J&K’s Chequered Democratic History 23 April 2014

J&K’s Chequered Democratic History   23 April 2014

Since 1947, disputed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has had a chequered democratic history. The table below provides details about elections conducted since 1947. Many of these have been heavily controlled, or at least overseen, by militaries—Indian or Pakistani. Incumbent politicians have sought to maximise their (superior) position over rivals, including by intimidation or kidnapping of candidates, voters and the press, by using government machinery to their advantage, or by preventing or manipulating nominations, voting, campaigning and the counting or scrutineering of votes. Politicians in New Delhi or Islamabad also have influenced election outcomes, including by imposing their leader in a region. Some elections in J&K therefore have ended up being ‘selections’, not free and fair elections.

In Indian J&K, all elections until 1977 almost certainly were rigged to support the ruling, pro-India National Conference Party, or derivatives thereof, in which rigging New Delhi usually participated or acquiesced. Only the 1977 and 1983 elections were considered free and fair. In 1977, rigging was unnecessary due to the popularity of Sheikh Abdullah, who had reconciled with India. In 1983, Abdullah’s son, Farooq, received a sympathy vote following his father’s 1982 death. In 1987, many Kashmiris were appalled by a badly rigged election after Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi, and their forces, colluded. The result provoked young, alienated Kashmiris to fight to free Kashmir from Indian control. From 1990-1996, Governor’s and President’s Rule abrogated democracy as Indians countered this bitter uprising. Slowly, India’s position improved. An election was held in J&K in 1996. Despite military intimidation to ‘encourage’ voters, the turnout was low in Kashmir—about 10 per cent. In 2002, voter turnout improved to 40 per cent throughout Indian J&K. In 2008, it was a respectable 61 per cent, despite freezing weather. Indian J&K is the only Indian state with six-yearly elections. The next is due in 2015.

In Pakistan-administered J&K, democracy has generally fared poorly. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, only the Muslim Conference political party was allowed to exist until 1970, although Pakistan’s powerful Ministry of Kashmir Affairs dominated it, and the region. After a partyless, military-sanctioned Basic Democracy election in 1961, Azad Kashmiris had their first multi-party election in 1970. Reflecting a newly-instituted, relatively liberal constitution, this poll was arguably the freest and fairest ever conducted in South Asia. Thereafter, Azad Kashmir elections confronted challenges. The Pakistan Army ‘oversaw’ the 1985, 2001 and 2006 polls; the 1991 election was contentious, coming soon after the close 1990 election and Islamabad sacking the government; in the 1990s, anxious Azad Kashmiris voted while trying to balance supporting Kashmiris revolting in India and oppressive Pakistan authorities uncertain about how to handle this crisis; throughout, Islamabad invariably interfered to ensure ‘its’ politician ruled Azad Kashmir, confirming the saying: ‘The road to power in Muzaffarabad runs through Islamabad’. The next election is due in 2016.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, autocracy reigned unchallenged until 2009. Then, the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order gave Gilgit-Baltistanis a rudimentary constitution, a political arrangement reflecting Azad Kashmir’s, limited administrative autonomy—and, finally, the vote. The resultant election to the 24-member Legislative Assembly while flawed was acceptable to sufficient voters. Members then elected nine seats reserved for women and others. (Previously, voters had elected two advisory bodies: Northern Areas Executive Council (1994), Northern Areas Legislative Council (2000; 2004). These elections were not multi-party.) The Order does not state the administration’s term of office. The next election possibly is later this year.

Multi-party Elections Conducted in Jammu and Kashmir

Year Region Type Resulting Administration
1951 IJ&K Constitutional National Conference
1957 IJ&K LA National Conference
1962 IJ&K LA National Conference
1967 IJ&K LA Local branch of Indian National Congress
1970 AJ&K Presidential Sardar Qayyum Khan, Muslim Conference
1970 AJ&K LA Muslim Conference
1972 IJ&K LA Local branch of Congress (I)
1975 AJ&K LA Pakistan People’s Party–Azad Kashmir
1977 IJ&K LA National Conference
1983 IJ&K LA National Conference
1985 AJ&K LA Muslim Conference
1987 IJ&K LA National Conference-Congress (I) Alliance
1990 AJ&K LA People’s Democratic Party and
Indian National Congress
1991 AJ&K LA Muslim Conference
1996 IJ&K LA National Conference
1996 AJ&K LA Pakistan People’s Party–Azad Kashmir
2001 AJ&K LA Muslim Conference
2002 IJ&K LA People’s Democratic Party and
Indian National Congress
2006 AJ&K LA Muslim Conference
2008 IJ&K LA National Conference
2009 G-B LA Pakistan People’s Party
2011 AJ&K LA Pakistan People’s Party–Azad Kashmir

AJ&K   Azad Jammu and Kashmir
G-B      Gilgit-Baltistan
IJ&K     Indian Jammu and Kashmir
LA        Legislative Assembly

