Politics of Ethnicity: Sri Lankan Case Study
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher called man a “social animal” by nature. Human survival has been a key characteristic and this depended on man’s ability to become part of social groups. In old times, physical survival of these collective bodies depended on the in-group cohesion. From here the concept of us versus them, was sprouted. These distinctions have always tempted people to divide themselves into diverse groups. Humans consider themselves as part of a certain group on the basis of clan, family, ethnicity, race, religion and so forth. They recognize themselves as an in-group identity, to which generally positive characteristics are attached. For an in-group identity there must be the “other” group that is perceived as the out-group. This otherness has always been considered a threat which ultimately in many cases leads to hostilities and differences between the two groups.
Conflicts are inevitable and can occur in different dimensions and in distinct dynamics. They can be ethnic and political in nature and together it gives rise to ethnopolitical conflict, which is fought between different factions. It is an intergroup conflict that disturbs communication and distorts perceptions between the groups. They foreground ethnic and religious differences which as a result alter the perceptions of the other side. (Souleimanov 2013).
SRI LANKAN CASE STUDY
Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.
The ethnically diverse country constitutes 75 percent Buddhist Sinhalese and Tamils who are chiefly Hindus form 15.4 per cent, of which 11.2 per cent are Sri Lankan Tamils and 4.2 per cent are Indian Tamils. (Div-05 2016) The Indian Tamils were brought as laborers to Sri Lanka by the British.
Ethnic differences between the two dominant ethnic groups, Sinhala and Tamils, coupled with rising nationalism generated the ethnopolitical conflict. The discriminatory rule of the British before independence and the culturally biased policies of the Sinhala government after freedom from the colonial rulers are considered the leading causes of the conflict. The politicization of ethnicity by Sri Lankan government resulted in the birth of LTTE.
In 1948, Sri Lanka gained independence from the British. Sri Lankan people, before and after independence have been a victim of ethnopolitics. However, the ethnic politics became clearly manifested in 19th and early 20th centuries.
The colonial phase of Sri Lankan history largely shaped the conflict. The British rule from 1815 to 1948 created borders which formed divisions between ethnic groups and also set the stage for the conflict.
The British colonizers favored the minorities. The divide and rule strategy aggravated the differences between Tamils and Sinhalese. The minority under colonials in Ceylon were Tamils. The minority, after all, was more trustworthy to become an ally. This also led to Tamils enjoying more necessities than Sinhalese who were in the majority. For example, a larger number of Christian missionaries in the north meant Tamils having more access to English education. This resulted in Tamils accessing more positions in civil services and having a greater economic influence. (“Sri Lanka, Ethnic Conflict, and the Rise of a Violent Secessionist Movement” 2013). This marked the initiation of socio-economic and political divide between Sinhalese and Tamils.
The tables turned when the island nation got independence from British rule. Tamils found themselves in a precarious position because the majority group sought to receive political and economic power. When Sri Lanka got independence in 1948, the Tamils now feared for the protection of their political, economic and cultural rights under the rule of now the major ethnicity of Sri Lanka.
The major Sinhalese dominated political parties, relied on ethnic emotions to win Sinhalese support and exploited public opinion in 1950s. Different policies emerged in the next five decades which are regarded as a step towards ethnicization of politics. The first of these was the 1956 Official Language Act (of Sinhala-only language). The main source of this Act is considered the growing resentment from Sinhalese population for Tamil language being a national language. The impact of this was that it created greater job opportunities for Sinhala speakers and limited them for non- Sinhala speakers. Though education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels was provided in person’s vernacular, but with time in public service, Sinhalese became the lingua Franca (“Sinhala Only Bill | 1956, Sri Lanka,” n.d.). However, linguistic nationalism is one of many other driving factors for Tamil demand of separate homeland.
After independence, issue of land ownership and access to it also was a consistent source of ethnopolitics. Certain ethnic groups in Sri Lanka are distributed in certain geographical areas. Tamils were majorly settled in dry zone areas of Northern and Eastern provinces. Colonization and resettlement of these areas was another problem faced by Tamils. (Perer 2001)
Sinhalese and Tamil leadership at this time played a crucial role. The reason for Tamil distrust in Sri Lanka political system finds bases in Tamil elites trusting the Sinhalese government and Sinhalese breaking it, time and time again. Before the emergence of separatist movements, Tamils made several attempts to work through with the government. All these attempts went in vain when fake promises made by the government were completely ignored in the end. The Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Pact that was abandoned at the end provoked more tensions between both two ethnic communities. In the same time period, Tamil Language Special Provisions Act, inspired by Sinhala Only Bill and Senanayake- Chelvanayaka Pact were signed and abandoned because of pressure from certain Sinhalese. The inability to make concessions and keep promises had become an engrained norm of Sri Lankan government. From this point onwards, demands for a separate homeland in northern Sri Lanka-Tamil Eelam were made.
