September 01, 2014

I am a PhD too

Kirti Dua

I booked my railway ticket in IIIrd AC of Hemkunt Express for my journey from Jammu to Ludhiana. On the day of the journey, I boarded the train and kept my suitcase underneath my lower berth. On the opposite lower berth a middle-aged lady was lying.

A gentleman boarded the train, and after having a glance at the berth, told the lady that it was his seat. The lady replied that the TTE had allotted this seat along with four other seats to her family members. The man got annoyed and told the lady in a little loud voice that he had a proper reservation for the seat. He was well-educated and a PhD, neither the TTE nor that lady could befool him.

In the meantime, her husband came and after a careful examination of the ticket of the gentleman, told him to go to IInd AC compartment as his reservation was for that class. The husband of the lady then said that a PhD did not guarantee wisdom and common sense; one had to be careful and alert. After listening to all this conversation, I said to myself that 'I am a PhD too, but I am not like that'.

After some time, one couple in their late sixties arrived in the same coupe. They had their seat reservation for the middle and upper berth on my side. They kept their suitcase underneath my berth. Soon after the train chugged off the railway station, we had a good discussion on various aspects. From the discussion, I came to know that the couple was going to Haridwar on some family function and they had the plans to return the same evening by Hemkunt Express.

Then we opened our packed dinner and shared it with each other as a goodwill gesture. Soon after the dinner, the middle berths opened, lights of the coupe were switched off and all slipped into their berths for the night. The train reached Ludhiana at midnight and everybody else in the coupe was sleeping. To avoid inconvenience to others in the coupe, I took out my suitcase gently from underneath the berth without switching on the lights, got down the train, took an auto and reached home. The next morning when I opened the suitcase, there were suits, saris etc in it. Then I realised that my suitcase had got exchanged with someone else's of the same colour, size and shape.

I recalled that when the elderly couple had boarded the train, they had pushed my suitcase forward to fit in their suitcase and that resulted in this mix-up. From a diary in the suitcase, I found a phone number of their son in Delhi. I called him and explained the whole episode. After contacting his parents at Haridwar, he gave me the details of their return journey on Hemkunt Express.

Within 24 hours, I was again at Ludhiana station at midnight and after sincere apologies from my side, we exchanged our black suitcases. It appeared like a scene from a film in which two smugglers exchanged their stuff. The person told me that they really had a tough time because his wife had to attend that function in the same suit she was wearing as her suitcase was exchanged. I was feeling sorry for the couple and at the same time wondering if it was just a coincidence or my PhD too had a role in it.

Dialogue not an end in itself

Hazards of a poorly planned engagement with Pakistan

G Parthasarathy

A diplomatic engagement with a neighbour having territorial ambitions has to be carefully calibrated and executed. Apart from realistically assessing the balance of military and economic power, one has also to carefully assess the neighbour's internal political imperatives and the readiness of its leadership to live at peace, without resort to terrorism. Sadly, there are vociferous sections in India which believe that dialogue with Pakistan is an end in itself, without carefully considering what the available options are. Moreover, has continuing dialogue produced better results than no dialogue at all?

Imran Khan supporters at a rally in Islamabad. The demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri enjoy the backing of the military establishment
Imran Khan supporters at a rally in Islamabad. The demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri enjoy the backing of the military establishment

Pakistan lost its eastern half, 13,000 sq km of its territory in the west, one half of its navy, one-fourth of its air force and army, with India holding 90,368 prisoners of war, in the 1971 Bangladesh conflict. In negotiations in Simla with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, India's most hard-headed Prime Minister was persuaded by some of her key officials that Bhutto would be devastated politically if he went back empty handed from Simla. While returning the 90,368 PoWs was inevitable, what was surprising was the decision to withdraw from 13,000 sq km of Pakistan territory captured by us on the basis of a mere verbal assurance from Bhutto that he would, in due course, settle the Kashmir issue on the basis of the territorial status quo.

Bhutto had no intention of abiding by his verbal commitment. Just over a decade later, Pakistan commenced promoting a communal divide in Punjab. This was followed by the arming and training of disaffected Kashmiri youth to promote an armed insurgency in J&K. Pakistan also sought to exploit "fault lines" in India's body politic. The Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993, where 250 Indians perished, were planned and executed by the ISI. The perpetrator of these blasts, Dawood Ibrahim, resides comfortably in Karachi. He even ventures abroad on a Pakistani passport. ISI-sponsored terrorism grew rapidly alongside continuing "dialogue" with Pakistan.

