India Insight

from The Human Impact:

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

"I am of the very strong opinion that India - which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history - will have to play a more assertive role in the world," Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

Daccord, who was in India earlier this month to boost relations with New Delhi and seek ways to engage the government more in hot spots such as Afghanistan and Myanmar, said it was imperative that India be much more active.

It’s not that India is doing nothing. It has been active, at least in terms of doling out aid.

from The Human Impact:

Malala: An icon for millions of girls who want to learn

When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world. Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.

Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school -- an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

This was her punishment for defying their edicts, the Taliban had said.

Fortunately, Malala survived and her story -- as well as her determination to continue to fight for girls to go to school despite the threat of death -- has captivated the world and made her into an international icon for girls' education.

India stepping up to the challenge of post-2014 Afghanistan

Racing through the deserted streets of Kabul at nighttime, you are likely to be stopped at street corners by policemen once, twice or even more. If you are a South Asian, as I am, their guard is up even more. “Pakistani or Indian?” the cop barks out as you lower your window. When I answer “Indian”, he wants me to produce a passport to prove that, and as it happens, I am not carrying one. So I am pulled out of the car in the freezing cold and given a full body search, with the policemen muttering under his breath in Dari that everyone goes around claiming to be an Indian, especially Pakistanis.

To be an Indian in Kabul is to be greeted warmly wherever you go, whether it is negotiating a security barrier or seeking a meeting with a government official. There is an easing of tensions (in Afghanistan, the fear uppermost in the mind is that the stranger at the door could be an attacker and you don’t have too long to judge), Bollywood is almost immediately mentioned, and your hosts will go out of their way to help.

To be a Pakistani is a bit more fraught. The body search is rigorous, the questioning hostile, and, more often than not, you have to be rescued by a Western colleague especially if you are entering one of those heavily guarded, unmarked restaurants frequented by foreigners.

from Afghan Journal:

India-Afghan strategic pact:the beginnings of regional integration

A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence.  Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India's role in Afghanistan including  a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan  people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi's way to expand influence. 

Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani  said India and Afghanistan were "both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to."  The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani's comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.

It continued to hold discussions, meanwhile, on the grant of the Most Favoured Nation to India as part of moves to normalise ties. Late last month the cabinet cleared the MFN, 15 years after New Delhi accorded Pakistan the same status so that the two could conduct trade like nations do around the world, even those with differences.

Mistrust, Afghan insecurity loom over Indo-Pak talks

By Annie Banerji

As India and Pakistan begin diplomatic talks between the two countries’ foreign secretaries, Pew Research Centre published a survey this week that shows Pakistanis are strongly critical of India and the United States as well.

Even though there has been a slew of attacks by the Taliban on Pakistani targets since Osama bin Laden’s killing in May, the Pew Research publication illustrates that three in four Pakistanis find India a greater threat than extremist groups.

In similar fashion, 65 percent of Indians expressed an unfavourable view of Pakistan, seeing it as a bigger threat than the LeT, an active militant Islamic organisation operating mainly from Pakistan and Maoist militants operating in India.

India no angel in dangerous neighbourhood

By Annie Banerji

Perhaps the finger-pointing at neighbouring Pakistan and the talk of Afghan militancy destabilising the region that New Delhi so often rolls out should be reconsidered. The neighbourhood may well be dangerous, but India is no model pupil.

According to the 2011 Global Peace Index, an initiative of the Institute of Economics and Peace, which evaluates 153 countries based on the level of ongoing conflict, safety and security and militarisation, India is the world’s 135th most peaceful country, falling seven positions from last year.

This year’s rankings, which indicated a decline in the levels of peace for the third consecutive year overall, placed Iceland in the top spot as the most peaceful country and Somalia as the world’s least.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Wikileaks on Pakistan

iran pakistanIn the State Department cables released by Wikileaks and so far reported, the most eye-catching as far as Pakistan is concerned is a row with Washington over nuclear fuel.

According to the New York Times, the cables show:

"A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

The Pakistan Army is deeply sensitive about any questions on the safety of its nuclear weapons.  The country is also often awash with conspiracy theories accusing the Americans of harbouring secret plans to dismantle the nuclear weapons.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 12, 2010

As the anniversary of the 9/11 attack coincided with Eid celebrations, Florida based Pastor Terry Jones announced that he would burn the Koran as a protest  to plans to site a Muslim cultural centre near Ground Zero , stoking tensions in Asia.  Add into the mix millions in Pakistan suffering from lack of water, food and shelter after floods, a parliament election in   Afghanistan and a U. S. -led  military campaign against the Taliban around Kandahar -  photographers in the region had lots of raw material to work with.

Raheb's picture of relief and joy caught in the harsh light of a direct flash seems to explode in a release of tension as news spreads that Pastor Jones had cancelled his plans to burn the Koran. It has to be said that ironically earlier in the day in Pakistan US flags were burned in protest against the planned protest.

AFGHANISTAN/

 Afghan protestors shout anti U.S slogans as they celebrate after learning that U.S. pastor Terry Jones dropped his plans to burn copies of the Koran, in Herat, western Afghanistan September 12, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

from Afghan Journal:

Burying the India-Pakistan dialogue for now

PAKISTAN-INDIA/

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan have returned home, licking their wounds from their latest failed engagement.  Both sides are blaming each other for not only failing to make any progress, but also souring ties further, with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart S.M.Krishna openly sparring at a news conference following the talks in Islamabad.  Qureshi suggested Krishna did not seem to have the full mandate to conduct negotiations because directions were being given from New Delhi throughout the day-long talks, drawing rebuke from India which said the foreign minister had been insulted on Pakistani soil.

Some people are asking why bother  going through this painful exercise  at this time  when the chances of  of the two sides making even the slightest concession are next to zero?  India and Pakistan may actually be doing each other more damage by holding these high-profile, high-pressure meetings where the domestic media and the  opposition  in both the countries  is watching for the slightest sign of capitulation by either government.

It's the world's longest running soap opera, made for great television viewing, says a blog on the Indian National Interest. "These events have become the drivers of the process each such opportunity attracting saturated media coverage and intense public scrutiny in both countries."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s General Kayani given three-year extension

kayani profilePakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez  Kayani, is to be given a a three-year extension to his term of office to maintain continuity in the country's battle against Islamist militants. 

Kayani, arguably Pakistan's most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. His future had been the subject of intense speculation for months, with opinion divided between the those who argued he should be given an extension for the sake of continuity, and those who said that Pakistan needed to build its institutions rather than rely on individuals - as it had done with powerful army rulers in the past.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who announced the extension, said the decision to extend Kayani's term reflected "his effective role in the war against terrorism and in the enforcement of rule of law in the country."

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