Tamils also used non-violent means to achieve their political goals. Two major Satyagraha campaigns were adopted by Tamils. Both the instances of Satyagraha were response to the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 and 1961 respectively. (“Sri Lanka, Ethnic Conflict, and the Rise of a Violent Secessionist Movement” 2013).
In Sri Lanka, the politicization of ethnic tensions further exacerbated the situation. As stated above that the conflict had historical roots but fuel was added by the politicians. They provided the spark that ignited violence in the country. The politicians took help of raw violence and votes.
The above argument suggests and helps understand the emergence of Liberation of Tamil Tigers and other insurgent groups and movements. LTTE also state that “they are the product of the Sinhala violence and chauvinism”, or as Neil de Votta says the birth of the separatist movement is “Sinhala-inspired.” (Abdul Razak 2007). To please the Sinhalese voters, the political parties created an environment of distrust between Sinhalese and Tamils. Communal riots resulted in Tamil killings, beatings and many were maimed and forced out of their homes.
The ethnocratic government and its ethnocentric politics lead to intense nationalism among Tamils. The unattended grievances by the Sri Lankan government drove the Tamils towards retaliation in the form of a violent rebel. LTTE was formed in 1976 as ethnic tensions rose in Tamil majority regions. The Tamil militants started the insurgency with low intensity to maintain control in the Tamil dominated areas. They declared the first Eelam war as a result of these violent riots. Initially, LTTE had the support of legitimate Tamil political representatives but Liberation Tigers with time became a violent entity and started to fight other Tamil factions. They massacred their opponents and came in power over the other separatist movements by 1986. They became the “sole representative of the Tamils.”(TamilNet 2005)
The Sri Lankan civil war is divided into 4 phases named as Eelam wars. Each phase was bloodier than the previous one. Tactics used by Tigers with time became more lethal. The insurgent group targeted many high-profile personalities. The war officially started as a low-level insurgency in 1983 as a result of ethnic riots.
LTTE soon was labelled as the terrorist group after the use of terror tactics including suicide bombs. (“The Sri Lankan Civil War and Its History, Revisited in 2020” 2020).
The rebel group was responsible for assassination of premiers
On May 2009, the Sri Lanka army announced victory after killing the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. This marked the end of the civil war. (thoughtcodotcom 2009)
Ethnicity and politics when merged create tensions, violence and chaos.
The political development in Sri Lanka and ethnic strife proved that violence was the consequence of politicization of ethnic differences. The LTTE firmly believed that employed violence was validated because government had reacted violently to Tamil demands. The Sri Lankan government, on the other hand, justified its violence against Tamils and LTTE for safeguarding the territorial integrity of the Sri Lankan island.
Ethno-political conflicts require resolutions that guarantee stability, ethnic peace and security. In ethnically divided societies power sharing and partition is a highly practical and achievable solution for security of ethnic groups. Other than partition, depending upon the conflict, ethnic peace needs to be sustained.
Indo-Pak Game of Influence in Afghanistan: Who Is Winning?
Afghanistan has earned its status as a centerpiece of the global ‘Great Game’. It has been fought for, sought after for reasons ranging from its strategic location to huge in situ reserves of natural resources and reserves. Standing at the crossroads of Central-South Asia and Middle East, it is believed to be holding more than $ 1 trillion worth of untapped natural/mineral resources and metals.
For Pakistan, it has earned the repute of being its strategic depth owing to reasons ranging from use of the soil by India against Pakistan to cross-border terrorism. While India has capitalized on these threats post 2001 using USA-sponsored regimes in Afghanistan to launch its own hybrid warfare against Pakistan. The dossier released by Pakistan in November, 2020 proposed with evidence the existence of 66 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that the report alleges were being used to wage terrorism and dismantle economic prospects of the former. Building upon prospects of state sponsored terrorism by India, it maintains that India has been actively involved in rekindling the fusion of Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP) with its break away factions, Jammat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul-Ahrar while also paying more than $820, 000 to TTP through its collaborators.
