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Leave Kashmir behind!

Mr. Obama must focus on moving Indo-US relations forward; bringing up Kashmir is not the way to go about it.

Barack Obama’s first official visit to India approaches.  Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was in D.C. recently, working with N.S.A. Jim Jones to give shape to Mr. Obama’s India agenda.  The president will, in the course of the next few weeks, receive advice from writers, think-tankers, analysts, and just about everyone else on what his priority list of issues to tackle in India should be.

One item relating to India-Pakistan peace is certainly going to resurface — Kashmir.  More specifically, the “solve Kashmir, and bring about peace between India and Pakistan” mantra will be chanted by many in D.C. in the weeks to come. In an article in The Daily Beast, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings, supported U.S. encouragement of talks between India and Pakistan on settling Kashmir, in the context of the war in Afghanistan.

The Filter Coffee has previously debunked the notion that solving “Kashmir” will bring about peace between India and Pakistan.  I will therefore restrict myself to discussing three points that Mr. Obama should consider in the context of the India visit.

First,  Mr. Obama’s immediate priority must remain the ongoing war in Afghanistan-Pakistan.  Taking focus off Afghanistan-Pakistan and reorienting himself and his administration into resolving a conflict that has been ongoing for 63 years (and will no doubt go on for many more) will not be a wise course of action for an embattled president heading into mid-term elections in 2012.  Stay the course on Afghanistan.

Second, bet on India.  Indo-U.S. relations have taken a backseat since Mr. Obama took office. This is partly due to uncontrollable circumstances and priorities.  But the president has a real opportunity during his India visit to both arrest the slide, and reaffirm that the nature of the Indo-US relationship is indeed strategic, and one between two natural partners.  In this context, India and the U.S. should move forward on strengthening their defense relationship, which U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen only recently described as “strong and important.”  The nature of the relationship need not necessarily be restricted to the acquisition of military equipment and transfer of technology.

As two large and diverse democracies, India and the U.S. have a vital interest in securing key sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and beyond and ensuring a strategic balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.  While India and the U.S. already cooperate in patrolling the Malacca straits, changing geopolitical equations will make greater cooperation between India (and indeed, other Asian democracies) and the U.S. in the greater region more critical.

On Afghanistan, as much as the U.S. may have to indulge Pakistan in the interim, its interests lie in denying sanctuary to extremist groups, from where they may attack the U.S. or its interests.  Whether the U.S. likes it or not, this means ensuring that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is counterbalanced with powers that are averse to the spread of Wahhabi extremism in Asia.  India has an important role to play in this regard and further Indian involvement in Afghanistan must be encouraged.

Next, India and the U.S. should use this opportunity to expand economic ties and address irritants that have affected Indo-US relations (the nuclear liability bill, and outsourcing are chief among them).  Ongoing education reforms in India translate into opportunities for U.S. universities to establish satellite campuses in India.  India and the U.S. should also use this opportunity to move forward on progress made on climate change, both during Secretary Clinton’s visit, and at Copenhagen.

But perhaps most importantly, Mr. Obama will do well not to rake up Kashmir on his visit to India.  Pressuring India at a time when it faces a raging conflict in the Valley is asking it to act at a very sensitive time and from a position of weakness.  If the economically weak India of the past refused to yield to international pressure on Kashmir, the possibility of this happening is even more remote in today’s resurgent India.

Were Mr. Obama to bring up Kashmir in India, two things are nearly certain to happen.  One, India will not budge from its position on the issue, and two, Mr. Obama will risk further hurting Indo-US relations.   Some early signs indicate that the Obama administration is still not in full appreciation of the premium that India attaches to Jammu and Kashmir; dangling carrots will not work and indeed, aren’t called for.  One can only hope that better sense will prevail before the president’s visit.  Where Kashmir is concerned, there is no need for the U.S. to think outside the box.  Stay within the box.  In fact, stay clear of it.

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Peace process, redux

What will Manmohan Singh’s legacy be?

In the U.S., the President spends his second term contemplating his legacy and how history and America will remember  him.  In India, it appears that our Prime Minister, who may or may not bow out before the next general elections, wants to leave behind a legacy of peace between India and Pakistan.

It is a noble vision, and one that has preoccupied many a past Indian Prime Minister. But it is also unsustainable given that Pakistan’s Military Jihadi Complex (MJC) remains structurally adversarial towards India.  This is a reality that India has had to live with for over sixty years, which no amount of cricket, Bollywood, mangoes or poetry has been able to obscure.

