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India and Pakistan – Talking progress

July 18, 2010 2 comments

Apparently, the Pakistani side was more bothered about their Indian counterparts being on the phone with New Delhi. A determined agenda to achieve progress didn’t seem to be their priority clearly. One would be surprised to note that during the proceedings of the day, at several times, the entire Indian delegation was left by themselves in Foreign Minister Qureshi’s office while the Pakistan delegation repeatedly stepped out to consult with their bosses. Now, knowing fully well that during such a meeting, consultations with respective headquarters is the norm, one wonders why the Pakistani side attached unnecessary importance and claim to a matter as trivial as this. Clearly, the hypocrisy doesn’t end there.

Ahead of the talks itself, both sides had worked on a number of aspects for discussion including meetings between the commerce secretaries, aimed at resumption of trade. Also on the cards was a high level meeting aimed to iron out persisting differences in the area of water sharing. India subsequently suggested a meeting between parliamentarians of both nations, thus paving the way for a composite and inclusive dialogue, offering much more than just ministerial level interactions. However, the Pakistani side attempted sabotage by demanding inclusion of Kashmir, security and Siachen in the talks without forewarning! One cannot understand the demand considering Pakistan’s long pending action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 episode, to name just one of the many subversive anti-India operations it undertakes from time to time.

On India’s part, it certainly was very right to expect action on the incidents of 26/11 which have now been very long drawn, devoid of any substantial progress. Revelations from David Coleman Headley, about the ISI having financed the 26/11 operation couldn’t have come at a better time. Talks on terrorism and other related aspects such as security, though of paramount importance would not have, at this stage, made any sense, given that Pakistan is yet to take concrete steps to prosecute those behind 26/11. However, one does attempt to understand the difficulty involved in such a step, considering that the ISI and parts of the Pakistan army were complicit in the entire operation, definitely at the insistence or at least the connivance of certain branches of the executive government.

Pakistan’s stubborn stand and refusal to accept evidence against elements such as the ISI and terrorist Hafiz Saeed, aren’t making things easier either. Such a stand not only impedes the peace process that India is wholly committed to, but also brings to the table many questions on Pakistan’s motives. One is led to believe that such a stand devoid of understanding and cooperation is as a result of extensive pressure from within the army establishment of Pakistan that truly is in control of the executive there and avidly intent on bringing the issue of Kashmir on the forefront while aiding factions such as the LeT and the Taliban. What is certainly contradictory, hypocritical and amusing is the fact that Pakistan demands to talk about terror and security without wanting to include 26/11 and the actions demanded of it as a result thereof. Should this not be clearly viewed as one sided, rather lop sided? If Pakistan so desires to commit itself to the process of resolving all burning and core issues, it should begin by reigning in anti-India elements from within, namely the LeT, parts of the ISI and the army establishment. There is surely no issue as critical as that of Pakistan’s overt and covert support to terrorist groups aimed at destabilizing the Indian establishment and it must be understood that no amount of talks or attempts to sew bilateral relations can make amends when Pakistan repeatedly engages in it’s policy of abetting terror aimed at propagating the same within the Indian union.

Also, absolutely uncalled for, during such a level of serious negotiations was the statement by the Pakistan Foreign Minister likening and comparing the remarks of the Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai with those of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, which earned him criticism even from someone so radical as the former ISI Chief Hamid Gul. Mr. Qureshi must understand that the statements made by the Indian Home Secretary were nothing more than what the world already knows about Pakistan, the ISI and it’s role in the 26/11 episode and in doing so, the Indian Home Secretary was undoubtedly justified so as to seek action from the Pakistani side which has long been pending and literally unattended to. Therefore, to make an issue out of something such as this and accusing the Indian side of ill-will with the aim of scuttling the effort is entirely baseless, knowing fully well that the responsibility lies on his government to make amends considering it’s complicity.

Having stated during a press conference with visiting British Minister Sayeeda Warsi that he would like to visit India only if talks are progressive and result oriented, the Pakistani Foreign Minister must understand fully well that it is not the Indian side that has been contributory of impediments and the onus to make any future dialogue successful lies on him and the Pakistani establishment by merely taking steps to curb terrorism against the Indian union and refrain from aiding terrorist organizations to succeed in their nefarious anti-Indian designs. If the Pakistani side is intent and committed to address what it calls burning issues, surely it is the party that singularly needs to take steps to do just that rather than expect India to make concessions from time to time in the hope of maintaining a working partnership.

