Singh & Gilani Agree To “Normalize” Indo-Pak Ties

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI:  The much-awaited talks between Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani were held last week on sidelines of 16th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Thimpu, Bhutan (April 29). Though the two sides still retain differences over several issues, including Kashmir, the high-level talks are viewed as a “positive breakthrough.” The key point is their agreement to revive the Indo-Pak dialogue process, practically put on hold since Mumbai-blasts in 2008. Though the two prime ministers last met at Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in July 2009, Indo-Pak dialogue has yet to be brought back on track. Till date, it has been held back because of terrorism, sources said. While concern about terrorism still remains high on agenda of both the countries, the positive outcome of talks in Thimpu is that they agreed to “normalize” Indo-Pak ties and decide on dates for talks to be held at various levels.

Briefing media persons on Singh-Gilani talks, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: “They discussed all issues in a free and frank manner. They agreed that India-Pakistan cooperation is vital, if the people of South Asia are to realize their destiny and if SAARC is to become an effective and powerful instrument of regional cooperation. They agreed that relations between the two countries should be normalized, and channels of contact should work effectively to enlarge the constituency of peace in both countries.”

Singh voiced India’s concern about terrorism to Gilani. “India,” Singh told Gilani, “is willing to discuss all issues of concern with Pakistan and to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue, but that issue of terrorism is holding back progress,” Rao said. On his part, Gilani told Singh, “Pakistan would not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India.”

“The meeting was an exercise in mutual comprehension because there is a lack of mutual trust in the relationship impeding the process of normalization. The two sides have agreed on the need to assess the reasons underlying the current state of relations, or current state of affairs of the relationship and to think afresh on the way forward. They have agreed that the foreign ministers and the foreign secretaries will be charged with the responsibility of working out the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship and thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern,” Rao told media persons.

To a question on dates for taking forward the process of Indo-Pak talks, Rao replied: “The two sides have agreed to meet as soon as possible.” While dates have yet to be decided, Rao said: “The instructions of the prime ministers are that the foreign ministers and the foreign secretaries should meet as soon as possible.”

When asked on whether Pakistan gave any “commitment” to India regarding terrorism, Rao said: “Prime Minister (Singh) was very emphatic in mentioning that Pakistan has to act on the issue of terrorism, that the terror machine, as he termed it, that operates from Pakistan needs to be controlled, needs to be eliminated.” Gilani’s stand, according to Rao, was that Pakistan was “equally seized of these concerns, that terrorism has affected Pakistan’s well-being also, and that they want to address this issue comprehensively and effectively.”

In a separate press briefing, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the two prime ministers’ meeting had played a major role in improving the atmosphere between the two countries. The “outcome” of their meeting has been “more than expected,” Qureshi said. “It is a step in the right direction, a concrete development and we will build on it,” he stated. Dismissing prospects of any major breakthrough in immediate future, Qureshi said that “trust deficit” between India and Pakistan has to be bridged through “confidence-building measures.” “We have to be realistic and pragmatic. It (bridging trust deficit) will not happen in a day, it is a process. If we allow the process to continue, obviously with passage of time, the deficit will be narrowed down,” Qureshi said. “There was acknowledgment about deficit in both sides. The two prime ministers have to bridge that divergence and build confidence,” Qureshi said.

Islamabad will be hosting the SAARC home ministers’ meeting this year on July 26. On this, Qureshi said: “We welcome Indian home minister to take part in that meeting.”

Rao and Qureshi held separate press briefings in Thimpu soon after Singh-Gilani talks, which lasted for about an hour and a half. Both described Singh-Gilani meeting as comprehensive, cordial and friendly.

Notwithstanding the fact that diplomatic tension still prevails between India and Pakistan on issues such as Kashmir, their agreement to take forward the dialogue process and “fight terrorism” together is viewed as a major development in their bilateral ties. While in some quarters, this has been described as a “firm, strong step – finally taken,” others view it simply as a “thaw” in Indo-Pak ties which had been “frozen” since Mumbai-blasts.

United States has welcomed the decision of India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue. “Obviously there is a long way to go. But certainly, the de-escalation of tension between the two countries would help in fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in Washington (April 30). Earlier, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said: “We always think that when leaders of countries, particularly countries with the unique history of India and Pakistan, anytime they can get together for high-level constructive dialogue, that is good for the region, and we support it.” On whether US had played any role in making Singh-Gilani meeting possible in Thimpu, Crowley replied: “We have encouraged the leaders of Pakistan and India to restore direct dialogue that has been characteristic of the relationship between those two countries within the last few years, and we’re encouraged that they are taking steps to do that.”

12-19

Of India and Pakistan Talks Open Up Again

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

There are mixed feelings about the recent Pakistan India talks which were the first after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The foreign secretary of the 2 countries discussed the current situation in New Delhi last Thursday, 25th February 2010. These talks worse received with a lot of criticism from the public of Pakistan and India. No agenda was announced for the discussions. The Indaian Foreign Sectretary Ms. Nirupama Rao said that the talks would focus on the core issue of terrorism. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Mr. Salman Bashir said that he wanted to focus on the core issue of Kashmir.

Both sides entered the conversations with different ideas and in turn were expecting completely different results. Since the direction they wanted to take the discussions was so different the chances of this event being successful was a stretch.

Mr. Salman Bashir described his talks in Delhi as exploratory to reporters, “But unstructured talks for the sake of talks, though important, will not produce any long-term results. It is crucial that India agrees to restore Composite Dialogue to move forward,” he emphasized.

About the Kashmir Issue Bashir said: “Pakistan has made it clear to India that Kashmir is an international issue since the passage of the UN Security Council resolutions on it (in 1948) and international intervention is required for its settlement.

Ms. Rao said that in the discussion it was discussed that “the networks of terrorism in Pakistan be dismantled,”  “We have agreed to remain in touch,” Rao added.

While talking to the Pakistani press at the Pakistan High Commission in the evening Mr. Bashir said, the gap between Pakistan and India was widening and he did not see any substantial progress in the talks. He also added that there is no need for secretary level talks if India remains stuck to its stand on outstanding issues.
During these talks the water issue among others was brought up, which was discussed at the talks. According to Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Pakistan had informed the Indian side about the violations of Indus Basin Treaty, storage of water, Indian plan to build more dams, Kishenganaga hydel project, pollution in sources of water and the issue of glacier melting.

From the responses from both sides one cannot say for sure what issues were discussed and at what point the conversation was left but once can say for sure it doesn’t seem like nay significant results have come out of this venture. However it does not mean that talks were a complete failure and this act should not be repeatedly in the future. On the same token no time frame has been set for future discussions.

The issues that were discussed, including the Kashmir issue, are issues that have been under discussion and have been a problem for as long as the separate history of Pakistan and India has existed. From the reports that came in it looked like India and Pakitan had completely different agendas for this meeting and both sides are not really seeing eye to eye on what the real problem is.

India wants to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan and that is its only focus at this time. On the other hand Pakistan has many issues that it needs solved that have been put on the back burners for years for different reasons.

Every time the two countries start talks something takes place that halts the talks. The cold and hot history of the two nations makes it very hard for any peace or revolutionary discussions to take place. The recent halt in discussions came due to the Mumbai attacks because of which one can assume the Indian Foreign Secretary wants to focus on terrorism building within Pakistan according to India.

The Zardari government argued that peace with India would produce economic benefits that would strengthen Pakistan and allow the military to carry out its 15-year development plan.

In January 2007, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a comment to the similar affect when he said, “I dream of a day, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.”

No one can be sure if such time will ever come, however we do know that as of right now just thinking about traveling frm one country to another strikes fear in the hearts of many who know what is going on in all of these countries. It would be safe to say that our leaders have yet to give us a world in which what Mr. Singh said would be possible.

12-10

Bollywood Scores: Shahrukh Khan Wins

February 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: By not simply rallying unitedly in favor of Shahrukh Khan-starrer: My Name Is Khan, but doing so with an amazingly zeal, Bollywood-team set the stage for film-fans across the world to head for theatres screening the movie. So much so, one got the impression that with Shahrukh as their “captain,” the Bollywood-team  was on the “pitch” to give Shiv Sainiks a thorough drubbing. A similar message was conveyed by headlines stating: “Khan scores, Sena misses,” “MNIK wins, Sena loses,” “Khan hits, Sena in pits,”…. Of course, Bollywood team was compelled to display this posture against shrill calls raised by Shiv Sena activists. The latter protested against release of MNIK primarily because Shahrukh had earlier questioned absence of Pakistani cricketers in Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament. Questioning Shahrukh’s “support” for Pakistani players, Shiv Sena issued a diktat saying that theatres must not release the movie- MNIK.

Initially, there were speculations that multiplexes in Mumbai would follow Shiv Sena’s diktat. There were also apprehensions that screening of the movie in Mumbai and other parts of the country would incite violence and create tension. But Shiv Sena’s protest failed to win people’s support even in Mumbai. When 35 of 40 theatres in Mumbai decided to go ahead with the movie’s release (February 12), they received an enthusiastic response from moviegoers. The movie was screened in all theatres in Maharashtra the following day. Though some stones were thrown on Friday at Fun Republic, no damage was caused. Besides, security was tight at all theatres, particularly in Mumbai to check potential violence from Shiv Sena members. 

What stands out is the “secular unity” displayed by movie goers across the world, even in Gujarat. Despite saffron brigade having warned against its release in Gujarat, the movie ran to packed houses in most parts of the state.  The message simply conveyed was that people are in no mood to let saffron brigade and/or its associates decide their movies’ choice. Nor are they convinced by Shiv Sena questioning Shahrukh Khan’s “nationality.” Rather as displayed by their turning out in huge numbers to view the movie, they have asserted that they cannot be taken for a ride by such diktats. In fact in several parts of the country, Shahrukh’s fans displayed their anger against Shiv Sena’s protests by burning effigies of Shiv Sena leaders.

Clearly, MNIK has provided the movie-fans across the world an opportunity to convey their message. The Mumbai-people defied Shiv Sena’s call, asserting that this party has little significance for him. The noise made by certain Shiv Sena leaders in recent past about their Maratha-identity has also received a big blow by the support displayed by the public here for Shahrukh Khan-starrer. Not surprisingly, Shahrukh’s wife, Gauri who watched the movie at Fun Republic with her daughter, said: “Everyone should watch the movie. Shahrukh’s very happy that everyone has come out supporting him.” Admitting that her husband was “very sad” earlier, but was “happy” at the response received, she said: “I think the best way would be to say Jai Maharashtra. We love Mumbai and Shahrukh is really excited.” Guari is co-producer of the movie, directed by Karan Johar.

