8 February 2014

The Aadhaar joke is on us

Feb 05, 2014

Vivek Kaul

The irony is that the Aadhaar form clearly states that ‘Aadhaar enrolment is free and voluntary’. If enrolment into Aadhaar is free and voluntary, how could the OMCs have insisted on Aadhaar linked bank accounts for payment of cooking gas subsidies?

In his speech on January 17, 2014, Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the Congress Party, requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to provide 12 cooking gas cylinders a year at the subsided rate, instead of nine.

Since the request came from the Gandhi family scion, the normally slow Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government acted quickly for a change, and before the end of January 2014, the cap had been raised. From April 1, 2014, consumers will get one subsidised gas cylinder a month. This increase in cap is expected to increase the subsidy burden of the government by `5,000 crore. Along with increasing the cap, the government has also suspended the Aadhaar card-linked Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG (DBTL) scheme. This scheme had been implemented in 289 districts in 18 states. In January 2014, it had been extended to a further 105 districts, including Delhi and Mumbai.

Under this scheme, the consumers bought the cooking gas cylinder at its actual market price. The subsidy amount was then transferred directly into their Aadhaar card linked bank accounts. So, a resident of Delhi, where the scheme was launched recently, while buying a gas cylinder would have had to pay `1,258 for a 14.2 kg cylinder. The cost of the subsidised cylinder is `414 in Delhi. Hence, the difference of `844 would be paid directly into the Aadhaar linked bank account of the consumer. The trouble is that many people still do not have Aadhaar accounts. And those who have it have not been able to link it to their bank accounts. Hence, the government has set up a committee to review the DBTL scheme. In an election year, the worst thing that can happen to a government is that its subsidies do not reach the citizens. By forming a committee to review the DBTL, that discrepancy, hopefully. will be set right.

Anyone who has implemented even a very basic project will tell you that it is very important to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the project. A basic SWOT analysis would have shown that the first problem in the DBTL scheme would be people not having Aadhaar cards and that those who have it, would not have had it linked to their bank accounts. But the government and Nandan Nilekani, the chief of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), have been in a hurry to showcase Aadhaar. UIDAI is in charge of implementing Aadhaar. In fact, a recent report on the website of the Moneylife magazine pointed out that Mr Nilekani is a member of almost every committee that has been making Aadhaar mandatory “for citizens to access several services and benefits” from the government. Guess, he is not bothered about the conflict of interest his being on these committees creates, even after having held one of the top jobs at Infosys, one of India’s most ethical companies.

THE SICK STATE OF INDIA - The damages wrought by poor political culture

In the late 1980s, the demographer, Ashish Bose, coined the term ‘BIMARU’, an acronym bringing together those states of the Indian Union which had low per capita incomes and literacy rates on the one side, and high levels of infant mortality and malnutrition on the other. BI stood for Bihar; MA for Madhya Pradesh; R for Rajasthan; U for Uttar Pradesh. Bose’s acronym punned on the word ‘bimar’, Hindi for sick or ill, which is what, in an economic and social sense, these states were.

Of these four states of India, the one I know best is Uttar Pradesh. I was born and raised in Dehradun, at the time not the capital of a separate hill state but merely a district town in UP. Although ethnically Tamil, by culture and upbringing I am in some part a UP bhayya. My maternal grandfather moved to the state in 1930; my father in 1948. My mother and her brothers were educated in Hindi-medium schools. Our closest friends were Kayasths from Allahabad. 

As a boy, and as a young man, I certainly did not think my state was backward or disadvantaged. Allahabad University was not quite the Oxford of the East; but it still had a decent reputation. My scientist-father guided PhD students from the then moderately respectable Agra University. Kanpur was a thriving industrial town, and incidentally (or thus) home to the best among the Indian Institutes of Technology. Premchand was dead, but his stories were still read; and Firaq was still around to recite his poems. Lucknow and Banaras were active centres of classical music.

The Uttar Pradesh I grew up in was culturally rich, as well as politically dominant. I had reached the age of 19, and my country the age of 30, before there was a prime minister from outside Uttar Pradesh. This man (Morarji Desai) lasted all of two years. In the next 14 years, India witnessed as many as five prime ministers; all were from UP. When the most powerful man (or woman) in one’s nation is from one’s state, how can one possibly think of it as ‘sick’?

Two agencies on a collision course

February 8, 2014

From the Intelligence Bureau’s point of view, the Ishrat Jahan investigation is definitely a blow to its morale. Its long-term impact is incalculable … No amount of incentives will restore the zest for counterintelligence work

The Central Bureau of Investigation’s decision to chargesheet a former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) (whose rank is that of a DGP in the State Police cadre) and three serving officers of the same bureau in the sensational Ishrat Jahan case in Gujarat should shock us. It is a sad day for both the organisations whose support to the cause of national security and the upholding of the rule of law hardly needs overemphasising. Although their respective territories are demarcated, the two are now on a collision course. This is despite the fact that they need each other, and that whenever they have worked in harmony, they have achieved the near impossible. Since they have undoubtedly lent great stability to our polity, to do anything that would dent their image is a sacrilege.Need for balance

I would like to make it clear that berating the CBI and IB as being handmaidens of the government is being unfair to the many dedicated officers who serve them. Even their most ardent supporters will admit that the two bureaus are not without their faults. Perhaps, they have much to hide — especially the CBI, which is always in the public eye and is under immense judicial scrutiny. On the contrary, the IB is a low profile outfit which, unlike the CBI, has no legal status or authority. I know that both have their detractors who are ready to throw the first stone at them at every conceivable opportunity. Some are only too delighted to be able to drive a wedge between them. We should not allow them to succeed. The Ishrat Jahan case provides these forces an opportunity to do this. This is why what has happened in the Ishrat Jahan case demands both responsible comments and a balanced perspective.

