New on my other blogs

Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel
Supreme Court accepts idea of nഹാൽ ew Mullaperiyar tunnel


19 July, 2016

New flare-up in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Ten days of violence touched off by the killing of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander, by security personnel have thrown Kashmir valley into another phase of turmoil.

At least 40 persons were killed and about 3,000 injured during the protests. Police pellets hit more than 100 persons in the eye, resulting in blindness.

As I write, many areas are still under curfew and internet services remain suspended. Newspaper offices have been raided in an action reminiscent of the days of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule.

Security forces eliminated Wani in a planned operation. His home-town was cordoned off ahead of the funeral but about 40,000 people gathered to pay him homage and his comrades gave him a 21-gun salute.

Wani’s seven-year career in terrorism was not too bloody. He is said to have picked up the gun after humiliation by the police who stopped and abused him and his brother while on a joyride on a friend’s new motor bike. The brother, who was working for his Ph.D. degree, was killed last year.

Wani was wanted in four cases of shooting, none of which was fatal. Although Hizbul named him its commander, he was a home-grown militant. He did not go to Pakistan for training and he did not show signs of religious indoctrination.

The sense of outrage the valley witnessed on his death was of a kind not seen for a long time. The police response was so grossly disproportionate to the situation that the victims drew sympathy even from Kashmiri Pandits who had fled the state after terrorists targeted its members in an earlier phase of militancy.

In a statement, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti condemned the killings and the use of pellets as a means of crowd control. It said the attacks on property left behind by Pandits were not what the Muslim majority wanted but were the work of miscreants seeking to take advantage of the situation.

Pradeep Magazine, a journalist belonging to the community, wrote: “Today, when I see that horrifying image of the young girl blinded by the violent response from the security forces, I want to respond with love, warmth and compassion to all those who have suffered in this long-drawn conflict that does no credit to either side.”

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been subjected to contrary pulls and pressures from the dawn of Independence. Its Hindu maharaja toyed with the idea of an independent state while Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference, which led the movement against his rule, favoured accession to India. Pakistan claimed it in the name of its Muslim majority. A raid by tribesmen equipped by Pakistan, forced the maharaja to accede to India and the people rallied behind Sheikh Abdullah who took charge of the administration.

India raised the issue of Pakistani aggression in the United Nations but the West frustrated its hope of justice by equating the aggressor and the victim. Sheikh Abdullah went to the UN to defend accession to India. Pakistan produced PN Bazaz, leader of the Pandits organisation, to endorse its view that a Muslim majority state should go to it.

Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest and removal in 1953 following reports that he was seeking independence for the state with US support pitted his followers against India. They kept the plebiscite demand alive until Indira Gandhi reinstated him as Chief Minister in 1975.

A 1965 Pakistani bid to engineer an uprising using infiltrators failed due to lack of local support. Under the Shimla Pact, signed after the 1971 war which had resulted in Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent nation, India and Pakistan undertook to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, through bilateral talks.

The 1990s witnessed a rash of terrorism directed from across the border and calls for “azaadi” resounded in the valley. Prime Minister AB Vajpayee began a healing process which continued for a while under Manmohan Singh before things went out of control again.

India has deployed a large number of troops in the state and the army has invited charges of excesses. However, in this month’s events the central and state police forces appear to have played a major role.

Wani belonged to the fourth generation of post-Independence youth. According to veteran journalist Prem Shankar Jha, who is the author of two books on Kashmir’s recent history, his killing was a self-defeating exercise. He believes Wani could have been weaned away from the path of violence and used to communicate with the angry youth.

Communal elements on both sides of the India-Pakistan border tend to view J and K as a piece of real estate. Enlightened administrations must recognise that the problem is one involving hapless victims of history. In the final analysis a lasting solution can arise only through a political process, not through clash of arms. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 19, 2016.

12 July, 2016

Era of army impunity ends

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The immunity from prosecution which security personnel deployed in insurgency-hit areas have enjoyed under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) may become a thing of the past with the Supreme Court striking a decisive blow for freedom and accountability.

AFSPA, which is in force in parts of Jammu and Kashmir and the predominantly tribal states of the northeast, stipulates that there can be no legal proceedings against personnel acting under it. There has been a plethora of allegations of human rights violations by security forces and these have led to violent protests on several states.

