22 April 2013

Rajiv Gandhi: Middleman?

The cables that were recently released by WikiLeaks portray Rajiv Gandhi as a middleman, an implication the Congress has denied by discrediting WikiLeaks. But the report of the Shah Commission, which investigated the excesses of the Emergency, too, points to Rajiv Gandhi’s inordinate interest in the affairs of Indian Airlines, as well as Indira Gandhi’s intervention on behalf of Boeing during the Emergency

OFF THE RADAR The Shah Commission report raises questions about Rajiv Gandhi’s involvement in the Boeing deal of 1977 (Photo: INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVES)

The Kissinger Cables detailing Rajiv Gandhi’s role as a middleman in an aircraft deal have been met with scepticism by the Congress, which dismisses the cables as baseless and unverified. But what has gone unnoticed in the controversy is that there is independent evidence totally unconnected to the cables thatis not baseless and is in fact verified, which suggests that his role during the Emergency was not restricted to flying aircrafts for Indian Airlines.

The report of the Shah Commission, set up to probe administrative excesses during the Emergency, has examined in detail the ‘Decision process leading to the purchase of three Boeing 737 aircraft by Indian Airlines’ and concluded that ‘the manner in which the deal was pushed through suffers from several infirmities’. One of the infirmities noted in the report is that ‘The visit of Shri Rajiv Gandhi to the office of the Chairman of Indian Airlines, where he was shown the financial projections by the Director of Finance, apparently under the instruction of the Chairman, was a procedure totally outside the ordinary course of business.’ After this meeting, the report notes, the Prime Minister’s Office, through Indira Gandhi’s all-powerful secretary RK Dhawan, intervened on several occasions to speed up the award of the deal to Boeing.

The sections 7.186 to 7.203 related to the deal in the Shah Commission report make for interesting reading, especially in light of the recent news gleaned from the Kissinger cables. They seem to have escaped notice largely because the Shah Commission report was almost successfully removed from the public eye after Indira Gandhi came to power. It was only in 2010 that veteran Parliamentarian Era Sezhiyan republished the report based on a copy that had been lying with him.

The deal in question has already been dealt with in some detail because it figures with some prominence in the cables, but news reports have focused on the role of Sanjay Gandhi. A US Embassy cable dated 7 July 1976 notes that a ‘British Aircraft Corporation team that visited India to compete agains(t) Dutch and American aircraft suppliers was approached and offered the assistance of the Maruti company, a firm controlled by Sanjay Gandhi’. The competition for this deal was among BAC 111-474, Boeing’s 737-200 and the Dutch Fokker’s F-28 Mark 4000.

Reluctant Chronicler

Sanjeev Saith : Sat Apr 20 2013

Men walking to relief centers during a famine, Andhra Pradesh, 1945

Book: Photographing India
Author: Sunil Janah
Publisher: OUP
Price: Rs 3,995
Pages: 300

It's the long-awaited (now posthumous) edition of the work of Sunil Janah, a historically important photographer remembered most for his images in pre-Independence Bengal, and it makes me wince.

The publisher has a cruel eye. The book is richly priced and poorly printed, with pictures cropped and boxed six to a spread, captions and dates that don't always ring true, there's even a photograph that's printed twice, the second time as a mirror image of itself. The visual idiom is lost in the hurried herding, and it's the photographer's own narrative that illuminates him. Sadly, this compelled familiarity with the man behind the camera through his literary prose only adds to my disillusionment.

Sunil Janah was a student of English Literature at Calcutta University when he was drawn to the Communist Party of India. The year was 1943, and Bengal was in the grip of a "man-made" famine that would go on to take two million lives. "Socialism, promising to end the exploitation of people, seemed the only worthwhile objective," he says. "I thought I could write, and that would be useful to the Party".

But Janah was also a keen amateur photographer, with a twin-lens Rolleiflex always slung over his shoulder, someone who entered (and won) photo-contests in the Illustrated Weekly of India. When P.C. Joshi, general secretary of the CPI, came from Bombay to observe the famine for the Party's journal, Janah was summoned to accompany him, not for the usefulness of his pen, but that of his camera. His pictures, published along with Joshi's impassioned reportage in People's War, sealed his destiny as the CPI's image-maker. "I do not relish, to this day, the fact that I earned my early fame from the grim business of photographing the starving, the dying, and the dead…"

Janah's assigned life now coincided with the freedom movement and the bloody carving of nations. As the Party's photographer he had access to politicians; as aide to foreign correspondents he bore witness to the aftermath of communal violence and mass migrations. But was he ever a photojournalist at heart? Or was he a reluctant chronicler of events, even trying to dissuade Life magazine's Margaret Bourke-White from venturing to shoot near the Nakhoda Masjid during the Calcutta killings of 1946 — "two of us lying dead together will not make it any better", he had said. While he was at ease with those in power — "my face had become familiar to the national leaders" — one senses his discomfort when his camera had to face the misery of the led, "represented in the world's newspapers as sad specimens of humanity… It was disturbing that my photographs would only serve to reinforce this image. I felt that I owed it to our people to photograph their vigour, charm, and liveliness". The pictorialist in him still sought the happy picture despite five years of People's War. Did he miss his Illustrated Weekly?

Army weighs options to check officer shortage, stagnation

Ajay Banerjee/TNS
New Delhi, April 21

In an effort to make the career of an Army officer even more attractive and promising, the Ministry of Defence is looking at three additional options aimed at tackling officer-shortage at junior level, opening up new opportunities for jawans to graduate as officers and remove stagnation at the middle level.

