The struggle for peace in Asia
WE are individuals and representatives of organisations from different parts of Asia. Alarmed and angered by the ‘war against global terrorism’ engulfing the lives of hundreds of millions of Asian children, women and men, we have come together in Manila to found the Asian Peace Alliance to help reverse the ongoing tragedy and bring peace to this troubled continent.
In the past year the peoples of Asia have experienced a significant rise in their already high levels of insecurity. From Korea in the East to Palestine in the West, from Central Asia in the North to Indonesia in the South – wars, conflicts and rising tensions have been our shared reality. The common source of our heightened insecurity is unmistakable: the winds of war unleashed by the United States in its pursuit of the so-called campaign against terror. This is based on a militarism that links physical coercion and patriarchy as the currency of power.
The war on Afghanistan must be condemned. Furthermore, its very initiation/conduct represents a flagrant violation of political rights and defiance of the minimum standards of international law, as Washington has arrogated to itself the role of judge, jury and executioner.
Let there be no mistake. We in the Asian Peace Alliance are against terrorism of all kinds, be it pursued by individuals, organisations or states. But when state terror is used to fight terror, when war is pursued as the strategy against terror, when the ‘war against global terror’ is made the excuse to push US expansionist, strategic and economic objectives, then the peoples of Asia must denounce this deadly enterprise and speak forcefully for peace.
Conflict and War Across Asia
War goes hand in hand with an assault on human rights and democratic freedoms throughout Asia.
The destruction of our rights is now being systematised and institutionalised in so-called anti-terrorist legislation that has either been signed or awaits passage by governments. Some of these regimes have given in to intimidation by Washington. Others, like Islamabad and Manila, have willingly betrayed their citizens in return for cold cash euphemistically labelled as ‘economic aid’. Still others, like New Delhi, have taken advantage of the war against terror to push through repressive legislation they had wanted to pass even before September 11.
Washington claimed that one of its war aims was to liberate Afghan women from the clutches of the oppressive Taliban regime. In fact, Afghan women continue to experience great insecurity with the return to power of the vicious marauders of the Northern Alliance who have been known to routinely employ rape as an instrument of war.
Confident of Washington’s backing, Pakistani dictator Musharraf flouts rising demands for democracy, consolidates his repressive regime and massacres unarmed landless peasants and fisherfolk. Taking advantage of Washington’s rhetoric, the Hindu chauvinist government in New Delhi labels the Pakistani government ‘terrorist’ in order to close off any peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue and cover up its culpability in the barbaric pogroms that its own followers have carried out against Muslims.
This very gathering, in fact, has suffered the shameful denial by the Philippines government of the participation of invited Afghan delegates.
Washington’s war negatively affects the security of all countries in the region.
George W. Bush’s naming of North Korea as part of the ‘axis of evil’ has effectively scuttled the move towards rapprochement between the two Koreas and set back their eventual reunification.
The US push to enlist Japan in the anti-terror coalition has resulted in the Koizumi government compounding the violation by previous governments of the Japanese Constitution by sending Japanese Self Defence Forces to the Indian Ocean to support Washington’s war on Afghanistan. In addition, the emergency military bill has been promoted. These moves have stoked legitimate fears of Japan’s remilitarisation.
In the Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has effectively overturned the Filipino people’s decision a decade ago to kick out the US military bases by allowing US troops to return in force via the Visiting Forces Agreement. In the name of the war against terror the Pentagon has renewed its aid to the Indonesian military, an institution notorious for its violation of human rights. In Malaysia, Mahathir has been emboldened to carry out more repression under the draconian ISA (Internal Security Act).
In the coming months our insecurity is likely to grow instead of diminish, for even as we meet in Manila in the last days of August and the first days of September, Washington is preparing to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. Let there be no mistake: We have no sympathy with Saddam Hussein, but his fate is for the people of Iraq to decide, not Washington.
The US war has made many domestic conflicts much less susceptible to peaceful resolutions.
Of course not all our problems and conflicts can be attributed to Washington’s policies. Our region has had more than its share of civil wars, communal conflicts and ethnic tensions where, as in Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Thailand, elites and majorities are ranged against oppressed classes and minorities.
Taking advantage of perceived US support, elites and governments have hardened their positions against the just struggles of the oppressed. The anti-terror alliance with the US, for instance, has emboldened the Arroyo administration in Manila to drop all pretence of meeting the Moro people’s demands for the right to self-determination and economic justice in favour of a mailed fist policy that is converting the Southern Philippines into a zone of permanent war. US backing has also enabled Jakarta to move away from a peaceful and just resolution of conflicts in Aceh, the Malukus, and other parts of Indonesia.
