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Himal Southasian Volume 20, Number 6, June 2007 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2007-06

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 What Is Fusion'
Sumana Roy
Bangladesh BDT 80 - Bhutan BTN 60
Marking Time in
Kashmir Valley
Riyaz Masroor
Karachi, Islamabad,
12 Mav
Q Isa Daudpota
0 ■ Nepal NPR 50 ■ Maldives MVR   40 ■ Pakistan   PKR 80 ■ Sri Lanka SLR 80 • Rest of the World USD 4 / GBP 3
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Wariness and weariness
As Bangladesh teeters on the brink of what could be
called a 'civic war', the military-backed interim
government is trying hard to prove that it is still in
charge. For a while, it looked as though the regime
might actually do what it claimed it would
do - caretake - but none of us is so sure anymore.
Citizens will be forgiven for wondering if the changes
are really about cleaning up the system, or about the
caretaker government preparing the ground for the
military. Our cover image, by Munem Wasif,
symbolises the prevalent mood: the country's 'non-
elite' is weary of the malaise that marks the putrid
political system, but is also quite wary of technocrats
backed by khaki. We bring together a medley of voices
about the what, how and why of current happenings
in Bangladeash.
We are concerned that readers in Bangladesh may
not be able to read these pieces in the hardcopy,
Karachi's and Pakistan's tragedy
Good for party, bad for country
Mixed signals on a stable neighbourhood
'Ranjha II'
Southasian briefs
Cover feature
The anger of Bangladesh's non-elite
Afsan Chowdhury
Inflation up, government down
Amer Ahmed
Testing time for Dhaka's media
Asif Saleh
Under the emergency: seven takes
King Mayawati
Pratap Somvanshi
The Vaan Puligal takes off
DBS Jeyaraj
A soundtrack for a foreign existence
Rahul Giri
however. That is, if the authorities resort to censorship,
as they did with our editorial "Khaki politics in
Dhaka" and the article "The Dhaka regime's messy
surgery", both from our May issue. In such an
eventuality, our website,, will
remain open to all visitors.
Dreaming without subtitles
Sumana Roy
Time and a place
Monsoon memories
Somnath Mukherji
An 'agent' of Kashmir: Hashim Qureshi
Aditi Bhaduri
Seeking a solution: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
Riyaz Masroor
Southasian mea culpa
Jawed Naqvi
Southasiasphere: C K Lai
Remember the farmer
Photo feature
Never again: a people against war
Kunda Dixit
12 May: the bloodshed and watershed
Q Isa Daudpota
India is flat
Vijay Prashad
Special report
Parsing the Indian 'identity
Repatriation or resettlement
Aditya Adhikari
Himali Dixit
Afghanistan anodyne
Marking time in Kashmiris beautiful
Aunohita Mojumdar
Riyaz Masroor
On the way up
Atoll before the storm
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 Vol 20   No 6
June 2007 |
Editor and Publisher
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Laxmi Murthy
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Assistant Editor
Himali Dixit
Editorial Assistance
Frakriti Mishra
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu        Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Business Advisor
Monica Bhatia
Marketing Managers
Komal More
Vaibhav Kapoor (India)
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Roshan Tamang
Rupendra Kayastha
Manee Rajbhandari
Santosh .\ryal
Shahadev Koirala
Valley Distributor
Bazaar International
GPO Box: 2480
Kathmandu - 29
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
inf o@h
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: ScanPro
Printed at Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Ph: +977-1-5547017/18, Fax: +977-1-5547018
Contributors    to   this    issue
Aditi Bhaduri is a freelance journalist based in Calcutta who writes on issues of
peace and conflict.
Aditya Adhikari lives in Kathmandu, More of his writing can be found at
Amer Ahmed is a US-based economist and member of the Drishtipat Writers'
Asif Saleh is the founder of the human-rights organisation Drishtipat. He runs the
blog "Unheard Voices", and also writes for the Bangladeshi media.
Aunohita Majumdar is a journalist who has been reporting for 17 years in the
region, including Kashmir, Punjab and Nepal, and is currently based in Kabul.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
David B S Jeyaraj is a Toronto-based journalist writing regularly on Sri Lanka.
Jawed Naqvi is the Delhi-based India correspondent for the Dawn newspaper.
Joseph is a US-based blogger and a member of the Drishtipat Writers' Collective.
Kunda Dixit is editor of the Nepali Times.
Lubna Marium is a dancer, writer, Sanskritist and researcher based in Dhaka.
Mashuqur Rahman is a US-based member of the Drishtipat Writers' Collective.
Mridul Chowdhury is a graduate student at Harvard University's Kennedy School
of Government and a member of Drishtipat Writers' Collective.
Munem Wasif is a photojournalist based in Dhaka.
Naeem Mohaiemen does interdisciplinary art, film and technology interventions
in Dhaka and New York.
Pratap Somvanshi is the Kanpur-based Resident Editor of the Hindi daily Amar
Rahul Girl is a journalism student based in Bangalore.
Riyaz Masroor is based in Srinagar and reports for BBC. He is also political
editor of the Daily Greater Kashmir.
Rubana is studying for her Masters in Literature at the East West University.
Sabir Nazar is a Lahore-based cartoonist with The Friday Times and the Daily
Shameran Abed is an editorial contributor for the New Age, Dhaka.
Somnath Mukherji is an electrical engineer in the US.
Sumana Roy teaches English at Darjeeling Government College. She is currently
on research leave in Poland and Germany.
Timothy Sowula has worked for Human Rights Watch. He is currently a volunteer
with an indigenous community-rights organisation in Bangladesh.
Vijay Prashad is a professor and Director of International Studies at Trinity
College, in the US.
Q Isa Daudpota is an Islamabad-based physicist who writes on the environment,
education, science and IT policy.
jAaldress jgi] jrji
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with full-text articles plus an exhaustive archive of
past issues - fully searchable.
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June 2007 1 Himal Southasian
Hard-working caretaker
We are happy to know that Himal
is observing the present political
situation in Bangladesh, but feel
you have been unfair in your
coverage (see May 2007, "Khaki
politics in Dhaka" and "The Dhaka
regime's messy surgery"), lt is crucial
to note that the current caretaker
govemmcn t does not belong to any
political partv, nor does it have an
alliance with any foreign entity.
During the last 36 years, it is these
combined elements that have
proved disastrous for our country
- creating intolerance, failing to
listen to the people's demands,
aind creating a corrupt society, full
of nepotism and favouritism. The
common people have never had
anyone in political power to speak
for their sufferings, nor has
basic  progress  been   made  in
An American colony
It was with a sense of immense
pleasure that I read your articles on
the suspension of democracy in
Bangladesh in the Mav issue of
Himal. Nothing could have been
more timely or persuasive.
I do have one query, however:
given that Bangladesh is ruled from
Washington, DC and other Western
capitals, does it really matter
whether we have a democracy or
an autocracy? What can freedom
mean for a colony, which is really
what we are? A colonial democracy
is a political centaur, and may
not be a very desirable animal
outside a /.oo.
The paradox of being a colony
and a democracy must seem
incongruous. Yet the origin of this
oxymoron goes back to the time of
Darius, the ancient Persian king
who sought submission from
Athens. The Greek democracies of
Asia Minor were content to be ruled
by the 'great king', so long as he
allowed them their little fiction of
self-government. How thoroughly
modern these arrangements seem,
looking at Bangladesh.
Iftekhar Sayeed
the country's socio-economic,
industrial or educational sectors.
The present government is now
trying hard to bring developments
in these sectors.
We urge you not to support any
political party until all reformation
of Bangladesh's political anomalies
are properly executed by the current
government. The authorities clearly
cannot allow any election at this
time, as this would cause the
country to fall into turmoil. For the
past three months, it has seemed as
though Bangladeshis have finally
been enjoying the fruits of their
Tibetans within Tibet
Thanks for your recent coverage on
Tibet (see April 2007), which gave
much-needed insight into the issue.
It is time that the Tibetan
government-in-exile starts to think
of alternative methods in its
dealings with China, as well as
with the international community.
Dharamsala needs to ask itself how
much more it is willing to
compromise, as Tibetan overeignty.
to some extent, has already
been sacrificed.
It should also be noted that most
of the articles and viewpoints in
Himal's coverage came from outside
Dangerous bargains
The concerns of the International
Federation of Journalists (IFJ), as
well as the headline of our 8 April
press release ("Bargaining with
Taliban Increases Risk to Foreign
Media"), have been misread (see
May, "Mediafile"). The point of the
press release was to criticise the
process of bargaining and reaching
deals with Taliban or other terrorist
groups. It is inevitable that (as in the
case of abducted Italian journalist
Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was
later released) if you make a bargain
with kidnappers, you put a price on
the next media correspondent in
town. This increases the risk to
foreign correspondents pecifically,
because it is Western governments
that are most prepared to bargain.
independence, and we urge you to
refrain from any irritation or
disrespectful comments towards
the current government. This
administration is trying hard to
clean up every aspect of the country
- to give Bangladeshis a real sense
of democracy, whereby they can
control their own country.
Mohammad Zubayer,
Mohammad Alamgir,
Majeedul Chowdhury, Abdui
Awal Siddique,
Vajan Sarker, Golam Kibria,
Monaj Kumar Barua
Tibet, lt would have been
significantly more interesting to
have gotten views from the inside.
Do Tibetans in Tibet view issues
the same way as the exiles and
non-Tibetans do? Probably
not. There are, after all, very
diverse viewpoints on many
of these issues within the
Tibetan community in Tibet
itself. Freedom and unity within
and towards the Tibet struggle
will depend upon the integration
of these diverse views.
T Jigme
Toronto, Canada
However, it is obvious that the
people working with foreign
correspondents, and local
correspondents, are equally at risk,
and the IFJ has been trenchant in
its criticism of the killers and the
lack of regard of the Afghan
authorities. The IFJ is well aware of
the risks facing Afghan journalists,
and we have been the first
international organisation to take
steps to try to improve their levels
of safety. In this case, we were
drawing attention to the hypocrisy
of treatment, and seeking an end to
the bargaining process that puts all
our people at risk.
Aidan White
General Secretary, IFJ
Himal Southasian | June 2007
Karachi's and Pakistan's tragedy
On 12 May, Karachi relapsed into chaos, recalling the
dark days of the early 1990s, when armed gangs
affiliated with ethnic political parties could openly
threaten, beat, kidnap, torture and kill dissenters. Law
and order remained problematic but Pakistan's largest
city and commercial hub had regained some normalcy
over the past decade. It was once more a brash, lively
megalopolis with shops and eateries open till the wee
hours, despite a few 'no-go areas' that cabbies would
refuse to enter at night and a high crime rate marked
by muggings, phone snatchings. car-jackings and
armed robberies.
Then, on 'Black Saturday', armed members of opposing
political parties converted the streets of Karachi into a
battle zone. Almost 50 were dead by the end of the
carnage and hundreds wounded. The Karachi killings
became a sideshow in the running battle of nerves
between General Pervez Musharraf and Iftikhar
Chaudhry, the chief justice he is attempting to oust. A
lawyer-led mass movement has emerged against the
president, with the chief justice as an icon and rallying
point. Despite heavy-handed police action against
lawyers' demonstrations and fundamentalist-
engineered diversions, the tide of support for Chaudhry
has not slowed.
As the secular political movement around the chief-
justice issue gained momentum, the government
seemed to have decided that enough was enough. The
administration warned Chaudhry against goingto Karachi,
where he had been invited by the Sindh High Court bar,
on the grounds that doing so would create security
problems: the Islamabad government's coalition partner
in Sindh, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). had a
pro-Musharraf rally planned for the same day. Following
the Karachi killings, the government and the MQM have
assigned responsibility for the violence to Chaudhry and
his supporters.
Out on the streets, Karachi witnessed what many term
as orchestrated mayhem. Live television cameras
captured the situation for all to see: government tankers
blocking routes from the airport to prevent Chaudhry from
reaching the lawyers' meeting and the police and Rangers,
mostly stripped of their arms the day before, standing by
idly if not participating in the onslaught perpetuated by
hordes of armed men. The security plans chalked out for
the day were abandoned overnight. Rangers abandoned
key positions on the flyovers on the main airport road:
instead, armed men in civilian clothes took up these
positions, firing into the crowds headed out to welcome
the chief justice.
Those who had missed the television reports could
view them soon afterwards on the Internet. A segment
that quickly made the rounds was Aaj TV's coverage of a
normally bustling, now deserted chowk: men brandishing
weapons and exchanging gunfire with unseen opponents,
the tricolour MQM flag clearly visible on motorcycles
parked around them. Gunmen objecting to the live
coverage then fired at the Aaj office for several hours
and destroyed journalists' vehicles parked outside.
Reporters crouched behind desks along with anchor Talat
Hussain, who provided a live account ofthe situation by
phone between volleys of gunfire.
Mo contrition
Aaj TV's refusal to stop its coverage emboldened the new
breed of 'citizen journalists' that has emerged with the
spread of new technologies. "My faith in independent
media was restored, and 1 was confident that I am
not alone," wrote one blogger, posting a doctor's testimony
of a murder in his hospital when armed MQM activists
came to finish off an injured rival. Blogs buzzed
with eye-witness accounts, links and photos. Such visuals
and accounts have subsequently kept the outrage alive.
The events in Karachi not only overshadowed Gen
Musharraf's simultaneous rally in Islamabad (see
accompanying story, "12 May. the bloodshed and
watershed"), but also the 14 May murder of Hamad Raza,
Additional Registrar of the Supreme Court and a key
witness in the case surrounding Iftikhar Chaudhry. Raza's
tune 2007 | Himal Southasian
 family and Choudhry's supporters allege that Pakistan's
intelligence agencies are behind this murder.
The Karachi administration belatedly banned public
gatherings, and issued shoot-on-sight orders to the
Rangers. When the independent Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) opposed these cders
and also called for the MQM to be disarmed, the MQM
responded by threatening to "expose" the "wrongdoings"
of HRCP chairperson. Asma Jahangir.
For his part, Gen Musharraf's response to Karachi's
tragedy has been nothing less than flippant. At a meeting
with some 150 ruling-party parliamentarians on 14 May,
the general brushed away criticism over the Karachi
situation. In an interview with Aaj TV four days later, he
dismissed the happenings in Karachi as "the political
activity" of a political party.
Journalists in Islamabad expressed their protest in an
unprecedented manner - sitting on the floor during an
MQM press conference and refusing to accept
refreshments. They could do that in the relative safety of
Islamabad. Back in Karachi, their colleagues are unlikely
to get away with such defiance.
Karachi's tragedy has highlighted General Musharraf's
increasing distance from ground reality. The general has
otherwise been a deft handler ofthe opposition. But even
the smartest dictator cannot keep together a
society in ferment: sooner or later the grip will slip. The
obvious misjudgement on the chief justice issue and
the killings of Karachi, point to the need for General
Musharraf to rapidly begin the process of
handing back power to political parties. How best
and quickly to do this should be foremost in the minds of
all politicians and all other Southasians who wish
Pakistanis well. >
Good for party, bad for country
During the election campaign of November 2005 that
saw him scrape through to a narrow victory, Mahinda
Rajapakse promised an "honourable peace" with the
LTTE. This was in contrast to what he and his nationalist
allies described as the "bended-knees peace" of his rival,
former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Rajapakse
also promised to present a viable political solution to the
ethnic conflict within three months. On 1 May, more than
18 months later, the president's party, the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party, finally unveiled this proposal.
Unfortunately, it falls woefully short of meeting even
halfway the demands ofthe Tamil minority in general, let
alone the LTTE.
There are three key requirements to finding a
negotiated settlement to Sri Lanka's three decade-long
ethnic conflict. The first, and most difficult, is to persuade
the LTTE to enter the mainstream of democratic politics
and to renounce its use of violence. The other two involve
the extent of Sri Lankan territory that could be regarded
as under Tamil habitation, and the quantum of power
that a regional government set up for that territory should
possess. In Sri Lankan parlance, these two issues are
known as those of the 'unit of devolution' and whether
the constitution should be unitary or federal.
While the proposals do not even touch upon the thorny
issue of persuading the LTTE to renounce violence, the
approach to power-sharing is also less than satisfactory.
Proponents of a negotiated settlement to the ethnic
conflict have argued that the missing ingredient in
reviving the peace process is a consensual political
proposal that could lead to power-sharing. President
Rajapakse appeared to have been of this view as well,
Himal Southasian | June 2007
which was why, shortly after his election, he set up the
All Party Conference to develop a solution to the conflict.
And this is why many were hoping for a more
imaginative and courageous package than the SLFP's
proposals presented.
With regard to the unit of devolution, the aspirations of
the Tamil polity are that the Northern and Eastern
provinces, which amount to nearly 30 percent of the
country, should be considered the Tamil homeland. The
Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987, and the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution that followed the signing
of the accord, gave a degree of legal recognition to this
Tamil demand by merging the two provinces, albeit on a
temporary basis. This merger was accompanied by the
requirement of a referendum in the Eastern province
within a year, but that never took place. This year, the
 Supreme Court stepped in to de-merge the two provinces,
much to the chagrin of Tamils.
Now, the SLFP proposal has sought to further
undermine the legitimacy of the Tamil claim to the
Northern and Eastern provinces by asserting that the unit
of devolution should be at the district-level. Indeed, this is
something which had already been implemented in 1981,
but was given up in the legal changes effected by the
Provincial Council system of 1987. The SLFP's proposal
would mean that, instead of one political unit for the
Northern and Eastern provinces, there would be
eight district units. In so suggesting, the SLFP
seeks to reverse two decades of experience of
governance with the provincial units. The ruling
party appears to fear the aggregation of Tamil power
that the devolution of rea! power to provincial units
would have delivered.
Broken consensus
The second bone of contention with regard to the SLFP
proposal is the issue of central control over the regional
units that are set up as part of a power-sharing
arrangement. The SLFP proposal asserts that all
devolution and sharing of power must take place within a
unitary constitutional framework. This 'unitary state' would
mean that Colombo authorities would wield overriding
powers overthe regional units, and would retain unilateral
power to alter any arrangement. This is naturally
unacceptable to the Tamil polity, which has long demanded
a federal framework, in which unilateral central rule would
be impossible.
President Rajapakse appears to have had the concerns
of the Sinhalese community chiefly in mind when he
finalised the SLFP's stance. In a heterogeneous
society like Sri Lanka, however, it is necessary that
rulers take into account the concerns of minority
communities. So far, not a single ethnic- or religious-
minority party or group of any standing has voiced
agreement with the SLFP's new proposals. On the contrary,
even parties within the coalition government have
expressed reservations.
While President Rajapakse seems to have taken this
course to preserve his alliance with the Sinhalese
nationalist parties that assure him of a parliamentary
majority, his short-term pragmatism is continuously
eroding the confidence of many others, in his moral
commitment and longer-term problem-solving capacities.
Winning elections and holding on to power is one thing;
winning the trust of others and solving intractable
problems, is another. ,§,
Mixed signals on a stable neighbourhood
Following the military coup in Bangladesh in January,
India was relieved. The putsch seemed to mark a
decisive moment in Bangladesh's fortunes, which was a
welcome shift from the instability that had characterised
Dhaka politics over the previous year. There is a fair degree
of suspicion about India's role and intentions in the
eastern neighbour, and an anti-India platform strikes a
popular chord in Bangladesh. While the perception that
the Awami League was close to the Indian establishment
made the party reluctant to engage too closely with New
Delhi while it was in power, the Bangladesh Nationalist
Party (BNP) has been traditionally more vocal against what
it sees as India's 'interference*.
With the democratic system in place, New Delhi
subsequently felt that it was losing out both ways, a nd not
gaining substantive concessions. It wanted a
stable regime, which would curb 'Islamic
fundamentalism', allow Indian investment, crack down
on outfits using Bangladeshi territory as a base to fuel
militancy in the Northeast, and address the contentious
issue of economic migration across the border into India.
The Bangladesh Army, India calculated, was best placed
to deliver on these key concerns.
Five months later, that policy appears to remain largely
unchanged. The caretaker government's swift execution
of a few Islamic militants convicted of killing two judges,
and its openness to Indian corporates (especially the
Tatas, after the latter's failed attempts at investment the
last few years), are seen in some quarters in Delhi as
vindications of India's position.
But India should know that army rule is not a
sustainable arrangement in Bangladesh, where the thirst
for freedom runs deep, and the military invariably seeks
entrenchment. This was evident after the original plan to
exile Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina fell flat. The
widespread unrest within the country makes clear that
Bangladeshis are not willing to meekly let go of their hopes
for representative democracy. India claims it has privately
conveyed to the Bangladesh Army that it should hold the
elections sooner than later. But that is as far as New Delhi
seems willing to go - though one could have hoped for a
public position on democracy, as it had in the case of
Nepal a year ago.
The circumspection in New Delhi may also stem from
the fact that India, in fact, has limited capacity and
leverage in influencing domestic politics in Bangladesh.
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 This is in direct contrast to Nepal, where New Delhi" has at
times micro-managed the peace process; or to Sri Lanka,
where it has the ability to intervene in the conflict's
dynamics. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs does not
have as many levers of influence that work on Dhaka;
political parties and civil society in Delhi have neither
organic linkages with their counterparts in the Bangladesh
capital, nor sustained interest in developments on that
side. But as the regional power, its position on political
issues in the neighbourhood remains important, with many
other international actors willing to follow the Indian lead.
New Delhi's stand may be understandable, given that
its interests of commerce, security and transit were not
served in Bangladesh's democratic interlude. But the
militarist tilt evident in the support ofthe caretaker regime
is to be criticised, not only from the moral standpoint but
also because it will not be pragmatic in the long run. Army
rule cannot last forever, and political parties will come
back to power before too long. If India is remembered as
the major actor that sided with, when all is said
and done, an autocracy, it will stand to lose all the
more when a democratic dispensation does come to
power. Additionally, if India wants to be taken seriously
as a rising world power, it needs to be seen as being
supportive of basic democratic values in its
own neighbourhood.
New Delhi would be well advised to rethink its hands-
off approach on Bangladesh. Outright condemnation
may seem overdone, and a proactive approach to oust
the regime would be quite out of the question - indeed,
a dangerous adventure. But moral support to the political
parties and a strong message to the Bangladesh Army to
relinquish control ofthe political process could go a long
way in salvaging India's reputation among Bangladeshis,
as well as in creating the environment for restoration of
democracy in Dhaka. ^
'Ranjha II'
There is reason for Ranjha, the
famous fakir of Punjabi folk
tradition, to want to sit in the
dark. The petals of the lotus on
which he rests are soft, as is the
night breeze. When he closes his
eyes, Ranjha can allow his
imagination to wander as far as
he wants. In this interpretation by
artist Sabir Nazar, Ranjha can
imagine his cows coming home
on a starry night. He can imagine
the goddess of fertility atop a
tortoise, picking fruit from his
tree. He can imagine birth, and
he can imagine death. But
Ranjha must now rise from his
comfortable slumber, open his
eyes, and turn from the moon to
the sun. Ranjha is an artist, a
creative inventor, one invested
with society's potential for
beauty, brilliance, imagination
and change. The world cannot
remain in darkness forever.
Ranjha's flute must now herald
the morning light.
This is part of a regular series of
Himafs editorial commentary on
artwork by Sabir Nazar. Watercolour,
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 Trade through the border' " Out, OCHA
The Nathula pass
between Sikkim and
Tibet reopened at the
beginning of May, a month
earlier than last year. It is
now set to stay open
through November, two
months later than last
year. At the opening
ceremony, Minister of
State for Commerce
Jairam Ramesh described
the trading-time extension
as a "small beginning" in
the effort to start full
trading between China and
India through Nathula. "But
we still have a long way to
go," he cautioned.
Ramesh went on to say
that priorities now include
upgrading the trade-related
infrastructure on the Indian
side of the pass, and
coming to a new
agreement with China that
moves "from border trade
to trade through the
border". In addition,
Ramesh noted, the list of
tradable goods needs to be
expanded. With the current
list being based on
traditionally traded items
from a half-century ago
(before Nathula was closed
off, following the 1962
war), India's current exports
are almost exclusively
confined to rice. fa
Minding Meghalaya's
The day after the 1 May deadline set by Adivasi
leaders in Meghalaya for all migrant labourers to
leave the state, the 'quit notice' was rescinded.
Meghalaya is home to a large number of economic
migrants, many from Nepal and Bangladesh, who
work in the state's many coalmines. From 28 March,
when the warnings were issued by the Federation
of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Peoples (FKJGP), panic had
spread quickly through the state's
migrant communities.
FKJGP leaders, threatening "dire consequences",
warned that if the state government were not to deal
seriously with "illegal immigration", locals would have to
take matters into their own hands. In addition to
economic and cultural worries, FKJGP claims that the
migrants have brought "illegal activities" along with
them, such as gambling.
Nonetheless, officials professed not to be particularly
worried by the activists' demands. Citing a long history
of anti-immigrant sentiment, Chief Minister D D Lapang
said that the FKJGP warning should not be taken "too
seriously". The government did acquiesce to the FKJGP
demands enough to promise to crack down on illegal
'infiltration', and to implement a policy requiring all
migrant workers to register with the police. A
In late April, the Colombo government indicated that it
wanted the United Nations Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to leave the island's
most troubled areas. OCHA originally set up its Sri Lanka
office in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami to oversee
rehabilitation work, but has since remained to assist
with communities that have been adversely affected by
the ethnic conflict. Now the government is accusing
OCHA of "overstaying" its mandate, and has ordered it
to vacate the country's north and east. OCHA officials
had reportedly floated the possibility of acting as a
human-rights monitor, even though some UN officials
say that the agency is unequipped to do so. -.£;■■
Male 'collapsing'
Reports again indicate
that the island of Male
is dangerously near
capacity. Cracks in the
reef surrounding the
island, particularly off the
north and northeast
sides, were originally
discovered five years ago.
Now those have been
observed to have
worsened significantly.
"The worst possible
scenario is that Male will
fall into pieces," said
areas of the island. The
government did not follow
through on that policy,
however, which many
observers now suggest
has exacerbated the
problem. Some are even
pointing fingers at cafes in
the area that play loud
music, the suggestion
being that the vibrations
are accelerating the
cracking of the reef.
Although its population
is only a bit over 80,000,
Mahmood Riyaz, an
official with the
Environmental Research
Centre. "But hopefully we
will be able to
do something."
Following a 2002
report, some
reinforcement work was
done, and certain large-
scale construction was
halted in the northern
Male's tiny size (1.7 x 1.0
km) makes it the world's
most densely populated
city. To take in more
population, the
construction industry has
started building high-rises,
even though the science of
how building foundations
and other stresses impact
upon atoll islands is not
yet firm. £
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
When in doubt, buy it
underway, a parliamentary
committee has urged the
Centre to consider
purchasing a vast swath of
With New Delhi's
attempt to fence its
4000-km border with
Bangladesh well
Fibre-optic Wagah
Following final approval from Islamabad, the first direct
fibre-optic link between India and Pakistan, running
through Wagah, began functioning in early May. The cable,
which will be used for both voice and data transfer, was
actually laid back in April 2006 by the Pakistan
Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), but has
been awaiting final approval.
While a coaxial cable was already in operation through
Wagah, the new fibre-optic connection will significantly
speed up and lessen the cost of data transfer between
Pakistan and India, as well as Pakistan and the rest of
Southasia. Previously, Pakistani data transfer has all been
routed through West and Southeast Asia, and Europe. A
Taxing Pooja
Everyone may love Kollywood, the Madras-based
Tamil film industry, but not when their actors are
taking away your jobs. Starting in June, Sri Lanka's
National Film Corporation (NFC) will be taking steps to
curb the increasing influx of Indian film stars into the
country's film and television sectors, Colombo has
slapped a new SLR 250,000 tax on producers
employing Indian actors in starring roles. A SLR
150,000 tax will also have to be paid for employing
Indian actors in supporting roles.
"We have many talented artistes and technicians
here, but local producers are bringing Indians and
depriving our people of work," NFC chairman Asoka
Serasinghe complained, pointing in particular to the
Indian Tamil star Pooja Umashankar, who appears in a
popular television show. The announcement follows
last year's imposition of a USD 750 tax per showing of
films and television shows from India and the US,
proceeds from which are being put back into bolstering
Sri Lanka's own film industry. £
the frontier. Doing so may
also allow the
government to move
towards circumventing
a three-decade-old
bilateral treaty
with Bangladesh.
At the moment, India
is constructing the fence
around 150 yards from
the frontier, as per a
1975 treaty with
Bangladesh that
precludes building any
defence structure within
that distance. However,
the government can
legally buy real estate
that falls within those
150 yards. While the
fence may yet be moved
closer to the border, the
committee has
suggested that if doing so
is not possible, "the
government may buy [this]
land ... so that people who
have property within the
150 yards may not face
problems any more."
Given the heavy
population density of
much of the borderland,
cultivation has
traditionally gone all of the
way up to the frontier.
Indeed, in addition to
farms and other cultivated
areas, homes have also
fallen within this 150-yard
stretch. The question
arises whether the Indian
government should thus
continue further with the
ineffective programme of
border fencing, and invest
in thousands of acres of
real estate. £
Soundtrack archive
Researchers in the musicology department at Punjab
University (PU) in Lahore have announced the formation
of a programme to archive the soundtracks of historic
films from India and Pakistan. Much of the original
soundtracks originated in present-day Pakistan; Lahore
was the predecessor to Bombay's filmdom. Students from
the department will be tasked with visiting Pakistani
production houses and select people associated with the
Hindostani film and music industries, in an attempt to
track down original classic soundtracks.
According to Keith Timney, a musicology professor at
PU, because many of the original recordings of these
works - such as those by Mehdi Hassan and Noor Jahan
(see photo) - were lost, remixes of these songs became
popular instead. This, Timney asserts, has led to the
crumbling of popular appreciation of the original
tracks. While India has had a significantly better track
record of saving its original
recordings, those in modern-
day Pakistan have been
less fortunate.
Islamist organisations
denounced the new
programme, accusing PU of
promoting the appreciation
of music that is "against
Islamic belief". It is our own
belief that the good profs
will not cater to the clergy on
this one. £
Himal Southasian | June 2007
Hardly open
One and a half years
after five new crossing
points were created on
the Line of Control in
Kashmir, several posts
remain largely unable to
admit travelers due to
bureaucratic inertia.
Indeed, one of these
crossings, Haji Pir Pass, has
yet to see its first official
border crasser. According to
official statistics that
became public in April, all
five ofthe crossing points
had cumulatively seen just
1700 travelers since
October 2005, when
Islamabad and New Delhi
agreed to open new border
checkpoints following the
Kashmir earthquake.
Two crossings have
remained relatively busy,
officials say - the
Poonch-Rawalkot and the
Further down the road
Late April saw the opening of the majority of the
segments ofthe Stilwell Road, which runs from Assam
to Yunnan in China, through Burma. An opening ceremony
held in Myitkyina in Burma marked the end of three years
of Chinese-funded construction on the Burma section of
the road, which cost Beijing around RMB 1.2 billion (USD
159.6 million). Traveling time from Tengchong in Yunnan
to Myitkyina has now been cut from eight hours to around
three hours. The Stilwell Road was originally built as a
military supply line during World War II.
While the Chinese section of the road has long been
operational, travel beyond Myitkyina towards the Indian
border remains difficult, with only around two-thirds of
that 360 km section currently open to vehicle traffic. In
early May, however, .Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said
that multilateral talks were currently ongoing to
"speed up" the road's full reopening. The state's
industries minister, Pradyut Bordoloi, noted that
development on the road within Assam would
be completed within around six months. A
roads. The other three,
however, have seen very
little traffic, a
phenomenon that locals
say is traceable to
cumbersome procedures
for getting the necessary
permits. According to
People's Democratic Party
President Mehbooba
Mufti, there are currently
"10,000 applications ...
pending for permit".
Attempting the crossing
is also seen as a way of
opening oneself up
for harassment by
security officials.
All in all, how does it
help for India-Pakistan
detente if the all-important
agreement to allow LoC
border crossings by
Kashmiris is only
existent on paper, and not
at the border? £
Looking for revenue
Potentially ending a year's worth of intransigence,
Dhaka's interim government has agreed to hold talks
over a gas pipeline that would run from Burma to India
through Bangladeshi territory. Foreign Affairs Adviser
Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury made the announcement after
returning from a trip to Burma in late April.
Although Dhaka had previously held the issue of transit
rights for any such pipeline hostage to a host of bilateral
grievances with India, Chowdhury put down the new stance
reversal to economics: "We'll get revenue," he said simply.
Previous estimates have surmised that Bangladesh could
make up to USD 120 million per year for allowing the
950-km pipeline to cross its territory.
With reports arsing in recent months of Rangoon's
decision to sell most of its natural gas reserves to
China, however, it remains to be seen whether
the pipeline's USD 1 billion pricetag will still be
considered worthwhile. £
Long, lost years in
The story of four Nepalis released in early May from
prison in Bangladesh is heart-rending. Three out of
the four had been arrested and charged with not having
valid travel documents; at the time, they were
sentenced to a mere week in prison. Until their release,
one had languished behind bars for 12 years, while the
other two had been detained for three and six years.
The fourth prisoner had been arrested in 1996 on
charges of theft and possession of illegal weapons, and
was sentenced to serve five years.
Besides the inherent ability of Southasian prison
systems to inhumanely forget the rights of unprotected
detainees, some of the blame for these severe
oversights are said to be applicable to the neglect of
the Nepali embassy in Dhaka. Nepali diplomats there
now say they are working with Bangladeshi authorities
to see whether there are other Nepalis being unfairly
detained elsewhere in Bangladesh. A
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
The rising waters
climate-change expert
thas warned that
stronger cyclones, coupled
with rising seawater, will
wreak havoc on India's
eastern coasts in years to
come. Although the
country's coasts are set to
bear the brunt of the
ramifications of global
climate change, India as a
whole will suffer as well,
said Pranabes Sanyal, with
the National Coastal Zone
Management Authority,
based in Calcutta.
