Nyla Ali Khan on militarism vs democracy

Friend of the podcast, Nyla Ali Khan (Guest on Episodes 4 and 7) shares with us this article she wrote several years ago, but which unfortunately remains relevant in its observations about the destructive, decades-long presence of the Indian military in her homeland of Kashmir and nearby Jammu. And, in further misfortune, this pattern is repeated in the attempts by any state to solve political problems via the military, such as the US military “adventure” in Afghanistan, now well into its second decade. Eventually, we must learn the lesson that “military interventions hinder the growth of democracy.”

Reprinted with permission. 

Military interventions hinder the growth of democracy

By Nyla Ali Khan

The road to Kabul from India and Pakistan runs through Kashmir, my homeland. Central and Southern Kashmir shares borders with India, Pakistan, and China. Pakistan-administered Northwest Kashmir shares a border with Afghanistan and China. China administers the Northeast Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram tract in the northeast. Various territorial disputes persist. Thus, a crucial step to winning the peace in Afghanistan is to ensure the empowerment and stability of Kashmir’s culture, economy, and democratic institutions.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is so geographically located that it depends for its economic growth on an unhindered flow of trade to both countries. Kashmiri arts and crafts have found flourishing markets in India for decades.  At the same time, the rivers and roads of Kashmir stretch into Pakistan. Prior to the partition of India in 1947, Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan, used to be Kashmir’s railhead, and Kashmiri traders would use Karachi, part of Pakistan, as the sea-port for overseas trade.

Jammu and Kashmir have been marred by a long history of violent political and ethic struggles. The past four months have witnessed the paralysis of institutions, maimings, brutal killings of civilians, and degradation of common people in the Kashmir Valley.

I am of the firm opinion that the welfare of the people of the state can be guaranteed by securing the goodwill of the political establishments of both India and Pakistan, and by the display of military discipline and efficiency at the borders. The forte of the armed forces of a country, to the best of my knowledge, is national security, not national interest or foreign policy.

I recall a conversation that I had with an interlocutor nominated by the Government of India about the role of the Indian Army in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I asked rather acerbically how the Army had become a stakeholder in the Kashmir imbroglio, and she hurriedly and just as acerbically replied that, “there are good stakeholders and there are bad stakeholders, and armed forces are, inevitably, stakeholders in an insurgent zone.” I was rather ticked off by that response because I believed that a mediator should be open to diplomacy and peaceful negotiations to further the India-Pakistan peace process.

If the political evolution of a society is nipped in the bud by an all-powerful military establishment, state policies always fall short of becoming coherent. The more the military establishment makes incursions into democratic spaces, the more shaky institutions of state remain and the more fragmented the polity becomes. The “sovereign” role played by the GHQ in Pakistan is an example of such a scenario. The more military officials get involved in issues of politics, governance, and national interest, the more blurred the line between national interest and hawkish national security becomes.

Instead of deterring the growth of democracy, the goal should be to empower the populace of the state of Jammu and Kashmir sufficiently to induce satisfaction with the Kashmir constituency’s role within current geopolitical realities such that a dis-empowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive political ideologies. In addition to addressing the political aspect of democracy, it is important to take cognizance of its economic aspect as well.

In order to restore peace in Jammu and Kashmir, people must learn to work together across ethnic and ideological divides and insist that everyone be included in democratic decision-making and be given full access to basic social services. It is an egregious mistake and one that has severe ramifications to allow the military of a nation-state to bludgeon its democratic processes.

Episode 7: Tensions In and About Kashmir

Serena Blaiz interviews Nyla Ali Khan about Kashmir’s ongoing troubles. Excerpts from Nicole Sandler’s interview with Medea Benjamin about her new book, Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US – Saudi Connection


Links coming soon!

Partial Transcript:

Welcome to the Peace Buzz for August 26, 2016. This is your host, Serena Blaiz, coming to you from Oklahoma City, where our sponsoring organization, the Center for Conscience in Action is located. For many, this may sound like a remote outpost in the peace community, but in fact we have a lot of activity and resources here to draw from, and one of those is Nyla Ali Khan, who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. Professor Khan comes from Kashmir, which is a region under the control of India, which has a very interesting recent history, and currently a good bit of turmoil, that needs to better understood and addressed by the rest of the world. Having Professor Khan nearby gives us an opportunity to try to remedy that, and we spoke with her at length back in April. Sadly, things have not improved for Kashmir, and today we check in again with Nyla to see what is happening, and what we might be able to do to help the pro-democracy movement there find peaceful solutions to decades of mistrust and resentment.

You’re listening to Peace Buzz. We’re speaking to Nyla Ali Khan about unrest in Kashmir and surrounding areas, where people are releasing years of pent up frustration about lack of democratic government and accountability. The region, controlled primarily by India, is being impacted negatively by the political situation in India itself, and at this point in the interview, I asked about how the regional Amnesty International network was dealing with things. It was a timely question, because just a day or two before, ultra right protests in Banglore, or Bengaluru, India had forced the local Amnesty to close for the safety of its staff. The protests were directly related to the relationship between India and Kashmir. We paused to look up breaking news on the incident and Nyla read from a news report, while providing some context about the various players.

Since our interview, Amnesty’s main office in London released a statement, which included this:

No staff of Amnesty International India were involved in the alleged ‘anti-national’ sloganeering at an event on human rights violations in Kashmir. We are an independent human rights organization that campaigns all over the world for states to comply with international human rights law and, accordingly, do not take a side on questions such as self-determination in a given context. But if others were involved in the alleged sloganeering, their human right to do so must be protected, as is made clear in India’s own constitution.

We hope other American progressive news organizations will take up this important developing story.

Medea Benjamin, of Code Pink, is one of the best known peace activists in the US – to the peace community as well as C-Span viewers. Peace Buzz shared some of her research on Saudi Arabia earlier this year just prior to a national conference on the Saudi Arabia and US relationship that was organized by Code Pink and other concerned groups. Now Medea has a book out on that same subject, entitled Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. On August 19th, she was interviewed on the Nicole Sandler Show as she toured Florida promoting the book. Nicole was kind enough to permit us to excerpt part of that interview here on Peace Buzz. You can find their entire wide-ranging conversation on NicoleSandler.com or on Nicole’s Youtube channel.

That’s it for this episode of Peace Buzz. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed it, please share via social media or email. If you would like to comment about the show, listen to past episodes, or suggest future topics, please visit peacebuzz.org.

Thanks to Nyla Ali Khan for giving so generously of her time and insights. Find her books and other writings listed at nylaalikhan.org. She also is frequently published on Counterpunch.com. Thanks also to Nicole Sandler for the clips from her show, which can be found on Nicolesandler.com. Finally, thanks to Susan McCann for her hospitality.

Peace Buzz is a production of Upwave Media, which is a project of the Center for Conscience in Action. Learn more at centerforconscience.org.

Peace Buzz Episode 4: Candles for Kashmir

Episode for April 25, 2016

Serena Blaiz interviews Dr. Nyla Ali Khan about the situation in her native Kashmir. Decades of oppression and violence from the occupying Indian military, suppression of free speech, and lack of a fair court system are the norm in the regions of Kashmir and Jammu in northern India. Recent attacks on protesters left five dead, leading the Kashmiri diaspora to hold candlelight vigils around the world in protest.


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