In an 85-page judgment, delivered last Friday, a Supreme Court bench said every death caused by the armed forces should be thoroughly enquired into. “It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both,” it declared.

Rejecting the government’s claim that denial of immunity would demoralise security personnel, the court said there was no concept of absolute immunity for an army person who committed a crime.

Every person who violated prohibitory orders in a disturbed area was not an enemy, it pointed out. Even if the person was an enemy there should be an enquiry to ascertain if excessive or retaliatory force had been used. It also drew a distinction between use of force in an operation and in other situations.

It entrusted the National Human Rights Commission with the responsibility of ordering enquiry into allegations against the security forces, and named the criminal investigation department of the police as the agency to conduct the enquiry.

AFSPA’s roots go back to the colonial era. The different versions of the law in force in various states are all based on the ordinance the British promulgated in 1942 to deal with the Quit India agitation which the Congress party launched even as the Indian National Army, formed by Subhas Chandra Bose to fight alongside Japan, was moving towards the eastern border from Singapore.

The ordinance was allowed to lapse after World War II. A few years after the country gained freedom it was resurrected to grant immunity to army and paramilitary personnel called out to deal with Naga insurgency in the eastern state of Assam. It is now in force, under the name AFSPA, in Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast and in J and K.

Ordinarily, AFSPA is applicable only in areas notified as “disturbed”. Most versions of the relevant law limit the “disturbed area” notification’s validity to six months. However, some areas have been kept under AFSPA continuously for half a century by repeatedly reissuing the notification.

J and K invoked AFSPA following a spurt in insurgency in 1992. The state’s Disturbed Areas Act lapsed in 1998 but AFSPA continues to this day. The National Conference government headed by Omar Abdullah wanted AFSPA to be withdrawn but the Centre did not oblige.

The People’s Democratic Party which heads the state government now also favours withdrawal of AFSPA, but the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the Central government and is PDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition in the state, is a vocal supporter of the law.

The day the Supreme Court verdict on AFSPA came the security agencies announced the killing of 22-year-old Burhan Wani, said to be a home-grown Hizbul Mujahideen commander, and two associates in an encounter. At least 20 persons were killed and 200 injured as security forces fired on youths protesting against his killing.

The worst part of AFSPA is the security forces’ reluctance to part with it and the government’s readiness to honour their wishes. People in many states have been seeking the withdrawal of AFSPA for decades. Irom Sharmila, a young woman poet of Manipur, who began an indefinite fast in November 2000 demanding repeal of AFPSA and is kept alive through nasal feeding in a hospital, has become a global icon of the human rights movement.

The state of Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh came under AFSPA in 1983 in the wake of the secessionist Khalistan movement. Under Congress and Akali Dal governments Punjab retained it until 1997. Chandigarh held on to it until the Punjab and Haryana High Court struck it down in 2012. Tripura’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) government lived with AFSPA for 14 years.

The apex court verdict has formally ended the era of army impunity. But more struggles in legal and other forums may be needed to make it a reality.--Gulf Today, July 12, 2016.

09 July, 2016

Menace of lawless lawyers

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Lawbreakers in advocate’s robes trying to overawe the judiciary, lower court judges resorting to trade union tactics, politicians looking on passively if not actually encouraging recalcitrant elements, and higher courts unable or unwilling to discipline the unruly – these are sure signs of evolving threats to Rule of the Law.

Such elements have surfaced in different states from time to time. In the state of Telangana, which was carved out of sprawling Andhra Pradesh two years ago following a prolonged agitation, they have all manifested themselves at the same time.

The law providing for bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh stipulated that the governments of Telangana and the residuary Andhra Pradesh will both function from Hyderabad, which is in the former’s territory, until the latter built a separate capital and that the undivided Andhra Pradesh High Court based in Hyderabad would serve both the states until Telangana set up a separate high court.

The separation turned messy as the two states started squabbling over division of water and power. A new point of friction developed when the AP High Court allocated members of the lower judiciary to the two states, leading to protests by judges and lawyers in Telangana alleging the state got a raw deal. Their agitation paralysed the lower courts, causing immense hardship to litigants.

