16 March 2013

Burma's Glass Half-Full

March 15, 2013



After decades of repression, reform has come to Burma. But much remains to be done. This week the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will debate Burma’s progress, and particularly whether to drop its designation of Burma, or Myanmar, as a “country of concern.”

For years Burma competed for the world title of worst government. North Korea usually took home the crown, but Burma’s leaders in the capital city of Naypyidaw never gave up trying. The long-lived military junta waged war on the Burmese people, suppressed democratic freedoms, and locked the nation into grinding poverty.


But now change is underway. The military has formally stepped back, though the institution retains enormous influence if not effective control of the government. Political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been freed. Controls over opposition parties and independent journalists have been relaxed. Peace agreements have been reached with many ethnic groups seeking autonomy. The government also has begun distancing Burma from China, the country’s assertive northern neighbor.

Western nations have responded by lifting sanctions and offering assistance. President Barack Obama visited the country last November.

Nevertheless, the reform glass, while half full, also is half empty. Conflict continues with the ethnic Kachin, and the Muslim Rohingya continue to suffer from sometimes violent discrimination. Political prisoners remain and no one knows if the military is prepared to yield power when national elections are held in two years.

In preparation for the UNHRC debate, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, issued his latest report, which finds much progress, along with the need for additional reforms before Burma will have fully escaped a half-century of military dictatorship.

India has missed the Myanmar bus often

Author: G Parthasarathy

For long, the country has had troubled relations with its eastern neighbours, Thailand and China. Yet, Bangkok and Beijing remain far more engaged and invested in Myanmar’s development than Delhi

With a population of 60 million and a ruling elite and military made up primarily of Bamars (Burmese), who constitute approximately 68 per cent of its population, Myanmar today is perhaps the most seriously insurgency affected country in the world. Richly endowed in natural resources ranging from oil to rubies and perhaps the most fertile lands in Asia, Myanmar has constantly confronted troubles along its borders with its eastern neighbours Thailand and China. The country has 135 distinct ethnic groups ranging from Christian Karen and Kachin on its borders with Thailand and China, to Muslim Rohingyas on its borders with Bangladesh.

Ethnic insurgencies have torn the country apart ever since its birth. The Christian Karens took objection to Myanmar proclaiming itself as a Buddhist state shortly after independence in 1948. They were the favourites of the British and the best armed group in the country. They came close to overrunning the capital Rangoon in 1949. Prime Minister U Nu and his Government survived largely because of shiploads of military equipment from India. Ethnic insurgency amidst political infighting led to Prime Minister U Ba Swe asking the army chief Ne Win to take over the Government in 1958 and later impose military rule in 1962. The Ne Win period was marked by continuing ethnic insurgencies, exacerbated by China’s assistance till the 1980s, to the Burmese Communist Party, mainly operating through the Shan State and the Kachin State, straddling Burma’s borders with India and China. While the military regime’s General Khin Nyunt negotiated ceasefire agreements with most ethnic armed groups, ethnic conflicts have revived in the recent past.

Shortly after Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters entered Parliament, ethnic tensions between the Muslim Rohingyas and the Bamar Buddhist majority revived in the Rakhine (Arakan) Province bordering Bangladesh. Over 1,15,000 people, mostly Muslim Rohingyas, were displaced. The Myanmar Government permitted visits by independent observers from foreign Governments and international organisations, after the army moved in and restored order. Myanmar’s influential Buddhist clergy were supportive of the violence perpetrated on those they believed were ‘outsiders’ from Bangladesh. Sensing the public sentiment, Ms Suu Kyi remained silent. Myanmar officials openly say that while India is a secular country which can absorb demographic changes along its borders, Buddhist Myanmar is a small country which is in no position to do so. Strangely, there was a violent agitation in Mumbai against the Myanmar Government for alleged ‘atrocities’ against Muslims. One wonders whether a similar demonstration would be organised against the killings of thousands of Shias and Sufi Bareilvis in Pakistan.

