South Asian Free Media Conference - VII
DEMOCRACY AND AUTHORITARIANISM IN SOUTH ASIA ,
Seventh SAFMA Conference
Authoritarian forces recede INAUGURAL SESSION Development paradigms and nation-building
outh Asian Free Media Conference-VII is taking place at a time when a new wave of democracy in all countries of South Asia has forced the authoritarian forces to recede in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives with popular democratic governments in power. We rejoice together the democratic gains and look towards their consolidation. We especially salute the people of Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan who threw the yoke of authoritarian regimes through the people's power of ballot. Still the sustainability of democratic institutions will be tested against the high waters of global recession, higher expectations of the people and on the imperatives of good governance and democratic values. Although the democratic forces have won the latest round, they still face great challenges of expanding the fruits of democracy to those who remained powerless for centuries. But democracy is just not holding of elections, it is much broader and deals with the freedoms of the individual, empowerment of the people, rule of law, respect for fundamental civil and human rights, rights of the minorities and the dispossessed, besides good governance. For democracy to work, it is necessary that people enjoy equal rights and opportunities; the government is transparent and accountable. A pluralist culture of tolerance is promoted and right to know and freedom of expression is respected. We are happy that along with democracy, free media are also flourishing in the countries of the region. But, regretfully, they often come under attack, especially in the conflict ridden regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the southeastern region of India.
media are also
Mr Reazuddin Ahmed, the President of SAFMA Bangladesh, expressing his gratitude after taking over the rotational slot of SAFMA Presidency from Mr Lakshman Gunasekera, the President of SAFMA Sri Lanka. On the stage are from left to right the President of SAFMA Bhutan Mr Rinzin Wangchuck, the President of SAFMA Nepal Mr Shiv Gaunle, SAFMA Secretary General Mr Imtiaz Alam, Bangladesh's Information Minister Mr Abul Kalam Azad, the President of SAFMA Sri Lanka Mr Lakshman Gunasekera, the President of SAFMA Afghanistan Mr Ehsanullah Aryanzai
This conference is going to focus on the issues of democracy and authoritarianism in South Asia, besides taking a serious note of terrorism in Mumbai and how should not the Indian and Pakistani media have covered it. The rise of terrorism in
flourishing but, regretfully, they often come under attack
SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam welcoming Bangladesh Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad to the conference
Afghanistan and Pakistan and its spillover into India and Bangladesh is a matter of great concern to us and the countries of the region must put their act together to fight this common enemy, instead of fighting each other, some thing the terrorists so desperately desire. Those who attacked Mumbai wanted India and Pakistan to come to blows, but they could only partially succeed by getting the peace process between India and Pakistan suspended. Pakistan must cooperate with India in bringing the perpetrators of terrorism to justice and India must reciprocate by joining forces with the new democracy in Pakistan in its fight against terrorism and authoritarianism. In fact the scourge of terrorism and religious extremism cannot be fought by any country alone nor could it be won by military means alone. The countries of the region, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh must join hands to fight it together for lasting peace and tranquility in the region. The conference will also review SAFMA's strategy and future course of action in this beautiful city of Cox's Bazaar. We hope this conference will help us guide our people in the right direction and prepare us to meet our goals more effectively. I thank my staff at the Central Secretariat and our SAFMA Bangladesh Chapter for making this event so memorable.
and Free Media Foundation President Mr Munnoo Bhai
Inaugural Session: Report than imposing their own diktats.
Development Paradigms and nation-building February 10, 2009
Address by Secretary General of SAFMA, Imtiaz Alam: Mr Imtiaz Alam rejoiced the victory of democracy in Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan. He said, “The South Asian Free Media Conference-VII is taking place at a time when a new wave of democracy in all countries of South Asia has forced the authoritarian forces to recede.
ore than 250 senior journalists and media personalities, including editors of the leading daily newspapers and news agencies of the region, met at the sea-laced tourist spot to single out the challenges facing the media and find out effective solutions to strengthen democracy for the benefit of the 1.5 billion people of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Afghanistan and host Bangladesh. A three-member observer team from China also attended the conference.
“We especially salute the people of Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan who have thrown the yoke of authoritarian regimes through the people's power of ballot,” he said. Although we rejoice democracy, it is not sustainable yet.
Bangladesh's Information Minister, Mr. Abul Kalam Azad inaugurated the 7th South Asian Free Media Conference at 10:00 am.
He expressed concerns about the spread of terrorism in South Asia. Condemning the Mumbai terrorist attacks, he shared grief with the people of India.
Mr Lakshman Gunasekera of Sri Lanka handed over the presidency of SAFMA to Mr Reazuddin Ahmed of Bangladesh.
Unhappy with the progress and activities of SAARC, he said its member countries did not have connectivity within themselves. “Economic development will not be achieved with so poor a connectivity, he said urging the need for ensuring free movement of people and media. Keynote Paper: Eminent economist from Bangladesh Prof. Rehman Sobhan presented a key-note paper on "Development paradigms and nation-building in South Asia: An agenda for building more inclusive societies". Prof Sobhan said: “The governments of South Asia, even those with legitimate electoral mandates, appear more committed to serving the dictates of external patrons and impersonal forces of the global market than to responding to the demands of those very electorates, who have voted them to power”. The renowned economist said the nations in the
Highlights of speech by Reazuddin Ahmed after taking over the presidency of SAFMA from Lakshman Gunasekera:
Mr Alam said the media had a great responsibility for establishing a sustainable democracy. He hoped the media would enjoy free environment with the ushering in of democracy in the South Asian countries.
Mr. Reazuddin Ahmed expressed his gratitude for receiving the presidency of SAFMA for the second time. He hoped that SAFMA would work better and efficiently under the presidency of Bangladesh. It (SAFMA) would be a vibrant body, he hoped.
He expressed the need for a regional forum to combat the region-wide problem of terrorism. “No one country can fight it out,” he said. He welcomed the proposal for a regional task force to fight terrorism in the SAARC countries.
SAFMA President Reazuddin Ahmed
Welcome Address by Zahiduzzaman Faruque After welcoming the SAFMA conference delegates, Mr Faruque remembered the sacrifices of the freedom fighters, veterans of the historic  language movement of Bangladesh and the three million martyrs of the liberation war of Bangladesh . He said his country was proud to have a great leader, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and a great fighter, Ziaur Rahman. Mr Faruque discussed SAFMA objectives hoping that the organisation would work for strengthening democracy in the region. He said that in the ninth parliamentary election in Bangladesh, people of the country had given a huge mandate to the government which he believed would inspire it to ensure free and congenial atmosphere for media. Pointing towards the media environment in Bangladesh, Mr Faruque said there was no legal bar to the free media now except for the Official Secrets Act and Defamation Act, which were sometimes abused by the administration. He hoped that all the SAARC journalists would work together for a better South Asia.
He urged the international community to respect the viewpoint of the countries facing terrorism rather
3 SAFMA Sri Lanka President Mr Lakshman Gunasekera and Bangladesh's Information Minister Mr Abul Kalam Azad
region had long borne the legacy of the colonial rule that divided societies and caused conflicts of various forms. “Terror is emerging as the instrument of choice for the disempowered, with insurgency and even civil war, as the outcome of these incomplete exercises in nation-building,” he observed. He said: “If the nations are genuinely committed to the goal of reducing poverty, promoting a more inclusive development process and ensuring sustainability of the democratic order, then they must, at least, begin to challenge the injustices, which reproduce exclusion in societies”. Professor Sobhan said the disparity between social elites and the poor was a barrier to development. He said the South Asian countries had failed to build up national unity for a huge disparity between the poor and elites. Prof Sobhan spoke about a social polarisation between their globalised elites and a disparate community of the marginalised and disempowered. He termed the disempowered people as
excluded. Prof Sobhan said there were four sources of such exclusion of the excluded community: Unequal access to assets, unequal participation in the market, unequal access to human development, unjust governance. He suggested establishing an equitable and integrated society for expanding the ownership and control of the excluded over productive assets in the rural areas and corporate sector, strengthening capacity to compete in the market place through building institutions for collective actions by the excluded, enhancing their access to knowledge based society, ensuring quality health care for the excluded, redesigning budgetary policy to reach public resources to them, restructuring financial policy to deliver credit and provide saving instrument for the excluded, and empowering them to be better representatives in the elective bodies. High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Bangladesh V Krishnamurthy read out a message from President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan in Dhaka Ayaz Mohammad Khan a message from President Asif Ali Zardari at the inaugural session.
Ayaz Ahmed Khan, Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan Appraising the activities of SAFMA, he said the journalists' association had developed and expanded its activities since its launch. He said SAFMA had contributed a lot to bringing the South Asian countries closer. The Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan said his country supported the objectives of SAFMA. Address by the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka The Sri Lankan High Commissioner congratulated the media persons for removing various challenges to democracy. He urged the media to play a vital role in sustaining democracy. He said, “Media persons being vibrant people should set high standards of objectivity. The media can create harmony in the region.”
Professor Rehman Sobhan making his presentation
The audience. On the front rows are Bangladeshi delegates and Chinese observers
In this context, he said the people of Bangladesh had again expressed their views through ballots and rejected all forms of the authoritarian rules, which was reflected in the recent parliamentary election. “They voted for a change giving their massive mandate against corruption, abuse of power, and repressive and bad governance,” he said. Azad termed the media "a bridge between the government and the people". He said there was no alternative to sustainable democracy and free media for progress of the nations in this region. “I also firmly believe that the media and only the media can change the mindset of our people as well as our leaders to develop our region and make it a peaceful and prosperous one,” Azad said. Referring to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's firm commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism, and her subsequent call for forming a regional task force, the information minister hoped that the leaders of South Asian nations would come forward to attain the objective. Azad hoped that the region's media would play a vital role in making her proposal a reality. He said the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was committed to ensuring a free-media environment, and security and welfare of the journalist community. He also said the government would formulate a media policy in consultation with all stakeholders.
Only democracy can ensure free media Abul Kalam Azad, Information Minister of Bangladesh
nformation Minister Abul Kalam Azad said that only a democratic society could ensure an atmosphere conducive to free and lively media, which was a must for sustainable democracy.
Emphasizing the need for a free as well as responsible media for strong democratic traditions in South Asian countries, the information minister said absence of democracy and the long practice of regulating the media in the South Asian region were not healthy signs and in no way acceptable. Mr Azad said that people as well as major political parties of the South Asian countries had
become an integral part of the democratic process as they had played responsible roles. The minister said that unfortunately authoritarian rulers in the region had been choosing undesirable patterns of controlling the media, which had weakened both the media and democracy. “Bangladesh inherits a long tradition of fighting against different forms of authoritarianism and the Bengali nation has always defeated authoritarian regimes through its heroic and courageous movements.”
Vote of Thanks by Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury said a new wave of democracy was sweeping through the South Asian region, mainly because of media's bold and courageous role in the process. He said SAFMA had played a role in promoting free media across the region. He proposed that the media of the South Asian countries form a regional taskforce in fighting authoritarianism. “Although democracy has got its roots in the South Asian countries, it is not institutionalized yet. Sustainability of democracy is important.” Mr Chowdhury urged the journalists to be "South Asian" journalists rather than only being nation-state journalists. “I believe media can promote friendship.” SAFMA President Reazuddin Ahmed thanked the participants. Later, by observing a minute's silence, the house paid respect to the people who had sacrificed their lives for sustaining democracy in the region.
Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
SAFMA leaders and Abul Kalam Azad, Information Minister of Bangladesh, Professor Rehman Sobhan stand in silence for those who lost their lives for media and democracy
democracy in one form or the other has been practiced for varying lengths of time in most South Asian countries. Lately, the monarchy in Nepal had to give way to full-fledged democratic rule and the monarchy in Bhutan voluntarily opted for the path of constitutional and democratic rule. Recent elections in Pakistan have thrown up a very powerful republican parliament that has the potential to burry the vestiges of military rule, depending on how major parties behave. A military-backed transition in Bangladesh has finally come to an end with Awami League sweeping the elections in a landslide victory. While almost all South Asian countries have constitutionally declared their commitment to democratic institutions, the reality on the ground shows that political, economic and social conditions of the people of South Asia have allowed power to remain concentrated in the hands of elite. As democratisation grows and reaches out to the marginalized sections of society, new political forces are emerging to demand their share in power and greater inclusiveness. Centralized and exclusionary structures are being challenged for devolution and decentralization of power by the peripheral regions and deprived ethnic minorities and disenfranchised people. Unfortunately, most nations in the region tend to subscribe to a majoritarian creed or character where one religious or ethnic group dominates state and its policies at the cost of other marginalized group or minority. Although democratic continuity and sustainability still remain a problem, the people at large want direct participation in the system of governance and their empowerment at the grassroots level. Participation of women and the minorities in the mainstream political processes, however, remains abysmally low.
Bumpy road to democracy Imtiaz Alam
here has been a global shift towards the establishment of democratic forms of governance with more of the world's independent nations opting for the road towards democracy. South Asia provides interesting examples to study the democratic process where the British colonialists, unlike other colonizers, introduced liberal constitutional values and structures of rule of law in the subcontinent. In the post-colonial period, benefiting from limited practices of democratic norms, the newly independent countries of the region attempted to take a democratic course with varying degrees of failures and successes. Despite disruption and various kinds of authoritarian interruptions,
Afghanistan, with three decades of war and civil strife, presents an enigma of transition from a tribal/feudal society to liberal democracy. After the overthrow of a most reactionary Taliban regime, there has been an attempt to bring the country on the road to “democracy” through elections of a Loya Jirga (grand council) and the president, which saw a 53 per cent voter turnout. In the absence of a developed nation-state and almost non-existence institutions, the tribal chiefs and warlords continue to dominate the countryside reducing the writ of the state to few urban centers. Transition to democracy in Afghanistan, in the absence of developed modern structures and liberal democratic institutions, poses a difficult proposition to its authors who are alienated from a traditional and honor-based society. The threat from the deposed Taliban from among the Pakthuns continues to haunt the elected government of Mr. Karzai who is backed by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Yet the experiment is worth continuing since Afghanistan cannot afford to fall back into the hands of Taliban. Stability, peace and integrity of Afghanistan are crucial to the peace and progress in the region. The next elections are going to be a great test to include
those who are moderate and need to be included. Nepal and Bhutan have both seen monarchic rule, albeit in different shades. For Nepal, the transition to democracy has been confrontational and in phases, with a mass uprising finally forcing the authoritarian monarchy to relinquish all executive authority. After the elections that brought Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to power, the new Constituent Assembly has yet to decide a whole range of tedious issues, including the nature of federation and the status of restive Terai region. In this transition to democracy, the Maoists' commitment to the democratic cause is viewed with lot of skepticism by the intelligentsia, even though they are a crucial catalyst in shifting the balance from the upper class elite to the lower castes/classes in Nepal. The euphoria about the republic is giving way to disillusionment due to un-fulfillment of the inflated expectations of the people. The recent shift towards parliamentary democracy in Bhutan has been largely peaceful and with the sweet will of the
monarch. However, some international scholars believe that Bhutan's transition might just be cosmetic and the real power may still remain with the monarch. The March elections have thrown up a two-party system and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT-Bhutan United Party) has formed the first democratic government in that country. Sri Lanka, the longest surviving South Asian democracy, with some critics calling it a failed democracy, has seen a gradual evolution towards a unitary system of centralized governance that has alienated the Tamil Hindu minority in the North and North East regions of the island. The constitution erratically mixes the presidential system with the parliamentary form of government dividing the executive authority between the prime minister and a powerful president. Sri Lanka has embraced an ethnic majoritarianism and has, over the years—through various governments—tried to impose the Sinhalese majority over Tamil and Muslim minorities. As a result of strained ethnic relations (partly due to Sinhalese chauvinism and partly due to the Tamil exclusivism), Sri Lanka has become a theatre of bloody ethnic civil war. Despite recent military advances into the strongholds of the LTTE, Sri Lanka will have to find a lasting democratic solution to the conflict and evolve an inclusive federal system—may be a confederal structure that satisfies the Tamil aspirations and yet keep the country together as the
Almost all South Asian countries have constitutionally declared their commitment to democratic institution but political, economic and social conditions of the people have allowed power to remain concentrated in the hands of elite.
Budhist Sinhalas wish.
of political confrontation between the two major political parties-- divided on pro and anti Bhutto lines. In an uneasy transition from military to civilian rule, the February elections have brought a rainbow democratic coalition to power that is committed to
The valiant people of Bangladesh won independence from an internal colonization imposed under the hegemony of successive military rulers from the then West Pakistan who refused to accept their popular mandate. Although Bangladesh is a democracy, it has seen its fair share of military involvement and the country was again under an “emergency” rule, with the blessings of the military. Repeating the mistakes of their Pakistani counterparts, the two major parties continued to take a confrontationist course, consequently, allowing the army to intervene—this time from behind the scene. Under continued pressure, the interim setup had to lift the emergency and hold elections in December 2008. The Awami League under the leadership of Ms Hasina Wajid swept the elections with over two-thirds majority routing its traditional rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khalida Zia. With such a huge mandate the new government can no only handle the extremist fringe but also afford to not repeat the acrimony of the past.
restore the sovereignty of the parliament and remove the 17th Amendment brought by General Pervez Musharraf who had to resign under the threat of impeachment. The PPP formed coalitions at both federal and provincial levels. The two victorious major parties, Pakistan Peoples Party of late Ms Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan Muslim League of Mr. Nawaz Sharif, are committed to a Charter of Democracy that pledges to radically change civil-military relations. Now everything depends on how far the PPP-led coalition government of Peoples' Democratic Alliance will work after the disassociation of PML-N from the federal government and continuing tussle in the Punjab where the are still uneasy partner in a PML-N led coalition. The real test of the new government will come when it will face a big public rally of the lawyers' community on March 9 in Islamabad for the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhary, at a time when half of the Senate is also be elected amid wild speculations.
Pakistan, from its very beginning, presents a most conflicting case for democracy and authoritarianism. Given the weaknesses of the political elite, the army being the most developed structure tends to dominate the state that was created by a franchise. On the other hand, the people have continued to struggle for democracy, despite their occasional disenchantment with the politicians. The last martial law was imposed after the failed decade
Afghan delegates led by President of SAFMA Afghanistan Mr Ehsanullah Aryanzai, second from left
India has long stood as the only stable example of democracy in South Asia. Long hailed as the “largest democracy” in the world, India has seen an unbroken record—apart from the 20 month long emergency between 1975 and 1977—of preservation of democracy in its politics. This is not to say that Indian democracy is untainted or flawless. The nature of politics in India has its shortcomings but these have not yet (and are unlikely to) undermine India's democratic heritage. To understand the success of India's transition to democracy after the British rule, one can apply Dankwart Rustow's—political theorist and “father of transitology”—propositions that predispose a state towards democracy. These—national unity, existence of entrenched conflict, conscious adoption of democratic rules, and “habituation” of the electorate and the leadership to democratic norms—hold true
President of SAFMA Bhutan Mr Rinzin Wangchuck
Delegates from Bhutan
to a great extent in India. Although India still faces an unstable political system and anti-secular communal challenges, it is near an ideal type of democratic system in South Asia. Near only because some flaws in its democratic structure (e.g. the first-past-the-post system) allow for minority groups to be denied fair representation in Parliament. The majoritarian character of the state, despite its fascinating plurality, tends to deprive the minorities and low casts of their due, despite a secular mantra.
institutions of nationhood to survive as disempowered individuals within an uncertain world. The governments of South Asia, even those with legitimate electoral mandates, appear more committed to serve the dictates of external patrons and the impersonal forces of the global market than to respond to the demands of those very electorates which have voted them to power.
The lessons learnt from a study of the countries of South Asia are that certain conditions and factors formed the experience of South Asian democracy. With all its conflicts, divisive groups, poverty and illiteracy, South Asia has witnessed a continued interest and participation in politics and a strong nationalism in all its countries. It has dealt with ethnic divisions by experimenting with decentralization, coalition governments and local democracies. The journey towards democracy continues with the hope that democratic values flourish and the people living in abject poverty also benefits from the fruits of democracy by breaking local power nexus and empowering them at the grassroots.
Our societies are, in consequence, weakening the bonds of nationhood which were so painfully forged during the course of our anti-colonial struggles. During the course of our liberation struggles our national leaders needed to bring together disparate communities of ethnic groups, religious denominations and social back grounds to construct a sense of national identity in order to challenge a dominant colonial power. Our post-colonial history has witnessed the fragmentation of this painfully constructed national identity. New elites, initially denominated by regional, ethnic or religious identities, but now increasingly distinguished by wealth, have come to monopolise our more economically developed but increasingly divided societies. These fragments are now emerging as the sources of conflict manifest in territorial, ethnic, religious and class based conflicts. Terror is emerging as the instrument of choice for the disempowered, with insurgency and even civil war, as the outcome of these incomplete exercises in nation building.
Nepalese delegates led by Mr Shiv Gaunle, left in the picture
We in Bangladesh owe our nationhood to perhaps the most extreme manifestation of a failed enterprises in nation building. However, having constructed a unique and largely homogenous national identity which sustained us through our liberation struggle, we have created an increasingly divided society between a privileged elite and a socially disempowered majority.
Building more inclusive societies Rehman Sobhan
he dominant development paradigm which has directed the strategies of successive governments across South Asia for the last quarter of a century has not been particularly helpful to nation building. The strategy has served to construct and consolidate the emergence of an elite which is more closely integrated to the globalization process. In contrast we are witness to the fragmentation of societies in every country of South Asia where the dispossessed and resourceless are left disconnected from the
Other countries in South Asia, have yet to satisfactorily resolve their national question. However, these countries are also witness to a social polarization between their globalised elites and a disparate community of the marginalized and disempowered. In many cases these disparities encapsulate both the communal and social divide and thus acquire a tenacity which is much harder to manage. In places such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India, the marginalized Dalits, who were also located at the bottom of the social pyramid, have been politically empowered through the democratic process. However, the majority of Dalits still remain socially marginalized since identity based politics has done little to challenge the structural sources of their poverty. The policy reforms which have uniformly been put in place across South Asia have been predicated on the ideology of the so called Washington Consensus. This consensus is today in disarray across much of the world. In Latin America, the electorate has repudiated this consensus at the polls in an increasing number of countries. Within the developed world, now in a state of meltdown, we still have to see the political end game of the unfolding crisis.
Ironically, the agenda of the Washington Consensus remains alive and well in South Asia, even though our electorates have periodically repudiated governments across the region for their undeviating adherence to its basic tenets. The principal weakness of the market oriented development paradigm associated with the Washington Consensus remains that it has failed to recognize the resource poor as legitimate partners in the development process. The development model has tended to exclude significant segments of the population from opportunities to participate on equitable terms in the opportunities for development and decision making in society. Those who are denied such opportunities for participation should be termed as the excluded. The excluded are embedded in certain inherited structural arrangements such as insufficient access to productive assets as well as human resources, unequal capacity to participate in both domestic and global markets and the undemocratic distribution of political power.
