Monday, 26 September 2016

Using General Assembly to spit out at each other

This is not the first time that India and Pakistan are engaged in a fierce exchange of words over the issue of Kashmir in UN General Assembly. The UNGA had been used in the past too to advocate and defend oneself while castigating the other’s position on Kashmir. The main agenda set for the 71st regular session of the UN General Assembly was sustainable development of the world. However in their general debates, India and Pakistan instead of inspecting or speaking about regional and national issues pertaining to social development focused their respective speeches on leveling allegations against states’ interests. Isn’t war-torn Kashmir a matter of human security that needs to find a space in the realm of regional sustainable development? Doesn’t Pakistan’s stance about human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir relate to absent international concerns about the conflict ridden territory?
Sustainable development is intrinsically linked to peace. One like India could not speak of sustainable development or poverty eradication without eliminating military and weapons from her backyard. More so, because the United Nations was created in the post-World War II to promote international peace and stability after the humanity faced gross genocidal episodes in two world wars. However with wrong practices established, the UN herself provides a platform for those engaged in war and militancy to promote their cause either in the name of world peace like the USA did in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan or in the name of defending their national interests like India does in the case of Jammu and Kashmir.  
The question arises that how could the regular sessions of the UN General Assembly provide podiums to member states to sell their propagandas which are in clear violation of both the debate agenda and charter of the United Nations? Why the rights of reply revolve around only blame game marginalizing the real agenda of the international forum? Be it Israel or India, the issues of Palestine and Jammu & Kashmir provide only half-truths to the already well-aware international community who serve as mere blind spectators outside the UN building and as deaf listeners at General Assembly sessions.

Asma Yaqoob
Research Analyst
Islamabad

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Conflict Versus Coalition of Civilizations



The 20th century’s assertion and held close to the heart of western scholars even in the 21st century that two civilizations or two alternative cultural entities must need a clash could be rebutted by the past and current episodes of reconciliation between various civilizations. The recent reconciliation between Iran and USA (West) is a clear sign of civilizational rapprochement because Iran represents strong historical connections across Middle East culturally and socially.


Putting it in other words, the West is forging alliances (military or economic) with Iran as the ‘other’ representative of Islamic world and out casting its traditional champions – the Sunni Saudi Arabia, to secure interests in Asia and beyond. Such a strategy is not a new invention. It was adopted by the West (Britain and Roman Catholic France) to align with the Ottoman Muslims against the Russian Christian Orthodoxy in 1854 and later with the Shiite Safavid Empire against the Sunni Ottomans. The history of empires and nations is full of deeds where only interests - not faith or ideologies dictate cooperation and conflict.

Robert D. Kaplan writes in The Atlantic, “The practical approach to Islamist terrorism is not always to fight terrorists everywhere, but to play Shiites against Sunnis and vice versa, depending upon the circumstances. By warming up to Iran, we would not be siding with the Shiites against the Sunnis per se, but rather manipulating both sides more effectively than we have in the past.”[i]

But as Robert D. Kaplan himself explains, it won’t be a complete end of alliance with Saudi Arabia but given the strategic nature of Middle East politics, a d├ętente (Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia) would be the preferable policy option for United States[ii] to use each of them against balancing the other. 

Since being placed by USA in “axis of evil” alongside Iraq and North Korea immediately after Iranian Revolution of 1979, relationship between West and Iran has been facing upside down with little hopes of any thaw. The post 9/11 alliances of West against Taliban and Al-Qaeda provided both USA and Iran an opportunity to join hands against Taliban in Afghanistan. This period of cooperation was ended soon with the ouster of Taliban from Kabul. As the victories of USA in Afghanistan and Iraq proved short-lived, regional players like Iran have become important for the West. The influence of Iran in neighboring countries and her strong historical and cultural linkages in the region revived American and western interests in the country. Reconciliation with Iran is in the interests of United States to curb insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, to stop the civil war in Syria and to overcome the extremist Islamic State (IS). 

