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October 03, 2002 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 3, 2002 - 5A



Why South Asia Matters, or, the "ABCD" of Identity

A Single Platform for a Multilateral Manifesto:
The First South Asian Students Task Force at the 'U'


It is my hope, however romantic,
idealist or pretentious this may sound,
that what I have to say on the issue of
"Why South Asia Matters," is rele-
vant not solely because I can lay
claim to "being" a South Asian (I am
perhaps that and many other things,
too!), but rather on the grounds that I
am first and foremost a citizen of the
world. But before we think about the
above question, we must ask who or
what exactly is a South Asian? Isn't it
merely the name for a contingent
geographical mapping that is itself
historically dependent on a colonial
ordering of things? How could it be
the basis of an identity? Keep this
question in mind, I'm not even going
to attempt to answer it here.
As "we" (as in the human race)
move inexorably from the era of nation-
alism to the age of globalism, severe
strains are being placed on older, more
comfortable, nationalist, ethnic and
parochial answers to the fundamental
question of being. In particular, nation-
alist narratives are coming under a
whole-sale intellectual and historical
assault from both inside and across the
"border." Who am I? Where do I come
from? Am I more than an economic ani-
mal? If I am Nepalese, what does that
entail? So once again who is the "we"
here in South Asia? People who natural-
ly excel at cricket and eat paan?
Arguably that definition would squarely

leave out the Bhutanese. And that is pre-
cisely my point, regardless of our affmi-
ties with "Indianess," with being a Tamil
or a valley Kashmiri, a Punjabi or a
Sindhi, we will all HAVE to raise our
hands if we are asked, "Are you South
Now that the question of identity is
clearly problematized, we can go on to
ask "Why do "we" matter?" Beyond
membership in the human race, where
everyone matters, we could say, purely
off hand, that South Asian's comprise
nearly one fifth of the global popula-
tion, and thanks to colonialism and an
entire breed of entrepreneuring 6mi-
gres, we are everywhere: from Hyder-
abad to Heathrow, from Bombay to the
Bronx (the last time I landed at Lon-
don's Gatwick, on my way from
Karachi to New York, I honestly
thought my flight had been inadver-
tently diverted to Dhaka). But as of late
it is the nuclear stand-off between the
two principal South Asian nations,
Pakistan and India, and the shenani-
gans of the Taliban in Afghanistan
(isn't that Central Asia'?) that have
made ordinary "westerners" look
beyond chicken tikka and cricket.
South Asia has of course much to
celebrate: A rich historical legacy,
essential contributions in world music
(from Ravi Shankar to Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan), and vibrant living religious tra-
ditions whose mystical cores remain
alluring to intellectuals, seekers (and
militants!) worldwide. South Asian
nations continue to churn out highly

skilled doctors, engineers, business
administrators and computer techni-
cians whose expertise is being sought
after globally. In many a New York
hospital intern group consultations can
safely be conducted in Urdu. Within
the United States the old stereotypes of
the typical Indian/Pakistani grocery
store owner/taxi driver, are being
replaced slowly, perhaps too slowly,
with images like CNN's Dr. Sanjay
Gupta (a Michigan graduate to boot),
or the next Spielberg in M. Night
Shyamalan. On the intellectual and
academic front, there are also a variety
of global successes. The influential
Subaltern Studies collective has made
seminal contributions in History,
Anthropology and Postcolonial studies.
On the collective political front there
is also much to celebrate, as well as
much to lament. Despite the overbear-
ing weight of its colonial pasts, India
and Sri Lanka have maintained almost
uninterrupted democratic dispensations,
with the track records of Pakistan and
Bangladesh trailing somewhat behind.
With the War on Terrorism, Pakistan's
democratic potential has once again
been sacrificed at the alter of an Ameri-
can geo-political agenda.
But despite these varying degrees of
setbacks and successes, each con-
stituent nation still faces important
challenges beyond the uni-dimensional
question of democracy. With the War
on Terrorism having rekindled the
worst forms of jingoistic patriotism
(and much admirable opposition also),

