Terrorism and its Impact on Pakistan-India Relations

Let me start with the proposition that terrorism has had an adverse impact on relations between India and Pakistan – and for two reasons. First is the cross border movement of terrorists (who say they are motivated by oppression of fellow Muslims) from Pakistan to India. Second is the proxy war that is emerging between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan as the former seeks to limit the power of militant groups with an anti-Indian agenda (such as the Taliban) and the latter has reacted to this by supporting the anti-Indian activities of the Taliban in order to limit Indian influence.[1] A second basic proposition is that the international anti-terrorist agenda has always had much greater popular support in India than in Pakistan. Besides the lack of popular support for anti-terrorist activities, which is widely characterized in Pakistan as anti-Islamic, the Pakistani government has always had a somewhat Janus-faced policy toward terrorism since the Musharraf dictatorship decided to back the global war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11. A recent PEW public opinion study in 25 countries, for example, shows that a large majority of the Indian population has a favorable view of US foreign policy and the US. Only two countries had a higher ranking. This favorable Indian perception of the US is in marked contrast to the unfavorable view of the US in Pakistan, a fact that has forced the new democratically elected government in Islamabad to adopt a very cautious policy toward militant Islam and the activities of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Of course, a basic reason for this stark difference between the two neighboring South Asia states is that Indians consider themselves a victim of terrorist attacks over the past two decade, and the level of violence have surged over the past few years. This may explain why India was the first country to come out openly in favor of the US in the wake of 9/11. It took some American arm-twisting to get Musharraf to make a similar commitment and it was more a tactical move than a real commitment.[2] In fact, Pakistan has become the victim of terrorist activities as well, as the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad demonstrates, but there is a more conflicted popular response to such activities than in India.

Besides the lack of popular backing for the war on terrorism, Pakistan had several tactical reasons to be wary of backing it. Taliban control of Afghanistan suited Pakistan’s foreign policy interest in denying India influence in Afghanistan, recalling that the royal governments of Afghanistan had historically had good relations with India. Moreover, the Taliban might be able to provide Pakistan strategic depth against the historic enemy, a country several times larger, more populous, and more prosperous. Pakistan is a relatively long country that could be cut in two by Indian military action. Afghanistan would offer convenient strategic depth to meet this challenge. Finally, Taliban control might result in Afghan recognition of the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan. It was a boundary drawn by the British over a century ago as part of a larger effort to separate Czarist Russian and Imperial British spheres of influence. Every Afghan government, including the present one, has denied the legitimacy of this colonial era boundary. The dispute is a standing invitation for Pakistan Pashtuns to separate themselves from Pakistan. In fact, there was historically a strong separatist movement among Pakistan’s Pashtun population, though it is much less vibrant now than before. However, there is a contest for shaping the identity of the Pashtun on both sides of the border. President Karzai (a Pashtun himself) and the Awami Party in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, which won the most recent assembly elections there, are pushing for a secular definition. The Taliban area seeking to give Pashtun nationalism a religious definition and Pakistan has historically supported an enhanced Islamic identity in part to undermine the separatist movement there.[3]

Pakistan was one of three states (Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the other two) which offered official recognition to the Taliban in the 1990s, and was reluctant to abandon it. The Taliban’s increasingly close ties to Osama bin-Laden’s efforts was to force Pakistan to abandon the Taliban, at least officially. It tried unsuccessfully soon after 9/11 to get the Taliban leadership to separate itself from al-Qaeda and then to get the West to accept the notion of moderate Taliban in the new government. Both were clearly aimed at preserving as much Pashtu influence as possible. The Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Omar, effectively blocked both Pakistani moves. Mullah Omar, the poorly educated but charismatic leader of the Taliban, had increasingly come under bin-Laden’s influence and came to accept his notion of a pan-Islamic world order, along with his views on the enforcement of a proper understanding of the Shariah, and an aggressive international effort against various designated enemies of Islam. Present evidence suggests the symbiotic relationship between the two organizations still exist. [4]At the top of that list of enemies are the US and Israel, but other nearby non-Islamic states like India and Russia are also targeted. The Shia’ dominated government of Iran has been a subject of its animosity, presumably because Shia’ Islam in interpreted as apostate by the militants. Denmark has apparently also become a target in this post-cartoon era. This is demonstrated by the bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, and perhaps other incidents where Danish interests have been targeted.[5]

The world is again now focused on Afghanistan because of the renewed Taliban activities in the southern Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and the increased danger that Taliban bases will serve as centers for international terrorist activity. [6] Taliban activities are supported by sympathizers in Pakistan. What is particularly worrying is the porous nature of the Afghan-Pakistan border and the movement of militants to safe havens across the Durand Line in the mountainous regions of northwestern Pakistan. A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) representing the view of 16 agencies of the US government, concurred that al-Qaeda has re-established a safe haven along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.[7] The growing number of US and NATO troop deaths as a result of Taliban attacks is nudging the US to take a more unilateral approach to the issue of cross border activities, moving beyond “hot pursuit” to unilateral targeting Taliban/al-Qaeda centers in the border region of Pakistan when there is actionable intelligence. The danger of this policy, of course, is that it risks further alienating the Pashtun population and complicates the secular democratic government in Islamabad as it seeks to restore law and order in the troubled border regions. The better policy might be to build up Pakistani counter-terrorism capacity along with a regional approach to terrorism (more on that below).

