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Monday, 18 May 2009

From Today's Papers - 18 May 09

Asian Age





Body of Prabhakaran's Son Found: Defence Ministry

A body believed to be of Charles Anthony, the son of Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, has been recovered by the army during clearing operations in northeastern Sri Lanka, the defence ministry said Monday.

Charles Anthony was known to be fighting alongside his father in the conflict.

Clearing operations in the areas were continuing after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said Sunday that they were laying down their weapons after more than 25 years of fighting for an independent homeland for the minority Tamils

Pakistan Army Approaching Urban Warfare in Swat

Ground troops made advances towards Taliban-held towns in Pakistan's Swat valley Sunday, as aid agencies renewed calls for "massive support" to help out more than one million refugees.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the agency had registered more than 1.17 million displaced persons since May 2. They are in addition to nearly 550,000 others who fled fighting in the northwest region last year.

Security forces backed by artillery, attack helicopters and jet aircraft announced "a full-scale operation" last week to eliminate up to 5,000 Taliban fighters deeply entrenched in both wooded hamlets and populous towns of Swat, 140 km from Islamabad.

The army claims to have killed more than 950 rebels while losing only 48 soldiers. Those figures could not be verified independently.

On Sunday, army troops were closing in on Mingora, the main town of Swat district, where thousands of civilians were still stranded under curfew, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

In nearby Matta town, however, curfew was lifted for a few hours to allow residents to evacuate the troubled area as battles in the streets between soldiers and the militants seemed imminent.

The security forces said they have so far restrained from urban warfare to avoid collateral damage. Although the military has denied causing civilian casualties, scores are believed to have died in crossfire, or by roadside bombs planted by the rebels.

Taliban fighters are also reportedly trying to flee the combat zone disguised as locals after shaving off beards and cutting locks of hair.

The military offensive in Swat and its adjoining districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla has strong backing from political parties and the public, but that could change if the number of civilian deaths grew or the refugees were not duly cared for.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said last week that "it will be very unfortunate if we win militarily but lose publicly", as he stressed "winning the hearts and minds" of the uprooted people.

The UN refugee agency chief Saturday sought urgent international support for the displaced, saying: "This is not the moment for symbolic gestures."

Brawls have reportedly taken place in the makeshift camps set up for the thousands of refugees over food and relief items.

LTTE Tamil Tigers concede defeat

Press Trust of India / Colombo May 17, 2009, 16:57 IST

Conceding defeat in the face a major offensive by Sri Lankan troops, the LTTE said on Sunday the battle has reached its "bitter end" and they have decided to "silence" their guns.

"We remain with one last choice — to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns," the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said quoting a statement by the rebels' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan.

The rebels' statement follows President Mahinda Rajapaksa's declaration that the LTTE has been defeated militarily.

"This battle has reached its bitter end," Pathmanathan said, adding that "our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer."

Sri Lankan government said on Sunday that all civilians have been rescued from the ever-shrinking No Fire Zone, where the remnant LTTE fighters are holed up. The whereabouts of the LTTE chief V Prabhakaran are not known.

Pathmanathan said the rebels "willingly stand up with courage and silence our guns."

"We have no other option other than to continue our plea to the international community to save our people," he was quoted as saying by Tamilnet.

Pakistan pays the price of Bush’s ‘war on terror’

Sunday, May 17, 2009 By Tom McGurk

George W Bush may be gone, but his wars go marching on. This would be one way to represent the growing crisis in Pakistan.

For some in the West, it appeared sufficient for the Obama administration merely to abandon the so-called ‘war on terror’ - but everybody seems to have forgotten to tell Afghan and Pakistani Islamists. Clearly, it will take a lot more than a mere change of president in the White House to douse the flash fire which Dubya and his henchmen ignited with the invasion of Afghanistan seven years ago.

In recent weeks, Taliban fighters have moved beyond the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), threatening even the Punjab capital Lahore, a city of almost 7 million people and the second largest in Pakistan.

The Pakistani army has failed - or seemed disinclined - to oppose them.

This has provided a rare moment of truth for top national security officials in Washington. Long accustomed to making assumptions to support their foreign policy ambitions, the reality may be dawning - that Pakistan’s military does not share America’s attitude that radical Islam is a greater threat to Pakistan than India.

Bush’s administration denied this reality and assumed that former president Pervez Musharraf’s regime had made a fundamental decision to side with the US against its enemies. The Obama administration inherited that premise, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

After the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November and the consequent rise in Pakistani-Indian tensions, it was clear that Pakistan was not interested in shifting its attention away from the long-standing perceived threat from India to the Taliban.

Now, at last, it seems reality is hitting home in Washington.

