India Insight

Manmohan Singh’s shrinking room for manoeuvre on Pakistan

It is more than two weeks since Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a declaration with his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani aimed at rebuilding ties, but the attacks on Singh haven’t abated at home.

By agreeing to delink terrorism from the broader peace process and including a reference to the threats inside Pakistan’s troubled Baluchistan province – which Pakistan says is stoked by India – Singh is seen to have gone too far to accommodate the neighbour without getting anything in return.

If the sustained nature of the attacks from the security establishment, the Hindu nationalist opposition and the sniper firing from within Singh’s ruling Congress is any indication, he has a rocky path ahead in any engagement with Pakistan.

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta who heads the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi notes, the continuing controversy over the Sharm el-Sheikh statement poses a huge challenge for the prime minister.  “He has to recognise how much at odds his strategy on Pakistan appears to be with a lot of public opinion.”

You can be sure the next time Singh meets Gilani or anyone else from the Pakistani establishment in some third nation (a trip to Islamabad is hard to comprehend on current public opinion), there will be a billion people watching him.  They will scrutinise every move, every comment, and every word that he signs off on.

And now, Pakistan’s militants strike in its Kashmir region

A suicide bomber has struck in Pakistani Kashmir killing two soldiers in what is said to be the first such attack in the Himalayan region. The attacker targeted military barracks, which raises the question whether Pakistan’s Islamist militants are opening a new front just as they come under pressure in the northwest.

A suicide attack in Muzaffarabad, eerily identical to the scores that have taken place on the Indian side of the scenic region in the past, will trigger interest in New Delhi for likely clues to which way the war in Pakistan is headed.

Nobody yet has claimed responsibility, but if it is the Pakistan Taliban what signal is it sending? Is it going to fight the Pakistani army everywhere including Kashmir, which really has been at the core of Pakistan’s policy towards India.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India: should it take a gamble on Pakistan?

Some people in India are calling upon the new coalition government to make a series of bold moves towards Pakistan that will compel the neighbour to put its money where  the mouth is.

If Pakistan keeps saying that it cannot fully and single-mindedly go after militants on its northwest frontier and indeed increasingly within the heartland because of the threat it faces from India, then New Delhi must call its bluff, argued authors Nitin Pai and Sushant K. Singh in a recent piece for India's Mint newspaper.

How about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, back for a second term, giving a categorical public declaration that Pakistan need not fear an Indian military attack so long as the Pakistan army is engaged in fighting with Taliban militants?  While a verbal commitment may not convince the military brass in Rawalpindi, it will likely play well in Washington as it rathchets up pressure on the Pakistan army to take the battle to the militants.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan’s missed opportunities on Kashmir

India and Pakistan aren't always bickering, including over Kashmir, the dispute that has defined their relationship over more than six decades. Away from the public eye, top and trusted envoys from the two countries have at various times sat down and wrestled with the problem, going beyond stated positions in the public and even teasing out the contours of a deal. In the end of course, someone's nerve failed, or something else happened and the deal was off.

Beginning 2004  and up until November 2007 India and Pakistan were embarked on a similar course and very nearly came to an agreement on Kashmir, says investigative journalist Steve Coll in an article for the New Yorker. Special envoys from the two countries met in secret in hotels in London, Bangkok and London to lay out a solution and after three years they were ready with the broad outline of a settlement that would have de-militarised Kashmir.

An abstract of the article  is here and the Washington Post  has a story on it.

Is India playing its hand well over Mumbai?

It has been a tense game of poker between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. On the face of it, India had the much stronger hand — not least because it captured one of the attackers alive and got him to confess to being trained in Pakistan.

But has it played its cards well?

Some analysts say India overplayed its hand in the initial days after the attack by saying the military option remained open.

That allowed Pakistan to cloud the issue and raise the spectre of an Indian military strike — neatly uniting the country behind the army and against India.

“Sitting here watching the Taj burn down”

Reuters Editor, South Asia, Phil Smith is reporting from outside the landmark Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, where Western hostages are being held.

“The scene at the famous gate of India is chaos, with dozens of army, police and fire trucks struggling to control a situation which began in the late evening on Wednesday. Searchlights illuminate the front of the Taj hotel, as up to five gunmen hold hundreds of hotel guests hostage. There have been several explosions from inside the hotel and earlier, grenades were thrown from windows and exploded in the street.

“At around 3 a.m., a large explosion set fire to the top part of the building, and fires are still burning on the upper floors.

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