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Himal Southasian Volume 20, Number 5, May 2007 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2007-05

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 May 2007
Vol 20
OrU
§r$is of
Balochistan
Obsessing over the
female back
Sumana Roy
Getting connected at
SAARC's 14th Summit
Sukumar Muralidharan
One year of
Loktantra
Liz Phiiipson
Bangladesh BDT aSO • Bhutan BTN 60 • India INF, 50 ■ Nepal NPR 50 ■ Maldives MVR  40 • Pakistan  PKR 80 ■ Sn Lanka SLR 80 - Rest of the World USD 4 / GBP 3
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 CO  N T E  N T S
Tribe, province and country
The neglect of Balochistan has gone on for too long in
the modern era. The area was singled out from the very
beginning, when Kalat (or Balochistan) was made part
of Pakistan in what many Baloch believe to be an act of
coercion. Over the past six decades, Baloch
nationalists have mounted three violent insurrections
to drive home their point - now a fourth is fully
underway. Relations with Islamabad have reached a
breaking point since 2005, when the Pakistan Army
moved in to crush the renewed resistance. -And yet, the
answer does not seem to lie in a separation from
Pakistan, both because of the competing sub-identities
among the Baloch themselves, as well as the
geopolitical reality that impacts on this corner of
Southasia. Rather, the Baloch future lies in more and
better self-government, and access to a far greater share
of the profits from the province's natural resources.
The rest of Pakistan had better listen, before the violence
spirals out of control.
Our cover image is a starkly minimalist photograph
by Massoud Ansari, a Karachi-based journalist who
also wrote this issue's cover feature. The camera
records weapons held by a militant of the Baloch
Liberation Army. The revolvers point towards the
Bolan mountains, the ancient gateway from Kandahar
to the rest of SoLithasia, via Quetta.
Mall
Commentary
If the war moves north
Khaki politics in Dhaka
Constituent Assembly, postponed
'Rawan'
Southasian briefs 11
Cover feature
Between tribe and country 22
Massoud Ansari
Islamabad v Balochistan 31
Moeed Yusuf
Interview: Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal 34
A death foretold 36
Munizae Jahangir
Analysis
The Dhaka regime's messy surgery   i 16
Incognito
Getting connected at the SAARC Summit 38
Sukumar Muralidharan
The ritual of the ballot 41
Samrat Sinha
A year of loktantra 44
Liz Phiiipson
India and the upcoming Druk democracy 48
Wasbir Hussain
Report
A thriving industry of Tamil e>ctortion 18
Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The phantom disappearances of Manipur        20
Yumnam Rupachandra
s
7
8
9
10
Essay
Affair with the back
Sumana Roy
55
Reflections
17 March and the multiverse of loyalty
Garga Chatterjee
63
Time and a place
A common heritage of pain
Nivedita Singh
Opinion
Amnesty's sticky wicket
Michael Roberts
Southaslasphere: C X Lai
The new USSR
Photo feature
Assam's eternally displaced
P K'Das, Kazu Ahmed
Mediafile
Review
Guilty until proven innocent
C KLal
The imagined Bihar
Hartosh Singh Bai
On the way up
Kabul as is and was
68
66
59
52
61
70
72
74
Himal Southasian | May 2007
 Vol 20   No 5
May 2007 | www.himalmag.com
Editor and Publisher
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Laxmi Murthy
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Assistant Editor
Himali Dixit
Editorial Assistance
Frakriti Mishra
Contributing Editors
Calcutta R.-ijashri Dasgupta
Colombo Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Business Advisor
Monica Ehatia
Marketing Managers
Komal More
Vaibhav Kapoor (India)
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Design
Roshan Tamang
Web
Rupendra Kayastha
Administration
Manee Rajbhandari
Sunita Silwal
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C o n t r i butors    to   this    issue
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
Dilrukshi Handunnetti is investigations editor at The Sunday Leader in Colombo.
She is a lawyer by training.
Garga Chatterjee is a doctoral student in Psychology at Harvard University.
Hartosh Singh Bai is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, and co-author of A
Certain Ambiguity, to be released by Princeton University Press.
Incognito is a Dhaka journalist.
Kazu Ahmed is assistant programme manager with Panos South Asia, in Guwahati.
Liz Phiiipson is at the London School of Economics, and is a student of the
conflicts in Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Massoud Ansari is a Karachi-based journalist with Newsline.
Michael Roberts is an adjunct associate professor of Anthropology at the
University of Adelaide.
Moeed Yusuf is a consultant on economic policy at the Sustainable Development
Policy Institute in Islamabad, and a regular commentator for The Friday Times.
Munizae Jahangir is presently Pakistan correspondent for NDTV. She has directed
and produced four documentaries, including Search for Freedom, on Afghan women,
and Kashmir: Across the LOC.
Nivedita Singh is a photojournalist, currently working with the G B Pant Social
Science Institute in Allahabad.
P K Das a journalist based in Guwahati.
Sabir Nazar is a Lahore-based cartoonist with The Friday Times and the Da;7y
Times.
Samrat Sinha is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of
Delaware.
Sukumar Muralidharan is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.
Sumana Roy teaches English at Darjeeling Government College. She is currently
on research leave in Poland and Germany.
Wasbir Hussain is director of the Centre for Development and Peace Studies in
Guwahati, and a political commentator.
Yumnam Rupachandra is the Manipur-based correspondent for The Statesman.
Cover image: Massoud Ansari
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4
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Stale pieties
I used to particularly admire C K
Lai's writing - sharp and lucid,
often full of unexpected insights. I
was in Kathmandu immediately
following the royal takeover in
2005, and in that period of
widespread uncertainty and
anxiety I eagerly awaited his
columns. Not only were they
insightful, but they also reflected my
own mood at that time of cynicism
and melancholy. But lately, it
has seemed to me that cynicism
and bitterness informs and infects
Lai's entire worldview.
In a recent coluihn (See February
2007, "'Sezophilia' and the coming
mutiny"), Lai tackled one of his
favourite themes: the injustices of
globalisation and the adverse
effects they have upon the poor.
That globalisation in India has
brought with it an increased
disregard and callous contempt for
the poor is a fact that nobody can
deny. What's problematic with
Lai's essay is the manner in which
he makes his argument, and his
subsequent conclusions. By a
breathtaking leap of logic, he finds
the serial rapes and killings of
children in Nithari to be a symptom
of middle-class India's obsession
with growth.
From   this   Lai  derives   two
far-fetched conclusions. First,
globalisation in India is only
"Westoxification", so superficial as
to be the equivalent of choosing a
burger with stale meat over the more
wholesome puri-bhaji. Second, he
compares those poor people who
are attracted to the glitter of the new
globalising India to moths attracted
to flames. According to Lai, the
children who were attracted by the
comforts of that house in Nithari,
where they were raped and killed,
were an example of this.
Nowhere in Lai's writing has
there been an appreciation of the
complexities of the globalisation
process. Dismissing the rapid and
Returning to Tibet
While Arjuna Ranawana (See April
2007, "President under fire")
presents extensive analysis from an
anti-Rajapakse perspective, the
article fails to bring up
any reference to the much
murkier reasons for the current
accustions against President
Mahinda Rajapakse by disgruntled
parliamentarians. Among these,
the most striking evidence that the
LTTE and Rajapakse in fact had no
pre-election agreement is that it
was just two weeks after Rajapakse
was elected that the LTTE
re-commenced its attacks in the east,
in violation of the Ceasefire
Agreement. This immediately put
the new Rajapakse government into
difficulties vis-a-vis its southern
supporters. Soon thereafter, the
LTTE went so far as to target the
army commander in Colombo, who
narrowly escaped with his
life. Surely there would have been
greater cooperation from the LTTE
if there had indeed been an
agreement, as Rajapakse's enemies
are now declaring. Some of these, it
should be noted, only came out
with this story after being thrown
out of office by the president.
M Ladduwahetty
USA
MAIL
deep changes that are currently
occurring in India's economy and
culture as mere "Westoxification"
reveals a sixperficiality of thought.
To compare the poor to moths that
die when they approach the flames
to which they are attracted reveals
a lack of tinderstanding of the poor.
In making this analogy, Lai
commits the old Marxist mistake
of assuming that the poor have
no agency, and are passive
recipients of whatever the rich dole
out to them.
Lai has no sense of the complex
mixture of feelings - of fear, of hope,
of a sense of possibility - with
which the poor view the rapidly
changing world around them. He
is stuck endlessly repeating the
stale pieties of the old left. Only this
time, the enemy is globalisation
instead of colonialism.
Aditya Adhikari
Bombay
No pre-election agreement
Regarding your recent commentary
(See April 2007, "Yes, an autonomous
Tibetan Autonomous Region), the
difficulties the Dalai Lama faces in
trying to return to his homeland are
monumental. He regularly interacts
with world governments and
leaders, nearly all of whom
officially recognise Tibet as an
'integral' part of China. They also
all contradict themselves; we in.
New Zealand have a big problem
with the government in this
country, which blatantly lies about
its dealings with visiting Chinese
officials, who arrive secretly so no
one can protest their presence. It is
not just the Chinese with whom the
Dalai Lama has to deal, but also all
of the two-faced world leaders who
maintain an eye on China's
economic largesse. The truth will
prevail, but only when the Chinese
population realises that which has
been hidden from them for a
generation.
Geraldine Watson
New Zealand
Send mail to editorial@himalmag.com
Himal Southasian ] May 2007
 Campus needed
! agree with Kanak Mani Dixit's
observation that, "The very evolution
of Southasia can be given direction
by ai Southasian University with
practicable achievable goals and
staying power" (See March 2007, "A
Southasian umbrella university").
Nonetheless, his advocacy of a
"decentralised model" for said
university remains deficient. A
Southasian University as an
umbrella organisation that would be
involved in making grants from the
funds of a Southasian University
Grants Commission (SUGC) to
selected postgraduate departments
of already existing premier
Southasian universities? If there is a
SUGC, why not a proper university?
Eschewing the idea of building a
"spanking new one" for reviving the
"hallowed universities" seems a
waste of an opportunity. A remotely
controlled and dispersed institution
could hardly constitute its own
identity, or aspire for composite
excellence. For that, a university
campus is required.
A more rooted approach could
base itself on Mahatma Gandhi's
principles of 'cultural flows': "I do
not want my house to be walled in
on all sides and my windows to
be stuffed," Gandhi wrote in 1921.
"I want the cultures of all lands to
be blown about my house as freely
as possible. But I refuse to be blown
off my feet by any." The objective of
a Southasian University could be to
provide a world-class education by
mustering its resources from
Southasia, thereby projecting
Southasia to the world.
To facilitate the process, the
Southasian University should be
located in a historical Southasian
city, but preferably not a capital. Its
students, faculty and administrative
personnel should be gathered from
all over the Subcontinent, in order to
foster a composite Southasian
identity. Along with teaching,
comparative and crossborder
research in Southasia should be
accorded the highest priority, so
that students can be enriched by-
innovative and cutting-edge
research. Curriculum framing
should keep regional and global
realities in mind without diluting
international standards. Attempts to
promote intercultural dialogue and
understanding through festivals
and meets could also be instituted.
The success of the idea of a
Southasian University will lie
in the practice of its academic
and social goals - not through
the underwriting of disparate
departments and programmes in
already existing universities,
Anjan Ghosh
Calcutta
Life with dignity
I agree with A C Sinha's reaction
(see April 2007 Mail) to my February
article, "Hawks descend on
Assam", that the Biharis have a
constitutional right to inhabit any
part of the Indian territory. 1 dare
not simplify the issue by dividing
the parties to the conflict into
criminals and defenders of the
nation. As a member of civil society,
I condemn human-rights violations
by  both  the  militants  and   the
security forces. For this reason, the
killing of innocents by either side
should not be brought under the
rubric of 'national defence'.
I am also aware of the Indian
Constitution's Article 21, which the
Supreme Court has interpreted as
every citizen's right to a life with
dignity. My issue of contention is
only with the type of immigration
that violates this right. The 'push'
factor of immigration - be it from
Bihar, Nepal or Bangladesh - is the
feudal system, lack of land reforms
and poverty. The 'pull' factor is a
legal system that does not recognise
community ownership of land, and
facilitates   encroachment   with
impunity. The Assam government
has acknowledged that it has used
nearly 392,000 acres of private land,
and has displaced more than
343,200 people. The reality is nearer
to 1.9 million people deprived of
more than 1.4 million acres. Most
of those who are not counted are
'tribals' or riverbank dwellers, who
had sustained themselves on that
land for centuries before colonial
law declared them encroacbers. The
immigrants, mostly Bangladeshi in
lower Assam and Biharis in upper
Assam, occupy such common land,
which causes resentment.
Sinha adds that he has not
experienced resentment against
Hindi-speakers. I, too, have said
that the resentment is only against
the leaders who impose another
culture on them. During recent field
visits, mv colleagues and I were
surprised to see that many were
aware of statements such as the one
in the Constituent Assembly, which
stated that if the people of the
Northeast were not assimilated
with the Indian mainstream, they
would join Burma. Similar was the
stance of a senior NDA minister,
who said that some 'Indianness'
should be 'put' into the people of
the Northeast, Many have also
asked why the Northeast is not
mentioned in the national anthem,
and why the Ganga alone, rather
than the much bigger Brahmaputra,
should be considered India's
sacred river.
Biharis did not come to Assam
more than 10(1 years ago, as Sinha
claims, but during the 1930s, and
most of them after I960. A
comparison of the 1971 and 2001
census shows an unexplained
excess of 4 million people in Assam
- 1.7 million of them Muslims,
presumably of Bangladeshi
origin, and the rest Hindus of
Bihari or Nepali origin. As for
sovereignty, very few today-
speak of it as 'independence'. The
people support the cause of an
auto-nomous economy, identity
and culture, but not the violence
that both sides perpetrate.
Killing or expelling the
immigrants is not the solution. For
peace with justice, the economic,
land and cultural issues that result
in injustice have to be resolved.
Walter Fernandes
Guwahati
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 COMMENTARY
SRI LANKA
If the war
moves north
The vicious cycle of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict continues
to spiral. In 2001, the LTTE launched a suicide ground
attack on the Sri Lankan Air Force base cum international
airport in Katunayake, on the outskirts of Colombo. The
attack destroyed more than half of the national airline's
fleet, as well as several Air Force planes. With insurance
rates at that time soaring and tourism failing sharply, the
Sri Lankan economy took a nose dive. Six years later, in
:ne early morning hours of 1 April, the LTTE returned to
those same airfields, this time by air. Many say that the
ramifications of this attack will be even more dire.
The assault involved two light aircraft, and President
Mahinda Rajapakse characterised it as the first time a
guerrilla group had attained air power. Even though the
strategic value to the LTTE of the 1 Aprii attack seemed
limited, it provided a major psychological boost to the
rebels, who have suffered a string of recent military defeats
in the east ofthe country. During the weeks following the
air assault, the LTTE has stepped up attacks on Sinhalese
civilians in the east. By doing so, the Tigers have once
again demonstrated their enduring ability to be destructive
even as they are being militarily marginalised. But it is not
only the brutality of the civilian killings that evokes
memories of earlier phases of the conflict; the response
of the government forces towards the civilian population
is also reminiscent of past practices.
So-called cordon-and-search operations are now
routine, in which large numbers of people are taken into
custody, questioned, and those deemed to have the
remotest connection with the Tamil Tigers are detained.
This process can take days or weeks, and generates anger
and bitterness, particularly among Tamils. While the
evidence on the ground shows that the confrontation
between the government and the LTTE is getting uglier in
terms of human-rights abuses, government claims of
having taken control of LTTE-held territory have not
translated into greater security for the people.
The next phase of any military 'solution' would
necessarily be to take the war to the north. But such a
battle would likely be significantly more costly than the
one In the east. First off, the rebels have consolidated
positions in the north, where they have not fractured as in
the east. Second, the LTTE could be expected to target
the civilian population outside the north and east, both in
an attempt to divert the government's attention and to
take vengeance. If the civilian toll were to be heavy, and if
there were to be a large-scale influx of refugees into India,
the international consensus on giving Colombo a free hand
in the war could cease. This could bring about an even
more dangerous and uncertain phase.
The Colombo government appears to be undeterred
by these prospects. Defence Secretary Gotabaya
Rajapakse (the president's brother) recently told the
international press that there is no longer any meaning in
the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, and has speculated that
it has not been officially abrogated merely to keep the
international community happy. He has also said that the
government proposes to push towards the rebels' northern
strongholds, which would mean a certain escalation in
violence. Such statements run contrary to the public
stance of nearly the entire international community -
namely, that the solution to the Sri Lankan conflict should
be negotiated within the context of a peace process,
De-escalation
The willingness of Mahinda Rajapakse's administration
to stand up to the LTTE has won it the support of the
majority of the Sinhalese population. What needs to be
questioned, however, is the government's primary reliance
on military confrontation, rather than on political reform
that addresses the roots of Tamil grievance. By summoning
an All Party Conference several months ago to come up
with a political solution, President Rajapakse did lay the
foundation for a positive political resolution. Now that
commitment needs to be followed through.
Both the international community and the main
opposition United National Party (UNP) agree that the best
way for the country to avoid being taken to the edge of
disaster would be for the current administration to
escalate its political efforts to generate an acceptable
political framework that would meet Tamil aspirations.
Simultaneously, it must seek ways to de-escalate
its military campaign against the LTTE. and stop the
northward gravitation.
President Rajapakse needs to capitalise on his current
Himal Southasian | May 2007
 popularity with the Sinhalese masses, to devise a political
solution that provides justice for Tamils and other ethnic
minorities. Those who seek a peaceful resolution to the
current conflict will be hoping that the proposals for a
political framework that his ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party
(SLFP) has promised to come up with in the coming days
will be able to win the support of the Tamil people, and
eliminate the rationale of continued LTTE violence to
achieve that objective.
The LTTE's positive response to any move towards
political negotiations that go beyond military matters will
also be crucial. There is no denying the technical acumen
that permitted the Air Tiger attack on Katunayake, and
the safe return to base. Skills such as these should be
used for Sri Lanka's national development, including
in the north and east, rather than for perpetuating an
impossible struggle. But the goodwill and trust
that is required forSri Lankan society to function continues
to be missing from the rhetoric and behaviour of
the principal protagonists. £
BANGLADESH
Khaki politics in Dhaka
The subterfuge is over. It has now become clear that
Bangladesh is under the control of an autocratic
military regime. After three months of pretending that it
had little to do with the new interim government, set up in
early January, the Bangladesh Army's role in derailing an
already shaky democratic process is now obvious. In early
April, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Moeen
U Ahmed, gave a speech on the need to design a new
political system, his assertions eerily similar to the
arguments for 'Guided Democracy' that Southasians have
heard repeatedly from past dictators. There has been a
clampdown on political activity and protests, with
many leaders of both the Awami League and the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party arrested on grounds
of corruption. Meanwhile, promises to hold elections
'as soon as possible' seem on their way to being
conveniently forgotten.
The most recent move was the concerted attempt to
push Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed into
exile. These mutually antagonistic leaders, alternately
presiding over the Dhaka durbar for the past 15 years,
have certainly not been models of democratic governance.
Both engaged in intense political bickering, looted from
state coffers, encouraged a culture of street-lumpenism,
and constricted the institutional development of
Bangladesh's democracy. But the one lesson that we have
learned from the royal takeovers in Nepal, the military
coups in Pakistan, and even the state of emergency in
India, is that neat technocratic solutions, backed by the
military baton, are almost always unstable - besides being
inherently illiberal.
What is happening in Bangladesh follows a familiar
script - in countries where democracy has not taken deep
roots, the record of corrupt and irresponsible parties leads
to public disillusionment with the system itself, and
provides the opportunity for conservative rightwing
elements to step in. There is initial euphoria among
Bangladesh's urban middle class, which is pleased to see
the fear-induced efficiency in some government offices,
as well as the protest-free streets. There is a rhetorical
commitment to democracy, accompanied with pledges
that the current situation is merely a temporary
arrangement. But once they take over, military regimes do
not withdraw voluntarily; often, a significantly messier
campaign is needed to oust them.
Bangladeshis should know this better than most. They
have lived under military rule, both before and after the
War of Liberation in 1971, They have also watched the
consequences of such regimes in Pakistan for six decades.
Against this backdrop, it was surprising to see even liberal
dailies and civil society in Dhaka welcome the army's move
in January. Only now are they waking up to the fact that
this is not a temporary interlude that will teach the two
parties to behave better; rather, it is the long haul of
dictatorial rule that seems to be in the cards. The
government's decisions to send Khaleda Zia to Saudi
Arabia, and prevent Sheikh Hasina from returning to
Bangladesh from overseas, will have a disastrous
long-term impact on democratic evolution in Bangladesh.
The space for legitimate political protest and mechanisms
8
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 to  communicate  grievances  will  shrink,  further
strengthening extremists.
The Bangladesh Army seems to have been inspired by
General Pervez Musharraf in its use ofthe political tactic
of exiling popular leaders. The brass has also learned to
make the right noises in front of the international
community. We have thus seen the swift execution of six
'Islamic fundamentalists' - as a sop to the Americans -
as well as promises to create a more liberal investment
atmosphere, which is music to Indian ears. While the
agitation to send the generals back to the barracks will
have to come from Bangladeshis themselves,
international actors must not repeat the mistake they
have made in innumerable past situations to prop up an
autocracy. They must correct their pre-conceived disdain
for political parties, which led the Western embassies to
get behind the January putsch. The king's disastrous rule
in Nepal and Gen Musharraf's current troubles in
Pakistan should be enough proof that these
arrangements are not sustainable. The focus, however,
will be on domestic political players, who have an
opportunity to shake the state structure and push the
military back - as well as to create a more responsible
and institutionalised form of democracy. The next
people's movement of Southasia we would wager will
be in Bangladesh. £
Constituent Assembly, postponed
The past month has seen a charade played by the
political parties in Kathmandu, including the
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), newly inducted into
the government and interim parliament. Everyone knows
that the promised elections to the Constituent .Assembly
cannot be held in June as planned. And yet everyone is
comfortable living the lie that they will be held as
scheduled. In fact, al! sides vociferously hold forth on the
necessity of this, all the while hoping desperately that
someone else will make the inevitable announcement. A
political calamity is predicted upon the failure to hold the
polls in June, and no one wants to be seen to have
contributed to this through the act of questioning the dates.
An election to a Constituent Assembly (CA), which
would restructure state-society relations, was exactly what
the Maoists needed to extract from the parliamentary
political parties before they could justify giving up their
decade-long'people's war'. Fortheir part, the parties could
not agree to a Constituent Assembly until the Maoists
convinced them of their intention to lay down the gun.
Agreement was reached on these matters in the so-called
'Twelve-Point Agreement', signed between the two sides
after half-secret talks in New Delhi in November 2005.
That agreement paved the way for the People's Movement
of April 2006, and since then the torturous series of
negotiations that saw the adoption of a Comprehensive
Peace Agreement, the arrival of United Nations monitors,
and the induction of the Maoists into the interim
parliament and government. All of these are seen as
way-stations on the road to the Constituent Assembly.
Today, the demand for a Constituent Assembly is much
more than a means to bringthe Maoists in from the jungle.
In a country of minorities, all oppressed communities -
by ethnicity, language, faith, region and even altitude -
have internalised the fact that the state needs to be
restructured through the Constituent Assembly. The CA is
Maoist cadres protesting the postponement of Constituent
Assembly elections, 14 April
seen as a means to correct historical neglect and injustice,
to overturn the control exercised by Kathmandu Valley by
pushing through a federal structure, and - something the
political class seems to greatly favour - getting rid of
monarchy in all forms and configurations.
In the second week of April, it was left to the Election
Commission to ask for 110 days to organise the polls
after election laws were enacted, and the commissioners
did everything but say out loud that elections were
impossible in June. Crucial pieces of electoral legislation
were still pending with the government and parliament,
the logistics were not in place, and a state of fear and
intimidation still prevailed in large parts of a country
coming out of a decade-long internal conflict. The
United Nations representative in Kathmandu let it be
known that June elections were neither politically nor
technically feasible.
At long last, by the start of the Nepali New Year in mid-
April, the political class seemed to have matured enough
Himal Southasian | May 2007
 to look reality in the eye, and to stop depicting election
sceptics as 'royalists' and 'reactionaries'. But even so,
as Himal goes to press, there seems to be no hurry to
declare a postponement. The government continues to
move at a leisurely pace, seemingly in the belief that
there is no need to make an announcement about what
is already known.
Prepare for fall elections
The scaremongers who claim that Nepali society will
crumble if the elections do not take place in June are
wrong. To begin with, the law-and-order situation is in
shambles due to an incapable Home Ministry and the
constant irresponsible acts of Maoist cadres; indeed,
things could not get much worse. But the task at hand for
responsible social and political leaders is to ensure that
the long interregnum that would come as a result of the
postponement of polls does not invite lawlessness and
anarchy. To prevent the few remaining ultra-conservatives
from fishing in troubled waters, some observers in
Kathmandu believe that it is important to weaken the
monarchy further by taking the title of 'king' away
from Gyanendra, cutting the umbilical cord that still links
him to the erstwhile royalist army, and taking action
against those royal functionaries who have been
pronounced culpable forthe suppression ofthe People's
Movement last year.
At the same time, as part of a comprehensive package
to ensure stability, and so as to make up for a decade of
destruction and lost time, the government mustjumpstart
the development process, get a few high-profile,
employment-generating infrastructure projects underway,
and begin the rehabilitation process in earnest. While
Nepal's internally displaced have to be reinstated to their
homesteads, what is known as 'security-sector reform'
must include the induction of a sizeable section of the
Maoist fighters into an appropriate unit ofthe Nepal Army.
It is important for the eight-party alliance, headed by
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, to collectively
concede the impossibility of elections in June, and
simultaneously to announce a new date for polls in the
autumn of 2007, after the monsoon and the harvest
season are passed. It would not be sensible to delay the
elections to next year, because too much depends on the
early and credible holding of elections for the CA, free of
fear and intimidation. The postponement of five months
would allow a countrywide campaign of debate and
discussion, even as the CPN (Maoist) gets the reprieve it
needs to put together a party organisation that does not
really exist at present. It is better that the Maoists have a
relatively good showing in a delayed election than that
they be routed in a hastily organised one. A
'Rawan'
Inside the turtle, symbolic of the universe, is the
short-eared subcontinental elephant. Inside the
elephant is the cow, symbolic, in the interpretation
of artist Sabir Nazar, of the motherland. Inside the
motherland, and within the further circumscription
of a Laxman rekha, sits Sita, on the verge of abduction
by the devious Rawan. The turtle swims in a dark
sea, and Sita is separated from the brightly-lit head
of an imperial hall by a moat and a universe. Those
who rule this court are far from her daily concerns,
her happiness, her troubles. The political disconnect,
the distance in understanding, manifests itself in
stretches of water, in the stark difference between
the dark sea and the bright air. The metropole is far
away. Its powerful appear comfortable and happy,
lording over a world they do not know. >
This is part of a regularseries of Himal's editorial commentary
on artwork by Sabir Nazar. Watercolour, 18" x 24"
10
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 ■■■■MOMaH
SOUTHASIAN  BRIEFS
INDIA
Ousted again
■^Va>
5?™"^'-" '
A decades-old injustice
was reopened recently
when hundreds of people
in Tripura began returning
to their former lands,
which had been flooded
during the 1970s by a
hydroelectric project. The
10-megawatt Gumti
project was originally
commissioned in 1974,
over the fierce protest of
the 40,000 local residents
whose lands were to be
flooded by the dam's
reservoir. Human-rights
workers say that less than
20 percent of those
RESIGN
Cross-sharing stocks
Getting into the spirit of regional synergy just prior to
the 14th SAARC Summit, a meeting of the South
Asia Federation of Exchanges (SAFE) discussed the
possibility of 'cross-listing' local stocks in a
Southasia-wide exchange. Officials from the exchanges
of the then-seven SAARC countries proposed a regional
system through which investors could invest in any
company anywhere in Southasia. This would entail the
launch of a new SAFE index and exchange-traded fund,
which would initially operate within each country and
later be traded throughout Southasia.
If it ever comes to fruition, such a system would
certainly herald a new era in economic cooperation,
through which Indian investors, for instance, could invest
in Pakistani companies for the very first time. Such
prospects paint a rosy scenario for Nepal and
Bangladesh's finance sectors, with observers suggesting
that they would be likely to initially receive the most
requests for cross-listing. The benefits would not be
unlimited, however, since the markets in those two
countries are yet to reach the standards of India's.
Indeed, critics suggest that such a system would be more
appropriate for countries possessing similar markets,
such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
While true integration of the various exchanges may
seem remote for now, a few yea rs ago the very possibility
that these various groups could meet would have
seemed unimaginable. We can now truly say that
Southasia is beginning to look bullish! lllil»;
affected were ultimately
compensated by the
government due to the
fact that the displaced
families, mostly Reangs,
held no official lease on
their traditional lands.
Due to drastically
reduced water levels, by
mid-March state Power
Minister Manik Dey
admitted that Gumti was
no longer producing any
electricity. The problem
has reportedly arisen due
to agricultural and illegal
logging activities in the
catchment area -
traceable largely to the
Reang oustees - which
have raised the reservoir's
silt bed. Now community
members have begun
attempting to reclaim
PAKISTAN
some of the emerging land
(see photo). Tripura has
around 25,000 landless
farmers, and advocates
say that they could all be
comfortably resettled in
the reservoir's 65 sq km,
if the government were
to agree to dismantle
the dam.
At the moment, though,
Tripura's government is
resisting doing so. Despite
promises to undo exactly
these types of historical
injustices, the state's Left
government has
responded to the situation
by pledging that no land
will be reclaimed. Police
are now chasing off
anyone who attempts to
strike root in the dry
reservoir bed. A
The big deal
Long-simmering reports of a secret deal in the offing
between Pervez Musharraf's government and
Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) have
suddenly picked up significant steam. First, the
government fuelled speculation during the first week of
April when it halted an investigation of Bhutto by a longtime anti-corruption investigator, Hassan Wassim Afzal.
Just days later, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid
Ahmad said that talks between the PPP and General
Musharraf's administration had "entered into a semifinal stage". Despite the government's subsequent
vociferous denials of Ahmed's characterisation,
observers suggest that the situation shows either the
current chaos in Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's cabinet,
or that the whole
charade was a
deliberate ploy to
confuse the opposition.
With Islamabad
under increasing
international pressure
to put in place real
democratic reforms by
the ne>ct election, many
are now concluding that
Gen Musharraf may be
ready to accept a
government led by
Bhutto - if it backs his
continued presidency.   A
Himal Southasian | May 2007
11
 PAKISTAN/INDIA
Samjhauta tickets on the rise
Following the 19
February bombing that
killed at least 68 people
on the Samjhauta
Express, there has been a
surprising surge in
passengers clamouring for
tickets on the twice-
weekly train between
Delhi and Lahore. The
Increase has been so
marked that railway
authorities have now
decided to increase the
crossborder train's
NEPAL/INDIA
maximum number
of passengers from
576 to 750.