Some differences exist in J&K’s political arrangements. In Indian J&K, voters directly elect the 87-member Legislative Assembly; two women are nominated to seats. These members then indirectly elect the bulk of the 36-member upper house, the largely toothless Legislative Council. Voters in Indian J&K also elect six representatives to India’s Lok Sabha (lower house); the Legislative Assembly elects four members to India’s Rajya Sabha (upper house). Conversely, Azad Kashmiris and Gilgit-Baltistanis do not elect representatives to Pakistan’s National Assembly or Senate. Instead, each region has a unique Council arrangement comprising members of their Legislative Assembly and senior Pakistani politicians who jointly decide major matters as per each region’s constitution. The Pakistan Prime Minister chairs each Council. A further significant difference is that ‘refugees’ from J&K living in Pakistan elect twelve representatives to the 41-seat Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly, after which members elect eight seats reserved for women and others. Given their smaller electorate sizes, particularly for ethnic Kashmiris, these ‘refugees’, many of whom are entrenched Pakistanis, have disproportionate influence. This arrangement also helps Islamabad to manipulate elections.

J&K’s patchy democracy, while better than nothing, is partly explicable. First, India and Pakistan have wanted to ensure their positions in J&K by supporting political surrogates and ignoring, or even encouraging, malpractices. Second, the state’s former ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, had autocratic practices that informed local politicians: ignoring constituents; stifling free speech; jailing opponents; ‘selecting’ members to the Praja Sahba (People’s House), not having them elected. Despite such political repression, senior J&K politicians quickly injected some of Singh’s practices into local politics.

Christopher Snedden
23 April 2014


Why has democracy done well in India? 9 April 2014

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(Author’s photo: Jammu)

Why has democracy done well in India?     9 April 2014

One incredible thing about India is that, despite many social problems and political issues, it is a fully functioning democracy. Apart from Mrs Gandhi’s 21-month State of Emergency (1975-77), regular elections have been held. Indians of many persuasions have been elected to the Union parliament in New Delhi. Voter turnouts are usually about 65 per cent. Governments have come and gone—peacefully. This is a phenomenal achievement.

Nevertheless, India’s democracy is not perfect. In the recent parliament, one third of legislators had criminal records. They apparently used their greater financial largesse with voters to get elected. Similarly, politicians use (non-inclusive, sometimes divisive) vote banks to garner support. Traditionally, the Congress Party has wooed Muslim, Dalit (Untouchable) and Brahmin voters. Other parties, such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal, seek to represent ‘backward castes’ (as against ‘forward’, or better-off, castes). Finally, rural voters seemingly take elections more seriously than urban voters. Generally poorer, they have more to gain by voting than relatively richer urbanites.

One interesting matter is why India has been able to successfully establish a democracy while most of its neighbours, particularly Pakistan, have struggled. One significant factor involves the leadership of the two main political parties that contested the anti-British freedom struggle: the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Congress had many significant and capable politicians, leaders and influencers. These included Mohandas (‘Mahatma’) Gandhi (not always a Congress member, but always highly influential), Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the ‘Frontier Gandhi’), C. Rajgopalachari, Jayaprakash Narayan, and J. Kripalani. No one personality dominated, while power and influence were disbursed and change hands regularly via internal party elections.

Conversely, the Muslim League had two leading figures: Liaquat Ali Khan and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Of these, Jinnah was by far the more influential, charismatic and superior. Indeed, reflecting Indira Gandhi’s election slogan during the 1970s of ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’, Jinnah was the Muslim League and the Muslim League was Jinnah. This nominal Muslim was so powerful, capable and authoritative that, invariably, he was able to, and did, act autocratically and unilaterally. Jinnah’s word was essentially law to Muslim Leaguers. Consequently, power became concentrated in his hands, with opposing voices muted, suppressed or ignored. This developed an autocratic ethos that continues to heavily influence Pakistani politics: the top person, military or civilian, is all-important and all-powerful. He or she often acts dictatorially. While a lack of internal democracy in Pakistan’s military is totally understandable, most Pakistani political parties also lack this facility. It is a major factor that seriously impedes Pakistan’s democracy.

Similarly, democracy succeeded in India but struggled in Pakistan because India had many figures able to lead, while Pakistan essentially had two. This shortcoming became clear when Jinnah died in September 1948 and Liaquat was tragically assassinated in October 1951. Thereafter, ‘lesser’ Pakistani leaders struggled to establish their own political standing, to create national unity, and to institute democracy. No one politician had the flair or mandate to successfully lead. As a result, Pakistan’s Constitution only came into operation on 23 March 1956, six years after India’s. Two years later, martial law was imposed in Pakistan, since which Pakistanis have struggled to placate Pakistan’s assertive, often aggressive, military. Conversely, India was able to politically survive Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in January 1948, while the major post-partition Congress figure, Jawaharlal Nehru, lived until 1964. This stability helped embed positive political principles in India, including the right to debate and dissent, democratic elections, and politicians’ superiority over the military. Even the overbearing Mrs Gandhi allowed elections to end her drastic Emergency, after which her party was resoundingly defeated, to the then delight of most Indians.

