Friday, November 12, 2004

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The dogs that don't bark in international relations

Newspapers, media outlets -- and, because we feed off them, blogs -- tend to focus on the violent hot spots in international affairs. This is entirely appropriate -- but occasionally, it's worth stepping back and remembering that there are parts of the globe where everyone has expected and predicted things to go "BOOM!" -- and yet, in fact, conditions have improved.

Which brings me to Rajesh Mahapatra's report in the Associated Press about the further easing of tensions in South Asia:

India's prime minister on Thursday ordered a reduction of troops in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir this winter, citing a decline in separatist violence in the disputed Himalayan region.

The announcement coincided with a grenade attack by suspected militants on a paramilitary camp in Srinigar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir. The attack set off a gunfight in which an Indian security guard was killed and three guards were wounded, a police official said. Two attackers also were killed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the forces would be withdrawn starting this winter and ending in March, though he did not disclose how many troops would be cut.

"In recognition of the improvement in the situation, the government has decided to reduce the deployment of troops this winter," Singh said days ahead of his planned visit to the strife-torn Indian state....

Kashmiris reacted cautiously to Singh's announcement.

"We welcome this announcement. But what matters is not the number of troops that will be cut, but the way the security forces behave with the people in Kashmir," said Abbas Ansari, a moderate leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir's main separatist alliance.

India has deployed about 1 million troops in the Himalayan region since 1989, when more than a dozen Islamic guerrilla groups began fighting for independence of the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which has been divided between the South Asian rivals since they gained independence from Britain in 1947 but is claimed by both in its entirety.

As the second graf indicates, his doesn't mean that everything is sunshine and roses in Kashmir. However, the curent situation is certainly an improvement compared to conditions two years ago.

posted by Dan on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM


I blame George W. Bush and his dysfunctional foreign policy process.

posted by: Al on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

When Iraq started, I predicted that we would find WMD, but several middle Eastern states would be destabilized, and possibly their governments toppled by anti US islamists. Its the good with the bad, and illustrates how difficult it is to predict the consequences of our foreign policy.

posted by: Josh on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

well, thats great but I think some of us feel that not enough attention is brought to certain 'hot spots', I couldn't tell you how many people I've met who have no idea whats going on in Burma, as you know it is by incouraging an interest in international 'hot spots' that will reinforce the need to look more closely and bring more awareness to africa and asia in a more substantial way then the occassional violent outbreak headline, which is then quickly forgoten about.

posted by: Richard on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

Things are also looking more positive on the Pakistani side. In late October, Musharraf recognized as unlikely the idea of a plebiscite by Kashmiris to choose between accession to Pakistan or India, which has been a Pakistani demand opposed by India. Furthermore, he publicly pondered the idea of demilitarization of some of Kashmir under UN auspices. While these signs are promising, the road ahead is bumpy. Musharraf will need to build a coalition of interests in his own country in order to sell the idea of further negotiations, difficult considering his current unpopularity. Also, the fact that he feels the need to muse over Kashmir in public belies a diplomatic discourse that is unproductive. The UN will need to play a large role in progressing the Kashmir settlement, and it remains to be seen if significant diplomatic energy will be concentrated on this situtation, particularly given the other "hot spots" around the world.

posted by: Rob on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

I am skeptical about moves iN Kashmir, having seen many of them come to naught in the past many years, but there is at least a little bit of timing that may favor a rapproachment.

There are indications that many of the fighters from Afghanistan who had moved over to Kashmir (indeed the Kashmir conflict exploded almost immediately after the Soviets left Afghanistan), are now moving to the latest 'whack-a-western-infidel' site, i.e Iraq, especially from groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, or whatever they call themselves nowadays.

Maybe this is therefore a good time for parties that are interested in a peaceful settlement to make a move, while the hardline terrorist groups are "distracted".

posted by: Suresh on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

Dissent from the popular trend: Interference in local affairs always delays the resolution of strife, as major Powers develop their favorites. American foreign policy should be 'Isolate and Contain' with even blackout of News reports. All Participants could no longer play to an audience. lgl

posted by: lgl on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

Yes, I noticed this article too, had the same thought about it, and wished there had been more detail.