The Karzai Government for its part has blamed Pakistan for doing little to crack down on the Taliban and al-Qaeda that now control a considerable part of the border region. Karzai’s complaints go beyond this, however, to include Pakistani backing of terrorist
activities to advance Pakistan’s foreign policy interests. Senior Indian figures, including the External Affairs Minister, have echoed these charges of Pakistani involvement against Karzai and Indian targets in Afghanistan, most prominently attacks on Indian highway construction workers and most dramatically the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, in which senior Indian officials, including the defense attaché, were killed. The situation is further complicated by the widespread belief in Afghanistan that Islamabad was involved in some way in efforts to assassinate President Karzai.

A third basic proposition of this paper is that a transformation of Pakistan-Afghanistan ties can only take place in the overall context of improved Pakistan-Indian relations (more on that below). That diplomatic path may require considerable American – and perhaps Chinese — effort. In recent decades, Indo-Pakistan hostility has mainly revolved around the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s support to militant groups fighting in Kashmir in the 1990s and into this century was aimed at forcing India to the conference table to negotiate the status of this disputed state. The situation in this Muslim majority state of India has recently deteriorated in the wake of a controversial land deal providing accommodations for the significantly larger number of Hindu pilgrims to a religious shrine located at the core Vale of Kashmir. Along with this there has been a surge of firing incidents along the Line of Control that threatens the cease first that went into effect in November 2003. India charges that Pakistan border troops engage in firing to serve as cover for the infiltration of militants in Kashmir.

It is Afghanistan, however, that constitutes the new battleground on which Indo-Pakistani hostility is playing out. Credible American media leaks indicate that US officials in mid-July confronted Pakistani officials with information linking Pakistani military intelligence to the July 7 2008 car bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. A meeting in July 2008 between Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resulted in Gilani pledging to investigate the claims of Pakistani intelligence involvement in the bombing. Perhaps the long run solution of this issue is to separate Pakistan’s military intelligence from military control, a proposal that was seriously considered by the new civilian government, but abandoned, presumably because the new army chief of staff opposed the idea. Continued Pakistani ambivalence toward the Taliban stems in part from its concern that India is trying to encircle it by gaining influence in Afghanistan. Pakistani security officials may calculate that the Taliban offers the best chance of countering India’s growing regional influence. Pakistan believes that ethnic Tajiks and other ethnic constituents of the former “Northern Alliance” in Afghanistan that opposed the largely Pashtun Taliban prior to 9/11 continues to receive support from India and that India foments separatism in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province from its multiple consulates in Afghanistan.

India in fact has increased its presence in Afghanistan significantly since the fall of the Taliban structure in late 2001. It is one of the major donors for the reconstruction of the country, with over a billion dollars pledged for a wide variety of projects all over the country. Many of these projects are in the Pashtun south, a clear effort to revive links to the Pashtuns that were once so close in the last days of the British Empire in South Asia. India is also paying for the construction of a splendid new parliament building in Kabul as part of its support for the democratic process in Afghanistan. It is building a major highway project in the west bordering on Iran. An estimated 4,000 Indians are in Afghanistan working on development projects, including highways and bridges, cold storage facilities, health centers, and electrical generating facilities. This does not count the return of thousands of Indian families, mainly Sikh and Hindu, who traditionally had been a key part of Afghanistan’s urban mercantile middle class and who had fled to India in the wake of the Taliban takeover. An increasingly globalizing India is concerned about the well-being of its diaspora here and elsewhere. India has dispatched some 500 paramilitary Indo-Tibetan border police to guard its workers following attacks on them such as an April 12, 2008 suicide bombing that killed two Indian highway engineers in Nimruz Province. There are also news reports of Indian offers to train senior personnel of the Afghan armed forces in India. India is the largest donor for educational training and provides scholarships for hundreds of Afghan students and officials to study in India each year.

