Of politics and diplomacy

July 16th, 2010

Most of us saw the joint press conference in Islamabad, addressed by Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna and Pakistan Foreign Minister Quraishi.

Although the patience of both began to wear a bit thin towards the end, Krishna answered: “that’s your opinion” to a long question by a Pakistan journalist on the ‘rape by Indian Army which is an army of occupation in Kashmir”

My limited question is: would the press conference have gone the same way if it had been Shashi Tharoor in the chair instead of SM Krishna? Curious to know what you think…

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The unanswered question

May 27th, 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s press conference has to have been the most eagerly awaited event this year.

Here is the question I had written down and wanted to ask him. I was not allowed.

“Prime Minister, I live in NOIDA, a Delhi suburb. Last night, the lights went out for seven hours. This is nothing new, they keep going out, but the difference this time was, the lifts stopped because the generator had to be rested. An old gentleman decided to take the stairs to reach his 6th floor flat and had to be admitted to the ICU because his heart couldn’t take the strain. Water couldn’t be pumped up and flushes ran dry. Every citizen of India is familiar with the word ‘load shedding’ You have yourself expressed concern about the power situation in the country. Inclusive politics is all very well, but can you indicate to us by when you will have a power sector that performs and every Indian citizen can expect to turn on the switch and actually have the bulb light up?”

Was this an inappropriate question?

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Tharoor’s other Dubai connection

April 23rd, 2010

Amid the brouhaha about IPL, what has been forgotten entirely is Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor’s efforts to develop his constituency.
When Tharoor left the United nations, he got a new appointment as Chairman of Afras Ventures, a company based in Dubai in quest of investment opportunities primarily in Kerala. Tharoor’s assignment was envisaged as bringing him on long trips to India. At the time he was an NRI. Whether he still is, remains to be investigated.

Afras Ventures was founded by Nandakumar Radhakrishnan who has interests in developing his home state of Kerala. Tharoor was said to have been eager to be associated with the private sector for a public service endeavour like Afras.

Tharoor and Radhakrishnan got in touch with the Chief Minister of Kerala, state finance and education ministers and senior government bureaucrats on potential areas for investment. As the first tranche of investment, Tharoor set up an IT business finishing school in Kerala. The school was entirely funded by the Afras group. It was inaugurated by Governor R L Bhatia last year.

At the launch, Tharoor was quoted by local media as saying: “It’s a world-class facility with trained faculty from abroad.” About Rs 4 crore has been already invested on the Afras Academy for Business Communication (AABC). “More investment will be required, as we target doubling the student capacity soon,” he was quoted as having said. He informed reporters that Tina L Parsons, eminent Speech Language Pathologist and Voice Specialist from New York, had been appointed the Executive Director of Training.

The courses was to commence from June 2009, which means the first few batches must already have passed out. The curriculum was divided into four modules; Language & Grammar, Accent Modification, Presentation Skills and Business Etiquette. The fee for the standard course was Rs 30,000 plus service tax.

Technopark at Kerala capital has earmarked 10,000 sq m for two finishing schools. Part of this space has been alloted to AABC. Technopark has realised that HR development is as critical to IT sector growth as infrastructure development,  RK Nair, CEO, Technopark told reporters.

But why wasn’t Afras Ventures on Tharoor’s affidavit, submitted when he was elected, considering he was still employed by them?


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Who will police the policeman?

March 19th, 2010

Does it bother you that the nature of the Indian State is changing before our very eyes and it is acquiring untrammelled power insidiously?

It bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

The combined twin threats of Islamic radicalism and Left Wing Extremism (LWE) are enabling law enforcement agencies to arm themselves with complex new powers. The courts are much more sympathetic to law enforcers, thanks to all the scare-mongering by TV and newspapers. And it is really hard to see where policing stops and corruption begins.

In 2009, Saji Mohan, an IPS officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre who was decorated for record drug hauls during his tenure in Chandigarh a few years ago, was arrested in Maharashtra for drug peddling. Apparently, he used to seize drugs, under-report the quantity found and stash it away to sell it himself.

Last week, the Goa government arrested four policemen alleged to be engaged in drug peddling, including a highly decorated police officer, Arvind Shirodkar, who was a star buster of drug peddling rings. Shirodkar was arrested on the strength of the testimony of an Israeli drug smuggler in prison.