The Army faces a shortage of 10,100 officers, as per the Ministry of Defence reply to a question in Parliament on March 4 this year.

Sources confirm the three options are at various stages of administrative processing.

In making the Army attractive for short-service commissioned (SSC) officers, the Army had proposed that they should be given additional financial benefits in terms of a lump sum of Rs 10 lakh on the completion of 10-year service and further Rs 2 lakh per year up to 14 years of service. This will mean a payout of Rs 18 lakh over and above the payments under the existing 6th Pay Commission recommendations.

The Army has also proposed grant of ex-servicemen status on the completion of short service. SSC officers join around 21-23 years of age and leave after 14 years. Defence Minister AK Antony has agreed to it “in principle”.

The Ajai Vikram Singh Committee set up by the MoD had recommended in 2004 that SSCs should from 60 per cent of the officer cadre.

The second proposal is to allow jawans to take examination and attempt to graduate as commissioned officers. As of now, the age bracket for a jawan to take this exam is 28 to 35 years. The lower limit will be brought down to 24 years.

A jawan joins the force at 17-18 years of age. Some of them possess good academic record, but fail to study further due to economic hardship or family circumstances. By reducing the age limit to 24 years, the Army aims to motivate newly recruited jawans to study further.

This will not only address the problem of officer shortage, but also socially uplift jawans, who once promoted at young age can go on to become Lieut-Colonel after 13 years of service. A draft Cabinet note based on the Army proposal is under examination by the MoD.

The third option is to allow short-term deputation to other forces. As of now, only the National Security Guards and the Assam Rifles are open for the purpose. The Ajai Vikram Singh Committee had suggested this method of lateral entry and termed it as the “peel off” factor to mitigate stagnation at middle level. As of today, officers selected as Brigadier and Major Generals have to wait for months to “pick up” their rank as the Army has no system of promoting anyone till a vacancy arises. Again, this has the “in principle” approval of the Defence Minister and is being examined.

  • To grant Rs 10 lakh to short-service commissioned officers on the completion of 10-year service and further Rs 2 lakh per year up to 14 years of service
  • To allow jawans to take graduate examination so that they can make an attempt to become commissioned officers
  • To allow short-term deputation to other forces

How Big Business Gets Its Way

Companies like Vedanta are brazenly taking over governance in some parts of India

Dongria Kond tribals protesting atop the Niyamgiri hill (Photos: MIHIR SRIVASTAVA)

Ratan Tata, weeks before relinquishing control of the Tata Group, has warned India of crony capitalism. In a recent interview with PTI, asked if the problem was getting worse, he replied, “Yes. It’s just an observation, I have no facts or figures to prove it.” Asked about a statement he made on the erosion of values and ethics in India, especially within the business community, he said, “I hold that view.”

» Indian Parliament has come to a standstill again as reports surface that the US-based retailer Walmart has spent Rs 125 crore since 2008 on ‘lobbying’ in India for market access among other things.

LANJIGARH, ODISHA ~ Since late 2010, when transcripts of the Radia Tapes were published in Open, questions of corporate governance and the influence of business houses over government policy have dominated public discussions in India. But as Ratan Tata’s statement reveals, the problem only seems to be getting worse.

In this report, we focus on the case of Vedanta, and specifically, on its Lanjigarh refinery in Odisha, where despite reports of problems on the ground and consistent local opposition, the government is going out of its way to ensure that the bauxite refinery’s closure is only a temporary setback to the company.

Vedanta Resources, a conglomerate owned by the Patna-born and London-based billionaire Anil Agarwal, has always been controversial. Currently, it is engaged in two cases at the Supreme Court. One is a case involving its purchase of Cairn Energy’s stake in Cairn India, which shares oilwells in Rajasthan with the Government-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp Ltd. On this, The Herald of Scotland has reported: ‘Westminster secretly lobbied the Indian government to give the go-ahead to a controversial multi-billion pound deal with a leading Scottish oil company, internal emails passed to the Sunday Herald reveal… UK government officials, briefed ‘over dinner’ by Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, offered to ‘polish’ and send a letter drafted by the company. At a lunch, they also urged a key Indian government minister to back the deal. The Indian government subsequently gave permission for Cairn’s £5.5 billion agreement to sell off the bulk of its Indian oil business to Vedanta…’

The other is a case filed by the state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) challenging a decision of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to withdraw its clearance for bauxite mining in Niyamgiri, a tribal belt in Kalahandi district of Odisha. From the very beginning, mining operations here—by OMC to supply Vedanta—have been controversial, with opposition parties in Odisha and at the national level demanding a CBI probe of all mining agreements, alleging that they violate forest laws and the state’s mineral policy—a sellout of the state’s interests.

NTRO hacking email IDs of officials, says govt's IT dept

Ajmer Singh : New Delhi, Mon Apr 22 2013

The Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) has accused the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), India's technical intelligence gathering agency, of penetrating/ hacking into the National Informatics Center (NIC) network.

The DeitY has cited a report prepared by its operations division, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (ICERT), listing specific instances when NTRO reportedly hacked into NIC infrastructure and extracted sensitive data connected to various ministries.

NTRO has rubbished the charges. It is also learnt that NIC refused to give access (logs) to NTRO to conduct "penetrative testing", the purpose of which is to sensitise agencies about cyber threats.

