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Himal Southasian Volume 18, Number 3, November-December 2005 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2005

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 What is a border fence doing here? We thought
we had been promised a new Southasia by SAARC.
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This map of Southasia may seem upside down to
some, but that is because we are programmed to
think of north as top-of-page. This rotation is an
attempt by the editors of Himal (the only Southasian
magazine) to reconceptualise 'regionalism' in a way
that the focus is on the people rather than the
nation states. This requires nothing less than hirning
our minds right-side-up.
(dimmload map from iinmv.h ima Imag. coin/images/map_po$ ter.jpg)
Editorial Note 6
The crossborder mentality
The hope of Dhaka 7
A very Maobaadi holiday 9
The deadliest quake 11
Embrace of the strategic partner 14
: oOOOOb.7:
Iran pipeline: Is the magic gone? 16
Cover Stor?
SMRC and the sovereignty bargain 17
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Fading History 22
Enoka Lakatilleke
Where is Assam? 24
David Ludden
The line Durand drew 30
Daniel Lak
Swapping Identities 32
Sara Shneiderman
The inevitability of bilateral multilateralism 34
Kanak Mani Dixit
Jammu's borderlanders 41
Elisa Patnaik
A border without history or logic 42
Sanjeeb Kakoty
A backward Lankan slide 44
Jehan Perera
The healing can begin here 46
Ravi Nair
Blinded by the bomb 48
Zia Mian
Wild frontier of Nepal-Bihar 52
Samir Kumar Sinha
A future out of grasp 79
Kunda Dixit
Mind the communication gap 82
Nalaka Gunawadane
Peeking out of your pocket 83
Aman Sethi
Bangladesh and Southasia
Ishtiaq Hossain
Modern Zamindari
Rakesh Ankit
Channel Southasia
Aman Malik
'She' and the silver screen
Sai Paranjpye
The glacier's warning
Mahtab Haider
The Tata-Bangla combine
Khwaza Main Uddin
TV for the Southasian public
Sanjeev Chatterjee
Real broadcasting for a real public
Kanak Mani Dixit
Ways of the Wind
Brain gain, being brown
Cyriac George
Plioto feature
Dhaka women's wear
Time aid e place
Remember the gaam
Swara Bhaskar
.Book review
Hydro Nationalism
Jayanta Bandyopadhyay
The menfolk we revere
Bhaskar Dasgupta
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 Vol 18 No 3
Nov-Dec 2005 |
Kanak Mani Dixit
Managing Editor
Reshu Aryal
Assistant Editor
Prashant Jha
Desk Editor
Carey I- Biron
Books Editor
Hari Sharma
Editorial Assistance
Nayan Pokharel
Kabita Parajuli
Contributing  Editors
Calcutta Knjashd-i Dasgupta
Jehan Perera
Mitu Varma
Afsan Chowdhury
Beena Sarwar
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Kiran Maharjan
Bhusan Shilpakar
Sambhu Guragain
Vishal Rana
Subhas Kumar
Hikmat Karki
Deepak Sangraula
Tanka Sitaula
Puspa Raj Sharma
Shahadev Koirala
Himal Southasian is published and
distributed by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
c/o 4th floor, Sanchaykosh Building-A
Pulchowk, Lalitpur, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5543333, 5524845
Fax: +977 1 5521013
subscri pti on @hi ma
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: Scanpro, Pulchowk
Printed ah Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors    to   this    issue
Aman Malik is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.
Aman Sethi reports for the Frontline fortnightly magazine in Delhi,
Amir Mir is a Lahore-based journalist presently affiliated with Newsline monthly, He is author of The Tme Face of Jehadis.
Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the financial sector in London and is preparing for a doctorate in International Relations.
Cyriac George is pursuing International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and the Nepali Times.
Daniel Lak has reported extensively on Southasian affairs for BBC radio and television,
Deepak Thapa is a Kathmandu-based book editor and author.
David Ludden is a professor of History at lhe University of Pennsylvania,
Elisa Patnaik is a freelance journalisi reporting from Jammu,
Enoka Lankatilleke is working on a doctoral thesis on the links between Sri Lanka and Kerala. She lives in Colombo.
Firdous Azim is head of the Department of English at BRAC University, Dhaka.
Ishtiaq Hossain is associate professor at the Department of Political Science, International Islamic University of Malaysia,
Kuala Lumpur.
Jayanta Bandyopadhyay is an ecologist and engineer based in Calcutta at the Indian Institute of Management,
Khawaza Main Uddin reports for the New Age daily, Dhaka.
Kunda Dixit is editor of the English weekly Nepali Times.
Mahtab Haider is an editor with the New Age, Dhaka.
Nalaka Gunawardene is a Colombo writer with special interest in television and information technology.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political scientist, is president of the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi.
Rakesh Ankit is from Darbhanga, Bihar. A Rhodes Scholar, he is a student of Modern History and Politics at Oxford
Ravi Nair is the executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC), in New Delhi,
Sai Paranjpye, prominenl filmmaker who lives in Bombay, is also a well-known Marathi playwright and producer for
Doordarshan television,
Samir Kumar Sinha is an environmental scientist currently working at the Valmiki Tiger Reserve in Bihar.
Sanjeeb Kakoty is a student of History with particular interest in the Indian Northeast. His present research is on the border
trade of Meghalaya.
Sanjeev Chatterjee is a documentary filmmaker and professor of Broadcasting and Broadcast Journalism at Ihe University
of Miami.
Sara Shneiderman is pursuing her doctorate in Anthropology at Cornell University. Her current work is supported by the
Social Science Research Council, NewYork City.
Swara Bhaskar is studying Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research was supported by SARAI,
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi,
Zia Mian is a physicist at Princeton University who is engaged with Southasian disarmament and peace issues.
GansJSii, the Southasian
For our next issue, Jan-Feb 2007,
Himal will look back at Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi and explore
his relevance in today's
Subcontinent. Atatime when
Gandhi is increasingly seen as an
Indian', it is important to rescue
his legacy for the sake of all
1 Southasia, including India.
1 ysar 2years
India INR   290 INR  560
Nepal NPR  270 NPR 500
Rest of Southasia USD 8 USD   17
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Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
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 Editorial Note
The crossborder
mentality   a
«r=a^a|Baa^W*rf  **». ^--1»^^:S. .a.   ^_*. ..a*-^!     II -■
Some expressions are inherently disturbing;
others acquire their baleful tones from repetitive
and wilful misuse. The term 'crossborder' has
become a menacing qualifier amongst us. Crossborder
infiltration, crossborder raids, crossborder trafficking, and
crossborder smuggling are certainly phenomena that
occur in Southasia. But even more authentic are ties
that bind: crossborder relationships, crossborder
solidarity, crossborder conservation, crossborder road and
rail links, crossborder trade and crossborder transactions.
These are the issues with which crossborder journalism
and crossborder activism should engage.
This issue of Himal Southasian is dedicated to
redirecting efforts towards energising flows across
the frontiers of Southasia, with an eye also on the
upcoming SAARC summit in Dhaka. Among other
things, we would like the organisation to jettison its
eapital-centrism and allow neighbouring territories
of individual countries the freedom to interact. We
urge SAARC to consider the border regions as the
places where regionalism must be ignited.
As things stand, we Southasians have become so
insular that we rarely venture out of the official
boundaries of 'home' mentalities. There is no getting
around it: the demarcation of political frontiers in
Southasia has thoroughly divided a people that had
remained united in diversity over five millennia.
These lines in the sand, mud and rock are neither
natural nor bonafide boundaries; mostly they signify,
in various parts, the parting kicks of the British
colonialists. No wonder that these political
boundaries, with little or no geographic, historic or
cultural relevance, need such heavy policing and
barbed wire fencing.
For the moment, we are all caught - Bangladeshis,
Indians, Nepalis, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans - in the
trap of the Westphalian nation state. Our opinion-
makers manufacture political consent and challenge
our civilisational unity. To undo the historical
The Delhi Blasts
As this issue of Himal goes to press on the evening of 29
October, we are receiving the news of the bombings in
Delhi, Terror attacks on citizens not only cause senseless
individual tragedies, but they derail attempts to build bilateral
and multilateral friendships in Southasia.
There is no goa! that can
justify the taking of innocent lives.
The Sep-Oct 2005 issue of Himal
"The Meaning of Terror") sought
to emphasise that simple
The task of building trust
amidst burning animosities is never easy, and the bombers
know just how to undo the effort. One blast can set back
years of the peacemakers' unswerving toil. We hope that
our leaders do not fall for the trap set by those who do not
want peace in Southasia.
blunders, with feet firmly planted within the nation
state that each of us has inherited, we SouthtTsians
need to rediscover our crossborder links and forge
new ties.
The coverage of 'Soft Borders' in this issue of
Himal (pages 17-42) contains essays on redefining
Southasian regionalism, with particular emphasis
on the frontier regions. Short samplings are also
presented on individual crossborder points of
contact, including Kerala-Sri Lanka, Meghalaya-
Sylhet, Nepal-Tibet/China, Jammu, and the
Pashtun lands that straddle Afghanistan and
lhe 'soft borders' of Southasia must be the points
of engagement between our countries and peoples.
We sav this at a time when, on the ground itself, a
barbed wire fencing project by India is making the
frontiers ever more solidified.
'Senthasla' as one word
Himal's editorial stylebook favours 'Southasia' as one word. As a magazine seeking to restore some of the historical unity
of our common living space - without wishing any violence on the existing nation states - we believe that the aloof
geographical term 'South Asia' needs to be injected with some feeling. 'Southasia' does the trick for us, albeit the word is
limited to English-language discourse, Himal's editors will be using 'Southasia' in all our copy, except where context
requires retention of the traditional spelling. We also respect the wishes of contributors who prefer to stay with South Asia1.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
The hope of Dhaka
SAAKC at 20, Bangladesh, and I ho possibilities of eastern Southasia
The twice-postponed summit meeting of
SAARC leaders is slated for Dhaka in
November, and will take place barring natural
or manmade disasters. It was in this city 20 years
ago that the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) was born, bringing to reality
the statesmanlike vision of the late president Ziaur
lt needs no elaboration to say that SAARC has yet
to fulfil its original commitment to promote mutual
trust and confidence and to enhance economic
cooperation'in the region. Certainly, some of this can
be blamed on the adversarial relationship between
India and Pakistan over the past two decades, which
has often dissipated much of SAARC's potential
energy into meaningless polemic, benefiting none.
But maybe it is also time for some real introspection:
to see whether, in this age of globalisation, every
SAARC member has adequately addressed its
responsibilities to strengthen its neighbouring
relationships. SAARC's success in promoting
Southasian development and a Southasian voice
continues to rest in the sum of its bilateral
By virtue of its size, population and location in
the middle of the Southasian landmass, India's
regional role remains of the most significant interest.
While there is (and must be) parity of sovereignty
between India and her neighbours, the latter cannot
expect parity of power and influence. At the same
time, we must keep in mind that any diminishment
of India will also affect the Southasian dynamic as a
whole. This is particularly so if, as suggested recently
by the president and prime minister of Pakistan and
India, the borders become 'softer' and there is more
social, cultural and economic give-and-take. More
simply, political instability in India, or an economic
slump in this leviathan, would impact all the
neighbours and their populations.
Within India, a degree of political
mismanagement, coupled with the assertion by
smaller groups of their individual identities, has led
to a rash of insurgencies that have lasted for decades,
sapping the energies of the people and the state alike.
On the other hand, the recent success of the Indian
economy has created an increasing number of
stakeholders keenly interested in the countrv's future.
It is important for India's neighbours to become
stakeholders as well, for a large growth-engine like
India offers immense benefits for others,
Out from the delta
Having given rise to the original idea for Sa^RC in
its capital, Bangladesh is now acting as host to the
organisation's summit for the third time, on 12-13
November, This will be a time when Bangladesh, as
one of the SAARC Seven, must take stock of its own
place in Southasia as a whole. This will mean
considering its continuing complex relationships
with rump Pakistan; the possibilities of expanding
trade with nearby Nepal and Bhutan, as well as with
faraway Sri Lanka; and developing strategies not
only to countenance New Delhi, but also mutually
beneficial links with West Bengal and the Indian
Bangladesh could wield much greater regional
influence, due to both its strategic location at the head
of the Bay of Bengal and its proximity to Southeast
Asia. Nepal, for one, has had close historical ties
with Bengal. Today, Bangladeshi ports could offer
important alternative routes for Nepali trade with
the outside world. How Bangladesh fashions its
future, then, should be of significant interest to
Kathmandu. Both of these countries were represented
in the first B1MSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for
Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation)
summit of energy ministers in early-October 2005.
Among other things, the New Delhi meet agreed on
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 country-to-country energy interconnections,
development of hydropower projects, and the
possibility of secure trans-BIMSTEC gas pipelines.
Such agreements could bode well for both Nepal's
hydro potential and Bangladesh's natural gas
reserves and locale.
In the context of regional cooperation, the
widespread suspicion of India that is harboured in
Dhaka is clearly a matter for study. While the
imperiousness and muscle of the larger neighbour
must be resisted on diplomatic and intellectual
planes, it would be unfortunate if domestic political
concerns prevented Bangladesh from taking
advantage of its Southasian connections, including
with India. In this context, it is important to note the
remarks of a Pakistani
commentator - writing in a Dhaka
daily after a visit to the city last
August - on the country's
widespread suspicion of India,
which he said was hampering
constructive cooperation. The
'trick' to tackling India is to
upgrade one's engagement, and
not to allow negative approaches
to influence state policy.
As a country at the mercy of
substantial river-flow from India,
the issue of water resources is a
matter of overwhelming concern
for Bangladesh, with its teeming rural population.
But India - which faces a similar water situation
with respect to Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet/China -
has been traditionally averse to discussing the issue
in a wider regional context. Demanding the rights of
the lower riparian party when it is convenient, but
remaining unwilling to consider Bangladesh's
similar concerns, has been the negative leitmotif of
Indian policy. There is not nearly enough sensitivity
in New Delhi about the extreme distress this causes
in Dhaka. The lackadaisical manner in which river-
linking schemes have been bandied about without
reference to Bangladesh is a clear factor in this.
Political boundaries may not determine the flow of
rivers, but nations have a moral and legal
responsibility to those downstream - a responsibility
that would do well to be extended to a regional or
basin-wide consideration. A good place to begin,
incidentally, would be for India to release the river-
flow data that it keeps so close to its chest.
A show of neighbourliness on the water front is
bound to be reciprocated by Dhaka on a whole range
of additional issues, most importantly on transit. The
disinclination of Bangladesh to permit the transit of
people and goods from mainland India to
northeastern India may be inexplicable to the
outsider, but within Dhaka it is enmeshed in larger
suspicions. There does remain, on the other hand,
Ziaur Rahman
an odd contradiction in Dhaka's excitement for
greater use of its ports by Nepal and Bhutan, while
denying those facilities for the movement of goods to
Mizoram or Meghalaya from the Indian mainland.
Even in the run-up to the upcoming summit, it
needs to be said that Dhaka should not limit its push
for greater regional linkages to only the 'Southasia'
as defined by SaAARC. Indeed, Dhaka would do well
to cultivate greater regional relationships with the
Indian states along its borders, with which it has
had historical and cultural links. Genuine
cooperation is generally best cultivated at the level of
subregional interactions and development. Such a
dynamic would also do much to positively influence
attitudes in New Delhi.
Migrant souls
The movement of peoples across
the Ganga-Brahmaputra plains
has been driven by economic
imperatives since age-old times;
this process continues to this day.
For the moment, the flow of migrant
souls is from Bangladesh into the
populated Indian cities to the west.
But a friction has grown between
India and Bangladesh that, sadly,
is escalating. The first step is to
recognise that economic migration
is indeed taking place. Such
migration is sometimes implicitly encouraged by the
host cities (migrants, almost always exploited, serve
an economic function), even though there is
occasional reaction against it by groups such as the
Shiv Sena. There is a need for frank exchange between
Dhaka and New Delhi to look for solutions that are
both practical and humane. Dhaka's state of denial
on the matter of migration to India does nothing to
promote such solutions.
These are not easy days for Dhaka. Law
enforcement authorities are fully stretched to bring
to book those who seem intent to radically change
the liberal, secular fabric of the state, as created in
1971. Civil society and a courageous media have been
drawing attention to these dangers for quite some
time, but have been faced with walls of official
disclaimers. Authorities obliquely suggest that the
problems are not internal. Rather, the state claims
that these troubles have been promoted from
elsewhere in order to tarnish Bangladesh's image -
and that irresponsible media have helped enhance
insecurity. Such explanations, however, are hardly
On the 20th anniversary of the founding of
SAARC, an important opportunity now exists for
Bangladesh to rededicate itself to the vision of Ziaur
Rahman: to act as a beacon of cooperation in eastern
Southasia. . A
8 2005 | Himal Southasian
A very Maobaadi holiday
by | Deepak Thapa
One of the more peculiar aspects of Nepal's
decade-old internal conflict has been that, for
the past few years, the autumnal Dasain
festival has heralded a brief pause in the fighting. In
deference to general public sentiment, the rebel
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has declared
unilateral ceasefires, while the government has
responded in spirit, even if not always with formal
announcements. The importance of Dasain to Nepal
lies not just in its religious significance, although it is
the major yearly festival for the dominant, mid hills
Hindus. More importantly, it is the time for hundreds
of thousands of Nepalis to make the annual trip (or
trek) back home in order to catch up with their f arnilies.
The ceasefire declarations by the revolutionary
atheists are greeted with relief by the multitudes that
make their living far from home; many Dasain plans
would otherwise remain sadly tentative, were it not
for the brief respite.
As if on cue, again this year
the Maoists announced a
ceasefire on the cusp of
Dasain, once again to the
relief of the general
population. Previous years,
however, have seen
the temporary cessation
attributed specifically to the
festival. This year's message
was different, as was its three-
month timeframe. There was
no mention of Dasain in the 3 September statement to
the press by the CPN (M) chairman, Pushpa Kamal
Dahal ('Prachanda'). Rather, it declared that the
ceasefire was motivated by "a deep sense of
responsibility" to finding "the democratic political
way out" and satisfying "the aspiration of peace of
the Nepali people ... with an aim of doing away with
doubts remaining in some circles about our
Disregarding the obligatory nod to the people's
long-standing "aspiration of peace", the statement is
instructive for two reasons. First, for a group that set
out to establiash a "new democracy" on the ruins of a
"semi-feudal, semi-colonial" Nepal, it is a remarkable
Maobaadi roadblock
turnaround that they would now be so eager to prove
their democratic credentials. Second, after having
harangued the international community variously as
hegemons and imperialists, the statement's "some
circles" clearly targets the political parties, as much
as it does any external forces that need to be placated
with a peaceful visage by the revolutionaries.
Much has been written about the all-round failure
of King Gyanendra's government, with him as
chairman, which has been running Nepal since the 1
February royal coup. But more than eight months into
the crisis precipitated by the royal takeover, it is
equally to the discredit of the Maoist leadership that
tlie revolutionary movement has yet to make any gains
from the disarray of the mainstream political forces.
.As the major benefactors from a palace-parties schism,
some meaningful attempts by the rebels to reach out
to the political parties (in a manner acceptable to those
politicians) could have resulted
in a fairly unified anti-royal
front. Granted, the political
parties opposed to the king's
direct rule are a disparate lot
with varied agendas, but they
are united in their opposition
to royal activism and in their
eschewing of violence to
achieve political ends. If there
has been an inability for a quick
understanding between the
political parties and the rebels,
the onus must be placed at the door of the latter. Three-
quarters of a year after King Gyanendra's coup, there
has been no movement towards an agreement on how
to take on tlie ambitious monarch, whose main claim
to legitimacy at present seems to be the bayonet
strength of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA). Like the
onus, the urgency is also on the Maoists. It is the
insurgents who will lose out in the long run if they
dilly-dally in convincing either the political parties or
the international community (most importantly India
and the US, where the latter has refused to consider
the Maoists a legitimate political actor) that they plan
to revert from being a militaristic to a purely political
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 Comradely reassessment
While it is still fashionable to lambaste the above-
ground political parties for all manner of
inefficiencies and lack of vision, the fact is that they
harbour a deep sense of distrust towards the CPN
(M), which is keeping them from fully embracing
the insurgency in an attempt to isolate the king. For
one, the assurances of the rebel leadership have nol
been matched in the past by its cadres' actions on
the ground - particularly the continued harassment
of party workers, including the use of extreme
physical violence. For another, the political parties
are not inclined to take the rebels' affirmations of
democratic principles at face value. The Maoists
have sought to explain their changed stance bv
emphasising that Nepal has yet to undergo the
transition from a mediaeval monarchy to a
'bourgeois democracy'. According to an Indian
newspaper report quoting the articulate Maoist
leader Baburam Bhattarai, only 'bourgeois
democracy' opens the path to 'people's democracy'
- an end that, apparently, can be reached even
through peaceful means. The continuum from
bourgeois-to-people's democracy has certainly
informed earlier Maoist proclamations, but in
retrospect those appear to be no more than the
mechanical chanting of communist mantras.
After such hoary preaching, the new Maoist
rhetoric seems to reflect something of a reassessment
of the post-royal takeover political reality. This
newfound desire to seek democratic legitimacy could
indicate a political maturity gained bv the Maoist
leadership over the course of the previous decade.
While India's role in nudging the Maoists and
political parties to work together is widely accepted,
that possibility would not have come about without
a critical review by the rebel leadership of their
organisation's own strengths and weaknesses. After
all, despite their widely publicised control over 80
percent of the country's territory, the rebels are no
closer to capturing state power now than they were
four years ago, when the RNA entered the fray.
Chairman Prachanda recently conceded as much
in an emailed interview to a Nepali monthly.
"Realistically speaking," he said, "in today's
international context, outright military victory is very
Various conditions - objective and subjective,
domestic and international - seem to have forced
the Maoists to prepare for some sort of compromise.
Although they are still adamant about elections for
a constituent assembly that would draft a new
Constitution, the focus now seems more on meeting
the political parties halfway. In the early days of the
takeover, rebel overtures to the parties were heavv
with tones of 'either you're with us or you're with
the king'. The change from such language implies
that the Maoists may have come to understand that
the political parties are only willing to find common
ground insofar as the rebels make space for the
resumption of the democratic process in Nepal -
which alone would define the role and place of the
monarchy, as well. The fact that such a process would
be the only alternative that would find favour with
the international communitv does not seem lost on
the Maoists either.
Conditions apply
The challenge now for the Maoists is how to make
the jump from revolutionary warfare to open politics.
That is also where the role of the international
community becomes paramount. To begin with, it
would be highly unrealistic to expect the Maoists to
surrender their arms as a prelude to a negotiated
settlement; the best that could be hoped for, at
present, would be their public announcement to give
up the path of armed struggle, with certain conditions
applied. But that alone would achieve nothing in
the face of a recalcitrant king and his army, where
the only restraint could come from foreign actors.
There is also a wider appreciation that the CPN
(M) is essentially just another political party with a
specific agenda, geared towards achieving power
like any other political entity, the decade-long
violence notwithstanding. A sober reading of all
recent rebel pronouncements and documents leaves
no doubt that the Maoists want it finished. The
civilised response would not be to scoff at them at a
time when they, or at least their leaders, seem to have
seen the light. The proper reaction would be, as the
catchword goes, to provide the rebels with surnksciiit
abataran, or safe landing. It is subsequently up to the
political parties to recognise this fact and to help
ease the transition of the CPN (Maoist) into a
legitimate and democratic political player; this would
also obviate many more years of bloodletting, should
the agenda be to crush the Maoists militarily, as
seems to be the (misplaced) royal inclination. What
is required now is for the political parties to engage
the Maoists through a continuous process,
challenging the rebels to stick to their commitments
and helping them to help themselves in their desire
to come aboveground.
The prospect of the parties and the king reaching
a mutually acceptable settlement would certainly be
the least favourable scenario for the Maoists. But
considering the emphatic insistence of the
international community on just such a combine
(with negotiations with the Maoists thrown in as a
proviso), it cannot be entirely dismissed. Unless the
Maoists figure out a way to wedge their way into
any such compromise, they will find themselves once
more on the margins of Nepali politics. At the same
time, unless they are invited to be party to any political
negotiations, tragedy will continue to sweep the
killing fields and terraces of Nepal. «,
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
The deadliest quake
The tragedy of 8/10 needs a dedicated, long-terra response,
meanwhile, what ahout the rest of us potential victims?
We have not understood why the Kashmir
Earthquake of 8 October has been termed
the 'South Asia Quake' by the international
media, including by the all-powerful, real-time
satellite television networks. Southasia is a vast
region and the ground trembled beneath one corner,
well-known to the world as Kashmir, on two sides of
a Line of Control. Somehow, it does injustice to the
suffering of the living and the memory of the dead to
call the disaster by the name of the larger region. The
UN has declared the Kashmir catastrophe as more
devastating than last year's tsunami. There are three
to four million people suddenly without homes on
the edge of winter, while Kofi Annan has stated that
"there are not enough winterised tents in the world
to meet the needs we have today".
The tsunami struck on the southern beaches of
Southasia, while the earthquake hit the northwestern
mountain fastness. 'Hie tsunami was, of course, also
the result of an undersea earthquake; but because it
was more unusual than a land quake, and also due
to the fact that many holidaying Westerners died
tragically, the emergency support was of a
significantly different magnitude than what the
Kashmir Earthquake is garnering. The world is not
even close to matching the USD 11 billion gathered
to date for post-tsunami relief. Barely a third of the
requested USD 312 million emergency assistance
requirement set by the UN had been filled two weeks
after the Kashmir quake. During the same initial
period, more than 80 percent of the announced needs
had been filled after the tsunami struck.
In the face of an earthquake that knows neither
borders nor lines of control, significant time has
already been given over to the need to utilise the
opportunity to ease the Kashmir tensions between
India and Pakistan. We are heartened by the
admittedly halting moves made by the two
administering powers to make family contact
possible across the LoC, and to allow relief
organisations to work in these sensitive areas. Indeed,
may the terrible tragedy provide some extra empathy
for the people of Kashmir and their aspirations,
particularly in New Delhi and Islamabad.
But let us quickly add that the geopolitical certitude
in national capitals will require something more than
a shifting of geological plates to undo the mental
shackles. It will require the national establishments
in both countries - including the geopolitical
.strategists, media elites and civil society gatekeepers
- to understand that a Kashmir resolution will require
taking into confidence the Kashmiris themselves, as
well as finding a way to fuzz borders and sanction
dual identities. In this time of tragedy, it is important
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 militants and the quake
In the aftermath of the 8 October 2005 quake in Azad Kashmir, relief
camps and operations have been established by many banned jihadi
groups and charities. In response to the government's appeals for
donations, the general public has in turn donated heavily to these
projects. Indeed, the quake itself seems to have given a new lease on
life to many of the banned groups, previously proscribed by Islamabad
and Washington DC for their al-Qaeda links and alleged terrorist
involvement. These have included Jamaat-ud-Daawa/Lashkar-e-Toiba;
the Harkatul Mujahideen and Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, with alleged al-
Qaeda links; and the al-Rashid Trust, which funds the Jaish-e-
Mohammad. On government orders, militant-run relief camps have
been allowed to operate in a variety of hard hit areas, including
Muzaffarabad, Rawlakot, Bagh, Balakot, and the Neelum and Jhelum
valleys. Doing so has not only bolstered the groups' images, but has
reportedly won significant gratitude and support from the general public.
Talat Masood, a former army general and political analyst, worries
jihadi groups are being strengthened by the goodwill. "They are working
on the pattern of Hamas and Hezbollah", he noted. "Both organisations
maintain elaborate political and sodal service infrastructures, designed
to provide extremist ideological direction and social welfare services in
environments of poor or nonexistent government control, in order to
build-up and maintain popular support.''
President Musharraf initially claimed in a 20 October interview to
have ensured that organisations working in the quake-hit areas are not
ones that have been banned by his government. He later qualified that
statement: "I know that some extremist outfits placed on [the
government's] watch list are participating in relief activities in the quake-
affected areas," he admitted. Their activities are being watched closely
and anyone found involved in extremist acts will be punished. However,
everyone is motivated to help the quake victims, I am not going to
prevent anyone from helping the people."
- Amir Mir
to remind everyone that the answers still lie in the
past propositions of great Southasians, such as the
late Eqbal Ahmad (see Himal March 1999).
The immediate challenge in Muzaffarabad, in Uri,
in Hazara, in Tangdhar, is to help those without
shelter and means of livelihood to make it through
the winter of 2005-06. But thereafter, we are looking
at many years of rehabilitation, starting with
psychological support and ending with the
rebuilding of homes, schools and bridges. Given the
sharp drop that we can expect in humanitarian
concerns as soon as the television cameras stop
broadcasting, the intelligentsia of Pakistan, India and
Southasia have a responsibility not to turn their
backs on this quake and its living victims. They have
to stay with the Kashmiris for the long haul of
recovery and rehabilitation, with the understanding
that while the voluntary agencies must be thanked,
it is ultimately the governments that must constantly
be kept on their toes for the follow-through.
impending calamity
From the southeast to the northwest along the
Himalayan ridgeline, the effects of earthquakes on
Southasia are as old as geological time. These events
are, after all, dictated by the shifting of tectonic plates
as the Subcontinent collides with the continent,
generating a friction that needs to be regularly
released. The tortured geography of Kashmir on the
surface reflects the complexity of plate activity
underneath, where three tectonic forces pull at and
against one another - particularly in the region just
northwest of Muzaffarabad.
This year, nature chose Kashmir to sound a
warning to the rest of Southasia - most importantly,
to those who live along the Himalayan-Hindukush
rimland. The geologists are not sitting easy, and
neither should the rest of us. Seismologist Roger
Bilham, who has warned of upcoming quake
catastrophes in the Central Himalaya in these pages
(see Himal March 1994), notes that the 8/10 quake
probably did not release more than "one-tenth of the
cumulative elastic energy" that has built up since
Kashmir's last substantial quake, back in the middle
of the sixteenth century.
According to Bilham and others, the prospect
looms of a horrendous earth-shaking in what is
known as the Central Himalayan Gap - essentially
engulfing the entire country of Nepal. This is created
by the fact that there has not been enough necessary
release of 'cumulative elastic energy' in the rubbing
of plates beneath Nepal and the nearby regions to the
north, west and south. A huge swath of the Himalaya
is dramatically overdue - by about two decades, if a
timeframe can be put to such raw natural processes -
for a devastating quake. This impending earthquake
would put an estimated 50 million people in direct
risk in hill and plain.
The people who live in the general region known
as the Central Himalaya must therefore take heed of
what has happened in Kashmir. If necessary, key
policymakers must immediately make field visits to
Kashmir on both sides, to be sensitised to the scale of
devastation. This might give them a sense of what
'disaster preparedness' ought to be all about. The
suffering of Kashmiris may at least inform those who
are in a position to save lives when the earthquake
hits the Central Himalaya.
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 Concrete deathtraps
The last big earthquake to hit the Himalayan region,
in 1934, was known as the Great Bihar Earthquake.
That was before the advent of cement, concrete and
the modern technologies that have abandoned
handed-down techniques. Cement and concrete have
become the building medium of choice all over,
because these 'pillar system' buildings provide flat
roofs for multipurpose uses, wide indoor spaces, and
lots of light. Unfortunately, heavy concrete floors and
roofs in buildings with poorly designed foundations
or pillars become deathtraps. All over Kashmir,
people were crushed under concrete, as testified to
by the numerous photographs of rescue workers
trying to cut through cement and steel, Built poorly
cement construction is dangerously frail, but the
technology has with lightning speed supplanted or
made 'obsolete' many of the region's traditional,
evolved construction technologies.
The non-existence of rescue infrastructure should
worry everyone throughout the region. Take the
rapidly urbanising Kathmandu Valley, which would
be a valley ot death if the upcoming earthquake were
to hit with full force. Unplanned urbanisation, a lack
of building code implementation linked to
continuous political instability, reliance on cement-
concrete poured by artisans without engineering
oversight, unavailability of open-spaces - these are
just some of the concerning issues for those who have
Liverpool Hope University,tlK
Call for Papers Deadline: 2006-02-28
This conference is intended to encourage interdisciplinary exchange
on the representation, cultures, histories, experience, planning,
and articulation of global cities. By interrogating the vocabularies
that have arisen in several disciplines which might include in
addition to the term 'global city', 'global village', 'megacities',
'cosmopolis', imperial metropolis', 'world cities', 'sprawl',
'postmetropolis', etc., the conference will bring together debates
over images, narratives, economics, planning and, above all,
experience, of the 'global' city. Papers are sought from any
relevant discipline in the humanities, social sciences, architecture,
urban planning, and beyond. We will be actively pursuing various
publishing outputs related to the conference.
Abstracts of 200 words for 20-minute papers by 28th February
2006, Further information from Dr. Lawrence Phillips.
Dr Lawrence Phillips,
Global Cities Conference
Humanities Deanery Liverpool Hope University
Hope Park, Liverpool, L16 9JD, UK
Telephone: +44 0151 291 3560 FAX +44 0151 291 3160
to plan for the day when the earth will tremble. The
dynamic known as 'liquefaction' - when sand will
become fluid and bring houses crashing down - is a
particular worry. The Tribhuvan airport is itself built
on an international sandbank, which may make it
Kathmandu Valley, as the largest urban
agglomeration in the entire Himalayan chain, is
obviously a place of extreme concern for what may
happen to its 1.6 million inhabitants. But there would
be deep stress throughout the Himalaya and its
adjacent plains and plateaus. Landslides would bury
homes, roads and other infrastructure. Glacial lakes
in the High Himalaya would burst their banks,
wreaking havoc downstream all the way to the plains.
Levees may be destroyed; dams may crack; pipelines
may break; and electric lines may collapse. As the
most fortified region in Southasia, in Kashmir there
were at least military helicopters available on both
sides for immediate rescue. There would be no such
facilitv elsewhere in the Himalayan region, where
response times would be much longer than was seen
in Kashmir in October 2005.
Being crushed beneath the weight of concrete,
cement, earth and rocks is a terrible way to die. To
die under rubble while awaiting rescue that never
comes is even more gruesome. Kashmir will have to
be helped back on its feet, while we look ahead to the
next big one - and prepare. a
Conference on
Himal is hosting a Roundtable Conference on Southasian
Publishing in Kathmandu in May 2006. The two and a half-
day event will be attended by senior Southasian English
language publishers, educators, social scientists, policy
makers, journalists and representatives of international and
regional organisations with an interest in what Southasians
The event is being organised with the understanding that
Southasia's reading culture and publishing industry have
not expanded in consonance with the dramatic rise in
English language literacy in the region nor with the rapid
consumerisation of the market. The conference will take
place over two and a half days and will discuss themes as
diverse as the changing priorities of large publishing houses,
the paradox of expanding markets and declining print runs,
Southasian markets for Southasian writing in English, country
profiles of publishers and publics, the cross-border availability
of titles, and the organisational economics of targe and small
For more information, write to:
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
Embrace of the
strategic partner
It was in a conference room in distant Vienna where
one of the most significant post-Cold War shifts
in New Delhi's foreign policy was implemented,
On 24 September, New Delhi decided to cast its lot
with it's 'strategic partner' the United States, and
jointed a resolution against 'good friend' Iran at a
meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA). The resolution accused Iran of pursuing a
'policy of concealment' with regard to its nuclear
programme, saying that Teheran was 'non-
compliant' with the IAEA statute. Declaring that
Iran's nuclear aims fall 'within the competence of
the Security Council', the resolution also demanded
that Iran halt all enrichment and processing of
India's vote provoked outrage back in Delhi. Left-
wing allies of the Congress party, the right-wing
opposition, scholars and journalists alleged that
India had gone back on the very principles of non-
alignment that it had championed before the world,
accusing the government of reducing the country to
an American client state. Old friend Teheran
expressed 'hurt', 'surprise' and 'shock' at this
betrayal. But that was acceptable for a newly
acquiescent New Delhi - it had gotten a pat on the
back from the Bush administration. Sections of
India's strategic elite were exultant at this 'realist'
turn to foreign policy.
New Delhi's decision to jettison a decades-old
posture was embedded within a complex web ot
regional and international issues: the evolution of
Indo-US   and   Indo-Iranian   relationships;   the
implications for Southasian energy security; and the
Washington DC strategy to isolate Iran. India's
Vienna decision reflects the broader trend towards
subservience to US interests, and is both morally
untenable and strategically myopic.
The betrayal
New Delhi has suddenly turned the tenets of its
earlier Iran policy upside-down - those of seeking a
decision by consensus, retaining the nuclear question
within the ambit of the IAEA, and supporting Iran's
right to develop a nuclear programme for peaceful
purposes, fhe resolution paved the way for referral
of the issue to the Security Council and sought to
halt even those nuclear activities that Teheran is
entitled to undertake under the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Pro-establishment spin-masters in New Delhi have
incongruously sought to portray the vote as a pro-
Iran move, one that has bought time for diplomacy
and prevented the immediate referral of the issue to
the Council. In reality, the very recognition that the
issue lies within the Council's purview means that
Iran's nuclear programme is now officially deemed
to be a 'threat to international pence and security',
firmly putting the country in the dock. If Teheran is
furious and Washington elated by the IAEA
resolution, we would like to know, how can the move
be in Tran's favour?
India, with eves wide open, has played into the
hands of the US neo-conservative establishment and
their cheerleader George W Bush. This group is now
focusing on Iran as the next country in line for
intervention among the infamous 'axis of evil'. Once
again, 'weapons of mass destruction' - yet to be
found in Iraq - is the catchphrase being used to
attempt to isolate Teheran. The fact is, the IAEA
reports that Iran has shown 'good progress' on the
nuclear question: "all the declared nuclear material
in Iran has been accounted for and, therefore, such
material is not diverted to prohibited activities."
No weapons-grade uranium has been found in
Iranian facilities; only the prejudiced believe at this
time that there is a 'clandestine weapons
programme', hain does need to disclose the history
of its P2 centrifuge programme - reported to have
been obtained from the shadowy network of A Q
Khan - and the IAEA needs to be fullv convinced
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 that Teheran is not engaging in some undeclared
nuclear-related activity. But the IAEA has processes
for that, and the world need not jump the gun.
Teheran has already signed the Additional Protocol
that allows a liberal, even intrusive, inspection of its
nuclear programme - this should have been the
means to deal with any Iran-related apprehensions.
New Delhi's stand in Vienna, based on
misrepresentations of Iran's nuclear programme,
assists the US in the next phase of its 'war on terror'.
While an American invasion is unlikely at this time,
given the probability that it would end in a classic
case of imperial over-reach, there is clearly a strategy
of sanctions in the works. Washington has long eyed
Iran as a prized catch in its West Asian game, mostly
because of its large oil and natural gas reserves. The
invasion of Iraq will not be justified until Iran is
subdued, apparently. Besides, in the larger matrix,
Iran is the only country in the region that has the
potential to stand up to Israel. It is also the lynchpin
for any independent energy initiative in Asia. With
its Vienna vote, India has become complicit in a
strategy that is being engineered for someone else's
benefit; in so doing, it has infringed on the sovereignty
of an old friend.
New Delhi's about-face defies strategic logic as
well. Iran has been India's closest ally in the 'Islamic
world' and has supported India at crucial junctures
over the years. It has also helped to arrange India's
economic access to Central Asia. But it is in the realm
of energy collaboration that Indo-lranian
cooperation has such immense potential. The
agreement between the two countries on the supply
of liquefied natural gas, and Teheran's enthusiastic
support for the Iran-Pakistan-India gasline, holds
solutions for India's ever-increasing energy needs
that are crucial for poverty reduction and economic
expansion (see Himal jid-Aug 05).
Immediately after the vote, Iran's disappointed
representative in Vienna reportedly walked up to
Indian diplomats and declared that the pipeline deal
was now dead. While Teheran has since clarified
that the energy agreements are still on, there is no
escaping the mistrust that has now entered into the
relationship. All of a sudden, the prospects for the
'magic pipeline' seem to have receded into the
Adding to the vote's ironv is India's own nuclear
dynamic. Here is a state that has stayed outside of
the global nuclear order and has tested nuclear
weapons as recently as 1998. Suddenly, it has sat in
judgement against another state that is a signatory
to the NPT, that appears to have abided bv
international rules, and where traces of a nuclear-
weapons programme have vet to be found, India's
own 1998 logic of a 'hostile security environment'
would seem to apply to Iran as a country surrounded
by hostility - the US's orchestrations from afar and
its presence in next-door Iraq and Afghanistan. Not
to mention the nuclear-armed Israel in the vicinity,
which geo-strategists tend to forget.
Great power
The Vienna vote has to be seen as a part of the broader
shift in Indian policy towards aligning with the
'superpower' in a 'unipolar' world - jettisoning, as
one laudatory newspaper editorial argued, the
"weak and crumbling multilateral crutches". But
Neyv Delhi cannot hope to piggyback its way to Great
Power status by curtailing its autonomous decisionmaking and turning its back on those it claims to
In the specific context of Iran, there is little doubt
that India buckled under the weight of its much-
coveted 'strategic partnership' with the United
States. American lawmakers had made it clear to New
Delhi - 'in plain English', as one US Congressman
put it - that the civilian nuclear cooperation deal
signed between the two countries in July this year
would come through only if India voted with the US
in Vienna. The July agreement is prized because it
includes de facto US recognition of India's nuclear
power status; and promises the supply of previously
prohibited nuclear material, in return for Indian
pledges to separate its civilian and military nuclear
facilities. For the deal to come into force, however, it
has to be ratified by the US Congress - a clear US
bargaining chip to bully India's Vienna vote.
Policymakers in .New Delhi need to ponder exactly
how this new alliance with Washington DC has
curtailed India's own strategic and political space
on the global stage. Given the asymmetry of power
and inequality that characterises Indo-US relations,
New Delhi may well find itself toeing the American
line again and again, until all of its carefully
cultivated independence is lost. This time, the scales
were tipped bv a nuclear energy deal - the very utility
of which is extremely suspect, a fact that only went
un-highlighted because India's anti-nuclear lobby
seems dead in its tracks. The next time, it could be
the lure or promise of a trade agreement. The benefits
of such tradeoffs are as doubtful as the costs are clear.
