Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Billy Joel - We Didn't Start The Fire

Japan should never forget fate of previous Izumo in war of aggression

While the Japanese people were praying for peace in commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II, the Abe administration Wednesday was noisily reawakening the ghosts of Japan's militarist past. It held a high-profile ceremony to unveil a new helicopter carrier named "Izumo" -- the same name carried by a flagship involved in its war of agression against China in the 1930s. Officials of the Abe administration claimed the clash of the dates was a coincidence. AFP afterwards described it as indeed "an unfortunate coincidence." On top of coincidences, the Japanese government also excels at playing with words, or rather "calling stags horses". When the monster ship was unveiled to the world for the first time, many experts and media were more inclined to call it an aircraft carrier in disguise than a helicopter destroyer, as the Japanase administration insisted on calling it. The truth in front of our eyes is indisputable: in general, Izumo is a helicopter carrier with strong attacking capability. It is only 13 meters shorter than the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, and its standard and load displacements are far bigger than those of light carriers in some countries. As for its performance, the flat-topped deck and island-shaped buildings offer great possibilities for launching military jets. It may even carry combat aircraft such as the F-35B with a few more modifications. Regardless of the "coincidence" and tricky wording, all the covering up is bound to reveal itself before the mirror of history. Several decades ago, Japanese militarists' fetish for aircraft carriers prompted them to build more than 20 carriers and giant battleships. The carriers in turn became catalysts for their bulging aggression in World War II. After its defeat, Japan was no longer allowed to build attacking ships under the constraints of its "Pacifist Constitution." But the desire to have carriers again has been an evil constantly haunting Japan's ultra-right politicians and militarists ever since. The naming and launching of Izumo represents a flagrant evocation of the past militarism and Abe's intent to further militarise Japan. The facts are clear: from Shinzo Abe's hint at rejecting the historical conclusions regarding Japan's war of invasion to his open proposal to change the constitution, much the same way the Nazis did before, the words and actions of the administration have turned increasingly dangerous and there is no sign of attempts to get back on the correct track. These risky moves have stirred strong indignation and protest in neighboring countries and also evoked the condemnation of the international community. An editorial published in the French newspaper Le Monde advised Abe not to cross the line and called his remarks denying the aggression "unforgivable". Recently, U.S. officials also expressed their concerns about the militarist stance Abe has taken. Sixty-eight years ago, two atomic bombs exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing casualties of about 300,000, some of whom are still suffering from the sequela of radiation. But now, the Abe administration commemorates the deceased in a most horrible way, one that has shocked the world. History has warned us: it was war-obsessed Japanese militarists who dragged the innocent Japanese people to the abyss of darkness and inflicted tremendous pain on Japan's Asian neighbors. The Abe administration should never forget the so-called "military exploits" by "Izumo" were built upon millions of skeletons of the dead, and the ship itself was eventually destroyed by U.S. forces on July 24, 1945 and buried for good with Japanese fascism.

Great powers help keep Central Asia stable

More than 20 years after the Soviet collapse, the five Central Asian republics have somehow remained politically stable and are trying to find ways to thrive and protect their sovereignty. Some believe the role of big powers in this region is not as prominent as before. But that is not the case. Because of the changing international and regional situations, Central Asia is facing both external and internal challenges. The Afghan issue has posed direct pressure. As the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 comes close, the possibility of warfare among feuding warlords remains, which could have a direct impact on Central Asian security. The Taliban are trying to establish a theocratic regime. Central Asian countries worry about a resurgence of religious extremism and terrorism. At the same time, the "Arab Spring" is approaching Central Asian countries, which are currently in a sensitive period of power transition. Central Asian governments have taken heed of the wave, and have taken supposedly preventative measures that have intensified conflicts between civilians and officials. The possibility of street protests or violence to influence political situation is rising. These countries may encounter the overflow of extreme religious forces. Domestically, Central Asia countries are also facing severe challenges. The political system of these countries has not fully developed, and party politics is still immature. Authoritarianism prevails, and conflicts among elites are prominent. The political influence of big powers and their neighboring countries is strengthening. Besides past social problems that remain unsolved, such as poverty, population and land usage, new ones have emerged. Food security problems are more urgent than ever, and the weak education resources cannot withstand the intrusion of religious extremism. Conflicts among Central Asian countries themselves are also apparent. For instance, the dispute over water resources between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan has been keeping bilateral relations tense. There is still the possibility of low-intensity confrontation in border regions. As Central Asian leaders constantly call for the support of big powers given numerous threats and challenges the region faces, these countries need to find the partners that can benefit themselves most in terms of politics, economy and security. Economic cooperation between China and Central Asia has been deepening, which has become a powerful engine for the region's economic development. Meanwhile, Russia has been playing a key role in the region's development and stability. For example, a customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus has been introduced to promote regional economic integration. Russia also helps to maintain the security situation through the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, especially in maintaining Kyrgyzstan's stability. For the US, Central Asia is the most important channel to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, making it powerfully invested in regional stability European countries have been dedicated to helping the region's economic growth, scholarship and cultural heritage, as well as coordinating disputes of water resources among member states. Due to the complexity of the international situation, a win-win mode has been accepted by all. And only with this mode can challenges be met.

Kremlin: ‘Disappointing’ Obama decision to cancel Putin talks ‘clearly connected to Snowden’

By calling off Obama’s visit to Moscow, the US has shown it is not ready to build relations on an equal footing, the Kremlin says. The Snowden situation, on which the decision was based, is not Russia’s fault, presidential aide Yury Ushakov stressed.
“We are disappointed by the US administration’s decision to cancel the visit of President Obama to Moscow that was planned for the beginning of September. It is clear that the decision is related to the situation around the former intelligence agency employee Snowden – something that was created not by us,” Ushakov told reporters on Wednesday. According to Ushakov, the US has “for many years dodged entering into an extradition treaty” with Russia and “invariably refused” its extradition requests citing the absence of such a treaty. “All this situation shows that the US is still not ready to build relations with Russia on equal footing,” Putin’s aide added. Despite that, Obama’s invitation to visit Moscow remains in effect, and Russia is “ready to continue working with our American partners on all the key issues of the bilateral and multilateral agenda,” Ushakov said. Earlier today US President Barack Obama canceled a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow which was scheduled for September. The move came after Russia’s recent decision to grant temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Obama cancels meeting with Russia's Putin over Snowden decision