The bilateral dialogue was called off by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1994 when she found that efforts to coerce India on J&K had not worked. Unlike in the past, Kashmiri youths were becoming increasingly wary of crossing the LoC. What followed was the induction of Pakistani nationals from the ISI-backed terrorist outfits like Jaish e Mohammed, Harkat ul Mujahideen and Lashkar e Taiba. This shift in Pakistani strategies from support for a "freedom struggle" of Kashmiris to a jihad by terrorists occurred, not because of any "composite dialogue," but because of ground realities. Moreover, it was during this period that, thanks to imaginative political initiatives and effective policing, Pakistan-backed militancy in Punjab ended. Terrorists from Babbar Khalsa and the ISYF, however, still live across our borders.

Prime Minister Inder Gujral initiated discussions with Nawaz Sharif on a "Composite Dialogue Process," in which the centrality of terrorism was not emphasised. Terrorism was merely put on the same pedestal as drug smuggling! The first round of this dialogue was held in 1998, after the nuclear tests. Determined to ensure that India was seen as sincere in its quest for peace, Mr. Vajpayee visited Lahore, only to find that rather than promoting peace, the resumption of the dialogue was accompanied by Pakistani intrusions, leading to the Kargil conflict, amidst dire Pakistani threats of nuclear escalation. President Musharraf's subsequent visit to Agra was followed by the attack on India's Parliament in December 2001. Structured dialogue alone was clearly no recipe for peace and good neighbourly relations.

The military standoff after the Parliament attack and the post 9/11 American invasion of Afghanistan, forced General Musharraf to think afresh. He proposed a ceasefire across the LoC and promised that "territory under Pakistan's control" would not be used for terrorism against India. While Musharraf abided by his commitments, where the UPA government went horribly wrong was in presuming that a weak democratic government led by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, a well-meaning Sindhi Shia, would be able to rein in the jihadi propensities of Gen Ashfaq Kayani, a hard line Islamist. New Delhi underestimated the significance of the deadly ISI-sponsored attack on our Embassy in Kabul in August 2008. What inevitably followed was the terror strike of 26/11 in Mumbai. The public outcry that followed the disastrous summit diplomacy in Sharm-el Sheikh forced the UPA government to tread warily thereafter.

Given what followed the 2008 terrorist attack on our Embassy in Kabul, New Delhi should not underestimate the significance of the attack on our consulate in Herat, just on the eve of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Delhi. The recent demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri clearly enjoy the behind-the-scenes backing of the Pakistani military establishment. The army has indicated that it will assist Nawaz Sharif. But in return for this support it has demanded that Sharif "must share more space with the army". To expect that in these circumstances, Nawaz Sharif can deliver India's concerns on terrorism, or promote trade and energy cooperation significantly will be wishful thinking. The tough stance that India has taken on the links of the Pakistan establishment with Hurriyat at least conveys that it is not going to be "business as usual" with Pakistan, especially if it continues with ceasefire violations, while abetting terrorism in India and threatening our diplomatic missions and nationals in Afghanistan.

In her meticulously researched book "The Pakistan Army's Ways of War" American academic Christine Faire notes that in order to deal with Pakistani army policies which undermine US interests and seek to destabilise India, the US should consider means to "contain the threats that emanate from Pakistan, if not Pakistan itself". This is the first time a reputed American academic has spoken of the need to "contain" Pakistan. Clearly, this cannot be done by merely chanting the mantra of "uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue" with Pakistan. While a measured engagement with whoever rules Pakistan is necessary, it has to be complemented with measures to tighten internal security, enhance our military capabilities and raise the costs for Pakistan, if it pursues its present efforts to "weaken India from within". 

Obama’s another pause on Syrian front

Saturday, 30 August 2014 | S Rajagopalan | in Oped

A year after shelving plan to airstrike Assad forces, the US faces a similar predicament in Syria after declaring to 'do what is necessary' against the Islamic State in the wake of the gruesome killing of James Foley

Exactly a year ago, President Barack Obama was bracing for a military strike against Syria as America's long-time bete noire Bashar al-Assad crossed the "red line" with his alleged use of chemical weapons. However, after all the sabre-rattling for nearly a fortnight, Mr Obama reversed course when confronted by unexpectedly massive domestic headwinds, both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, with his camp-followers not relishing the sight of an "anti-war President" launching his own war. Much to his relief, Russia, using its clout with Assad, came up with a diplomatic proposal for international control of Syria's chemical weapons, and Mr Obama lost little time to hit the pause/eject button.

A year later, Mr Obama faces a similar predicament in Syria, the only difference being the target this time is not President Assad, who is still sitting pretty, but a ruthless outfit which has been battling for his ouster — the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As a prelude to possibly taking the battle to ISIS' safe havens in Syria, Mr Obama ordered surveillance flights over Syria earlier this week to gather the requisite intelligence. That came on the heels of the ISIS' cold-blooded execution of American journalist James Foley and posting its savagery online. If the dispatch of spy planes and comments by some top aides triggered speculation of imminent military action, Mr Obama took everyone by surprise by hitting the brakes on Thursday, saying he has no strategy as yet.

