LETS KEEP IT THAT WAY
The latest flareup regarding the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan has subsided for the moment, but it is not an issue that will go away. The concern this time revolves around India´s “getting ready” to detonate a second nuclear device, and the acquisition by Pakistan of 5000 ring magnets—needed to enrich uranium—from China.
Whenever there is the smallest perception of ´threat´ in Indo-Pak relations, resident hawks in both countries use the opportunity to call upon their governments to discard the nuclear ambiguity that has kept the peace for 25 years and to go for nuclear deterrence. We are not sure that is such a good idea.
Fortunately, the level of nuclear paranoia has receded far enough in both countries that it is possible to at least discuss the matter. At one time, it used to be impossible for Pakistani or Indian intellectuals to be vocally anti-nuclear without risk of serious injury to one´s career. Today, the worst that can happen is to be branded anti-nationalist under the pay of the CIA, RAW or ISI, but you still get invited to parties.
But that is not good enough. The voice of those against the bomb is drowned out in the patriotic babble, and the Pakistani and Indian media is very much part of the game. Reports and analyses written in nationalist ink are churned out, and it is unfortunate that Indian and Pakistani newspapers are not easily available in the other country to provide a perspective that allows a third, more logically humane, path.
The latest instalment of the South Asian nuclear drama started with the revelation in an American paper that satellite pictures showed “unusual movement” suggesting preparations for a nuclear explosion in the Pokharan range, where India´s first test was conducted in 1974. Before India was through with its explanation, that the preparations were for testing the Prithvi missile, there was another leak from the Pentagon, this time accusing Islamabad of taking delivery of the ring magnets, as well as some M-ll missiles, from Beijing.
Give the Americans the credit of being even-handed about it. India received stern warnings to keep its nuclear weapons programme firmly capped, while Pakistan was told that its USD 368 million-dollar weapons shipment might be in jeopardy. Any move by either country to acquire nuclear weapons would trigger massive sanctions under the 1994 Glenn amendment, which is applied on any non-nuclear state that goes nuclear.
Indian and Pakistani analysts reacted identically. Uncle Sam´s warnings were perceived as unfair by both countries as regards themselves. Pakistan remonstrated that it is unduly marked as the villain every time, and India protested that Pakistan´s nuclear capability was not being taken seriously in Washington DC.
The American evenhandedness with South Asians, sadly, is not reflected in its dealings on the very same matter with China, that great potential consumer and producer. If Pakistan bought the ring magnets in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), it was China which sold them. However, China received nothing more than a hand-slapping, all in the name of American “national interest”, that of maintaining a foot in the door of the Chinese economy.
American partisanship when it comes to the South Asia versus East Asia is, however, a side shoe. The real concern is whether they should go openly nuclear, as the hawks are demanding. We think not.
New Delhi and Islamabad speak from the same side in international negotiations on nuclear arms. Both regard the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) as an unfair conspiracy of a few Western countries (plus China) to maintain nuclear superiority, somewhat like the Security Council membership issue. Both would like to see the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) to be linked to a timebound phaseout of nuclear arms.
But there is good diplomatic posturing, and there is good policy. South Asia is said to be the one region in the post-Cold War world which could most easily be dragged into a nuclear war. A longterm vision must permeate the relationship of the two countries. Let India and Pakistan—even while agreeing to maintain the animus on all other areas, from Kashmir to cricket—agree never to be dragged to the nuclear precipice, whatsoever the excuse. New Delhi and Islamabad need not join the NPT or support the CTBT process, but let them have an understanding as neighbours not to go nuclear. This means not to test their capabilities, and if nothing else, at least to maintain the nuclear ambiguity.
In the nuclearised West, with a largely educated and aware population and good media, you could say that those who make nuclear policy speak for “the nation” as a whole. Not so in India and Pakistan, where the scholars, scientists, bureaucrats and generals who fashion and implement nuclear policy live in an incestuous bubble. Better that the conventional trigger be left in their hands, but not the nuclear. The average Pakistani and Indian (villager, mostly) would not have a clue why a mushroom cloud suddenly went up in their neighbourhood.
Nuclear weapons are not about one-upmanship. They are about annihilation, and if it is possible to fight or negotiate without them on the table, so much the better.
There is reason to be optimistic, however. Despite the recent clamour of the hardliners, South Asia did not go for nuclear deterrence. If it was because of the threat of US reaction, then let us give some credit where due. We have maintained peace in South Asia for more than two decades without a nuclear test and without manufacturing atom bombs.
DO YOU BELONG HERE, ABIMAEL?
Tourist brochures proclaim Nepal as a peaceful haven where there is communal harmony and (in subscript) none of the violence that racks different parts of the Subcontinent. But those who know better understand that such an idyll exists only in the mind. Peaceful societies often have bottled-up pressures waiting for release—ask Sri Lanka and Cambodia, two countries which, at one time, had an image somewhat akin to Nepal´s.