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin planned for next month in Moscow over frustration with Russia's asylum for fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the White House said. The Obama administration has repeatedly expressed disappointment after Moscow granted temporary asylum to Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who made public sensitive information about U.S. intelligence gathering. Russia rebuffed U.S. pleas to hand him over to face criminal charges including espionage.
The White House noted cooperation with Russia over issues including policies toward Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and weapons proliferation. But it said disappointment in progress with Russia on other fronts, as well as over Russia's handling of the Snowden affair, justified cancelling the summit. "Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda," the White House said. "Russia's disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. Obama now plans to add a stop in Sweden as part of this travels to the G20 summit in early September, the White House said. On Tuesday, Obama confirmed that he would go to Russia this fall for a Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, but said he was "disappointed" with Moscow's decision on Snowden. Senator Charles Schumer praised Obama's decision to cancel the bilateral summit with Putin. "The President clearly made the right decision. President Putin is acting like a school-yard bully and doesn't deserve the respect a bilateral summit would have accorded him," the New York Democrat said in a statement. Meetings between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry and their Russian counterparts scheduled for August 9 in Washington will go ahead as planned, the White House said. "Our cooperation on these issues remains a priority for the United States," Carney said. Snowden in June disclosed previously secret U.S. telephone and internet surveillance programs while in Hong Kong and then traveled to Russia, where he holed up in an airport for weeks. Face-to-face talks between Obama and Putin in Northern Ireland in June were tense. The two disagree over Syria, Russia's human rights record and other issues.

Video: President Obama Talks NSA, Trayvon, And Hillary Lunch With Jay Leno

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Pakistan - A dangerous failure

With this book, the distinguished Pakistani journalist Babar Ayaz joins the galaxy of Pakistani writers, such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, Saleem Shahzad, Ahmed Rashid and Khalid Ahmed, who have articulated in print their deep concerns about the path their country has taken and their fears about its future. This trend in Pakistani writing has been apparent over the last 10 years, possibly in response to the proliferation of jihadi elements across their country, the bloody and unabated sectarian violence, and the near-total collapse of governance. Mr Ayaz, appropriately, dedicates his work to the victims of terrorism. In his analysis of Pakistan's malaise, Mr Ayaz has perhaps gone well beyond other Pakistani writers in identifying the "two-nation theory", the basis on which Pakistan was created, as a "genetic defect". This theory, he argues, was propounded by the Muslim elite in undivided India who feared that their privileged position would be diluted in a democratic order. So they pursued the Pakistan project by exploiting the religious feelings of the masses. But they based their propaganda on a false reading of Indian history, postulating a deep divide between Hindus and Muslims across the centuries so that, in their view, at the beginning of the 20th century, two separate civilisations had come to exist side by side in India. However, at the outset, there were contradictions in this project: Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was entirely Westernised in his personal life, led the Pakistan movement - and, after achieving it, spoke of a "secular" entity in which all communities would live together in peace. He was very different from Muhammad Iqbal, who had inspired the movement with his philosophy and poetry founded on an Islamic vision that drew no distinction between the state and religion. Over the years, the founding father's vision has been rejected by Pakistan's successive rulers, the first of whom was General Zia ul-Haq, whose dictatorship was based on an unabashed commitment to the Islamisation of Pakistan's polity. He introduced laws and practices, such as the anti-Ahmadiyya enactments and blasphemy laws, that effectively took away from the country the ameliorating balm of love and mutual respect in its religious order and replaced it with hate and violence. Today, as Mr Ayaz has noted, the country is infested with religious militancy - 12,500 madrassas across the country tutor 1.6 million students with an archaic syllabus that preaches intolerance and animosity for non-Muslims, and even for Muslims from non-Sunni sects. Mr Ayaz has devoted considerable space to the armed forces' domination of governance in Pakistan. They justify their privileged position in the country as defenders of the "Fortress of Islam". In their training at various levels, the soldiers have a mindset of jihad consciously ingrained into their psyche. Pakistan's foreign policy is merely an instrument of its national psychosis, which is entirely motivated by animosity towards India - and furious national propaganda pertaining to India's commitment to break the Islamic state. Mr Ayaz points out, astutely, that Pakistan's polity constitutes a series of "trust-deficits", and these do not just extend to India and Afghanistan. Such "deficits" may also be seen in the relations between Punjab and the country's other provinces, between the army and politicians, and between the judiciary and elected governments. Mr Ayaz concludes his analysis by asking whether Pakistan is a "failed" country. He finds that Pakistan fares badly on most criteria - in short, the country is on the verge of collapse. So, is there room for optimism in this bleak assessment? The author has pointed out that, reluctantly, in the face of serious domestic and external compulsions, the armed forces have come to accept free elections - the Asif Ali Zardari government became Pakistan's first elected government to complete its full term and make way for another after a round of free and fair elections. Mr Ayaz also notes that the Pakistani business community is a major driver for improvement in Indo-Pak relations, and that increased people-to-people contacts would weaken ignorance and prejudice that are all too apparent on both sides. There is nothing in the book that is not known to Indian followers of Pakistan's affairs. Its importance lies in the impact it should have on different sections of Pakistani society. For the past few decades, they have either collaborated with or ignored the machinations of their armed forces, which, in the name of religion, have tarnished both their faith and their country - so much so that Pakistan is now seen as a major threat, both regionally and globally. Mr Ayaz himself describes Pakistan's commitment to the most rigid and intolerant form of Islam; the pervasive jihadi mindset; the numerous public and private institutions that support the country's commitment to extremist Islam at home and to the Taliban as the instrument of its interests in Afghanistan; and, above all, the powerful hold the armed forces have over every institution in the country. These factors, taken together, hardly provide any reason to be optimistic about the fate of our neighbour.

Washington’s Syria Policy: A Repeat of Afghanistan?

