7 November 2013

China's Inevitable Changes

NOVEMBER 5, 2013 

By Rodger Baker and John Minnich

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China will convene its Third Plenum meeting Nov. 9. During the three-day session, President Xi Jinping's administration will outline core reforms to guide its policymaking for the next decade. The Chinese government would have the world believe that Xi's will be the most momentous Third Plenary Session since December 1978, when former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping first put China on the path of economic reform and opening.

Whether or not Xi's policies will be as decisive as Deng's -- or as disappointing as those of former President Hu Jintao -- the president has little choice but to implement them. China's current economic model, and by extension its political and social model, is reaching its limits just as it had prior to Deng's administration. The importance of the upcoming meeting is that it comes at an inflection point for China, one that its leaders can hardly afford to ignore.
A Fundamental Challenge

It is worth recalling just how extraordinary Deng's 1978 meeting was. Mao Zedong had died only two years earlier, taking with him what little remained of the old pillars of Communist Party legitimacy. China was a mess, ravaged by years of economic mismanagement and uncontrolled population growth and only beginning to recover from the trauma of the Cultural Revolution. Had the People's Republic fallen in 1978 or shortly thereafter, few would have been truly surprised. Of course, in those tense early post-Mao years hardly anyone could foresee just how rapid China's transformation would be. Nonetheless, battling enormous institutional constraints, Deng and his colleagues quickly set up new pillars of social, political and economic stability that guided China through the fall of the Soviet Union and into the 21st century.

Although Xi presides over China during a time of economic prosperity, not disrepair, perhaps not since Deng has a Chinese leader faced such formidable challenges at the outset of his tenure. Former Party general secretaries Jiang Zemin, and to a greater extent Hu, could largely follow the lead of their predecessors. Jiang, emerging as a post-Tiananmen Square leader, was faced with a situation where the Party was rapidly losing its legitimacy and where state-owned enterprises were encumbering China's economic opening and reform. But internationally, China's position was relatively secure at the beginning of Jiang's term in office, and by the time he took on the additional role of president in 1993, the decline of the Japanese economy and the boom in the United States and the rest of Asia left an opening for China's economy to resurge.

These conditions enabled Jiang's administration to enact sweeping bureaucratic and state sector reforms in the late 1990s, laying much of the groundwork of China's post-2000 economic boom. When Hu succeeded Jiang in 2002-2003, China's economic growth was seemingly unstoppable, perhaps even gaining steam from the Asian economic crisis. The United States, which had seemed ready to counter China's rise, was instead fully focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, and though the Communist Party of China was not exactly seen as the guiding moral compass of the state, the role of print and social media in raising criticism of Party officials had not yet exploded.

The Nasser Playbook

The Future of the U.S.-Egyptian Relationship Is in the Past
NOVEMBER 5, 2013

Former Egyptian President Gamal Nasser greets a crowd in 1960 (Creative Commons)

When Hoda al-Nasser, the daughter of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel al-Nasser, recently deemed the country’s current strongman, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the rightful heir to her father’s political legacy, it was worth taking her at her word. Just like Nasser, Sisi unapologetically seized power in a coup d’état. Also like Nasser, Sisi has followed a path in higher politics that began with a collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood -- he seems to have conspired with President Mohamed Morsi in the removal of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in the summer of 2012 -- before changing course and doing everything in his power to crush the Islamist organization. Sisi’s crackdown has already resulted in the deaths and incarceration of thousands of Brotherhood activists, including Morsi, his erstwhile patron.

This historical parallel might seem to bode ill for the relationship between Egypt and the United States. After all, Nasser is remembered today for his unabashed, even chauvinistic patriotism, and most policymakers in Washington are taught that the close relationship that the United States currently enjoys with Egypt traces back to the Camp David accords signed by Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat. But Washington’s history with Nasser is more auspicious than is generally remembered. Indeed, with some minor adjustments, Washington’s establishment of relations with Nasser’s government can serve as the most promising template for a stable and productive relationship between the United States and Egypt today.

Sisi is no less nationalistic than his predecessor. Nasser spoke of a “role” in the Arab world “in search of a hero” -- a role that Egypt was destined to fulfill -- and Sisi makes essentially the same point in less poetic language. He asserts that Egypt must regain its position as a leader of the Arabs, and by so doing restore Arab power more generally. 

It's true that Sisi's rhetoric is more pious than Nasser's avowedly secular pan-Arabism. But that is more a sign of the times than an indicator of a profound difference between the two. Indeed, the foundation for Sisi's indictment against the Brotherhood is that it offers a transnational, rather than a distinctly Egyptian, version of Islamism. A proper Islamism would be based on Egyptian traditions and institutions (including the state-supported Al-Azhar University), and thus be supportive of the country's interests -- and by extension Arab interests as a whole. Anything less would be traitorous, in Sisi's view. At the core of both men's vision lies the projection of strong personal, national, and Arab power.

India Must Develop its North-Eastern States

By Tridivesh Singh Maini
November 6, 2013 

As the BJP and Congress campaign for the 2014 elections in India, what is clearly missing from both party’s platforms is an agenda for the North-East.

This is evidenced by the fact that the current attention of both political parties is heavily focused on four states heading for assembly polls: Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. While the results of the Delhi election will preview national sentiment, the other three states are important from the point of view of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Rajasthan is an especially important battlefield – a victory in the assembly election there tends to translate into a national victory. A triumph for the BJP in the state could lead to a massive gain in the Lok Sabha elections.

