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Why Peace Building Is Now Difficult in Kashmir

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The turmoil since 1989 has established uncertainty and chaos as the new normal in the valley of Kashmir. Undoubtedly Kashmir that was so proudly called as the paradise on earth is now full of inconveniences. It is the place where everything is politicized now but never resolved.

The decades of mass alienation and unaccounted violence has shaped up mass anger and that collective rage has slowly led to distrust against the government and also torn the social fabric. Amid the suffering masses, the constant blame game and labelling is the norm and those who talk of oppressors forget that they have themselves been guilty of committing the same atrocities when in power. The masses have always felt suppressed and the prolonged conflict has thus shaped a gory history, a bitter memory and a life of indignity, hopelessness, and exploitation. Standing witness to half-revolutions, vested interests and unmet promises, the state of Jammu and Kashmir seems to be reeling under a severe crisis, collective anomie and alienation. Thanks to the leadership crisis and lack of vision of the contemporary power regime.

It is not that Kashmiris don’t want peace, today every Kashmiri cries for peace and calm and the whole valley is yearning to grow and longing for Peace but instead of building peace and displaying practical seriousness and interest in peace process, ‘Give a damn policy’ continues and delaying tactics prevails. Consequently, normalcy is a luxury and peace is fragile, the calm is a deceptive calm which keeps waiting for a trigger to blow up every summer. The governance is not treated by masses as pro-Kashmir and there still exists a major sustained lack of effort towards enhancing credibility and social justice on the ground. Whereas, every committee or Human rights group suggests restoration of social justice but till date no report has been respected or paid any serious heed to. The feel secure psyche has vanished long before and getting rid of ambiguous and invisible control seems an impossible task. Amid a plethora of suppliers of instability, there exists an urgent need for a leadership that fully comprehends the Kashmir case and understands that there invariably exists a relationship between the equations of peace building and the forces of the sustenance of uncertainty which needs serious intervention. Akin to the nature of politics, where one party’s action invokes a quick reaction from the opposition, every action today in Kashmir has a reaction purely because of the prevailing dichotomous social realities and massive enemy perception! From the governance side, the constant crisis mishandling and bad conflict management besides violent crimes against the civilians have shattered people’s faith in the concept of democracy and the trust deficit is too high to be abridged now. The inhuman incarcerations have inevitably become the order of the day and the bitter and painful past and narratives of torture and suffering are becoming the motivating reasons behind young Kashmiris’ choosing the path of violence.

On the social intervention front, the chief stake holders need to see whether the target population interfaces well with the problems addressed in the programmes launched for them or is there an acute sense of discredit due to the political nature of the Kashmir problem. Why does this discredit exist and how can it be addressed in the first place remains a big question and simultaneously a big task to accomplish? The answer is simple, address Jammu and Kashmir politically first and foremost and the development and all other discourses will follow and will definitely get mass recognition later. This is what people in power though know but never acknowledge. It is also important to make a note of those still left out and understand why, with regard to the overall welfare interventions, much still remains undone despite tall claims to the contrary, since 1947. The single most significant prerequisite to overall development is the restoration of human dignity and safety in Kashmir, the rest can come later but the power elite always talks about the rest and ignores the fundamental. An empathetic approach therefore needs to be incorporated in a broader perspective, realizing the grave magnitude of the prevailing situation and that primarily needs willingness to deliver justice and restore Kashmir’s lost glory, without further delay.

On the security front, there is a dire need of strict discipline, human sensitivity and especially gender sensitivity while tackling the conflict. The important is to see to what extent working ethic or SOPs while operating are maintained and why have lapses continued for so long? What is the actual work done through WHAM (winning hearts and minds doctrine) and beyond encounters or killings what are the genuine peace efforts in-built into the existing system, what are the new peace friendly and mass friendly models of peace-building developed and most importantly to what extent is the Soldier-Civilian gap abridged over the years, etc,. Why is the enemy perception graph so all time high in the valley now? Why are even cops not safe? Unfortunately, policy and planning on Kashmir seems to be dismally lacking in vision and practicality so far resulting in civilian killings in every major or small uprising whereas the tactics to handle uprisings outside Kashmir are always different. The enemy perception continues to grow and peace building as a project continues to remain as a mere idea. Whose fault is this and who will take the responsibility? Who is responsible for pellet killings and pellet blinded victims? Also the security apparatus has to ensure principles like honesty, transparency, quick action against HR violations, internal transformation of the Jawan, understanding the local ethos, sensitivities and vulnerabilities are taken care of and followed with due respect and regard to maintaining their sanctity. However, from a mass perspective, the whole security apparatus resorts to putting things only in black and white as far as probes are concerned. What is clearly visible is the lack of strong evaluations, decentralisation in judgements, lack of clear statements and open documentation of their and others operations. The security apparatus including the local police in today’s Kashmir needs to think beyond the big brotherly attitude that has actually contributed to alienation and unrest, even the young and educated home-grown militancy. It also needs to be seen to what extent poor local participation, randomisation and generalisations destroy security calculations that got reflected so vividly in the 2016 uprising once again seeing slain militant commander Wani’s Funeral. It is also important to know that perspectives on peace practice and strategy need some theoretical frameworks and know-how, which demands vision and able leadership. Further understanding Kashmir’s changing society, social and political preferences, emerging new social dimensions and extent of social inequality amid the conflicting situation, etc, needs to be understood by all the significant stake holders properly and strategies to be framed accordingly. An effective social participation will go a long way in building a new political consciousness and ultimately a new peaceful Kashmir. Is anybody really interested in Peaceful Kashmir?

