A Snapshot of Colombia

There are stories that get into the news, and stories that don’t. Sometimes when stories do make the news, they’re provided without context. The recent near-breakdown of the peace process in Colombia is one example of a context-free story, reported in the major media. Worker’s and indigenous struggles that are happening right now, in places like Cali and Cauca, are examples of stories that don’t even make the news. Here we will provide some context first, and then three stories that you won’t hear in the news about Colombia today.

Context: The IMF, the FTAA, and the Crisis

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What are the rules?

Years ago I interviewed someone who had traveled all over Central and Eastern Europe and Central and South Asia studying states and civil wars and how and why states failed. ‘People ask me what’s worse, an authoritarian state or no state,’ he said. ‘I’ve been in both. No state is worse.’ I suppose he was saying when there are rules, no matter how cruel or arbitrary, one knows how to avoid punishment, but when there are no rules but only raw power, it makes you even more helpless.

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Kashmir timeline 1925-2002

This is a timeline of events in Kashmir from 1925 to the present.  The idea is to present a chronology that might help to explain the conflict and the current situation.  In putting it together I have drawn heavily from Victoria Schofield’s ‘Kashmir in the Crossfire’.  Schofield was a personal friend of Benazir Bhutto, but if you read her book I think you’ll find that she is quite even-handed in her treatment, presenting different perspectives.  In some contexts even-handedness is inappropriate, but for history a presentation of the different perspectives is necessary.  For more recent events I’ve drawn on Amnesty International reports and the daily newspapers from the region (The Hindu, Dawn). If there are relevant events that are missing from the timeline, or events you think should be treated differently, I would like to hear about it. I have tried to stay away from domestic events in India and Pakistan, and so have neglected much that is, of course, highly relevant.  This is a summary of politics in Kashmir and the policies of India and Pakistan as they pertain specifically to Kashmir.

1925 – Maharaja Hari Singh succeeds to the throne of the princely state of Kashmir.  He is part of a Hindu Dogra dynasty, empowered by the British, ruling over a majority Muslim state.  Kashmir has a long history of Hindus (in Jammu and the Valley) Muslims (in the Valley but also throughout Kashmir) and Buddhists (in Ladakh) coexisting.  Hari Singh’s coronation costs millions.

1927 – Hereditary State Subject law passed.  The law forbids employment of non-state subjects in public services and from purchasing land.  Posts are mostly filled by Dogra Rajputs from Jammu, and later Kashmiri Pandits (also Hindus), creating inequality between Hindus and Muslims in the public services.

1931 – Abdul Qadir, a European, makes a speech calling on Muslims to fight their Hindu oppressors.  He is arrested by the state government.  Crowds demonstrate in front of the jail.  Others are arrested.  Police fire on the crowd: 21 are killed.  Hindu shops are broken and looted.  The rulers continue to arrest people.  Sheikh Abdullah, who is to become decisive in Kashmiri political life, is profoundly influenced: ‘Our Dogra rulers unleashed a reign of terror,’ he said later.

1932 – Sheikh Abdullah becomes president of the ‘Muslim Conference’, fighting for Kashmiri freedom from the Maharaja’s rule.  Abdullah’s position is secular, leading to some division in the movement.

1939 – The Muslim Conference changes its name to the National Conference, and moves closer to the Indian Nationalist movement against colonialism and the Indian Congress Party organization.

1940 – In India, the Muslim League adopts the Lahore Resolution that Muslim majority areas become independent, sovereign states.  One proposal for this was a 1933 proposal for Punjab, Northwest Frontier Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan to become Pakistan.  Congress foresees a united, federal India.  The Congress wants all princely states, of which there are hundreds, to eventually accede to this India.  The Muslim League’s position on princely states is one of non-interference in their internal affairs.

1941 – The Muslim Conference is revived as a rival to Abdullah’s National Conference, and takes the position of the Muslim League, seeking Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.

1944 – The National Conference adopts the ‘Naya Kashmir’ manifesto: a constitution featuring secularism, women’s equality, and socialist programmes.  This is opposed by right-wing Hindus and Muslims.

1946 – Abdullah launches the Quit Kashmir movement.  The state is placed under martial law.  Abdullah is imprisoned.  The Muslim Conference leads a campaign of action and its leadership is also imprisoned.

1947 –

Spring – A revolt is launched in Poonch.  The Maharaja suppresses it ruthlessly.  Tribesmen from the Northwest Frontier Province or NWFP (ethnic Pashtuns, from what was then called Afghan Province, the state bordering Afghanistan) join the revolt.

