1 August 2013

Why the IPKF went to Sri Lanka

There were many reasons, including strategic and humanitarian, for an armed intervention in Sri Lanka in the form of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The ill-informed criticism that the force received about its operations needs to be corrected
Lt Gen Depinder Singh (Retd)

Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Bikram Singh pays homage to the fallen soldiers at the IPKF memorial in Sri Lanka during a recent visit. — PIB

ON July 29, 1987, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed in Colombo. The euphoria this evoked was marred by a sailor from the Sri Lanka Armed Forces (SLAF) attempting to hit our then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, while he was inspecting a guard of honour. The agreement had three components — modalities of settling the ethnic conflict, guarantees by India in regard to implementing the Accord and an undertaking by the Sri Lanka Government in regard to India's security concerns. In consonance with Clause 2 of the accord, an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) announced its landing in Sri Lanka on July 30, 1987.

It is not my intention to repeat how the ethnic conflict developed as that aspect is well documented. My aim is to describe why the IPKF went to Sri Lanka and what it did there. It is my hope, further, that this narrative will correct most of the ill informed criticism of the IPKF operations.

Reasons for the intervention

There were many reasons for an armed intervention. I will concentrate on three — strategic, humanitarian and linguistic. Taking the first reason, i.e. strategic, not only is the Indian Ocean vital for India's lifelines but most of the wherewithal needed for its economic development is concentrated in these waters. Our industrial growth, economic development and even meaningful association with the rest of the world depend upon a secure Indian Ocean. For this a friendly and stable Sri Lanka is vital. Moving on to the second aspect i.e. humanitarian, the conflict in Sir Lanka saw many ups and downs. However, till around February 1987, one constant remained - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) dominated the hinterland and the SLAF operated from the coastline where they could be supplied from the sea.

In February 1987, they moved inland, imposed an economic embargo and intensified indiscriminate air, artillery and naval bombardment, resulting in a massive exodus into India. Stories of the inhuman conditions they had faced spread like wild fire, leading to the third season for our intervention. Tamil Nadu, the state most affected, was ruled at the time by a remarkable man, M.G. Ramachandran. He was a staunch ally of the Congress, then in power in New Delhi. To illustrate the power he wielded, let us recall the incident where, from a sickbed in the US, he issued orders for his entire cabinet to resign. Everyone did. His repeated pleas to the centre finally tilted the scales.

I will add one more reason. The SLAF were fighting insurgency in the north and insurrection against the Janath? Vimukthi Peramu?a (JVP) in the south. Understandably, the officers and soldiers were tired. Add to this a high desertion rate and a reluctance to enroll and you have a very dangerous environment, with rumours of a coup being staged mounting by the day. In these circumstances was it any surprise that it was difficult to judge who between the SLAF and the LTTE was more grateful and relieved over the Indian presence.

A misnomer called food security

Aug 01 2013

The proposed bill makes false promises. The need is to directly address problems of drinking water availability, sanitation, maternal health and childcare

The Food Security Bill (2013, FSB) promulgated recently by an ordinance is expected to be debated in Parliament soon. The intention behind the FSB is noble, to eradicate hunger from the country, but the means adopted need serious reconsideration. FSB, under the targeted public distribution system (TPDS), aims to provide doorstep delivery of subsidised food to nearly 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population. It also seeks to empower women in households. The thrust of the criticism against the FSB has been on issues like procurement, storage, transportation, distribution, identification of beneficiaries and pricing of foodgrains covered under the scheme.

The FSB is motivated by two significant facts. First, disturbing statistics: according to the National Family Health Survey 2005-06, 43.5 per cent of children under the age of five are underweight, 33 per cent of women in the age group of 15-49 have a body mass index below normal and 78.9 per cent of children in the age group of 6-35 months are anaemic. Second, the influential Global Hunger Index (GHI) developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which has successfully galvanised policymakers across the world. The IFPRI has computed a GHI of 22.9 for India in 2012, with countries like Libya, Iran, Mexico, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and many others recording much better performance.

Unfortunately, the term "global hunger index" is a misnomer as it does not, in its construction, take into account the "hungry". Actually, the term "hunger" itself is very confusing and means different things to different organisations and policymakers. First and foremost, it evokes images of the extreme discomfort associated with lack of food. On the other hand, the United Nations Development Programme defines it as a condition in which people lack the basic food intake to provide them with the energy and nutrients for fully productive lives.

The GHI takes into account, in equal weights, undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. The indicator, undernourishment, is based on the share of the population with insufficient (relative to a norm) calorie intake. Child underweight is defined in terms of wasting and stunted growth and child mortality in terms of death rates, both reflecting an unhealthy environment. It is much too simplistic to assume, without evidence, that either being underweight or mortality is due to undernutrition (signifying deficiencies in energy, protein, essential vitamins and minerals). Child stunting and wasting, and mortality, is equally if not more likely to be due to infections and illnesses due to insanitary conditions that result in inadequate absorption of nutrients. These in turn may be linked to inadequate maternal health or childcare practices, inadequate access to health services, safe water and toilet facilities. Thus, supply of food may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the improvement of a part of the hunger index.

The GHI is too simplistic and does not take into account the complexities of the problem, but sways opinion-makers in developing countries. It is already a much accused and abused index which has lost respectability because of its various deficiencies, including the weighting priority and database used. The index is also prone to dramatic change in case of unreliable data of even a single partial indicator. For example, the cause of such a dismal GHI for India is mainly data on child underweight, which is the worst, next only to Timor-Leste.

To improve India's ranking on the GHI, we have to identify the causes of stunting and wasting and to eliminate them. Thus the solution is to improve the supply/ availability of clean-safe drinking water; improved sanitation, preferably piped sewerage system, septic tanks or pit latrine with slabs, to avoid the outbreak of waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera; and improved personal hygiene. According to the WHO, less than 30 per cent of households had access to piped drinking water and nearly 60 per cent of Indians still practised open defecation in 2006. We also need better governance of medical facilities in rural areas, providing more effective primary health centres for maternal and childcare. Even with respect to food, though per capita availability of cereals has improved, that of pulses has declined from 69 grammes per day in 1961 to 39 grammes in 2011. Pumping free cereals into a leakage-prone system will not improve even calorie intake as these have a near-zero price elasticity and low income elasticity.