Sanyal reported that
since 2000, recorded
cyclone speeds in Orissa
and Andhra Pradesh have
almost doubled, from 150
kph to 250 kph.
Additionally, while sea
levels around the world
have been rising around
two millimetres per year,
the change in the Bay of
Bengal has been around
3.14 mm per year - and up
to 10 mm per year off
Khulna in Bangladesh. New
Delhi is planning to conduct
a broad analysis of India's
7500-km coast next year,
to discern how to
ameliorate the country's
coastal vulnerabilities.
Either way, floods and
storms in general look set
td increase in the
Subcontinent, as do the
subsequent hunger and
disease they spawn.
Although it was not
necessarily caused by
climate change and global
warming, during and
following the 2004
tsunami, about 16,000 of
the total 230,000 deaths
took place in India, £
Nepali goods to lose edge
Items manufactured in Nepal are set to lose their edge
over other Southasian goods in India, after New Delhi
recently announced that it would impose zero tariff on
goods from all ofthe region's 'least-developed' countries
- including Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal.
Earlier, Nepali products had experienced a crucial tariff
advantage in India over the region's other countries.
Nepal's leading exports to its southern neighbour -
vegetable ghee, jute goods, polyester yarn and readymade
garments - amounted to over NPR 11 billion in 2005-
06, over 25 percent ofthe country's total exports to India.
After Manmohan Singh's announcement during the
14th SAARC Summit in early April, however, these and
other goods will have to rely increasingly on their own
commercial appeal. When taking into account Nepal's
landlocked location and low productivity, many analysts
now predict that Nepali goods will not fare well against
the new competition, particularly given the suddenness
of the announcement. £
Himal Southasian j June 2007
^d,;1 ,:LT  ■ . ..i/  ;;:--^-&^
Maoists quash Dalai Lama
Nepal's Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahai (aka
'Prachanda'), has declared that his party witt not
allow the country's interim government to permit the
Dalai Lama to reopen an office in Kathmandu. Although
admitting that it was a "delicate issue", Dahal said that
the newly seated government, with five cabinet posts
occupied by his party, would not want to jeopardise "good
relations with China". While Nepal would not forcibly
repatriate refugees currently living in Nepal, the Maoist
leader continued, the new government in Kathmandu-:
would still not allow political Tibetan organisations to
operate openly, "since we consider Tibet an integral part
of China".
The Datai Lama's long-time office in Kathmandu,
known as the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Centre, was shut
down in January 2005, as part of the autocratic
Gyanendra's attempt to appease Beijing. An application
for the registration of a new Tibetan political:;
organisation has been put on hold by Nepal's
governments amidst greater worries, and it now appears
certain that the request will be denied. '.- ;■■.'■.■:■;'.': £bb
China v Arunachal
Optimistic reports of progress over the past year on
the resolution of Sino-Indian border idssues may
have come a bit too early. After the defence ministry in
New Delhi had, in mid-May, stated categorically that
reports of Chinese 'incursion' into Arunachal Pradesh
had been a "misrepresentation", members of the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) angrily called for a
fact-finding mission to the state. Such a body was
subsequently put together the following week.
"China is in illegal possession of over 2000 square
kilometres of Indian territory in the state," BJP MP
Khiren Rijiju announced. "It is not a matter of only the
20-km-long encroachment in Sumdorong Chu in
Tawang District, and China has been doing this steadily
for years." Rijiju went on to say that resentment was
building in the state against the Chinese, and that the
All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union was planning to
launch an agitation programme. fc
Dawa Tshering, 1935-2007
Dawa Tshering, former foreign minister of Bhutan,
passed away on 8 May 2007 in Thimphu, due to a
liver condition.
Dawa Tshering, born in Kalimpong in 1935, had been
scouted out by a Royal Government of Bhutan in search
of young modernisers. Tshering was inducted into the
government's services soon after
his graduation from Calcutta
University and managed to
quickly climb its ranks early in his
career. He first became a
minister in 1969 and when the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs was
created in 1970, was assigned
to head it. As a pillar of the
Bhutani government, Tshering
was instrumental in envisioning
and implementing many of the
policies for which former King
Jigme Singye Wangchuk - who
reigned from 1974 until his
abdication this year in favour of
his son - has been credited.
Tshering was foreign minister
from 1972 until the dismissal ofthe old Bhutani cabinet
in 1998. He was the face of Bhutan to the world during
the mass evictions exercise of the early 1990s, which
created the Lhotshampa refugees currently languishing
in Nepal camps. (See interview with Dawa Tshering in
Himal July/August 1994) £
From Gundhum to BoBibazaar
Dhaka and Rangoon have finally agreed to build the
first crossborder road between the two neighbours,
linking Gundhum in southeastern Bangladesh with
Bolibazaar in Burma. Although there is no official
roadway between Bangladesh and Burma, there are two
official crossing points along the 320-km frontier.
Dhaka will now be paying for the construction ofthe
new 23-km road, which both sides hope will eventually
run between Dhaka and Rangoon. Discussions over the
potential road have gone on for years, amidst off-and-on
relations between the two sides, although Dhaka has
reportedly already finished construction of the road on
its side. Observers predict
that the new roadway will
have little economic
| impact, however, if the
| business community in
I Dhaka in particular is tardy
in taking advantage of the
road link. A
Kishanganga, again
Construction has quietly begun on a hydroelectric
project in Kashmir that had been stalled for two
decades. In addition to being beset by militancy, the 330-
megawatt Kishanganga plant has been opposed by
Islamabad due to fears that the Indian project would
impact on its own hydro scheme, a 969-MW plant located
downriver, directly across the Line of Control in the Neelam
Valley. Islamabad has in the past alleged that India's plan
to divert water from the Kishanganga (Neelam) River,
the largest tributary of the Jhelum River, would be in
violation of the bilateral Indus Water Treaty.
In addition, there have been longstanding worries that
the Kishanganga dam would flood the town of Gurez, in
Jammu & Kashmir. Now, India's National Hydroelectric
Power Corporation has decided to lower the dam's height
by three metres. Doing so, company officials say, will not
only eliminate the threat to Gurez, but will ultimately only
impact on the village of Wadwun, the inhabitants of which
will be resettled in Gurez. The INR 24 billion (now
down from INR 32 billion,) project's capacity will still be
330 MW. None of this looks set to settle Islamabad's
worries, however. £
Stalled repatriation
In early May, the second meeting of the
Pakistan-Afghanistan Jirga Commission finally took place
- after having been put off for several weeks, and
subsequently shortened to just a single day. Even as the
participants were discussing ways to strengthen relations
and security between the two neighbours, however, quiet
sentiments of a very different nature were being made
public: of the remaining two million Afghan refugees in
Pakistan, the vast majority said thatthey were not planning
on returning to their homeland.
This despite Islamabad's specific orders in February
that all Afghan refugees should be repatriated by 2009.
To that end, at least four refugee camps are scheduled to
close down this summer. While a large number of refugees
have indeed returned home in recent years (including
200,000 more already in 2007), with the continued
upswing in violence in Afghanistan in recent months a
survey indicates that 84 percent of those still in Pakistan
say they are afraid to return for security reasons. The
United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, released those
findings in the midst of its largest-ever repatriation
There are official worries that even those refugees that
do return to Afghanistan at this time may be confronted
with a dire lack of land and related services. Nonetheless,
Pakistani officials responded a week later by ordering the
"immediate" repatriation of all Afghan refugees, accusing
them of being involved in anti-state activities. £
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
12 May:
the bloodshed and watershed
With his miscalculation over the sacking
of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
General Musharraf may have hastened
the end of his reign.
On 12 May, Pakistan had its Black Sabbath. It turned
out to be more bizarre than the surreal happenings
that had preceded it, which included the takeover
of the sole children's public library by hordes of black-
hooded women, a mosque imam referring to the female
students in Pakistan's premiere public university as
prostitutes, and law-enforcement personnel dragging the
country's chief justice by his hair. And all this in the capital,
regarded as quite removed from the hurly burly of
Pakistan's agitational politics!
Saturday, 12 May will go down in history as a shameful
day for Pakistan. On that day, Chief Justice Iftikhar
Chaudhry, who had been abruptly deposed by General
Pervez Musharraf on 9 March on spurious charges, was
to address the legal practitioners ofthe Sindh High Court,
in Karachi. On arriving at the Karachi airport, Chief Justice
Chaudhry was detained for nine hours, before finally being
put back on a plane bound for Islamabad. The entry points
to roads from the airport to the High Court had been
blocked by hundreds of trucks, buses and containers,
orchestrated by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM),
one of Musharraf's key support bases. Armed MQM thugs,
with the tacit support of the MQM-dominated Sindh
government, had also coerced lawyers and opposition
party activists not to show their supportforthe suspended
chief justice. One observer commented that even the
Pakistan Army could not have so successfully halted life
in Karachi.
The intimidation was not completely successful,
however. All of the major opposition parties had already
endorsed the call to greet the chief justice, and thousands
defied the MQM threats to take to the streets. Earlier,
Sindh Governor Ishrat ul-lbad, also of the MQM, had
warned Chaudhry to postpone his trip (although his talk
had been planned long before); the chief justice in turn
asked that the MQM not hold its rally on the same day.
As it happened, Chaudhry arrived in Karachi on
schedule, and the MQM goondas proceeded to wield their
street power on the gathered crowds, eventually opening
fire. By the end of the day, 40 people were dead, 150
injured and countless vehicles destroyed. Although the
state authorities had ordered the deployment of 15,000
security personnel, they did nothing to stop the MQM thugs.
It has been reported that not only were the troops
specifically directed not to intervene, but even their
weapons were taken away. As such, security personnel
were widely observed simply standing about, watching
the violence unfold. This was in stark contrast to the
previous 10 weeks, when the security forces had acted
with alacrity against pro-Chaudhry protests and journalists
covering the demonstrations. On 12 May, it was MQM
supporters who assumed this role - firing repeatedly at
the Karachi headquarters of Aaj TV, which was airing live
coverage of the day's events.
As demonstrators dropped dead and the injured lay
unattended, smoke rose from burning tires and vehicles
on the streets of Karachi. In the midst of these warlike
conditions, preparations were underway for another kind
of gathering, in Islamabad. On 12 May, Jinnah Avenue,
Islamabad's central road, wore a sudden festive look,
with men in dhotis hoisting banners and placards
festooned with pictures of Gen Musharraf. The loud,
rhythmic beat of drums even led many to dance the
bhangra. The centre of the show, a 20-foot-high platform
surrounded by bullet-proof glass, stood waiting for
important guests. But even as the state-television
cameras stayed on this sedate scene, the public was
tuning to other channels, all of them airing grim footage
ofthe death and destruction in Karachi.
All the while, huge bus convoys, largely filled with paid
participants,   were   flooding   Islamabad's   main
Himal Southasian | June 2007
thoroughfares. The riders, from outlying areas of Punjab
and NWFP, were evidently glad to tour the capital - and
keen to receive payments of PKR 100-300 and a free
meal. Annoyed by the success of Chief Justice Chaudhry's
journey from Islamabad to Lahore on 5 May - a four-hour
drive that stretched to 24 hours and generated
humongous crowds along the Grand Truck Road - Gen
Musharraf had his office and his confidante. Punjab Chief
Minister Parvez Elahi, arrange his own extravaganza in
Islamabad. The district nazims (heads of municipalities)
were utilised for crowd-gathering and transport.
Following speeches by Pakistan Muslim League leaders
and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Gen Musharraf finally
arrived at the glass enclosure. He claimed to be shocked
and grieved by the carnage in Karachi, but blamed Chief
Justice Chaudhry for the tragedy. He also went on to hint
at further violence, should the opposition continue to defy
the government's will. "If they think they are powerful,"
the general intoned, "then they should know that the
people's power is with us." No one needed to tell Gen
Musharraf that the crowds he saw on the other side of
the glass were mostly trucked in; the truth no longer
seems to matter for those in the general's camp.
A thorn in the side
Gen Musharraf's relationship with the MQM, his key
support base and coalition supporters in Sindh, is a fraught
one. With key members of the MQM - including its exiled
leader, Altaf Hussain, as well as Sindh Governor Ishrat ul-
Ibad - under grave legal charges, it is somewhat ironic
that the general keeps direct telephone contact with
Hussain (now a British citizen and living in exile in London).
On 12 May, to underline his and his party's support for
Gen Musharraf, Hussain, the Mohajir Messiah, addressed
a huge crowd by telephone, to try and douse the flames in
Karachi. He, too, blamed the chief justice for the violence.
Unlike the safely exiled MQM leader, on home ground
Gen Musharraf needs to go through legal acrobatics to
justify his maintenance of power as both president and
army chief. In his 12 May speech, the general reconfirmed
his intention to have the country's legislators re-elect him
for another five-year term before the coming elections.
Gen Musharraf's worry that Chief Justice Chaudhry would
not allow such a move may have been the most significant
reason for making Chaudhry 'non-functional'; even today,
the matter remains topmost on everyone's mind.
Several other cases scheduled for hearing in the
Supreme Court during 2007 were also potentially
embarrassing for the government. Among these is one
enquiring into the alleged dual citizenship of Prime
Minister Shaukat Aziz (Pakistani and American), and his
eligibility to hold his current office. Chaudhry had also
issued judgments and taken suo moto action on issues
that had exposed the underlying shady nature of existing
or proposed government deals. These have included the
privatisation of the country's steel mills, which were to be
sold to a person closely connected with Shaukat Aziz;
as   well   as   Chaudhry's   orders   relating   to   the
'disappearances' and human-rights violations by the
country's security forces.
Chaudhry also raised the government's ire over a plan
to transform the pristine forest of Patriata - which serves
as the watershed and filter for drinking water for
Rawalpindi and Islamabad - into a pleasure garden for
the country's wealthy. A few weeks before the historic suo
moto hearing in the Supreme Court, the chief justice
received a dossier opposing the proposed destruction of
the Patriata forest, which brought to his attention a plan
by the Punjab government to construct on the site luxury
hotels and foreigner-only enclaves. Due to the court's
subsequent intervention, work on the Patriata ridge was
stopped pending environment-protection assurances.
The full bench of the Supreme Court is now set to hear
the allegations against the former chief justice. This is the
first time in Pakistan's history that a sitting chief justice
has been dismissed due to such charges. Given the
atmosphere in Pakistan and the widespread disgust at
the way Chaudhry has been treated, it is unlikely that the
court will find him guilty of the current charges of
'misconduct'. More crucially, the general-president may
have inadvertently brought about the beginning of the
end of his own political career.
With Chief Justice Chaudhry returned to his old seat,
the chances would be significantly greater that Gen
Musharraf's re-election plan would be halted by the court.
There is already a petition before the court, recently filed
by the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, questioning Gen
Musharraf's ability to hold his army position past the
retirement age of 60. (The general will turn 64 on 11
August.) Gen Musharraf has retorted, however, by warning
that he will use "extra-constitutional means" to ensure
his election and that of his partners. If the corporate
interests of the military, coupled with the desire of the US
government for a pliant military leader in Pakistan
coincides, Gen Musharraf's next step could be to declare
a state of emergency.
After the events of 12 May, the chances of a brewing
agreement with the Pakistan People's Party, led by Benazir
Bhutto, suddenly became remote. Bhutto would be
committing political suicide if she were now to side with
Gen Musharraf. In the current political tussle, Imran Khan,
the cricketer-turned-parliamentarian, has gathered
considerable support through his sharp criticism of the
MQM and the general,
These are interesting times in Pakistan, made more so
by a chief justice who has had the courage to contest the
allegations against him. Pakistanis who support Iftikhar
Chaudhry hope that the new opening will prove to be a
watershed - perhaps even ushering in a new era of honest
politicians, one that returns the military to its barracks,
and gradually undermines the military's corporate
interests, diminishing their desire to interfere in politics. If
this were to happen, we could perhaps even see a
peaceful and speedy solution to the Kashmir problem.
Who knows - such dreams could lead Pakistanis to act,
and make these hopes come true. ^
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
Mayawati has turned India's
electoral politics on its
head, and not many saw it
coming. She now has her
sights focused on the larger
prize - prime minister of India
The results of the recent Uttar Pradesh assembly
polls herald the arrival of a unique political
formula, one which will have a forceful impact
on electoral politics throughout India for years to come.
As the most populated and politically most significant
>tate in India, Uttar Pradesh has long paved the way
tor new political ideologies - be it the saffron wave or
the bahujan politics that banked on the votes of the
majority, the former untouchable castes, the Dalits.
'■\"'b.b the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gaining a
mumping majority in mid-May, a newfound
alliance of Dalits and upper castes (mostly Brahmin
and Bania) has proved to be a formidable combination.
In its aftermath, political pundits are lauding the
victory of this unlikely coalition as an innovative
experiment in social engineering, as overseen bv BSP
supremo Mayawati.
Mayawati, India's first Dalit woman chief minister,
has now been sworn in to the post in Uttar Pradesh for
a fourth time. With the BSP's clear majority of 206 out
of 403 assembly seats, UP is experiencing its first
single-partv majority in 17 years, since the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) was m power at the height of the
'Ram Janmabhoomi' movement. The most significant
change to come about in recent elections has been the
decisive entry of deprived castes into mainstream
politics, and today there appears to be a realistic
opportunity for the Dalit-majority BSP to play a critical
role in national politics. Most immediately, this refers
to the election of the next president of India, coming
up in June. For their part, Mayawati's supporters have
already begun to chant: "Now New Delhi!"
A significant part of the BSP's success can, of course,
be put down to anti-incumbency sentiment. Poor
governance has not helped the Samajwadi Party's
image - in particular, the breakdown in law
enforcement as made evident in the Nithari
child-murders case, the recent murders of several
politicians, and the sheer hooliganism of Chief
Minister Mulayam Singh's administration. Even film
star Amitabh Bachchan's much-advertised slogan 'UP
mein hai dum, kyonki jurm yahan hai kum' (UP is
powerful, because there is less crime here) did little to
change the discontent directed at Mulayam.
Another factor in the BSP's favour was the proactive
role of the Election Commission, in ensuring that
Dalits could vote in large numbers in the seven
rounds of phased polling. The elections also saw a
large paramilitary presence - almost 500,000
personnel - which some say was the largest
deployment of security forces to have taken place in
an Indian election. Such a securitv cover undoubtedly
Himal Southasian | June 2007
contributed to another record: for perhaps the first time
since Independence, no violence occurred during the
UP polls. In certain pockets of eastern UP, Dalits were
able to cast their votes for the first time ever.
Rise of regional parties
The political transition in Uttar Pradesh between 1999
and 2007 is fairly easy to trace. During that period,
people in the marginalised sections of society became
politically aware and united. This was also a period of
the progressive weakening of the Congress partv. From
Independence until 1980, the Congress was the
undisputed strongman among Indian political parties,
and was largely propped up by a vote bank of
Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins. This was a period of
upper-caste supremacy, when the Brahmins and
Kshatriyas had the upper hand and played a decisive
role in the larger Indian political system, as well as in
the powerhouse of Uttar Pradesh. For years, the lower
castes languished, but their search for political identity,
self-empowerment and political power steadily
strengthened. It was when the Congress began to lose
the longstanding support of these groups in the late
1980s that its power rapidly declined.
V P Singh's decision to implement the report of the
Mandal Commission in 1990, recommending
reservation for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in
educational institutions and government jobs, acted
as a significant catalvst, particularly within the lower
and 'backward' castes. Their attempts to gain power
subsequently became significantly more vocal. A new
era of politics was thus emerging. At the national level,
the Third Front of non-Congress and non-BJP parties
came into being, and a new face, H D Deve Gowda,
became prime minister - the first time a state-level
politician had reached such a high office. Regional
parties started to flex their muscles, and began to look
for ways to shake up the political svstem in Uttar
Pradesh. Thereafter, every regional party felt free to
dream- and scheme -of having its own prime minister.
This was also the beginning of hung assemblies in
Foggy prognostication
Exit and opinion polls were a flop once again in the
recent UP election. No major political pundit or
psephologist predicted the BSP winning a full majority,
including those at Star News, the Indian Express, CNN,
IBN7, NDTV, India TV or Sahara TV. Instead, each of
these foresaw a hung assembly, suggesting that the
BSP would get between 103 and 168 seats. Quite a
few surveys gave the BJP more than 100 seats,
although it eventually won just half that. While many
put the BSP and the SP in the same range, the SP
eventually wound up with less than half of the BSP's
seats. Besides the fact that psephology is an inexact
science, one might suggest that class and caste bias
(eads to such skewed predictions, perhaps?
UP, with no political partv able to win a clear majority.
But political analysts who predicted that such a
situation would continue for decades have now been
proved wrong. The BSP's win in Mav has turned
longstanding political formulas on their heads: the
'roval sceptre' has been decisively placed in the hand
of a Dalit ki beti, a daughter of the lower caste, this time
unfettered bv coalition partners aind sharing
arrangements that constrained her previous stints as
chief minister.
Bahujan to sarvajan
Caste has long been the basis of Indian election
formulas. The BSP had also subscribed to the arithmetic
of caste, with its perspective that a small number of
upper castes were exploiting and reigning over 85
percent of UP's population - the backward and Dalit
castes. The strength of the regional parties that began
to sprout during the late 1990s was based on low castes
and minorities, While the Congress and the BJP
proclaimed that they did not believe in the
caste formula, behind the scenes they played the
same game, and prepared to respond to the strategy
of the regional parties.
In the lead-up to the recent election, however, the
BSP had changed its stance. It abandoned its policy of
cursing Manuwad, the ascription of all upper-caste evil
to the sage Manu, and the party's members instead
began to talk of sarvajan (all the people), not only
bahujan (the majority). Satish Chandra Mishra, an
upper-caste lawyer, is credited with the successful
implementation of this strategy. As Mishra gained her
confidence, Mayawati made him Advocate General of
Uttar Pradesh in 2002. Since this was the period when
the BSP was trying to woo the upper castes, Mayawati
found in Mishra the most acceptable Brahmin face, and
she eventually made him a member of the Rajya
Sabha, the upper house in the national parliament,
and then general secretary ot the BSP. Mishra was
instrumental in bringing in more Brahmins to the BSP,
and 48 out of 86 Brahmin BSP candidates won the
2007 election.
The BSP's campaign slogans from the past election
also reflected this shift in caste alignment and the use
of the party's symbol of the elephant over time. From
'Chad guudo ki chaat i par - mohar lagegi ha thi par'
(Knocking down ruffians - the seal will be put on the
elephant), the attempt to woo the upper caste was
apparent in the religious symbolism of 'Hathi nahi
Ganesh hai - Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai' (It is not an
elephant, but lord Ganesh - the creator, the preserver
and the destroyer.) and 'Brahmin Shaiikh bnjayega - hathi
badta jayega' (The Brahmin will blow the conch - the
elephant will surge forward).
The BSP is now 23 years old. When Mayawati's
mentor Kanshi Ram founded the party, he coined the
slogan, "Share at par with involvement", and the goal
of the BSP was political representation in proportion
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 to population size. Initially, the party had to rely on
tenuous alliances to make any headway in state
politics. In 1993, the BSP came to power and formed a
government with the Samajwadi Party, which had a
hold on the OBCs, particularly the Yadavs. In
the evolving formulation of UP politics, the
uppcr-caste-lcaning BJP actually supported the BSP in
the 1997 elections, and Mayawati subsequently became
chief minister for the first time. Now, a decade later, the
BSP has reached a position of being able to form a
government by itself. It has been a slow, steady
and strategic bu.ld up of strength in India's politically
most-significant state.
In UP, the ability of the Dalits and the upper castes,
particularly Brahmins, to coalesce, marks a great
change in the social and political equation, and holds
the promise of a stable formula, according to some.
Furthermore, this success has set the regional parties'
sights even higher. If in coming parliamentary elections,
alter a year and a half, the BSP were to win 60 more
seats in UP, Mayawati's chances of becoming prime
minister of India would be very strong. Although seven
past prime ministers have hailed from UP, during times
of hung assemblies and parliaments the state's politics
became weak, and left the field open for regional parties
of South India to play a more prominent role in New
Delhi. Led by Mayawati, the resurgence of one-party
domination in UP now signals the return of the state
as the kingmaker.
Muslim vote bank
In the BJP-led coalition government of Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, politicians from Andhra Pradesh were very
powerful in the Centre. The United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh
owes its gratitude to the Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam (DMK) and the left parties, which are
currently extremely influential.
Many now say that if Mayawati's government is
able to strengthen Uttar Pradesh in central politics, the
perceptions of minorities could simultaneously change.
Up to this point, the minority vote bank has been
scattered, largely attached to various state-level regional
parties, and with the Congress at the national level. In
the mid-1990s in UP, with a weak Congress party and
the opportunistic alliance of the BJP and the BSP,
minority votes went increasingly to the Samajwadi
Party and whosoever else was perceived to be secular.
The so-called Muslim parties were unsuccessful in
wooing the UP vote bank, and failed to win the
sympathy even of the Muslims. Now, the Muslim vote
bank in UP again seems to be turning towards the BSP
- and the party leadership is keeping a careful watch
over these voters. Said to be very close to Mayawati,
Nasimuddin Siddiqui, the popular youth leader from
Banda District, has become the minority face of the BSP.
In the aftermath of the recent elections, attention
must be paid to the failures of the Samajwadi Party, the
The 'royal sceptre' has been decisively
placed in the hand of a Dalit ki beti, a
daughter of the lower caste, this time
unfettered by coalition partners and
sharing arrangements that constrained
her previous stints as chief minister.
BJP and Congress in UP. Their trump cards have
proved ineffective. The high-profile road show of
Rahul Gandhi, as well as the campaigning by his
mother and sister, did not make a dent in
the triumphant march of the elephant. In May 2007,
the Congress won a mere 21 seats - two fewer, even,
than in 2002.
While the Congress saw the worst results in the UP
polls, the BJP's dreams also came crashing to the
ground. After gaining power in Punjab and
Uttarakhand, the BJP was expecting significantly better
results in UP. Party leaders were hoping that the saffron
wave would sweep India. Indeed, a UP win could have
paved the way for clinching Goa, Himachal Pradesh
and Gujarat - and the road to Delhi would have been
clear. Instead, the BJP has to take a hard look at its poll
strategy, and perhaps remodel its party structure in
UP. In 2002, the BJP won 88 seats in Uttar Pradesh;
this time, it could gain no more than 50. The fall-guy
for the BJP would be the party's national president,
Rajnath Singh, who could not even save the party
in his own state.
The same mav happen with the Samajwadi Party,
which only won 97 out of 403 seats in the state assembly.
SP leaders are now seriously thinking about how to
restructure the party. During the run-up to the May
elections, chief ministers from various South Indian
states streamed up to UP to campaign for Mulayam
Singh Yadav, who had been dreaming of forming a
Third Front with these states for the next Lok Sabha
parliamentary elections in 2009. This dream, too, now
lies in tatters,
While the UP elections of 2007 have clearly marked
a significant shift in how Indian political parties will
fashion their political formulas in the days to come,
there is, however, little hope for an overall change in
the system. Parties in power in the past, after all, have
made hundreds of promises during election
campaigns, many of which remain flagrantly
unfulfilled to this day. While one hopes that
Mayawati's new- government atop the elephant will
not tread the same path, the Indian masses have
developed a wary view of the politicians of any political
party - and to break that mindset will require a long,
long ride. What the public of UP hopes is that
four-time Chief .Minister Mayawati will be as
good in governance this time as she is in forging
winning alliances. fi
Himal Southasian I June 2007
uhgka, rally, just fc*efore :
The anger of Bangladesh's non-elite
Very little can shock Bangladeshis today and so they watch with bemusement the
games among those who would rule. With Parliament never having been functional,
the true meaning of 'political democracy' needs better explanation before the
country's poor will appreciate its inherent promises.
What kind of a government does Bangladesh
have? Who is in charge and why? When
did this begin, and of whom should we be
afraid this time around?
The phase that led to Bangladesh's current crisis
began last January, when the electoral term of the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government,
under Khaleda Zia, came to an end, and preparations
for the general elections began. This is one of the
world's few countries in which a special non-political
interim government, the so-called neutral caretaker
government, is put in place to supervise national
elections. Since no one trusts anyone (especially
incumbents) in such matters, this is considered the
most practical solution.
The caretaker government is supposed to be headed 1
by the last retired chief justice of the Supreme Court, 5
and is assisted by a cabinet of non-politicians |
recommended by the two main parties, the BNP and S
the Awami League. Technically, this government is
entrusted with the limited task of holding a credible
election. The practice of the installation of such an
entity began in 1990 when, after the victorious mass
movement against the rule of General Hossain
Mohammed Ershad,  activists suddenly found
themselves without a government to hold an election.
While three earlier elections have been successfully
held under the caretaker system - in 1990, 1996 and
2001 - this time, things went sour. The opposition, led
by the Awami League, which had previously agitated
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 for reforms to the caretaker formula, refused to accept
Khaleda Zia's nomination of Justice K M Hasan as
'Chief Adviser' for the caretaker government (the
chief adviser functions as the interim prime
minister), on the grounds that he had once been a
member of the BNP.
The tense standoff exploded in late October 2006,
shortly after the BMP government handed over power
to then-President lajuddin Ahmed, insisting that behold polls as soon as possible. But the Awami League
and its allies refused to accept the Flection
Commission's chief, Justice M A ,<\ziz, another BNP
nominee whose neutrality was disputed. Protests
subsequently' began in earnest, with street violence of
an unprecedented scale leaving many dead and
injuring several hundreds throughout the country.
Dhaka became a constant scene of riot. The sight of
two large columns of activists, armed with sticks,
rods and boat oars, squaring off against each other
on the main streets of the capital presented a
terrifying metaphor for Bangladesh's pre-modern
political culture.
Despite the mounting violence, the BNP appeared
to have the situation sewed up in its favour. Most,
including the opposition, concluded that the party was
executing a plan to return to power bv bending but not
breaking the law of the land. President Ahmed, a BNP
nominee, was playing a key role in this. He was
instrumental in nominating several pro-BNP Election
Commission members, even as the agitations
continued; he also steadfastly refused to put pressure
on the head of the commission, Justice Aziz.
Meanwhile, the public clamour for Aziz's resignation
grew. Even as President Ahmed was losing all
credibility in the eyes of the opposition, the BNP
continued to back him. He then went on to announce
that since no one was acceptable to either of the
contending parties, he himself would take over as Chief
Adviser to the President - or, in this case, chief adviser
to himself. On 29 October 2006, Ahmed did himself
the courtesy of becoming the head of both the state and
the government.
Amidst this surreal scene, the Flection Commission
continued to refuse to dismiss controversial members,
extend election dates or make fresh voter lists. But
several members of the new Chief Adviser's own
Advisory Council began to resist the Ahmed
establishment, which people were saying was being
run on the sly by the BNP. Among the critics within
the Advisory Council were three key representatives
of the establishment: former army chief Hasan
Mashhud Chowdhury, former cabinet secretary aAkbar
Ali Khan, and civil-society lawyer Sultana Kamal. The
three refused to go along with Ahmed's plan to hold
elections immediately under the discredited Election
Commission. In a now-famous televised interview, Gen
Chowdhury discussed a meeting that he had had with
CFC Aziz, which Gen Chowdhury said had been
about finding an acceptable way lor Aziz to step down.
Aziz denied that the meeting had even taken place.
"Well, both of us can't be telling the truth, and I'm not
lying," the general said, perfectly summing up the
situation within the government at the time.
When these three crucial cabinet members resigned
in protest on 1 I December, anarchy (even bv
Bangladeshi standards) loomed, fhe opposition
declared that it would boycott the polls, while essential
supplies disappeared from Dhaka markets. Amidst the
chaos there were reports that grocers were even
refusing to sell food to .Aziz, prompting supporters
from his village to bus down to Dhaka with supplies
for his larder. Western diplomats held secret meetings,
urging all kinds of crisis management. This period of
complete uncertainty lasted for more than a month,
during which time the prospect of a military takeover
was openly discussed. And then, on 11 January, the
other shoe dropped. Suddenly, Bangladesh had a new
caretaker government, a new Chief Adviser, a new set
of backers (the military), and lajuddin Ahmed back in
his old job. A state of emergency was declared, much
to the relief of all at the time.
Caretaker regime
The BNP had banked on military support to carry it
through the crisis. But the military old guard -
including many loyal to Ziaur Rahman, BNP founder
and Begum Zia's late husband - did not oblige. The
army, as a whole, was keener to keep its lucrative UN
peacekeeping contracts, and there was widespread
speculation that these could have been threatened by
a full-scale takeover. The early-January statement by
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, declaring that the
Bangladesh situation was causing him much concern,
was added to the worry of the men in khaki,
The new government enjoyed immediate public
popularity, as it went after the famous and the corrupt,
including Tarique Rahman, Khaleda Zia's eldest son,
and his cronies. Government security forces went on a
detention spree of taking in leaders and businessmen
with links to both the Awami League and the BNP.
The initial public hurrah was very loud indeed. The
two begums, meanwhile, after a period of catching their
breath, indicated that they would not be taking this
thrashing lying down. Predictably, Awami League
chief Sheikh Hasina welcomed the ouster of the BNP-
constructed government and publicly promised to
sanction the acts of the caretaker regime which took
over. But her later reactions were less friendly, as the
Rumours continue to abound that the military will take over direct power any day.
But how would such a situation really change things, barring more arrests?
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 ramifications for her own party became clearer.
Despite the caretaker government's attempts to force
both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia out of the country
- it had tried to keep the former from returning home
from a US jaunt, while moving to exile the latter to
Saudi Arabia - both are now very much in Bangladesh.
A far cry from the years of animosity, Khaleda Zia
even congratulated her arch-rival for her resolve to
return despite having been charged with extortion
and murder, and despite a global security alert issued
to prevent her entry.
