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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 13, March 16, 2013

Italian Behaviour, Return of Terror in J & K

Editorial

Wednesday 20 March 2013, by SC

Late at night on March 11 the Italian Government refused to let the two marines (both Italian nationals)—accused of shooting and killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala on February 14, 2012 while sailing in the merchant ship Enrica Lexia—return to India. The marines were facing trial in this country for the killing of the fishermen and had been permitted by the Supreme Court of India to leave for their country to vote in the February 22 national elections there but only after the Italian ambassador in New Delhi gave an unequivocal assurance to the Apex Court that they would return to India to face trial.

It may be recalled that the two marines were allowed to leave India for two weeks last December during Christmas following a Kerala High Court order that had laid down certain stringent conditions (which included, besides the Italian ambassador taking responsibility for their return, execution of a Rs 6 crore bank guarantee).

However, in February the Supreme Court gave permission for their visit to Italy only on the ambassador’s assurance that they would come back. The Apex Court, as The Hindu observed, seemed “to have persuaded itself to believe that having returned once, they would certainly return again”. But that has not happened and this has caused a major embarrassment for the UPA Government apart from being a flagrant defiance of the SC’s authority. The PM himself stated both in Parliament and outside that Italy reneging on its promise to the nation’s Apex Court of ensuring the marines’ return was “unacceptable”. In fact Dr Manmohan Singh also asserted in both Houses of Parliament on March 13 that “if they (Italian authorities) do not keep their word, there will be consequences for our relations with Italy”. The European Union’s envoy too was summoned to the South Block today and apprised of the situation.

Doubtless members from all sides in Parliament have voiced their indignation over the issue with the Opposition trying to corner the government by saying that it was closely watching what shape its response would take beyond mere expression of concern.

As of now there has been no change in the Italian authorities’ attitude in the matter thereby facilitating the issue snowballing into a full-fledged crisis in India-Italy bilateral ties that can be defused only by the exercise of statesmanship on both sides in adequate measure.

Meanwhile more serious has been the return of fidayeen attack—and hence largescale terror—in the Kashmir Valley after a gap of three years. This happened in the morning of March 13 when two militants attacked and killed five CRPF personnel on the National Highway Bypass in Srinagar’s Bemina area while injuring 10 others (six more paramilitary men and four civilians) before themselves being gunned down. It took place at the J&K Police Public School playground at Bemina; fortunately the school was closed as the separatists had called for a shutdown (in protest against the execution of Afzal Guru in Delhi) because, as the IGP Crime in J&K pointed out, if the school had been open the “toll would have been higher”.

Naturally the incident rocked Parliament today with the Opposition members, primarily those of the BJP, tearing into the government and raising the anti-Pakistan pitch even as the Union Home Minister disclosed that detailed analysis of the weapons used by the militants and the objects in their possession showed those had Pakistani markings.

This incident vindicates what the J&K CM had said the day Afzal Guru was hanged—that it would trigger widespread unrest in the Valley with Pakistan seeking to fish in troubled waters. He was able to fully comprehend the far-reaching consequences of that act in the Valley and beyond.

The March 13 shootout in Srinagar did lay bare the hand of the LeT behind the fidayeen attack and such terror strikes at other places are also on the cards as per the intelligence reports. Of course Pakistan too has openly meddled

in our affairs
with its parliament passing today a resolution denouncing Afzal Guru’s execution and calling for the return of his body to the family. But then Islamabad always articulates its view in public on any happening in J&K without caring for diplomatic niceties.

Dark clouds of uncertainty and tension originating from such terror acts have reappeared over the Kashmir Valley once again presenting a formidable challenge to Indian diplomacy, democracy and secularism against the backdrop of a worsening scenario in our neighbourhood. It will indeed be a testing time for our nation and its leadership in the coming days as we cautiously work out the best means to meet the challenge without in any way falling prey to jingoism, short-sightedness and one-upmanship.

March 14 S.C.

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