Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Part II: Cross-border trade, informal labor migration and citizen registration for border crossing management efforts

In order for the people within the South Asian region to gain confidence regarding their own security, governments must reduce restrictions in cross-border trade, affairs and labor migration. Hence the reasoning confidence building measures (CBMs) necessitate the targeting of local communities, rather than the status quo of CBMs among centralized governments. Of course, given the regional security complications, this will be no easy task to complete. However, in order to bring populations more into the mainstream and avoid the psychology of ‘criminalization’ of the average citizen due to inspection, regional authorities need to establish a unified registration system to alleviate such concerns. The social, cultural and religious ties among various groups will allow enable the ability to trade within their own communities across borders.

For example, the opening of cross border trade across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir resulted in some minor gains. Of course, there have been complications with regards to who can get the permit to cross the LoC.. Moreover, the level of bureaucracy, limitations of which goods can be traded and the strains placed on the Kashmiri traders on both sides of the LoC continues to hinder the progress. However, the result of trade has increased economic gains within the region, and shows clearly that the political problems between India and Pakistan are not between the people on the ground.

The same can be said between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In fact, there are greater cultural ties between the Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s SWAT Valley, Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Additionally, the projected surplus in the production of wheat in Afghanistan should be a useful asset for the central governments to establish some form of regulatory method to increase cross border trade[1].

Stop the bureaucratic madness

The complaints in the Kashmiri cross border trade agreement mainly stems from complications generated either by bureaucrats in the central government, or military personnel monitoring the border who do not have the justification or a reason for prevention. Reports of 70-80 trucks on the Pakistan side waiting for approval by the government was an initial blow to cross border relations because the majority of goods crossing the border are from the Indian side[2]. However, the Indian authorities have placed restrictions on certain commodities that can be traded across the border, specifically cardamom and coconut[3]. Since the original idea of the CBMs targets boosting confidence among the local populations, it lacks justification by both India and Pakistan to create complications for the local population. If the reasoning was due to security concerns, that would carry possible legitimacy. However, the continued lack of justification to those seeking to trade across the LoC reeks of political unwillingness to actually see progress in the sixty year old stand off between India and Pakistan.

The issues in cross border trade across the Pakistan Afghanistan border are undeniably much more complicated. The problem of Taliban and insurgent militant organizations streaming across the border are a problem for military and security forces on both sides. However, militants rarely use the traditional road systems to cross the borders due to the frequency of patrolling by the Pakistani Military and NATO/US Forces. Therefore, regulatory measures are a viable option for the two governments to move forward with the agreement reached between the Zardari and Karzai Governments following their trilateral meetings with President Obama in May[4].

Once again, the point of the cross border trade is to alleviate the strains of the ongoing conflicts in the region on the regional communities, the vast majority of which are not participating in any form of militant movement. The fact that these so-called CBMs are being restricted due to bureaucratic foot dragging undermines the whole notion that these are CBMs created for local communities. The greater the ability the people within the Pashtun tribal areas have in restoring a sense of normalcy and rejecting the threats and intimidation by the Taliban and insurgents, will pay dividend in cooperation with governments to help combat extremism. Essentially, communities need to be part of the solution for sustainable development growth leading to greater regional security.

Legitimizing informal and migrant labor sectors

Informal and migrant labor within the South Asian region has continued for centuries. Look no further than the Uyghar’s captured by US Forces entering Afghanistan from Pakistan in search of work. Since the Uyghurs in question were technically Chinese, and Muslim, there was a belief that they were entering Afghanistan in order to join insurgent groups[5]. Unfortunately for these men, they were unable to return home out of fear of being labeled a terrorist due to their length incarceration in Guantanamo Bay. However, they are a prime example of the informal and migrant labor that occurs across all the regional borders.

Few admit that ethnic and tribal groups do not recognize the borders drawn in the region by the British Government during decolonization. Many of these ethnic groups have functioned for centuries, relying on one another for labor, trade, education, and in some cases food assistance. This inter-regional alliance among groups needs continued fostering, but can also be regulated in a way that groups do not feel violated or insulted by a central government that provides little facilities in terms of goods and services.

The legitimizing through transparent registration free of extortion and corruption, the economic impact for centralized governments should produce robust gains in economic growth, cross-border alliances among states and the possibility of greater regional security. States need to work with one another at better facilitation measures regarding cross border interaction. There is recognition of the security dilemma that these cross border migrations pose to central governments. On the contrary, granting a community greater opportunity to goods, services and income can only increase the psyche that central governments are working towards the betterment for their people, and not just their constituencies.

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