12 July 2013

Homage to the Lower 48 **

A half-century ago, I was a little boy on a trip with my parents from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit relatives. We crossed Pennsylvania on the recently completed Pennsylvania Turnpike. Pennsylvania from the New Jersey border to the Ohio border was vast, with the magnificent Alleghany range, a subset of the Appalachians, in the broad middle of the state, heralded by the Blue Mountain tunnel. The interstate highway system built under President Dwight Eisenhower was gleaming and exotic back then, with lovely rest stops with real restaurants where you were waited on at tables -- not the slummy fast-food joints that disgrace rest stops today.

At one rest stop I picked up a collection of travel articles, written in easy Reader's Digest style, suited for my age. There was a story about a family driving west and stopping for breakfast somewhere in Nebraska, anticipating the sight of the Rocky Mountains where they were headed. "You have to earn the Rockies," the father said, "by driving through the flat Midwest." Earn the Rockies is a phrase that has stayed with me my whole life: It sums up America's continental geography - and by inference, why America is a world power. It summed up my yearning to travel and see mountains even higher than the Appalachians in Pennsylvania. Finally in 1970, when I was 18, I hitchhiked across America from New York to Oregon and spent a summer roaming the Rocky Mountains.

When my family made that trip a half-century ago, Alaska and Hawaii were new states admitted to the union only the year before. The United States now reached halfway across the Pacific, and yet in 1960 it still thought of itself as a continental nation, stretching from sea to shining sea. Nevertheless, if you were a Hawaiian, you thought of the continental United States as "the mainland." And if you were an Alaskan, it was "the lower 48." The term lower 48 always rang a bell for me, signifying as it did the contiguous 48 states that completed the temperate zone of North America between Canada and Mexico. Arizona was the 48th state, admitted to the union only in 1912. Until then, and throughout the 19th century, ever since the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, American presidents administered the West or parts of it as imperial overlords: governing places as territories that were not as yet states.

Indeed, the entire operating myth of American nationhood has had an east-to-west orientation. America's continental geography was perfectly appointed for gradual westering settlement. The original 13 colonies huddled around many natural, deep-water Atlantic harbors, with the Appalachians as a western boundary. Passes through the Appalachians enabled the pioneers to enter the Midwest, where a flat panel of rich farmland -- and the back-breaking labor required for it to bear crops, and to clear the forests on it -- ground down the various North European immigrant communities into a distinctive American culture. By the time the water-starved Great Plains and the Rockies beckoned forth another generation of settlers, the Transcontinental Railroad was at hand to complete the story of nation-building unto the Pacific.

Of course, the Rockies emblemized this whole saga: their sheer beauty and majesty helped make Americans feel that they were a special people, ordained to do great things; the utter height of these mountains provided settlers with the supreme logistical challenge. The Rockies are a signal example of how a physical environment can mold a people's character.

In fact, had the United States been settled from west to east, from California directly into the water-starved tableland of Nevada and Arizona, it is possible that the country would have begun as an oligarchy or some such authoritarian regime, in order to strictly administer water rights. This is partly the background to such great books of sea to shining sea nationhood as Wallace Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridian(1954) and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert (1986). In a larger sense, the story of earning the Rockies is chronicled in such epics as Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Plains (1931) and Bernard DeVoto's lyrical trilogy of westward expansion, The Year of Decision: 1846 (1943), Across the Wide Missouri (1947) and The Course of Empire (1952). DeVoto wrote those books during World War II and some of the darkest days of the Cold War. Yet, by concentrating on the Rocky Mountains and all that they represented, he told Americans why they were great. DeVoto's prose, like the music of Stephen Foster -- of which DeVoto writes about so eloquently -- catches at dead center the very energy of Manifest Destiny.

DeVoto, repeating Henry David Thoreau's dictum, advised Americans that, metaphorically, they "must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe." DeVoto never left North America his whole life. He was not an isolationist but a geopolitical thinker who understood the continental basis of American power.

That continental basis is subtly shifting. I may be of the last generation that sees the United States in terms of its east-to-west historic geography of Manifest Destiny. Americans today do not take horses or trains, drive, ride buses or hitchhike across the continent. They fly. Our airports have been the new bus stations. Americans no longer experience the exhilaration of seeing the front range of the Rockies after crossing the flat prairie and Great Plains. They experience much less the regional diversity of the United States, as McDonald's and Starbucks deface the urban landscape. Our towns and small cities with their refreshing provincial aura have been transformed into vast, suburban conurbations, each integrally connected to the global economy. Cosmopolitanism is no longer restricted to the coasts. That is a good thing, even as something special has been lost.

Global Shipping Contends with Oversupply Problems ***

Analysis July 8, 2013

A container ship from the CMA CGM company stops at a terminal in Bremerhaven, Germany, in 2012. (INGO WAGNER/AFP/Getty Images)


The global shipping industry is oversupplied. Because supply far exceeds demand, shipping rates have plummeted, as have the prices of ships. Some shipping companies have sought to capitalize on this trend by purchasing newer, larger ships at lower prices so that they can remain price competitive. But unless demand rebounds by the time these ships become operational, the industry's oversupply problem will only worsen.

It is unclear whether the global shipping industry will normalize before these new ships enter the market. Demand could rise as the global economy recovers, or the supply of ships could somehow fall. But the economy's recovery could just as well be slower than anticipated. Several factors could prevent the industry from righting itself, not the least of which are inaccurate forecasts of future market behavior. In fact, the current state of global shipping was caused in part by incorrect predictions of continued growth prior to the 2008 financial crisis. In any case, continued poor performance and a sluggish global economy could eventually force the shipping industry to restructure.


The most important factor to consider, in assessing the state of the shipping industry, is the state of the global economy. The international shipping industry accounts for approximately 90 percent of global trade by volume and is essential for connecting large sectors of the world's economy. Since 1734, the industry has seen more than 20 boom-bust cycles, which occur roughly once per decade. The most recent cycle began in 2004 and peaked in 2008 before declining rapidly at the onset of the global financial crisis.

