MAINSTREAM, VOL XLIX, NO 47, NOVEMBER 12, 2011
Hopeful Signs in Regional Setting
The domestic scenario continues to be grim.
The Trinamul Congress has not yet carried out its threat of pulling out of the government at the Centre on the issue of petrol price hike (as it is now on the backfoot due to a variety of factors) but its supremo, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, has made it abundantly clear that "one more hike in the prices of petrol, diesel, cooking gas and kerosene and we will not stay with this government".
Meanwhile the economic blockade of Manipur entered 100 days on November 7 with no sign of respite for the long-suffering 27 lakh inhabitants of the State. Both the governments in the State and at the Centre are guilty of supreme inaction and inertia in getting the blockade lifted by talking to the Manipuri Nagas as public anger in a State beset with insurgency continues to mount.
At the same time the indefinite fast by Manipur's 'Iron Lady' Irom Sharmila Chanu completed 11 years on November 5. Her non-violent Gandhianform of protest action, doubtless unprecedented, is aimed at repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and she wants it to be withdrawn from all parts of the State and the country at large. The Act has been withdrawn from the Imphal valley by the authorities of late but it continues to be in force in the Manipur hills; however, what is striking is that the police in the Imphal valley enjoys almost the same kind of impunity the armed forces have under the AFSPA,. Sharmila's fast assumes significance now that the J&K CM Omar Abdullah is insistent on his demand to withdraw the same Act from some parts of J&K despite strong opposition from the armed forces' top brass.
Amidst such complexities in the domestic sphere recent developments in the region offer hopeful signs of a change for the better in this part of the world. After Pakistan offered the MFN status to India there were some flip-flops from the side of Islamabad but eventually the authorities there have made the unequivocal declaration that there is no back-tracking on the issue.
At the Islamabad Conference on Afghanistan on November 2, for the first time all regional countries were included, prominent among these being Iran and India. From New Delhi's standpoint, this was quite a notable feature. The group of 12 countries getting into the act of ensuring non-interference in Afghanistan's affairs is bound to exert a restraining influence on those working overtime for outside intervention. More importantly, the final document of the conference stressed on the reconciliation process in the country being Afghanistan-led.
Finally, the 17th SAARC summit at Maldives today has seen the summiteers taking concrete steps to give substance to regional cooperation in an environment marked by the positive turn in India-Pakistan ties. The fruitful Manmohan Singh-Yusuf Gilani talks on the sidelines of the Maldives summit (that has found specific and warm mention in the Maldivian head of state's address at the gathering) have imparted a fresh meaning to SAARC as these promise to unfold a new chapter in the relationship between the two major estranged South Asian neighbours thus facilitating mutually beneficial productive cooperation among all member-states of the regional Association.
November 10 S.C.