In my (Western) opinion and generalising, democracy has succeeded in India but struggled in Pakistan because of each nation’s majority religion. Hinduism, in which about 80 per cent of Indians participate, comprises an extremely broad and diverse set of ideas, beliefs, and practices. Indeed, this faith’s polytheistic and multi-facetted diversity make it hard to actually identify who or what is a Hindu. One aspect of Hinduism is its caste system which, if nothing else, ensures that there will be differences, diversity and divisions among people. Democracy thrives on such pluralism, and on the resolution of disparities—provided that people are reasonable, tolerant and accepting of election results. Indians have shown for a long time that they are so inclined.

Conversely, monotheistic Islam, as practised by 95 per cent of Pakistanis, tends to encourage people to be similar or the same. Islam’s five articles of faith identify who comprises a Muslim and that person’s obligations. He/she must proclaim that ‘there is no God but God and Muhammad is God’s Messenger’; pray five times a day; give charity; fast during Ramadan; and, undertake the Haj, if possible. Superficially, these articles compel people to do the same things, often concurrently—and usually peacefully. Seemingly, they encourage sameness and non-critical acceptance of one’s faith. Often, the Koran, Hadith or Sharia,or religious scholars, are used to resolve difficult issues—not political processes. One major, ongoing problem in Pakistan with this approach is which interpretation of Islam should predominate: Deobandi; Salafi; Barelvi; Wahabi; Sufi-inspired; Ahl-e-Hadith; Shia; Ismaili; etc.? Currently, some supposed Muslims are using violence and terrorism—the bullet not the ballot—to resolve this issue.

Overall, Indians have benefitted from leaders prepared to be accountable via elections. Pakistanis have inherited leaders used to command structures and issuing orders. Indian leaders generally have helped to entrench democracy; Pakistan’s, until recently, have not. Interestingly, in India’s current election, some Hindutva elements are seeking a mandate to impose narrow versions of ‘Hinduness’ and history on Indians, regardless of their religion. In a nation where diversity and reasonableness have been positive factors, this may work against the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi, both in the elections and in the invariable, and difficult, post-election negotiations. Generally, Indians don’t respond positively to hardline positions.

Christopher Snedden
9 April 2014

Maoism: ‘Capitalising’ in India 6 April 2014


Maoism: ‘Capitalising’ in India   6 April 2014

It is ironic that Indians exported Buddhism to China thousands of years ago and, in return, they have received Maoism. (Mao Zedong proposed that the Communist Party lead and use the Chinese peasantry, not urban-based proletariats, as the revolutionary force.) Was this an unfair swap: elevated and elevating Buddhist thought and pacifism in return for a radical ideology that uses violence to change and (hopefully) improve people’s situations? While a little flippant, the matter is worth contemplating in relation to India, particularly as both ‘systems’, to some extent, have developed from, or are concerned about, ways to overcome insidious negative aspects of the Indian caste system and to uplift human beings. Interestingly, Buddha’s wanderings and revelations occurred in areas now ‘infested’ with Maoist elements.

India sometimes is a peculiar place. When Communism was ‘on the nose’ in Western nations, Indian states were adopting it as a viable ideology. In 1957, voters in Kerala democratically elected the first communist government in the world. In West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) was elected to power and ruled individually or in Left Front coalitions for 34 years until 2011. Indians appeared to have few problems with these avowed communists being in power, provided they remained non-violent.

West Bengal is significant for another reason. In 1967, in a northern town called Naxalbari, a peasant movement wanting ‘land for the tiller’ quickly escalated to a local uprising. Militant agitators hoped that this would spark a revolution throughout India. (Communists love fomenting revolutions, although they generally, and often quickly, become conservative after their revolution succeeds.) The West Bengal United Front Government, of which the CPI (M) was then a small part, suppressed the militants. Nevertheless, an Indian movement had started to oppose feudal-type practices, to increase land ownership among the poor, and to help backward areas to develop. India is still dealing with these issues today, not just in Maoist-affected areas.

The Naxalite, or just Naxal, movement now has other names. These include: the catch-all term of ‘left-wing extremism’ (LWE); ‘Maoism’, with the movement currently led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its impressive-sounding People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army; or even ‘terrorist’, a loaded term that states increasingly use to negatively label violent anti-social groups that they find difficult to deal with or suppress. Until ‘9/11’, for example, elements in Kashmir opposing Indian rule or Uighurs opposing Han Chinese rule in Xinjiang were usually called ‘militants’ or ‘insurgents’, which suggested that their actions had some element of justification. Post-9/11, they all became ‘terrorists’, a term with much nastier connotations.

Regardless of its various names, left-wing extremism in eastern parts of the Indian peninsula has been significant. In 2007, Naxalites operated to some extent or another in half of India’s twenty-eight states and in 180 of India’s districts 640 districts. They controlled, or had an influence in, the so-called ‘Red Corridor’ that amounted to some 92,000 sq kms of territory, which is larger in area than West Bengal’s 89,000 sq kms. India’s SATPORG website lists ‘Fatalities’ from LWE seriously affecting eleven Indian states, with figures going back to 2005: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Jharkand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Significantly, some of these states contain major mineral and coal deposits. Many are poor, backward and with serious social divisions and problems—perfect places for ‘liberating’ Maoist ideology to take flourish.