It is important to keep in mind that exclusion originates in the unequal command over both economic and political resources within society and the unjust nature of a social order which perpetuates these inequities. Such injustice remains pervasive in most societies exposed to
endemic poverty and is particularly manifest across South Asia. Any credible agenda to eradicate poverty in South Asia must seek to promote a more inclusive development process which takes account of the underlying political economy which builds such exclusionary societies. The principal sources of exclusion originate in the following areas: 路 Productive assets 路 Markets 路 Human Development 路 Governance. The Sources of Exclusion Unequal access to assets Productive assets provide the main currency which enable people to participate in the market economy. Much attention has been given in recent years by the policy makers of South Asia about the importance of the market in promoting development. However, much less attention is given to who participate in the market and on what terms. In all countries faced with endemic poverty and indeed many middle-income countries, inequitable access to wealth and knowledge desempower the excluded from participating competitively in the market place. Such inequities are particularly applicable to South Asia where the excluded
Indian and Bangladeshi delegates
have little command over productive assets. Asset poverty remains a significant source of income poverty. Rural poverty, for example, originates in insufficient access to land, water and water bodies for the less privileged segments of rural society. Those of the land poor who live in urban areas command little in the way of urban property, and have virtually no access to corporate assets.
Indian delegates led by Mr K K Katyal, centre
Inequities in title and access to agrarian assets do not derive from the competitive play of the market but from the injustices of history. In South Asia title to land was mostly appropriated through the exercise of power or access to political patronage rather than in the market. Ownership of land has thus been used as a source of social authority as well as a political resource. Retention of land, in such circumstances is not just about its income earning potential but serves as a measure of political power and position in the social hierarchy. In such circumstances the prevailing dispensation governing access to land lacks not just economic justification but moral as well as social legitimacy. Furthermore, the prevailing structures of land ownership remain inimical to the construction of a functioning democratic order which remains contingent on reducing the relations of domination and
dependence which define relations between the land rich and land poor. Lack of access to capital and property assets in the urban sector serve as a measure of urban poverty. Lack of landed assets in the urban areas of South Asia, is a reflection of market failure. The homeless remain willing to pay market prices not just for land and housing but for the accompanying utilities in the form of water, sewerage, sanitation, gas and electricity as well as for just law enforcement. Neither private providers or the state have been able to fully, or in most cases even minimally, respond to this effective demand from the urban excluded. Where the homeless mostly tend to be displaced immigrants from the rural areas, lack of access to property rights leave then without a legal identity. The urban excluded thus remain insecure, disempowered and without a real stake in the society where they live. This is dangerous not to just to civic peace but to the sustainability of democratic institutions. Unequal participation in the market Within the prevailing property structures of society, the resource poor remain excluded from the more dynamic sectors of the market, particularly where there is scope for benefiting from the opportunities provided by globalisation. The fast growing sectors of
economic activity tend to be located within the urban economy, where the principal agents of production tend to be the urban elite, who own the corporate assets which underwrite the faster growing sectors of the economy. Even in the export-oriented rural economy, in those areas linked with the more dynamic agro-processing sector, a major part of the profits, in the chain of value addition, accrue to those classes who control corporate wealth. The excluded, therefore, interact with the dynamic sectors of the economy only as primary producers and wage earners, at the lowest end of the production and marketing chain, where they sell their produce and labour under severely adverse conditions. This leaves the excluded with little opportunity for sharing in the opportunities provided by the market economy for value addition to their labours. As long as the primary producer remains an isolated individual who has to compete with economically more powerful or better organized buyers as well as manufacturers, they will remain condemned to participate in an unequal relationship, held captive at the bottom of the product chain. The failure of primary producers to come together through collective action, severely limits their bargaining capacity in the market place.
Capital markets also fail the excluded and thereby limit their capability to participate in the more dynamic segments of the market. Capital markets have failed to provide credit to the excluded even though they have, in recent years, demonstrated their creditworthiness through their low default rates in the micro-credit market inspite of the high rates of interest charged by the microfinance institutions (MFI). Micro-credit has served to meet the subsistence needs of the excluded but is not designed to empower them to participate in the macro-economy. The excluded therefore remain impounded in the ghetto of the microeconomy. The financial sector reforms promoted by the World Bank and IMF have done little to correct these failures in the banking system to meet the specific needs of the creditworthy resource poor in the urban and rural economy. Unequal access to human development Low productivity remains an important source of income poverty. Higher income and ownership of wealth remains closely correlated to higher levels of education. Low productivity, thus, originates in insufficient access to education and technology. All governments in South Asia, with the exception of Sri Lanka and Maldives, have been notorious for their neglect of education. The problem originally lay in the insufficient
Delegates from Sri Lanka
budgetary resources committed to education. In recent year South Asian governments have moved to invest a larger share of public resources in education which has served to expand opportunities for the resource poor. But this has done little to bridge the widening disparity in the quality of education available to a better educated elite with access to private as well as foreign education. In contrast, the resource poor remain condemned to remain captive within an insufficiently funded and poorly governed public education system supplemented by poor quality private or denominational schools. Failure to provide adequate education to the excluded is compounded by the failure to provide adequate health care. Whilst public expenditures on health care in all South Asian countries have expanded in recent years public health services remain both inadequate in relation to the needs of the excluded and deficient in quality of service made available to them. As a result, the excluded are increasingly compelled to seek health care from a variety of low calibre private providers. Quality health care remains the privilege of those with the resources to pay for this from private providers either at home or abroad. When the compulsion for survival drives the excluded to avail of quality private health care services, its costs often drive those with limited income into poverty and the already resource poor into extreme poverty.
Maldivian delegates led by Ms Aminath Najeeb, centre
Public health care services, where available, have served the excluded but at high transaction costs where access to quality care becomes a privilege rather than a right. As a result, public
care, particularly at the tertiary level, tends to be accessed by those who have the access and resources to lay claim to better quality services. In such a universe access to health care has emerged as yet another social divider between, the elite and excluded of South Asia. This divide has served to compromise the life chances of the excluded and thereby continues to perpetuate inequality and injustice in this region. Unjust governance This inequitable and unjust social and economic universe is compounded by a system of unjust governance in South Asia which discriminates against the excluded and effectively disenfranchises them from the political benefits of a democratic process. The excluded, whether they tend to be women, the resource poor or minorities, remain excluded from the policy concerns of the ruling elite, voiceless in the institutions of governance and hence, underserved by available public services. Where such services are at all accessible to the excluded, they pay high transaction costs for these services. The agencies of law enforcement insufficiently protect the excluded and frequently oppress them for personal gain as well as on behalf of the elite. The judicial system, in most South Asian countries, denies the excluded elementary justice because of their poverty as well as the social bias of most South Asian judiciaries. The institutions of democracy remain unresponsive to the needs of the excluded, both in the design of their policy agendas as well as the selection of their electoral candidates.
In such a social universe the excluded of South Asia remain tyrannized by state as well as money power and have to seek the protection of their oppressors, within a system of patronclient relationships, which perpetuates the prevailing hierarchies of power. Where the democratic process prevails or has been renewed after long episodes of autocratic rule, the excluded of South Asia are denied adequate access to office in the political parties or representation in the systems of democratic governance from the local to the national level. Representative institutions tend to be monopolized by the affluent and socially powerful who then use their electoral office to enhance their wealth and thereby perpetuate their hold over power. In such an inequitable and politically unjust environment, the benefits of democracy remain the privilege of the elite supported by small collectives of sectional power. In contrast, the needs of the excluded, whether for decent work or improved human development, remain unrecognized. Even where the excluded register their disenchantment at the polling booths by voting a succession of incumbent regimes out of office across South Asia, the political parties in every country have remained largely unresponsive in heeding the political voice of what may be the largest segment of the voting population. In such circumstances the political parties which are contesting for power should be offering a new set of policies and a new style of governance to their respective voters. In practice, government after government across South Asia has continued to offer a broadly unchanged set of policy prescriptions which are in some discredit across much of the developing world and recently
even in the developed world. Now that a party, drawing its strength from the excluded classes, has been elected to power in Nepal it remains to be seen whether they give greater priority to the concerns of the excluded. In Bangladesh, where the recently elected Grand Coalition has promised to make poverty eradication its priority concern, it also remains to be seen, whether their leaders can break out of the constrictive influence of the Washington Consensus, to design a development agenda which is more just and inclusive. Towards a More Inclusive Development Agenda Policy premise If we are to correct these injustices which exclude a significant segment of the population of South Asia from more effectively contributing to and sharing in the development process our policy agendas need to be made more inclusive. Over the last four years we have been engaged in a work programme at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka to address the issue of designing a more inclusive development strategy for South Asia. The agenda seeks to empower the excluded, by strengthening their capacity to participate on more equitable terms in a market economy and democratic polity. Our proposed policy agenda seeks to graduate the excluded from living out their lives exclusively as wage earners, subsistence and tenant farmers, by investing them with the
capacity to become owners of productive assets. Within the distribution process we seek to elevate the excluded from their role of primary producers, by enabling them to move upmarket through greater opportunities to share in the value addition process. Democratizing access to assets and markets must be backed by equitable access to education and health care. Democratisation of access to quality education and health care is integral to the empowerment of the excluded and instrumental in enabling wage earners to also become the owners of wealth.
Some Indian delegates
The disempowerment of the excluded largely originates in their isolation which, within a highly inequitable society, enhances their vulnerability to the vagaries of market forces. Any move to reposition the excluded must, therefore, be built upon strengthening their capacity for collective action. Institutions for promoting asset ownership and realizing a higher share of value addition for the excluded must be designed to develop and sustain their capacity for collective action. Collective action by the excluded remains central to any measures to strengthen their capacity to participate in the democratic process and share in the benefits of governance.
The policy agenda The proposed policy interventions suggested by the CPD work programme, to empower the excluded of South Asia, are structured under the following heads: · Expanding the ownership and control of the excluded over productive assets in the rural areas as well as the corporate sector · Strengthening capacity to compete in the market place through building institutions for collective action by the excluded · Enhancing their access to a knowledge based society through substantively upgrading their quality of education · Ensuring quality health care for the excluded · Redesigning budgetary policy to reach public resources to the excluded · Restructuring financial policy to deliver credit and provide savings instruments to the excluded · Empowering the excluded to be better represented in elective bodies The urgency for change Our agendas for change have acquired a new urgency in the wake of the ongoing crisis which
is consuming the global economy. A world order which has elevated the values of the casino into the central dynamic of the capital market is threatening the livelihood of millions of vulnerable people around the world. We do not presume to challenge this order. But we do seek to build a development process which is less dysfunctional, less unfair and more serviceable to the needs of millions of ordinary people. We believe that providing assets and enhancing the scope for income gain for millions of people in South Asia, located at the bottom of the pyramid, will strengthen the resilience of our economies to cope with such global downturns. Liberating the productive potential of these millions, by investing them with resources and skills, will stimulate, internalize and sustain the growth process across South Asia. Transforming these millions into owners of wealth, equipped with the capacity to access the upper tiers of the market, will invest them with a sense of empowerment they have rarely known. The full realization of such a transformation in our social order must obviously remain in the future. Much will depend on the evolving political economy which drives or constrains structural change and is unique to each country in South Asia. But if we are genuinely committed to the goal of reducing poverty, promoting a more inclusive development process and ensuring the sustainability of our democratic order, then we must, at least, begin to challenge the injustices which reproduce exclusion in our societies.
A social order, where millions of people remain condemned to lives of insecurity, poised on the margins of subsistence, where the quality of their education condemns them to a life of toil and an episode of ill health could drive their entire family into destitution, is not sustainable. An economic order where millions of young women are condemned to earn thirty dollars a month, whilst a handful of people can aspire to first world styles because such low wages make their enterprises export competitive, is not sustainable. A political order, where those with wealth can use it to capture and perpetuate themselves in power, while those millions who vote them to power have no opportunity to either share this power or to determine how its fruits are consumed, is unsustainable.
Democracy and authoritarianism in South Asia
A divided society, which overlaps with unresolved identity conflicts, can and has undermined the cohesion of fragile nation states. Today, we live in dangerous times which are likely to become even more dangerous if we do not correct the injustices which divide our society. A stable democratic order, within a coherent nation state, will only be sustainable if a enough people across South Asia can be invested with a sufficient stake in defending this order against challenge by a variety of extra-democratic forces.
On the stage from left to right: Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, Mr Kumar Ketkar, Mr Reazuddin Ahmed, Mr Kanak Mani Dixit and Sidharth Vardarajan
Session II: Report
Democracy and authoritarianism
She defined authoritarianism as an organised power embedded in the institutional structure of the state. “Far from representing a neat and sharp dichotomy, democracy and authoritarianism are reflective of ongoing struggles between dominance and resistance.”
hrough struggle or amicable consensus, democracy has come to all the countries in South Asia today. But what is still debatable is whether democracy has really replaced authoritarianism in South Asia.
Pointing out the importance of civil societies and the media in a democracy, Dr Jalal said, “Because democracy is contentious, institutional mechanisms are needed to moderate conflicts between the individual and the community. “The media can play a very crucial and productive role in that enterprise.”
As democracy dawns, this “yet-to-be reality,” was the issue that brought together about 200 journalists from every SAARC country at Cox's Bazaar, a tourist resort of Bangladesh, to discuss democracy and authoritarianism in south Asia. The two-day conference saw journalists discussing, besides the state and independence of media in each country, the transition of governance from an elite few to the masses.
Remarks by the chairperson of the session, Mr. Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka: Mr. Imtiaz Ahmed, Mr. Imtiaz Ahmed, in the beginning of his speech, discussed Ms Ayesha Jalal's lecture. He talked about the rise and fall of democracy in South Asia. Expressing his concern, he said, “We have climbed up to democracy several times and fallen down too. We don't know what will happen this time as we have regained democracy on December 29th.”
Titled “Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia”, the session started after the lunch break, approximately at 2:30 pm, with a video presentation by Pakistani-American sociologist, historian and a history professor at Tufts University, Dr. Ayesha Jalal. She regretted her not being able to attend the conference due to some other commitments made earlier. In her 45-minute video presentation, Dr Jalal analyzed the reality of democracy in the region. Studying the interplay between democratic politics and authoritarian states in South Asia, Ms Jalal explained how a shared colonial legacy led to apparently contrasting patterns of political development - democracy in India and authoritarianism in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The analysis showed how, despite differences in form, central political authority in each state came to confront similar threats from regional and linguistic dissidence, religious and sectarian strife, as well as class and caste conflicts. By comparing state structures and political processes, she evaluated and redefined democracy, citizenship, sovereignty and the nation-state, arguing for a more decentralized governmental structure.
Referring to Rabindranath Tagore's point of view about state and civil society, Prof Imtiaz described the roles of media and civil society in the South Asian countries since the colonial period. Like Rabindranath Tagore, he termed civil society as Puro Samaj. Mr. Ahmed said Bangladesh's history was one of bloodshed and sacrifice for the establishment of democracy. Citing some historical incidents, he said that genocide was a part of Bangladeshis' national identity. The genocide of 25th March played a vital role in the birth of Bangladesh, he said. Many historically important movements before the independence war were led by the students of Dhaka University, he said.
Dr Jalal spoke about the distinction between formal and substantive democracy as well as covert and overt authoritarianism. “A formal democracy is a genuine democracy insofar as it guarantees, among other things, the right to vote and the freedom to expression. Yet it may not show all the features of its normative ideal, thus the notion of a substantive democracy.” Sociologist, historian and a history professor at Tufts University, Dr. Ayesha Jalal
He said, “Democracy of Bangladesh gets reproduced in the streets.” He talked about a few interesting aspects of authoritarianism, mentioning diaspora and multiple identity as an influencing factor on authoritarianism, which a country like Bangladesh had never faced before.
Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka
While giving solutions to the authoritarianism issue, he emphasized on institutionalizing democracy, democratization of the mental part of development and democratization of the mind. He also gave the credit of emergence of democracy once again in Bangladesh to the media. Stating his concern, he ended his remarks with a question, “Can a nation rely on absurdity?” Remark of Hasan Askari Rizvi from Pakistan: Mr. Rizvi started his speech by saying, “Developing in the right direction shows there is a support for right selection.” He said South Asia had a variation of democracy and authoritarianism. “Though not theoretically, democracy and authoritarianism are not inclusive at operational level. Countries wanting democracy use authoritarian system to achieve it.” He said that in authoritarianism, loyalty to a person is more important than loyalty to a system, while in democracy it is not so. “But today even in democracy, we see the same tendency of being loyal to a particular person than to a democratic system.”
Mr Sharma said economic reforms in India attacked the people's right to association. People's sense of deprivation was demolished. People of India sometimes hail extrajudicial killings in the name of encounter, which is one kind of authoritarianism. H ow c a n s u ch authoritarianism be stopped?
Freedom of press is vital for alternative sources of information. “The greatest weakness of democracy is you can destroy democracy through democratic means,” he said. He said three levels of democratization essential to reducing authoritarianism are: democratization at conceptual level, establishing institutional process and maturation of democratic process. Mr Rizvi pointed out some threats to democracy: democratic decisions that threaten the sustainability of democracy itself; possessing threat for the weaker people; people's perception of low level of security; religious extremism, confrontation among political parties, and growing terrorism in the transnational level. “Terrorism cannot be seen as the problem of only one country, it needs collective effort to fight it out in the region” he said. He said, “To judge a democratic system is to watch which direction it is heading. You have to start democracy even if its quality is poor, once started we can work together and learn from each other”.
Siddharth Varadarajan-India Mr Siddharth Varadarajan differed with the keynote lecture by Ayesha Jalal. He said democracy had problems in every society, even in the so-called mature democracies. He gave example of the United Kingdom's standpoint on Iraq war. “People did not want the war but Tony Blair managed to ignore the public voice.” He said that in India in the name of economic reforms the land of innocent people was acquired by the government and when the people demonstrated against that they were brutally shot. He termed this the weakness of democratic system in the region. He said the scene is almost the same in every South Asian country. “Wherever there are real political demands, the state tries to crush the people but they remain loyal to unjust demands,” Mr Varadarajan said.
Kanak Mani Dixit from Nepal Mr Dixit spoke about authoritarianism in the context of Nepal. “We have been in a country where middleclass was riddle locked. Nepal has been in a peace and democracy stage where monarchy was ousted after a decade long bloodshed of people's war and democracy was established in the country. He gave credit to the politicians for achieving democracy. He said, “If you are to fight authoritarianism you have to fight through political process.” “The political parties are more accountable than judges, police and media,” he said. “We are practicing a democracy imported from the west and we have to use the imported democracy as we find no other option without that. We will challenge and question the political parties, we need to watchdog the political parties,” said Mr Dixit. Lakshman Gunasekera from Sri Lanka Agreeing with Siddharth Vaadarajan and Imtiaz Ahmed, he said: “We have various types of democracy.”
Urging the media people to be more responsible he said: “We need to question ourselves in playing the role of the fourth pillar of the state to sustain democracy. We are afraid to face the political realities which we should not be.” Shamal Dutta from Bangladesh Mr Dutta asked Mr Imtiaz Ahmed three questions about the 1/11 incident in Bangladesh: what was the role of 'Puro Samaj' (Civil Society) during the period; was it supportive of authoritarianism; and whether Singapore and Malaysia were authoritarian. Response of Imtiaz Ahmed 'Puro Samaj' lost faith in the political parties following violence erupting from political confrontation. “Whether the people of Malaysia and Singapore are happy or not, you have to ask them about that,” he said. Responding to a question from a participant about the role of CPN (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist), Kanak Mani Dixit said that though they had been an underground party for a long time, they did not lose their political spine. “They are now a part of the people's movement as they have left the way of the people's war". Amanullah Kabir from Bangladesh Mr Kabir commented on the political crisis of the region excluding India and Sri Lanka and said it was a compromise between political parties and military. He referred to the “minus 2 formula” in Bangladesh and said, “It was an effort to destroy both the political parties”. He slammed the civil society as being supportive of the authoritarian forces. Imtiaz Alam from Pakistan Concluding the session, Mr Alam said that inputs from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were missing. He called upon the delegates from both the countries to increase their participation and involvement in the forthcoming discussions/sessions.
Vinod Sharma from India
Democracy and authoritarianism Dr Ayesha Jalal
n my book titled “Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia”, published in 1995, I had drawn a distinction between formal and substantive democracy as well as covert and overt authoritarianism in order to avoid conflating the normative with the empirical of both democracy and authoritarianism. The point was that I did not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a lot of disheartening evidence of the workings of democracy in the world today and among those who react to everyday life rather than think deeply, some have come to the conclusion that democracy is a useless enterprise and should be done away with. Unfortunately, we do not have anything better to replace some of the ideals of democracy with. So while the existentialist reality of democracy is unfortunate across the globe—not just in Pakistan—we need to make a distinction between the normative idea of democracy and its existentialist reality. It is that contrast between the two that enables us to understand how far we have to go with our democracies, even if we are in India which is clearly the country which has been most successful. As for covert and overt authoritarianism, overt authoritarianism has been the predicament of countries like Pakistan. It does not mean that structures of state do not have an inherent authoritarianism rooted in them. There is a covert authoritarianism in all state apparatuses. While I had critiqued the overly centralised post-colonial nation-states of South Asia, in the subcontinent in particular, the title of a review of my book in a Calcutta based Bengali newspaper asked with a hint of scepticism whether the weakening of the nation-states would actually pay for genuine democracy. This question is premised on two slight misunderstandings of my work. Firstly, while maintaining a critical stance on structural and ideology of centralised and post-colonial states of South Asia, I did not argue in favour of statelessness. I simply sought to liberate the notion of citizenship from being held hostage to the imperatives of the nation-state especially the nation-state's authoritative demand for exclusive allegiance on part of the individual. Premodern nation-states did not make claims to be extending equal rights of citizenship. Rights of citizenship are conferred upon individuals by modern states not on collectivities. If you look at the pre-modern states of Ottoman Empire or the Mughal Empire, you will see they were not really worried about cultural difference whether it was formed by language or religion. However, modern nation-states with their promise of equal rights of citizenship are inherently uncomfortable with cultural difference because it is a homogenising logic. My point with the nation-state is that it makes demands of its individual citizen of exclusive allegiance to the state. This creates peculiar problems where identities at the social base do not match the frontiers of modern nation-state and this is across the board. Decolonisation in Asia and in Africa has ensured that there is a complete disjunction between the social identities and the boundaries of modern nation-states; we have this in Pakistan.
Secondly, any implication about the genuineness, or its lack of, in a democracy was grounded in a very carefully delineated distinction between what I have called “formal” and “substantive” democracy as well as covert or overt authoritarianism. Formal democracy is simply a process of having periodic elections but substantive democracy is empowerment of the people to be able to change agendas which is something that even most successful democracies do not have. I find the normative appeal of substantive democracy as flowing from “empowerment of the people not as abstract legal citizens but as concrete and active agents capable of pursuing their interests with a measure of autonomy from entrenched structures of dominance and privilege”. Thus, citizenship is an idea that the modern nation-state touts. It was my contention that democracy and authoritarianism often treated as merely antithetical concepts were also in fact interdependent and part and parcel of the same spectrum underpinned by dialectic of dominance and resistance; it is a constant struggle—in any context you are going to have degrees of authoritarianism. It can be covert authoritarianism but the tussle for dominance and authoritarianism defines it all along. The pairing of these two concepts of democracy and authoritarianism in my comparative study of post-colonial South Asia was necessary for me in order to clear the deck for a more subtle and historically grounded definition of citizenship rights.
