7 October 2013

India's Mars mission: The countdown begins for ISRO's voyage to the Red Planet

Oct 06 2013

The tried and tested PSLV will serve as the launch vehicle.

It's baby steps to deep space. But the 400-million kilometres, 299-day, rs 450-cr voyage to Mars, set to launch on October 28, is also a leap of faith for ISRO, explains JOHNSON T A

Though science is at the core of their work, scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation are a religious group. In the past, ISRO chairmen have been known to transport toy models of spacecraft and launch vehicles to temples around south India for blessings of gods. As work at over five different ISRO centres began converging this week towards the planned October 28 launch of the space agency's Mission to Mars, or the Mangalyaan Mission, religious rituals are back to the fore.
Ahead of the rollout of the spacecraft—the 1,343-kg main bus carrying the 15-kg Mars Orbiter—prayers were conducted for success and blessings were sought for the spacecraft.

Over the next three weeks, as final checks are conducted, 852 kg of solid and liquid fuel is loaded for rocket engines, the spacecraft is integrated with the launch vehicle and the final countdown is started, a core group of 50 scientists will be at work 24/7.
The scientists can be forgiven for invoking god this time. Once at the forefront of space-faring nations, India has fallen behind in recent years, with no commercial launches of note, failed missions—including experiments with the heavy lift Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)—and a scam embroiled ISRO.

The Rs 450-crore Mars Orbiter Mission is being seen at the space agency as a chance at redemption. Despite its relative lack of novelty in global terms, the mission is a challenge for ISRO since it will be the agency's first attempt outside the sphere of influence of Earth. A Russian-Chinese joint attempt to send an orbiter to Mars failed in November 2011 after the spacecraft failed to leave Earth's orbit and crashed back.

The imperial impetus behind Indo–Japanese relations

By  K.V. Kesavan, ORF

Almost four months have passed since Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe signed a joint statement following their May 2013 summit in Tokyo. Since, both countries have been satisfied with the follow-up measures taken by the other, and there have been positive developments that could further transform the India–Japan partnership.

The most important development is the announcement that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will make an official visit to India starting on 30 November. India has long been eager to invite the imperial dignitaries, and the May 2013 joint statement made specific reference to this. The emperor’s itinerary is being planned with meticulous care, and the Indian government has appointed a senior Congress party leader to coordinate the royal visit. But Emperor Akihito is no stranger to India, having first visited in December 1960 — soon after his marriage to Michiko and before he ascended the throne in 1989. Former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, president Rajendra Prasad and vice president Radhakrishnan also paid separate goodwill visits to Japan between 1956 and 1958, which, in a way, helped Japan in its strenuous quest to establish its Asian identity.

Both countries consider the imperial visit to be a landmark event capable of giving further impetus to the growing partnership. The fact that the Japanese imperial dignitaries now rarely make international trips due to their health further heightens the significance of their sojourn. Moreover, the coming visit is highly symbolic of potential future defence and civil nuclear cooperation.

Defence cooperation is one particular area in which the two countries wish to develop new and mutually beneficial interactions. In their May joint statement, the two leaders expressed their satisfaction at expanding defence relations in areas such as joint naval exercises, and also expressed a desire to increase the frequency of their cooperation. They agreed to explore the prospect of Japan selling its indigenously-made US-2 amphibious aircraft to India. And they decided to create a joint working group to examine the modalities of cooperation on the issue.
Given Japan’s extreme sensitivity to arms sales to foreign countries, its decision to sell aircraft to India came as a big surprise to everyone. If the deal goes through successfully, it will be the first time Japan exports defence hardware to a major Asian country. A Japanese defence delegation visited India in the second week of July to see whether defence cooperation might also be taken to the next level through technology and equipment transfers between the two countries. Though Japan decided in 1967 to ban the export of military technologies to foreign countries, it modified its position in 2011 and has gradually relaxed its export policy. Many in India seem to prefer joint defence production with Japan instead of importing Japanese finished products, while Japan has been steadily removing many Indian companies from its export control list.

India's civil-military ties worsening?

Oct 7, 2013

NEW DELHI: When Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, the country's most senior military leader, recently wrote to defence minister AK Antony to demand "full representation" for the armed forces in the new central pay commission, it was couched in extremely polite language. 

But the underlying message was crystal clear: the forces do not have faith in the civilian dispensation - largely the bureaucracy — to "fully grasp the unique challenges" of military service. And, hence, address long-standing, deep concerns over their eroding "status, parity and equivalence" as compared to their civilian counterparts. 