The need is to directly address these serious issues and not the imposition of a simplistic FSB that is driven more by ideology than pragmatic problem-solving. As there is no free lunch, a huge hike in subsidy would either lead to higher taxes or higher debt or lower capital expenditure. It also detracts attention from the really "hungry" who constitute less than 2 per cent of the population but are dispersed across the country in remote, hilly locations and need to be painstakingly identified and reached directly.

Virmani, former chief economic advisor, Government of India, and former executive director, IMF, heads Chintanlive.org. Singh is the RBI chair professor of economics, IIM, Bangalore. Views are personal

From the granary to the plate

Published: August 1, 2013
Jean Drèze

Despite its many flaws, the food security bill is an opportunity to end the leakages from the PDS and prevent wastage of public resources

The National Food Security Bill, now an ordinance, has been a target of sustained attacks in the business media in recent weeks. There is nothing wrong, of course, in being critical of the bill, or even opposed to it. Indeed, the bill has many flaws. What is a little troubling, however, is the shrill and ill-informed nature of many of these attacks. Statistical hocus-pocus has been deployed with abandon to produce wildly exaggerated “estimates” of the financial costs of the bill, and no expression seems to be too strong to disparage it. The fact that the food bill could bring some relief in the lives of millions of people who live in conditions of terrifying insecurity seems to count for very little.


Meanwhile, recent studies shed some useful light on the state of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) — one of the controversial foundations of the bill. As far as the “below poverty line” (BPL) quota is concerned, there is a clear trend of steady improvement in many States, including some that had a very poor PDS not so long ago. A recent study of the PDS in Koraput, one of Odisha’s poorest districts, found that almost all BPL households were receiving their full monthly quota of 25 kg of rice at the stipulated price. Similar findings emerged from a survey of the PDS in two districts of Uttar Pradesh (Lakhimpur Kheri and Chitrakoot), where most BPL households were getting their due — 35 kg of rice or wheat per month. The main problem was the restrictive nature of the BPL list, which left many households excluded. These surveys confirm earlier findings of a study by the Indian Institute of Technology in 2011 that BPL households in nine sample States received 84 per cent of their PDS entitlements.

It is in the “above poverty line” (APL) quota that embezzlement continues in many States. In Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), APL households are supposed to get 10 kg of wheat per month, but most of the APL quota goes straight to the black market. The gravy flows all the way to the top: the complicity of the then Food Minister, Raja Bhaiya, in this scam was exposed last year by Tehelka, but the “bhaiya” retained his post. Recent investigations suggest that leakages in the APL quota are also very high in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh, among other prime offenders.

The main reason for this vulnerability is that the APL quota is treated as a dumping ground for excess foodgrain stocks. In recent years, foodgrain procurement has increased by leaps and bounds, but distribution under the BPL and Antyodaya quotas has remained much the same, since allocations are fixed and lifting is close to 100 per cent. To moderate the accumulation of excess stocks, the Central government has been pushing larger and larger amounts of foodgrain into the APL quota, which is now almost as large as the BPL quota (close to 20 million tonnes of foodgrains in 2012-13). One consequence of this dumping is that the entitlements of APL households are, by nature, unclear and unstable; in fact, they are not entitlements but ad hoc handouts. This gives middlemen a field day, since APL households are often confused as to what they are supposed to get, or whether and when their quota has arrived. The current situation in U.P., where most of the APL quota goes straight to the black market without anyone raising the alarm, is just an extreme example of this situation.

Rectifies PDS defects

The food bill is an opportunity to clean up this mess, and to cure two basic defects of the PDS: large exclusion errors, and the leaky nature of the APL quota. In effect, the bill abolishes the APL quota and gives common entitlements to a majority of the population: 75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas. These are national coverage ratios, to be adjusted State-wise so that the coverage is higher in the poorer States. In this new framework, people’s entitlements will be much clearer, and there will be greater pressure on the system to work. Indeed, wide coverage and clear entitlements are two pillars of the fairly effective PDS reforms that have been carried out in many States in recent years (other aspects of these reforms include de-privatisation of ration shops, computerisation of records and transparency measures). Seen in this light, the bill can be a good move not only for food security, but also from the point of view of ending a massive waste of public resources under the APL quota.

Cash transfers

The main goal of the PDS is to bring some security in people’s lives, starting with protection from hunger but going well beyond that. A well-functioning PDS liberates people from the constant fear that it might be difficult to make ends meet if crop fails, or if someone falls ill, or if there is no work. The value of this arrangement has been well demonstrated in many States — Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, among others. Whether a system of cash transfers could serve the same purpose at lower cost, and how long it would take to put in place, are issues that need further scrutiny and debate. Meanwhile, the PDS is in place, there is a ration shop in every village, and huge food stocks keep piling up. It seems sensible to use these resources without delay. In any case, the food bill does not preclude a cautious transition to cash transfers if and when they prove more effective than the PDS.

N-Powered Sub Arihant All Set To Sail Out From Vizag

Ajay Banerjee/TNS
New Delhi, July 28

Indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, is finally set to sail out from its base at Vishakhapatnam. The 6,000-tonne submarine, armed with nuclear missiles, is ready after years of efforts interspersed with sanctions in 1998 and impediments due to non-availability of cutting-edge technology.

The Chinese threat

In January, a report by the Ministry of Defence Integrated Headquarters expressed fears that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is building “expeditionary maritime capabilities” and could use nuclear-powered submarines and area denial weapons to threaten warships in the region.

At the last count, China had seven nuclear-powered submarines; two of 094 Jin-class, four of 093 Shang-class and the last one of 092 Xia-class.

Besides Arihant, India’s nuclear-powered submarine strength has INS Chakra, a nuclear-powered vessel leased from Russia. However, under international treaties, Russia could not transfer SLBMs that go with INS Chakra, hence it carries only conventional missiles.

“The nuclear reactor that will power the submarine can be formally declared ‘critical’ anytime now, while the nuclear-tipped missiles to be launched from underwater are in place,” sources said.

