For the fourth consecutive year, contributors of ExploringGeopolitics share their views on the most significant geopolitical developments of the year. Claude Rakisits comments on US-Pakistan relations and Nathalène Reynolds on the Valley of Kashmir and the civilian population of Pakistan in this Annual Geopolitical Review.
For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:
Geopolitical significance of US-Pakistan relations
Claude Rakisits, Associate Professor, Strategic Studies, Deakin University
Bilateral relations between Washington and Islamabad were for the half of 2012 very poor – probably the worst they had been in many years. This was as a result of the death of 25 Pakistani soldiers by ISAF fighter jets at an Afghanistan-Pakistan border post in November 2011. Pakistan demanded an American apology for this incident and until it did it refused to allow the truck convoys, which provide some forty per cent of ISAF’s non-lethal material, to travel through Pakistan.
Both countries realised that the deep freeze in bilateral relations was in no one’s interest. And, accordingly, Secretary of State Clinton agreed to give an apology of sorts in July. This was the best the Pakistanis could expect to get.
The end of the deadlock allowed for the convoys to be resumed. In geopolitical terms, this was critical, and will be increasingly so as we head towards December 2014 when ISAF combat troops leave Afghanistan, because these convoys will need to transport all the material out of Afghanistan through Pakistan to be sent back home.
Also important in geostrategic terms, the end of the deadlock has allowed Pakistan to play a more constructive role in trying to find a peaceful political solution to Afghanistan post-2014. Washington has always made it clear that Islamabad has a crucial role to play in that political process. And we have seen in the last few weeks Islamabad release a number of high-level Taliban prisoners with the aim of assisting that process.
Of course, the end of the deadlock did not mean a resolution to two other major irritants in the bilateral relations, notably, the continued presence of the Haqqani Network fighters in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the continued use of un-manned US drones against Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters hiding in Pakistan. However, given the geopolitical importance in keeping Pakistan on board in the lead-up to 2014, Washington has stopped demanding that the Pakistani Army hunt down the Haqqani Network fighters. By the same token, while the Pakistani authorities continue to be highly critical of the drone attacks because of the many civilian casualties they cause, privately they welcome their use given that these drone strikes have been very successful in killing many high-level Pakistan Taliban militants as well.
Let us hope that US-Pakistan relations will remain on a steady footing in 2013 because this will be crucial not only for the two countries given their involvement in Afghanistan but for the stability of the whole region, a critical factor if a smooth transition to 2014 is to be achieved.
Pakistan’s civilian population confronted with the consequences of the ‘great game’
With the approach of the announced withdrawal of American armed forces from Afghanistan, it is high time to examine the perspectives for the future. Attempting to judge without criticising or even condemning the US intervention in the region in the aftermath of September 11th 2001 (1), Western observers, journalists and political scientists blame what they call a ‘double game’ played by an Islamic Republic of Pakistan pushed into joining the ‘war on terror’ initiated by the United States. However, they recall – correctly – the attachment of the politico-military elite of Pakistan (2) to an analysis made subsequent to the defeat of December 1971 (3).
In effect, Pakistan remains concerned by its Eastern border. India, taking advantage of the fall of the Taliban regime, has rebuilt political, economic and even military links with Kabul, nourishing fears in Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) of encirclement. Facing such a situation, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan remains attached to the security doctrine that it inaugurated following the departure of the Red Army from Afghanistan (May 1988-February 1989). And the Afghan ‘backyard’ is the key to a strategy known as ‘strategic depth’ which, according to the policy-makers in Rawalpindi, would allow the country breathing space in the event of a new conflict with New Delhi. The same individuals give little credence to the support that they might receive – in such circumstances – from the so-called ‘international community’, given that world powers, contrary to the hopes Pakistan had from the end of the 1940s, have scarcely lifted a finger to promote a settlement to the Kashmir conflict, an ‘omission’ that has favoured Indian ambitions.
Rather than attempting my own effort at judging the likely impact of the less than glorious withdrawal of troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the American contingent from Afghanistan, I would like to fill, in a sense, a gap. If observers may wonder about the future of a West that aimed to assert itself more strongly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they are frequently unaware as to how the social fabrics of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been further damaged by the effects of the long conflict on their soil. We will leave the case of Afghanistan to specialists of that country. Access to the ‘field’ in Pakistan is sensitive, given the ongoing operations conducted by the Pakistani armed forces, the intensification of American usage of drones in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but also given the tiredness of a population deeply hurt by Western propaganda that depicts it in far from flattering terms.
