India Tones Down Aggressive Stance on Mumbai

January 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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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!

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