As it seeks access to the corridors of power in
Washington DC, New Delhi will rapidly lose respect
and support among the countries of the South. While
most countries of the Non-Aligned Movement
abstained in the Vienna vote, India crossed the floor.
In our view, for a country that is starry-eyed in its
hopes to represent the voice of the developing world
in the Security Council and the World Trade
Organisation, this action was glaring and unwise.
Will it be possible for New Delhi to pull back from
the path it has already embarked upon? Even if better
counsel prevails, how will it wrest back its
autonomy7 We will wait and see, as the IAEA meets
again in Vienna this November.
Himal Southasian [ Nov-Dec 2005
Is the magic gone?
The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is in trouble.
Even as officials of the three countries publicly
reaffirm their commitments to the project, there
are clear signs that the gasline may not come through.
'Geopolitical realities' - a euphemism for sustained
United States pressure on India and Pakistan not to
engage in economic diplomacy with Iran - has
pushed the prospects of the magic pipeline into
the distance.
The compelling economic logic of the pipeline (see
Himal, Jul-Aug 2005) has, for the moment, meant that
energy officials from Islamabad, New Delhi and
Teheran have continued to meet; bilateral working
groups are working out agreements on pricing, gas
composition, responsibility for delivery and other
details. Iranian and Indian officials met as recently
as late-October, agreeing to a pact under
which India would be able to
import five million tonnes of
LNG per vear over 25 years.
Throughout these complex
negotiations, even while India
and Pakistan shout
themselves hoarse that 'outside
powers'    have   no   role   in
the    gasline,    the    looming
American shadow is al) too
obvious.   George   W   Bush's
administration   has  publicly
expressed its concerns about the
gasline venture, and would like
to use its cancellation as part of
its project to isolate Iran. On the
larger plane, the US is said to be
apprehensive that the gasline
could be the basis for a push for
Asian   energy   independence,
where its own role as the primary player on the world
energy stage would be significantly diminished.
Instead of the Iranian pipeline, which makes more
economic sense for Tndia, the US has supported the
alternate Turkmenistan-Afghanis tan-Pakistan
(TAP) gasline. That the US energy giant Unocal has
a stake in TAP, while the Russian corporate Gazprom
would probably build the pipeline from the South
Pars field in Iran, may also be leading Washington
DCs stance.
To stall the Iran pipeline, the US has used the carrot
of nuclear cooperation with India, as well as the stick
of sanctions against companies that invest in Iran.
The strategy seems to be working - at least in Delhi,
where the Indian prime minister himself has come
out publicly (after a meeting at the White House, no
less) to say that the Iran project is fraught with risks,
including those of financing. Meanwhile, after a
period of quiet, when the gasline project had been
gaining momentum and credibility, strategic
analysts in the Indian capital have once again started
a murmuring campaign about security issues related
to the pipeline's passage through Pakistan.
There are also reports of a rift within the Indian
establishment between the petroleum and foreign
affairs ministries.  The former sees the gasline as
essential to meeting India's galloping energy needs;
while the latter places priority on
being in the White House's good
books. If Singh's statement, the July
Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation
deal, and the recent Indian vote
against Iran in Vienna (see page 14)
are anything to go by - there's no
prize for guessing which side is
In Islamabad, too, there is some
rethinking in progress. While Prime
Minister     Shaukat     Aziz     lias
said that the pipeline would be
commissioned even if India backed
out of the project, Pakistan's ability
to resist US pressure is doubtful.
President Pervez Musharraf is
said to have told Bush that he is
willing to forget about the gasline,
if he is provided with four nuclear
reactors. But though angered bv India's IAEA
vote, Teheran seems to have adopted a wait-and-see
In June, the three sides had agreed to start work
on the gasline earlv next year. Given the
unwillingness of New Delhi and Islamabad to stand
up to US opposition, however, that is now seen as a
remote possibility. The policies in New Delhi and
Islamabad to simultaneously appease the US and
continue the pipeline cannot continue for long.
Something has got to break; unfortunately, for now,
it seems as if it will be the pipeline. #•
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Cover Story
SAARC and the
sovereignty bargain
by | Pratap Bhanu Mehta
The recent earthquake that caused such
enormous devastation on both sides of the Line
of Control adds poignancy to any reflection
on the future of regional integration in Southasia. It
was a grim reminder of the region's shared
vulnerabilities, and of the fact that we do not have
even the beginnings of common institutions with
which to respond. The natural geography of the
region, so abruptly abridged by the processes of recent
history and the designs of states, reasserted itself
with a vengeance. It made so many of the boundaries
we have constructed seem both brittle and hollow,
Where exactly did the earthquake occur? The short
answer is easy: Kashmir. But even the naming of
Kashmir' cannot be done without
problems arising; the area cannot be
identified in its wholeness, without
various qualifiers. How does one most
efficiently organise relief? Clearly, India
and Pakistan had to use each other's
territories and resources. Fortunately, in
this instance the leaders did take
recourse to history to abridge the
demands of humanitarianism; borders
temporarily melted faster that anyone
could have dared to hope. But can this
experience be a catalyst to help with the
recognition that, if the countries of
Southasia fight regional interdependence, they are
fighting against their own interests? Can we
recognise that our borders and restrictions, our
mutual mistrusts and fears, harm no one but the
people in the states of the Subcontinent? Does greater
regional integration have a future in the
In examining the future prospects for the SAARC
organisation, it is worth considering the conditions
under which successful regional integration can take
place in Southasia. If the S.^ARC process is to be
successful, it will have to be based on hard-headed
The first condition
that will make
possiiiis is a
revolution in the
understanding of
economic and political logic - not sentimentalism
and rhetoric. What are the conditions that promote
regional integration? Do these conditions exist here?
We must distinguish between regional
cooperation and regional integration. The former
refers simply to a type of cooperation between
governments. Regional integration, on the other
hand, is the unleashing of a process that binds the
societies and economics of neighbouring countries
much more closely together. On one level, any project
of greater regional integration involves what are
called 'sovereignty tradeoffs'. Integration often
requires the establishment and maintenance of
structures of authority and institutions that surpass
national boundaries. The European
Union is a prominent example of an
entity that possesses wide-ranging,
supranational prerogatives. What are
the reasons justifying sovereignty
tradeoffs? Under what conditions can
we expect these tradeoffs to take place?
Sovereignty obsession
The first condition that will make
Southasian integration possible is a
revolution in the understanding of
'sovereignty' itself. Although
nationalists wave the flag of sovereignty
as if it were a mystical, indivisible whole, in truth it
is no such thing. Sovereignty actually has at least
four separate components that pull in different
directions: autonomy, control, legitimacy and
identity. Autonomy refers to the independence a state
has in making policy. Control refers to the actual
ability of the state to produce the outcomes it desires.
Legitimacy refers to its right to make rules in ways
that are widely accepted and recognised internally
and externally. Identity refers to the capacity of the
state to endow people with an overriding sense of
who they are as a collective group.
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 ml 0H£!
The difficulty is that these components of
sovereignty do not hang together particularly well.
A state may be autonomous, but may be quite
ineffective in bringing about the results it desires. It
might also lack control. Meanwhile, we in Southasia
tend to confuse sovereignty with just one of its
components - autonomy. Arguably, the postcolonial
opposition to free trade that still marks most countries
in the region (with the exception of Sri Lanka and
now, increasingly, India) is rooted in just such a
confusion. Bangladesh may nominally assert its
auton that still marks most countries in the region
(with the exception of Sri Lanka and now,
increasingly, India) is rooted in just such a confusion.
Bangladesh may nominally assert its autonomy
regarding India by refusing to sell it natural gas; but
by doing so it is diminishing its own power.
Paradoxical as it may sound, sacrificing autonomy-
can sometimes enhance power. The crucial starting
point for regional integration is when states begin to
realise that autonomy does not necessarily create
either control or power; that committing to forms of
interdependence can enhance
power, even though it may at first
seem to diminish autonomy.
Almost all of Southasia was thus
caught in a postcolonial syndrome,
wherein that particular, narrow
understanding of sovereignty
became a mark of self-respect and
identity. After all, colonialism was
seen to have violated just this most-
cherished aspect of political identity.
An obsession with sovereignty,
initially the result of the colonial
experience, evolved on the part of the
neighbouring states into a defensive
claim against possible Indian
domination of the region. India's
political difficulties in the region
Bangladesh may
nominal! assert its
entoiioiiii renardiiii
India hy refusing to
sell it natural gas; but
hy doing m it is
diminishing its own
power, Paratfcmicpl
as it may sound,
sacrificing autonomy
can sometimes
have stemmed mainly from its relative size and power.
In the interests of regional integration or the creation
of free trade zones, one of two conditions must be
met. Either most of the countries have to be of
comparable size, or the economy of a dominant
country has to be so attractive that others cannot resist
the allure of integration. Neither condition
currently exists in our region. With India's
/ economy currently in the process of acquiring
a new standing, however, this could offer a
dynamic to pull the region together.
Even if New Delhi does not act threateningly,
the mere possibility of its regional domination
elicits a defensive response from the neighbours.
Arguably, if India sins against its neighbours,
it is more a sin of condescension than a naked
desire for domination. But for fragile states
with insecure identities struggling to establish
themselves, condescension might appear to be even
worse that overt hostility. The result is that India finds
it very difficult to overcome the fears and anxieties of
countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, which is
necessary in order to stabilise relations. As a whole,
the regional countries have never felt secure enough,
as states, to engage in sovereignty bargains that
would be in their interest. Perhaps regional
integration depends upon individual countries
coming into their own as classic, full-fledged states
that feel confident enough to consider transcending
their own limitations. But with many not yet having
achieved that status, the ruling establishments tend
to become defensive at the mention of regional
cooperation or integration.
Liberal economy
The second prerequisite condition for regional
integration is a commitment by states of the region to
liberal economic policies - 'liberal' in this case not
in its strongly theoretical sense, but simply implying
the promotion of free trade, greater mobility of
citizens, and so on. Will the
Southasian states recognise the
benefits of an integrated common
market? Certainly, all would see the
benefits in the long run. In the short
term, however, entrenched interests
fear the consequences of opening up
their economies; as such, they
artfully disguise their immediate
interests as the long-term welfare of
their larger societies. The
commitment to economic liberalism
is still verv thin in Southasia, and
there is simply no example of
successful regional integration
amongst sovereign states that is not
founded on a commitment to
economic liberalism.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Hie Pakistani
greater regional integration and
subregional power. Imagine if there
were a free flow of goods and services
ltOBOllyW@@U. throughout Southasia. Sri Lanka
would likely develop extensive links
with Tamil Nadu. The two Punjabs
would come to a greater
interdependence, as might West
Bengal and Bangladesh or parts of
Rajasthan and Sindh. It would also
mean the greater development of the
the allure of 10
Here, two factors might turn out to be
crucial. First, India has now clearly
emerged as a dynamic economy - one
that has sufficient power to carry the
region with it. Sri Lanka, always a
pioneer in this respect, has realised that
it can piggyback on India's economic
success. Not only has Colombo signed
a free trade agreement and relaxed its
visa regime for all arrivals; it is also
negotiating a comprehensive economic
agreement with New Delhi and openly
discussing the possibility of a currency
union. imiJaCI raillSian. Would the region's states look upon
The second factor is, in some ways, this kind of subregional integration
the opposite of the first. It could be argued that, without suspicion? On the ground, regional
precisely because India is becoming a powerful cooperation can gather momentum only when it is
economy, its smaller neighbours will fear it even more based on organic links between different subregions
and become more defensive. But while this fear is of the Subcontinent - not on links enforced from the
often exaggerated (if the Pakistani market were to open centre of each country. None of these subregional
to Bollywood, the allure of TOO million-strong linkages are likely to create any serious problem of
consumers would transform Bollywood cinema more secession from existing political units - though they
than it would impact Pakistan!), India will still need     will lead to a rediscovery of some old cultural
Bollywood cinema
more than it would SitSST^
impact Pakistan
to prepare to make unilateral concessions in order to
avert those fears. When it comes to economic
integration with its neighbours, India must move
away from a paradigm of cyclical bilateral diplomacy,
where each tariff concession depends on some
reciprocal gesture from the other side. New Delhi can
now easily afford to give preferential treatment to
identities. The allure of 'Punjabiyat', which has
marked the recent thaw in relations between India
and Pakistan, is one such instance. Regional
integration will require future Southasian stales to
have 'strong' centers but 'weak' circumferences. The
fears that regional integration would somehow
swallow existing states are exaggerated; these states
goods and services produced in the neighbourhood,     would emerge even more strongly, just with different
This would create a long-term constituency for     definitions,
regional cooperation and defuse much of this fear.
If one looks beyond strictly Southasia, regional
economic integration is already on the move, and the
momentum is substantial. In some ways, India's
In a curious way, as has been shown by the
experience of the European Union, regional
integration can also help to solve identity conflicts,
first, when states get habituated to unbundling
strategy to look beyond SAARC and negotiate free sovereignty into its different components, they are
trade agreements with ASEAN, Thailand and less susceptible to seeing that sovereignty as an all-
Singapore, and possibly the B1MSTEC grouping that or-nothing affair - the outcome should not be seen as
brings together some South and Southeast Asian a zero-sum game. States used to sovereignty tradeoffs
states, was a clever move. As far as India is concerned, have a structure of domestic politics in which such
the possible free trade zone now stretches from Kabul arguments and bargains are more acceptable. These
to Manila, in which only Pakistan and Bangladesh are states that have begun to understand that, just as
would be left out if thev did not come onboard. Tn the in areas of trade, sovereignty tradeoffs can bring
long run, they will have to join the party or pay a benefits; they can, in principle, do so in other areas as
heavy economic price. But there is also this: well,
politically, Dhaka and Islamabad
might find it convenient to join a
larger grouping than SAARC,
which always carries the taint of
being dominated by India.
Empowering the hinterlands
The third condition for the
emergence of greater regional
integration would be the acceptance
by regional states of what might be
called a 'simultaneous dialectic' of
Dhaka and islamahad
might find if convenient
to join a larger grouping
than sitABC. which
always carries the
taint of being
dominated hy India.
Second, regional integration
can help in identity conflicts
because subregional devolutions
undertaken in the context of wider
regional settlements are generally
easier to sell politically. As part of
a larger process of restructuring,
thev are not seen as concessions
to a demanding party, but rather
as an innovation. Third, the parent
state itself can begin to redefine its
own core stakes in the subregional
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 conflict. If, for instance, its
interests in trade, free movement,
human rights or rights of minorities
can be secured, then it might be more
willing to concede some of its other
powers. In fact, because both the
subregional units and the parent
state are encased in a larger,
international set of institutions, both
have credible assurances that their
interests in these areas will not be
Fourth, as regions come together,
the major laws of all countries,
together with the values that they
None of these
subregional linkages
are likely to create aw
serious problem of
secession from
existing political units
-though they will lead
to a rediscovery of
some old cultural
moment, the domestic politics
throughout most of Southasia often
disallows pledges on these core
On the face of it, the prospects for
SAARC would look verv grim. There
is no ideological convergence on the
Subcontinent; no deep commitment
to trade as an engine of growth; and
none of the states are willing to
acknowledge that any solution to
their problems might be found
regionally, outside of their own
national boundaries. On the other
hand, insecurities abound in our
protect, begin to look more and more alike. Thus, the individual   states.   Rather   than   transcending
state itself is no longer the site where national identities, the region's governments use identity
differences need to be articulated and defended. Fifth, politics to keep their populations hostage and to bait
in cases of subregional issues that involve interstate their neighbours. No country is serious enough or
conflict, the two states in question can acquire greater
experience of working together within interlocking
institutions. Sixth, states are also more attuned to
accepting outside mediation.
Ideological convergence
Whether or not any of the mechanisms described
above will lead to desired outcomes will depend on a
variety of other factors; it would be unwise to believe
in economic or political over-determination. But if
the experience of the European Union is any guide,
regional integration in Southasia under these
mechanisms is certainly plausible. In fact, the one
case that particularly bears this out is Great Britain -
in reference to Scotland and Wales, but more
importantly, Northern Ireland. It is noteworthy that
the devolution to Scotland and Wales that took place
was facilitated by Britain's integration into the
European Union. That process provided assurances
to the core British interests: a local assembly could
not expropriate the English or pass legislation that
discriminated against outsiders.
One of the fears of greater devolution in places like
Kashmir - and one of the arguments against it - is
willing enough to make a definitive break from the
historical agreements and compromises that, in the
final analysis, are to blame for the current impasse.
Thus, we have absurd situations where SAARC's
countries do not collaborate on energy and hesitate
from facilitating bilateral trade, even when their own
populations would benefit. Meanwhile, every
possible economic, geographical or cultural link is
reduced. The result is that Southasia is one of the
world's most militarised areas, with states needing
to protect themselves against their own region.
Lankan paradox
At the end of it all, is there hope for SAARC? This
question is best answered indirectly, by asking why-
one country in the region, Sri Lanka, is less afraid of
regional cooperation and integration than are others,
including big India. Modern Sri Lanka has always
been something of a paradox. On one level, Sri Lanka
has been an extraordinarily vibrant and
cosmopolitan country - the first true democracy in
Southasia. Of all of the region's nation states, for much
of the 20th century it was the most open. Even at
modest levels of economic growth, Sri Lanka's
that it is not clear what a new power structure might     human development indicators put the rest of
look like. But if power is devolved to regions within
the context of a broader regional framework - where
the larger region as a whole is committed to certain,
specific values - these anxieties can become less
But the most crucial aspect of regional integration
is ideological convergence across the member states.
Southasia to shame. At the same time, this country,
like so many others in the region, has also borne the
deepest scars of modernity: a potent combination of
Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms have fed off of one
another to produce one of the century's most brutal
and stubborn ethnic conflicts. The civil war
diminished   the   lustre   of   Sri   Lanka's   other
This does not mean that all politics would begin to     achievements  and  cast a  long  shadow   on   its
look   alike,   but   it   would   necessitate  a   set   of     economy.
commitments that all states would abide by and
incorporate into their own laws. These requirements
would include a commitment to basic liberal values,
a respect for minority rights, a commitment to the
rule of law, and so forth. Unfortunately, for the
Yet even today, the country remains the source of
immense hope. Anyone following Sri Lankan politics
and economic policv is struck by how it is
positioning itself to take advantage of the process ol
economic globalisation. Of all  of the region's
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
countries, it has found it easiest to
overcome   the   legacy   of   strained
relations with its neighbours. After
India's    controversial     late-1980s
intervention in Sri Lanka with the
'IPKF',   the   Colombo-New   Delhi
relationship had hit a low point from
which few thought it would ever
emerge. Yet within a decade, relations
between these two countries acquired
an extraordinary momentum. Today,
not only do they have a free trade agreement and
allow unhindered movement of nationals; as stated
above, there is also discussion in Colombo already of
a currency union with India. Sri Lanka already has a
free trade agreement with Pakistan. In short, it has
emerged as the one country that is determined to
integrate its economy as fast as possible with the rest
of Southasia.
I here is a good deal of farsighted prudence behind
Sri Lanka's drive towards regional economic
integration. First, Colombo has realised that the
country can benefit from the general dynamism of
the region. Indeed, growth all across the world seems
to follow regional rather than national patterns;
regions often sink or swim together. Sri Lanka has
therefore had few second thoughts in aligning itself
with the region's larger economies. Second, Lankan
The eighth member?
Afghanistan might just officially become a pari of Southasia, with
the leaders in the upcoming regional summit discussing whether to
include it as SAARC's eighth member state. The action would have
historical sanction, for Afghanistan was not only the ancient corridor
to the Subcontinent, but it has deep political, economic and cultural
ties with the rest of Southasia.
In February this year, President Hamid
# Karzai declared his interest in joining the
regional grouping. "Afghanistan will be
honoured to be invited to SAARC and will
work to take SMRC to Central Asia," he
said. On 21 October, his foreign minister,
Abdullah Abdullah, sent an official
application to the Pakistani foreign
minister, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri;
Pakistan is the organisation's chairman
till the Dhaka summit. Afghanistan is said to have drawn-up the
application only after it got a dear indication of support from SMRC
members, on the sidelines ofthe UN General Assembly in New York
in September.
Colombo announced that it had considered Afghanistan a part of
the region way back in 1985, and that it would welcome the country's
formal entry President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad is said to
have given President Karzai the thumbs-up. During his recent path-
breaking visit to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also
gave assurances to President Karzai.
If Kabul does make it in, the challenge for the SMRC Secretariat
will be how to adjust the organisation's logo, which has served it
well for two decades. It shows seven stylised swirls - and now
there will have to be an eighth.
Growth all across
the werli seems
to follow regional
rather than
nationai patterns;
regions often sink
or swim together.
leaders have realised that national
strength comes from creating economic
interdependence, not bv standing
aloof. If a significant constituency in
the large country comes to depend
upon trade with a smaller country, that
constituency then becomes a champion
of the interests of the latter. To repeat:
interdependence enhances power
rather than curtails it. This is perhaps
understood better in Colombo than in
any other Southasian capital, including New Delhi.
Third, opening-up has also been a partial solution
to some of Sri Lanka's domestic challenges, fhe
government is under serious fiscal pressure and Sri
Lanka needs all the investment it can muster. The
process of capital formation will only be bolstered
through trade and openness, something that
government intervention can never achieve. Although
they will not openly admit it, many Colombo
politicians are of the view that greater regional
integration will help to ease the brutal internal
conflict that continues to drag Sri Lanka down
despite best efforts.
Here the Sri Lankans take the cue from the
experience of the European Union. Once a country
gets used to making beneficial sovereignty bargains
in areas like trade and currency, it opens up the path
to sharing sovereignty in many other areas.
Sovereignty was supposed to be a means to stability,
peace and prosperity. Instead, our states have turned
a narrow conception of sovereignty into an end itself.
Instead of an instrument of well being, obsessive
concern with sovereignty and boundaries becomes a
shackle on peace and prosperity. From the European
Union to ASEAN, those countries that have chosen
the path of credible regional integration have not
given up on sovereignty. But they have put its claims
into proper perspective.
The requirements for integration into a wider
region and global economy also necessitate a different
kind of politics and conception of the state in
Southasia. Contrary to the fears of so many, regional
interdependence does not swallow up the identities
of nations. Instead, the process provides
opportunities to shape the new identities of the future.
Consider what might happen to Tamil identity in
both India and Sri Lanka if the economies of south
India and Sri Lanka were to be integrated. By itself,
regional integration will not solve the violence that
has become entrenched in Sri Lanka; but
imperceptibly, it could help to reduce the allure of
entrenched identities. Somewhere in the rapid steps
being taken by Sri Lanka towards regional integration
is a powerful understanding: that economic
integration is an opportunity to create new
prosperity, to define new identities. Above till, it is
not in the least a threat. „
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 ICover Story
Fading history
The Malayali link to Sinhala culture has a rich past
even if it does not have much of a present.
by | Enoka Lankatilleke
If one ventures out to sea from
Colombo, it is still not uncommon
to catch a glimpse of a Kerala
schooner making its way south. They
are still loaded down with the same
goods that they have ferried for
centuries - jute products;, for instance,
to be traded in Colombo's Pettah
market for Sri Lankan spices. While
trade between the two regions remains,
today it is eclipsed by the huge
volumes that move between Colombo
and Bombay. Kerala and Sri Lanka
rarely meet in the modern world
anymore, except perhaps in
development writings, which marvel
at the. high social indicators that continue to be
shared by both the state and island country.
At the narrowest point of the Palk Strait, Sri Lanka
is separated from Tamil Nadu by a mere 35 km of
surf. It is the ethnic link between Tamil Nadu, the
Indian state, and the rebellion-minded Tamil-
speaking northeast of Sri Lanka that strikes the
observer whenever reference is made to the two
countries' littoral regions. Kerala is rarely mentioned,
even though it is just 'around the bend' towards the
west from the tip of the Indian peninsula.
The cultural connection between Sri Lanka and
'god's own country' - Kerala - was once vibrant, but
now is rather thin. There used to be extensive
commerce through the ports of Cochin, Calicut and
Kozhikode, which also enabled regular flows of
migrants to the island. While their
proximity and similar geography has
led to long, intertwined common
histories, this traditional relationship
has now been largely overshadowed
by the economic and political realities
of Sri Lanka's engagement with
Tamil Nadu and India's larger
commercial centres.
Kerala has a wide stretch of
lowland, extending from the Malabar
Coast to the Western Ghats, which has
long seen coconut cultivation. In
ft close examination
of the signatures of
the Sinhala
chieftains on the
1815 Kandyan
Convention shows a
mixture of Sinhala
and Malayali
meeting the Subcontinent's coconut
demand, Kerala developed the
manpower available for employment
in copra, desiccated coconut and coir
manufacturing, as well as toddy-based
industries. Sri Lanka has a wide
seaside belt running the island's
perimeter, and utilised toddy-tapping
knowledge originating on the
mainland. In the early 20lh century,
Keralites began immigrating to Sri
Lanka in order both to teach and
engage in the practice.
The two similarly located regions
have historically nurtured numerous
parallel industries, including paddy
and fisheries, as well as rubber, tea, pepper, cashews,
coffee, cardamom, arecanut palm and citronella.
Almost all fruits grown in Sri Lanka are also grown
in Kerala. According to historical records,
international traders that traditionally dominated
shipping would frequent both Sri Lanka and Kerala
in order to buy ivory, spices, gemstones and other
goods for European markets. These frequent visitors
heavily contributed to the promotion of cultural des
between the island and the mainland.
Over the strait
.Ancient Indian texts such as Kautilya's Arthasastra,
the writings of the 4th century ...grammarian
Katyayana, and Ashokan rock inscriptions all refer
to three states in the Indian Peninsula's southern tip
- Pandya, Chola and Chera. The former
two kingdoms were located in present-
day Tamil Nadu; the latter was in
Kerala. While historical records in Sri
Lanka abound with references to the
islanders' relations with the Cholas
and Pandyans, reference to ties with
the Cheras is limited. A few Sinhala
chronicles, such as the Mahavamsa,
Culavamsa, Pujavaliya and Kohila
Sandesaya do include evidence that the
connection with Kerala significantly
impacted political life on the island.
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 ' r
,      .ilal1')1'
Alternatively, there were migrations and
invasions between the two regions. Throughout the
first millennium, the Sinhala kings of the island
enlisted mercenaries from throughout south India,
including Kerala. Historical references also detail
migrations of Keralites who joined the Sinhala forces
in order to protect the kingdom of Rajarata. A century
earlier, the same kingdom had been sacked by a king
from Kerala, Kalinga Magha.
Certain Keralan families played significant roles
in Sri Lankan court politics, where they served as
ministers and wielded tremendous power. The
Alakeshwara family, for instance, belonged to a
Kerala dynasty that grew very close to the royalty of
the 14th century Gampola kingdom. Reference to a
minister named Alagakkona first appeared on a
Kitsirimevan rock inscription from 1344, relating
how Minister Alagakkonara renovated the Kelaniya
Viharaya temple and constructed a new building
there under the patronage of King Kitsirimevan.
Language plays an important role in relations
between migrant communities and their hosts, with
words and phrases passing from one tongue to the
other. Kerala's Malayali language first became
distinct from Tamil around 750 AD. Although the
Sinhala language is rooted in Sanskrit, it shows
affinities with Tamil, Telugu and Malayali, as well.
Indeed, the presence of Malayali speakers in Sri
Lanka has, since the medieval period, led to an
enrichment of Sinhala. There are marked similarities
in the two alphabets. In some instances, Malayali
characters were used to write Sinhala, as can be
witnessed in graffiti on the rock fortress of Sigiriya.
More recently, a close examination of the signatures
of the Sinhala chieftains on the 1815 Kandyan
Convention (between the British and the Kandyan
chiefs) shows a mixture of Sinhala and Malayali
Religion and culture, too, echo this give-and-take.
A Keralan influence that has its origins in tlie time
when the kings of Kandy took on Nayakkar brides
from across the water (complete with retinues) is still
present in Sri Lankan society today. The osariya or
Kandyan sari, for instance, is very similar to its
Keralan counterpart, but is today a symbol of
authentic Sinhala-ness. Religious practices such as
the Pattini deity worship (as well as the worship of
Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, Saman and
Vibhishana) were also introduced to Sri Lanka from
Kerala. Sinhala classical poems such as the
"Perakumba Sinha" and "Kokila Sandesaya" also
bear the Keralan stamp.
A melding, a loss?
Over the course of the centuries, the people from
Chera/Kerala who migrated to Sri Lanka have
become part of the Sinhala community, adopting local
names and Buddhist practices. Given the multiple
shared features of the two communities, many have
felt it easier to merge with the dominant local groups,
rather than to try to maintain separations. In areas
such as Lunuwila, Wennappuwa and Marawila,
there are many descendants of Keralan migrants who
today feel culturally and socially closer to the Sinhala
people than they do to the Sri Lankan Tamils.
However, descendants of Malayali migrants who
initially married Tamil women have today become
part of the Tamil community in towns along the west
coast. Small groups of Cheras living in Dematagoda,
Naharenpita and Maradenkulama still do try to
maintain their ethnic identities.
Similar to what has happened in Sri Lanka with
the native Veddha (the 'adivasi'), the fading of a
distinct Keralan identity and absorption into the
Sinhala community are symptoms of the
strengthening of the larger Sinhala and Tamil
communities. This process is supported by official
and unofficial structures involved in state-building
- a project that, unfortunately, tends to erase smaller
and more fragile identities.
Interestingly, even as the Malayali identity fades
in Sri Lanka, there is increasing interest in Colombo
about Kerala - almost exclusively because of tourism.
Both Sri Lanka and Kerala have come to depend
extensively on visitors from the West, India's
burgeoning middle class is also an increasing source
of tourists to the two regions. The Sri Lankan tourism
authorities have been talking about a possible
joint venture with the Kerala Tourism
Development Corporation, and there are also
proposals for passenger ship services between
Thiruvananthapuram and Colombo. If these ties
deepen, as per official plans, Sri Lanka and Kerala
could begin to "forge partnerships in several areas
besides tourism, including health, education and
All such plans are still only in the realm of
possibility. The hope, however, is that Sri Lanka and
Kerala, while starting small, can again develop
healthy cultural and economic exchanges, as two
neighbours of the Southasian south.
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 [Cover Story
Tea planters' bungalow,
Khorbhat tea estate, Assam,
India (E. Goodall, 1935)
Where is
Instead of accenting the
nationalisation il everything by
nautical boundaries, we can use
geographical history tn locate
current sesisf realities.
by | David Ludden
Assam is today a state of India and, as such,
an official region of a world entirely covered
by nations and encompassed by national
maps. We have no choice but to locate any region
like Assam inside of national geography, for this both
controls our spatial imagination and conveys a
specific location, identity and meaning.
But other perspectives do exist. Despite the
seemingly universal authority of national
geography, the location of social reality is flexible.
That Assam is part of India is indisputable; but it is
important to note that this fact coexists with others
that find different 'locations' for Assam. Indeed,
looking at any area's geography in slightly
less conventional ways allows for the appearance
of a kaleidoscope of social realities. Such an
understanding allows for important new frames of
reference for scholarship, activism and policymaking.
The first step is to appreciate the political nature of
all modern maps. Territorial boundaries - as well as
social efforts to define, enforce and reshape them -
represent political projects rather than simple facts.
The makers and enforcers of boundaries use maps
today to define human reality inside of national
territory. As a result, everything in the world has
acquired a national identity, We see the boundaries
of national states so often that they almost appear to
be natural features of the globe.
This virtual reality came into being only in the 19lh
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
century, as various technologies for
surveying the earth, mass-printing,
mass-education and other innovations
began to make viewing standardised
maps a common experience. Making
maps, reading maps, talking about
maps, and thinking with mental maps
became increasingly common with
each passing decade. By the 1950s,
people around the world had
substantial map-knowledge in
common. Today, we can reasonably
imagine that most people in the world share common
map-knowledge because they routinely experience
various versions of exactly the same maps. During
the global expansion of modern mapping, national
territory suddenly incorporated all of the
earth's geography. Though national boundaries
only covered the entire globe after 1950, within a
decade or two all histories of all peoples in the world
came to appear inside national maps, in a cookie-
cutter world of national geography. This has been
the most comprehensive organisation of spatial
experience in human history. Spaces that elude
national maps have now mostly disappeared from
intellectual life.
Maps attain their form and authoritative
interpretation from both the political economy and
the cultural politics of mapping; the most influential
people in these processes work in national
institutions, including universities. State-authorised
mapping is now so common that most governments
do not regulate map-making, but almost everyone
draws official lines on maps by habit anyway.
Indeed, this dynamic is so pervasive that few people
ever even think about it, vet it has covered the planet
with the nation state's territorial authority. As a
result, we are now accustomed to seeing maps that
nationalise topography by erasing spaces on the
edge of a nation's identity. In India, this includes
several major spaces near Assam - areas in Nepal,
Bhutan and Bangladesh - which have become
mostly blank spaces in the country's national view
of Southasia. Everv day, TV and newspaper weather
maps nationalise rainfall, wind and the seasons,
by enclosing them inside national boundaries. This
seemingly innocent nationalisation of nature makes
it increasingly difficult to visualise any world not
defined by national boundaries.
After understanding the political nature of maps,
our second step is to appreciate the extent to which
modernity depends on the idea of national
territories. The whole notion of modern statistics,
for instance, could only come into being inside
'frozen', unchanging geographical spaces.
This freezing of blocks of space inside nations
had already begun by 1776 (when Adam Smith
published   The   Wealth   of Nations),   with   the
Mesa Hiti
boundaries of
elct"iiflMi MgII3«
so often tliat thev
almost appear Jr.
be nauira*
features at f M
assumption that everv nation's
wealth belonged inside its national
boundaries and under the control of
its national government.
Fixing regions in place inside
national maps brought to modern
social life a newly rigorous, comprehensive order. Today, national maps
describe the location of every single
thing, person and place on the planet.
National territory also heavily
affects cultural politics, both inside
and across national boundaries. Human identity
everywhere is attached to national sites; in those
places, some people are always native, while others
are always foreign.
In the Indian context, Assam is a part of a region
officially called 'Northeast India' It has much more
geographical contact with other nations than with
the Indian mainland, however, from which it is
most often described as 'remote'. Assam is also
grouped with stale territories in northeastern
Southasia - described by the South Asia
Foundation as "...the eastern states of India,
Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal" - which has a
definable population, GNP, land area and trade
history. This relationship alone allows us to move
our perspective around and to reconfigure Assam's
geographical location. Following this strategy into
the past, step three in this process looks at
geographical perspectives that move along routes
of movement, blending them together over history.
This method is actually quite realistic. After all,
however natural, necessary and comforting it may
seem to assign everything in the world a fixed
location, doing so inside of firm boundaries can
never succeed in creating a stationary social order.
Most of the time, everything in social life is on the
move, in a way that national geography cannot
accommodate. By considering how trends of
mobility have changed throughout history, we can
locate Assam in a more flexible geography.
Nature is a good place to begin. An especially good
place to begin is a river, as defined by the naturally
downhill movements of flowing water. In such a
water-view ofthe world, Assam lies in Asian spaces
defined by mountains, slopes and plains. These
monumental features channel the rains that arrive
with Asia's longest, wettest monsoons and feed
the extensive valleys where rice became the
dominant crop by around 1500 AD. In this wet,
river- and rice-fed Asia, human populations have
historically moved into and concentrated in river
valleys and their adjacent areas. Assam has long
been a region of immigration, hosting new
generations of settlers from prehistoric times to the
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 present day. With low-density mountains on three
sides, Assam is the eastern edge of the exceptionally
high-density Gangetic population zone that runs
from the hills of Punjab to the Bay of Bengal.
The impact of this water-view of Assam-in-Asia
becomes immediately clear on the geography of
river development projects today. All Indian rivers
running through Assam also flow into
Bangladesh; throughout these watersheds, people
depend on the same water. Major dam projects
disrupt that geographical reality. The proposed
Tiparmukh dam in Assam and, more dramatically,
India's plan to divert Assamese waters to parched
Indian regions would reduce the flow of water into
the delta. It is little wonder that such plans arouse
concern (and outrage) in Bangladesh, which gets
80 percent of its fresh water through 54 rivers
flowing from India.
Assam also occupies a borderland of Asian
drainage systems, sitting astride a watershed that
divides the western trajectory of the Brahmaputra
at the Patkai Range from major drainages of
Southeast Asia and southern China. Five huge
rivers define the major corridors of settlement and
mobility running from the Ganga basin across
China, Vietnam, Thailand and Burma. The
Brahmaputra (or Jamuna in Bangladesh) is the
easternmost river of Southasia, but it is also the
westernmost in East Asia. In this context, India's
Northeast is commonly found on maps of East
Asia. Assam and the rest of the Northeast, as well
as the adjacent Chittagong Hill Tracts in
Bangladesh, can subsequently be seen as a western
region of East Asia, an eastern region of Southasia,
and as a region where South and East Asia overlap.
It is this overlapping that is impossible to
accommodate on national maps; it thus effectively
disappears from the public conscious.
From ancient times, the NE-SE course of the river
valleys east of Assam has channelled human
movement inland through Southeast Asia and
China. In Assam, important such historical
channels have included: the routes of the ancient
Khasi and Tai-Ahom migrations, which moved
westward from the Red River basin
in Vietnam; the routes of opium
trade, with unknown origins but
which extended from Bihar to
China; the imperial expansion of
Burma; and the military travels of
the Chinese, Japanese, British and
Americans along roads from Assam
to Yunnan, during the 1940s.
River routes have long connected
Assam in each direction. The major
movements that decisively shaped
the region in early modern times
(1660-1830) included: the Mughals
Every dan,
W and newspaper
weather mans
rainfall, wind and
the seasons, bM
enclosing them
inside national
and British moving northeast from Bengal; the
Ahoms moving down the Brahmaputra basin;
Burmese armies moving around the Patkai and
across the Nagaland ranges; and trans-
Himalayan forces coming south from Nepal,
Bhutan, Tibet and China.
Before 1800, Indian Ocean routes seem to have
had less, direct impact on the Brahmaputra
valley than on other Southasian regions
comparably close to the coast. Most importantly
for its geographical history, however, by 1800
Assam lay at the intersection of Indian Ocean
routes with inland routes into interior East Asia.
Thus, early British imperial geographers
believed with some justification that Assam was
India's inland gateway to China. Opium and
tea, among other commodities, already travelled
Indo-Chinese roads through Assam. When
Europeans 'discovered' India and China,
however, they did so at seaports; here they
imagined all societies as being attached to
separate inland civilisations. From this seacoast
view of northeastern India, ethnic groups in the
mountains looked more like East and Southeast
Asian peoples than like those that dominated
the Indian lowlands. Thus, Europeans viewed
East Asian-looking peoples in Northeast India
as marginal or even alien to the surrounding
'Indie' civilisation. These mountain ethnic
groups, however, actually represent the
historical overlapping of social spaces, defining
Asia from the west and east at the same time.
British Assam
Our national traditions of geographical
knowledge do not pay equal attention to all of
the routes of human mobility that shaped Assam.
Indian historical geography focuses exclusively
on routes that run east-west along the Gangetic
basin, where dominant social groups have
always identified Assam with eastern frontiers.
In the Indian national view, Assam has always
been an Indian frontier, always in the process of
being incorporated into Indo-Gangetic history.
Even when the British Empire began
its northeast expansion from Sylhet
and Cooch Bihar, Assam still lay on
cultural and political frontiers of
South and Southeast Asia.
Guwahati's relations with New
Delhi, even today, represent a
dynamic that began under the
Gupta Empire in the early centuries
of the first millennium. Like the
Mauryas before them, the ancient
Guptas carried their imperial
ambitions far from their homeland
in Bihar, but also much farther west
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
than east - lands to the east of the Ganga basin being
considered undesirable. Gupta culture later
influenced the Assamese Kamrupn kings in large
part through trade. Indeed, the Buddhists who
dispersed across eastern frontiers flourished there
for centuries, in part because trade, rather than
imperial power, extended across the water routes of
A thousand years after the last of the Guptas, the
strength of Ahom warriors in the Brahmaputra
basin, combined with the difficulty of forests and
raging river waters, largely kept Mughal imperialism
at bay. During the age of Ahom rulers in Assam, the
Mughal Empire was rooted in the far west. The
renowned Mughal gardens derived from desert
ideals in Central Asia and Iran; Mughal homesteads
blended the cultures of Persia and Rajasthan. Lands
of dense forests, deep annual floods, rivers, tigers,
elephants and fearsome mountain warriors proved
too difficult for the dry-land plains warriors to
conquer. These lands paid very little imperial
taxation anyway. As such, the Mughal padshah and
his nobles mostly conquered and sported on the
fringes of forest tracts that thev left to local rulers,
Irom whom they extracted as much obedience and
tribute as possible.
Assam became part of imperial India only after
the Mughals lost their grip in Bengal, as British
imperialists expanded inland from the sea with a
combined force of merchants, armies and Brahmans.
Northeast of Calcutta, Mughal highways pointed
to Assam; but because Assam lav outside of Mughal
control, it remained so for early British India as well.
Only once the British conquered Assam in 1826 did
the area obtain - for the first lime in its history - a
firm regional identity as a part of Indian imperial
geography. Until 1874, British Assam was part of a
novel imperial territory called 'Bengal', which
included West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand,
Northeast India and present-dav Bangladesh.
British Assam always included the Brahmaputra
and Barak river valleys, as well as the Surma-
Kushiara river basin of Sylhet. After I860, the tea
industry spread across hills around these rivers
and enhanced control of the administrative unity
of Sylhet and Assam.
Until 1947, British Assam was an eastern
borderland of British imperialism, which tried to
incorporate Burma and never quite established full
control over the mountains between India and
China. In the context of British India, Assam's
Brahmaputra valley had special strategic
significance as a borderland between British India
and imperial China (until 1911) and Japan (1939-
1945). In 1947, Assam became India's nearest
borderland with revolutionary China. In this
strategic location, the US Army built the so-called
Stilwell Road in 1943 - running from Ledo in
Assam to the China-Burma road as a supply link
with the Bengal-Assam Railway for the US and
British wars against Japan and, later, the Chinese
Communists (sec Himal Sept-Ocl 05 article on the
Stihvcll Road). War along this road was intense.
