Tuesday, August 18, 2015

From ‘No Talks Until Terror Stops’ To ‘Talk About Terror’: New Age Islam’s Selection from Indian Press, 18 August 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau
18 August 2015
From ‘No Talks Until Terror Stops’ To ‘Talk About Terror’: Show Of Admirable Restraint
By Suhasini Haidar
Pakistani Punjab's Home Minister's Killing in Terrorist Suicide Bombing: Pakistan’s New Normal
By Khaled Ahmed
Why Gulzar’s Work Remains Fresh After All These Years
By Abhijit Bhaduri
Is Thailand’s Hindu Past under Attack?
By Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
From ‘No Talks Until Terror Stops’ To ‘Talk About Terror’: Show of Admirable Restraint
By Suhasini Haidar
August 18, 2015
That we have moved from ‘no talks until terror stops’ to ‘talk about terror’ proves how crucial diplomatic engagement is in any Indian government’s Pakistan policy
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.
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. According to Mr. Dulat, “Everyone in the room was startled.” When asked who would lead the talks, he said, “Advaniji, of course,” thus nipping in the bud any dissent by putting the person most opposed to the talks in the forefront.
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.
Clearly restraint will be much needed this week in the run-up to the talks themselves. Mr. Doval’s task as he prepares to meet Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz on August 23 in Delhi is three-fold: first, to put forth India’s case on terror emanating from Pakistan; second, to blunt Mr. Aziz’s attempts to draw an equivalence to alleged Indian activities in Balochistan and Khyber; and third, to put in place a series of interactions that ensure a productive visit to Pakistan by Prime Minister Modi for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in 2016.
Line out of control
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 Centre 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 implementation of the Ufa agreement on holding a meet of the Director Generals of Military Operations, and perhaps include 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. In a widely-circulated article, the former Director General of the Federal Investigative Agency (equivalent to the Indian National Intelligence Agency and Central Bureau of Intelligence combined) Tariq Khosa spelt out the evidence gathered against the 26/11 accused, their Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commanders, and the training of men like Ajmal Kasab. The government must press ahead with this evidence, both with Pakistan and with the U.S., and the U.N.
A Structure for Talks
None of these issues can be discussed, however, unless there is a steady channel for talks between Indian and Pakistani interlocutors. A key take away 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.
Pakistani Punjab's Home Minister's Killing in Terrorist Suicide Bombing: Pakistan’s New Normal
By Khaled Ahmed
August 18, 2015
After killing Prime Ministers and governors, terrorists in Pakistan have killed another minister. Punjab Interior Minister Shuja Khanzada was killed in a suicide bombing in Attock after he claimed the entire command structure of an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist outfit had been killed in a “police encounter”.
Can Pakistan have “normal” law and order? This month, Pakistan has gone through another crisis, once again involving parliament and the judiciary. A17-judge full bench of the Supreme Court ruled that parliament was right to establish military courts through the controversial 21st amendment. The lawyers were understandably opposed to the military courts, which carried the odour of the many martial laws of the past. Most purists, stung by the short-circuiting of the normal rule of law, wrote to persuade the bench to disallow the military courts by shooting down the 21st amendment.
The idea of military courts was popular. Without articulating the ugly fact that Pakistan was no longer a normal state, people blamed the dysfunction of the executive and lower judiciary and welcomed the brave position taken by the new army chief General Raheel Sharif of going after terrorists of all stripes, including the “non-state actors” spawned earlier by the state. The Pakistani state had lost sovereignty in its tribal areas long ago, but it has now also lost it in large parts of Karachi, the mega-city from where Pakistan collected most of its revenue.
Balochistan had also been lost to Baloch nationalists and sectarian killers hitched to al-Qaeda’s bandwagon of global terror. Cities in south Punjab and the historic city of Peshawar, as well as cities on the road to Peshawar in
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were at the mercy of terrorists disguised as champions of Islam.
The army attacked the Taliban and drove foreign terrorists out of its border areas. Then the climactic thing happened, which closed the case as far as military courts were concerned: Malik Ishaq, the al-Qaeda-connected leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who had boasted of killing over a hundred Shias, was shot “extra-judicially”.
Suddenly, the entire nation was in favour of the 21st amendment, unanimously passed by parliament. The Supreme Court duly handed down an 11-for and six-against verdict. The court had beaten a retreat from its earlier posture of defiance, imitative of the past practice of the Indian Supreme Court protesting “basic structure”. It had discovered something in the Constitution that even Parliament couldn’t tamper with while passing amendments.
The Indian court had referred to the Constitution’s “grundnorm” or “basic structure” to foil the attempts of the government of Indira Gandhi to amend it. Indian lawyer A.G. Noorani, writing in Pakistani newspaper Dawn in 2010, explained what had happened in India: “In India the worth and necessity of the doctrine propounded by its Supreme Court in 1973 were proved only two years later; much sooner than anyone expected, driving even critics
to accept it. On June 12, 1975, Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha was declared invalid by the Allahabad High Court. A fortnight later, she imposed ‘the internal Emergency’ on false grounds. It was a euphemism for dictatorship.”