August – Independence from British colonialism, and simultaneous partition into India and Pakistan.  The revolt in Poonch continues as does infiltration from NWFP, as does repression by the Maharaja.

September – Abdullah is released.  He supports union with India, but thinks the people of Kashmir should decide (and not the Maharaja). 

October – Large numbers of raiders cross from NWFP in Pakistan to Kashmir.  Hari Singh asks for help from India in putting down the revolt and accedes to India.  Indian troops arrive and fight.

1948 – Abdullah becomes prime minister of Kashmir.  Problems ensue between him and the Maharaja.  Abdullah contemplates independence and talks about it with foreign powers. Kashmir has a special status in the Indian constitution.  

1949 – Ceasfire imposed, brokered by the United Nations.  The parties (India and Pakistan) agree to a plebescite.  The ceasefire leaves Pakistan in control of part of Kashmir, and India in control of most of the valley, as well as Jammu and Ladakh.

India claims possession of Kashmir by the accession of the Maharaja and sees its action as a repulsion of an invasion of India’s territory.

Pakistan claims the accession was illegal, that India has no legitimate claim, the rebellion is indigenous to the valley, and Pakistan is merely supporting it.

The Maharaja leaves Kashmir at India’s urging, never to return.

1951 – First post-independence elections.  Abdullah wins, mostly unopposed, since the main opposition, the Praja Parishad boycotts the election. 

1952 – Kashmir and India reach an agreement on the flag (Kashmir’s flies but India’s is paramount), citizenship (Kashmiris are citizens of India), and some special issues (the governor is called the sadar – i – riyasat and is elected by the state legislature, not nominated by Delhi as in other states).  The Praja Parishad demonstrates for union with India and the result is street violence.

1953 – Abdullah is dismissed as prime minister and arrested by India.  India claims he’s collaborating with the US and planning independence, that he’s corrupt and nepotistic, and he’s running a one party state.  He’s replaced by Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, ‘Bakshi the Builder’, who uses ‘lavish amounts of money to appease the Kashmiri Muslims’, according to Abdullah.  He is repressive and unpopular, outlawing freedom of the press for his political opponents.

1954 – Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly ratifies accession to India.  The customs barrier between Kashmir and India is lifted.

Pakistan signs a mutual defence assistance pact with the United States, and then joins SEATO and CENTO pacts with the US and US allies in Central and West Asia.  The US dislikes India’s nonaligned stance, and Pakistan seeks the alliance out of fear of India.  India sees it as bringing the cold war to South Asia, and develops closer relations with the USSR.

1957 – Kashmir approves its constitution.  Abdullah views this as a repudiation of the commitment to a plebescite.

1958 – Abdullah is released from prison.  He gives speeches favouring independence.  4 months later, he is jailed again– for 6 years.

1962 – Elections, which are likely rigged, put Bakshi back in power.  Nehru comments to Bakshi: ‘it would strengthen your position if you lost a few seats to bona fide opponents.’

China attacks India in a border dispute in the Northeast frontier and Ladakh.  India reconsiders nonalignment as the US and UK volunteer to help India.  Relations between China and Pakistan warm.

1962-3 – Talks between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Proposals include internationalization of the valley and partition of the state.  No agreement is reached.

1964 – Abdullah is released.  The Indian government enacts President’s Rule in Kashmir.

1965 – A branch of the Congress Party is established in Kashmir and the National Conference is dissolved.  Protests ensue.  Abdullah goes on Haj.  He is arrested upon his return.

Pakistan attacks, hoping for a revolt in Kashmir, in Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam.  The operations fail.  A ceasefire is called.  Guerrilla groups in Kashmir increase their activities after the ceasefire.

1971 – Another war between India and Pakistan.  East Pakistan becomes independent Bangladesh.  The ceasefire line in Kashmir becomes ‘the line of control’. 

The Plebiscite Front is banned.  Abdullah is externed from the state.  Elections occur in this context, and the Jammu & Kashmir Congress Party, predictably, wins.

1972 – Abdullah is allowed to return.

1975 – Accord between Abdullah and Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India.  India sees it as firming the union.  Abdullah sees it as protecting Kashmir’s special status.  He returns to power.  Indira Gandhi rules under Emergency powers, a highly repressive and manipulative fashion.

1977 – Indira Gandhi loses to a coalition in Indian elections.  Abdullah wins in Kashmir.  He’s accused of favouring the valley over Jammu and Ladakh.