In 2009-2010, the Maoist movement appeared to peak, although we only know this in retrospect. In 2009, 208 Indian districts were affected by LWE. In May 2010, India’s prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, called the Naxal insurgency ‘India’s greatest internal security challenge’. To meet this challenge, New Delhi has sent some 100,000 paramilitary forces, led by the Central Reserve Police Force, to Naxal-infested areas. Various states have deployed some 200,000 police, with Andhra Pradesh developing highly mobile and lightly armed ‘Greyhounds’ to counter Naxalite activities, with much success. Air assets, particularly helicopters, have supported paramilitary and police operations. Intelligence has improved. Additionally, New Delhi has sought to uplift backward areas with more funding, development and infrastructure. This has helped, if only by showing that the government is concerned about people’s plight. Better roads, communications and facilities also have assisted counter insurgency operations. Nevertheless, according to SATPORG, LWE violence has killed over 6,000 people since 2005: 2,640 civilians; 1,670 ‘Security Force Personnel’; 2,100 ‘LWE/CPI-Maoists’. So far this year, only 84 people have been killed.

One major issue for India has been national coordination. Another has been mounting joint operations to prevent cross-border Maoist activities. A third has been that LWEs generally operate in remote and backward areas of India. (Urban Indians appear totally uninterested in Maoist ideology.) The 7,000-8,000 (possibly more) LWEs have benefitted from local support, provided willingly or coerced, and from capturing weapons. They have operated most successfully where state services are weak, negligible or corrupted, or by protecting lower castes and Dalits (formerly untouchables) from higher caste attempts to suppress, attack or seek retribution against them. Unlike insurgencies in Kashmir or Nagaland, there is no ‘foreign hand’ for New Delhi to point to as the cause of people’s militancy or to hide its own shortcomings or ineptitude. China and its CCP—Chinese Communist (or is it Capitalist?) Party—is not interested in fomenting peasant-based revolutions. This would be committing political suicide. Naxal areas are too remote for Pakistan to access. Perhaps the only link is with Nepal, which had its own uprising from 1996 until disarmed Maoists joined the political mainstream in 2006. Some Nepali Maoists may provide training to their Indian counterparts.

Currently, the Naxal movement appears to be waning. Most SATPORG figures end in June 2012, which suggests that this organisation thinks the worst is over. Equally, some analysts think that the downturn may be a tactical retreat by the Maoists regrouping to fight another day. Either way, India’s economic and social inequities will provide ongoing opportunities for Maoists to ‘capitalise’ on.

Christopher Snedden
6 April 2014

Identity and Freedom 24 March 2014

Identity and Freedom    24 March 2014

We identify ourselves in many ways: by gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, location, religion—or lack thereof, political beliefs, sporting affiliation, etc. In some cases, we identify ourselves by what we are not: a sort of via negativa: we are not North Koreans, nor devil worshippers, nor pedophiles, etc.

In South Asia, identity is an important issue. In my experience, people in India have a strong sense of identity. The vast majority appear to be willing citizens of the pluralist nation-state that extends over a large part of the Indian subcontinent. These Indians are diverse and different, mostly secular, and tolerant of others’ beliefs and ideas. They practice ‘unity in diversity’ and participate in an entrenched democracy. Indians and many Indian leaders appear to respect Mahatma Gandhi and, to an extent, Gandhian values and practices. They dislike the colonial and imperial forces that Gandhi opposed, which partly explains India’s long held stance of non-alignment. Finally, many Indians have some sense of Indian ‘greatness’—particularly in relation to its former glory, but also with some hope of India attaining great power status in future.

Pakistanis, conversely, have a narrower, seemingly weaker, identity. This partly results because the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ only came into existence in the 1930s. This makes Pakistanis relatively new ‘people’, certainly when compared with ‘Indians’. Possibly because of this newness, Pakistanis appear to be somewhat insecure about their identity. They unify around three factors: the shared geography of the Indus River and its surrounds; being Muslims in a nation created as a homeland for Muslims (although, problematically, not all Pakistanis are Muslims, or in the case of Ahmadis are deemed to be Muslims); and, simplistically but pronouncedly, they are not Indians. In my experience, the latter negative factor is important, with Pakistanis incessantly feeling obliged to compare themselves with their former colonial ‘bedfellows’. (By contrast, Indians invariably compare themselves with Chinese.) Recently, I heard two prominent Pakistanis proudly state that Pakistan’s foreign policy was now more internationally cooperative and engaging than India’s and that Pakistan’s media was freer than India’s. This was a big deal for these Pakistanis who, like many of their fellow citizens, want Pakistan to be superior to India and Indians wherever possible. However, this approach is tiresome and sad, particularly as Pakistan has much to offer in its own right. Indeed, Pakistanis would be better off concentrating on making Pakistan a great nation in its own right rather than continually comparing themselves with India and Indians.