VIEW OVER SHAHBAG


- Bangladesh must choose its own model of reconciliation
Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

It seems quaint now that I wrote 41 years ago that “though Bangla Desh (two words then) may one day emerge, the dormant communal bitterness successfully re-aroused by the Pakistan army and the irrevocable flight of the Hindus will make it a Bangla Desh for Muslims only”. That report in London’s Observer newspaper of June 13, 1971 under the headline, FLIGHT OF THE HINDU MILLIONS, in bold capitals across all eight columns at the top of the page contradicted the official narrative of a secular Elysium in the making. The drift to sectarian exclusiveness had to be pointed out because, as I also wrote, “for a time last year (meaning 1970), the Hindus still inside East Bengal rallied to the heady promise of an equal life for people of all religions offered to them by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”

Indian enthusiasm for the Shahbag upsurge in Dhaka suggests a naïve belief that Mujib’s initial promise can still be realized if Sheikh Hasina Wajed sends all the guilty men of 1971 to the gallows. Not that there is much genuine concern in this country for a minority without political or economic clout. But there is a conviction that the International Crimes Tribunal’s targets are also India’s worst enemies. It’s probably a justified conclusion but a dangerous one nevertheless for it identifies India’s interests with one lobby in Bangladesh’s internal conflicts. It also makes the law a tool of politics. Bangladesh was the first South Asian country to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court setting standards for prosecuting people accused of crimes against humanity. Sheikh Hasina was right, therefore, to punish Mujib’s murderers, albeit 35 years after that night of the long knives. But long-delayed retrospective justice can look suspiciously like vengeance. Human rights activists fault the tribunal for not living up to international standards of due process. The real criticism is that anything that deepens the already sharp division in Bangladeshi society makes it even more difficult for Sheikh Hasina to heal the wounds of the past. She needs something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to draw a veil over the blood-soaked years when justice followed power — rather than Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission which was seen as a partisan exercise.

Bangladesh is a painfully divided nation. How divided was brought home to me once in Dhaka’s Intercontinental Hotel when my old friend, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury — a British-trained barrister, businessman, member of the Jatiyo Sansad and leading light of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — sent his driver for me. The smartly dressed receptionist told me politely that Salauddin would not be welcome in the hotel because he had personally killed many liberation fighters. Whether he did or not (Dhaka thrives on gossip and rumour), Salauddin always said Awami Leaguers murdered his father, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, a Muslim League leader and former acting president of Pakistan, in Dhaka Central Jail in 1973. Salauddin himself has been in jail for several months without being charged or granted bail. His anguished son and brother lament that the police are treating him — a septuagenarian like me — very roughly indeed.

The feeding frenzy of kleptocracy

P. Sainath







Since 2005-06, taxes and duties for the corporate world and the rich have been written off at the rate of Rs.7 million a minute on average. Duties waived on gold and diamonds in the last 36 months equal the 2G scam amount

Forbes has just added an “errata” to Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s budget speech. The Minister had found a mere 42,800 people in the country with a taxable income in excess of Rs.1 crore a year. Or $184,000 a year. Forbes, the Oracle of Business Journalism, does not list taxable incomes. But it does put up a list each year of billionaires the world over. And in 2013, 55 Indians figure on that list, (up from 48 last year) with an average net worth of around Rs.190.8 billion. (See: http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/)Their total net worth is $ 193.6 billion. That’s…er, Rs.10.5 trillion. Chidambaram might want to compare notes with Steve Forbes. They could come up with a lot more names falling within his narrow super-rich spectrum.

The 55 wonder-wallets give India fifth rank in the world of billionaires on the Forbes List. Behind only the U.S., China, Russia and Germany. Our rank in the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index, though, is 136 out of 186 nations. With almost all of Latin America and the Caribbean, bar Haiti, ahead of us. (We have, though, elsewhere managed to tie with Equatorial Guinea.)
Class divide

Well, okay, the total worth of our megabucks mob comes to just over $193 billion. But a glance within reveals a grim class divide. At the bottom are the aam aadmi tycoons, barely scraping past the one billion-dollar mark. There are four of them, inches away from plutocrat penury, with only a mere billion to their names. There are 17 in all below the BPL (Billionaire Permanency Line), which seems to be $1.5 billion. Once you cross that threshold, you tend to be a permanent member of the club.

Seven Myths About “Women in Combat”


March 14, 2013
 
Marine photo / Cpl. Jennifer Pirante

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michelle Berglin trains for an upcoming deployment at Camp Pendleton in January.

Myth #1 – “It’s about women in combat.”

