Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In South Asia, it's a tightrope walk for US

"Why do South Asians have to look up to the United States to solve their problems?" asks a very perplexed Naveen Thapa, a student of political science in Delhi University. "Why can't they take examples from Nepal? The decade-long Maoist conflict came to an end because people sorted it out themselves". Thapa echoes the view of many South Asians who believe that America still has not overcome its imperialistic interests.

At best, some argue that the subcontinent's significance to Washington is as a developing region with potential for US markets. True, but the dynamics have changed post 9/11 and continue to, post 26/11. What happened in Nepal was an internal strife that threatened peace of the region, but what is happening in South Asia -- read, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India -- is a threat not only to itself, but the world at large, which includes the Washington too.

America's newly-crowned President Barack Obama has said that militants based in South Asia represent the biggest threat to the US and he is absolutely committed to eliminating the threat of terrorism. "We're going to have to bring the full force of our power—not only military but also diplomatic, economic and political—to deal with those threats (terrorism). Not only to keep America safe, but also to ensure that peace and prosperity continue around the world," the President had said in his speech in Illinois. According to Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, "The problems of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are bleeding into one another so that what you have is a kind of South Asian terrorism where these groups are feeding off each other, finding pockets where they can train in lawless parts of the country".

If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and India and Pakistan go for a war, not only would all of South Asia become a powder-keg but militants would get a go-ahead to wreak further havoc world over. So where exactly do we stand today? Change is in the air and the South Asia in 2009 presents a varied picture. Bhutan has opted for a new system of governance via a constitutional monarchy. Elections are due in India. In Sri Lanka, the army has almost achieved victory over the Tamil separatist rebels. Nepal has witnessed a historic transition from a monarchy to a democracy. Elections have just concluded in Bangladesh and it has resulted in a landslide victory for the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina.

Less specific are the readings of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Torn by instability in Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan, South Asia has become a key battleground in the US-led war on terrorism. The new government in the United States is ensuring that in the coming months, much of the action takes place in South Asia. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke has just concluded his visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan and the next in line to visit the troubled areas is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"South and Central Asia are the most explosive areas in the world today and will continue to be so in 2009. Obama will face some of his trickiest foreign policy challenges in South Asia," says Ahmed Rashid, a political commentator. Trickiest because foreign interference and nationalism are delicate issues here. A report in the Times of India aptly puts it, "Our worldview doesn't go beyond our noses". Nevertheless, there are huge expectations from Obama here. Both New Delhi and Islamabad would want him to be on their side. All the while the new president will have to tell Pakistanis how much America loves them, while across the border he will take next steps to enhance a wholly different relationship with India.

The America under Obama is in a position to solidify a long-term relationship with India, edge Pakistan away from chaos, and prevent Afghanistan from falling into Taliban. But the problem with Washington's policy until now is that it has combined a politically soft approach towards Pakistan's military and the ISI with a militarily hard approach within Afghanistan. America's challenges, plan of action and policies with regard to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be discussed in the next update….

Prabhakaran | Calm before the storm?


“The second coming of Prabhakaran is possible through fable and legend in the form of fairy tale and folklore, mime and music.”

-Asian Tribune (After Prabhakaran - what next?)

The media in Sri Lanka has already started to write off the LTTE supremo. The government has started to blow its victory trumpet and the neighbours (India) are clamouring for his head… All this even before the man is caught! All this even before the fight has touched the finishing line. No doubt, the Sri Lankan government has hit the LTTE where it hurts the most, but in the past Prabhakaran and his men had always managed to bounce back and take on the government more strongly than before. Says a report in the Hindustan Times, “The pattern of warfare in the last 18 months show that LTTE was not in the fight to challenge the (Sri Lankan) army or to regain lost territory…”


For 30 years, the Sri Lankan government failed to make Prabhakaran bite the dust. Will he allow them to this time? Can Prabhakaran bounce back? According to Colonel R Hariharan, a military intelligence specialist, “Prabhakaran’s unique strength is his doggedness to reach for his goal, so he will put every ounce of his strength to bounce back”. The LTTE was dislodged from Jaffna in 1996 and it was felt that the group would be knocked down soon. But it soon launched operation Oyadha Alaigal to retrieve lost territories, including Kilinochchi and was successful. The process is not going to be easy for Prabhakaran this time.

International Opinion
The global and national environments have changed after 9/11. The LTTE, led by Prabhakaran, then was the voice of minority Tamils in the eyes of the international community. Today it is a terrorist organization in the eyes of nearly 37 nations. But many states like Canada, China, Japan, UK, Germany, Italy and Norway have continued contact with the LTTE. International organizations like Asian Development Bank, World Bank and many UN Agencies also established contact with the LTTE after the 2002 ceasefire. In his annual Heroes’ Day speech, Prabhakaran time and again says that the international community has isolated him and in the same breath he also appeals to them for help. According to B Raman, Director, Institute of Topical Studies, “Prabhakaran continues to live in a make-believe world of his own, nursing an illusion that the international opinion might once again change…”

Resources
The LTTE still has large stocks of weapons and ammunition, but lacks manpower, according to former Eastern commander Karuna. The leader himself had said sometime back in Indian magazine Nakkeeran, “It is the Sinhalese forces that are facing severe losses while attacking us. The Sinhalese government has strategically censored the truth. …Our military power remains strong as always”. If the pro-LTTE parties are to be believed, the LTTE has kept its losses to minimum and they are saving their men and arms to fight another day. “Was there anybody in town (Kilinochchi) when they (Sri Lankan forces) entered? There was no LTTE casualty. All they captured was land,” Tamil National Alliance MP K Pathmanathan was quoted as saying in the Hindustan Times. But according to Hariharan, it will be difficult for Prabhakaran now to ensure a steady supply of arms to continue his fight. “LTTE which has a modern weapons system procures its arms from countries like Ukraine, Cambodia and North Korea. The marine sea routes through which their arms are smuggled in are no longer porous.”

The Sri Lankan government
The Sri Lankan state, all these years has miserably failed to give Tamils a feeling of security, a sense of ownership. There is sea of difference between what the government and politicians promise to Tamilians and what they do. It is one of the prime reasons that can yet again help Prabhakaran to bounce back. Militarily, Prabhakaran may be at his weakest, but Tamil nationalism may help him bounce back.

The Tamil diaspora
Through the years of war and peace, Prabhakaran had built a strong international network of supporters who had helped finance LTTE war effort. But now there are new voices in the Tamil diaspora rising against Prabhakaran's ruthless regime and his violence. The stringent international anti-terror protocols are making it tough for external support to reach the LTTE. The above discussion concludes that to bounce back Prabhakaran would need to do a major overhaul of his strategies. He would need to secure his assets from further loss and would need to regroup and reorganize his cadres. He would need to infuse young blood in his team. To win over the trust of diaspora, Prabhakaran will have to be more democratic and accommodating to others’ opinion.

Prabhakaran's Eelam dream – What went wrong

When he started off as the head of a motley group of eight in the 1970s, no one could believe that Velupillai Prabhakaran would one day be the world’s most dreaded terrorist. During his career, first as a rebel and then as the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he suppressed all dissent within Lanka Tamil community and managed to bring the plight of the minority Tamils into international focus. The Tamils world over hail him for refusing to compromise on the Tamil cause. But despite all the years of struggle, Prabhakaran’s Eelam dream remains a dream. The man continues to lose international support, support from the people he is fighting for.

The recent fall of his de facto capital Kilinochchi and other territories have further added to the thorns in his cap. As Basil Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and advisor, puts it, “It has been 30 years for the LTTE and they have not been able to grab power. They have reached their peak and from this point onwards, it can only be a coming down”. One wonders whether he is the same man whom JN Dixit, India’s former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, once extolled as an accomplished political strategist and a military tactician? What exactly has gone wrong with Thambi? Has he become a liability for the Tamil cause? If affirmative, where exactly are his faultlines?

Tactical/Judgemental Errors
According to B Raman, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Prabhakaran has made the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils hopeless by a series of judgmental errors and tactical and strategic blunders. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi remains the most prominent one till date. By assassinating India’s most charismatic leader Prabhakaran lost out on crucial India support. As MR Narayan Swamy, a veteran Sri Lanka observer puts it: “Were Prabhakaran to be ever asked what he considers the worst mistake of his life, he might well say it was the killing of Gandhi.” He didn’t hesitate to attack former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who has shown the greatest sensitivity to Tamil aspirations among all Sri Lankan leaders. Prabhakaran has time and again scuttled peace overtures – be it the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, devolution package offered by Chandrika Kumaratunga or the ceasefire brokered by Norway. Prabhakaran had no faith in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and he had made up his mind to sabotage it even before the negotiations were concluded.

