Go for Demilitarization, Development, and Sustainable Peace in South AsiaBy confluence | June 13th, 2009 | Category: Cover Story |
US scholars tell Obama administration
Nine scholars of South Asia met at New York University’s Institute of Public Knowledge in March, to discuss the politics of knowledge concerning South Asia as it connects academic and policy work in the US. They represented a range of social science, humanities and scientific disciplines, and their research focused on India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, although some of them also have broader areas of expertise. Their discussions focused on these three countries because they are at the center of current U.S. policy debate.
They met with three goals in view:
1) To think of ways of creating academically-informed public knowledge about US policy,
2) To write a “thought document” that might help reframe key concepts and interventions in U.S foreign policy, and
3) To open a conversation between scholars of South Asia and the Obama administration about how area studies knowledge might better inform U.S. policy in South Asia.
Outline and Rationale
We recognize the complexity of the security situation in India, Pakistan, and
Afghanistan, and the very real threat that terrorism poses to the peoples of the U.S., South Asia, and other parts of the world. We appreciate the fact that the new administration has already undertaken a comprehensive policy review of the region, and that there are no simple solutions to conflicts in South Asia. We can also understand the new administration’s desire to combine an “integrated counter-insurgency strategy” with increased economic, development, and “civilian assistance.” But we feel the central stated goal of U.S. policy, “disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” is too narrowly drawn and counter-productive. The broad, long-term objective of U.S. foreign policy in the region should be facilitating the development of a sustainable peace. The focused, short-term goals to achieve that objective should be step by step demilitarization of the region.
We recognize the steep challenges posed by a shift from an older, entrenched paradigm centered on military aid and intervention to one of active demilitarization. A transitional process of step by step demilitarization requires careful thought and planning and will be difficult and precarious. But the reverse scenario increasing military aid and troop build-up in the region—is as precarious, with known multiple negative consequences for the region. While there may be short term negative consequences from demilitarization, the overall benefit from a human security perspective will be both immediate and long-term. It thus makes ethical, political and economic sense to undertake strategies of demilitarization to stabilize the region.
Our logic is as follows. Increasing numbers of Pakistani and Afghan civilian deaths have fueled anti-American sentiment against what is now popularly understood in South Asia as an American occupation of Afghanistan, and an American war against Pakistanis. In this situation, the U.S. can best demonstrate its commitment to peace in the region by announcing a plan for phased withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and replacement with UN peacekeeping forces. This will sound counter-intuitive to some, but by removing a major source of recruitment to neo-Talibani and jihadi groups—American authorized bombing of civilians, and the increasing presence and visibility of U.S. troops, popular support for these groups will inevitably erode. When this happens, the Taliban and other groups will use force to extract people’s compliance (a process already in play), and it will be the role of U.N. peacekeeping forces to help protect the Afghan and Pakistani peoples from terrorist violence. It will take time to build U.N. support for this mission. To engage the U.N. in this endeavour, the U.S. will need to persuade the U.N. and the international community of the positive and primary role it can play in demilitarizing the region. It will also need to transfer the billions it spends on military aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan to the U.N. so that it can hire peacekeepers from other nations to serve in South Asia. Care will also have to be taken to ensure that U.N. peace keeping forces are not seen to be implementing U.S. directives or hidden agendas, but emerge from international commitment and concern. Most importantly, as President Obama has already indicated, the U.S. will have to demonstrate that it is willing to abide by international law and be a more humble and cooperative member of the international community. “American exceptionalism” has resulted in uniquely American quagmires and it cannot expect the international community to respond to a U.S. appeal for U.N. peacekeeping forces without a major restatement and reorientation of American goals and identity.
Such a restatement of American identity must recognize that the interests of the American people are inseparable from, and are thus coeval with, the interests of South Asian (and other) peoples:
if peoples elsewhere are injured by the effects of U.S. foreign policy, then the American people are also more vulnerable to attack and injury. This principle follows from the following points of analysis we outline in this document:
1. Conflict in South Asia must be understood as a set of “wicked problems” that involve interlocking systems and multiple forms of causality. Enacting a change at one level of the system impacts other parts of the system, and other interlinked systems. Put simply, an analysis of unintended effects (“blowback”) must be a part of any South Asia foreign policy consideration.