Mizoram, the fifth state soon to hold elections, receives little attention from politicians or the media. This lack of attention given to the politics of the North-East is nothing new or unusual. While regional satraps elsewhere are given prominence, three-time Chief Ministers (CM) from the North-East, such as Tarun Gogoi of Assam, or Manik Sarkar of Tripura, do not receive similar coverage for their successive triumphs. Even bomb blasts or terrorist attacks in the region receive scarce coverage –– a perfect example being the recent blast in Imphal, not far from the Manipur Chief Minister’s office.

One of the key reasons for not giving the North-East a high priority, many argue, is the fact that it only sends 24 Members of Parlament to the Lok Sabha, out of which Assam alone sends 14. A perfect illustration of political numbers making the difference is the fact that Mamata Banerjee, Chair of the Trinamool Congress and CM of West Bengal, receives much more coverage for her strong stand on issues like the Teesta agreement and the land agreement, while Sarkar, who has been keen to play a constructive role in improving ties with Bangladesh, seldom gets any focus.

In economic terms too, the North-East has not been able to perform desirably. This is due to the security challenges plaguing the region as well as its neglect by the national leadership.

The government of India has tried to ensure that the North-East gets its due and for this purpose set up the Ministry for the Development of The North-Eastern region (DONER). Despite this, precious little has been done to actually give the region its due, in spite of its strategic location, abundance of natural resources and great sporting potential. Incidentally, with the region producing more and more sports personalities, like Gold-winning Olympian Mary Kom, things are beginning to change.

It is time, that both national parties changed this attitude. Both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi need to hold more campaign rallies in the North-East and spell out their visions for the region. Modi, who is trying to emerge as an alternative to the existing establishment, could actually send a very positive signal by giving priority to a region where his party is not particularly strong. While Modi and his party often comment on security issues plaguing the North-East, and the weak approach of the central government towards Chinese incursions there, they rarely address the development issue head-on. Addressing these challenges in terms of India’s Look-East Policy may be beneficial as well.

Even Rahul Gandhi, who talks about inclusive growth and uplifting neglected sections of society, would do well to speak about the North-East.

Safety in food security

November 7, 2013
Updated: November 7, 2013

APSAFE AND HEALTHY: An empowered force of trained food safety personnel must be formed to ensure that adulteration or contamination is detected scientifically.

While making grain available to all is important, it is equally essential to ensure that all food supplied for consumption remains unadulterated and uncontaminated.

When India became independent, the Constitution declared it to be a socialist, secular, democratic Republic. The first fundamental right under the Constitution sets down that every citizen has a right to life. This has been interpreted by the highest court as every citizen’s right to a life in dignity, good health and free speech in a fraternity of communal harmony and national integrity. These rights are possible only if you are not starving, in the first place.

India has, according to some sources, some 400 million people living below the poverty line. Unless poverty is eradicated, our socialist credo will remain just a pretence. Medical facilities being made accessible to every little Indian is also an imperative. In a letter to Union Minister for Food, K.V. Thomas, I had underscored the importance of the recently enacted legislation that is meant to ensure food security, bringing crores of Indians within its ambit. Food security is one of the most important measures that should make the Indian socialist Republic a reality in the true sense of the term. Indeed, the enforcement of the Food Safety Bill will constitute a perspective plan for the making of this socialist Republic.

Challenge of contamination

Still, food security, which seeks to end starvation, does not abolish food adulteration. Virtually all items of food in India have chemicals or adulterants added to them, which make them unsafe to various degrees. Therefore, every public institution where food is served must ensure that what is served is chemically safe, nutritionally healthy and makes for the health of the nation.

This means an organised system of inspecting the quality of food offered in public places. We should be under no illusion that even godowns where grain is kept for easy distribution have enough safety features incorporated in them.

The business of making food appear appealing and attractive often spoils the quality of what we eat. To make the nation healthy, every citizen must be able to buy food that is free from contamination. This will involve a comprehensive process involving testing facilities or laboratories even in the villages. We must have a food safety project that makes what we eat wholesome. Food security cannot be guaranteed merely by the provision of a certain quantity of grain to each family but by ensuring that every grain that is distributed is wholesome and nourishing, and not noxious. The ideology of food safety is a composite one, beyond merely making grain available physically.

Needed measures

We must have a state-sponsored food safety foundation that has branches all across each State, with equipment that can test food safety. An empowered force of trained food safety personnel should visit eateries, food stores, even festival venues where food is served, and take action where adulteration or contamination is detected through scientific means. The food safety police must have suitable powers conferred on them under legislative sanction. There should be an Act that provides statutory instrumentality to thus ensure the health of the people. A safety police force operating under the Health Ministry with powers of seizure is a new concept that will require an amendment to the Food Safety Act. Policing the process is a fundamental obligation of the state.


Contemporary Tibetan art and its political predicaments
Ananya Vajpeyi

For the past year, a continuing trend of self-immolation among Tibetan people both inside and outside Tibet has led to a great deal of soul-searching within the Tibetan community in exile. The most recent spate of self-immolations began in Tibet on February 27, 2009, when a young monk called Tapey set himself on fire at the Kirti monastery in Ngaba town (Sichuan province). To date, the number of self-immolations has reportedly crossed 120 inside Tibet, and includes monks, nuns and laypersons, young and old, men and women alike.

A new book addressing the issue of self-immolation by the Tibetan dissident blogger, Tsering Woeser, with cover art by the Chinese dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, Immolations in Tibet: The Shame of the World, was released in a French language first edition in mid-October. The fact that Tibetans continue to kill themselves in this terrible gesture of political resistance against the Chinese occupation of Tibet has produced alarm and distress among activists and observers the world over. Alas, so far it has not precipitated any noticeable change in China’s official policy towards the Tibetan region and its people.

