India Insight

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Comparing Pakistan’s Islamists to India’s Maoists

chhattisgarhOne of the more controversial arguments doing the rounds is the question of whether you can compare Pakistan's Islamist militants to Maoist insurgents in India. Both claim to champion the cause of social justice and have been able to exploit local grievances against poor governance to win support, and both use violence against the state to try to achieve their aims.

The differences are obvious:  the Islamist militants come from the religious right; the Maoists from the far-left. In Pakistan, the militants have become powerful enough to strike at the heart of the country's major cities. In India, the Maoists remain largely confined to the country's interiors, although their influence is spreading through large parts of its rural hinterland.

In Pakistan, the military initially nurtured Islamist militants to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan - with U.S. and Saudi support - and later to fight India in Kashmir. In India, the Maoist movement has grown organically from its origins as a local 1967 uprising by communists over a land dispute in the village of  Naxalbari in West Bengal, from where its followers derive their name as Naxalites.

In Pakistan, the question of whether support for Islamist militants is underpinned by local grievances over social injustice is highly contentious.  Many in Pakistan dismiss the Pakistani Taliban as right-wing ideologues, fired up by an alien religious philosophy imported from the Middle East by al Qaeda, and joined by a motley crew of criminals and thugs bent on the pursuit of pursuit of power and money.

bows and arrowsIn India, even those who oppose the Maoists' violent methods acknowledge that poverty and the alienation of its rural poor - especially among the indigenous tribal people - have contributed to their appeal.  (I have rarely been so powerfully struck by the desolation of hunger than on a trip some years ago to Chhattisgarh, the heartland of the Maoist revolt.  It is a state where deep in the forests you find children with the protruding bellies and vacant eyes of the seriously malnourished, whose fathers use bows-and-arrows to catch animals (see pix).  It also has vast mineral resources which villagers hope might one day make them rich, and which Maoists argue will be exploited by international mining companies.)

from Afghan Journal:

Keeping India out of Afghanistan

children

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in the United States for the first official state visit by any foreign leader since President Barack Obama took office this year. While the atmospherics are right, and the two leaders probably won't be looking as stilted as Obama and China's President Hu Jintao appeared to be during Obama's trip last week (for the Indians are rarely short on conversation), there is a sense of unease.

And much of it has to do with AFPAK - the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan which is very nearly at the top of Obama's foreign policy agenda and one that some fear may eventually consume the rest of his presidency. America's ally Pakistan worries about India's expanding assistance and links to Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a strategy to encircle it from the rear.  Ordinarily, Pakistani noises wouldn't bother India as much, but for signs that the Obama administration has begun to adopt those concerns as its own in its desperate search for a solution, as Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek.

And that is producing a "perverse view" of the region, he says adding it was a bit strange that India was being criticised for its influence in Afghanistan. India is the hegemon in South Asia, with a GDP 100 times that of Afghanistan and it was only natural that as Afghanistan opened itself up following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, its cuisine, movies and money would flow into the country. The whole criticism about India,  Zakaria says, is a little bit like saying the United States has had growing influence  in Mexico over the last few decades and should be penalised for it.USA/

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the United States

 

While attention has almost entirely been focused on America's difficult relationship with Pakistan - a writer in Foreign Policy magazine called it the world's most dysfunctional relationship - India and the United States have quietly gone ahead and completed the largest military exercise ever undertaken by New Delhi with a foreign army.

The exercise named Yudh Abyhas 2009 (or practice for war)  and conducted in northern India involved tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and helicopter-borne infantry. The U.S. army deployed 17 Strykers,  its eight-wheeled armoured vehicle, in the largest deployment of the newest vehicle outside of Iraq and Afghanistan for Pacific Rim forces, the military said.

"This exercise indeed is a landmark. For the Indian Army, this is the biggest we have done with any foreign army," Indian army director general of military operations, Lt. Gen. A.S. Sekhon said.

What is Indira Gandhi’s legacy?

It is former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary on October 31. 

What was her legacy?

She was associated with events like the Emergency, which briefly made Gerald Ford head of the largest democracy in the world, and decades of militancy in Punjab.

Her policy of nationalising banks was mentioned as a reason why the Indian banking sector weathered the global financial crisis.

Much ado over Indian Summer?

