25 January 2013

Engagement with Christianity


Vivekananda’s attempt to speak for Christianity to Hindus is an eloquent testimony of his readiness to receive and share religious wisdom from traditions other than his own. 


In a clerical frock, on Monterey Road, South Pasadena in December 1899. His outstanding lecture during the Pasadena visit, according to Josephine MacLeod, was "Christ the Messenger". 

“Better Be Ready To Live In Rags With Christ Than To Live In Palaces Without Him.” 

—Swami Vivekananda in Detroit, 1894. 

Swami Vivekananda is arguably the most influential interpreter of the Hindu tradition in recent times to both India and the West. His eloquent speeches at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 aroused the pride of Hindus in India and deeply influenced the understanding of Hinduism in both the East and the West. Vivekananda was also one of the earliest Hindus to comment in detail on Christian doctrine and practice and to evaluate these in the light of his own tradition. He not only influenced the Hindu understanding of Hindu traditions but also offered an interpretation of Christianity that informed Hindu responses to Christianity. Vivekananda’s views, therefore, while being historically significant, are also important for their impact on the continuing relationship between both traditions. 

Vivekananda’s earliest known views about Christ and Christianity were expressed in a preface that he wrote to his Bengali translation of The Imitation of Christ ( Complete Works, 8:159-161), a work attributed to the medieval Catholic monk Thomas Kempis {+1}. He translated six chapters of this work, added appropriate quotations from Hindu texts, and contributed these to a Bengali monthly journal. The Imitation of Christ engaged Vivekananda, and it was the only text, other than the Bhagavad Gita, that he kept with him during his years of travelling around India after the death of his revered teacher, Sri Ramakrishna. 

Remembering Vivekananda


The idea of India as a distinct civilisation and cultural habitat found its most creative expression in Swami Vivekananda. It was his persistent belief that India was capable of giving back to the world as much as it took from the world and thereby establish its rightful claim in the assembly of nations. On his 150th birth anniversary, a critical reappraisal of his life and legacy.


Swami Vivekananda in London in December 1896, shortly before he would start his journey back to India. He travelled through Europe by train and set sail for India from Naples on December 30.

This nation has distinctive ways of celebrating its heroes. We are ever so prompt and passionate in commemorating the births and deaths of notable individuals as though these events in themselves mattered more than the ideas or institutions they left behind. Over the past couple of years or so, various agencies and organisations, including the Government of India, have been hosting a variety of programmes commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Such celebrations have called to the platform well-known public figures, among them several politicians and bureaucrats, who excitedly read out speeches that probably did not originate with them. In Delhi, the local branch of the Ramakrishna Mission made a special effort to invite prominent personalities from the fields of culture and sports whose very names have led to swelling crowds. The Mission also seems to have thought rather poorly of lay scholarship, for most of the speakers invited to speak on a variety of themes ranging from international peace to quintessential spirituality were those who adorned the ochre robe. What got left out in all this were the private thoughts of a citizen on a luminous life and its legacy.

It may be reasonably doubted if this long and enduring trail of public eulogy at all leaves adequate space for more measured and critical reflections on a life. That apart, Vivekananda’s life and work have been variously interpreted: one has heard of the Left understanding sanyas as parasitic and of the tendentious appropriation by “Hindutva” forces. The new danger, though, comes from Vivekananda’s closest guardians: the Ramakrishna Mission itself, which, I have reason to believe, is getting increasingly selective about what views or perceptions of the Swami to accept officially. Even so, some reflections, I felt, I owed to myself, especially considering the ways in which the life and work of Vivekananda have shaped my own understanding of modern India and Indians.

I would begin by pressing the claim that the idea of India as a distinct civilisation and cultural habitat found its most creative expression in Swami Vivekananda. It was his persistent belief that India was capable of giving back to the world as much as it took from the world and thereby re-establish its rightful claim in the assembly of nations. In part, no doubt, this reflected the burgeoning nationalism of his times which drew upon shades of cultural revivalism and romanticised readings of the Indian past.

Legacy of service

24 Jan 2013

Pausing to consider how previous commemorations have celebrated his life, and what they have highlighted, provides a vantage point from which to reflect on the 150th birth anniversary and thus how Vivekananda is viewed at the beginning of the 21st century. 


In January 1886, at the Cossipore garden house where Sri Ramakrishna spent his last days. 

Anniversaries of the key events of Swami Vivekanandaa’s life periodically confront his devotees and admirers, India, the land of his birth, and scholars and commentators with the question of how best to mark his career and legacy. That Vivekananda’s achievements and continuing influence in India and beyond merit a commemorative mixture of celebration and careful reappraisal is beyond question. Pausing to consider how previous commemorations have celebrated his life, and what they have highlighted, provides a vantage point from which to reflect on the imminent 150th birth anniversary and thus how Vivekananda is viewed at the beginning of the 21st century. 

Vivekananda’s death in 1902 at the age of 39 left his followers and obituary writers with a sense of not just a life “unfinished” but, with the Ramakrishna Math and Mission still in the process of being established, a project barely begun. A common focus of reports of Vivekananda’s death, as in The Bengalee, was his role at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 where he emerged as a powerful apologist on behalf of “Hinduism”, a concept he greatly shaped in the process. Vivekananda was remembered primarily as somebody who through his skilful reinterpretation of Vedanta had been able to demonstrate to the world the richness of India’s spiritual traditions. This was undeniably a source of pride for many in India at the height of the colonial period. Some commentators presciently noted the importance of Vivekananda’s publication Raja Yoga, which is now routinely acknowledged as having been influential in the global expansion of interest in yoga. 

