28 June 2013

China's Space Program Tries to Catch Up ***

June 26, 2013

The rocket carrying the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft blasts off June 11. 


China's strategic focus on space is less about national pride than about the importance of space for both the military and economic progress of the country. The Chinese space program has developed rapidly over the past decade, illustrating the importance of the program to Beijing. Shenzhou 10, a 15-day mission that began June 11 and returned to Earth the morning of June 26 marked China's fifth manned mission to space. An increasing, ongoing presence in space is essential for civilian and military communications. Satellites' functions include navigation systems such as GPS, weather data and communications relays. But the significance of space goes beyond satellites. Technological advancement and development is required for countries such as China that want to participate in future resource development in space.


The Chinese space program officially began in 1958. Beijing launched its first earth-orbiting satellite in 1970, and while there were a series of launch failures in the 1990s, China carried out its first manned mission -- Shenzhou 5, which put a man in orbit -- in 2003. More manned missions would follow in 2005, 2008 and 2012. A major uptick in activity began in 2010, when China successfully completed 15 unmanned launches, including a lunar orbiting probe. Nineteen more launches would follow in 2011 and 2012. China is now one of only two countries -- Russia being the other -- actively putting people into space and plans to land an unmanned craft on the moon in late 2013.

The latest mission, Shenzhou 10, was launched as part of the testing process for docking capabilities with Tiangong 1, the small space module that is part of the program that will eventually culminate in China's own full-sized space station, planned for the 2020s. The mission, which reached completion June 26, also set out to advance flying abilities; demonstrate adaptability and efficiency while completing objectives on the complex; and test coordination of various systems.

Benefits of Space Exploration

Continued advancements in space-related technology will enable China to compete on the commercial and military fronts as more activity becomes dependent on space-based infrastructure. Prior to satellite communications, surveillance and detection abilities and communication were limited by line of sight and by the atmosphere, which can reflect signals and can distort and dilute their strength. Space-based infrastructure also enables more efficient communication over time.

Satellites are also essential to the coordination of a global military presence. Modern global warfare requires the acquisition of data and ability to move and utilize data in real time. This need is highly dependent on satellites, which provide the necessary sensors to "see" what is happening and the transmission capabilities to distribute this data.

However, the defense of satellites remains difficult. In addition to anti-satellite missiles, it is also possible to blind and jam satellites. Given the imbalance between the United States and the nearest competitors when it comes to space-based technologies (and reliance on these technologies), the disabling or destruction of U.S. satellites would be a bigger blow than a similar retaliatory response. But as China becomes more reliant on satellites for communications, military or otherwise, it is less likely to interfere with U.S. satellites for fear of retaliation (and vice versa), an effect similar to the nuclear standoff in the Cold War.

The Future of Space Exploration

While the current motivation for an increased space presence is satellite technology, continued progress in space is vital for future strategy as well. Resource acquisition will likely be a priority for future space exploration. The United States, Russia and Europe are all continuing efforts to expand space activity (though the United States is increasingly looking toward the private sector for further space development). Beijing cannot afford to be left behind in the ongoing pursuit to establish a greater presence in space. As the world's most populous country, China will continually have to seek out new resources in order to support and sustain itself. Space cannot be ignored as a potential, critical future source.

For example, asteroid mining may seem farfetched, but it could be a real possibility in the coming decades. NASA's strategy that seeks to find, capture and explore asteroids that may threaten Earth is currently competing for room in the budget with, among other things, exploration of Mars and lunar missions. There are also a few private asteroid-mining companies seeking to develop the necessary technology. There are likely many overlaps between the technology necessary to capture or divert an asteroid and that needed to exploit an asteroid for its resources.

Asteroids are a potential source of many substances, including nickel, iron and even water -- essential starting materials for constructing infrastructure in space or on the moon. The ability to extract resources in space could be instrumental in making space-based construction economical. Currently, lifting costs (the cost to get a material into space) are a limiting factor in the economics of space development.

While the returns on programs aimed at the future development of space are limited at the moment, the infrastructure, once built, can take several forms, including possible bases or colonies on the moon and Mars. Once space-based construction does become economically viable, only the countries that have established programs and research will able to take advantage of the new frontier. Much like the naval powers of history were able to colonize on other continents, it will be the space powers that will have the advantage on the moon or Mars.

As these pursuits move forward, it is important to remember that throughout history, research done to advance space exploration has found a way into everyday life, from something as simple as Velcro to advanced composite materials that can withstand immense heat. Research currently targeted for space also has the potential to improve earth-based technologies. Ongoing development in space has already had tangible benefits, including increased cellphone coverage (and ease of international calls), improved weather and GPS coverage and improved mapping technology.

While the path of ongoing development of space is unknown, the earlier a country enters this new space race, the better. Even so, establishing a strategic presence in space requires an ongoing and active development of space programs. It is for this reason that China, while starting later than the United States and Russia, is quickly and urgently expanding its technological capabilities in space.

Uttarakhand Floods

June 28, 2013
When the Ganga descendsChitra Padmanabhan

AP POWER AND PENANCE: The mythology of the Ganga can help us relearn the sacred relationship between humans and nature in a way that is life-affirming.

Myths have meanings that we ignore at our own peril

Had the elemental fury of flash floods not rained down on Uttarakhand last week, June 18 (June 19, according to some almanacs), would have been a day of festivity and ritual for Hindu devotes across north India. They would have relived the mythology of the Ganga’s descent from heaven to earth with a dip in its waters at various pilgrimage centres.