While policymakers in the Tibetan community in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh (the seat of the Tibetan government in exile), non-profit groups like the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington DC, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and his office all continue to try to create a dialogue with the Chinese government, important responses to the phenomenon of self-immolation have come from Tibetan writers, poets and painters.

Some of these intellectuals and artists who are doing the hard work of documenting, critiquing and interpreting this difficult act reside in the Tibetan homeland, while others have long been part of the Tibetan diaspora in India and the West. An exhibition titled “Anonymous: Contemporary Tibetan Art”, running from July to December this year at the Samuel Dorsky Museum in New Paltz, a small university town in upstate New York, brings together powerful works by Tibetan artists, many of which reflect on self-immolation and on the larger context of occupation.

Tibet has a centuries-old tradition of religious iconography, best known through the Tibetan thangka. Buddhas, Taras, bodhisattvas, siddhas, yogis, and a variety of Tibetan tantric and protective deities, as well as mantras, mystical syllables, formulae and prayers, long represented through a complex system of visualization whose exponents may still be found in Tibet and India. Anthropomorphic figures, elements from the natural world, and more abstract ideas like states of consciousness, meditative awareness and spiritual realization, are all depicted through a set of highly stylized and systematized conventions. Thangka painting has evolved a number of distinct schools over time.

India’s Mars space probe is to be celebrated

5 November 2013

If all goes well, will become only the fourth space agency after Russia, the US and Europe to conduct a successful mission to the Red Planet.

Critics have found no shortage of reasons to be down on India’s launch of a space probe destined for Mars yesterday.

For them, there is no glorying in the achievement of the Indian Space Research Organisation, which, if all goes well, will become only the fourth space agency after Russia, the US and Europe to conduct a successful mission to the Red Planet. Instead, naysayers talk gloomily of hundreds of millions of Indians barely scratching a living.

It is true that India labours under crippling poverty. More than a third of the world’s poorest people live there, and not far off half the country’s children are undernourished. While big cities fizz with all that the 21st century has to offer, much of the rural hinterland lacks even the most basic infrastructure. Meanwhile, distortions of economic growth are making Indian society ever more unequal, corruption is rife and healthcare too often shamefully poor. Against such a troubled backdrop, a space programme can, indeed, look uncomfortably like a clumsy attempt at distraction.

And yet yesterday’s blast-off should be welcomed, not disparaged. First, the cost. The $72m budget of the Mangalyaan probe (“Mars craft” in Hindi) is not sufficient, even if channelled elsewhere, to solve India’s many and complex problems.

Then the immediate benefits for India must be evaluated. Not only does the programme command much support and interest across the country, with all that implies for future education and skills. The benefits that trickle down from such high-end scientific research are also far from negligible.

Finally, of course, there is the sum total of human knowledge to consider. If the ISRO mission is a success, it will relay back to Earth new information about the Martian environment. How is that something not to be celebrated? 

Why India's election process is bringing out the absurd in us all?

Samir Saran
06 November 2013

It seems that the greatest celebration of India - its democracy and the much-feted elections - also bring out the absurd in us all.

As the five states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram go to the polls in the coming weeks, it seems the 'silly season' is upon us. We are being saturated with inanities masquerading as "political discourse".

The problem, however, is that as these samples of ludicrousness tumble out in a disturbingly steady stream, we actually engage with them in earnestness.

Let us therefore first propose a toast to the Indian National Congress and its brilliant and original idea of banning opinion polls on the grounds that these are unfair and influence voters.

Now, in any normal society - leave alone democracy - this would be considered a misguided attempt at humour by a geriatric who has crossed the threshold from dotage to anecdotage. But evidently in India it is taken seriously enough to merit furious (and serious) discussion on talk shows and much scholarly debate on the subject in the online, visual and print media.

Heck! Why stop at opinion polls? The logic that these polls unfairly influence voters can equally be extended to op-eds, reporting, and indeed to the very application of one's mind. So why not go ahead and ban people from thinking for the next 6 months?

After all, it can be stated with a great deal of medical and sociological certainty that the application of one's mind creates a capacity within the individual to actually decide his or her fate, as opposed to being a force-fed farm animal that gets shepherded into an abattoir.

In fact, in order to extend wholehearted support to the Congress' proposals, we should take the logical next step of blindfolding the Indian voter before they press the EVM button - so that the voting process can become a lucky draw - truly free of undue influence and bias. 

Of course, there is the danger that our hallowed Electoral Commission - the so-called protector of India's freedom and democracy - might actually embrace this fruit-loop scheme. 

So let us raise the second toast to the monumental silliness of the Election Commission of India, now rapidly on its way to becoming a much-loved and celebrated 'law unto itself'.

In its notification dated the 25th of October - "Instructions with respect to the use of Social Media in Election Campaigning" - the EC has made the terminal mistake of assuming that social media is like every other media that has come before it, claiming "since social media websites are also electronic media by definition...".

While this betrays a deeply flawed, almost astoundingly naive view of the dynamic and deeply democratic cyber-sphere, at a more serious level this has dangerous overtones of the Sippenhaft laws from Nazi Germany.

What this notification means is that the election code of conduct will now apply to mediums of individual output like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. 

Basically any candidate can lodge a complaint against any individual Tweet or Facebook comment based on the fact that they can be "reasonably connected with the election campaigning of political parties and candidates".