In the immediate aftermath of Vivekananda’s death there were many calls for memorials to be set up through private subscription. The institutionalisation of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, arguably the most fitting, living memorial to Vivekananda, was completed legally by 1909. The issue of creating a suitable nationalmemorial to Vivekananda became central to deliberations about how to celebrate the centenary of his birth in 1963. Led very much from Belur Math and centred on activities in Kolkata, conferences, publications, public processions and cultural events drew attention to Vivekananda’s various achievements in a manner captured in the Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Volume, which was published by the movement with the support of some state funding. Its contributors acknowledged with differing nuances Vivekananda’s patriotism, whether, as did Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, in a broad sense of promoting a “religion of humanity”, or, as did Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and others, more specifically as India’s “nation-builder”. 

Tryst with the West


Vivekananda was perhaps India’s first global citizen. No Indian before him had travelled so extensively in the West. He was much ahead of his times, but a precursor to many others who followed his tracks later. 


Discovered in Hollywood Center in April 2002. Researchers say that it was probably taken in San Francisco in 1900. Ida Ansell, a devotee also known as Ujjvala, is thought to be the source of the photograph. 

On May 31, 1893, a virtually unknown, 30-year-old Indian monk set sail for the United States. He had never been out of his own country, but he had now embarked on a long voyage to an unfamiliar destination. Through Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, to Yokohama he sailed, and thence, crossing the Pacific Ocean, to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. From there he would travel, via Boston, to Chicago, the venue of the Columbian Exposition and the World Parliament of Religions. He scarcely knew then that he had less than 10 years to live; yet in this short span, he would not only become world-famous but alter the destiny of India. 

Swami Vivekananda had formed the intention of going to the Parliament of Religions towards the end of his extensive travels in India in the previous five years. The turning point was his realisation in Kanyakumari in December 1892 that he was meant to work some marvel for the reawakening of his benighted country. In Madras, where he went next, he announced his intention of going to Chicago to participate in the Parliament. His devotees, especially a band of young men led by Alasinga Perumal, began to collect funds for the trip. Later, he got a pledge of support from the Raja of Khetri. Vivekananda saw a vision in which he was walking on water and also received permission from Sarada Ma, Sri Ramakrishna’s consort, to go West with his Master’s message. 

The story of Vivekananda’s participation in the Parliament of Religions is the stuff legends are made of. In the West, for the first time in a totally different culture, he found himself practically penniless and friendless, without even an invitation to the Parliament or a letter of introduction. When he visited the Columbian Exposition, of which the Parliament was a part, he was both bewildered and impressed by the immense material and technological achievements of the West. How far behind was India! 

It was the end of July 1893; he found out that the Parliament had been postponed to September. In his strange ochre robes, he was teased and stared at. Hotels in Chicago were expensive. Moreover, taken for a “Negro”, he also found accommodation difficult to secure. Soon he ran through his meagre means. Tired and depressed, he wondered whether he would have to beat an ignominious retreat. Someone told him that it was cheaper to live in Boston. En route, in the train, his regal bearing and strange appearance attracted the curiosity of a wealthy lady, Kate Sanborn. She invited Vivekananda to Breezy Meadows, her home in Boston. 

Voice of a bygone era

24 Jan 2013

The book holds the potential to shed some light on an important era in India’s judicial and political history.

Among over 200 judges, including 39 Chief Justices, who have served on the Supreme Court of India so far, Justice P.N. Bhagwati is one judge who will not be easily forgotten. 

He served on the court longer than anybody else and is arguably one of the best known Indian judges worldwide. His semi-autobiographical book My Tryst with Justice is naturally an indispensable acquisition for every serious law library in India. It is succinctly written, and its 202 pages offer the reader various glimpses into Bhagwati’s life: his family (his father, N.H. Bhagwati, was a Supreme Court judge; his “magnificent seven” brothers include the economist Jagdish Bhagwati); his education (he was once an “undisciplined” law student who attended classes infrequently); his days as a lawyer; his involvement in the freedom struggle (during which he lost his front upper teeth to lathi blows); his tenure as a judge and as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Gujarat and the Supreme Court of India respectively (including his judicial philosophy); and his work in various international human rights bodies. 

Very few Supreme Court judges have written autobiographies. Bhagwati’s book holds the potential to shed some light on an important era in India’s judicial and political history.

The Mirage of the Arab Spring

Deal With the Region You Have, Not the Region You Want 

It’s easy to be pessimistic about the Arab Spring, given the post-revolutionary turmoil the Middle East is now experiencing. But critics forget that it takes time for new democracies to transcend their authoritarian pasts. As the history of political development elsewhere shows, things get better. 

Out with the old, in with the old: graffiti in Cairo depicting the December 2011 protests, months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Courtesy Reuters) 

As popular demonstrations swept across the Arab world in 2011, many U.S. policymakers and analysts were hopeful that the movements would usher in a new era for the region. That May, President Barack Obama described the uprisings as "a historic opportunity" for the United States "to pursue the world as it should be." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed these comments, expressing confidence that the transformations would allow Washington to advance "security, stability, peace, and democracy" in the Middle East. Not to be outdone, the Republican Party's 2012 platform trumpeted "the historic nature of the events of the past two years -- the Arab Spring -- that have unleashed democratic movements leading to the overthrow of dictators who have been menaces to global security for decades." Some saw the changes as heralding a long-awaited end to the Middle East's immunity to previous waves of global democratization; others proclaimed that al Qaeda and other radicals had finally lost the war of ideas. 

