27 June 2013

Uttrakhand exposes poor early warning mechanisms

IssueNet Edition| Date : 25 Jun , 2013

The torrential floods in the Himalayas is one of the biggest disaster witnessed in the country over the years leading to over 600 deaths so far since June 15 2013 onwards in Uttrakhand alone. It has once again exposed India’s poor early warning mechanisms, poor disaster mitigation, and rescue and relief response.

Witness how Mumbai was brought to a halt in 2005 or the Leh mudslide in 2010. Lack of early warning mechanisms is apparent, as there were no cautionary notices issues to the locals.

India’s disaster landscape denotes high vulnerability requiring adequate attention to early warning mechanisms, mitigation, capacity building in local, state and central agencies and effective cooperation in application of the same once tragedies like the heavy rain spell in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh denotes. It is time we overcome the siloed approach to emergencies and tackle the same with synergy and a holistic approach.

Some would say that the fatalities and losses be attributed to climatic catastrophe even though extreme weather events such as cloud burst and spells of heavy rains have become the norm in recent years. Witness how Mumbai was brought to a halt in 2005 or the Leh mudslide in 2010. Disaster preparedness and mitigation thus has to cater for these extreme events. Lack of early warning mechanisms is apparent, as there were no cautionary notices issues to the locals.

There are also efforts to ensure that townships and buildings are designed to be disaster proof based on an analysis of the threats faced. There could be no reason otherwise for the crumbling of multi storeyed structures so dramatically seen on television screens. For the unfortunate who were possibly trapped inside these building it was a sad end to life’s dreams. It is time that local authorities and state and district disaster management agencies step in to ensure that norms are followed in buildings for in a multi disaster scenario to which North India is very much suspect the tragedy could be even worse. General insurance companies can also play an important role by denying insurance cover to such structures, which have been built violating all norms. The authorities responsible for sanctioning such unauthorised structures against norms for corrupt practices should be accountable and be severely punished.

The response of the state and central authorities in Uttarakhand also seems to be tardy. While a number of press releases have been issued, the lack of coordination in agencies is apparent with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MoH) apparently having launched parallel operations.

Thus the MoD highlighted that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has launched ‘Operation Rahat’, after IAF assistance was sought for rescue operations. HQ Western Air Command (WAC) promptly responded to the requests from various states for providing flood relief. The IAF, undertook the task simultaneously in the sectors of Yamunanagar, Kedarnath-Badrinath axis, Rudrapyag valley, Karcham-Puh axis.

Using crisis mapping to aid Uttarakhand

T. Ramachandran

Special Arrangement Screenshot of Google Crisis Response page on Uttarakhand floods.

Technology-driven efforts are on to crowdsource information using the Internet and other communication channels and integrate it into online maps to help manage the aftermath of the natural calamity that has beset Uttarakhand.

The international experience in recent years has proved that ‘crisis mapping’ can make a difference to disaster situations.

One such Uttarakhand flood relief effort, that aims to make use of ‘digital volunteers’ in India and other parts of the world to aggregate information from diverse sources and make it more useful and actionable has been launched by Hemant Purohit, a Crisis-Response Coordination researcher at the Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing (Kno.e.sis), Wright State University.

And there exists an International Network of Crisis Mappers, which includes members with different skill sets, and experience in the use of tools covering crowdsourcing, mapping, use of aerial and satellite imagery, geospatial platforms, advanced visualisation and computational and statistical models.

What the volunteers are doing is to monitor different channels of information on Uttarakhand, including official sources, blogs, social media, non-governmental organisations, public networks and the news media to generate ‘situation reports’ and also update with vital information an online crisis map set up by the Google Crisis Response team(http://google.org/crisismap/2013-uttrakhand-floods? gl=in). The map has information on rescued people, cleared areas, people stranded, relief camps, medical centres, road networks and so on.

Information flow will gather momentum as the repair and restoration of the mobile phone network progresses in Uttarakhand.

Google had also set up an instance of its webapp, Person Finder, that makes it possible for information about missing persons to be posted online and searched, with the option of triggering alerts.

The role of crisis mapping was to bridge the gap that existed between information-seekers and providers, particularly when it came to providing insights into the situation on the ground and the action that needed to be taken, Mr. Purohit said in an e-mail interview to The Hindu.

Haiti earthquake

The world got a glimpse of the potential of crowdsourced mapping following the deployment of an open-source platform called Ushahidi when an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010. The information provided by the affected population and others over the Internet and the mobile phone network and the map-based capabilities of the platform helped in addressing specific disaster management requirements.

In the case of the Haiti earthquake, a volunteer team got the platform going fast and were soon tapping into social media sources like Twitter, facebook, and blogs and other media to create actionable reports. Later an international SMS number was created for people to input information relating to the quake. Soon it turned into a flood which was painstakingly processed by volunteers and turned into information that could be loaded onto an online map.

As many as 4,636 project volunteers translated 25,186 SMSs and numerous e-mails, web, and social media communications, resulting in 3,596 reports that were actionable and included enough relevant information to be mapped on Ushahidi, said a United States Institute of Peace report.

Now the trend was to try to use automation to process such large volumes of information.

“Until recently, much of our crisis response and disaster coordination relied on manual effort using web infrastructure. Ushahidi is an excellent and successful example. More recently, there is rapid progress on our ability to use automation — especially in processing large amount of information shared on social media,” said Amit P. Sheth, director, Kno.e.sis Center. “We are at a stage where we should combine human effort with machine processing,” he said.

Our last recourse

25 June 2013

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Jun 13

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has imaginatively employed its new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft --- six of which were purchased in 2010 from the United States for Rs 3,835 crore --- to revive flagging rescue and relief efforts at Dharasu, in flood-hit Uttarakhand. With fuel running out for the IAF’s Mi-17 helicopters that were flying relief missions from the small, 1300 metre Dharasu airstrip, the C-130Js’ game-changing ability to land on tiny airstrips was brought into play. Fully fuelled C-130Js flew in from Hindan (near Ghaziabad) and landed in Dharasu, each one unloading 8,000 litres of aviation fuel from its on-board tanks for use by the Mi-17s. On their return journey, the C-130Js ferried medically distressed people, making this a two-way air bridge.