This is guilt by association of the worst possible kind, because now any sympathiser, relative or associate of any candidate effectively has his or her freedom of expression curtailed on the basis of specious reasoning that this can be traced back or connected with a political party.

So much for the Election Commission being the guarantor of India's democracy! It is sad that this body, overwhelmed by this deluge of election-season silliness, has become the epitome of silliness itself.

Salutary messages from the RBI

November 4, 2013

PTIThe Reserve Bank of India.
The HinduRaghuram Rajan. Photo: Shashi Ashiwal

There is a wealth of information in the recent Second Quarter Review of Monetary Policy 2013-14 by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Understandably, a quarterly review should be more comprehensive than a mid-quarter review such as the one released on September 20. The latter deals with the bare details of monetary policy issues, and rarely comments on the broader economic issues.

There are as many as eight credit policy statements in a year, that is, once in about every 45 days, the RBI has something or the other for the markets and even for the lay people. Earlier, there were just two. The increased frequency of communication is a recognition of the fact that in a fast liberalising economy, monetary policies like other government policies, notably the Budget, have meanings for the common man also. In other words, the previously arcane policies need to be disseminated across a wider audience.

It is customary to view monetary policy reviews solely from the prism of monetary measures — whether there has been a change in the repo rate or in the cash reserve ratio (CRR). Such a pre-occupation is understandable. After all, the interest rate issues concern a large number of people, who have a home loan or a car loan. What is the outlook for interest rates?

Two topical issues in the monetary policy statement are discussed here.

On monetary and liquidity measures, the RBI increased the repo rate by 25 basis points to 7.75 per cent but reduced the Marginal Standing Facility (MSF) rate by an identical margin to 8.75 per cent. The difference between the two is now just 100 basis points, and that is how it was envisaged to be at the time the MSF rate was first introduced in May, 2011. The MSF rate was raised in July, 2013, as part of an exceptional package to combat the rupee’s sharp depreciation. Bank borrowings through the repos were capped. Therefore, borrowing from the RBI at the MSR rate had the intended consequence of raising the cost of funds, thereby, trying to curb speculation in the exchange markets.

With the rupee having stabilised, the MSF had been brought down, and with the repo rate going up — both in stages — normalisation has been achieved. The RBI has left the CRR unchanged, but has sought to boost liquidity provided through short-term repos of 7-day and 14-day tenor. This facility has been introduced fairly recently, and will broad-base the short-term money market.

Altruism and the many shades of grey

November 7, 2013

The HinduTO LET ANOTHER LIVE: To be a potentially life-saving match for somebody is a powerful thought, but the statistics will tell a dismal story. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Organ donation is not well-organised, systematised or regulated in India. But how many medical professionals spend substantial quality time educating ordinary people?

Last week, Nalini Ambady, who was a professor of psychology at Stanford University, lost her battle against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, a form of blood cancer. An Indian-American, Ambady, in her passing, has trained the spotlight on a legacy of questions, doubts and myths that modern society grapples with when it comes to organ and cell donation in order to save a life. These doubts surface each time such unfortunate losses of life occur, but the discourse that follows also helps locate answers or solutions to some really tough questions.

Ambady’s struggle

Not always though. There are too many complex shades of grey when it comes to organ or cell donation for saving a life. Over the last year or so, her struggle had led to multiple campaigns by family, friends, students and others who cared enough to take up the issue — all focussed on finding a bone marrow donor so that healthy blood stem cells (the cells that create all of the body’s blood cells) could be used for regenerative therapy, the only prime alternative left for treatment in her case. About a dozen potential matches had been found in the last few months, but half of them were imperfect and the rest did not materialise because the donors declined to go in for the final task of donation.

A personal thing

A lot is being written suggesting that this reluctance to follow through on a commitment stems from a complete lack of awareness, and how only a minuscule proportion of India’s 1.2 billion population signs up for such donation, as compared to the U.S. where despite a smaller population, many millions more sign up. Also, how bone marrow donation is almost as simple as donating blood. Little however has been said about how this is a very common human tendency — to pull out of a tough decision that essentially hinges on one’s altruistic traits, complicated and difficult to understand. It could be the eyes, your kidneys, parts of a liver, even a heart. These are part of cadaver donation. And then there’s bone marrow, blood stem cells, to be precise. From a living person. The motivation to donate is a puzzle, and ironically, clinical in nature, but hard to explain using just clinical facts and cold medical science. This is a highly neglected area of public health that comes into focus but infrequently, often through the angst of personal loss or stories of despair and death. The regeneration of fresh and healthy blood cells initiated through the transplantation of stem cells is a critical way forward in the progressive story of human medicine, with a growing list of diseases where a significant treatment option is stem cells therapy.

Terror trail to Ramgarh

Man with IM phone friends detained

Hazaribagh/Ranchi, Nov. 6: A 32-year-old resident of Ramgarh was picked up last night for questioning on the basis of call records that revealed mobile phone conversations he had had with alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists arrested for plotting and executing the Patna serial blasts.

Basal officer-in-charge Birendra Singh said he questioned Shamser Ansari after he got information from National Investigation Agency (NIA) about his alleged links with IM activists who were a part of the Ranchi module.

Singh claimed he had let him off after interrogating him for around two hours at Bhadani Nagar police outpost, 20km from Ramgarh town and 45km from Ranchi.

However, highly placed sources revealed that later, NIA officials visited Shamser’s home at Mahuatola locality under Bhadani Nagar outpost and arrested him.