Undoubtedly, there is a level of trust deficit that is widening and Pakistan surely has to be held accountable for mitigating the damage and bringing forth a conducive and positive working environment. Accusing the Indian side of having arrived with a limited mandate is certainly not the way forward when one himself is left with a dangerously limited mindset which does not contain achieving peace in the agenda. Strangely, voicing concerns and commitments after the exercise is over does not amount to progress and certainly underlines a lackadaisical attitude on the Pakistani side, which goes on to underscore that it is not committed to peace or partnership, whatsoever! The Pakistani side, after having effectively derailed the process cannot echo it’s commitment to normalizing ties with India. Such an act is merely as sham, as has always been witnessed in the past despite strong and committed efforts from India. India on it’s part has to up the ante and refuse to enter into dialogue with Pakistan unless there have been steps from the latter that are concrete and measurable. One simply cannot engage with such a faction, that is opposed to peace and dialogue, merely because one’s democratic overtures guide one to do so. Handling Pakistan means India must employ a level of being absolutely firm and unyielding and not allow it’s policy of warmth and friendliness take center stage!

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The Indo-Pak Foreign Secretaries meet – An Overview

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

About 25 miles from Lahore, in Pakistan, and situated barely meters away from the Grand Trunk Road is Muridke. It is a sprawling campus, complete with a hospital, well appointed residential quarters, a school, a madarasa, a swimming pool, a mosque, vegetable farms, a fish breeding center, and well cut lawns amidst a number of trees.  One could be forgiven for mistaking this complex to be a plush resort. In fact, Muridke is the headquarters of the terrorist organization known to the world as the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the ‘army of the pure,’ the very same outfit that among many other ghastly handiworks, masterminded the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Changing names as often as credible Indian evidence exposes its hardened terrorist designs, it is known by many aliases, some of which are Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal and Markaz-Dawa-Wal-Irshad. Irrespecitve of the name it adopts, its mission remains the same, and that is to further terrorism deep into Indian Territory in the name of Islamic jihad. In effect, it can be safely said that this organization is largely responsible for almost all terror related activities that plague the Indian union.

Later this week, diplomatic efforts will see the coming together of the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan in an attempt to redraw the relationship either nation shares with its neighbour – largely to talk tough on a serious problem, that being terror. This exercise, if successful, could lay down the foundation for a more composite dialogue in the future that will hopefully improve the level of confidence that both nations need in order to jointly tackle and address a slew of problems they have been facing, ranging from social, political, economic to the most important aspect of security systems.

But before all this is to begin, Pakistan needs to accept the fact that it’s boundaries are haven to many radical elements that threaten not only Indian security but also have been hard hitting on its own democracy. It may choose to call these elements as non-state actors, but the fact remains that these actors operate from Pakistani territory and are funded and aided by parts of the Pakistani establishment namely the ISI and the army. That this is factually so can be affirmed, among other incidents, by what was the brazenly customary presence of the former head of the ISI – Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed at annual conferences of the Lashkar at Muridke. And that is not all. The attacks conducted in Mumbai by the group dispatched to do so on 26/11 in 2008 bore the hallmark of a very well crafted military operation, suggesting that the handlers of this operation were indeed part of the armed brass in Pakistan.

Today, after years of patronage and unconditional support to groups like the Lashkar, Pakistan has lost all control over them and chooses to echo to the world it’s utter helplessness in reining them in, in the hope that the international community will be overcome by the incidents within it’s borders and thus accord some sympathy. What it has done is create a dangerous network of well trained people who can lie low until the opportune moment and carry out a debilitating attack when needed. One such incident was witnessed in Pune, India, a few days ago, on 13th February, when an explosive device claimed the lives of 15 innocent people! Sleeper cells, hidden deep, and forever vigilant and abreast of their ideology are being used to threaten the secure fabric of India, and their handlers in Pakistan have sworn to step up the ante in a more violent manner. This is precisely what Pakistan needs to be cognizant of and admitting to when it’s foreign secretary Salman Bashir meets his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao, in just a few days.