In Haryana last week, members of the Special Task Force were arrested for extortion.

This is happening because the police force knows the extent of the power it wields: and true, fewer police officials used to be arrested earlier, but the number of officers being put away now suggests the situation is probably worse than we imagined.

Two Muslim boys were arrested on supposed charges of conspiring to blast Mumbai last week. One of them said he was picked up for a love affair with a Hindu girl. In the past you might have scoffed at this. Today, it is entirely possible.

I don’t know about you, but I resent attempts by temples to keep me awake all night and try to invoke the law (SCR: no loudspeakers between 10 pm and 6 am) whenever there is a jagaran in my locality.

Lately when I call 100 to request PCR for a van to put an end to the caterwauling, policemen have taken to asking me what religion I belong to. God knows what they say to Muslims.

It makes my blood boil.

About 20 years ago, when undertrials were blinded in jail, the conscience of India’s civil society revolted and there was a massive uprising of persons in support of civil rights.

Good, honest, righteous men like VM Tarkunde spearheaded that movement. Today, the apathy is frightening.  And yet, the state is either being corrupted or coming into your face to say: ‘Now, behave!”

Are you happy with this infantilisation? Can’t we do something about it?

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Shiv Sena and the loss of relevance

February 13th, 2010

In 1966, when Prabodhankar (a person who spreads the light of knowledge) Keshav Thackeray, who was a leading light of Maharashtra’s social reform movement, announced at a mammoth rally at Mumbai’s historic Shivaji Park, “I am offering my Bal for the cause of Maharashtra,”  Prabodhankar could not have imagined that his son one day would rule the state through his famous remote control, a man who would arouse curiosity, passion and hate across the nation.

The hangover of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement (Movement for United Maharashtra) which created the modern linguistic state of Maharashtra in 1960 had started to subside.

Marathi youth of Mumbai, who courted arrest and zealously participated in the movement to create Samyukta Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital, were waking up to the rude awaking that though Mumbai was Maharashtra’s capital they were not really in control of it.

Businesses were owned by  Gujaratis, Marwaris and Parsees and white collar jobs were going to South Indians, who were fluent in English and trained in accountancy and short-hand. And the new rulers of Mumbai, chief ministers and ministers were not interested in their plight as their constituencies were in far flung rural Maharashtra.

Bal Thackeray, a cartoonist who had walked out of Free Press Journal in a huff in the late 1950s in protest against the management’s stand that Mumbai should be a centrally governed city state, sensed this void and decided to launch a magazine dedicated to cartoons along with his musician brother Shrikant, the father of Raj. The magazine, which was fashioned on the British magazine Punch, was called Marmik (apt comment) and it started poking fun at Gujrati Seths, South Indian clerks, Udupi Hotel owners  and Congress politicians among others – creating enduring steorotypes.

Down the line it also started to publish lists of new recruits in public sector undertakings like SBI, Reserve Bank of India, Air India and LIC  to drive home how sons of the soil were ignored. This list was titled provocatively “Vacha ani swastha Basa” (read and keep quiet).

Marmik’s runaway success attracted a large number of Marathi youth to Thackeray and finally culminated in launch of Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966.

In the first ever public meeting at which Thackeray  listed out his hate objects, interestingly Communists got top billing.  

Thackeray’s pathological hatred of Communists was a handy tool to Congress rulers who wanted to break the stranglehold of Communist and Socialist trade unions in public sector undertakings as well as the private sector in the country’s financial capital.

In fact, Thackeray and then chief minister of the state, Vasantrao Naik, shared so close a relationship that Thackeray’s party was jokingly called Vasant Sena in the state’s political circle.

Because of this, the investigation of the murder, in broad daylight, of  CPI MLA, Krishna Desai never reached its logical conclusion. Some lower rung Sainiks were arrested and a few got convicted.

But Thackeray’s Shiv Sena never grew beyond Mumbai and neighbouring Thane as Maharashtrians in the rest of Maharashtra did not see outsiders as a threat.

In fact, by the early 1980s Sena had even became marginal political player in Mumbai although its fire power was intact.