British system to introduce mass democracy. This was a selective system. We should also remind ourselves that universal adult franchise did not arrive on the subcontinent until after 1947, that we had a limited franchise even at the height of its expansion under colonial rule under the Government of India Act of 1935 only 35 million out of 400 million plus population had the right to vote. So this was democracy for the few who used it in their own interest. The colonial-states' rhetoric of development attempted to do no more than create an infrastructure most suited to the preservation and promotion of privileged. Any concept of citizenship emerging from a legacy of bureaucratic authoritarianism could hardly avoid the distortions and misfortunes of colonial era. The more so in addition to bequeathing non-elective institutions of the state i.e. the bureaucracy, the army, colonialism left behind a very particular notion of communalism—the pejorative other of nationalism. Communalism is used as communitarianism in other contexts but in the South Asian context communalism has a pejorative connotation; it is the negative other of nationalism; it is what nationalism failed to achieve. Colonialism has left behind a legacy where we tend to see communalism in largely negative terms.
Having defined majority and minority on the basis of religious enumerations is something the British colonial state did not do in their own context. In India this was the main way of studying the society of whether people were Muslims—if they were not Muslims then they What do we mean by equal rights of citizenship? The nation-states' insistence on exclusive were Hindus. Then they realised that Hindu was too wide a category so they introduced allegiance of its citizens is grounded on the promise of freedom from humiliation, hunger castes. However, to define majority and minority in religious terms is the negation of and security to just name a few. “We all want the capability to live long democracy because you create a permanent majority. In Decolonisation in Asia without being cut off in our prime, have a good life rather than have a life of democracy there is no such thing as a permanent majority or misery and unfreedom”. This is why, according to the Nobel Prize winner permanent minority. But this is what the colonial state left us and in Africa has ensured with. and political philosopher Amartya Sen, we need a more expansive conception of development; development is not just growth. that there is a complete Even the rights of citizenship that were debated on behalf of Development policies, in his opinion, should aim at enhancing the communities were individual community's rights, not the rights capabilities of people so they can influence politicians and bureaucrats and disjunction between the of citizens. When nation-states promise equal rights of “lead a kind of life they have reason to value”. In the context of South Asia, citizenship, they can not give too much play to cultural social identities and the the rhetoric of democracy and development in late colonial India was part differences. of the ideological legacies of the states that replaced the British raj in boundaries of modern subcontinent. The colonial state was the quintessential example of In the West, it was a struggle between capitalism and labour bureaucratic authoritarianism. Its rhetoric of democracy, as David nation-states; we have which defined citizenship rights. In the subcontinent, culture Washbrook has argued eloquently in one of his pieces, aimed at no more was the real issue. Those who refused to subscribe to the this in Pakistan. than creating representative institutions where the privileged few in the art dominant idioms of this inclusionary Congress nationalism ran of governing in their own interests. There was never any intention in the the risk of being branded communal and marginalised if not
the spiritual in each individual as well as the collective in the every day temporal activity. While successive governments in this country have claimed to be committed to establishing an Islamic state, they have singularly failed the rudimentary infrastructure for the growth of a civil society, far less the spiritual democracy, that Muhammad Iqbal had in mind which is consistently appropriated and misappropriated in this country.
Delegates from Pakistan
altogether excluded from the legitimate boundaries of the secular nation-state. The problem amongst many with nationalism and communalism as a binary opposition is that it separates the temporal from spiritual realms and thereby blurs the distinction of what I call religion as simply a demarcator of social difference or religion as a matter of personal state. Nationalism in the Indian context was defined by Congress as secular. Communalism was invariably religious. However, it is a much more complicated issue. While independent India braced the notion of a secular, inclusive nationalism, Pakistan has sought to justify its independent existence by projecting a distinctive Islamic identity. Instead of assuming a neat equation between the centre, nation and religion, an understanding of the dialectic between region and religion calls into question many of the assumptions of South Asia's postcolonial nationalisms. The breakaway of then East Pakistan in 1971, containing a majority of the country's Muslim population and the establishment of Bangladesh, exposed the fragility of the Islamic bond. Notwithstanding, Pakistan's formally political configuration tensions between the centre and the provinces have been accentuated by extended periods of military authoritarianism. Unlike its archrival, India has not suffered the ignominy of outright dismemberment. Yet the shifting dynamics of the centre and region in India have also had a very vital bearing on its democratic federalism. In the initial decades of independence, the centralised nature of Indian states, partly tempered by a nationally based political party—the Indian National Congress—managed to counter the centrifugal pulls of a predominantly linguistic regionalism in India. However, with the expanding sphere of democratic politics through the 1950s and 1960s and the ensuing erosion of the Congress' organisational and electoral base of support, regional configurations of various permutations and combinations have been vying for national power in India, compounding the problem stemming from concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a centralised state. While recording strong accesses on the democratic front than in Pakistan, a secular
democratic India has not been able to achieve its stated goal of keeping religion out of politics. There is the paradox of a “communal party”—the BJP which did command power not so long ago—making more and more concerted bids for power in India. This is in a secular state, albeit with a backing of string of regional allies of all kinds of shapes and sizes. A demarcator of social difference and not an accurate gauge of faith in divine doctrine, religion in South Asia is a living and vibrant historical process and force that requires careful thought and understanding. We tend to talk about religion very loosely. There are those who are allergic to the very name of religion and there are those who hide behind the equally problematic concept of secular in order to oppose religion. I propose an analytical device of distinguishing between those we count in religious terms, like the colonial state did. The separation of religion from politics and crafting of an imaginative, if ultimately flawed, vision of an inclusionary nationalism in India has made no attempt really to resolve the contradictions that flowed from the willingness to agree to Partition not to share power in an undivided India. The Indian National Congress was wedded to two ideas: it was wedded to a united India and a fully independent India. On both scores, the Congress compromised. The unity of India was worth sacrificing in order to acquire control over British India's unitary centre and also to achieve the means to gain control over 40 percent of India which consisted of princely India. A strong centre was needed for it, so the Muslim areas could be sacrificed. As Nehru said the Muslim problem represents only a quarter of the problem facing India. The other issue which is technical but needs to be underlined is independent India. Every one assumes that India gained independence on 15 August 1947. India became a dominion within the British Commonwealth on that date. It was only in 1950 that India became a republic. So in both issues, a compromise was made. If India's secular credentials are somewhat suspect, Pakistan's Islamic claims seem to be inherently contradictory. According to Pakistan's poetic visionary, Muhammad Iqbal, the only justification for an Islamic state was the need for an organisation that could help realise
Democracy and development were two legitimizing principles on offer when nations making singular claims of allegiance from their citizenry acquired state power in the subcontinent. For much of South Asia's post-colonial history, India with its mix of formal democracy and covert authoritarianism fared better than Pakistan and Bangladesh which came under spells of overt authoritarianism. The recent convulsions and revulsions in all Indian parliamentary politics, particularly the growing importance of regional parties as power brokers in the centre, have only confirmed this trend of India doing relatively better. With India having entered the era of coalition governments, India has a democracy which is showing signs of being able to take away some of the centre's initiatives; the regions are becoming much stronger today than every before. Yet I must also emphasise that India's formal democracy at the centre has coexisted with instances of overt authoritarianism in certain regions, notably Kashmir, not to mention the better part of the north-east for much of India's post independence history. India has had formal democracy for the most part at the centre with the exception of the emergency of 1975, but in the region covert authoritarianism has been abandoned for overt authoritarianism where military police is utilised. So formal democracy does exist at times with covert and overt authoritarianism and what we do not get in the process is that substantive democracy which requires empowerment and strengthening. Secularism as the antithesis of religious communalism may seem like vintage Congress ideology but without the regional basis of support to command a national majority in Delhi on its own, the grand old party is arguably a shadow of its former self with many of its ideological pretensions and self delusions fast disappearing into smoke. I do not mean to be dismissive of Congress as a political force but I am rather more sceptical of Congress as an organisation that projects a coherent ideology. The idea of secularism in India, in recent times, has been deployed as the opposite of democracy though one has to admit that fears of a BJP government at the centre and the empowerment of Sangh Parivar, which is already a little too empowered, are all too real for some rather vulnerable societies in India. Whichever way one might like to pose the question of India's national quandary, there can be no doubt that the next general elections and their aftermath will be crucial not just for India but also for its neighbours.
If the irrelevance of national politics is not going to assume crises proportions, whichever party which leads the coalition government will have to answer some very haunting questions about the Indian state's secular agenda at a time when religious minorities are feeling increasingly threatened and marginalised. There is not just the Muslim question, it is the Christians as well. India is facing a backlash against its minorities. These are the questions that need to be answered. But why talk about the irrelevance of national politics? Largely because as closely as I follow India, I believe that the idea of a unified state has now fallen out of sync with the reality of politics in India. Real politics are at the state level in India and the idea of constructing a coherent national government has become flawed because there is no longer a federally based national party with the result that you have entered a coalition setup. The recent elections in Kashmir have reinforced the crucial significance of elections in a democracy and for the citizenry. It gives citizenry that one powerful moment when it can vote out unpopular governments. It is to be emphasised that the large turnout can not be used to deny the widespread alienation felt by Kashmiri people from an unresponsive and coercive federal centre. This is why the distinction between “formal” and “substantive” democracy is important. In Pakistan, where long years of military bureaucratic rule have been the norm, the battle to redefine the institutional balance within the state structure has become central to the future of not merely democracy but the country itself. As if the killing of Benazir Bhutto on 27 December 2007 was not enough, Pakistan was hit by a spate of devastating suicide bombings in 2008. Amidst growing uncertainty of life and property, 2008 saw Pakistan floundering as it took the first steps towards a much needed transition from a quasi-military government to an elected civilian dispensation. The last time, I must remind you, such a transition to democracy took place from military authoritarianism in 1988, the geo-strategic situation was qualitatively different. For one thing, American and NATO forces were not nestled so closely to the borders of Pakistan as they are today. For another, there was no kind of any foreseeable threat from any kind of militant group far less well trained and well armed militias of the sort that have spawned the land of the pure now for nearly three decades. The year 2009 is not 1989 and we need to identify the most salient new dimensions in the regional equation. The war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in late 2001 has completely altered the regional situations with far reaching implications not just for Pakistan but for the region as a whole, including India. Rabid madrassah educated young men in Pakistan are not the only ones bashing America—American-bashing as you all know is a very popular
enterprise everywhere. The liberal intelligentsia in Pakistan is equally repulsed by American policy which they slam as being short-sighted and, understandably, for being selfish. What does this portend then for the future of democracy in Pakistan? However imperfect, the 2008 elections represent the completion of a five year term by a military backed political setup giving the electorate the opportunity to exercise that priceless democratic right to vote out unpopular governments and to elect their own preferred representatives—something which India has had but Pakistan has had in fits and starts. The elections of 1988 marked the transition from military rule to democracy in Pakistan. When it did, there was a very loud and well orchestrated concern for accountability which gave rise, even at that time, to an unprecedented form of judicial activism, something which we might have forgotten. With a burgeoning electronic media and a host of daunting geostrategic economic and political challenges facing Pakistan, the situation in 2009 is substantially different. The authoritarianism state, which is wearing its civilian fatigues for now but keeping its firearms within reachable distance, has succeeded in helping split the legal community after the lawyers' historic struggle to uphold the independence of judiciary. This is not to deny that errors were made by the movement itself, but a role has been played by an authoritarian state. The prominence given to Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry can not be seen as detracting from the movement's other contributions to keep the flame of democracy burning in Pakistan. Whatever the flavour of authoritarianism—military, civil or both—Pakistanis have been remarkable in their resilience to resisting the arbitrary dictates of an imposing and unresponsive post-colonial state. Popular eruptions have occurred in the past against unresponsive regimes and invariably ended up targeting the individual at the helm of authority rather than the imbalanced and repressive system on which he or she basis his authoritarian power. Consequently, the object of popular theory is tossed to the winds;
Some delegates from Bhutan
the system itself survives relatively unscathed. Dictators come and go but the system, bent this way or that, survives increasingly more perniciously. The mutilation of the rule of law has condemned Pakistan into a cyclical trap with the reenactment of farcical history as resounding tragedy emerges as the only certitude. When the unfolding of history becomes routine, devoid of surprises, as it seems to be happening with Pakistanis who are reconciled with whatever is coming next, it is cause for grave concern. More so when collective amnesia and political apathy nurtured during extended periods of depoliticisation numb the national conscience to such an extent that an entire people become blinded to the dangers of carelessly trespassing on the tracks of history, hoping against hope that the train of the future will not somehow run them over. The emergence of the chief justice as the potential fourth element in an already uneasy power equation of the army high command, the president and the prime minister, has vast implications for the balance between democracy and authoritarianism in Pakistan. Finding itself in a deeply unsettling geo-strategic environment, post-Musharraf Pakistan faces the most crucial crisis which could be a make or break in how it is handled. With parts of the country in the northwest passing out of control of the federal government, this is not spring time for democracy in Pakistan. Ultimately it is a difficult structural relationship between the centre and the region that will decide whether, what I have called a long time ago, a state of martial rule has in fact changed in substance and a genuine transition to democracy has begun. It remains to be seen but that does not mean that all options are closed. A debilitating insurgency in the FATA areas and neighbouring regions like Swat is blowing back hellfire into the urban jungles of Pakistan. Staggering government failures on all fronts have been aggravated by the dynamics of an ISI managed parallel state which needs to be thought out and worked over much more significantly and carefully than we have done in the past. All of this bodes extremely poorly on Pakistan's ravaged economy and demoralised people and, by implication, for our democratic futures. Today, with a population of over 165 million—maybe much more—Pakistan is the hub of the so-called Islamic terror that is facing the world as a whole. The militants certainly present a serious problem for a country that has come to be described as an international migraine. However, Pakistan also has a freer press than ever before and a civil society which for all its divisions and lack of organisation is much more revitalised today in large part because of the lawyers' struggle. Pakistan does need to move away from the nationalist bind which is a bind
for all nation-states of South Asia. What is needed is a more critical engagement with our nationalist idioms.
In the past, to give an example of the problem, Khalida Zia's attempts to oust the Awami League's government by harping on its sell-out to the influential Chakma Buddhists and, more importantly and dangerously, for Hasina's alleged mollycoddling of India, was Until the Mumbai attacks rocked into Pakistan's relations with India and derailed the peace reminiscent of the tactics of Pakistani political parties. Why? One thing about military process, a beginning was being made in Pakistan. There was open criticism for instance, authoritarianism is that it so badly damages the state-society negotiated relationship that something which has not happened before, of the role of military in politics and popular whenever the transition from military authoritarianism to democracy does take place, demands for a more equitable civil-military relationship than ever before. One might argue opposition parties are desperate to come into power; because the state becomes such an that that demand remains but I have noted other trends in the way which were not there six important element of patronage that opposition parties can not really survive since there is months ago. so much oppression even when civilian elected government is in place. So the problem of opposition parties needs to be considered. This was the case in The future course of democracy in Pakistan will then depend on a Bangladesh. In earlier experiences we saw both mainstream It is a difficult structural series of necessary steps beginning with a concerted fight against parties in Bangladesh making alliances of convenience with the extremism; a shift in civil-military relations which is not going to relationship between the religious right—the Jamaat-e-Islami—but we have seen the happen over night but the step has to be taken in the interest of the electorate. Jamaat-e-Islami has gone down from 17 to 2 seats in centre and the region country; and the strengthening of the parliament, to name only the Bangladesh. So a lot need to be thought about in terms of most obvious ones. that will decide whether similarities and distinctions. I would also throw in the judiciary in Bangladesh as a major difference from our judiciary and its The prospectus of democracy is far more hopeful in Bangladesh a state of martial rule history. where the recent elections have aroused many hopes and expectations.
has in fact changed in Like the other two nation-states of the subcontinent, I must emphasise that the regional question also plagues Bangladesh's fragile substance and a genuine but apparently more successful transition from military transition to democracy authoritarianism. Why has Bangladesh done better than Pakistan in facilitating this transition? I would like to go back to the last period of has begun democratic rule, where you see the two leaders, Khalida Zia and Hasina Wajid alternating in power but being able to finish their tenure. there was a formula of In our last decade of democratic rule, no government was able to finish its five years. Bangladeshi politics. Another reason which explains the difference between Bangladesh and Pakistan is simply the geo-strategic setting of Pakistan and the very different history of its post-colonial army from the one in Bangladesh. Bangladesh's army was a national liberation army; it had a colonial component to it. This explains their subtly diverging trajectories on the path to democracies. However, it will be naïve to think that the recent transition in Bangladesh has locked out its armed forces from its political reckoning. The army in Bangladesh may not be as entrenched in the country's political economy as Pakistan's army is. This is a welldocumented, well conceptualised reality. However, Bangladesh's army still remains a vital component of the state with clearly defined interests. With the history of military intervention in Bangladesh, it can not be ignored without grave consequences.
Wide spread corruption and confrontational politics, resulting in waves of violence, paved the way for Bangladesh's military to seize power. One can only hope that the relationship between its two main political parties this time around will prove to be less debilitating for the future of democracy in Bangladesh. There is a chance that they are going to be the same as before and that is why minus-2. The real challenge for the ladies is to become plus-2 in
There can be no doubt however, that Awami League's clear cut majority will test Bangladesh's democratic institutions to the limit. The temptation of such a huge majority after a stint with quasi authoritarianism is that you do not bend as you must in a democracy. This is what could test Bangladesh and could result in another situation of confrontation. Even the most disturbing signs on the democratic horizons can not enamour anyone of the authoritarian tendencies in the subcontinent. For all its blemishes and frailties, democracy in South Asia is alive and kicking. However, some habits die hard; none more so than an idea of non negotiable sovereignty which was left behind by the colonial masters. It was a monolithic
and centralised notion of sovereignty, not the not wars of religious antipathy which led to the partition of India. It was an unwillingness to share power which was required because Muslim League represented regions that needed to be accommodated and not just community. Punjab and Bengal needed to be accommodated and this could not be worked out.
rights are often simply a euphemism for privileging the majorities against minorities, I think it is legitimate to ask whether the idea of equal citizenship has not been emptied of its normative value. It is only in the political and reified cultural domainâ€”and not a reified cultural domain where difference can be accommodated and equality can be challenged and the battle extended to the ultimate goal of equitable, stoical and economic entitlements for the underprivileged and vulnerable segments of society. But how do you do that?
It was the refusal to accommodate the aspirations of co-religionists in the eastern wing in a substantially revised framework of shared sovereignty that led to the dismemberment of I think if you acknowledge the gap between the representative and the represented there is Pakistan in 1971. It was not anything else but the unwillingness to share power. It is the same clearly much that the civil society needs to do which is missing. It is missing because we rigid and non-negotiable attitude towards sovereignty that has been the principal hurdle in wrongly assume that you go an exercise your rights of citizenship and your duty as a citizen facilitating the elusive process of mutual dialogue that can potentially lead to reconciliation by casting your vote and then forgetting about it. But one thing we have forgotten in our and accommodation in the South Asian subcontinent. This is present predicament is that a lot of narratives of accountability had Rigid and non-negotiable particularly pertinent for the Kashmir dispute and its resolution. started in 1988 that we had started talking about accountability a lot more seriously and thinking how to make that an essential part of our attitude towards Democratic India for all its unwillingness to talk about Kashmir democracy. sovereignty has hampered offers a more promising prognosis in this respect, at least in principle than military authoritarian Pakistan where the transition to I am also emphasising the political. Here it is a subtle but not mutual dialogue that can democracy is still in incipient stages with a far less scope of necessarily critical remark on those remarkable lawyers who thought potentially lead to reconstitution of centre-region relations. This is why an that boycotting the elections was a way to proceed. You can not reconciliation and improvement of relations between the two congenital rivals in the achieve the goals you have in mind in this manner. This is what region, India and Pakistan, could go a long way in restoring the happened in Kashmir. They voted because they need to have accommodation in balance between elected and non-elected institutions within someone address their developmental needs. They have not voted South Asia Pakistan itself; it is a vital requirement. In turn lift province-centre for India, however much the Indian status elite would like to believe. relation from its current morass in Pakistan. So we need to understand the importance of reclaiming the political domain in the battle against social and economic injustices. This requires a clear appreciation More a contested representation than a representative of its citizens, the nation-state in of the demonstrated inadequacies of separate schemes of individual citizenship. South Asia has changed in substance without actually acknowledging it in form. For example if we examine the concept and history of communitarianism in South Asian milieu it is It is precisely because democracy is contentious that institutional mechanisms are needed to possible to seek roots of what we call contemporary communalism in unrealised equal rights moderate conflicts between the individual and the community as well as between individuals of citizenships. The Muslims are suffering because they have never been granted, as the and communities. I have emphasised the need of a sovereign parliament that we have never Sachar Commission reports points out, equal rights of citizenship. Yet how accurate would had. But equally important is the need for us to creatively think of the kind of institutions such an observation be. The notion of universal and equal citizenship rights is more often that can moderate the growing conflicts in our societies. The media can play a very crucial than not been posited against a particularly narrowly defined individualistic and and productive role in that enterprise. communitarian interests. That is why communalism is deemed to be pejorative because it is How can we reconcile then the rights of individual citizenship with the accommodation of not for the collective good. cultural differences? That does not obfuscate special requirements of historically So the idea of citizenship has been based, especially in the West, on an explicit rejection of disadvantaged groups in the political realm. We should treat FATA as a historically this issue of difference. Given that modern states' claims of extending equal citizenship disadvantaged group. We have not given this region adequate rights. So how do we do this?
Should we just say that Shariah is the answer for them? I think it is a problematic solution.
centre at all but would like a renegotiated centre in all three countries.
So if formal political rights in India and Sri Lanka, for instance, assuring citizens the right to vote, have provided a fertile ground for the rise of competitive chauvinism of the Hindu and Sinhalese majority, should we then rethink the fate of universal citizenship rights as a normative ideal that we must aspire to in these two countries? How I see it is that it becomes a means to project majoritarianism.
Social dynamics which underline political processes in both India and Pakistan and to some extent in Bangladesh for the past few decades have been pointing to the need of a substantive reconfiguration of relations between regions and centre. It is already happening in India but is not being acknowledged, with the result that the Indian system has become largely dysfunctional since the overarching state apparatus from colonial period is not prepare to accommodate the vibrant political structure. If we acknowledge the changes between the centre and the region we can perhaps allow for more imaginative conception of sovereignty.
Conversely, a communitarian approach providing affirmative action to groups who have suffered historical injustices often provides advantages to unfortunately a privileged few individuals within a disadvantaged community. The Indian state's reservation policies for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBC's are an obvious case in point. The Indian state's policies of reverse discrimination are blind to gender and generational inequities. You can not create good laws and assume that every thing is going to be fine. A unified civil court inspired by the ideals of equal citizenship might provide yet another arena for unbridled majoritarianism. Yet non-interference in personal laws of a minority Muslim community, as in India, determined on the basis of religious enumerations deprives women of their fundamental rights raising serious issues of the whole concept of human rights in Islam. That is the problem of a mere reversion to communitarianism. Perhaps the strongest criticism of citizenship resting merely on universal adult franchise is that in post-colonial South Asia it has very often provided a democratic mask for the exercise of arbitrary power by a centralised nation-state drawing most of its support from a privileged regionâ€”whether the Hindi heartland in India, the Punjab in Pakistan or the low country in Sri Lanka. The paradoxes to which I have just alluded to, call for a two-stage solution to the problem of the individual and the community of citizenship and cultural rights. First, individual rights have to be assured vis a vis the community, however defined. I am suggesting that much of Western liberal thought and its ideals of citizenship are based on privileging the individual over the community. I am suggesting that we come from a context where there is a problem; so we can not go with the western model, we need something else. Acknowledging the intrinsic gap between the representative and the represented in a democracy can help a lot more to help place the individual in a dialogical relationship with the community.
