Republic Day

Today is the Republic Day of India, the day which celebrates the passing of the Indian Constitution on January 26, 1950. Large parts of Srinagar has been under tight restrictions the whole weekend, as the fear of anti-government protests and militant activities is growing. Today celebrations will take place at Bakhshi Stadium, which is guarder by a three-tier security ring.

Amidst the increased tension on the subcontinent, Gilani, the PM of Pakistan, sent his well-wishes to his Indian colleagues and promised to take “this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to resolve peacefully all outstanding issues between the two countries to usher in an era of peace, progress and prosperity for the people of the subcontinent”.

A challenge for Gilani

Pakistan has been nominated as one of the 10 worst humanitarian crises in the world by MSF. There are several wars and crisis situations going on in the country, and the new civilian government has been able to maintain control during the growing instability. The situation in NWFP, where civilians have been targeted in the war between the government and militants, is the main reason quoted by MSF. But also the lack of response to the earthquake in Balochistan, the unrest in the border to Afghanistan and a general problem of not being able to ensure secure working conditions for its staff, are other circumstances that have made MSF to voice his harsh critique to the government.

Understandably, it has not been an easy task for PM Yousaf Raza Gilani to take control after Pakistan had been misruled by the Chief of the Army Pervez Musharraf for almost 10 year. Few people show trust in the establishment, poverty is widespread and there have been a constant debate between Islamic fundamentalists and more secular parties.

But also the current President of Pakistan is a problem. Asif Ali Zardari, late Benazir Bhutto’s husband, has been charged for corruption several times and can prove to be a big burden for Pakistan, as well as for himself. Sten Widmalm at Uppsala University claims that a change in the constitution, wherein the power of the president to dissolve the parliament needs to be eliminated, is required to take place, in order to secure democracy in the country. President Zardari, however, will most likely not impose any strategies that will reduce his own power. He has also been widely criticised for not reinstating the judges who were discharged under Musharraf last year.

Since the death of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, today exactly one year ago, Pakistan has undergone a massive political change. The fact that an elected government is leading the country proves that we are walking the right way. Nevertheless, as the problems highlighted by MSF shows, a considerable amount of work is needed before we can reach the end of our journey.

Election day

So today is the final day of elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Over 30000 soldiers have been called to ensure Srinagar remains calm. The curfew that has been imposed the last month still remains. The Jammu and Kashmir Coordination Committee encouraged people to join in a protest walk through Lal Chowk instead of voting. However, the voting turnout in Srinagar was reported as 20%, much higher than previous elections. Further, there were a lot of protests around Srinagar and so far 7 people have been reported injured.

Despite today’s clashes between anti-election protestors and the military, according to the Chief Electoral Officer the 2008 elections were more peaceful than previous elections. The participation was also highest historically, with around 61.5% this year and 43% in 2002. The results will be presented as soon as possible after the counting starts on 28 December and many people are following the development carefully. An unofficial poll at Kashmir Observer website expected the National Conference to win the elections.

The day before

Srinagar, 23 December 2008

Srinagar

Tomorrow the last round of state assembly elections are taking place in and around Srinagar, as well as in 13 constituencies in Jammu and Samba districts. The Kashmir Observer reports on little enthusiasm among the local population, mainly due to the intensive presence of the the military, anti-election protests and recurrent instances of violence.

Yesterday, the authorities once again inforced restrictions as anti-election protesters had thrown stones and brick on security forces. Unrest has also been reported in Sopore town in Baramulla, where suspected militants shot dead two police men. So far noone has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

As this election is the greatest opportunity for Kashmiris to gain political agency, it is a shame that it is wasted on violence and curfews. Acknowledging the voices for independence, democracy is currently the safest way to achieving justice and equality within the state.

Busy times

There have been busy times, both here in front of my workstation and in Kashmir. I find that if I don’t blog for one or two days, it gets harder and harder to start again. But with a bit of free time before my first review meeting I have the opportunity to update myself and the blog on the most recent events in the area.

You who have followed the news know that Pakistan has clamped down on Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), an Islamic charity organisation alleged to be the front of LeT, by initially raiding one of their camps in AJK and now arresting several of their members around Pakistan as well as freezing their bank accounts. As JuD was one of the more efficient organisers in the disaster relief after the earthquake that struck AJK in 2005, this move is not popular among many Kashmiris, who have protested with anti-US and anti-Indian slogans.

India, on its side, has continued the verbal attack on Pakistan, calling Pakistan the “epicentre of terrorism”. The PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh, seems eager to present an image of India as strong, as he stated that India had professed “the utmost restraint so far”, but that this should not be “misconstrued” as a sign of weakness.

In IJK, the fourth round of state elections took place on 7 December, with an average turnout of 59%. However, protests are still going on, and today the Coordination Committee has planned to organise protests in Srinagar after the Friday prayers.

The politics of an election

The politics of an election

Source: Greater Kashmir online.

Peace process frozen?

Last week, in a draft for a research funding application, I wrote about the small steps forward in Indo-Pakistani peace dialogue: In October this year trade links between Srinagar (in Indian Jammu and Kashmir, IJK) and Muzaffarabad (in Pakistan-administered ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, AJK). Last Wednesday the Foreign Ministers of the two states were to meet in New Delhi and discuss what the next step would be. Instead we have seen accusations thrown back and forth, and fears are voiced that the peace process has gone down the drain.

It seems to me, however, that India so far has been the actor with the hardest words. This is probably pretty obvious as the attack took place on Indian soil and was aimed at Indian citizens, but also foreigners of course. But, I also think that the Pakistani government is really scared of an Indian or multilateral attack. The civilian government that came into power in September this year has no control on what’s going on inside its borders, whether it’s guerilla training in AJK, ethnic violence in Karachi, Taliban fighters in the North West or earthquake survivors in Balochistan. In a case of a military involvement, the country would fall into pieces.

India has demanded extradition of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don alleged to have planned the serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed around 300 people. Pakistan has refused, as they claim there is a lack of proof. Instead they have offered a ‘joint investigation team’ to be sent to India.

The real reason for Pakistan’s refusal is probably that they don’t know where these people are.

But, what is more important, instead of stalling the peace process, the Pakistani links could actually be yet another step towards friendship on the subcontinent. A successful joint investigation team could find the perpetrators, charge them for their crimes, and source and stop their funding to avoid future attacks. An idealistic thought maybe, but it’s the only way if India and Pakistan want to continue to present themselves as democracies and enemies of terrorism, as well as to preserve peace in their front- and backyards.