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Indo-China border – The current situation

August 22, 2010 15 comments

China’s quiet but steady plans of increasing it’s military capabilities are not going unnoticed! Reports emanating from the Pentagon, early last week, have confirmed that it has successfully deployed long range CSS-5 missiles close to the Indian border while also having developed contingency plans to move airborne forces to the region at very short notice. Quite naturally, this is of serious concern to India, considering the long standing not-so-friendly relations that both countries have shared over the years, a culmination of which was witnessed in 1962 when Chinese aggression against India came at a very unexpected time, at the backdrop of the Indo-China cooperation effort that was supposed to spearhead the beginning of a warm bilateral relationship between both nations!

In an annual report to the US Congress, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” officials from the US Department of Defence have stated that “Beijing remains concerned with persistent disputes along China’s shared border with India and the strategic ramifications of India’s rising economic, political, and military power” and in order “to improve regional deterrence, the PLA has replaced the older liquid-fuelled, nuclear capable CSS-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles with more advanced and survivable solid-fuelled CSS-5 MRBMs and may be developing contingency plans to move airborne troops into the region.” The report also notes that China continues to invest heavily in “increasingly capable long-range air Defence systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems.”

To understand the context of the report, especially the aforementioned contents of it, or rather to attempt to gain a clear understanding of the situation on the ground, one needs to revisit the occurrences of many instances of skirmishes initiated by the PLA against the Indian Army, while repeatedly claiming regions along the border as part of Chinese territory and systematically orchestrating such claims as legitimate, many such incidents having been reported during the course of the previous year! Therefore, mentions made by American officials about China’s concern and resultant up-scaled measures of deterrence along the Indo-China border can at best be termed as lopsided or unfounded in substance, considering, among other things, China’s continued posture of aggression and a refusal to engage in talks regarding territorial disputes!

Chinese aggression and repeated claims of Indian territory are not by any means recent, and have been happening well ahead of the 1962 engagement, both in overt and covert means! By remaining continually irreconcilable and averse to meaningful and constructive dialogue, this communist state has been nurturing a sense of hostility against India for a very long time now! Following the ascension to Presidency by Hu Jintao, China effectively began a new era of militarization and modernization of the PLA that at best can be described as transgressing the boundaries of China’s political and territorial interests! Apart from the Indo-China scenario, one can also draw instances from China’s actions with regards to Taiwan, where it continues to engage in a substantial military build-up, largely aimed at stifling any move by Taiwan to assert independence from the mainland!

It may be recalled that, not very long ago, China tried to block a $2.9 billion loan that India had sought from the Asian Development Bank, citing that it was purported for use in Arunachal Pradesh, a region China claims to be part of it’s territory! Such concerted attempts by the Chinese are not few or far apart these days and seem to be well orchestrated as is it’s view of emerging India and it’s imminently rising socio-economic status! China has, during the recent past, engaged in massive infrastructure development along the border with India, strengthening road and rail networks, aimed to augment operations by the PLA in the possible hope of arm-twisting it’s neighbour and gaining superiority in the region! So long as such projects continue to be undertaken unbridled, there is a looming danger of Chinese incursions on a large and more determined scale and the Government of India needs to ensure that steps are taken to recognize such threats by putting into place countermeasures of deterrence, or in the present circumstances, defence at least!

India and China share a 4057 km long border that is largely porous, and tensions have been long prevalent over how each side has viewed this dividing line and presently recognizes the same! The boundary with China is divided into three parts, namely, Eastern, Western and Middle sectors. In the Eastern Sector, China claims an area of 94,700 sq. kms., which is in addition to the entire part of Arunachal Pradesh and some parts of Sikkim. The Western Sector consists of Aksai Chin and the Western boundary in Ladakh and is located along Lanka La, Niagzu stream, Demchok and Teshigong through the Emis Pass. China has, for long, understood the strategic value of Aksai Chin in sustaining and maintaining control over Tibet. In this region, China claims about 38,000 sq. kms. of land, primarily of that in Aksai Chin. In the Middle Sector the area extends up to Spiti Valley and Shipkila Pass, while in the Garhwal area of Uttarakhand, Satluj-Ganga watershed has been the traditional boundary. Here China claims about 1,300 sq. kms. as part of it’s territory. After the war in 1962, China has been found to have illegally occupied 20,000 sq. kms. in Arunachal Pradesh and 38,000 sq. kms. in the Ladakh region, which is excluding 5,180 sq. kms. of area ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963. In the Eastern Sector, which consists Tawang, Zemithang and Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh, it has been ascertained that the Thagla Ridge, where the 1962 Indo-China war had begun, along with places such as Namka Chu and Sumdrong Chu Valley have been under Chinese occupation since 1986. The occupation has resulted in the loss of extensive amounts of traditional grazing land of the local people. In central Arunachal Pradesh, under the Upper Subansiri district, the Asa-Pila-Maya Army camp which was part of the Indian territory is now under Chinese occupation. Similarly, in the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh under Dibang Valley district, the Athu-Pupu range, a place regarded as sacred by the local people, has been been under Chinese occupation since 2006. In the Chaklagam range in the Eastern part, the three mountain ranges have been occupied by China since 2006. Similarly, in Kurung Kumey district, seven of the nine India Army base camps have been occupied by Chinese Army.

