Wednesday, July 29, 2009

3 Basic Questions for South Asia

The whirlwind of activities involving South Asia the past few weeks have placed economic and security affairs of the region front and center. Highlights include the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Sigh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia. Then the Prime Minister met Pakistani PM Yousaf Raza Gilani in Egypt. Next, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India and the launching of a new nuclear submarine by India had interesting symmetry given the budding US-Indian relationship on economic and security affairs. All of this on top of ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, the conflict in Pakistan, protests in Kashmir and the return of refugee’s to the SWAT Valley. The interrelated links between all regional issues, would suggest a cohesive strategy is in place with the level of discourse between acting states. Unfortunately, the strategies are scattered rather than seamless, and in definite need of strong leadership, regardless of which country fills that leadership role.

When analyzed on a case-by-case basis, positive signs begin to emerge, and regional cooperation appears legitimate, attainable and a sustainable strategy. However, due to the ‘bi-lateral’ approach of dialogue between states, the long term regional goals will continue mired in short term failures. Until historical differences, engagement of civil society and regional cooperation between states becomes a reality; a new conflict will always loom on the horizon. The US, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have to ask each other three basic questions that encompass the overarching problems, and necessitating a more robust and seamless strategy for the region as a whole. The starting points are:

  1. How do India, Pakistan and Afghanistan come together to for a coherent security strategy?
  2. How will the US be involved, if at all? Moreover, is a US presence in facilitating dialogue welcomed by the three parties, or are they just a ‘meddling outsider’?
  3. Will civil society have voice to ensure communal cooperation, or, will discussions become just another fa├žade of dialogue without verifiable progress on the ground for the people in the greatest need of assistance and security?

Indo-Af-Pak Regional Security Cooperation

Security in South Asia hinges on greater cooperation and trust among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as a united body in order to fully address the litany of complex issues each country faces. This will necessitate tangible and realistic goals and benchmarks. Historically, the idea of cooperation between the three regional neighbors was laughable at best, due to unresolved historical tensions in addition to the modern complex problems such as poverty, education, hunger and security.

Unless India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can properly address these complex problems and end the tired arguments of old, improvements in regional security will continue to fail. It is time India assert itself and prove that the so-called “worlds largest democracy’ is much more than a propaganda slogan. India needs to take the lead and show greater maturity, realistically addressing the hard questions that are found within each issue across the board, and address the shared historical legacy that continues to haunt them. Afghanistan and Pakistan need a strong regional partner to prevent succumbing to internal turmoil that threatens their very existence. India’s failure to be a larger than life partner with their neighbors will adversely impact their own internal development goals and overall security as a whole.

US Regional Involvement…Is it welcomed or meddling?

Without question the United States Government has a heavy interest in regional security with the continued war in Afghanistan. Moreover, the prospering relationship with India and continued partnership with Pakistan has the US as deeply entrenched in South Asia as it is in the Middle East. However, despite the necessity of US military and monetary assistance, is the USG’s input on regional security and development matters welcomed by all parties, or are they considered a meddling outsider?

India, Pakistan and Afghanistan reliance on USG military and monetary assistance should allow the USG at least serve the role as mediator or facilitator between the neighboring states on all issues. However, the USG continues to only hold bi-lateral discussions rather than regionally, and enabling each state to continue old grievances, and hindering any chance of success on any level.

For instance, India and Pakistan want all the fruits of energy, monetary and military assistance with the USG, but when the USG offers to help in diplomacy, especially regarding Kashmir, the continued response remains, “these are bi-lateral and internal issues that are not up for discussion.” Considering the nature in which the Kashmir issue is inextricably linked to resolving issues of poverty, education, security and development for the entire region, the time has come for the USG to utilize its reputation of fostering dialogue, compromise and agreement. The cost of the Indian occupation of Kashmir and Pakistan keeping the majority of troops on the Line of Control with India, development goals continue to stall greater regional prosperity.

Can civil society trump political corruption and deception?

Given the democratic values proclaimed by India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, civil society is the key stakeholder in all discussions, and should have a seat at the table. Survival of all three states rests in a strong civil society and social structure. Unfortunately, political leadership continues to marginalize and ignore civil society, whether an internal development matter, or larger regional issues such as Kashmir. Once the voice of civil society receives recognition as a legitimate stakeholder to the issues plaguing the region, tangible evidence of progress will begin to appear. Moreover the level in which political corruption continues to upset the social fabric of civil society will begin to dissipate. A strong communal order exists within the cultural framework of the region as a whole. The tribal and/or religious differences are exacerbated in the political sphere via corruption and manipulation. The single greatest asset the region possesses is the communal structure. Yet, it remains the most underutilized.

Until civil society is accepted as a legitimate stakeholder, regional insecurity will continue and development will suffer in the long term. Due to the historical legacy of the caste and tribal systems, the ability for policy makers to understand the needs of civil society remains unattainable. Only the input of civil society can bridge this gap, but it will require policy makers to once and for all recognize their concerns as legitimate.