2. A regional policy focus on South Asia cannot focus primarily on anti-terrorist or counter-insurgency measures, but must evolve a framework for understanding the shared histories, cultures, and social movements that are resources for long-term peace in the region.
3. An emphasis on social movements, democracy and civil society, rather than partnership with militaries in the region, forms the core of a viable alternate regional approach to South Asia.
4. “Indian Exceptionalism”- the idea that India’s size and status obviates the need for recognition of shared problems and thus shared problem-solving in the region is incompatible with a sustainable regional approach to South Asia.
5. Including diverse groups of South Asia scholars in future policy conversations can play a constructive role in reframing decades of failed policy in the region by helping to think through the role of scholars in developing long-term objectives for enabling sustainable peace in the region.
1. Understanding Conflicts in South Asia as ‘Wicked Problems”
The idea of “wicked problems” was first proposed in 1973. Since then the concept has been widely used in planning and design, with recent applications in the field of public policy. Wicked problems are haracterized by social complexity, a large number and diversity of players, and a high degree of fragmentation. Wicked problems are also defined by contested and multiple forms of causality. Different stakeholders in the conflict fail to arrive at a common definition of the problem, often because they disagree on the cause of the problem.
Ongoing forms of conflict in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are characterized by decades of failed U.S. policy and are classic examples of wicked problems.
Consider the assumption that fixing the security situation8 in South Asia is foundational for the region to address its other pressing problems. Here we might question the claim that terrorist violence, rather than poverty and economic under-development, is the primary form of violence and deprivation people in South Asia face. Each dollar that is spent on military aid is a dollar not spent on economic development. And spending money on both armaments and economic aid tends to cancel out the effectiveness of the latter since a highly militarized environment means that development projects and normal forms of job employment cannot take place (as is the case in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir).
In the “fix the security situation” view, terrorism is the cause of, or motor that drives, U.S. foreign policy. But suppose terrorism is not only a cause, but also an effect of U.S. policy in the region? Such an understanding would lead us to conclude that if past policy has actually produced or escalated terrorist activity, a continuation of this policy, even in the guise of an “integrated counter-insurgency policy,” would only lead to more terrorism and deepened conflict. The more Pakistanis and Afghans die from U.S. drone and larger-scale targeted bombings, the more agricultural land, and other resources are damaged by such attacks, the more anti-Americanism will grow, and the more likely it is that al-Qaeda and the Taliban will recruit larger numbers of Afghans and Pakistanis to fight a war against the U.S.
Wicked problems require that all possible stakeholders in an issue be included in solving the problem.
One of the major difficulties of attempting to find solutions to conflicts in South Asia is the failure to identify the peoples of South Asia as major stakeholders in the processes of resolving conflict.
2. Defining an Alternate Regional Approach to South Asia
At its inception, U.S. area studies were a product of the cold war system; the
result of a narrow definition of American interest. The emergence of critical regional and area studies over the past three decades, however, points to their heightened value in informing policy considerations. Consider, for example, the redefinition of American interest from anti-communism to anti-terrorism reflected in the administrative organization of which sees India and China primarily as markets to be courted, and the Near East and South Asia as an “arc of Islamic terrorism” to be combated. This “courtship vs. combat” framework results in several problems:
1) The increasing threat of Hindu nationalism or of “Hindu terrorism” in India can neither be conceptualized, nor addressed.
2) It fails to see that it is decades of failed U.S. policy in South Asia and the Middle East which have also sustained and produced these new alignments between groups in these regions.
3) Under this framework, the view of these new alignments leads to a conflation of entire groups of Muslims as “terrorists,” where the attempt to distinguish “good” Muslims from “bad” Muslims through counterinsurgency” operations further divides and debilitates Kashmiri, Pakistani, and Afghan societies.
4) This framework ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s Muslims live in South Asia, and that U.S. foreign policy in the region has been a central (if not the only) factor in their radicalization.
3. The Importance of Social Movements, Democracy, and Civil Society
As Amartya Sen reminds us, social movements for justice are good for democracy.
People’s movements for water resource planning and development communicate between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Feminist movements and women’s organizations share information and develop shared political and legal strategies for advancing women’s rights in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Gay rights activists have made recent strides in India that are being discussed in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Micro-credit models developed in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka are debated in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Peasant movements from Okara in Pakistan to the Terai region of India and Nepal seek land rights for those who till it. “Right to Information” movements have emerged in India and other parts of South Asia to hold local, state and national governments accountable for policy implementation and expenditures. In short, the U.S. needs to develop a regional foreign policy attentive to the heritages, languages, cultures, and social movement politics that bring the peoples of South Asia together.
