Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Opiates Business

Afghanistan remains a major producer and the hub of drug business extending into Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s geo-political location, the country has become the hub of drug business as well as a major transit point for drug trafficking in South Asia and Persia. Drug business, however, rarely thrives only on drug trafficking operations. Given the nature of crime, it thrives on supportive criminal practices and a larger crime tolerant environment. The difficult to monitor border with Afghanistan, high movement of people across the North-West Frontier, and vast stretches of desert and barren land across Kashmir to Gujarat and Rajasthan in India facilitates flow of opium and other substances. The economic harshness of the region and the extreme conditions in which people have to live in these parts also makes them easy drug-carriers and traffickers and even the elderly, disabled and women can be found involved in drug related criminal activity for income. The population involved in drug trafficking are fluidly organized across borders and are dependent on weaker border controls, governance and poor administration of justice. The drug trafficking routes and people involved are marked by a degree of violence and corruption unsurpassed by any other criminal activity. It is due to reliance on violence and corruption that the organized crime groups, attempt to build and maintain an environment in the region in which the illicit activities could be sustained.

There is an urgent need to address drug trafficking by bringing priority focus to illicit trafficking and border management, criminal justice, and reduction in drug demand and HIV/AIDS. The issue of illicit trafficking of drugs and humans who either are carriers or organizers of the crime cannot be checked without expanding the border controls measures among Afghanistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. As of now, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have opened a network of Border Liaison Offices to increase cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies, however, require considerable support, particularly, border police reform and structural and policy reform for enhanced coordination among various police service and to be effective.

Law enforcement agencies in themselves will not be able to address the problem till the criminal justice system of the countries joins hands to end the larger tolerance of drug and other crimes by bringing the criminals under the rule of law and ending the sense of impunity. It would be important to drive the criminal justice system reform agenda with an eye to individual and social reform though. The criminal justice system also needs to be accountable and mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring civilian oversight and inspection of conduct. This process too requires other supportive features such as improved legislation which are compliant to the international normative instruments. This calls for passage and implementation of new legislation as well as amendment to the relevant laws to end the anomalies.

Being tough on drug trafficking and crime alone, however, will not end the demand for drugs or minimize the impact of these on socio-economic life, including family life and individual health. The above will require programmes and project which address issues of people’s livelihoods and which provide the policymakers and implementer with viable options and demonstrative models that can be put to practice. An environment of drug-trafficking and abuse is accompanied by wider socio-economic disparities and psycho-social and gender based vulnerabilities, which make exploitation of the poor, women, children and other vulnerable groups possible.

The countries in the region have low annual rates of economic growth and economic inequality is ever increasing. Weak leadership at the central/national and local levels and pervasive corruption are realities that have inhibit economic progress and further marginalize certain groups of people, while reinforcing an atmosphere of political instability throughout the region. These call for close collaboration among the government and private sector institutions to address persistent food insecurity, empowerment of groups of women and men who provide the deterrence to crime from family to community levels. Each country’s engagement in periodic recurrence of food emergencies that often befall on the countries in the region, will also help minimize the potential groups vulnerable to become involved in human trafficking or both drug and human trafficking.

While action is needed to address the priority issues of insufficient and weak transportation and communication infrastructures, major policy and bureaucratic obstacles would need to be addressed so traditional intra-regional trade and other forms of livelihoods are not affected adversely and poorer people left without any means to survive.

However, in the absence of policies & implementation mechanisms, an environment of distrust among the neighbouring countries, it is easily said than done. Vested interests within the governance structures, elite of the society and businesses more than often hinder progress of the interventions targeted to end drug trafficking and related crimes. These issues would be addressed better if small models can be established through regional cooperation. Such models can be built around better and greater investment in rural economies and collaboration among multiple actors, including the governments, private sector, and civil society organizations by giving them efficient tools to design targeted security policies and interventions for the most vulnerable. Small successes that show the link between a reduction in drug trafficking and crime, with social and economic and gender development and reduction in AIDS will go a long way in building a case for scale up interventions for reducing and preventing crime and violence.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

We Live in a World of Ineffective Efforts; Well, Most of the Time!

Union Carbide Gas Leak on the night of
the 2nd and 3rd of Dec 1984 in Bhopal,
was perhaps, the worst industrial disaster
in the human history. 25 years on, the
survivors are still denied justice.
 Image: India Protest
Nobody denies that established and efficient justice systems are essential for getting justice. The ‘established’ part is not the problem. Using the development and humanitarian world jargons, there exist all sorts of ‘formal’ [implying a state run system] and ‘informal’ [implying a plethora of systems that exist and operate based on tradition, customs, religions, a mix of some or all of these]. The significant difference being the appointment of the judges in the case of the former is by a state authority and in the case of the latter, by community elders/elite/religious heads or even by heredity.