There are some basic facts on which there can be no disagreement. No democracy can condone the killing of any of its innocent citizens by a state agency. And when the victim happens to be a woman, the crime gets compounded a million times. This is what is being alleged by the CBI. The four IB officers did not by themselves kill Ishrat Jahan. But they did a lot to facilitate the crime committed by some Gujarat policemen. What drove them to carry out this barbaric act is anybody’s guess. According to press reports, the CBI charge sheet is silent on this. Now that the court concerned is to take cognisance of the CBI charge sheet, it would be extremely inappropriate for any of us to comment on the CBI’s controversial decision or any evidence adduced by it.

‘CIA believed Netaji could return in 1964’

Press Trust of India | Kolkata | February 8, 2014

Declassified documents : CIA expressed possibility of Netaji leading a rebel group undermining Nehru govt

American intelligence agency CIA had cast doubt on the reported death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in a plane crash in 1945 and was tipped off that he would return from exile in 1964, according to declassified documents.

“A search of our files indicates that there is no information available regarding subject’s death that would shed any light on the reliability of the reports,” documents released by CIA said.

A document, dated February 1964, released by CIA said, “There now exists a strong possibility that Bose is leading the rebellious group undermining the current Nehru government.”

Four declassified CIA documents were given to researchers Abhishek Bose and Anuj Dhar, besides Netaji’s grand-nephew Chandra Bose, who had sought details under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a report dated January 1949, the agency had noted the rumour that Bose was ‘still alive’. In a detailed analysis of the Indian political scenario in November 1950, a highly-placed source had informed the CIA that it was being !said in New Delhi that Bose “is in Siberia, where he is waiting for a chance to make a big come back.

Among the released documents, the oldest one goes back to May 1946, in which a confirmation of Netaji’s death was sought from the Secretary of State in Washington DC. “The hold, which Bose had over the Indian imagination was tremendous and that if he should return to this country trouble would result,” wrote the then American Consulate General in Mumbai.

When under house arrest by the Britishers, Netaji had escaped from India in 1941 to seek international support for the freedom struggle. After organising the Indian National Army with Japanese help he went missing in 1945.

He was last seen at the Bangkok Airport on August 17 1945. The Mukherjee Commission, probing Bose’s disappearance, had rejected that he died in a plane crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945.

The Prime Minister’s Office had earlier refused to furnish data on documents and records it held on Netaji’s disappearance, saying the disclosure would harm India’s relation with foreign countries.

Family members and researchers on Netaji’s life have said that it was time for the Indian government to release the files.


India after Nido

February 6, 2014

Son of an Arunachal Pradesh Congress MLA and Parliamentary Secretary in Health and Family Welfare Department, Nido died on January 30. 


His death reminds us of the transitions the Indian project still needs to make.

Nido Taniam’s death was deep tragedy. But there is some consolation that political attention to this incident is ensuring that it does not become a mere statistic. Yet in India, a single violent incident bears the weight of complex histories and tangled sociologies. It has highlighted the casual but consequential racism prevalent in our cities.

It has reopened the delicate question of the place of the Northeast in India’s imagination. It has also reminded us of the subtle transitions the idea of India still needs to make for the Indian project to be complete.

The first transition it needs to make is the move from territoriality to people. The idea of India is tied to an emphasis on territoriality. While this is inevitable in any modern nation state, the monumental privileging of territoriality has often led to making concrete peoples invisible.

The Northeast has often been imagined in Delhi in largely territorial terms; even the name suggests that. Defending territory trumps almost everything else: human rights, economic freedom. But in a strange way, discourse in the Northeast also has been besotted with territoriality. The claim that ethnicity and territoriality be aligned has also wreaked havoc in the region. It is a formula that has also produced more violence, displacement and antagonism in the region.

The principle fight of the Indian state with the Northeast, on one hand, and among the peoples of the Northeast, on the other, has been about who controls what territory, not about how to define proper ethical relationships with others. In a way, the Indian state and the Northeast have shared each other’s pathologies. It is time to move from the question of territory to what it will take for us to treat each other as free and equal human beings.

The second transition is the move from diversity to respecting freedom. Indian toleration was often based on segmentation and hierarchy. Each community could have its place, so long as it remained in its place. But the mobility produced by economic changes, the desire to expand the boundaries of freedom, the jostling in same spaces, sometimes even competition for the same jobs, needs a different kind of toleration.