While no senior police officer in Hazaribagh was available to confirm this, sources added Shamser had been taken to Ranchi for grilling.

Sources said Shamser as well as his father worked as labourers. He has a brother who lives in Mahuatola.

The sources said the suspect came under the police radar after the NIA pointed to his “suspicious behaviour”. The agency traced call records to find his links with the IM.

A police officer involved in the operation to detain and then question Shamser said they could not rule the possibility of him running a separate IM module in Ramgarh.

So far, probe into the Patna blasts that left six dead and over 80 injured, yielded leads but not many arrests.

On the day of the Patna blasts, two Sithio youths were caught allegedly red-handed.

While Md Imtiyaz Ansari is being quizzed by investigative agencies, Tarique alias Enul, who had sustained critical injuries while handling explosives, died in a Patna hospital after being on life-support, conflicting reports surrounding his death.

Taufiq and Nauman, the two others from Sithio — the village calls them minors but police don’t — as well as blast masterminds from Bihar Haider and Tahseem Akhtar alias Monu, are missing.

Imtiyaz Ansari’s confession led to the trail of a Ranchi private hostel where nine live bombs were seized from the room of boarder Muzibullah Ansari, an Ormanjhi youth and UPSC aspirant who became a conduit for IM operatives in Jharkhand and Bihar.

A Bad Time to Kill a Bad Man?


Why the killing of the Pakistani Taliban's No. 1 might cause a lot more pain for Pakistan than the CIA counted on.

Hakimullah Mehsud, Pakistan's most prolific killer, was eliminated on Nov. 1 in a CIA drone strike on his vehicle as it moved through the North Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan. Since 2009, Mehsud had led the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the jihadist umbrella group that has waged war against the Pakistani state, seeking to not only punish Islamabad for its cooperation with the United States in the war on terror, but also impose its own radical version of shariah over Pakistan's 190 million people.

Mehsud's organization is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians, politicians, security personnel, and tribal leaders since its founding in 2007. And for that alone, it would be reasonable to assume that his targeted killing would be met with a near-universal positive reaction in Pakistan, despite the strong opposition in the country to U.S. drone attacks.

While many Pakistanis have welcomed the elimination of Mehsud -- whose sadistic excesses even rankled fellow militants such as his once-deputy Wali-ur-Rehman -- there has also been considerable condemnation of the drone strike. The opposition to Mehsud's killing largely rests on the timing of the U.S. attack as well as the authority of Washington to conduct strikes on Pakistani soil -- an issue that has acquired renewed salience with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's call for an end to drone attacks during his visit to Washington last month.

Many Pakistani politicians -- including from the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) -- claimed that the drone strike sabotaged the prospects of a peace deal with the TTP. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, a senior figure in the party, claimed that a delegation of religious scholars were set to meet with representatives of Mehsud in exploratory peace talks. In a press conference on Nov. 2, Nisar asked why the United States had not targeted Mehsud before when he allegedly had crossed into Afghanistan on multiple occasions, and said that he found it curious that Mehsud had never come up in discussions with American officials during his government's first four months in office, but that the U.S. ambassador had raised the issue of targeting Mehsud all of a sudden in a recent meeting.

It would be a mistake to reflexively dismiss Nisar's protests as a manifestation of the perfidy or double-speak many associate with Pakistani officials, who have in the past publicly spoken out against drone attacks while supporting them privately. The killing of Mehsud has made the PML-N government, already under severe criticism for its handling of the economy and terrorism, look impotent. In recent weeks, it appears to have invested quite a bit of energy in arranging exploratory talks with the TTP. And on a number of occasions, it had suggested that Washington would give Islamabad space to engage the TTP in talks, including by being more restrained in its conducting of drone attacks.

No Exit from Pakistan

By Shamila N. Chaudhary 
November 6, 2013 

Dan Markey, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Since President Obama took office in 2009, there have been several books published highlighting the deception, failures, and flaws of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Most of these books, such as Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and David Sanger's Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power offer insider accounts of the U.S. and Pakistani political dynamics that made it so, with a particular focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies and the war in Afghanistan.

All of these texts open a window into Washington's thinking, infighting, and attempts to fix what has become America's most tortured relationship. Nasr talks about Pakistan's "frenemy" status with the United States and whether it is in the U.S. interest "to stress the friend part or the enemy part." Sanger elaborates on Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff "understood the American paranoia about a Pakistani meltdown, and he took advantage of it." Mazzetti gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the CIA's war in places like Pakistan was conceived as "a surgery without complications," but became a "way of the knife" that "created enemies just as it has obliterated them," fomenting "resentment among former allies and at times contribut[ing] to instability even as it has attempted to bring order to chaos."

While American policymaking in Pakistan remains haunted by the demons of the September 11th attacks, even older demons linger on the Pakistani side, among them the memory of U.S. sanctions, American pressure on its nuclear weapons program, and the CIA's reliance on Pakistan's covert support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. During a 1995 Senate hearing, then-Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel described the discontent of the Pakistanis, explaining that: "the key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect would be primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and people who have been loyal friends of the United States over the decades."

Dan Markey's new book, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, heeds Raphel's comments and attempts to answer the perennial questions of the relationship: why do they hate us? How did it get so bad? What are America's options for future relations with Pakistan? Markey roots his analysis in French existentialism, of all things. In French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, "three sinners, all dead to the word" are subject to "eternal torment by each other," each both capable of and vulnerable to the punishment doled out by the others. Building on this idea, No Exit from Pakistanargues that while "Pakistan's leaders tend to be tough negotiators with high thresholds for pain, Washington can cut new deals and level credible threats to achieve U.S. goals. This is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit." 

