World Council of Churches
26 August - 3 September 2002
Statement on South Asia
The situation in the South Asia region poses a major threat to world peace. Two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, remain in a state of perpetual and growing military confrontation. The region has been the scene of inter-state and intra-state violence and conflict for the last five decades. It is home to over a billion people and provides a contrast of two different worlds – that of the rich elite minority and a poor, disadvantaged and socially marginalized majority. Its societies are being torn asunder as a result of nationalism, ethnocentrism and religious extremism.
The two smaller countries, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, are also both in crisis. The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has taken a heavy toll of human lives and has brought the country’s economy to a virtual standstill. The signing of the agreement in February 2002 to cease hostilities between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), provides a sign of hope. Bangladesh since its separation from Pakistan in 1971, however, remains unable to overcome the confrontational nature of its politics. Opportunist politicians and repeated military interventions have brought the country to virtual ruin. Its economy remains stagnant and wholly dependent on massive external assistance.
The post September 11th developments have again brought Pakistan and India to the brink of a major war. The war in Afghanistan and the US presence in the region have added a new dimension to an already tense situation in the sub-continent. The military establishment in Pakistan is again being rewarded for its support to the US-led international coalition against terrorism. Yet while the military regime actively participates in the war against Taliban and Al-Qaida networks in Afghanistan, it remains lukewarm in its political will to disband the militant Islamic groups at home that are engaged in Jihad in Kashmir.
South Asian societies are plagued by endemic corruption and confrontational politics that often result in grave and serious human rights violations of opposition political parties. In an ever-growing environment of intolerance, religious minorities and religious freedom are under attack not only at the hands of the authorities but also in several cases from the majority communities.
The churches and Christians in the region are overall a small minority faith. The growing climate of religious intolerance and nationalism seriously threatens their and other religious minorities’ rights to manifest their faith in public worship and practice. Christians are often pressured to be silent, suffering witnesses to hope in turbulent times. In such critical times the participation of Christians in the life and action of the community comes out of their understanding and exercise in faithfulness to power of the Gospel. In the midst of brokenness, violence and conflicts, Christians and churches are challenged to be messengers of peace and provide space for healing and reconciliation.
1. Kashmir Dispute and India – Pakistan Confrontation
1.1 The Kashmir dispute remains a thorn in the side of India and Pakistan. Since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, the two neighbours h ave fought three major wars. The present deployment of millions of troops across the borders could lead to open hostilities with prospects of a nuclear war that neither side can afford.
1.2 Despite the UN Security Council Resolutions of the 1940s and 1950s and the Simla Agreement of 1972, there is presently an impasse with little prospects of the parties returning to the negotiating table to seek an amicable settlement of the dispute through dialogue. The situation in Kashmir took a turn for the worst in late 1980s, when India instead of listening and responding to the grievances of the people of Kashmir sent in the military forces to the valley to quell a popular uprising. The situation since has continued to deteriorate with no signs of return to normalcy. The Pakistan sponsored incursions by Islamic militants to support the struggle of the Kashmiri people has further aggravated an already grave situation.
1.3 The people of India and Pakistan have paid a high price because of this perpetual state of military confrontation between the two countries. It has led to a steady increase in defence expenditure. Such increase has come at the cost of health care, food, education, adequate housing and other projects in the human development sectors further adding to the sufferings of the common people.
The Central Committee
affirms that the Kashmir dispute be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The basis for such resolution should be the principles enunciated in the UN Security Council Resolutions of 1940 and 1950s and in the spirit of the Simla Agreement of 1972;
reiterates that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute and the two parties should return to the negotiating table without delay;
appeals to the governments of India and Pakistan to take immediate steps to restore and normalise relations by undertaking confidence building measures that could pave the way for a political dialogue;
calls on the government of India to allow an increase access to the Kashmir Valley by non-governmental organisations concerned with human rights; and on the government of Pakistan to refrain from providing support to Islamic militant groups involved in cross border terrorism;
encourages WCC member churches to be in solidarity with churches in India and Pakistan and assist them in their ministry of healing and reconciliation in the region;
urges the churches in India and Pakistan to undertake the following actions to facilitate the process of an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute:
to build awareness amongst the Churches in the two countries about the urgency of resolving the Kashmir dispute;
to encourage and support people to people relation between India and Pakistan for better understanding and for promotion of peace and reconciliation in the region;
to organise prayer vigils, where possible on an inter-faith basis to promote peace and reconciliation between the two countries.
2. The Nuclear Threat
2.1 The May 1998 nuclear test by India and Pakistan caught the international community unawares. Tensions between the two countries increased giving rise to the prospects of an accelerated arms race in the region. The tests were condemned worldwide and on 6th June 1998 United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1172 calling on the two countries to refrain from further nuclear tests. The Resolution laid down a set of guidelines to bring the two countries into the mainstream of non-proliferation regime.
