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Archive | April, 2009

Calls for ceasefire must cease

As the Sri Lankan army inches closer to a decisive military victory against the remaining remnants of the Tamil Tigers, the international community has been vocal in its call for a ceasefire in view of the thousands of Tamil civilians caught in the middle of the conflict.  The tone from politicians in Tamil Nadu has been particularly shrill, and unabashedly in support of Prabhakaran and the LTTE.  Political parties in Tamil Nadu have been demanding Indian pressure on Lanka to declare a unilateral ceasefire.  The government in New Delhi would do well not to accede to their demands.

Terrorism is a scourge that has plagued the Subcontinent for decades.  However, victories against terrorist forces have been few and far between with governments neither having the gumption, nor the ability to achieve decisive victory in the face of asymmetric warfare.  However, Sri Lanka today stands at the cusp of a famous victory against self-appointed champions of the Tamil cause.  The Rajapakse government will not squander the momentum gained over the course of three years to please Indian politicians in the throws of a general election or to placate the countless effete world bodies that have neither the right to demand nor the jurisdiction to enforce the ceasefire.

India must recognize that its role in the conflict should be not during the military conflict, but after the demise of the LTTE.  Normalcy in Sri Lanka’s civil war can only be fully brought about through political reconciliation between Lankan Tamils and the Lankan government.  Sri Lanka has a unique opportunity today to not only end militancy, but also address the root causes that led to conflict, not on the battlefield, but through political engagement.

To that end, India must encourage, prod, assist, the Rajapakse government to take the initiative to address the aspirations of the Tamil civilians.  Allowing international aid workers to provide assistance to the thousands of displaced Tamil civilians will be a pressing matter, and one requiring immediate attention.  But this can only be possible through a swift military victory against the LTTE.  By calling for a ceasefire, India and the international community will leave the Lankan government in a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis a millitant organization known for its ability to rise from the ashes, and injudiciously prolong a war that has already taken the lives of tens of thousands of Sinhalese and Tamil civilians.

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Damn the plebs…

LK Advani has been calling for live television debates since the schedule for the 15th Lok Sabha elections was announced.  The people of India have a right to know where the Congress, the BJP and other national parties stand on the complex issues that face the nation.  But the silence from the Congress has been deafening.  The maneuvering, amusing.  First, we were told that there would be no debate between Manmohan Singh and Advani because unlike the US, ours isn’t a two-party system.

Then we were told by Manmohan Singh that he isn’t much of a speaker, and lets his actions speak for him.  In other words, he’s a decider: like his good buddy, George W Bush. But Bush’s record in the White House makes him look like FDR after the Great Depression, when compared to Mahmohan’s record over the past five years.  And now this vitriolic harangue from Sanjaya Baru, the PM’s former “media manager”.  A cushy job, I’m sure, as it entailed doing nothing, just like the post of Home Minister.

Never before was a prime minister denied the right of reply in a debate on a motion of thanks to the President. Never before has a prime minister been prevented from defending his record in office in a debate on a motion of confidence. Manmohan Singh was at the receiving end of such grossly unfair treatment from an Opposition that turned every parliamentary debate into a duel. And now they want a television debate? Hah!

Wonderful.  In other words, you tried to knock me off the pedestal when I was vulnerable. Now, it’s payback.  To hell with the voters.  Damn the plebs. Where is this disillusioned rhetoric going to take India?  The kind of debate favored in our country is one where accusations are countered with counter-accusations. In the end, it’s the man on the street that loses.  This will continue only as long as you and I give currency to such garbage talk.

Voting begins in India tomorrow.  So please go out and participate in the largest democratic exercise in the world.  But pledge to yourself that the act of casting your vote won’t be the end of your engagement with governance in the nation; that it will be the first of many such engagements between a complex, if chaotic, democratic system and you, the middle class, English speaking, Internet surfing, pub hopping, reality TV watching Indian voter.

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Reconnecting with Iran: My article in Pragati

India’s independence on foreign policy has taken a beating during the last five years of UPA rule.  For the sake of a nuclear deal that now, ironically,  sits in the new US administration’s cold storage, the UPA sacrificed India’s reputation in the congress of developing nations by voting against Iran — not once, but twice — at the IAEA.   I make the case for reversing the current trajectory of our relationship with this important Islamic republic in this month’s Pragati .

… India’s engagements with the United States, and increasingly with Israel, amidst Iran’s growing isolation post-9/11, affected the ability of the two countries to collaborate on areas of mutual interest, including energy security and stemming the growth of Sunni extremism in the region. During this period, two events effectively put paid to the momentum gained by the New Delhi Declaration – India’s voting against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and India’s launching of the Israeli reconnaissance satellite TecSAR (“Polaris”) in 2008.

The UPA’s naiveté with regard to relations with Iran will come back to haunt the nation. India’s voting against Iran at the IAEA was perhaps the biggest strategic foreign policy blunder since the turn of the millennium. It was less a reflection of India’s conviction against nuclear proliferation and more an evidence of America’s coerciveness, effectively tying the Indo-US nuclear deal to India’s vote.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF, 2.2 MB)

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