Corruption remains the hottest subject in
Bangladesh, and every day sees new arrests, new
charges and new investigations,
thereby providing the media with
plenty to chew on. But other issues have
also started to become increasingly
prominent, such as inflation, which
economists at the World Bank, the
Asian Development Bank and the
National Economists Association have
all flagged as having reached alarming
levels. Research shows that price-
control measures have not w7orked (see
accompanying article, "Inflation up,
government down").
The current members of the caretaker
government, led by Fakhruddin
Ahmed, a World Bank veteran and
former chief of the Bangladesh Bank,
are very much a part of Bangladesh's
high elite, a group that enjoys the
confidence of international donors and the diplomatic
community. Ahmed has told the international media
that he was backed by the military, while insisting in
the same breath that he is his own man. For many in
the intelligentsia, the question remains: Who put him
there? On the other hand, do the people at large care?
Rumours continue to abound that the military will take
over direct power any day. But how would such a
situation really change things, barring more arrests?
Bangladesh's ailment runs deeper than corruption lists
- though they are an excellent indicator.
Connection capitalism
The problem is not about what is happening now, but
rather lies in what happened in the past and could
happen in the future. Even as the newest nation-state
in Southasia, Bangladesh does not have a democratic
tradition, and autocracy has been the favoured form of
governance for both civil and military rulers. This
tendency began at the very birth of the nation, with
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, head of the Awami League
and Sheikh Hasina's father. Sheikh Mujib first
introduced laws that allowed arrest without trial, then
created the unaccountable paramilitary Jatiyo Rakshi
Bahini, and finally promulgated emergency rule in
1974. He followed all this up with one-party rule, and
banned all but four newspapers in 1975, Before his
assassination in August of that year, Sheikh Mujib
allowed his followers, family members and other
'connection capitalists' free run over the economy.
Next came General Ziaur Rahman, Begum Zia's
husband. Although he rose to power on the back of a
series of putsches, and instituted martial law from
1975 to 1978, Zia did also allow multi-party rule and a
free media. To build an anti-Awami League alliance,
however, he corralled all of the country's
political parties into the Bangladesh
National Party, which he founded in
1978. Gen Zia is also credited with
allowing Islam its first political space
in the post-independence era. During
the general's period, systematic abuse
of financial institutions flourished, and
corruption began to gain the kind of
institutional acceptance that has now
become ingrained. Like Sheikh Mujib,
Gen Zia was also a rigger of elections.
In 1981, Gen Zia was assassinated
by his fellow fighters of the 1971 War of
Liberation. After two years of semi-
martial law and political confusion
(which included an election and a
referendum, both pre-decided), the
Bangladesh Army, under General
Hossain Mohammed Ershad, moved to oust the BNP.
Gen Ershad may have declared a jihad against
corruption, but later became the ultimate symbol of
corruption in high office.
Popular autocracy
The period from 1982 to 1990 is considered the grand
era of political resistance in the young country that is
Bangladesh. During this period, the culture of street
agitation, fuelled by young rebels, was polished to a
shine. When Gen Ershad and his party were toppled
in December 1990 (the army having refused the
general's request to intervene), Bangladeshis thought
that democracy had finally arrived. Although this
was an undeniable victory of the streets, it later
became evident that no true democratic foundation
had been laid. What had been attained was, at best,
'popular autocracy'.
From 1991 to 1996, the BNP ruled under Khaleda
Zia. From 1996 to 2001, the Awami League ruled under
Sheikh Hasina. The BNP made a comeback in 2001,
again under Begum Zia, a move that is remembered
Bangladesh may well have morphed into a new form of state: a post-modern,
underdeveloped construction, where each segment has its own political culture.
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 for the large-scale violence against minorities that
became part of the subsequent celebrations. Before
long, laissez-faire corruption peaked at levels never
before imagined.
Although the year 1990 achieved an iconic aura as
the time of the birth of democracy in Bangladesh, each
Parliament since then has been less effective than its
predecessor. Despite court orders passed during the
1990s, the lower judiciary was not separated from the
executive branch. Going by the words of K M Hasan,
the present chief justice, the higher courts have been
so damaged through bad appointments that it will
take 20 years to heal them. The country's economy,
meanwhile, has huge potential but remains chaotic,
with the power sector in particular in shambles.
Fconomic management is showing significant strain,
as a result of many years of malgovernance, and
inflation of course stands ready to bring down all who
would presume to rule.
Against such a backdrop, how much difference can
a regime change make? And would orders passed by
a civil-military alliance be able to have any impact on
what has taken 35 years of disastrous governance
to accumulate? Can Bangladesh truly be improved
by executive orders, as it would seem the
caretakers believe?
Bangladesh's critical success has been in
alleviating poverty, but this was delivered by the
private sector, the non-governmental sector and the
country's citizens rather than by its governments. But
winning a Nobel Prize for running micro-credit
schemes, as happened this past year thanks to the work
of Muhammad Yunus, does not mean that Bangladesh
has the political will to achieve macro-economic
success. Poverty has indeed declined for the country's
'middle' poor, but the absolute number of poor is
actually on the rise. Moreover, the number of people in
extreme poverty - those who consume less than the
minimum caloric requirement - has now risen to
encompass at least 20 percent of the population - and
there is no national scheme to address this.
The readymade-garments sector was successful for
years, but low wages are a matter of great concern, as
is low productivity. The government has had to go as
far as to threaten to shut down nearly 100 factories for
failing to pay their workers. Violent agitations are now
commonplace in the industrial zones. While
remittances have increased for many years, the foreign-
labour sector is corrupt, unregulated and does not
protect those who send their hard-earned money home
and help keep the economy afloat. Even the safety valve
of overseas labour has become increasingly vulnerable.
Elite to elite
Perhaps the current crisis is not about civil or military
rule, nor about the varied hues of rulers, all of whom
130 days of emergency
During the first 130 days of
emergency in Bangladesh, from 12
January to 21 May 2007, a total of
96 persons were reportedly
killed during operations by
law-enforcement personnel, tn
addition, 193,329 were reported
arrested, inclusive of general arrests
for violations of law. Of the 96
reported killed, 54 were killed by the
paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion
(RAB), 25 by the police, seven by the
joint forces, six by the army, and three
by the navy. One person was reported
killed by officers of the Department
of Narcotics Control.
Of those killed by the RAB, 51 died
in 'crossfire', one was tortured to
death, and two others were arrested
by the RAB and later died in the
hospital. Of those reportedly killed by
the police, 12 died in 'crossfire', six
were tortured to death, four shot
dead, one died in police custody, and
two more died in the hospital after
their arrest. Of those reportedly killed
by the Bangladesh Army, four died due
to torture, one while attempting to
escape, and one more died in the
hospital after being arrested. Of the
seven deaths attributed to the joint
forces, three were tortured to death,
one was killed in 'crossfire', one died
in the hospital after arrest, and two
died in custody, including one who
committed suicide.
Of these 96 deaths, it has been
reported that eight were from the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party, four
from the Awami League, six from the
Purbo Banglar Communist Party
Uonojuddho), four from the Purbo
Banglar Communist Party, four from
the Purbo Banglar Communist Party
(Red Flag), two from the Biplobi
Communist Party, one from the New
Biplobi Communist Party, two from the
Gono Mukti Fouz, one from the Jatiyo
Shomajtantrik Dot, three from the
Sromojibi Mukti Andolon and four
from the Shorbohara Party.
In addition, one of those killed was
reported to be a freedom fighter, one
an indigenous leader, and one an
'extremist'. Three were also
suspected arms smugglers, two
were alleged arms dealers, two
alleged muggers, one an alleged
gambler, two alleged drug peddlers,
10 alleged dacoits and 18 alleged
criminals. Other victims included
three farmers, one businessman,
one police informant, one bus driver,
one female garments worker and
one housewife.
The Dhaka-based human-rights
organisation Odhikar prepared this
reportt on the basis of 11 national dailies
and its own fact-finding reports. In the
course of doing so, on 3 May 2007,
Odhikar's acting director, ASM
Nasimddin Elan, was taken to the naval
headquarters, where Captain Zubayer,
the director of naval intelligence, along
with three associates, allegedly harassed
htm for preparing those reports,
ultimately threatening him with death.
Himal Southasian j June 2007
have been tried and found wanting. Rather, the crucial
facet of Bangladesh's immediate circumstances mav
well be the nature of political governance that the
Dhaka elite has practiced, and which it sees no reason
to change at this time. Concern over the past several
months over arbitrary arrests and lack of press
freedom has been expressed mostly perfunctorily,
perhaps because previous civilian governments
have picked up and disappeared many more, not to
mention muzzled the press. The military may be
more active now, but so is the paramilitary Rapid
Action Battalion (RAB), now a euphemism for
swift justice without accountability. The RAB,
of course, is a product of civilian rule, as was the
Rakshi Bahini.
Bangladesh has no tradition of rule of law or
democratic practice, even within non-governmental
organisations seeking democratic or political change.
Street resistance is about venting rage rather than
channelling it and advancing parliamentary rule.
Political memories are built around agitations, not
constitutional success. Given that nearly every
possible variation of autocratic rule has taken place
in Bangladesh in the past, very little can shock the
country's people today. In fact, several surveys have
shown that a large proportion of Bangladeshis
actually favour extrajudicial 'encounter' killings,
arguing that this is the only way to keep citizens safe.
Under the shroud of the current chaos, Bangladesh
may well have morphed into a new form of state: a
post-modern, underdeveloped construction, where
each segment has its own political culture. With
Parliament never having been functional, the true
meaning of 'political democracy' needs better
explanation before Bangladeshis will appreciate its
inherent promises. The current confusion is not about
introducing reforms, nor about whether the civil or
military elite runs the country. Rather, it is about the
non-elite, who will need concrete proof that
Bangladesh is run, by whosoever it may be, in its
interests too.
For that to happen, those in power need to practice
the simplest rules of good governance, such as
adhering to the rule of law; ensuring accountability;
creating a functional Parliament; eliminating
extrajudicial arrests, torture and killings; and, of
course, instituting a pro-poor national policy. Doing
so will be of direct benefit to the non-elite, because in
the current context, not only does it wield no power
whatsoever, but there is essentially no system in place
to ensure the application of governance that is in
The Bangladeshi elite has absolutely no
need for the non-elite: the poor are so
poor that they have no surplus to
be appropriated.
any way friendly to it. In most countries, such systems
are taken for granted; but in Bangladesh, they remain
the exception.
The non-elite cannot govern unless it is in power.
In Bangladesh, however, the circumstances do not
exist for the non-elite to access power through
mechanisms of representation and accountability
such as Parliament. A system of genuine electoral
democracy forces rulers to share power, because the
electorate may otherwise boot them out. The
Bangladeshi elite does not suffer from such anxiety,
however, as the Parliament is not its only route to
political power: the elite is perpetually in power,
through non-party-based means of decision-making.
Thus it is that no government has had any stake in
the Parliament, and there is therefore little
connection between the rulers and the ruled. The
Bangladeshi elite has absolutely no need for the
non-elite: the poor are so poor that they have no
surplus to be appropriated.
Organising the non-elite
Since the non-elite does not matter to the elite either
economically or politically, it has remained timid in
the current context, even though its size is increasing
by the day. Although the 'middle' poor is probably
in the best position to make its voice heard, here it
has taken recourse to violence. While it is true that
notable political-transformation successes anywhere
tend to come from ordinary people who have set out
to conduct their own repairs, in Bangladesh, it is longtime diehard Maoists who arc taking up the fight
against the state with their signature violence. The
repercussions are strong and more Maoists are killed
as state enemies than any other group.
There is also now a new face on this front - that of
the Islamists, who occupy roughly the same economic
strata but are better organised and funded than the
Maoists. These new entrants have also shown
themselves to be willing to directly attack state
institutions, and to kill their perceived enemies. They
are not a large force as yet, but their numbers are
significant enough to worry the elite as a whole. While
they are still a local phenomenon, the future of Islamic
militancy remains unpredictable.
Apart from the state, the most important counter to
extremism remain the NGOs, membership of which
now numbers in the millions. If the Islamists could,
they would have done away with such groups,
especially their credit schemes, which are considered
'un-Islamic'. NGO penetration nonetheless remains
deep and organised, providing services not
offered by anyone else in the country. While
these organisations powerfully present the
multitudinous faces of the non-elite, how exactly the
collective voice of that sector of the population might
be heard remains unclear. One must wait, and observe
the as-yet unseen. A
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
Inflation up, government down
The survival of Bangladesh's unelected interim
government will be based largely on its stewardship
of the country's economy.
When Bangladesh's current caretaker
government was swrorn in on 11 January,
the country was on the brink of economic
disaster. The economy was still licking its wounds
from last year's crippling labour riots, when the all-
important garment industry had suddenly exploded
over wage concerns. The political violence that
followed, pitting Awami League forces against
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) forces, brought
life to a halt in the capital and other major cities in
January and February. Industry - with the garments
sector being among the most visible and hard hit -
took on losses that amounted up to millions of dollars
a day. Small businesses relying on daily commerce felt
the pinch in the absence of customers and consumers.
In a country where about half the population lives
on less than a dollar (BDT 69) a day, it is safe to assume
that the common Bangladeshi cares more about being
able to earn enough to survive than about who is sitting
in the prime minister's office, or how she got there. As
such, even though the new caretaker government was
sworn in with the blessings of the army, its real mandate
effectively came from an economy deprived of much-
needed stability. The interim administration appears
to recognise this, and has been extremely active on the
economic-policymaking front - taking a wide
variety of proactive and reactive measures. The most
high-profile of these has been its dealing with
trade facilitation and achieving price stability.
Himal Southasian I June 2007
The government has achieved substantial
success in the former, but is yet to succeed in
controlling inflation.
Reforms targeted at the country's deep-sea port at
Chittagong - which handles about half of international
trade - have been at the centre of the administration's
proactive initiatives. Prior to 11 January, the port
was notoriously rife with corruption, mismanagement
and political vested-interest groups. Racketeering and
extortion were widespread and went largely
unopposed, with local businesses reportedly paying
premiums in excess of 20 percent for freight handling.
One of the first acts of the caretaker government was
to set up a taskforce to assist in port-management
reforms, and its success has been extraordinary. The
turnaround time of ships has dropped by more than
half, even as the number of ships handled has
increased. More tellingly, there are now no ships sitting
at anchor, whereas previously the average wait to dock
was about two weeks. The measures taken by the
military-assisted taskforce included aggressive and
simultaneous anti-corruption and anti-crime drives,
an improved management structure, and privatisation
of various port functions. An integrated approach to
handling freight has more than doubled the number of
containers that Chittagong can handle in a day. The
healthy export sectors, including the garments
industry, are undoubtedly the principal beneficiaries
of these reforms,
 Hoarders' mark-up
Despite the obvious benefits of these port reforms, it is
still too early to evaluate their impact on the
Bangladeshi economy as a whole. In contrast, the
government is being judged on a daily basis over its
handling of the rising inflation rate - a long-time
problem that has dogged successive governments.
With the consumer price index (CPI) very closely tied
to the country's food stores, rising inflation is felt
most painfully through the soaring prices of essential
food commodities. Any inflation-mitigation policy
would thus have to focus on reducing food-price
increases. The question is: What policy measures
could the government actually take to curb
these increases?
The conventional wisdom is that the rising
commodity prices arc due to strategic behaviour by
certain distributors - aptly referred to as 'hoarders'
by the media. The essential-foods market in Dhaka is
something of an oligopoly, with a relatively small
number of companies buying wholesale and reselling
to the retailers in the capital. These companies have
been able to limit the supply to retailers, and
consequently charge increasingly high mark-ups on
these goods. On significant food items, price increases
typically do not notably reduce demand, The Centre
for Policy Dialogue, a Dhaka-based economic think
tank, has found that there is a cartel of importers of
essential commodities that is in complete control of
food imports, and is able to mark up prices at will.
Identifying the 'hoarders' as the primary
inflationary agents, the government has taken three
measures to weaken their mark-up power. The first
was to reduce tariffs, to make imported foodstuffs more
competitive against domestic products. The second
was to task various law-enforcement agencies to
identify and apprehend the hoarding companies.
Finally, the government intervened in the market
directly, by deploying the paramilitary Bangladesh
Rifles to set up fair-price food-sale centres throughout
the capital, to sell commodities at prices lower than
could be found in the bazaars.
The economy's response to these measures has been
sluggish, however. From 6.8 percent last July, the
inflation rate rose to 7,4 percent in March. Both the
Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the
World Bank have expressed concern at the
ineffectiveness of the government's approach. The
government may have been mistaken in focusing
exclusively on hoarders. Various pundits in and out
of Bangladesh have argued that the current inflation-
rate increases can be ascribed to other factors, most
importantly the increases in fuel prices that jack up
transportation costs and reduce domestic production.
In addition, the ADB has pointed its finger at an
economy that has been overheated due to increased
remittances, foreign revenue from increased
exports, and rapid private-sector credit growth, all of
which have exerted strong inflationary pressures on
the economy.
Pay and feed
Despite such available insights, the government has yet
to formulate a strong policy response to the galloping
inflation - although the Bangladesh Bank, the country's
central bank, has recently recognised the importance ot
a coordinated monetary-fiscal policy strategy. Less-
than-expected revenue collection and lower foreign-aid
receipts have also left the government with much less to
spend this fiscal year. If it is to hold any hope of
tightening the money supply, the current administration
will need a disciplined fiscal policy, keeping its
borrowing at a minimum. With the budget for the next
fiscal year vet to be determined, the government's fiscal
policy is going to be watched much more closely this
year, both in Dhaka and internationally.
Aside from monetary policies {such as increasing
exchange-rate flexibility), the only policy that the
government could implement at this stage with any
immediately visible effect would be to activate social
safety-net programmes, to mitigate the suffering of the
poorest Bangladeshis - those who will undoubtedly
bear the brunt of higher food and fuel prices. In the
medium term, the government can improve delivery
mechanisms and facilitate commodity supply. The
trade-facilitation policies that the government has in
the works might have the secondary effect of addressing
this latter objective. However, increasing food prices in
neighbouring countries - and hence, the prices of
food imports - may blunt the efficacy of any
trade liberalisation.
While Bangladesh's civil society - under the political
and media restrictions placed on it by the government-
is increasingly impatient for a return to democracy, at
this point this discontent does not seem to present an
immediate threat to the interim administration's
viability. As such, the survival of this unelected
government is largely contingent on successful
economic management; and the support of a paid and
fed labour force, coupled with that of a thriving business
community, will be critical to the government's
continued survival. The caretaker government appears
to be cognisant of this reality, and has made attempts at
keeping these two support bases happy. This has not
been easy for the authorities, given that their
anti-corruption drive has made many in the business
community nervous, even while their early actions
against slum-dwellers in Dhaka were perceived by many
as being anti-poor.
While the positive fallout of the trade-facilitation
programme will only be able to be judged in the long
run - perhaps long after the present regime is gone - it
is inflation that will affect the government's scorecard
as far as the common Bangladeshi citizen is concerned.
And as of now, the authorities have gotten barely
passing grades. k
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
Testing time for
Dhaka's media
Bangladeshis have been looking to the
press for leadership in a time of
military rule, but the journalists have
allowed themselves to be bullied
by populism and cowed by fear
of authority.
On 11 January, Bangladesh's interim
government announced a state of emergency,
and a censorship regime was imposed on the
country's media. The following day, the editor of the
English-language The Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam,
declared: "We believe this move to be against the
interest of democracy and of Bangladesh. Just as
mistakes after mistakes have brought us to this stage
of political crisis, the decision of gagging the press is
nothing but a continuation of those mistaken
decisions." A few days later, aAnam wrote an angry
editorial about receiving a phone call from an
unknown caller giving him "press advice". He
promised that his paper would never abdicate its
responsibility under such pressure.
Four months later, even after Bangladeshi
journalists had been detained by the authorities for
their writings, the Daily Star editorial of 8 May was
much more conciliatory. On the subject of Chief Adviser
Fakhruddin Ahmed, it read:
Actually, there has been no dearth of commitment
on his part to press freedom since he took over, but
there are certain parts of the government which
didn't seem to act in sync with his ideas. Some
organs of the government have proved intrusive,
making telephone calls, inviting journalists to talk
and giving them advice and directives including
issuing media advisory and press notes curbing
press freedom.
The contrast in the language used by these two
editorials speaks volumes about the Bangladeshi
media's precarious position over the last four months.
On the one hand, the papers had to deal with the
restrictions imposed upon them; on the other hand,
they tried to play an activist role for potential political
change. This, coupled with the lack of standards and
consistency, as well as owners' economic interests, has
meant that the media's position has come to be both
difficult and confusing. But what has become obvious
as the months have passed is an overzealousness to
protect and support the current military-backed
caretaker government. Given this, Bangladesh's
vanguard Bangla and English-language press has lost
its credibility - something that may prove costly in the
long term.
To understand the current media situation in
Bangladesh, one needs to look back to a bit of its recent
history. The national press saw tremendous change
during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a number
of new dailies stormed fhe marketplace, bringing with
them a new emphasis on investigative reporting. As
the middle class expanded and international 24-hour
news channels invaded the country, the taste for
'quality' in the news also grew. With Bangla dailies
having saturated the market, each of the papers sought
to capture specific niches, by developing
individualised brands of partisan journalism.
While this got dailies such as janakantha, Inquilab, Ittefaq
and Jugantor their huge readerships, they lost influence
and the ability to shape public opinion due to their
partisan positions.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh's rich and powerful began
to invest heavily in the print media, with a n eye towards
increasing their influence in business negotiations.
There were also a few promoters with larger visions
for the industry, such as S M Ali and Mahfuz Anam of
the Daily Star, and Naimul Islam Khan and Matiur
Rahman of Bhorer Kagoj. Together, these individuals
were responsible for the evolution of a 'modern'
journalism in Bangladesh. Over the years, the Daily
Star and Prothom Alo (the latter created when Matiur
Rahman broke away from Bhorer Kagoj in 1998) gained
stature for objective and non-partisan positioning on
iassues, and steadily grew to become collectively the
highest-circulating papers in the country.
As more young Bangladeshis took up journalism
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 as a profession, the quality of reporting continued to
rise. With the demand for personnel in the electronic
media, the competition for able journalists became
intense. But while the size of the media sector increased
exponentially over the past decade, it is safe to say
that there was stagnation when it came to improving
standards. What did and did not get published
increasingly became something of a mystery, and such
decisions lacked consistency. The freedom of the media
came to be commonly regarded as an indulgence of
the powerful, rather than as a right.
That the Bangladeshi media would not be able to
sustain pressure during times of crises was first
predicted three years ago by journalist (and Himal
Southasian contributing editor) Afsan Chowdhury. In
his book Media in Times of Crisis, Chowdhury observed
that powerful business houses had captured much of
the print-media space, and highlighted the fact that
journalism in Bangladesh had been significantly tied
in with various other economic and
business interests. The growth of the
industry seemed not to have been
matched by an increase in
quality, as was the initial promise.
Various systemic problems were not
being addressed.
The trend Chowdhury described
accelerated over the last three years,
with Dhaka awash with black money,
thanks to cronies of the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP) government.
Partisan journalism flourished as never
before and, reflecting the polarisation in
politics,  the  motivation behind  the
publishing   of   any  news   story   was
questioned by suspicious observers. One
was having to interpret the news based on
the identity of the newspaper's owner. As
the interim government's anti-corruption
drive followed the imposition of the state of
emergency in January this year, some of its
frontline   targets   were   the   owners   of
these media houses. One after another, the
owners   of   Janakantha,   Jugantor,   Jai   jai
Shomokal, Ittefaq and NTV came under the anti-
corruption dragnet.
Although editors at these organisations were left
largely unharmed, the government's message had gone
out loud and clear. In turn, editors imposed strict self-
censorship. As such, there was very little media
discussion of the government's disregard of due
process, or its abuse of the judiciary to fit its
needs. Instead, sensational headlines, often leaked by
the government itself, took centre stage - for instance,
stories of outlandish bank accounts belonging to
Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina made the rounds, only
to disappear after the chief of the National Board of
Revenue issued a denial.
The vanguard sister publications Daily Star and
Prothom Alo proved a disappointment, perhaps made
cautious by their by now considerable financial stakes.
As the regime of Khaleda Zia and the Awami League
opposition of Sheikh Hasina continued their
vainglorious stand off, Prothom Alo decidedly echoed
the public sentiment that politics-as-usual had failed,
but it went one step further to look towards the
cantonments for a solution to the padlocked politics.
Prothom Alo's usually reticent editor Matiur Rahman
came live on television to implore the armed services to
"save the nation" from chaos and anarchy. When a
draconian emergency ordinance was promulgated on
12 January, curbing all fundamental rights, there was
little protest from most of the papers. Prothom Alo
proclaimed that because the political parties had
failed, it was indeed time for the armed forces to play a
much greater role.
Questionable inconsistencies
When the lines get blurred between a
newspaper's   job   of   disseminating
objective news and its desire to act as a
country's saviour, alternative views fail
to make it from the editor's desk to the
public. In the absence of a parliament
and in the suspension of fundamental
rights, the Bangladeshi media had the
responsibility of emerging as the
country's voices of reason and as a
counter-balance to the government.
Looking back over the past about five
months since the take over by the
interim government, it is clear that a
certain level of consistency was
significantly lacking, particularly
in demanding due process.
Barring a few exceptions, such
as the Nero Age and the Shomokal,
the editorials in most newspapers
have generally not dared to cross
a    certain    line    when    discussing
government appointments, key policy
decisions, arbitrary rule by ordinance, and the actions
of the military.
The media coverage till date has been marked by
cheerleading for any step taken by the military-backed
caretaker government, without critical analysis. The
regime's botched plan for the undemocratic exile of
Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina was not met by criticism
from the media; indeed, the dailies generally cheered
the move. When Begum Zia's son, .Arafat Rahman, was
taken into detention and released only after his mother
reportedly agreed to leave the country, the sheer
barbarity of abusing a mother's anguish for political
purpose was not challenged by the leading papers,
An activist poster
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 which greeted the matter with deafening silence.
By the end of February, Dhaka-based journalists
began receiving regular phone calls with threatening
'press advice' for articles that were even remotely
critical of the regime. The situation was far worse
outside of Dhaka, where local journalists were being
called "for tea" to military precincts. When a
correspondent of the Daily Star, E A aM Asaduzzaman
Tipu, was arrested for offending the district
commissioner in Nilphamari, editor Mahfuz Anam
reacted with a surprisingly mild editorial. Although
the paper deigned to publish strong opinion pieces
from time to time, if only to maintain its position as the
most high-profile newspaper in the country, it has come
under an increasingly critical spotlight, often for news
it was not publishing rather than for what it was.
The headlines of Daily Star's sister paper Prothom
Alo have been even more tendentious, often seeming to
be specifically timed to help the government's position,
Rather conveniently, when the regime was attempting
to exile the two begums, stories of infighting within the
two parties, and lower-ranking leaders questioning the
BNP and AL leaders, were given wide coverage. Prothom
Alo and other newspapers took to publishing news
from unnamed sources from inside the government,
with no corroboration or follow up. Part of this timidity
stemmed from the fact the interim government was
enjoying huge popularity among the public, and no
editor wanted to be the odd man out.
By responsibly critiquing the authorities, these news
organisations would have been able to help the
government help the people. While valiant young
journalists spoke out against the suppression during
an event to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May,
newspaper coverage was devoted instead to the photo-
op event set up by the US ambassador for the occasion.
Previous charges of corruption against a sitting election
commissioner, retired Brigadier Shakhawat Hossain,
were published in only two newspapers. Similarly,
news about the alleged torture and murder of
indigenous leader Cholesh Richil, at an army camp in
mid-March, received hardly any coverage in the
national media, barring a few op-ed pieces. When
Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, arguably the country's most
popular columnist, wrote about Richil's demise in
Prothom Alo, the column was blocked by his editor for
nearly a month.
The citizens' journal
Ever since the interim government's popularity started
its dive in April, the regime has been becoming
increasingly touchy about criticism, and has clamped
down harder on dissent. Doing so has been
significantly complicated, however, due to relatively
widespread urban access to the Internet, which has
made available international media sources and,
importantly, Bangladeshi websites and blogs. Indeed,
the Bangladeshi blog has come of age as a citizens'
journal in the current environment. Even after the
censorship of Himal Southasian's May issue (which was
allowed to be distributed only after two Bangladesh-
related stories were physically removed from the
magazine), the magazine's website continues to be
accessible within Bangladesh. It seems the authorities
recognise the power of new media, as Daily Star
journalist Tasneem Khalil was dramatically arrested
shortly after midnight on 11 .May for writings he had
posted on his blog.
Khalil, a human-rights consultant and an outspoken
critic of military rule, had highlighted the case-
surrounding Cholesh Richil online; and had also
written for the Daily Star's monthly magazine, Forum,
about the link between Khaleda Zia's elder son,
Tareque Rahman, and his appointees at the national
intelligence service with militant outfits such as the
International Khatme Nabuwat Movement. However,
that issue of Forum was pulled off the stands by its
editor, and was only reprinted without the article.
Following Khalil's arrest, an appeal from his wife went
out to his e-mail contacts, and Bangladeshi bloggers
sprang into action - printing the censored article,
contacting international human-rights organisations
and politicians, and generally spreading the word of
the detention. Even after mainstream news websites in
Bangladesh had blacked out reports of Khalil's arrest,
his status was constantly updated on his blog. Within
24 hours, a worldwide campaign to free Khali! had
sprung into action.
Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam did subsequently
go to the army camp where Khalil was being held, and
it is partially due to his influence that Khalil was
released after 23 hours. Nonetheless, Anam's
considerable credibility was damaged by the meek
press statement that he put out during the episode, in
which he noted that he had been informed that Khalil's
arrest had been due not to his work for the Daily Star,
but to what he had posted on his website. .Anam went
on to baldly state that it was "because of the caretaker
government's policy for the freedom of the media" that
a release had been agreed upon.
By April, four months after his courageous
commentary on press freedoms at the time of the
military takeover, Anam seemed to have come full circle
with his tepid statement on Khalil's release. This
episode encapsulates the situation of the Bangladeshi
media under military rule, in which the partisan press
is cowed by strong-arm tactics, while the commercially
powerful media seek to deprive the public (the very
public that made them powerful) of its right to be
informed. This has been coupled with a lack of daring
to challenge the populist tide that carried the
consuming classes in the initial months of the military
regime. It would be prudent for the long-term health of
the media, and of Bangladesh itself, if editors were to
be steadfastly vocal about their freedom to print and
publish as they see fit. A
Himal Southasian I June 2007
Secretly selling Biman
n 9 May, Bangladesh's state-owned airline,
Biman, announced the slashing of 1400 jobs.
Another 1000 positions may
be on the block in the
'■*■     ~"\ near future. All in all,
' "vfV this m^'T'i^ a cuf °f
a.' V r\ nearly half of the
": ; \y.f \ flag-carrier's
■'        : Ti        \  current roster.
•-' 1
c o m p a n y   s
Vs*-' —' L       ,'--"     •       director     M     A
Momen, Biman has
requested    BDT    3
billion     (USD     43
million)    from    the
finance ministry to
provide   severance
packages   for   the
1400 employees.
The BBC carried
the   news   item.
But   onlv   one
These drawings are part of a series by Naeem Mohaiemen,
taken from three periods of recent history: the return of
Guantanamo detainee Mubarak Husain (circa 2006 BNP
government); opposition rallies protesting controversial election
plans (circa lajuddin caretaker government, winter of 2006);
and the sweeping anti-corruption drive that arrested many
corrupt godfathers, including Khaleda Zia's son (circa
Fakhruddin caretaker government, spring 2007). The first two
drawings were created as part of a contribution to the
anthology Art & Democracy, from Goldsmith College/Peer Press,
London. The final drawing was part of Aprior magazine's
"Proposal for Documenta 12 in 2007".
Bangladeshi newspaper gave it coverage, and then only
on its webpage. Herein lies the problem.
Following 11 January, the interim government took
bold and unprecedented measures to ensure
transparency and accountability in public institutions,
reconstituting the Anti-Corruption Commission,
appointing non-partisan individuals to the Flection
Commission, and separating the judiciary irom the
executive branch. The increase in censorship, however,
makes clear that the interim officials have
underestimated, if not downright disregarded, the
crucial role of the media in the success of these very
agendas. The caretaker government has reacted to
criticism with too heavy a hand - particularly in April,
during its attempts to exile the two former prime
ministers. There now exists dangerous self-censorship
cm many issues, as can be seen in the lack of coverage
of the Biman retrenchment. The national airline, after
all, had never before been a taboo subject for the
Bangladeshi press.
To silencing the press is to stop a third party from
verifying official claims. This may result in
misallocation of public resources and abuse of state
power and, subsequently, misinformation about both.
The vicious cycle thus entered inevitably leads to
runaway civil unrest.
Do Bangladeshi taxpayers realise that USD 43 million
is being spent retrenching 1400 workers? This works
out to around USD 31,000 per worker, a massive sum
in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, jute-factory workers from
state-owned mills in Khulna remain unpaid, and are
unlikely to get anything in terms of severance. At Biman,
not only are senior workers who have worked with the
airline for more than 25 years being let go - so too are
the leaders of at least nine workers' organisations.
All this secrecy does not augur well for the
government's plans for Biman: following the layoffs,
the company is to be floated on the Dhaka and
Chittagong stock exchanges. However, it is unclear if
these shares will even be made publicly available,    j.
Caretakers, trust the public
Yes rental/.' Gone
One fine morning in Dhaka, I discovered that I could
reach Gulshan D I T circle II from my home in less
than 10 minutes, because an illegally constructed
building had been suddenly demolished, and a new
road had been surfaced overnight. We witnessed
changes in the elite's shortcut menus, which included:
preparing wealth statements, attempting to negotiate
with the current establishment for an escape route for
tax evasion, and tampering with financial statements.