The same non-negotiable attitude towards sovereignty has been the principle hurdle in facilitating mutual dialogue that can potentially lead to reconciliation in South Asia. In so far as the nation has been the primary site of contested identities, its replacement by a looser union of differences could chart a promising future for South Asia. But this requires unlearning in unitary sovereignty imparted by the erstwhile colonial masters and instead drawing on the rich repertoire of pre colonial and anti colonial thought in the subcontinent that expounded on variance of layered and shared sovereignty based on creative political and cultural accommodations. The more far sighted among the leaders of freedom movement, men like Rabindranath Tagore or Muhammad Iqbal for instance, used to claim that India had to be freed not just for itself but also for the sake of humanity. I think the time has come, if it is not long past, for the nation-states of South Asia to try and redeem this pledge through a bold and new political initiative at the regional and inter-regional level. Instead of fanning age-old animosities as has been the wont of war-mongering media in India, New Delhi has small choice but to talk peace and more importantly walk that talk to peace. Pakistan also needs to abandon once and for all its policy of supporting non-state militias and concentrate on improving the abysmal quality of life of this citizenry for whom any rights, far less than the equal ones, have been allusive. Without a semblance of normalisation of Indo-Pak relations, however, all the countries of the region will continue to be distracted from the goal of development as human freedom. This is the litmus test in the tussle between dominance and resistance which is pivotal to the present and future of a democratic, moderate and hopefully peaceful South Asia.
Second, a creative way may be found to blend the individual and communitarian rights and responsibilities in relation to the state. In other words, I am not in favour of there being no
Bangladesh intellectuals, media, schools, and sports clubs, all that civil society represented.
Politics and democratic futures
Sports clubs, universities, dress; all became tainted and got communalized. The year 1947 brought no respite to the situation. On the contrary, East Bengal entered into an era of semi-colonialism.
Police Act of 1861.
Imtiaz Ahmed In the Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus tells us that the gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of the mountain only to see the rock falling back to the ground of its own weight. When discoursing on Bangladesh politics one cannot help thinking of Sisyphus. Is Bangladesh, like Sisyphus, condemned to slide into political upheavals and authoritarian regimes in its quest to democratize the state? Since the genocidal birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and that again, for the reason of the Pakistan state not respecting the democratic verdict of the people, there has been a periodic sliding into authoritarianism, incidentally at the hands of both military and non-military regimes. The periods are well known, 1974-1975 (the BAKSAL regime), 1975-1991 (the military regime), and more recently, 2007-2008 (the post-1/11 caretaker government). What are we to make of all this? Understanding the state has been problematic ever since the birth of its modernist version at Westphalia. Indeed, in the western discourse and that again in the backdrop of the rise of capitalism there has been a tendency to see the state as a combination of three elements. One, political society imbibed with coercive power. Two, market engaged in reproducing economic power. And
Second wave Two things are important in understanding the birth of Bangladesh state: Protest against an “Islamic state,” incidentally sanctioned in Islam!
The debate between the Kharijites and the Mutazilas: The problem, to be more precise, is one of dogma and is related to, as Fatema Mernissi points out, 'Muslim's duty to turn into a rebel against an imam (or leader) who makes unjust decisions4.' Over the years two opposing traditions emerged, one, the intolerant and often blood thirsty Kharijites, while the other the rationalist Mutazila, both differing no doubt in the means to be employed in the rebellion but 'shared one basic idea: the imam must be modest and must in no way turn to despotism5.' But then, over the years if the Mutazila were condemned and systematically driven out or exterminated by the Muslim despots, the Kharijites re-lived themselves in the midst of newer despots and those championing the cause of extremism, including Wahhabism.
Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka
three, civil society, mainly limited to the task of reproducing social capital1. Modern state in the western discourse is a combination of all these elements with democracy working relentlessly to restore a balance between the three. Rabindranath Tagore, on the other hand, for reasons of having experienced colonialism, had a sharper distinction when reflecting on the nature of the Indian or South Asian state. Given the colonial policy of transforming the minds of the colonized subjects, Tagore upheld the distinction between rashtra (state) and purosamaj (whole society). Until the advent of the British, as Tagore contended, the purosamaj was left alone and had little or no relationship with the machineries and the mechanisms of the state - the rashtra2. The colonial power, however, in its effort to make “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect3,” could not help informing, influencing and even infecting the purosamaj. Post-colonial society therefore is markedly different from pre-colonial society, the former having had an inorganic or artificial transformation during colonial times. Bengal or
Bangladesh suffered the most as it was colonized by the English for 190 years starting from 1757 while the rest of India only 90 years following the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. When discoursing on Bangladesh politics it is important that we keep both western and Tagore's perspectives in mind. Three waves have come to influence and inform Bangladesh politics. First wave 1. Colonialism and the place and role of purosamaj. The latter took the responsibility of displacing the colonial power. 2.
In the wake of the struggle against colonialism, purosamaj, in fact, got polarized and violent. Put differently, purosamaj or civil society in colonial South Asia, unlike that of the West, could no longer boast of its civilizing and consenting roles. In fact, colonialism reconstructed purosamaj to such an extent that the latter soon got into the business of organizing and reproducing violence and intolerance in the like of political society. This reconstruction tainted political parties, voluntary associations,
Bangladesh genocide is the only genocide in modern times that resulted from a policy of deliberately containing the democratic aspirations of the people. Other genocides have resulted from immediate racial, religious, linguistic or ethnic animosities. No such animosity could be found, at least overtly, on the part of the (West) Pakistanis against the Bengalis. Both were predominantly Muslims and so the issue of
religious animosity could be ruled out. A case to the contrary would be the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Muslim Turks. Secondly, Bangla was already one of the two national languages of the state of Pakistan and therefore language was no longer a key issue in 1971. On the contrary, the Chinese genocide in Indonesia, albeit among many other things, had a predominantly linguistic component. Finally, since inter-marriages were prevalent between (West) Pakistanis and Bengalis the issue of race or ethnicity, save amongst certain individuals, never went beyond rhetoric. Jewish and Rwandan genocides, on the other hand, resulted from public reasoning of racial and ethnic animosities respectively. In the case of Bangladesh, what mattered most was the refusal of the Pakistan military to accept the verdict of 1970's general election and handover power to a democratically elected political party from the eastern wing of Pakistan, and that again, mainly because of the fear that such a transfer of power would shift the balance of power to the eastern wing of Pakistan. In this light, there is some sense to the contention made by Michael Mann that “genocides are essentially modern and the product of democracies that define the nation as 'us' to the exclusion of those minorities that do not fit6,” only that in the case of Bangladesh it is an outcome of numerical asymmetry of another kind, that is, one between an empowered military-backed minority and a disempowered but democratically organized majority! 25 March – the first night of genocide – is what gave birth to 26 March and the Mujibnagar Cabinet is historically correct in identifying the
Delegates from Bangladesh
latter as the Independence Day. Indeed, the complex combination of the demand for democracy and the victimhood of genocide is what had composed the identity of the nation and eventually gave birth to it, and therefore any attempt to restrict the functional and moral obligations of the two is bound to result in social instability.
websites, etc.) How, why and what attracted the young minds most?
flag raised by the students on 2 March 1971.
• Can purosamaj rectify the rashtra when purosamaj itself has become tainted with polarization and violence?
• Rashtra's return to authoritarianism: the flag was changed without debate - the fate of the minorities: CHT and the language issue - Awami League changing into BAKSAL
• This is the challenge the rashtra is faced with currently, but then the challenge is also of purosamaj! What is to be done? • Democratizing the mind: TV; FM radio • Democratizing the institutions: internal democracy of political parties • Democratizing developmentality
• Military regime and authoritarianism BNP: military-sponsored; BNP Constitution: absolute power of the Chairperson. - AL Constitution: “in consultation with the Presidium”; Suranjit's comments on AL having an unelected law minister!
Camus tells us that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Indeed, a person may end up choosing a life in absurdity and imagine being happy BUT can a nation afford a life in absurdity? That is the moot question today!
• Return of democracy: Intense race to get hold of rashtra: a shift towards nonsecular forces BNP-Jamaat alliance AL opts for a grand alliance which included Khalefat-e-Majlis as well. 1.
3. Third wave • Globalization, diaspora, petro-dollars and Intra-Islamic conflict: never have so many Bangladeshis lived abroad at one particular place and interacted with Bangladesh on a regular basis. (Gandhi's statement: “those who try to divide religion from politics understand neither religion nor politics”). Hanafi/Sufi domain versus the Saudization of Islam: authenticity of Islam has shifted from Bengal to petro-dollar driven Saudi Arabia.
Democracy and authoritarianism in South Asia Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi
• Globalization and technology: the power of media (television, print, cell phone,
• Purosamaj, genocide epicenter and Dhaka University: 21 February Language Day;
• What about purosamaj? Democracy is still being reproduced in the streets of Dhaka and other cities, and also during 21 February Language Day, Pahela Baishak, Pahela Falgun, in fact, from December to May there is an anti-fundamentalist, pro-democracy wave in Bangladesh. Now the month of August is also booked. The birth of care-taker government and the role of non-partisan purosamaj.
The blackization of the veil The sighting of the moon The attack on the Sufi shrines
4. 5. 6.
Endnotes Sanjeev Prakash/Per Selle, ed., Investigating Social Capital: Comparative Perspectives on Civil Society, Participation and Governance (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004). Satyendranath Roy, ed., Rabindranather Chintajagat: Samajchinta [The world views of Rabindranath Tagore: Views on Society] (Kolkata: Granthaloy Private Limited, 1985). Also, Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1917; Calcutta: Rupa & Co., 1992). Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Minute of 2 February 1835 on Indian Education,” Macaulay, Prose and Poetry, selected by G. M. Young (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), p. 729. Fatema Mernissi, Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World (New York: Basic Books, 2002), p.27. Ibid., p.33. Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
outh Asia experienced a history-making shift towards democracy in 2008. Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh held general elections in February, March, April and December respectively. Nepal also decided to become a republic in May. India held elections in some states in 2008 and it is expected to go for general elections by early summer 2009. These are positive signs and demonstrate the acceptability of elections and representative governance as the favoured political values and normal methods of political change and legitimacy. However, if these developments are examined in historical context, South Asia looks like a mosaic of democracy and authoritarianism because various shades of each political system can be found. There are significant variations in each system which need to be taken into account in order to understand diversified dynamics of each system. These variations can be found from state to state. If two states subscribe to a democratic political system, these can diverge from each other in some respects. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan have elected governments now but this does not mean that these democracies are identical. There have been variations within each country over time, shifting from democratic to authoritarian system and vice versa. Pakistan has experienced a cyclic process of shift from elected civilian democracy to military authoritarianism; one replaces the other. Pakistan's current democratic dispensation is one year old and there is a widespread sympathy for the democratic process in the political and societal circles. However, it is difficult to suggest that democracy has become non-reversible in Pakistan. Bangladesh has returned to democracy after a gap of two years (2007-2009) when it experienced technocratic-bureaucratic-military hybrid authoritarian rule. The future of democracy depends mainly on the capacity of the two major political parties to develop a consensus on strengthening democracy and working together in reasonable harmony. Nepal is now experimenting with republican democratic order. However, the inadequacies of the political players during the phase of constitutional monarchy under the 1990 Constitution cause concern if the political elite can really function differently, although the mass movement during 2005-2006 is a useful experience of cooperative political action. Democracy and authoritarianism do not always function in an exclusive manner. One has a tendency to adopt some traits or strategies of the other as a temporary measure or adopts them on a more or less permanent basis. Democratic political orders in South Asia have used authoritarian methods from time to time. At times, the democratic governments have
adopted intolerant attitude towards dissent or relied on coercive measures to cope with the challenge to their authority. There are special and emergency provisions in the constitution and law to use authoritarian techniques to deal with a specified situation. At times, such provisions are used in a highly partisan manner. The governments may have legal and constitutional basis for such an action, it negates the essence of democracy. All South Asian democracies have used special and emergency laws when they felt that some groups were directly challenging the state authority. The treatment extended to dissident and separatist movements is well-known. In some instances the use of these methods persists for years and there are serious complaints of human rights violations. Similarly, authoritarian military regimes and authoritarian monarchical governments have not always been repressive. They have allowed limited dissent or adopted some semblance of democracy. They have given some space to political parties and groups and also allowed freedom to the media. However, these steps are taken in a selective manner. Much depends on the discretion of the authoritarian ruler and the political context. If s/he feels secure in
power s/he may be more forthcoming in letting people enjoy a degree of freedom of expression and organization. An insecure authoritarian regime cannot adopt democratic traits or recognize societal group autonomy. Pakistan's authoritarian military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf adopted some democratic traits. He held local elections and allowed the expansion of private sector media and gave them freedom of expression. However, he used repressive measures in a selective and carefully targeted manner. When his regime was threatened by street protest in 2007, the media and the political activists were subjected to bureaucratic pressure and harassment by intelligence agencies. Definitional Issues Authoritarianism is associated with arbitrary authority whose political legitimacy is dubious. It is marked by overwhelming and intolerant disposition towards individuals, political and societal groups that attempt to function autonomous of the government. The space available to autonomous group activity is limited. Its scope can change on the whims of the ruler and his close associates rather than on the basis an overriding and popularly accepted constitutional document. An authoritarian regime may put forward an ideological framework and emphasize full commitment to it. However, ideology is not central to authoritarian governments as it is in to totalitarian political system. This makes it possible to allow a limited group activity within certain prescribed limits.
Democracy is a difficult and complex process. It is slow and noisy as compared to authoritarianism. Further, democracy is a process which does not progress in a uni-linear manner because it can face reverses or get stagnated at one point for some time. What matters most is the direction of the political system and society from less democracy to more democracy. The minimalist notion of democracy emphasizes electoral democracy, open and competitive elections, universal adult suffrage and civil liberties to ensure fair, free and transparent elections. The comprehensive and liberal democracy calls for a number of other requirements in addition to electoral and representative governance. These include:
Democracy is a difficult and complex process. It is slow and noisy as compared to authoritarianism.
Authoritarianism assigns a high premium to obedience and low tolerance to open dissent especially if it openly challenges the basic features of an authoritarian political and social order. Invariably authoritarian systems promote patrimonial authority pattern where loyalty to the chief holds key to access to state resources and patronage. Political openness and competitiveness are important features of democratic political order but their role is extremely restricted if not removed altogether in authoritarian system. Authoritarianism can manifest under civilian as well as military rule. Invariably bureaucraticmilitary regimes have authoritarian disposition and emphasize hierarchy, firm control, discipline, and absence of ambiguity rather than participation and socio-economic egalitarianism. The military regimes in Pakistan and Bangladesh provide good examples of authoritarian rule. Monarchical regimes also tend to become authoritarian. Bhutan provides a good example of a ruler that voluntarily decided to relax his bureaucratic control, allow political activity, hold general election and install an elected government.
Democracy is the most cherished political system. A large number of authoritarian rulers like to use this label and adopt some of its features in order to gain legitimacy and acceptability. Overall interest in democracy and human rights has increased manifold in the post-Cold War environment.
** Constitutionalism, the rule of law and basic freedoms at the operational level. ** No exclusive domain of power for leaders and state institutions which are not accountable to the elected parliament and the electors. Democracy is undermined if a political system suffers from institutional imbalance in favour of the state institutions like the military and bureaucracy at the expensive of political and representative institutions. Overwhelming role of the military or the bureaucracy is anathema to democracy. The primacy of the elected institutions and processes has to exist in theory and practice. **Accountability of key office holders through the system of checks and balances and established constitutional and legal provisions. **political, social, cultural and religious pluralism based on individual and group freedoms and non-discriminatory environment for disadvantaged sections of the population, especially ethnic, regional and religious minorities. There is recognition of autonomous domain for societal and political activity that enriches democracy. Voluntary group activity and especially vibrant civil society resists authoritarianism and tyranny. ** Socio-economic equality and equity in theory and practice irrespective of religion, caste, creed, region and gender. ** Consensus building through dialogue and accommodation among the competing interests rather than insistence on majoritarian rule. The tyranny of majority is to be neutralized. **Alternative sources of information should be available to the people. This means that
freedom of press; expression and association are important pre-requisites for democracy. **Independent judiciary **Elite consensus on the legitimacy of the democratic process ** Orientations of the populace and especially the societal elite and a political culture that values tolerance, accommodation and moderation rather than intolerance and extremism.
Operational Issues There are three levels of democratization. The first level is conceptual or theoretical where the parameters and basic requirements of democracy are articulated. The second level involves the setting up of democratic institutions and processes, i.e. democratic infrastructure, instruments and procedures. The final level is that of maturation of the democratic process. The working of the democratic process over time without periodic interruptions and breakdown or non-democratic and unconstitutional interventions contributes to building confidence in the democratic process, strengthens democratic traditions and enhances its capacity for conflict management and resolution. Democracy matures and the society acquires strong democratic norms only by working democracy. Most of the developing states, including some of the states of South Asia, have faltered at the second and third stage. Either the democratic process was cut short by non-democratic institutional and organizational forces or the democratic institutions and processes did not get enough time to mature and stabilize. In South Asia, democracy has faced challenges mainly from three sources. First, democratically elected governments can pursue policies that undermine the essence of democracy. Overplay of majority rule can easily cause sharp divisions in the polity and undermine democracy in the long run. Unless the political majority recognizes that the political minority must stay on board, democracy is threatened. The latter should not lose the hope of political change through constitutional and legal means. Similarly, the opposition or the political minority needs to acknowledge the majority's right to rule, albeit within constitutional and legal framework. Other issues include the government policies for promoting good governance, socio-economic equity, respect for civic freedoms and rights. Second, organized groups at the periphery of the political system can threaten democracy. This is likely to be more common if the government violates constitutionalism and the rule of law by strictly controlling and manipulating access to state power and the channels of social mobility and political recruitment. The rise of religious and ethnic intolerance and extremism in some South Asian countries is a major threat to the future of democracy. The return of democracy in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan is threatened by such groups. In India, religious and ethnic violence is a major
challenge to democracy and constitutionalism. These groups use indiscriminate violence to pursue their narrow partisan agendas that threaten civic order and societal stability. Terrorism is the most potent threat to democracy, peace and stability in South Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and other South Asian countries are threatened by terrorism in varying degrees. Terrorism also causes serious distortions in inter-state relations in South Asia from time to time. Unless terrorism related issues are tackled through mutual cooperation in the region, this threat will continue to haunt internal political and social order of some states as well as inter-state relations. There are many instances of societal groups using or threatening to use violence against the weaker sections of the population. Their targets have often been religious and ethnic minorities, women and children. Communal and religious-sectarian violence, inter-ethnic group conflict, unconstitutional and illegal restrictions on women exist in some societies. The state authorities are unable or unwilling to counter these groups. Third, the most serious challenge to democracy in South Asia is an individual's crisis of political and societal efficacy. There a large number of instances in South Asia of decline or total disappearance of political and psychological commitment of the people to the political process. Such alienation is the result of their political experience that creates the impression in their minds that their efforts can hardly change the state of affairs and the rulers would continue to behave as they do. There is a total alienation from the state, government and its processes. They fear rather than respect the state institutions and processes and view them as their adversary. If political in-efficacy and alienation become widespread, democracy cannot be sustained. Either authoritarian or dictatorial forces will be able to control the political system or the alienated people will become vulnerable to appeals by extremists and encompassing ideologies and movements that my move the society towards an ideological authoritarian, dictatorial or totalitarian system. The notion of guided democracy was practiced in South Asia. Pakistan under General Ayub Khan experimented with "Basic Democracy" and Nepal under King Mahendra and King Birendra practiced "Panchayat Democracy." It is interesting to note that the military governments in Pakistan and Bangladesh have been more interested in setting up local bodies than having freely elected governments at the national level. Bangladesh experimented with an interim civilian arrangement with the backing of the military. Despite the problems of these experiments, these notions are not completely dead. In Pakistan, some political sections are now talking of the Bangladesh model of interim civilian order with the backing of the military.
The streaks of authoritarianism in democratic political system in South Asia can also be attributed to the legacy of the pre-1947 British rule. Though the British adopted some semblance of representative governance and devolution of power towards the end of their rule, authoritarian governance continued to be the main feature of their imperial rule. This tradition was inherited by former British colonies in South Asia. The state machinery, especially the coercive apparatus, tends to behave in a non-responsive and authoritarian manner. They could not fully evolve ethos suitable for an independent and democratic political context. The extent of such authoritarianism varies from country to country but it can be observed in all South Asian states. This is reflected in constitutional and legal framework as well as in the rules of business of the governments. These practices are more profound in the states that experienced direct or indirect military rule than the states that continued with democracy without serious and long interruption. The challenges to democracy and the dark shadow of authoritarianism can also be traced to non-egalitarian socio-economic order in South Asian countries. A number of vestiges of inequality and discrimination can be traced to religious and customary practices. A good number of people are opposed to the efforts to do away with these discriminatory customs and practices. Further, acute poverty, under-development and lack of awareness of one's
rights also sustain non-egalitarianism and authoritarian political and social tendencies. Democracy and authoritarianism will continue to simultaneously exist in South Asia. This is a struggle for socio-economic equality and participatory governance with constitutional liberalism. The recent revival of democracy in South Asia engenders the hope that the balance is decisively in favour of democracy, although authoritarian trends continue to dilute the reforming impact of democracy. It is not possible to wait for socio-economic transformation and emergence of democratic social and political culture before introducing democracy. You cannot wait for the ideal situation because it will never be there.
SESSION III Media and Mumbai terrorism
The ideal strategy is to move on the path to democracy and challenge the forces of status quo and authoritarianism. It is by pursuing the democratic path of change that we can hope to show some positive results. Democracy is a process and it requires constant effort for democratization and vigilance of what has been achieved. It also requires non-partisan review of achievements and failures from time to time and mid-course corrections for promoting and sustaining democracy.
Mr Khaled Ahmed, Mr Vinod Sharma, SAFMA Secretary General Mr Imtiaz Alam, Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni, SAFMA President Mr Reazuddin Ahmed, Dr. Mizan-ur-Rahman Shelley and Mr Afzal Khan
Delegates from Bangladesh
Session III: Report She called upon the journalists of South Asia to spread the message of goodwill and love to each and every household in the region.
Media and Mumbai terrorism he proceedings of the second day of the South Asian Free Media ConferenceVII started with the postponed sessionIII on 'Media and Mumbai Terrorism'. Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr Dipu Moni was the chief guest.
She appreciated SAFMA for promoting free thinking and building better understanding and confidence in South Asia. “Without an open space for ideas to flourish and be debated there can be no development, no democracy, no dialogue and no lasting peace,” Dr Moni said.
SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam welcomed the foreign minister to the conference. He hoped that under the new government the media in Bangladesh would enjoy freedom.
She hoped the event would promote free and realistic media. “The media of South Asia will play a vital role in promoting greater regional cohesion,” the foreign minister said. “Democracy can only flourish when the media is free,” she said. Appraising Bangladesh media, the foreign minister said, “The media in Bangladesh has been a constant and vibrant partner in our fight to restore democracy, we remain committed to upholding the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.” She said, “There is a close relationship between democracy, peace and development. A free media plays a crucial role in ensuring accountability, transparency and good governance.”
