|Friday, January 14, 2000,
back to 1984
BUSINESS OF SECRECY
prospects for early S. Council reform
with Nepal must be sealed
Looking back to 1984
THE Union Cabinets decision to set up a new commission of inquiry to probe the riots which broke out in Delhi and other areas of the country in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, has come after periodical demands and hints. The demands came from the hurt Sikh circles. The hints came from a few ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government before the last General Election and after it. The All-India Shiromani Akali Dal (Babbar) was most strident in asking for another inquiry commission after the earlier commission, with its assisting agencies, was accused of conducting Operation Disposal. Home Minister L.K. Advani said last week, confirming certain statements by persons generally perceived as being politically well-informed, that an inquiry was in the offing and that it would aim at meeting the demands. According to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan, the Chief Justice of India would nominate a suitable retired judge of the Supreme Court to head the commission. In his opinion, the earlier commission was more of an eyewash and that was why the present Government had decided to institute another probe. The killing of about 5000 citizens should not go unaccounted for.
The terms of reference
to be given to the commission would be seminal. If the
commission so desires, it can begin at the beginning. The
nominated former apex court judge would be required to go
into the causes and course of the riots and violence
targeting Sikhs. He would examine complaints and
allegations either by individuals or by the
Government and find out whether the heinous crimes
could have been averted. He would also look
into the allegations of lapses or dereliction of duty on
the part of police officers, policemen and others. And he
would go into the adequacy of the
administrative measures taken to prevent the carnage. Of
course , he would recommend such steps as would meet the
ends of justice, feeling free to raise and get answered
any other issue relevant to the probe. There
are a few positive aspects of the announcement. The
nation has never believed that enough was done to bring
the criminals to book. Lack of evidence and legal lacunae
helped many politicians, members of the police force and
goondas escape punishment. Of course, no court can
prosecute mobs. But their visible instigators, when
clearly identified, must be made to pay for their
nefarious acts. However, it would not be proper to
continue the vilification campaign against Justice
Ranganath Mishra, a former Chief Justice of India. He
acted as a judge as the new judge would do. He found no
evidence of state planning or instigation in the 1984
episodes. He recommended the setting up of another
committee to inquire into the role of the police
and order the registration of fresh cases if so
required. The new commission will definitely review
the fairness or foulness of all the agencies concerned,
including the old commission, the four committees formed
following Justice Mishras recommendations, the two
Lieutenant-Governors and the lower judiciary. It would
have been better to make the fresh move after the end of
the scheduled Assembly elections. But time, like tide,
should not be seen waiting. With its wide terms of
reference the new commission should lay the ghost of
doubts and controversies in one of the ugliest communal
episodes in this country. It is good that the Congress
has welcomed the announcement of the time-bound
(six-month) hard look at those shocking and shameful
Reactions on Karmapa
DEVELOPMENTS related to the escape of the 17th Karmapa from Tibet to India have followed a predictable course. His escape to freedom, as it were, has given the big cats the opportunity to growl at the smaller members of the feline family. In the global context, Indias position appears to be as pathetic as that of a kitten trapped on a hot tin roof while the Karmapa controversy has given to the USA yet another chance to keep up the pretence of being the leader of the pack of alley cats. It is evident that the Ministry of External Affairs is working overtime to cope with the unexpected turn of events at a time when Indias low-key initiative for re-building bridges with China had begun to give at least a glimmer of hope of normalisation of ties between the two most important countries in Asia and together in the world. Beijing too has realised that the escape of the Karmapa has put it in a spot of bother at the global level and only Delhi can help it save face by refusing asylum to the 14-year-old China-ordained Living Buddha. However, instead of using polite diplomatic language for seeking assistance the Chinese leadership has chosen to play to the gallery by using the language of threat that too in the name of preserving the spirit of Panchsheel! What is more disturbing is the fact that the usually suave External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, has left his junior Minister, Mr Ajit Panja, to do all the talking which has merely added to the confusion about how India intends to handle the crisis. One option would be to use the Karmapas Sikkim connection for resolving the issue. The monastery in Sikkim is considered to be the legitimate abode of the Karmapa and, therefore, no one should have any cause of complaint if he were to be allowed to return home. Although there are two other claimants to the title of Karmapa, India can get past the minor hurdle by referring to the fact that Ogyen Trinley Dorjee is recognised as the incarnation of the 16th Karmapa by both the Tibetan Government-in-exile and China.
