26 June 2013

Russia After Putin: Inherent Leadership Struggles ***

JUNE 24, 2013


Editor's Note: This is the first part of a three-part series on Russia's leadership after President Vladimir Putin eventually leaves office. Part 1 revisits Putin's rise to power; Part 2 will examine Russia's demographics, energy sector and Putin's political changes; and Part 3 will explore whether the political systems Putin has built will survive him.

Russia has undergone a series of fundamental changes over the past year, with more changes on the horizon. Russia's economic model based on energy is being tested, the country's social and demographic make-up is shifting, and its political elites are aging. All this has led the Kremlin to begin asking how the country should be led once its unifying leader, Vladimir Putin, is gone. Already, a restructuring of the political elite is taking place, and hints of succession plans have emerged. Historically, Russia has been plagued by the dilemma of trying to create a succession plan following a strong and autocratic leader. The question now is whether Putin can set a system in place for his own passing out of the Russian leadership (whenever the time may be) without destabilizing the system as a whole.
A Difficult Land to Rule

Without a heavy-handed leader, Russia struggles to maintain stability. Instability is inherent to Russia given its massive, inhospitable territory, indefensible borders, hostile neighboring powers and diverse population. Only when it has had an autocratic leader who set up a system where competing factions are balanced against each other has Russia enjoyed prosperity and stability.

A system of balances under one resolute figure existed during the rule of some of the country's most prominent leaders, such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, Josef Stalin -- and now Vladimir Putin.

Each Russian leader must create and tinker with this system to ensure the governing apparatus does not atrophy, fracture or rise in mutiny. For this reason, Russian leaders have continually had to rearrange the power circles beneath them. Significant adjustments have been necessary as Russia grows and stabilizes or declines and comes under threat.

However, creating a power balance in the government with layers whose collective loyalty is ultimately to a single figure at the apex has created succession problems. When a clear succession plan is not in place, Russia tends to fall into chaos during leadership transitions -- sometimes even ripping itself apart. The so-called Time of Troubles, a brutal civil war in the 16th century, broke out after Ivan the Terrible killed his only competent son. During the Soviet period, a vicious succession struggle erupted upon Lenin's death in 1924, with Josef Stalin ultimately winning and his main challenger, Leon Trotsky, exiled and later assassinated. Following Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev, Vyacheslav Molotov and Lavrentiy Beria engaged in a similar power struggle.

In many of these cases, contenders for power represent a group or a clan of sorts vying for control. The individual represents a body that derives its power from its ties to security, military, industrial, financial or other circles. Stability is achieved only when there is one overarching leader in Russia capable of overseeing each of these groups' agendas and balancing them for the good of the country. Putin's transition into leadership and his subsequent 13 years in power serve as a prime example of such a balancing act.

The Rise of Putin

Putin came to power in 1999, when Russia had experienced almost a decade of chaos following the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia was in a state of near-collapse. It had lost its Eastern and Central European satellites and the other constituent republics of the former Soviet Union, which had created a buffer from foreign powers around Russia. Fierce conflicts wracked the Russian republics in the northern Caucasus, some of which sought to break loose from Moscow's grip. Under then-President Boris Yeltsin, various foreign groups and a new class of business elites known as the oligarchs stripped Russia's major strategic sectors, including oil, natural gas, mining, telecoms and agriculture, leaving most of them in disarray.

The most important of those sectors, energy, was devastated. Between 1988 and 1996, oil production fell from 11.4 million barrels per day to 6 million barrels per day. Oil historically has provided one of Moscow's key sources of revenue, funding half the state budget for more than 60 years. With this revenue halved, the Yeltsin government was forced to slash military and social spending, further deepening the country's disarray. At the end of the 1990s, Russia plunged into a deep financial crisis that resulted in a default on domestic and foreign debts, food shortages, a sharp devaluation of the ruble and inflation above 84 percent.

The Reality of Afghanistan ***

June 25, 2013

The United States made a decision to withdraw from Afghanistan several years ago. That decision carried with it an inevitable logic. Once the United States resolved itself to leave at any cost, its failures up to that point were laid bare, as were the vulnerabilities of the government it had spent more than a decade building. The door was opened for the enemies of the regime of President Hamid Karzai -- the man who has been synonymous with the post-Taliban government. All that was left to do was wait for the American pullback.

U.S. Failures

Elements within the U.S. government have not been shy in their criticisms of the Afghan government and the Afghan military as being corrupt and incompetent. Some units have been effective, but it is well known that the Taliban created a program designed to penetrate post-Taliban institutions shortly after those institutions were created. At the most senior level, the Taliban paid, through family members, substantial sums to buy the loyalties of individuals. These bribes worked partly because there was a lot of money involved and partly because people realized that once the United States left, government loyalists would be on their own. This is not a phenomenon unique to Afghanistan -- people would prefer to live, and those in question were hedging their bets.

Separately, there was a significant enlistment of Taliban sympathizers into the incipient Afghan military. This trend was less formal but even more effective. Soon there were Taliban supporters at several levels of the military, something we saw during the wave of unexpected assassinations of NATO personnel by people believed to be loyal to the regime. These are what came to be called green-on-blue attacks.

Therefore, Afghan forces are fundamentally unreliable. Not everyone has to be in contact with the Taliban to render the force unusable; a single person prepared and able to signal planned operations renders any operation either useless or disastrous.

When it created the Afghan force, the United States was extraordinarily lax in monitoring recruitment. Of course, the defense is that most of the trainers had no way to distinguish the loyal from the subversive. This was widely experienced in Vietnam. There was a bartender at a favorite American hangout in Saigon who turned out to have been a colonel in the North Vietnamese Army for years.