“Everything is ready,” a functionary said. “The wait is for the monsoon to subside before Arihant (slayer of enemies) dives into sea. A certain amount of calm is needed at sea when the vessel goes out the first time. The monsoon on the East Coast starts weakening by the middle of August, meaning the submarine will slither out in a couple of weeks from now,” he added.

“Around 95 per cent of harbour trials are over,” sources said. Once the submarine is out at sea, it will run on nuclear-powered 80MW pressurised water reactor (PWR). The PWR was developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) with assistance from a Russian designing team. It uses enriched uranium as fuel and light water as coolant and moderator.

Once at sea, the vessel will be gradually loaded with weapons and missiles. All parameters will be tested after each addition. “Each test will be conducted underwater for two months or more. This will include the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)”, sources said.

New Delhi has done 10 underwater launches of SLBMs code named ‘B05’ using a submerged pontoon to mimic a submarine. It can travel 700 km, while the bigger variant, so far know as the ‘K-4’, can hit targets 3,500 km away and will finally be installed on Arihant and also the next two follow-on submarines of the same class.

The submarine will provide second-strike capability in case of a nuclear attack. It is the easiest to launch a nuclear strike from a submarine as it remains submerged, hence the enemy cannot detect it.

In December 2010, the then Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma had announced: “When Arihant goes to sea, it will be on a deterrent patrol (armed with nuclear-tipped missiles).” Being nuclear-powered, the submarine will not have to surface for two months to breath, like the conventional vessels have to.

India will join the US, the UK, France, and China by having such technology and prowess.

Arihant has cost Rs 15,000 crore. It has been jointly developed by the Navy, BARC and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at the Visakhapatnam naval dockyard. Russian designers assisted in building the vessel. Other companies involved in the development of the submarine are Tata Power and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The project, earlier known as the advanced technology vessel (ATV), has been under development since 1998.

Getting closer, but not close enough still

Thursday, 01 August 2013 

Only when more joint collaborations in the area of defence take place between India and France and the Rafale deal is signed, can the partnership between the two countries become a true companionship 

There was no scoop. As Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Defence Minister arrived in New Delhi for his second visit to India in five months, the Indian Press speculated about the signature of the mega deal (over Rs 50,000 crore) for the supply of 126 French Rafale combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force. It was not to be.

According to the joint statement, Minister for Defence AK Antony and Mr Le Drian had detailed discussions “on the current and future cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and technology collaboration”. A French defence expert wrote on his blog: “Le Drian went to India to present the new White Paper on defence. [He is here] to sell Rafales? Everybody thought about it, but is not ‘official’; it is not the object of the visit. As a proof, the direction of Dassault is not on the trip: To each one, one’s job; though purchasing a fighter plane is fundamentally a political decision!”

Addressing India’s strategic elite at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the French Minister clarified: “India has made the best choice. Obviously, I can’t say otherwise, but India will not regret it.” Explaining that many Indian companies will benefit from the offsets which are part of the contract, the Minister added: “The aircraft will be given all the upgrades that technological progress will permit over the course of years”.

A long way has been walked since France ‘surrendered’ what the Minister prosaically called ‘French trading posts’ in India (ie French colonies) in a rather smooth way in 1954 (Mr Le Drian nevertheless paid homage to the Pondicherians who fought and laid down their lives during the two World Wars). India has also gone a long way since the days of its (in)famous non-alignment. Remember, when General de Gaulle received Nehru in Paris on September 22, 1962, the Indian Prime Minister mentioned the danger coming from China “which spent most of its resources for preparing the bomb”, but he did not ask the French President for help. India was ‘non-aligned’!

A month later, after the Chinese had inflicted on India its worst humiliation and New Delhi had started begging Washington, DC, for material support, Ali Yavar Jung, the Indian Ambassador to France met the General again, who conveyed what would be French core position for several decades: “France is the friend of India, not its ally, and, therefore, will not provide any military support which in any case, has not been requested by India.”

It is only in January 1998, during President Jacques Chirac’s visit to India, that the friendship took a new and deeper turn; India and France then set up a strategic partnership. The French President asserted that he was keen on an “ambitious partnership”; using a de Gaulle-like language, Mr Chirac saluted India, “a nation which has affirmed its personality on the world stage… France wanted to accompany India in its potent march towards the future.”

Mr Chirac’s words were not mere political niceties. When India conducted its nuclear tests in Pokhran in May that year, France was one of the few countries which did not condemn New Delhi (or impose sanctions). When Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee paid a visit to France in October, the Indian Prime Minister affirmed: “Both countries share a perspective that the new world order has to be a genuine multi-polar world order. Our bilateral relationship is poised to grow in the coming months in a multi-faceted manner.” This set in motion closer and deeper contacts between the two countries. From the friendship mentioned by Gen de Gaulle, the relation became a partnership.

At IDSA, the French Minister reflected on the exceptional trust between India and France: “Fifteen years — that’s still adolescence. All indicators point to the Indo-French partnership growing further — in scope, in maturity, and in strength.” Mr Le Drian pointed out: “We share the same political vision. We share numerous common values: Democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom, respect of fundamental rights and human rights. We are deeply attached to our national sovereignty and our strategic autonomy.”

Durga vs Mafia Inc

31 July 2013

There is an outrage in the social media over the sacking of a 29-year-old IAS officer for challenging Noida’s multi-crore sand mafia. The Uttar Pradesh IAS Officers Association has amplified this anger. Rightly so!

But support for Durga Shakti Nagpal, the suspended civil servant, needn’t remain short lived or episodic.An institutionalized solution is possible once the Supreme Court accedes to the demand for Civil Services Boards in the Centre and each State.

Presently, the unholy trinity comprising Mafia Inc., netas, and a pliant and supernumerary set of top babus, decide who the most compliant SDM will be, so that they can get away looting `100-crore worth of sand in the Yamuna, barely 20 km from the office of India’s Prime Minister.