2.2 The ecumenical community is of the considered view that it is dangerous to rely on the assumption that nuclear weapons will not be used in South Asia. The Kargil episode in 1999 and the December 13th, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament have shown that there is little appreciation of the changed situation in the sub-continent since the May 1998 nuclear test.
The Central Committee calls on the governments of India and Pakistan to:
dismantle the nuclear weapons and become parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
place all their civilian nuclear programmes under internationally recognised safeguard arrangements; and
cooperate with other states in the region in working towards a nuclear-weapon free zone in South Asia.
The Central Committee also calls on both governments in the meantime to immediately implement measures to reduce the risk of deliberate or inadvertent nuclear attacks by:
jointly committing to a policy of no first use and formalising that commitment through a bilateral agreement;
refraining from weaponising delivery systems;
ensuring effective central civilian political control over nuclear policies and facilities; and
expanding and enhancing the existing agreement prohibiting attacks on each other's nuclear installations.
The Central Committee further calls on the governments of India and Pakistan to:
halt all further research, development and production of nuclear weapons or weapons components; and
cease production of fissile materials and to support international negotiations towards a global ban on the production of fissile materials.
The Central Committee calls on the international community to:
immediately end all material and political support to India and Pakistan for the development and production of nuclear weapons and/or their delivery systems.
The Central Committee calls on its member churches in South Asia to:
urge their respective governments to work towards a South Asia nuclear-weapon-free- zone; and to
undertake public awareness programmes in support of the abolition of nuclear weapons in South Asia and globally.
3. Religion, Politics and Intolerance
3.1 The South Asian Region has been the dwelling for major religions of the world, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. For centuries people practising these religions have lived in peace and harmony. That situation now seems to be changing. In the last decade religion has emerged as a significant and sometimes a dominant factor in intra-state conflicts. It has been manipulated to promote narrow political or nationalist interests and objectives. Religious intolerance has grown almost universally and South Asian societies are no exception to it.
3.2 In India the emergence of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) as a major force on the political scene has seriously undermined the secular base of the country. During the last couple of years, Christians and Muslims have come under attack and their places of worship burnt. Attacks against the Dalit community too have increased. Despite all the constitutional guarantees Dalits continue to suffer indignities and discriminations not only at the hands of the authorities but also at the hands of the majority. In Pakistan the environment of religious intolerance which was nurtured during the 11 years period of General Zia’s military rule, has made the lives and properties of Christian minorities insecure. Many families have suffered because of indiscriminate use of the blasphemy laws that have targeted innocent Christians. Christian villages and Churches have come under attack at the instigation of Islamic extremist groups. The situation has worsened as a result of the US led war in Afghanistan. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Buddhist and Islamic groups have often used religion for political purposes to incite hatred and violence against religious minorities.
3.3 The growing environment of religious intolerance in Asia has claimed many victims. It has undercut the multi-cultural, multi-religious and pluralistic base of societies in the region. Intolerance has encouraged a new wave of ideologist, who apart from distorting histories is engaged in promotion of communal violence that creates walls of separation and hatred amongst the people.
The Central Committee calls on the Churches including those in the region to:
raise awareness of the spread of religious extremism that is effecting most religions - Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Budhism - negatively. This negative influence of religion often originates with groups acting out of ignorance and obscurantism in order to impose their particular religious views on society;
encourage and support civic educational projects that promote understanding, tolerance, peace and inter-communal harmony at local, national and regional levels;
engage in dialogue on human rights with people of other faiths and convictions in order to build a culture of peace and address such issues as rights of minorities and intolerance;
draw attention to the plight of the Dalits as a result of the discriminatory practices and policies of the Indian government and to help secure the implementation of constitutional guarantees through legal recourse, awareness building and advocacy at the national and international levels;
mobilise national and international support for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan.
3. a) Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict
The conflict in Sri Lanka, since it escalated in 1983, has claimed over sixty thousand lives on both sides of the ethnic divide. The war has left the country’s economy in tatters. For over two decades’ people, mostly Tamils have been subjected to Draconian Laws. Torture, detention without trial, extra judicial killings and curtailment of freedom of the press are common practices of the state. The LTTE has imposed strict conditions in areas under its control where extortion, summary executions and forced recruitment, particularly of children for war purposes is a common practice.
The escalation of the war in 1980s and 1990s resulted in mass exodus of Tamil refugees to India, Western Europe, North America and Australia; in addition a large number of people in the North and East were uprooted as Internally Displaced Persons. Several attempts were made to mediate a peace agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE without much success. The situation however, unexpectedly changed in February 2002, when the Norwegians facilitated a Memorandum of Understanding between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE to cease hostilities, pending the peace talks that are scheduled to take place in Bangkok Thailand.
The Central Committee:
welcomes the Memorandum of Understanding arrived at between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam;
urges the ecumenical community to
accompany the sister Churches in Sri Lanka in their journey to peace;
pray for, encourage and provide solidarity support to the National Council of Churches in Sri Lanka and the Norway Church Council in their joint efforts to build awareness and mobilise support for the peace process;
mobilise support nationally and internationally in favour of the Peace Process in Sri Lanka;
provide human as well as material resources for reconciliation and reconstruction of Sri Lanka.
