Kashmir continues to dominate Indian media discourse. In the wake of the tragic deaths of 40 Indian soldiers of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and their aftermath, not to speak of the wider diplomatic and strategic ramifications, it could not be otherwise. This is a crisis that is set to continue in the coming days, and perhaps weeks. Time will tell.
The established facts are: the suicide bomber responsible for the tragedy was one Adil Ahmed Dar, a young Kashmiri member of the Pakistani-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which operates freely in that country. India has been convulsed with shock and rage at yet another jihadi outrage funded, organized openly from across the border. The canvas is broad and telling, from the unprecedented, sustained assaults on India’s financial capital, Mumbai, in March 1993 and November 2008 in which hundreds of innocent citizens were killed and maimed and property destroyed. There were other attacks on the city and its transport system, and across other cities and sites. The official Pakistani refrain remains changed: gives us ‘actionable’ evidence and action will follow. This has long ceased to be a novel demand. It has become rancid through overuse, and hence tossed aside.
A graduated Indian response is unfolding. The Jaish-e-Mohammed is being hunted down and its operatives neutralized. ‘The Indian Army stated that the leadership of the terror group had been eliminated within days, during a press briefing by Lt General K.J.S. Dhillon, Commander of the Army’s Chinar Corps. ‘We were tracking the top JeM cadres since February 14. The Pulwama terror attack was handled by the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Pakistan Army, he told reporters. Also, the government has withdrawn the security protection outside their residences in Srinagar for leaders of the separatist Hurriyat organization (Statesman, Hindu, February 18).
The Army has warned parents of young jihadis that further violence will be met with a ruthless response, and they would be well advised to persuade their charges from abstaining from such activities. (Times of India February 20).
Khan warning of retaliation
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s free hand to the Indian military, has warned that any Indian action against his country would meet with a similar reply from Pakistan. He asked for ‘actionable’ evidence of Pakistani culpability in the Pulwama bombing. He dismissed Indian accusations as a vote-gathering exercise for the country’s general election in May/June (Times of India February 20).
Writing in the Washington Post (February 14), former TV anchor Barkha Dutt predicted that the Pulwama bombing would be a game-changer for Kashmir. She writes: ‘Kashmir has endured roughly 30 years of insurgency and the region is almost numbed to headlines.’ The latest outrage, she averred, ‘will fundamentally change both India’s internal policy within the state and its relations with Pakistan…This clearly is an act of war.
‘And the man reportedly behind it, Maulana Masood Azhar, is free and operating with absolute impunity in Pakistan. That he was released in 1999 from an Indian prison – in swap deal for the safety of passengers taken hostage in a commercial airline – makes Indians angrier. Two decades later Ahzar has not been brought to justice. Instead, he hides in plain sight in Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, and is allowed to address huge Islamist militant gatherings over audio speakers in other parts of Pakistan..Kashmir has seen a surge in local militancy…with calls for the establishment of a Caliphate in Kashmir…Arun Jaitley, a minister in the Modi government warned that India will deliver an ‘unforgettable lesson’ in retaliation (which) in an angry, outraged and cynical country is unlikely to be a overstatement, concludes Barkha Dutt. Why ‘cynical’? US double standards and Saudi bankrolling of Islamism. Period.
Israel has offered unconditional help to India against terrorism, ‘asserting that ‘there is no limit’ to its assistance. The statement came from the newly appointed Israeli Ambassador to India, Dr Ron Malka, once a full Colonel in the Israel Defence Force. “Whatever India needs to defend itself there is no limit. We are here to help our close friend India to defend itself especially against terrorism because is a problem for the world and not only f0r India and Israel…So we help India, share our knowledge…to share our technique because we want to help our really important friend.’
Iran promotes Chabahar
With US sanctions threatening Iran’s main port of Bandar Abbas at the terminus of the Persian Gulf, Tehran government is promoting the Chabahar port lower down the coast, which has been built with extensive Indian financial and engineering help. Chabahar is linked to Afghanistan through a rail network, and will be a hub for India’s reach to the Caspian, Russian and Central Asian markets. (Hindu February 17).
Odisha’s ambitious projects
Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik launched a number of ground-breaking projects worth around Rs2,196,30 crore. The projects are expected to create opportunities for 3,465 people. According to the Chief Minister, the vision is to make Odisha the ‘manufacturing hub of the East (India). GO-SWIFT, the State’s single-window portal, has received 600 industrial project applications in 14 months. A host of industries, from aluminium units, cement, to iron and steel and power, are taking shape in the State (Business Line February 20).
The Cabinet has approved the National Electronics Policy 2019 to incentivize and boost domestic electronics manufactures, the turnover target being $400 billion by 2025. Under the new ‘Credit and Guarantee Fund Scheme, the government will create a fund to provide default guarantee to banks of up to 75 per cent of the loan on machinery up to Rs 100 crore. This will eliminate the need for small and new investors to provide third party collateral as required by banks at present (Business Line February 20).
India top performer for Blackstone
The world’s largest asset manager Blackstone says that India has emerged as its top performing market for private equity investing. The New York-based company President and CEO, Jonathan Gray, credited the Modi government for opening up Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) regulations and putting in place a dispute-resolution mechanism for improving regulatory and legal frameworks in the fastest growing major economy….We were slow when we started, but the light switch went on here eight months ago, initially with real estate investments followed by private equity buyouts.’ (Times of India February 22).
Horse trading in full swing
With the general election looming, horse trading on alliances and seats in parliament are gaining momentum. The ruling BJP has cut a deal with the ruling AIDMK in Tamil Nadu and the ruling PMK in Puducherry. Congress was in similar mode with DMK, the AIDMK in Tamil Nadu. (Hindu February 20).
Sharing the spoils in UP
BSP, SP and RLD traded seats in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. However the SP and RLD will not contest in the constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareilly, for long the bailiwicks of Sonia and son, Congress President Rahul Gandhi.(Hindu 22).
Army chief in Tejas aircraft
Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat took a sortie in the Light Combat Aircraft, which received its Final Operational Certificate on the eve of India’s Aero show in Bangaluru, Tejas squadrons will now be inducted into the Indian Air Force. Tejas has been designed and manufactured in India together with its avionics and weapon systems (Hindu February 22).
India, Russia trade
Commerce and Industry Minister of State, C.R. Chaudhary, set an ambitious $50 billion India-Russia bilateral trade target for 2025. By the end of 2018, trade stood at $30 billion. Both partners were confident that the 2025 target would be reached within the projected timeline. India needed more infrastructure and energy, said Chaudhary at the India-Russia Forum organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry in Mumbai. ‘Russia is well placed to meet our needs in these and other areas,’ he said. In addition to business, there was greater scope for collaboration in education.
Russian Commerce Minister Denis Mazurov emphasized that small and medium enterprises were now the platform of his country’s modern economy. ‘Nearly 22 per cent of Russian GDP is coming from SMEs and the target is to take this to 40 per cent. The India-Russia collaboration will play a major role in achieving this goal,’ he said (Statesman February 22).
Modi in South Korea
Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a landmark visit to the Republic of Korea, where he was greeted by President Moon Jae-un, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Unveiling a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at the Yonsei University, the Indian Prime Minister said terrorism and climate change were two most urgent issues facing the world today. The Prime Minister was awarded the Seoul Peace Prize.
Over 600 Korean companies such as Hyundai, Samsung, and LG Electronics have invested heavily in India, with carmaker Kia soon to join the list. Korean visitors to India are given visas on arrival ( Hindu, Statesman February 22).