The initial results of the tumult were indeed inspiring. Broad-based uprisings removed Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi from power. Since the toppling of these dictators, all three countries have conducted elections that international observers deemed competitive and fair, and millions of people across the region can now freely express their political opinions. 

The prospects for further democratization, however, have dimmed. Most countries in the Arab world have not jumped political tracks, and those that did begin to liberalize are now struggling to maintain order, lock in their gains, and continue moving forward. The region's economic growth has been sluggish -- which is particularly worrisome, since according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, majorities in several countries there (including Jordan and Tunisia) value a strong economy more than a democratic government. And even after all the changes, the region comprising the Middle East and North Africa remains the least free in the world, with Freedom House estimating that 72 percent of the countries and 85 percent of the people there still lack basic political rights and civil liberties. 

The al Qaeda Threat in North Africa

January 24, 2013

photo by Magharebia/Flickr.com

Last week's terrorist attack at the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria, along with the recent success of the militant groups fighting government forces in Mali, indicate al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are gaining influence in North Africa. Several RAND experts spoke with us about the latest developments.
Recent events in North Africa seem to indicate al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are changing gears, from Afghanistan to other parts of the world, particularly Africa. Is that accurate? 

Brian Jenkins: Al Qaeda has not moved from Afghanistan to Africa. Rather, the challenges posed by al Qaeda's global enterprise have become more diffuse. Al Qaeda's central command structure in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been decimated. Under continuing pressure, al Qaeda today is more decentralized, more dependent on its affiliates and allies. 

But al Qaeda has proved to be resilient and opportunistic. Its ideology transcends its organization. Organizationally, al Qaeda survives by insinuating itself into local conflicts which have deep roots. 

Al Qaeda did not lead the Arab uprisings, despite its subsequent claims that its 9/11 attack set in motion the events that led to the Arab Spring. However, al Qaeda has been able to exploit the turmoil created by the uprisings to gain new footholds, especially in the Sahel, Sinai, Yemen, and Syria. 

As a result, al Qaeda in the Mahgreb (AQIM), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda's front in Iraq (AQI), and al Qaeda adherents in Syria have become more important in the universe of like-minded jihadists inspired by its ideology. 

Radical Islamists vs. the People of Mali


Law professor Karima Bennoune has an important op-ed in the New York Times today that should be required reading for all those who think that Muslims are somehow different from “you and me” and actually enjoy living under a tyrannical regime as long as its diktats are justified by a twisted reading of Sharia law. Based on her interviews with Malians fleeing the Islamists who have taken over the northern part of the country, Bennoune shows it just isn’t so–tyranny is unpopular no matter how it is packaged and justified. As she notes: 

First, the fundamentalists banned music in a country with one of the richest musical traditions in the world. Last July, they stoned an unmarried couple for adultery. The woman, a mother of two, had been buried up to her waist in a hole before a group of men pelted her to death with rocks. And in October the Islamist occupiers began compiling lists of unmarried mothers. 

Even holy places are not safe. These self-styled “defenders of the faith” demolished the tombs of local Sufi saints in the fabled city of Timbuktu. 

Such draconian decrees are hardly popular with ordinary Malians who practice a tolerant brand of Islam. Bennoune quotes the acting principal of a coed high school “who had been attending public punishments to document the atrocities. This meant repeatedly watching his fellow citizens get flogged. He has seen what it looks like when a ‘convict’ has his foot sawed off. Close to tears, he said: ‘No one can stand it, but it is imposed on us. Those of us who attend, we cry.’ ” 

Such sentiments are hardly surprising to anyone who has ever visited Afghanistan or Iraq’s Anbar Province–two more places where a harsh brand of Salafism was once imposed at gunpoint. In both places the people turned against the self-proclaimed religious enforcers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Iraq, respectively. Now in Mali they are happy to turn against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups, provided the French army protects them from the terrorists’ retribution. 

UNITED STATES: Wars & Military Interventions it’s Manifest Destiny

Paper No. 5377

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

“We the people, still believe in enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war” 

“We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully, not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear”--------President Obama’s Inaugural Speech for his second term. January 2013 

President Obama’s words may be stirring ones and apt for an Inaugural Ceremony Speech but they hardly measure up with the strategic realities that the United States is engulfed in as the sole superpower in the world of strategic uncertainties that prevail in 2013. The United States is a prisoner of its own destiny as the only global superpower with global strategic interests to defend. 

Power does not come cheap and especially global strategic predominance. The international system in the second decade of the 21st Century and the emerging global security landscape coupled with diffusion of power pose grave challenges to United States global leadership. If the United States yearns for enduring security and lasting peace then America can only achieve it through the strength of its arms or a show of them and a willingness to use them. The alternative for the United States is to opt for isolationism and abdicate its global leadership. 

As an aside one could say that in this assertion lie lessons for India also in case it wishes to be a regional power and a global player. 

Wars and military interventions have emerged as a part of United States’ Manifest Destiny ever since the turn of the 19th Century when the United States surged upwards on the strategic trajectory towards great power status. Isolationism and retreating behind Fortress America were spasmodic impulses which could not be sustained for an enduring period. 

The United States by its strategic policies or lack of strategic policies seemed to be endlessly drawn into wars and military interventions across the globe to ensure that Continental USA was kept safe and secure. It managed to do so until 9/11 came along and broke the myth of the invincibility of Fortress America flanked by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 

President Obama may have been pondering over the Afghanistan and Iraq military interventions by the United States and prolonged ones at that and the drawdown of forces from there. But then can it be forgotten that US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were provoked directly and indirectly by the diabolical plot to bring the United States to its knees. 9/11 was also brought about by United States permissive policies in not restraining a strategically delinquent Pakistan and its state-sponsored terrorism fuelled by American allies. 