As far as the USA is
concerned, the escape of the Karmapa has given it the
opportunity to remind the world of its self-assumed role
of the global policeman. After having made heavy
investment in the Chinese market the powerful American
business lobby is certainly not going to let the State
Department crack the whip on China. Therefore, the
statement attributed to the official spokesperson in the
US Administration, Mr James Rubin, asking China to resume
talks with the Dalai Lama for resolving the controversy
over the status of Tibet is meant to impress the world
rather than make the Chinese leaders tremble with fear.
The latest seemingly anti-China rhetoric is part of the
US policy of making phoney noises over glaring human
rights violations, which evidently forced the Karmapa to
flee from Tibet. The USA has even threatened to introduce
a resolution against Chinas poor record before the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights. By way of a
side show Pakistans Chief Executive, Gen Pervez
Musharraf, seems to have decided to take advantage of the
possibility of deterioration of ties between Beijing and
Delhi over the likely course of action for deciding the
Karmapas future. To say that the outcome of his
proposed visit to China next week would require close
monitoring by India is to state the obvious.
THIS BUSINESS OF SECRECY
DEFENCE matters are officially treated as a sacred cow. This may be desirable in highly strategic and sensitive areas. The problem arises when the ruling establishment makes virtue of every necessity. It closely guards even elementary and innocuous bits of information from public gaze, though the world outside may have access to classified facts on the deployment of missiles and other hi-tech weaponry.
Maintaining secrecy in policy matters, especially relating to defence, is a colonial legacy. The British rulers had stakes in protecting their global interests and they were understandably reluctant to share secrets with Indians. After Independence, the new rulers adopted the same attitude and practice with the result we now have a half-informed society. Defence affairs, which have a direct bearing on national integrity, sovereignty and independence, are hardly discussed even in Parliament. Whose interests are we serving?
An ill-informed society in a democratic polity like ours can be vulnerable in times of crisis. The country has actually suffered because of the official tendency to keep the people in the dark about different facets of governance. Where is the much-talked-about transparency? Where is the concept of an open government? How can people have better appreciation of the countrys needs and challenges if they are not taken into confidence.
Take, for example, the 1962 defeat at the hands of the Chinese. For the first time since Independence, the country was caught unawares in the regions geopolitical ambitions. China exposed Indias shockingly poor defence preparedness. The Panchsheel spirit soon evaporated.
The NEFA debacle shook Jawaharlal Nehru and he could never recover, both physically and mentally, after that. Lt-Gen T.B. Henderson Brooks probed the debacle. He died in Sydney a few days before he was to turn 89 on January 11, 1997. His voluminous report is yet to be made public, though several steps were subsequently taken to reorganise the armed forces, including the formation of a highly skilled mountain division.
I believe that the governments decision to keep the Henderson Brooks report a secret even after 38 years is a grave mistake. It should have been made public after 10 years so that experts could evaluate how and where we went wrong at that critical juncture of national life.
We cannot learn from historical blunders if we try to thrive on secrecy. I can appreciate non-publication of the report for a decade or so. But not thereafter.
As it is, we tend to live in a world of make-believe. And if our past failures too are cast in a make-believe mould, we as a nation can hardly learn from the mistakes of our Generals, political leaders and bureaucrats.
In this context, it is regrettable that the government is reluctant to publish the Subrahmanyam Committee report on Kargil. Why? The committee has already said that it has excised from the report sensitive facts as the disclosure of some of this information would not be in the public interest for reasons of national security.
