Gist of The Hindu: November + December 2015

Gist of The Hindu: November + December 2015

Admirable show of restraint

In August 2013, exactly two years ago, 40 experts, comprising the most senior former diplomats, police officials and retired military officers, wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Pakistan. “The policy of appeasement has failed,” they said at a press conference. “A new bipartisan policy is needed that will impose costs on Pakistan for terrorism,” they added. Their letter urged the Prime Minister to cancel the planned talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September 2013, and to call off dialogue with Pakistan altogether. So, it is ironic that one of the chief signatories to the letter is now the man who will lead the next round of talks with Pakistan, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. In his memoir Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years , former advisor to the Prime Minister on J&K, A.S. Dulat, recounts how in October 2003, Mr. Vajpayee announced that the Centre would talk to the Hurriyat leadership. As the former Intelligence Bureau Chief once posted in Pakistan and later head of Vivekananda Foundation, the right-wing think-tank, Mr. Doval’s tough views are well known. That both Mr. Modi and Mr. Doval have moved from “no talks until terror stops” to “talk about terror” is proof of the inevitability of engagement in any Indian government’s Pakistan policy.

In his new role, Mr. Doval has been protecting the talks from multiple challenges. When Pakistan began mortar shelling just days after the Ufa summit, it was the NSA who picked up the phone and called Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit three times to try and lower tensions. After the Gurdaspur attack, it was the NSA and the PMO that ensured that the narrative pointed to terrorists “from Pakistan” as opposed to terrorists “sent by Pakistan.” Again, after Udhampur, the government sent the same message, with a senior official telling the media: “The Pakistani government’s endorsement is not visible in the Gurdaspur attack.” With every provocation that has followed, from the deadly shelling at the LoC that killed several civilians last week to even the Pakistani High Commissioner’s surprisingly sharp speech on Kashmir on Independence Day — the government has responded with restraint.

There is no question, however, that regardless of all that is on the agenda, it is the LoC that needs attention immediately. Casualties on both sides of the LoC have been rising at an alarming rate, and the ceasefire is practically ‘deceased’. A study by the U.S.-based Stimson Center finds that “that the Kashmir divide has become far more volatile since late 2012.” According to the study, the “rate of ceasefire violations” has more than doubled in 2014-15 over preceding years. The two NSAs would do well to hasten the Ufa agreement on holding a meet of the Director Generals of Military Operations, and perhaps include the MEA and even intelligence officials. On the main issue of terror, there is no question that Mr. Doval will have a stockpile of evidence for Mr. Aziz. However, India must focus on the ongoing 26/11 trial in Pakistan, for two reasons. First, because the trial is under way and represents the hope, however slim, that some of the perpetrators may be brought to justice. Second because it represents a unique case where Pakistani investigators have independently confirmed all that India has said about terror groups inside that country.

None of these issues can be discussed, however, unless there is a steady channel for talks between Indian and Pakistani interlocutors. A key takeaway from the NSA-level meeting could be an agreement to set up such a channel, whether a ‘back-channel’ of the kind Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh set up with Mr. Musharraf, or regular meetings of the NSAs, Foreign and Home Secretaries. Prime Ministerial meetings like the one at Ufa, while helpful for the atmospherics, cannot substitute for legwork and hard negotiations. Nor can they substitute for India’s own national security considerations, as those opposed to talks often warn. The government must continue to carry out its responsibilities, whether at the border or anti-terror operations. Only then can India and Pakistan start work on the last part of the Ufa agenda — to construct a basket of agreements and announcements that would make Mr. Modi’s 2016 visit worthwhile. Many of these, such as a new visa regime, Most-Favoured Nation (MFN)-status from Pakistan, and the Sir Creek settlement, have already been negotiated and require only political will to be implemented.

Cynics of Track-1 diplomatic efforts between the two countries could take heart from the resilience of the Track-2 process. The Chaophraya Dialogue that met this month for the 16th Round (of which this writer was a part), for example, continues to draw in diplomats, generals, and other officials who till recently were inside Indian and Pakistani establishments. These are men and women with decades of public experience and meet regularly to discuss the issues confronting India-Pakistan relations. Despite differences, they continue to meet and build a conversation that is eventually conveyed back to their respective governments. Interestingly, they now include some of those who wrote that letter in August 2013. Ahead of the NSA-level talks, one of them described the predicament well. “There is so much ice in India-Pakistan relations, every high-level meeting is seen as an ice-breaker,” he said. It’s time to start chipping away at the ice and shaping building blocks for a lasting solution instead.

All is not smooth on the Silk Road

A new deepwater port that is planned in Myanmar could provide a big boost to the China-backed Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative. Yet, the problems being encountered in setting up the port at Kyaukphyu also show that overcoming ‘soft’ impediments posed by a downturn in China-Myanmar diplomatic ties, issues of human displacement, and environmental protection are equally important to reap the full benefits of this mega project. The Hindu has learnt that ambitious plans are afoot to develop the Kyaukphyu, which, once set up, will become Myanmar’s sole deepwater port. The port, at Ramree Island in the Bay of Bengal, will become operational when the first deep sea berth is set up in 2020. Five other berths will be added in the following decade.

The second phase of the project will commence in 2030 and four additional berths will be added in the remaining six years. “The Yangon port will become saturated by 2020 and therefore establishment of the Kyaukphyu port has become urgent,” said Kyaw Hlaing, president and research director of Myanmar Survey Research, in a conversation with The Hindu . Mr. Hlaing pointed out that once the port clocks a handling capacity of 7 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers, it “will play very significant role in Maritime Silk Road and it will be a game changer for the region, especially for Southwest Provinces of China.” Inspired by the successes of Shanghai and Guangzhou, the Chinese have emerged as the architects of MSR, which will cover coastal zones that spread from parts of the Pacific and Indian Ocean rims to stretches along the Mediterranean coast. The project has the potential to generate millions of jobs through development of ports, marine industry, industrial parks, smart cities, as well as tourism and entertainment centres along a vast Eurasian maritime space. The location of the Kyaukphyu port in the Bay of Bengal is of immense strategic significance, as it can service trade not just with China’s Yunnan province — in itself a gateway to Vietnam and Laos besides Myanmar — but also parts of India. In fact, the natural harbour of Kyaukphyu at one time aided the rice trade between Kolkata and Myanmar. The port will indeed help China avoid the ‘Malacca trap’ by channelling trade through networks that would bypass the U.S. dominated Malacca straits — the narrow passage between Malaysia and Sumatra that links the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. For China, avoiding the Malacca straits has become particularly urgent, as the U.S. has strengthened its military presence in the Pacific under its ‘Asia Pivot’ doctrine.

As Myanmar opens out to the rest of the world, including the West, the once-thriving ties between Myanmar and China seem to have taken a hit, obstructing big infrastructure projects. It is now obvious that the Myanmar government has, for the moment, scuttled a proposed rail project that would have linked Kyaukphyu port with border town of Muse, prior to its eventual extension to Kunming. “The MoU for the rail project that was signed in 2011 expired last year. But with the development of the port and the SEZ, connectivity would be required. So, in the future, we may also consider the construction of the rail,” observes Mr. Hlaing.
The Myanmar government’s earlier decision in 2011 to suspend work on the 6,000 megawatt China-funded Myitsone hydropower dam had already signalled the growing dissonance in Sino-Myanmar ties. Nevertheless, some green shoots have emerged, suggesting that diplomatic relationship between the two countries maybe on the mend. Last month Myanmar authorities, in a goodwill gesture, unexpectedly released 155 Chinese nationals who had been earlier detained for illegal logging. Party-to party-relations between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Myanmar’s influential National League for Democracy (NLD) party have been activated. They were in fact on the top of the agenda, when the NLD leader and Nobel icon Aung San Suu Kyi visited Beijing in June. Nevertheless, the Kyaukphyu project may have to overcome environmental and human displacement concerns. Complaints abound about low compensation paid for land acquired for the SEZ. There are also fears that without vocational training, outsiders would benefit more from the jobs that the project would create. These criticisms once again underscore the point that the compelling economic logic of MSR-linked projects, including Kyaukphyu, can prevail only when an integrated approach, respectful of local conditions and premised on a lawful grassroots-level dialogue, is pursued.

No alternative to talks

The failure of India and Pakistan to hold the planned meeting between their National Security Advisers, as was agreed in Ufa six weeks ago, is unfortunate, indeed disquieting. It should give pause to both Islamabad and New Delhi on what kind of relations they could possibly expect to have in the foreseeable future. Arguments to the effect that there were earlier periods when they had agreed to disagree are at best disingenuous. At Ufa there was a limpid agreement on the agenda for the New Delhi meeting: that the NSAs would “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”. Ufa had also yielded a discernible road map to bring about a modicum of peace and tranquillity along the border and the Line of Control (LoC), which has been witnessing rounds of wanton firing and unacceptable casualties. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj put the number of ceasefire violations since Ufa at 91. Barely a week after Ufa raised modest hopes of an upturn in relations, there was firing in the Akhnoor sector. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar spoke of four attempts made by the Director-General of the Border Security Force to “make telephonic contact with Sector Commander Sialkot” as per laid-down procedures, which met with no response. He mentioned how this was unacceptable. Now, with the prospects of even a limited engagement having receded, the question that arises is: how will the two nuclear-capable neighbours deal with each other?

There is no doubt that through its grandstanding on Kashmir and Hurriyat, Islamabad reneged on the understanding reached in Ufa. It is equally obvious that New Delhi has recalibrated its Pakistan policy, willing perhaps to take a calculated risk that the world would be better disposed to its preferences in the matter of dealing with Pakistan, almost 14 years after 9/11. Yet, the new situation may have willy-nilly rendered India vulnerable to facing gratuitous advice, possibly worse. To assume that those who formulate India’s Pakistan policy believed Islamabad would respect the sudden red line drawn on the Hurriyat, would stretch credulity. The Hurriyat certainly does not have a place in bilateral processes. It is at best a Pakistani side-show with some nuisance value and without much consequence. India had indeed learnt to tolerate that. Now, New Delhi’s actions may have the unintended effect of making the outfit larger-than-life — which is an avoidable prospect. Pakistan has also not covered itself with glory by overloading the agenda with issues that the two NSAs meeting for an hour or two wouldn’t have been able to come to grips with. It is best at this point to open a discreet back channel that ensures better bilateral deliverables than has been the case over the last year and a half. There is simply no alternative to talks.

The fractious demand for ILP in Manipur

Manipur has witnessed a series of protests starting in July this year, following demands for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in the State. The protesters have demanded that the government introduce the ILP bill in the State Assembly. The agitation gained momentum after an 11th grade student from Ananda Singh Higher Secondary Academy, demanding the implementation of the ILP system, was killed when police used teargas to disperse protesters. If the bill is passed and enacted into law, it will require outsiders to obtain a special pass or permit to enter the State. The system is in force in the neighbouring States of Nagaland and Mizoram and also in Arunachal Pradesh.

Initially, the British colonial government had introduced the system to protect its commercial interests, particularly in oil and tea. It was continued to protect the tribal peoples and their cultures. The ILP, which remained in force until 1950, was revoked by the then Commissioner of Assam, whose jurisdiction also covered Manipur. Since Manipur, which attained Statehood in 1972, is not officially a tribal State, there are constitutional challenges to implementing the ILP system. Though the majority Meitei community would have liked to make the demand an inclusive one, the issue has become divisive and in some instances has even taken a communal tone. Among the three major communities of Manipur — Meitei, Kuki, Naga — the ILP system has been demanded only by the Meiteis. As a result, following opposition from the local community, a planned rally in support of the ILP was cancelled in Churachandpur, a predominantly Kuki town.

The Kuki population is wary of the motives of the ILP campaign. The apprehension has recently been heightened by the fact that some within the Meitei community have called the Kukis ‘foreigners’. Though the Kukis are an indigenous group in Manipur, there are some who fear that the Meiteis could use the ILP to advance their stand of Kukis being foreigners. This seems to be an important reason why many within the Kuki community do not support the ILP or the Meiteis’ demand for tribal status.

On August 3, the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM) signed a peace accord in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though the details of this agreement are yet to be disclosed, there is serious concern that Naga-dominated areas within Manipur will be integrated with Nagaland. Given how Telangana was created in 2014, there is a possibility that the Indian government may consider redrawing State boundaries, if it sees potential benefits outweighing the status quo. There is also a lingering question of whether the armed Kuki and Naga groups would reach an agreement on land disputes in the hill areas. Or, will the Indian government hold a political dialogue and sign peace accord with the Kuki groups?

One possible amicable solution for the government is to implement the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas. Under such a political arrangement, the Kukis and Nagas would enjoy autonomy in their respective areas but remain within the State of Manipur.

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