The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in December 1979. At the time, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and his chief national security adviser was Zbigniew Brzezinsky. Eyes turned to Washington. The United States did not intervene militarily, but transformed Pakistan into a war-front country. It organized Muslim mujahedeen resistance against the Soviet invasion with oil dollars flowing from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The plan was to make the Soviet army bleed, without directly clashing with it. The plan succeeded and the Soviets had to withdraw in 1989.Saudi-American action plan The Saudi-American plan that was productive in Afghanistan envisioned expanding the Afghanistan resistance to the Soviets’ Chechnya-Ingushetia region and hitting the Soviet forces in their own territory. The mastermind of the plan was Alexander Bennigsen, an American political scientist who was born in St. Petersburg in 1913. Bennigsen was an expert on Muslim communities in the Soviet Union. He died in 1988 without seeing the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. His successors, however, were able to witness the Chechnya war that broke out in 1994. This was followed by a second Chechen war from 1999-2009. The war was ended by Russia’s then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, trained by the KGB that advocated massacre-laden military intervention in Chechnya. But even he could not fully control the Wahhabi-Saudi-backed resistance in the northern Caucasus. The Chechen war was planned during the Afghanistan war and still continues. A strange visit to Moscow … President Putin had an interesting visitor last Wednesday [July 31]: Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. He is the head of Saudi intelligence and the National Security Council. He was also his country’s ambassador to Washington for 22 years. The CIA calls Prince Bandar “our man in Riyadh.” He is the one seeking, in meetings he organizes in Washington and Tel Aviv, ways to increase military support to Salafist-jihadist groups in Syria. He is the covert war expert who infiltrated al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters into Syria. He is an important figure that organized the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in 1980s with his stepbrother Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, then the head of Saudi intelligence. It is reported that his meeting with Putin was primarily focused on Syria. Sochi blackmail? Reports say their meeting covered Russia reducing its support of Assad in return for safeguarding Russian rights in Syria in the new regime to be set up, and leaving the control of Syria’s central and northern regions to radical groups backed by the Saudis. It appears that in return the prince has guaranteed to prevent Chechen attacks during the winter Olympics the Russians are planning to host [in 2014] at Sochi on the Black Sea. Sochi is the land of the Circassian genocide. That is why resistance outfits in the region — above all the Chechens — are opposed to the Olympics being held in that city. Chechen-Kurdish war? Obama’s plan is obvious: Follow Carter’s footsteps in Afghanistan. Pull out the Pentagon. He is trying to get rid of Assad with covert operations conducted by the CIA in cooperation with the Saudis, hence the transfer of Saudi-backed fighting groups from Caucasia to Syria. Unfortunately, Turkey is facing a Chechen-Kurdish war on its border. Without a doubt, the American-Saudi plan is dragging Turkey into the position Pakistan found itself during the Afghan war. The way to stop this is for Turkey to support to Syria’s indigenous Kurdish people without paying attention to their affiliation with the PKK. If Turkey allows a “radical legionnaire group” to have a say in Syria, it will face serious problems with the Kurdish identity in Turkey and in the entire Kurdish geography of the Middle East. We cannot allow a new Afghanistan to emerge on our border. We are facing a disastrous plan; yet Turks and Kurds can jointly defeat this plan.

Afghanistan: Senator Rogul Khairzad Survives Assassination Attempt, Daughter Killed
Ms. Rogul Khairzad, Senator of Nimroz province, survived an assassination attempt by some unidentified gunmen on Wednesday. The Senator was attacked in Ghazni province while she was on her way to Nimroz. However, Ms. Khairzad's daughter and the driver were killed in the attack. Ali Ahmad Ahmadi, Deputy Governor of Ghazni, said that the incident took place at around 11 am, when Senator Rogul along with her family was going to Nimroz province via Ghazni province. Mr. Ahmadi added that the attack happened in the Moqoor district of Ghazni province. Officials said that the victims have been rushed to an US military base in Ghazni. "In the attack, Ms. Rogul and her husband got wounded. Unfortunately, her daughter and the driver were killed," Mr. Ahmadi told TOLOnews. Although, no group including the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the incident, Mr. Ahmadi blamed the Taliban for it.

Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns Lyari blast
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the bomb blast in Lyari, which resulted into loss of precious human lives including of several innocent children while injuring many others. While expressing profound grief and shock over the incident, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that extremists and terrorist elements were involved in heinous crimes to fulfill their immoral intentions. He said that miscreants who derive pleasure from killing and harming our defenseless children and innocent people do not belong to our democratic society, children and youth are the future of our nation, they must be protected and nurtured. “Whatsoever is the motive of the perpetrators of these contemptible acts, they will never succeed”, he added. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari sympathized with the families of victims who lost their lives and limbs in the blast and prayed Almighty to rest the departed souls in eternal peace and courage for the bereaved families to bear this irreparable loss with equanimity. He also stressed that special arrangements should be made for timely treatment of all those injured in the blast.