At least 130 judges allotted to Telangana are said to belong to the residuary Andhra Pradesh state. About 100 judges attended a meeting to protest against their appointment. The High Court suspended 10 agitating judges. The members of the Telangana Judicial Officers Association then threatened to resign en masse.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao joined the fray by dashing off a letter to the Centre demanding immediate setting up of a separate high court for the state. Union Law Minister Sadananda Gowda’s thoughtless remark comparing Rao with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is involved in a running battle with the Centre, embittered public opinion.

Agitating lawyers taking the law into their own hands is by no means a rare phenomenon in India today.

Last October, in Tamil Nadu, a large group of lawyers held rallies on the premises of the Madras High Court in Chennai, barged into courtrooms shouting slogans and staged a sit-in outside Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul’s court while he was presiding over the proceedings. They were demanding, among other things, withdrawal of contempt proceedings against two Madurai-based leaders of the bar association. The Madurai bench of the high court had witnessed unruly scenes earlier.

According to a media report, some judges and lawyers hold that recurrence of such incidents is the result of a steady intrusion of criminal elements into the legal profession. Lawyers and policemen have clashed in the vicinity of Chennai courts on several occasions.

Tamil Nadu Bar Council Vice-Chairman PS Amalraj estimates that only 15 per cent of the state’s 80,000 advocates are involved in disruptive activities. Many of them are not practising lawyers, he says.

In an attempt to ensure purity of the justice delivery system, Madras High Court judge N Kirubakaran recently directed the Bar Council of India not to enrol as lawyers persons involved in criminal cases.

Similar incidents have been reported from other states like Uttar Pradesh too. However, the criminal records of lawyers in the states pale into insignificance when compared to pro-BJP lawyers in the national capital. Early this year, they physically assaulted Jawaharlal Nehru University Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, whom the police had charged with sedition on a dubious complaint by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a pro-BJP student organisation, on two occasions when he was produced in the courts.

They also pounced upon JNU professors who came to express solidarity with the students, media personnel who were there to cover the court proceedings and a team of senior lawyers who were deputed by the Supreme Court to watch the proceedings and report it.

The Delhi police, which is directly under the BJP-ruled Centre, remained mute spectators when the lawyers indulged in hooliganism. Rejecting media reports which referred to the lawless lawyers as goons, their spokesman claimed they were patriots!

It was easy to identify the men who assaulted Kanhaiya Kumar on the court premises as video recordings of the attack by lawyers were available. Yet, neither the Delhi police nor the Bar Council of India pursued the matter expeditiously. As a result, the culprits remain unpunished.

Scandalised by the developments which took place under its very nose, as it were, the Supreme Court warned of strong action. However, there has been no action so far.--Gulf Today, July 5, 2016.

28 June, 2016

Power play dashes NSG hopes

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has none to blame except himself for the embarrassment caused by the failure of India’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group last week. He had unwisely upped the ante ahead of the NSG plenary at Seoul by personally lobbying at a few world capitals, including Washington.

President Barack Obama pledged US support to India’s admission, and the government fed the media with reports that Modi had won over all the countries he had wooed. However, 10 countries blocked the path by raising objections based on India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They were in a minority but under the NSG rules another country can be admitted only if all 48 existing members agree.

Some analysts have suggested that the US did not work hard enough to ensure India’s admission. They point out that the US assigned comparatively low level diplomats to lobby for India. They contrast this with the direct intervention of President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to secure a one-time waiver for India from the NSG regulations when it signed the civilian nuclear deal with the US in 2008.

Officially India blamed China, without naming it, for the failure of its membership bid. But countries like Switzerland, Brazil and South Africa, which were among the objectors, cannot be accused of acting at China’s behest. Switzerland had reportedly offered support when Modi visited that country but opposed it at the plenary. Brazil and South Africa, along with China, are India’s BRICS partners.

As India’s NSG campaign was gaining ground, Pakistan, which, too, has conducted nuclear tests and refused to sign the NPT, also applied for membership. Claiming to be on par with India, it argued that country-specific exemption from NPT conditions would have negative impact in South Asia. China endorsed this argument.

India refuted Pakistan’s parity claim. It pointed out that while India had scrupulously adhered to the non-proliferation principle, Pakistan was known to have made available nuclear knowhow to other countries.