Interestingly, the Hindi movie with English title, strikes a note of appeal for Pakistani viewers too. It is the first movie, starring Shahrukh Khan, being screened in Pakistan, since the government allowed Indian movies here two years ago. The crowd’s interest here rests partly on the movie’s title and partly on it having aroused a protest from Shiv Sena over Shahrukh’s comments regarding Pakistani cricketers. Also, they support the movie’s message regarding Muslims being labeled as terrorists and being discriminated against in United States after September 11, 2001 attacks.  The movie does not divide the people. Aiming to bridge the post – 9/11-divide, the movie’s hero wants to meet the US President so that he can tell him: “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”  This particular message, apparently, has people across the world put their regional as well as cultural differences in the background, as it appeals to them emotionally and they understand its underlying meaning. The movie in this context has taken a major step towards bridging the communication gap, which has kept practically the whole world fairly confused and almost at the loser’s end.  The secular, peace-loving and also religious people are against innocents being targeted as suspect terrorists for no fault of theirs. It is time, a Muslim’s religious identity ceased to be linked with terrorism simply because he/she happens to be a practicing Muslim.

With the title saying it loudly and assertively, My Name Is Khan, it is hoped the diplomatic message carried by it is understood by the powers it is addressed to. The raving reviews won by the movie, in addition to raking in millions on the very first day of its screening clearly states that the message has clicked with the people across the world. Bollywood has scored not just against Shiv Sainiks at home but also in taking a lead in successfully conveying the message till date being avoided by Hollywood!

12-8

Indo-Iran Diplomacy: Women As ”Cultural Ambassadors”

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding all the noise being made against Iran over its nuclear program, Indo-Iranian ties have not backtracked. What is more amazing is the definite impact made by women in this field. This month began with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visiting Iran, during which she held extensive discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Economy and Finance Minister Seyed Shamseddin Hosseini and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili. It was Rao’s first visit to Iran as Foreign Secretary. During her visit, both sides emphasized the need for expansion of economic ties. Besides, Rao laid stress that both countries should also give more importance to tourism in keeping with their rich history and tourist attractions.

Rao’s visit is, however, just a minor indicator of the importance India and Iran are giving to strengthen their ties. This point is supported by cultural diplomacy playing a crucial role in bringing the two countries closer. The ministry of cultural diplomacy in the present Indian cabinet setup is one of the few ministries exclusively headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It has not been allocated specifically to any cabinet minister. This also implies that diplomatic steps being taken forward in the cultural field have the direct consent of the Indian Prime Minister.

Interestingly, Iranian women are playing a crucial role regarding cultural diplomacy. The Iranian puppetry troupe- Apple Tree- performed a traditional puppet show, The Bald Hero in New Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon. The all-women troupe was invited to the annual Ishara International Festival, which began in New Delhi on January 27 to continue till February 15 in Mumbai. Majid Giahchi, head of Apple Tree group, said: “The group includes four sisters who have been awarded for their brilliant performance of the puppet show throughout the world.” “The traditional play has been forgotten for years, but the Apple Tree troupe was able to revive the art form after carrying out research on it in 2005,” Giahchi said.

Giahchi adds a diplomatic importance to such puppet shows as well expects them to help promote these arts financially. “When a troupe attends an international event, it acts as an ambassador of the art and culture of Iran, so it needs to be supported financially,” Giahchi said.

Against the backdrop of a largely negative image projected about status of women in Iran, The Bald Hero prompts Indians to naturally think otherwise. By visiting India to participate in the puppet show and also other countries of the world, the Iranian women have not simply played the role of diplomatic ambassadors. They have also conveyed the message that Iranian women should not be presumed to be as suppressed as presented largely by the international media.

In an attempt to change this impression, a silent movement has begun. Though there is no denying that women in Iran still face considerable discrimination and are yearning for more rights as well as greater equality, several facts cannot be ignored. Women across the world, including in the so-called liberal, democratic countries, have not gained much prominence in the political arena and similar areas, which continue to be dominated by men. However, their numerical position in Muslim countries such as Iran is tended to be projected negatively as a sign of their being kept backwards by religious extremists. Yet, if facts and statistics released by reliable sources are studied, they convey a totally different picture.

Of these, perhaps the most significant is that the health minister in Iran’s cabinet is a woman, Marziya Vahid Dastjerdi. Besides, Iranian women acquired the right to vote and started becoming members of the Parliament more than fifty years ago. Since then, even though their representation is fairly small, they have managed to secure entry into the Parliament defeating all the speculations raised about the command of fundamentalists in Iranian society. The same point is also proved by women’s population in Iranian universities being 52 percent, more than that of men’s 48 percent.

Several figures also defy the impression that Iranian women’s role – behind the veil- is restricted to being home-makers. The number of women employed by the government in 2006 was 788488, which was 14.53 percent more than in 1997. In addition to Iranian women being employed in government departments, they have moved forward in other areas also. There has been in 2007, 80 percent increase in the number of books published by Iranian women writers in around a decade’s time. During the same period, there has been a 58 percent increase in number of women film makers whose work has been recognized in international film festivals outside Iran. Similarly, the number of women athletes has increased by 47 percent. The last point is further supported by the formation of women’s football team in 2006. The team visited India to participate in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the first team in October 2007.

Women must certainly be credited for playing a major role in taking forward Indo-Iranian diplomatic relations, culturally and in other areas, including sports. Indian Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Iran is a symbolic indicator of Indo-Iranian ties being on the upswing.

12-7

Indo-Pak Cricket Diplomacy Suffers

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Indo-Pak cricket diplomacy has been put to test again with the exclusion of Pakistani cricket players from the Indian Premier League (IPL)’s third season matches. Ironically, in the past, while Indo-Pak cricket has suffered because of bilateral tension, the game has also played a major role in adding a healing touch to the strained relations between the two countries. This time, even as some confusion still prevails as to who should be blamed for ignoring Pakistani players, the Indian government has spared little time in displaying its stand against this move. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said: “I think it is disservice to cricket that some of these players (Pakistani) were not picked. I don’t know why the IPL teams acted in the manner they acted. But certainly to suggest that there was a hint or nudge from the Government is completely untrue” (January 26).

Chidambaram’s stand assumes importance as it suggests that the Indian government does not want to be blamed for exclusion of Pakistani players from IPL’s Twenty20. It may be recalled that last year Chidambaram had warned the IPL against holding of the cricket tournament in the electoral season. His concern was providing security. The IPL boss Lalit Modi had then decided to hold the event in South Africa. The Indian government is apparently annoyed at exclusion of Pakistani players as it amounts to IPL adding tension to the already fragile Indo-Pak ties. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is understood to be upset at exclusion of Pakistani players as, in his opinion, according to sources, this amounts to closing a “window of opportunity” to normalize the tense ties. Had Chidambaram refused to comment or had even restrained from criticizing the IPL, the Indian government’s stand would have carried little diplomatic or political significance. His statement that Indian government must not be blamed for IPL’s move, which he has also criticized, apparently is meant to calm the Pakistani government and appease the cricket fans waiting for the Pakistani players. Describing the latter as “among the best in Twenty20,” Chidambaram said: “These players were coming as individuals, it was not a Pakistani team.”

But the damage has been done. Reacting against IPL’s move, the Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB) withdrew the no objection certificates they had issued earlier to their players to participate in IPL. In the IPL auction held in Mumbai on January 19, 11 Pakistani players were included. None were bought by franchises leading to subsequent allegations, criticism and blame-game.  Launched by Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), on lines of United States National Basketball League (NBA), the IPL works on a franchise-system, which were put to auction for the first time on January 24, 2008.

An attempt has been made by some franchise owners to ease the tension by saying that “security” concerns prompted them to exclude Pakistani players. Angry and hurt, legendary Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan said in Karachi: “If the IPL franchises had any concerns about security and other issues about signing on our players they should have been clear about this and not invited them to the auction in the first place. But to include them in the auction and then to snub them was appalling and our cricket board and government should lodge a strong protest with the Indian government over this” (January 31). 

Bollywood superstar, Shahrukh Khan – who is co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR)- team said that he would have selected a Pakistani player for IPL matches if his team had a slot. “Pakistani cricketers are champions and they should be selected for IPL. Their exclusion from IPL is an insult.” In the IPL’s first edition, KKR had five players from Pakistan. Referring to security concerns, he said: “If they were any issues, they should have been put on board earlier. Everything can happen respectfully.” Giving emphasis to the need for India and Pakistan to have normal relations, he said: “We are great neighbors, They are good neighbors. Let us love each other.” “Let me be honest. My family is from Pakistan, my father was born there and his family is from there,” he said.

Shahrukh’s comments have provoked protests from Shiv Sena activists. In his editorial in party’s mouthpiece, Saamna, Sena chief Bal Thackeray wrote that Shahrukh deserves Pakistan’s highest civilian award “Nishaan-e-Pakistan” for supporting Pakistani cricketers’ inclusion in IPL. Sena activists demonstrated outside Shahrukh’s bungalow “Mannat” at Bandra. Suggesting that Shahrukh should go to Pakistan, they displayed a travel ticket for him from Mumbai to Karachi. They also tore down posters of Shahrukh’s new film, “My Name is Khan” and wrote to theatre owners asking them not to screen this move. Security was increased outside Shahrukh’s Bandra residence and a number of protestors were arrested (January 31).

Meanwhile, the Indian government is trying its best to repeatedly assert that it is against IPL’s exclusion of Pakistani players. “No one in the government wanted such a situation,” a senior government official said. Another said: “We had fast-tracked the visa process and issued them multi-entry visas in December and January so that they could take part in the tournament.”

Sports Minister M.S. Gill expressed the “hope that there will soon be an opportunity for these boys to play exciting cricket in India.” Criticizing the present fiasco, he said: “I trust that the IPL corporate owners have also taken a small lesson from it. Everyone must realize that sport is the bedrock of people-to-people contact, which we need to promote with our neighbors.” Indian government remains hopeful that Indo-Pak cricket diplomacy will be back on track soon, with the two countries’ players on one pitch!

12-6

Alert: India Preparing for Nuclear War?

January 21, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Zaheerul Hassan

Reliable sources stated that Pakistani authorities have decided to move her forces from Western to Eastern border. The move of forces would start soon. The decision has been taken after receiving the threat from Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor to strike Pakistan on November 22, 2009. Indian Chief warned that a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a reality at least in the Indian sub-continent. On November 23, 2009 Pakistan Foreign Office Spokes man Abdul Basit asked the world community to take notice of remarks passed by the Indian Army Chief. He also said that India has set the stage and trying to impose a limited war on Pakistan. There are reports that Indian intelligence agencies have made a plan to hit some Indian nuke installation, alleging and then striking Pakistan. It is also added here that India has started purchasing lethal weapons. According to the careful survey a poor Asian country (India) has spent trillions on purchasing of Naval, Air force and nuke equipments.

Thus, Indian preparation simply dictates that she is preparing for nuke war. The Kashmir conflicts, water issue, borer dispute between China and India, American presence in Afghanistan, Maoist movements, Indian state terrorism, cold war between India and regional countries would be contributing factors towards Next third world war.