3. b) Bangladesh and Religious Minorities
Like its mother country Pakistan, Bangladesh after three decades of Independence has failed to evolve a viable constitutional framework of democratic governance. The country has suffered frequent changes of government and bloody military coups. Its founding principle of “Secular Bengali Nationalism” has collapsed and the country is presently caught between the throes of abrasive rightwing Islamic political parties and motley of opportunist politicians. Lack of development of parliamentary political culture has paved the way for destructive politics of the street. There is an urgent need for building a culture of tolerance and peace in the country.
The Central Committee calls on the churches to:
monitor the situation of the religious minorities in the country, and provide pastoral and solidarity support to the Churches and Christians in the country;
provide human and material resources to the Churches of Bangladesh to enable them to initiate inter-religious cooperation and dialogue to promote tolerance and build a culture of peace.
(Recommended by the International Relations Commission on June 6, 2002)
The South Asian Region
The 20th century witnessed dramatic changes in South Asia of far reaching implications. The region passed through empire to independence, from imperialism to nationalism, from autocracy to democracy and back again in some countries. Many of the changes were more of form than of substance. Beneath the garb of parliamentary democracy, a culture of violence, confrontation and conflict persist: in inter-state and intra-state; between caste and communities; between different religions, even between sects of the same religion. Contradictions are mind-boggling. Largely illiterate societies barely managing to survive in a state of semi-feudal agriculture and neo-capitalist enterprise are drawn in the electoral process of adult suffrage and globalisation of culture and economics. Corrupt politicians with meagre resources at their disposal are called on to fulfil the rising expectations of an ever-growing population. It is little wonder therefore that South-Asian societies present a picture of two different worlds – that of the elite minority and the socially marginalized majority.
Emergence of India and Pakistan
The First World War prompted the slow demise of imperialism and became instrumental in raising the standard of revolt that had its impact on the British empire. The sacrifices of Indians on the battlefields of Europe called for a political response. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh galvanised the political classes of the sub-continent and the Khilafat Movement brought Muslim masses into the equation. Gandhi seized the opportunity to increase the pressure on the British government assuming the command of the Congress party and turning it into a mass organisation. The British hurriedly introduced Reforms in 1920. It was too little too late. The Nationalists, in the meantime had geared up for more – first equality with other dominions and then independence. They demanded for India what had been conceded at home. Gandhi’s training at the Inner Temple and Jinnah’s at Lincoln’s Inn made the two powerful champions of the cause of nationalism and democracy. However by late 1920s, defining the new Indian nationalism was a difficult task. In the earlier days it was defined in terms of coalition of communities – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist and Christians, representing the diversity of cultures of the sub-continent. The British true to their divide and rule policy sort to dissipate the centripetal thrust of nationalism by encouraging provincialism and making further concessions to Muslims and Sikhs. With the result the process of political devolution proved to be highly divisive. Muslims refused to accept the Congress as a replacement for the British Raj. They raised the demand for Pakistan. Initially, the demand was not for separation but for recognition of the Muslim entity in the emerging political order. As late as 1946, Jinnah was prepared to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan with its offer of a loose federation and maximum autonomy for the Muslim North – West and Northeast. It was the Indian National Congress with its eyes on the powers of the imperial government in Delhi that rejected what would have been an ideal option for the future of the people of the sub-continent.
As it happened, when the British decided to withdraw from India there was a power vacuum at the centre and the exercise of transfer of responsibility turned into a trauma of bloodshed and violence, effects of which continue to impact on the relationship of the two succeeding states, Pakistan and India even today. Since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, the two newly independent states have continued to confront each other militarily across hastily drawn borders. Born in hostility, the leaders of India and Pakistan defined nationalism from their respective narrow perspectives and ended up having over-centralised state structures that continue to be a source of tension between peoples and regions within the two states.
The story of the struggle and sacrifice of the Muslims of Bengal, from colonial rule began in the late 19th century, when together with Muslims of the other regions of the subcontinent they discovered themselves as a disadvantaged and marginalized community. The common desire of all Muslims at the time was not separatism but self-assertion vis-à-vis the advancing Hindu community. Throughout the movement for Pakistan the goal of the Bengali Muslims was to have an abode for themselves where they could go about their business unhindered by Hindu competition. To justify the demand for a separate Muslim state, the Muslim League, the major political party of the community expounded what came to be known as the “two nation” theory. According to this theory Muslims of the subcontinent were a separate entity and Islam was the binding factor. The post-Pakistan experience (1947 – 1971) of Bengali Muslim however showed that Pakistan symbolised only a superficial structural change. The economic emancipation and political power sharing of the then people of East Pakistan remained an un-fulfilled dream. The disillusionment that set in was further aggravated due to the unjust policies of the central government of Pakistan that had the backing of the Punjabi dominated military, bureaucracy and feudal class. The denial of civil, political and economic rights, forced the people of East Pakistan to resort to a non-cooperation movement that gained momentum after the general elections of 1970, which Awami League won by a thumping majority. The leadership of West Pakistan refused to accept the primacy of the Awami League and hand over to it the reigns of the Central government There were series of talks between the leaders of East and West Pakistan to resolve the crisis but without much success. On the night of 25th March the Pakistan army launched a full-fledged military offensive against the people of East Pakistan, who with the help of Indian forces retaliated mounting a nine-month war of liberation. On the 16th December 1971 the Pakistan armed forces surrendered to the Indians and Bangladesh came into being.
Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was called before 1972 is composed of two main ethnic groups – Sinhala, 72% and Tamils, 21% of the population. Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist and Tamils are mostly Hindus. Christians are found in both communities. Through the initial period of colonial occupation – Portuguese 1505 – 1656; Dutch 1656 – 1796; the two communities existed as separate kingdoms. The British who defeated the Dutch acquired the two kingdoms separately. They administered the Tamil areas from Madras, but in 1933 for administrative convenience, welded the two kingdoms into a single entity and ruled from Colombo. According to political analysts the actions of the British sowed the seeds of the present ethnic conflict. They made no serious efforts to integrate the two communities. In the 19th century, to tend to the newly developed plantations of coffee, tea and rubber the British recruited large number of migrant workers from Tamil Nadu and settled them in the upcountry districts as indentured labour.
In 1931, the Donoughmore Reforms introduced universal franchise in the country. Ironical as it may seem, the universal adult franchise gave the silent illiterate masses of Ceylon an opportunity to take part in national politics and also, created conditions for the ethnicization of representative politics. To mobilise support Sinhala and Tamil political elites appealed to the communal interests of each community thereby making communal identity an integral part of democratic political competition. Unlike the case of India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka did not have a mass base national independence movement. Only the left put forward a radical programme for an anti imperialist struggle, but its impact on mass politics was not strong enough to generate an anti-colonial movement. In 1948 as the Imperial government was in the process of leaving a messy and ungovernable India, political independence was granted to Ceylon on 4th February 1948. Compared to the struggle for independence for India and Pakistan, the independence of Ceylon was like a gift, it came without shedding a drop of blood.
Indo-Pakistan Tensions and Conflict
The legacy of partition of the sub-continent left serious psychological scars on India-Pakistan relations. Over two million people died following independence, as Muslims left for Pakistan and Hindus left for India. Since then the two neighbours have fought three major wars and continue to survive in a perpetual state of military confrontation, the costs of which have weighed heavily on the people. To this day, despite the change in generation, the spectre of social and territorial disintegration remains within both countries.
Perhaps the most tragic legacy of partition is the Kashmir dispute. It remains a festering wound on the heart of the sub-continent. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was one of the 562 princely states that constituted about one third of the British Indian Empire. The same principle that applied to the partition of British India, namely non-Muslim majority states to join India and Muslim majority states to join Pakistan, was also applicable to the princely states. By 14th August 1947, all but three of the princely states, Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir had acceded either to India or Pakistan. Of the three Junagadh which was ruled by a Muslim acceded to Pakistan, but India occupied it by force on the grounds that the majority of its population was Hindu. Hyderabad’s Muslim ruler wanted an independent status for his state, but India occupied it too on the grounds that its population was largely Hindu. In case of Kashmir although India laid claim to all Hindu majority areas on the grounds that partition was affected on communal lines, it denied the largely Muslim Kashmir to Pakistan on the basis of accession by its Hindu ruler. Tribesmen from Northern Pakistan with the support of the Pakistan military invaded Jammu and Kashmir in 1948, to liberate their Muslim compatriots. This resulted in conflict and open hostilities between the two dominions. The Indian army prevented the “tribals” from taking the capital Srinagar leaving Pakistan in control of an area approximately 30,503 square kilometres referred to as “Azad” (Free) Kashmir. The territory under India’s control is called “ Occupied” Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan continue to claim the state in its entirety.
On 1st January 1948, India at that time under the leadership of Jawarhlal Nehru lodged a formal complaint against Pakistan to the United Nations Security Council. The complaint was filed under Section 35 of Chapter VI of the Charter that relates to the “Specific Settlements of Disputes” and not under Chapter VII that deals with acts of aggression. The UN Security Council established a five-member Commission known as the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP). Before the Commission could visit Kashmir in 1948, fighting broke out between India and Pakistan in April of the same year. After consultation with both sides the Commission passed a Resolution on 13th August 1948 calling on the parties to order a ceasefire and to affirm that the future status of Kashmir will be determi ned by the Kashmiris. On 5th January 1949, following further negotiations between the parties the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution for ceasefire. Kashmir remains on the United Nations agenda as a disputed territory. In India the state of Jammu and Kashmir retains a special status within the Union. It has its own constitution that affirms the integrity of the state within the Republic of India. Under the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, the government of the state is appointed by the President of India; executive powers are in the hands of the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers. The Indian government has direct legislative powers in matters of defence foreign affairs and communications.