Ganga Dussehra – celebrated on the tenth day of the waxing moon in the third month of the Hindu almanac – usually coincides with the opening up of ice-bound holy sites such as Kedarnath, Badrinath, and Gangotri.

This time, however, the sweeping devastation along the banks of the Ganga in Uttarakhand, with Kedarnath feeling its full force, swiftly transformed the mood from celebration to mourning.

In the midst of so much grief, how do we reflect on the mythology of Ganga’s descent in a way that it enables us to comprehend a tragedy of this magnitude, and perhaps relearn a relationship between human and nature that is life-affirming. For that to happen, it is necessary to look beyond the veil of ritual surrounding this myth. At its core, this mythology is made up of aspects which have been integral to people’s ways of life in mountains, lived in full awareness of the towering presence of nature.

Two narratives

The myth of Ganga’s descent contains two very different narratives. The first part is a narrative of power. At its simplest, the story of Ganga’s descent starts on a note of hubris, with a proud king called Sagara whose ambition is to conquer the world. As it becomes clear that there are few to rival Sagara, the gods above intervene. Sagara’s 60,000 arrogant sons (all born of one of his wives) are reduced to ash by the wrath of sage Kapila for having disrupted his meditation. King Sagara dies of grief. For his sons, now mere heaps of impure ash, there is no salvation for generations on end.

Then, Bhagiratha (descended from the son of Sagara’s second wife) ascends the throne, and from here the narrative of the myth changes track. Deeply stirred by the fate of his ancestors, he leaves his throne to undergo two long and increasingly severe penances in the Himalayas. The gods are pleased. Thus Ganga descends from heaven to be caught in the locks of Shiva, who alone can withstand her tempestuous force.

Bhagiratha performs his third penance, whereupon Shiva releases Ganga in several streams. Ganga follows Bhagiratha across mountains, forests and plains to the end of the world where his ancestors’ remains lie. Midway, the wilful Ganga scatters sage Jahnu’s sacrificial offerings and he swallows her up in rage. Bhagiratha performs one more penance to have her released yet again, showing enormous reserves of persistence.

Finally, Bhagiratha leads her to his ancestors’ ashes at Ganga Sagar. Having purified their ashes and paved their way to heaven, Ganga disappears into the ocean.

Origins of a name

That’s how the originating head stream of the Ganga gets its name Bhagirathi, say people, the other major headstream of the Ganga being the Alaknanda. These two headstreams, nourished by several others (such as the Mandakini, flowing alongside Kedarnath) come together as the Ganga, which flows across the plains until it reaches the Bay of Bengal.

The myth of Ganga’s descent resonates at different levels in the lives of the people of Uttarakhand. At one level, the story of Ganga getting tangled in Shiva’s locks or inexplicably disappearing seems entirely believable in a geological landscape that has seen rivers changing course, or getting blocked — swallowed by tectonic disturbances.

In a wonderfully layered article written in 1994, well-known writer, poet and cultural theorist Pria Devi pointed out an interesting ecological aspect of Ganga Dussehra: “It falls at the leanest moment in the annual cycle of the river, at the precise moment when, before the rains, she begins to swell with snowmelt at her source.” It is as if the Ganga comes down from the heavens every year.

At another level, this story provides the alluvium of cultural resources for a society to shape its ecology of existence. That is, if one stays connected to its core. Thus, in a land where nature resists all attempts at ‘domination’ or ‘subjugation’, it is Bhagiratha, not Sagara with his goal of world conquest, who emerges as a heroic figure, articulating a different narrative of power. The qualities emblematic of this valorous figure: his ‘powers’ of persistence, humility, and selflessness.

Maoists: Whence to the Land of Freedom...

Issue Book Excerpt: Reign of the Red Rebellion | Date : 27 Jun , 2013

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high …
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.” —Tagore

India is a millennium old civilisation of diverse peoples, hosting one sixth of the entire humanity within its borders; twenty seven percent of them live below the ‘poverty line’. There is a huge socio-economic disparity that gives rise to feelings of deprivation and desperation among the mass of destitute ‘have-nots’. A feeling of neglect at the hands of the state has thus driven a large section of the young population to revolt against the system. Today, one in every sixth Indian lives under the shadow of insurgency. Among the insurgent groups, the Naxals or the Maoists have a sway of their influence over approximately one fourth of the 600 plus districts in India.

…when an unrest threatens to assume proportions of an armed insurrection that could threaten the very framework of the state, it is time to institute comprehensive and well thought out control mechanisms. No doubt, the Maoist rebellion had reached that stage at least a decade back.

With the coming of the ‘Information Age’ and spread of awareness, and whereas nations and societies are constantly creating wealth, Maoism or the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) manifests as an expression of the rising aspirations of the deprived lot for a life of dignity and self respect. The pattern and intensity of violence perpetuated by the Maoists is therefore an indicator of emerging challenges to internal security and economic stability of the nation. Needless to mention that the potentially destabilising situation, as brought about by the spread of Maoism, merits immediate attention of the governing establishment because the goal of economic growth can be achieved only in a peaceful environment.

India is developing – and fast. Following the eternal law of societal progression, development is germinating in isolated pockets of geographic locations, vocational sectors and classes of people. By the natural law of diffusion, steady spread of that progress to cover larger and larger parts of the country is but a foregone conclusion. However, this can happen only if the authority of the state prevails and the law of the land is operative unhindered from rebellious groups dictating their violent agenda. Controlling the Maoist rebellion is therefore a priority concern of the state; the cycle of disparity-turmoil-more disparity-more turmoil> has to be broken.