The U.S. must have a stated policy of overt support for people’s movements that seek greater accountability and transparency from South Asian governments.
If the U.S. wants to support democracy in South Asia, it should recognize and respect the democratic aspirations of its peoples, and their capacity to effect meaningful change and reform without U.S. military intervention. The lawyer’s movement in Pakistan is an example of a mass-based movement that successfully sought to restore the rule of law and to challenge a deeply undemocratic military government. There is much talk of Afghanistan and Pakistan being “failed states.” From a statist or “security studies” standpoint, these states “fail” with regard to being unable to contain terrorism. From a people’s or “human security” standpoint, however, they “fail” because they are unable to provide for the basic needs of their citizens.
U.S. support for the Pakistan military has historically impeded the growth of democracy in Pakistan. The continued and exclusivist focus on getting the Pakistan government and Pakistan military to concentrate on counter-insurgency activities buttresses the power of the latter at a time when large sections of Pakistani society are mobilizing to re-establish a civilian rule of law, after decades of military rule. The lawyers’ movement is only the latest instance of a broad-based social movement in Pakistan seeking to constrain the military and to make the government responsive to the needs of all its citizens, including women, workers, and ethnic, and religious minorities.
The reinstatement of the judiciary in Pakistan was the result of a historic, non-partisan social movement that has successfully pressed its demands in a peaceful manner. This form of grass-roots democratization should be acknowledged and supported by cutting U.S. aid to the Pakistani military.
The Pakistani military is an unreliable partner to engage in the process of establishing long-term peace in the region, due to its own interests in maintaining ongoing conflict with Afghanistan and India as well as unrest within Pakistan. Continued U.S. support of the Pakistan military undermines hard-fought local struggles for justice and government accountability. The U.S. must stop depending upon the Pakistani military as its primary partner in Pakistan. And it must curb its arms sales to India which contribute to the military build-up on the border with Pakistan.
When South Asian states are unable to democratically represent their peoples, U.S. foreign policy must recognize that since sovereignty is always vested in the peoples of any nation, those peoples have the right of say in the decisions that affect them. In Kashmir, for example, the Kashmiri people have never been made partners in a peace-process, despite sixty-odd years of war, conflict and on-again-off again negotiations between India and Pakistan.
However, the independent, non-partisan People’s Tribunal to inquire into the ongoing violence in Kashmir can help bring Kashmiris into the peace-process (and is perhaps also a model for helping to resolve territorial disputes in the FATA region on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border).
The objective of the International People’s Tribunal in Kashmir is not to recommend that Kashmir should go either to India or Kashmir, (although the ideas of decentralized autonomy and soft borders are popular in the region); rather it is to take that first, crucial step toward recognizing that Kashmiri peoples are legitimate, indeed necessary, stakeholders in any sustainable peace process. Like the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, the independent tribunal in Kashmir is a good syncretic fabric of Kashmiri society; and rehabilitation of detainees.
There is also an active, grassroots India-Pakistan peace movement that deserves recognition and support. Over the past few years, the Indo-Pakistani peace movement has been undertaking limited cultural exchange (hampered by government reluctance), although travel between families split by the border has been facilitated in recent years.
A key element in solving the Kashmir and Afghanistan conflicts may be to work toward decriminalizing and normalizing border-crossings rather than militarizing and hardening the borders.
4. “Indian Exceptionalism” and Counter-Insurgency: Policy Asymmetries
India has made great strides in development in recent years, and has the largest population, the largest economy, and the largest standing army in South Asia. For all these reasons, India feels that it should be seen as distinct from other countries in the region. Yet, despite its recent economic growth, India still shares much in common with neighbouring countries in South Asia with regard to poverty. Indeed, on some poverty indicators, India does worse than other countries in the region. In terms of rural poverty and the struggle for land rights, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal share much in common; in the latter two countries Maoist or Naxalite insurgencies have grown stronger; resulting in Nepal’s recent election of a Maoist government. Large parts of India, in Kashmir and the Northeast, are under military occupation, suggesting structural similarities between Bangladesh’s military occupation of the Chittagong Hill tracts, and Sri Lanka’s current military occupation of Jaffna.