But once again, Congress chief minister Vasantdada Patil gave a lease of life to Sena. Patil, who wanted to settle scores with then Congress’s Mumbai unit chief Murali Deora, spoke about a conspiracy being hatched to separate Mumbai from the state.

The result  was obvious. The 1985 Mumbai municipal corporation elections were won by the Sena with a thumping majority – a majority that it was not able to achieve even at the height of its anti-South Indian agitation. Chhagan Bhujbal became the Mayor of Mumbai.

Sena, which had alliances with political parties right from the Praja Socialist Party, the Janata Party and even the Muslim League had an alliance with new born Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections.

Although the alliance candidate fail to win a single seat, it garnered sizeable votes in Mumbai. But again, in 1985, Sena and BJP parted ways and contested assembly elections independently.

By this time Thackeray, who had started nursing pan Maharashtra ambitions, sensed popular Hindu polarisation in the country in the wake of the Ramjanmabhumi agitation and the infamous Shahbano case and decided to champion the cause of Hindutva.

And the young general secretary of the BJP, Pramod Mahajan, realised if they teamed up with Sena which had a charismatic leader like Thackeray at the helm of affairs, the two parties could break the Congress monopoly over power in the state. Thus after lot of persuasion Thackeray agreed to contest  the 1989 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the BJP.

The alliance was not without its pitfalls. Mahajan had to use his persuasive skills more with the Sangh and BJP leadership who saw Sena as an organisation of ruffians of little use outside Mumbai. In fact, few know that to this day, BJP leader and former President Dr Murli Manohar Joshi does not share a podium with the Shiv Sena because he feels they are against the Constitution of India.

Apart from the Hindutva plank, the opposition space vacated by Sharad Pawar who had merged his Congress (S) and returned to the Congress fold in 1986 helped Thackeray to spread his party in Marathwada and other regions of the state.

The youth from Marathwada who joined Sena were mostly from upper caste Maratha or Other Backward Classes (OBC)  but not from the elite 96 Kuli (96 families) or Deshmukh Marathas that form the core of Congress politics in the state. These were lumpen youth who were left out or marginalised by Congress’s politics of cooperative institutions.

Chhagan Bhujbal, an important OBC leader from the state, helped Sena bring OBC youth from across the state to Sena’s fold.  However, after the 1990 assembly election, the post of leader of opposition went to Manohar Joshi who went  on to become first non-Congress chief minister of the state and speaker of the Lok Sabha.  Hurt, Bhujbal waited for an opportunity and crossed the floor on the issue of Sena’s opposition to the Mandal commission.

This was a major setback for Sena but the polarised atmosphere which followed the 1992-93 Mumbai riots and blasts, helped Sena to ride to power with its alliance partner in the 1995 Lok Sabha elections.

Aggressive posturing on Hindutva and the active role played by Sena in these riots helped Sena to extend its support base in Mumbai.  Many non-Maharashtrian communities such as Gujaratis, North Indians and Kannadigas helped Sena win 31 assembly seats out of 32 in Mumbai during 1995 election.

Besides taking bold and aggressive positions on the sons of soil issue and Hindutva, its brand of Robin Hood style of politics also helped Sena to gain popularity among the masses.

Shiv Sainik stood between the citizen and corruption, made things work and offered protection in a variety of ways. Nothing is free, so petty criminalisation and extortion lubricated the vast and complex shakha machinery. But by the mid-1980s, the collections of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) were beginning to swell. At the same time, privatisation of development meant the state had to be bypassed in providing many services, in a practical manner. The Shiv Sena filled this breach. 
The rise of the Shiv Sena as a major political force across the state also heralded the rise of the second generation of Thackerays on the political scene.

The 1990s election saw Raj hitting the camping trail and people immediately realized that here was a chip off the old block.

For Swarraj aka Raj Thackeray it was always ‘ like uncle like nephew’, especially because most of his childhood and adolescence years were spent at his uncle’s house at Bandra.

For Raj, Balasaheb’s house was second home as not only were Bal and Shrikant  brothers but his mother Kundatai and Balasaheb’s wife Meenatai were sisters.

Raj was launched in politics by floating the party’s students wing called the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena (ABVS).  By 1995, when the party came to power Raj had established himself as youth leader and crowd puller.