If these three very general questions are properly addressed, the South Asian region will become a much more influential in international affairs, rather than a flashpoint.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Continuing Down Ghandi’s Path

The steadfast campaign of non-violence conducted by Ghandi and his colleagues for independence from colonial England was the reason for India’s independence. Regardless of the extreme violence perpetrated by their British occupiers, they remained non-violent. This broke the back of the British stance that they were the more civilized based on Judeo Christian orthodoxy of enlightenment, peace and justice. Just as Britain did to the Indians, the Indian Hindu hardliners, are following down the same path as their former colonial master, and justifying the Kashmiri call for self-determination. The Indian hardliner claims that Kashmiri Muslims are violent militants has shown to be shortsighted and racist in general. The abuse of the past year has eclipsed that of any other, yet the Kashmiri population refrains from taking up arms. Unfortunately, the world is not watching. After all, how could a country born out of the stance of non-violence, become even more ruthless than the former Garrisons of colonial Britain?

Today, the tenth body of a raped and murdered woman was recently discovered in the Kupwara District of Kashmir. Confirmed by investigators, due to the proximity of the crimes to military instillations and the circumstances regarding how the victims were killed, the perpetrators are either members of the police force (CPRF) or military personnel. The results of the past six weeks are testing the limits of the Kashmiri leadership’s ability to maintain their stance of non-violence. Due to the lack of press coverage of all things Kashmir, these are obvious attempts by the occupying forces to break the back of the non-violence movement, and gain the sensational press coverage regarding ‘radical Muslim militants’.

This all began on May 30th, when two women, one being pregnant, were discovered in a canal raped and killed in the village of Shopian. The CPRF claimed that the women had not been raped or killed, then said they “died from an accident.” Following the autopsy, it was determined that the two women were raped and murdered. Given the proximity to the military instillation, there could be no other conclusion other than the perpetrator being from the occupying forces. This has been confirmed as of late, yet an arrest has not been made. Since then, there have been confirmed reports of murdered young boys and girls throughout the Valley in similar fashion, which raises the question, why?

The non-violent movement of the Muslim majority Valley, occupied by more than 700,000 Indian military and paramilitary personnel (1 troop per 13 Kashmiri) has taken hold in the Valley. The success of the movement led by three separatist leaders, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik, and the leaders of the All Parties Hurryiet Conference, yet separate factions, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Sheikh Syed Ali Geelani has Indian authorities in Kashmir reeling. Their combined organization skills for peaceful protest and steadfast leadership must have Ghandi himself smiling. Moreover, just like Britian did with Ghandi and his colleagues, India has placed under house arrest, jailed or limited the movements of the three separatist leaders. One jailing almost resulted in the death of Mr. Malik, whose appendix burst while jailed without charge and was refused medical treatment until the judiciary stepped in and forced the state to give him the medical treatment and operation necessary to save is life. If India really wants to understand why they are losing this battle, they must look at their own history.

India has always justified the troop levels as necessary to combat an invasion by their prickly neighbor Pakistan and the militants that Pakistan does send across the borders to fight Indian soldiers. Make no mistake, there is violence perpetrated against the Indian military in Kashmir by groups based in Azad Kashmir, or Pakistani Occupied Kashmir. Moreover, the Mumbai attacks perpetrated by Pakistani’s and more than likely funded by the Pakistani Intelligence Services (ISI) and hardline factions of the Pakistani Military; do have camps in Azad Kashmir. However, these militants are not Kashmiri. They are Pakistani’s, or to be more specific, Punjabi, residents from the district of Punjab. Regardless, the violence perpetrated by these Pakistani militants has continued as justification for the campaign of violence against the Kashmiri population in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

Due to his former days as a militant, Mr. Malik knows first hand that picking up the gun and turning to a life of hatred and violence is the easy path. Fortunately, he continues to keep the youth population from turning to the same life he did as a young student in the 1980’s. Violence in most conflict zones has a cyclical dynamic in which violence perpetrated by one side tends to be reciprocated out of a need or desire for vindication and honor. Mr. Malik and Mr. Farooq have instilled in the youth the non-violent teachings of Sufi Islam. Specifically, that the greatest form of martyrdom and access to the kingdom of God is found through peaceful resistance. The unjustified killing of young men in Kashmir by the military and CPRF was nothing new. However, the raping and killing of women at such a high frequency is new and the most treacherous in the human psyche. A crime typically used to justify reciprocity.

The ability to stay the course and condemn any violent action is a testament to all of the leadership. Typically associated with Mahatma Ghandi or His Holiness the Dali Lama, the consistent calls for non-violence by Mr. Malik, Mr. Farooq and Mr. Geelani must be commended. Moreover, the time has come that these three leaders get their due recognition as Muslims leaders practicing non-violence and appealing to the masses to do the same via Islamic teachings, especially Mr. Malik and Mr. Geelani. Mr. Malik being a former militant and Mr. Geelani historically being known as a ‘hardliner’, who at one time advocated violence and militancy, are a testament to the Ghandian path of non-violence, and understand now the power that this stance holds. Hopefully it will continue.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Will Pakistan Understand Responsibility?