While officials in the Indian government continue to remain in a state of denial with regards to repeated border violations by the Chinese, it is estimated that India has lost vast amounts of land to China over the past decades. For starters, various agencies in India including the Army and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs admit the persisting differences over mapping of the area. Coordination incapacities among these institutions have only compounded the magnitude of the problem, something that is well known to the Chinese side! A high level meeting on the Indian side, held between various stakeholders, concluded that “there is a lack of institutional memory in various agencies as well as clear policy on this issue which in the long run has resulted in loss of territory by India in favour of China”. A report by a fact finding mission, as recently as July 2010, has detailed some shocking facts. It states that “China has built 13 airports at the border and most of them including Lhasa, Qando, Nyngchi, Ngaji and Xigaza are operational now. Apart from rail links it has also established several missile points there. It has constructed metalled roads up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and has reportedly deployed two lakh army personnel on the border. It has the potential to move two more divisions to forward areas during emergency. On the other hand there are virtually no metalled roads on Indian border and more distinctly in those areas which are under threat. There are just wind sandy rubble tracks which Indian security forces are using today. Such a road system in no way can serve our requirements during war time. This state of affairs exists both in Eastern and Western sectors of India.” The report further outlines that “China now has 40,000 km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links of 1,118 km, one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilise large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier, this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter but the new rail line into Tibet and the expressway have changed the scenario totally.”

It is time that the Indian government woke up to the Chinese threat, before it becomes too late! A state of denial, in the hope of forging better bilateral relations cannot help but offer concessions to an aggressor. Alarmingly, the Indian side remains yet to be strengthened by dependable road and rail networks that could help mobilization of troops and resources in the event of a Chinese misadventure. That Chinese incursions are happening in a very slow and inch-by-inch manner does not mean that they are not happening at all. China is also supplying the local populace with essential commodities and supplies fully aware of the sheer scale of neglect by the Indian side. By doing this, it hopes to gain confidence of the people in the region, another threat that the Government of India must recognize immediately. Furthermore, China’s record of completing strategic projects well ahead of schedule and the fact that contingents of the Indian army need to walk for days together to reach the border are not helping the Indian side in any manner! Required on an urgent footing are the need for constructing a well networked chain of roads in the area, along with the need to upgrade the living and operating conditions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, while also involving the local people to form liaisons with the territorial army in order to garner valuable HUMINT regarding the movement of Chinese army personnel. Basic infrastructure and other facilities such as telecommunications and power supply, to name a handful, are severely lacking and need to be worked upon! All of these need to be undertaken and continued very seriously in order to stave off a threat that has been looming large and will one day pose a serious threat to the Indian union!

Gen. Kayani, Pakistan and 2013

July 25, 2010 2 comments

In what is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan and it’s armed forces, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan has been given a 3 year extension, and will now remain in uniform until 28 November 2013, after Prime Minister Gilani whose tenure will come to a close in March 2013 and President Zardari whose term of office ends in September 2013. Gen. Kayani has since become the second army chief in the history of Pakistan’s armed forces to be given an extension by a democratically elected civilian government, and the first in such a position to accept that extension.

On the evening of 22 July, in a televised announcement, Prime Minister Gilani stated his government’s decision to give Gen. Kayani an extension. Citing the extension as one of absolute necessity, given at a time when the war on terror was being successfully conducted against the many elements who continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, he said: “The success of military operations could only have been achieved under General Ashfaq Kayani’s leadership. He has been involved in planning and monitoring of operations in militancy-hit areas. These operations are at a critical stage and successful continuation of these operations required continuation in military high command. General Kayani is held in high esteem at the international level due to his excellent military leadership qualities and pro-democracy views. In the best interest of the nation, I, in my capacity as prime minister, have decided to give General Kayani a three-year extension in his service from November 29, 2010, relaxing the rules, and after consulting President Asif Ali Zardari.”

