Weak Governance and Social Cohesion and Its Impact on Violent Conflict in the Domestic Politics of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan
By Tasneem Winkler
Assignment Question: Domestic politics in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are often marred by violent conflicts. Explain why this is so.
It is no secret that the South Asian region is one of the most dangerous places on earth for its inhabitants with over 5000 fatalities in 2008 alone (Paul 2010, 113). Whilst rich in multiethnicity, culture and tradition, internecine violence over class systems, religion and virulent nationalism have been a constant presence in some provinces. Underlying these identity politics is a structural framework of a weak governance apparatus, stemming from initial political foundations laid in the region. These frail multidimensional devices provide conditions for the powerful and urban elite to manipulate regional rivalry for their own political interests thus, perpetuating a never-ending cycle of violent struggle, with an absence of national unity. I argue that a weak foundation of governance structures and an absence of national identity is the underlying cause for the chronic insecurity in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s domestic politics. This essay will first provide a brief definition of governance. I will then explain how the failure to establish a unifying social strategy from the outset, has made it difficult for each state to forge a common identity. Finally, I will show how a lack of national unity has prevented governance structures to be strengthened.
Communal support of government policies is reliant on the masses’ trust in the political system to provide security, services and infrastructure without bias, corruption or self-interest. In exchange, an active and enfranchised population engages together to resolve conflicts without violence. This state device is recognised as good governance. The World Bank defines ‘governance’ as a series of norms and rules exercised by actors in the development of social and economic structures, and ‘good governance’ as the mechanisms which operate this process (World Bank 1992, 1). Poor or weak areas of political stability, security, infrastructure and rule of law amongst others, are the antithesis of this definition, and in India’s case has been exacerbated by political actors such as Bharatiya Janata Party’s use of agitational politics, to rouse ethnoreligious tension (Ganguly 2016, 124). Insecurity is heightened in all states by the Pakistan military and elites’ interventionist politics taking advantage of the border and intra-tribal disagreements (Ganguly 2014, 19; Karim 2013, 3; Yamin 2015, 4). As well, the absence of effective law and order mechanisms in Afghanistan continues to encourage terrorism, insurgency and intervention by external powers (Ganguly 2014, 19). Further, the vast tracts of poverty in rural areas, widen the gap and create identity politics between provincials and political elite (20). As a result, this mistrust leads to a disconnected community with hostilities towards each other and the state, not helped when self-interested state responses to counter social friction is often ad hoc (Paul 2010, 7). Thus, the social fabric has no confidence in the state to peacefully resolve conflict and address the disparity between the populations.
From Kashmir and Punjab to the Pashtun and Baluchistan regions, ethnic divisions are rampant and numerous. With weak to non-existing policies to foster social cohesion, state capacity to manage ethnoreligious conflict peacefully continues to be evasive. While there is merit to the argument that the irredentist conflict has links to ethnoreligious and secessionist concerns, a deeper examination reveals that in each state exists a fractured political structure and an all-encompassing national disunity (Ganguly and Fair 2013, 125-17; Weinbaum 2009, 76, 86; Jones 2008, 11). It is this lack of social interconnection which undermines governance measures and contributes to a non-extant national political identity. Moreover, the fissures in these foundations can be led back to the formation of the region into independent states. Following the partition of British India in 1947, unlike its neighbour who inherited the British systems of governance, Pakistan was left to its own devices in politicising an identity (Ganguly and Fair 2013, 124). With the early demise of its founder, the fledgeling state began its foray into state building on a weak footing thus, always failing to reach the potential to strengthen a distinct identity. Whilst India, with its fractured ethnic and class divides, has fared considerably healthier economically (Ganguly 2007; 46), it continues to struggle with Naxalite militant violence in the northeast (Ahuja and Ganguly 2007, 252). In this exploited and impoverished rural area, land reforms are slow in repairing the fractured ethnic and class divide left over from British rule (257). The adopted British systems of governance built on colonial control failed to recognise that transitioning into autonomous governance by the states of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and ethnoreligious society would require a uniform social rehabilitation. Consequently, in absence of a cohesive and unifying political strategy to construct an individual but connecting identity, each province’s capacity to govern their multi-dimensional society was weakened and continues to be destabilising for the state.
Both India and Pakistan’s national discourse grew out of the remnants of British India. Whilst Western nations have successfully adopted peaceful means of conflict resolution, in the South Asian context, a similar approach has failed to construct institutions which allow multi-ethnic communities a collective voice in the national polity. Similarly, the troubled Afghan regions have had too many influences from dissimilar demographics, such as the Soviet occupation through to the US invasion and interventionist politics from Pakistan, to adequately its own develop peaceful domestic instruments of law and order (Jones 2008, 11). The absence of essential infrastructure in rural areas has made it is difficult to summon those institutions for assistance during times of complex intra-tribal insecurity (20). As such, a fissured state apparatus will continue to crack under the pressure of violent conflict.
In sum, what the states of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have in common is the fault line of a missing identity in the formation of their governance structure. Without a collective and unifying governance apparatus, violence will continue to be a solution for a population disenfranchised and isolated from its elite. As shown, the mechanisms to form unity amongst the multi-dimensional demographics of the region has always been shaky due to the foundations laid at the outset. Appropriated governance measures from external societies prevented a unified political identity. This fractured instrument allowed the political actors to show their strength through acts of self-interest, further exacerbating the conflicts. Until such time unity with a national outlook encompassing all ethnic divisions is found, violence will continue to provide results for the political elite in all three states. Combined with the rise of religious fundamentalism, an impoverished and isolated society will continue to create recidivist violence to resolve differences. Lastly, the capacity to prevent violent recidivism lies in reconstructing the political foundation and security for each nation.
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