This is just one recent example of military equipment and personnel becoming the instrument of last resort for overwhelmed administrators in disaster situations. The Gujarat earthquake in 2001; the Kashmir earthquake in 2005; the Ladakh flash floods in 2010, the Sikkim earthquake in 2011, and multiple flood relief operations that the services undertake every year highlight that the military is the only effective disaster response force in the country. And that the vast sums spent on the military, and its equipment, is not just insurance for some far-fetched threat of external aggression but real capability for situations that all-too frequently move beyond the capacity of the other instruments of state.

Every one of India’s military units has an official plan for “Aid to Civil Authorities” that is as carefully formulated as its plans for war. This spells out exactly what that unit will do when the government asks for help during flood, earthquake or breakdown of public order. When officially requisitioned by what the army still cheerfully calls “the civil administration” all its equipment is deployed to assist the people.

India’s armed forces have proved equally useful during trans-national natural disasters, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. The Indian Navy put 30 vessels to sea in just 48 hours, providing desperately needed relief in coastal India, and across the region including Sri Lanka and Indonesia. So quick and effective was the navy’s response that the US Pacific Command, which arrived later, openly acknowledged for the first time that the Indian Navy was the only regional force with the resources and will to exercise power across the Indian Ocean.

This careful planning and ability contrasts starkly with the bumbling ineptitude of local administrations, state disaster response forces and the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), which wags say is a full-fledged disaster itself. If the Uttarakhand government seems overwhelmed, the reason --- as is evident from the April 23 audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority --- is that the state has utterly failed to prepare for natural disasters. The Authority, created in 2007, has never held a meeting; almost half the posts in the district emergency cells remain unfilled to this day.

A fatalistic Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna, told CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar in an interview that there can be no actionable programme for the plethora of disasters --- cloudbursts, glacier collapses and flooded rivers --- that Uttarakhand might face. In his defence, he argued that no Indian state meets the norms of disaster management. This is factually true, but logically irrelevant.

Trying to show up Bahuguna, Gujarat’s chief minister arrived in Uttarakhand, putting together a surreal cameo performance entitled, “No Gujarati Left Behind” (I made up the title, but the rest is true). Ignoring the responses of other agencies, Narendra Modi and his crack team brainstormed till the wee hours, and then dispatched (according to one Times of India report, at least) 80 Toyota Innovas, four Boeings and a fleet of luxury buses to pluck a claimed 15,000 stranded Gujaratis from the sliding mud and swirling waters of Uttarakhand and transport them to safety. But while Modi may rescue Gujaratis in an election year (Why? I thought he was projecting himself as the leader of all Indians?), the rest of the citizenry must rely on the armed forces.

True, India’s geography makes it essential for the military to play this role. It is equally true that even countries with functional governments call upon their militaries when situations legitimately escalate: remember Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans? But few countries do so as often as India, except perhaps Pakistan --- and we know what that has led to. It must also be noted that the remoteness and vulnerability of so much of this otherwise teeming country is unquestionably the failure of the Indian state. When things go bad --- whether in terms of security or natural disasters --- there is always the military!

To remember what we often forget, the military must be nurtured as an important wing of government, our last recourse in dire need. The cold-eyed mandarins in New Delhi must commit the resources and attention that this instrument needs, remembering that this is not “non-productive expenditure”, but a living organisation that must be continually replenished.

Tailpiece: I remember, during the 2002 J&K elections, which are widely regarded as a turning point in open insurgency in that troubled state, a 20-minute sortie that I flew in an IAF Mi-17 helicopter, which was conveying a polling team and an EVM from Doda to an isolated village high in the Pir Panjal. This was done so that 11 voters in that village could cast their ballots. On the evening of polling day, the Mi-17 went back to pick up the polling team. More than any flowery statements on India’s democracy, this astonishing military effort to obtain the ballots of 11 voters represents for me the triumph of India’s electoral exercise.

Lt Gen E F Norton: A Distinguished Soldier

IssueNet Edition| Date : 18 May , 2013

Lt Gen E F Norton

“A great Gentleman, a gallant Horseman, a true friend.” 1912.

“And the men who have pioneered the way (Sic. to the summit of Everest) deserve in full measure the gratitude of their kind for the sacrifices they made.” 1924.

The first statement was the measure of Captain Edward Felix Norton, of “R” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, as recorded by his Battery Commander, Major (later Lieutenant General) A E Wardrop in 1912, at Mathura. And the second quote was a tribute to Norton in 1924, from a man often called “the last great Imperial adventurer,” Col Sir Francis Younghusband, CIE, KCSI. The occasion was the felicitation function especially organized by The Royal Geographic Society, London, to honour the members of the Second Everest Expedition and in particular the man who came with-in a whisker of summiting the “Third Pole”, in a solo bid.

The period in-between 1912-24, was essentially dominated by W W I from which E F Norton (henceforth EFN) had emerged a distinguished and a combat- seasoned officer. Unfortunately, men of that caliber seldom write autobiographies and E F N was no exception to the rule. Luckily, there survives reasonable amount of secondary source-material to help us recreate somewhat, the man and soldier that E F N was in body and soul, as it were.

…what gained him prominence the most, were his skills at mounted sports: Polo, the Point- to Point Chase and Pigsticking; the latter often termed as the King of Sports and the Sport of Kings!