The downturn afflicted each of the industry's three main categories: tanker, dry bulk and container. While the volume of global trade has recovered somewhat -- it grew 4 percent in 2011, marking a 16 percent growth in ton-kilometers -- the shipping industry is still reeling from the financial crisis.

Big, Efficient Fleets

The industry right now has far more ships than it needs. Most shipping companies tend to reduce the price of their services in an effort to underbid their competitors. Either they reduce the cost per ton or the cost per container. This means most companies try to accrue the biggest and most efficient ships possible. Between 2007 and 2012, the average container ship's capacity increased by 27 percent.

From a shipping company's perspective, overstocking a fleet with large ships while prices are low is a sound business move. Ships are long-term investments that can yield returns for 20 or 30 years, and trade will almost certainly pick up during the life span of any given ship. While purchasing new ships may seem counterintuitive in an oversupplied market, companies know that the capital cost of a ship plays a disproportionately large role in determining how profitable that ship will be, representing roughly half of all expenditures -- including port fees, labor, fuel and other costs -- over the course of the ship's lifetime. Buyers therefore take advantage of low prices whenever they can.

The more efficient these ships are, the lower the price their owners can offer to potential customers. Maersk shipping company recently christened the first ship in its Triple-E line, which is now the largest line of container ships in the world. These ships are a quarter of a mile long, and they can hold roughly 11 percent more cargo than their nearest competitors.

Overcapacity is a problem in itself, but the issue is complicated by the inherent lag in acquiring inventory. On average, it takes two to four years after the placement of an order for a ship to be built and delivered. Thus, ships ordered in 2008, when the industry began to decline, were not delivered until well after the financial crash. While shipping companies had hoped the economic downturn would end quickly as many had forecast, they could not afford to let their competitors build superior fleets -- they were forced to continue buying just to stay competitive.

An Informal Alliance

Along with the economic downturn, the contest to outbid competitors helped keep shipping rates low. In turn, low rates have forced shipping companies to work for fees that often cover only the operating costs of the ships. In these instances, companies that are still paying off the capital investment of the ship are actually losing money. This is notable, considering the Drewry global freight rate index dropped more than 30 percent from July 2008 ($2,727 per forty-foot container) to May 2013 ($1,882 per forty-foot container).

The threat posed by untenably low rates could transform the shipping industry. The world's three largest container lines -- Maersk, CMA CGM and Mediterranean -- have formed an alliance of sorts in an effort to reduce operating costs. The fact that the three largest companies in the industry are acting in concert indicates just how hard it has become for them to survive the downturn (to say nothing of smaller, poorer companies).

Their informal alliance could portend further consolidation. Past consolidation efforts to control shipping prices were unsuccessful, but several outstanding issues, such as China's slowed growth and the European crisis, may keep global demand low enough to force the industry to restructure itself.

Combat Helicopters: The multi-role concept and future development

Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 Jul , 2013

CH-47F Chinook

While jet fighters are in their fifth generation, helicopters are still languishing with the same old airframes for the last several decades, with mostly upgrades to their credit. The APACHE AH-64E Block-III is a vivid example of the same even though 26 new technologies have been incorporated in the upgraded version. However, the new generation helicopter platforms are now featuring the latest advances in aeronautics giving military helicopters improved flight performance as well as weapon systems with incremental technological and technical upgrades. This offers the new generation machines unprecedented capabilities – lighter and stronger materials of construction, increased autonomy, more powerful engines, reduced acoustic signatures, more accurate navigation systems, enhanced data acquisition and protection systems, and more effective weapons and munitions. Designed as weapon systems integrating multiple functions, helicopters will have to become truly modular, making it possible to change part of the system without affecting overall integrity. The concept of modularity is likely to increase, especially with the emergence of multi-role machines.

A number of countries are today looking at acquiring MRH due to the changing nature of conflict…

The combat helicopters can be classified into two categories -the armed helicopters/gunships and the modern day dedicated Attack Helicopters (AH). Both are military helicopters, wherein the armed helicopters are normal utility, cargo or reconnaissance modified with weapon mounts for defence against and attacking targets on the ground. The purpose of modification could be field expediency during combat as well as the need to maintain helicopters for missions that do not require weapons. In fact, these are basically the Multi Role Helicopters (MRH) which can transport troops as well as carry basic armaments in terms of machine guns/rockets/missiles depending on the type of mission required to be undertaken.

The AH, on the other hand, is specifically designed and built to carry weapons for engaging targets on ground and air with special emphasis on anti-tank role. The weapons include machine guns, cannons, rockets and guided missiles for air-to-ground and air-to-air engagement. Modern day AH have two main roles of providing direct and accurate close air support for ground troops – amply being demonstrated in Afghanistan and anti-tank role to destroy enemy armour. Specialised armed helicopters flying from ships at sea are equipped with weapons for anti-submarine and/or anti-shipping operations. A number of countries are today looking at acquiring MRH for their armed forces due to the changing nature of conflict, specially related to counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations. A befitting example is the employment of modified Black Hawks with stealth features successfully by the US Special Forces in Operation Neptune Spear (Geronimo) to take out Bin Laden from Pakistan.

Combat Helicopter Concept

The concept of combat helicopters evolved with the French during the Algerian and first Indo-China Wars (1954-1962) in the form of rotary wing platforms modified as armed helicopters. The first use of armed helicopters by USA in large-scale combat operations was in Vietnam. Till then, military helicopters were used for troop transport, observation and casualty evacuation. These helicopters while flying missions often came under heavy fire resulting in the need for arming them. The Huey UH-IC troop transporter was modified with stub wings attached to its fuselage and fitted with machine guns and rockets. The other helicopters modified as armed helicopters were the Sikorsky and Chinook CH-47. This was a quantum jump from the manned door-fitted machine guns of the earlier versions of armed helicopters.