On his way to Seoul to pursue India’s application, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar stopped at Beijing to soften China’s opposition. Modi who met President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit at Tashkent, Uzbekistan, urged him to take a fair and objective view of India’s credentials. But these efforts were of no avail.

The Seoul setback does not spell the end of India’s bid. The NSG has named Argentinian diplomat Rafael Grossi to hold consultations with member countries on the issue.

What has dashed India’s hopes is power play. China’s stated position is that it is not against India’s entry but wants norms laid down for admission of non-NPT members. Evidently it wishes to hold India down at the same level as Pakistan, its all-weather friend.

Writing in the Chinese Communist Party’s English language tabloid Global Times, Fu Xiaoqiang, Director of the Institute of Security and Arms Control, said Beijing could support India’s NSG entry if it “plays by rules”. He went on to make clear what exactly he meant by playing by rules.

He said entry into NSG would make India a legitimate nuclear power. During Modi’s last visit, the US had recognised India as a major defence partner, and this meant the US was now treating it as a military ally.

He added, “Against the backdrop of Washington’s accelerated pace of promoting its pivot to the Asia Pacific region, it will be highly likely to keep supporting New Delhi’s nuclear ambitions in order to make it a stronger power to contain China.”

Beijing, he added, welcomed New Delhi playing a role as a major power in global governance and could support its path towards NSG if it stuck to its policy of independence and self-reliance.

Obviously what stands in the way is China’s perception that India has joined hands with the US against it. At home, too, there are critics who view with disfavour Modi’s willingness to align India closely with the US even as a multipolar world is emerging, which will end its status as the sole superpower.

One of the driving forces behind Modi’s NSG fixation is the desire to expand nuclear capability for civil and possibly military purposes. However, even those who share his nuclear ambitions doubt if NSG membership is important at this stage. According to former Atomic Energy Commission chairman MR Srinivasan not being a member of the NSG will not hamper the civil nuclear programme as India has signed agreements with several countries under the 2008 NSG waiver. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 28, 2016.

21 June, 2016

A miracle maker bows out

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who provided a calm environment for the economy through skilful management of monetary policy, quitting in September, the path is clear for the Narendra Modi administration to bring another autonomous institution under its heel.

The rupee was falling against the dollar and inflation was ruling high when the Manmohan Singh government picked Rajan to head the RBI in 2013. He steadied the rupee and brought down retail inflation.

The rupee’s movement against the dollar was held in the narrow range of 66.02 to 67.09. The inflation rate was brought down from 10.5% to about 5% in two years. In the past year it has moved up but still remains below 6%.

Rajan worked the miracle mainly by using the RBI’s right to fix interest rates. Initially he raised the repo rate (rate at which the central bank lends money to commercial banks) and reverse repo rate (rate at which the central bank borrows from commercial banks), against the wishes of the government. After stabilising the monetary system, he reduced the interest rates, but not to the extent the government desired.

In the favourable atmosphere he created the GDP grew from 5.6% in 2012-13 to 7.6% in 2015-16, foreign exchange reserves rose from $275 billion to 363 billion and the current account deficit fell from 4.8% in 2013 to 1.1% last year.

Rajan is credited with having forecast the ongoing global financial crisis three years in advance. Speaking at a function to honour outgoing US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan he had said a disaster was ahead. Recalling his words, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said last year, “The world should have listened to him.”

Economists and financial analysts say the effect of Rajan’s departure will be felt in the years ahead. However, he disapproves of personalisation of the office and says the RBI will survive any governor.

A product of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, Rajan served as Professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund before returning to India in 2007 to head a committee on financial sector reforms. He later became Chief Economic Advisor to the Government.

At the RBI, he was often at loggerheads with the government as it kept pressing him to lower interest rates to raise the growth rate. He resisted, pointing to the high fiscal deficit and possible price rise. After the change of government, the pressure on him increased as Modi was in a hurry to push up the growth rate and usher in the good days he had promised in his campaign speeches. Rajan started relenting but the quantum of rate cut always remained below the government’s expectations.

The government responded by attempting to tamper with the RBI’s autonomy. It proposed the creation of an independent debt management office. As Rajan objected, the move was dropped.

The government then planned to transfer part of the power to regulate the bond market from the RBI to the Securities and Exchange Board of India. The SEBI’s opposition forced the government to drop that too.