On May 5,whenUS defence secretary Robert Gates was interviewed on CNN, he finally admitted the growing conflict between Pakistani and US priorities. Gates had to accept that Pakistan has so far shifted only 6,000 troops, out of an army of about half a million, from its border with India.

This effectively acknowledged that the Pakistani strategic focus is overwhelmingly still on India.

‘‘For 60 years,” Gates said, ‘‘Pakistan has regarded India as its existential threat, as the main enemy, and its forces are trained to deal with that threat. That’s where it has the bulk of its army and the bulk of its military capability.”

Gates said Pakistan was not particularly worried about the Islamist threat from the Pashtun region, because they count on the fact that the largest ethnic group, the Punjabis, ‘‘so outnumber the Pashtuns that they’ve always felt that, if it really got serious, it was a problem they could take care of’’.

An endemic and perennial problem with the culture inherent in America’s foreign policy has been that it presumed it could turn policies on and off as each administration changed - and that the rest of the world would simply follow suit.

Since that policy was usually measured only in body bags and the financial costs to the administration, nobody bothered to gauge the longer term consequences on the other side.

Now, perhaps, it is an appropriate moment to take a closer look at Pakistan and see how the Islamist revolution has been driven by the Bush ‘war on terror’ and the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions - and how it is now threatening the stability of a nuclear nation, Pakistan.

Just as in Iran in the 1970s after the overthrow of the Shah, Islamic fundamentalism has moved into the political vacuum left following the failure of western policy. When will they ever learn the unchanging laws of action and reaction?

Like communism before it, Islamism breeds and thrives in third world conditions of poverty and hunger.

Given that half of Pakistan’s school-age children do not go to school and live in abject third-world poverty, is it any wonder that the Islamist creed and its rejection of society values in the West have such appeal?

Like the Hamas movement in the Middle East, Islamists in south-east Asia are also a social, as well as a religious and political, movement, and their religious conviction is an all-encompassing weapon in the face of third world conditions.

The current thinking in Washington is that the Pakistani government must use its enormous military power to smash the Taliban and recover the Swat valley that was conceded to the Islamists some time ago. However, such a strategy fails totally to understand the complexities of the crisis.

Certainly, the ruling classes in Pakistan are threatened by the Islamists and their interests largely equate with Washington’s, but that is to forget that, on the ground, the Pakistani military is drawn in many cases from the same tribes and communities as the Islamists are.

There are other tensions, too. Pakistan has been a bitterly divided political society since its birth in the partition of the sub-continent by the British in 1947.And there are many in the Pakistan military - still the most powerful political force in the country - who were complicit in the Taliban’s creation and continue to sympathise with them.

The uncomfortable reality of all of this is that the Bush ‘war on terror’ has had a global impact, not least because it has ignited Muslim fundamentalism across two continents.

The fact is that the major and unintended consequence of the invasion of Afghanistan has been to spread violence and the extreme, repressive influence of the Taliban far across the border into Pakistan.

The White House is underwhelmed by the current Pakistani leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari, the late Benazir Bhutto’s widower, known widely as Mr Ten Per Cent. Perhaps more important is his influence over some senior generals in the army.

There is now a sense that Washington has been reduced to feeling its political way in the dark, with the consequences of stumbling too appalling to contemplate.

Survival without military & mullah

By Kunwar Idris

Sunday, 17 May, 2009 | 08:41 AM PST |

On March 24 The Washington Post quoted a Centcom adviser as saying that Pakistan could collapse within six months and if that happened it would ‘dwarf all the crises in the world today’. The comment caused some disgust but not much alarm.

But then just eight weeks later, Prime Minister Gilani told parliament that the military campaign in Swat was launched not under US pressure but for ‘the survival of the country’. The Centcom adviser and the prime minister both were thus on the same grid regarding the threat to the existence of the country — only their perceptions of the outcome differed.

If the adviser is proven right, the collapse is just 19 weeks away. For the conclusion of the military campaign on which the prime minister has staked the survival of the country he is prepared to set no date. The Centcom forecast of imminent extinction is gloomy indeed. But the prime minister’s hope for survival pinned on a military victory hardly dispels the gloom. And to admit that only the military can save Pakistan from falling apart is a troubling thought. The high and still mounting cost in human terms however is enough to fill every citizen with shame and grief even if it does not give rise to apprehensions of a second secession.

After the East Pakistan experience no assurance really holds. Physical distance was then blamed for the defeat. Geography admittedly went against Pakistan. The commanders blamed the ‘logistics’ more than the widespread popular resentment and India’s armed intervention. But it was known from the very birth of the idea to its culmination that Pakistan would not be a consolidated or homogenous state. Reliance was placed, almost entirely, on a common religion to unite diverse races and regions into a single nation-state.

