Monday, August 3, 2009

Ending the colonial state of mind: A Three part look at constructive measures for peace in South Asia

The next three postings will be a series of ideas addressing how to combat militarism, poverty and societal fracturing within South Asia by addressing colonial legacy and the psychological impact still felt throughout the region from a people’s perspective, and not exclusively the nation state. Additionally, South Asia in this context includes, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iran, the Caucus States and China (Xingjian).

Part I: Ending the Colonial Legacy via Community Targeted CBMs

Many of the problems facing South Asia today are a continuation of the colonial legacy left behind by the British Empire. A common mistake made by political scientists and development organizations resides in the inability to recognize that elements of the colonial past still haunt the development of these societies in the modern era. In fact, the way in which central governments throughout South Asia govern is deeply rooted in the colonial model. A prime example of this can be found in India with regards to Kashmir, or in Pakistan with regards to the SWAT Valley, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

These areas are not so much governed, as they are subjugated to a central authority. Like that of the colonial master, the central government rejects any notion of social framework that existed prior to the creation of the state itself. This form of governing clearly mirrors the way in which the British governed their territories. Moreover, the lack of development is directly associated with a lack of respect, if not racism towards these local communities, not unlike that of colonialism.

The only way this legacy can be fully extracted from the psyche of the average citizen is through the employment of Confidence Building Measures directed at the community level. Essentially, until the modern South Asian nation state can govern their citizens based on respect for all citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race and gender; any development will fail to fully develop into a functioning peaceful state.

Utilizing CBMs to instill public confidence

Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), the hallmarks of progress in negotiations, are often recited when attempting to show progress between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, etc. However, quite often the CBMs failed to address the more localized issues that continue to threaten stability throughout the South Asian region, specifically poverty. Militant organizations in the region have proven without a doubt, that in order to win South Asia, you must control the local population through exploitation of cultural dynamics. Village by village, province by province; by taking short gains and expanding into greater regional control, groups like the Taliban, al Qaeda and Lashkar e Taiba have shown nation states why they are winning, and major military operation are failing.

Militant organizations are not offering any traditional form of CBMs; on the contrary their only offerings come in the form of fear and intimidation, for so-called ‘protection’ of their cultural identity from western imperialism. Militant groups are able to exploit the corruption of local and national governments in order to achieve their long-term goals. The only way that sustainable security and development will be achieved; primarily will result from states targeting CBMs to the people on the ground, and where evidence of progress can be evaluated.

The same can be said in Indian Administered Kashmir. The name itself lends itself to the notion of being a colonial state. Furthermore, the reference by the Indian Government to Kashmir as the ‘crown jewel of the princely states’ implies nothing less. When India does negotiate with Pakistan, CBMs are always a tool for greater cooperation between the two disputing powers, and not for the Kashmiri people. Of course, there was the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad Bus Service across the Line of Control, but token measures over a sixty year span of conflict over the region hardly grants the local population any feeling of confidence that they are at all a part of the discussion.

It must be stressed that Kashmiri society continues to reject militarism as a means to combat this policy, and utilize the non-violent tradition that led to partition of the sub-Continent from British rule. A prime example are the strikes and protests that took place last summer, where all violence was perpetrated by the Indian military without retaliation by the Kashmiri people. Any militancy within Kashmir is conducted by groups who have little to no relevance within Kashmiri society, and are not Kashmiri themselves.

Additionally, the same can be said for the majority of militancy throughout South Asia. Whether discussing Afghanistan, Pakistan, India or Kashmir, militant and extremist ideology did not originate there. The militant movement stems from Arab groups and Arab influence that is not South Asian in origin. These groups have just utilized and exploited culture and religion as a mechanism for their ideology of hate. If the international community really wants to pacify the region and bring an end to these organizations, they will begin employing localized CBMs as a tool rather than the gun. Only then will a change begin to be actualized.

Disconnect with Ground Realities

In South Asia, most politicians fail to understand the ground realities that communities face for two main reasons. The first being a failure to empathize with their subjects due to a life experience embedded in privilege, protections and lack of understanding how to address localized issues. The second typically comes from widespread corruption of the local leadership who serve their own self-interests rather than the purpose of a better community. Without a doubt, these are two key elements in the failure to stabilize Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Kashmir.

