Beware of PRICS

Russia was an unflinching ally of India for nearly seven decades. When the United States of America did not pay heed to India’s wish to be its partner in the early fifties, Russia invited India to be its friend. This friendship continues for a very long time. It seems that there is an imminent threat to the long standing Indo Russian relationship. This threat comes from Russia’s feeling that India is abandoning it for the sake of United States of America.

In the game for global supremacy, India has been the worst victim. In the fifties, India was forced to join the Soviet Union side although it maintained non-alignment in paper. With the exit of Soviet Union and the presence of an influential Indian population in the USA, tables are turning. India wants to gain the friendship of USA once again and the response has been very positive and warmth.

There is a growing strength of support in USA in favour of India for many reasons. Not only the dominant Indian community and their success is a push factor but also the patronage to terrorists given by Pakistan. It was understood clandestinely that Pakistan is behind several anti-American terrorist activities. Americans understood the double game of Pakistanis. The discovery of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of anti-Americanism in Abbotabad in Pakistan and his eventual elimination in 2011 made crystal clear to the world what Pakistan has been doing for ages.

On the one side, Pakistan is drawing heavy amount of money from USA to develop their economy, military and society and on the other side, Pakistan is sheltering anti-Americans on its soil. Not only sheltering them but also aiding and abetting anti-American and anti-Indian terrorists. This common victimhood naturally brought America and India together. The growing voice against Pakistan’s indirect patronage to anti-American terrorist group has finally paid dividends. The government of USA has cut down the civilian and military aid to Pakistan.  From $3.1 billion in 2011 to $1 billion dollars in 2016.

American attitude and aid to Pakistan is changing drastically. Its approach towards India is also changing. Pakistan is facing negative actions while India is facing positive response from the USA. It seems that the bond between India and USA is getting stronger and stronger every day. This has created nervousness among many. Notably Russia, China and Pakistan.

Can India ignore Russia for the sake of strategic partnership with USA? There is a little possibility for India to be friends with all. The reason is global supremacy requires two sides to show their dominance. In this game of global dominance muscle flexing, two sides gather members to their teams. India was forced to be on the Soviet side till the end of Cold War. Naturally this has forced America to accept Pakistan as its ally. After the end of Cold War and Pakistan’s blatant anti-Americanism, team members of the global game are reshuffled.

Although, the Cold War ended in perception after the fall of Soviet Union in the late nineties, reality of it continues in other forms. Russia is trying its best to regain the lost slot occupied by the Soviet Union. China is attempting to barge in. Already America is in the game although its status has come down heavily after the collapse of Twin Towers in 2001, lost economic clout and social disruptions.

Now there is a possibility of Pakistan, Russia, Israel, China and Saudi Arabia (PRICS) coalition. The reason is simple suspicion of one long term friend on the other long term friend fearing the long term friend is moving towards enemy. “Friendship 2016” between Russia and Pakistan is the most worrisome development. The saddest part of this story is the drill was to be in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Given the long history of Pakistan’s negative credentials, Russia may not trust Pakistan so easily. But the faster developments in the Indo-USA relations are pressurizing Russians to act fast.

Russia feels that its long term friend India is moving towards USA. Israel is fearing that its long term friend USA is moving towards its arch rival Iran. The Israelis did not like Americans signing nuclear pact with the Iranians. There is a less possibility of Israel joining the coalition with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia because of the strong Islamic connections and their patronage to Palestine. But in the race for global supremacy nothing can be ruled out.  Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China are already long-term friends.


