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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

From CBMs to OBMs

Pakistan’s Act 74 and India’s adherence to a solution within it’s constitution are both closed doors with little space to breath within.

If civility is the hallmark of democracy and human nature dictates that what is precious will be coveted by others; India, Pakistan and China have a clear conflict of interest with the population of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. Their conflict of interest with each other as sovereign States has to be uniformly seen as secondary (at best) by the people of this divided State.

A fact perhaps not highlighted enough is that each region was denied the opportunity to make an un-coerced, free of external influence and informed choice on how they wanted to proceed from a princely State governed by an all-powerful Maharajah with limited-though progressive for the times–franchise to a modern representative democracy.

Making clear that a genuine semblance of a State existed, architectured by institutions and a definition of boundaries along with continuity of governance since 1846 should have been reason enough to restrain India and Pakistan from coveting the region. More so, Britain as suzerain should have resisted from trying to compel the Maharajah to make a choice of either India or Pakistan, neither of which suited the ruler or the collective interest of his subjects. In essence the legitimate stakeholders of the State were denied a clear opportunity to make their aspirations clear.        

Every intrigue that boiled in the State pre-partition was given opportunity to infuse and forment once Pakistani and Indian troops entered to make it a battleground for competing national identities. Even UN involvement conceded to understanding the nature of the problem as an Indian and Pakistani territorial problem, formally characterised by the institutional nomenclature UNCIP (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan). Sixty-four years have certainly complicated matters: what could have been an uncomplicated transition from autocracy to democracy has been a series of wanton abuse of democratic principles by Pakistan, India and China. Certainly not an ongoing process with open ended possibilities. Pakistan’s Act 74 and India’s adherence to a solution within it’s constitution are both closed doors with little space to breath within. The United Nations has also not adhered to it’s charter by making the collective decision of the people of the State paramount in determining their future.

The idea of progressing from CBMs (confidence-building measures) to OBMs (ownership-building measures) is to revert the problem-solving ambit back into the hands of the primary stakeholders viz. The 20 million or so people living across the breadth of the divided State. The majority of us have not been convinced by what we’ve witnessed since 1947 and are fed-up of being confused sans solutions. The frustration of an uncertain future with limited ability to change things for the better is an unaffordable disability in this day and age. It has taken India and Pakistan close to 64 years to devise a tenuous mechanism in the form of CBMs that manages a conflict (their conflict). Resolving the conflict has it’s key buried deep in public opinion of the State. The underlying argument is that the ultimate arbiters of India, Pakistan and China’s presence here are the people that live within.   

Inherently, CBMs were specific confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan. In all the five disparate regions of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir, we don’t specifically require confidence, we demand ownership. Much of the movement across the LoC via permits (approximately 16,000 since the inaugral bus service on April 7, 2005) has not only been trouble-free, it has given a taster of what an un-divided Kashmir can reap for the population. Cross-LoC movement didn’t re-ignite the communal inferno that engulfed this territory in 1947. It’s roots always stemmed from activity in British India pre-partition and the nascent nation states of India and Pakistan had a clear motive in exporting it here.

Therefore a need for OBMs. If we begin on the road to ownership, after some initial hurdles the gradual economic pace of our region will speed up as will clarity on how to develop our institutions. That pace will be more sure and direct than the current Indo-Pak CBMs, which are very slow and their ultimate direction is to cement an agree-able method of co-existence between the nation-states of India and Pakistan in Kashmir. If the ownership route is not adopted, it could ultimately result in our surrender to their joint ownership or even tripartite if you include China.

Bringing the Pakistani-adminstered Kashmir context into closer focus. Current Indo-Pak CBMs give zero civil space to create and invent initiatives that will help uplift the local population. The political set-up persists in conforming to Pakistan’s strategic (military) objectives and we have already lost three generations for want of a political roadmap for the future of our society. Pakistan’s pretext of a Indian invasion still holds the legitimacy of a rubber stamp amongst most if not all members of the local power set-up here.

Travelling throughout the territory it is abundantly clear that matters of governance are not being dealt with according to the population’s aspirations. Each and every government department consistently laments that they don’t have the resources or the necessary "clearance" to embark on initiatives demanded by the public.

