A New Turn In Indo-Pak Commercial Ties

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Long viewed as permanent enemies, it is going to take a while before the world is convinced about India and Pakistan being keen to “normalize” their ties. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met recently in Maldives on sidelines of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). They held delegation-level talks, followed by one-to-one meeting which lasted for around 45 minutes. Acknowledging that a lot still needs to be done, after their talks, both leaders expressed their desire for strengthening Indo-Pak relations on a positive note (November 10).

“We have wasted a lot of time in acrimonious debate in the past. The time has come to write a new chapter in relations between India and Pakistan,” Singh said. The next round of talks “should be far more productive and result-oriented and bring the two countries closer to each other,” Singh said. Similar sentiments were voiced by Gilani, who said: “We had a good meeting. I hope the next round of talks will be more constructive and open a new chapter in relations between the two countries.”

The stage for opening a new chapter in Indo-Pak ties was set when the Pakistan cabinet recently declared its decision to give India status of a Most Favored Nation (MFN) for increasing trade relations between the two countries. India had accorded Pakistan this status around 15 years ago in 1996. The decision of Pakistan was preceded by visit of Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Makhddoom Amin Fahim to India. This was the first visit of a Pakistani commerce minister to India in 35 years. Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma is expected to lead a trade delegation to Islamabad next February at invitation of his Pakistani counterpart Fahim. Besides, this week has been marked by two-day talks in New Delhi between commerce secretaries of the two countries, Rahul Khullar (India) and Zafar Mahmood (Pakistan).

Displaying optimism on the outcome of Indo-Pak talks, Mahmood said: “We will have interactions in the spirit of mutual cooperation and confidence so please have trust and faith in the process (as) times have changed and the world is coming closer. Through this meeting we want to create an atmosphere through which the composite dialogue can go forward.”

“Our business communities, our politicians and our citizens are looking to both our delegations to deliver a substantial breakthrough — not only for full normalisation of our trade relationship, but to go beyond and lay a strong foundation for preferential trading arrangements,” Khullar said.

At present, business between India and Pakistan amounts to less than $3 billion. During their talks, the two commerce ministers expressed their desire to increase this to $6 billion per year. Besides, it takes place through third countries via Dubai and Singapore. Once India is formally granted MFN status by Pakistan, it is expected to removal of many barriers and also lead to direct trade between the two countries, which would play a major role in cutting down the transportation costs.

It may take some time before Pakistan actually grants MFN status to India. The fact that Pakistan has voiced its decision to do so is by itself a major development. Not too long ago, Pakistan gave the impression of not even considering this till the two countries resolved their problems. Undeniably, India and Pakistan still seem to be a long way from reaching any agreement on certain major issues, including Kashmir. Against this backdrop, the decision of Pakistan to consider India as MFN is indeed a major development.

Once India and Pakistan reach the stage of exploiting their economic interaction “totally,” according to an American think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) gravity model, the Indo-Pak trade can “expand to as much as $42 billion.” One of the constraints in trade potential having not been exploited, according to PIIE, is that Pakistan has not yet granted MFN status to India. If India and Pakistan decide to pay greater attention to exploiting their trade potential, it is believed that the step would lead to lowering of tension between the countries. In this context, it may be noted that though Kashmir-issue may remains unresolved the two countries have implemented the agreement to open the controversial Line of Control (LoC) at a few points to facilitate trade and travel. They began the bus service in 2005, across the LoC between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, capital cities of Indian Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir, respectively. The Poonch-Rawalkot bus service began in 2008.

The strengthening of economic ties between India and Pakistan is also expected to play a major role in enhancing commercial interaction between members of SAARC. Indo-Pak tension has hampered economic interaction between SAARC members and has also prevented its development as an important regional organization. Critics have frequently raised the question as to why has SAARC not progressed as have other regional organizations, such as NATO and ASEAN.

Against this backdrop, India and Pakistan may perhaps never accept each other as close friends, but as latest developments suggest that now they have begun serious talks to facilitate economic interaction between them. And once Indo-Pak trade takes off, it is expected to have a major impact on South Asia as a whole and also convince the world that the two countries can no longer be viewed as permanent enemies!

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Saudi-India Ties At A “New Height,” Says Saudi Envoy

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Though he has been in India as Saudi envoy for only two years, Faisal Hassan Trad returns to his country as a satisfied diplomat. Within a short period, many steps have been taken in strengthening bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia. In Trad’s words: “My tenure in India has been a short one, two years but I am happy to have shouldered the responsibility assigned to me as ambassador of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to India.”

Trad returns this month to Saudi Arabia to spend Ramadan at home, following which he will take diplomatic charge in Belgium. While India and Saudi Arabia have always entertained good relations, undeniably, the past few years have witnessed a major upswing in development of their ties. It began with the landmark visit of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz in January 2006. He was the Chief Guest of Indian Republic Day celebrations. His visit “opened a new chapter in Indo-Saudi bilateral relations.” The King referred to India as his “second home.” The highlight of his visit was the inking of Delhi Declaration, the first such bilateral document to be signed by a Saudi King. Saleh Mohammed Al-Ghamdi was then the Saudi envoy in India.

Since the Saudi King’s India visit, Indo-Saudi ties have been only on the upswing. It has been marked by active engagement between leadership of the two countries. Another chapter was opened in their bilateral ties with the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia, from February 27 to March 1 2010. The highlight of this visit was signing of Riyadh Declaration which outlines a “new era of strategic partnership” between India and Saudi Arabia.

Elaborating on Indian Prime Minister’s Saudi-visit, which has taken place during his tenure, Trad said: “Saudi-India relations have now reached a level of Strategic Partnership. The roads are indeed paved for a bright future.”

Reflecting on recent developments, Trad said: “During the recent period, bilateral relations have reached a new height with exchanges taking place, at all levels, practically continuously, almost on a daily basis, between industrialists, investors, political people, community leaders, pilgrims and others.” Last year, while Saudi Arabia had issued 7,500 visas to business people, this year within six months only, 4,000 visas have already been issued, Trad pointed out.

Laying emphasis that Saudi-India ties are no longer confined to only oil diplomacy, Trad pointed to “complete cooperation” between the two countries in other fields, including education, science & technology, defense & security, taxation, extradition and culture, among others. Trad may also be credited for promoting people-to-people interaction between the two countries. The Saudi Embassy in association with Saudi Journalist Association invited Indian women delegation to visit the Kingdom last year in October. This was the first visit of an all-women delegation (including this scribe) to Saudi Arabia, which has been hailed as a major success.