No, it’s not. Women are already in combat, and are serving well and professionally. The issue should be more clearly entitled, “Women in the infantry.” And this is a decidedly different proposition.

Myth #2 – “Combat has changed” (often accompanied by “There are no front lines anymore”).

This convenient misconception requires several counters. First, any serious study of military history will reveal numerous historical examples about how successive generations (over millennia) believed that warfare had changed forever, only to find that technology may change platforms, but not its harsh essence. To hope that conflicts over the last 20 years are models of a new, antiseptic form of warfare is delusional.

The second point is that the enemy gets a vote – time, place, and style. For example, war on the Korean Peninsula would be a brutal, costly, no-holds-barred nightmare of mayhem in close combat with casualties in a week that could surpass the annual total of recent conflict.

The final point on this myth reinforces the Korea example and it bears examination — Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, where warfare was reduced to a horrific, costly, and exhausting scrap in a destroyed city between two foes that fought to the death.

The standard for ground combat unit composition should be whether social experimentation would have amplified our opportunity for success in that crucible, or diminished it. We gamble with our future security when we set standards for warfare based on the best case, instead of the harshest one.

Myth #3 – “If they pass the physical standards, why not?”

Physical standards are important, but not nearly all of the story. Napoleon – “The moral (spirit) is to the physical as three is to one.”

Unit cohesion is the essence of combat power, and while it may be convenient to dismiss human nature for political expediency, the facts are that sexual dynamics will exist and can affect morale. That may be manageable in other environments, but not in close combat.

Any study of sexual harassment statistics in this age cohort – in the military, academia, or the civilian workplace — are evidence enough that despite best efforts to by sincere leaders to control the issue, human instincts remain strong. Perceptions of favoritism or harassment will be corrosive, and cohesion will be the victim.

Myth #4 – “Standards won’t be lowered.”

This is the cruelest myth of all. The statements of the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are telling.

They essentially declare “guilty until proven innocent” on anyone attempting to maintain the standards which produced the finest fighting force in the world. There are already accommodations (note that unit cohesion won’t be a metric), there will be many more, and we will pay a bloody price for it someday.

Pity the truthful leader who attempts to hold to standards based on realistic combat factors, and tells truth to power. Most won’t, and the others won’t survive.

Myth #5 – “Opening the infantry will provide a better pathway to senior rank for the talented women.”

Not so. What will happen is that we will take very talented females with unlimited potential and change their peer norm when we inject them into the infantry.

Those who might meet the infantry physical standard will find that their peers are expected, as leaders, to far exceed it (and most of their subordinates will, as well).

So instead of advancing to a level appropriate to their potential, they may well be left out.

Myth #6 – “It’s a civil rights issue, much like the integration of the armed forces and allowing gays to serve openly.”

Those who parrot this either hope to scare honest and frank discussion, or confuse national security with utopian ideas.

In the process, they demean initiatives that were to provide equally skilled individuals the opportunity to contribute equally. In each of the other issues, lowered standards were not the consequence.

Myth #7 – “It’s just fair.”

Allow me two points.

First, this is ground warfare we’re discussing, so realism is important.

“Fair” is not part of the direct ground combat lexicon.

Direct ground combat, such as experienced in the frozen tundra of Korea, the rubble of Stalingrad, or the endless 30-day jungle patrols against a grim foe in Viet Nam, is the harshest meritocracy — with the greatest consequences — there is.

And psychology in warfare is germane – the force that is respected (and, yes, feared) has a distinct advantage.

Will women in our infantry enhance a psychological advantage, or hinder it?

Second, if it’s about fairness, why do women get a choice of whether to serve in the infantry (when men do not), and why aren’t they required to register for the draft (as men are)?

It may be that we live in a society in which honest discussion of this issue, relying on facts instead of volume, is not possible. If so, our national security will fall victim to hope instead of reality. And myths be damned.

Gregory S. Newbold served 32 years as a Marine infantryman, commanding units from platoon to the 1st Marine Division. His final assignment before retiring in 2002 was as director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/03/14/seven-myths-about-women-in-combat/#ixzz2Ng2vC0Bz

Why Kashmir Needs Investment in Political Capital

March 15, 2013 

In the aftermath of Fidayeen attack on a CRPF camp in Srinagar the obvious story line should be to investigate the why and how and the reasons for Kashmir to be on the boil again. In this minute to minute incident ridden narrative unfortunately a much larger pertinent question has always got muzzled. That is the special status of J&K in the Indian Union. At a time when the tipping point seems to have shifted in favour of violence once again there is a need to examine this aspect. 