For a start, we know for sure that he was born on 21st February, 1884 in a luxurious, colonial mansion at San Isidro, about 22 Km North of Buenos Aires. The family were in Argentina because the elder Norton was a Director of the Royal Mail and Union Castle shipping lines and besides, they had also set-up a prosperous business venture, the “Estancia la Ventura.” Most children born in the lap of luxury and in particular in Argentina of those days, were put astride a horse and they grew up bonding with equines, as first love. Little wonder that the Argentinean Polo Teams were the World’s lowest handicapped ever, minus nine at one time! And E F N, for the better part of his life, would keep horses with-in his sights. His indulgent parents would next enroll him at Charterhouse, a top of the rung Public School in England where equestrian sports and most other out-doors pursuits were encouraged. It was natural therefore that E F N would set his sights on the Army as a profession and would competed for and enter the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich rather than Sandhurst as the former trained potential officers exclusively for the Royal Horse Artillery and the Corps of Engineers.

Well, if one half of E F N’s family were equine- focused, the dominant urges of the other half were positively inclined to mountain climbing. The maternal grandfather, Sir Alfred Wills, judge of the Queen’s Bench Division, spent summers in his chalet the Eagle’s Nest, in the Swiss Alps where each door and widow of the house opened on inviting snow clad mountains and meandering glaciers. As Wills was also the Founder of The Alpine Club and its third President, he would constantly expose and encourage E F N to become one with the mountains. And unwittingly, the old man Wills would so hone the climbing skills of the tall and lean youth that by the 1920s, the Alpine Club circles through-out Europe would admit that: “Norton is really one of the best, and we have a splendid leader in him…. is really full of interest, easy yet dignified, or rather never losing dignity, and is a tremendous adventurer.” These words coming from the legendry climber George Mallory (just days before he vanished forever, off the face of Everest on 07 June 1924), were high praise, indeed.

Be that as it may, when on graduation from Woolwich, E F N opted for the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and to serve in India, climbing for a while would take the back-seat. And the formative years from 1903 to 1913, were partly spent on the N W Frontier where Artillery fire support was always desperately needed and in the process, E F N gained much professional merit. But that was also the era when young officers were encouraged to pursue out-doors sports. So E F N would spend at least one month of his annual leave each year, scouting for the elusive Markhor, the Ibex and the Himalayan Thar in the Hunza, Chitral and Kashmir valleys. And his collection of rare “trophy-heads”, would be considered matchless and the envy of his peers. But what gained him prominence the most, were his skills at mounted sports: Polo, the Point- to Point Chase and Pigsticking; the latter often termed as the King of Sports and the Sport of Kings! He was the most obvious choice therefore, when the appointment of an aide-de-camp to the Viceroy, fell vacant. Paradoxically, he was denied the chance to compete for the coveted Hog Hunters trophy, that is, the “Kadir Cup” per se, because for six consecutive years E F N was nominated the Organizing Secretary of this annual, Blue-ribband Meet of the horse-world. That encumbrance not-withstanding, he would savor the full flavor of the Kadir Hunt, as he drilled the field staff during the week long preparatory stage. The Kadir Cup, constituted as an individual event in 1869 was contested up to 1930 with two brief interruptions: the first in 1879-80 occasioned by the Afghan War and again in1915-18 on account of W W I. The maximum winners were the gentlemen officers from the Hussars, closely followed by the R H A. No one knows by whom, nor the reason why but sadly in 1947, the Kadir Cup was placed in the Cavalry and Guards Club, London and was once also seen at the Officers Mess, R M C, Sandhurst?

India needs to make tough choices

by Harsh V. Pant

IN one of most brazen attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan in recent times, militants disguised in foreign military uniforms and carrying fake documents attacked an area outside the heavily fortified presidential palace compound earlier this week. The Taliban described the attack as part of its spring offensive and facilitated with “inside help and through special tactic”. It was timed to coincide with the visit of James Dobbins, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Kabul for meetings with Afghan officials about the peace talks and came a week after the Taliban opened an office in Qatar to pursue talks with the United States on a political solution to the conflict.

The discussion about these so-called peace talks acquired a new momentum after the Obama administration made it public the other day that it will be starting formal peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, the first direct political contact between the two since early last year. There was a lot of confusion initially after the Karzai government refused to support American efforts. Kabul was angry when the Taliban displayed the group's flag during their press event and spoke in front of a banner that proclaimed, in Arabic, "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", in effect portraying themselves as an alternative government. Washington was forced to defend itself with President Obama suggesting that it was no surprise there's friction in early efforts to launch peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan's government. The US Secretary of State reportedly had to assure Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Taliban flag had been removed from the newly opened office and the sign was changed to “Bureau of Peace Talks.”

The Karzai government remains worried about its ability to fend off the challenge from the Taliban after the departure of western troops from Afghanistan in 2014. It certainly would not want the Taliban to gain any international acceptance at this stage. Washington, which is keen on preserving some semblance of normalcy in a country where it has been militarily involved for the past 12 years, wants to enter into some sort of negotiations with its major adversary before it is too late. It faces enormous challenges as was evident over the last few days not only with what has been happening in Kabul but also because of the responses of regional states towards the peace talks.

The Afghan peace talks figured prominently during the discussion in New Delhi with Secretary Kerry for the fourth round of bilateral strategic dialogue. New Delhi perceives Kerry to be too sympathetic to Pakistan's military-jihad complex. Arguing that Pakistan has not got "credit sufficiently for the fact that they were helpful (in getting Osama bin Laden)," Kerry had suggested during his confirmation hearings that "it was their permissiveness in allowing our people to be there that helped us to be able to tie the knots." He has been against adopting a "dramatic, draconian, sledgehammer approach," because Pakistan is too integral to America's supply routes into Afghanistan. He helped broker the release of the CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, arrested on suspicion of murder and also later persuaded Pakistani officials to return parts of a US stealth helicopter that crashed during the May 2011 raid on Abbottabad. It was John Kerry who long ago dubbed the Afghan war “unsustainable,” and he has been a long-time advocate of Pakistan-centric Afghan policy.

