STEPHEN R. WILSON
New Delhi, India: At the focal point of a subcontinent in upheaval, India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faces the task of healing a nation reeling from the bloodiest, most turbulent period in 37 years of independence. Likewise, more violence, political strife and ethnic conflict seem destined in 1985 for India’s neighbors: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Gandhi, installed as India’s sixth prime minister within hours of the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi on Oct. 31, won a mandate in general elections at year-end to remain at the helm for five years. At age 40 India’s youngest and most inexperienced leader ever, Gandhi came to power at the end of a year of unprecedented internal turmoil and sectarian bloodshed. With elections behind him, Gandhi is expected to concentrate on solving the Sikh crisis which he says is part of a sinister plot to dismember the nation. Political analysts say his first priority should be to release the moderate Sikhs political leaders under detention since June and to resume talks on their political, religious and territorial demands. Gandhi also must contend with deterioration in India’s relations with its neighbor and traditional enemy, Pakistan. New Delhi has refused to resume peace talks it broke off in July, charging that Pakistan sheltered and trained Sikh agitators sporadic border clashes were reported in disputed Kashmir. In Pakistan, President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq promised to hold national elections by March 23 to pave the way for civilian government. He has ruled by martial law since seizing power in 1977, leaving opposition leaders muffled or in jail. He is building a grassroots Islamic movement which he hopes will assure him of victory in March. But no matter what happens then he is assured of holding the presidency for five more years by virtue of a referendum in December. Zia has deflected attention from his internal problems to Pakistan’s perceived threat from neighboring Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. His government has charged that 150 people were killed in 1984 in 60 Afghan bombing and artillery attacks across the border. Indirect U.N. sponsored talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan are to resume in February on a withdrawal of the estimated 115,000 Soviet troops and the repatriation of 3 million Afghan refugees. Western diplomats are pessimistic on prospects for a breakthrough, especially in light of reported Soviet interest in a face-saving scheme to partition Afghanistan into two zones, one dominated by Moscow, the other by Pakistan. By Dec. 27, the fifth anniversary of the Soviet military intervention, the Soviets had suffered about 25,000 casualties, including 9,000 dead, according to U.S. estimates. While the Afghan guerrillas remain divided and also have suffered heavy losses, they have shown no sign of weakening. Sri Lanka heads into the New Year with little hope of a political solution to the Tamil-Sinhalese ethnic conflict that has claimed more than 400 lives since late November. Attitudes on both sides have hardened as minority Tamil guerrillas escalate their war for a separate state in the north and east of the island nation, and the Sinhalese-dominated army allegedly takes revenge against civilians. A political stalemate continues in Bangladesh. Lt. Gen. Hussein Mohammed Ershad, who seized power in a coup in March 1982 and named himself president in late 1983, is under increasing pressure from a restless civilian opposition movement.
Article extracted from this publication >> January 11 1985