For the time being anyway, Mr Obama appears to have beaten yet another hasty retreat on the Syrian front, just days after one of his top aides asserted that the United States would "do what is necessary" against the Islamic State militants in Syria in the wake of the gruesome killing of Foley. "If you come against Americans, we are going to come after you," Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes had declared, adding: "We're actively considering what's going to be necessary to deal with that threat and we're not going to be restricted by borders."

In contrast to the strongly-worded statements by his aides earlier on, Mr Obama is now offering a more sober assessment. As he puts it, "Rooting out a cancer like ISIL (official acronym for the ISIS) will not be quick or easy, but I'm confident that we can and we will." Far from pushing ahead with a unilateral strike, he now speaks of the need for a long-term strategy to deal with the ISIS for which he would be sending his Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to build a coalition of "strong regional partners". For now, the US proposes to confine itself to continuing with the airstrikes against the ISIS within Iraq.

Mr Obama's pause on the Syrian front, pending finalisation of a regional strategy and putting together a coalition of willing, came about just as clutches of lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, began to demand that the President seek Congressional authorisation before expanding the military offensive against  the ISIS from Iraq to Syria. It also came on a day when The New York Times cautioned editorially: "There are too many unanswered questions to make that decision now and there has been far too little public discussion for Mr Obama to expect Americans to rally behind what could be another costly military commitment."

There has also been a steady commentary in the American media that the one man who would benefit the utmost from a US crackdown on the ISIS in Syria would be none else than Mr Assad. "It is not the case that the enemy of my enemy is my friend," commented Mr Rhodes. And when the question was put to Mr Obama himself at the White House presser, he said dismissively: "I don't think this is a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we've been seeing there. We will continue to support a moderate opposition inside of Syria in part because we have to give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad."

In its anxiety to distance itself from the narrative of unwittingly helping Mr Assad, the Obama administration has, in recent days, dismissed the Syrian warning that the United States cannot act unilaterally, but only with its approval and cooperation. "Any breach of Syrian sovereignty by any side constitutes an act of aggression," asserted the country's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, only to be countered by the State Department, with spokesperson Jen Psaki retorting: "We're not going to ask for permission from the Syrian regime."

If some lawmakers are relieved that President Obama is not plunging the military into Syria, there are others, predominantly on the Republican side, who are inclined to support an offensive against the ISIS. That includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants the president to work with America's allies and develop a strategy. Reacting to the Obama announcement, he commented: "Don't forget, the threat from ISIL is real and it's growing — and it is time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response."

The broad view among experts and military advisers is that the Islamic State militancy cannot be defeated without going after the group inside Syria. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey believes the Islamic State, right now a region threat, would soon be posing a threat to both America and Europe. He believes that the ISIS must be pressured both in Iraq and in Syria.

Ryan Crocker, a former US Ambassador to Syria and Iraq, is a strong proponent of expanding the offensive to Syria. "The rise of the ISIS presents the gravest threat to United States national security since 9/11," he wrote in the NYT, warning Americans: "This Al Qaeda mutant is far better armed, equipped and financed than the original. Unlike any variant of Al Qaeda since 9/11, it controls significant territory where, secure from attack, it has the space and time to plan its next set of operations. Anyone who believes the US is not on that list is delusional."

(The writer is Washington correspondent, The Pioneer)


 - India is itself partly responsible for the Hurriyat blowback
Kanwal Sibal


Pakistan created an abnormal situation by asking its high commissioner to meet the Hurriyat leaders despite the Indian foreign secretary's "advice" against such a move. Advice like this is not given normally to a foreign envoy unless an issue of high political sensitivity to the host government is involved. But, if given, the expectation is that it will be accepted. A foreign envoy has to maintain a functional relationship with his host government that can be seriously impaired if a confrontational choice is made. After all, the advice to the high commissioner was against meeting a category of Indian citizens on Indian soil — a request that did not abridge his country's sovereignty on its own territory. So, it is aberrant of the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson to raise the issue of Pakistan's "sovereignty" in this context.

Pakistan cannot argue that it has a sovereign right to override India's sovereignty on Indian soil, and therefore its envoy can act as he chooses in the exercise of that sovereignty. Pakistan considers Jammu and Kashmir as "disputed" territory and does not recognize India's sovereignty over it. Following this logic, the high commissioner could insist on going to Srinagar and meet the Hurriyat there without the permission of the government. He had the option of protesting against the Indian "advice", drawing attention to the occurrence of such meetings earlier and the political debit for Pakistan in case he failed to meet the Hurriyat before the foreign-secretary-level talks. He could have made his protest public, but he was diplomatically obliged to respect the political advice of the Foreign Office. By failing to adopt this sensible course, the Pakistan high commissioner has grossly violated diplomatic norms. Worse, he escalated matters and graduated from rejecting the Indian advice to showing contempt for it by having a second round of meetings with the separatists. He then decided to be triply offensive by declaring to the press that what he did was helpful to "peace".