NIC provides internet connectivity to all ministries and its NICNET has institutional linkages with the central government, state governments and union territories. All government officials have email IDs issued by NIC.

According to official sources, J Satyanarayana, Secretary, DeitY, wrote to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon in February this year requesting him to examine NTRO's role in hacking these email IDs.

NTRO had earlier warned that NIC's network is penetrable and prone to cyber attacks. As reported by The Indian Express, over 10,000 email addresses of top government officials were hacked on July 12 last year, just days after NTRO issued an alert. The attack was blamed on state actors based in countries inimical to India's interests.

When contacted, Satyanarayana declined to comment on the issue, saying these are internal matters. "Whenever vulnerabilities in cyber security are pointed out, corrective action is taken," he said.

On being asked about NIC's refusal to share logs with NTRO, Dr Y K Sharma, DG, NIC said: "We follow government instructions and it is not appropriate to comment on departmental issues. Our network is safe but problems do happen, not only in India but the world over."

Dr Gulshan Rai, DG, ICERT, was unavailable for comment. However, another ICERT official blamed NTRO for creating unnecessary panic

Under Pressure in Pakistan

Victimised for their faith, Hindu refugees from across the border say they do not want to return

Bharti is tormented by the absence of her newborn son whose visa could not be arranged

By the time her visa arrived, Bharti had given birth to a baby boy in Pakistan’s Sindh province. There was no time to apply for his passport. The visa for India, for a holy dip at the Kumbh in Allahabad, had been hard to come by. Not everyone had been as lucky. Many others who had applied did not get one. Moreover, her family could pay for the visa only because their Hindu neighbours had collected money and given it to them. She knew they would get no second chance. So Bharti took her newborn in her arms, and, together with her labourer husband and six other children, reached the last checkpost in Pakistan at its border with India’s Rajasthan.

“Where is the baby’s passport?” demanded the guard at the border. “He was just born. Please have mercy on me, let him go,” Bharti pleaded. But the baby was snatched from her arms and given to her husband’s brother who had not got a visa. Tormented by pangs of separation, Bharti crossed the border.

The group of 479 Hindus she was with attended the Kumbh and then made its way to Delhi’s Bijwasan area, where they have been living in a couple of buildings. Bharti spends the day looking at a picture of her baby taken on a relative’s cellphone. “I am writhing like a fish without water,” she says. Outside her room, volunteers of a Hindu group are distributing foodgrain. But she has no appetite, she says.

There are more than 2.5 million Hindus in Pakistan, most of them poor Dalits who live in Sindh. Life has always been hard for Hindus in that country ever since its formation. But things turned worse for them after the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992. In the past few years, thousands have been reported killed, and hundreds of women abducted, raped or forcibly married off. There are also reports of forced conversions to Islam. Things are so bad that many feel that it is impossible for them to live in Pakistan any longer.

In March last year, Indian middle-order batsman Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 183 against Pakistan in the Asia Cup. The same night, three Hindu girls of the Kolhi tribe were abducted from a village in Sindh. “We make sure that our daughters get married by the age of 10-11. But even that does not guarantee their safety,” says Nehru Lal, one of the refugees from Hyderabad. Among those who managed to flee this time is 36-year-old Lakshman, a fruit seller from Sindh. His six-month-old granddaughter died of an unknown illness soon after they reached Delhi. But he himself is lucky to be alive. About two years ago, he was abducted by Muslim extremists who wanted him to convert. When he refused, they abducted him one night and kept him chained for three months. “They would slit my wrist every day, asking me to convert,” he says, “But I refused.” Then one night, he got a chance to escape. But his abductors chased him and stabbed him in the back. They left him on the border of Balochistan, assuming him dead.

Pakistan’s Tryst with Cash Transfers

A profile of the Benazir Income Support Programme, the country’s first large-scale social safety net

FOR PAKISTAN’S ULTRA POOR The scheme is aimed only at the country’s worst off

Mukhtaraan Bibi says that the Pakistani Rs 1,000 she gets every month, and has been getting for the last couple of years, from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), has been very useful to her. It is spent almost exclusively on consumption, supplementing the household budget for food, while getting some medicines and other necessities. Given that her overall monthly income is only Rs 6,000 odd, the extra money is more than welcome.

But she does have some concerns. Sometimes the money is not delivered for a few months and then she gets all of it together. Sometimes she is asked by the postman to pay him a small sum for delivering the money. She has also heard that the government might stop sending it at some point. She feels she certainly needs the help, and even more of it, but does not know if she will be eligible for any of the other BISP schemes she keeps hearing about.

Mukhtaraan Bibi’s story is not atypical. A number of women in Pakistan who get BISP monthly payments speak of their dependence on them, express uncertainty over their regularity and the demands of postmen (who usually ask for Rs 50-100 odd), and say that larger cash transfers would help them combat poverty better. Relying most heavily on such transfers are families headed by women, especially widows who must look after children with disabilities or elderly dependents, or people who are chronically ill or unable to sustain stable jobs for other reasons. In some cases, the Rs 1,000 transfer is a matter of life and death. 

The BISP no longer transfers money only through Pakistan’s postal system. Realising that changes in banking and mobile telephony promise new mechanisms that not only increase transparency, reliability and efficiency but are also more cost-effective, BISP managers have been experimenting with these. ATM cards for the poor are a possibility, but these still depend on ATM machines, which are not sufficiently widespread, especially in rural areas. Pakistan has some 120 million active mobile phones, and the programme has begun transferring money through this route. This clearly has the potential of changing the game as it can achieve high levels of efficiency and transparency at very low cost.