As a junior officer, Gen. Kayani briefly served as a military aide to Benazir Bhutto during her first term as Prime Minister. A chain smoker and an avid golfer, Gen. Kayani has earned the reputation of being known as a man of few words. He replaced Gen. Musharraf as the army chief on November 29, 2007. Before becoming the army chief, he served as head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and also as Director General of Military Operations (DGMO). One may recall that it was during his tenure as DGMO that an intense military standoff during 2001-02 between India and Pakistan, as a direct result of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, took place. Gen. Kayani was also known to have been present at the meeting that took place between Gen. Musharraf and Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, prior to the latter’s ouster by Musharraf. In January 2008, shortly after taking over as Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani issued a stern directive requiring military officers not to maintain any contact with politicians. Barely a month later, he ordered the withdrawal of military officers from all of Pakistan’s government civil departments. It was an action that reversed the policies of his predecessor.

The many factors and situations that have led to this extension are very interesting to note, considering the long and disturbing history of interference that the Pakistani Army has been credited with in that nation’s political system. Since the election to office of the present civilian government in March 2008, there have been a number of indications of Gen. Kayani’s warm relations with Prime Minister Gilani and the contradictory in the case of his relationship with President Zardari, which is widely attributed to an air of mistrust that the latter has had for the armed forces, something not very different from that aired by his late wife and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, President Zardari’s initial statements echoing the need for a warm working relationship with India were viewed with a great deal of suspicion by Gen. Kayani and his colleagues in the army.

After assuming the office of the Chief of Staff, Gen.Kayani has been seen as being very assertive in matters concerning the Armed Forces, including the ISI, in a quiet yet decisive manner. He has also been accepting and non-interfering in matters concerning the political governance of Pakistan, which perhaps has earned him and the army a great deal of trust and credibility especially since the aftermath of Gen. Musharraf’s rule, that beleaguered the political establishment of Pakistan. Gen.Kayani, much like many of his senior army colleagues, strongly shares conventional suspicions nurtured against India by the Pakistan army establishment. He quietly fuels his determination to counter India, though not being too vocal about it, knowing fully well that a strong anti-India stance would help him win a deeply entrenched stand within the armed forces. That he has disguised it smartly, away from the glare of the media, shows how well he has played his cards in portraying his image that remains strong and appearing to be credible. His well established relationship with the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, has contributed immensely to strengthening a working partnership with the PLA. However, one can note the characteristic absence in determination to take action against Al Qaeda operatives and their associates in places such as North Waziristan, for instance. Considering his warm bonhomie with the Chinese, he has not hesitated to act against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which poses a threat to China. Barely a day after getting the extension as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani, accepted China’s advise on blasting the Attabad lake in Gilgit-Baltistan, which had flooded a portion of the Karokoram highway connecting the two countries. It is widely believed that Gen. Kayani’s extension would help the Chinese implement certain strategic policies in the terrorist hit region, which is very close to the Indian border. His actions, such as these have constantly proven how well determined he could be if he so chooses.

It may be recalled that under Gen. Musharraf, the Army and the ISI were much more active against Al Qaeda operatives in the non-tribal areas than they have been under Gen. Kayani. Having witnessed, first hand, the anger of Al Qaeda against Gen. Musharraf owing to the action taken by the Army and the ISI, which resulted in a concerted and powerful campaign by the Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri against Gen. Musharraf and the Pakistani Army, Gen. Kayani has been very tactical to remain aligned to the war on terror in a more superficial manner thereby not angering the Americans and at the same time turning a blind eye to the actions of Al Qaeda forces. Since taking over as Chief of Army Staff, a number of very senior officials from the United States have visited Gen. Kayani aimed to reiterate the need for an unequivocal level of Pakistani commitment on the war on terror. The fact that most of them, including the former CIA Director, Gen. Michael Hayden, former National Intelligence Director, V-Adm. Mike McConnell and former CENTCOM Commander, Adm. William Fallon, have repeatedly echoed their confidence in Gen.Kayani saying about him that he “knows what he’s doing,” just about very well shows how deeply connected he appears to be despite his commitment to the war on terror being anything but unequivocal. Described as a soldier’s soldier by senior military officials in the United States and enjoying a very warm and close personal relationship with the current US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. Kayani is on an even closer footing with the Americans, another reason why he has been endorsed as the best person available in the hemisphere to ensure the continuance of the war on terror. One would be right in suspecting an American hand, among the many, having insisted upon the tenure extension he has just received.