France: The Latest Terror Victim

150107134311-restricted-18-paris-shooting-0107-super-169Terrorists are crossing boundaries. They have established a transnational network. With hi-tech weapons in hand, terrorists can strike any part of the world as per their choice. No part of the world has immunity over terrorists today. From the perennial terror spots like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan to recent terror attacks in Canada, Australia, France, terrorists are playing at their will. If we allow them to energise the world will be darkened soon.
Instead of playing the political games the world leaders must get united to weed out the terrorists from the world soil. If they are reluctant to combat terrorism immediately then the entire world will be doomed by terrorists. Better to act now than to regret later.
Times of India writes on 7 January 2015
There is only one way to describe the bloody assault on the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which took 12 innocent lives. This was a barbaric atrocity, a cold-blooded murder that no amount of grievance, religious or otherwise, can justify. This is not just an assault on an irreverent magazine but a challenge to the idea of free expression itself — a freedom that lies at the heart of democracy. The murderers who killed journalists and cartoonists in Paris on Wednesday were aiming to kill more than just the people they were shooting at. They aimed to silence dissent itself and the individual’s right to question, which is central to all modern democracies, including ours.
Charlie Hebdo’s office was fire-bombed three years ago for lampooning shariah law. But the cut and thrust of its rapier wit extended to every religion, not just to Islam. Of course not everyone agreed with its editorial policies. But you don’t have to agree with a magazine to defend its right to publish. There are many ways to legitimately express anger at an editorial opinion that may offend one’s own deeply held sensibilities — protest, approach a court of law, stop reading that publication. Murdering writers as a way to stop the conversation and to deter other writers is beyond the pale. It was designed to strike fear in the hearts of those who oppose and to create a kind of self-censorship. Condemn it unequivocally and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Every civilised society has its own red lines over free speech. In India, for example, while the Constitution’s Article 19 guarantees freedom of expression, its Clause 2 also puts reasonable legal restrictions on it. France has its own liberal definition of the limits of free speech and while this can be debated what cannot be challenged is the fundamental right of all citizens to express themselves within the law. Using violence to silence satire and dissent is unacceptable.
Wednesday’s terrorist attack is a brutal attempt at intimidation by religious and political fundamentalists that must be resisted. It is in line with the Iranian fatwa on Salman Rushdie for his book Satanic Verses and recent cyber-warfare by the North Koreans after an unflattering film about their leader Kim Jong Un. No modern society can allow such violence in its midst and it must be pushed back.

Goof Up in EUMA

The Indian diplomacy is making faux paus after faux pas in its policies. After the confusion in Sharm-e-Sheikh in Egypt over the dealing with Pakistan regarding terrorism they have done another blunder. This time regarding the End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) with America regarding the operation of US provided nuclear technologies. This can be brushed aside like other things if luck continues to be with India. Otherwise it has to pay heavy price when the American started bullying it with this pact. Let us wish a good luck in this regard.

The Times of India writes (2 July 2009)

Even as the UPA government was reeling under the charge of compromising national interests by initialling the Indo-Pak joint statement in
Egypt, more grief came its way on Tuesday. The charge this time was that it has “mortgaged Indian sovereignty to the US” by signing an End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) which would allow American inspectors to verify the end use of US sourced high tech equipment of dual use.

The issue erupted in Parliament with the opposition claiming that this was the thin end of the wedge ^ after “giving in” to the US, India would now be required to make its sensitive military equipment available for inspection to not just the Americans, but all foreign suppliers. The government insisted that this was far from the truth and the EUMA allowed nothing of the sort, but a disatisfied Opposition walked out of the two Houses.

Foreign minister S M Krishna said, “Nobody should have anxiety about national interests being surrendered.” He said the agreement only “systemises ad-hoc arrangements for individual defence procurements from the US entered into by previous governments.”

The EUMA is designed to facilitate high-end dual use technology transfer to India. Under US laws no country can get access to high technology of dual use with an EUMA agreement. Since 1984, Indian companies had had to sign stand-alone end-use monitoring pacts to source American high tech. Now the EUMA, signed in the presence of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s presence on Monday, has become an umbrella agreement that covers the trade of all cutting-edge technology from the US for a whole range of applications.

This EUMA is seen by the government seen as a good bargain because while it allows the US to carry out inspections, it gives India the prerogative to decide on the time and venue of the scrutiny. This way, it feels that it won’t disclose the exact locational and strategic use of military equipment to American inspectors.
The Opposition, however, refused to see it in this light, arguing that the agreement would cover even technologies obtained from other sources. The tone for the skirmish was set right in the morning, within hours of the agreement being signed with Clinton. As Lok Sabha met, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha stood up to accuse the government of buckling under US pressure.