Continuing Military Confrontation
Little over a decade after independence Pakistan in October 1958, suffered the first of its many military coup, when General Ayub Khan removed the civilian government. With the military in power, the tensions between the two neighbours were heightened with mutual threat perceptions that stalled political dialogue, when India turned down Pakistan’s offer of mutual defence pact in the late 1950s. India’s mistrust was reinforced after the 1965 conflict with Pakistan. In April 1965, Pakistan’s army carried out a careful testing of Indian defences that suffered a major set back in 1962 border clash with China. Sensing the low Indian morale General Ayub launched the infamous “Operation Gibraltar” to take Kashmir by force. The result was another stalemate that failed to alter the existing ceasefire line. Pakistan fears that India was out to destroy her were reinforced with the loss of East Pakistan in 1971. After the 1970 General Elections in the country, which were won by the Awami League (with majority support in East Pakistan) the relations between East and West Pakistan severely deteriorated. There was power struggle between the Army and the Pakistan Peoples Party, (which won majority of the seats on West Pakistan) on one hand and the Awami League on the other hand on the question of who should have control of the Central government. The military’s reluctance to hand over power to Awami League, that won majority of the seats in the National Assembly, and instead seek recourse to military action led to an armed uprising in the Eastern wing of the country. By September 1971, India taking advantage of the situation stepped up its covert support for the Bengali rebels. In December 1971, the Indian army launched a major military offensive to liberate East Pakistan. In response, the West Pakistan leadership decided to make pre-emptive air strikes in the western sector against Indian airbases. On 17th December, following the fall of Dacca, India declared a unilateral ceasefire but by that time she had made gains over the Kashmir ceasefire line as well as in Sind and Punjab. The 1971 War resulted in the dismemberment of Pakistan and unequivocally established India’s superiority in the region as a major power. It also exploded the myth of the “two nation theory” that religion could be the basis for enduring nationalism. In the summer of 1972, at Simla where the representatives of the two countries met, India was able to bargain territorial gains made in Punjab and Sindh for a re-adjustment of the old UN ceasefire line towards a new Line Of Control (LOC) in Kashmir (Appendix B Simla Agreement). This improved India’s forward position. The Simla Accord led to the formal recognition of Bangladesh in 1974 and the return of Prisoners of War held in East Pakistan. While India used the 1971 victory to set the regional agenda in her favour and to provide the framework for future Indo-Pak relations, a defeated Pakistan military bid its time and waited in the wings planning to hit back and seek revenge for its humiliation.
According to successive governments of Pakistan, Kashmir remains the “unfinished business of partition”. After the signing of the Simla Agreement in 1972, Pakistan has intermittently tried to internationalise the issue drawing attention to the UN resolutions of the 1940s, more particularly Resolution 47 of 1948 adopted by the Security Council on 21st April 1948 (Appendix - A) calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. The situation in Kashmir that had never been stable took a turn for the worst in the late 1980s, due to India’s consistent mishandling of the grievances of the people of Kashmir. This resulted in a mass uprising. Instead of responding to the demands of the people in a spirit of political accommodation and adjustment, India took recourse to force to quell the uprising and treated the situation as a law and order problem. The human rights abuses committed by the Indian Security Forces against innocent civilians further alienated the people. The Indian army continued to carry out operations under the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Acts, conducting, cordon and search operations in Muslim neighbourhood and villages detaining young men and family members, carrying out summary execution of suspected militants. These acts of repression further fuelled the uprising in the valley. Pakistan despite denials took advantage of this situation and facilitated the entry into the valley of Islamic militants to carry out guerrilla warfare in support of the liberation struggle of the people of Kashmir. The Pakistan army made little secret of its intentions to keep India engaged in a “low intensity” conflict in order to bleed it slowly but surely.
Sub-Continent’s Nuclear Ambitions
There is a tendency in the sub-continent to equate military capability with power. This has had profound consequences for the stability of the region. Another factor contributing to this lack of stability is Pakistan’s consistent refusal to concede to India’s primacy and leadership. This has resulted in huge defence expenditures incurred by the two countries at great social costs to the people. Since 1974, when India had her first nuclear test, the conventional arms race between the two countries has threatened to go nuclear with deployment of nuclear device and the continual proliferation of more nuclear weapons systems. Between 1980 and 1999 India’s defence expenditure increased by 250%: In 1987 India was one of the largest arms importer in the world. In terms of GNP and per capita spending however, Pakistan has the highest level of defence expenditure that has been supported by a combination of military or military backed governments and concessional aid and soft loans from the United States. There was a brief period of exception between 1998 and 2001 when this flow of military aid was stopped. The US imposed sanctions because of the country’s nuclear programme.
