India Insight

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India send in their professional diplomats to break the stalemate

raobashirThe foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, meeting in New Delhi to end a diplomatic freeze which followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, did what they were expected to do -- laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to "keep in touch".

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India's top diplomat, focused on what India calls "cross-border terrorism". India also handed three new dossiers of evidence to the Pakistani delegation, including one on Hafez Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, who New Delhi accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attack. Pakistan had said it did not have enough evidence to prosecute Saeed.

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said both countries were victims of terrorism but that dialogue should not be held hostage to a single person or single incident. In a news conference after the talks he stressed the need to reach a settlement on Kashmir, to resolve territorial disputes over the Siachen and Sir Creek regions and to improve cooperation over the sharing of Himalayan river waters.

He also raised India's role in Afghanistan, saying it was using its presence there to provide money and funding to militants to destabilise Pakistan. India denies this.

But despite their widely different views on what should be on the agenda, there was little suggestion of rancour during the talks, which Bashir described as a genuine attempt to bridge differences. Both Rao and Bashir are seasoned diplomats with long experience of the many ups and downs of the relationship between India and Pakistan.

from Afghan Journal:

Keeping India out of Afghanistan

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in the United States for the first official state visit by any foreign leader since President Barack Obama took office this year. While the atmospherics are right, and the two leaders probably won't be looking as stilted as Obama and China's President Hu Jintao appeared to be during Obama's trip last week (for the Indians are rarely short on conversation), there is a sense of unease.

And much of it has to do with AFPAK - the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan which is very nearly at the top of Obama's foreign policy agenda and one that some fear may eventually consume the rest of his presidency. America's ally Pakistan worries about India's expanding assistance and links to Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a strategy to encircle it from the rear.  Ordinarily, Pakistani noises wouldn't bother India as much, but for signs that the Obama administration has begun to adopt those concerns as its own in its desperate search for a solution, as Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek.

And that is producing a "perverse view" of the region, he says adding it was a bit strange that India was being criticised for its influence in Afghanistan. India is the hegemon in South Asia, with a GDP 100 times that of Afghanistan and it was only natural that as Afghanistan opened itself up following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, its cuisine, movies and money would flow into the country. The whole criticism about India,  Zakaria says, is a little bit like saying the United States has had growing influence  in Mexico over the last few decades and should be penalised for it.USA/

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: looking beyond the rhetoric (part 2)

Following up on my earlier post about what is happening behind the scenes in the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, it's worth keeping track of this report that Islamabad is considering appointing former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue with New Delhi known as "backchannel diplomacy".

As discussed in this story there has been much talk about trying to get the backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan up and running again, both to reduce India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan and to prevent an escalation of tensions between the two countries themselves.  So any forward movement on the backchannel diplomacy, if confirmed, would be important.

To recap (and with apologies to those who already know this), India and Pakistan have many different ways of engaging with each other.  They have a formal peace process known as the composite dialogue, started in 2004 and broken off by India after last November's attack on Mumbai.  India has said it will not resume the composite dialogue until Pakistan takes more action against those accused of involvement in Mumbai.

What Afghanistan’s vote means for India

India and Pakistan, with their competitive strategic interest in Afghanistan, are keenly watching the war-battered nation’s election this week, the second since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.

The front-runner of that vote is incumbent President Hamid Karzai who is facing a stiff challenge from his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. There are more than two dozen other candidates.

While a successful vote could mean a step toward achieving basic political and military stability in Afghanistan, its outcome holds crucial geopolitical significance for India and Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan gamble

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his political reputation on talks with Pakistan, earning in equal measure both praise and contempt from a domestic audience still burned by last November's attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

"I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open," he said in a debate in parliament on Wednesday. "Unless we talk directly to Pakistan we will have to rely on a third party to do so... Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way, but to go step-by-step... dialogue and engagement are the best way forward," Singh said.

That may sound like fairly anodyne stuff. But to recap, Singh signed a joint statement with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this month in which both ordered their foreign secretaries -- their top diplomats -- to hold more talks to improve relations. Singh however also said the formal peace process -- the so-called composite dialogue -- could not be resumed until Pakistan took more action against those who organised the Mumbai attack.

Xinjiang – the spreading arc of instability

China’s troubled Xinjiang region shares borders with eight countries, which is perhaps one reason President Hu Jintao dropped out of the G8 summit to head home, underscoring the seriousness of the situation and the need to quickly bring the vast oil-rich region under control.

Xinjiang touches Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, besides the Tibet Autonomous Region.

China, as this piece for the Council on Foreign Relations points out, has long been concerned that these states on its periphery both in central and south Asia may be tempted to back a separatist movement in Xinjiang because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to its neighbours.

South Asia’s failing states

Foreign Policy magazine has just released its 2009 list of failing states or those at risk of failure and South Asia makes for sobering reading.

All of India’s neighbours, except for tiny Bhutan, figure in the list of top 25 states that are faltering, although their rankings have improved marginally over the previous year.

So Afghanistan remains at number 7 in the table of failing states topped by Somalia. Pakistan is ranked 10th, just marginally better than its 9th position in last year’s table which perhaps reflects the belief that the state has begun to fight back the militants who threaten its existence.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

After Indian election, relationship with Pakistan back in focus

After a diplomatic pause enforced by India's lengthy election campaign, the country will soon have a new government after the ruling Congress party won an unexpectedly decisive victory.  But analysts doubt the change of government will bring a significant change of heart in India towards Pakistan.

Despite Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley, they say India has yet to be convinced the Pakistan Army is ready to crack down more widely on Islamist militants, fearing instead that it will selectively go after some groups, while leaving others like the Afghan Taliban and Kashmir-oriented groups alone.  While Pakistan wants to resume talks broken off by New Delhi after last November's attack on Mumbai, India has said it wants Islamabad to take more action first against those behind the assault, which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is expected to remain in office after the Congress election victory, is now likely to come under pressure from the United States to soften India's stance towards Pakistan.  The current stand-off leaves both countries vulnerable to a fresh flare-up of tensions which could torpedo Washington's plans for Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also complicates U.S. efforts to persuade the Pakistan Army to move troops from the Indian border to fight Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.

Holbrooke, an unseasonal visitor?

Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, is visiting India for a second time in seven weeks. But what has surprised many is the timing of the trip, coming as it does at a time when India is preparing for a general election and most government business is virtually on hold.Though India is not part of Holbrooke’s remit, New Delhi’s engagement is imperative for any effort to stabilise the so-called Af-Pak region.But that hardly explains the visit now, considering that he could expect to do little business with a “lame duck government” in New Delhi.So why is he coming now?Many Indian analysts believe that keeping India and Kashmir out of Holbrooke’s brief was a way of Washington massaging New Delhi’s ego.In reality, though, they say India is very much part of Holbrooke’s mandate because Pakistan wants a solution to disputed Kashmir as an element of any regional peace efforts — a demand Washington can hardly ignore if it expects Pakistan’s cooperation.An Indian analyst here says Holbrooke is using the interregnum to show his turf includes India.So if it is impossible to disentangle Kashmir from any effort to win Pakistani cooperation to stabilise Afghanistan, where does that leave India-U.S relations?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Lashkar-e-Taiba threatens more violence in Kashmir

The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group blamed by India for last November's assault on Mumbai, has threatened more violence in Kashmir after a five-day gunbattle that killed 25 people, including eight Indian troops.

A spokesman for the group, speaking from an undisclosed location, said: "India should understand the freedom struggle in Kashmir was not over, it is active with full force."

The threat by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, if followed through, would be a new headache for the United States, which would like to see an improvement in relations between India and Pakistan as it overhauls its approach to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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