In the subcontinent, identity is also important to some ethnic minorities. Indeed, some have long been fighting to have a nation-state, or a province or internal state, established around, or that reflects, their ethnicity. This includes: Balochis, some of whom have wanted a separate Balochistan nation-state created in south-western Pakistan, south-eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan, since at least 1948; Kashmiris, many of whom have strongly wanted an independent Kashmir since 1988; and Nagas in north-eastern India who having been fighting since the 1950s for freedom. Other (usually failed) examples include Tamils in Sri Lanka, Buddhists in Bangladesh, Sikhs in India, and Bodos in India. Internally, Saraiki speakers in southern (Pakistani) Punjab want a separate province. In India, the new state of Telengana is to be carved out of western Andhra Pradesh on 2 June. Conversely, in some cases, nations have expelled ‘others’. Bhutan, for example, has expelled (non-Bhutanese, non-Buddhist) Nepalis. Similarly, Hindus in Muslim-dominated Bangladesh or Pakistan have left because they have felt personally unwelcome or threatened. Equally, Muslims have left India for these nations, chiefly Pakistan.

Kashmiris particularly have a strong sense of identity. According to Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, A Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir, they can trace Kashmiri rulers’ to at least 1182 BCE. More recently, Kashmiris have claimed that their culture and relations are overseen by a concept known as Kashmiriyat (Kashmiriness). While this term has been popularised since the Kashmiris’ instigated their anti-Indian uprising in 1988, it involves equality, tolerance for people of other religions, and inclusivity. These supposedly have come out of Kashmiris’ strong Muslim rishi tradition, which possibly has pre-Vedic roots. Arguably (and unfairly), it also is easy for Muslim Kashmiris to be tolerant of non-Muslims if only because Muslims comprise (at least) 95 per cent of all Kashmiris. The majority group has nothing to fear locally from non-Muslims. Whether Kashmiriyat extends to ‘others’ in Indian Jammu and Kashmir is another question. Non-Kashmiri Jammuites and Ladakhis may suggest that it doesn’t.

One irony of subcontinental identity concerns the right to self-determination. From about 1915, people known collectively as Indians increasingly campaigned for self-rule (swaraj) from the British. In 1947, after securing independent dominion status, these former British subjects were divided on the basis of religion into (post-partition) Indians and Pakistanis. The latter comprised West Pakistanis (Balochis, Hazaras, Mohajirs (refugees from India and their descendants), Pukhtoons, Punjabis, Sindhis, etc.) and East Pakistanis (chiefly Bengalis). Despite fighting for, and being granted, their freedom, Indians and Pakistanis have not been prepared to allow other subcontinentals to obtain a similar status. In South Asia, the only successful post-partition example of an area obtaining independence is Bangladesh in 1971. The East Pakistanis/Bangladeshis were motivated by West Pakistanis’ arrogance, exploitation and brutality. At the strategic moment, the Indian Army also significantly helped them. Arguably, their greatest asset was the physical distance between Pakistan’s two wings, which made integration difficult and, ultimately, suppression impossible.

History shows that the nation-state is reluctant to (seemingly) weaken itself by releasing territory, even if the retention of the recalcitrant area and its people involves significant ongoing costs, bloodshed, and opprobrium. Consider Balochistan for Pakistan and Kashmir for India. In both areas, some people consider the controlling nation to be repressive and colonial. Furthermore, their primary local identity trumps any national identity. Nevertheless, Indian and Pakistani leaders seemingly adhere to the subjugating principle of ‘do as I say, not do as my forebears did’. History also suggests that this approach will be difficult. Indeed, ultimately, it may be untenable.

Christopher Snedden
24 March 2014

Russia: A Historic Strategic Opportunity 26 February 2014


Map: http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44962000/gif/_44962718_ukraine_crimea_0808.gif

Russia: A Historic Strategic Opportunity     26 February 2014

In a nation’s history, opportunities arise on occasions to take a significant strategic action. Russia has such a moment as its neighbour, Ukraine, struggles to deal with an extremely restive population, many of whom are strongly either pro- or anti-Russian. Many of the former live in eastern parts of Ukraine. Some are ethnic Russians, which partly explains their pro-Russia allegiance. However, these people are a pawn in the strategic game that Russia is currently playing regionally and, to some extent, internationally, to enhance its position and to ensure its self-perceived status as a great power.

Russians are Slavs, along with neighbouring Ukrainians, Poles and Byelorussians, and nearby Slovaks, Slovenians, Serbs, Bulgars, Croats, etc. In recent times, the Russians have always been the ‘big kid on the block’. After ejecting the Mongol/Tatar ‘yoke’ in 1480, they established a huge empire that stretched from Europe and the Caucasus across Siberia to Maritime East Asia and throughout Central Asia to Afghanistan. The loss of this empire as one ramification of the 1917 revolutions irked many Russians. In part, this loss inspired the dictator, Josef Stalin (a Georgian whose ‘nation’ also had been in the Russian Empire), to re-establish a similar entity, but under Soviet control. The new name for this ‘empire’ was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), popularly called the Soviet Union. It ultimately comprised fifteen republics. Russia was dominant, as were Russians, part from Stalin. This agglomeration was completed as a result of the USSR’s valiant victory in World War II—or the Great Patriotic War, as Soviet citizens called this conflagration. The Soviet ‘empire’ lasted until about 1990, when it disintegrated for reasons including ideological rigidity, political ineptitude, serious economic inertia, inefficiencies and shortcomings, and imperial overreach, particularly the draining and unsuccessful campaign in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Since this empire’s demise, many Russians have pined for its return as a symbol of renewed Russian greatness. Some have actively sought to achieve this, including possibly Vladimir Putin.