The creation of large, externally and internally-displaced, traumatized, resource-deprived, and thus volatile refugee communities in these areas creates fertile ground for militant resistance, as it did in Afghanistan.
For all these reasons - social, economic, and political — the development of a coherent and sustainable U.S. foreign policy in South Asia must locate India as part of a region whose development needs predominate. U.S. foreign policy however, continues to exercise a form of “Indian exceptionalism” which sees India primarily as a market. We are certainly not against trade or other forms of economic exchange between the two countries, but the recent U.S.-India nuclear deal and the latest high-profile sale of military equipment to India contributes to tension on the Indo-Pak border and instability in the region. Such deals do not contribute to economic and social development but occur at the expense of it. Defense spending in India is more than three times as high as the combined expenditure of its central and state governments on health.
Although the current US administration has wisely jettisoned the language of the “War on Terror” much work remains to be done to overcome its legacies. As we noted in the last section, the current conceptual framework underlying U.S. foreign policy in South Asia defines U.S. allies according to their focus on anti-terrorist or “counter-insurgency” activities. In the South Asian context, this means that Hindu nationalists in India are often well-positioned to seize power riding crests of opportunistic “anti-terror” populism to harass, prosecute, discriminate against, and ghettoize the minority Muslim community. It is ineffective to ask Pakistan to bear down upon terrorist organizations in Kashmir, without also asking India to prosecute Hindu nationalist organizations operating in Kashmir and elsewhere. Any regional focus on terrorism cannot single out “Islamic terrorism” as the single cause and effect of terrorist violence in South Asia. In fact, by not aggressively prosecuting “Hindu terrorists” India has compromised its own judiciary and investigatory apparatus, indeed the very “rule of law” in that country. We encourage U.S. policymakers to adopt a truly regional perspective in approaching the analysis of terrorism in South Asia by understanding the role that both India and Pakistan play in failing to adequately redress this issue.
1) U.S. foreign policy based on “Indian exceptionalism” and focused primarily on counter-insurgency programs in South Asia detracts from the larger issues of social, economic, and political inequality that feed terrorism and contribute to instability in the region.
2) It also has the unintended effect of buttressing Hindu nationalism in India.
It precludes understanding of how people under military occupation in the region may experience violent conflict as forms of “state terrorism.”
5. The Role of South Asia Scholars in U.S. Foreign Policy
In drafting this paper, our primary aim was not so much to produce a policy document, as to outline the basis for constructing a viable alternate policy framework. To this end, the current administration might consider setting up focus groups of academics and policymakers to explore new problem-solving and peace-building methods. It could also consider initiating multilateral commissions of scholars assigned to collaboratively study and evaluate long-standing issues or newly emerging problems with joint recommendations for the governments of South Asia and the U.S.
The U.S. intelligence community lacks good information on South Asia. Scholars who have studied the histories, cultures, and day to day politics of the region provide crucial perspectives that policymakers often miss. It is unwise to think that politics in India or elsewhere in South Asia can be cordoned off from political processes in the U.S, or that these politics will not be affected by its diaspora communities here.
Workshop participants were:
Dr. Amrita Basu , Professor of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies
at Amherst College who has a particular interest in women’s movements and other
social movements, email@example.com.
Dr. David Ludden , Professor of History at NYU who works on economic
development, agrarian conditions, health environments, empire, inequality, social
conflict, firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the contact person for the IPK Working Group on South Asia. (212)998-8631 (o); (267)709-3568 (c).
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, Associate Professor of English and Multiculturalism at the
University of Nebraska-Kearney, email@example.com.
Dr. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, Assistant Professor of History at James Madison
University where he teaches courses on the modern Middle East and South Asia,
Dr. Zia Mian, director of the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia, at the Program on Science and Global Security, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Senzil Nawid, a research scholar affiliated with the Center for Middle
Eastern Studies and Southwest Institute for Research on Women at the University of
Dr. Sahar Shafqat, specialist in comparative politics, currently Associate
Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland,
Dr. Kamala Visweswaran, Associate Professor of Anthropology and South Asian
Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, email@example.com.
Dr. Chitralekha Zutshi , Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary, firstname.lastname@example.org.