14 July 2013

Circa 2014: India Battles for Survival ***

July 12, 2013

Ravi Shanker Kapoor 

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s rule in the last nine years will be remembered for the rampant corruption it spawned, the perversity it showed in hurting the economy, and the monumental incompetence that became the regime’s hallmark. Against this backdrop, one is tempted to pin one’s hopes on 2014 when the general elections are due (or before that, which is possible). A close look at the situation will reveal that a fundamental change in the situation is unlikely, even if the inglorious rule of the UPA ends. For, the root cause of economic slowdown and political atrophy—the resurgence of doctrinaire Leftists—is unlikely to disappear in the foreseeable future. At any rate, the disappearance, or even diminished severity of the root cause, will not happen on its own.

Resurgence of the Left

At the heart of the problems related to the economy, polity, national security, and diplomacy is the comeback of ideologically hardened Leftists since the UPA came to power in 2004. By Leftists, I refer to not just the constituents of the Left Front but also the Left-leaning intellectuals and academics. The resurgence should be viewed in the proper historical setting.

The tumultuous events of the late 1980s and the early 1990s had left the Indian communists and their fellow travelers ideologically shattered and psychologically battered. The fall of the Berlin Wall and later of the Soviet Union, unraveling of Moscow’s client states in the Eastern Bloc, China’s embrace of capitalism in all but name—these events disoriented pinkish intellectuals. They could not pose a big challenge to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao when he opened up the economy in 1991 and did away with some of the worst features of Nehruvian socialism. Not that they did not try, but they were too demoralized and badly discredited in the public eye to check the economic reforms Rao authored.

The reforms continued unabated even after Rao demitted office in 1996. Later regimes continued with liberalization; this was despite the fact that the Communist Party of India was part of two governments during 1996-98. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which ruled for six years (1998-2004), carried forward the reforms agenda, notwithstanding its Swadeshi rhetoric.

Economic reforms brought unprecedented prosperity, and it was not confined to the rich and middle class; according to official data, the percentage of people below poverty line came down from 36 to 26 between 1993-94 and 1999-2000 (Of course, these and other figures of poverty reduction are religiously challenged by Leftwing experts, but then these experts are often wrong, though never in doubt, as we shall see).

Doomsday projections belied

All the Leftist predictions about the ill-effects of economic reforms proved to be wrong. They said that Indian companies will be crushed or eaten up by multinational corporations (MNCs); actually many domestic corporations themselves became MNCs. Professional revolutionaries said that ‘cut-throat competition’ will spell doom for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); but the MSME sector grew very fast after liberalization; its growth rate was usually more than the index of industrial production. It was claimed that the rich would become richer and the poor, poorer; the rich did become richer but the poor also gained from all-around growth and development. The Left’s apocalyptic assertions and weird theories consistently proved to be wrong, but there was no let-up in the creation of outlandishness.

The Left’s tenacity was matched only by the complacency of Big Business and the political class. In the early 2000s, it was frequently said at business conferences and other public forums that ‘reforms have become irreversible.’ The rants of the Left were tolerated as the fulminations of outdated radicals.

Many relics of the past, like public sector undertakings (PSUs) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), were viewed as dinosaurs that would slowly but surely become extinct. Administration, the law and order situation, judicial processes, police functioning, national security, etc. were expected to improve gradually. Or so the productive sections of society, the middle class, and the responsible politicians thought.

Lutyen’s Delhi as Jurassic Park

But 2004 witnessed Lutyen’s Delhi transform into Jurassic Park, with red and pink tyrannosauruses trampling economic reforms, creating mechanisms to strangulate business, devising ways to augment public (read wasteful) expenditure, weakening fight against Maoist and jihadist terror, and playing havoc with diplomacy. Owing to the 13 years of reforms, however, the economy had acquired certain resilience which not only withstood the depredations of the communists (who supported the UPA regime from outside during 2004-08) and the National Advisory Council (NAC) but grew at a fast pace for the first four years. It needs to be mentioned that the NAC, headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, comprises professional radicals, green lobbyists, bleeding hearts, and some downright Luddites. What makes them really dangerous is the fact that they are Sonia’s handpicked advisers to shape public policy; and she is the de facto ruler of India.

Most of the time during UPA I, the communists and NAC fanatics planted landmines in the economy. Over the years, many have tripped on the landmines. The proposed food security legislation is one such landmine that, if the Bill is cleared by Parliament in its present form, would play havoc with the economy in the next few years.

But, instead of confronting the anti-business statists, many industrialists, politicians, and liberalizers have been pleading with Leftwing intellectuals to accept, or at least not oppose, economic reforms since 1991. Capitalism—or, at any rate, some aspects of it—can be beneficial for all sections of society, including workers and peasants. This is the sum and substance of the message of the Swaminathan Aiyars and the Gurcharan Dases to their “Leftist friends.” The latter, however, disdainfully rebuff such entreaties. The liberalizer proposes, the Leftist intellectual disposes.

More than meets the Eye

The dastardly attack on the Maha Bodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya on 7 July 2013 points to the rapid growth and spread of terror modules in India, which has serious ramifications for the nation’s security. The sound of explosives that shattered the early morning calm fortuitously caused only minor damage to the temple complex and there was no loss of life, though two people sustained injuries and were hospitalised. This however, does not detract from the seriousness of the matter. Of the thirteen improvised explosive devices planted in the temple complex, each with 4 kg of explosives, ten exploded and the bomb squad later defused three. This indicates sophisticated levels of planning and coordination, and suggests the attack to be the handiwork of a highly trained, motivated and equipped terrorist organisation.

