« »

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The importance of Kashmir for regional peace

At long last, a series of conferences and engagements has given us tentative hope for the resolution of the 62-year-old Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. If these efforts reach their goal, it could not only transform long-troubled relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, but also substantially contribute to peace in nearby Afghanistan.
Kashmir has been at the center of a long-standing territorial dispute between Pakistan and India, resulting in several wars, as well as ongoing military operations by India against Kashmiri separatist militants. The decades-old rivalry and suspicion between India and Pakistan has persuaded them to act at cross-purposes in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants a pro-Islamabad regime in Kabul to achieve its goal of strategic depth as a cushion against India. India, on the other hand, seeks a pro-New Delhi government to deny Pakistan this advantage.
A solution to Kashmir would considerably reduce the trust deficit between India and Pakistan and most likely promote cooperation on Afghanistan.
Over the past few months, India and Pakistan have engaged in closed-door dialogues on Kashmir in Bangkok, bringing together such individuals as former Pakistani Ambassador to India Aziz Khan and A. S. Dullat, the former chief of India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Simultaneously, the process is being supported by back-channel discussions between New Delhi and Kashmir’s moderate separatist conglomerate, the All Parties Hurriyat [Freedom] Conference, to resolve those issues that are specific to India-Kashmir relations.
Even though not publicly acknowledged by the United States, these efforts are seen as part of the broader remit of the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. Even Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated that US interest in the region is served by encouraging all steps that “these important nations [India and Pakistan] take to regenerate their ‘back-channel’ process on Kashmir.”
On the civil society side, several conferences were held between September and December 2009 addressing the controversy over Kashmir, attended by leading intellectuals, politicians and civil society activists from both the countries.
One such conference, “A Roadmap to Peace”, held in December in New Delhi, called for the resumption of stalled dialogue between the two countries. Before this, two intra-Kashmir conferences were held in October in Srinagar and London. The larger aim of these initiatives was to find a way for India and Pakistan to reconcile their differences and focus on jointly tackling terrorism in the region, from Kabul to Kashmir.
Although the cumulative effect of these efforts has helped both countries advance toward peace in South Asia, there is still a long way to go. There is also the constant danger of the entire process unravelling if India and Pakistan’s governments fail to act and build upon the ongoing efforts.
The two countries are now looking towards yet another summit meeting during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference in April in Bhutan. And India has already indicated its readiness to begin a formal dialogue through the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries who are meeting later this month.
There are several factors at play in the renewed engagement. One is the larger geo-politics of the region with the war in Afghanistan at its core. The unfolding situation in Kabul, where the Taliban are now being considered as part of the political solution, has suddenly reduced India’s capacity to influence the outcome in the war-torn country.
Accordingly, Pakistan is suddenly in a greater position of leverage, and safeguarding India’s interests in Afghanistan and its role as a party to the ongoing struggle for peace and security may provide incentive for normalized relations between India and Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan would benefit from a friendly India to ensure continued stability on its eastern flank.
The challenge before India and Pakistan is not only to address the dispute over Kashmir, their long-standing bitter bone of contention, but also to bring their divergent policies and positions on Afghanistan in line. With stakes in Kabul getting bigger with every passing day, much hinges on this new round of bilateral contact.
* Riyaz Wani is a Kashmir-based journalist working for the leading Indian daily, The Indian Express. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 16 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org

Failure for the Obama administration

The much-talked-about London Conference has brought another failure for the Obama administration and its allies as the Taliban instantly rejected the talks offer, which lacked incentives for the combatants who are already achieving successes in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the allied forces are yet to learn lessons from the mistakes committed by the Bush administration in its war on terror. Throughout the London moot, Prime Minister Gordon Brown kept elaborating on the speech delivered by Obama only two days back, the US president's State of the Union Address. Since there was no incentive for the Taliban, they rejected the conference outright.

Why did one of the most prudent politicians of Afghanistan – Hamid Karzai – not spell out the contradictions in the new US policy on Afghanistan? Also surprising is the failure of the proficient Shah Mahmood Qureshi in convincing his US and UK counterparts on mending the confusions in the new Afghan strategy. Even the so-called shrewd and futuristic Western think tanks have failed in preventing their governments from a policy which would bring nothing to Afghanistan but bloodshed.

The new US policy is supposed to encourage initiation of talks with those Taliban elements which denounce terrorism. Prior to any talks, you have to create a conducive environment, and confidence-building measures are a must for bridging the gulf between the warring factions. The Taliban and Hekmatyar are clubbing talks with the exit of allied forces from Afghanistan while on the contrary the Western states are dispatching more troops to Afghanistan to take the battle temperature to new highs.

The icing on the cake is the covert efforts launched by the allied forces to divide the Taliban. Under the plan, $500 million have been allocated to win the loyalties of Taliban elements in order to isolate the Taliban leadership. This means that the US is not willing to hold talks with Mullah Omar, only with those who would be willing to ditch the influential Taliban leader.

Irrespective of the fact that neither were such efforts successful in the past nor would these bear fruit now, it is hard to believe that the Taliban would agree to sit at the dialogue table. Only an insane person would expect talks in such high temperature with increasing doubts between the warring factions.