But this brings us to one of the most serious U.S. failures in Afghanistan: a cultural contempt for the Taliban. As it did in Vietnam, Washington failed to understand that the absence of U.S.-style bureaucracy and technology didn't mean that the enemy could not identify opportunities or that it lacked the will to take advantage of them.

The Taliban have suffered heavy losses, but in the end what matters on the battlefield is not the absolute size of the force but the correlation of forces. The problem with the Afghan force is that while there are some reliable units, it is impossible to identify them. Moreover, Karzai's ability to cleanse the force of Taliban sympathizers was thwarted by the fact that his own bureaucracy was seen as unreliable. As the United States learned from the South Vietnamese army and the Vietnamization program, the penetration of your force makes your operations ineffective. It gives the enemy insight into your tactical organization and strategic thinking and, most important, it sows uncertainty and distrust.

In a civil war, the viability of the government is not a function of ideas such as legitimacy or international recognition. It is a function of your ability to reliably assert your presence in regions. There are tribes and other groups in Afghanistan that have a high degree of coherence. It is these entities -- not the Afghan government -- that can and will challenge the Taliban. There are a few possible outcomes, including total fragmentation, but the creation of a sustainable national government by the Karzai regime isn't one of them. More important, the United States doesn't believe it is a possibility either.

U.S. Strategy

The American strategic priority is to end the war, leaving some forces to fight al Qaeda but abandoning any attempt to pacify the country. The United States understands that the Karzai government -- or the one that succeeds it -- will be weak and fragmented, but it would prefer that it at least relegate the Taliban to being merely a faction, enabling a transition to occur within the existing framework. The Taliban might well consider this strategy, but the coalition would be a sham. It is unlikely that Karzai could have built a viable force to counter the Taliban. But it is certain that he failed to counter the Taliban. He has no options left, and many of his senior aides know it. They are making their own plans to leave the country or are reaching their own secret accommodations with the Taliban.

I would guess that the United States knows this is going on, but it has no intention of policing Karzai's house. The United States has stated plans to maintain a sizable military presence through 2014, but its ultimate goal is to leave. Washington understands that the Taliban are the single-most powerful force in Afghanistan but also that there are other factions that could block them. However, the United States is not prepared to plunge into the complexities of Afghan politics. Its failures leading up to this moment have left it with no confidence in its ability to do so -- and with no interest in trying.

The U.S. decision to negotiate openly with the Taliban followed more than two years of relatively secret talks. Many issues have already been discussed, and there is an understanding in Washington of the Taliban and what matters to them, and vice versa. When Karzai got upset over the apparent embassy in Qatar, the Taliban lowered the flag. This is highly significant; the Taliban do not want to make it more difficult for the United States to bring Karzai to the negotiating table. Having made their point, they retreated at America's request.

In many ways, the United States is more comfortable with the Taliban than with the other tribes in the country because secret negotiations have left Washington with a better understanding of the Taliban. But Washington's main objective is to leave. It would like to do so gracefully, but graceful or not, it's happening. However, I would argue that the United States believes the Taliban have sufficient coalition partners to wield the most influence in a post-U.S. Afghanistan.

How Africa outflanked India at the UN

by Richard Gowan — June 21, 2013

India’s traditional ambivalence and failure to table fresh ideas on UN peacekeeping has left it marginalised in the UN.

Over the last six months, two visions of peacekeeping have been pitted against one another at the United Nations (UN). The debate has centered on the terms on which troops under UN command can and should use force. African governments have pushed for the peacekeepers to get tougher, using the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a test case. India has taken a conservative view, arguing that the UN should not abandon its principles. The Africans have largely won the debate so far.

The fact that they have done so highlights India’s failure to establish a decisive voice in arguments about peace operations, despite providing nearly one-tenth of all UN troops and 4,000 of the 17,000 based in the DRC. I have previously argued in Pragati that India does not get sufficient public relations “pay-off” from its UN deployments. It looks like it hasn’t built up very much strategic influence at the UN either.

There have long been questions about the division between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. They came into sharp focus last November, when a militia force overran the city of Goma in the eastern DRC despite the presence of Indian and other UN troops. The peacekeepers continued to patrol Goma and took numerous civilians into protection, and the militiamen eventually quit town. But the UN’s failure to ward off the offensive sparked outrage in the Security Council. Some southern African countries had previously tabled the idea of a new peace enforcement mission to operate alongside the UN in the eastern DRC. They now pressed their case again, and began to find a receptive audience in the Council.

This was doubly irritating for India. Not only had its troops been criticised for their performance in and around Goma, but the incident came after its diplomats had just used a two-year stint on the Security Council to promote their country’s contribution to UN operations. In August 2011, India organised a Security Council debate on peacekeeping, but it was insubstantial, arguably highlighting a lack of a clear strategic vision in this field.

“For a nation that has demonstrated impressive credentials with regard to peacekeeping,” two analysts at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses grumbled, “India’s stand lacked teeth when compared to Guatemala’s statement.” Perhaps this should not have been a surprise. As my co-author and I argue in a chapter in a book on India and multilateralism to be published by the Brookings Press later this year, India has long been ambivalent about UN operations. While offering many troops, it has focused on the financing and governance of these personnel rather than the strategies guiding them.

In the past this has led to friction between Western governments – especially Britain, France and the US on the Security Council – and New Delhi. The Westerners, pointing to their own kinetic operations in Afghanistan, have pushed for UN forces to be more robust. Sometimes Indian units have obliged, pursuing rebels in the DRC with attack helicopters. But UN officials have frequently had to work hard to cajole them into action. Indian diplomats in New York have consistently argued that the UN should uphold the principles of impartiality, respect for state sovereignty and tight limits to the use of force. Peacekeeping analysts ensconced in think tanks at a safe distance from war zones (such as this author) have often complained about this lack of bravado. Yet it has arguably been a sensible strategy for India.