even at the headquarters of the "free-
world," the question of the extent to
which democracy is being surpassed by
plutocracy is not entirely irrelevant.
Similarly India, the worlds' largest
democracy (size supposedly does mat-
ter!), still faces severe internal chal-
lenges to civil society from the scourge
of communalism, separatist movements
and the political hegemony of right
wing Hindutva politics. Civil society in
Pakistan and Bangladesh must continue
to wrestle with the central issue of how
and why the military has been able to
thwart real democratic development in
the name of national security. And with
regards to Pakistan's now legendry
"mullah brigade", my own research has
shown definitively that the problem of
religious extremism is a problem of the
State and not civil society.
Of course at the heart of South
Asia's crisis (perhaps I am being too
Indo-Pak-centric) lies the issue of Kash-
mir, the "unfinished business of parti-
tion!" Time and space do not allow any
worthwhile elucidation of this central
problem, but it is not fundamentally
irreconcilable. In the event that this hur-
dle may one day be overcome, the
nations of South Asia may one day be
able to divert valuable resources away
from insane levels of military spending!
The global community stands at the
precipice of this great hope and danger
with baited breath.
Jan is a Rackham student and can be
reached atJanna@umich.edu.

Hosting one of the largest
South Asian student bodies at
any university nationwide,
the University of Michigan is well
suited for an endeavor that creates
one collaborative committee for all
South Asian organizations. The idea
behind an umbrella group is mani-
fold: Not only will it serve the need
for the Center for South Asian Stud-
ies to connect, project and interact
more meaningfully with the student
body at large, it also will be a method
to coordinate, cooperate and share
resources and information among a
multitude of groups that cover a
range of intellectual, social, cultural,
religious and political activities relat-
ed to South Asia. Besides intending
to extend its vision to South Asians
around the campus, this conglomera-
tion also plans to educate the Univer-
sity and regional community at large
about the issues that affect and
emanate from one of the most conse-
quential areas in our world. The over-
whelmingly positive response thus far
from an array of groups and individ-
ual interests signifies a growing
awareness for the need to forge a
broader, multilateral identity that cel-
ebrates the diversity and commonali-
ty of the South Asian universe.
Implicit within the idea of a uni-
versity is the ideal of the universal,
and we intend to forge a commitment
to a rigorous cultural and intellectual
dialectic that would cover issues from
cricket to Kashmir - there will be no

boundaries for subject or debate. We
hope that this group will be a long
lasting microcosmic example for the
future of the region; an identity that
escapes the often narrowing confines
of more local provincial ethno-reli-
gious sub identities.
The South Asian Student Task
Force, facilitated by the Center for
South Asian Studies at the University
of Michigan, is a common forum
through which various South Asian
interests and organizations can collabo-
rate on a joint level. Whereas the Task
Force is open to membership and par-
ticipation for any student or groups on
campus, not all the activities and views
held by the Task Force are entirely rep-
resentative of all its constituent individ-
uals and/or organizations.

The Kashmir flashpoint: Conflict through post-Partition, 1947-2002


The Indian subcontinent was parti-
tioned into Hindu-dominated but nomi-
nally secular India and the newly
created Muslim state of Pakistan after
India's independence from Great Britain
in 1947. Severe rioting and population
movement ensued and an estimated half
a million people were killed in commu-
nal violence. About a million people
were left homeless. Since partition, the
largely Muslim territory of Jammu and
Kashmir has remained in dispute, with
Pakistan and India both holding sectors.
India and Pakistan first went to war
in October 1947 after Pakistan support-
ed a Muslim insurgency in Kashmir.

India agreed to a request for armed
assistance from Kashmir's Maharaja, in
return for accession of the state to
India. But the nature of that accession
has long been the subject of debate.
The war ended on Jan. 1, 1949, with
the establishment of a ceasefire line
sponsored by the United Nations. The
status of the territory remained in dis-
pute because an agreed referendum to
confirm the accession was never held
by Indian authorities.
The two countries went to war again
after Pakistan launched a covert offen-
sive across the ceasefire line into Indi-
an-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
India retaliated by crossing the interna-