Owing to its strategic importance, India invested more than $ 3 billion in Afghanistan in about 400 economic projects it launched in the country. 150 projects were still underway when Taliban government took reins in Afghanistan in August 2021. During Ashraf Ghani’s government, India-Iran-Afghanistan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been proposed, whereby India committed $21 billion to expand its Chahbahar project to Hajigak. It is pertinent to mention here that Hajigak holds 1.7 billion tons of untapped iron deposits out of total 2.2 billion tones that Afghanistan is estimated to be holding, placing Afghanistan among top ten countries with extractable iron reserves. About $11 billion worth of Hajigak iron and steel mining project was handed over to consortium of seven Indian companies, together with $ 2 billion commitments for developing supporting infrastructure including Chahbahar –Hajigak Railway. India will never give up on its planned and already attained investment in the country while for Pakistan, it is much favorable to bring in the major shift in its policy towards Afghanistan.
Pakistan, with the Taliban government stands on more favorable grounds contemporarily but owing to Afghanistan’s economic woes-about 28. 3 million people (2/3 of its population) need urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023, according Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Relief (OCHR)-it is not unlikely for the country to shift alliances.
Pakistan has remained heavily invested in Afghanistan with respect to security affairs. It has been the foremost reason behind its independence from USSR in 1989 and is heavily engaged diplomatically to build interlinkages of the state with the international community for earning the humanitarian benefits for its people. A peaceful, prosperous, stable and connected Afghanistan serves the interest of Pakistan and hence the country continuously commits to pursue continuous and practical engagement with the interim Afghan government.
The atmosphere is now changing with realizations. In the latest Fifth China-Pakistan-Afghanistan Foreign Minister’s Dialogue, The Afghan interim government reiterated its commitment both with Pakistan and China that it would not allow any individual, group or party, including the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ETIM to use its territory against the neighboring countries. The format is of strategic importance in its focus on trilateral economic cooperationto fully harness Afghanistan’s potential as a hub for regional connectivity. Pakistan shall be prudent in this regard as it can reap magnanimous benefits from expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan, as proposed. Ad hocism must be avoided to maximize mutual benfit under such overtures in such a manner that national interest is attained.
For its part, Pakistan has spent more than $ 1 billion in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and invested heavily in capacity building of Afghanistan, including 72 km Torkhum Jalalabad Road and 400 bed Jinnah Hospital worth $118. 8 million while also training 644 Afghan police and drug control officers, among others. Keeping up with its commitments of capacity building in Afghanistan, it has also been providing high-end assistance as that of road construction machinery, mobile hot mixers, generators, medicines, ambulances and trucks among others. More than $ 5 billion in in-kind humanitarian assistance has also bene provided.
Although such overtures intensify Pakistan’s standing in bilateral relations with Afghanistan but bilateral consolidation would require early completion of such projects as that of TAPI, CASA-1000, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission line among others. Such projects serve dual purpose for Pakistan: Afghanistan that protects the interest of Pakistan and regional consolidation that would mean raising Pakistan to higher pedestals when it comes to regionalism and hence International affairs.
How Afghanistan realigns itself socially and politically will have long-term consequences for the entire region and the world. States continue to seek their own vested interests in the process. It is long-term, strategic and holistically calibrated policy making and intense economic investment on bilateral and multilateral levels that can pit Afghanistan in favor of Pakistan as compared to India, in the long run.
Pakistan’s Political Turmoil and Global Security Concern
Pakistan is currently in a critical juncture of political turmoil which is posing a threat to its sovereignty as well as growing concerns about global security. Not only that, if Pakistan fails to address the crisis, then definitely it will be the beginning of the extinction of democratic values regionally and globally. Pakistan has also been spiralling towards a severe economic catastrophe and struggling to meet the basic needs of its population. Now Pakistan is in a state of critical emergency after 1971, where the elite class should not repeat their apocalyptic mistake of ignoring the voices of the people.
