Eventful fortnight in South Asia: Catching up

July 25, 2009


Communique from Egypt; a visit by Hillary Clinton; True confessions in a Mumbai court; misgivings in Sri Lanka; and outrage and introspection over airline security regulations.


This has been such an eventful couple of weeks in South Asian international relations that it’s useful to just step away and list what’s been going on.

1. India-Pakistan Joint Communique at Sharm El Shaikh, Egypt, July 16, 2009.

The Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers met on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt. There was some speculation that the meeting would be inconclusive (read, pointless) but the ensuing joint communique has had Indian commentators and opposition leaders completely baffled. The communique delinks the 26/11 investigation in Pakistan from continuing India-Pakistan talks. This is a departure from India’s post-26/11 stand and would elicit commentary and criticism on its own. What has really riled Indian opinion-makers is the inclusion of Balochistan in the communique, hinting at Indian acknowledgment of a role in the Baloch crisis.

The text of the communique is online.


Shekhar Gupta, The Big Rewrite, Indian Express, July 25, 2009.

2. Hillary Clinton visited India last week.

The US Secretary of State spent five days in India, in Mumbai and New Delhi. What was really striking about the visit was the amount of time she devoted to ‘non-traditional’ security issues. Her most widely reported events included a breakfast with industry leaders; a television interview in the company of a leading actor discussing the important of civil society and citizen initiatives on education; a meeting with the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a pioneering Indian trade union of women in the informal sector; and a visit to a ‘green’ campus outside Delhi where the focus was on climate change issues. The traditional foreign policy segment of her visit seemed almost like an afterthought.

Moreover, Clinton stayed at the Taj hotel which was last seen under attack in November 2008. That has been widely read as an expression of solidarity with not just the victims of the terror attack but also India’s own war against terror. (See this for instance.) It is also a departure from the way US missions fortify themselves against the very communities they are meant to cultivate. (In all fairness, this is probably now true of most diplomatic missions.)


C. Raja Mohan, Before the chance fades, Indian Express, July 20, 2009.

3. 26/11 accused Kasab confessed in court

The whole world watched Kasab and his associates cause murder and mayhem in Mumbai last year. Only Kasab was captured alive, and although everyone had watched him in action, and he had spoken at length during the police interrogation, he was still taken to court. A special court facility was created in the interests of his security. Legal counsel was sought for him, and in spite of those in Mumbai who sought to deprive him of a defence lawyer, three people agreed to take on his case. The last lawyer made a valiant effort to get Kasab pronounced under-age; to improve the conditions of his prison tenure; to get him off the hook.

On Monday, July 20, Kasab decided to confess. With no word to his own defence lawyer.

Rahi Gaikwad, Ajmal admits to crime, The Hindu, July 21, 2009.
We were ordered to throw grenades first: Ajmal, The Hindu, July 21, 2009.
Rahi Gaikwad, From petty job to dacoity to terror camps, The Hindu, July 21, 2009.

And then, all injured innocence, two days later, Kasab asked to be hung if his intentions were suspect.
Hang me if my guilty plea is suspect: Ajmal, The Hindu, July 23, 2009.

The trial continues. The Indian establishment says his confession covers only part of the charge-sheet he faces.

4. Sri Lanka’s IDP camps: What is the P.O.A.?

As the clock ticks on the government’s 180-day rehabilitation promise, the questioning has begun. What does the government actually plan to do? Will they meet their deadline? And, most important, why is no one demanding answers?

5. Kalam and Continental Airlines

In order to understand why this is a diplomatic issue, it is important to know that in India several categories of VIPs are exempt from bodily searches conducted as part of routine security procedures. Former Heads of State certainly are. Moreover, beloved former Heads of State certainly are.

In April 2009, traveling out of Delhi by Continental, former President Kalam had stood in the queue like other passengers and been subjected to frisking, just as they were. He did not fuss.

In the last week, this has become a huge issue in India. A First Information Report (police complaint) has been filed against the airline, which claims it was following rules. The US Transportation Security Administration says Indian rules do not apply to its aircraft. In the meanwhile, every leading Indian politician has spoken out against the frisking and it has been taken up officially.

What Indian commentators are focusing on is Kalam’s own unpretentiousness. He stood in a queue, allowed the frisking without a fuss and did not lodge a complaint himself thereafter.

Kalam’s own personality invites outrage on his behalf, but can we truly say that every VIP—in an age of celebrity culture—is safe to allow without all the standard security checks? Can any state take that chance in a climate where young men get off a boat and shoot people at random in coffee shops and marketplaces?

A last note, befitting a fortnight like this: Vinod Mehta, Delhi Diary, Outlookindia.com, August 3, 2009.