Indian Chief’s statement by design came a day earlier to Manmohan Singh visit to USA. The purpose of threatening Pakistan could also be justifying future Indian attack on Pakistan. Therefore, Islamabad concern is serious in nature since any Indian misadventure will put the regional peace into stake and would lead both the country towards nuclear conflict. Islamabad probably conveyed her ally (USA) regarding danger of limited war against Pakistan; she has to cease her efforts on western border for repulsing Indian aggression on eastern border. In fact, Indian government and her army chief made a deliberate try to sabotage global war against terror. In this connection Pakistan Army Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas time and again said that India is involved in militancy against Pakistan and her consulates located in Afghanistan are being used as launching pad.

It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan has deployed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan and is fighting a bloody war against terrorism. Her security forces are busy in elimination of foreign sponsored militancy. Thousand of soldiers have scarified their lives not only for the motherland but to bring safety to the world in general. Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terror and the threat of withdrawal would alarm the USA as it could seriously hamper NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power too and is able to handle any type of Indian belligerence.

In this context, earlier Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has categorically expressed at number of occasions that Indian attack would be responded in full strength while using all types of resources. On November 25, 2009 General Kayani stated that the nation would emerge as victorious in the on-going war against extremism. While addressing a ceremony at Police Lines he paid rich tributes to the Frontier police for their valuable sacrifices in the war against terrorism. At this occasion General Kayani revealed that Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam by our forefathers and each one of us should work for strengthening the country and should made commitment towards achieving the goal of turning the country into a true Islamic state. He also announced Rs.20 million for the Frontier Police Shuhada Fund.

In response to Indian Army Chief’ statement he also put across the message that the protection and solidarity of the country are our main objectives as our coming generation owes this debt to us and resolved that any threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country would not be tolerated. The General made it clear that Pak Army has the capability and the capacity to fight the war against terrorists and adversary too. He praised the sacrifices rendered by the security forces and high morale of the troops. Lt General Masood Aslam, Commander 11 Corps, IGFC Major General Tariq and IGP NWFP Malik Neveed Khan were also present at this historic moment.

Pakistan Army Chief visits of western border reflect his commitment to root out the foreign sponsored militancy from the area. This rooting out is directly helping global war on terror, whereas on the other hand his counter part (Indian Chief) keep on yelling and dreaming of striking Pakistan. He probably has forgotten that Pakistan is a responsible nuke power and capable to defend and strike. In 2001 and 2008 at the occasions of attacks on parliament and Mumbai, both the nations close to a nuke war, this was averted by interference from the world community India and USA. At that time too security officials have also told NATO and USA that they will not leave a single troop on the western border incase of Indian threat.

12-4

AFMI’s Educational Mission: A Success

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

(A Press Note with photographs and a few comments of AFMI delegates)

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Delegates of American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) wrapped up their India-visit last week (January 10) on a satisfactory note. AFMI has been engaged for more than two decades in promoting literacy among Indian Muslims by establishing and/or aiding the existing educational institutions. As a part of its aim to achieve 100 percent literacy rate, the AFMI delegates hold an international convention every year in a different city of the country. This is followed by zonal conventions in several areas. Since the early 1990s, the AFMI has awarded medals (gold, silver & bronze), certificates and cash prizes to students having scored high percentage in Class 10th and 12th board examinations. While recipients of the awards are selected from across the country for the international convention, the zonal convention includes students of that particular zone.

Expressing satisfaction with increase in literacy rate of Indian Muslims, its key founder member, Dr. A.S. Nakadar said: “AFMI has made a difference.” Literacy among Muslims has increased by 60%, with 2008 being witness to greater upward trend than earlier, he said. He drew attention to increasing number of Muslim students scoring above 90%. Besides, Nakadar pointed to Muslim applicants to “higher educational institutions being higher than before.” He supported this point by referring to 50% quota in Muslim-minority educational institutions being now filled by Muslim students, which “earlier was not the case.” Nakadar, a retired cardiologist in Detroit, Michigan, visits India regularly to pursue AFMI’s literacy mission.

A key recipient of AFMI’s aid is Mijwan Welfare Society run by actor Shabana Azmi in the town called Mijwan (Uttar Pradesh), from where her father- renowned poet late Kaifi Azmi hailed. Azmi showed AFMI delegates the areas in which the students of this institution are engaged in. She expressed the need to further expand this organization with possible aid from AFMI, which is under consideration. The AFMI delegates were here last Thursday (January 8). AFMI delegates addressed the Zonal Educational Conference at Shibli National Inter-College, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh the same afternoon.

The two-day international convention was held (January 2-3) at Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Among Indian dignitaries who addressed AFMI’s 18th annual convention were Union Minister of State for Corporate and Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Salman Khursheed, Justice MSA Siddiqui, Chairman National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Mayor of Indore Krishna Murari Moghe and others. It was the first international conference to be held in Indore this century. It was also the first one, where people from diverse political backgrounds, spoke only on importance of enhancing the literary rate of India’s largest minority community- the Muslims.

The Indore convention was followed by a tour of several towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh, with Amroha being the first to be visited by AFMI delegates (January 5). They addressed the Zonal Educational Conference at the institution run by Hakeem Sirajuddin Hashmi. AFMI delegates addressed a similar conference at Hira Public School at Hanswar (January 6).

Summing up his opinion, AFMI President Dr. Iqbal Ahmed expressed that though “Indian Muslims have developed the awareness about importance of education,” “poverty remains a major hindrance in achieving education.” He cited instances of people who had approached him in Indore about their children having secured admission to B. Tech but were dropped as their loan application was rejected by banks. “Rich segments of Muslims, Wakf boards and other Muslim groups must come forward and share the responsibility,” he said. Ahmed is a medical doctor (gastro-enetrology) in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr. Shakir Mukhi, also a medical doctor (New York) said that AFMI delegates were “impressed” by increase in involvement of Muslims in pursuing higher education. Describing AFMI awards for bright students as providing the needed “incentive” to students to move forward, he said that AFMI plans to come forward with more incentives to help students and educational institutions pursue higher goals.    

Reflecting on AFMI’s achievements in UP alone, Ali Quraishi said: “We strengthened about 25 schools and built two new ones. It is not easy to complete this job.” Nevertheless, expressing confidence, he said: “AFMI’s aim is to promote education among Muslims so that no child is left behind. Our aim is to specially educate female students to help educate a whole family.” Quraishi, runs a business in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has built a number of educational institutions in Pune, Mumbai and elsewhere.

Psychiatrist Dr. Razia Ahmed (Cleveland, Ohio) said: “I am proud of AFMI which has definitely contributed to increasing awareness of importance of education among the Muslim community.” Laying emphasis on the need of involvement of other organizations to help in progress of Indian Muslims, she said: “I wish everyone joins us (AFMI) for this cause.”

During their India-visit, the AFMI delegates also met several leaders, including Ahmed Patel (Congress). They voiced their concern about “plight” of Muslim community in Gujarat. In a letter addressed to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, AFMI stated: “The Muslim community in Gujarat feels that opportunities that ideally should be available to all communities are denied to it because of its religious identity. Obstacles are created in its way to establish new educational institutions. State grant is not available to deserving institutions and meritorious students are discriminated in scholarship. In fact, the state government has failed to disburse the full Federal scholarship and grant money to deserving students which they were promised.” The letter also states: “The delegates of AFMI strongly feel that implementation of Mishra Commission as well as Sachar Commission” reports “would pave the way for ensuring rights of minorities in Gujarat in all walks of life.”

The signatories to the letter addressed to Congress chief include the AFMI delegates visiting India. These include Dr A.S. Nakadar (AFMI-Trustee), Dr. Aslam Abdullah (Trustee), Dr. Iqbal Ahmed (AFMI President), Dr. Shakir Mukhi (former AFMI President), Sheikh Muhammed Quraishi (former President) and AFMI members from various parts of USA and Canada. These are: Rizwana Quraishi (New Mexico), Dr. Razia Ahmed (Ohio), Dr. Khalid Khan (Nevada), Dr. Abdul Aziz (Florida), Dr. S. Ashraf (Washington DC), Dr. W. Baig (Ohio), Dr. Shahida Akhtar (Florida0, Dr Abdur Razzak (Massachusetts) and Mr & Mrs Gahffar Shaikh from Canada.

AFMI’s next international convention is scheduled to be held this December in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

12-3

Aamir Khan Adds Gandhian Touch To His Campaign In Gujarat

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI:  Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has certainly taken a lead over politicians where his publicity campaign for his latest movie, “3 Idiots” is concerned. He has literally gone to the people, mingled with them and then surprised them by revealing his real identity. The silent message sent by this style of campaigning cannot be missed. The message stands out by the actor giving minimal importance to religious, regional as well as other socio-economic differences which are in contrast highlighted prominently by politicians when they try reaching out to the common people for their votes. This does not imply that the star has seldom given importance to communal tactics of Indian politicians. In fact, he earned a strong criticism in several quarters for having earlier criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi for Gujarat carnage and supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (movement). Soon after Aamir criticized Modi in 2006, activists supporting Modi started persuading theater owners in Gujarat not to release his movies- “Fanaa” and “Taare Zameen Par.” They also demanded an apology from Aamir for his “anti-Gujarat” stand on NBA and his “anti-Narendra Modi” remarks. The actor had since stopped visiting Gujarat and had also refused to change his opinion on the two issues- NBA and Gujarat-carnage.

To a question on his stand, Aamir had said: “I had said that people killed in Godhra and its aftermath were not Hindus or Muslims for me. They were Indians, and whoever was responsible for the carnage was anti-Indian and anti-national. If that was the reason for this (ban on his movies), so be it.” On the financial losses that the ban spelt, accepting that they would be “huge,” he said: “And what about people losing their land and houses? I think that is a far bigger, deeper issue.” When questioned on whether he would apologize for his stand, he replied: “What should I apologize for? What wrong have I done? I am happy and proud of what I did.”

Against this backdrop, the nature of Aamir’s recent visit to Gujarat, the first since he faced the backlash, stands out. The actor apparently deliberately selected Lok Niketan Vinay Mandir, a small school in Palanpur village, about 135 km from Ahmedabad in Banaskantha district. The school is run on Gandhian principles, where the students weave their own khadi uniform. Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, the actor entered the school at around noon last Thursday (December 17). Initially, nobody recognized him, but when they did, the teachers and students were pleasantly surprised. After a discussion with the school principal, Aamir interacted with students from class seventh to tenth. He heard a student sing a song, talked to students about their dreams, played cricket with them and also shared food from a girl’s lunch box, cooked by her grandmother. When a student showed Aamir, the star’s photo that he kept in his pocket, he picked him up and kissed him. He gifted the school two golden rings, two cricket balls, six tennis balls, one volley ball, two footballs and four tickets of the film premier with air tickets. The school felicitated him with a khadi garland.

Earlier, when questioned on his plans against his ban of his movies in Gujarat, Aamir had replied: “There are many avenues I could take recourse to. There is the legal option, I could seek help from the film industry and the various film associations, but on this issue I want the people to decide. The people should decide if this is the kind of political party they want.” Criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using “brute force,” with “no value for human life,” he had said: “In life, nothing is in our control. The maximum we can do is to do what we believe is right. I strongly believe that each one of us has to fulfill our karma, to do what he or she feels is right. The BJP should do what it feels is right, the people of Gujarat and India should do what they feel is right.”