Economic relations between India and Saudi Arabia have shown a remarkable growth with bilateral trade registering a three-fold increase during the last five years. Saudi Arabia is India’s 4th largest trade partner and the bilateral trade was $18 billion in 2010-11 (April-December), according to Indian sources.

The bilateral trade is now “worth $24 billion and is poised for increase every day,” Trad stated.

Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of the country’s needs. To meet India’s growing energy needs, sources said, the two sides are working towards strategic energy partnership including long term uninterrupted supply of crude oil by Saudi Arabia to India.

Besides, the 2.2 million-strong Indian community in Saudi Arabia is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom. The total remittance send by Indian expatriates, spread world-wide, is valued at $50 billion, of which 60 percent is from GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, with the largest share from Saudi Arabia. Taking note of this, Trad said: “The 2.2 Indians who live in the Kingdom support nearly 25 million at home (India).”

Haj diplomacy is also a major component of Indo-Saudi bilateral ties. More than 1,70,000 Indians perform Haj every year.

During Trad’s tenure, a new chapter has opened in religious diplomacy too. This is marked by the visit of Dr. Sheikh Abdul Rehman Sudais, Grand Imam of Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, earlier this year in March.

There is every reason for Trad to be satisfied and happy at his successful tenure in India. Not surprisingly, he is one of the few diplomats, in whose honor, numerous farewell parties have been hosted in the capital city. He is perhaps the first Saudi diplomat, according to Indian sources, to receive so many farewell parties. In addition to Trad being viewed as a successful diplomat, the hosting of numerous farewell parties in his honor is yet another major sign of the two countries coming closer, Indian sources said. This in itself marks expansion and strengthening of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia.

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Indian Envoy Conferred Top Saudi Honor

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

RIYADH/NEW DELHI: Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia Talmiz Ahmad has been conferred the King Abdulaziz Medal of First Class for his contribution to strengthening bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia. He is the first Indian diplomat to be conferred this honor. The medal, comprising a decorative badge and a certificate signed by King Abdullah, was presented by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal (July 10).

“This (King Abdulaziz Order of Merit – First Class) is a tribute from Saudi Arabia to Talmiz Ahmad for his contributions during both his tenures as Indian Ambassador in promoting bilateral relations between the two countries,” Prince Al-Faisal said after conferring the Saudi Award of highest order to Indian envoy.

Ahmad has played a significant role in strengthening Indo-Saudi ties and promoting them on a “strategic level.” On this, Ahmad said: “Indo-Saudi relations have been transformed into a strategic partnership with the signing of the Delhi Declaration during the landmark visit of King Abdullah to New Delhi in 2006, and the return visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year.”

The Indian envoy, whose term in Riyadh ends shortly, is also credited for promoting relations between India and Saudi Arabia at several levels, including cultural and economic. Describing his role as “modest” in progress of bilateral ties, Ahmad said: “Mine has been a modest role in this endeavor, in which a large number of people have contributed both from India and Saudi Arabia.”

Ahmad was first appointed ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia in January 2000. He has served as ambassador in several other countries, including UAE and Oman. He was appointed again as Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia last year ahead of Prime Minister Singh’s visit to the Kingdom.

In addition to being a career diplomat, Ahmad has written several books and papers on politics of West Asia and energy. The Arabic translation of his book: “Children of Abraham at War: The Clash of Messianic Militarism” was released earlier this month in New Delhi. Ahmad was present on the occasion. His aim is to “promote Indo-Saudi ties in a number of areas on immediate, medium-term and long-term basis that include research and studies, energy discussions and advance guidance with regards to business imunity.”

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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.

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Saudi-India Ties: “A New Era of Strategic Partnership”

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2010-03-01T142216Z_1695035870_GM1E6311LXT01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) stands next to his wife Gursharan Kaur as he is given a King Saud University sash during a visit to the university in Riyadh March 1, 2010.

REUTERS/Stringer

NEW DELHI:  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia as “very productive and fruitful” (February 27 to March 1). The highlight of his visit was inking of “Riyadh Declaration: A New Era of Strategic Partnership,” by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Indian Prime Minister. The declaration signed on February 28, states that the two leaders held “in depth discussions on a wide range of issues in an atmosphere of utmost warmth, cordiality, friendship and transparency.” They agreed that Saudi King’s India-visit in 2006, during which the Delhi Declaration was signed (January 27, 2006), and Singh’s “current” visit “heralded a new era in Saudi-India relations” “in keeping with changing realities and unfolding opportunities of the 21st century.”

In addition to laying stress on strengthening of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia, the declaration highlights the crucial global issues discussed by the two leaders. They “noted that tolerance, religious harmony and brotherhood, irrespective of faith or ethnic background, were part of the principles and values of both countries.” Condemning terrorism, extremism and violence, they affirmed that “it is global and threatens all societies and is not linked to any race, color or belief.” “The international community must,” according to the declaration, “resolutely combat terrorism.”

With the peace process in Middle East high on their agenda, the two leaders “expressed hope for early resumption of the peace process,” “within a definite timeframe leading to establishment of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestinian State in accordance with the two-state solution.” They “emphasized” in the declaration that “continued building of settlements by Israel constitutes a fundamental stumbling block for the peace process.”

The declaration strongly signals their being against nuclear weapons while they favor peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The two leaders “emphasized the importance of regional and international efforts” directed towards making “Middle East and Gulf Region free of all nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction,” according to the declaration. They “reiterated their support” to “resolve issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program peacefully through dialogue and called for continuation of these efforts.” They “encouraged Iran to respond” to these efforts to “remove doubts about its nuclear program, especially as these ensure the right of Iran and other countries to peaceful uses if nuclear energy” in keeping with procedures of International Atomic Energy Agency, the declaration states.

The situation in Afghanistan and Iraq also figured in their discussions. They called for “preservation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence.” They “expressed hope” that forthcoming elections will help people of Iraq “realize their aspirations” by ensuring them security, stability, territorial integrity and national unity.

Though Indo-Pak relations are not mentioned in the Declaration, they figured prominently in discussions held between the two sides. While addressing the Saudi Parliament, Majlis-Al-Shura at Riyadh (March 1), Singh said: “India wishes to live in peace and friendship with its neighbors.” “We seek cooperative relations with Pakistan. Our objective is a permanent peace because we recognize that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is cooperation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole. But to realize this vision, Pakistan must act decisively against terrorism. If Pakistan cooperates with India, there is no problem that we cannot solve and we can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries,” Singh stated.

