Category Archives: Politics

Coverage and analysis of contemporary events on the ground. Are Indians rallying against corruption, is Nepal happy with it’s constituent assembly? Understanding what’s happening and why

Kashmir: the land of many truths

Kashmir, Qasmir or Casmere, the land of many names and far greater narratives. The land of many truths is a place of great beauty, caught in the web of a dysfunctional state government and at the crossroads of an international quest for territory. The immense weight of the Indian-Pakistani equation lies on the beautiful, delicate shoulders of the Himalayas that circle a pristine Dal Lake. The real problems here are perhaps not the political ones (important and all-encompassing as they might be) but of the daily struggles and how the simplest of facilities are considered luxuries here.

The day I landed at the Srinagar airport, one of the only civilian airports inside a military airbase, I was welcomed with snowfall. Children ran around in their long, baggy pherans screaming, “Sheen Mubarak!” or “happy snowfall!” throwing snowballs at each other, rolling around in the soft, powdery white snow. I was told that to be welcomed with snow was a sign of good luck (how I was stranded there for a few extra days because of the snow surely wouldn’t explain that though.) Nestled in an area of dwindling streets and narrow roads, Kashmir Lifeline and Health Center is a stark contrast to its immediate surroundings. In the not-so-posh outskirts of Srinagar is a little building which houses the state’s first toll-free number. Kashmir Lifeline (KLL) provides free mental counseling and also conducts awareness programs and counseling centers in the neighboring villages and towns of Kashmir. While working there, the data suggested that the majority of the patients were male and between the age of 21-30 years. They were unable to work and were suffering a variety of problems such as Depression, PTSD, Agoraphobia, OCD etc. as a result of the long, unresolved conflict. In most other relatively politically stable and peaceful areas, this is the main age group of the youth that is educated, driven, working, prone to new ideas and development, and has the potential to cause change. But this group of people in this case was suffering from a wide variety of mental health problems, stemming from stress over studies, work, relationship problems etc. that did not allow them to carry on with daily life. This is the age when people start earning for their families, get married and start supporting their ageing parents. This is the main earning, positive and optimistic age group of any society but here, they were being distracted from the joys that other people their age have. This has great implications for the coming generations.

The first real snowfall of the winter brought with it one of the harshest moments for the average Kashmiri – electricity was out in the city for almost a week, pipes were starting to freeze stopping regular water supply, internet and phone lines were down and essential supplies like food and gas were scarce. In the summer, Kashmir is a beautiful place – the weather is perfect and pleasant, men and women stroll on the streets, the Dal Lake is afloat with families and couples in shikaras (boats) and people take picnics to the gardens with a view of the mighty Himalayas in the backdrop. Winter however, is far from that. The wealthy Kashmiris (a small number) are able to hibernate aka move to Delhi temporarily, in their comfortable houses in manageable weather while the rural and not-so-wealthy are left to battle the cold by themselves. On the way to an outreach program to the Kangan village right outside Srinagar, we learnt that a village by the name of Govindpore hadn’t had electricity for the past 3 weeks. To protest, they closed off the main road that passed through their village and connected Srinagar to some of the other districts. We were stranded there for what seemed like eternity before a Counsellor who was with us was able to negotiate with them to let us pass. This was their method of peacefully making a point, but imagine if New York, London or even New Delhi didn’t have electricity for three weeks in the bitter cold? This cold doesn’t do much for the already dismal condition of mental health in the state. Suicide numbers have in fact risen in the winter months complemented by an increasing number of calls and visits to the clinic as well.