The letter was a small but significant pointer to the larger malaise of the mounting dysfunctional relationship between the civilian leadership and military. The ongoing internecine warfare between the government and former Army chief General VK Singh, with "well-calculated and timed leaks", is just the ugliest manifestation of the plummeting equation. "There seems to be little concern, on either side, for the institutions being wrecked in the process," says an insider. 

The civil-military divide in the sprawling — and monkey-infested — corridors of South Block is nothing new. But it has got accentuated like never before in recent years. "Civilian primacy over the military has, unfortunately, morphed into bureaucratic control... the political leadership just twiddles its thumbs in masterly inaction. Ex-servicemen, for instance, have been returning their hard-won medals for the last five years but to no avail," says a top general. 

Responds a senior bureaucrat, "Demands of the armed forces, which live in their own fiefdoms, have become highly unrealistic. The government, for instance, has hiked ex-servicemen pensions at least three times since the 6th Pay Commission, including a Rs 2,300 crore package last year." 

But pay and pensions is just one of the issues. The armed forces complain of being systematically downgraded over the years, which extends to being kept at an arm's length from policy formulation and decision-making. 

India-China border tussle: The Dragon is dreaming big

October 06, 2013

As China continues to apply sustained military pressure on India’s borders in the midst of visits exchanged between the two countries’ leaders and senior officials, China’s official media continues to publicise articles intended to caution India that China retains the option of initiating military hostilities. The number of articles stating that China will have to resort to military force to settle outstanding border disputes has increased since 2010, with the intensification of the disputes in the South China Sea and especially with Japan. They coincide with the ‘rise’ in China’s economic and military might. Interestingly, Chinese officials routinely advise their Indian counterparts to rein in the Indian media whose ‘jingoistic’ tenor apparently imposes strains on India-China relations.

In this backdrop the Hong Kong-based daily, Wen Wei Po, published an article in June this year captioned ‘Six Wars to be fought by China in the next Fifty Years’. It was re-posted on a Hong Kong website around mid-September. While the author’s background is not yet known, the article’s layout suggests he has been briefed by some Chinese analysts with extreme nationalist views.

The Wen Wei Po is owned by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its editor-in-chief is a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadre who is often also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It is part of China’s tightly controlled propaganda apparatus. The CPPCC is headed by one of the seven members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC).

Asserting that China can wipe out past humiliations and regain dignity only once it achieves national reunification, the article avers that China will have to fight six wars in the next 50 years to achieve this. It lists these as for the: “unification” of Taiwan which will be fought between 2020-2025; “reconquest” of the Spratlys which will occur between 2025 and 2030; “reconquest of Southern Tibet” which will take place between 2035-2040; “reconquest” of Diaoyu Island and Ryukyu Islands between 2040 and 2045; “unification of Outer Mongolia” between 2045 to 2050; and taking back of the “lands lost to Russia” for which a war will be fought between 2055 and 2060.

The article is confident that China will be victorious, noting additionally that the war for unification with Taiwan will be the first for “New China” and will test the development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in modern warfare. It states that China will emerge as the real world power by the mid-21st century. It views the role of the US and Japan as important in determining the duration of the wars to be fought, but assesses that the US will be reluctant to overtly intervene in any military hostilities with Taiwan or Japan. The scenario envisages Japan and Russia as on the decline, the US and India as stagnant, and Central Europe as on the rise consequent to the integration of Europe. It recommends this period as ideal for the “reconquest” of the Diaoyu and Ryukyu Islands.

Relevant for India is the so-called third war for the “reconquest of southern Tibet” projected to take place between 2035-2040. The article states that after taking back Taiwan and the Spratly Islands by 2030, China’s military power would have increased substantially in army, navy, air force and space warfare. China will then be a power second only to the US and India will, therefore, lose this war.

India won't sacrifice one friendship for others

Global Times | 2013-9-24
By Global Times

Shri Salman Khurshid
Editor's Note:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to visit China this autumn, realizing an exchange of prime ministerial visits after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to India in May. What's the significance of this visit? How do Indian elites view India-China relationship? Shri Salman Khurshid (Khurshid), Indian external affairs minister, shared his views with the Chinese journalist delegation at the first India-China Media Forum last week.
Q: What's your assessment of the current India-China relations? What are your priorities in developing the bilateral relationship?

