Archive for the ‘ Desi ’ Category

U.S. Aims to Ease India-Pakistan Tension

By Peter Spiegel and Matthew Rosenberg for The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama issued a secret directive in December to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without détente between the two rivals, the administration’s efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer.

Pakistani Rangers (L) and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel perform the daily retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan Border at Wagah on December 26, 2009. The directive concluded that India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region, according to people familiar with its contents.

The U.S. has invested heavily in its own relations with Pakistan in recent months, agreeing to a $7.5 billion aid package and sending top military and diplomatic officials to Islamabad on repeated visits. The public embrace, which reached a high point last month in high-profile talks in Washington, reflects the Obama administration’s belief that Pakistan must be convinced to change its strategic calculus and take a more assertive stance against militants based in its western tribal regions over the course of the next year in order to turn the tide in Afghanistan.

A debate continues within the administration over how hard to push India, which has long resisted outside intervention in the conflict with its neighbor. The Pentagon, in particular, has sought more pressure on New Delhi, according to U.S. and Indian officials. Current and former U.S. officials said the discussion in Washington over how to approach India has intensified as Pakistan ratchets up requests that the U.S. intercede in a series of continuing disputes.

Pakistan has long regarded Afghanistan as providing “strategic depth”—essentially, a buffer zone—in a potential conflict with India. Some U.S. officials believe Islamabad will remain reluctant to wholeheartedly fight the Islamic militants based on its Afghan border unless the sense of threat from India is reduced.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already taken the political risk of pursuing peace talks with Pakistan, but faces significant domestic opposition to any additional outreach without Pakistani moves to further clamp down on Islamic militants who have targeted India.

U.S. and Indian officials say the Obama administration has so far made few concrete demands of New Delhi. According to U.S. officials, the only specific request has been to discourage India from getting more involved in training the Afghan military, to ease Pakistani concerns about getting squeezed by India on two borders.

“This is an administration that’s deeply divided about the wisdom of leaning on India to solve U.S. problems with Pakistan,” said Ashley Tellis, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has discussed the issue with senior officials in the U.S. and India. “There are still important constituencies within the administration that have not given up hope that India represents the answer.”

India has long resisted outside involvement in its differences with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir. But, according to a U.S. government official, a 56-page dossier presented by the Pakistani government to the Obama administration ahead of high-level talks in Washington last month contained a litany of accusations against the Indian government, and suggestions the U.S. intercede on Pakistan’s behalf.

The official said the document alleges that India has never accepted Pakistan’s sovereignty as an independent state, and accuses India of diverting water from the Indus River and fomenting separatism in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signaled that Washington isn’t interested in mediating on water issues, which are covered by a bilateral treaty.

The White House declined to comment on Mr. Obama’s directive or on the debate within the administration over India policy. The directive to top foreign-policy and national-security officials was summarized in a memo written by National Security Adviser James Jones at the end of the White House’s three-month review of Afghan war policy in December.

An Indian government official said the U.S.’s increasing attention to Pakistani concerns hasn’t hurt bilateral relations overall. “Our relationship is mature—of course we have disagreements, but we’re trying not to have knee-jerk reactions,” the Indian official said.

According to U.S. and Indian officials, the Pentagon has emerged in internal Obama administration debates as an active lobbyist for more pressure on India, with some officials already informally pressing Indian officials to take Pakistan’s concerns more seriously. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. government’s prime interlocutor with the powerful head of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has been among the more vocal advocates of a greater Indian role, according to a U.S. military official, encouraging New Delhi to be more “transparent” about its activities along the countries’ shared border and to cooperate more with Pakistan.

In interviews, U.S. military officials were circumspect about what specific moves they would like to see from New Delhi. But according to people who have discussed India policy with Pentagon officials, the ideas discussed in internal debates include reducing the number of Indian troops in Kashmir or pulling back forces along the border.

“They say, ‘The Pakistanis have this perception and you have to deal with the perception’,” said one foreign diplomat who has discussed India’s role with Pentagon officials. An Indian defense ministry spokesman said his country’s army has already moved about 30,000 troops out of Kashmir in recent years.

The State Department has resisted such moves to pressure India, according to current and former U.S. officials, insisting they could backfire. These officials have argued that the most recent promising peace effort—secret reconciliation talks several years ago between Indian Prime Minster Singh and then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf—occurred without U.S. involvement.

Advertisements

Pakistan and India Are Back At the Peace Table

By Manzer Munir

Islamabad, Pakistan- India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is scheduled to visit Islamabad later this month as both India and Pakistan are back on track to resume their high level diplomatic talks. The discussions between the two so far are considered “preliminary” and are a “first step” in the words of Secretary Rao. She had earlier restated India’s concerns about terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and provided additional information related to the Mumbai attacks. Her counterpart in Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, stated that “Pakistan is doing all that it can to fight terrorism”. Expressing his sympathy with the victims of the Mumbai attacks, he focused on Pakistan’s core concern that “terrorism should be looked at more broadly”. He believes that the two countries should address the root causes of the terror campaign and, from that perspective; Kashmir is the “core issue.” Pakistani officials believe that if India was a bit more flexible on Kashmir, then all the outstanding issues between the two countries can be resolved.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is believed to sincerely desire to make a “breakthrough” in relations with Pakistan and has been vocal about it too in recent interviews. During the elections last year, he had highlighted his efforts to promote back-channel diplomacy for conflict resolution during the rule of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He also met last year with the current Pakistani Prime Minister to pledge to resume peace talks.