Kashmir is an uneasy place for any political party to govern because everything about it is special- from Article 370 to AFSPA. Indian Governments over the years have handled everything from development to its militancy through myopic lenses lest the ‘Special’ strike back to undo their political fortunes. 

Experts however believe that unfortunately any change in the special status would be seriously playing with fire. Article 370 deprives people of some of the best laws enacted for the rest of India (Juvenile Justice Act, Forest Protection Laws, Panchayati Raj Act etc etc). It assures less accountability over funding received by the Centre. But it is not possible to convince the people of the Valley of this with any sound arguments because the issue is too emotional. 

Truth is that the special status has been eroded to such an extent over the years that it does not even come close to the original idea and promises. Moreover, the hold over the state by the Centre is greater rather than over other states because of the security aspect. The biggest fear in the valley is that without Article 370 outsiders would be settled here and permanently changes the composition of the Valley. This was always a concern in the Northeast as well where identity politics are just as strong. Kashmir will always be different in identity from the rest of the country. Even if we were to move closer one day to greater integration, the people will always view themselves as Kashmiris first before anything else. We will have to live with that. 

Over the past year and especially since the unbridgeable divide between Jammu and the Valley caused by the 2008 land row, there appears to be a greater acceptance that the two places should be separated from each other regardless of the arguments that it assures “secularism.” Much of the lack of development is caused by the competition of both regions over development funds and their diversion to Jammu is a fact because of the short work season in the Valley. Apparently, both places deserve 12-months of uninterrupted governance, and the old concept of the Darbar move is detrimental to all regions. 

If the two regions cannot be separated, there should be reorganization to create two separate finance authorities and two separate regional councils that would assure that legislators can focus on each place the entire year. Also in terms of aspirations and politics, the two regions are completely opposed to each other. Religious radicalisation in both places feed on each other. This gap has been growing exponentially instead of closing. Moreover, Jammu has been emerging as its own economic entity that depends less on the Valley for its sustenance. With that there has been a growth in voices to be separated from the Valley. Similar demands are coming from Ladakh. Kargil is stuck in the middle also asking for greater autonomy from both regions. On the development front, the Valley has been suffering because of lack of sustained attention. 

Politics of pipelines

By Harsh V Pant
March 15, 2013

Iran playing hard

The much delayed India-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) gas pipeline is back in the news. Of course, without one “I” – India. Iran and Pakistan marked the start of Pakistani construction earlier this week when the presidents of the two countries came together for the ground breaking ceremony. 

The two are hoping that the pipeline will be complete in time to start delivery of 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan by December 2014. There was much political symbolism involved in this move by Islamabad and Tehran as both nations are trying to snub the US which has been against this pipeline and has been trying to isolate Iran for its nuclear programme. 

During the ceremony, Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused ‘foreign elements’ of trying to undermine Iran’s relations with Pakistan and to thwart the Islamic Republic’s progress by using its nuclear programme as a pretext. “I want to tell those individuals that the gas pipeline has no connection whatsoever with the nuclear case,” Ahmadinejad thundered.

Rapidly rising energy demand in India and Pakistan has been the impetus behind the proposed gas pipeline from Iran’s outfields through Pakistan to India. It is expected that this joint gas pipeline project would play an important role in cementing ties between Iran and Pakistan and that Pakistan’s annual royalties from this project would be about $500 million to $600 million. The proposal, however, was stuck for a long time because of differences between Pakistan and Iran on pricing and on methods to supply gas to India. Both India and Pakistan had contended that Tehran offer a price for gas in line with global practices for long-term contracts and had rejected Iran’s gas pricing formula wherein the gas price is linked to Brent crude oil with a fixed escalating cost component. 

The price Pakistan was demanding for security and transit from India also made India wary of the project. And then there was the US opposition to the project though both India and Pakistan had indicated that the project remained a foreign policy priority despite the pressure from the US. In the end Pakistan decided in 2009 to finalise the gas pipeline deal with Iran, connecting Iran’s South Pars gas field and Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces. The pipeline is expected to start operating from 2014. However, the deal remains a controversial one even in Pakistan because of the high price that Iran is charging. 

