wahabbi demon wanting to kill all non-Muslims, and force all of Kashmir to live under Sharia law. A fact easily disputed following his recent marriage to Pakistani artist Mushaal Mullick.

It was unfortunate that leaders such as Yasin Malik chose not to run in the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir, because more than likely; they would have come out victorious, and truth and reconciliation could have taken place at a parliamentary level, as well as tackled the public works issues necessitated in both Jammu and Kashmir, and bringing the communities together to show that the Kashmir issue is indeed political, and not along communal lines.

In both cases, a truth and reconciliation format among tribal and communal leaders throughout South and Southwest Asian territories will allow peace and prosperity to finally occur in some of the world’s most impoverished areas. If 30 years of oppression by Saddam Hussein was unable to break the common bonds of the people in Iraq, I hardly doubt that the centuries old connections can be broken by decades of warfare, oppression and neglect as well. However, the only way to break the cycle is through truth and reconciliation.