Wannabe riders have
evidently been teeming at
railway stations in Lahore
and New Delhi,
demanding tickets and
harassing railway
authorities. "Pakistan
Railways has requested
the Indian authorities to
induct two additional
passenger coaches with
the Samjhauta Express to
What's the rush?
One of India's largest steel manufacturers, the
Bhushan group, in late March said that it would be
closing down its Nepal operation. The owners put the
decision down to the ongoing flux in Nepal, saying that
they could "do better business in India". Bhushan,
which is worth roughly USD 650 million, set up shop in
Nepal in 2001, employing around 300 workers in
Biratnagar town under the name Aarti Strips.
As Nepal's prospects have looked up over the past
year, outwardly it would appear that so too have
Bhushan's. Company officials say that last year their
Nepal operation brought in around INR 5 billion, and
that they currently have contracts for INR 1 billion more
this year. While general manager Roshit Unnithan says
that the Nepal office "didn't suffer a loss" last year, he
notes that "the tension became unbearable".
Those headaches have included regular power
outages and a stiff export tax, but also the increased
instability of the Tarai plains, which has included a step-
up in trade-union activities. The move follows a similar
decision made last year by Hindustan Steel. Bhushan
will now be relocating eastwards, to the pro-industry
entrepots of either Assam or West Bengal.
Nepali officials meanwhile believe that Bhushan is
making a mistake, leaving just as the country is about
to turn the corner. A
12
accommodate the
increasing number of
passengers traveling
between the two
countries," Lahore
Divisional Superintendent
Muhammad Khalid said in
late March.
Kalid also confirmed
that, following the
February bombing, both
India and Pakistan were
INDIA
cooperating on sharing
passenger information as
a security measure. With
New Delhi and Islamabad
in mid-April renewing their
agreement on the train for
another three years, why
not take the opportunity to
bump up the Samjhauta's
sojourns to thrice weekly?
Actually, a daily service
would be more like it.     A
Peace parks
In late March, a meeting was convened in New Delhi by
the Indian environment ministry (along with other
ministries, including defence) to attempt to identify a likely
location for a future crossborder national park. The aim of
the meeting was to look at existing parks on India's
frontiers, and identify one that could be a candidate for
crossborder cooperation with the relevant neighbouring
country. In addition to increasing people-to-people
cooperation, one environment official said that such a
trans-national project would also help with long-term
conservation and anti-poaching efforts.
The meeting came on the back of two previous meets
held between the ministry and head park officials, who
reportedly have offered widespread backing for the plan
should the central government approve it. Of particular
interest has been the Dampa reserve in Mizoram, Rann
of Kutch in Gujarat, Manas in Assam, Dudhwa in Uttar
Pradesh and Namdhapha in Arunachal Pradesh.
While the Siachen glacier has frequently been
mentioned as one such possibility as well, the prospect
seems notable though far-off. Nonetheless, in what
observers have dubbed a step towards Manmohan
Singh's desire to see Siachen turned into a 'mountain of
peace', New Delhi recently began installing seismic
sensors on the glacier.
Although there is not much seismic activity near Siachen
- rarely registering over one or two on the Richter
scale - India's seismic-monitoring network has been
sparse to date, and Siachen's military presence made it
an easy extension of that network. Indeed, with the project
being jointly overseen by the army - and with bilateral
talks over Siachen again breaking down in early
April - the glacier aa could now become something
of a 'mountain ^^^ff of paranoid listening'.
Siactier
 BURMA/INDIA
No Burmese gas?
:
By late March, India's
hopes to secure rights
to Burma's offshore Shwe
gas field appeared to have
come to naught. The
Myanmar Oil & Gas
Enterprise (MOGE) called
a meeting between
consortium members of
the two most lucrative gas
blocks in the Shwe field -
the so-called A-l and A-3
blocks, which together
hold an estimated 200
AFGHANISTANjPAKtSTAN
billion cubic metres of
natural gas. On the table:
the possibility of selling
most or all of that gas to
state-run PetroChina. One
Indian consortium
member expressed his
fear that MOGE had
"made up its mind to give
the gas to China".
New Delhi dispatched
top officials to attempt to
salvage the deal, but
Rangoon seems to have
The Pakistani 'roadblock'
Even as Afghanistan was readying itself to officially join
the SAARC organisation at the Summit in New Delhi,
the Afghan Foreign Minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, was
warning that Pakistan was standing in the way of the
country's integration with the rest of the Southasian
region. Spanta was referring to Islamabad's ongoing
intransigence towards allowing transit rights for Indian
goods bound for Afghanistan.
While Kabul is looking forward to potentially tapping
Into the soaring economies of the Subcontinent -
particularly India's - Islamabad has been holding the
transit issue hostage to Indo-Pakistani negotiations,
including over Kashmir. Indian businessmen say that
flying or shipping goods into Afghanistan (the latter of
which is currently allowed through the Karachi port) is
prohibitively expensive. At a time when some are
wondering about the prospects of a proxy war being
played out in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan,
the standoff has allowed the latter to hold onto a
significant influence advantage in the former - despite
the continuing, though lessened, acrimony between
Kabul and Islamabad. £
through its territory.
As for Rangoon's
preference for China,
despite India's siding with
Burma over a recent United
Nations attempt to censure
the junta, according to a
leaked memo China's
steadfast veto of the move
in the Security Council
seems to have finally
swayed Rangoon's decision.
When it comes to the
crunch, Rangoon evidently
trusts Beijing more than
New Delhi, even if the latter
bends over backwards to
pamper the dictatorship.
There's a message here for
Dr Manmohan. £
decided to quash energy-
crunched India's
increasingly frantic hopes
to pipe in Burma's gas.
One obstacle to this plan
had been Dhaka's
longstanding refusal to
allow New Delhi to use
Bangladeshi territory for
any such pipeline. But two
solutions had recently
appeared to be in the
offing to this problem:
India's decision to develop
the Kaladan River, from
Burma's Sittwe port into
Mizoram; and Dhaka's
recent decision to go back
to the negotiating table
regarding transport
IMDIA1BURMA	
India drops Bahadur Shah
After deliberating for nearly six decades, India has
finally given up its request for Burma to 'return' the
remains of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah
Zafar. Born in 1775 in Delhi, Bahadur Shah was the son
of Akbar Shah from his Hindu wife, Lalbai. He attained
power in 1837, and was the last in the 300-year line of
India's Mughal emperors. A painter, cartographer and
poet ('Zafar' was his penname), Bahadur Shah became
a figurehead of unity during the rebellion of 1857, and it
was expected that he would rule the region after the
British were thwarted. Instead, after the failure ofthe
uprising, the British exiled him to Rangoon in 1858. He
died four years later, at the age of 87.
The request to have his remains shipped back to his
birthplace originated in 1949, when the Bahadur Shah
Zafar Memorial Society expressed the need to bring the
"mortal remains of the last Mughal king from Yangon to
New Delhi". But 58 years later, Indian Culture Minister
Ambika Son! recently told Parliament that, "It was
decided that the proposal need not be pursued." Soni
did not elaborate further on what may have prompted
the decision to let Zafar's remains remain, ensconced
near the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. A
lying _^
emperor
Himal Southasian | May 2007
13
 BURMA/INDIA
Kaladan development
runs between Burma and
Mizoram. The
announcement followed
three days of deliberations
in mid-March by the North
Eastern Council (NEC),
which Aiyar chairs,
which were aimed at
speeding up the river's
evelopment as much
as possible.
Prospects for New
Delhi's hopes to use the
route to transport
Burmese gas into India
(bypassing Bangladesh)
dimmed dramatically in
the weeks following
Aiyar's announcement,
when Rangoon all but
| After long discussing the
g af\possibility, Indian
| Union Minister for
Development in the
Northeast, Mani Shankar
Aiyar, has officially
announced that New Delhi
will be helping to develop
the Kaladan River, which
NEPALflNDIA
Five small extensions
Although the discussion has long lingered on the block,
by the second week of April emending India's rail
network to Nepal had reportedly become a "top priority".
The Nepal-India border region, long a backwater where
the metre-gauge 'choti line' has lingered till now, is thus
ready for a broad-gauge makeover.
The reason for the Indian step-up might be linked to
China's keenness to extend its own spanking-new train
line to Nepal's northern border. Beijing is also planning
on extending its rail line (which currently runs only into
Lhasa) to the Tibetan town of Chomo, near the Nathula
pass into Sikkim. Nathula and the Qinghai-Lhasa
passenger-train service both opened during the first week
of July last year.
Experts have found that a railroad into Nepal from
Tibet across the Himalayan ramparts would be
economically unfeasible, but this has not quelled New
Delhi's emphasis on tit-for-tat strategic footholds. As such,
India's Railway Ministry now wants to extend its rail
network to five Nepali cities - Nepalgunj, Bhairahawa,
Bardibas, Biratnagar and Kakarvitta - a cumulative track
extension of around 160 km.
It might soon also be time to discuss whether the Indian
line should not be joined with the Tibetan line, an action
that would change the face of this part of Asia. A
in the offing would include
the development of a 70-
km road from the upstream
Burmese port city of
Kaletwa to Mizoram.
According to Aiyar, "The
Sittwe port will be an exit
point to mainland India. It is
only 12 hours from Haldia,
36 from Vishakapatnam
and 48 from Tuticorin."
All of these convoluted
plans, one might add, will
self-destruct the moment
Bangladesh allows itself to
be used as a corridor
between the mainland and
the Northeast. £
decided to sell most of its
gas to China. It is yet to be
seen how this
development will impact
on the Kaladan plan.
More than likely, the
impact will be negligible.
In its favour, India's USD
103 million refurbishment
of the Sittwe port in
Burma, at the mouth of
the Kaladan, is slated to
negate the need for the
Northeast to access
Bangladesh's Chittagong
port. Sittwe sits 160 km
from the Mizoram border,
and the three-part scheme
SRI LANKA	
Repatriation quandary
Faced with dramatically
escalating levels of
human-rights violations in
Sri Lanka, European
officials have begun
reassessing their
policies on repatriation of
asylum seekers from the
island. By the first week of
April, the estimated number
of internally displaced
people throughout the
country had risen to
290,000, while international rights groups were
stepping up criticism against the Colombo
government's increasingly draconian clampdown
on dissent.
Against such a backdrop, European countries have
continued to repatriate Sri Lankans who have fled the
ethnic conflict but fail to meet individual governments'
qualifications for asylum. Switzerland, for instance,
which recently scheduled a meeting to discuss a
possible change in repatriation policy, has received
nearly 330 Sri Lankan requests for asylum during the
first three months of this year alone. The majority of
such requests have come from Tamils. Of those, 23
were officially sent back to Sri Lanka, while another 22
went back of their own accord; another 76 reportedly
left Switzerland with no known destination.
Other countries have not yet even begun to have the
discussion. In England, for instance, where the arrival of
Tamil refugees during the mid-1980s prompted a
significant tightening of immigration procedures,
officials say that the government currently has no plans
to revisit its repatriation policy towards Sri Lanka.        A
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 tNDIAIBANGLADESH
Four decades at the station
A
fter a 40-year
lag, Dhaka
and New Delhi are
nearly setto restart
passenger-train
service across the
Indo-Bangladeshi
border. Although
irregular cargo
service has
continued running
across the border,
no passenger trains
; have been allowed to do so since 1965, when the
i India-Pakistan war sealed the border. It was not until the
i early 1990s that even a passenger-bus service was
allowed to restart between the two neighbours.
The new passenger train, which New Delhi has
reportedly been eager to get on the rails, will run from
Joydevpur, near Dhaka, to the Sealdah station in
Calcutta. The current agreement is not new, but rather
an extension of one signed in 2001, which was
scheduled to run out in July. A bilateral meeting is
scheduled to take place soon, to evaluate the decrepit
state of infrastructure, which rumour has it will push off
the train's opening until late 2007. Hopefully that will be
the project's biggest obstacle. A
AFGHAMSTAWPAKISTAN	
Crossborder jirga
The first major meeting of the Pakistan-Afghanistan
Jirga Commission took place over three days in
mid-March. Despite the ongoing vituperation between
Kabul and Islamabad, reactions following the jirga's first
meeting were almost uniformly positive.
In the course of the jirga, members agreed not to trade
allegations about the other side, and to adopt a common
strategy towards extremist activities. In the near future, a
national-level jirga would also be created in Pakistan,
which has no tradition of such a body.
The crossborder jirga evidently has its work cut out for
It - as particularly noted by its failure to convene as
scheduled during the second week of April, due to
unassigned "technical" reasons. Problems had already
cropped up the week the jirga began its meetings,
however, when the Afghan Defence Ministry accused
Islamabad of having begun to fence the border between
the two countries.
Indeed, by mid-April, Pakistani officials were said to be
just waiting for the necessary fencing equipment to arrive.
It would seem that the jirga would do well to suggest that
Islamabad consult with New Delhi about whether border
fences work, given the latter's experience along the
Pakistan border. A I
TIBET
From Beijing, with love
Perhaps safe in the knowledge that investment dollars
(or yuan) cannot buy freedom (or autonomy), the
Chinese government has announced that it will be
investing nearly USD 13 billion in Tibet. The new
construction is to be completed before 2010.
One Tibet official, Hao Peng, has said that the new
projects will be particularly aimed at remote herding
villages. The money will be spent on 180 separate
projects, including the improvement of electricity,
telephone and drinking-water infrastructure in rural Tibet;
the extension of the new Qinghai-Lhasa train line, as
well as the construction of a whole new track linking
Lhasa with Tibet's second largest city, Xigaze (Shigatse);
and the upgrading of airport facilities.
But the same week that Beijing announced its latest
largesse, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT)
warned that, 500 days away from the start of the
Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government was still
failing to comply with commitments that it had made in
2001 in its bid to land the coveted prize of hosting
the 2008 games. In
particular, ICT activists
emphasised Beijing's
failure regarding promises to: protect
minority nationality rights;
become a more open
society; allow foreign
journalists to "travel
anywhere in China"; and
to institute transparent
governance throughout
the Olympics process. A
REGION
The games of Beijing. WKh I
mamxa
Far from home
The Taliban claimed
responsibility for a
bomb blast in Kandahar
on 17 April that took the
lives of four Nepali
contractors and an Afghan
driver who were traveling
in a United Nations
vehicle. It was one of the
deadliest attacks on UN
personnel since 2001,
and served as a reminder
ofthe large number of
Southasians working as
peacekeepers in
Afghanistan and around
the world.
Globally, around 40
percent of UN personnel
are made up of workers
from the Subcontinent, and
the USD 85-a-day salary is a
lucrative pull for many. But
with so many Southasian
boots on the ground, the
region's related death toll
is striking as well. As
of this past March, 354
Southasians had been
killed in active duty for t
he UN - 123 Indians,
95 Pakistanis, 80
Bangladeshis and 56
Nepalis. Four more
need now be added to that
last figure. A
Himal Southasian | May 2007
15
 ANALYSIS
The Dhaka regime's messy surgery
With the two major political parties forcibly sidelined,
who is left to fix a broken polity? The fact that the
writer of this article is compelled to remain
anonymous is perhaps indicative of the sudden
democracy deficit in Dhaka.
BY INCOGNITO
Bangladesh's political
orchestra is reaching a
crescendo, at least for this
passage. What comes next may be
a long, deafening silence. As the two
political dynasties were made to
exit the country, the remonstrations
of the two heads were heard far and
wide. The military-backed interim
government's tackling of its
envisioned 'minus two' rescue plan
for the polity has been neither
smooth nor discreet. Despite the
noises made out of entrenched
political camps, however, it has
become clear that there is no turning
back for Bangladesh. The tables
have been turned.
In January, when the military-
backed regime took power with an
initial 'emergency' mandate of 120
days (which will end on 10 May),
there was no timeframe in place
for elections. Chief Adviser
Fakhruddin Ahmed and his
military backers provided such a
timeline - elections by the end of
2008 - almost as a gift on the eve of
the Bengali New Year. But even as
the chief adviser was delivering his
address to the nation on 13 April,
rumours were already rife of plans
to exile Begum Khaleda Zia, chair
of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
(BNP). Talk of Sheikh Hasina
Wajed, president of the Awami
League, being barred from entering
the country was also being heard.
For most of April, Dhaka was a city
of rumours.
With all forms of political activity
banned, there was very little
opposition to the action against the
heads of the two main parties when
it finally took place. With the anti-
corruption dragnet picking
up politicians from across
the political divide, no one dared
to speak out. There had been
pressure on Khaleda Zia to leave
the country since her son Tarique
Rahman's 7 March arrest. But it was
not until her second son, Arafat
Rahman, was picked up in a
midnight raid at her residence that,
on 17 April, she agreed to depart
for Saudi Arabia with her
immediate family. One down,
another to go, it seemed.
The wait was not long. With no
foreseeable obstacle to the plan, on
18 April a government press notice
stated that Sheikh Hasina had
become a "national-security risk",
and was therefore barred from
returning to the country from a trip
to the US. A day after Hasina had
declared the interim government
"unconstitutional" in an interview,
the government publicised the
corruption charges against her.
Suddenly, the accusation of
political murder was added - a
charge that carried with it an arrest
warrant. With the travel ban in
place, Hasina made an attempt to
return to Bangladesh, but was
denied entry to an airplane in
London on 22 April, the morning
the warrant was issued.
Dangerous vacuum
While the attempt to cleanse
the political culture overnight
is a grand adventure worth
applauding,  trying  to  fill  the
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Senior army officials would be reluctant to return power to civilian hands without
ensuring safeguards, for a backlash from political quarters that have come under the
anti-corruption sweep is a certainty.
H'uum left by such a sudden
removal will not only be difficult,
but dangerous. Politically, the
first signs of cracks were seen
immediately prior to Khaleda's
planned departure. Many mid- and
senior-level BNP leaders had been
lying low for fear of prosecution on
corruption charges. On the evening
of 20 April, they found an
armyman-turned-BNP politician,
retired Brigadier Hannan Shah,
holding consultations with the
party chairperson. (Khaleda had
already been under house arrest for
weeks.) With no one to vouch for or
denounce his contention, Shah
declared that Khaleda wished to
reorganise the party and dissolve
the existing committees. Some
senior BNP leaders feared a split,
while others pointed towards arm-
twisting by the army to force-feed
the party its agenda.
The Awami League is said to be
going through similar gyrations.
Both of the parties are showing the
inherent weakness of an
unyieldingly hierarchical political
culture. Does this mean that the
interim government should
be cheered for dismantling
them7 Perhaps not. While the
international community seemed to
have given the military-backed
government an initial nod, it
appears that the announcement
that national polls wil] be held bv
kite 2008 {along with the Election
Commission's elaborate promises
of national identity cards, a new
voter roll and revamped election
rules) might become a means
to another end.
On 2 April, the army chief
and de facto head of the
country, General Moeen U Ahmed,
announced: "The aspiring democratic process of Bangladesh and
the current transition period allows
us an opportunity to develop a new
concept, and find a new sense of
direction to the future politics of
Bangladesh." This 'new concept',
of course, may not necessarily refer
to the traditional participatory
electoral process known to
Bangladesh's electorate. Ahmed
went on: "Bangladesh will have to
construct its own brand of
democracy, recognising its social,
historical and cultural conditions,
with religion being one of several
components of its national
identity." This talk of a 'new brand
of democracy' was widely and
fervently discussed in Bangladesh
for the better part of early April,
and many political observers
characterised it as the first
public indication that the
armed forces were to implement
their own plans for the future of
Bangladeshi politics.
However, like some of the other
peoples of Southasia, Bangladeshis
have seen previous military-backed
governments with 'unique plans',
and scepticism was in the air, By
late April, there was already word
of tension within the armed forces
themselves. Ahmed's term as army
chief ends in June 2008, which is
just prior to the currently stipulated
timeframe to hold the national
polls. General Masud L'ddin
Chowdhury, the key proponent in
formulating the current emergency
rule, is slated to be the next chief.
While the actions taken by the
interim government might have
wide-scale popular support - as is
helieved in the absence ot credible
public opinion polls - senior army
officials would be reluctant to
return power to civilian hands
without ensuring safeguards, for a
backlash from political quarters
that have come under the anti-
corruption sweep is a certainty.
In the heady atmosphere of early
2007, many had initially thought of
Nobel Prize winner Mohammad
Yunus and his brand new political
party Nagorik Shakti, born under
the blanket of emergency rule, as a
possible successor in the making.
But with bitter reactions from
various quarters, and given the
current subdued state of politics,
Yunus has kept relatively quiet.
Many observers have also pointed
out that, while the BNP has suffered
severely in the recent anti-corruption
drive, its chief ally, the Jamaat-e-
Islami, remains unscathed, with no
more than a few minor leaders
behind bars. The place of the
Islamist forces in the army's
radarseope will be something to
watch. The execution in March of six
activists of the militant Jama'atul
Mujahideen Bangladesh, convicted
for the highly publicised serial
bombings of 2005, might have
brought to an end one
chapter of Bangladeshi militancy.
Nonetheless, the patronage received
from the Jamaat and the complex
web of Islamist sympathy towards
such fundamentalists - including
from within the army - remains to
be probed.
Meanwhile, talk of the political
ambitions of military leaders
backing a transitional government
will undoubtedly continue and
progressively escalate until the brass
returns to the barracks. But all the
talk of establishing a new political
party with army support, and of
bringing together various splintered
political entities, seems to be driven
by uncertainty rather than
intelligence. In a country that is in
desperate need of a clear plan that
leads back to the people's mandate,
uncertainty coupled with raw power
can be a deadly mixture. Social,
cultural, political and economic
systems cannot he purged overnight
by diktat, as the generals seem to
think possible. In the meantime,
the Dhaka intelligentsia is
having second thoughts about
this cleansing. >
Himal Southasian | May 2007
17
 REPORT
A thriving industry of
Tamil extortion
Amidst kidnappings and ransom
demands, Tamil businesses in Colombo
are downing the shutters, it seems the
government couldn't care less.
BY DILRUKSHI HANDUNNETTI
Sixty-year-old Egamabaram Palaniraja, the owner
of Myth ill Jewellers in the heart of Colombo, went
missing on 12 September last year, along with
his 23-year-old son Balasaravanan and employee,
Ganesan Muhundan. All three were abducted while
returning home at around nine in the evening, just
metres away from the Sri Lankan prime minister's
office. Two days later, Palaniraja was released 250 km
from Colombo, in Polonnaruwa in the North Central
Province, and ordered to arrange an "undisclosed"
amount of ransom money to secure the release of his
son and employee. After extracting millions of rupees,
the abductors released both of the youths but retained
the vehicle.
For a citizenry that slid into a virtual war last July
deaspite the existence of a truce to which both the
government and the LTTE rebels continue to pay lip
sendee, the past few months have been a nightmare.
Beyond the stepped-up military engagements, there
have been dramatically increased levels of forced
disappearances, extortions, extrajudicial killings.
general harassment and intimidation. Amidst
widespread human-rights violations in Sri Lanka
today, one of the most significant, and most
under-reported is the ongoing intimidation, extortion
and abduction of affluent Colombo-area Tamil
businessmen. This phenomenon was recently referred
to as a "thriving industry".
Palaniraja is among the lucky few. Many abducted
Tamils never return home, even after paying
multi-million-rupee ransoms. S Srikandarajah, a
leading sugar merchant, and his driver were abducted
in July 2006. But they failed to secure their freedom
even after SLR 30 million was paid for their release.
While Thirunavakurusu Puvaneshwaran, a successful
Tamil businessperson, was released after SLR 1.5
million was extracted as ransom money, trader Maxie
Bolton has still not been let go although the requested
money was deposited.
More white vans
With the phenomenon of disappearances prevailing
in Colombo, its sizeable and economically powerful
Tamil population is seized by fear. Not only is it
susceptible to forced disappearances by the Sri Lankan
Army, the LTTE breakaway Karuna group and
occasionally the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party
(EPDP) for alleged connections with the LTTE, its
commercial success also puts it at risk. Some of the
abducted have been released after severe warnings,
wmile the mutilated bodies of other victims have been
recovered near culverts, waterways, paddy fields and
roadsides, transmitting a potent message to the living.
Since the resumption of virtual wartime conditions
in July 2006, the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC), a
multi-party human-rights group that works in Colombo
and its suburbs, has recorded over 80 disappearances.
Although there has recently been something of a lull in
the numbers of abductions reported, the trend in
extortion is on the up and up. A likely indicator of the
excessive intimidation has been the increase in the
number of Sri Lankan Tamil business families fleeing
the island. According to CMC records, over 30 Tamil
businessmen have left the island during the past two
months, to shift their base of operations to India,
Singapore, Malaysia, Europe or West Asia.
These victims tended to lay the blame on the Karuna
group and, to a lesser degree, army deserters as well as
activists with the EPDP. It was the LTTE that used to
kill or demand ransom from the supporters of
alternative Tamil political parties such as the EPDP
and Karuna faction. But in Colombo today, Karuna
activists far overshadow any other outfit in carrying
out extortions, with occasional collaboration from
government security' forces.
While analysts point out that the disappearances
do not necessarily have a political element to
them - with victims being not just Tamils with origins
in northeastern Sri Lanka, but also those of Indian
18
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 origin and the occasional wealthy Moor - others note
that government complicity is aiding the culture of
impunity. Either way, says CMC chairman Sirithunga
jayasooriva, the evidence is incontrovertible as to who
is being targeted: "Many victims are from two
predominantly Tamil areas, Colombo 6 and Colombo
13. They are also business hubs."
Many of the victims have only returned to the island
following the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CPA), with
an eye to investing in their homeland. One Sri Lankan
Tamil who keeps houses in Britain and Sri Lanka, who
did not want to be named, says that a white van has
recently been seen repeatedly near his Colombo
residence. The passengers of the vehicle had questioned
the man's neighbours about his return from the UK,
and also about his Sri Lankan businesses. "\ took a
couple of years to formulate a business plan," he
explained. "The business climate created by the truce
is what inspired me to return after decades in the UK.
Now I have returned here only to be hounded by white
vans wanting to find out details about my investments."
He is now contemplating returning to the UK, and
abandoning his Sri Lankan venture.
Many others have, of course, already thrown in the
towel. A reputed Colombo jeweller, who has received
several threatening telephone calls demanding
millions of rupees, says that it is not possible to continue
his business in Sri Lanka anymore. "I have already
selected a location in Chennai to relocate my business,"
he said. "It is sad because 1 ran two jewellery shops for
30 vears in Colombo without any problem, and even
survived the 1983 communal riots."
Collusion?
Not only do Tamil businesspeople in Colombo feel
physically and commercially threatened, says CMC
convenor and Colombo District legislator Mano
Ganesan, but matters have been compounded by
significant police inaction. "There is a complete
breakdown in the law-and-order situation," he says.
"We have provided telephone numbers, some bank-
account numbers of extortionists, and eyewitness
accounts in certain instances to assist the authorities.
They have done absolutely nothing to bring the culprits
to book."
As the pressure mounts, Ministry of Defence
spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella admits to "some
problems". But while he adds that a presidential
inquiry into the matter "could be appointed", he refuses
to discuss when this will happen. He also denies
widespread charges that the government has failed to
take action. "It is easy to blame the government," he
said. "Civil society can help the authorities by
providing vital information."
Even while the CMC has been attempting to provide
just those details, the allegations of government
complicity have received added momentum from within
the government itself, particularly from Deputy
Vocational and Technical Training Minister P
Radhakrishnan, himself a Tamil. Upon receiving
complaints from other Tamils who had recorded their
own interactions with extortionists, Radhakrishnan
took the matter up with President Mahinda Rajapakse,
providing the telephone numbers of several
extortionists, along with an appeal for immediate
intervention. The only outcome: Radhakrishnan was
summoned by the police to explain how he got the
telephone numbers.
With the Sri Lankan government failing to control
the situation, the opposition is getting vocal, as is the
demand for international intervention. Opposition
leader Ranil Wickramasinghe says that the government
has failed to contain the extortion situation. "The
incidents are on the increase. In such circumstances,
we are compelled to support the call for an
international human-rights monitoring mission," he
said in late April. "People have lost faith in the law-
enforcement mechanism. The United National Partv is
obliged to assist these victims, and do everything
possible to prevent an escalation in abductions
and extortions."
The possibility of international involvement in
highlighting the disappearances has brought
some hope to even victims' families, says Ganesan.
"Given the gravity if the issue, what we ask is so little,"
he says. "But for a government that is hell-bent on
abetting the crimes by sheer non-action, this may
prove impossible." fi
CHEMONICS
Deputy Chief of Party, Sri Lanka
Chemonics International is a global consulting firm promoting economic
growth and higher living standards in developing countries. Our experience
in 135 countries has taught us to val ue solutions that are multi-disciplinary,
that incorporate diverse voices and local needs, and that integrate strategies
and innovations from many sectors.
Job   Description:
Chemonics seeks a Deputy Chief of Party with strong management and
technical skills in democracy and governance in conflict affected areas
for an anticipated USAID funded project in Sri Lanka He/she will be
required to provide technical and management oversight for project activities
and coordinate technical assistance, train ing, and a small grants program.
Qualifications:
• Advanced degree in conflict resolution preferred; academic
qualification at the doctoral level preferred.
• Minimum 10 years of experience with implementing peace building or
conflict response programs,
• Mini mum 3 years of experience as a deputy chief of party of a program.
• Experience in the management of field-based programs.
• USAID-funded projects experience preferred.
• Asia experience required; Sri Lanka experience preferred.
Vacancies   Contact:
Send electronic submissions to SrilankaRIGHTS@chemonics.com by
01  June   2007.
No telephone inquiries, please. Finalists will be contacted.
Himal Southasian | May 2007
19
 aBBHHHHHS
REPORT
The phantom disappearances
of Manipur
Were 400 Manipuri villagers kidnapped and forced across
the Burmese border or not?
BY YUMNAM RUPACHANDRA
Last December, more than 1500 people living
along the BurmeaSe border in Manipur suddenly
began leaving their villages, in flight from a
counter-insurgency operation by the Indian Army
against cadres of the Manipur People's Army (MPA),
the armed wing of the nearly 43-year-old insurgent
group United National Liberation Front (UNLF). The
Indian Army had just begun a major operation to purge
MPA cadres from an area the insurgent group had
been calling a "liberated zone". Heavy artillery
bombing and mortar shelling followed, and
intermittent encounters between the two forces were
also reported.
The Indo-Burmese frontier in the southeastern part
of Manipur is almost devoid of the presence of state
authority and government infrastructure. When this
writer trekked into the area a few weeks before the
military operation began, the army controlled the area
up to Hengshi in Chandel District, beyond which the
insurgents held sway. Caught in the crossfire, the
predominantly Kuki-Chin villagers on both sides of
this line were living a life of daily uncertainty.