India certainly has enough reasons to be concerned over the extension given to Gen. Kayani. Given his hawkish anti-India stand, which although not vocal, there is unlikely to be any change in Pakistan’s policy of directing terrorism against India. Gen. Kayani, at the pinnacle of his career, enjoying good working and personal relations with both the Pentagon and the PLA leadership, is unlikely to be sidelined and is slated to grow even more powerful, while gaining prominence as a liaison between the political and army brass, not only in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan, although stated to be democratic in functioning, is in truth under the mercy of the army establishment headed by Gen. Kayani. His reassurance and commitment to the war on terror, though flawed, will ensure a steady flow of sophisticated military equipment and money to Pakistan from the United States and an enhanced level of strategic assistance from China which will, without doubt, add to the many threats already faced by India. Gen. Kayani’s persona, unknown and far from being able to be gauged, certainly covers a deep hatred for India which show no signs of mellowing down. The recently concluded talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, are believed to have been scuttled by none other than Gen. Kayani and the army establishment. So long as such a potent force exists within the topmost echelons of the Pakistani establishment, it is certainly difficult to gauge if both nations could attain anything close to a working relationship.

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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!

Indo-China border engagement

September 15, 2009 2 comments

It takes India a few of its Indo Tibetan Border Policemen (ITBP) to be shot at and injured by Chinese troops to momentarily sit up and take notice of the repeated Chinese incursions that have been happening across the Indo-China border! But still, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is playing footsie and denying these reports categorically saying that no such incidents have taken place! “A media report about two ITBP jawans having been injured due to firing from across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has come to notice. The report is factually incorrect,” were the strong and emphatic words of External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash. However, the headquarters of the ITBP has neither denied nor confirmed the report.

The alleged incident came to light when a certain newspaper reported that personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were injured when Chinese troops had fired at them in Kerang in northern Sikkim a few days ago. The newspaper further reported that following the shootout in Kerang, border personnel held an emergency meeting on August 30. The newspaper confirmed the firing incident citing a top intelligence source, who spoke in condition of anonymity.

General Deepak Kapoor, India’s Army Chief, brought to light a series of air incursions by the Chinese about a month ago, while the Indian government down played the incidents citing them as ‘routine and harmless.’ One would recall a series of further incursions a few days ago with Chinese soldiers having left red painted rock memorabilia for their Indian counterparts – in Indian soil!

Although the Indian government has further downplayed this incident, much like what it did previously, a number of people within and outside the establishment believe them to be true, unlike the responses from the establishment itself! That the government chooses to respond differently is a question left better best answerable to by the officials of the Ministry of External Affairs, who routinely downplay such incidents so as to remain in the good equations with the Chinese and not antagonize them!

If the report is correct, which in all probability it is, it will be the first incident of firing along the Indo-China border since the 1996 bilateral agreement which seeks either nation not to engage in opening fire, no matter what the provocation is, primarily aimed as a part of confidence-building measures.

Repeated border violations and now incidents of opening fire indicate a brazen and even more aggressive Chinese army backed by its government reiterating its policy of inch-by-inch take-over of the Indian Territory it lays claim to! Large parts of the Indo-China border are unattended and remain unguarded throughout the year, prompting easier access to the violator and also making monitoring and reporting difficult for the Indians. However, what is appalling is the Indian government’s lukewarm and lackadaisical response, contributing more fodder and will power to an already aggressive and violent band of Chinese, who know no pleasantries of peaceful co-existence!

China has, as is usual practice, officially denied any violation of the Indo-China border or the Line of Actual Control. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing has denied all reports of Chinese airspace violations and incursions in border areas. A team of Chinese officials have also met Indian media representatives based in Beijing in an attempt to convey a message, that India is China’s partner and not a rival – something that is more of a farce than fact!

Sun Weidong who is deputy director-general of the ministry’s Asian department, in a statement said that “China does not pose any threat to India. For us, the biggest task is to develop ourselves so that 1.3 billion people can lead a good life. I don’t think it’s logical to say that when a country grows strong it will bully others.” But this is far from true, given the aggressive policy that China follows in laying claim to portions of Indian Territory that it regards to be part of its sovereign!