India has a soft diplomacy advantage in the popularity of its film and music industry. None of its neighbors has anything comparable to compete, and the Afghan film and music industries were virtually eliminated during the austere Taliban period. Within days of the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001, for example, billboards advertizing Indian films sprang up all over Kabul. CDs of Indian film music appeared on the shelves of shops as if by magic all over the city. The craze for things India has spilled over into clothing, food and art.

India in addition is investing significant sums in the Iranian port at Charbahar to gain entry to trade with Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. It is also assisting in the construction of road and rail links from Charbahar to the Iranian border with Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. These Indian links to Afghanistan also have the advantage of avoiding the unstable Pashtun areas of Afghanistan south of the Hindu Kush mountain chain that runs through the middle of the country. This investment is necessitated because of Pakistan’s refusal to permit India cross-shipment rights across Pakistan to Afghanistan and beyond. The purpose of this Pakistani policy of exclusion is almost certainly for use as a lever on issues of dispute, like Kashmir. However, it has had limited success so far and undermines a basic US policy. I think it would suit US interests in the region to pressure Pakistan to lift this prohibition against India trade.

The strategic implications of this Indian-financed port/road/rail system to Afghanistan are significant. For the first time, Pakistan would be deprived of a veto power over Indian trading with Afghanistan. This could have implications for US efforts in Afghanistan if Pakistan would follow through on threats to block US resupply of its troops in Afghanistan.

Terrorism in South Asia is a regional problem, as is becoming increasingly clear by the demonstrated links among Islamic terrorist groups whose tentacles reach across state boundaries. Transforming regional security perceptions among the Afghans, Pakistanis and Indians will be a monumental challenge, but constitutes the only way to stabilize and secure Afghanistan so that it does not again become a terrorist sanctuary. The US in particular will have to focus on promoting regional cooperation among all three countries and defusing conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad, on the one hand, and Kabul and Islamabad on the other. More specifically, the US will have to consider other initiatives that reduce Pakistani fears of Indian hegemony and how the US can improve its own ties to New Delhi without setting off alarm bells in Islamabad. China, which is also trying to improve its relations with India and also faces the growing menace of terrorism that has roots in South Asia, confronts a similar dilemma as it reformulates its South Asia policy. The task of calming Pakistani fears of a dominant India is complicated by India’s economic prosperity and Pakistan’s recent virtual economic collapse. India as the larger and stronger party will need to take the initiative.

Indian policy toward Pakistan, while complicated by Kashmir and the cross border terr
orist menace, has shifted somewhat over the past decade as the country has become a more self-confident player on the world scene. More specifically, India’s preferred strategy seems aimed at reconciliation and stability, thus allowing it to play its “predestined” role as a global power. This policy is favored by the major national political actor (e.g. the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party). However, given the reality of instability in Pakistan and to guard against its future irresponsible behavior, India is also working on a parallel strategy of containing, or even bypassing Pakistan, a policy that some of India’s most important strategic thinks have supported for years. The other dilemma with Indian policy on this regard is its historic policy of keeping “outside” powers “outside” South Asia, though, at least with the US, this policy seems to have softened somewhat, given the American support for the Indian position during the 1999 Kargil crisis and the American push to make India an exception to its own nuclear non-proliferation laws and international protocols on the subject, an exception required because India is not a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non-proliferation accord – and it possesses nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them (as does Pakistan).[8] It may thus be willing to permit the US as a good faith interlocutor on Indo-Pakistani relations. It would not provide a similar opening to the Chinese.

If a major effort is not launched to achieve regional stability, the danger of course is a revival of Indian Pakistani tensions, always dangerous for two countries possessing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. There is fortunately an institutional basis for negotiations, the Composite Dialogue that was initiated in early 2004 (and was to address the big outstanding issues), which followed a cease fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir that has by and large held since then. This Dialogue, however, has so far had limited achievements, in part because of political fragility in each country. The replacement of General Musharraf, who Indians largely distrusted, by a civilian government may help in the Dialogue. The departure of the communists from the Manmohan Singh coalition may similarly give his government greater room for maneuver in handling its own foreign policy. A major area for building links would be trade, which is presently at a very low level. Enhanced trade would build a constituency in each country for a stable relationship. The projected Iran/Pakistan/India pipeline would be another economic factor binding the two energy short countries. That pipeline is now more notional than real largely because of the high prices that Iran is demanding and the difficulty in finding international financers, in part because of American and Western objection to any large scale project that could enhance Iran’s economic situation.

