Kashmir, a major threat to stability in South Asia: EU
2 October 2002
NEW DELHI: The European Commission, executive body of the European Union, is of the view that the Congress is ''still struggling to re-emerge as a credible alternative'' to the BJP-led alliance in India. As part of the ''country-analysis'' contained in ''The EC-India Country Strategy Paper 2002-06'', the Congress is nevertheless described as a ''powerful national symbol commanding an efficient political machinery.'' The paper, posted on the EU''s website, said that Muslims in India played a constructive role in all walks of life and largely benefited from the social, economic and political rights provided in the Constitution. ''All the same, communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims have regularly flared up since Independence, particularly in the events leading up to the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 and the recent outbursts of communal violence in Gujarat,'' it said. Referring to India''s foreign policy, the document said it was focussed on strategic partnerships in an emerging multi- polar world. It pointed to the annual EU-India summit meetings while mentioning that the traditional friendship with Russia had been revived. ''Relations with the U.S. have blossomed into a privileged partnership, and, in the post-September 11 era, may well extend to military cooperation. Contacts with China have multiplied as both sides are seeking a new climate of cooperation.'' The paper argued that the Kashmir issue remained the ''major threat'' to stability in South Asia. ''The conflict aggravated dramatically by the terrorist attacks on Parliament and the Assembly in Kashmir and New Delhi end- 2001, bringing India and Pakistan within a sliver of a new war.'' ''India, a vocal member of the international coalition against terrorism, is demanding action by the Pakistani Government to eliminate terrorist havens on its territory and put a stop to cross- border infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir,'' it said. Talking about India''s efforts to build stronger economic relations with South Asian nations, the EC said that prospects for invigorating the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) remained ''frail'' despite some progress made at the Kathmandu summit in January. Turning to India''s economic situation, it said that India''s growth was ''still far below'' the 10 per cent required to substantially reduce mass poverty within the decade. ''In a globalising world, where wealth is increasingly generated through trade, India''s half percentage point in global trade reflects a continued relatively high degree of protection. FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) inflows linger at comparatively low levels, depriving India of extra impulses for growth and competitiveness on world markets,'' the paper said. On disinvestment, the EC took the view that the Government was committed to sell assets of public sector units. ''Disinvestment will continue to advance despite resistance from labour unions and politicians,'' it said. Turning to the social sector, the document said that India''s population growth rate, which had dipped to 1.8 per cent for the last 10 years and is expected to decline to a new 10 year average of 1.2 per cent, would still see the addition of at least 160 million people by the year 2011. Quoting the Indian Planning Commission statistics to show that poverty levels fell from 36 to 26 per cent between 1993 and 1999, the paper said that still 44 per cent of Indians lived on less than $ 1 a day. ''The Government has set up numerous anti- poverty schemes. However, outcomes have frequently suffered due to poor management, gaps in governance and leakage,'' the document stated. On literacy, it said a ''major effort'' was needed since illiteracy stood at 58 per cent for women and 34 per cent for men. ''With an adult literacy rate of barely above 50 per cent, India still lags behind other low income countries such as Indonesia with 85 per cent or Vietnam with 95 per cent.'' ''Health outcomes have improved but still face challenges. Since India attained independence some 50 years ago, life expectancy has doubled from 30 to 63 years, and infant mortality was reduced by half in 30 years... excellent health facilities exist, in particular in urban areas, but access is beyond the physical reach of the poor,'' the paper added.