But perhaps there is something more sinister in the overall pattern of violence enveloping the country. Since the beginning of this year, Maoist violence has resurfaced with a number of high profile attacks in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. That the Maoist has the capacity and will to strike at specific targets is well known. But the targets chosen point to more ominous designs. On 7 January 2013, Maoists ambushed a police party on combing operations and killed ten policemen in the Karmatiya Forest of Latehar District in Jharkhand. After the dip in Maoist violence over the preceding two years, many in the security establishment had come to believe that the Maoist movement was on a down swing. That was a misreading of the situation, as the movement is simply in a state of strategic stalemate. The Maoists had overstretched in the last few years and the heavy toll taken of their leadership was the cause of a lower terrorist footprint. The Latehar attack should hence havebeen a wakeup call for the police forces across the country. A month later, on 22 February 2013, the Maoists triggered a landmine blast in Majhauliya village in Gaya district of Bihar, killing eight people in the first landmine blast of the year. Then on 25 May 2013, the Maoists wiped out in one fell stroke, the top leadership of the opposition Congress Party in Chhattisgarh in a well-planned ambush between Sukma and Jagdalpur in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh. A month later, in June, Maoists attacked a train by day in Bihar and more recently, on 02 July, a Superintendent of Police was deliberately targeted and killed in the Dumka district of Jharkhand. Maoist violence has already claimed about 250 lives in the first half of this year, a sharp increase from the corresponding figure for last year. But the more sinister aspect is that targets are now being chosen for maximum impact in the media domain. The violence perpetrated by the Maoist, when seen in conjunction with increasing violence levels in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Northeast India points to the possibility of a cohesive strategy being orchestrated and played out by forces inimical to India.

The violence in Kokrajhar, in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District in July 2012, which subsequently assumed communal overtones, had a spin off effect in major Indian cities where radical Muslim groups targeted people from Northeast India, forcing thousands to flee from cities such as Pune and Bangalore. The social media was a catalyst in spreading hate and fear. Ethnic violence in neighbouring Myanmar, between the local Buddhist population and the Bengali speaking Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province also contributed to the above retaliatory attacks. Anti-Muslim violence again flared up in Myanmar in March this year in Meiktila, and quickly spread to other parts of Myanmar, exposing deep ethnic and religious tensions. The clashes suggest that radical strains of Buddhism may be spreading; all too often, the police and security officials are perceived to be either unable to prevent attacks or believed to be complicit in them. What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society against Rohingya Muslims has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is ominously spreading through regular sermons by monks across the country that draws thousands of people. A common refrain heard is “If we are weak,our land will become Muslim.” This appears to be an overstatement, as Muslims comprise just about four per cent of the population. However, many in Myanmar see Buddhism under siege by Muslims who are having more children than Buddhists and buying up Buddhist-owned land.

In this context, to draw linkages between the attack on the Maha Bodhi Temple in Gaya in retaliation to the attacks on Muslims in Myanmar is certainly in order. But the larger implication is that a network appears to have been established between radical groups operating in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan to target India in retaliation for the communal violence in Myanmar. The ISI has not been a silent observer in the affairs of Myanmar and has consistently tried to radicalise elements among Myanmar’s Muslim population. This, allied with increased funding from some of the Arab countries, has led to increased levels of distrust between the majority Buddhists and the minority Muslims. The spill over of this conflict into India is however not accidental but deliberately instigated. Thousands of Muslims have died in sectarian and ethnic clashes in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in many parts of Africa, but that has never caused anguish to India’s Muslims, to the extent that they take to arms. Why then is this anger against the Myanmarese being taken out in Indian cities? There appears to be more than what meets the eye.

The New Silk Route: Linking J&K and Central Asia

D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS 

Rising Kashmir recently reported the Chief Minister of J&K addressing a conference in Kashmir University speaking on linking J&K and Central Asia. He was also quoted referring to Silk Route 2.0 as a part of this strategy to link Kashmir with Central Asia.

Earlier in this column, a series of commentaries were put forward on the Silk Route. In the last few years, there has been an emphasis on a “New Silk Route,” as a new strategy involving the Central Asian republics and Afghanistan. Can Kashmir get linked with this renewed effort? And how?

True, as the Chief Minister himself has underlined that J&K will be the closest to Central Asia in geographical and spiritual terms. But, will that alone be sufficient to get connected with Central Asia and have a meaningful bridge between Srinagar and the Central Asian republics? If geographical and cultural factors are to influence, than Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka should be totally linked with the Indian mainland!

True, there is a renewed push and the revival of Silk Route. But, from a Kashmiri and larger Indian perspectives, one should understand what this “New Silk Route” initiative is, and who is behind this and for what reasons. The Chinese are the first one to make substantial investment – economically and intellectually to rework the idea of Silk Route during the last two decades. Today, the Chinese see the erstwhile Silk Route as a strategy to link Central Asia, West Asia and Africa, with a series of gas pipelines, road and rail networks. The primary objective is to tap the energy resources in these three regions and take it all the way across the Tarim Basin and Taklamakan desert into the mainland, all the way up to Shanghai and the other industrial regions in South eastern China. As a part of the above strategy, the Chinese also build rail network linking China with Europe!

The next major initiative is what is being projected as the “New Silk Route.” While the intellectual stimulus and operational ideas have come from the US, the strategy is to link Afghanistan with Central Asia, and perhaps with the rest of South Asia. The primary objective of the US here is strategic, in terms of linking Afghanistan with two neighbouring regions – Central Asia and South Asia, so that post-2014, there is enough positive inputs from the neighbours of Afghanistan to ensure Kabul is stable. The American pressure on the conclusion of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline should be seen as a part of this initiative.

Thus the two major initiatives from China and the US, run on parallel paths – the first one on an economic and energy East-West axis, linking China with Central Asia, West Asia and Africa, and the second one primarily in a strategic and semi-economic North-South axis linking Afghanistan with Central Asia and South Asia.

At the national level, India is neither a part of the East-West axis led by China nor the North-South axis led by the US. Though New Delhi would be interested in finalising the TAPI gas pipe line project, it scuttled the chances by rejecting the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, due to the American pressure. While Pakistan was willing to work with India on both the projects – TAPI and IPI, New Delhi’s rejection of the IPI, has upset the economic calculations of Islamabad. Pakistan was hoping to get a substantial royalty for allowing the pipelines to go through. Thanks to the American obsession with Iran, India had to yield to the pressure from Washington.

However, New Delhi is building its own network – linking the coastal Iran from the port of Chah Bahar with Mumbai on the one side, and through Afghanistan into Central Asia on the northern side. India’s strategy of the New Silk Route is thus a land-cum-maritime route, linking Mumbai with Central Asia, and perhaps even Russia via Iran and Afghanistan. The primary objective is economic and strategic, as could be seen from the huge investment India is making in Afghanistan.