The plunder adds up to zillions as we factor sand, stone, and water from all our rivers, timber within our forests, minerals in our mines, not to belabour the trinity’s entire menu card, auctioned police stations, rigged spectrum, and dubious vendors who they select to serve mid-day meals. This can stop once a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ percolates in the selection and continuation of civil servants.

The trigger came two years back via a petition by former Union cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian and 82 public-service veterans, pleading for urgent reforms to stem the decay, by depoliticizing management of transfers, postings, inquiries, promotions, reward, punishment and disciplinary matters relating to civil servants.

For dummies, the co-petitioners possess a cumulative administrative experience of 2,500 man years. They include former ambassador to US Abid Hussain, strategic affairs commentator B Raman, ex-chief election commisioners TSK Murthy and N Gopalaswamy, former Manipur Governor and police commissioner Ved Marwah, ex-secretary and environment panel chief Bhure Lal, National Advisory Commission member NC Saxena, former special assistant to PM on international affairs Keki Daruwalla, former ambassador to United Nations Arundhati Ghose, former telecom regulator Nripendra Misra, ex-Intelligence Bureau director Arun Bhagat, ex-finance secretary Ajit Kumar, former Maruti chief Jagdish Khattar, ex-Central Bureau of Investigation director DR Karthikeyan and ex-National Security Guard chief BS Sial. Hussain and Raman are no more.

“Our young officers have high motivation and purpose. This is being defeated by crass and corrupt leaderships that don’t allow the honest to flourish. Given the right structure, a hundred ‘Durgas’ will emerge within the system,” Subramanian assured this columnist.

“One can expect that the honourable judges are reading what happened to Durga,” he said, reminding how he himself was suspended in UP for 10 months before emerging unscathed!

The proposition is simple. An independent Civil Services Board or Commission, both at the Centre and State level, comprising the head of the civil service, two senior-most civil servants and two non-bureaucrats with domain knowledge -- not the present group of puppets -- must make an offer list for all jobs. The Prime Minister/Chief Minister must have the right to reject, but only after recording the reason on file.

Bring it back where it belongs

Vivek Katju

PTI CHANGE OF GUARD: Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh takes over at a time when her office is perceived to have lost its sheen.

The Ministry of External Affairs needs to reassert its primacy in coordinating and articulating India's foreign policy decisions

Formidable challenges await Sujatha Singh as she takes over as Foreign Secretary. The most difficult of these is to restore to the Foreign Office its place of primacy in the formulation and execution of India’s foreign policy. Since many years the perception has grown — stronger by the year — in the country’s foreign policy establishment as well as among India’s interlocutors that the foreign office’s contribution to critical foreign policy decisions has been substantially eroded.

Many Ministries are seeking to pursue virtually independent external initiatives and, in doing so, are cutting into the foreign office’s domain. Other government institutions, especially the office of the National Security Advisor, are coming to occupy a place of pre-eminence on core foreign policy issues. This has affected the morale and élan of the Indian Foreign Service not just at the middle and senior levels, but even among junior officers, who are worried about the future relevance of the foreign office.

Time to adapt

It can be no one’s case that the foreign office is or can ever be the repository of all information, expertise and wisdom through the full range of India’s international interaction. This is especially so as issues have become more complex and multidimensional and as India’s interests have expanded in geographical reach and become more intense on matters of global and regional significance.

However, the imperative of coherence in policy formulation, implementation and articulation requires that the foreign office does not remain a bystander to external initiatives and actions of various agencies of state but weaves them into an integrated whole to optimise national interest.

Sadly, this is happening less and less. The latest example is the Bhutan subsidy case where the Indian Oil Corporation seems to have informed the Bhutanese side without a final clearance from the foreign office that a change in the oil and gas supplies regime will be made. The India-Bhutan relationship is crucial to India’s national interest, including our security concerns, and such action can cause long-term damage.

If the foreign office is to effectively perform its mandated functions, it has to inspire confidence and respect in other organs of state that it has the expertise to do so. For this purpose it has to look within to impart a greater degree of area and issues specialisation to Indian diplomats and also optimise human resource utilisation at its senior-most levels.

Pakistan’s HATF-IX / NASR : Implications for Indo-Pak Deterrence


HATF-IX / NASR Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Implications for Indo-Pak Deterrence
Authors: Rajaram Nagappa, Arun Vishwanathan and Aditi Malhotra

To read the complete report in pdf click here

On April 19, 2011 Pakistan conducted the first test flight of Hatf-IX (NASR) missile. The Pakistani Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) described the missile as a ‘Short Range Surface to Surface Ballistic Missile’. Till date there have been three tests of the missile system on April 19, 2011, May 29, 2012 and February 11, 2013.

Following the Pakistani tests and claims of NASR being a nuclear capable missile, there has been a lot of analysis pointing to the dangers it poses for Indo-Pak deterrence. However, despite the large amount of literature which has come out following the NASR test in April 2011, not much attention has been directed at carrying out a holistic assessment of the tactical nuclear weapons issue. It is this crucial gap that that this report seeks to address.

The NASR warhead section has been estimated to have a cylindrical section which is 361 mm in diameter and 940 mm long with a conical portion which is 660 mm long. Thus, the important question is whether (a) Pakistan has a miniaturized weapon warhead which will fit into this dimension, (b) whether it has been tested and (c) in the absence of tests, how reliable is the weapon system. Most importantly, in the absence of demonstrated reliability, how confident will Pakistan be in fielding it?

Pakistan’s gambit of using NASR to signal a lowering of its nuclear threshold to counter any conventional military operation by India is likely to pose challenges for robustness of nuclear deterrence between Pakistan and India. An important question to ponder over and one that holds some importance for nuclear stability in the Indian sub-continent is whether NASR is leading Pakistan into a ‘commitment trap.’ It would be wise to guard against a situation where Pakistan would be forced to follow through just because of its past assertions.

The study shows that a weapon system like NASR has more disadvantages than advantages from all considerations ranging from damage potential to impact on deterrence stability.