Despot/Doggedness
Prabhakaran is demi-god for his men. He is always right and his orders are carried out blindly. Those who question have no place in the LTTE. “His position is maintained with absolute ruthlessness and he has total control over all resources. There is no pretence of democracy,” says Brig SP Sinha (retd). Analysts agree that if people try to show him reason, he shows them doors. This is precisely what happened with Karuna – Prabhakaran’s most trusted aid. “In 2001 and 2002 when LTTE had lost 16,000 cadres, I told Prabhakaran to agree to a political solution on a federal form of government and the late Anton Balasingham also agreed with me but he asked us to drag the peace talks on for five years so that he could rearm and strengthen the LTTE. Now his refusal to see reason now that a total of 22,400 cadres have died and his begging India to help him is the biggest joke in his Mahavir Day speech,” Karuna was recently quoted as saying in The Island.

Loss of Karuna meant loss of the East, which was a source of revenue, cadres and political prestige. The report in the daily further said that when India intervened in 1987 to set up a provincial council to stop killings, she did not want a separate state in Sri Lanka. But Prabhakaran’s dogged attitude was the obstacle for reaching a political solution for the problems of the Tamil people. It is precisely because of this attribute that Prabhakaran’s struggle is dubbed as “personal megalomania”. Over the years, his concern for Tamilians and the goal of creating a just and free society for them has been overtaken by his egotism to the extent that he now believes that he alone represents the aspirations of all Tamils.

“For Prabhakaran only one thing mattered – establishing an independent Tamil Eelam; he was convinced that the LTTE alone was committed to this ideal and all other Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups and politicians compromised and cheated people,” says former CBI Director DR Kaarthikeyan. It was due to this reason that he clashed with rival militant groups. A report in the Daily News by HLD Mahindapala said that Prabhakaran burnt 86 TELO boys alive in Ariyakulam. He bombed and shot 66 boys and girls of the EPRLF in Kandankarunai.

Changing Stripes
It is a known fact that Prabhakaran keeps changing sides to suit his needs. This is one of the reasons why neither Sri Lankan government nor India could ever trust him. He befriended India when he wanted to fight Sri Lanka and vice versa. He shook hands with President Premadasa to oust the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and once that was achieved, he went back to fighting Sri Lanka. He claimed to be India’s friend even as the LTTE forged links with militant groups plotting against New Delhi. According to Narayan Swamy, “without letting the Indian government smell a rat, he bought weapons from the international arms bazaar, while being base in that country. Even as he spoke highly of India publicly, he schemed to finish off those within the Tamil militant movement considered close to New Delhi”.

Killing Machine

For Kumaratunga Prabhakaran is a “merciless megalomaniac” who has killed every single person who has opposed him. His first victim was the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiyappah. He shot him down in 1975. The bloodletting has gone on unabated since then. “Both Prabhakaran and his agents rely exclusively on racist violence as the one and only tool to carve out their racist enclave of Eelam. Herein lies their fatal flaw. They refuse to accept that violence, which paid some dividends initially, has run out of its use-by-date,” says Mahindapala. It is because of his insatiable appetite for killing that he is facing increasing isolation from the local as well as international communities. With his belligerence, the LTTE supremo has besmirched the image of Tamils in the eyes of the international community and all this has badly hit LTTE funding.

The average Tamil youth is frustrated. Going by the recent news reports, most of the Tamils in Lanka are following Prabhakaran’s dictat out of terror, not out of love and this is where Thambi has suffered a major setback. “Prabhakaran will fight till the last Tamil man goes to his grave or to Canada,” remarked former Chief Minister of Sri Lanka's short-lived North-Eastern Provincial Council, Varatharaja Perumal.

So what exactly is the LTTE’s numero uno up to now? With the Sri Lankan government strengthening its hold over the rebel-held areas and international community standing close by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side, Prabhakaran does not have much to look forward to. Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Minister, D.E.W. Gunasekera believes that the LTTE is in deep crisis and its leader will soon commit suicide or run away. But is it so easy to write off Prabhakaran? Will he bounce back? If yes, then what would be his next move? Watch out this space for more...

Iyer's interview with renegade LTTE commander Col Karuna

In Lanka, it's Tiger vs Tiger

Looks like one Tiger is set to tame another!Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known by the nom de guerre of "Col Karuna", raised the banner of revolt against the Tiger chieftain, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in March 2004.But the revolt collapsed like a house of cards in mid April. Karuna disbanded his 4,000-men well-equipped army, and left for the "safety" of the Sinhala-dominated south Sri Lanka, which ironically, he had been fighting tooth and nail since 1983.Karuna joined the Tiger outfit in 1983 and, within a few years, became the top commander of his native district of Batticaloa-Amparai, and went on to win many battles for the LTTE.The man, who used to be Prabhakaran's right hand, has now taken a U-turn and entered mainstream democratic politics with the formation of a political party "Tamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalai Puligal". In an exclusive, written interview to Meenakshi Iyer of HindustanTimes, the Makkal Viduthalai Puli or the Peoples' Liberation Tiger, reveals his perceptions on a variety of issues, including the debacle in March-April last year, the LTTE led by Prabhakaran, the political future of the Tamils, and what he would like India to do in the island's peace process.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. It has been a year since you broke away from your parent group, LTTE. Now, what are your thoughts on the decision you made at that point of time? Do you still believe it was the correct decision? Or do you think you should have done something different?

A. I still feel that I had taken the correct decision. Maybe the timing was wrong. However, I had no option because knowing Prabhakaran, I had to act quickly.

Q. Given your military experience, brilliant performance in the past and your military strength (4,000 cadres) people thought you will stand up and fight Prabhakaran. But you did not, and left the field. Why did you do that? What were the problems you were facing at that time?

A. With that strength and support I had no difficulty in accepting the challenge of Prabhakaran. With a little planning I could have eradicated his group. But that was not my aim.First of all I did not want to upset or disturb the peace process and get blamed. With the Government forces fully backing him as provided in the ceasefire agreement, he was in a very advantageous position.I could not have confronted Prabhakaran's clique on one side and Government forces on the other. I also got disappointed with the forces taking his side without remaining neutral.I had no other way of saving the lives of my followers from a ruthless group. So I called off and disbanded my group.

Q. It is well known that Prabhakaran's group was in touch with your followers and that was how, many rejoined him. Has he tried to get in touch with you recently? In other words, are there any chances of a patch up?

A. I do not agree that Prabhakaran's group had contact with my group. It is equally wrong to say that many of my followers had rejoined them. My followers knew fully well as to how Prabhakaran would treat those who rejoin them.Since I have to safeguard my followers…I do not wish to give details as to what happened to some who joined him. He neither got in touch with me nor I have any intention of patching up with him.

Q. You said you had formed a political party. But it does not seem to be active. It was not active even during the tsunami disaster? Why?

A. Yes I have formed a political party. Unfortunately it is not yet registered. The delay is due to the pending of election of local bodies in the North and East, which is getting postponed every six months for the last two or three years.While election is pending, no new political party can be registered according to the elections ordinance. Our party workers had been fully involved in tsunami relief work. Relief work is hindered due to the insistence of the LTTE to have all relief work and aid be directed through their organisation called the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, which had collected several millions in foreign currency all over the world.

Q. Lanka's Hindu Affairs Minister Douglas Devananda says that he invited you to join him and launch a joint democratic political movement against war, terrorism and separatism, but you did not accept the offer and opted for the military path and linked with the ENDLF (Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front). Was this a correct decision? If so, why did you choose the military path and not the political path?

A. I do not have any difference of opinion with Douglas. Since he holds a cabinet portfolio in the present government, I do not want to be openly identified with him.That is all. As for the ENDLF, it gave up arms with the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and contested the provincial council election in 1988 and parliamentary elections in 1989.They had members both in the provincial council and parliament. The deputy secretary of the ENDLF P Rajaratnam was abducted by the LTTE and is still missing. He was the minister for rehabilitation of the North East provincial council till the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka due to the harassment of the government of R Premadasa backed by the LTTE in 1990. We have correctly chosen the democratic political path like ENDLF and not the military path.

Q What is the current situation in the LTTE? Is there any disunity and groupism there? Why is Soosai (The LTTE Navy chief) so important now? What is the position of Ramesh (former Batticaloa commander) and Paduman (former Trincomalee commander)?

A. There are a lot of dissenting elements in Prabhakaran's group now. Some second rankers and many of their cadres had left the movement and gone abroad.During the first few days of the tsunami, the statements and counter statements of sea Tiger Soosai and SP Tamilselvan (LTTE's commissar) appeared very obvious. Undoubtedly there is struggle for power between these two. As regards Ramesh and Paduman, the fact that they had been stripped off the uniforms clearly explains their present position.

Q. How are the people of Batticaloa and Amparai seeing their new LTTE bosses Banu and Marshall? Generally how do the people see the LTTE rule there?