My experience in Kashmir made me realize how alienated the people of the Valley really are and how detached Kashmir is from India’s growth story that most magazines these days carry. They have been left behind in the larger picture of growth and development. Tourism had been their main form of livelihood, however ever since the militancy began in 1989; tourism has been in a downward spiral. Now it is just a downgraded version of a once-beautiful land that had captured the imaginations of many, almost like a withered away mistress. The blame game has gone on for far too long. The contested claims of India and Pakistan may as well result in another 20 years of difficulty for the people, but the way forward for Indian-administered Kashmir may be to see the real factors of the equation. 18th January marked the 22nd anniversary of the exodus of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandit community from the Valley. Both the Muslims and the Pandits are equal stakeholders in the state and must be considered before moving forward. Despite Pakistan’s contribution to the militancy in Kashmir, it may be useful for India to realize that the way forward is not in dwelling in the past. India has to act in its own independent capacity in alleviating the suffering of the people. In working positively for the growth of Kashmir, we may realize that Pakistan’s cooperation at this stage might very well be irrelevant. Setting up a Truth & Reconciliation Commission may be a positive step in this place where every person has a different story and truth. The infrequent but heartfelt renditions of “Hum kya chaahte? Azaadi” (What do we want? Freedom) may never subside but true reconciliation lies in the power of being able to see your narrative get recognized as the only truth.

“You can’t rule brains only… Sooner or later, you have to realize, you can only win by ruling hearts.”

-  Inshallah, Kashmir

Written by Vasundhara Jolly. Vasundhara is a junior studying at Tufts and the co-chair of SAPAC.

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Happy Republic Day India

Republic Day. It’s a day that is much celebrated in India, but one that we know little about beyond the generic birthday of our constitution. But what does this day really mean, or more importantly what should this day mean to us as Indians, most of who are not familiar with the 500-page document with 395 clauses that define the complex legal and political framework of our country. Of course getting through this constitution is not easy, let alone trying to understand the entire document. First off maybe Republic Day is then an opportunity to appreciate the complexities of our country. Our constitution was born out of the vision of the three founding fathers of our nation, Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar each of whom had a slightly different version for India’s political framework, thus had a complicated birth to begin with.

Since then, the constitution has been amended over 90 times, one of the most significant being the 42nd amendment which introduced the world ‘secular’ in our preamble, making us a sovereign, socialist, democratic as well as secular republic. The basic structure doctrine that was established out of the landmark Kesavananda Barati case is another unique feature of our constitution, a commitment to uphold certain right that can never be denied to any citizen. Fundamental rights, if you will. While this has led to the rise of Public Interest Litigation, another case of judicial activism, what this has done for us in practice remains a more complex reality. From Supreme Court cases that have maintained slum dwellers right to proper shelter, to demanding the freeing of bonded labourers, marginalised groups have been given a place in our justice system through our promising constitution. Yet we continue to see grotesque human right violations, and the denial of fundamental rights for so many groups that continue to plague our country today. Those less privileged lose their homes, and livelihoods because of giant construction projects, which often also pay little to no concern for environmental consequences. While everyone is familiar with the recent hunger strike of Anna Hazare, most are oblivious to the fast of Irom Sharmila who has been fasting for almost 12 years, against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA, which the North East has actually been under for longer than Kashmir. At the same time we’re rapidly growing and developing in a world where the economic future is far more uncertain in other countries.

But what happened to the activist India, the country with a socialist vision, the country striving to create equal opportunities for all? It may be unfair to say that that India has been lost, but somewhere amidst the journey we might have misplaced some of our priorities. Are our institutions are designed to favour those that have the means to get ahead, leaving those who do not behind? Or is what’s worse that many of us in the younger generation know little of this activist India the potential that India has. It’s cynicism and apathy that we’re often criticised for.

So for those of you who will be watching the annual parade on television, or mindlessly updating your facebook status to “happy republic day,” think about what this day really means to you as an Indian. Think of the journey that our founding fathers embarked on 63 years ago, writing this constitution, the changes that our country has been through, the good and some bad. Most importantly, think about your own vision for India, the country, the community and society that you want to grow up in, and that you want to lead. Can we work to really foster the values of “justice, liberty, equality and fraternity” that our constitution promises? If so, then I think you are ready to celebrate Republic Day.

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Time for South Asia to step up

For those who believe that India and Pakistan’s relationship is underexplored when it comes to economic trade, Pakistan’s granting India the Most Favoured Nation status would naturally come as good news.