As the fighting intensified during the following
5SSSSS
days, villagers from Chandel District, southeast of
Imphal, began converging at a village called Molcham,
seeking safety in numbers. They were soon moved out
of this area, however, allegedly by the army, to a village
called T S Laijang, near a new army post. The UNLF
has charged the military with having used the villagers
as human shields, and of herding them away - under
the guise of humanitarian intentions - so that they
would not be able to speak to the press about their
experiences of the counter-insurgency operation. The
army has denied all such accusations.
Another 300 villagers from Molcham managed to
make it to the border trading town of Moreh, where
another controversy erupted. The refugees were
initially provided relief by a local NGO, but were
whisked away the day after their arrival to T S Laijang
under controversial circumstances, allegedly by
members of two Kuki organisations - the Kuki
Students' Organisation and the Hill Tribal Council -
in an act said to further the interests of the Indian Army.
A group of journalists and state-assembly legislators
were due to arrive at Moreh to meet the group just as it
was being taken away. As with the previous incident
in T S Laijang, the UNLF characterised the move as an
attempt to forestall the villagers from telling the true
story of what had taken place in Molcham.
Local media reports told of atrocities by security
forces, while military officials reiterated that their
forces were engaged in providing a secure environment
for the villagers. Such statements were eventually
called into question shortly thereafter, during a High
Court inquiry into alleged atrocities at Tuyang village.
Tuyang was one of the villages that took the brunt of
the counter-insurgency operation from December
through February this year. The severity of atrocities
reportedly committed by the army forced the Tuyang
village chief, Limkhojam Haokip, to seek judicial
intervention in February. Haokip and a village
secretary filed separate writ petitions, charging that
20
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 the villagers were being utilised as forced labour by
the paramilitary ,'\ssam Rifles, and that troops were
beating up villagers and preventing the injured from
being taken to hospital.
Subsequently, the High Court on 22 February issued
a rule of notice to the Assam Rifles, after taking into
consideration a report filed by the director of the
Manipur Police Training School. Based on the report,
the judges observed that the petitioners' allegations
appeared to be correct.
Kuki kidnapping
Even as these dramas were playing out, in mid-March
nearly 400 villagers who had remained holed up in T
S Laijang along with a group of Indian Army troops
suddenly disappeared. Several Kuki organisations
charged the UNLF with having kidnapped the
villagers and handing them over to the Myanmar
Army. These organisations issued a statement alleging
that, in the early morning of 13 March, militants
rounded up the villagers, beat them up and took them
away. The villagers were said to be detained at Lalim
Namunta village in Burma, about an hour's walk from
T S Laijang.
Over in New Delhi, soon after the disappearances a
rally was organised that was led in part by the Kuki
Students' Organisation (KSO). Memorandums were
submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
demanding the clearing of Chandel District of UNLF
activists. The KSO memorandum charged the UNLF
of laying landmines in the area. It also alleged that the
Rangoon junta had a "tacit understanding" with the
UNLF. The rally turned violent after the Delhi police
detained a number of protestors.
Several Kuki groups proceeded to call a bandh on
the stretch of highway between Moreh and Imphal,
continuing to demand the rescue of the missing
villagers. But even as the strike was in progress, a media
team from Imphal gained access to Molcham, where
the villagers who had been reported kidnapped had
suddenly appeared to tell their stories. The villagers
proceeded to debunk the kidnapping story, saying that
they had returned to the area as the fighting had
subsided, in order to attend to their jhum (shifting
cultivation) fields.
After hearing of the media visit, the Kuki Student's
Organisation and the Hill Tribe Council attempted to
detain the reporters on their way out of the area.
Activists took away the journalists' notebooks and
cameras, and the reporters were made to sign a
declaration promising not to write articles related to
the three-day affair. The media team was eventually
freed after intervention by a team from the All Manipur
Working Journalists' Union. Following intervention
by the state police, the journalists' cameras
and notebooks were returned, and their stories were
widely published.
The Kuki groups cried foul, accusing the media of
bias. They set up their own fact-finding team, which
eventually came out with a report suggesting that more
than 400 villagers had in faict been kidnapped from T
S Laijang, which the report claimed had been
abandoned by the Indian military in mid-February.
The Kuki groups said their fact-finding team had also
visited the Moreh relief camp, where it found that nearly
500 villagers who had been able to sneak back from
Burma were taking shelter. The report charged that
about 40 UNLF cadres had "escorted" the 400 villagers,
including women and children, to Lallim Namunta,
in Burma. Along the way, the group was said to have
been accosted by the .Myanmar Army, but to have been
released following an agreement.
The UNLF categorically denied the allegations. In a
public refutation, it accused the ethnic NGOs - namely
the Kuki Students' Organisation, the Hill Tribal
Council and others - of being used by Indian
intelligence agencies as anti-UNLF propaganda tools.
At the time of going to press, the controversy continues,
with all sides sticking to their stories. The Manipur
police's stance is currently unequivocal: no Kuki
villagers were abducted.
Despite the outcry from the Kuki NGOs, the
governments of both India and Burma are maintaining
a silence. Meanwhile, whatever the truth about what
happened to the villagers, one thing is clear: peace
continues to elude these Manipur borderlands. The
people here remain victims to countless
'misunderstandings' amidst the ongoing battle,       ^
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Himal Southasian | May 2007
21
 COVER FEATURE
RFTWFFM TRIRF lslamabad's wilful inability t0 formulate
UL I VVLLIV   I I II UL a just and equitable relationship with
AIVI D  P fl I I l\l     R Y Balochistan has led rising numbers of
. / disaffected Baloch citizens to attempt a
The Crisis Of BalOChiStan separation from Pakistan.
D PHOTOGRAPHS BY MASOUD ANSARI
Sn
«n
V*Va>
V#?1&H
■•■'- A
Baloch bandolier ,^
and jutis -
£&&£■'.
 For the past two years, the eerie silences in the
rugged expanses of Balochistan have been
shattered bv the screams and thuds of mortars.
When the first rocket attack struck Quetta back in 1998,
it was considered an aberration. According to official
estimates, militants have fired over 30,000 mortars in
the province since the insurgency picked up steam in
2005. During that year alone, nearly 1570 attacks were
carried out, and they were not confined to tribal areas.
Instead, insurgents helonging to the outlawed Baloch
Liberation Army (BLA) and fighters of the Marri
.ind Bugti tribes have targeted the Pakistani armed
forces and foreign workers. There have been pitched
battles between the paramilitary Frontier Corps and
the insurgents.
Recently, tensions have risen to near breaking point.
I won't say it is the beginning of the end, but it
certainly is not an easv task by any means to
completely quell these insurgents, who are thriving
on the very genuine grievances of the people," says
\nvvab Haji Lashkari, a chieftain of Raisani tribe.
The Raisanis form one of Balochistan's main tribes,
mostly found in the province's Dadhar and Sibi
districts, where vast archaeological ruins have been
recently discovered that indicate continuous habitation
from around 7000 BC to 2000 BC. this place of
antiquity is todav mired in the tensions of a modern-
day tussle for power between a national capital and a
province. "No one can reverse the course of history,"
■-ays Lashkari. "But they have to make a tenfold greater
effort now to make people feel a part of the
svstem, instead of trying to silence them with the
barrel of a gun." By 'they' Lashkari means the
Islamabad administration.
Lashkari himself lives in a fortified house in Quetta,
where heavily armed tribesmen keep constant vigil
iiver the movement on the roads and trails. Such
precaution is understandable, given the host of tribal
enmities in which his kinsmen are involved.
Lashkari's father, Sardar Ghous Bakhsh Raisani, a
former governor of Balochistan, is thought to have been
killed by Rind tribesmen during the 1980s over a local
dispute. Since then, several dozen men from the Rind
and Raisani tribes have been killed in a rivalry that is
yet to be settled. The heads of both tribes now live in
fortified compounds similar to Lashkari's, and move
only under heavy guard.
Balochistan today is a hornet's nest marked by
feuds amongst its tribes leavened with disgruntlement
and anger targeted at the federal government. The
province's total population is around seven million,
and is divided into several tribes - the Raisani, Zehri,
Bugti, Marri, Rind and Mengal, to name the most
prominent. Even though they mainly speak either
Balochi (a tongue with origins in present-day
northwestern Iran) or Brahui (a Dravidian language),
each tribe has its own chieftain and insists on asserting
a separate identity. These groups have long fought
each other, and the feuds tend to be longstanding.
In recent months, Baloch leaders have tried to buck
the trend of historical rivalry in order to target
Islamabad as the common enemy. Angry youths from
different tribes have come together to take up the
gauntlet against the capital. Although not every
Baloch is a part of the armed struggle, everyone is
seething with anger against what is widely referred to
as the "Punjab-dominated" federal government.
The current armed struggle in Balochistan is hardly
a new phenomenon. As a result of the colonial 'Great
Game' during the 19th century, the people of what
could be loosely termed Balochistan - a region
inhabited bv tribes that accepted affinity to each other
- were forcibly divided between Iran, Pakistan and
Afghanistan. Even after Independence and the creation
of Pakistan in August 1947, for more than a vear
present-day Balochistan remained only loosely
federated to Pakistan, in 1948, however, it was
formally annexed - against the will of the people of
Balochistan, manv sav. This discontentment at being
forced to join the federation has led to three movements
of independence.
The first of Balochistan's armed movements was
led by Karim Khan during 1948, beginning very soon
after the area's annexation. The second erupted in
1968, and was led by Nawab Nowroz Khan. Both of
these ended quickly. But following 1971, Baloch
tribesmen took a cue from Bangladeshi nationalists,
who on the other side of the Subcontinent had
successfully wrested their independence from the
Pakistani state after years of disaffection. The year 1973
saw the emergence of a major insurgency in
Balochistan. Many Baloch tribes, mainly led by Marri
and Mengal chiefs, took part in this struggle, which
lasted for nearly five years. As with the earlier two,
this armed movement too was ruthlessly crushed by
the Pakistan Army. As the relationship between the
province and the rest of the country - and particularly
the capital - has evolved over the past three decades,
sentiments that motivated the three insurrections of
the past have, if anything, been sharpened.
Watan ya kafan
Following the step-up in violence in 2005, the old
agenda of Balochistan's militants - that of 'snatching
more rights' from the central government in order to
exercise greater control over the province's abundant
natural resources - has for the first time received a
serious hearing in the rest of Pakistan. This attention
of opinion-makers in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad
'We have been Baloch for more than
7000 years. We became Muslim some
1400 years ago, and have been
Pakistanis for just 60 years.'
Himal Southasian | May 2007
23
 From the province's 1948 accession by
Pakistan to the present, Baloch
nationalists have ruled Balochistan for a
total of just 37 months.
can largely be attributed to the dramatic killing, on 26
August of last year, of the renegade tribal leader
Nawab Akbar Bugti, at age 79. Not only was Bugti's
killing by the armed forces startlingly brutal, the order
for his assassination is believed to have come directly
from General Pervez Musharraf.
Nawab Bugti was not necessarily one of the
province's most popular leaders, but his assassination
has generated a grievous sense of injury among the
Baloch. On the streets of Quetta, many readily proclaim
that Bugti's assassination will have far-reaching
consequences, for both the province and Pakistan.
Warns Haider Bhurgri, a Baloch development
worker, "General Musharraf may think that he has
gotten away with the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti,
but his killing will always remain one of the major
charge sheets against the federation of Pakistan."
Bhurgri says that the fallout of Bugti's killing may not
become evident as some activists may wish, but he
notes that "the course of future action is certainly set".
Bhurgri's frustration is shared by many Baloch, as also
his words regarding a 'future action', which is a clear
reference to the eventual dismemberment of
present-day Pakistan and the emergence of an
independent Balochistan.
People may look for signs of what is to come in
different ways, but the Baloch opinion with regards to
the future remains largely united. Using a traditional
method of predicting the future, one local sardar
studies the bones of a butchered goat, and predicts
Balochistan's independence. "Baloehs, who are born
in these vast lands, are very independent people by
nature," he says. "I can tell you it should not take more
Baloch territory within Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Iran
than ten years before we attain independence." His
clansmen gather around and listen attentively to their
chief's 'forecast'. They too claim to see in the fleshless
bones of the goat a future very much as their sardar
has described. The chieftain continues, with evident
bravado: "We have been Baloch for more than 7000
years. We became Muslim some 1400 years ago, and
have been Pakistanis for just 60 years."
The sardar who would divine the future did not
want to be identified. Despite obvious disgruntlement
with the Pakistani state, except for a noteworthy few,
most sardars prefer not to be vocal about the separatist
desire, fearing a backlash from Islamabad. Privately,
however, many openly discuss independence. But
while the elders remain circumspect, Baloch youths
are becoming increasingly aggressive, and many today
work to make their desire for independence as public
as possible. Such a tendency was evident in the
aftermath of Nawab Bugti's assassination, when a
major tribal jirga was called by the Khan of Kalat to
decide on the course of action to be taken. The meeting
was attended by all the local tribal heads, and an
overwhelming number of young people also showed
up. They attempted to pressure the elders to call for an
independent Balochistan, with some threatening to
otherwise set themselves afire. Eventually the elders
prevailed, telling the gathered youth that it was too
early for such, sloganeering, which they said could end
up causing more loss for the province. Instead, the jirga
demanded that Islamabad provide Balochistan with
more autonomy and more rights for its people, as was
promised to them when they joined Pakistan nearly
six decades ago.
Notwithstanding the success of moderates during
the 2006 jirga, walls across Balochistan today
reverberate with graffiti for a 'Greater Balochistan'.
'Watan ya Kafan' is the rallying cry: either to attain
independence, or a willingness to end up in a coffin. A
proposed national anthem for an independent
Balochistan is currently in circulation, and parallels
are regularly drawn with the rumblings
in East Pakistan pre-1971.
The provincial colony
Although each of the three Baloch
uprisings (not counting the current
agitation) has eventually been subdued
by the military, none of Pakistan's
governments has ever undertaken a serious
attempt to deal with the roots of the anger
on which Baloch nationalism is founded.
Tire source of disenchantment lies in the deep-
seated suspicion among the Baloch people that they
are being treated by both Islamabad and the country at
large (and particularly Punjab) as a colony. The fact
that Balochistan constitutes more than 42 percent of
Pakistan's landmass is presented with vehemence.
Despite the province's massive mineral and petroleum
«:-
 reserves, development and living standards in the
province remain extremely low, even by Pakistani
standards, and this goes to the heart of the matter: The
Baloch are being made to bleed for the sake of Pakistan.
The first deposits of natural gas in Balochistan were
discovered in Sui in 1953. Since then, the national
economy has benefited enormously from this cheap
source of energy, although no royalty was offered to
Quetta until 1980. That meagre amount has now
remained static for more than two and a half decades.
Although household and commercial gas was
supplied to Punjab as far back as 1964, Quetta had to
wait until 1986 to be connected - the same year that
Islamabad established a military garrison there.
Similarly, Dera Bugti District, home to the Sui gas fields,
go connected to gas only because a paramilitary camp
was opened there in the mid-1990s, and needed the
service. Even today, only four of Balochistan's 26
districts are supplied with gas - as compared to nearly
every village in Punjab and Sindh.
A copper project in Saindak, in Chagai District near
the Iranian border, was originally supposed to train
and employ local youth. The project remained in limbo
between 1996 and 2005 due to Islamabad's
unwillingness to provide PKR 1.5 billion of working
capital. In 2005, the project came under Chinese
management. The Metallurgical Construction
Corporation (MCC) of China, which has been given
the project on a ten-year lease, is now to invest
roughly USD 1.4 billion, in return for 50 percent of the
plant's profits. Out of the remainder, 48 percent will
go to the federal government, while just two percent
will stay in Balochistan.
For their part, companies working in Balochistan
say that their operating costs in the province are
extremely high, since enormous royalties have always
been paid to the Sardar of Sui, Nawab Bugti, and some
of the other chieftains. S Munsif Raza, the chief
executive of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), one of
the country's oldest and largest oil and gas companies,
admits that although his company has not paid cash,
it provides diesel, medicine and other materials to the
tribal chiefs. "All the companies working in Sui have
to oblige them or else they won't be allowed to work,"
says Raza. Likewise, contractors who work in Sui are
paid more than those who do the same jobs in other
areas. "We pay up to 75 percent less to contractors
doing work in the gas fields in Sindh than to
those who work in Sui. Their costs increase because
they have to put in more money to ensure security,"
says Raza.
Whenever Balochistan's economic backwardness
is discussed, officials in Islamabad also tend to repeat
that refrain - that it is due to the avarice of the tribal
chieftains, particularly Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri,
Sardar Attaullah Mengal and the late Nawab
Akbar Bugti. Gen Musharraf has called these three
"corruptible  and  corrupt",  and  dubbed  them
Following the air assault, local officials used Nawab Bugti's
trademark glasses to confirm his death.
impediments to the construction of "mega-projects in
particular and to development in the province in
general". They act as impediments, he says, "for fear
that their traditional hold on their areas may be
weakened by modernisation".
But many observers are convinced that this
deflection of blame is but a smokescreen. "This is
absolutely incorrect and a lame excuse," says 'Hafiz',
a Quetta teacher who does not want his identity
revealed. "They have used this to justify the
stepmotherly treatment meted out to us since the very
outset. There are only two or three sardars who had
been declared 'renegades' by various governments.
These sardars may have sway over three districts, but
what would the government say to the
underdevelopment of the rest of the province?" When
it comes to these tribal heads, Hafiz continues, the
amount of power the state has in Balochistan can be
gauged by the fact that Islamabad has now killed one
of these sardars, another is in hiding, and the third
has been imprisoned. "And still they are holding these
chieftains responsible for underdevelopment!"
Hafiz adds that Nawab Bugti was part of the
government several times over a period of 40 years. In
1958, he was elected to the National Assembly,
following which he briefly served as minister of state
(handling home affairs) in the government of Malik
Sir Feroz Khan. In 1973 he served as governor of
Balochistan, and in 1989 was elected the province's
chief minister: In 1993 and again in 1997, Bugti was
elected to the National Assembly, representing the
Jamhoori Watan Party, Balochistan's largest political
unit. However, his stints in the government did not
seem to significantly change the equation between the
province and the Centre. In fact, Nawab Bugti resigned
from government posts on several occasions, due to
disagreements with the federal government's
Balochistan policies.
The present chief minister, Jam Muhammad Yousif,
is also a chief of his tribe, as was Zulfikar Magsi, the
previous chief minister. "So why has there been no
Himal Southasian | May 2007
25
 Every time a new chief minister has been
installed by Islamabad, the perception
is that the province continues to be run
by federal diktat - almost as if by
remote control.
development work carried out in these areas?" Hafiz
asks. "Why are there still no schools, no colleges, no
roads and no hospitals in these areas?" It may be worth
noting here that, from the province's 1948 accession
by Pakistan to the present, Baloch nationalists have
ruled Balochistan for a total of just 37 months. These
include the eight-month chief ministership of Sardar
Attaullah Mengal (see accompanying interview), which
ended in February 1973 with the dismissal of his
government; and the 17-month term of Nawab Akbar
Bugti, who resigned as governor after a disagreement
over the deployment of the Pakistan Army in
Balochistan as part of the crackdown on the National
Awami Party. Nawab Bugti's term as chief minister
also lasted for just 17 months; he resigned in August
1990 because he could not agree with Benazir Bhutto's
government on the rights of the province. Sardar Akhtar
Mengal's one-year term as chief minister ended in July
1998 following the decision of the Pakistani Muslim
League to withdraw support to the ruling alliance in
the province.
While the reasons may be various, the lack of
infrastructure and services is readily apparent on the
ground. Throughout Balochistan, there is neither a
modern cardiology nor a dialysis centre, and patients
able to do so travel the thousand miles to Karachi for
such treatment. Similarly, schools and colleges, if they
exist at all, are under-staffed and unable to provide
any kind of quality education. Again, those who can
afford it send their children to study in the cities of
Punjab or Sindh.
Even as Gen Musharraf has often conceded that the
graduates from Balochistan are the worst prepared in
the country, he has never publicly delved into the
reasons behind this anomaly. The fact is, successive
Islamabad governments have simply never made an
effort to staff Balochistan's educational institutions
with qualified teachers. Asks Jamil Mengal, a Quetta
local: "When they can set up excellent schools in the
remote areas of Punjab, such as Bahawalpur or
Militarised Quetta,
March 2007
Marri, why has no effort ever been made to set up a
proper school to impart quality education to the people
of Balochistan?"
The federal government is today engaged in
muzzling independent voices from Balochistan. Over
the past two years, after Islamabad loosened its media
policy and allowed private players to get into
broadcasting, almost every province has set up one or
two television channels in the regional language.
However, when a Quetta-based journalist named
Munir Mengal tried to set up a Balochi channel, he
was arrested by intelligence agents. Mengal has now
been missing for two years. The government has
officially denied that Mengal is in its custody; but
privately, officials concede that he was picked up after
the intelligence agencies received reports that he was
planning to set up a satellite TV channel to uplink
from Singapore. The Balochistan Liberation Army had
allegedly provided him with financial assistance, with
an eye towards promoting the nationalist cause.
"Forget about roads or fancy buildings. Just look at
the basic facilities of the modern world - the education,
health and other social indicators in the province,"
says Saleem Baloch, based in Quetta. "They are in
shambles when you compare them with Pakistan's
other underdeveloped areas, outside Balochistan." He
says that such a situation has increasingly compelled
the Baloch people to pay more and more attention to
the rhetoric of the secessionists. "We are providing
the most precious source of energy, especially natural
gas, to the entire country. And yet we continue to live
in the pastoral age, where man and animal share water
from the same ponds!"
The lack of basic infrastructure for the majority of
Baloch is all the more stark when contrasted with the
province's wealth of natural resources. Besides copper,
oil and natural gas, Balochistan is host to large
deposits of coal, silver, gold, platinum and aluminium.
In addition, significant deposits of uranium have also
been found in the province, which feed Pakistan's need
for weapons-grade fissile materials.
Along the Makran coast
Since the inception of the Pakistani state, Baloch
politics have been factionalised by federal interference.
With few exceptions, every time a new chief minister
has been installed by Islamabad, the perception is that
the province continues to be run by federal diktat -
almost as if by remote control. One particularly
egregious example of this disconnect was the
detonation of a nuclear bomb in the Chagai mountains
in May 1998: neither the Provincial Assembly members
nor the chief minister were taken into confidence before
that test. Besides a nuclear testing ground, Balochistan
continues also to serve as the main base for Pakistan's
space programme and rocket experimentation.
None of Islamabad's administrations have
promulgated a serious policy of development in the
26
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 The armed resistance
Anti-Islamabad sentiment has seen
the rise of an extensive armed
resistance in Balochistan, although
not much is known about the armed
groups themselves. It is believed that
young men are trained in tactics of
guerrilla warfare in several camps,
with estimates of the number of
camps ranging from 15 (official
figures) to 40 (according to
journalists quoting local residents).
The camps, each of which is said to
house 300-500 recruits, are
believed to be located in militarily ■
strategic areas, using abandoned
facilities built by the Pakistan Army
during its 1973 operation against
Baloch nationalists.
There are currently two known
armed groups. The Baloch
Liberation Army is an amorphous,
underground organisation that is
believed to have emerged in the
University of Balochistan, in Quetta,
during the 1970s. Left-leaning
members of the Baloch Student's
Organisation are thought to be the
BLA's most important component. To
establish the BLA as a countervailing
force in a country perceived to
be the weakest link in the
international-coalition chain, the
former USSR is believed to have
supplied the BLA with money, arms
and logistical support. The fall ofthe
USSR was succeeded by a period of
silence surrounding the BLA.
Following its ouster from Kabul,
the presence of the Taliban in
Pakistani-Afghan border areas
prompted the US to establish its own
spy network, to crosscheck the
information made available to them
by the ISI. Anti-Taliban nationalist
elements, whether Pashtun or
Baloch, were employed as the best
available resource for the purpose
of tracking Taliban activities.
According to some sources, Khair
Baksh Marri's sons - Batlach Khan
Marri, a member of the Balochistan
provincial assembly, and Meheryar
Khan Marri, a former provincial
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been     trained
minister - are part
of the BLA's
leadership. Ballach
Khan Marri has,
however, publicly
refuted this charge,
even as he has
expressed his
support to the
BLA's cause. BLA
members are held
to be from both
the Bugti and
Marri tribes, while
members of the
Mengal tribe are
also believed to be
joining its ranks of
late. The BLA is
said to have
upwards of 5000
fighters, most of
them having
in Afghanistan.
Websites such as ba/ochvofce.com
and balochwarna.org carry details
of the armed actions carried
out in Balochistan by the BLA.
Journalists who have visited BLA
training camps say that the group
possesses Kalashnikov automatic
rifles as well as machine-guns, rocket-
launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars,
rocket-propelled grenades. They are
said to be well supplied with walkie-
talkies and satellites phones. The
group's targets tend to be
government buildings, rail lines,
telephone and gas installations,
power-transmission lines, passenger
trains carrying military personnel, and
paramilitary road convoys.
Although the BLA was outlawed in
2006, it claims to retain significant
public support. Out of more than
2000 respondents to an opinion poll
on ba/ochvo/ce.com, 85 percent
expressed support for the BLA.
While officials deny the existence
of any militant group other than the
Baloch Liberation Army, some
sources give credence to the
existence of a second armed group
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of Baloch youth called the Baloch
Liberation Front (BLF). While
newspaper offices report receiving
telephone calls from the BLF
claiming responsibility for various
bomb blasts and rocket attacks,
these claims have never been
verified. The BLF is also sometimes
referred to as the Baloch People's
Liberation Front (BPLF).
As for funding, in addition to
kidnappings of and 'collections'
from non-Baloch industrialists
and workers in the province, the
ISI alleges that the BLA and
other Baloch nationalist forces
receive funds from neighbouring
countries, including India and Iran.
Others suggest that these armed
groups have close links with drug
traffickers who operate in the
border areas, and who are provided
shelter in Iran. Allegations have also
been made that members of the
ruling family of the United Arab
Emirates provide financial
assistance to Baloch armed groups,
with an eye towards disrupting the
new Gwadar port, which would
compete in the future with the
lucrative port at Dubai. -*1
Himal Southasian | May 2007
27
 Missing in action
Human-rights violations in
Balochistan, rampant for almost six
decades, have peaked since 2001,
when the Pakistan Army began
operations there. Both local Baloch
organisations and international
human-rights groups have noted
large-scale disappearances, arbitrary
arrests and detention, torture,
extrajudicial killings, and generally the
use of excessive force by security and
intelligence agencies.
The increase in militarisation -•
including reports of F-16 aircrafts and
helicopter gunships being used
against settlements, in contravention
of international humanitarian
law - has led to civilian deaths and
widespread displacement. Taking
note ofthe deteriorating human-rights
situation, the US State Department's
2006 country report on Pakistan said
that Islamabad's human-rights record
"remained poor."
Disappearances in Balochistan are
a key area of concern. The military
intelligence agencies, including the
ISI, reportedly arrest civilians,
detaining them in what can only be
called torture camps. After remaining
in detention for up to 12 months in
facilities that are off-limits to the
public, the inmates have emerged to
province, even while the rest of the country has benefited
greatly from Balochistan's plentiful natural resources.
For instance, the multi-billion dollar deep-sea port in
Gwadar, which was inaugurated in March this year,
was approved by neither the Provincial Assembly nor
the Balochistan government. Rather, the massive project
was handed down by fiat from Islamabad in the name
of development. Against such a backdrop, Baloch
nationalists are feeling so disillusioned with the system
that today they perceive these mega-projects as attempts
not only to plunder their resources, but also to
marginalise and colonise the local people.
Since Independence, 95 percent of Balochistan has
been dubbed a 'B-area' by the Islamabad authorities.
While 'A-areas' encompass urban centres such as
.Quetta, Sibi and Loralai, all tribal and other areas
outside of municipal limits are known as B-areas, which
means that they are ruled by the 'Levies forces', or the
semi-private armies of pro-government sardars.
Ironically, when Islamabad recently began initiating
large development projects in Balochistan, it found the
Levies forces incapable of handling local insurgents.
As such, government officials decided to dispense with
Baloch nationalists are feeling so
disillusioned with the system that today
they perceive the mega-projects as
attempts not only to plunder their
resources, but also to marginalise and
colonise the local people.
their services, and to bring some areas under the regular
administration. Other areas where the government has
major interests, however, are likely to come under the
vigil of the Paldstan Army.
The government is now planning to construct
military garrisons in the three most sensitive districts
of Balochistan - Sui, with its gas-producing
installations; Gwadar, with its grandiose port project;
and Kohlu, the 'capital' of the Marri tribe, to which
most of the nationalist hardliners belong. The
government insists that the construction of garrisons
goes hand in hand with road construction and the
setting up of schools and hospitals. Nationalist leaders,
however, view these cantonments as outposts of control
and repression, not development. Since these
installations are not located near sensitive frontier areas,
the apprehension seems well founded that the army
will not be used to exert control over an external enemy,
but rather over disgruntled local elements.
Beyond outright oppression, the apprehension
remains that along with the funding of massive
national projects will come a flood of outsiders. When
the government first announced plans to construct the
Gwadar port in 2003, many nationalists opposed it,
fearing the marginalisation of the local population by
an influx of migrant labour. Parallels are drawn with
Karachi, where the indigenous Sindhis have now
become a minority. The new coastal highway between
Gwadar and Karachi, which has reduced travel time
considerably, has also become an object of provincial
paranoia. Before the government announced the
development of Gwadar, an acre of land was going for
as little as PKR 15,000. Nowadays, a plot of just 1000
28
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 recount harrowing tales of physical
abuse, confinement in narrow cells,
and blind-folded solitary confinement
for days on end.
The independent Lahore-based
Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan (HRCP) reports: "In some
cases it is not known where they are
being detained, and furthermore the
government has also not disclosed
the identities of persons arrested
during these operations." The HRCP
also notes that the government gives
contradictory accounts of the number
of persons arrested in Balochistan.
While no official statistics are
available, rights groups have
attempted to document cases of
missing persons. But reliable data is
difficult to compile, and the range of
estimates is very wide. According to
Baloch sources, about 6000 Baloch
persons have disappeared over the
past six decades. The HRCP, in its
report for 2006, says that of the total
99 abductions that took place in the
country, 73 were from Balochistan.
The number would be higher,
but families are often hesitant to
come forward due to warnings by
intelligence agencies.
The Pakistani interior minister,
Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, stated
in December 2005 in the National
Assembly that over 4000 persons
had been detained in Balochistan
since 2002. Of this number, Sherpao
continued, less than 200 people have
been presented before the courts,
therefore implying that the remainder
are being detained incommunicado
and/or have disappeared. Despite the
high number of cases of various
abuses, no law-enforcement or
military personnel has been punished
for such actions. Impunity is a key
factor in  enabling the ongoing
human-rights violations.