This toleration is not about respecting each other’s identities at some distance. In a way, it is not even about knowing the histories and identities of others, though that might help. It is about quite the opposite. It is about making identity more of an irrelevant fact in the background, not an axis on which we organise what rights people have and what places they can inhabit. It is about recognising the limits to which we can, as individuals, exercise sovereignty over others; how one wears one’s hair is nobody’s business. This is a challenge for migrants in India everywhere.

The third transition is from self-proclaimed innocence to an overt confronting of racism. The self-proclaimed image of a tolerant society has often sidelined deep questions about racism in India. Racism is a complex subject. But it haunts our conception of nationalism, where we often cannot decide whether the Northeast is radically different or the same, based on race. It haunts our relations with the outside world, as we see with Africans. The moral education required is not more facts about this or that culture. It is about the idea that racism of any kind is not acceptable.

Expansionists at heart like to bury the truth

Friday, 07 February 2014

It was bad enough that the Government of India annexed Sikkim in 1975. Worse was the meek response of large sections of the media to the event. The Press swallowed New Delhi’s lies without batting an eyelid

Government-Press relations have always been the subject of speculation. Many politicians denounce the media as the enemy within while some media braggarts boast of being permanent adversaries. Mr LK Advani alone seemed discerning and honest enough to describe India’s media as the Government’s ally, though the Union Steel Minister, Mr Beni Prasad Verma, might add that the alliance has to be paid for. Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru’s benevolence invented the phenomenon of the “embedded journalist” which shamed the profession during the American invasion of Iraq.

The concept reached its apogee in India as newspapers lustily applauded the mix of military force and political legerdemain that swallowed up the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim in 1975. The only parallel I can think of was in the conduct of the nearly 200 Murdoch publications during the Iraq war. Ms Alison Broinowski, the former Australian diplomat at whose seminar on Australia, Asia and the Media nearly 35 years ago I presented two papers, says the Murdoch Press was “hysterical” in backing Mr George W Bush’s immoral adventurism. India’s Press similarly supported every fraudulent manoeuvre described in detail in my book, Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim. Listening to the recent panel discussion that launched a revised edition of the book, I recalled that “disgraceful sycophancy”, to quote Mr BG Verghese, the first panellist.

As editor of the Hindustan Times, Mr Verghese had bravely opposed the operation with a memorable editorial titled, Kanchenjunga, Here We Come. He spoke of a “dastardly blow in the back for democracy,” maintaining that the “rigged plebiscite” that gave a semblance of legality to the acquisition could not possibly have been held in “far-flung areas” in the time claimed. For Sir Mark Tully of the BBC the “shameful” annexation highlighted the “great problem” of India’s “failure to deal with smaller neighbours”. Having personally known the last King of Sikkim, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, Sir Mark rejected as “an obvious lie” the image of a “tyrannical ruler” whom democrats overthrew. The Chogyal was “passionately committed to development”. Not only was the plebiscite “bogus” but the saddest memory was that no one in India uttered a critical word.

He was not quite right there. Mr Verghese did object with considerable vehemence, while two Bengali journalists — Dipankar Chakrabarti and Sukanta Raha —were jailed when a magistrate ruled that their writing in a relatively obscure monthly magazine called Aneek “seems to be calculated to prejudice the minds of the people against the territorial integrity of the Union of India”. My book naturally went much further than any article could. When Smash andGrab first appeared in 1984, Sachin Chaudhuri, the distinguished lawyer who became Union Finance Minister, warned me, “You’ve been a good friend to the Chogyal. But in the process you may not have been a good friend to yourself!” I was relieved, therefore, when a review by Nari Rustomji of the ICS said the book showed the author was “as true a friend of Sikkim as he is a good patriot of his own country.”

Speech by Ambassador Dr. S. Jaishankar on U.S.-India Relations at the Carnegie Endowment

29 JANUARY, 2014
Speech by Ambassador Dr. S. Jaishankar on U.S.-India Relations at the Carnegie Endowment
29 JANUARY, 2014

  1.       It is a great pleasure to be back at the Carnegie Endowment, as indeed in Washington itself. I was last here more than six years ago, speaking at this very institution as our nuclear agreement was nearing conclusion.   Since then, I have watched the India-U.S. relationship evolve with great interest and some sense of ownership.  The size of the briefing books they gave me as I was preparing to come to Washington led me to believe that we have a good story to tell. Sentiment, as they say in the markets, however, seems less positive than I would have hoped, for a variety of reasons. What is clear is that there is much work to be done. 

2.     Looking back at the growth of Indo-U.S. relations in the last decade and a half, it is as if we were fated to come together. Now, that has not always been our history. If we closely examine the three key drivers of our ties today, the reality is that each one has a specific context. First & foremost is our geo-strategic and political convergence, something that could only manifest itself after the Cold War.  The second is our intersecting economic interests. These are the consequence of higher Indian economic growth rates as well as the broader rise of Asia.  The third is a mix of our shared values and societal contacts. These reflect the expanding Indian-American community and the growing middle class in India.  Each one of these factors evolved over a period of time.  But their coming together created the basis for the current phase of our ties. It is not as if all of this happened on its own. On the contrary, the new level of our relationship was animated by strategic vision in both nations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh only recently singled out the coming together of the two countries, in the form of the civilian nuclear agreement, as the best moment of his whole tenure. This vision became reality due to the commitment and diligence on the part of many - on both sides. I stress this to drive home the point that our ties can neither afford dilution of attention nor weakening of faith.