Around the same time Raj’s cousin and Balasaheb’s son Uddhav, Sena’s current working president, was trying to find a foothold in politics. However Uddhav was a reluctant politician, spurred into taking bigger role in the family business by his wife Rashmi.  
How things change. Today the retiring Uddhav is firmly in command of his party, the Shiv Sena’s apparatus, surefooted and calculating, ensuring all future threats – whether it is Narayan Rane, the uncrowned king of the Konkan region in Maharashtra who was thrown out of Shiv Sena; or his cousin Raj who has recently launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS) – represent no challenge to his leadership of the party.

The rift between once inseparable duo of Dadu (Uddhav) and Sonu (Raj)  began with Sena’s rise to power. Within two years of installing Sena’s chief minister at Mantralya, Balasaheb had lost wife Meenatai and elder son Bindumadha. The family patriarch started depending heavily upon Uddhav.

The organisation succeeded so long as there was Balasaheb Thackeray - larger than life, loved, feared, and revered. But he chose his son Uddhav, rather than his nephew Raj, as his formal successor. In this, Thackeray acted predictably and conventionally. He disappointed a lot of his followers. The most important of them, Narayan Rane quit the Sena and spoke out against the infallible Thackeray himself. Raj Thackeray - acknowledged to be the ‘mason’ of the Sena while Uddhav has always been considered the ‘architect’ - also walked out. Confused, the Shiv Sainiks began questioning their leadership and its ideology. Suddenly everything was negotiable. 

When faced with a setback - electoral or political - the Sena’s answer is violence. When they lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1998, Sainiks stormed the concert of Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali, they renewed their attacks on painter MF Hussain for painting nude pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and supported the ransacking of his house by the Bajrang Dal, the youth organisation of the VHP. Sainiks dug up the ground in the Ferozshah Kotla stadium in Delhi prior to a cricket match with Pakistan. They also threatened to attack the newly established bus link between Delhi and Lahore which Prime Minister Vajpayee had just inaugurated. 

But that was all in the past. Uddhav was in charge. Raj, his cousin, couldn’t take it anymore. He left the party and launched his own outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS).

In terms of personality the two are as different as chalk from cheese. Uddhav lacks the charisma, the firebrand oratory and the devil-may-care attitude of his father and cousin Raj. But he overcomes these handicap by being a studious, meticulous planner and hard working politician. 

When Bal Thackeray decided to turn his party from a Maharashtrian to a Hindu outfit, his instincts paid off. He could sense the popular mood in the country and state and exploited it to the hilt to expand the party across the state.  

However, when Uddhav led the party’s popular agitations on issues like  loan waiver, long hours of power cut and crumbling urban infrastructure, it was the result of a well thought out strategy to use popular anti-government sentiment against the government.

The BMC election in 2007 and subsequent victories in municipal elections elsewhere in the state have had the average Shiv Sainik bow their head in deference to Uddhav. But the 2009 Assembly elections saw the Sena lose serious electoral ground to Raj.

This is the key to understand the My Name Is Khan controversy: it is not Shahrukh Khan, and other mishmash of trivial issues. It is the Shiv sena Parivar seeking relevance.

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The travails of Sharad Pawar

January 15th, 2010

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is furious, arguably with just cause. There he was, quietly minding his own business, when whoosh ! Sugar turns Rs 50 a kg, the Uttar Pradesh government starts filing FIRs against sugar mill owners who are also Pawar’s friends and friends in other parties shrug their shoulders and say: ‘Sorry pal, hate to do this, but you should have taken care of things’, following it with the most trenchant attack on an agriculture minister in recent times.

Food inflation is the single most important factor responsible for a rise in inflation. Food prices, especially sugar prices, have gone through the roof. As rise in sugar prices is related to the supply side and production is cyclical, Finance Ministry manadarins say Pawar should have known this and made adequate preparations. Instead, India is going round the world, cap in hand, to buy sugar and is pleading with suppliers not to be unreasonable.
Just as the production of sugar is cyclical, so are Pawar’s political fortunes.

The downfall began somewhere in the beginning of 2005 when Sharad Pawar decided to contest the elections for the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) again. Much of that year was spent first lobbying, then consolidating his position and then trying to free BCCI of the tentacles of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the elements that had caused his defeat earlier. As anyone involved in cricket politics knows, it is hard to reach the pinnacle of the cricket administration empire and harder still to stay there. Understandably it occupied a lot of Pawar’s time and attention. Now, he is president in waiting of the ICC. That too takes time.

