India Insight

from Afghan Journal:

An Indian in Kabul

(Outside the Indian embassy in Kabul after a blast in October 2009.REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

(Outside the Indian embassy in Kabul after a blast in October 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

India and Pakistan are both competing for influence in Afghanistan in a modern-day version of the Great Game that has complicated the search for a settlement, but on the streets of Kabul the Indians still seem to evoke greater goodwill.

Three times I have been asked at police checkpoints at darkened intersections and in offices, whether I was a Pakistani and when I said I was an Indian, they would respond : "everyone here says that, show me your passport."

The subtext is clear : if you are a Pakistani, the red flag goes up at the back of the mind, there are more questions asked. And if you are an Indian, you tend to get away more easily; there is even friendly banter over the wildly popular Bollywood films and the starlets in them.

At times it has become so bad, that some Pakistanis have pretended to be Indians just to get over the endless security hassles, one Afghan police officer who checked me at an investment promotion office said. For a Pakistani to pretend to be an Indian mustn't be easy given the blood rivalry between the two nations.

from Afghan Journal:

Saving Afghanistan from its neighbours

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held.Reuters/ Ahmad Masood

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held. Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Walking into a giant tent at the foothills of Kabul, you are conscious of the importance of jirgas throughout Afghanistan's troubled history.  These assemblies of tribal elders have been called at key moments in the country's history  from whether it should participate in the two World Wars to a call for a national uprising against an Iranian invasion in the 18th century.

Next week's jirga is aimed at building  a national consensus behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai's effort to seek a negotiated settlement of the nine year conflict now that the Taliban have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate and the clock on a U.S. military withdrawal has begun.

But the question is how much of an influence Afghanistan's half a dozen direct neighbours including Pakistan and Iran  and near ones such as India, Saudi Arabia and Russia will exert on any possible settlement of the conflict. At one level Afghanistan  has become a battleground for India and Pakistan  on the one hand, and the United States and Iran on the other.  At another level there is also China's deepening economic engagement and  Russis's concerns of the arc of instability radiating from Afghanistan into the Central Asia republics.

In Kashmir, nearly half favour independence

Nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll published by think tank Chatham House.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files London-based Chatham House says the poll is the first to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), a military control line that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire between two rivals in 1949.

The poll has produced startling results. On average 44 percent of people in Pakistani-administered Kashmir favoured independence, compared with 43 percent in Indian Kashmir.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

karachiAfter the media frenzy following last weekend's failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.

Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called "Punjabi Taliban" - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state.  The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.

But it is by no means clear that the Pakistan Army will be rushed into launching a big offensive in North Waziristan.  It is already stretched fighting in other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including in South Waziristan, where it embarked on a major operation last year.  Before starting any new offensive, it needs to be sure it is not going to be attacked from the rear, or become so thinly stretched that it loses hard-fought gains elsewhere.  As one senior military official told me, you have to be very sure-footed, consolidate your gains, and make sure your bases are secure.

Reactions to the Kasab verdict

A Mumbai court sentenced to death Pakistani citizen Mohammad Ajmal Kasab over the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Here are some reactions from people in New Delhi.

Is the Kasab verdict a victory for India’s judiciary?

Almost a year and a half since the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman captured during the three-day rampage, has been sentenced to death by a special court.

“He shall be hanged by the neck till he is dead,” Judge M.L. Tahilyani said at a special court as Kasab sat with his head bowed, occasionally wiping his eyes with the back of his hand and then covering his ears with his fingers.

The judgement was hardly surprising given the accused pleaded guilty during the course of the trial (although he later retracted) and more than 650 witnesses testified against Kasab, backed by video grabs of him walking around the attack site with an AK-47 rifle in hand.

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.

India-Pakistan “secret pact” – was Kashmir accord just a signature away?

India and Pakistan held secret talks for more than three years, reached an accord on the thorny Kashmir issue and had almost unveiled it in 2007 before domestic turmoil in Pakistan derailed it, former Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has revealed.

A Border Security Force(BSF) soldier stands guard next to the national flags of India (L) and Pakistan near the Pakistan border in Chamliyal, 45 km west of Jammu, June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Amit GuptaKasuri says the two nuclear-armed rivals, who rule the Himalayan region in parts, had agreed to full demilitarisation of both the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir with a package of loose autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control, a military control line that divides the region between two nations.

“We agreed on a point between complete independence and autonomy,” Kasuri told Times of India.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and India: After Yekaterinburg and Sharm-el-Sheikh; now we have Thimphu

bhutanAnother international summit. Another chance for the leaders of India and Pakistan to find a way of getting their countries to talk to each other.

After last year's aborted attempt at peace-making, first in Yekaterinburg and then in Sharm-el-Sheikh, expectations are running low that the prime ministers of India and Pakistan will make much headway when they meet at a SAARC summit in Thimphu, Bhutan this week.

But given that cynicism is the preserve of the intellectually lazy, I'm going to resist the temptation to jump into that safe and comfortable foxhole and instead see where these talks might lead us.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Wagah – The tragicomedy of India-Pakistan

wagah2Most people who follow South Asia have either watched the Beating the Retreat ceremony at Wagah on the India-Pakistan border on video or been there in person. The farcical and choreographed display by goose-stepping soldiers from India and Pakistan as they slam shut the gates on the border crossing is such a  staple for Western journalists that it has almost become too cliched to write about.

But having been there myself for the first time last week, after 10 years of following India and Pakistan, I can't resist throwing in my own two cents' worth.

The mood is already riotously cheerful as we arrive from Lahore, "Jai Ho" blasting out from loudspeakers on the Indian side, soon to be drowned out by loud music on the Pakistani side, accompanied by much banging of drums, clapping, flag-waving and dancing. The goose-stepping soldiers with their turbans appear and dance out their quadrilles to cries of "Pakistan Zindabad" on our side of the gate, "Bharat Mata ki" on the other. The white gates with the Pakistani flag and the name of the country in both English and Urdu are still shut, so that my first impression of a country that I once lived in for four years is that I can hear India rather than see it.

  •