Let Women Fight

Ending the U.S. Military’s Female Combat Ban 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it would lift the ban on women in combat. This landmark decision reverses the 1994 "direct ground combat rule," which held that "women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground." 

The policy change is long overdue. The last few decades had made the ban largely irrelevant; increasing counterinsurgency warfare virtually erased the concept of combat front lines and female soldiers' contributions to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were undeniable. The policy had nevertheless continued to officially exclude women from 7.3 percent of army positions, largely in Infantry, Armor, and Special Forces. More importantly, it had limited women's career paths and promotion opportunities and contributed to gendered stereotypes about war as ultimately "the business" of men. 

There are physically fit, tough women who are suitable for combat, and weak, feeble men who are not. 

The decision to remove the exclusion now is a sound one based on careful consideration of several factors. Specifically, there was increasing support from within the military leadership -- including from Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, and Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who had both acknowledged that now is the time to remove gender-based barriers to service. There have also been distinct changes in public attitudes about women's capabilities and roles in war. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, the vast majority of Americans support allowing women into combat roles. Meanwhile, studies by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, along with various military and academic experts, have dispelled myths about women's impact on unit cohesion and their physical abilities. It could not have hurt, of course, that the Department of Defense is facing a lawsuit from several female service members (backed by the American Civil Liberties Union) who rightly claim that the exclusion was discriminatory and unconstitutional. 


January 24, 2013
by Team SAIArko Dasgupta 

“Throughout June, Tikka Khan’s soldiers made their way across the summer plains of Bangladesh. They looted homes and burned roofs. They raped. They murdered” writes Tahmima Anam in her book A Golden Age. The setting is Muktijuddho or the Bangladesh Liberation War. The year is 1971. On February 21 UNESCO will observe, like it has been for the last twelve years, ‘International Mother Language Day’. Dhaka University will also observe, like it has been for many more years, the day as one earmarked for remembering the self-sacrifice, valour and undying patriotism of its students murdered in 1952 for protesting Pakistan’s only Urdu decree. This day is associated with sombreness and is one of two most important days on the Bangladeshi Calendar (the other being Poila Baishakh or the Bengali New Year, observed with quite a different set of emotions). Such is the significance of this day that one of Bangladesh’s highest civilian honors Ekushey Padak (Bangla for February 21) is named after it. Never before in history had so many people killed and been killed over a language. Yes, there were other reasons for the dissolution of Pakistan but, as any self-respecting Bengali would tell you, language was chief among them. 

An article published in TIME Magazine on May 31, 1954 quoted Fazlul Huq, then the chief minister of East Pakistan–“Of course, they [West Pakistan] will try to resist such a move. But when a man wants freedom, he wants it.” Here was a Pakistani statesman publicly declaring in as early as 1954 that the people of East Pakistan wanted to break away from Pakistan. Fazlul Huq had championed the cause of Pakistan before many in the Muslim League leadership. In much the same way, Jogendra Nath Mandal, Pakistan’s first minister of law and a fellow Bengali, always had his megaphone at hand for bringing other Bengalis round to the grand idea of a Pakistan. No sooner had India been maimed by the departing British and Pakistan come into being than Mandal realised that his dopey dreams of paradise on either side of the subcontinent existed only in his head. In 1950, the first mass murders of East Pakistanis, largely Hindus, had begun and the minister, a Hindu by faith, was compelled to pack his bags and leave for India. 

What went wrong? Why couldn’t Pakistan safeguard itself from imploding? The facts that led to the creation of Bangladesh are well-known. The Indian army will tell you that Operation Chengiz Khan carried out in December 1971 was the most unintelligent thing the Pakistani military could have done, given the circumstances. The previous month Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in an interview to the BBC had already made it clear to the world that the “massacre began before there was a single guerrilla [referring to the Mukti Bahini or the militia fighting the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan]”. We in India, too, celebrate every year the founding of Bangladesh as Vijay Divas because of the decisive role our armed forces played in the birth of the country. 

Before 1947, no one in the Indian subcontinent had tried to emulate Europe’s uni-ethnic design. We had never before in our history majorly experimented with the idea of exclusive identities. Of course, we had rulers like Aurangzeb who were illiberal but, for all his vapid beliefs, even his actions could not mirror the tasteless ethnographic appropriations of the European continent. We were not like France which banished the Huguenots from her land and certainly not like the Holy Roman Empire which oversaw the brutal Thirty Years’ War. Instead, we embraced, as we had always done, persecuted Peoples from other lands. The Zoroastrians and the Jews, both of the Cochin and the Baghdadi variety, had called on us seeking refuge which we were happy to give them. India epitomised the ideal of the layered identity construction. Amartya Sen in his book The Argumentative Indian writes “each of us invokes identities of various kinds in disparate contexts. The same person can be of Indian origin, a Parsee, a French citizen, a US Resident, a woman, a poet…Each of these collectivities, to all of which this person belongs, gives him or her a particular identity.” Sen was merely echoing what we as a people had been practising all along. 

AFSPA comment: Committee went beyond its brief

Arun Joshi/TNS 
Jammu, January 24

Justice JS Verma panel, tasked with suggesting ways and means to punish the guilty of rape, has overstepped its mandate and sparked off another controversy over the continuance of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in conflict zones, like Jammu and Kashmir.

