January 29, 2010

THE YEAR THAT WAS 2009 - PART II



THE INDIAN TIGER AND THE CHINESE DRAGON


While the western front was unusually calm, the action shifted to our neighbor across the Himalayas. The Chinese kept us on the tenterhooks and gave the policy makers and defense analysts at New Delhi severe headaches round the year. Unsettled issues like the border dispute, China’s take on Kashmir and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang led to a bitter war of words among the South Asian giants.

By the Shimla Accord of 1914, the Mcmohan line was agreed to by Britain and Tibet as the border between British possessions in the Indian Subcontinent and Tibet. It became the effective boundary between India and China although its legality is still unclear and has led to border conflict in 1962. The Red Army patrol troops were reported to have marched into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in the Ladakh sector several times throughout the year and in one case, left behind many red graffiti marks on the rocks. In another incident, the Chinese troopers are said to have taken back food and fuel meant for the jawans. There were over 80 cases of incursions and air space violations by the Chinese, a sharp rise in the number compared to the figures available for the preceding years, indicating a clear attempt to strenghten its claim over the region. 

The year 2009 witnessed China taking an anti India approach on the issue of Kashmir. Labeling it as ‘disputed region’, the Chinese officials began stamping the visas of Kashmiris on a separate page. They went a step further and invited the separatist Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Farooq to China to deliver a lecture on Islam. A Chinese government website even claimed that the ultimate aim of China was to break India into as many as thirty small nations. The Chinese tried to assert its claim over Arunachal by denying an application for a visa to an IAS officer from the region. When Beijing raised concern over the visit of the Prime Minister to the state for election campaigning, the government lost its cool and began its diplomatic counter offensive against the Dragon.

The Chinese ambassador was immediately called up and a formal protest was lodged with him. Much to the displeasure of the Chinese, India gave a green signal to the visit of the Dali Lama to the Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh. In October 2009, Asian Development Bank formally acknowledging Arunachal Pradesh as part of India and approved a loan for a development project. Earlier China had exercised pressure on the bank to cease the loan. Also by the end of the year, the Chinese showed a shift in its policy and started accepting visa applications from people in Arunachal.

Although the response from India towards the Chinese threats were found lacking, there was no doubt that the Indian Tiger, for the first time, had roared, and roared loud enough for the Chinese Dragon to realize that India would not like it to interfere in any of its internal affairs and had the might and the potential to deal with it firmly, if and when the need arises.


DAVID HEADLEY : THE NEW FACE OF TERROR


The year also witnessed the trial of Azmal Kasab, the lone terrorist caught by the Mumbai police during the ghastly 26/11 terror attacks. As expected the whole drama that unfolded in the court room was so intense that could even give a big-budget Bollywood blockbuster a run for its money. Anjali Waghmare, the lawyer appointed by the court to fight the case requested to be relieved of her duties following widespread demonstrations by the Shiv Sena and the job of defending India's most hated criminal went to Abbas Kazmi. On 20th April, 2009 the public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam submitted a list of charges against the Pakistani national including the killings of 166 people. Initially while Kasab pleaded guilty to a large number of charges levied against him, on 18th December, 2009, he dropped a bomb shell when he claimed that he was innocent. Kasab alleged that he had come to India for a break in Bollywood films and was picked up by the Mumbai police and tortured to extract a false confession from him while he was roaming around at Juhu Beach on the eve of the terror attack.

On the other hand, the Pakistani government acting under tremendous pressure from across the world, filed an appeal against the Lahore High Court's decision to free Hafiz Saeed, the man who is the leader of Jammat-ud-Dawa, the organization that is responsible for the brutal terror attack. Saeed was held in house arrest under the Maintenance of Public Order law, which allows authorities to detain temporarily individuals deemed likely to create disorder, until early June 2009. On August 25, 2009 Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice against Hafiz Saeed, along with Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, in response to Indian requests for his extradition. On October 12, 2009, the Lahore High Court quashed all cases against Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and set him free. The court also notified that "Jamaat-ud-Dawa is not a banned organization and can work freely in Pakistan. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of two judges hearing the case, observed "In the name of terrorism we cannot brutalise the law."