SAFMA is engaged in reconciliation, bridgebuilding and peace in South Asia and it also propagates media freedom, he said. He asked the Bangladesh government to adopt a law for the freedom of media proposed by SAFMA. He hoped that the new democracy in Bangladesh would sustain respecting dissent and the country would play a leading role in the SAARC. The SAFMA secretary general urged the foreign minister to initiate free movement of journalists and media products in the SAARC region. He hoped that Bangladesh and India would resume the composite dialogue for better relationship. Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni thanked the organizers for hosting such a conference. She said the conference was taking place in Bangladesh at a historic time when the people of the country had elected a truly democratic government in a free, fair and credible election. She paid homage to the martyrs of the historic language movement of 1950s.
Mr Khaled Ahmed from Pakistan and Mr Kumar Ketkar from India made presentations on the post-Mumbai 'Media War'. Mr Khaled Ahmed The people of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) refuse to accept stereotypes. My own bonfire of stereotypes took place when I went to India with a delegation in the 1990s. From Agha Shahi to Intizar Hussain, the delegation was quite diverse, ready for confrontation, but vulnerable to the magic of actually knowing the enemy first hand. I can say that the immediate result was psychological disarmament following a shock of new recognition. Cross-border monsters turned out to be reasonable human beings. In the mid-90s, frequent exchange of journalists from both sides of the border started. In 1997, Imtiaz Alam and I decided to invite fellow journalists from India to Pakistan on behalf of The Frontier Post Lahore. We had a discussion where veteran Indian journalists engaged in a debate with veteran Pakistani journalists. It was a great discussion. We discussed what was wrong with both India and Pakistan. The only thing wrong was that the Indians told Pakistanis what was wrong with Pakistan and Pakistanis told Indians what was wrong with India. It all ended with hostility that we were forced to remove with a lot of hospitality. That was what was wrong with old journalists still fresh from the wounds of Partition. Journalism loves bad news. If the warts have to be shown it is better that they be factual rather than concocted and for that the Indian warts are best described by an Indian journalist
and Pakistani ones described by a Pakistani counterpart. In the following years, that is what began to happen. When my friends from India visited Pakistan they had no problem finding out what was wrong with Pakistan. I had no problem finding out the warts in India because my Indian friends obliged most generously. Trying to understand what happened to the media after the Mumbai attacks, I borrowed some lines from an editorial written in Himal by Kanak Dixit of Nepal. The editorial criticised the Indian media and blamed it for creating mass hysteria. As journalists, we need to analyse the rage that was felt in India and how it spread. The Indian rage was genuine; the reactive rage of the Pakistani media was derivative and based on denial. As the two sides clashed, it was obviously not the finest hour of the South Asian media. I think SAFMA is the right venue where we should discuss this issue. Mr Khaled Ahmed, the keynote speaker
When there is national trauma, rash and
The foreign minister said the media acts as watchdog for the government and creates public opinion. The minister also said, “South Asia is our home. But sadly South Asia is also a region beset with age-old suspicion and mistrust. The present government led by Sheikh Hasina is committed to working for a more conducive political climate in the region that will help foster a robust cooperation amongst nations of the region.” From top to bottom: Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni in conversation with SAFMA Secretary General Mr Imtiaz Alam, new SAFMA President Mr Reazuddin Ahmed and SAFMA India General Secretary Mr Vinod Sharma
immoderate decisions are taken. After 9/11, there was a surge of sympathy for the US; China lifted its veto at the UNSC in US's favour. But then the US was isolated when it attacked Iraq. India gained sympathy after the Mumbai attacks. China lifted its hold on the Sanctions Committee resolution against Jamaat-ud-Dawa, but when India began to threaten war it became isolated. National trauma unites people. To exploit this trauma and put forward plans that scare the world is not a good policy. That is where India went wrong and got isolated. The decisions taken by India fanned defensive hostility in Pakistan and encouraged the Pakistani media to convert the national slogan of 'Unity, faith, discipline' into 'Uniformity, faith, discipline'. Love and hatred are both created in a vacuum of information. Pakistani nation's love for China and hatred for India are based on this lack of information and knowledge. When it comes to the Indo-Pak relationship, both sides claim a prior mutual definition that no longer needs information: I already know what the other is all about. Pakistan loves China because it doesn't know it. It hates India because it refuses to know it. This hatred for India surged back in the Pakistani media after the Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistani media was lauded by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups for doing all this. We need to understand that both sides have suffered because of this and have inflicted damage on each other. It will not be a short-term process to reverse all that has been done, but we must begin to regain each other's confidence. We have become internationally isolated in our own ways and can come out of it only through mutual cooperation. Pakistan and India have not studied their opposed nationalisms objectively. Indian nationalism is relaxed because it is the nationalism of a status quo power. Pakistani nationalism is based on a revisionist feeling. It labours under the onus of changing a status quo for which it is not strong enough. As the challenger state without sufficient counterforce against India, it is filled with a lot more fear and loathing than India, and therefore it is more vulnerable to moments of passion. We must overcome our differences in order to fight terrorism. Mr Kumar Ketkar -- India: Agreeing with Mr Khaled Ahmed, Mr. Ketkar said that if terrorists aimed to deepen the Indo-Pakistan conflict, they had succeeded in that, and that media was to an extent responsible for the situation. “Media has always made insane people win in this subcontinent since 1947”, he said with disappointment. The Indian media has projected the situation in a nationalistic context. “The definition of nationalism has been slightly modified after the attack”, he said. “The electronic media
broadcast the whole attack live, which resulted in extreme tension among the people. More fatal attacks had taken place in India, but they had not created as much tension among the people for they were not covered that well.” The situation went to an extent that it was difficult to make an average Indian understand that all Pakistanis were not their enemies. “Media has created a very negative impression”, he said. The Bollywood industry can play a vital role in improving the situation, he said. Rather, Bollywood has a bigger role than media itself in making the relations better, as it is one of the most popular forms of entertainment to all sections of the society. Intervention from Bangladesh A delegate from Bangladesh asked the moderator to limit the time of speech for each speaker, as to him the issue not only about India and Pakistan, rather was concerned the entire region, and so, all should be given the floor to speak. Mr Afzal Khan -- Pakistan: Mentioning his experience of reporting on the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, he explained the role of a journalist in such conflicts. He said the reaction to the Mumbai attack could be summed up in three points: lack of information, reversing the trend of hatred towards each other and the role played by the journalists.
He said the foremost allegiance for a journalist is to truth. Then come his principles and his land, he said. He urged the media of both India and Pakistan to end their conflict. Mr Vinod Kumar Sharma -- India: “The words we use in media are sometimes imaginary and I see it as a clash of relative truths. Truth is relative, based on the different experiences people have.” Mr Sharma said the problem was lack of adequate knowledge about each other's experience. Most times, the security ayatollahs on both sides of the border strengthen stereotypes. He said the Indian capital Delhi wept in the same way as did Mumbai or other metropolitan cities of the country. But in the rural part the situation was different because of lack of access to the media. Mr Sharma said the main purpose of the attack was to create a war between the two countries; a war of words did take place but there was no war across the border. “After 26/11, the people of India did not get swayed by emotions; they came out and cast their votes and voted for continuation of development in several states.” “We have made a good beginning towards creating a political culture to fight terrorism, which is an example Pakistan may emulate,” said Mr Sharma. About the 'derivative rage' in the Pakistani media, he said: “If somebody is shot in the chest, is writhing in pain and is seeking a bottle of blood from the international community, why should you resort to a derivative rage.” There is a lack of political climate today to fight terrorism, he said. We have been sweeping in our criticism of the role of the media on both sides of the border. There are honourable exceptions, however. Unless we are scientific towards gathering, analyzing and disseminating information rather swayed towards catching an eyeball, especially during a crisis, we'll lose its credibility with the people. Defending NDTV as having played a more responsible role than other channels, he criticized the role of most of the Indian media during the coverage of the Mumbai attack.
He said that all of it was based on misplaced sense of nationalism and patriotism. The TRP bandwagon effect takes over the media psyche and creates a situation where everybody is competing with the other. And hence, the warmongering. “But if, in the interregnum, there is another such incident, do we have the mechanism, the in-built restraint, to check it? Do we have the will to do it?” he expressed his concern. “Peer pressure can correct journalists. And it did. War is not the solution. It was native wisdom that prevented a war and it was proven by the election results,” he said. He said that since commerce guided the coverage, the sentiment and the extent of the coverage, showing ad-dependent television channels across the borders would be one antidote to what had happened post-Mumbai. Urge to make peace and not taking things unilaterally will be guided by making profits. It will also reduce the real-time information deficit and peace hiatus in both the countries. Mr Lakhsman Gunasekera -- Sri Lanka Mr Lakhsman Gunasekera said the discussion that took place was mainly a nationalist aspect of the media discourse. He said the most important aspect of the Mumbai attack was how Indian media dominated the other media just because of its sheer size of industry. “We are very much interested in the Indo-Pak dynamic but we don't want it to dominate our time. Domination of the Indian media in South Asia distracts us from all other dimensions that are of great importance to others in South Asia; poverty, ecological devastation, authoritarianism, plunder and patriarchy. We are a regional community. We are still trying to build regional community. There should be no dominance of Indians and Pakistanis debating each other at such platforms. All South Asians have equal rights to discuss India and Pakistan. We have regional friendships but we are still trying to build a regional community.” Mr Imtiaz Alam Post-Mumbai was the most depressing time in my life as the secretary general of SAFMA, as a journalist, and as a citizen of South Asia. I thought I had made a serious blunder by forming
SAFMA because our friends were swayed by nationalistic sentiments. It is a matter of education for all of us, how to report conflict, how to keep the context, how not to see reality from one narrow angle and how not to substitute facts with jingoism/propaganda or slander. Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley from Bangladesh The Mumbai attacks happened not because the media wanted them but because the terrorists wanted them to happen. “Terrorism is a global phenomenon and so, should be fought globally. We should rise above our petty differences. Terror like sin will not spare anybody. Lessons from Mumbai will never be forgotten.” Mr Harihar Swaroop from India The worst was the derailment of Indo-Pak dialogue. It was going on well. We should think how this process can be restored. Peopleto-people contact should never be allowed to be back-tracked. There can be exchanges of cultural icons and media products across the borders. We should also restore Track III dialogue.
answer all the questions that the media posed. The government didn't really stop us from filming the events at the Taj; if it had we would have stopped. They should have told us to stand at a particular distance from the hotel. There were no restrictions or guidelines lay down. Were mistakes made? Yes. I think there were rumours reported as facts and the coverage was a bit over the top. One channel reported that there was a bomb at the stock exchange building and that it shut down. Another reported “Pak ISI chief summoned by PM” That in itself is a ridiculous statement. However, as I said, the government did not issue clarifications either. It was days later that the officials told us that Pakistan had offered to send over the ISI chief. Ass far as the aftermath coverage is concerned, I did not want to see top models sitting in their yacht and seeing all that was enfolding. But the counter argument of this is that people like them are citizens of Mumbai too. We need to understand that there was a lot of genuine anger; anger against politicians of India. People who talked about surgical strikes or nuclear strikes cannot be defended, it was just madness. As for the coverage now, days after the attack, the media hounds Pranab Mukherjee every day for comments with questions like, “What options are available to us?” and “Has a reply been sent to the dossier?”
Mr K K Katyal from India There was nothing wrong with the media coverage. Over generalization should be avoided in media reports. Media's role is to bring those responsible to justice. Mr Muhammad Zamir from Bangladesh He suggested that SAFMA should set a code of conduct for news coverage.
Mr Imtiaz Alam There is a detailed guideline about reporting conflict in the South Asia Media Monitor 2008. Ms Hina Khawaja Bayat from Pakistan “Lack of information among the countries is one of the main problems,” she said adding the television channels should be broadcast in all the countries for smooth flow of information.
Ms Nidhi Razdhan from India The coverage of Mumbai can be divided into three parts: 1) how the attack was covered, 2) the aftermath 3) what is happening now. A lot of people criticized the media for covering the attacks the way that it did. However, it needs to be pointed out that apart from all the criticizing and hate mails that we got, we also got many letters that praised our coverage. A huge factor in our way of covering the attacks was that we came across such a situation for the first time. We didn't know what the rules were and the government didn't know either. The biggest problem, perhaps, was that the government did not appoint one person who could
Ms Nidhi Razdhan from India making a comment
Mr Muhammad Zamir from Bangladesh making an intervention
between the US and India. But there was space available to ride with conscientious objectors in India. The tendency to “take on” was there but it was in a state of suppression till Kargil took place: “The manipulation of patriotism by the government ably aided by mass media is
being far too kind. The satellite channels are here to stay, and there's no wishing them away, but can they not regulate themselves? Sadly, this going over the top is an international
out of control”4.
The Pakistani media had just finished punishing the PPP-led government for its “donothing style”, its pro-America stance via the America-inspired NRO, the ordinance that exonerated Asif Ali Zardari and enabled him to become president. The impression being given in the media was that the PPP government is totally incompetent, neglectful of the emotion of the people and working unconstitutionally. A comparison between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani – both premiers without party top rank – was brushed aside to give the impression that Mr Gilani was a mere puppet. All this was not good for Pakistan which was in dire economic straits and needed assistance from its friends abroad; it was also not good for Indo-Pak relations in the new environment of terrorism.
one of the less glorious aspects of the Kargil conflict”.
Muscle-bound media finds another target But Mumbai happened when the Pakistani media was on the warpath. It had turned against General Musharraf and got rid of him in combination with a number of other factors. It had attacked such legacies of the Musharraf era as his pro-American policies, thus indirectly responding meekly to the terrorism of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The dominant media position was that the war against terrorism was not Pakistan's war. So when the Indian media touched extremes of anti-Pakistan spleen, it was ready to switch off the western front against terrorism to start up the old eastern front against India. Nationalism came limping out of the cellar of the stalled Indo-Pak peace talks and spread menacingly around.
The post-Mumbai 'media war' Khaled Ahmed
Introduction The media in India and Pakistan has remained “separated” by Pakistan's ban on Indian news channels. The Pakistani channels have been selectively picking on their Indian counterparts, dismissing India-positive coverage of Kashmir and Gujarat, lapping up Indian self-criticism on such channels as Tehelka. The two sides have avoided frontal clashes till the Mumbai attack of 26 November 2008 took place and Pakistan was quickly named by India. It is not that the Pakistani side never took on the Indian media. There was a tit-for-tat reflex on the subject of RAW-ISI shown by both sides. Pakistani opinion took advantage of the Indian opinion decrying the knee-jerk reference to the ISI every time a cracker went off in India. There was “competition” also on other themes, like the signing of a nuclear treaty
The Indian frenzy was noted by some Indians with capacity to remain in their senses after the attack. An ex-military officer was one of a number of Indians who thought the Indian media was going overboard and that India needed to understand the mess Pakistan was in: “The job of the media is not to spread the elite's version of patriotism. Its job is to educate the masses through objective facts and objectivity cannot change with one's own association with a geographical location. In a time of crisis, one would expect genuinely critical analyses, if only because the stakes are too high. Think about it. This current crisis can even lead to a war in which millions of lives will be affected.
From Nepal the following negative view of what the Indian media was doing was expressed: “There is an attempt on to generate mass hysteria in India as television channels compete for ratings. The channels are using the Bombay attacks of last week in a dangerous game of TRP-upmanship [television -rating point] which can well derail the political process and set back the India-Pakistan peace train. Going far beyond what is required of them even in times of crisis, some media houses are leading campaigns to get citizens to take pledges of patriotism. They are pushing a brittle, monochromatic vision of the resilient country we know as India”3. Pakistani media could have allowed the saner voices to prevail in India. Instead it jumped into the arena like a staggering heavy-weight that no one in the world was willing to support. A more middle-of-the-road opinion emerged from the editor of Indian Express, convincing because of its moderation and good sense: “This hostility must end and senior media people on both sides, particularly editors, need to intervene before this great professional bond starts to fray. Journalists are of course loyal to their countries, but are never to be held accountable for their governments' policies. They can neither be framing state policies, nor be their spokesmen, and certainly not be waging wars, and thank God for all that. It is time media institutions and senior editors from both sides intervened and ensured it does not get
Media fights the covert war Recent events had not helped. India accused Pakistan's intelligence – the ISI – of having attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul with a suicide-bomber, while Pakistan alleged Indian hand in the Balochistan insurgency and even terrorism emanating from the Tribal Areas. This was a blind continuation of allegations that began in 2001 when the Indian parliament was attacked, triggering Indian troop deployment along the border with Pakistan. This kind of “jurisprudence” was being pulled out again to explain the latest attack. Analysis emanating from the West alleging the Mumbai attack had the signature of Al Qaeda in combination with some Pakistani Islamic group did not help either.
“The media of both India and Pakistan, however, is busy spreading 'patriotism' and concealing facts from its viewers. The more troubling part is that no one seems to have an ethical problem with all this bigotry. A scary thought, indeed! We are waiting for someone in the media to categorically state that the war-mongers in both these countries are a threat to ordinary people. We cannot equate Indian nationalism with Hindutva or Pakistani nationalism with its intelligence agencies. We need people in the media who can put a stop to this bashing of the other country and look at the crisis in its entirety by criticising their own establishments, who can show that our nationalism is about the betterment of our people, and not simply a hateful reaction to the other country. “There's a huge constituency out here that's desperately looking for an outlet to vent its anger on, and Pakistan is the handiest peg. The media on both sides is going hysterical with screaming and hyperventilating anchors. The media has proved singularly incapable of any constructive effort in this direction. Ayaz Amir calls the Indian media shrill. I think he is
Delegates from Sri Lanka
There were two ways of looking at the situation, political and military. If you ask a retired army general for comment he will explain the crisis in military terms, meaning that if conflict is imminent then preparedness for conflict is what is required5. If you ask a politician for comment he will show concern about the kind of economic and human loss the conflict will inflict. The media had to play a role in focusing the political side of the crisis. But it 6
showcased the retired generals on this occasion, and tilted the scale to the wrong side . It hit the street with a one-sided question, and the people said unrealistic things like “we are ready to fight India”. The truth is that no one in the world is ready to fight a nuclear war. Those who encourage a “united against India” campaign in the media should look carefully into the nature of trouble inside Pakistan. It is not wise to trust a statement – concocted or real – from Waziristan that the loyal tribesmen will stand side by side with the Pakistan army if India brings its troops to the border as it did in 2001. One ex-ISI chief actually expressed joy during a TV interview at the prospect of a war with India because Baitullah Mehsud would in that case be fighting for Pakistan. One should remind the war enthusiasts that every time the tribesmen were used in war against India it didn't really redound to Pakistan's advantage. President Zardari's statement that the attack could have come from “non-state actors” and that his government was actually fighting against these same “actors”, revealed how isolated the PPP government had become in the wake of the attack and the media war that had
followed it. Retired generals, pointedly two ex-ISI chiefs, came on TV to describe what the next war with India will look like. Tragically, what has come out is a visceral non-professional exaggeration of the bravery of Pakistani Muslims when they battle Indian Hindus. Lying for country and 'non-state actors' This is the old Indo-Pak bilateral venom at work. This kind of environment isolates the “state actors” who want to resolve the crisis rationally. The way our TV channels resound with unrealistic challenges, one wouldn't be surprised if President Zardari's statement to an Indian talk-show was taken amiss and interpreted by the media as an act of cowardice and a gesture of abject capitulation. The opinion in Pakistan was in favour of defying the Indian approach and not offering any cooperation which allowed the Indians to prove that the attack had come from Pakistan. This went against the “minimalist” defensive position taken by President Zardari. In Pakistan the supposedly “reactive” assault by the media has brought out the dark side of the Pakistani state, oblivious of strategy of restraint and more worried about how bad the government will appear in the eyes of the people overwhelmed by the anti-Indian fury of the TV anchors and newspapers columnists. One senior columnist laid down the terrain on which the war of the anchors and columnists is being fought when he said there were only two kinds of journalism, one for the country and the other for one's self. But what about the truth and the facts?
There is proof of how the truth is being killed in this war. Daily Jang (13 Dec 2008) reported that its team went to Faridkot in Okara to inquire whether the terrorist caught in Mumbai, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was an inhabitant of the village. It was greeted at first with cover-up stories. Then a villager disclosed that Ajmal had disappeared but when he came back he showed off his physical prowess and taught karate to village children. More and more people started complaining that intelligence agencies were actively discouraging people from telling the truth. The president of the press club said if Ajmal was not from the village, why were the secret agencies putting pressure on the village? People said the terrorists were not only bothering India but had made life hell for Pakistanis too. There was instant reaction against the report which substantiated the contents of an earlier report about Faridkot in London's Observer. TV channels went to Faridkot to “prove” that Ajmal Kasab had not lived there. Other reports told us how the villagers of Faridkot were out in processions saying no Ajmal Kasab had actually existed. This had effect on the government which was heretofore moderate and wisely abstaining from denial. Interior secretary Kamal Shah was quoted by Nawa-e-Waqt (14 Dec 2008) as saying that India had futoor (bad intention) in its mind because it was accusing Ajmal Kasab of being from Pakistan. The captured terrorist Kasab was not on the record of NADRA and he did not possess a Pakistani ID card. This was followed by someone saying Ajmal had been flown in by India from Nepal! Psychologically, India as the new bugbear had come to the rescue of the media conscience bothered by the anchors' reluctance to discuss such “delicate” issues as the murder of Major General (Retd) Faisal Alavi in Islamabad after a British journalist reported that he could have been killed by the generals aligned with Al Qaeda and Taliban7. The reason for this “abstention” was the similarity it bore to the murder of the PPP leader Ms Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 by someone who could have got the Taliban to perform the operation. There were voices raised against what the Pakistani media was doing but in a moment of patriotic heat such voices were ignored. No one takes criticism kindly. The media battle against India has been won8. Anchors can't be accused of being ill-informed and excessively emotional when emotion is exactly what is required by the situation. One voice was heard saying: “For the past two weeks, the Pakistani media has been busy exposing the 'bias' and 'hypocrisy' of the Indian media. Our anchors, columnists, analysts and journalists are drawing our attention towards the baseless allegations being hurled at Pakistan from across the border without any investigation at all.
“The Pakistani media is highlighting the plight of minorities in India. One anchor stated that all of the viewers should bow in front of Allah and thank Him for creating Pakistan; otherwise we would have been oppressed (obviously there is no oppression in Pakistan!). Our anchors are also trying to prove how RAW has been interfering in Afghanistan against our interests (since we have never interfered in that unfortunate country!) and it is involved in insurgencies in Balochistan and even in the recent Karachi riots (of course, it is only the responsibility of the Indian media to substantiate its claims). This tit-for-tat rubbish would have made us all laugh, only if the future of millions was not at stake! “Another outcome of this crisis has been the revival of the image of the army and ISI in the eyes of the public. Suddenly, we are being told by all television networks about the importance of the ISI as our first line of defence and warned of the 'Jewish-Hindu conspiracy' to destroy this 'national asset'. General (r) Hameed Gul is seen on TV all the time lecturing us about the 'professionalism' of the agency and his willingness to lead our defence against the US and India (much like he did during the Afghan jihad, though as a crony of the US).”9 Derivative rage under Al Qaeda's pax The Indian outrage at the Mumbai attack was original; the Pakistani outrage at Indian outrage was derivative and therefore un-influential and internationally damaging to Pakistan. But just as some in India were looking to elections while challenging the Congress-UPA government to fall upon Pakistan, in Pakistan too there was the strangely “deniable” partisan battle at the political level, along with the unleashing of all the pent-up media hatred of the US and India, with conscious collateral damage directed at the PPP government. In the background loomed Al Qaeda and the Taliban with their baggage of intimidatory “psychology of reprieve”: if you don't criticise Al Qaeda you don't get bumped off and carry on the struggle for “independent media”. The terrorists' “selection” of targets was also meant to affect the mind of the attacked and the “not-attacked”. The parliament that heard the in-camera briefing from the Army was also not free of the effect of this psychological war. The opposition, composed mostly of the “not-attacked”, questioned the war on terrorism and demanded investigation into how the last government got Pakistan involved in the war that confronted Pakistan with Al Qaeda and “our own people”. The spiritual leaders said no Muslims could be involved in killing Muslims, leaving the question of whether that qualifies Al Qaeda and Taliban as non-Muslims unanswered.
