India Insight

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Change of guard in Bangladesh, hope for the region?

Sheikh Hasina, the leader of an avowedly secular party, is set to return to power in Bangladesh, the 
other end of South Asia's arc of instability stretching from Afghanistan through Pakistan to India.

And because the teeming region, home to a fifth of the world's population, is so closely intertwined 
Hasina's election and the change that she has promised to bring to her country will almost certainly have a bearing across South Asia, but especially for India and Pakistan.

Bangladesh, as far as New Delhi is concerned, is the eastern launching pad for Islamist militants hostile  to it, complementing Pakistan on the west. So even if the heat is turned on the militants in Pakistan as India is  demanding following the attacks in Mumbai, they or their controllers can unleash groups such as  Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami  (HuJI) based in Bangladesh.

India's new Home Minister P. Chidambaram told a parliament debate this month that Bangladesh had a  responsibility to control the  HuJI.

Hasina has said she wouldn't allow her nation to be used to attack other countries, and her election has been welcomed in New Delhi. In particular the defeat of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the  largest Islamist party and an ally of Hasina's bitter rival Khaleda Zia, is seen as a sign that the country wants to stick to a secular democratic path. In that, New Delhi is hoping Hasina would act against the hardline forces who have attacked her as well .

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Indian, Pakistani op-eds show signs of softening

After a month of hurling insults across the border over the Mumbai attacks, newspaper editorials in both India and Pakistan are softening their rhetoric and asking -- still quietly and tentatively for now -- whether the two countries might perhaps be able to sort it out.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, in an editorial headlined "War hysteria abating on both sides" welcomes a report that India is not setting a timeframe for Pakistan to act against the groups it blamed for the Mumbai attacks. "There is always a risk of exaggerating the prospects of peace breaking out between India and Pakistan, just as there is that irrepressible tendency to overplay the fear of war lurking round the corner," it says.  But it adds: "At the moment all the pointers from New Delhi raise hope. Or, shall we say, they don’t look bleak?"

The Daily Times goes further, arguing that with the threat of war receding, Pakistan must act against anyone launching militant attacks outside its borders and collaborate actively with India to pursue anyone found to be involved in Mumbai.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India – aiming for diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan?

India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.

According to the Times of India, "India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan's key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting..." The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.

As discussed previously on this blog, in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India's response was to look to the United States to put pressure on Pakistan. It also appears to have won some support from Russia, whose officials said publicly that the attacks were funded by Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld don who India says lives in Pakistan. China, Pakistan's traditional ally, supported the United Nations Security Council in  blacklisting the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity accused of being a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba.  China's Foreign Minister has also telephoned his counterparts in India and Pakistan urging dialogue, according to Xinhua

India in 2008: The year that was

Yet another year is coming to an end and independent India’s idea of being a republic is a year older. But is it any wiser?

On many counts, 2008 was both tumultuous and memorable for India, testing its men and the manner in which they confronted the challenges.

It was a year which saw the Manmohan Singh government face some of the toughest questions in its 4-year rule.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

War clouds over South Asia

There is a strange dichotomy in Delhi at the moment. If you read the headlines or watch the news on television, India and Pakistan appear headed for confrontation - what form, what shape is obviously hard to tell but the rhetoric is getting more and more menacing each day.

Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani promised a matching response 'within minutes" were the Indians to carry out precision strikes against camps of militants inside Pakistan, whom it blames for the Mumbai attacks.

And as if they were doing a dress rehearsal, Pakistan Air Force jets have been flying over Islamabad and Lahore for the past two days, prompting one blogger  to report that some people had called up media outlets asking if the Indian Air Force was on its way.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Do Obama’s Afghan plans still make sense post-Mumbai?

The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, according to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The plan is not unexpected, and from a military point of view is meant to allow U.S. and NATO troops not just to clear out Taliban insurgents but also to bring enough stability to allow economic development, as highlighted in this analysis by Reuters Kabul correspondent Jon Hemming.

But does it still make sense after the Mumbai attacks -- intentionally or otherwise -- sabotaged the peace process between India and Pakistan?