The members of the committee, including its chairman, Mr K. Subrahmanyam, are highly respected professionals and persons of integrity. Still, I fail to appreciate the logic behind their plea for selective secrecy. The committee was, after all, constituted in the wake of criticism that the Vajpayee government had failed in its duty to be sufficiently vigilant in defending the integrity of the countrys borders because of a massive intelligence failure.
Mercifully, Kargil ultimately turned out to be an Indian success story. But we should not forget that behind this success was a quiet role played by the Americans who forced Pakistan to withdraw the intruders from the strategic heights.
To say this is not to belittle the gallant role played by the officers and jawans of the Army and the Indian Air Force. They did a remarkable job against heavy odds. Still, a number of questions have been agitating the public from the day the intrusion from across the border was made known. The questions are:
One, how come we failed to notice such a massive infiltration into the strategic heights of the Kargil sector?
Two, whose failure was itintelligence or operational or both?
Three, how adequate was the response from the field commanders once the intrusion was noticed?
Four, how well-equipped have our units been to detect movements of the infiltrators?
Five, did the Ministry of Defence and political leaders respond promptly and adequately after having been told about the intrusion?
Six, if the response system was not prompt and adequate, what is the nature of politico-security gaps which need to be plugged?
Seven, was there enough coordination at all levels of command?
Eight, how about political responses vis-a-vis Pakistan? Were these in harmony with the ground realities? In other words, did the Lahore bus diplomacy dilute the official Indian response to Kargil developments?
Nine, why did we not procure surveillance and other equipment well in time since we had a fairly good idea about the terrain the armed forces are supposed to guard against a hostile neighbour?
These questions have been discussed and debated during those turbulent Kargil days. They will continue to be debated as doubts persist in the absence of the Subrahmanyam Committee report not seeing the light of the day. There is no earthly reason why such a crucial report should not be made public.
In these columns of July 9, 1999, under the headings Kargil in perspective: Hometruths and challenges, I observed:
Perhaps, a thorough and honest probe will bring to light the full story of obstructionist red-tapism. Perhaps, this is not the time to talk about such matters. At the same time, this cannot be kept out of focus just to suit the convenience of the powers that be.
Those who rule this country in the name of the people must be accountable and be ready to pay for the consequences of their actions and non-actions. This should be the elementary dharma of a democratically elected government. Enough damage has already been done to the countrys credibility by cover-up operations. Those in position of power conveniently take shelter behind national security and thereby deny the public the right to information. There must not be any secrecy in running national affairs. Strategies and operational matters of security fall in a different category and they have to be protected from prying eyes.
No patriotic Indian would seek operational details of the armed forces in Kargil and beyond. No one would dare question the magnificent role of our officers and jawans in throwing out the intruders. They have given a good account of themselves in the true tradition of the armed forces.
The challenge facing the country is formidable. And we can face it successfully provided we rise above small calculations and change the old mindset on national security.
An honest appraisal and sharing of facts with the people are the key elements of democracy. For this purpose healthy and honest criticism should always be welcome. The authorities in New Delhi need not be afraid of a free debate on the Subrahmanyam Committee findings on the plea of national security.
It is a fact that over a long period a halo has been created around the Ministries of Defence, Home and Foreign Affairs and those dealing with the countrys security and related matters. This tendency can prove to be dangerous for our democracy.
It needs to be appreciated that a democracy may need more criticism in a time of war than in normal times. In this context, it will be interesting to recall the shell scandal that surfaced during World War I. This was the work of an enterprising war correspondent (Col Repington). His startling disclosures actually saved England from near-defeat. Indeed, secrecy in the name of security does not pay.
It is also common knowledge that the whole issue of secrecy in the USA blew up with the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times of June 13, 1971.
In the US Supreme Court six judges came out in favour of the New York Times and three gave a dissenting verdict.
I reproduce one line of the majority opinion as expressed by William O. Douglas: Secrecy in government is fundamentally anti-democratic, perpetuating bureaucratic errors.
We can say from our own experience how we have protected visibly guilty persons in sensitive areas in the name of national security. This is absurd.