A number of countries are today looking at acquiring MRH for their armed forces due to the changing nature of conflict…

During the 1960s, the Soviet Union also felt the need for armed helicopters and modified the military MI-8 troop transporter helicopter with weapon pods for rockets and machine guns. This subsequently led to the development of a dedicated armed helicopter/gunship – the MI-24 which saw action in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In our context, we had earlier MI-8 and Ranjeet (modified Cheetah helicopter), fitted with machine guns fired from side doors. Presently the MI-17 and Lancer (Cheetah) are modified for armed role capable of mounting guns and rockets. In fact the 80 X MI-17Vs now under acquisition from Russia, are already modified for armed role including fitment of missiles.

With the armed helicopter/gunship concept battle proven, began the development of dedicated AH with the primary aim of engaging tanks. The late 1970s/early 1980s saw the advent of the AH like the American Apache AH 64A and upgraded Huey Cobra, the Soviet MI-24 and the Italian A-129 Mangusta. While some questioned the relevance of dedicated AH due to increased cost over gun-ships, the 1991 Gulf War put these doubts at rest. Fleets of Apaches and Huey Cobras dominated Iraqi armour in the open desert during the war. In fact, the Apaches fired the first Hellfire missiles destroying early warning radars and SAM sites. The deep attack role and independent operations by AH did come into question after a failed mission during the attack on Karbala in the 2003 Gulf War but this was purely attributable to flawed tactical employment which was corrected in subsequent operations. The Soviet operations in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 saw the emergence of the MI-25/MI-35 AH, a variant of the MI-24. Closer home we have in our inventory the Russian MI-25/MI-35 AH, which is now vintage, though a certain amount of upgrading has been carried out to enhance their night operations capability. In fact, during the Kargil conflict in 1999, the Indian Army and Air Force felt the need for an AH that could operate at those heights with ease. This led to the development of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) which would be capable of operating at high altitudes.

India Tries to Manage China Border Challenges

July 12, 2013
By Nitin A. Gokhale

New Delhi is pursing diplomatic and military avenues in dealing with its long-running border dispute with Beijing.

If India’s Defence Minister AK Antony thought his visit to China in early July would be sufficient to paper over the long-standing cracks in the Sino-India relationship, he was in for a rude surprise. Just before he arrived in Beijing on July 4, a hawkish PLA General warned India not to “provoke new problems” and “stir up” trouble through its plans to increase deployments along the border.

Major General Luo Yuan, who works at PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences, is known for his outspokenness. Reporting from Beijing,The Hindu quotes him as saying to the All China Journalists’ Association, “There is no denying there are tensions and problems between China and India, particularly in border areas.”

“There is still the problem of 90,000 sq km of territory that is occupied by the Indian side,” the general added, referring to China’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh. “I think these are problems left over from history and we should look at these problems with a cool head. Particularly, the Indian side should not provoke new problems and increase military deployment at the border area, and stir up new trouble.”

Gen Luo’s statement may not reflect the official line at the highest levels of the Chinese government, but the fact that he would openly warn India on the very day Antony landed in China suggests that at least a section of the Chinese establishment maintains an aggressive posture towards India. The PLA in particular is riled by India’s efforts to bolster its military position all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as the de facto border between the two countries is known.

While the Chinese political leadership has concentrated on improving bilateral trade with India and looking to engage New Delhi on issues like climate change, PLA hardliners have kept up the pressure on the un-demarcated boundary, indulging in the kind of brinkmanship on display in April this year. On April 15, a platoon of PLA soldiers advanced 19 km into Indian territory in Ladakh andstayed put for three weeks before restoring the status quo.

Intense efforts at both the military and diplomatic levels were needed to resolve that crisis, which once again highlighted the fault lines that exist on the boundary issue. The impasse was resolved because it was in Beijing’s interest to do so, as new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was scheduled to visit India in early May. As his first overseas trip, Beijing could hardly have afforded to cancel it.

When he came to Delhi, Premier Li waxed eloquent about age-old ties between the two civilizations, and suggested there was enough wisdom on both sides to resolve outstanding issues as he sought to step up engagement on other fronts.

Indeed, on the surface, Sino-India relations do look to be on the upswing: bilateral trade is booming and is expected to touch 100 billion dollars in a couple of years, although India has expressed concern over a huge trade deficit; cultural and people-to-people exchange has risen substantially; New Delhi and Beijing have worked jointly on climate change negotiations. Yet despite the apparent bonhomie, the two countries failed to break the deadlock in what is now the longest border negotiations in the world.

The responsibility for resolving the boundary issues lies with the Special Representatives on either side. India’s National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon in fact held negotiations over two dayswith his Chinese counterpart in Beijing in the last week of June, after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to continue with the talks.

Menon and his new counterpart Yang Jiechi of course made the right noises at the end of their meeting, with the Indian sidereporting that they had “discussed ways and means of strengthening the existing mechanisms for consultation and coordination on border affairs and methodology to enhance the efficiency of communications between the two sides.”

The sides agreed to keep channels of communication open to avoid any flare up on the 4,000- km long border, but neither set any deadline nor indicated a roadmap for settlement of the border issue, underscoring once again the intractable nature of the problem.

The Menon-Jiechi meet was the 16th round of talks between Special Representatives since 2005, when New Delhi and Beijing agreed to lay down political parameters for border negotiations. The process has, however, become stuck on the point of finalizing the framework agreement before both sides can move onto the third and hopefully final stage, that of delineating the border on the map and on the ground.

These last two steps are not easy to achieve. Perceptions about where the boundary lies differ drastically. Border patrols regularly intrude into each other’s territory to try and establish claims. So far conflict has been avoided, but with India now shedding its defensive mindset, the PLA anticipates a much firmer response from the Indian military in coming years.

Even in the Ladakh crisis, the Indian military held on to its position and, according a senior military official, did not concede any of the Chinese demands. Lt Gen KT Parnaik, head of India’s Northern Army till this June, told The Diplomat in an interview just before retirement: “the de-escalation which took place happened without us making any compromise on the issue. We lost nothing, did not dismantle any of our defenses.” This is what China fears – a militarily stronger India.