From the above narrative, it should be clear, that though there is an initiative to revive the Silk Route, by three different parties – China, US and India (primarily the first two), the objectives and end game are different. Neither Silk, nor Yak tails are going to be traded in this route now. Certainly, not on mules with few merchants, travelling for months together. It may not be an exaggeration, if one has to use “revolution” as a phrase to depict what is happening to the Silk Route in revisioning it at the international level.

Thinking purely in terms of culture, religion or geography as factors of linkage with Central Asia may not yield the desired results. It is here, we need to do our homework in Kashmir, in terms of how to revive the Silk Route and ensure that there is something substantial for J&K. In this context, we will have to make an intellectual investment in revisioning the Silk Route from a J&K perspective; scholars and institutions working on the subject have to take into account what is happening now in the entire region – China, Central Asia, Afghanistan and West Asia, and what are likely to be the future trajectories.

J&K fortunately is endowed with institutions and individuals, who can make tremendous intellectual contribution by innovating thinking and suggestions, keeping history and culture in the background, but also making new projections. But the initiative will have to come from J&K; unlike the rest of India, there is a repository of knowledge in the institutions and even in public memory in J&K. There are few institutions in India that could boast of a Central Asian studies outside the Kashmir University in Srinagar, and the JNU in New Delhi. Remember, there is a Central Asian museum in Kargil, run by private individuals! No doubt, we have a rich history.

The elusive smoothness of the silk route ***

S. Jaishankar

NO GREAT WALL: There are significant common points between the two economies that can be harnessed. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Though bilateral trade between India and China has grown impressively, imbalance and restricted market access are among the roadblocks to achieving its full potential

India and China have a long history of economic collaboration, probably the oldest among nations today. In the contemporary era, however, that relationship is more recent and much thinner. One of the consequences of the border conflict in 1962 was to bring our economic interactions to a standstill, and it is only in the last 25 years that normalcy returned. We have sought to make up for lost time as part of the rebuilding of our ties. Trade volumes have grown steadily, as have different facets of economic interaction. New mechanisms and agreements have emerged which facilitate that process. The most favoured nation agreement of 1984, border trade agreements of 1991 and 2003, avoidance of a double taxation agreement of 1994, customs cooperation agreement of 2005 and the bilateral investment protection agreement of 2006 together provide us the framework to do so.

Four issues

Far from being complacent about the state of our economic cooperation, we are today confronted with serious concerns on this front. There are four big issues that we are facing. The first pertains to the trade imbalance and challenges of market access. The second relates to economic complementarities and how they could be exploited. The third centres on investment possibilities and perceived impediments. The fourth is to reconcile the characteristics of two very different systems so that we can find common ground.

Bilateral India-China trade has certainly grown very impressively in the last decade. In 1995, trade turnover was only $1.16 billion. Even as late as 2003, it stood at $7.6 billion. Thereafter, it took off, peaking at $73.9 billion in 2011. We have hopes of crossing the $100 billion mark by 2015 although recent trends are not encouraging. A combination of a global slowdown and sectoral challenges has brought trade down to $66.6 billion in 2012. Figures up to May 2013 point to a further 26 per cent decrease in India’s exports, mainly in iron ore, copper and cotton. More than the uncertain turnover volume, there are two key issues that today drive our discussions: the large trade imbalance with the prospect of India’s deficit aggravating even further, and second, the composition of the two trade baskets, with India importing machinery and manufactured goods from China while only exporting commodities in return.

These issues have a common root in the growing perception in India that our trade balance, instead of reflecting the competitiveness of our national industries, is actually the outcome of restricted market access. Let me amplify: if we are to pick two sectors where India is regarded by the rest of the world as competitive, this would undoubtedly be pharmaceuticals and IT services. In China, however, neither has made a significant impact. In the case of pharmaceuticals, Chinese product approval timelines that used to be 3-4 years have now been further extended. Limitations on generic versions of innovator drugs make hospital listing harder. Bio-equivalence studies for oral drugs and clinical testing for injectables have to be repeated in China. Such regulatory impediments make Indian pharmaceutical exports to China very difficult.

IT services

In the IT services sector, our companies can participate in system integration projects only if they have SI certificates and the requisite security clearance, neither of which are readily forthcoming. IT-BPO companies are hobbled by withholding tax that impact negatively on an industry reliant on inter-company billing. There also seems a reluctance to use Indian IT services in third country markets. The situation is no less encouraging for engineering goods, where India does have niche strengths. Those who question if we are competitive in China should note how local procurement conditions have affected, for example, the import of gasifiers from India. Sectors like auto components face hurdles of closed procurement loops. Our agro-product negotiations are perhaps symbolic of the state of commerce. After more than a decade of negotiations, only three out of 17 items on the table have cleared the phytosanitary barrier. The contrast with the situation in India, where Chinese products enjoy relatively unrestricted access, cannot be sharper.


We recognise that trade is driven by self-interest and China would expand its import basket only if it is advantageous to do so. In our view, there are significant complementarities between the two economies that bear better exploitation in mutual interest. Pharmaceuticals itself is the notable example as China’s medicine costs are significantly higher than India and are becoming a serious budgetary strain as its health coverage expands. IT services from India are similarly a value waiting to be realised in a country aggressively promoting urban services and whose companies are now going out in the world without their own IT support.

First test-launch of BrahMos missile from Indian Su-30MKI in 2014

July 11, 2013 Elena Krovvidi

Two jets are being refitted for the missile launch next year, BrahMos officials said at the 6th International Maritime Defence Show in St. Petersburg.

The air-based BrahMos missile will be different from the other versions because the very platform of the Su-30MKI works on the supersonic speed. Source: Sukhoi.org

The first test-launch of the BrahMos cruise missile from an Indian Su-30MKI will be scheduled in 2014, a senior company executive said at the 6th International Maritime Defence Show in St. Petersburg on Sunday, July 7.

BrahMos Aerospace Executive Director from Russia Alexander Maksichev told reporters that the test-launch would take place next year. Two Su-30 MKI fighter jets are being refitted for the missile and simultaneously the missile is being adapted for the jet, he added. 

BrahMos Aerospace head Sivathanu Pillai said that the planes were upgraded to some extent in order to be able to place a new missile under the hull and to integrate it with the fire control system. The fighter jets’ wings were also amplified, he said. 