During his interaction with media persons, to a question on whether Saudi Arabia can be “credible interlocutor” on some issues between India and Pakistan, Singh replied: “Well I know Saudi Arabia has close relations with Pakistan. I did discuss the Indo-Pak relations with His Majesty on a one-to-one basis. I explained to him the role that terrorism, aided, abetted and inspired by Pakistan is playing in our country. And I did not ask for him to do anything other than to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from this path.”

While addressing the Saudi Parliament, Singh highlighted importance Islam has for India. Describing Saudi Arabia as “the cradle of Islam and the land of the revelation of the Holy Quran,” Singh said: “Islam qualitatively changed the character and personality of the people in Arabia as it enriched the lives of millions of Indians who embraced this new faith.” Tracing their historical ties, he said: “It is said that during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, Indian pilgrims constituted the largest movement of people by sea. Indian Muslim scholars went to Mecca in order to learn Islamic theology. Arab Muslim scholars came to India to learn mathematics, science, astronomy and philosophy. These exchanges led to the widespread diffusion of knowledge in the sciences, arts, religion and philosophy.”

“Today, Islam is an integral part of India’s nationhood and ethos and of the rich tapestry of its culture. India has made significant contributions to all aspects of Islamic civilization. Centers of Islamic learning in India have made a seminal contribution to Islamic and Arabic studies. Our 160 million Muslims are contributing to our nation building efforts and have excelled in all walks of life. We are proud of our composite culture and of our tradition of different faiths and communities living together in harmony,” Singh said.

Undeniably, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia symbolizes the two countries’ desire to strengthen their ties, “upgrade the quality” of their “relationship to that of a strategic partnership,” as stated by Singh. During his visit, Singh also paid special attention to highlight importance of Islam from the Indian perspective. Besides, the Riyadh declaration specifically condemns terrorism and states that it cannot be linked with any “belief.” In addition to strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, Singh’s words suggest that he is hopeful of it setting the stage for improving relations with other Muslim countries; it will enhance his government’s image at home among the business community eyeing for more trade opportunities with the Arab world and gain his party greater support from Indian Muslims.

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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.

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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!

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Korean President’s India Visit

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI:  Taking India’s ties with Republic of Korea (ROK) to a new height, the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations (January 26) was ROK President Lee Myung-bak. Lee’s India visit assumes significance as he is the first Korean President to be Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day function.  Besides, his is third Korean presidential visit to India in a period of less than 13 years. The discussions held and agreements reached during Lee’s visit clearly signal that both countries are optimistic about further strengthening India-ROK ties in several key areas.

Lee paid a state visit at the invitation of his Indian counterpart President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, from January 24 to 27. He was accorded a ceremonial welcome on January 25 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. This was followed by his meeting with Patil. The highlight of Lee’s visit was his summit meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Welcoming Lee, in his opening remarks at the delegation level talks, Singh said: “We are delighted that a friend of India is at the helm of affairs in Korea and that together we will have the opportunity to realize your vision and our common vision of a strong and vibrant India-Korea partnership. Your State visit today reflects our mutual commitment to strengthen relations between our countries. This is a relationship that rests on our shared values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human freedoms.”

Ahead of his India visit, Lee projected it as a key part of Seoul’s “New Asia Diplomacy” campaign, to improve ties with Asian countries. In his message, Lee said: “I have tried to realize the vision of New Asia Diplomacy. This trip to India marks a key point of such efforts.” He described India as a key player in Asia taking center on the global stage in the 21st century. “Asia is developing as a new growth engine in the world. Asia is expected to account for 35 percent of the world’s GDP (gross domestic product) ten years from now,” he said. “I am paying attention to India because of its potential,” Lee asserted.

With both the countries eager to push forward bilateral ties, during the summit meeting, Singh and Lee discussed ways to develop them and also exchanged views on regional and international issues. The joint statement released after the summit meeting, stated that during the talks, the two leaders “expressed satisfaction on the strong development of India-ROK relations based on the ‘Long-term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity,’ established in October 2004.” They “welcomed the steady growth in high level exchanges and contacts between the two countries, and the expansion in various areas of bilateral relations including defense, trade, science & technology, information & communication technology, education, and culture.”

Singh and Lee agreed that there was “immense scope for further enhancing bilateral relations in various areas.” They “welcomed entry into force of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)” from January 1, 2010 as “bedrock of a new comprehensive partnership between India and ROK.” With both countries as major economies in the region, their “partnership has the capacity to promote regional growth, and to contribute to prosperity and economic development of Asia,” they stated.

To enhance bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership,” Singh and Lee identified key aspects of their future relationship. These include, political & security cooperation; enhancing trade & investment flows; strengthening cooperation in field of science & technology; increase in cultural exchanges & people to people contacts;  and cooperation in the international arena. Affirming “their commitment to ensure implementation of CEPA,” they agreed to set a target of $30 billion for bilateral trade to be achieved by 2014. The India-ROK bilateral trade stood at $13 billion in 2008-09. Bilateral trade, which was less than $3 billion in 2001, crossed the $10 billion mark in 2007.

Singh and Lee agreed to designate 2011 as “Year of Korea” in India and “Year of India” in ROK to strengthen cultural exchanges and people to people contacts. India welcomed ROK’s initiative to open a Korean Cultural Center in New Delhi in 2011, which according to the joint statement will go a long way in “promoting awareness about Korean life and culture in India.”

Lee’s India visit was also marked by inking of four pacts. These include: Agreement on transfer of sentenced persons; Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in information technology & services; Program of cooperation in science and technology for the period 2010-2012 and MoU for cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space.

Singh and Lee agreed “to facilitate development of a framework for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.” They shared the view that “nuclear energy can play an important role as a safe, sustainable and non-polluting source of energy.” Lee is understood to have told Singh that he was “very optimistic” about progress in this area and that ROK nuclear companies were “very competitive” on this front.

Civil nuclear cooperation figured prominently in the summit meeting and the talks Lee held with Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. After his meeting with Krishna, Lee said: “This is (civil nuclear) an area which will be very productive for both of us.” A member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), ROK had supported consensus for reopening global civil nuclear trade with India in September 2008. Lee recently succeeded in marching ahead of western contractors by securing a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear reactors in UAE. While from the Korean-angle, Lee’s India-visit is a part of his New Asia Diplomacy, from the Indian it is certainly suggestive of India looking towards East more seriously than before!