Families of some missing Baloch
nationalists have petitioned the
courts for redress, claiming that
government agencies are detaining
their relatives without due process.
Last November, the Supreme Court
ordered the interior ministry to
disclose the whereabouts of 41
illegally held detainees. Since then,
Islamabad officials say that 25
have been released, although
human-rights groups have only
accounted for 18. (t is widely
believed that the Supreme Court's
proactive stance on disappearances
and impunity might have played a
part in Pervez Musharraf's ouster of
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in
March, which has since generated
significant country-wide protest. A
- Laxmi Murthy
square yards fetches up to PKR 5 million. This is a sum
far beyond the reach of ordinary Baloehs.
Another port recently developed is Port Qasim on
the Makran coast, built in cooperation with Kuwait.
The Jiwani peninsula, near the Iranian border, is being
developed as a strategic airport together with a berthing
facility for naval ships, jiwani and nearby areas are
also being explored for petroleum, while some Chinese
firms aim to explore offshore for oil reserves. The
Makran coast also reportedly has a covert port facility
near Ormara, used by Pakistan's Hangor
Class submarines. There have also heen recent
indications that Adi and Damb, on the Sonmiani Bay,
are being developed as strategic ports, reportedly with
US assistance.
Chinese interest in Balochistan - described by some
as the 'Gateway to the Central Asian heartland' - is
significant. Aside from its collaboration with Pakistan
in nuclear and missile technology, and its development
of mining facilities and the Gwadar port, China is
interested in a joint operation with Iran and Pakistan
for laying oil and gas pipelines to run from the Makran
coast through inland Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and
Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to destinations in
China's Xinjiang province. Amidst the modern 'great
game' being played out on the Baloch landscape, the
locals feel un-consulted and marginalised, and
have decided one more time to try and flex their
considerable muscle.
CIA, KGB, RAW
The current crisis in Balochistan erupted following the
January 2005 rape, allegedly by an army captain, of
Shazia Khalid, a medical doctor working for Pakistan
Petroleum Limited in Sui. Before any official inquiry-
was conducted, Gen Musharraf publicly stated that
no army captain had been involved. Although an
inquiry was eventually made, the government has not
publicised details of its findings, nor disclosed the
name(s) of the guilty. Over the past two years, this issue
has infuriated Baloch leaders, for whom Baloch honour
has long been a cause around which they have rallied
their followers. In an attempt to stem the fallout from
the incident, government officials lashed out at Nawab
Bugti and his tribesmen, accusing them of blackmailing
the government.
Bugti began to be described as being a mastermind
behind the Baloch Liberation Army, and accused of
securing its support from neighbouring India. Other
than the fact of its emergence in the 1970s, the BL.A's
origins remain unclear (see box). It is known to be
fighting for Balochistan's independence, and has been
held responsible for most of the militant attacks carried
out in Balochistan over the past eight years. The BLA
was officially outlawed last year, after a crisis began
brewing around the case of Shazia Khalid,
Since the army operation began in Balochistan two
vears ago, a significant (though unknown) number of
Baloch people have disappeared after being detained
on charges of "spying for an enemy country", or for
alleged connections with the BLA. The independent
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan maintains that
400-500 people arc currently missing, while nationalist
leaders place that number at more than 4000. Many of
those who have been picked up have either been Bugti
tribesmen or otherwise had connections with Nawab
Himal Southasian | May 2007
29
 Bugti. The government has continuously refuted
charges of mass arrests, but Interior Minister Aftab
Ahmed Khan Sherpao has publicly admitted that
around 4000 people have been arrested in connection
with the Baloch conflict. Meanwhile, for two
years Pakistan's armed forces have indiscriminately
bombed civilian settlements in Balochistan. It is a
campaign of fear marked by disappearances, torture
and custodial killings.
For their part, many Islamabad policymakers
profess to be convinced that the reasons behind the
Baloch unrest are to be found in foreign intervention,
and their finger points to India, Afghanistan and Iran.
"All this violence is a part of a greater conspiracy,"
Gen Musharraf said in a countrywide address a few
days after Nawab Bugti was killed. "These militants
would not be challenging the government so openly
without the back-up of a foreign hand." Without
naming any other country, he claimed that
surrendered militants had disclosed to authorities
how massive loads of weapons and tonnes of rupees
were being supplied to them from the governments of
neighbouring countries. (And indeed, both before
and after Mawab Bugti's murder, dozens of his
commanders publicly admitted that monev
and weapons had been supplied to them by sources
in India.)
Some government officials in Balochistan even
suggest that the BLA's two main loaders - Berhmada
Bugti, the grandson of Nawab Bugti, and
Hairbiyar Marri, Ihe son of Nawab Khair Bakhsh
Marri - are currently residing in Afghanistan at the
invitation of Hamid Karzai, allegedly on the insistence
of India.  Although  available  information  does
indicate that these two are in Afghanistan at present,
the rest appears to be conjecture. Intelligence
officials in Islamabad maintain that there are various
places in Zhob and Naushki districts, on
the Balochistan-Afghanistan frontier, through
which money and weapons are supplied to Baloch
rebel leaders. These sources maintain that over
the past two years, Baloch insurgents have
procured weapons worth PKR 500 million (USD 8.2
million) from the Kabul government,
Baloch locals reject such claims, pointing out that
every time they have raised their collective voice they
have been dubbed 'foreign agents' - a convenient
diversion, they say. "When the operation against
the nationalists was launched in the 1960s, they
were described as belonging to the CIA. In the 1970s,
these nationalists were dubbed as KGB agents.
Mow they are branding them as RAW," said a
Quetta college teacher. "It is always easy to
tarnish the image of genuine movements. And, just
for argument's sake, let us say that this is true, then
the    government    should    think    about    why
these locals are compelled to seek support from
foreign hands."
United Balochistan
Until Islamabad - which is viewed from the Baloch
periphery as the capital not of Pakistan but of
Tunjabistan' - docs more to address the grievances
and accommodate the ethnic, cultural, economic aind
other interests of the majority of the people in
Balochistan, no solution to the current situation is
possible. Because introspection in Islamabad seems
unlikely in the near future, the decade-old stalemate in
Balochistan looks set to continue, possibly to worsen.
In the run-up to the general elections scheduled for
later this vear. Gen Musharraf, who at one point
appeared to have a relatively solid hold on his
administration and governance, has been increasingly
losing control. Following the assassination of Nawab
Bugti, the people of Balochistan have lost any faith in
Gen Musharraf they may have once had, and the
problems the province currently faces will
almost certainly continue until he is out ot office. At a
time when Pakistanis throughout the country have also
rapidly lost faith in Gen Musharraf's administration,
in preparing for the general elections his
administration's priorities will be on Punjab and
Sindh, rather than on addressing Baloch grievances.
The importance of Balochistan to Pakistan lies not
only in its natural resources but also in its strategic
location. Quetta, Pakistan's all-important road-head
to Kandahar in Afghanistan, witnessed the
considerable mobilisation by Pakistan, the US, Saudi
Arabia and others to fight the Soviet forces in
Afghanistan. In addition to being used by the Afghan
mujahideen and mercenaries under Osama bin Laden's
command, Quetta also houses the operational forward
base of Pakistan's inter Services intelligence (ISI). It is
also rumoured that, to date, Islamabad is supporting
the resurgent Taliban forces in Quetta, and that under
no circumstances would it allow Afghan, Indian or
other forces to gain a toehold in the strategically
important capital of Balochistan.
But if the now two-year-old military operation has
driven home the fact that there is little hope of
'containing' the Baloch issue on the current
administration's watch, there is also little prospect for
the success of the Baloch insurgents' desire for
self-determination. This will remain the case until the
militants are able to gather together their divided
clan-based loyalties, overcome intra-tribal feuds and
articulate a unified Baloch nationalism. If the goal
remains independence, Baloch nationalist and militant
organisations remain too scattered and un-unified to
achieve their aims. What they can do, however, is
continue to attract frustrated young people to their fiery
cause, inevitably feeding a cycle of militancy and
military response with which Islamabad seems only
too willing to play along. Those who would lose in
this are the Baloch people, caught between rivalries at
home and the domination of Tunjabistan', as they
would see it. *
30
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 COVER FEATURE
Islamabad
v
Balochistan
Mainstreaming Balochistan within
Pakistan will require Islamabad to begin
to focus on the emerging Baloch middle
class, for only then will the backward-
looking and competitive sardari system
be challenged.
BY MOEED YUSUF
The relationship between Balochistan and the
'federation' has always been troubled. Pockets
of resentment have existed vis-a-vis the
Islamabad state throughout the country's short history,
and no government has been able to address Baloch
grievances permanently. In fact, most governments
have focused on stopgap arrangements, addressing
only temporary political compulsions.
Nonetheless, there is no dearth of understanding of
the root causes of Baloch grievances. The province is
by far the most underdeveloped in the country, with
dismal literacy rates and virtually no productive
infrastructure. Moreover, Balochistan continues to be
entrenched in a tribal set-up, with a number of powerful
sardars catering to their own interests and readily
challenging the state whenever it seems prudent. For
its part, tire state has exacerbated the alienation of the
people by attempting political subjugation in order to
check nationalist tendencies - the latest manifestation
of which is the ongoing military operation against
'dissidents'. The majority of observers believes that the
eventual solution lies in granting political autonomy
to the province. Yet, despite emphases on historical
grievances and calls for either independence or
provincial autonomy, there is a virtual consensus
among experts within Pakistan that Balochistan's real
problems are socio-economic in nature.
Let us first consider the issue of development,
wherein the primary concern is over who would gain
from the Islamabad-proposed mega-development
projects in Balochistan. A genuine apprehension of
the sardars and locals alike is that development in the
province will end up excluding the indigenous
population from the bulk of the benefits. While the
Himal Southasian | May 2007
31
 government continues to maintain otherwise, such an
outcome is inevitable given that the majority of Baloch
labour is unskilled, and will therefore not be able to fill
positions available only to a skilled workforce. As such,
outsiders (from Punjab, Sindh and NWFP) are likely to
gain most from these opportunities. Already, it is
common to find non-Baloch workers employed across
the hierarchy of jobs in both the public and private
sectors in Quetta and elsewhere. Given the feelings of
anti-Punjabi resentment in the province, a development
agenda that is perceived to be no more than another
avenue to enhance Punjabi domination in Balochistan
could trigger a counterproductive reaction and alienate
the Baloch populace even further. In an extreme
scenario, this could even lead to a strengthening of anti-
state sardari elements, which are sure to stress the
disproportional development benefits to non-Balochis
in a quest to rally the masses.
One is hard-pressed to find a way out of this
dilemma, lt is impossible for development to take place,
at least in the short run, without the exacerbation of
some traditional grievances. Perhaps the only option
for the state would be to formulate a mutually agreeable
arrangement, by assuring benefits for locals, with an
eye towards co-opting those Baloch anxious about
losing out in the grand development scheme.
There is no denying the fact that it is persistent
mistakes on the part of successive national
governments that have landed Balochistan-Islamabad
relations in complete disarray. However, one cannot
shy away from the fact that those who support
autonomy, development and increased literacy as
solutions remain oblivious to what is involved in
attaining these feats. Given the current power
structures within the province, it is virtually impossible
to imagine a quick-fix implementation mechanism that
could bring Balochistan into the political and
economic mainstream.
Sardari stagnation
While giving due weight to the argument for
autonomy, and to the fact of the marginalisation of
Balochistan in development, it is important also to look
at the other side of the coin. While ensuring social and
economic progress is clearly an imperative,
Balochistan's tribal culture is currently a major
hindrance in the path of mega-development projects
that promise, in the long term, to bring employment
and productivity to the province. Islamabad's
exaggerated version notwithstanding, it is a fact that
each tribal leader has traditionally only been interested
in development projects that are credited to him, and
that are of primary benefit to his own tribesmen. Thus,
over the years, tribal leaders have remained averse to
development agendas mandated by the provincial
government in Quetta, since they stood to receive little
or no credit. In such a scenario, to expect the
government to be able to successfully employ a
holistic development framework is naive. The only
option is to diplomatically sideline the influence of
the sardari system, without necessarily preparing for
a head-on collision.
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May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Here is where the Islamabad government has gone
wrong. Rather than targeting the tribal culture for
change in the province, government policy over the
decades has maintained the system, simultaneously
engaging tribal leaders and alienating the common
Baloch. Successive governments have found it prudent
to continue flip-flopping and maintain a foothold by
setting one sardar against another, only to
subsequently reverse whenever the allied sardars
became irritants. This has meant tacit support to the
tribal system at the expense of according importance
to and developing the capacity of the government's
own functionaries in the province,
An understanding of this dynamic helps to put in
context the routine mode of operation of any initiative
..adertaken by Islamabad, wherein the sardars are
given importance over the provincial authorities. A
classic example of such an approach was seen last
year when, in an effort to find a negotiated settlement
to the Baloch insurgency, Islamabad directed its official
negotiators towards the key sardars, bypassing the
entire provincial and local state apparatus. Moreover,
it is no secret that Islamabad's current Balochistan
policy completely sidelines the provincial and local
governments. Even the members of the ruling alliance
in Balochistan have been critical of the Centre's heavy-
handedness. As such, it is hardly surprising that state
functionaries do not command respect in the province,
and are helpless in the face of tribal opposition.
Intrinsically linked to this situation is the concern
over granting autonomy to political actors in the
province. This is extremely difficult to achieve. Perhaps
the toughest question to answer is exactly to whom
that autonomy would apply. Today, fair elections in
Balochistan are certain to produce a tenuous coalition
government, which would be likely to include a
number of nationalist elements, as well as anti-
Islamabad sardari groupings. Keeping in mind the
sardars' vested interests, the government's
apprehension about providing autonomy to such a
set-up is not completely unwarranted.
Moreover, given state functionaries' lack of
influence, an autonomous set-up could quickly provide
prominence to the victorious sardari elements, with
the pro-Islamabad moderates being sidelined. This
possibility accentuates Islamabad's inherent paranoia
about loosening its tight-fisted control over the
province. On the other hand, if Islamabad decides to
initiate autonomy under a relatively unpopular
government - as would be true if a government were to
be installed with Islamabad's blessings - there would
be tremendous domestic resistance against allowing
such a set-up to establish its writ.
Educational development
There is one window of opportunity that Islamabad
has not focused upon thus far, and to which it must
urgently turn its attention. This is the growing yet
underestimated influence of the Baloch middle class,
based in Quetta and Makran District - the only two
major areas that have historically been outside the hold
of the tribal system. Quetta and Makran now possess
a substantial number of indigenous Baloch who are
eager to join the mainstream of development, and are
also supportive of a unified Pakistan (though they still
resent Islamabad's heavy-handedncss), This middle
class presents the most likely Baloch ally for the Centre.
Over the long run, this category could both drive the
province's development agenda, and provide cadres
who could responsibly handle a relatively
autonomous province.
One crucial key to fostering this type of ability and
empathy - indeed, for the prospect of any long-term
normalcy in Balochistan - is in improving education
in the province. While the sardari system is often cited
as being an obstacle to achieving this end (because, it
is said, of the fear that educated individuals would
challenge the system's legitimacy), past experience
shows potential for pushing the education agenda
regardless of tribal influence. For example, during the
1990s, the World Bank funded an elaborate project for
female primary education in Balochistan. This
undertaking managed to achieve most of its objectives,
and came to be considered highly successful. One of
the more interesting findings was that parents were
willing to spend more on the schooling of their
daughters, so long as they were guaranteed a quality
education. Parents even participated actively, through
village committees, to ensure that the process started
by the programme continued. The districts chosen for
the programme included those heavily influenced by
tribal culture, and reactions were largely the same
across the board.
Islamabad needs to draw on these types of
experiences, and invest heavily in education in interior
Balochistan - a responsibility towards which it has
been delinquent partly due to past governments'
priority of engaging the sardars. The state of higher
education in Balochistan, for one, is dismal, with
institutions confined to Quetta for the most part and
even these exhibiting poor standards. Of course,
education will not provide any short-term dividends.
What it will do, however, is ensure a continuous stream
of pro-development citizens in future generations, who
could ultimately benefit from the opportunities
afforded by what will hopefully be a mainstreamed
and relatively autonomous province.
Under the present scenario in Balochistan,
implementing any such recipe is more difficult than
most analysts have suggested. Nonetheless, Islamabad
needs to begin contemplating these issues immediately,
with a priority of reaching a win-win implementation
mechanism. On the positive side, the government
already agrees with the broad parameters of success
in Balochistan as listed above. The unanswered
question is how to achieve them, A
Himal Southasian | May 2007
33
 COVER FEATURE
"Ending the rule of Punjab, by Punjab and for Punjab"
An interview with Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal
One of the most prominent leaders of the Baloch struggle, Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal, head of the
Balochistan National Party, served as the first chief minister of Balochistan from May 1972 to February
1973, at which point he was ousted by the government of Zulfikar aAli Bhutto. Although he visited his
homeland on and off during self-imposed exile in the UK, Ataullah Mengal, now 78, finally returned to
Balochistan about six years ago. Himal Southasian talked with Mengal by phone while he was at his home in
Wadh, in Khuzdar District of Balochistan. (The call was rudely cut off several times, notably at points when
Mengal was particularly critical of the federal government.)
Please pinpoint for us why the
Baloch people feel
discriminated against by the
federal   government.
How many tragedies do I have to count?
The seeds of discontent lie in the fact
that Balochistan, also called Kalat, was
hesitant to accede to Pakistan right from
the   beginning.   Unlike  the   other
provinces, which had two choices before
them - to join either India or Pakistan -
we had a third: to remain independent.
Balochistan, which had never been
'conquered' but had entered into a
treaty with the British,  opted for
independence.       Even       though
Mohammed Ali Jinnah had been an
advocate for the Khan of Kalat, he chose
to invade the territory, and coerced Balochistan to accede
to Pakistan. Since then, every Baloch born is regarded as
a 'traitor' In Pakistan. All of us are suspect. Conversely,
the Pakistan Army in Balochistan is viewed as an occupying
army,  butchering the  local  people. This  mutual
distrust has given rise to eruptions every now and again,
since 1972.
Meanwhile, our resources are being exploited, with no
benefit to us. Employment-wise, all positions jn
Balochistan - from officers to sepoys - in the Secretariat,
the police and the Frontier Corps, are filled up by outsiders.
The local Baloch people are nowhere to be seen.
What are the practical ways in which the vast
resources of Balochistan can best be utilised
for the benefit of the Baloch people? What
model of development do you envisage, and
what inter-relationship with  Islamabad?
We don't want favours. We demand that the resources of
a province belong to that province. Islamabad has no right
to stampede the people. As things stand, all revenue flows
from the provinces to the federal government; and in the
process, Balochistan is being robbed of its assets. This is
because once the federal government
has collected revenue, it re-distributes
it in accordance with the population
size. So, since we have a small
population, we get just 3.7 percent of
budget outlay. This, when we contribute
billions of rupees in gas alone! We
cannot visualise any workable
relationship with a regime that views
Balochistan as a receptacle of
resources to be exploited.
Do you see rivalries between
the various Baloch tribes as
posing a serious obstacle to a
unified  Baloch  resistance?
Tribal rivalries are not coming in the
way of a united struggle. This is nothing
but false propaganda to downplay the resistance.
Even in other provinces - be it Sindh or
Punjab - there are different tribes and clans, each with
their own competing loyalties. Tribalism exists, of course,
but the differences between tribes in Balochistan are
blown out of proportion. The lack of unity is more
due to not being organised at the national level.
The struggle is widespread, however, and is
gathering momentum.
Do you still stand by your earlier demand for an
Independent Balochistan consisting of the
Baloch-inhabited areas of Pakistan and Iran?
Yes, absolutely. I stand by the demand for complete
independence of the Baloch people. However, we have
enough to handle in the resistance to the Pakistan Army
- we don't want to ask for unification with
Baloch-inhabited territories in Iran, and risk the wrath of
the Iranian security forces!
Do you see armed resistance as a realistic route
to the goal of autonomy or independence?
As the weaker party, we have no option other than armed
34
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 struggle. It is a matter of survival. And capability is honed
when it is a matter of sheer survival. It becomes a question
of do or die. The leadership is now in the hands of
youngsters, and.they are evolving a collective leadership.
Do you feel that your long exile in the UK has
affected your leadership of the Baloch struggle?
What made you come ba,ck to Balochistan?
It was never smooth sailing under Bhutto's regime, and
then the military rule of Zia didn't make things better.
Myself and [Khair Buksh] Marri feared for our lives, and
thought we would be more useful alive than dead, so we
left the country. But I was never permanently away - I
kept coming and going. We have a saying, "You better put
up the fight for your land with your feet on that land." So I
thought it was time to come home, and carry on the struggle
from here.
How do you respond to the allegation by
Islamabad that the Baloch resistance is being
supported by "outsiders", notably India,
Afghanistan and Iran?
This is utter nonsense! There is no truth at all in the
allegation. In fact, were it true, the picture would be quite
different. There is no geographical contiguity with India,
so how is it is possible for India to support our struggle?
And while India might have her own grudges against
Pakistan, especially over Kashmir, what will India
gain from the liberation of Balochistan?/Vs for Afghanistan,
it is not interested in the liberation of the Baloch
people. Iran, for its part, has never been friendly to our
cause, and has even occupied a part of Balochistan.
Right from the time of Alexander, Iran has been hostile,
and history doesn't support the possibility of Iranian
backing to our struggle. The Gulf states are too worried
about their own security to intervene in any movement
for self-determination. Moreover, they will never do
anything without the consent of the US and UK, which
are friendly to Musharraf's regime.
Does the current lack of democracy in
Pakistan act as a roadblock to the Baloch
people achieving their aspirations within
Pakistan?
It is true that democracy in Pakistan has not been allowed
to function. Democracy here is defined as 'Rule of Punjab,
by Punjab and for Punjab'. We stand nowhere. Under the
military regime, we are ruled with an iron heel. And during
democracy, it is more of the same, but sugar-coated.
There is no substantive difference.
Is your goal independence or provincial
autonomy?
Provincial autonomy is a closed chapter. Provincial status
will always mean being subject to domination by Punjab,
which I see as synonymous with 'Pakistan'. We define
independence as the right to do whatever we see fit in
the interests of our people. Our goal is a full, sovereign
country that Punjab/Pakistan will have no power to
interfere with. (Call gets cut off.) A
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Himal Southasian | May 2007
35
 COVER FEATURE
A death foretold
For many Baloch, the turning point in the
latest insurgency came on 26 August
2006, the day Nawab Akbar Bugti was
assassinated.
BY MUNIZAE JAHANGIR
On a hot day last August, I landed in Lahore on
a flight from London. Blaring headlines were
announcing that Nawab aAakbar Bugti, known
as the 'Tiger of Balochistan', had been killed in a
military operation. I switched on the television to see
confused newscasters giving contradictory versions
of how he had been killed. Over the next few days, the
government changed its own version of how this had
happened several times. To this day, how exactly
Nawab Bugti died remains a mystery. I was one of the
last TV journalists to interview the sardar. Months
before his actual demise, he had already predicted it.
"They want to eliminate us, especially me and [fellow
Baloch tribal leader] Balach Marri, and also those
Baloehs who are not with the government and want
their rights," he had told me in his hideout in the
mountains, from where he had waged a guerrilla war
against the Islamabad regime.
All road and air links to Balochistan were cut off on
the day that Bugti was killed. While this was done in
an attempt by the authorities to quash any subsequent
agitation, those attempts proved futile. Across
Balochistan, youths took to the streets to protest the
killing of a leader whom they felt had attained
martyrdom. The next day, I managed to take the first
available flight from Lahore to Quetta. By now, the
protests against the government had turned violent.
Mourning.Bugti
:(tot®*      I
There was chaos on the struts. Rowdy young boys
hurled stones at buildings, arid-grabbed money from
burnt-out ATM machines. When one of them
discovered that 1 was Punjabi, he snarled at me. Since
the creation of Pakistan, the Baloch have accused the
ruling Punjabi elite of usurping their social and
economic rights. The young man asked me why their
chieftain, who was perceived by the Baloch as being
pro-Pakistan, had been killed. "If you can kill your
own man, then what will you do to us?" he asked, his
eyes defiant, and his young body quivering with anger.
When he had been a young man, Nawab Bugti had
been the first Baloch leader to vote for the creation of
Pakistan. Thereafter, he was appointed governor and
then chief minister. For many hardline Baloch
nationalists, Nawab Akbar Bugti became a traitor
when he took his oath under the federation of Pakistan.
In Quetta, more than 10,000 mourners attended
Nawab Bugti's funeral service. Those pro-government
officials who dared to show up at the stadium where it
was taking place were manhandled and thrown out;
of the glass doors by the angry crowd. Their blood
covered the floor of the entrance to the stadium. After
the funeral, enraged mobs took to the streets of Quetta,
attacking public property. All government buildings
that carried revenue records were torched by mobs
shouting anti-military slogans. In their attempt to catch
the world's attention, part of a UN building was also
set ablaze by Baloch students.
In the aftermath of the funeral, thousands of Baloch
youth were arrested across the province, with the
Baloch Students' Organisation (BSO) at the forefront
of these protests. Years before Nawab Bugti was killed,
the BSO had splintered off into several groups, and
each of these groups had unofficially associated itself
with various Baloch nationalist parties. Bugti's killing
was a turning point for the BSO: it brought these
groups under a single umbrella once more. The various
group leaders also cut off their links to all nationalist
parties, in an attempt to create a separate movement
for independence.
36
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 One of the student leaders came to see me at my
hotel, dodging several military check-posts on the way.
The young man, who preferred not to be identified,
said that the killing of Bugti had been the last straw in
a long line of atrocities inflicted by the Pakistani state
on the Baloch people. The Baloch now would not be
content with provincial autonomy, he said. They
wanted a separate homeland. "At first, we used to
participate in political forums and debates," he told
me. "We had affiliations with Baloch nationalist
parties who preferred autonomy over independence.
By killing the Nawab, who was seen by us as pro-
Pakistan, the Pakistani government has demonstrated
that it wiU only resort to violence when dealing with
the Baloch. Thus, now we have no choice but to
abandon political means and pick up the gun."
What negotiations?
Eight months after Nawab Bugti was killed, the Baloch
insurgency has still not died down. Gas pipelines are
blown up almost every day. Several Baloch leaders
have been jailed, and the BSO has started a campaign
for independence. It has become clear that General
Pervez Musharraf and his military grossly
miscalculated their response to the sudden escalation
in the Baloch insurgency. The killing of Nawab Bugti,
who had become a rebel leader only in his later years,
could not have provided the solution. Instead, the
brutal and mysterious way in which he was killed
and buried has ignited wide-scale resentment amongst
the Baloch against the state. In a manner of speaking,
Nawab Bugti is now more alive than ever before. The
battle for Baloch rights that was being fought by the
Bugti  and  Marri  tribesmen  has  now   spread
throughout the province. While 'more autonomy' still
remains the demand of all nationalist parties, young
Baloch want more.
Nawab Bugti's last words now echo throughout
Balochistan, and have become a slogan for young
Baloch. Below are excerpts of his last TV interview,
given to this writer.
MJ: What do you want from the government; what
will be the solution to this armed conflict?
NB: We do not want anything from the government,
just let us be in peace.
MJ: If the government wants to hold talks with you,
will you welcome their move?
NB: What negotiations, talks? They are talking to
us through the gun, how else will they negotiate? They
have imposed this war on us ... the general himself
went to visit Kohlu, and they dropped some grenades
there... he considered this a personal affront, and stated
that he will take revenge for this. So now he is taking
revenge, and this is a result of that revenge. There was
an attack on the general in Islamabad twice, but he
did not attack or drop grenades on Islamabad. Another
commander was attacked in Karachi, on the Clifton
Bridge, but that bridge is still there and so is
Karachi - they did not attack there. But here they
are giving collective punishment to the whole
Baloch people.
MJ: What is your connection to the Baloch Liberation
Army?
NB: Just that they are Baloehs, and so we respect
their cause.
MJ: Do you want independence from Pakistan?
NB: Everyone wants independence, even animals.A
..a 12 year old boy in
Myrhensingh couldn't afford a
pair of sunglasses...
So he made them...
he believed ... he tried...
is?
The future is the vision of one
k and reality for millions
Do you have what it takes to be a leader?
BRAC, a small-scale relief operation that started in 1971, is today
the largest non-profit organisation in the South, taking health,
education and microfinance programmes to 64 districts and over
68,000 villages of Bangladesh and 20 provinces of Afghanistan.
b r a c . n e f BRAC has recently started its operations in Sri Lanka.
Public Affairs & Communication, BRAC
Photo: © Syed Latif Hossain
Design: Aura Communication
Himal Southasian j May 2007
37
 ANALYSIS
Getting connected at
the SAARC Summit
Between leveraging India and respecting the spirit of regionalism, the 14th SAARC
Summit took place in Delhi on 34 April.
a
ii..
BY SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN
Among the ceremonial events that marked the
opening of the 14th SAARC Summit in Delhi in
early April, was the flagging-off of a car rally.
Beginningtwo weeks earlier in Dhaka, the rally had briefly
halted in Delhi en route to covering all of the member
countries (then seven) of the regional grouping, in the
space of a month. It was a rather literal-minded effort to
underline the Summit's ostensible theme of
'connectivity'. But even as the cars went their way, proud ly
emblazoned with the emblems of generous Indian
corporate sponsors, nine forlorn youths from Maharashtra
were making their way back from the Wagah border. They
had cycled 2000 kilometres over a few weeks, in the
expectation of visiting Lahore on a peace-and-goodwill
mission - only to have their visa applications rejected at
the last moment.
Is 'connectivity' about a coming together of the people
of Southasia? Or is it merely a means of creating greater
opportunities for Indian business? Certainly, as Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh addressed his summit
partners shortly after assuming the SAARC chair from
Bangladesh, he seemed to be advocating connectivity in
its widest possible sense - a confluence not merely of
"physical, economic" attributes, but also "ofthe mind'".
Southasia as a region, he said, has traditionally only
flourished when it has been connected within itself and
to the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Singh was reprising a much-favoured
theme: that ofthe endeavour to make borders irrelevant,
and to give the people of the region the wherewithal to
move freely across the vast, populated expanses of
Southasia, searching out and utilising every opportunity
available for both their own betterment and the larger
social good. This is undoubtedly a noble vision, yet it
overlooks a significant point. As the cyclists from
Maharashtra found, they probably do not enjoy the same
privileges of cross-border mobility as the owner of a car,
While connectivity within Southasia could become a right
theoretically enjoyed by all, it may in practice remain the
preserve of a mere handful.
To give him due credit, what the Indian prime minister
envisages is a situation in which the freedom to travel
becomes a reality for a broad cross-section of the people
of Southasia. And thus, he promised that India would soon
announce a unilateral liberalisation of visa rules and
procedures for students, academics, journalists, and
individuals traveling for medical treatment. India would
also provide duty-free and quota-free access for imports
from SAARC member countries that happen to be
classified among the "least developed" - excluding
38
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Is 'connectivity' about a coming together of the people of Southasia? Or is it merely
a means of creating greater opportunities for Indian business?
