India-Pakistan talks slowly move forward

Foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan meet in Islamabad to discuss security issues. In northern Kenya, inter-communal clashes over resources leave ten dead while Maoist rebels kill five security men in attacks in central India. Germany has agreed to supply NATO with bomb components for operations in Libya. All this in today's security briefing.
Radu Nikolaus Botez
29 June 2011

At the end of last week, foreign secretaries Nirupama Rao of India and Salman Bashir of Pakistan met in Islamabad to discuss security issues and prepare the upcoming meeting of the countries' foreign ministers in India in July. The meeting was the first at foreign secretary level since July 2009. In February, India and Pakistan announced they would resume peace talks that India had broken off following the Mumbai attacks in late 2008.

Discussions revolved around the issues of terrorism and the territorial dispute over Kashmir, a divided region claimed by both states in its entirety. India has blamed Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the Mumbai attacks, supported by elements from ISI, Pakistan's main intelligence agency, according to one of the planners, recently on trial in a Chicago court. It has repeatedly asked Pakistan to act against militants on its territory and bring to trial those involved in plotting the attacks. The surroundings of Osama bin Laden's killing were seen by many in New Delhi as a confirmation of Pakistan providing shelter to terrorists. However, after talks between the states' home secretaries earlier this year, Pakistan agreed to allow Indian investigators to visit Islamabad.

Rao and Bashir also said they would look into confidence building measures (CBMs) with regard to their nuclear and conventional weapons capability. On Tuesday, Pakistani defence minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said that India had a greater capacity to sustain a war. In May, Pakistan tested a new short-range ballistic missile that could lead to the nuclear threshold being crossed early in the event of a conflict analysts say.   

According to observers, both parties were cautious in addressing sensitive issues and talks have not led to any major breakthrough.

The openSecurity verdict: With the recent meeting, India and Pakistan have once again indicated their intentions to improve relations. The most prominent episode of demonstrating goodwill took place when Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani visited India earlier this year to attend the cricket world cup semi-final between the two countries' teams, joined by his Indian counter-part Manmohan Singh. Both leaders engaged in so-called 'cricket diplomacy', spending several hours together on and off the field. As welcome as this may be, it will not help to resolve issues both countries have gone to war over several times in the past.

The fact that India and Pakistan have agreed to discuss CBMs is, however, noteworthy and important. Given the way both countries perceive one another, the potential for misperceptions and, subsequently, of initially limited conflict escalating to a large-scale war with potential use of nuclear weapons remains relatively high. Pakistan has deliberately not issued any clear statement neither on its nuclear thresholds nor on its nuclear doctrine in general that is designed to match India’s conventional superiority. However, statements indicate it subscribes to a 'first-use'-policy. India, on the other hand, has tried to find a way to respond to sub-conventional attacks by Pakistan-backed militants more quickly, retaliating adequately without giving Pakistan a reason to make use of its nuclear arsenal. A new military doctrine called 'Cold Start' was announced in 2004 but has not been fully implemented so far. The test of short-range ballistic missiles by Pakistan earlier this year was seen as a response to India's reformulation of its military doctrine, thus indicating that strikes against Pakistan as envisaged by Cold Start could also lead to the use of nuclear weapons. In this context, CBMs are necessary as the combination of India's new military doctrine and Pakistan's weaponry and unclear nuclear thresholds might have severe consequences at the end of the day.

A considerable impediment to such measures lies in what Sukanta Acharya has called 'a chain of asymmetrical security dilemmas': Pakistan perceives India as its primary threat while India looks east to China. As India feels the need to match China's military strength, Pakistan feels threatened by increased Indian defence spending. Consequently, CBMs will have to be developed in a tripartite framework to bear fruits.

Clashes in Kenya over grazing land and water sources

On Saturday, at least 10 people died in a violent clash as raiders from northern Kenya attacked Somali and Borana herdsmen in an attempt to steal cattle in the central Kenyan village of Isiolo. Clashes over livestock and resources are quite common in the area. In 2006, a similar attack took place when Ethiopian raiders attacked a Kenyan village along the border separating the two countries, killing at least 40 people. In response, Kenya sent additional security forces to its borders. Earlier this year, 24 people died in clashes over boundaries, scarce water resources and herding ground for cattle. Inter-communal attacks, such as the most recent one, usually lead to acts of revenge by the attacked community.

In 2007, a United Nations report identified environmental change such as droughts and expansion of deserts as one of the main drivers behind the conflict in Darfur, suggesting the promotion of more sustainable agriculture in order to prevent violence. While many argue that the region’s most affected by environmental change will face so-called 'climate wars' in the future, others point out that environmental change is a weak indicator for the likelihood of future wars. The Horn of Africa is currently facing the worst drought in 60 years.

Maoists kill five in Indian state of Chhattisgarh

On Sunday, Maoist rebels, known as 'Naxalites', killed five security men in Dantewada and Kanker districts in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, an area where the rebels have traditionally been very present. Two policemen were killed in an ambush by the rebels, while three died when their car hit a landmine later the same day.

Named after the district of Naxalbari in the state of West Bengal where they staged a violent uprising in 1967, brutally put down in early 1968, Naxalites say they fight for the rights of indigenous people and the rural poor. In October 2009, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites 'the greatest internal security threat to our country'. The following month, 'Operation Green Hunt', conducted by police and paramilitary forces, was launched, triggering counter-attacks on security forces by the rebels.

In her 2010 essay 'Walking with the Comrades', famous Indian novelist and political activist Arundhati Roy, who had spend three weeks with the Naxalites, criticized the government's response to the rebel movement, receiving both support and criticism for her views.

Berlin to supply NATO with bomb components for Libya operation according to report

According to a report published on Monday by Spiegel Online, Germany's minister of defence, Thomas de Maizière, has accepted a request by the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) to supply forces operating in Libya with bomb components and other ordnance. So far, there has not been an official statement on the issue.

Germany's abstention on Security Council Resolution 1973 which authorised states to use 'all necessary measures […] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack' was met with more criticism than support at home and abroad. Subsequently, Berlin withdrew ships from NATO patrols in the Mediterranean while, however, sending 300 additional troops to man AWACS surveillance flights over Afghanistan. Widely regarded as aiming at limiting isolation following the Security Council vote, the increase in troops freed up NATO capacities for its mission in Libya.

In a speech delivered on 12 June, leaving US defence secretary Robert Gates criticized European reluctance to contribute to defence efforts and pointed to significant shortcomings in European military capabilities. Norway was the first country to announce its withdrawal from the mission while Britain stated it would have to review other commitments given the stretch of capabilities due to the operations in Libya.

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