China cornered, India’s window of opportunity

Issue Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group | Date : 11 Jul , 2013

Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

China being strategically cornered globally in 2013 is a reality and this is likely to continue till such time China does not change its strategic postulations. Therefore this should have stiffened the Indian establishment to stand firm in facing up to the Chinese aggression recently in the Daulet Beg Oldie sub-sector of Ladakh.

Sadly due to absence of “Lateral Analysis” of threat assessments, India went down tamely to Chinese political and military coercion and in an avoidable display of weakness by India.

Sadly due to absence of “Lateral Analysis” of threat assessments, India went down tamely to Chinese political and military coercion and in an avoidable display of weakness by India.

Also in play in India submitting to Chinese coercion was the regrettable trait in India’s political leadership of all political dispensations, and that is the obsessive mind-sets of “Risk Aversion’ when it comes to standing-up to Chinese military provocations. On national security matters the apex leadership seems to be ill-advised.

Consequently, India’s strategic stock globally and in Asian powers capitals has crashed. Contrast the responses of Japan to Chinese military provocations in the East China Sea. Contrast the responses of smaller countries like Vietnam and the Philippines to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

Strategic discourse in India since the April 15 2013 Chinese aggression into Indian Territory nearly 30 kilometres deep has been focused rather too narrowly in terms of China’s military aims pertaining to the India-China Occupied Tibet border dispute.

Receiving pointed attention in most strategic discourses is the “Draft Border Defence Cooperation Agreement” handed over by China to India on May 5 2005. Rightly perceived is that there were no reasons for a new Accord when a slew of Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreements exist signed from early 1990s to 2005.

Rightly divined by Indian strategic analysts is that the Chinese in projecting this new Accord had a devious military aim of “freezing” Indian Army’s on-going military build-up on the borders with China Occupied Tibet, having themselves completed a massive build-up and deployments of Chinese military and related infrastructure in the militarily subjugated Spiritual Kingdom of Tibet.

Freezing India’s military build-up on the borders through this Chinese stratagem would ensure India’s vulnerability to Chinese political and military coercion in border settlement negotiations that China may have in mind now.

Freezing India’s military build-up on the borders through this Chinese stratagem would ensure India’s vulnerability to Chinese political and military coercion in border settlement negotiations that China may have in mind now.

As usual the Indian establishment has not found it prudent to take India in confidence on Chinese motives for renewed aggression into Indian Territory. Some perfunctory response emerged that the latest Chinese aggression was a ‘stand-alone’ incident and was like acne on the fair complexion of good India-China relations!

Contextually, what needs more in-depth analysis is as to why China’s new generation leaders have significantly diverted from China’s till March 2013 stance that the Border Dispute was a “ Complex Issue left over by History” and would not offer quick solutions to the latest stance spelt out curiously at a briefing at the Indian Foreign Office that both countries need to “redouble their efforts to push forward formal framework negotiations for boundary settlement) so that we can reach at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution at an early date”.

NSG Plenary Meeting: Nothing Inspiring

July 11, 2013

On June 13-14, 2013, the plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a multi lateral export controls regime, took place in Prague. The plenary, which generally meets once a year, carries great significance. The venue of the meeting rotates among member countries called participants. However, in an extraordinary situation it may meet more than once. For example, in 2008, the NSG plenary meeting took place thrice for the India-specific amendment in the guidelines.

The plenary of the NSG decides changes in the NSG guidelines, annexes, and the procedural arrangement. It also decides the NSG policy on information exchange and transparency. Any technical group to be set up to assess the need for any change in guidelines or other important issues has to be approved in a plenary meeting. Outreach meeting, which has become a salient feature of the post-Cold War export controls regimes and activities, is also decided in the plenary.

On June 14 the NSG issued a ritual public statement. The plenary was expected to address some of the issues which are considered vital to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the regime. To meet developments in technology and threat perception, the plenary adopted 28 amendments to both the technology annexes of the guidelines. In fact this exercise was on since the 2010 plenary meet and with the 28 amendments of the 2013 plenary, the number of amendments has gone up to 54. Soon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will publish the amended guidelines.

The June 14 public statement noted: “The Plenary emphasized that the work of the Group continued to fulfill the aim of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons by promoting transparency and greater supplier responsibility in the transfer of items”. However, in this regard, it just mentioned challenges relating to North Korea and Iran. The Prague plenary seemingly skirted the major issue before it and did not also choose to put in the public domain. Foremost amongst the issues is the ongoing China-Pakistan nuclear collaboration, now a well known chronic weakness of the NSG. Furthermore, the public statement did not mention a single line about this collaboration.

The claim of the public statement that the NSG is committed to ‘promoting transparency and greater supplier responsibility’ does not look convincing. China was a known proliferator even before it joined the NPT or the NSG. Joining the NPT has only made China a greater NPT proliferator. Several writings have clearly highlighted that the global proliferation network had the involvement of several NPT members, including China. Strangely, when no one was sure of China’s future proliferation behaviour, efforts to project China as a responsible stakeholder of the non-proliferation system was undertaken by granting China the NSG membership in 2004.

China, of course, did not change its behavior and continued its proliferation activities. Admittedly, in media leaks in some dominant global powers, China’s proliferation involvement started disappearing. This deliberate virtual disappearance of China-led proliferation also seems to be part of the project of constructing China’s image as a responsible stakeholder of the non-proliferation system. However, testimonies of officials of these dominant countries keep underlining the involvement of China in proliferation activities. Interestingly, China has found clever means of covering its tracks. It is also considered the sponsor and guardian of the revival of Pakistan’s plutonium route to nuclear weapons, having secretly supplied uranium because Pakistani uranium mines are in the disturbed jihadi area.