It needs to understand and accept the responsibility for the existence of such an elaborate network of sleeper cells and sincerely work towards dismantling this apparatus in the hope that this scourge is controlled, for any and all dialogue in a composite manner can only be initiated after the problem of security is addressed. Furthermore, the Pakistani establishment must refrain from falsely implicating India for its security woes, which in effect have been as a result of it’s involvement with radically fundamentalist elements operating unchecked within it’s periphery.

Why then is India not right in going to the table with minimal expectations and focusing primarily on issues such as terrorism and security? Why must Jammu & Kashmir be a part of the agenda? India is surely justified in voicing its concerns over what has come to be known as the Karachi Project – a scheme being orchestrated by the Lashkar and its collaborators in the ISI to engineer attacks across India with the help of fugitive jihadis. Besides, there are growing inputs of cadres being given systematic arms training in Pakistan, something that is conducted by the LeT and sponsored by the ISI.

For now, one needs to be cautiously optimistic on how these talks would set guidelines for the future, and more importantly what they will bring as a result thereof! It is certainly foolish to assume that long standing issues can be solved with just a round of talks – they will not! Issues can only be solved by measurable actions and those need to emanate from Pakistan in the form of clamping down on terrorist camps and their infrastructure. But this is more deep rooted than one can imagine, since the complicity of the Pakistani establishment is significant here, by virtue of the working relationship the ISI shares with the Lashkar and many such groups. Such an arrangement has a lot of Anti-India sentiment written all over it and for that to change will take more and just a conscious effort.

Until then, many exchanges will happen over the table. One only hope that they remain over the table and not across the border!

Decoding L'Aquila

It seems Obama’s misreported bottomgate affair hogged the limelight more than the proceedings of the G8, which this time too failed to arrive at a much needed consensus on important issues such as climate change. As before, leaders of the group of eight, along with invitees, once again came together to put their thoughts on issues such as nuclear energy, dialogue with emerging countries, achievement of millennium development goals, negotiations on climate change, development of Africa in the areas of education, water, food and agriculture, health and peace support, intellectual property, outreach and expansion.

Not surprisingly the debate on climate change has brought forward no significant or tangible solution, with member nations not focusing on emission cuts and most importantly the Kyoto Protocol. While some question the relevance of the G8 in the face of a modernized global scenario, some others argue that it serves as an important platform for world leaders to wrangle on important issues that concern one another and the world at large. However, that ‘world at large’ is yet to see some tangible results as a measure of outcome from this gathering! Take for instance the posture on climate change which has hardly changed from before. While industrialized nations continue to play footsie with the issue, they have long been pressurizing some invitee nations to adopt a more stringent set of protocols that call for reduced emissions, something that seems more of hypocrisy! One may also ask about the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which is refused to be addressed.

Although Africa has been on the agenda for a long time now, there is no reflection of any constructive activity in the ground level. Take for instance the scale of poverty, issues pertaining to health, clean water, basic sanitation requirements and education programs that exist only as plans on paper and remain a distant dream. Mere agreements to sort out these issues by addressing them at forums is not enough. Implementation at various levels is the requirement.

Nations such as Sudan continue to be plagued in civil war with little or no assistance from the outside world. People continue to die at alarming rates and turn into fast statistics that are forgotten in a matter of days. Mere echoes of UN Security council resolutions will not address the problem. Why are nations not looking at establishing a military task force such as the KFor or the ISAF within Sudan, Darfur in particular? Is it the cost factor that is a deterrent or the knowledge of the non-existence of any rich pickings from these poor nations that is putting off the G8 from arriving at a policy of cooperation within themselves to assist impoverished countries, such as mentioned in their agenda?

