BY SHASHI MAllA
In the latest confrontation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours of South Asia, the bare facts are as follows. As a reaction to the suicidal terrorist attack in Pulwama (Indian Administered Kashmir/IAK) on February 14 that killed at least 42 Indian CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) policemen, Indian Air Force (IAF) jets crossed the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that separates the Indian and Pakistan parts of Kashmir. The Indian planes even crossed the international border into Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and attacked a target around Balakot.
The Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, convened a brief press conference and released the official account of events. He claimed that India’s actions was based on reliable intelligence to prevent another terrorist attack. He alluded to the Balakot location as a known training camp for the terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack. Gokhale referred to this aerial undertaking ‘in wickedly obtuse language’ as “nonmilitary pre-emptive action” and especially noted that this action against a remote camp sought to avoid civilian casualties. He also stressed that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of Jihadists who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.” The Indian media reported high casualties in the hundreds.
In the Pakistani version, the armed forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said via Twitter account that the IAF jets were “forced” to retreat in “haste” and release “payloads” quickly. Pakistan released images of the cited Balakot location showing some dirt and trees, plus an image of some kind of object with a serial number, presumably the remains of a bomb. Pakistani authorities also stated that the area sustained no damage and no casualties. A later report from the Balakot area suggested one wounded.
There is a significant information gap between these two official accounts. Thus, it is not known exactly as to how far into Pakistan territory did the IAF jets penetrate, and for how long? What was precisely hit and what was the damage? How many people were killed, if any?
The US South Asian expert and former Department of State mandarin Ms. Alyssa Ayres
The Kashmiris themselves see their situation as bleak: “Whenever India and Pakistan fight, we are the first ones to suffer”. In Indian administered Kashmir a small but persistent insurgency has been struggling against Indian rule and the massive presence of Indian troops. An ordinary farmer lamented: “our lives depend on the mood of the soldiers …We will always live in fear.” Some Kashmiris call their homeland poignantly “the world’s most beautiful prison”.
The Kashmiri writer, Basharat Peer comments: “ India and Pakistan blame each other, each country obsessed with proving itself better than the other, but they share the responsibility for reducing Kashmir to a ruin and destroying generations of Kashmiri lives” (NYT).
The establishment-critical Indian writer Arundhati Roy, alluding to the strong jingoistic currents sweeping across India noted: “Whatever Pakistan’s role has been in the Kashmir conflict, Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, has acted with dignity and rectitude.” As for Indian PM Narendra Modi, she called his actions “unforgivable” [calculated with the forthcoming general elections in mind; as with the horrendous expenses for the Khumba Mela in Prayagraj]: “He has jeopardized the lives of more than a million people and brought the war in Kashmir to the doorsteps of ordinary Indians” [but she forgot the danger of nuclear war for millions of innocents in neighbouring countries].
Collapse of US-North Korea Summit Despite President Donald J, Trump’s self-described skills as a master-negotiator, he was not successful in reaching a deal with North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un. According to David E. Sanger writing in The New York Times, previous US presidents had tried “cajoling, threatening and sabotaging North Korea in its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal”. Finally, they took resource to negotiations, “convinced that an isolated, broken country would surely choose economic benefits for its starving populace over the bomb.” But Trump met more than his match in Kim. Hopefully he realizes that diplomacy at the highest state level with authoritarian leaders is not like negotiating a business deal.
Depending on signals from Trump and misjudging his domestic travails, Kim miscalculated. He expected that Trump would accept a more modest offer. The North would dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex, an old facility at the heart of the nuclear program, in return for an end to the most harmful sanctions enacted since 2016. Kim’s offer would have left the missiles, the warheads and the weapons systems fully intact. In addition, the North could continue to produce uranium, a key ingredient for producing nuclear weapons, at its secret hidden enrichment center near the capital, Pyongyang [which US intelligence had found out].
As a grand bargain, Trump proposed that North Korea should trade all its nuclear weapons, material and facilities for an end to the American-led sanctions that were grievously damaging its economy. According to The New York Times, Trump had gambled that “his force of personality and his view of himself as a consummate deal maker would succeed where three previous presidents had failed” [Bill Clinton/George Bush/Barack Obama]. Trump’s offer was, in fact, essentially the same proposal that the US had promoted for a quarter of a century, but which the North had studiously rejected. Even the national security adviser John Bolton and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had thought the chances of a grand bargain for total nuclear disarmament as virtually non-existent. Trump disagreed and plodded on, thinking that he had established a rapport with one of the world’s most brutal dictators.
US intelligence had also previously warned publicly that Kim would not be willing to give up his arsenal completely. North Korea itself had maintained repeatedly that it would only proceed step-by-step. Thus, as the two leaders were still on their respective ways to Hanoi, the negotiating teams were still deadlocked. Apparently, the North Korean team were unable/ did not fully brief Kim. He on his part, continued to argue for relief from the five rounds of sanctions in exchange for Yongbyon. There was no meeting of minds, no agreement on a peace agreement and no ban on producing more nuclear fuel. There was only agreement to keep on talking with each other. In the meantime, the North’s nuclear arsenal would keep expanding.
The failure of the Hanoi summit was a great disappointment to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who had invested much time and energy in the run-up to the meeting. His “yearning for reconciliation” must now wait. Japan and some in South Korea were not unhappy about the failure, as they feared that an eventual US-North Korea agreement [including intercontinental missiles] could have left their countries vulnerable to short- and intermediate-range missile attacks by North Korea. Returning home without an agreement could be a huge embarrassment for Kim as he was working towards “comprehensive and epochmaking results”. In the meantime, Trump himself will probably have little appetite for any meaningful diplomacy with North Korea, considering that he will be fully consumed with domestic troubles for the foreseeable future.
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