Undeniably, Aamir’s visit to Lok Niketan school was a part of his two-week nation-wide campaign to promote his movie. Among the other places, the actor has suddenly turned up at, include Kolkata (West Bengal), Jaipur (Rajasthan), a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and an unknown village near Faridkot in Punjab. The subtle message conveyed by his deliberately including a Gujarati-school run on Gandhian principles cannot be missed. He still remains hopeful and optimistic that secularism and Gandhian principles cannot be easily defeated even by communal atrocities, such as the Gujarat-carnage. While at the school, Aamir said that he wanted to “try and imbibe Gandhian values.” This was apparently his style of making people aware about the importance of Gandhian principles. A visit to the small school was not binding on the star. If he wished, he could have stayed out of Gujarat even now. But he did not. Rather, as is evident, he planned his Gujarat-visit to let the school run on Gandhian principles hit the headlines and gain substantial media coverage. The move has given his old critics (Modi-supporters) virtually no time or even reason to question his “campaign.”  

11-53

Political Battle Over Regional Vs National Identity/Languages

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)  India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Abu Asim Azmi’s decision to take oath in Hindi in Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan on November 9 has not only enhanced his political importance but has also proved politically damaging for his rivals. Defying Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)’s diktat for taking oath only in Marathi, Azmi took oath in Hindi. Though the few minutes, during which Azmi was manhandled and slapped by MNS activists inside the Vidhan Bhavan for taking oath in Hindi must have been traumatic for the SP leader, they have earned him substantial media coverage, adding to his political stature within his own party and across the country.

Amid the backdrop of SP faring poorly in recently held by polls, the worst shock of which is defeat of SP chief Mulayam Singh’s daughter-in-law Dimple from Firozabad, the party apparently is counting on Azmi’s newly earned popularity to help the party improve its political image. Dimple was defeated by Congress candidate Raj Babbar by more than 85,000 votes. The party’s poor performance is linked with it having lost Muslim votes because of its alliance with Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and a member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when the Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992. The SP has thus decided to distance itself from Kalyan Singh and felicitate Azmi to gain the lost Muslim-base.

“Azmi upheld the prestige of the national language in the anti-Hindi environment prevailing in Maharashtra,” the SP stated at its meeting in Lucknow (November 14). Signaling that SP’s political friendship with Kalyan Singh had ceased, Mulayam Singh said:  “He is not a part of the Samajwadi Party. Kalyan Singh himself says he is not part of any party.”

Interestingly, the political limelight gained by Azmi on taking oath in Hindi has prompted quite a few Marathi celebrities to clarify their stand on their regional and national identity. Cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar said: “Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. And I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that but I am an Indian first.” (November 13) Tendulkar’s stand has certainly added some fire to the fight on “Maratha-issue” and also prompted more politicians to add their voice to it. 

Criticizing Tendulkar strongly for his remarks, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said in his party mouthpiece, Samana: “By making these remarks, you have got run-out on the pitch of Marathi psyche. You were not even born when the Marathi Manoos got Mumbai and 105 Marathi people sacrificed their lives to get Mumbai.”
Though it is not the first time that Thackeray has made such comments, they have invited greater political attention than before because of “Marathi-identity” being strongly in news.  Not surprisingly, Tendulkar has won strong applause from various political leaders for his comments. “His statement has been made in the true sportsman spirit. Though he is a Maharashtrian, he plays for the country. This (Tendulkar’s comment) will unite the entire country,” according to Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. 

Among others who expressed appreciation for Tendulkar’s remarks and also congratulated him for taking the stand are Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Minority Affairs Minister (central cabinet) Salman Khurshid and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad. Thackeray has been “clean-bowled” by Tendulkar, Khurshid said.

Thackeray’s criticism of Tendulkar has not won any support from the saffron brigade. Taking a guarded stand on the controversy raised in Maharashtra over “Marathi,” without specifically referring to the issue, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said at a public rally in Pune: “There are certain issues of Marathi-speaking people and agitations on this can be justified. But it should not be at the cost of national integration and harmony.” (November 15)  Declining to question Tendulkar’s stand, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi: “If Maharashtrian says he is proud of being a Maharashtrian as well as an Indian, then I find this statement absolutely correct.” (November 16)

Welcoming Tendulkar’s stand, Azmi said: “I admire Sachin Tendulkar to have not got cowed down by Shiv Sena’s intimidation tactics and having proudly declared that he was an Indian first. Sachin’s remark must make the Sena ruffians understand that after all, Maharashtra is like any other state – a part of the Indian nation.”  Azmi is also hopeful that his party would be able to regain the support of Muslim-vote. On this, he said: “I welcome my party president’s decision to distance himself from the man who was responsible for demolition of the Babari Masjid. I wonder what had led him to shake hands with Kalyan Singh, but thankfully realization dawned on my Netaji (Mulayam Singh), who finally decided to part ways with that man.” “I am sure that Muslims who had chosen to distance themselves from the SP because of this reason, would once again return to stand by Mulayam, whose contribution to the cause of minorities was unmatched,” Azmi said. SP has a long political innings to play, during which it certainly is counting on projecting Azmi as its Muslim face. It is to be watched whether the limelight gained by Azmi on taking oath in Hindi will help turn the political trend in SP’s favor or not. 

11-48

Mumbai Terror Survivor Embraces Islam

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Islamnewsroom.com

NEW YORK – An American Catholic and survivor of a terrorist attack in Mumbai, India last November overcame hatred and opened his mind to learn and discover Islam and becomes a Muslim.

Dennis O’Brien Survivor of Mumbai Terror Attack ACCEPTS ISLAM

Dennis O’Brien, a Catholic, wanted to comprehend the basis of faith of people accused of committing the attack in Mumbai. He discovered in fact, the gunmen were certainly not following Islam at all. In fact, anyone who might take the time to open their eyes, open their minds and open their hearts would have to come to the very same conclusion.

Sunday, just after Eid salat and standing before a crowd of thousands, Dennis O’Brien embraced Islam.

He declared.. ..his belief – “There is only one God and the Prophet Muhammad is his last messenger”.

O’Brien, who heads up the education committee of St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, says this was a surprise, even to him. But said he was at peace with it.

“Today I feel free of sin,” he remarked.

After several months of studies and asking questions of Muslim friends and associates, “I feel comfort in Islam,” he said.

O’Brien also said he wanted to express solidarity with Muslims, even though extremists who say they practice the faith “tried to kill me”.

Pastor John McGinley, of St Anthony’s, said Sunday he had not heard of O’Brien’s embrace of Islam. McGinley said he knew O’Brien is inquisitive and has expressed concern about the young men involved in the Mumbai attacks.

He would not say if the declaration of another faith would affect O’Brien’s position at the church, noting he had not spoken to him about Sunday’s events. “I think this is part of his journey of faith and we can work with that,” McGinley said.

11-44

Indo-Pak Nuclear Handshake Affirmed By Soldiers’ Diwali Celebrations

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Ironically, festival time spelt celebrations and exchange of pleasantries between Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the international border, even though diplomatic relations between the countries continue to be strained since last year’s Mumbai-strikes. Marking Diwali, the festival of lights (October 17), at the joint check post at Attari Border, the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Commandant S.H. Dhillon handed over seven boxes of traditional Indian sweets and a big basket of fruits to the Wing Commander of Pakistan Rangers Mohhammad Akbar Ali Bhatt. Soldiers of both the countries shook hands and interacted with each other exchanging pleasantries. Similarly, the two sides exchanged greetings at Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point along Line of Control (LoC).  Representing the Indian side, Colonel J.P. Yadav handed over eight boxes of sweets and dry fruits to Pakistani side led by Colonel Asad. While exchanging greetings, they also prayed for peace between India and Pakistan. Border security officials from the two sides exchanged sweets last month also, celebrating Eid.

While exchange of pleasantries at the border between soldiers of two sides has not hit headlines globally or nationally, it certainly conveys a strong message. Though as their respective national security demands, they are prepared for war, India and Pakistan certainly seem in no mood to reach even a near-war or a war-like stage at least in the near future. In fact, probability of an open conflict between India and Pakistan has been ruled out since the two attained nuclear prowess and subsequently reached a nuclear understanding with each other. This point is being specifically made as it defies the claim made by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch in his new book, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President (Simon & Schuster), about India and Pakistan being on the verge of a nuclear conflict in the late nineties.

There is nothing astonishing or even new about Branch’s claim as United States has been apprehensive about nuclear policies pursued by India as well as Pakistan from the very beginning. United States has always been against their proliferation drive and has repeatedly tried securing their signatures to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). When India initially stepped onto the nuclear path, followed by Pakistan, Washington raised hue and cry over it, emphasizing that it would take the subcontinent only towards MAD, that is Mutually Assured Destruction.

Branch has repeated the old US-stance against the rise of nuclear prowess in subcontinent by drawing attention to there having prevailed the possibility of a Indo-Pak nuclear war in 1999 over the Kargil-conflict. Well, the risk of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan over numerous issues, such as Kashmir, terrorism and others has been a permanent one. It shall remain so probably for decades to come. It is indeed paradoxical that the superpower has failed to credit the two nations, particularly the Indian government for not reaching the war-stage even in 1999, despite all the preparations being in place. India’s nuclear diplomacy prevailed. It defeated the US apprehension that Indian nuclear prowess would spell destruction. Indian nuclear diplomacy strongly signaled the victory of deterrence pact it had entered into with Pakistan against the criticism levied by United States towards their proliferation drive. Signed by then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto on December 31, 1988, the two countries agreed not to attack each other’s nuclear installations and facilities. Notwithstanding all the hype raised over the stall in the Indo-Pak dialogue process, the two countries have continued to practise this agreement which entered into force on January 27, 1991. They inform each other of nuclear installations and facilities covered by the agreement on first January of every calendar year. Despite the Mumbai-terrorist strikes serving as a diplomatic irritant, they exchanged the lists this year too.

True, the Kargil-issue nearly brought India and Pakistan to the stage of an open conflict. Without doubt, India as Big Brother in the region had (and has) options to display an aggressive approach towards its neighbors by reaching the war-stage when provoked by external elements desirious of chaos and instability in South Asia. The Kargil-issue followed by several terrorist incidents, including the Mumbai-strikes, provoked by extremist elements across the border are all suggestive of designs contemplated to incite the two nuclear powers to the stage of an open conflict. If they did, it would add credence to apprehensions voiced by United States that India and Pakistan are not diplomatically mature enough to pursue the proliferation drive. It is time that Washington revised its opinion about fears it has entertained against India’s nuclear drive from the beginning.