By maintaining a degree of ambiguity over its preferred peacekeeping strategies, New Delhi keeps its options open. If it took a firm doctrinal line in favour of peace enforcement in theory, it would find that it had to put more troops in harm’s way in practice. By taking a more reserved approach diplomatically, but sometimes permitting robust action on the ground, India has gained some extra diplomatic leverage. Members of the Security Council and UN secretariat do not take Indian participation in missions for granted. But India’s public commitment to principles such as sovereignty has won it points with fellow members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), many of which are major suppliers of peacekeepers.

When Nehru lied in Parliament

IssueNet Edition| Date : 25 Jun , 2013

On October 6, 1957, a Chinese newspaper Kuang-ming Jih-pao reported:

The Sinkiang-Tibet – the highest highway in the world – has been completed. During the past few days, a number of trucks running on the highway on a trial basis have arrived in Ko-ta-k’e in Tibet from Yehch’eng in Sinkiang. The Sinkiang-Tibet Highway… is 1179 km long, of which 915 km are more than 4,000 meters above sea level; 130 km of it over 5,000 meters above sea level, with the highest point being 5,500 meters.

Thirty (‘liberation’ model and Chissu 150) heavy-duty trucks, fully loaded with road builders, maintenance equipment and fuels, running on the highway on a trial basis, headed for Ko-ta-k’e from Yehch’eng. In addition two trucks fully loaded with Hami melons, apples and pomegranates, all native products of Sinkiang, headed in the same direction. These fruits were gifts brought specially by the road builders of Sinkiang for the people of various nationalities.

The Aksai road was opened. It took nearly two more years for the news to become public in India.

Nehru answered…: “my reaction is that we should send a reconnoitering party there in spring with clear instructions that they should not come into conflict with the Chinese. I do not think it is desirable to have air reconnaissance…”

It was only in August 1959 that Nehru dropped the bombshell in Parliament: what the Chinese called the ‘Tibet-Sinkiang highway’ was built through the Indian territory.

The Prime Minster must have known since several years, but he had kept the information secret.

Five months after the road was opened (on February 3, 1958), Subimal Dutt, the Indian Foreign Secretary wrote to Nehru: “there seemed little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200 kilometre road connecting Gartok in Western Tibet with Yeh in Sinkiang passes through Aksai Chin.”

Dutt informed the Prime Minister that he agreed with Joint Secretary B.K Acharya’s suggestion of sending a reconnoitering party in the coming spring to find out if the road passed through Aksai Chin.

Dutt added: “However, if the Chinese opposed, the party could come back and the matter could be taken diplomatically.” [unfortunately for the South Block's babus, the reconnoitering party was captured and several Indian jawans were killed.]

Dutt requested for a meeting to discuss the matter with Nehru, Acharya and K. Gopalachari, the Deputy Director of the Historical Division of the Ministry.

Here is Nehru’s answer (On February 4, 1958) recently published in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (Series II, Volume 41):

I shall gladly discuss this matter with you, JS and Gopalachari. Meanwhile, my reaction is that we should send a reconnoitering party there in spring with clear instructions that they should not come into conflict with the Chinese. I do not think it is desirable to have air reconnaissance. In fact, I do not see what good this can do us. Even a land reconnaissance will not perhaps be very helpful.’ However, it may bring some further facts to our notice.

2. I do not see how we can possibly protest about the alignment of the road without being much surer than we are. What we might perhaps do is that in some communication with the Chinese Government in regard to the points of dispute which have to be decided, we should mention the Aksai Chin area.

3. It is suggested that our maps should be sent to the Chinese. Certainly they can be sent through our Embassy. But I think it would be better to do this rather informally.

The Indian territory had been occupied and the Prime Minister wanted to remain informal about it.

An old relationship in a new climate

Jun 26, 2013
Allaying Indian concerns is necessary so that India does not take counter-measures in combination with Russia, or even Iran

US secretary of state John Kerry finally arrived in India on June 23, four and a half months after assuming office, for the fourth India-US strategic dialogue. From the euphoria of the last decade this was a delayed attempt to infuse some enthusiasm into a relationship flagging due to the altered domestic agendas of both and the US’ preoccupation with wrapping up its intervention in Afghanistan and addressing new crises in West Asia.

Moreover China, a factor tilting former US President George Bush towards India, was being re-engaged by the US, its “Asian Pivot” rechristened as “rebalancing”.

The strategic dialogue was created for a yearly review of a diverse relationship. In 2012 there were 112 senior and high-level visits between the two nations. There are eight fact sheets updating the status of cooperation in science and technology, culture, economic engagement, health, space and higher education. But foreign ministers do not just meet to receive audit reports of departments. While undoubtedly larger issues of concern to either side were discussed, Mr Kerry used two platforms to argue his case: a public address at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi and a joint press conference after the talks. Following are the bigger issues that were lurking to be discussed.

First was the revival of Indian fears that Pakistan was beginning to drive the US’ Afghanistan policy and was behind the recent opening of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar. However, the manner of its opening, i.e. hoisting of the old Taliban flag and the affixing of a plaque proclaiming it as literally the embassy of the old Taliban regime made Afghan President Hamid Karzai to correctly denounce it and call off talks with the US on the issue of US troops in Afghanistan post-2014. India, too, reacted sharply through the spokesman of the ministry of external affairs. Mr Kerry, who arrived via Doha, obviously ensured some roll-back of the provocative acts. In the joint press conference, it was Salman Khurshid, India’s external affairs minister, who explained that Indian concerns “would not be overlooked or undermined”. The US was obviously trying to ensure that India remains on board while they calibrate their Afghan exit. The US special representative for AfPak, James Dobbins, is arriving this week to further brief India. Allaying Indian concerns is necessary so that India does not take counter-measures in combination with Russia, or even Iran.