1979 – The USSR invades Afghanistan.  The US and Pakistan, but also Saudi Arabia and other states, are involved in training, recruiting, arming, and unleashing the mujahadeen on Afghanistan.  The mujahadeen so recruited immediately take on their own agenda– one aspect of this is establishing Islamic rule in Kashmir.

1981 – Sheikh Abdullah’s son, Farooq Abdullah, takes over office.  Sheikh Abdullah dies in 1982.

1983 – Farooq schedules elections.  Indira Gandhi has returned to power, and seeks a deal where he allies with her Congress Party.  Farooq refuses, offering a compromise.  Indira is upset.  The ensuing campaign is dirty and personal.  Farooq wins.  Indira campaigns against Farooq, alleging rigging.

1984 – Farooq is dismissed in a ‘drawing room dismissal’ engineered by Indira Gandhi.  Protest ensues.  Farooq is replaced by G.M. Shah, who is an unpopular ruler.

1986 – Communal riots occur.  G.M. Shah is dismissed.  Farooq is re-installed as chief minister by Rajiv Gandhi’s government (Indira had been assassinated in a revenge attack for her repressive policies in Punjab) pending elections in 1987.  Farooq has lost his popularity in Kashmir because of his collaboration with India.

1987 – The Muslim parties contest the election as the Muslim United Front (MUF) against Farooq’s Conference-Congress alliance.  Record numbers participate.  The MUF expects 10 seats of 44 but wins 4.  Charges of rigging are widespread.

The insurgency in the valley increases in momentum from this point on.  Farooq blames unemployment, especially educated unemployment, with numbers of 40-50 000 unemployed graduates.  Others blame the theft of the election as the closure of political space making a resort to armed struggle inevitable.  India responds with repression.

1990 – 400,000 Kashmiris march to the UN Military Observer Group to demand implementation of the plebescite.  Soon after, at a march of 1 million, 40 are killed by police.

140,000 Hindus leave the Kashmir valley for refugee camps in Jammu.

1989 – present: Amnesty International figures are that 700,000 security forces are in Kashmir (the population is about 14 million).  34,000 have been killed over the past 11 years. 

1998 – India and Pakistan perform nuclear tests.

1999 – Indian and Pakistani militaries clash in Kargil.

2001 – 3000 conflict-related deaths occurred in 2001.  1000 were civilians. (Amnesty International figures)  Human rights violations are widespread and endemic by the Indian authorities and some of the insurgent groups. 

December – the Prevention of Terrorism Bill (POTB) is passed in the Indian parliament.  Like its counterparts elsewhere in the world, it is a repressive piece of legislation that could be used to justify considerable human rights abuses by the government of India, especially in Kashmir, where India is fighting a counterinsurgency war.

December 13 – An attack on the Indian parliament by militants leads to India escalating its war in Kashmir and threatening war with Pakistan.  India seeks to attack states that sponsor terrorism, using the US ‘war on terror logic’; this leads them to Pakistan.  Pakistan arrests some militants.  India demands more. 

2002 – India and Pakistan are at the brink of war.  Self-preservation suggests war is not a good idea. 

Consumption, Complicity, And SUVs

ZNet Commentary
Consumption, Complicity, And SUVs
December 29, 2001
By Justin Podur

Are people in poor countries suffering because we drive SUVs? Are they starving because we eat too much? Is it our consumption that is the foundation of the exploitative system we live in?

These are important questions for people who want to alleviate suffering, end poverty, and change the exploitative system. I think that the every day consumption of the people in the rich countries is an outcome of the system, not the cause.

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‘We mean Dead or Dead’

‘If Osama bin Laden were hiding in the jungles of Colombia instead of Afghanistan, whose help would we enlist to find him? U.S. Army Special Forces? The Colombian Army? I don’t think so.

Actually, we would enlist the drug cartels. They have the three attributes we need: They know how to operate as a covert network and how to root out a competing network, such as Mr. bin Laden’s. They can be bought and know how to buy others. And they understand that when we say we want someone “dead or alive” we mean “dead or dead.”‘

Thomas Friedman New York Times – 28 September 2001

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A Way Out for Colombia

“Who in the U.S. benefits from fumigating Colombians?” the man asked me pointedly in the crowded community hall in a paramilitary-controlled part of Putumayo. Putumayo is a southern department of Colombia where the guerrilla insurgency is strong, where much coca is grown, where paramilitary massacres, disappearances, and assassinations are frequent, and where Plan Colombia is focused. It’s also the focus of U.S. military assistance and fumigation programs.