Another question that has to be answered satisfactorily, is to evaluate how well do the masses understand what they are consenting to or what they are heading towards, what principles and precepts they are following and why? Why are stone pelters even attacking vehicles and why mob violence and mentality has become a new craze and so much of legitimacy? In the recent past my vehicle was almost destroyed completely at Mochu-Budgam despite being a media person. The same Kashmiri youth were abusing us and hitting our vehicle all around. I am still wondering what our fault was and how will such treatments and violence against same Kashmiris or anyone else contribute to Azaadi? Sane Kashmiri minds especially youth have to disown such violent groups who attack even people for fun and see stone pelting at vehicles as a fight for freedom. Even the local community where such miscreants create such horror scenes have to intervene to discourage such rowdy behaviour.

It needs to be found as to why even the effective and intelligent change makers couldn’t completely curb the volatility and transform Kashmir into a peace zone? Why every Kashmiri feels demonized and insecure outside the valley and why still Kashmiri students are beaten even in universities and colleges in the country? The nation has to embrace Kashmiri if it loves Kashmir.

The need of the hour is to develop effective and functional links between local sentiments, embedded social problems and governance via policy-making in a range of contexts. Just continuing with and extending the learning summaries of key issues, closed door discourses, back door diplomacy channels, futile interlocutions, delaying tactics, ego clashes, oft repeated useless strategies, irresponsible political statements, insecurity hype for politics, and political provocations are not going to work, especially in today’s Kashmir which has a youth bulge that is highly aware, articulate and living amid a high political culture. At this juncture when so much of waywardness prevails, the desired actions and good and visible governance is much needed to make intervention efforts more inclusive. Actions which are politico-military and environmentally conscious need to be designed and made public friendly and practical. For instance, fair and faster probes in all past human rights abuse cases, issuing clear statements on sensitive issues from local/regional security headquarters unlike the central hegemony, a people friendly stand of AFSPA, immediate steps to heal the bruised environment of Kashmir valley, addressing water issues, power projects and financial loss of the J&K, respecting the resilience and suffering of innocent Kashmiris’ and fast delivery of justice in pending cases and innocent killings, etc,. It is important to rehabilitate the victims and deliver justice in a fair manner and is quite possible. Kashmir obviously and altogether needs a different policy and sensitive tackling at the central level along with a media that represents true Kashmir and only then peace in the region can be aspired. In addition, the task of sociological or psychological handling as well, needs to be assigned to good brains and astute minds. Kashmiris’ need space of all kinds and a friendly platform to give vent to their suppression and unheard grievances. In Kashmir the desired social change can be achieved if Kashmiris are empowered to exert influence and make decisions about their own social collective without any fear. The time has definitely come when the Centre needs to think out of the box for a new Kashmir! Time has come when the half-widows of Dardpora and the rape victims of Kunan-Poshpora and parents/kins of the disappeared need to be given justice. The time has also come when the Gawkadal,Kupwara, Pathribal, Chhatisingpora and Wandhama massacre culprits need to be suitably punished for their crimes and firmly put behind bars.

Last Word

The time has come to love the Kashmiri first and then Kashmir! Time has come, above all, to negotiate the venomous dichotomies of Us vs Them, skilfully and in a manner commensurate with the prevailing situation, so as to ensure a progressive way forward rather than talking rising wahabism, radicalism, ummah vs nationalism as responsible for all the mess in Kashmir! I also do not buy the argument that the discourse in Kashmir is shifting to primacy of Islam also. It is definitely shifting to more resolve for Azadi and the graph of dissent is constantly increasing. It is adding more young angry minds and it is not just the spirit of jihad but in most cases the hunger for revenge and resistance against the unaccounted atrocities. There has to be some end to this chain reaction. Till date, hardly a serious debate has been initiated by the institution of politics on such issues baring a few useless interlocutions. Kashmir needs to be delivered with humanity, democracy and Kashmiriyat what has so far only been a slogan. Understanding Kashmir requires an in-depth and empathetic understanding of its sociology, history-a history of suffering, deceit, oppression and continuing conflict. The fact remains, that peace can be achieved in Kashmir by understanding Kashmir and going through the path of social justice and political solution.

[A version of this article first appeared in Kashmir Pen-A prestigious weekly based in Srinagar]

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South Asia

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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