Mr Kerry assured that the red lines — Taliban accept the Afghan Constitution, sever links to Al Qaeda and promise that Afghan soil will not be used to export terror — would not be compromised.

Secondly, the US’ cribbing over Indian lethargy in opening Indian markets to their goods and services while ignoring Indian concerns about the US employing immigration policy for protectionism was discussed. Mr Kerry plugged for a bilateral investment treaty, probably raised the Indian intellectual property protection law, which India claims is TRIPS compliant, and pushed and got a September deadline for the nuclear reactor agreement between Westinghouse and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited. It is not clear how the government proposes to dilute the nuclear liability law to the extent the US seeks.

Surprisingly, when Mr Kerry envisioned three futures for India-US relations resting on the planet’s climatic stability, security and economic relations, he reverted to climate change repeatedly. For a nation that refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, containing developed nations’ commitments, the new-found evangelism was surprising. Apparently, a slowing US economy, milder winter and shifting to shale gas from coal for power production has actually brought the US in 2012 in compliance with Kyoto commitments, as carbon dioxide emissions in the US are lower than in 1997. The India-US Clean Energy initiative, vital for technology transfer and financing, can enable India to balance its energy needs, developmental priorities and climate change imperatives.

Antony's term as defence minister has been mired in scandals, missed opportunities

Manoj Joshi
24 June 2013

A K Antony has been the longest serving defence minister of the country. Sadly, we cannot say that he has been the best. 

Brought in to signal the need for integrity in defence purchases, and to speed up the delayed modernisation of the armed forces, his term has been one of failure and missed opportunities. 

The VIP helicopter scam represents only the tip of the iceberg of the corruption that continues to dog defence deals. 

As for modernisation, the Antony term has seen a further slippage in the Scorpene submarine project and an inability of the Army to push through the urgently needed artillery modernisation, to name just two of the key projects that remain mired in delays fostered by the defence ministry.

Relations between the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy remain poisonous and break out into periodic spats, the most spectacular one being the V K Singh age issue. 

In such circumstances one would imagine that Antony would be an enthusiastic supporter of reform and restructuring of his ministry. 

But far from it. He maintained a reputation for indecisiveness and caution and, according to news reports, he has tamely followed his bureaucracy to block the significant proposals made by the Naresh Chandra task force on defence reform. 

This has manifested itself most clearly in the opposition of the ministry to the creation of the office of a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (COSC).


The committee which laboured for a year, comprised of former service and intelligence service chiefs and was chaired by a person who had himself been Defence and later Cabinet Secretary.

To term the recommendation of the committee on the permanent chair for the COSC as "unwarranted" can only be termed as self-defeating impertinence. 

Actually, according to news reports, the MoD has declared that not only is there no need to appoint a permanent COSC chairman, there is no need for any reform anywhere, period.

In a way this sums up the arrogant self-certitude of the bureaucracy and hearkens to Lord Kelvin’s famous 1900 statement that, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now." 

Across the world, joint functioning or integration of the various arms of the services has been the trend since the time of World War I.

In India, the Group of Ministers which looked into defence reforms after the Kargil war suggested that a CDS post be created, along with the integration of the armed forces headquarters with the Ministry of Defence. 

Reform: There is need to integrate the training, logistics, acquisition and strategy of the three services to ensure effective defence

Scandal: The VIP helicopter scam represents only the tip of the iceberg of the corruption that continues to dog defence deals

However, this was sabotaged by the bureaucracy which raised all manner of objections to the proposal. They did create a tri-service Integrated Defence Staff, but being headless, its influence has been sub-optimal. 

Then, in an act of blatant chicanery, the babus relabelled the service headquarters as Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (Army/Navy/Air Force) and declared that integration had taken place. 

They were able to do this by playing up to the fears of the politicians that the CDS would be a "super general" and so powerful that he could threaten the system with a coup. 

Coming in a country where the last military coup probably took place in 185 BC when Pusyamitra Sunga overthrew the Mauryan dynasty, this is a bit rich. 

Their actual concern, however, was that the new organisation would cut into the power that the civilian bureaucracy wields by manipulating the Transaction of Business Rules in its own favour, a power that is wielded in an inexpert, incompetent and corrupt manner. 

Toward Convergence: An Agenda for U.S.-India Cooperation in Afghanistan

05 June 2013

As the United States reduces its military presence in Afghanistan and transfers security control to the Afghan government in 2014, the governments in New Delhi and Washington should find ways to strengthen their partnership in Afghanistan. At the same time, they should embed it in a sustainable structure of regional cooperation in order to ensure the future stability of Afghanistan. The United States and India share a number of objectives in Afghanistan and the wider region, including: 

• A unified and territorially integrated Afghanistan 

• A sovereign, independent, and functional Afghan government based on the principles underlying the current constitution, including democracy, nonviolent political competition, and basic human rights for both women and men 

• An Afghanistan that prevents terrorist groups from using its territory to train and mount attacks both in the region and around the world 

• An Afghanistan that serves as a central trade and transit hub connecting South and Central Asia 

• A stable and responsible Pakistan that prevents militant groups from operating within its territory and seeks economic and political cooperation with its neighbours 

Until recently the United States discouraged active Indian military involvement in Afghanistan due to sensitivities toward Pakistani fears of encirclement by India. New Delhi’s own instinct was to move cautiously in Afghanistan, focusing on economic development, building infrastructure, and social-sector projects despite its larger security interests. But as the relationship between India and the United States has deepened over the last decade-combined with plans for the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government in 2014-U.S. and Indian policymakers have an opportunity for an enhanced partnership in Afghanistan. As U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns stated during his visit to India in 

October 2012, "there has never been a moment when India and America mattered more to one another. And there has never been a moment when partnership between us mattered more to the rest of the globe." 

