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


18 October, 2016

BRICS summit yields little

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A verbose statement at the end of an international event is usually an attempt to cover up sparseness of the outcome. When high expectations are raised it may even become necessary to pad up public statement with platitudes to contain possible disenchantment.

The Goa declaration issued on Sunday at the end of the two-day summit of BRICS, a five-nation group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which accounts for 47 per cent of the world’s population, ran into more than 7,200 words. It is a good example of talking much and saying little. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi viewed the BRICS summit as yet another forum to use to carry forward the campaign to isolate Pakistan, which he launched after the attack on India’s army base at Uri.

Before the meet, there was a media campaign to make it appear that terrorism was the main issue before it. As soon as the meet ended, friendly media began propagating the idea that Modi had scored another great success in his campaign.

The Goa summit did condemn strongly terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there could be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism. But, then, so did the summit held at Sanya, China, five years ago.

Of course, there was a reference to the terrorist attacks on India, which was as follows: “the recent several attacks against some BRICS countries, including that in India.” There was no mention of Pakistan or cross-border terrorism. How could they find their way into the joint statement when Pakistan’s best friend, China, is the BRICS member with the most economic clout? 

On the eve of the summit, the Chinese media had reported that there is no change in Beijing’s stand on India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its demand that the UN brand Pakistan-based Masood Azhar a terrorist.

Realising that it cannot have its way at the summit, the Indian government played up the BIMSTEC (short for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) outreach planned as part of the BRICS summit as more important than the summit itself. This grouping, which includes India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, was in the limbo since its formation a few years ago. It suddenly became a favourite as it does not include Pakistan or China.

When BRICS took shape the economies of its members were growing at a fast pace and the International Monetary Fund had projected that by this year their combined GDP would exceed that of the US. The recent modest recovery enabled the US to raise its GDP to more than $18 trillion, but the BRICS total fell short of the projected figure as a result of slowing down of their economies. 

In the beginning, by virtue of the political traditions of its members, BRICS appeared to have the capacity to evolve as a group that can counter the influence of the US, the sole surviving superpower. The New Development Bank floated by BRICS was widely seen as an attempt to build an alternative to the US-dominated IMF.

BRICS’s presumed anti-American potential has dimmed with the recent change of government in Brazil and the cosy relationship Modi has forged with the US, exemplified by the military logistic agreement which the two countries signed recently. However, the lone superpower dispensation is palpably on the decline and new synergies are in evidence in many regions, including India’s neighbourhood. 

Russia has been moving close to China in recent months, and a few weeks ago it participated in military exercises in Pakistan. Taking into account India’s sensitivity, the Russians got the Pakistanis to shift the exercises out of the Gilgit area, which was under the control of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir during the British period. But that was not enough to dispel India’s chagrin. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Goa after visiting Bangladesh where he committed more than $23 billion for a slew of projects over the next five years. This is ten times more than what Modi offered when he went to Dhaka last year. China and Bangladesh signed 26 agreements and about 30 memoranda of understanding during the Xi visit. 

The summit itself may not have given Modi much to cheer but it became an occasion for renewal of Indo-Russian ties. Modi and President Vladimir Putin sang paeans of the special and privileged nature of their strategic partnership. The two countries also signed three big defence deals. ;; Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 18, 2016

16 October, 2016

Towards climate justice

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With India’s ratification of the Paris climate accord on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, the world has moved closer to the goal of climate justice which appeared so distant only a few years ago. But there is still a long way to go and there are many hurdles to cross.

The accord, adopted last December at a conference attended by leaders of 185 countries, requires governments to draw up national plans to reduce gas emissions with a view to holding the rise in global temperatures below two degrees Centigrade.

India is set to replace China as the world’s most populous country shortly. Currently it is the fastest growing economy. It is already the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and accounts for about 4.5 per cent of global emissions. 

The Paris accord will take effect only when 55 nations which together account for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse emissions ratify it. The number threshold has been crossed already. In fact, India was the 62nd country to ratify the pact.