On December 8, 2009, the FBI accused David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman based in Chicago and Tahawwar Hussain Rana, a Pakistani Canadian of conspiring to bomb targets in Mumbai, India; providing material support to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and aiding and abetting the murder of U.S. citizens. Both Headley and Rana are accused in the complaints of reporting to Ilyas Kashmiri, an Islamic militant commander associated with both Al Qaeda and LeT. Headley traveled multiple times to India to scout locations for attack by LeT in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and even posed as a Jew to scout the Nariman House synagogue for attack. Indian investigators were surprised at how easily Headley had obtained a visa to enter India, a process that is extremely difficult for Pakistani nationals. Headley's U.S. passport, his new Christian sounding name, and the fact that the passport and his visa application made no mention of his prior name or nationality, made it easy for him to obtain an Indian visa from the Indian consulate in Chicago. He also falsely stated on his visa application that his father's name was William Headley and that his own name at birth was 'Headley', a claim that was difficult to refute since the U.S. passport, unlike the Indian one, does not provide the father's name, and does not require endorsements on name changes by the passport holder. On his visits to India, Headley befriended several people, including the Rahul Bhat, son of famous movie producer, Mahesh Bhat.


COPENHAGEN OR FLOPENHAGEN?


The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit was seen by many around the world as the last opportunity for the humans to save our planet. The government of the Maldives made a splash when it held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threat of global warming to the low-lying Indian Ocean nation. Nepal's cabinet met at the base of Everest to highlight the impact of climate change on the Himalayas and adopted a 10-point Everest Declaration.

The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit, was held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, between 7th December and 18th December to create the text draft of a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012. The conference included the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 5th Meeting of the Parties (COP/MOP 5) to the Kyoto Protocol.

A leaked document known as 'The Danish Text' started an argument between developed and developing nations. The developing nations, namely India, China, South Africa and Brazil accused the rich nations of indulging in relentless efforts to impose legally binding targets for carbon emission cuts on them. The developed nations responded by claiming that the developing nations were not doing enough to bring the situation under control whereas they themselves refused to make commitments on the Kyoto Protocol.

Finally, the Copenhagen Accord was drafted by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa on December 18th, and judged a 'meaningful agreement' by the United States government. It was 'recognized', but not 'agreed upon', in a debate of all the participating countries the next day, and it was not passed unanimously. The document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2°C. The document is not legally binding and does not contain any legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions. Leaders of industrialized countries, including Barrack Obama and Gordon Brown, were pleased with this agreement but many leaders of other countries and non-governmental organizations were opposed to it.

The Copenhagen meet is seen worldwide as a disaster. “We were able to make only limited progress at Copenhagen summit and no one was fully satisfied with the outcome. Yet there is no escaping the truth that the nations of the world have to move to a low greenhouse gas submissions and energy efficient development path," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said later. The only positive for India was the fact that it ended up strengthening Sino - Indian relations that were strained in the past few months.


ENDGAME LTTE


In May, 2009 the longest civil war in Asia came to a bloody end as Sri Lankan army finally managed to kill the head of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), Vellupillai Prabhakaran. The LTTE had been blacklisted in 32 countries around the world and was notorious for recruiting child soldiers, carrying out suicide attacks, civilian massacres and was the only terrorist group in the world to posses a navy and an air force.

The end of the LTTE had already begun in 2007 when the Sri Lankan army succeeded in flushing the Tigers out of the Eastern province with the help of Colonel Karuna, the former right hand man of Prabhakaran who had quit the organization and entered mainstream politics. Under the leadership of a determined President Rajapakshe, the army marched into the LTTE stronghold in the Jaffana peninsula. On 2nd January, the army captured Kilinochhi, the de facto administrative capital of Tamil Elam. By the end of January, after fierce fighting at many fronts, the Lankan forces had taken complete control of Jaffana and Mullaivitu - the last stronghold of the Tigers.

As the war reached its final stages, nearly two million Sri Lankan Tamil were left homeless. The government accused the Tigers of using innocent civilians as human shields. The latter responded by alleging that the government troops were inflicting atrocities on refugees in relief camps and blamed them for deaths of thousands of Tamils in air strikes. Finally, on 18th May, 2009 Sri Lanka’s most wanted, Vellupillai Prabhakaran was ambushed and killed by the security forces while he was trying to escape in an ambulance. The whole top brass of the LTTE including top leaders like Charles Anthony - elder son of Prabhakaran and the head of the Air wing, B. Nadesan - political wing leader, S. Pulidevan - chief of LTTE peace secretariat etc were either killed or committed suicide as they became surrounded. The island nation burst into joy and the information department sent text messages to all cell phones across the country with the news.

Although the government was able to wipe off the dreaded terrorist group, it drew flake from various sections of international media for Human Rights violation. President Rajapakshe decided to cash in the situation and announced elections, a good two years before his term was to expire. Ironically, the opposition presidential candidate is General Fonseka, the man who was the chief of the Sri Lankan army when they defeated the LTTE. The forth coming national election is the ideal time for Sri Lankan politicians to prevent the alienation of the island’s minority Tamil population and getting them involved in the political mainstream.