Khurshid: There are very strong fundamentals that provide a base for building sustainable relationship between India and China. These fundamentals include complementarities between our two economic and social structures. They include imperatives of working closely together in the world on many issues that are of important common interests. They also include some matters essentially pertaining to our region, and also about our perceptions of an equitable global system. 

Having said all this, there will be periodic issues of divergence. China has a very important relationship with Pakistan ... Our concern in China's relationship with Pakistan is about the impact on nuclear nonproliferation. Perhaps the other concern is that the extent to which your collaboration and help to them is concentrated in the area that we believe they have occupied forcibly. 

And of course there is our common endeavor and effort to move step-by-step toward resolving our boundary issue. I think we can say with satisfaction the Special Representatives and other mechanisms in place are moving steadily. We have decided not to push the pace so that it gives way rather than continuing to make progress.

Q: Both Washington and Tokyo are trying to win over India in their efforts to encircle China. To what extent will it affect New Delhi's China policy?

Khurshid: Nobody, neither the Japanese and the Americans, has told us to participate in an encircling maneuver against China. India and China celebrate the relationship as strategic comprehensive partnership. They don't say to us why you are doing this. Because if they did, we would say, "Why do you deal with China?" 

China's biggest investment is from Japan and biggest debt is owed by the US. If they are dealing with you in their best interest, why shouldn't we are dealing with you? Why should we subject ourselves to someone else? 

We are very clear. We have an open and honest relationship with China. We also have an open and honest relationship with the US and Japan. When there are differences between you, we think and we always advise that we should not get involved. It's best if those matters are settled through dialogue.

Q: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit China next month. What is the significance of his visit to Beijing? 

Khurshid: We are very honored and pleased that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's first stop outside the country as prime minister was in India. That is an important and significant indication of our relationship coming from your side ... Our prime minister has made a personal investment in improving the relationship between the two leaderships. We would like to see even more visits from China.

Q: In the Internet era, public opinion is actively engaged in foreign affairs, bringing extra pressure to the policymaking process. It is a challenge faced by governments all over the world. How do you balance the public's desire to participate with making the best diplomatic decision?

Khurshid: This is a very difficult question. The system of the governance and the system of public engagement and involvement in policymaking we have followed traditionally have been in a sense bypassed by social media. In some places, social media strengthens the existing system by making them more affordable and accessible, making them more transparent and more responsive.

To that extent, social media has been a great asset. But in some cases it has tried to bypass existing systems, which is not a good thing. People have to understand governance and the structure of government, and the structure of democracy. That can be easily undermined by social media that has no social responsibility. 

We have had cases where irresponsible social media comments have caused migrations of huge number of young people working in another part of India back to their own State, because somebody had a message going viral saying if you don't leave, you will be attacked. This is completely unacceptable. If you try to restrict it, people complain about the censorship and lack of freedom and so on. We have to find a balance. Freedom comes with responsibility.

Q: Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE have both been frustrated in their efforts to expand into the Indian market. To Chinese investors, India is a very difficult market to enter. What's the Indian policy toward investment from China? 

Khurshid: The telecom and electronics sector you mentioned is special. I don't think the concern felt by Chinese industry vis-a-vis those sectors is common across the board with other Chinese equipment and products. There is a concern that is partly protection of Indian manufacturers, partly the security issue involved in electronics. 

I think we are resolving it. Even within our own government, there is different view of how much concern should be followed and toward what extend. This is only a learning experience, because this is something relatively new to the Indian market. These are the matters that will be sorted out and resolved.

India’s high price for slow growth

October 4th, 2013
Authors: Raghbendra Jha and Raghav Gaiha, ANU

Oscar Wilde would fancy himself prescient. In The Importance of Being Earnest, he had the governess warn her impressionable charge: ‘Cecily, you will read your Political Economy in my absence. The chapter on the Fall of the Rupee you may omit. It is somewhat too sensational. Even these metallic problems have their melodramatic side’.

There has been much concern about the rupee, which has fallen more than 20 per cent against the US dollar in a few months. With due respect to Oscar Wilde, however, this is not only a metallic problem.

For starters a falling rupee raises the prices of all imports — not just India’s major imports oil and gold. A falling rupee also raises the domestic cost of servicing foreign public and private debt. Whereas public debt as a proportion of GDP is relatively small in India, private debt, in the absence of a well-developed domestic corporate debt market, is quite large. Hence, a medium-term consequence of the fall in the rupee could be a sharp rise in the debt burden of corporations.

All things being equal this will induce corporations to issue more shares, depressing their share prices. The list of ill effects of a falling rupee goes on and on.