As discussed many times on this blog, most recently here, a crucial element of President-elect Barack Obama's Afghan strategy was to combine sending extra troops with a new diplomatic approach looking at the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region as a whole. The argument was that Pakistan would never fully turn its back on Islamist militants as long as it felt threatened by India on its eastern border and by growing Indian influence in Afghanistan on its western border.  India and Pakistan, so the argument went, should therefore be encouraged to make peace over Kashmir, to reduce tensions in Afghanistan and pave the way for a successful operation by the extra U.S. troops.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Russia points to Dawood Ibrahim in Mumbai attacks

Indian newspapers are reporting that Russian intelligence says underworld don Dawood Ibrahim -- an Indian national who India believes is living in Karachi in Pakistan -- was involved in the Mumbai attacks.

The Indian Express quotes Russia’s federal anti-narcotics service director Viktor Ivanov as saying that Moscow believes that Dawood’s drug network, which runs through Afghanistan, was used to finance the attacks. Ivanov said these were a “burning example” of how the illegal drug trafficking network was used for carrying out militant attacks, the paper said, citing an interview in the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The stories caught my eye not just because of the alleged link to Ibrahim, but because it highlights the extent to which Russian and Indian intelligence may be cooperating over Mumbai and on the wider issues over Afghanistan and the heroin trade. (A colleague in our Moscow bureau tells me that Ivanov is close to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and has good connections in the Russian intelligence community.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: remember Kaluchak?

History never repeats itself exactly, but it does leave signposts. So with India and Pakistan settling into a familiar pattern of accusation and counter-claim following the Mumbai attacks, it's worth remembering what happened after the December 2001 assault on India's parliament brought the two countries to the brink of war. Or more to the point -- thinking about the less remembered follow-up attack on an Indian army camp in Kaluchak in Jammu and Kashmir in May 2002 that nearly propelled India over the edge.

Following the attack on parliament that India blamed on the Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both Pakistan-based militant groups, India mobilised its troops all along the border, prompting a similar mobilisation on the Pakistani side. Then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf went on national television in January to promise to crack down on Islamist groups; the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were curbed, and tensions abated somewhat.

These tensions exploded again in May when gunmen launched a "fedayeen" attack on a camp for army families in Kaluchak, killing 34 people.  (For an Indian version of the Kaluchak attack written at the time, this piece by B. Raman is worth reading.) The Kaluchak attack so outraged India, and particularly the Indian Army, that it came perilously close to war with Pakistan.  The crisis was averted after intensive American diplomacy. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Brinkmanship in South Asia

Pakistan said two Indian Air Force planes violated Pakistani airspace on Saturday, one along the Line of Control in  Kashmir and the other near Lahore  in Pakistan proper. Pakistani officials said Pakistani jets on patrol chased the Indians away and that the Indian Air Force, upon being contacted later, told them it had happened accidentally.

  The Indian Air Force, though, has told the media that none of its planes had violated Pakistani airspace.  There has been no official response from the Indian government.

What is really going on here? Is it a case of nerves jangling, or perhaps the Pakistani establishment is  building up war hysteria against a foe they know all too well the country will unite against?
 
Or, on the flip side, the Pakistanis are right and the intrusions by the Indian jets did take place? Was New Delhi making an aggressive display, part of the "controlled escalation" that some people have talked about to force Pakistan to act for the Mumbai attacks?

from Global News Journal:

Breaking the news in Mumbai – literally

The concept of a televised war was born in January 1991, when news networks reported live on the missiles slamming into Baghdad and millions watched from the comfort of their living rooms as tracer fire lit the sky above Iraq's capital. A decade later,  the world watched in minute-by-minute horror as the twin towers came crashing down in New York. 

Now, with the ferocious militant attacks in Mumbai, we have arrived in "the age of celebrity terrorism". Paul Cornish of Chatham House argues that apart from killing scores of people, what the Mumbai gunmen wanted was "an exaggerated and preferably extreme reaction on the part of governments, the media and public opinion". 

It's too early to tell if governments will respond with extreme reaction, but the saturation coverage of the drama in the world's media would suggest that, at least on this level, the killers were successful.  

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