The air-based BrahMos missile will be different from the other versions because the very platform of the Su-30MKI works on the supersonic speed so it’s no longer necessary to accelerate the missile to the same speed.

“An engine of lesser weight and a modernised nose cone will give the missile the necessary speed, and an additional stabiliser will provide the stability during the flight,” Pillai said.

BrahMos is an acronym of the two rivers: Brahmaputra in India and Moskva in Russia.

The missile has a flight range of up to 290 kilometres and is capable of carrying a conventional warhead of 300 kilograms. The missile can cruise at a maximum speed of 2.8 Mach.

Beside the latest developments on the BrahMos project, the exhibition focused the “Alexander Nevsky,” a strategically important nuclear-power guided-missile submarine cruiser which will be handed over to the Russian Navy on November 15.

The Sevmash ship-building plant in the city of Severodvinsk is actively engaged in construction of seven multipurpose nuclear submarines of the ‘Yasen’ category. All seven submarines will be handed to the Russian Navy by 2020. 

The first floating nuclear power station in the world

Russia resumed its project of building the ‘Akademic Lomonosov’ floating nuclear power station at the Baltiisky plant in Saint-Petersburg.

“We have a four-year contract, we are to submit it in September in 2016,” Alexander Voznesensky, General Director of the company said. “There was no work for almost two years. And now there is a period of adaptation: we are buying the equipment, the materials. We are installing the equipment, and soon we will start setting the power units.”

According to Voznesensky, the plant is also building a 60 MW nuclear ice-breaker (project 22220) and a 25 MW diesel-electric ice-breaker named Viktor Chernomyrdin.

457 companies from 31 countries took part in the maritime defence show.

NO LACK OF WARNING- Something horribly wrong in the Himalaya


In the 1940s, Mahatma Gandhi’s English disciple, Mira Behn, set up an ashramin the Uttarakhand Himalaya. Travelling in the hills, she was dismayed by the forest department’s efforts to convert forests of the banj oak into monocultures ofchir pine. This was done for strictly commercial reasons, chir being much in demand as a source of industrial timber and resin. But it discriminated against the local peasants, for whom banj was a valuable source of fuelwood and fodder.

In an essay of 1952, with the telling title, “Something wrong in the Himalaya”, Mira Behn warned that the replacement of chir with banj was socially unjust as well as ecologically unwise. For oak forests had a lush undergrowth of fallen leaves, which absorbed the waters of the monsoon, creating the “beautiful sweet and cool springs” that were the chief source of drinking water for the villages. Chirforests, on the other hand, had bare slopes with just a handful of pine needles on them. Where pine trees dominated, the waters rushed down the slopes, carrying away soil and debris, and leading to floods.

Mira Behn urged that the forest department change its policy, and promote oak instead of pine. “The Banj forests,” she wrote, “are the very centres of nature’s economic cycle on the southern slopes of the Himalaya. To destroy them is to cut out the heart and thus bring death to the whole structure.”

The Gandhian’s warnings were disregarded. The forest department not only did not promote banj, it now initiated an aggressive programme of clear-felling of pine forests. Between 1950 and 1970, the supply of chirwood from the hill forests to factories in the plains increased from an estimated 87,000 to 200,000 cubic metres annually.

In 1970, the Alakananda valley witnessed the most serious flood in living memory. This inundated some 100 square kilometres of land, washed away bridges and roads, destroyed homes and standing crops. The impact was severe enough to be felt in the plains — for, due to the blockage of the Ganga canal, some 9.5 million acres of land in eastern Uttar Pradesh went unirrigated.

The villagers who bore the brunt of the floods of 1970 noticed that the major landslides happened in areas where forests had been clear-cut. As the Gandhian social worker, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, wrote, the peasantry came to recognize “the causal relationship between increasing erosivity and floods on the one hand, and mass scale felling of trees on the other”. Drawing on this folk understanding, Bhatt now started the Chipko andolan, a popular movement that brought the problem of Himalayan deforestation to national and, in time, global attention.

As a consequence of Chipko, the government stopped the felling of trees above an altitude of 1000 metres. But the other pressures on the hills continued. The 1980s and 1990s saw the growth of a middle class with disposable incomes, coupled with a rising religiosity as a result of the Ayodhya movement. More people now wanted to visit the great temples of Uttarakhand. However, unlike the pilgrims of the past, they came not on foot but in buses, cars and SUVs. To meet their needs a chain of hotels and boarding-houses were built in locations dangerously close to river-banks. The mass influx of tourists also put increased pressure on the roads, and led to a surge in untreated garbage.

In 1998, the state of Uttarakhand was formed. Two years later, the Union ministry of agriculture commissioned a report on one crucial aspect of the ecological situation in the hills — the threat from landslides. The study was undertaken by three highly experienced individuals, two scientists and a social worker working for, respectively, the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad, the Physical Research Laboratory (also in Ahmedabad), and the Dashauli Gram Swarajya Mandal in Gopeshwar.

Based on extensive fieldwork in the region, and skillful use of satellite data, the three authors (M.M. Kimothi, Navin Juyal, and Omprakash Bhatt) submitted a well researched report to the ministry running into more than 60 pages. This stressed, first of all, the extreme fragility of the hill ecosystem. Uttarakhand was one of the most seismic regions in the world, with an estimated 122 earthquakes occurring in a 200-year period for which records were kept. Other natural hazards to which the region was subject were forest fires and avalanches. Then there were landslides, which were both natural and, increasingly, man-made. Deforestation had eroded once well forested slopes. Road building, done in a careless fashion and with the excessive use of dynamite, had widened fissures in the rocks. The accumulated debris, washed down the slopes, went into rivers and blocked their course, creating temporary lakes. When there was an excess of rain these dams burst, the waters rushing the breach and destroying homes, fields, and settlements downstream.

The origins of the 1970 flood itself lay in the massive expansion during the previous decade of road-building and commercial forestry. This had exposed the slopes, leading to the accumulation of debris in several tributaries of the Alakananda. In the third week of July 1970, a massive cloud burst took place, with some 275 millimetres of rain falling in a single day. The unprecedented inflow of water into the river led to the bursting of these landslide-induced dams.