To be sure, the spectacular nominal depreciation of the rupee is not matched by a commensurate real depreciation. Change in the real exchange rate is defined as the change in the nominal exchange rate plus foreign inflation minus domestic inflation. Because India has a very high inflation rate, real depreciation has been relatively modest.

Even so, it seems the rebalancing of the real exchange rate was completed when the rupee hit 65 to the US dollar. So why did the nominal value of the rupee deteriorate further beyond that before recovering? When there is a financial shock to the system, such as the passage of India’s very expensive Food Security Bill, the exchange rate takes time to adjust, essentially because domestic price levels are slower to react relative to the nominal exchange rate. This means that in the short run the nominal exchange rate overshoots its equilibrium value before rising domestic prices pull it back. This is what is happening to the rupee.

When the President speaks

Published: October 7, 2013
Gopalkrishna Gandhi

By voicing his concern over the legislators’ ordinance, Pranab Mukherjee has demonstrated noteworthy and subtle use of the presidential differential in echoing public opinion

Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on the draft ordinance that could have protected convicted legislators have drawn understandable attention. But, in the process, a major flank of the event has got obscured. President Pranab Mukherjee’s “reservations” on the proposed enactment, and the impact of those on the now-aborted manoeuvre deserve no less notice. Rather more, for they go beyond the particular measure to the role and relevance of the nation’s Presidency.

Fine-tooth combing will be done on whether the Prime Minister himself had been fully convinced about the move, whether the full cabinet meeting with the United Progressive Alliance chairperson attending had been acquainted with all the pitfalls of the move or not, whether it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s opposition, the Congress Party’s own serious doubts about the public response to the measure, Rahul Gandhi’s public statement, or President Mukherjee’s undisguised displeasure that finally led to the withdrawal. These enquiries will be of interest, no doubt, but of post-facto academic interest.

Looking beyond the field

What is most important to take away from the sequence is the lesson that it holds on what may be called the Presidential Differential.

By the intent, language and scheme of the provisions of the Constitution of India, as well as by all subsequent pronouncements on the subject, the President is bound by the aid and advice of the government of the day. This, in other words, means that if the Prime Minister has made a proposal that requires the President to approve it, the President’s approval is a desideratum, a mere formality. This, in a parliamentary democracy, is how it should be. But why does the Constitution require certain measures to be approved by the Head of State? For the reason that while the stamp of his approval is made of signet-rubber, the ink-pad on which it must press before the stamping, is the application of a non-partisan mind placed, consciously, at the finial of our Constitution’s architecture. The President is where he is for the reason that, placed above partisan interests, on a perch that helps him see the horizon beyond the field, he can provide the differential coefficient between the distant scene and the immediate, the far-effect rather than the instant, the climate rather than the weather, the year and the decade beyond the morrow. Where the government of the day, and the Opposition as well, are enmeshed in the species of an issue, he must see the genus. Where politics acts and reacts as political intelligence would, the President acts and reacts as political wisdom would.

Rubber-stamp image

In a conversation that President K.R. Narayanan had with N. Ram, on Doordarshan and All India Radio on August 14, 1998, the senior journalist asked him to give his view on the role in “the Indian scheme of things” of a President. “My image of a President,” KRN said, “before I came here, and before I had any hope of coming here, was that of a rubber-stamp President, to be frank.”

And then he went on to say, “But having come here, I find that the image is not quite correct.”

What was “not quite correct” in the rubber-stamp image? In President Narayanan’s words, “…working within the four corners of the Constitution…gives very little direct power or influence to him to interfere in matters or affect the course of events, but there is a subtle influence of the office of the President on the executive…and on the public as a whole.” He said the President can play that subtle role “only if he is, his ideas and his nature of functioning are seen by the public in tune with their standards.” Mr. Ram asked if President Narayanan saw himself as “a citizen President.” The President did not disagree and added that a citizen president’s advice to the executive would be “received with grace, it would be sometimes accepted, if it is known that the public opinion is on the side of the kind of advice the President is giving.”

Aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya to be inducted into Navy in Nov after 5 years' delay

PTI : New Delhi, Sun Oct 06 2013

The 45,000 tonnes aircraft carrier will be handed over to the Navy after a delay of 5 yrs. (Reuters)

The long-delayed aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will be inducted into Indian Navy by Defence Minister A K Antony during his Russia visit slated between November 15-17.

After a delay of around five years, the 45,000 tonnes aircraft carrier is expected to be handed over to the Navy on November 15 in Russia, where it is presently undergoing refit.