The identification of eligible households across the country is no trivial task. By way of broad eligibility criterion, the scheme focuses on the poorest of the poor—the ultra poor. Since it is not easy to get reliable data on a household’s income or wealth, the government decided to use proxy means testing to estimate household income/wealth. The scheme’s score card asks for observable and/or easily verifiable information on assets, and this is used to compute a score; a score be low a certain cutoff classifies a household as eligible for the monthly Rs 1,000.

This cutoff is not a poverty line, mind you, and has been set on the basis of a glance at the country’s statistics and an estimate of how many households could share the overall money available for BISP if each were to get Rs 1,000, which itself is just a rough estimate of how much flour a poor household needs, an estimate that is proving woefully inadequate now that double-digit inflation has drastically reduced its purchasing power since the scheme began five years ago.

China in Nepal

Mon Apr 22 2013

As Nepal waits for elections, Beijing is stepping up its engagement

Nepal's political actors usually play hide-and-seek with the people. That the country has not had local body elections for the last 15 years and that the election to the second Constituent Assembly is promised for November, after the first one failed to deliver a constitution, makes it easy for the leaders to avoid the people for now. But for how long?

As in any country too dependent on the outside world, Nepal's leaders are making frequent visits abroad to convince other states that "we are on the right track and heading towards the right destination". The "right track" at the moment is the CA election under the chief justice, and the right destination is the delivery of the much-promised "People's Constitution". Since the track was a common agenda of the four major parties, in full endorsement of major donors and the international community — including the US, EU and India — the outside world has to share the optimism of the Nepali actors.

Maoist Chief Prachanda embarked on a week-long visit to China, beginning April 14, to seek China's involvement in Nepal as part of his vague vision of a "joint strategic and developmental partnership". China, as per the Maoist account, promised all support for Nepal's development and constitution-making. But it's also a message that India's decisive, if not monopolistic, influence in Nepal on security and strategic matters is clearly on the wane, with China emerging as an equal player. India is perceived as too focused on Nepal's internal politics, especially during the last eight years of high hope and poor delivery on political stability and economic growth. Moreover, China has strong reservations about the Maoist agenda of "ethnic federalism" and the principle of strong provinces and weak centres as endorsed by many European countries, as well as India .

While leaders of other parties are also to visit China soon, Prachanda will be making a trip to Delhi, ostensibly to give the assurance that the Maoist party does not believe in cultivating China at the cost of India any more. But to the larger world, including China, the Maoist leadership works more closely with India. China deliberately chose not to invite Prachanda's deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, during the nearly two years of his premiership, apparently because of that suspicion.

China's invitation to top Nepali leaders also indicates it's going to adopt a policy of high-level engagement with Nepal, slightly different from India's officialdom. Moreover, China has told Prachanda that under no circumstances should the Western world be "instigating Tibetans" in Nepal. China is clearly asserting itself.

Frequent interactions with the international community may be a much-needed exercise for Nepal's players. But for the situation to be conducive to a free and fair election, it will require wider and honest coordination among parties, followed by their courage to go to the people. At least three influential parties — the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and Federal Socialist Party — have not only refused to participate, but they have also demanded the immediate removal of the CJ-led government, which is a prestige issue for the four major parties and their international allies. Elections do not look possible when the major parties are so rigidly positioned.

Aware of the likely mass hostility, Prachanda announced before leaving for China that he was going to get big investments from the north and the south, which would generate huge employment. Given the regular habits of Nepali leaders to promise and not deliver, people are not taking these promises seriously any more. Prachanda and the four parties will have to realise that while it may be possible to mislead the people for some time, ultimately they will be judged by what they say and do or do not do. 

China's arms sales to Pakistan unsettling South Asian security by Dr Monica Chansoria in IDR.

Underscoring its primacy as Pakistan’s primary benefactor in the realm of arms transfers, China’s recent upward swing in conventional arms sales to Islamabad has ruffled feathers as far as security of the South Asian sub-continent is concerned. As China positions itself as the fifth largest global arms exporter following long-established suppliers—the US, Russia, France and Great Britain, the fact that weapons sales to Pakistan have been instrumental in Beijing’s achieving the mentioned feat is incontestably conclusive.

In addition to being Pakistans largest defence supplier, China simultaneously is working towards enhancing its own strategic outreach in South Asia for which, Islamabad has provided a key base.

Given that both Islamabad and Beijing envision their partnership through a prism in which, keeping India engaged and limited to the peripheries of South Asia is a discernible objective, the deep-rooted cooperation in the military sphere is a critical angle. This was widely demonstrated in December 2008 when Pakistan and China signed a landmark agreement that sought to further escalate existing bilateral military cooperation. The agreement signed in Beijing between Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Tariq Majid and People’s Liberation Army’s Chief of General Staff, General Chen Bingde, was in furtherance to the forum of Defence and Security Talks instituted way back in 2002.

While keeping a close tab on the security calculus in the region, New Delhi remains constantly on its guard with reference to the growing military nexus between China and Pakistan. Expressing grave apprehension on this subject, India’s Defence Minister, AK Antony stated in November 2009, “The increasing nexus between China and Pakistan in the military sphere remains an area of serious concern.”