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Loincloths, Ski Masks, and Social Movements

“Certainly a soldier, myself included, is an absurd and irrational man, because he has the ability to resort to arms in order to convince. In the end, that’s what a soldier does when he gives an order: convince by force of arms. That’s why we say the military must never govern, and that includes us. Because whoever has had to resort to arms to make his ideas felt is pretty short on ideas… that’s why we say that armed movements, however revolutionary they may be, are basically arbitrary movements. In any case, what an armed movement has to do is raise the problem and step aside.” March 11, 2001.

Anyone recognize the speaker? How about this: “those of us who are military are not intelligent, if we were we would not be military”, in April 1999.

These are words of the EZLN, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the first in an interview in Mexico City and the second in a letter to Mumia Abu-Jamal. Play this name that quote game one more time with me for this: “who is the true warrior-he who walks always with death at his side or he who controls the death of others?” That’s Gandhi.

What’s the point of this quoting game? I’ve heard the violence/nonviolence in social movements framed too many times in terms of the EZLN versus Gandhi. The EZLN is supposed to exemplify armed struggle. Gandhi is supposed to exemplify weakness or a reluctance to take a punch. The truth is that Gandhi said, correctly, that courage was in facing punches and not in doling them out. And the truth is that the EZLN is very clear about how unhappy they are to be an armed movement.

In March, when they went to Mexico City, they made a big show of leaving their weapons at home. Of accepting that the only protection they had was the political protection of hundreds of thousands of (equally unarmed) Mexicans who would take care of them.

Pitting the EZLN against the Indian Nationalist Movement as if approving of one means disapproving of the other is an odd and unfair thing to do. Does supporting the EZLN mean I like violence? Does thinking highly of Gandhi’s strategies mean I’m a pacifist? Or does being impressed by both mean something else entirely? Maybe it means that I support understanding one’s own situation and context and trying to act appropriately, which is what characterizes both movements. Maybe it means I support building alternatives at the same time as resistance, taking care of one’s own people, communicating with them, making the opposition look ridiculous, and trying to choose appropriate actions for the situation.

In 1995, when the Mexican Government attacked with the intention of arresting the Zapatista command, the command didn’t stand and fight. They retreated. They knew that if they fought, the Government would have every excuse to execute terrible reprisals against their people. This year, they left their weapons in Chiapas and went to Mexico City, and the government-who would have loved to arrest them– was helpless.

Advocates of armed struggle say that the only reason the government doesn’t repress a movement out of existence is because the movement is ineffective. So how does that work with the unarmed Zapatista caravan? Was it ineffective? Is that why the government didn’t attack it or round up the leaders? Or is there such a thing as political protection against repression? Do governments, in spite of having all the guns, still rely on the obedience of people to govern- and do they not fear losing that obedience?

I heard an Indian military analyst once criticize Indian militarists who thought India should gear up to try to resist or deter a US intervention. The trouble with their argument, he said, was that there is just no way India, or any 3rd world country, can militarily deter the US. Such protections as there are, are political. I believe the same is true for social movements.

The opposition would like nothing better than to turn a social struggle into a military one. That’s one they can win. But as the EZLN said, even violence is nothing more than a way to convince. The purpose of an assassination or a massacre isn’t usually to kill the people assassinated or massacred. It’s to convince the people who aren’t killed. The question for social movements is, given the potentials on both sides, is it worth using that method to convince?

Note that this isn’t a moral argument. I believe that self defense on the part of an oppressed people is a moral act. I think Malcolm X was right to be unmoved by white liberals trying to teach black folks nonviolence-go teach the Klan nonviolence, he said, and then we’ll talk. I think that superior morality isn’t in self-defense or in pacifism, but in doing whatever is necessary to end the oppression in the least costly way possible. If I thought that meant violence, I’d be blowing something up right now. Since I don’t, I’m not.

Both the EZLN and the Indian nationalists found symbols that communicated with people. The EZLN uses ski masks, rubber boots, and guns. Gandhi used loincloths and spinning wheels. The point isn’t to use their symbols but to find ones that are appropriate to our own time and place.

I have high hopes for the movement against capitalist globalization in the first world. I hope that it expands to realize the importance of colonization of native people, the oppression of african americans everywhere but especially in the justice system, the exploitation of immigrants, the abuse and inequality suffered by women, the destructiveness of the drug war, class exploitation and poverty at home.

But I am worried that we are being drawn into an arms race with the opposition. That’s something both our friends in ski masks and our friends in loincloths refused to do.