"The Defence Minister is expected to induct the warship into the Indian Navy during his visit for the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation meeting now expected to be held in November," sources said here.

The visit was earlier scheduled to take place in the third week of October but was put off by the Ministry.

Vikramaditya, formerly known as Admiral Gorskhov, has completed all its trials in the last two months in the Barents Sea and the White Sea after a delay of around five years on several counts.

Once inducted, it will be the second aircraft carrier in the Navy after INS Viraat, giving a strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean.

Vikramaditya, which was scheduled to be delivered in 2008, was supposed to have been handed over to India on December 4, 2012, but sea trials in September that year revealed the ship's boilers were not fully functional.

It then returned to the shipyard for fixing of the problems that were detected during the sea trials.

The two countries had signed the USD 947 million Gorshkov deal in 2004. The deal amount was revised later to USD 2.3 billion.

The induction of Vikramaditya, which is expected to reach India in January 2014 and will be berthed at the Karwar naval base, will bolster India's maritime prowess in the region.

The Navy also has plans of inducting the Indegenous Aircraft Carrier, which is likely to join operational service around 2018-19.

During the Russia visit of the Defence Minister, India is also expected to finalise several important deals including a proposal to procure over 200 T-90 tanks.

The meeting of the IR-IGCMTC is held every alternate year in India and Russia where future cooperation in defence matters between the two sides is decided.

The two sides are expected to discuss a number of deals including the issues relating to the ongoing Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), being developed by Russia jointly with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

India is also likely to address Russia's unhappiness over India's perceived inclination towards the American weapon systems for meeting its defence requirements.However, Russian-origin equipment still form over 60 per cent of the inventory in the three Services due to the strong long-standing military ties between the two sides.

Empty mess averted mayhem at Samba

Published: October 7, 2013
Special Correspondent

The Samba militant attack of September 26 would have accomplished its aim of derailing India-Pakistan talks held three days later but for the pluck and good fortune of the Army camp targeted.

After killing five policemen and two civilians, the three militants had abandoned their get-away vehicle two km from the camp. They gained surprisingly easy access into the mess of the 16th Cavalry in J&K’s Samba district after shooting the lone guard at the rear entrance and the mess housekeeper.

But there were no casualties when they entered the dining hall and lounge after lobbing a grenade in each of the rooms and spraying automatic fire. For, in a change of routine, officers had marched off straight from the PT grounds for a gun cleaning exercise, said sources.

The 16th Cavalry reacted fast after this unexpected assault that killed the second in command Lt. Col. Bikramjit Singh, who had returned home like his Commanding Officer Col. Avin Uthaiah, after the PT drill. Col. Singh was killed by a burst of automatic fire as he made for the guard house for weapons while a soldier following him also took a burst in his back.

By then the officers and men had surrounded the guard block but were in a dilemma about taking on the militants because of the presence of an officer’s wife in a nearby room. There was raw courage on display as the militants tried to break the cordon while the soldiers kept them hemmed in while carrying out a separate evacuation for the woman.

As colleagues from the adjacent 2 Sikh battalion joined them and made the cordons tighter with the addition of five tanks, the militants had been deflected from their main purpose of causing large-scale mayhem on the lines of Kaluchak in 2002.

© The Hindu

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS- The reforms, Caliban’s rage and the economist’s dilemma

Dipankar Dasgupta

The 21st-century dislike of liberal economic policies in India, to plagiarize Oscar Wilde, is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. Indeed, the sight of glittering processions of imported automobiles jamming the streets of a nation that, paradoxically enough, boasts itself hoarse that it runs the world’s largest food subsidy programme for the poor bears a precarious resemblance to Caliban’s countenance, when visible.

Liberal policies have come to stay, however, and along with them their inevitable appendages, such as the recent drubbing taken by the Indian rupee. The explanation unleashed on the unwary has been mostly obfuscating of course, even though there are at least three branches of professional knowledge that constitute expertise in this area; knowledge possessed by the stock market specialist, knowledge preached by professional economists and, finally, the all-questioning burden of knowledge under which cynical newsmen belabour.

To be fair to members belonging to the last of these classes, they rightfully asked two obvious questions: why should what’s happening be happening? And, when should what’s happening stop happening? The answer to the first question appears to be straightforward. If economic events are left to the workings of markets, occasional turbulences cannot be wished away. Markets are known to rise as well as fall. The price of dollars is no different from that of onions. And if the poor suffer more than the rich in the process, Caliban is likely to fuss over his face.

