B G Verghese: Fundamentalist Spurt, The news from Iraq is worrisome. Sunni fanatics under the banner of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater...
The news from Iraq is worrisome. Sunni fanatics under the banner of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) have seized Mosul and Tikrit and are marching on Baghdad to oust Nurial al-Maliki’s shaky pro-Shia government. ISIS, backed by Saudi-Wahabi elements, hopes to create a Sunni state in eastern Syria and north-central Iraq for a start and spread its tentacles through fundamentalist terror even while al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar e-Toiba continue their depredations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unrest could affect Iraqi oil production and force up prices. There is also reason for concern over the safety of Indians in the region and the impact on oil prices.
The United States must bear heavy responsibility for some of these developments. It unsettled West Asia by its invasion of Iraq on totally spurious grounds. It then built the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the name of fighting Soviet atheism and went on to wink at Pakistan’s nefarious nuclear programme all of which have unsettled the world in the name of fighting the War on Terror. It brought further instability in the region by attacking Libya, threatening Iran and then intervening in Syria, each action setting off new tremors, upsetting the Shia-Sunni balance in the region and sharpening ethnic and denominational rivalries.
As America prepares to draw down its remaining forces in Afghanistan, developments in Pakistan have taken a new turn. Following the Tehrik-e-Taliban’s revenge attacks on Karachi airport, the Pakistan military has launched an offensive against the rebels in their hideouts, creating a hiatus in the peace talks that were initiated but had not gone very far. The military has also been more assertive in going after Geo-TV for openly criticising the ISI and has let Musharraf off the hook by letting him go abroad to escape justice.
The attack on the Indian consulate in Herat and a new series of cross-border incidents were perhaps intended as signals by the Army that the Nawaz Sharif-NarendraModi bonhomie should not go too far. Who comes out on top remains to be seen, but whatever the odds in this internal struggle for democracy in Pakistan, India should remain steadfast in encouraging liberal elements and giving them space while asserting that terror and peace talks cannot go hand in hand.
In this context, Arun Jaitley did well on a recent visit to the Valley to state that the government is willing to talk to the separatists. This follows Umar Farooq’s recent call for talks amid a hardening of the separatists’ stand on local elections. The controversy over Jaitley’s statement that any settlement must be within the ambit of the Constitution is misplaced. Nothing unconstitutional is obviously possible, and so the correct reading of the Defence Minister’s remark can only be that any settlement must fit within an acceptable amendment of the Constitution. The Article 370 debate is fatuous and irrelevant as this provision is only a mechanism to regulate Centre-State relations. Article I read with Schedule 1 of the Indian Constitution and taken with the J&K Constitution makes it absolutely clear that the State is an integral part of India.
However, the moot point is what kind of settlement is possible. The outline has long been manifest, most recently in the 2007 Manmohan- Musharraf formula. This would make boundaries irrelevant by permitting free movement and trade across the LOC and, gradually, building up common consultative and substantive mechanisms with representatives from both sides. This could develop into a loose confederation with a great deal of internal autonomy on either side. A common market and common currency in SAARC was envisaged by the Eminent Persons Group quite some time ago and was endorsed by all the then members.
Activating Article VII of the Indus Treaty on Future Cooperation holds the key to progress. The proposition has not been seriously looked at by the two Indus Commissioners who have focussed exclusively at narrow engineering considerations and not at the larger framework of political cooperation that could not only optimise joint use of the Indus waters but lay the foundation for restoring integrated management and development of the Indus basin and enable both sides to cope with the exigencies of climate change in all its aspects from the Tibetan plateau-Karakoram-Himalaya to the sea. This would give India access to the northern and western Indus and its tributaries of the Indus in Gilgit-Baltistan and PAK and Pakistan similar access to the upper Indus, Jhelum and Chenab in Indian administered J&K, and to the three eastern rivers to the extent necessary.
This is a practical proposition but it will take a leap of faith to accomplish. This is the grand design that the new Government should focus on. Trade, transit and joint investments too hold out immense possibilities of mutual benefit while defence costs could come down substantially. Ayub talked of joint defence in 1958. Its time has come. Hydro-electric power has been the flavour of the week, with the PM’s visit to Bhutan, which was energy-centric, and prospects of the Supreme Court reviewing its rather sweeping ban on Upper Ganga hydel schemes. The 2013 Uttarakhand disaster was not caused by dams but was mitigated by them. The Northeast too has a huge hydel potential waiting to be harnessed against mistaken green opposition. Every KW of energy means “x” jobs and India needs to augment off-farm employment by no less than 10-11 million jobs per annum. Here too, the country’s muddled NE policy framework and administrative structure need radical review.
India’s hydro diplomacy with Bhutan calls for amendment in one respect. It should not make any claim to reserve all the Kingdom’s surplus power for itself. Statesmanship and longer term stability require that India encourage Bhutan to wheel its power to Bangladesh and even Pakistan or Nepal through a SAARC grid that could in time connect with the ASEAN power grid via Myanmar.
At home, the Government has stirred a hornet’s nest by suggesting that Governors are agents of the ruling dispensation and must therefore quit when the regime changes. This is the plain meaning of the Home Minister’s uncalled for hint to UPA-appointed Governors. This is not only contrary to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling but reduces Governors to mere puppets. This is not the constitutional intent and replaying the follies of the Congress in this regard offers no defence, though men like H D Bhardwaj, the Karnataka Governor, have been blatantly partisan and disgraced their office. Nor should old and tired party cronies be offered these sinecures.
As disturbing are the continuing rape and molestation cases reported daily, even by ministers and men in authority, as much as news of the RSS introducing Hindutva texts through the Vidyabharathi Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan in Gujarat. The aim is allegedly to prevent Christian conversions, an old stratagem and an admission of continuing failure to reform caste repression in Hindu society at its lower levels. There is also pressure to revise or withdraw books that hurt somebody or other’s “sentiment”. Illiberalism and paranoia also underline the continuing attack on the Aadhaar ID card system and calls for its withdrawal. If Modi means to walk his talk, he should note these tendencies.