A. Both Banu and Marshall do not command the respect of the people of Batticaloa and Amparai. The people are laughing at the so called freedom fighters getting helicopter lifts from the armed forces whom they were killing at random until the Ceasefire agreement was signed.The helicopter lifts are given to Prabhakaran's clique at their request for fear of my followers.This is the first time in the history of any freedom movement the freedom fighters are getting frequent airlifts from the very same forces they were fighting and blaming them when some one of their cadres is killed accusing them of conniving with my followers.

Q. What are your chances of establishing yourself again in Batticaloa and Amparai?

A. We are already in the process of establishing ourselves and will very soon extend our activities to other areas, both in the North and East without confining ourselves to Batticaloa and Amparai alone.

Q. Do you seriously think that the eastern Tamils can be divided from those of the North? Is the Pradesa Vaadam (regionalism) good for the Tamil struggle for liberation? Will the Sinhala majority not exploit it to suppress the Tamils?

A. We do not believe in promoting regionalism. It was under my command with cadre from the Eastern command Jaffna and Elephant Pass were captured. Regionalism was actually raised by them and the blame was put on us to discredit us. Of course the Sinhalese chauvinist will rejoice at our inner fighting on regional basis. I do not think the moderate Sinhalese will try to exploit on this issue.

Q. Reggie, your brother, was killed by Prabhakaran's group and your group killed LTTE's Kousalyan. When can one expect the cycle of killings to stop?

A. Killing of my brother Reggie and that of Kousalyan have no connection to each other. These killings took place at different intervals. You will agree that it is the LTTE, which is on a killing spree. Since the ceasefire agreement was signed, the LTTE had killed more than 150 of our cadre and also over 250 others from other groups and the intelligence division of the Sri Lankan Army. Prabhakarans' group adopt all sorts of mean ways of killing our people. However, if they stop killing our people, we will also stop taking retaliatory action. We don't kill unnecessarily.

Q. Where do you think Lankan peace is heading? Do you think LTTE will get the Tamils their rights?
A. The LTTE is taking everyone, especially the international community for a ride. Their demand for the setting up of an Interim Self-Governing Authority as a precondition for talks is unreasonable and will never be conceded by any government. Their problem should have been resolved in 1987 when the Indo-Sri Lanka accord was signed. Both the India and the Sri Lankan government offered an Interim Administration to the LTTE, which they accepted and later rejected on flimsy grounds. I am convinced, based on the way they approach our problem, they will never allow the problem also to be solved.

Q: What is your strategy for the upliftment of Tamils?

A: The first thing I did was to breakaway from Prabhakaran and to expose him. I will take steps to further weaken him till he comes down and agree for a proposal acceptable to us and to the international community.

Q: Do you think that a separate Tamil Eelam is essential for the survival of Tamils in Sri Lanka as a respectable group? Are you hopeful of getting autonomy?

A: At one stage we thought that separate Tamil Eelam would be the only way for the Tamils to live with dignity and respect. Years back it was achievable also.Prabhakaran by his foolish acts made it impossible and we are now back to square one. With the interest of the international community focussed on Sri Lanka getting regional autonomy is possible.If the Singhalas do not concede this they are again making a mistake and will earn the displeasure of the International Community.

Q: What is your strategy towards LTTE/Prabhakaran?

A: I do not want to reply to this question.

Q: All those who rebelled against LTTE, for example, Mahathaiah, were killed. How are you managing to survive? Do you receive threats from the group?

A: I am the one who knows everything about Prabhakaran. I know what he will do when he will do and how he will do. So I am very careful in drawing my programme. I know he is all out for my head but there are no direct threats from him.

Q: What role do you think India and other countries of the world should play to secure peace in Sri Lanka and give the Tamil people a decent democratic solution?

A: I had been always of the view that India should play an important role in finding a lasting solution to our problem. The greatest blunder of Prabhakaran was assassinating the former Prime Minister of India (Rajiv Gandhi) who had gone out of the way to do everything for us.No one can find fault with India's indifferent attitude. However, we know the concerns of India and it is only through India that a solution will be found. When India declares its intention of getting involved every country will give its full backing to India.India a multi-ethnic country has satisfactorily solved the problems of its minorities. The Indian experience will go a long way to help solve our problems. Added to their experience the support of the International community will further facilitate to solve our problem.Therefore, India must get involved in the Sri Lankan Peace Process. It is high time now Norway to give way for India. The LTTE had by their attitude caused enough embarrassment to the Norwegians and had created an impression that Norway is acting partially.
(Written for Hindustan Times on February 24, 2005)

Kargil lessons for Pak

President Pervez Musharraf didn't exactly have any skeletons tumbling out his recently released tales of wisdom, but it has opened a can of worms in regard to the Kargil 'misadventure'. Musharraf's autobiography in The Line of Fire followed closely by former PM Nawaz Sharif's, has made Pakistanis realise that it is time a commission was appointed to demystify the Kargil episode. An editorial in Pakistan's leading daily Dawn says that Pakistan needs to set in motion a fact-finding process as India had done. "If India can follow the universally acknowledged fact-finding process and take the nation into confidence, why should our people be denied to know their side of the real story?"

Post Kargil, India had established a four-member committee headed by defence expert K Subrahmaniam to determine what went wrong and suggest ways of preventing similar mishaps in the future. It was not an exercise in fixing blame on any one person or organisation. The scope of the review was to analyse the creation of the present situation in Jammu & Kashmir in a historical perspective. The paper commends the democratic system in India and says that there is also a need for democracy in Pakistan, albeit indirectly. "As part of its democratic system and institutional governance, India has always kept its armed forces and their operational command and structure under strict governmental writ and fully subservient to the Constitution.

"As a result of institutional approach in reviewing their failure and shortcomings during that crisis, the Indians have drawn up a list of 'lessons learnt'…They had a reality count in front of them…Who on our side is going to separate fact from fiction and distinguish reality from myth?" Dawn asks. Democracy and its institutions are yet to take root in Pakistan where the polity has been battered by long spells of military rule. Unfortunately, months before the 2007 general elections in Pakistan, President Musharraf has himself said that the nation is not ready for 'true democracy'.

"What Pakistan has consciously constructed is rule by a small elite -- "never democratic, often autocratic, usually plutocratic and lately kleptocratic -- all working with a tribal feudal mindset," the General says in his book. Dawn slams Musharraf for calling Kargil "Pakistan Army's finest hour". The General very aptly puts in his memoir that the 'misadventure' at Kargil heights was not a setback for the Pakistan Army. "If it (Kargil) was not a "debacle", can we also, like India, claim it to be our "military as well as diplomatic" triumph? Regrettably we cannot," says Dawn.

Reason – there is a national consensus in India on the conclusion drawn by the committee, that the outcome was a military as well as diplomatic triumph for India. But Pakistan, Dawn maintains, "does not have such a consensus". Further, comparing the situation in India and Pakistan, the editorial remarks that In India questions were raised over intelligence failures. "In Pakistan the situation is worse. We don't agree among ourselves even on the basics of the military operation". Musharraf's account of Kargil is under fire from various experts who have dismissed it as a compilation of gross self-serving lies.

While former PM Nawaz Sharif in his biography Ghaddar Kaun? maintains that the Army didn't take him into confidence while planning the Kargil operation, Musharraf claims he briefed him during special meetings from May to July 1999. Pakistan now has two "clearly delineated and mutually dismissive versions" of the Kargil conflict, which makes the need for a probe panel all the more pressing. "…We in Pakistan have never taken history seriously…. Our younger generations have been growing up on these fabricated facts and myths with our national tragedies and debacles being depicted to them as moments of glory and "watershed" victories," the paper moans.
(Written for Hindustan Times on October 19, 2006)

Baloch bane

"Indo-Pak relations cannot be fully trouble-free, and such an expectation would be devoid of realism."
- Daily Star, Bangladesh


It is quite surprising that President Pervez Musharraf has give a clean chit to Afghanistan and squared up to India for fomenting trouble in his territory. Earlier, there was a general belief in Pakistan that Kabul, hand in glove with New Delhi, was creating problems in its western frontiers. Media reports in Islamabad maintained that Afghanistan allowed India to use its territory to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels in Balochistan. But just ahead of his two-day visit to Afghanistan, General Musharraf did a volte-face for reasons best known to him.

The weekly foreign office news briefing simply absolved the Afghan government of any involvement against Pakistan. Experts believe that Musharraf has to keep the Afghan regime happy. Karzai after all is known as an American creation. The General can blame India and get away with it, but he cannot do the same with Karzai, as it will rub Uncle Sam on the wrong side. Also, Afghanistan and Pakistan have had chequered relations in the past over Taliban. Pakistan after all was the first country to recognise the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Taliban was a brainchild of a super rich Saudi Emir and the political will of Islamabad. Strategic experts say that if Kabul falls in the hands of rebel forces, it will be Islamabad that they will look up to for support.