A major lacunae in addressing the Maoist problem is caused by a blurred vision of the true picture – motivations conditioned by expectations of promoting short term self interests. This disorientation poses hindrances to charting of effective processes by which the rebellion may to be tackled. Strangely, even after two decades, there are policy makers at the State and Centre levels who view the rise of insurgency as baseless acts of Left Wing Extremism (LWE) while some are still of the opinion that it is just a law-and-order problem. There is a third school of opinion that sees it as the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by the country”. Even in the parliament, there are different perceptions; some consider the officially conservative statistics on the spread of Maoist menace – 14000 villages out of 6,50,000 and 300 police stations out of 14000 being affected – as not really extraordinary, while others find it alarming enough to demand imposition of emergency. The path to a solution thus remains in confusion while the professors of ‘rosy picture’ versus ‘doomsday’ criers argue endlessly. Self interest still remains the primary consideration in supporting or opposing the rebellion. It does not seem to prick the political conscience that the Maoists run an elaborate network of parallel, grossly unconstitutional governance across vast stretches of the country.

A Near-Continuum of Rebellion

Rebellion of the masses in India’s hinterland areas against political and economic atrocities of the ruling establishments is not a new phenomenon. In many cases, groups of the tormented taking to hills and jungles to wage various shades of armed insurrection has been more or less a regular feature during the past three centuries. Indeed, there has been a succession of violent uprisings engulfing one part or the other of the Indian landmass. Thus the later part of the Eighteenth Century saw the demobilised soldiers of defeated remnants of the Mughal Empire as well as the Maratha rulers joining hands with exploited peasants and tribals to revolt against forced appropriations by their debauched rulers and their European mentors; though in keeping with the practice in vogue in those days, these unruly rebels did not spare the other equally oppressed countrymen from robbery and loot. Sanyasin rebellion in Bihar-Bengal, the uprisings of the Pindari and the Baghi marauders in the Northern Plains and that of the many groups which formed part of what was referred to as the ‘Southern Peninsula Confederacy’ and the ‘Paharia Sardars’ are some notable examples of such conflicts. Then there were a succession of uprisings during the entire course of the Nineteenth Century in which the tribes of Chhotanagpur Plateau – Bhil, Gond, Ho, Oraon, Kol, Santhal and Munda – as well as the cultivators of indigo and artisans of the cottage industry from the plains put the Angrej-Raja-Bania (British-Prince-Merchant) axis of exploiters to severe test.

Disaster Mis-Management: Nature’s Fury and Our Failure

D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS 

Let us get our questions correct in analysing disaster management. Do the natural disasters kill more? Or our failure to manage the disasters increases the casualty rate?

Any analysis of disaster management in our part of the world – entire South Asia, starting from the earthquakes in Kashmir to the recent floods (flash or otherwise), including the cloud burst in Ladakh, floods in Orissa and Pakistan, cyclones in Myanmar and the building collapse in Bangladesh, will reveal, not many people got killed in the first day, or the second. No doubt, the immediate aftermath has always been gory and heart rending, given the visual expression in our electronic and social media, what really kills (in literal and figurative terms) is what happens during the next ten days or two weeks.

Clearly, natural disasters per se do not kill people in South Asia in large numbers. It is our failure to manage the disasters in terms of immediate rescue and the subsequent relief and rehabilitation kills more. While we may not be able to fight the nature, we can certainly increase our successes in managing the disasters, by learning from our collective failures in South Asia – at sub-regional, national and regional levels.

So, what lessons could be learnt? How can we manage our disasters better in future, and reduce the number of casualties? Clearly, these lessons should be at individual, societal, sub-regional, State and regional levels.

First, an analysis of disaster prevention and preparation: can the disasters be prevented? Environmentalists and ecologists at the global and regional levels have been warning repeatedly about our abuse of the nature. For soil erosion to sea rising, multiple effects of climate change and its disastrous fallouts have been researched well.

Unfortunately, the above warnings and research has not moved beyond the books, reports and some NGO work. We as an individual and a society, has externalised these warnings and activism, as happening elsewhere. Given the extent of human and material damage, and its impact on the economy of families and the nation, there has to be more focus on natural disasters and management in our curriculum.

Lack of awareness at the societal level is a major reason for our failure to be well prepared to meet disaster exigencies. While there are not many initiatives on creating this awareness, whatever is available, we do not take them seriously. When was the last fire drill we had in our building or in our environment? When was the last evacuation plan we worked of an emergency, even at the mental level? Forget about preparing for the disasters, why is that, we don’t even give way to an ambulance vehicle that is demanding our attention on the road, asking for way?

Second, an analysis of how well prepared are our State and the Agencies. In India, at the national level, there is National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) constituted by a statute. Founded in 2005 and headed by none other than the Prime Minister, the NDMA which is the apex body of managing disasters, promises us in the home page of its website: We will ensure your safety.

What has been the record of the NDMA so far in fulfilling its promise in a disaster situation so far, since 2005? True, it may not be useful to shift the blame for failure to one institution, when the responsibility is shared by many of us in managing the disasters. But having created a huge institution and given an important mandate to protect the people in a disaster situation, it is imperative to have an independent critique of this institution – in terms of what have been the Standard Operating Procedures, and how far they have been implemented in a disaster situation. And more importantly, what has been the net result?

