28 April 2015

Watching a city crumble

April 28, 2015 

A first person account of the earthquake and its aftershocks in Kathmandu, Nepal.

In the evening of April 25, the day that the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, I stood on the roof of my house in Kathmandu and looked over the city’s southern suburbs. There was mostly darkness, since the electricity supply had been cut off. Electric light flickered from a few houses that had private sources of power. I counted five small bonfires in the distance, marking the locations of a few of the makeshift campsites where the inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley were preparing to spend the night.

Lucky and unlucky populations

I had seen numerous such sites as I’d walked around the southern outskirts of the Valley where my house lies. In the more affluent parts, where the houses are of relatively recent and sturdy construction, such as the area in which I live, the campers had polyurethane mats and plastic chairs, and were living out of their cars. The damage around didn’t seem that severe: boundary walls had collapsed, water tanks had toppled down from rooftops. Some people I spoke to said the earthquake was the most frightening event of their lives, but many also said that given its intensity, they were surprised that the damage had not been more severe.

Chinese take away: Nepal Challenge

April 28, 2015

New Delhi did well to respond decisively when tragedy struck Nepal. But India is at the very beginning of a long and demanding process of delivering relief to victims, assisting their rehabilitation and contributing to the reconstruction of Nepal. While Kathmandu is now being flooded with media and relief teams from around the world, the cameras will soon leave Nepal. The world’s attention will turn to the next crisis. But India must stick around for the long haul.

Geographic proximity, cultural intimacy and economic interdependence means Nepal’s problems are also India’s. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware of this reality and has devoted special attention to revitalising ties after he took charge as PM. Nepal is the only country Modi has visited twice. On both occasions, he underlined the unique bond between the two countries.

Crushing voices of dissent

April 28, 2015 

Activist Sabeen Mahmud’s assassination in Pakistan proves that the state sees in intellectuals a threat to its unitary vision of nationalism.

Why kill intellectuals? Why kill feminists? Why kill artists or writers?

On April 24, 40-year-old Sabeen Mahmud, the director of a literary and cultural space in Karachi, The Second Flood (T2F), was assassinated by unknown assailants. She was driving home with her mother after an event at her cultural centre when the assassins shot her five times on a road in the upper class Defence Housing Authority area. The bullets that pierced her shoulder, chest and abdomen killed her before she could reach a hospital. Her mother, who was shot twice, was critically injured.

Italy plays the spoilsport

Bhaswati Mukherjee
Apr 28 2015 

There were great expectations of an upswing in India-EU relations after India's elections. Regretfully, an opportunity to inject a new dynamism into the relations has been lost. Federica Mogherini of Italy as the new Vice-President and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy has ensured, to the surprise of major European Union members such as France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, that the ongoing judicial proceedings with regard to the Italian marines cast a long shadow on the India-EU relationship itself. This was manifest in the developments leading to the long anticipated India-EU Summit that was supposed to have been held during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France and Germany this month. 

Due to the vision of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the supportive role of the then Portuguese Presidency of the European Union, the first India-EU Summit was held in Lisbon in June, 2000. The Summit was a great success and laid the foundation for a new strategic relationship with the EU. 


By Divya Kumar Soti

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was on a three-day visit to Turkmenistan from March 7 to discuss various bilateral issues like the TAPI pipeline project as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit the country in July. Sushma Swaraj described her visit as successful “exceeding her expectations”. Both countries reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project and need to expedite the same. Both nations also agreed on sorting out various technical glitches, which include appointment of a consortium leader for the TAPI project, as none of the four partner nations have experience in handling a cross-country pipeline project.

The TAPI pipeline has been stuck up inThis was preceded by a meeting in Islamabad of representative ministers from all the four partner countries in February, chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif where he described the TAPI project as “very important for all countries of the region” and appealed to all the four nations to “take this opportunity seriously so that we can fulfill our obligation to our people”. Pakistan has faced a great scarcity of gas this winter and the Nawaz government has been facing a lot of criticism at home in the wake of Pakistan’s worsening energy crisis.