India's other worry is the return of the Taliban. Pakistan is leveraging its role in the ongoing transition in Afghanistan by releasing some Taliban leaders and expressing its support for a negotiated settlement there. Islamabad wants to let the Taliban and the Haqqani network loose in post-2014 Afghanistan so that it can exercise control over Kabul. All this leaves India out of the Afghan picture, even though Mr Karzai has wished for an Indian presence to counterbalance Pakistan. The more dominant Pakistan feels in the neighbourhood, the more it may be willing to risk confrontation with India. There have also been damaging media reports that Kerry has struck a deal with the Pakistani Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, whereby in exchange for the Pakistani Army facilitating Washington's talks with the Taliban, the US would ignore the past activities of the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban and work towards a power sharing arrangement with the Taliban.

As such, India has repeatedly made it clear that any peace initiative with the Taliban should not violate the “red lines” drawn up by the international community. India's External Affairs Minister has underlined that India has "from time to time reminded all stakeholders about the red lines that were drawn by the world community and certainly by the participants should not be touched, should not be erased and should not be violated."

During Kerry's visit to India earlier, New Delhi forced him to clarify his stand on the talks when he tried to assuage Indian concerns by suggesting that the talks with the Taliban will only be taken forward under "certain conditions." Kerry also assured India that the United States plans to continue supporting Afghanistan's military and to keep American forces in the country "under any circumstances" after the scheduled combat troop withdrawal in 2014. Washington has also sent its special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, to brief the Indian government.

It is difficult to see how this will be enough to make India comfortable with the changing American regional priorities. But what is very clear is that the road to negotiations in Afghanistan will be a very difficult one, given all the domestic and regional stakeholders who will need to be reassured. And New Delhi will have to prepare itself for making some tough choices in the coming days. The days of merely relying on “soft power” in Afghanistan are well past their sell by date.

The writer teaches at King’s College, London

Olive green shines amidst tragedy

Agencies New Delhi, June 27, 2013

In Uttarakhand to buoy the morale of his personnel after the crash of the chopper on Tuesday, IAF chief MAK Browne said "Rotors won't stop, we owe it to our men who died. NDRF, ITBP and our men have done an outstanding job."

Victims waiting for helicopter to get air lifted from Gaurikund in Uttarakhand. Arijit Sen/HT Photo

Indeed, the armed forces have done an exemplary job in the flood ravaged Himalayan state, tirelessly performing search and rescue operations and evacuation sorties in Guptkashi, Kedarnath, Gaurikund, Harhsil and other places. 

In fact, this is one of the biggest ever rescue operation mounted by the armed forces in the country.



A child is rescued from Guptakashi by Indian Air Force near flood-hit Kedarnath in Uttarakhand on Thursday. PTI

Thousands of personnel from the army, air force, the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force and several other agencies (See graphic) have been battling bad weather, landslides and unforgiving terrain to protect innocent common people.


Remarkable stories of dedication and courage have been flowing in from the ground, like the story of Major Mahesh Karki and Capt Amit Kumar, both residents of Uttarakhand and at present posted in Jammu and Kashmir, who pitched in to help the rescue operation even while on leave. Or for that matter, the story of army medics helping to deliver a baby. (Read more: Uttarakhand: two IAF pilot couples carry out rescue missions)

Those who were rescued blessed their saviours unequivocally. All around the country, people praised the prompt and selfless service the armed forces provided. (Read more: U'khand:Omar 'salutes' forces for rescue operations, Uttarakhand: Western Command playing stellar role in flood relief operation, ‘Armymen were a God-send’: Uttarakhand survivors)

A victim thanks Army personnel after being rescued in Uttarakhand. Arijit Sen/HT Photo

Even as politicians tripped over each other in flagging off relief materials in elaborate ceremonies and squabble over who had the best claim to renovation work once the crisis was past, a clear and confident voice went out to those trapped in the hills that the men in olive greens would do all in their power to protect and save them.

Naval Gazing

BY VIPIN NARANG , PAUL STANILAND | JUNE 25, 2013

India wants to "look east," but does it have the ships -- and strategic focus -- to be a military player in Asia?

On June 23, during a visit to New Delhi, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in which he explained the role that India plays in Asia. He mentioned Pakistan six times, climate change eight times, and Afghanistan 12 times. China, Southeast Asia, and East Asia only merited one mention, while the "Look East" Policy -- India's effort to expand its economic and military relationships with East Asian and Southeast Asian nations -- received only two mentions, both in the same sentence. Kerry's speech probably disappointed New Delhi: India no longer wants the world to see it as an inwardly focused nation mired in its own backyard.

Indeed, over the last month, India's Navy made goodwill visits to Vietnam and Malaysia; a mid-June trip to the Philippines included "courtesy calls, receptions" and shipboard tours, according to the Inquirer, a Filipino newspaper. In May, for the first time ever, an acting Indian defense minister made an official visit to Australia; the two sides agreed to start annual naval exercises. After a late-May visit to Thailand and Japan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he is "hopeful" of the Look East Policy's future success.

The rest of the region, however, should not share Singh's optimism: India's ability to become a major Asian power is constrained by conventional and insurgent threats, resource and organizational limitations, and a chaotic domestic political scene.

Yes, India is modernizing its armed forces. In February, India announced it will spend over $37 billion on its military, a 14 percent increase from last year; for the last three years, it has been the world's largest arms importer. But India's military remains distracted by counterinsurgency operations in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir and in the country's restive northeast, as well as by a fractious relationship with Pakistan. And India still lacks the ability to secure its borders. One of the embarrassing takeaways of a border crisis in early May, in which roughly 30 Chinese troops pitched tents 12 miles inside Indian territory, was that India lags far behind China in its ability to move forces into the contested area.

Indian strategists place their greatest hopes for influencing Asia's security dynamic on naval power. India's annual naval spending grew from $181 million in 1988 to $6.78 billion in 2012; the navy is now a professional and capable force that, in combination with the United States and other allies, could potentially balance China in the South China Sea.

