Wednesday, 25 September 2013

India/Pakistan/Bangladesh: How long should we live in the Past?


Dated 18-Aug-2013

Guest Column: By Kazi Anwarul Masud 

The line of control along Jammu & Kashmir is being violated repeatedly. India accuses Pakistan of the violations that is denied by Pakistan.
In recent weeks the beheading of an Indian soldier and killing of five Indian soldiers- four from Bihar and one from Maharashtra-resulted in fury of the common people demanding that the killers be punished. Politics waded into these incidents by the confusing statements by the Defense Minister.
The first comment that the killers were wearing dresses of Pakistan army was seen by the opposition and the media as exonerating Pakistan and hence a clearer statement was asked for from the Defense Minister. The army chief visited the area nearby( his helicopter could not go to the area of fighting due to inclement weather) and on return reported to the Defense Minister who then gave a statement in Parliament that directly accused Pakistan of these violations. The fight along the LOC continues and the Indian army has been ordered to retaliate. It is difficult to fully understand the reasons behind Pakistan’s intrusion into an otherwise orderly maintained LOC.
New Prime Minister Nwaz Sharif has expressed his desire to improve relations with India. South Asian expert Bruce Riedel wrote in The Daily Beast (May 14 2013) of Sharif’s acceptance of unilateral withdrawal from Kargil at the request of then US President and his firing of then army chief General Parvez Musharaf, handpicked by Sharif, who orchestrated a coup and could have hanged Nwaz Sharif but for the intervention of the US and Saudi Arabia. As luck would have it General Musharaf decided to return to Pakistan from exile in London to “save” the country from chaos and corruption. This foolish decision has landed him in prison accused of sedition and overthrowing a democratically elected government. But as Bruce Riedel points out “Since many of the senior commanders in the army today, including Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, are former Musharraf protégés who rose with him to power, the question of what to do with Musharraf now is a dangerous challenge. The courts will decide his fate but the next prime minister’s voice will matter. Deciding how to handle the Musharraf affair is only one of Sharif’s huge challenges”.  Could it be possible that the army, denials by Pakistan notwithstanding, could have carried out the border violations to scuttle a possible resumption of talks with India?
Bruce Riedel’s piece in The Daily Beast that preceded the incidents along the LOC spoke of Nwaz Sharif’s relations with the extremists. Riedel wrote “He has long coddled Pakistan’s most dangerous terrorist group, Lashkar e Tayyiba, which carried out the Mumbai massacre in 2008 and which has its headquarters in Sharif’s home city of Lahore. LeT retains very close links with the army and the intelligence service, the ISI. Nonetheless, Sharif has also promised to turn a page in Pakistan’s relations with India.  As an industrialist billionaire, Sharif knows the Pakistani economy desperately needs more trade and investment from its far more vibrant Indian neighbor. Pakistan’s economy is in shambles, and half the people in the country are under 15 with little hope for a decent education or a good job. Sharif is not obsessed with rivalry with India like his generals; his vision of Pakistan is more about building highways and mass transit than an arms race Pakistan cannot win”.
Riedel added in another piece “Despite over $25 billion in American economic and military aid since 9/11, the Pakistani authorities cannot be relied on to fight the danger posed by al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, or LeT. Obama recognized that fact when he sent the SEALs to kill bin Laden without telling any Pakistani official that we had found him hiding inside the highly secure Pakistani city of Abbottabad”. Though Kashmir, an insoluble problem,appears to be the main bone of contention ideological differences that led to the creation of Pakistan on the basis of religious differences also accounts for the Indo-Pak rivalry.
Another South Asian expert Stephen Cohen writes “Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state still threatens Indian pluralism, and when it is given muscle by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, it becomes a domestic political problem for India, leaving aside the ambivalence of some Indian Muslims. For Pakistanis, the notion of a perpetual conflict means finding a way to live with a more powerful and still-threatening neighbor, strengthening the one technology that assures Pakistan that India will not seek a military victory—nuclear weapons—while searching for a way to overhaul the economy”. 
The creation of Bangladesh and the existence of so many Arab states and European nations amply demonstrate the folly of the British, then colonial power in India, to have agreed to the partition of India on religious ground. Had the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 been implemented by both the Congress and the Muslim League then, perhaps, South Asia, described by Stephen Cohen as the most dangerous area in the world would not have come to pass. The Plan envisaged the creation of a united dominion of India as a loose confederation of provinces as follows:
  1. A united Dominion of India would be given independence.
  2. Muslim-majority provinces would be grouped – Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab and NWFP and would form one group, and Bengal and Assam would form another.
  3. Hindu-majority provinces in central and southern India would form another group.
  4. The Central government would be empowered to run foreign affairs, defense and communications, while the rest of powers and responsibility would belong to the provinces
The plan of May 16, 1946 had envisaged a united India in line with Congress and Muslim League aspirations. But that was where the consensus between the two parties ended since Congress abhorred the idea of having groupings of Muslim majority provinces and that of Hindu majority provinces with the intention of 'balancing' each other at the Central Legislature. The Muslim League could not accept any changes to this plan since the same 'balance' or 'parity' that Congress was loath to accept formed the basis of Muslim demands of 'political safeguards' built into post-British Indian laws so as to prevent absolute rule of Hindus over Muslims( WIKIPEDIA). But then history has been  written differently since 1947.

Many people argue that if the centuries long enmity among European nations could be buried under the sands of time and lead to the formation of the formation of the European Union then why South Asian nations cannot strengthen SAARC into a similar organization. One does not have to be a transnationalist and impose the laws of a nation on the others in the guise of universalization or supra-national authority where the laws passed by the parliament of the member nations would be subordinated. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations would remain undisturbed. The advantage of strong intra-SAARC relations where the leaders can move about without the frills of protocol and can have breakfast in one country and diner in another to discuss and solve the problems would serve the interest of the people of more than a billion. Since economic integration can take many forms one could start with its definition. It has been defined as a kind of arrangement where countries get in agreement to coordinate and manage their fiscal, trade, and monetary policies in order to be mutually benefitted by them.

There are many degrees of economic integration, but the most preferred and popular one is free trade. In economic integration no country pays customs duty within the integrated area, so it results in lower prices both for the distributors and the consumers. The ultimate aim of economic integration is to increase trade across the world. Some of the benefits are obvious. For example it will lead to trade creation. Member countries have (a) wider selection of goods and services not previously available; (b) acquire goods and services at a lower cost after trade barriers due to lowered tariffs or removal of tariffs (c) encourage more trade between member countries the balance of money spent on cheaper goods and services, can be used to buy more products and services. Besides unlike WTO with huge membership (147 countries), it is easier to gain consensus amongst small memberships in regional integration.

Economic integration can also lead to employment opportunities. As economic integration encourage trade liberation and lead to market expansion, more investment into the country and greater diffusion of technology, it create more employment opportunities for people to move from one country to another to find jobs or to earn higher pay. For example, industries requiring mostly unskilled labor tends to shift production to low wage countries within  regional cooperation. But from the point of view of high wage countries it may lead to higher unemployment, as in the case of the US and some countries of Europe still fighting the ill effects of the greatest recession since the Great Depression of the thirties of the 20th century. The blame for this continuing recession in some developed countries is put at the doors of the politicians and the plutocrats whose policies serve the interest of the rich and the powerful.

In the case of the US Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz writes
“After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier. Of course, there are other forces at play, some of which start even before birth. Children in affluent families get more exposure to reading and less exposure to environmental hazards. Their families can afford enriching experiences like music lessons and summer camp. They get better nutrition and health care, which enhance their learning, directly and indirectly. Americans are coming to realize that their cherished narrative of social and economic mobility is a myth (Equal opportunity our national myth)”. Professor VSR Subramanian who has been an advocate of international dependence model for development for  developing countries holds the view that  no nation can function in isolation in the current world market linked with internet and E-business

The international dependence model draws heavily from the Prebish-Singer thesis that describes the existence of unequal international power imbalances, is the cause of under-development in developing countries. Raul Prebisch and Hans Singer blamed the trade as an engine of under development for poor countries, because they were colonized and became exporter of primary products, whose prices were historically declining. Advocates of this thesis, therefore recommended to keep one's economy closed, follow import substitution policies to strengthen the internal production power,   and national technological development in a phased manner. Consistent with this, and following from its historical experience of colonial rule,  a model of inward-looking policies (import substitution and export pessimism) is what countries like India adopted until 1991. However, towards the end of 1980s, rapid growth of South-eastern Asian economies, demonstrated   the advantages of openness of import and exports balancing and cost effective market domination.