12-5

India Salutes Comrade Basu’s Memory

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Jyoti Basu is no more but the incomparable stamp left by communist patriarch on politics of the country and West Bengal cannot be ever erased away. Ninety-five year old Basu breathed his last this Sunday at a hospital in Kolkata, where he was admitted earlier this month after he complained of uneasiness. Described as a “political legend,” Basu towered over West Bengal’s politics as the longest serving Chief Minister, for a record period of 23 years, from 1977 till 2000. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led state government, with Basu as Chief Minister, spelt emergence of Left Front for the first time at the helm in West Bengal.

Basu is credited for championing the cause of farmers, giving them a political voice through the Panchayati Raj (decentralization of political power to the village-level) and by effectively implementing land reforms. He is remembered for restoring political stability in West Bengal which had faced severe disturbance in 1970s from Maoist insurgency. His political policy of forming a coalition government in West Bengal is there to stay at the national level for perhaps a long time to come. It led to like-minded parties come together as a third alternative to Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late eighties and nineties. Though the third alternative did not make much of a political impact, the strategy of forming coalition governments remains in the lead till date. Initially known to be strongly anti-Congress, Basu’s secular inclination led to the Left Front give external support to the Congress-led coalition government in 2004 to keep BJP out of power.

Secular ideals followed by Basu restricted communal forces from entering West Bengal. This stood out markedly when as the Chief Minister, Basu played a firm role in not allowing any disturbance in West Bengal when anti-Sikh violence surfaced following assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and when communal riots spread across the nation over demolition of Babari Masji by extremist Hindus in December 1992.

Though a leftist to the core, who was first introduced to this ideology while studying law in United Kingdom, Basu is also remembered for not being averse to capitalism and attracting foreign investment to West Bengal. On this, he stated: “We want capital, both foreign and domestic. After all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now.”

Not surprisingly, the political icon was close to becoming the country’s first Left-bloc Prime Minister in 1996, as the head of United Front coalition government. His party, however, declined to take over power, a decision to which he yielded even though he criticized it as “historic blunder.” The CPI-M viewed his criticism as his “personal” opinion. Though he never held the office of the Prime Minister, Basu is remembered for being a guide on several crucial issues to many prime ministers. During the late eighties, he succeeded in convincing late premier Rajiv Gandhi on forming a hill council to restore peace in Darjeeling, where an agitation was on for a separate state.

In her condolence message, addressed to his son, Chandan Basu, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi stated: “We continued to count on him for his wise counsel even after he retired from political life.” “Together with Indiraji and Rajivji, I held him in the highest esteem. I have warmest memories of our many meetings – of his charm and grace and his deep humanity.” Describing him as “a tireless crusader against communalism, fundamentalism, casteism and all kinds of obscurantism; a warrior for social justice and equality and for the eradication of poverty; a true patriot who always put the national interest above all else,” Gandhi said: “He was a towering figure of our national life, whose noble vision, superb judgment and depth of experience was valued greatly.”

“In the years after he relinquished the Chief Ministership, he continued to be looked upon as an elder statesman, whose advice was sought by many political leaders in the state,” President Pratibha Patil said in her condolence message. “In his passing away, the nation has lost a veteran and an eminent public figure,” Patil said.

Expressing grief, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his condolence message that Basu’s “passing away” “marks the end of an era in annals of Indian politics.” “He was a powerful regional voice in the national political scene and helped to strengthen Indian federalism,” Singh said. “On many occasions in my career, I turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance. His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career,” Singh said.

The condolence resolution of CPI-M Polit Bureau expressed “profound grief at passing away of Comrade Basu.” Though he stepped down from Chief Ministership in 2000 due to health reasons, “he continued to work and discharge responsibilities till the end of his life.” “The Left movement in the country was fortunate in having such an accomplished and dedicated leader at helm of affairs in West Bengal and in leadership of CPI-M for such a long time… The Polit Bureau salutes the memory of our beloved departed comrade.”

Tributes and condolence messages poured in from all over the country, with few states declaring a state mourning as a mark of respect. West Bengal government announced a three-day state mourning. Expressing grief, former prime minister and senior BJP leader Atal Bihar Vajpayee said that his demise had “ended a chapter in country’s politics.”

12-4

PM’s Kashmir Visit: “Productive & Fruitful?”

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Ironically, just when it seemed that Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was taking the right steps to win over Kashmiris in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the week ended with quite a few questioning the government’s intentions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir last week (October 28-29), accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee, Health & Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and New & Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah. Singh inaugurated the 12-km-long Anantnag-Qazigund rail link in south Kashmir. Besides, he reviewed the development efforts being taken by state government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Singh also held discussions with major political parties in the state.

Briefing media, after concluding his two-day visit, Singh described it as “productive and fruitful.” During their talks, he and Abdullah “took stock of the development efforts in various sectors and discussed ways and means of expediting the implementation of various central projects,” Singh said. In his discussions with other political leaders and various sections of civil society, Singh made an “appeal” for dialogue, which he hopes “will be reciprocated in the spirit in which it was made.” “We have to carry all stakeholders with us to achieve a permanent and peaceful reconciliation in Jammu & Kashmir so that we can concentrate on an ambitious development agenda that will lead to a full economic revival and reconstruction and create lot more jobs for the young people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Singh stated that he was returning to Delhi “fully satisfied” with his visit. “I believe that a new chapter is opening in the peace process in the state and we are turning a corner. We will extend full support to the efforts of the state government to fulfill the high expectations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir,” he said.
During his address, at the inauguration of the rail-link, Singh pointed out that his government has taken a number of steps for the state’s development. These include, Singh said, the “bold step of reviving the movement of goods and people across the Line of Control on the Srinagar – Muzaffarabad road and on the Poonch – Rawalakot road.” Accepting that a lot more needed to be done, he said: “We have to speed up the pace of development in the state. We have to reverse the brain drain that has denuded the state of many of its teachers, doctors, engineers and intellectuals. We have to create the conditions for them to return and to be the instruments of change and development. We want to strengthen the hands of the state government so that they can implement an ambitious development agenda.”

Singh outlined the central government’s to involve the state’s youth under the “Skill Development to Employment” program, directed towards training them as tourist escorts, developing Information Technology sector in J&K and setting up two central universities in the state- one in Jammu and one in Kashmir.