But some Indian strategists and political elites worry about excessively close cooperation with the United States. India's Look East Policy has already created friction with a China worried about being contained. New Delhi is wary of further provoking its neighbor to the north, one of Asia's dominant military powers and one of India's largest trading partners. Both countries have stated that they want bilateral trade to reach $100 billion by 2015, up from $68 billion today; this is particularly important at a time when India's economy isgrowing at its slowest rate in a decade. And without partners like the United States, the Indian Navy is unable to sustainably project power -- doing so alone would require at least several years of modernization, expansion, and investment in logistics, support, and surface and submarine vessels. Courtesy visits to Manila are not the same thing as deployable military power in the South China Sea.

Indian domestic politics present another hurdle. India's defense bureaucracy is slow and inefficient, and an ambitious strategy such as this would require sustained oversight and prodding by powerful politicians. Yet India's most influential elected officials seem focused on the instability of the ruling government and, above all, the 2014 general elections. There is no incentive for Indian politicians to focus on defense policy or alliance strategy. Politicians win votes by distributing patronage, building local alliances with regional political parties, and making appeals to class, caste, language, and religion. As former Chief of Naval Staff Arun Prakash said in May, "Since defense and security have not, so far, become electoral issues," Indian politicians are "happy to leave defense and security matters" to the bureaucracy, which lacks the power to make changes to defense policy. 

Rising Desperation

Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow; Institute for Conflict Management

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, in a ceremony held at the new National Defense University built to train Afghanistan's future military officers, announced on June 18, 2013, that his country's armed forces were taking over the lead for nationwide security from the United States (US)-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition. Karzai declared, “From tomorrow all of the security operations will be in the hands of the Afghan security forces.” The 352,000 strong Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) will now execute all military operations across the 403 Districts of Afghanistan's 34 Provinces. Till the last phase of the handover, they were responsible for 90 percent of military operations in 312 Districts nationwide.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will now move entirely into a supporting role, and will provide support to ANSF on the battlefield when they require it. Explaining the future role of NATO forces, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen observed,

As your [Afghan] forces step forward across the country, the main effort of our forces is shifting from combat to support. We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations if needed. But we will no longer plan, execute or lead those operations. And by the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed. At that time, Afghanistan will be fully secured by Afghans… From 2015, a new chapter will begin. Together with our partners, we are planning a new and different mission. The goal of the new mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. We will also play our part in the broader international efforts, to ensure the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces.

Presently, there are about 100,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, drawn from 48 countries, including 66,000 Americans. According to the Inteqal (Transition) Framework defined at the London and Kabul Conferences on Afghanistan in 2010, and US President Barack Obama’s latest Afghan policy, by the end of the current year, 2013, NATO Forces in Afghanistan will be halved. At the end of 2014, all combat troops will have left and will be replaced, if approved by the Afghan Government, by a much smaller force that will only train and advise. A studied ambiguity has been maintained over the residual number of foreign troops that may remain after 2014. However, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Martin E. Dempsey, stated on February 9, 2013, “we’re not going from number to mission, we’re going from mission to number”, and that the yet undefined mission in Afghanistan would determine the number of American troops to be deployed there after 2014.

Though the negative impact of the premature drawdown has been discussed elsewhere, the successful transition is an appreciable development and President Karzai was rightly buoyant in declaring it. However, his exhilaration was cut short by another development that took place, on the same day, June 18, far from the country frontiers, but which could have far-reaching impact in Afghanistan.

On June 18, while opening their office in Qatar in Doha, the Afghan Taliban declared that they were ready to talk with the US. The US reciprocated instantly, announcing that its officials would reach Doha ‘within days’ for the talks. Though none of these two statements had the potential to irk President Karzai, it is the background development which infuriated the Government of Afghanistan. After a meeting at President Karzai's palace, an Afghan Government statement declared, "The opening of Taliban office in Qatar, the way it was opened and messages it contained, contradicts the guarantees given by the US to Afghanistan."

Significantly, a sign outside the new Taliban office in Doha proclaimed it as representing the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan". Moreover, the Taliban claimed that the office would allow it “to improve its relations with countries around the world through understanding and talks as well as help them establish contact with the United Nations and aid groups, and to talk to the news media.” In addition, Taliban’s insistence that "first we talk to the Americans” and "after we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase...” convinced Karzai that the Afghan Government had been sidelined in the ‘peace process’.

Kabul first objected to the use of the expression "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" by the Taliban, arguing that “such a thing doesn't exist”. Rejecting participation in the talks, Karzai insisted that the Doha Office would be activated as a forum to try to re-establish Taliban’s political legitimacy, especially in international circles, rather than confining itself to peace talks. Not surprisingly, Karzai halted negotiations with the US on the future Bilateral Security Agreement.

Supremacy of civil over military: The Indian version

Saturday, June 15, 2013

This article was written in March 2013 for the CLAWS (Centre for Land Warfare Studies) Journal and is published in its latest edition for Summer 2013, released this week.

HIGHER DEFENCE MANAGEMENT IN INDIA: NEED FOR URGENT REAPPRAISAL

Nations which fail to develop a balanced pattern of civil-military relations squander their resources and run uncalculated risks.
Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, October 1998

In his two part treatise entitled The Soldier and the State and India’s Civilisational flaw: Isolation of the military, then Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat had tried to trace the origins of the working of the Ministry of Defence in independent India and the evolution of civil-military relations since 1947.

In light of his subsequent dismissal less than two months after he released the two essays, many have wondered if the Admiral, known for high professional competence, had inkling about his impending ouster and was therefore putting it on record what he felt was wrong with India’s higher defence management!

Much has been written and debated about the Admiral Bhagwat saga; his run in with the then defence minister George Fernandes; the machinations of the civilian bureaucracy in plotting the Navy Chief’s abrupt ouster and its fallout on the already fraught civil-military relations. A stickler for rules, Admiral Bhagwat rubbed many powerful people the wrong way and paid the ultimate price.[i]

Nearly a decade and a half later, South Block, the colonial era building that houses the Indian Prime Minister’s Office as well as the Defence Ministry, was rocked by another face off between a military chief and the politico-bureaucratic combine. The mishandling of the Gen VK Singh ‘birth date’ issue[ii] again starkly brought forth the fissures within the top hierarchy of the Indian Army as well between service headquarters and the civil bureaucracy in the Ministry of Defence.