Conflicts with an interstate dimension like Kashmir also become more difficult to resolve, with each party assuming that the US is behind them.
War and Globalisation
The wars breaking out in Asia cannot be divorced from the larger processes unleashed in the region by economic globalisation. The Afghanistan campaign is meant to crush opposition to a permanent US military presence in the Arabian peninsula to protect the interests of Big Oil, one of the prime beneficiaries of economic globalisation. It is part and parcel of the US effort to gain access to Central Asia – a strategic move dictated by two imperatives: achieving control over the region’s vast energy reserves and allowing the US to gain an advantage over its geopolitical rivals – Iran, China and Russia. September 11 was a gift to the oil and energy lobby that now reigns in the White House.
The war is related to corporate-driven globalisation in another way: Asia was, during the 1980s and 1990s, subjected to structural adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. Designed to create a hospitable climate for transnational corporations via liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation, these programmes increased poverty, widened inequality, consolidated economic stagnation and worsened ecological degradation. Fundamentalist and terrorist movements have, in many cases, stemmed from the widespread anger at the erosion of living standards and social injustices triggered by these programmes. Like Dr. Frankenstein, the US is now moving against the very monsters that its economic programmes have created and conveniently enough, Washington and its allied governments are using the campaign against terror not only to go after terrorists but also, to crush the just and legitimate struggles to overturn these structural adjustment programmes waged by farmers, workers, urban and rural poor, women, human rights organisations, indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups. In the name of fighting terror, we are seeing the criminalisation of dissent.
An important ally of this US-led globalisation is the corporate-controlled media – newspapers, radio and television – which since September 11 has been whipping up war hysteria all over the world. This media has emerged as a major weapon in the US armoury to give legitimacy to its deployment of violence. As it is, elite-dominated media throughout Asia does not adequately reflect the needs of ordinary people.
Globalisation has marginalised and disintegrated the economic and sociocultural systems of less developed countries. The war on terror exacerbates this by providing a pretext for instituting more repressive and authoritarian forms of control over the movement of workers and further promoting the trafficking and smuggling of persons, especially women and children. Refugees, migrant workers, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers already suffering from racist, xenophobic and discriminatory policies and practices, are further subjected to inhumane deportation, arbitrary crackdown and detention.
People’s Security, Not War
With our governments buckling under pressure, or happily collaborating with Washington, it is up to citizens and peoples’ movements to reverse this process of militarization that is foreclosing the future of peace, security and justice that we commonly desire. The Asian Peace Alliance is both a product and a promoter of this emerging region-wide movement against war.
Our perspective is shaped by the following concerns, values and goals:
Stop the Wars, End US Militarism: Afghanistan’s tragedy must be ended and the Afghan people must be allowed to determine their own future. This can only be achieved through the withdrawal of US and allied military and police forces. We see this as an overriding goal, in much the same way that we prioritise standing on the frontlines of the growing global movement against a US invasion of Iraq. In this connection, we condemn the so-called International Coalition against Terrorism that the US has formed to provide a figleaf for its unilateral moves.
Asia’s western end is being convulsed by Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinian people, an enterprise that is aided and abetted by Washington. Ending this crime against humanity must be on the top of our agenda. We are not free unless the people of Palestine are free.
The US involvement in South Asia has aggravated peoples’ efforts to secure a lasting peace. We join concerned groups in India and Pakistan in their efforts to end US diplomatic machinations, which are meant above all to promote its own strategic objectives and support their efforts to pressure their governments to end their dangerous posturing and move towards peace.
US military presence in South Asia and Southwest Asia is supported by the chain of US military bases that stretches from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Korea and Japan in Northeast Asia. We support the Korean and Japanese peoples’ efforts to shut down these launching pads for intervention as well as the Filipino people’s drive to revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement and other agreements that permit the stationing of US troops in Philippine territory.
One of the most insidious aspects of militarisation is the existence and spread of nuclear weapons. There already exists, at least in name, the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone declared by the ASEAN governments. We support the people’s movements that seek to make this zone a reality. We also back the drive of citizens’ groups in Korea and Japan to establish a Northeast Asian Nuclear Free Zone, and the efforts of peace movements in South Asia to create a South Asia Nuclear Free Zone to contain the reckless nuclear brinkmanship of New Delhi and Islamabad. In addition, we join the opposition to all forms of missile defence systems in Asia and condemn the US Nuclear Posture Review, which is aimed at using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states and justifying the development of new nuclear weapons. We, of course, are unequivocally opposed to all the nuclear weapons states, led by the US, and demand the total and immediate global abolition of nuclear weapons. Understanding that nuclear power installations can facilitate nuclear weapons development and are prime targets for military attacks, serious thought should be given to phasing them out.
