A number of activists from the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) in New York have initiated a reading group on South Asia. The notes below are the first in a series of commentaries following reading discussions that some members of the reading group hope to post on Kafila. This is an attempt to broaden the discussions and in the process make it a productive dialogue to understand developments in the region and deepen our solidarity.
Reading Land and Reform in Pakistan
— Svati Shah, Prachi Patankar and Ahilan Kadirgamar
“…any strategy to stem the tide of Taliban-Al Qaida led militancy cannot ignore the issue of land rights…. Any reforms that revalue and formally recognize the local management of common property resources, therefore, will elevate the authority of tribal leaders over religious clerics or TAQ militants.”
Haris Gazdar, ‘The Fourth Round, And Why They Fight On: An Essay on the History of Land and Reform in Pakistan’
Given the escalation of a multifaceted war in Pakistan, and given our own commitment to a peace with justice in South Asia, we have started reading and discussing issues of importance in Pakistan and South Asia more broadly. This inquiry is informed by the alarming and rapidly changing situation in Pakistan, and by an interest in interrogating the category ‘South Asia’ itself. While all are agreed that the term ‘South Asia’ is indispensable, we wonder how ‘South Asia’ could be used to describe more than a region or a set of places outlined by shared borders. We wonder how we can move beyond the limitations of finding historical unity in South Asia primarily through the lens of British colonialism? We wonder how we could describe the political unities and potential solidarities of ‘South Asia’ in this moment? We find it particularly helpful to approach these questions by seeing common issues in the region relating to labour, land and the role of the state in societies in South Asia. At the same time, we want to move away from the received notions of South Asia, whether they be the statist conceptions of SAARC, South Asia as seen by the US State Department or, for that matter, as a region defined by area studies.