The controversy over the Gen VK Singh issue in early 2012 degenerated into a very public spat between the Ministry of Defence and the then Army Chief, once again forcing analysts to ask the question: Has civilian control of the military in India become synonymous with bureaucratic control?

The answer from military leaders is an unequivocal Yes.

Bureaucrats, officers of the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS), never agree to this contention. They continue to maintain that all that the IAS does is to carry out orders of the political executive.

This, at best, is half truth.

The political executive, barring a handful few, neither has the knowledge nor any interest in matters military and therefore depends completely on inputs from the bureaucrats who continue to mould the political leadership’s thought process according to their own perceptions on governance and administration.

Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff and a prolific commentator on national security affairs has this to say about the equation between the Ministry of Defence and Service Headquarters: “Two major factors have contributed to the systemic dysfunctionality that we see in the management of national security affairs. First is politician’s detachment and indifference towards matters relating to national security, because this is not an issue that can win or lose votes.

Since politicians have not considered it worthwhile establishing a close and cordial relations with the leadership of the armed forces, it is not surprising that when faced with a crisis or problem politicians finds themselves at a complete loss. A related factor is the total reliance that the politician places, for advice, decision-making and problem resolution, on transient, generalist MoD civil servants, drawn from diverse backgrounds. This, despite the Chiefs and the highly specialized Service HQ (SHQ) staffs being at his disposal for tendering advice in the management of national security.”[iii]

The military leadership has always railed at this ‘imbalance’ in the decision making structure at the highest levels but has been unable to change the system so far.

Civil-military relationship in the country post-1947 is replete with episodes that suggest constant state of tension between the ‘generalist’ bureaucracy and the ‘specialists’ military leaders, with the political executive watching and sometimes encouraging the bureaucracy to keep the military under control.

The political executive, starting with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, has generally excluded the military leadership from the decision making process at the highest levels. Adm. Vishnu Bhagwat, himself a victim of politico-bureaucratic machinations, wrote in his treatise The Soldier and the State: “By selective usage, omission and interpretation of language, it (civil services) has continuously imposed a variety of constraints, checks and curbs on the very functioning of the armed forces in general, and the business of service headquarters in particular. This has virtually isolated and marginalised the defence forces from all processes which go into formulation of national policies and agendas, even in the cardinal sphere of national security.”[iv]

The effort to cut defence services down to size had begun immediately after Independence. The Indian Army, which was a prime instrument of the British hard power across the entire empire, was often called out to suppress protests during India’s freedom struggle. Many leaders and political stalwarts who were at the receiving end of the crackdown had naturally developed an aversion and suspicion against the Indian military, mainly the Indian Army troops. But Adm Arun Prakash effectively busts the myth that the Indian military pre-1947 was unpatriotic.

He writes: “In early 1946, politically-conscious, sailors of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied, and the insurrection spread right across the country, with units of the RIAF, Army Signal Corps and Electrical and Mechanical Engineers joining their naval comrades in revolt. These events not only inspired and galvanized the freedom movement in India, but also struck fear into British hearts. General Wavell, the C-in-C admitted in a secret report: “It is no use shutting one’s eye to the fact that any Indian soldier worth his salt is a Nationalist…” Disciplined Services never dwell on mutinies, regardless of the cause, and that is why these events rarely find mention in our armed forces, but the powerful impact on the British Sarkar of these acts of great moral courage, must not be disparaged, belittled or forgotten. The phase immediately post-Independence too, was extremely difficult for our fledgling republic. To forget the sterling role played by the armed forces during the violence and turbulence of partition, and in integrating the recalcitrant princely states would be an act of rank ingratitude.”[v]

Rising Desperation

Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow; Institute for Conflict Management

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, in a ceremony held at the new National Defense University built to train Afghanistan's future military officers, announced on June 18, 2013, that his country's armed forces were taking over the lead for nationwide security from the United States (US)-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition. Karzai declared, “From tomorrow all of the security operations will be in the hands of the Afghan security forces.” The 352,000 strong Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) will now execute all military operations across the 403 Districts of Afghanistan's 34 Provinces. Till the last phase of the handover, they were responsible for 90 percent of military operations in 312 Districts nationwide.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will now move entirely into a supporting role, and will provide support to ANSF on the battlefield when they require it. Explaining the future role of NATO forces, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen observed,

As your [Afghan] forces step forward across the country, the main effort of our forces is shifting from combat to support. We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations if needed. But we will no longer plan, execute or lead those operations. And by the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed. At that time, Afghanistan will be fully secured by Afghans… From 2015, a new chapter will begin. Together with our partners, we are planning a new and different mission. The goal of the new mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. We will also play our part in the broader international efforts, to ensure the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces.

Presently, there are about 100,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, drawn from 48 countries, including 66,000 Americans. According to the Inteqal (Transition) Framework defined at the London and Kabul Conferences on Afghanistan in 2010, and US President Barack Obama’s latest Afghan policy, by the end of the current year, 2013, NATO Forces in Afghanistan will be halved. At the end of 2014, all combat troops will have left and will be replaced, if approved by the Afghan Government, by a much smaller force that will only train and advise. A studied ambiguity has been maintained over the residual number of foreign troops that may remain after 2014. However, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Martin E. Dempsey, stated on February 9, 2013, “we’re not going from number to mission, we’re going from mission to number”, and that the yet undefined mission in Afghanistan would determine the number of American troops to be deployed there after 2014.

Though the negative impact of the premature drawdown has been discussed elsewhere, the successful transition is an appreciable development and President Karzai was rightly buoyant in declaring it. However, his exhilaration was cut short by another development that took place, on the same day, June 18, far from the country frontiers, but which could have far-reaching impact in Afghanistan.

