South Asia Book Reviews, Part 1

A review essay by Teresita C. Schaffer of five books about South Asia: Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, by Benazir Bhutto; Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid; Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, by Shuja Nawaz; The Madrassah Challenge: Militancy and Religious Education in Pakistan, by C. Christine Fair; and Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh: A Complex Web, by Ali Riaz.

Reconciliation lays out, with almost desperate passion, Bhutto’s vision of Islam, marked by judicious reason, compassion, gentleness, and above all toleration for the world’s diversity. In what she terms ‘the battle within Islam’, she comes down resolutely on the side that favours democracy, moderation and finding common cause with the West. She bolsters this argument with a lengthy discussion of the historical and religious meanings of ‘jihad’, which she believes should properly be defined as ‘struggling in the path of God’. Tracing the history of Islamic thought, she stresses that Islamic thinkers and rulers were ahead of their times in their early sensitivity to women’s rights and potential. One chapter is devoted to Islam and democracy, with a series of brief descriptions of how different Islamic countries have dealt with their peoples’ democratic strivings.

Originally published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the October-November 2008 issue of Survival. Read the entire article.

India and Pakistan—Still Moving Forward

An article by Teresita C. Schaffer on peace developments between India and Pakistan.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to host a dinner on September 14 in New York for Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf made headlines, but the event did not provide the same visible boost for the peace process as their 2004 meeting. However, their dialogue is still moving ahead. The most encouraging development in the past six months is the start of discussions between Kashmiris and the governments of both India and Pakistan. There has been modest progress on the rest of the India-Pakistan agenda. These developments provide a backdrop for quiet diplomacy. A few missteps along the way are inevitable, but the two national leaders are learning about one another’s sensitivities and taking the process seriously.

Originally published in the Center for Strategic & International StudiesSouth Asia Monitor on October 1, 2005. Read the entire article.

India, Pakistan and Kashmir: Of Buses and People

An article by Teresita C. Schaffer on India’s and Pakistan’s decision to start a bus service between the separated parts of Kashmir, and the resulting rejuvenated peace talks between the countries.

The agreement on the basic arrangements for starting bus service between Srinagar, capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, and Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-administered part, came as a badly needed tonic to an India-Pakistan dialogue that was in danger of petering out. The agreement balanced the needs of both sides. Pakistan got its way on the knotty question of travel documents: rather than passports and visas, travelers will carry entry permits, to be issued within each side’s part of Kashmir and apparently approved by the other side. India succeeded in opening travel to all citizens, rather than restricting it to residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

Originally published in the Center for Strategic & International StudiesSouth Asia Monitor on April 1, 2005. Read the entire article.

Back and Forth in Bangladesh

An article written by Howard B. Schaffer on the October 2001 parliamentary elections in Bangladesh.

On 1 October 2001 Bangladeshis went to the polls to elect the country’s eighth postindependence National Parliament (Jatiya Sangsad). In the third contested race under the democratic political system established in 1990 with the overthrow of General H.M. Ershad’s authoritarian, army-led regime, voters once again turned out in large numbers after a bitter campaign marred by violence. Women, who in Muslim Bangladesh vote at separate polling stations, were prominent among them. Many waited for hours in the hot sun dressed in their best saris to mark and cast their paper ballots. Overall, some 75 percent of registered voters turned out, about the same proportion as in the last general election, which was held in 1996. Despite dire forecasts of further violent clashes and predictions of large-scale electoral malpractice, a peaceful atmosphere generally prevailed on election day in the cities as well as in the countryside, where most Bangladeshis live. The 50,000 troops deployed on election duty helped ensure this, as did the zealous work of the country’s nonpartisan Election Commission, which is directly responsible for running an operation involving almost 60 million voters.

Originally published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in the January 2002 issue of the Journal of Democracy.