India Insight

from Afghan Journal:

Can India, Pakistan possibly back off in Afghanistan?

INDIA-PAKISTAN

Now that India and Pakistan have agreed to hold further talks following a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries, are they going to step back from a bruising confrontation in Afghanistan?

It's a war fought in the shadows with spies and proxies, and lots of money. Once in a while it gets really nasty as in deadly attacks on Indian interests for which New Delhi has pointed the finger at Pakistan.

It's not clear what subjects Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani touched on during their meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan, but Afghanistan clearly is an important subtext, arguably the most pressing one at this time.

Both countries are positioning themselves for an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the country, with Pakistan clearly holding the better cards at the moment, both as a result of its geography and long-standing links with a resurgent Taliban.

Like much else in their tormented relationship each fears the other's involvement in Afghanistan. Pakistan worries that Kabul will end up with close links to New Delhi, allowing India to essentially "surround" Pakistan; India fears that if the Taliban return to power, it will face more attacks at home.

from Afghan Journal:

Standing by your friends:India, U.S. push ahead with nuclear deal

OBAMA-INDIA

For all the hand-wringing in India over getting sidelined by the United States in its regional strategy,  the two countries have gone ahead and just completed an important deal on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from reactors to be built in India.

The agreement is a key step in the implementation of the India-U.S.  civil nuclear pact which grants India access to nuclear fuel and technology, even though it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Under the agreement India can reprocess U.S.-originated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards which in itself is a symbolic concession, according to the Washington Post. It said that the Indians were a bit concerned about the idea of American officials running around their  nuclear reactors , a sort of  "a symbolic, sovereignty issue" as  a source in the U.S. nuclear industry said. They would rather submit to oversight by the IAEA, which thus far is a model the United States has only followed for nuclear collaboration with  Europe and Japan.

Considering that America has gone to war in Iraq on the grounds that it was building weapons of mass destruction and is at this time pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme, it is indeed a big deal. It can  also potentially reshape the strategic landscape in South Asia with the world virtually granting legitimacy to India as a nuclear weapons state while denying that to Pakistan.

from Afghan Journal:

Keeping India out of Afghanistan

children

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/

Forbes ‘most powerful’ list and the Indian connection

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is among four Indians who share space with U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the Forbes 2009 list of the World’s Most Powerful People.

Those who dominate the list were chosen based on the number of people they influence, their ability to project power beyond their immediate sphere of influence and their control of financial resources.

For Singh, a self-effacing economist who led a resurgent Congress Party to a landslide victory in the general election this year, the accolade is a reflection of how far he has come since his name was proposed as an obvious choice for the post of Prime Minister.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: looking beyond the rhetoric

With so much noise around these days in the relationship between India and Pakistan it is hard to make out a clear trend.  Politicians and national media in both countries have reverted to trading accusations, whether it be about their nuclear arsenals, Pakistani action against Islamist militants blamed for last year's Mumbai attacks or alleged violations of a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Scan the headlines on a Google news search on India and Pakistan and you get the impression of a relationship fraught beyond repair.

Does that mean that attempts to find a way back into peace talks broken off after the Mumbai attacks are going nowhere? Not necessarily. In the past the background noise of angry rhetoric has usually obscured real progress behind the scenes, and this time around may be no exception.

MORE TALKS

The Hindu newspaper reported on Sept 1 that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may meet either the president or prime minister of Pakistan on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad in November. It said the Indian government was already working out what strategy to adopt to make any meeting meaningful, while also pushing Pakistan to take more action against Pakistan-based militant groups in order to prevent another Mumbai-style attack.

India, China take a measure of each other at border row talks

China and India are sitting down for another round of talks this week on their unsettled border, a nearly 50-year festering row that in recent months seems to have gotten worse.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo and India’s National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan are unlikely to announce any agreement on the 3,500 km border, even a small one, but their talks this week may well signal how they intend to move forward on a relationship marked by a  deep, deep “trust deficit”, as former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman puts it.

While the entire Himalayan border is disputed, including the Aksai Chin area, it is the row over large parts of India’s Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern stretch of the mountains that has strained ties in recent months.

India’s nuclear submarine dream, still miles to go

The unveiling of India’s top secret nuclear-powered submarine, three decades after it was conceived, has been greeted with much tub-thumping.

Even for a nation hungry for success and even more than that, global recognition, some of the adulation seems excessive and perhaps premature as many are starting to point out.

INS Arihant, or destroyer of enemies, has just made contact with water, as it were, with the navy flooding the dry dock at last weekend’s launch in the southern port city of Visakhapatnam.  It has to be tested in the harbour, then out at sea. The nuclear reactor, the heart of the new technology, has yet to be fitted. Perhaps a bigger moment will be when that reactor goes critical.

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.

India, Pakistan: two steps forward and four backwards?

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has dropped a plan to travel to Egypt next month where he was expected to hold further talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following their meeting in Russia this week.

Pakistan’s foreign office has said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend the summit of Non-Aligned Nations in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh although soon after the Singh-Zardari meeting in Yekaterinburg the two sides announced plans for a second meeting in July.

Has something gone wrong?

Newspapers on both sides of the border read more into the change of plans than just a normal swap of duties between the prime minister and the president.

Indian PM’s media coup at Yekaterinburg

“I am happy to meet you, but my mandate is to tell you that the territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism.” This was how Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began his crucial meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia’s Yekaterinburg on Tuesday.

The comment, made in the full glare of the media, hit Zardari like a well-aimed arrow as the embarrassed Pakistani leader quickly interrupted to ensure the reporters were asked to leave the room.

Those few dramatic moments may have served Singh two crucial purposes: Pakistan could not showcase the meeting as proof that it was again business as usual between the two countries. Second, Singh managed to preclude any criticism back home that India had capitulated before Pakistan.

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