New Delhi’s responses and reasons behind them are better best not discussed! The MEA and the political brass, in conjunction, it seems are more worried about cozying up to the Chinese, something which is ominously similar to the stand that Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s former Prime Minister, maintained in the run up to the Indo-China debacle in 1962. It is surprising that no lessons have still been learnt over a period spanning 47 years! Just when one thinks that there could be some measure to address this repeated misadventure, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statements while addressing a conference of state Director Generals of Police in New Delhi comes as a dampener!

His woes that “Infiltration across the Line of Control and other places like Nepal, Bangladesh and the sea has been going up” simply do not reflect the current state of affairs and appears well doctored in order to omit Chinese references. Such a partisan type stand echoes our inability, lack of will and seriousness over the issue, which is precisely being taken as a soft spot to further such incidents, that will only increase in the coming days!

So much for partnership and cooperation!

Karzai or Abdullah? Who will emerge front-runner in the Afghan elections?

Amidst sporadic violence, reports of armed coercion, bribery, election fraud, voter cards being sold, irregularities and a low voter turnout, Afghanistan has gone to the polls for the second time, to elect a President, in an exercise that was closely watched by the United Nations, the United States, neighbouring countries and independent agencies. Officials of NATO stated that approximately 15.6 million voters had registered to vote. The number, which amounts to half of the nations population, is staggering considering the turbulent phases in time that the country has witnessed despite the Taliban having been ousted many years ago.

Under the regime of Hamid Karzai, a great deal had progressed in a difficult and tense environment constantly watched over and viewed as a breeding ground for international terrorism, however, the strangulating influence of the Taliban was witnessed many a times, in the form of many skirmishes between the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rebels, the former of which is now largely reduced to combat personnel of the United States alone, other member nations having gradually pulled out of the arrangement, sensing a long drawn combat operation which faced flak for being frustrating, costly and severely life threatening to military personnel.

Although the government machinery has largely been overhauled, the Afghan mindset largely remains unaltered and battling warlords still call the shots in what is more of a deeply divided nation which is clearly demarcated by ethnicity, caste and muscle power, all of which seems extensively prevalent over a social structure which is precariously balanced and hinges even now upon its disturbed past. The Afghan state is embroiled in many distinct identities, no one of which can claim superiority or dominance alone or for that matter a certain extended period of time. Cooperation and coordination are words unheard of where negotiations and truce face obsolescence even before implementation.

This time, the theater saw heavy weights in the form of Hamid Karzai, the incumbent President and Abdullah Abdullah, his foreign minister in the fray for the top job amidst many political twists and turns that may have affected one another in their attempt to woo a population that has long been tormented by unrest and turmoil, for the duration of all or most of their tumultuous lives. Karzai on his part seems to have been no lesser of an immoral by virtue of his proximity to what the United States calls dreaded warlords responsible for a chaotic Afghanistan. It is alleged that both of Karzai’s vice-presidential candidates and a number of his key allies in the election were responsible for many instances of human rights violations and war crimes. The independent body, Human Rights Watch has called for Vice President Karim Khalili and key ally, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, to face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes. Khalili is alleged to have been responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.

Prominent and conspicuous among the events, was the return from-exile of  General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who once held the post of Chief of Army Staff to President Karzai. Arriving from Turkey, where he was exiled for allegedly manhandling a political rival, he created headlines by pledging support for Karzai and campaigning for him, a move widely seen as an effort to send a tough message to erring warlords and thereby win their support. Gen Dostum was also a key ally of the United States in the 2001 invasion, following the attacks on the world trade center.

Political analysts insist that all this hobnobbing with local militia and warlords was indeed a strategy employed by the Karzai camp to secure large blocs of votes in return for key positions and influence in his new government or other significant promises. One may also recall his invitation to the dreaded Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to become his Vice President, when his attacks on government troops became systematically orchestrated and unstoppable.

Abdullah, on the other hand with a clean and suave image has certainly managed to dent Karzai’s fortunes to an extent, prompting officials to believe that the race may be more closely tied than expected, exacting a possibility of a run-off in October if neither party manages to garner the required 50% mark. While Abdullah may represent a different paradigm for a nation troubled by war, poverty, unrest and ethnic divisions, Karzai certainly has an upper hand in the battle given his close connections that can translate to more votes and the ability to nudge perpetually warring splinter groups to pledge support in unison although they may do so with reluctance. Given Abdullah’s surprise over the scale of alleged fraud in counting of the votes, one can sense a disconnect in his ability to control and monitor situations in the ground, something which Karzai surely has more knowledge and control of.