Delegates from Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh
The media reflected all this. Unfortunately the tilt was against the government and indirectly against the military operations against the Taliban. The burden of the message was antiAmerican, reinforced by reports of how the Americans had maltreated their Muslim prisoners, including summaries of the memoir of Mulla Zaeef, ex-Afghan ambassador to Pakistan who spent three years in Guantanamo Bay. One columnist wrote that he told Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that “terrorists of the Tribal Areas were making their new hideouts in Multan, Bahawalpur and Muzaffargarh” and “if you attack them there they will go to Karachi”; therefore the best thing would be to negotiate with the Taliban. Anti-Americanism and anti-Indianism, recklessly lumped together, were being purveyed from the “free media”. One nugget was politician Sheikh Rashid Ahmad's boast that he would be proud to have his martyred body brought back from a battlefield inside India. Al Qaeda was winning the media war, first by getting its intimidatory killings publicised and then by getting politicians and analysts to come on TV and castigate the policy of fighting terrorism. In vain did one not-so-popular seminar in Lahore arrive at the conclusion that “the way
Pakistani media has glorified the radicals and militants has not only emboldened the radical groups and organisations but has also caused an increase in the trend and level of radicalisation in Pakistani society. The media must not lose sight of the fact that if the radical forces win in the country, their first target can be the media itself ”. 'Uniformity, Faith, Discipline' Society has absorbed the single message of hatred and denial the media was able to give out. Since many programmes are interactive on TV, one was able to see the extent of how uniform the public view of the Mumbai attacks had become, wrapped up together with the mythology of Zionist Israel and its dreaded agency Mossad. (Wasn't the Mumbai attack on the local Jews done to justify a strike against Pakistan?). One expatriate Pakistani visiting Pakistan wrote about the following experience: “My annual visit to Pakistan is always full of surprises. What change will I find this time? I asked myself as I landed at Karachi Airport a few weeks ago. In the past few years, I had noticed the rise of religious fervour among previously moderate Pakistanis. This time, I was engulfed and bombarded by conspiracy theories everywhere I turned. From the media to the mullahs, everyone seems to thrive on his or her version of who the enemy is. “One friend, who is extremely well educated, proceeded to inform me that, 'This is the sixth part of the Zionist conspiracy to wipe out Pakistan. She was keen to educate me on the 'other five' but I excused myself and left – only to find myself at dinner with a group of people who were convinced that the situation is all an Indian plot. The third visit was just as nauseating, with my cousins telling me that Pakistan is a victim of a triad – the US, India and Israel – that was conniving to wipe Pakistan off the map. “By this time I stopped going out, and decided instead to stay at home and see what was happening on TV. That was a bad move. On mainstream television, a well-educated smart and eloquent young scholar speaks every evening at prime time about US plans to invade Pakistan, and everyone is glued their TVs, absorbing this garbage. Painful as it may seem, Pakistan has to go through the process of democracy. Pakistanis must pull themselves out of a deep dark hole of victimisation to realise what has hit them. Only then will a cycle of true democracy begin, and will there be hope for the future”10.
Delegates from Bangladesh
The media in Pakistan expresses a uniform point of view, typical of a “war consensus”, but the spread of a single opinion is at the expense of the ruling PPP coalition and in favour of the ISI and the military which the media understands as being at loggerheads with the government. Again typically, war or threat of war is eroding democracy in Pakistan, and once again it is forcing one to realise why democracies avoid going to war. The pax of Al Qaeda comes in handy to threaten any media organ trying to plough a different furrow or criticising the extreme chauvinism practised by anchors. Some anchors have actually written about fellow-journalists in such a way as to invite reprisals from the suicide-bombers of Al Qaeda and Taliban. Channels redefine democracy Two sections of the national media are dissatisfied with each other. One section wants the other to be balanced and not indulge in “advocacy”. The other section is angry that it should be found fault with. Some journalists have attacked one another personally. But outside personalities, discussions have revealed genuine grounds for disagreement. And disagreement is not something one wants to wish away. Perhaps both the warring sections are right and should stay on the scene, letting the people judge between them. It depends on the country which section is dominant. In the US, the liberal section is dominant. Fox TV seems to plough a lonely furrow but draws strength from the presence of radio which is mostly conservative, full of bias on the basis of “advocacy”. In Pakistan, it is
the other way around. This is understandable. The press began liberal but tilted heavily to the right in the 1980s. When Musharraf appeared on the scene, yet another media paradigm made its shift. The media revolution in Pakistan was based on two factors. Musharraf's liberal licensing policy and the lift-off in the private sector of the economy making it possible for the new electronic and print outlets to survive by picking up more ads. When freedom began to bite back Musharraf took tough action, causing billions of rupees of loss to owners by closing down channels and rendering many TV journalists jobless in consequence. “Advocacy” came rushing in. “Adversarial” was plucked from objective investigation and changed into “hostility”. Some “goals” like democracy, constitution, judiciary, independent foreign policy, etc, were set above professional dispassion. Other concepts were taken on board. “Mandate”, explained nowhere in the Constitution, was imposed as obligation, as interpreted by anchors. “Debate in parliament” was announced as compulsory although mandated by Constitution only for budgets and lawmaking before voting in the house. Foreign policy was attached to the will of the common man and barbs kept flying in the direction of the elected government. Had the invited discussants said all this it would have been all right. When the lawyers' movement came on the scene and was immediately politicised, TV anchors should have backed off, but they did not. That the lawyers got their leg-up from the channels was fine, but taking sides was not.
Delegates from Pakistan and Nepal
Conclusion: Cult of the superman TV anchor Rapid expansion has left training lagging behind. A university that teaches journalism in Pakistan has textbooks describing a column as something personal, non-analytical and emotive, which is true of the Urdu press but not of the English one. The anchors came mostly from among the columnists. In the first wave, the top columnists got the big jobs. During the second wave, the financial squeeze was on; therefore the second-rung or even the third-rung columnists got to anchor discussions. The result was a proliferation of the personal and the platitudinous. Since the voice was all “Fox News” and proudly “engaged”, the message was uniform and tended to brainwash viewers - who rang up interactively shockingly repeating the same verbiage. No If you count TV surprise that the government cringed. It no longer mattered that it had got the popular channels as vote. Empowerment went to head for lawyers “challengers”, they and journalists both. If you count TV channels as “challengers”, they tend to stand together with other negative factors, some of them dangerous and reliant on intimidation. Unfairly, writers who criticise the terrorists receive death threats. Those who criticise the government and its “submission” to American hegemony in the war against terrorism walk tall.
tend to stand together with other negative factors, some of them dangerous and reliant on intimidation.
When the last spat occurred between the powerful anchors and some of these benighted anti-Taliban writers, one anchor in his column actually appeared to invite the wrath of the terrorists on his critics. Al Qaeda is winning the media war, first by getting its intimidatory killings publicised in the free media and then by getting politicians and analysts to come on TV to castigate the policy of fighting terrorism. One recent not-so-popular seminar in Lahore arrived at the conclusion that “the way Pakistani media has glorified the radicals and militants has not only emboldened the radical groups and organisations but has also caused an increase in the trend and level of radicalisation in Pakistani society. The media must not lose sight of the fact that if the radical forces win in the country, their first target can be the media itself ”.
Why should we be upset? The divide was always there. The Urdu press scrutinised the state of Pakistani nationalism and the English press scrutinised more often the functioning of the state. Urdu tended to guard the “nationalist” values that were losing their status elsewhere in the world. It was Manichean in its moralistic approach; the other was relativistic by reason of its exposure to more data of information. There were moments in the past when the newspapers clashed across the moats dug around them by language. Nothing of consequence resulted from this skirmishing. But now the landscape is different. TV is more powerful and its outreach is immense. And language doesn't matter any more. Now uniformity of the brainwash resulting from just one way of looking at things can endanger society. Endnotes 1 Subarno Chatterji, “Tracking the Media: Interpretation of Mass Media Discussions in India and Pakistan”; Routledge 2008; p.27. The book discusses the debates in the newspapers of India and Pakistan to see if there was any media confrontation. It refers to the TV channels only in the introduction. 2 Harish Puri, “Let's cut Pakistan some slack”, The News, 15 December 2008. 3 Himal, December 2008, editorial, “No to mass hysteria”. 4 Shekhar Gupta, “Press corps commanders”, reproduced in Daily Times, 21 December 2008. 5 Ex-ISI chief General (Retd) Hamid Gul told Khabrain (8 Dec 2008) that Pakistan was not going to be scared by India's geedar-bhabki (a jackal's feigned growling); but if the PPP government can't get up on its feet it should at least get up on its knees. 6 Famous columnist Irshad Haqqani said in Jang (29 Nov 2008) that the best TV comment on the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the subsequent Indian charge on Pakistan was from General (Retd) Salahuddin Satti who said he was afraid that the Mumbai attacks were like the 1971 hijacking of Indian plane Ganga after which overflights to East Pakistan were banned. He accepted the meaning that India had caused the Mumbai attacks in order to find an excuse to attack Pakistan. Haqqani wrote he believed General Satti and wanted Pakistan to do its utmost to secure itself (sardhar ki bazi). 7 Carey Schofield, “UK may help find Pakistani general's killers”, The Sunday Times, 14 December 2008. 8 Columnist Asadullah Ghalib wrote in Express (3 December 2008) that Pakistani media won the war against the Indian media after Mumbai attacks. He said Pakistani anchors were armed with undefeatable arguments and reasoning while the Indians were confused. It was not easy to fight a media war because Pakistan had fewer TV channels but once Pakistan media won the war it was no longer possible for India to start a war. 9 Ammar Ali Jan, “One side of the story”, The News, 14 Dec 2008. 10 Raheel Raza, “Enemies are everywhere”, Himal, December 2008.
Media should remove mistrust in South Asia Dr Dipu Moni Foreign Minister of bangladesh
t gives me great pleasure to be here at the closing day of the conference that is being hosted when the people of Bangladesh have elected a new government through free and fair elections for consolidating democracy. I deeply appreciate SAFMA for its role in free thinking. Freedom of expression is a building block for freedom and democracy. There can be no lasting peace, dialogue and democracy without freedom of expression. Democracy suffers if it is compromised. This conference is an occasion to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression, promotion of free and pluralistic media and safety of journalists throughout our region. There have been struggles against the abuse of power. For regional cohesion, the media has played an important role in South Asia. Democracy can only flourish when the media is free. South Asia has been home to most enduring and vibrant democracies. The emergence of new democracies in our region is heartening. For the first time in history, all countries have a democratic government. People's voice has been suppressed under the tyranny of dictators but now the wind of democracy is blowing through all countries. The resilience of the people has made dictators bow to people's will. The year 2008 was important for Bangladesh. The widely acclaimed free, fair and transparent December 29 general election ushered in a new course of democracy in the country. People turned out in massive numbers to vote for Sheikh Hasina. People voted for change, against tyranny, corruption and bad governance. The overwhelming mandate of the people has strengthened our resolve to consolidate democracy in the country. The media in Bangladesh has been a constant and valiant partner in our fight for democracy.
democracy can only flourish when media is free. Media in Bangladesh is a constant and valiant partner in our fight to restore democracy.
The media should help remove the trust–deficit that exists today in the region. The air of suspicion and misunderstanding that hovers over the region must be removed for building confidence and trust. It can be done by highlighting the good in our societies and our peoples. We need to connect hearts and minds of the people of region and build bridges of love and empathy which would lead to peace, progress and prosperity in the region.
Democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression. In the transition to democracy and in the strengthening of democratic norms, practice, culture and institutions, media has played a monumental role. A free media could be good or bad, but without its freedom, a society can only expect tyrants.
Bangladesh is firmly committed to upholding the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. Pursuit of national interest and enduring peace are closely tied to democracy and
A well functioning democracy is a guarantor of welfare and wellbeing of people. Survival of democracy depends on its ability to deliver basic needs of the people, through ensuring economic and social development, creating and nurturing an environment of peace where
SESSION VI Media in struggling democracies
people can live in dignity and pride. Media acts as the watchdog on government actions and forming public opinion. There is a close relationship between democracy, peace and development. A free media plays a crucial role in ensuring accountability, transparency and good governance. While it has the power to inform and enlighten people and safeguard and strengthen democracy through correct reporting, an unfair and bias media can erode public trust and damage the democratic system which it is so indispensably a part of.
responsibility in removing the trust-deficit that exists today. The journalists of South Asia should spread the message of goodwill and love to each and every household in the region. Time is a luxury we cannot afford. If we have a mountain to climb, looking at it will not make it any smaller. I wish SAFMA every success.
Bangladesh is at the vanguard of promoting regional and international peace and stability. Immediately after independence, the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had proclaimed that Bangladesh would ceaselessly pursue a policy of â€œfriendship to all and malice to noneâ€?. His pronouncements remain the cardinal principle in our dealing with all nations regionally as well as globally. We attach great priority to strengthening and fortify our relations with our neighbours. South Asia is our home. But South Asia is also a region beset with age-old suspicion and mistrust. A region which has the largest concentration of poor people living with less than a dollar can ill afford the acrimony and animosity that has been witnessed over the years. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is committed to working for a more conducive political climate in the region that will help foster a more robust cooperation among the nations of the region. We must keep in mind that peace and stability are fundamental prerequisites for development. Media has the power and a crucial
Mr Mohammad Amin Modaqqiq, Mr Rahimullah Yusufzai, Mr Vinod Sharma, Ms Irushaadha A Sattar, Ms Mannika Chopra and Mr Shawkat Mahmud Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni's interaction with the media
Session VI: Report
Media in struggling democracies
aqar Mustafa, Editor of South Asia Media Monitor, presented a paper on the state of the media in the South Asian countries.
A free news media is an essential element of democracy for it to take deep root, flourish, and reinvigorate itself constantly in the region. Democracy should not be destabilised, but it should be criticised if it fails to take the right direction. In South Asia, the press freedom and security situation is getting worse and it is time the disturbing trend was reversed. No country can progress towards democracy without a free and independent press. There is a need for the news media to evolve effective internal mechanisms to ensure integrity, independence, credibility, and trustworthiness expected by the people. Later representatives from each chapter of SAFMA presented detailed state of the media in their respective countries. Mr Mohammad Amin Modaqqiq presented a paper on the status of media in Afghanistan. Despite the odds, a free media can lead Afghans to freedom and democracy, provided it is used widely, wisely, sensitively and sensibly. Kabul is Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is not Kabul only. Media outlets are in plenty in Kabul. But the rest of the country, especially the
war-torn areas and conflict zones, is ignored to a larger extent – in media and education - and left to the ruthless engine of military power to fix it in its own way. A free media can be a watchdog on and a trusted contributor to democratic institutions.
Mr Gopilal Archarya on Bhutan Media in Bhutan is young and so are media people. Lack of professionalism and access to information are the major problems. We also suffer from the tyranny of ignorance and complacency. There is a need to consolidate judiciary and to formulate or reformulate laws. The king did introduce democracy in Bhutan but the people in the country voted for one party leaving no room for a healthy opposition. So, there is a threat of authoritarianism. In the absence of the opposition, the Upper House is locked in a battle with the Lower House. We don't have a supreme court. Also, there is an uneasy nostalgia for the king. We have terrorism problem now; the militant outfits in India and Nepal are trying to destabilize northern borders. We have a code of ethics written by the government. We need to make it ourselves. We should be South Asians and we need to learn from each other. Ms Irushaadha A Sattar on Maldives The country is awaiting the passing of two crucial bills by the Majlis – the Parliamentary Elections Bill and the Bill on Electoral Districts and Boundaries. As the country readies itself for a multi-party parliamentary election; the media has once again an active role to play. Only through the trials of the parliamentary elections the maturity of the Maldivian media can be measured and the success of its road to democracy deliberated.
From left to right: Mr Mohammad Amin Modaqqiq, Mr Rahimullah Yusufzai, Mr Vinod Sharma, Ms Irushaadha A Sattar, Ms Mannika Chopra, Mr Shawkat Mahmud and Mr Prakash Rimal
Mr Prakash Rimal on Nepal Because Nepali journalism is in its early stage of evolution there are bound to be numerous weaknesses, political allegiance and biases are perhaps most serious of them. While the Nepali journalism is regarded by and large as professional, the “mainstream” media has often failed to go beyond the 'officialese' – if we go by the daily contents of the radio, and television, and that of the newspapers (both dailies and weeklies/fortnightlies) and the online news portals. Reporters, correspondents and desk editors/presenters of radio, television and newspapers could manage to go a long way in addressing these weaknesses, raising the quality of journalism and protecting the public's right to unbiased information if they were not to be distracted by such obsessions as self-censorship, physical threats and professional insecurity. Mr Rahimullah Yusufzai on Pakistan Pakistan has always been a difficult place to work for journalists. Authoritarian rule by military dictators and intolerant policies of democratically elected rulers have led to curbs on freedom of the press. The media was the first casualty whenever democracy got derailed in the country. In present-day Pakistan, armed conflicts in different parts of the country have resulted in an increase in the level of risks to the journalists. They now face threats from both state and non-state actors. Mr Shawkat Mahmud on Bangladesh Shawkat Mahmud said the media did not enjoy good times during the rule of army backed caretaker government in Bangladesh during the past two years. Many editors and journalists were arrested. He hoped that after the election the new government would ensure freedom
of media. He urged the Bangladesh government to make the Right to Information Ordinance into a law with some small amendments. Ms Mannika Chopra on India One of Indian media's major failures has been its inability to project democratization of the society. Citing several examples from the conflict-ridden areas like India's north east and Kashmir, she said the idea of media freedom in the world's largest democracy had a spotty quality about it. Media itself has tended to ignore infringements on its liberty. It is because of democracy that there are calls for media accountability. Journalistic norms should be abandoned just because there is a competitive media environment. Their absence does nothing to enhance the media credibility. Media as an industry is bound to reflect the interests of its owners. The death of independent dailies and the absence of fearless editors is now a given, all contributing to chip away at the presence of a free and fearless media in the largest democracy of the world. Mr Lakshman Gunasekera, Sri Lanka There are political involvements in the attacks on the media in Sri Lanka. He said the state had been repressive to the media as many of the media organizations were forced to shut down. Some government officials and military officials dictated to the media as to what they should report and what not. He said international assistance was needed to help the journalists there. Media defence mechanisms like South Asia Media Commission need to be strengthened, he said. Help us in our predicament, he pleaded. The session concluded with these presentations.
across the world this year, five are from this part of the world. But that's not unusual.
Media and democracy in South Asia
This trend was brutally underscored when a leading Colombo newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was shot dead while driving to work last week. He was the 16th media worker slain in Sri Lanka over the past three years.
he independent news media has played a historic role in the struggle against colonialism and authoritarianism and in nation building in several countries of South Asia. A free news media is an essential element of democracy for it to take root, flourish, and reinvigorate itself constantly in the region.
In Nepal, Uma Singh, a young journalist known for her reports on women's rights and politics, was hacked to death by 15 attackers in her apartment at Janakpur, a small town 240 kilometres south-east of the capital Kathmandu. Locals heard Singh's killers telling her: “This is for writing so much.” She was the fourth journalist killed in Nepal in two years.
Robert McChesney, who has written several books on media, argues that the media, far from providing a bedrock for freedom and democracy, has become a significant antidemocratic force in the United States and, to varying degrees, worldwide.
Also last month, Muhammad Imran, a trainee cameraman and Saleem Tahir Awan, a freelance reporter were killed in a suicide bombing in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. Like other reporters, police officers and civilians, they rushed to the scene of an initial gas cylinder explosion and became casualties of the subsequent suicide blast. Journalists need live footage, and so, have no choice but to go to the scene of incident even though that endangers their lives. On January 24, unidentified gunmen gunned down a journalist Amir Wakeel for some unknown reason in Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. His brother Kamal Afsar, a journalist, has survived a murder attempt.
His book Rich Media, Poor Democracy addresses the corporate media explosion and the corresponding implosion of public life that characterizes our times. Challenging the assumption that a society drenched in commercial information "choices" is a democratic one, McChesney argues that the major beneficiaries of the so-called Information Age are wealthy investors, advertisers, and a handful of enormous media, computer, and telecommunications corporations. This concentrated corporate control, McChesney maintains, is disastrous for any notion of participatory democracy. If we value our democracy, McChesney warns, we must organize politically to restructure the media in order to affirm its connection to democracy.
Afghanistan In Afghanistan the threats against journalists are diverse. Faced with the Taliban, criminals, mafia groups and security troops, Afghan journalists operate in very difficult security conditions, especially so in the south and the east of the country, which are extremely unstable and no longer under government control. Two journalists were killed in 2008 and around 50 were attacked or injured. Many live in fear and it is deplorable that around 10 women journalists have been forced to abandon their work in recent months because of threats. Few of them got the necessary protection. A proposed media law is still being examined, courtesy the difficulties the parliament and government are having in working together. No law is there facilitating access to information either. Any event linked to the conflict has at least five versions of the facts – the Taliban version, the defence ministry version, the version of the president's office, the version of the International Security Assistance Force, and the version of the few eye-witnesses. The government version is often the longest and hardest to obtain. Bangladesh Bangladesh's media faces pressure from politicians unwilling to accept media criticism and an insufficiently independent judiciary. Many fear that the country's reputation for impunity gives a green light to violence against journalists. In the meantime, the media itself is largely politically polarized and its credibility is on the line. In rural areas, journalists practice their profession for little remuneration and often without adequate training. As a result, many have second jobs. Throughout the profession as a whole, there are individual cases of unethical practices and examples of conflict of interest.
Media conglomeration and journalists playing demigods can take the oxygen out of democracy. A recent Media Roundtable Conference in Islamabad, Pakistan came up with such fears. As reported by our colleague Mehmal Sarfraz at the moot that aimed at evaluating the role of the electronic media in promoting democracy and tackling extremism, some discussants were not too comfortable with the idea of public scrutiny and how their work was being judged or misjudged. Criticism is always hard to digest for the self-styled critics. Be it anywhere in South Asia. “As for democracy, everything has become juxtaposed after February 18. Before that, everyone knew who the enemy was – military dictatorship. Now that democracy is here, the media is confused whether this is the same democracy they worked for and fought for. Democracy should not be destabilised, but it should be criticised if it fails to take the right direction. Criticising it for the sake of criticism should not be done though, as it would only be playing into the hands of undemocratic elements,” said the summary of the Islamabad event. Of course, boots always wait in the wings for the people to seethe under. Media in South Asia faces other challenges too. The Brussels-based media watchdog, the
International News Safety Institute calls South Asia the riskiest place on earth for media workers. The problem is not just of media workers being caught in crossfire during a conflict and random acts of violence. There has been a worrying rise in the number of South Asian journalists being assassinated to silence their work. Out of the seven journalists killed
Pakistani journalist Mr Afzal Khan, second from right, making a comment
There is an access to information law, but with certain lacunas. Some laws and practices continue to represent a source of danger for journalists, and have a chilling effect on their ability to report on issues of public interest. Criminal defamation is a black law that must be done away with. Furthermore, journalists in Bangladesh are often ensnared in legal cases and accused of extortion. However, it is widely believed that many of the cases are triggered by reports that offend politicians and the authorities, who do not always tolerate criticism.