Such conduct cannot be overlooked. It is one thing to cancel the foreign-secretary-level talks, but it is another to specifically deal with the violation of diplomatic norms by the Pakistan high commissioner and lay down the rules for the future applicable to other embassies in India too, whose meetings with Hurriyat leaders give the latter political relevance and stature. It is normal for foreign diplomats to meet Opposition leaders, but not secessionists. The fact that the government itself may open channels to them is not a reason for foreign missions to do so. The government does not interfere in its own internal affairs by negotiating with insurgents or separatists, representatives of foreign countries do so by engaging them. A good case, therefore, exists for expelling the Pakistan high commissioner, or, at least, placing curbs on the functioning of the mission. The government may not want to go beyond the cancellation of foreign-secretary-level talks at this stage to avoid being accused of over-reacting — a charge already being levied against the government by those in India who refuse to give up hope of befriending Pakistan through forbearance and generosity. It may not also want to prematurely bury Narendra Modi's ambition to strengthen ties with neighbours and reinvigorate SAARC.

We are ourselves responsible, in part, for the blowback on the Hurriyat issue. The rationale of allowing Pakistanis to hobnob with the secessionists under the nose of our government has not been clear. To believe that this would assist in finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue would have been quixotic. Surely, when Pakistanis talk to the Hurriyat, it is not to encourage them to politically reconcile with Delhi, cease their disruptive activities, participate in the elections to establish their political credentials and seek redress for their grievances through the democratic process. The secessionists no doubt give to the Pakistanis self-serving versions of internal developments in J&K, get closed-door instructions on political strategies to pursue to keep the Valley on the boil, and, no doubt, tie up arrangements for fund transfers. We generously facilitate contacts between ISI operatives in the Pakistani mission and their tools in the Valley.

If there is an obscure purpose in allowing this interaction between Pakistanis bent on making mischief in Kashmir and the Hurriyat equally committed to this goal, is there evidence of that objective being met all these years? The Hurriyat continues to foment anti-Indian sentiments in the Valley and pursue its communal agenda. If keeping these elements in play prevents more radical elements from taking over, and, in that sense, they are a lesser evil to be tolerated, then this strategy has failed.

The Pakistani argument that there was nothing objectionable in the high commissioner entertaining the Hurriyat leadership because such meetings have occurred regularly in the past and India has tolerated them is specious. It is true that India has made only weak noises of disapproval when such meetings have occurred earlier, or even scoffed at them as if they were inconsequential. The Hurriyat, we claimed, had little political standing, with their writ not going beyond their immediate parishes. We even let their leaders travel to Pakistan and to conferences of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with insouciance.

If this was a show of confidence that the internal situation in J&K was completely under our control and the busybody Hurriyat was a minor nuisance, then we were ignoring ground realities — not so much as regards the Hurriyat, but the perturbing change in the religious tenor of the Valley away from Sufism to more radical Sunni ideologies linked to Saudi Arabia. In any case, we are not obliged to perpetuate past errors. Pakistan's contacts with the Hurriyat are not covered by common law, in that as this practice has continued for years it has become a right. It is entirely up to us to decide when we decide not to overlook contacts between an external enemy and an internal one.

Those in India who have criticized the government's decision to cancel foreign-secretary-level talks as an over-reaction to a trivial issue ignore some vital aspects. If meetings with the Hurriyat are so unimportant intrinsically because this group is a declining force, then why should meeting them be so important for the Pakistanis, to the point that meeting them is considered more crucial than having a dialogue with India? The Hurriyat contests India's sovereignty over J&K and wants a solution in consultation with the wishes of the people in accordance with UN resolutions — a traditional Pakistani position now being more forcefully re-asserted by Nawaz Sharif.

By allowing the Kashmiri separatists to meet the Pakistani leaders in New Delhi, we acknowledge that Pakistan has a legitimate political role in the Valley, conceding, in the process, extra-territorial rights to Pakistan in J&K. We also help boost Pakistan's propaganda about resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir embodied by the Hurriyat, undermining, as a consequence, the government and mainstream parties in Kashmir, who are made to appear lacking in popular legitimacy despite periodic elections. That a country deeply involved in terrorism in J&K is also allowed to have political consultations with a section of the Kashmiris is difficult to understand. It is good that this ridiculous state of affairs is sought to be ended now.

The author is former foreign secretary of India