As regards the question of Indian interference, it has been brewing since the installation of the new political order in Afghanistan and the restoration of Indian Consulates there. Pakistan intelligence is of the opinion that India's RAW is involved in the issue. "The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) pumped huge money into the province, transferred arms and ammunition via Kishan Garh into Dera Bugti, from various routes, all of which have now been sealed," it was disclosed at the meeting, The News International said. It is interesting to note that such accusations come every time India expresses its concern over the deteriorating situation in Balochistan.

Earlier in January, New Delhi had noted with concern the heavy military action in Balochistan and said that Pakistan should "exercise restraint" and address the grievances of the people of the region through peaceful discussions. India's worry merely stemmed from the fact that a 300 km-long gas pipeline from Iran could be caught in the crossfire if violence continued in Balochistan. But Pakistan blamed India for the trouble there and described the neighbour's reaction as "unsolicited, unwarranted and unwise". General Musharraf also took his grudge to US President George W Bush.

India voiced its concern again after powerful tribal chieftain Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed and Pakistan's reaction came along predictable lines. "It is a matter of record that India has never spared Pakistan of its mischief right from the day of its emergence on world map. Islamabad has to be, therefore, vigilant against New Delhi's machinations, because it cannot reconcile with the existence of a stable, strong and prosperous Pakistan," says Pakistan Observer in a most scathing attack. It is unfortunate that one cannot choose one's neighbours; and the Indo-Pak engagement is nothing but a "compulsion", as Pakistan's Daily Times also agrees. It is logical that Pakistan doesn't like anyone interfering in its domestic affairs, but pointing fingers sans proof is unsolicited, unwise and definitely calls for action, India feels.

India has maintained time and again that it cannot stay put when there is havoc in its neighbourhood. Pakistan has grossly misinterpreted India's friendly concern. While Pakistan continues to hold India responsible on all counts, Balochistan believes that India is not playing dirty, much to Islamabad's dismay. "The government and Pakistan Army were spreading propaganda that foreign countries were behind the Balochistan situation," says eminent Baloch leader Abdul Rauf Mengal. Bugti too had denied claims by President Musharraf that his group was being supported by New Delhi. Balochistan has sparked off a new round of tension in Indo-Pak relations. "It is difficult to see how the peace process can move forward if the present slide in relations between the two countries continues," says Pakistan's leading daily Dawn. First Mumbai blasts, then expulsion of diplomats and now Bugti's killing - India and Pakistan, trudging on a road to peace - couldn't have asked for more trouble.

The incidents in quick succession only prove "how committed" the two countries are as regards the peace process. But it is indeed sad that quite like Pakistan, the media too has singled out India for all the failures. "…The basic question is India's sincerity about the peace process. New Delhi has two choices: Either it should push the process forward, or it can choose to destabilise Pakistan…" says an editorial in Dawn. "The present phase is not a happy one, although bilateral ties have not nose-dived. The rumbles of displeasure from both sides need to be contained for the sake of a healthy relationship," says Bangladesh's leading paper Daily Star. Meanwhile amid all the brouhaha, mandarins from both sides have their eyes fixed on Havana, where Manmohan Singh and Musharraf are expected to meet during the September 11-16 Summit of the 116-member Non-Aligned Movement.

(Written for Hindustan Times on January 13, 2007)

A historic friendship

"India and South Africa are two countries held so closely by bonds of sentiment, common values and shared experience, by affinity of cultures and traditions and by geography"
-Nelson Mandela


South Africa and India are inextricably bound to act in concert of each other's mutual interest.
India was at the forefront of the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa even before India gained independence. The relationship between the two countries is one of a special nature because of one man – Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, then a young 24-year-old barrister, arrived in South Africa in 1893 to represent an Indian trader in Natal in a civil suit against an Indian trading firm in Pretoria.

Within days, he encountered bitter humiliations such as being pushed out of a train and being assaulted for walking on a footpath. The experience made him all the more strong: He decided never to accept or be resigned to injustice and racism, but to resist. India was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid Government in 1946, and imposed a complete -diplomatic, commercial and cultural - sanction on South Africa. India worked consistently to put the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and other multilateral organisations and for the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions against South Africa.

"In South Africa racialism is the State doctrine and our people are putting up a heroic struggle against the tyranny of a racial minority. If this racial doctrine is going to be tolerated, it must inevitably lead to vast conflicts and world disaster, " Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru had said in a broadcast on September 7, 1946. The complaint on racial discrimination against Indians in South Africa was made even before the establishment of a national Government, because of strong public sentiment in the country. That was in 1946.

India's relations with South Africa were restored after a gap of over four decades, with the opening of a cultural Centre in Johannesburg in May 1993. Formal diplomatic and consular relations with South Africa were restored in November 1993 during the visit to India of the then South African FM, Pik Botha. A Consulate General was thereafter established in Johannesburg. The Indian High Commission in Pretoria was opened in May 1994, followed by the opening of the Consulate General in Durban in the same month. Since Parliament in South Africa meets in Cape Town, a permanent office of the High Commission was opened there in 1996. India-South Africa relations in the post-Apartheid era have developed smoothly.

A number of bilateral agreements have been concluded between India and South Africa since the assumption of diplomatic relations in 1993 in diverse areas ranging from defence, culture, science and economic cooperation. The India-South Africa Joint Commission at the level of Foreign Ministers was set up in 1994 to identify areas of mutually beneficial cooperation. Its 5th highly successful Session took place in Pretoria on July 3-4, 2003.
Written for Hindustan Times on January 13, 2007)

Interview with SLMC's Rauff Hakeem

Muslims can now look to India: Hakeem

Sri Lankan Muslims can now look to India for the protection of their interest because the Indian view of the Muslim question has undergone a sea change since the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987, says Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the island nation's most influential Muslim political party. After his meeting with Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed and National Security Advisor MK Narayanan on Thursday in New Delhi, Hakeem said in an exclusive interview to Meenakshi Iyer of Hindustan Times: "My discussion with Narayanan was very reassuring. He talked about the need to have a Southern Consensus. The Indian position is that Sri Lanka should decide what it wants. India is willing to help us and Muslims can now look to India."

In its anxiety to please the Tamils, India had ignored the Muslims altogether in the Indo-Lanka accord of July 1987, and it was this which had led to the formation of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, Hakeem recalled. "India should not have a tunnelled vision towards the Sri Lankan crisis. The crisis in the nation doesn't just pertain to the Tamils and Sinhalese. There is a Muslim angle to it too. Unfortunately there was nothing for the Muslims in the Indo-Sri Lankan accord," he said. However, of late, the Indian attitude towards Sri Lankan Muslims has undergone a sea change, Hakeem notes. India wants to cultivate the Muslims and see that frustration with the Tamils and the LTTE does not drive them into the deadly embrace of the Islamic militants with foreign connections.

"Just like Tamils, the umbilical cord between the Sri Lankan Muslims and India cannot be severed. It is natural for us to look up to India. Not just because it is a regional power, but because it understands us perfectly and India cannot sit quiet when there is a fire in its neighbourhood," Hakeem said. The suave and articulate Muslim leader, who concluded his New Delhi visit on Thursday, said that India had to put pressure on the LTTE and the government to make them get back to the negotiating table and come out with a solution. India has offered a devolution formula, based on the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations, which could take care of the interests and aspirations of all sections of the society of the island nation. New Delhi has suggested that Sri Lanka look at the Indian model of governance, where there is a clear-cut distribution of power between the Centre and the states.

Pondy model preferred
The SLMC, however, has been pitching for a "Pondicherry" model, wherein the Muslims can have various Muslim pockets spread over the East under one Muslim administration. The Union Territory of Pondicherry has pockets in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. "We have been looking at the Pondicherry model and it addresses our issues. Of course we need to make some minor alterations," Hakeem said. The Muslims, who constitute seven per cent of the nation's 20 million population, have been the worst sufferers in the ongoing shelling between the Tigers and the government military forces. According to reports, 50,000 people from areas in and around Mutur in Trincomalee district have fled to Kantalai, and places in the Sinhala-dominated Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva districts, which are under government control. Blaming the Establishment in Colombo and the Tamil Tigers for the mass exodus of Muslims and the many deaths, Hakeem said that the government and the LTTE only had military objectives in mind.

They cared little for the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire, especially if they were Muslims. "The Muslim community has undergone sheer neglect. The two warring parties have put civilians in jeopardy. The shelling has not spared even mosques and schools. On one hand we have been let down by the government and on the other, LTTE is subjecting us to torture," a worried Hakeem said. He further noted that the LTTE never fired on Tamil settlements, and the government forces never fired on the Sinhala settlements, but both had no compunctions about firing on Muslims settlements! There has always been a perception in certain sections of the Sinhala community that Muslims are as much a threat as the Tamils, the SLMC leader observes.

