Steps to a Confederation

Dr. Sohail Inayatullah – Professor, Tamkang University, Taiwan and Sunshine Coast University, Australia,

While we are all aware why we do not have peace in South Asia, there is a paucity of explorations on how to create a better future. The lack of peace defined as both individual peace (inner contentment), social-psychological peace (how we see the Other), structural peace (issues of justice, particularly territorial justice) and epistemological peace (toward a plurality of ways of knowing) are among the major factors contributing to poverty in South Asia. Government expenditures in each nation, especially India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka go for military purposes and not for education or health. Every time a positive economic cycle begins, yet one more confrontation sends military expenditures higher. Few, except military leaders and a few corporations (mostly foreign), benefit from this escalation.

Lack of Visions

Part of the reason for this vicious cycle of confrontation and poverty is because South Asia has been unable to move outside of colonial and partition (or liberation) categories. Conceptual travel outside of British influence is difficult and cultural, economic, military and psychological colonialism and categories of thought remain in South Asian internal structures and representations of the self.

Intellectuals in South Asia also do not help matters, in fact, we are often part of the problem. Focused on historical investigations and mired in feudal social relations, academic discourse, in general, and the future, in particular, has become fugitive and, when apprehended, made trivial. This is largely because of the style, content and structure of South Asian intellectual/State relations. By and large administered by the civil service, appeasing the chief minister (as evidenced by the centre stage of the minister at book launchings and public lectures) is far more important than independent intellectual inquiry. It is the State that gives academic discourse legitimacy, since it is the State that has captured civil society. The paucity of economic, social and political resources for the Academy exacerbates, if not causes, this situation.

Nation, State and Real Politics

Colonial history has produced an overarching paradigm that even the interpreters of the Hadith and Vedanta must relinquish their authority to. This is the neo-realist model of International Relations and National Development. Caught in a battle of ego expansion, of self-interest, nations function like self-interested egoistic individuals. Economic development can only take place at the national level with communities absent from participation. Thus making peace at local levels impossible. Security is defined in terms of safety from the aggressor neighboring nation, not in terms of local access to water, technology and justice. Only real politics with hidden motives behind every actor and action makes sense in this neo-realist discourse. The task then for most is explaining the actions of a nation or of functionaries of the State. Envisioning other possibilities for “nation” or “state” and their interrelationships, that is, the assumptions that define what is considered eligible for academic discourse remains unattempted, thus the absence of communities, non-governmental organizations, class and other transnational categories such as gender from the realm of what is considered important.

Moreover, structural analysis such as centre/periphery theory (a step beyond conspiracy theory) is intelligible but only with respect to the West not with respect to internal structures. Finally, visions of the future, attempts to recreate the paradigm of international relations, strategic studies and development theory through women studies, world system research, historical social change analysis, peace studies, participatory action research or the social movements are considered naive and too idealistic. Worse, it is believed that this naivete and idealism threatens security on the home front. Thus it is fine if class and gender are issues that challenge mainstream politics in the neighboring nation but not in “our perfect country.” What results thus is at best static peace – that is the diplomatic accomodation of official differences and not what PROUT founder, P.R. Sarkar calls, sentient peace, or the creation of a mutual ecology of destiny based on shared moral principles.

However even with the dominance of real-politics, idealism does exist, but, in the quest for modernity it has been marginalized. Visions remain limited to evening prayer or meditation, for personal peace, but they have no place in politics or structural peace, except at the level of the State which uses religious practices to buttress its own power and control over competing classes, that is, it appropriates vision into its own strategic discourse.

Again, the dominance of neo-realism and the loss of mutual trust can be explained by many variables. The most important of them is the event of partition – the alleged break from colonialism -that has dominated intellectual efforts. With more than a generation of mistrust, hate and fear, creating alternative futures, not dominated by the partition discourse is indeed challenging. The disappointment of post-colonial society has worn heavy on the South Asian psyche – betrayals by leaders and calls for more sacrifices from the people for yet another promised plan is unlikely to transform the weight of the past and the abyss of the present. The future that we have arrived at to is not the final destination for South Asia, it is a dystopia. As Faiz has written , “The time for the liberation of heart and mind has not come yet. Continue your arduous journey. This is not your destination.”