“The era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end. The public sentiment is for peace and for a peaceful resolution of all problems,” Singh pointed out. He laid stress that his government is “committed to having unconditional dialogue with whoever abjures violence.” On talks India has held with Pakistan, Singh said: “We had the most fruitful and productive discussions ever with the Government of Pakistan during the period 2004-07 when militancy and violence began to decline.” “For the first time in 60 years, people were able to travel by road across the LoC. Divided families were re-united at the border. Trade between the two sides of Kashmir began. In fact, our overall trade with Pakistan increased three times during 2004-07. The number of visas that we issued to Pakistanis doubled during the same period. An additional rail link was re-established. These are not small achievements given the history of our troubled relationship with Pakistan. Inside the valley, as militancy declined, trade, business and tourism began to pick up. We were moving in the right direction,” Singh said.

When there was a “feeling among the people that a durable and final peace was around the corner,” Singh said: “All the progress that we achieved has been repeatedly thwarted by acts of terrorism. The terrorists want permanent enmity to prevail between the two countries. The terrorists have misused the name of a peaceful and benevolent religion.” Before concluding his address, Singh appealed to the Pakistan government that the “hand of friendship that we have extended should be carried forward” in “interest of people of India and Pakistan.”

Undeniably, Singh’s Kashmir-visit suggests that his government is leaving no stone unturned for peace and development of the state. But the Kashmiris started questioning the same moves as the center decided a day later to stop pre-paid mobiles in J&K from November 1. An official release from the home ministry stated that the decision was taken because of “serious security concerns” which had risen as “proper verification” was not being done while providing pre-paid mobile connections (October 30).

Criticizing and questioning the sudden decision taken by the center, the Kashmiris asked as to why should they all suffer for “wrong doings” of a few militants. “Are all users of pre-paid mobile services being viewed as terrorists?” asked a Kashmiri student. Mehboob Beigh, a legislator of National Conference (NC), which heads the state government, said: “It is unwise to do this at a time when the PM has stressed on creating an atmosphere for peace.” Opposition leader, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti described the situation as “unfortunate” and sought the PM’s personal intervention to restore the service. The move negates the statements made by PM in his Kashmir visit, she said. On the one hand, she said, the “union government was claiming that the situation has improved in the state and on the other residents of this state have been denied facilities like mobile services in the name of security threats.”

“What kind of a message is being conveyed to industrialists and prospective investors across the country? That Kashmir is a state where terrorism is as high as before the mobile services were launched in the state in 2003?” asked a businessman. In the opinion of some, it would not have much of an impact, as people are likely to lobby and convert the existing pre-paid connections into post-paid ones.

11-46

Salim Fights For Beard & Wins

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service, MMNS

NEW DELHI: Mohammed Salim, a class ten student must be fairly pleased at the apex court finally supporting his decision to keep a beard. He was expelled last year from Nirmala Convent High School, Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh for refusing to shave on religious ground. Describing the school’s decision to expel him for sporting a beard as “ridiculous,” a bench of Justices B.N. Aggrawal and G.S. Singhvi said: “Merely because you have a beard, they removed you? So if you are a Sikh, you will not be able to sport a beard. Tomorrow they will say you are not fair complexioned. Nowadays, it has become a fashion for some people to pierce their ears for putting the ring. So such persons will not be allowed to study. Prima facie, it’s ridiculous,” (September 11).

Salim is probably not the only Muslim boy who has faced discrimination at a non-Muslim educational institution. But he is one of the few Muslims to have decided to fight legally for justice in keeping with the fundamental right and duty on religious grounds guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. A major point of his argument was that he was clearly being discriminated against as those belonging to the Sikh community were allowed to keep a beard and sport a turban. If they were being permitted to keep the beard and wear the turban in keeping with religious dictates of Sikhism, why was he–a Muslim-not allowed to sport a beard? Why had he been expelled for refusing to shave on religious grounds?

Supporting Salim’s argument, the apex court bench directed the school to immediately take back the expelled student. Though the verdict has finally gone in his favor, it has not been an easy fight for Salim. He has lost a year in the legal battle. His stand has been: “I will die but not give up my beard. It’s a matter of my faith. Its in my religion.” Now he can go back to school with a beard. Salim plans to resume studies at the same school after Eid.

The ironical twist in Salim’s case stands out in it having been rejected earlier by the apex court. He had appealed in the apex court after the Madhya Pradesh High Court had rejected his plea. Dismissing his petition, Justice Markandeya Katju had made a controversial comment, for which he later apologized. Implying that keeping a beard on religious grounds was equivalent to turning to extremism, Katju had then said: “Talibanization of the country cannot be permitted.” Stating that Salim was expected to follow rules and rights set by the institution, the bench had said: “If there are rules, you have to follow it. You can’t say that I will not wear a uniform and I will wear only a burqa.” “You can join some other institution if you do not want to observe the rules. But you can’t ask the school to change the rules for you,” Katju had said (March 30).

Objecting to Katju’s controversial comments and expressing apprehension over his impartiality, Salim filed a review petition. The order “needs to be reviewed afresh as the core issue of a Muslim’s right to sport a beard as guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution (right to practice and profess one’s religion) was violated by the school,” Salim said.

Justices R.V. Raveendran and Katju withdrew the March 30 order on July 6. They requested that the matter be placed before the Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and be posted before another bench. Katju also apologized for his remarks on linking the beard with Talibanization. Salim’s Special Leave Petition was taken up formally last week by bench of Justices Aggrawal and Singhvi.

Undeniably, credit must be given to Salim and those who have supported him for pursuing their point even after it seemed that the apex court had turned down their appeal. Senior advocate B.A. Khan, appearing for Salim, had argued that his expulsion from school for keeping beard was against “his religious conscience, belief and custom of his family.” As per Article 25 of the Constitution, Salim had the right to pursue his religious practice of keeping a beard, Khan said. He described the regulation for shaving it as violative of the provision guaranteed by the Constitution.

In addition to complimenting the apex court for finally viewing Salim’s case, objectively and impartially, appreciation must be voiced for him and his supporters for not letting their stand on religious right get defeated by those who linked a Muslim’s beard with terrorism. True, all Muslim and Sikh males do not sport beards. But the decision to do so is based on their religious perceptions. Certainly, this does not imply that anyone who keeps a beard should be viewed as a “terrorist.” After all, even British writer Salman Rushdie has a beard, so does the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Salim’s case serves as an eye-opener to another hard reality. It still remains a taxing task for ordinary, religious Indian Muslims to convince even the elite Indian class that it is time the latter stopped viewing their beliefs and practices (including the beard) with a tainted approach. What is held as religious should not from any angle be linked with terrorism!

