Print Edition - 2014-05-04  |  Free the Words

Decolonising development

- Zulfiqar Shah, Kathmandu

May 3, 2014-

The politics of international development has never asserted its hitherto potential role to address changes in development paradigms, rights regimes and social movements in internally colonised countries across the globe. Pakistan, in this regard, could be the first-ever model for this kind of a new initiative.

What role can developed countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada together possibly play in some crucial issues of Pakistan? One may probably dismiss the very notion by terming it irrelevant; however, realpolitik sometimes precedes the theoretical matrix. In fact, the politics of international development has much to offer for development decolonisation in internally colonised countries.    

The US, UK, and Canada indeed have a highly peculiar and candid engagement with Pakistan due to various reasons. They are allies in the Afghanistan intervention. They headquarter a highly vibrant Christian missionary in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. Additionally, they house powerful Pakistani Punjabi elite in cities like Vancouver, London and Staten Island in New York. These three cities have played a major role in lobbying for Pakistan's Punjabi-dominated military establishment. Very

few within and outside of Pakistan know the crucially important, diplomatic role these cities have due their degree of influence in Pakistan's internal politics. The US, UK, and Canada are among the top five donors in the development and rights regime in Pakistan, where the largest amount of civil society actors is outcome of, as well as associated with, CIDA, DFID and USAID.

Opposites in similarities

If a wider range of socio-political and strategic facts is taken into account regarding the American, Britain and Canadian niche for economic and financial assistance in Pakistan, the restructuring of such an intervention on ethno-demographic segregation becomes an inevitable prerequisite. This will ultimately have highly progressive effects if other stakeholders like Germany, Russia, India and Japan join in such a noble task.  

In the wider range of global politics, Canada hitherto has postured itself as a soft ally of the US and the UK has been an old ally since the Cold War. The UK is a previous coloniser who morally holds greater responsibilities for whatever is happening in Pakistan due its inappropriate and haphazard departure from Pakistan. Moreover, the nature of relations between Canada, US, and the UK as well as the Canadian passion for an enhanced role in global politics further pitches her for revisiting the Pakistan policy.      

From the immigration-demographic standpoint, these countries have two edges for their possible role regarding the much required 180-degree reform in Pakistan. Moreover, the UK and Canada have classical similarities as well concerning the dissent between states and the federal government. In the UK, Scotland has its own currency—the Scottish Pound—and a referendum for its cessation is already due. Meanwhile Canada has been appropriately addressing the issue of Quebec, for which they held a referendum. Unlike the UK and Canada, Pakistan has been unsuccessful in addressing similar popular demands from Sindh and Balochistan in a democratic and judicious manner. In fact, these freedom movements in Pakistan have been unfortunately handled through a brutal, undemocratic and unethical use of military power against the citizenry.

The United Kingdom, Canada, and the US house some of the largest populations of Pakistani Punjabis; thus, it becomes relevant for their foreign policies to include the chemistry change in the Pakistani power matrix and statecraft through development intervention policies.   

Non-inclusive matrix           

There can be a strong role for the US, UK, and Canada in overhauling Pakistan statecraft in association with some Western and South Asian stakeholders for the country's real substantive democratisation, which may leave positive impacts on the desperately required state chemistry change. It is now a well-discussed fact among analysts that the state apparatus of Pakistan is non-inclusive unto its very foundations by being confined only to the ethnic Punjabis, mostly of Salafi Muslim origin. The rest of the citizens, especially the Sindhis and Balochs and religious groups like Hindus, Christians and Shia Muslims, are officially or traditionally barred from strategic positions, like the heads of the armed forces. Additionally, non-Muslims are constitutionally discriminated against by being denied their right to hold the public offices of the President and the Prime Minister.

Although there is no constitutional bar on Sindhis and Balochs for the top positions, the practical norms are otherwise. No Sindhi military official has so far been promoted to the post of Brigadier General. Moreover, only one Baloch general has hitherto succeeded to the senior rank who, during Musharaf's military regime, also qualified for the post of Deputy Army Chief. However, he was asked to retire prematurely .    

Quite surprisingly, for civil society organisations, international development funds flow, and private entrepreneur recruitment, including for multi-national companies, usually practice ethnic bias in Pakistan because the majority of these house ethnic Punjabi employees in senior and mid-level management. Even in the oil and gas-rich province of Sindh, hardly any Sindhi can be found in technical and non-technical positions for officers and labourers.       

Federative dissent

Due to the Punjabisation of the state apparatus in Pakistan, in association with its Urdu-speaking elite partners, Bangladesh waged and won a war for freedom in 1971. Balochistan has been waging a liberation war for the last couple of decades and Sindh is leading a peaceful movement where a couple of million people demanded independence in 2012. Recently around five million Sindhis gathered in the Karachi city on March 23, 2014 to demand that the United Nations and the world community intervene for an 'Independent  Sindh'. At least two top leaders, Bashir Qureshi and Maqsood Qureshi, have been killed in Sindh during the last two years, besides the extra-judicial murder of hundreds of Sindhi and Baloch political and human rights activists and journalists. More than 10,000 activists, roughly estimating, were involuntarily disappeared from both the southern coastal and natural resource rich provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Recently, numerous mass graves have been found, according to news reports from various parts of Balochistan, indicating war crimes committed during the conflict between the military and the Baloch rebels.         

A crucial engagement

While South Asian countries need to be concerned about happenings in their immediate neighbourhood, developed countries like the US, Canada, the UK, Russia and Japan can play at least one basic yet crucial three-pronged role in Pakistan. One, they can review their foreign policy and international development priorities in the socio-political context and prioritise issues like 'ethno-sectarian participation' in governance as well as human rights support in the context of political, economic and culture rights to Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Two, they can push Pakistan along with other stakeholders to hold a referendum in a democratic manner in Sindh and Balochistan, similar to Canada and the UK's plans to do so in Quebec and Scotland, respectively. Three, where Punjabi-speaking Pakistani settlers in the US, UK and Canada have played a major role in Islamabad's politics and diplomacy, the time has come for the American, Canadian and British Sindhi and Baloch diaspora to also be encouraged for a progressive role in the state chemistry and a rights regime change in Pakistan. Most importantly, native Western activists can at least show their activism sympathy for the victims of ethnic cleansing, genocide and rights violation in Sindh and Balochistan.

Let development equality be reinforced to strengthen social justice and peace for a better tomorrow.  

Shah is a Sindhi refugee activist, analyst and journalist  


Published: 04-05-2014 10:59

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