Apparently the United States is not very happy with the developments in Afghanistan, whose military and security responsibility lies with it. Richard Holbrooke, America’s special envoy to Afghanistan has, in a meeting with President Karzai, expressed fears and concerns over reports of election fraud, something that Karzai has not taken too well coming from the United States.

Latest indications suggest that Karzai is pegged at 45% of votes, amounting to 422,000 while Abdullah has garnered 35% votes at 330,000 in number. Reports now indicate that the finally tally may be delayed a while.

While the world waits and watches, it will be interesting to follow the United States and the international community in their policies towards the Afghan nation. More importantly, it will be exciting to deduce and subsequently watch India’s stand considering the possibilities. Karzai and his administration enjoy a warm relationship with India, and so also is the case with Dr. Abdullah.

So what is it that will change in the Afghan heartland? September will tell, presumably!

Hillary Clinton's visit – An Analysis

July 21, 2009 2 comments

Hillary Clinton’s love for India is not the same that is echoed by the U.S. State Department. No irony here, only reality! A number of media addresses, emphasis on education, interaction with the captains of industry and shopping expeditions later, one questions the progress of Indo-American relations given the hawkish view of the State Department and the perpetual threat of terrorism emanating from an ever turbulent Pakistan, something that hasn’t been addressed the way India would have liked the United States to have!

The Indian media made a huge fanfare of the visit and went long miles to please the visiting dignitary. The weekend newspapers were emblazoned with pictures and snippets of the Secretary while the delegation was given a warm welcome and treated to soulful Indian curries by the platter, even as news media channels staged live debates and analysis of this visit, as if it were a second-coming of the Lord himself! But, make no mistake, for Secretary Clinton came calling in warm terms as a ‘friend of India’ to which the Indian machinery found themselves swinging in musical pleasure!

I do not intend to negate or in any manner undermine the relationship Clinton shares with India, particularly in the light of her founding the India caucus in the upper house of the U.S. Congress, following her election as the senator from New York. A whole lot more has happened to cause particular warmth between her person and our nation, undoubtedly. But this visit was different and needed to be looked at differently, considering her position and Obama administration’s commitment to the world to aid ‘democratic nations’ in the war against terror.

While the State Department has sometimes, coming under some diplomatic pressure, echoed Secretary Clinton’s India bonhomie, it is common knowledge that their inclination lies oriented towards Pakistan, something which has been a happenstance for many many decades now. This attitude needs to change to bring about some level of credibility towards the statements that have been made warranting the need for increased cooperation and bilateral ties between both nations.

And then, there is the issue of terrorism originating from Pakistan, which has been proved a number of times of having the backing and complicity of state actors. This needs to be viewed very seriously. That Pakistan is an ally of the United States in the War on Terror, automatically makes it mandatory for it to shun any support for terror directed towards the Indian sovereign, something that it has repeatedly failed to adhere to as was seen even during the 26/11 episode. The United States, particularly the State Department needs to understand that a conducive environment is needed for solving issues that have long been kept at bay and state sponsored terrorism, such as that orchestrated by Pakistan, cannot help achieve such a climate.

Pakistan is fast becoming the breeding ground for global jihad and Washington needs to take cognizance of this fact and shape policies towards countering terrorist activists. While Hillary’s statement that “both nations have suffered at the hands of terrorists. And the breeding ground of this threat is India’s neighbour, Pakistan. Thus, when South Asia, described as the world’s most dangerous place and where India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are situated, is boiling, who can be the stabilizer? It can only be India which has a Muslim population that is almost five times that of Afghanistan and almost equals Pakistan’s” echoes the reality that is faced by India, it is also important to understand that anti-state elements in Pakistan were a creation of Pakistan itself and not the handiwork of an external force or element!

Terrorism is only one of the many issues that is an area of concern, apart from which there are areas such as trade, outsourcing, climate change, education and so on needing attention.

After this much publicized whirlwind trip, one really wonders about the possible outcome. Is the reality going to change? Will Indo-US relations scale new heights or is this just an eyewash that has been made to make India ‘feel good’ ahead of an impending statement in the not so distant future, which as seen in the past, will favour Pakistan and ignore the ground reality?

Also, what guarantee has the United States received that a next terror attack on its soil will not be aided by Pakistan or as they say ‘elements from within?’