Wayward in Waziristan

BY AKBAR AHMED, HARRISON AKINS 
MARCH 15, 2013 

How the United States is blowing the war on terror in the most dangerous place in the world. 

It's possibly the most ominous-sounding region on the planet: Waziristan -- the name alone evokes al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Islamic militancy. These menaces have brought the world's focus to this small mountainous border region of northwest Pakistan, a part of the country's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which U.S. President Barack Obama referred to as "the most dangerous place in the world." 

The combined might of the U.S. and Pakistani militaries has been pounding on this impoverished region, which is about the size of Connecticut, for over a decade. Waziristan is the heart of the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan: Out of 351 strikes, 333 of them have occurred there. 

Drone attacks have become America's weapon of choice for pursuing its influence in the region. With the looming withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the architect of Obama's drone strategy, John Brennan, now at the CIA's helm, it is clear that the drones over Waziristan are there to stay. While some have lauded the precision and effectiveness of unmanned aerial vehicles, many stories from Waziristan recount the deaths of innocent women and children in the strikes. 

With U.S. satellites and drones firmly focused on this tribal area, it seems as if the United States knows everything yet understands nothing about Waziristan. Fixated on the specters of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, U.S. policymakers have ignored the local culture and history of the tribes in Waziristan, primarily the Wazir and Mehsud tribes. To be fair, it's not exactly easy to get a sense of tribal life peering down from a Predator drone 10,000 feet up. Yet it is exactly this tribal society, with its codes of honor and councils of elders, with which the United States has unwittingly entangled itself in its global fight against terrorism. This failure to understand Waziristan -- not to mention the presence of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), widely known as the Pakistani Taliban -- has only made the violence worse. 

Traditionally, law and order in Waziristan was maintained through the cooperation of three pillars of authority: tribal elders, religious leaders, and a civil administrator known as the political agent (PA) appointed by the central government. This is the structure that kept a tenuous peace among the tribes and between the central government and tribal periphery. But with America's war on terror, this structure has been torn to shreds, resulting in the upheaval the world sees today. 

The REAL reason the U.S. failed in Afghanistan

March 15, 2013 

Why did the U.S. fail in Afghanistan? (I know we are pretending to have succeeded, but that's just camouflage to disguise what is in fact an embarrassing if predictable defeat). The reasons for our failure are now being debated by people like Vali Nasr and Sarah Chayes, who have offered contrasting insider accounts of what went wrong. 

Both Nasr and Chayes make useful points about the dysfunction that undermined the AfPak effort, and I'm not going to try to adjudicate between them. Rather, I think both of them miss the more fundamental contradiction that bedeviled the entire U.S./NATO effort, especially after the diversion to Iraq allowed the Taliban to re-emerge. The key problem was essentially structural: US. objectives in Afghanistan could not be achieved without a much larger commitment of resources, but the stakes there simply weren't worth that level of commitment. In other words, winning wasn't worth the effort it would have taken, and the real failure was not to recognize that fact much earlier and to draw the appropriate policy conclusions. 

First, achieving a meaningful victory in Afghanistan -- defined as defeating the Taliban and creating an effective, Western-style government in Kabul -- would have required sending far more troops (i.e., even more than the Army requested during the "surge"). Troop levels in Afghanistan never approached the ratio of troops/population observed in more successful instances of nation-building, and that deficiency was compounded by Afghanistan's ethnic divisions, mountainous terrain, geographic isolation, poor infrastructure, and porous borders. 

Second, victory was elusive because Pakistan continued to support the Taliban, and its territory provided them with effective sanctuaries. When pressed, they could always slip across the border and live to fight another day. But Washington was never willing to go the mattresses and force Pakistan to halt its support, and it is not even clear that we could have done that without going to war with Pakistan itself. Washington backed off for very good reasons: We wanted tacit Pakistani cooperation in our not-so-secret drone and special forces campaign against al Qaeda, and we also worried about regime stability given Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, these factors made victory even harder to achieve. 

