India Insight

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Britain and the Kashmir banana skin

Memories seem to be short in the British government when it comes to Kashmir. Foreign Secretary David Miliband stirred up a diplomatic row over the region during his visit to India earlier this month. As this piece in The Times says, Miliband angered Indian officials by giving what they described as "unsolicited advice" on Kashmir, over which India has three times gone to war with Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947 and over which it is in no mood to be lectured by outsiders, let alone the former colonial power.
It was on a visit to Pakistan and India in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of those two countries' independence that the then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, also got into trouble over Kashmir. Cook, who also served the Labour government, was forced to row back from suggestions that Britain might help resolve the long-running dispute. His intervention cast a serious shadow over the visit by Queen Elizabeth, who was at one point forced to cancel a long-planned speech.
The visit, during which the queen was accompanied by Cook, went downhill after that, and at one point a senior British diplomat was seen sitting, head in hands in despair, on the pavement outside Chennai airport. There were even suggestions, denied of course, that the British High Commissioner might be recalled. Tony Blair, then prime minister, had to patch up ties by assuring his Indian counterpart, Inder Kumar Gujral, that London would not meddle in Delhi's dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.
One wonders whether Miliband was reminded of all this before he went to India, and if he was, why did he walk into the Kashmir minefield once again. Or maybe he wasn't, which poses a different set of questions about competence and institutional memory at the Foreign Office.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Miliband’s gift: stiffening Indian resolve over Pakistan

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai - which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan - to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world's sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.


Miliband's visit was a "jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy," writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s South Asian envoy and the Kashmir conundrum

Earlier this month, I wrote that the brief given to a South Asian envoy by President Barack Obama could prove to be the first test of the success of Indian diplomacy after the Mumbai attacks. At issue was whether the envoy would be asked to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether the brief would be extended to India, reflecting comments made by Obama during his election campaign that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would ease tensions across the region.

That question has been resolved - publicly at least -- with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. No mention of India or Kashmir.

India has long resisted overt outside interference in Kashmir and argued - with great vehemence since the Mumbai attacks - that tensions in South Asia were caused by Pakistan's support for, or tolerance of, Islamist militants rather than the Kashmir dispute.  For India, a public reference to Kashmir following Mumbai would amount to endorsing what it calls cross-border terrorism.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Before last year's Mumbai attacks, Obama had suggested that the United States should help India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir as part of a regional strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. In this he was supported by a raft of U.S. analysts who argued that Pakistan would never fully turn against Islamist militants threatening the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan as long as it felt it might need them to counter burgeoning Indian influence in the region. Obama's suggestion raised hackles in India, and broke with a tradition established by the Bush administration which had tended to be -- publicly at least -- hands-off about the Kashmir dispute. 

from FaithWorld:

Do dead terrorists lose all right to any respect?

Do dead terrorists lose all right to any respect? I ask this because my post Should India cremate Mumbai militants, spread ashes at sea? last week has prompted a surprising wave of comments suggesting these corpses should be desecrated. Readers have been proposing (and we have been deleting) graphic and crude scenarios for disposing of the nine corpses still lying in a Mumbai morgue. The proposed solution of cremating the bodies and spreading the ashes at sea - originally from a blog post by Leor Halevi in the Washington Post - seemed far too tame for them. (Photo: Gunmen at Mumbai train station, 26 Nov 2008/Official CCTV image via Reuters TV)

The Mumbai militants were murderers. Once they're dead, though, what purpose would it serve to dismember them, feed them to crocodiles or turn them into a stoning pillar? What would it say about the Indian government if it disposed of these bodies without even the barest minimum of respect for the dead? Indeed, what does it say about readers who want it to do just that?

BTW the majority of comments - even those that are understandably very angry - call for a minimum of respect for the dead, no matter who they are.

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.

from FaithWorld:

Should India cremate Mumbai militants, spread ashes at sea?

The bodies of nine Islamic militants killed while attacking Mumbai in November still lie in a public morgue there. Indian Islamic leaders have refused to bury them in a local Muslim cemetery, saying terrorists "have no religion" and do not deserve a religious funeral. Although India suspects the militants came from neighbouring Pakistan, Islamabad refuses to take the bodies back as this could presumably undermine its claim to have no link to the gunmen. Indian officials say they still need the bodies for their investigations into the Nov. 26-29 massacre, in which 179 people were killed, but those inquiries will end some day. What should the Indians do with the bodies then?

A U.S. historian has come up with a proposal that would dispose of the bodies without requiring Pakistan to take them. Leor Halevi, a professor of Islamic history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote in the Washington Postthat India should cremate them and scatter the ashes in international waters, as Israel did after executing the Nazi commander Adolf Eichmann in 1962. He notes this would be an un-Islamic method of burial and would avoid a permanent grave that could become a memorial for other militants.  He writes:

"If Indian Muslims can agree, then, that the terrorists died as non-Muslims and that burning their bodies is the optimal solution, they simply need to urge the government to dispatch the corpses to the crematorium after ruling on their lack of religion.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Kashmir’s long road ahead

After India last held state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a period of relative peace only to see it shattered when plans to give land to Hindu pilgrims triggered the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989.

The latest elections - which produced a turnout of more than 60 percent despite a boycott call by separatists and ushered in a new state government led by Omar Abdullah - have provided a second chance to change the mood in the volatile Kashmir Valley. But do India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiris themselves, have the ability to turn this second chance into a real opportunity for peace?

Despite the outrage over the Mumbai attacks, blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants, there are some promising signs. The elections were remarkable for the fact that armed separatists based in Pakistani-held Kashmir made no attempt to disrupt the campaign, as they did during the previous polls in 2002. If Indian assertions are correct that the Pakistani security establishment controls the level of armed separatist activity in Kashmir, then the absence of violence would not have been possible without the active cooperation of Pakistan - a factor acknowledged by The Hindu in an editorial

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 – Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 – The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

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.

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