TERRORISM HAUNTS CRICKET


India has always been accusing Pakistan of harboring anti India elements and indulging in cross border terrorism. Over the years, Pakistan has become the base of major terror organizations like the Al Qaeda, Taliban and Laskar-e-Toiba. However, this year saw our Western neighbor getting a taste of its own medicine. While the increased security along the border meant that infiltration into India was considerably reduced, Pakistan witnessed a whopping 1,367 terror-related incidents this year, which killed 2,686 people and destroyed property worth 9,321 million, according to its Interior Ministry.

Almost half the casualties - 1,285 - had occurred in the NWFP alone. Baluchistan, which incidentally featured in the Indo Pak joint statement at Sharm-e-Shaik in Egypt, recorded 321 deaths, followed by Punjab with 67 and Sind with 36. This apart, nine terrorist incidents had occurred in Islamabad, the report said. The army launched a major offensive against the Taliban in the FATA region, which has been used by the Terek-e-Taliban as the base to launch terror attacks on the NATO troops positioned in Afghanistan and for carrying out suicide terror strikes within Pakistan. The campaign began on an optimistic note when on August 5th, the leader of Terek-e-Taliban, Bethullah Mehsud, who was the principal conspirator behind the assassination of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, died in a US Drone attack. However, the Taliban vowed revenge and paralyzed the Islamic nation with a series of terror attacks.

However, the worst terrorist tragedy in Pakistan was the well planned commando style attack on the convoy of the Sri Lankan team on 3rd March, 2009. The gunmen ambushed the luxury bus ferrying Sri Lankan cricket team to Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to resume play on the third day of the second and final test match with Pakistan leaving left eight people dead, most of them security personnel deployed to protect the team. Captain Kumar Sangakkara and army officer cum spinner Ajantha Mendis along with Thilan Samaraweera, Tharanga Paranavitana, Suranga Lakmal and Thilina Thushara were injured in the attack at the busy Liberty Chowk traffic roundabout. Although the incident was a minor one considering the fact that hundreds had died in other terror related incidents in the country, it sent out a clear message that Pakistan was one of the few places in the world where even sportsperson were not safe. Colombo called off the tour and Pakistan lost the status of the co host of the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

Unfazed by internal security problems that had plagued their nation and dissidents within the team, the Pakistani cricketers gifted their countrymen the best gift in form of the victory at the 2nd edition of the T20 World Cup. Besides, they were also able to beat India in the first round of the Champions Trophy, which contributed to our early exit from the tournament. However, the appeal from the then captain Younis Khan to all cricketing nations to come to Pakistan to play cricket fell on deaf ears as all other nations refused tour the cricket crazy countries and most of the bilateral series to be held there were canceled or shifted to neutral venues like Dubai and Sharjah.


HELL DOWN UNDER


While India ended the year as the number one Test playing nation in the world, the shorter version of the game, the ODIs, were dominated by the Aussies. While one half of their regular side was out with injury, the other half was inflicting injuries on India. Not only were the Australians beating India in cricket, they were also beating Indians, quiet literally, in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney. The months of May and June saw extensive media coverage of the brutal attacks on Indian students in Australia, most of which were racially motivated and the subsequent inability of the police to bring the perpetrators to the book.

The issue came into prominence on 24th May, when a 21 year old Indian student, David, was left unconscious when four men attacked him and one of them smashed a bottle on his head in the Melbourne suburb of Glenroy. Another student was stabbed in his head with a screw driver when he was partying along with his friends. In another case, a petrol bomb was thrown into the bedroom of a student in Sydney. He received 30 percent burns and the flames were extinguished by his Indian room mates. The room mates said that they had no enemies thereby reaffirming the fact that a large number of crimes against Indians were racially motivated.

On 31st May, nearly 4000 Indian students staged a protest march opposite the Federation Square in Melbourne, accusing the police of not doing enough to protect the Indian student community in Australia. Besides, they also demanded a multicultural police force and on site accommodation for all students from India, in colleges and universities. On the contrary, the Victorian police punched and dragged away the protesters. A sitting protester was knocked unconscious by repeated punches to the head by a policeman.

Back home there were widespread condemnation of the attacks on Indian students and the Australian authorities were accused of being in denial of the fact that racism did exist in many parts of Australia. On 9th June, Indian Prime Minister, addressing the Indian Parliament said that 'he was appalled by the senseless violence and crime, some of which are racist in nature.' The issue has been raised in diplomatic talks between Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Minister of External Affairs, S M Krishna undertook a five day visit of the ‘Shepherd’s Continent’ to express New Delhi’s concern over increasing attacks on its students. In response to the issue, Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan turned down an honorary doctorate from the Queensland University of Technology. In the aftermath of these attacks, fewer Indian students are applying for Australian visas. Victorian Premier John Brumby visited India at the end of September to 'repair Australia's reputation.'


