India Insight

from Tales from the Trail:

Is Holbrooke’s “bulldozer” style working?

Dubbed the "bulldozer" for his tough guy tactics in Balkan negotiations, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been making waves in South Asia recently.

holbrookeU.S. embassies in New Delhi and Kabul have been scrambling over the past week to deal with local fallout from statements made by Washington's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Statements that often go by unnoticed in Washington are parsed word for word in a region where there are deeply-held suspicions over U.S. intentions.

One such example is Holbrooke's comments at a forum at Harvard last week where he was asked about re-integration efforts with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Holbrooke made clear -- as he has many times before -- that the United States was not in talks with the Taliban but offered up that almost every family of the southern Pashtun tribes had someone involved with the Taliban.

from Afghan Journal:

India, Pakistan and the Afghan army

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai is visiting Pakistan, and one of the issues on the table is a rather audacious Pakistani offer to train the Afghan National Army.

The Pakistani and Afghan security establishments have had a rather uneasy relationship, stemming from Pakistan's long-running ties to the Taliban.

For the Pakistani army to be now offering to train the Tajik-dominated ANA - which is fighting the  Pashtun Taliban - is quite a shift in its approach to the neighbour.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India send in their professional diplomats to break the stalemate

raobashirThe foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, meeting in New Delhi to end a diplomatic freeze which followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, did what they were expected to do -- laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to "keep in touch".

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India's top diplomat, focused on what India calls "cross-border terrorism". India also handed three new dossiers of evidence to the Pakistani delegation, including one on Hafez Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, who New Delhi accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attack. Pakistan had said it did not have enough evidence to prosecute Saeed.

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said both countries were victims of terrorism but that dialogue should not be held hostage to a single person or single incident. In a news conference after the talks he stressed the need to reach a settlement on Kashmir, to resolve territorial disputes over the Siachen and Sir Creek regions and to improve cooperation over the sharing of Himalayan river waters.

Pune blast: What next for India-Pakistan dialogue?

INDIA-BLAST/Less then two weeks before India and Pakistan are to restart a semblance of dialogue suspended in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, comes another blast in neighbouring Pune.

It is being called a terror attack but no group has so far claimed responsibility or been identified.

It could be a homegrown group or one supported from outside.

Either way it turns out, it is going to affect the talks.

Pakistan wants the Kashmir issue to be on the dialogue agenda while India wants to focus on “terrorism“.

India’s ‘amnesty’ to Pakistan-based Kashmiri rebels

The Indian government has for the first time offered amnesty to hundreds of Kashmiris who had crossed over to the Pakistani part of Kashmir and are now willing to surrender and return home.

Thousands of Kashmiris have slipped into Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training since an anti-India insurgency broke out twenty years ago.

A Kashmiri man rides a bicycle past a closed shop during a strike in Srinagar June 1, 2009. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliHundreds have returned and joined Muslim rebel groups, many died on a rugged military control line while sneaking into the Indian side and many more are still living in different parts of Pakistan or Pakistani Kashmir.

Will Kashmir tensions hurt fresh India-Pakistan peace efforts?

Killing of civilians, six in the past month blamed on government forces, has triggered massive protest demonstrations since last week in Kashmir, the region at the heart of enmity between India and Pakistan.

Police stand guard at a barricade set up to stop a protest march in Srinagar February 8, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliAnd the anger has evolved into wider anti-India protests, nearly similar to huge street protests seen in 2008 that embarrassed New Delhi. After a period of relative calm, rebel violence has increased.

The fresh trouble in the Himalayan region comes at a time when India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule in parts and have fought wars over it,  have decided to improve strained relations.

Kashmir marks 20 years of conflict, peace still distant

A policeman walks behind a razor wire fence near the venue of India's Republic Day celebrations in Srinagar January 25, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliOne of the world’s longest-running separatist insurgencies, one that has killed tens of thousands of people in Kashmir, completed two decades last month.

The strife-torn region witnessed a period of relative calm, but a recent spate of rebel attacks is a grim reminder of the tensions in Kashmir at the heart of enmity between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.

A series of skirmishes across Kashmir’s border between the South Asian rivals, which claim the disputed region in full but rule in parts, also underline decades of mistrust between two countries which have fought two wars over the region.

from Afghan Journal:

The price of greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading to India, and one of the things Washington is looking at is how can regional players such as India do more in Afghanistan. "As we are doing more, of course we are looking at others to do more," a U.S. official said, ahead of the trip referring to the troop surge.

But this is easier said than done, and in the case of India, a bit of a minefield. While America may expect more from India, Pakistan has had enough of its bitter rival's already expanded role in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, Afghanistan is the new battleground on par with Kashmir, with many in Pakistan saying Indian involvement in Afghanistan was more than altruistic and aimed at destabilising Pakistan from the rear.  Many in India, on the other hand, point the finger at Pakistan for two deadly bomb attacks on its embassy in Kabul.

Against such a difficult backdrop, what can New Delhi possibly do without complicating things further?

Time for India to start talking to Pakistan?

It has been more than a year since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and many commentators have been advocating restarting the peace process between India and Pakistan.

Is the time ripe?

The pKASHMIR/rocess that seemed to have restarted with Sharm-al-Sheikh statement stalled after the outcry in India over the statement’s drafting and the subsequent revelations about David Headley.

But a major development since has been Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan which involves a troop surge and announcement of a tentative withdrawal date around July 2011.

from Afghan Journal:

Opening up Afghanistan’s trade routes

Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

The United States is pressing Pakistan to allow Afghan agriculture products to pass through its territory to India, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a trip to the war-torn country this week. Opening India's huge and exploding market to Afghan farmers sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do. Their produce of dried fruits, nuts and pomegranates long made its way to India before the partition of  India and Pakistan in 1947, immortalised in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's classic story for children, Kabuliwallah.

Reviving that trade  from landlocked Afghanistan may well turn farmers decisively away from poppy cultivation, the United States hopes. It would also make agriculture, on which an estimated 80 percent of the population depends,  more worthwhile and make them less vulnerable to the Taliban.  

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