Recently, Indian investigators found as many as
1500 graves from the World War II era on the India-
Burma border along the Stilwell Road.
Partition and after
The year 1947 dramatically changed the forces
shaping Assam. Partition and its fallout resulted
in the cutting and restriction of traditional routes
around Assam, and introduced major demographic
changes. Together, these two forces give Assam the
shape and location we see today. Most importantly,
the formation of Fast Pakistan (and later
Bangladesh) created new national borders with a
presumed hostile state to Assam's west and south.
In Assam's southeast, Sylhet was the only region
of British India where a referendum was held
specifically on the question of accession to India or
Pakistan; in 1947, the vote in favour of Pakistan
separated Sylhet from Assam for the first time since
Partition also exaggerated a process of change
in the cultural composition of the Sylhet population,
which had proceeded slowly for at least 50 years
after the first Indian census in 1871, when the
Muslim and Hindu populations had been roughly
equal in number. After 1871, migration into Svlhet
farming regions increased the Muslim population
with every census. Between 1891 and 1931, people
reportedly born in the Bengal District of
aVlymensingh but living in Assam increased from
one-third lo two-thirds of the population of
southern Assamese valleys, including Sylhet.
Noting this upward trend in migrant settlement, in
1931 the Assam Census Report called Muslim
Bengalis in Assam "invaders". To defend their
territory   against   this  'invasion',   the   Assam
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 Congress resolved to move Sylhet out of Assam.
The question of how to regulate migration into
Assam from Bengal dominated the state political
agenda in the 1930s and 1940s. After 1947, this
topic became a new type of national issue, with
reference to alleged threats to national security.
Migration continued to increase after Partition,
however, and remained high for three decades,
spurred in part by wars in 1965 and 1971. In the
1960s, the total Sylhet population rose 60 percent
as one lakh Muslim Bengalis moved out of Assam
into Sylhet's Haor basin, where open land was
available. Sylhet's population growth was most
dramatic in areas nearest Meghalaya and Tripura,
where migration produced completely new
localities filled with immigrants. In much of Sylhet,
a new social formation emerged, which ranked the
cultural status of old and new residents - a
dynamic that continues today.
Although the ethnic composition oi the
population had been a political issue in Assam
since the 1920s, it raised its head again after 1950.
Assam then shrunk in size for two reasons: tirst,
Partition cut out tlie mostly-Muslim Sylhet; second,
nationalist territorial claims by ethnic groups
produced the mountain states of Meghalaya,
Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The
boundaries of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and
Nagaland are still contested today, representing a
tug-of-war over ethnic claims to natural resources
marked by state territory.
Trends in population change, the creation of
territorial borders and the mobilisation of ethnic
politics have indeed occurred throughout the
Northeast's much longer history. This has
historically moved people into more densely
populated areas that then expanded physically
upwards, moving from the lowland plains and
valleys into the surrounding hills and mountains;
during that advance, large populations have
absorbed various ethnic and tribal groups. In the
century after 1880 (when statistics appeared for
the first time), the expansion of permanent
cultivation proceeded at extremely
high rates in Tripura, Nagaland,
Sikkim and Assam - faster than almost
anywhere else in Southasia, in fact.
Most of this expansion appears to be
the result of lowland farmers
investing in land at higher altitudes.
During this process, Tripuris became
a minority in Tripura, where mostly
Hindu Bengalis became dominant. A
similar change occurred more recently
ethnic groups.
Such transformations of social space moved
investors and residents in 1947 into open areas
still available for agricultural colonisation. Huge
tracts of land remained free in forested regions of
eastern and, especially, Northeast India. Indeed,
this became one of the last agricultural frontiers in
Southasia, where new farming communities were
able both to improve their Jiving conditions and to
enhance national wealth. Ihe physical expansion
of cultivated farmland remained the major source
of increases in Southasian agricultural production
until 1960. Population densities increased very
rapidly in these frontier areas, where, until 1880,
people settled at an even greater pace than into
urban areas - although most upland agrarian
frontiers maintained verv low population
densities, which continues today.
The stubbornness of territorial anxiety
Against this backdrop, however, even in regions
typified over many centuries by extensive mobility,
national governments and popular movements
worked harder after 1947 than ever before to close
off and regulate traffic across national borders.
Their goals were twofold: to defend national
territory against foreign threats; and to suppress
internal disruption that might be fed by crossborder
forces. India's Northeast became an 'exposed'
territory, facing alien states around most of its
perimeter. Defending India's borders meant closing
off the Northeast against crossborder threats. In
Assam, a regional political movement also tried to
close borders to alien immigrants, particularly from
Bangladesh. Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party
again reiterates this rhetoric.
New political efforts are now working against
the trend of national enclosure, however. Today,
civil   society   in   Bangladesh   is   pressing   its
government and India to keep in mind the real-life
implications of rivers that run through Assam and
on into Bangladesh. State governments in tlie
Indian Northeast are also calling for a reopening
of trade routes along the old Burma-
China Road, which would benefit
landlocked state economies that
currently face international barriers
on three sides. At the moment, New
Delhi is expressing considerable
interest in such plans.
Still, Assam's continued official
isolation from non-Indian territories
is a serious security concern for the
Indian government, now mostly due
in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where ^entity 35 3 WMt III to thy insurgent problems within the
Muslim Bengalis became numerically Ifirlisn iitljrassrk*** country's borders. In this respect,
dominant, triggering resentment »•"»«!« IIIIMW-<*» India's internal order problems are
and   revolt   among   the   region's H©fJ|JfSpiff, intimately linked with the virtual
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Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
impossibility of closing off Assam to the
traditional channels of human
movement - routes that are much older
than any state in the region. Ihis
problem, of course, seems commonplace in today's age of globalisation.
While world regions could benefit
economically from simpler
crossborder connections,
communities on opposite sides of
international borders wouid clearly
benefit from common attempts to solve
trans-border problems. Nonetheless,
national political and cultural
systems remain committed to strong
border defences in the fear of disturbing the
coherence of their national traditions. Indeed, the
conflict between thes(#two pressing modern needs
- territorial openness and closure - seems
increasingly difficult to reconcile,
So, where is Assam?
From the above perspectives, a useful answer to
the question of 'Where is Assam?' would be that
Assam consists of all that has left traces in the
valleys and mountains around the Brahmaputra
and Barak rivers. In this view, locating Assam
requires that we trace the mobility of all of those
elements over the span of human history; after so
doing, we can discover the geography where those
elements most meaningfully overlap. While this
would provide us with a good picture of Assam's
location, it would not be one picture, but many -
leaving the problem of actual location open for
debate and endless research. Clearly there are
numerous obstacles to thinking about geography
in this way. At the moment, national borders
simply don't function like this (although people
may indeed be better off in regimes that would
permit them freer mobility).
Tlie conflict
mo pressing
metis-ferrif oris
closure ~ seems
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Plans for a new Asian Highway
would put Assam at the centre of a
new Asian transport system and
would take the state from the
periphery to the centre of a new
territorial formation in Asia. But
progress on the highway is now
stalled, due mostly to lndo-
Bangladeshi disputes over border
issues, illegal immigrants, and
terrorism allegations. Against this
backdrop of hopes for expanding
mobility and integration, however,
it is worth remembering that new
national borders are, in the long
span of history, typically imperialist dreams. So it
was in the days of the Guptas, Mughals and British,
and so too when the US Army built the Stilwell
Road to counter imperial Japan.
It is not surprising, then, that since 1945,
independent nations have generally increased the
regulation of traffic across their borders. Hostilities
between India and Pakistan have cut old routes of
communication and mobility more dramatically
than almost anywhere in the world - this in a region
that had maintained highways from the
Mediterranean for a millennium. Elsewhere in
Southasia, the Bengal-Assam railway tracks from
Guwahati to Dhaka were torn up at the Cachar-
Sylhet border in 1965. Nowadays, it is easier to
communicate by phone or mail between Dhaka and
London than between Dhaka and Guwahati.
In a world of national states it is thus worth
pondering: who is it that sponsors and argues for
the opening of geography and the crossing of
national borders? Today, increasingly diverse
interests are engaged in this project - including
business groups, who are taking a lead in the
border-crossing movement and promoting the
expansion of Asian highways. Once upon a time,
British imperial tea interests financed the railway
from Dhaka to Guwahati and fostered Bengal's
integration with Assam to link tea estates to ports
and overseas markets. There is currently no major
legitimate economic interest in place to effectively
instigate or finance a major improvement in the
Assam-Burma-China road and other routes of
transit across the mountains. Indeed, the largest
financial interests may be black- and grey-market
trades, most notably in the weaponry that is used
in the region's various struggles. The impetus to
open borders across mountains spanning Nepal,
China, Northeast India, Bangladesh and Burma
still seems weak when compared to the pressures
of enclosure, which remain significant. Still, this
current dominance only obscures the compelling
ongoing mobility that continues to locale Assam in
the social reality of its Asian surroundings. ft
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 [Cover Story
The line
Durand drew
by I Daniel Lak
If a border isn't recognised by those on either
side, does it still exist? That has long been the
burning question along the Durand Line, the
112-year-old frontier between Pakistan and
In theory, there is a border. Customs and
immigration officials check passports and IDs at
crossing points. Smugglers smuggle. There is an
elaborate, twisting ballet at the frontier as vehicles
switch sides on the road, driving from the left side
in Pakistan to the right in Afghanistan. What more
obvious way to denote a different country?
But a different country is not that evident
elsewhere along the frontier, away from the official
border posts. Most of the Durand Line goes through
remote, uninhabited terrain - the High Pamirs in the
far north, down through the snowbound Hindukush
and into the Spin Ghar range. This last has been made
recently infamous as a battleground between Osama
bin Laden and the US military, ever since the 2001
attacks in New York and Washington DC. Thereafter,
mountains give way to dust devils and deserts, with
occasional moon-rock outcrops, all the way to the
border with Iran.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 No customs officers man gates
along these stretches. No signs
welcome visitors or urge caution on
the highways. Instead, more than six
million Pashtun tribal people live in
these villages, valleys and occasional
towns, refusing to tolerate any notion
of a border. To them, this is
Pukhtoonkhwa, Pashtunistan, their
homeland; part of Afghanistan
perhaps, but definitely not, on pain of
death, to be considered Pakistani.
Memories are unrepentantly long in
these parts. The day in November
1893 when Britain forced the Afghan
Amir to accept the Durand Line as a
border - this might as well have been
yesterday. It was unjust then; it remains
so now. Never mind that Pakistan was carved out of
British India in 1947 and has based its existence on
the notion of this frontier ever since.
Up here, Paashtuns know better. Islamabad does not
rule them.
Theoretically, the tribesmen are right. Tired of
decades of skirmishing with elusive, irregular
militias known as lashkars, colonial Britain granted
semi-autonomy to vast tracts of mountainous land
along the Durand Line. These so-called 'Tribal
Agencies' remain a major thorn in the side of modern-
day Pakistan. Tribal leaders, most of whom owe their
lineage to British times, rule the roost in these parts.
Only major roads belong to Islamabad.
Before 11 September 2001, tribal zones such as
South Waziristan and Kurram were infamous mostly
as either smugglers' havens or places to manufacture
hashish and heroin. Guns were sold openly in the
bazaars. Foreigners and non-Pashtuns were and
remain unwelcome. Today, South Waziristan and
Kurram are known as hotbeds of al-Qaeda and
Taliban activity. A white face in Waziristan is an
invitation for assisted suicide. Osama bin Laden
almost certainly lives near the Durand Line, along
with his lieutenant and spiritual advisor, Ayaman
al-Zawahiri. The Taliban may not rule in Kabul
anymore, but their austere, tribal version of Islam
still holds sway in what these days passes for
By any measure, the notional
border of the Durand Line is a mixed
blessing to the local people. By not
recognising it, tribesmen (no one
really knows about the women -
they're barely allowed out of their
homes) have guaranteed themselves
infamy, income and illiteracy. The
lawlessness and gun culture that
helps keep al-Qaeda's leaders safe
from America's wrath assures that
Mortimer Durand
To them, this Is
Pashtunistan, their
homeland; past of
hut definitely not on
pain of death, to he
considered Pakistani
they will remain infamous into the
foreseeable future. Income derived
from smuggling goods into Pakistan
as part of the lucrative Mghan transit
trade, worth anywhere from USD 500
million to USD 5 billion every year,
offers a regular, irregular income. The
region's inherent isolation means that
it is backward in education, health and
governance. Illiteracy is entrenched.
International reinforcement
Adding to tribal obstinacy,
Afghanistan itself has never
recognised the Durand Line as a
border, even though Amir Abdur
Rahman Khan agreed to it in 1893.
Afghans believe that the agreement the
Amir signed with Sir Mortimer Durand was only
valid for 100 years and has now ceased to exist: Of
course, even a cursory reading of the document shows
this not to be the case. Afghan reluctance to accept
the border, together with the country's perpetual
instability, have exacerbated volatility along the
Durand Line, guaranteeing that the frontier remains
a haven for crime, terrorism and backwardness - no
matter what might happen elsewhere.
This is increasingly unacceptable to Pakistanis.
President Pervez Musharraf has long wanted to
demarcate and fence-off parts of the Line to increase
his country's control over contraband and rebel
activity. President Hamid Karzai probably agrees,
but his authority is limited to Kabul and holds no
sway along the frontier. But the presence of al-Qaeda
and the continuing narcotics trade in the region are
drawing international attention to the nature of the
frontier. Everybody who is not a local seems to want
a secure border through tire Hindukush and beyond
- Washington DC, London, Berlin, Beijing and the
United Nations.
International opinion has in effect come to
something of a consensus: Pashtun stubbornness
and pride, not to mention warlordism and greed, is
holding everyone hostage. However controversial or
ineffectual has been George W Bush's 'war on terror',
there remains a need to eliminate political violence
affecting tire innocent. A major step
towards achieving that goal would
be to secure the Pakistan-
Afghanistan border region, and to
enforce the decisions of central
government in Islamabad and
Kabul. Then, the region's
smuggling, gunrunning, drug
trafficking and militancy just might
diminish or disappear. The children
might even be able to grow up
literate. A
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 [Cover Story
Swapping Identities
Borderland exchanges along the Nepal-TAR frontier
by | Sara Shneiderman
For most Nepalis, the Chinese border town of
Khasa is synonymous with the cheap clothes
and electronics that eventually make their way
down the Arniko Highway to Kathmandu. But for a
growing number of people from the Nepali villages
adjacent to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR),
Khasa is the gateway to a set of opportunities that
take advantage of China's positive discrimination
policies towards minority groups and borderland
populations. While northward migration has
increased in recent years in response to Nepal's
internal conflict, the Nepali, Tibetan and Chinese
inhabitants of the area are also bound together by a
rich history of crossborder economic and social
The town's three names - Khasa in Nepah, Dram
in Tibetan, and Zhangmu in Chinese - attest to its
multiple personalities. Located at the mouth of the
steep gorge where the Bhote Khosi River exits the
Tibetan plateau and enters the Himalayan midhills,
the original settlement of Dram was a customs
outpost where Tibetan officials registered Nepali
traders en route to the trading centre of Nyalam, 30
km further north. Before the Chinese army established
Dram as the official crossing on their newly built
border road in 1960, the now-thriving town consisted
of little more than a cluster of shacks. More important
settlements in the area were the villages of Gosa,
Lishing and Syolbugang.
Until 1960, the residents of Lishing and
Syolbugang considered themselves Nepali citizens,
an assumption reinforced by the visits of tax
collectors representing the Nepali state. When
Chinese officials arrived, they asked local leaders to
show them where the border was. One Lishing elder,
now in his 80s, recalls: "We did not know what a
border was or where it should be. We could not
understand the language of the Chinese officials.
They made us walk and walk and we just stopped
when we got tired. That is where the border is now."
Whether by accident or design, the villages of Lishing
and Syolbugang ended up inside the TAR; in
exchange, China granted Nepal the previously
Tibetan villages of Lapchi and Lamabagar.
The residents of all four border villages were given a
choice: either stay put and accept Chinese or Nepali
citizenship by virtue of location, or move across the
new border in order to maintain previously existing
citizenship. Families often made mixed decisions and
many are now split across the border, with some
family members possessing Nepali nagarikta
(citizenship) certificates and others Chinese identity
cards. This situation proved traumatic during the
Cultural Revolution in the late-1960s and early-
1970s, when the border remained closed. With the
liberalisation of the Chinese economy in the late-
1980s, conditions have improved. The 1992
implementation of a Sino-Nepalese treaty, which
allows citizens of either country who reside within
30 km of the border to cross freely without a passport
or visa, has allowed many families to reunite. The
provision has also proven an advantage to some
families, who have been able to establish joint-
venture businesses.
Despite the very real political boundary, most
people in the area have complex identities shaped
by the crossborder flows of language and culture.
The term 'Sherpa', for example, used today by the
inhabitants of Lishing and Syolbugang to describe
themselves, has very different implications in Nepal
and in the TAR. The Chinese government classifies
the Sherpa (or Xiaerba) as a dzu, or Tess-developed
ethnic people'. This classification falls short of the
full status of minzu, or 'ethnic nationality', which
defines larger Chinese minority groups such as
Tibetans and Mongolians. The Sherpa do not qualify
for minzu status, first, because their population is so
small (approximately 1600, according to the most
recent Chinese census); and second, because they
have neither a distinctive writing script nor other
cultural practices notably different from those of
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
mainstream Tibetans.
In Nepal, one would expect the Sherpa to establish
ain ethno-politica! organisation to agitate for
incorporation into the higher status minzu group, but
the Chinese state does not allow for such
organisations. Anyway, as one Sherpa who teaches
Chinese at the local middle school explains, "We are
happy to remain in the dzu category because we get
more positive attention from the government." Such
attention includes educational and civil service
quotas for dzu citizens; with such a small population,
the competition is minimal. Dzu students also receive
extended time to complete their exams and a re graded
on a more forgiving scale.
Perhaps most importantly, categorisation as dzu
qualifies Lishing and Syolbugang's Sherpa
community to receive support from Beijing's new
fund for the development of borderland populations.
According to a Lishing official, over the past two years
the area has received over three-and-a-half million
yuan (about USD 371,000), earmarked for
infrastructure development, livestock improvement
and income generation. The villages
have been fully electrified and now } ...
have access to both reliable drinking \'*b£
water facilities and mobile phone
services. When compared with the
inferior living conditions of Sherpa
and other ethnic groups
immediately across the border in
Nepal's Sindhupalchowk and
Dolakha districts, it is little surprise that most
Chinese Sherpa' feel certain that they or their parents
made the right choice by accepting Chinese
.iti/enship in 1960.
The big prize
Nonetheless, many Nepali citizens who were never
presented with that decision have still been able to
adopt alternative strategies to take advantage of
China's rapid economic development and ethnic
policies. After the 1992 Nepal-China treaty opened
the border for locals, many Nepalis from the nearby
villages of Marming and Tatopani relocated to Khasa.
They opened businesses to import Nepali goods -
mostly grain and ghee - into the TAK. "When I
started, Tibetans depended on Nepali rice, flour and
butter," explains Namkang, one of the first Nepali
Sherpa to establish a successful business in Khasa.
'Tlie market was all ours and we profited
enormously. But in the last decade, China has grown
so much that now they can transport goods more
cheaply from the mainland to Lhasa, so we are
suffering." Nowadays, tbe more lucrative business
goes in the other direction, forcing savvy businessmen
like Namkang to reorient their trade and serve as
middlemen in the transport of cheap Chinese goods
to Kathmandu's markets.
Despite the diminishing profits, many Nepali
border citizens still believe that the quality of life is
65 M
better on the LMv side. Nepalis from the border areas
can work for up to one month in Dram or Nyalam
without any formal registration, but for longer
periods they need to register for a foreign resident
permit. With a recommendation from a Chinese
employer or landlord, this process can be quick.
Authorities in Nyalam estimate that there are almost
400 Nepalis with foreign resident status in the
county, and thousands more who come to work for
less than a month at a time.
The biggest prize of all is to become a Chinese
citizen, although the only sure way to do so is by
marrying one. Many Nepalis, both male and female,
have taken this route. There is another, back-door
option, however: changing one's name to 'Sherpa'
upon crossing the border and hoping to be mistaken
for a Xiaerba. Ihis is why members of other regional
Nepali ethnic groups (such as the Thatni and
Tamang, found across the border in Nepal) are
difficult to locate in Khasa - most introduce
themselves as 'Sherpa'. Some go further by dressing
in a 'traditional' style that few Sherpa themselves
do, or by pretending that they do not
understand Nepali.
But there are also those who seek
to capitalise on their Nepali heritage.
In Khasa and Nyalam, Nepali food is
perceived to be cheap and healthy. To
emphasise their Nepali-ness and
draw customers, many eateries
display photos of the Nepali royal
family or play Nepali pop music. Ironically, these
are precisely the symbols of dominant culture from
which ethno-politically active Sherpa or Tamang
inside Nepal seek to distance themselves.
Historically, links between frontier citizens were
found not only in the Khasa area, but along the full
length of the Tibetan-Nepali border from east to west.
For instance, the most traveled trade route between
the 12"' and 17"' centuries did not follow tlie modern
road, but rather ran through Kyirong - what is now
Rasuwa District on the Nepal side and Kyirong
County in the TAR. Only relatively recently have
crossborder relationships become centred around the
road crossing, For now, the adaptations made by
Nepal's borderland citizens - as the highway
connects them to the TAR, the Chinese market and
Beijing's economic and ethnic policies - are most
evident in and iiround Khasa-Dram-Zhangmu.
However, with several new road links under
development between Nepal's northern regions and
the TAR (notablv through Kasuwa and Mustang
districts) it is likelv that old frontier relationships will
be rejuvenated and similar adaptations will occur in
these border regions as well. For now though, Khasa-
Dram-Zhangmu remains the best developed site for
the give-and-take between contemporary Nepali-
Tibetan-Chinese identities. There arc os many ways
to deHno identity along this route as there are people
crossing the border even d;lv.
Himal Southasian | Nov Dec 2005
 [Cover Story
SAARC: The inevitability
of bilateral multilateralism
The Southasian regionalism of SAARC is locked into the seven-or-nothing
formula. If the seven member states are to make regionalism work for
the sake of the people rather than the national establishments, alternate
visions are necessary. One formula for peace and prosperity is to promote
openness in the areas where the neighbours and India meet on their
borders. When they convene in Dhaka for the 13th Southasian Summit,
will it be too much to expect the SAARC summiteers to address this most
practical step towards regionalism? We need more cross-border flows in
place, instead of the strictly inter-capital communication that has thus far
been the Association's stagnant formula.
by | Kanak Mani Dixit
The self-realisation of Southasia as a single,
cohesive space inhabited by multiple peoples
took a beating with the partition of the
Subcontinent in 1947. 'Nation state-ism' arrived
along with that great divide, straitjacketing identities
by citizenship. The national establishments that
emerged in every country thereafter championed,
nurtured and calibrated a particular type of
chauvinism that is now up to regionalism to undo.
While providing a powerful sense of national
identity and purpose at the 'centre' of each country,
the separate exclusivist nationalisms have not always
served the interest of the larger populations,
particularly the millions living in the peripheries in
relation to the capital regions. A formula has yet to
be found in which the particular genius of the
Southasian (the majority of them 'Indian' before 1947)
peoples is allowed to become dynamic. Such a formula
surely resides in a political and economic evolution
of the Subcontinent (and the island of Sri Lanka) in
which the nation states and their individual
sovereignties would remain inviolable, vet where the
people would be able to engage with minimal
restrictions, allowing an instinctive remoulding
of identities. This would energise society and
usher a kind of socio-economic advance that can only
be imagined.
Southasian cohabitation is the ideal, but despite
the ongoing Indo-Pakistani rapprochement, the
trend today is towards a blocking-off of borders, with
barbed wire fences as the barrier of choice. The
nationalist animosities reside just under the surface,
ready to be exploited by the ultra-nationalist, often
fundamentalist, phalanxes in every country. There
is no doubt that the people at-large would welcome
a crossborder opening with wide arms, were it not
for the tacit collaboration of the capital power elites
and the national rightwing in every member state.
It is important to seek a formula for regionalism in
Southasia that would not threaten individual,
sacrosanct sovereignties, and yet would bring
together people from across borders as a natural
outcome of their shared histories, religions,
worldviews, sensibilities, tastes, languages, accents,
habits and even gestures. The setting-up of the South
Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in 1984
was a search for just such a formula. Tn Dhaka that
year, under the guidance of can-do leaders, in
particular Gen Ziaur Rahman, the governments of
the seven countries decided to bond. Their
association would meet every year at summits, while
a secretariat in Kathmandu would be manned by
bureaucrats from the seven foreign ministries. It was
a good beginning, as far as it went.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Despite lhe noise
being made by the
rapprochement, the
trend today is more
towards a rigid
blocking-off of
borders, with
barbed wire fences
as the barrier
of choice.
Unfortunately, two decades and a
dozen summits on, the region remains
marked by active mistrust between
many of the SAARC members. Proof
of the failure of SAARC regionalism
is starkly presented by the hundreds
of miles of barbed wire fencing put
up by India along large stretches of
its borders with Bangladesh and
Pakistan. There are growing rigidities
along tlie frontiers everywhere, where
there should be loosenings. How can
you have a multilateral friendship
when there are bilateral animosities?
Meanwhile, the SAARC
organisation has itself grown into an
unresponsive foreign office project. The SAARC
Secretariat is often used by the individual foreign
ministries to put their unwanted senior officers out
to pasture. The seven 'country directors' are given
charge of portfolios regardless of competence or
interest. While its miniscule annual budget is just
over USD 1.5 million, the Secretariat engages in a
host of aimless activities when it should be acting as
a diplomatic catalyst for regionalism. Required to get
the go-ahead from seven capitals even to lift a finger,
the appointed-by-rotation secretary-general and his
staff have to their credit: an unhappy audiovisual
exchange of documentaries, broadcast on state
television; a toothless poverty commission; some
cooperation on tuberculosis; an information centre,
and so on. SAARC's work on a preferential
(subsequently 'free') trade area for Southasia has
enormous potential, but progress has been affected
by excessive ambition and unrealistic goal-setting.
SAARC was started as a copycat organisation,
attempting to mime the European Community
and ASEAN. But it has been dragged down
by ultra-narionalist postures in each of its
member countries, most importantly in
India. There, bureaucrats, international
relations  scholars  and  geopolitical
strategists are unable to develop a high-
mindedness commensurate with the
great power status they aspire for their
country. The very term 'Southasia' is only
now grudgingly being accepted by New Delhi's
media   and   academic   elite.   After   years   of
prevarication, they have come to realise that no other
term can today represent the whole region, certainly
not 'India' or 'Indian'.
Because it is there
While being unequivocally critical of SAARC's lack
of imagination, its feeble Secretariat, and the
ambivalence and occasional opportunism of its
member states, there should be little doubt that the
organisation does serve a purpose. "Better to have it
than not to have it" goes the refrain -
and truly, at least one version of
regionalism is kept alive through
SAARC's very presence. This inter-state
forum allows admittedly irregular
opportunities for Southasia's political
leadership to meet collectively. The
diplomatic requirement for
interpersonal decorum among the
heads-of-state and government is itself
a worthwhile aspect of an organisation
like SAARC, for which reason alone it
should be propped-up and kept going.
SAARC's existence also presents an
established philosophical commitment
to regionalism that challenges the
rightist, ultra-nationalist - sometimes militaristic -
establishment in each country. Indirectly and
directly, under the cover of its professed
multilateralism, SAARC also puts the stamp of state
recognition on across-the-border camaraderie. In
short, the organisation legitimises recognition to a
left-liberal mindset that would otherwise be regarded
as subversive by some and impractical ly idealistic
by others. From that perspective, the ideals of SAARC
are in fact in tune with the principles that seek a
secular, non-chauvinistic regionalism in Southasia.
That said, however, it is indeed a sad case that any
organisation, particularly of the scope of SAARC,
has to be appreciated merely "because it is there".
SAARC's larger failure has little to do with its
staffing, budget or the dynamism of the Secretariat.
The failure has everything to do with SAARC having
been structured as a regional grouping of states as
though there is symmetry in the size, power and reach
of tlie member states. Unless this is understood and
a solution sought, SAARC as an organisation
An improbable projection:
Southasia with a
'diminished' India that
some would like to see.
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
need not have any ambition beyond organising the
occasional summit and acting as postman between
capitals whenever there is a multilateral matter to
discuss. If the organisation is to be something more
than this, then the 'SAARC intelligentsia' active in
each capital - even imperious New Delhi - must think
catalytically to give SAARC and regionalism a whole
new direction.
SAARC's historical fact-of-life is the asymmetry
among its member states. India is an enormous entity
within Southasia in terms of its land area, population
and economy, as well as its suddenly amplified clout
in global affairs. This mammoth bulk continuously
gets in the way of regionalism - by simply being there
at the centre of it all, as a unitary, not-very-federal
state. The very fact that India borders every other
country of Southasia - while none of the others have
any territorial contact with each other - vastly
enhances India's 'centrality' to Southasia. SAARC is
a regional organisation whose membership includes
one country with a population below 300,000, one
below a million, two below 30 million, two below 200
million, and Big India with 1100 million. More than
70 percent of the land area of the region is made up of
India; within itself, that country already encompasses
what is also the larger region's demographic diversity,
geographical spread, climate zones and so on.
Almost all of SAARC's highest-ranking members,
including the upcoming host Begum Khaleda Zia,
have openly admitted that the
organisation has not been able to fulfil
its own expectations or potential. At the
12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad in
2004, the leaders emphasised the need
to turn the organisation around and for
increasing "mutual trust". One could
not agree more. But can we expect the
leaders and bureaucrats to catch the
bull by its horns? If they want it to be
more than a regional intergovernmental messenger, will they look
No member state
of SAARC needs
to fear the
dilution of the
organisation, just
because other
being pursued.
into the structural challenges of SAARC?
The most realistic way to turn the high rhetoric that
came out of the Islamabad summit into reality is to let
the messenger service remain as a SAARC activity -
but also to redraft its Charter and reorient the
organisation so that it starts considering the bilateral
frontiers as all-important points of contact for building
regionalism. It is enough to ask that
the organisation address the neglected
'crossborderlands' where two countries meet.With
Southasia's official, intergovernmental attempt at
regional cooperation now entering its third decade, it
is time for such an imaginative re-approach. As
Bangladesh's Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan said
recently, the thirteenth summit in Dhaka needs to
usher in "a decade of implementation, rather than mere
declarations." Well, here's a thought for
Complementary visions
There is certainly more than one alternative vision for
Southasian regionalism; no one idea needs to be
exclusive. One critical shift would be the
understanding that cooperative structures do not
always need to rope in the entire region
simultaneously and always require a seven-country
platform. BIMSTEC is a good example, where the
countries of the Subcontinental northeast have
decided to engage with their neighbours in Southeast
Asia. There is also a thus-far-unar tic ul ate d need for
subregional cooperation between the countries/
regions that make up the northern Indus-Ganga-
Brahmaputra (Jamuna) belt. Much of the problems,
challenges and cooperative potential - not to mention
the population - of the Subcontinent actually reside
in this belt of 'northern Southasia'. Similarly, in the
future there can be cooperation between all, the
countries/regions of the Himalaya-Hindukush,
including the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
It should not be impossible to imagine that a New
Delhi-Islamabad thaw would lead northwestern India,
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to put at least some of
their eggs in one economic basket. Others, meanwhile,
have suggested a regional grouping consisting of the
littoral states of the Indian Ocean; there may come a
time when south India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia,
Thailand and Mauritius are able to forge
collaboration across the waters.
Occassionally, there is a murmur of
disapproval when a state seeks out other
groups, but no member of S.AARC need
fear the dilution of the organisation just
because alternate regionalisms are being
There are also ways to tinker with a
SAARC superstructure itself, and there
is no reason why the seven-nation state
membership has to be written in stone.
Nov-Dec 2005 1 Himal Southasian
 ' r
One possibility would be to expand
the reach of the organisation, bringing
in the TAR, Burma and .Afghanistan -
all of which may reside on the so-
called outer-edges of the Subcontinent,
but which are more Southasian than
they arc East, Central or West Asian.
Indeed, in the wake of India's stepped-
up relations with Afghanistan,
SAARC foreign secretaries in late-
September agreed to consider
positively President Hamid Karzai's request to ponder
Afghanistan's inclusion as the group's eighth member.
One of the most significant departures of Southasian
regionalism would be to go to the heart and
configuration of the Indian state. If indeed India
encompasses a large portion of Southasia, then
practical, far-reaching regionalism would inevitably
be ushered in if India were to become a federal union
th in constitution and spirit. This is an issue not
debated nearly enough within India, where
centralising economic and political forces are
coalescing around New Delhi, even as the regional
parties are said to be emerging to take power away
from the Centre. The argument for federalism in India,
of course, is made first and foremost for the sake of
India's people, but it would definitely serve the cause
-:' broader regionalism as well. But if India's consituent
states were to increase their own power while
simultaneously reducing New Delhi's, a new closer-
-the-groun'd dynamic of self-government would
ft-ierge. This would allow others to engage with this
humungous country not only as a unitary state, but
also as a collection of self-governing regions, with their
separate interests in social, cultural, economic and
developmental interaction.
As with India and New Delhi, increased federalism
would be a way to ratchet down the centralised
nationalism in Pakistan and Islamabad. Federalism
would allow more power than is currently enjoyed by
the provinces of Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and
NWFP. Such a dynamic would hardly lead to self-
destruction of the state that die Quaid-i-Azam created,
but it would allow more space for a Southasia-wide
regionalism to flower. The Sindh of a federated
Pakistan could interact with great vibrancy with
Gujarat, Rajasthan or Chattisgarh of a federated India.
Umbilical regions
These various options for regionalism, from SAARC
multilateralism to complementary subregionalisms to
internal federalism, are bound to evolve over time. This
will happen as the individual, capital-centric
nationalisms of Southasia mature and are able to
countenance other structures beyond a straitjacketed
SAARC - which presently supports the minimalist
foreign policy agenda particularly well. In addition,
none of the options are as yet ripe for the picking;
Steei columns set in
concrete, barbed and
concertina wire,
floodlights and service
roads... These are net
the best harbingers of
the Southasian future.
SAARC as an organisation and a
process, on the other hand, already
exists. The simple approach to
energise SAARC and to rejuvenate
the broader concept of Southasia is,
therefore, to invigorate bilateral
contacts between the countries of the
region - not capital-to-capital, but
across the land (and sea) borders.
For now, SAARC remains a
communication medium between
the seven capitals - Colombo, Dhaka, Islamabad,
Kathmandu, Male, New Delhi and Thimpu. Let that
channel remain and become more robust by the day.
But let us jumpstart cultural and economic interaction
between the border-regions - Calcutta with both
Khulna and Dhaka, Amritsar with Lahore and
Islamabad, Ahmedabad with Karachi, Multan with
Jaipur, Katlimandu with Lucknow, Patna and Benaras.
The capital-based national establishments may all
rally against such an approach, or try silently to
sabotage it. New Delhi could be fearful, for instance,
of how a Punjab-Punjab camaraderie could undermine
its own sense of control. The same could hold true for
Islamabad. But Fear of Punjab is hardly an auspicious
excuse for the two capitals to finally see eye-to-eye.
The various economic and political vested interests
that have blossomed - even in the subregions - over
the last half-century may also create similar roadblocks
for a crossborder opening. For example, th§ min^g^t
in Assam against 'foreigners' would work against
breaching the Bangladesh-Northeast frontier with the
beginnings of commerce and peoples' movements.
Anxious power elites in Kathmandu, Dhaka and
Colombo will probably not welcome the idea for their
own selfish purposes. Crossborder openings could be
seen as diminishing the importance of the individual
national establishments. But it should be possible for
these capitals to maintain their links with New Delhi,
while simultaneously allowing linkages between the
non-capital cities and regions with counterparts across
the borders.
Under the current SAARC-led concept of Southasia,
encouragement of transborder contact would be
termed 'bilateral'. Hence, it would theoretically not be
a regional exercise and hence fall outside the
organisation's purview. But there is another way to
look at it. The coalescing of a critical mass of
crossborder interactions would deliver a Southasia-
wide movement of empathy and openness. This
crossborder, bilateral approach would, cumulatively,
help to build and strengthen SAARC/Southasian
multilateralism as a whole. Initially, the primary focus
would be to promote crossborder commerce, cultural
interaction, and transfrontier travel for the
intelligentsia and lay people alike. But unlike
SAARC's multilateralism, this 'bilateral
multilateralism' would take off on its own, as people
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 would be the ones taking the initiative, rather than tlie
governments. Such an opening would be a runaway
success, because it would be true to the history of the
Southasian peoples rather than to the history of the
Southasian states and governments.
This 'SAARC bilateralism' could be criticised for
giving inordinate importance to India, given that all
the border regions touch those of the latter country.
Capital elites may in fact feel they're being belittled for
being asked to look to the outlying regions of India,
rather than be and act as equals to powerful New Delhi.
That is not the suggestion. SAARC capitals must
necessarily consider New Delhi as their equal and
sovereign counterpart on national matters; but they
must also make up for the neglect of their border
regions, where each of their countries meets the border
regions of India.
Outside of the simple fact that the region's inherent
geography puts India in contact with all other
countries' land or maritime frontiers, however, such
qualms would be short-sighted. Developing bilateral
relations along the borders of Southasia
would, if anything, loosen New Delhi's
grip over its own 'peripheral regions' and
make more independent their links with
neighbours. Why should Calcutta await
the facilitation of New Delhi for its
dealings with western Bangladesh and
Bangladesh as a whole? Why should
Amritsar or Chandigarh not
independently develop fraternal links
with Multan and Lahore?
Certainly, the risk-averse bureaucrats
Simply put,it is
easier to conceive
of peace land
prosperity! in our
times when there
has been a
retaliation at the
and diplomats would not be the ones to promote this
concept of developing ties between the pre-1947
umbilical regions. It will be up to visionary politicians
to make such a suggestion, in particular those who
are active in the states of India. When Amarinder Singh
of Punjab State actively pursues links with
Punjab Province, we need to regard that as a healthy,
SAARC-friendly exercise which promotes the larger
regional agenda.
The capital-based fears of runaway collaborations
and conspiracies between separated regions are
exaggerated - if anything, the new realities would only
help to create enhanced cohabitation, and strengthen
each member state. Already, for instance, the two
Punjabs are straining to come together, an urge that
clearly should not be obstructed. Likewise, the
northeastern states of India may do well to be cautious
of the Bangladeshi business and demographic
juggernaut; but it will be possible to find local means
to promote economic, social and cultural interaction
without an inundation. Rigidity is the way of the
centralised nation state. The fluidity of subregional ism
is a plus-sum game, in which the nation states gain
from the energising of their provinces,
In May 2004, in his first interview after becoming
prime minister, Manmohan Singh suggested, "We need
soft borders - then borders (will not be) so important.
People on both sides of the border should be able to
move freely." In April of this year, President Pervez
Musharraf spoke of the opening of the bus route
between Muzzafarabad and Srinagar as "the first step
towards ... a soft border." If these topmost two
officeholders are now willing to speak in a language
that was once thought to be the preserve of romantic
peaceniks, perhaps the Day of the Crossborder
Opening is not really so far away. The catalyst for such
a day in every region would be the dynamics of the
Pakistan-India frontier - and here we are not even
talking of the Kashmir LoC.
Even as we look ahead to an era of transfrontier
relaxations - and even as the prime minister and
general-president wax rhetorical about soft borders -
the earth-bound reality is, unfortunately, that we are
being taken in the opposite direction. Rather than
softer, the borders are being made ever more rigid. Steel
columns set in concrete, barbed and concertina wire,
floodlights and service roads ... these are
the barriers that have come up and are
being extended along the lines that
separate Bangladesh from India, and
India from Pakistan.
People-to-people barriers
There is one Southasian frontier where
a 'soft border' is a daily reality - not an
unsanctioned porousness like the
Afghan-Pakistan border, but officially
recognised as such by two countries. The
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 Nepal-India border was mandated 'open' by tlie 1950
Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two
countries. The treaty has been lambasted by many
for being an unequal agreement between a dying
autocratic Rana regime and the youthful, independent
India of Jawaharlal Nehru. But this open border
between a non-colonised Nepal and independent
India much more closely resembles the ageold grey
frontiers of Southasia. Regardless of history and
questions about the openness of this border (in both
Nepal and India), here is a workable, official, open
borderland that allows the intermingling of peoples,
while keeping intact sovereignties - especially of the
smaller, geopolitically weaker neighbour.
lt is critical to remember this open border at this
time, because the state-centric establishments in
Islamabad and Dhaka, for instance, would not like
to countenance or proffer such a solution. The New
Delhi government, meanwhile, is hellbent on its
fencing campaign that, although enriching barbed
wire merchants and steel and cement traders, creates
drastic people-to-people barriers - the socio-political
ramifications of which will become evident after the
damage has been done. On India's western frontier,
the fence between Punjab the State and the Province
is meant to control infiltration by militants; the
illuminated line is visible to sharp-eyed travellers at
night from transcontinental airliners. On the eastern
side, the fence is said to have been erected to control
the flow of economic migrants.
But these fences are band-aid solutions, the kind
favoured by national security bureaucracies which
prefer ever-sharper borders. They have no
understanding of the need to go to the sources of
geopolitical stress ('Kashmir'); nor of the economic
needs of large urban spaces, regardless of the
xenophobia of a few ('Bombay'). In their short-term
vision (lasting until retirement, or sometimes longer)
the generals, inspector-generals, secretaries and
under-secretaries only see a fence that can prevent
infiltration. On the ground, they do not consider the
separation of villages, communities, families and
markets. At the provincial level, they do not care to
understand how a fence will prevent the softening of
a frontier as a longer goal. Meanwhile, the divided
communities will begin to live ever-more-separated
lives. Without a fence, at least they could
interact 'illegally'.
