Saturday, May 29, 2010

Upstaging Hillary

Upstaging Hillary
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 29.05.2010

It must have been embarrassing for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the day she was to announce a Security Council consensus for sanctions against Iran as punishment for its nuclear ambitions, the principal consensus partner, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, had approved a deal for swapping Iranian low-enriched uranium for Turkish fuel rods for use in a medical reactor.

Even though Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the US Secretary of State that Moscow was still committed to the understanding in principle on the Security Council draft, the agreement with Iran negotiated with the help of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula, has opened up a new situation.

Indian Foreign Minister was present at the Teheran meet. Moreover, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participated in the BRIC summit in Brazil where the idea created a buzz on the margins, there is no evidence of the Indian media being even interested in the issue. Not one question was asked at the Prime Minister’s press conference last week. More is the pity because India should have taken the lead on the idea to help repair the damage done during the vote against Iran at Vienna during the still lingering nuclear debate. Also, all Indian development initiatives in Afghanistan will remain incomplete without Iran being directly involved. The road projects in Afghanistan can’t be functional without the Iranian ports in the Gulf.

In the midst of colossal stupidities, one of the cleverest steps George W. Bush had taken while embarking on his massive retaliation on Afghanistan was to appoint Darri-Persian speaking Zalmay Khalilzad at ambassador to Kabul. Among his key jobs was to keep the Iranians on board.

Nothing in politics is ever altruistic. Khalilzad succeeded in keeping Iranians quiet was because the Iranians had even more interest that the Americans to see the demise of both, Al Qaeda and Taleban. For the Iranians, this Salafi, anti shia Islam would remain a thorn in their side unless the two were eliminated. They were ousted from Kabul. Hamid Karzai in his pragmatism has been continuously in touch with the Iranians. President Ahmedinijad visited Kabul in April, much to the chagrin of both, Pakistan as well as Washington.

Now that conversations are on with various levels of the Taleban as part of the so called American strategy to withdraw, one purpose the Salafi Taleban in Afghanistan will serve is to keep needling the Shia regime to the north.

What the authors of this ill-thought-through scheme forget is that the most populous state in the Gulf, Iran, may have many more cards up its sleeve to upset such scenarios in Afghanistan as are being dreamed up.

Part of the ever shifting US policies in the region was to transfer Zalmay Khalilzad to the Green Zone in Iraq for the good works he had done in Afghanistan by mobilizing Iranian help. Since Iraq has a large border with Iran, Khalilzad’s charm offensive with Iran would come in handy once more.

It nearly did. Khalilzad set up secret meetings with the highest rung of the Iranian leadership. At this point the all powerful neo cons around Bush proceeded to tie his hands behind his back.

He could speak to the Iranians, they said, but “only on the nuclear issue”. A broad based engagement, for which Khalilzad had diligently prepared papers, was to be turfed out of the window. To expect the Iranians to turn up for a dialogue so circumscribed betrays total misreading of Iranian self esteem. Khalilzad gave up the effort.

The quest for a preferred Iranian leader on whom to confer the legitimacy of dialogue is as old as the Iranian revolution in the 1979. Remember, Ayatullah Khomeini was brought in with great fanfare from his abode on the outskirts of Paris. With equal ceremony was the Shah of Iran seen off from Teheran airport.

Reference to the background would be useful to gauge what role the CIA had designed for Khomeini.

Remember, mid 70s will be remembered for the US ouster from Vietnam. Also, for the coming to power of Communists in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua. Strengthening of Euro communism in Italy, France, Spain. The Allende massacre had just taken place in Chile.

The CIA diagnosis was: the existence of seemingly insignificant communist movements had been ignored by the West only to its peril.

Indeed, even the coming of the Communists to power in Afghanistan is generally not known. At the time it took the Americans by surprise. I know because I was the first journalist informed about the coming to power of the Khalq and Parcham in Kabul! (That’s another story)

Actually, there was no communist gameplan to takeover in Kabul. Since the incipient communist movements in Africa and Central America had recoiled on American interests, the CIA was determined to remove all Communists interest, nascent or active, from the vicinity of power, say, in Kabul.

Therefore, the Shah’s Savak was encouraged to eliminate the Left from around President Mohammad Daud.