Boys and Girls

Andrew O’Hagan

At the juvenile detention centre in Kandahar there are two sets of children. The first are riotous and loud, arrested for theft and other crimes of that sort. When you give them a piece of paper and ask them to write down the reason they are in prison they simply scratch lines into the paper or scrunch it up. They can’t write. The second group are silent. But when they take the sheet of paper they begin to write the most beautiful script, their sentences full of fire and argument. These are the child jihadis and their mothers tell them they will succeed next time.

The prison isn’t big on vocational training but they had some sewing machines before the man who operated them disappeared. Some of the boys are as young as ten and there is no education and too little water. But ‘the political boys’, as the guards call them, are keen to point out the legality of their activities from their point of view. The Afghan government, for reasons nobody understands, aims to move the children to a new site near Sarposa prison, a Taliban-rich area where adult inmates once sewed up their mouths in protest at what they believed was their unlawful detention. Evidence suggests that detained children are physically abused in these prisons. A boy who steals a pomegranate may steal another one and end up next to a kid who knows the quick way to another world.

One boy, Beltoon, came from the province of Paktia. The families in his village competed over whose sons would be sent to the madrassah. ‘You do not love your son, you do not teach him in the ways of Islam,’ the elders would say to parents who kept their sons at home. A counsellor I spoke to, Dr Shah Mohammad Abed, told me there has been a change in the villages: many elders now believe that the world has come to destroy Islam and they must fight back. Beltoon is 15: he was herding goats before his father decided he should go to the regional madrassah, where he spent nine months. The dean then asked for volunteers. Which of them wished to have ‘advanced’ education in Islam in Pakistan? Beltoon’s father and his uncles told him that this meant a better education.

‘Would he understand,’ I asked, ‘that going over the border would mean military training?’

‘The dean asks the child and his family if he wishes to be sacrificed in the way of Islam,’ Dr Abed replied. ‘This doesn’t mean giving him up to suicide bombing, but some will be. It can escalate from one madrassah to another and eventually the child might find himself in a place where the children are training to be suicide-bombers. The students in these madrassahs will be taken to the ultimate training centre in Pakistan blindfolded. They don’t know where they are going and when they arrive at this camp they have lost their bearings.’

Beltoon was driven to Quetta. (The border is open so he couldn’t even be sure he was in Pakistan.) At the compound he met older children who began to persuade him of the ‘cause’ – it’s a familiar process. There was a great deal of physical exercise, hard work carrying packs in the sun. Beltoon had no direct contact with his family; once or twice the dean of his madrassah would pass on some news. Beltoon wasn’t surprised to hear nothing: his family seemed to him to live without questions and without news. They didn’t have knowledge such as he was gleaning during the months in Pakistan. He had begun to trust the leaders around him. He wanted to please them, Dr Abed said.

Beltoon was told that the index finger of his right hand was the Shahadat, the finger of ‘witness’, the digit of Allah. He was told he must use this finger on the suicide vest to be sure of his place in paradise. He must be sure to flick the switch firmly with this finger. (A Unicef worker explained: ‘When the Kalima-e-Shahadat is said in Tashahhud during the prayer, all the fingers except the index should be lightly closed like a fist, keeping the thumb with the middle finger in a circle. It is sunnah – following what the Prophet did – to raise the index finger.’) In this way the mentors suggest that what they are doing is part of an Islamic ritual and Beltoon was convinced he had found the best way to raise himself to the pinnacle of respect and into a life much greater than this one.

Weaving Afghanistan's story

By Candace Rondeaux 
July 31, 2013 

Since 9/11, a considerable amount of ink has been spilled on descriptions of forward operating bases, Humvees, IEDs, and the pursuit of high-value targets in Afghanistan. As the U.S.-led engagement drags into its twelfth year, bookshelves brim with treatises on the rise and fall and rise again of the Taliban, and the life and death of Osama bin Laden. There have been a couple of readable accounts of the quarrels in Washington between the White House and everyone else over the Af-Pak adventure. In most of these stories, Afghans have been cast as bit players in the American drama over a military strategy that has swung wildly from "All In" surge fever to the cold turkey malaise of a "zero-option" withdrawal in 2014. 

All the while Afghans have gone on living -- some fighting, some angling for power, many dying, but many more just surviving -- waiting for the country's endless war to end. This summer, two writers -- Qais Akbar Omar and Anna Badkhen -- have published fresh versions of that part of the Afghan story, offering a welcome break from the monotonous handwringing over the failure of Washington's policies. With the publication of her latest book, The World is a Carpet, Badkhen makes an important contribution to the Afghan travelogue genre. Qais, a Kabul-born Pashtun carpet maker, as it turns out, is one of the most compelling memoirists to emerge out of the country's troubles in recent memory. Both draw on carpet weaving as a metaphor for the complex pattern of life that has emerged out of Afghanistan's long war. 

In A Fort of Nine Towers, Qais, a student of Boston University's creative writing program, offers a forceful account of coming of age at the height of Afghanistan's civil war, becoming a man under the Taliban, and learning to rebuild amid the uncertainty of a post-9/11 world. His simply-told narrative of his family's suffering and resilience begins in a once well-to do part of Kabul "in the time before the fighting, before the rockets, before the warlords and their false promises." There are no photos of this time because, as Qais explains, the family's photos and some of the people in them were destroyed in the fighting.

But, the memories of that time -- some good, some bad, many horrifying -- linger long past the end of the years of the factional fighting that destroyed the capital and the country. For a brief moment in 1992, before the civil war got fully underway, Qais and his family hold out hope that the new coalition government of anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters will return the country to normalcy. For months, Qais's grandfather, a one-time prominent businessman, and his father, a renowned boxing champion and high school physics teacher, search for possible clues to their future in a constant stream of BBC radio bulletins. When it seems certain that the future will remain uncertain for some time, the family begins to plot a way out of the country and seeks refuge across town at the home of a family friend in Qala-e Noborja, or the fort of nine towers.

More recent travelers to Kabul will remember Qala-e Noborja as the home of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a philanthropic venture backed by Britain's Prince Charles and Rory Stewart, a well-known British MP who used part of the proceeds from his published chronicle of his walk across Afghanistan in 2002 to fund the foundation. Longtime residents of the city -- Afghan and foreign alike -- will also remember the disputes that have long surrounded the early 19th century fort as it has shifted from royal outpost to civil war refuge to craftsmen's workshop to bacchanal hippie headquarters and most recently to the home of a new Afghan think tank.