The answer to the second question must be obvious too. Simply put, it had best be a pregnant silence.

These, however, are rarely the answers offered by the specialists. And the stock market consultant steals a march over the economist in the game. He keeps a minute-by-minute track of the rupee value of the commodity to which the world’s avarice clings like parched leeches, namely, the American greenback. Without batting an eyelid, he churns out numbers born only three hours ago and predicts on their basis what the next few weeks are about to reveal. There is little to be surprised about it. His profession, after all, consists of advising people about gains to be made in split seconds. On occasions, they are backed up by arguments too, arguments that fluctuate between the preposterous and the grossly ludicrous. To quote from a real-life experience this author was exposed to not many weeks ago, the rupee’s debacle was ascribed by a stock market authority to the machinations of the non-resident Indian supporters of Narendra Modi.

Not that an economist does much better either, especially when he is required to predict the future. However, the economist’s business is not exactly concerned with producing numbers for tomorrow. Professional integrity requires him to dig out figures relating to the past and explain how the economy has been moving, not over the last 30 seconds, but over the last 30 years. Explaining the happenings over a long stretch of time and drawing lessons from them to guide the future course of the economy, it would seem, is what the discipline of economics ought to be concerned with. Economists’ prescriptions may often fail, and he will then need to search for missing links in his causal analysis.

Why we need to watch out for Al Qaeda's threat

October 04, 2013

'We have leaders who would rather that we cohabit with the Indian Mujahedeen than fight terror, as long as the payoffs are there in the next polls... Obviously, we are not headed down the best route to keep terror at bay,' says Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).

Arecent statement by Al Qaeda advised against attacks on Christians, Hindus and Sikhs living in Muslim lands, and respect for the lives of women and children. The message was largely read by security experts as an admission of its failing capabilities.

However, the carnage at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya; the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, followed by an attack on an Indian police station and an army unit in a relatively peaceful district in Jammu and Kashmir; all executed by Al Qaeda affiliates, raises the moot question: Has Al Qaeda really waned or found greater strength through its allies?

With Afghanistan-Pakistan as its headquarters, and a close connect with both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and other major terror outfits operating in the region, it has definite implications for our sub-continent.

The focused drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan have definitely taken a heavy toll of the Al Qaeda leadership. The US delivered a body blow when it killed Osama bin Laden at his Abbottabad, Pakistan, home in May 2011.

Before we conclude that Al Qaeda has been laid low, it is essential to take a look at the organisation's intent and objectives as can be arrived at from statements of its leadership and activities it has undertaken in the past.

Al Qaeda's leadership has barely ever sent a message across that it intends to lead a very structured jihadist conglomerate globally with a centralised command and control structure that controls operations. On the contrary, it has endeavoured to build a loose federation with like-minded constituents pursuing goals of increased geographic domination, globally.

In 1998, Osama bin Laden brought together under one umbrella a large number of terror groups when he launched The International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Christians. The success of this organisation set the tone for Al Qaeda's future strategy, which relied on drawing affiliates to its fold.

Al Qaeda's objective has also been to occupy the moral and ideological pedestal of the jihadi fraternity and provide strategic directions to its affiliates and associates while leaving them relatively free to undertake operations in their areas. Al Qaeda also mediates to keep internecine conflicts between terror groups under control.

Al Qaeda's growth story in the African continent and west Asia has been substantial. It has a large presence in Mali, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia.

Pakistan Army Chief Says He Will Retire Next Month

Published: October 6, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, confirmed Sunday that he would retire next month, laying to rest media speculation that he would extend his term or take a powerful new position in the military.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani
World Twitter Logo.
Connect With Us on Twitter

General Kayani, 61, who has already served two three-year terms as army chief, said in a statement released through the military press office that he would step down on Nov. 29.

“It is time for others to carry forward the mission of making Pakistan a truly democratic, prosperous and peaceful country,” he said.

The announcement was significant because it paves the way for the appointment of a new army chief — always a delicate matter in a country that has suffered four military coups — at a time when Pakistan’s military is playing a central role in dealings with Taliban insurgents in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistani and Western media outlets speculated in recent days that General Kayani’s military service could be extended, possibly by moving him to a new role in which he would have oversight of the country’s nuclear arsenal. But the general’s aides privately dismissed those reports, and in his statement on Sunday the general said, “Institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals.”