3.     So, where are our relations today? Politically, there is no question that our comfort levels are higher than they have ever been before.  From the highest levels of the Government to the legislature and bureaucracy, we see a frequency, intensity and candor of contacts that speak for themselves. Our dialogues have moved well beyond orthodox stocktaking of bilateral issues and an exchange of views on global ones. We are now talking defense cooperation, counter-terrorism and homeland security with as much ease as we are energy, education or health. That we discuss East Asia regularly reflects our confidence levels as much as our doing trilateral dialogues with Japan and with Afghanistan. Expanding such conversations to cover the Indian Ocean region is the next step in this direction. Our economic interactions have similarly undergone a transformation. A greater sectoral focus and engagement on specific policies and regulations underline that this is for real.  Where civil society is concerned, the physical flow of people has been magnified by virtual communications.  There is truly cause for satisfaction about the level our ties have reached. 

4.     Why then is there a problem of sentiment? The fact is that to a considerable degree, we are victims of our own success. The India-US relationship arrived - some would say, at last - and by doing so, ended the romance of the phase of courtship. The change is visible in the less integrated approach we take, leaving each department or agency to handle its counterpart. That no longer allows the luxury of cutting some slack on an account that matters, expecting to make up elsewhere. The willingness to take risks also decreases as there is no longer a great cause to pursue. And grand strategy, once achieved, quickly changes from rocket science to a no-brainer! As we settle into the partnership, it takes a different mindset to address the less exciting chores of maintenance, upkeep and progress. The danger here is that individual problems that may well have been dismissed in the earlier era can now dominate the narrative.  

5. This explanation, however, does not suffice in itself. There is also the reality, often glossed over when it comes to our ties, that the world situation changed profoundly even as the relationship was in the making. I refer here to the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. This had a particularly sharp impact on American priorities, and with some time lag, on India as well. Conversations changed from grand strategy and geo-politics to more mundane issues of market access and investment conditions. Economic concerns assumed centre stage and every business dispute acquired a greater resonance. As it was bound to happen, this also created fertile ground for sometimes exaggerating the nature of problems and their implications. The big change that I see returning to this account is the salience of tax disputes, localization and IP concerns on the US end and immigration reform, market access, protectionism and totalization on the Indian one.

6. I am also aware that there is considerable disappointment that our nuclear understanding has not translated into substantial business for US companies so far. The debate, as many of you know, revolves around our civil nuclear liability law and its implications. There are discussions underway on how this issue can be addressed to the satisfaction of suppliers and recipient alike, taking into account the Indian legal and regulatory framework as well as the international convention.  The nuclear initiative has surmounted past challenges and speaking from experience, it must be approached with a positive spirit. Let me make another point in this context that is often overlooked. I recall our Prime Minister telling Secretary Kerry - then a U.S. Senator -  that our nuclear differences were a thorn stuck in the throat of our relationship. By reaching an understanding, the way was cleared for a much warmer relationship between us. To my mind, the indirect benefits flowing from the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement far outweigh the direct ones.

7. Another issue that dampened sentiment somewhat was our not choosing an American supplier for our medium multi-role combat aircraft. As someone involved in the initial phase of that exercise, let me testify to the process difficulties at the US end and the challenge of creating a template for a country like India. There was also a sense of entitlement on the American side, which the last time I checked, is the prerogative of the customer. Subsequent events have disproven the political inferences that many drew from that episode. The Indian Air Force is today second only to the USAF in its fleet of C17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft. The Indian Navy introduced the P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft at the same time as did the US Navy. We have just cleared an additional order of C130J Super Hercules aircraft. Unlike many other recipients of American military hardware, India actually pays for these acquisitions. Nor does India ever given cause for technology protection concerns. It is also encouraging that an India-specific acquisition and co-production template is now under development in the Pentagon. The rest of the defense relationship is doing well too. The United States is the country with which our Armed Forces conduct the maximum number of exercises.  These, I might add, have been growing in complexity.  This year, India would be a full participant in the RIMPAC exercises for the first time, deploying naval assets in that regard. .  Our policy dialogues and military exchanges have also grown in their frequency and comfort level.  

8.  Geo-strategic convergence is still the core of our relationship even if it is more circumspectly expressed in day-to-day diplomacy.  Looking across the global expanse, our concerns overlap to a large extent as do sources of our threat.  As a result, our national security structures are engaged in the broadest possible sense. Even as the U.S. recovers economically and strategically, the case for working with India has only gotten stronger. There is a broad consensus in this town that any future security strategy has to be more partnership based.  To our West, there are uncertainties arising out of the 2014 draw-down scenario from Afghanistan and its consequences.  To our East, maritime claims and disputes have heightened tension in the Indo-Pacific region.  Overall, Asia has become politically more volatile, yet economically more central.  How India's 'Look East' policy meets the United States' rebalancing will have a significance beyond our individual interests. In addressing that and other pressing challenges, we would serve each other's interests best by being ourselves. After all, India and the United States do have a common commitment to a peaceful, pluralistic and progressive world.  And no one should dispute that, as a liberal democratic society, India's rise poses no challenge to American values. 