Sinha said the pact would allow US inspection even for supplies from third countries if they had used American technology. He further said that inspectors would visit sensitive installations to inspect “immoveables” which could not be put at a safe site for scrutiny.

Sharad Yadav of JD(U) added the frisking of former President A P J Abdul Kalam by a US airline was a sign of American abrasiveness. “Remember when Clinton came to India, sniffer dogs were sent to Rajghat,” he said. Arun Jaitley said in Rajya Sabha, “Today we have friendly relations (with US) but we cannot forget a situation where the 7th Fleet had entered the Indian Ocean.” He added that US also has “very friendly relationship” with Pakistan.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav reminded Congress that Nehru had refused to accept foreign interference. “You have forgotten not only Gandhi but even Nehru,” he said. CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta called it a “Himalayan blunder”. The rhetoric climaxed when RJD chief Lalu Prasad said, “UN inspectors did not find any weapons of mass destruction or chemical weapons but Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was hung. This was a message to the world that those who fail to toe the US line will meet the same fate.”

Krishna responded to all this with a bland statement that gave a factual account of the pacts signed with Hillary Clinton. Saying that Clinton’s visit would help “broaden and deepn bilateral relationship”, the minister said, “We have also agreed to a new bilateral dialogue architecture within which we will continue discussions between our two countries on a wide range of issues.”

As the Opposition walked out, Krishna said, “I am surprised by the interpretation sought to be given to the bilateral pact between two sovereign countries.” He said the end-use monitoring of high-end defence purchases always existed and the fresh pact only generalised them. “We do it for other countries also. It is all straight and it is in the larger interest of the country.”

Lost Freedom of Tibet

TibetThe Tibetan government in exile is in dilemma. To oppose and succeed the mighty Chinese is impossible. It will also be in contrary to the Dalai Lama’s non violent principles if they take up arms. After unsuccessfully opposing the olympics in Beijing despite a strong no from the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans are crossroads now. It is not possible now even the autonomy demanded by Tibetans as the least concession from China.

Elliot Sperling of the Indiana university writes in The Times of India (20 July 2009)

As if any further evidence were needed of the ways in which China has been running rings around the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile, recent

events have made the situation abundantly clear. Last November the Tibetans presented a memorandum to China, meant to demonstrate that the Dalai Lama’s position on Tibetan autonomy was wholly compatible with China’s existing laws on regional nationality autonomy. The memorandum was vehemently rejected and the dialogue process between the two sides screeched to a halt.

On June 22, there were reports that exiled Tibetan officials were meeting to draft a statement clarifying their stand and, it was hoped, would open a way out of the impasse. The new statement is intended to demonstrate that the Tibetans want to reach an accord with China on the basis of Chinese autonomy laws. Unfortunately, the ignorance with which the authorities in exile deal with China is now on display in embarrassing detail.

The Dalai Lama’s chief negotiators, Kelsang Gyaltsen and Lodi Gyari, have met with other officials to hammer out a position that they fantasise will interest China, and Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained expert, has been reinforcing the exiled government’s views with his own analysis of the law. But the fact is that all of these people are functionally illiterate in the hundreds of articles and books all in Chinese that constitute the body of interpretive literature on regional nationality autonomy in China. That never seems to have perturbed the Dalai Lama’s people as they wander quite blindly around major issues of Chinese policy.

Since the spring of 2008, China has responded to criticism of its historical claims to Tibet by scrapping its common line, that 13th-century Mongol conquerors made Tibet part of China, with the more forceful, take-no-prisoners position that Tibet has been a part of China “since human activity began”. Much as this exemplifies the attitude that history is not an objective measure against which to weigh Chinese claims, so too a new debate has opened in China that demonstrates that the laws on autonomy are not to be considered fixed standards against which the government can be challenged. To the contrary, they are tools of the government and party, dispensable when they are not serving the desired political ends.