In the simplest of terms this means that India and Pakistan can finally benefit from the gains of free trade, given their proximity to each other and their large economies, which fits in with the underlying principles of the gravity model. It also forms a new avenue for cooperation between the two countries, something that they have long struggled with.

Here at SAPAC we chose this topic for our second roundtable. A question that came up was whether we can really see this as “good news.” This is in light of two factors. The first that even though India granted Pakistan MFN in 1996, relations have still been unstable, and so perhaps much hasn’t changed in this respect. Which is related to the second more pertinent factor. The political instability.

The reason this may be a more relevant factor is because it pertains to the South Asian subcontinent as a whole. We’ve heard it before. India despite it’s burgeoning economy has faced civil protests and more violence resistance in other regions. Bangladesh is currently dealing with war trials from the 1971 and Sri Lanka is cleaning up the mess from it’s civil war, while Nepal is dealing constitutional reforms. For Pakistan and Afghanistan, which get a significant amount of media attention, we are aware of their problems.

It’s unfortunate but perhaps also unsurprising then that the South Asian subcontinent is one of the least economically integrated regions.

Similar concerns were voiced at the “Fourth South Asia Economic Summit” conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that called for better governance and stronger institutions to facilitate economic cooperation. Is this what is holding us back?

There are two ways of looking at the situation: the first is the domestic outlook, where there is a landscape of political instability in the region which we can’t overlook. At the same time if we look to our Western economies and the global economic situation day, then even issues like the Most Favoured Nation status speak volumes for a region of the world that is undoubtedly rising economically as it attempts to disentangle itself from it’s past conflicts. Maybe it is time for South Asia to step up.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 9 Comments

Indo-Pak’s underexplored relationship

Written by Sanjana Basu:

A few months ago I went to an event called,“The Quest for India-Pakistan Normalization: The Road Ahead,” sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace. As the name suggests, the event was trying to focus on measures to build a more positive relationship between the two countries.

Now I say trying because, like every other India-Pakistan event, majority of the discussions revolved around the frequently debated issues of Kashmir, and the long lasting rivalry that has plagued the sub-continent for the past sixty years–which I do not intend to trivialize under any circumstances.

However, in spirit of the event and the confines we were present in, I appreciated and deemed much more valuable the presentations and conversation that flowed from the second panel which was called “The Underexplored Option: Economic Cooperation as a Path to Peace.” ‘Underexplored’ is a word that best describes Indo-Pakistan cooperation: more so, on the economic front.

Mr. Mohsin Khan, a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, provided some compelling insight into the opportunity cost of what he called an “unnaturally small” degree of trade between the two nations.

He brought attention to the huge potential for economic trade and the prospects of peace that can follow if short term and medium term measures are taken towards changing the current situation.

Based on gravity models, the ratio of actual to potential trade between India and Pakistan fluctuates between 0.02 and 0.05 or the percentage of trade between the countries is a meagre two to five percent. These numbers are shamefully small compared to the average of fifty percent trade that takes place between neighboring countries. Obviously acknowledging that India and Pakistan are not just neighbors but bitter enemies, measures to slowly but surely bridge this huge gap in trade is something that the two countries should whole heartedly pursue.

Some trade facilitation measures Mr. Khan pointed out were easing visa restrictions, facilitating sea shipments, increasing rail traffic and opening additional border crossings and bus routes (among several others). This will provide a channel to negotiate more potent issues like tariff barriers in India, and the hostage of transit trade in Pakistan.

In addition he pointed to infrastructure, energy, Information Technology (IT) and FDI, as other areas to build a trade relationship.

Building on Mr. Khan’s ideas, Sanjay Puri, the Chairman of the U.S-India Political Action Committee focused more on the impact such a changed economic relationship will have in terms of prosperity. He emphasized that tapping into the economic potential between India and Pakistan is not just an exercise in peace but a responsibility towards the people of both countries, who are facing the cost of a bitter relationship.

Cross border IT cooperation, pharmaceutical cooperation, and job mobility to a youth that deserves to be employed are among the many benefits that this relationship may bring. He concluded by pointing to the demographics of India according to which approximately seventy percent of India’s population will be under the age of thirty.

