Four-pillar US policy shift on Kashmir
Cross-country ban trap laid for Naxalites
Naidu salvo on statute panel
Mass suspension in Anantnag
Laloo in legal web
Cong gets Rabri bargain chip

 
 
FOUR-PILLAR US POLICY SHIFT ON KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, April 4 
Thirtyfive years after the US adopted a Kashmir policy which was designed to satisfy both India and Pakistan, the Clinton administration has taken the bold step of jettisoning that policy in favour of one, which it hopes, will lead to a final solution in Kashmir.

Washington’s new Kashmir policy, initiated by Clinton himself following his decision to visit south Asia, rests on four pillars. These are: respect for the line of control (LoC), ending support for third party violence in Kashmir, negotiations between India and Pakistan for solving the dispute, and finally, addressing the concerns of Kashmiris by the Indian government.

These four points represent a landmark shift from the policy followed by successive administrations here since the 1960s. That policy was based on three points: Kashmir is disputed territory, it must be resolved through bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan, and three, the wishes of the Kashmiri people must be taken into account in any final solution between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Administration officials here are acutely aware that an unequivocal enunciation of its new policy could deeply upset Pakistan and ruin current US efforts to solve the Kashmir dispute—just as US action during Clinton’s first term in challenging Kashmir’s instrument of accession set New Delhi on fire.

For this reason, the administration has left it to the President to steadily, but gradually, put in place the new policy. Officials down the line are unwilling to talk about the change. Sensing a major policy shift, American reporters have, however, asked secretary of state Madeleine Albright, point blank the question. Her reply was ambivalent.

“I would not interpret it that way,” she said, adding that US policy has been what it was when Clinton travelled to South Asia. “The President has said many times and things I have said in my speeches...is that the story of Kashmir is a long and sad one and that it is a conflict that has been fundamentally transformed because nations cannot, must not attempt to change borders or zones of occupation through armed force. And now that they have exploded nuclear devices, India and Pakistan have all the more reason to avoid armed conflict and to restart discussions.”

Such is the sensitivity associated with the change in policy here that even those working for foreign policy thinktanks are unwilling to state on record what they acknowledge in private about the shift.

However, it is crystal clear that the two factors which brought about the change in US policy are the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests and Kargil. These convinced the Clinton administration that the only possible solution to the long-running dispute in Kashmir was to eventually transform the LoC into a permanent border: hence the emphasis on respecting the LoC and the need to negotiate.

Explaining the change, Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, an arms control thinktank here, says: “There is clearly more interest by the Clinton administration in playing a helpful role, and there is a recognition that changing the LoC by force of arms is extraordinarily dangerous.”

Simultaneously, the mountain of evidence here about Pakistani and Afghan support for cross-border terrorism in Kashmir convinced Clinton that such support must end.

However, the Indians would be making a serious error of judgement if they concluded that the change in Washington’s Kashmir policy is all in their favour. Although the Clinton administration no longer says that the wishes of the “Kashmiri people” must be taken into account in any settlement, Clinton himself is on record as saying that “the Kashmiris deserve to have their own concerns addressed on the merits”. This leaves a huge burden on India’s shoulders. Washington expects Farooq Abdullah’s elected government in Srinagar to deliver. If it does not seem to be addressing the “concerns” of Kashmiris, the policy may once again revert to seeing the Kashmiris as a separate people, apart from the Indians.

Although the President is the only one here to talk on record about America’s Kashmir policy during and after the trip to India, Albright had floated the change in policy as a trial balloon as early as March 14 at a speech here. “Tangible steps must be taken to respect the LoC” she said, describing the LoC as a “practical reality”. She added: “For so long as this simple principle is violated, the people of Kashmir have no real hope of peace...and we want to see steps to address the effects of terror on Pakistan’s neighbours, notably India.”

Whether the Pakistanis missed this trial balloon which was meant to gauge Islamabad’s reaction or whether they ignored it is not clear, what is certain is that it set the stage for a change in US policy on Kashmir.    


 
 
CROSS-COUNTRY BAN TRAP LAID FOR NAXALITES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 4 
The Centre today decided to ban the People’s War Group (PWG) and some of its front organisations operating in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar as part of a larger plan to “exert maximum pressure on Left-wing extremism”.

The government also decided to establish a joint operations centre to be headed by a senior official from each of the five states where Naxalites have stepped up activities. The centre will coordinate both intelligence networking and ground operations.

Indications are that an officer from Andhra Pradesh, which has prioritised fighting Naxalite violence, will lead the centre which is yet to get a final shape.

The decisions were taken today at a meeting of chief ministers of the five states convened by Union home minister L.K. Advani. Advani said the Central ban on the Naxalite outfits was necessary, even though states will try to open dialogue with these.

“Banning is necessary because it will ensure that they come within the purview of a legal system. Outlawing them will help us in arresting the leaders of the various organisations,” the home minister said. Andhra Pradesh has already banned the PWG. It also means that the ban will be countrywide which will enable all states to act against PWG activists.