While shared objectives provide a foundation for U.S.-India collaboration in Afghanistan, deeper cooperation is not inevitable. U.S. and Indian policies have often worked in parallel rather than in concert and have been further impeded by differing policy approaches in Afghanistan, as well as in the region. The United States has been directly involved in Afghanistan, deploying thousands of troops and billions of dollars of economic assistance, while India has sought to build up diplomatic and economic ties with the country. 

Differences between the two countries remain. While the United States and India share many of the same concerns over negotiations with the Taliban, the reliability of Pakistan as a partner in supporting peace in Afghanistan, and the need for Afghan ownership of any political settlement, the Indian and U.S. assessments of the risks involved and the best path forward do not always coincide. Such differences are understandable given the two countries’ differing locations, rivalries, political pressures, foreign-policy priorities, and capacities for addressing challenges in Afghanistan and around the world. 

Both the United States and India share the goal of a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan. To this end, the United States has fitfully pursued talks with the Taliban and other Afghan militants since 2010 while maintaining a realistic view of the potential for success. While India is more agreeable now to the overall goal of a negotiated settlement, policymakers in New Delhi say that they are more suspicious than their Washington counterparts of the Taliban and other militants. As a result the path forward for both countries will be in finding common ground on the course and substance of future efforts to negotiate a political settlement in Afghanistan. 

Both the United States and India similarly believe that Afghan stability requires Pakistani support and that accommodation of Pakistan’s legitimate security interests will be necessary. The challenge for the United States and India is to determine a mutually acceptable understanding of Pakistan’s "legitimate" interests. India, similar to the United States, is wary of the Pakistani military defining these interests, and New Delhi believes that the Pakistani military has not given up its longstanding goal of a weak and pliable Afghanistan aligned with Islamabad. Because the government in New Delhi feels more directly vulnerable to Pakistani actions or inactions, many Indian policymakers fear that the United States will be too quick to trust the Pakistani military leadership and cede it an outsized influence over Afghanistan’s future. 

India's Tablet Revolution

How a $40 device is going to change the lives of billions.

India's ruling Congress Party was stunned by the magnitude of recent public protests. For the first time in recent history, India's normally docile middle class and its youth are speaking up over everything from the country's recent rape tragedy to the Congress Party's corruption. Social media and technology have empowered these segments of society in new ways. The digital world has enabled similar rebellions in China and the Middle East.

This is just the beginning, though. As the cost of devices drops and Internet access becomes universal, we are witnessing a new kind of revolution. 

Information used to be more localized. People were barely aware of the affairs of their own villages let alone in nearby towns or the rest of the country. Governments had the power to feed their citizens whatever propaganda they wanted them to know.

Now, however, people are more connected. Those in the poorest parts of the world are gaining access to an equivalent breadth of knowledge as those in the wealthiest parts. They are beginning to participate in the global economy, to learn from others, and to solve their own problems.

The first global communications revolution began with cell phones. Over a 10-year period the number of cellular subscriptions jumped from a few million to nearly 6 billion (or 87 percent of the world's population, according to The International Telecommunication Union). These made it possible for families to stay in touch when breadwinners travelled to cities and for workers to connect with employers. They allowed populations to discuss what was happening in different parts of the country and to exchange political views. And they allowed the disenchanted to organize demonstrations via text messages. 

The next step in this revolution is cheap tablets. India recently launched the Aakash tablet, which provides all the features of more expensive tablets. It has a processer as powerful as the first iPad, twice as much RAM, and an LCD touch screen. One hundred thousand of these devices have been purchased by the Indian government from a company called Datawind for $40 and are being provided to teachers and school children for a subsidized price of $20. Meanwhile, Datawind has sold 1 million of these commercially at a price of $60. CyberMedia Research says that within two quarters of its introduction, the Aakash tablet has leaped ahead of Apple in terms of market share in India.

To add to the increasing accessibility of technology and its benefit, India has launched an initiative to connect 250,000 villages via optical fiber cable. The fiber-optic lines will provide cheap, affordable Internet. Regardless of whether the government delivers on these plans, India's cell phone carriers already provide affordable data plans. Newer versions of Datawind tablets, or "phablets" as they are colloquially referred to, have cell phone capabilities and come with unlimited web access for Rs.100 (US$1.75) per month.

India's population currently has around 900 million mobile phones, which typically cost $30 or more. When the cost of the "phablets" reaches this price point, they will undoubtedly become the replacement device for cell phones. I expect that India, because of tablets, will have more than 100 million new Internet users in the next three years. This number will grow to more than 500 million within five years, and 1 billion by the end of the decade.

US and Taliban

C. Raja Mohan : Wed Jun 26 2013


The confusion over the US talks with the Taliban in Qatar last week suggests that the so-called "endgame" in Afghanistan may not really be at hand. Barely hours after the talks were announced, the Taliban broke the agreement by flying its flag and presenting itself as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was furious, and Washington is now saying that Taliban's Qatar office will be closed if it does not abide by the terms agreed in the pre-negotiations.

Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to reassure New Delhi that it was not about to abandon Kabul, cut a deal with the Taliban, and hand over Afghanistan to the Pakistan army. While Delhi's anxieties are understandable, the Indian debate on US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan in the second term of the Obama administration has been over the top.

What the recent developments point to is the growing uncertainty about the future of Afghanistan. It would be unwise for Delhi to prejudge the outcomes at this stage. Only two things are certain at this moment. One is the fact that the America is determined to end its combat role in Afghanistan by 2014. US President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared that America cannot be locked in a "perpetual war". India or the rest of the world cannot alter that decision.