However, those who have ratified it so far account for less than 51.89 per cent of the emissions. The active promoters of the pact are keen to ensure that the second threshold is also crossed before the US elections in November as Republican candidate Donald Trump has threatened to pull his country out of the pact if he becomes the President. 

Nepal, Canada and seven European Union countries are expected to submit instruments of ratification to the UN this week. When they do, the second threshold of 52 per cent emission will be crossed.

The climate change issue had posed a big challenge to India, which had to strike a balance between its immediate developmental requirements and the need to limit gas emissions in the interest of humanity. 

It agreed to the terms of the Paris pact even though it was not fully satisfied with the provisions as it realised that it has a big stake in the issue in view of its high vulnerability to climate change impacts. A majority of Indians still depend on agriculture and related activities, and erratic monsoon often plays havoc in their lives. 

Initially, India, along with China, had placed more emphasis on its developmental requirements than on the need to check global warming, and insisted that it was the primary responsibility of the industrialised countries to bring down rising temperatures.

Many factors contributed to the Indian government’s decision to moderate its position. One of them was the sustained pressure mounted by the industrialised countries, particularly the US. It also came under increasing pressure from the less developed countries, which bear little responsibility for the deteriorating global situation but will suffer the most if things get worse.

Studies, which revealed how melting glaciers and rising sea levels resulting from global warming, can impact India’s huge population led to a better understanding of the situation and the need to act quickly. 

Ahead of the Paris meet, along with other countries, India had submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change a list of contributions it intends to make during the 2021-2030 decade. In it the government committed itself to taking steps to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP to 30 to 35 per cent of the 2005 level. 

It also undertook to raise its renewable energy capacity to 175 GW by 2022, aided by transfer of technology and low-cost international finance from the Green Climate Fund and other sources. It agreed to provide for generation of at least 40 per cent of its electricity requirements from non-fossil sources by 2030.

Now the time has come or the country to take concrete steps to achieve the goals it has set for itself. The government has made plans to constitute eight sectoral missions for this purpose.

Three missions will aim at reducing gas emissions by raising production of solar energy, enhancing energy efficiency and developing sustainable habitat. Three others will take up the task of adapting new techniques with regard to water, environment protection and the Himalayan ecosystem. The remaining two will be designed to disseminate knowledge on sustainable agriculture and climate change strategy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hailed the Paris pact as a victory for climate justice. But all do not see it the same way.

India has sought $2.5 trillion in finance to implement the proposals it outlined in its report to the UN commission. But the chances of obtaining funds of that order do not appear bright at the moment. 

The funds the developed countries have committed so far to the Green Climate Fund add up to only $100 billion. Unless they step up contributions to the fund India will find it hard to fulfil the commitments it has made. -- gulf Today, Sharjah, October 11, 2016

04 October, 2016

Peace need of the hour

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Much of India is in a state of high alert as the country waits to see how Pakistan responds to last week’s “surgical strikes” on terrorist launch pads across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Home Ministry asked all states to step up vigil at strategic installations, industrial complexes, crowded places, airports, historical monuments and government buildings. Delhi and the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Gujarat were identified as possible targets for a retaliatory strike by the Pakistan army or terror outfits based in that country.

Villages within 10 kilometres of the border were evacuated. Punjab also closed down schools as a precautionary measure.

Officials indicated that the heightened alert may remain during the whole of October as three major Hindu festivals which see large congregations fall during the month – Navaratri from the 1st to the 10th, Dussehra on the 11th and Diwali on the 30th.

India’s announcement on Thursday that its armed forces had conducted surgical strikes on several terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was followed by a warning by Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif that his country would give a fitting response to any misadventure by its adversaries. Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, whom India has identified as the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to let the army hit back.

Pakistan barred low-level overflying by foreign commercial aircraft, citing operational reasons. Viewing it as a move directed primarily against it, India was said to be considering the advisability of banning Pakistani overflights.

India’s bare initial announcement of the surgical strike and Pakistan’s confused response – on the one hand it denied there had been any such action and on the other it threatened reprisal –– raised some questions about the nature and scope of the operation. However, they appeared to satisfy hawkish elements in the two countries at least partially.

