Talks on Kashmir are stalled. Instead of discussing the Kashmir dispute. India has threatened to carry out surgical strikes at about 25 targets deep within Azad Kashmir. Indian army-chief Bipen Rawat has announced (January10, 2019) to carry out `war games’ by independent surgical fighting units in May 2019. They will be self-contained fighting backed up with air force and navy support. India claims to have carried out surgical strikes earlier on September 29, 2016. The strikes are celebrated as a national event. However, opposition, media and architect of the strikes, Lt Gen DS Hooda, now retired, considers it over-hype. In an editorial, Hindustan Times dated January 28, commented that army-chief’s statements `provided Pakistan with an excuse to build short range, nuclear-capable missiles, like Nasr, to target Indian formations undertaking conventional strikes’. `Pakistan is now flaunting Nasr’. Besides Nasr, Pakistan now has 52 Chinese Sh-15 Howitzer Guns (American equivalent M-777). These guns could fire nuclear tactical-nuclear-weapon projectiles up to distance of 53 kilometers. India is unmindful of possibility that his strikes could lead to a nuclear confrontation.
A dialogue, not more strikes, is the way out.
Let India listen to its own four foreign secretaries, if not to Pakistan. First, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, ruled out `a military solution’ as option to settle India-Pakistan disputes. Memon said so while participating in a panel discussion alongside Pulitzer Prize winning American author and academic Steve Coll and US journalist and author Peter Bergen. His remarks are an affront to civilian hawks and its army chief’s gung-ho statements.
Secondly, foreign secretary Jagat S Mehta understood India’s abhorrence to word ‘plebiscite’. So he presented some proposals to serve as requirements for evolving a solution after a period of ten years. His proposals are contained in his article “Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s” Some points of his quasi-solution are: (a) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. (b) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…” (c) Immediate demilitarization of the LoC to a depth of five to ten miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a “cold freeze”) for an agreed period. Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press, New York pp. 225-228). Let me now quote another foreign secretary JN Dixit from Victoria Schofield’s book Kashmir in the Crossfire. He says ‘it is no use splitting legal hair. “Everybody who has a sense of history knows that legality only has relevance up to the threshold of transcending political realities. And especially in inter-state relations… so to quibble about points of law and hope that by proving a legal point you can reverse the process of history is living in a somewhat contrived utopia. It won’t work.”
Let us now listen to the third foreign secretary, Krishnan Srinivasan. In an article, he outlines ‘Lessons for Kashmir from the Kuriles’ (The Hindu dated January 7, 2019). Srinivasan points out ‘Russia has for long been Japan’s hypothetical enemy’. But, the two countries are no longer at daggers with regard to Kurile Islands dispute. Four islands in the Kurile chain are claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia as successor state of the Soviet Union. ‘Despite the passage of over 70 years, this dispute has defied solution and prevented the conclusion of a Russo-Japanese peace treaty to draw a final curtain over the detritus of the war’. The Russians have deployed submarines and missile systems in disputed islands to preclude American intervention.
Moscow erects its claim on the post-war settlements of Yalta and San Francisco. Japan bases its claim on Russia-Japan treaties of 1855 and 1875.
After Mr. Putin’s visit to Japan in 2016, both leaders embarked on some joint undertakings on the islands without delving into entrenched legal position. They agreed to joint field surveys, joint economic activities and three levels of supervision. The cooperation covers marine species and aquaculture, greenhouse strawberry and vegetable cultivation, tourism, wind power generation, the reduction and disposal of garbage.
The cooperation, despite US reservations, is amazing. Moscow fears: (a) Tokyo amending Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which disallows Japan from maintaining or using a military force to settle international disputes, (b) Japan is among the world’s biggest spenders on defence. It plays host to American bases and missile systems, and plans to spend $240 billion up to 2024 on cruise missiles, missile interceptors, fighter jets and aircraft carriers.
Both Japan and Russia are pursuing greater collaboration, despite US displeasure at Japan’s accommodating attitude towards Russia. Srinivasan observes ‘although no two international problems are analogous, there are important lessons to be drawn from the manner in which traditionally hostile neighbours can identify common interests and explore unorthodox avenues along which to proceed in search of innovative solutions to apparently insoluble disputes. This requires strong leadership and a bold imagination. Neither India nor Pakistan lacks either attribute’.
Will Pakistan be a silent spectator to India’s strikes at 25 visualised targets? Will not the strikes escalate into a nuclear Armageddon? Talks are the way out.
Sri Lanka Appoints New Minister for Foreign Relations
The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations after his Presidential election in 2019. In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister Gunawardena hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka .His father Philip Gunawardena is a famous national hero known as ‘the Father of Socialism’. Gunawardena a graduate from the University of Oregon in the US, entered politics in 1972. In 1983 as the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP) he entered Parliament in a by-election held in Maharagma. He is well-known as a long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.