The relationship between the Muslims and the Tamils took a serious turn in 1990, when the LTTE expelled 90,000 Muslims from Jaffna overnight, and killed 140 Muslims in Kaathankudy mosque in Batticaloa district. Hakeem maintained that over 100 Muslim civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered by the Tamil militants in the recent military conflict.

Little help from Colombo
He added that no proper transit camps had been established for the refugees and the little help they had been getting were from the aid agencies and not the government. Even though the government has asked the Muslims to return home, Colombo had to do much more to make it possible, Hakeem submitted. "I want my people to be resettled with dignity. People will not come until they are given a security assurance. Their livelihood has to be restored. I want the government to provide them with a livelihood and a resettlement package," Hakeem said. While in New Delhi, the SLMC leader also met Minister of Shipping TR Baalu, who represents the DMK, and Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha K Rehman Khan, among other Muslim MPs.

(Written for Hindustan Times on August 25, 2006)

Over to Mr Prime Minister...

Prime Minister's Independence Day speech is seldom complete without a reference to terrorism -- the never-ceasing battle India has fought since 1947 -- be it within or outside. And since India has consistently believed that the subject has its roots in the foreign soil, Pakistan remains very much a part of the address to the nation on every August 15. In his 50-minute power-packed speech on this Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a clear warning to Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism — much to the neighbour's repugnance. "It is unfortunate that the Indian Prime Minister should have chosen his country's Independence Day to malign Pakistan," Pakistan's leading daily Dawn says.

It has become routine for it (the Indian leadership) to do so whenever it is called upon to justify the stalled peace process, The Nation says in its editorial. The media further opines that the refrain bodes ill for the Indo-Pak peace process, which has already been on its lowest ebb since Mumbai blasts and diplomats' expulsion. "Rhetoric and hyperbole are a part of any politicians language…but in the case of India and Pakistan even rhetoric can touch off a bilateral crisis, says The News International. "…By doing so, Indian leadership is missing a unique opportunity to resolve the Kashmir issue that is the bone of contention between the two countries and a constant threat to peace and stability in the region," says Pakistan Observer. It is the "warning" by India that has become a refrain and not the "accusation" as the Pakistan media puts it.

Last year, PM Singh had told in his strongly worded I-Day speech that "if violence continues, then our response too will be hard...Pakistan has put some checks...(but) it is necessary that the entire infrastructure of terrorism is totally dismantled". Clearly that has not happened. Despite the warnings, violence has continued unabated and from what one could make out, it is spreading its fangs -- from Kashmir to Delhi to Mumbai. And interestingly, this year too things have been let off with a warning. Both the neighbours need to take some hard-hitting decisions and redefine concepts.

Contrary to what most strategic analysts think, it is just not Kashmir that is the issue between India and Pakistan. It is also, as President Musharraf himself puts it, "lack of trust". In a recent interview to a magazine, the president says: "We think that we are destroying each other or creating trouble for each other either at the government or intelligence level". Also, Pakistan Muslim League Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Sayed believes that for his country Kashmir is not the issue, but the narrow vision with which India sees things. Sayed further says, "Like Israel, India believes in expansionism and wants its neighbouring states to live under constant Indian fear". But had India followed Israel, things would have been a lot different between the nuclear-armed neighbours than they stand as of now. It took Israel just two of its soldiers to declare a war with the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon…
(Written for Hindustan Times on August 18, 2006)

Agra revisited

In a recent interview to the Indian media, General Pervez Musharraf says all the "right things, in the right vein, with sincerity" but ensures that the skeletons of the 2001 Agra Summit tumble out. In one of his most candid and forthright confessions, the Pakistan President blames Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President LK Advani for the failure of the July 14-16 summit. "I personally suspect it was Advani (then Home Minister) Sahib. That is my guess because he was quite hawkish in those days," the General tells jurist AG Noorani. "Mr Prime Minister, today both you and I have been humiliated. Because I feel that what we agreed on, somebody above us, who had the veto power, rejects it. I don't know who it is…" Musharraf had told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.

The General's finger pointing at the former Deputy PM springs no surprise, especially after the latter went on record in 2002 saying: "He has no faith in Musharraf". Advani had said that Musharraf was adamant on not accepting the fact that there was terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and described it as a "freedom struggle". Recalling the summit, Advani had said: "…When it was pointed out (to the General) that killing of women and children could not be termed as "freedom struggle", he maintained that in any freedom struggle, innocents were killed. But in the Almaty Security Summit in 2002, the Pakistani leader changed his stand because of international pressure…"

The high point at Agra was a significant diplomatic encounter between India and Pakistan, which came after Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif signed the Declaration for Peace and Stability in Lahore in 1999. But in 2001, President Musharraf and PM Vajpayee could not even arrive at an agreement on a joint statement on the talks, which aimed to resolve long-standing issues between the neighbours. Earlier too, Pakistan had hinted of a "hidden hand" that prevented the success of the meet, but the reference was not clear. But the General loses no time in revealing "there was something happening on the foreground while in the background there was something else happening".

Praising the military ruler for saying the "right things, in the right vein", an editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times says that the establishment must take lessons from the Agra episode. "The significance of what exactly happened at Agra is not merely academic. It throws some light on how India might behave even now," the paper warns. That's probably another way of saying that India cannot be trusted. There is a lack of mutual understanding and trust between the two governments, the media, intelligence and even the hoi polloi. It defeats the raison d' etre of holding any dialogue when the end result is just to "pass on the buck". Both the countries have made the issues between them seem like a "ball game" and as per their conveniences, keep kicking the ball in each other's court.

The main issue between India and Pakistan is not Kashmir; it is not Sir Creek, but "passing on the buck". Till that situation is arrested, the leaders from each side will keep harping the old tunes: "I would say that it was a pity that we lost so much time. Agra was a great opportunity; it was the greatest opportunity…"

(Written for Hindustan Times on August 24, 2006)

Returning favours

Both India and Pakistan have ensured time and again that they remain constantly engaged over one thing or the other. It's another matter that the engagement might not pertain to weighty issues! As it is the peace process has hit a rock bottom post 11/7 and with the recent expulsion of diplomats, the two neighbours -- fighting tooth-and-nail for peace -- couldn't have asked for more! Pakistan and India each expelled a senior diplomat on Saturday for indulging in "undesirable activities" incompatible with their diplomatic status. They were declared persona non grata.

"No one is surprised, but a lot of well-meaning people on both sides will worry about how the two governments will handle the tit-for-tat they have started," a Daily Times editorial said. Deepak Kaul, a visa counsellor at the Islamabad mission, was handcuffed, blindfolded and interrogated for five hours, which according to New Delhi is a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention. India lost no time in declaring Syed Mohd Rafiq Ahmed, Islamabad's political counsellor in New Delhi, persona non grata, asking him to leave.

So-called "tit-for-tat" exchanges have occurred notably during the Cold War. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (Article 9), a receiving state may "at any time and without having to explain its decision" declare any member of a diplomatic staff persona non grata. In diplomatic parlance, a person declared persona non grata is considered unacceptable and if not recalled, the receiving state may refuse to recognise him as a member of the mission. "New Delhi has responded with unholy but familiar haste, finding Mr Kaul's counterpart at the Pakistan High Commission...guilty of spying activity," said the Daily Times. There is nothing fresh in the developments that have taken place in the context of India, Pakistan relations, but the moot point is that the two neighbours are doing everything, they ought not be doing.

The Kashmir question remains without an answer till date. Ditto with Siachen or Tulbul navigation project. "The expulsion of diplomats has cast a shadow over the bilateral ties already strained in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts...South Asian neighbours should stop bickering in public and try to resolve longstanding disputes over Kashmir and other issues," The Nation daily said. For Daily Times, this "tit-for-tat pantomime" is another way of expressing "bilateral anger". In the past, such acts have been used for diplomatic signalling. India's singling out Pakistan-based terrorist groups for creating havoc in its territory has never been to the liking of the establishment in Islamabad. Neither has Pakistan's accusation of an Indian hand in Balochistan been accepted here.

"Just what Islamabad is saying may not be clear right now. But the action has certainly put paid the optimism that had arisen from recent meetings between the foreign secretaries in Dhaka," said an editorial in Hindustan Times. The last such incident of expulsion of diplomats between the two countries was in February 2003 when India sent home Pakistan's then Charge D'Affairs Jalil Abbas Jilani and four other diplomats after allegedly finding them involved in financing separatists in Jammu and Kashmir.
(Written for Hindustan Times on July 28, 2006)

Indo-Pak pursuits

It was in the year 2001 when the then Home Minister LK Advani had urged Indian forces to chase the terror infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Since then the top BJP brass has on and off maintained that the option of 'hot pursuit' is indeed a legitimate way of attacking terrorist camps outside a country. Raking up the issue recently after Mumbai blasts, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said: "There has to be a hot pursuit of terrorists. There also has to be tough laws in place to tackle terrorism". The policy never has been to the liking of Pakistan, which says that any "punitive" action by India on Pakistan would be paid back in the same coin.