In April, seemingly unbeknownst to the Dalai Lama’s authorities, Ma Rong, a scholar who often writes on minority demographic and population issues, proposed a drastic measure, akin to what was done in the area of history: scrap the regime of regional nationality autonomy laws. The real problem, according to Ma Rong, is that China’s autonomy laws derive from a Stalinist heritage (which, in the Soviet Union, included rights to secession and independence), saddling China with a system that alienates minorities from the notion that they are part of the larger Chinese nationality. Now, with uncanny timing, the recent unrest in Xinjiang has underscored his contention.

As Ma Rong puts it, the nationality laws encourage minorities to exclude others from their regions, privilege their own language, assert economic rights of their own and maintain and strengthen the historical consciousness, religions and practices that differentiate them from others, all in accord with Stalin’s definition of “nationality”. For Ma Rong, this is the crux of the problem: the current system leaves minorities with little or no sense that they are Chinese. Only three other countries, he notes, ever implemented a similar system with specific geographical regions for minority nationalities: the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. It goes without saying that the historical track record is not good.

In contrast, India and the United States provide useful counter-examples. Jawaharlal Nehru in particular is cited for imbuing the members of various groups with the sense of being part of “the Indian nation”, while at the same time dulling the areas of ethno-national conflict between them. In the US, the election of Barack Obama is presented precisely because his platform was directed at the benefit of all Americans, with no taint of racial interest. Neither country has regional minority nationality autonomous structures.

The debate that Ma Rong opened up in April is of critical importance to China’s Tibet policy. But no one in Dharamsala seems to have noticed. Rather than devote resources to acquiring the databases that would allow them to access the wide range of Chinese materials available online, the Dalai Lama decided in May to send $1,00,000 to Florida International University to support its religious studies programme. Though American dharma students are hardly an endangered species, such are Dharamsala’s priorities.

Sonam Dagpo, of the Dalai Lama’s Department of Information and International Relations, told a news agency towards the end of June that the Tibetans “want to settle the issue mutually and within the framework of the Chinese constitution, law and national regional autonomy”. Best of luck with that one, guys.

Obama’s Russia Sojourn

44140130_18280753001_0401dv-pol-obama-medvedev-SJ-s260608AT1VW104Keeping up his promise, Barack Obama had reached out to Russia. The happily concluded meeting between the heads of USA and Russia is to be taken seriously then there is a possibility of good times ahead. Especially in the nuclear disarmament front things will move in the right direction.

G. Parathasarthy writes in The Times of India (17 July 2009)

Given his desire to “reset” relations with Russia, US president Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow on July 6-7 was intended to show improvement in anotherwise strained relationship, marked by deep Russian suspicions about American moves to expand the NATO alliance, by co-opting Russia’s neighbours like Ukraine and Georgia. Such moves were perceived as attempts to strategically ‘contain’ Russia. While suspicions remain, the visit was marked by a landmark agreement signalling Russian support to the US in Afghanistan. Russia agreed to permit 4,500 flights annually across Russian airspace by US military aircraft carrying military supplies to Afghanistan. The Americans have also heralded the understanding reached on a framework for a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), to reduce the nuclear arsenals of the two countries.

Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed they would reduce their strategic nuclear warheads from the current ceiling of 2,200 warheads each to between 1,500 and 1,675 and that they would reduce the current ceiling of 1,600 long-range strategic missiles, to between 500 and 1,100, over the next seven years. While this has been described as a great step towards nuclear disarmament, the reality is somewhat different. Even at reduced levels, the two countries will retain enough weaponry to destroy each other and the rest of the world several times over. Between them, they today possess an estimated 22,400 nuclear warheads.

The real reason for all the hype and hoopla about START lies in the fact that the forthcoming review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is due next year. The Obama administration cannot allow this review to end in a fiasco as in 2005, when non-nuclear weapons states assailed the US and other powers for failing to fulfil their obligations to disarm and grant unhindered access to nuclear energy to those who have foregone the nuclear option. The 2005 fiasco was followed by growing international concern over Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The US would showcase START with Russia as symbolising its commitment to nuclear disarmament.