Based on their analysis of the past and the present, Kimothi, Juyal and Bhatt made this prediction:

“Possible threat arising out of the future flash flood is likely to affect much larger population and habitational sites compared to all the tragedies of the past put together. We believe that riverside settlements both for domestic and commercial purposes should be discouraged. Especially proliferation of riverside recreational resorts needs to be checked and monitored. Nearly five major towns and a number of small settlements which have extended close to riverbanks would be threatened if a tragedy of 1970’s magnitude hit the basin.”

To forestall such a tragedy, the scientists recommended, first, the close monitoring of landslides, fissures, and potential blocked sites using satellite techniques, with this monitoring intensified during the pre- and post- monsoon periods; second, the identification of degraded slopes and their stabilization through the planting of indigenous tree species and the construction of check dams and retaining walls; third, the training of local people in relief and rescue work, so as to prepare village panchayats and youth and women’s organizations for the kind of disasters that might lie ahead.

Malala's Forgotten Sisters


Girls as young as 5 are still being sold into marriage in Pakistan. And no one will stop it.

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA, Pakistan — At only 12, Nazia lives in expectation of the worst. As I step through the doorway of the humble compound her parents share with two other families in the Pashtun lands of northwest Pakistan, her small, fragile body trembles unwittingly. She knew I was coming, but learned too young to trust no one.

Nazia was only 5 when her father married her off to a much older man, a stranger, as compensation for a murder her uncle had committed. The decision to give the little girl away as payment, along with two goats and a piece of land, was made by a jirga -- an assembly of local elders that makes up the justice system in most of Pakistan's and Afghanistan's tribal areas, where conventional courts are either not trusted or nonexistent. "One night a man came and took me by the hand," Nazia says, in a nearly inaudible moan.

Nazia was too young to understand what was happening when that man dragged her into the darkness. But born in a land where women are not to be seen by strangers, she knew enough to realize something was terribly wrong. "I resisted, I cried, and tried to hold on to the doorjamb," she remembers.

Nazia was taken to the jirga, displayed as a commodity before the circle of men, and examined by the husband to be, who was allowed to decide whether she was good enough to be his wife. Nazia remembers the men starring at her deep brown eyes, her long, black hair -- the humiliation of that scene is so utterly marked in her memory that she can barely finish the sentence before dissolving in tears.

The men in her family argued, unsuccessfully, that she was too young to be married off. In a rare decision, however, the jirga did agree that the girl should not be handed over immediately. So the demanding husband would have to wait -- and so has Nazia. Even among the women in the house, she wears a full-length black chador, as if a male intruder could suddenly enter that door again. I ask whether she knows how pretty she is, but that only makes things worse. Nazia is afraid of being beautiful, for that implies being desired by that man.

She is terrified of growing up. Her parents have been able to postpone their daughter's fate -- but not for much longer, certainly no later than age 14. Most child brides are pregnant by then.

There is an aggravating factor in the fate of girls such as Nazia. Given away as compensation to resolve tribal disputes -- a custom known as swara in Pashtun -- the girls will always represent the enemy for the "dishonored" family, a symbol of their disgrace.

According to tradition, the compensation should end the dispute and bring the two warring families together in harmony. In practice, however, the marriage only provides cover for revenge. Swara girls become the targets of all anger and hatred in their new home. They are often bitten, emotionally tortured, and sometimes raped by other men in the family. They are made to suffer for a crime they did not commit.

The swara custom is a form of collective punishment that persists in the tribal areas. Nazia's uncle -- the perpetrator of the crime for which she is to be punished -- killed a neighbor in a land dispute and then ran away. He left no children, so the jirga decided his older brother should pay in his place by sacrificing his own daughter.

Nazia's father is a poor, uneducated farmer, and he could do nothing to contest this ruling. Having lost his land and livestock in the dispute, he now works in temporary construction jobs, which pay $3 a day. His wife helps by cleaning neighbors' houses for a few more rupees.

Nazia's parents have decided this year will be her last year at school. The family has no money to pay for her books, and the expense seemed pointless for them anyway, given that she will soon be married. Nazia herself has lost interest in studying. Since her classmates found out about her fate, she runs back and forth from school, speaking to no one. "They point at me on the streets and call me 'the swara girl,' and they make fun of me," Nazia mumbles. Dogs bark in the distance, making it almost impossible to hear her.

Eventually she blurts out: "That was very painful, and I didn't understand.... It still hurts and upsets me. I'm so fed up with this feeling! I'm so afraid all the time! I'd rather never leave the house.... People scare me, all people. I trust no one."

The call for prayer echoes off the mud walls, heralding the day's end. For security reasons, we have to leave before dusk. As we move away, Nazia remains motionless -- head huddled against her chest, eyes on the ground, her pale face immersed in sadness. Every sunset brings her closer to the day that the old man will come and take her away for good.

One girl every three seconds

Despite being illegal, the custom of forcibly marrying girls off to resolve family and tribal disputes happens on an alarming scale across all provinces of Pakistan. It goes by different names -- swara in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, vani in Punjab, lajai in Baluchistan, and sang chati in Sindh -- but all its forms are equally cruel.

In Pakistan, at least 180 cases of swara were reported last year -- every other day -- thanks to the work of local journalists and activists. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of undocumented cases. Worldwide, an estimated 51 million girls below age 18 are married, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

A further 10 million underage girls marry every year -- one every three seconds, according to ICRW. The legal age to marry in Pakistan is 18 for boys but 16 for girls, though they can't drive, vote, or open a bank account until adulthood. According to UNICEF, 70 percent of girls in Pakistan are married before then.

Mohammad Ayub, a British-trained psychiatrist from Lahore, has worked with child soldiers in Sudan and young Taliban recruits in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He now manages the Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital in the Swat Valley, an area that came under the spotlight when terrorists attempted to kill 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai because of her struggle to promote girls' education. "I saw small children holding guns bigger than themselves," he says. "But these girls.... It's just as tragic."

Many child brides come to Ayub with severe pain, sometimes blinded or paralyzed -- the effects of a psychiatric condition known as "conversion disorder." Practically unknown in the West since the beginning of the 20th century, it has reached epidemic proportions in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Ayub. It is a sort of psychological stress that manifests in physical ailments, including convulsions, paralysis, or fits.