Nobody suggests that the India-Pakistan and India-
Bangladesh frontiers be as completely open and
unregulated as exists between Nepal and India. Still,
there is a desperate need to ease interaction for border
peoples, lest their histories diverge beyond the point
of no return. The interests of West Bengal or Punjab
need not coincide exactly with that of New Delhi.
Simply put, it is easier to conceive of peace (and
prosperity) in our times when there is a relaxation at
the borders.
Coupled futures
A softening of Southasian borders would result in an
economic, cultural and social rejuvenation for these
multiple, interconnected regions. No crossborder
rapprochement would be more important for this
process than that of Punjab-Punjab. In his three years
as chief minister in Chandigarh, Amarinder Singh has
overseen a -slew of activities promoting inter-Punjab
exchange. From Punjabi language conferences, to
greatly increased cross-border interactions, to a
televised cross-border wedding - these are all
indications of Punjab straining towards Punjab.
Reopening direct road and rail links between Amritsar
and Lahore would offer these two regions significant
opportunities for cultural and commercial
collaboration. The cultural vibrancy of Lahore would
also energise all of Indian Punjab, challenging Delhi's
cultural supremacy in a way that has not happened
since Partition.
Unlike the fears of some, Punjab-Punjab amity
would not weaken the respective nation states. In fact,
it would provide the necessary balm for the fractured
psyches on both sides. If it is true that the Punjab-
based scars and subsequent animosities have
provided the demographic foundation for the India-
Pakistan hostility, then why should not the two
Punjabs make-up on the basis of shared history,
SAARC's Symmetry
Area* (land mass) (km2)
GDP (purchasing power)
(USD) 3.32 trillion
Exports (recorded. USD) 69.18 billion
Imports(USD)    . 89.33 billion
*Above: figure for given nation
Below: as a percentage of India
347.3 billion
15.07 billion
14.0 billion
275.7 billion
7.48 billion
10.03 billion
Sri Lanka
2.9 billion
1.3 billion
39,5 billion
80.6 billion
568 million
5.31 billion
1.54 million
90 million
1.42 billion
7.26 billion
196 million
392 million
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 culture and language? The divergence in worldviews
and identities that have developed in five-and-half
decades are strong enough for each region to stay
firmly within its parent state and economy. Seen in
this light, the renewed contact within the Land of the
Five Rivers would not only be important for Indo-
Pakistani rapprochement, but would be a marker for
the future of Southasian regionalism as a whole.
In the other frontiers of Southasia as well, there
are tentative moves towards engagement at the
borders. Mostly, they begin with travel, with
possibilities left open for trade. In early-
October, Pakistan's commerce minister
invited proposals for new trade routes
with India other than through the
Wagah-Atari Punjab border point. Bus
and train links between Sindh's
Khdkrapar and Rajasthan's Munabao
will finally reopen in early-2006, for the
first time since 1965. Meanwhile, the
best that Sindh and Maharashtra/
Gujarat can currently pin their hopes on is the mid-
September announcement that a ferry service will
start "soon" between Karachi and Bombay. That
timeframe should coincide well with the January
reopening of the Indian and Pakistani consular
offices in the Southasian financial capitals of Karachi
and Bombay - for the first time in more than a decade.
While West Bengal-Bangladesh cultural linkages
have always been strong - and now being made
stronger by crossborder Bangla-language satellite
television - recent years have seen increasing
interaction between elected officials in India's
Northeast states and Dhaka authorities. Meanwhile,
one of the most significant changes to have come
about in Kathmandu Valley has been a heightened
regard by the ruling establishment for the tarai region,
in particular its Madhesi plains inhabitants, who
have deep ties across the open border in Bihar and
Uttar Pradesh. As it evolves, this new amenability
will hopefully make Nepal's decision-makers keener
to establish and develop social, cultural and
economic contact with the crossborder regions of the
Ganga plains, with whose development Nepal's own
future is also tied. Unfortunately, the deployment of
...economies and
communities are
thus allowed to
interact naturally,
as they mw
meant to do.
Indian paramilitary forces along the Nepal border
in response to the perceived threat of Maoist
activities gives pause to those who would want this
frontier to remain unrestricted.
Nuclear-tipped region
Making the matter of crossborder exchanges a part
of regionalism should become an agenda of
Southasian 'off track' activism, whose players have
thus far preferred to go by the SAARC-mandated
definition of seven-countries and seven-capitals.
There is, after all, no need for Southasian civil
society to be bound by this definition, unless it seeks
to remain under the thrall of capital-centricism. But
let the scholars and activists explore other
definitions of regionalism - federalism, an
expanded SAARC, new extra-regional or
subregional grouping. At the same time, let them
work to define the most practical and feasible means
of energising crossborder flows. If the leaders of
SAARC themselves are willing to make a new
departure - just as did their predecessors two
decades ago by creating the organisation - then let
them bring the bilateralism of transborder openings
within the SAARC agenda.
Southasia is now a nuclear-tipped
region, where the need for peace is
even more pressing than when the
SAARC was chartered. As such, there
is a need to urgently create new
realities so that existing regional
flashpoints (India-Pakistan) are
defused post haste and potential
flashpoints (such as Bangladesh-
India) do not get to develop in the first place. While
this can be done by creating top-down economic
linkages - promoting cultural links, and so on '<-
those dynamics will organically generate
themselves by the simple act of re-establishing
opportunities for interaction between the
populations on the two sides of the 1947 borders.
When economies and communities are allowed to
interact naturally, as they were meant to, the
likelihood of frightened nationalistic or religious
fervour leading to potential largescale conflict
would be greatly reduced.
When we begin to move in such a direction, we
may ask - demand - a change of guard at the
Wragah-Atari border point. The exaggerated,
aggressive posturing of the soldier-gatekeepers
during the flag-lowering ceremony at the end of the
day must be replaced with the sedate choreography
of civilians. With a softening of borders, the
stomping of boots must be replaced by easygoing
handshakes at dusk. We no longer need the ear-
piercing clanging of the iron gates being slammed
shut at the end of the ceremony. Those gates could
simply be left open.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Jammu7 s
by | Elisa Patnaik
Their lives parallel the ups-and-downs of
relations between India and Pakistan - ruled
by crossborder tensions, fears of militancy, and
various forms of destabilisation. Many have lost
property, ancestral lands and family members.
Yet for those residing in the strife-torn border
districts of Jammu, hope and diehard survival
instincts compel them to continue trying to lead
'normal' lives.
Driving through the dusty villages of Jammu's
International Border (IB) sector, one is struck by
the remarkable serenity. As farmers cultivate their
fields; tube wells spew water; women wash
utensils or tend to cattle; and children play cricket
and volleyball, this could easily be mistaken for
bucolic Punjab. However, we are just a stone's
throw from the IB, where tensions between the
Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistani
Rangers are constantly simmering.
"We have got used to tlie situation, but tlie feeling
of apprehension is always there," says 65-year-
old Om Prakash, an ex-serviceman who lives in
Keso village in Samba District. "This is our village
and how far can one run from one's land?" For the
residents of Keso and the adjoining villages of
Barota and Pakhri, located within three km of the
IB, existing side-by-side with active military
personnel may not be new, but it certainly has
gotten old.
In addition to the bloody riots of
Partition, these villages have
witnessed the subsequent three
wars. One village on this side, called
Khanpur, consists only of Hindus
and Sikhs. Several families have been
doubly-uprooted - once in 1947 and
again after the capture of Chhamb
by the Pakistani army. Living in continuous
uncertainty has not removed the desperate desire
of the inhabitants to see the situation improved.
"Yes, we live our lives, but we do wish for this
constant tension to end," says Khanpur resident
Harpreet Singh. Along with her husband
Gurcharan, tlie 51-year-old migrated in 1975 from
a village near Chhamb, now in Pakistan. "For
several years we had led a very terrifying life, but
now it is relatively peaceful," says Gurcharan, a
teacher in the local high school.
Suddenly, tlie villagers
began to notice
discarded Pakistani
and cigarette packs
in their fields.
Since 1971, the border districts had indeed been
largely peaceful. But the early-1990s saw an influx of
militants, who used the Jammu route in order to
circumvent patrols along the Line of Control up north
in the Kashmir Valley. Suddenly, the villagers began
to notice discarded Pakistani biscuit-wrappers and
cigarette packs in their fields. To counter the
infiltration, the Indian government decided to put
up a barbed wire fence along the border, as had been
done earlier in Punjab and Rajasthan. Pakistani
artillery attempted to disrupt the fence-building,
forcing the Indian authorities to build an earthen
bund to enable construction of the fence. The new
barrier resulted in the displacement of several
farming families. The military step-
up culminated with the activation
of 'Operation Vijay' during the
Kargil War of 1999, with the civilian
population fleeing with the arrival
of the Indian Army.
More trouble followed. Mine
fields laid during Operation
Parakram - the massive
mobilisation of the Indian Army along the Pakistani
border after the attack on the Indian Parliament of
December 2001 - displaced more farmers from their
lands. No substitute livelihoods were provided and
the compensation hardly sufficed. "The government
compensation is too little for what we have lost so
far," laments 66-year-old Chaman Lai of Pakhri
village. In 1991, the residents of Gujjarbasti, a small
hamlet of the nomadic community, were moved from
their traditional lands near Balhad on the IB. "There
is inadequate water and fodder for our cattle where
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 we now are, and we long for our old land," says
resident Shamsuddin.
Most villages here have two or three memorials to
commemorate their martyrs from various wars and
operations. Many border families are kept afloat due
largely to sons, husbands and fathers in the Army,
the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police
Force, or the local police. Most of the older inhabitants
are pensioners. Those who are unable to shake
distrust of Pakistan and its intentions include the
families whose sons have been part of the three wars.
"India has always been the one for peace initiatives,
and it is only Pakistan that does not recognise these
efforts," says Puran Chand, of Mendhar in Poonch
District, with conviction.
Even so, antagonism towards Pakistan is more
palpable in New Delhi and the Indian hinterland
than it is in these frontier communities of Jammu,
among villagers who have been on the receiving end
of various aggressions for the past five decades. Most
harbour little ill will towards Pakistan, even though
it is they who have faced the brunt of crossborder
firing and militant infiltration. As 20-year-old
Avinash Jamwal asks, "There is so much to do - where
is the time for negative thoughts?" .After so many years
in the crossfire, Jammu's border residents would still
be the first to wave the flag of peace to their next-door
neighbours on the Pakistani side.
A border without history or logic
by | Sanjeeb Kakoty
The partition of India was one of the 20th
century's most tragically audacious
experiments in social engineering, one that
denied millennia of history at the stroke of a pen.
Though Partition has been the subject of considerable
research, the focus has generally been its study as
either a macro-political event, or as a cultural (and
personal) disaster. Little work has been done on the
individuals, communities and regions that straddle
the artificially created borders.
If you take the Northeast of India as a unit, then
fully 98 percent of its frontiers are international
borders, with the remaining two percent comprising
the Chicken's Neck corridor near Siliguri in West
Bengal. The international boundaries of the
northeastern region all encompass communities that
continue across into neighbouring countries,
including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and Tibet/
China. These divided communities, as elsewhere in
the region, share long histories of kindred language,
ethnicity, culture and economic interdependence.
The hill state of Meghalaya is bound on one side
by Assam and on the other by a 423 km border along
what are today the Sylhet plains of Bangladesh.
Colonial records are rife with reference to the
commerce that took place between the hill and plain.
One report noted in 1841 that, "A considerable trade
in cotton, iron ore, wax, ivory, betel leaf and cloths, is
carried on between the plains and the hills." The
1879 Statistical Account of Assam similarly found: "the
external commerce of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills is
chiefly conducted on the southern boundary, through
the district of Sylhet. The total value is more,
considerable than might be expected, owing to
the fact that these Hills practically possess
the monopoly of supplying Bengal with lime,
potatoes and oranges."
The hill folks met the plains people in the haat
markets, where the trade was brisk. During 1876, it
was estimated that total imports to the Khasi and
Jaintia Hills were worth more than Rs 1.5 million.
Rice was the major commodity, followed by fish
products and textiles, as well as salt, tobacco, tea
and coffee, brassware, liquor and the like. Total
exports from the area were around Rs 1.6 million,
particularly potatoes, limestone, cotton, betel
and oranges.
With the redrawing of political boundaries and
the emergence of new nation states, the centuries-old
commerce evaporated; what little was left went
underground. This is still the situation today, nearly
60 years after Partition.
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 One basket or two
But the locals of Meghalaya have not forgotten this
historical trade. In 2001, a group of indigenous Khasi
organisations submitted a memorandum to the then-
president of India, K R Narayanan, which stated:
"We seek Constitutional recognition to our simple
Hat Markets, for our open barter trade of our
perishable items with Bangladesh which has been
existing since time immemorial." The petition lists
commonly traded goods, highlighting the fact that
most of them are perishable and hence should rely
on the traditional markets for quick consumption.
The petitioners also lamented the fact that the
indigenous peoples were never consulted when the
border was demarcated, resulting in the deprivation
of traditional rights.
The Khasi assert that the country's trade figures
do not reflect the realities on the ground: "The present
system of declaring an area as an export and import
route will not solve the problem of the thousands of
poor people as they are not in a position to involve
themselves in the intricacies of export and import as
the majority are illiterate. They are just thousands of
poor people who want to barter one or two baskets of
their perishable items in exchange for fish, etc." A
subsequent petition stated that such arbitrary
closures of borders and issuance of directives against
"these very simple ancient activities is against all
humanitarian considerations."
Amidst the din of high-level border talks between
Bangladesh and India, however, few seem willing to
address these concerns. .As if the disruption of barter-
trade were not enough, the borderlanders have also
had to contend with state-imposed land alienation.
The enormity of this problem becomes clear in the
Jaintia region of Meghalaya - an area comprised of
undulating hills and lowlands, turning golden as
the ubiquitous paddy ripens. For centuries, the region
has been inhabited by the Khasi-Pnar, a Mon-Khmer
people who originally lived in the hills, while
cultivating the plains below. But no more: the
flatlands are no longer theirs. The logic of Partition
in this part of the Subcontinent stipulated that the
tribals would live in the hills, while the plains people
would cultivate the flatlands. For the Khasi-Pnar,
home became India, while their fields suddenly
became part of East Pakistan. In one stroke,
independent cultivators became a landless people.
Looking back, tliere is no doubt that the logic that
led to the demarcation between hills and plains was
flawed and lacking in humanity. Nonetheless, that
flaw comprises today's international border with
Bangladesh, reinforced with concrete and barbed
wire fencing. People like U Ron Pohtam or U Wah
Lykroh, who live near border-pillar number 1284-43
in India, have paddy fields that they can see across
the border in Bangladeshi territory - being tilled all
these decades by someone else. Similar experiences
are being repeated in village after village. In the
Meghalaya community of Amsku, farmers Shon
Lakasiang and his neighbour R Lakasiang are both
considered infiltrators because they regularly cross
the border to reach their fields, which they refuse
to give up. They have been fired at by border
guards and classified as habitual criminals.
For bringing home their produce, they are now
considered smugglers.
At the moment, there appears little doubt that the
voices of people like Ron Pohtam will be drowned in
the rush to preserve the sanctity of national borders
and sovereignties. If, in that process, small
communities are rendered .stateless or divested of
avenues necessary for their survival, it can be assumed
that their voices were considered inconsequential to
the quest for harmony of the 'civilised' world of
nation states. ^
A.A.A -A A A A A A A A .
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 I Analysis
A backward slide
by | Jehan Perera
The weakness of the February 2002 ceasefire
agreement between the Sri Lankan government
and the Tamil rebels is currently most obvious
in the country's northeast. Recently, a group of
journalists from the south was denied permission
by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) from
entering the areas of Trincomalee Province under
their control. The group was on an exposure visit,
to meet with civic organisations and distribute
tsunami relief goods. A year ago, a similar group of
journalists had not only been allowed to visit, but
were actually hosted by the LTTE in both
Kilinochchi and Jaffna to the north. What had
changed? Perhaps the instability of the northeast,
which left the rebel leadership feeling more
vulnerable, or perhaps it was the continuous killing
of civilians and affiliated members of various Tamil
groups. Either way, this marked a rapid
deterioration in human security.
Today, the town of Trincomalee {pictured above)
stands as particular witness to the inability of the
ceasefire to restore normalcy. Although Trincomalee
possesses golden beaches and a magnificent
harbour, it has become severely run down, with
extensive squalor and little modern development. In
addition, the tension in the town is today palpable,
particularly after dark. Travelling through
Trincomalee is now a frustrating throwback to the
pre-ceasefire years, with heavily armed soldiers at
every street corner, increasingly anxious as night
approaches. One soldier even accused the LTTE of
paying people to harass the armed forces.
Meanwhile, the Tamil inhabitants are now reluctant
to venture out at night.
The inadequacy of the ceasefire is particularly
apparent in dealing with political killings. In die face
of such incidents, there proves to be little remedy but
to protest to the international monitoring mission,
consisting solely of Scandinavians. The repetitious
reaction from the mission is to reiterate that its
mandate does not include such investigations or
remedial action. During the three-and-half years of
ceasefire, registered incidents of human rights abuses
have grown to nearly 4000 in number. In theory, the
protection of human rights would require an
environment conducive to that protection; the
question now is whether the ceasefire agreement has
provided such an environment. It may have brought
about a technical end to the war, but certainly not a
situation of peace.
Two principals
The recent murders of two of the most well-known
college principals in Jaffna might well comprise
watershed events. N Sivakadathcham (of Kopay
Christian College) and K Rajadurai (of Jaffna Central
College) were on opposite sides of the schism that
engulfs Tamil society - those who support and those
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 who oppose the LTTE. Sivakadathcham had
virtually resurrected his school, after years of war
had reduced it to a wreck. He had also been one of
the main organisers of the recent pro-LTTE Pongu
Thamil celebrations in Jaffna. The LTTE leadership
conferred high honours on Sivakadathcham
posthumously. Kajadurai, on the other hand, was a
prominent social activist and one of the few civic
leaders in Jaffna willing to be critical of the LTTE
and its methods. Consistently opposed to child
recruitment by the LTTE, he was murdered on his
way to a cultural function.
The deaths of Sivakadathcham and Rajadurai
have been taken as opportunities by the people of
the north to vent their anger and disgust publicly; a
sense of urgency seems suddenly to have gained
momentum, Civic leaders both in Jaffna and
elsewhere have strongly condemned the killings of
the educators, warning that such incidents are
destroying the Tamil community.
In peaceful, civilised societies, government and
regional leaders do not order the assassinations of
their rivals. In Sri Lanka, however, even during the
recent years of ceasefire, there have been several
hundred such murders. In peaceful, civilised
societies, citizens do not languish in refugee camps
or with distant relatives for 10 or 20 years, without
even the remote possibility of returning home. In Sri
Lanka, however, this is the situation of hundreds of
thousands of people. No wonder the country's
present condition is often described as one of no-war
and no-peace.
The institutional framework and environment
necessary to nurture and protect human rights in Sri
Lanka is currently lacking. Therefore, if the citizens'
rights are to be protected, new institutions need to be
set in place. As such, it was disappointing that the
mid-October visit by Ian Martin, the Human Rights
Advisor to the Peace Process (jointly appointed by
the government and LTTE), was not more
successful. Indeed, Martin's diplomatic call coincided
almost exactly with the assassination of the two Jaffna
principals. Subsequent discussions with the LITE
proved unfruitful, with the rebel leadership
suggesting that a joint declaration on human rights
would only be possible once peace talks were restarted.
The reasoning underlying such a stance suggests
that the ceasefire agreement by itself has not been the
final settlement for the conflict: it has simply stopped
the war. Building up institutions that will actually
protect human rights will require additional
negotiations, as well as progress on mutually agreed-
upon political reforms. On the other hand, unless a
respect for human rights underpins the peace process,
it cannot succeed. Every violation of human rights
further undermines confidence in the peace process,
in the minds of both the political parties and the
genera] public. .1
Sarai Programme, Centre for the Developing Societies, Delhi.
Call for Proposals: Sarai-CSDS Student Stipendship For Research
On The City 2005-06.
Sarai, an interdisciplinary research and practice
programme on City and Media, at the Centre for
the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, invites
applications for short term studentships to
facilitate research on urban life in South Asia.
Candidates may be from any discipline and should
be enrolled in Master, M.Phil or Ph.D programme
in India. You are required to send one page abstract
(indicating the scope, nature and approach of
proposed research) along with your CV.
Candidates who have already undertaken research
may also send a sample copy of their writing.
Indicative themes include: Urban histories,
architecture and spatial transformations, planning,
environment, labour, economy, community life,
memory and narratives of the city, literature and
urbanism, cinema and the city, visual culture,
public space and media practices.
Selected candidates will be expected to participate
in two workshops (February and June 2006) to
discuss their research after which they will present
a final paper in September 2006.
The stipendship amount is Rs.15,000. Sarai will
also take care of travel, boarding and lodging for
researchers attending the workshops.
Applications may be sent to:
Sadan Jha
Sarai, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
29. Rajpur Road, Delhi 10054
Ph: 23960040, 23942199 Inquiries:
Further details:
Deadline for Application: 21 November 2005
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
The J & K State Human Rights Commission
The healing can begin here
What hope is there for human rights protection in war-torn jammu
& Kashmir if the state's human rights bociv is hound and gagged?
by j Ravi Nair
Toothless tiger. Now, a dead horse. If the Jammu
& Kashmir state government wishes to make
good on its promise to strengthen the J&K
State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), it is going
to have to take note of these sombre - but apt -
metaphors. SHRC chairperson Justice A M Mir was
recently quoted as saying that, as far as the
implementation of the SI IRC's recommendations was
concerned, he was effectively "whipping a dead
horse." With continued governmental meddling in
the SI IRC's affairs, Justice Mir recalled that an earlier
chairman had called the Commission a 'toothless
tiger' and that now "we have lost the tail as well."
If a 'healing touch' is what the state government
of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed intended for the people
of jammu & Kashmir when it took over in November
2002, then empowering the SHRC should have been
one of the first steps in that direction. Indeed, the
Common Minimum Programme of the J&K state
government - composed of the Congress Partv and
the People's Democratic Partv - lists the
strengthening of the SHRC as one of its key objectives.
On the contrary, as Justice Mir publicly affirmed, the
SHRC has seen a rapid decline in its credibility.
'lhe United Nations principles regulating national
human rights institutions, known as the 'Paris
Principles', require that the entities be provided with
"an infrastructure which is suited to the smooth
conduct of its activities, in particular adequate
funding." The purpose of this funding should be to
enable it to have its own staff and premises, "in order
to be independent of the Government and not be
subject to financial control which might affect its
independence." The infrastructure and resources
provided to the J & K SHRC, however, are in no way
"suited to the smooth conduct of its activities".
Take building and infrastructure. Although the
SHRC is handling an increasing number of
complaints, it is still operating out of a half-completed
office building that has already fallen into disrepair.
Although part of the SHRC's intended Srinagar
headquarters was completed in 2001, work has
subsequently slowed almost to a halt. In the
meantime, the SHRC has been stranded in expensive
rented premises - paying INR 46,500 a month for a
space that is sufficient neither for the Commission's
purposes nor its status. On the other hand, in order
to tackle the increasing caseload, in early-2004 Justice
Mir had tried to open an additional office in Jammu;
when no office was provided, he was forced to operate
instead from his residence.
The SHRC's struggle for adequate resources is not
a recent development, with similar complaints being
made in a 1999 report. Unfortunately, little seems to
have changed since then, even though a new
government is in place. In successive annual reports
over the past six years, the SHRC has consistently
noted its difficulties in investigating violations in
remote areas due simply to the fact that it does not
have a vehicle capable of traversing rough terrain.
Without even a video camera, SHRC members are
forced to perform on-site investigations themselves -
greatly hampering efficiency.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Official neutering
Apart from the lack of physical resources, the
Commission continues to be beset by a number of
problems related to its powers and autonomy, all of
which have had a major impact on its
functioning and credibility. First, the
SHRC is currently dependent on the
state government for funding, needing
to laboriously appeal to lawmakers
whenever it requires an appropriation.
Second, a 2002 amendment to the j & K
Protection of Human Rights Act
stripped the SHRC of its ability to
appoint its technical staff, transferring
this power instead to the government.
Meanwhile, the government itself has
tailed to appoint the required staff,
resulting in eight essential posts
remaining vacant for three consecutive
years. Whether through negligence or
deliberation, such an oversight has
severely weakened the human rights machinery in
Jammu & Kashmir. The result of this low staffing is
that the SHRC is referring complaints about police
abuses to investigation by the police themselves.
The SHRC's reach is also stifled by its own
reluctance to pursue cases in concert with other legal
authorities. When cases are pending in court, the
Commission's policy is to dismiss them for want of
jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the SHRC is empowered
to intervene in any proceeding involving
human rights violation allegations, with the approval
of the court.
It is a matter of concern that senior civil servants
continue to show marked disregard for the SHRC's
recommendations. Officials have been known to
initiate their own investigations - the conclusions of
Justice Mir
which have often contradicted the SHRC's findings
- therebv undermining the Commission's authority.
A report obtained from the SHRC details 23 recent
decisions in which the concerned deputy
commissioner did not implement the
SHRC's recommendations. Justice Mir:
"It is an anomaly that for executing
warrants against the police officials, we
are dependent on the same force."
Without an effective enforcement
mechanism, the SHRC's
recommendations are meaningless.
The Commission's former
chairperson, Justice Abdul Qadir
Parray, made a similar complaint in
2002, stating that "cases of human
rights violations in Kashmir at the
hands of security forces are gathering
dust in the official chambers of L K
Advani [then-Home Minister!. Our
commission is only a recommendatory
body and has not been provided with enough powers
to force implementation."
Thus, the SHRC's actual effectiveness is difficult
to gauge. While the Commission had repeatedly
called for the government to provide an Action Taken
Report (AIR) on its recommendations, 2005 was the
first time in several vears that the government chose
to comply. While the ATR detailed the government's
responses in 141 SHRC cases in the 2003-04 report,
compensation was actually ordered in 152 cases. The
Ministry of Home Affairs reportedly asserted (falsely)
that no recommendations had in fact been made for
the 11 remaining cases. Furthermore, according to
at least one source, in 108 of those cases the
government did not follow through bv providing
any compensation. j,
Film South Asia 05, Kathmandu - Award Winners
Best Debut Film Award
"My Brother My Enemy" (India-Pakistan)
by Masood Khan and Kamal Negi
A unique joint-venture that reaches beyond borders to explore the psyche
behind a stormy relationship. For its engaging treatment. That its subject
- cricket - may help in defusing the tensions created between the two
countries. (From award citation by festival jury.)
Special Commendation
"City of Photos" (India) by Nishtha Jain
A multi-layered film, skillful in its attention to form. A highly reflective
production on the nature of representation itself.
Special Jury Award
"Final Solution" (India) by Rakesh Sharma
A powerful testimony to the horrific events that unfolded in Gujarat. For
synthesizing immediate documentary evidence with a historical
investigation ofthe crisis.
Second Best Film Award (shared)
"I for India" (UK-India) by Sandhya Suri
For showing that filmmaking is about telling a human story well. For
crafting an immensely moving film that lifts ordinary home movie footage
and weaves it into a depiction of a larger human condition
"A Certain Liberation" (Bangladesh) by Yasmine Kabir
For a poignant character portrait that provides a complex insight into the
1971 war, one of the biggest historical tragedies of the Subcontinent, Also,
for the empathy that the film shows for its subject-
flam Bahadur Trophy for Best Film
"Continuous Journey" (Canada-India) by Ali Kazimi
For proving once again that there are no limits lo imagination. For creating
a powerful film out of scarce source matenal. For bringing to light a lesser-
known historical event-the case of The Komagata Maru in 1914-and
giving it a powerful contemporary relevance. For its meticulous research
and highly creative blending of animalion, sound and archival material.
Film South Asia Secretariat, Himal Association, Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
Blinded by the
Against all civilisational values,
Islamabad and New Delhi proceed to
prepare their bombsand missiles-for
nuclear war to be fought on our soil.
by | Zia Mian
For decades, leaders of India and Pakistan have
been bewitched by the power of the bomb.
Regardless of their various other differences,
they seem to have believed that the threat of massive
destruction represented by nuclear weapons is a force
for good, and that the weapons themselves are vital
to the well-being of their respective countries.
President APJ Abdul Kalam, for instance, has
claimed that nuclear weapons are "truly weapons of
peace". For his part, President Pervez Musharraf has
declared that his country's nuclear weapons are as
critical and important as national security, the
economy and Kashmir.
For those not blinded by the Bomb, however, the
pursuit of nuclear weapons has brought nothing but
a competition in destructive capabilities and crisis
after crisis. The Cold War seemed proof enough, but
the lessons have been lost to those who rule in India
and Pakistan. New Delhi's nuclear ambitions have
served only to encourage Islamabad to foliow blindly.
The 1974 nuclear test at Pokhran sharpened
Pakistan's determination not to be left behind and,
as many had feared, the bomb was not willing to be
left in the shadows for long. First India and then
Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in May 1998,
Things went from bad to worse. The Kargil War
followed barely a year afterwards, proving that two
nuclear armed countries could indeed fight wars -
contrary to the suggestions of some. Many hundreds
of soldiers died on each side, as the leadership in the
two countries threatened apocalypse. A little over two
years later, India and Pakistan prepared to fight
again. An estimated half-million troops were rushed
to the border and, as days turned into weeks and
months, nuclear threats were made with abandon.
What lessons were learned from the extended standoff
at the border? None, it seems - other than perhaps
that each country needed to be better prepared to fight
a nuclear war.
In 2005, both countries carried out major war
games that assumed the possible use of nuclear
weapons. An India-Pakistan nuclear war, in which
each used only five of their available nuclear
weapons, would kill an estimated three million
people and severely injure another one-and-a-half
million. Meanwhile, even as Southasian and world
public opinion press both countries to step back from
the nuclear brink, New Delhi and Islamabad respond
with efforts to portray themselves as 'responsible'
nuclear states. At the same time, they continue to push
forward as hard as possible with their arms race.
The abvss between words and deeds was clear
from the first public show of nuclear responsibility -
the 1999 Lahore summit between prime ministers Atal
Bihari Vajpayee and Mian Nawaz Sharif. Even
though the two men had ordered their nuclear
establishments to undertake tests barely a year earlier,
in Lahore they discussed "sharing a vision of peace
and stability" and "progress and prosperity" for their
peoples, lhe summit produced little in the way of
tangible progress on controlling the nuclear arms
race. The two states did agree to inform each other
about ballistic missile tests, but it was only in October
2005 that they finally followed through on that
agreement. Even so, the accord does nothing to limit
the future development or testing of missiles.
War games
The Subcontinent is in the middle of a missile race.
Both India and Pakistan have tested various types of
missiles in recent years, even taking initial steps
towards the deployment of nuclear-armed missiles.
India has introduced the 2000 km-range Agni-II
missile into its arsenal. Pakistan has done the same
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 with the 750 km Shaheen missile, as well as having
tested the 1500 km Ghauri. These missiles would
need as little as five minutes of flight time to reach
important cities in the 'opposing' countries.
Just as happened during the Cold War between
the United States and the Soviet Union, in Southasia
the development of these missiles has triggered a
frantic search for a defence shield, as well as a
counter to such a defence. India has sought ballistic
missile defences from Russia, Israel and the US to
neutralise Pakistan's missiles. Pakistan has
responded by testing a 500 km-range ground-
launched cruise missile, which General Musharraf
linked to concerns about Indian plans: "There was a
feeling that there was an imbalance, which is being
created because of the purchase of very advanced-
technology weapons ... Let me say this improves
the balance."
The quest for advantage triggers the quest for
balance and on it goes. It is no surprise that militaiy
budgets in both India and Pakistan have spiralled
since the nuclear tests began. India spent over INR
2.2 trillion on its military between 2000 and 2004.
Gen Musharraf has revealed that Pakistan has spent
more since 2000 on its nuclear arsenal than it had in
the previous 30 years.
The future looks worse. In June 2005, the US and
India   signed   a   10-year   defence-cooperation
agreement, which involves the sale of
advanced weapons and assistance to
both   India's   space   and   nuclear
programmes. As a senior US official
explained: "[Our] goal is to help India
become a major world power in the 21st
century," adding, "We understand
fully   the   implications,   including
military     implications,     of     that
statement." The agreement's purpose
was made clear when former US
ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill,
asked, "Why should the US want to
check India's missile capability in ways that could
lead to China's permanent nuclear dominance over
democratic India?"
The June decision was followed in July with a
more explicit nuclear deal, in which the Bush
administration agreed to overturn US and
international regulations that have for decades
restricted India's access to uranium, the raw material
for both nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons. For its
part, India will separate its military and civil nuclear
facilities and programmes and will volunteer its civil
facilities for inspection by the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA). The US has not asked India
to halt the production of nuclear weapons material
as part of the deal; India is unlikely to do so. Access
to the international uranium market would allow
India to free up more of its domestic uranium for a
significant expansion of its nuclear weapons
capabilities. India's options could, for example,
include building a third nuclear reactor to make
plutonium for more weapons; beginning to make
highly-enriched uranium for weapons; or making
fuel for the nuclear submarine it has been trying to
build for decades.
Pakistan has now asked for the same deal from
the United States. Former army chief Jahangir
Karamat, now ambassador to the US, has warned:
"The balance of power in Southasia should not
become so tilted in India's favour, as a result of the
US relationship with India, that Pakistan has to start
taking extraordinary measures to ensure a capability
for deterrence and defence." The US has refused
Islamabad's request, citing, among other things,
Pakistan's role in spreading nuclear weapons
tecjhnologies to North Korea, Libya and Iran, and its
refusal to come clean on tire A Q Khan affair. Despite
all the talk of a 'minimum deterrent', Pakistan may
now seek to prepare for an expansion of its own
programme. A former Pakistani foreign secretary has
even argued that Islamabad "should refine its
deterrent capability by stepping up research and
development and by integrating strategic assets on
land, air and sea - though even that project would be
costly and take years."
of its own
Time of madmen
DeSPHe all the      "ie  increasingly  powerful  nuclear
fltliC fit SI 'minimum weaPons complex in both India and
illHSISIlii Pakistan 1S overwhelming good sense
88teriSn*, and derailing the possibility of peace. On
PtflSCiStiin fflSV nOW ^ot^ s,c,es' w^ similarly narrow goals,
eaalr til $*wan*tma    nuclear weapons proponents are driving
the Subcontinent ever faster down the
path toward bigger and more dangerous
nuclear arsenals and war. The time has
come for us to echo the words of the
American sociologist Lewis Mumford,
writing soon after the dawn of the nuclear
age: "Madmen govern our affairs in the name of order
and security. The chief madmen claim the titles of
general, admiral, senator, scientist, administrator.
Secretary of State, even President."
If Southasia is to survive its own nuclear age, we
will need strong peace movements in both Pakistan
and India, as well as tiiroughout the rest of Southasia.
The first steps have already been taken. The Pakistan
Peace Coalition, founded in 1999, is a national
network of groups working for peace and justice. On
the other side of the border, Indian activists in 2000
established the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
and Peace. These movements will need all the help
and support that they can get to keep the generals,
presidents and prime ministers in check. Leaders in
India and Pakistan must be firmly told that the
people will not allow a nuclear war to be fought.   A
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 Southasia Mediafile
.As we look ahead to the SAARC Summit, we'll just
remind the reader that a two-day meeting of SAARC
information ministers, held in Kathmandu on 30
August, appeared to accomplish a lot. They decided
to set up a regional media development fund, with
seed money of USD 1 lakh put up by India. They will
broadcast a weekly radio news programme, 'SAARC
News', and a monthly TV news programme, 'SAARC
Roundup'. Sri Lanka has agreed to organise a
SAARC Film Festival, covering feature films, telefilms
and documentaries. The 'fifth SAARC quiz' will be
broadcast via teleconference. The meeting also
requested Pakistan to complete a video documentary
titled "SAARC in the New Millennium". After so
much accomplished, the ministers agreed to meet next
in India in 2006. All Chhetria Patrakar can say to the
SAARC-wallahs is this - remember quality, shun
To get ahead in life, one needs to
remind one's self every so often of
the full name of A P J Abdul Kalam,
whose presidency India is presently
undergoing. He is Avul Pakir
Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam.
- daft      J
Speaking of people with titles
and long names, how about this
one: Nava Yubaraj Hridayendra
Bir Bikram Shah Dev, grandson
of the king and queen of Nepal.
Now there's a young man to
watch - born 20 July 2002, with a
lineage, a title and a surname that
extends on and on. This picture
was distributed to the media by
the Kathmandu royal palace
press secretariat, and Chhetria Patrakar is happy to
oblige. The grandson-prince has an elder sister,
Yuvarajkumari Purnika Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, as
well as a younger sister, Yuvarajkumari Kritika Rajya
Laxmi Devi Shah.
■ ■
Word arrived that there was a media institute getting
started in Barabanki, 30 km east of Lucknow. The
Jahangirabad Media Institute is located in a
renovated 150-year-old palace-fort. The brainchild
of a group of overseas Indians, it is all set to offer
"world-class postgraduate courses in media and
mass communications". With 50 percent of its seats
reserved for minorities, the Institute was deliberately
located in this "backward area" of Uttar Pradesh,
say the organisers. JMl's advisory board is packed
with Indian media biggies, the likes of Javed .Akhtar,
Tarun Tejpal, Sashi Kumar and Aparna Sen. So,
Chhetria Patrakar tried to get in touch with the
Institute by email for more information, but received
no response. If the reader wants to try, go to
www .fin imedia .org.
: w
For those who knew Humanscape magazine, say
goodbye. It suspended publication in October 2005
because it ran out of money.
Over the past dozen years,
the   magazine   saw   the
sweat    and   labour    of
notable   editors,   while
seeking to cover issues of
development and society
through the perspective of
the   'individual'.   The
closure was announced   I
by the current editor,   j
Geeta    Seshu.    There
is     now     one     less
publication to stand up
against the tide of commercial journalism
that has overtaken the Indian mediascape. When
will that tide turn?
■ ■
A magazine dies, a magazine is born. This one is
Hills and Mountain Today, a new bimonthly edited
by Jawaharlal Nehru University academic and
Darjeeling native Mahendra P Lama, who, until a
decade ago, had brought out Himalaya Today. The
new mag's intention is to provide 'thinking space'
to consider the culture, society and progress in hill
and mountain regions of Southasia. Good luck!
■ ■
While still on the subject of periodicals, Chhetria
Patrakar believes that one reason that Hindutva
fundamentalism is on the rise in Bharat is because
publications like Ravivaar, Dinmaan and
Dharmayug, which provided intelligent reading in
Hindi, were snuffed out by their publishers more
than a decade ago - supposedly because they did
not make money, or at least a sizeable profit. But the
vernacular intelligentsia lost out significantly in the
bargain. Someday, a social scientist will look into
the phenomena and write a thesis titled: "India's
rightward tilt and the demise of Hindi-language
review magazines."
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Indian Minister for Information
and Broadcasting Jaipal Reddy
spent August and September
giving broad hints of his ministry's
active support for energising
India's desperate community
radio situation. There are only
about 10 such stations nationwide
- in a country the size of India.
Among the as-yet unofficial
promises: community stations can carry sorely-
needed advertising (good for the stations and good
for small, neighbourhood businesses); non-hard
news coverage is okayed; and a stieamlining of the
licensing process for NGOs is promised. Community
radio activists are counting the minutes. Even as
community radio struggles to gain a foothold, the
world of commercial FM radio in India is set to boom.
Currently, 300 new stations are slated to kick-off next
■ ■
While the country was essentially shutdown for the
eight-day   Dasain   (Dusshera)   holiday,   King
Gyanendra's regime sprung a trap. It promulgated a
media ordinance to clamp down on the vibrant
vernacular press and radio. The move towards
muzzling editorial independence had actually
started the day after the royal coup of 1 February
2005, with a government notice threatening dire
consequences to those who did not follow the
regime's diktat. But over the subsequent months,
journalists have stubbornly resisted, managing to
keep the flame of media freedom alive. In a
. counterattack, the regime
pushed through the ordinance
in mid-October, announcing
stiff penalties to out-of-line
^ journalists; banning FM radio
stations from broadcasting
news; and barring all criticism
of the 'royal family', without
defining who constituted that
family. There was also prejudiced targeting of fhe
largest Nepali media house, Kantipur. It has
become still clearer that the royal regime lives in
a century entirely of its own - ignoring public and
world opinion, while trying to suffocate a
rambunctious press that will have none of it. King
Gyanendra has been cautioned on overstepping
the bounds of propriety by the likes of UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UNESCO
Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura. Said
Matsuura San: "The new curbs on media rights
contained in this ordinance would indicate that
the situation is getting worse. All of these acts
represent attacks on the independence of the
media, and therefore on democratic progress."
This is Nepal's journalists' finest hour - the
privilege rarely comes to stand up and be counted.
■ ■
In plain sight for the Southasian audience, there
is a dumbing-down happening with the Hindi
news channels of India, Recently, the story of an
astrologer predicting his death at a particular time
on a particular day led to hours of coverage on
most news programmes. And no, he did not
finally die. A child remembering his past life
recently hogged the limelight. News channels go
live as the winners of reality TV shows are
announced. During lunar eclipses, in-house
astrologers hold extended discussions about the
ramifications. In the midst of the Dusshera festival
that just ended, one channel brought an actor into
the studio, dressed up as the demon-king Ravan
to discuss the festival - he was addressed as
'Ravanji'. The obscurantism that all this is
promoting among the north Indian middle
classes should be a matter of worry, for into which
dark alley will this group drag the rest of us?
■ ■
In a particular Southasian magazine, a columnist
was asked by an editor for clarification: why had
he placed some lines of verse about the breeze
(hawa), by tire poet Ramesh Prajapati, at the top of
his column, with context unclear? His eloquent
reply is worth a read: "Editor sahib, there is an
inherent message behind that reference to Hawa -
even when we think nothing is happening, subtle
changes that will define the future are taking place
all around us. It is a poetic license, yes - but not of
a lazy, but rather of a languid columnist. In
Pakistan-India relations, Hawa is a powerful
metaphor: Garma Hawa that created Partition,
Sarda responses in the seventies, Shusk
relationships in the eighties, Talkhi in the nineties,
and a little Garmahat thereafter, A prose composer
would need to write a book to express all of these.