CHANGE SWEEPS THE UNITED STATES



The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President, and Joe Biden as Vice President, took place on January 20, 2009. In his first few days in office Obama issued executive orders and presidential memoranda directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, and ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp 'as soon as practicable and no later than' January 2010. Obama also reduced the secrecy given to presidential records and changed procedures to promote disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The president also reversed George W. Bush's ban on federal funding to foreign establishments that allow abortions.

The first bill signed into law by Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, relaxing the statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits. Five days later, he signed the reauthorization of the State Children Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover an additional 4 million children currently uninsured. On September 30, 2009, the Obama administration proposed new regulations on power plants, factories and oil refineries in an attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to curb global warming.

On February 17, 2009, Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the economy recover from the deepening worldwide recession. The act includes increased federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals, which is being distributed over the course of several years. Obama intervened in the troubled automotive industry in March, renewing loans for General Motors and Chrysler Corporation to continue operations while reorganizing.

In February and March, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made separate overseas trips to announce a 'new era' in U.S. foreign relations with Russia and Europe, using the terms 'break' and 'reset' to signal major changes from the policies of the preceding administration. Obama's granting of his first television interview as president to an Arabic cable network, Al Arabiya, was seen as an attempt to reach out to Arab leaders. On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in Egypt where he greeted the audience,  Assalam Walikum and called for 'a new beginning' in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and peace in the Middle East. On February 27, Obama declared that combat operations would end in Iraq within 18 months.

Obama called for Congress to pass health care reform, a key campaign promise and a top legislative goal. He proposed an expansion of health insurance coverage to cover the uninsured. His proposal would spend $900 billion over 10 years and include a government insurance plan (option) to compete with the private sector. It would also make it illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, and require every American carry health coverage. The plan also includes medical spending cuts and taxes on insurance companies that offer expensive plans.

On October 9, 2009 the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize 'for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples'. Obama accepted this award in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2009 with 'deep gratitude and great humility.' The award drew a mixture of praise and criticism from world leaders and media figures. Obama is the fourth U.S. president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the third to become a Nobel laureate while in office.


FREE AND UNFAIR ELECTIONS IN CENTRAL ASIA


Iran's ninth presidential election was held on 12th June 2009, with incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad running against three challengers. The next morning the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's official news agency, declared that Ahmadinejad had won the election with 62% of the votes cast, and that Mir-Hossein Mousavi had received 34% of the votes cast. The European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and several western countries expressed concern over alleged irregularities during the vote, and the authenticity of the results. Meanwhile many OIC member states, as well as Russia, China, India, and Brazil congratulated Ahmadinejad on his victory. Mousavi issued a statement saying, "I'm warning that I won't surrender to this charade," and urged his supporters to fight the decision, without committing acts of violence. Protests, in favour of Mousavi and against the alleged fraud, broke out in Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad, labeling his victory as a 'divine assessment'. Mousavi lodged an official appeal against the result to the Guardian Council on 14th June and Khomeini announced there would be an investigation into vote-rigging claims. On 16th June, the Guardian Council announced it will recount the votes. However, Mousavi stated that 14 million unused ballots were missing, giving a chance to manipulate the results. On 29th June, Iran's electoral board completed the partial recount, and concluded that Ahmadinejad won the election, amidst protest from the opposition.

In neighbouring Afghanistan, the 2009 presidential election was characterized by lack of security, low voter turnout and widespread ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other electoral fraud. The vote, along with elections for 420 provincial council seats, took place on August 20, 2009, but remained unresolved during a lengthy period of vote counting and fraud investigation. Two months later, under heavy U.S. and ally pressure, a second round run-off vote between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his main rival Abdullah Abdullah was announced for November 7, 2009. On November 1, however, Abdullah announced that he would no longer be participating in the run-off because his demands for changes in the electoral commission had not been met, and a 'transparent election is not possible.' A day later, on November 2, 2009, officials of the election commission canceled the run-off and declared Hamid Karzai as President of Afghanistan for another 5 year term.


SOURCES :

  1. www.andhranews.ne 
  2. www.bbc.com 
  3. www.cnn.com 
  4. www.news.xinhuanet.com
  5.  www.rediff.com 
  6. www.satp.org 
  7. www.thaindian.com


( This is the first part of a three part article on the significant events of 2009 )