The power struggle of the current stalemate began when Imran Khan was ousted in April 2022 following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. However, this imbroglio is hardly a scenario that has arisen overnight. This is a result of bankrupt political regimes. Needless to say, Pakistan’s ruling power has generally been characterized by its preference for one side of the Pakistan Army. Each of the five prime ministers has been indicted or imprisoned after leaving office. The military-dominated Pakistan has a long record of engineering the electoral playing field to achieve the Army’s preferred result.
Corruption has long been a pressing issue in Pakistan’s political landscape, with high-profile corruption cases involving influential politicians and bureaucrats. These scandals have eroded public trust in the government and raised concerns about the misuse of public funds. The economic condition in Pakistan was facing a severe crisis. Now the devastating flood of 2022, 50-years high inflation, food and energy shortage, collapsed investment, critically low exports, and foreign exchange reserve, mounting foreign debt, and the failure of international lenders have further exacerbated the situation. Furthermore, Covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia put tremendous pressure on world food and energy prices, which has had a negative impact on Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistan is experiencing violent social unrest. Economic challenges, rising inflation, polarized politics, and unemployment have contributed to the frustration and discontent among the populace, especially the youth where over 60% of the population is under the age of 30. A weaponized society with nothing to lose has grown a new ability to touch the untouchable elite Institutions. Furthermore, ethnic and sectarian tensions, mass reform movements recently by religio- political parties, and engagement between Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan(TTP) and security forces clearly spelled out the public frustration with elite Institutions or ruling systems.
Pakistani, especially the young generation, are frustrated and possess discontent with the country’s political discourse of weakening opponents and appeasing puppet masters. Poor dynastic leadership has also paved the way for military intervention in state power. Imran Khan has taken advantage of the situation to make himself the savior of the nation. However, he is also seen as a trump card for Islamic jihadist organizations. His party’s strongholds, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Lahore, and Punjab, are all strongly under the control of Islamic jihadist groups. Imran Khan as a prime minister praised the mujahideen and hailed Osama bin Laden as Shahid (martyr) in the parliament. One more significant thing, the Pakistani Constitution has ensured the right to choose the Sharia rule provincially or in special administrative areas.
Now, in recent years, TTP or other similar religio- political fundamentalists have exhibited mass reform movements and continue armed struggle across the country. Their issue-based movement has become popular among the countrymen and their armed struggle has made the elite establishment bound to sit for a peace deal with TTP. We will be in a fool’s paradise if we ignore the smartness and political acumen of present Islamic jihadist organizations. Now the situation in Pakistan is more favorable for TTP as well as International Islamic militant organizations. The Pakistani Judiciary, PTI, Islamic militant organizations, and military, Pakistan Democratic Movement(PDM) coalition are near to head-on collision. The worst possible fact is civil war, and the next phase will be the triumph of the Islamic jihadist movement.
The pressing question that demands attention from global leaders is why Pakistan should be a cause for concern. We must not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation. Drawing upon my extensive two-decade study of Islamic militant organizations, it is evident that the Islamic jihadist movement will emerge at full throttle in Pakistan. In my opinion, Pakistan will be Afghanistan 2.0 today or tomorrow unless the crisis is not dealt with appropriately. This ideological warfare is just like cancer in the human body. If we fail to recognize it at an early stage, it would leave us no choice but to surrender. Now, if we compare the situation of Pakistan with earlier Afghanistan, Iraq, Burkina Faso, and Mali, then it becomes evident that Pakistan is at the last stage of ideological cancer. I assume that the next Islamic jihadist movement is likely to extend its reach to Kashmir and Yemen. If this movement gains traction in Pakistan, then it will be a matter of time to establish a strong jihadist bastion in South Asia and the Middle East.
The West, unfortunately, has deprioritized its engagement against Islamic militant organizations, which will compromise the value of democracy and bring a new dimension to democratic countries globally. To be sure, we will not be able to see democracy piping over the Great Wall in the East and the African-Russian imaginary barrier in the West. Meanwhile, Somalia and Yemen will serve as strategic game-changer, providing an economic lifeline for international Islamic jihadist organizations.
So, where does the savior of democracy lie? Or, are democracy and human rights merely tools used to suppress third-world nations? These crucial questions demand answers.
In conclusion, my perception will only begin to take shape once Islamabad falls. Pakistan must respond quickly because time is not on its side. Now the most straightforward way to restore peace in Pakistan would be through timely, free and fair elections, unfettered by the establishment’s intervention. An elected government has the potential to restore confidence in Pakistan’s Institutions, and that confidence is as desirable for Beijing and Riyadh as it is for Washington and New Delhi. Otherwise, the simplest explanation for other means may align with my perceptions(!), ultimately, becoming a stark reality.