Subsequently India opened its economy and exposed the domestic industry to international competition after a long era of protection. All these infer, says Dr. Subramanium,   that if a nation is open and can integrate with the world economy, then it   can expect to be fast growing and reach a higher growth rate, as happens in the South-east Asian countries and Japan. This provides the leverage of increase in quantity and quality of labor, capital and technology through trade and investment. Hence Dr. Subramaniam advocated the theory of foreign investment attraction for export oriented production with local labor, as a method for reaching a higher economic growth rate among under-developed and developing nations.

With the advent of globalization and Thomas Friedman’s Flat Earth thesis it is impossible to live in isolation. Regional trade cooperation can be of several stages: 1. Preferential Trade Agreement2.Free Trade Area3. Customs Union 4.Common Market 5. Economic Union 6. Political Union. In any cooperative arrangement a country must be prepared to give up a certain degree of its sovereignty. In any case the classical concept of sovereignty, both during the Cold War period and thereafter, has changed considerably. With the Americans believing in the concept of ‘exceptionalism”and its efforts to subordinate international law to the laws of the US sovereignty can only be ensured by the rich and the powerful. In the case of South Asia Pakistan’s refusal to accept that India of 1947 and India of the twenty first century are two different countries and hence to try to emulate George Kennan’s policy of containment of communism that he advocated for the US cannot be replicated either bilaterally or in limiting Indian influence in Afghanistan long thought of by Pakistan military as a place of refuge in case of full fledged war between the two nuclear powers.

Though Bangladesh is the second largest Muslim country in the world after Indonesia we are surrounded by Hindu India with a population of 1.2 billion. With more than 80.5% population of Hindus in India, Hinduism has the largest number of followers in India. The overall population of India is dominant by Hindu Religion and its traditions. The Hindu religion is spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Almost all the states and union territories in India have the larger number of Hindu Population. Then we have Myanmar with a population of 65 million most of who are Buddhists. The persecution of the Muslims in the Rakhine state by the majority Buddhists who flee to Bangladesh for sanctuary amply demonstrates the vulnerability of Muslim Bangladesh. Though one does not expect a conflict based on religion in the sub-continent nor a special relationship between Hindu India and Hindu Nepal because both share the same religion there is little doubt that the emergence of radicals in the sub-continent is due to presumed discrimination or inter-faith conflicts in some countries ignite the sentiments of co-religionists in other countries.

German sociologist Jurgen Habermas observes in his Notes on a post-secular society “worldwide 'resurgence of religion is due to the missionary expansion (a), a fundamentalist radicalisation (b), and the political instrumentalisation of the potential for violence innate in many of the world religions (c).) A first sign of their vibrancy is the fact that orthodox, or at least conservative, groups within the established religious organizations and churches are on the advance everywhere. This holds for Hinduism and Buddhism just as much as it does for the three monotheistic religions”

Exploring further the transformation of secular society into a post-secular one Habermas adds “Pushing the issue closer home, let me remind you that the visibility and vibrancy of foreign religious communities also spur the attention to the familiar churches and congregations. The Muslims next door force the Christian citizens to face up to the practice of a rival faith. And they also give the secular citizens a keener consciousness of the phenomenon of the public presence of religion. The third stimulus for a change of consciousness among the population is the immigration of "guest-workers" and refugees, specifically from countries with traditional cultural backgrounds”. In forging economic cooperation we shall be better off if dissonance between the church and the state becomes an article of faith for the people of SAARC region. We have to believe and practice that religion is a private individual matter that should not intrude into the governance of countries.

Only then, perhaps, billion more people would be able to prosper.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary in Bangladesh.

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