Nuclear diplomacy as laid out and followed by Indian government should be viewed as a perfect example of a nuclear power’s foreign policy towards another country, even though it may entertain long-lasting differences with it on certain crucial issues. Branch’s reference to India and Pakistan having almost reached the stage of nuclear war in late nineties may well be viewed as a reiteration of old stand entertained by United States against proliferation drive in South Asia. Rather than question Indian nuclear diplomacy, which has only been successfully practiced till date, United States needs to reconsider whether its own nuclear diplomacy has been equally successful or not. War games played by the superpower in Iraq and Afghanistan can hardly be signaled as a success of United States’ nuclear diplomacy. War only spells failure of diplomacy. The Indo-Pak nuclear handshake together with their symbolic exchange of greetings on festive occasions at the border itself defeat all the hype entertained by Uncle Sam about their preparing for a MAD nuclear war.

11-44

Indian Diplomacy Towards Pakistan

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI: History, internal politics, regional factors as well as diplomatic pressure from other quarters play a great role in shaping India’s diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Within less than two months of inking a joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in Sharm El Sheikh on July 16, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a totally different message to people at home. The joint statement described the two prime ministers’ meeting as “cordial and constructive,” during which “they considered the entire gamut of bilateral relations with a view to charting the way forward in India-Pakistan relations.” While accepting that terrorism posed a serious threat, they “recognized that dialogue is the only way forward.” “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed,” according to the joint statement.

On Mumbai-terror strikes, which have had a negative impact on Indo-Pak ties, while Singh “reiterated the need to bring perpetuators of Mumbai attacks to justice,” Gilani “assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.” They also agreed that, “real challenge is development and elimination of poverty.” They resolved to “eliminate” such factors and “agreed to work to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence.”

Later, expressing satisfaction on his meeting with Gilani on sidelines of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Egypt, Singh said that he had “good discussions” with him. During the meeting, “We discussed the present condition of India-Pakistan relations, its future potential, and the steps that are necessary to enable us to realize the potential,” Singh said.

Within less than two months of his talks with Gilani and just ahead of another top-level Indo-Pak meeting, Singh almost ruled out possibility of improving ties with Pakistan in the near future. “Until relations between India and Pakistan don’t improve and brotherhood does not increase, the atmosphere is not right for moving ahead,” Singh said at a function in the border district of Barmer in Rajasthan (August 29). At the same time, expressing his desire for improvement in Indo-Pak ties, Singh said: “I want our relations to improve.” “If relations between India and Pakistan improve, a lot of things can happen. I think border-states like Punjab, Rajasthan and other states will benefit if relations improve,” he pointed out.

Earlier in the week, while addressing the conference of Indian heads of missions, Singh said: “India has a stake in prosperity and stability of all our South Asian neighbors. We should strive to engage our neighbors constructively and resolve differences through peaceful means and negotiations” (August 25).

Difference in the diplomatic tone used by Singh on India’s approach towards Pakistan at different levels cannot be ignored. The joint statement inked in Sharm El Sheikh was certainly not confined to the Indian audience. It was released on sidelines of a multilateral summit, apparently to convince the world leaders that India and Pakistan are keen on normalizing their ties. A different message would certainly have been sent had the two prime ministers not held talks. Not only did they meet, held talks but they also released a joint statement. In other words, they exercised all diplomatic moves essential on the sidelines of another summit to assure the world that India and Pakistan are keen on improving their relations. Besides, the meeting was held a few days ahead of United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s India-visit. India apparently was keen to convince US about its positive approach towards Pakistan. Had Singh and Gilani not held talks on an optimistic note, there prevailed the risk of United States using diplomatic pressure during Clinton’s visit for improvement in Indo-Pak ties. Thus, though the joint statement later invited strong criticism from opposition parties in India, it was framed and issued for the world leaders, including the United States. A similar diplomatic message was conveyed in Singh’s address at the conference of Indian envoys in the capital city (August 25).

The change in Singh’s tone stands out in the comments he made in Rajasthan, laying stress that atmosphere is not conducive for “moving ahead” with Indo-Pak talks. Similarly, while speaking at the inauguration of three-day conference of Indian envoys, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said that meaningful talks with Pakistan would only be possible after Islamabad ended cross-border terrorism. Krishna also laid stress that India was keen to resolve its differences with Pakistan through talks. “We are still to see Pakistan take effective steps to end infiltration and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism. We have maintained that a stable Pakistan at peace with itself is a desirable goal and we wish to address our differences with Pakistan through dialogue,” Krishna said (August 24). It cannot be missed that foreign ministers of the two countries are expected to meet in September in New York on sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meet.

Clearly, at one level the pause in resumption of Indo-Pak composite dialogue process gives the impression that two countries are still a long way off from normalizing their ties. Diplomatic significance of their holding top-level talks on sidelines of multilateral summits cannot, however, be ignored. They have not backtracked from their decision to normalize ties nor have restrained from making use of available diplomatic opportunities to shake hands and talk. While India is keen to let the world know about it favoring talks with Pakistan, at home, the government is apparently more concerned about convincing the people that cross-border terrorism remains a hurdle in normalizing ties with Islamabad!

11-37

Contrast: Fate of Malegaon Accused & Batla House “Encounter”

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian secularism is once again facing the test of whether there prevails a tainted approach in holding Muslims as “suspect” terrorists and sparing the majority from facing stringent anti-terrorist laws the former are subject to. Within less than a year of 11 being accused under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Act (MCOCA) for the 2008 Malegaon bomb case, a special court in Mumbai has decided to drop the stringent law against them. The accused include Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit. The court decided to drop provisions of MCOCA as there did not prevail substantial evidence against them (August 7).

Claiming that the state government would not remain quiet over the special court’s decision and would challenge it in the Supreme Court, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said: “We would initiate MCOCA against those involved in terrorist activities irrespective of caste and religion of the accused.” Irrespective of whether MCOCA is slapped again against the 11 accused, what stands out is that law is being allowed to take its own course. The burning question is, whether the law is being followed because the accused belong to the majority community. Why isn’t the same approach displayed in lifting stringent laws against Muslims still languishing behind bars, quite a few of whom have not even been given adequate chance to prove their innocence?

One may refer to last year’s Batla House (fake) encounter, in which two Muslims – Atif Amin and Mohd. Sajid were killed (September 19) as “suspect terrorists.” Mohd. Saif and Zeeshan were arrested as “suspect terrorists.” Till date, details have not been made public as to what was the “substantial evidence” that led to the killing of two and arrest of other two. What is more stunning that the two killed were not even given a chance to prove their innocence. It would have been a different case altogether had they been arrested and/or killed while they were in the process of triggering of some militant activity. They were killed and arrested from the place where they were residing at in Batla House. If the law can be allowed to take its own course, as indicated by action initiated against those accused of Malegaon blasts, why has not same approach been displayed towards the ones targeted in Batla House “encounter?” Is it because the Malegaon-accused belong to the majority community and in the Batla House case to the minority?

The ironical difference in the two cases stands reflected markedly in the approach of the near and dear ones of the ones accused in the Malegaon-case and the Batla House encounter. It was party time for members of Sadhvi’s family who distributed sweets after MCOCA was dropped against her. Her father, C.P. Thakur said: “I was confident that my daughter is innocent and had faith in judiciary. It was an attempt by the police to frame her and this is just the beginning. She will come out clean in the end.” With MCOCA dropped, it will be easier for Sadhvi and other 10 to secure bail.

Welcoming the court’s decision, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: “We welcome dropping of charges under MCOCA against Malegaon blast accused by Mumbai special court. With this the diversionary and fictional myth about Hindu terror has been smashed. It has been proven false.”

Rudy has a point. So do those who are of the opinion that Muslims arrested and/or killed as “suspect terrorists” are innocent and have been deliberately framed without being given opportunity to argue their case legally. Sajid’s father, Ansarul Hasan has not given up option of approaching the courts for justice. The process will not bring back his son, killed last year in Batla House “encounter” to life but at least it will enlighten others on whether to trust the Indian legal process when Muslims are shot dead only because they are “suspected” to be terrorists.

In a letter addressed to Chief Justice, Hassan pleaded that his son Sajid was innocent and an FIR be filed against the police personnel responsible for killing him. Hassan sought the court’s intervention as the police refused to register a case against its personnel involved in the encounter. Hassan also claimed that even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had refused to entertain his plea. Hassan’s letter came a few days after NHRC gave a clean chit to role of Delhi police in Batla House encounter. The report, released last month, claims that there was “no human rights violation by police in Batla House encounter.” The NHRC report has, however, been strongly criticized by social activists, civil rights groups and Muslim leaders, according to whom, it is based only on the police version of the “encounter.”

Against these odds, it is commendable that at least the Delhi High Court has not ignored Hassan’s letter. The matter has been posted for August 18, when the court would hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking independent inquiry in the Batla House case. One is nevertheless compelled to deliberate on the difference in legal trial having becoming easier for Malegaon-accused, while it remains arduous for relatives and supporters of those killed and arrested in Batla House “encounter.” Should the difference in the legal course of both cases be linked with religious identities of the accused? The answer, yet to be decided by higher courts, would certainly be a litmus test for whether a biased approach prevails in deciding judicial judgment for suspect terrorists, Hindus as well as Muslims!

11-34

Indo-Pak Joint Statement: Different Reactions

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-07-20T180844Z_01_DEL51_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-US-CLINTON

Sec State Clinton and India’s FM Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna smile during signing ceremony in New Delhi July 20, 2009.    

REUTERS/B Mathur

NEW DELHI: Ironically, though the Indo-Pak joint statement issued last week after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani has received a favorable response in most quarters, at home, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and few others have not welcomed it. The joint statement was issued after the two prime ministers held talks on sidelines of the Non-alignment Movement (NAM) Summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (July 16).

The statement described the two prime ministers’ meeting as “cordial and constructive.” “Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries. Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end,” according to the statement. While Singh “reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice,” Gilani “assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.” “Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats,” it was stated. The two prime ministers “recognized that dialogue is the only way forward,” and that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.” They agreed that the “real challenge is development and elimination of poverty,” “to work to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence” and “reaffirmed their intention to promote regional cooperation.” The joint statement also said that “foreign secretaries should meet as often as necessary and report to the foreign ministers who will be meeting on sidelines of the forthcoming UN General Assembly.”

Briefing the Lok Sabha (July 17) on his meeting with Gilani, Singh said: “We discussed present condition of India-Pakistan relations, its future potential and steps that are necessary to enable us to realize the potential.”  “It has been and remains our consistent position that starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfillment of their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India,” Singh stated. Gilani “assured” him that “Pakistan will do everything in its power to bring perpetrators of Mumbai attacks to justice,” and “there is consensus in Pakistan against activities of terrorist groups,” Singh said. “As the joint statement says, action on terrorism should not be linked to composite dialogue process, and therefore cannot await other developments,” Singh said. With India keen to “realize the vision of a stable and prosperous South Asia living in peace and amity,” Singh said: “We are willing to go more than half way provided Pakistan creates the conditions for a meaningful dialogue. I hope that there is forward movement in the coming months.”

