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Listen to your predecessor

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Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not known for making fiery speeches. He is quite a soft-spoken person speaking through intelligence than mere words while making his point. The man known for his golden silence, opened up at a press conference in Karnataka the other day and launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. In one of his most aggressive attacks on the BJP government at the centre, the former prime minister, besides mismanaging economy, disrupting social harmony and promoting corruption, accused Modi government of messing up the Kashmir case as well by his ‘jumla’ (rhetoric) politics. Though Kashmir was never peaceful, evening during Dr Singh’s rule (2008, 2009 and 2010 summer uprisings are a case in point) but there always remained a hope in air as he never shut the doors of dialogue, both, at internal and external level. Dr Singh held two rounds of talks with Kashmiri separatist leaders barring Syed Ali Geelani. But for Mumbai 2008 attacks, the relations between India and Pakistan too remained peaceful, if not friendly. The LOC was peaceful and institution of dialogue active. But after the rise of Modi to power in Delhi, the scene altogether changed. Modi not only shut the doors of the institution of dialogue but also adopted a ‘tit-for-tat’ policy with Pakistan, and ‘crush them all’ with separatist leaders. There is no denying the fact that this policy helped BJP win election after elections in various states of India. But this fact can also be not denied that the situation in Kashmir had never been as horrific as today. The “crush them all” policy has fiercely proved counter-productive. Militancy which was residual when Modi assumed power has become conventional. More and more youth are driven towards gun. The alienation of common people too has touched new heights. The central government appears to have been caught in its own web. Is it paucity of ideas or the mindset problem that government looks only at uniformed people to save situation for them in Kashmir. More and more forces are pushed in to control the situation. They kill people with no fear of law. Civilians and militants are treated equally at encounter sites. It is now difficult to draw a line between militants and civilians.

Anybody can be killed at any place on any premise. It can now be said that there are no civilians in Kashmir. This notion is now projected and promoted by the political and media establishment all across India. Even judiciary is protecting security forces from being made accountable. In March, Supreme Court of India stayed legal proceedings against an army Major under whose command three unarmed civilians were shot dead by soldiers at Ganowpora in SAhopian. Similarly another army officer Major Gagoi was protected and rewarded when he violated all norms of humanity and civility by tying a hapless Kashmir youth to his jeep in Budgam in April last year. Since 1990 when militancy erupted, almost seven lakh soldiers of regular army and paramilitary forces have been deployed in Kashmir to counter the insurgency. Though the militancy was curtailed to certain extent but it could not be curbed completely. Many army commanders (former) are on record to have said that “army can only contain militancy but it cannot end it up. There is a need for serious political outreach to make Kashmir peaceful”. Only recently the incumbent army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat was also heard raising similar voice. This is the most plausible thing one can expect from reasonable minds. Kashmir, in essence, is a political problem. It cannot be wished away. If left unresolved it will keep returning as a crisis with increased intensity. Militancy and military approach are the outcome of delay in resolving the issue politically. Government of India should have learnt from the past experience where military action not only failed to restore peace but worked as igniting force to add to the trouble. Prime Minister Modi should think beyond the advantage of poll politics. Sacrificing peace and countries other interests at the altar of party politics is the worst thing one can do to one’s country.

 
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Editorial

Collapse of Afghanistan peace talks

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The hope for end of the war in Afghanistan has suffered a major blow as the peace talks between Taliban and the Afghan government have collapsed. A key meeting of Taliban leaders and Afghanistan government officials was scheduled to take place in Qatar on April 19 but a last minute row over the large number of delegates Kabul wanted to send culminated in the fall down. Taliban leaders refused to accept the Afghan government delegation in such a large size. The peace talks have been postponed indefinitely. The talks have collapsed at a moment when bloodshed continues in the war torn country. On Saturday suicide attackers stormed the Ministry of Communications in the capital Kabul trapping thousands of people inside the building for hours while security forces battled the assailants. At least 10 people died in the fighting. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attack, which came a day after U.S.-led peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan leaders broke down in Qatar, with no immediate plans to reschedule negotiations. Taliban indeed is the major power group in Afghanistan. It now controls or influences more than half of Afghanistan. The government writ has largely been squeezed to Kabul only. A recent United Nations tally revealed that around 4000 civilians were killed across Afghanistan last year. The United States, which is leading an effort to end the war, signaled its disappointment and urged both sides to return to the table, though organizers gave no hint about when the conference might be rescheduled.