The army operation was a calibrated response to the September 18 terrorist attack on the Uri brigade headquarters which had taken the lives of 19 soldiers. It followed diplomatic moves to isolate Pakistan, which were only partly successful, and a threat to review the treaty on sharing of Indus waters.

Pakistan took no precipitate action and no one of consequence condemned the Indian strike. International response was limited to advice to both countries to resolve all problems through talks.

Internally, the surgical strike helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi to redeem his strongman image, and the opposition parties quickly rallied behind him. He desisted from displaying the braggadocio which often characterises his public utterances, leaving it to the party faithful to blow the trumpet.

However, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar could not resist the temptation to make a scornful remark. “Pakistan is in a state of coma, just like an anaesthetised patient after surgery,” he said. His Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif who talked of exercising the nuclear option invited a sharp rebuke from the US.

But hawks on both sides kept war talk alive. India’s jingoistic electronic media played up the strike across the LoC as a game-changer, but responsible commentators endeavoured to put things in the right perspective. They pointed out that there had been similar strikes in the past and cautioned against rushing to the conclusion that cross-border terrorism is now a thing of the past.

Indian officials put the number of launch pads destroyed in the attack variously at six to eight. Analysts noted that the attacks were not on terrorist training camps, scores of which exist in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but on launch pads which are places where trained terrorists halt briefly before being led across the LoC by guides.

Low-ranking ruling party politicians proclaimed the end of the policy of strategic restraint, but Modi and the army brass said nothing to that effect. In fact, they sought to convey a different message. While releasing information about the strike, the army had stressed that it was a one-time operation. In a speech on Sunday the Prime Minister said India did not covet anyone’s land and had never attacked another country.

A terrorist attack on adjoining army and Border Security Force camps at Baramula in the Kashmir valley showed that the game remains unchanged.

Amid the beating of war drums, leading public intellectuals in both the countries sounded notes of caution. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, head of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, wrote: “ both India and Pakistan, regimes have now tied the mast of their popular legitimacy to taking strong action against the other. That is not a reassuring thought.”  Asma Jahangir, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, tweeted: “Epidemic of insanity hits India and Pakistan again. No one wins a war. End terrorism and violence against each other and within our countries”. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 4, 2016.

20 September, 2016

Time to move from rhetoric to reality

BRP Bhaskar

The daring cross-border attack on the Indian brigade headquarters at Uri in Kashmir, which left 17 dead and about 30 injured, several of them seriously, poses a severe challenge to the Narendra Modi regime even as it copes with the situation created by more than two months of civil unrest in the valley.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who has emerged as the government’s chief spokesman on Kashmir-related issues, blamed the attack on the “terrorist state” of Pakistan. Modi, in a tweet, assured the nation that those who were behind the despicable attack would not go unpunished.

The social media and television channels were abuzz with the informed and the uninformed offering Modi advice on what punishment to give. Suggestions from former army officers and diplomats ranged from calls for surgical strikes to passionate pleas for well-thought-through responses.

Terror groups have targeted military establishments on more than 10 occasions since the eruption of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1990s. In terms of casualties, the worst attack was the one staged by a gang of three at the Kaluchak cantonment in 2002 in which 31 persons were killed and 47 injured. Of the dead, three were army personnel, 18 were family members of army men and 10 were civilians.

The most audacious of all Kashmir-related terrorist actions was the 2001 attack on the Parliament House in New Delhi. Six police personnel, two Parliament security guards and a gardener were killed but no MP was even hurt. The government, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader AB Vajpayee, viewed the event as a proxy attack by Pakistan and drew up plans for a military response but did not go ahead with it.

The Uri attack was the second one this year. In January a group of terrorists had sneaked into the large air force base at Pathankot. The encounter that followed resulted in the death of six defence personnel. It was apparently a calculated attempt to derail the India-Pakistan peace process. Following the attack scheduled official level talks between India and Pakistan were cancelled.

Going by the government’s accounts, the terrorists directly involved in all these attacks were liquidated in the encounters that followed.