On June 18, while opening their office in Qatar in Doha, the Afghan Taliban declared that they were ready to talk with the US. The US reciprocated instantly, announcing that its officials would reach Doha ‘within days’ for the talks. Though none of these two statements had the potential to irk President Karzai, it is the background development which infuriated the Government of Afghanistan. After a meeting at President Karzai's palace, an Afghan Government statement declared, "The opening of Taliban office in Qatar, the way it was opened and messages it contained, contradicts the guarantees given by the US to Afghanistan."

Significantly, a sign outside the new Taliban office in Doha proclaimed it as representing the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan". Moreover, the Taliban claimed that the office would allow it “to improve its relations with countries around the world through understanding and talks as well as help them establish contact with the United Nations and aid groups, and to talk to the news media.” In addition, Taliban’s insistence that "first we talk to the Americans” and "after we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase...” convinced Karzai that the Afghan Government had been sidelined in the ‘peace process’.

Kabul first objected to the use of the expression "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" by the Taliban, arguing that “such a thing doesn't exist”. Rejecting participation in the talks, Karzai insisted that the Doha Office would be activated as a forum to try to re-establish Taliban’s political legitimacy, especially in international circles, rather than confining itself to peace talks. Not surprisingly, Karzai halted negotiations with the US on the future Bilateral Security Agreement.

Subsequently, however, after constant US overtures, on June 20, 2013, Karzai’s spokesman Fayeq Wahidi disclosed that the Afghan President was willing to join peace talks with the Taliban if the US follows through with promises he said were made by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone. Wahidi said Kerry promised Karzai that the Taliban flag and the nameplate – "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" – would be removed and that the US would issue a formal written statement supporting the Afghan Government and making clear that the Taliban office would not be seen as an embassy or government-in-exile. Wahidi stated, "If all those assurances and commitments the US had given, if we are assured that they will be fully put in place on the issue of talks in Qatar, we would see no problem in entering into talks with the Taliban in Qatar.”

To guard against drift

Tanvi Madan : Thu Jun 27 2013

India, US need patience and belief in the strategic partnership

Officials of the Obama administration have not been shy of stating how they feel about India — they like India, they really really like India. A State Department official has noted that the US believes "the emergence of India as a more consequential and powerful actor in the international system is good for US interests and good for the international system, good for the global economy". There were more such reaffirmations during US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to India, and there is little doubt that there has been significant progress in India-US relations over the last 15 years. To ensure that the partnership remains truly strategic and sustainable, however, the two countries will have to ensure that they don't just depend on nature taking its course, but actively continue to nurture it.

Both sides need to guard against four dangers: drift, the dominance of differences, disillusionment and dilution of the other's importance. Drift might result from domestic preoccupations, the lack of a crisis or high-profile initiative focusing bureaucratic and political attention on the relationship, limited capacity on the Indian side, and other more pressing international concerns.

With much of the progress being behind the scenes, bilateral differences rather than achievements might take centrestage. The two governments successfully navigated the Iran sanctions issue last year. However, if the situation with Iran worsens, Delhi and Washington might find themselves on opposite sides. The US relationship with Pakistan could be another area of difference, especially with Indian concerns that US actions in the run-up to the 2014 drawdown of troops in Afghanistan will compromise Indian interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan, Pakistan and, potentially, counter-terrorism. As the US calibrates its relationship with the new leadership in Beijing, Indian concerns about a China-US G-2 may also arise again. Similarly, Sino-Indian cooperation will create consternation in some quarters in the US. Renewed activity in three multilateral arenas — trade, non-proliferation, climate change — might bring India-US differences to the fore. Finally, increasing economic ties will mean that economic tangles will naturally rise.

The two countries are no strangers to disillusionment. Often this is a result of heightened expectations. The disillusionment problem is exacerbated because, in many cases, the returns on the investment in the relationship may only become apparent in the medium to long term.

Related to this is the potential dilution of US importance in India and vice versa. Some doubters in India have questioned the value of getting closer to a country that they believe is on the decline. US investment in India has been predicated on at least three assumptions. For some, it is the idea of India that is important — a diverse, developing democracy that could be a partner. For others, it is India's economic potential that makes it attractive. For yet others, it is India's strategic potential, especially as a balance against China. India's importance because of the latter, however, can wax and wane with the health of Sino-US relations or with assessments of India's willingness and capacity. As for economic potential, there has been more doubt than hope on this front in the last year or so. Other developments have also meant that the India-as-a-role-model constituency is disappointed.

To avoid these dangers, on its part India can consolidate existing constituencies and create new ones for the relationship in India and the US among officials, legislators, corporations, and individuals outside government. First, by strengthening the Indian economy and its security, which will increase India's importance and alleviate the problems of "India fatigue" and "India irrelevance". Second, India can work with the US to implement existing agreements, conclude current negotiations and explore new opportunities, especially on the economic front. Third, it can create greater awareness of the opportunities India offers, as well as the constraints that exist in the country. It can facilitate study tours for influential Americans, as well as the ability of a greater number of Americans to work and study in India— including, perhaps, by encouraging the private sector to create a significant scholarship fund designed to increase understanding of India. It should also promote greater learning about the US in India.

Afghan-Taliban peace talks: Why Karzai is upset

Posted:Jun 25, 2013 
By Monish Gulati

The Afghan Taliban officially opened their office in Doha, Qatar, around 6.30 p.m. on June 18 with cutting of a red ribbon and the playing of the Taliban anthem at a villa in the West Bay district of Doha. The ceremony included Taliban representatives, Afghan foreign ministry and Qatari officials. A pair of Afghan mullahs read a statement of the Taliban Political Commission in a televised address on the occasion.

US officials hailed the move as a positive first step, and said the peace talks would start in Doha within the week. The talks were to be conducted on the Taliban side by its political commission, with the authorization of Mullah Omar, which would also represent the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. James Dobbins, the new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was to lead the US side, arriving in Qatar with a stopover in Turkey and later moving on to Afghanistan and Pakistan to push forward the initiative. On the same day, Afghanistan also intended to send delegates of its High Peace Council (HPC) to Doha to engage in talks with the Taliban in the coming days.

