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South Asia roundup August 7, 2009

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Nepal, Pakistan, South Asia - General , trackback

Sandy Gordon

India

In India, the  sclerotic law enforcement system and creaking police service have again come under scrutiny.  An alleged ‘encounter’ killing of a former militant in Manipur has been captured in a series of highly incriminating photographs first published in Tehelka.   Widespread unrest in Manipur followed the allegations and the Manipur government has now announced a commission will inquire into the event, to be conducted by a judge from Assam.  This is but one of a whole series of alleged ‘encounter’ killings.  This one happens to be highly sensitive because of the separatist movement in Manipur and the remarkable footage recording the killing.  The Indian authorities have asserted the footage could have been electronically doctored.

An article in Nature chronicles India’s bid for a third scientific research station in Antarctica.  This will be the second active station, an earlier one having been covered by ice.  It is to be located in a part of Antarctica from which what is now the Indian subcontinent was originally detached.  The Indian government claims this geological connection provides a strong scientific rational for another station.  However, the location is also within a proposed Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA), designed to restrict human activity on environmental grounds. The ASMA is being proposed by Australia and China among other countries, and India’s bid was initially opposed on environmental grounds. But one Indian former official asserted in the Nature article (see above for link) that this opposition had more to do with the desire of the opposing parties to keep natural resources to themselves rather than with protection of the environment.

Pakistan: the ‘duel of the dossiers’

Ever since the 26/11 attacks, India and Pakistan have been engaged in swapping ‘dossiers’ in a quasi-legal framework accompanied by a form of ‘megaphone diplomacy’ in the respective national presses.  The latest spat concerns the arrest and subsequent release of Lashka-e-Toiba leader Hafiz Saeed.  India claims it provided a dossier of evidence adequate to bring Saeed to trial.  Pakistan asserts that the evidence was insufficient. In a counter dossier, Pakistan has also questioned the earlier information provided by India in relation to the five alleged planners of the attack already arrested in Pakistan. On a positive note, and in a first, Pakistan has issued an Interpol Red Alert for 13 other abscondees allegedly associated with 26/11.

Meanwhile, the Interior Minister now says that a US missile from a drone has likely killed Baitullah Mehsood, leader of a Taliban faction in South Waziristan and alleged assassin of Benazir Bhutto.  Final proof of the killing cannot be obtained, however, due to the fact that the Taliban is preventing ground access to the bombed dwelling.  Although a new leader would likely quickly emerge to replace Mehsood, if he is, indeed, dead it would be a significant blow for the counter-terrorism effort.  

There has been considerable attention devoted to the issue of the potential strength of support for militancy in Punjab, this being the Pakistani ‘heartland’ and recruiting ground for the military.  Some argue that the feudal land settlement  leaves the status quo highly vulnerable should militancy link with economic discontent.  An interesting, in-depth article in the New York Times argues that most mullahs in Punjab are aligned with the elites, however.  

Nepal

Commentary in Nepal points to increasing concern about use of Nepal by Tibetan exiles for alleged ‘anti-China’ purposes.  Nepal is squeezed between India and China and has to maintain a judicious balance between the two, so the matter is highly sensitive.  Of particular concern is the district of Mustang, which sticks like a thumb into Tibet from Nepal and which is peopled predominantly by Tibetans.  Mustang was an important location of the Kampa revolt, which was supported by the CIA. 

The concern also has a wider context.  Following the incident concerning the attempted dismissal of the Army Chief by the previous Maoist government, India was blamed for ‘interference’ in Nepalese affairs because New Delhi went on record opposing the dismissal.  This perception of Indian interference fed into anti-Indian sentiment, in turn fuelled by the ubiquitous nature of the Indian economic connection with land-locked Nepal.  Such sensitivities have now translated into concerns about use of Hindi as an official language in Nepal.  If Nepal were to acquire a significant pro-China ‘tilt’, as appeared to be developing under the Maoists, New Delhi would be deeply concerned. 

Meanwhile, the Maoists, claiming that the Communist-led government has not adequately pursued the issue of dismissal of the Army Chief, have decided to mount a new nation-wide agitation.  This comes at a difficult  time for Nepal during the tourism season and the drafting process for the new constitution.

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