It was well established by the early 1980s that nearly 65 percent of Pakistan’s aircraft and 75 per cent of its tanks were supplied by China. Therefore, the recent build-up in Beijing-Islamabad arms deals have further been placed under the scanner more intimately especially following China’s decision to sell submarines and warships to Pakistan. As the Chinese defence industry assumes shape towards becoming a formidable contender in the vast Asian and African weapons markets, it needs to be highlighted that primarily, most of China’s big ticket arms sales come from a handful of customers, most importantly, Pakistan. In an apparent attempt to equate India’s defence cooperation with the US and Russia, Deputy Director of China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, Zhai Dequan advocated, “The initiative may invite concerns from its neighbouring countries, but the doubts are unnecessary.”

During a visit to China, Pakistan’s Chief of Naval Staff, Noman Bashir, held discussions for the purchase of JF-17 fighter planes (which Pakistan is co-producing with the Chinese) and four Jiangwei-class frigates. The JF-17, better known as the Thunder fighter jet (FC-1) is a lightweight multi-role combat aircraft similar in design to the US F-20 Tigershark and is being distinctively projected to be sold in the developing markets thus replacing the outmoded and obsolete fleet of the MiG-21, F-7, and F-5 fighters. Notably, there are estimates that Islamabad could ultimately end up purchasing as many as 250 of these aircrafts.

As Pakistan is fast on track so as to hone its asymmetric military capabilities, Chinese surface-to-surface missile sales to Islamabad raise grave apprehension for India.

In addition, Pakistan reportedly has placed an order for as many as eight F22P frigates from China in the past few years and now is graduating on to a considerably larger model. The first of the four F22P frigates ordered by Pakistan was delivered in July 2009. In fact, the delivery of the shipment coincided with Pakistan Defence Minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar’s visit to Beijing in July 2009. Vowing to augment military ties between their two countries, Chinese Defence Minister, Liang Guanglie stated, “China values the relationship with Pakistan and is engaged in boosting bilateral ties from a strategic and long-term perspective.” Significantly, the Pakistani warships now possess all-round capability to target surface ships, aircrafts as well as submarines.


Jayadeva Ranade
Member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and 
Distinguished Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. 

China issued its eighth bi-annual Defence White Paper entitled: ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, on April 16, 2013. The last White Paper, pertaining to 2010, was published in 2011. China’s Defence White Paper, 2013, is a 47-page document with five sections and 3 short appendices listing: joint exercises and training with foreign armed forces from 2011-2012; participation of China’s armed forces in international disaster relief and rescue (2011-2012); and China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations (2011-2012). 

The Defence White Paper, 2013, makes it apparent that the Asia-Pacific region currently dominates Chinese military thinking. This Defence White Paper is at once an expression of the Chinese leadership’s self-confidence and its confidence in the capabilities of its armed forces. After the ritual assertion that China will “not seek hegemony, behave in a hegemonic manner or engage in military expansion” and brief token acknowledgement of the importance of international cooperation, it states clearly that the military build-up and modernization will continue. There is discernible emphasis on expanding the capabilities and operational reach of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) together with increased investment in domestic R&D to upgrade the indigenous defence industry. 

China started to fall in line with international practice on matters relating to military transparency since 1998, when it first began to publish Defence White Papers. Issued with the twin objectives of meeting international demands for a degree of transparency with regard to its defence modernization programme as well as wanting to stay engaged with the international community, China has, of late, also begun using the Defence White Papers to publicise its national objectives and world view, albeit in a very cautious way. In this, it follows the practice of other nations.

Though they avoid specifics, China’s Defence White Papers nevertheless do offer an insight into the broad thinking of senior echelons of the Chinese political and military leadership associated with matters of national defence. Unlike Western documents that also focus more on detail and specific capabilities, China’s Defence White Papers gloss over specifics and reveal few details of expenditure or weapons acquisitions or manufacture. China’s record of transparency in these matters remains opaque, though there has been slight incremental improvement over the years. As could be expected in a country where the armed forces are subordinate to the ruling political party, namely the Chinese Communist Party(CCP), China’s Defence White Papers blend political thinking with the broad plans for the armed forces. The leadership’s thinking on a range of issues including: the future plans and role of the armed forces; anticipated areas of conflict; levels of suspicion of other countries; areas of China’s interest; and the extent of military cooperation with foreign nations, are discernible in the present Defence White Paper, 2013. China too uses the Defence White Papers as instruments of politics and diplomacy. 

China’s world view outlined in the latest Defence White Paper clearly highlights its preoccupation with the developments in the Asia-Pacific region, especially the role of the US, and identifies potential anticipated threats to China’s ambitions. In the initial two paragraphs of its first Section captioned: ‘New Situation, New Challenges and New Missions’, the Defence White Paper singles out the Asia-Pacific region as having become“an increasingly significant stage for world economic development and strategic interaction between major powers”. Hinting at Beijing’s concern about US interference it says “The US is adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy, and the regional landscape is undergoing profound changes”. A blunt, yet thinly veiled, comment follows in the very next paragraph with the assertion that “Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser.” The implied reference to the US is unmistakable. 

What do the communal riots in Myanmar indicate?

Paper No. 5467 Dated 20-April-2013

Col R Hariharan

Myanmar’s fledgling democracy faced yet another obstacle to its progress when anti-Muslim violence flared up in Central Myanmar town of Meiktila in March 2013. It quickly spread to six other smaller townships in Thayawady district in Bago Region in Lower Myanmar. According to Human Rights Watch, it also spread to 11 townships in Mandalay and Pegu divisions, where Muslim neighborhoods were ransacked.