India-Pakistan Tensions Find Deadly Echo in Afghanistan

A suicide bombing at the Indian consulate in Jalalabad is the latest episode in the simmering geopolitical struggle between the nuclear rivals
It’s not the first time that India’s official presence has been targeted in Afghanistan. In 2008, over 50 people, including a senior Indian diplomat, were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul. The following year, another suicide bomber attacked the site again, killing 17. Officials in Afghanistan, India and the U.S. have blamed both attacks on the Haqqani network, a clan the U.S. has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of using for terrorism in Afghanistan. While New Delhi has yet to finger any group in the Jalalabad strike, the government released a statement that the main threat to Afghanistan’s stability still comes from “the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders” — a thinly veiled barb at its longtime rival, Pakistan. That tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors are playing out on Afghan soil is not new. During Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, India supported the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban. Pakistan, for its part, supported the Taliban as part of its long struggle to maintain influence in Afghanistan and expand its geographic safety zone in the event of a conflict with India. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, however, the newly installed Afghan government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, allied itself with India, an unpopular development, to say the least, among those in Islamabad who chafed at being sandwiched between India and an India-friendly Afghanistan. Since 2001, India has contributed some $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, helped supply the Afghan military and trained an undisclosed number of Afghan forces in India. In 2011 Kabul granted an Indian consortium mining rights to one of the region’s largest iron-ore mines. As India’s stake in Afghanistan has deepened, Indian personnel working there have faced regular targeting. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, says Indian interests, from missions to NGOs to contract workers, have been repeatedly attacked, and, according to his organization, all of the attacks with confirmed perpetrators have been linked to terrorist cells either in Pakistan or backed by the ISI. In February 2010, two Kabul guesthouses popular with Indian expats were bombed, killing at least 17 people. Afghan officials again blamed Pakistan-backed terrorists with links to the ISI. But Pakistan today has its own internal struggles with homegrown militants, and some doubt the ISI has enough sway over groups like the Pakistani Taliban to order up hits like Jalalabad. “If [the ISI] had that much influence, then the situation here in Pakistan would be better,” says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst and defense expert in the Pakistani city of Lahore. More likely, he says, is that Indian interests have been stalked by Afghan-based insurgents — which may or may not have Pakistan links — because of New Delhi’s cozy ties with Karzai and the West. One thing everyone agrees on is this: what happens after 2014 is a cause for concern. Today, a peace deal is still a possibility. But if the Afghan government and its security forces lose control of more of the country after most foreign troops leave next year, both India and Pakistan stand to lose in the ensuing chaos, with insurgents crossing over the porous border and emboldening the Pakistani Taliban, and regional terrorist groups making further inroads into India. In a worst-case scenario, a power vacuum could give way to a full-blown proxy war between India and Pakistan, with the two nations providing material backing for opposing sides in a new civil war. Sahni, however, thinks that’s unlikely. “India has never been able to project itself overtly or covertly as an aggressive force,” he says. “We’re a bunch of wimps in that respect.” But things could certainly get ugly enough to scuttle widely held hopes for more regional economic cooperation, including the development of a regional gas pipeline and the U.S. vision of linking up the infrastructure of Central and South Asia as part of a “new Silk Road.” A little neighborly bonhomie could go a long way to keep symbiotic economic projects on track. “If relations can improve, then this rivalry [in Afghanistan] won’t be so visible,” says Rizvi. The past year had some bright points, with increased trade between the neighbors and the recently elected government in Pakistan, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, making overtures to improve ties with India. But, as six decades of fighting have proved, for every step forward, there is always a step back. On Aug. 6, as the two governments hashed out a date for the next round of bilateral talks, India claimed that 20 men wearing the uniform of Pakistani soldiers crossed into India at the nations’ border in Kashmir and killed five Indian soldiers, fanning the flames of enmity once again. The only cause that wins from these regular flare-ups is extremism. “If India-Pakistan relations are bad, it gives [Pakistani militants] an excuse to mobilize support for their groups as Islamist and highly nationalist,” says Rizvi. “It gives them space for survival.” And, as old tensions spill over into places like Jalalabad and Kabul, it is Afghans who lose. A recent U.N. report found that, even today, Afghan civilian casualties due to conflict were up 23% in the first half of 2013 compared with the same period last year. Deaths among women and children were up 38%. If foreign governments continue to vie for control in Afghanistan, the ground will only be stained with more Afghan blood. Read more:

Bangladesh Women’s right activist hails HC verdict to ban Jamaat

A Women rights activist of Bangladesh, Shipra Bose applauded the High Court’s verdict to ban Jamaat-e-Islami, the main Islamic party in the country. The court declared Jamaat as illegal and banned it from political activities including taking part in the general elections due early next year. Bose said that this outfit stood for fanatic causes. However, the ruling that the registration of Jamaat as a political party conflicted with the country's secular constitution immediately did trigger violent protests by the party supporters. On this aspect, Bose said that the Jamaat did not honour the nation’s Constitution.

India's poverty statistics may be flawed: critics

India's government claims that poverty has been cut by a third since 2004, attributing the decline mainly to its vast welfare programs. But the figures have sparked a row over the accuracy of the data. According to the latest data released by India's Planning Commission, 138 million people climbed out of poverty between fiscal 2004/05 (March-April) and 2011/12, leaving the official number of the poor at 269 million among a population of 1.2 billion. India's ruling coalition, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), in power since 2004, argues that the rapid economic growth in previous years combined with the government's welfare schemes contributed to the dramatic reduction in poverty in the world's second-most populous country. "The reduction of the poverty level across the country is a clear manifestation and endorsement of the pro-poor policies and the policy of inclusiveness of the UPA regime," UPA spokesman Bhakta Charan Das was quoted as saying.However, the methods employed by the government to calculate poverty have triggered heated discussions among economists and policy makers. A key issue of the debate is where the poverty line should be set. The Planning Commission counts anyone with less than 33 rupees per day ($1.72 in purchasing power parity terms) in urban areas, and 27 rupees per day in rural areas as living below the poverty line. The current methodology has not only been criticized by social activists, but also by the Ministry of Rural Development, which is responsible for implementing anti-poverty schemes. Detractors say that a daily income of 33 rupees a day allows only a mere subsistence and that it therefore must be raised to a level that would allow an "acceptable" living standard. However, there has been no agreement between scholars and politicians of what an "acceptable" living standard should be.
A political move?
The recently published figures are especially controversial since they come ahead of an election year in which the ruling coalition government is seeking a third term. V. K. Srinivasan, chairman of the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Economics, argues that the numbers have been presented in such a way that they reflect positively on the government. The economist points out that while the data earlier published by the Planning Commission had a defined frequency of four to five years, the hasty attempt by the Planning Commission to come up with data for 2011-12, has given rise to doubts that its officials have attempted to present data to "bolster the claims for achievement by the UPA government" as it prepares to go to the polls in 2014."What needs to be questioned is not the finesse with which experts calibrate the poverty line, but the intention with which some use statistics for political purposes," Srinivasan told DW.
Millions undernourished
Despite being an aspiring superpower, hundreds of millions of people do not have adequate access to food, clean water and basic sanitation. India ranked 65 out of 79 nations on last year's Global Hunger Index issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute.The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reported that an estimated 217 million Indians were undernourished in 2012. Moreover, nearly half of India's children under the age of five are chronically malnourished, according to the government's own estimates. Nonetheless, many economists agree that India's strong economic growth along with long-term government welfare schemes have managed to reduce poverty. "First and foremost, growth has directly created employment opportunities at better wages and thus pulled up the poor into gainful employment," says Arvind Panagariya, economics professor at Columbia University in New York. Secondly, the social scientist states that rising incomes have placed significantly larger revenues in the hands of the government, which, in turn, have allowed the government to begin new social schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNERGA) and considerably expand existing ones.
Drawbacks of social schemes
One of the expanded programs is the so-called National Food Security Bill, arguably one the largest food aid programs in the world. The bill, which was passed by ordinance on July 3rd and still requires ratification by both houses of parliament, is set to provide subsidized food to nearly 67 percent of India's population. Though the latest Planning Commission figures only place 22 percent of the population as actually living below the poverty line, the new proposal would give about 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of the urban population access to subsidized food, whereby the amount of subsidies received would vary from household to household. So-called "priority households" would receive the maximum monthly entitlement of one kilo of rice at three rupees (five US cents), wheat at two rupees and millet at one rupee.Panagariya makes clear, however, that such government programs are a double-edged sword. Even though they enable households to spend less on, for instance, food items, the schemes are also characterized by "huge inefficiencies and corruption." "They require a vast bureaucratic distribution system that is hugely leaky and are not ideal ways to address the poverty alleviation in the country."
New methods required
Many economists therefore emphasize that new methods are needed to both calculate poverty and win the fight against it. Srinivasan, for instance, advocates the use of a multi-dimensional poverty index, similar to the Human Delevopment Index employed by the United Nations Development Program, which also takes into account the intensity of deprivation in terms of living standards, health and education. "In other words quality of human development should not be judged in terms of income and expenditure only but should be done in terms of life expectancy and quality of education."Panagariya, in turn, says he is convinced that structural reforms have to be implemented in order to resolve the poverty crisis: "India can today eliminate abject poverty in one stroke if it would replace the food distribution program and MNREGA by direct cash transfers." He believes much more could be accomplished if the government did the same with various regressive subsidies such as those on food procurement, fertilizer, water, electricity, gas, kerosene and petroleum, which predominantly go to either large farmers or middle-class households.