Third, we couldn't get Karzai to reform because he was the only game in town, and he knew it. Unless the U.S. and NATO were willing to take over the whole country and try to govern it ourselves -- a task that would have made occupying Iraq seem easy -- we were forced to work with him despite his many flaws. Successful counterinsurgencies require effective and legitimate local partners, however, and we never had one. 

Uncomfortable questions on land-swapping with Bangladesh

14 Mar , 2013 

Pakistan has done it again. In its continuing hybrid war against India(about which I have already written in this column), two terrorists belonging to Hizbul Mujahedeen, which is based in Pakistan and aided as well as abetted by Pakistan’s military establishment, killed five CRPF Jawans , who were guarding a school in Srinagar, on March 13. In fact, this attack came exactly four days later the chief operational commander of the al-Qaeda linked Punjabi Taliban Asmatullah Muawiya had threatened openly in Lahore – and this was prominently reported in the Pakistani media – that there would be major terrorist incidents in India to avenge the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. Muawiya, incidentally, is a former commander of Jaish-e-Mohammed, to which Guru belonged. 

The Manmohan regime seems to believe that India’s “soft power” will deliver goods. But that is not exactly happening, particularly with almost all our neighbours. 

As has been its trademark over the last nine years, the Manmohan Singh government has issued a strong statement over the latest Pakistan-based terrorist attack. But that is all. There will be no strong countermeasures against Pakistan at the ground level. In fact, Manmohan Singh has systematically de-hyphenated terrorism from diplomacy with Pakistan. As a result, without Pakistan’s commitment to deny the anti-India forces from using its territory and resources, Indian officials and ministers have been meeting their Pakistani counterparts. Our foreign minister on March 10 did everything possible to make the private visit of the Pakistani Prime Minster Raja Pervez Ashraf to Ajmer Sharif comfortable, despite the fact that the patriotic head priest there boycotted him for his failure to apprehend and punish those who had beheaded our soldiers recently. If there was any protocol involved, it should have been handled by some one of the ministers of state rank as is the normal practice to look after the personal needs of any head of the state of or government coming on an official visit to India. But the Pakistani premier got a special treatment, that too during a private visit. 

The Manmohan regime seems to believe that India’s “soft power” will deliver goods. But that is not exactly happening, particularly with almost all our neighbours. Sri Lanka has distanced itself from us. The tiny Maldives is literally threatening us. Nepal’s official establishment is overwhelmingly anti-India today. China continues to belittle us in every possible way. If there is going to be change in regime in Bangladesh, which seems most likely, we will have another neighbour, which, like Pakistan, will export Islamic fundamentalism to us. Of course, the present regime in Dhaka led by Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina has been sensitive to our security concerns. She has been really cooperative. That is why our government is keen to conclude the sharing of Teesta river water accord as well as bring about a constitutional amendment to facilitate the hitherto contentious territorial exchanges with Bangladesh. 

While one understands the government’s urgency with regard to Bangladesh, the problem with Manmohan Singh’s working style is that he and his cabinet colleagues do not believe in building national consensus by sharing all the facts with the opposition and public. If the issue is legitimising the exchanges of enclaves that will affect West Bengal only, then there is no need for any new Constitutional amendment; to take care of that we already have the 9th Constitutional Amendment already in place. Let me cite the brief history of the case. 

To vote or not to vote against Sri Lanka

By  Kalyani Shankar 

New Delhi has refrained from a tough stance against Colombo for its war crimes against the Tamils, but can it ignore the issue any longer? 

The Congress-led UPA Government is under tremendous pressure from its important ally, the DMK, to vote against Sri Lanka for the latter’s violation of human rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva later this month. 

The DMK and other political parties of Tamil Nadu want a toughening of stand against Colombo. This was a refrain in the parliamentary debates last week, when not just the Tamil parties but even the BJP spoke for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. 

Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha urged a tough line in view of the fact that the Sri Lankan Government, despite four years of pressure, had done nothing to address the concerns of the Tamils. 

The resolution will come up for voting on March 22. Last year, India voted with the US for a resolution asking Sri Lanka to investigate abuses by its military during the final phase of war with the LTTE in 2009. The Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Government was upset with New Delhi but the UPA Government had to send a signal that it would like an expeditious settlement of the Tamil issue. 

