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

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Varun In Jail: His Communal Strategy For Political Gains Misfires

April 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-03-28T151939Z_01_PIL17_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-GANDHI-ARREST

Policemen clear the way for the police van in which Varun Gandhi, great-grandson of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and scion of a family dynasty, is sitting after he was arrested in Pilibhit, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 28, 2009. Police in northern India on Saturday arrested Gandhi over allegations he made inflammatory comments against Muslims. 

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: Political drama and media-hype raised over highly communal and inflammatory remarks allegedly made by Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for Lok Sabha polls carry a far more significant message than apparent. Undeniably, a primary motive behind the entire drama staged by Varun and his political patrons is to push him and the party into political limelight. Besides, Varun allegedly made provocative comments targeting the minority communities (including Muslims and Sikhs) to create a polarization of votes along religious lines in Pilibhit to attract the majority Hindu community to BJP’s side. Clearly, Varun tried his hand at the old-tainted communal card, which had incited public to the stage of riots over Ayodhya-issue, pushing BJP to the center stage as a national party from late 1980s onwards. The political novice apparently remained oblivious of the hard reality that the Indian voter has matured a lot over the past two decades. It cannot be ignored that 2002 Gujarat-carnage played a major role in pushing the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government out of power in 2004 elections. The anti-incumbency factor played a key role in helping Congress return to power, leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Varun has also given little importance to the hard reality that BJP does not have as strong base in UP as it did earlier, which is responsible for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati winning the state assembly elections in 2007 with a sweeping majority.

The situation would have been different were the national and/or UP government led by BJP. There is no denying that with her eye on capturing the prime ministerial position, UP Chief Minister Mayawati has no intention to agitate the minority community in UP and elsewhere. Hype raised by Varun’s political colleagues over his arrest and charges framed against him have ironically not played the part they probably aimed for. Nothing else can be a stronger indicator of this than the fact that neither Varun’s comments nor the subsequent developments aroused any communal frenzy to the stage of riots in Pilibhit. Yes, law and order in Pilibhit was put to risk when Varun allegedly made the inflammatory comments and when he courted arrest. The clash, the day he courted arrest (March 28) was between the saffron brigade activists and the police. This certainly defeats the logic exercised by Varun and his supporters to try inciting communal frenzy in Pilibhit.

If Varun assumed that by courting arrest for a few hours or days, he would return to the political field as a hero for his radical supporters, he has been proved wrong. This is marked by UP government slapping the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against Varun, which can keep him behind bars till elections are over. Thus, dismissal of the case filed against him on violating model code of conduct and grant of bails on other charges slapped on him spelt only a minor relief for him (March 30). He was granted bail on sureties of Rs 20,000 each in two cases – one related to allegedly causing breach of peace through inflammatory speeches and the other on charge of violating prohibitory order. The NSA was invoked against him the preceding day (March 29) for making inflammatory speeches at public meetings at Dalganj and Barkhera in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 and for giving an aggressive speech at the court gate on March 28, because of which his supporters turned violent and clashed with the police. The decision to charge him under NSA was taken at a high level meeting, presided by Mayawati. Clearly, this move signals that BJP’s rivals in UP seem prepared to counter attempts made by Varun and his supporters to incite communal frenzy for gaining political mileage by polarization of votes along religious lines.

A three-member advisory committee, comprising of one acting High Court judge and two retired judges, has been set up by Allahabad High Court to examine whether the NSA imposed on Varun is correct or not. The committee is expected to submit its report in three weeks. Till then, Varun cannot appeal against the NSA, which means that the political novice may have to contest polls from behind the bars.

While BJP leaders, including Varun’s mother Maneka have strongly criticized invoking of NSA, majority of other party leaders think otherwise. Blaming Congress and BSP for conspiring against Varun, Maneka said: “Misuse of such powerful laws is unjust to Varun and to the country. The BSP and Congress are desperate for votes. They put pressure on the authorities.” BSP’s key rival in UP, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav considers the NSA against Varun as a “tactic” of BJP and BSP to “generate sympathy” towards him. “If the BJP-BSP are not having any sort of tacit understanding, then why was Varun not arrested before the road-show?” he asked.

In the opinion of left bloc and the Congress, NSA against Varun is justified. “A very strong, tough message needed to be sent that no hate speech will be tolerated against any community and it has been sent,” Brinda Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said.

“Those who break law to get votes, do divisive politics with open eyes…. They should have courage to face the law if they break it,” Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said. On whether invoking NSA in Varun’s case was correct, he replied: “If the state government is of the opinion that there is a threat to public order, it (NSA) can be used…. Can there be more threat to public order?”

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Indian Muslims Question “Anti-Terrorist” Moves Targeting Only Them

October 1, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

2008-09-26T114346Z_01_DEL12_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

Police frisk men before Friday prayers during the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad September 26, 2008.

REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

NEW DELHI: Within a few days of Delhi Police having claimed a major breakthrough in tracking down terrorists’ network, through its encounter called Operation Batla House (September 19) allegedly responsible for blasts that have rocked the country recently, the capital city was hit by another blast (September 27). A low-intensity explosion rocked a crowded flower market in South Delhi’s Mehrauli area in the afternoon, killing three and injuring around 20. While Muslim leaders across the country have condemned the Mehrauli blast, they have lashed at authorities for having failed to adequately combat terrorism. Blaming the police for targeting only Muslims as suspect terrorists, Indian Muslims representing different sections and regions, have held this anti-Muslim negative approach as responsible for country being hit by terrorist incidents.

In the opinion of Maulana Asjad Madani, chairperson of Freedom Fighter Hussain Ahmad Madani Education Front and a member of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) working committee: “It is because only innocent people are being arrested and innocent people killed in blasts and such operations, that actual terrorists manage to escape and continue their operations.”

“Till date, the authorities have not able to prove charges against a single Indian Muslim who has been arrested as a suspect terrorist,” Madani told TMO. The Muslim leaders are agitated about the authorities not adopting a similar attitude towards Hindu extremists indulging in terrorist operations against Christians and the ones caught while assembling bombs.

Madani also expressed concern that Muslims who are released after having languished in jails for months or years, are not given any compensation for having suffered because of false charges levied against them. “Their being released is of course a great relief for them. But even this step is taken as a great favor being bestowed upon them. They deserve compensation. Besides, action must be taken against the erring officers who levied false charges against them,” he said. Referring to Batla House encounter, Madani views as “fake,” he said: “If authorities are unable to prove charges against the two killed (Atif and Sajid), their families should be given compensation and erring officers punished.”

Mujtaba Farooqi, secretary Jamaat-e-Islami told TMO: “The Batla House encounter is just a minor example of the manner in which Muslims are being targeted as terrorists.” He and several Muslim leaders expressed the opinion that this “communal agenda” was a follow-up of September 11, 2001 attacks in United States with only Muslims being nabbed as terrorists, in keeping with anti-terrorism pattern followed there.

It was to express their protest against the government’s “negative” attitude that a large number of Muslim organizations and other like-minded leaders staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar (September 26), Farooqi said.

Mushir-ul-Hasan, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University, has decided to provide legal aid to two Muslims arrested, who are students of Jamia Millia. The two arrested for their alleged role in Delhi serial blasts are:– Mohammad Shakeel and Zia-Ur-Rehman. While his role has been appreciated by Muslims and secular minded Indians, the extremist, radical minded Hindu groups have reacted strongly against it. Demanding his resignation as the VC, they displayed their anger by burning his effigy (September 25).

Dismissing speculations of his taking the decision under any “pressure” or “compulsion,” Hasan told TMO: “It was an instinctive, spontaneous response to a crisis-ridden situation.” Elaborating on it being his legal as well as natural obligation to take such a stand, Hasan said: “One is basically trying to uphold the rule of law, in keeping with the international principles applicable in United States, United Kingdom and India, that unless proven guilty the accused is innocent.” Besides, he pointed out: “Students are our wards. We are their custodians not only while they are students but even afterwards. It is based on this confidence and understanding that parents decide to send their students here.”

When questioned on the apparent bias sensed by Muslims in Indian media’s approach towards the issue, he replied: “Some sections of electronic media are trying to hound us, castigate us by presenting only a negative image about Muslims (as terrorists).” Hasan views the government’s approach as “positive,” as it has so far respected the university’s autonomy and not interfered in his decision to provide legal aid to the students.

The apparent discrimination displayed by Indian police personnel in targeting Muslims as “suspect terrorists,” without any substantial evidence has also prompted Muslim leaders to demand a major change in the police services. Maulana Abdul Hameed Noomani, spokesperson for JUH, views the Batla House encounter as a fake one and deliberately planned. He laid stress on the need to reform the entire Indian police system. Drawing attention to recent reports of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu extremist organizations’ indulgence in terrorist activities targeting Christians and their being caught in assembling bombs, Noomani said: “Why hasn’t substantial action been taken against these groups? Just as these groups’ activities cannot be used to label the entire Hindu community as terrorist, why are only Muslims being cornered only because of the bias displayed by police and the media against them?”

The attempt made to “justify” Batla House encounter as “genuine” because of Inspector M.C. Sharma having succumbed to bullet wounds he received at the site has been refuted -by those viewing it as fake- posing the following questions. In their opinion, Sharma received shots from the back, from his own colleagues, who started firing indiscriminately to give the impression of their being engaged in a “heavy encounter.” If Sharma was killed in an encounter, where is the weapon by which he was killed, why have the forensic report of the bullets not been made public and whose fingerprints are present on the weapon that killed him? Besides, if the police personnel were sure of nabbing terrorists, why were some of them not wearing bulletproof vests? The fact that they went to the targeted house, without any search/arrest warrant only suggests that they were not even sure of whom would they meet there. The bullet wounds received by two “suspect-terrorists” killed in the so-called encounter were point-blank ones, which is “not possible in an encounter,” according to Madani.

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