The new Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena is supposed to implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy. In a recent newspaper interview he stated “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community”(Sunday Observer,2019).In this context there is a history to this non-aligned policy. At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). As part of this approach, the new Sri Lankan government had outlined in the manifesto how the presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy .We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)
Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges”. Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is, therefore, vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals over the next five years.
Kartarpur may be the first drop of rain
On November 09th, 2019, Pakistan and India opened the first-ever visa-free corridor between the two countries to facilitate the pilgrimage of Sikhs – a minority community in both India and Pakistan but with major chunk of its populace settled in India – to their second holiest site located in Katarpur, a border village in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Inaugurated on the respective sides by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, the4.1 km long corridor –connecting Dera Baba Nanak Shrine in India with Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan – will enable more than5,000 devotees to visit the holy shrine everyday and is widely being regarded as the first drop of rain in the decade’s long history of the desiccated and conflictual relationship between the two neighbours.
An occurrence such momentous that it effectively exalted Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan as the most beloved figurefor Sikhs, besides actuating Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue a rare and extraordinary message of gratitude towards his Pakistani counterpart, despite the contextual reality that later has been drawing parallels between the Indian PM and Nazi leader Hitler after the Indian government’s draconian venture in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) steeped the relations between the two countries to an unprecedented low.
The trudge to this landmark breakthrough was as arduous and bumpy as it could have been between the two nations that share a 07 decades-long history of the antagonism. Although, the demand of Sikhs to be granted access to the revered shrine – located just a few kilometers away from the Redcliff Line – is as old as the two antagonist nations, interminable strains in the relationship between the two countries proved to be an impediment in the way of this few kilometers of journey across the border.
Even as Pakistan extended the olive branch and Indian politician Navjot Singh Sihdu – who attended PM Khan’s oath-taking ceremony in August last year – was apprised by Pakistani COAS about his country’s readiness to open the “corridor of peace”, cynicism and suspicion from Indian side were axiomatic. Sidhu was barraged with denunciation back home for embracing Pakistan’s top military official, while the sciolists in Indian political and strategic community tried to conjecture about the “covert designs” behind Pakistan’s apparently benevolent move. Indisputably, India was not left with any other choice except for accepting the Pakistani offer as responding otherwise could have infuriated its 22 million-strong Sikh minority. Though the Modi government hesitatingly expressed its consent for the construction of the corridor, it didn’t respond positively to the successive dialogue offers made by PM Khan.
To add to the complexity was the hyper-nationalistic and anti-Pakistan narrative adopted by PM Modi during his recent election campaign after he had fallen short of delivering on his previous election promises as regards transforming the Indian economy and improving people’s lives. As if Pakistan bashing was not enough to garner votes, Modi went as far as to push the two countries almost to the brink of a nuclear exchange in February 2019 when in response to an attack– purported to be a false-flag – at Indian security forces in restive Kashmir, he ordered Indian Air Force (IAF) to bomb targets inside mainland Pakistan, provoking a daring response from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) the next day resulting in the downing of an IAF jet and arrest of an Indian pilot by Pakistani forces, who was returned few days later.
Nevertheless, the perilous brinkmanship worked spectacularly for Modi and his right-wing BJP secured an overwhelming majority in the lower house of parliament, full credit to the shrewd manipulation of mainstream and social media– which abetted the regime’s efforts to cunningly overshadow the embarrassment of aircraft downing and capture of pilot with the celebrations of “punishing Pakistan”.
After winning elections, Modi further upped the ante in the disputed J&K and after imposing an all-out communication clampdown and enacting a security blanket over the valley of Kashmir – the state’s only Muslim majority region – unilaterally repealed the region’s decades-old semi-autonomous status.
Predictably, it evoked a strong response from Pakistan which downgraded diplomatic ties with India, cut-off trade and expelled the Indian High Commissioner while refusing to send his own to New Delhi. Then followed a long diplomatic scrimmage between the two countries with Pakistan trying to rally the support of international community against the tyrannical Indian moves in the occupied valley and India responding with counter moves aimed at hurting Pakistan diplomatically and economically, besides propagating the deceitful mantra of “all is well” for Kashmir.
Notwithstanding the reignited tensions, when Pakistan decided to move ahead with the opening of the corridor as per schedule, it was regarded as a bold diplomatic move. Though it would have earn the country appreciation abroad, a severe backlash from the opposition at home was very much on the cards and at a time when leader of a right-wing political party Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman was holding a sit-in in Islamabad with his thousands of zealot supporters demanding Khan’s resignation, the risk of domestic backlash had increased manifold.
Nevertheless, Khan’s government with the undisguised support of country’s powerful military moved ahead with the decision despite criticism from opposition politicians like Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – whose left-wing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) frequently champions religious freedom and interfaith harmony but didn’t miss the opportune moment to ensure the “obligatory” political point-scoring.