Since the early 1970s, the Indo-Pak nuclear guessing game of yes-we-have, no-we-don’t has been curiously asymmetrical despite common security doctrines. Pakistan’s needed an atomic device in order to contain the Indian military’s modernisation programme. India’s political elite wanted a bomb not necessarily to intimidate Pakistan, though that too could be the case, but more so, as a deterrent against China and to underscore her aspirations to be recognised as a great power by the international community. This coincides with India’s ambition to be a member of the Security Council if and when it is enlarged. India considers that being a nuclear power entitles it to be a member of that exclusive elitist club – the UN Security Council that has special interest in the management of global affairs.
The May 1998, Nuclear Tests carried out by India and Pakistan heightened tensions, raised the prospects of an accelerated arms race and posed a serious risk to the region’s chronic poverty by reducing investor confidence, increasing defence expenditure and slowing economic growth. The test drew immediate world-wide condemnation from 152 individual states and with a stream of international organisations – the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations, European Union, the Organisation of American States, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the Nordic Council of Ministers. The ASEAN Regional Forum also issued a communiqué criticising the tests. On 4th June, the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, under the presidency of China, expressed condemnation of the tests on behalf of the wider international community.
UN Security Council Resolution 1172 adopted on 6th June 1998 demanded that India and Pakistan refrain from further nuclear tests. It set out a series of guidelines intended to restore stability and to bring the two countries into the mainstream of non-proliferation regime. The resolution urged the two countries to resume their stalled dialogue, mentioning Kashmir as the root cause of tension between the two neighbours. Both countries were called to stop development of nuclear weapons immediately; to cease production of fissionable material for nuclear weapons and to participate in negotiations for a treaty banning such productions; to refrain from developing nuclear weapons; and to become parties to the NPT and the CTBT. The resolution explicitly ruled out recognition of India and Pakistan’s claims to be nuclear weapons states, since to do so would have been incompatible with the NPT.
To underscore their concern some fourteen countries adopted concrete measures to record their displeasure. On 16th June the USA announced a range of sanctions under the Glenn Amendment to the Arms Export Control Act; and Japan, the largest aid donor to the subcontinent, moved quickly to suspend new aid to the two countries from its large aid programmes. Given the difficulties surrounding economic sanctions some countries chose instead to cancel or defer contracts, and particularly defence links such as visits by senior officers, attendance at military staff colleges, training courses and joint exercises.
Current Trends in India and Pakistan – A Mix of Religion and Politics
At the turn of the 21st century South Asia is witnessing a radical change in its politics. The western educated liberal leadership that was in the forefront of the struggle for independence have been replaced in most cases by a more corrupt, pseudo-fundamentalist and intolerant group of leaders that have in common the categorical rejection of Western values. In Pakistan, Islamic extremism cultivated and matured during 11 years of Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship gave birth to a kind of medieval obscurantism that has become the cover for corruption and compromises of discredited military and political elites. A dangerous development of this period with long-term implications for the Pakistan society was the opening of Madrassahs that mushroomed during the Afghan war along the Pak-Afghan border. These Koranic Schools, funded by Saudi money became breeding grounds for Islamic militants who were initially used to fight the Russian infidels in Afghanistan. They later turned their attention, under the guidance and patronage of the Pakistan army, to Jihad in Kashmir. According to Hafiz Muhammad Syed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba “any militant who enters the Indian held Kashmir goes with the idea of never coming back. Thousands of Muslim youth thus embrace the teachings of ‘martyrdom’ to die for the glory of Islam”.
Another factor that contributed to the destruction of the growth of healthy political activities in the country has been the role of the military. Since General Ayub Khan seized power in 1958 Pakistan has had a chequered history of military intervention that has virtually destroyed all democratic institutions in the country – judiciary, legislature, free press, political parties etc. To legitimise its rule the military has sought and relied on the support of religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami. This unholy political alliance gave rise to an environment of religious intolerance that has witnessed attacks on places of worship and the persecution of religious minorities particularly Christians under the Blasphemy law. Religious intolerance has also fuelled sectarian conflicts and violence between Sunnis and Shias in which large number of people have lost their lives.
Not to be left behind in this race of religious intolerance India has witnessed an increase of its own brand of Hindu extremism in recent years too, represented by Vishwa Hindu Parshad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and the ever growing number of “Hindutva” politicians. At the time of its founding in 1964, Shiv Shankar Apte, the first leader of VHP said: “the declared objective of Christianity is to turn the whole world into Christendom - as that of Islam is to make Pak”. And went on the add “besides there has arisen a third religion, communism….. all these three consider Hindu society a very fine rich food on which to feast and fatten themselves. It is therefore necessary in this age of competition and conflict to think of, and organise the Hindu world to save itself from the evil eyes of the three”. The thinking of Hindu extremists was never given prominence and remained dormant because of India’s pronounced secular polity. That is now beginning to change. With the coming in power of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the demon of communalism has been revived. The Hindu nationalist, policies espoused by India’s governing BJP and its affiliate organisations like VHP have undermined the country’s historical commitment to secular democracy. The BJP strategy to launch a new campaign to aggressively pursue the “Hindu vote” coincided with the VHP spearheading the Hindu militancy in the wake of the conversions of Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram, the Shah Bano affair and the gaining of momentum of the Sikh separatist movement in 1980s.