The NDMA at the national level is supposed to have been followed up by every State with its own SDMA. This is where the NDMA is facing a serious challenge, to have partners at the State; it is the State, which has a huge network from the district headquarters to the village administration. The NDMA will not be able to reach directly to every village in a given disaster environment.

Overtaken by Uttarakhand

Pratap Bhanu Mehta : Fri Jun 28 2013

Disaster exposes ways in which our social self-knowledge has not kept pace

Whatever one's views on the myth that moving the Dhari Devi idol unleashed nature's fury on Kedarnath, the story is a perfect metaphor for the faultlines the tragedy in Uttarakhand exposes. According to one version of the myth, the idol is in two parts, the head located at Dhari Devi and the base at Kalimath. For the devout, the important thing is that the head and the base need to be aligned on a particular axis, with the head and feet matching directionally. Misalignment causes chaos. Whatever the value of the myth, as a metaphor, one could not do better. Indian society, with all its changes, is fast becoming a tale of misalignment: its self-understanding and its realities pulling in different directions. The social self-knowledge, the process by which society acquires an insight into its own workings and acts on it, lags behind its material capabilities.

Of course it is important to put the Uttarakhand disaster in perspective. Natural disasters are often one-off events. They have a way of exposing the brittleness of state. Just think of the experience during Katrina, produced by a combination of planning not adapted to nature and state failure for a brief moment. For all our problems, we have been able to mount a rescue operation of heroic proportions and unprecedented scale. But there are larger questions that will go to the very heart of how our societies are constituted.

There are multiple ways in which our social self-knowledge has not kept pace. The terms in which the debate over environment and development has been carried out is unproductive beyond belief, to the point where we neither preserve the environment nor get development. How abridged our social self-knowledge has become can be gauged by this debate, where four untenable attitudes triumphed. The first was that growth itself will solve environmental problems. But even those who are votaries of growth need to recognise that a lot of eco-systems are irretrievable. The second was a wilful amnesia about what sustains India. Being presumptuous with important eco-systems like the Himalayas or Western Ghats is risking catastrophe.

The third is our inability to mobilise authoritative knowledge. This is, in some ways the biggest paradox of India. It is not that India lacks brilliantly knowledgeable people. There will often be disagreement amongst experts. But within the formal scientific establishment, we have not been able to create structures of authority and adjudication that can convincingly project a scientific consensus. Just witness the appalling public spat between two government committees on the Western Ghats. Both were headed by distinguished scientists, Madhav Gadgil and K. Kasturirangan. I have no credentials to judge the dispute, though Gadgil's position seems more cogently argued. But the inability to forge a scientific consensus on matters that should be judicable licenses anything goes. And predictably, the same debate on the role of dams in this disaster has ensued. Finally, forms of indigenous self-knowledge and local expertise in these matters have been completely sidelined. The one unfortunate consequence of the development versus environment debate has been that even the knowledge environmentalists have has been sidelined. The British may have wanted to create new hierarchies of knowledge, but they were often far more respectful in taking on board local knowledge. Our tragedy is that we are misaligned with what we already know.

Our social self-knowledge is misaligned with our realities in other ways as well. As we have developed, our development discourse has grown narrower, rather than broader, in three respects. There is now a rank instrumentalism about almost everything, where narrow conceptions of gain immobilise larger questions of value, as if they were relics from the past. There is, as always, an awful political economy of the contractor state behind this tragedy, but that contractor state has itself been legitimised by a larger instrumentalism. Behind a contractor state stands an instrumental society.

In Death Valley, the beret matters


At the Jungle Chatti helipadon Sunday, paratroopers prepare for the last round of evacuation. Picture by Nishit Dholabhai

Gauchar, June 27: There is something surreal about sitting by a helipad in the midst of death and disaster and chatting about a Hollywood film.

But here, among the para-commandos and the rescuers with whom I had trekked from Jungle Chatti on the Kedarnath route, it offered a peek into the minds of the men who were rescuers risking their own lives.

A day after that trek, these men had gone off again, slithering down from helicopters into a gorge and on a mountainside in search of survivors and then bringing back the bodies of the 20 men killed in the Mi-17 V5 crash.

Last week, led by their commanding officer, the bandana-strapped Colonel Sandip Chatterjee, the men of the 6 and 7 Paras, along with rescuers from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), had lopped off some trees, uprooted electricity poles and planted explosives in the jagged rocks and blasted them to hew a helipad out of nowhere.

Within hours, they also had a campsite, complete with a communications area and a kitchen.

That little station in “Death Valley” had made it possible for the Army Aviation Corps’ Cheetah helicopters to land and evacuate the stranded people in Jungle Chatti over the weekend. Mixed teams of 6, 7 and 9 Paras were dropped into the gorges here at different spots on June 21 to extricate survivors.

Sitting by that helipad, where the stench of death mingled with the aroma of freshly brewed tea on Sunday evening, Major Bhadoria told Captain Rajendra Panchal and the soldiers around them the story of the blockbuster, A Bridge Too Far.

“So now you understand the value of your maroon beret?” he asked. “It is from the colour of blood.” Paratroopers and Special Forces wear maroon berets.

Job done, we set off towards Gaurikund, a journey of just 2.5km that took nearly five hours. The men wore T-shirts with “Airborne” embossed on them.

They had had biscuits to go with the tea as the major narrated scenes from A Bridge Too Far, starring a host of stars such as Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery and Robert Redford, which tells the story of a failed Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize bridges during World War II.

A scene in the film shows a British soldier being shot dead by a sniper after retrieving an air-dropped container under enemy fire. When the soldier falls, the container splits open to reveal berets.