Hardly a day passes by without some issue of infrastructure development, administrative negligence or the Pakistani State’s inability to deliver coming to notice. Preserving the boundaries they control along with the mind-sets of the people that habitate within has always taken precedence over all else. For example, a 10 kilometre stretch of road between Holaar (a town by the River Jhelum) in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and Beor in Pakistani Punjab is a major route from Kotli to Rawalpindi. This particular route generates quite possibly the highest volume of trade and tax revenue for the Pakistani government, yet it’s been many a year since that road has yet to mature as a road.

The hunger of civil society to reform the administrative structure, conduct accurate research on the economic resources of the State, adopt a hands-on approach to infrastructure development, open old routes to other parts of the divided territory is such that the governing structure is simply not equipped to deliver. Taxation can most certainly not be equated with representation. The need for ownership is greater now than ever.

The crucial tipping point in one’s view is when civil society here will gain access to State resources that are otherwise diverted to private coffers. Adopting a transparent and consultative mechanism to prioritise where resources should be allocated would not only give the necessary vibrancy to civil society, it would finally embark us on the road to progress. In the meantime, all our efforts will continue to resemble the efforts of our previous lost generations.

Finally, though recognising that India and Pakistan’s fig leaf is Kashmiri independence- as it entails political as well as territorial loss for both countries – it also enables both countries to exude confidence and maturity to accede to the will of the people, over whom governance will always be fraught with discord and characterised by an unsettled dispute. By Kashmiris taking ownership, the era of genuine post-colonial governance could be ushered in, bringing opportunity for the bereaved masses of the two fledgling democracies too. Otherwise, the opportunity cost will always be directly borne by the opportunity-hungry masses throughout the region.   

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Author is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com.

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 20th of April 2011.

The subject matter of this article was referenced about 20 days later in the following news report by Kashmir Media Service (KMS):

London, May 11 (KMS): Kashmir Centre London held a roundtable meeting in the House of Lords, which was chaired by Lord Qurban Hussain.

Professor Richard Bonney, Emeritus Professor of the University of Leicester, presented his paper ‘The Future of Kashmir: from CBMs (confidence-building measures) to OBMs (ownership-building measures)’ in which he stressed the need to ‘develop mechanisms whereby the genesis, planning and implementation of future measures for peace rest with the people of divided Kashmir’. He went on to say that it was imperative that the Kashmiris themselves not only needed to understand the confidence building measures but also had to claim ownership of that which was to be of the greatest importance to them.

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Professor Richard Bonney also critiqued the concept of OBMs or Ownership-Building-Measures in his blog:

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It was also discussed in a daily forum in Khuiratta - AJK

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This article was also published by World Kashmir Awareness Forum:

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Of agencies and confidants

I had originally wanted to title this article as 'Engaging with the ISI' but I think the newspaper publisher thought better of it.

One remains cognizant of the fact that 'freedom of expression' is a casualty in a conflict zone. If we genuinely believe that we are emerging out of that horrid phase, then writers and artists must take the lead in navigating society out of the quagmire that it has endured.

In Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the mere citing of the word 'agency' in public triggers caution, alarm or even fear amongst most inhabitants of this region. There is a seemingly tacit understanding that one must not invite or provoke their attention. "You must work quietly and unobtrusively for change - if you want to succeed that is", is a suggestion I've heard more than once in my time here. 

The agencies are most certainly considered to be above the law and are assumed to be indisputable guardians of Pakistani national interest. In a recent engagement with them at their request, they were visibly startled by the concepts of 'rule of law' and 'freedom of expression' as emphasised by yours truly.

A widely quoted hackneyed phrase in reference to their power is that even a junior officer in their organisation holds more authority than the prime minister of AJK. One cannot help imagining the analogy of a prison full of captives incarcerated indefinitely without due process. The PM acting as the confidant in chief ensuring that nothing untowards is cooked by the rest of the inmates. In this vein, cross LOC initiatives on people's movement and trade could be considered as reluctant concessions afforded to the hapless masses. 

It's a common perception that pressure from intelligence agencies slows down the process of movement towards a more natural form of existence for the people of Kashmir. This is manifested in the delays in obtaining cross-LOC permits for aspiring relatives as well as in the many hurdles that are encountered by traders on either side of the LOC. It appears that the agencies are there to secure the interest of the large constituencies in either country that are suspicious of any change, irrespective of how minute. Understanding that most activity partaken by these clandestine agencies is assumed to be un-wise, if not un-safe, to bring into the public domain, also precludes the possibility of civil society adopting a collective approach to lessen their influence.

An organisation that has been trained and geared for dealing with anti-national sentiment in a conflict zone is at direct odds with an increasingly vociferous generation that realises that conflict stands in the way of their future prosperity. The youth of today are more concerned with officially sanctioned (or at least tolerated) graft that surely affects 'national interest' in a more insidious manner. 

In my conversation with the agents this week, that is the theme that I tried to get them to understand. In a society where there is no mechanism for institutional accountability, it is difficult to expect individual responsibility for safeguarding 'national interest'. Further, if a society becomes aimless and valueless, there is little point in taking a national security approach to addressing it's ills.

One remains cognizant of the fact that 'freedom of expression' is a casualty in a conflict zone. If we genuinely believe that we are emerging out of that horrid phase, then writers and artists must take the lead in navigating society out of the quagmire that it has endured. Breaking convention is a must and one cannot expect the 'powers that be' to fulfill that duty. Creative outlets and initiatives must be undertaken by today's generation to ease 'agencies' out of the binary conflict mind-set. Otherwise, the future will remain uncertain and under the shadow of conflict.

Like everything else in this day and age, even 'national interest' is subject to economic vagaries. One cannot be expected to starve for the sake of protecting their neighbour's 'national interest', particularly if that interest continues to keep avenues of commerce closed, less they induce a change in the status-quo. 

There-in lies the crux: If people decide to use their own creative faculties to understand and solve the problems in their given society, it is considered to be an affront to the 'powers that be' and an existential threat to their survival and supremacy. The citizen is expected to supress nature for a 'greater inexplicable good' and is painstakingly outmanouvered from the oxygen of political action. 

Self-destructive altruism is the result, irrespective of whether one abides or rebels.

The analogy of the confidant in chief at the prison is further exemplified by the AJK prime minister's assertion that the ideology of Pakistan, borders of defence and social limits are his most important responsibilities and the freedom movement of Kashmir was his first priority. Couple this with Part 7(2) of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act of 1974 which clearly states, "No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State's accession to Pakistan" and the over-arching influence of agencies in Pakistani-administered Kashmir - since 1947 - become crystal clear. It should be added that they have been consistently successful in their efforts to contain any form of meaningful resistance. 

The danger has seldom surfaced from people espousing a desire for accession to India, rather it has invariably emerged from those people who have expressed a desire for independence and the re-unification of their State. Amongst countless examples of coercion and mis-treatment, in 1957 Pakistan resorted to police action in AJK to quell a public meeting that was seeking direct action to create a United Kashmir.

While the clause cited above has been roundly and repeatedly criticised by all nationalist parties in AJK as well as by international human rights groups; with a general assembly election looming, there is still no indication that the clause will be repealed. Remembering that no viable solution to the Kashmir issue can exclude the exercise of fundamental civil and political rights for the people of Pakistani-administered Kashmir - in an environment free of coercion and fear - it is difficult to imagine cutting through the impasse that exists between the State of Pakistan and the citizens of AJK. That is, unless a mature approach is devised between the 'agents' of Pakistan and civil society here.

An open society not only evolves mechanisms for countering the ills in that society, it also searches for means of maximising economic opportunity. If the structure of AJK remains the same without constitutional and administrative reform, it will not be a society worth living in, just a mere territory on a map only useful for the natural resources that can be extracted from it. The process of reform cannot begin without unfettered ability by it's citizens to carve out a consensus on national objectives. That in turn requires 'freedom of expression/association' and collective adherence to the 'rule of law'. That cannot happen if a society is not permitted from taking responsibility for it's own development. 

The threat of intimidation, blocking of economic lifelines, incarceration and worse is firmly etched on the minds of the people of AJK. In this era of global change, expecting them to blindly conform to undefined objectives will only multiply the pile of problems that Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir are currently enduring. 

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Author is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com.

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 13th of April 2011

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I received the following comment from Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani in response: 


(Note: He similarly used to write a weekly opinion piece for the English daily 'Rising Kishmir' in Srinagar) 

Dear Tanveer Ahmed

Salaam. Your article published in Rising Kashmir today is exceptionally very important and lead contribution on the subject. It should enhance the constituency of understanding. It is for the first time that a writer based in the area has decided to be on the side of his People. I congratulate you.


Regards

Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani
Secretary General of JKCHR – Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights
- An NGO in Special Consultative Status with the ECOSOC of the United Nations

- Established in 1984


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