Ramesh Prajapati has captured the essence in all
of 15 words!" J>
- Chhetria Patrakar
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 I Analysis
Wild frontier:
.1 -I—.'*. i.l».
tigers of a transboundary jN«epal-.oinar lorest
area be given dual citizenship,
so that they are protected on
I both sides?
by | Samir Kumar Sinha
Flying northeast into Kathmandu from the
direction of New Delhi, just as the aircraft begins
its descent adjacent to the Nepali tarai, a wide
stretch of jungle suddenly appears beneath. This is
an unexpected swath of green, given that whole
stretches of the tarai region have been deforested over
the past half-century by logging and human
encroachment. This expanse of low, wooded valleys
and riverine jungle is unique as the finest stretch of
wild lands west of Assam - also a vibrant reminder
of the great jungles of the Ganga plains that
disappeared long ago. Today, this expanse is habitat
to several Southasian 'climax species', most
importantly, the one-horned rhinoceros, the tiger, and
the gharial and marsh mugger crocodiles.
Perhaps just as distinctive is that this area of jungle
falls under three wildlife units in two different
countries. The Royal Chitwan National Park and the
Parsa Wildlife Reserve are protected areas within
Nepal; the Valmiki Tiger Reserve is part of Bihar State
in India. This crossborder region thus offers unique
possibilities for cooperative protection of one of the
few unique, surviving natural habitats in the region.
Unfortunately, due to recent political confusion in
Nepal and a general lack of interest all around, the
possibilities for cooperation are, for the moment, in
The Valmiki reserve is named after the sage
Valmiki, who is said to have written his epic Ramayan
in a retreat located in these rolling hills. Located in
West Champaran District, the reserve extends
westward from the town of Valmikinagar, by the
Gandak River, to Bhiknathori, a railhead settlement
in the ancient trade route from the plains to Nepal's
central hills. In the middle is the Someswar range,
part of which is known as the Shiwalik range in India
and the Churia in Nepal. On both sides of the
Someswar undulation, in Chitwan District of Nepal
and West Champaran of India, are found the
indigenous forest-dwelling Tharu people.
What is today the Royal Chitwan National Park
was once part of a much wider area populated only
by the Tharu in forest pocket.s, extending all the way
across this 'doon' valley of Chitwan to the
Himalayan foothills. After most of the valley was
cleared through lumber extraction and settled by hill
folk starting in the early 1960s, it was decided to
convert the southernmost region, as yet uncleared,
into first a protected area and later a national park.
The Parsa Wildlife Reserve extends eastward from
the national park and is part of Parsa District,
otherwise highly populated by the Bhojpuri-
speaking Madhesi community and containing the
entrepot town of Birgunj.
The contiguous forests of Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki
(CPV) support a healthy population of what can be
considered the Subcontinent's flagship wildlife
species, the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris). In
the colonial era and earlier, this wildlife-rich area
attracted rajas, nawabs and zamindars who came in
for extended hunting expeditions. Later, colonial
royalty such as King George V and King Edward VIII
(Prince of Wales) also came to hunt big game - which
would be conducted spectacularly on elephant-back
with sometimes hundreds of additional pachyderms
providing support, driving prey towards the hunter.
This area was once continuous woodland,
stretching from the Dehradun region of present-day
Uttaranchal, 1800 km east to Assam, past the Nepal
tarai and the Bhutan duars. Today, it is visible in
satellite imagery only in patches. This fragmentation
of habitat has presented a crisis for the Subcontinent's
tiger population, which make up about half of the
world's total. Of the estimated 6000 tigers that survive
in the wild today, as many as 200 of them survive in
the alluvial grasslands and moist, deciduous forests
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 along the India-Nepal border - in the Bardia and
Shukla Phanta reserves of Nepal's western tarai and
Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki at the centre. Besides being
larger, the CPV region also has the largest area under
forest cover, which affords a more ideal tiger habitat.
An estimated 80 tigers reside in the trans-border
region, with about 35 thought to be normally resident
in Valmiki in India and the rest in Nepal.
The CPV region has become so vital for tiger
conservation that the US World Wildlife Fund has
identified it as a Tiger Conservation Unit (TCU) that
should receive top international priority. A TCU is
defined as an area of habitat that either already
contains or has the potential to host an 'interacting
population' of tigers. CPV is a priority because of
what scientists call 'habitat integrity', a situation of
low poaching pressure and a relatively abundant
tiger population. Scientists assume that such an
environment offers the maximum possibility of long-
term survival for tigers in the wild.
World heritage
"3ecause of the three regimes and two countries under
which Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki is located, the full
extent of the size and scope of this conservation area
is not fully appreciated by the administrators on the
two sides of the border, nor by the public at large.
Faking the TCU as a whole, this is a protected wildlife
.irea of 2311 sq km, which includes 932 sq km of
Vhitwan, 499 sq km of Parsa, and 880 sq km of
Valmiki. Including buffer zones and other areas outside
rhe core wildlife reserves, the total conservation area
.-overs an area as large as 3549 sq km.
Chitwan was declared a national park in 1973,
while the Parsa Wildlife Reserve was announced in
1984. Wild elephants are actually the star attraction
oi the latter reserve; Chitwan is known for the tigers
in its sal and other forests, and the rhinoceroses in its
riverine grasslands. The habitat had been well
protected as a royal hunting reserve from 1846 to
1951 during the Rana regime. In 1963, an area south
of the Rapti River was demarcated as a rhinoceros
sanctuary, which was later converted to the national
park. In 1984, recognising the wealth of its natural
habitat, Chitwan was added to the World Heritage
List by UNESCO.
Prior to Indian independence in 1947, the Valmiki
forest was owned by the Bcttiah Raj and the
Ramnagar Raj. Interestingly, the rulers of Ramnagar
were descended from a raja said to be named Burangi
Singh, a satrap of "the mountains of Telhoni or
Telahu" in Nepal, according to a historical source.
Owing to oppression by the king of Nepal, he is said
to have taken refuge in the low hills around Tribeni
Ghat, which is the point where the Narayani River
(Gandak in Bihar) flows onto the plains. The fleeing
raja established himself at Ramnagar, which today
falls in a subdivision of West Champaran.
Both Bettiah and Ramnagar states took advantage
of the income that the jungle offered. The Valmiki
forests were subsequently leased out to companies
such as M/s Dearr & Co and Nepal Timber Co, which
led to years of commercial exploitation and
degradation of the woodlands. The government took
over the tracts after Independence in 1947, later
establishing the Valmiki Wildlife Sanctuary in two
stages, in 1978 and 1990. Between 1974 and 1994,
however, Valmiki was heavily exploited by the Bihar
State Forest Development Corporation, until the area
was declared a Tiger Reserve under the Project Tiger
programme originally started by Indira Gandhi as
prime minister. Finally, there was a complete ban on
the extraction of all forest products. Though not fully
implemented, this new policy led to a healthy
recoverv of the Valmiki forest, in fact, a recent studv
of the entire tarai region in India found Valmiki's
forest cover and species wealth to be lar better than
Nationality ol the tiger
The Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki forests together form the
territorial area of many tigers, lhe crossborder
movements by the animals increase during the
breeding season. During the summer, there is a
general move north into Chitwan bv the beasts
inhabiting the northern side of Valmiki. The Indian
paramilitary forces deployed along the border in
response to the Maoist rebellion in Nepal have also
noticed these movements - they file reports, tor
example, of a 'Nepali tiger' entering the Valmiki or
an 'Indian tiger' moving north into Chitwan. Of
course, the international frontier has no meaning for
the big cats, Thev have no citizenship: they simply
traverse the habitat that evolution has ordained tis
their own.
During the 2003 monsoon, a tiger corpse remained
trapped for two days in the sluice gate of the Gandak
Barrage at Valmikinagar. The Indian press reported
that a dead "Nepali tiger" was stuck in the barrage,
as if the deceased creature had a passport or identity
card. In reality, no one can guess the origin of a tiger
in these trans-boundary habitats unless it is radio-
collared or in some way marked. Even then, because
of the animals' shifting bases, it is impossible to locate
the points of origin of borderland tigers. In essence, a
tiger can move through the forests of either country,
and in any of the three protected areas, lhe
responsibility for its care and protection
subsequently rests with the forest wardens and
policvmakers of both countries.
In the Madi Valley of Chitwan, which hosts a
cloistered settlement of Tharus and hill migrants
surrounded by jungle, one hears similar references
to the nationality of tigers. Between 198(1 and 2000,
nearly 50 people were said to have been killed in
Chitwan; 24 of these deaths took place in the four
Himal Southasian \ Nov-Dec 2005
 years prior to 2001 in the Madi region. Most of the
'suspect' tigers were said to have been 'Indian',
entering from some degraded tracts on the other side
of the border. Conversely, when a tiger killed two
yillagers at Raghia in India, it was assumed by the
Indian authorities that the culprit was 'Nepali'. The
real cause of the deaths, of course, was the increasing
encroachment into the protected forests by villagers
of either nationality - this is the habitat of tigers,
after all, for which the only citizenship is the jungle.
Eco-regional cooperation
As yet, no thorough study has been done on habitat
status, land use, and the population and movements
of tigers in the area south of the Madi Valley within
Chitwan, where the Nepali and Indian forests meet.
It is assumed that this is an important corridor for
tiger movement between the eastern part of the
Valmiki reserve and the Chitwan-Parsa forest.
During a May 2005 tiger census in Valmiki, several
tigers were reported in this eastern sector. Evidence
of tigers has also been found near the Someswar Fort,
on a summit of the range by the same name, south of
Madi. Boulder mining has recently been banned from
Valmiki's easternmost edge, which is further
expected to improve tiger habitat, with less human
As it cuts through the Churia/Shiwalik hills, the
meandering Narayani River ('Gandak' as it flows
into India) provides a direct link between Chitwan
and Valmiki. This corridor sees the downstream
movements of tigers, rhinos and ungulates from
Chitwan into Valmiki during the monsoon floods.
In August, a field assistant with the Wildlife Trust of
India even saw a tiger cub floating downriver near
the barrage. In 2000, a 'Nepali' rhino was located in
the Pandai riverbed of eastern Valmiki. A herd of
elephants was also recorded having entered Valmiki
from Chitwan and moving southward towards
human settlements before being driven back.
A clear protocol has still not been agreed upon as
to how to deal with these animals of the contiguous
forests of CPV- The across-the-border arrangements
have generally been ad hoc. If this TPU is to be
maintained in the relatively high qualify of its habitat
and wildlife, there is a need for the two countries to
begin sustained cooperative efforts. This includes
control of illegal logging and poaching, and ensuring
that the encroachment of human inhabitants in
surrounding villages does not degrade the quality of
habitat required for the tigers and other animals.
For their parts, poachers and loggers currently use
this wild frontier to their advantage, quickly hopping
the border after committing forest- or wildlife-related
offences. Nepal's Maobaadi reportedly use the
Someswar forest tract from the Bhikna Thori railhead
into the Madi Valley as an arms and material supply
route into the hills of central Nepal. While it is unclear
whether this has impacted Nepali conservation
efforts, a sharp increase in the number of rhinos killed
by poachers is clearly problematic. The national
park's protection has always been the jurisdiction of
the Royal Nepal Army, which is presently
preoccupied with anti-insurgency operations
throughout the country, and is said to have a lean
presence in Chitwan.
The national park has long been the pride of the
Nepali conservation effort, and it has a far better
protection system than does its Indian counterpart.
But reports of a sharp rise in rhinos killed here in the
last year bespeaks of the deteriorating situation in
Chitwan, which results in a degradation of the status
of the entire crossborder region. Poachers and
contraband runners come from both sides of the
frontier. Last year, Nepali authorities arrested Indian
villagers with leopard skins and tiger bones at Tribeni
Ghat on the Gandak; earlier, a Nepali was also caught
red-handed with leopard skins by Valmiki
authorities. Surveillance of the region by wildlife
authorities from both sides - rather than just by the
paramilitary forces of one side - would help
tremendously in tackling poaching and contraband
A meeting of Indian and Nepali wildlife officials
on trans-boundary conservation was held between
Nepal and India in Kathmandu back injanuary 1997.
Far-reaching resolutions were adopted to promote
the establishment of trans-border conservation areas
in appropriate regions, maintain appropriate
databases, and share relevant information for
biodiversity conservation, lt was also decided to
create complementary anti-poaching mechanisms,
conduct joint-training, and to exchange research
information on wildlife matters. At a follow-up
meeting in New Delhi in 1999, the two sides agreed
to develop communication systems in Nepal-India
trans-border conservation areas, as well as to protect
corridors for the seasonal movements of wildlife. In
particular, there were expressed commitments to
develop eco-regional cooperation in the CPV area.
Unfortunately, these laudable decisions have yet
to be implemented on the ground, particularly in
Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki. Here, trans-boundary
cooperation is still in its embryonic stage. Admittedly,
Valmiki is on the road to recovery after being included
in the Project Tiger scheme, added to the ban on forest
resource exploitation. But because the ecological
integrity of the entire CPV region is vital, it is
important to maintain the high standards of
management in the Royal Chitwan National Park,
as well as to enhance the 'integrity' of the Parsa
Wildlife Reserve. All in all, focus in all three
units should be on protection, containing wildlife
trade, regular habitat monitoring, and paying
attention to the needs of the large carnivores,
especially the tiger.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
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Channel Southasia
Isn't it time for a regional television network Hal thinks Southasian' and
broadcasts via satellite and cable throughout mg regionP Willie lain
America's incipient Telesur anil West Asia's enerpetie fll Jazeera m%M
proylde nioiJeis it is clear that we will have to m our own way.
by | Aman Malik
On 24 July this year, in an ostensible bid to
"promote Pa tin American integration", a
new pan-South American television
channel began broadcasting from the Venezuelan
capital of Caracas. Telesur - short for 'Television of
the South' - has the patronage of the left-leaning
governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and
Cuba. It hopes to be the 'ideological rival' to the
perceived pro-American CNN Latin, which has been
the only international television news network
available in the region. Beginning with USD 10
million in start-up capital provided by Venezuelan
president Hugo Chavez's government, Telesur's
bosses also hope to rope Brazil into the project -
although that country is currently looking into
launching its own international network.
In Telesur's favour is the fact that the 'mainstream'
audiences in all of the major Latin American
countries have similar cultural and linguistic
sensibilities - Spanish and Catholicism. Whether or
not these commonalties are enough to make the
channel a viable alternative to the Western media in
general and CNN Latin in particular remains to be
seen. Moreover, the fact that the venture is overtly
backed by governments with distinct anti-US
predilections puts a political colour on the project
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 and a question mark on the editorial independence
and credibility of the new channel. Despite these
potential pitfalls, however, this model is significant
in that it could, with suitable variations, be replicated
in other developing regions of the world, including
Telesur has only recently begun broadcasting, and
it might be premature to propose a regional television
channel for Southasia on the basis of its untested
concept. However, it is interesting that another region
of 'the South' has felt the need for an audio-visual
voice for itself, at a time when the idea of a channel
for the Subcontinent as a whole has begun to take
hold in the minds of many. Regionalism in Southasia,
which got a boost with the official sanction of the
establishment of SAARC two decades ago, has been
an increasingly important theme for civil society in
each of the region's countries. Over time, such groups
have felt the need for print and electronic media that
cover the region as a whole; the overwhelming
presence of western satellite news has made analysts
call for native channels. The spread of Indian
channels, in particular the satellite
footprints of Hindi and English
broadcasts emanating from India,
has again led people in other
countries to call for a satellite
channel that is uniquely Southasian,
without allegiance to any national
Some believe that now is the perfect
time for a Southasian channel; they
tend to be the idealists who hanker
for 'soft borders', Southasian
camaraderie, peace and the
prosperity that comes from peace.
There are others who believe that the time is not right
for such a channel; they tend to be the realists who
point out, first, that the audiences are currently not
present for a channel that tries to be all things to all
audiences across seven nation states. They also point
to the enormous costs of running a satellite channel
in Southasia. Such an investment would be unlikely
to be backed by bankers and investors - at least, not
until the movement for Southasian regionalism
evolves into a revolution.
The look-inward policy
While Southasia as a whole has always had a vibrant
media in comparison to many other regions of the
southern hemisphere, each of the region's media has
traditionally looked homeward. The space that
remains on the pages beyond national news - or the
time, in terms of television or radio programming -
is filled by news on Western societies. "Most of the
countries in our region are striving to become
developed; hence the focus is only on 'ourselves'",
admits  CNBC's  Karma   Paljor  in   New   Delhi.
Intraregional news seldom filters through the
airwaves, except in the case of particularly dramatic
developments. An average Indian or Pakistani today
is perfectly elued-in to the ,\merican 'war on terror',
but knows next to nothing about the Maoist
insurgencv in Nepal or the status of the ceasefire
between the LTTE and the government in Colombo.
Coverage of the Southasian neighbourhood is
hampered by the fact that no television channels,
beyond the few big Indian channels, keep
correspondents (or even stringers) in the
neighbouring countries. As a result, the news that is
used is filtered through the medium of Western wire
services and television channels. A region the size of
the Subcontinent generates an enormous volume of
news, but you would not know that 'there is a region
out there' if you watched television in any of the
countries of Southasia. The Indian channels that are
able do so send camera units parachuting into nearby
countries - if there is a bombing spree in Dhaka, for
instance, a state of emergency in Kathmandu, or a
tsunami disaster in Colombo. But thev themselves
have neither the wherewithal nor the
interest to stay with a story to do
The fact that the existing nation-
based channels do not do justice to
neighbouring societies is perhaps to
be expected. As yet, television is a new
medium, still in the process of finding
its feet within each country. In India,
for example, the pan-Indian channels
are now giving way to regional
language channels. Some may say
that this will actually make the
channels more localised and
parochial. But by the same token, such channels could
look more closely at issues of a crossborder nature
(Bengal-Bengal, Punjab-Punjab, and so on) than
would a national channel based in New Delhi. Be
that as it may, over time audience interest in regional
matters has been on the rise all over the Subcontinent.
Concedes CNBC's Paljor, "Editorial rooms need the
regional picture, otherwise the storv sinks."
As audiences in Bangladesh, India, Nepal,
Pakistan or Sri Lanka get fed more news about
neighbouring countries, their appetites are bound to
be whetted. Over time, this will pave the way for a
Southasian television channel.
A pan-regional network?
In an increasingly globalised information system,
every region must hear of and be heard by the world at
large. By this rationale, doesn't Southasia owe itself
and the world its own regional television network?
Sri Lankan writer and media commentator Nalaka
Gunawardene approves of the idea. Bobby
Ramakant, an Indian freelance journalist, similarly
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 believes that such a media initiative would
contribute greatly to stabilising the region: "The
Indian and Pakistani media have contributed
significantly toward the polarisation of their citizens
against each other," he says. "Now is just the right
time for Southasia to have its own regional TV
broadcast. Such a network will make media more
accountable, not provide misleading or provocative
imagery of others countries, and instead talk about
common issues and problems."
Philip Fiske de Gouveia, of the Foreign Policy
Centre in London, echoes Ramakant's sentiments:
An independent Southasian broadcaster would
help forge regional consciousness and cultural
links." However, New Delhi-based television
personality and educator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
reckons that these are "early days yet" for a regional
television channel: "Within Southasia, there are
highly heterogeneous nation states. These countries
arc diverse and differ from one another in
more ways than one. There are many
'Asias' within Southasia." Indeed, for all
the unity and commonality that this
region may lay claim to, political, linguistic
and religious differences have played
heavy parts in dividing its peoples -
which may make a central channel
unviable, he says.
Before even addressing the feasibility
of a Southasian channel, however, the
crucial question is; Why is it important
for Southasians 'to see ourselves through
our own eyes?' In answer, consider the
earthquake that took nearly 80,000 lives
in Pakistan on 8 October and after. In order
to keep updated, Southasians all over -
including in India, Pakistan and Kashmir on both
sides of the LoC - needed to turn on the BBC or CNN.
A good Southasian news channel would be one that
would be watched by Southasians everywhere with
a feeling of ownership, covering earthquakes and
tsunamis, as well as triumphs of the human spirit.
The foremost hurdle that such a project would
face would be finding a viable common platform.
Creating intraregional, multilateral institutions, at
least at the governmental level, has previously
proved a frustrating challenge in Southasia. The non-
starter that is the SAARC Secretariat, headquartered
in Kathmandu, only proves the point. Its only
attempt at bringing together television programming
- called SAARC Audio-Visual Exchange (SAVE) -
is a dismal affair, doomed because it is nothing more
than a collaboration between governmental
Aside from the fact that official involvement would
immediately rob a Southasian channel of all
dynamism (like SAARC and SAVE), regional
governments are so far apart that they are unlikely
to spend time and money on any such project. State
intervention would also jeopardise
the channel's editorial independence. Time's
Alex Perry, who covers Southasia for his
magazine, cautions: "If you want this channel to be
independent, governments should stay out." The
"effectiveness" of a Southasian channel would
depend entirely on how daring its directors want it
to be, says Perry. "By being based in a country other
than the one being reported on, it could probably be
a lot more effective than national channels."
Broadcast tongue
Language remains one of the definitive, dividing
factors in Southasia and would be a stumbling block
for any pan-Southasian media venture as well. Paljor
believes that such a channel "will succeed only if it
is in English." Indeed, English is clearly the
Southasian lingua franca - as the only language that
can be understood by the capital elites in
each country, it allows them to
communicate at business conclaves and
SAARC meetings alike. Still, English has
its drawbacks. Only a small minority in
each Southasian country can understand
English. It is an elitist tongue that should
be utilised as a regional channel's
broadcast medium only if it is used as the
first step towards a pan-Southasian
channel. The decision on English, however,
should be taken with the full
understanding that it will have only a niche
audience. Cuba Thakurta predicts that a
pan-Southasian TV channel will be a reality
a decade from now, mostly having to do
with the audience's facility with English:
"By that time, hopefully more people in Southasia
would be able to converse -_ and be able to watch -
a TV channel in English ... 1 don't foresee a
Southasian channel using any other language."
The key question, suggests Paljor is, "Who is it
that will want to watch the larger Southasian picture?
Will such a channel be for people living within the
region? For non-resident Southasians? Or for the
world at large?" Clearly the answer has to be that a
Southasian channel would be targeted at people
residing in Southasia. Initially, at least, it could be
restricted to the English language. A pan-regional
channel in Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani, however, with
a decidedly Southasian rather than 'Indian' or
'Pakistani' focus, would be sure to rope in a large
number of viewers from the entire Indus-Ganga-
Brahmaputra basin.
Al Jazeera
The governments of Southasia clearly cannot be
expected to back a Southasian television channel —
neither by themselves, nor due to their lack of trust in
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 each other. Such a channel would be an expensive
project, from the hardware and satellite hook-ups,
to region-wide networks of correspondence and
marketing reach. But if not the government, then
who would have the required cash to promote it?
While a sense of regionalism may be developing, it
is still incipient as far as the marketplace is
concerned; investors are hardly going to come up at
this time with the multimillion dollars that the
project would need.
Businessmen ot consortia of entrepreneurs
interested in such a venture would require nerves
of steel to be able to withstand - and buffer the
fledgling channel from - multiple pressures coming
from state, sectarian, fundamentalist, commercial
and multinational sources. "And if that's not too
much to wish for," quips Gunawardene, "can we
also hope that such a channel will
discern well between news and
entertainment, and keep the two
If it is not to be a government
combine or an entrepreneur's
consortium, who will back a
Southasian channel? As one
journalist interviewed said, "What
we really need at this moment is a
maverick, courageous financier with
deep enough pockets to launch
Southasia's own Telesur."
In a wav, that would bring the
proposed 'Channel Southasia'
awfully close to the Al Jazeera model
- which is not necessarily a bad
thing, considering that channel's
success in breaking the Western
media monopoly in Wrest Asia.
Indeed, the Al Jazeera model
remains an alternative to the Telesur template for
new media initiatives in Southasia, Africa and
elsewhere. The Foreign Policy Centre's Philip Fiske
de Gouveia is convinced that such a venture would
bring about greater transparency and
accountability: "Al Jazeera is unique in the way it is
financed - by the Emir of Qatar, who is head of a
small principality and is seen to have no
conspicuous political agenda himself."
De Gouveia has been championing an article
called "An African Al Jazeera?", in which he writes:
"...if freedom is indeed on the move in the Middle
East, Al Jazeera can claim a good deal of the credit.
The station's broadcasts, which are available across
the region, pressure governments to open up. In just
nine years of existence, Al Jazeera has received
hundreds of complaints from regimes not
accustomed to scrutiny. Now, Arab governments
realise they must justify their actions to millions of
television viewers."
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«tidal is
Everything about a possible African regional
channel may not apply to Southasia. But who can
deny that an additional, independent channel, with
a decidedly regional focus, would provide just the
kind of programming that would be interesting in
itself, while also challenging other networks.
Furthermore, a liberal, thoughtful and daring
channel going all over Southasia via satellite and
cable would do more than a hundred newspapers
to change mindsets for the better, and to pour oil
over troubled geopolitical waters.
If governments should not be allowed to fund
Channel Southasia; if private financing is unlikely;
and if a maverick magic-wand investor cannot be
wished from the ether, where do we go with the
idea of a regional television station
that speaks to the sensibility of
Southasia? The answer may lie in
two directions. First, the existing
successful stations, such as Geo of
Karachi or NDTV of New Delhi,
mav see an advantage for
themselves to evolve into a
'Southasian" station (for article on
Geo, see Himal Sep-Oct 2005). This
would depend on how much the
current India-Pakistan thaw will or
is allowed to continue. A less
ambitious but more realistic plan
for the moment may be one of
linking existing private channels of
Southasia, so that thev form a loose
network that can initially share
programming. Such an approach
would then be able to evolve and
establish itself, even as it helps to
create a unified group of what could be called the
'Southasian viewers'.
Each of the larger countries of Southasia already
has a number of private media initiatives. If some
of these could join forces to form a professionally
managed network - with governments kept strictly
out - and if the emerging network programming
were allowed editorial autonomy, there is every
likelihood that television, at long last, could begin
to serve the region's people with regional
programming. This would do more than any
number of crossborder cricket tests and peace
marches to help re-cement the relationships of the
people of Southasia, across the frontiers created in
1947. If these channels can sell - or even hope to
sell - content in their respective capacities, couldn't
they do it from under a collective banner?
Before long, the time would be ripe for Channel
Southasia; then, the sceptics could keep their own
counsel. i.
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Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
Public TV for the
by | Sanjeev Chatterjee
Airwaves transporting an agenda of
connectedness throughout Southasia, right
into homes across the region - what a concept!
With equitable representation of news, culture, public
opinion, debate and even entertainment, what is not
to like? The difficulty, of course, is that such a project
faces restrictions imposed by regulations {or lack
thereof), market forces, and the now-established
culture of television as a primarily commercial
entertainment medium. Facts, however, have never
precluded the dreamers.
The conceptualisation of a Southasian public
service channel must start with the questions: What
is the overall philosophy of a public service channel?
Who would operate it? Who is it for? What is its
programming model? What is the best means to reach
the target audience? What will be the primary
language of operation? How will it gain acceptance
in the varied socio-political landscape and national
agendas of Southasia? Where are the revenue streams
lor the establishment and sustenance of such an 'out-
of-the-box' type of model?
Programming model
The very proposition of a regional public service
channel goes against the nature of today's television
marketplace. The commonly accepted values of
public good, education, accountability, good taste
and so on have been largelv eroded bv the unbridled
growth of commercial TV, as delivered by such
satellite giants as Star and Zee, which do not have
standards of public service imposed on them. Even
while stations like NDTV have succeeded in
maintaining high journalistic values within India,
they have fallen short of developing a voice for
Southasia. Television advertisers have, without
exception, gravitated towards the vast market
potential of India, while marginalising voices from
everywhere else in the region.
The reality is that Southasia is host to a vibrant
non-governmental culture with a predisposition
towards the articulation of a social voice. The ground
would thus seem to be fertile for public television. So
far, however, the media output of the nongovernmental sector has mostly been in the form of
'alternative' voices - sporadic documentaries, for
instance. Such output rarely finds broadcast
opportunities on either government or commercial
The NGO sector possesses the links and networks
throughout Southasia to become a prime mover in
the effort to develop a regional public service channel.
However, to develop a recognisable voice in an
already raucous marketplace, it will be necessary to
develop working partnerships with governments,
corporations and professional media organisations.
One way to promote public sector television would
be, first, to promote an autonomous Southasia-wide
institution for training and engaging with the best
practices of the broadcast media. In other words, we
need a media education institution comparable to a
teaching hospital, from which fully qualified
electronic media professionals can graduate and
begin to engage with the world. Such an educational
institution could begin by having an online presence,
where faculty and students present samples of work,
eventually to a larger audience. A comparable model
that seeks a democratic voice through online
programming of potential TV programmes can be
found with Current TV (, a US project
led by former vice president Al Gore. Such a scalable
model could grow into a thriving channel over time.
Admittedly, starting with a media college could
deliver a public service channel overnight. What this
model would promise, however, would be a new
generation of media professionals. Such a group
could plav a kev role in redirecting the power within
television circles, so that there is adequate attention
paid not only to the public's wants, but also to its
needs. If the recruitment of both faculty and students
at the proposed institution was truly representative
of Southasian regions, the programming would be
bound to represent the same diversity. It is
conceivable that in the foreseeable future, the
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 dispersion of students (as new professionals)
throughout the region would create a decentralised
model of reporting and storytelling that could become
the channel's hallmark.
Rather than trying to follow an all-news-all-the-
time model, the proposed channel should build a
reputation for quality programming, focused on
representing both the diversity and common interests
of Southasia. While news, public affairs and
documentaries should form the core of regular
programming on the channel, heretofore underserved
areas - such as culture, heritage, or quality children's
programming - provide opportunities ripe for
Over the past four decades, the ideal of television as
an educational medium has been systematically
abandoned. This process has included state-run
operations like Doordarshan in India and PTV in
Pakistan, which have invested heavily in
'production values' to maintain viewership and
revenues amidst a flood of private sector competition.
In essence, government channels have either outright
abandoned public service models, or have simply
not allowed these models to evolve. As such, now is
the time to develop a truly public-spirited channel,
outside of officialdom.
The audience for a potential public interest
channel in Southasia is somewhat self-evident.
Although their mother-tongues are as diverse as the
region itself, the common language throughout the
satellite footprint is English. The primary audience,
then, is cosmopolitan college graduates who are
active media consumers, monitor the leading
English-language newspapers, and regularly
watching a variety of regional, national and
international TV news. This is a segment with
purchasing power, and with a potential to be attracted
by programming that has real informational content,
Although this primary audience resides in
Southasia, the channel would also have a
considerable audience elsewhere. A truly
representative Southasian channel would draw
global attention from the day of its launching, it
would also have a following among the Southasian
diaspora in the West, the Gulf, in Europe and
Southeast Asia.
Non-alternative voice
One mistake that this channel cannot make is to
represent itself as an 'alternative voice'. Thus, the
programmes must hit the airwaves as
technologically, aesthetically, journalistically and
professionally first-class. The channel must exercise
the utmost care in recruiting the best people and
deploy leading-edge technologyr. All in all, the public
interest channel must project itself successfully as a
View from the ground
During the recently held Film South Asia '05 documentary
festival in Kathmandu, Pakistani journalist and filmmaker
Munizae Jahangir offered a few key points on the idea of
a Southasian public service television station:
"An objective Southasian television channel would
be vital in bringing together the region and helping us to
understand one another. Although no particular format
should be enforced, specific airtime should be set aside
for new filmmakers and producers, particularly for those
with new innovations. Experimental styles should be
encouraged and, once the broadcast is established,
funding should be offered for new genres. The channel
would need to run regular, uncensored news bulletins.
Talk shows and debates should bring together a wide
spectrum of Southasian journalists, politicians and
academics. Particulariy useful would be a forum where
Southasian politicians face questions from a wide
Southasian audience, comprised of all regional
'new reality' that speaks to the future of Southasia
as one region with differentiated countries and
societies. Journalistically, the channel should
characterise itself as an intrepid 'presenter of all
sides', rather than as a 'revealer of truths'. The
channel must be viewed as a forum for expression
- not as a conduit for opinions,
No doubt this would be an expensive project,
with a gestation period of five to eight years.
Although the initial investment would be high, the
audience profile and easy portability of developed
programming would allow the channel to expect
widespread subscription numbers. For this reason,
the project should be developed as an
advertisement-free, for-pay channel; advertisers
would otherwise tend to influence programming
in order to favour the largest audience segments,
by country or by income level. Experience tells us
that support by either governments or advertisers
also tends to result in static, non-dynamic
programming. The practical challenge, then, is to
devise a regionwide, independent voice. This can
best be achieved through a funding strategy
wherein representation on the governing board
trulv represents the region's diversity and diverse
needs and wants.
The internet is becoming an increasingly viable
channel for the delivery of audio-visual content. In
upcoming years, the hope is that it will present easy
and cost-efficient ways to establish an evolved
culture of free multimedia expression for regional
consumption. As technological advances make
this feasible, committed Southasian media
professionals should be there to take advantage of
its opportunities.
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
Real broadcasting
for a real public
by | Kanak Mani Dixit
Just as Southasia at large has failed to utilise the
democratising power of radio, public television
also seems a distant dream. First, this is because
the government in each country docs not want to let
the airwaves out to anyone who seeks anything either
innovative or people-friendly. Second, it is a matter
of money. At the moment, who other than the private,
commercial broadcasters can come up with the kind
of funding required to put up a terrestrial or satellite
channel? As a result, a public that makes up a fifth of
humanity is kept from receiving information, gaining
knowledge, being entertained at a higher plane, and
being empowered.
As with radio, it is interesting that we do not even
have a concept of public broadcasting in television.
Because we have known only state-owned and
private commercial channels, we do not even know
how to demand 'public' fare. There is
no doubt that Southasia as a whole, as
well as each of our individual countries
and societies, needs public
broadcasting - but any talk on the
subject gets bogged down in matters of
finance and funding. Who would pick
up the tab for an expensive television
There is one obvious solution that
we should give serious consideration
to implementing: convert all present-
day government television channels in
Southasia into autonomous entities
with independent governing boards.
Until a general understanding of the
parameters of public broadcasting
evolves - and the Southasian political classes achieve
a threshold level of maturity - these channels will
have to be prevented from broadcasting hard news.
Coupling government funding with current
infrastructure, existing stations in each country
would emerge as what are known as public
This has, of course, already been tried in India with
the Prasar Bharati Act. The 1990 legislation was
created with its Parliament drafters' best of intentions,
attempting to convert both All India Radio and
Doordarshan into public service broadcasters, But
that did not happen, mainly because the ruling parties
were loathe to let go of the electronic media as
powerful and useful tools. The bureaucrats went
along with what their masters dictated, and today
Prasar Bharati has become nothing more than a
government handmaiden, with personnel and budget
assigned by the Information and Broadcasting
Ministry. As we speak, there is little debate in India
about how the public has been cheated.
But it is never too late. There must now be a region-
wide campaign to develop a sense of urgency,
particularly within the region's intelligentsia, on
behalf of Southasian public broadcasting. This push
must lead to the conversion of the existing
government channels into adequately-funded
independent stations. Bangladesh Television,
Doordarshan, Nepal Television, Pakistan Television
and Rupavahini have no business
being broadcasters as government-run
The first step would simply be to
prevent the broadcasting of hard news
bv the state-owned channels. Half the
battle would then be won outright. As
soon as the news function is taken
away, the politicians would lose
interest and stop meddling; the stations
would then automatically become more
public-friendly. The next step would be
to charter BTV, DD, NTV, PTV
and Rupavahini as independent
corporations, with governing boards
made up of cultural heavyweights, so
that no government of the day would
be able to succeed in any subsequent hijacking. In
the meantime, it is important to learn from what went
wrong with Prasar Bharati, so that we can embark
on this process with eyes wide open.
There will come a day when the individual public
television channels will collaborate and create a
Southasia-wide public broadcasting network. There
will come a time when, under the umbrella of public
broadcasting, we may actually have children's
programming for Southasian kids. For now, there
is nothing worthy of the name. That is an
ongoing shame.
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
WAYS of the WIND
by | C K Lai
Wind -
Even when it is not blowing, it blows
Who can lash down the wind?
- Ramesh Prajapati in the riindi poem "Hawa"
Polls in Afghanistan have once again proven that
feuding warlords often decide electoral
outcomes in fractured societies. According to
Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
(A1HRC), "More than 80 percent of winning
candidates in provinces and more than 60 percent in
the capital Kabul have links to armed groups."
Despite the preponderance of politicos of uncertain
provenance, the composition of the Wolesi Jirga
(lower house) is such that it will not be able to
challenge the sweeping powers of President Hamid
Karzai and Iris American overlords.
The Taliban may have failed to disrupt the
elections, but if the Parliament proves as ineffective
as it is expected to be, the ominous warnings of US
Army General Jason Kamiya could yet come true:
"There still will be an enemy insurgency next spring."
President Karzai's claims notwithstanding,
Afghanistan is far from a success story on the road to
In these parts of the Hindukush, tire core issue is
fashioning a participatory democracy where no
ethnic group feels that it has to submit to the brute
majority of one faction or another. If the Jirga is
allowed to function in an environment free of foreign
pressures, the members themselves will be able to
decide on tire kind of -Afghanistan that is to be built.
The very fact that some 6.8 million (around 53
percent) of 12.5 million Afghans registered to vote
actually participated in the 18 September polls is a
good sign.
In Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia's government
completed its fourth year in office, just as
Transparency International announced that her
country had - for the fifth consecutive year - topped
the list of most-corrupt nations. It is time to remind
the prime minister that she had fought elections back
in 2001 on two planks: containing violence and
combating corruption. She has failed on both counts.
Thanks to an equally discredited opposition led by
Begum Sheikh Hasina, however, no real threat to her
government is expected anytime soon - although the
Awami League is threatening the BNP-led ruling
alliance with the possibility of mass resignations by
its Parliament members.
Contrary to the fractured nature of Afghan polity,
homogeneity of the ruling elite is the bane of
Bangladeshi politics: regardless of their affiliations,
the bigwigs of Dhaka society all swear by the
recommendations of the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank. Opposition to the
Washington Consensus is conspicuous by its very
absence in this teeming country with limited
resources. Liberalisation, privatisation and
globalisation are extremely beneficial for garment
exporters, NGO entrepreneurs and aid industry
associates. But what is the public official in any
Structural Adjustment Programme country to do to
afford health services and education for his children,
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 if not to accept bakshish? Who will tell Transparency
International that pettv bribes taken by officials give
rise to the perception of corruption, rather than its
real prevalence? Tthat is the preserve of the Northern
multinationals. Let us understand the importance of
scale here.
Burma is trying to benefit from the
entrepreneurship of the Bangladeshi trading class. If
the road-link between Bangladesh and Burma is
restored, Dhaka's commercial farmers will be sure to
be taking over fallow tracts across the border and
cultivating them on contract from the Burmese
military. A buy-back arrangement of some type is
currently being dangled, in an attempt to entice the
Rangoon junta. Should the arrangement succeed,
Burmese brass would have yet another lucrative
source of extra income; and one more Southasian
country would compromise high principle on the
altar of lucre and realpolitik.
Tremors in paradise
Granted, the magnitude of the earthquake (7.6 on the
Richter scale) that hit Kashmir in early-October was
horrendous. But that does not justify the subsequent
neglect ol the people suffering in one of the most
militarised regions in the world. Outside of conflict,
militaries are supposed to wage war on ravages
wrought by nature. But when tragedy struck in
Kashmir, Pakistani helicopters were too busy serving
the needs of their own troops to worry about the
suffering of common Kashmiris.
General Hamid Gul, the controversial former head
of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has drawn an
alarmist parallel. He thinks that the 1971 uprising in
then-East Pakistan had a lot to do with the ham-
handed way in which the 1970 relief operations were
carried out in the flood-ravaged plains of Bengal.
Pervez Musharraf and his fellow brass in Islamabad
will have a lot of explaining to do as to why it took
three days before anything resembling a systematic
relief operation could be organised.
But it is true what they say about the silver lining:
the thaw in India-Pakistan relations has been long
in the making, but the shared tragedy of Kashmir
will have speeded up the process of reconciliation.
Helicopters in no-fly-zones and cellphone links
across the de facto border mav sound mundane, but
let us recognise acts of daring among the leaders
when it does happen. Once the body count is done,
the blame is allotted and responsibilities are
shouldered, Indian and Pakistani administrators
must sit down and devise a joint strategy of relief,
rehabilitation and reconstruction in these contested
Perhaps there is a bit of fatalism among us
Southasians - regardless of frontiers or lines of control
- that makes us take natural calamities in stride. Or
perhaps it is a reliance on the Almighty - when
tremors struck Islamabad, participants on a TV talk-
show were shown praying until the lights went out.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of meek
submission to His will, but better preparation to
lessen the suffering of the public is unlikely to offend
the Omnipresent.
Ceasefire bilateral/unilateral
The post-modern monarchy in Nepal is trundling
along its carefully charted course of establishing the
primacy of the crown in Nepali society and polity.
After making sure that the country's constitution had
been turned, twisted and mauled beyond recognition,
King Gyanendra commanded that elections be held
by April 2007, to validate all of the controversial
decisions he had made since the royal takeover of 4
October 2002. A gag ordinance has been
simultaneously issued to tame the ebullient media
of Kathmandu Valley; the beleaguered press in the
countryside, meanwhile, have already been long
exercising self-censorship in the face of threats from
both the military and militants.
For the moment, the prospects of a sustainable
peace in the kingdom appear bleak - although hopes
of an extension of the three-month unilateral
ceasefire that the Maoists declared in September have
not yet subsided. Were the insurgents and
mainstream parties to reach a compromise on the
nitty-gritty of a republican polity (meaning, minus
the king), the oldest state of Southasia may yet emerge
as its most vibrant democracy, as well. The vigour of
freedom regained, after all, is of a different magnitude
than the freedom acquired for the first time around.