The Paras had lived up to that beret’s spirit with daredevil rescue missions 10,000 feet down the Kedarnath gorge a few days ago. They would again live up to it days later — on Wednesday — to retrieve the bodies of fellow IAF, ITBP and NDRF personnel who were in the crashed Mi-17 V5.

These Special Forces of the army had been summoned on June 20 to Dehradun. They slid down the ropes from choppers into the Gorge of Devastation. Rescue over, evacuation was a problem. They made that helipad in a day.

An engineer surveyed the spot, wired explosives to blow off rocks and electricity poles and cleared the ground to let Cheetahs and Chetaks land on what NDRF commandant Jaideep Singh had thought was an “impossible place to land”.

“Be our guest,” a smiling Bhadoria had said shortly afterwards.

In the two days that we were there and through the trek we had jumped over maggot-infested bodies of people who had tried — and failed — to clamber up slopes to escape the flood.

Beware! India faces cyber threats

Last updated on: June 27, 2013

With India becoming the second-biggest victim of cyber-attacks after the United States, the government wants to install a foolproof security cover; but it could invade the privacy of Indians, says Ajai Shukla

On August 15, 2012, in what Vanity Fair dramatically termed "history's first known cyber war", hackers calling themselves the Cutting Sword of Justice inserted a sophisticated virus called Shamoon into 30,000 computer hard-disk drives in the headquarters of Saudi Arabian oil giant Saudi Aramco.

Shamoon wiped out all the data, leaving behind an image of an American flag on fire. United States officials and forensic analysts could not but wonder whether this was Iranian vengeance, visited on a key US ally. Two years earlier, hackers, now known to be American and Israelis, had infiltrated a destructive computer worm called Stuxnet into the centrifuges that Iran uses to enrich uranium for its nuclear programme. The Stuxnet attack is believed to have disabled a thousand centrifuges, setting back Iran's nuclear weapons programme.

Soon after the Shamoon attack, it became clear that Washington did not regard this as the work of amateurs. Speaking publicly in New York on October 11, 2012, then US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who had often raised the spectre of a "cyber Pearl Harbour", described what could happen in such an attack.

"An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains or trains loaded with lethal chemicals," he said. "They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country."

America is hardly the only one in this game, with China reportedly nurturing a sophisticated cyber warfare capability with which to target US computer networks as a part of its strategy of "asymmetric warfare".

In March, security consultancy firm Mandiant accused the Shanghai-based People's Liberation Army Unit 61398 of stealing commercial secrets from US companies. That month, Tom Donilon, Barack Obama's National Security Advisor, charged that cyber attacks were "emanating from China on an unprecedented scale."

India has been slow in fixing its attention on cyber security. This may partly be because much of the country's critical infrastructure -- power grids, public transportation, nuclear power plants, defence systems -- is controlled by manual systems, or by standalone computer systems that are not linked over the internet. In that respect, India's infrastructural backwardness has proved useful against cyber-attacks.

"It is not unusual to find central ministry officials in New Delhi using unsecured email systems, sometimes even commercial email accounts on public servers. But India's sensitive networks tend to be isolated, with no point of contact with the Internet that would render them vulnerable to online hacking. Several agencies have their own dedicated, secure fibre-optic networks, notably the military, Defence R&D Organisation, and police's Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System," says Praveen Swami, strategic affairs editor of Network18.

But the government has understood that an ostrich-like response to the digital threat -- which is to have as little digitisation as possible -- is not a viable, long-term strategy. The economic ministries are finding that volumes of data are becoming larger and larger. And the compulsion for more open governance requires the Internet to be harnessed, mastered and adequately secured.

Blood ties

By editor
Created 28 Jun 2013 

Despite all the periodic hiccups, the ties between Sri Lanka and India have been inked in the blood of the peoples and soldiers of both countries

It is ironic that the only memorial to the 1,100 or so soldiers of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) who fell in battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is located in Colombo.

There, not too far from Sri Lanka’s beautiful Parliament building, is inscribed the names of all the officers and jawans who died as a result of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s impetuous misadventure which earned him no brownie points at home or gratitude in Sri Lanka. Yet, despite the political controversies that surround the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987, what is heartening is that the soldiers who gave their lives for an objective they knew little about have been honoured by Colombo, despite New Delhi’s reluctance to remember those dreadful three years.

The memorial underscores the fact that despite all the periodic hiccups, the relationship of Sri Lanka and India has been inked in the blood of the peoples and soldiers of both countries.

It is pertinent to remember this at a time when dark clouds are once again hovering over bilateral relations. And it is also important to remember that at the heart of the emerging dispute over “autonomy” or “devolution” of powers to the minority Tamil community is a clause that was injected into the Sri Lanka Constitution by the Rajiv Gandhi-J.R. Jayawardene Accord 26 years ago.

The 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution had three features. First, Tamil was given official language status; secondly, the Northern and Eastern Provinces that Tamil nationalists regard as their traditional homeland were merged; and finally, despite the unitary Constitution, it was proposed to establish provincial councils — much like India’s state governments — throughout the small island. The 13th Amendment was not really the brainchild of Indian officials who imagined they were remote controlling the Tamil upsurge from Delhi’s South Block. It encapsulated most of the earlier agreements entered between Sri Lanka’s Tamil leadership with Colombo. There was only one difference: The earlier attempts at reconciliation between the Tamils and the majority Sinhalese had been derailed by competitive populism on both sides. With India’s insistence, the 13th Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution.