We concluded that the cleansing drive to which the
caretaker government remained committed was
ruthless yet essential. The begums have royally raped
the country with their long dynastic trail, and we were
all promising sadka (special prayers and offerings) for
their exile. We wanted them to disappear like the Shah
of Iran or [melda, and then to be made irrelevant in
complete disgrace. Cartoons were being sketched,
aggressive reports were being written, and we were
truly happy. We realised that the era of the conspiring
step-sisterhood was over. (Where were the men though,
for all these years?)
Today: Going
The royalty syndrome suffered a blow with the lockup of the crown prince.
We rejoice.
Reports suggest that the authorities have managed
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 to recover a substantial tsum of money that he had
siphoned out of this land.
We applaud.
Every news bulletin displays more arrests without
proper papers.
We pause.
A young man, the son of an ex-bureaucrat, writes
from the University of Mass, USA, about his father
being picked up without warrant.
We grow7 a little cautious.
The BBC airs footage from a young entrepreneur
pleading for his business to be saved from the striking
lot who were threatening to close the port.
We ache.
There are plans to privatise on a massive scale.
We think.
Many transit routes are being opened in the name
of connectivity.
We think again.
We spot an absentee landlord behind the face of the
chief advisor.
We question.
We look outside our windows and spot a man in
semi-khaki attire. We think he is here to exercise his
khaki rights, to steer us away from our homes, because
we have indulged in free speech. Curbs on media are
We shudder.
Tomorrow: Gone?
The port functions with maximum efficiency.
The cleansing operation continues.
The Election Commission charts out a roadmap that
seems painstakingly detailed and credible. It promises
no less than TRANSPARENCY, in all caps.
The cabinet is blessed with good communication
skills, backed by the superb English of the advisers.
Yet, many of us remain disheartened by the
administration's oscillations on its execution of the
'minus-two-begums' formula.
Many question the administration's indifference to
human rights and democracy, clearly reflected in the
reports of torture and 'accidental' deaths.
The day after: Rescue ...
A Machiavellian emergency is indeed a pathetic cure
for a delta doomed to decay through political rivalry
and corruption.
What we need is a clean     dialogue
with our caretaker.
If its hands are being
aided by the men in   ,-,       /
khaki,    we    need \      \y
to know. \       y )
If it is being blessed \ V |
by forces from beyond \ ) j
our borders, we need to \/ \
hear that. j
If it is unclear about its   \
agenda and its roadmap, the
civil society must interpret its
handicaps and hiccups.
What Bangladeshis cannot L
afford is a wilting of their dreams,
for the only treason in democracy is
faking hope. The late-night arrests, the
behind-the-curtain negotiations, the
major decisions on infrastructure projects
without the nod of an informed public - all this must
cease now, please.
An aspiring democracy can accommodate failure,
inefficiency and slow learning. But it is, by definition,
intolerant of lies and corruption.
If the caretaker handles its inadequacies with
complete transparency, we will all .learn to reconcile
with our own weaknesses, and crawl to the finish line
with patience.
Trust us, caretakers. We do not mind pebbles on
our rough ride to freedom. But we certainly cannot
afford a newly laid coal-tar pitch road that covers our
dreams, and allows others to ruthlessly tread on
our landscape. A
The exile misadventure
The plans of the military-backed interim government
to send Bangladesh's two top political leaders into
exile abroad have stunningly backfired. Where the
intention of the government was to isolate Khaleda
Zia and Sheikh Hasina, the now-aborted plans have
instead firmly re-established the two leaders at the
helms of the parties they lead.
Even so, there appear to be two very different points
of view regarding the government's attempts to expel
the two begums in the first place. One group, which
possibly constitutes the majority, agrees that internal
reforms and a democratisation of the parties will only
be possible in the absence of the two ladies. This group
views the dictatorial leadership styles of both begums
as the major stumbling block to constructive dialogue
within the parties, which is necessary for their overall
democratisation. These people are thus disappointed
that the exile attempts have failed, and blame the
interim government for botching an opportunity to
change the nature of Bangladeshi politics.
The other group, which seems to be gaining
adherents, believes that the government has been
devious and disingenuous in trying to exile the
leaders. This lot feels that the government appreciates
that the leadership of Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina
is what keeps together their parties' many factions.
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 The government's attempts to remove the two have
pushed the parties to fracture, perhaps even to
disintegrate, and this is seen as something that will
pave the way for the interim administration (and its
military backers) to float a political partv of its own in
time for the next general elections, promised for late
If the second group's view is accepted as being the
more realistic, the triumphant return of Sheikh Hasina
Disbelief in Dhaka
Leaving England in September 2006, 1 was
disillusioned with parliamentary politics. I was
fed up with the rampant cronyism and pathetic power
struggles of politicians who worked for themselves,
rather than for the country or its people, But I was
shell-shocked when 1 arrived in Dhaka shortly
thereafter, Over the past six months, I have witnessed
Bangladesh's political implosion. It has been as
though a civic war has taken place - a conflict not so
much between the people, however, but between the
country's principles, ideas, institutions and political
1 could not believe that the two begums had
consolidated so much power over their parties, the
in late April was a political event of enormous
significance - not because it relegated to the back-
burner the interim administration's plans to force
through necessary reforms within the existing political
parties, but because it has thrown the current
government's own political ambitions into disarray.
This means that the powers that be will now have to be
even more devious and innovative in their attempts to
reorder both politics and polity. ji
state and its many agencies. 1 could not believe that a
debate was actually continuing over Justice Mainur
Reza Chowdhury's eligibility for a constitutional post,
even though he had recently died. And 1 could not
believe that, with just 14 days to go before the elections
scheduled for late January, the Electoral Commission
still did not know the total number of eligible voters, or
that it did not have a final list of polling stations, or
competing candidates and parties.
The military may have intervened to halt this chaos,
but as the constitutionally acceptable limit of 120 days
of state of emergency passed on 11 May, Bangladesh
remained on shaky ground. Having survived the
army's attempts to exile them, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh
Hasina - who had earlier been reviled for the endemic
corruption that had taken hold during their long
leaderships - have now bounced back to popularity.
And Muhammad Yunus, who briefly offered a light of
wisdom and integrity in the political darkness, has
now faded away.
Bangladesh is plagued by contradictions that the
nonchalant British do not have, and the justifiable pride
Bangladeshis have in their history seems, in fact, to be
their Achilles heel. It is the exploitation of historical
events that has led to the begums' firm hold on the
direction of Bangladeshi society. An intensely patriotic
country has for too long been run by a proup of people
that has rarely failed to put the people's needs second.
It is this conflict of past-versus-future that now mires
Bangladesh, and that must be resolved through reforms
if 150 million people are ever to have real hope of
seizing their destiny. k
C = M + D - A
When lajuddin Ahmed declared a state of
emergency on 11 January after two months of
political turmoil, he assured Bangladeshis that a
newly constituted caretaker government would "hold
a free, fair, neutral and acceptable election to
Parliament within the shortest possible time, in
consultation with all parties concerned". In spite of
the state of emergency, Bangladesh breathed a
collective sigh of relief.
That relief has now dissipated, and in its place is
mounting concern. The caretaker government's
mandate to hold 'free and fair' elections has now
mutated into an all-encompassing anti-corruption
drive. The business of holding elections has taken a
back seat to the business of rounding up politicians
on corruption charges. A ban on political activities,
the suppression of fundamental rights, and
intimidation of the press have contributed to creating
a state of dire uncertainty.
While the reduction of corruption, rampant in
Bangladesh, is a laudable and important goal, it is far
from clear that an anti-corruption drive by an
unaccountable government can indeed be successful.
On the contrary, all the conditions exist today for the
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 further corruption ofthe political system in Bangladesh.
The World Bank often uses the following formula for
parsing corruption: C = M + D - A, where corruption
(C) equals monopoly power (M) combined with
discretion by public officials (D) minus accountability
(A). .According to this formula, the current caretaker
government's monopoly over all instruments of state
power; its powers of arbitrary arrest without warrant,
and its detention of citizens without due-process
rights; and the limitations it has placed on the press
as the citizens' watchdog, all conspire to undermine
the government's stated goal of reducing corruption,
The crucial element of fighting corruption -
accountability - is conspicuously missing from the
current framework. Though the leaders of the caretaker
government may have good intentions, the government
itself, operating under a state of emergency, is
institutionally stacked against them.
ltis time for lajuddin Ahmed's caretaker government
to return to its original and constitutionally
supportable mandate of holding free and fair elections.
To do that, a dialogue must start with the country's
political parties, to begin work on electoral reform;
shackles on the press must be undone so that free flow
of information, so essential to accountability, is
guaranteed; and those who have committed crimes,
including stealing from the public coffers, need to be
brought before the courts with full due process. But
time is not on the caretaker government's side. It has a
job to do - and needs to do it expeditiously. it
Doing away with dynasties
Ever since the current caretaker government took
over in January, Bangladeshi politics has been
going through a rare and unique period of political
dynamism. The determined act of the caretaker
government and the military to send to jail some of
the most powerful and corrupt political elites has
ruptured   the   seemingly   unbreakable   web   of
corruption and extortion that had crept into almost
every sphere of life. The jailing of some key people has
virtually destabilised the Bangladesh Nationalist
Party (BNP), while significantly weakening the
Awami League. These parties may now think twice
about appointing thoroughly corrupt people to
important leadership roles - something that was
unimaginable even a few months ago,
There have been other changes too. By early May,
there was a growing cry within both the BNP and the
Awami League for a change in the dynastic leadership
that has gone unquestioned in the parties over the
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Himal Southasian | June 2007
 past decades. And the government's recent drive to
prohibit party politics on university campuses could
prove to be a monumental step towards the eradication
of the practice of student wings providing militant and
sometimes armed support to party leaderships.
There is no doubt that these changes, if sustained,
hold the potential to take Bangladeshi politics in a new
direction. But the question of the sustainability of the
reforms remains, especially given some of the more
controversial and less daring decisions recently taken
by the caretaker government. The cumulative effect of
these has been a questioning of whether the seemingly
positive changes facilitated by the caretaker
government are really about re-establishing democracy,
or whether the priority to ensure an uncontested
transfer of power to illegitimate authorities. £
Politics as hard work
Here in Bangladesh we are hoping against hope
that history is wrong, and that all those quotes
about 'force and guns' being the 'end of morality' will
be proven false in our beautiful little delta of a land,
That, like a phoenix, our armed forces will rise above
their history of supporting dictatorship and become
our saviours. But, as Demosthenes said: "There is one
safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an
advantage and security to all, but especially to
democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust."
I am just a dancer, and dance is what I judge
best. On 29 April, International Dance Day, I was
invited to a little town around 200 km from Dhaka. I
was pleasantly surprised at the high standard of
performances I saw there. But there were two young
solo performers who did not seem to fit in. After the
show, upon inquiry, I was informed that their fathers
were in the armed forces, and that the school had been
asked to 'accommodate' them.
I do not want to be judgmental. I do not want to
distrust. I also do not believe in miracles.
But what are my other options? I do not want to vote
for the two ladies. I was of course wary of Muhammad
Yunus's desire to float a party on the condition that
the people sweep him to power. However, I was
disappointed when he chickened out, and
withdrew his political ambitions. We need people like
him in politics, but only if they are willing to
do years of legwork, going door to door, going to
the people.
Our problem in Bangladesh is that we do not have a
people's politics. We have a spanking new 'civil
society', with all the right morals and values; but it is
mostly driven by donor funds, and unwilling to sully
its feet in the muddy waters of the delta. Where are our
radical and progressive politicians? I sometimes
wonder if the murder of 30,000 grassroots left-party
workers in the early 1970s left us bereft of anyone who
seeks to speak for the people. It had taken nearly a
hundred years to build this solid base of grassroots
intellectuals, and they were all eliminated - we suffer
the results even today. Politics is hard work.
1 have decided that, as soon as the ban on
'indoor' politics is removed, I will personally go to Dr
Yunus, and beg him to form a party. Not with the
objective of coming to power, but with the objective to
build, slowly and steadily, a platform from which
people can be heard. ^
ill-14     OCTOBER §
Call for entries
Film South Asia *07
11-14 October 2007
. Film South Asia, the festival of South Asian documentaries, calls Tor entries for the
sixth edition of its biennial festival being held in Kathmandu from 4-7 October
2007- Documentaries made in and after January 2005 are eligible for the
competitive section.
ntry Deadline: 30 June 2007
Details and entry forms are available
Forfurther information contact:
Upasana Shrestha, Co-Director
i! m South Asia, Patan Dboka, P 0 Box 166, Lalitpur,
June 2007 1 Himal Southasian
The Vaan Puligal takes off
By demonstrating their air capability, the Tamil Tigers
have succeeded in changing the dynamics in Sri Lanka's
conflict - momentarily, it seems.
In recent months, Sri Lanka's
'undeclared' conflict has undergone
a dimensional-transformation,
literally and metaphorically. Starting
with the 25 March attack on the
Katunayake Air Force base, in the next
35 days the LTTE deployed its
fledgling air wing, the Tamil Eelam Air
Force (TAF), on three 'successful'
missions. Although the amount of
damage inflicted by the TAF is
debateable, the awesome shock of
this turn of events has clearly rocked
the island.
The first LTTE air attack was
actually on 11 August 2006, when
two planes dropped bombs over the
Palaly air base in the Jaffna peninsula.
That mission was considered a flop,
however, as all ofthe bombs were off-
target. The mission was part of an
ambitious bid by the LTTE to
simultaneously paralyse Trincomalee
and invade the peninsula. As with the
air attack, that plan backfired and
was aborted.
The second air attack came on 25
March this year, when two planes flew
over Katunayake, which also hosts Sri
Lanka's only international airport.
Three bombs were dropped on the
base,  specifically targeting the
engineering and maintenance
hangars. Five of these bombs
exploded, killing three Air Force
personnel and injuring 17 others.
On the evening of 24 April, the TAF
again flew into action. This time, two
planes headed north, dropping four
bombs on Palaly, Vasavilan and
Kadduvan, and two more on Myliddy.
The LTTE later claimed that these
planes had bombed ammunition
dumps, fuel depots, food-storage
complexes and aircraft-maintenance
facilities. This was strongly denied by
the Colombo government, which
alleged that the rebel planes had fled
when an air-defence system was
activated. While the government
admitted that six soldiers were killed
and around 30 more injured in the
attacks, officials claimed this was due
to a fleeing plane dropping a bomb
on a bunker.
Even as the country sat glued to its
television sets on the night of 28-29
April to watch its national team in the
World Cup Cricket finals, military
planes flew over Vanni in central Sri
Lanka, and dropped eight bombs in
Viswamadhu. The bombardment
ended at one in the morning. Fifty
minutes later, two TAF planes dropped
bombs on the Kolonnawa oil-storage
complex, and thereafter bombed the
liquid-petroleum-gas facility in
Kerawalapitiya, both in the west.
While the destruction caused by
this attack was minimal, its effect
on Sri Lankans in general was
widespread. As cricket fans sat
engrossed in the game, the power
was suddenly switched off, in order
to activate Colombo's air-defence
system. Power was restored at 3:00
am, but a false alarm about Tamil
Tiger planes coming over the sea led
to another blackout 15 minutes later.
As such, the whole country was jolted
awake, fully aware ofthe danger from
above. Parachute-lights were sent up,
and panic-stricken troops fired
indiscriminately into the air. Several
security personnel and civilians were
injured in the fallout.
Hawks down
The Tiger air attacks have had a
significant impact on the Sri Lankan
economy. Starting the second week
of May, the government suspended
night-ti me air traffic at Sri Lan ka's sole
international airport, affecting the
government's ambition to make
Colombo a hub of Southasian air
traffic. Tourism, already in the
doldrums, was further affected, and
a gas shortage also resulted. With the
prospect of increased defence
spending in the near future, inflation
and general costs of living are both
bound to further increase.
As crucially, the TAF bombings also
caused a change of attitude
throughout the country. Until very
recently, the overwhelming Tamil
mood has been one of despondency,
as government aircraft bombed and
shelled the northeastern areas.
Meanwhile, the voices of the Sinhala
doves have gone silent, while the
hawks in Colombo have been upbeat,
with the expectation that the LTTE was
about to be vanquished. With the
TAF air attacks, these moods
were reversed.
Even as Colombo attempts to paint
the TAF attacks as 'failures' because
of the purported minimal damage
they caused, the government
continues to miss the fact that the
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 impact of the air assaults goes well
beyond the physical damage done.
Indeed, the attacks have been potent
with political symbolisms. They have
shown that, regardless of recent
successes by the Sri Lankan military,
the LTTE as a military entity cannot be
written off. More importantly, the LTTE
leadership has sent a message to
Colombo, to Sri Lankan Tamils and
to the world at large that it will
continue fighting.
According to military analysts, the
Sri Lankan Air Force's fleet is indeed
significant, comprising a host of
modern aircraft, fighter jets and
attack helicopters. Reports in pro-LTTE
Tamil media, on the other hand, have
placed the LTTE air strength at
somewhere between 18 and 26
aircraft, most of them small and light.
While these partisan reports may not
be reliable, intelligence and defence
analysts have also drawn attention to
some of the aircraft allegedly
possessed by the LTTE, all of which
are reported to be relatively
lightweight models. The plane used
in the recent air strikes is widely
believed to be a Cessna Skymaster,
which flies at an average speed of 150
mph, and can carry a payload of
around 1040 kg. There is much
speculation about the type of
aircraft being used in the recent air
strikes, however, and concrete
information is unavailable.
Shankar's force
While the idea ofthe Vaan Puligal ('Air
Tigers' in Tamil) has been a
long-cherished dream of Tiger chief
Velupillai Prabhakaran, the man who
actually laid the groundwork for
the air wing was Vaithilingam
Somalingam (aka Colonel Shankar),
a close confidante of the supremo.
Some media reports wrongly state
that Shankar studied aeronautical
engineering in Montreal and worked
for Air Canada. In fact, the man had
never been to Canada, and studied
aeronautical engineering at Guindy, in
Madras, but did not complete
his studies. He later trained as a
pilot in London.
Shankar's initial efforts resulted in
the LTTE obtaining two ultra-light
planes from an Australian company
in 1998. On 27 November of that year,
these aircraft were put on display at
the annual Heroes Day (also called
Martyrs Day) observances, at
Puthukudiyiruppu in Muilaithivu
District, during which the airplanes
were also used to shower flower petals
on cemeteries. Little was heard ofthe
air wing for years thereafter, though
occasional news reports referred to
unidentified aircraft being sighted over
northeastern skies. In September
2001, Shankar was killed in a
landmine explosion. Five months later,
in February 2002, the Ceasefire
Agreement came into force. According
to knowledgeable Tamil sources,
Prabhakaran galvanised the air wing
into action after Shankar's death as a
form of tribute to his comrade.
The ceasefire has provided a
significant opportunity for the LTTE to
tap the Tamil diaspora in developing
the air wing, which received
contributions in the form of funds,
equipment and even planes. Several
trained pilots and aircraft engineers
made their services available, and
some foreign experts were also hired.
After keeping the programme under
wraps for several years, following the
■ ■
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June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Katunayake assault the Tigers
released pictures of airplanes and
masked cadres, said to be TAF
personnel. The decision to finally do
so appears to have been taken
because the Tigers had been suffering
significant defeats at the hands of the
Sri Lankan armed forces, and they
needed a diversionary tactic.
Furthermore, the rebels had to boost
morale among their cadres and
supporters, particularly in the diaspora.
The aerial attacks, particularly the
ones of 29 April, have succeeded
in making people in the south,
especially those in Colombo and the
suburbs, aware of the reality of the
undeclared war. Although the TAF has
so far not targeted Sinhala civilians,
and no civilian has suffered directly,
mere is a palpable sense of confusion
and fear that is contributing to a loss
of morale among the people and the
security forces. In addition, the ham-
handed response by Colombo's
ill-prepared security forces to the
attacks has magnified the threat to
massive proportions. Government-
inspired media reports talk of
grandiose plans to install radar and
anti-aircraft guns, but in practical
terms these measures are of little
utility. It is a moot point as to how many
places could be 'protected' in this way.
What Colombo fails to comprehend
is that the LTTE now has the capability
of zeroing in on any target - military or
otherwise - on land or at sea.
Against such a backdrop, the
government's strategy cannot be
defensive alone. The logical option is
to go on the offensive, focusing on
destroying the TAF aircraft after first
locating the aerodrome. As such,
Colombo needs to conduct a ground-
based drive into LTTE territory in
search for the planes. In practical
terms, however, this is a
near-impossible task, chiefly because
the Colombo government lacks
reliable intelligence about the Vaan
Puligal. Forthe same reason, it cannot
use the other option of bombing the
planes on the ground from the air. If
the planes are, for instance, in
underground hangars, as is being
surmised, powerful 'bunker-buster'
bombs would need to be dropped with
exact precision.
There is an ironic complexity in the
current situation. Colombo downplays
the LTTE air threat to the Sinhala
people, claiming to be on top of the
situation. At the same time, the
government exaggerates the threat
internationally, particularly in
presentations aimed at India. Despite
their success in turning the tables by
going aerial, however, the dice are
loaded against the LTTE. How long the
Tigers can sustain the air wing
successfully is a moot point. The
international community has not
reacted positively to the Tigers
possessing such effective air
capability. With the events of 11
September 2001 having changed the
international perception towards
airplanes in general, a rebel
group with its own air force will likely
not be tolerated. ^
Education  and  Training  Positions  in   Nepal
Chemonics International ( seeks long- and short-term component leaders and project administration/support
specialists in education, vocational-technical skills training, training program design, conflict mitigation, and reintegration of ex-
combatants for an anticipated five-year USAID-funded project in Nepal to increase incomes and mitigate conflict through a program
of education and training for disadvantaged youth.
Component   leaders   and   experience:
Experience in the improvement of literacy, life skills, and peace-building skills of disadvantaged youth.
Experience in increasing the number of disadvantaged youth securing employment based on technical skill training
Experience in improving training opportunities to increase rural incomes through agricultural productivity and self-employment
Experience in the development of scholarship programs for dalit and other disadvantaged youth for both the formal and non
formal education system
Five years of experience in the fields listed above
Advanced degree in education, training, conflict mitigation, or related field preferred
Five years of relevant experience in Southeast Asia; experience in Nepal preferred
USAID or other donor project experience preferred
Strong written and verbal communication skills in English and Nepalese, and other local dialects in central Nepal.
Project    administration/support    specialists:
Support implementation, contract administration, monitoring and evaluation, and progress reporting of project technical
Five years of experience working on donor projects in fields listed above
USAID-related procurement and contracting experience preferred
Five years of relevant experience in Nepal or Southeast Asia
Strong written and verbal communication skills in English and Nepali
Please send a chronological CV, 3-4 references, and a brief cover letter to by June 15, 2007. Specify
position in email subject line. Final candidates will be contacted for interviews.
Himal Southasian | June 2007
Repatriation or resettlement
Resolving the Lhotshampa dilemma
The stagnating Lhotshampa refugee issue has suddenly seen movement in
the form of the American government's promise to resettle more than half of
the refugees. But what does this mean for the goal of repatriation to Bhutan?
And is Thimphu being given an easy exit after the cruelty it has shown to
the Lhotshampa? After initial bewilderment, most refugees seem to be opting
for resettlement, hoping to keep the fight for repatriation alive in the diaspora.
It is eight o'clock on a tepid mid-April morning in
Khundunabari, one of the seven refugee camps in
the southeastern Nepal districts of Jhapa and
Morang that are home to an estimated 106,000 Bhutani
refugees. A few hundred people are gathered in the
open grounds near the camp's settlement of thatched-
roof huts (see photo). The atmosphere is festive. A
handful of large tents have been set up in the commons.
Soon, the people here will begin to form long lines,
waiting to enter these tents to identify themselves and
be counted as refugees. Despite their presence in the
camps for a full decade and a half, these people have
never been granted that crucial identity marker.
This is the second day of the refugee census exercise
in Khundunabari camp. The undertaking is being
jointly overseen by Nepal's Home Ministry and the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR); Khundunabari was the last camp to be
surveyed. Among other things, the completion of the
census will allow UNHCR, at long last, to issue each
refugee an identity card declaring his or her status.
The census is not all that has not taken place in
these camps over the past 17 years. During that time,
refugee families living here have seen no progress in
their efforts to return to their homeland. They have
suffered from the instability of the Nepali state, and
have seen the Bhutani government run circles around
team after negotiating team from Kathmandu. For 17
years, these refugees have lived on aid-agency rations
in crowded camps in the hot Nepali plains; one,
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 sometimes two families per hut; their children educated
for free until high school but unable to work legally
thereafter. For 17 years, frustration has been mounting.
October 2006 saw the first real movement in
response to the refugee crisis - along humanitarian if
not political lines. At a UNHCR conference in Geneva,
US Assistant Secretary of State for Refugee Affairs Ellen
Sauerbrey announced that her government was willing
to resettle up to 60,000 Bhutani refugees. Since then,
the other member countries of the Core Group on
Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal - Australia, Canada,
Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway
- have expressed willingness to take in some refugees,
and Nepal's new foreign minister announced in late
May that she had commitments for a total of 85,000. in
April, a US State Department team visiting Nepal
announced that 60,000 - a number that the US hopes
to resettle over the coming five to six vears - should
not be considered a ceiling on the number of Bhutani
refugees the country would be willing to accept.
7 long years
Between 1990 and 1992, 75,000 Bhutani citizens, most
of them Lhotshampa (Nepali-speakers from south
Bhutan), were forced out of the country. Bhutan's
minorities had suffered state-led persecution in the
form of Bhutan's 'One Nation, One People' policy of
Ngalung cultural hegemony and exclusion under the
country's 1985 Citizenship Act. Ihis policv,
implemented under the command of King Jigme Singye
Wangchuk, prompted Lhotshampa resistance before
culminating in 1991 in wide-scale evictions,
confiscation of citizenship cards, closure of schools in
southern Bhutan, dismissal of Lhotshampa
government employees, and the razing of homes.
As close to a thousand refugees a month began to
enter Assam and West Bengal, seeking to set up camps
in border towns, Indian authorities, seemingly
unwilling to permit anything that would cause King
Jigme discomfort, herded them into trucks and drove
them to the Nepali border town of Kakarbhitta. In
Nepal, in February 1992, the influx of refugees to the
original camp on the floodplains of the Mai River
reached 10,000 per month. Reprieve came in the form
of UNHCR, which began assistance to the refugees at
the request ofthe Kathmandu government. The refugee
population was eventuailv moved to camps built in
Beldangi, Khundunabari, Timai, Goldhap and
Sanischare in Jhapa and Morang districts. According
to Human Rights Watch, in addition to the 106,000 or
so refugees currently in the camps, there are up to
15,000 more in Nepal who are not registered with the
Nepal government, as well as up to .30,000 unregistered
refugees in India.
Since 1993, Kathmandu and Thimphu have
engaged in 15 rounds of ministerial-level talks (a 16th
round, slated for late last year, never took place). While
negotiations have been unsuccessful in addressing the
concerns of the refugee population, even these have
been halted since 2003, when a team from Ihimphu
confronted an angry crowd in Khundunabari camp.
This incident seems to have provided an excuse for
not returning. The Bhutani side has been continuously
successful in stonewalling and duping Nepali
delegations. One Nepali team was even convinced to
agree to a nonsensical categorisation scheme, in which
relugees would be classified according to whether they
were 'genuine' Bhutani citizens forcefully evicted;
Bhutanis who had left Bhutan voluntarily (which,
under Bhutani law, results in loss of citizenship); non-
Bhutani; or Bhutani criminals.
India, the only obvious lexer of diplomatic pressure
on its small, introverted neighbour, has been doggedly
unwilling to interfere. While some cite New Delhi's
need for quid pro quo from Thimphu with regards to
insurgent groups in Assam that seek to use Bhutan's
borderlands as safe havens, others point to its
economic interests in Bhutani hydropower, or to an
unwillingness to rock the boat in what is regarded as
a sensitive Himalayan frontier. Whatever the reason,
the Indian position has been unequivocal, and New
Delhi continues to insist that the refugee issue is a
bilateral one of concern only to Nepal and Bhutan.
Indian authorities also continue to arrest Bhutani
refugees trying to return to their country. What has
been lacking in this position is a level of humanitarian
sympathy for the second-largest group of refugees in
the Subcontinent, barring the Afghans in Pakistan.
Until recently, the refugee leadership had not
expressed a desire for any 'durable solution' except
repatriation to Bhutan. Beginning in the early 2000s,
however, some began to speak of the need to "open all
options" to the refugees - ie, to give the population in
the camps a choice between the three 'durable
solutions' of repatriation to Bhutan, local integration
in Nepal, or resettlement to a third country.
Since the Core Group's creation in 2006, talks sought
with Thimphu by representatives of those countries
convinced many diplomats that Bhutan was not
inclined to accept back any section of the refugee
population in the near future. In Kathmandu, senior
Community Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)
leader K P Oli had come to a similar conclusion. After
a new government made him foreign minister in the
spring of 2006, Oli sought to bring 16 years of fruitless
negotiations with Bhutan to a definitive conclusion.
It was with the backing of the Core Group countries
that the Kathmandu government finally opened up to
the idea of third-country resettlement, abandoning its
'repatriation only' stand. There is now a general
agreement among all working on Lhotshampa refugee
affairs that the refugees cannot be held hostage to the
uncertain outcome of bilateral talks. Bhutan,
meanwhile, has welcomed the offers of resettlement to
a population it continues to deny is its own. Following
the visit to Thimphu of the US ambassador to India
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 this April, Bhutani Prime Minister Khandu Wangchuk
told the press, "I expressed [to Ambassador David
Mulford] our deep appreciation of their decision to
resettle the people."
Who wants to go?
Despite being energised by the fact that some movement
is finally taking place with regards to the refugee issue
- indeed, the month of May saw a sudden flurry of
activity in Kathmandu, including the arrival of
UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres - the refugees are
divided on how to approach the resettlement offers.
While a majority would want to accept the promised
evacuation to a Western country, some maintain that
all they want is to return home. Some of the
ambivalence among refugees with regards to
resettlement is due to an apprehension with regard to
the unknown among the elderly. But there also seems
to be a fair degree of political intimidation going on,
which keeps many refugees from being open about
within      the
Back in Bhutan
As one group of southern Bhutanis
contemplate whether or not to
move out of the refugee camps
in Nepal, by all accounts those
who remain in Bhutan continue to
suffer constant discrimination and
threats to their status as citizens.
The plight of Bhutan's minorities
indicates that much needs to
change Sn the country before a safe
and dignified return is possible for
the exiled Lhotshampa. But
perhaps more importantly,
ongoing discrimination within
Bhutan demands that whatever
leverage.possible be used in order
to ensure the safety of an
increasingly insecure population
their choice of resettlement. Indeed, a small segment
opposes resettlement not only for itself, but also for
others. A lack of information on the modalities and
extent of resettlement has caused a fair amount of
confusion, and this has been stoked by those
vehemently opposed to the option. UNHCR was only
just beginning its first official information campaign
on resettlement as Himal went to press.
Kama Bahadur Saukar, an elderly man of Beldangi
I, says that he is not prepared to resettle in the West.
"We don't know the soil of that place. We don't
know the water, the air. We want to go back to Bhutan.
If we can't do that, we would rather stay here in
Nepal." Phurba Tamang, in his early 20s, says, "We
are not Nepali. We are Bhutanese." According to this
view, it is either Bhutan or nothing: resettlement is out
of the question.
Others worry how they will be treated in the
countries offering resettlement. Teenager Buddhiman
Rang Rai says he has heard that many Vietnamese
refugees resettled to the United States have not received
the all-important 'green card'. Some suspect that
Western countries want them only as cheap labour,
while others feel that only the most capable should
resettle, and then send money back to their families in
the camps. D B Khawaas, a Beldangi resident in his
late 20s, worries that he would not be able to care for
his old parents and young children if everyone were
to move. Clearly, information is lacking on the human-
security aspects that would have to be guaranteed in
any resettlement exercise. Arjun Pradhan, a journalist
with the camp-published Bhutan jagaran newspaper,
says that some refugees are worried that Western
countries may house them in conditions worse than
they know here - perhaps even in other refugee camps.
country.      The    Human Rights Watch in mid-May,
international community must be
on high alert: it must work to make
Bhutan recognise its obligations
towards its minorities, and it must
be quick to recognise a second
eviction if and as it begins to occur.
Following the mass evictions of
the early 1990s, the Thimphu
government required Bhutani
citizens to obtain No Objection
Certificates (NOCs) from the police,
to confirm that they are not involved..
in any 'anti-national activity'.
NOCs are required for admission
in schools, employment in the civil
service, the right to sell cash crops,
the right to buy and sell land, to
obtain business licenses, and for
the issuance of passports.
According to a report released by
"Being denied an NOC deprives a
person of almost all means of
earning a living," Accusations of
being 'anti-nationals' fall easily on
the Lhotshampa, in particular
those with even distant relatives in
the refugee camps in Nepal. NOCs
are accordingly difficult to obtain.
Bhutan's Nepali-speakers
continue to be discriminated
against under the 1985 Citizenship
Act. That discrimination has
recently become more acute, as
many Lhotshampa who had
previously held citizenship, cards
have been denied new ones
following the 2005 census, which
classified 13 percent of those who
reside in Bhutan as non-nationals
- a total of 80,000 people. It is
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 All of the major donors to the camps are also members of the Core Group on
Bhutanese Refugees, with the exception of Japan. These are also the countries that
are currently offering to resettle the refugees, indicating a strong correlation between
resettlement and 'donor fatigue'.
Muna Giri, a young woman from Beldangi il who
organises a women's discussion group in a children's
library in the camp, laughs as she recounts some of the
rumours that are circulating among the camp
population: "They say that in America, if you get very
sick they give you an injection and put you to sleep for
good." Krishna Maya Basnet, a feisty 79-year-old,
chimes in: "They say that we'll be made into fish feed.