Regularly spending time in Pakistan since 2006 and benefitting from the mehmanawazi (the hospitality that the country’s people invariably offer to foreigners), I would like – by way of summing up developments in 2012 – to look briefly at a Pakistani society that has been battered with criticism, even though the Western media generally are little aware of the efforts made by the think tanks and NGOs of the country. It is undeniable that these two ‘parties’ have in a sense benefitted from the Western strategy that followed the attacks of September 11th 2001. In effect, the United States and its European allies have made broad use of a rhetoric about the oppression of women in Islamic lands, rapidly attracting the interest of donors. In the same way, an increased influx of funding was a corollary of the earthquake of October 2005, with donors particularly interested in the aggravation of the situation of women by natural and human disasters.
Certain quietly point out that the multiplication of Pakistani NGOs working on gender issues is of questionable utility (4), but they add that a dozen or so amongst them carry out remarkable work, all the more so in having been able to influence a Western agenda – not with a whiff of neo-colonialism – that was often lacking a sense of ground realities. It is doubtless too early to talk of a genuine partnership between Pakistani NGOs and what remain, in their majority, Western donors, but nonetheless one can already consider that a constructive dialogue has begun. The two ‘parties’ thus consider that the improvement of living conditions for women, victim of cruel, retrograde ancestral practices, is a key to the promotion of peace and prosperity. However, one remains worried by a ‘Talibanisation’ of a society still more inclined to limit the movements of, and perspectives offered to, women, making further use of ‘regulatory mechanisms’ such as ‘crimes of honour’.
Recent events have shone a piercing light on the deteriorating humanitarian environment, as is demonstrated by the attempted assassination of an adolescent from Mingora (in the Swat Valley) at the beginning of October 2012. Malala Yusufzai had ‘wronged’ in defending the need to educate girls. It should be underlined that girls’ schools have been a chosen target of Taliban groups. The Swat region had been briefly taken over by Taliban groups, until the army launched an operation in 2009. Malala Yusufzai, then aged eleven, anonymously wrote a blog for BBC Urdu that described the lives of the population under the Taliban regime.
In December 2012, a dozen Lady Health Workers (5) engaged in the campaign against the resurgence of polio in Pakistan were assassinated. Taliban groups called them foreign agents, in the pay of the US, the latter being accused of endeavouring to systematically sterilise the Pakistani population. The context was, it should be acknowledged, odd: Washington, deeming the end to justify the means, had not held back from using a phoney vaccination campaign to try to confirm the presence (in Abbottabad) of Osama Bin Laden through DNA samples of his children.
1 The White House named the military operation ‘Enduring Freedom’.
2 Given the situation in the country since the departure of President General Pervez Musharraf in August 2008, the term ‘politico-military elite’ appears to best summarise the balance established between Islamabad, the political and administrative capital, and Rawalpindi, seat of power of the military that continued to define in large part national foreign policy.
3 The Eastern part of Pakistan, that was to take the name Bangladesh, seceded as New Delhi (that had supported the Bengali secessionists militarily) crowed about the collapse of the ‘two-nation theory’ that had been the premise for the division of British India: that which postulated the existence of a Muslim nation and a Hindu one.
4 A social fact born of troubled economic realities is that social workers try to find shelter, hoping for better times ahead.
5 To note that the LHW receive summary health training allowing them to provide some care and make very basic diagnoses, after which they return, for the most part, to their village of origin to ‘practise’, since they already enjoy the confidence of the resident population.
The ‘forgotten’ of the Valley of Kashmir
Since the beginning of the insurrection that erupted at the end of the 1980s, observers have often looked at the human rights violations of which the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the stage. However the sad fate of the mothers, wives and sisters that a patriarchal society confined to a role of waiting for men who had disappeared or returned profoundly marked by events that they sought to forever bury in their subconscious was but rarely mentioned.
When I first visited this state of the Indian Union, my contacts readily asserted that women were enveloped in respect. At the time, even in the West, conjugal and domestic violence did not attract the interest of the general public. As for the rapes that took place in Jammu and Kashmir, they were – I was told – infrequent, and the guilty were always Indians from outside the state. For their part, the victims were never excluded from society; on the contrary, they were reintegrated into their community, which went to great pains to care for them.
Historians, political scientists and journalists seemed to be following ‘instructions’: they were to continue to examine the conflict of Jammu and Kashmir through the lens of geopolitics and the ambitions that Indians, on the one hand, and Pakistanis and Kashmiris on the other, harboured (1). Foreign observers faced a challenge: to go beyond the idealised images that their contacts in the Valley sought to portray to them, not least as the latter were skilled in depicting the society in the Valley as one of great moderation. Reading a collection of witness account published as Speaking Peace. Women’s Voices from Kashmir at the initiative of Urvashi Butalia (2) in 2002 provoked a Manichean question in me – was the work just another piece of Indian national propaganda? My doubts vanished quickly given the quality of the texts and the seriousness of the issues raised. In short, I saw the book as indispensable to those seeking to understand what civil society was experiencing. Butalia, whom I met shortly afterwards, sent a team to collect witness accounts from women of all ages who dared recount their daily lives.