After two decades and despite a bloody civil war, some of the features of the 13th Amendment have become institutionalised. Today, after the disastrous experiment with a “Sinhala only” language policy, the island has set in motion a pragmatic three-language formula that makes it obligatory for all Sri Lankans to be conversant in Sinhala, Tamil and English. In other words, the groundwork for all the communities to converse with each other, rather than talk at each other, has been laid.

This is not to say that Sinhala and Tamil chauvinism are dead. Despite the decimation of the LTTE and the Marxist-chauvinist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), there is still an inclination among some people to talk in terms of exclusivist nationhood. But in political terms, there is a greater appreciation of the fact that the island cannot afford another bout of 30-year bloodletting. The goal of greater prosperity makes peaceful coexistence and accommodation imperative.

That is why the Supreme Court decision striking down the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces wasn’t a devastating blow to ethnic harmony. The Eastern Province is ethnically mixed with large populations of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims. Tamils may have constituted the majority in the distant past but today’s reality is different. And although Tamil nationalists still nurture a grievance over state-sponsored Sinhalese colonisation, the demographic pattern of today is irreversible.

Don't Call It Isolationism **


America's not retreating -- it's just going undercover.

We are out of Iraq; we are getting out of Afghanistan; there is no appetite for U.S. military engagement in Syria. What is a guy in uniform to do?

On June 11, Michael Hirsh suggested that the United States has "lost its nerve" internationally. Obama, he argues, has stepped back from the global leadership role and military presence it once had. Many Americans support what Hirsh calls "America's gradual withdrawal from foreign entanglements" -- they want the U.S. military home soon, out of Afghanistan, and definitely not in Syria. Time, as my carpenter up in Maine says, for us to "stop messing around in other people's business."

Some commentators think this trend is dangerous. David Barno, a retired Army three-star at the Center for a New American Security, urges the United States to stay globally engaged. Barno, who has overseen some really good research on U.S. defense planning, told Hirsh, "The sour taste [about overseas involvement] is obscuring the fact that American power around the world underwrites the global system and is the guarantor of peace."

Even Barno, though, is cautious -- even self-contradictory -- about how deeply the United States should commit itself abroad. As he wrote about Syria, "U.S. interests are far better served by exercising restraint, supporting Syria's neighbors, and performing a humanitarian role. After 10 years of bloody and inconclusive U.S. involvement in the wars of this region, slipping into another military intervention in this part of the world defies both common sense and broader U.S. vital interests."

Barno's objection to American retrenchment, though, is a classic restatement of the dominant view among Washington policymakers about our role in the world: We are the good guys, we keep the peace, we set the framework for the rules, what would the world be like without us? It's hard to reconcile wariness about intervention with promotion of the U.S. role as the global system administrator. (See Tom Barnett's websitefor another classic call for the United States to assume such responsibilities.) Muscle-flexing and caution don't mix well.

I wouldn't call this caution isolationism, though -- or "neo-isolationism," as Hirsh does. What is happening is the latest episode in a historic pattern of muscular U.S. engagement, by which we think the military can fix a problem, followed by failure or stalemate (Korean truce, Vietnam loss, Iraq and looming Afghanistan disasters), and ending with reluctance to use the military as the leading edge of American foreign policy.

But be careful here. The decision to pull back on massive engagements of military force does not mean force is not going to be used. It just goes underground. In fact, I would argue that today, the U.S. military is way, way out in front in setting the terms for future U.S. global engagement, and in ways that may not suit our national interests.

When the military (especially the ground forces) fail, the military does not shrink, sulking back into the barracks. Arguably, today the U.S. military is more involved than ever overseas, on a global basis, carrying out missions that extend well beyond classic military competencies.

The Pentagon and the White House call the approach "building partner capacity" -- and it is the new religion for the global use of our military forces, becoming central to military doctrine. This model is stealthy, not public. It involves military training and equipping of the forces of other countries and smaller military deployments but in a significantly larger list of countries about the globe.

Syria, which sounds like a case study for American reluctance, is actually a case in point. Rather than invade with ground forces or fly an air cap -- the thing Barno argues against -- official U.S. policy for a very long time was to supply humanitarian assistance and "non-lethal" equipment (like communications gear) to the rebels. Two weeks ago, the White House announced that it would begin supplying the rebels with small arms.

But well before this announcement, lethal weapons had been flowing to the Syrian rebels. While the hardware was not supplied from American stocks, the United States has been playing an active role in facilitating the traffic. This only came to light recently, although I have been hearing rumors of this role for more than year. According to a sentence buried in a New York Times story, "The Central Intelligence Agency has already played at least a supporting role" in the supply of arms to the rebels.

We have also been providing covert training to the rebels on the use of these weapons, in Turkey and in Jordan, leading to an expansion of the U.S. military presence in the latter country. We are flying F-16s (useful for a no-fly zone) and putting up Patriot batteries (to defend the rebel camps?) there. We plan to leave 700 U.S. troops behind, once the ostensible "exercises" that brought them there are ended.

The administration has chosen to keep our "capacity building" engagement in Syria under wraps, but the recent decision to move to a more overt role has surfaced programs that were already well underway.

Meanwhile, in Mali -- to which we ostensibly cannot provide direct military assistance because the government installed itself through a coup -- we trained and equipped the forces of other countries operating there, which are engaging terrorist bands up in the northeastern part of the country.

What's really bothering Hamid Karzai?

