India Insight

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.

Both countries are positioning themselves for an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the country, with Pakistan clearly holding the better cards at the moment, both as a result of its geography and long-standing links with a resurgent Taliban.

Like much else in their tormented relationship each fears the other's involvement in Afghanistan. Pakistan worries that Kabul will end up with close links to New Delhi, allowing India to essentially "surround" Pakistan; India fears that if the Taliban return to power, it will face more attacks at home.

from Afghan Journal:

Bombing your own people: the use of air power in South Asia

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest  in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.

Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.

But the question really is wasn't it coming? The counter-insurgency strategy that Pakistan has pursued to wrest control of its turbulent northwest along the border with Afghanistan has consisted of heavy use of air strikes and long range artillery barrages in the initial stages before putting boots on the ground.

from Afghan Journal:

India talking to Taliban?

Taliban militants pose for a picture after joining the Afghan government's reconciliation and reintegration program, in Herat March 14, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammad ShioabIf the news reports are true, India's willingness to talk to the Taliban would represent a seismic shift in strategy for New Delhi and underlines the concern that the Congress-led government has over Pakistan's influence in any Afghan end game.

India has always publicly opposed any attempts at talks by the Western powers with the Taliban to bring them into any stability plan for Afghanistan -- chiding the idea there was such a thing as a "soft side" to the insurgents.

But an Indian Express report said New Delhi was now seeking out a "second generation" of Pashtun leaders like Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai.

from Afghan Journal:

India, Pakistan and the Afghan army

AFGHANISTAN/

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 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?

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.  

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and India; breaking the logjam

President Barack Obama chose his words carefully when asked in an interview with Dawn earlier this week why the United States has been silent on Kashmir in recent months:

 

"I don’t think that we’ve been silent on the fact that India is a great friend of the United States and Pakistan is a great friend of the United States, and it always grieves us to see friends fighting. And we can’t dictate to Pakistan or India how they should resolve their differences, but we know that both countries would prosper if those differences are resolved," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

 

"And I believe that there are opportunities, maybe not starting with Kashmir but starting with other issues, that Pakistan and India can be in a dialogue together and over time to try to reduce tensions and find areas of common interest," he said. "And we want to be helpful in that process, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be the mediators in that process. I think that this is something that the Pakistanis and Indians can take leadership on."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India: should it take a gamble on Pakistan?

Some people in India are calling upon the new coalition government to make a series of bold moves towards Pakistan that will compel the neighbour to put its money where  the mouth is.

If Pakistan keeps saying that it cannot fully and single-mindedly go after militants on its northwest frontier and indeed increasingly within the heartland because of the threat it faces from India, then New Delhi must call its bluff, argued authors Nitin Pai and Sushant K. Singh in a recent piece for India's Mint newspaper.

How about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, back for a second term, giving a categorical public declaration that Pakistan need not fear an Indian military attack so long as the Pakistan army is engaged in fighting with Taliban militants?  While a verbal commitment may not convince the military brass in Rawalpindi, it will likely play well in Washington as it rathchets up pressure on the Pakistan army to take the battle to the militants.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Lashkar-e-Taiba threatens more violence in Kashmir

The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group blamed by India for last November's assault on Mumbai, has threatened more violence in Kashmir after a five-day gunbattle that killed 25 people, including eight Indian troops.

A spokesman for the group, speaking from an undisclosed location, said: "India should understand the freedom struggle in Kashmir was not over, it is active with full force."

The threat by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, if followed through, would be a new headache for the United States, which would like to see an improvement in relations between India and Pakistan as it overhauls its approach to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan under siege: cricket becomes a target

"Everything is officially going to hell." The verdict of a reader quoted by All Things Pakistan said perhaps better than anyone else why the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore marked a defining moment in Pakistan's agonising descent into chaos.

Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.  Five policemen were killed.

The death toll was small by South Asian standards.  But what defined it -- beyond the audacity and apparent sophistication of the attack -- was the assault on the identity of a country where cricket, as in neighbouring India, is a national obsession.

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