The Vajpayee government can make a difference to the quality of democratic governance by promptly publishing the Subrahmanyam Committee report. It should not be kept under the wraps to save many a politico-bureaucratic reputation!
Enough is enough. Let us
give a chance to open and transparent governance. It will
save the nation from several visible and invisible
scandals and failures in key areas of national life. Any
takers? Over to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Dim prospects for early S.
IS the much touted reform of the United Nations Security Council proving to be a mirage? This poser was raised by several nations at the recent debate in the General Assembly on the vital issue that the world organisation has been grappling with for the last six years through an open-ended working group. As the president of the 54th session of the assembly, Mr Theo-Ben Gurirab, Foreign Minister of Namibia, himself acknowledged, while all member-states are agreed on the need to reform and enlarge the Security Council, there is an impasse on certain critical issues.
As the United Nations prepares to convene the millennium summit in September this year, it is becoming increasingly obvious that differences over the expansion of the permanent category of council members, potential new members and the veto power have remained irreconcilable. Security Council reform, in the words of Mr Gurirab, is the most ambitious course of action that all member-states have embraced and sustained for the past six years.
It goes without saying, he told the General Assembly, that all of us agree on the need to reform and enlarge the council in all respects in order for this vital United Nations organ to reflect the changes of the modern world and be responsive to the wishes of all the member-states in the spirit of equality and justice. The difficulty is in deciding how this should be brought about, and how such changes will assure the equality, representativity, transparency and effectiveness we all want. Collective ingenuity created the United Nations in 1945. That ingenuity is still here and better informed than ever before. What is lacking today is political will.
What Mr Gurirab did not say was that the political will is lacking among the five permanent members of the Security Council without whose agreement the council reform cannot be undertaken. He is convening the working group in the early part of this year to deal specifically with the issues facing it and to avoid another general debate.
During the General Assembly debate on the issue, the U.S. representative made it clear that his country would oppose any expansion that threatened the ability of the Security Council to carry out its responsibilities under the charter. The gravity of those responsibilities was simply too great to risk compromising the councils ability to meet them, he said. The USA has been consistently favouring the inclusion of Germany and Japan among new permanent members along with representatives of the African, Asian and Latin American regions.
On the other hand, Russia believes that the number of members in the enlarged council should not exceed 20 or 21, as going beyond that number would have negative impact on the councils efficiency. Its principal position was that enlargement in either permanent or non-permanent categories should include both industrial nations and developing countries. India was mentioned by the Russian representative as a strong and worthy candidate for permanent membership in the council. China was non-committal, urging that there should be no haste in securing fair and reasonable reform of the Security Council. France supports the increase in the number of membership in both permanent and non-permanent member-categories and is also in favour of Germany and Japan being made permanent members. Britain would like to have another five permanent members that would include Japan and Germany and three non-industrial nations.
For long, the nonaligned movement which today comprises 114 member-states of the UN approximately two-thirds of the total of 188 has been urging that the current imbalance in representation in the Security Council should be rectified with a sizeable expansion of the council in order to reflect contemporary political and economic realities. The process of expansion, nonaligned countries feel, must be based on the principles of equitable geographical representation and equitable sovereignty. It may be pointed out that the original UN Charter provided for only 11 members, five permanent and six non-permanent. The charter was amended in 1963 to create four additional non-permanent members as a result of pressure from Third World countries. The new expanded 15-member council became effective in 1965. Thirtyfive years later, the battle goes on with no signs of any agreement over the expansion of the council.