According to the government a total of 43 people were killed and 93 were injured in the riots, most of them in Meikhtila; 1,227 homes, 77 shops and 37 mosques were destroyed. Police said 68 detainees were being charged for their role in the acts of violence.

Close on its heels a fire in a Muslim boarding school in Yangon on April 2 left 13 Muslim teenagers dead. Though the police have identified electrical short circuiting as the cause of fire, some Muslim community leaders suspect it could be a case of arson. If this is established after the enquiry, it would indicate the virus of communal violence has arrived in Myanmar’s premier city. 

These riots have unnerved Muslim community which had been watching with unease when Rohingya Muslims became the target of ethno-religious violence in Rakhine State in November 2012. Their sentiments were echoed by the HRW report on Meikhtila violence. It said “The destruction [in Meikhtila] appears similar to satellite imagery of towns affected by sectarian violence in Arakan [Rakhine] State in 2012, in which arson attacks left large, clearly defined residential areas in ashes.”

The anti-Rohingya Muslim riots left about 140 killed and rendered 100,000 homeless. They became the latest boat people fleeing Myanmar to find refuge wherever they can as neighbouring Bangladesh refused to accept any more of them to the 110,000 Rohingya refugees already there. Police present on the location initially did not react at all. It took action only after much of the damage had been done. Rohingyas had alleged that the local border militia and police colluded in perpetrating the violence. This would indicate local authorities tend to condone such communal acts rather than act quickly to defuse the situation.

Muslims in Myanmar

Muslims in Myanmar have a history of over a thousand years. Islam came with Mughal invaders from India and Sultan Suleiman of Yunnan. Anti-Muslim sentiments among Burmese Buddhists have their roots in the persecutions and forced conversions carried out among Buddhists during the Mughal rule. Though Buddhists consider Muslims as a single entity, there are distinct Muslim communities with their own ethnic linkages and cultural history. The distinct groups include descendants of Burmese converts to Islam, Muslims of Indian descent who have settled in Myanmar, Muslims who had migrated from East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Zarbari Muslims who are children of South Asian Muslim fathers and Burmese mothers, Panthay Muslims of Hui Chinese origin fromYunnan settled in border areas of Myanmar and Rohingya Muslims inhabiting Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh.

During the British colonial rule in the first half of 20th century, anti-Indian sentiments started rising among local people when Indians started dominating business and bureaucracy, Chettiar money lenders seized control of lands, and cheap Indian labour deprived the ordinary Burmese opportunities to earn a living. 

Bangladesh’s Quest for Justice

NEW DELHI – The sea of humanity besieging the Shahbag area in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, for the last two months, has had an unusual demand – unusual, at least, for the Indian subcontinent. The demonstrators have been clamoring for justice for the victims of the genocidal massacres of 1971 that led to the former East Pakistan’s secession from Pakistan.Illustration by Paul Lachine

The demonstrations have been spontaneous, disorganized, and chaotic, but also impassioned and remarkably peaceful. Many of the several thousand demonstrators at Shahbag are too young to have had personal experience of the killings that marked the Pakistani Army’s brutal, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to suppress the fledgling independence movement. But they are animated by an ideal – the profound conviction that complicity in mass murder should not go unpunished, and that justice is essential for Bangladeshi society’s four-decade-old wounds to heal fully.

What is curious about this development is that the subcontinent has preferred to forget the monstrous injustices that have scarred its recent history. A million people lost their lives in the savagery of the subcontinent’s partition into India and Pakistan, and 13 million more were displaced, most forcibly. But not one person was ever charged with a crime, much less tried and punished.

An estimated million more were massacred in Bangladesh in 1971, and only this year have some of the perpetrators’ local allies been tried. Almost every year, somewhere on the subcontinent, riots, often politically instigated, claim dozens – sometimes hundreds and occasionally thousands – of lives in the name of religion, sect, or ethnicity. Again, investigations are conducted and reports are written, but no one is ever brought before the bar of justice.

To paraphrase Stalin: The intentional killing of one person is murder, but that of a hundred, a thousand, or a million is merely a grim statistic.

The idealism of Bangladesh’s young demonstrators, however, points to a new development. The outpouring of emotion evident at Shahbag was provoked by a decision of an international criminal tribunal convened by the government. The tribunal, which tries cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, found a prominent member of Bangladesh’s largest Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, guilty of complicity in the killings of 300 people, but gave him a relatively light sentence of 15 years in prison (prosecutors had sought the death penalty).

By demanding severe punishment for those guilty of war crimes – not the Pakistani Army, long gone, but their local collaborators in groups like Jamaat-e-Islami, Al Badar, Al Shams, and the Razakar irregulars – the protesters are also implicitly describing the society in which they wish to live: secular, pluralist, and democratic.

These words are enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution, which simultaneously declares the Republic to be an Islamic State. While some see no contradiction, the fact that many of the collaborators who killed secular and pro-democracy Bengalis in 1971 claimed to be doing so in the name of Islam points to an evident tension.

Will Asia rise and West decline?

By Theo Sommer

History never holds only one future in store for us; there is always a plethora of possible futures. And as in all previous history, there will be surprises in the time ahead. The unforeseen and unforeseeable will shape the future as much as the expectable

Beijing's new face reflects China's economic might Photo: Thinkstock

THE topic I have been given is: "The Rise of Asia — the Decline of the West?" It's a question arising from the momentous power shift we are experiencing in the contemporary world. It is the third power shift in the past half-millennium. The first was the rise of Europe. Beginning around the year 1500, it produced the world we know - the world of science and technology, of capitalism and commerce, of the industrial and the agricultural revolutions. Until 50 years ago, of course, it was also the world of colonialism.