Possible Strategies

Given this history, what are some possible strategies outside of the partition and nation-state discourse. And how can PROUT and associated organizations help in these strategies, in creating new visions and realities for South Asia.

The short run strategy for PROUT and other social movements would be to attempt to encourage peaceful citizen to citizen meetings between Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Indians. These types of associations are very much part of the project of Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team, which provides relief from suffering for all humans, animals and plants. Renaissance Universal Clubs and the organization of Renaissance Writers and Artists Association are other organizations whose mission is transnational. Their effort in creating links between intellectuals, writers and artists across national boundaries would be critical in such efforts. Unfortunately South Asian intellectuals are often beholden to the bureaucracy. Rarely are they independent. Moreover, in general, intellectuals tend to adopt nationalistic lines seeing history only from a nationalistic perspective, thinking that the other nation’s history is propaganda and one’s own nation’s historiography is the real objective truth. This has worsened in recent times with the rise of the BJP in India and of rightist Islamic parties.

Intellectuals who have left the “homeland” for the West are not immune from this intellectual cancer. While South Asians may unite in critique of the West, when it comes to the homefront, they remain attached to nation. Religion as well has increasingly become a weapon of identity, used not to create a higher level of consciousness but to distance from the other. In this sense, the neo-humanist mind and paradigm has yet to emerge. Instead, identity is based on geographical sentiments, national sentiments and religious sentiments.

The recent war in Afghanistan has further hardened identity, forcing individuals to be either, especially in Pakistan, strict Muslims or western oriented. Layered identity, that is, we are primarily human beings, and secondary national citizens or members of a particular religion, is more difficult to achieve. Indeed, as Marcus Bussey ( has argued, neo-humanism should not be seen solely as a theory but as a practice. We must live day to day through neo-humanism, asking ourselves, how in our conversations, our views, our teaching of children do we recreate historical identities, or help create inclusive identities.

Nonetheless, it is imperative that we find ways to encourage citizen to citizen interaction through sports, arts, music and literature, to begin with. To do this, of course, there needs to be travel between the various South Asian nations. However given the intervention of each nation in the Other: Pakistan in India; India in Sri Lanka; and given secession movements in each country, suspicion is natural and travel difficult. Normalization of borders when the nation-state is under threat appears unlikely especially as violence has become routine in local and national politics.

One way out of this is to begin to focus on ideal futures instead of dis-unifying pasts; that is, instead of asking who actually attacked who or should Kashmir be part of Pakistan or India or independent we need to practice compassion and forgiveness towards the other, to not see the gaining of territory as central to the national and personal ego. What is needed are meetings among artists, intellectuals, and even bureaucrats to stress areas and points of unity–Sufis who are Hindu; yogis who are Sufi, for example. We need to remember stories of how difference has led to mutual benefit, to glorify how intimacy with the other can create sources of cultural vitality.

The usefulness in this citizen to citizen contact is that it will build amity among people who feel the other is distant, who fear the Other. While citizen to citizen contact did not markedly change US or Soviet policy towards each other, it did create peace forces in each nation, that created dissension when governments insisted on arguing that the other nation was the evil empire. Citizen to citizen contact ideally will develop into contact between non-governmental organizations that are committed to same ideals: serving the poor, empowering women, caring for the environment, for example.

The nuclear tests in Pakistan and India have led to numerous exchanges between Indians and Pakistanis, largely through the medium of the internet–a dynamic loose association called South Asians against nukes has taken off. It intends to lobby governments in both countries to take steps to develop conversations of peace, of shared futures, as well as to set in place fail safe measures to avoid nuclear accidents and provocation by nationalists on all sides.