9.     In the nearer term, our diplomats and strategists are naturally confronted with a myriad of issues of international politics.  We seem to agree on many of these issues but differ on some.  That should not be surprising as our broad political and security goals are not in contradiction.   At the same time, we must also acknowledge that our experiences, understanding and interests are not identical.  Differences can, of course, be played up by a constituency pushing a particular cause. There is also the temptation to be transactional under pressure.   On issues of economic development, we cannot ignore the plain truth that we have very different situations at home.  This makes us often sit on opposite sides of the table.  It is important to understand that negotiations on some of the more difficult issues are independent of our bilateral ties.  At the end of the day, our overall relationship is larger than the individual problems we examine and debate.  Having said that, it is also important that we resist calls to return to arguments of the past.  The current phase of our ties came about precisely because there was a more acute understanding of the growing weight and potential of India by the United States.  That must continue if we are to forge ahead.

10.  Our economic cooperation is based on a counterpart of this broad vision. This has allowed the relationship to foster an exchange of goods, capital and services and build new constituencies of support. Trade has quadrupled to $100 billion in the last seven years.  Investments have crossed the $ 50 billion mark. While putting behind us the famous description of economic cooperation being as flat as a chapati,  we do have to contend today with the compulsions of the post-2008 era.  As a result, we are now entering a period that established partners of the U.S. are more familiar with but which is still a novel experience for us Indians.

11. Let me make four big points here. One, we do recognize that the slowdown in India is not just the result of the global crisis. Reviving growth through increasing investment is our foremost priority. An empowered committee has cleared 286 stalled infrastructure projects worth $ 97 billion last year. Our government's fiscal deficit, a serious source of concern, has also been brought down sharply. An improvement in the economic mood back home will surely lift our bilateral interactions. Two, India is concerned about its reputation, and we mean to act to show that we are open to international business.  That is evident from the recent announcement of "Safe Harbor" rules, the clarification of transfer pricing regulations, efforts at limiting the impact of the 'Preferential Market Access' policy for IT and telecommunications on the private sector, and maintaining the 100% FDI limit on brown field pharmaceutical acquisitions. An important mechanism to discuss and resolve tax disputes has been reactivated and will be meeting in Washington next fortnight. And discussions on the Bilateral Investment Treaty are also set to resume very shortly. Three, we could continue a public argument on trade and investment issues - both sides have their own narrative of woes - or move to a more constructive, if less public,  dialogue. In my early contacts with the Administration, I have made clear our preference is for the latter. But if presented with the former, I fear that as naturally argumentative people, we could be well be tempted to respond in kind.  Four, on some issues, we need to find an acceptable compromise because the fact is that we are coming at it from different places. The pharmaceutical business is a good example and triangulating affordability, profits, and respect for intellectual property is a challenge that merits more consideration.

12.  Since the economy is now so central to our ties, I would also like to make it very clear that India's interests warrant supporting an early American recovery. Not enough credit has been given to the investments that Indian companies have made here since 2008. A recent study of 68 Indian companies revealed that their collective investments in the US exceed $ 17 billion. One third of them are actively engaged in R&D here, spending about $ 350 million in that respect. Similarly, the Indian aircraft orders that I spoke about earlier alone support 40,000 jobs in the defense industry. A fair dialogue should also take into account Indian priorities and concerns. Here, the bottom line is that the costs of doing business in the United States are systematically under pressure from competitors. A worrying sign is the tendency by some to demonize the business climate in India. This tactic could well end up being counterproductive.

13.   You could reasonably ask what I would say about our ties to an Indian audience. To them, I would make two basic points. One, that to realize India's four key priorities - energizing the economy, raising our technology and management capabilities, securing the homeland, and ensuring a favorable balance of power - the United States is the indispensable partner. Two, these big Indian goals are not at odds with the interests of the US. In fact, these could even be complementary.

14. Relationship building is never without challenges. Some of it is structural; the rest emanates from our different histories.  The U.S. has to overcome its inclination to view ties through the lens of alliance practices.  Indians perhaps have to indulge themselves less in compulsive ambiguity. Ironically, American complaints on that score usually come when it too is considering hedging.  Building ties requires a degree of give and take that can test officialdoms. Appreciating each other's interests can be more difficult than we generally assume.  And contrary to what many seem to believe here, domestic politics is not just the prerogative of the United States. 

15.   In going about my task as Ambassador, I draw support from the vast goodwill that now characterizes the attitudes of our societies to the other.  The grand strategy underwriting our ties is fundamentally sound. It needs maintenance and from time to time, an upgrade.  That puts the emphasis on detailing and problem solving.

16.   For those of us who have devoted time and energy to building Indo-U.S. ties, the last few weeks have been truly distressing. What I have encountered since my arrival is the sense that this situation should never have happened.  But since it did, we will now have to work through this problem.  That is part of the conversations underway.  But what the issue does highlight is the need for greater sensitivity, for better understanding and for stronger oversight of our ties. I rest my case on that note. 

Former Senior Taliban Official Running to Succeed Hamid Karzai As President of Afghanistan

Associated Press
February 6, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — He has been called a mentor to accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the man who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was accused of war crimes and atrocities, and even has a terror group named after him in the Philippines.