Historically, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) and the idea of security and responsibility are synonymous with contradiction and excuses. The situation that the GoP currently finds itself in the SWAT Valley and Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) comes as no surprise to anyone in the intelligence and human security arena. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, following the partitioning of the sub-Continent, Pakistan has utilized militias, radicals and insurgent groups to do the dirty work in order to maintain relations with nation states free of blame due to the actions of 'independent' groups. This approach afforded the GoP an ability to blame others rather than take the necessary responsibility nation states must accept when groups emanating from their territory threaten, kill and terrorize another nation states security. Of course, the majority of this practice took place during the Cold War, where Pakistan was aligned with the United States and India with the Soviet Union despite New Delhi’s stance that they were ‘neutral.’ The lack of understanding of the term ‘responsibility’ in the psyche of the GoP finally has come at a price.

The Beginning – Kashmir

Despite the countless human rights violations from India’s abuse of the Kashmiri people, what gets lost in historical reality is that it was the father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who initially sent mountain tribes into the Valley of Kashmir in order to prevent the Kashmiri their right to self determination, and forcing India’s hand to militarize the region. Moreover, the three wars fought since were the result of militant groups trained, funded and given logistical support by the GoP terrorizing the Indian Military. The last major military skirmish between the two rivals, the Kargil War, started when Pakistani based militants engaged the Indian Military which escalated to the brink of nuclear war between the two states. Today, the GoI maintains the reason for the 700,000 troops stationed in the Valley of Kashmir are specifically to defend India from what GoI refers to as “raiders.”

Following the Mumbai tragedy of a year ago, India tightened their grip on the Kashmiri people, despite denials by the GoP regarding the level of involvement from the military and intelligence service (ISI). Unfortunately, the people of Kashmir continue to pay the price for Pakistans misdeeds in the form of rapes, murders and custodial killings. Most recently, the double rape and murder in the village of Shopian.

Failures of SWAT and NWFP

The current situation in SWAT and NWFP was the result of the GoP empowering anarchic militant groups by cutting deals with the likes of the Taliban. The current war in this region of Pakistan has come at a severe cost. The displacement of over a million people is a humanitarian nightmare. Moreover, the daily suicide bombings, kidnappings and assassinations of officials proves that groups like the Taliban, despite their ties to the ISI and military establishment, have no allegiance to a government who since the mid 1990’s gave financial, militaristic and logistical support. All of this culminating in a complete lost of the publics trust that the government will provide adequate security from these militant organizations, let alone from the perceived threat from India.

The current situation in SWAT and NWFP requires more military aid from the international community, most notably the United States, and an increase in boots on the ground. However, the United States just last year granted the GoP its largest military appropriations in history to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda in SWAT and NWFP, and the GoP put the money into buying equipment to fight a war with India. Moreover, despite the necessity of an increase in military personnel in SWAT and NWFP, the GoP still maintains a position of leaving troops on the LoC. This only creates instability with India which is negligible at best. If Pakistan would dismantle the militant factions in Azad Kashmir and Punjab, the fear of a war with India would dissipate and basically be eliminated because India would no longer have the excuse that their troops are necessary to fight militants who come across the border.

Responsibility is the Best Confidence Building Measure (CBM)

In order for Pakistan to rid themselves of this self-inflicted damage, the GoP must finally accept responsibility and stop financing the ‘chickens who have come home to roost.’ By turning over those involved in the Mumbai tragedy to India, this will be a major CBM with the GoI. Next, the GoP must cut all ties and dismantle the militant camps in Azad Kashmir and Punjab who wreak havoc on the Indian Military in IJK, who respond by taking out their frustrations on the Kashmiri people. Finally, by shifting military personnel from the borders of India to fight in the NWFP and SWAT, this would create an undeniable CBM with their own people. The people of Pakistan know all to well where the origins of the their security problems begin. Unfortunately, their confidence in the GoP doing the right thing is minimal at best.

So, at what point does this irresponsibility begin to be fundamentally addressed? Well, it appears that just like a spoiled child refused a lollipop to learn a lesson so will the GoP. Due to struggles in the Af-Pak border region, and the GoP's reluctance to seal their own borders, dismantle the safe havens for the Taliban and deal with the militants, the USG has cut the military off once and for all. The new aid package for Pakistan from the USG will again be the largest in history. However, the aid is specifically for education, food and development; and not a penny for the military. The Government of Japan is considering a $20 billion dollar investment into Pakistan for construction of civil nuclear energy plants and technological transfer. However, unless the GoP shows accountability and responsibility for what happens within their own borders and ensure that another A.Q Khan won’t resurface, this deal will ultimately fail as well.

Much has been made of the democratic steps Pakistan has made in the last year and a half. However, until Pakistan learns to accept responsibility and be accountable for problems created within their own institutions, Pakistan will remain dysfunctional and untrustworthy. The greatest lesson Pakistan must begin to learn is responsibility.