Expressing strong opposition against delinking of terrorism from resumption of composite dialogue process, the BJP legislators staged a walkout from Lok Sabha soon after Singh had read out his statement. “You have delinked terrorism and the composite dialogue. Why have you taken seven months to decide on this?” asked BJP leader L.K. Advani. “If terrorism is set aside, then how does the dialogue become composite? It ceases to be composite as a composite dialogue has to be all-pervasive,” Sushma Swaraj (BJP) said.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who served earlier as foreign minister, said: “If the opposition wants, we can have a structured discussion. There is no provision in this house to seek clarification from the prime minister on his statement.”

“We will have a structured debate, but as a mark of protest I would like my party to walk out to this capitulation,” Advani said and led his party colleagues out of Lok Sabha.

Outside the Parliament, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said: “This step by India has come as a shock. It is sheer betrayal and U-turn by the government. They are buckling under international pressure.”

Initially, the Congress declined to comment on the joint statement. But later, the party said that there was no question of not supporting it or backing out. “There is no occasion for such a question. We are not required to endorse it after the PM’s statement. His statement leaves no scope for any doubt and there was no question of not supporting it or backing out,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said (July 20).

Welcoming the joint statement, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in Srinagar: “The cordial meeting between the two Prime Ministers has become historical as both countries have agreed to delink terrorism from Indo-Pak dialogue.” Several Kashmiri separatist leaders, however, said that Singh-Gilani meeting was “inconclusive” without participation of Kashmiris.

People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the opposition in J&K, expressed “disappointment” with the statement. “We are concerned over the omission of Jammu and Kashmir from the joint declaration and ambiguity about resumption of composite dialogue. This has caused understandable disappointment among the people of the state who looked up to the summit with considerable hope,” PDP leader and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said. Reiterating United States’ support for dialogue between India and Pakistan, the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week: “This dialogue between India and Pakistan is certainly one that could only be pursued with the agreement and commitment of the two countries and the leaders, but of course the United States is very supportive.” Earlier, Robert O. Blake, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia said in Washington: “India and Pakistan face common challenge and we will support continuing dialogue to find joint solutions to counter terrorism and to promote regional stability” (July 16).

11-31

India Wants “Peace” with Pakistan

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Indo-Pak talks have been on hold since Mumbai-strikes in November last year. The two sides agreed to revive talks at first top-level contact last month in Russia on sidelines of a summit. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (June 16). On his return, while briefing media on his Russia-visit, regarding his talks with Zardari, Singh said: “We discussed India-Pakistan relations, which remain under considerable stress. The primary cause of this, as everyone knows, is terrorist attacks against India from Pakistani territory. I conveyed to President Zardari the full extent of our expectation that the Government of Pakistan take strong and effective action to prevent use of Pakistan’s territory for terrorist attacks against India, act against perpetrators of past attacks and dismantle infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. The President of Pakistan told me of Pakistan’s efforts to deal with this menace and the difficulties that they face.” “We agreed that our foreign secretaries will discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India and to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice including the horrendous crime of the attacks in Mumbai. They will report to us and we will take stock of the situation when we are at Sharm-el-Sheikh for the Non-aligned Summit in mid-July,” Singh said.

“I have spoken before of my vision of a cooperative subcontinent, and of the vital interest that India and the people of the subcontinent have in peace. For this we must try again to make peace with Pakistan. It also requires effective and strong action against the enemies of peace. If the leaders of Pakistan have the courage, determination and statesmanship to take the high road to peace, India will meet them more than half-way,” Singh said.

Undeniably, Singh’s comments suggest that India and Pakistan are making most of opportunities available to discuss terrorism and revival of their stalled talks. It was with this aim that Singh held talks with Zardari, without any “structured agenda.” During their talks, they also set the stage for subsequent meetings between them and at other levels. Not surprisingly, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on sidelines of G8 Outreach Af-Pak Summit in Italy’s Trieste city (June 26). It was the second high-level contact in a month. After his meeting with Qureshi, Krishna told media: “I am glad that this international conference has provided an opportunity for bilateral meeting with my counterpart from Pakistan.” The two ministers reviewed current status of Indo-Pak relations, which have remained under “considerable stress” because of terrorist attacks on India by elements based in Pakistan, Krishna said. They agreed on “vast potential that exist in India-Pakistan relations.” Krishna conveyed New Delhi’s stand, that India is “ready to meet Pakistan more than half way to utilize and harness that potential for our mutual benefit. At the same time, we have to address centrally why our relations come under stress recurrently.”

Efforts being made to bring Indo-Pak ties on track assume significance, as United States is also keen on improvement in their bilateral relations. In keeping with Af-Pak policy being pursued by President Barack Obama, United States National Security Adviser James Jones was here last week after stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jones held separate talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart M.K. Narayanan and other Indian leaders (June 26). Jones is first high-ranking US official to visit India following India and Pakistan’s agreement to revive stalled talks and discuss steps taken by Islamabad on tackling terrorism targeting India by militants based in Pakistan. Jones’ visit also assumes significance with it taking place ahead of proposed visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month.

The key issues touched on during talks Jones held with Indian leaders were: “Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there against India.” Jones is also understood to have shared his assessment of situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where operations are continuing against Taliban militants. During his talks in Islamabad and New Delhi, Jones laid stress that attacks such as Mumbai-strikes must be prevented, according to sources. He also “vowed” United States’ move to help India and Pakistan improve their ties and combat militant threat.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert O. Blake told a panel of House of Representatives last week: “India and Pakistan face common challenges, and we will support continuing dialogue to find joint solutions to counter terrorism and to promote regional stability.” “The timing, scope, and content of any such dialogue are strictly matters for Pakistani and Indian leaders to decide,” he said.

Though India remains dissatisfied with Pakistan having not taken necessary steps against those responsible for Mumbai-strikes, there is no doubt that two countries have displayed serious interest in recent past to revive their talks. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told a group of senior military commanders last week: “We must be vigilant about happenings on our western border, while at the same time, try to make peace with our neighbor.” Asserting that India should not be viewed as a “threat” by Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff Deepak Kapoor said: “It’s their own perception of threat, but India has never been a threat to Pakistan despite having superior forces” (June 27). Speaking to newsmen at the Combined Graduation Parade of the Indian Air Force cadets at the Air Force Academy at Dindigul near Hyderabad, he said: “We on our side like to live as peaceful neighbors. We will be happy if Pakistan fights terror not only on its western borders but also on the eastern border.”

11-28

Google Earth Reveals Secret History of US Base in Pakistan

February 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 

google image
The original Google Earth picture:  The Shamsi airbase in 2006 with three drones apparently visible.

Courtesy Jeremy Page, The Times

The US was secretly flying unmanned drones from the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan as early as 2006, according to an image of the base from Google Earth.

The image that is no longer on the site but which was obtained by The News, Pakistan’s English language daily newspaper shows what appear to be three Predator drones outside a hangar at the end of the runway. The Times also obtained a copy of the image, whose co-ordinates confirm that it is the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles southwest of the Pakistani city of Quetta.

An investigation by The Times yesterday revealed that the CIA was secretly using Shamsi to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taliban militants around Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

US special forces used the airbase during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but the Pakistani Government said in 2006 that the Americans had left. Both sides have since denied repeatedly that Washington has used, or is using, Pakistani bases to launch drones. Pakistan has also demanded that the US cease drone attacks on its tribal area, which have increased over the last year, allegedly killing several high-value targets as well as many civilians.

The Google Earth image now suggests that the US began launching Predators from Shamsi built by Arab sheiks for falconry trips at least three years ago.

The advantage of Shamsi is that it provides a discreet launchpad within minutes of Quetta a known Taliban staging post as well as Taliban infiltration routes into Afghanistan and potential militant targets farther afield.

Google Earth’s current image of Shamsi about 100 miles south of the Afghan border and 100 miles east of the Iranian one undoubtedly shows the same airstrip as the image from 2006.

There are no visible drones, but it does show that several new buildings and other structures have been erected since 2006, including what appears to be a hangar large enough to fit three drones. Perimeter defences apparently made from the same blast-proof barriers used at US and Nato bases in Afghanistan have also been set up around the hangar.

A compound on the other side of the runway appears to have sufficient housing for several dozen people, as well as neatly tended lawns. Three military aviation experts shown the image said that the aircraft appeared to be MQ1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles the model used by the CIA to observe and strike militants on the Afghan border.

The MQ1 Predator carries two laser-guided Hellfire missiles, and can fly for up to 454 miles, at speed of up to 135mph, and at altitudes of up to 25,000ft, according to the US Air Force website www.af.mil

The News reported the drones were Global Hawks which are generally used only for reconnaissance, flying for up to 36 hours, at more than 400mph and an altitude of up to 60,000ft. Damian Kemp, an aviation editor with Jane’s Defence Weekly, said that the three drones in the image appeared to have wingspans of 48-50ft.

The wingspan of an MQ1 Predator A model is 55ft. On this basis it is possible that these are Predator-As, he said. They are certainly not RQ-4A Global Hawks (which have a wingspan of 116ft 2in).

Pakistan’s only drones are Italian Galileo Falcos, which were delivered in 2007, according to a report in last month’s Jane’s World Air Forces.

A military spokesman at the US Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment on the images or the revelations in The Times yesterday.

Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, was not immediately available for comment. He admitted on Tuesday that US forces were using Shamsi, but only for logistics.

He also said that the Americans were using another air base in the city of Jacobabad for logistics and military operations. Pakistan gave the US permission to use Shamsi, Jacobabad and two other bases Pasni and Dalbadin for the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

The image of the US drones at Shamsi highlights the extraordinary power and potential security risks of Google Earth.

Several governments have asked it to remove or blur images of sensitive locations such as military bases, nuclear reactors and government buildings. Some have also accused the company of helping terrorists, as in 2007, when its images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents.

Last year India said that the militants who attacked Mumbai in November had used Google Earth to familiarize themselves with their targets. Google Street View, which offers ground-level, 360-degree views, also ran into controversy last year when the Pentagon asked it to remove some online images of military bases in America.

11-10

Mumbai-Case: Indian Diplomacy Has Not Failed

January 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

 

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An elderly man walks in a park in Mumbai January 18, 2009.

REUTERS/Arko Datta

NEW DELHI: Two months have passed since Mumbai-terror strikes and the Pakistan-based elements, India holds responsible for the incident, have still not been nabbed. Undeniably, India is paying utmost attention to gain friendly countries’ support to pressurize Pakistan to take strict action against the suspected elements. While India has certainly gained support from practically all quarters, it would be erroneous to hold this as suggestive of the same countries of having turned against Pakistan. Practically all the dignitaries who have visited India, to convey their diplomatic support to Delhi over the Mumbai-case, have also visited Pakistan. Should this be assumed as a sign of India having failed in securing the kind of diplomatic support it sought in targeting Pakistan over the Mumbai-case?
At one level by through its diplomatic drive, India has signaled that the world is keeping a watch on the action that Pakistan takes against those responsible for Mumbai-strikes. India has at the same time tacitly acknowledged that irrespective of when and what action Pakistan takes, ultimately it is a problem to be sorted out at home. Along this line, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “We will have to tackle ourselves with our own sources and our own determination. We need to strengthen our own ability to deal with such attacks and our intelligence capability to anticipate them.” (January 17).