Between then and now, it’s been one wild ride, with the general elections and the Maharashtra assembly elections intervening. In December 2009, Sharad Pawar was also elected president of his party for the fourth consecutive term. His party, ever vigilant and sensitive to rising prices, passed this resolution:  “The abnormal rise in prices is causing great difficulty to the common man.  Recent draught situation in certain parts of the country has caused a little spur in the prices of essential articles including vegetables.  But the government is seriously monitoring the situation to make essential commodities available at reasonable prices.  This warrants more intervention by the state government in the market, over and above strengthening of the Public Distribution System which will curtail the rise in prices of essential commodities to some extent.  At the same time the government of India should take effective steps to arrest the tendency of ever
increasing prices of essential commodities.”

Meanwhile, cricket management was also a problem. At the height of the food prices conundrum, the agriculture minister batted at queries by pesky reporters. “I am not an astrologer. I don’t know when sugar prices will come down” he snapped when asked a question. He was a lot more forthcoming about cricket, though. “The ICC will take a decision next week on whether to allow the Feroz Shah Kotla to host World Cup matches in 2011” he said, two days after David Morgan, the ICC president,  had said he was not in favour of a World Cup ban on the venue, which had been classified by the ICC match referee Alan Hurst as “unfit”, the harshest possible assessment after the abandoned fixture between India and Sri Lanka last month.

“I am not going to give any opinion on this issue. The ICC is yet to finally take a decision and the process is on. The BCCI is expecting a response from the ICC probably next month or in two months,” Pawar said after chairing the meeting of the World Cup organising committee in Dhaka earlier in January. “It is the biggest cricketing event in the subcontinent and I am sure the way the preparations have been going on it will be a hugely successful event and security will be no issue. India and Sri Lanka have the prior experience of hosting the World Cup and it will be a great event.”

Really? And sugar prices will come down soon too?

It is useful to remind ourselves what happened with wheat during the last term of the United Progressive Alliance. Then  too, it was Pawar who was agriculture and food minister.
In October-November 2005, it was clear that India was on a brink of a wheat shortage. The Prime Minister began signaling that the Agriculture Ministry should prepare itself for imports. Because procurement by the Food Corporation of India had fallen sharply the previous year and there was a global shortage of wheat, the danger was that wheat supplied to ration shops might fall short.

What did the government do?

The Agriculture Ministry thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it.
The Prime Minister flagged the danger of a wheat shortage in December 2004. Imports began in February 2005. Wheat traders denied strenuously, the charge that in the intervening period they had stashed away the commodity until prices rose. “Where would we store such large quantities” they asked. They also denied charges of round-tripping - wheat procured from India, sent out of India and later resold to the Indian Government after a hefty markup.

Worse followed. There were suggestions from some foreign entities that phytosanitary standards of wheat imported by India had been altered to help other foreign entities. The Ministry realized that the amount of wheat already imported would not be enough so tenders were called for a second tranche. Even before the tenders were opened, in a momentary fit of absentmindedness the Agriculture minister made a policy announcement – that import duty for private sector importers would be slashed from 50 per cent to zero. Sensing a rush of buyers from India, global bidders pushed up prices.

No prizes for guessing what is going to happen with sugar this time.

So tedious. So predictable !

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Learning about Pakistan

December 11th, 2009

Attending a conference of Indians and Pakistanis hosted by the German NGO Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) which is affiliated to the Social Democrat Party (SPD) in Germany, I realized how little we know about Pakistan generally, but specifically about Balochistan. This region has been in the news in Pakistan for some time, but shot into prominence when the India Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt issued by the Prime Ministers of the two countries accepted that Pakistan had concerns about India’s role in Balochistan. The storm this kicked off is well known and there is no need to recount the background. The interesting this about the conference was, there were differences between the Indians and Pakistanis on all other issues. But on Balochistan both sides – I repeat both sides – agreed that Balochistan had been treated very badly for several decades.
Pakistani delegates however, said a new Pakistan was in the making and things were beginning to be set right in Balochistan.