India, China to Hold Air Force & Navy Exercises

By Zachary Keck
July 12, 2013

Amid more frequent military drills in the region, China and India have agreed to hold exercises between their air forces and navies for the first time.

According to Indian media outlets, India and China’s navies and air forces will hold joint exercises in the near future, although the specific date of the drills will be decided by military officials at a later date.

The exercises will be “elementary” in nature at first, with the expectation that larger drills would follow.

The drills would be the first between the navies and air forces of China and India. Starting in 2007, their armies began holding drills, the third edition of which has been scheduled for October in Chengdu in southwestern China.

The announcement comes after a series of diplomatic meetings between the two sides. In May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made India the destination for his first overseas trip since taking over his new position. Then, last week, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony became the first defense chief to visit China in seven years.

That being said, there has also been heightened tensions between China and India over the last year. Last year, Delhi took offense to China issuing visas that featured a map in which their disputed border region was included as part of China.

Then, in April of this year Chinese troops crossed over onto the Indian side of the border and set up camp for weeks about six miles inside India.

While that border incursion was ended when Indian and Chinese military leaders reached an agreement in early May, it was learned earlier this week that a second border incursion had occurred in June. In this incident, Chinese troops reportedly crossed the de facto border— referred to as the Line of Actual Control— and destroyed observation posts and cameras belonging to the Indian military.

A new camera supposedly appeared immediately prior to Antony’s visit to China.

More generally, India has been unnerved by the vast infrastructure improvements China has made to the regions surrounding the LoAC, fearing that these could allow Beijing to more quickly mobilize troops for attacks inside India.

In response, Delhi has sought to strengthen its position on the LoAC, including by deploying an additional 40,000 troops.

That being said, civilian leaders from both sides have been downplaying the tension over the border since Premier Li’s May visit to India.

“We need to improve border related mechanisms and make them more efficient,” Premier Li said at the time.

“Both Mr. [Manmohan] Singh and I believe there are far more interests than differences between our two sides. We need to confront issues with a broad mind, and tackle them in a mature way.”

Following Li’s visit, the two sides held another round of border talks aimed at resolving the dispute.

Both sides also expressed optimism about their ability to resolve the border row during Defense Minister Antony’s visit last week as well.

“There is real forward movement on the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA)" Antony’s said while in China over the weekend.

“On most of the provisions of the BDCA there is already real consensus. There are some more discussions needed on some of the areas. The discussions will continue and will arrive at a final conclusion within a reasonable time limit. There is really forward movement on that.”

Along with the joint naval and air exercises, India and China said their navies and air forces would enhance education exchanges particularly among young officers.

When expedience trumps expertise

Ramachandra Guha

Uttarakhand reiterates that our rulers have contemptuous disregard for the advice of the best scientists and would rather listen to contractors and builders to whom they are beholden for funds

In the early 1980s, while doing research on the environmental history of Uttarakhand, I sometimes visited the library of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun. Most of the journals in the library dealt with geology and earth sciences, but there were a few on conservation policy relevant to my work. One day, the librarian pointed to a man with glasses leafing though some journals. ‘ Valdiya Saheb ayé hain, Nainital sé ’, he said.

World-class geologist

The tone in the librarian’s voice conveyed respect, with a dash of local pride. Then in his early forties, K.S. Valdiya was already recognised as a world-class geologist. He grew up in rural Kumaon, in the border district of Pithoragarh, and studied in village schools before going on to Lucknow University, where he did his M.Sc. and PhD, the launching pad for a research career solid in substance and achievement. While the hills had produced many great lawyers, freedom fighters, soldiers, and poets, Professor Valdiya was then, and remains still, one of the few Uttarakhandis to have achieved distinction in the natural sciences. And while many ambitious Uttarakhandis have abandoned the hills in search of professional success, the geologist has remained closely connected to the region. He did much of his fieldwork in the interior Himalaya, and — at the height of his career — took up a job in Kumaun University in Nainital rather than in a more prestigious university elsewhere in India (see, for more details on his work and career, www.ksvaldiya.info).

Back in 1981, I was too timid to go up to speak to Professor Valdiya. But now that I am older, and we both live in Bangalore, I sought his views on the devastating tragedy in a region he knew so well both as resident and as scientist. I asked, did the government of his native State consult him while designing development projects in the Uttarakhand Himalaya, a notoriously fragile environment prone to earthquakes, landslides, cloud bursts, and floods? His answer was that no, it never had. In the 15 years since Uttarakhand was formed, the politicians and administrators who ran the State had not once sought the inputs of this expert on Himalayan geology, who happened also to be a native of the State. What made the neglect even more striking is that for nine of those 15 years, Professor Valdiya had been the President of the Governing Body of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, itself located in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand. The neglect continues — as the Director of the Wadia Institute informed me in response to an email query, the Uttarakhand government never consults them while framing their policies and programmes.

I wonder — which is better, not being consulted at all, or being consulted and then having your report rejected? Consider the case of Madhav Gadgil, who in some respects is the K.S. Valdiya of the Western Ghats. He was born on the crest of the Ghats, and has spent his life doing research on its human and natural communities. No one alive knows more about a hill range that is the peninsular version of the Himalaya, home to many great rivers, and to a fantastic reservoir of biodiversity, on whose careful and sensitive treatment depends the livelihood of millions of people.

In 2009, in a rare moment of sanity, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests commissioned Professor Gadgil to write a report on an appropriate strategy for the region. He took his job seriously, involving younger scientists at the forefront of cutting-edge research, and holding a series of public hearings. After much fieldwork and consultation, a fact-filled and carefully argued report was submitted to the Ministry. The contents of the report so angered the Minister that she refused even to meet a man recognised as one of the world’s great ecologists, a recipient of medals and honours from the world’s finest universities.

