Tag Archives: Pakistan

SAARC needs to look beyond India and Pakistan

To succeed Despite common problems, the policies adopted by the members are contradictory to one another.

Be it sports or foreign policy, when India and Pakistan are pitted against one another, the event is bound to make it to breaking news. So was the recent interior and home ministers’ summit of SAARC countries in Islamabad.

But more than the headlines, we need to understand the objectives and principles the association stands for and to what extent it has succeeded in achieving them.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was formed in 1985 under Article 52 of the UN Charter providing existence of regional arrangements for dealing with such matters, relating to the maintenance of international peace and security with the purpose and principles of the UN Charter.

It now represents 16.5 per cent of the world’s population.

In 31 years of its existence, SAARC has evolved and achieved a lot in terms of poverty reduction, food security, energy cooperation and social welfare. But, its relevance has been more or less limited to bilateral issues.

Despite regular meetings of policy makers and seminars by specialists, SAARC is yet to emerge as a strong forum to protect the interests of its member countries, compared to regional associations like ASEAN or NAFTA.

One of the reasons for the limited success of SAARC has been a shortage of milestones that will lead to closer cooperation among the member countries.

The world is watching South Asia. It is time to walk the talk, but unless there is peace among the member countries, especially between the two big partners, India and Pakistan, SAARC shall remain an association where bilateral issues prevail over the much-desired common multilateral goals.

SAARC was formed despite many obstacles and antipathy among the member nations.

Amid the diversities, challenges faced by SAARC countries, such as poverty, unemployment, inflationary pressure, unfavourable trade balance, high budget deficits and climate change are common.

However, despite common problems, the policies adopted by the members are contradictory to one another. For the sake a unified purpose, they need to develop a uniform approach towards these problems.

As we have moved from Millennium Development Goals to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, greater cooperation among the SAARC countries will make the region stable, safe and prosperous. Therefore, complementary, not competitive policies will develop the region.

Terrorism is the most disturbing challenge for peace, security and democracy not only in South Asia, but also the rest of the world. Along with cross border drug trafficking, it has created instability and insecurity in the region.

Even though every SAARC member pledges to eliminate terrorism in all forms at every summit, back home, countries like Pakistan pursue their own agenda and policies, which are not in consonance with the SAARC Charter, and the consequence is growing insecurity and threats to the South Asian region and humanity.

Terrorism demands a coordinated approach at the international level for sustainable global peace.

If a country sees it from a different perspective and makes a distinction between good terror and bad terror, the pathway to sustainable peace would be very difficult.

If we can eliminate the menace and focus our attention, as one unit of development, on issues like improving education, health, et al, the South Asian demographic dividend will be a reality and SAARC will emerge as an effective vehicle to achieve the developmental aspirations of all South Asians.

In this context, the effective implementation of the initiatives taken by SAARC, including the Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and its additional protocol has to be ensured.

The impact of Brexit on South Asia is yet to be analysed in detail, but it affects us all. All South Asian economies will experience its ripples in terms of growth, trade and employment. The situation demands that SAARC achieves regional economic integration on a fast track basis with the optimisation of SAFTA towards South Asian Economic Union (SAEU).

Another area that needs the attention of and cooperation among SAARC countries is agriculture. In fact, SAARC’s roots lay in the IPA Declaration adopted by the foreign ministers of South Asia in 1983 calling for regional cooperation in the areas of agriculture, health, rural development and population.

The SAARC nations, at this stage, must not lose their focus on this front because they have the core competence in the sector and their economies are dominated by it. The greatest opportunity for SAARC is that India has one of the widest and best networks of agricultural education and research in the world. Other South Asian nations should take advantage of this.

One fifth of the South Asian population is younger than 24 years. Therefore, the countries as well as SAARC should step up efforts to create adequate and suitable employment opportunities for the age group.

Employment is a matter of serious concern for all SAARC economies, including India. Young Parliamentarians from SAARC nations will meet in Islamabad later this month and the annual summit is scheduled to be held in November.

It is high time SAARC prioritised the looming challenges in the region.

Strategic partnership and greater cooperation among the member countries will lead to the emergence of the SAARC as a formidable bloc, much like the ASEAN and a platform for development of the South Asian region.

It is not the problems, but the solutions that must bind SAARC nations. The commitment should be towards implementation of the resolutions on core issues.

The best way and the need of the hour is sincerity of purpose and honesty in effort.

Will the SAARC fight the challenges?

Modi’s Pakistan policy is confused

It is the right of people to know what is in the mind of our government.

If there is extreme cold in Delhi, the temperature in Bangkok was suitable for our national security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar to break the ice with their Pakistani counterparts. Within 48 hours of the NSA level talks between the two countries, our foreign minister visited Pakistan and held talks with her counterpart and Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also scheduled to visit Pakistan next year with the focus on resumption of the composite dialogue process.