As happens with many CIA plans, this one too was leaked by an accidental, unintentional murder of a Parcham trade union leader, Mir Akbar Khaibar. This came across as a warning to the left. Immediately, the Air Force and the artillery (all under communist control) peremptorily swung into action, murdered Daud and took over. They declared Khalk’s Noor Mohammad Taraki as Prime Minister, a press conference this reporter attended.

In Iran, the idea was to use the Mullahs to eliminate communist groups like Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Tudeh. But the CIA had not taken into account the stubborn durability of the clergy, grappling with which has become the toughest task the US is currently undertaking.

And uncertainties on Af-Pak make the Clergy that much more entrenched, nuclear issue or no nuclear issue. How on earth can the US deal with Iran except by talking while contiguous territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan are on boil?

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Dealing with Maoist: Is UPA divided?

Dealing with Maoist: Is UPA divided?
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 23.05.2010

The sparring in the Congress on how to tackle left extremism in the tribal belt may come to an end with the Prime Minister’s press conference on Monday May 24. Or it may continue until June 18, at least, when 56 (fifty six) Rajya Sabha results will be in. Will the cabinet be reshuffled after that date? Will it be a limited reshuffle?

The series of attacks by Maoists in the tribal belt specifically in Dantewada in Chattishgarh, can be seen either as a failure of the UPA led central government or as incompetence of the BJP led state government – or both.

In his recent TV appearance, the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has given the impression of having to fight the “merciless” Maoists with his hands tied behind his back.

Naturally, someone as quick as BJP’s Arun Jaitley smacks his lips at the jam being offered. Poor fellow, says he, even as the BJP forms an admiring circle around the tallest Congress leader from Tamil Nadu in the present cabinet.

Digvijay Singh, who has been Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister when Chattigarh was part of his political parish, would, in his guts, like the party to hammer the BJP for its failure in the state. He is obviously disturbed at Chidambaram providing scoring opportunities to a party any Congress Chief Minister in Bhopal spends a lifetime fighting.

De ja vu! Remember Arjun Singh and Karunakaran proposing diametrically opposite attitude towards the BJP during the P.V. Narasimha Rao years? Their attitudes towards the BJP were determined by their experiences in their respective states.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has to fight the BJP tooth and nail. Karunakaran required the RSS cadres and the various “Munanis” or cultural organizations to throw their weight behind the UPA to beat the Left Front.

Chidambaram’s political experience in Tamil Nadu leaves him BJP – neutral. Which is roughly the attitude of the corporate sector, large sections of the media and, ofcourse, global capitalism. In fact the dream scenario of the Maruti-plus middle class and interests mentioned above would be growing floor co-ordination between UPA and the BJP (or NDA and the Congress) after the democratic exercise on polling day. (Unfortunately, this dream was disrupted during the Cut Motion vote.)

Chidambaram’s stance is all the more audacious after Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s “Letter to Congress Persons”.

“Our country is (also) facing an enormous challenge from the Naxalites. We have recently lost 73 brave jawans of the CRPF in an attack in Chattisgarh. Our thoughts go out to the grieving families of these men who have lost their lives.” Then comes the policy statement:

“While we must address acts of terror decisively and forcefully, we have to address the root causes of Naxalism. The rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grass roots, especially in our most backward tribal districts.”

This diagnosis of the Congress President has ready acceptance at various levels of the Congress.

In fact Congress Working Committee member, K. Kesava Rao, whose padyatra in the Maoist strongholds of Andhra Pradesh some years ago brought him face to face with various dimensions of the problem, is totally opposed to the Chindambaram line.

He expressed doubts on the veracity of Chidambaram’s claim that Chief Ministers of Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Orissa were “asking for air support to fight Maoists.”

Kesava Rao told me that the AP government had asked for two helicopters for relief work. “That is all.”

After the April 6 Maoist attack, Air Force Chief P.V. Naik said in Ahmedabad. “The military – Air Force, Army and Navy – are trained to inflict maximum lethality. They are not trained for limited damage. The weapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border.”

A spokesman for Raman Singh, BJP Chief Minister in Chattisgarh, said helicopter gunships would be extremely useful.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony, demurs and echoes his air chief’s views.

Maoists believe that by demanding Air support Chidambaram is opening the door to “somehow bring the army into the fight”, rather like the Pak army in Waziristan – step by step.