Pakistan from the party. The sensitive list of commodities
to which the new rules would not apply would, the prime
minister assured, be pared down and soon made public.
No time frame was specified within which these decisions
would be made and operationalised, though the history
of SAARC is strewn with promises made in the effulgence
of a summit, only to be forgotten just as rapidly.
It was little surprise that the assembled dignitaries were
underwhelmed by Prime Minister Singh's announcement.
-; tormer Indian Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey has
commented, trade liberalisation in Southasia has been
"flawed" from the start - and this has been a conscious
"political choice" on all sides. A key aspect of all such
agreements is the 'negative list', which specifies the
product lines where free trade does not apply. As yet, no
Southasian country, least of all the region's largest, has
shown the generosity or courage to prune this list to a
meaningful level. In the inchoately formed and
contentiously interpreted South Asian Free Trade
Agreement (SAFTA), India's negative list is four times larger
than that on the most recent offer it has made to the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
Regional tokenism
When it is not of purely symbolic value, the fact is that
'duty free' access could also be a means of increasing
opportunities for Indian business. India's free trade
agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka, which came into effect in
2000, has been an umbrella under which shrewd
businessmen have managed to arbitrage customs-duty
differentials on third-country imports. Sri Lanka, for
instance, allows duty-free imports of copper scrap and
Indian businessmen have been sharp enough to spot the
opportunities this affords for investing in copper smelters
in Sri Lanka, for re-export to India. A similar process has
been underway in the vegetable-oils market. Value
addition in Sri Lanka from these exports, which account
for the bulk of its trade with India, is minimal. The principal
upshot has been that a few Indian businessmen
have managed to enrich themselves. How Sri Lankan
business groups have fared in the same sectors remains
to be documented.
On the other hand, India could be using the promise of
duty-free access forthe region's least-developed member
countries as a means of leveraging greater trade openings
within Southasia, with an eye towards emerging as a major
investor in regional light industry, transport and telecom.
This is likely to encounter competition from China, which
perhaps could underline its own investment ambitions
with a greater infusion of funds. Moreover, as long as the
smaller countries in Southasia remain locked in a
low-ievel equilibrium of poverty and slow growth, the
opportunities for such investments are not likely to be
particularly large in the near future.
As home to the largest concentration of the world's poor,
Southasia needs to reconsider how well the process of
trade liberalisation truly aids in increasing social welfare.
There is at least an equal risk that liberalisation within the
region could become a zero-sum game, with each country
trying to out-compete the other in lowering wage
levels - in other words, in using poverty as a source of
competitive advantage. Trade liberalisation has all too
often been seen exclusively as a charter of rights for
business. What Southasia needs in order to escape from
its grinding poverty is a social charter, one that will
secure at least the barest entitlements to subsistence for
its people.
Of all the pronouncements made in the Summit's Delhi
Declaration of 4 April, two may have a direct bearing on
mass welfare. The first concerns the SAARC Development
Fund, which has now been ordered operationalised in full
conformity with the charter of the association. Second is
the creation ofthe SAARC Food Bank, which is intended to
"supplement national efforts to provide food security to
the people ofthe region". Scepticism would not be out of
place with regard to either of these endeavours, especially
since India's management of its own food economy over
the past decade and a half of globalisation has been little
short of chaotic. In short order, the depleted warehouses
ofthe early 1990s were swamped with an over-abundance
of food, which was subsequently disposed of by exporting
it at prices lower than those reserved for India's poor. Since
the severe drought of 2002, the pace of stock depletion
has accelerated, and the last two years have seen grain
imports of unprecedented magnitude.
When the efforts of national governments have been
so disastrously askew, there seems little reason to believe
that trans-national efforts at cooperation will fare much
better. Anybody viewing the financial allocations that have
been made would be justified in concluding that these
programmes are but the barest tokenism. They would serve
little purpose other than of sustaining the somnolent
SAARC bureaucracy through another year. The
much-needed fillip they would impart to the various
track-two efforts that have rather ineffectively sought to
energise 'regionalism' thus far would be an outcome to
celebrate, even if it is unintended.
A regional institution
This does not mean that the Delhi Summit was a complete
fiasco. As Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said,
it was the smoothest and least contentious such gathering
in many years. This despite SAARC's new member,
Afghanistan,.having provided a rather colourful prelude, in
President Hamid Karzai's trenchant attack on Pakistan
just before his arrival in Delhi. In remarks to The New York
Himal Southasian | May 2007
39
 Times, published to much consternation in Delhi just as
the committee of SMRC foreign ministers was in session,
President Karzai accused Pakistan of harbouring a
"colonial" mentality, and being intent on transforming
Afghanistan into a satellite state.
Landing in Delhi, President Karzai would have
undoubtedly been comforted by the thought that most of
the member countries of SAARC were undergoing
transitions, though with varying degrees of tension and
trauma. Indeed, aside perhaps from Bhutan and the
Maldives (the two smallest members) and India (which is
too big to feel the pain of its million mutinies too acutely),
every other SAARC member state might witness a change
in the character of its ruling arrangement before the next
summit. This raises some interesting questions about just
how far the decisions made in Delhi will stand the test of
changing times.
Yet for all the cynicism that customarily shrouds the
SMRC organisation, there was at least one decision made
during the Summit that was welcomed across a broad
spectrum, If all goes according to plan, a Southasian
University could soon be a part of the academic landscape
of the region. Its central campus would be in India,
with satellites and perhaps entire faculties being located
in other countries. An intergovernmental steering
committee has now been tasked with drawing up the
charter of the university.
Considering the record of earlier initiatives in the realm
of education (for instance, the little-known SAARC
fellowships programme), there is reason to believe that
things may not Indeed pan out quite as well as the more
optimistic observers believe. Presumably, with the
Southasian University's location having been broadly
settled, any residual uncertainties on this count would be
an internal matter of India's. There are believed to be two
contending opinions within the Indian government, the
first of which seeks to convert an existing campus - such
as the Viswabharati at Shantiniketan, West Bengal - into
a Southasian institution; while the second favours an
entirely new establishment, based in all probability in Delhi.
Quite apart from these decisions, there is immense
potential for discord between the member nations when
the charter of the new centre of learning is drawn up.
With the extravagance of hope continually bumping up
against the recognition of reality, some scholars believe
that the best course for the new university to follow would
be to go to the heart of the most contentious subjects that
divide the Subcontinent: history, comparative religion,
contemporary politics, international affairs and the like.
Southasia is a region divided as much by conflicting
readings of history as by competing ambitions of national
elites. And for reasons of history and sheer geopolitical
clout, India has assumed for itself the mantle
of representing the civilisational ethos of the region, in a
manner that neighbouring states find insensitive, if
not hegemonic.
The groves of academia may well afford a congenial
environment in which an alternative vision could be
constructed - one that provides room for all Southasians
to participate, and respects their particularities. Though
optimism is ata premium afterthe indifferent performance
of SMRC over the first 22 years of its existence, there is
still room, presumably, for the occasional extravagance of
the imagination. A
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■
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40
May 2007 | Himai Southasian
 ANALYSIS
The ritual of the
ballot
All over Southasia, the
beleaguered institution of
the election commission
may finally be getting the
priority - if not the
respect - that it deserves.
BY SAM RAT SINHA
An election is a moral horror,
as bad as a battle except for the blood;
a mud bath for every soul concerned
in it.
- George Bernard Shaw
The story of democratic
transition in Southasia is
incomplete. Although all
members of SAARC possess
autonomous electoral-management
institutions or election commissions,
there have been notably few
investigations into strategies used to
enhance their independence. Such a
lack of priority placed on the
institution ofthe election commission
has been detrimental for democracy
in all the countries of Southasia.
Historically, election commissions
(ECs) have been viewed as
representing the interests of the
ruling political faction, and have been
known to rubberstamp flawed
elections. This has been a view
confirmed by the 2002 general
elections in Pakistan (where an
executive order reconstituted the EC
just prior to the election) and in the
2003 presidential elections in the
Maldives (where President Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom was re-elected to a
sixth five-year term with 90 percent
of the vote).
The neglect of electoral institutions
may now be changing, and not
a   moment   too   soon.   Recent
developments in the region's north,
east and west have drawn new
attention to the crucial functions
performed by election commissions
as guarantors of representational
democracy. The reconciliation process
in Nepal, for instance, has shown that
the establishment of a meaningful
form of representation is the
foundation for a viable peace. The
Election Commission of Nepal has
been entrusted with the responsibility
of conducting the upcoming
Constituent Assembly polls (originally
slated for June, but now all but
officially postponed), an exercise that
will involve the complete overhaul of
current procedures and regulations.
Similarly, the governments of both
Pakistan and Bhutan have pledged
to hold free and fair elections in 2007
and 2008 respectively - Thimphu's
election commission was established
as late as 2006, while Islamabad's
commission has to shake off the
perception that it has been a political
pawn, an accusation that once
again surfaced during the recent
Sindh by-elections.
The terms free and fair, when
applied to elections, belie their
market origins. There is a general
tendency in the literature on electoral
systems to regard elections as an
'open market', where politicians
compete with each other to maximise
their votes. Elections are 'free' when
there is a perception thatthe elections
did nottake place under coercion; and
they are 'fair' when the competitors
adhere to the rules of competition.
However, no election can be either
free or fair without effective control
on the behaviour of political
parties and candidates, in the
same way that regulations are needed
to ensure that commercial firms
behave ethically.
Electoral malpractice in Southasia
takes many forms. These include the
buying of votes, the capturing of voting
booths, the use of intimidation and
violence, the misuse of state
resources, and the mobilisation - or
disenfranchisement- of voters on the
basis of caste or community. Election
commissions are thus confronted
with a plethora of social practices,
both formal and informal, that distort
the meaning of the ballot. As a
consequence, elections are
often reduced to little more
than a ritualistic act, largely lacking
political significance.
A cursory overview ofthe elements
of electoral management runs the
risk of mistakenly conveying the
impression that the tasks performed
are essentially bureaucratic and
routine. Yet each of these individual
responsibilities is as important as the
act of casting a vote. A comparative
analysis of Southasian election
commissions shows a high degree of
Himal Southasian | May 2007
41
 The manner of appointment of election commissioners does signify the extent to
which politicians are willing to forgo control and accept the high level of political
uncertainty that accompanies competitive elections.
uniformity in the responsibilities
assigned to the institutions, despite
variations in the level of autonomy.
Important tasks common to all
the commissions include the
registration of voters, political
parties and candidates; the counting
of votes and certification of results;
the appointment of observers;
the delimitation of constituency
boundaries; and the regulation
of campaign finances. In addition to
this complex array, the election
commission is also important for its
research on electoral systems, as
well as its promotion of the
education of voters and the norms of
gender representation.
Not one of these tasks has been
un-politicised. In Bangladesh, for
instance, the Constitution envisaged
the national election commission as
an impartial body with extensive
powers of electoral management.
But the resignation of five election
commissioners in late January and
the outright postponement of the
general elections brought the
question of impartiality into sharp
relief. The resignations were the result
of a prolonged agitation led by the
Awami League-Sed opposition over
the perceived partiality of the EC
towards the then-ruling Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP). One of the AL's
centra! concerns had been the illicit
addition of more than 12 million
names to the electoral rolls, an
accusation that was confirmed by a
pre-election assessment report by the
US-based National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs. That
report outlined other discrepancies as
well, including a lack of regulation in
the financing of political campaigns,
and the inadequacy of measures to
ensure the security of ballot boxes.
Carving out autonomy
How do election commissions
ensure autonomy in managing
elections? ECs in Southasia are
performing a highly politicised task,
and are attempting to bring about
electoral reform in the face of
increased partisan pressure. In the
current context, it may be helpful for
the region's governments and political
watchers to explore the processes by
which the Election Commission of
India (ECI) has, for the past half-
century, worked to reform the
electoral process in that country, as
well as the obstacles that is hasfaced.
Indeed, the contestation over
transparent elections in India has
been closely linked to the institutional
evolution of India's election
commission. Records from the Indian
Constituent Assembly debates
concerning the creation of electoral
law indicate that policymakers were
initially sceptical about the need to
establish an independent election
commission. At the outset, legislators
ensured that Parliament would have
supremacy in all matters of electoral
law, and attempted to control the
most critical aspects of the electoral
system - ie, the power to legislate
over term limits, the number of
seats, the eligibility of electors and the
delimitation of the boundaries of
constituencies. As former Chief
Election Commissioner James
Michael Lyngdoh indicated in his book
on the landmark Jammu & Kashmir
assembly polls of 2002, electoral law
in India with respect to corrupt
practices was intentionally designed
to apply only to individual offenders
and political candidates - not to
political parties, despite the fact
that the parties were always
considered the biggest violators
during election time.
There have been four particularly
important measures instituted by the
ECI, which have allowed for a degree
of official leverage over political
parties and candidates. These
include the stricter enforcement of
the Model Code of Conduct for
Political Parties since 1991; the
linking of the official recognition of a
party (and its political symbols) to
that party's compliance with
ECI regulations, after the 1994
modification of the 1968 Symbols
Order: the implementation of
the Electors Photo Identity Cards
programme in 1993: and the
extensive use of electronic
voting machines since the 2004
general elections.
The Mode! Code of Conduct is a
set of norms that governs the
behaviour of political parties during
elections. Many of the guidelines are
not present in the body of electoral
law legislated by Parliament, and
include norms that prevent
malpractices such as the distribution
of gifts during campaigns, the
disruption of social peace, the
mobilisation of voters along
communal lines, and the misuse of
publicly funded media and
other resources.
Ever since its inception in 1950,
the Election Commission of India has
been involved in a continuous
process of litigation, and has been
able to use critical judicial decisions
to expand the purview of its
constitutional mandate. At the centre
of many of these decisions has been
the contradiction between the Indian
Constitution's Article 324 - which
empowers the election commission
to supervise all aspects ofthe election
process - and Article 327, which
ensures parliamentary supremacy in
all matters of election law. It is
significant that the judiciary has
repeatedly asserted in its decisions
that, in situations wherein electoral
law has remained silent, it is well
within the constitutional mandate of
the ECI to formulate rules and
regulations to ensure the smooth
conduct of the election process.
The application of this principle
can be seen in a Supreme Court order
of 2000, with reference to Election
Commission of India v Union of India
42
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 and others. The order now enables
the election commission to assume
disciplinary powers over officials
deputed for election duty from the
states, as well as over central security
forces. The principle was similarly
applied two years later in Union of
India v Association for Democratic
Reforms, a case that was instructive
as to how legislators try to obstruct
electoral reform.
The problem of 'criminalisation' is
inherently difficult to solve. The term
itself refers to the increasing trend of
candidates and legislators contesting
elections in spite of having criminal
:asts. Currently, for instance, there are
more than 700 legislators in India's
assemblies and 30 members of the
federal Parliament that have criminal
cases pending against them. The lack
of incentives for political candidates
to reveal criminal records or disclose
their financial assets finally led to an
important litigation process initiated
by civil-society groups. This issue was
further complicated because the
making of false declarations about
financial assets and criminal records
was not a justiciable offence.
In 2002, the Supreme Court in
New Delhi issued an order based
on a petition by the Association
for Democratic Reforms, making
it mandatory for candidates
to disclose criminal proceedings,
assets, liabilities and educational
qualifications in a pre-election
affidavit. In response, President APJ
Abdul Kalam was compelled by the
cabinet to approve an ordinance that
modified the Representation of the
People Act of 1951, thereby making
such disclosure non-mandatory. This
was eventually challenged by several
groups and, after a long litigation
process, the court declared the
ordinance unconstitutional. Out of
this litigation emerged another
important development - civil-
society 'election watches', which, in
most states, compile and circulate
data on candidates during elections
based on the affidavits filed with the
election commission.
Compliance and
empowerment
There are several lessons that can
be drawn from the politics
surrounding election commissions,
particularly from the Indian context.
First, the degree of autonomy
attributed to an election commission
is dependent on the concentration
of power in the legislative or
executive branches. We are most
likely to find greater constraints on
an election commission when power
is concentrated in a single
dominant faction (such as in the
Maldives), a primarily two-party
system (Bangladesh), or in a
semi-presidential system (Pakistan).
Conversely, the ability of legislators
to pass laws limiting the powers of
election commissions is decreased
when there are several competing
parties in the legislature, and thus a
higher probability of an eventual veto.
The manner of appointment of
election commissioners is telling of
the extent to which politicians
are willing to forgo control and
accept the high level of political
uncertainty that accompanies
competitive elections. Thus, the fact
that the election commissioners
in Pakistan are presidential
appointees will be problematic
in future elections.
Second, connected to the problem
of autonomy is the issue of
compliance. Election commissions
are similar to courts in that they do
not possess independent policing
powers to enforce compliance with
their regulations. As with courts, they
are also envisaged as being
accountable to the electorate and
not to the legislative or executive
branches. On the other hand, there
are very few incentives for political
candidates to disengage from
behaviour that allows them to
maximise votes.
This disjuncture - between the
capacity of election commissions to
enforce their regulations and the
willingness of candidates to comply
- is a very real one. The tension
between these opposing forces
determines the type of politics that
surrounds electoral management.
Overlooking the processes by which
legislators strategise about
institutions that safeguard the
election process will be detrimental
to the quality of democracy. As such,
it is imperative for civil society to
recognise the importance of ECs in
shaping the normative basis for
electoral democracy in the region.
While George Bernard Shaw's adage
quoted at the beginning of this
article holds true much of the time,
the empowerment of election
commissions is one of the most
critical routes through which the
ordinary voter is assured that the act
of casting a vote is indeed a
meaningful one. £
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Himal Southasian | May 2007
43
 ANALYSIS
A year of
loktantra
^
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55!K5SKS!^p!^«^^
*vi i
1 i
^
\
Nepal is currently undergoing three transformations - of peace, of democracy, and of
identity. With the country's highly anticipated elections to the Constituent Assembly
now being put off until later this year, the political parties in Kathmandu need to use
this time to ensure a truly inclusive process of transformation. Nepali citizens also need
to internalise the fact that any such process will inherently be a drawn-out one.
BY LIZ PHILIPSON
While the optimism and euphoria ofthe arrival of
loktantra (the new Nepali coinage for 'people's
democracy') has dissipated somewhat since
King Gyanendra stepped down on 24 April 2006, the
Nepali peace process is unquestionably progressing.
Economic inclusion will take longer, and full social
inclusion may have to wait for a generational change, but
the upcoming Constituent Assembly process wil!
nonetheless offer an opportunity to lay the groundwork
for these seismic changes to begin.
Nepal was never going to be able to move the peace
process forward at the breakneck speed with which it
started; nor was It feasible for the overly optimistic political
timetables that were promised to be met. Nevertheless,
having had a temporary government made up of the Seven
Party Alliance (SPA), the country has now moved to an 8-
party interim government. The Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist) has handed over most of its weapons to the
United Nations, and has officially entered the government.
Power no longer resides with the king. The country's
political leaders can be proud of this record, achieved
within a year in power.
Democratic transitions are always turbulent, and conflict
transformation Is a daunting and complex task; Nepal is
engaged in both. The country has many overwhelming
iSL
challenges to face, not least that of ensuring that what
emerges is a Nepal-specific democracy - not an Indian,
or an American, or a European one. Only a Nepali
democracy that takes strength from the Nepali
population, after all, will survive.
Transition and transformation
Transitions to democracy are fluid, unstable and volatile,
and moving people from resistance to participation is not
easy. A state and society moving from authoritarianism to
democracy must transform existing power relations
throughout the society, a process that is inevitably
accompanied by sporadic violence at various levels. This
is not to suggest that Nepal can afford to be complacent
about the absence of justice and law and order; nor can
parallel structures, such as those set up by the Maoists,
run indefinitely. But it is important to understand that the
transition will not be smooth, and will take time. The
objective is to reach an agreed, inclusive democracy that
is based upon stable and predictable political
relationships, and volatility should slowly decrease as the
transition progresses.
Conflict transformation is not about returning to the
past, but about building a new future. This requires several
simultaneous transformations - ofthe conflict parties; of
political, social and economic relations; of institutions and
cultural attitudes. Such fundamental changes do not take
place in unison, and the varying speeds with which different
organisations and relationships evolve have a knock-on
effect throughout the system. In Nepal, as elsewhere, it is
the rebel group that is under the most pressure to change.
However, it is extremely difficult for any conflict party to
transform if little else around it changes; a much larger
canvas for transformation is necessary. It is, of course,
essential for the CPN (Maoist) to reign in its cadres and
accept the norms and boundaries of democracy, but this
will not happen in isolation.
There are groups in Nepal that are likely to offer strong
resistance to fundamental change in political
relationships. These include the army and the bureaucracy,
44
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 both founded on a culture of patronage and nepotism.
The Nepal Army, having grown in size exponentially to
meet the challenge of the insurgency, will need to adjust
to Nepal's new security requirements, and transform into
a modern, integrated, professional army. The bureaucracy
will also have to be revamped in order to be able to
respond to the changing times, and meet the needs of
the population. In past experience in Sri Lanka,
for example, an entrenched bureaucracy proved an
obstacle to governments seeking to implement
negotiated agreements.
The process in Nepal is slowing down, which is
necessary for consolidation. Indeed, this is a process not
of months but of years, though observers may have been
taken aback by the initial momentum it gathered with the
People's Movement of April 2006 and its immediate
aftermath. In South Africa, the citizenry still considers itself
to be in a transitional period, 13 years after the first post-
Apartheid election. However, the volatility of the transition
will not even begin to subside until substantive
agreements have been made on the future ofthe country.
In Nepal, the political parties are reluctant to enter into
negotiations on thefuture compact of the state and society
until after the Constituent Assembly elections. Eight years,
an insurrection, a period of autocratic monarchy and a
popular people's movement have all passed by since the
last democratic election, and no one has any real idea of
the electoral strength of any political party, least of all the
electoraliy untested CPN (Maoist). The parties themselves
live between hope of what an election might deliver, and
fear that they will suffer rejection. Thus, the parties, unsure
of themselves, are unwilling to risk engaging with issues
until they become critical.
Other democratic transitions suggest that it is during
this period that practices and norms become embedded
in the nascent democracy. Therefore, it is important that
there is early progress on the structural aspects of
democracy to ensure that, for
example,  the  values  of
inclusion and democratic
practice   are   embedded,
rather    than     those    of
corruption and nepotism. This
is at least Nepal's fourth
attempt   at   a   democratic
transition (after 1950, 1960 and 1990), which suggests
that early progress on such issues is crucial.
Despite the use of the term 'peace process', it is
precisely process that is often lacking in building peace,
including in Nepal, process is generally understood as
procedure - for example, the sequencing of events, rather
than the complex web of relationships and analysis that
underpins how the process functions. Agreements
focused only on outcomes do little to change either the
underlying conflict structure or the causes of the conflict.
The inherent authoritarianism of Nepali society and its
political system militates against an approach that
focuses on how the parties relate to each other to achieve
a shared vision of what is now widely referred to as a
'New Nepal'. The milestones that have been reached in
Nepal through elite negotiation are impressive, but there
remains a question as to whether this style
can deliver the transformative forces necessary for
a sustainable and secure Nepali democracy.
Power-brokering and crisis-management approaches have
both, in fact, contributed to the problem with the setting
of the date of the Constituent Assembly elections, and
the subsequent blame game when it came time to come
up with a more realistic timing.
Promise of constituency
The citizens of Nepal were first promised a Constituent
Assembly in 1950, when the Ranas were overthrown.
Nearly a decade of political turmoil thereafter led to a
compromise between the then king and the political
forces, which instead led to a general election, in 1959.
The short-lived experiment in democracy was brought to
a close the following year, and the autocratic king-led
Panchayat system was introduced. The demise of the
Panchayat system in the spring of 1990 as a result of the
People's Movement did not lead to a Constituent Assembly
- instead, an understanding with King Birendra led directly
to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, which
is what was quashed by Gyanendra, until he was defeated
by the second People's Movement of April 2006. The
unfulfilled demand for a Constituent Assembly was central
to the People's Movement, and there is a historic fear
that it may be snatched away yet again.
And so, the Nepali people are still waiting for the
Constituent Assembly promised back in 1950. In
mid-April, they learned that they will have to wait a little
longer, after the Chief Election Commissioner declared
that it was not possible to meet the promised date of 20
June. Since April 2006, various election dates have been
pulled out of the political
air, but June had appeared
just about possible when
it was first announced.
However, the work of the
Election Commission -
compiling voting
A sticker commemorating registers,   producing
the first anniversary of the     ballot papers - takes time,
2006 People's Movement       and could on|y commence
once the political decisionmaking about the method of
elections and constituencies took place and
was cemented in law. Delays in that process have
made it impossible for the Election Commission to do its
job on time.
This situation has been known and understood for
some months. However, instead of addressing the
problem, the political parties have engaged in talk of
abnormal elections for abnormal times. No one was willing
to take the political responsibility of announcing the delay,
which was finally left to the Election Commission. The
reads: "The People's
Movement continues!"
Himal Southasian | May 2007
45
 assumption is that the election can now not be held until
after the monsoon, which probably means not until the
end of October or early November, to make time for the
post-harvest Dasain and Tihar festivals. There will be
several ramifications of this delay, each of which will need
to be managed. There have already been complaints about
the conditions in the Maoist cantonment camps, for
instance, including the fact that these shelters were not
made to withstand a monsoon season.
Since the Constituent Assembly is the necessary
negotiation site for the big questions regarding Nepal's
future, uncertainty on these questions will most likely
continue for another six months. This may adversely affect
the law-and-order situation, though it does give more time
for the state to organise the justice sector, and to
dismantle the parallel Maoist structures (although there
does appear to be some political reluctance to tackle
these contentious issues). Currently, the Maoists are
increasing pressure on the interim government and the
Parliament to take a decision on abolishing the monarchy
- and the subsequent question of republicanism - prior
to the Constituent Assembly. It would not be ideal for an
unelected interim parliament and government to take
such fundamental decisions, which would be
monumentally stronger if made by the Constituent
Assembly. But fear that postponement may mean
cancellation could lend support for earlier action on the
question of monarchy.
Identity conflict
Democratic inclusion and exclusion have become central
to political discourse in Nepal, and successive
demonstrations demanding rights for various groups have
become the norm in the cities, especially Kathmandu.
But it is in the Tarai plains that exclusion has exploded in
a dangerous identity conflict.
Since April 2006, there has been a strong pattern of
mobilisation in the Tarai, where the simple bipolar conflict
between the Maoists and the government has been
replaced by a complex and dynamic ethnically-based
conflict. The Madhesi people of the Tarai, who are of 'plains
origin', have long been treated as outsiders, which is
qualitatively different to the 'insider discrimination'
experienced by the Janajatis and Dalits of the hills.
The Madhesi people were treated as second-class
citizens more than were other groups, due to the hill
identity taken on historically by the Nepali nation state. In
the modern era, there has also been a denial of citizenship
to many, as the Pahadis (hill people) fear Indian infiltration
through the open border to the south. Having for the past
decade promoted the rights of excluded peoples, the CPN
(Maoist) saw the populous Tarai as a lucrative vote bank.
Both Madhav Kumar Nepal, the head of the mainstream
Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), and
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's home constituencies
are in the eastern Tarai, and there is a strong history of
involvement in the democratic struggle in the plains.
But, high expectations after Jana Andolan II (the 2006
People's Movement) led to a series of protests, some
violent, across the Tarai. The violence increased through
2006. provoked bygroupsincludingthe Maoist-breakaway
Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (the JTMM, which has since
broken into two additional groups) and other groups
espousing violence. The Madhesi Peoples' Rights Forum
(MPRF), led by an ex-Maoist, was initially a peaceful
organisation but has also become implicated in violence.
Fear of not being proportionally elected in the course
of the Constituent Assembly elections led to great
disaffection, particularly among the Madhesi people of
the eastern Tarai. On 25 December, violence in the plains
came to a head after a Tarai strike was called by the Nepal
Sadbhavana Party-Anandi Devi (ISISP-A), a member ofthe
SPA government, to protest the signing of the interim
constitution. The response by both the police and CPN
(Maoist) cadres was coordinated and violent. Violence
continued across the Tarai - further inflamed by incidents
at Lahan in mid-January - even with the occasional offers
of talks being made by the government.
The official response to the unrest in the Tarai has been
clumsy and confused. The first instinct of the government
and the CPN (Maoist) - which was already in the interim
parliament and preparing to joint the interim government
- was to use force to try to quell the protests. This merely
fuelled the indignation and determination of the Madhesi
groups, however, and aided their mobilisation. The strong
role played by the Maoists in using force also lent a
hollowness to the offers to negotiate by the CPN (Maoist)
Madhesi leader, Matrika Yadav. More than two dozen
died in what many called the 'Madhesi Jana Andolan', but
the government seemed to be insensitive to so
many deaths - more than the total of the April 2006
People's Movement.
In March there was a clash of a different nature in
Gaur, between MPRF members and Maoist cadres and
sympathisers. At least 27 were beaten to death with
bamboo poles and more than 40 others were injured,
most of whom were affiliated with the Maoists. The deaths
shocked Nepalis, and ended any claim to pacifism on the
part of the MPRF. The violence also showed the level of
disappointment and resentment many Madhesis feel
towards the CPN (Maoist).
A hurried amendment
As the violence mounted, the government appeared to
panic, and unilaterally amended the interim constitution
to change the government structure to a federal system.
with guarantees of representation for disadvantaged
groups in all state bodies. It did not, however, specify as to
how these constitutional objectives were to be achieved.
This was a classic case of doing the right thing the wrong
way, and only succeeded in buying a 10-day respite in the
Tarai violence.
In times of conflict, the tendency is to concentrate on
what will end the conflict. The government's handling of
the constitutional amendment illustrates the problems
inherent if the eventual solution is not the culmination of
46
May 2007 j Himal Southasian
 a truly inclusive process. The timing of the promulgation
of such solutions is also important, as windows of
opportunity open and close quickly in conflict situations.
The constitutional amendment failed to stem the
Madhesi conflict both because of its unilateral nature
and because it was too little, too late. The Madhesis saw
it as a concession that had been squeezed out of the
government, rather than a right freely granted. It was
therefore heavily scrutinised and found wanting in its lack
of elaboration on how federalism and inclusion would be
granted. Madhesi leaders subsequently drew the
conclusion that they would have to continue to agitate in
order for these constitutional clauses to become a reality.
So far, there have been no official negotiations with the
Madhesi groups.
Even the concession that was granted by the
government, to increase Tarai constituencies, was given
as a gift from on-high, rather than through a process of
negotiation. As such, the Madhesi groups who might in
fact have celebrated did not do so because they were
shown not to have been involved. The position that the
government took was bolstered by Maoist hardliners, who
were fuelled by internecine tendencies. This, in addition
to the rebels' inexperience in the arena of co-operation
and pluralism, seems to have led the government to
bungle in addressing the Madhesi situation.