Afghan Officials, Taliban Reportedly Have Held Secret Talks

Taliban representatives reportedly have held secret talks with representatives of President Hamid Karzai to try to restart a stalled peace initiative. A spokesman for Afghanistan's High Peace Council, Shahzada Shahed, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the council is in secret contacts with a number of Taliban leaders both inside and outside the country. One of the Taliban's representatives at their political office in Doha, Qatar told AP that talks with the High Peace Council have already begun. Talks involving the United States to end the 12-year war in Afghanistan were planned after the opening of the Taliban office in Doha in June. The initiative stalled after Karzai complained over the Taliban use of the name and flag it used during their five year rule in Afghanistan.

D I Khan jailbreak: implausible explanations

PTI Chairman Imran Khan has been making excuses for July 29 inexcusable incident in which some 100 Taliban attacked DI Khan prison and released 248 prisoners, among them 49 militants, and beheaded four Shia prisoners. At first, he blamed a lack of intelligence co-ordination, saying the provincial government would set up its own intelligence agency. But soon it emerged that this time actionable intelligence was made available to the KPK government well in advance of the incident, yet it failed to prevent the attack. At his Sunday's news conference in Islamabad, he again pointed fingers at others, asking how in the presence of an army division in and around DI Khan, elite force, police and special jail police, the militants had managed to get their men freed? So far as the provincial government was concerned, he claimed that "all necessary preparations" were made to avert the attack. Three security cordons were set up around the jail, he said, and machine gunners were also posted at strategic positions, but nobody put up a fight. Sounding desperate he asked "If nobody on-ground is willing to fight then what can the provincial government do in such circumstances?" Indeed, the provincial government had made preparations. According to reports, a rehearsal was also held a day before the incident. Yet that did not help. The obvious reason is that the police are no match, either in training or in equipment with well-armed, battle hardened militants who have been fighting the Army for years. The militants are well-conversant too with tactics military men employ to overwhelm an adversary. Facts on the ground indicate that the government failed to grasp the gravity of the challenge. Such a large number of TTP men arrived at the prison without countering any resistance several miles along the way. It was only after the incident that the provincial government ordered setting up of seven checkposts jointly manned by the Army and police personnel. The measure shows that the Army was asked to come in aid of the civilian authorities after-the-fact rather than as part of 'necessary preparations'. Had such a request gone out earlier, things would surely have been different. Some have unfairly criticised the KPK government, citing its stance that negotiations rather than use of force should be the preferred way of dealing with the extremists challenging the writ of the state to argue that it lacks the will to do the needful. It is pertinent to recall here a similar jailbreak in Bannu last year under the previous government headed by the ANP (the PTI is now saying the mastermind behind the DI Khan jailbreak is Adnan Rashid, a death row prisoner freed from Bannu Jail). No one can accuse the ANP of not having had the necessary will. But the present incident shows that if any lessons were learnt from that experience, they were forgotten. Rank ineptitude led to the release of dangerous enemies of the state and the brutal murder of four prison inmates. No excuse is good enough by way of an explanation for what has happened. Imran Khan told the news conference that the provincial government had initiated a high-level inquiry into the incident, and that its findings will be made public. The government can hold its own inquiry, but given the nature and magnitude of the crime, an impartial inquiry is also in order. The nation needs to have satisfactory answers to all the disturbing questions raised by Imran and others. It would be only proper therefore for the provincial government to request the Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court to set up a high-level commission to find out what accounted for the fiasco and why.

Roshan Pakistan: at what cost?

As Pakistan struggles to survive in a scorching summer in the grip of relentless load shedding, which runs up to 12-20 hours in some urban and rural areas, the latest announcement of the federal government to increase the electricity tariff has been met with incredulity, followed by outrage. A country already staggering under the effects of an almost decade-long energy crisis, which has resulted in the minimising of commercial and industrial output to a great extent, means the tariff increase is tantamount to pushing it into more hardship. The 25 to 98.24 percent increase in the tariff for industrial and commercial consumers is aimed at the generation of Rs 137 billion during the current financial year through a two-phase tariff ‘rationalisation’ plan. The electricity subsidy (one unit costing Rs 14 to produce is given to the consumer at Rs 9) inflicts a huge burden on the treasury, and now the decision to withdraw the subsidy virtually in one go has been announced. The present subsidy of Rs 396 billion will be reduced to Rs 252 billion, thus increasing the revenue generated by all distribution companies to Rs 1 trillion from the existing Rs 875 billion. Further, effective October 1, the tariff for domestic and agricultural consumers will be increased by an astronomical 117 percent. The earlier plan to increase the electricity rates incrementally has apparently been brushed aside to make way for a strategy that may give a short-term boost to the finances of the power sector but its long-term negative impact is too huge to be ignored. The Rs 500 billion circular debt, said to be the main cause of the electricity shortfall, has been cleared to the tune of Rs 480 billion to various IPPs, but as there has been no let-up in the intensity of load shedding even in the month of Ramzan, many questions have been raised. The allegation of cronyism to pay certain IPPs out of turn, or relegating others to lesser payments has surfaced. In consideration of the economic suffering of the majority of people, who have been forced for years to exist on a personal and professional level on a very limited supply of electricity, incurring tremendous costs of generating their own power, the present decision must be reconsidered very carefully. The incomes of all classes of people have suffered a steady setback — which continues to date — and any increase in electricity tariff would be devastating. The urgency with which the present government wishes to fulfil its promise of a ‘Roshan’ (Bright) Pakistan does not take into account the fallout. Pakistan wants to be rid of the menace of load shedding, but that in no way means most Pakistanis want to be in a position where the cost is so high that they would rather live in darkness than suffer further crippling financial burdens.