Delaying his retirement might have caused discontent in the ranks. Some soldiers expressed unhappiness with General Kayani after the American commando raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden near a major military base.

And an extended tenure for him would delay promotions for the senior generals who serve directly under him.

General Kayani has cultivated an aura of mystery and inscrutability since he became army chief in November 2007, succeeding Gen. Pervez Musharraf, following a period as the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the military’s powerful spy agency.

In recent years, the public image of the chain-smoking general has been that of a quiet, thoughtful figure, credited with distancing the military from the political power grabs that discredited several previous army chiefs.

As Obama's Asia 'pivot' falters, China steps into the gap

By Stuart Grudgings
Oct 6, 2013 

(Reuters) - When then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared two years ago "We are back to stay" as a power in Asia, the most dramatic symbol of the policy shift was the planned deployment of 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia, primed to respond to any regional conflict.

At this point in time, however, there is not a single U.S. Marine in the tropical northern city of Darwin, according to the Australian defense ministry. Two hundred Marines just finished their six-month tour and will not be replaced until next year, when 1,150 Marines are due to arrive.

The original goal of stationing 2,500 Marines there by 2017 remains in place, but the lack of a U.S. presence there two years after the policy was announced underlines questions about Washington's commitment to the strategic "pivot" to Asia.

President Barack Obama's cancellation of a trip this week to four Asian nations and two regional summits due to the U.S. government shutdown has raised further doubts over a policy aimed at re-invigorating U.S. military and economic influence in the fast-growing region, while balancing a rising China.

While U.S. and Asian diplomats downplayed the impact of Obama's no-show, the image of a dysfunctional, distracted Washington adds to perceptions that China has in some ways outflanked the U.S. pivot.

"It's symptomatic of the concern in Asia over the sustainability of the American commitment," said Carl Baker, director of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Hawaii.

As embarrassed U.S. officials announced the cancellations last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Indonesia announcing a raft of deals worth about $30 billion and then in Malaysia to announce a "comprehensive strategic partnership", including an upgrade in military ties.
He was en route to this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei, where Obama will no longer be able to press his signature trade pact or use personal diplomacy to support allies concerned at China's assertive maritime expansion.

Since 2011, China has consolidated its position as the largest trade partner with most Asian countries and its direct investments in the region are surging, albeit from a much lower base than Europe, Japan and the United States. Smaller countries such as Laos and Cambodia have been drawn so strongly into China's economic orbit that they have been called "client states" of Beijing, supporting its stance in regional disputes.

China’s Real and Present Danger

Now Is the Time for Washington to Worry 

By Avery Goldstein
From our September/October 2013 Issue

Chinese soldiers participating in a drill (Courtesy Reuters)

Much of the debate about China’s rise in recent years has focused on the potential dangers China could pose as an eventual peer competitor to the United States bent on challenging the existing international order. But another issue is far more pressing. For at least the next decade, while China remains relatively weak compared to the United States, there is a real danger that Beijing and Washington will find themselves in a crisis that could quickly escalate to military conflict. Unlike a long-term great-power strategic rivalry that might or might not develop down the road, the danger of a crisis involving the two nuclear-armed countries is a tangible, near-term concern -- and the events of the past few years suggest the risk might be increasing.

Since the end of the Cold War, Beijing and Washington have managed to avoid perilous showdowns on several occasions: in 1995–96, when the United States responded to Chinese missile tests intended to warn Taiwanese voters about the danger of pushing for independence; in 1999, when U.S. warplanes accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the NATO air assault on Serbia; and in 2001, when a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet, leading to the death of the Chinese pilot and Beijing’s detention of the U.S. plane and crew. But the lack of serious escalation during those episodes should not breed complacency. None of them met the definition of a genuine crisis: a confrontation that threatens vital interests on both sides and thus sharply increases the risk of war. If Beijing and Washington were to find themselves in that sort of showdown in the near future, they would both have strong incentives to resort to force. Moreover, the temptations and pressures to escalate would likely be highest in the early stages of the face-off, making it harder for diplomacy to prevent war.


It might seem that the prospects for a crisis of this sort in U.S.-Chinese relations have diminished in recent years as tensions over Taiwan have cooled, defusing the powder keg that has driven much Chinese and U.S. military planning in East Asia since the mid-1990s. But other potential flash points have emerged. As China and its neighbors squabble over islands and maritime rights in the East China and South China seas, the United States has reiterated its treaty commitments to defend two of the countries that are contesting China’s claims (Japan and the Philippines) and has nurtured increasingly close ties with a third (Vietnam). Moreover, the Obama administration’s “pivot,” or “rebalancing,” to Asia, a diplomatic turn matched by planned military redeployments, has signaled that Washington is prepared to get involved in the event of a regional conflict.