More ominously for India, it appears that the US may be seeking to divert attention from the lack of serious commitment to nuclear disarmament by focusing on the need to “universalise” NPT membership, by endorsing the suggestion that the real threat of proliferation arises from countries like India which have not signed the NPT and that they should be pressured into doing so. Islamic countries, particularly in the Arab world, are expected to support this argument as a means to pressure Israel
into foregoing its nuclear weapons. The US move in the G8 to deny enrichment and reprocessing facilities to India as a non-signatory to NPT has to be seen in this context.

Obama is reportedly planning to take his nuclear agenda forward by hosting a summit of around 30 countries in 2010. How should India respond? While India has not done anything to undermine NPT’s efficacy, it would have to take the moral high ground by noting that on issues of nuclear disarmament the World Court’s views should not be ignored, but implemented. The World Court was asked its opinion on a query: “Is the threat of use of nuclear weapons permitted under International Law?” On July 8, 1996, the court held that states possessing nuclear weapons have not just a need but an obligation to commence negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. It also held that the use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the principles of international law, though there was some doubt about the extreme contingency when “the very survival of a state” was threatened.

Despite the World Court’s view, the US, in its 2005 Doctrine of Joint Operations, reserves the right to use nuclear weapons even to “rapidly end a war” on terms favourable to it. The UK and France have reserved the right to resort to the use of nuclear weapons. Russia has discarded the Soviet policy of no first use. India should work with non-nuclear weapons states to move a resolution in the UN General Assembly later this year declaring the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons as inadmissible and calling on all states to foreswear threat of use of nuclear weapons. The guiding principles of an equitable global nuclear regime are reflected in the opinion of the World Court, more than in the NPT.

Non-proliferation and climate change will figure in the agenda for talks with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, an influential advocate of strengthening India-US relations, during her India visit. Reprocessing of spent fuel is imperative if we are to proceed with our indigenous, three-stage, thorium-based nuclear energy programme. Denial of reprocessing facilities will slow down our nuclear power programme, inhibit India-US cooperation on nuclear power and not exactly serve the cause of replacing polluting hydrocarbons with clean nuclear energy. Sadly, it would also undermine the letter and spirit of the October 2008 123 Agreement and the “clean waiver” that the Nuclear Suppliers Group accorded to India.

UPA loses its diplomacy at NAM

Manmohan-Singh-Gilani-0080Is the UPA foreign policy mandarins so weak to lose to Pakistani diplomats? That’s what it seems to have happened in the NAM summit in Egypt. Leaving its original position of “no talks untill action against 26/11 Mumbai attackers”. Although I welcome the change in India’s stand, I feel sorry for the flip flop foreign policy. India should maintain its communication channel under all trying circumstances. Any letdown in communication will push the progress many miles backward.

The Times of India writes (17 July 2009)
The meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the NAM summit in
Egypt has been a profitable one. Building upon the talks between the respective foreign secretaries, Shiv Shankar Menon and Salman Bashir, the joint statement has put terrorism and the Mumbai attack front and centre as New Delhi had been angling for. It has also stated that the foreign secretaries will meet as often as is necessary to explore the possibilities with regard to the composite dialogue. Crucially, the statement also delinks the terrorism issue from the composite dialogue process, ensuring that the former need not be held up by the latter. The truth is, India and Pakistan need to make progress on both quickly. And cooperation on terrorism is a precondition for any other initiative to succeed. In its absence, another major terrorist attack launched from Pakistani soil would set back anything achieved through dialogue.