A masterpiece of Afghan craftsmanship, the fort of nine towers has served as refuge for all comers and is one of the few such examples of architecture from the pre-Soviet era to have survived Kabul's many batterings. Qais, in his page-turner, adds another chapter to the fort's rich history, recounting several of his harrowing forays out of the fort into the Afghan capital as street thugs, factional commanders and snipers take aim at him and everything that comes their way. The war chases Qais and his family northward, where he gets an education on his country while on the road with nomads, and on the loom from a beguiling deaf-mute female carpet weaver who gives him the tools he needs to survive. It is out there, away from the shelter of the fort, that Qais begins to understand how much his father and grandfather have sacrificed for the family's survival. For those looking for a break from the abstractions of policy muddles in Doha and Kabul, Qais's book should be first on the summer reading list.

*** Change-of-heart in Pak?

Back-channel talks may be fruitful
by G. Parthasarathy

OVEROPTIMISTIC assessments about a “change-of-heart” in the political elite in Islamabad and in Pakistan's de facto rulers, its khaki uniformed military, reinforced by self-serving “they-are-now-good-boys” certificates from the Americans and the British have often led to erroneous assessments by the Indian establishment of Pakistan's political imperatives and policies. The present narrative emerging from New Delhi's starry-eyed Wagah “candle-light brigade” is that with Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi with a strong political base in the Army-dominated Punjab province, now Pakistan’s Prime Minister, we are assured of terrorism-free ties and blossoming bonhomie and friendship. It is true that Sharif is keen that nothing should come in the way of his efforts to set the Pakistani economy in order, or set right the power crisis in his country. Tensions with India will be an avoidable distraction for him and should, in his political perspective, presently be avoided.

A good beginning has been made to normalise ties with Pakistan after the recent elections there. The Prime Minister's special envoy Satinder Lambah, who is a hard-headed realist on relations with Pakistan, met Mr. Sharif in Lahore, even before Sharif assumed office. Nawabzada Shahryar Khan, a suave and sophisticated Pakistani diplomat was, in turn, sent to New Delhi. It has been agreed that that “back-channel” talks will be resumed between the designated special envoys. The back-channel talks, which earlier took place between Mr. Lambah and his then counterpart Tariq Aziz, did make substantial progress in devising a framework to deal with the Kashmir issue by arriving at common ground between General Musharraf's proposals for “self-governance” and Dr. Manmohan Singh's assertion in Amritsar that borders cannot be redrawn, but we can work towards making them “just lines on a map”.

The “back-channel” talks between 2005 and 2007 took place after General Musharraf assured Mr. Vajpayee in January 2004 that “territory under Pakistan’s control will not be used for terrorism against India”. This was preceded by an agreement for a ceasefire across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir — an agreement that has broadly been observed by both sides, with violations occasionally occurring, when Jihadis are sought to be infiltrated across the LoC. Moreover, General Musharraf did, for various reasons, rein in his Jihadi groups till his power progressively eroded in 2007. While he did keep his Corps Commanders informed about the back-channel talks, I was not surprised when two of his favourites, whom he made 4-Star Generals, subsequently insisted to me that they were unaware of what had transpired. The Pakistan army is quick to disown whatever it finds inconvenient. We should have no doubt that the Sharif government will not agree to start “back-channel” discussions where they concluded in 2007. We can, at best, expect some progress on Kashmir-related CBMs. Disowning past agreements is a trademark of Pakistani foreign policy. General Zia was determined to disown the Simla Agreement and Benazir junked the Ministerial Joint Commission set up by Zia.

Pakistan is going to be primarily focused on developments on its western borders across the Durand Line. While lip-service is paid to non-interference and respect for Afghanistan's sovereignty, Pakistan appears determined to ensure that even as the American withdrawal proceeds, the Taliban takes control progressively of parts of South-Eastern Afghanistan, while keeping the entire Pashtun belt under its pressure. In their desperation to cut their losses and exit from Afghanistan, the Americans appear quite reconciled to this happening. I was interested in taking note recently of sneering references by some Pakistani friends asking how India would ensure the safety of its nationals spread across Afghanistan, once the Americans left. More importantly, whether it is on issues of dealing with terrorist groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan, the Quetta and Peshawar Shura of Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the real driving force will remain the Pakistan army.

Pentagon Sees Support for Afghans After 2014

Published: July 30, 2013 

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

An American soldier swept for explosive devices in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says the Afghans will need military help after the NATO-led mission ends next year.


“Beyond then, it will still require substantial training, advising and assistance — including financial support — to address ongoing shortcomings,” said the report, titled “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan.”

President Obama has ordered American troop levels, which were at 68,000 earlier this year, to be cut in half by February. Negotiations are under way with the Afghan government on a bilateral security agreement, including whether American military personnel will remain after the NATO mandate expires at the end of next year.

The twice-yearly report, required by Congress, covers the period from Oct. 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013; it therefore concludes before the start of the annual fighting season, which begins in earnest with the spring thaw. Like its predecessors, the report presents a grave assessment of the challenges remaining for Afghan security, rule of law and economic prosperity, but it also seeks to identify many silver linings of promise among the dark clouds of war.

“Challenges with the economy and governance will continue to foster uncertainty about the long-term prospects for the country,” the report states. While the assessment says the Afghan government “is increasingly able to execute parts of its budget and deliver very basic goods and services,” it also warns that “the government has yet to reduce corruption or extend governance to many rural areas effectively.”

The insurgency is again described as “resilient,” and the report repeats a complaint heard in Washington and Kabul: that so long as the Taliban can find haven in Pakistan, defeating them on the battlefield will be difficult if not impossible.

But other than advances in a few areas, including northern Helmand Province, the insurgency is struggling to make gains and consolidate them. And as Afghans take over the security mission, the Taliban are denied a favorite propaganda line that they are battling to liberate the country from a foreign occupying force, according to the assessment.