Since Maoists depend on local support for their operations, civilian deaths, as in the attack on the bus last Monday, undermines their strategy. Hence expressions of regret even by Maoist leader Kishenji with one proviso: “I request the people not to travel in any vehicle which is carrying police personel”. In an interview to a TV channel Kishen asked: “Why is Chidambaram killing poor people when Sonia Gandhi is advocating a development path”. Did the special police officers boarded the civilian bus to use them as human shields? The truth may be simple incompetence, a violation of Standard Operating Procedure which prohibits police personnel from travelling in civilian transport.

While divisions within the Congress on the issue are providing material for the BJP to gloat over, the CPM in West Bengal (which seeks air support) is finding itself embarrassed by its junior partner the CPI which describes Naxalism as a socio-economic problem and not just a law and order issue which seems to be the CPM’s emphasis.

Even as the pros and cons of the stance towards Maoists are debated within the ruling party, a grave situation is developing in neighbouring Nepal where on May 28, the Constitution lapses opening the way to a situation the consequences of which cannot be accurately predicted. That situation too is charged with Maoism, but one which is open to the democratic route. What is New Delhi’s attitude towards Nepal’s Maoists embarked on the democratic route? Maoists outside the pale must be watching this with interest.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Kashmiri Chant : “They don’t trust us”

The Kashmiri Chant : “They don’t trust us”
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 15.05.2010

”They do not trust us” Farooq Abdullah is a man of sunny temperament, not given to pointless lamentations. But when he said this to me a fortnight ago in the course of a conversation, he was, in an unguarded moment, giving vent to a sense of alienation which has settled as a national habit in the Kashmir valley.

This alienation is not a new reality one has suddenly noticed. But this is exactly the sort of reality that is crowded out of minds when it lingers long as unnoticed malignancy. I have heard little else this past week in Srinagar: alienation and anger (alternating with rage) against New Delhi.

I must revert to Farooq Abdullah’s lament because without it being placed in context, it can lead to multiple interpretations. The conversation was about the portfolio he had been given: Renewable Energy.

The way the electoral cookie had crumbled in Kashmir during the 2009 General Elections, it was more or less settled that Farooq Abdullah would be Chief Minister. He said as much on TV. But during the night, the decision was set aside and Omar Abdullah was sworn in. In Srinagar every journalist knows that Omar’s elevation became part of an elaborate plan to promote “youth” in the wake of Rahul Gandhi’s promising performance at the polls.

Fair enough, but surely Farooq, nationally known, personable, a good public speaker, could have been given a higher national profile. After all no national leader, who happens to be a Muslim, has the combination of charisma and pedigree which go down well in Indian public life. Ghulam Nabi Azad may be a cleverer politician and better administrator but Farooq is more charismatic.

It was in response to this observation that the former Kashmir Chief Minister and the current Chief Minister’s father, talked of the “trust deficit” between New Delhi and Kashmiris.

In fact this is an observation Vijay Dhar, the late D.P. Dhar’s son, who has helped build a remarkably successful school in Srinagar, also endorses. “Indians have not been able to give Kashmiri Muslims a sense of belonging, a partnership in the Indian enterprise.”

There are two distinct Indian responses to this kind of a statement. There is a sympathetic recognition of Kashmiri alienation since 1953 when their “national hero” Sheikh Abdullah was arrested in Srinagar and whisked away to New Delhi.

Response of others, tired of keeping the historical background in focus, is one of irritation. “Complaining has become a Kashmiri habit”.

Drive from the airport, past Hyderpura where separatist leader, Ali Shah Geelani lives, the streets are strikingly ample and well laid out. In fact, drive in from any direction, (Gulmarg, for instance) and the scale on which the houses are built is quite as impressive as in some of the fancier New Delhi colonies.

A general sense of economic well being is not just an optical illusion. “People have enough to eat and adequate housing”, says Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the PDP. “What is bruised is Kashmiri self respect”.

There are confusing images strewn around the valley. Just outside Kashmir University, a new restaurant with an unlikely name of Hat Trick was opened last week. It is a wholesome, middle level restaurant and fast food outlet. Quite surprisingly, it is one of a chain of twenty one such facilities in Srinagar.

Then the manager turns up (he describes himself only as an adviser) in white shark skin suite with a matching white tie settled on a blue shirt. He is a short, dark man with a moustache.