Pakistan: Another security lapse

Daily Times
It is obviously impossible to secure each and every thing and place, but being unable to protect those targets identified as under threat because of prior intelligence is unacceptable. Apparently the situation is that the intelligence system is working but the law enforcement agencies lack the wherewithal to act on the given intelligence. The attack on the Shalimar Express, a semi-private service, is of this nature (as was the D I Khan jailbreak). The private operators of the Shalimar Express had been receiving threatening calls from extortionists. The last call they received was on July 31, laced with warnings of dire consequences if the demands of the extortionists were not met. The issue was reported to the railway management, making sure that the Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique was in the picture. Pakistan Railways threw the ball back into the Shalimar Express operators’ court, telling them to arrange their own security. As it turned out therefore, the usual two constables of the railway police were ‘escorting’ the ill-fated Shalimar Express when it was blasted. Three people, including an infant, were killed and several injured. According to the latest reports, an improvised explosive device had been planted in the roof of a wagon’s washroom that exploded while the train was passing through Chatyana Railway Station, 17 kilometres from Toba Tek Singh. The Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique has called it an act of terrorism. He has ordered an inquiry into the incident, but without explaining why the railway management did not assist the Shalimar operators to thwart the attack when the country is afflicted on all sides by terrorism. The telephone calls, as reported by the Intelligence Bureau, were traced to Afghanistan. The attackers had been ‘identified’ and their plan was known. So much was on the table, yet still the incapacity to defend was in evidence. As the country sinks deeper into the quagmire of terrorism, the state machinery seems helpless and unable to do much about the situation. What made Khwaja Saad Rafique give a cold shoulder to the Shalimar operators when the lives of people were at stake? It was a matter of life and death of those innocent people who are dying like flies only because the authorities are not paying sufficient heed to the gravity of the situation. If Khwaja sahib thought the extortionists would be unable to go so far as to attack the train, or considered it unlikely for terrorists becoming extortionists, then the minister might require a new brief over the working of terrorist organizations using every means such as kidnapping, theft, extortion, etc, to fund their campaigns. The extortion racket has become an industry by now. With target killing becoming a routine and going unpunished, coercing people into paying extortion money has become easier. In Karachi (the original birthplace of the extortion mafia) there are about 50 no-go areas. Most of the extortion rackets operate from these pockets. Until June this year, 630 extortion complaints have been registered by the Citizen Police Liaison Committee, a Karachi body set up to help the police by providing information, crime statistics and technical support. Emboldened by their rate of success, the extortion mafia is fast penetrating into other cities all over the country and threatening business entities, as is suggested by the railway attack. Official reports have confirmed some political parties or their protégés are also involved in this criminality. Karachi’s violence has been largely attributed to the turf war ignited by different parties to get the maximum from extortion money. The recent phenomenon of the Taliban ramping up extortion operations in Karachi has added to the misery of the business community. In such circumstances, nothing can be taken lying down. We have already given enough space to the criminals and terrorists to wreak havoc on our lives. How much more do we intend to allow them to get away with before we wake up to the threat? We need to act collectively and on a serious note.

Close to collapse? Iran-Pakistan pipeline

IS it dead, or is there still some life left in it? The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project appears to have been dropped by the Sharif government, though no formal intimation has been made. If that is in fact the case, it is an unnecessary capitulation by the government to US, and perhaps even Saudi Arabian, pressure. Two matters are relevant here. First, is the IP pipeline a sanction-able project? If a robust legal defence and a hard look at the language of the sanctions suggests, as some in the Foreign Office have argued, that the IP pipeline is permissible under existing sanctions, then Pakistan is needlessly giving up a right to do business with a neighbouring country. Even if the pipeline project does make sanctions possible, are they automatically applicable and to what extent would Pakistan’s business relations with the outside world be harmed? The simple reality is that Pakistan has an acute gas and energy crisis. Any project that can help bridge the supply-demand gap in relatively quick order ought to be given urgent consideration. The IP pipeline certainly fits that bill and what’s more, the Iranian government has been very serious about supplying gas to Pakistan. The project on the Iranian side of the border is near complete and the Iranians have offered a number of concessions to cushion the fiscal impact of construction on the Pakistani side. To allow such a seemingly viable economic idea to collapse at the altar of international relations is a travesty and a disservice to the Pakistani people. It appears the Sharif government would rather focus on the potential fallout of Washington or Riyadh’s annoyance with Pakistan than close a deal with Tehran which is there for the taking. Is that bargain necessary or the only one that Pakistan can make? The starting point of the sanctions on Iran is to open up its nuclear programme to international inspectors to ensure it remains within the realm of a peaceful and civilian nuclear programme. As this paper has argued before, sanctions are not the best way to achieve Tehran’s cooperation and instead exact a terrible toll on Iranian society and economy. Starting from that first principle and then moving through the chain of questions such as whether the IP pipeline is even subject to automatic sanctions, the Pakistani government can and should push harder to have the project reach fruition and on time. The passive approach is equivalent to outsourcing Pakistan’s economic security and foreign policy and is entirely unnecessary.

PPP readies draft of new LB system, replacing nazims with mayors

The Frontier Post
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has prepared a draft of proposed local bodies system for Sindh, Local TV reported. According to the new draft, LB polls would be held on party basis, and the province would have mayor system. The draft envisages restoration of five districts in Karachi, led by district mayor, and the entire city would be led by Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor would be replaced by a rotation system every year, with the one seeking majority vote would be appointed as Lord Mayor, and the least as last district mayor. Hyderabad would be led by a Mayor, and its districts would be led by Chairman District Council. The same system would be applicable on Sukkur, Larkana and other municipal corporations.