With the greatness of the Russian Empire in the back of their minds, senior Russian leaders in Moscow have to decide whether Russia is now going to rhetorically or actually look after the Russian diaspora living in Ukraine and, if so, how. The rhetorical approach will be to diplomatically pressure Kiev to look after all Russians and to ensure their rights, security and wellbeing. Moscow also may try to economically pressure Kiev, given that Ukraine imports Russian energy and other goods. (Equally, Russian gas supplies cross Ukraine to European destinations.) The actual approach that Moscow may now be contemplating is to deploy Russian troops to protect ‘its’ Russians, or even to annex eastern Ukraine where the bulk of them live. This could become a pressing concern if Ukrainian Russians, particularly minorities located in enclaves outside eastern Ukraine, are severely physically threatened. Any Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory could be on a temporary basis, or permanently. It would depend on Ukraine’s situation and response.

Also with the Russian Empire’s greatness in their minds, Russian leaders must decide on another dilemma facing Russia in Ukraine. This is more strategic and significant for Russia than how to protect the Russian diaspora. The issue concerns the port of Sevastopol, which is located in Crimea in Ukraine and which additionally is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. (Sevastopol is also where a major battle occurred in 1856 during the Crimean War between the Russian Empire and France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire.) When the erstwhile Soviet Union’s assets were being divided, the Black Sea Fleet was shared between Russia and Ukraine. In 1997, both nations agreed the final division of the assets, the creation of their own national navies, and a lease by Ukraine for Russia to use Sevastopol as the base for its Black Sea Fleet until 2017. This has since been extended to 2042.

The matter would have ended there—except for Ukraine’s current serious political instability and Russia’s ongoing irredentist claim to Crimea. Some Russians claim that Crimea should be with Russia for reasons of their shared ethnicity, language, culture, history, geography and involvement in the same former administration. In 1954, a former Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, unilaterally and assertively moved the responsibility to administer the 26,000 sq km Crimean Peninsula from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Ethnically a Russian, Khrushchev had grown up in Ukraine. At the time, his move was essentially a paper transfer as the USSR was all-powerful and Soviet citizens and administrators cooperated, or were compelled to cooperate, with the whims and wishes of the Communist Party leadership, of which Khrushchev was in charge, based in Moscow. However, Crimea was, and still is, an area populated by Russians or by Russian speakers. Some of these people aspire to be with Russia.

Similarly, some ‘imperialist’ Russians in Russia have long desired that the Crimea should again be with Russia. The challenge for Moscow now, therefore, is to decide whether to re-unify Crimea with Russia. This almost certainly would involve Russia using military assets, including those already stationed in Crimea, plus others that could be moved there quickly, given Russia’s contiguity to Crimea. Russia could justify any such reunification for either strategic, military, security, ethnic and/or historical reasons. Should Russia decide to re-absorb Crimea militarily, many nations would likely condemn this action, but do little else. Crimea is too far away and too hard to get too. It also remains to be seen whether Ukrainians would fight to regain a 60 per cent Russian-majority area that also has a 12 per cent Crimean Tatar minority, both supported by Russian arms. In any case, Mr Putin might just ignore world opinion and do what he perceives is best for Russia—and its greatness.

The current significant instability in Ukraine, particularly if it deteriorates further and violently, offers Moscow a rare historical opportunity: to re-unify Crimea with the Russian Federation. If Russia’s imperialist past is any guide, Crimea’s re-integration may well happen.

Christopher Snedden
26 February 2014

Pakistan: difficult times 20 February 2014

Pakistan: difficult times     20 February 2014

The current situation in Pakistan is disturbing. While delegates from the Pakistan Government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been negotiating, other hardline Taliban elements have been continuing to attack innocent Pakistanis. The Taliban’s latest victims were 23 kidnapped Frontier Corps soldiers executed on Monday in Mohmand Agency, one of the seven agencies that comprise Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These executions apparently were in revenge for operations undertaken by Pakistani forces in FATA. The killers’ intention also may have been to scuttle the Government-Taliban talks. They succeeded, with the talks now suspended, possibly never to resume.

The Taliban, which has some popularity among poorer, disadvantaged Pakistanis, has long used violent, illegal and non-constitutional methods to push for the imposition of an Islamic, Sharia-based Pakistani society. The Government-Taliban talks have empowered, and further emboldened, them. They mean that the Taliban has been formally recognised by the Pakistan Government as a ‘player’ of significance. They also suggest that the debate has now moved from ‘How Islamic should Pakistan be?’ to ‘How much Sharia law should Pakistan implement?’ (The old discussion of ‘Whether Pakistan should be a state for Muslims or an Islamic state?’ ended long ago.)

The current talks have also, to some extent, legitimised the Taliban’s methods of operation—and denigrated past excesses for which they have not been held accountable. For an organisation whose purpose supposedly arises from Islamic scriptures, teaching and practices, the Taliban’s tactics surprisingly have included murder, intimidation and destruction. Since 2007, they have killed some 40,000 Pakistanis, and maimed and injured thousands of others. Ironically and tragically, the vast majority of these Pakistanis have comprised innocent fellow Muslims. Some Talibs may see these people as ‘collateral damage’. Equally, others may have engaged in the practice of takfir, by which they piously and without compassion decide who is or isn’t a pukka Muslim, with Shias or Ahmadiyyas expendable as apostates and others insignificant because they are kafirs (unbelievers or infidels). (The word takfir itself is derived from the word kafir.)

The Pakistan Government’s talks with the Taliban show that it is unclear about how to deal with these serious, and de-stabilising, anti-social elements. Admirably, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears to be trying to be conciliatory and inclusive by engaging widely with many Pakistanis, including the Taliban. Perhaps he did learn something from his time out of power in exile. Equally, it is far cheaper, and easier, to talk with the Taliban than to send in troops. Conversely, Mr Sharif also appears to be consulting the Taliban because he does not have the ‘stomach’ to fight and defeat these serious extra-legal elements who, we should remember, in 2007-2009 conquered and controlled Swat, then entered Bajaur, close to Islamabad. Even more seriously, since September 2013, the Taliban have killed a further ‘308 civilians, 114 military personnel and 38 police officers’ (www.dawn.com/news/1088104/army-says-over-100-soldiers-have-died-in-five-months-of-fighting). In other words, give the Taliban ‘an inch and they’ll take a mile’.

In defence of Mr Sharif, he has a lot to deal with. The Pakistan economy is struggling, with low growth, insufficient revenues, and serious shortages of energy and electricity. Pakistan has major political problems, especially with volatile Karachi and seriously disgruntled Balochistan. Relations with India remain poor, despite Sharif’s overtures, while events surrounding Afghanistan are deeply concerning. Sharif’s (silent) mantra seems to be ‘give me stability’, so that he, and Pakistan, can consolidate, deliberate, then deal with these major issues. Equally, perhaps Mr Sharif is being clever. Now is a bad time to fight the Taliban as it is winter in FATA. He may be stalling while the Pakistan Army, Air Force and paramilitary forces prepare to launch counter-offensives or targeted operations when warmer weather and better ‘fighting’ conditions return to this remote, backward and difficult-to-access area.

It seems inevitable that, given the Taliban’s inflexibility, brutality and sheer bloody mindedness, Pakistan will have to fight, and defeat, them. This will be difficult. More than once, I have heard Pakistan Army officers proudly and defiantly state that, since 2004, over 3,000 soldiers have been killed in anti-militant operations against the Taliban, al Qaeda and other such elements, in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. These soldiers know that their enemy is serious and that it operates in difficult areas. (Equally, the Pakistan Army’s losses could suggest that its counter-insurgency capabilities have been underdeveloped, partly because of its excessive focus on fighting a conventional war against India.)

It is difficult to know where, when and how the Pakistan Taliban will stop their ruthless attack on Pakistani society. Moderate Pakistanis—which is most Pakistanis—are feeling severely threatened by these anti-social elements. Particularly vulnerable are moderate people in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa bravely opposing the Taliban. Also vulnerable are non-Sunni Pakistanis, including Shias, Ahmadiyyas, Christians and Hindus, with some of the latter apparently feeling pressure to convert to Islam or to leave for India. Many other Pakistanis are moderating their behaviour to makes themselves less of a Taliban target.

In 2009, I suggested that Pakistan become a secular state as this would ‘reduce the volatility of the issue of Islam’ there (http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/blogs/southasiamasala/2009/07/19/is-a-secular-pakistan-the-answer/). One respondent suggested, correctly, that this would only occur when the majority of Pakistanis wanted it—something most unlikely. I also suggested that Pakistan’s battle with Taliban-type elements ‘will continue for some time, including for as long as neighbouring, and Taliban-infested, Afghanistan is highly unstable’. This remains so. Indeed, Sharif’s indecisiveness in quelling the Taliban is possibly because he is terribly concerned about what will happen in Afghanistan after ISAF withdraws and how this will impact on Pakistan. As noted, Sharif’s major desire is for stability in Pakistan so that he can address the major issues confronting this nation. This means that we may see further efforts to engage the Taliban in order to try to bring them ‘in from the cold’. However, the current trend suggests that Nawaz Sharif will need to deploy Pakistan’s powerful military to deal with this major menace. Given the Taliban’s intransigence, he has few other effective options.

Christopher Snedden 20 February 2014


Mediating the Kashmir dispute? 11 February 2014


Mediating the Kashmir dispute     11 February 2014

A surprising recent media report suggested that the United Nations was prepared to mediate the Kashmir dispute. The story arose because, during the ‘Daily Press Briefing’ by the Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General in New York, Mr Farhan Haq (photo above), a journalist called ‘Masood’ asked Haq about the India-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Haq’s answer was reported—not totally accurately.

