Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Political Insurgencies: Causes and Remedies

The political theorists and others hold that an unrepresentative government which does not pay heed to the aspirations of the general population is inherently unstable and risks agitation, political strife and the use of violence to achieve political goals. Many examples are cited as proof of this theory. These include the conflicts in Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is, however, evidence to the contrary as well to negate this theory.

For instance, based on the above theory, many writers and thinkers have been predicting an uprising or political instability in Pakistan. These writers emphasise that General Musharraf’s government is unrepresentative in essence and its policies are not in accordance with the aspirations of the majority of the populace. These predictions have proved right, as one gathers from the news reports, in parts of the Tribal Areas and of Balochistan. However, the said predictions have failed as far as other areas of the country are concerned. Furthermore, there are other counties of the world where the governments are prima facie unrepresentative in so far as they are un-elected but there are no visible or at least no unbearable political insurgencies in those countries. These include most of the Middle Eastern Kingdoms and some other second and third world countries.

The above observations leave one to conclude that that there is something amiss in the theory because not all unrepresentative governments face political strife and insurgencies.

By comparing the prevalent conditions in the two sets of countries, one can come up with the following three general statements to qualify the above-mentioned theory.

(1) That the political strife, agitation and violence are generally a law and order situation and even an un-representative but talented and effective government can control.

(2) That the people generally tolerate unrepresentative and authoritarian governments in order to avoid risking anarchy as a result of their retaliation unless the governments are so alien and brutal that the people take that risk. In other words, people rise when it becomes rational for them to risk their life, limb and property because the alternative is just as bad if not worse.

(3) That there has to be a powerful enough protagonist (often a powerful foreign country) which can fuel and exploit the sentiments against the un-representative government and supply the political activists with, inter alia, violent ideas, weapons, logistical and financial support to carry on an insurgency against the government.

Now in case of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine all three factors are self-evidently present. However, these factors or at least all of them are not present in Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and in the countries with un-representative governments but which are relatively stable. The conformity of these examples with the qualifications cited above is a general proof of their correctness.

In my humble opinion, there may be policy lessons for the governments dealing with political insurgencies in their countries:

Firstly, the governments should put talented and effective people in charge of the political and the law and order situation.

Secondly, there should be a peace dividend. That is to say that the governments should avoid being unjust or brutal so that people have an incentive to tolerate them.

Thirdly, the governments should either reach an understating with the foreign power involved or limit its influence through other means.

In the case of Balochistan and our Tribal Areas, General Musharraf may start by asking:

(1) Are there effective and talented people in-charge of the situation?

(2) Are the policies of the government so brutal and against the general genre of the populace that the people prefer insurgency to get rid of the government by risking everything as they perceive the alternative to be just as bad if not worse? Incidents such as killing of Mr. Akbar Bugti and that of Bajaur can exasperate the situation rather than remedying it.

(3) Are there any foreign powers involved in exploiting the situation? In the case of both Balochistan and the Tribal Areas, there have been rumours of such exploitation and that should be dealt with. It may appear on surface that no country has an incentive in exploiting the situation in those areas. However, a deeper analysis will, I suspect, bring up few names which can help the government change its policies accordingly. The foreign exploitation and involvement in the insurgency in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas is the most important but the least debated issue and must be looked into without more ado.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA and the allies should also think about the talents and the effectiveness of the incumbent regimes. They should also create credible and large enough incentives for the people to prefer peace and incumbency of regimes over anarchy. In other words, the regimes should avoid using excessive force and violence to enforce their writ.

Israeli government, which has made life so brutal and harsh for the Palestinians that they consider that they have no option but to fight and defeat Israelis to survive, should reduce the brutality from its policies and cultivate a credible policy of peace dividends. The Palestinians must not fear for physical, cultural and economic survival with Israel as their neighbour or as the hegemonic power in the region.

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