5 Ways India Mistreats Its Bravest Men And Women. Yes, We're Talking About Our Ex-Military Officers

April 25, 2015

Here are just a handful of stories that will make you realise that the men and women who volunteer their lives in exchange for serving India are also endangering their dignity. 

1. Jobs for ex-servicemen are limited

That’s not an ordinary taxi driver – it’s former Havaldar Gurmukh Singh Sahanu. There’s a reason you see ex-servicemen in careers that offer much less than a shadow of the glory and discipline of their former roles – the government isn’t pushing corporate India to hire them. Instead, you find ex-army men working in blue collar jobs like security and gyms. There’s 50,000 men who retire from the armed forces every year, and most are still capable and willing to work. These men have a discipline and mental agility forged in life or death situations. 

India's 3 Greatest Prime Ministers of All Time

Since India’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, it has had 14prime ministers. India adopted a parliamentary system from the British, so its prime minister is chosen by a majority vote from the largest bloc in India’s Parliament. As a result, the same person can serve as prime minister for multiple, non-consecutive terms.

India is not an easy place to govern. It is a young country founded through a traumatic, bloody partition. It has the world’s second largest population in a landmass the size of Western Europe. This population is divided into hundreds of ethnic groups speaking over a thousand languages, including twenty major ones. Indians follow many religions and range from some of the world’s poorest people to some of the richest. All in all, governing this vast and diverse population has been difficult for India’s prime ministers, who have had to increasingly rely on unwieldy and complex coalitions due to the rise of regional and caste-based parties.

Pakistani Intelligence Agency Trying to Wrest Control Of City of Karachi From Pakistani Political Party, Report

April 27, 2015

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The chief of Pakistan’s main spy agency is spearheading a campaign to wrest control of the teeming port city of Karachi from a powerful political party, the military’s latest, and some say boldest, foray into civilian life in recent years.

According to military officials, police officers and members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party which has traditionally dominated Karachi, Rizwan Akhtar has decided the time for policing the city from the sidelines is over.

“There is a quiet, creeping takeover of Karachi by the military,” said a government official close to Akhtar, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which traditionally acts as an extension of army power in Pakistan.

“Karachi is just too big … too much land, too much business, resources. No one party will be allowed to rule Karachi from now on,” added the official, who declined to be named.


By Shakti Sinha

Indian analysts are unduly nervous about developments in Afghanistan. What is particularly of concern is this oft-repeated lament that despite investing US$ 2 billion in Afghanistan, India has been marginalised, almost holding the Afghan people responsible for this ‘loss’. One, India is, and remains, the most popular country in Afghanistan – as a role model of a successful developing country, successful economically and as a democracy despite its size, diversity, and low starting point. Two, relations between two nations with such a long shared history and culture, and shared long-term interests cannot be reduced to individual transactions; while both must benefit, calculations cannot be done daily, weekly or even annually. Three, for Afghans, India is the land of hospitals and educational institutions – the money changers at Kabul airport and in the bazaar display Indian rupees, not the US dollar, the Pakistani rupee or the Iranian toran. There are more flights to India than to any other destination save Dubai, which is basically its opening to the world. But maximum bilateral travel is with Delhi.


April 27, 2015 

In 2009 Sarah Chayes had an epiphany. A former NPR reporter who had fallen in love with Afghanistan while covering the U.S. invasion, Chayes had stayed on to run an NGO and then established a small business in Kandahar. Narullah, one of her employees, told her how his brother Najib refused to pay a bribe at the outskirts of Kandahar. After the soldiers hit him and smashed his phone, Najib paid but then called Narullah, who had previously been a policeman. Narullah called the local police chief who scoffed, “Did he die of it?” After relating this story to Chayes, Narullah declared, “If I see someone planting an IED on a road, and then I see a police truck coming, I will turn away. I will not warn them.”

For Chayes, everything fell into place as she realized, “Afghan government corruption was manufacturing Taliban.” From that revelation others followed. The Afghan government was not a weak state. 