A bilateral ceasefire still holds in Sri Lanka, where
presidential elections are scheduled for 17
November 2005. If previous experiences are
anything to go by, the battle of the ballot box is a time
of extreme risk. While campaigning in 1999,
President Chandrika Kumaratunga barely survived
an attack that killed more than 20 people. Five years
earlier, a suicide bomber claimed the life of United
National Party candidate Gamini Dissayanaka,
along with 50 others. There had been a hope that Sri
Lanka had turned the corner and that the polls the
next time around would be peaceful. But then,
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was
Even though upheavals in all parts are more the
rule than the exception in Southasia, the trauma
brought by surrounding disasters - both natural and
manmade - never ceases to be extremely unsettling.
But as Alama Iqbal sang long ago in the poem
"Taraanaa-e-llind", often referred to as India's
second national anthem:
Kuchh baat hai ki hastii milatii nahin hamaarii
Sadii/o rnltaa hai dulunan daur-e-zantaan hamaaraa
There is something in Southasians that makes us
endure, survive and thrive all over again. &
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
Brain gain, being brown
A Malayan Southasians thoughts on going away anti returning heme.    .
by | Cyriac George
Flying east-bound 9000 metres above Germany,
I was flipping through a newspaper in the
cramped cabin of a transcontinental airliner.
There, 1 found an article on the new trend of 'brain
gain', linked to India's Westernised
emigres return home. I was interested:
I was on my way to New Delhi to take
up studies at Jawaharlal Nehru
University, having spent the past 18
years, since my childhood, in the
United States.
Not so long ago, I had been to my
birthplace in Kerala, and the first thing
I noticed upon arrival in Delhi was
that north India smelted a lot different
than south India. I confirmed this
sensation soon after, when I travelled
to Madras. There, I experienced a slew
I was confronted
with challenges as
to whys could not
speak Hindi, ants
why I would
choose la return to
india when
everyone Here'is
trying to get there'.
of Tamil aromas that were close cousins of those
smells with which I grew up in Kerala, but were quite
different from those in New Delhi.
In the United States, I was always asked about
spicy food, Hindi films and the Taj
Mahal. Here in New Delhi, I was
confronted with challenges as to why
I could not speak Hindi, and why I
would choose to return to India when
everyone 'here' is trying to get 'there'.
While I thought I had anticipated
India's surprises, I was caught off-
guard by some of the things that I
found. There were fewer English
speakers than I had expected to find
on the street, but the number of people
for whom English was a primary
language (the one in which a person
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 thinks and dreams) greatly exceeded what I had
anticipated. The rich were also somewhat richer and
the poor were much poorer than I had expected. But
the rumours of the heat of the Indian pre-monsoon
summer had not been exaggerated in the least.
A good part of my first week on the JNU campus
was spent engaged in a favourite Indian past-time -
waiting in line at one window or counter after
another. Even though my passport declared 'United
States', I felt that my brown skin gave me a birthright
to complain. The first in-depth conversation that I
had with my hostel-mates was emphatically and
unapologetically about sex. Asked about the sexual
pursuits of Indian men abroad, I shrugged and took
a draught from my Kingfisher, hoping in vain to
pass on to the next topic. My new friends wore
shocked that we were not at the top of the sexual
food chain - did they (the Americans) not realise
that we were from the land of the
Kamasutra'? They were perplexed,
though I would wager that they were
going by reputation, rather than
having actually read (and practiced
from) Vatsyayana's treatise. When
Indians them selves/ourselves
internalise the exotic, one can hardly
blame the foreigners who come
seeking the same: bright bazaars and
camel festivals in Rajasthan, ayurveda
in Keralan backwaters, or the
expressive temples of Madhya
In any case, we need to re-evaluate our
conceptions of exoticism and diversity, as well as
our perceptions of other people. Judgment works
both ways and it is safe to say that a good part of the
postcolonial world has its own distorted view of
Occidentalism. Southasians of Southasia might be
surprised to know that the diaspora in fact has a
much more developed sense of regional identity than
do the citizens of the various nation states back home,
Although this is less to our credit than a result of
our weak demographic clout in the States, this
dynamic proves helpful in erasing the ill-conceived
boundaries that have ripped apart communities back
in the mother region. Two families from Calcutta
and Dhaka can get along in a way in which I, as a
Malayali, can take part. Political boundaries fade
and the more organic, age-old cultural communities
emerge all of a sudden, as though they have been
bottled up by decades of nation-building.
Growing up brown in New York, 1 found many
opportunities to bond with others who thought like
me - groups such as the South Asian Journalist
Association (well known by its acronym SAJA) or
the Indian Cultural Society of the Bronx High School
of Science. The latter was interestingly made up
mostly of non-Indians. Or non-Southasians. While
If is sail! that
ioythasiaiis. more
than any other
community in
America, desire
one day to return
o their homeland.
at college, I was easily a part of both the Asian
student associations, as well as the Southasian
history classes. I also remember getting into a grade-
school fight with a Bangladeshi classmate. When
his mother confronted me the next day, she informed
me that "such behaviour is not appropriate for
brothers. We are the same." Even today, the memory
of that confrontation is refreshing.
Desi dilemma
If that newspaper report is to be believed - and I
find it believable - then it seems that some of these
long-departed brothers and sisters are returning
home. It is said that Southasians, more than any-
other immigrant community in America, desire one
day to return to their homeland. Although most will
make it back to 'till the soil' of their romantic notions,
their longing is indicative of the Southasian's
extensive connections with the
ancestral earth. There is a deeper
disassociation from the host society,
as well as an enduring hope for the
But we must keep in mind that in
the midst of this 'brain gain', the
Western conception of India, at least,
is also changing, 'that image is no
longer only of cows and
malnourished children; nowadays,
one term describes it all - IT. The
accuracy and significance of this
image can be endlessly debated, but perceptions are
what drive people. In the Western eye today, office
parks are rapidly replacing the Subcontinent's
slums. But instead of exulting in this change of
imagery, my own suggestion would simply be not
to feel insulted the next time you see a tourist taking
a picture of a beggar child. As the divide between
the urban rich and the urban/rural poor develops
into a chasm, let's use that photographic event as
an opportunity to remind ourselves of the 'real India'
that is still out there. Lest, in our urban-centric or
diasporic cocoons, we forget,
I have come to realise over the past year that there
is a civilisational dilemma at hand. At one extreme,
there are so many young and talented individuals
that are seeking their first tickets to the US, in pursuit
of material security and respite from the fatalism
that they think afflicts their homeland. On the other
hand, 1 notice so many here who have no interest
whatsoever in visiting the West, much less settling
down over there. Instead, they are completely
satisfied with - and determined to improve - their
present lives and environment. I also find so many
Southasians wavering between these two extremes
- but each time I share my own story of return with
someone new, it feels as though that fatalism
recedes just a bit. b
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 Photo feature
Burqa and Shalwar, leans and
Chaneme hash ions on the
by | Firdous Azim & Ayesha Banu
Photographs |   Bayazid Akter
'Clothes make the man', they say - or the
woman, or the city. On the streets of Dhaka
these days, one cannot heip but be struck
by the variety of female attire - the
traditional Ban gal ee nari with her red-and-
white sari and dot on the forehead, the fully-
veiled 'Muslim' woman, and the 'modern'
woman in jeans and short kurta.
Are more of Dhaka's women veiling
themselves today than in the past, as casual
observation would indicate? This photo
essay has its origins in research done by the
Department of Women's Studies at Dhaka
University, to seek an answer to that
question. In the course of the study, we
discovered that, while use of the veil is
indeed on the rise, the style of the burqa is
also being adjusting to new trends and
Together with ti burgeoning of burqa
styles, we charted an explosion in other
attire - from the shalwar kameez, jeans and
short kurtas, to the traditional sari, which
tends to be worn even by voung girls on
special occasions. From the burqa to the
sari, this suddenly expanded spectrum of
women's wear is an intricate part of the
Bangladeshi woman's changing views of
herself and the world.
fhe transformation has been nothing less
than dramatic. Bangladesh started its
journey to independence in the 1950s and
1960s with a consciously-held image of the
Bangalee woman - long tresses, clad in sari,
and the 'modern' among them more often
than not carrying a political placard or
banner. Three decades after independence,
a huge variety has replaced those few
Rather than revert to the defined images
of the past, contemporary women are
experimenting and exploring- If clothing can
be taken as a badge of identity, then Dhaka
women are playing around with identity -
sometimes highlighting their regional
roots or declaring their Islamic identity, at
other times simply choosing to be modern
and contemporary.
Choice, vou may say, is a matter ol
luxury, for how many can realty choose their
clothes? We looked at working class women
in Dhaka, particularly the by-now familiar
sight of voung garment workers walking
to and from their factories, Variety and
choice seemed to be at work there as well.
lntriguinglv, choices need not always be
free; sometimes they tire dictated bv the
constraints placed on women's movements.
Many individuals we interviewed said thait
thev choose to veil themselves as al
protective measure, ais the burqa provides
them security from the sexual harassment
prevalent on the city's crowded streets and
public transport. Even though working
women today dominate Dhaka's streets, the
special measures that they have to take in
order to occupy many public spaces says
much about the continuing challenges
women face in modern-day Bangladesh.
When all is said and done, these pictures
not only illustrate how women negotiate
the streets of Dhaka, but offer a glimpse
into how Bangladeshi womanhood is
evolving. That picture is anything but static.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
/ and the
silver screen
While there are outstanding examples of sensitivity, Indian cinema over the
decades has largely neglected the lived experiences of women.
by | Sai Paranjpye
As with real life, the projection of the 'Indian
woman' in Indian cinema over the decades
has been, at best, ambiguous. As in other
parts of Southasia and the world, the women of India
remain, by and large, second-class citizens groomed
to be obedient wives rather than independent
individuals. A good marriage, not a sound education,
is supposed to be her ultimate goal. Even in cases
where the wife is the major bread-winner, she is
seldom the head of the family. Things may be
changing in urban India, where women are
increasingly conscious of their rights, but the winds
of change do not blow strongly enough in the rural
areas, nor among lower-income groups. The Indian
woman must continue to practice that noble
virtue to which she is traditionally so accustomed:
patience, as she fulfils her secondary, subsidiary,
supporting role.
Cinema necessarily reflects the social environment
from which it springs and in which it flourishes.
Even as the multimedia apparatus wields a
tremendous influence on society, cinema's populist
reach particularly^ shapes public opinion as does no
other medium. Such power begets unique
responsibility, requiring periodic reassessments with
questions such as: How has Indian cinema treated
the Indian woman? Has it been fair and realistic in
portraying women? Has it been able to analyse her
numerous problems? Has it championed her cause?
Has it come up with solutions? On the whole, these
answers are in the negative.
For the most part, women have adorned the silver
screen in a decorative capacity. Seldom do we see a
woman of substance in film - a flesh-and-blood
person facing up to challenges and trying to come to
terms with her environment. Instead, what we get to
see are feminine shadows in the background - wives,
mothers, sisters, sweethearts and vamps playing
second-fiddle to the male protagonists.
Sati and Shakti
Popular Indian cinema began in earnest with D
Phalke's Raja Harischandra in 1913; and the first film
dealing with a woman's dilemma appeared in 1919
with the mythical Ahilya Uddhar ("The Purification
of Ahilya"). In the early days of silent film, however,
particularly in the 1920s, much of the country's
women-focused cinema revolved around sati films,
around the woman who 'voluntarily' enters her
husband's funeral pyre. The sati woman had no
separate identity of her own - her only purpose in
life was to look after the well-being of her Iord-and-
master husband. Sati films continued to be produced
throughout the following decades; even after the
1960s, the decline of traditional sati stories led to
modernised versions that focussed on devoted wives.
Today's cinema continues to suffer from the sati
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 syndrome, limiting the portrayal of women to
one-dimensional creatures with no personal
ambition or drive.
Paradoxically, side-by-side with the sati
stereotype, the image of the single woman of
tremendous strength of character and physique
reigned supreme on the screen from the 1930s until
well into the 1950s. She was portrayed by the fearless
Nadia, the stunt queen, who believed in action rather
than the silent suffering of the virtuous. Nadia's onscreen acts of daredevilry would have put Tarzan,
James Bond and Rambo to shame. In 1934, she made
Hunterwali, followed by a series of similar films. After
a few lean years, during which time Nadia took
hairdressing courses, in 1943 the 'Queen' made a
grand comeback with The Daughter of Hunterwali.
Nadia continued fighting onscreen for the next
decade, but there wasn't another heroine to take on
villains single-handedly until Geeta aur Seeta (1972),
when dream-girl Hema Malini exploded onto the
scene in a double role.
The dual portrayal of the onscreen Indian woman
actually has ancient roots. According to traditional
beliefs, a woman can be the incarnation of either of
two ideals. On the one hand, she can be a gentle,
pious and submissive creature - always sacrificing
for the sakes of others, particularly the husband. On
the other hand, she can be Shakti incarnate, taking
after the goddess of vengeance and destruction and
exhibiting her bloodthirsty and remorseless side.
Here, she is the representation of female brute force,
striking terror in the hearts of men. Given such
traditionally contradictory manifestations of female-
hood, it is not surprising that so many sati films ran
side-by-side with Nadia's stunt movies.
Rejecting submission
Although women-oriented films have been few
considering the number of productions to come out
of Bombay over the years, the list does include
a number of brave efforts that present female
protagonists with empathy. The director
Subramaniyan, himself of high caste, made the very
bold Balyogini in the 1930s in Tamil and Telugu,
exposing the bitter lot of widows. He featured a real
Brahmin widow with a shaven head, for which the
director was angrily declared an outcaste. Indeed,
the subject of widowhood has inspired daring
filmmakers over the decades, starting with the 1925
production of a silent film titled Child Widow. In the
early-1980s, Prema Karanth's Phaniamma,
in Kannada, depicted a young widow defying
tradition by refusing to shave her hair upon her
husband's death.
In 1937, V Shantaram produced a cinematic gem
called Duniya Na Mane, about a young woman
married off to an elderly widower by a money-minded
uncle. Instead of accepting the husband as would a
tradition-bound wife, the girl refuses to put the
kumkum on her forehead and stays away
from the marital bed. Indeed, Duniya Na Mane can
be considered India's first combination of
uncompromising social statement and gripping
cinema. Achyut Ranade's Gudia and Szvayamsidha
in 1941 and 1948 were of the same calibre; both follow
the development of timid, traditional girls as they
gain the self-confidence needed to assert themselves.
In general, however, the poor treatment of wives
and daughters-in-law in Indian cinema has become
a cinematic narrative trope, as has the woman's
response. In 1933, Devki Bose made an allegorical,
highly stylised film called Apna Ghar, which depicted
colonial India as the tormented wife and the British
state as the tyrannical husband.
Working women
Filmmakers have long been enthralled by one
particular group of women - those who, by dint of
birth or circumstance, are forced to take on the
world's oldest profession. The father of Indian
cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, weighed in on the subject
with Kanya Vikray in 1924. Despite considerable
subsequent contributions to the genre, however,
Indian filmmakers have done little to delve into the
problems or social implications of prostitution.
Rather, it has been the romance of the high-class
courtesan or dancing girls that has fired the
imaginations of many directors.
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
There have been many
popular and well-made films
on the glamorous but ill-fated
lives of the court entertainer,
the classic being K Asif's
Mughal-e-Azam (1960).
Recently colourised, the film
is a tragedy based on the love
story of the historic Prince
Salim (Jahangir) and the
commoner-dancer Anarkali.
Both Pakeezah (1972) and
Umrao Jaan (1981) evoked
a bygone era when the
beauty of a courtesan could
purportedly change the
course of history.
Over the years, a few exceptions have taken more
realistic looks at the sex worker. Chetna (1970) ,
directed byr B R lshara, brought a prostitute's story to
the screen in a bold manner. Bazaar (1982) was a
low-budget film by Sagar Sarhadi that dealt with the
sale of young girls to the Gulf countries. Mandi, a
film by Shyam Benegal made in the early-1980s, was
a black comedy that not only depicted the lives of
prostitutes in a graphic and unromanticised manner,
but deigned to accept them as a part of social life.
Many inconsequential, sensational films have also
been made on the titillating aspects of ladies of the
night. Midnight Girl, Society Butterfly, Vamp and
Gutturna Gulab were some early productions on the
subject. These days, many such works are produced
in Kerala, with names like Hot Nights, Night Girls
and so on.
Typist girl
Away from the travails of the courtesan and
prostitute, it was important for cinema to begin
dealing with the dilemmas confronting the modern
working woman in the hostile urban environment.
With socio-economic
circumstance compelling more
and more women to share and
shoulder     the     burden     of
supporting the family, the film
world could hardly neglect this
aspect. Curiously, however, few
directors took up the issue as
their theme. Though films like
Typist Girl, Telephone Girls and
Educated Wife were made in the
1920s, the following decades
have not yielded a crop to keep
pace. College Girl and Indira M A
in 1934, Nurse and Lady Doctor
in the mid-1940s, and Dr. Vidya
in 1964 attempted to depict
educated and working women,
20, o '
but they are generally seen as
lukewarm efforts.
Only a few sterling films
about working girls spring to
mind. One was certainly
11,000 Girls, written and
directed by K Abbas in 1962,
about the ordeals of Bombay's
working women. Satyajit
Ray's lyrical Mahanagar, made
a year later, is of the same
calibre. Mrinal Sen's Ek Din
Pratidin (1979) poignantly
described a typical middle-
class situation in which a
daughter is allowed to earn for
her family, but inspires a
family crisis when she comes home late. Despite the
efforts of Abbas, Ray, Sen and a few others, Indian
cinema has largely failed to keep up with the
experiences of the country's working women.
There have been some subtle films that have dealt
successfully with complex nuances of the feminine
psyche. Charulata, made by Satyajit Ray in 1964,
describes the unspoken platonic love a woman feels
for her brother-in-law; a subject that could have
resulted in a crude film in lesser hands was turned
into a sublime masterpiece by Ray. A more recent
film with great strength and character is 36
Chowringhee Lane made by Aparna Sen in 1981, in
which Jennifer Kapoor plays an ageing, lonely Anglo-
Indian teacher, in one of tire best performances ever
brought to the Indian screen. Finally, no discussion
of female depictions in Indian cinema would be
complete without paying homage to the great director
Bimal Roy. Parineets, Biraj Balm and Madhumati in
the 1950s and Bandini in 1963 will be remembered
for the grace and charm of their women protagonists,
as well as for the masterful unravelling of their stories.
While all of these outstanding films have served
the cause of Indian women in one
way or another, as a whole they
remain in the minority. The woman
of today's commercial Indian cinema
is a one-dimensional creature. She is
either self-sacrificing to a fault or a
painted trollop out to ruin every man
and marriage she finds. What has
been a necessity in the past remains
so today: we need realistic, credible
depictions of women, portrayed so
even in the simplest of films. Modern
characters need to be neither pure
white nor midnight black - but full,
real and in technicolour. There is
an audience out there, a large
proportion of it female, to appreciate
such output. A
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
Himalayan glaciers are like thermometers for the earth's health, and they
have begun to warn of a worldwide ailment - global warming. The receding
glaciers are harbringers of a climate shift that could bring massive,
unforeseen changes to Southasia's environment and livelihoods.
by | Mahtab Haider
Amidst the snow-capped peaks of tlie Annapurna
Himal, in the northern reaches of central Nepal,
nestles the high valley of Manang, sprinkled ■
with small settlements clinging to its steep slopes.
The panorama is as breathtaking as the terrain is
harsh; the terraces cradled by the craggy slopes do
not yield enough high-altitude grains to feed the
district's 10,000 or so inhabitants. Since the time of
their ancestors, the 'Manangba' of this region have
had to make the most of brief summers;, with quick-
growing crops like potatoes and buckwheat to
support their subsistence living.
So it went, until a few years ago. Manang and its
surroundings, it seems, are experiencing a slow but
deliberate thaw. Someone seems to have hit the defrost
"Before my very eyes, this valley has become greener
than I have seen it in all my 80 years," a local farmer
told scientist Ngamindra Dahal, when he visited the
area last fall. "Today we grow cauliflower, cabbage
and tomato - unthinkable even a decade ago."
In the neighbouring district of Mustang, on the
other side of the Annapurna range, 53-year-old
Shenjing Gurung could not remember the last time
he had seen the long, chilly winters that were
commonplace in his youth. "The people in these
districts seem happy with the changes in the weather
patterns," says Dahal, with a shrug. "It's easier for
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
 the aged to survive the winters, when the young
people are away working down-valley or as migrant
labour overseas. Plus, they find that their apple
harvests are improving."
"The average temperature in Nepal has been
increasing by 0.09 degrees Celsius every year since
the 1970s - that's a projected increase of roughly 9
degrees over the course of a century," says Dr. Madan
Lai Shrestha, of the Department of Hydrology and
Meteorology (DHM) in Kathmandu.
However auspicious this turn in the weather may
seem to the locals of Mustang and Manang, they
herald a looming crisis for Southasia as a whole.
According to one major international study, the
average global temperature may rise anywhere from
1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. At the
moment, Nepal looks set to outstrip that global
average significantly - and it would happen long
before 2100 comes around.
Shrestha point to a graph tacked to his wall, where
a jagged line on a sharp upward incline resembles
the gradient of Mt Everest, or Sagarmatha to Nepalis.
"That," he says emphatically, "is what the
temperature chart for Nepal looks like. And make no
mistake - it is global warming."
As political leaders worldwide wrangle over the
credibility of scientific data on global warming - each
according to their own ideological proclivity - the
nay-saying scientists have fallen silent one by one. It
has become clear that global warming is here and
that it is here to stay, unless there is an emergency
programme to reverse the trend in rising temperatures.
Tlie fallout of changing climate patterns are already
becoming evident in the corners of the developing
world, while the scientists in the United States warn
that the Arctic ice has shrunk to record lows. But one
of the most unambiguous signs of global warming is,
in fact, emerging out of Southasia. Warmer valleys,
hotter summers and receding rivers of ice are just the
tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Khumbu and Gangotri
The Himalaya have the largest concentration of
glaciers outside the polar caps. During the dry
season, when water is in short supply, these glaciers
feed eight of Asia's greatest rivers, to the east, south
and west: the Yangtze, Hwang Ho, Salween,
Irrawady, Mekong, Tsangpo/Brahmaputra/jamuna,
Indus, and the many tributaries of the Ganga,
including the Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali, that
debouch from the Nepali midhills. The Marsyangdi
and Kali Gandaki sub-tributaries of the Gandaki
have their origins in the glaciers of Manang and
Mustang. Himalayan glaciers as a whole are referred
to by scientists as the 'water towers of Asia', because
they serve as storage that release water throughout
the year into the Asian river systems.
According to a recent report by the World Wildlife
Aster image courtesy of NASA Eros Data Center
Fund (WWF), 67 percent of the Himalayan glaciers
are melting at a startling rate and "the major causal
factor has been identified as climate change". The
Khumbu Glacier, from where Tenzing Norgay and
Edmund Hillary began their historic ascent of Mt
Everest, has retreated more than five kilometres since
they climbed the mountain in 1953. The 30 km
Gangotri Glacier in India, near the Badrinath
pilgrimage centre, has been receding over the last
three decades at more than three times the rate of the
previous two centuries (see graphic). The Rika Samba
Glacier in Nepal's Dhaulagiri region is retreating at
10 metres per year. Such measurements alarm
scientists, who were previously used to gauging
glacial retreat in centimetres.
This process is not taking place just in Nepal's
mountains. Across the Himalaya, from Tibet in the
north to the Karakoram in the west, the glaciers are
melting so fast tliat the WWF fears that a quarter of
the ice floes could disappear by 2050. "What's
happening with these glaciers is fairly easy to
understand," says Arun Bhakta Shrestha atlMepal'-s
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 The Khumbu Glacier has retreated more than
five km in five decades.
DHM. "The high Himalaya are warming faster than
the plains because of what we call an ice-albedo
feedback." In the climate equilibrium that has evolved
over millennia, the glaciers (because of their white
colour) reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere,
keeping the high-altitude peaks within a certain
temperature range. As the glaciers start melting and
receding, however, they reveal the darker rock
beneath, which in turn absorbs more sunlight and
intensifies the melting process. Meanwhile,
greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere then
reflect that heat back onto the earth's surface,
accelerating the process even further.
"And this is not our unique experience,"
emphasises Arun Bhakta. "We are observing similar
patterns of glacial melt in the Alps and the Andes."
Recent research suggests that the legendary snowcapped peaks of Kenya's Mt Kilimanjaro could be
barren in less than a decade.
"The melting glaciers represent a time-bomb that
is ticking away even as we speak," cautions Pradeep
Mool, a glacial specialist at Kathmandu's
International Centre for Integrated Mountain
Development. "Glaciers melt to form high altitude
lakes, dammed with [the] debris and moraine that
characterise the landscape of the Himalaya. But as
the water from glacial melt accumulates over the
years, these dams, which are structurally weak,
suddenly give way - resulting in what we call glacial
lake outburst floods, or GLOFs."
GLOFS, indeed, are the most obvious results of
glacial melt. In 1964, one such GLOF destroyed entire
stretches of highway in China and washed 12 timber
trucks more than 70 km downstream. A GLOF at
Nepal's Dig Tsho glacier in 1985 destroyed a
hydroelectric project near Namche Bazaar, as well
as bridges, houses and farmlands worth USD 4
million. "And it isn't just water that crashes down
into the valleys," says Mool, holding up a photograph
from a 1991 outburst in Nepal that swept away entire
villages. "You have rocks and other debris that rush
downriver at enormous speed."
Since 1964, Nepal alone has witnessed 13
catastropluc GLOF events. There are over 5000 glacial
lakes between Bhutan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and
Tibet/ China, and scientists regard at least 90 of these
lakes to be potentially dangerous. "The real problem,"
sighs Mool, "is that we don't even know the extent of
the problem, since countries such as India and
Pakistan will not share the data and maps of their
mountainous regions." As the glaciers melt and
recede, scientists expect more glacial lakes and, hence,
more incidence of GLOFs.
Southasian catastrophe
"Contrary to popular perception, this isn't Nepal's
problem or Pakistan's problem, but a problem for the
entire Subcontinent," says Madan Lai Shrestha. "The
melt waters from these retreating glaciers mother the
river systems of the Brahmaputra and the Ganga, so
if these glaciers eventually disappear, the flow in the
rivers will be drastically reduced and almost
negligible during the non-monsoon months." He
continues: "Glaciers accumulate snow during the
Southasian monsoon and it is meltwater from these
glaciers that feeds river systems that flow through
India and Bangladesh during the dry season until
As the glaciers recede, not only will these rivers
flood during the rainy season - with the water that is
not frozen and held back by the glaciers - but in the
lean seasons, there will also be less and less river
flow. Eventually, when the glaciers disappear, there
will only be a trickle of water in these great rivers
during the wintertime, Shrestha explains.
The decrease in non-monsoon flows would affect
the populated plains of Southasia in a myriad ways.
Winter agriculture would suffer; recharge of
underground aquifers would be altered, thus
reducing groundwater reserves; the use of water for
urban and industrial purposes would be impinged
upon; and water transport, fisheries, wetlands and
water-dependent wildlife would all be irrevocably
affected. Overall, these are long-lasting impacts that,
as yet, have barely begun to be studied.
For downstream Bangladesh, a country that
would probably fare the worst in the face of climate
change due to raised sea levels, the consequences of
glacial retreat from the melting Himalaya icecaps
could be disastrous. With large swathes of
Bangladesh's coastal belt already ravaged by
cyclones, salinisation and rising sea-levels, scientists
say that the decrease in volume of year-round
freshwater from Himalayan glaciers could bring
disease, drought and deluge of an unseen magnitude.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 A model developed in part by the Centre for
Ecology and Hydrology under Nepal's 'Sagarmatha
2004' project reveals that glacial melt will result in
"an increase in river discharge at the beginning
causing widespread flooding in the adjacent areas."
But after a few decades, the model warns, this
situation will reverse and water levels in these rivers
will start declining to permanently decreased levels.
In the upper Indus, the study shows initial increases
of between 14 and 90 percent in flows over the first
few decades; this would be followed by flows
decreasing between 30 and 90 percent over the
following century.
For the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, the
predictions of climate change-related impacts arc
equally apocalyptic. "The Brahmaputra will be worst
affected because it originates in the rain-shadow of
the Himalaya and is largely non-rain fed, which
means that it gets all its water from snowmelt," says
Arun Bhakta Shrestha. "No one can make accurate
predictions about what form climate change will take
in Southasia, because the number of unknown
variables easily outnumbers the ones we have data
for. What we need to do is recognise the threats we
are confronted with and commission studies to
understand them better."
The lumbering response
ihe rash of extreme weather events and alarming
data emerging from places as diverse in their
ecologies as Greenland and Mumbai are directing
countries large and small towards an inevitable
realisation: nothing short of a coordinated global
policy can avert the prophesied cataclysms we are
beginning to witness.
As dismal as the prospects look, however, there
are reasons to be hopeful. An international process
is in place - one seemingly remote from the receding
glaciers of the Himalaya, but which, like these ice
bodies, is intimately linked to the issue of climate
change. One such hope comes in the form of the 1997
Kyoto Protocol, which sets cutback targets for
industrialised nations for their greenhouse gas
emissions - unequivocally responsible for rising
global temperatures. In Februarv of this vear, the
Kyoto Protocol became legallv binding, despite
attempts bv the US government (largely led by the
energy lobby) to scuttle the document.
Russia's entry on 18 November 2004, prodded by
the European Union, has been crucial in satisfying
the Protocol's requirement that the signatory
countries account for at least 55 percent of total global
emissions. "Russia played cat-and-mouse for a
while, before realising that the collapse of their
economy in the post-Soviet era meant thev had
already reduced emissions bv up to 40 percent," savs
Dr Saleemul Huq, of the London-based International
Institute for Environment and Development. Even
without US participation, the Kyoto Protocol is now
being used to prod Brazil, India and China to reduce
their emissions. At the UN's climate change
conference, scheduled for November in Montreal, these
three countries will be expected to make their own
emissions reduction commitments for the post-2012
This year also saw a landmark achievement in July,
when G8 leaders finally succeeded in getting the US
administration to admit that observed changes in the
global climate are indeed human-induced. Almost
simultaneously, however, the US and five Asia-Pacific
states, including India, made a surprise
announcement of a new, rival anti-emissions pact.
Although these signatories - China, india, South
Korea, japan, Australia and the US - account for
nearly half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions,
the agreement focuses instead on developing new,
cleaner technologies. "Fhe problem with [this] US-
led pact is that it does not set binding targets to member
nations, urging voluntary action instead," says Huq.
Although many believe that the pact is a US bid to sell
this 'cleaner technology' to the other member
countries, the public shift in the previously static US
position on climate change has to be welcomed.
"The tone of climate change negotiations has
changed dramatically in recent years," says Huq.
"The 'South' is no longer asking lor charity when it
seeks help with global warming. We consider
ourselves aggrieved parties and we are seeing it as
our right to compensation for damage caused bv the
industrialised world's actions." According to Huq,
the fallout from global warming can be likened to a
precipice, slowly being approached by modern
civilisation. "It's still a long way away, but the vessel
we are in changes direction verv slowly," he warns.
"We are privileged to have this foresight. But in order
to avoid a fall, we have to act now."
"Third-world nations are at the receiving end of
the damage," adds Madan Lai Shrestha. "We can't
restrict and protect our own atmosphere. So the only
option is to fall into line with a single regional or even
global strategy that is scientific and serious. It's not
Nepal's duty; it's not Bangladesh's duty; but the duty
of all mankind."
Receding Himalayan glaciers - likely lo affect
hundreds of millions of people facing GLOFS or
drying rivers - are only a single facet in a montage of
global environmental breakdown. Shrinking glaciers
- like rising sea levels, like melting Arctic ice sheets -
can be likened to thermometers signifying the arrival
of global warming. In literally countless ways, climate
change will lead to transformations of Southasian and
global agriculture, demography, the larger economy
and society as a whole. For ali of this, melting glacier';
are but a seemingly timid warning that nature
has delivered - to those who will listen, to those who
wish to listen.
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 [Time and a place
Remember the gaam
ly united groups
in a neighbourhood of Shmedahad after 'outsiders' arriyeil,
by | Swara Bhaskar
In 1969, Vatva is awarded the Medal of Honour by the
mayor of Ahmedabad for maintaining a peaceful
atmosphere during communal riots. In 2002, about 5000
houses in Vatva are burnt and broken in post-Godhra
I first came upon Vatva as part of an enthusiastic
team of volunteers for the Aman Ekta Manch -
an umbrella-NGO initiative setup in the wake of
the Gujarat carnage of 2002 to oversee relief and
rehabilitation work in the affected areas. Spread on
the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Vatva is an industrial
wasteland that was once a village.
We arrived in Vatva after it had been ravaged by
the violence that had consumed much of Gujarat after
the unfortunate and controversial 'Godhra incident'
of 27 February 2002. The colonies, buildings, shops
and streets wore the telltale marks of communal
frenzy: burnt remains of beauty parlours, ruins that
were once mosques, rubble that was once residences.
As we settled into our work at the Qutb-e-AIam
Dargah refugee camp, we were wary of our curiosity,
having been warned by supervisors against
developing the tendency of 'riot tourism'. But we
heard the stories, nonetheless - from the residents
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 and from the landscape. Our work was limited
mainly to three colonies in Vatva, centred around the
tomb of the Sufi saint Qutb-e-Alam. These colonies
were religion- and caste-specific ghettos - Saividvada
and Navapura were Muslim; the residents of
Vaghrivaas were Vaaghris; and Bharwaadvaas was
a colony of Bharwaads.
What rendered these colonies different from the
usual idea of ghettos was the 'soft borders' where
they met. To the outsider, their limits and boundaries
seemed invisible. I remember walking towards the
camp from the rubble that was once Navapura and
ten minutes later, running into a wail that displayed
half torn pictures of Hindu deities to discover that I
was in Vaghrivaas (see picture). And vet, these unseen
boundaries exercised a definite constraint on the
colonies' residents.
Facts and conjecture
Vatva's experiences during the riot were unusual. It
was one of only a handful of places in Ahmedabad
that reported just a few deaths, despite large-scale
destruction of property. What took place in Vatva
was not horrifyingly sensational like the massacre
that took place at Naroda Patiya, but it also was not
ordinary. There were no clear victims in Vatva. Or,
mav be everyone was a victim.
There are some uncontested facts about the events
of those four days in the end of February 2002, beyond
which verification is difficult. On the morning of 28
February,'a huge Hindu mob of about 2500 people
attacked Navapura. Fhe residents fled to other
Muslim colonies, while the mob torched and looted
all of the houses in Navapura.
But Vaghrivaas was burnt as well. That's where
the line between victim and perpetrator blurs, where
the numerous narratives emerge.
A reconstruction of the events, culled from
multiple accusations, suggests that Navapura was
attacked by a Hindu mob that consisted not only oi
'outsiders', but also of members of the local branch of
Bajrang Dal. The Muslims claimed that the Vaaghris
- bribed with money and liquor by the Hindutva-
oriented Bajrangis - attacked their neighbours and
participated in the looting. On being asked why
Vaghrivaas was also burnt, many Muslims feigned
ignorance. A few, however, stated categorically: "If
thev had stood by us, we'd have stood by them. But if
they attack us, we are forced to retaliate." For their
part, the Vaaghris claim that the Muslims are simply
lying; thev describe the 'unprovoked' Muslim
retaliation as an attack on an easy target. At the same
time, however, thev also see the attack as punishment
for associating with Hindus, blaming the Bajrang Dal
for deserting and betraying them.
Colleges reopened and we returned to Delhi,
leaving the camp in Vatva to a new set of volunteers,
and leaving the new volunteers to a leaky tent and
the same confusions we ourselves had found.
Shared space
l returned to Vatva in 2005, on the pretext of a research
project. Together with another ex-volunteer, we came
in search of signs of violence hidden in the rebuilt
landscape of the once-ravaged colonies. Instead, we
stumbled upon the memory of a 'golden age' of
religious syncretism and communal harmony.
While investigating the history of inter-community
relations in the colonies, we discovered a curious,
700-year-old parallel, legendary history, explaining
how the settlement came to be. While each community
had its own version of the history, these stories
converged at some points and reflected a collective
memory. All three communities - Sayyid Muslim,
Vaghris and Bharwaads - traced the beginnings of
their settlement in Vatva to a Sufi saint named 1 lazrat
Sayyid Jalaluddin Bukhari-Makhdum Jahaniyan-
Makhdum Jahaniyan, who lived between 1307
and 1383, was part of the Suhrawardi order of 5ufis.
Born at Uch Sharif in present-day Pakistan, he was
widely travelled and came to be known as jahangast,
or world traveller. During his travels, we were told,
he arrived at what eventually would become the
Vatva gaam (village), where he performed miracles
and won the respect and aid of the resident
Bharwaads. He told the Bharwaads that two peedhis
(generations) later, people would come from
Arbastaan; these people would be jodidaar (partner) to
the Bharwaads. The Arbastaanis were the Sayyid
Muslims. The locals were also instructed to servo
Qutb-e-Alam, ]ahaniyan's grandson, who would
come to settle in the Vatva area. With Qutb-e-A!am
came the colony of Sayyid Muslims that still live in
Sayyidvada. ihe Vaaghris themselves claim to be the
descendents of a brave tribal hunter, who was invited
bv Qutb-e-Alam to settle in the area and protect the
That the Sayyid Muslims once owned the land of
Vatva gaam, upon which these colonies are today
found, is well-known and accepted. TheSayyids were
the maalik landlords and the Vaaghris were the khedut
tenants. This arrangement seemed to have continued
for centuries, until the abolition of the liiaamdaari
system (a land tenure mechanism similar to
Zamindari) in 1952. With the arrival of the Gujarat
Industrial Development Corporation (G1DC), which
acquired the farmlands of Vatva in the carly-1960s,
the gaam's agrarian culture began rapidly to
Old and new
The presence of industries attracted ai migrant
population of prospective workers from within the
old city of Ahmedabad, as well as from eastern Uttar
Pradesh and western Bihar. The migrants were both
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 Hindus and Muslims, who settled in numerous
community-specific colonies in Vatva. Navapura is
a mixed settlement of migrants from the inner/old
city, as well as from outside Ahmedabad and
Gujarat. Interestingly, many residents also pointed
out that it was after the 1969 riots in the old city of
Ahmedabad that many Muslims migrated to Vatva
- then still fairly agrarian and peaceful.
From 1969 into the 1980s, Vatva saw a steady
influx of new population (navey log) and the
settlement of new colonies, like the Muslim
Navapura and the Hindu Aasopalav. The jooney log,
on the other hand, are the area's original inhabitants
- the Bharwaads, Vaghris and Sayyid Muslims. This
new-old divide emphasises a shared history, a
shared material past, a shared living space, and a
shared life that have all been shattered. That this
divide goes beyond religion and caste is best
illustrated in the way in which the views of the
jooney Muslims, Vaghris and Bharwaads converge
on the issue of the navey Muslims and Hindus.
When speaking of this evolution within their
areas, all members of the original communities tend
to emphasise a lost golden age, where peace
prevailed together with friendship and communal
harmony. It is noteworthy that this remembered
utopia was both agrarian and pre-industrial - a
pastoral idyll from before the GIDC acquired lands
in Vatva. As such, industrialisation, urbanisation
and - almost coincidentally - communalisation are
simultaneous and overlapping phenomena in the
collective memory.
In our discussions, nearly all jooney residents
agreed that it was with the coming of the new
migrants that relations between communities began
to fray. All of the three original communities
independently spoke of their amicable relations with
each other. It is also notable that while both of the
original Hindu communities (the Bharwaads and
Vaghris) had friendly and frequent interactions with
the original Muslims (the Sayyids), they had almost
no relations with the new Muslims of Navapura.
Meanwhile, contact between the Sayyid Muslims and
the new Muslims have been cordial and friendly,
particularly so since the events of 2002. Religious
faith, memories of violence, and feelings of being a
minority are strong unifiers. But the Sayyid Muslims
are clear in their opinions that, apart from the
Bajrang Dal, the new Muslims have been largely
responsible for the all-around worsening of
relationships in Vatva.
It is remarkable that these recollections -
independently recorded among the Sayyids,
Vaaghris and Bharwaads - match so perfectly. To
the last one, each respondent was of the opinion
that the old residents were 'okay', and that it was
the migrants from the big city who had brought with
them their prior experiences of suspicion and
violence, ihe navey log were quite alien from the
communitarian rural ethos. Some Bharwaad men
recalled how, during the 2002 riots, members of the
Savyid community assured the Bharwaads ol their
support and cooperation, but made it clear they
would not be able to vouch for the new Muslims.
Reviving the ethos
This transition of social relations from pastoral
harmony to an urban experience of extreme tension
can also be seen in governance. The residents recall
peaceful times, when the affairs of the village were
in the hands of the Gram (Gaam) Panchayat, as well
as the competence of the elders in matters of
intercommunity conflict. In 1969, when the city of
Ahmedabad had burnt in communal rage, the
Panchayat decided that there would be no fighting
in Vatva. To back up the decree, a village defence
committee was formed, comprised of 25 Hindus and
25 Muslims. The Hindu patrol paraded in the
Muslim areas, ensuring that no Hindu miscreants
entered; a Muslim patrol did likewise in Hindu
localities, 'thus, even while the nearby city core was
under curfew, life in the village continued
as normal.
In the mid-1980s, as the urban expansion
continued apace, Vatva came formally under the
jurisdiction of the Ahmedabad Municipal
Corporation. Apart from the general decline in the
civic administration of the area, the period when
Vatva came under the municipality marked the
beginning of the steady fraying of intercommunity
relations, as reflected in Ahmedabad's 1992 riots
following the desecration and destruction of the
Babri mosque in Ayodhya. While there was no overt
rioting in Vatva proper, the mutual strategising for
peace, which had marked the 1969 affair, was
replaced by tension and mutual suspicion. While
there were still defence committees, the patrols
of one community would no longer visit the
other's locality.
