Monday, July 14, 2008

tibetan-chinese dialogue

It's quite unusual for Chinese and Tibetan intellectuals to meet for a public dialogue -- anywhere in the world. Today's discussion in Bonn between Kelsing Gyaltsen, one of the Dalai Lama's two special envoys for negotiations with the Chinese leadership, and Gu Xuewu, Chinese-born political scientist and professor at Bochum University, was such a rare occasion. And, besides all the differences between them, there were lots of points where they came close to each other:
Both agreed that former Chinese leader Hu Yaobang stood for a much wiser policy on Tibet in the 1980s. Both agreed that Buddhism could play a role in bringing both groups together, as many Chinese are interested in Tibetan Buddhism these days, and Tibetan monasteries flourish due to Chinese contributors. Kelsang Gyaltsen appreciated that the general view among Chinese intellectuals about Tibet and Tibetans had improved drastically over the last few years, and that a group of Chinese intellectuals criticized the Tibet policy in an open letter to their government in March. 
Gu Xuewu pointed out that, while the crucial post of party head in Lhasa has been reserved for a Han Chinese, the majority of cadres on all levels remain Tibetans. He thinks the Dalai Lama's proposal of a "third way" - autonomy within China - is unrealistic, not least because the Chinese government would be afraid of other minorities claiming similar rights.
Whereas according to Kelsang Gyaltsen the Chinese negotiators on Tibet (whom he otherwise characterized as hardliners) agreed to discuss autonomy in the next round of talks in October, it also became clear that the Tibetans' position is not without contradictions here: They claim autonomy status for those regions with a Tibetan majority or (?) sizable Tibetan population, also in other provinces, i.e. Qinghai and Sichuan. And they expect that these territories are also protected in some way from the influx of Chinese immigrants. But what about those areas where the Chinese are already in a majority - such as the city of Lhasa itself? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

olympic countdown

A month before the Beijing Olympics, the anti-Beijing rhetoric is dying down, as President Bush himself declares his intention to attend the opening ceremony. It's probably better this way. Political change in China will only come from inside... Li Wenkai, one of China's leading investigative journalists, recently pointed out that foreign pressure on issues such as Tibet made work more difficult for him and his colleagues, as it lead to increased surveillance and censorship by the authorities. His "Nanfang dushi bao" or "Southern Metropolitan Daily" has earned itself a name for uncovering all kinds of scams and reporting independently on controversial social issues. They employ a whole team of 20 investigative reporters, who have to be extra careful to find out which topics they can deal with. Although a lot of their material never gets printed, this is a way in which China keeps opening up, slowly but steadily. Is there any Western newspaper that puts so much effort in research? Under such difficult circumstances? Maybe this spirit is something we can learn from the Chinese...

Monday, July 7, 2008

pakistan and the taliban

After a few months of trying negotiations, the first major military operations against militants on the Afghan border under the new Pakistani government has begun. Although this particular "Lashkar" in Khyber agency does not seem to have links to the Taliban, the signal is clear. And it is quite possible that the latest suicide bombing against the police in Islamabad is related to this new development.

One would expect a furious debate in the country about this issue: How should one deal with the militants? Where does Pakistan stand?

Well, a debate there is, but it is taking place mostly in the Pakistani community abroad or on the fringes of the political spectre. A very instructive debate can be found on the website, which has become a major source of information for Pakistanis abroad.

A couple of days ago, pkpolitics published an article called "Views of a Pakhtoon" which defends the Taliban and drew lots of reactions, both positive and negative. Certainly nothing in between.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of the most outspoken liberal intellectuals, is one of the very few voices these days who openly calls on Pakistan to fight the militants with military force, if necessary. In the DAWN daily newspaper, he writes at the end of a brilliantly argued and certainly not pro-American editorial:
Pakistan must find the will to fight the Taliban. The state, at both the national and provincial level, must assert its responsibility to protect life and law rather than simply make deals.

DAWN columnist Irfan Husain, who lives in London, supports him:

From the very beginning, this creeping insurgency has been treated as an ideological and strategic issue, rather than the law and order problem it basically is. By negotiating endlessly with violent law-breakers, we have given them a legitimacy they did not deserve.

Why is it that not more people join them? The majority of Pakistanis at home probably don't want the Taliban in power (they certainly haven't voted for extremist parties in the last election), but they do not want military operations against them either. They don't want foreign troops in Afghanistan, and they want to get rid of a president who, most think, has "sold" them to the Americans. Let him go first, then everything is possible, even pacifying the militants. The most popular politicians such as Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan argue in this way, and most opinion leaders in the media, too... But even should Musharraf go one day - how is the problem of militancy simply going to disappear? Is it really enough to make Musharraf, the army and the Americans the scapegoat for everything?

By the way, this is just another outsider speaking...