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Peace expert looks at us

Priyankar Upadhyaya had only been in Canada a few days when he was asked to comment on the daily news.

Upadhyaya is a professor in a peace studies institute at Benares Hindu University in India, and he is at Concordia's Political Science Department for four weeks on a Shastri India-Canadian Fellowship.

He gave his views on CJAD radio news about the recent military coup in Pakistan, but it's one of many subjects that interest him as a scholar of conflict resolution, Canada among them.

He was bemused to see the APEC inquiry dominate Canadian television newscasts, and startled to hear a senior RCMP officer declare bluntly that he doesn't take orders from the Prime Minister's Office. The pepper-spraying of demonstrators at the APEC demonstration in Victoria two years ago didn't kill or even seriously injure anyone, yet it is a major issue.

"This would not even make the newspapers in my country," Professor Upadhyaya said ruefully. "In Canada, I can see that there is some disaffection, but it doesn't express itself in violence. Why? There are various factors, steeped in history."

One reason, he suggested, is that Canadians have an underlying understanding of and trust in their democratic institutions. "Also, they feel they have a stake in the system."

Post-colonial countries, however, are still trying to work things out, and they are often frustrated by the quixotic reactions of the West. In Pakistan, a general has reacted to the possibility of ouster by seizing power, clearly an offense against democracy.

"The U.S. readily supported him, as long as Pakistan didn't use its nuclear arsenal. There seem to be no principles guiding their foreign policy in South Asia. One case in point is when the U.S. didn't react when [former elected prime minister J.A.] Bhutto was hanged." These "rules of convenience" that seem to dominate Western international policy keep people in developing countries off balance and suspicious, Upadhyaya said.

Upadhyaya was fascinated by the extemporaneous speech made by Bill Clinton recently at the federalism conference at Mont-Tremblant, because in it, the U.S. president effectively set limits on the principle of national self-determination. Without any agreed principles, achieving independence is almost a matter of the alignment of the major powers at a given point in time, he thinks, and even when it's achieved, that's by no means the end of conflict.

- Barbara Black

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.