Markey spends a good portion of the book summarizing themes, issues, and events since 1947 that explain this mutual vulnerability and mutual gain between the United States and Pakistan. And he covers the full gamut: Cold War cooperation, sanctions, anti-Americanism, energy, trade, infrastructure development, India, China, the Musharraf years, demographics, youth culture, Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden Raid, the list goes on.

Counterinsurgency was never about Afghanistan

By Ryan Evans 
November 4, 2013 

Matt Zeller, Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan (Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2012).

Ben Anderson, No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Oxford: One World Publications, 2011).

Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

As the U.S. military reels from budgetary battles and withdraws from Afghanistan, commentators offer post-mortem after post-mortem on counter-insurgency (COIN) - an ambitious operational concept-cum-strategy hoisted on its own petard in Afghanistan. These sundry writers - including military officers, scholars, bloggers, and talking heads - have collectively sought, in the words of one blogger "to fire a few shotgun rounds into the recently buried corpse of population-centric counterinsurgency to prevent it from rising again." The specter of the Vietnam Syndrome has become flesh once more, and now the U.S. military plans, or attempts to plan, what form it will take in the decades to come. That is what the COIN debate has always been about - not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the future of the U.S. military. 

It is likely that the outcome of this struggle will have a far greater impact on the United States and the world than America's strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, not only is it unfortunate that these debates are not more rooted in the theatres in which these conflicts have taken place, it is very typically American. Contravening Clausewitz, the COIN debate proceeds as if war can be divorced from policy and politics; as if the organization, training, and equipping of the U.S. armed forces can take place apart from the aims to which and the places where these forces will be applied. 

It is in this context that the books reviewed here all have considerable value, showcasing different perspectives of the Afghan campaign during its most crucial and resource-intensive years: the experience of an American soldier, a brave journalist covering the war for years, and a political officer coming to know his district and its history with an uncommon intimacy.

Matt Zeller's Watches Without Time provides a moving portrait of the war in Ghazni province through the author's eyes as a young lieutenant struggling to make sense of the war around him.  The book is a collection of letters, reflections, and diary entries on everything from combat to working with the Afghan National Security Forces to the journey home. If anyone is wondering what it is like to go to war, read this book. It is packed with drama, excitement, fear, humor, and heartbreak. More importantly, it contains incisive observations about Afghan society from a young man trying to understand the war around him. His brief anecdotes and explanations of political corruption and the performance of the Afghan National Police are worth the price alone.

Of the many journalists who have covered the war in Afghanistan, Ben Anderson is one of the most impressive. His book, No Worse Enemy, which informed his excellent 2013 documentary with Vice, "This Is What Winning Looks Like," spans 2007 to 2011 and covers his time with the British Army and the U.S. Marine Corps as they struggle to pacify Afghanistan's deadliest province, Helmand. As a military outsider, Anderson struggles to make sense of the British and American militaries as much as he tries to understand the war in Afghanistan, thus making No Worse Enemy an interesting companion read to Zeller's insider account. Anderson is at his strongest when his narrative illustrates the complexity of telling friend from foe and right from wrong in a country where such distinctions are hopelessly blurred. He concludes that, if he were Afghan, he "certainly wouldn't be picking sides." He continues:

Pakistan's best bet in Afghanistan

By Marvin G. Weinbaum
November 4, 2013 

No country aside from Afghanistan has more to lose than Pakistan from the coming departure of international forces. All post-2014 scenarios seem dark for Pakistan should the challenged Afghan state begin to unravel. In a protracted civil war, a reluctant Pakistan stands a good chance of being drawn into the conflict along with other regional powers. Taliban gains leading to a radical Islamic regime in all or most of Afghanistan, while once welcomed by Pakistan, may now result in empowering Pakistan's own militant extremists. Intensified fighting across the border is certain to push millions of new refugees into a Pakistan unprepared and unwilling to absorb them. Prospects that a successfully negotiated political agreement might some time soon avert these outcomes seem dim.

And yet, Pakistan does have one policy option that can result in a brighter scenario for itself and its Afghan neighbor. This opportunity has, in fact, been available throughout the course of the last 12 years, but it requires a strategic reassessment by Pakistan of its long-term national security interests, recognizing that they are best served when there is a stable, peaceful, prospering and, yes, independent Afghanistan. While Pakistan officially endorses this vision, its policies regularly undermine its achievement, above all by giving sanctuary and sustenance to Afghan insurgents. Instead, Pakistan should fully embrace efforts that improve prospects for the emergence of a moderate, economically improving, and accountably-governed Afghanistan. As University of Peshawar professor Ijza Khanadvises, rather than pursuing a strategy focused on ensuring a friendly regime in Kabul, Pakistan should strive to win the friendship of the Afghan state and its people.

Convincing Afghans of Pakistan's good intentions will not be easy. Almost regardless of their political disposition, Afghans view their neighbor as overbearing and covetous, blaming it for much of the country's problems. Building trust is bound to be a slow process. Yet Pakistan is not without the means with which to allay Afghan suspicions. An economically-strapped Pakistani government cannot offer the kind of financial assistance that the West and Japan provide Afghanistan, or even match India's development aid portfolio. But Pakistan has advantages that come with geographical proximity, overlapping cultural and ethnic affinities, and established economic ties. It also has a relative abundance of human capital available with which to help strengthen the Afghan state.