While the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which operates over a large area in central and south Bihar, has been outlawed by the state, Madhya Pradesh has conveyed to the states that it plans to ban the PWG dalams (units) which operate from its territory. Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar have been asked to ban the PWG operating from various parts of the three states.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu landed a bombshell at the meeting. His intelligence had detected “established links of the PWG with radical organisations operating in Peru (Shining Path), Germany, Turkey, the Philippines, Belgium and Nepal”, he said.

Naidu added that the PWG had also established links with other “separatist” groups in the country. He was interested in using unmanned aerial vehicles to track the movement of the extremists, the chief minister said. Advani said though the defence ministry had raised some initial objections, Naidu’s proposal was being seriously considered and “it will most probably be sanctioned”.

Emphasising that the Naxalite movement “in its origins was a rebellion against democracy”, Advani said: “What started in West Bengal in the late Sixties with ideological and idealistic commitment has now degenerated into crime. It is bereft of any ideology and idealism. The so-called Naxal outfits exploit backwardness of the citizens and the regions.”

Therefore, he said, there was a need to adopt a two-pronged strategy to fight Left-wing extremism: use of security forces and initiation of development programmes.

All states barring Bihar have sent their development plans to the Planning Commission for early release of funds.

On development, all states agreed to improve infrastructure in areas affected by Naxalite activities. The chief ministers agreed that more roads should be built. They assured they would seriously take up poverty alleviation programmes for tribals and the poor.

Advani assured the chief ministers that he will take up the demand made by Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to amend the Forest Conservation Act which will remove the legal hurdles for laying new roads and starting development projects in tribal-dominated areas.    


 
 
NAIDU SALVO ON STATUTE PANEL 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, April 4 
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today came out strongly in favour of fiscal federalism and suggested that the Constitution review committee agenda should be discussed by the Inter-State Council.

The Telugu Desam Party chief called for removal of restrictions on state governments to borrow from national and international agencies. “This would give us greater flexibility to access financial markets at home and abroad,” he said.

The Desam chief opposed the use of Article 356 to “settle political scores”. He also sought amendments to incorporate adequate safeguards against misuse of Articles 256, 257 and 365 of the Constitution. The Union government should be under obligation to forewarn a state government of impending action under these Articles and give it a reasonable opportunity to explain its position, Naidu said.

Addressing the seventh meeting of the standing committee of the Inter-State Council here today, the chief minister said nearly 250 recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission have been discussed for over a decade but there is agreement only over half of them and their “translation into tangible policy change is even slower”.

While pushing for more fiscal autonomy for states, Naidu demanded a “serious and urgent review of Centre-state partnership to remove anomalies in the prevailing system”.

He called for quicker and more effective instruments to steer Centre-state relations based on mutual respect and equity. In the wake of globalisation and market economy, centralised planning has lost its relevance, he said, adding that the states are now under increasing pressure to invest in areas like human resources development and improvement and maintenance of infrastructure.

Naidu said over the years he has noticed a disturbing trend of successive Central governments focusing their attention on meeting their own growing need for resources. They did not make any serious attempt to utilise the provisions under Articles 268 and 269 for augmenting resources of the states.

Consequently, the state’s share is restricted to just two taxes — income tax and Union excise duties, he said. “In recent years, we notice an increasing recourse to Article 271 for levying surcharges without mentioning their duration or the emergent need against the interests of the state governments, Naidu added.

He demanded a “serious and urgent review of the institutions and instruments of fiscal federalism in the country” to remove anomalies in the system.

While appreciating the need to transfer adequate resources to less developed states, the chief minister said: “We should avoid putting a premium on poverty and perpetuating a moral hazard.”

He said an important cause of fiscal discomfort for the states is the marked deceleration in the transfers from the Centre. Gross transfers to the states have declined from 39 per cent in 1990-91 to 31.3 per cent in 1998-99. As the percentage of the GDP, the net transfers declined from 6.2 per cent to 4.2 per cent during the same period, he said.    


 
 
MASS SUSPENSION IN ANANTNAG 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, April 4 
Scrambling to control allegations of rights violations following the firing deaths of seven people in Anantnag yesterday, the government suspended all state policemen who were part of the camp outside which the incident occurred.

Several heads rolled in the district administration as chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who visited Anantnag in southern Kashmir today, sought to bring down the temperature in the curfew-bound town and pacify angry legislators.

As part of the crackdown, marching orders were given to Anantnag district magistrate R. Kotwal, deputy inspector-general of police (South Kashmir) Raja Aijaz Ali and police superintendent Farooq Ahmad Khan. They have been replaced with Asghar Samoon, Javed Makhdoomi and Muneer Ahmad Khan, respectively. The station house officer was also shifted.

Abdullah announced in the Assembly that a judicial inquiry would be held and said the probe would look into “any negligence or serious offence by the police party”.

“However, all of them have been placed under suspension with immediate effect and departmental action will also be initiated against them,” he added.