The second shift occurred at the end of the 19th century, when the United States entered the world stage and dominated it for a hundred years - politically, militarily and economically a superpower with global reach, challenged first by Hitler's Germany, then by Stalin's Soviet Union, but ultimately triumphant in both cases.

Half a century ago we applauded the demise of colonialism. But even without colonies, the West continued to dominate the world. During the past ten of fifteen years, however, we have the rise of the Rest, notably the rise of Asia's giants, China and India, belatedly but single-mindedly following in the wake of Japan and the smaller Asian tigers. We are witnessing the emergence of a new world order - a world order in which neither Europe nor the United States will enjoy supremacy, as the newcomers will energetically push for their places in the sun.

West to see a renewal

It would be quite premature, however, to count the U.S. and the EU out. For one thing, nations are resilient animals, capable of extraordinary effort and accomplishment. The West will see a renewal in the next three to five years. It will get its mojo back, to use a fashionable phrase. Take Germany. Called the "sick man of Europe" only ten years ago, it has once again become the Old World's economic powerhouse. The U.S. has weathered economic crises and political gridlock before. In the same vein, Europe has gone through many crises, but without fail it has come out stronger from each of them. America and Europe are going to work their way out of the current predicament. Both of them have a knack for self-correction.

Since many Asians - and particularly Indians - look at the world through British glasses, especially the spectacles of the Australian/American europhobe Rupert Murdoch, I am not surprised that they tend to sneer at Europe's potential for remedying its shortcomings. But they are wrong. We are more than a giant Switzerland leaving a steadily shrinking footprint on the world stage. We'll be back. There is an important kernel of truth to the old joke that the process of building Europe must be compared to the love-life of the elephant: Everything goes on at a very high level; a lot of dust is raised; and you have to wait years for results. It will be no different this time.

Soros or Gold?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013 

The biggest drop in gold since 1983 could puzzle the most ardent believer. We aren’t alone. Even central banks are divided. Agencies report that the Sri Lankan central bank governor sees the blood bath as an opportunity to raise holdings. 

Bank of Korea prefers “hold” as part of a long-term strategy for diversifying currency reserves. Australia claims that bullion has no “intrinsic value.” And the South Africans promises they won’t adjust their reserves policy.

Nations and Government institutions hold a total of 31,694.8 tons. Central banks alone own about 19 per cent of all gold ever mined. Just last year they boosted their holdings by the most since 1964. Germany and the US are the biggest holders, with gold accounting for more than 70 per cent of their total reserves.

Almost everyone has been ignoring a man called George Soros. Only Soros had said, at the World Economic Forum in Davos three years back, that gold was a “bubble.”

History was against the legendary gold baiter; the metal had rallied for the past 12 years, the longest gain in at least nine decades. Now is his time to chuckle!

The combined effect of strengthening of the dollar, news that Cyprus could soon unload excess gold reserves, bearish outlook on gold from Goldman Sachs, warning signs emanating from the Chinese economy, and just outright selling by Soros, have snowballed into the crash. Thirty per cent has been “lost” since the record set in September 2011. Adjusted for inflation, the 1980 peak of $850 would be equal to $2,400 today. That’s still 26 per cent more than the record set in September 2011. But despair looms. The math is ignored.

The trigger point is Cyprus. That Nicosia would be forced to sell gold from its reserves, reflecting a larger monetization of gold reserves across other European central banks, has seen as the last straw on the camel’s back. The island nation owns 13.9 metric tons of bullion.

Soros thas much to do with the mood. The $8.5 billion Soros Fund Management now owns 600,000 shares of the SPDR Gold Trust, a gold ETF, worth an estimated $97 million. That’s down from 1.3 million shares, worth more than $227 million, in the third quarter. The ETF is one of the most widely held gold-backed ETFs. Soros also sold his stake in gold miner Kinross Gold, which was worth about $18 million, but held onto 1.7 million shares of Freeport-McMoran worth about $46 million. It’s not the first time Soros shunned gold. In 2011, he sold gold-related investments worth $800 million.

But hear the contrarian. Gold’s waning fortunes may have wiped out almost $1 billion of hedge-fund manager John Paulson’s wealth; as the largest investor in SPDR Gold Trust, Paulson began the year with $9.5 billion, and of this 85 percent was in gold share classes. But he’s sticking with his thesis that gold is the best hedge against inflation and currency debasement.

Paulson defies apparent evidence on the ground. Gold has posted its biggest one-day percentage drop in 30 years. Futures for April delivery fell 9.4 per cent, Monday to a two-year low extending their bear-market descent of more than 20 per cent from their 2011 all-time high, and since Thursday, prices have had a record skid since the futures began trading in the US in 1974.

Myanmar’s economic prospects and its real potential

U Myint, Chief Economic Adviser to the President of Myanmar

Myanmar’s economic potential has been vastly enhanced by the access to foreign resources — in the form of new trading opportunities, the inflow of foreign investment, elevated levels of bilateral and multilateral assistance — that President U Thein Sein’s commitment to political, social and economic reform has unleashed.

The relaxation of sanctions and improved relations with the major powers have both opened a new opportunity for development after years of economic isolation and consequent economic stagnation.