Kashmir does remain a major stumbling block. It generates terrorist cross border activity from Pakistan, often with government backing. Terrorism makes any Indian move towards an innovative solution impossible politically, and it will take innovative thinking to get over the present impasse. General Musharraf had made a radical departure from Pakistan’s stated position on Kashmir by suggesting that it would give up its territorial claim over Kashmir (and by extension the traditional demand for a plebiscite) in exchange for demilitarization and some forms of all Kashmir managerial functions. India never responded meaningfully to these out-of-the-box proposals. If the present Pakistani government were to raise them again, the chances are better for a positive Indian response. The problem is that a democratic government in Pakistan must be alert to any move that suggests that it is giving up Pakistan’s historic demand for Kashmir. It must of course do so to get traction with India, but the challenge is to put this effort in a larger bilateral context that makes Kashmir more of a joint undertaking without transfer of sovereignty, a difficult proposition to sell.

I would like to close with six basic points on the issue of terrorism and its impact on Indo-Pakistani relations:

1. Terrorist violence attracts only a small part of the Muslim communities of South Asia. Islam is not a single unified religion, but is characterized by major cultural and theological differences. It would be both wrong and dangerous to tar the whole community with the violence of a small minority. What is dangerous about this is that a backlash against the whole community could in fact generate popular support for the militants.

2. Terrorist violence in the name of Islam probably has more to do with the voicing of dissidence than religious reformation. In Pakistan, for example, the widespread poverty and lack of opportunity in the rapidly growing urban sprawls is an attractive source of militant recruitment. The militant leadership may be from the urban middle class, but the foot soldiers are not. One could say the same for India and Bangladesh.

3. Terrorist violence has both an official and an informal face and there is often a linkage between them. There are dozens of militant groups in Pakistan, for example, that function, and several are popular because of the charity they carry out in a country virtually devoid of social security benefits. However, some of them, particularly those that focus on Afghanistan or on India, have been supported officially because they advance the country’s foreign policy goal of weakening India. It is these officially supported groups that have brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war a few times over the past decade and this kind of linkage must cease if there is to be lasting peace.

4. Terrorist violence in India increasingly is carried out by home grown groups and thus in some ways represents a greater danger than the expatriate groups that operate from Pakistan. They can blend in the local population more easily and they are in a better position to mobilize discontent. Surveys show that Indian Muslims are near the bottom of that country’s socio-economic system and perhaps some kind of equal opportunity effort is needed to improve their situation.

5. Terrorist violence is more regional in nature than ever before and will not be contained without a regional solution, which requires the good faith participation of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan (and possibly other South Asian states, especially Bangladesh). The US, as by far the most important regional player, will probably have to get directly involved to make this happen given the high degree of distrust among regional states and likely bureaucratic resistance to innovative proposals. The foreign ministries of at least India and Afghanistan are very conservative institutions.

6. Democracy and economic growth are probably the best long term cures for terrorism, and may be the best hope of preventing Pakistan from becoming a failed state. Closer economic ties between India and Pakistan would go a long way to achieve a better economic situation in Pakistan.


Drafted for presentation at the Danish Institute of International Relations in Copenhagen (and slightly revised subsequently to incorporate some recent events):

Walter K. Andersen

South Asia Studies

School of Advanced International Studies

Johns Hopkins University

Washington DC

[1] Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which may have had backing of the intelligence arm of Pakistan’s military, according to a statement of a senior US CIA official, whose statement was accompan
ied by the release of corroborating evidence.[2] Musharraf in his autobiography talks about the stern lecture delivered by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the head of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, who by chance was visiting Washington DC on 9/11, about backing the US – or suffer consequences.[3] At the time of the departure of the British from South Asia in 1947, the dominant political force in the Northwest Frontier Province was against joining Pakistan, conceived as a homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent.

[4] The situation is complicated by the rise of distinctly Pakistani Taliban, drawing almost exclusively from the Pashtun population in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. This indigenous Taliban itself has a close web of ties with their Afghan counterparts and with the al-Qaeda.

[5] The September 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad may have had Denmark as one of its targets. According to press reports, the mastermind of this bombing was also the mastermind of the bombing of the Danish Embassy. If these reports are accurate, Denmark had an intelligence unit, apparently monitoring anti-Danish activities, located at the Marriott Hotel.

[6] It is clear that in the current US presidential election, Afghanistan is the “good war” and Iraq the “bad one”, and both presidential candidates proclaim their intent to send significantly larger numbers of troops to defeat a Taliban/al-Qaeda surge in Afghanistan.

[7] See report of this in Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus, “Al-Qaeda’s gains keep US at risk, report says,” in Washington Post (July 18, 2007) A useful source of data on terrorist violence in South Asia is the South Asia Terrorism Portal, http://www.satp.org.

[8] The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency on August 1, 2008 backed the exception for India, as did the Nuclear Suppliers group on September 6, 2008. The bill to permit US involvement in supply fuel and technology to India’s civil nuclear reactors is being debated before the US Congress as this piece is being revised.