Sino-Indian media help advance ties

Global Times | 2013-9-28
By Lu Jingxian 

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Nawang Dorjai was our Chinese-speaking tour guide in Mumbai. According to him, India has less than 30 tour guides who can speak Chinese. It's a pathetic figure given that India has rich tourist resources and China's outbound tourism market is exploding, and that the two countries have set the ambitious goal for the bilateral trade volume to reach $100 billion by 2015.

In India, one doesn't see the throngs of Chinese tourists commonly seen in other countries. The number of Indians visiting China is equally small. There is no daily direct flight between the capitals of the two most populous countries. But on the official level, the importance of a strategic comprehensive partnership is noted. 

In May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made India his first overseas visit after taking office. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit China this autumn, realizing the first prime ministerial level visit exchange in one year between the two countries since 1954.

Yet the media of China and India seem to have been dominated by territorial disputes and various internal plagues of each other. 

The presumed "threat" from China permeates coverage of China in Indian media. This sentiment is taken by Chinese media as "provocation" from India. 

Is the media to be blamed for the unfriendly sentiment between public of China and India? Is it possible for media outlets from both sides to work together to improve bilateral relations? These questions were raised at the first India-China media forum held this month.

The media has a natural tendency to pursue negative stories and conflict. Meanwhile, territorial interests are associated with a kind of national pride that no media can detach from. The relationship with the media is a delicate task for any government, whatever for domestic or foreign affairs. 

Indian media professionals take pride in the country's democratic system and the corresponding media structure. This is also a prevailing view among Western press professionals. In their opinion, private ownership and market competition allow them little room to follow the government's wishes. 

Perhaps they think their Chinese counterparts are much more dictated to by officialdom. But with the gradual market-oriented transformation, Chinese media have to increasingly respond to demand from readers and the market. 

Even the small number of official media outlets have to cater to the public to maintain their influence or avoid being marginalized. International reporting, including coverage of India, is among the most free fields of Chinese reporting. It is no longer the time when diplomatic news in Chinese press was only just hand-shaking and symbolic rhetoric. 

But the media should be careful that unleashing nationalist sentiment might seriously undermine foreign relationships. 

Take the Diaoyu Islands issue for example, which in a few short months froze Sino-Japanese ties and put the whole economic exchange in jeopardy. Imagine what it would mean if China and India turned totally against each other. Fortunately, it is still possible to prevent the India-China boundary issue from becoming too hot to touch. 

India, Bangladesh set to sign motor pact in trade push

Nayanima Basu | New Delhi October 05, 2013
Trucks from each side will be allowed to ply within each other's territory

India and Bangladesh are set to sign a historic deal to allow cargo trucks from both sides to ply within each other’s territories. This will be for the first time India enters such an agreement with any of its neighbouring countries.

The agreement, known as the ‘Motor Vehicles Agreement’, had been pending for quite some time. The ministry of commerce and industry had presented the draft proposal to Bangladesh earlier this year. While Dhaka is still “examining the proposal”, the deal is expected to inked before India heads for elections next year.

“Bangladesh has already agreed to the proposal multilaterally under the SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) framework. We have only asked them to do it bilaterally,” a senior commerce department official told Business Standard.

At present, trucks from both sides are allowed to enter 150 km within each side of the border where they unload and pick up the cargo. However, under the proposed deal, trucks from Bangladesh will get permission to drive till their destinations where it will unload the cargo. Similarly, Indian trucks will be allowed to move inside Bangladesh to unload and pickup the items required.

For example, if a particular truck from Bangladesh carrying garments have to deliver a consignment in Mumbai, it will be allowed to drive till Mumbai and unload the shipment there. Similar procedure will be allowed for Indian container trucks. The official said this will not only help reduce the heavy congestion on the border, but will also address the inadequate infrastructure problems that create hassles for exporters on both sides.

The matter was also touched upon during the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, according to an official who did not wish to be identified.

It is learnt that the commerce department has also taken up the issue with Bangladesh High Commissioner to India, Tariq A Karim, to expedite the matter. However, there is a possibility that Bangladesh might delay signing the deal as it is facing severe infrastructure problems and inking the deal will entail major infrastructure overhaul for which the country may not be ready at the moment.