It turns out that he is R.K. Mohanty from Orrissa, who came to work for the Oberoi Hotel in Srinagar decades ago and has since helped build up the Hat Trick, chain owned locally.

This is not the only surprise. A large segment of the kitchen staff are also non Kashmiri. Why? Because Kashmiris do not like such jobs. “Government jobs are at a premium”, says Prof. Syeda Afshana, at the University’s media Research Centre. “Government Jobs carry prestige, easy acceptance in the marriage market and a lazy life.”

So, a great deal of the “unemployment” in Kashmir must be read as lack of preferred employment in the public sector.

Meanwhile, in the department of Management Studies, a small number of students do succeed in finding placements outside the valley. The difficultly is the singular absence of big industrial houses on account of the “unsettled” conditions. Last year, the university’s “gold medalists” were invited for a meeting. A single fact stood out in bold relief”: none of “gold medalists” knew what they should do next. Suffocatingly, the collective vision seems to stop at Banihal!

There is no simple formula to end Kashmiri “alienation”. A way to address the issue could well be to place the “problems” of Kashmiris against the backdrop of the underprivileged across the board which results in eruptions like Chattisgarh, Jharkhand or the North East. This has to be a sophisticated, honest, credible method of communication to replace the unimaginative propaganda doled out currently.

Something remarkable happened this year. Four Kashmiri Muslims from the valley and two Hindus from Jammu entered the IAS. What is more, one of the candidates, Shah Faisal, from a village in Lolab Valley (made famous by Allama Iqbal), topped the list.

“Supposing the Prime Minister were to announce internship for him in the PMO, the gesture would be electrifying for Kashmir”, says Vijay Dhar.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah will have to find some way of balancing his family life in New Delhi and his official life in Srinagar. Otherwise a growing epithet of “part-time” Chief Minister, will attach itself to him.

New Delhi would do well to strengthen him by embarking on a credible devolution dialogue.

Above, all New Delhi must realize that an occupying army has never looked pretty to the local population. It is easy to overlook this reality in a debris of intelligence reports, three years relative peace notwithstanding. The current peace is deceptive. The undercurrent is one of anger with New Delhi. “They don’t trust us” is not just Farooq Abdullah’s lament. And just imagine: he is a member of the Union Cabinet.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Is Af-Pak a boon for Indo-Iran ties?

Is Af-Pak a boon for Indo-Iran ties?
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 08.05.2010

The Nuclear Security Summit in Washington from April 12 to 13 and the Nuclear Disarmament Conference in Tehran from April 15 to 16 had one thing in common: Israel attended neither meet. It did not attend Teheran because it believes Iran is busy manufacturing nuclear weapons to attack Israel. It did not attend the Washington conference because there were suggestions that some Arab countries would raise the Israeli nuclear arsenal and Israel would not know where to look.

New Delhi attended both the meetings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the Washington summit while Gaddam Dharmendra, Joint Secretary in the MEA dealing with disarmament attended the Teheran meeting.

Contrary to the popular impression, the conference hall in Teheran was not empty. Indonesia, Syria, Oman, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Iraq and Uganda were represented by Foreign Ministers. Ministers of Energy of Armenia and Tajikistan took part. Deputy Foreign Ministers of Russia, Turkey, Emirates, China, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan and Venezuela were present. As were the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference (on this the Saudis wield considerable clout), representatives of the UN and the IAEA, chairman of the NPT review conference attended.

It cannot be described to have been a scantily attended conference, even though comparisons with the much more advertised show in Washington would not help one arrive at conclusions.

While on the one hand momentum is being built up to strengthen the sanctions regime against Iran at the UN, the number of skeptics on that score is not negligible.

Even on the eve of the NPT review conference, officers from the National Security Council have identified Teheran as a capital to visit for consultations. To imagine that these meeting are undiluted nuclear discourses would be fanciful because second and third track approaches to Teheran are proceeding.

Deputy National Security Adviser Alok Prasad’s visit to Teheran has the nuclear issue in its contents, but it can also be seen to be a pre cursor to Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna forthcoming visit to Teheran.

Iranian’s are sensitive on protocol. They are still nursing the wound inflicted on them in Vienna. Moreover, visits by President Ahmedinijad, Chief Justice Hashemi Shahrudi (the job has since been taken over by Ayatullah Larjani) have not been reciprocated.