It goes without saying that CBMs between states are necessary for long-term stability, especially in South Asia. However, the CBMs between all of the regional states, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Caucuses, are aimed at ensuring short-term political needs to win elections, and not aimed at alleviating the human security elements in the most crucial areas of the state. The adverse impact that failing to stabilize local communities on the micro level has in improving the overarching macro level goals of a sustainable future for the region remain obvious.

The common linkages to security issues found throughout the region should enable states to take a macro level regional approach towards greater cooperation. However, only through the employment of cooperative measures to assess, monitor and evaluate the gains at the local level can success be achievable. This will necessitate addressing the ‘top down’ institution of corruption within states before any legitimate development efforts can gain a foothold, let alone any form of regional cooperation. The first CBM that can offer the people within the South Asian region will be to undo the corruption model that western states have employed to ensure their control over the governing authority at the expense of its citizens.

CBMs for Warlords Rather than People

Institutions at both the local and national level are highly underdeveloped due to institutional corruption ensuring the ruling class’ longevity. The highly developed corruption model found throughout government institutions in South Asia come in the forms of positional appointments, extortion and once again, a failure of understanding that short term stability will lead to long term success; the only guarantee for long-term political control. Rather than addressing the corruption issue from the outset, a sustainable CBM for the people, the employment of warlords continue to be the institutional model.

Of course, corruption remains the catalyst and source for the problems in the region. For example, in Afghanistan, former ‘warlords’ such as Hamid Karzai and the rest of the Northern Alliance were granted legitimacy due to their opposition to Taliban rule. Rather than showing understanding of the most important fabric in Afghan society, ‘Pashtunwali’ (Pashtunwali is the tribal social structure found in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan), the Bush Administration employed the services of warlords as the new ‘garrisons’ of Afghanistan. Had the administration utilized this already known aspect within Afghan culture, the situation found in Afghanistan might look entirely different.

Following the removal of the Taliban from power, the anointing of Karzai as de facto leader in Afghanistan paved the way for corruption to once again plague any form of stability for the Afghan people. The same mistake was continued by Pakistan in the SWAT Valley and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), from the Government of Pakistan’s negotiations with the Pakistan based Taliban.

Taking down the Taliban was not a difficult task for the US Military. However, rather than addressing the wishes and needs of the people, and extracting the mindset of the Afghani people that the US was yet another colonial power looking to exploit them, the focus primarily targeted the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Had the United States addressed the needs of the people initially, the Taliban would have permanently lost any foothold necessary to sustain any kind of long-term campaign.

This was a key CBM that should have been employed from the outset. If the intention is to liberate people from an oppressive regime, the option of replacing one oppressor for another should not be considered. Unfortunately, the shortsighted approach to Afghanistan following the invasion in 2001 ensured that the Taliban would not fully be eliminated from the equation. This colonial approach instituted by western powers over the region was a continuation of mistakes the British Empire left in place. One would have hoped that given British involvement in Afghanistan, they would have given greater insight as to why they failed, and Afghanistan became known as a place where ‘empires go to die.’

Regional Cooperation for Micro-Alleviation

The necessity of regional cooperation to meet modern security and development goals will require robust pragmatic approaches at the local level for sustainable gains. For example, the greatest threat to regional security in South Asia is poverty, an issue that militant groups continue to exploit with incredible efficiency. Groups such as the Taliban are able to exploit the ‘Pashtunwali’ mainly because they understand the power it holds within Afghan society, The idea of a ‘western’ style rule within the region will always fail due to the contradictive nature in which the two societal structures function.

However, the cultural linkage between states grant regional institutions an ability to work together to alleviate poverty, unemployment and a lack of educational institutions. Regional alliances have proven to be a successful tool for the Taliban and other extremist elements, by utilizing the cultural tendencies as form of CBMs. As previously stated, what extremist groups are offering are not CBMs by any traditional sense, but by showing communal respect, they are able to win allegiances of communities who otherwise do not subscribe to their ideology of hate. If governments would use these cultural ties to their advantage, the progress would show robust improvement.

The development complications in South Asia continue to baffle western powers and organizations. However, a continuation to fail to address the needs of the people within the societal framework remains the very reason why extremist groups continue to have localized success. As long as any form of development continues to appear as another form of colonialism, and an infringement on the societal structure, this failure will continue.

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