When questioned recently on the “perception” about India having “lost the diplomatic war against Pakistan” over Mumbai-terror strikes, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee replied: “It is not a diplomatic war; it is diplomacy. What we are doing is not offensive; it is just and proper. As the foreign minister, it is my responsibility to convince all concerned in the international community about the gravity of the situation.” “We are doing what every other responsible country would do after a situation like this. We are doing it in a responsible manner. We have been able to carry conviction with a large number of countries,” he said.

On India having “outsourced” its diplomacy to pressurize Pakistan on Mumbai-case, Mukherjee said: “No we have not outsourced this. We are telling everybody that you must address these problems; you must put pressure on Pakistan because this is not just an India-Pakistan relationship. These issues need not be seen through the prism of Indo-Pak relationship. They are a part of global terrorism and they should be confronted collectively. Therefore, you (the other countries) will have to play a role.”

With regard to investigations begun by Pakistan on the Mumbai-case, India has apparently decided to adopt a wait and watch approach. “We have received information from our High Commissioner in Islamabad that they (Pakistan) have started the process. Let us see how much time they take,” Mukherjee told reporters on sidelines of a function in Kolkata (January 17). Islamabad has officially communicated to New Delhi that the inquiry process was begun on January 15, Mukherjee said. On whether Pakistan was testing India’s patience, Mukherjee said: “It takes time. Diplomatic performance cannot be like switch on and switch off.”

Dismissing the notion of there being any link between Islam and terrorism, Mukherjee said: “There is no relation between Islam and terrorism. In fact, no religion has any place for terror. Sometimes religious texts are misinterpreted to commit terrorist activities.” “Terrorists are enemies of humanity,” he said.

Amid the backdrop of concern voiced across the world on Mumbai-terror strikes, it may be viewed as one of those cases in recent history, which has put Indian diplomacy to a strong test. Notwithstanding all the hype raised about the two countries being prepared for war, it cannot be ignored, that they have exercised utmost restraint in actually reaching the war-stage. While India has repeatedly stated, that it was “open” to all options, which include snapping ties with Pakistan, recalling the Indian envoy, ceasing the bilateral trade, stalling bilateral negotiations and many other measures. What is noteworthy, India has not actually moved forward to implement any of these options. Its decision to adopt a wait and watch approach regarding the measures Islamabad takes only implies that India has no intention to rush into exercising any military option against Pakistan. With two months having passed by without the two countries reaching the war-stage despite all the war-hysteria raised over the Mumbai-issue can only be commended as Delhi having played its diplomatic cards astutely enough, quelling the war options it may have otherwise rushed into.

To a certain extent, India may be indulging in anti-Pak diplomatic rhetoric over the Mumbai-case to divert attention at both the national and international levels about it having failed to strengthen its security adequately enough to prevent the Mumbai-terror strikes. With parliamentary elections likely to be held in April-May, the anti-Pak diplomatic hype may well be viewed as also a politically motivated drive.

True, the support earned by India over Mumbai-case from other countries can at most be viewed as cosmetic diplomacy. But whether viewed as cosmetic and/or plain rhetoric, exercising such diplomatic options is certainly wiser than driving the subcontinent to the war or war-like stage. War and/or any war-like exercise would only reflect failure of diplomatic options. Exercising and/or rushing into military moves, without giving adequate attention to all other moves would certainly have been viewed as a major diplomatic mess. Diplomatically, India thus needs to be credited for not having failed the Mumbai-test!

11-5

India Tones Down Aggressive Stance on Mumbai

January 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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NEW DELHI: Though India retains its stand on involvement of Pakistan-based elements in Mumbai-terror strikes, of late there has been slight change in the diplomatically aggressive stance adopted by it earlier against Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly criticized Pakistan while addressing a daylong conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security (January 6). During his inaugural address, Singh referred to Pakistan at least nine times. “A holistic approach to our security concerns is definitely called for,” Singh emphasized. “Our problems are compounded by the fact that we have a highly unpredictable and uncertain security environment in our immediate neighborhood,” he said. Referring to Mumbai terror case, he described Pakistan’s “responses” to “various demarches” from India as suggestive of it acting in an “irresponsible fashion.” Describing terrorism as the most “serious threat” faced by India, Singh divided it into three categories: “terrorism, left-wing terrorism and insurgency in the northeast.” “Left wing extremism is primarily indigenous and home-grown,” Singh said. He blamed neighboring countries, “mainly Pakistan” for terrorism and insurgency in northeast.

“The terrorist attack in Mumbai in November last year was clearly carried out by a Pakistan-based outfit, the Lashkar-e-Taiba” with “support of some official agencies in Pakistan,” Singh said. He also blamed Pakistan for “whipping up war hysteria.” Giving stress to implementing the policy of “Zero tolerance of terrorism with total commitment,” Singh said: “We must convince the world community that States that use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy, must be isolated and compelled to abandon such tactics.”

India apparently was (and perhaps still is) counting on securing influence of United States and other friendly countries to pressurize Pakistan in taking action on the dossier of evidence Delhi has given to Islamabad regarding the Mumbai-case. Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon handed over evidence to Pakistani envoy Shahid Malik (January 5). The Indian envoy simultaneously handed over the evidence to Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad. “We have handed over to Pakistan evidence of the links with elements in Pakistan of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26th November, 2008,” India External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement. Describing the Mumbai-case as “an unpardonable crime,” Mukherjee stated that India is briefing all its “friendly countries” on it. “I have written to my counterparts around the world giving them details of the events in Mumbai and describing in some detail the progress that we have made in our investigations and the evidence that we have collected,” he stated.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was subsequently scheduled to leave for US in a few days time to convince Washington about Pakistan’s role in Mumbai-strikes. The change in India’s approach in building up pressure against Pakistan at the diplomatic level is suggested by postponement of Chidambaram’s visit. “Balancing everything, it was decided three days ago that I stay back,” Chidambaram said (January 9). The decision to cancel Chidambaram may have been partly shaped by India facing internal problem over strike in petroleum sector, by the truckers and also the Satyam-fraud case. Besides, with the White House heading for a major change, criticism was voiced in various circles on what did Chidambaram expect to gain from his Washington-trip.

The decision on Chidambaram not heading for US over Mumbai case cannot be de-linked from the subtle but definite shift in aggressive posture adopted earlier by the government. India has come out more assertively than before (since the Mumbai case) in ruling out any military strike against Pakistan over Mumbai case. Rejecting option of India taking any “Israel-type” action against Pakistan over Mumbai terror strikes, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: “I do not agree to that. Because this is totally wrong. The situation is not at all comparable.” “I have not gone and occupied any (of) Pakistan’s land which Israel has done (in Palestine). So, how can the situation be comparable,” he said during a television interview (January 10).

Suggesting that India is keen on exercising its diplomatic options rather than reach the war-stage, Mukherjee said: “We have not reached the end of the road.” “When I say all options are open, all options are open. There is no need of picking up option a, option b, option c, option d. No need of that. I am not responding to that. What I am responding to is options are open.” The options being considered by India at present are a response from Pakistan on “evidence” given by India regarding Mumbai-case. “We have given them (Pakistan). We expect them to act on it. If they do not act on it, then what follow up steps we will take and in what space of time it will take place, future course will decide,” Mukherjee said.

Amid the backdrop of criticism voiced against too many verbal missiles being fired in the subcontinent over the Mumbai-issue, the change in Indian government’s approach isn’t surprising. The government has no option but to tone down its aggressive posture. Besides, United States seems to believe that New Delhi should give some time to Islamabad to act on the evidence given to it. This is suggested by comments made by US envoy to India David C. Mulford over the past week. Regarding Pakistan’s approach towards “evidence” presented by India, he said: “You have, after all, a situation where there is a civilian government, a very strong military, a very strong intelligence agency and a media and other players. And I think you have to take a view that it is going to take little time to percolate to see what really is the outcome.” On how long should India should wait for Pakistan to respond, he replied: “It is not a question of time, although time is important, because to get into a situation where so much time passes, it makes them look uncooperative.” Describing it as a difficult task for Pakistan, he said: “So, frankly I think it is going to take time, it is not going to be easy, and it is not only going to take time and patience but some considerable restraint on the one hand and a continuing willingness to try to cooperate on the other.”

11-4

Indo-Pak Nuclear Diplomacy Continues, Unaffected By Mumbai-Terror Strikes

January 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the war-hysteria raised on both sides over Mumbai terror-strikes, they have not refrained from pursuing agreements inked regarding their decision to abstain from being engaged in open conflict. Adhering to the nuclear deterrence pact, India and Pakistan inked in 1988, the two countries exchanged lists of nuclear installations and facilities through diplomatic channels simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad on 1 January. Since their becoming nuclear powers and subsequently inking the deterrence pact, though Indo-Pak ties have ranged from being cordial to tense- as they are at present over the Mumbai terror strikes- they have continued the practice of exchanging these lists. The “Agreement on Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities” was signed between India and Pakistan by the then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto on 31 December 1998. It entered into force on 27 January 1991.

“Under the agreement, the two countries, on first January of every calendar year, are to inform each other of Nuclear Installations and Facilities to be covered by the agreement,” a press release from Indian ministry of external affairs stated. “The first such exchange of lists took place on 1 January 1992. This is the eighteenth consecutive time that both countries have exchanged such a list,” the statement said.

The agreement details the location of nuclear-related facilities in the two countries. Despite the two countries having come close to war, the exchange of lists has not stopped, sources said. Even when the two countries were in state of high alert in 2001, they exchanged the lists. Defying apprehensions raised about their nearing a conflict or conflict-like stage over the Mumbai terror strikes, they exchanged the lists this year too.

Ever since the two countries conducted nuclear tests, the western powers – particularly United States- have expressed concern about their nuclear prowess leading to a nuclear war in South Asia as India and Pakistan are known as permanent enemies with their being no sign of their resolving differences over long-standing disputes, including the Kashmir issue. Though since 1998, they have come close to war, once over the Kargil-issue and war-hysteria has been raised after the Mumbai terror strikes, India and Pakistan have not been engaged in any open conflict since achieving nuclear prowess. In this context, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy, resting on their bilateral understanding of nuclear deterrence defies fears raised earlier about their nuclear-status leading to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in South Asia.