“Taliban territorial influence and control decreased” last year and through this spring, the report states. “The enemy is now less capable, less popular and less of an existential threat to the Afghan government than in 2011.”

Even so, “insurgents maintained influence in many rural areas that serve as platforms to attack urban areas and were able to carry out attacks with roughly the same frequency as in 2012 — although these attacks tended to be in less populated areas,” it said.

The capabilities of Afghan security forces “have greatly increased over the past two years,” according to the report, an assessment counterbalanced by a statement that domestic security “has yet to demonstrate the ability to operate independently on a nationwide scale.”

Afghan security forces are taking the lead for almost 90 percent of all military operations, the report states, highlighting that “the conflict in Afghanistan has shifted into a fundamentally new phase.”

“For the past 11 years, the United States and our coalition partners have led the fight against the Taliban, but now Afghan forces are conducting almost all combat operations,” the report states.

Pakistan: Fighting Terrorism with Tourism

By Sonya Rehman
July 31, 2013 

In June, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) militants bombed and attacked the home of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah – the Founding Father of Pakistan.

Situated in Ziarat, and well-known for its Juniper forest (the second largest in the world), the beautiful, picturesque home, with its quaint wooden exterior, stood as an integral part of the country’s heritage. It was where Pakistan’s founder spent his last days. The attack, which destroyed the residence, came as a huge blow to the nation. The tragedy was an uncomfortable and distressing reminder of Pakistan’s unstable state of security.

The incident has also highlighted the country’s fast-deteriorating tourism industry. Speaking with The Express Tribune, Babar Yaqub, Chief Secretary of Balochistan stated: “It was an undisputed structure. It had never received any threat in the past. Local people had special love for this site because it had been attracting local and foreign tourists.”

Within days of the unfortunate event, nine foreign tourists were murdered by terrorists on the Himalayan peak of Nanga Parbat (the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8,125 meters), in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan, in northern Pakistan.According to DAWN, the victims included five Ukrainians, three Chinese, and a Russian, as well as one of the group’s two Pakistani guides, who were all killed at the Diamer base camp. However, there have been conflicting reports about the exact number of victims and their nationalities in both local and foreign news reports.

Disputes over exact numbers and nationalities aside, the incident has been one of the most grisly and catastrophic events to hit Pakistan’s already suffering tourism industry, reinforcing the country’s shattered image of a wild, lawless land to the outside world.

Speaking with The Diplomat, Shiraz Nasir, Director of Operations for Adventure Travel Pakistan (ATP), said the tragic incident is bound to grossly affect the number of foreign tourists hoping to visit Pakistan.

“It took us twelve years after 9/11 to achieve a record number of international tourists coming in to Pakistan. Then this incident happened,” Nasir said. “Now it’s a great challenge for our domestic market to take things forward and revive tourism in Pakistan. We need promotional and awareness campaigns to rebuild our tourism industry.”

“Pakistan is a unique country,” Nasir added, “It has all four seasons and all types of terrain from deserts to the sea, the highest mountain ranges to some of the longest non-polar glaciers in the world. In my opinion, the potential of Pakistan's tourism industry is sky high.”

In an article for DAWN,, the President of the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP), Aftabur Rehman Rana, stated that for the Pakistani tourism industry to establish a solid foundation, a “good tourism policy” and “full government backing” are key.

In his article, Rana writes: “We can easily defeat terrorism with tourism by creating income and employment generation opportunities for the insolvent people of far flung areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan where there are no other industries to support their livelihoods.”

** China's Unarmed Arms Race

Beijing's Maritime Build-Up Isn't What It Appears
July 29, 2013 

New recruits of the Chinese Navy at a parade in March (Courtesy Reuters)

It’s tempting to conclude, on the basis of China’s recent assertiveness in its near seas, that a naval conflict in Asia is inevitable. Indeed, judging from the military procurement programs initiated by some of China’s neighbors in response -- not to mention Washington’s decision to rebalance its military efforts toward Asia as part of its so-called pivot -- that seems to be precisely what the United States and its allies in the region have concluded.

But before blaming Beijing for initiating an arms race, it’s worth taking a closer look at its policies. Anyone who does will discover that China’s assertiveness usually isn’t armed at all.

First, a little context. China is currently undergoing a huge strategic shift to the maritime domain. This should be seen as the natural progression of a developing power as it moves from seeing itself as a land power primarily concerned with internal convulsions to seeing itself as a maritime power preoccupied with its maritime boundaries. The United States, for instance, turned to the sea only after it had completed its westward expansion, settled its southern boundary following the Mexican-American War, and finalized the purchase of Alaska. Similarly, as Beijing has become more confident in its ability to secure China’s interior and its land borders (many of which were previously disputed but are now resolved), it has shifted its attention to its vulnerabilities in nearby waters.

The importance of this historic shift to the sea is hard to overstate. The counterpiracy operations launched by the PLA Navy since 2008 were the first out-of-area operations for the Chinese military in more than 600 years. More generally, China has come to understand just how much it relies on maritime trade for the supply of energy and raw materials and the passage of its exports, which drive its economic growth. In 2004, President Hu Jintao first mentioned the country's “Malacca dilemma,” noting that 85 percent of China's imported oil transits through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. In November that year, Hu explicitly emphasized during his speech at the National People’s Congress the goal of building China “into a maritime power.” And in 2012, Beijing established its first body tasked specifically with formulating maritime policy for the Politburo.

A number of Asia watchers have interpreted Beijing’s new posture as an initiation of a major arms build-up. But that is a rather alarmist interpretation. Yes, there is some evidence of Chinese military procurements. But the key to understanding the most significant maritime policy realized by China in recent years -- the recent unification of four of the country's five maritime agencies – is realizing that it does not involve the Chinese military. It's a policy that was designed to be assertive without being confrontational.

China’s Housing: Living in a Bubble

July 31, 2013
By Mu Chunshan

Despite government measures, housing is increasingly out of reach for ordinary Chinese.

Rising home prices, especially in major cities, are prompting a growing chorus of discontent among ordinary Chinese. My Japanese friends would no doubt feel more than hint of nostalgia should they visit Beijing. For just like the famous Japanese “bubble economy” of the late 1980s, Beijing has been virtually turned into one big construction site with constantly changing streetscapes.