The government response to the violence in the Tarai
has made other affected groups unhappy, particularly
because an impression has been created that you
have to be violent to be heard. The restive hill
ethnic communities - as well as the Tharu of the Tarai,
who largely see themselves as different from the Madhesi
- are at this time extremely disgruntled. Of course, it is
important that the government does not respond only to
those bearing arms, or those causing law-and-order
problems. The issues of inclusivity should be negotiated
with all affected groups, particularly non-violent ones.
Otherwise, Nepal's transitional process will become an
exercise in encouraging the use of arms. Care should
also be taken to not incorporate constitutional clauses
of apparent inclusion that are themselves exclusionary.
Inclusion needs to be on the basis of individual and
collective fundamental rights, rather than lists of those
entitled to rights, which would automatically exclude
those not on the list,
Despite these formidable obstacles, there is currently
a strong will for peace in Nepal at the highest political
levels. Political will is the single most important element
in any peace process, and if more attention can be paid
to the process and to the wider transformation agenda,
peace can prevail in Nepal. With the Constituent
Assembly all but officially postponed as of this writing,
Nepal's citizens can hope that the fragile peace and the
turbulent return to loktantra will both be consolidated on
the road to the Constituent Assembly elections in late
autumn of 2007. A
ACDIfy
DEPUTY CHIEF OF PARTY, SOUTH ASIA
Expanding Opportunites Worldwide
ACDI/VOCA
For 43 years and in 145 countries. ACDI/VOCA has empowered people in developing and transitional nations to succeed in the
global economy. Based in Washington, D.C., ACDI/VOCA is a nonprofit international development consultancy firm that delivers
technical and management assistance in agribusiness systems, financial services, enterprise development and community
development in order to promote broad-based economic growth and vibrant civil society. ACDI/VOCA currently has approximately
90 projects in 40 countries and revenues of approximately $89 million.
We are currently seeking a Deputy Chief of Party for potential long term work in Asia. This work is to address disparities in economic
development within countries by fostering economic growth in less developed regions through focus on private sector competitiveness,
workforce development, and revitalization via microenterprise.
Responsibilities:
« provide operational support to program development and expansion
• design new training materials on issues such as workforce development and agriculturally-based value-chain competitiveness
« provide support and guidance regarding program development in high risk areas
« engage in dialogue with and build support from both government and civil society
» promote a business enabling policy environment that will allow businesses in conflict-affected to grow and become sustainable
« train local staff on new systems and programs
Qualifications:
« must have a minimum of five years experience with implementing peace building or conflict response programs
« prior USAID experience and familiarization with USAID procedures and policies is required
« minimum of undergraduate degree in business, finance, economics, international development or a related field
« knowledge of programming in conflict affected countries is essential and specific experience is preferred
« must have experience managing field based programs
« excellent oral and written communication skills required
• agricultural experience highly desired
« regional experience desired
Vacancies    Contact:
Send your resume to kmarden@acdivoca.org or apply online at www.acdivoca.org/internationaljobs before 20th May 2007.
Himal Southasian | May 2007
47
 ANALYSIS
far, Son]
\^f     V-t^fai
On 7 February this year, Bhutan's new king,
Oxford-educated Jigme Khesar Namgyel
Wangchuck, began a six-day visit to India,
marking his debut on the world stage two months after
his earlier-than-expected ascension to the country's
throne. The following day, the 27-year-old king signed
a revised bilateral treaty with India that gave Bhutan
significantly greater freedoms in pursuing its foreign
and defence policies, areas tighdy controlled by New
Delhi for nearly six decades in accordance with the
1949 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty. Not only has
the signing signalled the arrival of Bhutan's upcoming
democracy, with the stage now set for a realignment of
relations with its 'closest friend', India; it has also
opened possibilities of significant, if not drastic,
changes in Thimphu's multilateral diplomacy in
the neighbourhood.
Tentative redefining of the bilateral relationship
began almost immediately. Following the signing of
the new treaty with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab
Mukherjee, King Namgyel Wangchuck stated: "From
a guiding role upon Bhutan's first step to
modernisation, we now stand as close friends and
equal partners in the global arena." From such a
sentiment, it seems clear that Thimphu is hoping now
to deal with India on a level footing, rather than to
continue to look up to it as a 'guide'. But even as the
two countries talk about a further consolidation of their
friendship, given Thimphu's newfound autonomy in
foreign policy and military purchases, observers will
have to wait to see the full impact of the agreement.
The India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty was signed in
Darjeeling on 8 August 1949. One of its most central
tenants, Article 2, defined the following circuitous
relationship: "The Government of India undertakes to
exercise no interference in the internal administration
of Bhutan. On its part the Government of Bhutan agrees
to be guided by the advice of the Government of India
in regard to its external relations." While over the
decades the hold of this clause was progressively
weakened as Bhutan stepped up its international
India and the upcoming
Druk democracy
After revising its longstanding 'friendship'
treaty with India, Bhutan is now ready to
wield its own agency. How will it use it,
and what will New Delhi think?
BY WASBIR HUSSAIN
diplomacy, it has nevertheless been a canker and a
source of discomfort for Thimphu's nationalists.
This year's revised agreement has already come into
force, with New Delhi and Thimphu exchanging the
treaty's so-called Instruments of Ratification in the
Bhutani capital on 3 March. Apart from the change in
its relationship with India, the new treaty will also
mean significantly different - and potentially, more
vibrant - relationships between Bhutan and its other
neighbours, particularly China, Bangladesh and
Nepal. All of these will also have a natural bearing on
India's security and diplomacy concerns - which is
all the more reason why New Delhi will no longer be
able to take its small northern neighbour for granted.
India's hesitant loosening
All of this is taking place against Bhutan's
transformation from a monarchy to a parliamentary
democracy - the country's first national elections, for
instance, are slated for 2008. The impact of the
combined dynamic of these fast-paced changes - on
both the foreign-policy and electoral fronts - will be
widespread, for both Bhutan and India. When Bhutan
finally becomes a parliamentary democracy, the
country is bound to witness a power play, in which
even external forces could try to influence political
parties or electoral behaviour. Furthermore, when
Thimphu eventually attempts to pursue its own fully
autonomous foreign policy, its actions could quickly
raise challenges for New Delhi. In agreeing on the
transformation of then relationship, New Delhi clearly
seems confident that its geostrategic interests will not
be tampered with by Bhutani authorities, including
those of a democratic dispensation.
After the new treaty was signed, an Indian External
Affairs Ministry spokesman said that it removed
provisions that had become "obsolete". "The treaty
commits both countries to cooperate closely with each
other on issues relating to their national interests, and
not allow the use of territories for activities harmful to
the national-security interest of the other," he said. New
48
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Delhi clearly hopes that Thimphu would not ignore
any future foray by Indian militants into Bhutan.
Separatist groups from the Indian Northeast had
operated from well-entrenched bases in southern
Bhutan for more than 12 years before they
were expelled in December 2003 by Thimphu's
military, with active support from Indian forces across
the border.
Irrespective of the changes taking place - or perhaps
because of them - Indian aid to Bhutan appears set to
continue as before. On 29 March this year, New
Delhi announced assistance to Bhutan worth INR 26.1
billion. An official statement following the
cabinet's passage of the aid made clear the
quid-pro-quo India expected from the deal in letting
Bhutan off earlier restrictions:
This decision will result in continued strengthening of
India-Bhutan relations based on our strategic and economic
interests in an area of high geo-political sensitivity. We
will support the new King of Bhutan, and Bhutan's
transition to a constitutional democracy. It will also
generate the opportunities of Indian companies to
participate in major projects, and strengthen goodwill for
India in Bhutan by fulfilling our existing commitments.
With New Delhi having agreed to help Bhutan hold
its upcoming elections, there has been a formal tie-up
between the Indian Election Commission and the
nascent Election Commission of Bhutan. .An estimated
400,000 electors are to choose their representatives
from 47 parliamentary constituencies, which have been
defined after the recent completion of a delimitation
process. While India is in the process of exporting its
ideology - that of democracy - to Bhutan, it remains to
be seen whether the darker add-ons to electoral politics,
such as money and muscle power, also take hold in
Druk Yul. With Bhutan's first two (marginally) private
newspapers having come up following the July
2006 passage of the Information, Communications
and Media Act, a heady cocktail of media, politics
and governance seems to be in the offing in
heretofore-staid Thimphu.
Some sections in Bhutan seem wary of the perils of
the country's fast-paced transition. An editorial in the
government-run Kuensel recently noted:
It would be unrealistic to believe that we will maintain a
harmony of views throughout the process [of
democratisatJon] and avoid conflict. We already know that
there will be differences in political views among the potential
leadership and among voters. The challenge is to accept
those differences as a necessary and useful element of
democracy ... We understand today that democracy is not
just elections but an entire system of values that places the
responsibility of governance on the people. Our goal is not
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Himal Southasian | May 2007
49
 to introduce the structure of democracy but to establish a
democratic government that will function well. Introducing
democracy is the first step. The real goal is to make it work.
If democracy fails to 'work' in Bhutan, the greatest
ramification would of course be for Bhutan's expectant
citizenry, long deprived of any say in their governance.
At the same time, India would have to confront an
unpredictable democracy, whereas earlier it only had
to talk to the king.
Bhutani Maoists
As the 2008 elections in Bhutan draw near, the most
important thing to watch from New Delhi's point of
view will be the political forces that come into play. For
obvious reasons, New Delhi policymakers would like
a politically stable Bhutan. The Indian and Bhutani
security establishments were stung when they learned
about the launch of the Bhutan Communist Party
(Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) (BCP) in April 2003. At that
time, the BCP circulated pamphlets in Bhutan as well
as in the Lhotshampa refugee camps in southeast
Nepal that spelled out the new party's objective as
hoping to "smash the [Bhutani] monarchy" and
establish a "true and new democracy" in the country.
The creation of the BCP also brought focused interest
from both New Delhi  and Thimphu onto the
Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), one of three
Indian militant outfits that were said to be operating
from  within   Bhutan  for   a  while.   Formed  in
December 1995 by. some radical members of the
Koch-Rajbongshi tribe (from which is derived the name
for Cooch-Behar District), the KLO has been fighting to
carve out a separate Kamatapur state from parts of
Assam and West Bengal. Authorities quickly
concluded that the pro-Maoist KLO was active and had
pockets of influence in the strategic northern part of
West Bengal; they also worried that the KLO
could eventually act as a bridge between Maoist
guerrillas in Nepal and the newly emerging Maoist
force in Bhutan.
The emerging militant threat to Bhutan may
ultimately have been the key factor that drove then-
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck into action during the
winter of 2003, to engage in the coordinated military
mission with India. Against this backdrop, it will be
interesting to watch whether a Maoist-backed or Maoist-
linked political party emerges in Bhutan, and whether
any such group eventually takes part in the country's
2008 electoral exercise. As such, observers have again
started placing particular focus on the Bhutan
Communist Party. Whether the BCP has any level of
actual strength is not known; Bhutani authorities,
however, have stated that the party has formed an
armed wing, called the Bhutan Tiger Force. This outfit
has been accused of planting a bomb near the Bhutani
trade hub of Phuentsholing this past March. As of now,
it is unlikely that the BCP will contest in the
2008    elections,   but    it   could   back    a   new,
yet-to-emerge force. If former king Jigme had been
worried about the extended influence of the Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist) on Bhutani affairs, he might be
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May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 sleeping a little easier now that the Nepali rebels are
well on their way to becoming part of the 'establishment'
in Kathmandu and arc seemingly quite 'sensitive' to
New Delhi's views on geopolitical matters.
Sino Bhutani tranquillity
Given Bhutan's ostensible new foreign-policy freedom,
it will be particularly interesting to watch the course of
Sino-Bhutani relations in the days to come. Though the
two countries share a 470 km border, Thimphu
currently does not have diplomatic ties with Beijing.
Although Bhutan never had a policy of 'equi-closeness'
or 'equi-distance' vis-a-vis China, in recent years there
have been high-level visits in both directions. This is
due largely to direct border talks, which from 1984
onwards tried to resolve various boundary disputes.
It was in 1954, after the communist revolution and
subsequent integration of Tibet, that China first laid
claim over Bhutan. Four years later, Chinese troops
moved to occupy about 300 square miles of Bhutani
territory in the country's north and northeast. In 1960,
Chinese claims on Bhutan resurfaced after Beijing
openly declared that, "Bhutanese, Sikkimese and
Ladakhis form a united family in Tibet. They have
always been subject to Tibet and to the great motherland
of China. They must once again be united and taught
the communist doctrine."
Until the 1970s, Bhutan's border issues with China
were incorporated under ihe rubric oi the Sino-Indian
border dialogue. With the coming of the Janata Party
government in New Delhi in 1977, relations between
India and China showed some signs of improvement.
In 1981, a process was started to initiate direct dialogue
with China, and the Boundary Commission of Bhutan
was established. Preliminary border talks began in
1981, facilitated by the United Nations and Indian
diplomats. It was not until 1984, however, that the first
formal meeting between Chinese and Bhutani officials
took place.
Signs of Thimphu and Beijing embarking on a road
to friendship started appearing in 1990. In addition to
Bhutani delegations traveling to various international
events in China, since 1995 Bhutan has also shown a
degree of international support for China. For instance,
Thimphu representatives have helped to defeat various
drafts perceived to be anti-China sponsored by the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR); they also voted against the draft for Taiwan's
participation at the UN, and rejected Taiwan's bid to
host the 2002 Asian Games. Since 1994, the Chinese
ambassador in India has regularly visited Bhutan,
while Bhutan's ambassador to India visited Beijing in
2000. Both China and Bhutan have now
been talking of a territory exchange for some time, and
the chances of this happening have risen significantly
with the signing of the new Indo-Bhutani treaty^.
In December 1998, the so-called Agreement
on   Maintenance   of   Peace   and   Tranquillity   in
Bhutan-China Border Areas was signed - the first ever
inter-governmental agreement between the two
countries. In it, Beijing reaffirmed that it "completely
respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Bhutan". That undoubtedly offered
some solace to Bhutan; the situation for New Delhi,
however, is less rosy. With China's ongoing bid to
establish handholds throughout Southasia, Indian
policymakers will surely keep a close watch on Beijing-
Thimphu relations in the days ahead.
Just as interesting will be the evolving relationship
between Bhutan and Nepal, particularly because
bilateral relations between the two neighbours, whom
many consider 'natural allies', have been affected by
the issue of the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa
refugees, who have been living in UNHCR-aided
camps in southeastern Nepal for the past 16 vears.
The Lhotshampa departure began in the late 1980s
as a result of the Thimphu government's attempt
to impose Drukpa culture onto all tlie country's
ethnic groups.
Bv mid-1990, Lhotshampa in exile had formed the
Bhutan People's Party (BIT), which demanded civil
rights and drastic changes to the political system.
Thimphu dubbed the Lhotshampa as 'anti-nationals'
and cracked down harshly, subsequently setting off a
mass exodus from Bhutan into Nepal. Today, there are
roughly 106,000 Bhutani refugees living in seven
camps in Nepal's Jhapa and Morang districts.
Ironically, the democratic transition demanded by the
Lhotshampa activists is in the process of being put in
place in their absence.
Although the refugee issue has shown possibility
of resolution recently - with the Kathmandu
government for the first time allowing for the possibility
of third-country resettlement in response to the United
States' offer to 'take in' 60,000 refugees - Kathmandu-
Thimphu relations remain extremely chilly. Last
December, bilateral discussions between the two
capitals on the refugee issue - in their 16th round -
again broke down. Whether Nepal-based Lhotshampa
political forces with linkages into Bhutan can become
a factor in the country's elections next year remains to
be seen. It will be important to wateh, however, how
Thimphu proceeds in dealing with the problem with
its newfound foreign-policy freedom.
While India-Bhutan relations remain firm for the
time being, they will no longer have the concrete
assuredness on which Indian diplomats and
policymakers have for so long been able to count. New
Delhi will now need to keep in view external factors
and influences that could strain future ties. India's
security concerns aside, however, on paper Bhutan has
now been cut loose from India's influence if not
munificence - largesse that always came with strings
attached. How both sides react to the new situation in
the coming years will go far in defining a whole new
dynamic in this land-locked corner of Southasia.      A
Himal Southasian j May 2007
51
 PHOTO  FEATURE
eternally displaced
tD PHOTOGRAPHS BY P K DAS AND KAZU AHMED
For around 1500 families that
have spent the past decade at
the Goroimari relief camp in
Assam, life continues to be a series
of unforgiving tests. Originally
rendered homeless by the ethnic
violence that rocked parts of western
Assam during the early 1990s, these
Bengali-speaking Muslim Assamese
(initially numbering just a couple of
hundred families) first moved into a
relief camp set up by the state
government during 1993. Since then,
they have been forced to shift camps
again and again.
In the first camp, they suffered due
to flooding. In an attempt to move
them to higher ground, in 1996 the
Assam government settled the
families in Goroimari, in long rows of
shanties on both sides of the
National Highway 31. While drunken
truckers mowed down the refugees'
new 'homes', Goroimari locals
accused the camp residents of theft.
District officials even allege that the
people in the camps had taken
substantial grants from the
government with the assurance that
they would return to the places
they had come from, but that once
the sums were received, they
had refused to budge. Camp
residents deny having received any
such compensation. Whatever be
the truth of these claims, what is
apparent is that the government
seemed happy to forget these people.
Ten years passed.
52
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 In 2006, the Goroimari camp population suddenly
came to be seen an obstacle in the way of a massive
highway project. So, this past January, these people were
again displaced, literally overnight. Accordingto the camp's
residents, district authorities simply showed up and told
them to pack their belongings and be ready to leave by
the following day. The next day, 17 trucks and a few buses
arrived to take the families to an area called Barkhapara,
There, they were to be given small pieces of land, some
cash, and some building materials. Thereafter, they would
be expected to fend for themselves. The relocation
process was to take place quickly, due to expectations of
trouble from those who would protest the arrival of the
oustees - student organisations, political parties and local
residents. Sure enough, instead of finding their new lands
in Barkhapara, the refugees instead were greeted by a
group of 2000 protesters.
The fourth camp
The Goroimari residents never did make it to Barkhapara.
Unable to relocate them at the intended site, for a while
the district administration herded them around. Finally,
they were taken to a place called Chalabila. This area had
at one time been considered for inhabitation by the
refugees, but the plan had run into legal problems fostered
by local vote-bank politics. Although the High Court of
Assam had previously stopped the relocation to Chalabila,
Himal Southasian | May 2007
53
 this order was apparently reversed overnight. A platoon
of police personnel was posted, barbed-wire fences were
erected around the site, and many of the Goroimari
residents eventually moved in. Chalabila locals, especially
non-Muslims, now fear that with the arrival ofthe refugees,
the social and economic situation will change to their
disadvantage - an anxiety that has its roots in the fear of
Bangladeshi 'infiltration', which has long been the
bread and butter of Assamese political parties and
student groups.
For the new residents of Chalabila however, there are
more immediate problems. Although not far from the
subdivisional headquarters at Bijni, Chalabila does not
have the healthcare facilities required for such a large
number of people. This population knows nothing about
various government programmes, including those that
have been set up specifically for people living below the
poverty line. While livelihood issues are currently the most
pressing concerns, economic and educational
opportunities are also limited. With no infrastructure In
the offing, the new settlement is likely to endure serious
lack of services in the days ahead.
This instance of displacement is not an isolated one
for Assam. The uprooting of people from their lands and
their encounters with social and economic distress are
facts of life that have been repeated over the decades.
Despite this long experience, humane approaches to
address the situation of refugees remain elusive. Though
displacement continues, an effective policy of
rehabilitation simply does not exist. Those who suffer are
no longer internally, but eternally, displaced peoples.   A
54
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 ESSAY
A full-bodied treatment of a story of
physical passion -and such stories,
great ones even, are not lacking in
our literature - is unthinkable on the
Indian screen ... The scenes-of
lovemaking in Indian films have
therefore been reduced to a formula
of clasping hands, longing looks, and
vapid, supposedly amorous verbal
exchanges - not to speak of love
duets sung against artificial romantic
backdrops. It is the dead weight of
ultra-Victorian moral conventions
which reduces the best of directors
to taking refuge in these devices.
- Satyajit Ray, "The Odds against
Us", Our Films, Their Films
To Ray's catalogue of those
techniques used by Indian film
directors to portray "physical
passion", one may add a recent
inclusion: the fetish for lingering on
the woman's uncovered back.
Women have long had an indirect
relation to culture, as the Muse has
traditionally been female. "Men are
erotica ily stimulated by the
opposite sex; painting was male; the
nude became a female nude,"
noted feminist scholar Shulamith
Firestone, while talking about the
representation of heterosexual desire
in art. Such sentiment is echoed by
the British art critic John Berger: "Men
act and women appear. Men look at
women. Women watch themselves
being looked at ... The surveyor of
woman in herself Is male: the
surveyed female."
The obsession with images of
women's bodies, in Southasia in
general and in India in particular, can
be construed as a form of voyeurism
in which women are distanced, even
kept powerless. But why this tendency
of the camera in Indian films and
television commercials to focus on
the woman's back? Quite simply, the
back is the front's other. While the
woman's front, with all its various
devices of mothering, is exactly what
males lack, the back is everything that
the front is not. With its apparent
unisexuality, the back would appear
to be a most unlikely place for
'provocation'. Nonetheless, as plenty
of evidence on the ground can
Affair with the back
A scholar's view of the obsession with the woman's
back in Bollywood cinema. For the voyeuristic camera,
the woman's back is safe terrain.
BY SUMANA ROY
attest to, this is exactly what has taken
place in India.
"The presence of woman," says the
feminist theorist Laura Mulvey, "is an
indispensable element of spectacle
in normal narrative film, yet her visual
presence tends to work against the
development of a story-line, to freeze
the flow of action in moments of
erotic contemplation." In popular
Indian culture, particularly in Hindi
films, this attitude is particularly
apparent. In the film Beta, for
instance, a passionate Madhuri Dixit
coos "Dhak dhak karne laga" (Dhak
dhak goes my heart), dhak being the
aural mimicry of a heart in passionate
turmoil. While doing so, Dixit shows
the audience her back. With its
outward thrusts, an apparent mimicry
of the beating heart, the back stands
in for what cannot be seen - and
particularly for what cannot be shown.
The back becomes the uncovered
front, and in the ensuing politics
of representation, becomes the
camera's voyeuristic ally. Significantly,
this fetishism exists outside the linear
Himal Southasian | May 2007
55
 time ofthe narrative, during the songs
and so-called item numbers.
The triangle
Imagery of the female body has
become so uni-dimensional that it can
barely be shown without the
temptations of desire and the
implications of abuse. This is nowhere
more evident than in the "Choli ke
peeche kya hai" number from the film
Khalnayak. With the implicit fear that
the woman has been abused
hovering about, one woman asks
another the titular question, which
translates to "What is there behind
your blouse?" The camera,
meanwhile, has to remain content
with watching the thrusts of the
woman's back muscles.
In Indian cinema, the woman's
back has become an equivalent of
the "half-open lips ... an affirmative
expression" that, according to the
French cultural theorist Luce Irigaray,
was a marker of the "women-
goddesses" of "prehistory". As with the
women in Hindi films, these
goddesses were considered divine
not because they could be mothers,
but because of their female identity.
Similarly, the women showing their
backs to the camera make no claim
to motherhood - the biology of the
back does not allow that. As such,
while the desire remains the same,
its actual location changes. The sex
of the goddesses to which Irigaray
refers was marked by a triangle, hiding
but simultaneously drawing attention
to the female genitalia. A woman's
back in modern representation works
in a manner similar to this ancient
figure of the triangle.
The trajectory of the use of this
triangle, moving between cultures and
times, shows how the signposts of
erotica have evolved, how they
have essentially moved from the
reproductive organs to a 'sexless'
fragment of the body. This cannot be
seen as a sign of the attitude of the
21st-century middle-class Indian
towards sex, where the easy
accessibility of sex is said to have
killed interest in the 'real' thing. Nor,
as some social historians have
suggested, can it be seen as a turn
towards an increasingly androgynous
world. If the rise ofthe obsession with
the female back says anything about
the people ofthe Subcontinent - both
producers and consumers - it is to
their continuing discomfort with the
female sexuality. This manifests itself
in the tendency to decentre a woman's
body by portraying her in fragments
(breasts, lips, hips, back), and in the
process 'desexualises' her.
For women, the back dissolves all
boundaries. Unlike the front, with its
obvious breasts, stomach, navel,
pelvis and genitalia, the back is unique
in that one cannot specify where it
4-7   OCTOBER
KATHMANDU
Call for entries
Film South Asia '07
4-7 October 2007
Kathmandu
Film South .Asia, the festival of South Asian documentaries, calls for entries
forthe sixth edition of its biennial festival being held in Kathmandu from 4-7
October 2007. Documentaries made in and after January 2005 are eligible
for the competitive section.
Entry Deadline: 30 June 2007
Details and entry forms are available at www.filmsouthasia.org
Forfurther information contact:
Upasana Shrestha, Co-Director
Film South .Asia, Patan Dhoka, P 0 Box 166, Lalitpur, Nepal
Email: fsa@filmsouthasia.org
■BBB0MKNBBBiDwU«NMl
56
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Physically, the back is a space that is beyond one's own touch. As such, the identity
of the back has, of necessity, been based on sight.
begins or ends. (Interestingly, a man's
back in mass media is generally
described not through eroticism, but
through machismo and masculinity. In
stark contrast, the site of acceptable
male eroticism is not the back, but the
chest.) Focus on the back also makes
fewer demands on women, as there is
no particular template of size or colour
to which one needs to conform. This
can perhaps explain the apparent
absence of unease among female
performers regarding exposing
their backs.
The open peeth
Most of the other parts of the body (the
hair, face, eyes, lips, legs) have long
been glorified in 'filmi' songs and
ghazaIs. But there is hardly any musicaI
ode to the back; perhaps the back's
Hindostani equivalent, peeth, sounds
too unpoetic. Unlike the much-
mythologised hair, eyes, feet or navel,
the back has never been significantly
portrayed or written about with any
element of signification. The back,
therefore, was only to bespoken about
by the unspoken; the aural had to give
way to the visual. That has all changed
with the modern mass media.
Exploring a few examples of this
proliferation can give a sense
of the camera's newfound affair with
the female back, as well as the
situations in which it generally makes
its appearance.
Take, for Instance, the immensely
popular routine surrounding the song
"Didi tera dewar deewana" (Sister, your
brother-in-law is crazy) in the film Hum
Aapke Hain Kaun. The song begins with
the entire screen filled with a woman's
back. As the camera moves away, that
back is hit by a stone from the un-
shown hands of the crazy brother-in-
law himself. Having been denied entry
to an all-woman pregnancy-celebration
party, he has found his stone-throwing
to be the only means of 'touching' the
central female.character.
The importance of a woman - and
her back - as a visual element is
somewhat definitively revealed in the
music video for a 2003 song by Babul
Supriyo called "Socnta hoon" (I
imagine). This song is entirely based
on this dynamic ofthe 'unsaid' finding
representation in the imagery of a
woman's back. The video includes a
lingering shot of the captivated lover
as the lone spectator in a theatre hall,
watching with smiling eyes a woman
sitting onstage with her back turned
towards him.
The sense that a viewer gets from
the "Sochta hoon" video is that of the
female back as a kind of tabula rasa,
on which the language of desire can
be scripted. Such a conclusion
is echoed in a painting by the
contemporary Bengali artist
Subrato Gangopadhyay. His "Winged
Goddess" deals specifically with the
female back (see image). Apart
from the obvious bare-backed woman
in both the video and the painting,
there is another similarity between
these two works - a bird motif. In the
painting, the wings are perched on the
woman's back, while in the "Sochta
hoon" video, the tattoo on the
woman's back is that of a winged
woman. The camera lingers on the
surface of the back, before
descending onto the tattoo in an
action reminiscent of digging a path
through the woman's back to her
heart. Throughout the course of the
shot, the woman's face is never shown
- she is simply a faceless woman in a
backless dress.
The inexplicable relationship of
the imagination to the bare female
back is also seen in the song "Kaise
Piya Se", from the Hindi film
Bewafaa. Here, the actress Kareena
Kapoor is thinking about her lover,
her thoughts coloured by her
imagination as she gets up from
the bubble bath, drapes herself in a
towel and shows her back to the
camera. She was subsequently
quoted in an Indian tabloid as
saying that her bare back in
the song "is very aesthetically shot",
and that there was no "obscenity"
in it.
Unexplicated secret
Feminist scholars have long argued
that a female performer cannot wear
a 'neutral costume', that every
garment she wears is inherently
imbued with feminine and class
specificity. In India specifically,
however, the contours, the colour of
the back, and therefore the cut of the
draping fabric has a value that often
defies analysis. Since the culture of
fashion has been such that emphasis
has been placed on covering the
organs associated with reproduction
(from the fig leaf to the bikini), the
back has been able to elude culture's
censorious scissors.
The semantics of 'looking' at the
back rather than 'peeking' at the front
is indicative of how the bra - not a
new concept in India's tradition of
dressing - has become a symbol of
the 'back holding the front'. The bra is
subsequently threaded with
masculine fantasy, for it is a garment
that is completely missing in the
male wardrobe. Similarly, the
different cuts ofthe choli, and the use
of henna to paint the back, both
point to the space of the back as
being one of negotiation and power
struggle between the masculine
and feminine.
Himal Southasian | May 2007
57
 Since the culture of fashion has been such that emphasis has been placed on
covering the organs associated with reproduction, the back has been able to elude
culture's censorious scissors.
Physically, the back is a
space that is beyond one's own touch
- by the hands or anything else. As
such, the identity of the back has, of
necessity, been based on sight.
The emphasis on the back is
also patriarchy's means of avoiding
the woman's image of her own
body - that based on a woman's
biology,    of   menstruation    and
reproduction. By avoiding the 'female
mystery', the camera creates a
woman's image from the outside,
from the other side. The back,
without the problematic elements of
fissures and broken surfaces,
the orifices and the tears with
which the female body has
traditionally posed challenges to
patriarchy's notion of the 'classical
form', becomes a safe zone for
the camera.
This sub-cultural discourse
regarding the back, so prevalent in
the Subcontinent, makes explicit a
social contract in which the complex
interrelatedness between gender and
the politics of representation become
evident. Interestingly, the words
'explicit' and 'explicate' both stem
from the Latin explicare, meaning 'to
unfold'. The explicit back thus
becomes a site of social markings
that delineate the hierarchies
inherent in the way society constructs
gender relations of privilege and
sexuality. The camera's affair with
women's bare backs explicates the
many ways in which our individual
bodies and the body politic overlap.
