Monday, June 30, 2014

Modi’s Friendship offensive in South Asia vis-a-vis Northeast

The policy of ‘development and friendship offensive’ undertaken by the Modi regime in South Asia is seen as a game-changer and aimed at building pressure on both alleged non-state players and state agencies who have over the decades given support to terror groups. These can certainly help curb insurgency menace in northeast India.

There is little to dispute that terrorism is a global challenge. Closer home in South Asia, it has all the more dangerous dimension with diplomatic riddles.

There is no gain saying in pointing out that over the years, the role of Pakistan and its sincerity in curbing the terror menace is questioned several times; not only by New Delhi but also by other global players. This was the hard point experts and commoners debated when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to invite his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for the highly publicized swearing in ceremony on May 26, 2014.

It’s just over a month now since the Modi regime has taken over. It would be erroneous to expect miracles both in domestic matters of public importance like price rise and in international dimension the vexed and complex issue of counter terrorism. However, the greater South Asian engagement approach by the new government is on the right track. The Modi government’s initial South Asian engagement gives the impression that as the regional ‘big brother’ New Delhi wants to take other players in the region along with it in pursuit of the global positioning in peace and prosperity.

Besides trying to establish a personal rapport with Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Modi made it a point that his first visit abroad is to neighbouring Bhutan. Similarly, the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj too has made a visit to Bangladesh.

In the meantime, security agencies in Delhi have lately alerted all northeastern states to intensify vigil in border areas about the possibilities to revive Islamic fundamentalism in some vulnerable pockets. Apparently Islamic fundamentalist agencies are looking for ways to harm Sheikh Hasina regime’s friendly policies towards India and also help create anti-India sentiment among border areas.

Both Bhutan and Bangladesh, the two countries which came into diplomatic focus during the last fortnight, are not only of strategic significance for India but they are vital for peace and stability in the entire northeast region. 

Lately, in fact, since 2003-04 itself Bhutan has shown exemplary friendly approach and allowed a joint military operations against ULFA in that country. No matter whatever controversy is being made out of about alleged use of money power, Bhutan’s gesture weakened the Assam-based outfit and tacit assistance to Indian agencies by Sheikh Hasina regime only marginalized ULFA further.
Former Naga CM Rio with Home Minister Rajnath

These exercises in friendly ties have been reciprocated well by India in terms of being accommodating neighbour like cooperation in power generation, infrastructure development and free trade arrangement for expanding bilateral trade. 

On Bangladesh front, the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tried to walk an extra-mile when she reached out to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to ensure consensus for Teesta Water sharing deal with Bangladesh.

During his visit to Himalayan Kingdom, Bhutan, Prime Minister Modi made a significant statement when he said ‘Terrorism divides and Tourism unites’.

The statement assumes bigger significance vis-à-vis north-east India as tourism between northeastern region and the neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan can be a game changer in more ways than one. But the latent candid message of Modi’s terrorism-tourism remark is not missed on the observers of South Asian geo-political situations. 

Even the north-east India watchers know it pretty well that Modi’s remarks were only veiled attack on countries like Pakistan who have allowed their land to be abused by forces inimical to India. In the past and to an extent even at present, Indian agencies suggest that the territories in some of these countries have offered enough space and scope to run recruitment centres of terror outfits and ‘safe’ training camps for militant groups. 

Even during the Manmohan Singh regime, the government of India had advocated forthright that in fight against terrorism, no state and no government could escape responsibility by pointing to ‘non-state actors’.
Diplomacy is rightly also compared with the game of billiard – where in one hits at something to score a point against another.

Thus, the policy of ‘development and friendship offensive’ undertaken by the Modi regime in South Asia is perhaps aimed at building pressure on Islamabad, where both alleged non-state players and state agencies namely the ISI and the military over the decades allegedly have given support to terror groups.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Do you have it in You, General?

For Gen (Retd) V K Singh the assignment from PM Narendra Modi comes as an opportunity to prove his DEVELOPMENTAL works and diplomatic skills to play game changer in northeast. In Israel, the best creative brilliance is found in the Army, the former Indian army chief can now demonstrate his real grit. 
Amongst the many challenges faced by the Narendra Modi government amid a general mood of high expectations, understanding the core issues of northeast is certainly one. Cradled amidst the hilly wilds, the northeastern tip of our country is an ideal description of a mini-India. Even the diversity of a vast Indian sub-continent often appears only a humble submission as compared to distinctly different living styles of the tribals and the rest in the region - for more than one reason. Even within a state called Nagaland, the identity of Nagas refers more to “collective identity” as a 20th century phenomenon because more than 17 tribes and sub-tribes have discovered themselves as a community hardly few decades back. A neo-community of Chakhesangs among Nagas has come only with merger of three clans Chakhros, Khejas and Sangtams.
Blogger and his daughter

There have been mutual suspicions and rivalries between tribes, clans and even confusion on historical background. It is therefore there are perhaps some connections on emergence of Naga-Kuki feud in 1990s or how Mizos still consider Kukis as belonging to their stock. The Ministry of Department of North East Region (DoNER) was created during the stint of Atal Behari Vajpayee by taking out the ‘north east cell’ from the Home Ministry. It was a well concerted decision established in September 2001 to function as the nodal Department of the Central Government to deal with matters related to the socio-economic development of the eight States of northeast.
The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) is responsible for the matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects of the 8 states.
That way, the ministry opened a new vista in helping to understand the developmental related problems of the region. The then Prime Minister Vajpayee had visionary plans about northeast and thus had initially entrusted the portfolio to a considered ‘performer’ Arun Shourie. On his part Shourie had started on a business like note and had even organised a North East Summit – a unique of its kind – called all Governors and Chief Ministers to Mumbai and tried to present a bonanza before industry captains to invest in northeast. But Vajpayee failed to keep the momentum as the DoNER portfolio was later on passed on a few well known non-performers. 

Naga rebel leaders Th Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu

Worse under UPA, despite the fact that the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) was an elected member from Assam, the DoNER almost lost its relevance.
The second Administrative Reforms Commission has even recommended for abolition of the DONER and relegating all its responsibility to Ministry of Home Affairs. 
In such an event it would be back to proverbial square one as for decades north east in general was under the control of ministry of Home Affairs.

But in his wisdom, new Prime Minister Modi, who campaigned tirelessly in the northeast, has tried to understand the ‘security’ as well as ‘foreign affairs’ elements vis-à-vis north east India. Therefore, he thought the DoNER ministry should be handed over to someone like Gen (Retd) V K Singh with independent charge of DoNER. Trying to take an out-of-box approach, Modi also made the retired General - a Minister of State to play second fiddle to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Modi’s emphasis to take neighbouring South Asian countries into the strategy planning for resolving the problems of northeast is both unconventional and a path-breaking move.

Thus, much will bank on the retired General to display some persuasive skills with neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar in resolving lot many issues. Indian ultra gifts more often take shelters in neighbourhood.
For the General V K Singh (retd), who took over charge on May 29, the mandate is apparently clear from the Prime Minister that he has to work for the development of northeast, development infrastructure and industry. "Giving a face lift to cottage industries in the region and creating job opportunities for the youths will be among priority areas for the government," he told this writer minutes after taking charge.
"I have a plan for overall development of North East. We will try our best to address all the problems facing the region. There is tremendous amount of work to be done for the region," said the 63-year-old former army chief, who served also as GoC-In-C Eastern Command.