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South Asia on Edge

If exit polls in Gujerat are to be believed, BJP will win nearly a hundred seats in the Assembly compared to the 70 for the Congress Party. This is bad news not only for India but for the rest of South Asia because the BJP victory is based on blatant exploitation of Hindu chauvinism, anathema to the concept of secular India. Having lost almost all State elections since coming to power, the electoral success will not only be sweet for BJP, it will unfortunately serve as their model for future electoral campaigns. To the credit of the Congress Party they stuck to their secular stance despite pre-polls suggesting that the BJP-inspired carnage of muslims in Gujerat was in line with what voters in the State wanted. Narendra Modi, who can easily be tried in the Hague for genocide in inspiring and inciting violence against the minority muslims while being the primary authority in the State as Chief Minister, was shamelessly paraded by BJP through the electoral hustings proclaiming his “Hindutva” credentials. BJP’s victory in Gujerat is not only a disaster for India, the two muslim countries in South Asia will begin to feel the heat as BJP articulates its immediate “east” and “west” foreign policy to go with its virulent domestic anti-muslim stance.

Only a couple of months after Bangladesh Foreign Minister Morshed handed over a list of 20 terrorists who were hiding in India and requested their extradition, Yashwant Sinha retaliated with a demand to Bangladesh to close down 99 terrorist camps supposedly on Bangladesh territory. Before that a very damaging article had appeared in TIME magazine alleging that senior Al Qaeda operatives were hiding in Bangladeshi sanctuaries, aided and abetted by the Bangladeshi version of Pakistan’s ISI, Directorate General Forces Intelligence (DGFI). The highly speculative article was obviously planted and its purpose served the same malicious objective that the unsubstantiated New York Times (NYT) story did about “Pakistan bartering nuclear secrets to North Korea for ballistic missile technology”. Since 9/11 India has not lost any opportunity to label Pakistan as a “terrorist State”. The most recent opportunity was during Russian President Putin’s visit to India when an infamous “Delhi Declaration” targetted Pakistan as “sponsoring terrorism”. It is no coincidence that while Russia is indulging in genocide in Chechnya, India has Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indian muslims as targets. Now it seems that the other muslim country in South Asia is also on the Indian “hit-list”.

Why is it that every time India is unhappy with any of its neighbours, bombs go off in public places? More than a dozen people died in Mymensingh when bombs exploded in four packed movie halls, several more were defused in other areas of Bangladesh. On cue, Indian BSF opened fire at several locations along the Indo-Bangladesh border, killing a number of innocent Bangladeshi citizens farming their land to eke out their meager existence. Almost simultaneously the Indian Army on the borders was put on a state of “high-alert”, ostensibly to prevent illegal migration, but in reality to browbeat Bangladesh. The real motive is to ease pressure on Indian terrorists operating in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Army has been carrying out widespread anti-criminal operations throughout the country, in the process they have rooted out many pro-Indian cells operating under the cover of being Awami League (AL) Party activists. No wonder AL is organizing demonstrations and hartals against the on-going military operation that has been netting criminals (and terrorists) without discrimination. Nevertheless Bangladesh is in for a rough time for the present and in the foreseeable future.

One of the most bitter civil wars in modern history seems to be coming to an end. The Sinhalese-Tamil strife in Sri Lanka turned a veritable Paradise into hell-on-earth. The six Sri Lankan cadets graduating from PMA, Kakul with us in October 1965 were pessimistic about their future careers as the Army was then composed of only two Sri Lankan Light Infantry Regiments and one armoured reconnaissance regiment. Nearly all “above average” cadets, they felt that at most one of them would make it to the rank of Lt Col. One of my proud possessions is a shield given to me by (then) Lt Col “Lucky” Vijayratne, commanding 1st Sri Lanka Light Infantry, when I visited him at Panagoda, the army cantonment few miles from Colombo (where he arranged besides the Buddhist ritual of feeding the mascot elephant and laying flowers at the temple, Juma prayers for me in his office alongwith other muslim Sri Lankan servicemen). In the circumstances, India had other ideas, by training the likes of Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers (and several other terrorist organizations) in camps in Tamil Nadu, they incited and fueled this bitter civil war for more than 2 decades. The Indians soon fell out with their proteges, the Tamil Tigers, most brutal of the Tamil rebels survived and eventually forced the early evacuation of the so-called Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) that had arrived in Sri Lanka by air and sea to impose peace. Actually besides imposing “Pax India-na” on the beautiful Island, they had come to relieve the Tamil Tigers who were hard-pressed by the small but determined Sri Lanka Armed Forces. When the IPKF and Tamil Tigers started to quarrel among themselves, the Indians could not withstand the grievous losses inflicted on them and withdrew having “successfully completed their mission” (in the same manner as a retired US General sent to Vietnam for a survey advising US President Lyndon Johnson to “declare victory” in Vietnam and bring the troops home). “Lucky” Vijayratne was killed as a Brigadier when a landmine blasted his jeep, he was posthumously promoted to Major General. He was followed into major general’s rank by Siri Pieris, who other than commanding the division plus at Trincomalee became Chief of General Staff, and my “blood” brother Ananda Weerasekera (as a Buddhist he lives with his belief that we were brothers in an earlier life before re-incarnation) commanded the Jaffna Division before becoming Adjutant General of the Army. In the circumstances, three others, Rajapaksa, Ratnayake and Hamicd had left the Army as Lt Cols or they would have certainly become Major Generals too. “Lal” Weerasuriya, the present Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Pakistan was three terms senior to us and brilliant enough to become two-star rank in normal circumstances too, he retired as Army Chief two years ago. Today’s Sri Lankan army is composed of several divisions, nearly 60 times its personnel strength in 1975, thanks mainly to “good neighbour” India. India cannot but be apprehensive that with lasting peace Sri Lanka is tailor-made to be the commercial capital of the Indian Ocean.

The only way BJP thinks it is going to retain power in India is by baiting muslims within India and indulging in sabre-rattling the adjacent two muslim countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That is their political game-plan, there was no other reason to keep the Indian Armed Forces in the field for nearly a year. For good measure they will keep on interfering covertly in Sri Lanka because with its high literacy rate Sri Lanka is a major economic threat to the present Indian success in software development. The smaller nations, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan have been Balkan-ized by India and really do not matter, in the present circumstances SAARC has become a non-starter.

The Indian public is not mad, as much jingoism that the likes of Advani and Modi can spout, ultimately the Indian electorate will reject BJP. Hindus and muslims lived together in amity for centuries before the British arrived, it does take 50 years or so to iron out artificially created differences. In the meantime South Asia cannot wait for the BJP leaders to see the writing on the wall. Without abandoning the beautiful (but presently bankrupt) concept of SAARC, it is time for Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka immediately to form an economic union that will consult with each other favourably on geo-political issues.

With the three larger nations of South Asia coming together, it will block the hegemony India seeks to practice in the region. In eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with India for nearly one year the Pakistan Armed Forces has shown that one has to stand up to a bully and be counted or be prepared to be “Maldiv-ized” or “Bhutan-ized”, or even worse, “Sikkim-ized”.

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