For once, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke intellectual when he remarked that the framework of the G8 needs to be modified to include the larger G14! His statement that “we saw that G8 is no longer a suitable format to show a global economic way of doing. Instead, a consolidated G14 representing 80% of the world economy could help create a real dialogue. We want to see if the G14 is the best solution for debates which will bring to us unique results,” echoed the G8’s attitude in taking cognizance of emerging nations such as India and China in the global forum, something that cannot be ignored as was in the past! I would certainly accord a great deal of credit to the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for having paved the way to such a landmark consensus as is witnessed today, when two years ago in a predecessor G8 summit at Heiligendamm in Germany, he stated the need for India to participate in the get-togethers of the rich as a partner rather than a petitioner.

It does not take a lot of brain racking to understand and conclude rightly that evolved partnerships are the key to success especially on a regional front which seems expanding and holding significance more than ever! Bilateral trade, cultural ties, combating terrorism, educational and outreach programs, disease control and a lot more can be significantly and systematically addressed in a much efficient manner with an expanded framework as in the case of the G14, which has rightly been envisioned and supported.

Fresh perspectives from developing nations with regards to plaguing problems can bring to the table a great deal of change, inclusive at that. However, one needs to wait and watch how the proceedings of this meeting of the G8 are to be implemented to attain measurable outcomes rather than being fizzled out as existent only on paper!

And maybe the press too can be a lot more mature to highlight issues and call for increased cooperation rather than misreport the roving eyes of a head of state!

Two to Tango – Russia & America

President Obama’s first visit to Russia as Commander-in-Chief of the United States is very significant. There’s a lot of mending of fences to do and a relook at strengthening bilateral relations that needs to be done on a serious footing. That apart, the two countries need to underscore the need to work together very closely in areas such as combating terror, which is a growing threat to many nations and their people. Their first meeting ahead of the G20 summit in London, held earlier this year, will certainly help them bond well and one hopes for it to be that way considering the extensive areas of cooperation their nations need to engage in.

The Bush administration viewed its Russian counterparts as hawkish and chose to remain wary in their interactions with Moscow, an action that fueled a number of cold war type instances that may have come to be, thankfully not, given the maturity with with each side has handled the other in particular.

The American pull-out from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972 is not so distant in the past to be forgotten, but even fresh is the Russo-Georgian conflict which was dragged into the purview of the NATO of which Georgia is a member nation. The summer of 2007 also saw some tense moments with the United States announcing plans of building an anti-ballistic missile system in Poland and a radar architecture in the Czech Republic, both nations being former Warsaw Pact members. While United States cited this as a protectionist measure from any nuclear attack that may originate from the soils of Iran or North Korea, Russia rebutted the explanation and tested a long range intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-24 and backed it up with a serious view that it could position its missiles towards Poland and the Czech Republic in the event of an American go-ahead of the stated plan.

Although President Putin’s warnings that American actions could turn Europe into a “powder keg” did not come true, for good reasons, a war of words between both heavyweights ensued with each side choosing to articulate its right of stand in the backdrop of a tense situation that could have lead to some deadlock among them signalling the beginning of a new arms race and power play, the least of which the world wanted at the time.

Vladimir Putin’s Iranian visit aimed at discussions of Russia’s aid to Iran’s nuclear power program in the backdrop of an American call for military action against Iran which Russia firmly opposed, prompted Bush to state a direct message to Putin that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” A sharp witted Putin retorted comparing American plans to put up a missile defense system near Russia’s border as analogous to when the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba, prompting the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Just as the missile defence plans were getting each nation into a tirade of words with each other, Russia intervened in Georgia, when Georgia invaded South Ossetia. It did not help that senior Georgian officials acknowledged to have started the war in the region which prompted a certain Russian response. Georgia being part of NATO was viewed as a significant standpoint in the now faltering Russo-American relationship. While NATO members howled at one of their member nations being attacked, Russia staved away any attempt to stall the invasion by an external force and firmly drew the Georgian misadventure to a close within a remarkably short period of time.

More recently the joint naval exercises between Russia and Venezuela have fumed the White House and the State Department owing to their regard of the latter as a nation not aligned with the interests of the United States. The recently concluded missile tests by North Korea has brought the United States and Russia together in their condemnation of the act which both view as a cause for any nuclear engagement that may take place.