One year on, there is little evidence of the Lankan Government’s intent. Mr Rajapaksa’s cavalier attitude has frustrated both New Delhi and Tamil Nadu’s political parties. 

The UPA has refrained from a strong line because the relationship with Colombo has changed over the years, with issues like trade and commerce also playing an important part. A section of the Government believes that Tamil issue alone cannot be the criterion of India-Sri Lanka relationship. 

Also, competitive politics in Tamil Nadu is making it difficult for New Delhi to tackle the ticklish issue. The ruling AIADMK and the DMK are on the same page regarding Sri Lankan Tamils. Parties like the MDMK and the PMK too are voicing sympathy for their Tamil brethren. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has used the issue to hit at the Centre asking it to take a stand against the war crimes committed by the Rajapaksa regime. 

After becoming Chief Minister in 2011, she got a resolution passed in the State Assembly seeking economic sanctions against the island nation. A canny politician, she knows that the Tamil issue has enormous political value. She wants to be a key stakeholder in Delhi and plans to make the Tamil issue one of the talking points in the 2014 general election. 

She did not permit Sri Lankan athletes to set foot in her State last month. Last September, she disallowed Sri Lankan students from playing a friendly football match in Chennai. She was also opposed to the Centre training Sri Lankan military officers in Ooty and Avadi without informing the State Government. 

Feeding Cities: How to Feed a Growing Superpower

March 15, 2013

The good folks at Next City have invited me to be a guest blogger at this week's "Feeding Cities conference" at the University of Pennsylvania, a meeting focused on food security in a rapidly urbanizing world. This post also appeared at NextCity.org: 

In an eye-opening presentation today, Zhengxia Dou, a specialist on Agricultural Systems at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, described the immense pressure China's population rise will put on the country's - and the planet's - agricultural resources. 

Since the disastrous Great Leap Forward of the 1960s, when 30 to 40 million Chinese died of hunger, China's growth has been a phenomenal agricultural success story. Per-capita grain production has doubled over last 30 years, while arable land decreased. China, today, feeds 19 percent of world's population using only 9 percent of its arable land. Dou also credited China's controversial population controls. "If it was not for the one-child policy, there would be 400 million more people in China," she said. "That's more than the total population of the U.S." 

But the progress of the last three decades comes at a heavy price. With efficiency gains depleting in recent years, Dou said China is more and more relying on increasing crop acreage by converting more land for agricultural use. That leads to diminishing returns, pollution and soil degradation. China's agricultural labor force has also been depleted by by the migration of young people - particularly young men - to growing megacities. This migration has created what she calls "C-O-W" villages, with populations consisting largely of children and older women. 

In the mean time, demand is only growing. China's population is projected to peak somewhere between 1.47 and 1.5 billion people around 2030. About 1 billion of those will live in cities, and about 500 million will be in the ranks of the country's growing middle class. Dou projected that the grain demand around this time will be around 700 to 800 million tons per year. The record is about 517 million tons, and gains per year have been falling. 

It's possible that technological progress and increased efficiency could help fill this demand, but more likely China will have to rely on imports. The international market accounts for 80 percent of the soy consumed in China, and the country recently became a net importer of corn. Of course, China's international agricultural practices are not without controversy. Its move to buy a Luxembourg-sized swath of Argentinian farmland has provoked a political backlash in that country and African governments have become increasingly wary of what they term "land grabs." 

Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Rising

March 15, 2013 

Self-immolations by Tibetan monks have spiked with China’s leadership change. Beijing continues to ignore their message. 

On February 24, Phagmo Dundrup, a Tibetan farmer in his early twenties, committed the ultimate act of protest, setting himself on fire in the monks’ debating area of Chachung monastery in Tsoshar Prefecture, Qinghai province, in eastern Tibet’s Amdo region. 

A day later, Tseung Kyab, another Tibetan in his twenties, did the same outside Shitsang Gonsar monastery in Luqu county, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Gansu province (also in the Amdo region). Both died. 

A third monk also self immolated in Sichuan province the same day. Police extinguished the flames and he was rushed to a hospital before ending up in an unknown location. 