What remains open are two questions. How many troops should the US leave behind? And how long should the US extend military support to Kabul? It is reasonable for Delhi

to assume that the answers to these questions will depend

on the ground situation in Afghanistan and the political conditions in Washington.

The second certainty is the US interest in engaging the Taliban to find a political settlement as the troop withdrawal takes place. Translating this objective into reality has proved to be a serious challenge, as the recent fiasco in Qatar has shown. The coming weeks and months will see more confusion as the major actors in Afghanistan, including Washington, Kabul, the Taliban and the Pakistan army jockey for position. Instead of protesting at what others are doing, Delhi should prepare to play the few cards that it has in the increasingly uncertain Afghan situation.


In his public remarks in Delhi, Kerry seems to have added to the confusion when he reaffirmed some "red lines" in the engagement with the Taliban — breaking with al-Qaeda, renouncing violence, and respecting the Afghan constitution, including the rights of women and minorities. "Thus far, those conditions have not yet been met, so there is no negotiation at this point," Kerry said. "If the conditions are met, then there is a negotiation that will take place not with the United States, but with the High Peace Council of Afghanistan."

The Washington Post, however, says Kerry might have wrongly stated the current US position. The Obama administration has for some time said these three principles were "outcomes" from successful negotiations rather

than "preconditions".

The White House announced the talks, betting that the Taliban had shown enough flexibility by promising not to support international terrorism and supporting Afghan democracy. But before the first round of talks began in Qatar, the Taliban and its friends in Rawalpindi seem to have overplayed their hand in Qatar. We might see a lot of that in the coming weeks.


Although the Indian strategic community is in a funk over the changing dynamic in Afghanistan, the government of India is relatively calm and signalling some flexibility. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has called the proposed American talks with the Taliban an "experiment", suggesting that the effort must be judged by the "outcomes" rather than the construction of a "process".

In his remarks last week, the spokesman for the foreign office hinted that Delhi has an open mind on talking to the Taliban. He insisted that there should be no dilution of the legitimacy of the elected government in Kabul. At the same time, he said that all insurgent groups, including the Taliban, should be engaged if they are prepared to "join the mainstream". The "good Taliban" are now welcome in Delhi.

The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a contributing editor for 'The Indian Express'

Allowing radicalism to triumph over Afghan democracy

Shaida M. Abdali

To Afghans and most of their key allies, the way the Doha office of the Taliban was opened seemed as if the forces of terrorism were being rewarded at the expense of the democratic gains made in Afghanistan

June 18, 2013 was a day of starkly contradictory events in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai and visiting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the fifth and last tranche of the security transition, with NATO forces handing over the complete ownership and leadership of all military operations across Afghanistan to their Afghan counterparts. Ordinary Afghans welcomed this development as a major step forward in their quest to consolidate Afghanistan’s democratic gains.

On the same day, it was also expected that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-executed peace initiative would be launched with the opening of a temporary venue in Doha, Qatar, facilitating peace talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and Taliban representatives. It took the Afghan government almost two years to reach this critical point and to form a national consensus on the principles that would govern the peace process. Many consultations were also held with regional and international stakeholders, including the United States and Pakistan, which as two members of the “Core Group” agreed on the governing principles, clearly articulated in the Peace Process Roadmap to 2015.

The “Core Group” members agreed that in order for the peace process to succeed with sustainable outcomes, the Taliban must accept the Afghan Constitution and respect the democratic gains of the Afghan people, including the constitutionally-protected rights of women. They must also cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, while verifiably renouncing violence. And it has been emphasised time and again that any external interference intended to influence the peace talks would jeopardise and stall the process.

As Afghanistan’s leading strategic partner, the United States provided the Afghan government with specific guarantees against any possible violation of the above basic principles. The name of the venue in Doha was agreed to be the “Political Bureau of the Afghan Taliban”, nothing more than a political address to be later relocated inside Afghanistan. But much to the dismay of the Afghan people and government, as they were still cheering the last phase of the security transition, Al Jazeera enthusiastically began broadcasting an elaborate inaugural ceremony for the “Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha as its top news story.

Qatar’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali bin Fahad Al-Hajri, and Taliban representatives unveiled the plaque that bore that name — under which the Taliban had committed unspeakable atrocities against the Afghan people, systematically destroying their cultural heritage and economically isolating their country from the rest of the world. And a white flag — under which the Taliban and al-Qaeda had masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 American citizens — was hoisted on a tall pole outside the venue in an area of Doha that houses most diplomatic missions.

Deep insight into the Haqqani Network

by Charles Cameron
June 21, 2013

Haqqani Network is at the centre of a nexus of jehadi violence in a triangle of relations with the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani military and al-Qa’ida.

Charlie Wilson, the gaudy US congressman from Texas whose support for arming the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan gave the name Charlie’s War to George Crile’s book (and the Tom Hanks feature adaptation of the same name), drank, lusted, flirted, bribed and persuaded with cheerful abandon — and once referred to Jalaluddin Haqqani as “goodness personified.”

That same Jalaluddin Haqqani, Vahid Brown and Don Rassler argue in their book, Fountainhead of Jihad: the Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012, was pushing the line of obligatory global jihad even before Abdullah Azzam, and was the first to recruit Arab “foreign fighters” to the jihad back in the 1980s. The network that paragon of goodness established is still, some forty years later, continuing in a tradition that began before the Durand Line was scrawled across a map, already in place when the British attempted to ‘take’ Afghanistan in the First Afghan War of 1839 — and that has arguably prevailed repeatedly in that mountainous, mutinous region against all comers since Iskandar tried his own fortune at what would later be called the Great Game.

