India Insight

What Afghanistan’s vote means for India

India and Pakistan, with their competitive strategic interest in Afghanistan, are keenly watching the war-battered nation’s election this week, the second since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.

The front-runner of that vote is incumbent President Hamid Karzai who is facing a stiff challenge from his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. There are more than two dozen other candidates.

While a successful vote could mean a step toward achieving basic political and military stability in Afghanistan, its outcome holds crucial geopolitical significance for India and Pakistan.

Conventional wisdom is that a victory for Karzai will help India. Karzai has lived and studied in India, cultivated a strong relationship with New Delhi and spoken out angrily against Pakistan, especially during the years it was ruled by Pervez Musharraf.

Abdullah and Ghani too have India connections — while the former lived there, Ghani was once posted in New Delhi with the World Bank.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan gamble

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his political reputation on talks with Pakistan, earning in equal measure both praise and contempt from a domestic audience still burned by last November's attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

"I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open," he said in a debate in parliament on Wednesday. "Unless we talk directly to Pakistan we will have to rely on a third party to do so... Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way, but to go step-by-step... dialogue and engagement are the best way forward," Singh said.

That may sound like fairly anodyne stuff. But to recap, Singh signed a joint statement with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this month in which both ordered their foreign secretaries -- their top diplomats -- to hold more talks to improve relations. Singh however also said the formal peace process -- the so-called composite dialogue -- could not be resumed until Pakistan took more action against those who organised the Mumbai attack.

India encircled by China’s string of pearls?

Many in India believe that Beijing is building special relationships with India’s old foe Pakistan and Sri Lanka and is extending its reach down the Indian Ocean.

China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy seems to be surrounding India and has given food for thought to many in New Delhi for quite some time now.

At the G8 summit in L’Aquila recently, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a bid in front of the international community to include India in the United Nations Security Council, which would put it on par with China, which is one of the five permanent members.

How should we ‘celebrate’ the Kargil war?

Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the conflict between India and Pakistan in Kargil.

The fighting ended with a ceasefire on this day, ten years back.

As a college student I witnessed Captain Manoj Pandey’s body being brought into the Command Hospital in Lucknow cantonment before his cremation later.

He died a war hero while recapturing the Khalubar ridgeline, a dominating feature, and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest gallantry award, posthumously.

Is Pakistan still aiding Kashmir militants?

Separatist violence in Kashmir has fallen to its lowest level since an anti-India insurgency began nearly two decades ago.

However, people are still killed in daily firefights and occasional attacks by suspected militants, mostly in rural and mountainous areas.

Is Pakistan still aiding militants fighting Indian troops in Kashmir, despite Islamabad’s assurances and a slow-moving peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad?

from FaithWorld:

Could gagged Mumbai confession do more good than harm?

hindux1A crucial part of gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab's hindu-articleconfession at the Mumbai attack trial has been censored by the judge on the grounds that it could inflame religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India. After stunning the court on Monday by admitting guilt in the the three-day rampage that killed 166 people, Kasab gave further testimony on Tuesday that included details about his training by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group on U.S. and Indian terrorist lists.

The front-page report in today's The Hindu, which noted the judge's gag order in its sub-header, put it this way:

Ajmal made some crucial statements on Tuesday as part of his confession. They pertained to the purpose of the attack as indicated by the perpetrators and masterminds and the message they wanted to send to the government of India. Ajmal also wanted to convey a message to his handlers. However, this part of his confession faces a court ban on publication.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Escaping history in India and Pakistan

When France and Germany put years of enmity behind them after World War Two, they made a leap of faith in agreeing to entwine their economies so that war became impossible. With their economies now soldered by the euro, it can be easy to forget how deep their mutual distrust once ran - from the Napoleonic wars to the fall of Paris to Prussia in 1871, to the trenches of World War One and the Nazi occupation of France in World War Two.

As India and Pakistan begin yet another attempt to make peace, they face a similar challenge. Can they put aside years of distrust to build on a tentative thaw in relations?

Many analysts argue that a sketchy roadmap to peace is already available, based on negotiations between advisers to former president Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which Pakistani action against militants was matched by Indian moves towards a peace deal on Kashmir. But reviving that roadmap - or for that matter finding another way forward - would require both countries to put aside their past and accept that history is not the only guide to the future.

Xinjiang – the spreading arc of instability

China’s troubled Xinjiang region shares borders with eight countries, which is perhaps one reason President Hu Jintao dropped out of the G8 summit to head home, underscoring the seriousness of the situation and the need to quickly bring the vast oil-rich region under control.

Xinjiang touches Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, besides the Tibet Autonomous Region.

China, as this piece for the Council on Foreign Relations points out, has long been concerned that these states on its periphery both in central and south Asia may be tempted to back a separatist movement in Xinjiang because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to its neighbours.

Is the Lashkar-e-Taiba plotting another Mumbai?

The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, has warned of a renewed threat to India from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

It quotes intelligence sources as saying the LeT’s marine wing may be planning a Mumbai-type incursion to target vital installations in the coastal states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa.

The group is also reported to have funneled huge amounts of money from its Gulf-based networks to fund activities in India.

South Asia’s failing states

Foreign Policy magazine has just released its 2009 list of failing states or those at risk of failure and South Asia makes for sobering reading.

All of India’s neighbours, except for tiny Bhutan, figure in the list of top 25 states that are faltering, although their rankings have improved marginally over the previous year.

So Afghanistan remains at number 7 in the table of failing states topped by Somalia. Pakistan is ranked 10th, just marginally better than its 9th position in last year’s table which perhaps reflects the belief that the state has begun to fight back the militants who threaten its existence.

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