To begin, Pakistan could agree to open the long denied trans-country routes that block India's trade with Afghanistan. Afghanistan's critical dependence on road links to the port of Karachi could be better secured and border impediments removed. Existing training programs in Pakistan for Afghan civil servants could be greatly expanded. Pakistan can do more to allay Afghans' beliefs that it is obstructing a peace deal with the Taliban and assure them that it has no plans to divide Afghan territory ethnically. Pakistan can also help secure Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in 2014 and 2015, respectively, by using its not inconsiderable influence to limit Taliban interference. It could also place additional troops at the border to reduce infiltration, much as it did during elections in 2004 and 2005. Although largely symbolic, Pakistan might even propose a non-aggression pact. But all these trust-building actions would pale against a decision by Pakistan to withdraw its patronage of the Afghan Taliban. Simply put, it must be willing to evict, if not arrest, Afghan Taliban fighters and their leaders on its soil.


November 6, 2013 · in Commentary and Analysis

After a U.S. drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, the first leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in August 2009, I wrote that the decision to target him was low-hanging fruit. He was someone the United States and Pakistan could agree was a threat and killing him was a shared priority presumably worthy of an American breach of sovereignty. I also wrote that although one hoped his death could be a confidence building measure, the two countries had divergent strategic priorities and future targets would prove harder to agree upon. I did not imagine at the time, however, that killing Baitullah’s successor, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistanis, could trigger the type of anti-American backlash that occurred after a U.S. drone strike obliterated Hakimullah Mehsud last week.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister condemned the drone strike not only as a violation of sovereignty but also as an “attack on the peace process” in reference to the inchoate efforts to initiate a dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban. Imran Kkan, whose party heads the provincial government in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, called for blocking NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. The United States and Pakistan have worked hard to repair their relationship since its 2011-12 nadir, when NATO supply lines were closed for nine months after the infamous Salala incident. It’s very unlikely that the U.S. decision to kill Hakimullah Mehsud will set back U.S.-Pakistan relations to the same degree, but equally obvious that drone strikes will remain an impediment. Yet the response to Hakimullah’s death says more about the disconnect between different actors in Pakistan over the causes of the insurgency and how to end it. This becomes obvious when we pose several important questions.

Was this strike coordinated with Pakistan or unilateral? The short answer is we don’t know—or at least I don’t. Hakimullah was allegedly killed at a farmhouse purchased by Latif Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban operative captured by the US in Afghanistan last month where he was meeting with Afghan intelligence officers. It’s possible this was a tactical U.S. decision to kill Hakimullah, who we should recall was behind the deadly 2009 suicide bombing of a CIA base in Afghanistan. However, relations between the American and Pakistani security establishments have been on the mend and it’s questionable whether the U.S. would launch a strike against him without the Pakistani military’s knowledge and possibly its involvement. The Pakistani Taliban killed a serving Major General in the Pakistan army in mid-September and so one would not be surprised to find the higher echelons happy to extract some measure of revenge. Moreover, the military has been lukewarm to the idea of negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban and probably does not mind if they never come to fruition. Finally, it is worth noting that Nawaz Sharif had just finished his first official visit to Washington, DC since being elected Prime Minister. Whether he was informed and is kicking up a fuss for political reasons or was left in the dark is also unclear. Neither explanation is satisfying.

Would negotiations have been successful? If one defines success as an end to the insurgency in Pakistan without the government capitulating, then no. As I’ve written before, there is a widespread perception in Pakistan that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, pressure on Pakistan, and use of drone strikes catalyzed the insurgency. Hence, the notion that Pakistani Taliban members are sons of the soil who are reacting to the U.S. presence rather than committed jihadists who want to overthrow the regime in Islamabad and institute their version of Sharia. Many Pakistanis, including some in the security establishment, also believe that foreign powers (India, sometimes America, and, for good measure, Israel) are supporting the Pakistani Taliban. Leaving aside the conflict between these two narratives (and that if the latter conspiracy theory was actually true then the United States just killed one of its own or India’s proxies), the facts do not support these contentions.

The Pakistani Taliban is pursuing a revolutionary jihad intended to topple the government and pave the way for the implementation of Sharia. Hakimullah was pretty clear about this when he spoke to the BBC last month, explaining:

Afghanistan’s Future is Brighter Than You Think

By Jamil Danish
November 6, 2013

In less than six months Afghanistan will face one of the most crucial crossroads in its history: the chance for a peaceful transfer of power from one elected leader to another. A successful presidential election that is free and transparent is crucial for continued progress in the country beyond 2014, with the risk of failure potentially dealing a difficult blow to a populace exhausted by setbacks. 

A positive outcome will not be easy, and will need support from two key groups: Afghanistan's younger generation who will live with the consequences of the election, and an international community that has invested so much into Afghanistan in the past decade.

At an Asia Society gathering of young Afghanistan leaders in Kabul last month, I could sense the frustration from my peers about the lack of faith that Afghanistan can truly stand on its own in coming years. The international press has done a good job of presenting the worst case scenarios for Afghanistan if the elections fail just as foreign troops are withdrawing. In this scenario, the Taliban and other insurgent groups will take over, the government will collapse, and the country will be ruled by factions engaged in continual civil war and skirmishes. This attitude not only turns away international groups, but discourages people in Afghanistan who see or hear the same message.

There is another scenario that must be presented, and one my peers and I, living and working in Afghanistan, feel is just as likely. In this other future for our country, fair and transparent elections will bring in a legitimate government that can work to keep insurgents at bay. There will be no return to the dark ages prior to 2000 that so many Afghans fear, with fewer innocent civilians being murdered and disruptions to civil society minimized.