Already, over the past few years, real growth has been strong, but how strong is not exactly clear. If one believed the official statistics, the economy has been growing in excess of 10 per cent per year for more than a decade, but it is difficult to reconcile the statistics with the real world in which the people of Myanmar live day by day. The government has acknowledged as much by winding back the growth goal to a more realistic and achievable 7.7 per cent per annum in the current Five Year Plan.

But how should Myanmar set its development ambitions now? By what standards should we measure success in economic reform? And what are the key ingredients to achieving Myanmar’s national growth potential?Myanmar is still a very poor country. Though the range of error in the estimation may be large, Myanmar’s per capita GDP remains at only around US$850 a head, the poorest country in ASEAN — poorer even than its neighbours in Laos and Cambodia.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reckons that Myanmar, on its current development path can grow at 7 to 8 per cent a year and that it could maintain that growth rate at least over the next couple of decades. If it were to do that, GDP per capita would reach US$2000 to US$3000 by 2030 — more than three times the current level — propelling Myanmar comfortably into the ranks of the middle-income countries. Even so, if Myanmar more than trebled its per capita income through to 2030 as the ADB suggests, it will hardly change its rank as the poorest country in ASEAN. And the bar to middle income status keeps being raised. Perhaps it could aim to replicate China’s past long term 10.4 per cent growth (9.4 per cent in per capita terms) and thereby lift its per capita income to US$4724 by 2030. That would still be lower than p er capita income in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei two years ago.

Coming from behind, as it is, Myanmar should have a brighter future, and a bolder ambition for development. Its growth potential is enormous as it sheds the shackles of policies that have condemned it to poverty over the past fifty years. It has a rich resource base that, properly husbanded, can launch the mobilisation of international and domestic resources for catching up with its neighbours in ASEAN. It has the population, properly invested with skills and human capital, to upgrade its trade and industrial structure. And it is strategically located on the land-bridge of Asia between the emerging giants of China and India, in a more and more deeply integrated ASEAN economic community. With these advantages, Myanmar will need to strive not only for growth in the quantity of per capita GDP but also to improve its quality, as the overriding goals of the economic and social reform to which President U Thein Sein has committed.

Foreign investment will, of course, play a critical role in achieving Myanmar’s real growth potential, as it has in China and elsewhere throughout the East and Southeast Asian region. But without fundamental reforms in the domestic economy, foreign investment cannot be expected to bring about economic miracles independently of good policy at home.

Victory over Japanese at Kohima is Britain’s greatest battle

Reuters : London, Mon Apr 22 2013

The Kohima War Cemetery
Angus MacSwan

The Battle of Imphal/ Kohima, when British troops fighting in horrendous jungle conditions turned the tide against the Japanese Army in World War II, has been chosen as Britain's greatest battle.

Kohima was picked over the more celebrated battles of D-Day and Waterloo in a contest organised by the National Army Museum. Rorke's Drift in the 1879 Zulu War and the Battle of Aliwal in the Anglo-Sikh War in Punjab in 1846 brought up the rear.

"Great things were at stake in a war with the toughest enemy any British Army has had to fight," historian Robert Lyman said, making the case for Kohima in a debate at the museum. If Lieutenant General William Slim's Army of British, Indian, Gurkha and African troops had lost, the consequences for the allied cause would have been catastrophic, he said. The contest's criteria included a battle's political and historical impact, the challenges the troops faced, and the strategy and tactics employed.

The top five were debated on Saturday before going to an audience vote. The winner was something of a surprise given the enduring prominence of Waterloo and D-Day/ Normandy in Britain. Indeed, the troops who fought in India and Burma in World War II called themselves "The Forgotten Army".

The Battle of Imphal/ Kohima took place in 1944 in Nagaland when Japanese troops poured over the Burmese border to strike at India. Fought over a vast area of jungle and mountain, it was marked by vicious hand-to-hand fighting. The successful British defence meant they were then able to push into Burma and roll back the Japanese from mainland Asia.

21st Century Cultures of War: Advantage Them

Anna Simons is a Professor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. She is the author of Networks of Dissolution: Somalia Undone and The Company They Keep: Life Inside the U.S. Army Special Forces. Most recently she is the co-author of The Sovereignty Solution: A Commonsense Approach to Global Security. Simons' focus has been on conflict, intervention, and the military from an anthropological perspective. Her work examines ties that bind members of groups together as well as divides which drive groups apart. She holds a PhD in social anthropology from Harvard University and an A.B. from Harvard College.

April 2013

In the inaugural launch of the FPRI’s new e-publication, The Philadelphia Papers, the anthropologist Anna Simons of the Defense Analysis department at the Naval Postgraduate School, and member of the OrbisBoard of Editors, provocatively assesses cultures of war in the 21st century. She cautions that while the United States military increasingly dazzles in the technological realm, we remain at a marked disadvantage when it comes to social relations, chronically underestimating the sophistication of adversaries and allies in the (non-East Asian) non-West. This asymmetry, to include who is willing to do what to whom, puts our soldiers, diplomats, and intelligence communities at a distinct disadvantage. She argues that the U.S. needs to take this into account as it rethinks how to wage war, never mind whether to become involved in the kinds of ambiguous political-military conflicts we have engaged in over the past decade. Indeed, without a greater appreciation for the social and anti-social skills of likely future adversaries, current problems plaguing our military -– from PTSD through questionable generalship -- will only worsen over time.