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Why India came back to the negotiating table

ISLAMABAD: Renewed international pressure and growing realisation in New Delhi that the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan could deprive it of its strategic leverage in the region has forced the sudden change of heart in India regarding ties with Pakistan, according to diplomats and analysts.

“It was being increasingly felt by strategists in New Delhi that after recent conferences on Afghanistan that endorsed President Hamid Karzai’s plan for reintegrating Taliban, India was being left out and Pakistan might take the centre stage,” a diplomat told Dawn when asked about the Indian proposal for resumption of bilateral talks.

It all started with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s call to her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, almost a week ago, inviting him to Delhi in February for talks on wide-ranging issues that have been constraining the bilateral ties, particularly in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

She expressed Indian government’s willingness to discuss issues besides terrorism which would remain the focus of the parleys.

Ms Rao went to the extent of offering negotiations on contentious issues like the water dispute, but stayed short of suggesting resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

India’s eagerness for resuming talks was evident from Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s belated admission that there was also a local Indian link to Mumbai attacks for which New Delhi had earlier been blaming Pakistan-based terror groups only.

Things afterwards started moving at a rapid pace towards detente. Pakistan sought clarifications and on Friday High Commissioner Shahid Malik met Ms Rao in New Delhi to discuss the agenda and possible dates for the meeting.

Although Pakistan is insisting on accepting nothing short of Composite Dialogue, there is realisation in the Foreign Office that sticking to revival of peace talks may jeopardise the opportunity for normalisation of strained ties.

The thinking is that the offer of initial contacts should be availed and subsequently taken forward to full resumption of Composite Dialogue.

“The attempt is to keep talking about the issues which are of concern to us,” Mr Malik said.

Although analysts and diplomats believe there are a number of factors that triggered the rethinking in India, the primary reason remains the changing scenario in Afghanistan coupled with the impending reintegration of Taliban in Afghan society. Read more of this post

NATO-Israel cooperation, will the Arabs react?

If Israel succeeds in joining NATO, its regional belligerency would be backed by the collective strength of the entire alliance. Before that happens, will the Arabs react?

Israel wants to be a member of NATO. It no longer looks down its nose at military alliances. It no longer wants to stay away from Western military arrangements. It wants in.

A majority of Israelis believe NATO membership would boost Israel’s security as well as NATO’s strategic power. Interestingly enough, there has been no Arab reaction to Israel’s desire to join NATO, no Arab attempt to block the move, and no preparations to deal with its consequences.

Israel and NATO have grown closer over the past decade or so. In 2000, NATO expanded its Mediterranean Dialogue through talks with seven countries from the Middle East and North Africa; namely, Egypt, Israel, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania. In 2004, NATO- Mediterranean talks were held under the name “Partnership for Peace”. Six new countries were included in the new dialogue: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Israel, in particular, was eager to use every opportunity the Partnership for Peace had to offer.

On 24 February 2005, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer became NATO’s first secretary-general to visit Israel. In the following month, NATO and Israel held their first joint military drills in the Red Sea. Within weeks, a flotilla of six NATO ships called on the Israeli port of Eilat. Israel (and Jordan) also took part for the first time in joint military drills held within the Partnership for Peace programme in Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia in February 2005.

According to the UK-based Jane’s military magazine, Israel’s “geopolitical position” provided NATO with a foreign base to defend the West, while NATO’s military and economic might enhanced the security and economic potential of the “host country”. Read more of this post

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