But these days, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf has refashioned himself as an influential lawmaker, elder statesman and religious scholar — and possibly the next president of Afghanistan.

While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. Other front-runners include Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother; and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic.

"Afghanistan still depends on the goodwill of foreign donors for nearly all of its government’s budget," said Graeme Smith, senior Afghanistan analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "A Sayyaf win would probably really test those relationships because foreign donors might not be thrilled by some of his positions."

Still, when Sayyaf appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday, he laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls.

Staunchly anti-Taliban, Sayyaf spoke of the importance of fighting corruption and boosting security and the rule of law. He expressed an openness to signing a security deal with the U.S. as well as support for women to work in professions prohibited under the Taliban.

"We are surrounded by threats, therefore we need to have close relations and deep relations with the whole world," Sayyaf said.

Pointing to the small number of women in the audience, he said, “Women, we will be sure to defend your rights and your dignity.”

To loud applause, Sayyaf said women should be permitted to become doctors and teachers, and that he wants to provide a good atmosphere for their education — but one which should be “safe” for women. Allowing images of women on items such as soap boxes is an affront to their dignity and not a way to protect them, he added.

His message resonated with 19-year-old Qudsia Sharifi, who noted the struggles women like her face in Afghanistan.

Gates: What He Really Thought About the Afghan War

BY Douglas Ollivant
FEBRUARY 6, 2014
Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

In Duty, recently retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives readers an inside look at some of the most interesting national security challenges of the past eight years. However, the book's generally cogent analysis of events diminishes when he turns to the challenge that occupies the second half of the book-Afghanistan. When all his doubts and concerns scattered throughout the book are assembled, they present a powerful condemnation of the Afghan strategy that Gates championed, one that expended not only considerable blood and treasure (as if these weren't enough), but also inherently limited White House focus, on the strategic backwater of Afghanistan.

Despite the focus of many reviewers on some choice words about President Obama and his closest White House staffers, Gates' book almost literally covers the world. Through the eyes of a long-time intelligence and defense professional (CIA analyst, NSC director, CIA Deputy Director, Deputy National Security Advisor, and CIA Director, prior to his latest appointment), Gates provides a candid yet generally charitable look into the two presidential administrations, George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's, that he served as Secretary of Defense. His insights into the characters of the principals he interacted with, the various crises he helped manage, and the day-to-day challenges of helming a Pentagon at war are more than worth the book's cover price. For all the prioritization of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during his tenure, Gates also had to help deal with crises in and around Iran, Georgia, Haiti, Russia, Egypt, Libya, and Turkey, among others. He attended talks in the Middle and Far East. And he dealt with budget and personnel battles in his own building. It was a busy time.

But Afghanistan nevertheless looms large in the book, largely because, while there was unanimity in Bush's National Security Council about the path forward in Iraq, the decision on Afghanistan featured a great deal of division. President Obama's cabinet, its so-called "Team of Rivals" (echoing Doris Kearns Goodwin's book of the same name) often showed more rivalry than teamwork. Secretary Gates's tenure encompasses almost the entirety of Afghanistan's "second act" in the post-9/11 era. While he was not in government for 9/11, nor for the initial invasion of Afghanistan, it was in late 2006 and 2007, after Gates' ascension to the Pentagon, that Afghanistan was once again identified as a problem. Gates was in office for all the early "reviews"-notably those the National Security Council's Afghanistan team under "War Czar" Doug Lute in late 2008 (Full disclosure: I worked for Lute during this period, but on Iraq, not Afghanistan, and had virtually no interaction with the Afghanistan review), and of Bruce Riedel in early 2009, in addition to numerous smaller Pentagon-driven studies. If Gates (or any other principal) was unaware of any Afghan-related facts, it was not for a lack of staff energy spent trying to find them.

Why India and Pakistan Hate Each Other

BY Shamila N. Chaudhary
FEBRUARY 4, 2014

Stephen Cohen, Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum. (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2013).
Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel (New York: Penguin, 2013).

In many aspects, India and Pakistan are not exceptional. Like so many other former European colonies, they struggle to reconcile modern borders with ancient identities. Elites govern at the expense of ordinary citizens. Foreign countries feature prominently in their economic and political activities, especially as India and Pakistan seek to compete at a global level. In this light, India and Pakistan seem no different than the many postcolonial states scattered throughout Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

What makes India and Pakistan special, however, is how much they hate each other. Despite numerous fits and starts at rapprochement, the countries have reconciled little in the nearly seven decades since independence from the British. Instead, they have moved in the opposite direction, strategically crafting national identities and policies along a singular concept: rivalry.

In Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum, Stephen Cohen, the Brookings Institution's South Asia scholar, partially blames this rivalry on the British. The British crown assumed direct control in 1858 over the subcontinent, and did more damage in "1947, when it partitioned India and decamped." The most glaring example of colonial error is what happened to the princely state of Kashmir, where a Hindu prince ruled the largely Muslim state. At partition, "Indian princes were advised by the British to choose either India or Pakistan...and the rush to force them to join one or the other ignited several significant conflicts." Kashmir remained part of India, despite its Muslim majority, and the rest is history, or rather, rivalry.