"Here women don't have a voice, particularly girls," Ayub says. "She can't say, 'No, I don't want this marriage' ... so she keeps it all inside, and eventually it will come out in the form of some physical distress. We receive loads of women here, three to four cases with the same symptoms every day only in my clinic, and I mean daily! Thirteen-, 14-year-old girls, all married."

The average age of swara girls is between 5 and 9 years old, according to registered cases and local accounts. The reason provides an insight into the immense challenge in changing deep-rooted traditions in Pakistan: In the tribal areas, a girl older than this is probably already promised to somebody else. 

The US Think Tank Debate

Has the ISI infiltrated US think tanks? A recent media report opens an interesting debate about the Pakistani intelligence agency ostensibly leveraging the United States think tanks' clout to further its agenda.

A recent report in the Times of India (TOI) titled 'ISI has infiltrated US think tanks, Pak scholar says' has opened an interesting debate about the Pakistani intelligence agency ostensibly leveraging the United States think tanks' clout to further its agenda. The report, apparently stitched together from assorted tweets by the eminent Pakistani scholar and author of the authoritative volumeMilitary Inc., Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, notes: 

"A prominent anti-establishment scholar in Pakistan has caused a flutter in Washington by suggesting that the country's spy outfit Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has infiltrated think tanks in the US capital”. 

Dr Siddiqa has since distanced herself from parts of the report stating that her comments were taken out of context and, while she had taken some issue with the academic qualifications and the narrative of certain Pakistani-origin scholars associated with the US think tanks, she has not alleged that any of them worked for the Pakistani intelligence service. The report or the tweets do not quote any transactions between the ISI and a US think tank or name an individual as a beneficiary.

A letter to the TOI editor by Prof Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation and King's College, London, signed by 26 others has rejected the TOI story and called it “a disturbing trend in public debate where disagreement is dealt with by accusations of someone working for one intelligence agency or the other“ and that “insinuations against respected scholars not only harm the individuals concerned, they also undermine free and honest intellectual debate concerning Pakistan". Fair statement, one must say. The ferocity and swiftness of the response, however, would have one think that everything coming out of the US think tanks is gospel truth and there has never been any manipulation of the think tanks’ narrative by the domestic political forces in the US or foreign governments and special interest groups. The creationist nonsense like the anti-evolutionist “Intelligent Design” theory came out of a Seattle-based think tank; people from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and monarchies like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and dictatorships like Kazakhstan have all leveraged think tanks. 

The US think tanks sit at the crossroads of the academia, politics, business, media and government and their associates frequently switch careers between these realms. They are the brokerages of research to support and push positions that ultimately may become governmental policies. With a massive growth in their numbers and clout over the last several decades, the US think tanks are of interest to anyone who will be affected by the US policies. While overlapping closely, and at times working with the academia, the think tanks are not exactly the ‘universities without classes’ that some of them claim to be. Most think tanks have tax exemption/benefits under the US tax code but are not mandated to disclose their donors publicly. While all donations over $5000 are reported to the government (IRS Form 990) many think tanks also voluntarily make their donors’ lists public. However, unlike the academic research the disclosures are neither full nor forthcoming in many cases and, as Ken Silverstein of The Nation, USA, pointed out in his May 2013 report on secret donors of the think tanks, ‘it’s not always easy to see what sort of benefits money can buy.’

But it is the tune played by the piper, not who is paying, that should be of interest. The objectivity and impact of the narrative coming out of the US think tanks is what matters the most, especially as the US drawdown in Afghanistan, with consequences for that whole region, approaches. Consider, for example, Anatol Lieven’s claim in his 2011 book Pakistan: a hard country: 

“One of the most striking things about Pakistan’s military dictatorships is in fact how mild they have been … only one prime minister (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) and a tiny handful of politicians have ever been executed in Pakistan – far fewer than have been killed in feuds with each other. Few senior politicians have been tortured”.

The research on which the book, dedicated to the Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani civil – and military services – is based, was underwritten in part by the think tanks New America Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Unless Pol Pot is a benchmark, and one is totally ignorant of the contemporary history of Pakistan, one might not make such disingenuous and callous claim. But Lieven has been in and out of Pakistan since 1988, when he had described General Zia-ul-Haq as ‘less than vindictive’ in that brutal dictator’s obituary. No marks for guessing that Lieven remained mum when the Pakistan Army’s Green Book named Ayesha Siddiqa and theSouth Asia Free Media Association as Indian agents in its very first chapter on psychological warfare. The same chapter incidentally also proposes to co-opt media people and ‘independent think tank groups’ to support a psychological warfare division it recommends establishing under the defence ministry. 

Collective incompetence and negligence

Meghnad Desai : Sun Jul 14 2013

The words in the title were used by Pakistani authorities investigating how Osama bin Laden came to be in Abbottabad. The words, however, fit the security arrangements at the Mahabodhi temple. Apparently, all the CCTV cameras were working, the guards were there and everything was as it should be. Only the criminals got away.

This is symptomatic of the nation. There are laws against corruption but somehow, they do not check it. There are laws against harassment, rape, molestation which were there even before the Delhi gangrape. Yet, no one gets punished. We have economic policies by some of the best brains in the world but the rupee is set on a suicidal downhill run. Everything is as it should be; just nothing works.

Undaunted by such small matters,our leaders are convinced that the important problem is the politics of the issue. Raja Digvijaya Singh with his infallible nose for controversy averred that the Mahabodhi incident was connected with Narendra Modi's interaction with the Bihar BJP cadre. No doubt a Hindutva conspiracy! Who knows? Historically, he is not wrong. The Mahabodhi temple was desacralised by Brahmins who made many Buddhist shrines into Hindu temples. There are accounts, which tell us that the original Nalanda campus was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji with Brahmin encouragement. This episode in the war between Buddhism and Brahmanism has been erased from our history by the Hindutva camp who want to believe that Hinduism is incredibly tolerant. The secularists want to deny that Khilji could ever have done such a thing on their general principle of not blaming Muslims of any century for any outrage.

History is best forgotten and rewritten to suit contemporary needs. Thus, few recall today that in the mid-1990s people were saying that if the BJP ever came to power, it would be like Hitler and 1933 (Indians like their fantasies in European colours). Vajpayee was just a "mukhota"; it was Advani who was the sinister fascist behind the scene. Fast forward and now, Advani is a moderate soul. Congress members are rushing to commiserate with him about what that horrible man Modi has done to him. Vajpayee was a saint who was broad-minded and almost secular. BJP was good then.