Seven people died after personnel from the Special Operations Group — an elite counter-terrorism squad of the state police — and the CRPF opened fire on demonstrators protesting against what they claim is the staged killing of five persons. The government says the five men were foreign mercenaries involved in the massacre of Sikhs in Chatti Singhpora village in the district.

The security personnel, all part of the Barakpora camp three km from Anantnag, started firing after the protesters hurled stones at their building.

Abdullah agreed the police had used unreasonable force against the demonstration. “Police fired on innocent civilians when they could have used lesser means to disperse the demonstrators,” he said in the House before leaving for Anantnag.

The chief minister added that the state law minister has been sent to Delhi to consult the Centre on appointing a Supreme Court judge to conduct the inquiry.

Soldiers patrolled the streets of Anantnag to enforce the curfew. Activity in other parts of the Valley was halted in a strike to protest the deaths. Schools, shops and offices remained closed and traffic was off roads.

The joint action committee in Anantnag, which has been spearheading the protests, repeated their demand on exhuming the bodies of the five people.

Reiterating that the government was ready for a probe, minister of state for home Mushtaq Ahmed Lone said: “We have directed the district administration to exhume the bodies and senior forensic experts will take samples for the DNA tests.”

The spate of attacks continued as assailants fired at a taxi in Frisal Pulwama in southern Kashmir. Four persons were killed.    


 
 
LALOO IN LEGAL WEB 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, April 4 
The big question in Bihar now is whether Laloo Prasad Yadav will be able to get out of the cobweb of criminal cases.

The chargesheet slapped on Laloo Yadav today in the disproportionate assets case is the fourth time he has been charged in connection with the fodder scam. Among all the fodder cases Laloo Prasad Yadav is accused in, this case involves the smallest amount of money — Rs 42 lakh. “It is the smallest case going by the size of the amount involved, but it is the most concrete among the rest,” a CBI officer pointed out.

Among the properties and amounts of money listed by the CBI as disproportionate to Laloo Yadav’s known sources of income are four plots of land, a bank account of Rs 11 lakh and Rs 5 lakh earned by Rabri Devi from a dairy. The dairy was declared illegal in a CAG report as it was run from the chief minister’s official residence. It has been used as evidence against Rabri Devi, who is the co-accused in the assets case.

Laloo Yadav’s advocates pleaded that the CBI had not taken into account Rs 14 lakh earned by their client before he became chief minister. Laloo Yadav has moved an appeal based on this argument.

But Laloo will have little time to concentrate on the technical loopholes of today’s chargesheet. He will have to appear before the CBI’s designated court tomorrow as the public prosecutor will formally frame charges in the fodder scam’s most talked about case, involving the withdrawal of Rs 37 crore from the Chaibasa treasury between 1990 and 1995.    


 
 
CONG GETS RABRI BARGAIN CHIP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 4 
The Congress thinks it is in a better position to bargain for key portfolios now that a fresh chargesheet has been slapped on Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi.

Unlike the CPM, the Congress did not jump to defend the chief minister. Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi said the party has asked for details and an authorised version of the chargesheet for scrutiny. “The law should take it course,” Jogi said.

The Congress Working Committee is likely to meet tomorrow to discuss the issue of Rabri Devi being chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Sulking over the “raw deal” given by the RJD in portfolio distribution, the Congress leaders said they will be cautious in expressing support for her. “It is being done in keeping with the sentiments of party MLAs,” an AICC functionary said.

The Congress, while admitting that they would be standing by the chief minister, made it clear that the support would not come for free. “After all, our MLAs are upset over the treatment meted out to us. The issue of corruption is also serious which needs closer examination,” a party leader said.

Privately, Congress leaders alleged political vendetta against Rabri, wondering why the government was adopting “double standards”. “If the issue of chargesheets is so important, what about the presence of some BJP ministers in the Union council of ministers who have been chargesheeted in the Babri Masjid demolition case?” the AICC functionary asked.

CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet said his party will stand by the RJD and expose the Centre’s political vendetta against its adversaries. “What about those chargesheeted Union ministers who are occupying high offices at the Centre ?” asked Surjeet.

NDA threatens agitation

The BJP threatened to launch a statewide agitation if Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi did not step down from office immediately. “If she does not resign immediately we will launch a campaign against her. We will have demonstrations, public meetings and, if necessary, court large scale arrests,” stated BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur.

Mathur stressed that it would be an NDA campaign of which the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) would be as much a part as the BJP. He, however, made it clear that the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate and former central leader Nitish Kumar would not be the agitation’s spearhead, saying: “It will be an andolan, so there is not need for a clear leadership.”

But BJP sources admitted that JD(U) leader Ram Vilas Paswan had made it clear that his Samata counterpart would not be allowed to “steal the show”.

The sources also did not foresee an immediate threat to the RJD-led government. “The Congress is its main supporting party and to save itself it will keep the government going by using the fig-leaf of an excuse to keep the so-called communal forces at bay,” said sources.

   

 

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