If it looks a big if and when the expansion takes place, the clamour for inclusion in the permanent membership category is certain to escalate. If the recent General Assembly debate revealed anything, it was that very many hats will be in the ring and the fate of the aspirants will be in the hands of the five permanent members who hold the veto power. Remember, three years ago when Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali sought a second term as UN Secretary-General, the USA thwarted his ambition by using its veto, and the Egyptian diplomat later confessed he could not fight a Goliath, Indias quest for a permanent seat in the Security Council has already drawn derisive comments from its neighbour, although what Pakistan thinks is not going to influence other member-states. There are a few countries which appear to believe that the only yardstick by which progress on the issue of Security Council reform can be measured is the achievement of their ambition to become a permanent member, Pakistans representative told the General Assembly. Their desire to seek a permanent status on the Security Council is not motivated by altruistic or noble sentiments. It is an undisguised grab for power and privilege. It might be the the grapes are sour reaction of a country that has no chance of acquiring the status of a permanent member of the Security Council, but it is a pointer to the difficult terrain that countries like India face at the United Nations. Even in the case of Japan and Germany, which have received open endorsements from most of the permanent members of the council Canada raised the pertinent point that because a member-state was a major financial contributor to the United Nations, or influential in other ways, did not mean that the tangible recognition of that contribution or influence ought to be a permanent seat of the Security Council.
While there is no consensus as yet on the expansion of the Security Council, the curtailment or abolition of the right of veto has emerged as an even more complicated issue, especially when the five permanent members are unwilling to give up or dilute their privilege. Their position was only recently confirmed in a statement of the Foreign Ministers of the big five that any attempt to restrict or curtail their veto rights would not be conducive to the reform process. On the other hand, many member-states have argued that the circumstances on which the veto power was based have been superseded by history. Five years ago, at the 50th commemoration session of the UN General Assembly, the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, had argued that the obsolete veto power and the misuse of the Security Council by the very powerful were resulting in a new form of colonialism within the United Nations itself. Many member-states may not share that extreme view, but there is a growing feeling at the United Nations that short of abolishing the veto system, the question of limiting veto rights deserves serious debate. The very fact that the veto power has virtually been in disuse since the end of the Cold War is sufficient ground for rethinking on the issue.
Border with Nepal must be
ARE we back to the sulk between India and Nepal? This time, it is over the IA flight hijack. Rather a serious matter. Nepal has much to explain for this episode.
Indo-Nepal relations have never been normal. That is because Indians and Nepalese are cousins. The Nepalese take offence easily. They expect India to make all the concessions.
Indias major concern in the Himalayas has been its security. First it was the threat from China, and now from various hostile groups, which have made Kathmandu their haven. India has complained. It has pleaded with Nepal. But to no avail. Nepal makes the usual assurances. They are never carried out.
India is willing to pay a price. This is evident in the various concessions it has made to Nepal in trade and economic relations. But there is still no reciprocity. On the contrary, Nepal has converted every discomfiture of India into an opportunity to wring out more concessions from India.
Nepals game began long ago. It used to play China against the British raj. The game continued even after India became independent. And Nepal has added a new card that of Pakistan. There are also small players in this game.
Nepal has little security concern. The threats are more internal. Neither India nor China can ever violate Nepals integrity. So Nepal could concentrate on its economic development. But it was suspicious of both India and China of course for different reasons. With the help of India or China, Nepal could have developed faster. But it made a move only recently. As a result, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, although it could have been an El Dorado. Its per capita income is no more than 200, well below that of Bangladesh. And yet, if only Nepal was willing from the fifties to jointly exploit its water resources with India, it could have been one of the most prosperous countries of Asia. It has a population of only 20 million.
Obsessional suspicion of India that is what has brought about the self-inflicted injury. Even today there is opposition to the Mahakali Treaty between India and Nepal, although Nepal has been a major beneficiary of this scheme.
India has gone out of its way to promote economic development of Nepal in the fond hope that Nepal would be more understanding of Indias security concerns. This policy has not worked. In fact, Nepal has a way of magnifying every small grouse against India so that it is nursing its grievances against India all the time. There is no time for normal relations!
Of course, an open border is what is at the root of much of the problems today. There is little worry from China. The policy of open border was inspired by sentimental reasons in which of course India is adept. But today an open border is an open invitation to anti-social forces. That is how Kathmandu has become one of the crime capitals of the world.