‘Established’ does not mean an ‘efficient’ justice system. Both the formal and informal justice systems are fraught with not only the most serious disturbing practices, corruption being one of them, abuse of authority to harass the petitioners being another.
A mother and child left dead by
the Union Carbide Gas Leak in Bhopal.
Image: Avaaz
Neither ‘established’ nor ‘efficient’ mean ‘effective’ in terms of upholding and standing for fairness and equality in the application of rights. One of fundamental flaws of both the systems has been their damaging role in the unjust distribution of rights, responsibilities and power to those who seek their intervention as well as those who are subjects of the implementation of the judgments delivered by them. Don’t we remember the Bhanwari Devi case and denial of justice to her and many more injustices that she had to suffer because of the failure of the state justice system? We do. The increasingly notorious Khap Panchayats or the traditional caste councils, which rule on who can and cannot marry and who should be penalized for what and how, stare into our faces. No woman can afford to forget the Imrana Rape case the misogynist roles played by the local Muslim Panchayat and the Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband.

Notwithstanding some good examples of how the formal or informal justice systems can deliver public services fairly and uphold rights applying the principle of equality in rights and equality before law, by and large they have failed to evoke a degree of trust among those who need the justice systems the most. The groups which need the justice systems the most are the dalit, poor, children, women, religious marginalized and others who continue to be discriminated, exploited and abused.

Bhanwari Devi and Her Spouse: Inspirational.
Image: Tehelka
There is no dearth of knowledge about how to mediate conflict, whether at the family, social, economic or political levels to establish equality and justice. The challenge continues to be with the lack of the governance system’s will to facilitate institutional change and to take action against those in the justice systems who are rotting the justice systems.

The engagement with the informal justice systems is turning into a fad in the international development and cooperation sphere. This growth is without much attention to how un-equitable the foundations of the traditional or religious justice structures are and how growth in their strength would promote the powers of the traditional and religious elites. The idea to establish context specific justice systems is laudable but the efforts to apply the idea are too simplistic and shallow. Often this results not in development of equitable and accessible justice systems rather in making of a bigger monster out of the traditional and religious justice structures.

Imrana, the victim branded as a sinner.
Image: Outlook
 The overarching governance structure of a country needs to recognize that the formulation, application and adjudication of laws and delivery of justice in plural socio-religious contexts is far more complex and personal biases of judges, lawyers and others in the justice systems is more likely to damage not just the individual rights-holders but also the social harmony and development. This implies that the reform of the justice system structures without a reform of the people who work in those structures will not make these structures contribute to democratization and improved governance in the country. Any effort to reform the people in the justice systems needs to further recognize that the knowledge of law per se is not adequate that these people need to learn to analyze their own internalized beliefs and behaviours, how the laws came about and what kind of thinking promoted formulation of the law, what was the political climate and what imperatives left to the particular laws, and so on. This is needed for them to have the intellectual capacity to understand the laws from various angles and apply them in a manner that delivers on equality in justice.

The other efforts of researching justice system, analyzing the role they play and of engaging them in a dialogue for reform, need to be strengthened by intensive public oversight, especially oversight by the citizens groups who need the justice systems the most. There is need to understand where these investments in the informal justice systems are leading and what type of trends with regard to long-term consequences are emerging so lessons can be learned and applied in the current and future reform related engagements.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011


In a yet another ‘new’ place
Sense of being tied down to nothingness remains
Roving freely into unknown lanes
Searching for a place to sleep sound, I stare
A desire to be obscure stays
Deepened by the familiarity unattained
Known-unknown probe go unrestrained

I know the migrant birds
I notice them always
Pigeons, the rooted survivors, are known too
I look for expanse, for existence unshackled
The lack of conviction disturbs
The movement of the migrant birds
Instigates a desire to move on

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Usual Story

In the continuum of life and death, power in the fraternal order is mandatory

Blood ties draw blood from blood ties, forcing submission ordering conformity

The design of an active will, depends on succour of servility

Fear folded into corporeal bodies, weigh differently depending on who’s the owner

Life at stake some can exist only in shadows, most sign a pact with fear

Being born as we are we instinctively submit, the status as derivative gets naturalized

Fluid as water fear trespasses, intensity accentuates to numb the surroundings

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