Monday, January 30, 2006

India at the OIC

Saudi King Abdullah's recent official visit to India for sure raised eyebrows in Pakistan and the reason is not too far to seek.

Abdullah, who was the chief guest of the Republic Day on January 26, said that he was keen to see India play an active role in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Despite knowing that Pakistan has always been a strong opponent to India's entry into the OIC, Abdullah didn't mind adding that it will be very beneficial if the application is put forth by a country like Pakistan.

Although Pakistan's Foreign Office has not outrightly rejected an observer status for India at the OIC, a section of media in the country does give that impression.

"We are, however, convinced that India, in no way, is entitled to attain observer status with an organisation that represents the Muslim Ummah (community) and its aspirations.

"We fail to understand on what basis India can stake claim to get this privilege. Does India subscribe to the viewpoint of the Muslim Ummah on various issues?" asks an editorial in Pakistan Observer.

The OIC, established in 1969 is an inter-governmental organisation consisting of 57 member states, with an aim to safeguard the interests of Muslims all over the world.

According to Daily Times, Pakistan has in mind two criteria that could be seen as "reservations".

"…The state should be a Muslim majority, under which India doesn't qualify and never will unless the rules are changed and the Islamic character of members is redefined."

India has always staked claim to be a part of OIC as the Muslim population in India is far more than that in Pakistan.
However, under the charter, the OIC embraces both Muslim and non-Muslim states as observer, though different set of rules apply for granting observer status to Muslim and non-Muslim states.

The review of the rules was initiated following the interest shown by number of non-Muslim countries to secure an observer status at the OIC.

The second reservation is that an observer should not have an active dispute with a Muslim state.

In a very strong-worded edit, the Pakistan Observer further asks: "Can a country that tramples rights of the Muslims in Occupied Kashmir and treat them as second grade citizens be a member of organisation that represents solely Muslims?"

Interestingly, the paper doesn't hesitate to mention that Pakistan too is responsible for creating enabling atmosphere for India to lobby for the membership via the CBMs with India.

"…It might make sense to consider allowing an observer status to India as part of the policy of normalisation that Islamabad is already pursuing at the bilateral level with New Delhi."

OIC consists of oil-rich countries like Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Egypt and others as its members.

The Conference has 11 observers which includes United Nations, European Union, Cyprus, Thailand, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the latest entrant - Russia in 2005.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Indo-Bangla trade barriers

Trade has always been a concern as regards India Bangladesh relations. Huge trade imbalances with India, it is said, assumes both economic and political stings in Bangladesh.

Even though forums like South Asia Enterprise Development Facility remain strongly committed to fostering better cooperation between Bangladesh and India, loopholes stay put.

According to Bangladesh daily Daily Star, "Despite roughly $2 billion exports to Bangladesh every year, India has not made its Petrapole port (India) capable of handling the cargoes. From Kolkata to Petrapole, the road and the bridges are narrow to slow down the movement of vehicles".

India's export to Bangladesh is less than one per cent of its total exports to the world. In 2004, according to available studies, Bangladesh imported $1.7 billion worth of goods from India via official channels.

In the same year, exports from Bangladesh to India amounted to nearly $78 million.

The paper further says that if Bangladesh could raise her exports to India to around $500-600 million per year, it will be in a comfortable situation.

The editorial suggests that to better New Delhi-Dhaka trade relations, land customs need to be upgraded through infrastructural and other facilities, since most of the trade takes place via land routes.

"Three quarters of the total transactions flow through land customs. Therefore, unless land customs are upgraded… the loss of trade might harm Bangladesh more than India."

Mafia and warehouse facilities are among the many issues that Dhaka wants the West Bengal Govt in India to take up.

"On both the sides of the fence, barring Benapole (Dhaka) and Petrapole, the infrastructure is outmoded and under developed. Warehouses and weigh bridges are not available in most of the posts. In fact, out of 40 or so custom posts, 38 are the harbours of smuggling," Daily Times says.

Trade theorists argue that the high tariff levels are the cause of smuggling.

"One fails to grasp as to why illegal outflow from Bangladesh is not taking place on the heels of high tariff barriers in India…Obviously then the question of Bangladesh's capacity to meet demands in the Indian market or the extent of her comparative advantage is a potential concern," the paper says.

Non-tariff barriers are the means of keeping foreign goods out of domestic market, while abiding by the multilateral agreements that the country has signed through the World Trade Organisation.

The paper suggests that from the Indian side, "the non-tariff barriers should be buried to enable Bangladesh to reap home the harvest of open Indian market".

The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry has time and again said that tariff and non-tariff barriers at the Indian border hampers trade between the two nations.

Friday, January 20, 2006

India, Pak and empty talks

Before the just concluded third round of confidence building measures, the media in Pakistan found the talks to be praiseworthy.