Bhutan Over the past decade, Bhutan's political system has developed from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. Installation of a new set-up after the first general elections is a welcome addition to the democracy club. But the right to expression in Bhutan is in danger.
India Violence by political parties as well as religious and separatist groups threatens media freedom in India. Seven journalists were killed, several arrested and media houses attacked in 2008.
Officials cannot digest criticism on even trivial issues. As written by Kencho Wangdi in Kuensel, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) was fined Nu 18,000 in December for hosting a panel discussion on a prepaid taxi service system that offered passengers half the rates charged by other taxi drivers. The other taxi drivers were not happy. Customers were confused why two taxis were charging two different rates for the same distance. It was a matter of public concern. The debate on BBS TV that evening turned into a boisterous exchange of arguments in which one emotional taxi driver criticized MoIC minister Lyonpo Nandalal Rai for approving the pre-paid taxi service without discussing it with other taxi drivers who would be affected by his arbitrary decision. The authorities who fined BBS dubbed the panel discussion as not fair, decent and balanced in line with the Code of Ethics of Journalists.
Hard-hit conflict zones became dangerous for journalists to operate in. Recent murders of journalists in Manipur and Assam and the killing of two journalists in cross-fire incidents in Jammu and Kashmir in 2008 underscore the extreme risks and difficulties for media personnel living and working in India's regions of conflict.
Says Wangdi: “Holding BBS liable for a panel discussion in which a minister was criticized could set a dangerous precedent and exercise a worrisome effect on the media's ability to report truthfully on matters of public concern. An independent press is a fundamental human right protected by the Constitution. If that right is taken away or eroded, elections are moot and democracy really cannot survive.”
Journalists in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East are under tremendous pressures from all sides to report in line with the interests of rival non-state and state groups. Independent reporting and critical analysis in these states - which also include Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim - yield violent targeted responses. The attacks on journalists are a reflection of the increasing hazards of reporting in sensitive and conflict zones in a pluralist democracy, which India says it is. In bringing the horrors of Mumbai home to millions of households in the country, Indian media came under criticism for not following the ethics of media coverage in such contingencies. The media seriously needs to resolve the ethical issues in a manner that is consistent with conflict sensitivity.
Maldives In October 2008, democracy flowered in the Republic of Maldives. Mohamed Nasheed became the first democratically-elected president ending 30-year autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed's victory continues a recent trend toward democracy in South Asia. Now only transparency in governance, access to information and freedom of media can strengthen the democratization drive. Maldivian people and media look forward to receiving the boons of democracy. Nepal Despite the government's promise last year to take the safety of media workers seriously, two journalists were killed and there were abounding instances of media rights violations, especially during the election campaign. In some districts, journalists were denied transportation permits, threatened, beaten as well as denied access to information from local government authorities. Several publications had to be closed due to protests and instability. It's a period of contrasts for Nepali journalists who have regained their freedom but not their safety. Although Nepal's media was able to make strong and positive contributions to the election coverage, many long-term structural issues continue to limit the potential of the media's role. These include a lack of broad-based skills development in many areas; intimidation and threats creating insecure environments and encouraging self-censorship; and a lack of regulatory legal reforms guaranteeing freedom of expression and public service media. Pakistan Seven journalists were killed in 2008 and no less than 201 attacks perpetrated against the media. South Asia Free Media Association's (SAFMA) year-end review also makes for disturbing reading, where Pakistan appears in free fall with state attempts to control, nay muzzle the media. And the notion that such treatment is exclusive to authoritarian rule appears to have taken a beating. Journalists are particularly vulnerable in parts of the country experiencing conflict and insurgency. Kamran Rehmat, a media analyst, says that the Pakistani people are much more informed and, in the ultimate analysis, the better for it. One says this despite the increasing media scrutiny in recent times from both the powers-that-be, who are mostly inclined to see it as a “necessary evil”, and even from within the media ranks, where eyebrows have been raised over the role of certain TV anchors, who are accused of “working on agendas” and behaving like demigods. But few can deny that ultimately, an effective and vibrant media is critical to the survival and wellbeing of a state and its citizens.
Delegates from Bangladesh
Sri Lanka There's a 'culture of impunity and indifference' over killings and attacks on journalists in Sri
Lanka. Since the beginning of the New Year, both the killing of a senior editor and the attack on the facilities of a popular independent TV channel have led to a total paralysis of the media community. This has in turn led to an almost total blackout of independent and objective reporting from the North and East of Sri Lanka, which have seen the worst of the country's long-running civil war.
In South Asia, the press freedom and security situation is getting worse and this disturbing trend should be reversed. No country can progress towards democracy without a free and independent press.
The editor of the privately-owned weekly "Rivira", Upali Tennakoon, and his wife were attacked and wounded by four men on motorcycles as they drove to work on the morning of 23 January 2009 near Colombo. At the same time it was learned that at least five journalists have fled the country or gone into hiding and a news website had ceased operations because of threats. In South Asia, the press freedom and security situation is getting worse and this disturbing trend should be reversed. No country can progress towards democracy without a free and independent press. There is a need for the news media to evolve effective internal mechanisms to ensure integrity, independence, credibility, and trustworthiness expected by the people. The SAARC countries should nurture and develop truly autonomous public service broadcasting that is adequately funded, is editorially independent, and is institutionally insulated from pressures from the state and the market. To address quality issues in journalism, there is a need for media criticism and serious and periodic self-reflection, and self-regulatory codes of practice. Given the continuing intimidation of, and attacks on, journalists in the region by agencies of the state, extra-constitutional authorities, self-appointed cultural custodians, religious and political press-gangs, and criminal elements in society acting in collusion with law enforcement agencies, the state should intervene immediately and decisively in every instance to protect journalists and the media from attacks and threats from any quarter. All branches of the state as well as the civil society should recognize the vital functions of the news media in a democracy, and in particular their credible-information, critical, watchdog,
Afghanistan investigative, educational, and agendabuilding roles, and to play a proactive role in enabling a free media dispensation. The governments of the SAARC states should bring in necessary legislation or amendments to national constitutions to make media freedom in the fullest sense an explicit, inalienable, fundamental right that cannot be tampered with in any manner. They should enact laws that actualize the right to information in each country, considering that it is an indispensable and invaluable corollary right for journalism, particularly investigative journalism, and can facilitate truthtelling, accuracy, fairness, justice, and efficiency.
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Institutions of excellence for journalism education and training, imparting advanced handson skills as well as core professional and ethical values and media perspectives, should be encouraged, with access to students from across the region. In the age of wall-to-wall media, a rounded media education should be made part of the academic curriculum at the high school level in the SAARC countries, so that the youth of the region develop a critical awareness and perspective relating to the news media and their role in society.
Mohammad Amin Mudaqiq
Lest the media in South Asia should become a cesspool of political spin, product placement and celebrity gossip. We need to build a democracy where citizens, armed with the power that knowledge gives - rather than the feudal serfs of corporate power - will define the discourse.
Despite the odds, a free media can lead Afghans to freedom and democracy – provided it is used widely, wisely, sensitively and sensibly. Kabul is Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is not Kabul only. Media outlets are in plenty in Kabul. But the rest of the country, especially the war-torn areas and conflict zones, is ignored to a larger extent – in media and education - and left to the ruthless engine of military power to fix it in its own way.
And we need to come out of the cocoons we feel ourselves secure in. And I quote Lasantha's last editorial here.
Fortunately, over the past eight years, most of the media organizations targeting Afghans have played a key role in strengthening the country's democratic institutions.
“People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. In his youth German theologian, Martin Niemoller was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternative point of view. Niem"ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niemoller wrote a poem:
The Afghan media Afghanistan has around 20 TV channels with 30 more to come; 100 radio stations, most of them FM; 14 dailies in Kabul, three of them English-language, and more than 200 periodicals. Presence of government media, independent media, party media and international media helps the Afghan society indulge itself in a debate to distinguish between good and bad or, to be fair further, between evil and less evil. But the Afghan media does face challenges and impediments. It has played a critical role in the following areas:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Media in emerging democracy
“When the seeds of media are planted, the habits of democracy take root." Tara Sonenshine, Vice-President for Policy and Outreach at the US Institute for Peace. Wrecked by 30 years of war and mired in a massive corruption, Afghanistan is suffering from anarchy and lack of basic human rights. The civil war still rages on. Gross human rights violations committed by both foes and friends of freedom, democracy and human rights continue unabated. Poverty and economic hardship still squeeze the livelihood of this poor and war-torn nation.
Media and election The young Afghan media gave good coverage to the 2004 presidential and 2005 parliamentary elections. By informing public about the principles of democracy and raising awareness about democratic values and covering campaign rallies, the media played a key role in the high turn-out for the first Afghan election in a generation. For instance, we in Radio Azadi/Radio Free Europe had carried more than 600 reports, Fortunately, over the past campaign slogans, awareness spots and vox pops in 2005 parliamentary election alone. Otherwise, voters eight years, most of the would not have dared to take the risk of going to the polls, particularly in the war-hit south and east of the media organizations country. Afghans are going to cast their votes in the targeting Afghans have presidential election on August 20, 2009. Exposing human rights' violations The Afghan media reported gross human rights violations, which were still going on despite the end of the suppressive Taliban regime. In several cases, prodded by the daily findings of the media, both state and international forces first investigated and then
played a key role in strengthening the country's democratic institutions. 69
Bhutan indicted scores of criminals and handed down sentences. Just a month ago, a court awarded 16-year jail sentence to the son of Haji Payanda, a warlord parliamentarian, for raping a 12year-old girl in Sari Pul province.
Challenges Free media still has a long road ahead. It has to strengthen its position and help democracy flourish in Afghanistan despite challenges and obstacles.
Daily media reports on rising security incidents prompted usually slow judicial system to act swiftly in processing the cases of 11 criminals involved in raping small girls, kidnapping, murders and high profile robberies. Responding to public demand and pressure from media, in November 2008, the Supreme Court awarded capital punishment to all 11 accused on trial. Unfortunately, due to weak government, strong warlords-turned-politicians involved in the most heinous crimes still remain untouched. But honestly, media fulfilled its responsibility by exposing them on the national and international levels.
Pressure from insurgents and government While the Taliban kidnap, kill, imprison and intimidate journalists, particularly in the rural areas of the south and east, to have them tell their version of the story, the government harasses and imprisons them to hide information from the media.
Kuensel - about two decades earlier but also substantially contributed to its emergence as responsible media organizations in the country.
Self censorship Although the media environment is quite free, journalists enjoy little editorial autonomy. Political affiliations, the Taliban's intimidation and government pressures in some areas often dictate coverage.
Three private newspapers began operation in the last two years - Bhutan Times established in April 2006 as the first private media, followed by Bhutan Observer established in June 2006 and Bhutan Today that began its operations in November 2008. Besides, three FM stations also began operation within the same time period – Kuzoo FM, Radio Valley, and Centennial Radio. The first private TV station is also in the pipeline.
Media ownership Realizing the crucial power of information, warlords, drug mafia and other people with power and money are building up their own media empires mainly to counter free media. They try to influence free media and buy time on popular TV and radio channels to promote their interests and limit free media's ability to shore up its support for democratic values. This virus has hit some commercial TV channels hard which, otherwise, could have effectively promoted our democratic system. Most of these TV channels are either owned by the government, pro-government, the warlord or pro-warlord people or are too commercialized. The remaining few channels are struggling to cope with the propaganda. Hence, the easy-to-cover trivial stories and an emphasis on news that serve the vested interests of the ruling class, and less freedom.
With the rapid growth of media in Bhutan, numerous media acts and bylaws have been put in place for the media to grow professionally into a vibrant public institution. Several studies are also being carried out to get a feel of the impact of media on the Bhutanese society. While there has been a speedy growth in the Bhutanese media, the Bhutanese media is not without its drawbacks. There are various limitations starting with formidable physical barriers and the lack of enough professionals in the field. Thus, support to media at this juncture is very critical.
Freedom of expression Free press made many suppressed voices in this traditional and conservative society heard. Not long ago, during the Taliban regime, women were banned from appearing in public, delivering a speech, complaining about the violation of their basic human rights and even reading news on radio or television. Today, women are good journalists. They can raise their voice through different media channels forcing the authorities to act. The media has provided a solid platform to the common Afghan people to express their concerns, criticize the government or non-government bodies which may affect them. A free media can be a
watchdog on and a trusted contributor to the democratic institutions. Thomas Jefferson, founding father of the Unites States, had said 200 years ago: “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe”. 70
Media and reconstruction The media made reconstruction a priority for the local authorities, the international c o m mu n i t y a n d t h e h u m a n i t a r i a n organizations. On several occasions, media reports made the authorities to act. Example: In the early 2005, a USAID-hired company began reconstruction work on the JalalabadAsmar road, but to halt it after a few days. Large holes and piles of mud on the road made plying on the road almost impossible. On media outcry US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad order the work resumed.
Conclusion A free media can be a watchdog on and a trusted contributor to democratic institutions. Thomas Jefferson, founding father of the Unites States, had said 200 years ago: “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe”. Can we in Afghanistan or in either of the member states of South Asia do it alone? An answer in the affirmative will be overoptimistic. But by using the SAFMA stage effectively, we can do a lot together. SAFMA should continue to invest all of its resources effectively to consolidate the pillars of free press for strengthening democracies.
Media Scene in Bhutan – A Synopsis Gopilal Archarya, Editor of Bhutan Times
Media the new watchdog Gopilal Archarya
In Bhutan, at the moment, both media and democracy are struggling. Thus, in this paper I will briefly discuss 'A struggling media in a struggling democracy'. Bhutan held its first democratic elections in March 2008. It was a free and fair affair. And the process threw together many first-timers, some exceptionally young, into what we call a democratic system of governance. On the other hand, media as a vital democratic institution is still in its infancy. Just about two years back, in the wake of numerous political reforms, the government welcomed private players in the media. And for a small country with a small population of six hundred thousand people (half of whom can't read and write) the recent growth in the local media has been overwhelming.
edia continues to remain an integral part of Bhutan's evolution. The recent shift in the political structure from that of a monarchy to a constitutional parliamentary democracy has further heightened media's role. Therefore, media is increasingly emerging as an essential part of the Bhutanese society with a particular focus in its role in ensuring good governance.
The average age of Bhutanese media personnel is twenty five, and most media organizations suffer from the dearth of trained media professionals. Most private media were started by people with no prior experience in the field. Thus, the Bhutanese media abounds in shortcomings and weaknesses. Nevertheless, the local media played an immense role in the run up to the last elections; both broadcast (radio has the maximum reach) and print media helped educated people about the importance of universal suffrage and people's participation in democratic process. Slowly, the local media is emerging as a strong watchdog not only to check corruption in the system but also to ensure that the core principles of democracy are not violated by the government.
The government not only initiated the establishment of both broadcast and print media - Bhutan Broadcasting services and
Media in a fledgling democracy
State media and political parties The state media, Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) had borne the brunt of much criticism for its unfair and biased coverage of the President and Government news, and failure to provide the voice of the opposition.
VOM in the meantime, conducted a successful weekly civic education program inassociation with local NGOs, from June 2008 till the run-up to the elections. Under the government agreement, political parties were given air-time which was used mostly for call-in programs and various other recorded programs by the parties and presidential candidates.
With the looming elections, public distrust was at an all time high, and at this juncture, an
Private media and impartiality challenges On 7th March 2008, the first private TV channel was officially inaugurated, with VTV soon
Irushaadha A. Sattar
international consultant working to modernize TVM and VOM had blogged5 about the VIP Crew assigned specifically for Presidential use, adding wood to the burning fire.
n 11th November 2008, Maldives entered into the annals of history with the swearing in of former prisoner of conscience, Mr. Mohamed Nasheed as the fourth President of the Republic of Maldives, having ended the three-decade rule of South Asia's longest serving leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
following its stead, launching its broadcast on 5th September 2008. Both channels financed by businessmen with vested interest in the political scenario timed their broadcast with the elections.
New Constitution, New Media Powers Under the new Constitution1 ratified on 7th August, media was granted unspecific but broad range of powers. The Articles 27, granted coverage under freedom of expression, to the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.
Three months later, the state media came to an understanding with the political parties6, thus providing them with an avenue to air their policies using state facilities. The agreement revolutionalized the state media as for the first time, party rallies were shown on news broadcasts and the opposition was asked for Even though by the comments on government policies. Agreements were in place facilitating the sale of airtime for campaign adverts, announcements elections, two private and political broadcasts. It also provided guidelines on how and the extent to which political news, activities and interviews will be stations had started covered by the state media.
Article 28 dealt directly with the media, granting the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person, as well as the freedom of acquiring and imparting knowledge under Article 29.
Even though by the elections, two private TV stations had started broadcasting, it was the state media that was able to arrange for a presidential debate among candidates. Unfortunately, the governing party, DRP cancelled at the last minute, and the debate never
Thirteen days later, a younger and more democratically elected President, bestowed with new powers under the new Constitution swept into the President's Office, with the promise of reform and change as the cornerstone of his presidential bid.
Ministry, and Freedom of Information Regulation was launched under a Presidential Decree, effective 1 of January 2009. On 27th October, the Maldives Media Council Bill was passed by the Majlis, and the outgoing President ratified the Bill on 5th November 2008. The Council is an independent, self regulatory body having powers to prosecute on its own behalf, to engage and conduct its own business as well as having powers to make out of court settlements in relation to complaints against media. The Council is yet to be formed, with the Department of Information inviting members of the public to apply for the seven positions open for the public from the 11-member council.
broadcasting, it was the
In addition to this, for the first time, media was granted access to the People's Majlis committee sessions, under Article 85 (a) and Article 85 (b) unless members vote that the session be held off bounds on grounds of national security and public peace. Even though media reform legislations promised by the Government failed to materialize by the presidential elections, broadcasting license was issued under agreement with the Information
As Thoyyib Mohamed, President of Maldives Media Association
happened. The DRP press release stated that since their candidate had spent the last 30 years serving the nation, he did not need to debate his policies, which was already well known by everyone. First Multi-Party Presidential Elections Even though many expressed concern over voter education prior to the first multi-party presidential elections3, the high voter turnout of 85.39% in the first round and 86.58% in the second round (Wikipedia, 2008) can be attributed to the people's interest and low rate of invalid or blank votes, almost 1.03% of the total vote count showed adequate knowledge of the voting public. All through the election process, the local media played a crucial role. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed noted during a press lunch organized by SAFMA Maldives, the local media had played a crucial role in ensuring a smooth transition to a democracy.4
state media that was able to arrange for a presidential debate
and VTV CEO noted in an interview9 the boom in the broadcasting industry was relative to the elections, adding that not all media ventures would be financially viable in the long run. Within a month of its inauguration, Thoyyib Mohamed, VTV CEO and Irushaadha Abdul Sattar, VTV News Head resigned citing undue political influence on news content and channel's production10. According to Thoyyib, three hours out of the four hour on-air times was dedicated to Jumhooree Party and its candidate, Qasim Ibrahim, owner of the station. It seemed that almost every presidential candidate or political party had stakes in the media pie, either in broadcast or print medium.
Amid public outrage at this cancellation, the presidential debate was changed to accommodate the whims of President Gayoom. The renamed Q & A with Presidential Candidates was conducted as a question and answer session with only the moderator throwing pre-arranged questions at the candidates. This was however, followed by a debate among vice presidential candidates, which was boycotted by presidential candidates Mr. Ibrahim Ismail and Mr. Umar Naseer, citing that having a debate among vice presidents was pointless without a debate among the presidential candidates. On 28th October, Reporters Without Borders8 blasted TVM for its bias, following their findings based on a measurement of TVM's allocation of air time systematically during the 10 days prior to the run-off elections on 28 October.
Along with VTV, Qasim Ibrahim controlled shares in Haama Daily, a daily newspaper, while Sun TV and Sun FM was part of the Sun Travel group lef by Member of Parliament, Ahmed Siyam Mohamed. DhiFM and DhiTV are owned by Champa Group, one of the leading businesses in the country.
Minivan Daily and Minivan News was closely associated with Maldivian Democratic Party, and Hamaroalhi was considered by many to be a newsletter printed by DRP. The daily newspaper Haveeru, its FM radio channel HFM, daily newspapers Miadhu and Aafathis are owned by Ministers or former Ministers closely associated with President Gayoom. Atoll Radio and its sister TV station, Atoll TV is owned by Ahmed Shiyam of AAA Group, another leading businessman.
Newly registered radio station Capital Radio and daily newspaper Raajje Daily has the interest of Thasmeen Ali, Vice Presidential candidate for DRP. The only media even remotely considered by many as independent are the daily newspaper Jazeera Daily and FM station, Faraway FM, with any well known figure yet to align themselves with the publication or station. Another station, Future TV owned by Bnet Communications, a cable service provider exclusively airs local songs and films, for its clients. New Media and rise of the blogs With the advent of the new media, Maldivians abroad used the Internet to share stories and ideas with those back home – leading to the influx of foreign ideologies and commentaries on politics that few local journalists dared to touch. Well-known public figures like former Minister of Information, Mohamed Nasheed11 and Presidential Candidate, Ibrahim Ismail12 led the blogging trend with almost daily updates and
their own personal thoughts on the country's changing political scenario. Youth followed with blogs springing up on every topic in the world, and leading to the compilation of all Maldivian blogs under one registry, http://mvblogs.org that enabled readers to enjoy all updates as it happened. During the campaign, many sites like Flickr featured exclusive coverage of Presidential candidates, thus, launching the new face of photojournalism in the Maldivian media industry. Public discussions on candidates, promises, policies and manifesto were conducted among technocrats to students, academicians to activists. Live updates of election results were followed online, rather than depending on state or private media to broadcast. Blogs have created political and social commentators with a wider reach than traditional print media, yet many carry their own personal bias in their writing. Blogs have also created strife among readers, as there are no means of regulating this medium. Along with the dissident views emerged anti-Islamic 1 3 blogs written by anonymous Maldivians, finally giving voice to a small minority of apostates. This, in turn, led to an increase in blogs promoting the virtues of Islam, with many commentators spamming opposing blogs with validation from the Prophet's sunnah and ayats from Quran. Currently, the Maldivian blogosphere seems to be split into two camps, those who are with regressing views of a puritanical Islam and those who challenge the growing trend of fundamentalism in the country. Baby steps towards democracy The historical milestones of 2008 saw the country's media taking leaps and
bounds towards becoming an effective fourth pillar of democracy. Yet as discussed on many occasions, it stumbled and fell before straightening up and taking baby steps towards democratic reform. Immediately following the transition of power, the new leadership is still on an extended honeymoon in the public eye. One of the most disturbing events was the shutting down of Minivan Daily, once hailed as the voice of dissidents, immediately following the swearing in of President Nasheed. Several dissident magazines and DRP daily newspaper, Hamaroalhi followed suit, replaced by a newsletter of limited circulation called Dhives, effectively leaving the public sphere devoid of the political views of the two major parties. HFM, Haveeru's FM Station which had brought hard talk style programs with politicians stopped its news and current affairs program, and changed into a music station. VTV which had lost its credibility during the elections had a long walk ahead to build viewership, while DhiTV and DhiFM struggled to maintain credibility and objectivity following its coverage during the elections. Despite having good relations with the media during the campaign, the new government is exceedingly failing to encourage public participation through the media in its decisions and policy statements. Some of the examples include the division of the archipelago into seven provinces, the establishment of government offices in the former presidential palace, the elimination of the post of atoll chiefs, and the revision of the government working hours to list a few. With the change, in government the condition of the state media was questioned. Already, many accuse TVM of turning into a government mouthpiece, with the resignation of its CEO, Ali Khalid. The Bill on broadcasting, which would transform TVM and VOM into full fledged public broadcasters with editorial independence and grants by the Parliament is still in committee, and would probably be tabled in the newly reconvened Majlis after the parliamentary elections in March. In a surprising move on 22 December, President Nasheed established the National Broadcasting Corporation Limited14, as a government company with hundred percent government shares. The scope of this organization is yet to be realized and much anticipation is associated with future of the state media.