Universal Studios has shelved plans to shoot “Indian Summer”, a film based on the lives of Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten.(UPDATE: On Friday, a studio spokesman was quoted as saying “Indian Summer” is continuing to be developed but will not go into production until the script, budget and cast are all in place)Filmmaker Joe Wright, who was slated to direct the project, was quoted as saying there were creative differences between the studio and the Indian government.Many people are not comfortable with national leaders being portrayed on celluloid in any way other than flattering.Most leaders are interpreted by their followers in a particular manner. Any alternative recounting especially on celluloid runs into controversy.Biopics of leaders are few and far between in Bollywood in spite of it being a vibrantly political and prolific film industry.Some say the Indian masses tend to deify their leaders and hence are less receptive to anything critical.And celluloid is a mass medium more than any book on history ever can be.In Pakistan, the movie “Jinnah” starring Christopher Lee and sanctioned by the Pakistan government had also run into controversy.But does public policy also contribute to this state of affairs?The Indian Express says in a report that ministries don’t transfer records to National Archives “which leaves modern, democratic India’s history shrouded in secrecy”.Does this contribute to a lack of public discussion on various facets of our leaders’ lives and policies and therefore an intolerance of alternative readings?As for the movie “Indian Summer”, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was to appoint a liaison officer to ensure the movie did not deviate from the approved script.Is imposing a government-sanctioned memory of events on people any different from Mayawati’s efforts to erect statues to herself?

Will India’s Kashmir talks offer break fresh ground?

New Delhi said this week it will adopt “quiet diplomacy” with every section of political opinion to find a solution to the problems in India-ruled Kashmir about four years after it opened a dialogue with separatist groups there.

The response to the announcement is on expected lines — the moderates welcoming it and pro-Pakistan hardliners reminding any effort at peace without involving Islamabad would be futile.

New Delhi has not yet made a formal offer for talks. But the timing of the development appears to be significant.

Is Gaddafi’s U.N. speech winning him a fan base in Kashmir?

A street vendor in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, sold hundreds of framed portraits of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the last one week.

Kashmiri separatists and many residents are all praise for Gaddafi after his maiden address to the U.N. General Assembly last week in which he said Kashmir should be an “independent state.”

It was a diplomatic embarrassment for India but has Gaddafi’s U.N. speech actually won him an enthusiastic fan base in strife-weary Kashmir where Muslim militants are fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: the changing nature of conflict

Early last year a group of Indian and Pakistan retired generals and strategic experts sat down for a war-gaming exercise in Washington. The question, predictably enough, was at what point during a conventional war, would the generals in Rawalpindi GDQ reach for the nuclear trigger.

In the event, the simulated war took on an unpredictable turn, which in some ways was more illuminating than the question of nuclear escalation, as columnist Ashok Malik writes in The Great Divide:India and Pakistan, a collection of essays by experts on both sides of the border.

The exercise begins with an Indian military strike on militant camps in Pakistani Kashmir, the most commonly envisaged scenario for the next India-Pakistan war.  But the Pakistan response defies conventional logic . They don't order a military push into Indian Punjab and Rajasthan, they don't even attack Bombay High, the most valuable Indian oil asset in the Arabian Sea, and well within striking distance of the Pakistani Air Force.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: looking beyond the rhetoric (part 2)

Following up on my earlier post about what is happening behind the scenes in the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, it's worth keeping track of this report that Islamabad is considering appointing former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue with New Delhi known as "backchannel diplomacy".

As discussed in this story there has been much talk about trying to get the backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan up and running again, both to reduce India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan and to prevent an escalation of tensions between the two countries themselves.  So any forward movement on the backchannel diplomacy, if confirmed, would be important.

To recap (and with apologies to those who already know this), India and Pakistan have many different ways of engaging with each other.  They have a formal peace process known as the composite dialogue, started in 2004 and broken off by India after last November's attack on Mumbai.  India has said it will not resume the composite dialogue until Pakistan takes more action against those accused of involvement in Mumbai.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s ISI chief attends Indian iftar

Following the slow-moving peace process between India and Pakistan can be a bit like watching paint dry.  So the decision by the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency to attend an iftar hosted by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad this week has generated much excitement.

"Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha was among the earliest guests to arrive at the maximum-security five-star Serena hotel. He stayed nearly 45 minutes, chit-chatting with guests," wrote Nirupama Subramanian, correspondent for The Hindu in Islamabad. "This was the first time that a serving military official, let alone the head of the country’s most important intelligence agency with a well-known dislike for India, has attended an Indian event here."

Everyone agreed it was a positive development, she wrote. “It’s a huge gesture by him,” she quoted the former ISI Director-General, Lt.-Gen. (retd.) Asad Durrani as saying. “A very positive development.” Another former soldier, Lt.-Gen. (retd.) Talat Masood, said it was an indication that India-Pakistan relations were not as bad they looked. “It is very symbolic. It means things are improving between the two countries, and there are people who want it to improve in spite of all the tough talk going on.”

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