On 12 February, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) launched a “people´s war” with the goal of “overthrowing reactionary state power and establishing a new people´s state”. In what was clearly a planned operation, cadres from one of the three factions of the CPN adhering to the Chinese Cultural Revolution ideology of the Revolutionary International Movement (RIM), started a terror campaign in the hills of west Nepal.
The opening salvo of the “people´s war” was fired four months back with action against political opponenets and some perceived feudals. This was subdued easily enough by the police in an operation code-named “Romeo”. In February, the Maosists came back with a vengeance. There were a series of simultaneous attacks on police stations in the western districts of Rolpa and Rukum and in Sindhuli, southeast of Kathmandu. Masked activists chanting Maoist slogans moved about mountain villages, killing village heads, beating up of “class enemies”, looting, and, in one instance, blowing up the house of a former minister.
The police retaliated with fury. Six peasant activists were killed in one encounter alone, which is a heart-stopping number in a country where political killings are relatively rare. This, by the way, is the same country where even accidental individual deaths have been exploited by the parties to bring down governments. Kathmandu´s blase attitude towards these deaths showed that the mainstream political parties want this problem “dealt with”.
That this was a mountain-based movement of peasantry immediately drew comparison with the (once again resurgent) Sendero Luminoso movement of the Peruvian highlands, led by Abimael Guzman or Comrade Gonzalo, now in government custody. However, Maoist movements closer to home, in Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and southern Sri Lanka would be as instructive.
What do people do when a minimal level of inapplicable education has been achieved, and the state machinery and economic structure is incapable of delivering either good governance or productive opportunity? They, especially the young, turn to he who makes the most radical speeches. Announcing the “people´s war”, “Prachanda”, the shadowy leader of the ncp (Maoist), stated, “As there is no other way to resolve the present crisis of the country, the people have launched an armed struggle and propaganda war against the state-sponsored terrorism, feudal bureaucrats and comprador capitalists.”
In the ensuing month, pockets have reverberated with violence quite different from the variety that was seen when the People´s Movement released the energies of the Nepali middle class in 1990. What the country is witnessing is not the genteel skirmishing of ´People´s War: Overthrowing reactionary state power and establishing a new people´s state´ intellectuals and police, nor the easy targetting of kingship as the evil force of autocracy. Instead, the Maoist warriors are led by leaders who deride the timid demands for human rights and democracy. They consider the 1990 Constitution a sham, and regard the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), which ran the government for nine months last year, as revisionist. The Maoists say they are prepared for extended class war.
Party politics in Nepal´s young democracy has quickly made cynics out of the public, and this disillusionment must have had a role in strengthening the Maoists´ appeal. The politicians in Parliament—socialists, communists, as well as the so-called royalists—have failed as “representatives”. All parties have had a go at government, but none has made an effort to chart a self-reliant path to socio-economic development for the country, or, more to the point, set about to release the central government´s rigid hold over civil society. As the latest manoeuvres to bring down the government of Sher Bahadur Deuba proved, ideology and principle have been abandoned by most of the national players.
So much for the politicians, who come from all over the country. Kathmandu´s economic elite, meanwhile, is further removed from the rural hinterland than ever before. The distance between the impoverished village and the conspicuously consuming Valley is more starkly visible today than five years ago.
Still, for all the growing disparities the country is seeing, Rukum and Rolpa might epitomise less than the archetypal class warfare. The two districts make up part of the heartland of the Magar, the largest and among the most economically backward of Nepal´s hill ethnic groups. Is there an inter-twining of class and caste/ethnic elements in the “people´s war”?
Similar conditions of poverty exist in pockets all over Nepal, so why was the Maoist flare-up concentrated here? The explanation might lie in, one, that the senior-most Maoist leader Mohan Bikram Singh is from these parts and he has built an effective organisation, and, two, that the Rapti zone which subsumes Rukum and Rolpa is also the base of the country´s present Home Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka. Seen in this light, the class war also begins to take on the character of a turf war.
The radicals seem to have acted in large part to settle political scores against people who are considered local exploiters. The revolt seems to involve young people who have no real understanding of the theory of people´s war or the issues involved, but are full of anger due to the illusions given by the media and inadequate schooling, and have been easily swayed by slogans.
The Maoists´ accusations against “reactionary forces” sound timeworn and their tactics are of no proven efficacy. Theirs is nothing more than a mindless call to arms by a group that does not have the patience to carry out the much harder task of advocacy and activism. Instead of terrorising the populace, the proper goal would have been to use objectives and methods with which to excite that same populace. The flickering exhilaration of picking up the gun or khukuri is hardly a substitute for the long march to bring about social and economic advancement in the hills of Nepal. Besides, violence tends to legitimise violence and before long while the militants are dead or in jail, the peasantry is left to suffer under an oppressive police system.