This generation will consist of citizens of the globalized world with no first hand memories of the devastating partition. For them economic prosperity and the opportunities it brings is a priority. With similar demographic trends in Pakistan, this new generation can be the drivers of change in a rivalry that has colonized the minds of Indians and Pakistanis. It’s not just a battle of arms but of the minds that needs to be fought. And that’s where the real change lies.

As a part of this generation, these thoughts resonate with my hope for progress towards Indo-Pakistan peace. Being aware of the political struggles the two countries face, I think it is of utmost importance that India and Pakistan begin taking small steps towards exploiting this ‘underexplored’ economic relationship, ultimately pushing political change and over time changing the face of the India-Pakistan relationship.

Sanjana Basu is a senior at Tufts University from India and the co-chair of SAPAC.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 7 Comments

The Pakistani Soldiers

Written by Muhammad Arham Shoukat

The Soldiers of Pakistan, like soldiers of any nation, are men who sacrifice their lives and often return to their houses mutilated after a long and tiring battle. In other countries, such men would enjoy heroic statures and would be celebrated. However, here in Pakistan, when these men turn on their television sets at night, they see their nation ridiculing them. Yes, our army as suffered blows such as those of the Abbotabad incident and the PNS-Mehran incident, but that gives us no right to stop believing in them.

A few weeks ago, as a student in Boston, I was invited to my friend’s house for the weekend. His parents resided a couple of hours away from the downtown Boston in a little town of Quincy. As we drove over the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge towards the great digs, leaving the beautiful skyline of Boston behind, I saw more than just the landscape change. And I realized that Boston was a city in more ways than one.

Besides being physically set apart from the cities around it, it stood alone in its moderation and liberalism. The voices of the Republicans and the Democrats had originated from this very city from institutions like Harvard, MIT and Tufts. This was a place where everyone was a true “patriot”.

As I drove on the high, I caught sight of flags and “red and blue” ribbons. I knew that the flag symbolized the support for the troops at war, but the “red and blue” ribbons? “These ribbons symbolize our support for our seals that have successfully eliminated Al-Qeada,” said my friend.

Times had changed, the last time I visited I recall seeing red and blue ribbons on peoples walls, shirts and houses. Majority of the U.S disagreed with their government, but they still supported their army. It has been more than 4 years since that day, and clearly a lot has happened in the world since then. But today, as Pakistan stands on the verge of anarchy, at war with an enemy that has seeped into the very fabric of our society, I long for an expression of unity. And I find myself thinking more and more of that yellow ribbon, confused as to maybe those little town Americans were right in their support.

What is so wrong with being a patriot? And why am I like many other Pakistani’s afraid to rally behind my countries armed forces, to send out positive, supportive signs as these men lay down their lives for us?

Since 9/11, the Pakistani army has suffered more than any other army in the world in terms of casualties. And yet we get nothing but negative reports about its performance in the media. One can be angry with the countries President, think that the dictator sold out and believe that our secret service is nothing but a “sinister” organization with its own agenda without losing compassion for our soldiers, the young men who are being killed every day.

The media today, so used to distorting everyone’s views, has clearly lost sight of the greater picture that exists. So used to being so cynical, we the Pakistani’s have clearly lost sight of those willing to die for us. But it was clear that this would no longer continue, at least not for me.

Almost five years ago, I met a group of people in a small suburb of New York who were neither sophisticated nor educated. And yet they were able to recognize the shades of grey, the fact that it is possible to support your troops without blindly supporting your government.
With the current situation as it stands today, I have realized that it is possible to be analytical without being negative, that is it possible to be patriotic without being brainless and heartless.

When our founders created Pakistan, they envisioned us as a nation that adhered to the principles of “Unity”, “Faith” and “Discipline”. For me there can be no greater show of unity than for a nation to support its troops. Maybe a red and blue ribbon is not the answer. But I, for one, have put up a Pakistani flag outside my house to show my solidarity with my nation — the one created by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and not the Taliban.

Muhammad Arham Shoukat is a senior at Tufts University (2012) from Pakistan.

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