Undeniably, apprehensions still prevail on whether nuclear weapons would contribute to stability in South Asia. Concern has been voiced over unintentional/intentional targeting of nuclear facilities by militants in either country and/or access to the same falling in wrong hands fuelling nuclear tension in the sub-continent. To date, however, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy only stands as a commendable illustration of their deterrence ensuring military restraint and a check on their moving towards open conflict. This may be illustrated briefly by the role played by nuclear prowess of the two nations, taking their ties from the stage of conflict to no-conflict in the first stage. Without doubt, there was a period when India remained suspicious about Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. The first major step in taking their ties to a positive level was the six-point accord reached between the then President of Pakistan General Zia-ul-Haq and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December 1985 in Delhi. Their agreement on not attacking each other’s nuclear installations was hailed as a significant step in establishing mutual confidence. This principle was re-emphasized when Gandhi and Bhutto signed the agreement in December 1988 in Islamabad.

Strangely, but definitely, there is a parallel between nuclear ambitions of India and Pakistan and a decisive improvement in their bilateral ties. It would not be wrong to state that their respective nuclear drives’ impact on the upswing in their relations fits into the theory of “classic deterrence.” Earlier than this, the two countries -known to shift between the stage of conflict, no-conflict and/or avoidance of conflict- had not even given serious consideration to the idea of entertaining cordial and/or friendly ties. The very principle of not attacking each other’s nuclear installations marked the beginning of some sort of nuclear dialogue between the two. Had they not taken this step, that of considering the deterrent factor, the past two decades may have been marked by constant threat of a nuclear holocaust erupting any moment in the subcontinent. Equally significant was their decision to resolve their nuclear tensions bilaterally. This also implied their accepting each other’s nuclear development. Had they criticized each other’s nuclear intentions and designs unilaterally, the issue may have assumed serious proportions for multilateral deliberations. With the two nuclear powers sharing border, notwithstanding their disputes, they opted for a strategy that best suited their interests, unilaterally as well as bilaterally, that is work towards normalization of Indo-Pak ties. Interestingly, notwithstanding all the diplomatic hype raised over the Mumbai-terror strikes, India and Pakistan have ruled out prospects of going to war on this. This only suggests that they are not likely to backtrack- for quite some time- from the wise and rational nuclear diplomacy they have pursued so far.

11-3

Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Awaken Bollywood

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The India film stars dictate fashion and customs, but they usually aren’t politically active. The recent killings seem to have changed that.

Courtesy Anupama Chopra, LA Times

Reporting from Mumbai — Amitabh Bachchan slept with a gun. On Nov. 26, as 10 terrorists orchestrated mayhem at Mumbai’s landmark hotels and train station, Bollywood’s most enduring superstar pulled out his revolver.

The following day, he wrote on his blog: “As an Indian, I need to live in my own land, on my own soil with dignity and without fear. And I need an assurance on that. I am ashamed to say this and not afraid to share this now with the rest of the cyber world, that last night as the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver and put it under my pillow. For a very disturbed sleep.”

As the bloody face-off between the terrorists and Indian commandos continued for three days, Aamir Khan, another major star and avid blogger, wrote: “Terrorists are not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. They are not people of religion or God . . . an incident such as this really exposes how ill equipped we are as a society as far as proper leaders go. We desperately need young, dynamic, honest, intelligent and upright leaders who actually care for the country.”

A few days after the attack, Shah Rukh Khan, who is known to Hindi film viewers as King Khan and routinely described as more famous than Tom Cruise, told a leading television channel, “I have read the Holy Koran. It states that if you heal one man, you heal the whole of mankind and if you hurt one man, you hurt the whole of mankind. . . . There is an Islam from Allah and very unfortunately, there is an Islam from the mullahs.”

This impassioned, unflinching outburst is rare for Bollywood. Mumbai’s Hindi film industry produces 200-odd films each year for an estimated annual audience of 3.6 billion. Bollywood and its stars dictate fashions, language, rituals and aspirations for millions of Indians and non-Indians around the globe. In Britain and the U.S., Bollywood box office is largely driven by Indian immigrants, but in countries such as Malaysia, Poland and Germany, even locals are avid consumers. Hindi films vary from fantastical entertainers to realistic, low-budget urbane dramas that usually appeal to more educated audiences. Bollywood is one of the few film industries globally that has withstood the Hollywood goliath. In fact, Hollywood is pushing for a piece of the booming Bollywood pie; studios such as Sony and Warner are producing Hindi films.

But despite its cultural clout, Bollywood has largely been an insular, apolitical space — columnist and author Shobhaa De, more acerbically, described it as “apathetic.” Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, stars here have rarely aligned themselves with causes. Even those who join political parties usually serve an ornamental function.

Like much of India’s elite and middle class, the film industry has preferred to disengage from politics and the invariably messy functioning of the world’s largest democracy. “Most Bollywood actors claim their job is to entertain the masses — nothing more, nothing less,” De said. “It is the Republic of Bollywood movie stars owe any allegiance to.”

But the terrorist attacks, which claimed 164 lives (plus those of nine gunmen), have forced the film industry to abandon its customary neutral stance. In blogs, media, petitions and peace marches, Bollywood has come forward to denounce the attacks and demand better governance. Most significantly, many leading Muslim stars who until now rarely delved into the controversies of religion have condemned the attacks as “un-Islamic.” They have, as Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University put it, “reclaimed their religion.” In an interview, actor Anil Kapoor, now appearing in “ Slumdog Millionaire,” called the attacks “a tipping point,” adding: “I think things will be different now.”

The film industry can play a prominent role in India’s post 26/11 citizens’ movement, not only because of its cultural cachet but also because Bollywood is and always has been inherently secular. India is home to about 151 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The majority Hindus and minority Muslims share a long and tragic history, and politicians of every hue have exploited this divide. Hindu-Muslim relations are usually in a state of simmer, and the decades-old distrust routinely boils over in riots, murder and more recently terrorism.

Intriguingly, Bollywood has largely managed to resist this communal caldron. Through the decades, Hindus and Muslims have worked together without any palpable friction. In fact the biggest stars in contemporary Bollywood are Muslim (this includes the reigning superstar trinity of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan). In “Maximum City,” his bestselling book on Mumbai, Suketu Mehta described the Hindi film industry as having “the secularism of a brothel.” “All are welcome,” he wrote, “as long as they carry or make money.”

Among Bollywood’s earliest stars were Australian-born Mary Ann Evans, known to her fans as Fearless Nadia — a whip-wielding, iconic action heroine in the 1930s; the Jewish Florence Ezekiel, known to her fans as Nadira, a legendary vamp who seduced with her smoldering looks in the 1950s; and the Anglo-Indian-Burmese Helen, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was Bollywood’s most famous dancer.
Box office is king

Writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar, president of an organization called Muslims for Secular Democracy, disapproves of Mehta’s brothel comparison but agreed that in the 40-odd years that he had been working in Bollywood, he had never encountered bias. “There is a method in the madness,” he said. “People in films — from the biggest stars to the smallest — know that their survival is in the success of the film. When you go to the racecourse, you cannot not bet on the winning horse because the jockey is of some other religion. You want to win the race so you cannot afford to be communal.”

Bollywood’s reigning deity is the box office. Consequently, Akhtar pointed out, even actors and technicians who are high-profile members of the right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party will behave “in a totally separate manner within the industry.”

Attempts to divide the industry on religious lines have found little support. In July, a little-known terror outfit called the Indian Mujahideen issued death threats via e-mail to leading Muslim actors, urging them to stop acting in movies or face the consequences. The industry collectively denounced the mail and Saif Ali, one of the actors threatened, responded in a newspaper saying that he would “rather be shot than not do a shot.”

Eight years ago, a Hindu actor named Hrithik Roshan became an overnight sensation with his debut film, “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” (Say You Love Me). As the film ran to packed houses, a right-wing Hindu magazine, Panchjanya, ran a cover story insisting that Roshan was the Hindu answer to the Muslim Khan supremacy in Bollywood. The claim was resoundingly ignored. These contrived divisions also have little meaning in Bollywood because many of the leading stars have had interfaith marriages.

Even at historic turning points such as the 1947 partition, when Hindu-Muslim relations were violently fraught, the film industry has remained impervious to religious bias. In the 1940s and 1950s, the industry was also less self-focused and inward-looking. Cultural groups such as the Progressive Writers’ Assn. and the India Peoples’ Theatre Assn. exerted a great influence on the leading writers, actors and directors of the time. The filmmakers and their films reflected an awareness and engagement with social causes.

But by the 1970s, a disconnect had set in. Prakash pinned it on “the Amitabh Bachchan phenomenon.” After the actor had a string of successive hits, the media labeled him “a one-man industry.” According to Prakash: “The Bollywood space changed then and became about celebrity.”

Star-driven culture

This celebrity has only amplified in recent years. The post-liberalization media explosion and consumerist culture have converted actors into brands and they are constantly “on,” whether in cinema halls, television shows or newspapers and magazines. Hindi cinema and especially its stars dominate India’s cultural landscape, enjoying a super-size visibility. Media doggedly report on the minutiae of their lives, from love affairs to diet to favored hair stylist. Political parties have often attempted to turn this visibility into votes by using stars to campaign for them, but Bollywood stars in politics have largely been, in De’s words, “a monumental joke.”

Prakash agreed. “Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood has became a space only for stardom,” he said. “Politics is problematic, and it’s not conducive to stardom. It only gets in the way.”
Aamir Khan discovered this the hard way in 2006, when he joined activists demanding the rehabilitation of farmers displaced by the construction of a dam in the western state of Gujarat. The government demanded an apology. When he refused, multiplex owners in Gujarat refused to screen the actor’s film “Fanaa” (Destroyed). Though the film eventually became a blockbuster, losses from the Gujarat ban — deemed unconstitutional by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — ran into the millions. Not surprisingly then, silence and insularity are the preferred mode here.
Actress Preity Zinta, one of the industry’s more outspoken stars, said the prevailing silence also had to do with the quality of leadership. “Where are our icons?” she asked. “Give me one inspiring leader and I will not even think twice before offering support. Look at the political class abroad. I jumped as high as anyone in America when Obama won.”
Terrorism has provided the impetus that politicians could not. Zinta was among the thousands of people who gathered Dec. 3 at the Gateway of India (opposite the Taj Mahal hotel) to protest the attacks and demand better security. The gathering, organized spontaneously through e-mail, text messages and Facebook, was described in leading newspapers as unprecedented.
Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar’s son and a filmmaker-actor, was also at the Gateway. When the firing started Nov. 26, Farhan was shooting the first episode of a “Saturday Night Live”-style television show called “Oye It’s Friday.” Farhan, who hosts the show, and his producers stopped work because, he said, “we were too depressed to continue.” But a few days later, they regrouped to rewrite a part of the show. The first episode now included several biting comic lines about politicians and their legendary incompetence. “There has been no event of this magnitude, nothing this drastic to get people polarized,” Farhan said. “But now people have had enough. We’re not going to take it lying down anymore.”
The big question is: How long will the anger last? Skeptics like De don’t envision a more politically sensitized Bollywood, but many such as Zinta and Farhan believe and hope that a sustained involvement will follow. But even if the current activism dilutes with time, the Hindi film industry, an inclusive, successful global brand, will remain a symbol of unity in a deeply fractured country.
Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema. Her books include “King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema.”

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