Uneasy peace reigns in Vatva today. On the
surface, everything seems back to normal. Most
houses have been rebuilt and the original residents
are back. NGOs have setup projects in the colonies
and are working extensively with the youth. But so
is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the
country's largest extreme right-wing Hindu
organisation. The Vaaghris now regularly visit a
local RSS shakha.
ihe riot was a reminder that the culture of Vatva
gaam, one of tolerance and coexistence, is lost - and
yet, an intangible kind of faith survives, especially
in the older generation. It is a faith based on more
than memory: one that believes that the violence
ended because it came from 'outside', and that if
the ethos of the village is taught to the young, then
the spirit of Vatva gaam may yet return.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
A future out of grasp
We've seen poverty, and It Is us. A Millennium Sevelopntent Goal
target-evaluation exercise tells us there is no need to smile.
by | Kunda Dixit
Take a map of Southasia, remove the national
frontiers and instead superimpose the
Subcontinent's poverty index by districts,
states and provinces. What you see emerge are
hotspots of deprivation and destitution that are transboundary in nature and that leave no country shining
brightly in its totality. The region's persistent and
widespread poverty is a serious indictment of the
inability of successive national governments to
address the crisis; they make a mockery of their
international commitments. Southasian governments
as a whole are given to megalomania, wasteful
spending on the military, and lavish expenditures
on showcase projects, all while their citizens remain
mired in misery.
National security for each of the Southasian
countries should be less about military preparedness
and more about addressing the destabilising aftereffects of having more than half of their populations
living in extreme poverty. Defence should now be
redefined as defending the citizens from hunger,
disease and deprivation - not against a rebel group
or neighbouring country.
In 2000, world leaders, including those from
Southasian countries, met at the UN headquarters
in New York for a 'Millennium Summit', where they
committed themselves to eight targets to be met by
2015. While burdened by an unwieldy acronym
(MDG - the Millennium Development Goals), the
programme commits to eradicating extreme poverty;
halving hunger; ensuring that all children go to
primary school; promoting equality between women
and men; reducing child mortality by two-thirds and
maternal mortality by three-fourths; combating HIV/
AIDS, malaria and TB; and making sure that
economic progress does not harm the environment.
The MDG exercise is said to be unique because
the goals are supposed to be measurable, time-bound
and easy to track and monitor. But the flaw in the
process is that tiiere are no penalties for governments
and regimes that do not meet them. The only
deterrent to failure is that a country's name would
be stuck at the bottom of a list for not meeting the
goals. As 2015 draws closer, those countries getting
failing marks would then be spotlighted in the
international arena.
With five years down and with only a decade to
go before the deadline, Southasia appears to be way
behind, and with little energy to play catch-up. The
majority of countries are far behind target in most of
the eight goals. Even the individual countries that
have acceptable national averages have a dirty secret:
regions within the countries lag far behind on the
.MDG register.
In India, for instance, the poverty and health
figures for Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar
Pradesh and Rajasthan are a disgrace. But within
those states, there are districts where education and
health statistics are significantly below even the poor
state-wide averages. Two of these states are
contiguous with districts in Nepal's central and
Midwest tarai region, which are also both lagging.
Nepal has shown progress in reducing child
mortality and providing safe drinking water in some
pockets, but even on national averages it is off-track
on most targets; the dislocations brought on by the
Maoist insurgency is certainly not helping to improve
matters. Indeed, if Southasia is at the bottom of the
global heap, Nepal is at the bottom of Southasia.
Bangladesh is making strides at the national level,
but 88 percent of children in Sylhet District are
stunted because - quite simply - they get too little to
eat. In Khulna, that figure is just over half. Pakistan
is off-track on many MDGs, and its northwestern
regions are not at all likely to meet targets on reducing
child mortality or promoting gender equality.
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 Indian record
The Asia-Pacific MDG progress report
is optimistically titled, "A Future
Within Reach". While releasing the
report in Manila in September,
Haruhiko Kuroda, president of the
Asian Development Bank (ADB) said:
"Not all parts of the [Asia-Pacific]
region, and certainly far from all the region's poor,
are feeling the benefits of our region's
accomplishments." Given the deep disparities both
between and within the region's countries, that
sounds like an understatement. Fhe economic gap
between Singapore, Taiwan and Korea, measured
against Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal, is as stark
as the inequality between Africa and Europe. There
are also wide gaps within Asian countries: not
everyone, for example, has benefited from the
breakneck growth in China and India, lire fact that
more and more people are being left further behind
is creating social stress that threatens to escalate into
political disorder.
The ADB prepared "Future Within Reach" in
collaboration with the UN's Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and
presented it at a summit of world leaders in September
in New York. The report notes that despite the slow
response of the laggard countries thus far, the MDG
goals can still be attained. But for this, the Asia-
Pacific countries must strengthen governance and
improve delivery of development service on a war-
footing. A region known for the miracle of its
economic tigers currently has 680 million people
living in absolute poverty, ihis rankles ESCAP's
executive secretary, Kim Hak-Su, who says that
Asian poverty is always overshadowed bv Africa's
need. "Asian voices are just not heard. There are more
absolute poor people in the Asia-Pacific than
anywhere else, yet the perception that Asians are
doing all right is difficult to break," Kim said. What
he did not mention was that the bulk of these
"absolute poor people" are inhabitants of Asia's
But even though outside resources may be needed
to address poverty, especially in Southasia, nations
in the region first need to realise just how far behind
they really are. Then they need to put more effort into
improving the efficiency of
government health and education
services. The naming and shaming
that goes with the MDG goals may-
provide just the kind of impetus
needed for countries that continue
to lag behind. "How well we do in
Asia will determine how well we do
in the world," says Geert van der
Linden, ADB's vice-president.
"And how well China and India do
If Southasia is at
the hottom of the
global heap. Nepal
is at the hottom ol
will determine how well Asia does."
Indeed, Asia's overall averages
have been brought down bv the weak
performance of India on criteria like
hunger and poverty. The proportion
of Indians getting less than their daily
1SS8IIS. energy requirements did decrease from
25 to 21 percent between 1991 and
2001. However, the report notes, because of the
increase in population, the absolute number of
hungry people rose from 217 million to 222 million
during the same period,
Fhe Asian development gap has also opened up
the debate on how to get on a fast-track to equitable
development: whether to follow the Chinese or Indian
model. At present, it looks like neither model works
particularly well. China's post-socialist but still-
centralised command economy has left many behind,
even as it races ahead. Meanwhile, India's open
society and liberalising free market is also not lifting
the neediest out of poverty fast enough. But as
agencies like the ADB pin their hopes on economic
growth, the blistering pace set bv the national
economies of China and India are seen as the only
way to ensure large-scale human development.
Beijing, however, has now officially stated that this
is not enough, given that the Chinese hinterland
continues to lag behind the booming eastern
seaboard. Since August, even China's tightly-
controlled state media has been officially allowed to
draw attention to this regional disparity. The
trickledown has not materialised fast enough in India
either, despite the roaring 8 percent-and-above
growth rate.
Political will
So something is missing, and the report provides a
hint about what it could be. "Countries will need to
change how they do things," it urges, "developing
sufficient skills and capacity ... and well functioning
institutions to help accelerate progress towards
delivering health, education and vital services to the
poor." Shorn of UN-ese, this means reinventing
politically decentralised governance that is
answerable and responsive to the needs of the poorest
citizens, by efficiently managing service delivery.
Compare Kerala and Bihar, and the two Indian states
seem to exist on different planets.
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One has 96 percent literacy; the
other has barely 40. One has less
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has more than 50. One only needs
to compare the quality of
governance in the two states to see
why these statistics so starkly
The best example of the huge
difference that political will can
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 make is a comparison of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Ihese two countries used to share the same human
development indicators, when the two countries
were still one. But in the past three decades,
Bangladesh has surged ahead of Pakistan in female
literacy, which is a litmus test of socio-economic
advancement. In turn, this achievement has reduced
fertility rates by half and brought down child
mortality. In Pakistan, fertility rates are stuck at
above 5.4 per family, while Bangladesh has achieved
a low 3.2.
This extrapolation can be taken further, taking
into account political systems, by comparing Sri
Lanka with Malaysia. To start with, there is a large
difference in per capita income between these two
countries. One is a fully-functioning Westminster-
style democracy despite a devastating civil war; in
Malaysia, on the other hand, basic political freedoms
have been sacrificed to ensure economic growth. But
in terms of human development and social welfare,
the two countries are nearly equal. The lesson seems
to be that, where lifting the citizens' standards of
living uniformly is concerned, it matters less whether
or not a country is 'democratic' or not; more
important is how accountable the
political leadership is and how
seriously it links performance to
Poor but democratic countries
like Bangladesh, .Nepal or the
Philippines' are sometimes tempted
by the 'Mahathir model'. In fact,
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now more clearly understood that
the antidote to malfunctioning democracy is to fix
it, not to discard it. Bihar has had elections for
decades, but they do not seem to have made a
difference in lifting the Biharis out of poverty,
because elected leaders were not accountable. Burma
has been ruled by an iron-fisted junta and is almost
as backward. Fhe lesson: elections do not guarantee
accountability, just like a dictatorship doesn't
guarantee development. The answer, then, is to have
elections and insist on accountability.
After the restoration of democracy in 1990,
Nepal's political devolution and decentralised
decision-making started to deliver development
because elected local leaders were forced by voters
to be more accountable. Unfortunately, those gains
started to go awry again in the mid-1990s, as the
Maoist insurgency mounted and confusion pursued
the state. In the past three years, a retrogressive royal
rightwing regime has promised to take the people
on a nonexistent shortcut to development through
an autocratic state structure.
Long road to 2015
Currently, four of the five Asia-Pacific countries with
the worst records for malnutrition and poverty
happen to be Southasian states. Although Cambodia
rests at the bottom, Nepal is just above it, with 48.3
percent of its children stunted. Afghanistan is only
slightly better at 48 percent, followed by Bangladesh
and India with 47 percent. While there is every reason
for Nepal and Afghanistan to feel remorseful, the
fact is that in Bangladesh - and even more so in India
- with their larger populations, the number of people
suffering in poverty is so much greater.
The largest number of preventable child deaths
takes place in India, with some 2.3 million dying in
2003. That is, 2.3 million young boys and girls, who
did not need to die, died in India three years ago. In
Pakistan, with its smaller population, that number
was a grievous 500,000. At these levels, neither
country is expected to meet their MDG targets by 2015,
All this is nothing compared to Afghanistan,
however, which has the region's highest rate of child
deaths - one out of every four Afghan children do
not live to the age of five. In contrast, child mortality
in Bangladesh and Bhutan are improving so fast that
both countries will surpass their
MDG targets for child survival.
Maternal mortality is the other
indicator where both Afghanistan
and Nepal have rates reminiscent
of sub-Saharan Africa: 1900 and
740 mothers respectively die for
everv 100,000 live births.
It'is the spread of HIV/AIDS that
is most worrisome in India and
Nepal: both countries are actually
regressing on the related MDG
targets. While Nepal is taking steps
to spread awareness, with social mores providing
more acceptability to outreach programmes, the
problem is much larger and more mu I ti faceted in
India. Fhe ADB/ESCAP report warns that India "has
yet to tackle the pandemic with the appropriate
urgency"    and   blames   both    NGOs   and   the
government for not talking about sex and sexuality
The eighth MDG target concerns environmental
protection. Thus far, two Southasian countries, Sri
Lanka and Bhutan, have been positively cited for
integrating national sustainable development
strategies into their plans.
lhe Millennium Development targets have been
criticised because the statistics that they rely on are
unreliable or outdated, with some countries
appearing to pad or fudge their figures. Because of
obvious internal disparities, the national figures are
never able to tell the whole country's story. There are
also discrepancies when comparing countries with
significantly different starting points - where a
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 country that has higher literacy levels, for example,
appears to be progressing slower in meeting targets
than one that started with lower initial rates.
Attempting to compensate for these shortcomings,
"A Future Within Reach" formulates two categories:
bv cluster, and whether or not countries are meeting
the goals. But whether by one criteria or another, there
is no way Southasia can hide from the fact that it
ranks as the poorest performing region in Asia. Six
of its countries, including Afghanistan, are off-track
on the most significant MDG targets. The report
singles-out some countries for particular concern:
• Pakistan has the lowest primary enrolment rate
and has been making no progress in gender
• All Southasian countries (except Sri Lanka) have
either under-5 or infant mortality rates that are
worse than the Asian average.
• India needs to take HIV/AIDS much more
seriously to avoid an Africa-type pandemic.
• In Nepal and the .Maldives, women have shorter
life-spans than men, indicating a severe gender
imbalance in health care and social status.
All the of the region's countries must wake up
and do something about their poor MDG record -
behind these numbers are the tragedies of hundreds
of millions of children, women and men. Even if the
'MDG' acronym fails to rouse us to action, our
imaginations should be able to compensate and force
us into an understanding of how poor, unhealthy
and hopeless the bulk of the Southasian population
really is. If we even come close to grasping the
magnitude of this tragedy, perhaps we will begin to
do something about the poverty in our region.
Mind the communication gap
How can we ml the wMm and governments to fite the
by | Nalaka Gunawadene
The United Nations often reminds us that the Millennium
Development Goals, which leaders committed to at
the UN Millennium Summit in New York in 2000, are
"time-bound and measurable goals for socio-economic
advancement". The eight MDGs come with a set of 18 specific
targets and 48 indicators. They cover a broad spectrum, from
halving absolute poverty and combating HIV, to getting all
children to attend primary school, and saving mothers from
and childbirth-related deaths.
But these all-important targets have failed to capture the
popular imagination. Even among government officials, levels
of awareness and enthusiasm vary considerably. The reason
the MDGs are not catching on is clear: nobody is discussing
them in simple terms
Having worked with techno-geeks and development
workers for years, this writer recognises that they have at
least one thing in common: they speak a language that doesn't
make sense to the rest of us. They bandy acronyms with
incredibly ease - LDC. LLDC, SIDS, NSDS. PRSP, DOTS
and TRIPS. And now MDG.
In mid-September, world leaders gathered at the UN in
New York to review progress on the MDG programme and to
renew their own commitments. But did the prime ministers
and presidents even know what they were signing up lor? The
UN needs to demystify the MDGs so that the media and public
can understand them. Here are some suggestions:
• Go beyond the 'broadsheet mentality. Broadsheet
newspapers are influential with policy-makers and business
leaders, but the mass outreach is with the tabloids and their
broadcast equivalents. In countries with vibrant vernacular
media, stick to them rather than to the English press
• The NIT test. Before reaching out to the media with a story
or op-ed piece, it always helps to ask three basic questions:
Is it new? Is it interesting'? And is it true? Don't hesitate to use
terms, metaphors and analogies from popular culture.
• Rise above mere publicity. The trouble with many UN
agencies is that they cannol discern between institutional
publicity and issue-based awareness-raising. Often, all the
country offices care for is press clippings (from the English
press) to send back to headquarters.
Today's MDG promoters all over Southasia need to revisit
some of the more successful development efforts of the past
few decades and study the role that good communications
have played in each. From promoting universal human rights
to eradicating smallpox; from popularising oral rehydration
salts to forgiving Southern debt, there have been
some remarkable campaigns. Effective public communication
was a key element of success in all.
When all is said and done, please remember that MDG
branding does not matter - it is the core set of issues that the
MDGs embody that need mass attention and aggressive
promotion. 2015 will be here sooner than we expect. We do
not want to find that we've missed the chance of a millennium
to do a few things right in development, just because we've
been too busy speaking to each other, instead of to the public
out there.
Nov-Dec 2005 I Himal Southasian
Peeking out of your pocket
India's national ID scheme is 'on schedule'
by | Aman Sethi
In a quiet office off of Mansingh Road in New Delhi,
a small team is working on a secret project. If
successful, this plan will transform India from a
'soft state', open to all sorts of Subcontinental
contamination, into a hard, impenetrable fortress -
safe, sure and secure. The mild-mannered men seated
behind large, untidy tables at tlie Office of the Registrar
General of India patiently explain that the project is
not exactly secret - it's just that only the Home
Secretary is authorised to speak on the subject, and
he rarely does. They can only confirm what is already
in the public domain: the Multipurpose National
Identity Card (MNIQ project is on schedule; the pilot
project has been initiated; and the first cards are to be
issued by April 2006. The entire system is state-of-
the-art - a symbol of India's prowess in information
technology and the perfect weapon to battle
corruption, inefficiency, infiltration, terrorism, treason
and sedition.
The first time anyone spoke about a national
identification system was in 1992, when the right-
wing Sangh Parivar and its allied organisations
staged protests against the influx of Bangladeshi
immigrants into the states of Assam, Bengal, Delhi
and Maharashtra. Arguing that the migration of the
primarily Muslim Bangladeshis was altering the
demographic profile of the country as a whole, they
took every opportunity to air their xenophobic slogan,
Infiltrators, Quit India. In response, the Central
Government launched Operation Pushback, with the
expressed purpose of deporting Bangladeshi
immigrants from the capital region. At the time, a
major practical problem was the identification and
enumeration of the immigrants. A meeting was called
between the chief ministers of the states on India's
eastern frontier, which passed a resolution to issue
identity cards to all citizens in border districts. The
government, however, failed to execute the proposal.
In 1998, when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came
to power, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister
and L K Advani in charge of the Ministry of Home
Affairs, the party had not forgotten its obsession with
'aliens' and 'anti-nationals'. A report titled
"Reforming the National Security System"
observed that illegal migration had assumed
serious proportions. "There should be compulsory
National ID Card
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registration of citizens and non-citizens living in
India," was its stark recommendation.
To quote Home Minister Advani, the MNIC project
was setup to assist in "checking illegal immigration
and infiltration and in tracing of criminals and
subversives, especially in the border areas of the
country." These cards were also to be used for the
issuing of passports, driving licenses and ration
cards; as well as to receive health care, admission in
educational institutions, employment in both the
public and private sectors; to access life and general
insurance; and to maintain land and property records.
The ministry envisaged a massive information
superstructure that would maintain records on every
Indian resident. The task of carrying out a feasibility
study for the project was awarded to Tata
Consultancys Services (TCS), and the MNIC was on
its way.
Category anxieties
A modern nation state consists of a clearly
demarcated physical boundary, as well as a clearly
defined body of citizens. The compulsive needs to
demarcate physical space and to identify people as
'citizens' are essential for the processes of state
creation and maintenance. The MNIC project is
interesting, among other things, because it gives us
an insight into the anxieties and insecurities of
modern-day India as a nation state.
The well-regarded sociologist Rogers Brubaker
defines citizenship as "a powerful instrument of
social closure" that establishes "a conceptual, legal
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 and ideological boundary between citizens and
foreigners." But how is such a boundary created in
the case of an avowedly multicultural and secular
state like India? Attempting to balance a strong and
centralising state on the one hand, with the demands
eif a federal, multicultural, secular Constitution on
the other, creates severe category anxieties. What does
it mean to be Indian? How is it different from what it
means to be Pakistani, Nepali or Sri Lankan?
Given that the bulk of the Subcontinent has gone
from being one administrative entity (undivided
India) in 1946 to three separate, sovereign states
(India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) in 1971, this
identity crisis is understandable. We therefore see in
India an almost paranoid urge to conclusivelv
identify the outsider and the infiltrator, simply to make
the category of citizen more meaningful. Currentlv, if
the government and the stateist media are to be
believed, the nation of India is under threat from
Pakistani terrorists, Bangladeshi Muslim
immigrants, Nepali criminals and LTTE rebels. What
makes these 'infiltrators' so particularly dangerous
is that they look like 'us', talk like 'us', and think like
'us'; in fact, they are 'us'.
The process of categorising populations helps to
create the conceptual boundaries between citizen and
foreigner of which Brubaker speaks. Gradually,
differences begin to emerge that reinforce these
boundaries. Reams of paper, ration cards, licenses,
passports, voter JD cards - all of these give us a
uniquely 'Indian' identity with respect to state and
public institutions; indeed, they are the glue that holds
the nation together. The identity card is simply the
newest way to differentiate between a mass of people
who look the same, speak the same language, and
used to have ancestral properties 'across the border'.
The outsider is now easily identified as tlie one
without the national identity card and can
subsequently be dealt with as seen fit.
Theft of identity
While the identification of a 'normal' citizen may
prove useful for a state engaged in nation building,
the process of arriving at that recognition is fraught
with complexity. By definition, the process of
'counting in' implies a parallel process of 'leaving
out'. Indeed, the biggest danger of the MNIC project
is that it could create a vast body of individuals that
exist outside of the national socio-legal framework.
Critics of a national identification system usually
make two points. First, that the system will cause
more harm than good if it w-orks. Second, that it won't
work. MNIC supporters, on the other hand, take it as
a given that the card will be foolproof and secure.
Their assumptions collapse, however, the moment
that we begin to study the process of issuance of the
ID cards themselves.
Unlike the United States and other developed
countries, where most citizens have a social security
number and, thus, a fair amount of authentic
information in government databases, the MNIC]
project aims to start the verification process from
scratch. The government will first carry out a census-
type survey to create a National Population Register,
based on which the cards will be issued, But how
will identity be verified or authenticated? What sort
of proof will be required to obtain a card?
Issuance will obviously require verifiable
documents such as ration cards, voter identity cards,
proof of residence documents, and so on. Given that,
in the eyes of the authorities, the present system of
identification is insufficient, how will the MNIC work
when it relies on these same suspect documents? The
problem could actually be accentuated bv the
introduction of such a card, because the MNIC will
now bear a legitimacy that the other documents lack,
lt can also work the other way. While a misspelling
on a ration card would have simply been an error, it
could now imply that tbe cardholder is a dangerous
subversive using a falsified identity card.
The larger problem the census authorities will face
is the absence of documentation, particularly in the
hands of the landless poor. This category constitutes
a large percentage of population in the rural areas,
who have no real means of identification and have
never needed any. lhe same will hold true for a large
number of the urban poor, who will lack property,
fixed residence, and birth and death records. In many
cases, the rural and urban poor will also be without
ration cards. The poorest and most vulnerable would
thus run the risk of being labelled aliens, harassed
by police, and stripped of the few rights and assets
that thev possess. A similar hysteria can be seen in
the current case of Bangladeshi immigrants in India.
The MNIC project is supposed to be valuable in
the fight against terrorism. Supposedly, keeping a
massive citizenry register would allow security
agencies to maintain tabs on 'potential terrorists' and
to catch them well before thev strike. A report by the
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada,
however, makes the obvious point that "there is no
database containing the names of each and every
'bad guv.'" First-time or unknown terrorists using
legitimate identification documents will not be in law
enforcement databanks. It is difficult to see, therefore,
how a national identity system, now matter how
sophisticated, could compensate for such
shortcomings. An obvious, recent example was the
March 2004 bombings in Madrid, which killed at
least 190 people. That terror could not be prevented,
even though it is mandatory for all Spanish citizens
to carry identity cards.
While its supporters claim that the MNIC project
will eliminate identity theft, the concentration of large
amounts of sensitive information in one databank,
and the emphasis on making the MNIC the gold
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 standard for all identification purposes, would only
make identity theft more lucrative. The first signs of
growing identity theft are visible in countries that
already rely on personal information stored in
databanks. According to the US Federal Trade
Commission, identity theft has been the top consumer
complaint in the US for the five years in a row.
Programming pogroms
Any system that ensures the rights of individuals
based on whether or not papers are in the right order
puts too much power into the hands of authorities.
An examination of the track record of supposedly
secure databanks in Western countries reveals a
history of abuse. In 1994, Business Week magazine
revealed that the US state of Ohio had sold its driver's
license and car registration lists to a private company
tor DSD 375,000. In early 1995, more than 500 US
Internal Revenue Service agents were caught prying
into the tax records of American citizens.
Some of the most horrifying instances of the misuse
of census information were observed during the
Holocaust - which was, after all, based on an
elaborate svstem that required all German Jews to
carry identification papers by the end of 1938. The
authorities of the Reich hired IBM's German
subsidiary, Dehomag, to track entire populations of
Jews across the German empire using unique 5-digit
numbers assigned to each individual. The infamous
Auschwitz tattoo is said to have begun as one of these
numbers - a system of identification that was made
possible with a machine less sophisticated than a
modern-day programmable calculator.
It does not take a great leap of imagination to see
how governments controlled bv fundamentalist
forces could misuse the demographics information
so easily available in the NLNIC database. Indeed, it
is important to consider two factors: whether an
identification system is desirable just because it is
technically feasible; and whether the many instances
of prejudiced action against defined communities by
state and central governments in India's modern
history should not make us a little more wary of the
MNIC project. The communal riots in Gujarat in 2002
and the wholesale targeting of Muslims in the state
bv ai complicit BJP-run Ahmedabad government are
enough of a reminder of how supposedly 'classified'
information can be misused. The ruling party
members - who were systematically drawing up the
demographic compositions of residential
neighbourhoods months before the 2004 riots -
managed to supplement their information with the
records of tlie Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
MNIC proponents like to point out that most of the
information that will be collected for the cards is
already in the public domain. A collation of the
information on ration cards, voter identification
cards, insurance schemes and passports would
furnish much of the information that would
eventually find its way onto the MNIC, they claim.
What this argument fails to address is the fact that,
in all of the other schemes referred to, the citizen
provides information on a voluntary basis. Should
an individual so choose, he can refrain from signing
up for any of these schemes, thereby retaining
complete control over his privacy and personal
information. On the contrary, the government has
made changes to the Indian Constitution that would
make it mandatory for every citizen to subscribe to
the MNIC project.
Human intelligence
Richard Sobel, a Harvard political scientist
specialising in privacy issues, believes that a
national identification system runs contrary to the
principle of 'fair information' - that information
required for one purpose should not be used for
another, For example, personal medical information
shoulci not be accessible to potential employers, if
one is to protect people from workplace
discrimination. Bv putting all of the information
about an individual onto a single card, the MNIC
severely compromises privacy, making the
individual vulnerable to potential discrimination,
social targeting and humiliation.
Identity cards are not simplv the 'proof of our
identities. Thev represent an elaborate series of
institutions and processes put in place by both the
society and the state. They also help the state to
establish itself as the sole agent of social control.
While state interventions in society are not inherently
negative, moves to map, categorise and monitor
citizens prove problematic for the rights of members
of a free society. After the events of 1! September
2001, the Western world is gripped bv an anxiety
that seeks to gather as much 'human intelligence' as
possible. States are sacrificing citizens' rights of
freedom and privacy for reasons of national security.
With the MNIC project, spearheaded by the previous
BJP government, Indian authorities are now rushing
headlong into extremely problematic terrain. It is
anyone's guess how, when and where citizens'
rights could be trampled on a massive scale when
the MNIC database becomes available to prejudiced
The MNIC push is part of a proclivity that seeks
technological fixes to deal with vast and complex
socio-political and economic realities and
challenges. A solution to terrorism, crime and
corruption would require a comprehensive
reshuffling of existing hierarchies of power. On the
other hand, surveillance and enforcement simplv
ensure that the status quo can continue. The
Multipurpose National Identity Card is a project that
could create extensive upheavals in tin unprepared
society. India is not ready for it. No country is.
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 Book Review
Hydro Nationalism
Us SAARC prepares to meet in Qhana, thev must understand that our
rivers bring us together, and river engineering prefects should not he
used to fareaM us apart.
by I Jayanta Bandyopadhyay
Political differences and mutual recriminations
have long characterised the uneasy lndo-
Bangladesh bilateral relationship. Among the
primary issues of contention between the two states
has been that of water-sharing of the Ganga River,
fhe construction of a barrage by India at Farakka in
West Bengal diverted the river water  .
into two distributaries, thereby
reducing the water inflow into
Bangladesh. While India saw this
construction as a sovereign right,
Bangladesh held it as a violation of its
own rights as a lower riparian country.
In 1996, after close to two decades of
political deadlock on the issue, the two
countries arrived at an agreement on
mechanisms of water-sharing that
determined the extent of Bangladesh's
right to-access the river's dry season
flows. But even though a political
agreement has been reached, the
barrage and its impacts remain hotly
contested in both India and
The roots of the dispute lie in
the barrage's vastly different
consequences on the two sides of the
border. India commissioned the barrage
in 1975 to make the Calcutta port
navigable. By diverting the Ganga into
the Hugli-Bhagirathi River, on which
Calcutta is located, India hoped that
the barrage would regenerate the city's harbour.
However, the project also resulted in the reduction of
the river's dry season flow into Bangladesh, causing
a subsequent regional environmental decline. Dhaka
claims that the barrage caused an adverse impact on
the country's agriculture, fisheries and navigation.
This emerged as the basis of opposition to the project
from both Bangladeshi politicians and civil society.
Even while the political debate and acrimony has
continued for decades, there has been inadequate
scientific work on the barrage's impact. Monirul
Qader Mir/.a, a scientist and editor of the 2004 The
Ganges Wafer Diversion, is well aware that "much of
the techno-political debate over the impact of the
Farakka   Barrage  on   Bangladesh   is   based   on
observations and anecdotal evidence rather than
sound analyses of relevant data". Mirza's
compilation deals with the environmental effects of
the Farakka project, as well as that of other smaller
but numerically significant lift transfers along the
river; in so doing, he provides a much-needed
scientific perspective. The book offers a
breath of fresh air on an issue that has
been reduced to a largely polemical and
politicised debate, tinged with
resounding hydro-nationalism.
The Ganges Water
Diversion: Environmental
Effects and Implications
M. Monirul Qader Mirza
Dordrecht; Kluwer
Academic, 2004
Water Science and
Technology Library.
364 pages. USD 129
Facts and flow
Much of the hard data that serves as the
background and foundation for the
book's analysis comes in the second
chapter, 'Hydrological Changes in
Bangladesh'. Using the flow data of the
Ganga at the Hardinge Bridge in
Bangladesh, the book's editor, Mirza,
comes to the surprising inference that
there has been a 13 percent increase in
the river's peak-discharge alter the
construction of the barrage. A closer
examination of the claim, however,
reveals that the author has included the
years from 1935-47 in his analysis - a
period when the annual peak-flow at
Hardinge Bridge was very low,
inevitably bringing down the average
peak-flow data for the pre-Farakka
period. While there could be a multitude
of reasons behind these very low pre-1950 figures,
they cannot constitute a sound basis to evaluate the
1975 construction at Farakka. On the other hand,
Mirza makes a stronger presentation of the impact
on dry season flow at the Hardinge Bridge by
exploring the average monthly discharge for March-
April between 1965 and 1997.
The author also looks at the impact of the barrage
on the Gorai Kiver, a tributary of the Ganga
downstream from the Hardinge Bridge, in contrast
with the earlier conclusion that there has been an
increased peak-flow on the Ganga, Mir/.a suggests
that the Gorai's peak-flow has clearly declined. This
incongruence is tentatively explained as a result of
the Gorai  River  "aggrading due  to  sediment
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 deposition, which results from decreasing inflow from
the Ganges into the Gorai River". Indeed, such
important processes need to be examined in a more
intensive and extensive manner, as the data could
provide an ideal basis for purposes of collaborative
research and sharing of detailed hydrological
knowledge between the two states.
Impact of diversion
In the following chapter, S K Mazumder, an engineer,
explores the possible links between the barrage and
the disastrous 1998 floods in the Malda District of
West Bengal. The author identifies inoperable
spillway gates, the deposition of sediments upstream
from the barrage, drainage congestion in the Malda
basin, the meandering of the Ganga and the breaching
of its embankments as the primary causes of the flood.
His prescription of 'training' rivers as an essential
strategy for river engineering, however, is
problematic: "It is of utmost importance to control
the river Ganga both upstream and downstream of
the barrage to arrest erosion ... Considering the
national importance of the project, it is desirable that
the Central Government ... should take the
responsibility of training the river upstream and
downstream of the Farakka Barrage." Indeed, such a
perception of'national' priorities needs to be reviewed
- these have already been used to justify massive
investments into projects that attempt to control rivers,
often with questionable long-term economic gains
and unaccounted-for environmental costs. Rivers are
not bound by national boundaries. They need to be
understood in a framework that not only involves
regional priorities, but is also backed by credible
scientific and economic understanding of the vast
processes associated with the great Southasian rivers.
Contributors to The Ganges Water Diversion
highlight several of the negative consequences of the
barrage, including changes in the flow of the Gorai
and the growing salinity in southwest Bangladesh.
Maminul Haque Sarker, a leading river morphologist,
for instance, explores the physical changes in the
Ganga-Gorai river system that have necessitated
upstream human interventions - a particularly
important discussion for the potential it opens up for
future research. A large part of the Sunderbans' fresh
water supply is received from the Gorai, which
connects upstream interventions to a much wider
issue, given the vast number of people that rely on
the mangrove ecosystem. Tbe authors point to a "need
to increase the discharge of the Ganges River at
Hardinge Bridge during the dry months in order to
limit salinity in the Southwest region at certain
threshold limits."
M Sinha analyses the impact of the Farakka Barrage
on both upstream and downstream fisheries. He notes
that the barrage's construction "has adversely
affected the fishery of river Ganga in its upstream,
especially of the migrant fish population. But the
fisheries downstream, especially of Hugh estuary,
have shown a continued upsurge after tbe
commissioning of the barrage." The downstream
movement of salinity in the I lugli-Bhagirathi has been
well documented. Sinha, however, does not separate
the figures of increased downstream fish landings in
a manner that allows the barrage's impact to be
singularly identified, in comparison with the
widespread changes that have come about due to the
introduction of mechanised fishing practices. The
chapter also fails to address the issue of the potential
sustainability of the increased fish catch.
Rivers of Southasia
Some of the more indirect implications of water
diversion are also addressed in these pages. Within
issues of ecosystem change and agriculture,
correlations become increasingly general and less
quantitative, highlighting the complexity of these
linkages and the lack of scientific information on them.
Ansarul Karim notes that, "historically the
Sundarbans has evolved under the reduced salinity,
which used to be maintained by large amounts of
freshwater upstream. The decline of forests is directly
related to the declining flow of freshwater in the
rivers."A more politically sensitive impact of water
transfer has been its effects on agriculture. Mirza and
Altaf Hossain seek to demonstrate the adverse effects
of the Farakka Barrage on Bangladesh's agriculture,
concluding that "Productivity of crop agriculture has
significantly reduced." While not all of these claims
are backed bv convincing data, the environmental
impacts addressed in these chapters are nonetheless
As SAARC leaders prepare for their Dhaka summit,
it is important to emphasise that river engineering
cannot be allowed to disconnect Southasia: it is, after
all, rivers that tie the region together in the first place.
In an era when water has already emerged as a critical
resource, Southasian states would do well to build a
cooperative framework to deal with the issue and use
it as a basis for economic advancement. The time has
come to break away from the traditional ways of
thinking about water and rivers within narrow,
nationalist frames; instead, we need to arrive at a
holistic, trans-disciplinary approach. The Ganges
Water Diversion lays open gaping holes in these related
knowledge bases. Along the way, it establishes the
need for extensive, collaborative research on water in
Southasia that is based on a new paradigm. Such an
approach needs to transcend the limits of national
boundaries and refrain from making water a domestic,
political tool. While Mirza's book raises important
issues surrounding this question, it is beyond the
scope of scholars alone to accept this millennial
challenge. Will the SAARC leaders read the
rising tide? *
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
The Tata-Bangla combine
by | Khawaza Main Uddin
In April this year, India's corporate powerhouse,
the Tata Group, submitted a proposal to the
Bangladeshi government for the commissioning
of four projects: a steel plant, a fertiliser factory, a
power generation unit, and a coalmine. All told, the
investment would amount to roughly USD 3 billion,
a figure that sent out regionwide ripples for its
significance. The negotiations process had included
two rounds of talks between thegroup and the Dhaka
government, as well as the signing of an 'expression
of interest' note in September 2004 in the presence of
Tata boss Ratan N Tata and Dhaka's Minister for
Finance and Planning M Saifur Rahman (see picture).
The major hurdles had seemingly been cleared for
what would be the largest-ever one-time investment
by an Indian multinational - not only in Bangladesh,
but in all of Southasia.
For some time, Dhaka's Board of Investment (Bol)
had been urging Tata to invest in Bangladesh under
the liberalised 'foreign direct investment' (FDI)
programme that it had developed, encouraging the
conglomerate to look into areas as diverse as power,
IT services, bicycles, ceramics and garments. For
Dhaka's energetic business community, Tata's
willingness to come across the border was a major
show of confidence in the nation's economic
prospects, and an obvious departure point tiiat would
deliver multiple 'downstream' benefits. Most
importantly, the presence in Bangladesh of what
many consider to be India's most respected
multinational - with 91 companies under its wings
and an expanding worldwide presence - might also
lead to an opening of the unfairly protected Indian
market, which has been hurting Bangladeshi business
expansion. For those working in the 'track two' sphere
of geopolitical security and economic alliances, the
promised investment was an opportunity to prove
that trade, FDI and profit-sharing were favoured
means to more stable bilateral and regional
relationships in Southasia as a whole.
But perhaps such hopes and expectations had
been allowed to mature a bit too early. The two parties
are currently in the midst of their third round of
discussions in Dhaka, with both the Tata Group and
the government putting up brave fronts. But
difficulties have arisen. Both sides now concede that
matters are at a make-or-break phase, requiring
significant compromise in order to avert a deadlock.
Tlie hope had been that groundbreaking ceremonies
would be held this year and that the projects would
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 all be commissioned by December 2009. Now, all bets
are off. Observers expect the deal to proceed or
collapse by the end of November 2005.
It has not been easy for Tata to get this far. The
group, with a USD 17 billion annual turnover and
accounting for six percent of India's total exports,
first had to overcome the reservations of the Indian
Foreign Ministry when it sought to deal directly with
Dhaka. Sources now say that it is Dhaka that has
suddenly gone into back-gear, declaring that it
cannot compromise with existing laws to give Tata
what it wants. The multinational also may not have
been sufficiently sensitive to the concessions the
government can and cannot provide, due to national
interest as well as domestic political pressures.
Big money
Things looked rosy back in October 2004, when the
expression of interest was signed. The deal had been
facilitated by Dhaka's Bol and its chief, Mahmudur
Rahman, with Tata initially seeking
to invest USD 2 billion in natural
gas-based industries. The very fact
that the signing ceremony was
attended by the finance and foreign
ministers     demonstrated     the
government's considerable interest.
When Tata came out with its formal
proposal, the investment size stood
at USD 2.5 billion, which has since
ballooned to USD 3 billion. If
negotiations   succeed,   such   an
amount would exceed the entire
USD 2.7 billion in investments that
the country has attracted since its independence
in 1971.
The Indian multinational's major enterprise in
Bangladesh would be Tata Steel's plans to set up a
USD 1.8 billion plant in northwestern Bangladesh
(in Pabna or Kushtia districts) - the approximate
price of which would also include the development
of a nearby coalmine. The plant would have an
annual production capacity of around 2.4 million
tonnes of what is known as basic steel, for which
there is a booming market in both South and
Southeast Asia. Half of the plant's production,
however, is expected to be consumed within
Bangladesh, where the projected demand for steel
by 2010 is around 1.3 million tonnes per year. Tata's
plan is to produce hot roll steel, from which secondary
products are made. The company had to put aside
its plans to produce cold roll steel, due to strong
opposition by the Bangladesh's domestic steel
Tata's proposed USD 700 million power plant
would have a 1000 megawatt capacity, 50 percent of
which would be supplied to the steel plant. The
coalmine, in the adjacent northern district of
If negotiations
succeed, Tata's
nestment would
exceed the entire USD
2.7 billion in
investments that
Bangladesh has
attracted since its
independence in 1971.
Dinajpur, would also have to be made available as
part of the deal, as its output would be required to
feed the power plant. Tata foresees extracting up to
six million tonnes of coal per year, about 3.2 million
of which would be used by the power plant, while
the rest would be exported to India.
In addition to Bangladesh's coal reserves, Tata has
expressed significant interest in the country's natural
gas resource. The three plants together would require
600 million cubic feet of gas per day; Dhaka has
agreed in principle to guarantee a 20-year supply.
Some of this gas would be essential as raw stock for a
USD 600 million fertiliser plant, which is planned
for Chittagong District in the southeast. The facility
would produce a million tonnes of urea per year,
which would go a long way to cover the current
national annual urea shortfall of 800,000 tonnes.
The impact of the proposed investment would
obviously go far beyond the steel, power and fertiliser
sectors. Tata's willingness to hold a substantial stake
in the Bangladeshi economy would
be a vote of confidence for a country
that could stand to better its image
and rub away the label of
'international basket-case'. Indeed,
Tata's arrival would add to
Bangladesh's international creditworthiness and help to attract
additional international investment.
Although the proposed capital-
intensive projects would only create
around 6500 jobs, Tata estimates that
in their 25-year life-span, they could
infuse the country with USD 18
billion in the form of export and import substitution.
Annual exports are expected to total about a billion
dollars per year.
Cold feet
So has the Bangladeshi government gotten cold feet
in signing a deal with an Indian company? Or, is the
multinational driving too hard a bargain? The Tata
deal brings along with it inherently sensitive matters.
Five critical issues are on the table, including security
of natural gas supply for the proposed projects; the
pricing of the gas supplied; purchase tariffs for
electricity from the power plant; access to coalfields;
and, most importantly, fiscal incentives for Tata's
Tata has also issued several demands: a decade-
long tax holiday for its proposed units; guarantees
from dedicated gas fields, ensuring an uninterrupted
natural gas supply for 30 years; and specific formulae
for gas pricing according to industry and product.
Although the third demand has yet to be discussed,
Dhaka has already rejected the first two, deeming
them impossible under the country's current laws.
(However, it has agreed  to  give  gas  supply
Himal Southasian [ Nov-Dec 2005
 guarantees for 25 and 20 years for particular plants.)
One top bureaucrat involved in the negotiations,
wishing anonymity, provides the reason for
governmental resistance: "We do not need foreign
investment of the kind that will cause a loss to the
exchequer, instead of overall gains." Another
potential stumbling block is the Baropukuria
coalfield, which Tata wants to access in order to save
years of development in starting a new coal-fired
plant. A powerful lobby inside the government is
against such a lease, offering instead any other nearby
undeveloped field, which Tata would have to
prospect on its own.