The Maoist leaders will, of course, have read up on uprisings in other countries and continents, and will know that the solution favoured by governments everywhere has been to retaliate with overwhelming force—whether it is Alberto Fujimori crushing Mr Guzman´s Shining Path, Indira Gandhi the Naxalites, or Ranasinghe Premadasa the JVP. Egged on by the national elite and international votaries of stability´, it is unlikely that a Kathmandu government will be any different.
´Nuclear weapons are not about one-upmanship. They are about annihilation´
The upshot of all this is that the Maoists´ call is bound to rebound on the very poor farmers, who find that they are unable to defend themselves against police repression and politically dominant local groups, newly legitimised by the Maoists´ own violence. Irresponsibly, the Maoists have unleashed a war which will find favour in few places, given the prevailing international moods and the ever-present geopolitical situation of a small country. The losers then are not the shadowy Maoist leaders, nor the Kathmandu kingpins, but the terrorised peasantry of Nepal´s hinterland.
And how do responsible leaders like former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala react to the Maoist agitation? Following hallowed South Asian tradition, they blame the “foreign hand”!
TIME TO WOO THE MINORITIES
Pakistan´s Electoral Reforms Committee has submitted a report that proposes a major change in the polling system. It would restore the right of dual vote to the country´s religious minorities, allowing them to cast ballots in the national and provincial assemblies as well as for reserved seats for minority candidates in the assemblies.
Even though the final draft is not in, the report has been accepted by the federal cabinet. As expected, the action sparked immediate protest from the main opposition and the religious parties.
Non-Muslims form about 3.5 percent of Pakistan´s 130 million population. Allowing them to vote for Muslim as well as non-Muslim candidates would be the first step toward removing the separate electorate system imposed in 1985 by Gen Ziaul Haq. Under the general´s writ, non-Muslims were restricted to voting separately for a designated number of non-Muslim seats, and they were barred from contesting elections for (Muslim) national or provincial assembly seats.
The result had been to effectively marginalise the non-Muslim population, as the parties no longer had to woo them. The few non-Muslim representatives that were elected could do little to influence policies or legislation. The restricted voting system became the basis for growing discrimination against the country´s religious minorities. These included, for example, the increasing use of the so-called “blasphemy law”, also the late dictator´s doing.
Section 295-C of the Constitution provides for capital punishment for anyone found guilty of disrespect toward the Prophet Mohammad. Although it applies to all Pakistanis, non-Muslims have been the most affected — the most well-known case being that of the 14-year-old Salamat Masih, who was finally acquitted by the Lahore High Court last year.
The Electoral Reform Committee´s proposal still maintains a separation, but it can be seen as a step to bring minorities into political reckoning. The reason the proposal has been slammed by the political and religious opposition is that the non-Muslim vote has traditionally swung in favour of the Bhuttos´ Pakistan People´s Party. They have called the move a “cheap political stunt” to pad the PPP´s vote bank in preparation for the 1997 general elections.
Human rights activists are of the view that, no matter who stands to benefit, it is high time that the joint electorate system was restored. Whether or not politically motivated, the changes will reduce human rights violations. Powerful people will have to be more careful not to irritate the religious minorities in their constituencies, particularly where the minority votes might turn the balance. According to analysts, the minority vote could prove decisive in 20-25 percent of the present National Assembly, which would give them considerable clout.
The government has, before this, attempted to make changes to the procedures relating to Section 295-C, which would have made ´blasphemy´ cases more difficult to register, and false accusations punishable. However, Ms Bhutto was forced to beat a hasty retreat in the face of an emotionally charged reaction by the right-wing religious parties, supported by the Nawaz Sharif-led opposition.
At present, there is some support within Mr Sharifs own Pakistan Muslim League for the proposed electoral changes. In fact, the changes are actually the result of suggestions originally made by PML-N leaders who were formerly with the PPP, and are presently engaged in giving the PML-N a more liberal outlook and image. They have, for example, pushed through their demand that all Pakistanis be allowed full membership in the party, and not just Muslims as was the case previously.
It is also noteworthy that the 1973 Constitution, which originally gave non-Muslim Pakistanis the right to vote for general and reserved minority seats in the assemblies, did have the acceptance of all the country´s political parties, including the Jamat-i-Islami. Even today, the JI does not deny its role in the making of the 1973 Constitution. It says it opposes the government´s present proposal because it is “politically motivated”.
The Bhutto government has long dawdled over its professed commitment to remove or amend discriminatory laws, and the federal cabinet´s recent decision is therefore welcome. However, a constitutional amendment to restore the joint electorate system requires a two-third majority, both in the National Assembly and in the Senate (upper house). For this, the PPP does not have enough strength, although it can easily muster support for passing ordinary bills, which requires only a simple majority.