11-39

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

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

Kamala Surayya (1934- 2009)

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: With a hypersensitive and emotional spirit, reflected in her words – written as well as spoken – Kamala Surayya always moved on, stepping into controversial zones through her creative work and also her life-style. Ironically, her being a trendsetter is also marked by the homage paid to her and the funeral services held in her memory. She is one of the few Indian celebrities, who have been accorded state-level funeral services even though at the time of their death, they did not hold any high political or any authoritative post necessitating the same. Kamala, the well-known litterateur and poet, breathed her last in Pune (May 31), in a city hospital, where she had been admitted on April 18. Her body was brought to her native region, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on Monday. The body was interred with state honors at the graveyard of Palayal Masjid, where it was laid to rest (June 2). The funeral prayers were led by chief cleric of Palayal Masjid. 

Expressing grief at Kamala’s demise, in his message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that her poems “focusing on womanhood and feminism gained her recognition as one of the most noted modern Indian writers.”

Kamala had decided to leave Kerala and stay in Pune around two years ago. She had said then: “Enough is enough. Kerala has become an inhospitable place. I can’t live here anymore. I am getting raunchy mails and obscene calls. Everything is being criticised. Even fellow writers are not on my side. Maybe because I don’t have power through politics. Maybe, because I don’t have the influence.” On whether, the discomfort she faced had anything to do her with her converting to Islam, Kamala replied: “No. It has nothing to do with that. The truth is Kerala can’t stand ‘brainy women.’ They expect women to be behind closed doors. Their roles are predefined. They don’t want women to explore.” She converted to Islam in 1999, at the age of 65, a little after passing away of her husband. Earlier known as Kamala Das, after conversion, she started using the name Kamala Surayya.

So Kamala left Kerala, with practically no intention of ever returning back. As she then said: “I don’t have anything left there. No sentiments. I am leaving everything behind- furniture and all my books. I am not taking anything. I have had enough of Kerala culture. I want to be at peace with myself.” Kamala also felt sad that the state she belonged to had not given her due recognition. It is, however, claimed that practical sense prompted Kamala to move out of Kerela and live with her youngest son in Pune. She had accepted the hard reality that because of failing health she couldn’t live alone anymore in her flat in Kochi. She longed to finally return to Kerala. During the last couple of months, Kerala Minister for Culture M.A. Baby visited the ailing Kamala twice. He is understood to have offered to make arrangements for a state funeral, befitting her stature, in her home state Kerala, where she really wanted to be laid to rest.

Kamala was born on March 31, 1934 in Punnayurkulam in Kerala, in a conservative Hindu family. Her father V.M. Nair, a leading executive, later became managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi. While her mother Balamaniyamma was a noted poet, her great uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was a literary stalwart of the time. Influenced by her mother and great-uncle, Kamala took to writing from an early age.  She was married at a young age (13) to Madhava Das, 15 years older than her. The couple had three sons.

Kamala began writing professionally after becoming a mother, with her kitchen table serving as her writing area after the housework was taken care of. “There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing. That was my work area,” she said in an interview in 1996.

Among her most notable works is her autobiography, My Story (1976) which has been published in more than 15 languages. Other popular English works of Kamala include Asian Poetry Prize winner- The Sirens (1964) and Kent’s Award winner – Summer in Calcutta (1965). Her last published work in English is a collection of poems- Yaa Allah (2001). Kamala’s Malayayam works, for which used the penname Madhavikuttii, include short stories- Pakshiyude Manam (1964), Vayalar Award winner, novel Neermathalam Pootha Kalam (1994), poetry- Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996) and short stories – Nashtapetta Neelambari (1998).

She has earned laurels as well as criticism for her writings, viewed by “liberal” by some and “amoral” by others for their projection of women. In Kamala’s opinion, Indian women were suppressed and exploited. She wanted them to liberate themselves from age-old prejudices, which led to their sufferings.

Kamala ventured into the political arena for a little while and also directed her creativity to painting for some time. She floated Lok Seva Party to promote social and humanitarian work. She, however, failed to win Lok Sabha in 1984. But the lady moved on, creating waves through her pen. Her achievements and life extended beyond the pen, as she said: “I wanted to fill my life with as many experiences as I can manage to garner because I do not believe that one can get born again.” And so she did. Kamala Surayya is no more, but with her writings, she has joined the immortals.

11-24

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

2009-01-09T133757Z_01_ISL08_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-INDIA

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

J&K Elections: Voters’ Message Beyond The Ballot vs. Bullet Fight

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2008-12-31T121210Z_01_SRI09_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-LEADER

Omar Abdullah (L), president of the National Conference (NC) party, waves to supporters as Ali Mohammed Sagar (R), a senior NC leader, looks on during a rally in Srinagar December 31, 2008. Thousands of strife weary Kashmiris gave their new leader, Omar Abdullah, a rousing welcome when he arrived home on Wednesday after he was named to lead a new coalition government in the disputed Himalayan region. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

NEW DELHI: Despite the Jammu and Kashmir elections having thrown a hung assembly, ruling out prospects of single-party government in the India-occupied state, unlike the previous ones, these polls carry a different message. Though the elections were held with terrorism, as has been the routine in the past, bringing Indo-Pak diplomacy to the stage of tension, this time the issue of militancy in J&K was pushed to the backstage. It was overshadowed by excessive noise made in the subcontinent and elsewhere over terror-strikes in Mumbai, with India blaming Pakistan-based groups as responsible for these. The reported casualty in these elections was 12 civilian and five security personnel, compared to 220 civilian and 148 security personnel killed in the 2002 polls. This suggests a fall of 86 percent in militancy related incidents in 2008 polls against that in 2002.

Equally noteworthy is the large turnout of voters, 63.21 percent while that in 2002 was 44 percent. “In the last one year, there has been a reduction in militancy-related incidents and hence the fear factor was not there. The real success is wherever there was low percentage in the last elections, there was higher turnout this time and it showed that people wanted to participate in the democratic process in a big way,” according to Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami.