Other analyses were made, such as that of the BBC journalist, Justine Hardy (3), who gave her account of the mass rape carried out by 800 soldiers of the Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army in Kunan Postpura, a village situated in the district of Kupwara, bordering Pakistani Azad Kashmir. During a night of horror, February 22nd 1991, local men were forced to wait aside while women aged between 15 and 85 years were systematically raped (4). The Kashmiris, whatever the ambitions of glory that are common to those taking up arms, were at base an agrarian people, little prepared for armed struggle. Faced by a powerful army, they failed in the role that patriarchy dictated to them: that of their family’s protector.
Following Kunan Poshpura, husbands avoided their wives; some villagers even asked publically whether the victims had got pleasure out of the terrible experience; and no-one asked the hand in marriage of any women from the village, not even of the youngest girls who had been spared. This was an episode that observers themselves from Jammu and Kashmir scarcely mentioned, especially not in public. Nevertheless the issue of women violated by the Indian security forces backed up the secessionist demand made by Muslims in Kashmir. The silence surrounding the issue of rape by militants, however, was deafening (5).
The movement of stone-throwers (6) that emerged in the second half of 2010 seemed in a sense to have broken a taboo – that of the limits on freedom of expression that Kashmiri civil society (which was still embryonic) had placed. The enemy was still Indian, and didn’t one have to display unanimity – or at least a facade thereof – with the slogan of ‘azadi’ on everyone’s lips? Sympathy that the rest of the Indian Union demonstrated for the stone-throwers? A rising of voices in the Union on similar issues, voices that had long been cowed into silence by political imperatives? Civil society in the federation (and in the Valley) now seems ready to look publically at the issue of women in the Kashmir conflict.
Conservative voices in Kashmir focused on speaking against the adoption of Indian-style clothing – some younger urban women had taken to wearing short-, rather than long-sleeved kamiz in summer; these individuals had little to say about the more, deep-rooted problems faced by women. In a move almost without precedent, in December 2012, the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Analysis, supported by the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, the Joint Women’s Programme, the National Federation of Indian Women and the Young Women’s Christian Association, proposed holding a conference, in Srinagar itself, titled ‘Peace and Justice for Kashmiri Women’ (7). Well-known personalities sat side by side. One may also the presence of Parveena Ahangar, who, despite her illiteracy, had founded the Association of Parents and Disappeared Persons (APDP) in 1994, four years after the disappearance of her son, then aged sixteen. The APDP, in troubled circumstances, had dared compile a list of those who had disappeared, while also underlining the sorry conditions in which mothers, but also those termed ‘half-widows’ (8) in Kashmir, were living.
Apart from post-traumatic disorders, the disappearance in a conservative society of a man, particularly one with the position of a husband or father of sons too young to work, is synonymous with worsening poverty. The claim to self-determination that many Kashmiris continue to make is, of course, a long-standing issue, but the women’s issue is now coming to be seen as one of a pressing humanitarian character.
A dimension whose importance is still difficult to gauge: participants to the conference adopted a resolution demanding the demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir, the abrogation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and of the Public Safety Act (PSA), the immediate trial and punishment of all guilty of rape (whatever his background), measures to rehabilitate ‘half-widows’ in order that they may live a decent life, and finally the creation of a commission tasked with examining the lives of women in Kashmir. Is it time to think that the day-to-day lives of the population in the Valley may finally be given priority ahead of the geopolitical and geostrategic concerns of states?
1 The latter, considering Islamabad’s support, did little to conceal their desire for independence.
2 Urvashi Butalia, Speaking Peace. Women’s Voices from Kashmir, New Delhi, Sage Publications, 2002, 316 p.
3 Cf. Justine Hardy, In the Valley of Mist. One family’s extraordinary story: from peace to war in Kashmir, London, Rider, 2009, 269 p.
4 In a 300-page report, a commission of enquiry mandated by India concluded that these forces were innocent.
5 Activists blame an unnamed Kashmiri female academic who apparently popularised a slippery distinction between two kinds of rape: those committed by militants ‘missing female company’, and those whose perpetrators, Indian security force personnel, sought to humiliate Kashmir. It seems this distinction is popular amongst many young (male) Kashmiris.
6 While their elders had implicitly encouraged to no longer question the Indian presence, these youths, armed with stones, rose up at the impunity of the security forces, who could commit ‘errors’ through over-zealousness without risking disciplinary measures – even if the victims were young children.
7 Such a forum continued a reflection begun during two similar meetings held in February and July 2012.
8 Wives whose husband is missing but not officially dead.
More contributions to the Annual Review
For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review: