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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: practising peace

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Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let's start with the positives.

Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's impromptu  invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week's India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.  The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February.  In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.

Moreover, the Indian prime minister is personally committed to pursuing peace in the time he has left before a national election due by 2014.  And while last year he was isolated even within his own party in his enthusiasm for peace - an idea that still lingers in some quarters - his  initiative  appears to enjoy the support of powerful Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Outlook magazine, writing about his cricket diplomacy, noted that Singh was flanked by Gandhi and her son and prime-minister- in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, when he welcomed Gilani on his first official visit to India.

The Pakistan Army, which dominates foreign and security policy in Pakistan, has also been slowly reassessing its approach to Islamist militants it once nurtured for use against India as they slip increasingly out of its control. How far that reassessment goes is open to debate;  but few doubt that Gilani would have accepted Singh's invitation to India to explore peace talks had this not been endorsed by the army.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Keeping Raymond Davis and Lashkar-e-Taiba in perspective

tajmumbaiAccording to the New York Times, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor arrested in Pakistan for shooting dead two Pakistanis in what he says was an act of self-defence, was working with a CIA team monitoring the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

The article, by Washington-based Mark Mazzetti, was not the first to make this assertion. The NYT itself had already raised it, while Christine Fair made a similar point in her piece for The AfPak Channel last week (with the intriguing detail that "though the ISI knew of the operation, the agency certainly would not have approved of it.")

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Musharraf’s Kashmir deal, mirage or oasis?

musharraf londonThe foreign secretaries, or top diplomats,  of India and Pakistan are expected to meet on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in Thimpu, Bhutan on Feb 6/7 to try to find a way back into talks which have been stalled since the attack on Mumbai in November 2008. Progress is expected to be limited, perhaps paving the way to a meeting of the foreign ministers, or to deciding how future talks should be structured.

Expectations are running low, all the more so after a meeting between the foreign ministers descended into acrimony last July. And leaders in neither country have the political space to take the kind of risks needed for real peace talks right now. Pakistan is struggling with the fall-out of the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer  among many other things, while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been weakened by a corruption scandal at home.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Will Obama refer to Kashmir in public in India?

fayazaward2Will President Barack Obama make some public remarks on Kashmir during his trip to India next month?

At a White House press briefing, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes refused to be pinned down on specifics,  beyond saying that the United States would continue to express support for India and Pakistan to pursue talks.

from Afghan Journal:

Obama in India next month; ripples in the region

U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in a town hall meeting at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jim YoungU.S. President Barack Obama's visit to India is still a couple of weeks away and there is the huge U.S. election before then, but it has already set off ripples in the region. The Chinese have especially cottoned onto Obama's Indian journey, fretting over what they see as a U.S. attempt to ring fence China by deepening ties with countries around it. And continent-size India with a population of over a billion and an economy growing at a clip just behind China's is seen as a key element of that strategy of containment.

Qui Hao of the National Defense University, writes in the Global Times that while U.S. military alliances with Japan and South Korea form the backbone of the "strategic fence" around China, the "shell" is the partnership that Washington is building with India, Vietnam and other nations that have territorial disputes with China.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan-India; a $5 million downpayment on a peace initiative

tentsHistorical parallels can be misleading, so I am a little bit wary of reading too much into a comparison between the devastating cyclone which hit then East Pakistan in 1970 and the current floods in Pakistan. But on the surface the similarities are there.

In 1970, the Pakistani government was criticised for not doing enough to help the victims of the Bhola cyclone, exacerbating tensions between the western and eastern wings of the country ahead of a civil war in which East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh. In 2010, the Pakistani government has been criticised for not doing enough to help the victims of the floods; potentially exacerbating tensions between the ruling elite and the poor -- usually the first to suffer in a natural disaster. At the same time the country is fighting what is effectively a civil war against Islamist militants, for whom poverty and alienation provide a fertile breeding ground.

U.N. plays down “guidance” on Kashmir

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- U.N. chief Ban Ki-moons spokesman says Ban never said a word about Kashmir.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's spokesman says "guidance" on Kashmir was not an official statement from Ban

(Updated August 6, 2010 at 5:05 p.m. EDT with new remarks from U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan agree to hold more talks: now comes the hard part

thimphuAs predicted, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed during a meeting in Bhutan that their countries should hold further talks to try to repair relations strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters at a regional summit in Thimphu that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had decided their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries (the top diplomats) should meet as soon as possible.

In agreeing to hold more talks, India and Pakistan have overcome the first major obstacle in the way of better ties - the question of what form their dialogue should take. Pakistan had been insisting on a resumption of the formal peace process, or Composite Dialogue, broken off by India after the attack on Mumbai which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. India had been seeking a way back into talks which stopped short of a full resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

from Afghan Journal:

When India-Pakistan wargames become real

(Pakistani army tanks in exercises in Bhawalpur sector. Pic by Christopher Allbritton)

(Pakistani army tanks in exercises in Bhawalpur sector. Pic by Christopher Allbritton)

Pakistan is conducting its biggest military exercises in 21 years and at the weekend thousands of troops backed by fighter jets took part in a mock battle to repel a simulated Indian military advance and inflict heavy casualties. The manoeuvres were designed to test a riposte to India's Cold Start doctrine of a rapid and deep thrust into Pakistan in a simulated environment, but you are never far from real action on the heavily militarised border between the two countries.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: a personal view of the water wars

 It was so long in the making,  so utterly predictable, that the news that Pakistan and India are now arguing over water carries with it the dull ache of inevitability.

When I was living in Delhi, which I left in 2004, a few analysts were already warning that the next war between Pakistan and India would be over water, rather than over Kashmir.  The mountain glaciers which fed the rivers which are the lifeline of both countries were melting, they said, and sooner or later India and Pakistan would blame each other for climate change. I did not take it that seriously at the time. Not even after seeing first hand how far the Siachen glacier - the world's longest glacier - had receded.  

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