A key reason that State and national governments don’t consult qualified experts — or disregard their advice when it is offered to them — is expedience. K.S. Valdiya, for example, is known to be sceptical — on strictly scientific grounds — of the siting of large dams and construction projects in the Himalaya. Beholden as they often are to contractors and builders for funds, Ministers and MLAs would thus rather steer clear of such scientists. Or turn their back on them — which is what happened with the Gadgil report, whose call for protecting endangered landscapes stands in the way of the desire of politicians across parties to convert the ecologically fragile Western Ghats into a web of holiday homes, power plants, and the like.

IAS hegemony

A second reason for the lack of scientific input in public policy making is the hegemony of the Indian Administrative Service. Back in 1977, in a bid to break this stranglehold, the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, inducted several professionals as secretaries to government. Thus M.S. Swaminathan became the first scientist to be chosen as Agriculture Secretary, Manuel Menezes the first engineer to be appointed Secretary of Defence Production, Lovraj Kumar the first chemist to serve as Petroleum Secretary. These initiatives were welcome, if belated. The need now was to make them more widespread, so that other ministries could likewise be run by qualified experts rather than by generalists.

In 1980 Indira Gandhi returned to power. One of her first acts was to start a new Department of Environment, and hire a first-rate botanist (T.N. Khooshoo) as its Secretary. But slowly the IAS began to fight back. It reclaimed possession of the ministries it had lost control of. In recent years, while continuing to protect its turf, the IAS has expanded into new areas. It has close to total domination (at both Central and State levels) over such institutions as the Election Commission and the Information Commission, which are run by retired IAS officers, although their jobs can be done just as well by well trained (and public spirited) lawyers or social scientists.

A gesture of great import

Friday, 12 July 2013 

Muslims in north India have taken the lead in banning the slaughter of cows for food

A radical change seems to be sweeping the northern cow belt, serving to erode somewhat Muslims' isolation on the contentious issue of cow slaughter. Two parallel developments, in Haryana's Kheri Kalan and Uttar Pradesh's Mathura, testify to the minority community's growing receptiveness to the long-standing demand to thwart cattle trafficking and illegal slaughter. Mathura's Muslims resolved last month that they would not let cows be killed. An anti-cow slaughter convention was organised at Islamia Inter College, with rustling and butchering of cows being blamed on outsiders. This reflects a wider trend among Muslims to support a deeply emotive Hindu cause.

They are not alone in their sympathies. Some eunuchs at Kosi Kalan in Mathura district have pooled their resources, time and efforts to run a gaushala that harbours hundreds of cattle including buffaloes. The chief eunuch Sakhibai, a robust 80-year-old animal lover, set up the shelter about seven years ago. She is assisted by 15-20 eunuchs, kinnar, in raising funds. They tend the cattle, a few dogs, cats and exotic birds with love and care, having found a worthwhile purpose in life. The rewarding work of goseva has relieved the tedium of existence, hitherto restricted to extorting money from shopkeepers, traders and locals. The parched wasteland inhabited by people of their ilk is now sprinkled by the waters of devotion. They have graduated into Lord Krishna's sakhis, companions. A few Muslims also participate sincerely in this mission of cow protection.

Association with cattle, Brajbhumi's most beloved animals, thus sanctifies these lives. The Muslims involved in tending cows condemn incidents of cattle trafficking and slaughter. It is a repugnant prospect. The process of Hinduisation is evident in their disclaimers about eating any kind of non-vegetarian food. Thekinnar too recoil from the thought. They are happy to subsist on cow milk, ghee and vegetables. It is the soil of Brajbhumi clearly that has inculcated such attitudes. Sakhibai, the kinnar leader, sells cow milk to augment income. There is none of the criminalisation that in the popular view has sullied kinnars' image.

Cutting across to Kheri Kalan in Faridabad mandal, the edifying spectacle of a large number of Muslims helping run a goshala vindicates the founder's vision. Managing trustee NP Thareja, Human Care Charitable Trust, took the remarkable initiative to try and stop cattle smuggling in an area, notorious for the illicit trade in stolen cattle. Nearby Mewat is a hub of such smuggling. Mooting a plan to reverse old attitudes and opening up an income avenue for wretchedly poor Muslims, whom politicians remember only before elections, he raised funds to build a concrete abode for a large joint family on their plot of land; constructed agoshala, whose milk is sold; and showered further largesse by adding a free primary school for over 500 village children.

The work that the local authorities should have undertaken was accomplished through individual initiative. A people, long accustomed to eking out a frugal living through hard manual labour, now found themselves tending cattle and new-born calves, and learning the nitty-gritty of running a goshala. They sold surplus milk and started preparing ghee. Their nascent regard for bovine bred animosity towards the phenomenon of cattle smuggling.

Though the predominantly Muslim butchers' lobby has bolstered the impression that rampant cattle smuggling and illicit slaughter is the handiwork of this community, Muslims are not invariably hostile to Hindu concerns. The Arab Mohammad bin Qasim in the 8th century AD issued an edict that banned cow slaughter in Sindh and Multan. The Mughals, even the zealot Aurangzeb, made some efforts to ban cow slaughter. In his Indian History, Part II, Wheeler quoted the late 13th century Venetian Marco Polo's Testimony, “In the entire country spreading from Cape Camorin to the Koromandal coast in the east...and from there the entire area up to the Bay of Bengal...no one except the Parihars (pariahs) ate beef or meat. All these people worship cows and bullocks. They do not slaughter any animal. Hence, if any traveller wishes to eat flesh of goats, he has to carry with him as servant a Syrian for doing the job of a butcher.”

The British began butchering of cattle for beef, bones and leather on a large scale. Livestock began to be diverted from farming and domestic purposes to slaughter houses. Robert Clive was instrumental in setting up the first abattoir in Calcutta in 1760. Wanton disregard for prevalent taboos triggered the sepoy rebellion in May 1857, with Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the Company's forces rising up against their superiors for compelling them to bite cartridges, rumoured to be greased with pig and cow fat. The cow belt in the north was the principal scene of the violent reprisal against White traders.

It is the cow belt again that seems to be heralding a change among Muslims, in their attitude to bovine, considered sacred by Hindus.