The border must be closed for another reason. Today about four lakh tourists visit Nepal yearly. A good part of them from India. So the traffic is on the increase and an open border is an open invitation for more criminal gangs.
The criminals themselves are no danger to Nepal. (They are more often a danger to India.) In fact, they bring in much needed money to Nepal.
Even since China occupied Tibet in 1949, the Himalayas is no more an abode of peace. Today Tibet is a major centre of the Peoples Liberation Army. Missiles are everywhere targeted on India. Nepal has not tried to remain strictly neutral, which is what it should do in the circumstances. Instead, it has used the China card against India. It has had a highway constructed by China, which could one day be used against India. And it has bought Chinese arms, including anti-aircraft guns.
All these might have sent a message to New Delhi to its bureaucrats but they convey a different message to the people of India. The people of India are unhappy that Nepal, of all countries, is behaving like this to India.
Prime Minister Vajpayee has written to K.P. Bhattarai, Prime Minister of Nepal, asking him to take action against Pak-funded activities in Nepal, and to clean up the ISI network. Mr Vajpayee is a simple man. His Lahore trip showed how simple he could be. And his appeal to President Clinton to declare Pakistan a terrorist state brought a snub from Washington. Mr Vajpayee truly believed that Washington is sincere about its loud commitment to fight terrorism!
Will Bhattarai act on Vajpayees letter? Not likely. Why should Nepal incur the displeasure of the military regime in Islamabad? No one is going to oblige India. Neither Nepal nor Bangladesh. In fact, the ISI is well entrenched in both these countries. India is taking a long time learning the realities of the world.
After the snub we got from Washington, we must know that on the question of terrorism, we are on our own. This being so, we must act in our interest. And one of the first steps in this direction is to close the porous border with Nepal. Nepal cannot complain. Nor can it complain if India refused to give it a land route for its trade with Pakistan, for that is not in Indias interest.
During the visit of Mr Jaswant Singh to Nepal last year, the Nepal authorities spoke of the need for deeper integration of the two countries. We have a way of believing such statements. Not much is to be read into such statements for they are meant for the gullible. Nepal will never say such things at SAARC meetings because it will offend Pakistan.
Remember, even on Kargil, on which the world was united in favour of India, all that Nepal could persuade itself to say was that the two countries i.e. India and Pakistan must exercise maximum restraint. This was not what India expected from Nepal.
It is true, of late, Nepal has been more responsive on the issue of terrorism. But that is because it can be a major problem for Nepal itself one day. But, remember, it was not too long ago that Nepal let off three senior Pakistani diplomats caught in an RDX scandal. The RDX was for use at Indias Republic Day parade, for which the King and Queen of Nepal were the chief guests: Naturally, the Kathmandu establishment was shocked by the audacity of the Pakistanis, and were forced to name the diplomats. But that was all. The Nepalese establishment did not have the courage to proceed further. After this event, the ISI shifted part of its operations to Dhaka.
There are minor issues between India and Nepal. As usual, they have been magnified into mountainous proportions. For example, the question of Nepals freedom to buy arms from where it chooses. There is the issue of Kalapani, a small piece of land at the source of the Mahakali river, which is a disputed territory between Nepal and India. The issue has been festering because the claim is not clear.
India should be willing enough to make concessions on these issues from the point of view of its long-term interests.
As for the hijack
episode, we have a better picture of what happened at
Kathmandu. We will know how sincere Nepal is from the
report on the enquiry it has ordered on the hijacking.
Till then, sulk as usual.
THE Bombay Labour Department has issued interesting statistics regarding the earnings of middle class people. After examining the family budgets of over 1,800 middle class people, it has been found that the average income varies from Rs 30 to 40 per home and of this amount about 42 per cent is spent on food and 10 per cent on rents.
In a costly city like
Bombay middle class people have thus to live on a paltry
sum of 30 to 40 rupees a month a state of poverty
which reflects no credit on the employers or the
Government which allows such conditions to prevail. The
state of affairs disclosed by the statistics urgently
calls for suitable ameliorative action.
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