Just as Matisse (in his works "Back I"
to "Back IV") explored the contours
ofthe woman's back in his sculptures,
Indian filmmakers continue to repeat
images of the female performer's
back in the tone of an insistence - as
if to constantly remind us that
something precious remains hidden,
a 'secret' that needs to be 'exposed',
a secret that is, at once, filled with
pleasure and distrust. A
...YOUCAN R£&D
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58
May 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 SOUTHASIASPHERE
C K Lai
The new USSR
Half-hearted journey
Nearly suspended
Expected destination
Almost abandoned
- Rameshjung Sijapati in Asanchit Bhav
The mainstream Indian media is
obsessed with the five C's - cricket,
consumerism, controversy, cinema
and crime, though not necessarily in that
order. So much was happening on each of
these fronts during March and April that
the New Delhi newshounds hardly took
notice of a small meeting of unassuming
Southasians at the India International
Centre, called Imagine a New Southasia
(with the last as one word).
Mediapersons need to be forgiven their
preoccupation. Even though almost
everybody in Southasia knows by now that
cricket matches can be fixed in advance, it
was as if editors and TV producers had just
discovered this uncomfortable reality.
While audiences in Pakistan and India
were clamouring for the heads of
their fallen heroes, the TV channels
were perhaps correct in prioritising
the agony of the commercial celebrities
of the colonial game.
Taking advantage of a balmy springtime
in New Delhi, the Hindustan Times had also
hosted a summit of its own, during which
the owner of a French super-brand took it
upon himself to declare that the opposite
of luxury was not, in fact, poverty, but
rather vulgarity. As if there can be anything
more vulgar than a conclave on
extravagance in a country that is home to
the majority of the planet's poor.
Controversy galore from all over
Southasia was vying for newspaper
inches. In a revised edition of her
autobiography, Daughter ofthe East, Benazir
Bhutto made some startling revelations
about the Pakistani military. The source of
Vijaya Mallya's limitless funding, which
sustains the opulence of Kingfisher
Airlines, was another matter of intense
speculation. And the Bangladeshi
experiment of running a country like an
NGO was also keenly watched, to consider
the possibility of its replication elsewhere.
Cinema had its own stories. Ash's
wedding gown, the journey of Shahrukh
Khan to Madame Tussaud's wax museum
in London, and the release of a slew of new
movies based on the lavish lifestyles of
NRIs were enough to keep glamour-
hunters excited. In comparison, all that the
Imagine a New Southasia conference could
offer the TV cameras was an ailing
I K Gujral, venting his frustration with
the slow pace of development of the
Southasian identity.
But despite the mainstream media's
wandering attention, there is indeed
another Southasia out here, which even the
World Bank has now begun to recognise.
"There are currently two South Asias in
our region. One has high growth and great
dynamism. In the other, there is
tremendous poverty and conflict. The two
South Asias need to be integrated into one,
and this makes regional cooperation an
important priority for us," the World Bank
said in a press statement ahead of the 14th
S.Ar\RC Summit, held in New Delhi during
the first week of April.
The World Bank is supposed to
specialise in policy prescriptions. In this
case, however, it took refuge in pious
pronouncements. But effective regional
cooperation cannot be achieved without
creating processes that extend beyond
borders. After 22 years in existence, perhaps
SAARC has finally outlived its utility. The
next phase of regional solidarity needs to
aim for nothing less than the integration
and creation of a Confederation of
Southasian Countries, and let us
immediately give it an acronym: CSC. The
Imagine a New Southasia conclave helped
create the groundwork towards creating
such a confederation, which may even lead
to the eventual formation of a new USSR -
the United States of the Southasian Region.
The IIC crowd
Created towards the end of the Cold War
years, SAARC continues to suffer from the
acrimonious legacy of    ^^^^^^^^^m
the Southasia of the
1980s. Those were the
days when Pakistan
was busy creating a
Central Asian identity
for itself, Bangladesh
was discovering
Islamism, Sri Lanka
was    being    towed
towards ASEAN, and
With an
India-born
president in
Islamabad and
Pakistan-born
premier in New
Delhi, it seems
that the time
has indeed come
to think of
regional unity in
concrete terms.
Himal Southasian | May 2007
59
 As if there can
be anything
more vulgar
than a
conclave on
extravagance
in a country
that is home to
the majority
ofthe
planet's poor.
Nepal was asserting its trans-Himalayan
links. Amidst all of this confusion and
insecurity with regards to the neighbours,
India stood alone in imperious isolation - it
was its territory that connected all
Southasian countries to each other. Through
the early 1990s, there were still many
scholars in New Delhi who interpreted
SAARC as a malicious attempt to encircle
India. In an endeavour to phrase a
non-controversial charter, the SAARC
declarations became exercises in futility.
It was the unintended consequences of
annual summits, however, that gave
impetus to Southasian solidarity. A range
of professionals began to discover, and then
to value, pan-Southasian fraternity. The
Track II crowd of former bureaucrats, retired
diplomats and conscientious intellectuals
suddenly found that there was a low-risk
cause celebre waiting to be championed. By
the end of the 1990s, a Southasian identity
had become acceptable in alternative circles
of Colombo, Dhaka, Islamabad and
Kathmandu. New Delhi socialites needed a
bit of convincing; but thanks to the
penetration and persuasive powers of
Gujralsaheb, the 'IIC crowd' at Lodt Estate
too began to extend its reach beyond the
candlelight vigils at the Wagah border,
and to consider the entire Subcontinent as
its domain.
But the mainstreaming of the Southasian
agenda was still limited, lt had not vet gone
to the region's 'others'; the marginalised, the
excluded and the disempowercd were still
left out. The challenge was to address this
constituency in such a way that pressure
from below would build up to accelerate the
process of regional cooperation. This is what
a series of events preceding the 14th SAARC
Summit, including Imagine a New
Southasia, intended to achieve: to create
awareness about the importance of
Southasian unity. But the mainstream media
refused to cooperate, instead deciding to
wait for the pomp and show of the
ceremonial summit,
The Imagine a New Southasia (1NSA)
initiative was audacious in the sense that it
began by talking of a common currency, a
common market, and a common passport
for all of Southasia, to be governed by a
Southasian Parliament formed according to
the provisions of a Southasian Constitution.
With an India-born president in Islamabad
and Pakistan-born premier in New Delhi, it
seems that the time has indeed come to think
of regional unity in concrete terms.
Manmohan Singh dreams of breakfast in
Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in
Kabul. While that kind of dream is
important, it does nothing to inspire those
for whom the daily meal is breakfast, lunch
and dinner, all rolled into one. Nonetheless,
in order for it to become a reality, thev1 too
need to share the dream of Southasian unity.
INSA attempted to address these concerns
by advocating for the creation of pan-
Southasian institutions.
A Southasian Commission on Poverty
Alleviation need not ruffle too many feathers
in the region's various capitals. Similarly,
the Kabul-born grammarian Panini
deserves a pan-subcontinental Academy of
Southasian Languages dedicated to his
memory - the region, home to nearly half of
the world's 25 major languages, deserves
the same. Meanwhile, a Southasian
Minority Commission, a Southasian
Commission for Human Rights and a string
of Southasian Centres of Higher
Studies would create the necessary-
conditions for the ultimate creation of a
Southasian confederation.
The European Union emerged from the
debris of World War II by improving
'connectivity', increasing interactions and
deepening understanding. The process then
progressed with the formation ot an
economic union, which is likely to result in
the creation of a shared but not common
political identity. The Association of South
East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was created
by the US to contain China and repel the
Soviet Union from a region considered to be
a bastion of capitalism. But it has failed to
outgrow its role and acquire political
relevance. While there are lessons from both
of these experiences for Southasia, the
world's most populous culturally affiliated
but unintegrated region, Southasia will
nonetheless have to chart its own course
towards creating a shared identity.
It might even be that we will succeed better
than all the other groupings, our late start
notwithstanding. The Subcontinent does
have what few regions elsewhere in the
world share: a legacy of intertwined history,
and the possibility of easy connectivity. In
addition to (or instead of) an overarching
institution such as SAARC, Southasia
needs multiple bridges between cultures of
the same Indie civilisation - so that each
person can eventually discover that she is
no different from any other in the region. t%
60
May 2007 [ Himal Southasian
 MEDIAFILE
Italian journalists are more equal
than Afghan journalists, it seems,
for the Kabul government, for
Taiiban extremists, and even for
the International Federation of
Journalists, in early March, a
kidnapped journalist working for
La Repubblka was released after
ransom was paid by the Italian and Afghan
authorities. But when Kabul refused to meet new
demands to free the Italian journalist's working
companion, journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi, the
Taliban murdered him with "cynical and sickening
brutality", in the words of the IFJ. But then, the
international watchdog's own worries seemed more
concerned with foreign correspondents than with the
local journalists who face daily trials and tribulations.
IFJ's 8 April press release was titled "Bargaining with
Taliban Increases Risk to Foreign Media". Why this
extreme concern for foreign media when a local
journalist has just been killed? Is this lack of
perspective breathtaking, or what?
DAWN
.ftrHMTERNET
http://t>AWN com
Hameed Haroon, the publisher
of Karachi's Dawn, has issued
a public appeal for support
against the Pakistani
government's actions against
his newspaper, specifically the
drastic reduction in government
advertising. He writes online,
"Of late, the government headed
by President Musharraf has
become increasingly intolerant towards criticism in
the press and towards the publishing of news that
reflects poorly on the performance of his government
on security matters." Haroon maintains that the
directives emanate mainly from President Pervez
Musharraf's office, and are activated by the
newspaper's independent reporting on two broad
areas: the escalating developments in Balochistan and
in North and South Waziristan, and the Pakistani
government's war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Also irksome have been the DAWN Group's related
attempts to monitor a recurring tendency toward
covert militancy among responsible decision-makers
in government," Haroon notes. The publisher
presents a complete dossier listing the continuing
conflict between the DAWN Group and the
Musharraf government since 2004. In the first phase,
he writes, the government attempted to exert pressure
through the proxv of the Sindh provincial government,
which imposed a complete ban on advertising in
the publications of the Group. This was followed
by a comprehensive ban on government
advertising imposed by Islamabad itself, "writh
an intent to provoke the financial collapse of the
DAWN Group."
All Chhetria Patrakar has to
say about Hameed Haroon's
detailed j'accuse against Prez
Mush's administration is -
wow! Only a media group
that is in extremely dire
straits, or one whose hands are extremely clean, would
dare go public the way the DAWN has. CP believes,
and knows it to be true, that the case is the latter. So,
hats off to the DAWN Group, and may other media
companies, from Kathmandu to Colombo to Delhi to
Dhaka, have similar courage of their convictions. And
why should only Pakistanis express their protest to
the various bigwigs listed (with phone numbers) in
Haroon's note? Let all Southasians vent their ire by
calling (albeit by long distance) the following numbers.
The country and area codes are +9251 for all.
Gen Pervez Musharraf, 9221388
Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister, 9212866
Rana Bhagwandas, Acting Chief Justice, 9213452
Mohammed Ali Durrani, Minister for Information
Development, 9203740
The selfsame Pakistani Information Minister, Mohammed Ali
Durrani, seemed to have
over-reached in late March to claim
that Pakistan's media had become
a model of press freedom in
Southasia. Durrani put this
questionable trend down to his
government's efforts to make the
sector more 'dynamic' and 'professional', So let us
check out the media rankings on press freedom, as
given out by Reporters without Borders: out of 168
countries, Pakistan is placed at 157th. True, the country
is ranked higher than two other Southasian countries
-Nepal (159) and Burma (164). However, it is no model
for the Maldives (144), Sri Lanka (14V), Bangladesh
(137), India (105) or even neighbour Afghanistan, with
its neophyte media (130). Indeed, if there is a press-
freedoms model for Southasia, according to RSF that
would be Bhutan (98), which rose an astounding 44
places in a single year due to the opening of the
kingdom's first (marginally) privately owned
newspaper. Now, if Chhetria Patrakar might turn away
from Islamabad-bashing to question the RSf - which
planet are they on to rank Nepal so poorly? Do they
not know that there has been a People's Movement a
year ago, and the press is now freer than earlier? Is
there another country called Nepal?
Even though the Male government did finally legalise
private broadcasting in the Maldives, the honevmoon
has been short-lived. When the head of the national
Telecommunications Authority, Mohamed Amir made
the long-awaited announcement recently, he said that
Himal Southasian | May 2007
61
 the government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom would
only be making available five national and eight Male-
based frequencies to private broadcasters. Amir put
the decision down to "limited resources", as well as
to previously existing broadcasts, In fact, other than
the expatriate opposition Minivan Radio, the onlv
organisations at this point taking up the
spectrum are the state-owned Voice of Maldives
radio and TV Maldives. According to Amir, a
"semi-independent" board, made up of members
appointed by President Gayoom without any
parliamentary oversight, would now be vested with
making the decision as to which broadcasters are
allowed licenses to use the new frequencies.
The   willing  eooption   of   the
Communist   Party   of   Nepal
(Maoist) seems to have picked up
steam after it joined the interim
government of Girija Prasad
Koirala in early April. The rebel
supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal
('Prachanda') had been forcefully
arguing against foreign
investment in Nepali media, rhetoric that had been
clearly directed at a particular publishing house
known to be owned by Indian interests. So what
would tbe CPN (Maoist) do when its third-ranking
leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, suddenly got the
position of Minister of Information? The minister's
seat had not even warmed when he went public to
concede that, while he disliked foreign investment, it
was "impossible" to stop the inflow. The minister
then announced that the Miss Nepal beauty contest,
being organised by the Indian multinational Dabur,
would not be allowed to air on the state-owned Nepal
Television - a threat that Mahara was not able to
follow through on, given that the contract between
NTV and Dabur was already a done deal. The good
news is that the Maoists are well on the way to
obeying the rule of law. The bad news is that they are
losing some 'lace' in the process.
Over on Male island, the attacks on press freedoms
during the past month have seemed rather modest.
The informational dissident website Minivan News
was briefly hacked on 13 April, with the front page
Minivann,
altered to display a picture of President Gavoom, a
banner reading "Our Nation, Our Culture" and the
quote "Our strength is our unity, don't let anyone
break it. Protect this country from those people who
are trying to corrupt it." Lhe problem was corrected
overnight, while the editors put out a notice to sav
that they saw the episode "as another attack on the
freedom of the media in the Maldives."
S    tf\\U\Yf7K
Authoritarian stupidities
abound, in India as in
Pakistan. On 16 April, the
offices of the Burmese
dissident Mizzima News
organisation were sealed by
New Delhi police and
municipal officers. Soe Myint, the chief editor,
reported that the ostensible reason given was that
Mizzima was operating on a commercial basis in a
residential area. However, in all likelihood the raid
was related to Mizzima's coverage of Burma, which
goes increasingly against the grain of Indian foreign
policy of engagement with the Rangoon junta. Now
the good news: on 18 April, the Indian authorities
decided to allow Mizzima to resume operations,
reportedly after recognising that its activities were
"exclusively journalistic". And now the warning:
Dear Indian authorities, please do not meddle with
the one organisation that has continuously covered
human-rights and other abuses within Burma, just
because you are cosying up to the generals. The
Burmese right to freedom of the press has to be
protected within India, too.
PANOS
In a study supported
by the organisation
Panos South Asia
and published on the
media monitoring site
The Hoot, journalist
Shubha Singh contrasts the "sporadic attention" the
Indian press gives to Bangladesh in contrast to the
detailed coverage of events in Pakistan. The study
covered the five English-language dailies - the
Hindustan Times, the Times of India, Indian
Express, flic Hindu and The Asian Age (the last two of
which have their own correspondents in Pakistan).
Singh contrasted these with the news coming out of
Pakistan during March (essentially the stand-off
between the Chief Justice and Prez Musharraf), and
Bangladesh, where the interim administration was
engaged in high-profile raids on the residences of
Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and
in lhe arrest of the Begum's son, Tarique Rehman.
Writes Singh, "lhe events in Bangladesh were
almost as significant as the agitation in Pakistan ...
But it merited just a day's detailed coverage with only-
one newspaper choosing to comment on the
happenings. Indian commentators have continued
to stress on President Musharraf choosing to
remain army chief while ignoring the army's
involvement in installing the interim government in
Bangladesh." Oh well, the quicker the Indian
national media gets over its Pakistan fetish, the better
off we all will be in this neighbourhood in the
southern part of .A.sia!
- Chhetria Patrakar
62
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 REFLECTIONS
17 March
and the multiverse of loyalty
Ethnicity, state and the Cricket
World Cup.
BY GARGA CHATTERJEE
For the West Bengali bhadralok, East Bengal
continues to represent vastly different things to
different people: a Muslim-majority country, an
audacious dream of ethnic pride and secularism, a
land vaguely culturally similar but distant in
imagination, their forefathers' homeland, the place
where cyclones aimed at West Bengal finally end up, a
hub of ISI activity, the place of origin of the wondrous
Ilish fish ... the list, of course, goes on. While every
West Bengali's attitude towards East Bengal/
Bangladesh is formed from one or more such memories
and connotations, many of these have a limited
acceptability in standard discourse, particularly in
public expression. That does not make them any less
potent, however, and forces their manifestation only
under very particular instances.
One of those instances was 17 March, the day
Bangladesh scored its historic win over India in the
World Cup cricket match in the West Indies. I watched
the Bangladesh-India game in an undergraduate
house at Harvard University. With India being the
odds-on favourite, the Bangladeshi team was widely
expected to take a beating. Since live telecasts of cricket
matches are not available on cable TV, the Harvard
Cricket Club folks, comprised primarily of Indians
(including this writer), had bought a special
subscription. Watching along with me were two East
Bengali friends. If truth be told, I only watched the
Bangladeshi innings because I could not wake up in
time for the Indian innings after a late night's work.
Regardless, while I was happy that West Bengal's own
Sourav Ganguly, the Indian team's former captain, was
in the process of scoring the highest number of runs
for the Indian side, I was not very happy with the
Indian total. But slowly, perhaps as 1 became
more and more caught up in the action on the field,
that reaction changed.
With the Bangladesh Tigers prowling all over, I felt
the first of many alarm bells going off in my head. I
was surrounded by non-Bengali supporters of India,
who were cursing the Indian team for its poor
performance. But as the direction of the game became
increasingly obvious, I did not really see the coming
defeat as my own. In fact, I was busy asking - somewhat
quietly  and  ashamedly - questions about the
"N,«
Bangladeshi team: "Oi batsman tar nam fa'?"(Whit te
that batsman's name?) By the time the match was /
nearing its end, I had become an unabashed '
Bangladeshi cheerleader. This led to a few strange
stares, but I did not care. Nonetheless, it did all feel a
bit odd. My cheers, after all, were not really for good
cricket. There was nothing remarkable about a single
run taken by Bangladesh, except perhaps that it was
bringing the underdog a little closer to a win against
the titan. ,And I was happy - long-forbidden loyalties
were having a free ride, and the Bengali (not the West-
Bengali Hindu) in me loved that we had won.
After the game ended, the general ambience in the
room was distinctly dark. But I found that my own
mood was not part of the gloom. My East Bengali friends
treated me to a pint of beer, and we had a hearty,
congratulatory talk. As I walked home that evening, I
felt a nagging confusion - not about the anger of the
fndians, nor about their reaction to my cheers for
Bangladesh. Rather, of my own change of heart. A side
of me had opened that only had so much space and
time for loyalties. It is an easy call, perhaps, when
Ganguly is on the team - he is an Indian Bengali. But
even here I was found wanting. And more generally?
In the games to come, would I continue to root for the
Bangladeshi team? And what did this opening mean
for India-Pakistan matches to come?
Primordial organic identity
The way that my reaction had publicly changed during
the course of the game would have been inconceivable
had I been watching tire match anywhere within India
Himal Southasian | May 2007
63
 or Bangladesh. The split self that I harbour - and which,
I believe, many others do as well - does not have a
legitimate space for expression in any but the most
liberal of establishments in the Subcontinent. But such
dual identities remain within us, deep down in our
hearts, where politically correct stances and obeisance
to national symbols cannot cast a shadow.
Ethnicity is a category, as is identification with a
nation state. However, these two differ in one important
aspect. A nation state demands explicit loyalty, and
de-legitimises everything else; those who balk at this
explicit parade of fidelity are at best parasites - at
worst, loyal to another nation state. The kind of fealty
that ethnicity proposes, I like to believe, is at once more
organic and primordial than that demanded by the
nation state. In most cases, the loyalties to ethnicity
and to nation state do not come into specific conflict
with one another. But the varying degrees of distance
between the two can be mapped as a continuum. On
the one hand is the Naga, for instance, who has no
nation state but is held within an all-consuming one,
which goes to repressive lengths to extract explicit
loyalty. At the same time there is the Hindi belt, an
area that can explicitly declare its unflinching loyalty,
as the points of declaration in its case do not interfere
with claims of ethnicity. The Hindi belt is to the
localities the natural claimant of the spot where the
Indian pulse is to be felt, something that the rest of
India only grudgingly acknowledges.
West Bengal is an interesting case in this regard,
falling somewhere in the middle of this continuum.
Together with the explicit declaration of loyalty to the
Indian nation state, we find here a vague
understanding and acknowledgement of ethnic
kinship with Bangladeshis. But of course, almost all
Hindu (and Muslim) West Bengalis would balk at a
declaration of loyalty to the state of Bangladesh. And
so the split self remains masked. Even among West
Bengalis there would be a continuum of the exact extent
to which this kinship is felt, irrespective of loyalty to
the state of fndia. It is an interesting and open question:
How does the barrier between Muslim and Hindu West
Bengalis differ from that between West Bengali Hindus
and East Bengali Muslims? For that matter, can any
such difference be attributed to allegiance to India?
Would the dynamics of West Bengali loyalty to Tndia
change if Bangladesh were not a state that bore the
primacy of Islam in its Constitution? Further, did
Hindu West Bengalis feel clear affinity with the
Bangladesh that was still officially 'secular' before the
1988 constitutional amendment that made it 'Islamic'?
The day after Bangladesh's 17 March win, I was
reading Sangbad Pratidin, a Bangla daily published in
Calcutta. It reported that, following India's loss, local
cricket fans were not as grief-stricken as was the rest of
the country. This same story was echoed in the national
media. I could not help wondering whether I would
have felt as positive as I did if my local Calcutta boy,
Sourav Ganguly, had not scored well - indeed, had he
not been the highest run-getter among all of the two
Bangladeshi-Pakistani bhai-bhai?
Of course, the Southasian story in
2007 World Cup cricket did not end
with the defeats of Pakistan and
India. Perhaps just as significant as
the losses of those titans were
the surprising wins by Bangladesh
and Sri Lanka. But while the series
organisers must have prayed that the
turn of events from these two
teams would successfully retain
the interest of the great mass
of Indo-Pakistani audiences, they
were to be disappointed.
There were widespread stories of
Indians and other Southasians, once
the smarting had subsided, changing
their loyalties to cheer for either
Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. This regional
camaraderie - and the denial thereof
- was unbeknownst to me, untii I
chanced upon it on the Internet. On a
widely used social-networking
website, a group of Pakistanis
had formed a virtual community
to cheer on what they called the
'East Pakistanis'. This attempt at
comradeship, of course, would not sit
well with any Bangladeshi. The site
called East Pakistan for World
Champions included the line. After
kicking India's ass, they take on
the world.
The forum quickly became a
space for nationalist abuse and
counter-abuse, all under the guise of
sporting solidarity. After anger arose
due to Bangladesh being referred to
as 'East Pakistan', a Pakistani
member retorted, "Ah, personal
insults. I would expect nothing less
from you, my less evolved, but still
Pakistani brother." The thread of this
type of baiting continued, with
increasingly personal put-downs
from both sides. A
64
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 teams' batsmen. How would 1 have taken to East
Bengali bowlers cutting short Sourav's innings?
Days later, the Bangladeshi team defeated South
Africa, the world's top-ranked squad, doing much to
demonstrate that their win against India was not a
fluke. West Bengal's largest-circulating Bangla daily,
Anandabazar Patrika, carried huge headlines
trumpeting, "Bengalis stun the world's best!"
Bangladesh had the sudden chance of a glory run,
and 1 found that I wanted to cheer it all the way - my
conscience perhaps cleared by India's elimination.
United in giiet
An inward-looking state experiences great problems
vvilli ticin.sndtiondl loyalties and animosities associated
with those loyalties. Nowhere were the disadvantages
of this seen more clearly than in this year's Cricket
World Cup. It is widely acknowledged that Southasia,
specifically India and Pakistan, are the lifeblood of
commercial cricket (See Himal November 2006, "Cricket
cooperation"). Southasian interests are the major
stakeholders in wooing sponsors, popularising the
game, worshipping the players, studying the telecasts,
watching the ads, performing related ceremonies,
baying for the blood of fallen stars, critiquing the teams,
purchasing the tickets, buying the players. The majority
of this exuberance has not spilled over into other
global cricket audiences, excepV possibly the
West Indies in an earlier era.
In the 2007 Cricket World Cup, all of this was
fantastically played up. India lost unceremoniously
to an unrated but spirited Bangladesh. Pakistan lost
to Ireland, one of the weakest teams in the series. The
drama reached its bizarre crescendo after the Pakistani
loss, when the South African coach of the Pakistani
team, Bob Woolmer, was found murdered in his hotel
room. Rumour had it that Woolmer had learned that
the match had been fixed, and that he might have had
specific names. The reaction in India and Pakistan was
one of shellshock. Normally larger-than-life cricketers
came back home as social outlaws under cover of
darkness, to avoid the wrath of fans. Allegations flew
wildly, as did dispensations on what had gone wrong.
India's coach Greg Chappell resigned days later,
checking himself into a hospital, reportedly fearing
for his life. Only one player received a hero's welcome
upon his return to India, and that was Sourav Ganguly.
Some Bengalis might have taken satisfaction in the
thought that they had not been the ones who had lost.
In the West Bengal imagination, India had.
With an estimated 70 percent of global cricket
viewership residing in India and Pakistan, the
economic fallout of the losses of these two teams was
enormous. International and national corporations
had invested tens of millions of dollars in television
commercials touting the countries' cricket stars, while
broadcasters were charging up to three times more for
advertising during Indian games. Following the losses,'
many advertisers pulled out, with some of the largest
attempting to default on contracts. The poor showing
from these two teams also hit the host West Indies
hard. An overwhelming number of travel and
accommodation bookings had been made from
India and Pakistan, and their near-simultaneous
losses brought in a wave of cancellations and demands
for refunds.
In the midst of all this, one heard oft-repeated
laments of how invincible a combined India-Pakistan
team would have been. In sleek television studios, ex-
cricket stars frankly criticised their respective
cricketing establishments, and even took the liberty of
the moment to give advice to the other side. It was one
of those rare moments when segments of the Indian
and Pakistani populace were united in grief- and even
sympathetic to the grief of the other.
These losses, however, did not have much direct
emotional impact on me. 1 (along with many others,
evidently) was still looking out for Bangladesh, and
was finding doing so surprisingly easy. Given the
relatively low expectation from Bangladesh, a loss did
not bring sadness, but wins were unmistakably joyful.
Segments of the Indian and Pakistani audiences may
have broadly turned off emotionally from the game,
but that only went to show how the ethnic continuums
that spread across Southasian borders make it so tricky
for the inward-looking nation states of 'Southasia to
promote tendencies of crossborder solidarity.
Cricket in Southasia is not a game; it is seitcys.—.
business, .md a regular metaphor for jsSSH^P^
imagination and expression. Cricket has been used as
an acid test for loyalty to one's country. In general, it
does not leave much space to reach across and support
the neighbours.
But primitive loyalties know no political frontiers,
however strong the efforts of Southasian states to seek
out exclusive loyalties. Rather, this more guttural type
of devotion inevitably finds its own space in private
imagination; crossborder organic connections, after all,
predate the Southasian political landscape - not to
mention cricket itself. But wh.it can be used as a tool to
solidify loyalty to a nation state can also act as an
avenue of private, almost unconscious, subversion.
Because the relationship between a country and its
citizens has been moulded into one of either loyalty or
defiance, this process inevitably comes with guilt.
Can we not imagine beyond this? If political
identities in Southasia are largely imagined, then
forceful transnational identities are potent triggers for
an organic re-imagining of the region. Guilt makes the
private dissident crave legitimacy, for intimate
alternative identities do not like suppression. The
dissident can only hope that organic continuities will
eventually make states negotiate with transnational
loyalties, with the audacious hope that such
negotiations will be obligatory to the long-term survival
of nation states in Southasia. Ji
Himal Southasian [ May 2007
65
 .i-    Pb^:.O0'O-P.:.-:0
OPINION
Amnesty's
sticky
The international watchdog's attempt to
use the Cricket World Cup to draw
attention to Sri Lanka's human-rights
situation has backfired.
BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
The recent campaign by Amnesty International
against human-rights abuses in Sri Lanka has created
quite a hullabaloo. Using as a springboard the English
idiom 'It's not cricket' (meaning not on the level), Amnesty
used the occasion of the Cricket World Cup to mount an
international campaign called 'Play by the Rules'. The
programme involved sending cricket balls to Australia,
the Bahamas, Bermuda, India, Nepal and the UK, inviting
concerned individuals to sign them in support of sending
independent monitors to Sri Lanka to oversee human-
rights issues. The signed balls are to be delivered to
representatives ofthe Colombo government and the LTTE.
Amnesty International (Al) personnel are modern
missionaries: secular, rational, well-intentioned and firmly
attached to the problematic notion of the autonomous
individual as a principle of universal applicability. In a
world bedevilled by atrocities committed by
powerful and weak states and militants alike, such an
organisation is much needed. But this does not preclude
questions about Al's missionary excesses - for instance,
the organisation's vague use of the word child in
its campaign against child soldiers to refer to those as
old as 16.
In its missionary zeal, Amnesty chose to use cricket as
an engine of pressure on both the government and the
LTTE. Al may have been inspired by the example of FIFA,
the international football agency, which innovatively
campaigned against racism in sport during the 2006
World Cup football matches. But there are important
differences between FIFA's actions and those of Amnesty
International, in terms of both context and response. FIFA
followed a policy of uniformity and universality. It did not
name names, nor single out culprit governments. It was
also acting within its own realm and field of jurisdiction.
In the current situation, however, Amnesty simply used
the conventional image associated with cricket - the idea
of fair play - to mobilise support for its highly specific
cause, which was directed squarely at the two
protagonists in Sri Lanka. Amnesty was not commenting
on either the Sri Lankan cricket team or its cricket playing,
but merely utilising an opportune moment to draw
attention to its principles. Moreover, the International
Cricket Council (ICC) was not a partner in the campaign,
so Al could be seen to have had no right to spread related
propaganda at the West Indies cricket grounds.