The issue is Modi, the new 'fascist danger' of the new century. Not even a mukhota on him. There are intellectuals with impeccable secularist (i.e. Congress) pedigree who are frightening each other by blogging that if Modi comes to power, they would have to exile themselves like the great German intellectuals of the 1930s. They should not worry. India is a tough democracy. It survived the only fascist experiment of post-independence India—the Emergency. Indira Gandhi failed to break the spirit of the nation. Sanjay Gandhi led attacks on poor Muslim households, who were forced into accepting nasbandi. Their slum dwellings in Turkman Gate were torched while the RSS combined with the imam of Jama Masjid to defy Congress stormtroopers. Happily, the whole episode has been written out of history and Indira Gandhi re-emerged as a great democrat.

It would be healthy for India to have an open debate about what Modi represents, and to examine its own history honestly. The secularists are convinced that if they can only frighten the voters about 2002 and the coming "pogrom" of Muslims if Modi ever came to power, they will win. People will forget inflation, stagnation, scams galore, a falling rupee and a dismal investment record.

History can be rewritten but alas, not the future. People, especially the 300 million under the age of 30, may ask about their future. Will there be good education where teachers turn up to teach, jobs when they have finished school, stable prices of daily necessities, a decent growth rate? Which party will offer that? That is what counts. Not the craven fantasies of those who worry about Hitler.

Pakistani Taliban set up base in Syria: Report

AP In this August 5, 2012 photo, Pakistani Taliban patrol in their stronghold of Shawal in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan.

BBC Urdu reported that the base was set up to assess "needs of jihad" in Syria and at least 12 Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan "experts" have visited the country.

The Pakistani Taliban have set up a base in Syria to assess “the needs of the jihad” and at least 12 of its “experts” in warfare and information technology have visited the strife-torn country, a media report said.

Quoting a “senior Pakistani Taliban operative”, BBC Urdu reported that the base was set up with the assistance of ex-Afghan fighters of Middle Eastern origin who have moved to Syria in recent years.

At least 12 “experts” in warfare and information technology had gone to Syria in the last two months, he said.

Their presence in the country is likely to have a sectarian motive, the BBC report said adding Taliban factions feel that Sunni Muslims, who constitute a majority in Syria, are being oppressed by Syria’s predominantly Shia rulers.

Thousands of people have died in the year-long armed conflict in Syria between loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and those who want to overthrow it.

Mohammad Amin, a senior Taliban operative and “co-ordinator of the Syrian base”, told the BBC that the cell to monitor “the jihad” in Syria was set up six months ago.

He said that the cell has the approval of militant factions both within and outside of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of militant groups fighting the Pakistani forces.

The cell sends “information and feedback” on the conflict in Syria back to Pakistan, he was quoted as saying.

“They were facilitated by our friends in Syria who have previously been fighting in Afghanistan,” Amin said.

Their job is to “assess the needs of the Jihad in Syria, and to work out joint operations with our Syrian friends“.

“There are dozens of Pakistani hopefuls in line to join the fighting against the Syrian army, but the advice we are getting at the moment is that there’s already enough manpower in Syria”

Was the War in Afghanistan Lost in Pakistan **

July 12, 2013 by Team SAISA
Filed under Analysis

Vinod Saighal

(Editor’s Note:-With the Al Jazeera leak of the Osama bin Laden’s killing of the Pakistan government review the second half of the article published in March earlier in the year becomes relevant for dissemination – The Other Side of Zero Dark Thirty. Nobody really believes that the Pakistani top brass and the intelligence heads remained in the dark for so many years. We are reproducing this Mar 2013 article by Gen Vinod Saighal which attempted to unravel the mystery very accurately.)

The book Restructuring Pakistan * came out in January 2002. Had 9/11 not intervened it was originally scheduled for launch around November 2001. The epilogue of the book with the heading Dealing with the Afghanistan-Pak Cauldron: the Global Perspective relates to a talk delivered at the United Service Institution of India, New Delhi to an international audience almost exactly a year (August 9, 2000) before the September 2001 attack on the United States The trajectory for Pakistan for the ensuing decade has by and large turned out to be true. The reason for recalling the August 2000 talk is that it predicted – some people called it presciently – the unfolding of events a year later. What is more, the book also suggested as to what the US should do if it were to be impelled to directly retaliate in Afghanistan . Karl F. Inderfurth, then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia had the talk circulated in the State Department. Many other details of relevance to what follows are contained in the book Restructuring Pakistan.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, such was the shock that the event created, that its ripples were felt around the world, because the US was the unquestioned superpower of the day. At that point in time nobody in the world had any doubt about it – the US was simply too mighty to buck. Hence, when President George W. Bush stated that the US would pursue its attackers wherever they might be, practically every country in the world decided to give way in the face of the anger that had welled up in the United States of America . NATO straightaway put out that an attack on America was an attack on the Alliance . Even China and Russia decided that it was prudent to conform. India was no exception. Besides deployments in Central Asia, where bases were readily made available, the US decided to tackle Pakistan head on.

General Pervez Musharraf, who had become the military dictator of Pakistan barely two years earlier found himself facing the Americans with a gun to his head. It is said that had there been a civilian government they would have prevaricated for some time, as is usually the case with civilian governments anywhere. However, the ex-commando who was the single point authority in Pakistan wilted almost immediately. He capitulated to almost every demand that was made on him. He would take his revenge on the Americans later.

After the Indian Army had been mobilized consequent to the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, General Musharraf was forced, both on account of the extremely dangerous situation that had developed on the Indo-Pak border, as well as due to the insistence from Washington that he give way, to eat humble pie. In his famous speech in January 2004, where ostensibly he agreed to change course, he stated that he would ensure that Pakistan territory thenceforth would no longer be a base for terrorism against India . He also realised that radical departure from a cherished policy of long standing required that the nation, particularly the Army-ISI combine and the tanzeems sending terrorists across the border, had to be assuaged. In his speech, that was perfectly understood by the elements that needed to be mollified he gave an example from the life of the Prophet, when the latter retreated from Mecca to Medina in order to recoup and re-emerge stronger, i.e., live to fight another day. While some American analysts understood the reference to context the establishment in Washington did not grasp its full import. Musharraf in the portion of his speech that referred to the Prophet practically gave away the strategy that he would be following thereafter with the Americans as well as with the Indians.

