When it comes to improving the security situation in any society, it all begins with economics. Most people think of economics in terms of foreign direct investment, economic aid, the World Bank, IMF etc. However, when in societies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China or Iran, the stability and security in these states hinges on the quality of life that people must sustain for survival. It may even amaze many people to understand that if the majority of citizens in South Asian states were granted access to basic food necessities (grains, cereals, vegetable, fruits), basic education for their children increasing at the very least literacy (K-8) and some form or employment or trade opportunity, then the ability for those societies to prosper will become incredibly sustainable.
The recent uprising in Xingjian Province in Western China by the Uygur population stemmed from blatant policies of discrimination against this ethnic and Muslim sector of the population by the Han Chinese authority. For decades, stability in Xingjian for the most part was a sustainable existence. There were obvious concerns by the ethnic minority Uygur population that discrimination was taking place by the ruling Han. However, the Uygur’s never turned to violence, but did become a more isolated society and turned inward, rather seeking greater inclusion into mainstream Chinese society. Despite a lack of evidence, the Chinese Government has labeled the Uygur population as a terrorist minority following the 9/11 attacks, based on religious affiliation and the informal transient labor and trade sector with neighbors in Afghanistan. As the access and quality of life deteriorated in Xingjian province, so did the human security situation. The result was on full display this past month in the form of the riots in Guangdong and Urumqi.
This form of civil uprising in the region has not just found it’s way to the doorstep of central governments either. The Taliban also have found out first hand what happens when the desperation of civil society turns on those assuming responsibility for that population. In the SWAT Valley, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, people have grown tired of the inability of the central government to once and for all bring stability to the region, and doubly tired of the Taliban’s intimidation and forced control of the population, leading to the formation of local militia’s. The significance has been the progress these newly formed militias have achieved compared to that of the government in rooting out the Taliban. This proves that when people are pushed to their limits, the basic necessity of survival will win out over any political entity, violent or otherwise.
Both of these examples are the result of bad economics, education and public infrastructure by either the central authority, or the militant organizations that have nothing to offer other than an extreme ideology and a negative human development index. Moreover, it questions the government’s ability to understand that regardless of the societal makeup, communities want to improve. They want to see development and advancement for their children. This does not mean that these communities want to be ‘westernized’, but it does mean that they do believe they can have sustainable growth within their own communal and social dynamic through flexibility and adaptation to fit specific social norms and requirements.
There are multiple examples found throughout the region. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil situation was the result of mass discrimination against the Tamil population, and complete disregard for their legitimacy as an ethnic group. Of course, this does not excuse the reign of terror that Tamil forces conducted on the general Sri Lankan population, and non-Tamil communities within the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. However, it goes to the heart of the belief that when a population feels they are not being granted an ability to grow as a society, they will resort to desperate means in order to achieve their objectives.
In India, these examples are found throughout the sub-Continent. In Kashmir, Bengal and Orissa, the people have resorted to both violent and non-violent means of communal response. In Kashmir, following a brutal and often bloody uprising from 1988-1995, the struggle has maintained a non-violent stance despite militants coming across the LoC from Pakistan at the behest of Pakistani military and intelligence personnel. Moreover, the violent and oppressive means that the military and security forces continue to employ to dominate Kashmiri life and culture. In Bengal, the Naxalite population has resorted to full militant struggle for independence. In Orissa, the attacks on all non-Hindu’s, specifically Christians, and the propaganda in local media, also led to state wide protest. Most of the problems in India are the result of Hindu extremism propagated by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) or their more extreme subsidiary the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It must be noted that these two powerful political groups are more nationalist in nature rather than religious extremists. However, their propaganda of violent action against non-Hindu communities makes their ideology appear more in line with the Taliban than say the Stalinist regimes in other parts of the world.
In all of these cases, civil society was pushed to the brink or responding either in a violent manner, or in the case of Kashmir, strikes shutting down the whole Valley in an attempt to finally get the world to take notice of the situation. In a recent conference in Washington DC regarding Kashmir, one panel was posed with the question, “When non-violent movements fail, what’s next?” The answer more than likely is not very trivial to people living in the West or the developed world. However, unless analysts, academics and politicians attempt to walk in the shoes of the disenfranchised in any given society, the conclusions will always appear to be simple, without realizing the complexities that a society faces ethnically, religiously, politically and economically. In every case within South Asia, the model continues to mirror that of the colonial model, which created the problems that still exist today.
In order to solve the problems regarding economic and social development, human security, food scarcity and education in South Asian communities, civil society must have greater input into the sustainability of proposed actions. A new trend must begin to emerge where confidence-building measures (CBMs) target the ground realities of civil society. Human migration, informal labor sectors and inner tribal trading must be addressed in a pragmatic manner in order to bring realistic solutions to the daily problems faced in the most dire of circumstances. This will come in relaxed border restrictions through centralized registration based on trust and free of intimidation by the central authority, discrimination and/or racism. Finally, the corruption throughout the bureaucratic agencies of the central governments must be addressed and dealt with swiftly and without prejudice. In fact, this problem is at the heart of all the other problems.
What we find in South Asia today, are governments whose perceived understanding of governance is the model left behind by colonial powers. Exploitation, racism and cultural exclusivity plague the day-to-day activities of civil society in every nation state in the region. The assumption that these populations are in some way homogenous in nature and not filled with the diversity one might find in the United States is patently false. In fact, the melting pot theory may even hold more substance in South Asia than any part of the world. Unfortunately, the ruling classes who are left in charge following either a dictator, oppressive regime, ruling political party or otherwise have left nothing but poverty, despair and corruption in their wake, and a future mess for the international community to try and solve.
Until the nation states of the region come together in a cooperative manner, address the petty differences that continue to obfuscate the situation in the region; changes will never have a sustainable outcome. The answers to these problems must come from within. The animosities towards western nations who are viewed as the cause of the problems today are valid. However, it is time that these governments keep blaming the West, and come up with viable solutions for all of their people.