Peace and Conflict in Asia by Timo Kivimäki

Peace and Conflict in Asia


Asia has been a laboratory of various conflict phenomena. On the one hand, certain types of political violence are much more common, especially in East Asia than elsewhere in the world. For example, violence tends to be more controlled, systematic and authoritarian. At the same time, Asia has been able to avoid escalation of tension, and many Asian countries have generally been more successful in keeping the levels of violence lower in conflicts. Also, some of the peculiar tendencies make Asia, and especially East Asia interesting. For some reason, for example, battle-deaths have dropped, after year 1979, to less than one tenth of the levels of an average year after the Second World War, before 1979. What explains the exceptionally violent nature of Asia after the Second World War, and what explains the peacefulness of East Asia after the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Finally, it seems that East Asia tackles conflicts differently compared to other places. While elsewhere conflicts are often settled by focusing on the political disputes in peace negotiations, in East Asia only 3% of conflicts that have been terminated have been ended in peace agreements. All this is highly interesting from the point of view peace and conflict. Can Asia learn from the experiences of other? Can the peculiarities of Asia’s conflict patterns teach something for the rest of the world on how to avoid conflicts? Would it be possible for Asia to emulate its strategies for containment of escalation or control of violence crime to other parts of the world while at the same time avoiding spreading the less successful, authoritarian parts of the Asian formula of conflict prevention? And would it be possible for Asia to learn to resolve its conflicts, and create democratic obstacles for authoritarian violence without destroying its brilliance in avoiding conflict escalation? All this is possible and this is one of the reasons why NIAS has a research theme that focuses on Asian conflicts.

The theme on conflicts focuses on Asian violence on various levels (inter-state relations, intra-state relations intra family relations, etc.). It looks at repressive violence in Burma/Myanmar, and communal violence in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. While attempting to develop security theory by adding the Asian experience into the general debate, the theme also has practical objectives to offer research-based expertise for work for the reduction of political violence in Asia and elsewhere. This is why NIAS conflict research has traditionally offered research-based advice to Nordic governments, EU and Asian actors aiming at peaceful settlements. At present, NIAS coordinates a high level policy-oriented network on Peace and Conflict Studies with ASEM Education Hub (http://www.tnpcs.niasnetworks.net/). In this activity, NIAS also facilitates inter-regional Asian – European comparative research and exchange of expertise for better understanding on conflicts. More information on conflict research at NIAS can be found at http://www.nias.ku.dk/research/themes/violence.asp.



Reform without reform, or how to add another stone to the bridge of understanding – still under construction – between East and

If there is one country in the world that resists understanding despite globalization, world wide webs and information overload, it must be North Korea. Confined in self-imposed seclusion added by internationally imposed isolation, the Northern half of the Korean peninsula proceeds in the footsteps of ancient regimes known to the West as Hermit Kingdoms.

This notwithstanding, North Korea is a part of this world, when test-firing missiles or nuclear devices very much so, when their hermit leader fails to appear where he is expected to, as recently to the 60th  anniversary of his country, his disappearance catches headlines in main media outlets all over the world. Media coverage, however, does not often elevate the level of knowledge for the readers or viewers. Mostly what is conveyed is hearsay, fabricated information by institutions with vested interests, or ill communicated and worse understood statements from official North Korean channels.

North Korea is in a difficult process of change. It is difficult because the country’s economy is in ruins, because it has lost most of its former friends but kept most of its enemies, and it is difficult because the system has intensely prepared the population to expect no change. Change came nevertheless from outside: natural disasters anticipating consequences of climate change, the collapse of state communism, and from inside: the death of the founder of the state and its eternal great leader. A virtual collapse in a hostile world, that turned less hostile, was the beginning of change. Not that change was welcomed, but it became a matter of necessity.

Solid information about this country is in short supply why research is needed, albeit difficult to conduct. At NIAS there are at present three ongoing projects related to North Korea under the theme culture and institutions in transition:

  • We participate in a teaching program on how to understand North Korean politics and political culture, specially designed for government officials in a major country with vested interests in Korean affairs.
  • We are developing a research project focusing on ways of opening a dialogue with North Korea on the humanitarian situation in the country. For years concerns about human rights have been misused as a tool to promote regime change in North Korea. This is why it is important to find another path leading towards the possibility of a much needed dialogue.
  • Beside teaching and research, but closely connected to both, NIAS are also engaged in a more practical project presenting Nordic state-of-the-art within the field of renewable energy to North Korea. Late autumn this year a delegation from North Korea will come to Copenhagen to learn about power generated from wind, water and the sun. A workshop focusing on sustainable energy will present relevant solutions to the North Koreans and the delegation will also visit Nordic facilities and institutions while being in this part of the world.

