Ethnicity and nation building
by V. Suryanarayan
The Pakistani political leader, Khan Abdul Wali Khan (son of Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan), was asked few years ago by a journalist: "Are you a Pakistani, a Muslim or a Pathan?" Wali Khan replied that he combined all three characteristics. The journalist persisted and asked Wali Khan what his primary identity was. Wali Khan responded: " I am a Pakistani for 30 years, a Muslim for 1400 years and a Pathan for 5000 years". The multiple identities of South and Southeast Asians, an intrinsic feature of the socio-political profile of the region, have made the task of nation building exciting and, at the same time, problematic exercise.
Political scientists unfortunately use the terms, state and nation, as synonymous and this semantic confusion has done incalculable harm in understanding the politics of developing countries. It should be pointed out that the world consists of states, not nation states. A survey of world’s 132 states in 1971 found that only 12 (nine per cent) could justifiably be called nation states in the sense that the boundaries of the "territorial-juridical entity being coterminous or approximately coterminous with the distribution of a particular national group". The comment made by Maasimo d’Azeglu, with special reference to Italy after unification, holds true of most of the states that came into existence after Second World War - "We have made Italy, now we must make Italians". An analysis of the origins of ethnic insurgencies clearly brings out that these secessionist movements had developed as a response to nation building experiments. In many newly independent states, the ruling elite tried to build the nation on the basis of the language and religion of the majority community, to the exclusion of minority claims.
The alienated minority groups wanted the new states to reflect their identities; initially the movements were non-violent, but when their demands were put down with force, they took violent forms. In Sri Lanka, for example, the political system gravitated from consensual politics to competitive politics to conflictual politics and then to confrontational politics.
The approach of the governments was to view minority agitation as a law and order problem. Gradually the insurgencies got entrenched; a war of attrition ensued posing a challenge to the stability and security of the state. The insurgent groups tried to get legitimacy by mobilising international support. Some of them like the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Bengalis in East Pakistan received sustenance from kinsmen across the borders. In order to sustain the struggle, many insurgent groups began to resort to terrorism and also to highly profitable guns-for-drugs syndrome.
This edited volume is an excellent attempt to study ethnic conflicts in South and Southeast Asia in a theoretically informed manner and from a comparative cross-regional perspective. The contributors have addressed three inter-related issues - identification of the main causal factors of ethno-nationalism; the dynamics of conflict - state-society, civil-military and regional and international ramifications; and the different options available for managing and resolving the conflicts.
The introductory chapter provides a theoretical perspective and a succinct survey of the existing literature on the subject and highlights the dynamics of the secessionist movements.
The subsequent chapters take up case studies - Kashmir conflict in India; the Tamil-Sinhala conflict in Sri Lanka; the Mohajir-Sindhi conflict in Pakistan; the conflict in East Timor in Indonesia; the conflict in Mindanao in the Philippines and the conflict in Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.
The contributors are well known scholars and they have
brought to bear their academic specialisation in the treatment of the
subject. The book will be an excellent reference tool for all students of
South and Southeast Asian Studies.
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