Notwithstanding the tensed Indo-Pak ties, marked by war-hysteria in certain political circles as well as media, amazingly these did not have any negative impact on the atmosphere in the J&K. Trade across the much-disputed Line-of-Control continued despite Indo-Pak animosity reaching a new height over Mumbai terror strikes. The cross-border trade, which began from October 21, continued amid the hype raised about India and Pakistan being near a war-like stage. For instance, earlier this month, as expressed by sources in Jammu: “A trader from Pakistan has sent a truckload of 150 boxes of oranges and 100 boxes of pomegranates besides 252 pairs of special Peshawari sandals to a business firm in Poonch.” The Indian firm had sent a consignment of 2,200 kg of tomatoes on December 23 as demanded by the Pakistan trader, they said.

Opening of LoC for trade between the two sides apparently has had a major influence on pulling Kashmiris towards the ballot box. This has assumed a yet greater importance in view of the weeks before the polls spelling tension within the state over Amarnath-issue. The three-month long tension, also marked by economic blockade of the Valley by extremist Hindu groups in Jammu, at one point even raised speculation whether the elections would be held in time. Amid this backdrop, the opening of the LoC for trade certainly carried a new meaning for Kashmiris (primarily Muslims) in the Valley. Even though trade across LoC has yet to reach substantial proportions, that it has begun, certainly signals a new importance being given to their economic concerns. The beginning of cross-border trade at LoC at least signals that Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir has been – at least now – pushed to the background, with economic concerns of Kashmiris being given greater importance. This is indeed a major move for average Kashmiris, who till the last elections, only seemed to be caught needlessly between the bullet and the ballot, with neither spelling a solution to their socio-economic problems.

Despite the Amarnath-row signaling a clear split, marked by polarization of votes, between Jammu and Kashmir, it is not without reason that Kashmiri voters turned out in greater numbers than before to cast their vote. Thus even though the Congress party won fewer seats this time (17) than in 2002, when it won 20, the party leaders have welcomed the results. “The large turnout of voters is a vote for democracy. It is a vote for national integration. As far as who wins or who loses is a secondary issue,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. Giving emphasis to electoral results carrying little importance than people’s participation, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said: “I have been saying from the very beginning that it dose not matter who wins, what matters is that the people of the Valley, the people of Jammu, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have placed their full faith in the democratic system which is a lesson to be learnt by our neighbors.” Highlighting the holding of state elections as scheduled, Gandhi said: “I have been saying from the very beginning that elections should be held in time and I am glad that they were held in time.

Compared to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having won only a single seat in 2002, this time it has managed to win 11. While some hold the Amarnath land-row as responsible for BJP’s gain, with there being split between Jammu and Kashmir on religious lines, others hold the poll outcome as reflection of voters “regional” divide.

In the 87-member assembly, the National Conference (NC) has emerged the party winning the maximum number of seats (28), followed by People’s Democratic Party (21), Congress (17), BJP (11), National Panthers Party (3), with one each gained by Communist Party of India-Marxist, Democratic Party Nationalist, People’s Democratic Front and four won by independents.

Notwithstanding the fact that a hung assembly carries apprehension of political instability in the state, by turning out in large numbers the voters have send a strong message. They have defied the separatists’ call for boycott of polls. This may not have been possible if security measures had not been enhanced and had the trade across the LoC not been opened. Though the turnout was still less than in 1987, which was more than 70 percent, it carries a great significance. The Kashmiris have taken a major step forward to display their preference for peace in the region. For the Kashmiris and the government, the significance of 2008 elections should not be confined to their having cast their votes in large numbers. Now, it is for the center to ensure that Kashmiris’ hopes expressed through the ballot boxes are not defeated by bullets!

11-2

Mumbai-Terror Strikes Dominate India’s Diplomatic Parleys

December 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2008-12-23T145504Z_01_DEL44_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

NEW DELHI: Diplomatic impact of Mumbai terror strikes has not been confined to the West, particularly the United States. The last week was marked by the issue being discussed between India and visiting dignitaries from countries closer, geographically than the US. The Mumbai-issue dominated the press conference addressed by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh before concluding his India visit (December 19). During his visit, Akhoundzadeh held discussions with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. India and Iran discussed tragic Mumbai incident, deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Akhoundzadeh said at the press conference.

The two sides also discussed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project as Mumbai-attacks have raised India’s concern about its security.  “We have expressed readiness on part of our country to take forward the project, the sooner the better,” Akhoundzadeh said. “We are expecting a response from India and Pakistan,” he added. On whether Mumbai-case has had any negative impact on it, Akhoundzadeh said: “This century is a century of Asia, with Asian capacities flourishing. The growing need for Asia is to meet increasing demand for gas.” “We feel that there are attempts from foreign powers, who do not welcome this project, to torpedo it. We feel leadership in Asia should be vigilant to look into their future demands,” he said. Referring to Mumbai case, he said that terrorism “should not deter the will and determination” of Asian countries to move ahead with project.

On Iran’s stand regarding Pakistan-based terrorists being responsible for Mumbai-case, Akhoundzadeh said: “It does not matter from which place they are. They should be dealt with iron hand.” “Terrorists have no religion, no patriotic value. India and Pakistan have proved in past few years that they have maturity to deal with terrorist cases. We should be coolheaded.  Whoever is behind it (Mumbai-case), the leadership of both countries should not fall victims to designs of terrorists,” Akhoundzadeh said. He pointed to leaders in both countries having fallen victims to terrorists, including Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto.

“No genuine Islamic individual would dare to endorse terrorism,” Akhoundzadeh said when asked on Islamic States’ stand on terrorism.

To a question on whether Indo-Pak dispute on Kashmir was root cause of terrorism in the region, Akhoundzadeh said that “growing sense of insecurity” in Afghanistan could be linked with it. With those (United States) who had “promised stability and development” to Afghanistan having failed, the State “could be the breeding ground for more terrorism,” he said.

The brief visit of Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawai Bin Abdullah was the first from a Gulf country since the Mumbai attack. During his meeting with Mukherjee, Abdullah “expressed deep condolences at the loss of life in the Mumbai terror attacks and solidarity with the people of India” (December 16). Abdullah noted: “There can be no excuse for not dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism across the Indian border.” Abdullah’s visit followed the landmark visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Oman last month. Mukherjee expressed appreciation on the telephonic call made by Abdullah soon after the Mumbai attack. He also apprised Abdullah of the results of ongoing investigations, which clearly point to “complicity of elements in Pakistan.”