The tendency amongst Indian and Pakistani politicians to use religious symbols and idioms to manipulate the people for narrow political gains has fuelled endemic, religious and regional violence that threatens to fragment societies on both sides of the geographic divide.
Corruption is endemic to both India and Pakistan. It is all-pervasive having penetrated almost all sectors of society. While millions live without one square meal per day and have no place to sleep, there are also obscene displays of mostly ill-gotten wealth. In India the governments of former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and the former actress and powerful chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalita were brought down by corruption. In Pakistan the former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were also dismissed on charges of corruption. The present military government’s of National Accountability Bureau has registered dozens of cases against the two leaders for recovery of ill-gotten wealth. In both India and Pakistan every year millions of rupees are siphoned off into the pockets of government officials as well as military and political leaders. According to Transparency International, a Berlin-based NGO, the two countries are amongst the ten most corrupt nations in the world.
Human Rights violations in India and Pakistan have over the years continued to deteriorate. In India though the existence of comparatively independent judiciary and a free press has made a measurable difference. Day-to-day police harassment and brutality remains a major source of human rights violations of the ordinary people. This is particularly true in rural areas where the feudal system is a law unto itself and even the work and lives of human rights defenders often comes under threat from powerful sections of society, who operate in connivance with law enforcement agencies. The oppression of Dalits in India has gone on for the last three thousand years. They are segregated in all spheres of social life: places of worship, education, housing and land ownership, use of common wells, roads and buses. Considered as untouchables by the upper caste, Dalits are forced into menial and degrading jobs. Caste violence and conflicts despite constitutional guarantees of equality continues to plague and divide the society in regions like Bihar. Religious violence and attacks on Christians and Muslims have also significantly increased since the BJP government came into power in 1998. Attacks on Christian churches, institutions and clergy have become more frequent in the last two years.
In Pakistan, despite assurances by successive governments, religious violence is on the rise and attacks on Christians, Hindus and Ahmadiya communities continue unabated with the state remaining indifferent. Discrimination against Christians in the workplace is a common practice particularly in the Punjab. The extent of this practice is revealed by an incident at a local Home Economic College where Muslim teachers refused to taste food cooked by Christian students. The personal laws of Muslim have an overriding effect on the Personal Law of non-Muslims. According to the Federal Shariat Courts, marriage solemnised between Christians stand dissolved with immediate effect if one of the party embraces Islam. The Blasphemy Laws continue to torment the religious minority and are often used to grab lands or seek personal vendetta. The government has also failed to provide protection and meaningful recourse to women victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. “Honour Killings” are a matter of common occurrence particularly in the province of Sind. Torture, deaths in custody and extra-judicial killings are common. Despite complaints of abuse, law enforcement personnel are never brought to trial for human rights abuses. As a result there is a growing climate of impunity.
Post September 11th
As in other parts of the world September 11th events in New York had an impact on the sub-continent. The impact was however greater on Pakistan than on India. Pakistan was suddenly transformed from a pariah state to a key ally of the West in the US led war on terrorism. Pakistan’s military regime that had unequivocally supported Taliban turned full circle and dumped the Islamic militant group like a hot potato. The country opened its doors to the US intervention in the region ignoring the lessons of the past. The military government not being answerable to the people did what it wanted to do. While General Musharraf bent over backward to accommodate the US Security concerns, India got the jitters. Not to be left behind, it offered full support to US military action to the extent of offering its territory to fight terrorism. The US, however, chose its old ally, Pakistan, given its proximity to Afghanistan. India, jilted, was left to suffer a bruised ego.
As the US led war on terrorism gained momentum and the ties between Pakistan and the US began to cement, India kept raising its concern about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, but Washington looked the other way. The US was in no mood to confront Pakistan or divert from its original goal of destroying Taliban and Al Qaida networks in Afghanistan. The situation between India and Pakistan deteriorated with the December 13th attack on the Parliament which India blamed on the Jihadi groups sponsored by Pakistan. Having failed to get US ears to its concern, India deployed troops along the borders with Pakistan raising possibility of a full scale war. The situation was defused, to an extent, by the visit of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region. The tensions between the two countries however remain. India has repeatedly refused to have dialogue with Pakistan unless it puts an end to cross border terrorism by the Islamic militants.
The US presence in the region will strengthen ties with the Pakistan military, which in turn for its services is likely to demand new weaponry as a quid pro quo. This is likely to raise tensions further in the region and lead to another arms race. The military confrontation will continue as long as the Kashmir dispute is not resolved. Given India’s refusal of third party mediation, the two neighbours will have to return to the negotiating table to revive their stalled dialogue.