There is a way out, however, to allow the minorities benefit of the vote as envisaged. Two months before the general elections in 1997, a presidential ordinance could be passed allowing joint electorates. These ordinances have a life span of four months, so the minorities would get to vote, in the spirit of the proposed changes.
The non-Muslim´s potentially significant clout in Pakistan is somewhat out of proportion to their size, due to the balance of power between the government and the main opposition party. They have not been able to capitalise on this because of Gen Zia´s legacy.
What is certain, however, is that if the country´s non-Muslim voters are brought into the mainstream as proposed, both Ms Bhutto´s PPP and Mr Sharifs PML-N will have to take time out to woo this long-neglected constituency.
PLAY UP! PLAY UP!
The World Cup Cricket 1996 is already receding in memory, but to scholars it will provide grist for sociological analysis long into the future. The discussion will centre on several subjects, including nationalism, regionalism and chauvinism. A long-playing show which had the entire Subcontinent in thrall for more than a month, the World Cup should be studied for what it revealed about us Subcontinentals.
Asians and Caribbeans alike have always been pleased to beat the former colonial masters. However, if the English team is unavailable, any white team will do. In this World Cup, that team happened to be Australia. Already unpopular because of earlier altercations with Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the Aussies´ refusal to play Sri Lanka after the 31 January Colombo blast invited South Asia´s collective wrath. That the anger was specifically directed at the Australians´
´lt was the extravaganza of vulgarity and immorality in the name of culture that invited Allah´s wrath´ white skin was obvious from the fact that the West Indies were not targeted at all, even though they too refused to travel to Colombo.
The Australian team is actually to be thanked for the regional solidarity that resulted from their action, for they have done more for South Asia comradeship than a handful of SAARC summits put together. Their boycott was what it took for India and Pakistan to field a joint team to play the goodwill match against Sri Lanka. The feeling engendered was, however, very much us-vs-them, or brown-vs-white. Not very healthy.
It was downhill all the way after Colombo, as nationalist sentiments and preference pushed regionalism to a corner. The fight was for flag, god and glory. Those who did not have national teams rooted for those that were geopolitically most correct. Bangladeshis rooted for Sri Lanka, for example, because Dhaka has no problems with Colombo. With Pakistan, it is 1971; and with India, it is Farakka; but with Sri Lanka, it is only garment buyers. Nepalis cheered Sri Lanka” or Pakistan when they fought India, but backed India when they played the Australians.
The blanket coverage provided by satellite television, and the coming of age of sponsored advertising in South Asia, seems to have reinforced nationalist fervour. With all the hype being beamed down, the public was carried along in the jingoistic wave. Commercials exhorted the teams to give no quarter. In Pakistan, the song “Hum Jeetengye” was played to distraction. Even multinationals got into the act. Coca Cola, which sells in both India and Pakistan, chose to back only India, through ads in the Indian press.
A cricket match between India and Pakistan is a substitute for war-“orgies of vicarious nationalism”, according to one commentator. This time around the war dead were both the Indian and Pakistani players, who were taken to the pinnacle only to be violently dropped from the top by a disenchanted public. It was actually somewhat worse for the Pakistani players, for they had to face the ignominy of defeat to India.
But it is India, as the largest Test-playing nation, that takes cricket more strongly than any other country. It has the largest fan following, the biggest TV viewership, and an increasingly prosperous, and huge, middle-class, groping for mass icons. Every time India lose, fans go through a range of emotional upheavals: they are angry, hurt, mystified, disenchanted. Taking a detached view of cricket is just not the Indian approach.
Time was when boys doing well at sport in the elite public schools aspired for executive positions in once British owned companies. Those who played the game were not expected to fiddle the books. These were the men who looked upon cricket as just a game. Losing did not mean the end of the world or the end of anything, by which token winning the World Cup did not mean that Sri Lankans were suddenly the most superior South Asians.
The sad truth is that the downslide in the sporting spirit both on and off the field has been directly proportional to the ascending monetary rewards and idolisation by the media and fans. When the Lankans started off this time, they were one of the few teams who did not expect to receive fabulous prizes if they won. But things turned out quite differently, and the old values have evaporated in the face of the cash deluge.
It is not only blazers and cream flannels that have gone out of fashion in cricket. Sportsmanship and respect for the umpire´s word have been eroded as the tournaments are converted into war games. Most of us who read and speak English and watch cricket are familiar with the lines “Play up! play up! and play the game!” But not everybody would remember the full verse of “Vitai Lampada”, in which Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) so eloquently captured what cricket is all about:
There´s a breathless hush in the Close tonight-
Ten to make and the match to win
–A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man.
And it´s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season´s fame,
But his Captain´s hand on his shoulder smote-
Play up! play up! and play the game.