During the two-day meeting of India-Russia Joint Working Group on Combating International terrorism, the Russian side “strongly condemned” the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and “reiterated their solidarity to the government and people of India.” “Both sides underlined their shared concerns on the growing threat of cross-border terrorism and reaffirmed their commitment for strengthening bilateral cooperation against terrorism,” according to a joint statement released on the two-day meeting (December 17).

Vivek Katju, Special Secretary in External Affairs Ministry led the Indian side, while the Russian delegation was led by Anatoly Safonov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Crime.

During the talks held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust,” India and Russia described their “cooperation in combating terrorism” as an important part of their “strategic partnership.” Giving stress to importance of “international efforts to prevent and fight terrorism” including the United Nations’ Global Counter Terrorism Strategy and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, they “underlined the need for expeditious conclusion of negotiations leading to finalization of India sponsored Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN General Assembly.”

India and Russia pointed out to “curbing financing of terrorism” as a “key component of counter terrorism strategy.” They also expressed concern at spread of narcotics in the region, which “directly threatens the security of both countries.” “They agreed on the need to further consolidate bilateral efforts for sharing information and expanding cooperation against drug-trafficking.” They noted the “growing threat of use of cyber-space by terrorists in their activities and the need to cooperate in this field,” according to the joint statement. They also agreed to “expand the exchange of information, experience and cooperation in the means of countering terrorism.”

The Mumbai-case was also raised during talks between Albania’s Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha and his Indian counterpart Mukherjee (December 19). Basha was the first foreign minister from Albania to visit India (December 17-20). Albania, Basha conveyed, fully shared India’s sense of outrage at the Mumbai attacks and considered terrorism as a common challenge for the international community.

11-1

Muslims Lose Trust In Congress Party

October 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) arrives with security personnel to attend the opening day of the second-leg of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi October 17, 2008.

REUTERS/B Mathur

NEW DELHI: Ironically, the questions raised over the role of the government, media and the police in the so-called “Batla House encounter” has pushed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into an unenviable position. Cutting across religious differences, while Muslims have questioned his “silence,” many Hindus have wondered at how the Prime Minister who had threatened to quit office over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has chosen to remain quiet over innocent Muslims being targeted as “suspect” terrorists. Alarmed at Muslims being disillusioned with him and his party, Singh tried assuring them last week that his government was looking into every possible way of restoring confidence of minorities (October 18). He said this in context of the Batla House encounter as well as the series of attacks on Christians in Orissa and Karnataka. Considering that he gave this assurance to a delegation of Muslim leaders from his own party, the move was apparently deliberately planned to try and convince the Muslim community at large that they should not lose hope in his government. With assembly elections due in six states in the coming weeks and less than a year left for national elections, political parties in the race are trying their best to prop up their image among the voters.

The delegation had earlier called on Congress chief, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chief Sonia Gandhi. Among others, the members included Salman Khurshid, K. Rahman Khan, Mohsina Kidwai, C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Imran Kidwai (Congress minority department chief) and Anees Durrani (minority department secretary).

“The Prime Minister expressed concern over the incidents and said that he would look seriously into every possible way to restore the confidence of the minorities and that he will take a decision soon on the issue,” Khurshid said. Singh, however, did not give any commitment on whether he would pursue the demand made by several other Muslim delegations for a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter.

Despite there being limited prospects of Singh’s “assurance” finding much favor among the Muslim voters, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have not refrained from blaming his party and its allies from indulging in the game of vote-bank politics. While addressing a party rally in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: “The Congress and its allies are engaged in the dirty game of vote bank politics. This has turned out to be a greater evil for the country than the issue of terrorism” (October 18). The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate also said that the UPA government had no right to continue in power as it had “failed miserably” in checking terrorism. Asserting that as it is possible only for BJP to combat this menace, the country needs a government headed by it. “The country has seen enough of terror attacks. Now, it needs a party that can not only combat this, but also root out the menace,” Advani said.

The Indian Muslims at large along with regional parties, with a secular bent, particularly the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), as developments suggest, have no inclination to give either Congress or BJP a chance to assume power in 2009 polls. The Batla House encounter followed by failure of the Congress-led government to take any constructive action in response to appeals and memorandums submitted by several leaders appears to have completely disillusioned the Muslim community. While they have lost trust in the Congress, they cannot afford to turn to BJP – which has played anti-Muslim card time and again.  ”Our youngsters have been killed in the name of terrorism. We had been associated with the Congress for decades, but now the same party has ditched us,” Akram (34), a resident of Okhla (Delhi), said. “We don’t want the Congress, but we don’t want the BJP either,” is the common comment made by Muslims of the area.

Lashing at the government for targeting only minorities, in its anti-terrorism drive, at a meeting of Muslim leaders, clerics and heads of Muslim organizations, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari said: “The government should proclaim the definition of terrorism. Is fake encounter not terrorism? Is it not an act of terrorism to burn alive Muslims in Gujarat,” he asked. “Is it not the act of terrorism to burn villages, mosques and churches in different parts of the country? And if it is the act of terrorism, then what is the meaning of alertness of the government and its security agencies only on bomb blasts whereas it overlooks other incidents of terrorism?” (October 14).

Not surprisingly, amid this backdrop, the SP and BSP members are trying their best to cash on the opportunity and turn the Muslims in their favor. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, BSP-chief, Mayawati called an all-India convention to discuss problems faced by Muslims (Lucknow, October 13). She blamed the Congress for having failed to combat terrorism and also for not taking sufficient steps for development of Muslims. “After independence, the Congress has ruled the country for nearly 48 years. During this long span, it never implemented any of the welfare schemes it announced for Muslims or other minority communities,” she said. At the gathering, Mayawati announced allocation of financial schemes to help raise educational standards of Muslims, from school to the university level. “An Arabic-Persian university will be set up in Lucknow. Several primary schools, junior high-schools and government secondary schools will be established in Muslim-dominated areas,” she said.

Not to be left behind, SP leaders have kept reiterating their demand for a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter. The SP plans to reserve as many as 40 percent of its seats for Muslim candidates for Delhi assembly elections. Since the Batla House encounter, SP leader Amar Singh has visited Okhla several times and addressed gatherings there to convince the Muslim populace that they should support his party. In his opinion, “The Muslim community is realizing how depending on any other party is a suicide. Congress has only used them to come to power and during Mayawati rule Muslim youth have been arrested from her state.” The latter point refers to police having made several arrests in Azamgarh, after the Batla House encounter.

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