The hostile relations between different Christian states in medieval and early modern Europe endorsed the Ottomans to exchange diplomatic and military bonds with each of them in a unique way. If asking Ottomans for military aid and assistance was need of the hour for many Christian states of Europe at that time, nurturing military alliances with Iran and Syria is one of the important foreign policy goals for United States at present. Pakistan has remained one of the important military allies for USA in the latter’s proxy war against Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Nations cooperate and compete with each other in every age for strategic objectives. What become important are their mutual exchanges for evolutionary learning and reawakening. 

Thus, history always offers a space for reconciliation of civilizations without being conflicting about their respective inconsistencies. Military and cultural reconciliation of Christian emperors with mighty Ottomans in early modern Europe and military and economic interaction between Christian and Islamic world of modern times ascertain this belief. It is just another way of looking at things rather than becoming cross-civilizational about conflict of interests. 

Asma Yaqoob
Research Analyst
IRS, Islamabad

E-battle of Kashmiris

Traumatized by incessant warfare, high unemployment, political alienation and social insecurities, the youth in Indian held Kashmir is hanging on to media technologies to show up the inhuman face of India to the larger world. Media and web based discussion groups often initiated by Kashmiris living in UK and elsewhere are providing alternate spaces to youth in Kashmir for catharsis. But this new battle is also counterattacked by the Indian Government with a frequent ban on text messages[i]and cyber surveillance. 

Kashmiri diaspora is everywhere in the world now. Those who have fled Indian atrocities in the Valley are now well-established, many of them exerting political influence in US and British Parliaments. Many migrants from the Mirpur district (Pakistani side or Azad Kashmir) belong to prominent British-Pakistani community in London. They are quite active in using social networking sites to raise awareness among the international community about civic and political rights of people living in IHK. Many from this diaspora have established online NGOs to promote Kashmir cause and freedom mission.
The use of social media as an alternate means of protest has also become popular amongst separatist leadership groups whose sole reliance on strike calls and protest calendars was gradually rejected by the local people questioning the efficacy of shutting down the daily businesses. The Hurriyat leaders are themselves using Facebook and Twitter accounts to bridge the gap between people and leadership.[ii]   
Most modestly termed as “cyber intifada”, the passionate youth of Kashmir are using their cellphone cameras to wage an alternate form of war against Indian atrocities. It has now become a battle of bullet versus stone and photo. In the words of Peter Goodspeed, “the youths record and photograph the clashes, posting images of the dead, sobbing mothers and funerals on Facebook and other websites….An uprising generated by Internet social sites is an angry amorphous force with no defined leadership.”[iii] There is a shift in resistance approach for many of the Kashmiris who now prefer street and online remonstrations over armed struggle. Those preferring e-protests are children of the conflict[iv] born during or after the rebellion movement and witnessed their families suffer from street violence in the sixty years of conflict. Street protests are now promoted and scheduled through Facebook and Twitter pages. The ‘million march’ was being organized on November 7, 2015 to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Srinagar through social networking groupsOver 120 such pages were identified by the cyber cell of Jammu and Kashmir Police Force in an attempt to block most of them.[v] Facebook and Twitter based chat groups revolve around anti-India discussions and often involve pro-freedom chants and slogans.
Many of the multimedia messages on YouTube and Facebook reporting innocent killings by the Indian Security Forces in Kashmir receive viral response (see figure 2) and often end up in street rallies and mass protests. This has led the Indian Government to enforce cyber surveillance and making arrests for many Kashmiris with charges of terrorism and hate speech. Scrapped only 9 months back in March 2015 by the Indian Supreme Court, Section 66 (A), which “prohibited the sending of information of a “grossly offensive” or “menacing” nature through computers and communication devices”, was utterly misused by the J&K Police Force since its enforcement in 2008. The Police lodged several cases against politicians, journalists, students and others in Kashmir for spreading rumors and sharing information that could "create disturbances and destroy peace in Kashmir". At least 16 people were booked in 2012 for their alleged role in organizing protests on social networking websites.[vi] For security reasons, many from the youth have long been using fake names and anonymous accounts to post pro-freedom messages.
Technology has opened up Kashmir both physically and intellectually. Advances in road and transportation infrastructure have made inroads to distant parts of IHK as far and high as the Siachen Glacier. It was the availability of modern mountaineering technology and skills that allowed India to expand ground-centered Kashmir war to the heights of more than 15, 000 feet converting useless terrain of Siachen into a new battle-field.[vii] The emergence of social media and web technology is the most significant change that has given long-subjugated people in IHK independent and diverse channels of opening up to the outside world about their sufferings and dejection in the Indian society in spite of several restrictions on freedom of speech.