Because the context is important, I have reproduced below the brief exchange on 6 February 2014 between Mr ‘Masood’ and Mr Haq. (Original transcript at www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2014/db140206.doc.htm.)

Question [by journalist]: Yes, Farhan. Today, in Pakistan, there were all these demonstrations on Kashmir, asking for India and Pakistan to resolve this issue as soon as possible. The Pakistani Prime Minister says that he’s willing to listen to anything that India has proposed. Can the Secretary-General, or will the Secretary-General propose to India to at least sit down and talk with Pakistan, because that is what it’s not doing. Even… there’s no dialogue. They don’t even want to talk. So the situation will stand at a stalemate forever.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Masood, as you know, on Kashmir, as with another of conflicts around the world, our good offices are available if both sides were to request that. And that remains the case today.

Question [by journalist]: So… the stalemate will continue forever?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You’re aware of what our principle is in terms of the use of UN good offices, and that remains the case in this particular case. Do you have a question? Yes, Joe? [who then asked a question about Syria].

The journalist’s question occurred on the same day as Pakistan’s annual ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ commemorations held throughout Pakistan. Either it was asked out of genuine concern for J&K-ites’ wellbeing or it was designed to make mischief. It certainly put Haq in a difficult situation. According to a 2010 report on DNA (www.dnaindia.com/world/report-un-secretary-general-spokesperson-defends-farhan-haq-over-kashmir-row-1420100), Haq’s boss, Martin Nesirky, Chief Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, was forced to defend Haq who was then at the ‘centre of the controversy, against attacks in the Indian press that suggested Haq was responsible for the remarks concerning the violence in Kashmir, which came out of the United Nations on July 28’ 2010. Defending his colleague, Nesirky ‘slammed the Indian press for suggesting Haq’s “ethnicity” [w]as a possible motivation for the remarks on Kashmir, which New Delhi has strongly objected to. Haq is an American citizen born in Washington DC with roots in Pakistan.’ Some therefore perceive Haq as a pro-Pakistan interlocutor.

The current story, however, is a ‘storm in a teacup’. Haq’s exchange with the journalist, Masood, was brief: 150 words out of the 2700-word press conference report, most of which (92 words) Masood spoke. Their exchange also was a one-off matter to which neither party, nor any other party, returned for clarification or to debate. Haq appeared to be factual, not biased.

Haq also did not specifically say that the UN was ‘prepared to mediate on the Kashmir dispute’. Rather, he stated that the United Nations’ ‘good offices are available if both sides were to request that’. The UNTERM website states that ‘A theoretical distinction exists between good offices and mediation. … good offices consist in various kinds of action tending to call negotiations between the conflicting States into existence, mediation consists in direct conduct of negotiations between the parties at issue on the basis of [a] proposal made by the mediator’.

Regardless of terminology, India almost certainly will not invoke the UN’s good offices, let alone mediation, in the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi is not interested in any further third-party involvement. Its ‘fingers’ have been ‘burnt’ before. In 1948, India was disappointed when the UN Security Council failed to condemn, as India saw it, Pakistan’s aggression in 1947 in J&K. In 1968, India felt cheated when arbitrators resolving ‘The Indo-Pakistan Western Boundary (Rann of Kutch)’ awarded ten per cent of the disputed area to Pakistan—despite New Delhi’s strong belief that India obtained sovereignty over all of Kutch in 1947. (Interestingly, that arbitration involved the UN General Secretary’s good offices as he appointed the chairman and oversaw the process.) Due to these experiences, India determined that third party involvement did not provide the results it desired or deemed reasonable. In 1972, it therefore agreed the Simla Agreement with Pakistan. Since then, for India, the Kashmir dispute has been a bilateral issue to be resolved by it and Pakistan only. Forget any third parties.

The latest attempt to involve the United Nations appeals to ‘separatist leaders’ in J&K, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. It also suits Pakistan, which appears keen to resolve the Kashmir dispute, either by getting other parties involved, or re-involved in the UN’s case, or by ‘encouraging’ India to move on this matter, even slightly. Seemingly, this latter is Pakistan’s greatest challenge—even though I am led to believe that official Indian and Pakistani interlocutors are currently engaging in secret and unreported ‘back channel communications’, including about J&K.

People often ask how India can be ‘encouraged’ to move on J&K. This is difficult to answer. India is a large, increasingly economically-powerful nation that has what it, and Pakistan, want in J&K: the much desired Kashmir Valley. I suggest three ways:

1) For Indians and Pakistanis to develop active, popular and powerful ‘compelling constituencies’ of people who mount a consistent, prolonged campaign to compel their governments to resolve the Kashmir dispute;

2) That Indians and Pakistanis, and their governments, actively support second track diplomats who genuinely seek a solution to the Kashmir dispute;

3) Controversially—and this is not my idea—that Pakistan make a Big Unilateral Gesture (BUG) which, in a Gandhian-type way, imposes moral and international pressure on India to respond positively towards Pakistan, including about J&K. One such BUG would be for Pakistan to unilaterally withdraw from Siachen Glacier.

Neither of the above options are easy—nor do I expect any movement soon.

Christopher Snedden
11 February 2014