This was most forcefully brought to the forefront by a young journalist, Malik Siraj Akbar who presented a strongly argued paper. Reproduced here, with his permission is a copy of the paper. I have made no changes in it. It shows what a Pakistani Baloch feels about his own country. Reading it, one can understand and sympathise both the Baloch people and the Pakistani state. The Baloch people, because of the way they’ve been treated; the Pakistani state, because it must be so hard to govern a set of people as alienated from the country as those in Balochistan.

I have added some explanatory comments in brackets.

Here is what Malik Siraj Akbar had to say:

The Baloch sense of alienation dates back to the forceful annexation of the Kalat State (present Balochistan) with the fledgling state of Pakistan in 1948. Resentment in Balochistan against Islamabad reached its nadir during the ten-year rule of General Pervez Musharraf. As the former military ruler applied a militaristic solution to a political demand by the Balochs for maximum provincial autonomy and control of the provinces over their natural resources, an organized military operation was unleashed in Balochistan for the fifth time by the country’s military.

The Balochs grumble that they do not control or benefit from their own natural resources nor are they equally represented in the country’s civil and military bureaucracy. (The number of Baloch soldiers in the military is miniscule. And it is the Sui gas fields in Balochistan that provide Pakistan with its entire LNG reserves. The Baloch people get no special royalty from the exploitation of these reserves)  It is the country’s military, not the elected government of Balochistan, that calls the shots in the province, as confirmed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The military operation initiated by General Musharraf led to the killing of former governor and chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti, 79, also a towering Baloch tribal chief, and Nawabzada Balach Marri, a member of the Balochistan Assembly. Hundreds of young Baloch political activists were picked up by the state-controlled intelligence agencies and subjected to “enforced disappearance”. Opposition political leaders were arrested; Talibanization was promoted to counter the Baloch nationalistic movement and American weapons provided to Islamabad to fight the Islamic radicals were used to crush the Baloch nationalistic movement.

Islamabad’s repressive policy was responded by the alienated middle-class educated young Balochs who began to assert overt support for an independent Balochistan. Carrying an appealing slogan for separation, this school of thought has now become the most significant stakeholder of the Baloch conflict. The Baloch armed groups have started to target kill top government servants, burn Pakistan’s flag and stop playing the national anthem in all educational institutions of the province to vent their growing hatred against Pakistan.

For the first time in the Baloch history, women and children have now come out of their homes and joined the movement for an independent Balochistan. These women mostly come from professional medical colleges and view every Baloch leader as a national traitor who believes in coexistence with Pakistan. As the movement for separation gains popularity among the younger generation, it has made it impossible for the moderate nationalistic parties to reconcile with Islamabad on mere economic packages.

Unfortunately, Islamabad is not apologetic about its flawed policies in Balochistan. In an effort to discredit the indigenous Baloch movement, Pakistan has been blaming India and Afghanistan for the unrest in Balochistan, an allegation vehemently and repeatedly spurned by the Baloch leaders.

If Islamabad squanders more time in addressing the genuine Baloch political demand for provision of self-rule, economic justice, equitable representation in the federation and respectful treatment in the federation of Pakistan,  the situation in Balochistan might become very difficult to handle in the near future where a 1971-like situation already prevails. The growingly popular appeal for an independent Balochistan may reach a no-point return if a few more policy blunders are committed by Islamabad rather than ending the ongoing economic exploitation and massive violation of the Baloch rights in the province.

(The non-Baloch Pakistani speakers at the conference were in agreement with most of the above. Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider, former Governor of Sind and former Interior Minister murmured : “Hamse bahut galtiyan hui hain”.

The Baloch people are not homogenous: about 45 per cent of the people are pashtoons and speak pashto. It is the latter who monopolise the Baloch regiment in the Pakistan Army. Hence the rest of the Baloch population finds no voice.)

Journalist Mariana Babar who attended the conference agreed with Siraj for the most part but disagreed on India’s role. Babar said insurgency was nothing new to Balochistan, but it rose in 2002 and it almost at one stage appeared uncontrollable by 2006 after the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti who like other leaders was always willing to talk to Islamabad . This saw his grandson Bramdagh Bugti starting an armed struggle who commands the Balochistan Liberation Army.