Geir Helgesen

Documentary Drama and Social Movement Activism in China by Ceclia Milwertz

Public consciousness raising in which poor girls at a school in Guangxi province or rural women in Hebei province create documentary drama based on their own lives are generally not viewed as politically significant events. However, in the long run the involvement of people in documentary drama activities may turn out to have far-reaching implications for the development of the women’s movement in China. Urban activists in non-governmental organizing are reaching out not only to young students, but also to peasant women to build strategic alliances based on common gender interests. These alliances acknowledge, but also strategically transcend differences such as class, education, and rural-urban location. Like women in other parts of Asia, Chinese activists too are making claims in terms of a strategic universalism based on a shared humanity.


Increasingly, studies of popular organizing and social movement activities in the People’s Republic of China are recognizing the importance of alliances and interaction between activists and the party-state. Rather than viewing the state-society relationship as dichotomous, it is being argued that the heterogeneous nature of both state and society and their multifarious interactions must be acknowledged. It can be argued that political and social reforms are thoroughly alive in China, and that they are based on the two elements of, on the one hand, an increasing number of active citizens who are voicing interests and demands, and, on the other hand, a party-state that is open to change. If we accept the importance of an increasing number of active citizens in moving forward this trend, then it is time to focus more on how the intellectual core of the women’s movement, as well as that of other social movements, interacts not only with the state, but also with the general public.   

Two research projects in the Gender Politics in Asia research theme at NIAS are concerned with these and other aspects of non-governmental organizing within the women’s movement in China.


ASEM Education Hub: Thematic Network on Peace and Conflict Studies

The Thematic Network on Peace and Conflict Studies is part of the ASEM Education Hub, which came into being in a decision by Asian and European leaders at the ASEM London Summit in 1998. It is lead from NIAS by Timo Kivimäki, and its board consists of many important peace practitioners, such as President Martti Ahtisaari (Chair, European), (Ph.D.H.C.; President of Finland 1994-2000, mediator of several peace talks, including Aceh Peace Talks), Amb. Sastrohandoyo Wiryono (Chair, Asian), (Center for Strategic and International Studies Jakarta, Negotiator of Aceh Peace Talks, Mediator in Cambodia and Mindanao Peace Processes, Chairman of the ASEF Board until 2006) and Amb. Prof. Chung-in Moon (Professor at Yonsei University, and Ambassador for International Security Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Korea). Furthermore, the board consists of ten leading European and Asian specialists of security and conflict; including Prof. Carolina Hernandez, Dr. Stein Tønnesson and Dr. Zhang Tiejun.The purpose of the AEH Thematic Network on Peace and Conflict Studies is to launch and implement comparative teaching and research projects on peace and conflicts. The intention is to promote scholarship that is directly relevant for peace processes and conflict prevention in Europe and Asia. The network will utilise Asian and European comparative and case specific expertise and scholar-practitioner expertise for the development of better research, research education, teaching and policy expertise in conflict prevention, dispute resolution and conflict transformation. The network will generate university teaching and research projects, and offer its comparative framework for existing independent non-partisan research and university teaching projects related to the study and praxis of conflict prevention.

Among many projects the network has generated a few are more interesting right now. One is related to conflict resolution capacity building among the ethnic leaders that mobilized the recent cannibalistic riots in West Kalimantan. The reason why this ongoing project is getting interesting is that it has moved on to a new phase. There is a consensus on the establishment of a permanent provincial inter-ethnic communication forum. Secondly, there is a consensus on mechanisms to prevent escalation of communal conflict once there has been a violent crime where the perpetrator and the victim are not from the same ethnic community. Since the process is moving beyond education, the vice president’s office has offered to take over the process and formalize in an inaugural meeting of the inter-ethnic communication forum in November, the issues where there already is consensus and launch dialogue on issues that have been seen as problematic but on which an agreement is lacking. This way educational project has spilled over into a peace process and the fact that the vice president has taken over the initiative, had meant that whatever will be agreed upon has an extra weight. Ethnic leaders could backtrack on ideas they have agreed upon when applying global lessons on conflict resolution, but they will not wiggle themselves out of commitments they have given to the office of the vice president.

Another extremely interesting prioject in the network will be the establishment of a VIP PhD class at NIAS, focusing on peace processes, and involving as students the secretary of the vice president of Indonesia, political advisor of the secretary general of the ASEAN, and the director of social affairs of the BRR (presidential council for the reconstruction of Aceh and Nias Island). This project has just received its core funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Denmark. Negotiations are underway to include a “Pattani prince” in the training with Swedish funding. Majority of the Swedish funding has already been secured.