"It is highly irresponsible for a sovereign state to be talking of hot pursuit options of striking another country to take out suspected, or should one say imagined, enemies," says leading daily The News International. No such attacks are being mounted in India from Pakistani territory, so the question of hot pursuit...does not exist," says the Daily Times. Further lashing out at the proposition, The Nation says: "Sanity requires that New Delhi stop making baseless allegations and accept Islamabad's offer to co-operate with India to root out terrorism". In international law, the 'right of hot pursuit' on land is recognised as the chasing of armed infiltrators across international borders. It was during the Vietnam war that the policy of hot pursuit came to fore. The Vietcong, an insurgent organisation, had set up its sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia from where they used to attack the American forces.

The Americans then exercised their right of hot pursuit to put an end to the sanctuaries of Vietcong. Carrying on with the policy, the US forces now have entered deep into Iran and also Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. But as regards India, strategic experts world over say that thinking of a policy on similar lines will be a no-gainer and may lead to military escalation and diplomatic isolation. "The jihadi terrorists do not indulge in hit-and-run raids like Vietcong. They come into India from different points through different routes and disperse in different directions after their terrorist strikes. They rarely escape directly into Pakistan," says B Raman of Chennai-based Institute for Topical Studies.

And definitely, the US and other nations will put diplomatic pressure on India to halt its operations probably because the world fora knows that if India launches a ground or air offensive, Pakistan might retaliate and its response may not be limited to one sector or a region. "India should realise that any talks of pursuing suspected terrorists into Azad Kashmir or other parts of Pakistan will not only invite a commensurate reaction but will also be terrible for the region as a whole..." The News International says. News reports in India, however, blame President Musharraf for raising non-issues that are outside the relevant spheres of debate. And amid all this blame game, the dialogue process between the two neighbours has been hit hardest.

While The Nation says that a "conflagration between India and Pakistan…shall have a devastating impact on the region", the media here says that the peace process is "as good as dead". "Although nobody in New Delhi or Islamabad is prepared to admit it, the peace process that Vajpayee initiated three years ago is as good as dead," writes Prem Shankar Jha in Hindustan Times. Jha adds that both the countries "must share the blame for it". But despite all the pessimism, the media in both the countries opine that the nuclear-armed rivals must get back to the discussion table. Reviving talks "will require a higher level of statesmanship than leaders at either side have displayed so far," writes Jha.

The Daily Times says, "Neighbours should devise a cooperative security mechanism" whereby they can pre-empt attacks like 11/7 and address issues in case such attacks materialise. But despite the temporary setback to the India-Pakistan peace process in the aftermath of 11/7, the two neighbours get an immediate opportunity to reinvigorate bilateral relations at the South Asian conference in Dhaka, where foreign secretaries of both the countries are expected to meet.

(Written for Hindustan Times on July 28, 2006)

My interview with KPS Gill

There can be no truce with terror: Gill

To say that India faces a new terror threat everyday would be an understatement. Repeated terror attacks have forced the citizens to question the policies of the government. The worst has already happened to us in the form of 11/7 and it is high time the government bootstraps itself to fight terror. "What India lacks is a proper state-of-the art machinery to fight terrorism," says former Punjab police chief KPS Gill. The 'Super Cop', who has been credited with crushing the separatist movement in Punjab with an iron hand in the late eighties, says in an exclusive interview with Meenakshi Iyer that the war against terror has to be sustained and there can be no truce with terror, not even temporarily. Presently, a security advisor to Chhattisgarh government, Gill has much more to say on how India needs to handle the menace of terrorism.

Excerpts:

Q. India spends so much on its security, still there are frequent blasts. Where do you think are the lacunae?
A. We are not well aware of the right ways to tackle terror. One of the missing elements is our technology. India lacks a proper surveillance system and this after there has been a spate of serial blasts. We have been depriving our security forces of the latest technology. I remember the technology we were using 20 years back in Punjab is still being used. There is hardly any research and development as regards this. The police have to be equipped with latest weapons. I am shocked and surprised that today all we can think of is manpower. It is our habit to rely on outdated technologies and remain a few steps behind the other countries in all spheres.

Q. So whom do you hold responsible - the police, the intelligence, or the government?
A. It has to be the government. After all, it is the government which runs the intelligence and the police forces. But that doesn't leave the police and intelligence unblemished. They have to have their own R&D unit. They have to understand that what's going to work in Rajasthan will not work in Chhattisgarh.

Q. Terrorists now are increasingly taking the help of locals. For instance, perpetrators in the 11/7 case took help from the locals to understand the entire rail network. Now what should one do about this?
A. These are just assumptions by the print media. Nothing concrete has come up regarding this. The police have not made any statement, no official has come on television and reported the matter.

Q. There were inputs by our National Security Adviser MK Narayanan that LeT men have joined the Indian Air Force. How grave could be the implications?
A. I am surprised and shocked by the IAF's denial. I have always suspected that MiG failures are not just accidents. There is more to it…There should be a proper investigation into this and IAF's denial is not a healthy sign. Attempts to infiltrate will always be there and there will be successes also. ISRO (Indian Space and Research Organisation) was once in the agenda of Naxalites.


Q. Is there any difference between the separatist revolt of Punjab and the present day terror?
A. Not at all. These mixtures of explosives were also known to us then. They still use the AK-47. RDX has been there for ages now. I don't see any change in the psyche of the terrorist. Just that the funding has increased.


Q. What should India do now?
A. Our bureaucracy needs to undergo a major overhaul. There has been no attempt no tackle red tapism, neither there are any smart decisions taken. There is practically no attempt to change the rules and regulations. A decision, which can be taken in an hour, takes a whole year. But this time, our Prime Minster has taken a commendable step. He has made a very strong statement on terror and this is what is required. We need to implement strong measures. There can be no truce with terror. The war against terror has to be sustained. It has to be fought every minute of the day, every day of the year.

Q. What do you have to say about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's address and Islamabad's refusal to extradite underworld don Dawood and Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin?
A. That has always been the case with Pakistan. There is nothing new in what he said. Moreover, we have been misled in our assessment of Musharraf. He is not a peacemaker. He is programmed for war, not peace. As for Dawood and Salahuddin, they ultimately will be caught one day. I am sure, because there has been more and more cooperation in the international sphere and India's aggressive diplomacy will make sure that this happens fast. Moreover, Pakistan has to deliver, if it wants to be a part of the international community. It cannot go on bluffing till eternity.

Q. Okay, if you are given a chance to tackle this menace, what policy will you adopt?
A. As far as police is concerned, we have to have a systematic and a long-term approach, which does not change with the change of leadership. We have to have anti-terror cells in each and every state. Technology, as I stressed earlier also, should be better. Our actions have to be more focused and we need to select the right men to do the job.

Q. Whenever there is a blast, the international community just condemns and forgets...
A. At one point of time, they were not even condemning! Now they have at least stepped up pressure.

(Published in Hindustan Times, Zee News.com)

Pak stubborn on MFN

Despite the frequently-held CBMs between India and Pakistan, the issues between the two neighbours remain where they are -- be it Kashmir, Wullar barrage or the recently-raked up MFN status to India. The Indian government, last week, had challenged Islamabad's decision of not granting it MFN status under SAFTA agreement effective from July 1. But, Pakistan being Pakistan, remains tenacious. It says the agreement does not bind it to grant MFN status to India. "SAFTA does not say that trade relations between Pakistan and India would function on the MFN basis," a Pakistan Commerce Ministry release clarifies.

It also says that it will counter New Delhi's charges that Pakistan failed to implement the agreement, through the provisions of SAFTA itself. Definitely, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath's letter to SAARC Secretary-General Chenkyab Dorji asking him to convene a ministerial council meeting to resolve trade related issues has not been welcomed in Pakistan and is being seen more or less as a "complaint". "The issue is a typical example of how Indians twist things to suit their designs and present a distorted picture to malign Pakistan.

They have been using the issue of MFN to propagate that Pakistan was not fulfilling its obligations and also not reciprocating Indian moves on the subject," says leading daily Pakistan Observer. Pakistan has continuously denied granting MFN status to India. This despite the recent ratification of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). India had assumed that the ratification would automatically lead to the extension of MFN, as the agreement envisages a duty-free trading area within SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bhutan) by 2018. "The fact remains that India has one of the most protected economy and despite grant of MFN status Pakistani products and goods do not get access to the Indian market," the Observer reasons out.

"Despite the fact that Pakistan has not granted MFN status to India, bilateral trade both formal and informal is heavily tilted in favour of India and there is no upward trend in Pakistani exports to that country," it adds. A no MFN status to India means it gets preferential access only on the 773 items, which are presently mentioned in the positive list. Since Pakistan trades with India on the basis of a positive list, it disallows import of all items that are not on the list. While, India actively pursues trading and commercial relations vis-à-vis other nations, Pakistan sees it as another attempt by New Delhi to be the hegemon in the South Asian region.