This is not to say that the two protagonists covered
themselves in glory - the Sri Lankan government in
particular did not. As soon as the Colombo authorities
got wind of the campaign, they mounted strident protests
- writing to the ICC as well as various governments. This
seems to have been a kneejerk reaction in keeping with
the increasing paranoia prevailing among some
segments of the Sinhalese population, especially within
governing circles. First off, the fact that Colombo
approached the ICC at all in its efforts at redressal
indicates just how ill-informed the Sri Lankan authorities
were. Second, the fact that Amnesty was already
disallowed from entering the cricket grounds also means
that it would not have been able to directly affect the
performance ofthe Sri Lankan team, as had been one of
the central complaints against the organisation.
Moreover, the very stridency of Colombo's reaction ended
66
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 up enhancing Al's media campaign in ways that marked
the government more than the LTTE. For its part, the LTTE
went the other way, accusing the government of trying to
hide its "brutality" by attacking Amnesty's action. Since Al
is critical of both parties, the Tigers' rhetoric is somewhat
laughable.
Sports nationalism
In kneejerk protests Sri Lankan cricket fans were also
aroused to make the hackneyed argument that politics
should not be imported onto the sports field. Such a
contention cannot be sustained and bespeaks a narrow
view of politics. The fact is that the sports field has become
one of today's prime political arenas. A well-established
branch of academia now deals specifically with the topic
of 'sports nationalism'. The Institute of Commonwealth
Studies in London recently
assembled a number of
analysts to discuss politics
and race Issues in cricket,
while the journal Sport and
Society recently brought out ^
a special issue entitled
"Cricket, Race and the 2007
World Cup". Race and related
issues still intrude every now
and then both on and around
the cricket field.
But what is ironic about the
Amnesty International campaign is its seeming lack of
awareness that the Sri Lankan
cricket team happens to have
the greatest ethnic and religious
mix of all the teams competing
in the World Cup. The Sri Lankan
teams ofthe last few years have
represented a fair cross-section
ofthe island's ethnic and religious
groups,   including  Sinhalese,
Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and
Colombo Chettys. Team members
have   been   Buddhist,   Hindu,
Muslim and Christian. No other
country can claim such diversity in
its national team.
Perhaps knowingly, Amnesty stepped into
an arena that is considered nearly sacred among Sri
Lankans, whether Tamil, Sinhalese or any other ethnicity.
Cricket has been one of the few areas outside of the
ethnic conflict where Sri Lanka has made its mark on the
world, and generates one of the few regular news
broadcasts that bring regular joy to Sri Lankans, both at
home and abroad. As such, cricket has been a cathartic
realm for many, and Amnesty's campaign seemed to have
invaded an arena that Sri Lankans had nurtured as their
link to the inter-community harmony of the past.
This discontent was evident even among likeminded
organisations. The well-known Colombo-based watchdog
Free Media Movement (FMM), for instance, called upon
AI to retract its campaign. "Cricket, essentially based on
a foundation of meritocracy, exemplifies the democratic
ideal, and is a powerful bond that unifies all communities
in Sri Lanka," FMM said in a statement. "Cricket offers a
war-weary nation an important psycho-social release.
Cricket is, as the adage goes, almost a religion to many
peoples in Sri Lanka. To revel in our victory on the'field is
to take our minds away, even for a moment, from the
bloody reality of conflict."
The widespread criticism only caused Amnesty to
righteously dig in its heels. In one press release, it stated:
"The distortion in Sri Lanka of Amnesty International's
campaign 'Play by the Rules' is a ploy to distract attention
from the increasingly desperate
plight of hundreds of thousands
of Sri Lankan people." Among the
strident voices directed against
Al are indeed those that can be
called 'Sinhala chauvinist' or
'communalist'. But in fact, a
significant      number      of
moderates and non-Sinhalese
have also been angered by the
campaign.  Within  such  a
context, therefore,  it ha
encouraged the chauvinists to
target NGOs deemed to be
league with Amnesty. A
A recent comment f'fOTrFp*
Saravanamuttu, director of
the respected Centre for
Policy Alternatives, indicates
the manner in which the Al
campaign has planted a
few more landmines, so to
speak, on an already
difficult field of operations.
"The point about the
Amnesty campaign is that
it is in danger of being
self-defeating and of
ricocheting on the
efforts, both local and
international, for human rights protection in
Sri Lanka," Saravanamuttu wrote. He added that "The
Amnesty campaign ... is additional fodder to the local,
self-proclaimed patriots who will no doubt garnish their
rhetoric about traitors with reference to the
Amnesty campaign."
Ultimately any human-rights or social-justice action
needs to be judged not on its innovativeness but on its
effect on the ground - here, on the Sri Lankan soil. Given
the frustration evident in the sentiments expressed by
Saravanamuttu and others, Amnesty International would
do well to mark down its Play by the Rules campaign as
an educational experience. A
?/
in
Himal Southasian | May 2007
67
 TIME AND
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A common heritage of pain
Memories of separation and loss live on in the 'Bidesia'
genre of Bhojpuri cultural forms that have spread - and
grown - across the globe.
BY NIVEDITA SINGH
Nearly 150 years ago began
an agonising saga of
migration from the
Bhojpur region of India. With
Britain actively engaged in
agriculture in colonies across the
world, there was a great need for
skilled labourers - a need that was
largely filled by the impoverished
people of what is today western
Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh,
who were particularly skilled at
growing sugarcane. In their efforts
at controlling Indian life, the British
had systematically destroyed many
rural enterprises, in particular the
colony's small-scale sugar and
molasses industries. This dynamic
had led to the creation of a large
group of surplus labour in the
region, which in turn was shipped
off to work on plantations in
Suriname, Mauritius and the
Caribbean islands. Between 1873
and 1916, 64 shiploads of workers
- more than 34,300 men and
women - were 'recruited' to work
as indentured labourers on sugar
plantations in the far-off islands..
This was not an exodus that
went unrecorded at the
time. Indeed, newspapers and
magazines such as Saraswati, Vishal
Bliarat and Pravasi were launched
with the specific aim of educating
the people about what was taking
place, and many novels and short
stories were written during the
period around the theme of
departure. Some of these dealt with
the deep anxiety felt by wives and
other relatives who had remained
at home. The exodus also led to the
emergence of a number of unique
rituals and superstitions, and
ancient goddesses, capable of
fulfilling the wishes of deserted
women, were rediscovered or
invented. One of these was Sankata
Devi, who had the power to protect
faraway husbands and to ensure
their safe return; her temple in
Benaras became an important
pilgrimage site during the peak
period of colonial migration.
The separation caused by this
migration also gave birth to a new
and distinct folk culture, one that
gave expression to the disquiet felt
by those left behind. Attendant
forms of this culture include: the
kaharwa, a folksong sung in the
Kahar community that narrates the
pain of separation from a wife or
beloved as a result of migration; the
chamraudha dance of the Chamar
caste, the songs of which cover
the same theme; the barahmasa
narrations, which detail the
different emotions that each month
of the year brings; and the nautanki
popular theatre, performed during
festivals and weddings. These folk
traditions remain alive today in
several Bhojpuri villages, as do
many other rituals, customs and
superstitions that date to the period
of the great migration.
Because it grew out of the trauma
of separation, this folk culture came
to be known as Bidesia. In some
other Southasian languages, the
word videshi refers to the natives of
foreign countries, but the Bhojpuri
word bidesia refers to those
Bhojpuris who left their homeland
for overseas. In one sense, bidesia is
an affectionate term for non-resident
Bhojpuris; in another, it refers to the
works of folk tradition composed in
memory of those non-resident
Bhojpuris. As such, Bidesia is not a
word with a single, clear meaning,
but a term steeped in multiple and
overlapping cultural significances.
Due to its expression of the
collective anxiety that characterised
the area's communities at that time,
Bidesia came to be extremely
popular in villages and cities
throughout the Bhojpur region.
Today, the laments of folk artists
who sing of the dislocation caused
by present-day migrations to Delhi,
Noida, Ghaziabad or Bombay echo
the Bidesia of old, and keep alive
the memory of those early pangs of
separation. These laments are also
What crime have I committed
that you left the country and
did not tell me your feelings
before leaving?
;:As I sit on my terrace I keep
remembering your face in my
heart.
But you did not even send me a
letter.
I don't know in what country and
on which road my beloved is
now living, v^t^^^^a.^^^^^^^^^
The barber says that there is
no hope my beloved will
ever return.
"-_■   -OP:
68
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 joined and built upon by artists in
such faraway places as Suriname,
Mauritius and the Netherlands.
Bidesia effect
The multitudes of the Subcontinent,
of course, have experienced
migration for tens of thousands of
years. But the migration of the
colonial period took place on a
massive and sudden scale, and the
places where the emigrants found
themselves were often very
far away, where contact with
the homeland was exceedingly
difficult. This inevitably caused
significant pain to huge numbers
of people, both those who had left
and those who were left behind.
Bhojpuri society did respond
quickly in an attempt to stop the
migration - for instance, with a
'ban' on overseas travel. To go
abroad to earn money came to be
considered sinful, and to avoid
becoming social outcastes, men
who did so had to appease the gods
by feeding large numbers of
Brahmins. Few could afford to do
so, and rather than change their
plans, many chose to keep them
secret. The migration did not stop,
and increasingly became a central
facet of Bhojpuri life, and
one that was reflected in the
region's performance traditions.
Poorvi lok sangeet, for instance, is a
genre of folk music that reverts back
to memories of the homeland.
.Another genre of Bhojpuri song is
ganga geet, songs about the Ganga,
a river strongly invested with
emotion as most migration took
place from the Calcutta port.
It was in 1917 that Bhikhari
Thakur, the singer often credited as
the originator of Bidesia folk culture,
pioneered the tradition of what he
called 'Bidesia theatre'. Soon, the
songs that were sung in these
theatres were known as Bidesia
songs. The style employed by
Thakur became so popular that
other nautankis making use of this
style also came to be called
Bidesia. Other urban theatre
companies began to put on Bidesia
productions, and before long
Bidesia became the popular
folk-theatre style of the Bhojpur
region as a whole.
Bidesia plays generally follow
the sad story of a young bride
whose husband has been forced to
leave her behind in order to seek
employment in pardes, foreign
lands. The plot develops as Sundari
(a common name given to this
bride) arranges to send a message
to her husband. She begs the
messenger to release her husband
from the clutches of the city woman
for whom she assumes he has
fallen, and to bring him back to the
village. The plays also narrate the
emotions of the young man,
particularly how he feels upon
returning to his village after having
been away for many years, it was
the common chord that these
narratives struck in the hearts of
Bhojpuri audiences that made
them so popular. The interspersion
of comic relief, satire on
the existing system, and statements
on contemporary social dichotomies added to both the appeal and
longevity of Bidesia theatre,
which is why it remains a
phenomenon today.
The Bidesia effect - the sense of
In one style of Bidesia song,
a woman asks her loved
one why he emigrated.
Be careful; your bad fortune will
come to an end.
From Calcutta, we were sent to a
depot in Suriname where we
were fed rice.
After a difficult, three-month
journey by ship, we reached
Suriname, which we had earlier
taken to be Shri Ram's land.
As soon as it was morning, the
bakara [white owner] called us
and promised to send us back to
India after we had completed
the five-year contract.
34,000 Indians came here and
12,000 have already gone back.
Between 1837 and 1926, 64
ships came here.
We came here as jahaji, people on
ships.and remained as jahaji
brothers.
Kishore [the poet] does not know
whether to call this his good luck
or his bad luck.
loss caused by long-term migration
- is found in both the homeland
and the land of emigration. There
is a common heritage of dislocation
evident in works composed both
by resident Bhojpuris and in the
diaspora, from the Caribbean
islands to the Netherlands.
(Bhojpuris arrived in Amsterdam
from the Dutch colonies to which
they had originally been taken.) In
Mauritius and Suriname, the
descendants of migrants sing
songs that describe the impact
of their severing from their
Bhojpur roots.
In one style of Bidesia song, a
woman asks her loved one why he
emigrated. In Suriname, poetry is
composed in the local Sarnami (a
language that is a mixture of
Bhojpuri, Avadhi, Magadhi and
other languages) that takes the
form of responses and
explanations to such questions.
These songs are now also
composed in the Netherlands,
where over half the Bidesia
population of Suriname moved
after 1970 - and to where they once
again took this still-evolving,
multi-generational tradition.        A
Himal Southasian | May 2007
69
 REVIEW
Guilty until proven innocent
BY C K LAL
Despite the hype over the
US-led 'war on terror',
overwhelming global concern
continues to be centred on poverty.
The persistence of poverty in large
parts of the world has created the
conditions forthe rise of various forms
of extremism, while attempts by
development agencies to fight
poverty have proven sluggish, and the
gains uneven. At least for many non-
American donors, the realisation has
finally begun to dawn that a form of
governance that ensures dignity and
security for all is necessary for the
alleviation of poverty. Consequently,
'participatory governance' is the new
mantra of the diplomatic community.
Democracy gives a government
popular legitimacy, in that it
symbolises the consent of the
governed. Democratic governments
claim to represent the people, and
rule in their name. Weak democracies
can foster fissiparous tendencies, as
populist and chauvinistic politicians
fan the fear of the inimical 'other' to
consolidate their own hold over
the masses. It has been argued
that the historical Greek democracies
disintegrated largely due to lack
of discipline.
Scientific explorations of causes,
effects and possible remedies of
democratic process are now needed,
as are comprehensive studies
of political parties, commensurate
with their role and relevance in
governance. After all, strengthening
of political parties cannot
be accomplished without first
understanding their dynamics, and
such a comparative analysis has been
particularly lacking in the Southasian
context. The Stockholm-based
International Institute for Democracy
and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has
Political Parties in South Asia: The
challenge of change
by K C Suri, et al
International IDEA, 2007
now attempted to fill that need by
sponsoring the study and publication
of a book dedicated to the functioning
of political parties in the region.
Irrespective of the quality of its
contents, such a publication is an
achievement in itself.
Based on research on and dialogue
with political parties in the region,
Political Parties in South Asia: The
challenge of change follows the
standard format favoured by
international consultants. Had the
book come ring-bound, it would
probably have failed to stand out
among the deluge of reports that flow
from organisations similar to IDEA.
That would have been a pity. Even
though this publication is data-heavy
and insight-deficient, it succeeds in
laying important groundwork for more
substantive debates regarding the
capacity-building of Southasian
political parties.
In studying the political parties of
Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan
and Sri Lanka, the authors discover
three ways in which these entities
came into being. The first and
foremost is as the legatees of
independence movements, such as
the Awami League in Bangladesh,
Congress (I) in India and the Nepali
Congress in Nepal, though the latter
fought for Independence- from the
70
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Ranas. These parties continue to fight
electoral battles in the names of
their founders.
Second, ideology-based parties
create or exploit fissures between
different population groups. Based on
class, community, caste or religion, a
group identity is created to be pitted
against an external group that
supposedly threatens 'us'. Class
solidarity helped in the entrenchment
of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist) in West Bengal. Religious
sentiment created the necessary
conditions for the Muslim League to
create Pakistan from British India.
Caste calculations produced populist
leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav in
Bihar, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh
and the anti-Brahmin platform
in Tamil Nadu.
The evolution of a third type of
political outfit is the most interesting
phenomenon. When ambitious
political entrepreneurs find that
existing organisations are too
crowded for them to reach the
forefront, they divide the parent party
and create their own vehicle. Such
manoeuvring begins with moralistic
rhetoric, and ends in hard-headed
bargaining for power and pelf. Indira
Gandhi dumped her party's candidate
for a personal favourite in the
presidential elections of 1969, and
portrayed herself as above the
institution. Charan Singh wrecked the
Janata Party experiment for what
turned out to be a very temporary
premiership. Sher Bahadur
Deuba facilitated the creeping
authoritarianism of King Gyanendra
for the same reason by splitting from
Girija Prasad Koirala's party. Nepal's
Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal
(aka 'Prachanda') embarked on his
armed adventure by erecting a
political outfit from the debris of the
party known as Unity Centre. It is easy
to discern parties built by
political entrepreneurs: they prefer
the royal 'we' over the humble T of
simpler activists.
Saviour syndrome
The pathology of democracy in
general and political parties in
particular arises from the peculiar
'saviour syndrome' common to most
developing societies. Often, an
ambitious man on horseback wil
decide that he can be a better saviour
than a civilian claimant, and proceeds
to capture state power. Since
politicians are assumed guilty til
proven innocent, it is relatively easy
for military usurpers to sell the ethical
cleansing of public life.
There is a certain pattern in the
pathologies of political parties.
Decadence is common to parties
that grow out of independence
movements. Dynastic succession can
evolve anywhere, but legatees of
imperial traditions are more at risk.
Demagoguery comes naturally to the
us versus them' parties, such as the
Bharatiya Janata Party and the
Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Despotism is endemic to parties
founded by political entrepreneurs
such as Prabhakaran and Pushpa
Kamal Dahal. These are also the
outfits that degenerate into politics
of desperation and annihilation.
Despite its critical tone. Political
Parties tn South Asia gives a strange
sense of satisfaction to the reader.
Southasians seem to be one in
censuring their political parties, but
flock to the same institutions when
kings and dictators make their
periodic appearances as saviours.
Political parties have to be
strengthened to reduce conflict,
improve governance and create
conditions for sustainable peace.
The book also provides opportunity
for a discussion of participatory
governance, that concept most dear
to the international community.
Participatory governance has at
least three dimensions. Its base
consists of democracy, wherein
instruments of free, fair and periodic
elections, a multiplicity of political
parties, voters' education, electora
campaigns and coalition-building are
some of the indispensable elements.
Second, effective governance
requires that certain broadly-shared
values be made inviolable. The
consent of the governed is conditional
upon the government adhering to
universal principles of governance,
incorporating     the      republican
dimension of democracy (rule of law,
separation of powers, etcetera).
However, when rule of law ossifies in
the absence of periodic democratic
renewal, republics turn into empires
and begin their collapse.
The third dimension that gives
depth to democracy consists of
identity and dignity. Human rights,
individual liberty, multiplicity of
identities and diversity of cultures are
some important concerns of
democratic governance. The
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, though violated too often to
remain sanguine about its own
sanctity, has nonetheless become
universally accepted. The inviolability
of human rights is now more
important than national sovereignty.
If one were to compare academic
studies on the dimensions
of participatory governance, republicanism would likely emerge on top,
with tomes devoted to it from the time
of Plato and Kautilya onwards. Even
though identity politics is a relatively
new area of intellectual exploration,
the collapse of the Soviet Union
nspired hectic academic exercises in
this field. In comparison, the
functioning of democracy remains the
obsession only of the media.
That may be because republicanism
is a political science, identity an art,
and democracy a politics that
falls somewhere in between.
Nonetheless, democracy remains
the very base of society, and deserves
more attention than it has thus
far received.
Change management
In line with the obsession of donor
agencies with gender politics, a whole
chapter in Political Parties in South
Asia is devoted to the study of
women's participation in the
Southasian political sphere. But it is
comparatively weak in the exploration
of exclusion (of Dalits, for example)
and marginalisation - two issues that
will test the mettle of all of the region's
political parties in the days to come.
In suggesting remedial measures
for political parties, IDEA'S
researchers rely on conventional
wisdom: leadership, electoral reforms
Himal Southasian | May 2007
71
 R E V I
E W
and party finances. Even though
elsewhere in the book the authors
lament the "discourse of liberalization
in between elections and the discourse
of welfare during elections", the
reinvention of an ideological glue to
keep a party relevant is left untouched.
Perhaps it is not easy to train leaders,
reform electoral practices or ensure
transparent party financing in isolation.
These probably have to be a part of
the empowerment package that
seeks to involve political parties - not
just in a democratic exercise,
but also on the axes of republicanism
and identity.  Political parties of
the future will have to be
'change managers' in every sphere,
rather than limiting themselves to
being electoral machines.
Political Parties in South Asia is a
technocratic work, and suffers from
expert bias. There is a strong advocacy
of party-neutral election-time
governments, patterned after
Bangladesh. It is debatable whether
this experiment has been successful
in that country, however, or whether it
is replicable elsewhere in Southasia.
The authors' collaborators from
Nepal, meanwhile, are not well
known   for   their   democratic   or
party-building credentials.
With a lot of history but no
memories; tonnes of data but no
stories; and a series of tables but no
images, it seems that a conscious
effort has been made to keep this
book dry enough to look acceptably
academic. For this reason, even
though politicians need to read
Political Parties in South Asia, they
may not have the patience to plough
through it. The volume is, however,
attractive enough for display
on the bookshelves of those
politicians who love to cultivate an
intellectual image. A
The imagined Bihar
BY HARTOSH SINGH BAL
The first epigraph to Amitava
Kumar's Home Products is as
good an introduction to the
book as any: "An intelligent man
cannot turn himself into anything, only
a fool can make anything he wants of
himself." The two men who lie at the
heart of Kumar's narrative are Binod,
a journalist who has immense trouble
turning himself into any kind of
success, and his cousin Rabinder,
who thinks far less and does far more.
The protagonists of two recent
books, Siddhartha Deb's Surface and
Siddharth Chowdhary's Patna
Roughcut, were also journalists.
These three books share a few other
details, as well - they aii belong to
the Picador stable, for instance, and
their settings are far removed from
the metropolitan world of most of
their readers. In some ways, both the
Indian Northeast, where Surface Is
set, and Bihar, where the other two
take place, are counterpoints to the
very idea of 'India'. The Northeast is
where the idea dissipates into
cynicism, while Bihar is where it is
magnified into a mockery of itself,
Home Products
by Amitava Kumar
Picador, 2007
with every flaw seen larger than life.
In such settings, a journalist brings a
critical gaze.
Home Products' title comes from
its second epigraph: "...one relative
or neighbour mixed up in a scandal is
more interesting than a whole Sodom
and Gomorrah of outlanders gone
rotten. Give me the home product
every time." More than one of Binod's
relatives is mixed up in various
scandals. Rabinder is in jail after
having set out on the trajectory of a
■■BH8BSKBH8BH
Bihar mafia don; his widowed
mother, Binod's 'Bua', is a politician
in the midst of a very public
affair with a minister in Lalu Prasad
Yadav's government.
Binod belongs to this world, but it
is his years as a journalist that allow
him the perspective of an outsider.
But this is also where the
trouble starts, for Kumar's idea
of what constitutes an Indian
journalist reduces to an assemblage
of whatever is convenient for his
purpose. Binod, we learn, works for
India's largest-selling English-
language newspaper; he has
ostensibly been sent to Bombay to
cover the film world, but is also often
called upon to write editorials, or to
be sent on outstation assignments to
places such as Goa. We learn that one
time, when he had been sent to
Bihar for a story on the Mandal
Commission, he managed to
appease his editor by instead sending
a piece on the first anniversary of the
Tiananmen Square massacre. For
anyone with the slightest knowledge
of the world of Indian journalism, all
this is rather implausible.
Such difficult groundings for the
story may explain why the character
of Binod leaves a void at the very heart
72
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 of Home Products. Binod may suffer
from the intelligent man's failure to
make something of himself, but he
also rarely puts his intelligence to
good use. He writes an editorial on
the death of a young woman in
Patna, clearly modelled on the
Madhumita Shukla murder - a poet
Involved with a senior state minister.
When a well-known film director feels
that there may be a script in the story,
the suggestion sets Binod off on a
journey to his hometown of Patna.
But for someone who has often
traveled as a reporter, he inexplicably
lets a single brush-off by the
murdered woman's family halt his
investigations. Instead, he heads to
meet his cousin Rabinder in jail, who
suggests that perhaps the story he
should be writing is that of Bua. As
suddenly as he took the trip to Patna
to write one story, Binod is now ready
to write another. The story of these
'home products' - Bua, Binod and
Rabinder - is now the narrative that
begins to unfold. In the end, when
the film director actually wants to
bring the story to life, it comes as no
surprise to find which of the cousins
ends up working with him.
Unconvincing pastiche
Home Products is Amitava Kumar's
first attempt at a work of fiction, and
in the early pages, it seems he may
pull it off. There is a well-written
sequence describing how the
characters go on with their lives while
the events of 11 September 2001
play out on a television in the
background. But this balance does
not hold throughout the book.
Rabinder himself is a pastiche of
news events that construct the Bihar
ofthe larger Indian imagination. As a
child, he manages to shoot and kill a
little girl in a baraat while firing a gun
in the air. As an adult, he takes to
crime. On the way to becoming a
mafia don, he lands up in jail, living
and working out of prison much as
news stories from Bihar would have
you expect. But perhaps because too
much of Amitava Kumar's Bihar is as
the newspapers play it, against
this backdrop the characters fail to
come to life.
Even the nonfiction-writer's eye for
detail seems to have escaped the
author at a critical point. In an
otherwise absorbing episode, Bua's
marriage is vividly described through
the eyes of an eight-year-old Binod. A
few pages later, we learn that Bua
arrives in Patna with eight-year-old
Rabinder, to live with Binod and his
parents after her husband is sent away
to an asylum. This should make Binod
at least 17 at the time, yet the years
do not add up; instead, we find him a
12 year old sharing a bed with Bua.
The stirrings of illicit love are key to
the narrative, forcing Bua to live alone
in a hostel, and eventually leading to
her involvement in politics.
Kumar has spoken of how he had
started off wantingto write a nonfiction
book about actor Manoj Bajpai, who
indeed serves as a model for one of
the characters in Home Products.
Speaking of the transition to fiction,
Kumar observed: "The fiction writer
doesn't have to explain everything. For
a long time, I thought fiction meant
that one needed to add dramatic
details to what had already been
collected through travel and research.
But writing this, I learnt that it's more
about taking things away and letting
the silences stand." The character of
Binod, however, could have done with
a little less silence, and a little more
attention to detail. £
GENDER JUSTICE AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN CONSULTANTS ISenior-Leuel) - Pakistan
The Asia Foundation
The ,Asia Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to the development of a peaceful, prosperous, and open Asia-Pacific
region, is seeking qualified consultants forthe Chief of Parly (COP) level and for short-term assignments in Pakistan in the area of Gender Justice
and Violence against Worn en.
Forthe COP-ievel position, the Foundation is seeking candidates to manage a comprehensive program addressing issues related to gender justice.
Overall responsibilities will include technical and administrative oversight, fiscal management, and grants management to assure quality, impact, and
cost effectiveness. Specific responsibilities will include developingand designing work plans; monitoringand evaluating project activities to ensure
project goals are met; management and supervision of project staff; and, maintenance of donor relationships to ensure coordination with other donor
activities.
Requirements
- A relevant graduate degree is required. PhD is strongly preferred.
- A legal degree or legal experience will be an added asset.
- Applicants must have a minimum of 10 years experience in the development sector, working with non-government organizations, government, and
donorcommunities.
- Short-term consultant assignments should have five to eight years of relevant experience.
- Both COP and short-term consulting applicants must have an in-depth understanding of gender issues in Pakistan.
- Excellent written and spoken English are required.
- Urdu language capability is a plus.
- Experience working in Pakistan and South Asia region is highly desirable.
Vacancies Contact
Please send resume with cover letter, specifyingthe position for which you are applying to consultantssf@asiafound.org by 05 May 2007.
Please indicate in your application whether you areapplyingforthe COP-level position or short-term assignments.
The Asia Foundation is an equal opportunity employer. Women and persons of color are encouraged to apply
Himal Southasian | May 2007
73
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iti  KANAK MANI DIXIT
&	
Kabul as was and is
Autumn of 1977. A 22-year-old studying law in
Delhi University took the Wagah-Attari route
- then a series of super-fast dilapidated buses
- through Lahore, Peshawar, Khyber and Jalalabad,
to arrive in breathtaking Kabul. Coming from license-
raj India, Kabul was as close to the 'West' as was
possible in those days. The markets were stocked with
Western goods, Russian and German cars ran on
Chicken Street, and socialist architecture was just
hitting its stride.
Back then, Kabul shocked the young man from
Kathmandu, with all its schoolgirls in skirts showing
a lot of leg. Out in Hazara country, the Big Buddha in
Bamiyan was still standing, and it was possible to
climb up the tunnels to look down on his humongous,
1500-year-old torso. All of that, of course, was
subsequently blasted out of existence in an
unparalleled act of desecration.
In 1977, the king had been deposed, and Sardar
Mohammed Daoud Khan was in power. This was
Kabul before the Russian invasion, the rise of the
Taliban, the hanging of Najibullah, and the
devastation wrought by the warlords after the Talibs
were routed post-11 September 2001. Bullets and
howitzer shells would soon find their mark in every
single downtown building; even Babar's modest
resting place would take a hit.
Back in 1977, on a pine-covered ridged above Kabul,
the summer residence of Afghan royalty had been
converted into a haute restaurant. Like everything else,
30 years later it is a shell of a building (see photo), with
peeling plaster, furniture all gone, and an empty
swimming pool in which local lads play football. Some
day, when Kabul has made headway on its long
journey back to normalcy, and the Talibs and
Mujahideen are both gentrified, this place will regain
its old character.
There is evidently a lot of money being made in
Kabul today. Tlie elite have certainly been enjoying
the war economy, while the warlords in their 'narco
mansions' make their millions now that Afghanistan
is a monopoly producer of heroin and cocaine. But
neither the war nor the narcotics economy are evident
on the streets, where the commoner hopes that one
more year without the Taliban's threatened incursion
will allow the economy to find itself. Kabulwallahs
generally seem to be rooting for the success of NATO's
TSAF force, thought to be more effective than the
American Marines.
The stamp of international donors is everywhere,
on even the most modest of projects. Public buses are
to be found plastered with Japanese or Pakistani flags.
Over by TV Hill, one even spotted a 'UNDP Public
Toilet'. Only the Indians, who are providing massive
amounts of aid - including 500 buses and the
spanking-new Parliament building coming up on
Darulaman Boulevard (which lost all its trees to
shelling after 1993) - seem to be confident enough in
their relationaships with President Karzai and the Dari-
speaking elite to be discreet in their munificence. But
the taxi drivers of Kabul all speak Bollywood
Hindostani, and sport the most current Bombay patois.
Kabul today has electricity for four hours a day, so
all the well-to-do have generators. Down on street
level, Nepali guards are well paid to suffer at the front
lines of all expatriate offices, military and donor alike.
They seem to be the ones doing the dying, as and when
required. The new phenomenon here are the suicide
bombers, euphemistically called 'anti-government
elements', fn late March, three people were killed in a
suicide blast near the zoo; the following day, life was
back to normal on the spot which still sported a patch
on the ground.
Another to have lost his life in Afghanistan's
turmoil - this time in an al-Qaeda assassination, two
days before the attacks of 11 September 2001 - was
jAhmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir. Today,
Massoud's portraits are ubiquitous in Kabul, in order
to keep the Panjshiris happy with having no berth in
the current cabinet. Massoud's brother in law, the
dapper former Foreign dMinister Abdullah Abdullah,
today lives in New Delhi, perhaps on the green
boulevard named for Massoud in early April.
A couple of days after the suicide blast at the zoo,
Hamid Karzai went to Delhi to attend the SAARC
Summit. Welcome to Southasia, Afghanistan. A
74
May 2007 | Himal Southasian
 liMteash Vmilps^^
:7?'    $~-
m
M
Bju
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