The new US policy on Afghanistan is based on an assumption that the Karzai government would acquire stability. To the contrary, the US policy is further destabilising the Karzai regime. Due to the same policy, even the election of Karzai became much controversial. Now the allied forces have made the provision of aid to the Karzai government conditional on eradication of corruption. The question to be asked is: if the elimination of corruption by the Afghan government was so easy, could it not have achieved this target to restore its credibility in the comity of nations in the past? Keeping in view the fact that the Karzai government was made so frail that the president had to seek support from Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum and Qasim Faheem in the recent elections, how would a feeble and meek government consisting of people like Qasim Faheem and Dostum be able to achieve the ambition of corruption-free governance? So neither will this government be able to abolish corruption within its ranks nor the Western nations provide the Karzai administration the required financial assistance. Thus the dream of the stability of the Karzai government will never materialise.

Moreover, the sincerity of the US administration to Afghanistan and Pakistan could be gauged from the fact that the Afghan election commission had to delay the Afghan polls for six months due to the non-provision of a few hundred million dollars. In such a situation, it is hard to believe that the Karzai government would be stabilised by 2011.

The premature announcement of the Afghan exit plan has also given a new life and hope to the combating militant forces and the morale of the Taliban and Hekmatyar groups is now sky high. Since they are foreseeing success, it has become more difficult to get them to the dialogue table while they are winning on the battlefield.

The stability and peace in Afghanistan is linked with direct talks with Mullah Omar and Golbadin Hekmatyar. It would be prudent to form a government in Afghanistan based on national consensus, in consultation with the neighbouring states. Not only could that bring peace to the country but it could also protect and ensure the interests of the international and regional players.

It seems that Hamid Karzai has realised this reality and his efforts to strengthen his ties with Pakistan and Iran are an indication of that. However, ever since the new US policy has been made public, the gulf between the US and Pakistan is widening by each passing day. This is a bitter truth that both the friendly states today are at daggers drawn vis-à-vis the Afghanistan issue.

Neither is Pakistan willing to accept any role for India in Afghanistan nor does it agree to the notion that India is a stakeholder in this regard. On the other hand, for the first time Iran has boycotted any international moot on Afghanistan, and the absence of an Iranian delegate from the London Conference reflects the disagreement of the Iranian establishment with the new Afghan policy.

The issue of a missile defence system for Georgia has also warmed the temperature between Russia and the USA. The US media is also issuing reports on increasing Chinese investments in the Afghan province of Logar – clearly reflecting US concerns over the increasing influence of China in Afghanistan.

Since the allied forces are once again failing to focus on efforts to address the concerns of the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, it could be safely said that no formula can hold its ground until the concerns of the regional players and neighbours are not fully redressed.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@geo.tv

Shining India: Woman Abused in Indian Jail

The UP police is in the news again... and like most times for the wrong reasons. A report says... an SHO abused and slapped a woman within the police station premises. This happened in Musafir-khana police station under Sultanpur district.

FBI closes anthrax case, says scientist was killer

WASHINGTON: Wrapping up one of its most vexing investigations, the FBI concluded that Army scientist Bruce Ivins acted alone in the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people and further unnerved Americans still reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The agency formally closed the case Friday, ending the long, frustrating hunt for the killer after years of false leads, no arrests and public criticism.

Ivins killed himself in 2008 as prosecutors prepared to indict him for the attacks. He had denied involvement, and his family and some friends have continued to insist he was innocent.

Many details of the case have already been disclosed, but newly released FBI documents paint a fuller portrait of Ivins as a troubled researcher whose life's work was teetering toward failure at the time the letters laced with anthrax were sent. As the U.S. responded to the mailings, that work was given new importance by the government, and he was even honored for his efforts on anthrax.

The documents also describe what investigators say was Ivins' bizarre, decades-long obsession with a sorority. The anthrax letters were dropped in a mailbox near the sorority's office in Princeton, New Jersey.

The letters were sent to lawmakers and news organizations as the nation reeled in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Postal facilities, U.S. Capitol buildings and private offices were shut for inspection and cleaning by workers in hazardous materials "space suits" from Florida to Washington to New York and beyond.

In closing the case, officials also released reams of evidence and a 92-page summary of their findings.

To the FBI's critics, the mountain of new documents could not paper over what they say are glaring holes in the case.

"The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court," said Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat whose New Jersey district includes the Princeton mailbox used in the attacks. "But because their prime suspect is dead and they're not going to court, they seem satisfied with barely a circumstantial case."

Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, said he saw nothing new in the findings. "All they have confirmed is that they suspected him belatedly after finding out he had psychological problems," he said. "Sadly, they substitute that for proof."

Authorities say Ivins' death capped a yearslong cat-and-mouse game with investigators, in which he repeatedly offered to help the FBI catch the killer, cast suspicion on his colleagues and tried numerous forms of subterfuge.

He passed a polygraph in connection with the probe in 2002, but investigators learned years later that he had been prescribed psychotropic medications at the time, and examiners who reassessed the results concluded he exhibited classic signs of the use of countermeasures to pass the test.

Authorities say Ivins nursed a secret fascination with the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma that dated back decades, and at one point years ago, they say, he stalked a member of the sorority.

The new documents also present a novel theory why the anthrax notes featured block writing that highlighted specific letters within words.

Investigators believe Ivins' use of the letters was part of a secret code that had two possible meanings: pointing to a colleague or stating a specific dislike of New York. Two of the letters were sent to New York — one to the New York Post, another to NBC's then-anchor Tom Brokaw.

Investigators had tried earlier to build a case against biowarfare expert Steven Hatfill, who had worked for a time in the same military lab as Ivins, but ultimately turned away from that theory and had to pay him a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The anthrax spores killed five people: two postal workers in Washington, a New York City hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who had no known contact with any of the poisoned letters. Seventeen other people were sickened.

Daily Express News Story

Daily Express News Story