This isn’t the first time Vahid Brown and Don Rassler have collaborated in a work examining the Haqqani network. They werejointly responsible for The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qa’ida. It is, however, the first major book bringing the Haqqanis out from the shadows, and belongs alongside Abu Walid al-Masri’s and others’ accounts of the earliest days of al-Qaida, as well as such fine works of western scholarship of the global jihad as Wagemakers’ A Quietist Jihadi and Lia’s Architects of Global Jihad. Brown and Rassler begin with context, divided by that thinly penciled Durand Line on the map, with Afghanistan “the last battleground of the Cold War and the first of the Global War in Terror”, and Pakistan “locked in a nuclear stalemate with India punctuated by varying levels of cross-border war-by-proxy”. In some ways, the story of the Haqqanis is one that blurs that thinly penciled line and brings the narratives of those two nation states from congruence into continuity.

The book’s title, Fountainhead of Jihad, is that of the Haqqani’s own magazine and video productions — and Brown and Rassler show it to be an accurate depiction. The Haqqani nexus, they write, “has survived for nearly forty years in an extremely volatile region of the world, and it has done so primarily through a careful balancing act that has kept it at the center of a nexus of violence” in a “triangle of relations with the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani military, and al-Qa’ida”. As Brown and Rassler note, “Respectively representing the local, regional, and global dimensions of the Haqqani nexus, these are not three groups that one would expect to find sharing a single partner.”

The book is in two parts, Vahid Brown writing the first on the historical background and growth of the Haqqanis up to the events of 9/11, the second by Dan Rassler covering the organisational dynamics and connections of the nexus as they can be discerned since that time, and the book concludes with an overview of major findings. The authors are at pains to explain that they have not entered into the various policy debates surrounding the Haqqanis, have focused on hitherto unseen primary sources, thousands of pages of which have been available to them, and that they have been careful “not to advocate for or against any particular policy option by any particular state involved”. The book, then, offers a clear and detailed picture which may be set against a given nation’s or individual’s own concerns and questions, favouring neither Afghan, Pakistani, American nor Indian perspectives, but potentially informing each of them in turn.

In the first chapter, Brown situates the Haqqani zone of interest in Loya Paktia and North Waziristan — neatly straddling the Line — among the fiercely independent high mountain peoples, and following a long tradition of organisation, where needed, by clerics rather than by tribal leaders, influenced first by the pirs of Sufism and later by Deobandi mawlanas, and with some contempt for the disrespect of popular pieties shown by Wahhabists. Sociologically, these mountainous regions fit James Scott’s description of “shatter zones” — flexible and autonomous — while as Brown notes, liable if opposed to “shatter back.”

Pakistan’s Biggest Challenge Is Not the Taliban — It’s Electricity

June 25, 2013

The new government faces all sorts of challenges, but its most immediate task is to bring an end to crippling power outages that are costing the nation billions of dollars in productivity

For Pakistan’s new government, the biggest challenge isn’t taming the many militant groups that mount near daily attacks across the country. “Our No. 1 challenge is energy,” Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan’s new Minister for Water and Power, tells TIME. “It’s a bigger challenge than even terrorism.” While Taliban attacks have claimed the lives of tens of thousands, and destroyed the livelihoods of many more, Pakistan’s notorious power outages that last up to 22 hours a day directly affect over 180 million people. “Their personal lives, their work lives, the lives of their children,” adds Khawaja. “Everything is affected.” At the moment, Pakistan is only able to produce around half of the electricity it requires. And the economic cost each year is over $10 billion, shaving around a third off the growth rate.

In the May general elections, electricity was the top voting issue. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari was punished for failing to resolve the problem. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party successfully rode a wave of popular anger at the power cuts, vowing to create a “bright Pakistan.” Since the election, voters have demonstrated their undimmed rage as a rash of violent riots broke out across the country. In the industrial town of Faisalabad, where the crisis has shut down several factories, a group of young boys was seen attacking the local electricity company’s offices with sticks and bricks. In retaliation, the police raided their homes, tearing down doors and beating terrified occupants inside.

Only the wealthiest are inured from the crisis. Generators are now a status symbol in Pakistan. They groan loudly, like a small plane struggling to take flight. To operate multiple air conditioners for over 12 hours a day can cost as much as rent. Those with some means opt for a battery that charges while the power is on and stores enough electricity to run a slowly whirring fan. When the power is on, the hour is fleeting. In the heat, time passes agonizingly slowly. Productivity plunges. Mobile phones shut down. Laptop computers swiftly slow down and overheat. (I’ve had to put the laptop in the fridge to cool down a few times.) It is advisable to shower regularly, though the water is usually hot and one sweats at the same time, causing a confusing sensation. Other survival techniques include wearing as little clothing as possible, though this has the unfortunate effect of attracting mosquitoes to graze over more acreage.

Like many other problems that afflict Pakistan, the energy crisis is a product of years of steady neglect in a country of scarce resources, a growing population, poor management decisions and a conveyor belt of corruption. Earlier this month, Sharif despaired that a nuclear-armed country can’t generate enough electricity to meet its needs. For decades, Pakistan has relied on pricey oil imports. “Instead of going for hydroelectric power or coal, we went for oil,” says Khawaja, the minister. “But we don’t produce oil. We don’t produce much gas, either.” As the price of oil rose and the Pakistani rupee weakened against the dollar, the cost of keeping the lights on spiraled upward.

Even as its electricity bills grew bigger, Pakistan failed to collect payments. One of the biggest issues confronting the country right now is a so-called circular debt of $5 billion. The importers of oil are owed money by the companies that generate the electricity, which in turn are owed money by the distribution companies, which are then owed cash by consumers who don’t pay up, from the government and the private sector. In recent years, defaulters have included the presidential palace, the Supreme Court, the top intelligence agency and the Sharif family’s steel business.