V\ ell, let us be fish feed rather than stay here, where we
don't have firewood to feed ourselves!" In late May, it
was heard that fake emails were circulating in the
camps in which some of the refugees already resettled
in the US and Canada (an initial 'test group' of 18
refugees were resettled last autumn) were said to be
complaining of conditions in the resettlement countries
and opposing resettlement.
Manoj Kumar Rai, the young and energetic camp
secretary of Khundunabari camp, says that those
currently opting not to resettle generally fall into three
categories: the elderly; those who have already taken
Nepali citizenship and so are out of the running; and
young "school dropouts", whom anti-resettlement die-
hards have convinced that they do not have the skills
required to survive abroad.
Humanitarian v political
Some of the most prominent refugee leaders say they
do not consider third-country resettlement to be a
solution to what they see as the most pressing issue
facing the refugee community. Thinley Penjore, head
of the Druk National Congress, a party functioning in
exile, says that the refugee situation is "first and
foremost a political problem. Our expulsion is not and
must not be painted as merely an ethnic, cultural or
racial problem. And our troubles today cannot be seen
as a humanitarian problem alone." As such, the
solution to the refugee problem is political change in
Bhutan - and that is a fight that must be fought within
Bhutan itself. Penjore is positive about the current
democratisation process in Bhutan and feels that,
though it is taking place on the terms of the Druk
monarchy, it is hound to open up space for greater
political activity.
While Penjore says he believes that refugees who
want to resettle to third countries should do so, he
worries that resettlement, as a humanitarian solution,
does not address the political problem. He and
others fear that resettlement could sap energy from
activism for repatriation, and also reduce the numbers
fighting for democratisation should the door back to
Bhutan be opened.
Frustrated with the prioritisation of the
humanitarian cause, Tek Nath Rizal, chairman of the
Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee and long the
public face of the Bhutani movement for repatriation,
retorts: "Don't tell me about human rights. Is not the
commonly believed that this figure
includes many Lhotshampa. In
mid-May, it was reported on a
refugee-run news portal that 70,000
Lhotshampa were denied their
adult franchise in the 'mock
elections' that took place in Bhutan
this past April as a part of the new
King Jigme Khesar's inherited
democratisation project.
"All the root causes of the
mass eviction of the early 1990s
remain," says a former Nepal
foreign-ministry official. Bill Frelick,
director of the Refugee Policy
Program at Human Rights Watch,
concurs: "Things have not changed.
Furthermore, there are disturbing
parallels between the census of 1988
and the census of 2005." At the same
time, refugee leader Ratan Ga.zmere
cautions that any future eviction will
undoubtedly be so cleverly
conducted that the world may not
even notice. Indeed, Human Rights
Watch's recent report quotes one
Lhotshampa living in Bhutan as
saying, "They don't ask me to leave,
but they make me so miserable,
I will be forced to leave. I have
no identification, so I cannot
do anything, go anywhere, get
any job."
UNHCR-Nepal head Abraham
Abraham says he believes a second
eviction to be unlikely, given
that "Bhutan is receiving
messages from all directions that
this must not take place." His boss,
UNHCR High Commissioner
Antonio Guterres, said in
Kathmandu in late May, "I have
deep conviction, and am sincerely
hopeful, that such a tragedy will
not occur."
Discrimination and denationalisation should not need to amount
to expulsion, however, for the
international community to be on
the alert. Pressure must be
maintained on Bhutan - by
recalcitrant India in particular - to
amend its citizenship laws, abolish
the Nt)Cs, and discontinue
all discrimination against
Nepali-speakers. In order to make
sure that the suffering of the
refugees has not been entirely in
vain, it is imperative that Thimphu
be made to realise that it must
respect the political, social,
economic and cultural rights of all
of its people.
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 protection of your property a human right? Is not return
to the land of your birth, the country of which vou are
a citizen, a human right?" Though Rizal, like others,
had rejected resettlement in the wake of the offers last
autumn, he too no longer publicly opposes it.
For many of those living in the camps, however, the
most critical issue is indeed the humanitarian rather
than the political. Rupa Monger, a mother of three from
Khundunabari, says that life in the camps has been
getting more and more difficult. Referring to the so-
called bio-briquettes provided by UNHCR since last
year, she says: "They cut our kerosene rations and have
given us coal instead. To start a fire you need more
firewood than coal, but we are not allowed to collect
firewood. The funds for higher education have been
cut. We were being told to stand on our own feet, but
we are not allowed to work. We were worried sick.
Now, with the resettlement offers, we have hope."
That hope has not come cheaply, however. While
Rupa had long hoped to return to her country, she now
says, "Bhutan won; I have lost to Bhutan." Similarly,
Pingala Dhiial says she feels as though her life has
been "put on hold", and that she can no longer live in
hope of a political settlement. "1 must think about my
child, who doesn't know Bhutan, and who mustn't
remain stateless," she says.
UNHCR representative in Nepal Abraham
Abraham feels strongly that the refugees should be
given the option of ending their camp stay as soon as
possible. "Repatriation will happen when the time and
the situation are conducive to it," he says. "Until that
time, refugees need not be subjected to the harsh
conditions in the camps. This is a freedom they have -
a choice, an option." Abraham also warns that
resettlement must be taken up while it is still being
held out. "Resettlement is not something that is on offer
for everyone forever, lt is not an easy thing to get
countries to agree to. And if the resettlement option
does not remain, what other viable option do we have?"
The seeming impossibility of repatriation to Bhutan
is what is getting many refugees to fall on the side of
resettlement. Ever since the conclusion of the first survey
of the infamous Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification Team
- which divided the refugee population into the
four categories of Thimphu's creation - in
Khundunabari camp in 2003, the Thimphu regime's
attitude has consistently been one of evasion or
prevarication on matters of repatriation. Only 2.6
percent of the total 12,000 surveyed in Khundunabari
were identified as "genuine Bhutanese", and even these
were offered return to Bhutan under denigrating and
exploitative conditions. Even so, no repatriation has
taken place to date.
Long-time refugee leader Ratan Gazmere says that
though most refugees would like to return to Bhutan,
next to nobody would opt to do so under current
circumstances. "The situation does not exist in
Bhutan for a safe and dignified return," he says. "We
must work towards the creation of such a situation,
and this is where the international community must
help us."
Donor fatigue
If many Bhutani refugees seem to be in favour of
third-country resettlement today, that change in
mindset only came about recently. Father Varkey
Perekkatt, head of both the Jesuit Refugee Services in
Nepal and the INGO Caritas's Bhutanese Refugee
Education Programme, says: "Until two years ago, I'd
say 80 percent of the population would have opted to
wait for repatriation." Now, he says, many of those
people will opt to leave. A major reason for the shift,
explains Perekkatt, is the fact that there has been no
progress on the repatriation front since 22 December
2003, when the Khundunabari findings of the Nepal-
Bhutan Joint Verification Team were announced and
the Bhutani delegates departed, never to return.
In the intervening three years, a number of
significant developments have taken place. Most
important has been a shift in UNHCR policy, brought
about by the organisation's increasing lack of
resources. "Given this," Perekkatt savs, "there has been
much depression, disappointment and hopelessness
over the past few years." Against this backdrop,
suddenly and unexpectedly came the resettlement offer
from the US.
Graeme Lade, the Australian ambassador to Nepal
and current chair of the Core Group in Kathmandu,
cites two reasons why the resettlement offers were made
at this time. "First, the offers have been made on
humanitarian grounds," he explains. "These refugees
have spent a long period of time living in a camp
situation, and this gives rise to various concerns. The
second reason is basic donor fatigue." UNHCR
representative Aabraham corroborates this: "Between
15 and 18 million dollars is spent on the camps
annually. It's just not sustainable."
Indeed, over the past few years the refugees have
seen cuts in the provision of, among other things,
cooking fuel, food and medical services. In December
2006, the World Food Programme (WFP), which
provides most of the food rations for the camps, warned
that it had not vet received any contributions towards
the next two years of its Bhutani-refugee operations.
Though aid activities in the camps have been under
increasing financial stress over the past decade and a
half, the lack of funding has been increasingly palpable
over the last few years. All of the major donors to the
What has been lacking in this position is a level of humanitarian sympathy for
the second-largest group of refugees in the Subcontinent.
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 camps are also members of the Core Group on
Bhutanese Refugees, with the exception of Japan. These
are also the countries that are currently offering to
resettle the refugees, indicating a strong correlation
between resettlement and 'donor fatigue'.
Camp breakdown
If the refugee population has been made desperate by
cuts and uncertainty in support, an increase in threats
and intimidation has made life in the camps that much
worse. This makes camp residents all the more willing
to relocate, at which point they are once again targeted
by radicalised youth who claim to oppose resettlement.
Laxmi Adhikari, mother of Hari Om Adhikari, was
surrounded and attacked near her home in
Khundunabari on 10 November last year by a gang of
young camp residents accusing her of wanting to "go
to America". Similarly, Hari Adhikari 'Bangaley',
camp secretary at Beldangi II and head of the new
NGO Bhutanese Refugee Durable Solutions
Coordination Committee, no longer lives in the camps
after an attack made on him in August 2006. He now
commutes to work from the town of Damak. "We
have no technical support here to maintain security,"
he says. "Sometimes, the police don't arrive to help
us. What should be small incidents quickly become
big incidents."
Adhikari says that intimidation has been on the
rise since 2005. "These young people have seen the
trajectory of Nepal's Maoists, and how nothing seemed
to stop them after they took up the gun." Indeed, at
various times during the ten-year conflict between the
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Nepali
state, Maoist cadre treated the refugee camps in Jhapa
and Morang as safe havens, forcing camp residents to
feed and house them, and making use of camp medical
facilities. Before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement
was signed between the CPN (Maoist) and the Seven
Party Alliance in Kathmandu last autumn, groups
of camp youth had also been taken by the Maoists
for indoctrination and arms training. The Bhutan
Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist),
founded in early 2003, is believed to have grown out
of this socialisation.
Sexual and gender-based violence has been a
particular problem in these crowded and mostly
unguarded settlements. UNHCR itself woke up to the
issue when, in 2002, 18 cases of sexual abuse were
discovered to have been perpetrated by people paid
by the aid agency and its partner organisations.
Tension has also been increasing between the camp
populations and the surrounding communities. The
most commonly cited example of this souring is the
fight that broke out between refugees and locals in
Morang District on 22 February this year. The refugees,
reportedly frustrated by using the UNHCR-supplied
bio-briquettes, had gone to the community forest near
Sanischare camp in search of firewood. The ensuing
p4P SgJJiak, Jhapa:
. frorn another age: ^-o
tight resulted in the death of Gopal Khadka, a refugee
from Sanischare.
"The conditions in the camps are worsening, and
militancy is so much on the rise that it would be a
crime to ask anyone to remain there even a year
longer," says Hari Adhikari 'Bangaley'. Meanwhile,
Ratan Gazmere, who is chief coordinator of the
Association of Human Rights Activists (AHURA),
Bhutan, worries that an increase in violence in the
camps may affect chances of resettlement, as the
refugees gain an image as a violent bunch, something
they have thus far avoided. The increase in "violence
and militancy" has been gradual, says Abraham
Abraham, and is not showing any signs of abating.
"The longer the refugees stay in the camps," he notes,
"the more frustration will build - the greater the social
ills, the greater the animosity. As numbers start
leaving, hopefully tlie social problems will decline."
Many also hope that, with the start of mass
information campaigns, intimidation that has found
fuel in the confusion surrounding resettlement will
decrease. At the end of May, UNHCR began
distributing a pamphlet in the camps that seeks to
answer questions refugees may have about the choice
they face. It explains, among other things, that UNHCR
will chose countries to which to refer individual
refugees interested in resettlement on the basis of its
assessment of their needs; that families will be resettled
together; that resettlement avails refugees of
permanent residency of the host country and
eventually, if the refugees choose, its citizenship; and
that refugees will be given assistance until assimilated
in the country of resettlement. The US will also soon
step up its own information campaign (a fact sheet on
resettlement has already been distributed in the
camps). Washington, DC will soon set up an Overseas
Processing Entity, which will begin processing cases
referred to it by UNHCR in September. On a recent
visit to Kathmandu, Janice Belz, a high-level official
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 'Our expulsion is not and must not be painted as merely an ethnic, cultural or racial
problem. And our troubles today cannot be seen as a humanitarian problem alone.'
with the US State Department's refugee office,
said that the first group of refugees opting for
resettlement should be able to leave for the US by the
beginning of 2008.
A global movement
At this point, 'opening all options' for the Bhutani
refugees - the rhetoric used by refugee leaders and
foreign diplomats alike - ultimately boils down to
little more than the opening of the option of
resettlement. After 17 years, any pressure that has
been applied to Thimphu has come to nought. Even
as the international community prepares the
groundwork to wipe its hands clean of the Bhutani
refugee issue, there is the lingering sense that 'justice'
has not been delivered to this group of people.
With Bhutan less than a hundred miles from the
camps, across Indian territory, some refugee leaders
are saddened by the prospect of refugees leaving a
place from which Bhutan is physically so close. "From
where we are now, we can sneak into Bhutan if need
be, and speak to people there," says Thinley Penjore.
"From afar, we will only be able to contact
those people with access to online media. Not
many people have this access, and many have been
kept uneducated."
Others point out that, in a few year's time, there
will no longer be a 100,000-strong population in the
camps, functioning as a prod to the international
conscience. At that time, whatever conviction there
has been among the international community to
resolve the refugee issue will disappear. As such, an
injustice carried out by the Thimphu regime on a
massive scale will have been excused.
But there are others who say that resettlement wrill
in fact energise a refugee movement that has long
stagnated. "We can do nothing sitting here in the
camps," complains camp secretary Manoj Rai. "We
must give our movement a global scale." A younger
generation of refugees, he says, understands the
power of information technology and the wavs in
which it is possible for an educated population across
the globe to coordinate and mobilise effectively.
Concurs one former Nepal foreign-ministry official:
"Why do they not want to leave the camps? Because
Jhapa is close to Bhutan? But they have been unable
to reach Bhutan in 16 years. Maybe they will find
Thimphu closer from elsewhere."
Whether or not the Bhutani refugees can hope to
galvanise as much support, the Tibetan movement
stands as an example of the kind of solidarity that
can be found in the West for the cause of an unjustly
displaced people. "The world doesn't know about
the Bhutanese refugees. Outreach to the populace of
a powerful democratic country could be verv useful,"
says Kimberly Robertson, who looks after durable
solutions for UNHCR's Nepal operation. Hari
Adhikari 'Bangaley' says that experience has shown
that a return to Bhutan cannot be achieved through
reliance on the Nepal government alone. "If we have
our people in Geneva, New York, London, we can
lobby there," he says. "Mechanisms unused until now
can be utilised."
If the refugees have been disadvantaged due to their
geographical placement, they have been even more so
for lack of funds. "Let them go. Let them be educated,
earn and live well, and let them spend on their
movement," says the former Nepal foreign-ministry
official, "Right now, refugees who seek to be heard
often can't scrape together enough money for a trip to
Kathmandu." Manoj Rai echoes these sentiments.
"Our main problem in our efforts to pressure Thimphu
is financial," he says. "If our people resettle, they will
be able to wrork. For ten years, they may struggle
themselves. But after that, they will fund a movement
in Bhutan."
Will the Bhutani identity remain strong enough
among the refugees to maintain a movement after a
second displacement? DNS Dhakal, general-secretary
of the Bhutan National Democratic Party, insists that
the refugees will not disappear into a wider Nepali-
speaking diaspora. Not only is the Bhutani identity
distinct, he says, but, as has been seen with other
groups, "Feelings for nationality become stronger
when people become economically strong."
The Bhutani refugees have held out hope for long
enough that the international community - and, most
importantly, India - would pressure Bhutan to allow
their peaceful repatriation. With resettlement, perhaps
they will be able to finally take the fate of their
movement into their own hands. Perhaps it will end
not only their dependency on international aid, but
also their reliance on others for a movement for change
back home.
There are refugees who will remain in the camps,
choosing not to leave until they can do so for their
own country. The success of a Bhutani movement
overseas notwithstanding, the desires of this group
of refugees must not be forgotten. It seems, however,
that a large number will indeed opt to leave the camps
in Jhapa and Morang for overseas resettlement. They
will leave looking forward to opportunities and
freedoms they have lived without for a decade and a
half - seeking employment, and hoping for better
futures for their children. The actions of this new
diaspora, created out of a humanitarian response in
the face of a grave injustice, will be worth watching in
the decades to come. ^
June 2007 [ Himal Southasian
Is it just this year, or have all the
transitions from spring into
summer been like this? In recent
weeks, the gathering dark clouds on
the horizon, the whiffs of cool air
and distant rumblings have
provided me sudden seclusion from
my immediate surroundings. They
have also transported me to a world
that is both familiar and distant.
It is odd what a little moisture
in the air can do for one's grip on
the present.
Indeed, monsoon is a state of
mind. Even casually thinking of
monsoon brings back a flood of
forests, mountains with patches
of jhum agriculture, affection
and security.
The monsoon would turn the
river behind our house turbid,
overflowing its banks. We would
bet on which direction the fickle
course would change after the
water subsided. Cloudbursts
during the monsoon would bring
down red slush from the
mountainside, making roads
impassable. Migrant labourers
would clear these slides, two people
to a shovel - one digging into the
debris and casting it away with the
Monsoon memories
memories, sights, sounds, smells
and feelings - as though a
Himalayan river has burst its
banks. Till 10th grade I lived in
Arunachal Pradesh, one of India's
most sparsely populated states. I do
not have a seasonally sequential
memory of the monsoons there,
mostly due to the fact that seasons
in Arunachal did not matter.
Memories of life there are like a
painted story: bright smears of
games, friends, a pet dog named
Marshall, fishing, school,
belonging to a community, lush
help of the other, who would
synchronously pull at a rope tied to
the shovel's neck. The puller was
usually a woman, who would be
paid less than the digger. They
cleaned mud and rocks in the rain,
wearing torn plastic shoes held
together by pieces of ropes. You
could tell from their unsure
footholds that they did not belong
on the mountain slopes of
Arunachal. Being far from their
homes in the plains of Bihar and
Orissa, they made way for us. I felt
their distance from home.
Finishing 10th grade made me
an educational migrant to Calcutta.
I came to that dense populace with
my father shortly before the onset
of the monsoon in Bengal. The city's
uniform, limitless sky was a shock
to my eyes, so used to a view broken
up by peaks and valleys. As my
father and I walked around looking
for possible high schools, the
monsoon descended on Calcutta.
This was a very different sort of
monsoon - one indelibly mixed
with humanity. This monsoon was
up in the skies as much as it was
overflowing the streets. Again and
again, my father and I were forced
to take shelter under the low-
hanging canopy of teashops, where
we would stand squeezed in close
to the city's humanity, all of us
carefully avoiding the trickle from
the swollen tarpaulin. I would
watch the droplets generate on the
tarpaulin's crest, then be released
like clockwork to the flooded
ground. I felt relaxed and
invigorated standing there. But the
impatience of the urban folks was
palpable, as was the listlessness of
the lungi-clad rickshaw-wallahs,
ready to wait out the storm for as
long as it took. The odour of people
was everywhere - in the trains,
buses, teashops, in the lines to
get the high-school admission
forms. Monsoon brings back the
smell of humanity.
White cranes flying in huge Vs
against black monsoon clouds over
swaying parrot-green paddy, the
whole view sliced by the four bars
on the window of a local train - that
was the closest I came to mixing
monsoon with rural Bengal. Of
course, there were also the groups
of boys playing football on slushy
fields, with balls indistinguishable
in colour from the field's mush,
darting towards goalposts made of
leaning bamboo poles.
Monsoon reminds me of the first
showers of 1984 in Calcutta, mixed
with my first phase of personal
urbanisation. It reminds me of my
father's refutation of the common
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 wisdom of taking a rickshaw
during a shower: one should not
pay for getting wet, he'd say, as he
headed out resolutely on foot.
Monsoon reminds me of reading my
mother's neat handwriting on blue
inland letters - with the exception
of a few7 disintegrated words, where
the monsoon drops had landed. For
years afterwards, I would sit on
the veranda with Amma, my
grandmother, and deliberate over
the possibility of a faraway rain.
Didn't the wind feel moist? Wasn't it
carrying the unmistakable smell of the
first drops on parched soil? Well then,
it shouldn't be long before we get our
share! More often than not, we were
wrong - it was wishful thinking
rather than meteorological
certitude, but it made us happy.
Monsoon reminds me of Amma.
1 also remember the kaibaishakhis,
the storms that announce the arrival
of the monsoon. Kaibaishakhis
meant running to latch the wooden
window panes, which were too
swollen to fit their frames. The
fettered w'indows would stutter
violently, like a decapitated hen
being held to the ground. Monsoon
also meant my cousin and 1 keeping
a vigilant eye over our himsagars, a
very sweet variety of mango, lest
anyone felt emboldened enough to
steal one. Monsoon reminds me of
thinking about my sister and mother
back in Arunachal, while staring
through the iron bars on the
window of my hostel room in
Narendrapur. Monsoon reminds
me of my boyhood's uneasy
transition into adolescence.
lt was monsoon time when I
finally joined the Bengal
Engineering College. With my
parents, I arrived with a new
mattress, a pillow, a bright-blue
mosquito net and two bed-sheets
inside a bedroll - and a load of
trepidation. Monsoon reminds mc
of that trepidation, of the overgrown
grass and creepers on the Victorian
buildings of B L College, and of
the Ganga that flowed directly
behind the campus. 1 need not
have worried. Soon enough, my
classmates and 1 would come back
to our hostels for lunch, loudly
vocalising our longing for the rain
to come down hard, wishing for the
second half of classes to be washed
away. Our unified incantations of
"Aaye, aaye!" ("Please come!" in
Bengali) from the hostels' verandas
would have little effect, however,
and the rain would predictably
taper off even before the lunch break
ended. This led to our strong faith
in the existence of the 'Varun-Seal
pact' - A K Seal being our principal,
and Varun, the rain god. Monsoon
reminds me of how the strings of so
many lives were braided together
Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dan ida seeks Senior Adviser
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Senior Adviser N2 - Engineer, Bangladesh
As Senior Adviser (N2) you will advise the authorities in Bangladesh on developing
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the rural population and to develop the agricultural sector.
You will be placed in the Local Government Engineering Department under Ministry of
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You are experienced in project management, institutional capacity building and in
formulating national level policies for the transport sector.
You have extensive experience in labour intensive methods of road construction and
maintenance in developing countries. You have Master's degree in Civil/Road
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Applications should be sent to Mercuri Urval A/S at,
alternatively to the office address; Philip Heymans Alle 5. DK-2900 Hellerup, or faxed
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Application deadline: 30th May 2007, at 9.00 am (Danish time).
A full job description is available at:
amidst the greenery of the B E
College campus.
Distant ciouds
After studving electrical engineering for four years, 1 started my
first job in Calcutta, overseeing an
air-conditioning project. Feeling
the void of friends after leaving
college, wearing starched clothes to
work, the newfound necessity of
aftershave lotion, staring at the
almost vanished No Standing
Allowed signs in a sardine-packed
S7 bus - all of these memories are
moistened by monsoon humidity.
The other day, as 1 was walking
on the bike path near my present
home, I saw that dark clouds had
begun to gather in the sky -
pregnant with moisture and ready
to break. I saw children playing
soccer (here in the United States,
'football' refers to a whole different
sport entirely) on the synthetic
green of the local high-school
field. Black-and-white hexagonal
sections of the numerous balls stood
out vividly, along with the small
orange cones illumined by the high-
powered lights that had been
switched on due to the premature
darkness caused by the clouds.
Teams could be distinguished by
their distinct uniforms, coordinated
down to their socks. The humid air
was a prelude to the impending
rain, and the wind exposed the
whitish underbellies of the leaves.
It was raining in America, but
hardly a monsoon.
My heart suddenly wished for a
palm tree - bent like a bow, with its
wind-blown leaves looking like a
woman's hair caught in an updraft.
I thought of a slushy football
field with a single worn-out,
earth-coloured ball, and teams
distinguished by either bare or
shirted backs. I thought of the four
ba rs of a train window; of the five
segments into which they would cut
the paddy, the sky, the clouds;
of the light from a distant hut
shifting between those segments, in
rhythm with the swaying of the
train. It was monsoon season again,
in my mind. ^
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
mea culpa
Self-criticism came more
readily to our forebears,
Introspection and self-absorbed
bigotry have traditionally walked
hand-in-hand in Southasia.
Megalomaniac rulers, the leech-like
priestly classes and their bete noire,
the serenely divine dervishes
representing the hoi polloi, have
coexisted for centuries. Jawaharlal
Nehru himself quoted Alberuni,
the 10th-century Afghan chronicler, to
support this lacerating critique of
the Subcontinent.
For India's sciences, languages
and its architectural splendour,
Alberuni had unalloyed praise. About
its people, though, he said: "They are
haughty, foolishly vain, self-contained
and stolid. They believe there is no
country like theirs, no nation like
theirs, no science like theirs, no
religion like theirs." How did
Nehru respond to such criticism,
centuries later? In the Discovery of
India, he describes Alberuni's
views as "probably a correct
enough description of the temper of
the people".
Alberuni was relentless in his
scrutiny of India's cultural demeanour,
which he thought was not too
dissimilar at times to any frog in the
well. "According to their belief",
Alberuni wrote,
there is no race on earth like theirs,
and no created being besides them
have any knowledge or science like
theirs whatsoever. Their haughtiness
is such that if you tell them of any
science or scholar in Khorasan or
Persia, they will think you to be either
an ignoramus or a liar. If, however,
they had travelled and mixed with
other nations, they would soon change
their mind, for their ancestors were
not as narrow-minded as the present
generation is.
It took a large-hearted intellectual
of Nehru's stature to understand and
accept this devastating commentary
on historical India and its ruling elites.
A 'foreigner' such as Alberuni
should not, of course, be readily
accepted as a stand-alone source of
such a harsh evaluation of a people.
Let us therefore turn to the homegrown Bhakti movement, in medieval
India. Straddling the entire diversity
of the Subcontinent, where it spread
to the remotest of corners, the
movement threw up an amazingly
critical worldview. And among its
foremost objectives was a square
challenge of what the dervish-like
Bhakti preachers considered to be an
incorrigible moral decay.
If we were to call a Hindu a 'rogue'
in India today, we would risk starting
a communal flare-up. Similarly, neither
would it be politically wise to call a
Muslim a 'pervert'. But 500 years ago,
the saint-poet Kabir was delivering
these rebukes to both communities
in equal measure, through popular
poetry. "The Hindu doesn't let you
touch his pots and pans over claims
of possible contamination, but you
would often find him prostate at the
prostitute's feet," he declared.
"Muslims marry their cousins,
eat dead animals and scream atop
their fragile mosques as though
God were deaf."
Far from being harassed or
hounded by his powerful pre-Mugha
quarries, Kabir set off a bizarre
competition between Hindus and
Muslims - both of whom he berated
roundly - as each clamoured to claim
his legacy. The seer would be lucky
today not to be lynched by those he
dared to address so acidly five
centuries ago. Kabir lived not far from
the sacred ghats of the Ganga in
Benaras, where religious zealots
recently hounded out the film crew of
a movie about Hindu widows. That
movie, Water, had later to be shot in
Sri Lanka, and was subsequently
widely lauded.
India allergy
Religious and nationalist fervour
share a common characteristic: their
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 followers believe that theirs is the
best. There is great irony in this regard
contained in a moving poem by
Allama Iqbal, one which India later
chose to accord the status of a
national song. In the 1930s, Iqbal
wrote: "Saare jahaan se achha
Hindustan hamara" (Our Hindustan is
better than any other nation in the
world). Now, if you were to take a
fleeting poetic thought such as this to
heart, hitch it to a newfound nuclear
prowess, and you happen to be
surrounded by countries who fear
your overbearing narcissism,
you would spell trouble for both
yourself and those neighbours you
seek to befriend.
This is more or less how SAARC -
the brainchild of Gen Ziaur Rahman
- was born in 1985. "To tell you
frankly, we were all a little allergic to
India, so we decided to engage it
collectively," explained General
Hossain Mohammed Ershad, who
hosted the first summit in Dhaka.
(Ershad made these remarks in a
televised discussion with this writer
in 1997.) India's army had helped to
liberate Bangladesh from a sectarian,
Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan.
And yet, Dhaka chose to turn against
its former 'benefactors' in New Delhi.
Was there something wrong with
India's body language towards
Bangladesh following the brief
honeymoon period in 1971-72, that
such tension should arise between
India and Bangladesh that today
you can cut with a knife? It seems so,
but the problem has never been
publicly or truthfully discussed. Is
Bangladesh an ungrateful neighbour?
Perhaps both sides could use a little
But let us not pick on any one
country. Instead, let us discuss all the
SAARC member states, and their
chemistry with each other. There are
admittedly ethnic tensions between
Bhutan and Nepal related to the
refugee matter. There may also be
some small issues pertaining to a
trade corridor between Nepal and
Bangladesh. But that is about it. There
is no foul chemistry between these
countries, much less any suspicion
of an imminent military assault.
So why is it that India has been
viewed with such disfavour by
its neighbours?
Take India's helping hand to Sri
Lanka. In the 1970s, it had militarily
bailed out Sirimavo Bandaranaike's
Sinhalese-dominated government in
the face of a Marxist revolt. It
also gave moral and political
support - including alleged military
training - to Sri Lanka's Tamil
minorities. And yet, Rajiv Gandhi was
butted by a miffed Sinhalese soldier
at an official guard of honour in
Colombo, before being killed by a Sri
Lankan Tamil woman near Madras
some years later. It was all extremely
tragic, but how do we explain this
bristling rage from the very people
one had tried to help?
Or, take India's ties with
landlocked Nepal. The one lasting
memory among the people there -
despite India being the artery, a
veritable lifeline to Kathmandu - is
the image of the crippling economic
blockade that New Delhi imposed on
its northern neighbour in 1989. Some
Nepali analysts acknowledge the
culpability ofthe royal palace in forcing
India's hand, but the lasting rancour
in Kathmandu is palpably anti-Indian.
Why? Was there introspection, much
less any self-criticism, by either India
or Nepal over this easily avoidable
standoff? If there was. we have not
heard of it.
A country such as Bhutan,
supposed to be umbilically linked with
India's political and diplomatic
postures, finds itself occasionally
strained by the bear hug. The tiny
Maldives, whose government the
Indian Navy saved from a certain coup
in 1988, does not exactly seem to
reciprocate the enthusiasm with
which India seeks its welfare. About
India-Pakistan ties, the less said the
better. Each side bears such
enormous and deep-rooted grudges
against the other that we should count
ourselves truly lucky that the nuclear-
armed neighbours are currently at
least talking.
Far from making an objective and
critical self-evaluation of their poor
bilateral relations, the rhetoric from
India and Pakistan has been marked
by double standards. For example,
Pakistan has often slammed Indian-
sponsored elections in Jammu &
Kashmir as 'fake', but has not
considered making room for a
credible civilian democracy in its own
wider patch. Another example is worth
recalling. India held up the last
Kathmandu SAARC Summit because
it disapproved of a military coup
against Nawaz Sharif by General
Pervez Musharraf. But India seemed
to have forgotten that the first host of
the SAARC summit, Gen Ershad, was
himself a military dictator with blood
on his hands. And who was the
Pakistani leader at that summit
shaking hands with Rajiv Gandhi?
General Zia ul-Haq, of course, the guru
of all coup leaders!
Meaningless jingoisms
It was Imtiaz Alam, the Pakistani
founder and secretary-general ofthe
South Asia Free Media Association
(SAFMA. a promising platform for
Southasian media until it began
carting dubious politicians around for
powwows at fancy holiday resorts),
who once hit the nail directly on the
head. A few days after India and
Pakistan exploded their bombs in
May 1998, Alam visited Delhi for a
discussion with the Indian media on
the road ahead. His observations at
the end of the conference were
withering: "We are here ready to
concede that Pakistan has done
horrible things in Jammu & Kashmir.
We have fomented terrorism there.
But we want the Indians also to say
'mea culpa'. But all we hear from
them is, 'Yes, you are right, Pakistan
has done a lot of harm to us!'"
Clearly, the media in Southasia
has, forthe most part, followed rather
than challenged the accusatory stance
of its jingoistic political leaderships.
We refer derisively to American
and British journalists in Iraq as the
'embedded media', but do we ever
look at our own culpability in
this regard? Continually and
truthfully doing so could, little by little,
work to bring about a revolutionary
change - perhaps with regards to
what Alberuni and Kabir found
missing in our spirits. i
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
Marking time in
beautiful prison
The 'Pakistani iiner is fsndina favour in
Kashmir, with the demand for
demiiitarisatioir and self governance blurring
the divide in the Kashmiri polity, between
pro-India and anti-India camps
.:.   ., . ._;-.,.:. .:■.:■-■-:■. ■:■::■:::■. ■"■■■ .V ,;V
f- 7P
A glossy hoarding board that advertises for
Airtel, India's fastest-growing telecom,
company, currently sits atop Srinagar's
Central Telegraph Office, in the busy commercial hub
of Lai Chowk. To a great extent, it symbolises the
paradox of change in Jammu & Kashmir. On 31 July
1988, Kashmiri militants bombed the Central
Telegraph Office (CTO), heralding the start of armed
resistance against the Indian military presence in J &
K. Nearly everyone still traces the insurgency's start to
what is popularly known as the targhar, or telegraph,
office blast. Today, despite a nearly four-year-old
bonhomie between India and Pakistan, the CTO
complex remains heavily guarded, its security
precautions engulfing most of the road area.