Although, Pakistan has made a landmark move despite soaring regional tensions and domestic pressure and opening of the border corridor can be rightfully considered as the first drop of rain after decades of desiccation, the chances that a rainstorm may follow which can convert the roads into the river, remain ever more slim and the major impediment is the simmering volcano; the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) – a sticking point mentioned by Khan in his speech on the day of the inauguration of corridor.
For more than seven decades the outstanding issue of J&K has been instigating hostilities between the two now nuclear-armed neighbors and recent unilateral actions by India – which violate numerous United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions and various bilateral accords with Pakistan – have just added to the fire and fury. Essentially, Modi’s regime’s recent actions in J&K has taken the matters to a point of no-return and the chances of Pakistan making any further peace overtures towards India or responding to any – though highly unlikely – Indian peace initiative, are slightest.
The pessimism around talks has already been echoed by Khan when he made it abundantly clear that until Indian government ends its oppressive clampdown in the valley of Kashmir and restores pre-August 5th, 2019 status of disputed J&K – an even distant possibility – negotiations remains out of question.
Even though, there is a remote possibility that Khan’s government – which has almost lost its initially built momentum against India over Kashmir and seems to be more concerned with other domestic and regional issues – will even subtly try to normalize the relationship with India, yet a slight nuance of any such move is likely to evoke strong backlash from country’s religious right as well as the political opposition. And given the virtual reality that supporting Kashmir cause is regarded as a symbol of nationalism in Pakistan, and country’s powerful military establishment and Khan are already facing accusations of striking a deal on Kashmir, it is even unlikely that Pakistan will venture on taking any further risk of making up with India, only to spark a general enragement.
India under Modi is undergoing a massive transformation and into the 6th consecutive year of BJP’s rule, the country’s fundamental secular outlook is under threat. In 1947, while Pakistan was being founded as a country for Muslims, India’s founding fathers envisioned a secular outlook for the culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse country. Seven decades below the line, Modi regime – despite publically pledging to safeguard India’s secular constitution – has embraced a fundamentally opposite course.
Rise of far-right may be a global phenomenon but India presents the most extreme and violent version of this imminent menace – a reality axiomatic by the rising religious intolerance, especially against Muslims; increased and generally overlooked incidents of mob-violence against minorities; cow vigilantes– which represent a militant brand of Hindu nationalism – patrolling the streets of India to impose their own version of “law” under state’s patronage; a sudden rise in the incidents of hate speech by the leaders of ruling party without facing any admonishment; the taming of Indian media to ally with government’s jingoistic policies and religiously incendiary rhetoric; various democratic and constitutional institutions conceding to the majoritarian impulse rather than adhering to constitution; ever reducing political space for dissent and opposition parties; and the recently introduced Citizenship Amendment Bill, which exclusively discriminates against Muslims.
These alarming trends clearly point out that Modi regime – in pursuance of Hindu supremacist Hindutva ideology – is steadfastly navigating the world’s largest democracy into the abyss of Fascism. Arguably, given the emerging trends in Indian society, Khan’s analogy between Modi and Hitler was not that erroneous and many Indian politicians and commentators have also expressed concerns that the early signs of Fascism are already obvious in Indian society.
Narendra Modi – who came to power with an alluring economic reform and development agenda – is now totally reliant on anti-Muslim divisive politics and to a tragic consorting, the democratic and constitutional institutions of the country – which were to place a hindrance in the way of this majoritarian brand of politics – seem to be accomplices. With no institutional and social hindrance to the Hindutva –a brand of politics kept at bay for many decades – this divisive menace is now finally engulfing India’s political and social landscape and ultimately threatens the internal cohesion of diverse Indian society.
Given the ideological and historical context, Kashmir presented a test-case for the protagonists of Hindutva. The state of J&K – a Muslim majority region that acceded to Hindu majority India –was cherished as asymbol of India’s secular identity. However, Modi’s government’s revocation of region’s special status – which is fundamentally aimed at paving the way for introducing massive demographic changes in the region converting Muslims into a minority, essentially following the Israeli model in the West Bank –will not only help the regime in crushing the self-determination sentiments in the valley but will also be a major milestone achievement en route to transforming India into a Hindu state.
Ironically, Muslims living in India are not the only prey of rising Hindu Fascism and expansionist Hindutva have regional and global implications. Being a homeland to the successors of those “outsiders” who ruled the Hindu majority India for more than 850 years, Pakistan becomes the major nuisance for the Hindu supremacists currently in-charge in India. February 2019 nuclear brinkmanship by Modi regime; uninterruptedPakistan bashing by Indian media; adaptation of a well-choreographed anti-Pakistan narrative during elections campaigns by Indian politicians; vigorous Indian attempts to get Pakistan blacklisted by FATF; and continuous fomentation of subversive activities by Indian intelligence inside Pakistan point out that Pakistan’s long-held apprehensions about India plotting to weaken the country’s federation to ultimately subsume its tumbling parts, were not misplaced.