Asma Yaqoob
Research Analyst 
IRS Islamabad




[i] SMS banned in Kashmir Valley, The Hindu, June 10, 2010.http://www.thehindu.com/news/article492195.ece (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[ii] Frequent hartals making Hurriyat unpopular: Kashmir separatists look for alternate means to be heard,The First Post, Nov 24, 2015. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/frequent-hartals-making-hurriyat-unpopular-kashmir-separatists-look-for-alternate-means-to-be-heard-2518850.html (accessed on December 14, 2015)
[iii] Peter Goodspeed, Goodspeed Analysis: Youth in revolt, National Post, September 18, 2010.http://news.nationalpost.com/news/battle-for-kashmir-youth-in-revolt (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[iv] Fahad Shah, Kashmir’s e-protest, Open Democracy, 6 August 2010.https://www.opendemocracy.net/fahad-shah/kashmirs-e-protest (Accessed on 10 December 2015)
[v] Police to block Facebook, “Twitter pages promoting Kashmir million march”, Greater Kashmir, November 1, 2015. http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/kashmir/police-to-block-facebook-twitter-pages-promoting-kashmir-million-march/200445.html (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[vi] Sameer Yasir, “WhatsApp jokes to Facebook posts: How Section 66A was abused in Kashmir”, First Post, March 26, 2015. http://www.firstpost.com/india/whatsapp-jokes-to-facebook-posts-how-section-66a-was-abused-in-kashmir-2173009.html (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[vii] Stephen P. Cohen, Shooting for a Century, The Brookings Institution: USA, 2013, p. 125. 

Dam-Building in India and China – Lessons Learnt


India and China are two most active countries in the world in terms of the number of dams in operation, under-construction and planned. The primary objectives of dam-building include irrigation, flood control and hydropower generation. However the principle motivation behind engineering of mega-dam projects in both India and China is the desire for economic development which they equate with large water reservoirs and high level of hydro power development. This is simply following the footsteps of America and Europe where similar level of mega-engineering took place in first part of the 20th Century. 


China has the per capita water storage of more than 2,000 cubic meters through dams. India has a per capita storage of only 200 cubic meters per annum and figures for Pakistan are even very less (Figure 1).[i] China and India, both are heavily criticised by the environmentalists and human right defenders within as well as outside the region for ecological losses and large human displacements that the dam construction activity brings forth. China with 22, 000 large dams[ii] is the top dam-building nation in the world whereas India is third in the row with over 4, 000 large dams only after the United States having 6,390 large dams.[iii] According to the National Energy Statistics, China's 230 GW of installed hydropower capacity make it the world's largest hydroelectric power user.[iv] Four countries – China, India, United States and Pakistan account for more than 50% of the world’s total irrigated area (Figure 2).[v] China and India account for the largest number of people displaced due to dam construction.[vi]


Figure 1
Water Storage Per Capita

Source: World Bank, 2006.[vii]