In Pakistan there also appears to be a significant shift in foreign policy. The American and Pakistani militaries and intelligence agencies are working closely and have had some recent successes together to stop the al Qaeda-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US commanders have been full of praise of the Pakistan army and its recent offensives against the Taliban. The Pakistani army has disrupted the al Qaeda and Taliban network over most of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This has come at a steep price as more than 2,500 soldiers have been killed.

This sacrifice by the Pakistan army has not gone unnoticed as the United States has increased both military and economic aid to Pakistan. The US is nudging both India and Pakistan to the peace table since a peaceful border with India will allow Pakistan to focus entirely on its western border at the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. This will facilitate the Obama administration’s ability to eradicate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda once and for all from the region with Pakistan army’s help.

For far too long since Pakistan’s independence, the army has always felt India to be the biggest threat to the nation’s sovereignty and freedom. But for the first time in its history, an enemy has surfaced and proven to be much more detrimental to Pakistan’s survival as a nation and security for its citizens. And that enemy and threat is the radicalized groups such as the Taliban both from Afghanistan and inside Pakistan as well as the largely Arab Al-Qaeda network that operates in the area. Also militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and others also pose the biggest threat to the nuclear armed nation. The danger from the extremists has allowed elements inside Pakistan’s army leadership to reconsider the threats to Pakistan.

The dialogue between India and Pakistan has been off again and on again for over 63 years. But in the current climate of mistrust and hatred coupled with tensions still simmering from the Mumbai attacks, there is little room for error on both sides. It is hoped that the upcoming talks prove to be a step in the right direction of normalizing relations between these two nuclear armed neighbors who share almost an 1800 mile long border known in this part of the world as the Berlin Wall of Asia.

Pakistani Makes History as Nation’s First Winter Olympian

By Manzer Munir

Vancouver, Canada- On Tuesday February 23, 2010, Pakistan will field its very first entry into its very first Winter Olympics. While the nation has won three gold, three silver and four bronze medals in its history at the Olympics since becoming a nation in 1947, this is the first time Pakistan will field an athlete for the Vancouver Olympics in Canada. The sole member of Pakistan’s Winter Olympics team is a 24 year old Pakistani skier by the name of Mohammad Abbas. He was the first Pakistani to qualify for a Winter Olympic event and will participate in the Alpine Skiing in the Giant Slalom category.

Mohammad Abbas hails from Pakistan’s northern Nalthar valley near Gilgit, Balistan and the now troubled beautiful Swat valley of Pakistan. For years very popular with the British and since with affluent Pakistanis, this picturesque and scenic area of Pakistan is nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas and receives a good amount of snow fall in the winter months. There are not many ski hills in hot weather Pakistan, but there is one in the Nalthar valley where Abbas grew up as one of the local boys. He grew up in a small village near the ski slopes.

When the idea of creating a ski team first developed, all the candidates were local children. Unfortunately out of the original 9 hopefuls, only Abbas qualified for the Vancouver games. “I started skating in 1995 using homemade wooden skates, which is how all the children in our village used to learn. We didn’t have ski boots so we tied our feet to the skis with traditional woolen foot bindings. It was pretty precarious so we had to get our balance right,” he said.

For Abbas, it has been a long and at times arduous 15 year journey since 1995 when he first took interest in skiing at the age of 9 in his village near the ski slopes of Pakistan’s Nalthar valley watching Pakistani and foreign tourists skiing spurned young Abbas and many of his cousins to take up the sport. In a cricket mad country, not very many people pick up skiing. Very few people in Pakistan can afford ski equipment and also only a very small portion of the country gets snow, so it is a surprise that the nation is even fielding an athlete at the Winter Olympics.

Sitting in the Olympics athletes village in Vancouver, Abbas admits that he does not have the camaraderie or the support of Olympic teammates that most other nations participants share, and he was concerned that he may feel a bit lonely representing his country by himself at such a big stage. But the boy from Nalthar valley was greeted with great enthusiasm and support by the rather large Pakistani Canadian community of British Columbia. “The support from my fellow countrymen has really helped me deal with the lack of teammates,” said Abbas.

Abbas said that he “achieved his ambition through hard work” and hopes he has inspired other Pakistani athletes to take up the challenge and aim for future Winter Olympic games. He also realized that his chances of bringing home Pakistan’s first Winter Olympic gold are very small but he said he wants to finish the race in an “honorable manner and make his country proud.”

Although not expected to medal, he is considered the fastest of the first time entrants to compete in the Giant Slalom that is scheduled to take place at Tuesday. It is perhaps an accomplishment to have finally fielded a Winter Olympics team, but for Pakistan it is also a moral victory to have a young man represent the country from the same troubled yet beautiful valley that has been now for months fighting for its life from Taliban insurgents. He represents not just Pakistan’s Olympic hopes, but the spirit of the people of the area to make the best of their situation and rise above the adversity of their daily struggles in a very beautiful part of the world that has also long been known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan.”

%d bloggers like this: