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EDITORIALS

Advani stays put
Doctrine of indispensability afflicts the BJP
MR L.K. Advani’s offer to resign as Leader of the Opposition has been as much of a non-starter as his ambition to be the Prime Minister of India. The desire to quit has been reversed all too quickly in the “larger interest of the party”. That makes the whole resignation issue look a bit of farce the people can afford to laugh away. It is strange that his supporters are now taking the line that the drubbing that the party received in the Lok Sabha elections was a collective responsibility — the kind of language one hears from within the CPM’s politburo about Mr Prakash Karat.


EARLIER STORIES

Vote for growth
May 19, 2009
North by North-West
May 18, 2009
Risat 2: A feather in the cap
May 17, 2009
The countdown begins
May 16, 2009
Regional satraps in demand
May 15, 2009
Well-done, EC
May 14, 2009
Can’t be just goodwill
May 13, 2009
Before and after
May 12, 2009
Plunder of Aravali
May 11, 2009
Caught in the crossfire
May 10, 2009
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS



With or without Karat?
The CPM unable to decide the question
IT should have been a foregone conclusion but even then, when it finally came,
the statement of the CPM politburo on Tuesday did come as a surprise. The 14
wise men and the solitary wise woman, who make the CPM’s politburo, met in
Delhi and concluded that the failure of the people (sic) to perceive the Third
Front as a viable alternative was responsible for the party’s dismal performance
in the parliamentary elections.

Pakistan’s growing N-arsenal
World should not keep quiet
AT a time when the US and the rest of the world have been worried about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, numbering between 80 and 100, because of the Taliban’s tentacles spreading throughout the country, comes the news that Islamabad is on the way to adding more nuclear weapons to its arsenal. And these will be new generation weapons of mass destruction, as Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has confirmed before the US Senate!

ARTICLE

Can Pakistan tackle Taliban?
Army is scared of militant Islamists

by Sushant Sareen
T
HE Pakistani political establishment is too compromised, too corrupt, too effete and has lost all credibility to stand up against the Taliban. The ordinary man on the street has neither any stake nor any faith in the current system and is, therefore, unlikely to put his life on the line for its preservation. The civil society doesn’t count for anything. In any case, the middle class is not exactly known for picking up arms to defend itself.

MIDDLE

Lions and tigers don’t survive
by V.K. Kapoor
I
T was a scene straight out of a Hollywood set. All tribal chiefs in their traditional attires were there to pay homage to Badshah Khan, popularly know as Frontier Gandhi. The Indian delegation headed by Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, had arrived in Kabul. The funeral was at Jalalabad. Afghanistan is an ethnic mosaic of bewildering complexity. Each new invasion had left ethnic deposit.

OPED

Procuring wheat from farmers
Extra efforts gave good results
by Gobind Thukral
T
HE present Punjab government has earned a kind of notoriety largely by ignoring the issues of governance. Take education, health services and other departments and government agencies that are supposed to serve the public. We all know, as does the Chief Minister and his honourable colleagues, that many schools are without proper buildings and many health institutions without paramedics, doctors and medicines. Many areas face serious shortage of drinking water and are suffering due to cancer. The Buddha Nala, despite all the hue and cry, continues to cause diseases in Ludhiana. Corruption is another issue that infuriates the people. The public has a right to avail of these services as its pays a heavy dose of taxes.

Obama to Israel: seize the moment
by David Usborne
Barack Obama yesterday urged the Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, to seize a “historic opportunity” to move towards peace with the Palestinians while resisting pressure from Israel for an “artificial deadline” to resolve the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Eager to put on a face of friendship, Mr Netanyahu responded by saying that he was ready to negotiate immediately with the Palestinians, but repeated that it would be on the condition that they first clearly state their willingness to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Tamil Tigers: Timeline
26 years of terror

 


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Advani stays put
Doctrine of indispensability afflicts the BJP

MR L.K. Advani’s offer to resign as Leader of the Opposition has been as much of a non-starter as his ambition to be the Prime Minister of India. The desire to quit has been reversed all too quickly in the “larger interest of the party”. That makes the whole resignation issue look a bit of farce the people can afford to laugh away. It is strange that his supporters are now taking the line that the drubbing that the party received in the Lok Sabha elections was a collective responsibility — the kind of language one hears from within the CPM’s politburo about Mr Prakash Karat.

The fact remains that Mr Advani was the face of the party and its prime ministerial candidate, and the credit for whatever the performance was goes entirely to him in this kind of personalised politics the BJP believes in. What must be conceded is that the exclusivist line that Mr Advani and party adopted has been outrightly rejected by the voters and any attempt to shirk this responsibility will only ensure that the necessary correctives are not applied.

The tragedy of the BJP has been that it has refused to come out of the obsolete Hindutva time warp. Just because the Hindu card worked for it once, it is still trying to cash in on it in one form or another, and is thus getting marginalised by the mainstream. Mercifully, the defeated candidates are now questioning the wisdom of the central leadership banking on the virulence of Mr Varun Gandhi and Mr Narendra Modi as star campaigners.

Even such leaders like Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan have started admitting that the party should be concerned about the day-to-day problems of the citizens such as roads, electricity and water rather than harping endlessly on questions like whether Afzal Guru should be hanged or not.

Mr Advani has condescended to stay ostensibly to see that a murky succession war doesn’t take place. It is again the weakness of the top leadership that there is no chain of command in the “party that works”, which otherwise makes much of its discipline. The truth is that there are no tall enough second-rung leaders in the BJP who can step into the shrinking shoes of Mr Advani. Ironically, it has all along been accusing the Congress of being bereft of leaders beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family. The questionable doctrine of indispensability is also afflicting the BJP, it seems.

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With or without Karat?
The CPM unable to decide the question

IT should have been a foregone conclusion but even then, when it finally came,
the statement of the CPM politburo on Tuesday did come as a surprise. The 14
wise men and the solitary wise woman, who make the CPM’s politburo, met in
Delhi and concluded that the failure of the people (sic) to perceive the Third
Front as a viable alternative was responsible for the party’s dismal performance
in the parliamentary elections.

The politburo had on Monday ruled out any change in the leadership, attributing decisions and blunders to what in party parlance is called collective responsibility, a doctrine often used to avoid pinning blame on a dominant decision maker. The statement is, of course, meant for public consumption and may not reflect the growing rift within the party rank and file. But even then the bland statement would have upset at least some party sympathisers who blame the party’s central leadership and, more specifically, general secretary Prakash Karat, for one of the worst performances by the CPM in general elections.

Outgoing Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, expelled from the party at the instance of Mr Karat, articulated the feelings of many partymen in the West Bengal unit when he called upon “narcissistic leaders” to step down. Mr Chatterjee and, indeed, many leaders in the West Bengal CPM blame Comrade Karat for isolating the Left from the mainstream, for pushing the Congress into an alliance with Ms Mamata Banerjee and for chasing an opportunistic alliance of convenience with unreliable regional leaders like Ms Mayawati, Mr Chandrababu Naidu and Ms Jayalalithaa.

Comrades in Kerala, similarly, were not amused when Mr Karat ignored the fire in his own backyard. He seemed to have exaggerated notions by making the party believe that the Third Front , which existed more in his calculations than on the ground, had a realistic chance to form the government, forcing the Congress to support the CPM’s choice of a Prime Minister.

There is need for all Left parties to ponder over how the Bharatiya Janata Party, which the Left pretends to have kept at bay, this time polled over 6 per cent of the votes in both Kerala and West Bengal. What is more, the BJP’s vote share in West Bengal this time is more than that of the Left parties like the CPI, the All- India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Mr Prakash Karat, thus, has a lot to answer for. His stewardship has not helped the Left expand its base. Nor has he steered the Left to re-invent itself.

On the contrary, he is seen to have compromised with regional parties which until recently have been allies of the BJP. The clamour within the CPM for Mr Karat’s ouster may be silenced in the name of collective responsibility for now, but how would the politburo pull the party out of the mess it is caught in at present — thanks to Mr Karat and Co?

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Pakistan’s growing N-arsenal
World should not keep quiet

AT a time when the US and the rest of the world have been worried about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, numbering between 80 and 100, because of the Taliban’s tentacles spreading throughout the country, comes the news that Islamabad is on the way to adding more nuclear weapons to its arsenal. And these will be new generation weapons of mass destruction, as Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has confirmed before the US Senate!

How the US reacts to this alarming development will be interesting to watch, as Washington has been saying that it has “full faith and confidence” in Pakistan President Asif Zardari, who has assured the world that Islamabad’s nukes remain in safe hands. It is surprising how the Americans take Mr Zardari’s words seriously as he may not be even aware of where Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are kept or what is the size of the nuclear arsenal. The control of nuclear weapons remains in the hands of the Pakistan Army and not with the civilian government in Islamabad.

The late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto wanted the Army to give her complete details about her country’s nuclear assets, but in vain. The Pakistan Army does not trust the civilian rulers and hence its reluctance to share with them full information about the location of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. It was Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s idea to keep his country’s nuclear programme under the control of the Army, which has never loosened its grip on it.

What is more worrying is that many of the Islamist recruits of General Zia in the Army are today occupying senior positions. These “children” of the former military ruler have developed over a period of time, like the Taliban and other jihadi outfits, a hatred for the US. Former Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf confirmed this during the course of his latest interview with the CNN.

“There’s anti-United States feeling in the public and also, may be, in the Army. Yes, indeed”, as he told his interviewer. Can such an army be trusted to fight the Taliban to the finish, or keep the nuclear weapons safe for the world? Whatever action is being seen in the NWFP’s Swat region is obviously to satisfy the US, which has promised a massive financial aid to Pakistan. The emerging scenario in Pakistan is, indeed, disturbing.

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Thought for the Day

The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry
than work. — Robert Frost

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Can Pakistan tackle Taliban?
Army is scared of militant Islamists

by Sushant Sareen

THE Pakistani political establishment is too compromised, too corrupt, too effete and has lost all credibility to stand up against the Taliban. The ordinary man on the street has neither any stake nor any faith in the current system and is, therefore, unlikely to put his life on the line for its preservation. The civil society doesn’t count for anything. In any case, the middle class is not exactly known for picking up arms to defend itself.

It depends on the state machinery - the police and the army - for security. But the military appears either sympathetic to the militant Islamists or too scared of them irrespective of the drive it has launched in the Swat region under the US pressure. A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with a Pakistani friend about the growing attraction of radical Islam in Pakistani society. This friend, who has done pioneering work in documenting the origin and growth of jihadist militias in Pakistan, said my fears about Talibanisation in Pakistan were over-blown.

In his view, Pakistani society will never accept the Taliban brand of Islam. According to him, Pakistani Pakhtuns are very different from Afghan Pakhtuns and will find it difficult to swallow the Taliban Islam. The Baloch, he said, gave more importance to ethnic nationalism, which protected their identity, than to radical pan-Islamism that sought to subsume it. The Punjabi and Sindhi society was deeply influenced by Sufi saints who dissented against the doctrinaire Islam.

As it appeared, my friend was putting much faith in the Punjabis and the Sindhis, who, in his opinion, would straightaway reject the stone-age tribalism and barbarism that the Taliban represented. I couldn’t help pointing out to him that the cultural values, social mores and philosophical syncretism that he thought would act as a bulwark against the spread of radical Islamism were all based on and drew inspiration from the teachings of a long line of great Sufi poets and saints, the last of whom walked these lands some three hundred years ago.

Since then there has been neither any ideological and philosophical challenge nor any impelling societal rejection of those who advocate a literalist, if obscurantist and extremely intolerant, interpretation of Islam. I wondered if the Sufi influence was now wearing thin and being replaced by religious dogmatism towards which more and more people in Pakistan seemed to be gravitating.

Interestingly enough, the immense popularity of Sufi syncretism in Punjab and
Sindh grew partly because it represented dissent against the established religious
and political order of those times. In the past, doctrinaire Islam symbolised the
established order; today it represents dissent, empowerment and a revolutionary
break from the rapacious social, economic and political system that is unjust,
unfair, unequal. The liberal interpretation of Islam is now the preserve of the
Pakistani elite and establishment.

The hard line and literalist Islam represents the huge underclass of Pakistan which sees the Taliban as the deliverers. Ironically, the descendants of Sufi saints today comprise the ruling class of Pakistan, and the Islamist insurgency (Talibanisation) is, in a sense, a revolt of the underclass against the current system, and by extension, against the Islam propagated by the Sufis.

Despite this, many people think - not just in Pakistan but also in India - that Punjab at least will never accept Talibanisation and will react very violently to the Taliban. But the sooner people disabuse themselves of this notion the better because when the Taliban mounts pressure, Punjab will simply capitulate and collaborate. This is so for three reasons.

One, the Taliban will not be seeking a “no objection certificate” from Punjab before it imposes its version of Islam. The acceptance or otherwise of the Punjabis is quite immaterial. Those who resist the Taliban will simply be butchered and the others will fall in line.

Two, Punjab has no history or culture of resisting invaders and marauders from the North-West. The only Punjabi ruler who fought and defeated the Pakhtuns was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Three, a huge section of the Punjabi population actually identifies with and subscribes to the Taliban type of Islam. Over the last few decades, Punjab has become more orthodox and fundamentalist.

The signs of this tectonic change in Punjabi society can be seen everywhere, only one needs to admit this reality. Adding to the power of the Taliban is the prevarication and ambivalence of the political class on the issue of Islamisation. Not a single politician or political party is willing to stand up and speak in favour of secular laws over Islamic laws.

Even members of the only political party to openly oppose the Nizam-e-Adl
regulations in Swat — the MQM — take the position that as Muslims they are
all in favour of Sharia and that their opposition is to the manner in which Islamic
laws are sought to be imposed by the Taliban and to an extent the Taliban
interpretation of Islamic laws.

The irony is that parties like the ANP that claim to be secular have used their secular credentials as a license to accept and even promote Talibanisation. What the Pakistani politicians can’t seem to understand is that their failure to take a clear position on the issue of Islamisation effectively lends legitimacy to the stance of the militant Islamists. After all, if everyone is willing to live under Sharia then the only question that remains to be decided is who will decide the version of Sharia to be imposed. How this question gets answered - through democracy or by the use of arms - is altogether another matter.

Even if the people and the politicians were to somehow reject the Taliban, they would have to depend on the Pakistan Army to fight and defeat these barbarians. But the Army doesn’t seem inclined to fight. Perhaps this is because the rank and file of the Army has come around to the view that only the Taliban can ensure an end to the craven subservience of the military top brass and the political establishment to the US. There are also suspicions backed by some evidence that while the Army makes a show of fighting the Taliban, it also appears to be facilitating them and using them to for achieving political and strategic objectives.

Pakistan today resembles the Mughal state in its last days. Although the Mughal state was losing territory and authority all the time, there was hardly anyone who imagined that the Mughal state would simply disappear one day. The Mughal nobility, like much of the Pakistani elite and establishment, seemed the least bothered about the withering away of the state. The nobles shamelessly indulged in power games while foreign invaders were knocking at the doors of Delhi. Then it was Delhi, today it is Islamabad.

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Lions and tigers don’t survive
by V.K. Kapoor

IT was a scene straight out of a Hollywood set. All tribal chiefs in their traditional attires were there to pay homage to Badshah Khan, popularly know as Frontier Gandhi. The Indian delegation headed by Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, had arrived in Kabul. The funeral was at Jalalabad. Afghanistan is an ethnic mosaic of bewildering complexity. Each new invasion had left ethnic deposit.

Trade and ideas followed the footsteps of imperial armies and nomadic tribes. I could see faces from all over Central Asia - Uzbeks with high cheekbones and wide set eyes, Turks with wispy beards and tall Pathans with hawk noses and firm chins. I got in conversation with an impressive looking man.

There was something elemental about him. He told me that he had been to the university and had studied engineering. His coiled energy suggested a feel of a hidden and somewhat dangerous dimension. In Afghanistan superstition clings closer than a blanket. Mullahs, maulavis and “najumis” hold a sway over the imagination of the people. We talked of portents, omens and signs of nature before the events.

Talking of omens and dreams he told me that once a tribal girl dreamt of a ferocious lion, around whom a black dangerous cobra was wrapped. The “najumi” told the tribal chief that a son would be born to him, who will bring honour and glory to the tribe, and death and destruction to the enemies.

He paused, and said Changez Khan was born. I told him that his mother would have dreamt of a tiger or lion, before he was born. He said that lions and tigers do not survive. He explained that tigers and lions are loners, and make a frontal attack. They are not cunning.

I asked him who survives best. He replied: “Wolves”. A wolf knows when to strike, when to hide. He is cunning. He can merge with the surroundings. Wolves attack in packs. Then he added laughingly that even amongst humans wolves survive better.

I asked him the reason of so much violence in Afghanistan. He said that when a boy is born he hears only two sounds. The sound of gunfire celebrating the birth of a son, and the name of Allah.

There is no education. Hatred is measured in generations. The script of hatred is written in cold blooded calligraphy. This is the geography to sustain old feuds, and kindle vendettas. Hardship procedures strongly delineated characters, making issues black or white, right or wrong.

In Peshawar I had seen automatic rifles in endless rows. Rocket launchers were easily available and an anti-tank missile could be got for 25 rupees only. An Englishman has described Afghani character as “sentimentality with brutality, family ties with well-concealed adultery, old world caring with brutal ferocity, shared code of conduct which exists with lethal betrayal”.

Next day we flew back to Delhi from Kabul. I kept track of the man, whom I had met. He was going places and was generally in media. He had also become a minister. One day media reported: Ahmed Shah Masood popularly know as “Lion of Panjsher” had been assassinated.

Two members of Al-Qaida masquerading as journalists killed him and themselves
when a hidden bomb in their video cameras exploded. The wolves had killed the
lion. Changez Khan had remarked: “Beasthood is predictable, but civilised men
are unpredictable except in their villainy. Expect evil of every man and you will
never be disappointed”.

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Procuring wheat from farmers
Extra efforts gave good results

by Gobind Thukral

Punjab had good yield overal and the country's granary is full with wheat.
Punjab had good yield overal and the country's granary is full with wheat.

THE present Punjab government has earned a kind of notoriety largely by ignoring the issues of governance. Take education, health services and other departments and government agencies that are supposed to serve the public. We all know, as does the Chief Minister and his honourable colleagues, that many schools are without proper buildings and many health institutions without paramedics, doctors and medicines. Many areas face serious shortage of drinking water and are suffering due to cancer. The Buddha Nala, despite all the hue and cry, continues to cause diseases in Ludhiana. Corruption is another issue that infuriates the people. The public has a right to avail of these services as its pays a heavy dose of taxes.

There is, however, one area where the government, particularly the Chief Minister, Mr. Parkash Singh Badal and his chosen team, has done exceedingly well. It is the area of food procurement, particularly wheat. This year till May 12, a record total of 108.38 lakh tones of wheat had arrived and another record of procuring 108.18 lakh tones was established.

Procurement began from April 1 and continued efficiently. Farmers earned a record Rs 11,808.49 crore as the minimum support price was the highest ever at Rs 1,080 per quintal. As much as 98 per cent of the payment was made to the farmers within 48 hours. This massive operation, according to officials, involved procurement agencies of the Punjab government and the Food Corporation of India. There was complete coordination.

The Indian Railways that run special food trains and the Reserve Bank of India that allows credit line for this huge transaction, participated fully. The whole exercise began along with the sowing wheat by the farmers and as picture about expected production emerged towards February, the government moved fast. Mr. Badal created a nodal officer, his own principal secretary, Mr. D.S. Guru whose hands are never free from the daily chores.

Six senior officers; three divisional commissioners and three officers from the headquarters were area supervisors along with all the deputy commissioners and food department officials. Procurement agencies were involved in the planning and execution in a war-like manner. The first issue, as Mr. Guru explained, was to create enough storage space. In three months time the government was able to measure a total space— both covered and open —for the storage of 115 lakh tones of food grains. The operation involved arranging 22 crore gunny bags of 50 kg size.

Several agencies worked hard to see that there was no shortage. It needed three lakh workers at various stages and a group 33,000 commission agents or arhtiyas. At one time, the Chief Minister intervened himself to seek a temporary stoppage of ‘rice specials’ that move from Punjab on daily basis, so that labour could be spared. Till April end, no rice special moved. Instead the government team was able to move ‘wheat specials’ directly from the markets to railway yards and onto the trains.

It was an election year and no one could bear the anger of the farmers. If UPA government had been constantly raising the minimum support price for wheat year after year, reaching Rs 1,080 per quintal this season, the Akali-BJP government also realised the sensitivity of the issue during an election year. It is clear to any observer of Punjab politics that if the procurement had developed serious hiccups, it would have brought the farmers and the arhtiyas on to the streets.

This is why Mr. Guru was told to be extra vigilant and the Chief Minister, despite his hectic election campaigning, was constantly monitoring, calling up his officers twice a day. Every evening, a clear picture emerged. Mr. Guru says: “In addition we had to monitor the weather and seek information from Met Office with our fingers crossed. Bad weather in early April had scared everyone. We were lucky later, good weather helped wheat to mature and arrive safe in the mandis.”

Agriculture experts assess that this record wheat production in over 35.15 lakh hectares, giving a yield from 22 to 24 quintals per acre makes wheat a viable economic option. While kandi areas had low yield around 18 quintals per acre due to yellow rust, the rest of Punjab, except Fatehgarh Sahib, had good yield. The country’s granary is full with wheat and rice.

The critics of this policy conveniently forget the harsh fact that a good majority of Indians have small purchasing power and thus we cannot talk about overflowing stocks as one leading Delhi-based English newspaper recently did. It criticised the government for giving a high minimum support price for food grains and storing five times of rice and two times of wheat than required in government godowns at a huge cost. It, however, conveniently forgot that food grains not only ensure food for the hungry, but also sovereignty. And, if the farmers do not get ruminative price, how would farming survive?

In the present world recessionary trends where powerful countries’ economies are falling by wayside, India is being saved by its farm sector. Agriculture growth has moved from mere two per cent to four per cent. Elementary economics that tell us that more money in the pockets of millions of farmers means more purchasing power and more production of goods and services to satisfy them. This moves the wheels of even a recessionary economy.

In Punjab the government would end up earning 11 per cent of the roughly Rs 12,500 crore that should be the finally tally by end of May. The commission agent would make 2.5 per cent of this huge amount. Three lakh labourers would have a good earning season for five to six weeks. Of course, the corrupt lot of officials involved in this gigantic procurement business from the agencies, the Mandi Board and the food department would make a good extra buck. Also, if Mr. Badal and his trusted teams can work so efficiently procurement of wheat or paddy, why can not they run the other business of governing equally efficiently?

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Obama to Israel: seize the moment
by David Usborne

Barack Obama yesterday urged the Israeli Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, to seize a “historic opportunity” to move towards peace with the Palestinians while resisting pressure from Israel for an “artificial deadline” to resolve the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Eager to put on a face of friendship, Mr Netanyahu responded by saying that he was ready to negotiate immediately with the Palestinians, but repeated that it would be on the condition that they first clearly state their willingness to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

There was no mistaking the pressure that Mr Obama was applying to his Israeli guest with such bluntly spoken words delivered before the cameras. “We have seen progress stalled on this front, and I suggested to the Prime Minister that he has a historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure,” President Obama said. “That means all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they have previously agreed to.” He was also blunt on the illegality of new Israeli settlements. “The settlements have to be stopped,” he said.

The Israeli leader came to Washington seeking to underline Israel’s concern with Iran and its nuclear programme that he and the West believe is aimed at developing weapons. Mr Obama made clear that the US considers the Iran dossier and the peace process to be linked. Both men indicated that the prospect of a nuclear Iran may have the effect of binding Israel to its Arab neighbours in the search for peace.

“We are prepared to move with the President and with others in the Arab world,” Mr Netanyahu said, sitting side by side with Mr Obama, whom he called “a great friend of Israel”. He added: “There has never been a time when Arabs and Israelis see a common threat the way we see it today. And we also see the need to join together in working towards peace while simultaneously defending ourselves.”

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority said it had been “encouraged” by President Obama’s statements but disappointed by those of Mr Netanyahu. While the Israeli leader stressed that he wanted to see the Palestinians govern themselves, he did not explicitly make mention of a separate state.

It remained unclear last night what concrete commitments either man had extracted from the other, if any. “It’s going to be difficult,” Mr Obama conceded while voicing his optimism that Mr Netanyahu would “would rise to the occasion”. On Iran, Mr Obama indicated that the US would not “foreclose on a range of options” including the imposition of harsh new sanctions. Noting that Iran is preparing for elections, he said only that he hoped to make headway with Tehran before the end of this year, adding: “We’re not going to have talks for ever.”

On the linkage between the Palestinian and Iranian issues, Mr Obama suggested
that achieving peace between Irael and the Palestinians “strengthens our hand in
the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat”. The
summit was the first meeting between the men since they took over as leaders
of their respective countries.

After beginning the summit with talks in the Oval Office, the pair were joined by senior advisers, including on the US side the special envoy on Middle East peace, the former senator and Northern Ireland peace broker, George Mitchell. No one in Washington underestimates how seriously Israel takes the notion of Iran becoming a nuclear power. They also know that Israel is suspicious of Mr Obama’s recent overtures to Iran for diplomatic dialogue.

“There is a sense of urgency on our side,” the Israeli leader’s national security adviser Uzi Arad affirmed to reporters before the start of the talks. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently suggested that the rest of the world should take action to end the Iranian threat by August or Israel would lose patience. The CIA director Leon Panetta last month warned Israel not to surprise the US by taking unilateral military steps.

Mr Obama wants to revive momentum towards peace before travelling to Egypt on 4 June to deliver his much-vaunted speech to the Muslim world. The White House knows progress on a Palestinian state and repairing America’s damaged reputation abroad are inextricably linked.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Tamil Tigers: Timeline
26 years of terror

A file photo of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.
A file photo of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

1983: An ambush by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north kills 13 soldiers, triggering anti-Tamil riots in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Hundreds are killed and thousands flee.

1987: Government creates new councils for Tamil areas in north and east, and signs agreement with Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi for India to send peace-keeping troops to enforce a truce. The Tigers refuse to disarm and three years of fighting ensues. More than 1,200 Indian soldiers killed in clashes with LTTE.

1990: India withdraws from Sri Lanka. The LTTE gains control of the northern city of Jaffna, expelling Muslims.

1991: Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a suspected LTTE suicide bomber after his efforts to bring about peace in Sri Lanka prove unpopular.

Sri Lankan soldiers pose near a captured Tamil Tiger position.
Sri Lankan soldiers pose near a captured Tamil Tiger position. – Reuters photo

1993: The Sri Lankan President, Ranasinghe Premadasa, is killed in Colombo by a suicide bomber.

1995: The government agrees to a truce with rebels, but the conflict flares again after LTTE sinks a naval craft. The government regains control of Jaffna, but war continues across the north and east of the country for the next six years. LTTE targets Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist site and in a suicide attack on the country’s international airport destroys half the Sri Lankan Airlines’ fleet. A bomb attack wounds President Kumaratunga.

2002: Norwegian mediation leads to a landmark ceasefire and the decommissioning of weapons begins. The road linking the Jaffna peninsula with the rest of Sri Lanka is opened for the first time in 12 years. The government lifts a ban on Tamil Tigers, who drop their demand for a separate state.

2004-05: Tamil Tiger commander Colonel Karuna Amman breaks away from LTTE, taking 6,000 fighters with him. State of emergency declared after a suspected Tiger assassin kills the Sri Lankan foreign minister. The anti-Tiger hardliner, Mahinda Rajapaksa, wins the presidency.

2006: Fighting flares up and fresh talks in Geneva fail. But the following year, government forces capture LTTE strongholds.

2008: In early January, the government pulls out of the 2002 ceasefire agreement and launches a massive offensive.

January 2009: Troops capture Kilinochchi – the northern town held by Tamil Tigers for 10 years and used as their administrative headquarters. President Rajapaksa calls it an unparalleled victory and urges rebels to surrender.

February 2009: The government rejects international calls for a temporary ceasefire as concerns are raised over the humanitarian situation of civilians trapped in the war zone.

March 2009: The former rebel leader Amman is sworn in as a government minister, whilst another senior Tamil Tiger figure, Thamilenthi, is reported to have been killed. The UN meanwhile accuses both sides in the conflict of having carried out war crimes.

April 2009: The government gives rebels 24 hours to surrender after rejecting calls for a truce. Tens of thousands of civilians leave the battle zone.

May 2009: President Rajapaksa says the war has ended. He addresses the nation and reaches out to Tamils. Sri Lankan state TV shows pictures it claims are those of the dead body of the LTTEchief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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