Since independence, however, India and Pakistan have sustained and deepened the rivalry to be just as culpable as the British. Today the two countries have three wars between them, a game of proxies inside Afghanistan, and a nuclear arms race, as well as a smattering of disputes over territory, water, and trade. Cohen thoroughly explains these problems and ironies, offering several explanations: a clash of civilizations, a competition between secular and Islamic states, territorial disputes, power politics, "psychological abnormalities," and the influence of outside powers."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Has Been Meeting Secretly With Taliban Without Informing U.S. or Other Allies

February 4, 2014
Karzai Arranged Secret Contacts With the Taliban
Azam Ahmed and Matthew Rosenberg
New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been engaged in secret contacts with the Taliban about reaching a peace agreement without the involvement of his American and Western allies, further corroding already strained relations with the United States.

The secret contacts appear to help explain a string of actions by Mr. Karzai that seem intended to antagonize his American backers, Western and Afghan officials said. In recent weeks, Mr. Karzai has continued to refuse to sign a long-term security agreement with Washington that he negotiated, insisted on releasing hardened Taliban militants from prison and distributed distorted evidence of what he called American war crimes.

The clandestine contacts with the Taliban have borne little fruit, according to people who have been told about them. But they have helped undermine the remaining confidence between the United States and Mr. Karzai, making the already messy endgame of the Afghan conflict even more volatile. Support for the war effort in Congress has deteriorated sharply, and American officials say they are uncertain whether they can maintain even minimal security cooperation with Mr. Karzai’s government or its successor after coming elections.

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A convoy with Afghan National Army troops. American forces are turning over their combat role to Afghan forces. Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Frustrated by Mr. Karzai’s refusal to sign the security agreement, which would clear the way for American troops to stay on for training and counterterrorism work after the end of the year, President Obama has summoned his top commanders to the White House on Tuesday to consider the future of the American mission in Afghanistan.

Western and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the peace contacts, said that the outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared.

The peace contacts, though, have yielded no tangible agreement, nor even progressed as far as opening negotiations for one. And it is not clear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were simply trying to derail the security agreement by distracting Mr. Karzai and leading him on, as many of the officials said they suspected.

As recently as October, a long-term agreement between the United States and Afghanistan seemed to be only a few formalities away from completion, after a special visit by Secretary of State John Kerry. The terms were settled, and a loya jirga, or assembly of prominent Afghans, that the president summoned to ratify the deal gave its approval. The continued presence of American troops after 2014, not to mention billions of dollars in aid, depended on the president’s signature. But Mr. Karzai repeatedly balked, perplexing Americans and many Afghans alike.

China Spending More on Defense, But Is Its Military Overrated?

By Michael Forsythe
February 4, 2014
New York Times

China to Ramp Up Military Spending

China already spends more on its military than any country in the world except the United States. Now, as defense budgets at the Pentagon and in many NATO countries shrink, China’s People’s Liberation Army is gearing up for a surge in new funding, according to a new report.

China will spend $148 billion on its military this year, up from $139.2 billion in 2013, according to IHS Jane’s, a defense industry consulting and analysis company. The United States spends far more – a forecast $574.9 billion this year – but that is down from $664.3 billion in 2012 after budget cuts slashed spending. By next year China will spend more on defense than Britain, Germany and France combined, according to IHS. By 2024, it will spend more than all of Western Europe, it estimates.

The surge in weapons spending by Beijing – military outlays this year are set to be a third higher than in 2009 – has come in tandem with an escalation in tensions with its neighbors over longstanding territorial disputes. Vietnam and the Philippines have overlapping claims with China to islands and shoals in the South China Sea. Japan and China have been at loggerheads over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The extra spending has bought some flashy hardware. In 2012 China commissioned its first aircraft carrier – the Liaoning – built from the hull of an uncompleted ship ordered by the Soviet navy in the 1980s. In 2011 a Chinese-made aircraft with stealth radar-evading capabilities flew on a test flight as Robert M. Gates, then the United States defense secretary, was in Beijing on an official visit.

Yet the Chinese military – controlled by the ruling Communist Party, not the government – has been plagued by corruption scandals that may sap its fighting effectiveness. Seven decades ago, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell of the United States was frustrated by corrupt Chinese generals who were often more interested in lining their pockets than fighting the Japanese. Last month the Chinese magazine Caixin detailed allegations about the extravagant lifestyle of Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, a deputy head of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Logistics Department. Among the items confiscated from his villa complex were a gold washbasin and a gold statue of Mao Zedong, Caixin reported. General Gu also allegedly owned 10 homes in central Beijing, where apartment prices regularly top $1 million.

Asia and the two world wars

C. Raja Mohan 
February 7, 2014

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As China is flexing its military muscle, the presumed lessons from the two world wars are being evoked to describe the dangers of the current tensions in the region.


Turning a deaf ear to the nationalist passions in East Asia is not going to save India from the consequences of new Asian wars that now seem increasingly probable.

Hyper-patriotism does not win you medals. Clinical, dogged and nerveless preparation, usually does.