Tata's Chief Executive Alan Rosling, who has
made several trips to Dhaka over the three rounds of
negotiations, has reached a point where he is willing
to be quoted in his exasperation: "If the government
finds it too difficult to make a trade-off, they should
tell us. We can go somewhere else - Iran, Egypt or
Kuwait." As negotiations have progressed, however,
Tata has toned down its
rhetoric. The government,
too, has decided to
provide 'special facilities'
to Tata - though not
'arbitrary facilities', which
might create an uneven
investment climate.
Which way forward?
Those ' who    see    the    Tata
investments as important both for
Bangladesh's economy and for tlie
possibilities of building linkages
with the Indian economy, worry that
the negotiations might become mired
in the larger geopolitical issues that
regularly get in the way of Dhaka-New
Delhi   relations.   The   ever-present
backdrop to the Tata negotiations has
been Dhaka's reluctance to export its
natural gas to India, citing limited
reserves. A certain section in Bangladesh believes that
the Indian government would not 'welcome' a deal
between Tata and the Bangladeshi government,
unless Dhaka agrees to meet New Delhi's demands
for the implementation of the planned tri-nation gas
pipeline from Burma to India through Bangladeshi
Bol chief Malimudur Rahman, who is also Energy
Advisor to Begum Khaleda Zia's government,
emphasises that for all their intensity, the negotiations
are being held as transparently as possible. "It is being
explained why the investment is good for the
country," he says. "If the negotiations are successful,
the people will know why and how it happened. And
even if it fails, the people will know the reasons."
Rahman is swimming in troubled waters. Lobbies
within the government are vehemently divided.
Backers of the Tata project say that it would be a
crowning economic success for the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party government and for Begum Zia,
known for her anti-India rhetoric when in the
opposition. Critics, meanwhile, fear electoral
repercussions, with current opposition leader Sheikh
Hasina Wajed (of the Awami League) set to pounce
on any opportunity to 'expose' Begum Zia. That Tata
is a private sector entity may not wash when the
time comes to stoke the electorate's anti-India
sentiments. For its part, the Indian corporation has
sought to quell some of the opposition by putting a
non-Indian, multinational face on its activities, in
the personage of Chief Executive Rosling - an
Englishman, with an Order of the British Empire
to boot.
To gain some traction, Dhaka has now engaged
an Asian Development Bank consultant to carry out
an economic impact assessment on the overall
proposal. Tata, meanwhile, has
also appointed an economic
intelligence consultancy to
calculate    the    costs    and
benefits of the four projects.
Coupled with additional
pending issues, concerned
officials have said that these
reports will probably extend
negotiations   beyond   the
current third round, originally
slated to have been the last.
With both studies due around
the middle of November, the
two sides will most likely hold
off from further bargaining
until then.
Either way, negotiations
have reached a point where
both sides now need to show
flexibility if a deal is to
emerge. Even though Tata
has maintained a take-it-or-
leave-it public posture, the fact
is that the Bangladeshi
economy is bullish and Tata knows that it is on the
inside track. Bangladeshi authorities need to
understand that it is not for nothing that Tata's
projected investment in Bangladesh would be
second only to its expenditures in Singapore. For
Dhaka, however, the deal involves not only some
radical fiscal policy departures; it also bring along
high-wire political risks, at a time when tlie BNP-led
alliance has stepped into its fifth year in office and
elections loom for early-2007. A dispassionate
observer, however, would look to see which force
will win this round, by the banks of the Buriganga:
parochial politics or multinational economics.      $>.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
Modern zamindari
Abysmal, tragic, rotten, archaic, misgoverned - these are only some of the terms
used to describe Bihar. And that's by those who live there. But the people of Bihar
are slowly turning the politics of the region on its head.
by | Rakesh Ankit
In the Hindi heartland, where north India meets
east India, the democracy that is India is facing
one of its most intriguing challenges, as Bihar
goes to the polls. Often perceived as representing the
worst in Indian governance, the state is characterised
by complex social stratification, economic
backwardness, and the comatose condition of its
public institutions. The fact that identity has emerged
as the essential basis for political mobilLsation in
Bihar has further added to the complexity.
It is ironic that the structures of state would be on
the verge of collapse in a region where attempts were
made to institutionalise the territory's control
and social life as early as the 6* century BC.
While its remarkably deep history makes
Bihar's present all the more tragic, it is to
modern history that we need to turn to
understand why the people of the state find
themselves in the situation they do today.
Most of the rampant stereotypes about
Bihar's underdevelopment are actually true.
The state is marked by deep-rooted poverty,
little opportunity for upward mobility, a
dismal education system, and a sky-high
crime rate; extortion in particular has
emerged as a major industry. All this is
coupled with an unresponsive and corrupt
civil administration. For nearly a half-
century, Bihar has been consistent in one
respect: poor ranking on almost all major
social and economic indices. Education
remains, simply put, a dead loss. With the great
schools and colleges of the past having lost all
strength and credibility, anyone who can afford it
sends their charges to Delhi, Calcutta or elsewhere,
as long as it is outside of Bihar. With y^oung Bihari
men and women clearing the country's most
prestigious entry-level civil service exams year after
year, it is obvious that the problems of Bihar lie not
with its people.
The rotten state of Bihar's roads provides a
window into the state's abysmal physical
infrastructure. The lack of productive employment
pushes unorganised labour to the metropolises in
western India, Delhi and Calcutta, while organised
labour within the state is used as cannon-fodder by
the various political parties. The professional class
in Patna is skeletal, with the best and the brightest
having evacuated. A heavily compromised
bureaucracy and judiciary are used to uphold the
status quo. Faced with such a wall of inadequacy in
governmental institutions, tlie people have decided
to tune out and live their lives as best they can - in
the manner of their ancestors, who similarly did not
expect help from the state.
What little industrial base Bihar had was wrested
away with the creation of Jharkhand State in
November 2000. There is next to no mechanisation
in the agriculture of a populous region
inhabited by peasantry. Land reforms never
took place in a sustained manner; the modern
system of land controls remains archaic,
While there has been increased democratic
participation by previously marginalised
sections in the wake of the 'Mandal
revolution', grassroots democracy and local
self-government are almost non-existent. The
last local panchayat elections happened in
2001, after a gap of more than two decades.
Remarkably, the state's low economic
development and welfare parameters never
seem to figure as even minor issues in
electoral politics. The apathy of the urban
middle class, together with the strong
parochial voting patterns, are enough to
derail the system of regular elections as a
means of providing good governance. In
Bihar, elections have come to mean getting someone
from your caste into the seat of power - be it a Yadav,
a Bhumiyar, a Rajput or a Kurmi.
Looking Back
With the onset of colonial rule, Bihar became a part
of the Calcutta Presidency and was subjected to
economic exploitation along with most of the rest of
Southasia. Unlike the other comparatively
enlightened administrations of the maharajas of
Baroda, Mysore and Gwalior, the princely states and
zamindaris in Bihar seemed to have paid little
The modern zamindars: Top to buttom, Sushil
Modi, Laloo Yadav, Nitish Kumar
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
 attention to education. These elites, who remained in
place as long as they paid revenue first to 'Company
Bahadur' and then to the Crown, took no initiative in
establishing cross-cultural centres of learning.
Therefore, there were no traditional launch pads for
modern education like in Allahabad, Benaras,
Calcutta or Mysore.
The strong nationalist movement set in motion
against colonialism was nurtured to a large extent in
Bihar. Two particular personalities were kev to the
evolution of the region's political consciousness, and
for bringing it into the national political milieu. When     Revolution remained.
he called (with some hyperbole) 'Total Revolution',
he sought to mobilise students and youth,
particularly in Bihar and Gujarat, to protest, oppose
and launch a street movement against the Congress
government. The 1972-73 economic crises, massive
unemployment, and tenuous relations between the
labour unions and the government (as reflected in a
runaway railway strike in 1974), provided a ripe
context for JP's anti-establishment dissent. While the
declaration of Emergency soon alter saw all
opposition leaders in prison, the traces ol Total
Mahatma Gandhi led a movement of indigo farmers
in Bihar between 1916 and 1918 to protest an
oppressive revenue system, he gave
strength to the newfound sense ol national
integration. Rajendra Prasad, later
independent India's first president,
subsequently gave that energy concrete
shape by building and strengthening the
pan-Indian Congress Partv in the state.
Along with the rest of the country,
elections were held in Bihar in 1952. Until
J P Narayan
This movement has had a deep impact on Bihar's
politics, with reverberations being felt to this day.
The leading lights of manv of the current
political combines - Laloo Yadav of the
Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Nitish Kumar
of the Janata Dal (United), and Sushil
Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
- all began their political careers under
the auspices of the Total Revolution. JP's
struggle, admired bv manv, had the effect
of setting off a chain-reaction of half-
1963, Bhumihars and upper-caste Brahmins baked ideas, while ushering a volatile mass of
dominated the representation in the Legislative students into politics. In retrospect, there was little in
Assembly and the executive branch. Caste the form of socioeconomic programmes proposed by
subsequently began to emerge as an emotional, the ageing, ailing, semi-retired JP or his followers; all
politicised issue, laving the groundwork for its future that kept the forces together was the negative rhetoric
exploitation by politicians of all backgrounds - whipped-up against Indira Gandhi and her state of
including the energetic assertion by the backward emergency. Bihar is still reeling from the tragedy of a
castes during the past two decades. Because the Total Revolution that was transformed into Total
Bhumihars and Brahmins used caste as a strategy of
electoral mobilisation from the late-1950s until the
1970s, it set in motion the use of parochial identities
for electoral purposes bv other communities, as they
gained their own voices and confidence.
Failed revolution
While the decade leading up to the early-1970s    Yadav emerged as the state's chief minister in 1990.
Boss Laloo
Laloo Prasad Yadav, India's current Railway
Minister, has been the boss of Bihar, directly and
vicariously, for 15 long vears. He was a formidable
product of JP's movement. Then a student leader,
witnessed political ferment both at the national and
state levels, it was in Bihar that there emerged the first
real movement against the Congress Party hegemony
at the Centre and in the states. The increasing
disillusionment with Indira Gandhi, reflected in
student protests, coalesced around one particular
person - who had character, commitment and a
theoretical mind given to practical exhortations. That
was Jay Prakash Naravan. Born in Sitabdiara in Bihar,
'JP' was a left-leaning Congressman who later became
a Gandhian and challenged Indira Gandhi's
autocratic proclivities. His actions instigated the latter
to impose the Emergency of 1975-78, but he also
He competed for political power at a time when
national politics was marked by a resurgence of
identity politics, and political mobilisation was based
on caste and religion. Both the Shah Bano court case
- the controversial litigation of a widow seeking
maintenance that had orthodox Muslim leaders
agitated - as well as the Mandal Commission report,
providing reservations to the Other Backward Castes
(OBCs), had deeply polarised the country' as a whole.
Communal riots during this period in Bhagalpur
further created an environment of religion-based
lt was in this context that Yadav evolved his
helped to setup the first non-Congress government ait     approach to electoral politics by focusing on two
the national level, that of the Janata Partv. However,
JP was also a verv keen observer of Bihar, active in an
entire arena from political mobilisation of the
peasantry, to organising flood relief.
JP's movement centred on an ideological mix of
individual liberty and devolution of power. For what
things: the assertion of identities of backward castes,
as defined in opposition to the 'forward castes'; and
securing the Muslim vote. This Muslim-Yadav (or
'MY') combination, appealing to a third of the state's
population, was Yadav's core support-base. Muslims
were successfully weaned away from the Congress.
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 'Fhe Yadavs were coalesced solidly behind him, along
with other backward castes such as Kurmis. The
massive majority he received in the 1995 elections
reconfirmed his stature based on this political
For eight years, the Laloo Yadav formula worked -
even as the state's education, health, public works
and power supply collapsed under his command. But
in mid-1997, the fodder scam struck, with accusations
that bureaucrats and politicians had siphoned off
unimaginable amounts of money meant for animal
husbandry in the state. Being among the prime
accused, an increasingly insecure and isolated Yadav
tapped his own wife, Rabri Devi, to hold down the
political fort and become chief minister. He himself
concentrated on fighting his legal battles.
But the magic was already gone. The ultimate irony
was to come around the 2000 state elections, after
which the Congress supported Rabri (and her spouse)
in forming the Patna government. Bihar thus saw
Yadav - the former upper-caste baiter and Congress-
hater - become the new power-thirsty collaborator
with the former enemy party. The previous battle-lines
were obliterated; fresh ones were drawn; and who
exactly were the friends and foes was redefined. The
notion of forward and backward castes as
homogeneous vote-blocs was shattered. Brahmins and
Bhumihars were divided among themselves, voting
for Congress, BJP and JD (U). While Laloo Yadav had
retained the majority Yadav vote, other regional
leaders managed to break in and carve out a base for
themselves among Yadavs. Nitish Kumar emerged as
a formidable Kurmi leader. Dalits split between Laloo
and Ram Vilas Paswan. Among Muslims, the vote
divided between Yadav, Paswan and the Congress
Fhe February 2005 elections resulted in a hung
Legislative Assembly in Patna, paving the way for a
fresh round of polls, currently underway (see box).
Already, they have confirmed some political trends.
The national parties (Congress and the BJP) now
appear to be finished as powers in the state of Bihar,
and require the regional parties to support them to
maintain any pretence of influence. Laloo Yadav's
hold on the backward castes has also generally
weakened. Lie is now identified only as the leader for
the Yadavs. Muslims too are no longer exclusively
devoted to his RJD party.
Most importantly, however, the February elections
revealed that local politics in Bihar are now well
entrenched in its own right; no longer arc local politics
a secondary appendage to the political zamindars,
such as Laloo Yadav or Nitish Kumar. The idea of
transferable vote-banks also seems to be over; no
longer can the leaders hancipick candidates for
particular regions without considering the local
electorate. Laloo has recently been observed bending
Back to me noils
Bihar Legislative Assembly polls: 11 October to 19 November,
Results to be announced 22 November 2005.
Total number of constituencies - 243
Mliances and major parties in the fray:
Rashlrtya Janata Dal + Congress Party
+ Communist Party of India (Marxist) +
Nationalist Congress Party
Janata Dal (United) + Bharatiya Janata Party
Communist Party of India + Lok Janshakti Party
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Liberation)
Phase Phase-I       Phase-ll     Phase-Ill       Phase-IV
Date of Poll   18.10.05      26.10.05     13.11.05       19.11.05
over backwards for his party workers - hosting a
series of 'tea parties' at his home and issuing public
apologies to them. As forced and as late as this
evolution may be, such changes do symbolise a
process of deeper democratisation in Bihar.
But the state's current electoral cycle has also made
it clear that political battles will continue to be fought
along social lines. The entry into Bihar's politics of
Mayawati, the former chief minister from Uttar
Pradesh who commands a sizeable Dalit vote in north
and central India, is symbolic of the possibilities of
yet more political alignment and social alliances in
the state.
Bihar's ongoing social engineering and identity
assertion will continue, as will the cycle oi social
conflict. More groups, as they realise the potency of
their numbers, will see the advantages of voting as
an organised bloc. Fen years ago, Bhumihars and
Brahmins fought the upcoming Yadavs in democratic
elections. Today, it is the Yadavs versus the Kurmis,
Paswans, Dalits and Other Backward Castes. Not
too far in the future, it might be the Kurmis and
Paswans versus the lowest of the low castes. Bihar's
political and social reality, it seems, will remain the
complex web that it has been for so much of its recent
Analysts and observers generally have given up
hope on Bihar. But the state's people themselves are
slowly coming to terms with their politics, utilising it
to progress forward. Even while the rest of the world
smiles patronisingly at Bihar and looks away, the
Biharis themselves are on their way to doing away
with the political zamindars who inherited a state
from the feudal zamindars of old. A churning is
underway in which personality-based politics have
led to caste- and community-based politics; but this
too will pass. The final success will be achieved when
the zamindars are no more. Then, political bosses
like Laloo Prasad Yadav - even for all that he mav
have done for the people of Bihar, perhaps
unknowingly - will be a character of the past.        $
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
Applications are invited from citizens and residents of South Asian countries for the ASIA Fellows Awards 2006-07 awarded by the Asian
Scholarship Foundation (ASF), Bangkok, which is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The ASIA Fellows Awards offer opportunities
for outstanding Asian scholars and professionals upto 45 years of age to conduct research in another Asian country for 6-9 months. The ASF
Board of Directors selects the Fellows, oversees the program and makes policy decisions.
1. Citizens and residents of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal,
Pakistan, the Republic of Maldives, Sri Lanka. The program
is not open to applicants from countries in West and Central Asia,
Afghanistan, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, or Taiwan, and
projects cannot be carried out in these countries/territories.
Applicants who are not residing in their own country at the time of
application are disqualified.
2. Research proposals must be in lhe humanities, social sciences
and policy sciences only. Projects must be designed to be carried
out in 6-9 months in the People's Republic of China, Myanmar,
Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei,
Philippines or Indonesia, or in any of the seven South Asian
countries above.
3. Master's or doctoral degree or equivalent professional training
and experiences.
4. Minimum of 3 years of university teaching experience for academics
or 5 years of work experience for professionals.
5. Applicants must be forty five years of age or younger at the time of
6. Proficiency in English or in the language of the host country
appropriate to the proposed research project.
7. Projects must focus on an Asian country other than the applicant's
own. Under no circumstances will the Fellowship support research
in the applicant's own country even for the own-country part of a
comparative study project.
8. While an applicant from South or Southeast Asia may propose a
project in a country within his/her own region, preference is
given to applicants who propose to conduct research in a
region of Asia other than their own (e.g., an award to a
South Asian scholar or professional for research in
China/Southeast Asia).
9. Applicants are cautioned against planning to conduct their research
in a country with which their home country has a difficult diplomatic
relationship because of the uncertainties of securing an affiliation
and obtaining a visa for research for a long-term stay, though
such proposals are not ruled out.
10. Applicants may not propose to carry out their projects in more
than one country.
11. Fellowship awards are not for the purpose of completing doctoral
dissertations or for any degree program whatsoever. Those
who are currently enrolled in any degree program, or have just
completed a degree program less than one year ago will not be
eligible to apply.
12. Those who have recently completed their graduate studies or
training abroad may apply for the ASIA Fellowships only after a
year of completing their studies or training and should be
residents in their own country at the time of application.
13. For persons who have been on leave from their employers on
any research grant/fellowship, a minimum period of one academic
year in service with their employers is necessary before being
eligible for applying for the ASIA Fellowships.
14. For persons who have held awards funded by the Ford
Foundation there should be a gap of at least two years before
they can apply for the ASIA Fellowships.
For Application Forms and further information, please access the Asian Scholarship Foundation Website <http://>
All application materials must be received by : January 13, 2006 at:
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Prospective applicants are requested to read this advertisement carefully because the program is NOT obliged to respond to
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 Analysis I
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times
Bangladesh and Southasia
by | Ishtiaq Hossain
How is the time for Bangladesh to further develop
and strengthen its political, economic and
cultural relations with the rest of the Southasian
states. In the favour of such an attempt, India and
Pakistan seem finally to be serious about smoothing
their political, economic and cultural relationships.
The present 'thaw' might indeed prove to be the single
most important factor leading to improved bilateral
relations throughout the region. Bangladesh must
also strive to take advantage of the situation.
Indeed, Bangladesh, with an average annual
economic growth rate of 5 to 6 percent, is in an
excellent position to benefit from India's and
Pakistan's current 7 to 8 percent growth rates.
Southa.sia's political elites also seem to have finally
started appreciating that their respective economies
will not grow until they are engaged in trading inter-
regionally. Today, this trade is still very low,
compared to internal trade within the European
Union or the ASEAN countries.
Hopefully, however, with the
implementation of a Southasian
free trade zone, either within
SAFTA or the larger WTO process,
regional trade will grow
But this is also a problematic
time for Bangladesh to deepen its
relationships with the other
Southasian countries - again, most
notabhr India and Pakistan.
Perhaps more than another
regional country, the pursuit of an
effective foreign policy by Dhaka necessarily requires
the consolidation of the domestic socio-political and
economic orders. Despite relative economic success,
an increasingly unstable internal political scenario
has meant that the country's foreign - including
regional - policy is yet to be put on an even keel.
Nome and the world
Soon after the 1971 independence war, international
observers began to express serious doubts about the
viability of the Subcontinent's newest independent
state. Nonetheless, during the subsequent 34 years,
Bangladesh has registered notable successes: the
deceleration of population growth; food self-
sufficiency; substitution of jute by textiles as an
impressive export earner; notable attendance of girls
in primary and secondary schools; an energetic
private sector; micro-credit as a powerful homegrown response to rural poverty; and three successive
elections held under caretaker
But despite all of this, a stable
political system still eludes the
country and people, The list of
ongoing political woes includes the
fact that the state has failed to
control an increasing gap between
the rich and poor, thereby negating
much of the success achieved in the
economic     arena.     Successive
Despite relative
economic success, ait
increasingly unstable
internal political
scenario has meant that
inclyding regional-
PSlSSH iS yet tO he PUt @U   governments have dragged their feet
SR 011011 If S»Pi in seParatingthe country's judiciary
Oil ClfCIl HOC!. from }ts executive branch. The
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 #. V Vlg?
A,               .                       Jl:Jd      M                                                 '^S     a         V-,-ft-               *
'   . : . ■:'' '    ■:                  (    ■  v         :    .
0    wRp yjr /)^l
brutality practiced by law enforcement personnel
against the common people, as well as their impunity,
is a peculiarly Bangladeshi phenomenon. The
country has yet to establish an independent human
rights commission, as well as an effective,
autonomous anti-corruption authority. Extortion of
businessmen by hooligans large and small is on the
rise. Meanwhile, the state agencies have been
endlessly politicised by successive governments;
while Dhaka's political elite have failed to turn
Parliament into a meaningful institution. As a result
of all these flaws, poverty remains rampant and
militancy is on the rise.
The intense animosity between Prime Minister
Khaleda Zia of the BNP and Sheikh Hasina Wajed,
leader of the Awami League (AL), has contributed to
the development of a sense of helplessness in the
country's political environment. Their never-ending
feud is a stumbling block towards a consensus within
the national political spectrum. Even after 34 years
of independence, intense debates still take place
within political and intellectual circles over such
questions as who was the first to announce the
country's 'declaration of independence', or who is to
be considered the 'father of the nation'. Such
wrangling has gone on for so long that it has affected
the very fabric of national society, and this has
clouded the spirit of the younger generation. Students
are bewildered by the fact that their textbooks tell
differing national histories, depending on which of
the two parties is in power.
But it is not all about personality politics. Deep
differences do exist between the two
leaders on several issues of national
importance. Regular rows erupt
over secular versus Islamic-based
approaches to both policy and
national identity; as well as
questions over the role played by
the AL in the 1971 war. These
differences have significantly
impacted Dhaka's foreign
relations, particularly with India.
In the latter context, the BNP-AL
needs to lift its Indian
relationship to a
minimum level of
maturity, a fair amount
of responsibility in this
regard rests on
New Delhi.
differences have centred on the 1996 Ganges Water
Treaty; land transit to allow goods to reach India's
Northeast from its 'mainland'; as well as India's
potential purchase of gas from Bangladesh's natural
reserves. Interestingly, party viewpoints have flip-
flopped on each of these issues, depending on who is
in power or in opposition.
Such internal bickering has led to an increasingly
blurry security situation. In the international sphere,
there have been leaks and accusations about
Bangladesh as a refuge and even training ground for
religious militants. While these have provoked
vehement denials from Dhaka, the government has
failed to deal effectively with the activities of several
Islamic fundamentalist groups, Last year's bomb
attacks targeting Sheikh Hasina killed scores of AL
leaders, including SAMS Kibra, the former finance
minister. The dramatic explosion of nearly 400 bombs
going off throughout the country on 17 August this
year cast still more worry on the coalition
government's ability to tackle terrorist acts. Amidst
this din, Dhaka has been largely unable to formulate
cohesive, progressive foreign or regional policies.
The inevitable India
As a populous but relatively small country in terms
of land area, Bangladesh needs to pay particular
attention to relations with its regional neighbours.
At the time of its independence, given the Cold War
environment, the country had three options for its
foreign policy. First, it could maintain a foreign policy
that stood apart from all regional and international
exigencies - perhaps an impossible order. Second, it
could try to deepen its relations with those countries
that had supported and helped in its fight for
independence. Third, it could diversify and build
relations with as many countries as possible, thereby
reducing dependence on countries, such as India, the
Soviet Union and other socialist regimes.
It turned out to be practically impossible for the
newborn state to follow the first or third options,
given the destroyed political, economic and social
infrastructure, coupled with the hostilities of both US
President Richard Nixon's administration and those
of Muslim countries in the Middle East. Dhaka's
foreign policy naturally gravitated towards those
countries that had helped it gain
independence - the Soviet Union,
Cuba, Poland, Czechoslovakia,
Hungary, East Germany and,
mostly significantly, the regional
giant, India. But within a couple of
years, the country's leadership,
including Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman, had come to realise the
limitations of such a policy. Even
though New Delhi, Moscow and
other friends did their best to help
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 to rebuild the devastated country, they could not the recent spate ot coordinated terrorist bombings
provide the massive infusion of economic support throughout Bangladesh have emerged as a factor to
that Bangladesh required. mar Dhaka-New Delhi relations, with allegations
As such, Sheikh iMujib started to nudge the country made of Indian involvement,
towards   its    third    foreign    policy   option    - It is critical that these thorny bilateral issues get
diversification. Having being spurned by the US, this addressed in an atmosphere of calm and logic. Some
process pointed towards improving relations with of India's accusations against Bangladesh have been
other Muslim countries, which had become distanced out of touch with reality. Dhaka, for instance, has
from Bangladesh for having separated from Pakistan.
Sheikh Mujib attended the 1973 summit in Algiers of
the Non-Aligned Movement, where he discussed
Bangladesh's situation with Arab leaders. Thereafter,
he was able to convince the Kuwaiti government to
neither the intention nor capacity to provide material
assistance to insurgencies across its borders. At the
same time, Dhaka cannot maintain an ostrich-like
mentality on other matters. Just to take one example,
the issue of illegal Bangladeshi migration is real and
deposit gold into Bangladesh's central bank to shore the proclivity of Bangladeshi officials in all but the
up the value of the taka. Sheikh Mujib was persuaded most private of conversations to admit to this reality
to join the Organisation of Muslim Conference (OIC)     does public policy no good.
and attend its 1974 Islamic Summit, held in Lahore,
but only after Pakistan had decided to recognise
Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign state.
Even as Bangladesh initiated this new foreign
policy path of diversification, however, Sheikh Mujib,
along with most of his family, was killed in the military
coup of 15 August 1975. However, the
new policy was aggressively followed
by Gen Ziaur Rahman, who was
propelled to power the following
November, after a series of coups and
counter-coups. Even as Bangladesh
thus adjusted its international
relations, no leader in Dhaka - be it
Sheikh Mujib and Gen Zia, or later
Gen Hussain Mohammed Ershad,
Begum Khaleda Zia or Sheikh Hasina
Wajed - could forget the acute fact that
history and geography bound
Bangladesh to India. So, India became the power on
whose perceived good- or ill-will the conduct of
Bangaldeshi foreign affairs began to be organised.
The ongoing separatist restlessness in India's
Northeast, ail of which bordered Bangladesh in the
Dhaka continues
to look at its
relations with
other regional
countries as
part of its
Bearing these factors in mind is important for
leaders in both Dhaka and New Delhi, in order to
come to reasonable terms with one another. Ihis is
particularly so in the face of ongoing separatist
struggles in India's Northeast. Bangladesh cannot
suspect that New Delhi is forever conspiring to
diminish its image and calm. India, on
the other hand, must be more than
cognisant of the genuine insecurities of
its smaller neighbour - from worries
regarding the balance of trade, to the all-
important matter of water-sharing.
Indian officials and 'track two'
participants alike do not give enough
credence to Dhaka's fears regarding the
reduction of water flows in either the
Ganga - which is already taking place
- or, in future, on the Brahmaputra
(Jamuna). Bangladesh is a populous,
riverine society, where water-flows mean just about
everything; threats of withdrawal, such as through
the projected river-linking scheme, go straight to the
very heart of Bangladeshi survival. It is no wonder
that Dhaka intellectuals and policymakers alike get
north and east, became an additional, complicating    exasperated when their Indian counterparts just don't
Dhaka-New Delhi relations have been troubled by
a litany of issues. Over the years, these have included
a trade imbalance in India's favour; the sharing of
river waters vis-a-vis a lower riparian Bangladesh;
alleged Bangladeshi assistance to Northeast
separatist movements; unending border disputes and
skirmishes along the frontier; the flow of Bangladeshi
economic migrants into India; the unwillingness of
Dhaka to supply India from its natural gas reserves;
the unwillingness of Dhaka to supply transit rights
to India's Northeast through its territory; the difficulty
that Bangladeshi manufactures and semimanufactures have in entering the Indian market,
despite talks of open markets in New Delhi; and the
alleged Indian assistance to the Chittagong Hill
Tracts insurgency. Such is the lack of trust, that even
get the point.
While   Bangladesh   needs   to   lift   its   Indian
relationship to a minimum level of maturity, a fair
Himal Southasian | Nov-Dec 2005
 amount of responsibility in this regard rests on New
Delhi. In regional relations, large neighbours will
give rise to insecurity in their smaller neighbours.
New Delhi needs to rise to the demands of its size
and clout, and not be seen to be acting as a regional
bully. More empathy towards the neighbour is
certainly a requirement among New Delhi's
policymakers and strategic analysts, whose general
tendency is to show exasperation towards Dhaka's
stance and attitude. On a regional level, India would
also do well to maintain a relatively unassuming role
within SAARC" - similar to Indonesia's role within
ASEAN - which would see an immediate
improvement of relations all around, most
importantly with Bangladesh.
Despite the increased polemics between New Delhi
and Dhaka, however, there have been positive
developments, lhe creation of Bangla-language
private satellite channels are working to bring
Bihari camp, 1972.
issues remain stumbling blocks to any future
deepening. The first of these is the question of
repatriation of one lakh 'Biharis' who opted to be
repatriated to Pakistan way back in 1971. These
refugees  have  remained stranded   in  camps in
together Bangladeshi and Indian Bangla-speaking Bangladesh for more than two decades now, The
audiences; in the long run, this will affect attitudes situation   is   unconscionable   on   humanitarian
and policies in Dhaka and New Delhi for the better, grounds, besides being a constant thorn in the side of
There is increasing interaction between intellectuals Dhaka-Islamabad relations,
and 'track two' activists in both countries, which will Second, and there is no getting around this, there
also help to develop empathy and
understanding. Perhaps the best
example of the evolving scenario can be
found in a trend towards increasing
Indian private investment in
Bangladesh, which shows a confidence
that is not evident in official attitudes.
The   highlight,   of   course,   is   the
intention of the Tata Group to invest
nearly USD 3 billion in several projects
in  the country,  including in power
generation and fertiliser production.
These   would   be   a   strong   vote   of
confidence in the Bangladeshi economy, and the hope
is that current glitches towards the investment's
fruition will be resolved before long (see accompanying
story). Even as Indian investment increases in
aaxa nas h) *
V'i %ii
remains the need fora formal apology by
Pakistan for the brutal behaviour of its
soldiers against Bengalis before and
during the War of Liberation. Although
MllSt'S^r^^ii-i1'  some Pakistani national leaders from
time to time express their sorrow over their
military's behaviour in  former Fast
Pakistan,    a    formal    apology    from
Islamabad  would go a  long way  in
strengthening     Bangla desh-Pakistan
relations. While the Bangladeshi people
do not demand that Pakistani leaders
kneel in repentance at the Savar National
Monument outside Dhaka - as Willy Brandt did while
visiting the former Jewish ghetto in Warsaw - an
apology is in order. Instead, what we have had in the
past is the boorish behaviour of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,
recognising ins
need for
Bangladesh, however, it would be incongruous for     who, while visiting Savar, did not even remove his
New Delhi to continue with the direct and indirect    golf cap as a mark of respect.
These differences notwithstanding, Bangladesh
and Pakistan can have more effective economic
relations, which would be to both of their benefits, lt
is time for Bangladeshi businessmen to consider
setting up linkages in Pakistan in order to enter the
Central Asian markets. More attention should be paid
As the country that originated the concept of SAARC to Pakistan-Bangladesh cooperation in multilateral
in the time of Ziaur Rahman, it would be bodies like the OIC and NAM. In particular, Dhaka
counterproductive for Bangladesh to ignore the rest    must try to coordinate its diplomatic moves with
trade barriers that it imposes on Bangladeshi
production seeking to enter the Indian market. This,
more than investments, will help to bring a certain
balance to the trade between the two countries.
Looking back at Pakistan
of Southasia due to the need to 'tackle' India. Indeed,
there is an urgent need to foster closer links with other
Southasian countries; Dhaka, after all, continues to
look at its relations with other regional countries as
part of its diversification project. In this context,
Pakistan while ASEAN considers their applications
for joining the Asean Regional Forum (ARF).
SAARC and Bangladesh
While India and Pakistan, for different reasons, form
relations with Pakistan remain cordial, but two     huge images in the Dhaka foreign policv radarscope,
Nov-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Bangladesh is probably more SAARC-oriented than
is either of these two countries and values its links
with the other Southasian nations. Going beyond the
Bangladeshi enthusiasm for the creation of SAARC
two decades ago, Bangladesh also looks to
developing relationships with its nearby neighbours,
Nepal and Bhutan. Understanding the strengths and
weaknesses of SAARC in terms of the original
advantage. In the future, one would hope, Bhutan's
hydropower output would not only be exported to
mainland India through the Chicken's Neck, but
would also snake its way through power lines across
nearby Assam into Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Druk
Air's Dhaka-Paro flights have been "suspended due
to low traffic between the sectors", according to an
airline announcement. This is itself a poor reflection
expectations, Dhaka has also been ahead of the other on the state of interregional Southasian links.
Southasian capitals in recognising the need for Bangladesh needs to look at the Indian Northeast
subregional groupings. During the previous aAT. through a separate lens from the rest of India, due to
government,   it   was   Dhaka   that   pushed   for the region's proximity and prospects. The states of
subregional cooperation that brought in Bhutan, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Assam, which
Burma, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and  Thailand to border Bangladesh, as well as Arunachal Pradesh,
discuss   the   specific   concerns   of   the   eastern Manipur and Nagaland are all Indian states with
Subcontinent and western ASEAN. which, in the long term, Dhaka will have to build deep
Development    of    Dhaka's    relations    with relationships. To begin with, the Chittagong port
Kathmandu is crucial for both countries, which share holds great promise for the benefit for these states,
so much in terms of their placement in the Southasian The port itself, it is said, would gain additional
template - for the sake of bilateral trade, alternative revenue of USD 2 billion for Bangladesh, were such
transit and access for Nepal, tourism and cultural relationships developed. Dhaka could also learn a lot
Shake's relations
crucial mt hoth al
iies@ countries,
which share so
much in terms of
from Sri Lanka in terms of developing
Bangladesh's tourism industry, beside
coordinating its policies with Colombo
on a host of regional and international
New Delhi is keen to be able to access
its Northeast through Bangladeshi rail
and road transport. The presently
underused Bangabandhu Setu, the five
kilometre state-of-art bridge over the
Brahmaputra (Jamuna) near Dhaka,
also has the potential to promote transit
access into the northeastern states.
Hopefully, when the larger India-
Bangladesh relationships settle down
and balance out, the links between the
links, as well as to discuss geo-strategic
and economic issues. Bangladesh and
Nepal are also tied together in their
needs  to nudge India  into a  more
cooperative attitude in terms of water
resource sharing. Fhe two Southasian
neighbours, separated by but a sliver of
land   at  India's  Chicken's  Neck   at
Siliguri, are in a position to collaborate
on emerging opportunities for sharing.
Bangladesh     could     use     Nepal's
hydropower energy; while Bangladeshi   IllQlf Plaf?0IHe6lt IH
natural gas could do wonders for the       t|g@ SOUthSSiSn
Nepali  economy  and  environment,
without significantly depleting Dhaka's l@HiPl3t6.
underground resources.
The two countries could also collaborate in a Northeast and Bangladesh will flower to their full,
whole range of social, cultural and development    enormous potential.
arenas, from the issue of arsenic poisoning to micro- Whether discussing Bangladesh's relationships
credit, tackling of floods, and do on. For the moment, with the SAARC region as a whole, India and other
it is disheartening that, even though India allows member countries specifically, or the Northeast in
Nepal use of its territory for access to Bangladesh's particular, Dhaka clearly needs to develop a better
Mongla port, there has been little increase in the understanding of the role of trade, commerce and
facility's use. The reasons ascribed are the continued people-to-people contact that such dynamics entail,
ease of Calcutta's port for Nepali traders; In this globalised world, the focus has to be on
bureaucratic hassles created by Indian and economics - not politics or geopolitics. Ihe notion of
Bangladeshi officialdom; and infrastructural sovereignty is no longer to be seen in absolute terms
bottlenecks in both India and Bangladesh. Most when, in the final analysis, the people at-large are
importantly, on a regional plane, Bangladesh and     to benefit.
Nepal can exchange notes on how best to improve A    pragmatic    understanding    not    only    by
relations with India. Bangladeshi leaders, but by the Southasian leadership
Bhutan is another close neighbour of Bangladesh, in totality, would certainly help revolutionise the
and the primary linkages here would be in the political tapestry of the Subcontinent. As far as
tourism, hydropower and trade sectors. The export Bangladesh is concerned, the sooner this is realised
of Bhutanese processed fruits to Bangladesh has been by both the country's population and political elite,
a little-talkcd-about success storv of how regional the better will be their ability to seize these new
countries can make use of the theory of comparative    opportunities and their economic benefit. e
Himal Southasian I Nov-Dec 2005
The menfolk we revere
by | Bhaskar Dasgupta
This is an issue that has stayed with me for
nearly three decades. When the first Indian
nuclear device exploded at Pokhran,
Rajasthan, back in May 1974, the scientists sent the
coded message, "The Buddha has smiled" to the
prime minister in New Delhi to indicate that the deed
had been done. The Buddha - prophet of nonviolence, self-sacrifice, renunciation, prayer and
ultimate enlightenment - being associated with a
nuclear explosion?
While I was carrying on about the injustice of it
all, my long-suffering wife turned around and
snapped: "Big deal, your 'prophet of enlightenment'.
He abandoned his wife and young child while he
went off to attain enlightenment.
Same with Laxman, who went off for
14 years with Ram and Sita, leaving
his wife Urmila behind."
Now this was an interesting angle.
Buddha is venerated by all.
Taxman's statue stands next to Ram
and Sita as the model brother - he is
worshipped by the Hindu millions.
But the record seems to be clear on
one thing: both Siddhartha Gautam
and Laxman abandoned their wives
for matters of 'higher principle'.
Siddhartha was the son of a
Shakya chief, a warrior tribe. Born
into a princely family, he grew up in
the lap of luxury, got married at 16 to
Yashodhara, and fathered Rahul. On
visiting the city outside the palace one day, he saw a
series of disturbing figures - a crippled old man, a
corpse, a diseased man and, finally, a wandering
monk. He was astounded and enlightened, the
experience eventually giving rise to the concept of
the 'eternal circle of life', encompassing death,
disease, pain and age. Blinded by his new vision,
Siddhartha decided to leave his wife and son, his
position and riches, and stole away from Kapilvastu
in the middle of the night.
With Siddhartha gone, the records follow him and
forget Yashodhara back at the palace. The earliest
Buddhist texts in the Pali canon are silent on the
matter, with just one obscure Chinese translation
mentioning Yashodhara - in a list of nuns known
for their good deeds. It was only in the later stages of
Buddhist scholarship, and the need perhaps to
appeal to women, that Yashodhara emerged as a
minor yet significant part of Buddhist theology. Even
in the latter-day mythological treatments, however,
Yashodhara spends years on her own, raising
Rahul and unaware of what has happened to her
Onward to Laxman - brother of Ram, the
incarnation of Vishnu the Preserver. For various
reasons, Ram was asked to go from Ayodhya into
exile for 14 years, along with his wife Sita. Laxman
was married to Sita's sister, Urmila; but upon joining
Ram in exile, he left her behind. Whatever Laxman
really was, his persona has now morphed into
__ — divinity. Hindu gods usually
represent natural or human forces;
Laxman today stands for steadfast
loyalty and/or brotherly love,
maintained even at terrible personal
cost, Ram-Laxman are the enduring
role models for brothers-in-arms.
My research on Urmila, however,
was difficult. There seems to be an
Indian film actress who carries the
same name. But in trying to locate
books, papers or articles on the
mythological Urmila, I consistently
came up short. We know that, together
with Sita, she is a personification of
either the ideal wife or of Shakti. She
spent 14 years in loneliness, but was
expected to suffer in silence - and she
did. The names of her brother-in-law, sister and
husband are mouthed in millions of daily prayers,
but she remains almost unknown.
You might consider all of this to be nothing more
than a 'feminist' perspective, and perhaps it is.
Abandoning your wife and child(ren) is clearly a
drastic decision at which to arrive. Both of these
women were royalty, and their situations can be
assumed to have been reasonably comfortable. It is
one thing to embark on a noble journey for your
beliefs. But the fact remains: all faiths place
significant importance on marriage and the family
unit. The concept of love and responsibility towards
your nearest and dearest - like parents, children and
siblings - is ranked highly by all religions.
Rethinking the Buddha's story and that of
Laxman from the perspective of the abandoned wife
or child, my wife's reaction made more sense.       £
Ncv-Dec 2005 | Himal Southasian
with your family
y traditional
indulgent spa treatments; a state of the art health club and several outdoor
The Himalayan kingdom beckons with three exciting package offers for 3
nights and 4 days at attractive prices.
thmandu, Nepal
600 228 001 (toll free in India
 Su n, 600 m i 11 ion years old.
Culture, 3000yearsold.
Al in Sri Lanka.
there is year long beachcombing climate in Sri Lanka.
If you're not contentjust lounging in a deck chair,
there's water sports, deep sea diving and surfing.
However, you wouldn't be prepared for the
awe-inspiring spectacle of ancient Sri Lanka
and all its well-preserved remnants.
You're our world
^Srilankan Airlines


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