As the leader of Opposition, incumbent external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had said on March 14, 2013 on the floor of Lok Sabha that unless Pakistan stops terrorism and destroys all terrorist camps on its soil, there should not be business as usual with them and there should not be any formal talks between the two countries.

In August when the NSA level talks were called off, the government of India decided that India will not talk to Pakistan if it involves the Hurriyat and secondly, the talks will be confined to terrorism only. On August 22 this year, the same Swaraj had vehemently ruled out the possibility of India-Pakistan talks in a third country.


Now, the definition of maturity has changed and the sincerity of Pakistan is visible to the government of India despite its increasing proximity to Beijing. Not only were the NSA level talks held, they were held in a third country and along with terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir was also discussed.

Interestingly, these talks were held in pursuance to the meeting between Modi and Sharif in Paris. The sudden change in the response mechanism of the government caught many unawares. Not only a precedent was set that Jammu and Kashmir was formally discussed bilaterally between India and Pakistan on the soil of a third country but the spirit of Ufa was also violated by agreeing to extend the scope of the talks beyond terrorism.

There is no doubt that both the countries need to engage with each other, both the countries have certain common concerns and their mutual outreach is in the interest of security, peace and tranquillity in the sub-continent but the scope, approach and orientation need to be clear and consistent. I feel the Pakistan policy of the Modi government is marred with confusion and inconsistency. Whether to talk or not, whom to talk and whom not to talk and what to talk and what not to talk – all these things are not clear and consistent. The incidents between May, 2014 and December, 2015 reflect this dilemma and confusion.

First you invite Sharif to your oath ceremony, then cancel foreign secretary level talks for the jugalbandi between Pakistan and the separatists, then send your foreign secretary to Pakistan within months without any change in the situation on the ground, thereafter there is the NSA talks fiasco and now the bonhomie to the extent of discussing Jammu and Kashmir in a third country. There has been a series of confusion.

Dialogue is a continuous process and not the final outcome. We should remember that neither India nor Pakistan is yet to achieve any concrete result from the composite dialogue process, which started 17 years ago. Even if there is no definite progress on the trials of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in Pakistan, India has agreed to move at a pace, which Pakistan is comfortable with.

While the onus now lies with Pakistan to expedite the Mumbai trials on the basis of the dossiers already provided to the government of Pakistan and to control the anti-India terror elements operating from its soil, the NDA government in India has to devise a clear roadmap, a pragmatic foreign policy to deal with Pakistan and for that it will have to first understand the internal contradictions within Pakistan, positioning of the Pakistani democratic government vis-a-vis their military establishment and also have to deal with its own internal contradictions.

Whatever the foreign minister may say about the genuineness of Pakistan in fighting terrorism, facts speak for themselves. In 2015 only, Pakistan has violated ceasefire agreements more than 400 times. If this is the genuineness of Pakistan, I doubt if any composite dialogue will yield positive result.

Pakistan has its own domestic limitations because of which it cannot go beyond a point. Thus, it will expect India to offer some concessions to keep the talking treadmill going on. It is, therefore, necessary that, before we talk, we need to have a clear idea as to what the minimum expectations we have and to what extent we can go with the Pakistani agenda on Kashmir.

The negotiators of India have to be clear on this in any talk with Pakistan. Talks should not be held only for the sake of diverting attention from the domestic challenges. Secondly, the people and Parliament of both the countries should be taken into confidence for the talks to prove sustainable. It is the right of people to know what is in the mind of our government when it offers to sit down with Pakistan for a composite dialogue, including Jammu and Kashmir and Modi and his government are expected to keep these concerns in mind while talking to Pakistan on formal platforms. People-to-people contact and sports and cultural exchanges between the two countries should also be encouraged.

Without continuous interactions at the people-to-people level, India and Pakistan cannot cross the psychological barrier and the talks at the level of politicians and bureaucrats only will not break the ice. But, will the RSS allow the Modi government to engage with Pakistan in a consistent and long-term manner or the recent change in the heart is because of the domestic reasons is to be seen.

Source: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-pakistan-narendra-modi-nawaz-sharif-sushma-swaraj-ajit-doval-kashmir/story/1/7945.html

India needs to play a bigger role in Afghanistan

It is said that the less you know about an opportunity, the more attractive it is. Recently, I got a golden opportunity to engage in a three-day dialogue at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Brussels, along with some selected policy makers of our country, on the invitation of the government of United States, for a deeper understanding and interaction on how NATO’s post-2014 security partnership intersects with India’s security interests in Afghanistan, focusing on the complexities of the transition process and on the importance of international cooperation, especially India’s, in making the transition a success. From India’s point of view, it was very important for us to analyse, measure and understand the magnitude of threats and opportunities for India vis-a-vis situation in Afghanistan, in the post-2014 scenario.