When after the last-minute rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan by Pundit Nehru (that plan was to keep India together with a centre administering only defence, foreign affairs and communications) partition became inevitable, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a great Muslim and a greater exponent of India’s unity, stuck to his conviction that it was ‘one of the greatest frauds on the people to suggest that religious affinity can unite areas which are geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally different. It is true that Islam sought to establish a society which transcends racial, linguistic, economic and political frontiers. History has however proved that after the first few decades or at the most after the first century, Islam was not able to unite all the Muslim countries on the basis of Islam alone.’

Ironically, at that very time Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a staunch opponent of partition, turned into a supporter hoping that Pakistan would not last and the seceding provinces would one day return to the fold of Mother India. The thrust of Azad’s argument against partition was that two areas separated by 1,000 miles could not form one viable country by ‘religious affinity’ alone. Perhaps he would have been less strident in his opposition if Pakistan were to be one compact area as it is today with lingual and cultural differences smoothly merging into each other.

However in the present situation of insurgency in vast swathes and ethnic discontent and religious strife all over, Azad’s view that a common religion alone does not make a viable state has since won many adherents. If it were to be so, the military would not have been in action as it is now in Malakand division and was in Balochistan more than once. Nor would there have been recurring martial laws and sectarian mayhem.

For national cohesion Pakistan’s successive civil and military regimes have relied, besides the bond of Islam, on passion for Kashmir, hatred of India, friendship with China, aid from America and, when the chips are down, on the armed forces. All these props are now falling apart. The Islamic sentiment, in the current conflict, is being invoked by the Barelvi group in support of the armed forces and by the Deobandis to justify militancy.

Passion for Kashmir is giving way to realism and hostility for India to envy for its democracy and spectacular economic growth. China no longer feels compelled to pamper Pakistan as it mends fences with India and Russia. And, finally, the sectarian colour given to the campaign against the Swat militants is sure to persuade the military commanders to tell the government to solve political problems politically and seek a fresh mandate from the people if it cannot.

Henceforth no party in Pakistan, it seems, would be able to win at the polls nor perpetuate itself in office by exploiting religious sentiments, nor by leaning on America or China, nor by inciting hatred against India nor by summoning the armed forces to its aid. Every political party shall have to rely on the support of the people at large and of the state institutions and the provinces by sharing benefits and responsibility with them. Most crucial is the place of the provinces in the federal power structure. At present, they are no more than subordinate units of the centre.

The imperial rulers and Indian statesmen led by Jinnah and Nehru had agreed in 1946 (though Nehru later retracted) that India could be held together by a central government exercising control only on defence, foreign affairs and communications. The stresses caused by global conflicts and the economy would now require the centre to have some more functions. The arch confederalist Mumtaz Bhutto is prepared to cede currency to the centre as well. Dr Mubashir Hasan’s independent commission is inclined to cede foreign trade, income tax, citizenship and immigration too.

Transfer of powers from the centre to the provinces is bound to be a troublesome exercise but is necessary to keep the country united which, we have learnt to our cost, religion, America and the army no longer can.

In the new dispensation, for the tribal areas and Balochistan the state should be more suzerain than sovereign in the conventional sense. That was the imperial way of working when things were better and, as a political agent in the 1960s, this writer can testify it worked even after independence. The all-important question of provincial autonomy however has to be settled first.

Washington’s AfPak policy
India may come under US pressure
by Air Marshal Brijesh D. Jayal (retd)

It was only recently that President Obama’s emerging Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) policy was based on the assumption that the key to solving the Afghanistan problem was a stable and cooperative Pakistan. It is a measure of the rapidly changing dynamics of this region that overnight it has become Pakistan that is the primary focus of both US and international concern. Predictions of it becoming a failed state are no more in the realm of speculative exercises.

In February, the Pakistan government struck a peace deal with the Taliban, acceding to the latter’s demand for the imposition of Sharia throughout the Malakand agency that includes both Swat and Buner.

Emboldened, the Taliban declared their intention to enforce Sharia in the whole of Pakistan claiming that Western-type democracy was alien to the Islamic way of life.The Taliban then occupied the district of Buner, a mere hundred kilometres from Islamabad. This set the alarm bells ringing in Washington.

Strong statements emerged from Washington. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked of events moving closer to the tipping point of a militant takeover of Pakistan.

General Patraeus told administration officials that Pakistan had run out of excuses and the next two weeks would determine whether it would survive. The White House asked the Pakistan and Afghanistan Presidents to be in Washington for a trilateral summit with US President.

This sustained diplomatic pressure and the approaching summit had the desired effect and the Pakistan military which thus far had been a mute spectator sprung into action. Their operations were perfectly timed to soften the reception that the Pakistan President and his party, including the ISI chief, would receive in Washington.