The costs of no food security

Fri Jul 12 2013

India is at the point where a low income democracy cannot afford to ignore the hungry

Is India's food security ordinance supportable? The debate has been vigorous. It will help to separate the questions of process from those of principle.

Whether an ambitious scheme of this magnitude should have been brought in as an executive ordinance or as a new law after parliamentary debate, is basically a procedural question. It is not unimportant, but it does not tell us whether food security is inherently desirable in India. Once we have probed desirability, it would make sense to ask whether food security is affordable, even if desirable. There is also the question of whether the Indian state has the capacity to implement an ambitious welfare programme. Lumping all of these issues together — process, desirability, affordability, implementability — muddies analytical waters.

But one might begin with a different issue altogether. It has been vociferously argued that the government has promulgated the food security ordinance to enhance its electoral prospects. It is unclear why that is an unworthy impulse. Democratic politics cannot easily be envisioned without the idea of winning power. Power is embraced in democratic politics, not shunned. Even a dying government thinks of rebirth. One's liking for or dislike of UPA 2 should be separated from one's judgement of food security. Few who were opposed to the NDA objected to Vajpayee's peace moves towards Pakistan or his road-building projects. The key analytical issue is whether good ideas are being married to the pursuit of power.

Moreover, the debate over legislative versus executive paths to welfare programmes seems rather misdirected, especially if Parliament does not fully function. Even otherwise, an ordinance will cease to exist if it does not receive parliamentary approval. Food security without legislative endorsement will be stillborn.

The biggest issue is this: can a democracy avoid being a welfare state for long? No modern democracy relies entirely on the market forces to care for the needy; it allocates public resources for them. European democracies first developed this principle. But even in the US, the most market-driven economy in the world, the government has welfare programmes for the poor, the hungry, the old, the handicapped, the indigent.

Why can't mass welfare be left entirely to the markets? Debated for decades in the field of political economy, this question has a well-known answer. A built-in paradox marks the functioning of markets. To stifle markets is to impair the long-term enhancement in human welfare, but to believe that markets alone can take care of all is to embrace an illusion. Markets are necessary for mass welfare, but not sufficient.

Further, there is also a built-in tension between markets and democracy. Markets don't work on a one-person-one-vote principle, as democracies do. What one can get out of the marketplace depends on one's endowments, skills, purchasing power and the forces of demand and supply. Markets reward individual initiative and skill, and may also lift many from the bottom rungs of society, but some people never get the opportunity to develop skills that markets demand: they are simply too poor, too handicapped, too sick. Or, skill formation takes too long, while life, if poor, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, remains nasty and brutish in the short to medium run. By creating jobs, markets may be able to help even unskilled people, but capitalism has always witnessed bursts of unemployment, open or disguised. The prevalence of unemployment punctures the idea that a rising tide will lift all boats. Markets lift many boats, but not all. Government programmes (or philanthropic interventions) are needed for those left behind, some for no fault of theirs.

If this is true of richer economies, what of societies like India? India's contemporary economic structure has three pillars. India has the fifth largest concentration of listed dollar billionaires (after the US, Russia, China and Germany); the third largest middle class (after China and the US); the single largest concentration of the poor. The first two pillars are the principal drivers of economic growth. But the third pillar, not an economic driver, is a significant driver of politics. The bottom third of India does not get enough calories per day. (Extreme poverty is defined in caloric terms, not in terms of the quality of nourishment.) Being underfed, the bottom third is also routinely sick. The hungry and the sick can't be productive workers, even if they want to. Markets can't help them all that much. The poor, if fed or nourished better, also do better in the marketplace. They lift themselves and contribute to society. This is, in part, the argument of Amartya Sen, considered the intellectual father of India's food security push. He is right.

Returning to voting, the drivers of Indian politics are, of course, larger than the bottom third. The first two categories, the supremely rich and the middle class, constitute a third of India. The extremely poor constitute another third, and a fourth of the population is not too far above the line. The last two groups, thus, add up to about 60 per cent of the electorate. These two groups are the targets of food security. Unlike the first four decades of Indian democracy, these groups now vote more than the middle class does. India's democracy, as a result, is acquiring a plebeian thrust.

Taliban talks: A dangerous distraction for Afghanistan

By Ioannis Koskinas
July 10, 2013 

Good intentions and clear political willingness to commit significant resources has meant that, waste and inefficiencies aside, the U.S. has been able to muster military and financial support for the war in Afghanistan from nearly 50 nations. Recently, however, Afghan and Coalition allies, along with other influential regional power brokers such as India, are starting to publicly question U.S. policy in Afghanistan, particularly the decision to engage with and support the Taliban in opening a political office in Qatar.

For reasons discussed below, the dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S. should continue, quietly and with limited objectives. But public, ill-choreographed, overly ambitious, and unrealistic attempts at reconciliation will continue to make the Doha peace process a dangerous and distracting sideshow that will take hurt rather than support U.S. foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan. 

For some time, the U.S. has been coordinating with other stakeholders to jump start reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Less than a month ago, that effort culminated in a rather embarrassing press conference for the opening -- according to the Taliban banner in the background -- of the political office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Afghan officials and many other governments, including the U.S., reacted harshly to what appeared to have been a serious miscalculation of the Taliban's intentions. 

To be fair, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly admitted that "the United States is very realistic about the difficulties in Afghanistan," and acknowledged that a final settlement "may be long in coming," emphasizing that if the new Taliban office in Qatar proved unproductive, he would push for its closure. Similarly, the new Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador James Dobbins, reiterated support for the Afghan-led reconciliation, admitting that the Taliban's consequential press conference "may have been a combination of misunderstanding and a desire for a certain propaganda victory, which I think turned out to be - from their standpoint - disappointing." Placing such emphasis on reconciliation in the first place, however, was neither appropriate nor useful in achieving U.S. national objectives in Afghanistan and the region. 