New Delhi needs some comfort on this score as there are various issues of concern, from Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed walking free because of Islamabad’s failure to share confidential evidence with the Punjab government to the lack of verifiable dismantling of terrorist infrastructure across the Line of Control. This has become particularly crucial in light of intelligence reports of possible attacks in Mumbai and the increase of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed activity in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

New Delhi should leave no doubt that if the dialogue is to be expanded, it will be done in a phased manner calibrated by Islamabad’s holding up its end of the deal. Getting Washington to exert pressure from its end is another option it must pursue. Hillary Clinton’s upcoming visit to India is an apposite time to make its standpoint clear. It has done its part by returning to the table; now, Washington must press Islamabad to reciprocate if it wishes to have the Pakistani military’s undivided support along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

If New Delhi is to take the peace talks forward again, it must have concrete gains to show for it in a domestic context. And conversely, another attack could well send the entire process into a terminal tailspin. Islamabad must understand these compulsions, just as it must understand that a compartmentalised approach to combating extremism is no longer viable. Top UN official Richard Barrett has highlighted the links between Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban. It is time for Pakistan’s civilian government and military leadership to show that they understand the implications of this

Towards Universal Nuclear Disarmament

NuclearDisarmamentUniversal nuclear disarmament is urgently needed to ensure peace and prosperity of the world. If the current generation of the world leaders are giving good life for the present and future generations nuclear disarmament should be immediately enforced.
President Barack Obama has created optimism about the future of nuclear disarmament by calling for a “reset” in relations with Russia, which would
include significant cuts in the size of the nuclear arsenals that both nations possess. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the US and Russia is due to expire in December this year. While this treaty allows both sides to possess up to 2,200 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles, Obama would like to see these figures whittled down to 1,500 warheads carried on 500 to 1,000 delivery vehicles. Even more interestingly, Obama has set out a vision for a world rid entirely of nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War the US and the USSR armed themselves to the teeth with nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert, provoking the nightmare spectre of a threat to humanity’s existence itself in case of a nuclear exchange between the two superpowers. With the end of the Cold War, mutually assured destruction mutated into a new kind of threat. Nuclear weapons became a currency of power and nations became determined to acquire them. This enhances the possibility of leakages to non-state actors, whether by design or accident. Nuclear bombs, in fact, could become the ultimate terrorist weapon of blackmail.

Responding to this new situation, even former nuclear hawks such as Henry Kissinger have been calling for universal nuclear disarmament as a means of warding off the threat of nuclear proliferation. It’s an idea that Rajiv Gandhi also mooted in a speech to the UN General Assembly in June 1988. The thing about disarmament, though, is that it has to be mutually coordinated across nations. India, for example, cannot unilaterally disarm if Pakistan and China retain their nuclear weapons.

Although climate change is more on the global agenda nowadays, nuclear disarmament poses similar issues. Acting on either would require many nations undertaking simultaneous actions. Yet ignoring them can have catastrophic consequences not limited by national boundaries. In both senses they are global issues which require, among other things, consciousness-raising by media across the world. In May 2009, The Times of India Online received the highest number of hits among English newspaper websites in the world, placing it much ahead of The New York Times or The Sun. Moreover it’s a brand with global reach, as 65 per cent of TOI Online’s readers come from outside India. This newspaper can, and will, play its role in alerting people across the world to the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation and ways in which the spread of such weaponry can be reversed.

Official Admission of Terrorists in Pakistan

pak terrorKnowingly or unknowingly Pakistan has been breeding hardcore terrorists in its soil for a very long time. Now its own president Asif Ali Zardari had admitted this known secret publicly. The Indian Express reports (10 July 2009) For the first time, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari admitted that militants and extremists were “created and nurtured” in the country as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives. But they began to haunt the country in the post-9/11 era, Zardari said in a candid admission during an interactive meeting with former senior civil servants at the presidency on Tuesday night. Militants and extremists emerged on the national scene and challenged the state not because the civil bureaucracy was weakened and demoralised, but because they “were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives,” he said. “Let us be truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities,” Zardari said. “The terrorists of today were the heroes of yesteryears until 9/11 occurred and they began to haunt us as well,” he added. Labelling Pakistan as a frontline state in the war against terrorism, Zardari pledged to eliminate this scourge from society. “I have taken charge at a difficult time and will come up to the challenges the country is facing.” His remarks came days after his comments in an interview that the Pakistan Army would even target militants it had backed in the past for use as a proxy force against India. The army is currently engaged in a campaign against the Taliban in the northwestern Swat valley and is gearing up for a push against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud and his network in South Waziristan tribal region. Zardari also stressed the need for greater national reconciliation, saying he intended to keep all political forces together because Pakistan cannot afford confrontation at this juncture. “Dialogue is our most powerful weapon…we defeated a dictator through the power of dialogue and we intend to continue holding dialogue to resolve various issues confronting Pakistan,” he said. “We are on the brink and we must realise that personal political games can no longer be played,” he added. Responding to various suggestions by the former civil servants, Zardari said the government is taking several steps to improve governance, tackle militancy and extremism, improve law and order, agricultural output and power generation, strengthen institutions and devolve power.