The central targhar today houses the government
telecommunications company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam
Limited (BSNL). In 2003, state police officers resorted
to force to quell a frenzied crowd of mobile-phone-
seekers near the CTO, after New Delhi belatedly
allowed cellular service to start up in the state. Then-
Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed termed the
launch the "beginning of peaceful days". Today, BSNL
subscribers can be seen queuing up at the CTO building
to pay their phone bills, and the combined revenue of
BSNL and Airtel in.J & K has grown from INR 600
million in 2003 to around INR 2 billion. Nonetheless,
a vast spread of sandbags and barbed-wire coils
remains around the CTO, and Central Reserve Police
Force (CRPF) officers continue to point their automatic
rifles at passers-by.
Such security measures can be seen dotting the
length and breadth of the Kashmir Valley, as well as
parts of Jammu, including Doda, Rajouri and Poonch.
The latest attempt by the Indian Home Ministry to set
up review panels to figure out how to trim the security
presence in the area has not yielded results. Indeed,
little has changed since a European Union delegation
in 2004 memorably noted that "Kashmir is a beautiful
prison." Around 600,000 troops currently guard this
prison, lu addition there is the state's own. 65,000-
strong police force and 25,000 of what are known as
'special police officers', who are generally taken from
the ranks of former militants. There are also an
estimated 3000-5000 pro-government, army-protected
gunmen, officially known as 'friendly militants', as
well as around 5000 gunmen engaged in various
government-sponsored village defence committees.
Lieutenant General A S Sekhon commands the
Indian Army's 15 Corps, the largest counter-
insurgency force in Kashmir. On 29 March of this year,
Lt Gen Sekhon, although publicly pessimistic about
Islamabad's commitment to dismantle the militant
infrastructure it supports, stated in Srinagar that
infiltration from across the 740-km by 35-km Line of
Control had effectively reached zero. But such
statements have been made time and again over the
years, and today checkposts as massively guarded as
the Lai Chowk CTO are found throughout and deeply
impact daily life throughout India-administered
Kashmir (heretofore referred to as 'Kashmir', unless
otherwise required). For instance, local legislators
recently estimated that close to 80,000 students in the
Kashmir Valley have to pass through heavy security
barricades every day on their ways to and from school.
Exhumation catalyst
A few paces down from the Central Telegraph Office,
a swanky, multi-storey mall is being built, exuding a
perfect 'metro' look. Besides a business hotel, it will
house branches of two international banks and will
generally cater to fruit merchants and the Kashmiri
executives of Indian pharmaceutical companies.
Following the step-up of armed resistance in Kashmir
back in the early 1990s, all the nationalised .banks
closed shop here, leaving the market wide open for the
local J&K Bank, which has gone on to become one of
India's leading banks. While the arrival of the new
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 international entries is being billed as a sign of returning
normalcy, government statistics report that investment
proposals worth INR 20 billion are currently gathering
dust. In the meantime, despite being offered fat
sops - incentives and a decade-long tax holiday - to
set up shop in the Valley, major manufacturing
companies have moved to the neighbouring yet
relatively peaceful Jammu, Kashmir's summer capital.
Along Srinagar's fashionable Residency Road, one
can find several other recently constructed high-rise
structures, housing business centres and plush
restaurants. The owners of these complexes have
decided not to put up garish, backlit signboards, a
practice that is otherwise widespread in more-peaceful
areas. One leading businessman in Kashmir, Mansoor
Ahmad, explains why he believes that erecting a
backlit board is a waste of money in Srinagar: "What
is the fun of having illumination when there is no
movement during the nights?" Indeed, life here
remains squeezed solely into the daylight hours. Even
the bustling markets around Lai Chowk close down
immediately at sunset.
Despite the lack of nightlife, tourists have continued
to flock to Kashmir, providing a crucial injection of
cash into the economy, with more than 700,000 tourists
visiting Kashmir in 2005. Although a series of bomb
attacks on tourists in 2006 affected this influx, police
suspect the assaults were actually due to a rivalry
between tour operators from Kashmir and Himachal
Pradesh. With recorded daily killings in Kashmir now
down to three, from 10 in the early 1990s, such
prospects have looked set to brighten further.
Although Kashmir's tourism department had been
gearing up for a massive campaign to woo tourists in
2007, this plan was affected like so many others by the
disclosure of police involvement in a series of 'fake
encounters'. In January and February, the bodies of
five men, alleged by the police to have been foreign
militants, were exhumed around the Ganderbal area
in Srinagar district. Forensic testing subsequently
found the men to have been civilians, allegedly
murdered in staged gunfights by policemen for
rewards and promotions. These dramatic findings
triggered a mass movement, challenging the entire
counter-insurgency process. The case went to the heart
of an extremely sensitive issue for Kashmiris: according
to Parveena Ahangar, the chairperson of the Srinagar-
based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons
(APDP), more than 8000 youths have disappeared in
military custody since 1990.
The exhumations and subsequent uproar have also
spawned a larger political movement that has brought
together people of traditionally opposed points of view.
While the 'anti-India' forces - including the All Parties
Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of
secessionist outfits - championed the cause of ending
bloodshed by withdrawing troops from populated
areas, elected 'pro-India' leaders espoused the same
cause on the floor of the State Assembly. A loose
consensus between these ideologically differing forces
(including the pro-India National Conference,
Congress party and People's Democratic Party, as well
as the APHC, the J & K Liberation Front and others) is
continuing to evolve around the demilitarisation issue.
These forces differ on the interpretation of
demilitarisation, however, an idea that was originally
floated by Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf
in October 2004 (and then suggested by him again in
Seeking a win-win-win solution:
interview with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
When Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq,
chief cleric of Kashmir, was
assassinated in 1990 by unidentified
gunmen, his 14-year-old son Umar
was anointed his successor. Later, as
a college student in Srinagar, Mirwaiz
Umar Farooq became the chairman
ofthe largest coalition of secessionist
parties, the All Parties Hurriyat
Conference (APHC). Following
hardliner Syed All Shah Geetani's split
from the APHC'.in 2003, Mirwaiz Umar
Farooq has been heading the
moderate faction of the Hurriyat.
Riyaz Masroor interviewed the
Mirwaiz, who is also currently working
Islamabad and your faction
of the Hurriyat Conference
seem quite optimistic about
a Kashmir solution.
We have enough reasons to be
optimistic. The Line of Control-is
locally known as Khooni Lake&r
[Bleeding Line]. India and Pakistan
have fought battles over it, and many
thousand Kashmiris have died in
crossfire and while fighting for
freedom. Now, the Indian and
Pakistani   armies   have   been
honouring a ceasefire on this line
for nearly four years. Not only this,
but a bus service has also bee
launched/There are meeting points
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 November 2005 on the sidelines of the UN General
Assembly) and that more recently became a part of his
four-point 'Kashmir formula'. Yet the majority of
Kashmiris still feel drawn towards autonomy, mainly
due to the continuing high level of militarisation.
Despite official statements that only 1500 militants
are active in the state, a substantive part of the
inhabited areas remains inaccessible due to massive
army presence.
Following the political clamour over reduction of
troops, in March 2007 Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh set up three committees under Defence Minister
A K Antony, tasked with looking into the troop-cut
demands. In Kashmir, the move has been received with
fcepticism, with many arguing that New Delhi has a
history of burying issues by constituting committees.
APHC leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the main
opposition National Conference have maintained that
the move is nothing more than an eyewash.
Catch and kill
Ever since Partition left the fate of J & K unresolved,
Kashmir's political landscape has remained stuck
between two radically differing positions: one aligned
with Pakistan, the other aligned with India. A third
opinion, favouring complete independence, was a late
entry, coming into being around 1990. Pro-Pakistan
forces, such as the underground guerrilla movement
al-Fatah, the political outfit Plebiscite Front, the
People's League and other groups, remained active
throughout the 1950s and 1960s, espousing the cause
of separation from India. Ghulam Rasool Zahgeer,
Ghulam Muhammad Naikoo, Fazal Haque Qureshi
and Shabir Ahmad Shah were prominent figures of
al-Fatah, and Shah and Qureshi continue to run
separatist outfits.
Following his landmark accord in 1975 with New
Delhi, Sheikh Abdullah, the state's then-chief minister
who had been newly freed after a prolonged detention,
suddenly became a despised figure among the
separatist forces, although he continued to think of
himself as part of the section opposed to New Delhi.
The secessionist demands, which had been largely
political in nature, eventually assumed a militant bent
following Sheikh Abdullah's death in 1982. The anti-
India forces, in a bid to legitimise themselves, contested
the polls in 1987, which witnessed mass rigging in
favour of the ruling party, led by Sheikh's flamboyant
son, Farooq Abdullah. Contesting candidates,
including India's most-wanted militant commander,
Mohammad Yusuf Shah (aka Syed Salahuddin) were
arrested and ruthlessly abused in detention.
The way this movement for political rights was
diverted by the Indian state was what triggered the
insurgency in 1988. At that time, the Soviet army was
withdrawing from .Afghanistan, and Zia ul-Haq had
turned his sights on Kashmir. Many observers continue
to believe that General Zia's death in a mysterious
plane crash - barely a fortnight after the CTO blast in
Srinagar - squandered Pakitan's military scheme of a
covert war against India. He had wanted, it is said, a
low-key insurgency to force New Delhi to agree to talks
on Kashmir. Suddenly, there was a free-for-all in
Kashmir. Government administration collapsed, and
Farooq Abdullah flew to London as his party, the
National Conference, became an object of hatred.
Jagmohan, Kashmir's hardliner governor, was
appointed   by   New   Delhi   as   an   emergency
on the LoC. We don't say we have
achieved everything, but these
confidence-building measures
[CBMs] have reinforced the
perception that a purely political
problem cannot have military
solutions. We do have apprehensions
about the slow pace of the peace
process and the lack of impact on
. the ground of these CBMs, yet we do
hope that India and Pakistan would
respond to the aspirations of. the
people of J & K in such a manner as
would appear a victory for everyone.
There is much talk of a win-win
solution. I daresay it's not only win-
Win, but wtn-win-win: for alt the three
players, India, Pakistan and Kashmir.
Recently, you told a public
meeting outside Srinagar that
§§§§§§   ■
a solution would appear within
three months. Are India
and Pakistan ready to
move  ahead?
President General Pervez Musharraf
has personally confided to me that his
government has shared papers about
the solution with India. As far as my
information goes, New Dethi has
moved a bit, yet it wants to move
slowly and is providing the pretext of
democracy. But the Indian prime
minister has taken the opposition into
confidence. Right now, you may not
be able to gauge how much india has
moved forward, for it is facing elections
in key states, including Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress party has already lost
Punjab. This is politics, and whatever
bitterness seems to emanate from
Has General Musharraf
formally presented his latest
four^point proposal to India?
There is a lot of progress in the peace
process as far as the two countries
are concerned. The only thing is how
to make this solution useful and
acceptable to the people tn J & K.
Papers have been exchanged.
Musharraf might not have
personally handed them over to
Manmohan Singh, yet it has
happened at top government levels.
Does your present
mass-contact   programme
aim at canvassing for
General  Musharraf's
four-point   proposal?
Of course we are reaching out to the
people with the new concept. There
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 administrator. Under his regime, a mass exodus took
place of about 100,000 Pandits, members of Kashmir's
minority Hindu population. Today many believe that
Jagmohan encouraged this dislocation so that, with
the Hindus out of the way, security forces could be
freely unleashed on the Muslim population of the state.
In response to the increasing insecurity, in 1990
Kashmir came under presidential rule. From the early
to the mid-1990s, Kashmiris saw some of the worst
repression and an estimated 25,000 deaths. Also in
1990, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA),
which had been in force in parts of India since
1958, was extended to J & K, Paramilitary troops
subsequently carried out repeated massacres,
resorting even to direct firing on unarmed
anti-India demonstrations.
While armed resistance enjoyed massive popular
support in Kashmir during those years, the insurgency
was unable to score a significant military victory
against the Indian state. On the one hand, resistance
fighters were being countered militarily by the Indian
Army. On the other, by the mid-1990s, internecine
battles had led to the emergence of a government-
sponsored civil militia, the Ikhwan, built on the
strength of the ranks of dissident militants. The Ikhwan
was under the leadership of one of Kashmir's best-
established militant commanders, Muhammad Yusuf
Parray (alias Kuka Parray). The outfit included
an estimated 3000 gun-wield ing youths, who carried
out large-scale killings of perceived sympathisers
of militants.
The pressure on militants thus increased, eventually
forcing the pioneer Kashmiri militant group, the Jammu
& Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), to announce a
unilateral ceasefire in 1994. The JKLF subsequently
came aboveground and became a major constituent of
the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which had come
into being following the assassination of Kashmir's
chief cleric and pro-Pakistan leader, Moulvi
Muhammad Farooq. Farooq's 14-year-old son, Umar
Farooq, who had just graduated from a Christian
missionary school, was anointed as his successor, thus
becoming the first chairman of the APHC amalgam
(see accompanying interview).
In league with the Ikhwan, the Indian armed forces
wreaked havoc during counter-insurgency operations,
perpetrating massive human-rights violations - a
crucial issue for the APHC. New Delhi chose to
suppress popular anger in the state with ever-more-
stringent laws - in addition to the AFSPA, these
included the Public Safety Act, the Enemy's Agent Act,
the Arms Act and the Anti-National Activities Act.
These measures induced a sense of impunity among
the military forces, and the events of the latter years
is a tremendous response. The
struggle of Kashmir has been
transformed. Yesterday, people
were drawn towards emotional and
rhetorical slogans. Now, they want
free space to live, to speak and to
move around. That's why we;are
demanding demilitarisation. People
in Kashmir, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda,
and other places have been
trapped; I believe 70 percent of the
land is under the army's occupation.
/■When   the   earthquake   razed
:■';■ hundreds of houses in the Northern
Uri area, I personally visited there,
and had a tiff with an army officer.
He tried to stop us from offering
prayers in an open ground. This is
. unwarranted intervention. We want
the army, out of our social and
. political lives.
Does your concept of
demilitarisation include the
disarming of militants?
Absolutely. When the army is but,
militants will lose the logical
argument. Militants will automatically
leave after the lands are returned to
the rightful owners, and the fenced
and trapped villages begin to breathe
free air. We have already offered to
broker the ceasefire once Indian
troops leave the populated areas.
process. There are more than
800,000 troops in the state.
Buildings, orchards, sports grounds,
schools and colleges are under army
occupation. The Indian Army
higher-ups have said many times
that the number of active militants
in the state is less than 1200. The
army's sustained presence among
the population has ruined our
socio-economic set up.
What about New Delhi's
Did you try to persuade decision to set up review    fs§||
militants to call a ceasefire
during your visit to Pakistan?
This chicken-and-egg story should be
discouraged: this is not a question of
who should withdraw first. We are
facing an enormous army presence
in J & K, and it's a hurdle in the peace
panels for reeommendin
troop cuts in J&K?
The Indian prime minister" and his
defence minister have several
times dismissed the possibility
troop withdrawal. If they want to
-ddSSS.d-v.V-v-.-.-7.. ■•'-' .- ■ -\- .-.
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 Indeed, life here remains squeezed solely into the daylight hours. Even the bustling
markets around Lai Chowk close down immediately at sunset.
would come to resemble a direct war between the
Indian state and the people of Jammu & Kashmir.
Herding of residents during crackdowns, random
arrests, torture and other repressive measures became
the norm - so much so that even if militants did commit
rights violations and executions, these became
overshadowed by what in Kashmir came to be known
as "state terrorism".
Seeing no tangible results from its military approach,
New Delhi then veered towards political solutions.
That is what ted it to hold elections in 1996 when,
with the active help of the Ikhwan, Farooq Abdullah
was brought to power. This was a direct challenge to
the APHC, which was working to keep its mass
movement alive. And in this, Farooq Abdullah
contributed to the cause of separatism by raising a
special task force from out of J & K's local police cadres
in 1996. This force not only provided further impetus
to the Ikhwan, but also launched a 'catch and kill'
campaign against anyone with suspected involvement
in the insurgency.
Four major events had, in quick succession, greatly
impacted the Kashmir situation. First was the nearly
all-out war between India and Pakistan over Kargil
Heights during 1998. Second, the bloodless military
coup took place in Pakistan on 12 October 1999,
orchestrated by an apparently moderate General
Musharraf. Third, in November 2000, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee offered the Non-Initiation of Combat
Operations    (NTCO)    agreement,    a    cautiously
termed ceasefire with Kashmir's militants. Finally,
in September 2001 came the attacks in the US,
the reverberations of which are still being felt in
Kashmir today.
9/11 and Kashmir
Farooq's regime collapsed in 2002, soon after the
attacks of 11 September 2001 and the commencement
of the US military campaign in Afghanistan. Since 9/
11, both the complexion of Pakistani support to the
Kashmir movement and politics within Kashmir have
undergone a significant change. Gen Musharraf's
newfound flexibility post-9/11 came in handy to local
political actors - especially those who were pro-India
- seeking to connect back to the Kashmiri masses, the
armed uprising having made them widely despised
figures. What had been conceived as a political
arrangement in 1996 took a beating in what was widely
seen as a fair election in 2002. Although managing
little over a dozen seats in J & K's 87-member legislative
assembly, former Indian Home Minister Mufti
Muhammad Sayeed came to power on a
semi-secessionist agenda, largely exploiting people's
anger against Farooq and his repressive methods.
Barely two months after 9/11, five armed men
stormed into the Indian Parliament. Although quickly
subdued, the ensuing gunfight claimed the lives of
nine armed guards, a gardener, and five of the attackers.
The assault triggered a hysteria of patriotism
throughout India, stoked by the then-ruling National
operational requirement, the people
are not foolish enough to take it as
some kind of concession. Some
politicians who are closer to
Delhi want to take credit for what is
mere hype. They try to mislead people,
and we are making people aware of
such machinations.
Why didn't you participate In
the prime minister's
roundtable   conference
in April?
We were not invited.
But the media reported that
you were invited.
The local deputy commissioner had
delivered a written invitation on
behalf of the Indian Home Ministry.
The way we were invited did not
reflect seriousness. It was as if
everything was normal in Kashmir, and
the Home Ministry wanted to discuss
some administrative matters with
politicians of a state, just as routinely
as it would do in the case of a
Maharashtra or Gujarat. The. prime
minister should have personally
invited us for an exclusive meeting.
In such a meeting, what is the role of
a politician who has no problem with
the accession pact, which Maharaja
had signed under duress with the
government of India in 1947?
Do you want Prime Minister
Singh to invite you for an
exclusive   roundtable
Yes. We have conceived the idea of
three-way   talks.   Indo-Pakistani
dialogue forms one track, while the
talks between New Delhi-Hurriyat
and Islamabad-Hurnyat are the
other two tracks. We have been
talking to Islamabad quite clearly,
yet India, in its eagerness to
rehabilitate its proxies in Kashmir,
has of late confused the process by
involving pro-India parties in the
sensitive dialogue process. We
have made it clear that we will not
shy away from talks because we
have a strong case. We had
announced that the Hurriyat
Conference would discuss the invite
in its executive body but there was
no official invitation. We could take
a decision on the merit of this
Conference. We do have certain
reservations about the form of this
process. New Delhi wants to shift
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 e Lai Chowk CTO
Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
After a media frenzy, the government chose to mobilise
troops against Pakistan, and both countries quickly
had their armies staring each other in the face over
the Line of Control. Even by that time, however, the
Musharraf regime had become so crucial in the
US-led 'war on terror' that, after nearly a year of tense
standoff, Washington, DC was able to quietly
persuade both countries to withdraw their armies
to peacetime positions. But militancy and excesses
by security forces continued largely unabated
in Kashmir.
Against the backdrop of these incidents, the steady
emergence of India as an economic giant, coupled with
the US's increasing interest in Southasia, contributed
to the peace agenda becoming more dominant in
political discourse on Kashmir. On 23 November 2003,
Gen Musharraf announced a unilateral ceasefire along
the Line of Control, to which India reciprocated.
Hundreds of thousands of families living along this
battle line have since received a modicum of respite,
with farmers able to resume cultivation, children
able to go back to school, and long-split families able
to reunite.
Musharraf's promise
Leaving behind the well-beaten tracks of bellicose
posturing, Gen Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee
co-signed a historic declaration in January 2004, on
the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Islamabad. The
present peace process is rooted in that declaration,
and has since led to several confidence-building
measures, including new bus services between Azad
Kashmir and Jammu & Kashmir, as well as a series of
talks between New Delhi and secessionist leaders.
During his talks with Prime Minister Vajpayee, Gen
Musharraf put in writing his 12 January 2002 promise
that he would not allow his territory to be 'misused'
against Pakistan's neighbours. Observers found this
declaration vastly significant, as it indicated
Islamabad's climb down from its traditional policy on
Kashmir, which had always lunged on the UN Security
Council resolution of 1948-49 regarding the holding
of a plebiscite.
The declaration has significantly solidified a
long-shaky peace process. This can be seen particularly
in the fact that even the July 2006 Bombay train
bombings, which killed around 180 Indian citizens,
and this year's explosion on the crossborder Samjhauta
Express, which killed dozens and wounded hundreds,
focus from the main issue of
resolution to peripheral matters. We
are not opposed to the administrative
reforms or steps taken to strengthen
the governance, but it becomes
objectionable when New Delhi
propagates the idea that these
conferences and working groups will
solve the Kashmir, problem.    ...
Do the National Conference
and the Peoples Democratic
Party have a role to play in the
resolution   process?
We are happy to see them
championing the same cause as we
have long been espousing. But their
integrity is doubtful, and people think
that they are doing image-building
exercises in favour of Delhi - and in
the process, garnering support for the
forthcoming elections. 1 challenge
them to seek votes on what they
believe in politically. Let them teil
people in rallies that they want 1 & K
to be an integral part of India and you
will see them lose their deposit.
General Musharraf has termed
the UN resolutions on Kashmir
irrelevant.  Nonetheless, you
still speak of people's right of
Flexibility      should      not      be
misunderstood. We are saying that
there could never be a military
solution. Pakistan and Kashmiris
have shown their willingness for a
non-military solution. It is India that is
still keeping her forces in Kashmir. UN
resolutions provide a legal input to
the dispute, though they are not
relevant in their entirety. We are for
a negotiated settlement, but all
three players should actively
participate jn that negotiation. That
is why we had introduced the idea
of three-way talks between the
APHC, India and Pakistan. We have
met the Indian leadership a couple
of. times and they have gone on the
record recognising the need for
such a process. We have assured
New Delhi that, once they create
the impact of the peace process on
the ground, we would persuade
armed groups for a ceasefire.
Many believe that the APHC
would contest the next
t don't mind saying yes, because
that is a genuine democratic
SSSS^i:1^'^^ .'
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 were not able to derail the process. Gen Musharraf's
follow-up on the declaration culminated in his
four-point formula for Kashmir, announced
in December 2006. These points included
demilitarisation, allowing free movement between
Azad Kashmir and Jammu & Kashmir, providing all
Kashmiris maximum self-governance, and jointly
managing the defence and foreign affairs of these two
entities. In short, Gen Musharraf proposed a concept
of shared sovereignty that would help placate the
alienation felt in jammu & Kashmir, where he believes
the people need a solution that infuses a sense that
they are no longer ruled by New Delhi. To implement
this plan, Gen Musharraf is willing to negotiate for
Azad Kashmir, which has no record of insurgency or
revolt against the state of Pakistan.
Some see international pressure behind both Gen
Musharraf's insistence on demilitarisation and
India's cautiously milder response to his pleas. There
is a general impression tliat George W Bush's
administration has been asking Gen .Musharraf lo
increase troop levels in Waziristan and other
loosely governed tribal areas and that the general
might have told Washington that he could not move
his forces away from the Line of Control unless
New Delhi cut down on military installations
there. Additionally, observers also surmise that
Gen Musharraf's push for a solution on Kashmir
might also be timed keeping in mind the presidential
elections. A 'resolution' on this intractable
problem might help bolster his popularity, currently
at low ebb.
Whatever be his compulsions. Gen Musharraf's
approach has nevertheless come as a political breather
for the Kashmir Valley's pro-India politicians. Nearly
all of those figures are now openly supporting the
'Pakistani line', in an attempt to renovate their support
bases. This new dynamic has almost blurred the lines
that used to divide the Kashmiri polity between
pro-India and anti-India camps in J & K; with a few
exceptions, all are now for demilitarisation and
self-governance. ,-\t the same time, it is not easy to
gauge the popular sentiment. Although pushes for
self-governance and demilitarisation have gained
momentum, and while many have started to expect
relief from these proposals if they are ever implemented,
the majority of Kashmiris in J & K (except for the elite
intellectual and business sections) remains alienated
from India. However, most observers currently believe
that the proposals of demilitarisation and
self-governance could help to subdue much of the
remaining popular anger.
No groundswell in the Valley
Optimistic observers insist that the emerging
geopolitical dynamic in Southasia will lead to a
resolution of the Kashmir situation in the foreseeable
future. Proposals for an alternative settlement of the
dispute abound, and media reports suggest that a
"status quo plus", if not more than that, is in the
offing. Of late talk of soft borders, crossborder
trade, peoples' exchanges and joint management of
disputed territories on either side of the LoC has
become a staple of almost all the political
players. While Mufti Saveed and Mirwaiz Umar
Farooq are actively pitching for a substantive cut in
the number of Indian troops in Kashmir, others are
also more or less following the same tack. Pro-India
exercise to ascertain popular
acceptance of a particular viewpoint.
But J&K is a disputed territory hence
it is not possible for the elections to
deliver the true verdict within either
the Indian or Pakistani constitution.
Still, we believe that people need
governance and if for the sake of
governance - and I stress this, for
governance alone - some
politicians are fighting, we won't be
a hurdle. However we have the right
to make people aware of certain
political machinations.
What is your model for
resolving the Kashmir issue?
The process has to be understood.
We are not proposing a tailor-made
solution to be pushed on the
Kashmiri population. Finding an
alternative solution to what people
had believed as an ultimate
destination for six long decades is an
uphill task and I should tell you that
we are halfway through. The process
is evolutionary. Various confidence-
building measures have helped us to
at least identify the contours of that
solution. And India and Pakistan
during recent meetings have
sketched out a rough drawing. People
in India, Pakistan and Kashmir have
to be rallied behind that sketch.
Can you share some of the
outlines of that 'rough
This sketch would be clearer if the
government of India were to take a
realistic, pragmatic and fair view of
our demand for demilitarisation in J
& K. Once the region is demilitarised,
people in different parts would be
given the opportunity to elect their
regional assemblies in Pakistani
and Indian parts of Kashmir.
Would that lead to your
'United States of Kashmir'
Welt, that is how we put it.
Would you aspire to become
the president of that United
States of Kashmir?
(Laughs) Once things are settled and
the society is cleared of military
intervention, people would get a
chance to elect their ieaders. At that
time we would go to the people
with the achievement and seek
their mandate. >
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 leaders, including Farooq Abdullah, have called for
an unconditional dialogue with the Azad
Kashmir-based militant leadership.
To all of this, New Delhi has responded cautiously.
Manmohan Singh has initiated a series of roundtable
meetings, which is meant to bring together all political
camps. Three of these meetings have now been held.
But the roundtable process has not been able to impress
the secessionists, who want a cut-and-dried agenda
for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and are averse
to the omnipresent discussion of economic and social
concerns. For these reasons, all secessionist leaders
but one stayed away from the 25 April 2007 roundtable
meeting in New Delhi. Hashim Qureshi, primarily
known for his role in the hijacking of an Indian
Airlines plane in 1971, was the only secessionist who
participated (see accompanying interview).
Last year, Prime Minister Singh constituted five
working groups, with the aim of drawing up a plan to
rehabilitate the victims of violence in Kashmir, and to
suggest measures tor good governance. At the
late-April roundtable, those groups finallv presented
their proposals. But although these included some
additional confidence-building measures, such as
creating 'dignified' living conditions for those
Kashmiri youth who are "ready to eschew violence",
a groundswell for peace remains conspicuously absent
in Kashmir. The daily life of the people remains
unchanged, with no trimming of the Indian troop
presence on the roads and in orchards, office
buildings, markets and residential areas.
If anything, public protests - against land
acquisition by the Indian Army, fake encounters and
the government's failure to provide jobs - are becoming
increasingly routine. While the Indian leadership was
preparing to host the 14th SAARC Summit in New
Delhi in early April, downtown Srinagar remained
restive for almost a week. Residents took to the
streets, alleging that troops deployed in area bunkers
had been harassing local women. One legislator
attempted to calm the crowd, assuring it that the matter
would be taken up at the highest levels. "VVtmt
peace process?" demanded one resident, "What
'Musharraf's four-points'? dNothing gives us relief
from all this."
In the absence of a mechanism to compensate for
the losses wrought by a decade and a half of violence,
proposals from Pakistan and packages from India
sound hollow to the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who
remain victims of an unresolved conflict. While
broaching proposals of joint management of all of
Kashmir, and various other options, leaders in New
Delhi and Islamabad will have to understand that what
they offer to Kashmiris will not matter as much as how
thev offer it. One voung separatist leader, Sajad Lone,
whose father Abdul Ghani I one was assassinated in
2001, believes that as long as New [Delhi continues to
negate the sacrifices of the people in Kashmir, any
offer, howsoever attractive, will be regarded as a hoax.
"When New Delhi and Islamabad start projecting the
peace process as being a result of their respective
leaders' sagacity and statesmanship, people get
excluded," he said. "What is in it for the people? I
believe that as long as people are not made
stakeholders in the peace process, it will continue to
be vulnerable."
The popular mood in the Valley has been sceptical
ever since the peace process started. If the summits
and declarations do not affect the present scenario on
the ground, and if the barbed wire and bunkers
surrounding the CTOs of Kashmir continue to inspire
a sense of living in a 'beautiful prison', the optimism
that is flying high right now is likely to come crashing
to the ground. fa
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June 2007 | Himal Southasian
An 'agent' of Kashmir
An interview with Hashim Qureshi
In January 1971, Hashim Qureshi, then 18, suddenly rose
to fame when he hijacked an Indian Airlines flight from
Srinagar and diverted it to Lahore. The hijacking led India
to ban Pakistani flights over its airspace, and crippled
Pakistan's military efforts to tackle the emerging crisis in
East Pakistan. Branded an 'Indian agent', Qureshi was
incarcerated for nine years in a Pakistani jail. Thereafter,
he went into self-imposed exile in the Netherlands. He
returned to Srinagar in 2000, where he now lives. In
conversation with Aditi Bhaduri, Hashim Qureshi,
presently chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir Democratic
Liberation Front (JKDLF), talks about initiatives for
peace in Kashmir, as well the emergence of a "United
States of Southasia".
Was it difficult to return to Kashmir?
Yes, in many ways. I had a very comfortable life overseas.
Moreover, immediately on my return I was arrested.
So what made you come back?
My land, my people, my nation. I left Kashmir when I was
18 years old. I was in exile for 30 years. I was living a
comfortable life in the Netherlands, but I wanted to do
something for this land. I could not watch it bleed.
You are a proponent of non-violence today, yet
you were one of the first to resort to violence
against the Indian state.
Yes, yes. I was very young, angry and disillusioned with
India and its treatment of Kashmir, and I wanted to draw
the attention of the world. But I did not have anything
against the passengers, and I still remember their
frightened faces. When we landed in Lahore, the first thing
I did was to fold my hands and tell them, 'Brothers and
sisters, we mean no harm to you, our struggle is against
the Government of India*. We let all the passengers go.
In prison, I read books by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin
Luther King. I realised that the gun would not solve the
problem of Kashmir. Especially now, there is no
international support for violent movements. Taking the
path of violence was a big mistake. Kashmiris were being
used as pawns by Pakistan, and Pakistan itself has come
to the brink of insolvency.
When did you form the Jammu & Kashmir
Democratic Liberation Party? What is your
programme and goals?
I had problems with the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation
Front [which Qureshi helped to found], as I believed that
the armed struggle in Indian Kashmir was not a freedom
struggle and was being fought by Pakistan's ISI. So I
resigned from the JKLF in 1993. The JKDLP was formed
in 1994, in Kathmandu. I came from Holland, and people
from Kashmir came.
Our main agenda is a single Jammu & Kashmir: to unite
Pakistani Kashmir, the Northern Areas - Gilgit and
Baltistan - with Jammu & Kashmir here. We want to build
up the economy. Today we run the Maqbool National
Welfare Association, to look after orphans and widows
who are the victims of militancy, empower women and
run self-help groups.
In the long term, we advocate the forming of a 'United
States of Southasia' which will include India, Pakistan, Sri
Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Like the
European Union, it will have open borders, a visa-free
regime and free trade. It will help end the enmity in this
region, and help resolve the Kashmir problem.
Some critics say your only agenda is
anti-Pakistan, and that you work for the
Government of India.
From my freedom in 1980 till my exile in 1986, I was
active in Pakistani Kashmir and Pakistani politics. But
eight times I was banned from entering the district, and
four times I was arrested. Today, even Syed Ali
Shah Geelani, who is for Indian Kashmir's accession
to Pakistan, is saying that the Pakistani rulers are
betraying us.
If I aman Indian agent, why is there a case against me
as a Pakistani agent? I was in prison for one year; I'm out
on bail. There are cases against me under the Enemy
Ordinance, the Official Secrets Act and for robbery and
airplane-burning - the same charges for which I was
tortured and incarcerated in Pakistan. But it is not the
people who call mean Indian agent; it's only some stooges
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 of Pakistan who do so, because they are following
the maxim that anyone against them is an agent of
someone else.
Sixteen years ago, i spoke out against militancy, and
said that Pakistan was helping to turn Kashmir into a
graveyard. Now Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has said the same
thing. This is proof enough that I'm only an 'agent' of
Kashmir and the Kashmiri people.
What was the state of affairs that you
witnessed  in  Pakistan-administered   Kashmir?
In Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, anyone who publicly
supports or peacefully works for an independent Kashmir
faces persecution. There is no High Court in Gilgit. and yet
you have 30 lakh people living there! The region does not
get royalty from the Mangla Dam, or its share of foreign
exchange. Many have migrated to West Asia, Europe and
other countries to find work, and they remit enormous
amounts of foreign exchange to Pakistan. Yet, there are
no industries, no medical colleges, no engineering
colleges. 'Azad Kashmir' is azad in name only.
Are you planning to contest elections in
the future?
I want to serve the people, and am doing that in a variety
of ways. However, if the people want us to participate in
the elections, we will try to fulfil their wishes.
You criticised the Hurriyat and the JKLF for
boycotting the recent roundtable conference.
Yet, you yourself boycotted the second
roundtable   conference.
At the first roundtable conference. I had suggested that
the second roundtable conference should take place in
Srinagar. and also that political prisoners should be
released. The Centre agreed, but did not fulfil its promise. I
heard that the Hurriyat had asked the prisoners to be
released after the roundtable conference so that the
Hurriyat could claim success. In protest, I boycotted the
second roundtable conference. But you have to keep the
dialogue going, so I participated in the third round table
conference held recently.
Are you for demilitarisation of the state?
Demilitarisation should also include Pakistan-occupied
Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan. I will be extremely happy to
see the streets of Kashmir free of the army.
You are one of the few who has spoken of
the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandit community.
What suggestions do you have for their return
to the Valley?
Yes, at the very outset of the armed struggle to attain
freedom, Kashmiri Pandits were pushed out. The
community had contributed greatly to the education of
Kashmir; they were true secularists. It is sad that we could
not protect them and their property. Even If we assume
that the Pandits left at the behest of Governor Jagmohan
- which is not true at all - what has been the fate of those
Pandits who stayed back?
It is the moral, national and religious duty of every
Kashmiri to go to the Pandits and bring them back to the
Valley. Without them there can be no settlement of
Kashmir. The Pandits are part and parcel of the Kashmiri
identity. But I don't support 'Panun' Kashmir [the Pandits'
demand for a Kashmiri homeland] because they want a
separate land - and then Jamat-e-lslami will also want a
separate land, and again there will be a 1947-like situation.
So what kind of azadi do you envisage for
Kashmir? Given its geopolitical situation, do
you think independence is viable?
I want independence for both Kashmirs - Indian and
Pakistani, including Gilgit and Baltistan. Then we can fight
against poverty and illiteracy, instead of fighting against
one another. This is the 21st century: we need computers,
not communalism; we need to open borders for trade, for
people-to-people exchange, for peace, for progress, Azadi
is possible if India, China and Pakistan can guarantee it.
Jammu & Kashmir can be the road to Central Asia. We
can have a visa-free entry system, it can be a tourist state,
and it can even be semi-independent, withoutan army. But
we will need guarantees from the surrounding countries.
You have advocated freezing the Kashmir issue
for 20 years.
Yes. in the 'freeze period' the borders should be opened
and trade relations should be increased. Armed and
unarmed foreign nationals should leave Kashmir, and both
India and Pakistan should evolve a joint mechanism. Only
defence, currency, foreign affairs and communication
should remain with the two states, and all the remaining
powers should be delegated to the people of Kashmir,
including Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.
That may take some time. What initiatives
would you suggest that can be implemented
Human-rights violations must stop immediately. The army
must stop custodial killings, fake encounters, humiliation
and torture ofthe common people. Roads must be built,
infrastructure must be developed, the environment must
be cleaned up, the education system should be developed
and jobs must be found for the youth. There must be
nvestmentin the state, to generate employment. Families
of the disappeared and the victims of militancy must be
taken care of. The Indian prime minister's promise of 'zero
tolerance" of atrocities towards the people of Kashmir
must be felt by the people. The government of India should
show magnanimity, and declare a unilateral ceasefire. i<
'Sighting' is a new space, in which the editors of H i ma I will
offer readers an update on personalities or subjects long
out of the headlines.
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
Covering conflicts in various parts of Asia during
the 1990s, many of us were 'parachutists'. We
flew in, filed and flew out. We rushed to the site
ofthe latest bomb, or walked into the bush to interview
insurgent leaders, staying only long enough to get a
couple of good quotes.
The last thing I had expected to see was a conflict in
my own country. But in 1996, when I returned to Nepal
after covering conflicts in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and
elsewhere, the Maoists had just launched their "people's
war". Suddenly, this was not someone else's war
anymore - it was happening among my own people. I
was forced to re-learn journalism, and to find a way to
move beyond being a mere spectator. Such attachment
is anathema to journalism professors, who teach us
never to get too involved in a story. But our problem was
that the Nepali media was not involved enough. For ten
years, we were satisfied with counting bodies, with being
the chroniclers of carnage.
Some journalists turned to making documentaries;
others wrote novels. In fact, fiction turned out to be a
better way to portray reality than merely listing facts.
Some of us decided to choose the medium of still
photographs to recall, lest we forget the horrific times.
The organisation Nepa-laya, which had been involved in
organising a series of successful peace-concert tours
through Nepal, was also interested in publishing a photo
book, looking back at the past decade of war.
In February 2006, when we began work on A People
War, Nepal's future looked bleak. The war was killing an
average of 40 Nepalis a week, an uncompromising
autocrat-king was in power in Kathmandu, and it looked
as though the country would sink into full-scale civil war.
As the pictures came in and we started selection, all of a
sudden a non-violent people's-power uprising in April
2006 unseated Gyanendra. A ceasefire was declared,
and the Maoists were brought into the interim
government. By the time A People War was released in
December 2006, the war had stopped, though the
country was not yet at peace.
Since most Nepalis could not afford the book,
necessarily costly because of the colour printing and art
paper, Nepa-laya decided to take a selection of the
pictures on an exhibition tour across the country, and
also to distribute copies to libraries along the way. We
were on the road throughout April 2007, putting up the
exhibition in ten venues, in parts of the country that had
seen the worst of the turmoil in the decade-long conflict.
The response cannot be described as anything less than
overwhelming: more than 100,000 people saw the
pictures, more than double our original estimate. But the
reaction was stronger than just the numbers -
everywhere we could see that most people were deeply
touched by what they saw. It was as if Nepalis had been
made one in their grieving memory.
In Chautara, east of Kathmandu, the pictures were
displayed amidst the ruins of the district hospital, which
had been destroyed in a battle in April 2006. In Ham, the
exhibition was held inside the auditorium of an
orphanage in which ten blind students had cowered while
a night-long battled raged around them. In Tansen, the
exhibition itself resembled installation art, as designer
Navin Joshi arranged the pictures around the ruins of a
stately ancient palace that used to serve as the district
administration office and had been completely destroyed.
The message everywhere was the same, and by the
thousands they entered their innermost feelings in the
guestbooks we kept at the exits. People said they would
not want to see such sights of pain, suffering, loss and
destruction ever again, and that they were convinced that
the use of violence in politics solved nothing. "Never
again" should we have to undergo a "people's war"
and the state's reaction to it, was the refrain everywhere.
And there were many who asked why we were showing
the pictures to them, and not to those who waged
the war: King Gyanendra, Maoist leader 'Prachanda' and
the politicians. k-
Army man at exhibition in Palpa takes picture of Maoist cadre
murdered at Doramba by the army.
Photo by Ishwori Neupane
Himal Southasian I June 2007
 Ram Krishni Chaudhary's son
Bhaban was taken away by
the army four years ago from
a bus. She has never heard
from his since. When the
exhibition arrived
in Nepalganj, Chaudhary was
asked to unveil her own
portrait that was taken by
Rameswor Bohara (in yellow
shirt, right).
A youth in Budadau photographed in 2001 when he
joined the Maoists as a "whole timer", and again in
2005, by when he was a guerilla in the PLA
Photos by
Kashish Das Shrestha/Tim Farrell
The book's cover picture of
two boys looking out of a shell
hole of a police station in
western Nepal was placed
amidst the rubble of the
hospital corridor where
two patients were killed
by a bomb.
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 At a Maoist gathering in
Ramechhap district in 2002, a
man meets his nephew for the
first time after he ran away
from home three years
before, to join the Maoists.
The uncle walked four days to
to be with his newphew and
persuade him to return home.
The boy refused.
Photo by
Mukunda Bogati
When the exhibition came to
Kathmandu, one of the
visitors was Puskal Rai, who
immediately recognized fiis
niece, Anupa Rai seen in a
picture with her baby. Puskal
recalled that Anupa and her
brother were convinced by
their class teacher to join the
Maoists. Both took part in
many battles, Anupa was
injured several times and still
has shrapnel lodged in her
lung. Her brother, who was
more seriously injured, was
rushed to the Indian town of
Sitamarhi for treatment
where he was arrested by
the Indian police and is
still in custody.
For four years after he took a picture of his friend and fellow-
journalist Gyanendra Khadka after he was publicly executed by
the Maoists, Yubaraj Puri didn't tell anyone it was his
photograph. At the exhibition, Puri finally went public and
explained how he was weeping and his hands were shaking as
he took this photograph.
The exhibition began in the town of Jiri and was opened by
Nanimaiya Kafle (in blue dress) by unveiling the photograph of
herself, Nanimaiya's daughter Shona was only 20 days old
when the bus she was traveling in was caught in the middle of a
firefight. Nanimaiya saved her baby and herself by hiding under
the seat, but her husband was killed.
Himal Southasian I June 2007
Remember the farmer
Pen is the sister of farmers.
Remember what I had told you?
When I made you hold the pen?
Mother was bellowing.
I got up startled, dripping with sweat
The dream was of Singur.
- Devbrat Joshi, Sapne me Singur
First, the good news. According to all
projections, the southwest monsoon
this year is expected to be almost
normal. More importantly, the Southasian
monsoon has been estimated to arrive a
week early. While the volatility of Typhoon
Yutu in the West Pacific has made the exact
arrival date a bit uncertain, risk analysts
remain upbeat about the rains that
directly affect nearly one-fifth of the
world's population.
Monsoon-gazing is important in
Southasia for several reasons. Agriculture
continues to be the mainstay of the
population and economies of the region.
While the direct contribution of the farming
sector to the regional GDP is only about 20
percent, nearly half the population of
Pakistan and two-thirds of Indians depend
upon agriculture for their livelihoods. An
even higher proportion of Bangladeshis and
Nepalis survive on the cultivation of
farmland that has little or no irrigation
facility. A good monsoon for most of them
is synonymous with good times, despite
the increased risk of landslides, flash floods
and inundation.
When the harvest is good, farmers buy
better toothpaste, more soap, expensive
razorblades and, increasingly, colour
television sets, refrigerators and motorcycles.
Manufacturing and services get a boost, as
purchasing power increases arid
expenditure patterns veer towards higher
consumption of finished goods. An
important cause behind the consistent
performance of the Indian economy has been
the benevolence of the rain gods: the
monsoon has not failed Southasia for
several years in a row (touch wood).
Everybody benefits from the munificence
of the monsoon. Abundant rains, however,
do not necessarily imply all gain and no pain
for the farmers of Southasia. Due to the
unreliability of government policies - no
less volatile than the vagaries of nature -
agriculture has become an unrewarding
vocation. The romance of farm life
disappeared a long time ago. With
sustenance itself becoming undependable,
the future of agriculture and food security
will become issues of vital concern in our
region in the years ahead.
Forgotten farmers
The current buzz in India is al) about IT,
though this is a source of livelihood for no
more than a miniscule section of the national
populace. Tn a country where fishing
supports more people than sewing, the
citizens of Bangladesh nonetheless love to
talk about garments exports. Tourism this
and tourism that is the national obsession
of Nepal, but the sector's contribution to
GDP is less than five percent. While it is true
that the fuel of remittances drives the
economy of Pakistan, agriculture continues
to be the mainstay of Sindh and Punjab.
However, the absence of agriculture from the
headlines is not a case of 'no news is good
news'. The plight of Southasian farmers is
out of sight - and hence, out of mind.
Once upon a time, agriculturists
dominated parliaments and legislative
assemblies, but today their central place has
been taken by others. Manmohan Singh is
an economist who crept into the Rajya Sabha
for the fourth time from Assam. General
Pervez Musharraf is, well, an army general
from a bourgeois background. The shadowy
current rulers of Dhaka are also mostly
soldiers. Girija Prasad Koirala was once a
factory hand. Other than notable 'sons of
the soil' like H D Deve Gowda, and Tau Devi
Lai, next to none of the chief ministers of
India's major states have ever set hands on
a tractor, let alone a plough. Mulayam Singh
Yadav may have known how to climb onto
a buffalo's back, but Mayawati is a popularly
elected queen astride a bedecked elephant,
her Dalit background notwithstanding.
Immediately after de-colonisation in the
1950s and 1960s, first-generation college-
goers from rural backgrounds brought their
farming experiences to the professions. They
helped in the success of green and white
revolutions. These days, the professors'
progenies become district collectors, who
encourage their sons and daughters to
become ICE professionals. They then marry
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
 doctors, engineers, lawyers and
entrepreneurs, who in turn inspire their
own offspring to become non-resident
Southasian entrepreneurs - NSEs. Fmpathy
for fdormers and farming is now almost
completely absent among the region's
rapidly expanding urban middle class.
The less said about the media, the better.
There are now over 100 channels beaming
satellite signals down on us 24 hours a day,
365 days a year, but none deem it fit to
chronicle the struggle for survival of
Southasian farmers. Suicides do make news
- there has been a surfeit of them to report,
with more than 25,000 recorded cases in
less than ten years in India alone. Fvcn so,
little investigation of circumstances that
force a farmer into self-annihilation has
made its way into the mainstream media.
Major newspapers offer the same fare to
villagers that they serve to their urban
readers: cricket, cinema and sensationalism,
Credit crunch
Land, the fundamental factor of farming, is
under attack from several quarters, Rising
sea levels and the salinity of backwaters are
forcing Bangladeshi farmers to grow shrimp
in their former paddies. Unlike rice, which
requires constant attention and provided
yearlong employment for many, shrimp
grow by themselves, and get exported
making hardly a contribution to the rural,
local economy. Farm owners are growing
rich, but farm labourers face destitution. In
West Bengal, the automobile industry
seems set to gobble up land left over by
smokestack industries, which had
previously displaced the jute-growers that
had forced rice farmers of vet an earlier era
into the slums of Calcutta.
Skewed landholding is another problem,
Nearly three-fourths of all farmers in
Southasia cultivate less than five acres, and
many have no land at all. In Sindh,
zamindars that make up six percent of the
farming population control 44 percent of
nil farmland, and 80 percent of the farming
population are haris who own no land at
all; they cultivate their landlords' holdings
on the condition of sharing the harvest,
usually on a 50/50 basis. Meanwhile, with
the public commons quickly disappearing,
the landless have less pasture to graze their
goats. The fencing of forests under various
pretexts curtails the freedom of indigenous
communities to forage.
The  mismatch  between the cost of
production and income has ailso begun to
pauperise the peasantry. In Sri Lanka, the
cost of producing rice - the staple diet of
Sinhalese and Tamils alike - has recently
exceeded the market price. While Punjabi
farmers estimate that wheat must fetch INR
11.4 per kg to make a modest profit, the price
fixed bv the government is only INR 8.4.
There is a vast difference between what a
farmer gets for wheat and what a consumer
pays for flour, even after talking into account
the cost of collection, transportation,
processing, distribution and taxes -
although that is a different story altogether,
lt has been estimated that the cost oi input
in growing grains has gone up bv more
than 300 percent in the hist few years,
while market prices have remained more or
less the same.
Mismanagement of kind, infrastructure
and input supplies has made things bad
enough, but the direct cause of the
desperation of farmers is the credit crunch
that nearly everyone faces. Some time ago,
journalist P Sainath reported that 70 percent
of farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh
were in debt. The figure for Indian Punjab
was around 65 percent; Kamataka, 61
percent; aind Maharashtra, 60 percent. Most
of these loans are made out by private
entrepreneurs who supply inputs at inflated
prices aind charge usurious interest rates to
hard-pressed and marginalised farmers.
City slickers sneer at such figures. Of
course, it can't be all that bad. Took at all those
rural slobs riding Bullets in the countryside,
exclaims one New Delhi socialite. While the
prosperity of some farmers on the
peripheries of metropolitan cities cannot be
denied, the fact is many of them have bought
their cars and Bullets by selling farmland to
real-estate developers. A few sell their
property to migrate, paying upwards of a
million rupees to sneak illegally into
Canada, Australia or Europe.
Landless sharecroppers have to adopt
more desperate means of survival when the
crop fails, interest accumulates, and debt
exceeds repayment capacities. Some sell
their children as domestic workers to fill the
demand of the urban middle class. Slightly
more enterprising ones borrow, beg or steal
to go to West Asia in search of work, any
work. When all else fails, there is always the
recourse of suicide of the breadwinner or of
the whole family. It is only then that the
media wakes up to notice - momentarily -
the forgotten farmers of Southasia. *
When the harvest
is good, farmers
buy better
toothpaste, more
soap, expensive
razorblades and,
colour television
sets, refrigerators
and motorcycles.
Himal Southasian | June 2007
The March 2007 issue
of Critique, a review of
Indian journalism, is
dedicated to Sham Lai,
the veteran editor and
literary critic who died
on 23 February. Writes
the      Nagpur-based
editor  Alok Tiwari:
"When    the    editor
Sham Lai died many
journalist   also   saw
their own death in that
process ... There was
! no editor like him, and there would never be another
: one in the same league. Sham Lai's demise leaves the
heavily de-intellectualised journalistic world [in India]
■ much poorer." Writes Outlook editor Vinod Mehta in
! the same issue: "What is the difference between the
[Indian] editor of the 1970s and 2007? Simple yet
profound. The 1970s editor clocked in at 10 and
clocked out at 6,30. He read voraciously, talked to like-
minded friends and scholars, furiously debated issues,
checked and re-checked information for veracity and
poured out the distilled wisdom onto the Edit Page.
He did not make speeches at seminars, anchor TV
shows, visit cocktail parties, take part in book
discussions, judge fashion shows, wear sharp clothes.
The editor was not yet a celebrity. He was neither seen
nor heard. He was just read." All Chhetria Patrakar can
say is, ya khuda.
Here's a course in Urdu journalism that can be
accessed by anyone throughout Southasia, because it
is a correspondence course. Run by the National
Institute of Journalism in Islamabad, the course runs
for 16 weeks, at a cost of PKR 3000. It is directed at
"newcomers to media", journalists, as well as
public-relations officers and marketing managers. But
can non-Pakistanis apply? Don't see why not. If
you would like to do Urdu journalism, simply apply,
sahib or sahiba!
Speaking of public relations, Thukten Yeshi, the
managing director of Aesthetic Bhutan Tours, sure
knows how to milk the bejeezus out of one's country's
exotification. He offers research-based tours in order
to "build a new image of Bhutan as a progressive
nation guided by profound wisdom ... [its] root
philosophies and concepts, which make Bhutan a
unique nation in the world." Mr Yeshi gets more
profuse as he goes along: "Bhutan is an oasis of pristine
environment, rich culture and tradition, and peace and
harmony in the twenty first century world
characterized by environment-degradation,
culture-erosion, militancy, and people's alienation,
anxiety, fear, and restlessness." All of which,
predictably, leads to that old chestnut of age-old
wisdom translated into a modern development
concept, Gross National Happiness - thereby making
"Bhutan one of the most spiritually progressive
nations in the world".
a^V*i^*i-*-a' *
-££m*;.l£*+iJlSJ »
Ref the Urdu nuke
notice astride. Some
radioactive material
seems to have been lost
in Pakistan, otherwise
why would the
authorities put out an
advert in the major Urdu
papers appealing for
those who locate said
material to report it?
Even while the ad was
out there in print,
staring you in your face,
government officials
sought to reassure
the media that no radioactive material had actually
"been stolen, lost or gone missing", reports the BBC.
So, then, why those notices? Officials claim, lamely,
that there is a need to heighten public awareness of
nuclear issues. Zaheer Ayub Baig, spokesman of the
Nuclear Regulatory Authority, in a letter to the BBC,
wrote that there could be decades-old nuclear material
lying about. "This could have been before the creation
of Pakistan, and may relate to nuclear material that
could not be taken under our charge." He also said
that there may be material out there that has been used
in hospitals and industrial plants. "There is nothing
to worry about," Mr Baig said. Uh-huh. CP is
not convinced, and believes that, as they say, daal may
kuch kala. hei. Because at this very moment, we are A Q
Khan sahib.
Bravo, Dr Agnes Callamard,
executive director of
ARTICLE 19! You have
lambasted the UN Human
Rights Council for its
resolution of 30 March, for
having violated international
standards on freedom of
expression. The resolution
was sponsored by Pakistan
on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC), and passed by 24 council members (14 voted
June 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 against the measure, and nine more abstained). Dr
Callamard subsequently decried this undermining of
the freedom of expression - the most effective
protection against human-rights abuse - on the excuse
of "human rights destruction waged by President
Bush's version of America".
It is important to read her diatribe in full. She
continues: "Religious believers have a right not to be
discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs, but
they cannot expect their religion to be set free from
criticism, even in its harshest or most sarcastic form.
The equality of all ideas and convictions before the
law and the right to debate them freely is the keystone
of democracy. As international human rights courts
have stressed, freedom of expression is applicable not
only to 'information' or 'ideas' that are favourably
received but also to those that may offend, shock or
disturb any or all of us. In many ways, the Human
Rights Council resolution is in keeping with a trend
that has resurfaced with great strength in our post 9/
11 world: protecting the belief at the expense of
the believers, of all believers ... [Proponents of
the resolution] chose to focus their efforts on
protecting religion itself: NOT the believers and NOT
freedom of religion."
there is such silence in the mainstream media on
Hashimpura and cither forgotten mass crimes.
Twenty years after the Provincial Armed Constabulary
(PAC) shot dead 40 Muslim men from Hashimpura,
in Meerut District, and threw their bodies into the
Upper Ganga canal, the families of the victims are still
pursuing justice. Following a transfer order by the
Supreme Court, it was only in 2006 that a Delhi Court
finally framed murder charges against all the 19 PAC
members accused. On 22 May 2007, to mark the
anniversary of one of the worst communal killings in
police custody in independent India, as many as 615
applications under the Right to Information Act were
filed by the victims' families, chaUenging the impunity
of the PAC and seeking accountability. For the first
time in India's history, victims are asking the state to
tell them why the accused have not been suspended
from service even while they are facing prosecution;
what disciplinary action has been initiated against
them; and why the chargesheeting took almost a
decade. Maybe the victims also want to know why
Hats off to Mizzima News! The Burmese news agency,
started in 1998 by a small group of Burmese journalists
in exile, is this year's winner of the International Press
Institute's Free Media Pioneer Award. That Mizzima
exists at all has been no small feat, considering the
wrath it has faced from the Burmese junta - which
also recently got the Indian authorities to raid this
intrepid watchdog's head office in Delhi.
The family feud in one of Tamil Nadu's leading
political families has proved costly, not only
for the dashing Dayanidhi Maran, who lost his job as
Union Minister for Information and Technology as a
result, but more so for employees of the Tamil daily
Dinakaran. On 9 May, two computer-service engineers
and a watchman were killed after a petrol-bomb attack
on the newspaper's Madurai office (see photo), owned
by Kalanidhi Maran. The attack, allegedly by
supporters of DMK leader M K Azhagiri, elder son of
Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, was in response to the
publication of a recent survey by Dinakaran and A C
Nielsen. The report put the electoral chances for M K
Stalin, the second son of Karunanidhi, at 70 percent,
but gave just two percent to Azhagiri, who controls
party cadres In the southern districts.
Dinakaran was bought two years ago by
Karunanidhi's grand-nephew, Kalanidhi Maran. Since
its acquisition by Maran, the paper has launched an
aggressive price war, which reportedly boosted it from
third to first place in state-wide readership in Tamil
Nadu. Maran also owns the Sun TV network, the
dominant private television network in South India.
Readers may note that his brother, in his previous job,
had oversight jurisdiction over the allocation of the
broadcast spectrum. Not surprisingly, an opinion poll
in Dinakaran rated Dayanidhi Maran as the "best"
Union Minister from Tamil Nadu. But Karunanidhi
was not amused, and saw to it that his grand-nephew
was removed from his ministerial post - disregarding
Dayanidhi's avowals that he was born a "party man",
and would be one until his last breath. H
- Chhetria Patrakar
Himal Southasian I June 2007
without subtitles
'Fusion music7 is a much-abused,
little-understood term. But at least Amit
Chaudhuri understands its inherent
promise, as he presents the music of the
ear!y-21st-century urban Indian.
A listener's first encounter with Amit
Chaudhuri's new album This Is not Fusion is
mediated through its cover. An imagined
hybrid animal is sculpted in dokra, a metallic alloy; a
saffron-clothed figure's gender is left undefined;
'Berlin' and 'Calcutta' appear side by side; a tanpura
is on the front, a guitar on the back. This music is "not
part of two different worlds," Chaudhuri declares in
the liner notes, "but a common inheritance ... inlaid
into different parts of a single self, a single memory."
Perhaps aware of having already declared, in the
album's title, what his music is not, Chaudhuri later
sings: "This music has no land/ This music has no
name/ Don't know where it began/ Don't know horn
where it came."
Chaudhuri is no sentimentalist, and This Is not
Fusion contains no nostalgia for that romantic notion
of a time before 'East' and 'West' hardened into
specific lineages. The 45-year-old writer, who was born
in Calcutta and grew up in Bombay, has instead
created an anthem for people (maybe even generations)
who, when they sleep, dream without subtitles in any
language. The saffron-clothed figure on the cover
holds a special meaning: Chaudhuri, in an earlier
essay, "Thoughts in a Temple", had said that saffron
"is the colour not of belonging, or fitting in, but of exile,
of the marginal man". By extension, Not Fusion becomes
the music of the exile. But this is a self-imposed exile,
an exile from the oppressiveness of the 'East versus
West' traditions.
What is 'fusion' music? And why is Chaudhuri so
reluctant to take up its surname? "In East-West fusion
as we know it here," Chaudhuri explained in a recent
article in the Tz'mes of India, "the Indian representative
is commonly a classical performer, and the bearer of
an ancient tradition; the Western representative, often
a jazz musician, a well-known type of modern, the
exhausted romantic who's had enough of modernity,
and must renovate himself through contact with
immemorial cultures." He continued: "One of the more
problematic features of fusion is its wide-eyed
transcendence, not only of nationality but of locality,
with the old ideal of the 'universal human being'
reworked into the cunning, grasping innocence of our
globalised world."
Within compositions that are branded as 'fusion',
there is a piece of proto-fusion music, one that demands
a particular conformity from its practitioners. Such
proto pieces are not the classic pieces that one might
expect. Rather, in the rarefied world of subcontinental
fusion music, we generally find a deliberate synthesis
of two heterogeneous forms of music - jazz and
Carnatic, for instance, or Western classical and
Hindostani classical. Such a situation creates a
platform where there is no dialogue. Two people, two
systems, speak in their native tongues, as though
speaking in sign language, comprehensible only to
their practitioners. This exclusionist practice succeeds
because of the listener's lack of education and exposure,
which partakes in and helps to accentuate the closed
nature of such fusion work. This is obvious: there is no
school, no gharana, of fusion music.
Fusion music, by laying claim to individuality,
supposes to challenge the notion of the 'pure' or the
'authentic'. In so doing, it sanctions as its inheritance
a kind of unexplained rootlessness. This is precisely
where the problem with Indian' fusion music lies.
A deliberate positioning of disparateness discounts
history and its complex network of veins, which
function as a framework to any piece of music, giving
it body and weight. Indian fusion music, an
oxymoronic nomenclature, has proliferated on this
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 scavenged ground of selective amnesia. Musicians
from different traditions come together and create
assemblages, rather than organic entities that have
the capacity for self-sustenance.
While musicians and listeners alike have revelled
in the aesthetic of the patchwork, this kind of 'fusion'
has resulted in the assembly-line production of pieces
of music where 'aind' has become synonymous with
fusion. But mere addition is not gain, as any musician
will attest. The music may gain girth, but lose its sense
of a centre of gravity, lose sight of its origin. The average
piece of Indian fusion music has, therefore, neither
beginning nor end. There is no imperfection in Indian
fusion music. This is not because there are no faults,
but simply because such a piece of music can never be
perfect. The genre has become something like the
parrot's song - mimicked without context and,
therefore, sounding similar after a few listens.
In "so-called world music", the cultural-studies
scholar Paul Gilroy has argued, "authenticity
enhances the appeal of selected cultural commodities,
and has become an important element in the
mechanism of the mode of racialisation necessary to
making non-European and non-American musics
acceptable items in an expanded pop market." The
effort to be 'authentic' in an age of digital remixing
can often be hilarious. In Karan Johar's 1998 film Kuch
Kuch Hota Hai, for instance, the bhajan "Raghupati
Raghav Raja Ram" is sung to the beat of military
marching music, with the Indian and British flags
hung at half mast, as if in symbolic compromise. Often,
an Orientalist construct is attested by a contemporary
globalising mission (as evident in the famous works
of Philip Glass), where the world lays claim to
Indian music like a tourist carrying a favourite tune
back after a holiday.
Provincial geneology
Unlike so-called fusion or world music, however, the
compositions in This Is not Fusion are all bound by a
spirit of 'historical provincialism'. The need to
contextualise subcontinental fusion music comes from
the need to create a genealogy for it. As Chaudhuri
has argued, fusion music cannot be an ahistoricai
monster. Is This Is not Fusion, then, a piece of history?
Yes and no. Yes, it is a tract of personal historv, the
history of one displaced and still moving - the history
of the global citizen interpreting his reflection in the
window with the provincial vocabulary of his self. It
is an indirect critique of globalisation, a process that
litis killed provinciality and rendered the local
paralysed. Nol Fusion is perhaps one of the last sighs
of the century, escaping from the global citizen's lips -
a regret for what could have been rather than what
once was. Chaudhuri's work celebrates history with a
footnote. Its creators do not fight over legitimacy. Their
music, unlike most contemporary music that calls itself
fusion, does not ask the irrelevant questions of 'When?'
and 'Then?' It is simply an exploration of the possible.
Readers of Chaudhuri's fiction and poetry were
perhaps prepared for his new musical work. The titles
of his literary works - Afternoon Raag, Freedom Song,
li-Minor - had made evident the leaning of their
creator's mind. The 2002 short story "White Lies" was
a strong political commentary on the sudden revival
of the ghazal and bhajan traditions in India during the
1980s. Dictated by commerce (and its ally, mediocrity),
this revivalism, Chaudhuri showed, had been urban
in nature, and was responsible for the death of many
non-metropolitan traditions. In manv ways, "White
Lies" was tilso ai contemporary faible about music in
the age of mechanical reproduction, about the triumph
of the technology-enhanced recording over the simple
human voice.
Lhe impulses at work in Chaudhuri's fiction are
evident in his music as well. By placing a stanza or
two from the songs of Tagore or Nazrul in the narrative,
he deconstructs one with the other. Here is an example,
from his 1998 Freedom Song:
She began a faimiliar song:
Lost heart
On <i verdant road
I gather strewn flowers
By myself.
Park Circus; Shaimsul Huda I Liq Road. A pfuirmacy aind
a sweet shop at its en trainee. Only ai twenty minutes' walk
from Khukn's house.
Fusion influence
The collaboration between Indian
and Western musicians dates back
to the 1960s, to Ravi Shankar's
work with Bud Shank and with The
Beatles. Soon after that, Miles
Davis, the jazz musician, started to
create 'fusion' sounds with such
musicians as Khalil Balakrishna,
Bihari Sharma and Badal Roy. In the
mid-1970s, the British guitarist John
McLaughlin began to collaborate
with Southasian musicians Zakir
Hussain, L Shankar and others in the
influential fusion group Shakti. For a
while, the incorporation of Indian
influences and instruments was
relatively widespread, including such
popular Western bands as the Rolling
Stones, the Grateful Dead, Traffic, the
Incredible String Band and many
others. London during the late 1980s
saw a resurgence of this form, in the
coming-together of Indian and
Western traditions to create forms
like the Asian Underground (see
accompanying article).
The late 1980s was also a time
of formation of many Indian bands
that tried fusion, particularly Indus
Creed, Parikrama, Pentagram, Zero
and Nexus. Contemporary artists
working in this category include
Bikram Ghosh, the tabla player
who heads the fusion band
Rhythmscape, Maqsoodul Haque
and his band Bauliana, and Naquib
Khan and his band Renaissance.
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 The aesthetic remains the same in This Is not Fusion.
The nameless mythical animal juxtaposed against the
names of streets and places on the album's cover is
emblematic of the familiar and unfamiliar, one
interpreting the other to create the template of a
provincial discourse, even before we hetir the music.
This is an enriching provinciality, a temper that is
gradually drying out amidst the fierce forces of
globalisation. We later find this to be the voice of the
flaneur (a "gentleman stroller of city streets", in the
French poet Baudelaire's words) - moving, roaming,
discovering, commenting on and interpreting, for
himself and the not-yet enlightened world. This flaneur
is a 21st-century modernist, picking up things for
later use: texts from the backs of Indian trucks,
sounds from the Berlin underground, the twanging
of a dhunuri (a tool used for cotton fluffing) from the
street, shouts from refugee newspaper-sellers in
Furope in the morning and the All India Radio theme
tune in the evening.
Just as Chaudhuri's four novels begin and end with
various comings and goings, his music is full of
metaphors of travel, the rhythms of movement, of
trucks, of the dhunuri man walking the streets of old
Bengal, of the gradual movement of the day's
brightness dying into evening (a sound that can only
be sensed through music) - and finally, of the
movement of music itself, from one tradition to another,
the sounds of musical osmosis.
The musicians of Not Fusion clarify their politics at
the outset: that of the secular, modern Indian, who
finds "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" in his self. It
is therefore no coincidence that Ramakrishna
Paramahansa is Chaudhuri's emblem; "The liberal
humanism of the Bengal Renaissance formed the basis
of the secular Indian state," Chaudhuri wrote in
"Thoughts in a Temple". "The experiments of
Ramakrishna, in which different ways of seeing
existed in a sort of tension within oneself, formed the
basis of the creativity of the modern Indian. It is no
accident that every significant Indian writer or artist
has negotiated seemingly antithetical world-views or
languages in his or her work."