Media and Judges double standards: Chaudhry Sarwar becomes Viceroy Punjab!

by Sarah Khan
One cannot help but applaud the immense “sacrifice” Punjab’s new viceroy, Chaudhry Sarwar has made. He has sacrificed his UK nationality in larger national interest and taken over as Governor of Punjab. Off course, the Sharifs couldn’t find one able bodied person amongst the 110 million population of Punjab or nearly 200 million from all of Pakistan and had to import Chaudhry Sarwar to be a constitutional head of the largest province of Pakistan.While his sacrifice of surrendering his nationality of UK may be a meaningless matter for me, the double standards that our media and the judges have shown on this matter sickens me! No one dares question the Sharifs as to why they had to import a Governor or has Chaudhry Sarwar pledged again to Pakistan. He must have pledged allegiance to the British Monarchy when he got a British citizenship. Has he now pledged that he will have nothing to do with Britain and will not be a subject. There has got to be an oath now to be taken by him! How come the media is not raising hue and cry on this? How come the cheater of cheaters, Iftikhar Chaudhry not taking suo moto notice? Off course, he did what he had to with Tahir ul Qadri. He has made a mockery of a number of elected parliamentarians. But he would dare not say anything to someone appointed by the Sharifs or maybe that the new viceroy of Punjab is also a “Chaudhry”. Media’s silence is baffling. I guess all of their energies were spent in the five years PPP was in power. It is this media which was responsible for the assassination of a real Lion of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. Salmaan Taseer was targeted on a daily basis by the media. His family life was exposed, his travels were talked about, his business was targeted, he was alleged to have been conspiring to kill a sitting chief justice and then eventually got him killed on charges of blasphemy. When it comes to the Sharifs, the media is completely quiet. There are no 10 articles a day on the appointment of a viceroy!
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President Zardari condemns assassination of army, police officers in Chilas
President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday strongly condemned the assassination of Army and Police Officers in Chilas. The President conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families. He prayed to Allah Almighty to bless the departed souls with eternal peace and grant courage to the bereaved families to bear this irreparable loss with fortitude.

Four Karachi wine shops targeted with explosives in an hour

The Express Tribune
Four consecutive explosions targeted four liquor stores in Karachi late on Tuesday, reports Express News. The first of the blasts occurred in Defence Housing Authority (DHA) when a bike parked outside a wine store near the Cineplex Cinema on Sea View, exploded as a result of a small improvised device blowing up. At least one person received minor injuries as a result of the blast. Bomb disposal squad after their initial investigations said that the first explosion was powerful and suggested that it could have been planted at the spot prior to explosion. Soon after, another explosive device blew up near another liquor store, located on Khayaban-e-Rahat. The store is reportedly licensed out to Shaheen Corporation. As police responded to the attacks to cordon off the blast site, they saw and arrested at least three suspicious person. These people were shifted to undisclosed locations for questioning. While law enforcement and emergency services were responding to the blasts in DHA a third improvised explosive device (cracker) exploded outside JB wine shop in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. The store is located near the Moti Mahal bus stop, and is located almost 23 kilometers away from the blast sites in DHA. A fourth blast was also reported outside a wine store located near Cafe Clifton. The damage was limited as the stores were closed on account of Ramazan. The bomb disposal squad has been dispatched to the sites to determine the exact cause of the explosion. “It seems that the blasts were carried out by the same group,” City Police Chief Ghulam Qadir Thebu told media during his visit to the blasts sites in DHA. “Apparently, timer devices containing around 200 grammes of explosives were used in the blasts. Investigators are trying to ascertain the motive behind the attacks.” While the police has yet to offer any explanation on the possible motives behind the attacks, Express News correspondent Nadeem Ahmed said that the shop owners had been receiving demands to pay extortion money and that the the explosions could possibly linked to the threats. There was no immediate report of any casualty.

Children killed in Pakistan explosion

At least eleven children have been killed and 26 others wounded in an explosion in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, police said. The blast took place in the impoverished Lyari neighbourhood of the city after a football match on Wednesday.“The bomb was planted on a motorbike that was parked outside the stadium,” senior police official Tariq Dharejo told AFP news agency. Dharejo said the bomb was a remote-controlled device. According to reports, the bomb targeted a member of the provincial assembly at the stadium, but he survived. Al Jazeera's Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Karachi, said: "Lyari is notorious for gang wars and this appears to be a localised crime in which criminal elements, who were against this politician, tried to target him." In other parts of the city, there were several explosions outside wine shops in four separate areas. Local politician Sania Naz from the Pakistan People's Party also confirmed the blast, saying that those killed were aged from six to 15 years old. Karachi, a city of 18 million people, contributes 42 percent of Pakistan's GDP but is rife with murder and kidnappings and has been plagued for years by ethnic, sectarian and political violence. Football is popular in the area, with people of all ages playing the game.

