- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

‘DANGEROUS TREND’

The president of the Asia Society is worried about a “dangerous trend” in relations between Pakistan and her native India, which she criticized for imposing barriers when it should be extending a helping hand in the battle against Islamic extremists.

After a recent visit to the region, Vishakha Desai wrote in the society’s newsletter about the deterioration of civilian confidence-building measures designed to bridge decades of conflict between the two South Asian nations. India cut back flights to Pakistan and increased requirements on Pakistanis for visas after the November terrorist attacks on Mumbai. The gunmen were from Pakistan.

“I see this as a very unhelpful, almost a dangerous trend,” Mrs. Desai said. “At the very moment when Pakistan and India need to work together to fight extremist elements that negatively affect both countries, there is a great deal of erosion of nascent trust that was being built among their citizens, never mind the government, themselves.”

Mrs. Desai also expressed alarm over conditions in Pakistan, where she visited as tensions escalated between President Asif Ali Zardari and his chief political rival, Nawaz Sharif.

“The educated elite in Pakistan is deeply concerned that extremist Muslim elements are now asserting themselves even in relatively open and moderate cities such as Lahore,” she said.

“There is a strong feeling in Pakistan that, at this point, India needs to take a wise leadership [role] in the region and not overreact.”

NEW DEFENSE PACT

A new South American defense pact, little known outside the region, could help diminish major disputes among several member nations and fight drug gangs that are destabilizing some countries, a senior Latin American diplomat predicts.

Odeen Ishmael of Guyana believes the South American Defense Council (SADC) holds the promise of dealing with “antagonistic situations” in five South American nations.

“These include the continued strained relations between Ecuador and Colombia, a simmering arms race between Chile and Peru and what some sections of the regional media describe as ‘bellicose posturing’ between Colombia and Venezuela,” he wrote in an analysis, after officials of 12 South American nations convened the council’s inaugural meeting March 9-10 in Santiago, Chile. (French Guiana, an overseas department of France, is not a member.)

“But now that all these countries … have agreed that the council will be a diplomatic forum to defuse regional conflicts, there is hope that the joint action plan will help to resolve these existing situations.”

The “joint action plan” foresees defense cooperation among the member nations that could also lead to joint action to respond to natural disasters. The member nations will share defense expenditures, identify specific military capabilities and establish training facilities.

Mr. Ishmael explained that the SADC was designed to coordinate foreign defense matters among the member nations, not to get involved in international affairs.

“The critical problem of drug trafficking, regarded as an internal police concern, received no attention at the Santiago meeting,” Mr. Ishmael said, although defense ministers condemned the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which also deals in drug smuggling.

“However, considering the severe impact of this problem on security in all member countries, it is likely that the council will eventually have to examine this concern, especially in the light of growing coordination between the military and police in combating these problems and other related criminal activities.”

Mr. Ishmael was the most senior Latin American diplomat in Washington when he was reassigned as Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela in 2003.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison

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