These were the most recent in a mounting list of Tibetan monks who have self-immolated. According to Kate Saunders, Communications Director of the International Campaign for Tibet, since February 2009, some 107 Tibetans have lit themselves on fire in China, including a 19-year-old female student, a widowed mother of four, and the grandfather of an important reincarnate lama. (A full list of self-immolations by Tibetans can be seen here.) And the number is rising. 

“There was an escalation in self-immolations in Tibet during and after the Chinese Communist Party Congress – a once-in-a-decade leadership transition – with 28 Tibetans setting fire to themselves last November when the Congress was held,” Saunders told The Diplomat. 

Of the recent wave of self-immolations, she added, “This constitutes one of the biggest waves of self-immolation as political protest globally in the past 60 years.” 

While it is hard to imagine the scene witnessed by the religious pilgrims who were said to be gathered at the monasteries last month to commemorate the end of the Tibetan New Year festival (Losar), legendary war correspondent for The New York Times David Halberstam recounted a similar incident in his book The Making of a Quagmire – in this case, the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. The account reads: 

The Shift: America’s Energy Boom, China’s Energy Need

By Anthony Fensom 
March 15, 2013 

Another milestone in China’s emergence as the world’s largest foreign energy consumer has been reached, with Chinese data indicating it has now become the largest net importer of oil. Amid the emergence of the United States as an energy superpower, China reportedly imported a net 6.12 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) last December, exceeding for the first time U.S. net imports of 5.98 million bopd. 

While the United States has remained the world’s largest net oil importer on an annual basis, the margin over China has narrowed in recent years, dropping to 7.14 million bpd in 2012 compared to China’s 5.72 million. 

Should current trends persist, it would mark another shift in energy geopolitics with major security and foreign policy implications. 

As previously reported by The Diplomat, energy giant BP expects the U.S. to be virtually energy self-sufficient by 2030 due to its shale gas revolution. 

BP’s most recent Energy Outlook 2030 report, however, forecasted that China would not replace the United States as the world’s largest oil importer until 2017, even as it saw U.S. net imports declining by 70 percent by 2030. Consequently, as Washington enjoys its energy bounty Beijing is expected to face growing energy costs, with its import dependence rising to 20 percent from the current 6 percent. 

Supporting BP’s forecasts, a new report released Wednesday by U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil predicted a 45 percent increase in oil and natural gas production in North America by 2040, aided by growing output from U.S. shale, Canadian oil sands and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Exxon Mobil expects the region to become a net energy exporter “by about 2025,” with U.S. energy consumption dropping by 5 percent by 2040 due to efficiency gains in transportation. 

U.S. oil production also jumped by 800,000 bpd last year on the back of the shale boom, reducing its need for crude oil imports and decreasing its dependence on the OPEC oil cartel. 

General Alexander: Civil agencies should lead response to domestic cyber attacks

By John Reed 
March 14, 2013

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of U.S. Cyber Command, yesterday said that civilian agencies should have the lead in responding to most cyber attacks on U.S. soil. 

"From my perspective the domestic actor would be the FBI," said Alexander, responding to a question from Rep. Joe Heck about the command's role in responding to cyber attacks that originate in the United States. "We share our tools with the FBI. They work through the courts to have the authority to do what they need to do in domestic space to withstand an attack." 

Cyber Command and FBI Director Robert Mueller have "come up with a way that he would do inside [the U.S.] and we would do outside," Alexander added, in testimony to a House Armed Services subcommittee. 

Alexander went on to point out that DOD, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security are hammering out ways to share information on cyber threats extremely quickly -- figuring out where the attack is coming from; determining whether it's a criminal, espionage, or destructive attack; and allowing the appropriate agency to take the lead while receiving support from the others. 

"There may be points and times where you have, you know, significant attacks where we need to change parts of that [civilian-led response structure], but the key thing is to have him [Mueller and the FBI] do inside the country," said Alexander. "He would work with the courts as appropriate to do his portion of the mission. Outside the country, that's where we would operate." (Click here to read about the offensive cyber teams that DOD is standing up to conduct operations outside the United States.) 

It's worth noting that some of the teams that Cyber Command is establishing to "operate and defend" networks will work closely with "DHS and FBI as required," said Alexander. 

Still, as Alexander noted, "the Defense Department will do its part to defend the country. It's not going to just defend itself. Our job is to defend the country and the focus would be obviously on critical infrastructure, just as it would be in kinetic and other things."