Rescuing Latin America

Banana_Republicans-2Latin America nations are known for flash coups. It is high time that the world pays attention to the ill developed region and rescue from political chaos and social anarchy.

Jorge Heine writes in The Hindu (1 July 2009)

The ouster by the military of President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, taken unceremoniously from his official residence in Tegucigalpa, and flown, still in his pajamas, to San José, Costa Rica, is a novel challenge. Leaving military coups behind is one of Latin America’s great accomplishments. Democracy, albeit with imperfections, is the norm, with the single exception of Cuba, and the times when the region was chiefly known for “coups and earthquakes” seemed to be over.

This does not mean that civilian, elected governments have had some sort of blank cheque guarantee to last. In this decade alone, several Presidents were forced to leave before their time was up. They were unable to deal with economic and social crises, mass demonstrations and widespread popular opposition to their rule. Although these “falls from grace” of Presidents like Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in Bolivia and Gustavo Novoa in Ecuador, among others, were sometimes described as “soft coups,” that was not really the best term. Sometimes, governments just fall apart, and although in parliamentary systems there are ways and means of dealing with such crises, in the more rigid presidential systems in Latin America, there is no such flexibility, and some messiness ensued.

But it is one thing for a government to fall apart; it is quite another to have the generals give it a push, by bursting into the President’s bedroom at 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning, manhandle him at gunpoint, put him on a plane and send him off to a neighbouring country. Once that is condoned, anything goes, and that way lies the road back to the heyday of the Pinochets, Somozas and Stroessners of our world.

In marked contrast to what happened in 2002 in the coup against President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the international community, including Washington, has been unanimous in condemning the coup. Aware of treading dangerous ground, the Honduran military immediately worked with Congress to have a new President take office. This is Roberto Micheletti, the president of Honduras’ unicameral Parliament, sworn in after the Congress approved President Zelaya’s resignation in a letter the latter denies having written (so much for parliamentary procedures).

Far from being a “soft coup,” this was pretty harsh. Eight Cabinet members were arrested, as was the mayor of the country’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula. In a bizarre act, the ambassadors of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were apparently arrested and roughed up. In the best tradition of such events, a curfew was declared on Sunday night and the military is throwing its weight around, particularly against Mr. Zelaya’s supporters.

Honduras did find itself in the midst of a political crisis. This had been triggered by Mr. Zelaya’s efforts to call for a referendum, to be held last Sunday, that would have opened the possibility of a change to the Constitution in next November’s elections (when Mr. Zelaya’s four-year term was up), allowing the President to be re-elected. Given the refusal of Army General Romeo Vásquez to help run the referendum, Mr. Zelaya sacked him, something opposed by the Supreme Court which proceeded to reinstate the general. The Supreme Court also stated that any such referendum would be unconstitutional.

In short, according to one perspective, this has been largely a mess created by Mr. Zelaya’s own power-grabbing attempts. By trying to secure a second term in office, he ended up creating the conditions for his own ouster, something for which he would have no one to blame but himself.