Another constant problem is theft. It starts off small, with the manipulation of street meters. In a short story titled Nawabdin Electrician, the Pakistani-American writer Daniyal Mueenuddin noted the practice, “so cunningly done that his customers could specify to the hundred-rupee note the desired monthly savings.” At the top end of the scale, private entrepreneurs received advance payment for more than double the electricity they provided. The Supreme Court eventually shut down the lucrative wheeze. The government estimates that $2 billion is lost each year through graft in the energy sector.

Pakistan also pursues a ruinous policy of selling electricity at a rate below cost. This is done across the board. “They’re effectively subsidizing the rich, who can afford to pay,” says a U.S. official. “It’s messed up.” The new government, says Khawaja, will attempt to pay down the debt within two months, keep it at that level and phase out the subsidies. The move would please the International Monetary Fund, which is currently in talks with Pakistan about issuing a fresh loan. Other plans include privatizing large chunks of the sector and luring foreign investment.

Pakistan’s energy crisis could also end up guiding the country’s foreign policy. Since being elected, Sharif has turned to every foreign visitor — from the Chinese Premier to a visiting Indian delegation — to ask for their help. Sharif’s government is keen to normalize relations with neighboring India through stronger trade ties. “The Indian government is offering us 500MW of electricity through a system that will be installed over the next two years,” says Khawaja. The Indian private sector is making a cheaper offer that could see fruition in six months’ time.

The Sharif government had hoped that its Saudi allies, sensing Pakistan’s desperate needs, would come through with an oil deferred-payments package. “I don’t think that will happen,” says Khawaja. “At least not yet. It could take place ultimately, but we are trying to live within our means.” But when it comes to the supply of gas, Pakistan may end up following through with a pipeline with Iran that would not only offend Riyadh, but also trigger sanctions from Washington.

President Zardari signed the pipeline deal with Tehran earlier this year, and Sharif’s government is prepared to honor it. “If there’s a contractual obligation,” says Khawaja, “then we’ll fulfill it.” The minister is unfazed by the prospect of U.S. sanctions. “The U.S. must consider that we’re going through a very tough time,” he adds. “We do not have choices. If the international community doesn’t want us to deal with the Iranians then they should have given us some alternatives.”

As he spoke at his parliamentary residence, the television screen lit up with an ad from USAID, eagerly publicizing the modest investments that Washington has made in Pakistan’s energy sector. The U.S. has spent nearly $250 million on hiring expert consultants and enhancing infrastructure. The improvements, including new turbines for a major dam, are said to have added 900 MW. But it won’t be enough to alter Islamabad’s thinking. “At the end of the day, we have to live with them,” says Khawaja of the prospect of striking energy deals with India and Iran. “It makes good economic sense, and it makes for good regional diplomacy.”

If Khawaja and the government succeed in easing the energy crisis, they may end up hailed as heroes. If they fail, they will likely meet the fate of their predecessors. Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former Minister for Water and Power, lost the last election by a wide margin, despite having poured millions of dollars of development funds into his district. Fittingly, his election posters loosely hung from lampposts that never glowed. After a campaign of breathless promises, the new government has been trying to moderate expectations. But voters have less patience. “It’s a question of our political survival,” says Khawaja. “We have to succeed. Failure is not an option.”

India must commit to Afghanistan

by Shoikat Roy — June 21, 2013 

India cannot sacrifice its legitimate interests in Afghanistan at the altar of Pakistani sensitivity.

Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan submitted a wish list of military equipment to the Indian government during his recent visit to Delhi. Although South Block has been taciturn on the contents of the “wish list”, Unconfirmed sources have revealed that it includes artillery, medium-lift aircraft, helicopters and bridge-laying trucks and equipment. The proposal presents an interesting foreign policy dilemma for India in the backdrop of an impending withdrawal of NATO (ISAF) forces in 2014 coupled with a gradual resurgence of the Taliban.

A stable Afghanistan is vital to India’s interests for multiple reasons. A reduction in Islamist militancy, increased trade and economic integration and access to Central Asian energy resources are just a few of the prominent benefits that India has to gain. Being an important stakeholder in the security of the region, India has thus far adopted a very pragmatic policy in a volatile Afghanistan. The 2011 Strategic Partnership Agreement between India and Afghanistan provides for India to “assist, as mutually determined, in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).” India currently trains Afghan military and police personnel in its military academies but provides very little in the way of military equipment. With the exception of personnel deployed purely for the protection of Indian embassies and infrastructure and without a counter-insurgency mandate, India has no boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

While we have avoided getting involved militarily, we have increased trade, development assistance and private investment, winning Afghan hearts and minds in the process. With over $2 billion in aid, Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Indian aid. Humanitarian assistance, medical aid and building of schools and hospitals among other infrastructure have helped cultivate a positive image of India among the populace. The soaring popularity of Bollywood has further projected Indian soft power. The Indian Border Roads Organisation has also been very active, in particular, connecting highways to the Iranian port of Chahbahar and building rail infrastructure in the country. Access to Iranian and Central Asian energy resources through such transportation links that bypass Pakistan can provide us greater energy security and result in enormous economic benefits. It also serves the additional purpose of countering Chinese and Russian influence in the region. Furthermore, India has always been careful to engage all the different ethnic factions in the country, winning grudging praise even from the Taliban.

There are four fundamental factors to consider. First, arming Afghanistan is bound to be viewed as a provocation by Pakistan and could invite an aggressive response. A recent RAND paper has noted that there is a fundamental difference in Indian and Pakistani strategies in Afghanistan. While India seeks a stable Afghanistan that minimises the cross-border terrorist threat and increases access to trade and economic benefits, Pakistan’s strategy is India-centric and focused on maintaining a safe haven for extremists while gaining “strategic depth” by reducing Delhi’s influence in Afghanistan. New Delhi has therefore traditionally always been mindful of Pakistani sensitivities on the issue, focusing its energies on development assistance and economic reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.