In the first instance, AFSPA doesn’t provide cover to the men in uniform found guilty of committing rapes. There have been several instances in which the men in uniform, particularly those from the Army, have been punished for human right violations, including rapes. It is also true that there are serious allegations of fake encounters and forced disappearances against the security forces, but there hardly is any instance of rape that has gone unpunished.

Many point out that the gang-rape of women in Kunonposhpora in 1991 requires full investigation. In this case, the civil administration is as much guilty as the Army, they say. The case was not properly investigated into, and the village in northwest Kashmir has been living with a stigma for the past 22 years.

The panel has failed to draw any line between the false charges and the actual incidents. It has painted all men in uniform, who enjoy immunity under AFSPA, with the same brush. It is a known fact that certain things do go wrong in conflict zones, and it happens in Jammu and Kashmir, too.

But to say: “There is an imminent need to review the continuance of the AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible,” for “this is necessary for determining the propriety of resorting to this legislation in the area(s) concerned” is going too far. It will give a boost to all those who have been after the Army in Jammu and Kashmir and want AFSPA scrapped, sources say.

According to records with the Army, there were more than 1,400 complaints of excesses and all of these were investigated into or are still under investigation. The Army has punished 104 of its men, some of them held guilty of rape, including a Major. They were dismissed from the service and also sentenced to rigorous imprisonment ranging from seven to 10 years.

Since 2008, there has not been a single case of rape charge against any of the soldiers posted in Jammu and Kashmir. The last one was in 2007, in which two Army personnel were dismissed from the service and awarded rigorous imprisonment of 10 years.

Contrast it with the alleged gang rape of Rukiya Bano of Gujjar Dhar in Kulgam area in July 2011 in which she had alleged that she was criminally assaulted by six to seven soldiers. However, a detailed investigation showed nothing had happened and the charge was false.

“Such charges are part of the misinformation campaign launched against the security forces,” an Army officer told The Tribune. 

Myths about India-Pakistan relations

Baladas Ghoshal 
24 Jan 2013

The very ideology of Pakistan, based on religion and the direction it has pushed itself by promoting Islamic radicalism, is not conducive to democracy. Pakistan is its own enemy of democracy. India's hard or soft stand against Pakistan has no role in this respect

Myths abound when it comes to India-Pakistan relations. None of them stand to reason or for that matter conform to the ground realities in Pakistan. One of the most fallacious of all those myths is that if India remains soft toward Islamabad and relentlessly pursues the peace process, despite all provocations, lack of progress on the terror front and bleeding India slowly in Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi can strengthen the hands of the democratic forces in Pakistan and eventually contribute to the growth of democracy in that country. 

For one thing, history has no example of any country pursuing policies that have contributed to democracy in another country. Wherever democracy has taken root, the impulses and desire for representative government have always come from within, and not from outside. Inspiration, however, can come from outside. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the greatest icons of democracy, realized it despite her earlier belief that the Western sanctions could bring change in Myanmar. At the first instance of her visit to the United States she declared that the democratic development in the country has to be internally driven and pleaded with the West not to do anything that might upset the internal process

For another, it is doubtful whether the Pakistanis, barring a few human rights activists like Asma Jahangir, journalists like Nazim Sethi and a few other fringe elements, are at all interested in democracy in their country. If they were, the country would not have remained under the spell of the armed forces ever since the country became separated from India. A totally isolated country like Burma could sustain an autocratic rule with the patronage of China for such long years despite people's strong urge for democracy. 

But Pakistan was not a closed country, rather it had excellent relations with the West, which alternately promoted both military dictatorship and democracy in the country. It is not that democratic experiment had not taken place in Pakistan, but they all failed miserably. The Pakistani military enjoys all the benefits and privileges of power and takes no responsibility for the direction in which Pakistan is headed. At every stage in Pakistan, the military subverted the process of democracy and rule of law, but the political parties and groups have also contributed their own share in paving the way for the military for having such a critical role through their sheer opportunism and short-sightedness, and in using the military to promote their own goals vis-a-vis other parties. 

Umbrage at Male uncalled for

Dec 25, 2012

The overwhelming asymmetry between India and the Maldives in sheer size alone almost automatically casts India in the role of the villain

Contractual disputes are generally arcane and even boring affairs, except to the parties involved. However, some can become potential international flashpoints like the one that recently cropped up between the Government of Maldives and the Indian-led construction consortium, GMR Infrastructure, over construction and management of the new international airport at the Maldivian capital, Male, after a peremptory cancellation of the contract apparently at the instance of Abbas Adil Riza, the spokesman for the Maldivian President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.

The cancellation provoked an acid comment from the ministry of external affairs, which added the proverbial fuel to the fire. The Indian response was apparently the individual initiative of a joint secretary from which the Government of India officially disassociated itself but, curiously, sent the official involved on a prized consular posting to the US, which can be construed as an indirect mark of approval. The aggrieved GMR challenged the decision in the Singapore high court, but the decision was in favour of the Maldives.

The legal issues involved are complex, but the situation in this case has been further complicated by the injection of politico-diplomatic dimensions by both India and the Maldives, creating a messy mélange of politics, politicians and bureaucrats.

The ground situation, however, impacts diplomatic relations between India and the Maldives and can turn toxic unless handled with utmost balance. The Singapore high court has pronounced in favour of the Government of Maldives, and India has no options but to make the best of it.

Needless to say that under the circumstances it is absolutely vital for India to maintain a sense of proportion and balance, bearing in mind that regardless of the legal issues that may be involved, the overwhelming asymmetry between India and the Maldives in sheer size alone almost automatically casts India in the role of the villain, appearing as a crude and domineering regional bully attempting to intimidate a tiny neighbour.