Noorani subsequently wrote: “On February 27, 1967, a special bench of 11 judges of the Supreme Court of India ruled, by a narrow majority in the famous Golaknath case, that ‘Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the Constitution so as to take away or a bridge fundamental rights’”.
In Pakistan, some judges leaned on ideology to claim it as “grundnorm” as stated in the Objectives Resolution of 1949, prior to the adoption of the constitution. But the Supreme Court was determined to dissociate itself from the Iftikhar Chaudhry court of the past that had actually fired a prime minister who enjoyed a majority in parliament.
In the August 5 verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar wisely found a way to remove the “grundnorm” of the Objectives Resolution by pointing out that the court had no jurisdiction. He stated in his note: “The doctrine states that sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan is a sacred trust. What is critical to note is that the [Objectives] Resolution explicitly states and delineates who is to exercise that authority.
The language is: ‘Where in the state shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people’.” The Pakistani Supreme Court has now retreated from its imitative “grundnorm”-based activism that insisted on “due process” in a state that was no longer sovereign in many parts of its territory. The lawyers understandably reject the military courts, but they are in a minority in a nation that overwhelmingly supports action against terrorists that the state once supported.
The big correction has not come in the judiciary but in the conduct of the state. What is never brought to light is the fact that Pakistan is ideologically subordinated to its tormentors. The difference between India and Pakistan has become glaring over time. While states maintain the myth of external sovereignty at the UN, they can’t do the same with internal sovereignty. If it doesn’t have internal sovereignty, the state doesn’t exist.
Here the similarity between Pakistan and “dying” states like Somalia and Afghanistan is highlighted. Terror has scuttled the institutions that normally maintain the state’s “monopoly on violence”. Lawyers in Pakistan may point to bad prosecution on the part of the state but the truth is that terrorists are not convicted and, if convicted, are not executed, because of intimidation. Since some of these terrorists are wanted outside Pakistan, this non-action looks like collusion.
The state can’t provide security to honest civilian judges while military judges and their families living in the cantonments are out of reach for the terrorists.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’
Why Gulzar’s Work Remains Fresh After All These Years
By Abhijit Bhaduri
August 18, 2015
Nothing seemed usual. The employees were all trying to spruce up an already squeaky clean recording equipment. The excitement was visible. Ten minutes more to go. Shantanu Moitra was pacing up and down lost in thought and humming something. This is not the time to disturb him. This has been a five year long project. He has interpreted some of Tagore’s most well-known songs that Gulzar has translated into his Urdu laced Hindi. Gulzar was expected to record his part of the album. As someone who has admired his poetry and films forever, it was a dream come true to watch him at work.
I hear the heavy thud of a car door being shut. Gulzar walks into the studio with his starched crisp white Kurta and pyjama. He takes off his shoes as he enters the studio and Shantanu introduces me.
Gulzar has charisma in abundance. He has just published a book of his poems and has also illustrated them with his own sketches. In the book he has not declared himself as the artist behind the sketches.
“I didn’t know you could sketch as well.” I remarked, half mumbling to myself, unsure if that remark was called for. I certainly hoped that Gulzar had not heard it. That was not meant to be my opening line. But what can you say to Gulzar without it sounding really meaningless? What could you say that he has not heard before from a million admirers?
“I love your poetry?”
I admonish myself silently, “As if he has never heard anyone say this to him ever…”
Maybe I should tell him about my favourite movie or song. I keep talking to him in my mind.
“Ijaazat is my favourite movie. I think you wrote some of your best songs with RD Burman… actually even with SD Burman, you wrote some fabulous songs. I have read stories about how the song “Mora Gora Ang Lai Le” was written with very contradictory briefs by Sachin Dev Burman and Bimal Roy. Actually my favourite Gulzar song is ‘Hum Ne Dekhi Hai Un Aankhon Ki Mehekti Khushboo’ from Khamoshi…
It takes me a moment to realize that Gulzar is talking to me. The deep baritone voice fills up the studio.
“I have been sketching and doodling for many years now. But I did not want to add my name to the sketches because I wanted unbiased feedback on my drawing skills. If I sign the sketches, some people will immediately stop evaluating the drawings critically. I will never get to know what I should do to improve. It is hard for me to get honest feedback and a real assessment of my skill. Without that it is hard to improve. So getting the feedback anonymously seemed like a good idea.”
He flipped through his diary. It is filled with lines written in Urdu. He handwrites his poems. I wish I was born with the superpower to understand poetry written in any language. What a treat that would be. To read Neruda in Spanish. Or Ghalib or Sahir or Gulzar in the language in which they think of the lines. I know about his love for Mirza Ghalib but his obsession with the poetry of Tagore was not known to me.
“I got introduced to Ghalib thanks to the Maulvi sahib who used to teach me Urdu. But I learned to read Bengali with the help of some friends. Once I got hooked to Tagore’s poetry it was impossible to extricate myself.”
Watching him at work is one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.
He turns 81 (according to Wikipedia) on 18th August 2015. I could have sworn that he was gloating about the tennis match he won a fortnight before. “Not bad for someone who is 83.”