tional border at Lahore. The war ended
without any resolution to the conflict.
Hostilities flared into combat
again as India intervened in an ongo-
ing civil war in East Pakistan, which
then became Bangladesh. The Kash-
mir front saw nominal fighting.
Armed resistance to Indian rule
broke out in the Kashmir valley in
1989, with some groups calling for
independence and others calling for
union with Pakistan. India accused
Pakistan of supplying weapons and
training to the militants. During the
1990s, with the emergence of militant
Muslim groups in the aftermath of the
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan,

the movement's ideology became
essentially Islamic in nature.
Fears of a nuclear confrontation
grew after both sides conducted
nuclear tests, Pakistan showing a tit for
tat response to India's May blasts with-
in two weeks. The United States
ordered sanctions against both coun-
tries, with several European nations
doing the same. Tensions were reduced
early the following year after the two
sides signed an accord pledging to
intensify efforts to resolve all issues -
including that of Jammu and Kashmir.
Conflict again erupted after India
launched air strikes against Pakistani-

backed forces that had infiltrated Indi-
an-administered Kashmir. Fighting built
up toward a direct conflict between the
two states and tens of thousands of peo-
ple were reported to have fled their
homes on both sides of the ceasefire
line. Later that year, General Musharraf
led a military coup in Pakistan, warning
that any sort of Indian incursion would
lead to total war.

more than a million troops along the Indo-
Pakistan border ensued, as did nuclear-
capable missile tests on both sides.
India announced negotiations with
opposition groups in Kashmir as well
as a fresh round of elections, which
are currently in their final stage.
While many have opted not partici-

2001 pate in the polls, turnouts have ranged
Tension along the ceasefire line over 40 percent, despite armed action
continued. In October, 38 people were bymilitants. Pakistan and many
killed after an attack on the Kashmiri Kashmiri opposition groups refuse to
assembly in Srinagar. A month later, recognize the elections.
14 people were killed in an attack on
the Indian parliament in New Delhi. Wa] Syed can be reachedat
India again blamed Pakistani-backed paganism@umich.edu. BBC.com assisted
Kashmiri militants. A dramatic build-up of incompilingtis report.
Amna Ali and Waj Syed



A geo-political survey of South Asia
Possibly the next global nuclear flashpoint in case of war between India and Pakistan (who have disputed
an accelerating arms race, a separatist insurgency that has clammed over 30.00( Fves, and U.N Securfy C
negotiate constructively on the issue, at the expense of destitute populace.
The Paris of the East according to Kipling, Laho.e was the venue
fimr the historic "Bus Diplomacy" meeting betwe n India:n P.M. A.
B. Va'paye and his Pakistani eounterpart Naw azShald m 1999.
But the first high-level talks for regional securiy held in decades
were soon dashed when Pakistan andIndia tacced oft ,though ISLAMABAYD
proxi-war in Kargil the ollOwilg summer.
'As Pakistan's largest city, Karachi has bcn witness 4
to Son o the post 9-11 world's nost severe
reverbations. Incidents such as the Damcel Pearl DEITT
murder (J atuary, 2002), U.S. Consulate bom{bing 'A
(Junc, 2002j and attacks on allied interests of the
guvernnment have thrown this port city of 10 rmilion
into the fray of the War on Terrorism . GUJARAT
Home to Bollywood, the largest film indusiry in the world . A RAIBAN SEA
(per annum fiins produced) and the Indian underwrld, _________
witnessed unprecendented economic and popubdion
growth rates in the last fi w decades as well as th most
severe eftni> riots in South Asia (1993). Still, 3ombay GUJARAT. INDIA
thrives as the metropolis of India. M.K Gandhi's homestate, the


4 NUCLEA R TEST SITES eeu nv e musgndheC presieTsBaTeay
since the dots staed earliersCp
tNTERNATIONAL BORDER tis year, and tensions still SRI LANKA
DISPUTED K ASHMIR sinmmer while demands for COLOMB() Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tam i separatists have ravaged parts of the country sine the mid...
the resignation of a corrupt 8{, t ,en inspiring a disastrous intervntive moe by India. ecently, however, the government ftheicest (GDP
governmnent prev ail among per capita) and most edated South Asian state opted to regnize.dg w ith the Tanil Tigers, the ruth
finger-potintg at Pakistani sectarian group w&hch ha been fighting for 'Tamil independence. A .rv pe is expected.
Map by AMNA ALl/Daily ieellgenee.
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