If there is any tradition in which we can categorise
the musicians - the vocalist, Chaudhuri himself, and
the accompanists of Not Fusion - it is in this: that of
not belonging to any single tradition. "It's only natural
that we belong to several places," Chaudhuri has
written elsewhere, "all of us, not only because of
fashionable air travel and possibilities made open to
the diaspora, but because of history ... All these people,
those who possess and those who don't possess,
belong to a number of places."
Musafir hoon yaaron
There is no pure; all cultures are hybrid. This Is not
Fusion is the music of the early-21st-century urban
Indian. "What else but the subconscious can make
Milton, Imre Nagy, The Seventh Seal, Mozart, the
Ramayana, Nischindipur, Basavanna, Kerala, Chicago,
Calcutta and France seem part of a single literary
history''" Chaudhuri has asked in an essay. "It is the
dimension of the subconscious that distinguishes this
tale of modernity from the postcolonial narrative. In
the latter, a confrontation takes place between empire
and local culture."
But in Chaudhuri's story of 'fusion', "the battle, the
struggle takes place within the self, not just between
the self and an enemy outside it." The narrative of
modernity, he argues, is as much a story of self-division
as the postcolonial narrative is one of empire,
domination and resistance. In the postcolonial
narrative, the mother tongue, the ideas of 'Indianness'
and 'Bengaliness' are natural properties of the
colonised, threatened by the processes of empire. In
the story of modernity, the mother tongue and the
English language dire part of a transaction that,
"through disowning and recovery", define the
'modern' self.
This Is not Fusion is about cultural diffusion, in which
the old artefacts of identity are passe. In the process, it
tries to find a grammar in which these fluid identities
can be cast, at least temporarily. Beyond anything else,
this is what Not Fusion celebrates: impermanence,
evolution, freedom, the opposite of inertia. In other
words, process. In so doing, it also leaves a listener
without a sense of an ending - as indeed all things in
'process' must. The moral is perhaps this: in our
postmodern fables of pastlessness, the onlv journeys
possible aire, ironically, through memory. So, remember.
lt is no coincidence that most of the compositions in
Not Fusion are about moving, about 'history ... passing',
about the sound of the wheels on roads, or the
wanderings of the Bauls in Bengal. Not Fusion is not
just a Whitmanesque song of the roadside; it also
belongs to the tradition of songs of the journey of the
Subcontinent - "Musafir hoon yaaron," I am a traveler,
says one well-known Hindi film song.
Not Fusion does not follow the easy routine of
borrow-replace-create; rather, it creates a new
vocabulary of exchange, which proves that dialogue
is possible between cultures. It works between certain
moods of traditions, not as mere elective affinities of
musicians, whose inspiration results in material
representations of two cultures yoked together by
violence. If the album fails, it will not be because of its
musicians; we the listeners will be responsible. We are
so used to 'system' writers and musicians that any
work we cannot fit into our store of codes scares us.
"It is doubtful if the discriminating minority will
go for a hybrid if they can find the meat in a
conventional movie," said Satyajit Ray, about the new
wave of Indian cinema. If we fail to grow ain attachment
with the hybrid called This Is not Fusion, it is
simply because we are still uncomfortable with a part
of ourselves. A
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
A soundtrack for a foreign existence
For a new generation of Southasians, particularly those growing up in the diaspora,
music plays an important role in adapting old traditions to new realities.
Alight scent of sandalwood lingered in the
lounge. The soft, colourful lights filtered
through hovering smoke as music resonated
throughout the room - a mix of booming club beats
and tabla, topped with melting sitar riffs. Then the voice
of Ustad Sultan Khan joined the ensemble, reminding
this writer of the old Indian classical songs that his
mother used to listen to every morning. The sound of
the sitar seemed to grow by the second, blossoming
into something magnanimous, the sinuous bass lines
reverberating along with the tabla's da da dhin na and
the club beats, as the Ustad's haunting vocals diffused
over it all.
This grand unification was thanks to a band called
Midival Punditz, one of the first Indian 'electronica'
bands to make it big on the international scene. The
group's founders, Tapan Raj and Gaurav Raina, are
known for their cross-cultural vision, which they
describe as marrying "the soulful elegance of
Southasia's extraordinarily rich traditional and
classical music heritage with the exuberance and
limitless potential of modern Western electronic
music". The group is also an integral part of the
musical collective known as the Asian Massive, an
offshoot of the Asian Underground movement, the
UK-based collective that mixes contemporary
metropolitan culture with traditional Southasian
music. According to Raj, "It is about trying to stretch
Western audiences towards Indian sounds, and to
stretch Indian audiences towards modern, electronic,
Western music."
As more and more Southasian artists cropped up in
the British music scene, a record label (and club) called
Outcaste was founded in 1995. Featuring only
Southasian artists, its music later became known as
the Asian Underground. The term 'Asian
Underground' was initially used to describe
Southasian artists based in the UK, who, during the
mid- to late 1990s, were merging elements of Western
underground dance music with the traditional music
of their homelands. These artists were generally
second-generation, British-born youth, many of whose
parents had experienced life as immigrants during the
1960s and 1970s, when racism in the UK was at a peak.
The music of the Asian Underground became a
response to the race-based atrocities faced by these
youths and their families. It was the music of
the displaced - a manifestation of alienation, and a
W 'Tift'
M»i»™a- aj
S ■ ■■*     - ■,f5
70 Wl.
Talvin Sinqh, December 2006
trans-national discourse that found its roots in the
processes of migration in the post-war British cultural
milieu. The Asian Underground movement also made
the statement that 'brown' people were as cool as
anybody else.
Throughout the 20th century, local cultural forms
around the world, including those of music, came
under pressure from the introduction and
encroachment of Western forms. According to Bruno
Nettl, a music and anthropology scholar, the reactions
by non-Western societies to this dynamic can be
classified into three types. First, there is the desire to
leave the traditional culture intact, essentially allowing
the form to live on with no change whatsoever. Second,
there is a call for complete Westernisation, the "simple
incorporation of a society into the Western cultural
system". Nettl describes the third reaction as
"moderate" compared to these first two -it is the search
for modernisation, which he defines as "the adoption
and adaptation of Western technology and other
products of Western culture ... with an insistence that
the core of cultural values will not change greatly".
This vision of 'modernisation' is what gave birth to
the unison of traditional Indian music and electronic
music through Western technology.
The stepping-stone
Ravi Shankar was one of the key figures to first couple
classical Hindostani music with Western sounds.
During the 1960s, he collaborated with The Beatles'
bass player George Harrison, who had been studying
the sitar. Their friendship made an international star
Himal Southasian | June 2007
 of Ravi Shankar, and did much to feed the burgeoning
fascination with India in the WTest. (Albeit that all was
not well in the subsequent 'fusion' of these cultures.
Recalling one trip to San Francisco, Ravi Shankar later
wrote in his autobiography: "I felt offended and shocked
to see India being regairded so superficially and its great
culture being exploited. Yoga, "["antra, mantra, kundalini,
ganja, hashish, Kama Sutra? Thev all became part of a
cocktail everyone seemed to be lapping up!")
Following the Shankar/1 larrison work, many artists,
especially from the American jazz community, followed
in the footsteps of this musical collaboration. Guitarist
John McLaughlin incorporated various Hindostani
classical sounds in his electric-jazz-rock fusion group
the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and later worked with L
Shankar and Zakir Hussain in the acoustic ensemble
Shakti. In the UK, India-born and -trained Ashwin
Batish combined popular rock rhythms with sitar
melodies for a 1986 album, Sitar Power. For his follow-
up to this album, Sitar Power #2, Batish blended tabla
and sitar with synthesiser and guitars. Then, in the
early 1990s, bands such as Cornershop and Asian Dub
Foundation began churning out politically charged
songs that confronted the racism prevalent in the
UK at the time.
Post-World War II, European countries faced
shortages of unskilled labour. While the UK initially
drew upon Irish workers, it later moved its focus almost
entirely onto former colonies in Southasia, the
Caribbean, East Africa and the Mediterranean. As the
new migrants took up these low-wage jobs, however,
many British found themselves displaced or with
significantly limited job options. The ramifications of
this in the context of a dilapidated British economy
manifested themselves in racism and rising tensions
between migrants and the native population,
Migrants from the Caribbean found solace in musical
forms they had brought with them - reggae, ska and
dub. During the 1970s, groups such as Jah Shaka made
roots reggae popular among the Caribbean working
class through songs that addressed the injustice,
poverty and racism faced by Jamaican youth. Artists
such as Bob Marley made this music and message even
more popular, and brought it to a world stage. In the
mid-1970s, highly political punk acts such as The Clash
incorporated and featured reggae music on their own
albums, cementing reggae's counter-cultural image and
importance. Soon, music from the Caribbean, along
with punk and, during the 1980s, hip-hop, had become
part of the mainstream British music scene.
Musical activism
The success of Caribbean music in the UK eventually
led to new possibilities for second-generation
Southasian youth to express their dissatisfaction and
disapproval of their country through music. Asian Dub
Foundation, which combined elements of electronic,
reggae and hip-hop, for instance, claims to have used
its music "to raise consciousness about racism and
police brutality, as well as to campaign against the
unjust imprisonment of Satpal Ram, who was finally
freed after fifteen years of imprisonment largely due to
Asian Dub Foundation's efforts." Ram was a British
Southasian who was arrested for murder following a
racially charged fight in England in 1986. Later,
allegations arose (which eventually led to his 2002
acquittal) that the all-white jury had not been able to
process crucial evidence duo to the fact that no
Bengali-speaking interpreter had been provided at the
trial. Many say that Asian Dub Foundation's work on
the issue kept Ram's case alive. The group's
current work, though less political, has been just as
community-based, including spreading awareness
about HIV and AIDS.
Some of these artists used their music as a form of
criticism - of racism, of political and economic
oppression. But for many of the early Asian
Underground musicians, the most important issue was
displacement, and their music became a way to explore
and discuss their fractured existence in a foreign land.
One of the Asian Underground's pioneers, Nitin
Sawhney, delved so regularly into aspects of the
immigrant experience that he came to be seen as an
activist. Karsh Kale, a pioneer of the movement in the
US, explains what was being attempted this way:
"We're displaced from where we come from, so we make
up stories, and that's what the music is about. It's about
making a soundtrack for our existence here."
The apex of the Asian Underground movement came
in the form of a British-born musician of Southasian
descent named Talvin Singh. Singh's unique brand of
drum-and-bass and classical Indian music came to
prove such a draw that, in 1995, he was able to found a
club in London, named Anokha, devoted solely to this
new form of music. While Singh had started playing
the tabla at the age of five, his musical interests, like
that of many of his friends, also lay in those genres that
formed the core of mainstream British music at the time
- punk, electronic and hip-hop.
At 16, Singh went to India to pursue his education
in classical music. After his return to the UK in the
mid-1980s, he began collaborating with such avant-
garde musicians as Bjork and The Future Sound of
London. It was at this time that he began making
drum-and-bass music - the mainstay of British dance
halls - but using tabla and other Indian percussion
instruments to do so. Regardless of past collaborative
'fusion' attempts between Western and Indian musical
forms, this had never been done before.
Talvin Singh's album OK, released in 1998, became
such a hit in Britain that the sound in it could no longer
be considered 'underground'. As with the reggae, ska
and other forms of the 1970s, this music, with its feet
planted firmly in two widely disparate traditions, was
no longer confined to a single culture. And the world
of music is the richer for it. k,
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 India is flat
In 2004. the Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) alliance went before the
electorate with the motto, 'India
Shining'. The BJP probably lost the
election for a host of other reasons,
but the sheer absurdity of the slogan
highlighted the party's callousness.
'India Shining' rangfalse to hundreds
of millions of Indians in the throes of
a prolonged agrarian crisis, and to
untold others 'retrenched' from their
industrial and bureaucratic jobs.
Pratap Suthan, the advertising expert
who designed the phrase, later
reflected that it "is all about pride. It
gives us brown-skinned Indians a
huge sense of achievement. Look at
the middle class, and they tell the
story of a resurgent India." The truth
is encapsulated in the last sentence:
the middle class is the subject that
shines, and its self-image drives the
hype about India, Inc.
New York-based Mira Kamdar's
new book both mirrors that
middle-class bravado, and gently
questions it. There is the familiar
litany: India is the planet's fourth-
largest economy; its growth rate is
very high; its cities spawn supermalls
as fast as they can be built.
Bangalore's information technology
sector makes an early appearance,
and its entrepreneurs act as the
philosophers of our time (Infosys's
Nandan Nilekani, after all, gave New
York Times columnist Thomas
Friedman the title for his 2005
bestseller, The World Is Flat). Kamdar
rightly points to the role ofthe Indian
diaspora, to those Internet and
finance kingpins from California's
Silicon Valley whose children
have now emerged as culture-makers
Planet India:
How the fastest growing
democracy is transforming
America and the world
by Mira Kamdar
Scribner, 2007
in their own right - producing
documentaries, films and comics,
most of which are now created in
Bangalore and Bombay for a global
market. "Buoyed by strong economic
growth and a new smorgasbord of
consumer goods and entertainment
options," Kamdar writes, "India's
youth is filled with fresh confidence,
fueled by high expectations. They
believe the future belongs to them."
But who qualifies as 'youth'? Almost
550 million Indians are below the age
of 25. Many of them see their
confidence shattered before they
attain maturity.
Kamdar is aware of this. As soon
as the reader of her book gets
complacent about the opportunities,
she steps in with a few statistics to
dampen their enthusiasm. Farmer
suicides, malnutrition, illiteracy and
the shabbiness of infrastructure litter
the text as signposts of other Indias -
'Bharat', or what have you. The ills are
familiar, but they are often airbrushed
from the India, Ine story. The push is
on to brand India - the job of the
public-private India Brand Equity
Foundation established in 2003. This
branding "is done bytaking part ofthe
story," Kamdar tells us,
the story of a richer, smarter, and more
powerful India becoming more like the
Mira Kamdar
West- and turning it into the whole story.
The result is a cosmetically enhanced
image of India where the less attractive
realities of endemic poverty, a raging
HIV/AIDS epidemic, environmental
catastrophe, and collapsing urban
infrastructure are conveniently glossed
over, if not completely ignored.
The gurus of the New Economy
(another branding device of the
plutocracy) are generous enough to
recognise that their enclaves do not
represent the country. Infosys's other
guru, N R Narayan Murthy, yearns for
a "compassionate capitalism", a
system that reaches out to the
millions who have been left out of
tndia, Inc's framework. At least these
new gurus are better than the bulk of
the elite, whose members, as
Kamdar points out, "are impatient
with the poor".
But liberal concern is insufficient.
Nilekani proposes that, "Globalization
is in our favor, innovation is not a
problem," and so suggests that the
way to create "ten to twelve million
new jobs" is by "scaling it up", or
ncreasingthe scale of the successes
that he attributes to globalisation.
India's IT sector has so far produced
about 1.3 million jobs, and no one
really has the answer to how the
technology revolution will draw in
more millions. The expectation that
the fT sector will produce more jobs,
it seems, is more virtual than real,
more marketing than sociology.
Brand experts tell us that India's
middle class' numbers about 240
million, just about the total
population ofthe United States. This
hype serves their clients. Provisional
but more-scientific studies, such as
those done by the geographer Jan
Nijman, show us that those who are
now 'middle class' might have always
been so. Upward mobility is not the
mark of this epoch. What we have
here are people who no longer defer
gratification, but who are able to buy
Himal Southasian | June 2007
homes and cars at a younger age than
their parents were. Cheap money
encourages people notto 'waitforthe
promotion'. So far, job creation is not
on the agenda. Rather, as China's
ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, said
in 2005, "China has a large
manufacturing base. I believe it is the
world's factory. And India, with its
development in software and other
areas. I feel is the world's office."
More jobs are created in the factory
than in the office. Neither Planet India
nor the IT gurus say much about this,
although they are aware of IT's
inability to create jobs in bulk. The
Bangalore companies continue to
expand in India, but they too have
outsourced production to China.
Kamdar's book raises many
problems, but offers few solutions.
Rohini Nilekani, Nandan Nilekani's
wife, tells Kamdar: "Many of us try to
dissect this animal called poverty. It
has many avatars. In India, three
hundred million people are living with
less than they need to eat. Anything
can happen ... We are working in
the trenches to deepen democracy."
This is pabulum in a context
in which corporate power (Infosys
included), however compassionate,
overwhelms the state and the
citizenry. What is nevertheless
prescient in Rohini Nilekani's
comment is that "anything can
happen". As growth rates rise and
produce an increasing gap between
India's rich and poor, the tinder is dry.
What the Nilekani couple proposes
is to continue with policies that
produce high growth rates and high
inequality - to create the very
conditions that they bemoan.
Left out
Planet India introduces readers to a
range of interesting people from the
worlds of business, media, advocacy,
academia, entertainment and
government. But Kamdar neglects to
talk to the political left, both
organised and informal. While some
'grassroots' people make an
appearance, by and large they are
executive directors of NGOs with
substantial funding bases. There are
few barefoot activists or communists,
trade unionists or Kisan Sabha
organisers. Indeed, Kamdar's
knowledge of the left is revealingly
limited: for her, the Maoists came
out of the Communist Party of India,
when in fact most of those who
became Naxalites came out of the
Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Kamdar points out that when
George W Bush visited India in
2006, Delhi "was paralyzed by
demonstrations". But the politics of
the demonstrators remain out of her
consideration; they seemingly do not
belong on Planet India. Were we to
hear from them, however, we would
find a different story - one that might
see Washington, DC less as a partner
(Kamdar repeats the tired reference
to India and the US as "two of the
world's great democracies") than as
the engine of planetary suffering.
Neither does the author offer any
analysis ofthe baleful role played by
finance capital, whose unfettered
power since the 1960s has
smothered the ability of sovereign
states to enact their own destiny.
Global finance has long been
empowered by the Group of Seven (G-
7) countries, the de facto leader of
which is the US president. Kamdar's
evocation of democracy is formal and
nostalgic: she looks back to the
revolutionary era of the 18th century
and the US Constitution, but not to
their failures, nor to the undemocratic
international polity husbanded by the
G-7, together with corporations
housed in the global North.
The future, Kamdar notes at the
close of Planet India, rests in how India
answers its challenges. But the future
is also being lived out in Latin
America, where left-leaning social
movements and their political parties
have seized capital by the throat. Now
the rest of the world watches to see
what those Latin American fingers are
capable of. A
Parsing the Indian 'identity'
In current academic and intellectual
circles, this is a time of widespread
suspicion of what has been called
the 'grand narrative' - those accounts
of countries and cultures that claim
to be comprehensive. Such narratives,
warn critics, not only ignore
heterogeneity, but also uphold
dominant power structures. This is
also a time when the dominant
intellectual mood celebrates the
mixing of cultures, and perceives
identity to be multiple - like masks
that can be worn and taken off as
the situation demands. To claim that
a people have a particular identity is
to invite charges that one views
culture as fixed and inalterable, and
does not allow for the possibility of
social change.
In such an intellectual climate,
Sudhir    and    Katharina    Kakar
have written an unapologetically
unfashionable book, attempting to
reveal the common cultural
characteristics that make up Indian
culture and society. Their focus is
squarely on middle-class, savarna
Hindus, who, they claim, occupy the
dominant place in Indian culture.
Those "at the margins of Hindu society
(such as the Dalits and tribals, or the
Christians and Muslims)," they write,
June 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 "will spot only fleeting resemblances
to themselves" in the pages of The
Indians. The scope of the Kakars'
work is highly ambitious, covering
everything from the sexual life of
Indians to the nature of conflict
between Hindus and Muslims. The
Goa-based husband-and-wife team
contend that there are more
similarities than differences among
the various people of the
Subcontinent, and verge perilously
close to the view (appropriately
qualified, of course) that there is an
underlying core at the heart of Indian
civilisation, one which remained
intact through the Mughal invasions,
British colonialism and other
vicissitudes of Indian history.
"Identity is not a role, or a
succession of roles, with which it is
often confused," write the authors, in
a passage that is sure to annoy
postmodernists and other likeminded
readers. "It is not a garment that can
be put on or taken off according to
the weather outside; it is not 'fluid',
but marked by a sense of continuity
and sameness irrespective of where
the person finds himself during the
course of his life."
The Kakars have a talent
for explicating, in a thoroughly
contemporary idiom, the laws' that
govern the Indian social universe.
Oftentimes the average Indian reader
will be only vaguely aware of social
mores that the authors claim to be
widely and deeply held. Prior to
reading the Kakars (including Sudhir
Kakar's past works), the reader would
likely have considered his actions to
have been governed by an ethical
system rooted in the various
injunctions of older family members,
and in well-worn statements from
India's classical and folk literature.
The Indians, however, opens up a new
door, enabling the reader to perceive
how the system has shaped and
defined his culture and personality.
The Kakars convincingly connect
Indian business culture to the Indian
The Indians: Portrait of a people
by Sudhir and Katharina Kakar
Penguin Books, 2007
child's experience of family. From an
early age, they write, the Indian child
is made aware of the importance of
the integrity of the family, and of the
hierarchy within it. Indian children
receive much nurturing from their
elders, but are also expected to follow
their elders' injunctions - to the extent
that they are made to believe that
what their elders dictate is what is best
for them. This has ramifications far
into the child's future, particularly
when he has to join the workforce.
Drawing from a report on various
global corporate cultures, the Kakars
show how the Indian organisation is
characterised by four elements: a
high degree of idealisation by
subordinates of their superiors; a
significant separation between
members of the organisation by
power, authority and prestige; a
widespread culture of caring, altruism
and kindness; and a fierce loyalty by
workers towards the organisation.
At first glance, some of what the
Kakars reveal is startlingly counterintuitive. Take, for instance, the
relationship between the daughter-in-
law and her cruel mother-in-law, which
is an inexhaustible theme of Indian
folktales and TV soap operas. When
such a plot is used, every Indian
(indeed, nearly every Southasian)
knows to sympathise with the
victimised daughter-in-law, and to
revile the villainous mother-in-law. But
the Kakars demonstrate that such
animosity towards the mother-in-law
is in fact unwarranted, as she is merely
"an agent of the Indian family".
whose role is simply to preserve the
traditional form of the family from
outside intrusion. "Given the
organizing principle of the traditional
Indian family," the Kakars continue,
in which the parent-son and filial
bonds are more central than the
husband-wife tie (that is considered
the fulcrum of the modern Western
family), the new bride constitutes a
very real threat to the unity of the
larger family. Abundantly aware ofthe
power of sex to overthrow religiously
sanctioned family values and long-
established social norms, the family
is concerned that the young wife may
cause her husband to neglect his
duties as a son, as a brother, a
nephew, an uncle; that he will transfer
his loyalty and affection to her
rather than remaining truly a son of
the house.
Refined enjoyment
Perhaps because The Indians is
largely a synthesis of Sudhir Kakar's
previous books, the quality of the
chapters here is somewhat uneven.
Two ofthe most problematic deal with
the various shapes of modern
Hinduism, and with communal
antagonism and violence. These read
like mere amalgamations of the
works of many other social scientists,
and include little unique insight.
But outstanding chapters, such as
the one on Indian sexuality, make up
for those weaker parts. The study of
sexuality has been a major facet of
Sudhir Kakar's career. In addition to
his studies on sexual mores in
contemporary India, he has co-
authored a translation of the Kama
Sutra, and written a novel based on
the life of Vatsyayana. In The Indians,
the Kakars draw from these works,
to create a celebratory and lyrical
account of sexuality during the era in
which the Kama Sutra was written.
While admiring sexuality as
practiced in ancient India, the Kakars
are pained by the conservative and
puritanical sexual mores of
contemporary India. Indian society
today, they say, is in "the dark ages of
sexuality", characterised by a lack of
"erotic grace which frees sexual
Himal Southasian | June 2007
activity from the imperatives of
biology, uniting the partners in
sensual delight and metaphysical
openness." The Kama Sutra, then,
remains particularly relevant in
contemporary India. Juxtaposed
against the discussion of
contemporary sexual mores, the
celebration of the Kama Sutra
appears as an effort to critique
modern Indian sexuality through the
presentation of an example of a
superior alternative from the
Subcontinent's own history:
The erotic love of the Kama Sutra is a
precarious balancing act between the
possessiveness of sexual desire and the
tenderness of romantic longing, between
the disorder of instinctuality and the
moral forces of order, between the
imperatives of nature and the civilizing
attempts of culture. It is a search for
harmony in all the opposing forces that
constitute human sexuality.
Similar implicit critiques run
throughout The Indians. The Kakars
approve of societal characteristics
that promote harmony, health and the
refined enjoyment of the daily
pleasures that life offers. They
disapprove of those characteristics
that cause discord, and inhibit
expression and enjoyment. Indeed,
Sudhir  Kakar  was  a   practicing
psychoanalyst for many years,
seeking to liberate his patients from
psychological barriers that prevented
them from living full and healthy lives.
In The Indians, the authors come
through as pragmatic, wise and gentle
guides. They criticise, but their
criticism is understated, appearing
on the surface as simple description
of Indian society. Even when they
describe ugly traits, they do so with
warmth and fondness towards the
people they are describing.
Ultimately, it is the gentle, implicit
critique and the warmth
of the Kakars' personalities that
hold the disparate strands of this
book together. A
Afghanistan anodyne
Feryal Ali Gauhar's new novel is
an unmitigated tale of horror -
bestial fact stacked upon bestial
fact, evoking revulsion and nausea.
The book's jacket claims that the work
powerfully reveals the tragedy of
Afghanistan, the terrible madness of
war. But No Space for Further Burials
never reaches that broader bank,
staying caught instead in the narrow
sewer it describes.
Although the book's publisher
gives only sketchy details about the
author, Gauhar is well-known enough
in her multiple roles as a UN goodwill
ambassador, a TV actress, and as the
author of the 2002 The Scent of Wet
Earth in August, which explored Tibbi
Galli (Lahore's red-light area) and the
abuse of women. In No Space for
Further Burials, she moves away from
both Pakistan and gender issues,
instead basing her novel in post-
Taliban Afghanistan.
Gauhar's central figure is a US
No Space for Further Burials
by Feryal Ali Gauhar
Women Unlimited, 2007
Army soldier who, having strayed from
his base, is captured, and suddenly
finds himself shoved into in a mental
asylum along with mentally deranged,
physically crippled and diseased
inmates, inside the walls of the
asylum he is known as 'Firangi'. The
asylum, once funded by the
government and serviced by foreign
doctors, has now been abandoned to
itself, with only the inmates/captives
remaining behind, kept forcibly bythe
asylum's caretaker and his wife.
There are several mysteries here: why
the caretaker continues to hold these
people here; why he and his wife do
not turn the inmates free, and escape
themselves; where the group's food
comes from, and why they choose to
slowly starve rather than leave the
asylum's horrific confines. Perhaps
Gauhar feels no need to explain these
issues, preferring instead to allow
them to build into her endless vortex
of sordidness.
In the midst of all this, there are
some references to the outside world.
Soldiers, who are interchangeable
with looters and rebels (the
distinction is not explained at any
length), come regularly to plunder the
asylum for whatever it might yield.
There are some brief snapshots of
Firangi's earlier life in his military
base, as well as occasional
references to the possible futility of
the American military attempt to bring
democracy and liberation to a country
such as Afghanistan. Gauhar tries to
June 2007 | Himal Southasian
 weave in bits of Afghan history, as well
as that of the Great Depression of
1930s America. Where the book fails
is in linking these issues together; in
broadening the peephole show to
take in the larger world; in balancing
the horror with the human element
that would let the reader relate to the
characters or their squalid situation.
No single character in this asylum
is afflicted by just one ailment.
Instead,, each has a string of horrors
plaguing him or her. Even the one
friend that Firangi makes in the
asylum, Bulbul, ends up making lewd
gestures at him before stealing his
clothes. All the while, Firangi's
homophobic fear of contact with
Bulbul hangs overthe relationship like
a pallid, overcast sky. At other times,
limbs are broken and deformed, flesh
is torn, and family tortures family; pus,
mucus and blood are liberally
smeared over this tale. All forms of
madness also make appearances
here - rape, injury, the killing of
families, and people driven insane by
the terrible things that have
happened to them.
Sitting in Afghanistan reading this
book, this reviewer notices interest
in Afghanistan flagging in the
international media. Only the big, sexy
stories continue to capture interest:
the drug wars, the Taliban and the
deaths. There is the fear that
reporting on Afghanistan will go the
way of Iraq, reduced to stories ofthe
dead and not the living. The incessant
roll call of death in Iraq has blunted
media viewers the world round -
immunised us from feeling anything
but the mildest shock. Death tolls of
more than a hundred are relegated
to sidebars in newspapers, taken off
the headlines after cursory mentions
in brief bulletins.
The unmitigated reporting of
horror functions as an anodyne. The
lack of shock evoked by the coverage
of I raq is skewed; not beca use no one
cares about the living, but rather due
to the fact that the media does not
talk of them. When understanding of
a country is reduced to its death
count, there is no human face to the
tragedy there, and it slowly ceases to
matter. Similarly, the sheer horrors in
Feryal Ali Gauhar's book also act
as an anodyne, to anaesthetise
any sensation.
There is an element of
Mantoesque madness recreated in
No Space for Further Burials: the
blurring of lines between the sane and
the insane, between memories and
reality, between dreams and facts;
the loss of concepts of time and
space; the nowhere land of Toba Tek
Singh, from where Firangi will not be
rescued. At best, however, this
remains a mere attempt. The attempt
to make everything absolutely
horrifying, surpassed by even more
unimaginable horrors that lie in wait,
destroys what the book sets out to
do. No Space for Further Burials may
bring up plenty of bile, but it does little
to stir real emotions. A
Himal Southasian [ June 2007
On the way up
Atoll before the storm
2 May. The government of the Maldives had
decided to hold a celebration in honour of World
Press Freedom Day, and had chosen a state-of-
the-art slogan: 'Press Forward Maldives'. President
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was on the dais, under a
banner that proclaimed World Press Freedom, and
Minister for Information Mohamad Nasheed was at
the podium, emphasising the need for "free and
responsible media to promote the presidential agenda
for reform and democracy".
Press freedom, declared Minister Nasheed, clearly
a bright-eyed boy of the ageing president, "cannot be
used to whip up divisions and
disaster, cannot dehumanise and
destroy the delicate fabric of our small
community". He stressed the need for
professionalism and "decorum".
There is obviously some discontent
with regard to the 'presidential
agenda' in the atolls; and in the hall,
there were some journalists present
who did not want to feel all that
'responsible'. In the back, placards
were unsheathed and quietly held
aloft, calling for press freedom and
an end to government harassment of
journalists and media organisations.
It all seemed a highly civilised affair,
for those of us from more-cynical
northern climes, where authority is challenged with
rants and raves, zindabads and murdabads.
This was said to be the first time that President
Gayoom had been challenged face-to-face by dissidents
in the country. It was history being made, and certainly
a lot of decorum was being displayed.
President Gayoom - who has been president since
back when Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Ziaur
Rahman, Zia ul-Haq and Birendra were still our
respective prime ministers, dictators, presidents and
king - eventually got up to speak. The agitators stood
up and walked out single-file, about ten of them. The
president pretended not to notice, and reminisced
affably about his student days in Cairo. He confessed
that, as a one-time pen-pusher himself back in the
1950s, he had a soft spot for journalism, and
acknowledged the rising assertiveness of the
Maldivian media - "even though it is overly
politicised". Quite different, evidently, from when he
used to serve as editor, staff reporter and typist of the
Maldivian News Bulletin and a cricket magazine.
Today, Gayoom is challenged by, among others, the
fiery Aminath Najeeb, founder-editor of Minivan
('independent') News. Is Gayoom's hold unravelling?
He has been to the brink before this, Najeeb explains,
and has managed to hold on. Previously, however, he
has not had to contend with Internet activism, for one.
In addition, discontent is clearly catalysing, and is
bound to break through the barrier reefs that
protect the Maldivian establishment. While the
distance between the islands has punctured previous
attempts at political activism, it is likely that the future
will see dissidence based on the growing distance
between comfortable Male, which sponges off the
resort hotels owned by the capital's rich, and the rest
of the atolls.
dAny outsider can see that beneath the serene arcs of
sandbanks that define the Maldives from the air (there
are around 1196 coral islands in 27 atolls), the sources
of instability will come from an inability on the
government's part to deal with inequity and class
differentiation, which seems to be
defined not by ethnicity but by
geography and distance from Male.
President Gayoom is already feeling
enough heat that he has hired a
public-relations firm in London, to
help him present a benevolent visage
to the world.
Another indication that the
president-since-1978 is losing his
touch is the tsunami memorial that
he has had put up on the seawall on
the eastern side of Male island (see
photo). Said to have cost a million
rufiyaa (a bit more than USD 78,000),
the memorial is meant to memorialise
the 108 citizens who died under the
big wave of December 2004. Rather than a national
coming-together, however, this has turned out to be a
phallic-shaped embarrassment. Although, as with
most monuments, it may yet burrow its way into the
national consciousness, for now people generally
avert their eyes when confronted by the
conglomeration of pipes, rods and balls.
"It has very little meaning to the public," said a
local architect, Mohamed Ishan Saeed, to the Haveeru
daily. "To me, it is an edifice to be looked at and held
in awe - as if it came down from above, and is telling
you something you should know but you are ashamed
to admit you haven't a clue." President Gayoom, too,
may not have a clue about how to respond to changing
times, mores and demands. There always comes a time
when autocrats, whether malevolent or benevolent,
begin to lose their sure touch. At this time,
President Gayoom should be exchanging notes with
General Musharraf. A
June 2007 I Himal Southasian
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