Figure 2
Percentage of irrigated Area from Dams


Source: World Commission on Dams, 2000.[viii]
The construction of water reservoirs especially the large dams[1] became the central source of industrial and agricultural development worldwide in the last century. According to the World Commission Report on Dams, besides domestic and industrial benefits of dams, some 30–40% of irrigated land worldwide now relies on dams and that dams generate 19% of world electricity.[ix] However, higher temperatures and less snowpack are increasingly reducing flows in the world basins. Less available water means declined capacity for irrigation, energy generation and domestic consumption. Climate change is challenging mega dam projects. Scientists have begun questioning the utility of big dams with such weather extremes as one year flood followed by the next year’s drying up. The rate of evaporation of water stored in reservoirs is also predicted to increase with the warming up of global climate. It is not only environment that pays the price for mega water projects. Mass human displacements, loss of ecological habitat, huge investments and riparian conflicts are some of the major costs of dam-building. It has recently become an important consideration in developing countries including India and China to mitigate these costs at least at the national level. Genuine concerns for cross-border or international implications of dam-building have a low priority in both the countries. One of the most important lessons that the two case studies provide to Pakistan is that in order to achieve sustainable water resource development, dam-building should only become a part of an integrated water management policy.
Pakistan has a poor economy. As a single basin country with fast growing population, her water needs for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes are multiplying every year with huge pressure on limited water resources. The Indus Basin is well-known for its flow dependency on rain and glacial melt water. New scientific investigations have indicated vast differences in glacial change behavior across the Himalayas. While glaciers for many of the Indian and Chinese river basins are retreating fast, contributing rapid seasonal flows, glaciers feeding the Upper Indus Basin are in fact expanding in mass under climate change influence. The dearth of information and research on changing flow trends in Indus Basin warrants a careful planning in proposing and constructing any new storage reservoirs. Dam-building is not only about investment and engineering options, operational issues such as reservoir safety, emergency preparedness and seasonal management call for well-informed decision making.
Asma Yaqoob
Regional Studies, Vol. XXXI, No.2, Spring 2013, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad 

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[1] There are a number of definitions of large dams. The International Commission on Large Dams (ICLOD) uses the criterion of ‘height’ as defining a small, medium or large dam. A dam higher than 15 m is classified as a large dam. Many others refer to the gross storage capacity of a dam and foundation design as a basis for the classification of the dams. The ICLOD definition is used worldwide to define the size of a dam. For a detailed report on the definition of large dams, see Shah and Dinesh Kumar, In the Midst of the Large Dam Controversy: Objectives, Criteria for Assessing Large Water Storages in the Developing World, Water Resource Management, 2008, No. 22, pp. 1799–1824.



[i] World Bank, Better Management of Indus Basin Waters: Strategic Issues and Challenges. South Asia Region, Agriculture and Rural Development Unit, Washington D.C, 2005.
[ii] China is the country with the largest number of reservoirs in the world. However the estimates vary from regional to international organisations. According to Chinese National Committee on Large Dams, China has built 87,000 reservoirs all types by the end of 2006, of which are more than 500 large reservoirs, more than 3,200 medium-sized reservoirs, and small reservoirs of about 83,300. Zhao Chun, Jia Jinsheng, Zheng Cuiying, Xia Lianqiang, Wenpeng, Management System Development of Dangerous Reservoirs in China & Preliminary Statistics Analysis of Distress Causes, Chinese National Committee on Large Dams (CHINCOLD): Beijing. (Accessed on 26 March 2012) The World Commission on Dams Report 2000 estimates the total number of dams in China at 22,000. 
[iii] World Commission on Dams, Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision Making, Earthscan Publications Ltd: London, 2000, p. 9.
[iv] China sets 2012 hydropower target for rural areas, Interfax China, 7 June 2012. http://www.interfax.cn/news/20356 (Accessed on 19 November 2012)
[v] World Commission on Dams, op cit., ref.8, p. 13.
[vi] Ibid., p.17.
[vii] Better Management of Indus Basin Waters – Strategic Issues and Challenges, World Bank: Islamabad, 2006. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPAKISTAN/Data%20and%20Reference/20805819/Brief-Indus-Basin-Water.pdf (Accessed on 8 March 2013)
[viii] World Commission on Dams, op cit., ref. 8, P. 13.
[ix] Ibid., p. xxix.