In the ensuing six years till almost the very end of the presidency of George W. Bush, General Musharraf honed, perfected and implemented his strategy. He ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds. It was masterly deception perpetrated on the Americans with consummate skill. He continued to protect and give a free hand to the elements that would get back into Afghanistan when the opportunity arose. The opportunity presented itself when the US President took his eye off the ball and decided to invade Iraq , in the process considerably weakening the US presence in Afghanistan . Not only did he inveigle the Americans to make Pakistan a major Non-NATO Ally, he persuaded them to pump in military hardware for the Pakistani Armed Forces, and make generous grant of funds. Other concessions followed from the US , Japan and its allies in Europe . The Americans shut their eyes to the fact that the military hardware transferred could only be used against India and was not much good for fighting in the tribal areas from where the Taliban operations in Afghanistan were being launched. Of course, there were ups and downs, and on several occasions Musharraf had to make Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders high on the US list available for rendition or elimination. Musharraf’s duplicity worked superbly to gradually strengthen Pakistan ’s position and weaken that of the US – both militarily and financially; while US casualties in the field kept mounting. Towards the end of his tenure the outgoing US President perceived his folly, but it was too late. America and its allies were well on their way to losing the war in Afghanistan .

Assessing The Afghanistan Transition

Sarah Chayes Testimony July 11, 2013 Senate Foreign Relations Committee


Afghan security forces cannot stabilize the country amid political meltdown. To get to zero U.S. troops on the ground without Afghanistan unraveling, a different political approach is needed.

Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Corker, committee-members, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak with you about conditions in Afghanistan, and the implications for U.S. policy.

My analysis derives from a rare dual perspective: I lived in downtown Kandahar for most of the past decade, among ordinary men and women from the city and the surrounding villages, no guards or barbed wire, no translator. And, from 2009 through 2011, I served as special adviser to two ISAF commanders and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Three main topics dominate the current Afghanistan debate: the security situation -- and related to that, the size of a residual U.S. military force -- the 2014 presidential election, and negotiations with the Taliban. In each case, attention is fixed on the formal process, while the real meaning lies beneath that surface.

What is missing is an overall political strategy within which technicalities might add up to something. At this point, that strategy must include a more broad-based reconciliation process that would help set the stage for credible elections, and a different approach to Pakistan.

On elections: Some in Washington argue for making the 2014 exercise central to U.S. policy. They focus on voter registration and other such technicalities. I don’t disagree with the sentiment.

But while we are all discussing the vital importance of a credible election, moves are being made on the ground to ensure it will be no such thing. Sadly, what matters in Afghan elections as they are currently run is not who can mobilize the most votes, but who can control the process. So President Karzai and his lieutenants in the executive branch are grappling with some of your counterparts over the makeup and duties of the election commission and the complaints body. No surprise, Karzai is winning. As of this weekend, the head of the election commission declared that the tussle over the electoral law had gone on too long for the provisions to be implemented, and that Karzai would be enacting regulations by legislative decree.

In this context, I’ve already spoken about the issues raised by U.S. payments to the key political actor.

Recommendation: If the U.S. government is going to lend the moral authority of this country to the 2014 election, then words like “credible” have to mean something. U.S. financing and support for the vote must be contingent on Kabul’s adherence to some minimum standards. A truly independent, empowered elections commission whose members are not appointed by the president, for example, and a real complaints mechanism, with teeth. If President Karzai wants to run an election he can control, that’s his right. But not on the U.S. dime, and not on the democratic reputation of the United States.

On security: Much attention has been devoted to the Afghan National Security Forces’ tactical capabilities. There have been improvements -- though vetting and discipline problems were devastating just a year ago. And the ANSF casualty rate has spiked over last year’s, according to Afghan, US and UK officials. Attrition is also up.

But the technical skills of Afghan soldiers are really beside the point. The real meaning is this. An army -- the best army -- is only a tool in the hands of a government. You can exercise that army, sort of like taking an arm to a gym and lifting weights with it, but if the body to which it’s attached is non-viable, it won’t be able to defend much. That is the fundamental point that keeps getting missed in discussions about ANSF capabilities.

Trying to get a meaningful read on the security situation is elusive. There simply are no numbers. ISAF stopped keeping violence statistics in March. And they were disputable anyway. So only localized anecdotes are left. There are clear improvements around Kandahar. Colleagues of mine are now able to visit areas that were under deadly Taliban control in 2009. The current police chief of Kandahar is keeping the Taliban at bay, but I’m hearing at such a cost in extra-judicial killing that he’s turning much of the town against him. I have known him for more than a decade and this was to be expected. I warned General David Petraeus, then commander of ISAF, about the police chief’s style and the potential Leahy amendment issues it raises. Meanwhile, northern Helmand is already re-infested with Taliban, according to both residents and U.S. military personnel.

A point often missed in assessments of security is that the Taliban’s strategy is to obtain the maximum policy impact for the minimum investment of resources. That is what asymmetric warfare is all about. Recent spectacular attacks in Kabul and elsewhere indicate they’re still doing a good job at that.

What local deals are being made between a given kandak and the local Haqqani commander? Whose fighters are waiting for ISAF’s final departure? What depredations are the local police committing? No one can claim to know, beyond a very localized understanding.

So any assessment of current security trends can only be a surface impression. Its significance for predicting outcomes is minimal.

As for residual U.S. troops, 10,000 would not make much more of an impact on security and stability in Afghanistan than zero. My reading of the signals in this town is that zero is a likely bet. And to be honest, in the absence of an overall policy framework within which the commitment and sacrifice would make sense, I find it difficult to argue otherwise.

But how to get to zero U.S. troops after 2014 without leaving a black hole behind? How to get to zero responsibly, honoring the efforts and losses of so many, and preserving some potential for the Afghan people and for regional security? The obligation the United States engaged by intervening in the first place – and the historical memory in that region of the U.S. just leaving -- imposes one last effort to think those questions through.

Recommendation: Don’t look to security structures to provide security amidst political melt-down. The way to wind down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan without the place unraveling behind us is not to focus on military technicalities. It is to take a different approach to the political context.