Another explanation has been more political. Although a rancher and businessman from a conservative background, who favours a bushy moustache, cowboy hats and boots, elected on the ticket of the right-wing Liberal party, President Zelaya had a change of heart of sorts. He had the audacity to visit Cuba, to strengthen ties with Venezuela, and to actually have Honduras join ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, led by Mr. Chávez, and also formed by Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. This is one reason President Chávez has been in the forefront of those who have denounced the coup, and has even intimated, perhaps not altogether prudently, that he might send his own troops to take care of the situation and put Mr. Zelaya back in office.

There is an element of comic opera in all this, and we should not forget that Honduras was the country that originally gave rise to the very term “banana republic.” Until a few years ago, its capital, Tegucigalpa, had neither a traffic light in all of its city grid, nor a building high enough to warrant an elevator. But the stakes are high, the game is dead serious and I am afraid the Honduran military and its supporters may have bitten off a piece bigger than they will be able to chew on, let alone swallow.

President Zelaya did not handle his somewhat clumsy attempt at securing his re-election very adroitly, to put it mildly. But that is neither here nor there. The country was heading directly into a political crisis, but there are constitutional mechanisms to deal with it. Some solution should have been found through a compromise between the government and the opposition, or, if push came to shove, through some mediation efforts. The notion that whenever there is a major disagreement between the Executive and the Legislature, the way forward is calling in the Army is something that was tried in the past in Latin America (and elsewhere) and found wanting.

Having said this, the challenge to the international community, and particularly the hemispheric one, is not a minor one. Over the past two decades, starting at the Organisation of American States (OAS) Assembly in Santiago de Chile in 1991, and culminating in the one held in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2001, when the Inter-American Democratic Charter was unanimously approved, the Americas have put the strengthening of democratic institutions among their foremost concerns. Many of the countries in the region have “low-intensity” democracies, but democracies nonetheless. A “democratic clause” in many regional integration treaties means that those who stray from the democratic path are excluded and penalised.

A variety of international political cooperation mechanisms, like the Rio Group, the South American Community of Nations (UNASUR), and the Ibero-american Summits have also embraced this democratic clause, while democracy promotion and electoral assistance has been one of the defining features of a revitalised OAS. Coup attempts in Paraguay and elsewhere have thus been foiled.

Will they be able to “roll back” a coup that already took place?

President Lula of Brazil, perhaps the leader with most credibility south of the Rio Grande, has said Brazil will not recognise any Honduran President except Manuel Zelaya. President Bachelet of Chile, the pro tempore chair of UNASUR, has been canvassing its members, which are taking the same line as Brazil. The OAS has unanimously condemned the coup. Miguel D’Escoto, president of the United Nations General Assembly, has already announced that he will invite President Zelaya to address the UNGA in New York.

President Barack Obama has also condemned the coup, and the State Department has indicated that it worked for several days to stave it off, albeit unsuccessfully. The U.S. has troops in Honduras, to train the Honduran Armed Forces and to work on counter-narcotics and disaster relief in Central America, and thus has some leverage. Honduras is also part of the CAFTA-DR agreement with the U.S. If the benefits from this trade agreement are denied to Honduras, its products will have a hard time competing in the U.S. market.

Honduras is part of the Central American Common Market. If it is excluded from it, it will be costly.

In many ways, this is the second key test of Mr. Obama’s new policy towards Latin America. Ironically, the first also took place in Honduras, in early June, at the OAS General Assembly meeting that unanimously lifted the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba’s membership in the organisation. President Obama has indicated his commitment to working with the countries of the region, through multilateral institutions, to further economic progress and democratic development. If Mr. Zelaya finds himself back in office (however briefly — his term has only seven months to go), as a result of concerted international pressure, it would show a new measure of hemispheric cooperation.

The so-called “facts on the ground” have their own dynamic, and reversing such military takeovers are never easy, though by no means impossible. This is what happened in Venezuela in 2002, when President Chávez, three days after being ousted, found himself back in office.

Honduras poses a true litmus test of the commitment of the hemispheric community to democratic stability and continuity. If the Inter-American Democratic Charter is not held up now, and the semi-farcical, Keystone Cops Honduran coup is not reversed, it means that much of the political progress we have seen in the region since 1990 can far too easily be undone.