Why Pakistan Is Staying Out of Yemen

April 27, 2015 

On March 25, a Saudi-led coalition of ten Arab states began an aerial bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, who had taken control of the capital, Sana’a. The Houthis were steadily progressing to the port city of Aden, where the Saudi-backed Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, had fled. Codenamed “Operation Decisive Storm,” the move has been widely viewed as an effort by the Saudis and their allies to preserve Sunni control of their volatile southern neighbor against the Zaidi Shi’a Houthis, supported by Iran.

As the parties attempt to reach a settlement after the month-long campaign, one key Saudi ally is still missing from its coalition: Pakistan. After a week of heavy debate, Pakistan’s Parliament unanimously passed a resolution on April 10 declaring that the country would remain “neutral” in the Yemen conflict, signifying a sharp break between the two long-time partners.

CIA Drone Strikes Have Taken a Terrible Toll on Al Qaeda’s Leadership in Pakistan

Declan Walsh
April 24, 2015

LONDON — Revelations of new high-level losses among Al Qaeda’s top leadership in Pakistan’s tribal belt have underscored how years of American drone strikes have diminished and dispersed the militant group’s upper ranks and forced them to cede prominence and influence to more aggressive offshoots in Yemen and Somalia.

While the C.I.A. drone strike that killed two Western hostages has led to intense criticism of the drone program and potentially a reassessment of it, the American successes over the years in targeting and killing senior Qaeda operatives in their home base has left the militant group’s leadership facing difficult choices, counterterrorism officials and analysts say.

That process of attrition has been accelerated by the emergence of the Islamic State, whose arresting brutality and superior propaganda have sucked up funding and recruits. In the tribal belt, a Pakistani military drive that started last summer has forced Qaeda commanders into ever more remote areas like the Shawal Valley, where two of them were killed alongside an American hostage, Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, on Jan. 15.

Are the Pakistani Military and Intelligence Services Behind the Recent Murders of Government Critics (Including Journalists) and Human Rights Activists?

April 25, 2015

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) – Gunmen on a motorcycle killed a prominent women’s rights activist in Pakistan just hours after she held a forum on the country’s restive Baluchistan region, home to a long-running insurgency, police said Saturday.

While investigators declined to speculate on a motive for the killing of Sabeen Mahmud, friends and colleagues immediately described her death as a targeted assassination in Pakistan, a country with a nascent democracy where the military and intelligence services still hold tremendous sway.

The gunmen shot both Mahmud and her mother, Mehnaz Mahmud, as they stopped at a traffic light Friday night in an upscale Karachi neighborhood, senior police officer Zafar Iqbal said. Later, Mahmud’s car was brought to a nearby police station; blood stained the car’s white exterior, the front driver’s side window was smashed and a pair of sandals sat on the floor, surrounded by broken glass.

“Two men riding a motorcycle opened fire on the car,” Iqbal said. Mahmud “died on her way to the hospital. Her mother was also wounded,” he said.

Here's why Indian strategists should worry about China's $46 billion funding to Pakistan

Apr 21, 2015 

There is only one way of looking at the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit to Pakistan during which the two countries India has fought wars with signed 51 agreements between them. If monetised, it would mean that China would pour a whopping $46 billion into Pakistan once these agreements come to fruition.

This sum would be a good $15 billion more than the United States has pumped into Pakistan since 2002.

It conveys a chilling message to India – that Pakistan is about to become a far more powerful country only because the Chinese munificence. It also means that China is full steam ahead in empowering a nuclear-armed restive neighbour who will inevitably use its to-be-acquired economic and military strength against India.

In Nepal Earthquake's Aftermath, India and China Respond

April 27, 2015

As Nepal continues to wrangle with the immediate aftermath of a devastating magnitude 8.1 earthquake that took place on Saturday and has claimed nearly 2,500 lives, its two large neighbors—India and China—are sending assistance to stave off a broader humanitarian crisis in the country. Nepal, though a small country, is of strategic significance for both New Delhi and Beijing.

On Sunday, China sent a 62-member International Search and Rescue team to Nepal to assistance in the humanitarian relief effort following the earthquake. According to Xinhua, the team includes “6 sniffer dogs and relevant rescue and medical equipment.” 40 members of the rescue team are from the 38th Group Army of the People’s Liberation Army.

Remembering the Indians of Gallipoli

April 27, 2015
A few curated defense and security links to start your week:

Last week marked the centennial of the start of the devastating Gallipoli Campaign, a World War I offensive that saw the Allied powers land on the Gallipoli peninsula to attack the Ottoman Empire. The campaign was a miserable failure for the allies, but a major victory for the Ottomans. April 25 is recalled as ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating the military casualties suffered by Australian and New Zealand troops. Accompanying the ANZAC Corps were 15,000 Indian soldiers, 1,400 of whom died at Gallipoli. ABC’s Stephanie March recalls the contribution of these Indian troops on the Gallipoli Campaign and their camaraderie with the ANZAC Corps.

Writing for Commentary Magazine, Michael Auslin argues that the new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines will represent a sea change for Japanese defense policies. The guidelines are nearly finalized and take into consideration recent changes in Japan’s defense posture, including the Abe government’s reinterpretation of a constitutional clause allowing for the country’s armed forces to participate in collective self-defense for the first time.

Nepal After the Earthquake

Apr 25, 2015 

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal early on Saturday, centered 10 miles below the surface, less than 50 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. At least 2,200 are already reported to have been killed by the quake and subsequent avalanches triggered in the Himalayas. Historic buildings and temples were destroyed, leaving massive piles of debris in streets as rescue workers and neighbors work to find and help those still trapped beneath rubble. Below are images from the region of the immediate aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Nepal in decades. (Editor's note, some of the images are graphic in nature.) 

Emergency rescue workers carry a victim on a stretcher after Dharara tower collapsed on April 25, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. More than 2,200 people have died as tremors hit Nepal after an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale caused buildings to collapse and avalanches to be triggered in the Himalayas. 

The Earthquake Nepal Saw Coming

APR 26, 2015

Hours after a major earthquake wreaked havoc across his country, Nepali Information Minister Minendra Rijal appeared at a news conference on Saturday to announce that schools would be closed for the next five days. "We never imagined we'd face such devastation," he said.

But for geologists, Saturday's disaster—which has claimed over 2,400 lives—was sadly predictable.

"Physically and geologically what happened is exactly what we thought would happen," James Jackson, head of the earth-sciences department at the University of Cambridge, told the Associated Press.The source of Nepal's beauty is whatmakes it vulnerable to earthquakes.

When China Rules the World

27 Apr , 2015

India’s strategic partnership with middle powers like Japan, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam will get greater domestic acceptance than an Asian strategy that relies solely on US commitment to maintain balance of power in the region. This will also counter China’s claims that regional security cooperation is merely a part of US and Indian efforts to contain China. Building multiple power coalitions as a complement to engaging China and deepening the strategic partnership with the US will strengthen India’s independent role in the security of Asia.

China’s experiment with industrialisation and poverty alleviation is unique and nothing short of a miracle. Bringing over 30 million above the poverty line into the middle class in a period of 20 years, is unique in history. 


April 27, 2015

At first glance, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) strikes observers as a fanatical religious group, bent onmillenarian goals and fully committed to its position as the vanguard of a new caliphate. And that is exactly what ISIL wants you to think. The reality is more mundane. ISIL is a cool-headed organization with an impressive understanding of “image management” that feeds on state failure and sectarian tensions. ISIL is not trying to expand for expansion’s sake. Rather, it is trying to “dig in” and create a mini-empire in Sunni-majority areas in Iraq and Syria. These limited goals, however, make ISIL more dangerous, not less. Managing the ISIL crisis requires recognizing three dynamics. First, there is a method to ISIL’s madness, and a coalition of pragmatists — jihadists and secular Baathists — behind its strategy. Second, a realistic assessment of the strategic environment where ISIL operates suggests that the organization is much less “irrational” or “suicidal” than often thought. Third, ISIL’s approach to territorial control is pragmatic and flexible. Thus, strategic retreats or military setbacks, such as ISIL’s defeat in Kobane, do not hurt the organization as much as it is perceived in the West.