Thirdly the network has a project that aims to link two research projects on durable peace periods in Asia and Europe to foster Asian – European cooperation. The European side of the project aiming at the explanation of the long peace of East Asia has received part of its funding from Sweden, and there is also funding for a conference within the network, that could facilitate the comparison of the East Asian Peace 1979- with the West European Peace 1945-.

The network is in the process of establishing a research program on migration conflicts. The rectorate of the University of Copenhagen has estabilished a Migration Initiative at the university and this initiative has joined the ASEM network, and now the program is seeking ways to include the comparative and cooperative ASEM element into it. The selection of the theme of the Banda Aceh conference of the ASEm network is part of this effort.

In addition to these topical projects, the network has a lot of interesting activities that can be studied at


Information of the network can also be found at ASEM Education Hub internet pages at http://www.aeh.asef.org/initiatives/index.asp?st=197

It is possible for European and Asian Scholars to initiate new projects for the network. New projects will be discussed and accepted by the board of the network, which also gives advice and comments to network projects and tries to link them to practical initiatives in order to create added policy relevance for academic research and teaching initiatives. Furthermore, the network organizes annual conferences that help communicate and launch network projects in ASEM context of equal cooperation between Asian and European scholars.

Submissions for network projects can be sent to the leader of the network at timo.kivimaki@nias.ku.dk or they can be submitted at these pages (see “submit a proposal for a new network project” at the main menu of the network home page).

Why we love China, and they us by Perry Johansson

Is it just ironic that 2008 the radical “sixtyeighters” celebrate with a plethora of nostalgic accounts will go down in the history books as the year when their beloved Chinese Communist Party invited the world for the triumphant Olympic Games of Beijing. The spectacular opening ceremony was so hypnotic it made the Eurosport commentator whisper by mistake that “Now we are only waiting for the gladiators”. A revealing slip of a western audience that had a hard time accepting that the host nation handles its opposition as daftly as the games itself. The Chinese on their hand showed a bewildered sense of disappointment that the westerner audience attention turned to Tibetan freedom fighters. But this was the proud Olympic Games and not the brutal, populist spectacles of the Roman Empire. All the athletes came at their free will and filled up with the feeling they were part of the biggest Olympic event ever the national teams entered the arena splendidly dressed up in their national costumes or modern fashion. At the end, however, arrived the Swedes that finally came out as Chinese. Expressing the fantasmatic 20th century version of earlier European chinoiserie – the Swedish females strode around the Birdnest in sleeveless qipao while the men sported dark blue Mao-jackets.

Reflecting on the curious, paradoxical imaginary relationship that exists between China and the west it is hard not to be reminded of Lacan’s theory about the “mirror stage” telling how a small child identifies with his mirror-reflection and so for the first time achieves a kind of self-identity. This birth of the ego is, however, only achieved by an already alienated image as the child identifies with an ideal-ego that seems to be in full control of its body. The frustration born out of the little child’s incomplete control of the various parts of his own body that don’t match the image of the ideal-ego at the same time lays the ground for aggressive feelings against the seemingly more perfect others the child will meet later in life.

If it is this imaginary register that directs our response to others then theories like that of Said’s “orientalism” will never elucidate cross-cultural encounters fully. In my own recently published study of 20th Chinese studies in Sweden I consequently found the Swedish attention to China of a different character than the mix of imperialism and hegemonic knowledge Edward Said outlined with his hypothesis of a western “orientalism”. China for the Swedes was not an “other” to be studied in order to dominate it. And in contrast with the orientalists’ engagement in what they perceived a hostile but still strangely familiar Orient, China for the Swedish left in the 1970s became a place for projections and reflection about its own culture – a third space outside the dichotomies of orientalism, a place that could be filled with all kind of fantasies about a “happy life”, “the new man”, “full equality” etc. In one sense “China” came to encapsulate a romantic dream of pure social togetherness from pre-modern society, a return to a “peoples” culture unsullied by consumerism, pornography and decadence. We find with the Swedish left also a cocktail of self-destructve ideas: Spengler’s prophecy of the decline of the west, an orientalistic nostalgia for the ancient Chinese culture as the world’s most supreme, Marx and Wittfogel,s theory on Asian or hydraulic modes of production, and finally the contemporary hope that the Cultural Revolution will destroy the bourgeoisie culture of the capitalist world. It seems that the Swedes shared the occidentalism that Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit trace in the undercurrent of first western and then also Asian political thought from the 19th to the twenty-first centuries. A tradition characterised by a desire that is also a death wish for the western civilisation.