Since the Pathankot attack, with one thing leading to another, there has been continuous deterioration in India-Pakistan relations. In his Independence Day address on August 15, Modi, in a marked shift from the position taken by all previous governments, openly voiced support for rebels challenging the authority of Pakistan in Baluchistan.

The ground situation in Kashmir took a turn for the worse when protests erupted after security forces announced the killing of young Hizbul Mujahideen commander Buran Wani in July. Many parts of the valley have been under prolonged curfew, and at least 80 persons have been killed, more than 100 blinded and several thousand injured in firing of supposedly non-lethal pellets by central security personnel.

As Pakistan despatched a large number of special envoys to world capitals to mobilise opinion against human rights violations in Kashmir valley, India decided on a similar effort with the focus on Pakistani rights violations in Baluchistan and Kashmir areas under its control. The flip side of such tit-for-tat manoeuvres is that they put India and Pakistan politically on the same level.

Some observers see in Modi’s toughening stance the influence of National Security Adviser Ajit Doyal, who, since retirement from the police, has attracted a bunch of admirers by recounting his exploits as an intelligence officer and has openly advocated a hawkish line. But he is also believed to be the one who sold to Modi the idea of inviting all South Asian leaders to his swearing-in ceremony in 2014.

For Modi the time has come to move from rhetoric to reality. Recent events have revealed two grave weaknesses which India can ignore only at its peril.

One is the ease with which terrorists have been able to intrude into fortified military establishments. The Uri attack resulted in heavy casualties as it took place when one unit was taking over from another. If the attack was timed with prior knowledge of the changeover, it indicates the terror planners have good intelligence support. Clearly, strengthening of the security environment deserves a higher priority than reprisal.

The other is the alarming degree of alienation in the Kashmir valley. In the past civil unrest manifested itself mainly in the form of demonstrations in Srinagar streets. This time young stone-throwers were out in the streets in the countryside and police personnel abandoned many stations. Restoration of normalcy must come first. All else can wait.

The Centre must not forget the healthy atmosphere that prevailed in the valley during the three armed conflicts with Pakistan. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 20, 2016 

13 September, 2016

Housing sector paradox

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s real estate sector is headed for a crash, the US way, a business journalist warned a few months ago. Crazy as it is, the real estate bubble is not going to burst any time soon, a market watcher countered. Real estate is overpriced and if the property market were to function as efficiently as the stock market, prices must crash, an experienced analyst opined. All three advanced seemingly convincing arguments in support of their conflicting viewpoints.

There has been no crash but there are signs of stagnation on the housing front which presents a paradox with widespread homelessness on one side and proliferation of unoccupied residential units on the other.

In the cities, where big real estate companies are engaged in feverish building activity to cater primarily to the upmarket, a large number of flats are lying unsold. According to a property research firm, in the Mumbai metropolitan region alone there were about 226,000 unsold apartments at the beginning of the year. This was 31 per cent more than a year ago.

In the real estate business, a fall in demand does not lead to a fall in prices because builders have the capacity to hold on until they get the desired prices. The conventional explanation for this is that the industry has access to black money. The government indulgently looks on at the flow of black money into construction as it brings hoarded wealth back into circulation.

Urban housing costs remain high as land is scarce and, therefore expensive. There is also mismatch in the market between supply and demand. The big builders are offering villas and luxury apartments costing upwards of Rs 10 million. Most buyers are looking for flats priced not more than Rs 5 million.

A recent official report estimates that the number of homeless persons is about 78 million. They need affordable housing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set for the country the goal of “housing for all”. However, he has not formulated an action plan for the purpose. Instead, he is continuing with the decades-old scheme under which states take up housing projects for the poor with Central assistance. It cannot end homelessness in the foreseeable future.

Last November, in a bid to give a fillip to the industry, the government removed all restrictions on foreign direct investment in the real estate and construction sector except for a three-year lock-in period for select projects. An industry spokesman claimed the step would have a huge positive impact on the housing sector as a whole, especially the affordable housing segment. However, there is no indication so far that foreign investors are interested in that segment.