In fact, the disastrous grand opening of the Taliban office represents the first time that the U.S. has yielded political initiative to the Taliban - even if fleetingly. Or as Brookings Institute's Bruce Riedel puts it, "instead of being treated as insurgents or terrorists, the Taliban got the symbols of statehood."

Furthermore, it has brought the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) negotiations to a halt. No matter how well intentioned the U.S. administration was in its avid support of Afghan-led reconciliation efforts, its attempt to take such an active role in the process has backfired. Many worry, however that President Karzai's emotional overreaction to the Taliban office will damage U.S.-Afghan relations even more than the U.S. attempts to restart the talks. This is particularly concerning given the July 9 report that President Obama is keeping the "zero option" -- removing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 -- on the table.

Beyond the immediate negative impact, however, hurrying reconciliation or looking for quick fixes also increases the risk of potentially calamitous outcomes. For example, continuing to support public engagement with the Taliban - who are in full ‘summer offensive' swing - while there is no national consensus for reconciliation, may lead to a spiral of violence and a fragmentation of the Afghan polity along ethnic, anti-Taliban, and fundamentalist lines. From there, it is not too far-fetched to imagine a return of al-Qai'da to an ungoverned and insecure environment.

Equally dangerous, in the near term, is that the uncertainty is also encouraging former mujahedeen commanders to consider rearming fighters to guard against their sense of abandonment by the U.S. These warlords, some of whom are still in the Afghan government, find it incredibly difficult to understand how the Americans, having sacrificed so much fighting the Taliban, are now bringing the insurgent group in from the cold. 

Also of concern is that many Afghans believe that the so-called Taliban representatives in Doha owe their allegiance and loyalty more to Pakistan than the senior Afghan Taliban leadership; thus, arguably, giving no guarantee that negotiations in Doha will have any positive impact in Afghanistan at all in terms of reduced violence. Expectations in Kabul are that even if negotiations in Doha are wildly successful, rank and file Taliban in the field will not adhere to deals made there. Furthermore, no matter how much some have tried to convince the Western audience that digging ditches on a development project for $15 a day will convert the "$10 a day Taliban" to the side of the Afghan government, the fighters are not just in it just for the money. 

Talking to the Taliban


The Taliban masquerades as a government in waiting even as the U.S. is more than willing to enter into a negotiated settlement with the very force it helped to depose. 

DURING his visit to New Delhi in late June, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had to bend over backwards to persuade his hosts that their interests in Afghanistan would not be sacrificed, even as the American forces were trying to beat an orderly retreat from the country. The Indian government, otherwise described as a key strategic partner of the United States, was not kept in the loop when the Barack Obama administration suddenly decided to open formal talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, on June 22. For the past 12 years, the Taliban was the avowed enemy of the U.S. Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, was invaded to get rid of the government run by the Taliban, and more than a hundred thousand Afghans have been killed in the past decade. Now it is back to square one: the Taliban masquerades as the government in waiting even as the U.S. is more than willing to enter into a negotiated settlement with the very force it brutally helped to depose.

The Obama administration seeks to distinguish between the “good Taliban” and the “bad Taliban”. The bad Taliban, for the time being for Washington, is the Pakistan-based Taliban. For that matter, the Obama administration is willing to do business with sections of Al Qaeda, such as Al Nusra in Syria and Iraq, in their fight against the governments there. With the Obama administration’s formal decision to supply sophisticated arms to the Syrian rebel groups dominated by Al Nusra, the U.S. is now openly siding with the Sunni regimes in the sectarian divide that it has helped create. The U.S. State Department has belatedly put Al Nusra on the list of terrorist organisations, but it is still the group doing most of the fighting inside Syria. And the Taliban is essentially a Sunni fundamentalist grouping representing a significant section of Afghanistan’s population.

During his trip to New Delhi, his first after assuming his new post, Kerry praised India’s contribution to the Afghanistan reconstruction programme and efforts aimed at achieving political stability in the war-torn country. India has provided more than $2 billion to Afghanistan so far. In 2011, the two countries signed a defence agreement which said India would train and equip Afghan security forces. If there is no negotiated settlement with a resurgent Taliban very soon, Afghanistan may once again be enveloped in a full-scale civil war after the U.S. military leaves.

The deadline for the U.S. troops departure is 2014, but it may not signal a definitive end to the occupation. President Hamid Karzai revealed recently that the U.S. wanted to hold on to nine of its military bases in the country after 2014. Karzai himself has requested for some of the U.S. troops to stay behind to train the Afghan army. The government in Kabul has agreed in principle to allow some U.S. military presence after 2104 in exchange for economic and military aid.

The U.S. Secretary of State assured India that its interests would not be jeopardised by the latest developments. But, for all practical purposes, the Doha talks symbolise the failure of the U.S. occupation and the political model that was sought to be imposed. Neighbouring countries such as Pakistan are once again bound to play a decisive role in Afghanistan’s affairs. The Indian side noticed that Kerry, unlike his predecessor Hillary Clinton, was very circumspect in talking about Pakistan during his visit. He refused to make any adverse comments about Islamabad’s alleged involvement in terror activities in the region. In fact, senior U.S. officials have in recent months praised Pakistan’s key role in facilitating talks with Taliban leaders, many of whom are said to be based in the country.

The priority of the Americans is to ensure an orderly withdrawal of their troops and equipment from Afghanistan. Most of the equipment will have to be transported through Pakistani territory. The Obama administration has even offered Pakistan the first choice of the surplus military equipment. U.S. media reports suggest that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment played a crucial role in convincing the Taliban leadership to enter into talks with the U.S.

Washington is no longer accusing Islamabad of providing “safe houses” for the top Taliban leadership but is instead lavishing praise on its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis. Pakistani officials say that peace in Afghanistan will be a stabilising factor for the region. Pakistan has faced the brunt of the fallout of the war in Afghanistan, with the local Taliban becoming a potent force and taking on the Pakistan Army in the tribal areas. The drone attacks launched by the U.S. military against Taliban and Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan have become an emotive issue with the Pakistani public.