Then, on the eve of the summit, came the news of a major offensive launched by the Pakistan Army inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban. Pakistan was repeating what it does best — running with the hare and hunting with the hound!

Within two days, the mood in Washington had softened and the strong statements verging on panic moderated. With the Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan by his side, the US President declared, “We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future.”

That this statement emphasised terrorist activities only within these three nations is not insignificant. The US has always been somewhat ambivalent about expanding the definition of its war on terror to include Pakistani-abetted terrorism against India since it desperately needs Pakistan for its war in Afghanistan.

Clearly, President Zardari and the Pakistan Army had played their parts in this charade well. Pakistan was rewarded with good words and a cheque for $400 million. At a Congressional hearing to a pointed query from Congressman Ackerman as to why Pakistan needed F-16 fighters to take on terrorists, Holbrooke is quoted to have said: “I am told by F-16 pilots that an F-16 with modern avionics can be used as a counterinsurgency tool, but quite honestly, it requires very sophisticated training. They did use the aging F-16s in their battles in Swat!”

In Pakistan, the Prime Minister made a strong statement declaring that the Army would wipe out all militants and terrorists that were threatening the integrity of Pakistan. Significantly, he did not name the Taliban at all. At least, the immediate crisis appeared to be over, and all parties, including the Taliban, would retreat to execute their next moves.

Where does this leave India? Judging by the tranquillity being displayed by the Indian security establishment amidst some of the most ominous security developments in the region, one can only conclude that the Indian foreign policy and security establishments are still basking in the glory of the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal and the anticipated strategic embrace that would propel India into world power status!

Looking back, President Obama had in an interview with Joe Klein of Time magazine stated, “Kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where that is obviously a potential tar pit diplomatically…..But, for us to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this?”

Talking to the House panel recently on the deteriorating situation in Pakistan and efforts to reduce India-Pakistan tensions, Mrs Hillary Clinton said, “It’s a very profound question because there has to be effort to enhance confidence between India and Pakistan.”

This, when we were told by our foreign office mandarins, specially in the closing stages of the Bush administration, that the US had long dehyphenated Pakistan from US-India relations!

Already, there are indications that the next government is going to come increasingly under pressure on the issue of Kashmir supposedly to assist Pakistan in dealing with the Taliban, its own creation. Mr Robert Blackwill, a former US Ambassador to India and Adviser to the Bush administration, has said in interviews that India will come under US pressure on the Kashmir issue and Indo-US relations will see some cooling off. As one can see, Pakistan, the spoiled brat of the region, once again seems to be getting its way.

We are now faced with stark choices. A Talibanised or failed Pakistan is not in our security interests. Yet this is a possibility and in an environment where even friends and allies are putting their national interests first, we cannot be doing otherwise.

More importantly, we cannot be seen to be outsourcing our national security to the US or anybody else. But judging by our past performance, we seem to have done just that.

Describing India’s response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks as remarkable, Mrs Hillary Clinton told the House panel that both the Obama and Bush administrations had worked hard to prevent India from reacting to the Mumbai attacks and predicted that the perpetrators would not cease their attacks, in India, because they were looking precisely for the reaction that the US wished to prevent.

Clearly, the message to the soft Indian establishment is that while there may be more attacks, India must be patient and not provoke Pakistan, because that would hurt US and Western interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As far as the US and its allies are concerned, terrorism in Kashmir and the rest of India is a byproduct of India-Pakistan relations, and solutions lie in improving them. In short, the West’s war on terror is different from that of India.

Taking a cue, it is time for India to jettison the mindset that others will help propel it to great power status. It must make its resolve clearly known that its status will come from its inner strength and that it has the will to safeguard its sovereignty.

Any further attack will be met with a response solely determined by India’s wider security interests. On our part, this needs just two things. We need to be adequately prepared and to have the resolve to act in our own security interests. For the present, we seem to be lacking in both.

SSC-17 celebrates 35th anniversary
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 17
The 35th anniversary of the army’s 17th Short Service Course (SSC) was observed by the members at the Defence Service Officers Institute at DSOI, sector 36, today.

Maj. General KS Khajuria, among the senior most members of the course, was also present. The occasion was commemorated with nostalgic memories of the training days and having bumped into each other at different places across the country during the course of their careers. The event renewed the fondness, comradeship and the spirit-de-corps among the course mates and their families.

The officers of SS-17 course have done well professionally and the course members have been highly decorated. This includes the award of Ashok Chakra (posthumous). Officers present on the occasion remembered the heroic deed of Lt Col HUS Gaur, who laid down his life fighting militants in the Kashmir valley and was decorated with highest peace time award for bravery.

Several members of the course have risen to the rank of major-general and are at present commanding various divisions of the army.

A number of retired officers and those who side-stepped into the civil stream with passage of time from Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana made it a point to attend the event.

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