G-20 Summit may not cultivate Indian-desired results
G-20 Summit 2023, is scheduled to be held on 09-10 September 2023, in India. The Summit will be hosted and chaired by Indian Prime Minister Modi, the President of g-20 on rotation. However, the United Nations recently released a report highlighting alleged human rights violations in India, casting a shadow over the country’s preparations for the prestigious event.
Human rights violations have risen dramatically in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) since 2019 when the government of India revoked the special status of the region, warned a UN Independent Expert, one week before a G20 meeting is scheduled to be
“By holding a G20 meeting of the working group on tourism on 22-24 May”, Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, warned that the government of India is seeking to normalize what some have described as a military occupation by instrumental sing a G20 meeting and portray an international “seal of approval”, despite what Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, told the UN Human Rights Council a few weeks ago was a worrying human rights situation in the Kashmir region.” held in Srinagar.
India’s Intentions in Hosting the G20 Summit:
Although India’s decision to host the G20 summit reflects it’s over ambitions to play a larger role on the global stage and shape the discourse on important issues. As a developing economy with a vast population, India wishes to leverage its position to promote its development agenda, attract foreign investments, and enhance its diplomatic standing. Hosting such a high-profile event presents an opportunity for India to showcase its economic progress, technological advancements, and commitment to global cooperation. But the release of the UN special report at this pertinent time, on Indian severe violations of Human Rights Violations, is a big obstacle to realizing Indian dreams.
The UN Report’s Highlights:
“The situation there has — if anything — become much worse since myself and fellow UN independent experts transmitted a communication to the government of India in 2021. We then expressed our grave concerns that the loss of political autonomy and the implementation of the new domicile rules and other legislation could alter the demographic composition of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, may result in political disenfranchisement, and significantly reduce the degree of political participation and representation of the Kashmiri and other minorities previously exercised in the former state, undermining their linguistic, cultural and religious rights,” he said.
“On all counts this seems to be occurring on the ground, in a repressive and sometimes brutal environment of suppression of even basic rights”.
The expert noted that there have been reports of significant numbers of Hindus from outside the region moving into the region so dramatic demographic changes are underway in IIOJK to overwhelm native Kashmiris in their own land.
According to de Varennes, the G20 is unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecutions, restrictions, and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate.
“International human rights obligations and the UN Declaration of Human Rights should still be upheld by organizations such as the G20,” he added, concluding that “the situation in IIOJK should be decried and condemned, not pushed under the rug and ignored with the holding of this meeting”.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures experts of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures Experts, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
Key Points of the UN Report:
Ahead of the G20 summit, the United Nations released a report highlighting alleged human rights violations in India. While the specific details of the report may vary, it is important to note that India, like any other country, faces complex challenges in maintaining human rights standards, given its diverse society and socio-political dynamics. Some of the key concerns raised in the report include:
Kashmir Issue: The report draws attention to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, focusing on the alleged excessive use of force, restrictions on freedom of expression, and arbitrary detentions.
Religious Freedom: The report highlights concerns regarding religious freedom, particularly with regard to incidents of violence, discrimination, and restrictions on religious minorities.
Women’s Rights: The report expresses concerns about gender-based violence, discrimination, and gaps in addressing women’s rights, including issues such as child marriage and gender inequality.
Freedom of Expression: The report raises concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and the shrinking space for civil society organizations and independent media.
The UN report’s release ahead of the G20 summit may have several implications for India:
Diplomatic Challenges: The report’s allegations can strain India’s diplomatic relations with some countries, potentially affecting bilateral cooperation and undermining its reputation on the international stage.
International Scrutiny: India’s hosting of the G20 summit will face heightened scrutiny, with the spotlight on its human rights record. This could lead to increased pressure on India to address the concerns raised and make tangible progress in safeguarding human rights.
Domestic Repercussions: The release of the UN report may fuel domestic debates and discussions about human rights, putting pressure on the Indian government to address these issues effectively and transparently.
Civil Society Activism: The report can empower civil society organizations and activists who are advocating for human rights and social justice, leading to increased public discourse and demands for change.
To be over clever, may turn into a disaster and counterproductive for India.
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