By Simbal Khan
June 26, 2013

Though direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States appear to be back on track after some protocol issues with the Taliban's Doha office were resolved, questions remain over President Hamid Karzai's continuing commitment to the dialogue process. Just one day after the Taliban inaugurated its office in Qatar, Karzai pulled the Afghan government out of the presumed peace talks, furious over the way the office was opened. On the surface, it was the display of the Taliban flag and the plaque reading "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that angered the Afghan government. However, as U.S. and Qatari officials scrambled to diffuse the crisis, it became clear that the Afghan government's rancor at the Taliban press conference went beyond those issues; but why?

It is no secret that Karzai remains opposed to direct talks between the Taliban and the United States. Eighteen months ago, when a Taliban representative appeared in Doha to start direct negotiations with the U.S., initially Karzai opposed the move vehemently, recalled his ambassador from Qatar and rejected any talks which did not include the High Peace Council (HPC), Afghanistan's government-constituted negotiating body. The Afghan government also insisted that the talks be held inside Afghanistan, or alternatively, Saudi Arabia

Since the first attempt at direct U.S.-Taliban talks was aborted in March 2012, there has been intense international diplomatic engagement with Karzai and his inner circle over this issue. Diplomats from Germany, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom and Pakistan -- the most critical regional actor -- have tried to mitigate the Afghan government's objections and put forward proposals that incorporated Afghan demands that the peace process be ‘Afghan led.'

When Hina Rabbani Khar, a former Pakistani foreign minister, repeated ad nauseam that Pakistan supported an intra-Afghan dialogue, she was voicing the view favored by Kabul and communicated to Pakistan through various official and unofficial channels. And it made sense. War cannot be ended by just the two main fighting parties, in this case, the Taliban and the United States. There has to be a broader process of political settlement between a number of Afghan factions, including the Taliban, who have been fighting each other for decades. While some of these factions are represented within Karzai's inner circle and the HPC, several of them are part of the opposition and have no trust in the council. 

According to Pakistani diplomats, Karzai had pledged to kick-start an internal Afghan process that would develop consensus on the peace talks and bring all of the powerful factions not currently part of the government or the HPC on board. This internal consultation was a necessary first step towards building a national consensus and producing a credible roadmap for talks with the Taliban. However to date, no such process is visible, and there is a shared view emerging in both U.S. and Pakistani policy circles that Karzai would like to see the dialogue process postponed until after the Afghan presidential elections in April 2014. At this point, even limited talks with the Taliban will have to address political structures in post-2014 Afghanistan. While Karzai and his inner circle would likely aim to keep the status quo, both his political opponents and the Taliban could use the peace talks to push for an entirely new set-up.

Karzai is also unhappy with the role Pakistan has played in coaxing the Taliban back to the negotiating table, and in convincing the U.S. that approaching 2014 deadlines demand a resolute move forward on reconciliation. In Pakistan's view, the time has come for the Obama administration to set a firm policy direction, which will in turn help convince a number of fence-sitters within Afghanistan and around the region that the U.S. is serious about exploring political channels to end the war.

Nobody expects quick progress with regard to the talks, but with tentative confidence building measures such as prisoner exchanges, the United States and the Taliban can set the stage for a comprehensive peace process amongst the Afghans themselves. There is also a growing constituency within Afghanistan that supports a political resolution to the conflict. If the Karzai government persists in standing against the tide, his inner circle and presidential nominee will likely be marginalized in the next election. As far as the joint U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement is concerned, it is an issue that can be resolved after the new president is sworn in. The U.S. must not allow itself to be blackmailed over the issue by an outgoing president with a narrow support base.

Great Wall of China: Fortified Symbol of a Nation’s Ancient Past

By Jonathan DeHart
June 27, 2013

It is said that the Great Wall of China is one of the few manmade structures that can be glimpsed from space. There is an ounce of truth in this, but it is mostly myth. At low orbit, the wall can just be delineated, but from higher up, let alone from the moon, this is an urban legend. It is nonetheless understandable how the belief has spread over time: the wall is mind bogglingly large.

Known as the “long wall of 10,000 Li” in Chinese, the hulking edifice runs more than 8,850 kilometers – longer than the previously thought length of 5,500 kilometers – across the northern Chinese frontier at the southern edge of the Mongolian plain, from Hebei province in the east to Gansu province in the west. Its total length, including all offshoots and branches, extends more than 20,000 kilometers. Although the wall is one solid monument in the popular imagination, the reality is a bit more complex.

Built in fits and starts from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD with bricks and stones, and packed with earth and even wood, the Great Wall has become a landmark synonymous with China. Although the wall is renowned for its architectural triumph as much as for its historic importance, its construction was a practical affair.

It was built in stages by various dynasties, beginning with Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), who ordered millions of people – soldiers, workers, slaves – to build the wall in an effort to quell nomadic Mongol warriors. The wall continued to evolve until the Ming Dynasty (1388-1644), which erected the more modern sections most think of as the Great Wall today. Regardless of who or when each bit was built, there was continuity – the Ming built from where the Qin left off.

There was great suffering associated with its construction, which became a touchstone in Chinese literature, as seen in works like “Soldier’s Ballad”, penned by Tch’en Lin (circa 200 AD), the poems of Tu Fu (712-770), who once wrote in his poem, Set out for the Great Wall:

  • Built upon miles and miles of mountains,
  • Dotted with strong fortresses both on hilltops and ridges.
  • Weathering three thousand years of wind and rain,
  • Transforms into dancing dragon in earth’s hilly forest.