Efforts to end the Afghan conflict have accelerated since the appointment of U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in September last year, who has since been shuttling across the region to revive Afghan peace talks. He has held several meetings with the Taliban leaders at their political office in the Gulf country of Qatar. American President Donald Trump’s letter, in recent past, to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Islamabad’s support in establishing peace in Afghanistan too has helped in reviving the peace efforts in the decades old war torn country. Trump had earlier tried to terrorize and pressurize Pakistan through intimidating measures, and in the process stopped all the military aid the country was supposed to get as its share for being a partner in America’s war on terrorism. Trump directly accused Pakistan of harbouring and sponsoring the terrorists, and wanted Pakistan to fight the America’s war in Afghanistan. Trump issued threat and warnings to Pakistan with the intention that like in the past it would succumb to such pressure. But as it saw Taliban capturing more and more areas, Trump stopped all military and economic aid to Pakistan to make Islamabad more pliable. America even threatened Pakistan of military action if it did not comply to the US orders. But the rise of Imran Khan to power saw a new and confident Pakistan refusing to toe the American line. American officials have now admitted that the Taliban control more than 60 per cent of the territory in Afghanistan. Hence, the Trump administration has finally come to the conclusion that there is no other option but to talk to the Taliban. The U-Turn by Donald Trump is a huge indicator that no country, howsoever powerful it could be is invincible. In the new scenario, America’s interests in peace in Afghanistan are growing as the US wanted complete withdrawal of its forces from the country. There is no other alternative to peace. Irrespective of what America or other interested powers want, peace should restore in Afghanistan in the interests of its people. More than anyone else, it is the people of Afghanistan who need peace. It is imperative on all stakeholders to restore peace talks without any delay so that peace returns to the war-torn country.

 
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Editorial

Easter Sunday shock

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On Sunday Sri Lanka was rocked by a series of deadly blasts that killed more than 200 people and injured around 500 more. At least eight bombs ripped through three Churches and two high-end hotels in the capital Colombo causing widespread casualties. Seen as one of the worst terror acts in the island nation, the bombing were struck at a time when large number of Christian devotees had gathered in Churches to celebrate Easter. The day is celebrated by Christian across the world as a mark of reincarnation of Jesus Christ three days after his crucification. In a country of 22 million people, Christians form around 10 percent of the population. The scale and savagery of the attacks that clearly targeted Christians have left Sri Lankans devastated and confused. The country has a long history of disenfranchisement among minority Tamil groups, who are largely Hindu, at the hands of the Sinhalese Buddhists led to a civil war in the 1980s. The Tamil Tigers, an armed insurgent group that identified itself as secular, launched deadly attacks, including some of the earliest use of suicide bombings as a tactic of insurgency. The group was active in northeastern Sri Lanka, in areas such as Jaffna. The LTTE was a highly motivated insurgent group which is the first separatist militant group in south Asia to introduce suicide bombings as a means of its campaign. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was also killed by this group by human bombing.  In response, the Sri Lankan Army carried out brutal campaigns, largely focused on the Tamil stronghold in the northeast. The civil war ended in 2009 after a large-scale operation by the army that defeated the Tamil Tigers and killed its leader—Velupillai Prabhakaran. There is no exact casualty toll, but the United Nations has suggested that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in the last stage of the war alone.