A key focus of our engagement was the security relationship. We shared the genuine security concerns of our country about Afghanistan’s future and keenness of India for a broader opportunity in the country in the post-2014 scenario.

There is no doubt that the UN mandated intervention in Afghanistan by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001 was culmination of varied geopolitical and economic considerations, besides the genuine security factors, but given that situation, there was no comparable or equivalent organisation other than NATO to effectively deal with the huge responsibility. The achievements of NATO could be measured in terms of its objectives, as a security organisation.

Whenever the integrity and sovereignty of any of its member country has been under threat, it has acted and acted decisively but NATO has never attacked any country or invaded into the territory of any country gratuitous. The economic and military mighty of NATO had completely marginalised the Talibani forces in Afghanistan. Their biggest achievement has been to help Afghanistan to build a 350,000-strong security force from scratch.

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But they are still ill-equipped, particularly when it comes to air support and intelligence gathering. Whereas NATO is committed to continuing self-sustaining economic and military support to Afghanistan, given the resources and the level of training they have vis-a-vis the strength of the Taliban’s, it is a legitimate fear that the Afghan Nation Security Force (ANSF) may face difficulties to prevent resurgence of Taliban in the region.

If this happens, it will have serious regional repercussions and will disturb peace and governance in South Asia and Central Asia. Post-withdrawal, security overall is deteriorating and Taliban is already regaining significant position in much of Afghanistan, jeopardising peace and security in the region. A Somalia like situation or emergence of a civil war in Afghanistan will have grave regional implications. Narco-terrorism is another serious concern for the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, including India.

Our three-day engagement with NATO gave us a feeling that for the persistent economic, political and military engagement of India as a peace keeper in the region and for its role in reconstruction of the post-Taliban Afghanistan, NATO has accepted India as a legitimate stakeholder so far as post-2014 Afghanistan is concerned. NATO shares India’s interests and vision in Afghanistan which is very important in the context of the proactive role of China and Pakistan in the region. After all, it was no one but India which persuaded Afghanistan, successfully, to join SAARC in 2007.

In the present context, uncertainty is there. Beyond Afghanistan, NATO has its own challenges in Ukraine, Syria and Russia. NATO is big enough and powerful enough and stable enough to be able to deal with both threats at the same time. But post-2014 scenario in Afghanistan, India has opportunities to expand its role in the region and take the crucial responsibility of leading the international community in sustaining a stable and functional democratic government in Afghanistan on the one hand and to deal firmly with the challenges of threat perception from the non-state actors hostile to India operating from the Afghan soil on the other hand.

India has been historically discharging its responsibility in the region in a constructive manner. Despite its own many domestic needs, India is Afghanistan’s sixth largest donor, providing the country with some $2 billion in effective aid since 2001. The Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries gives a legitimate edge to India in Afghanistan.

India is well-positioned to play a responsible and democracy-supporting role in security issues, not just in the volatile South Asia region but also beyond. The need is to intensify our efforts in the region. It is also because ISIS activities are gaining roots in Afghanistan and the region is gradually emerging as a hotbed for breeding Islamic extremism. If the recent trends are any indicators of the future, the security situation in Afghanistan is serious and headed to take a complicated turn that would further test the tenacity and already dwindling resources of the Afghan government and security forces.

The presence of ISIS in Afghanistan has direct security implications for India. Therefore, as developments in Afghanistan will directly impinge on India’s security, the present and future demands that the government of India should craft a futuristic policy and execute it strategically to cease the opportunity in Afghanistan. It is in the interest of not only India but entire South Asia and also in the interest of Central Asia that the rein of Afghanistan should not be handed over to the radicals once again.

Afghanistan is also a significant trading partner of India. In spite of many transit obstacles, the volume of Indo-Afghan trade stood at $680 million during 2013-2014, a figure that should exponentially rise, following the full implementation of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA). The only caution is cut in international aid after NATO withdrawal may take Afghanistan into a recession, which will have adverse economic impact on India, complicating things in the context of global slowdown in demand.

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NATO is the biggest political military alliance in history and India is the largest democracy in the world with an excellent track record of its contribution to world peace from the Rig Vedic times to UN missions across the globe in the present millennium. There is no doubt that the foreign policy of India should be based on pragmatic considerations and changing world order.

But, at the same time, historical considerations are equally important in defining parameters of foreign policy. It is in this context, the dialogue between India and NATO can be understood. It is not an issue whether the largest democracy and the biggest political-military alliance should cooperate and consult each other but the real questions are how and to what extent .


