The Subalternity of South Asian politics

bangladeshfloods01.jpgThe recent turn of events in Pakistan (Musharraf’s imposition of emergency) and Bangladesh (floods) highlight the position of the region and its people in global affairs and consciousness. While on one hand the dynamics of South Asia are negotiated by elites from the region, on the other hand western discourse and actions define the sphere of influence of these elites. What is unfolding in our midst is a double tragedy. The US and Western articulation of the region (government actions and representations in the media) through the frames of security and terrorism undermines democracy in Pakistan, while clouding out the human suffering of Bangladeshis whose voices are not heard as they have nobody to speak on their behalf. In the case of Pakistan, we have to set aside for the moment the argument that democracy is the vocation of the feudal elites and the bourgeoisie. Western media have long forgotten the thousands who have died in the floods, while the emergency drama in Pakistan is relayed, reported, interpreted, analysed, commented upon on a daily basis. Lest those fighting against Musharraf take pride in the coverage given to the protests, an analysis of the coverage reveals not just a bias towards Pakistan, but also reveals the othering of Pakistan. In this state of othering as the infantile nature, the state of not-yetness of its society, the politics of Pakistan must be negotiated by Pakistan and General Musharraf (whose alternation between the uniform and civvies deserves scholarly analysis).

The curse of being Bangladesh

AFP reported that the death toll from cyclone SIDR had been put at 2000 (read here; now the death toll is nearing 15000 read here). Cyclone takes a heavy toll on agri sector (Source: The Financial Express, B’desh, Nov 18, 2007). The cyclonic storm caused damage to standing crops in an estimated area of 142,176 hectares. The report quoted preliminary assessments putting the crop damage at 0.5 mn tonnes of rice. Along with the damage due to floods in July and August this year, it will mean a nearly 15% shortfall in aman rice production. The government had fixed the country’s aman output target at 13 million tonnes for the current season.

The UN and EU have pledged a measly $8m for emergency relief (Source: The Bangladesh Today, Nov 18, 2007). Meanwhile, the news fell off the radar of western news media. Bangladesh has already fallen off the NY Times radar even as the death toll and economic devastation continues.

Democracy or no democracy

On the other hand, the game show being played out in Pakistan not only has many dimensions to its participants and their voices, but also the audience. Its drama mirrors commercial television, with an eye on audiences. Musharraf flagged up the issue of Pakistan’s nuclear stock falling in the hands of “wrong” people. Thus, he played the superego, sending out comforting noises for an international audience.

Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe as long as the army remains in charge of them, President General Pervez Musharraf told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in an interview. He said that if polls were held under disturbed conditions, the country’s nuclear arms could fall into the wrong hands. “They cannot fall into the wrong hands, if we manage ourselves politically… The military is there – as long as the military is there, nothing happens to the strategic assets, we are in charge and nobody does anything with them,” he said. (Read here)

Even as television news presenters and analysts in the West debated the fate of global security in the event of a power vacuum, his detractors at home laughed (read here). The NY Times assured its readers that the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, secure his country’s nuclear weapons, according to current and former senior administration officials. (U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms, NY Times)

AS the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss. Nor would it be strategically prudent to withdraw our forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. We need to think — now — about our feasible military options in Pakistan, should it really come to that. The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. (Pakistan’s Collapse, Our Problem, NY Times).

In the inspired analysts, Pakistan’s neighbour India does not figure in the scheme of thing. This should be a sobering thought for Indian media and elites who seem to inhabit a world where India’s eminence as an international “player” is a foregone conclusion.

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