Soon there was alienation from the Marri tribe as well whose commander Balaach Marri was killed in 2007, with no-one claiming responsibility.

Even the Khan of Kalat, today in exile is asking for moving the International Court of Justice and the UN, she said. The youth  have killed many Punjabis and Urdu speaking people settled in Balochistan. Sectarian killings are rampant where those from Hazara community are singled out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jundullah, the latter a Sunni extremist group which recently took responsibility for terror attacks in Iran. Babar said the issue of Indian interference inside Balochistan had been flagged at the meeting between Gilani and Singh at Sharm-el-Sheikh. But added that recently, the Pakistan government came out publicly to name India as one of the external factors which are aiding insurgency inside Balochistan. However when the American Ambassador in Islamabad , Anne Peterson was questioned about this, she said that Pakistan had not shared any such intelligence regarding India, but if they did, the US would take action. She did not elaborate what she meant by ‘action’.

The fact is Balochistan is one of the many landmines Pakistan is sitting on. Former Pakistan Ambassador to India, Aziz Ahmad Khan, while not denying any of the arguments, said the Baloch people had been sensible in not letting the mullahs get into Balochistan. The Gods must be thanked for small mercies !!

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Ham Sab Ek Hain

November 13th, 2009

Reproduced below are excerpts from a 48-page report of the Competition Commission of Pakistan on the sugar shortage currently on in Pakistan. The CCP was asked by the Supreme Court to file a report. Who/what does this reminds you of? One guess:

  • As will be revealed later in this Report, the Government of Punjab admitted during the hearings held by the Commission that no professional exercise was done to arrive at the cost of production-related data while fixing the “support price”. 
  • Punjab government’s crackdown adversely affected the supply-chain — trucks belonging to the USC were stopped from carrying sugar across provincial lines as well. 
  • This crisis of non-availability was precipitated, in particular, by the actions of the Government of the Punjab in August 2009 when it sealed the sugar mills and seized the stocks lying with the mills. This contributed in a most direct manner to interference with the normal demand-supply linkages of the sugar market. The panic on the part of the provincial governments disturbed these linkages to the detriment of all stakeholders, especially those on the supply-side such as sugar mills, dealers and retailers. 
  • It is the Commission’s considered view that the present crisis did not arise because of a price hike but more so because of mismanagement on the part of the Federal and particularly the provincial governments. The crisis actually began when the Punjab government panicked at the rising sugar prices in August and sealed sugar mills while seizing the stocks lying with them.

As they say in Hindi “ham sab ek hain” (we’re all the same) 