However, hours later an angry Afghan President Hamid Karzai broke off negotiations with the US for the ongoing fourth round of talks on the bilateral security agreement (BSA) governing the US military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. A statement from Karzai’s office said this was in view of the contradictions between acts and the statements made by the US with regard to the peace process. However, the Afghan government remains willing to consider joining the peace talks should they be moved from Doha to Kabul. On June 19 the US suspended plans to attend the talks and Ambassador James Dobbins was asked to remain in Washington until further notice. The US State Department says it expects the proposed direct talks with the Taliban to take place in Doha in the coming days.

What upset the Afghan president and apparently took both the US and Afghan officials aback despite months of planning and negotiations were two actions of the Taliban during the opening of its office that had not been pre-decided -- the display of the Taliban flag during the event and a banner in the background that proclaimed in Arabic “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” - Afghanistan's official name from 1996 to 2001 when it was under Taliban rule.

The next day, under US instructions, the Qatari authorities removed the flag and replaced the banner in the Taliban office with one identifying the office as the previously agreed upon "Political Office of the Afghan Taliban”. But Karzai has remained unappeased. The question is whether this is an excuse to derail the peace process or Karzai has a valid reason to be upset with the US and the Taliban.

While most observers would have expected the initial discussions on opening of the Taliban office to focus on prisoner swap, lifting of UN restrictions on travel of Taliban leaders etc, the Taliban through an astute management of the press conference in Doha ascribed to its insurgency a degree of legitimacy and effectively portrayed itself as a government in exile. Instead of being treated as insurgents or terrorists the Taliban got symbolic statehood.

Second was probably the manner in which the Taliban articulated its future plans through its public statement at the event that surprised many observers. The Taliban, with the aim to address US preconditions, declared in its statement that its “political and military goals are limited to Afghanistan”, agreed to distance themselves from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and said that it did not support the use of Afghan soil to plot international attacks. The Taliban commitment came with the caveat that it will not compromise its right to gain independence and liberate the country, underlined perhaps, by the rocket attack at Bagram in Afghanistan earlier in the day that left four US soldiers dead. The Taliban statement did not mention the Afghan government or make any direct reference to peace talks. Almost as an afterthought, they gave out one of their objectives as “to hold meetings with Afghans as times may demand”.

The Taliban also said they intended to use their Doha office to meet with representatives of the international community the United Nations and to interact with the media. An intent borne out by the fact that only a few days earlier Taliban had indicated to the UN representative in Afghanistan their willingness to talk on the subject of reducing civilian casualties due to their actions.

Karzai, possibly anticipating such a move by the Taliban, had insisted that a Taliban political office in Doha be only for the purpose of peace negotiations. He had earlier insisted that the Qatari government give a written assurance to this effect before according permission to the Taliban. Eventually, according to Aimal Faizi, the Afghan president’s spokesman, Afghan officials received a letter from President Obama guaranteeing that the office would not look like an embassy and confer legitimacy.

Afghan bomb makers shifting to new explosives for IEDs

Tom Vanden Brook
June 25, 2013

Potassium chlorate — the stuff that makes matches catch fire — has surpassed fertilizer as the explosive of choice for insurgents.

WASHINGTON — Insurgents in Afghanistan are shifting to a new source of homemade explosives for the bombs responsible for two-thirds of U.S. casualties there: the substance that makes matches catch fire.

Potassium chlorate has surpassed fertilizer as the explosive of choice for insurgents, Pentagon research shows. For years, U.S. officials sought to stem the flow of fertilizer from Pakistan. To an extent they succeeded only to see a new source of explosives emerge in what a top Pentagon official calls the "ruthlessly Darwinian conflict."

The shift to potassium chlorate is significant because the material is easier to turn into an explosive than fertilizer, is nearly as powerful, and it costs even less.

In recent years, U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan to stem the flow of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into Afghanistan. The sale of the fertilizer was banned in some regions bordering Afghanistan, helping reduce the supply available to insurgents.

Now, bomb makers have identified an alternative source. For the first time in the 12-year war, potassium chlorate was the most common ingredient, fueling 60% of the IEDs.

"What we have seen over the year is its use spreading across the country at an increasing rate," said Al Sweetser, the chief researcher at the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Pentagon's lead agency for combating makeshift bombs.

From March through May, insurgents planted 3,572 improvised explosive devices, a 13% decrease compared with the same period last year. Four in five were powered by homemade explosives, according to JIEDDO. Much of the decrease in bomb attacks can be attributed to the withdrawal of 32,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Potassium chlorate is used legally in Pakistan in the manufacturing of matches and textiles. There are 390 textile mills and 50 factories that make matches there, JIEDDO records show. Imports of potassium chlorate to Pakistan from India, China and Iran have "spiked significantly" in recent years.

The document indicates that the Haqqani Network, which is responsible for attacks against U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan and for staging suicide raids in Kabul, tend to favor potassium chlorate for their bombs.

"Sharp increases in its use," the document says, "illustrate a growing comfort level" among Afghan insurgents with potassium chlorate.

Insurgents have learned, Sweetser said, to "literally adapt or die."

Potassium chlorate is an odorless white crystal or powder that, when combined with a fuel, forms an explosive mixture. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer, meanwhile, requires several steps to transform into an explosive.

"It's much, much easier," Sweetser said.

It's also cheaper. A 110-pound bag of ammonium nitrate costs $160 in Afghanistan; the same-size bag of potassium chlorate goes for $48, according to JIEDDO. The average IED in 2012 contained about 52 pounds of ammonium nitrate. Such a bomb cost about $416 to produce.

The price soars when a suicide bomber drives a car or truckload of explosives into a target. That can cost as much as $19,593, according to JIEDDO.

Insurgents in Afghanistan generally pack explosives into plastic jugs used to store cooking oil. The typical IED in Afghanistan is triggered by the victim stepping on it or driving over it.