The US Navy’s self-arrogated role as gendarme of the Asia Pacific region has been massively destabilising and has repeatedly brought East Asia to the brink of nuclear war. US military intervention throughout the region – and beyond – is, to a significant measure, made possible by the US-Japan Military Alliance which reinforces militarist moves within Japan at the expense of the Japanese people, and especially the Okinawans. We strongly support the efforts of peace movements in this region and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific, to end US interventionist presence.
US unilateralism has sought to undermine vital multilateral institutions of law and order like the Inter-national Criminal Court. This unilateralism has displaced and marginalised the UN system, itself in need of further democratisation. Where useful, UN bodies and authorities have been converted into extensions of US policy, as in the case of Secretary General Kofi Annan, whose subservience to Washington has significantly contributed to the UN’s loss of credibility. It is imperative that the UN and its agencies be allowed to play their due role under the UN Charter.
Demilitarisation: Freeing the region of the US military presence and de-nuclearising it are, however, only the first steps in our campaign to banish war from our region.
Other steps must be taken, such as reducing military budgets, shrinking armed forces and police forces, and ending the massive traffic in arms, that is making life precarious for millions of Asians even as it enriches merchants of death in the US, European Union, Israel, Russia, China and India.
Transformation of Patriarchal Relations in Asian Societies: Peace will always be a fragile condition unless the patriarchal structures and relations that underlie overt violence in times of war, as well as deep-seated structural and gender violence in time of so-called peace, are repudiated decisively. The transformation of patriarchal values and attitudes must not be left to the end in our efforts in stopping the wars. Unless it is launched at the very beginning of the process, our search for peace will lead nowhere.
We celebrate a large number of Asian women that suffered under war who have broken their silence and raised their voices against sexual violence and demanded the end of a culture of impunity for crimes committed during wartime and intrastate conflicts.
Promotion of Peace and Justice: Peace and justice are intertwined, and the region will not know peace unless ethnic, religious and cultural discrimination against minorities is ended, and the right of self-determination can be exercised by oppressed peoples. This means, among other things, taking a firm line against the rise and activities of racist, chauvinist and fascist groups that seek to incite the majority population to violence and repression. It means supporting democratisation, secularism and pluralism. In this context, we oppose the demonisation of Islam and the manipulation of religion for destructive ends. Peace and justice can only be ensured through sustained political democratisation. An essential dimension of this process is rolling back the so-called anti-terrorist legislation being pushed everywhere. Another is opposing attacks on refugees and workers and firm support for their free and secure movement within and across borders. Still another is making the elite-controlled media accountable to public opinion and forcing them to acknowledge, if not express, the people’s needs and aspirations for peace and justice. This process must include the real devolution of power and the expansion and deepening of democratic freedoms and human rights.
War, poverty, inequality, unjust class systems and unjust power-sharing arrangements are often the root of internal wars, and internal wars can invite external military intervention. Thus peace in our region cannot be assured unless economic justice is institutionalised. This agenda can only be realised by a peace movement that is integrally linked to the movement against corporate-driven globalisation.
A programme of peace that deserves our support must include, as its central components the end of IMF-World Bank-Asian Development Bank structural adjustment programmes (which now go under the euphemism of ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Programmes’), the cancellation of the foreign debt of Asian countries, the suspension of commitments to the World Trade Organisation, restrictions on the operations of transnational corporations, land reform and significant asset and income distribution. A sustainable peace depends on the end of corporate-driven globalisation. A sustainable peace can only be built on the base of vibrant national economies structured along the following principles: domestic-market oriented growth, relative equity, decentralised production and trade among countries that enhances the capacity of the trading partners instead of institutionalising unequal relations. Also essential to a sustainable peace is an ecologically friendly system of production, distribution and exchange.
The dominant militarist, statist and masculinist theory and regime of ‘national security’ and ‘international security’, in short, must be replaced by one that is demilitarised, peace-loving, feminist, universal and people-centred.
In conclusion, we are aware of the vast mobilisation of commitment, energy and resources that will be required to meet the challenges before us. We are committed to reaching out to the countless other individuals, organisations and networks in other parts of the world, including the United States, that share our aspirations for peace. We are confident that, collectively, our efforts will bring us closer to a peace built on justice, equity, ecological harmony and a decisive repudiation of militarism and patriarchy.
* Declaration of the Founding Assembly of the Asian Peace Alliance, Quezon City, Philippines, 1 September 2002.