At Thimpu, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sought a meeting with Manmohan Singh but he could not be slotted into the Prime Minister’s busy schedule. They were, however, able to exchange greetings at the King’s banquet.

Gradually, despite many hurdles, Indo-Iranian relation are acquiring a momentum largely on account of the US’s Af-Pak approach where the Indian role is being made out to be of a lesser strategic value.

Recently the US ambassador in New Delhi Timothy Roemer made a helpful statement. To allay Pakistani fears that in the guise of developmental works in Afghanistan, the Indians may, with Brahminical guile, be upto tricks inimical to Pakistan’s long term interests in Afghanistan, Roemer suggested that Indians and Americans would take up developmental works jointly in Afghanistan. What are the implications of this co-ordination? As in soccer, every Indian in play will be marked allaying Pakistani fears of inimical activity behind their back!

The basic interests of the Pakistanis are transparent:
They would like to have strategic depth in Afghanistan, a turf on which they have considerable experience since 1980.
Consolidation of this strategic depth entails a confirmation of a government in Kabul which is deferential to Islamabad. This rules out Karzai.
To facilitate this scenario a strategy of good and bad Talebans has been devised. The good Taleban, in this sequence, are people like Mullah Omar or those of the Taleban who are hard on Karzai and soft on Al Qaeda.

A bonus American action in Afghanistan and Iraq conferred on Iran was the defeat of the Anti Shia Taleban in Afghanistan and the removal of Anti Iran Saddam Hussain in Iraq. But the subsequent chaos that has spread far and wide is giving Riyadh nightmares. Not only a bloated Shia entity in Iraq abutting the oil rich Saudi (also Shia) area of Dammam, but also Al Qaeda in Yemen are a menace.

The spaces created by the two occupations became hatcheries for Al Qaeda, feeding on Anti Americanism the US rule had bred.

Separation of the Al Qaeda from the Taleban is easier said than done. True, Al Qaeda consists of non-Afghan, foreign jihadists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Xinxiang etc. But this lot made a beeline for Afghanistan since the 80s (eighties), when the plot to expel the Soviets by Islamic fervour was first hatched. Over, the years oppression against Muslims in the host countries – Chechnya and Uzbekistan, for instance – caused an augmentation of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

But over the 30 years since the first Al Qaeda trudged his way into Afghanistan, the foreigners have got enmeshed by ties of marriage and blood. So, how does one separate Al Qaeda from the local population, say, Taleban? Further, how does one separate the good from the bad Taleban? Or, indeed, a Pushtoon from Taleban?

Strangely, India’s growing equation with Iran is not a source of anxiety to Riyadh, Iran’s rival in an overarching sense. In fact, Al Qaeda’s ultimate aim at one stage was to upturn the Saudi monarchy, and it is precisely these hardline elements upon whom Pakistan hopes to structure its so called strategic depth.

It is early days yet. One should not begin to distance oneself from the torrid romance with the US simply because Af-Pak has exposed the first chinks in what the city’s town criers have been celebrating as the Indo-US strategic partnership cast in stone.

Meanwhile, remember one golden role: neither Afghanistan, nor Iraq or even Balochistan can be managed without Iranian support. Invite Zalmay Khalilzad on the lecture circuit to enlighten you on just this theme.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Should Marginal Meetings Dominate SAARC Summits?

Should Marginal Meetings Dominate SAARC Summits?

Saeed Naqvi

Dated: 30.04.2010

When josh Malihabadi first migrated to Pakistani carrying his baggage of Lucknow Urdu, hosts organizing any Mushaira or Poetic gathering were nervous wrecks by the time the evening ended, a good part of their time having been spent seating Hafeez Jullundari, (aggressively Punjabi) away from Josh to avoid linguistic bloodshed.

But in a cross-legged, sideways, sliding movement they generally inched towards each other, armed with barbs.

“The national language of hell”, observed Josh “Will probably be Punjabi?”

“In that case you must do a crash course in Punjabi” quipped Hafeez, “because, given your excesses, your descent to hell is guaranteed”.

Such episodes did not derail poetic symposia, rather they added to the ambience. Which cannot be said of Indo-Pak monopoly on arc lamps at SAARC summits.