It is in this context we should place the anti-intellectualism that, despite all the theoretical phraseology characterizes the extreme of the left movement. With a strangely romantic twist it turns into a fantasy of returning to paradise before the fall. Theirs is a magical mode of thinking where the logic of cause and effect is reversed. If you kill the decadent capitalists the evil disappears. Jan Myrdal embodies this magical thinking in his writings. In a provocative attack after the worst starvation disaster ever, derides critically thinking economists that argued that China wasted its resources. Myrdal explains that:


”The three-day tourist that travels from Hong Kong to Canton and back and tells of a China without prostitution, without bribes, pickpocketing, tipping, individual luxury, or flees has in all its shallowness grasped more of the important reality”.


With his readiness to absorb and skilfully formulate fantasmatic images of China into the pseudo-logic of Marxist rhetoric Myrdal became useful for the Chinese communist leadership and very influential for spreading the image of the new China in the west. Myrdal lived in China almost a year during 1962 and writes Report from a Chinese Village in Beijing before he returns home to join the board of the Sweden China (Friendship) Association which he later becomes chairman of. In the 1960’s few westerners visited the PRC and those who did were closely supervised by organizations like the Chinese People’s Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (Zhongguo renmin duiwai wenhua xiehui), The Chinese Communist Party Liason Bureau (Zhongyang Lianluobu) or the All China Youth Federation, all depending on if the visitor was a cultural worker, a representative of a foreign communist party or a socialist youth organization respectively. Under Mao Zedong’s rule China was a totalitarian state of the kind we now only know from North Korea. The Chinese Communist Party had full and total control of the citizens, and therefore also of what the foreigners might be able to learn about the country.

China’s Communist Party had, copying the Soviet Union, followed a strategy since the 1930s of creating “foreign friends’. These “foreign friends’ became living proofs to the Chinese people that its government actually had contacts with western nations, and it was easier to get propaganda accepted in the west if it was presented by westerners. The political scientist Anne-Marie Brady describes this extensively in her book Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the Peoples Republic. If the Soviet Communist Party was somewhat heavy handed in their relations with foreign communists, Maoist China managed foreigners smoothly. Their influence seemed indirect making visitors think they saw things for themselves as they were. The foundation for winning over people without arguments has been labelled by Paul Hollander as “techniques of hospitality’. These techniques included lavish banquets, fine hotels and a VIP treatment. Upon this came all the persuasion, smoothly presented. All visitors were provided with Chinese interpreters. The communist party selected the guides on the basis of wholehearted devotion to socialism and political alertness. They were ordered to learn useful things about every individual foreigner. After having spent a day with visitors from abroad the interpreters were questioned by cadres and had to report back all that the foreigners had said and done. In this way the Chinese often got to know more about the foreigners then the foreigners did about China. Ordinary Chinese were not allowed to speak with foreigners. Those Chinese that individual westerners actually got to talk with were all carefully prepared by the party. Whatever version the Chinese Communist Party wanted to get out to the visitors, and the world, was meticulously prepared for. What China got out of all friendship work was propaganda in the west, but also westerners that fell in love with China, whom the government could then use to present in newspapers and television as living proof of how much the western world appreciated the New China. But why was the recognition from the west – which at the time was the enemy – so important?

May the spectacular Olympic Games in Beijing be a continuation of the “techniques of hospitality” set up for visiting foreigners by the communist party in the 1970s? Is the games not awarded the same amount of energy and will to impress the west with its achievements? There is at least continuity in the Chinese desire of recognition. Related to great hopes and deep disappointment China over the years have attached to getting the games there is also the so called “Nobel complex” – the distress of not being awarded the Nobel Prize. In this desire for recognition by the western other, Zhang Xudong explains, every comment about China that comes from the west is amplified into a roaring judgement that either accepts or rejects. The bainian guochi (the century of national humiliation) is repeatedly brought up to explain this phenomenon – the period from the Opium war to the Peoples Republic characterised by western imperialism and fear of national annihilation. This Chinese angst of national extinction did not stop with the nation secured by the CCP in 1949, for the rest of the century up to this day many Chinese intellectuals and writers has continued in their “obsession with China”.

The problem with this fixation is that the majority of historians agree that the Opium war and the treaties were not that decisive for the downward slope of the Qing dynasty as it was once imagined. Chinese authorities do not however allow any such revisions of its Marxist-nationalist interpretation: Just remember the closing down of the magazine Bingdian a few years ago government after a Chinese historian had complained in an article that the Chinese schoolbooks descriptions of the Opium War was one-dimensional.

As we see the need of recognition from the west that Chinese citizens experience is not that different from the western wish of China to become more democratic. They both rest on a mix of idealisation of the other coupled with fantasies of being engulfed by him. In the universe of lovers the desire is for the other to love me. China and the west have moved closer trough the years, but is there a relation beyond the imaginary or is the realities of an already prosperous union one that will have to put up with constant suspicion and impossible demands?