A key element of finding that success is for Afghanistan’s younger population to buy into the new government. This sector of the population makes up two-thirds of the country and are more connected to the world than their predecessors growing up during the era of the Taliban. Many of them hold positions as public administrators in the Afghan government, and some have returned from quality educations overseas to become role models of change in Afghanistan’s economic, social, and political life. There is no reason why Afghanistan can’t produce world-class leaders that bring decisive, committed, and responsible decision-making to lead the country at this critical time.

In Pakistan, Slow and Steady Just Might Win the Race

Yes, terrorism is a problem. But Pakistan is making remarkable headway in its transition to democracy.

Amid the suicide attacks, the enforced disappearances, and the sectarian violence, there is another story unfolding in Pakistan -- one based on a slow but steady transition to democracy that doesn't entail the violent political upheavals rocking the Arab Spring countries like Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain. Yet Pakistan's "long march" to democracy may well hold important lessons for countries struggling to make a similar shift from a deep-rooted history of dictatorship to democracy. While it's true that terrorism continues to threaten the progress Pakistan has made toward institutionalizing democratic practices, cooperation on the political front dominates relations between the main political parties. The result is an unprecedented era of political reconciliation and democratic consolidation for the first time in decades.

Pakistan has struggled to establish a fully functioning democracy since its inception in 1947, with successive military dictatorships intervening to quash prodemocracy forces and weaken democratic institutions. 34 of Pakistan's 66 years have been under military rule. In May 2006, however, the country's two biggest political parties and long-time bitter rivals united forces for the first time against military dictatorship. The late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, both in exile at the time, signed the Charter of Democracy. The Charter bound their two parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to "play by the rules" and implement key reforms to strengthen democratic practices regardless of which party won the next election. The agreement marked a decisive turning point, ushering in a new spirit of cooperation based on the mutual recognition that political unity was the only way to end dictatorship and restore democracy.

The Charter was ignored by western diplomats in Islamabad and many western governments, especially the United States, which continued to funnel billions of dollars to General Pervez Musharraf's military regime. They failed to spot the crucial significance of the extraordinary agreement between Pakistan's most important political parties, which established a peaceful mechanism for establishing a sustainable transition to a stable government. The Charter appears even more remarkable when viewed against the current gridlock between congressional Republicans and Democrats in the United States. In Pakistan, at least, the Charter showed that two competitive parties were willing to put the public interest ahead of their own.

One western diplomat assured me that the Charter "wasn't worth the paper it was written on." But both the PPP and the PML-N have remained committed to the Charter's democratic principles despite major setbacks, such as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto just before the scheduled 2008 election. Indeed, by voting to oust President Musharraf soon after the parliamentary elections, the newly elected provincial assemblies, dominated by the PPP and PML-N, unleashed a "democratic revolution" and reclaimed their legislative authority without a drop of bloodshed.

Haqqani militant network loses hometown support

By Emily Schneider
November 6, 2013

Event Notice: "Afghanistan: A Distant War," a discussion with renowned photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).

Resentment in the mountains

There are reports of a growing discontent among what used to be one of the strongest and most feared militant groups in Afghanistan: the Haqqani network (NYT, Khaama). Jalaluddin Haqqani built a strong network of support in the mountains of Khost and Paktia in eastern Afghanistan that began during the war against the Soviets. But now, as he and his son take refuge in Pakistan, leaders of Haqqani's native Zadran tribe in Khost Province say they have formally broken ties with the Haqqani network.

The Zadran tribe's move away from Jalaluddin Haqqani reflects the complex feelings of many locals. The mosque in the middle of town stands as tribute to Haqqani's once strong influence over the area, but Haqqani fighters have become increasingly violent towards elders in the community in recent years and community development has been stunted. "Not long ago, Mr. Haqqani was a hero because he defeated the Communists," Mr. Zadran, head of the Tribal Council Liaison Office said. "Now he is an insurgent and a terrorist. We don't know who made him a hero back then or a terrorist now."

But the Haqqani network is still a serious terrorist threat, as they continue to collect funding from a wide range of sources - from donations to businesses in the Persian Gulf states - and refocus their operations on Kabul. There are also reports that the group has been teaching their fundraising and planning techniques to other insurgent groups.

Bodies recovered

Seven bodies were found outside of Qalat, in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province on Wednesday (RFE/RL, Pajhwok). The security chief of the province said the bodies, all men, are believed to be civilians who were killed by the Taliban. Other reports suggest the men are National Afghan Army soldiers who disappeared last week while traveling from southern Kandahar province to their homes in Zabul. The Afghan army is trying to identify the bodies.

A British soldier was killed in a suicide attack in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday (Guardian, Pajhwok). The Ministry of Defence in London said the "hugely experienced" soldier was patrolling the Kamparak area, northeast of Lashkargah in Helmand province when he was killed by a car bomb.

CIA to DoD move not happening

While Pakistan continued to grapple with the fallout from the recent death of Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud, the U.S. quietly made clear that the covert drone program would remain under the auspices of the CIA, according to a Foreign Policy exclusive published Wednesday (FP). In May, a series of anonymous announcements leaked by the White House and President Obama's speech at the National Defense University signaled a change in drone program policy: Obama was shifting operations from the CIA to the Defense Department (WSJ, DefenseNews). After six months, the transfer to DoD has still not happened. Although one US official told Foreign Policy that the government is moving toward that policy, the "physics of making this happen quickly are remarkably difficult." But other reasons, like the efficacy of the CIA's drone program in Pakistan, could be the real stalling point.