Faultlines: Jammu and Kashmir

When the Prime Minister was in Jammu, delivering speeches on political grammar, the valley was up in flare with Pakistan flags and presence of ISIS, depicting a clear picture that either both the Centre and the State Government have lost control over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or some sort of political engineering is taking shape in the State, in connivance with the ruling alliance, which is detrimental to our national interest and the people of the State. The incidents in Kathua and Anantnag are still fresh in our memory. The terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir continue unabated.

Nothing has been learnt from the past mistakes. The Kathua attack came less than a week after India sent its foreign secretary to Islamabad to resume talks with Pakistan. Whereas the political leadership of the State feels that the attacks are handiwork of non-State actors, the paramilitary and civilians continue to suffer.

Einstein had said, ‘any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent’. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction. The situation in Jammu & Kashmir was allowed to be become complicated and violent in the winter of March when the dreaded Masarat Alam was released. His release could have been avoided. Then, the Union government had the opportunity to detain him, but they did not and, unfortunately, no satisfactory answer was given for this by the Home Minister in his statement in Parliament on 12 March.

Consequence, the period of calm is over, a shudder runs again through the valley. With temperature rising in the valley, snow is melting, so also the peace. If we are shocked by the anti-India and pro-Pakistan activities of Alam on our soil, we should not be because you cannot expect serenity and tranquillity from an agent provocateur. But, the role of the BJP-PDP government in the state and the BJP government at the Centre and the manner in which the entire episode was mishandled needs scrutiny not only to dissect what went wrong but to plan how to correct in future.

When opportunism prevails over conscience, such consequences are bound to happen. In fact, the silent areas of the common minimum programme are the fault lines of governance in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, the state, which has been an example of secularism for the rest of the country, has been somewhat polarized. The tone and tenor of Masarat Alam and Geelani’s speech is a clear indication that the Indian flag is under cloud in the valley. Even as tension continues to loom over the State and normal life has come to a halt in the valley, there no single senior Minister present in state capital to coordinate with civil and police administration to bring back normalcy in the State. The arrest of Masarat Alam and Geelani on 17 March was not a preventive action but a late reaction taken in pressure to continue the power sharing formula in Srinagar.

The declaration by the Central government that it will construct a composite township for rehabilitation of Kashmir Pandits did not help to improve the prospects of peace in the valley either. Kashmir Pandits are an integral part of economy, culture and political set up of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no doubt that they should return to the valley but will it serve any purpose if they physically move and remain culturally cut off from their roots? In fact, what the governments, both in Centre and at the state, plan to do is to establish separate colonies for Kashmir Pandits knowing very well that colonies by nature are homogeneous and the idea of composite character does not fit it at all.

Kasmiriyat does not allow creation of separate habitations for Muslims and Pandits. Even this is not acceptable to the Pandits and neither the Centre and nor the State Government has discussed any such proposal with the community. They want safety, security, livelihood guarantee and confidence building measures and not separate colonies to return. Rather this flawed political declaration, understood to be made after taking the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed into confidence, is a step towards isolating the Pandits further and has made their return difficult.

For BJP, it is a moment of introspection. A party that grabs power even at the cost of compromising its fundamental ideology is beset with intransigence highly detrimental to national interests. The need of the hour is protection of lives and livelihood of people in Jammu and Kashmir. Arrest of Masarat Alam and Geelani should not be end in itself but system must be geared up to ensure speedy trial and toughest of punishment for the sedition that will set a deterrence for author hate mongers in the valley.

Let a strong message go across the border also that India will not allow any anti-national activity on its soil, either supported and instigated by external forces or perpetrated by their agents here. Also important is that the political leadership in the Centre and the state should not play into the trap of the separatists who are hell bent to create political and civil unrest in the state.

Our foreign policy should be based on pragmatic considerations to protect interests of India as sovereign nation-state rather than guided by internal political considerations. The admission of Hafiz Saeed that government of Pakistan, its army, in collusion with militants like Saeed, are actively operating to destabilize Jammu and Kashmir, even though is not a new innovation, should be seriously taken by the political establishment and security forces in Delhi and Srinagar, for the danger it poses to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Release of Lakhvi in Pakistan, anti-India propaganda by elements like Hafiz Saeed, Masarat Alam and Geelani and increasing violence in J&K should not be viewed as events in isolation. This is the opportune time to address problem in a comprehensive manner with utmost urgency. Any government that fails to protect lives of its subjects has no moral right to govern.

For the central forces operating from the state, situation is very dicey and challenging. A single mistake by them has the potential to turn the already volatile valley into a cauldron. New Delhi and Srinagar must be alert to deal with deal with such pressure situations and the more and more preventive measures are taken, the better for the people of paradise on earth.