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Networking in South Asia

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
April 30, 2007

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An Indo-Pakistani peace process continues to move forward two months after the deadly bombing on the “Friendship Express” train between New Delhi and Lahore. Shortly after that attack, linked to Kashmiri militant groups (Hindustan Times), India and Pakistan signed an agreement to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear attacks. More recently, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri indicated on April 20 that the two countries are close to reaching agreement (The Nation) on the decades-old dispute over India-controlled Kashmir. Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf says relations between the two countries “have never been better” (Hindu).

Critics say India has been less forthcoming, and Kashmiris themselves are not keen to cooperate. Although New Delhi hosted a one-day roundtable on Kashmir last week, Kashmiri separatist leaders did not participate, just as they haven’t in the past, rendering negotiations “non-events,” says Pakistan’s Daily Times. In an interview with India’s Rediff, Kashmir expert Navnita Chadha Behera says Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is committed to addressing the complaints of Kashmiris, yet faces the task of responding to disparate needs: “The trouble again is that there is no sole spokesman here.” Among the obstacles to a breakthrough agreement, says the Economist, is India’s reluctance to reduce the presence of some six hundred thousand troops in Kashmir. A recent analysis on the Kashmir issue by the Swiss Peace Foundation predicts India will continue to drag its feet in the peace process. At the roundtable's conclusion, Singh cast doubt on a Kashmir deal with Islamabad, saying comments “emanating from Pakistan do not give the correct picture” (Indian Express).

Musharraf may be keen to show progress, however, given domestic unrest related to his decision to sack Islamabad’s Supreme Court chief justice and a crisis of confidence with the United States over the Talibanization of the border region near Afghanistan. A recent suicide attack in the North West Frontier Province targeting Pakistan's interior minister cast further doubt on the wisdom of Islambad's controversial peace deals with local leaders in regions near the Afghan border (ISN). A new Backgrounder looks at Musharraf’s political troubles and what the future could bear for Pakistan’s leadership.

Pipeline politics could also soothe India-Pakistan ties. Islamabad plans to participate in building a pipeline (AP) that would carry natural gas from Iranto the South Asian subcontinent and is negotiating rates with Tehran and New Delhi. The plan could boost rapprochement with energy-hungry India. However, Islamabad ’s openness to free trade with New Delhi remains in question. Although Pakistan ratified the 2004 South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), it has failed to fully implement SAFTA with India by granting it normalized trade relations (Economic Times).

India enjoys warmer ties with another neighbor, Bangladesh, but developments there are feeding concerns in New Delhi about instability and extremism to the east. A political crisis has left an interim military government in charge of Bangladesh and raised fears that militants with links to Indian and Pakistani extremists may gain a foothold there. Kashmir expert Behera warns of the rise of al-Qaeda in Pakistan as part of a regional militant network, particularly with Kashmiri extremist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, saying, “They all swim in the same water.” Indian political analyst Amulya Ganguli says Bangladesh’s military regime has shown willingness to combat extremism with tough measures, including the recent execution of six alleged terrorists. However, a new analysis by intelligence site Stratfor looks at growing Islamization in the three countries, drawing links among Pakistan’s intelligence agency, militants in Bangladesh, and India’s insurgency-ridden northeast. A recent Backgrounder looks at terror groups operating in India.

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