Chinese and Japanese developers have shown interest in industrial projects. A leading Chinese firm has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Haryana government to develop a new industrial city in that state at a cost of $10 billion over a period of 10 years. Japanese firms, which are ready to invest up to $2 billion in industrial projects in the next two or three years, are said to be seeking strategic partnerships with Indian builders.

Much of the recent urban construction activity has been carried out flouting regulations with the connivance of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, posing a grave threat to the environment. The floods that played havoc in the newly developed suburbs of Chennai city recently were the result of reckless construction blocking natural drainage. Governmental agencies were as much to blame as private operators.

The Judiciary is seized of many instances of construction in violation of regulations. Last April the Bombay High Court ordered demolition of a 31-storey apartment complex in the city which has become a national symbol of political corruption. An appeal against the judgement is pending before the Supreme Court.

Last week the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government not to register plots and buildings if there was violation of regulations. According to officials, the judgement may adversely affect those who bought plots in more than 300,000 housing colonies in the state. 

Both the judgements indicate a hardening in the stand of the courts. Earlier when faced with fait accompli, they were generally inclined to take a lenient view, considering the cost incurred and the hardship that would be caused to the buyers. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will also take an equally tough position. --Gulf Today, September 13, 2016.

06 September, 2016

A worrisome job scenario

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the working population rising rapidly and job opportunities lagging behind, India, which has replaced China as the world’s fastest growing economy, is in the most challenging phase of its developmental effort.

According to the latest UN projections, India’s population will outstrip China’s by 2022, six years earlier than previously calculated. While China has to contend with an ageing population, India, theoretically, has an advantage over it by virtue of its larger working population. But to take advantage of the demographic situation, it has to improve its ability to create jobs.

Currently an estimated one million people enter the workforce each month. The rate of job creation, which has always been short of the requirement, is now declining. A recent official survey revealed that eight labour-intensive industries, including textiles, garments, BPO, metals and automobiles, created only 135,000 jobs last year. They had created 490,000 jobs the previous year.

A study of the performance of more than 1,000 companies by a private rating agency also showed that the job creation rate was falling. Together these companies created only 12,760 jobs last year as against 188,371 in the previous year. The manufacturing sector companies recorded a 5.2 per cent decline in job growth. In the previous year there was a 3.2 per cent growth.

Three industries account for the bulk of employment in the organised sector. They are manufacturing (40 per cent), banking (23 per cent) and information technology (18 per cent). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious goal of creating 250 million jobs over a 10-year period cannot be reached unless they generate more jobs.

Some analysts have suggested that studies based on the performance of companies may not reflect the true position as industries are increasingly outsourcing certain types of jobs. But, according to the official survey, there was a decline in contractual jobs also last year.

The dismal situation revealed by the studies has prompted critics to taunt the Prime Minister with questions like “Where are the promised jobs, Mr. Modi?” The fact is that low job creation has been a feature of India’s economic development even before Modi’s time. Between 1991 and 2013, India recorded an average annual growth of 6.5 per cent but did not create enough jobs to attract even half of those entering the labour market.

Modi’s expectation that increased flow of foreign direct investment and his Make in India programme will boost job creation has not materialised. About 60 per cent of the FDI is in the form of private equity investment, which may fetch the investor a decent return but does not necessarily result in job creation. The Make in India programme requires skilled labour for manufacturing and high-end services. Skilled workers form only two per cent of India’s labour force.

Medium, small and micro enterprises are the backbone of the industrial sector. There are about 40 million such units and they employ about 100 million people, making them the largest provider of jobs. Falling exports and difficulties in obtaining timely credit hamper their ability to play a bigger role.

Official and unofficial studies limited to the organised sector do not give a full picture of the job situation. More than 90 per cent of the country’s working people are in the unorganised sector where wages are low and underemployment is widespread.

Although China has fallen behind India in the rate of growth of the economy, it is still ahead in job creation. According to Human Resources Minister Yin Weimin, China created more than 13 million new jobs for urban residents last year. However, the pace of job creation is slowing. The target for this year is only 10 million new urban jobs.

China’s major problem on the job front now is the rehabilitation of 1.8 million workers who are expected to be laid off by state-owned coal and steel plants as the economy switches from the investment-led model to one that relies on domestic consumption, services and innovation.