The First World War began a century ago the Second World War drew to a close nearly 70 years ago. As the world prepares to mark these anniversaries, the two great wars have acquired a peculiar political resonance in East Asia.

In a region where China is flexing its impressive military muscle in multiple maritime territorial disputes with its neighbours and Japan is reclaiming its place in the Asian sun, the presumed lessons from the two wars are being evoked widely to describe the dangers of the current tensions in the region.

In an interview to the ‘New York Times’ this week, the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino compared China to Nazi Germany and warned the world against appeasing China by accepting its aggressive territorial claims in the contested waters of East Asia.

As the Philippines lost control over some of the waters it claims to the Chinese navy over the last couple of years, neither Manila’s regional partners in the ASEAN nor the United States, its long-standing military ally, were ready to stand up and be counted.

Joint command: Theme for a Chinese dream

The unified structure being adopted by China will lead to the strengthening of its military prowess to back up the country’s global ambitions. In India, political waffling has so far prevented the emergence of a similar combined structure for its armed forces 

Manoj Joshi

EARLIER this month, a Japanese newspaper revealed that China was planning to drastically overhaul its military commands by restructuring the present seven military regions and the Second Artillery, which controls China’s strategic forces, into five joint commands. Three of these would face the maritime areas of China in the East China Sea and the South China Sea while the other two would presumably look towards China’s land-based adversaries, primary among these being India. Currently, the forces confronting us are primarily handled by the Chengdu military region, with a small part of Ladakh, including the Depsang Plains area, by the Lanzhou military region.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the PLA to beef up its institutional structures and train under realistic conditions of combat. Photo: REUTERS 

This report gained credence when a day later the China Daily cited the Chinese Ministry of Defence to confirm that China would implement a joint command system “in due course”, and that it had already launched pilot schemes towards that end.

Curiously, over that weekend, the Chinese seemed to have had another thought and the Ministry of Defence declared that the earlier reports were “without basis.” However, the tenor of the denial in the nationalist Global Times suggested that this disavowal was pro forma. In essence, the joint commands would be the equivalent of theatre commands where all four elements of military power — army, navy, air force and nuclear forces — would be wielded by a single commander through a unified command structure. At one level, it signals the growing sophistication of Chinese military thinking, and at another, the expansion of its military vision beyond its continental confines to the oceans and the airspace above.

Like all Chinese leaders, Xi Jinping, who became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012, has displayed interest in military matters. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), as is well-known, owes its allegiance to the CPC and not China, the nation. Its importance to the party was reinforced by its role in the Tiananmen events in 1989. Leaders till Deng Xiaoping had been either PLA veterans or political commissars in the PLA.

In Xi’s case, his father Xi Zhongxun was a noted revolutionary leader, who had led the PLA forces. More importantly, between 1979 and 1982 Xi junior had served as an assistant to Geng Biao, who was Secretary-General of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) , the body which oversees the PLA. As Xi set out to take command of the country, he made it a special mission to keep the PLA close to himself.

Modernising the PLA

Perhaps, the greatest indicator of this was his adoption of the notion of the “Chinese Dream” as his theme-song soon after he became the boss of the party and the military. The idea was the product of Colonel Liu Mingfu, a former professor at China’s National Defence University, who wrote a book with the same name calling for policies that would enable China to surpass US as a world power. Xi’s more guarded notion of the ‘Chinese Dream’ is the “rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation but it is clear from his remarks and policies that military power is an important component of this revival.


UPDATE (1/31/14): According to state media, the Yutu lunar rover suffered a “mechanical control abnormality" and failed to complete preparations for its second lunar night, which began January 25th (Xinhua, January 25). This means that it will likely lose all functionality during the -292 degree Fahrenheit lunar night, ending the rover’s mission weeks earlier than originally planned. However, the lunar lander appears to have successfully entered hibernation and will...

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Egypt reached a historical milestone as the country marked the third anniversary of the Tahrir revolution on January 25 that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years. The anniversary was marked by bomb blasts, rallies and killings as Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with security forces. Muslim Brotherhood supporters used the anniversary to signal renewed defiance of the military and the political transition, planned by the military-backed interim government. The Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization by the interim government that has also put the former president, Mohamed Morsi, in the dock for criminal offences. The Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a group affiliated to al Qaida, claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts and warned that more would follow. This group has been responsible for suicide bomb attacks and a savage campaign of violence against the security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

The last three years have seen Egypt undergoing wrenching political upheavals that have left the country deeply polarized. Egyptians opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood are clamouring for the defence minister and army chief, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, to run for president. He was the Egyptian strongman behind the overthrow of the Morsi-led Islamist government in June 2013. Crippled by months of continuous crackdowns against its members, the Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been killed in their hundreds. The crackdown has included arrests and the seizure of assets of pro-Brotherhood businesspersons. A rising tide of anger against the Brotherhood has aroused the Egyptian public and secular Egyptians, the latter group being critical of both the military and the Islamists. The secularists are currently caught between the resurgent military and the Islamists in retreat mode. The referendum on the new constitution held on January 14 and 15 had a low turnout of about 38 per cent, marginally more than the turnout in the referendum on the first constitution drafted under the Islamist government of Morsi. The Islamists had called for a boycott of this referendum.