Thereafter the government sought to reduce the RBI to the level of certain other financial sector regulators. The RBI’s protests resulted in stalling of the proposed changes.

The Establishment’s unhappiness with Rajan came into the open when Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy called for his removal a few months ago. He was believed to be acting at the instance of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the power behind the Modi government.

The RSS, which is quite innocent of monetary policy, was apparently incensed by his remarks on the growing intolerance after the lynching of a Muslim at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly eating beef. “Tolerance and mutual respect are necessary to improve the environment for ideas, and physical harm or verbal contempt for any group should not be allowed,” he had said in a convocation address at IIT Delhi.

The government, which habitually hypes its record, was peeved with his comparison of the Indian economy to the fabled one-eyed king of the land of the blind.

When the government constituted a search committee to find a candidate to fill the vacancy that will arise when Rajan’s tenure ends it became a clear indication that he would not get an extension. In a note to RBI staff last week he announced his decision to return to academia when his current term ends.

“My ultimate home is in the realm of ideas,” Rajan said in that note. Such a man is, no doubt, a misfit in an administration which delights in surrounding itself with mediocrities.

As Rajan takes the bow some of the tasks he began remain unfinished. One of them is cleaning up of the balance sheets of public sector banks that are weighed down by bad debts, a process he had described as a deep surgery. Another is the formulation of a monetary policy framework. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 21, 2016.

14 June, 2016

Move to club all elections

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working on a plan to hold the national, state and local elections simultaneously although opinion is divided on the issue.

In the early days of Independence, Lok Sabha and assembly elections were held together. They got decoupled when some assemblies were dissolved before they completed their five-year tenure and early elections held.

Today, three out of every five years are election years in many states as they go to the polls at different times to choose their Lok Sabha, assembly and local body representatives. Consequently, the parties are constantly in election mode.

The holding of Lok Sabha and assembly elections together again was mooted by Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani, who was No. 2 in the AB Vajpayee government, in 2012. He said impending elections even in a remote corner used to influence decision-making by that government. To avoid recurring periods of policy paralysis he proposed a fixed tenure for the Lok Sabha and the assemblies and simultaneous elections to them every five years.

Less than four months after Modi led the BJP to power in 2014, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice took up a study of feasibility of holding simultaneous elections. While the opposition Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar and the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee opposed the idea, several regional parties supported it.

In its report the committee proposed holding of elections in two phases instead of one. It suggested that elections to state assemblies whose terms end within six months to one year can be held together in November 2016, when the present Lok Sabha will be at the middle of its term, and elections to the other assemblies can be held along with the Lok Sabha poll in 2019.

The committee realistically assessed that simultaneous elections “may not be feasible in 2016 or even in a decade”. Yet the government began pushing the idea immediately. Addressing a meeting of office-bearers of the BJP, Modi said clubbing together Lok Sabha, assembly and local elections would reduce the time and money spent on electioneering and allow party workers time to attend to people’s needs.

Deposing before the parliamentary committee the Election Commission had said the additional electronic voting machines and voter verifiable paper audit trail machines needed to hold LS and assembly elections simultaneously would cost about Rs 93 billion. When the Law Ministry sought its views on the committee’s report, it repeated these figures and said costs of storing the machines would also go up. The machines had to be replaced every 15 years, it added.

If elections to local bodies are also clubbed with LS and assembly elections, more equipment would be needed and the costs would go up further. The balance sheet of democracy must take into account costs that cannot be expressed in monetary terms as well.

Voters generally differentiate between elections to national, state and local bodies and pick nominees of different parties to represent them in these bodies. The results of the recent elections in Delhi and Bihar bear this out.

Voters in all seven of Delhi’s LS constituencies chose BJP candidates in 2014. The party led in 60 of the state’s 70 assembly segments. But in the assembly elections that followed the people voted overwhelmingly for the Aam Admi Party. It bagged 67 of the 70 assembly seats. The BJP got only three.

In 2014, the BJP won 22 of Bihar’s 40 LS seats, as against only 12 in 2009, and the party led in 122 of the 243 assembly segments. But in last year’s assembly elections it got only 53 seats, as against 91 five years earlier.

