Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Subcontinent: India's Travail, Kashmiri Women, Pakistan's Crisis, Afghan Dilemma

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Subcontinent: India's Travail, Kashmiri Women, Pakistan's Crisis, Afghan Dilemma

Article excerpt

The Subcontinent: India's Travail, Kashmiri Women, Pakistan's Crisis, Afghan Dilemma

The London Economist of March 13 described Bangladesh as "poor, overpopulated, corrupt and inefficient." To varying degrees, the same could perhaps be said of more than 100 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, the challenge posed by the Indian subcontinent is of a huge magnitude. Over a billion people in this part of the world live in abject poverty, and continue to suffer from all of the human afflictions that accompany poverty. Political unrest and the breakdown of law and order only compound the awesome economic problems.

There was a time in the developing world when every mishap was attributed to the CIA. The devil is no longer so easily identifiable today. The blast that took close to 100 lives in Calcutta may or may not be connected with the explosions that rocked Bombay just four days earlier. The Bombay incidents may or may not have anything to do with the previous happenings in Delhi or Ayodhya. Occurrences in Punjab and Assam may be independent of each other. The tragic Kashmir saga may have a life of its own. Nevertheless, while forensic scientists pursue their methodical investigations, politicians are tempted to offer their own self-serving explanations.

For instance, it is common knowledge that two worlds coexist in Bombay--one on the surface and the other underground. This Indian port city remained tranquil as long as the two worlds did not collide. The underworld trade in contraband, narcotics and gold has produced a crop of kingpins. They have a culture of their own which places its loyalties solely on pecuniary considerations.

Bombay's large mercantile class, known for its civility, has been forced to live uncomfortably with a growing quasi-military extremist group, the Shiv Sena, that strives to establish Hindutva, a land for the Hindus alone. Presiding over these and many other strange bedfellows is the badly fractured ruling Congress Party. Each faction within it will go to any length to capture power, the latest example being the overthrow of the Naik group by Sharad Pawar.

Some political parties do well under conditions of peace and others make gains in turmoil. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, basked in the post-independence glow, and styled himself a secular-democrat. For almost three decades, the Congress Party ruled over the country with no real political challenge. Ultimately, what was latent underneath had to surface. The shadows over post-Nehru India, it seems, have substance.

With each new crisis, the Congress Party loses ground, and the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earns political dividends. Whether the trend can be reversed, or slowed, depends on the manner in which the Congress pulls into its fold the historically oppressed Untouchables, including the Dalits and the Scheduled castes; the secularist intellectual class; and the minorities, including 110 million Muslims. A vigorous and committed leadership is needed in New Delhi to do the job. Narasimha Rao may not be the answer.

The Kashmir Question

Girish Saxena, the governor of the Indian-held part of Jammu and Kashmir, has offered to step down if that will help negotiations between the Indian government and Kashmiri leaders. This is the first concrete evidence of New Delhi's willingness not only to acknowledge the seriousness of the Kashmir crisis, but also to talk to the freedom seekers.

In Kashmir itself, things appear to be going from bad to worse. The Kashmiris, who are predominantly Muslim, are largely conservative. When a Kashmiri woman leaves the sacred confines of her home and defiantly takes to the streets, it is an indication of how bad things have become.

Having suffered killings, torture and rapes at the hands of the Indian occupying forces, Muslim Kashmiri women have banded together under the banners of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Community) and the Muslim Khawateen Markaz (Muslim Women's Center). …

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