With all this as part of a turbulent background, both leaders clearly have to do a lot to work their way towards warming one another in arriving at a consensus regarding many issues that form part of their cooperation agenda. For starters, their views on North Korea are encouraging, but this is just the beginning. There is a simmering Pakistan aided by the United States in the War on Terror, an exercise that seems to be headed nowhere with no clear agenda in place. Iran continues to be a serious issue which still needs a lot of sitting-down-to-talk! The issue of jointly eliminating pirates in Somali waters is also in the backdrop and requires ongoing commitment and participation from both sides.

On the economic front, a lot needs to be done to arrive at an agreement in many spheres aimed at staving off the effects of the global recession which has affected the world at large. General Motors which last year setup a plant in St. Petersburg is now in hot water back at home. Its is believed that American investment has been growing at a rate of fifty percent a year and two-way trade between Russia and the United States now exceeds $26 billion, and two-way investment is approaching $20 billion, all of which is good news.

Caviar, wine and curry later, both leaders must aim significantly at laying the framework to improving two-way cooperation that will foster good relations with each other, paving way for partnerships like never before. That in place, Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club and governor of Chukotka, can focus on making rich pickings off his £80m investments in the world’s largest drilling exercise aimed at creating a tunnel between Russia and the United States, a Tsarist vision lying unattended to since the early 20th century! It makes better sense not to build a real bridge between the two nations as desired by the current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Talking points – India and Pakistan

June 29, 2009 2 comments

Following the recently concluded Yekaterinburg Summit where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed a piece of the Indian mind to the Pakistani President Zardari, there have been calls from the international community urging the two nations to resume talks aimed at sorting the many issues that plague either!

More recently, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Talat Masood, a senior defense analyst and a very respectable moderate voice in Pakistan, stated the need for resumption of bilateral talks aimed at settling long disputed issues such as Siachen, Sir Creek, trade and other aspects while keeping aside Kashmir for ‘a later date,’ to be discussed by ‘a more mature generation’, during ‘a more conducive time.’

In his own words, he was echoing the thoughts of President Zardari who in his interactions with Prime Minister Singh at Yekaterinburg said that both India and Pakistan should not hold each other or their actions hostage in the backdrop of the UN security council resolutions on Kashmir!

Indeed, talks are the way forward towards resolution of all long standing deadlocks that continue to exist as thorns in relations between both nations and India should seize the opportunity to reiterate the need for Pakistan to curb assistance to all anti-India operations that originate on its soil, even if that means reigning in the ISI and its many rouge elements that run deep into a system aimed at constantly perpetrating terrorist activities across the border in Indian territory.

Pakistan which has been extensively bogged down by the ongoing conflict with the Taliban desperately needs to engage in some face saving act involving combating terror and reflecting stability else it risks being thoroughly branded as a failed state! Therefore the onus is on Pakistan to prove that it is a committed ally in the war on terror and does not engage itself in proliferation of terror, which has long blemished its image in the international arena. Recognizing this pressure that it is currently going through, India must engage itself in a composite dialogue with Pakistan aimed at eliciting some concrete and tangible steps from the latter which the world at large can witness and take into cognizance.

If India initiates such a process of dialogue, the burden falls on Pakistan to render unfailing cooperation to tackle the issue of terrorism and aide India in combating the same. India can begin by bringing to the table evidence recovered during the events of 26/11 which US intelligence agencies have also verified and concluded to be legitimate (not that India needs an American endorsement). A demand for killing support to ultra-radical an-India elements can be strongly made as a pre-requisite to negotiate on other issues thus making Pakistan face heat and thereby yield to pressure given its current geo-political scenario.

India on the other hand can state that by initiating such a process of dialogue, it has reaffirmed the need for deeper interactions on many fronts aimed at eliciting cooperation and a much needed trust from the embattled nation, purely as a measure of goodwill. Some tough talking from the Indian side is definitely needed to help sort out issues pertaining to terrorism. Indian commitment to the process will be viewed as a mature action at a time when Pakistan is struggling for its survival given the majorly chaotic and fast-changing socio-political situation in the region which needs urgent attention.

All this needs to be done with an open mind and a result oriented focus which should include a measure of careful optimism, and once the case has been strongly made, Kashmir, like Gen Masood believes, can well be discussed at a later time, under a strong guarantee that it will not be made an issue to hijack any agenda such as witnessed in the past!