With grateful thanks to fiverupees.com  


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Bridging the great divide

October 25th, 2009

The Delhi-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation is a non Government Organisation (NGO) working with the specific problem of Indian and Pakistani citizens in the two Kashmirs – Azad Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir. These problems are human, and in many cases are stories of great pain that only divided families, torn apart for no fault of theirs by forces of the state, can feel. Sixty four participants representing all communities and regions of J&K, Azad Kashmir as well as India, Pakistan participated at an Intra-Kashmir Conference,  titled, Jammu-Kashmir: Opportunities and Challenges Ahead, from October 9 to 11 at Srinagar.
The conference was the first major initiative on Kashmir taken by civil society since  the Mumbai terror attack last year and was held in difficult circumstances. The organizers believe that  when governments stop talking, there was far greater responsibility  on civil society to ensure that the communication channels are kept open to build public opinion that would eventually nudge the governments to resume dialogue.
Representatives of different political parties and separatist groups, members of trade bodies from J&K and AJK took part in the three-day deliberations. The themes of the conference sessions included –  What can help the dialogue process to move forward; What Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) can help in addressing the trust deficit, and expanding economic cooperation across the Line of Control (LoC).
The recommendations of the representatives are interesting in a state where the problems are endemic but have been put aside by India as well as Pakistan because of so many other pressing issues facing both countries. However, it is useful to bring these centre stage. 
Without going too deeply into it, the group endorsed the Prime Minister’s approach as spelt out at the Sharm el Sheikh conference in Egypt where he met Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani: it felt terrorism should be delinked from dialogue and for maximum gains, the progress in the peace and normalization process should not just be result oriented but must be time-barred as well.
The two Kashmirs have been talking. But there are practical problems. A communication infrastructure needs to be erected. One radical suggestion was that  institutions like universities and cultural associations need to open up branches for joint collaboration.
Trade across the Line of Control began in October 2008  but has been continuously facing obstacle. The suggestions from delegates to the conference were practical and urgent in nature. Though the traders were keen to work on a vision document for generating a shared understanding on the future prospects of trade, the need was felt for  multiple entry passes for the traders engaged in the LoC trade. Once this is agreed upon, the Joint Federation of Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry should be given the authority to recommend the members from their respective sides for multiple entry trade passes.
At this point, traders wanting to go to either side of the  Line of Control are hostage to the Cross-LoC bus services. Delegates felt traders should be allowed to use their own cars till the LoC crossing points. They also felt they were working blind and unless there were periodic meetings of traders on both sides, it was hard to assess supply and demand.
Infrastructure on both sides is a problem. Traders wanted an expansion of loading and unloading areas at the LoC clearance points. What would be really helpful, they said was warehousing facilities. Banking and postal facilities were an immediate necessity. Roads and bridges  needed improvement on both sides so that at least trucks carrying 15 tonne loads can pass over.
Traders also felt that it was not just the manner of doing trade but also the items to be traded, on which fetters should be removed. Today, officials in India and Pakistan decide what items to trade in. This should be left to market forces. Traders on either side should have the opportunity of placing the list of items in demand on the particular side, for information of the traders on other side, at the Trade Facilitation Centres.
To remove transport bottlenecks, traditional routes between both sides could be opened with priority to the routes with trade potential. – traders demanded, specifically, the following Cross-LoC links: Chhamb-Jourian, Handwara-Nawkoot, Nowshera-Khoiratta and Kargil-Skardu.
There are some items like tomato and onion which have a unique supply demand and price structure equation on both sides. For example, the price of tomato has been shooting to Rs 120/KG in AJK but when supplies are made available from J&K, the prices have often come down to Rs 60/KG. The same is the case with onions on the Indian side of LoC. This can be corrected if market forces are allowed free play. Today, LoC trade is permitted only on a few fixed days of the week. It should be allowed on all days.
For families that divided, life is especially difficult. The conference felt that travel facilities should be thrown open for all the subjects of the state instead of only the members of the divided families.  The group also suggested that the status of the travel applications should be made known to the applicants online. The participants were unanimous in their demand that the travellers from both sides be allowed to ride across in private vehicles.
The group greatly felt the need of establishment of a joint disaster management institution to play its role in the face of any calamity that hits the Himalayan region which sits over a seismic fault line.
The group also recommended that both governments in Muzaffarabad and Srinagar should cooperate with each other in rehabilitation, settlement and return of the displaced persons, as the case may be. 
But is anyone listening ?

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Commonwealth chaos

September 18th, 2009

He can take heart from the fact that if the Commonwealth Games are a washout, it won’t be because of Suresh Kalmadi alone. Several countries are getting really leery about the security situation and want a guarantee that no terrorist attack will occur while the games are on.

The high commissioner of one such western country was arguing earlier this week at dinner that sporting federations in his country were extremely reluctant to come to India: not because India was unsafe per se, but because you never know who might take it into their heads to bomb an international sporting event.

A former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief argued that if sporting federations were going to opt out of the games on these grounds, then we might as well shut down embassies and high commissions. Sporting groups, he said, are generally fearful of risks. And while being risk averse is fine, surely law enforcement authorities have not become so effete that they will be mute spectators to a country’s sovereignty being undermined.

At the end of the day, every country, including India, has to take a call: how must we fight terrorism? By bowing to both terrorists and sporting federations? Because if that is going to be the case, we might as well forget about anyone taking part in world sporting events like the Olympics in the future.

But then, it is also true that if an incident like the Lahore cricket match, where the Sri Lankan team was nearly blown up but for the sagacity of one bus driver, takes place the confidence of sportsmen is deeply shaken. That’s why the British badminton team withdrew from Hyderabad and earlier the Australian team declined to take part in another sporting event in Chennai.
If is clear that the Commonwealth games, in addition to being a sporting and managerial  challenge, are also going to be a security and defence challenge. It is a cliché but India’s prestige is at stake.

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