Also, at the bottom of all the issues that crop up between India and Pakistan, is Kashmir. Islamabad, unlike its neighbour, is more keen to solve that first. "Pakistan believes that normal trading relations between the two countries would not be feasible until satisfactory resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. This is the consensus view of the Pakistani nation and no government can afford to ignore it,” the Observer concludes.

(Written for Hindustan Times on July 10, 2006)

Border of discord

With the success of the recently-concluded Indo-Bangla talks on trade, one hoped that the parleys on the boundary issue would make some headway, if not be a runaway success. But the two-day deliberations (July 16 - 17, 2006) by the Joint Boundary Working Group (JBWG) came to a close without any breakthrough on the longstanding issues of border demarcation, exchange of enclaves and construction of boundary pillars. The Indian side had placed a package formula for demarcating 6.5 km of undemarcated border mostly in their favour prior to resolving other issues. But according to highly placed sources, Dhaka asked for a comprehensive solution to all the issues and didn't quite accept New Delhi's offer.

The border dispute points to the unstable political relationship between the two neighbours and accentuates problems of illegal immigration, smuggling, arms trafficking and frequent skirmishes between the paramilitary forces of the two countries. "The issue of border management, we feel, has been greatly hindered by the fact that the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 has not yet been ratified by the Indian government..." the Daily Stars says in an editorial. To thrash out the issues, Prime Ministers Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi signed a Land Boundary Agreement in 1974. Bangladesh officials say that non-implementation of the 1974 agreement is the cause of the occasional outbreak of fierce skirmishes along the border.

While Bangladesh ratified the agreement through the Third Amendment to the Constitution on November 28, 1974, India still has to do the needful to ensure that the border talks forge ahead. "We must address some ground realities that continue to hamper the just and equitable application of all the articles of the Boundary Agreement of 1974," says Daily Star. While diplomats from the Dhaka side have been pressing India for ratification, New Delhi maintains that before that is done, the 6.5-km area remaining should be demarcated. "The incomplete border demarcation due to non-ratification remains an irritant not only to the two countries' border guards but also creates unnecessary tension in the bilateral relations through mutual suspicion," the paper says in a report.
The two sides have agreed to hold the next JBWG meeting in New Delhi at a mutually convenient date to be decided through diplomatic channels.

And as a matter of suggestion, the Daily Star says, "We must approach the Indo-Bangladesh border issue in a holistic rather than piecemeal manner. Very few will contest the assertion that the Bangladesh-India border is less than peaceful". "The need," it says, "is to move expeditiously to resolve the hindrances to fulfilling the border agreement provisions". With latest round of talks going kaput, what is done to break the deadlock remains to be seen.

(Written for HT on July 20, 2006)

Tigers' travesty

The Tamil Tiger's recent volte-face on Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination has shocked political analysts worldwide who know A to Z about LTTE. Ever since the killing of India's charismatic leader in 1991, the Tamil rebel group has never admitted its guilt. In fact, at one of the Oslo peace talks sessions in 2002, Anton Balasingham - the ideologue who did the needful for the LTTE this time - himself had "categorically" denied any involvement, and had stormed out of the room looking "very angry". "It is a monumental hypocrisy, an insult to Indian public opinion as well as international opinion. The Tigers don't clearly say in the tape that they did it. This kind of statement by Balasingham does not absolve them of the culpability," says General VR Raghavan, Director of Centre for Strategic Analysis.

In an interview to a private channel in New Delhi, the LTTE's ideologue had said that what happened in 1992 was a "great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy, for which we deeply regret and we call upon the Government of India and people of India to put the past behind". What took the LTTE so long to realise their "monumental blunder"? Have the Tigers really changed their stripes, or is it just another classic LTTE ploy? "The LTTE is isolated internationally. They have nothing to show as a peace dividend in spite of a ceasefire of four years. They must know by now that without India's intervention there can be no solution." "And they will know that India's involvement, if not directly but indirectly on behalf of the Sri Lankan government will be worse for them," reasons Dr S Chandrasekharan, Director of South Asia Analysis Group.

The move by the Tamil rebels comes amid mounting violence in the island nation. The group's image suffered a severe blow after it was banned by the European Union. "In the very first place, the Tigers are trying to sidestep the tragedy by saying that it is a monumental tragedy. Secondly, they are trying to create differences between the Sri Lankan and the Indian governments. LTTE now wants India on their side," clarifies General Raghavan. What Raghavan asks is: "Are these the Tigers who conspired with President Premadasa in the 90s to oust the Indian Peace Keeping Force?" "Sorrow", "repentance" and "forgiveness", which smack of sublime spirituality, can never be in the vocabulary of a killing machine, which vows adherence to ways of the brute, says Sri Lanka's leading paper Daily News.

The Tigers' recent act has become more or less a "tragicomedy" the world over. While a few parties in India call it "silly", back home in Sri Lanka too, the Tigers are being laughed at! "Repentance for the spilling of innocent blood, coming from an organisation, which seems to be having an insatiable appetite for terror, is an incongruity, which is comic in the extreme," says the Daily News editorial. Both Raghavan and Chandrasekharan say that it is difficult to forget and forgive such a dastardly attack and believe that India should now drag the Tigers to the court of law. If indeed, the LTTE wanted to apologise for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, it should say that publicly, in court, where there a criminal case pending against the Tiger chieftain Velupillai Prabhakaran, according to a Sri Lankan government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwela.

Prabhakaran and his Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman, who are the first and second accused in the case, are still "proclaimed offenders" and the Interpol has been on the hunt for them. Also, aptly, India has made it clear that forgiving the Tigers is tantamount to endorsing the philosophy of terror, violence and political assassination. The Sri Lankan media reiterates this view. "Even if the LTTE goes on its bended knees to India over the granting of a pardon for the assassination of former Premier Rajiv Gandhi, India would remain unswayed, for this would amount to endorsing the Tigers' policy of using terror for the achievement of political aims," says Daily News. The Secretary General of the government Peace Secretariat Dr Palitha Kohona describes Balasingham's "apology" as a "political ploy" to prevent India from taking any decisions which might affect the LTTE adversely.

Clearly, Balasingham's ploy has failed. He had wanted a sympathetic response in India. But all he got was brickbats and egg on his face. Even the response in Tamil Nadu has been extremely lukewarm with Chief Minister Karunanidhi saying that Balasingham's statement is confusing! The Tiger's think tank will now have to come up with another ploy.

(Written for HT on June 01, 2006)

Iyer's interview with D.R. Kaarthikeyan

Tigers stand self-condemned: DR Kaarthikeyan

It took 15 long years for one of the world's most dreaded terrorist groups -- the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -- to come out with the truth on former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991. The LTTE's chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, told an Indian TV channel that his organisation "deeply regretted" the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and described it as a "monumental historical tragedy". He also pledged "never to do anything or act anything inimical to the geopolitical interests of India". This is interpreted by many as a confession of guilt for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, and a plea for pardon from India.

Others say that Balasingham never "aplogised" or "sought pardon". And that his statement was a clever obfuscation meant to mislead Indians. But DR Kaarthikeyan, the man who investigated the assassination which led to the conviction of many of the accused, believes that Balasingham has confessed on behalf of the LTTE and that this is a vindication of his efforts to bring the culprits to book. In an exclusive interview to Meenakshi Iyer of HindustanTimes, the former CBI Director says that the Tigers stand self-condemned for rashly and inadvisably assassinating India's then most charismatic leader.

Excerpts:

Q. What was your reaction to the LTTE's latest apology as regards the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case?
A. I am not surprised at the confession of the LTTE. I know from the beginning that was the truth and that was the only truth. After the endorsement of the entire investigation by three eminent judges of the Supreme Court of India, the highest court of the largest democracy in the world, I was not waiting for any further endorsement from anyone, much less from the LTTE. But after all the miserably failed attempts by some self-seeking politicians in our own country to derail and disrupt the investigation and trial, admission of the guilt by the unarguably deadliest terrorist group in the world gives me immense professional satisfaction. What has happened is poetic justice. They stand self-condemned for rashly and inadvisably assassinating the bright and noble leader of the country. It was Rajiv Gandhi who took enormous interest and went out of the way to help solve the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis. To kill such a man brutally and treacherously is the peak of ingratitude and short-sightedness on part of the LTTE. By killing Rajiv Gandhi, they lost the best opportunity of achieving a homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils, with autonomy and with dignity within the united Sri Lankan nation. Even today, more than ever before, implementation of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord conceived by Rajiv Gandhi is the only possible solution, to prevent further killings in a country which is in a shambles after more than 65 thousand people have been killed in the ethnic violence since the last quarter of a century. It is of course the failure of Sri Lankan government to sincerely implement the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 that further precipitated the crisis. As I have described in my book, Triumph of Truth - The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination - The Investigation, the sincere and total implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, by giving effect to it by suitable constitutional amendment to the unitary constitution of Sri Lanka would have enabled the Tamil province with Trincomalee as capital, to function with adequate autonomy within united Sri Lanka. That would have very likely resulted in durable peace in Sri Lanka, as that would have enabled the Tamil minority to live with dignity and necessary autonomy.