Delinking from its international profile, the case appears of a pattern which has much in common with many similar corporate disputes fermenting in civil courts of law in India, making their own contributions to delays and further clogging the sluggish process of civil justice system in the country. Meanwhile, the inevitable media focus on the case, however fleeting, particularly its Indian connection, has touched off public outrage in this country and a degree of reciprocal anti-Indian sentiment in the Maldives.

There is No Endgame in Afghanistan

By Major General Vinod Saighal (Retd)
January 22, 2013

The subject has become centre stage primarily because the USA has made clear its intention to pull out from Afghanistan. The countries that would view it as a positive development would be Pakistan and China along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE that were major backers of the Taliban prior to 2001. However, the latter countries might no longer be as sure as to how they should view the development. Naturally, the countries supplying forces for deployment as part of ISAF would be relieved as well. It is not yet clear whether the US would exit fully as it did in Iraq or whether a residual force would remain; nobody in the country, however, is going to claim success for Mission Afghanistan. 

The Americans are pulling out of their own volition due to the unpopularity of prolonged deployment, high casualty rate as well as their economic difficulties. They have not been defeated as such. They have decided to cut their losses. Speculation is rife within Afghanistan and in the countries in the region most concerned as to what the post-pullout situation will be after the departure of foreign forces that were deployed primarily for stabilizing Afghanistan and preventing it from again falling into the hands of the Taliban. Before entering into a more detailed consideration on the future of Afghanistan it is necessary to have a look at the unfolding scenario within the country as also the likely fallout on the countries most affected. How these countries deal with the fallout also needs to be assessed. 

The USA having been the prime mover in Afghanistan for over a decade since 9/11 it would be best to start with that country. There would be policy makers in Washington who would be unhappy at the turn of events that have obliged them to pull back and leave Afghanistan to its own fate in the sense that for them the fight is over without achieving their objectives. Henceforth while they might continue to assist the Afghan Government, they do not foresee committing large forces again. Allowing the Taliban power sharing and control over parts of Afghanistan was evidently their last choice. For the same reason allowing Pakistan to assume a major role, even by proxy cannot be a welcome turn of events. On the face of it, for public consumption within the US the Americans are quitting. 

Afghanistan in Retrograde: America Prepares to Withdraw

Jan. 23, 2013

A paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade looks out over the perimeter of Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan's Logar province on Jan. 22, 2013

For the past few years, American troops in Afghanistan have used the winter months to make progress in counterinsurgency before the next fighting season. But with the end in sight for the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, American forces have a different kind of mission this winter. This is the first in a series of stories by Nate Rawlings, assigned to document the dismantling of the U.S. installations in Afghanistan in the walk-up to the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014. 

You can be forgiven, upon landing in Kabul, for initially forgetting you’ve entered a war zone. Leaving the city’s slightly shoddy airport, I descended into its frenetically congested streets and saw thousands of people go about their daily lives, seemingly unaware that the rest of the world always attached the word war next to their country. 

But quickly, reality sets in. Within a few miles of the airport, you see the blast walls, those towering slabs of concrete that surround the government agencies and upscale hotels. In just the past few months, Kabul suffered a suicide bombing that killed 12 people and an hours-long gun battle at the Spozhmai Hotel, a resort not far from Kabul. The New Year hadn’t started much better. There had been a bombing barely a week before I arrived. 

On the morning of Jan. 21, two days after I flew into the city, a loud boom and rattling windows shook me from my sleep about 10 minutes before my alarm went off. Insurgents had attacked the headquarters of the city’s traffic police, detonating a suicide bomb and a car bomb, before taking refuge in the police building. After a nine-hour operation, Afghan security forces finally rooted out the last of the militants; three policemen and five insurgents were dead. 

Despite the ongoing chaos at the traffic police headquarters, business in Kabul continued as usual. The drive north from the city to Bagram Airfield took the usual estimated time: one hour. Once a staging ground for the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Bagram is now one of the three largest NATO bases in the country and the main hub for all operations in the north and the east of Afghanistan. In the coming months, Bagram will play an even larger role in the American withdrawal, becoming one of the main centers for retrograde, the military term for returning to the U.S. all the vehicles, weapons and equipment that have accumulated in Afghanistan during 11 years of war.

China’s Shale Gas Dream

By James Parker 
January 25, 2013 

As Anthony Fensom’s recent article on the U.S. underscores, knowledge of the vast potential of “unconventional oil and gas” has been spreading rapidly in recent years. 

But, as Pacific Money has noted before, North America is not the only potential benefactor of this trend. In fact, China is believed to hold the world’s largest reserves of shale gas, with the Ministry of Land and Resources estimates the country has134 trillion cubic meters of shale gas with 25 tcm of this recoverable. 

Coincidentally, China this week announced that 16 companies had won a second round of bidding to explore 19 shale gas blocks around central China in Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces, as well as in the Chongqing area. The successful bidders were all domestic—14 state-owned firms and 2 privately-owned ones — and have agreed to invest 12.8 billion yuan (U.S.$2 billion) over the coming years. 

Given the limited extraction capability of Chinese firms, this will exacerbate the already immense challenges China faces in extracting the natural gas and bringing it to market. 

These challenges are among the factors that have caused China to fall behind its own shale gas targets. Last year the National Energy Administration announced the goals of producing 6.5 billion cubic meters of shale gas annually by 2015 and between 60 and 100 billion cubic meters by 2020. But with China still not producing shale gas commercially the 2015 target seems increasingly out of reach. Besides this latest auction Beijing has announced subsidies to shale gas producers as a means of jump starting the industry. 