Imagine a well laid out table for eight, a sit down dinner, where the host expects the conversation to spread evenly between the gregarious and the more retiring, focused preferably on a theme of interest to all the guests. But, violating the table’s d├ęcor, two of the guests seated opposite each other, raise the decibel level, then point knives or, in a tender moment, pluck out flowers from the central vase and exchange them. Every gesture is amplified by the media to a degree that, like a cinema trick, the sit-down dinner dissolves into a session of hugging or wrestling, alternately.

This has been the fate of every SAARC summit since the grouping’s inception in 1985. The sixteenth SAARC summit at Thimpu, capital of Bhutan has been somewhat different partly because the young President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed ticked off two of the most important summiteers for their tendency to keep the focus away from SAARC’s common agenda. Moreover, in the presence of Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, the eighth member of the South Asian grouping, Indo-Pak sparring has become meaningless unless Af-Pak is also brought into the discourse. But there can be no earthly justification even for this enlarged, triangular format, overseen by the Americans, to overwhelm the much more constructive agenda SAARC should address.

It is not as if the absence of Indo-Pak distraction will somehow propel the grouping towards breathless momentum.

In fact the very reason that SAARC was conceived had some negative impulses attending it.

Until 1971, the fiercest phase of the cold war, Indian and Pakistani, foreign policies consisted largely in neutralizing each other’s influence globally. The Bangladesh war of 1971, dramatically altered the geography on the Indian subcontinent. India became a large country surrounded by small neighbours.

It was elementary balance of power politics that each one of the neighbours, without exception, began to flourish a China card tucked away in the top pocket. The Chinese connection would enable them to keep the Indian Gulliver pinned down.

The china card at that period in history had acquired a new potency because the Nixon-Kissinger opening to Beijing had weakened India’s patron, the Soviet Union.

This explains the Morarji Desai led Janata government’s introduction of the phrase “genuine non alignment”, which indicated a shift away from strategic dependence exclusively on the Soviet Union.

Foreign Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing in 1978 had, among its other purposes, a desire to establish links with the “principal” the neighbours were utilizing to balance power. The visit was a bit of a debacle because, ignoring Vajpyee’s advice, the Chinese proceeded to “teach Vietnam a lesson“. Even though Sino-Indian relations went into a cooler again, the Chinese too did not emerge from the conflict with flying colours. They were beaten by Vietnam, a fact the western media acknowledged only three years later. (At the beginning of US-China romance how could they hand defeat to the new ally)

It is interesting that while in ASEAN the predominant impulse is to check Chinese power, the thrust in SAARC is to check one of its own members, India.

In the backdrop of these currents, aspirational statements to build railways, roads, energy links between SAARC and ASEAN are audacious but promising.

BIMSTEC or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation is, after all, a cross regional institution consisting of five SAARC (minus Afghanistan, Maldives and Pakistan) and two ASEAN countries, namely Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

SAARC – Japan special fund is, likewise, a cross regional link. A most encouraging push within SAARC came during Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina’s 2009 visit to New Delhi when Mongla and Chittagong ports were made available for Indian use. Nepal and Bhutan were to be given access to Mongla.

Since sixty years of bilateralism with Pakistan increasingly looks like a chronicle of wasted time, who knows pegging away at a nagging length within ASEAN may wear out the Pakistan establishment’s (not the people, mind you) obstinacy on India.

As Brajesh Mishra said on TV the other day, the Pakistan Army will never give up its absolute grip on three subjects: relations with India, Afghanistan and the nuclear issue. So what does one make of the goodwill coming out of Thimpu.

There is, in a manner of speaking, a triangular space emerging between New Delhi, the Pak Army and the Pak Civilian establishment, with Gilani as its head.

True, Gen. Pervez Ashfaq Kayani is the boss at the moment. But no Prime Minister, however curtailed his power, would be so obsequious as to be standing cap-in-hand outside the Rawalpindi GHQ till the cows come home. It is within something like the SAARC framework that Gilani can take baby steps towards real integration in SAARC and with countries within SAARC including India.

Otherwise politics can be played by all sides. Gilani proposed to the visiting Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister trilateral cooperation with Kabul. Well to the Karzai – New Delhi equation can be added Teheran. President Ahmedinijad’s visit to Kabul (Iran is present in Thimpu as observer) or President Pratibha Patil forthcoming state visit to China are all signs of global flux. The Global economy in Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s famous words is in “Freefall”, Greece came close to default. This is the time for nimble movement in SAARC and outside.

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