India Insight

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India, Pakistan and the rise of China

India has been fretting for months that it could be pushed into the background by the United States' economic dependence on China and by the renewed focus on Pakistan by President Barack Obama's administration.  That anxiety appears to have increased lately -- perhaps because the end of the country's lengthy election campaign has opened up space to think more about the external environment -- and is focusing on China.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Indian Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said China posed a greater threat than Pakistan.  “China is a totally different ballgame compared to Pakistan,” he was quoted as saying. “We know very little about the actual capabilities of China, their combat edge or how professional their military is … they are certainly a greater threat.”

The Mint newspaper followed up with a editorial calling China "perhaps the gravest external threat" to India's security. "That India is in an unstable neighbourhood is clearer than ever this summer," it said. "But troubles from Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Nepal pale when compared with China."

The increased anxiety has been driven by the end of the war in Sri Lanka, where the government's victory was attributed partly to a supply of Chinese weapons, and where China has been building a new port on the island's southern coast.

"This is part of a broad move by China into the Indian Ocean, which India has traditionally considered its sphere of influence," said British newspaper The Times. Chinese engineers are building another port at Gwadar in Pakistan; roads are being cut or improved through Burma to help trade routes between Yunnan province in China and the Indian Ocean; ties are being improved with island nations such as the Seychelles; surveillance stations are being sited or upgraded on Burmese islands."

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.

from FaithWorld:

Religion and politics in “bewilderingly diverse” India

asghar-ali-engineer"Bewildingerly diverse" is the way Asghar Ali Engineer describes his native country, India. This 70-year-old Muslim scholar has written dozens of books about Indian politics and society, Islamic reform and interreligious dialogue. As head of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, he works to promote peace and understanding among religious and ethnic communities through seminars, workshops, youth camps, research and publications. The centre even organises street plays in the slums of Mumbai to teach the poor about the dangers of communalism.

Our long conversation at the Centre in Mumbai's Santa Cruz neighbourhood of Mumbai during a recent visit to India provided a few key quotes for my earlier analysis and blog post on religion in the Indian election campaign. Since these issues are crucial to the general election taking place in India, I've transcribed longer excerpts from his answers and posted them on the second page of this post. (Photo: Asghar Ali Engineer, 14 April 2009/Tom Heneghan)

What is the role of communalism in Indian elections?

"The BJP bases its whole politics around accusations that Congress uses Muslims as vote banks and does a lot of favours for them. 'The Muslims vote for Congress and we are against vote bank politics,' that's what they claim. But the BJP itself is basing its politics on Hindu vote banks, (especially) certain castes among Hindus, particularly the upper castes. But when they saw that upper class support cannot put them into power in Delhi, they widened their circle and tried to include some OBC (Other Backward Class) Hindus. Many OBC leaders have become militant Hindu leaders. They are more militant than the upper-class leaders. They see this as the only way to carve out their niche in upper-class politics. Dalits are lower than the OBC. Dalits generally vote for secular parties. Most used to vote for Congress, but now many caste parties have come into existence -- for example, (the Dalit politician) Mayawati. She's also widening her political base by including the upper class.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India launches Israeli-made satellite for eyes in the sky

India launched an Israeli-made spy satellite on Monday that will help it keep a close eye on its borders stretching from Pakistan in the west to China in the north and east.

The launch is significant for several reasons. First off, the all-weather advanced satellite that the Israelis themselves use for surveillance on nations such as Iran is an eye in the sky that Indian security planners have been demanding for long. India has its own sophisticated satellite imaging programme that gives pretty high resolution pictures, but, as a defence scientist once told me, they tended to go a bit blind in bad weather, especially during the monsoon.

The Israeli satellite is supposed to be an all-seeing all-weather platform that at a height of 550 kms lets you see things like a motorbike on the street. New Delhi apparently asked the Israelis to speed up the satellite after the Mumbai attacks in November when gunmen arrived on the shores of the country's financial capital in boats.

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.

Pakistan cricket plunges into crisis

It’s just not cricket.

Ducking for cover as bullets replaced bouncers… players evacuated in a military helicopter that lands right next to a 22-yard pitch… the same strip at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium that saw Thilan Samaraweera score a double century the previous evening.

Samaraweera was hit on his leg during an audacious attack by armed militants on a convoy taking his team to the venue, an attack that left six cricketers injured and more than half-a-dozen Pakistani security personnel killed.

The world of cricket will never be the same again.

More worrying is the fate of Pakistani cricket. Tours to Pakistan were already a trickle with teams like Australia refusing to travel.

Cricket in South Asia: critically injured?

This is not the first time cricket or cricketers were targeted in the subcontinent, especially Pakistan.

India’s 1982-83 tour of Pakistan was disrupted after rioting marred the last Test in Karachi. Who can forget the sight of scared cricketers scampering to the pavilion as an angry mob invaded the pitch at the National Stadium.

In May 2002, a car bomb exploded in Karachi in front of the hotel where the New Zealand team was staying, killing 13 people, including 11 French navy experts. New Zealand called off the tour within hours of the attack.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan under siege: cricket becomes a target

"Everything is officially going to hell." The verdict of a reader quoted by All Things Pakistan said perhaps better than anyone else why the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore marked a defining moment in Pakistan's agonising descent into chaos.

Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.  Five policemen were killed.

The death toll was small by South Asian standards.  But what defined it -- beyond the audacity and apparent sophistication of the attack -- was the assault on the identity of a country where cricket, as in neighbouring India, is a national obsession.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Musharraf planning to visit India

Former President Pervez Musharraf was always one for the grand gesture. So it should come as no surprise that after a period of relative obscurity following his resignation in August last year, he will visit India as part of a series of lectures he plans to give worldwide.

In an interview with the BBC, Musharraf, who has just returned from a trip to the United States, said he was enjoying his retirement and had been invited to give lectures on Pakistan and the South Asian region around the world. "He said the first invitation he had accepted was from India, where he expected to speak at a conference in Delhi next month," the BBC said.

“I love this life. I am relaxed and satisfied. And I am enjoying my lecture tours," he told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. "Next month I am going to India for the same purpose. Let’s counter the Indians on their own home ground.”

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