Once the darling of the international media, President Nasheed ran into a tough spot, when an Indian journalist, Aditi Padnis wrote of her encounter with the President “over a glass of Sula Shiraz”15 during his first state visit to India. Despite the uproar created by the Islamic Democratic Party, none of the major news stations carried the story. Within President Nasheed's coalition government, Adaalath Party, the religious party was given the opportunity to form the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. One of the first steps it took was to request the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Communications to block anti-Islamic and Christian sites16, and granted license for religious scholars to give unplanned sermons following prayers. In his first sermon, Sheikh Fareed, considered by many to be an extremist, explained that “women who were more susceptible to sin would be more in numbers in hell17”. Another implementation was the establishment of a Figh Academy, with religious scholars to interpret Shariah law and issue rulings on their decisions. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs also publishes a weekly newsletter on religious matters called “Hidaayathuge Ali”, a replacement to the religious weekly published by former President Gayoom since he came to power in 1978. The new year brought in more challenges to the new Government, when the Ministry banned the planned parties for New Year's Eve. Disillusioned youth flocked to the internet to air out their frustrations, while the media failed to effectively address the issue, bringing only the Government decree to air. Major media cited Maldives Police Service reports that no one was taken into custody that night, however, many blogs18 report otherwise. Weeks later, a man died of seizure while in Police custody19. The matter has been brushed aside, with the Human Rights Commission issuing a statement that no foul is suspected. This newfound acceptance of the religious groups has spurned bold action against those who oppose their way of thinking, case in point being, the harassment of Minivan News 20
reporter, Ibrahim Mohamed, following his article, “Are we blind followers ?” On one end of the spectrum, while the media enjoys measurable freedom to carry on its work, on the other end unanticipated obstacles are being thrown in its path. Despite enjoying Majlis privileges, Maldivian media found themselves locked out when Majlis members decided to discuss the annual budget for 2009 behind closed doors.21 On a positive note, information officers are being trained as spokespersons for the
Nepal Government ministries to function as focal point for information for the media, and the Public Complaints Bureau has been assigned to discharge the duties of the Information
Commissioner, under the Right to Information Regulation which came to effect 1st of January.
For the time being, there is no effective opposition to the coalition rule of President Nasheed, which is crucial in a democracy. DRP still nursing its wounds has failed to rally its members into a cohesive opposition, and the leader of Islamic Democratic Party had repeatedly failed to become a credible opposition. Dhivehi Qaumee Party, in the process of registration is considered by some factions as the voice of opposition, despite its effectiveness being questioned due to its leader's government position as the Advisor to the President. During one of the most controversial bills to be submitted to the Majlis, extending the lease of tourist resorts from 25 years to 50 years, DRP and IDP held rallies and strikes in Male', which was given limited coverage by the major media outlets. At the time of writing this paper, the country is awaiting the passing of two crucial bills by the Majlis – the Parliamentary Elections Bill and the Bill on Electoral Districts and Boundaries. Majlis, which went on recess despite having two important bills on the floor, was called to action through direct action by DRP and other stakeholders. At the time of writing this, an election date for the Parliamentary elections is yet to be finalized. However, the transitional
4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14
chapter of the Constitution stipulates that a new Majlis needs to be convened by 1st March,
with election deadline set at 15th February. Once again, the country seems to be heading towards a constitutional void, where a condensed timeline for transition is pressuring the institutions to rush ahead with the necessary changes.
As the country readies itself for a multi-party parliamentary election; the media has once again an active role to play. However, even as the parties hold their primaries to select candidates for each constituency, the media remains surprisingly quiet on the potential candidates. Only through the trials of the parliamentary elections the maturity of the Maldivian media can be measured and the success of its road to democracy deliberated. Endnotes 1 Department of Information, 2008, Republic of Maldives Constitution 2008
17 18 19 20 21
www.maldivesinfo.gov.mv/home/upload/downloads/Compilation.pdf The President launches, by Presidential Decree, the Regulation on the Right to Information from State and Government Authorities, The President's Office, 4 May 2008, http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/pages/eng_news.php?news:4706:1 Democratic Transition in the Maldives, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed and Dr. Hassan Saeed, South Asian Journal, April-June 2008 Journalists Vital In Democracy: Thoyyib, Minivan News, 22 December 2008, http://www.minivannews.com/news_brief.php?id=5725 V I P C r e w P r o b l e m s , Te r r y A n z u r C o a c h i n g B l o g , 2 M a r c h 2 0 0 8 , http://terryanzur.blogspot.com/2008/03/vip-crew-problems.html Equal Media Coverage Agreement Signed, Department of Information, 26 June 2008, http://www.maldivesinfo.gov.mv/home/files/news.php?id_news=1012 D e b a t e D i s a p p o i n t m e n t , Te r r y A n z u r C o a ch i n g B l o g 1 9 Au g u s t 2 0 0 8 http://terryanzur.blogspot.com/2008/08/debate-disappointment.html Generally good climate for presidential election marred by public TV's bias in favour of incumbent, Reporters without Borders, 28 October 2008, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29114 Maldives Media Association calls for independent media commission, Minivan News, 16 June 2008 http://www.minivannews.com/news/news.php?id=4597 VTV CEO Thoyyib Mohamed Resigns, Haveeru Daily News, 22 September 2008 http://www.haveeru.com.mv/english/?page=details&id=24506 Talking Point, Mohamed Nasheed, 2009, http://www.mnaseed.com Ibra's Blog, Ibrahim Ismail, 2009, http://ibra2008.blogspot.com The Dhivehistan Report, 2009 http://arabiguitar.blogspot.com/2009/01/hamas-suicidebombers-club-meeting-72.html President establishes National Broadcasting Corporation Limited, The President's Office, 2008, http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv /pages/ eng_news.php?news:5151:1 The Maldivian Symphony, Aditi Padnis, The Business Standard, 27 December 2008, h t t p : / / w w w. b u s i n e s s - s t a n d a r d . c o m / i n d i a / n e w s / a d i t i - p h a d n i s m a l d i v i a n symphony/01/11/344445/ Ministry to block access to Christian websites, Minivan News, 4 December 2008, http://www.minivannews.com/news_detail.php?id=5617 Sheikh Fareed leads thousands in prayers, Minivan News, 22 November 2008, http://www.minivannews.com/news_detail.php?id=5534 Hail the Police, Edges of Maldivian Sanity, Inaya A. Shareef, 4 January 2009 http://inayaa.blogspot.com/2009/01/lousy-new-year.html Man dies of seizure, says Police, Minivan News, http://www.minivannews.com /news_detail.php?id=5856 Are we blind followers? Ibrahim Mohamed, Minivan News, 8 January 2009, http://www.minivannews.com/news_detail.php?id=5816 Media Pushed Out of Budget Committee, Mohamed Nasheed's Blog, 26 November 2008, http://www.mnasheed.com/2008/11/media-pushed-out-of-budget-committee/#more-145
Journalists' security worrisome Prakash Rimal
Journalists in Nepal are not protected from physical threats. As a result, they tend to self-censor and keep themselves from dealing with the contents and/or issues that they think are offensive or politically dangerous. Despite that they continue to receive threats while on job, at their home or office, or while on the Supreme Court premises, or while covering political rallies. Colleagues in the districts are extremely vulnerable. The murder of Uma Singh – probably the first woman journalist to have been killed (of course, for the reasons she was unaware of) – and the death threats against Manika Jha of Janakpur only suggest that the central and eastern Tarai is the most insecure for journalists. Journalists working in these areas could fall prey to any one – those involved in cross-border crime/terrorism, armed groups with vested interests or any one or every one in between. Media workers face threats not just from the armed groups, but – sadly – also from the sister organizations of the CPNMaoist that leads the government (since August 2008). The Maoist-led government has always expressed unequivocal commitment to press and media freedom, but nothing that the government has done attests to its determination to bring to justice the guilty. That is why journalists across the world's youngest republic continue to organize phased protests nationwide to pressure the government to act.
Journalists in Nepal work in extremely difficult situations. In particular, those working in the districts outside of Kathmandu, do so risking their lives. Law and order across Nepal is poor. Several armed groups have emerged since the peace process began in November 2006. A new militant outfit springs up almost every month and there already are about 30 such groups operational in central and eastern Tarai. Somehow, these outfits seem to enjoy political patronage and impunity.
Even as the history of Nepali journalism dates back to more than a hundred years, the history of professional journalism itself is very young – not even two decades old. Because Nepali journalism is in its early stage of evolution there are bound to be numerous weaknesses, political allegiance and biases are perhaps most serious of them. While the Nepali journalism is regarded by and large as professional, the “mainstream” media has often failed to go beyond the 'officialese' – if we go by the daily contents of the radio, and television, and that of the newspapers (both dailies and weeklies/fortnightlies) and the online news portals. Reporters, correspondents and desk editors/presenters of radio, television and the newspapers could manage to go a long way in addressing these weaknesses, raising the quality of journalism and protecting the public's right to unbiased information if they were not to be distracted by such obsessions as self-censorship, physical threats and professional insecurity.
Media rights situation (January-31 December 2008)
Rahimullah Yusufzai S. No 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15 Total:
Nature of incidents Journalist(s) murdered/killed Journalist(s) disappeared Journalist(s) arrested Journalist(s)/media house(s) attacked Journalist(s)/media house(s) & harassed Obstacle on free flow of information Administrative and Legal Pressure Displacement from job Closure of Publication/Broadcasting Journalist Abducted Vehicle Vandalized Journalist(s) Found Dead Journalist(s) Dislocated from Working Areas Journalist(s) Looted Land Captured
Feb 08 12 1 18 4 35
Mar 08 7 1 7 1 16
2 7 5
May 08 2 7 9
June 08 2 11 8 12 33
23 4 1
Nature of Incidents
16. 17. 18. 19. 20.
Journalist(s) Murdered/Killed Journalist(s) Disappeared Journalist(s) Arrested Journalist(s)/Media House(s) Attacked Journalist(s)/Media House(s) threatened and harassed Obstacles on free flow of information Administrative and Legal Pressure Displacement from job Closure of Publication/Broadcasting Journalist(s) Abducted Vehicle Vandalized Journalist(s) Found Dead Journalist(s) Dislocated from Working Areas Journalist(s) Looted Land Captured
43 2 14
1 11 12
2 52 114 80
5 1 -
1 3 -
3 1 2
16 1 50 2 19 2
21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. Total:
* Singh, Uma was killed in January 11, 2009.
Jan 08 1 17 1 8 4 31
he international organization, Reporters Without Borders, said recently that Pakistan was the deadliest country in the world for the media after Iraq. Seven Pakistani journalists were killed in 2008 and three more lost their lives in the first month of 2009.
Pakistan has always been a difficult place to work for journalists. Authoritarian rule by military dictators and intolerant policies of democratically elected rulers have led to curbs on freedom of the press. The media was the first casualty whenever democracy got derailed in the country. In present-day Pakistan, armed conflicts in different parts of the country have caused an increase in the level of risks to the journalists. They now face threats from both state and non-state actors. The combatants do not tolerate criticism. Whether they are military and intelligence officials or militants' commanders and tribal elders, all of them insist they are on the right path and, therefore, deserve the media's support. A recent experience illustrates the fact that journalists in certain parts of Pakistan, particularly in the conflict zones, are facing constant threats to their life. The Pakistan Press Foundation with support from UNESCO gives an annual award known as the Aslam Ali Press Freedom Award to journalists who defy threats to their security and work in dangerous areas. Of the 16 nominees who were shortlisted for this year's award, three were shot dead for independently doing their professional work and six others died while on reporting assignments in places of conflict. Another six journalists were injured during the course of their professional work in areas of conflict. The 16th nominee had his house attacked by militants after publicly blaming him as an unfriendly reporter on their illegal FM Radio channel. Unlike the past, the journalists getting killed and injured during armed conflict are now being nominated for awards in the categories of press freedom and courage in journalism. Those striving for freedom of the press and defying the ruling elite while performing their professional work also get honourable mention and an occasional award but the ones who die and are injured in conflict zones are the new heroes of Pakistani journalism. As the most intense and widespread armed conflict in Pakistan is taking place in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which includes the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the members of the media working in those places are confronted with the biggest challenge. Access to trouble spots is limited and getting correct information about an incident from independent sources is often impossible. Governments, armies and their intelligence agencies, and the militants control the flow of information
SAFMA work plan and conference declaration
Indian, Afghan, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi delegates
and deny permission to reporters to go to the site of the incident. Most of the time, selected bits of information is provided to serve a specific purpose and agenda. Reporters have faced death, injuries, displacement and intimidation while covering the conflict in Pakistan, particularly in the NWFP and Balochistan. The reporters who lost their lives while performing their professional duties in the tribal areas include Amir Nawab and Allah Noor Wazir in South Waziristan, Hayatullah in North Waziristan, Dr Noor Hakim and Ibrahim Jan in Bajaur and Naseer Afridi in Darra Adamkhel. Three journalists - Sirajuddin, Shoaib and Aziz, died covering the conflict in Swat. Others were attacked and wounded or had to leave their hometowns and shift to safer places. Those who have dared to stay back in tribal agencies are required to report things the way it is demanded by militants and government officials. The sad part is that reporters and photojournalists are often ill-equipped to report from the conflict areas. They have not received proper security training to equip them with skills to survive in conflict zones and are seldom provided bullet-proof jackets and other kit. At a
recent conference, it was pointed out that the cameras used by camerapersons are insured by their employers while those wielding the camera are not insured. The journalists working in the dangerous tribal areas and districts are not paid properly and regularly and most survive by working for more than one media organization or doing part-time work in other fields. It is a tough assignment working out there in the tribal areas and other conflict zones. But Pakistani journalists, in keeping with their glorious traditions of commitment to their profession and willingness to sacrifice, are striving to do a proper and honest job despite the threats to their life from known and unknown quarters. The job of journalists also is not easy in the rest of the country because criminal elements that have infiltrated the ranks of political parties and the government and pose a constant threat to members of the media who seek to expose their wrong deeds and corruption. Pakistani journalists have offered tremendous sacrifices for the freedom of the press. They are ready to fight to continue enjoying the freedom that the lively Pakistani media presently enjoys.
Plenary session: Report
Presentation of SAFMA report and declaration
fter the lunch break, Secretary General Mr Imtiaz Alam presented the SAFMA report. A question and answer session followed the report.
Mr Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul from Bangladesh SAFMA sent a monitoring team to observe Pakistan's general election in February 2008. Why didn't it send teams to other countries later where elections were held? The media role after the Mumbai attacks indicates that the media in India and Pakistan are not conflictsensitive yet. Mr Imtiaz Alam We do not have funds for observing elections. Replying to the second comment, he said SAFMA needed more effort in making the media conflict-sensitive.
Mr Vinod Kumar Sharma on Bulbul's question SAFMA's initiative on India-Pakistan relationship has not failed. A small debate ensued involving Mr Kanak Mani Dixit, Mr Imtiaz Alam, Mr Reazuddin Ahmed and Mr K K Katyal on whether SAFMA delegates should present themselves as citizens of their countries or as ones of South Asia. Since there was no other question, the SAFMA report was adopted. Work plan Mr Imtiaz Alam presented SAFMA plan for the year 2009. Mr Muhammad Zamir from Bangladesh suggested the South Asian Media Commission (SAMC) be strengthened for the defence of media rights in the region. He urged that SAMC should seek funds from the European Commission and work more effectively. The SAFMA work plan was adopted by the house. Cox's Bazaar Declaration The SAFMA secretary general read out the Cox's Bazaar Declaration which was adopted after some minor amendments. The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) conference called on the governments of the region to strengthen democratic values, open and plural societies, liberal culture and safeguard the rights of women, minorities and the dispossessed. The declaration welcomed the recent surge of democracy and expressed deep concern over the rise of terrorism and religious extremism in the region.
Secretary General Mr Imtiaz Alam presenting the SAFMA report
mechanism at all institutional levels, including intelligence agencies and security establishments.
insurance cover to all journalists covering conflict," it said adding that the right to know and freedom of expression be respected and safeguarded.
The conference called upon the governments of India and Pakistan to fully and sincerely cooperate in investigating the culprits and bringing to justice the perpetrators of terrorism in Mumbai.
The SAFMA declaration also appealed to the SAARC Secretariat and member states to recognize SAFMA as an apex body of SAARC.
"SAARC member countries may consider a task force to handle cross-border crimes and judicial mechanism to try such criminals," the Declaration said. The Cox's Bazaar Declaration said, the SAARC process must be strengthened with the creation of customs and monetary union while lifting all barriers on free flow of information, goods and people. The declaration urged the countries of the region to lift all restrictions on free movement of journalists and media products forthwith. "The media owners and government should also ensure the safety of journalists and provide
The declaration endorsed the exit of monarchy in Nepal and victorious people's struggle for democracy culminating in the creation of a constituent assembly, the democratic change in the Maldives resulting in the defeat of the decades-old authoritarian regime, emergence of democratic institutions after the February 2008 elections in Pakistan and the creation of a sovereign parliament and a democratic coalition government, introduction of a constitutional monarchy and free election in Bhutan, and the revival of democracy in Bangladesh. The conference felt aggrieved on the increasing casualties of and attacks on journalists in the conflict-ridden areas. The declaration viewed that ensuing peace and tranquility and a tolerant political culture were the pre-requisite for sustaining democracy and good neighbourly relations among the countries of the region. â€œTerrorism needs to be handled comprehensively and collectively with active and sincere cooperation of all states of the r e g i o n a n d b e yo n d ,â€? t h e declaration said. The declaration said that regional cooperation, which was essential for the progress of the member countries of SAARC, could not move forward without allowing free movement of information, goods and people and promoting trans-national communication linkage and connectivity.
Referring to the terrorist attack on Mumbai, the declaration said that India and Pakistan should make Mumbai a good example of bilateral cooperation leading towards strengthening of anti-terror
Cox's Bazaar Declaration We, the media-persons from eight member countries of Saarc, having met at South Asian Free Media Conference VII : Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia, at Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, on 10-11 February 2009, welcome the surge of democracy in the region and express our deep concern over the rise of terrorism and religious extremism in the region. Have reached the following understanding after thorough deliberations:
6) Taking serious note of the global recession and its dire implications for the region's economies and its serious ramifications for media industry and, consequent, retrenchment of journalists. 7) Disappointed over persisting tensions between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai attack and emphasize the importance of resumption of composite dialogue process to dissipate tensions and promote cooperation between these two countries.
1) Welcoming: the exit of monarchy in Nepal and victorious people's struggle for democracy culminating in the creation of constituent assembly; the democratic change in Maldives resulting in the defeat of decades old authoritarian regime, emergence of democratic institutions after the February 2007 elections in Pakistan, creation of a sovereign parliament and a democratic coalition government; introduction of a constitutional monarchy and free elections in Bhutan; and revival of democracy in Bangladesh and establishment of a democratic government. 2) Concerned over spread of terrorism in the north-western region of Pakistan and south-eastern Afghanistan and its spillover to India and other countries. 3) Condemning the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11 and various parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan and hostage-taking and killing in Kabul on 11 February. 4) Perturbed over the escalation of armed conflict in Sri Lanka and the loss of innocent lives of the people caught in the conflict zone. 5) Aggrieved on the increasing casualties of and attacks on journalists in conflict ridden areas, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal in particular.
We are of the view: 1) Holding of free and fair elections is a good omen for the countries of the region, but democracy goes beyond the electoral process and must include ensuring fundamental human rights and women rights, participation by and empowerment of the people at the grassroots, transparent and accountable governance, tolerating dissent and observing plural political culture. 2) Ensuring peace and tranquility and a tolerant political culture are the pre-requisites for sustaining democracy and good neighborly relations among the countries of the region. 3) The phenomenon of terrorism needs to be handled comprehensively and collectively with active and sincere cooperation of all states of the region and beyond. 4) It is important that bilateral anti-terrorism mechanism between India and Pakistan and at the regional level be strengthened and made effective through active cooperation of intelligence and security establishments of all countries; and the sincere implementation of the sovereign assurances by countries not to allow their territory to be used for the launching of terrorist attacks on other countries. 5) Regional cooperation which is essential for the progress of the
member countries of Saarc cannot move forward without allowing free movement of information, goods and people and promoting trans-national communication linkages and connectivity. The paradigms of enmity, national chauvinism, and jingoism must yield to a new paradigm of collective partnership and progress since the future of the region and its people is interdependent and inseparable. Saarc must be geared into a dynamic mould to become a vibrant South Asian economic union with soft borders while retaining respective sovereignties.
We call upon: 1) The governments of the region to strengthen democratic values, open and plural societies, liberal culture and safeguard the rights of women, minorities and the disadvantaged. 2) Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, China and Central Asian republics to evolve a regional consensus against terrorism and extremism that must be respected by each state and the international community. 3) The governments of India and Pakistan to fully and sincerely cooperate in investigating the culprits and bringing to justice the perpetrators of terrorism in Mumbai. India and Pakistan should make Mumbai a good example of bilateral cooperation by creating effective mechanisms of investigation and prosecution. 4) Saarc member countries may consider a task force to handle cross-border crimes and judicial mechanism to try such criminals. 5) The international community, especially US and Nato, to review its strategy in the war on terror, stopping the casualties of noncombatants and winning the hearts and minds of the people in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, without which terrorism cannot be defeated. The Saarc process must be strengthened with the creation of customs and monetary union while lifting all barriers on free flow of information, goods and people. The government of Sri Lanka and parties in the ethnic conflict to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the causes behind the conflict while ensuring the rights of the minorities, devolving power to various distinct regions and creating genuinely participatory political structures. Countries of the region to lift all restrictions on free movement of journalists and media products forthwith. The media owners and governments to ensure the safety of journalists and provide insurance cover to all journalists covering conflict; an end to the impunity being granted to the accused, such as in Nepal and Pakistan, and ask state institutions and non-state actors to desist from intimidating media persons and bodies and respect media independence, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular. Right to know and freedom of expression be respected and safeguarded both legally and practically and SAFMA's protocol on Information may be adopted by Saarc. Appeal to the Saarc Secretariat and member states to recognize Safma as an Apex Body of Saarc.
The participants pay compliments to Safma Bangladesh for hosting the seventh Safma conference at a scenic place, the Cox's Bazaar, which may soon be declared one of the seven wonders of nature, and decide to meet at South Asian Free Media Conference-VIII in Afghanistan/Bhutan in 2010.