As I recall, at this time last year the press coverage of the standoff on a Kashmiri glacier was becoming increasingly -- well, comical.

Does India's move reflect a newfound media-pragmatism, viz. that the less-ridiculous party to the dispute will ultimately prevail? Or are just adjusting to climate-appropriate ideals, i.e. that while the nation may be worth dying for, it's not worth freezing for ...?

posted by: Jarrett on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

Dan is right on, here. I'd just add that annual growth rates for India and Pakistan BOTH are between 7 and 8% for the year. Maybe you don't feel like pushing the envelope so hard when the future's bright enough to require shades?

posted by: Kelli on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

It's worth noting the the thawing of relations here has _not_ been due to hands-on involvement by the Bush Administration. I believe Powell has sent encouraging messages to both sides and relayed positive encouragemnt, but the achievement is primarily bilateral.

posted by: praktike on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

It's true that it's good that they aren't fighting now. Still, I don't see much hope for that situation in the future. They have a long history of tension ebbing and flowing. Mostly flowing.

posted by: austin mls on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

Musharraf has been forced to make tactical concessions over Kashmir; he's given nothing away that he cant easily go back on.

1. Its winter, so the jihadis cant infiltrate into India because the snow covers passes and Himalayan infiltration routes anyway. Winter remains the best season for peace-making. The jihadis spring later (pun intended)

2. There's plenty of conflict going on in Western Pakistan, along its borders with Iran and Afghanistan. A rebellion in Balochistan is growing, and the conflict in Waziristan is having less to do with al-Qaeda and more to do with cheesed-off tribesmen fighting Pakistani forces. Due to this conflict, huge numbers of Pakistani forces --- army and paramilitary --- have been pulled from the border with India and redeployed along the western borders.

3. As Suresh points out, the jihadis have turned their attention to Iraq, where they've been fighting American forces. Pakistani jihadis have been captured there as early as March this year (a fact kept away from the American mainstream media).

Note, none of this has anything to do with Powell, Armitage and Rocca, who visit Islamabad now and then and score self-goals. (The latest, Armitage declares Osama is NOT in Pakistan. Where is he, then?)

Note also, that Powell and Armitage are not exactly welcome in New Delhi; it appears that the Indian government actually uninvited Armitage and Rocca last week; forcing them to go to UAE for Sheikh Zayed's funeral instead.

posted by: Nitin on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

Here's another dog that didn't bark, or if it did, it was pretty stifled - I haven't seen nearly the same level of outrage in the world press etc. about the fighting in Fallujah, as I did in April. Sure there was some nattering from Kofi et al. as the noose tightened, but for the most part it's been pretty subdued. Any idea why this may be so ? Or am I missing something ?

posted by: fingerowner on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

fingerowner, just wait, it's coming. It hasn't come yet for 3 reasons:
a) no one could get in to see, it's too dangerous, and b) deliberate actions by the US to impose information dominance (that's why they took the hospitals) c)Sistani has been keeping his mouth shut.

I predict that information dominance cannot be maintained indefinitely, and once people see the devastation, Sistani will be forced to say something. The one difference with last time is that critics of US actions now know the US is serious and is not going to be deterred, no matter what the cost. So they are left with just two choices: acquiesce and shut up, or support the insurgency more actively than they have. My money is on lots of people are thinking hard about this choice as we speak.

posted by: the exile on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

I agree with Suresh-- we've seen many such gestures come to nothing. We're back to the usual Indian/Pakistani programming :-(

NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 19: As the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to New Delhi nears, both countries are hardening their stands with Pak President Pervez Musharraf telling AFP today that he was ‘‘not encouraged’’ by signals from India.

And that if New Delhi did not show more flexibility, Pakistan could renew its demand for plebiscite—a stand that he has, earlier, ruled out as an option. ‘‘The vibes that are now coming do not encourage a process of normalisation,’’ said Musharraf.

posted by: Manish Khettry on 11.12.04 at 12:38 PM [permalink]

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