Modi is pursuing for simultaneous elections because it would help his party. Studies have shown that when elections are held together 77% of the assembly constituencies produced a winner from the same party. This means if simultaneous elections were held in 2014 the BJP might have won up to 46 assembly seats in Delhi and 93 in Bihar.

According to former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, though good in principle simultaneous elections seem to be an idea fraught with constitutional issues and administrative problems. He posits a scenario of the Lok Sabha getting dissolved in 13 days, as happened in 1998, and all assemblies being dissolved to hold simultaneous elections.

Fixed tenure may work well in a presidential system, but is unsuited for a multi-layered parliamentary democracy. Simultaneous elections may reduce costs but they will extract a heavy price by distorting the popular will. -Gulf Today, Sharjah, June14, 2016, -

07 June, 2016

A reality check on Chabahar

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The deals India struck with Iran and Afghanistan during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visits to these countries have led to brouhaha at home and disquiet in Pakistan. The two sides appear to be exaggerating their hopes and fears.

While in Tehran last month, Modi committed $500 million for the development of Chabahar port in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, which adjoins Pakistan’s Balochistan province. India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement to create a transport and transit corridor.

The port and the corridor will free landlocked Afghanistan from dependence upon Pakistan for trade with India and other countries. They will provide India with access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. They will also help boost Iran’s trade.

Last week, on his way to Qatar and the United States, Modi made his second visit to Afghanistan in less than six months. On the occasion, he inaugurated the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam in Herat province, built at a cost of nearly $300 million, to replace the Salma dam which was damaged during the civil conflict. It will irrigate 75,000 hectares of land and help generate 42 mw of power.

India is one of the largest benefactors of war-torn Afghanistan. It has so far spent more than $1 billion in reconstruction projects and humanitarian aid in the country. While leaving, Modi tweeted, “The dam is a generator of optimism and belief in the future of Afghanistan.”

Chabahar is barely 70 km from Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan province where China is building a port under an agreement of 2012. It is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Many in India view Chabahar and the trilateral trade and transit corridor as a riposte to Gwadar and CPEC.

There is unrest in both Iranian and Pakistani parts of Balochistan. Iran has accused Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) of fomenting trouble on its side of the border and Pakistan has alleged that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is aiding dissidents in its territory.

According to Pakistani authorities, Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national whom they are holding on espionage charges, was working for RAW. Indian authorities say he is a former navy officer and he was in Chabahar as a businessman.

Against this background, it is not surprising that the trilateral project has set alarm bells ringing in Pakistan. Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad, Asif Yasin Malik and Nadeem Lodhi, both retired lieutenant generals who had also served as Defence Secretary, said it posed a security threat to Pakistan. Malik asked the government to take diplomatic measures to avoid Pakistan’s isolation. Lodhi suggested using China’s influence to fix the problem.

There is a bit of irony in the generals’ response. Pakistan has been without a full-time Foreign Minister for some time and in any case the army has been formulating foreign policy in respect of neighbouring countries.

Iran’s Ambassador in Pakistan, Mehdi Honerdoost, has revealed that the Chabahar project was first offered to China and Pakistan but they showed no interest in it.

The euphoric as well as alarmist response to Chabahar stems from conventional political and military wisdom, and overlooks the new concepts of strategic relationships being put into practice the world over.

Iran, which has just emerged from years of Western sanctions, is estimated to have 9.3 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and 18.2 per cent of the gas reserves. It is eager to make up for lost time and claim its due place in the global economy.

Significantly, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran hailed the Chabahar agreement as not only an economic document but also a political and regional one. Ambassador Mehdi Honerdoost, while recalling that China and Pakistan had rejected Chabahar, said they could still come in. Iran needed more partners for the project, and “Pakistan, our brotherly neighbour, and China, a great partner of Iranians and a good friend of Pakistan, are both welcome,” he added.

A joint statement issued when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran in January had identified development of ports as a possible area of cooperation. In a commentary on the India-Iran agreement on Chabahar, the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language newspaper Global Times observed that China might be a major beneficiary of the port.

Khursheed Kasuri, considered the most successful of Pakistan’s recent foreign ministers, has said the present situation has arisen because the country’s civilian government and military leadership are not on the same page. That is a problem which Pakistan should resolve in its own interest. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 7, 2016.