Certainly, China’s housing market has been amazingly bullish for many years. Official figures for Beijing homes put the average price at $3,800 per square meter, up from around $500 per square meter in 1989 (incidentally, the peak of the Japanese real estate froth).

But don’t try telling Chinese real estate developers it’s a bubble. In their eyes, the local real estate market is no such thing. Prices will only continue to rise, they argue.

Ren Zhiqiang and Pan Shiyi are general managers of two well-known real estate companies. They successfully "predicted" the housing bull market, making them opinion leaders on Sina Weibo (China's Twitter), where they each boast about 15 million fans. While young people in other countries might admire Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or other famous entrepreneurs, Chinese netizens are starry eyed about two real estate developers. It is as good an indication as any of the tremendous influence that real estate has on Chinese society.

For their part, Ren and Pan have been harshly critical each time the Chinese government unveils measures in yet another bid to control the runaway market. And indeed, the government has not been hesitant about expressing its concerns, former Premier Wen Jiabao noting publicly that real estate prices were unreasonable, and tighter regulations were needed.

In 2006, a friend of mine bought a house in central Beijing. He paid about 10,000 yuan per square meter. Six years later, the price had risen to 60,000 yuan per square meter. That, of course, far outstrips any increase in the average wage over the same period. No wonder, then, that Chinese like to joke, “When it comes to house prices, the premier has no say, as it depends on the general managers."

For young Chinese owning your home is part of the “Chinese Dream.” The traditional view is that the house you live in ought to be your own. If you rent a house – no matter how lovely it is – it still belongs to someone else. In particular, goes the thinking, young couples planning to wed really should be having a new home. That explains the success a couple of years ago of the movie Dwelling, which has a plot based on that very same viewpoint.

It is this tradition that has always made rising home prices a social issue in China. Combine that with corruption, the increasingly tough time new graduates are having getting employment, forced relocations, and other issues, and the Chinese government unsurprisingly recognizes the political sensitivity of real estate.

Revenge of the Mistresses

Published: July 30, 2013 

Every so often you read a news article so revealing that it triggers this thought: I wonder if we’ll look back on that story in five years and say, “We should have seen this coming. That story was the warning sign.”

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman 

For me that article was a July 25 piece in The Washington Post about how jilted mistresses of corrupt Chinese government officials have become the country’s most important whistle-blowers — turning to the Internet to expose the antics of senior bureaucrats. The Post detailed the case of a 26-year-old named Ji Yingnan, who had been engaged to wed Fan Yue — a deputy director at the State Administration of Archives — until she discovered that he had been married with a son the entire time they were together.

To get her revenge, Ji “has released hundreds of photos online that offer a rare window into the life of a Chinese central government official who — despite his modest salary — was apparently able to lavish his mistress” with no end of luxury items, The Post reported. The first time “they went shopping, Ji said, the couple went to Prada and paid $10,000 for a skirt, a purse and a scarf. A month after they met, Fan rented an apartment for them that cost $1,500 a month and spent more than $16,000 on bedsheets, home appliances, an Apple desktop and a laptop, according to Ji. Then he bought her a silver Audi A5, priced in the United States at about $40,000, she said. ... ‘He put cash into my purse every day,’ said Ji in a letter to the Communist Party complaining about Fan’s behavior.”

It gets better. The Post reported that “a well-known Chinese blogger who has posted Ji’s photos and videos on his Web site said he spoke with Fan last month. Fan told the blogger that he didn’t spend as much money as Ji claims, saying it was less than $1.7 million but more than $500,000. ‘This woman is not good. She is too greedy,’ the blogger, Zhu Ruifeng, said Fan told him.”

Oh, I see. It was less than $1.7 million. That’s good to know! This guy is a senior bureaucrat in the state archives. What sort of illicit activity was he up to in the file rooms to earn that kind of cash? Every government has corruption, including ours. But China’s is industrial strength. My colleague David Barboza last year exposed how then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s mother, son, daughter, younger brother, wife and brother-in-law had collectively amassed $2.7 billion in assets. But when you see how much money a deputy archives director was able to amass — and how brazenly he spent it — you start to wonder and worry.

When I visited China in September, I wrote that I heard a new meme from Chinese businesspeople whom I met: “Make your money and get out.” More than ever, I heard a lack of confidence in the Chinese economic model. We should hope that China can make a stable transition from one-party Communism to a more consensual, multiparty system — and a stable diversification of its low-wage, high-export, state-led command economy — the way South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Singapore have done. Its huge savings will help.

The world can ill afford a chaotic transition in China. With America stuck in slow growth, Europe mired in stagnation and the Arab world imploding, China has been a vital economic engine for the global economy. If China’s sagging growth and employment rates meet rising discontent with corruption by officials — trying to get their own while the getting is still good — we will not have a stable transition in China. And if one-sixth of humanity starts going through an unstable and uncertain political/economic transition, it will shake the world.

It would be great if Chinese reporters, bloggers, citizens’ groups and, yes, Internet-empowered mistresses could expose corruption in ways that help make that transition both necessary and possible. But these virtuous civil society actors will only succeed if they find allies in the Communist Party, if they can empower those party cadres who understand the risk to stability, and to their party’s future, posed by runaway corruption.

The Ji and Fan story is very entertaining. But if it is just the tip of an iceberg of corruption that destabilizes China, it won’t be a laughing matter. How Chinese officials behave or misbehave not only will affect us — from the value of our currency to the level of our interest rates to the quality of the air we breathe — it may be the biggest thing that affects us outside of our own government.

There is reason for worry. “The boldness that Chinese leaders have shown in growing their economy from a backwater into the world’s second largest has not been matched, of course, in developing democratic institutions, but more importantly in developing good and honest governance,” said Jeffrey Bader, President Obama’s former senior adviser on China and the author of “Obama and China’s Rise.” But, if China’s leaders don’t take on this issue, he added, “then there will be more corruption, more alienation of ordinary people, and more questions about China’s stability. That would be bad news not only for China, but for the United States, whose future is intertwined with China’s.”