Leading daily Dawn, in its editorial, said that "in the last two years, New Delhi and Islamabad have at least stopped brandishing the sword and threatening to wage a war against each other".

Now, after the talks, some have just dismissed the initiative taken by both the nations as a 'damp squib'.

"Only an incorrigible optimist would remain unfazed by the outcome, peace and direction of the composite peace dialogue between India and Pakistan. Otherwise, it has delivered not even a stillborn child so far," the Frontier Post said in its editorial.

Upset with the pace and progress of the talks, the paper said that it will take ages to solve the dispute. "... It's leading to nowhere. Two rounds have passed away, without even taking the scum off any of the issues on the agenda.

In a veiled message to both the nations, the paper said that mere talking won't help and it's no 'big deal' if the nuclear-armed neighbours are talking.

"The usual crowd of cheerleaders will now be out to extol that the peace process remains on track...Despite the recent verbal spat between the two over India's provocative statements about Balochistan, they say, the window has remained open. But they are forgetting the history of the two countries' chequered relationship. Both have kept talking even in the worst of times."

The third round of CBMs, which began on January 17, was significant as it was the first high-level contact (between the two countries) this year and was held immediately after a visit of an All Party Hurriyat Conference team to Pakistan.

India and Pakistan made a fresh commitment to push forward a fragile peace process but reiterated their differences over ways to end years of enmity.

Diplomats from both the countries agreed that two-year-old peace talks had helped boost relations and were optimistic despite fears that the dialogue had reached a stalemate.

However, the stalemate over the main issue — Kashmir — continued.

Blaming the Indian side for the deadlock, Frontline Post further said: "The Indian leadership has very dexterously altered the very connotation of what actually makes up the core issue of their relationship. Pakistan says it is the Kashmir issue, and so do the objective South Asia watchers. But India has given this primacy to its contrivance of cross border terrorism".

Adding further to this, The Nation said, "This (cross border terrorism) is a pet excuse to divert attention from the resolution of the dispute."

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had recently suggested its neighbour to pull out troops from three districts of Kashmir — Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla — in exchange for Pak's help to root out terror. New Delhi had outrightly rejected it.

Reacting on this, Frontier Post said, "Obviously, India doesn't view Kashmir dispute as we see it...the Indians are yet to talk seriously on Kashmir".

Pakistan has clearly and strongly given out the message that the talks need substance too.

"The Foreign Office may well have reasons for the confidence it maintains about India's sincerity to resolve the issue, but little evidence is there to substantiate it," said The Nation daily.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Importance of Indo-Pak CBMs

The cynics are not too pleased with it.

Analysts feel that the crucial India, Pakistan talks that began in 2004, hardly made any headway.

And as regards the Kashmir issue, there are hardly any "tangible achievements" to show.

But at least, as Pakistan leading daily Dawn in its editorial puts it, "…In the last two years, New Delhi and Islamabad have stopped brandishing the sword and threatening to wage a war against each other."

The paper says that the confidence building measures (CBMs) are important not only for India and Pakistan, but also for peace and security in the entire South Asian region.

"The confidence building measures…would preempt a future crisis from erupting. If relations remain at an even keel, it is unlikely that India and Pakistan equations will be thrown out of gear in the near future. This is important for peace and security in South Asia," the Dawn reports.

The ensuing round of talks today hold significance, as it would be the first high-level contact (between the two countries) this year that would be held immediately after a visit of an All Party Hurriyat Conference team to Pakistan.

Vital issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues related to peace and security between the two countries, would be discussed during the talks with the Indian officials.

Stressing on the need for regular CBMs between the neighbours, Dawn says, "Given the high level of militarisation in the region…it is vital that India and Pakistan should not be locked in confrontation with one another. Tension and polarisation will make the region a tinderbox…"

As regards the issue of Kashmir, the paper further says, "…There might be no tangible achievements to show in respect of the Kashmir issue that is central to the relationship between the two countries, it is a matter of some significance that India and Pakistan are at least now talking about the dispute and exploring various options.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had recently suggested its neighbour to pull out troops from three districts of Kashmir -- Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla - in exchange for Pak's help to root out terror.

An editorial in Kashmir Observer says, "The two countries should deliberate the proposal of demilitarisation and self-rule more earnestly with a view to finding a lasting solution to the issue.

New Delhi, however, rejected the proposal.

The media in Islamabad, however, says that it may take a while to find a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue.
Meanwhile, a section of the Pakistani press also reported that the Balochistan issue would also figure during the talks, with a special focus on the allegations that India had a hand in the recent insurgency activities in the area.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Brouhaha in Balochistan

Pakistan seems to be having a tough time battling the brouhaha over Balochistan.

As if its neighbour's 'friendly' concern over the restive province was not enough to irk the nuclear nation, the trouble has come knocking from inner circles.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a key party allied to Musharraf, threatened to quit the ruling coalition if a military crackdown in troubled Balochistan province was not halted.

An editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times says, "While an exaggerated sense of external threat will not do Pakistan any good, what is happening internally is quite heart-breaking".

The able General managed to convince MQM's Altaf Hussain that the military action in Balochistan was not an "operation". At the same time almost, it named India as the fomenter of trouble in the restive province.

In an interview to a private channel in India, Musharraf said: "There are a lot of indications, lot of financial support, support in kind being given to those who are anti-government, anti-me..."

Now the catch that the editorial points out is, "Was the Indian interference gambit used to get the MQM to relent?" It says that there seems to be more to the situation than meets the eye.

The MQM's withdrawal may result in the dissolution of the PML-led provincial government in Sindh, where the MQM's 42 legislators form the largest block in the 167-seat local assembly.

As regards the question of Indian interference, as said in reports here earlier, it has been brewing since the installation of the new political order in Afghanistan and the restoration of Indian consulates there.

The Pakistan intelligence is of the opinion that India's RAW is involved in the entire issue.

Clearing the myth, the Daily Times explains, GEO TV's Kamran Khan had announced last November that the Karachi bombing was traced to ...the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which was connected through the Indian consulates in Afghanistan to RAW. He had called on former Balochistan police IG to confirm this... But the IG did not do that, saying instead that in past the BLA had been funded by Baloch sardars in exile".

Also, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao insisted that he had no proof of RAW being involved in the bombing in Karachi in 2005, when he was asked by Khan.

The editorial concludes by saying that "no one outside Pakistan is going to believe Islamabad's story" and it is high time that "Islamabad should pause and meditate a bit more on the wisdom of the divisive policies it is pursuing".

Meanwhile, Pakistan's powerful tribal chieftain Nawab Akbar Bugti also denied claims by President Musharraf that his group was being supported by New Delhi.

"President Musharraf is using his favourite weapon - lies," Bugti said in a satellite-phone interview from his headquarters at Dera Bugti town in the volatile province.

Balochistan tribesmen have waged a revolt against the central government in the province during the past year and a half, targeting government installations, railway tracks and gas facilities with bombs and rockets.

They are demanding a bigger share of the region's natural resources and jobs in state projects as well as more political rights, and they also oppose the setting up of military garrisons.

(For the Hindustan Times)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Just what is it that Musharraf wants?

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's disenchantment over the so-called 'lack of progress' in peace process is showing up and this explains the reason for his recent demilitarisation proposal.

Towing in with the General, leading Pakistan daily Dawn says: "The basic reason behind new ideas floated by Islamabad is to show India that Pakistan's approach to Kashmir is not hide-bound, that it is flexible on the issue and that it expects New Delhi to adopt the same approach."

Suggesting a new formula for peace in Kashmir, the General had asked its nuclear-armed neighbour to pull out troops from three districts of Kashmir -- Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla - in exchange for Pak's help to root out terror.

And like his previous proposals in past, the recent one too hasn't raised eyebrows in India. The latter outrightly rejected the offer and interestingly, this time, it has got support from the Pak media too.

An editorial in leading Pak daily Daily Times has called Musharraf's three-city formula a 'predictable non-starter'.
"…We can say that General Musharraf has simply used another occasion to chide India. Chiding will not help. If it had helped the peace process the matter of Kashmir would have long been put to rest."

In the past also, India rejected the General's proposals without batting an eyelid.

Musharraf took the whole country by surprise in 2004 when he said that plebiscite was not a solution to the Kashmir problem.

He suggested that India and Pakistan should consider the option of identifying some "regions" of Kashmir on both sides of LoC (Line of Control), demilitarise them and grant them the status of independence or joint control or under UN mandate.

The editorial goes on to say that the suggested idea may be right but the way in which it has been presented could be wrong.

The Indians, as the paper says, have time and again said that bilateral proposals in the interim should be presented officially and an answer should be awaited before going public.

"But, President Musharraf, they say, has made it a habit of treating India to all sorts of new ideas on Kashmir in his public meetings and interviews…

By now one should be quite used to the pantomime: Musharraf presents a new idea, India rejects the new idea the same day using the same channel. Therefore a good idea may be rejected because of the way it has been presented," the Daily Times said.

The editorial also explains why there was an angry edge to India's response to the proposal this time.

"The Indian side has repeatedly complained that President Musharraf shoots off his "important proposals" for the resolution of half-a-century old dispute with India in a most off-the-cuff fashion…"

The External Affairs Ministry spokesman in India, Navtej Sarna had said responding to Musharraf's brainchild, "Any demilitarisation or any redeployment of security forces within the territory of India is a sovereign decision of the Govt of India and cannot be dictated by any foreign Govt."

Stating another reason for India's angry outburst, the daily said it might be due to Pakistan Govt's allegation of Indian involvement in Balochistan insurgency.

Pakistan had said on Monday it has evidence that links its rival India to tribal unrest in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province.