But most important is not specific issues but the hope that these NGOs may be able to strengthen civil society in each nation thus putting some pressure on politicians to choose more rational strategies, strategies that place humans and the environment ahead of geo-sentiments and geo-politics. Currently the politician who wants to negotiate with the leader of the other nation is forced to take hard-line aggressive policies (“we will never give up Kashmir or we will never give up nuclear power”) lest he or she lose power to the Opposition. By having a transnational peace, ecological, service movement pressuring each nation’ leaders they will have more room to negotiate and pursue policies that benefit the collective good and security of the region.

Of course, NGOs can as well distort local civil society, as they are financed by external sources. Trade associations, professional groups and other forms of community need as well to be activated along these neo-humanist lines.

While it would be ideal to reduce the likelihood of local leaders to pursue aggressive/nationalistic strategies most likely positive change, paradoxically enough, will come from the globalizing forces of privatization. Irrespective of how privatization harms labor and small business, it does create a wave of faith in the emerging bourgeois, who in their search for profits are transnational. The rational ceases to be the nation but the profit motivation. Profit motivation might begin the process of increased trade, and commercial contacts between the various nations of the South Asian region. For Capital, mobility, the free flow of borders is the key to its expansion. Historical feuds only limit its accumulation. For South Asia, unless there are increased economic ties then the capital that accumulates because of privatization will largely go to overseas destinations, Tokyo and New York.

Beginning the process of developing a South Asian economic sphere, even it is created by those who have little concern for the environment and for social justice, in the long run will help create more peaceful futures for the region. At the level of the person, business men and women who have to make deals will have to face each other, will have to see that they have common interests. Moreover, they will not be branded as spies by opportunistic political leaders since business can always claim they are only working for national productivity. Of course, from a Proutist view, creating economic and cultural vitality through social/peoples’ movements, particularly the cooperative movement, or increasing the rights of labor throughout South Asia is even more important – it is shudra viplava, not the rise of the bourgois that is crucial.

In the meantime, labor, unfortunately, has far less mobility than capital. Labor leaders who are transnational will certainly be branded as unpatriotic, in fact, in contrast to business leaders, labor leaders will be seen as spies who are attempting to stifle national growth. Arguing for local economic democracy by contesting the power of the federal bureaucracy and outside economic interests will also not beholden social movements to the power of government and capital. Indeed, decentralization will be misconstrued for secession, in some cases.

However, we can hope that at the regional level as the Other becomes less distant or because of the pressure of external forces, we can envision a time when national policy leaders meet to create a South Asian confederation of sorts. To develop such a larger South Asian trade association or confederation, there needs to be agreement or negotiation in the following areas.

Areas of Negotiation

1. Water regime. The problems here are associated with the use of water for the short term instead of the long term, for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. Should water become a joint resource then?

2. Human rights regime. The problems in reaching agreement in this area should be obvious since each will claim that the other violates human rights while it has a perfect record. Action from global human rights associations can help create pressure on local levels. Human rights will need to focus not just on individual rights but the following Sarkar, the right to purchasing capacity. The right to religion and language will also have to be central in any human rights regime. We must remember that the debate on human rights in Asia is about expanding the Western notion of liberal individual rights to include economic rights and collective rights. It is not about the restriction of rights but their augmentation.

3. Nuclear non-proliferation. This is problematic since India believes that it has to fear China as well as Pakistan. China sees itself as a global power and thus will not agree to any nuclear agreement, especially given the inequitable structure of the present global nuclear and arms regime. However, nuclear proliferation promises, as with the US-USSR case, to bankrupt first one nation and then the other – Pakistan is already on the verge of financial calamity. Given the lack of safety of nuclear installations, it might take a meltdown before some agreement is reached. Pakistan believes that it must have a dramatic deterrent since it believes most Indians have yet to truly accept partition, independence. Indeed, Indians generally see Pakistanis as double traitors, first for having converted from hinduism to Islam and second for having carved Pakistan from India.

4. UN peacekeeping forces in troubled areas. This step while impinging on national sovereignty could ease tensions throughout south asia. For one, it recognizes that there is a crisis that the leaders of each nation, particularly Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India, have failed to resolve. Will we see blue helmets throughout south asia in the near future? However, peacekeeping should be not restricted to weaponed officers but rather should include community builders–therapists and healers. Recent breakthroughs in Sri Lanka have partly come about through intervention of mediators from Norway. This external peace building as been essential in moving Sri Lanka from its abyss.