In fact, weakening Pakistan internally, disintegrating it and ultimately subsume its parts will be a step forward in the way of realization of the “Greater India” dream of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),the organization regarded as the ideological patron of ruling BJP and the major proponent of Hindu supremacist, majoritarian and expansionist Hindutva ideology with current Indian PM and most of the leaders of BJP as its life-long members.
To put the things in a nutshell, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor may be a sanguine gesture by Pakistan but India doesn’t seem to be even interested in some reciprocity. The issue of J&K – which has become further complicated due to India’s overassertive and intransigent attitude – presents an immediate stumbling block in the way of this “first drop of rain” being followed by a “downpour”– which can turn the dry and desiccated road into a river.
In the long-run, as the Modi government pursues the Hindutva policies and continues on a path to hurt Pakistan internally, economically and globally, chances of any further optimistic gesture from either side become even remote. And given the aforementioned immediate and long-term hurdles and the virtual reality that relations between the two countries have gone such desiccated that only continuous down pouring turning the roads into the rivers can provide the required panacea, Kartarpur corridor is likely to be proved as yet another noteworthy but futile confidence-building measure (CBM), without any significant headway towards long-lasting peace in the region.
Lebanon and Sri Lanka: An Extraordinary Relationship and a Bright Future
Since the Silk Road, Arabs turned to Asian countries, and this was the reason for the spread of Arab civilization in many Asian countries. The Arab merchants headed towards Sri Lanka because of its geographical position. This island was a point of rest and cultural interaction between Sri Lankans and Arabs, and this is an important reason for the presence of Muslims in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan-Lebanese relationship is long established. In the common history of these two countries, there are many good events. It is important to note that Sri Lanka is a peaceful country that has always been friendly to Lebanon at all times. In 1990, the relations between Lebanon and Sri Lanka became official after the establishment of diplomatic exchange. Sri Lanka’s first ambassador to Lebanon was appointed in 1997 and the diplomatic mission began in 1998. Prior to that, the Sri Lankan ambassador was appointed to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon.
Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is based on the principle of friendship with all and hostility to no one, which has made this country a special place for Lebanese diplomacy. Sri Lanka traditionally follows a non-aligned foreign policy and does not take sides with major powers. Sri Lanka also has good relations with ASEAN countries, South Asian countries and major powers such as China, the United States and Russia, which has strengthened its internal peace.
Political and economic interest requires any country with ties to Sri Lanka to engage peacefully and diplomatically, because power and superiority with this island will have a negative effect. Sri Lanka is an active member of the United Nations and founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), member of the Commonwealth of Nations, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Colombo Plan.
The estimated number of Sri Lankan citizens in Lebanon is between 80,000 and 90,000, most of them workers. There is also a Sri Lankan battalion active in the peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The main task of the Sri Lankan battalion is to ensure security of Force Headquarters compound where all command elements, branches and all key personnel including the Force Commander / Head of the Mission are accompanied. These tasks also include; applying all FB measures in accordance with the alert status established by UNIFIL Force Commander, providing updated information and assesses the FP situation in their respective areas as requested by the Force Protection Working Group.
During the visit of the State Minister Mr.Vasantha Senanayake to Lebanon, he expressed his country’s desire to develop bilateral relations with Lebanon and joint support in international forums. During that visit, the State Minister considered that the Sri Lankan state is interested in direct flights between the two countries in order to encourage tourism and communication, and called on the Lebanese state to open an embassy in Colombo. He said that Sri Lanka’s participation in UNIFIL reflects the goodwill of the Sri Lankan state towards Lebanon for the security and safety of the people.
Trade relations between Lebanon and Sri Lanka are thriving and are developing considerably year after year. Lebanon can import a lot of goods from Sri Lanka especially since this country is rich in natural resources such as rubber products, garments, gem,jewelry, spices, fisheries products, fruits, pharmaceuticals, coconut charcoal, pearls and precious stones. Many Lebanese products can be exported to Sri Lanka such as Dairy products, marble tiles, cosmetics, construction machineries, agricultural and hospital equipment.
The bilateral relationship between Lebanon and Sri Lanka is a good example of active and peaceful diplomacy. The actual history of that relationship dates back to time and in 1990 it was formalized through diplomatic representation. Many generations of Sri Lankans have come to know a lot about Lebanese culture because they were brought up in Lebanon; those can be considered honorary citizens.
You will hear from every Lebanese who visited Sri Lanka amazing words about the beauty of this island and the goodness of its people. The Lebanese should welcome every Sri Lankan in Lebanon and treat them in a respectful and humane manner, whatever their job or social position.
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