Q. Why has the LTTE suddenly come up with an apology - something, which they were unwilling to do since years?

There can be many reasons for the LTTE coming up with such an open confession and apology. • After my investigation convincingly established the hand of LTTE in the assassination, in the most transparent investigation held anywhere in the world, people throughout the World were convinced that it was the LTTE and LTTE alone that was responsible for the dastardly assassination. Some obstacles were attempted to be created only by a few politicians, who were disgruntled due to their failure in bullying me and pressurising me to somehow implicate in the case, their rivals in other political parties or their rivals within their own party. For them their limited, short-sighted, self-seeking, personal political vendetta and agenda were far more important than re-establishing the nation's honour, dignity, integrity and sovereignty by identifying and establishing the guilt of those who are actually responsible for the brutal killing of the tallest leader of the nation at that time. • Even earlier on many occasions, the LTTE had almost conceded their hand in the assassination, though not as explicitly as they have done now.
• As their responsibility in the assassination is an established fact as far as the world is concerned, they must have now thought it better to own it at this stage, hoping that would elicit some appreciation from some quarters.
• The conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi was a secret decision taken at the highest level and was not known even to some top leaders like Mathaiah. The LTTE wanted to take revenge for the damage suffered by them due to IPKF operations. They held Rajiv Gandhi squarely responsible for the same, though the facts that emerged later showed that the man of good intentions was led to take certain decisions guided by wrong advice. The decisions he took were right on the facts presented to him by his advisors, but the later events proved those facts to be wrong. On the eve of the elections, Rajiv Gandhi told two emissaries of LTTE that while he was prepared to forget the past, he stood firmly against division of Sri Lanka. It was the assessment of the LTTE, that once Rajiv Gandhi was not on the political scene, India would not have a strong leader for a long time to come. If the hand of LTTE had not been convincingly established and proved by the SIT-CBI headed by me, the LTTE leadership, perhaps, would have achieved its objective.
• Given that India has commuted the death sentence of one of the key accused to life imprisonment, and has done nothing for over eight years to implement the death sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court on three of the other accused, the LTTE perhaps thought there is a softening of the attitude of the Indian government in this matter.
• It is also likely that the LTTE is convinced that unless India is involved actively now, there cannot be a solution satisfactory to the Tamils. They might have calculated that admitting a fact, which is already universally established and expressing regret could soften India's attitude to some extent. It is far better to regret a "monumental historic" blunder than keep on justifying it or claiming innocence, which no one would believe.
(Published in Hindustan Times on June 29, 2006)

Why rake up K-issue?

Isn't it quite untimely on Bharatiya Janata Party's part to raise the Kashmir issue at this juncture?
Considering the recent developments in India, one would have expected India's main Opposition to retort on issues like reservation, office of profit bill and the much-in-question oil price hike. But, leaving all the domestic troubles aside, suddenly India's main Opposition has raked up the Kashmir issue. It is not that Kashmir doesn't matter anymore, but the party has only reiterated what it has been saying ever since the UPA took the reins of India. Just that it is presented differently and the leaders mouthing it may be different, or even same.


The BJP has maintained that the Centre has a soft approach towards the terrorists, separatists and votaries of self-rule and autonomy. BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said that Pakistan has a 'wider game plan' to force migration of Hindus from Jammu and Kashmir. And recently, at a youth wing rally, BJP had made the demand that the UPA government should try to get UN resolution declaring Pakistan as terrorist state passed. This has not only been rejected by the government, but it has also attracted criticism from the Pakistan media. "Statements coming from across the border…often change from time to time, from being conciliatory and accommodating to belligerent and non-productive," The News International said. But the moot question is that if Kashmir is so important, then why did the BJP reject an invitation to the second Kashmir roundtable conference in Srinagar?

(Wriiten for HT on June 10, 2006)

Koirala's Indian mission

Years of anti-monarchy protests, massive killings, insurgent violence and a Nero-like monarch has left little hope for the cash-strapped Nepal. But now, with change of guard at the centre, things are finally looking up for the Himalayan Kingdom. With a country that cannot boast of a proper irrigation system, infrastructure and roads, it is going to be a hard task for the newly-crowned Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to set things right. But if the frail octogenarian's recent initiatives are anything to go by, the man is already at it. The most recent one being his high-profile visit to India, which began on Tuesday.

The four-day visit is closely-watched by the international community and comes at a time when Nepal's politics is at its transitional phase. In Koirala's one-to-one meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Wednesday, bilateral relations focussing on reconstruction and stabilisation of Nepal came up for discussion. India is likely to announce a grant of Rs 100 crore to Nepal, which according to sources signifies the importance New Delhi accords to that country, sources said. Similar views are echoed by the The Rising Nepal daily, which says: "The official visit that is taking place only several weeks after Nepal's transition into a new political era clearly reveals the high degree of importance India attaches to bilateral relations with Nepal".

India's reconstruction package will also involve funding of various infrastructural and developmental projects in sectors like roads and power. Nepal's "tasks could be accomplished with greater ease if a friendly nation like India extends its support and guidance," The Rising Nepal says. India, on its part, feels that it needs to help Nepal as it takes shape of a modern democracy and sheds the cloak of monarchy. "India's good wishes for the progress and prosperity of Nepal can never be downplayed…Nepal is in urgent need of support both of India and international community…" the paper says. According to reports, almost two-thirds of Nepal's development budget comes from foreign aid, and India is among the biggest donors, with a 14 billion-rupee aid programme.

The economy is also in dire straits, as according to a White Paper presented by the House of Representatives, the Royal Palace has arbitrarily spent more than US$10.4 million in the first 9 months of the current fiscal year. The Royal government spent more than $140,000 to suppress the pro-democracy people's movement and $3.9 million to hold controversial municipal elections. Koirala is expected to wrap-up his visit by Thursday and before that it remains to be seen how the two countries progress on a host of issues that have affected the friendly ties. This includes the issue of open border. Because of this, the citizen travel from one country to another without visa, and without any record and this has given further impetus to criminal activities and Maoist infiltration.
(Wriiten for HT on June 08, 2006)

All, but Kashmir

Ahead of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in September this year, the 116-member body touched up on a lot of issues and achieved quite a bit. Around 90 member countries sent delegations to attend the two-day meeting in the Malaysian administrative centre, Putrajaya. The group backed Iran in its present standoff against the UN over its nuclear ambitions and flayed Israel for occupation of Palestinian lands. In a declaration issued at the end of the meet, the ministers said, "all nations should have 'basic and inalienable rights' to develop research, production and use atomic energy for peaceful purposes..." with reference to Tehran.


The 45-year-old movement also added Dominica as well as Antigua and Barbuda as its members, taking the strength of the organisation to 116. However, while the global forum took up almost every issue of import, one of the most burning of all, Kashmir, certainly took a backseat. "While Mr Badawi (Malaysian Foreign Minister) made explicit reference to struggles against foreign occupations in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, he disturbingly ignored the freedom movement in Kashmir...," Pakistan's leading daily The Nation said. This reminds one of President Pervez Musharraf's statements in the 13th NAM summit at Kuala Lumpur where he said: "If Palestine dispute is a matter of principle, so is Kashmir dispute a matter of principle". The Kashmir issue has been time and again compared to the Palestinian conflict in Pakistan where leaders time and again have said that "problems which create an environment of injustice and humiliation need to be addressed by the world community". The Havana Declaration of 1979 states that NAM has to ensure the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries in their struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, racism and all forms of foreign aggression...


The Palestinian issue featured prominently at the NAM talks this time, where ministers expressed concerns over the "prolonged and brutal Israel military occupation" and human rights. The paper said that the matter should have come up for discussion as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly approved of the gross human rights violations in Kashmir at the recently-concluded Srinagar roundtable conference. Pakistan had said earlier this month that it wanted NAM to support its on-going dialogue process with India to resolve bilateral issues, including Kashmir. "We want the NAM countries to support the peace process and to see it as a result-oriented and meaningful (dialogue)," Pakistan's Additional Foreign Secretary, Fariq Osman Hyder, told a Malaysian news agency.


"Kashmir should have figured in Mr Badawi's speech after the NAM committee on political affairs highlighted the need to differentiate between terrorism and liberation struggles. Perhaps the Foreign Office should examine whether it did enough spadework," The Nation further said. Kashmir -- the focal point of internecine war between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan -- has dragged on for more than 50 years with no plausible solution in sight.

(Written for HT on May 31, 2006)