Even as Nirupama Rao prepares to travel to Pakistan next week as a precursor to S.M. Krishna’s July trip, there are several indications that Pakistan’s MJC plans to step up attacks in India.  Prior to the Pune attacks, the JuD held public rallies (اردو) in Lahore and Muzzafarabad, which were attended by the whos-who of the jihadi umbrella, including Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, Syed Salahuddin and Abdul Rehman Makki.  JuD held another public rally on June 14 in Lahore, where Indian, Israeli and American flags were uniquely treated to a “chappal ki pooja.”

At the rally, Hafiz Saeed accused Israel of trying to convert Pakistan into a “barren land by constructing dams on its rivers.”  What is or isn’t part of madaaris curriculum may be debatable, but it should be pretty apparent now that  elementary geography doesn’t feature in any meaningful way. The absurdity of Hafiz Saeed’s accusation however, illustrates how symptomatic Kashmir was (and the “issue” of water now is) to the root cause of Pakistan’s unwillingness to live in peace with India.

And Matt Waldman’s report ( PDF) , while doing a decent job in highlighting the ISI’s relationship with terror groups, is found wanting in its policy recommendation, at least where India is concerned.  Mr. Waldman falls for the same tired argument of a “regional peace process,” and U.S. involvement in resolving Kashmir.  As The Filter Coffee has blogged before, the argument is fallacious.

The UPA’s vision for peace with Pakistan can last only as long as the lull before the next terror attack in India.  Pakistan’s unwillingness to abjure terror combined with the fact that civilian government neither crafts nor implements foreign policy in Pakistan essentially means that nothing has changed.  When will the Indian government realize that merely talking to Pakistan can’t be a  tenable solution for peace in the subcontinent?  If the UPA hopes to secure India, then its efforts are best directed towards strengthening the country’s internal security, while ensuring a capacity to challenge terror infrastructure where it stands.

You cannot seek peace with an entity when that entity’s idea of peace involves your dismemberment.  Instead of suffering grandiose visions of Indo-Pakistan peace, Mr. Manmohan Singh would do well to focus on leaving behind an India that is capable of defending itself at home and deterring the designs of those plotting to hurt India from abroad.  Indeed, it will be a legacy worthy of a man who, as a Cabinet Minister, laid the foundation for India’s meteoric economic rise.

http://chellaney.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!4913C7C8A2EA4A30!1057.entry
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Prachanda's little jaunt

It seems Prachanda wanted little to do with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s first visit to Nepal, choosing instead to hie himself and CPN(M)’s new foreign policy chief, Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Hong Kong.  His contributions to bringing normalcy to the new republic have been largely negligible.  On the occasions where he has made his presence felt, one was left with no doubt that the intent to bring stability in the nation was subservient to the desire to consolidate power and eliminate democratic due process.

However, while Prachanda may not be interested in dialog with India’s bureaucrats, there is dialog between him and Sitaram Yechury.  It’s no surprise then that Prachanda is able to arrive at very innovative election models for Nepal, including a demand for indirect elections of the President by the Parliament, and a unicameral legislature, with no opposition.

Despite the deadlock in Nepal, Sitaram Yechury’s involvement in political reconciliation, at the behest of New Delhi, is a step in wrong direction. The CPI(M) has done precious little in the areas of governance and social and economic upliftment.  They exist to stymie progress and satisfy their own inflated egos.  But once given the opportunity to lead, they fail, rather spectacularly. One only has to look at the state of affairs in West Bengal and Kerala — bastions of CPI(M) rule in India — and gauge the impact of the decades of their rule on their social and economic development.

And Yechury’s protégés behave no different in Nepal.  Prachanda’s response to PM Madhav Nepal’s recently concluded 34-point agreement with India on areas including trade imbalance, infrastructure, development and military aid, was to complain that the PM’s visit was “humiliating” because it lacked adequate press coverage from the Indian media!

To be sure, there are several issues that confront Nepal today — rehabilitation of the PLA within the armed forces, framing a constitutional framework by May 2010, linguistic reconciliation and quelling ethnic unrest in southern Nepal.  Today, the fate of the new republic is precariously perched; the challenges that confront it are significant, but by no means are they as insurmountable as depicted by Indian and international media.

With all its faults, the UML-led government has endured, quite inexplicably, and no one is more shocked about this than Prachanda.  Unhappy about his self-inflicted irrelevance to the policital process (especially given CPN(M)’s popular support), he has wasted no opportunity to try and bring the government down, even threatening a third installment of the Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) to achieve his goals.

If the UML government continues to hold fort, CPN(M)’s disruptive position will inevitably soften, allowing for a possible “face-saving” compromise on core divergent issues confronting the State.  The modalities of the compromise can be effectively worked out if the CPN(M) is convinced of the relative durability of the government and the futility in trying to lead a united front with several individually insignificant, conflicting opposition members. For now, India’s primary focus today should be to assist the government to hold fort.  Political reconciliation will come naturally when the futility of CPN(M)’s shenanigans is effectively demonstrated.

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