The arduous task of building the wall unfortunately did not pay off in the end. It proved to be far from impenetrable. At its tallest, the wall’s height reached 25 feet (7.6 meters), was as wide as 15-30 feet at its base and 9-12 feet across at the top. It was punctuated by watch towers, shelters and tracks for horses and troops. Yet, it was interspersed with gaps through which Mongol raiders routinely passed. For this reason it was ultimately not a success and was left unfinished.

Regardless of its success as a fortification, word spread of the wall’s existence as contact between China and the West increased in the 17th-20th centuries. It was during this time that the legend was created. In the 18th century, English antiquary and field archaeologist William Stukeley penned a letter that planted the seed of the conjecture that it was visible from the moon.

In 1754 he wrote: “This mighty wall of four score miles in length (referring to Hadrian's Wall) is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the moon.”

More outsiders came to visit the structure in the 18th and 19th centuries – the usual suspects: European explorers, from traders to Jesuit priests. This outside interest culminated in extensive restoration and rebuilding in the 20th century, when the wall took on a new role as cultural ambassador.

It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and along with India’s Taj Mahal, is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Although there have been issues with unsustainable tourism and even vandalism to the Great Wall, it isn’t going anywhere.

Today a popular 50-mile stretch of the wall near Beijing attracts thousands of tourists daily. People run marathons along the wall, with its dauntingly high steps, and are gradually getting the chance to explore stretches of the wall that were previously out of reach for tourists.

“The places around Beijing are very Disneyland-ified,” said Nellie Connolly, marketing director of Beijing-based travel company WildChina. “When you get further away from Beijing, there are very few people. You’re in one of the wonders of the world, and you’re really one of the only ones looking at it.”

Building a Movement to End Poverty

World Bank president to private sector: Take your money off the sidelines.

We are closer than ever before to ending global poverty. In a little more than two decades, from 1990 to today, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty (surviving on less than $1.25 per day) has fallen from 40 to 20 percent around the world. During that period, more than 700 million people lifted themselves above that threshold.

We are on the right track, but we need to do more. Poverty is falling, but it is not falling fast enough. Moreover, in certain fast-growing developing countries, income inequality has widened considerably in recent years. As a result, the World Bank Group has adopted two new goals: end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity by maximizing income growth for the poorest 40 percent in every country. Two key groups can play a central role to help achieve these goals: the private sector and civil society.

The private sector has an essential role to play if we are to end poverty by 2030. Over the past two decades, poverty reduction has been driven by the creation of millions of new jobs -- and 90 percent of new jobs come from the private sector. We also need the private sector to meet emerging economies' demand for infrastructure investment. Total foreign assistance for all countries stands at $125 billion a year, a substantial sum but still far short of what is needed. Over the next five years, for example, India has a $1 trillion gap in infrastructure financing, meaning that all the foreign assistance in the world couldn't meet its infrastructure needs.

That means we must leverage precious aid dollars to spur new private investment in the developing world. The potential is enormous. There are trillions of dollars invested in low-yielding assets in high-income countries, such as U.S. Treasuries or German Bunds. Imagine what could be achieved if even a small portion of that money were instead invested in developing countries, where potential rates of return are far higher, and where partnerships between the public and private sectors could bring crucial infrastructure and other goods and services to those who need them most.

The World Bank Group is helping governments improve their business climates and attract higher levels of private investment. Last year, our private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, invested a record $20.4 billion in 103 developing countries, supporting 2.5 million jobs. Returns on these investments have been impressive: The average annual return on IFC's equity investments around the world over the last 15 years has been 20 percent. 

My message to private sector leaders is this: Take your money off the sidelines. Use it to earn good returns in developing countries, while lifting millions out of poverty. The World Bank Group can help.

In building a movement to end global poverty, the other key component is civil society. Civil society plays a vital role not only in delivering services to the poor but also in building movements.

Many know the historic outcome of the global fight against AIDS. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of people in the developing world taking life-extending antiretroviral medication grew from 50,000 to 9 million -- thanks in large part to U.S. bipartisan support for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But few people know that the origins of the AIDS fight can be traced back to the late 1980s, when a group of activists (some of them forming the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP) launched a series of high-profile demonstrations and also worked behind the scenes to address the scientific and political challenges involved in combating AIDS.

These activists helped bring about the adoption of the Food and Drug Administration's Priority Review in 1992, which expedited access to medicines from the private sector and saved thousands of lives. In 1993, the average standard FDA approval took 27 months. By 1995, the average FDA Priority Review lasted only six months.

That is the power of civil society, which has the ability to transform global consciousness around the world's greatest challenges. And that is the power I hope civil society will bring to the challenge of ending poverty. The World Bank Group will continue to partner with other multilateral organizations and civil society to generate global commitment and a sense of urgency for these goals.

We need the private sector to scale up investment in developing countries, to support job-creation, and strong, sustainable economic growth. We also need it to start thinking about a double bottom line -- the powerful possibility of both making a profit for your business and also being able to tell your children and your grandchildren that you are part of the movement to end poverty. This is part of a trend in the business world that we must do everything we can to nurture.

We need NGOs and civil society leaders to catalyze a global movement around ending poverty and building shared prosperity, focusing the world's attention on the biggest challenge of our time. We need civil society organizations to dream beyond their individual mandates -- to show us how their work is critical to the larger goal of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

All of us, whether in government, civil society, or the private sector, have a stake in delivering solutions to end global poverty. That is why I would like to ask those in the private sector, government, and in civil society, to find new ways to work more effectively together.