Attacks kill 28 people across Pakistan

Twenty-eight people have been killed in a series of attacks early this week in Pakistan, including a Wednesday morning bombing at a soccer field that left 11 dead.
A bomb blast that appeared to be targeting a provincial government minister killed 11 people before dawn Wednesday at a soccer field in southern Pakistan, the latest in a series of attacks that left 28 people dead across the country, officials said. The bomb planted next to the field in the city of Karachi was hidden in a motorcycle, said senior police official Razaq Dharejo. The bomb went off near the vehicle of provincial minister Javed Naghori, who was leaving after witnessing a late-night match between local teams in the Lyari neighborhood, said Dharejo. Naghori escaped unharmed. The blast killed 11 people and wounded 24 others, said provincial Information Minister Sharjeel Memon. Many of the dead and wounded were young boys standing near the soccer field when the bomb exploded. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and has a long history of political, criminal and religious violence. On Tuesday, police found the bodies of 13 people who were pulled off a convoy of buses in southwest Baluchistan province, shot dead and dumped in a ravine, officials said. A paramilitary soldier was also killed. The motive for the attack late Monday night in Baluchistan province was unclear since no one claimed responsibility. But suspicion may fall on separatists who have been waging a low-level insurgency in southwest Baluchistan province. The buses were headed to central Punjab province, and the separatists have a history of attacking Punjabis whom they view as outsiders encroaching on their independence. The province is also home to Islamic militants who have carried out past attacks, especially on minority Shiite Muslims. Paramilitary troops protect bus convoys moving through Baluchistan. But gunmen distracted the troops by shooting at an oil tanker, said Kashif Nabi, a local government administrator. Then, dozens of other gunmen dressed in tribal police uniforms stopped the convoy of five buses at a security checkpoint about 6 kilometers (4 miles) away after overpowering the nine policemen who were stationed there, said Abdul Waheed, deputy commissioner of Bolan district, where the attack took place. The attackers surrounded the buses, and two gunmen entered each vehicle to check the identities of passengers, said Waheed. A paramilitary soldier trying to sneak into the area was killed by the gunmen, said Waheed. The attackers took 22 passengers with them, including nine tribal policemen, Waheed said, but they left the policemen a few kilometers (miles) away because they were locals, and continued on with the 13 hostages. Police found the bodies near the town of Machh, around 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the checkpoint where the buses were stopped, said Nabi, the local administrator who works in Machh. Elsewhere, Taliban gunmen killed three senior security officials in the same northern area where the militant group shot to death 10 foreign mountain climbers over a month ago. The security officials were ambushed in their vehicle at around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning in Gilgit-Baltistan's Diamer district, said Ajmal Bhatti, the district's deputy commissioner. They were attacked shortly after leaving Bhatti's house, where they had been holding a meeting. The dead included an army colonel, a captain and the district police chief, said Bhatti. Their vehicle plunged into a ravine after it was attacked, and authorities later recovered the bodies. Officials have been on high alert in Diamer since Taliban militants killed the 10 foreign climbers in late June at a mountain base camp, said Bhatti. They have been holding meetings at unusual times and places, like Bhatti's house, to avoid attack. The same faction of the Pakistani Taliban that claimed responsibility for the attack on the mountain climbers, Junudul Hafsa, also claimed responsibility for the latest shooting. A spokesman for the group, Abdullah Ghazi, spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location, saying it was behind the attack. A Pakistani security official said the three men who were killed were investigating the attack on the climbers. They were trying to convince locals to confirm some of the details of the attack and identify the militants involved, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Attack casts shadow on Indo-Pak ties

New Delhi says assailants, in Pakistani Army uniform, crossed LoC; Islamabad denies charge
In what could turn out to be an acid test for India-Pakistan ties, the killing of five Indian soldiers early Tuesday on the Line of Control (LoC) in the Poonch sector of Jammu & Kashmir evoked strong condemnation from top political leaders with some in the Opposition asking the government to retaliate against Islamabad. While Defence Minister A.K. Antony did not directly accuse Pakistan of the killing — he made a carefully worded statement in both Houses of Parliament blaming the ambush on “approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniforms” — Islamabad rejected accusations by the “Indian media” of involvement of its troops in the incident. But as the electronic media ratcheted up its rhetoric on the incident, statements by leaders, including those in the Government, acquired a sharper edge. Winding up his response in the Rajya Sabha in the evening, Mr. Antony predicated New Delhi’s response on signals and actions from Pakistan. United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi declared that India would not be cowed down by “such acts of deceit” while the Bharatiya Janata Party urged the government to “reply to Pakistan in the same language.” Mr. Antony’s statement left open the possibility of the persons in uniform being soldiers or terrorists dressed to look like them, a question that could get clarified once the Army completes its investigations. Speaking to the media, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid warned that the incident could affect the bilateral relationship with Islamabad. The normalisation process was taking place because of signals from Pakistan. But if objective conditions for that were not met, it will be difficult for anyone on our side to move forward, he cautioned. Soon after news of the post-midnight ambush broke, India summoned Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner Mansoor Ahmed Khan and lodged a strong protest over the attack by assailants who came from across the Line of Control. Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Bikram Singh will leave for the ambush site in Poonch district on Wednesday to commiserate with the units of the Maratha Light Infantry and Bihar Regiment, as well as to ascertain the actual train of events from the sole survivor of the six-man patrol detail. On its part, Islamabad rejected allegations that its troops were involved and said Pakistani military authorities have confirmed that there had been no exchange of fire that could have resulted in such an incident. The attack takes place when prospects for resumption of peace talks had brightened with a new government in saddle in Islamabad and the two sides appeared to have got over the previous skirmish on the LoC in January this year, in which an Indian soldier was beheaded. Officials had earlier said both sides could hold talks this month on the least controversial and easily resolvable disputes over demarcation of the border in Sir Creek and barrages being built by India on rivers common to both countries.

Pakistan is back to its old ways

The deaths of five Indian soldiers in an ambush with what were Pakistan-based gunmen are only further evidence that the Line of Control (LoC) — and the Pakistani military in general — has started to become a live wire once again. Though it may not seem obvious to most Indians, the India-Pakistan border has seen a relatively peaceful period since the two sides agreed to an LoC ceasefire in 2003. While there has never been a moment of complete peace, the death toll of soldiers on both sides fell after the ceasefire. The endless artillery exchanges came to a close, allowing Kashmiri villagers on both sides of the LoC to normalise their lives. The resurrection of a legitimate democratic process in Kashmir can also be attributed to the drop in infiltration that went along with the ceasefire. The question is now whether this period of relative restraint is coming to a close. The evidence is accumulating. This is the worst loss of life by Indian soldiers along the LoC in over a decade. Violence along the LoC has been trending upwards the past two years. Militant attacks have resumed in the Valley after a lull of three years. Though publicly being claimed by Hizbul Mujahideen, even foreign observers believe these fidayeen attacks are thinly-disguised Lashkar-e-Taiba forays. Infiltration has also spiked. And, finally, there have been continuing attacks on Indian positions in Afghanistan. One of the theories is that the Pakistani military is feeling its oats as the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan accelerates and the likelihood of the Taliban coming to power in Kabul increases. Another is that the Pakistani military is itself in leadership transition and may be in need of expressing itself forcefully against what it still sees as its number one enemy. New Delhi should also be criticised for failing to consolidate the political gains it has made in Kashmir. Militancy may have waned, but daily protests and riots continue as a final political settlement eludes the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never hidden his belief that India has no choice but to keep up a dialogue with Pakistan, irrespective of what happens on the terrorism front. In the larger context, this is a sensible approach. India is not powerful enough to coerce Pakistan. But it can work to show Pakistan that its terror strategy cannot work. But persuading the Pakistani military — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is almost irrelevant in all this — of this requires a context. At present, with the Indo-US relationship fraying, the Indian economy on the ropes and the Afghan outlook for New Delhi increasingly bleak, there could be no worse context for talks with Pakistan. A lame duck government can only sell the extent of its own weakness.