Also working in China’s favor is the fact that much of its suspected shale gas reserves are located relatively close to population centers along the coastal areas. This should lessen the burden Beijing faces in building the necessary infrastructure to bring extracted shale gas to markets. 

How The Sino-African Relationship Is Influencing The Rest Of The World

New African
08 January 2013

China’s rapid advance into Africa has sparked a heated debate not only among ordinary citizens and analysts but also within the corridors of world power. The West accuses China of neo-colonialism while China responds that its policy of non-interference is just what the emerging world, including Africa needs. But does the growing relationship between China and Africa have larger, global strategic implications? Aya Imai argues that it does and that it is already shaping global policy. 

China in Africa is no longer a myth but a fact of life. The dragon’s sensational arrival on the scene, which has been accelerated particularly after Beijing’s decision to initiate the “going global” (Zŏuchūqū) policy in 1999, has attracted the attention of investors, scholars, policy makers and a wider population, and has led to a phenomenal upsurge in the amount of relevant research and analysis. 

Much of this has focused solely on either negative or positive repercussions of China’s growing presence on the African continent, and, as such, there has been an increasing call for a re-evaluation of Sino-African affairs not as a neatly demarcated area within contemporary international relations, but as a key turning point in the post-Cold War global order. 

Of equal significance is the impact of this relationship on the policy-making processes of China’s neighbouring Northeast Asian states. Last month, China, Japan and Korea met in Beijing for the Trilateral Policy Consultation on Foreign Policy towards Africa, this being the fifth of its kind. This effort of linking foreign policies is quite an extraordinary accomplishment in a geopolitical setting as notorious as that of Northeast Asia. 

Dominating views 

Back in 2008, Chris Alden of the London School of Economics wrote: “It is the rise of China that has introduced new dimensions into relations between the two regions [Asia and Africa] and is itself indicative of a fundamental change in the pattern of international relations.” 

Statements along the same lines as Alden’s that strive to grasp the Sino-African relationship in a broader context have often been neglected amongst the mainstream commentaries in favour of those made by popular media or risk analysis consultancy, whose focus has been heavily inclined towards the latest updates of Chinese involvement in Africa’s political economy. For example, the latest $2.5bn deal between Sinopec and Total over the latter’s offshore Nigerian field and the new agreement to build the West African Coastal Highway signed by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), etc.

Israel’s elections: What just happened?

January 23, 2013
Israel voted for change, and moved a little from right to center; Lapid is the big success but Netanyahu is still a winner, albeit battered and constrained 

Happy chaos: Supporters of the Jewish Home party respond to the preliminary results of the elections in Tel Aviv on January 22, 2013 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90) 

Trust the Israeli electorate to produce a surprising and acutely complicated electoral result, at the end of an exemplary, empowering exercise in democracy. Here are some quickfire pointers through the initial post-vote fog.

1. Israel did not move to the right 

Remarkably, given the regional instability and consequent Israeli wariness, the right-wing bloc took a bit of a pasting. It’s a more hawkish right-wing bloc, but it’s a smaller one, somewhat less able to get its own way. Instead, Israel moved a little to the center, as exemplified by the remarkable debut of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. What does this mean for the big regional issues, and especially for interaction with the Palestinians? Well, that depends on the nature of the coalition. And for that, we may have to wait a while.

2. Netanyahu is battered but he’s still a winner… almost certainly, with some serious caveats 

You go into national politics because you want to lead your nation. And once you’ve made it to prime minister, you go into your next elections in order to remain prime minister. That’s what Netanyahu has apparently managed, unless the soldiers’ votes and other final adjustments in the next couple of days improbably change the delicate Knesset arithmetic to his detriment. This despite Netanyahu not being particularly popular and being a very well-known quantity in an election where many voters plainly favored the fresh, inexperienced and unsullied candidates. Tuesday’s was a vote for change. Dozens upon dozens of sitting Knesset members were swept aside. But Netanyahu rolled with the wave, and here he is again.

Time for U.S. forces to intervene in Mali: Opposing view

James S. Robbins
January 22, 2013 

Airstrikes and special ops would crush insurgency.
(Photo: Boureima Hama, AFP/Getty Images)

With U.S. troops out of Iraq and leaving Afghanistan, the last thing the American people want to hear about is the potential for another war. But the growing conflict in Mali is not a new war; it is another front in the same struggle against violent extremism America has been waging since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The insurgency in northern Mali is a collection of local tribal militias and international jihadists united by a common belief in political Islam and opposition to Western influence. One of the most important members of this coalition is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. In addition to violently exporting its radical ideology, AQIM is involved in drug smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering and the illicit arms trade.

Obama administration policy precludes direct military assistance to the current government of Mali because it came to power through a coup. However, the United States is not banned from providing assistance to coalition countries attempting to restore stability in the country, or taking independent action against al-Qaeda.

The United States already supplies France with intelligence support, including satellite imagery and signals intercepts. The White House is also considering providing refueling for French aircraft. But there are a variety of additional means the U.S. could employ short of a major ground action.

Combat shift ignores gender realities

Jerry Boykin
January 24, 2013 

Maximizing combat effectiveness, not career opportunities, must always be the top priority.


Story Highlights

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on some women's behalf. 

If current physical standards are maintained, few women will be able to meet them.

If those standards are lowered, the effectiveness of the fighting force will be directly compromised.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to open virtually all positions in the military to women, including those in infantry and front-line combat units, is the wrong policy, adopted for the wrong reasons and implemented the wrong way.