Does he turn 81 this year or 84? It does not matter. Wish you happy birthday, Gulzar sahib. May you never run out of paper and ink and good health to write without pausing. Yeh dil maange more.
Is Thailand’s Hindu Past under Attack?
By Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
Aug 17, 2015
Listening to the news of the bomb blast in the heart of Bangkok in which 15 people have been killed at the time of writing, I could not help but wonder if Thailand’s Hindu past is under attack. If so, it may not directly impact on India-Thailand relations, but would suggest a certain unhappy cultural polarisation among Thais. For what the news broadcasts have not emphasised sufficiently is that the Erawan Shrine is dedicated to the Hindu god, Brahma, in a Buddhist-majority country with a militant Muslim minority.
The Erawan houses a statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of Brahma. One sees Thais bending low in homage to the god at all times of day. Sometimes they bring a few flowers or light a joss stick. Sometimes, there are performances by resident Thai dance troupes, whom worshippers hire in the expectation that their prayers will be answered as a reward of piety. The same devotion is evident at statues of the elephant-headed Ganesha. Thai Buddhism is not exclusive. Thais regard their kingdom as an incarnation of the mythic Ayodhya — they spell it Ayutthaya — and revere their monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej as King Rama IX.
But when I mentioned the manifest Indian influence to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, a scholar in Pali and Sanskrit, she gently corrected me. I should use the neutral scholarly term “Indic”, she said, and not Indian. The latter had political connotations; the former was purely civilisational.
It’s too early to suggest if any such complex was connected with Monday’s outrage. Like everyone else, I am presuming the target was the Erawan Shrine and not the nearby Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel or popular shopping malls such as the Gaysorn, Central World and Amarin Plaza. It is also possible, of course, that the aim was to cause the maximum damage and that is why the busy intersection of Ratchadamri Road in Bangkok’s Pathum Wan district was chosen. The Bangkok Skytrain’s Chitlom Station’s raised walkway overlooks the shrine.
Whatever the target and the motivation, it bears recalling that this is not the first time the immensely popular shrine has been attacked. A man — 27-year-old Thanakorn Pakdeepol — vandalised the shrine on March 21, 2006, by smashing the statue with a hammer. Unfortunately, outraged bystanders lynched Thanakorn before his identity or motivation could be revealed. Two municipal street sweepers were arrested and charged with the fatal beating. It’s said he was mentally ill, and the autopsy revealed Arabic characters tattooed on his back and arms, prompting suspicions of possible links with Muslim extremists who are restive in southern Thailand bordering Malaysia. The authorities installed a new statue of Brahma in just two months.
Let me hasten to add that the Erawan Shrine is by means one of Thailand’s ancient monuments. It was built in 1956 as part of an exercise to eliminate the bad karma believed to have been caused by laying the hotel’s foundations on the wrong date.
The hotel’s construction was delayed by a series of mishaps, including cost overruns, injuries to labourers, and the loss of a shipload of Italian marble. The Ratchaprasong intersection is a place where once upon a time criminals were put on public display.
An astrologer advised that a shrine might help to counter negative influences and the Brahma statue was designed and built. The hotel’s construction, thereafter, proceeded without further incident.
Local politics can’t be ruled out either. When the first Erawan Shrine was destroyed, Thaksin Shinawatra, the hard-pressed Thai Prime Minister, lost no time in praying to the desecrated deity. But at an anti-Thaksin rally only a few days later, his arch-critic Sondhi Limthongkul accused the Prime Minister of masterminding the destruction so that he could pose as the restorer.
Such allegations are possible because history has endowed Thailand with two faces. You see saffron-draped Buddhist priests everywhere. But at Kanchanaburi railway station on the way to the infamous Death Railway, I once saw three shaven-headed men in white. I was told they were brahmins, descendants of Hindu priests imported form India. They had intermarried with Thai women over the centuries and looked absolutely Thai. But they serve a purpose. Publicly, the royal family is Buddhist but many of its private rituals are Hindu.
As external affairs minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government, Jaswant Singh came upon this duality. When he proposed a Ganga-Mekong Suvarnabhumi cooperation plan in July 2000, south-east Asia welcomed the initiative but baulked at the name. Some didn’t like the Mekong following the Ganga; others pointed out that — as Bangkok’s new airport later exemplified — Thailand sees itself as the real Suvarnabhumi.
There is thus a slight hint of a sublimal civilisational rivalry between the colony and the metropole. P.V. Narasimha Rao had the insight and sensitivity to address this challenge when he met the Thai monarch in Bangkok. A meeting that was scheduled to last 30 minutes went on for two hours: His Majesty and the Prime Minister discussed Thai and Indian scripts and the scope for introducing them to the computer. India waived visa fees for Thai monks on pilgrimage, and after years of aloofness, the two countries agreed on scholastic programmes, an ambitious trade target and a political dialogue. Not many Indian leaders since have had the confidence or ability to undertake such confidence-building.
The problem may have nothing to do with history. But if not, India has done nothing to build on its historic past and take advantage of ancient links. Nor has India been able to counter the mentality that makes many Thais today believe — as Princess Sirindhorn told me — that the Buddha was Thai.
Sunanda K. Datta-Ray is a senior journalist, columnist and author

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