The emergency powers put in place by the government in 1983, have been enhanced from time to time on grounds of “national security”. These have provided a blanket cover to human rights violations and atrocities committed by the security forces. The LTTE through its suicide bombings have killed and injured hundreds of people including civilians. It has been brutal in its treatment of opponents. LTTE’s forced recruitment policy and deployment of children for war in the North has caused pain and suffering for the Tamil families in the rural areas and has attracted the attention of the UN agencies and international media. The ongoing war has displaced millions of Tamils and has virtually ruined the country’s economy. Thousands of Tamils have been forced to seek shelter and sanctuary abroad as well as within the country as refugees and internally displaced people. Most live and survive in deplorable conditions. Till late, the denial of access to independent journalists and international NGOs to the war zone by the Sri Lankan government, had pushed the conflict out of the attention of the media. The Tamil youth living in Colombo have suffered consistently at the hands of the local law enforcement agencies. Instances of torture, detention without trial and disappearances are common.
Since the conflict escalated in 1983, over sixty thousand lives have been lost and the country brought to the brink of economic and political ruin. Majority of the people on both side of the ethnic divide have suffered, firmly embedding the wounds of this wanton war and destruction on the psyche of the people of this small island state. For last two decades the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE had engaged in a battle to seek a decisive military breakthrough. To many who have monitored the conflict the ups and downs of this war made it abundantly clear that a decisive military victory for either side was a distant dream.. Jaya Deva Uyaugoda describes this no win situation in the following words: “the post-April 1995, phase of the conflict was characterised by an unrelenting escalation of violence. Violence has not only bred further violence; it has also reinforced the belief equally shared by both parties to the conflict, that a decisive outcome on the battlefield might have direct bearing on the future political settlement. Maintaining parity in offensive capabilities, gaining control of new or lost territory and inflicting on the adversary maximum human and material losses have thus become the strategic objectives of both the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE”. Given the hardening position of parties to the conflict and the ambiguous and intransigent position of mainline political parties and the Buddhist clergy a peaceful resolution of the conflict looked like an impossible until very recently.
The international community was therefore pleasantly surprised and welcomed the announcement made in February 2002 of a permanent ceasefire between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. It is hoped that this will pave the way for a final negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the Norwegians this landmark agreement to stop hostilities and embark on confidence building measures has been reached. It is a significant milestone on the road to peace (Appendix C Memorandum of Understanding Between the Sri Lankan Government and LTTE). This is a step forward. Now comes the difficult part of resolving the underlying socio-economic and political issues. As the leader of the LTTE put it in his April 2002 press conference – the first in over a decade: the core demands of the Tamil community are recognition of a homeland for Tamils; their nationality and their right of self-determination. Clarifying the position on the tricky issue of the right of self-determination, the spokesperson for the LTTE took pains to explain that this could mean self-government and only as a last resort LTTE would opt for secession.
Given the compulsions of the disastrous state of the Sri Lankan economy, the international mood on terrorism post September 11th and the pressure this has put on LTTE, it seems circumstances are ripe for a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict. The churches and NGOs have a long history of working together for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It is an opportune time for them to launch a major joint programme to galvanise support in favour of the Norwegian Peace Initiative.
Bangladesh is the youngest nation of the region. Since its troubled birth in 1971 the country has been in turmoil, having suffered much at the hands of military governments and self-centred opportunists political leaders masquerading in the garb of nationalist. The country presently is caught in the throes of Islamic extremism that has given rise to intolerance and violence. Attacks against religious minority and their places of worship are on the increase. Successive governments have deployed police, paramilitary forces and the army to counter the opposition political parties anti-government agitation with grave human rights abuses taking place in the process. These violations have included torture, arbitrary detention and excessive and indiscriminate force against demonstrations. Political confrontation has become a norm rather than an exception. The country’s destructive political culture has become a hindrance in the nurturing and strengthening of democratic institutions. This political crisis began with the murder of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman the father of the nation. The event involved an intra-elite power struggle that had no reference to the needs of the people, such as elimination of poverty (Bangladesh has the lowest per capita income in the region), improvement of the education system, economic progress, etc. The coup that killed Mujib-ur-Rehman created a vacuum in which the army disintegrated into pro-Islam and socialist groups and left the secular urban middle class leaderless and dispirited. The subsequent seizure of power by General Zia-ur-Rehaman signalled the rise of the pro-socialist factions but the political trend forced his regime to tilt towards Islam both in the domestic and in foreign policies sector. In 1978 Islam was officially introduced into the preamble of the constitution. Zia-ur-Rehaman also lifted the ban on Islamic parties and to appease them ordered the execution of left leaning military officers. Through his tenure of office from 1976 to 1981, when he was assassinated in a military coup, Zia-ur-Rehaman tried to cement state, society relationship with the object of preserving the interest of the factionalised elites and the Islamic political parties. At the same time he searched for a way that the army would not remove him from power. Like Bhutto in Pakistan he used different ways to keep the army happy so that it would remain in the barracks. These measure amongst others included access to state spoils, leaving the military budget untouched and rotating officers of suspected loyalties around command posts to prevent them from building a regional support base. The legacy of Zia-ur-Rehaman continues to torment the politics of Bangladesh. In some ways the political scenario in Pakistan, since the execution of Bhutto by the army, and Bangladesh are two sides of the same coin.