5. Regional conferences at Cabinet level. While governments often obscure truth, more meetings might begin a thawing process and, unfortunately, if not properly structured, they might further reinscribe half-truths and vicious stereotypes of the Other. Still, meetings on specific points where there is a great chance of agreement are a great place to begin. Start slow, reach agreement, and build from there, would be a place to begin.

6. Regional conferences of ngos (environmental groups, feminist groups, peace movement, universal spiritual groups, artists, human rights activists). This is even more important as it helps build relationships among like-minded individuals who are tired of the symbolic efforts of their own governments, who crave a different south asia.

While all these steps begin the process, the long run strategy would be to encourage a rethinking of identity and an alternate economic and political structure.

Long Term Steps

The long terms steps would be:

1. Denationalize self, economy and identity. This the larger project of delinking the idea of the nation, whether India or Pakistan, from our mental landscape and replacing it with more local–community–and global concepts, that of the planet itself.

2. Essentially this means a rewriting of textbooks in South Asia. Moving away from the neo-realist real politics paradigm and toward the neo-humanist educational perspective. This means rewriting history as well rethinking the future.

3. Create Peoples’ movements centered on bioregions and linguistic and cultural zones. Begin the process of rethinking the boundaries of South Asia along lines other than those that were hammered out by Indian political parties and the British in the early half of this century. This is Sarkar’s notion of samaj movements.

4. Encourage self-reliance and localism in each zone. While trade is central between nations and the economic zones, it should not be done at the expense of the local economy. This is not say that poor quality products should be encouraged, rather on non-essential items there should be competition. The State should not give preferential treatment to a few businesses at the expense of others.

5. Barter trade between zones is one way to stop inflation. In addition, it leads to a productive cycle between zones, especially helping poorer zones increase wealth. These will especially be useful given the upcoming world recession or depression.

6. Encourage universal dimensions of the many religions and cultures of the area. While this is much easier said than done, it means that individuals have a right to religious expression with the role of the State that of ensuring non-interference from local, national and regional leaders who desire to use religion and its strong emotive content to gain votes.

7. Develop legal structures that can ensure the respect of the rights of women, children, the aged and the environment. The latter is especially important given that environmental issues are transnational. Indeed, the disastrous climatic after effects of recent nuclear explosions show that the environment is a genuine global rights issue. Eventually, while this is a long way off, we need to consider the creation of an Asian International Court.

8. Transparency. Governmental decisions need to be open. Ideally meetings should be televised. Promises made by politicians need to become legal documents so that citizens groups can initiate litigation against corruption and mis-information. The same level of transparency should be expected for corporations as well as NGOs.

What this means is that we need visions of the future of south asia that are not based on communal violence but are based on the possibility of dynamic peaceful coexistence – what P.R. Sarkar has called, prama. The task while seemingly impossible must begin with a few small steps, of Indians and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Bhutanese and other historical groups in south asia finding ways to realize some unity amongst all our differences.

The challenge for the Proutist movement is to use its foundational analytic categories – the social cycle, neo-humanism, prama, maxi-mini wage structures, sentient peace (and not peace based on short term religious or nationalist goals, that is, static peace) to help understand South Asia’s present predicament, and offer ways out. To do so, PROUT needs to ensure that it does not enter short term strategic partnerships with various governments but rather continues to work at creating a strong civil society, what Sarkar has called “uniting the moralists”. PROUT must continue to oppose communism, liberalism as well as their metaphysical foundation, that of, neo-realism.

Future generations will remember that there was least one social movement that did not accede to narrow sentiments, that kept alive the idea of South Asia as an historical civilization, and thus managed to transcend its Indian birth to become a true universal movement. Let us begin together to create a new history for future generations.

Certainly with the day-to-day violence through South Asia, whether Gujrat or Kashmir, it is difficult to imagine a better future. But by staying within current identities and politics, we doom future generations to poverty. When will we choose otherwise?

Copyright The author 2011

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