 No group has claimed responsibility for the latest devastating attack. The police said they believed the bombings were the work of one group but declined to identify it. At least 35 of the victims were foreigners, including several Americans. For years, as Sri Lanka has climbed away from war, it has been building a robust tourism industry. The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory and punctuated a rising trend of religious-based violence in the region. In recent years, there have been clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, and in March last year the government imposed a 12-day state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots. Christian groups have also complained of increased harassment from hard-line Buddhist groups. Buddhists form around 70 percent of the country’s overall population. Sri Lanka is known for its tremendous natural beauty, which attracts millions of tourists every year. The country gained independence from British rule in 1948 as the dominion of Ceylon, and became the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. Its people have long borne a burden of violence.  It is yet to be seen who are behind the Sunday bombings and how it does fit in the country’s turbulent history. Much to the credit of the Sri Lankan government, the island nation did not react in panic. Though the authorities had to impose curfew as precautionary measure but the overall situation is reported peaceful. But few would dispute with the fact the rise of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has resulted in sectarian divides that is growing menacingly, and the country has experienced new waves of violence. A rise in intolerance has been attributed in part to the postwar triumphalism of some Sinhalese majority politicians. The Sri Lankan government needs to look into the Sunday bombing from all angles.

 
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Editorial

Bad news from Islamabad

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Pakistan is in its history’s worst economic crisis. With no end in sight, Prime Minister Imran Khan has removed his finance minister Assad Umar from his position, and appointed a new chief Abdul Hafeez Sheikh for the finance ministry. Sheikh has served as economic advisor in General Musharraf’s government. But keen observers believe that removal of Assad would hardly bring any positive change in the current crisis without a huge bailout package from International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the exact amount of this package has not been determined, Pakistan already owes the IMF billions from previous programs. Since Pakistan is already on Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, any bailout package from friendly countries too is the most unlikely. It is a serious challenge that is starring at Imran Khan’s face so freighting. Imran Khan’s eight-month-old government has faced sustained criticism from political opponents, independent commentators and the business community over the government’s handling of the economic crisis facing the country. Much of that criticism was leveled against his finance minister Assad Umar. In his bid to pacify his critics and wriggle the country out of these crises, Imran Khan, last week, removed Assad from finance ministry for the lack of effective financial strategy. He was given other ministry but Assad took it as insult and he resigned from the government. Assad’s removal came immediately after he worked out a bailout package with the officials of IMF in New York. An IMF mission is expected to visit Islamabad next month to work out more details though, according to Assad, all major issues had been settled and documented. Assad was made the butt of criticism for taking months to finalize the IMF deal which resulted in serious economic crisis. The critics said that the delay in working out deal with the IMF shattered the confidence of the investors in Pakistan economy.
Pakistan is reeling under huge international debt. It can well be understood from the fact that currently around 31 percent of Pakistan government’s expenditure is earmarked for debt servicing. What ails Pak economy further is the decreasing revenues. Dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports and high inflation is adding menacingly to growing fiscal deficit, and current account deficit of Pakistan. The country has no other option but to knock on the IMF doors. It would 22nd bailout loan from the international body to Pakistan since 1980. Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dean of the Faculty of Management Science at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, in Karachi, last week, warned that Pakistan’s economy has reached the “point of collapse”. “For the first time in four decades of research, I am deeply worried. The alarm bells are ringing. We have no choice but to beg. I fear starvation, poverty and unemployment,” he warned. Pakistan government is likely to present the budget on May 24. Pakistan needs to ensure investment friendly environment to attract the international investors. Pakistan is facing a serious image problem that is scaring global investors. It is in the interest of Pakistan to improve its image as a responsible and credible nation-state by getting better the security scenario of the country to attract foreign direct investment. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Pakistan ranks 136th out of 190 economies. To improve this ranking and draw more investment, Pakistan should ease customs laws and regulations and rebrand and boost its international image as a desirable destination for tourism and industry alike. It should also encourage domestic investment through more flexible tax policies, particularly targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such measures would reposition Pakistan on the international stage as stable, competitive ground for foreign investment.

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