Interestingly, Arvind Panagariya, Vice-Chairman of the Niti Ayog, which has taken over the functions of the erstwhile Planning Commission, senses an opportunity for India in the Chinese downturn. He believes the high wage levels in that country will tempt manufacturers of certain items like textile and footwear to view India as an attractive alternative location.

Amartya Sen, the economist, has pointed out that India is trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force, which has never been done before and never will be done in the future either. Clearly the government has to do more to realise its goal. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 6, 2016.

30 August, 2016

Kashmir’s shadow over SAARC

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With India-Pakistan relations deteriorating in the wake of violence in Kashmir, now in its eighth week, the fate of the 19th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, scheduled for November 9 and 10, hangs in the balance.

SAARC, which comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, together account for 21 per cent of the world’s population but only nine per cent of the global economy.

SAARC members differ vastly in size and economic strength. India with an estimated population of 1,330 million and gross domestic product of $2,073.5 billion is much larger than the other seven countries put together. Pakistan, the second largest country, has an estimated population of 194 million and GDP of $270.0 billion. The Maldives with only 371,000 people is at the bottom of the population table. Bhutan with a GDP of $2 billion has the smallest economy, but it attaches more importance to gross domestic happiness than to gross domestic product.

India-Pakistan differences have held SAARC back from time to time in some areas. A common market is one of SAARC’s objectives but Pakistani fear of Indian economic domination has stalled progress in that direction. In 1995, a ministerial meeting decided on the creation of a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) as a first step towards the goal of a common market. It was only in 2006 that an agreement in this regard went into effect. A decade later, intra-SAARC trade is still only a little more than the region’s GDP.

A South Asian motor vehicles agreement was negotiated by SAARC officials ahead of the last summit at Kathmandu in 2014 but Pakistan was not ready to sign it. Believing that it backed out as it now attaches economic integration with China more importance than South Asian economic cooperation, India decided to go ahead without it.

The relations between the two countries took a dive early this month when Laskar-e-Taiba chief called for demonstrations when Rajnath Singh visited Islamabad for a meeting of SARC Home Ministers. Rajnath Singh was flown from the airport to the meeting venue in a helicopter and he flew back immediately after the meeting without joining a lunch from which, curiously, even the host, Pakistan’s Home Minister stayed away.

Arun Jaitley stayed away from the SAARC Finance Ministers’ meeting in Islamabad last week, depriving it of much of its importance. Nevertheless, SAARC Secretary General Arjum Bahadur Thapa of Nepal called upon the group to move from SAFTA to South Asian Economic Union.

With India and Pakistan at loggerheads, speculation is rife over whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the November summit. Reports in a section of the Pakistani media have indicated that he might stay away although so far no one of consequence in India has suggested such a step is contemplated.

Modi made a personal investment in improving relations with India’s immediate neighbours when he invited the leaders of SAARC countries to his swearing-in as Prime Minister in 2014 and all, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, promptly turned up. Several setbacks followed but he demonstrated his readiness to walk the talk with an unscheduled stop at Lahore on his way home from Afghanistan to greet Sharif on his birthday.

The current wave of unrest in Kashmir began when protests erupted over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by the security forces. At least 67 persons were killed, over 6,000 injured and more than 100 blinded by pellets as youths defied the curfew. Pakistan launched a campaign against the human rights violations and India responded by raising the issue of rights violations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Baluchistan for the first time.

Even as Modi and Chief Minister Mehmooba Mufti, whose Bharatiya Janata Party and People’s Democratic Party which are partners of the coalition that rules the state, began efforts to restore peace in the troubled valley, Nawaz Sharif deputed 22 diplomats to internationalise the issue. Under the Shimla Pact signed after the 1971 war which resulted in Bangladesh’s formation, the two countries are committed to resolve issues, including Kashmir, bilaterally without outside intervention.

Some course correction may take place sooner or later since Sharif, as the host, and Modi, as the leader of the largest member country and one who began his prime ministerhip with a commitment to friendship in the neighbourhood, have much at stake in the success of the SAARC summit. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 30, 2016.