It was adopted in the wrong way because such a significant change in longstanding military personnel policy, with potentially serious implication for the effectiveness of the fighting force, should not be made without holding congressional hearings in advance to explore all the issues involved.

It was adopted for the wrong reasons because it was driven by political and social considerations. Some women have complained that their chances of career advancement within the military are hampered by their exclusion from ground combat positions, and the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on their behalf.

The Obama administration probably does not want to be in the position of arguing against expanded opportunities for women. However, the Supreme Court has always granted great deference to Congress and the military in the operation of our armed forces. Maximizing combat effectiveness, not career opportunities, must always be their top priority.

Powering the Pacific “Pivot” With Leon and Chuck

By Winslow Wheeler
Jan. 23, 20132 

It’s old, and likely thoroughly forgotten now, but last summer the Washington Post ran an excellent article on the U.S. military‘s “pivot” toward Asia, its origins, and its budget implications. It presented some meaningful background on where the pivot came from, and how it so quickly became dogma in Washington as the decade-long ground wars receded in the national rear-view mirror. 

Beyond that, Greg Jaffe’s article last August offers a good explanation for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s hysteria about defense budget cuts, and a useful criterion to assess Panetta’s nominated replacement, former Senator Chuck Hagel.I urge you to read the piece: the pivot is not just a redirection of attention toward Asia; it is a proclamation of a new form of warfare, Air-Sea Battle, to solve the problem of defeating China’s presumed military ambitions in the Pacific with an assemblage of existing and new long-range, precision-strike weapons. 

It is the brainchild of Andrew Marshall, the long-sitting director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, who has been working on the concept, in its many formulations, for at least three decades. Over the years, Marshall, who is described by both detractors and admirers as Yoda-like, has carefully nurtured—in some cases literally—a network of disciples in Congress, the defense industry, assorted think tanks and inside the Pentagon, especially in the Office of the Secretary of Defense—where he works. 

The Air Force and the Navy are particularly enthusiastic about Air-Sea Battle; after a decade of budget emphasis on the Army and Marine Corps in the mostly-land conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, ASB is so much all about the Navy and Air Force that, according to Jaffe’s article, they have “come up with more than 200 initiatives they say they need to realize Air-Sea Battle” and it “provides a framework for preserving [and expanding] some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons programs.” 

The heavy bill for the hardware Air-Sea Battle contemplates was noted, last August, by numerous skeptics. In Jaffe’s article, Barry Posen—the director at MIT’s Security Studies Program—pointed out Marshall’s history of rationales for what is now called Air-Sea Battle saying “it should be called the Office of Threat Inflation.” As well, Jaffe quotes the Marine Corps—likely to lose big chunks of budget share under ASB—saying in a contracted study it would be “preposterously expensive.” 

In a scorching piece at Time magazine’s Battleland that appeared shortly after the Post article, a widely-read military affairs author, Thomas P. M. Barnett, treated Marshall and his ideas with open contempt: “The most egregiously implausible efforts ever made to justify arms build-ups…Purposefully zeroing out all outside existing reality…Strategic thinking has been completely eliminated in the quest for program-preserving rationales.” 

The Economic Fundamentals of 2013

Nouriel Roubini 
21 January 2013

The global economy this year will exhibit some similarities with the conditions that prevailed in 2012. No surprise there: we face another year in which global growth will average about 3%, but with a multi-speed recovery – a sub-par, below-trend annual rate of 1% in the advanced economies, and close-to-trend rates of 5% in emerging markets. But there will be some important differences as well. Painful deleveraging – less spending and more saving to reduce debt and leverage – remains ongoing in most advanced economies, which implies slow economic growth. 

But fiscal austerity will envelop most advanced economies this year, rather than just the eurozone periphery and the United Kingdom. Indeed, austerity is spreading to the core of the eurozone, the United States, and other advanced economies (with the exception of Japan). Given synchronized fiscal retrenchment in most advanced economies, another year of mediocre growth could give way to outright contraction in some countries. With growth anemic in most advanced economies, the rally in risky assets that began in the second half of 2012 has not been driven by improved fundamentals, but rather by fresh rounds of unconventional monetary policy. Most major advanced economies’ central banks – the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Swiss National Bank – have engaged in some form of quantitative easing, and they are now likely to be joined by the Bank of Japan, which is being pushed toward more unconventional policies by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new government. 

Moreover, several risks lie ahead. First, America’s mini-deal on taxes has not steered it fully away from the fiscal cliff. Sooner or later, another ugly fight will take place on the debt ceiling, the delayed sequester of spending, and a congressional “continuing spending resolution” (an agreement to allow the government to continue functioning in the absence of an appropriations law). Markets may become spooked by another fiscal cliffhanger. And even the current mini-deal implies a significant amount of drag – about 1.4% of GDP – on an economy that has grown at barely a 2% rate over the last few quarters. Second, while the ECB’s actions have reduced tail risks in the eurozone – a Greek exit and/or loss of market access for Italy and Spain – the monetary union’s fundamental problems have not been resolved. Together with political uncertainty, they will re-emerge with full force in the second half of the year. After all, stagnation and outright recession – exacerbated by front-loaded fiscal austerity, a strong euro, and an ongoing credit crunch – remain Europe’s norm. As a result, large – and potentially unsustainable – stocks of private and public debt remain. Moreover, given aging populations and low productivity growth, potential output is likely to be eroded in the absence of more aggressive structural reforms to boost competitiveness, leaving the private sector no reason to finance chronic current-account deficits.